IN THE HAY-FIELDS.
" ST. BARNABAS, mow the grass," is an old country saying; but although St. Barnabas's Day falls when the meadows are generally ripe for mowing, there is no crop so " tickle," as the Yorkshire farmers say, as to the time at- which it must be cut. Hay must fall when the grasses are in flower. Walk into a hay-field in the second week in June, and you will see the pollen dropping from the fescue and timothy, and the yellow from the buttercups lodges on your boots. Then the beauty of a good meadow can be seen and under- stood. The trefoil and yellow suckling are ankle-deep, and a little above rises the perennial red clover,—the white being not yet in full blossom. The true grasses reach to the knee, the growth becoming less dense as it rises higher, and
the crowning glory of beauty is the wide ox-eyed daisies,— more dear, however, to the artist than to the farmer. Dotted among the grasses are carmine meadow-vetchling, and a dozen other small leguminosx, yellow weasel-snout, buttercups and wild blue geranium. In a strangely beautiful picture of Diirer's which we once saw, the artist had evidently painted the section. of a hay-field. One seemed to be lying on the cut. grass, and looking at the wall left after the last sweep of the scythe. Every flower, every stalk of grass, was painted, the white daisies filling the top of the canvas. Not only sight but scent is needed to judge the maturity of the crop. In a walk through acres of " mowing-grass " to determine the condition of the blossom, the fragrance of the odours from the almost invisible flowers of the grasses, and of the tiny clovers, crowsfoot, and trefoil, that " blush unseen " in the thick growth at the bottom, is almost stupifying, and is cer- tain in some cases to bring on a violent attack of hay-fever at night. If the flower is fully out, then the hay must be cut, no matter how threatening the weather, and no crop lies so completely at the mercy of the skies as does the hay. If the crop be short, it cannot then be left to grow. The grass must fall while the blossom is upon it, or the cattle will not eat it. " Better let it spoil on the ground than spoil as it grows," is a country axiom. For the latter is a certain loss, and a day's bright sun and wind may always dry a fallen crop.
How and when men first learned to make hay will probably never be known. For haymaking is a " process," and the pro- duct is not simply sun-dried grass, but grass which has been partly fermented, and is as much the work of men's hands as flour or eider. Probably its discovery was due to accident ; but possibly man learnt it from the pikas, the "calling-hares " of the steppes, which cut and stack hay for the winter. That idea would fit in nicely with the theory that Central Asia was the " home of the Aryan race," if we were still allowed to believe it,—and haymaking is certainly an art mainly prac- tised in cold countries, for winter forage. Probably there are no meadows in the world so good as those in England, or so old. Yet from the early Anglo-Saxon times, old meadow has been distinguished from "pastures," and has always been scarce. Two-thirds of what is now established meadow-land still shows the marks of ridge and furrow; and from the great time required to make a meadow—ten years at least on the best land, a hundred on the worst—men have always been reluctant to break up old pasture. The ancient meadows, with their great trees, and close, rich turf, are the sole portion of the earth's surface which modern agriculture respects and leaves in peace. Hence the excellence of the meadows of England, and the envy of the American. Old customs cling even to the tenure of these sacred spots of earth. "Joint holdings" exist in meadow-land long after they have disappeared in connection with the cultivated por- tions. The Thames Valley is still full of such joint tenancies. In the Stour Valley, with Essex on the one side and Suffolk on the other, are numbers of "common meadows," in which several men own portions, and which they must jointly agree to mow or " feed," as the case may be, each year. At Bampton, in Oxfordshire, the sections of the "common meadow" are annually redistributed by lot among sixteen owners. But the old meadows only supply a part, though probably the most valuable part, of the yearly crop of hay. The change from arable to grass which has marked the last twenty years of English farming, has covered what were once cornfields with " sown grasses " or " leys." No one travelling by rail over any of the higher plateaux of England, such as the Wiltshire Downs or Salisbury Plain, can fail to notice the hundreds of acres of waving " rye-grass " which has taken the place of fallows and turnip-fields. On the chalk-land the lovely sainfoin spreads its crimson flowers over an ever-growing area; for sainfoin-hay is the best of all food for producing milk, and is saved for the ewes in lambing. time, and for the dairy-cows. Seven years is the life allotted to a sainfoin "ley," after which it is ploughed up and used for. other purposes. Hardly any sown pasture is so beautiful or so profitable as this on the soil which suits its growth. It gives two crops in the year, and the hay can often be sold for £6 or £7 an acre. The broad-leaved clover grows on all soils; and though it stands for two years, the crop is generally ploughed in after the first year's cutting. For agricultural chemists have discovered that the delicate clover-leaves gather in nitrates from the air, and so when ploughed into the ground give food to the young wheat-plant. " Field-hay," as the pro- duce of the rye-grass, sainfoin, clover, and trefoil is called, is a new feature in the country. Its beauty is less refined, bright though the masses look in early June ; and the pleasure it gives is less. It is part of modern husbandry, and lacks the poetry of the old.
Half the beauty of the " haysel " has been lost since the mowing-machine was invented, and the other " time-saving appliances " of modern farming. For the most picturesque sight in the cycle of rural toil was to watch the mowers. But the steady rushing of the steel through the falling grass, the rhythmic movement of the mowers, as they advanced en echelon, right foot foremost, down the meadow, and the ring of the whetstones on the scythes, have almost given place to the rattling machine. Yet there is more pleasure in "haysel" than " joy in harvest." The weather is not so hot, and the grass does not attract the sun as does the stubble. Every one is ready to "lend a hand." There is the sweet scent of the flowers when fresh, and of the grass as it dries. The big horses munch happily while the workmen rest for their " elevenses " and " fourses," and eat their white currant- loaves and drink their cider. The wives help to rake the swathes together for the men, and the children roll about and bury themselves in the haycocks. If the weather is very " catchy," the farmer is sometimes thoughtful ; but the stake is not so great as at harvest-time, and the anxiety propor- tionately less.
The cutting of the grass leads to a sad disturbance of the wild creatures which the meadow shelters under its tall crop. As the machine or the mowers make the circuit of the outer edges, the nests of landrails, larks, partridges, and pipits, are uncovered; and even missing bantam-hens and guinea-fowls from the farm may often be found sitting on a " stolen " nest in the hayfield. The shining blades of the machine cause cruel destruction among all these confiding creatures, and the close-sitting partridges are more often killed than saved. Doe-rabbits and field-mice—or rather, the " voles" which are destroying the Scotch pastures—have their nests in the grass, and in the very centre of the field an old hedgehog and her young and prickly family are found rolled up like dumplings, and presenting their spines to the inquisitive sheep-dog that has discovered them. The ground, of course, swarms with insects that have fallen from the grass ; and the whole surface of the newly-cut field is one great table of food for birds and beasts. They do not wait to be invited. Starlings and sparrows rush down upon the grubs and spiders, and eat till they can eat no more. The rooks march over the field in black battalions, and gobble up every lark's, landrail's, and partridge's egg uncovered, pull to pieces the voles' nests, and swallow with infinite relish the young and helpless voles. The dogs do their best to eat the young hedgehogs, and thereby prick their mouths sadly; and then scratch out the young rabbits and catch the moles, which, being stupid and subterranean, are not aware that the covering grass has gone, and work too near the surface. In the evening the cats come shyly to the field, and catch the disconsolate mice which venture back to look for their children. But per- haps the most curious evidence of the universal attractiveness of a hayfield which the writer has yet seen, was an invasion of a meadow by fish ! A summer flood had come down the upper waters of the Isis, and spread over the meadows, drowning millions of insects and small animals. The water still lay among the haycocks, covering the ground to the depth of a few inches, and of course filling all the ditches and deeper channels. Up these the fish had come, leaving the muddy river, and had spread themselves in shoals over the field ; great chub and carp and roach were pushing and flapping among the haycocks, their backs partly out of the water, and swallowing greedily the drowned creatures which floated in thousands on the surface or lay dead at the bottom. When frightened, they struggled back to the ditches, from which, however, they soon returned to their novel feeding-ground.