Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/268

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It has been suggested that the whistler is the green plover to which Sir Walter Scott refers in "The Lady of the Lake," where he relates how—

"In the plover's shrilly strains
The signal whistle's heard again"—

its ominous shrill whistle which startles, with dreadful awe, the midnight traveler as he journeys along some lonely road, sounding far more like a human note than that of a bird. In illustration of this view we may quote the following anecdote related by a correspondent of "Notes and Queries" (fourth series, viii, 268), which, however, supports the popular theory of the birds in question being supernatural beings: "One evening a few years ago, when crossing one of our Lancashire moors in company with an intelligent old man, he was suddenly startled by the whistling overhead of a covey of plovers. My companion remarked that when a boy the old people considered such a circumstance a bad omen, 'as a person who heard the wandering Jews,' as he called the plovers, 'was sure to be overtaken by some ill-luck.' On questioning my friend about the name given to the birds, he said, 'There is a tradition that they contain the souls of those Jews who assisted at the crucifixion, and in consequence were doomed to float in the air forever.' When he arrived at the foot of the moor, a coach by which I had hoped to reach my destination had already started, thereby causing me to continue my journey on foot. The old man reminded me of the omen." To quote a further anecdote recorded by another correspondent of the same journal, we are told how during a thunder-storm which passed over the neighborhood of Kettering on the evening of September 6, 1871—on which occasion the lightning was very vivid—an unusual spectacle was witnessed: immense flocks of birds were flying about, uttering doleful, affrighted cries as they passed over the locality, and for hours they kept up a continual whistling like that made by sea-birds. "The following day," adds the writer, "as my servant was driving me to a neighboring village, this phenomenon of the flight of birds became the subject of conversation, and, on asking him what birds he thought they were, he told me they were what were called the 'Seven Whistlers,' and that whenever they were heard it was considered a sign of some great calamity, and that the last time he heard them was before the great Hartley Colliery explosion; he had also been told by soldiers that if they heard them they always expected a great slaughter would take place soon. Curiously enough, on taking up the newspaper on the following morning, I saw headed in large letters, 'Terrible Colliery Explosion at Wigan,' etc. This, I thought, would confirm my man's belief in the "Seven Whistlers." Among the pieces of folk-lore connected with whistling may be mentioned that of sailors whistling for a wind on a calm day; an expedient which they believe seldom fails. Thus Longfellow, in his "Golden Legend," speaks of this notion: