Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The months: October
Considering how many people must know it, it is wonderful how little is said of the charm of London in autumn. The reason is probably the same that is assigned for the autumnal seaside being the only one familiar to the world at large;—that literary people take their holiday between August and November, and thus can describe the coast, and cannot describe the pleasures of London at that season. I have, however, known persons—and literary persons—who would not leave town during those months, if they could avoid it; and I quite sympathise with them.
There have been “charming London seasons” when I could not endure my life there; but I have never known a September or early October which was not full of loveliness. The treats in music, pictures, flower-shows, theatres, and royal and parliamentary spectacles are worth all that can be said about them; but the glare of the streets in the spring sunshine, the noise, the perpetual throng and movement are too much for quiet people. In autumn, we have all the beauty of London and its environs, seen in a mellower light; with a good many privileges in art and literature, and without the din and tumult of “the season.”
A walk in the park—any one of the parks—before breakfast, in October, is as great a refreshment as sea-bathing, taken in a quieter way. Let us hope the middle-class citizens know what it is to see the mists rising above the Serpentine or the water in St. James’s Park;—to see the gleams and reflections on the calm surface first, and then, by degrees, the objects so reflected;—to see the massy tree-forms coming dimly out, and growing clearer every minute till the sunlight catches them, and kindles their tints and hollows out their recesses. I do not know a finer spectacle in any woodlands of any country than the trees in the London parks under an October sun. Then the Abbey towers, gradually disclosed against a pale-grey sky; and the superb Houses of Parliament: and, wherever one goes, some fine church or other, some line of imposing buildings, some green slope or gleam of water no longer covered or hidden by a crowd, delights one’s senses, and refreshes one’s mind. I do not think so ill of the Serpentine as it is the fashion to do; and many an hour have I spent beside it on fine mornings and evenings in autumn, or, more blissfully still, in the middle of the day, when I had the scene almost to myself. We hear from members of parliament that nobody knows the real beauty of London streets but themselves, and the market-people, and the police, because nobody else sees those streets under a clear, cool light, and in a state of repose. The autumn evenings have something of the same effect as the summer mornings before sunrise; and I claim to know the beauty of London streets without being a legislator, a market-gardener, or a policeman.
I am told the theatres are as full as ever when “London is empty.” I cannot say; for I could not spare evenings for the theatres when there was the whole winter before me for social pleasures. The opportunity of solitude could not be wasted by going into public assemblies. The time was short enough for the National Gallery, now a scene of peace and quiet; and for seeing London from St. Paul’s, and getting on with one’s studies at the Museum and its library, and strolling in the Temple Gardens, paying homage to the chrysanthemums, and giving a new contemplation to the Temple Church; and going out to Hampstead Heath, for a good bask on a calm day; and stepping over to Richmond for a row on the Thames, or a view of the sunset. It is a good time also for a day at Hampton Court, or at Windsor; and even the Crystal Palace may be associated with impressions of leisure. But I still turn to the remembrance of London itself, with its parks and gardens, as the scene of the peculiar pleasure that I am thinking of.
Some will object that this is not to be reckoned among the pleasures of nature. There is nothing rural about it. It is neither one thing nor another.
I answer, that if it is natural for men to congregate in great cities, and build fine churches and palaces, and lead bright waters, and lay out green spaces among them, it is a really natural beauty which grows up in consequence. Nature sheds her beauty over the work of man’s hands. At his solicitation she brings her verdure, her tree-forms, her flowers, her bright waters, and golden skies into the midst of man’s erections and arrangements, and harmonises them all together. If the scene is not rural, it may be as noble and sweet. It is peculiar; and one might say singular, but for the thought of Italian palaces, and some old English establishments, where there was much beauty which was natural without being rural. But I have said enough for either those who know, or those who do not know what it is to remain in London when hardly an acquaintance is left, and with leisure enough to enjoy the season in a genuine way. This last condition will prevent my having the sympathy of the Cabinet. The minister who must remain at head-quarters when all his colleagues are dispersed for their recreation, cannot go about studying architecture in the streets and churches, nor be lost for hours in Kensington Gardens, nor start off for the day without saying where he is going. Business detains him, and business engrosses him, except during his constitutional ride in the afternoon. If there be any lawyer, stranded by some accident when all others are afloat; or any artist tempted to seize the quietest weeks of the year for work; or any citizen not too busy in office, counting-house, or shop, to spare hours daily for the open air, let him say whether I am not reasonable in my love of London in autumn, however few of my acquaintances may value it as I do, or court it as I did, in my bachelor days.
To what an infinite variety of places, meanwhile, are one’s acquaintance gone! There is A., standing knee-deep in a rapid, or scrambling, as fast as he can go, over the rocks which confine a rushing river in Norway. A stout salmon is leading him a dance which he will boast about at home, whether he captures or loses it. B. is in full gallop beside a herd of buffaloes, on a western prairie, having selected his victim, and boarded him, and got hold of the revolver with which he is to finish him. The buffaloes make more hubbub on the prairie than the strongest torrent in the Norwegian watercourses. C. is in his yacht, quiet enough as long as he has the trade-wind, and the smooth seas which belong to it. He sits in the shadow of a sail reading Byron, as these yacht gentry do, or dreaming, or agreeing with a friend how pleasant this is . . . for a time. D. is in a different scene. He is going to the Mediterranean for a few weeks, and now wishes he had taken the land way. These equinoctial gales are fine things to witness for once; but they use up rather too much time. It is a fine thing to see the squall coming, with the regular, swift march of the solid rain over the dark myrtle-green sea; and to hear the loud, vibrating storm-organ opening out its strain in the rigging, till the mighty chords swell and subside as the blasts pass over the ship and away. It is well to see for once the tossing together of sea and clouds, and shine and shadow, with all imaginable rushing, roaring, sousing, and splashing; but it is a vexatious matter to a man to feel his holiday slipping away while he is kept floating for a week together, while the weather is making up its mind, or he is carried some long way round to escape its spite. E. has met with no such delays. He is reclining in the shadow of a column of Pharaoh’s Bed on Philæ, contemplating the avenue to the temple, or the flow of the Nile towards the neighbouring cataract, or the orange and blue lights and shadows visible through the screen of palms. F. has probably been unable to resist the temptation to go and see what Abd-el Kader is doing with the Damascus people, and how he gets on with the new Turkish authorities; and if so, F. certainly is or has been treading down hundreds of infant cedars, sprouting under the shadow of the old trees on Lebanon which Moslem and Christian venerate alike; and he certainly is or has been picking up fragments of sculpture among the sands, round the temple at Baalbec. When he comes home, he will say that the fairest spectacle the traveller’s eye can rest on is Damascus, seen from the Salahieh side, by evening light. G., who had a fancy in the summer to see the fair of Nijni Novogorod, no doubt took the opportunity of going further, and is probably on the Amoor, hoping to see for himself what sensation Lord Elgin and his naval and military and diplomatic party will have left in the Peiho. H. is a quiet fellow, who is satisfied with the wildness of Belmullet and Achill, where he is fishing and sketching, and catching a fine brogue, while I. is taking a row on Killarney, and K. is geologising on the Giant’s Causeway. L. finds the German mediæval churches particularly fine in an autumnal sunshine; and M. has the same opinion about the grapes of southern France. N. and O. are Alpine clubmen; so they are bent on making the very last ascents of the season, through all warnings about the new snow. P. is a temporary soldier. He must just see Italy through her troubles, and then he will come home to business. Such are the holidays of one’s friends while one has been staying at home for holiday in the solitude of London.
We rural people, however, dearly prize our English country October, while sympathising with any who spend the month elsewhere. October is a month very rich in pleasures to young and middle-aged; and the sight of an orchard full of ripe fruit is welcome to the aged, when they turn out at noon to bask on the sunny side of it.
As for the youngsters, if my boys were asked where they would best like to be on the 1st of October, they would exclaim—“On Decoy-day! Why at Uncle Willis’s, to be sure.” Uncle Willis lives in Lincolnshire; and in Lincolnshire there are still places where Decoy-day is quite as great an occasion as the 1st of September is to people in the midland counties. By Act of Parliament, the taking of wild fowl by decoys begins on the 1st of October. To those who are past the fun of getting soaked or chilled in stagnant water for many hours of the day, there is something impressive in the opening of the fowling season. The whirr of the pheasant from the covert, and the rustle of the partridge family disturbed in the furrow, are never forgotten when once heard; but far more impressive is the scream of the water-fowl heard amidst the silence of a dark night. The belated countryman, plodding home on a moonless night, starts when it comes down to him from an immeasurable distance. He always believed those creatures travelled by night, from the numbers that sometimes appear in the morning; and now he is sure of it. He thenceforth goes out every night, and stands at his door the last thing before getting into bed, to listen for that cry.
Many times in the day, eyes are searching the upper air for a flight of cranes or wild swans; and if the gaze is successful, and something like a group of midges appears moving in the blue heaven, or relieved against a white cloud, every one within summons is called to see. Those are the days when children are told why wild geese fly in a string, or in wedge-like form, and are taught to observe by the change in the figure, when the leader is tired, and drops back to make way for another. Gulls are at the same time winging their slow flight to inland marshes. If they do this early, and the wild-fowl are early, and the fieldfares assemble on the ploughed lands about the same time, all observers expect a long and hard winter; and the farmers lay their plans accordingly. They watch for the departure of the last house-marten, and the arrival of the hooded-crow and the redwing. The woodcock drops in solitarily from the Baltic, wearied and belated when it reaches the dim shore, and glad to cower in any ditch, where it is too likely to be found in the morning by people who well know where to look for such arrivals. The snipes manage to get safely to the marshes, in great numbers. But the grand object now is to get hold of teal, widgeons, and wild ducks; for there is an immediate demand for such delicacies among the operatives of the manufacturing towns, and other home-staying people; and the London poulterers will be wanting tens of thousands of them, as London fills again:—perhaps even if London remained “empty,” as the citizens know what is good as well as any great man’s cook. Out to the marshes, then, go the lovers of the sport,—no boy ever being permitted a second opportunity if he has not kept an exemplary silence on the first occasion.
How vivid appears in memory the grass on the sloping dry bank beside the little canal! And vivid the hue really is; for the grass is never of a lovelier green than in October; and these sloping banks are kept dry and comfortable for the birds to dress their feathers, instead of being rank and woolly as in more fenny places. Near at hand there are coverts of rushes and reeds, and islets of long grass, for the feeding and hiding of the fowl; and here is the hubbub and the noise. Such a fluttering and dashing and splashing,—such a quacking and screaming and clatter, is heard nowhere else. The inland poultry-yard, from this time to Christmas, is nothing to a decoy district. While the new arrivals are making acquaintance with their predecessors, and are feeding on the flowering rushes (one species of which gives its excellence to the canvas-back duck of the Potomac) and are making themselves beds among the islets and banks, man, boys, and dog are watching from behind a screen of reeds. What an excitement it is when the trained ducks mix with the wild birds! and when they tempt them into the right canal, and to dress their feathers on the bank till the dog appears! Then all take to the water, of course. The question is which way will they turn. The trained ducks once more lead; and having been daily fed at the place where the nets are now laid, at the head of the decoy, they tend that way now, followed by scores of new friends. As often as there is any lingering, or appearance of turning back, the dog appears again, and perhaps man or boy, looking through the fence. Once under the arch of nets, supported on hoops, the rest is short work. The birds rush up to the furthest point, as the net is dropped behind them; and there the fowler fetches them out by dozens, leaving only his coadjutors, the decoy ducks.
The hiding, the silence of the fowlers, the liveliness of the birds, the genius and patience of the dog,—now seeming to saunter accidentally to the spot indicated by his faculties, and now standing for minutes together with the water running over his back, seeing after a duck or a waterhen; and the pleasure of being wet, and cold, and hungry in the pursuit of sport, are bewitching to boys; and would be, no doubt, to girls, if they could be allowed to dabble their frocks in the slime of the fens. But there is another department for the girls. It is too late now for plucking geese alive for this year. The last of these pluckings takes place before Michaelmas. If my readers shudder at the notion, they are probably unaware of what this plucking amounts to, though the process ought to have been put an end to very long ago. The Michaelmas goose of the Fens is not like Plato’s man,—a two-legged animal without feathers; but each has given up a small portion of its finer down and a few quill-feathers,—both of which had better be let alone during the bird’s life. When the consumption of autumn geese begins, what an avidity do the women and girls show for the feathers! What bags are made and hung up in out-houses, or locked into closets, till the mistress is led by the nose to the discovery, and orders them out of the house! What a baking of them there is, if possible, when the family are off to the market; and how well it is if the wind sets the other way! And when the collections are sorted, and prepared, and weighed, what dreams there are of the prices to be offered at the fair! and what a chaffering there is when the fair-day arrives!
Townspeople know very well what a fair is. Any citizen can describe a fair from beginning to end, with its cattle sales to begin with; and, when they are over, its stalls of wares of all kinds, its caravans of wonders, in the shape of giants, dwarfs, monsters, play-acting, conjuring tricks, wild beasts, peep-shows, and all the rest of it; and then again the games, from the old merry-go-round to the fashionable Aunt Sally. All this is as familiar as gingerbread to townspeople; but they little know what a fair is to rural folk in remote places. To many of them it is a greater occasion than Christmas-day itself; for it is the only day in the year in which they see a throng of strangers. For this the women save their silver, and buy ribbons and gay shawls; and for this the children prevail on themselves not to spend every halfpenny as they get it, for months before. The importance of a day which is thought of, and talked of for many weeks by people who never otherwise see twenty persons assembled, except at church, or a funeral, can hardly be imagined by those who are accustomed to the buzz of human voices, and the stream of population in a street . In some parts of the country, too, the autumn fair promises something more than the bustle and fun, and presents and good cheer of the day. It is the occasion for the hirings of the year. I may perhaps be the last recorder of the mop or statute hiring as an existing custom; for the employers of Gloucestershire and some other places have wisely and kindly proposed to substitute better methods for the disagreeable old custom of mop-hirings. I speak of it as a remnant of barbarism; but it still exists, and finds its place as a characteristic of the season.
Those who have walked through an American slave-market cannot fail to be reminded of it in witnessing a mop-hiring. There stand the women, dairymaids, domestic servants, and field hands,—in rows, with their hands before them, and the awkward carriage of persons unaccustomed to stand still! There they stand, disadvantageously fine in their dress, unaware how every flaunting ribbon and gay trimming tells against them with all the best mistresses. Good mistresses will remember, however, that girls are fine to-day who may be plain enough on every other week-day of the year. There they stand, some lolling, some rocking themselves, some giggling, some looking too self-respecting to offer themselves to a casual hirer; and there are the farmers’ wives walking before them speaking to one and another, and occasionally returning to renew an argument about the wages. There is little use in arguing. These people don’t understand distinctions and differences; and all explanations about the advantages of one’s own service are thrown away. The wages asked are always declared to be high; and there is no hope of making any impression on the askers. The case is just the same where the farmers are inspecting the ploughmen, and shepherds, and cow-boys. There the rustics stand, kicking their heels, and playing with straws,—each, perhaps, with a badge in his hat,—the plaited whipcord in the teamster’s hat,—the wool in the shepherd’s,—the wisp of cow’s hair in the herd-boy’s; and the hirers find them as deaf to reason about wages as the women are.
Bystanders might agree with the one party or the other on this point. I, for my part, have no idea that agricultural servants are often overpaid: but the quality of the article thus bought at the fair must be considered; and it is not generally found to be very valuable. The method of hiring tends to unsettle servants, and encourage a gambling spirit as to places. In districts where mops are held there seems to be an annual shifting all round; and the servants get to fancy that they somehow lose a chance if they don’t put themselves up to a fresh sale. There is yet more complaint of the consequences of these gatherings in corrupting morals and manners; and a day of standing in public for appraisement, followed by a night of jollity among acquaintances of every degree, and utter strangers, may well be dangerous to people simple and ignorant enough to undergo the process, and to regard it as a treat. In the next generation it will be a wonder that such a custom could exist in our time. The plan of the Gloucestershire gentry and farmers—of registering, without cost, the employers and labourers of each district who may wish to be mutually suited in a quiet and promising way, must soon destroy the human-market method,—so like the slave-market!
The fairs over, the rest of the month is a grave and studious time to the prudent farmer. The prudent farmer takes stock before the winter, and as soon as convenient after he has ascertained the result of the harvest, and the prices of all his commodities at the autumn sales. During the day he examines the condition of every animal on the farm, and computes the contents of every stack and root-house; and in the evenings the room must be kept still while he is at his figures. His wife, with a stocking on her arm, and her ball of worsted and scissors before her, sits beside him, ready to be questioned or consulted. The children steal away to some place where they may make a noise. Everybody wishes the fortnight was over,—the fortnight or more during which the master is grave and calculating, and exceedingly particular about the condition of everything; and the mistress nervous and exacting, and full of proposals to reduce expenses in all directions. At last comes the night when, after hours in which the ticking of the clock and the scratching of the pen are the only sounds, some long sighs are heard, and the paroxysm is over for the year. The results of the columns of figures in the books are contained on a bit of waste paper, over which the conjugal heads pore till the united conjugal mind is satisfied. Then comes the supper, with a glass of wine extra, the kind and significant nods, by way of a toast, and either a joke or two, and talk of a new gown, or consoling reflexions on the value of education to children, however hard to provide, and proverbs about things mending when they are sufficiently bad. Whatever the result, farmer and farmer’s wife go about the next morning with freer minds and more open brows than ever since the books were brought out.
And plenty there is for them to do, between this and the first frosts. There is not the ancient October business of salting down, for seven months’ food, the cows which could not be kept alive through the winter. We do not live on salt lean cow-beef for half the year, as our forefathers did; and we do not slaughter beasts because the grass does not grow in winter. Still there is a good deal of preparation required for winter. The pigs must be fattened for killing; and not only the pigs, but the poultry which have been thriving ever since the barns have been filled. The women look to all this! for the men are all wanted for getting up the potatoes, and sowing the spring wheat, and manuring the pasture lands, and clearing and cleaning everywhere for the reception of winter stores. The last gathering of the mangold leaves, before the final cropping, affords a sweet meal to the cows. How soon to take up the roots is an anxious matter. Some kinds are increasing in weight, so that it would be well to let them stand through October: but then, an early frost, like that of last year, may cut off in a night the winter food of a thousand dairies.
When these tasks are done, it is as well to set about the complete repair of the fences and gates, as well as the clearing of drains and the cleaning of ditches. There are more creatures astray now than there will be till the sheep grow wild and hungry in early spring. Good things lie scattered about the fields; and animals are allowed to seek what they can find. The hedges have been pulled about in proportion as they were overgrown; and gates have been left swinging. Dead leaves and decayed plants choke the channels in which the waters should run, from the church spout to the field drains. The beasts get through every gap, and break every gate, and poach every damp path, and stir up the mud, so as to give broad hints that it is time they were kept at home, and all made tight behind them.
Now is the great brewing time for those who have to provide large households, or gangs of labourers, with beer. The best beer for keeping, the farmers say, is made in October, and hence the name of our ancestors’ best ale. In the hop counties this is a busy time for clearing the grounds, and taking away the poles to stack. In other counties, nearer to the seats of our great textile manufactures, the woodland of a farm is now the most interesting part of it. Under the constant demand for bobbins, certain coppice woods are more valuable than ever before; and great landowners aim at having twenty coppices, in order to cut down one each year in turn for ever,—a twenty years’ growth being the best. Farmers who cannot achieve anything like this may yet have some to dispose of one year with another; and they may be now seen either taking the speculative purchaser to their woodlands, to count and mark the young trees, and bid for the lot, as it stands, to be removed at his own cost, or the farm-labourers are at work, under their master, or his woodman, cutting down and trimming the coppice wood, for the market. It is a somewhat dreary sight, in our hill districts, to see every year some wooded upland or ravine in every valley cleared out,—laid bare,—only stumps and refuse left of the feathery foliage which had pleased the eye in all lights, and which will be missed by every household below. In the next year the ruin will be somewhat covered over by the sprouting of the coming copse from that which is gone; and the stumps make the finest preserve for primroses that can be. Every year now helps to restore the beauty; but every year some other spot is laid waste,—so entirely as a matter of course, that none but fresh observers take much notice of it. For some weeks to come, however, there will be movement enough on the hill-sides to attract the eye, and remind the observer that the time has arrived for the league between the factory and the bobbin-mill and the woodland portion of the farm.
It is no wonder that the neighbours who can find or make time hang about the spot. The boys find cast snake skins in the grass, and peer about to discover where the snakes and vipers are burying themselves for the winter. The squirrels are a far prettier sport—always pretty at their play, and even more interesting when they are collecting and hiding their winter store. They rustle among the fallen leaves when seizing a beech-nut; and patiently they sit in wait for acorns; and deftly they pick up any hazel-nut, lost from a child’s pocket, or swept down by the breeze. Then there are the wood pigeons, making themselves at home for the winter; and the rooks carrying on a close examination of their nesting trees, as if with clear foresight of St. Valentine’s season. These stirrings in the woodlands, with the mournful charm of falling leaves, and the beauty of variegated foliage, may well draw thither all who love pleasures not the less for their being calm and grave.
In a small way these young woods remind one of the old woods where the ancient customs of the swineherds still exist. We do not rival Germany in either the extent of our forests or the docility of our pigs. We do not train our swine to understand the horn or obey the whip; but there are forest ranges still in England where acorns and beechmast are plentiful, and where racy pork is bred, as good as any in Westphalia or Ohio. I am unpoetical enough to believe that the very best pork is that reared on meal and milk as the staple food; but I own to a feeling of gratification when my boys come home with a basketful of beechnuts for the pig, or the village children offer acorns for sale. We buy all they bring. My wife says it is because “Ivanhoe” came out when we were children, investing swine feeding with a perpetual charm. However that may be, the farmers’ pigs are out in the beech and oak woods at this time, in all good mast and acorn seasons. Every year at this season, too, our children ask once more whether our ancestors really ate acorns, and taste, and try again, and cannot conceive it possible. If told the tradition of sweet acorns, they inquire why our pigs have not the advantage of them at this day.
October is so charming a month to us at home that we envy neither the Alpine climber, nor the angler in Norway, nor the contemplative philosopher in London, nor the Lincolnshire fowler, nor the swineherd in the New Forest, or the Black Forest, or “the primeval forest” across the Atlantic, or any other. Our hands are full of business; but we enjoy it. I am superintending the planting of new fruit trees, and the setting up of a new evergreen hedge, while the girls are taking up their geraniums and making a spring bed, dressed with the finest soil, and filled with hyacinth bulbs, and tulips, and anemones, and hepaticas—a border of crocuses of all colours running round it. In the pleasure of this preparation for spring, they can bear the sight and scent of dying leaves, and blossoms that fall with a touch, or without one. A few hollyhocks and asters and starworts, set off with bright holly sprays, and red vine leaves, and yellow ash and birch sprays, and dark ivy, and the scarlet and purple berries of the season, make a good substitute in the house for summer bouquets; and outside the house, the Virginia-creeper, relieved against the ivy, with bunches of clematis hanging from the angles, and a China rose or two beside the door, may well satisfy us in these shortening days. The old women from the village have daily employment now in keeping the lawn and the green walk clear of leaves; and the compost heap beside the orchard becomes something vast. The gardener is ridging his vacated beds, and thinning his turnips and spinach, and earthing up the celery. He is, perhaps, a little jealous of my wife’s notion of what clean glass is. Now that the greenhouse has been thoroughly examined, and every chink mended, my wife proceeds to have every pane there, and also in the handlights in the garden, made as bright as her drawing-room windows. She says the plants want every ray of light that can be had, now that the sun looks at us so aslant. She helps Harry, too, to guard his own small concerns against the coming frosts, regarding it as an educational process. So they have bent sallows over the child’s most precious plants, and have hung mats over, which it is a daily business of the utmost consequence to take off when the sun is up, and remember to put down before sunset.
The grand pleasure of the time, however, is the clearing of the orchard—the gathering of the winter fruits. It has been an agreeable daily task to pick out the ripest swans-egg and bergamot pears from the sunniest boughs, and to cherish the later grapes, trimming away every doubtful berry, and pruning to within an inch of the bunch; but the real festival is the apple gathering.
We are all on the watch as to the proceedings of our cider-brewing neighbours. Somebody bursts into the kitchen or parlour with news that Farmer A. or B. is having his barrels cleaned and aired, and the baskets and cloths washed and dried, and the mill inspected, and the vats scoured; and then we make ready to strip our trees. We cannot make so boisterous an affair of it as our neighbours, who are going to crush their apples immediately. We are going to keep ours; so we take the means of keeping them, pulling each with a gentle wrench, and handling all as if they were eggs. Those that fall are kept separate, and freely allowed for anybody’s immediate use. My wife has no idea of shutting them up “to sweat” in straw or sawdust, or even sand. We do not like tainted apples, be the taint ever so innocent. A clean room, and plenty of air, dry wiping after the sweating, and then plenty of air again, as they lie on clean wood (door or shelf)—this is her recipe for keeping apples as long as apples can be kept.
There are few sights pleasanter than the last hour of apple-cropping on a sunny October afternoon, when the house is deserted, and all the family, and a few neighbours, and perhaps a beggar or two are standing in the sun, and peering into the trees for the last bit of gold-green or russet fruit, or rejoicing over the basket and barrow loads, and broad piles of apples. But this year we shall be more thankful than ever before for a plentiful crop, for never, I fear, was the excellent nourishment covered up with the rind of the apple more needed than it seems likely to be this winter. It is not generally understood that the apple is prime among fruits for the same excellence which makes the potato prime among vegetables—the high quality and good combination of the nourishment it contains. The alimentary chemists tell us that the apple, when truly ripened, is much more than a luxury. With the stimulating quality of one species of food it unites the nourishing properties of another, and thus it is a real resource, if it were but known, when meat and flour are dearest. If provisions should be as dear as we expect this next winter, we must do our utmost with our prodigious crop of apples. Apples and rice will be about the cheapest articles procurable; and it will not cost us much—us who grow apples—to put a good many into the cottages and little shops near us, with plenty of rice (broken rice for cheapness, which is just as good, though not so handsome, as whole rice), to make a substantial meal for hungry folk.
When we leave the orchard, there is always a merry set of fellows ready to enter it. We give it up to the village boys, who have leave to take all they can find, on the clear understanding that no injury shall be done to the trees. It will be easily understood that the smallest apples are left on purpose, and here and there a few which are not of the smallest. By the shouts and laughter which reach us in the house, they seem to be well amused till it is too dark to pretend to find more apples.
One more peculiarity of October must be noticed—a solemn and sweet feature of the time. As the fruits of one year fall, the seeds of centuries of growth are sown. By the mechanism of nature, the stocking of the earth with every kind of growth, from the oak of a thousand years to the weed of a day, is carried on. The acorn falls on moist earth, and is trodden in by man or beast; the berries of the mountain ash are carried by birds, and dropped on ledges of rock, where they strike in any handful of soil that may be there. Winged seeds are floated by the winds till they stop in some favourable place. The light and downy sorts are spread abroad by every breeze that blows. Those that are hooked are conveyed by the coats of browsing animals. While men are putting seeds into the ground by millions with all due care, Nature is planting and sowing on a much larger scale, surpassing man while he is busy, and going on while he is sleeping or making holiday. To appreciate what is thus done, one has only to try to count the plants on the turf one has been lying on, on any common, or the seedlings within any square yard of airy woodland. Now is the time to see how the replenishing of the earth begins before it is emptied of its ripened produce. For every tree that is felled thousands are sown; and for every flower that falls millions more are provided. What my girls have been doing with pains and care, in their bed of spring bulbs, is done silently over all the continents and islands in our zone. New life is provided for before decay begins.