Chapter Eight: A Gold Day At Silchester
It is little to a man’s profit to go far afield if his chief pleasure be in wild life, his main object to get nearer to the creatures, to grow day by day more intimate with them, and to see each day some new thing. Yet the distance has the same fascination for him as for another—the call is as sweet and persistent in his ears. If he is on a green level country with blue hills on the horizon, then, especially in the early morning, is the call sweetest, most irresistible. Come away —come away: this blue world has better things than any in that green, too familiar place. The startling scream of the jay—you have heard it a thousand times. It is pretty to watch the squirrel in his chestnut-red coat among the oaks in their fresh green foliage, full of fun as a bright child, eating his apple like a child, only it is an oak-apple, shining white or white and rosy-red, in his little paws; but you have seen it so many times—come away:
It was not this voice alone which made me forsake the green oaks of Silchester and Pamber Forest, to ramble for a season hither and thither in Wiltshire, Dorset, and Somerset; there was something for me to do in those places, but the call made me glad to go. And long weeks—months—went by in my wanderings, mostly in open downland country, too often under gloomy skies, chilled by cold winds and wetted by cold rains. Then, having accomplished my purpose and discovered incidentally that the call had mocked me again, as on so many previous occasions, I returned once more to the old familiar green place.
Crossing the common, I found that where it had been dry in spring one might now sink to his knees in the bog; also that the snipe which had vanished for a season were back at the old spot where they used to breed. It was a bitter day near the end of an unpleasant summer, with the wind back in the old hateful north-east quarter; but the sun shone, the sky was blue, and the flying clouds were of a dazzling whiteness. Shivering, I remembered the south wall, and went there, since to escape from the wind and bask like some half-frozen serpent or lizard in the heat was the highest good one could look for in such weather. To see anything new in wild life was not to be hoped for.
That old grey, crumbling wall of ancient Calleva, crowned with big oak and ash and thorn and holly, and draped with green bramble and trailing ivy and creepers—how good a shelter it is on a cold, rough day! Moving softly, so as not to disturb any creature, I yet disturbed a ring snake lying close to the wall, into which it quickly vanished; and then from their old place among the stones a pair of blue stock-doves rushed out with clatter of wings. The same blue doves which I had known for three years at that spot! A few more steps and I came upon as pretty a little scene in bird life as one could wish for: twenty to twenty-five small birds of