« AnteriorContinuar »
LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF NATURE.
various sorts of nests the very first time they try.
Our swallows, then, having selected a spot suitable for their domestic arrangements, proceed- at once to build themselves a house, for which purpose they carry mouthfuls of mud from the nearest mud-quarry; this is made adhesive by the addition of little bits of straw or grass which they work into it with their bills. The building time is early morning; then when about an inch of the wall has been finished it is left to dry till next day. The wings and tail of this bird fit it for long sustained flight, and swallows take to the air as naturally as ducks are said • to take to the water.' They seem fairly in their element when flying; they feed, drink, bathe, everything but sleep while on the wing. And how they do enjoy it, as they go sailing through the air, wheeling, diving, sporting themselves, their bright wings glittering in the sun through all the long summer day.
The outside of the nest having been completed it is cosily lined, generally with feathers; and it is a very pretty sight when the young swallows, for the first time, begin to peep out of the nest. I daresay they wonder what kind of a queer big world lies outside their own mud cabin, and are very much afraid that they will never be able to fly careering through the air as they see big swallows do. Courage, little ones; that will come in good time. Many an impossible looking thing becomes an accomplished fact when resolutely taken step by step.
A special interest attaches to the swallow from its migratory habits. 'The swallows are come,' is a remark that has a cheerie ring about it. From where have they come? Ask that knowing little fellow who has just perched by your window sill, and he may tell you that while we have been shivering amidst frost and snow, he has been revelling in the sweets of a tropical vegetation, feeding on the myriad insect tribes of Africa, and perhaps making friends with her dark-skinned children. Swallows often come back to the same locality on
their return to this country in spring. What a curious thought that is. When assembling their flocks in some African forest, previous to migration, does it really come into their heads to aim for a particular spot in old Scotland? At all events, on they come with steady purpose winging their flight over land and sea, never wavering, seldom resting till they reach our shores. Then after a few days of general consultation they scatter over the country, each seeking the old familiar haunts.
Having spent the summer months with us, when autumn winds begin to grow chill, they again take their departure for a more genial climate; they cannot live in the cold.
An interesting incident is mentioned in Morris' 'British Birds,' of a pair of swallows that were observed to linger behind the others at the time of migration. It was discovered that a young bird had been detained in the nest from having its leg entangled by a piece of string. On being released the parents spent a few days in teaching the little one to fly, after which they all disappeared, following their companions towards the sunny south.
I think we cannot better finish this notice than by quoting Bryant's beautiful lines.
'Whither, 'midst falling dew, While glow the heavens with the last step of day, Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
'There is a Power, whose care Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,— The desert and illimitable air,—
Lone wandering, but not lost.
'All day thy wings have fanned,
Though the dark night is near.
'He, who, from zone to zone, Guides through the boundless sky thy certain
flight, In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright." A. w.
THE COVENANT BANNER.
BLOW softly, ye breezes, by mountain and moor, O'er the graves of the Covenant men; By the muirland and flood that were red with their blood, Can ye waft the old watchword again?
'For Scotland and Christ' the breezes of old O'er the wilds of the westland bore From the Lugar and Nith to the Lothian Frith And the German Ocean's shore.
And where'er they blew a prayer was
O for the brave true hearts of old,
O for the faith that was strong in death,
The banner might fall, but the spirit lived,
And liveth for evermore; And Scotland claims as its noblest names
The Covenant men of yore.
THE OLD WALL.
AT the bottom of an old fashioned garden an old wall kept guard. It had never been handsome, for its ungainly height, red brick composition, and clumsy architecture, debarred it from all pretensions to beauty; and now the seams and stains, the cracks and crevices of ago, detracted still more from its personal appearance.
Only one spot looked pretty, where some friendly ivy had flung over all its imperfections a mantle of green, like the kindly screen which gentle charity spreads over the defects of others.
It was winter, a time of frost and deadness, and the old wall looked uglier than ever. Even the sparrows taunted it as they hopped lightly along its pai,apet— the wind howled more dismally than ever as it hurled itself against the staunch old brickwork, as if to beat it for opposing its onward career,—just as gossips speak evil of the dignified silence which stops the tide of their eloquence against the character of others.
'Ugly old thing!' chirped the sparrows, 'you have not even a berry to give us these hungry days; what use are you, we should like to know ? '—' Obstinate old fellow!' whistled the wind, 'stopping my course as if you were something important, while nothing in all the neighbourhood is as ugly or as useless as you are.' But the wall stood still and made no reply. So the wind tore down the ivy by way of spite, and hurried on again.
'Bother the wall!' growled Carlo, the house dog, who sadly wanted to see what lay beyond the garden, 'Sticking yourself up there where nobody wants you: I wouldn't be you!' But sometimes the sun shone, and the sun always smiled kindly on the old wall, and it stored every genial ray in its grateful bosom, never wasting one of them. And so, in spite of rain and frost and wind and snow, and sparrows, and Carlo, and cold words and disdainful looks, it always kept its heart warm. It was not quite bare however, even when the ivy was blown down. All along it, at intervals, were things very much like dead tree stumps and frost-bound branches clinging to it. Things so ugly and lifeless that it needed almost as much faith to believe that any revivifying change could take place, as it does to re-echo the ring of the grand old assurance, 'I Know that yet in My Flesh I shall see God.'
Even the faithful old wall grew almost weary at last; sad thoughts filled its head, and despondency its heart. 'How useless I am, indeed,' it sighed, ihow ugly, how cumbersome! If only I were an ornament to my master's garden, as those pretty iron palisadings are to his neighbour's, that 102
KINDNESS TO ANIMALS.
would be some comfort; but as it is, I can't help wishing that I could be pulled down and my bricks used to build some little cottage, or even a shed that might shelter somebody. But that very night thieves climbed over the pretty palisadings and emptied the neighbouring green-house, while the sturdy old wall resisted all their efforts and kept its master's treasures safely.
'They also serve who only stand and wait,' whispered the first sunbeam, as it kissed its rugged bricks the next morning, and there were no more murmurings.
And now a thrill like an electric current began to quiver through that portion of the faithful old prop which was nearest the ground. The frost was gone, the sap was rising, the trees awoke, they began to Live. Soon ivy leaves, of exquisite verdure, clothed with fairy-like beauty all the weather-beaten surface of the old wall. Nor leaves only; presently a lavish wealth of blossom—pink, rose-tinted, and white— decked it also, till in all the garden nothing was so lovely as that despised old wall. Nor did the thought that the beauty was not its own cost it a moment's uneasiness. It was helping to display it for its master's sake, and that was enough.
Days went by, and like a shower of snow the scattered petals lay beneath the trees. They had fulfilled their mission, they were content now to die and be forgotten. But the old wall's work was only begun. Fruit came, fruit heavy and thick, and closer and closer clung the boughs for support to the friendly wall. 'Lean on me,' it cried, 'lean on me!' They nestled on it and were safe. And ever still it gathered more and more of the sun's warmth and brightness in its capacious breast and radiated it upon the fruit-trees, till berries of many hues, ripe, juicy, and luscious, hung thick on every stem. From the earliest cherry to the latest pear, everyone liked better than any other the fruit from the old wall.
Not alone did merry children pause in their gleeful games to slake their thirst from its bounteous store; not alone did eager school-boys fill their pockets with its
purple plums, and friends rejoice in dainty baskets of its downy peaches and velvet-like apricots. Nor was it even enough that it furnished beautiful adornments for happy dinner parties, and lent its aid at the wedding breakfast of a gentle bride,—its work went further still, even to the tender ministry of love in abodes of poverty and suffering; cooling parched lips, and moistening fevered tongues, and speaking with mute eloquence of those 'fruits of righteousness,' —sympathy, charity, and gentleness, which break down the barriers between wealth and poverty, and teach men to 'love as brethren.'
'Ah, Katie,' said the master of the garden to his daughter one day, as they paused to gather a peach for a sick child, 'what should we do without our old wall?'
'What indeed?' replied Katie. 'Do you know, papa dear, I think it is both the prettiest and the ugliest thing in the whole garden, if that is not too great r. contradiction.'
'Yes,' replied her father thoughtfully; 'yes, ungainly and ugly in itself, it is glorious with reflected beauty, and by means of that Reflection its very existence is one constant service of help and support to others. We may bo well contented, darling, if we can in any degree resemble the old wall.'
'Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness,
KINDNESS TO ANIMALS.
OH, little child, bear this in mind,
The little sparrow, weak and small,