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THE FIR PLANTATION.
An ugly, straight-edged, monotonous fir plantation ? Well, I like it, outside and inside. I need no saw-edge of mountain peaks to stir up my imagination with the sense of the sublime, while I can watch the saw-edge of those fir peaks against the red sunset. They are my Alps ; little ones it may be: but after all, as I asked before, what is size ? A phantom of our brain; an optical delusion. Grandeur, if you will consider wisely, consists in form, and not in size: and to the eye of the philosopher, the curve drawn on a paper two inches long, is just as magnificent, just as symbolic of divine mysteries and melodies, as when embodied in the span of some cathedral roof. Have you eyes to see? Then lie down on the grass, and look near enough to see something more of what is to be seen; and you
will find tropic jungles in every square foot of turf; mountain cliffs and debacles at the mouth of every rabbit burrow : dark strids, tremendous cataracts, 'deep glooms and sudden glories,' in every foot-broad rill which wanders through the turf. All is there for you to see, if you will but rid yourself of that idol of space;' and nature, as every one will tell you who has seen dissected an insect under the microscope, as grand and graceful in her smallest as in her hugest forms.
The March breeze is chilly: but I can be always warm if I like in my winter garden. I turn my horse's head to the red wall of fir stems, and leap over the furze-grown bank into my
cathedral ; -endless vistas of smooth red, green-veined shafts holding up the warm dark roof, lessening away into endless gloom-pave : with
ich brown fir-needl. -a carpet at which Nature has been at work for forty years. Re: shafts, green roof, and here and there a pane of blue sky-neither Owen Jones nor Willement can improve upon that celestial ornamentation,—while for incense I have the fresh healthy turpentine fragrance. There is not a breath of air within: but the breeze sighs over the roof above in a soft whisper. I shut my eyes and listen. Surely that is the murmur of the summer sea upon the summer sands in Devon far away. I hear the innumerable wavelets spend themselves gently upon the shore, and die away to rise again. And with the innumerable wave sighs come innumerable memories, and faces which I shall never see again upon this earth. I will not tell even you of that, old friend.
1 THE FIR PLANTATION.
It has two notes, two keys rather, that Eolian-harp of fir-needles abore my head ; according as the wind is east or west, the needles dry or wet. This easterly key of to-day is shriller, more cheerful, warmer in sound, though the day itself be colder: but grander still, as well as softer, is the sad soughing key in which the south-west wind roars on, rain-laden, over the forest, and calls me forthbeing a minute philosopher—to catch trout in the nearest chalkstream.
The breeze is gone awhile; and I am in perfect silence—a silence which may be heard. Not a sound; and not a moving object; absolutely none. The absence of animal life is solemn, startling. That ring-dove, who was cooing half-a-mile away, has hushed his moan; that flock of long-tailed titmice, which were twinging and pecking about the fir-cones a few minutes since, are gone; and now there is not even a gnat to quiver in the slant sunrays. Did a spider run over these dead leaves, I almost fancy I could hear his footfall. The creaking of the saddle, the soft footfall of the mare upon the fir-needles, jar my ears. I seem alone in a dead world. A dead world : and yet so full of life, if I had eyes to see! Above my head every fir-needle is breathing — breathing for ever, and currents unnumbered circulate in every bough, quickened by some undiscovered miracle; around me every fir-stem is distilling strange juices, which no laboratory of man can make; and where my dull eye sees only death, the eye of God sees boundless life and motion, health and use,
Stay. There was a sound at last ; a light footfall.
A hare races towards us through the ferns, her great bright eyes full of terror, her ears aloft to catch some sound behind. She sees us, turns short, and vanishes into the gloom. The mare pricks up her ears too, listens, and looks: but not the way the hare has gone.
There is something more coming; I can trust the finer sense of the horse, to which (and no wonder) the Middle Age attributed the power of seeing ghosts and fairies impalpable to man's gross
eyes. Beside, that hare was not travelling in search of food. She was not · loping' along, looking around her right and left, but galloping steadily. She has been frightened : she has been put up: but what has put her up? And there, far away among the firstems, rings the shriek of a startled blackbird. What has put
him up ?
That, old mare, at sight whereof your
widen till they are ready to burst, and your ears are first shot forward towards your nose, and then laid back with vicious intent. Stand still, old woman ! Do you think still, after fifteen winters, that you can catch a fox ?
A fox it is indeed; a great dog-fox, as red as the fir-stems between which he glides. And yet his legs are black with fresh
He is a hunted fox : but he has not been up long.
The mare stands like a statue : but I can feel her trembling between my keees. Positively he does not see us. He sits down in the middle of a ride, turns his great ears right and left, and then scratches one of them with his hind foot, seemingly to make it hear the better. Now he is up again and on.
Beneath yon firs, some hundred yards away, standeth, or rather lieth, for it is on dead flat ground, the famous castle of Malepartus, which beheld the base murder of Lampe, the hare, and many a seely soul beside. I know it well; a patch of sand heaps, mingled with great holes, amid the twining fir roots; ancient home of the last of the wild beasts. And thither, unto Malepartus safe and strong, trots Reinecke, where he hopes to be snug among the labyrinthine windings, and innumerable starting-holes, as the old apologue has it, of his ballium, covert-way, and donjon keep. Full blown in self-satisfaction he trots, lifting his toes delicately, and carrying his brush aloft, as full of cunning and conceit as that world-famous ancestor of his, whose deeds of unchivalry were the delight, if not the model, of knight and kaiser, lady and burgher, in the Middle Age.
Suddenly he halts at the great gate of Malepartus ; examines it with his nose; goes on to a postern; examines that also, and then another, and another : while I perceive afar, projecting from every cave's mouth, the red and green end of a new fir-faggot. Ah, Reinecke ! fallen is thy conceit, and fallen thy tail therewith. Thou hast worse foes to deal with than Bruin the bear, or Isegrim the wolf, or any foolish brute whom thy great ancestor outwitted.
Man the many-counselled has been beforehand with thee; and the earths are stopped.
One moment he sits down to meditate, and scratches those trusty çounsellors, his ears, as if he would tear them off, “revolving swift thoughts in a crafty mind.'
He has settled it now. He is up and off—and at what a pace ! Out of the way, Fauns and Hamadryads, if any be left in the forest. What a pace ! and with what a grace beside !
LOUDER and louder every moment swells up a sound which makes my heart leap into my mouth, and my mare into the air.
Music? Well-beloved soul of Hullah, would that thou wert here this day, and not in St. Martin's Hall, to hear that chorus, as it
pours round the fir-stems, rings against the roof above, shatters up into a hundred echoes, till the air is live with sound! You love madrigals, and whatever Weelkes, or Wilbye, or Orlando Gibbons sang of old. So do I. Theirs is music fit for men : worthy of the age of heroes, of Drake and Raleigh, Spenser and Shakspeare! but oh that you could hear this madrigal! If you must have four parts,' then there they are. Deep-mouthed bass, rolling along the ground; rich joyful tenor; wild wistful alto; and leaping up here and there above the throng of sounds, delicate treble shrieks and trills of trembling joy. I know not whether you can fit it into your laws of music, any more than you can the song of that Ariel sprite who dwells in the Eolian harp, or the roar of the waves on the rock, or
Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn,
But music it is. A madrigal ? Rather a whole opera of Der Freischütz-dæmoniac element and all—to judge by those red lips, fierce eyes, wild, hungry voices; and such as should inake Reinecke, had he strong æsthetic sympathies, well content to be hunted from his cradle to his grave, that such sweet sounds might by him
enrich the air. Heroes of old were glad to die, if but some 'vates sacer' would sing their fame in worthy strains : and shalt not thou too be glad, Reinecke ? Content thyself with thy fate. Music soothes care ;
let it soothe thine, as thou runnest for thy life; thou shalt have enough of it in the next hour. For as the Etruscans (says Athenæus) w.ere so luxurious that they used to flog their slaves to the sound of the flute, so shall luxurious Chanter and Challenger, Sweetlips and Melody, eat thee to the sound of rich organ-pipes, that so thou mayest,
Like that old fabled swan, in music die.
And now appear, dim at first and distant, but brightening and nearing fast, many a right good fellow and many a right good horse. I know three out of four of them, their private histories, the private histories of their horses : and could tell you many a good story of them.
They are not very clever, or very learned, or very anything except gallant men: but they are good enough company for me, or any one. That huntsman I have known for fifteen years, and sat many an hour beside his father's death-bed. I am godfather to that whip’s child. I have seen the servants of the hunt, as I have the hounds, grow up round me for two generations, and I look on them as old friendsand like to look into their brave, honest, weather-beaten faces, That red coat there, I knew him when he was a schoolboy; and now he is a captain in the Guards, and won his Victoria Cross at Inkermann: that bright green coat is the best farmer, as well as the hardest rider, for many a mile round; one who plays, as he works, with all his might, and might have been a colonel of dragoons. So might that black coat, who now brews good beer, and stands up for the poor at the Board of Guardians, and rides, like the green coat, as well as he works. The other black coat is a county banker: but he knows more of the fox than the fox knows of himself, and where the hounds are, there will be be this day. That red coat has hunted kangaroo in Australia ; that one, as clever and good as he is brave and simple, stood by Napier's side at Meanee; that one won his Victoria at Delhi, was cut up at Lucknow, with more than twenty wounds; that one has—but what matter to you who each man is ? Enough that each can tell me a good story, welcome me cheerfully, and give me out here, in the wild forest, the wholesome feeling of being at home among friends.