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hand for a minute or two while we examined its beauty, then let it go to get over its terrors and in course of time to come gallantly back to its home duties. To be sure, if it had not begun to sit when it was thus temporarily captured, it was not likely to return at all-far more likely to "desert" altogether-but if sitting had. begun, or still more if the young birds had hatched out, it took a good deal more than this to make most parents desert their progeny.
Neither did we regard it as being in the category of "things that are done," to kill the bird that we could capture. Young birds in a nest, it goes without saying, were sacred from us. Our consciences would have accused us of stark murder if we had done any of them to death. And in the same sanctity we held all such fledglings as had flown from the nest and yet were not winged with power enough to escape. If we could run or hunt the young bird down we would not kill it. It was always an unwritten maxim with us that the capture of any live thing was more to be desired, was a mark of higher merit in huntership, than mere brutal killing. On the general point, we regarded all birds, and indeed all animals other than domestic, as existing for the purpose that we should kill them, if we could not capture them. But to capture them was the higher aim, from every aspect. The young bird that we saw fluttering before us, therefore, in scarcely fledged flight, we would at first pursue with hats, with butterfly nets if we happened to have them, and so on; and if we should succeed in catching that bird, then the amount of love, of care, and of unwholesome food that we lavished on it when we had once got it caged was perfectly prodigious, and generally fatal. On the other hand, if we found the bird, although poorly fledged, too swift or too evasive for
us, then all our purpose quickly changed. From instruments of capture, such as hats and nets, we went to instruments intended to be lethal, such as catapults, blowpipes, and stones; and failing to capture we would, if possible, kill. Often and often there has been a discussion of tactics, one saying "I could shoot him now," and holding the catapult at the "Ready!" the other objecting "No, no, I think we can catch him." Then afterwards, if he should make good his escape, there would be much vituperation of the "I told you so" kind, and general regret, as over a failure of strategy: "Ah, we ought to have killed him." That was perhaps the strangest part of our procedure, in which much was strange, that the murderous intent could follow so swiftly on the intent to cherish with all the care and love that we knew, and vice versa. It has its parallel in much that we do in later life but, as in other instances, the latent savagery of civilized man appears here most clearly in the boy.
To what extent our present Wild Birds' Protection Act in its varied local application discourages the birds'nesting tendency innate in every boy, it would be hard to say, but certainly its discouragement is considerable. It is all part and parcel of a boy's savagery that although he has no national respect for the laws made by those of mature growth he has nevertheless a great fear of them, as of everything else that is unknown. He regards those laws as foolishness, but foolishness gifted with immeasurable power, and conceives them as meting out punishment not in any due proportion to the crime but according to absolute caprice, like his schoolmasters. One of the first lessons that a boy learns when he goes to school is that he need not expect justice to be his portion in the world. He may obtain mercy-in more than his due measure, or in less
but justice, no. That is a commodity for the copy-books or for the next world-not for this. So, in his fear of the great unknown power of the law, with which he is not so familiar as Bumble, he is much discouraged, doubtless, of his birds' nesting. And if the Wild Birds' Protection Act has done much in this direction, beyond question the compulsory attendance at Board school has done more; for it leaves but little time for birds' nesting. no matter how great be boyhood's zeal. However, we are always to remember that the law, even at its strictest. is against the pillage, only, of birds' nests. There is no law against looking for birds' nests, or even finding them. It is still permitted to boyhood to be a student of bird life, to watch birds going about their domestic business, if that will suffice the boy. Whether it will suffice is rather doubtful. It is doubtful because the modern boy is often forbidden the keen delight of acquiring, of forming a collection, of showing to his friends and coevals an egg that they have not in their collection-with all the joy that comes of causing secret breaches of the commandment against covetousness. It is possible to encourage in boyhood an added interest in the mere observation of birds about their nests by the aid of a snapshot camera. A collection of photographs of the nests of birds, with the old ones on the nest or feeding the young if possible, may conceivably take the place of the egg collection. But it costs more, both in money and patience.
The present has been in some ways a peculiarly good spring for the observation of nesting birds, whether with or without the camera, for the reason that the weather has been cold enough to retard the growth of the leafage which hides the nests, but at the same time its severity has also delayed the nesting beyond the normal
date. The foliage was late, later even than last spring, and it appears as if its lateness is having some effect on the habits of certain species, the thrushes especially showing an increasing tendency to build in evergreens. The nests of most other kinds, which have been less clever in adapting themselves to the conditions, have been unusually visible. The immigrant birds are always late of arrival when the weather remains cold, for the very great majority are insecteaters, and would find their larders badly furnished in a backward year.
Is the ordinary human boy human enough and methodical enough to take an interest in these dates of arrival? Will he be at the pains to record them? Is his record to be trusted when he is at the pains? The imagination of boyhood is so splendidly opulent that the record will not always carry conviction. Much must depend on the boy. But without the wish to deceive, he is so prone to a glorious self-deception that he is apt to see the rare hoopoe with his recording brains when the common or garden jay is the object presented to his optic retina. He lives much in a wonder-world of his own creation, expecting marvels so that he is bound to find them. That does not matter. It is not with what boy is going to teach us of the avine world that we need concern ourselves greatly; it is with what the avine world and his observation of it, is to teach him. That is what matters. It is a sad affair if the operation of the Wild Birds' Protection Act is of necessity to rob boyhood of its inducement to the study of the birds and other wild things. The birds more particularly seem to have been created for his enchantment. Is he to be robbed of all this by the prohibition to take from their nests even the one egg or two that are needed as specimens in a collection? We may hope not. At all
events, it is plainly impossible that the law can make such fine discriminations as to permit him this license which inevitably would be abused. It must be a question of all or none, for the Legislature. But perhaps it is not too much to hope that boyhood, after all, may find some zest in the study of the birds and the beasts without the intent to do them injury. It is asking much of him. It is asking him to lay aside those lethal instincts inherited from the hunter phase of man's development, of which he is plainly the exponent in the present state of our social culture. But perhaps it is not asking an impossibility. In any case, we who are no longer boys can help boyhood along this path of harmless interest by ourselves taking or at least assuming an interest in those studies. Boyhood does not reck much of the opinions of maturity, but it likes a friendly interest. It is to be said at the same time that it has the very keenest eye for estimating the genuine or the fictitious character of such interest. It behooves us therefore to be careful.
After all, it may be asked, is there any advantage to boyhood in these studies? To what, precisely, do they lead? To say that they lead directly to the earning of an income is beside the mark. It would be untrue, in nine cases out of ten, to say it. But they lead to the development of the mind and the attention; they lead to the formation of a habit of observaThe Cornhill Magazine.
tion that is always of value whether for the earning of an income or for other less sordid purposes; they lead. by strange barbaric bypaths, it may be, to a love of all God's creatures, and so, it is not too much to think, to a love of the God who made them all; they lay the foundation, at a time when the mind is plastic and receptive. of an appreciation of Nature that will be of unfailing interest through all the years of life.
To say this is to say much, and if we can help boyhood towards it, we are helping him to good things. All the "Nature studies" and so forth that are included in the curriculum of many modern schools are helpful. For one book on natural history and country subjects sold fifteen years ago, the dealers in such commodities tell us that they sell ten to-day. This is a sign of the times and a good sign, and there are many others; but, after all. we have to remember that since that too-long-ago period when we ourselves were boys there has been taken away from boyhood that inducement to add a new bird-skin to his collection, which made the strongest appeal to the primitive instincts which possessed us at that time. Boyhood has lost very much-we have to go back and revive the memories of a distant past to realize how much-and we have to do a very great deal for boyhood if we are to make good that loss in any measure worth considering.
(THE LONE BUFFALO.)
"We are nearing the river," said the hunter as he noticed an mbungutwa tree for the first time during the day's march.
"Yes," said Mtali, the native tracker. "I hear the voice of a riverbird." Just then they crossed the spoor of a buffalo. It was an enormous track,
nearly as big as a soup-plate, and the rain of a few days back had washed the edges in, showing it to be old. As they went on they noticed the same track, of various ages, crossing and recrossing; evidently the track of an old solitary bull, who for the last few weeks must have been grazing by day on the higher ground, and coming down nightly to drink at the river.
As the sun was getting low, they came to an enormous baobab tree with a patch of bare ground round it; a good camping-ground, as by the green reeds they knew the river must be close at hand. The tired carriers laid down their loads and set up the tent; Tayari, the cook, conjured up a fire in the twinkling of an eye, set three stones about it, to rest the pot on, and began to brew a most savory-smelling broth of a guinea-fowl, killed on the march, a handful of barley, and a few potatoes. At the critical juncture the hunter added pepper, salt, and sauce, with his own hand; some more stirring and it was served up; dough made of maize-flour, and a cup of cocoa, completed the meal. Then drawing up to the camp-fire and lighting his pipe, the hunter's thoughts went back to the spoor he had seen that day. "I should like to meet with that fellow," he said to himself.
Meanwhile, old Njati was forcing his way through the thick spear-grass for his evening drink, nibbling at any sufficiently tempting shoots he came across on the way. Having reached the bank, he stood for fully ten minutes, sniffing the air for any scent of danger; and when he had satisfied himself that all was clear, he cautiously made his way down into the river and took a long drink, raising his head at intervals to repeat the same precautions. After this, he turned round, waded out on to the bank again, and began slowly wending bis way up-stream, grazing off the fresh
green grass near the river, as that farther off was dead.
He had been doing this every night for some weeks now, visiting different parts of the river; and towards dawn, when the breeze changed to the north, he would go up-wind to the pastures away from the river which he favored during the daytime, and where there were certain mud-holes he knew about, as well as thick cover in which to lie up in the middle of the day. As he wandered along, he would frequently pause to listen and scent for danger, especially on entering and leaving the more crackly patches of stiff reed.
On one of these occasions he noticed a faint smell of smoke, which he recognized at once as the smell of a woodfire, and not that of burning grass. Strolling on, he presently became aware of a most offensive odor blended with the smoke, which he had seldom come across before, but had good cause to remember; it was the smell of that biped who had loose skin on his body, and whose cry, when disturbed, was, damn! damn! The grass had died and grown again, and the rains had come and gone eight times since he had seen one of these beings; and then it had made thunder come out of a stick and stung him in the shoulder. After that, when he was feeling unwell, it had followed him two whole days before he had got clear of it.
Now, of all the big jungle-folk the buffalo is the acutest, and of all the buffalo Njati was most full of guile. A young bull on recognizing this smel would have turned round and stampeded for about ten miles, when he would have felt tired, lain down, and forgotten all about it. Njati, however, knowing that man suffered from a kind of torpor during the night, and was then practically innocuous, pushed on up-wind, and after half a mile his
quick eye caught the twinkle of a fire. Stealthily he made his way to the edge of the bare ground near the baobab, took a good look at the little camp and then leisurely strolled off. "I will take them such a trek," thought he to himself, as he made his way down to the river and waded across to the other side. "First of all I will take them through this prickly spear-grass, then across the river again, down the other bank, and so across again."
Njati laid his tracks with consummate craft. At one place he went down the bank into the water, trampling the mud to make it look as if he had crossed, and then gently came back again on the same side in the dead reeds where his tracks would not show. Several times he followed his old spoor of a day or two back for some distance, doubling, twisting, and turning, till, after a final manoeuvre opposite the place where he had drunk early in the evening, he said to himself: "Now I think it would be better for my health if I trek off, and spend the next few weeks in the neighborhood of the big river down in the plains." So off he went and never stopped till he had covered a trifling matter of forty miles.
With the red glow of dawn the little camp was astir; and Mtali, who had gone off to get water, came rushing back, calling out, "Master, the big buffalo has been here during the night!" Off went the hunter without waiting for breakfast, taking Mtali and old Chindebyu with him. They crossed the river waist-deep, and assiduously followed the tracks for several hours. When they came on the old tracks they smiled, and thought, "He doesn't catch us like this;" where Njati, pretended to cross, had doubled back, the practised eye detected a spot of mud among the reeds. Then they followed the tracks down into the river, where Njati had entered opposite his drink
ing-place, and crossing over found fresh tracks going up the opposite bank, or, rather, what they took to be fresh tracks, for Njati, with master cunning, had purposely entered opposite where he had waded out after his evening drink, and had left the river again in a much less obvious place.
After they had followed these tracks a short way, something about them making the hunter suspicious, he stooped down and felt them with his hand. "The sun is hot now," said Mtali, but in a rather half-hearted voice.
From many long journeys together these three understood each other perfectly, although one was white and the other two were of widely differing tribes, and in matters of this sort seldom found it necessary to resort to articulate speech. It was odd, they thought, that the animal should be heading back to camp. As they continued, without uttering a word, each knew the doubt that was rising up in the minds of the others; and presently Chindebvu silently pointed to where the animal had been browsing. They each plucked a bit of the bitten grass, examined it closely, and then went on in silence, for the sap of the bruised grass was already dry. At last the hunter said: "We wil! eat food when we get to camp, and then go out again."
It was now about noon, and presently the baobab hove in sight, and as the hunter sat down to the food that the skillful Tayari seemed always to have ready for him at whatever time he returned, he thought: "I am glad to get breakfast, and I am glad that magnificent buffalo has got away, but I should like to have had a glimpse of him."
After his meal he said to the two trackers: "It must have been the last time we crossed the river." They grunted an affirmative in two different keys. "Shall we go straight back