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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

January,   pp. 15-201 PDF (117.8 MB)


Page 16

THE BOOK OF DAYS.
herald   roclaiming glad tidings, and making
knowi., far and wide, that erelong 'the winter
will be over and gone,' and the moon ight-coloured
May-bossoms once again appear.
All around, as yet, the landscape is barren and
dreary. In the early morning, the withered sedge
by the water-courses is silvered over with hoary
rime; md if you handle the frosted flag-rushes,
they seem to cut like swords. Huddled up like
balls oF feathers, the fieldfares sit in the leafless
hedges, as if they had no heart to breakfast off
the few hard, black, withered berries which still
dangle in the wintry wind. Amid the cold frozen
turnips, the hungry sheep look up and bleat
pitifully; and if the cry of an early lamb falls on
your ear, it makes the heart sorrowful only to
isten to it. You pass the village churchyard,
and almost shiver to think that the very dead
who lie there must be pierced by the cold, for
there is not even a crimson hip or haw to give a
look of warmth to the stark hedges, through
which the bleak wind whistles. Around the frozen
pond the cattle assemble, lowing every now and
then, as if impatient, and looking backward for
the coming of the herdsman to break the ice. Even
the nose of cherry-cheeked Patty looks blue, as
she issues from the snow-covered cowshed with
the smoking milk-pail on her head. There is no
sound of the voices of village children in the
winding lanes-nothing but the creaking of the
old carrier's cart along the frost-bound road,
and you pity the old wife who sits peeping out
between tle opening of the tilt, on her way to the
neighbouring market-town. The very dog walks
under the cart in silence, as if to avail himself of
the little shelter it affords, instead of frisking and
barking beside his master, as he does when - the
leaves are green and long.' There is a dull, leaden
look about the sky, and you have no wish to
climb the hill-to  on which those gray clouds
hang gloomily. ou feel sorry for the poor donkey
that stands hanging his head under the guide.
post, and wish there were flies about to make him
whisk his ears, and not leave him altogether
motionless.  The 'Jolly Farmer' swings on his
creaking si n before the road-side alehouse, like
the bones of a murderer in his gibbet-irons; and
instead of entering the house, you hurry past the
closed door, resolved to warm yourself by walking
quicker, for you think a glass of ale must be but
cold drink on such a morning. The old ostler
seems bent double through cold, as he stands
with his hands in his pockets, and his pitchfork
thrust into the smoking manure-heap that litters
the stable-yard.
A walk in the country on a fine frosty morning
in January gives the blood a healthy circulation,
and sets a man wondering why so many sit
' croodleing' over the fire at such a season. The
trees, covered with hoar-frost, are beautiful to
look upon, and the grass bending beneath its
weight seems laden with crystal; while in the
distance the hedges seem sheeted with May blos-
soms, so thickly, that you might fancy there was
not room enough for a green leaf to peep out
between the bloom. Sometimes a freezing shower
comes down, and that is not quite so pleasant to
be out in, for in a few moments everything around
is covered with ice-the boughs seem as if cased
16
in glass, the plumage of birds is stiffened by it,
and they have to give their wings a brisk shaking
before they are able to fly ; as or a bunch of red
holly-berries, could they but retain their icy
covering, they would make the prettiest ornaments
that could be placed on a mantel-piece. This
is the time of year to see the beautiful ramification
of the trees, for the branches are no longer hidden
by leaves, and all the interlacings and crossings
of exquisite network are visible-those pencilling
of the sprays which too few of our artists study.
Looking nearer at the hedges, we already see the
tiny buds forming, mere specks on the stem, that
do but little more than raise the bark ; yet by the
aid of a glass we can uncoil the future leaves
which summer weaves in her loom into broad
green curtains. The snails are asleep ; they have
glued up the doorways of their moveable habita-
tions; and you may see a dozen of their houses
fastened together if you probe among the dead
leaves under the hedges with your walking-stick;
while the worms have delved deep down into the
earth, beyond the reach of the frost, and thither the
mole has followed them, for he has not much choice
of food in severe frosty weather. The woodman
looks cold, though lie wears his thick hedging
gloves, for at this season he clears the thick un-
derwood, and weaves into hurdles the smooth
hazel-wands, or any long limber twigs that form
the low thicket beneath the trees. He knows
where the primroses are peeping out, and can tell
of little bowery and sheltered hollows, where the
wood-violets will erelong appear.  The ditcher
looks as thoughtful as a man digging his own
grave, and takes no heed of the pretty robin that
is piping its winter song on the withered gorse
bushes with which he has just stopped up a gap
in the hedge. Poor fellow, it is hard work for
him, for the ground rings like iron when he strikes
it with his spade, yet you would rather be the
ditcher than the old man you passed a while
ago, sitting on a pad of straw and breaking stones
by the wayside, looking as if his legs were frozen.
That was the golden crested wren which darted
across the road. and though the very smallest of
our British birds, it never leaves us, no matter
how severe the winter may be, but may be seen
among the fir-trees, or pecking about where the
holly and ivy are still green. If there is a spring-
head or water-course unfrozen, there you are
pretty sure to meet with the wag-tail-the smallest
of all our walking birds, for he marches along
like a soldier, instead of jumping, as if tied up in
a sack, as most of our birds do when on the ground.
Now the blue titmouse may be seen hanging by
his claws, with his back downward, hunting for
insects in some decaying bough, or peeping about
the thatched eaves of the cottages and outhouses,
where it will pull out the straw to stir up the in-
sects that lie snug within the thatch. In the
hollows of trees, caverns, old buildings, and dark
out-of-the-way places, the bats hibernate, holding
on by their claws, while asleep, head downwards,
one over another, dozens together, there to await
the coming of spring, along with the insects which
will then come out of their hiding-places.
But unsightly as the bat a ppears to some eyes,
there is no cleaner animal lving, in spite of al:
our poets have written against it; for it makes
i


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