It came to pass that during the service the sun began to shine very brightly after several days of cloud and misty windy wet weather, and that brilliance and the warmth in it served to bring a butterfly out of hiding; then another; then a third; red admirals all; and they were seen through all the prayers, and psalms, and hymns, and lessons, and the sermon preached by the white-haired Rector, fluttering against the translucent glass, wanting to be out in that splendour and renew their life after so long a period of suspension. But the glass was between them and their world of blue heavens and woods and meadow flowers; then I thought that after the service I would make an attempt to get them out; but soon reflected that to release them it would be necessary to capture them first, and that that could not be done without a ladder and butterfly net. Among the women (ladies) on either side of and before me there were no fewer than five wearing aigrettes of egret and bird-of-paradise plumes in their hats or bonnets, and these five all remained to take part in that ceremony of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of an event supposed to be of importance to their souls, here and hereafter. It saddened me to leave my poor red admirals in their prison, beating their red wings against the coloured glass—to leave them too in such company, where the aigrette wearers were worshipping a little god of their own little imaginations, who did not create and does not regard the swallow and dove and white egret and bird-of-paradise, and who was therefore not my god and whose will as they understood it was nothing to me.
It was a consolation when I went out, still thinking of the butterflies in their prison, and stood by the old ruined walls grown over with ivy and crowned with oak and holly trees, to think that in another two thousand years there will be no archaeologist and no soul in Silchester, or anywhere else in Britain, or in the world, who would take the trouble to dig up the remains of aigrette-wearers and their works, and who would care what had become of their pitiful little souls—their immortal part.
An afternoon in the late November of 1903. Frost, gales, and abundant rains have more than half stripped the oaks of their yellow leaves. But the rain is over now, the sky once more a pure lucid blue above me—all around me, in fact, since I am standing high on the top of the ancient stupendous earthwork, grown over with oak wood and underwood of holly and thorn and hazel with tangle of ivy and bramble and briar. It is marvellously still; no sound from the village reaches me; I only hear the faint rustle of the dead leaves as they fall, and the robin, for one spied me here and has come to keep me company. At intervals he spurts out his brilliant little fountain of sound; and that sudden bright melody and the bright colour of the sunlit translucent leaves seem like one