There are two voices that are most familiar to me on this hillside. One is the voice of the day, the other of the night. Throughout the day the robin sings his song with unflagging spirit. It is not a very brilliant song, but it is indomitably cheerful. Wet or fine, warm or cold, it goes on through the November day from sunrise to sunset. The little fellow hops about, in his bright red waistcoat, from tree to tree. He flutters to the fence, and from the fence to the garden path, and so to the door and into the kitchen. If you will give him decent encouragement he will come on to your hand and take his meal with absolute confidence in your good faith. Then he will trip away and resume his song on the fence.
There are some people who say hard things about the robin—that he is selfish and “gey ill to live wi’” and so on—but to me he seems the most cheerful and constant companion in nature. He is a bringer of good tidings—a philosopher who insists that we are masters of our fate and that winter is just the time when there is some sense in being an optimist. Anybody, he seems to say, can be an optimist when the days are long and the air is warm and worms are plentiful; but it is just when things are looking a little black and the other fellows begin to grouse that I put on my brightest waistcoat, tune up my best whistle, and come and tell you that the unconquerable soul is greater than circumstance.
The other voice comes when night has descended and the valley below is blotted out by the darkness. Then from the copse beyond the orchard there sounds the mournful threnody of the owl. The day is over, he says, and all is lost. “Tu-whit, tu-whoo.” I only am left to tell the end of all things. “Tu-whit, tu-whoo.” I’ve told it all before a thousand times, but you wouldn’t believe me. “Tu-whit, tu-whoo.” Now, you can’t deny it, for the night is dark and the wind is cold and all the earth is a graveyard. “Tu-whit, tu-whoo.” Where are the songs of spring and the leaves of summer? “Tu-whit, tu-whoo.” Where the red-cheeked apple that hung on the bough and the butterfly that fluttered in the sunshine? All, all are gone. “Tu-whit, tu-whoo ... Tu-whit, tu-whoo ... Tu-whit, tu-whoo....”
A cheerless fellow. Some people find him an intolerable companion. I was talking at dinner in London a few nights ago to a woman who has a house in Sussex, and I found that she had not been there for some time.