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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)

May,   pp. [unnumbered]-714 PDF (97.6 MB)


Page 566

THE BOOK OF DAYS.
the angler, clad in grey, moving through the
white mist that still lingers beside the river.
The early school-boy, who has a long way to go,
loiters, and lays down his books to peep under
almost every hedge and bush he passes. in quest
of birds' nests. The village girl, sent on some
morning errand, with the curtain of her cotton-
covered bonnet hanging down her neck, 'buttons
up' her little eyes to look at us, as she faces the
sun, or shades her forehead with her hand, as she
watches the skylark soaring and singing on its
way to the great silver pavilion of clouds that
stands amid the blue plains of heaven. We see
the progress spring has made in the cottage
gardens which we pass, for the broad-leaved
rhubarb has now grown tall; the radishes are
rough-leaved; the young onions show like strong
grass ; the rows of spinach are ready to cut,
peas and young potatoes are hoed up, and the
gooseberries and currants show like green beads
on the bushes, while the cabbages, to the great
joy of the cottagers, are beginning to 'heart.'
The fields and woods now ring with incessant
sounds all day long; from out the sky comes the
loud cawing of the rook as it passes overhead,
sometimes startling us by its sudden cry, when
flying so low we can trace its moving shadow
over the grass. We hear the cooing of ringdoves,
and when they cease for a few moments, the
pause is filled up by the singing of so many
birds, that only a practised ear is enabled to
distinguish one from the other; then comes the
clear, bell-like note of the cuckoo, high above all,
followed by the shriek of the beautifully marked
jay, until it is drowned in the louder cry of the
woodpecker. which some naturalists have com-
pared to a laugh, as if the bird were a cynic,
making a mockery of the whole of this grand,
wild concert. In the rich green pastures there
are sounds of pleasant life: the bleating of sheep,
and the musical jingling of their bells, as they
move along to some fresh patch of tempting
herbage; the lowing of full-uddered cows, that
morning and night brim the milkpails, and make
much extra labour in the dairy, where the rosy-
cheeked maidens sing merrily over their pleasant
work. We see the great farm-house in the centre
of the rich milk-yielding meadows, and think of
cooling curds and whey, luscious cheesecakes and
custards, cream that you might cut, and straw-
berries growing in rows before the beehives in
the garden, and we go along licking our lips at
the fancied taste, and thinking how these pleasant
dainties lose all their fine country flavour when
brought into our smoky cities, while here they
seem as if-
'Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green.'
KEATS.
Every way bees are now flying across our path,
after making 'war among the velvet buds,' out
of which they come covered with pollen, as if
they had been plundering some golden treasury,
and were returning home with their spoils.
They, with their luminous eyes-which can see
in the dark-are familiar with all the little in-
habitants of the flowers they plunder, and which
are only visible to us through glasses that magnify
566
largely. What a commotion a bee must make
among those tiny dwellers in the golden courts
of stamens and pistils, as its great eyes come
peeping down into the very bottom of the calyx-
the foundation of their flowery tower. Then, as
we walk along, we remember that in those
undated histories called the Welsh triads-which
were oral traditions ages before the Romans
landed on our shores --England was called the
Island of Honey by its first discoverers, and
that there was a pleasant murmur of bees in our
primeval forests long before a human sound had
disturbed their silence. But, beyond all other
objects that please the eye with their beauty,
and delight the sense with their fragrance, stand
the M ay-buds, only seen in perfection at the end
of this pleasant month, or a few brief days
beyond. All our old poets have done reverence
to the milk-white scented blossoms of the haw-
thorn-the May of poetry-which throws an
undying fragrance over their pages; nor does
any country in the world present so beautiful a
sight as our long leagues of English hedgerows
sheeted with May blossoms. We see it in the
cottage windows, the fireless grates of clean
country parlours are ornamented with it, and
rarely  does anyone    return  home   without
bringing back a branch of May, for there is an
old household aroma in its bloom which has
been familiar to them from childhood, and which
they love to inhale better than any other that
floats around their breezy homesteads. The re-
freshing smell of May-buds after a shower is a
delight never to be forgotten; and, for aught we
know to the contrary, birds may, like us, enjoy
this delicious perfume, and we have fancied that
this is why they prefer building their nests and
rearing their young among the May blossoms.
The red May, which is a common ornament of
pleasure-grounds, derives its ruddy hue from
having grown in a deep red clayey soil, and is
not, we fancy, so fragrant as the white hawthorn,
nor so beautiful as the pale pink May, which is
coloured like the maiden blush rose. It is in the
dew they shake from the pink May that our
simple country maidens love to bathe their faces,
believing that it will give them the complexion
of the warm pearly May blossoms, which they
call the Lady May. What a refreshing shower-
bath, when well shaken, a large hawthorn, heavy
with dew, and covered with bloom, would make
The nightingale comes with its sweet music
to usher in this month of flowers, and it is now
generally believed that the male is the first that
makes its appearance in England, and that his
song increases in sweetness as the expected
arrival of the female draws nearer. Nor will he
shift his place, but continues to sing about the
spot where he is first heard, and where she is
sure to find him when she comes. We have no
doubt these birds understand one another, and
that the female finds her mate by his song, which
was familiar to her before her arrival, and that
she can distinguish his voice from all others.
Could the nightingales which are said to be seen
together in the countries to which they migrate
be caught and marked before they return to
England, this might be proved.
One bird will answer another, taking up the


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