THE HEDGE. T HE primary intention of the hedge no doubt
was to serve as a landmark. It denoted division, enclosure, fencing off, or fencing in. Men beheld in it a tangible expression of
the rights of property, the symbol which demonstrated the notion of melon el tuunt to an unsocialistic world. But it must from the very outset have taken on a deeper and a dearer significance. A tender maternal suggestion replaced that of the stern and selfish barrier. For, whatever the original idea, the latent meaning of the hedge is shelter— as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be—shelter, refuge, and a friend in need.
In these respects there is nothing shall compare with it ; any traveller will tell you that. The tree can offer you no such welcome ; the tree rocks and creaks in the wind, till its branches crash down above you ; it is a perilous harbour when storms arise. It draws the lightning on your head in summer ; in winter it is but a barren framework that lets the snow sweep through. The cave may crumble in upon you ; the barn is full of rats ; all the chilly airs of heaven go whistling round the haystack. But the hedge, compact of interwoven vitalities, built up into solid green through centuries of intricate growth, the hedge is a covert in the tempest, a wall against the snow. It is a rampart from the rain, a shade to ward off the sun, and a pleasant hearthplace ready-made for the wayfarer. The gipsies know the value of it, none better. They use the same word for friend and for hedgb : could any- thing be fitter ? It is the dearest friend they have. The little heap of ash which betokens the Romany sojourn is always in the shadow of a hedge.
" To lie in the lew," that is, to leeward of a hedge, is the South Country ideal of peace, of lassitude ; and a peculiar stillness inhabits in the lew, such as no other resting-place can give you. The hedge shuts out sound, except its own innumerable tiny noises. The great winds fall back baffled from that concrete quietude ; only the minute voices of bees and grasshoppers and field-mice are to hear, and the unruffled melody of birds. For this stillness of the hedge is a living one,—death and decay are undreamed of. It is quick with running and flying creatures, furred and feathered people, to whom its most secret interstices are no mystery ; and even as all colours, combined, make white, so the multiplicities of slender sound result in this golden silence of the hedgeside.
Where there is literally no room for hedges—as in Port- land, for instance, where the " lawns," or pieces of cultivated land, march seaward side by side in ever-narrowing strips—the result is so strange as to appear quite abnormal,—belonging to some other order of things. Yet we take our hedge too much for granted; we are not half grateful enough to this unfailing friend. And there is no time of year when the hedge does not stand for beauty. Whether it gives haven to the earliest adventurers of spring—foolhardy little flowers that boast themselves under its shadow—or whether the hawthorn boughs make a white splendour in its turrets, it is equally to be desired. And it would go hard to resolve whether the June hedge is more wonderful, roses, roses, all the way, or the October one, ablaze with burnished leaves and smouldering fires of berries.
One man, however, cannot delay his duties "for to admire and for to see." One man regards the field-hedge from a more purely utilitarian point of view than any other. And he is its groom,—the functionary in corduroys commonly known as the hedger and ditcher. He toils remorselessly with his shears along the lovely length of it, and reduces a glory of wild green to an orderly and Puritanical shapeliness. His work in some shires is known as " shripping "; this is a genuine " portmanteau" word constructed out of shearing and clipping; it is also onomatopoetic, and exactly describes the noise made by the shears. In the Norfolk hedges are certain mysterious monoliths known as the dole-stones. These, men say, grow thirsty at midnight, and go down to the nearest stream to drink. It is not well to meet them going or returning—for anybody. Least of all, one would imagine, would it be safe for the iconoclastic hedger.
If one were asked to name on the spur of the moment the most characteristic feature of the English landscape, there can be little doubt but he would reply—the hedge. It is a peculiarly English institution. Picked up and dropped blind-
fold into any corner of the isle, you would know, directly your eyes could see, that it was your own land, by the hedges.
In other countries people put up fences, ditches, banks, railings, what-not : but they are by no means the same thing. A hedge implies care in construction, care in preservation, and the careful work of some immemorial ancestor. By what process of planting, of haphazard growth, of natural selection. did the ordinary field-hedge attain its present development P It is intermeshed betwixt tall tree and tree, where possible; and its constituents, allowing for variations of locality, are nearly always identical : hawthorn, buckthorn, maple, aloe, dogwood, spindlewood, cornel, elder, privet, hazel, dog-rose, bramble, and bryony. The drapery of flowers and ferns, which alters with soil and season, may be omitted, if one may indeed omit a fact so salient.
But this is the aboriginal hedge, so to speak ; the massy wall of meadow and wayside. There are others, daintier, yet no less dear. You shall doubtless avow a lavender hedge to be ideal and idyllic above all, until you come upon a sweetbriar one in the glow of a midsummer morning. The prim little. trim little box hedges still nurtured by old-fashioned folk exhale a pleasant reminiscent warmth. Around the Waterer rhododendron nurseries at Knapp Hill is a hedge of red pyres japonica, and the Devon hedges near villages (but what shall be likened to the Devon hedges ?) are all a magnificence of fuchsias. In Kerry the Escallonia rubra builds itself into massive walls of green, sombrely lustrous, eight feet high and six feet wide. And beyond these are those serviceable and orderly trees which, being clipped and fashioned, restrain their exuberance within impregnable thickset leafage,—such, for example, as hornbeam, holly, and yew. But yew demands a chapter to itself. That symmetrical and pensive darkness holds meanings quite out of touch with the hedge of Happy- go-lucky the vagrant.
And Happy-go-lucky it is who reaps the full joy and benefit of the hedge, who acquaints himself with its friendliness through many days and darknesses. One need not be hedge. born to become free of this experience. Any man sooner or later may see for himself how Aldebaran, the vagabonds' star, glints down through the sultry night across the leafage; or may safely watch the white drops hissing and streaming into the pools as he lies, like the Romany, "under the bor in the bishnu,"—under the hedge in the rain.