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ROUND ABOUT A GREAT ESTATE



BY

RICHARD JEFFERIES


AUTHOR OF

'THE GAMEKEEPER AT HOME'
'WILD LIFE IN A SOUTHERN COUNTY'
'THE AMATEUR POACHER'
'GREEN FERNE FARM'
'HODGE AND HIS MASTERS'



LONDON
SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
1880

[_All rights reserved_]




PREFACE.


There is an old story which in respect of a modern application may
bear re-telling. Once upon a time in a lonely 'coombe-bottom' of the
Downs, where there was neither church, chapel, nor public building of
any kind, there lived a cottage-girl who had never seen anything of
civilisation. A friend, however, having gone out to service in a
market-town some few miles distant, she one day walked in to see her,
and was shown the wonders of the place, the railway, the post-office,
the hotels, and so forth. In the evening the friend accompanied her a
short way on the return journey, and as they went out of the town,
they passed the church. Looking suddenly up at the tower, the visitor
exclaimed, 'Lard-a-mussy! you've got another moon here. Yourn have got
figures all round un!' In her excitement, and prepared to see marvels,
she had mistaken the large dial of the church clock for a moon of a
different kind to the one which shone upon her native home. This old
tale, familiar to country folk as an illustration of simplicity, has
to-day a wider meaning. Until recent years the population dwelling in
villages and hamlets, and even in little rural towns, saw indeed the
sun by day and the moon by night, and learned the traditions and
customs of their forefathers, such as had been handed down for
generations. But now a new illumination has fallen upon these far-away
places. The cottager is no longer ignorant, and his child is well
grounded in rudimentary education, reads and writes with facility, and
is not without knowledge of the higher sort. Thus there is now another
moon with the figures of education all round it. In this book some
notes have been made of the former state of things before it passes
away entirely. But I would not have it therefore thought that I wish
it to continue or return. My sympathies and hopes are with the light
of the future, only I should like it to come from nature. The clock
should be read by the sunshine, not the sun timed by the clock. The
latter is indeed impossible, for though all the clocks in the world
should declare the hour of dawn to be midnight, the sun will presently
rise just the same.

RICHARD JEFFERIES.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER PAGE

I. OKEBOURNE CHACE. FELLING TREES. 1

II. CICELY. THE BROOK. 20

III. A PACK OF STOATS. BIRDS. 42

IV. HAMLET FOLK. 61

V. WIND-ANEMONES. THE FISHPOND. 82

VI. A FARMER OF THE OLDEN TIMES. 103

VII. THE CUCKOO-FIELDS. 125

VIII. CICELY'S DAIRY. HILARY'S TALK. 144

IX. THE WATER-MILL. FIELD NAMES. 163

X. THE COOMBE-BOTTOM. CONCLUSION. 183




ROUND ABOUT A GREAT ESTATE.




CHAPTER I.

OKEBOURNE CHACE. FELLING TREES.


The great house at Okebourne Chace stands in the midst of the park,
and from the southern windows no dwellings are visible. Near at hand
the trees appear isolated, but further away insensibly gather
together, and above them rises the distant Down crowned with four
tumuli. Among several private paths which traverse the park there is
one that, passing through a belt of ash wood, enters the meadows.
Sometimes following the hedges and sometimes crossing the angles, this
path finally ends, after about a mile, in the garden surrounding a
large thatched farmhouse. In the maps of the parish it has probably
another name, but from being so long inhabited by the Lucketts it is
always spoken of as Lucketts' Place.

The house itself and ninety acres of grass land have been their
freehold for many generations; in fact, although there is no actual
deed of entail, the property is as strictly preserved in the family
and descends from heir to heir as regularly as the great estate and
mansion adjacent. Old Hilary Luckett--though familiarly called 'old,'
he is physically in the prime of life--is probably about the most
independent man in the county. Yet he is on terms of more than
goodwill with the great house, and rents one of the largest farms on
the estate, somewhere between six and seven hundred acres. He has the
right of shooting, and in the course of years privilege after
privilege has been granted, till Hilary is now as free of the warren
as the owner of the charter himself. If you should be visiting
Okebourne Chace, and any question should arise whether of horses, dog,
or gun, you are sure to be referred to Hilary. Hilary knows all about
it: he is the authority thereabout on all matters concerning game. Is
it proposed to plant fresh covers? Hilary's opinion is asked. Is it
proposed to thin out some of the older trees; what does Hilary say?

It is a fact that people really believe no part of a partridge is ever
taken away after being set before him. Neither bones nor sinews
remain: so fond is he of the brown bird. Having eaten the breast, and
the juicy leg and the delicate wing, he next proceeds to suck the
bones; for game to be thoroughly enjoyed should be eaten like a
mince-pie, in the fingers. There is always one bone with a sweeter
flavour than the rest, just at the joint or fracture: it varies in
every bird according to the chance of the cooking, but, having
discovered it, put it aside for further and more strict attention.
Presently he begins to grind up the bones in his strong teeth,
commencing with the smallest. His teeth are not now so powerful as
when in younger days he used to lift a sack of wheat with them, or the
full milking-bucket up to the level of the copper in the dairy. Still
they gradually reduce the slender skeleton. The feat is not so
difficult if the bird has been well hung.

He has the right to shoot, and need take no precautions. But, in fact,
a farmer, whether he has liberty or not, can usually amuse himself
occasionally in that way. If his labourer sees him quietly slipping up
beside the hedge with his double-barrel towards the copse in the
corner where a pheasant has been heard several times lately, the
labourer watches him with delight, and says nothing. Should anyone in
authority ask where that gun went off, the labourer 'thenks it wur th'
birdkippur up in th' Dree Vurlong, you.' Presently the pheasant hangs
in the farmer's cellar, his long tail sweeping the top of the XXX
cask; and the 'servant-wench,' who is in and out all day, also says
nothing. Nor can anything exceed the care with which she disposes of
the feathers when she picks the bird. There is a thorough sympathy
between master and man so far. Hilary himself, with all that great
estate to sport over, cannot at times refrain from stepping across the
boundary. His landlord once, it is whispered, was out with Hilary
shooting, and they became so absent-minded while discussing some
interesting subject as to wander several fields beyond the property
before they discovered their mistake.

At Lucketts' Place the favourite partridge always comes up for supper:
a pleasant meal that nowadays can rarely be had out of a farmhouse.
Then the bright light from the burning log outshines the lamp, and
glances rosy on the silver tankard standing under a glass shade on a
bracket against the wall. Hilary's father won it near half a century
since in some heats that were run on the Downs on the old racecourse,
before it was ploughed up. For the wicked turnip is responsible for
the destruction of old England; far more so than the steam-engine.

Waste lands all glorious with golden blossoming furze, with purple
foxglove, or curious orchis hiding in stray corners; wild moor-like
lands, beautiful with heaths and honey-bottle; grand stretches of
sloping downs where the hares hid in the grass, and where all the
horses in the kingdom might gallop at their will; these have been
overthrown with the plough because of the turnip. As the root crops
came in, the rage began for thinning the hedges and grubbing the
double mounds and killing the young timber, besides putting in the
drains and driving away the wild-ducks. The wicked turnip put diamonds
on the fingers of the farmer's wife, and presently raised his rent.
But now some of the land is getting 'turnip-sick,' the roots come
stringy and small and useless, so that many let it 'vall down.'

After the last crop it is left alone, the couch grows, the docks
spread out from the hedges, every species of weed starts up, till
by-and-by the ploughed land becomes green and is called pasture. This
is a process going on at the present moment, and to which owners of
land should see without delay. Hilary has been looked on somewhat
coldly by other tenants for openly calling the lord of the manor's
attention to it. He sturdily maintains that arable land if laid down
for pasture should be laid down properly--a thing that requires labour
and expenditure just the same as other farming operations. So the
silver tankard, won when 'cups' were not so common as now, is a
memorial of the old times before the plough turned up the sweet turf
of the racecourse.

Hilary does not bet beyond the modest 'fiver' which a man would be
thought unsociable if he did not risk on the horse that carries the
country's colours. But he is very 'thick' with the racing-people on
the Downs, and supplies the stable with oats, which is, I believe, not
an unprofitable commission. The historical anecdote of the Roman
emperor who fed his horse on gilded oats reads a little strange when
we first come across it in youth. But many a race-horse owner has
found reason since to doubt if it be so wonderful, as his own stud--to
judge by the cost--must live on golden fodder. Now, before I found
this out about the stable, it happened one spring day that I met
Hilary in the fields, and listened to a long tirade which he delivered
against 'wuts.'

The wheat was then showing a beautiful flag, the despised oats were
coming out in jag, and the black knots on the delicate barley straw
were beginning to be topped with the hail.



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