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THE OPEN AIR



RICHARD JEFFERIES





NOTE

For permission to collect these papers my thanks are due to the
Editors of the following publications: _The Standard_, _English
Illustrated Magazine_, _Longman's Magazine_, _St. James's Gazette_,
_Chambers's Journal_, _Manchester Guardian_, _Good Words_, and _Pall Mall
Gazette_.
R.J.





CONTENTS


SAINT GUIDO

GOLDEN-BROWN

WILD FLOWERS

SUNNY BRIGHTON

THE PINE WOOD

NATURE ON THE ROOF

ONE OF THE NEW VOTERS

THE MODERN THAMES

THE SINGLE-BARREL GUN

THE HAUNT OF THE HARE

THE BATHING SEASON

UNDER THE ACORNS

DOWNS

FOREST

BEAUTY IN THE COUNTRY

OUT OF DOORS IN FEBRUARY

HAUNTS OF THE LAPWING

OUTSIDE LONDON

ON THE LONDON ROAD

RED ROOFS OF LONDON

A WET NIGHT IN LONDON




SAINT GUIDO


St. Guido ran out at the garden gate into a sandy lane, and down the lane
till he came to a grassy bank. He caught hold of the bunches of grass and
so pulled himself up. There was a footpath on the top which went straight
in between fir-trees, and as he ran along they stood on each side of him
like green walls. They were very near together, and even at the top the
space between them was so narrow that the sky seemed to come down, and
the clouds to be sailing but just over them, as if they would catch and
tear in the fir-trees. The path was so little used that it had grown
green, and as he ran he knocked dead branches out of his way. Just as he
was getting tired of running he reached the end of the path, and came out
into a wheat-field. The wheat did not grow very closely, and the spaces
were filled with azure corn-flowers. St. Guido thought he was safe away
now, so he stopped to look.

Those thoughts and feelings which are not sharply defined but have a haze
of distance and beauty about them are always the dearest. His name was
not really Guido, but those who loved him had called him so in order to
try and express their hearts about him. For they thought if a great
painter could be a little boy, then he would be something like this one.
They were not very learned in the history of painters: they had heard of
Raphael, but Raphael was too elevated, too much of the sky, and of
Titian, but Titian was fond of feminine loveliness, and in the end
somebody said Guido was a dreamy name, as if it belonged to one who was
full of faith. Those golden curls shaking about his head as he ran and
filling the air with radiance round his brow, looked like a Nimbus or
circlet of glory. So they called him St. Guido, and a very, very wild
saint he was.

St. Guido stopped in the cornfield, and looked all round. There were the
fir-trees behind him--a thick wall of green--hedges on the right and the
left, and the wheat sloped down towards an ash-copse in the hollow. No
one was in the field, only the fir-trees, the green hedges, the yellow
wheat, and the sun overhead, Guido kept quite still, because he expected
that in a minute the magic would begin, and something would speak to him.
His cheeks which had been flushed with running grew less hot, but I
cannot tell you the exact colour they were, for his skin was so white and
clear, it would not tan under the sun, yet being always out of doors it
had taken the faintest tint of golden brown mixed with rosiness. His blue
eyes which had been wide open, as they always were when full of mischief,
became softer, and his long eyelashes drooped over them. But as the magic
did not begin, Guido walked on slowly into the wheat, which rose nearly
to his head, though it was not yet so tall as it would be before the
reapers came. He did not break any of the stalks, or bend them down and
step on them; he passed between them, and they yielded on either side.
The wheat-ears were pale gold, having only just left off their green, and
they surrounded him on all sides as if he were bathing.

A butterfly painted a velvety red with white spots came floating along
the surface of the corn, and played round his cap, which was a little
higher, and was so tinted by the sun that the butterfly was inclined to
settle on it. Guido put up his hand to catch the butterfly, forgetting
his secret in his desire to touch it. The butterfly was too quick--with a
snap of his wings disdainfully mocking the idea of catching him, away he
went. Guido nearly stepped on a humble-bee--buzz-zz!--the bee was so
alarmed he actually crept up Guido's knickers to the knee, and even then
knocked himself against a wheat-ear when he started to fly. Guido kept
quite still while the humble-bee was on his knee, knowing that he should
not be stung if he did not move. He knew, too, that humble-bees have
stings though people often say they have not, and the reason people think
they do not possess them is because humble-bees are so good-natured and
never sting unless they are very much provoked.

Next he picked a corn buttercup; the flowers were much smaller than the
great buttercups which grew in the meadows, and these were not golden but
coloured like brass. His foot caught in a creeper, and he nearly
tumbled--it was a bine of bindweed which went twisting round and round
two stalks of wheat in a spiral, binding them together as if some one had
wound string about them. There was one ear of wheat which had black
specks on it, and another which had so much black that the grains seemed
changed and gone leaving nothing but blackness. He touched it and it
stained his hands like a dark powder, and then he saw that it was not
perfectly black as charcoal is, it was a little red. Something was
burning up the corn there just as if fire had been set to the ears. Guido
went on and found another place where there was hardly any wheat at all,
and those stalks that grew were so short they only came above his knee.
The wheat-ears were thin and small, and looked as if there was nothing
but chaff. But this place being open was full of flowers, such lovely
azure cornflowers which the people call bluebottles.

Guido took two; they were curious flowers with knobs surrounded with
little blue flowers like a lady's bonnet. They were a beautiful blue, not
like any other blue, not like the violets in the garden, or the sky over
the trees, or the geranium in the grass, or the bird's-eyes by the path.
He loved them and held them tight in his hand, and went on, leaving the
red pimpernel wide open to the dry air behind him, but the May-weed was
everywhere. The May-weed had white flowers like a moon-daisy, but not so
large, and leaves like moss. He could not walk without stepping on these
mossy tufts, though he did not want to hurt them. So he stooped and
stroked the moss-like leaves and said, "I do not want to hurt you, but
you grow so thick I cannot help it." In a minute afterwards as he was
walking he heard a quick rush, and saw the wheat-ears sway this way and
that as if a puff of wind had struck them.

Guido stood still and his eyes opened very wide, he had forgotten to cut
a stick to fight with: he watched the wheat-ears sway, and could see them
move for some distance, and he did not know what it was. Perhaps it was a
wild boar or a yellow lion, or some creature no one had ever seen; he
would not go back, but he wished he had cut a nice stick. Just then a
swallow swooped down and came flying over the wheat so close that Guido
almost felt the flutter of his wings, and as he passed he whispered to
Guido that it was only a hare. "Then why did he run away?" said Guido; "I
should not have hurt him." But the swallow had gone up high into the sky
again, and did not hear him. All the time Guido was descending the slope,
for little feet always go down the hill as water does, and when he looked
back he found that he had left the fir-trees so far behind he was in the
middle of the field. If any one had looked they could hardly have seen
him, and if he had taken his cap off they could not have done so because
the yellow curls would be so much the same colour as the yellow corn. He
stooped to see how nicely he could hide himself, then he knelt, and in a
minute sat down, so that the wheat rose up high above him.

Another humble-bee went over along the tips of the wheat--burr-rr--as he
passed; then a scarlet fly, and next a bright yellow wasp who was telling
a friend flying behind him that he knew where there was such a capital
piece of wood to bite up into tiny pieces and make into paper for the
nest in the thatch, but his friend wanted to go to the house because
there was a pear quite ripe there on the wall. Next came a moth, and
after the moth a golden fly, and three gnats, and a mouse ran along the
dry ground with a curious sniffling rustle close to Guido. A shrill cry
came down out of the air, and looking up he saw two swifts turning
circles, and as they passed each other they shrieked--their voices were
so shrill they shrieked. They were only saying that in a month their
little swifts in the slates would be able to fly. While he sat so quiet
on the ground and hidden by the wheat, he heard a cuckoo such a long way
off it sounded like a watch when it is covered up. "Cuckoo" did not come
full and distinct--it was such a tiny little "cuckoo" caught in the
hollow of Guido's ear. The cuckoo must have been a mile away.

Suddenly he thought something went over, and yet he did not see
it--perhaps it was the shadow--and he looked up and saw a large bird not
very far up, not farther than he could fling, or shoot his arrows, and
the bird was fluttering his wings, but did not move away farther, as if
he had been tied in the air. Guido knew it was a hawk, and the hawk was
staying there to see if there was a mouse or a little bird in the wheat.
After a minute the hawk stopped fluttering and lifted his wings together
as a butterfly does when he shuts his, and down the hawk came, straight
into the corn. "Go away!" shouted Guido jumping up, and flinging his cap,
and the hawk, dreadfully frightened and terribly cross, checked himself
and rose again with an angry rush.



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