AN OLD FASHIONED SHEPHERD—OLD TRICKER—A GARDENER—MY SECOND HEAD CARTER—A LABOURER.
“Along the cool sequester’d
vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.”
I had experiences of various shepherds, and the man I remember best was John C. Short, sturdy, strong, and willing, he was somewhat prejudiced and old-fashioned, with many traditions and inherited convictions as to remedies and the treatment of sheep. John had a knowing expression; his nose projected and his forehead and chin retreated, so that his profile was angular. He wore the old-fashioned long smock-frock—not the modern short linen jacket which goes by the name of smock, but a garment that reached to his knees, with a beautifully worked front over the chest. It is a pity that these old smock-frocks are no longer in vogue: I never see one now; they were most picturesque, and afforded great protection from the rough weather which a shepherd has constantly to face. His hat was of soft felt, placed well towards the back of his head, and, behind it, he wore a wealth of curls overlapping the collar of his smock. John was very proud of his curls; he told a group of men, who were sheep-dipping with him, that the parasites of the sheep, which are formidable in appearance, never troubled him until they reached his head. “Into them curls, I suppose, John?” said a flippant bystander. John was pleased that his most attractive feature should receive even this recognition.
Altogether he presented a notable figure, and one quite typical of his profession, especially when armed with his staff of office, his crook. He was inclined to superstitious beliefs, and told me when I noticed the matted condition of the manes of some colts domiciled in a distant set of buildings that he reckoned “Old P. G.”—an ancient dame in a neighbouring cottage with a reputation for witchcraft—“had been a-ridin’ of ’em on moonlight nights.” This matted appearance of colts’ manes, which is only the natural result of their not being groomed or combed when young and unbroken, was known in many country places as “hag-ridden.” Such superstitions are now nearly, if not quite, extinct, but still linger in old place-names, for it was usual in former times to attribute any uncommon or surprising physical appearance to supernatural agency. Thus we have such names as “Devil’s Dyke,” “Devil’s Punchbowl,” “Puck Pits,” “Pokes-down” (Puck’s Down), and many others.
The fairy rings, too, which puzzled our ancestors, are explicable by a natural process. The starting-point is a fungus, Marasmius oreades, which in due course sheds its spores in a tiny circle around it; the decay of the fungus supplies nitrogen to the grass, and renders it dark green in colour. The circle expands, always outwards, more and more fungi appearing every year; it does not return inwards because the mineral constituents of the soil are exhausted by the growth of the fungus and of the grass, under the stimulus of the abundant nitrogen left by the former, so that the dark ring of grass extends its diameter year by year.