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the trees shook their boughs with beautiful! the sunshine was so gay!
There had been heavy dew an hour ago,
and the leaves of the trees in the great wood were still wet and shining. A dense mist rose from the valley where the river lay hidden, and it broke into lace-like streamers which clung to the branches in silver fragments, until the sun kissed them away into a haze of heat.
The trees loved that lace-like mist, and they reached themselves out towards it, the sturdy oaks, the delicate birches, the red-boughed pines, and the spreading beeches. How beautiful they were, one and all, these children of the woods! They had obeyed the soft calling of the Spring, and had arrayed themselves in their new dresses of fresh leaves.
The breeze came with a little rush from the hills, and a joyous welcome. They were so happy! they were so Oh, it was good to live and to grow, to feel the sap
running up through root and stem, to know that the Winter had gone, and the glad Spring-time had come!
"I wonder how much higher I shall reach this year!" cried a young larch, tossing his tassels of emerald green; "a full yard, at the very least!"
An oak stood near, and heard the larch's speech.
"Take care of your roots, my young friend," he said. "There is danger in reaching high, unless at the same time you strike deep. And beyond the summer there will be the winter gales."
Everybody can't grow those great gnarled roots that you so much delight in," answered the larch; "and everybody is not clumsy enough to need such roots either," he added, softly.
The oak heard the last words perfectly, but he took no heed of them-he never did heed pertness. The larch was young and "heady;" he would grow wiser by-and-bye.
"You are quite right," said an elm who grew on the other side, bending his heavy branches towards the larch as he spoke; "quite right. The oak appears to think that every tree in the wood should take pattern by him. For my part, I am determined to choose for myself."
The larch looked back at the speaker somewhat contemptuously; the full outline of the elm. seemed very ungraceful to him, but he answered, courteously enough, "It is best for every one to judge for himself."
"Exactly so!" the elm returned; "judge for yourself.' It is a good motto; I have followed it, and find it to answer."
"You don't think big roots so necessary, then?" the larch said.
"Oh, yes; but I do! Roots are most important things. Yes, I pay great attention to my rootsI always have done so. But what I protest against is that absurdly pliant nature that allows itself to be ruled by any upstart. Independence and free judgment, those are my watchwords."
There was silence in the woods, for the breeze had died away and the very birds were quiet in the hush and heat of the noonday; only the insects kept up their humming as they wheeled their ceaseless circles in the shade.
Then a voice came-a voice that no human ears could hear, but it was plain enough to the forest children. "Grow glad and free," it said; "grow firm and tall. Stretch widely your boughs and your buds, your roots and your fibres;-and take largely of what I give."
"Hush!" whispered the aspen, staying her quivering for an instant-"hush! it is the voice of the Earth that speaks!"
But the larch-tree laughed. "More advice! more orders!" he cried. "Are we not old enough to judge for ourselves how it is best for us each to grow?"
He would not spend his strength upon roots. Hidden stupid affairs those roots seemed to him; but he tried his very best to raise his elegant fountain-shaped form in the warm blue air.
The elm heard the voice of the Earth, and
obeyed it not for obedience' sake, but because his judgment told him it was wise.
The oak heard, and pushed up his tufted leaves, and pushed down his rocts with their thousand mouths. It is well," he said "it is well to
It was the height of summer, the woods were heavy with foliage, the river was faint and silent; the ferns were running riot in the shade.
"How stiffly and squarely you grow!" the young larch said to his neighbour the elm.
Say, rather, how firmly and how handsomely!" the elm replied.
"Why, my friend, you surely cannot mean that you prefer your own weak, uncertain style to my broad boughs and masses of rich leaves?"
A gust of the west wind came sweeping through the wood. "Bow, bow your heads!" called the wind. "Learn submission now, that the winter blasts may not destroy you in the time to come!"
"You hear?" said the larch, as he swayed and quivered. "Perhaps my long tassels may prove better than your stiff boughs yet."
"I hear," responded the elm; "but I am weary of that word 'submission;' it has been the ery of the wind since I was a sapling. I judge for myself now, and I know that my sturdy trunk and spreading roots can support me through the worst blast that ever blew. Submission is but for the weak."
The oak tossed up a great branch to the west wind.
"Bend it!" he cried; "teach it to bow! I wish not to be stubborn; I fain would learn submission before the evil days do come."
"Loosen your leaves, O my children!" sang the voice of the Earth; "the harvest is over, the summer is ended; it is time for your leaves to fall."
So the foliage of the oak grew scarlet and brown and orange; and patches of pale-yellow shone on the elm's broad boughs. The little leaves of the birches came down in a shower, and the beeches were becoming great domes of burning red.
Only the larch swung his long tresses daintily to and fro, to and fro, without heeding the Earth's voice. "The pines and the spruce-firs are my brothers," said he. They do not shed their sharp spiny leaves, and why, therefore, should I? Is it not altogether unreasonable that I should spend my strength in rearing a crop of foliage merely to fling it down, withered and dead, at the end of a few short months? It may be a good plan for the beeches and oaks, and such things as they, for their leaves are broad and large, and would perish in the frost. But mine are exactly like those of my brothers the firs. The firs don't stand bare and shivering throughout the winter, and neither will I!"
The west wind died down beyond the sea, and now the turn of the north wind had come. It roared through the woods, it swept down the valley.
It struck the oak rudely, but the great boughs had learned to stoop themselves, and though they creaked and shook in the fury of the gale, the oaktree stood unharmed. The beeches threw their bare arms to the wind; they also could obey.
The pines and the firs bent like whips to the blast; their evergreen foliage was upon them still, but they wore it by nature's command, and the north wind knew it, and spared them where they stood.
"Alas! this is more terrible than I thought for," sighed the larch, as it swayed and shuddered in the storm. "Oh that I had shed down my leaves as I was bidden! Oh that I had taken firmer hold with my roots! Oh that I had not reared myself so high!"
They were his last words-he bent, he swayed in vain; his elastic form, pliant as it was, could
BY THE REV. THISELTON DYER, M.A., author of ENGLISH FOLklore."
HE tiller of the soil possesses an amount of practical knowledge which, although it may be couched in somewhat crude phraseology, is nevertheless valuable as being the result of his daily experience. It has been often remarked that, considering the scanty education given to the agricultural classes in years gone by, there is an intelligence found in their midst which would seem to show that they are naturally a sober and hard-working set of men. spite, too, of the numerous railways which now intersect the country, they have preserved to a great extent their individuality, and the same old customs are still kept up here and there amongst them as in former years. It must not be forgotten, also, that they have been instrumental in keeping alive the provincial dialects, many of which would undoubtedly have long ago become obsolete had it not been for the tenacity with which they have clung to them. Thus, in travelling through the country, it is interesting, when conversing with the peasantry, to note how the dialects and proverbial sayings vary in different counties, and how forms of expression are confined to certain localities. It is by these means that we are able to gain a knowledge of the peculiarities belonging to each county, and so to compare the language and folklore of the peasantry throughout the country.
In noticing, then, the customs observed by our tillers of the soil, it appears that they have numerous notions relating to ploughing. Thus the Norfolk labourers say:
"Plough deep while others sleep,
And you shall have corn to sell and to keep."
In the north of England no little ceremony was attached, in days gone by, to the commencement of ploughing, a practice extending as far as Scotland. "When the plough," says Mr. Gregor,*
was put into the ground for the first time in autumn or spring, to prepare the soil for the seed, bread and cheese, with ale or whisky, were carried to the field, and partaken of by the household. A piece of bread with cheese was put into the plough, and another piece was cast into the field to feed the crows." It was also a common practice in many parts of the country to leave a corner of the field unploughed, this being preserved for the Evil One. It went by the name of the "Good Man's Croft," ie., the landlord's acre. It has been conjectured that some pagan ceremony originally gave rise to this superstition, having been intended perhaps as a charm or peace-offering that the rest of the land might be fertile. In Arnot's "Edinburgh" we are told that, in the year 1594, the elders of the Scottish Church exerted their utmost influence to abolish what they considered "an irrational custom among the husbandmen, and which, with some reason, gave offence." In Northamptonshire there is a curious expression in use amongst the agricultural peasantry, "to plough with the heifer," which is said of any one who tries to worm out the husband's secrets through the medium of the wife. This singular phrase is of Scriptural origin, and refers to Samson's riddle recorded in Judges xiv. 18: "And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto
"Folklore of North-east of Scotland," 181
them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle."
Next to ploughing, sowing is one of the farm labourer's most important duties. Hence, to secure a good crop, it is considered necessary to follow certain rules which have been handed down from generation to generation, and to which great faith is still attached. Thus, in connection with wheat-sowing, there is a popular adage to the following effect:
"Sow in the slop, Heavy at top;"
the idea being that if wheat is sown when the ground is wet, it is most productive. On the other hand it is said,
"Sow wheat in dirt, and rye in dust."
A similar admonition is given with regard to beans, for, according to an old proverb,
"Sow beans in the mud,
They'll grow like a wood."
Referring to wheat-sowing, there is a popular notion that "the more furrows, the more corn;" and Ellis, in his "Modern Husbandry," tells us that "it is a rule with the best farmers that an early sowing entitles them to hope for the best crop, for the old saying among them is, 'Sow early and have corn, sow late and have straw.''
Again, the husbandman regulates the sowing of his crops by various regulations, many of which he derives from the state of the weather. Thus one old rhyme admonishes him thus:
"When the sloe-tree is as white as a sheet,
Sow your barley, whether it be dry or wet."
And again we may quote a piece of advice current in Scotland:
"Nae hurry wi' your corns,
Nae hurry wi' your harrows;
Snaw lies ahint the dyke,
Mair come and fill the furrows."
Of course these directions differ in various counties, although we often find the same rule embodied in another rhyme, as in the following:
"When the oak puts on his gosling grey,
'Tis time to sow barley, night or day." Some of our agricultural peasantry, again, carry on their farming operations by paying a strict adherence to certain days in the year, be the weather what it may. Sowing beans, for instance, is usually done at Candlemas, in accordance with the rhyming proverb
"At Candlemas Day
It's time to sow beans in the clay."
A further rhyme says:
"Sow beans and peas on David and Chad,
Once more, the appearance of the cuckoo has
been considered a good omen for guiding the husbandman in his agricultural operations. Or this account, one may hear in some districts the following proverb still used:
"Cuckoo oats and woodcock hay
the notion being that if the spring is so backward that the oats cannot be sown till the cuckoo is heard, or the autumn so wet that the latter-math crop of hay cannot be gathered in till the woodcocks come over, the farmer is sure to suffer great loss. The idea of sowing barley at the earliest sound of the cuckoo is alluded to in Grahame's "British Georgics":
"Soon as the earliest swallow skims the mead,
Or till the schoolboy mock the cuckoo's note."
It seems also to have been a custom amongst farmers in Scotland and the north of England never to sow their peas until the swallows made their appearance.
Apart from his agricultural operations, the tiller of the soil forms various prognostications in order to foretell the success of his labours. Many of these are the result of his experience, and may be said to contain a certain element of truth. Some, however, are founded only on mere fancy, and although proved to be utterly untrustworthy, still are firmly credited as so many articles of faith. Thus, in the agricultural districts there is a deeprooted belief that a "wet March makes a sad' harvest," whereas a dry March never begs its bread." Great importance is attached to the weather at Eastertide, for as the agriculturists say:
"A good deal of rain on Easter Day
Gives a crop of good corn, but little good hay."
Thunder on All Fools' Day is supposed to indicate good crops of corn and hay, and the uncertainty of the weather in the spring, accompanied' as it often is with cold winds and late frosts, has given rise to many agricultural rhymes, one of which we subjoin:
"Look at your corn in May,
And you'll come weeping away;
And you'll come home in another tune."
Furthermore, of the numerous other superstitious notions prevalent amongst our agricultural peasantry, there is an old saying that "if a drop of rain or dew will hang on an oat at Midsummer there may be a good crop." And, with reference to oats, we are told, in an old treatise on husbandry, that "it is a most true maxim that where a full crop of clover or other artificial grass has grown, the next corn crop will be the better for it." Hence the common saying had its rise that "clover is the mother of wheat."
In some counties-as, for instance, Norfolk and
Berkshire-agricultural labourers generally believe that if a drill go from one end of a field to the other without depositing any seed-an accident which may occasionally result from the tubes and coulters clogging with earth-some person connected with the farm will die before the year is out, or before the crop then sown is reaped. As an illustration of this curious superstition, a correspondent of "Notes and Queries" relates that some years ago an old gentleman died in Berkshire, a near relative of his own, and on going down to his house he was informed by a farm overseer that he was certain some of his lordship's family would die that season, as, in the last sowing, he had missed putting the seed in one row which he sowed! "Who could disbelieve it now?" quoth the old man. The Leicestershire labourers warn persons against sleeping in a beanfield, saying, "Sleep in a beanfield all night if you want to have awful dreams or go crazy.'
Referring to the customs kept up by the tillers of the soil, may be mentioned a rustic festival celebrated on Plough Monday. In olden times domestic life was relieved by many little jocularities and traits of festive feeling which are altogether unknown at the present day. Thus Tusser, in his "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry," under the account of the "Ploughman's Feast Days," has the following lines:
"Plough Monday, next after that Twelfthtide is past, Bids out with the plough, the worst husband is last; If ploughman get hatchet or whip to the skrene, Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen."
It appears that in the northern counties of England if a ploughman came to the kitchenhatch, and could cry Cock in the pot" before the maid could cry "Cock on the dunghill," he was entitled to a cock for Shrove Tuesday. The chief attraction, however, on Plough Monday, was the "Fool Plough." Thirty or forty stalwart swains, with their shirts over their jackets, and their shoulders and hats flaming with ribbons, dragged it along from house to house, preceded by one in the dress of an old woman, bearing the name of "Bessy." There was, also, a fool in fantastic attire. In some parts of the country morris-dancers attended the procession. Huntingdonshire the annual display was known as "Plough-Witching," and in Norfolk the day itself was called Plowlick Monday." The pageant, of course, varied in different counties, but as performed in Northamptonshire is thus described by Miss Baker in her "Northamptonshire Glossary" (1854, ii. 123): "The one who walks first in the procession is styled the master, and is grotesquely attired, having on a large wig; two are gaily bedizened in women's clothes; and two others have large hunches on their backs, on which is sewed the knave of hearts. These two are called Red Jacks, or fools. Each of the five carries a besom, and one of them a box, which he rattles assiduously among the spectators to obtain their donations, which are spent at night in conviviality and jollification. In some instances they
plough up the soil in front of the houses of such persons as refuse their contributions."
About Eastertide the peasantry in Herefordshire formerly had a custom called "Corn-Showing"parties being formed for the purpose of picking out cockles from the wheat. Before setting out they took with them cake, cider, and toasted cheese, and the first person who picked the cockle from the wheat was entitled to a kiss from one of the maids present. This custom, probably, took its origin from the Romans, as appears from the following line of Ovid (Fasti. I. 691):
"Let the fields be stripped of eye-diseasing cockle."
A curious custom was once kept up in Herefordshire on Christmas Eve. It seems that the farmers' servants procured a large cake, stuck a pole through it, and then fastened it on the horn of an ox, repeating a certain formula to the effect that their master might have a good crop of corn. The men and boys then arranged themselves round the ox, when, if it threw the cake behind, it belonged to the men: if before, to the boys. Wassailing the apple-trees is another old agricultural custom which has not entirely fallen into disuse, being accompanied by a firm belief in the old rhyme
"That more or less fruit they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing."
In the evening the farmer's family and friends assemble together with the labourers at the orchard, one of the party bearing hot cakes and cider as an offering to the principal apple-tree.
The cakes are then formally deposited on the branches of one of the trees, and the cider thrown over its roots, the following incantation meanwhile being sung:
"Health to thee, good apple-tree!
This done, the farmer and his men give several hearty cheers, preparatory to leaving the orchard; and it is also customary in some parts to fire at the apple-trees, guns and pistols being called into requisition for that purpose. In Norfolk this custom was extended to the meadows, and a rhyme sung in the neighbourhood of the New Forest was as follows:
"Apples and pears, with right good corn,
Come in plenty to every one;
Eat and drink good cake and hot ale,
These libations are no doubt a remnant of the sacrifices which, in primitive times, were made to trees, when it was supposed they were the abode of certain spirits. It is curious to find, even at the present day, a similar practice kept up amongst savage and uncivilised tribes.
Our agricultural peasants are not without their legends and traditions, these having been, from time immemorial, handed down from generation to generation. Thus, to quote a story current in