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Produced by Malcolm Farmer









AFTER LONDON
or
Wild England


by


Richard Jefferies






Contents


Part I The Relapse into Barbarism


Chapter 1 The Great Forest

Chapter 2 Wild Animals

Chapter 3 Men of the Woods

Chapter 4 The Invaders

Chapter 5 The Lake



Part II Wild England


Chapter 1 Sir Felix

Chapter 2 The House of Aquila

Chapter 3 The Stockade

Chapter 4 The Canoe

Chapter 5 Baron Aquila

Chapter 6 The Forest Track

Chapter 7 The Forest Track continued

Chapter 8 Thyma Castle

Chapter 9 Superstitions

Chapter 10 The Feast

Chapter 11 Aurora

Chapter 12 Night in the Forest

Chapter 13 Sailing Away

Chapter 14 The Straits

Chapter 15 Sailing Onwards

Chapter 16 The City

Chapter 17 The Camp

Chapter 18 The King's Levy

Chapter 19 Fighting

Chapter 20 In Danger

Chapter 21 A Voyage

Chapter 22 Discoveries

Chapter 23 Strange Things

Chapter 24 Fiery Vapours

Chapter 25 The Shepherds

Chapter 26 Bow and Arrow

Chapter 27 Surprised

Chapter 28 For Aurora





Part I

The Relapse into Barbarism




CHAPTER I

THE GREAT FOREST


The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were
left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green
everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the
country looked alike.

The meadows were green, and so was the rising wheat which had been sown,
but which neither had nor would receive any further care. Such arable
fields as had not been sown, but where the last stubble had been
ploughed up, were overrun with couch-grass, and where the short stubble
had not been ploughed, the weeds hid it. So that there was no place
which was not more or less green; the footpaths were the greenest of
all, for such is the nature of grass where it has once been trodden on,
and by-and-by, as the summer came on, the former roads were thinly
covered with the grass that had spread out from the margin.

In the autumn, as the meadows were not mown, the grass withered as it
stood, falling this way and that, as the wind had blown it; the seeds
dropped, and the bennets became a greyish-white, or, where the docks and
sorrel were thick, a brownish-red. The wheat, after it had ripened,
there being no one to reap it, also remained standing, and was eaten by
clouds of sparrows, rooks, and pigeons, which flocked to it and were
undisturbed, feasting at their pleasure. As the winter came on, the
crops were beaten down by the storms, soaked with rain, and trodden upon
by herds of animals.

Next summer the prostrate straw of the preceding year was concealed by
the young green wheat and barley that sprang up from the grain sown by
dropping from the ears, and by quantities of docks, thistles, oxeye
daisies, and similar plants. This matted mass grew up through the
bleached straw. Charlock, too, hid the rotting roots in the fields under
a blaze of yellow flower. The young spring meadow-grass could scarcely
push its way up through the long dead grass and bennets of the year
previous, but docks and thistles, sorrel, wild carrots, and nettles,
found no such difficulty.

Footpaths were concealed by the second year, but roads could be traced,
though as green as the sward, and were still the best for walking,
because the tangled wheat and weeds, and, in the meadows, the long
grass, caught the feet of those who tried to pass through. Year by year
the original crops of wheat, barley, oats, and beans asserted their
presence by shooting up, but in gradually diminished force, as nettles
and coarser plants, such as the wild parsnips, spread out into the
fields from the ditches and choked them.

Aquatic grasses from the furrows and water-carriers extended in the
meadows, and, with the rushes, helped to destroy or take the place of
the former sweet herbage. Meanwhile, the brambles, which grew very fast,
had pushed forward their prickly runners farther and farther from the
hedges till they had now reached ten or fifteen yards. The briars had
followed, and the hedges had widened to three or four times their first
breadth, the fields being equally contracted. Starting from all sides at
once, these brambles and briars in the course of about twenty years met
in the centre of the largest fields.

Hawthorn bushes sprang up among them, and, protected by the briars and
thorns from grazing animals, the suckers of elm-trees rose and
flourished. Sapling ashes, oaks, sycamores, and horse-chestnuts, lifted
their heads. Of old time the cattle would have eaten off the seed leaves
with the grass so soon as they were out of the ground, but now most of
the acorns that were dropped by birds, and the keys that were wafted by
the wind, twirling as they floated, took root and grew into trees. By
this time the brambles and briars had choked up and blocked the former
roads, which were as impassable as the fields.

No fields, indeed, remained, for where the ground was dry, the thorns,
briars, brambles, and saplings already mentioned filled the space, and
these thickets and the young trees had converted most part of the
country into an immense forest. Where the ground was naturally moist,
and the drains had become choked with willow roots, which, when confined
in tubes, grow into a mass like the brush of a fox, sedges and flags and
rushes covered it. Thorn bushes were there, too, but not so tall; they
were hung with lichen. Besides the flags and reeds, vast quantities of
the tallest cow-parsnips or "gicks" rose five or six feet high, and the
willow herb with its stout stem, almost as woody as a shrub, filled
every approach.

By the thirtieth year there was not one single open place, the hills
only excepted, where a man could walk, unless he followed the tracks of
wild creatures or cut himself a path. The ditches, of course, had long
since become full of leaves and dead branches, so that the water which
should have run off down them stagnated, and presently spread out into
the hollow places and by the corner of what had once been fields,
forming marshes where the horsetails, flags, and sedges hid the water.

As no care was taken with the brooks, the hatches upon them gradually
rotted, and the force of the winter rains carried away the weak timbers,
flooding the lower grounds, which became swamps of larger size. The
dams, too, were drilled by water-rats, and the streams percolating
through, slowly increased the size of these tunnels till the structure
burst, and the current swept on and added to the floods below. Mill-dams
stood longer, but, as the ponds silted up, the current flowed round and
even through the mill-houses, which, going by degrees to ruin, were in
some cases undermined till they fell.

Everywhere the lower lands adjacent to the streams had become marshes,
some of them extending for miles in a winding line, and occasionally
spreading out to a mile in breadth. This was particularly the case where
brooks and streams of some volume joined the rivers, which were also
blocked and obstructed in their turn, and the two, overflowing, covered
the country around; for the rivers brought down trees and branches,
timbers floated from the shore, and all kinds of similar materials,
which grounded in the shallows or caught against snags, and formed huge
piles where there had been weirs.

Sometimes, after great rains, these piles swept away the timbers of the
weir, driven by the irresistible power of the water, and then in its
course the flood, carrying the balks before it like battering rams,
cracked and split the bridges of solid stone which the ancients had
built. These and the iron bridges likewise were overthrown, and
presently quite disappeared, for the very foundations were covered with
the sand and gravel silted up.

Thus, too, the sites of many villages and towns that anciently existed
along the rivers, or on the lower lands adjoining, were concealed by the
water and the mud it brought with it. The sedges and reeds that arose
completed the work and left nothing visible, so that the mighty
buildings of olden days were by these means utterly buried. And, as has
been proved by those who have dug for treasures, in our time the very
foundations are deep beneath the earth, and not to be got at for the
water that oozes into the shafts that they have tried to sink through
the sand and mud banks.

From an elevation, therefore, there was nothing visible but endless
forest and marsh. On the level ground and plains the view was limited to
a short distance, because of the thickets and the saplings which had now
become young trees. The downs only were still partially open, yet it was
not convenient to walk upon them except in the tracks of animals,
because of the long grass which, being no more regularly grazed upon by
sheep, as was once the case, grew thick and tangled. Furze, too, and
heath covered the slopes, and in places vast quantities of fern. There
had always been copses of fir and beech and nut-tree covers, and these
increased and spread, while bramble, briar, and hawthorn extended around
them.

By degrees the trees of the vale seemed as it were to invade and march
up the hills, and, as we see in our time, in many places the downs are
hidden altogether with a stunted kind of forest. But all the above
happened in the time of the first generation. Besides these things a
great physical change took place; but before I speak of that, it will be
best to relate what effects were produced upon animals and men.

In the first years after the fields were left to themselves, the fallen
and over-ripe corn crops became the resort of innumerable mice. They
swarmed to an incredible degree, not only devouring the grain upon the
straw that had never been cut, but clearing out every single ear in the
wheat-ricks that were standing about the country.



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