"Now, I think it comes to my turn to choose, and I'll tell you what I think; and that is, as several of the specimens in the butterfly cabinet are getting destroyed by the mites, we might take the nets and boxes, and have a very pleasant ramble by the side of Beechy Wood, and down the meadows, and then, if we happened to get so far, we could call and thank Mrs Benson again; and coming back to a late tea, we should find plenty of moths along by the wood-side."
"That's the best idea yet," said the boys; although it is most probable that they would have agreed to anything that Mr Inglis had proposed, and said it was the best idea that could have been thought of.
But this arrangement only provided for the afternoon: there was still the morning to be employed.
"If I were you, boys," said Mrs Inglis, "I should find something quiet to do indoors, and then you will not be tired before you start in the afternoon."
"Ah," said the Squire, "have a look at your lessons. You have not touched them all through the holidays."
"Oh-h-h—Ah-h-h—Er-r-r—Um-m-m," groaned the boys. "Oh, Pa; oh-h-h," they exclaimed, with such pitiful faces that any one might have thought that they had been required to quaff, each of them, a great goblet of salts and senna, or something equally nasty.
Mr and Mrs Inglis both laughed heartily, and the boys then saw that Papa was only joking, and the clouds disappeared from their faces instanter; and off they scampered into the garden to spend the morning quietly, so as not to be tired at the time appointed for starting.
"Come on, boys," said Harry, taking flying leaps over all the flower-beds in the parterre, as they went down the garden—greatly to the disgust of old Sam, who very reasonably said, "As flower-gardens warn't made to be jumped over;" and he then took off his old battered hat, and scratched his bald head viciously.
"Shouldn't I like to kick old Sam's hat!" said Philip; "he always will wear such an old scarecrow of a thing."
"I say, Sam," said Harry, grinning, "we are going to stop quietly in the garden all the morning and help you."
Sam grinned too, as he looked sideways at the mischievous laughing face beside him.
"Then I shall go," said Sam. "I won't stop; for I know you'll be plaguing my very life out."
"No, we won't, Sam, if you'll come and help us do our gardens up."
"Oh, ah!" said Sam, "and I've got no end of things as wants doing: there's all the wall fruit wants nailing in, and the grapes wants thinning, and— There now, just look at that! Master Harry, you mustn't. If you don't put it down directly, I'll go and fetch out the Maester."
Sam might well exclaim, for Harry was beginning to help him, and had seized the scythe. With cut number one he had shaved off the top of a fine verbena. With cut number two, he had driven the point of the sharp tool into the sod. Where the third cut would have gone, I can't say; for Sam, hobbling up to the young workman, the young workman frisked off, and seized the barrow half full of grass.
"Jump in, Fred!" he exclaimed; and of course Fred soon made himself a seat on the soft green contents, and then away went the barrow as fast as Harry could run, and of course right away from the place where Sam would require it next.
Poor old Sam! He loved his master's boys, and he loved to scold them too, as much as they loved to torment him; and in all their skirmishes— one of which always occurred whenever they came into his garden, as he called it—Sam always got the worst of it, and had to yield to numbers. And so in this case he saw that he should lose the day, and therefore he declared a truce, and called up Philip to act as mediator.
"Now, Master Phil, if you'll promise not to bother me any more, I'll put you all up to something."
"What is it?" said Philip.
"Ah, you fetch them tother ones here, and I'll show you."
Away darted Philip, and soon returned with Harry, the barrow, and Fred.
Old Sam made sure of the barrow by sitting down upon the edge, and would have been canted over by Harry, only he expected, and very naturally, that it would make the poor old man cross.
"Now, Sam, what is it?" said Harry. "Come, look sharp."
"Ah," said Sam, "I've a good mind not to tell you. You don't deserve it, you know."
"Oh, I don't care," said Harry, seizing the old man's broom, and darting off with it. "Come along, Phil, Fred, and we'll have such a game."
"Now, Master Harry," said Sam, appealingly. Then to himself, "I never did see sich a young dog in my life. Do come, please," he continued aloud.
"Well, what is it?" said Harry, advancing with the broom, held like a gun with fixed bayonet brought to the charge, and poking with the birch part at the old gardener.
"Well, you know, you promised to be quiet, you know, didn't you?"
"Why, of course we did," said Harry and Philip together. "Now, come, tell us what it is."
"Well," said Sam at last, "it's a wopses' nest as wants taking."
"Capital!" said Harry, throwing down the broom; "where is it?"
Old Sam's eyes twinkled with triumph as he got slowly up and led the way to his tool-shed, where he reached down the large fumigating bellows, and in the hollow made for the purpose he put in some hot cinders, which Harry fetched in a shovel from the kitchen, and then on them a lump of brimstone, and closed the nozzle over all; but not so quickly but that a puff or two of the penetrating fumes escaped, and made the boys' eyes water, and old Sam cough and choke most terribly for a minute or two.
"Now then," said Sam, wheezing away at a dreadful rate, "I'm not going with you, you know, so you take the bellows, Master Harry; and I should take some boughs, if I were you, and beat the wopses off if they gets loose. The nest is in the plantation, in the dead willow-tree that lies by the path; so now go on, and good luck to you."
The lads wanted no further incentive, but started off at full speed, to come back again directly to say that the brimstone wasn't burning. However, on giving two or three puffs with the bellows, Sam found this was not the case, for it was alight; so off they started, half wild with excitement, across the lawn, and old Sam rubbing his hands down the sides of his trousers to give vent to his intense feeling of satisfaction to think how well his device had succeeded; and then the old man returned to his work, chuckling away, and, I am sorry to add, muttering that he hoped they'd "some on 'em get stung;" an uncharitable wish, however, that had no fulfilment in the sequel.
"Come along, boys," said Harry, who was bellows-bearer; and away they scudded till they reached the wooden bridge over the ditch, and then they stood together beneath the trees.
Puff, puff. Yes, the brimstone was all right, and now for the wasps.
"Let me do it," said Philip, catching at the bellows.
"No, no; I'll do it," said Harry, putting them behind his back.
"Now, Harry, you know I'm older than you, and you carried them here, so you ought to give way," said Philip.
"Why," said Harry, "we ought neither of us to do it, because Cousin Fred's here, and he's a visitor. Here, Fred," he said, holding out the bellows, "you do it."
"Do what?" said Fred, staring. "I don't know what you are going to do."
"Why, take the wasps' nest in that old touchwood tree. You're only got to put the nose of the bellows into the hole where they are going in and out, and blew, and then keep them tight there till all the wasps are dead."
Fred looked at the bellows, then at his cousins, then at the hole in the fallen trunk where the wasps were flying about; and after giving a puff with the bellows, when smoke issued from the nozzle, he slowly approached the hole, and stooped over it to insert the death-dealing instrument.
"Buzz—booz—whooz—ooz—ooz—ooz," said a couple of wasps, coming home in a hurry, and circling round Fred's head so very closely that the boy shut his eyes, and, stooping down very low, backed away crab fashion as fast as ever he could.
"I shan't do it," said Fred, rather red in the face; "they'll sting."
"No, they won't," said Harry; "I'll go," and catching up the bellows, he walked boldly up towards the hole.
"I say," he said, "you two get boughs, and if the wasps do come out you can beat them down."
There was a minute of intense interest, during which Harry crept close up to the hole, and Philip and Fred, armed with lime-tree boughs, stood as body guard to protect the assaulting party.
Nearer and nearer went Harry, and then pushed the nozzle right in up to the part holding the brimstone, and puffed away as hard as he could.
"Whir—whooz—whooz—booz—wooz—buzz—wooz—burr—urr-r-r-r— whir-r-r-r," said the wasps, scuffling out past the nozzle by the dozen; and one, which must have been the leader, made a lodgment in Harry's hair.
Down went the bellows, and away went the boys as hard as ever they could run out of the plantation, and over the wooden bridge, till they were safe from the infuriated wasps, whose loud hum they could hear even after they were some distance off.
"Here," said Harry, "knock this beggar out of my head; make haste, or he'll sting me." For there, buzzing and struggling in the boy's curls, was one of the wasps, which was killed by Fred, who squeezed it between two pieces of stick, and placed it beyond the power of doing mischief.
"Ha, ha, ha!" said Philip, when there was no more danger: and when he had got his breath again, "What a game!"
"Booh," said Harry; "was it? You wouldn't like to go and try again."
"I wouldn't mind," said Philip; "I shouldn't run faster than you did."
"Ah! never mind," said Harry; "you run fast enough this time. I only wish," he continued sulkily, "that I had let you go."
Now, Philip was generally most terribly teased by his brother, and therefore it was not surprising that he, who was generally such a mild and inoffensive lad, should take this opportunity of making a little retaliation. But one thing was very certain, and that was, that he would have backed out of the task even if Harry had given it up to him.
"Can't we fetch the bellows?" said Harry. "Let's go and see."
Off they went again, but at a slower pace this time, in case there should be any of the fierce little insects waiting for them. But their caution was needless, for the wasps were busy at work trying to stick their stings into the bellows, and some of them losing their lives through the vapour that came reeking out of the opening. But when the lads got near enough to see what a cloud there was buzzing about, they gave up all idea of getting the bellows till night, and took vengeance for their defeat by getting a little farther off and pelting the tree, but only hitting it about once in twenty times, so that they very soon tired of that pastime, and went back to see what poor old Sam could find for them fresh.
"Now, then," said Sam, when they came up, "where's the wopses' nest? The Squire wants some grabs for fishing."
"Ain't got it," said Harry, shortly.
"How's that?" said the old man; "you weren't afeard, was you?"
"No," said Harry, stoutly; "I wasn't afraid, only they came buzzing out so we were obliged to give in."
Chuckle, chuckle, went the old man at their defeat; but he would not go himself to fetch the bellows, although he laughed at the boys' expense.
"You'd better leave off laughing," said Philip, taking Harry's part, "or we'll stop here all the morning."
Sam grew serious in a moment, for the boy couldn't have uttered a more dire threat against his peace of mind.
"Ah! I ain't laughing, Master Phil, only it is good fun to see the wopses make any one run. If I was you, I should go and have a look at Bramble Dyke; they say as the water's nearly all dried up, and you can get fish out of it."
"It's too far," said Philip, "because we are going out with Papa directly after dinner."
Sam was done for a moment; but a bright thought flashed across his brain. "Ah," said he, "if I was a young gentleman, I should go down the north planting hedge, close to the dung-heaps; they do say there is a sight of snakes there; but in course you young gentlemen won't go, for as you're afraid of wopses, in course you won't like to go where there's snakes."
"Who's afraid?" said Harry; "I'm not; come on, boys," and away they scampered again on their new expedition; while Sam leaned upon his broom with which he was brushing the velvet green lawn, and chuckled again at the success of his ruse.
The boys armed themselves with stout sticks, and let Dick loose to take with them; and then away down by the big fence to the north planting Dick industriously hunting along the hedges and ditches as they went.
"Keep back, Dick!" said Harry, when they reached the manure heaps; "keep back, sir; quiet; down, dog, down!"
But Dick was not a well-trained dog at all. He did not often come out, and when he did he seemed to make the most of it; so every command given by his master Dick answered by a leap, a scamper, and a bark, and doing everything but what he was told.
"Catch hold of him, Phil; he'll frighten all the snakes away before we see them."
But Dick would not be caught hold of, but capered about just out of reach, and lolled his tongue out as though in derision of the efforts made to secure him, till, growing more bold and impudent, he kept making charges at his young masters' legs, until by one quick snatch Philip caught the rascal by one of his ears, and so secured him in a most ignoble manner, dragging him along with his skin all drawn on one side, his eyes out of place, and his mouth wearing a most serio-comical expression.
Poor Dick! he did not mean any harm; but as to being a trained and obedient dog, he was, as I said before, nothing of the kind, and often spoiled a great deal of sport by his wild harum-scarum ways. But now, as he was secured, a handkerchief was tied tightly round his neck, and another to that by way of a chain or slip, and then the search was prosecuted.
The manure heaps were very long and large, and lay on a piece of waste ground beside the park palings, and it was through the rents and gaps in these pales that the snakes came out of the plantation to lay their eggs in the warm manure; and, of course, if Master Dick had been left alone, he would have run barking and scratching all along and alarmed the game. As it was, they went the whole length of the first heap without hearing so much as a rustle. The second heap was nearly passed in the same way, when Harry, who was first, stepped nimbly back and caught hold of the handkerchief that held Dick, who, seeing that something exciting was going on, immediately became rampant, but was soon guided to a spot where a snake had nearly buried itself in the rotten straw, and lay with about nine inches of its tail exposed, after the fashion of an ostrich, which supposes that if its head is hidden it must be all right and safe. But there was no safety for the poor snake, for Dick was down upon him in a moment and hanging on to its tail, in spite of the struggles of the poor thing to get away.
All Dick's efforts were directed towards dragging the snake out of its hole, while the snake, by means of its scaly and plated body, offered a most powerful resistance, and tried hard to creep farther in; and so they went on for some time, the snake, however, gradually losing ground, until the lads began to dig round it with their sticks, and loosen the manure, when out it came all at once, writhing and twining, and trying to fasten upon Dick's head; but the dog's shaggy, wiry hair protected him, and shaking the unco' brute off for a moment, he got another gripe at it close up to the head, and shook it, and worried it, until the poor snake hardly moved, but gave in, conquered and dying.
The trophy was secured, and Dick's stumpy tail wag-waggled, as much as to say, "Didn't I do that well?" and then he kept snapping and leaping up at the handkerchief which held the snake, while his red tongue quivered and stuck out between his sharp shiny teeth that were longing to have another snap at something. The huntsmen then cautiously went along the side of the two remaining heaps, but not another trace of a snake could they find, so they went back the whole length of the four heaps, but with no better success, till Dick, who was down at the bottom of the bramble-covered ditch, suddenly set up a sharp, short bark, then there was a rustle and skurry for a moment, and he rushed open-mouthed up the bank head fust at the oak palings, and came against them with a thud just after a snake's tail was seen to disappear through a hole at the bottom, where a small piece had rotted away.
Dick whined and howled with rage at being thus stopped in his career, and seizing a piece of the broken pale in his teeth, dragged it so that he would shortly have made himself a way through, but his young masters were soon by his side.
"Throw him over, Harry," said Philip, excitedly, and in a moment Harry had the struggling dog in his arms, raising him till he got his feet on the top of the palings, when he leaped lightly down on the other side, and began hunting about through the fallen leaves and twigs for the escaped quarry; but all in vain, as his whining testified, so that poor Dick was called off, and had to run nearly a quarter of a mile before he could find a place to creep through, which he did at last by scraping a little of the earth from beneath the pales, and then grovelling through, getting stuck about the middle of his back, though, and whining till he got free, which he did after two or three struggles, and then ran to join his young masters, who were whistling and calling him as loudly as they could, and who now turned their steps homeward, for Harry declared he could smell the roast beef they were going to have for dinner.
A FLIGHT WITH THE FLIES.
I don't suppose Harry could smell the roast beef when he was a mile from home, but sure enough it was done when the boys got there, and they had only just time to get themselves ready before the dinner-bell rang.
"Well, boys, I suppose you have been very quiet," said Mr Inglis, "and are ready for a good long walk this afternoon?"
"We're ready for the walk, Papa, but we haven't been very quiet," said Philip. "One don't seem as if one could keep very quiet this fine weather. I never do. I should like to be always out."
"I shouldn't," said Harry, with his mouth full of beef and potato; "I should like to come in when dinner and tea were ready."
"Well said, Harry!" exclaimed Mr Inglis; "that was certainly not a very polite speech, but there was a good deal of common sense in it; and I don't think Master Phil, there, would care much about stopping out when it rained. But make haste, boys; we must not stop talking, for there are all the things to get ready, and we have a long walk before us."
Half an hour after, Mr Inglis and the boys were passing out of the gate, and they soon reached the spot where the lads entered the wood the day they were lost; but this time they kept along the fields by the side; and beautiful those fields looked, and beautiful, too, the wood-side. There were wood anemones and hyacinths by the thousand, spangling the bright green grass here with delicate white, and there with the dark blue bells; while the brionies and honeysuckle clustered in every direction along the dwarf bushes by the side of the wood.
"There he goes," said Harry, all at once starting off full speed after a sulphur butterfly.
"Stop, stop!" cried Mr Inglis. "Here, Philip, take the net, and go steadily and quietly and see if you cannot catch it, but you must not hurry, or you will send it right away."
Philip took the green clap-net and went in chase of the beautiful fly which flitted on before him, now stopping, now going on again, and sipping flower after flower. At last he got close enough, and stooping as far forward as he could reach, popped the green gauze net down upon the grass.
The other boys ran breathlessly up, while Mr Inglis drew from his pocket a large-sized pill-box and a pair of forceps, and on coming up to the spot where Philip and the other boys were, he stooped down to secure the prize.
"Well, where is it?" said Mr Inglis.
"Just underneath," said Philip.
"I don't think it is," said Mr Inglis, looking down at the net.
"Oh yes, it is," said Philip; "I'm sure I caught it."
So Mr Inglis looked through the net in all directions, but not a sign could he see of any sulphur butterfly, for Philip had popped the net down just behind it, and the bright-coloured fly was off and away far enough by that time.
"Never mind; try again," said Mr Inglis, "only don't be so impetuous; go quietly after the butterfly till you get within reach, and then press the net down firmly and quickly, or close it over the prize. If you go so impetuously you agitate the air, and drive a volume of it before you, which not only alarms the insect, but helps to force it out of your reach."
"But I was sure I had it," said Philip.
"Just so," said Mr Inglis, smiling; "but it does not do to be too sure of anything. Now, Philip," he continued, "take the net again, and see if you cannot have a little better success; there's one of the little blue butterflies hovering over that dry bank—there, where we picked the harebells last year. Don't you see it?—it almost looks like a harebell itself."
"Oh! I see it now," said Philip, seizing the net and rushing off.
"Not so fast—not so fast," cried Mr Inglis; but it was of no use, for Philip darted up to the bank, and as he did so the little blue butterfly gently rose in the air, and disappeared over the hedge into the next field.
"Here, Fred," said Mr Inglis, handing his nephew a small bag net fitted to a joint of a fishing-rod; "now try what you can do, and see if you cannot creep up quietly without all that rush and fuss your cousins make. Now, then, there goes another sulphur butterfly."
Fred started off, and followed the insect all along one side of the field by the wood, and then partly along the other, when the game gently rose and went over to the other side. But there was a gap in the hedge, and Fred crept through; but on reaching the other side no butterfly could he see for a minute, when all at once it rose from a flower close beside him, and began flitting down the hedge-side again. At last it alighted upon a bunch of Mayflower, quite low down, a late cluster that ought to have been out in bloom a month earlier; and now Fred crept up closer and closer till he stood within reach, when he dashed the net down and just missed the insect, which began to rise, when, recovering his net, Fred made another flying dash, and to his great delight he saw that the yellow treasure was fluttering about inside.
Just then his uncle and the boys came through the gap, and the butterfly, which Mr Inglis said was a very fine specimen, was secured and placed in one of the large pill-boxes.
The captures now made became frequent: at one time it was a gorgeous peacock admiral, with the splendid eyes upon its wings; then one of the pretty tortoiseshell butterflies, or a red admiral, with its lovely lace-edged wings; then again, one of the curious dusky-veined, or an orange-tipped, with its under wings so beautifully traced with green. Down by the pond side, too, they captured some of the fierce libellulae, the gauzy-winged dragon-flies, that darted about with such a powerful flight over the water, and then hovered apparently motionless, as though looking at their beautiful bodies reflected on the bright surface. On one bank, too, a bright little green lizard was captured, and carefully secured, to place in one of the fern cases; besides which there were rose beetles, watchmen, spiders, and tiny flies, that Fred considered were neither curious nor pretty, but which Mr Inglis said were quite the contrary, being both curious and pretty, or, rather, beautiful, as he would show Master Fred when they reached home. There were plenty of specimens, too, to have been obtained from the water; but this was not a water expedition, so they contented themselves with the productions of the air, and rich indeed was this part of the country in insect wonders. Fred at first only looked upon the gaily-painted butterflies, and bright rose beetles, as being beautiful, till he heard some of the explanations from Mr Inglis, when he found that in some of the smallest insects they captured there were ten times the beauties and wonders that were to be found in their larger companions. There were numberless things that he would have passed over because they were not striking at the first glance, but which the eye of the naturalist had sought out, and made known to those who had not chosen insect life for their study. Fred never before saw such plumes of feathers as some little gnats wore on their heads, nor knew of such a wondrous or dangerous instrument as the sting of a bee, so fine and so sharp; and yet fine as it was, able to contain a channel by which the minute portion of poison was injected into the tiny wound to rankle and create such great pain.
"But come," said Mr Inglis, "we must talk about these things when we get back to-night, and have the microscope out. We must have some more specimens yet. Try after those great cabbage butterflies, boys'—those we have are getting very shabby in appearance."
Away started Harry and Philip, forgetting in a moment all the advice they had received, and dashing off after the inserts in a wild chase, that ended, of course, in the butterflies soaring up out of reach, and the boys coming back hot and out of breath to be laughed at by their father and Fred.
At last they reached Mr Benson's farm, where they were most cordially received by the farmer's happy-faced dame, who seemed delighted to see her belated friends again, and soon had them into the house to feast upon fresh-gathered strawberries and some of the thick yellow cream that she skimmed morning and night from the pans in her snowy dairy; and when they had finished, and Mr Inglis was having a quiet chat with Farmer Benson about crops, and markets, and similar matters, which Harry classed together as "all bother," Mrs Benson showed the boys her famous dairy, which I was quite right in calling "snowy," for it was in everything of the whitest and coldest. For Mrs Benson's dairy was famous for the butter and cream it produced, and was well known at all the markets round, for from nowhere else was there such sweet golden-looking butter to be obtained.
After Fred had been initiated in the mysteries of churning and cheese pressing, they all went into the orchard, and saw what a goodly promise of apples there was, and then and there Mrs Benson promised them a basketful, which she said she would send to them at the school. Then into the garden, which seemed to be overflowing with fruit and vegetables; and then into the farm-yard to see the fowls, cows, and calves, and have a peep in at the great brindle bull, whose low thundering bellow made the door vibrate and rattle upon its hinges, and who turned round his great heavy, stupid-looking face to the full length of his bright chain, and stared at his visitors as much as to say, "Did you ever see such a great bull-headed thing before in all your life?" He seemed to be anything but the great savage, roaring beast that Fred had expected to see. But for all his dull look, this very bull could fly into a passion sometimes when he was out in the fields, and stamp and bellow and tear up the ground, making the sods fly in all directions. He once charged at the cowman who was going to drive the cows all up for milking, and as soon as the man saw him coming away he ran for the gate, and after him came the bull, full tear. The more the cowman ran the more the bull ran, till at last the gate was reached, and over it went the poor fellow, in a half jump, half tumble sort of fashion, and then away again on the other side; while the bull, evidently considering the gate as unworthy of his notice, disdained to try and leap, but went rush at it like a small railway train at a crossing where the gates have been accidentally left open.
"Crash" went the gate, and "Bellow" went the bull, for it really hurt him, as was testified by one of his horns being broken short off, making the poor beast stop short, and stamp and bellow louder than ever; and, giving up all thought of chasing the cowman, run tearing round the field in a great clumsy gallop, frightening the cows till they all did the same, with tails sticking straight up, and having plenty of difficulty to get out of the poor bull's way, I say "poor" bull, for the animal must have been suffering intense pain, though he deserved very little pity, for there is no knowing what might have been the cowman's fate if it had not been for the gate.
When the visitors stood looking at the great staring-eyed, one-horned beast, the place was quite well, and but for the one-sided appearance given to him by the ragged stump having been sawn short off, there was no trace of the feat he had performed in rushing at the gate.
There was so much to see at the farm that Mr Inglis had a hard matter to get away; besides which, the farmer and his dame were very anxious that they should all stay to tea, and the lads had not the slightest objection; but Mr Inglis said, when they came out for a specified purpose they ought no to turn aside from it, and now; as they had paid their visit to the farm, as previously arranged, they ought to return to their collecting, for the moths would now be coming out fast.
At last they were off, and this time took their way across the meadows by the river side, so as to get to the wood again a couple of miles nearer home, Mr Inglis considering that several pleasing objects of natural history might here be collected.
They had not gone far before he called the attention of the boys to the Ephemene or Mayflies dancing up and down in their beautiful light over the banks of the stream. Beautiful little objects they seemed, with their spotted wings and three tails, as straight up they flew rapidly for five or six feet, and then, spreading out wings and tails, allowed themselves, without effort, but with evenly balanced bodies, to sink down again, presenting a beautiful appearance as the fast descending sun shone sideways upon them.
Fred could have stopped for half an hour watching these Mayflies, but time was flying as well, and they had to get home to tea; but two or three fine specimens were captured by Mr Inglis and put safely in as many pill-boxes, and during their stay as many more were snapped up by the fish in the river. Then on the party went again towards the wood, capturing insect treasures as they passed through the pleasant green meadows and by hedge-rows, all now of a bright golden green with the rays of the sinking sun. Now it was a great stag-beetle that was caught—a great horny-headed and horny-bodied fellow, so strong that he could force his way out of a closed hand by sheer pushing, like his friend the cockchafer, who now began to whirr and drone about under the shady boughs of the trees, but who would not come near enough to be captured, till at last one of them came bump up against Mr Inglis's hat, in its headlong flight, when Fred picked it out of the grass where it had fallen, and was astonished at the slow but strenuous efforts the insect made to escape.
As they came up to the wood Fred stopped short, for from out of its dark recesses came a peculiar whirring sound, as if somebody was busy with a spinning-wheel.
"Chur-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r," went the noise, rising and falling, now farther off, now nearer, and all the time kept up with the greatest regularity.
"Whatever is that?" said Fred to his cousins.
"Oh!" said Harry, laughing, "that's old Dame Durden spinning her yarn."
"What?" said Fred incredulously.
"There, look," said Mr Inglis, for the noise had stopped. "There goes Harry's Dame Durden;" and just then there came swooping out of the wood with noiseless flight, a large brown bird, which then went skimming along by the wood-side and back to where there stood a noble beech with wide-spreading boughs, beneath whose shade the bird went circling round with a beautifully easy flight, sometimes keeping quite in the shade, and every now and then rising higher up the tree; but still skimming along almost like a swallow, "There," said Mr Inglis again, when they had watched the bird for some minutes, "that is the way to turn entomologist; see how easily that bird captures the moths that flit round the tree. If we could only secure specimens like that, what rare ones we should get sometimes of those that always fly high out of our reach! There, did you see him catch that moth, high up above the big bough? With what a graceful curve he turned upon the wing, caught it, and then dipped downward. See, he must have got a mouthful, and has gone off to the wood again, where perhaps he has nestlings."
"Well, but," said Fred, "that can't be a swallow, it is so big, and I thought swallows were the only birds that caught flies and moths upon the wing."
"No," said Mr Inglis, "it is not a swallow, though it has similar habits, and always catches its prey upon the wing. It is a bird that bears a good many different names; one of the most appropriate is that of the 'night-jar,'—though it is not really a night bird, but more of the twilight. It is called 'jar,' from the peculiar jarring noise which you heard, just like that made by the vibrating of a spinning-wheel. In some places they call it the 'goatsucker,' from a foolish idea that it sucked the milk from the goats, as it is sometimes seen to fly close down to them, and, between the legs of various animals, to capture the flies that infest them in the soft, tender parts of their bodies. A glance at the bird's great gaping mouth should be sufficient to convince anybody that it was meant for nothing else but catching flies, and the spiny fringe of hair at the side for caging them there when caught. In some places it is called the 'night-hawk,' and I should scarcely think there is any bird that has more names than our friend there."
A few more moths and insects were captured, among which was a very fine puss moth, whose downy appearance made it a great object of attraction to the boys, as was also one of those noble-looking insects, the privet hawk moth, which was also captured, with gold-tails, tigers, etc, etc; and at last, regularly tired out, the lads walked quietly along by the side of Mr Inglis, listening to the mellow evening notes of the cuckoo, the distant lowing of the cows, and the occasional "tink, tink" of a sheep bell; while skimming along the surface of the fields, the never-tired swallows kept sweeping away the flies front out of their path. With the setting sun, however, the last swallow disappeared; and one by one in the pearly-grey sky appeared the stars; and then, loud, sweet, and clear, from out the grove came the notes of the nightingales, ringing away through the distance, till bird answered bird, and the song seemed almost continuous, cheering the party till they finished their walk.
Mr Inglis had been highly amused with Harry's humorous description of how they had attacked the citadel of the wasps. And how ignominiously they had been put to flight; and told them how foolish their plan was, for they might have been sure that a large number of the insects would be out, seeking for food; and, as they would be constantly returning, they would be certain to attack those whom they found interfering with their castle; for soldiers as they were among insects, and armed too with such a powerful weapon, the attack was nothing more than the boys might have expected. However, he promised the lads that he would assist them the next evening, and detailed his plan of attack, giving them a long description of the way he should proceed, for he saw that they could hardly get along; but his account so took up their attention, that just in the midst of one of his remarks they reached the gates, and he exclaimed:—"Now, boys, enough entomology for one day; for, like you, I'm tired out; so let's see what Mamma there, who is waiting at the door, has in store for us."
RATTING WITH DICK.—THE END OF THE WOPSES.
The evening after the entomological ramble passed away very quietly, for the boys were too tired to care for anything but the hearty tea they made, which partook more of the nature of a supper; and after this there was such a disposition for sleep exhibited by the whole of the party, not excluding the Squire himself, that Mrs Inglis very soon began to talk about bed; and toe had to talk very loudly, too, for Harry had curled himself up in the great easy chair, dormouse fashion; Fred was sitting at the table with a book, whose leaves he was keeping from flying open by resting his head upon them; while Philip was seated on a small ottoman by his father's knees, and resting against them, fast asleep, as was also the Squire himself.
Mrs Inglis looked up from the fancy work upon which she was engaged, and could not help smiling at the appearance the rest of the inmates of the room presented. However, judging that at all events the junior portion would be far better in bed, she proceeded to arouse them, which was no easy task; and at last got them out of the room, Harry being by far the most sleepy, and yawning fearfully as he was led off to bed.
The next morning Fred was the first awake, and, after rousing his cousins, he went to the window to raise the blind, when he found it to be a regular soaking wet morning, one with a heavy, leaden-hued sky, and the rain coming down "plish-plash" from the leaves and branches, and upon the edges of the verandah the drops running together like glassy beads until too heavy to hang, when they dropped upon the stones below, just in the same places where they had fallen for years, and wore the stone away into hollows. Little streams were slowly running down by the sides of the gravel-walks, and every bit of path looked muddy and dirty. As for the birds, they did not seem to mind the rain a bit, but were hurrying about the grounds picking up the worms, slugs, and snails that the cooling rain had fetched out of their hiding-places, so that they were having a regular feast; while one thrush, who had evidently been an early bird, and had the first pick at the worms, was up, high up, in the cedar at the corner of the field, whistling away as though the happiest of birds. The roses were getting washed clear of the blight that had begun to cover them; and everything seemed to be drinking in the soft cooling drops that fell so gently and bathed the face of nature, for during Fred's visit the only rain that had fallen was that which accompanied the thunderstorm, and since then the hot sun had drawn all the moisture from the surface, so that many things began to appear parched, and to flag in the noontide heat. Altogether it was a regular soaking morning; and, after being very tired overnight, when people get up on these very wet soaky mornings they are liable to get low-spirited, and to feel dull—there is a want of elasticity in the air, and the consequence is that folks feel yawny, or gapish, whichever is the best word; and after looking out at the gloomy prospect—for places will look rather gloomy in these heavy rains, which are very different things to the soft, passing showers which lay the parched dust, and when the sun shines forth brighter than ever soon after, and makes the pearly drops glitter and sparkle where they hang to spray or leaf—I say, after looking out at the gloomy prospect, people often turn round and look at their bed, and the nice comfortably-shaped impression they left there; and I have known people so weak as to get into bed again and go to sleep; and amongst those weak enough to get into bed was Fred; but he would have required to have been strong enough to go to sleep, for, directly after, Harry and Philip charged into the room nearly dressed; and seeing what Fred had been doing, they seized the clothes, whisked them off, and then pretended to smother the poor idler with his own pillow.
"Now ain't that sneaky, Phil, to call two fellows up and then go and crawl into bed again? Fetch the sponge."
But Fred did not wait for the sponge, for he began to shuffle into his clothes as hard as ever he could.
"Well, look what a miserable, cold, wet morning it is," said the sluggard.
Harry ran to the window and looked out, and then made a grimace at the weather. "Oh," said he, "what a bother; and we were going up the Camp Hill botanising."
"No, we weren't," said Philip; "Papa said we should not go till Monday."
"Good job, too," said Harry; "but never mind, we'll find something to do, see if we don't. Oh! I know; Papa promised to bring out the microscope last sight and show us the insects, only we all went to sleep. I was so jolly tired."
"You weren't so tired as I was," said Philip.
"Yes, I was," said Harry, "ever so much more."
"I know you weren't," said Philip.
"How do you know that?" said Harry.
"How do you know that you were?" said Philip.
"Because I felt so," said Harry.
"Well, so did I," said Philip.
"Oh! bother," said Harry, finding no bottom to the argument. "I know who was most tired; it was Fred, for he went to sleep first with a bit of bread and butter in his mouth."
"I didn't," said Fred, indignantly.
"That you did; didn't he, Philip? and Pa and Ma both laughed at him; and I wasn't so sleepy but that I saw Pa get Kirby and Spence's 'Tomology' down to read, and lean back in his chair himself—now then!"
During this dispute no progress was made in the dressing; but, upon Harry suggesting that they should go and peep at the specimens they obtained on the previous evening, they all scrambled through the rest of their dressing, and hurried down to the Study, where all the boxes had been placed overnight.
Harry finished dressing first, and would have run down stairs, but was prevented by Philip, who locked the door, and then passed the key to Fred, so that Master Harry was compelled to wait until the others were ready. At last they descended by sliding down the banisters, Philip leading off, and Harry nearly upsetting him at the bottom by sliding down too quickly and coming into sharp contact. At last they burst, pell-mell, into the study, as if they were soldiers about to sack a town, and perhaps, too, a little more impetuously.
"Gently, gently," said Mr Inglis, who was sitting there reading; "what's the matter?"
"Oh! Papa, we did not know you were here; we came to look at the specimens," said Philip.
But the specimens were not to be touched till the afternoon, for Mr Inglis was going over to the town. But he promised that the microscope should be brought out in the evening, and then sent the boys into the breakfast parlour, where they found Mrs Inglis making the tea.
Breakfast being finished, Mr Inglis started off through the miserable, wet, drenching morning, and the boys were left to amuse themselves as best they could, which they did by getting ready their fishing-tackle for the promised trip to Lord Copsedale's lake, which had been almost forgotten, so many amusements had been awaiting them day after day; but which it was now decided by Harry should take place on the following Tuesday morning.
To the great delight of all, about twelve o'clock the clouds began to break, and the sun to peep out, so that by the time Mr Inglis returned it was quite a fine afternoon, and he promised that he would go with them in the evening to destroy the wasps' nest, while the afternoon being so fine left them at liberty to have a run and amuse themselves with out-door sports,—always remembering, that the microscope was to be brought out in the evening, the taking of the wasps' nest being only looked upon as a small portion of what was to be done.
Mr Inglis got very little assistance over the arrangement of his specimens, for the excitement of catching them being past, Harry and Philip cared very little for the more delicate operations of pinning out and arranging, which required great care and nicety—the tender wings of a butterfly showing every rude touch and finger-mark in the despoiled feathers or plumes with which its pinions are adorned.
Mr Inglis was sitting in his study very busily engaged in this manner, and surrounded with entomological pins, when he saw the boys dash by the window in company with Dick to hunt for water-rats by the river side.
Dick had be willing enough to go, for weather seemed no object to him— hail, rain, or sunshine, he was always ready for a hunt, race, or anything, and, by his actions, showed that he would far rather run after nothing at all than be tied-up by his kennel; this tying up being a task not easy to perform unless he was tired out, for Dick used to be seized with deaf fits upon these occasions, and would scamper off in some other direction, and at last have to be hunted out and ignominiously dragged to his chain, most likely by one ear, as we have seen when he was out after the snakes; for a lover of liberty was Dick, one who abhorred chains as fully as any negro dragged from the burning coast of Africa; but the poor fellow was compelled to wear the chain for long hours every day, and therefore his reluctance to return to his collar when, once he was free of it. But upon this afternoon the dog was in full enjoyment of his liberty, and off to the river side, as I have said before, to have a rat hunt.
It was a capital hunt the boys had that afternoon, although nothing was captured; still Dick almost had hold of one great wet fellow by the tail, which he just managed to save by dashing into his hole as the dog came up to it, and stood barking and snapping his teeth because he was so disappointed. There was no end of rat holes in the bank overhanging the river, but it appeared as though the little animals had an instinctive aversion to making the acquaintance of a dog, for snug enough they kept themselves in the above-named holes, and, as it appeared after a couple of hours' search that no rats were to be obtained, the lads slowly sauntered back to the Grange in rather a disappointed frame of mind. But the boys consoled themselves with the idea that there was to be some good fun in the evening, when the wasps' nest would be taken; and at last, without any further adventure than that of Dick hunting somebody's ducklings through the horse-pond, and having to be pelted with large pebbles to keep him from catching one of them—greatly to the disgust of the owner, who would have been in a great passion, only he knew to whom the dog belonged, and also knew that if any mischief befel the ducklings he would be well recompensed for his loss. However, Dick was persuaded to leave the pond at last, and, after making a sort of canine fountain of himself as he shook the water out of his coat, he consented to walk quietly home behind his young masters, and was safely chained up by his kennel, to doze away the time, with the raven for company, until the next run he could obtain with the boys.
As soon as tea was over, Mr Inglis made preparations for taking the wasps' nest, by making Harry take a spade and dig out a piece of stiff yellow clay from down by the little gravel pit; and then, after he had well-kneaded the mass, the fumigating bellows were once more obtained, plenty of hot cinders placed inside, and upon them a small quantity of flour of brimstone; after which the garden was crossed, the plantation reached, and the fallen tree reconnoitred.
The sun was just setting, and the busy day hum of the wasps hushed to a faint, low murmur, while not a single insect could be seen either going in or out of the hole. Mr Inglis then made Harry apply the mass of clay to the nozzle of the bellows, and fix it tightly round them, so that when the instrument was applied to the hole the clay could be pushed close up, and every cranny closed by the plastic mass, so that nothing but the deadly vapour would go in.
At last all was ready, and the first puff was given by Philip, for he was operating under the direction of his father. At that first puff of the bellows the faint hum within the fallen tree increased to almost a roar, as the infuriated little insects vainly rushed about to gain an exit from the suffocating prison in which they were closely confined. Upon hearing the noise Philip almost dropped the bellows, but, at a word from his father, he kept on steadily—puff—puff—puff, till the noise within the tree grew fainter and fainter, and at last entirely ceased; and then they knew that the fatal work was done then the bellows were withdrawn, the hole carefully closed up with clay, and the tree left as it was till the Monday morning, when Sam was to get some wedges and a beetle and split it open, so as to obtain the nest without damage, if possible. Harry was for having the tree split at once, but Mr Inglis was of opinion that it had better be left as it was for the time, and led the way towards the house.
As soon as they were all seated in the dining-room, Mr Inglis brought out the large mahogany box containing the microscope, with the different specimens which he had prepared for inspection, and Fred was soon astonished with the wonder which he saw, such as flies' eyes, displaying within themselves innumerable other tiny eyes, each evidently possessing its own powers of vision. Then there was down off a butterfly's wing; the wings of flies; the wing-cases of beetles, displaying colours of the most gorgeous hues, and glittering like precious stones; tiny insects, such as seen creeping upon the opening buds of roses: and all these, with numberless other things, were displayed to the astonished boy's gaze. Most of these had been seen by Harry and Philip many times before, so that Fred had a very long inspection of the microscopical wonders, and was greatly puzzled to understand how many hundreds of times any little object could be magnified; and, on afterwards looking beside the microscope at the speck upon the glass plate, which, when he looked through the instrument, had appeared to be of the most gorgeous tints, he could scarcely believe that both objects were the same; and he kept taking his eye from the instrument to look down the side, and then, with a wondering air, back again.
And so the evening quickly passed away, for Mr Inglis had a large collection of objects for the microscope, and, what was more, a genial way of chatting about them, imparting plenty of useful knowledge at the same time, but in so interesting a manner that the boys were never-tired of listening, and would hardly believe it when they heard at last it was bed-time.
SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY.
The next day being Sunday, the boys walked over to church with Mr and Mrs Inglis—to the pretty old church that looked as if it was built of ivy, so thoroughly were tower, nave, and chancel covered with the dark green leaves, which had to be kept cut back or they would have soon covered up the windows; and even then, long green shoots were dangling about in all directions, ready to take advantage of a week or two's neglect, and commence veiling the old stone mullioned windows.
This was Fred's first visit to the church, for on the first Sundays of his stay the days had been lowering, and Mr Inglis read prayers in the dining-room; and now that the lad followed his cousins out of the bright sunshine, through the old porch, and into the dim venerable-looking building, everything struck him as being so very different from what he had been accustomed to see in London. Here there were the bare whitewashed walls, with the old tablets upon them, and here and there an old rusty helmet, or a breastplate and a pair of gauntlets. Then there were the quaint old brasses of a knight or squire and his wife, with a step-like row of children by their side, and all let in the old blue slabs that paved the floor, ever which the worshippers of succeeding generations had passed for hundreds of years since. Then, too, there was the recumbent figure of the Knight Templar lying cross-legged, with his feet resting upon a dog, or some curious heraldic beast, and carved to represent his having worn chain, armour; the old oak pulpit; the fragments of stained glass in the windows; and, above all, the quaint appearance of many of the country people, dressed as they were in their Sunday best. These were among the things that took Fred's especial attention when he first entered the old village church; but when, instead of an organ, the choir commenced singing to the accompaniment of an old clarionet, a bassoon, and bass viol, Fred was completely astonished, for he had never been in a church before where there was not an imposing-looking instrument, with its large rows of gilt pipes. However, the hymn, in spite of the bad accompaniment, was very sweetly sung, and the service beautifully read in the soft silence of that old, old church, with the thousand scents of the country floating in through the open doors and windows, like Nature's own incense entering the temple of Nature's God.
Fred sat and listened, and by degrees all that was quaint and odd seemed to fade away, and leave nothing but the solemn stillness of the place, with the calm impressive voice of the clergyman telling of the goodness and love of his Maker. Then, too, the quiet walk back, with the breeze gently waving the corn now in full ear, making shade after shade of green appear to sweep over the surface of the many acres of rank wheat. The river, too, seemed to sparkle clearer and brighter than ever as the bright sun's rays flashed from the little Tipples. Altogether, Fred could not help, boy as he was, contrasting the bright country air and the lovely landscape with the fashionable London church in fashionable London: the hot dusty pavement—the noisy street and the oppressive choky air; and then he thought how he would like to live at Hollowdell for ever.
Boys are very quick in making their determinations, and Fred thought he was quite right in his; but he had never been down there in the winter, when the clay stuck to the boots, and the leaves had forsaken the trees; when the cold soaking rain came drenching down for day after day, and ofttimes the swollen river would be flooding the meadows. Fred had never realised the country in those times, when it was in such a state that by preference those who could stayed as much indoors as possible; but no one, to have looked at the present aspect of things, could have supposed such a change possible. Sunday in the country, in the long bright days of summer, truly is delightful, for it is only then that the young fully realise the calmness and beauty, for the cessation from sports leaves the young minds time to think a little more upon what is around them.
But I find that I am getting into too serious a strain, and my young readers will be for skipping all this portion of my story; so I must hasten to say that the calm summer evening was spent in a delightful walk down by the pleasant wood-side, where out of their reach the party could see, as it grew later, the light mists begin to curl above the river in many a graceful fold. Fred's friend, the night-jar, was out, and the nightingale in full call, while every now and then his sweet song was interrupted by the harsh "Tu—whoo—hoo—hoo—oo," of an owl somewhere in the recesses of the wood. Then the return home was made, and soon after the lads were asleep and dreaming of their botanical trip to the Camp Hill.
STALKING ON STILTS.
"Up—up—up—up—up—hilli—hi—he—o-o-o!" shouted Harry, who was first awake the next morning. "Come, boys, botany for ever! Di-andria and Poly-andria, and ever so many more of them, will be up the Camp Hill; and then there will be monogamia, and cryptogamia, and ever so many more games, here, there, and everywhere. Come, boys, get up;" and then Harry accompanied the request with a hearty bang from his pillow, the result of which was, in the cases of both brother and cousin, a leap out of bed and a regular scuffle; then hasty dressing, and out in the garden again amongst the dew-wet flowers.
"There's old Sam, shaving away as usual," said Harry, as they reached the lawn, and saw the old man busy at work with his scythe. "I wonder what he has got to tell us; I know he'll have something, so as to get rid of us all. Ah! don't old Sara hate to have us with him."
But Sam, although he expected it, was not to be teased very much upon this morning, for Philip made a remark which completely turned the current of Harry's thoughts, and away they all started back to the yard.
Dick greeted them with rapture; but Dick was not to be let loose, and he soon showed his disgust by sharp angry barks. The old raven came slily—hop, hop, hop—behind them, to give some one a dig with his hard beak; but Fred knew his tricks now and kept him at a distance; while Philip, who was not attending, received a sharp poke right in the calf of the leg, which sent him chasing his aggressor round the yard, armed with the stump of an old birch broom; but the raven hopped upon the dog-kennel, then upon the wall, and from thence up into one of the horse-chestnut trees, and so out of reach, for when the broom was thrown at him it only crashed amongst the branches and came to the ground, while the raven burst out into a series of harsh barks, that sounded very much like a laugh of derision.
"An old beast," said Philip, for his leg was bleeding a little, the dig having gone right through his trousers. "Never mind. I'll serve him out, for I'll let Dick loose at him the next time I catch him in the stables."
Meanwhile, Harry had entered the stable and climbed up the perpendicular ladder into the loft, where the boys could hear him stumping about in the dark place, stumbling over the hay and straw trusses, and at last he shouted—
"Why, they're not here, Phil."
"Yes, they are," said the one addressed. "I put 'em there myself, up in the corner, after we had them out last time. Look again."
Harry looked again, and again, and could not find what he was in search of, and said so; and then Philip called him "Old mole's eyes," and went up himself; while Fred waited underneath the trap-door. But Master Philip had no better success than his brother, and they came to the conclusion that the stilts they were in search of were gone; so they turned to descend, when Harry caught sight of the position Fred occupied, and pointed it out to Philip; and then, making signs, and catching up an armful of hay, Philip doing the same, the result was that poor Fred was nearly smothered beneath the fragrant shower that came down upon his head.
"Oh! I'll pay you for this, Master Harry," aid Fred, freeing himself from his load, and rightly judging who was the author of the mischief. "Mind that's a debt of honour, so look out."
Harry grinned defiance, and then hunted well through both stable and coach-house for the missing stilts, but without success.
"Why, I know where they are," said Philip all at once.
"No, you don't, old clever-shakes," said his brother.
"Well, you see if I don't tell," said Philip. "I know old Sam has hidden them because we walked all down the gravel-walk last month, before Fred came; and don't you remember it was wet, and we pretended that it was a flood, and that we were obliged to use the stilts to keep out of the water; and then Sam went and told Papa that we had made the path all full of holes with the stilts?"
"Oh! ah! I recollect," said Harry; "and I remember your going down in the puddle. But do you think Sam took them?"
"I feel sure he did," said Philip.
"Won't we serve him out then," said Harry. "Come on. Let's pretend that we know he's got them, and ask for them at once."
Now, old Sam had been all this time very methodically shaving away at his grass, and congratulating himself upon the boys keeping out of the garden; but, to his horror and disgust, he at length saw them all come bearing down upon him full rush, evidently bent upon some errand that he would consider unpleasant.
"Ha!" said Sam, stopping to wipe his scythe, and drawing his rubber out of the sheath on his back. "Ha! I know what you all wants. You wants to know how the wopses' nest is a gettin' on."
"No, we don't," said chief spokesman Harry; "but we'll go presently and see, though. We want our stilts, that you've got somewhere."
"Laws, Master Henry," said the old man, pretending to be innocent, "whatever made you think of that?"
"Come now," said Harry, "give 'em up directly, or we'll run away with your tools. Give us the stilts."
"I ain't got 'em," said the old man.
"No, but you've hid them away somewhere; so tell us directly."
"Stilts—stilts," said Sam, wonderingly; "what's stilts?"
"Why, you know well enough," said Philip; "and I know you've hid them away somewhere, because you thought we should forget them and not want them any more; so come now, Sam, tell us where they are, or we'll all begin to plague you."
"No, I weant," said Sam, throwing off all disguise. "You don't want them, and you'll only go 'brog—brog' all down the walks, making the place full of holes, and worse than when people has been down 'em in pattens. I weant tell ee, theer," said the old man, defiantly, in his broad Lincolnshire dialect.
"Yes, you will," said Harry; "now come."
"I weant," said the old man again, beginning to mow.
"Never mind," said Harry, "we'll go and have a look at the wasps' nest, and see if they are all killed, and then I know what we'll do. I say, Fred," he said loudly, "Phil and I will show you how they thin grapes."
"Oh! laws," said old Sam to himself, and bursting out into a cold perspiration, for his grapes were the greatest objects of his pride, and he used to gain prizes with them at the different horticultural shows in the district. Even Mr Inglis himself never thought of laying a profaning hand upon his own grapes, until Sam had cut them and brought them in for dessert; and now the young dogs were talking of thinning them, and the sharp-pointed scissors lay all ready; and what was worse, the key was in the door of the green-house.
"Oh dear! oh dear!" said Sam, throwing down his scythe, and hobbling off after the boys, who kept provokingly in front, and popped into the green-house just before him. "There," he said, "I'm bet out with you; come out, and I'll tell ee wheer the stilts are."
"Honour bright, Sam?" said Harry.
"Oh! ah! yes," said Sam. And then the boys coming out from beneath the pendent green bunches of grapes which hung thickly from the roof, the old man locked the door up, and seemed to breathe more freely when he had the key safely in his pocket.
"I knew he'd hid them," said Philip.
"Now, then," said Harry, "where are they?"
"I've a good mind not to tell ee, you young dogs," said Sam.
"We'll get in at the windows, then," said Harry and Philip in a breath.
The old man glanced over his shoulder, and saw how easily the threat could be executed, and then, with a grunt of despair, said—
"Now, if I let ee have 'em, will you promise not to walk in them in the garden, and make holes?"
"Yes, yes," said the boys, and then Sam led the way to the stoke-hole of the green-house, where, tucked up in the rafters, and rolled tightly up in piece of matting, were the two pairs of stilts.
The boys seized them with delight; and Sam turned to go on with his work; but just as the stilt-stalkers reached the yard, and prepared to mount with their backs to the wall, clatter went the breakfast bell down went the stilts, and away scampered the boys to the breakfast-room window. On the way, however, they met Sam going also to his breakfast, and in doing so he would have to pass the yard, and Harry remembered that they had left the stilts there unprotected; so he and Philip scampered back again, just in time, for the old man could not pass the instruments which poked holes in his gravel-walks, and he was just gathering them up when he heard the boys' footsteps, and, leaving the stilts on the ground, he shuffled off as hard as he could.
They took the stilts indoors, and into the hall, to place up in a corner, and just as they were inside it struck Harry how nice it would be to walk along the large hall upon them; for the floor was composed of black and white marble in diamonds, so that he could have one stilt on a black diamond and another on a white, and then change about again. So he got his back up in the corner where the macintoshes and great-coats hung, and then put one foot in one stilt, and made a spring to get into the other, but gave his head such a crack against the brass hat pegs, that he came down quicker than he went up, and then rubbed his crown with a very rueful expression of countenance. However, Harry's was not a nature to be cowed at a slight difficulty; so shifting his position a little, he had another try, and was fairly mounted.
"Stump—stump; stump—stump; stump—stump," went Harry down the hall; and "stump—stump; stump—stump; stump—stump," he went back again, with a face beaming with satisfaction, but so intent upon what he was doing, that his forehead came sharply into collision with the swing lamp, and made the glass, and Harry's teeth as well, chatter quite sharply.
"Bother the stupid things," said Harry; "I wish they would not have such things in the hall."
Philip stood on the mat and grinned.
"Stump—stump; stump—stump; stump—stump," went Harry again, but keeping well clear of obstructions this time.
"Whatever is that noise?" said Mrs Inglis, listening to the stumping of the stilts; but taking no further notice, for she was making the tea, while Mr Inglis was looking over the contents of a newspaper which had just come in by post.
"Stump—stump" went the stilts, while Fred had slipped out of the breakfast-room to see what was going on, and now stood in the doorway making a sort of silent echo of Philip's grin.
"Stump—stump; stump—stump; crish—crash—dangle," said the stilts, the lamp, and Harry's head.
"Whatever are those boys doing?" said Mr Inglis, jumping up and going to the door, closely followed by Mrs Inglis, and just as the young dog was stumping back after knocking his head against the swing lamp.
Mr and Mrs Inglis had better have stopped in the room, for no sooner did Harry see his father's face issue from the door, than he let go of the stilts, and one fell in one direction, and one in the other. Stilt number one fell to the right, crash into the flower-stand, and chopped some of the best branches off the fuchsias; while stilt number two—oh! unlucky stick!—went crash down upon the great antique vase that stood in the hall upon a pedestal, knocked it off, and there it lay, shivered upon the marble floor.
Harry looked for a moment at his father, then at the vase, and then at the door and rushing out of it as hard as he could, was gone in a moment.
"Fetch back that boy," said Mr Inglis, sternly, as he walked back into the breakfast-parlour, and rang the bell for one of the servants to clear away the fragments. "Fetch back that boy."
Away darted Philip to execute his commission, while Fred, who felt very uncomfortable, followed his uncle and aunt back into the room, where they continued their breakfast—Mr Inglis only reverting to the newspaper again, and saying nothing about the accident. The first cup of tea was finished, but no Philip; no Harry. The second cup—no Philip; no Harry. And at last breakfast was nearly done, when Mr Inglis said—
"Wherever can those boys be?"
He had hardly spoken, when Philip came in to say that he could not find his brother anywhere; and all the time looking as miserable and dejected as though he had himself been the culprit Mr Inglis told Philip to sit down to his breakfast; finished his own; and then got up, and went out of the room.
In about a quarter of an hour he returned, followed by Harry, with his face bearing the mark of tears, and something uncommonly like a sob every now and then escaping from his breast.
Mr Inglis sat down again to his paper, and Harry tried to eat his breakfast, but was getting or very badly indeed, until, looking towards his father, he caught his eye. Mr Inglis smiled, and that smile seemed to act like magic upon the lad, for he finished his breakfast in good style—well making up for the lost time; while the sobs gradually ceased to interrupt his meal, and by the time he rose, Harry looked as happy again as ever.
After breakfast, when the boys were alone, not a word would Harry say about where he had been, nor yet what his father had said to him: but I happen to knew that it was no wonder that Philip could not find him out in the garden, nor in stable, coach-house, green-house, tool-house, or any other place upon the premises; for the fact was, that the boy had rushed out of the hall-door and round to the back door, where he had entered and gone up the back stairs to his room, where Mr Inglis found him lying upon his bed. I know also that Mr Inglis had a long talk with his boy, and that something was said about running away, making the fault worse; but, as upon another occasion, when the Squire had a long talk with the boys in the library; I didn't feel disposed to play the spy, and then "tell tales out of school;" for I think that where correction or admonition is administered, it concerns only those to whom it relates; and I do not approve of a boy's best feelings being wounded, and his being also lowered in his self-esteem, by having witnesses of what takes place, or eaves-droppers, to carry the words about for other people to catch up and talk about afterwards.
UP THE CAMP HILL.
"Oh! isn't this a pretty walk?" said Fred, later on in the day, as they were ascending the winding road that led up the Camp Hill, a road that at every turn disclosed fresh views over the surrounding country. The whole party were there—Mrs Inglis and all, and busy enough they were collecting sprays, flowers, and leaves, as they went along; for rich indeed was the hill in floral beauties, fresh and bright, as they had just burst forth into bloom. Fred was busy as a bee collecting everything, and getting confused, and placing in his tin box the same kinds of plants two or three times over: but Fred was no botanist, only eager to learn; and very hard and tiresome to remember he found the names his uncle told him. However, he soon learnt which were the pistils, stamens, petals, and calyx of a flower, while of the other terms, the less we say the better; for although Fred had read a little upon the subject, his notions of classes and orders were rather wild. But for all that, he much enjoyed his trip, for no one could have ascended that path without feeling admiration of the many beauties it disclosed. The path had been cut entirely through the wood which surrounded the hill, while the feet pressed at every step upon the soft green elastic turf, that here grew of the finest texture, and in the shortest strands. Nowhere else could be found such large heaths, with their beautiful pinky lilac bells looking as though moulded in wax; while harebells, orchids, anemones, arums, formed only a tithe of the rich banquet of flowers which awaited the collector—and a most staunch collector was Mr Inglis. He used to say that he was one of the most ignorant of men, and the more he collected the more he found that out. No doubt, if he had kept entirely to one science, he would have been more skilled therein; but he said he liked that idea of a famous essayist, who compared a man who devoted himself entirely to one thing, to a tree that sent forth a tremendously great bough in one direction, while the rest of the tree was composed of wretched little twigs. He considered it better to have a little knowledge upon a good many subjects, than to excel so greatly in one only.
The view from the Camp Hill was one that could not be seen everywhere, for it overlooked a wide tract of the richest farm land in England. It was called the Camp Hill from the entrenchment at the summit, for here had the Romans in days long gone by established one of those mighty works that, after fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen centuries, still exist by the score in our country, to show how powerful and highly-disciplined were the armies that the Roman Emperors sent into Britain. Fred was, however, rather disappointed at the Camp: he expected to have seen turrets and embrasures, and, if not cannon, at all events a few catapults and battering-rams. But no; there was nothing to be seen but a broad ditch encircling the summit of the hill, and now completely covered with trees and bushes, so that the bottom of the great trench formed a walk, where, even at mid-day, the sun's rays were completely shut out, and where the nightingale would sing, all day as well as all night long.
I am ashamed to say that all three boys very soon tired of botanising, and were searching about the shady paths for anything or nothing, as the case might be. Now it was after butterflies; now the discordant cry of the jay told of its nest being, at hand; while every now and then the scampering rustle of a rabbit amidst the underwood would start the boys off in full chase, and in almost every instance the fruit of their hunt was, seeing the little white tail of the rabbit as its owner scuffled down its hole under some hazel stub. Once, while they were deep in the thickest shade, Philip gave a regular jump, for a great brown owl started from its roosting-place in an oak-tree, and softly and slowly flapped its way down the dell, but soon to have its flight quickened by a host of sandmartins, which began to mob the stolid-looking old fellow, till they all passed out of sight in a curve of the pathway.
Mr and Mrs Inglis were resting in a rustic seat placed opposite one of the openings in the trees, where there was a splendid view right out to sea; and while Mr Inglis was scanning the horizon with his telescope, the lads felt themselves quite at liberty to have a good ramble. Their first excursion was right round the hill, down in the trench, and here there was plenty to have taken their attention for a day: there was an ant-hill, swarming with those great black ants found in the woods, whose hill looks one lightly shovelled-up collection of earth: then, close at hand, they heard the regular "tip-tap" of the great green woodpecker; the harsh "pee-pee-peen" of the wryneck; while, from far off, floating upon the soft breeze, came the sweet bell-tones of the cuckoo. Directly after, came again the harsh cry of the jay, to be succeeded by the soft cooing of the cushat doves; and every interval was filled up by the bursts of song from the small finches, thrushes, and other denizens of the wooded hill. In one fir tree there was a pair of tiny gold-crested wrens, beautiful little birds, which seemed to consider that their insignificance was quite enough to keep them from harm. So tame were they that they could have been struck down by a stick, which would have been their fate but for the interposition of Philip, who seized his brother's arm as he was raising his hand to deal the blow. In a box-tree they found the pretty covered-in nest of a bottle-tit, beautifully compact, with its tiny opening or doorway—feather-eaved—at the side. It was a great temptation, and hard to resist was the sight of that nest; it was only about five feet from the ground, and they could have cut off the branch and brought it away with the nest uninjured; but they contented themselves with marking the spot by cutting an arrow in the bark of one of the beech-trees, and promising themselves that they would have the nest when the birds had done with it. All at once a bird fluttered from a bush close by—a bird with a large head and marked in the wings with a good deal of white, and off went the boys in chase; but almost at the first start, Philip stumbled by catching his foot in a long bramble runner, and went down sprawling amongst the heather, with Harry upon his back, for he could not pull up time enough to prevent stumbling over his brother. Away went Fred, all alone, and very soon he captured the strange bird, for its wing had been broken; but the muscles of the great beak it had were in a good state of preservation, as Fred soon knew to his cost, by the nip the prisoned bird gave him.
Fred shouted out with the pain, but he had grown more stoical since his sojourn in the country, and he held on tightly to his prize, which Harry declared, when he saw it, was a chaffinch with a swelled head; but afterwards, when they brought it to Mr Inglis, he told the boys it was a fine male specimen of the hawfinch, or grosbeak, rather a rare bird in the British Isles. A temporary cage was made for the prisoner by tying him up in a pocket-handkerchief, and then the party continued their ramble, finding fresh objects to take their attention at every step. Once a weasel ran out into the path, sat up a moment to look at the strangers, and then disappeared on the other side.
Fred was for giving chase, but his cousins gave him to understand how fruitless such a task would be; so he gave up his intention, and onward they still went, with fresh beauties springing up before them every minute. If they had been botanically disposed, they might have filled their boxes with mosses and lichens, from the tiniest green to the bright orange golden that clung round the branches and sprays of the bushes. Some of the beeches were almost covered with grey or creamy patches, of the most beautiful patterns and tints; while wherever a rotten bough, or fallen tree, lay upon the ground, the moss seemed to have taken full possession, and completely covered it with a velvety pile.
"I'm so thirsty, Phil," said Harry, all at once; "where's the old spring?"
"Oh! ever so far down the hill; and I don't know which side we are on now. Let's get back to Papa: I know there's something in the basket. Come along."
"It's no use to go back," said Harry, "let's go straight forward; they can't be far-off; I'll shout."
And shout he did, when a reply came from no very distant spot; so they struck off in the direction from which the sound proceeded, and soon found themselves again by the trench, where a portion of the gravelly soil had crumbled away, leaving the side so steep that Philip had to jump down about five feet before he could descend further. Harry thought this a capital chance for a practical joke, and gave a heavy stamp with his heel, so as to send a small avalanche of gravel and stones down upon his brother. But Harry had not calculated rightly this time, for Philip, as he heard the stones coming, made a buck leap, and came several feet lower down the side of the trench amongst the bushes; whilst Harry, by his stamp, loosened about a cartload of gravel, and, in company with Fred, went down with it, and they were buried up to the knees in the loose soil.
The first sensation felt was fear; but, upon finding that there was no further mischief to apprehend, Harry burst out laughing; Fred extricated himself, for he was in the loosest part of the heap of debris; while Philip, who was to have been the victim, seeing that his brother was stuck fast, indulged in a kind of triumphant dance round him, softly punching his head, and, of course, making the soil tighter at every jump.
"Oh! don't, Phil," said Harry; "pull a fellow out—there's a good chap."
But Philip would not, and threatened to leave him to his fate; so Harry appealed to Fred, and at last, by his assistance, got one leg out, when freeing the other proved an easy task. After which his lordship had to sit down and pull off his boots, to empty out the gravel and sand.
Meanwhile Fred was looking at the place where the earth had crumbled down, for his curiosity had been excited by what at first sight appeared to be a bit of old iron, of a very peculiar shape, and then, just beyond it, what bore the appearance of a bone, but so earthy that it crumbled under his foot.
"I say; look here," said he, pointing to something half enclosed in earth; "what's that?"
"Why, it's a skull," said Philip, coming up.
"You're a skull!" said Harry, leisurely buttoning up his boots again.
"Well, come and look," said Philip.
"Not I," said Harry; "you're up to some tricks."
"I'm not, I tell you," said Philip; "it's a skull, and there's another bit of one, and some bones; and here's an old farthing, such a thick one, and so badly made; and, ugh! why, that's a bit of jawbone, with all the teeth fallen out."
Just then Harry came up to them and saw that, indeed, they had hit upon something more curious—if less attractive—than anything they had before been that day.
"Why, this isn't a farthing," said Fred, who had been examining the coin; "I know what it is, it's a Roman coin. My Papa has got one, something like it."
Just then they heard Mr Inglis calling close at hand, and Philip bounded off to fetch him and tell of their discovery. This hastened the Squire's steps, and very soon he was carefully inspecting what the boys had laid bare. He immediately confirmed Fred's opinion that the coin was Roman, and also said that it was of silver, and appeared to bear the name of Constantine. Fred's piece of old iron was unmistakably the blade of a sword, but almost completely eaten away, and the bones and two skulls were directly pronounced to be human; but they crumbled away to dust almost immediately.
"Bravo, boys," said Mr Inglis at last; "you have indeed made a discovery. I have long been under the impression that this old trench must contain some curious antiquities, but never thought to see them laid bare in so singular a manner. We must have spades and pickaxes up here to-morrow, if we can get permission: but let's turn over the gravel with our sticks; we may, perhaps, find something more to-day."
"But won't the skulls and bones be nasty, and poisonous, uncle?" said Fred.
Mr Inglis smiled, and then said, "No, my boy. You have read how that God made Adam of the dust of the earth, and how that it is said, 'To dust thou shalt return,' and here you see how that it is so. Touch that bone ever so lightly, and you sea it has crumbled away to 'dust of the earth!' God has so arranged, by His great wisdom, that the earth shall deprive everything of its ill odour and poisonous nature when buried therein, so that even in some great pit upon a battle-field where, perhaps, scores—of the slain had been covered-in, in the course of time nothing would be found there but rich soil, for our bodies are chemically composed of nothing but salts and water. I do not mean what we commonly call salt, which is chloride of sodium, but of earthy salts."