Country Walk

Country Walk

Written by Hunter   
Sunday, 28 December 2008 16:17

ARLY one morning during last summer, Harry and I put on our hats, and taking some cake in our pockets for lunch set out for a good long walk. First we went through the Home Meadow, where the tall elm-trees are, and then through the gate at the bottom of the valley into the corn-fields. The sun was shining bright and clear, and a lark was singing high up in the blue sky almost beyond our sight. Harry and I stood still to watch its descent, and after many minutes we saw it alight near a tuft of grass by the hedge-side. We walked a little nearer, and then we found that there was another bird there with some young ones; so we thought that this lark had been singing its long, sweet song in the air to cheer its mate, who was feeding their little ones in the nest.

We then walked on, and soon came to the skirts of the wood, through which runs a little stream. We thought there must be some one in the wood, for we heard a smart tapping sound, like the noise of a little hammer. I climbed on the top of a hedge-bank, and, after a little while, found that the noise came from over our heads. On the trunk of a tree were two wood-peckers pecking with their long beaks at the bark of a fir-tree, in which they find a number of little insects, which serve them for their food. I lifted Harry up to see them at their work, but he did not frighten them, and at some long way off we could still hear them tapping away.

Just at the corner of the wood, as we were turning round by the side of the fence, we saw two hares and a rabbit feeding among the clover; one of them pricked up his ears and looked at us for a moment, and then all of them ran away across the field much faster than Harry, who tried all he could to catch them.

We had not walked much further when we heard a great chattering, and when we came to a young beech-tree close by the stile, we soon found the cause of the noise. About two dozen or more of a little bird called the titmouse had all perched on one tree, where they were pecking, and fighting, and love-making, and noise-making, all at the same time. Except the noise made by sparrows when they go to bed on a summer's evening, I never heard the like.

While I was amusing myself by watching the titmice, Harry, who had rambled on a little way, came running back to ask me what the funny thing could be that he had found. It was a mole that had been caught in a trap, and was dangling in the air with a swarm of bees around. I told Harry that the moles are blind, or nearly so, and that they live under the ground, and do great good to the farmers by eating the slugs and other things that destroy the corn; but that they turn up such great mounds of earth when making their tunnels, that the farmers are often glad to get rid of them, and therefore set traps to kill them.

In the next field we came to, the young wheat had grown up higher than my knees, and Harry was greatly pleased at running down the furrows and making the blades of corn bend before him. Presently he stopped and peeped through an opening, whence he discovered a whole covey of partridges, the two old birds and seven young ones; they all rose with a whirring noise, and flew into the field we had just left.

Soon after the partridges had flown away, Harry was delighted to hear the well-known voice of the cuckoo; it sounded so near us that we both started at the first voice, and we soon found out where the cuckoo was. Like a lazy tyrant, instead of making a house for himself, the cuckoo takes the first little bird's nest he can find, and turns the poor occupant away. When we reached the tree where the cuckoo was, we saw it sitting on a small nest throwing out the eggs of a poor little bird, who was screaming in anger at the intruder.

When I told Harry what the cuckoo had been doing, he wanted to throw a stone at it, but I told him that this cuckoo was only doing what all other cuckoos did, and that the poor little bird would soon build itself another nest. As we walked on, still by the side of the wood, Harry saw something jumping about in the boughs of a tree; and presently another followed it: they were two squirrels, with their long bushy tails curled over their backs, and their ears pricked up to hear the slightest noise. As soon as they saw Harry looking at them they both leaped away, and we lost them in the branches of a large oak. To look after the squirrels we had climbed over the hedge, so we were walking a little way in the wood. Presently I heard the call of a pheasant; and as we walked further, we came to some brush-wood, under which were two old birds and their young ones. They all flew away at our approach; but the old cock-pheasant left two of his tail-feathers in the brush-wood, which Harry soon picked up to decorate his hat with.

The next bird that caught our notice was a fly-catcher. It was sitting on a bramble catching bees and flies, and so intently was it watching for them, that it did not even notice our presence, till Harry tried to put his hand on it, but then away it flew with a fine chattering.

We now left the wood, and taking the foot-path to the left, went along till we came to the road. Just by the stile sat a girl, who had been gathering dried sticks in the wood, where her father was cutting down trees. She had tied up the sticks into a bundle, and was sitting on them to rest herself, because they were so heavy. She asked me to help her to put them on her head; this I did, and then she thanked me, and trudged on, singing as merrily as a lark in the sky.

Now we came to a bridge over a wide river. I mounted Harry astride the parapet, and there we stopped for some minutes to look at the boats as they passed under us, and to watch two swans which were sailing up the river with their great wings spread out for sails, and their necks so proudly bent that they looked like the king and queen of the river. Harry would have stayed for hours to look at them, but we could not stop long.

We next turned down the pathway by the river-side, and soon we came to the wide marshes, which are only two miles off the sea. There we were standing under a willow, watching for the fish which were swimming down the river in little shoals, when we heard a splash on the opposite bank; it was an otter that had dived into the river, and caught a fish, with which we saw it climb on to the bank again. Men used to hunt the otter with dogs and spears; and sometimes otters have been trained to catch fish and bring them to land, but we do not often find them in England.

As we walked on by the river-side, we noticed a hawk flying swiftly over us; afterwards we saw him balance himself on his wings, and keep for many minutes in exactly the same place. Presently, with a loud scream, he darted down into some rushes a little way before us, and then we heard a most furious quacking, as if there were fifty ducks there. We ran on and saw a drake flying at the hawk and pecking at its wings, and the duck, quacking in the utmost alarm, tried to get all her little ducklings under her wings; but, alas! one little truant ran into the weeds, and the hawk caught it in his claws, and, in spite of all the efforts of the poor drake, flew away with it.

Harry was greatly excited at this scene, and cried to see the hawk carry away the poor little duck; but he soon laughed again, for as he watched the robber in his flight through the air, he saw a number of little birds fly after him,—sparrows, swallows, finches, all chirping at him and mocking him; then a tribe of bigger birds, blackbirds, magpies, rooks, and jays, flew after him also; and as the hawk could not fly fast with the duckling in his claws, they soon overtook him, and we saw them peck at his wings and his tail, and pull his feathers out; and they all screamed and chattered at him till at last the hawk let the poor duckling down into the marsh, and then, rising much higher than the other birds, flew away so quickly that he was out of sight in a minute. Harry clapped his hands with delight to see the hawk thus treated, and said that he was rightly served.

Now we walked on again by the river side. The swallows skimmed along the surface of the water, and caught the insects that hovered over it, and now and then a sea-gull came with its great wings, and diving into the river, bore away a poor fish in its beak to swallow at its leisure.

Then we came close to a solemn-looking heron, who stood so still that we could hardly tell if he were alive, till we saw him suddenly dive his head in a pool of water and pull out a frog, which he swallowed at one mouthful; and then he stood as still and solemn as ever. He flew away when we walked near him, flapping his immense wings slowly, and giving a mournful cry.

Then we turned away from the river, and took a path across the meadows, where Harry ran about and gathered cowslips and buttercups until he was quite tired; therefore it happened very luckily that just as we reached the gate into the high-road, who should we see but Uncle George driving past in his gig! He stopped his horse when he saw us, and both Harry and I were very glad to have a nice ride home with him.

In the evening Harry and I went for a stroll in the fields near home, and presently we came to one where the sheep were feeding. The shepherd was just calling them home to be put in the fold, and we were very much amused to see the antics of some of the young lambs that would skip about instead of going to bed with their mothers. This put me in mind to tell Harry Mrs. Barbauld's story about



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