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"What have you there, Arthur?" asked Mrs. Beresford, as her young nephew came running towards the group resting under the shade of a spreading oak. "You look as though it were some great treasure."
"Yes, Aunt, it is indeed a great treasure. Look! a beautiful little nest of harvest-mice. It is just found by one of the reapers, fixed in a low thistle under shelter of the hedge.
"Oh, what tiny things!" exclaimed one.
"The little loves," said Adelaide; "do let me have the nest in my hand."
"What perfect little creatures! They are not larger than humble bees," said Emily. "And the
nest, oh, look at the beautiful nest!"
It was, indeed, worth examining. It was round as a ball, curiously made of blades of grass and small straws woven together, and lined with the softest materials.
"And see," said Mr. Gray, who came up to inquire what had drawn them all together; "see, in order to take the nest from the thistle it has been torn a little, otherwise you would not get so good a view of the mice. The harvest-mouse leaves only a very small opening in her nest, and even this is closed at night, and on cold days. So well does she know how to protect her tender young ones."
The nest was placed in the crown of Arthur's hat, and George and Harry had it by turns to examine. At last came the inquiry, "What are we to do
with the little mice? Will it be possible to rear them?"
“I think not,” said Mr. Gray; "they are too young; they require to be supported longer by their mother."
'Suppose we put them back in the place they were taken from.”
"I fear it would be useless. They would only become the prize of some night-feeding animal, or die of cold and starvation before morning. I think the poor frightened mouse will hardly venture back to the place, now that the shelter of the barley is gone, or, at least, not in time to save the young ones from a miserable death. I believe it would be the most merciful plan to destroy them when you have satisfied your curiosity. I have no doubt Farmer Oakshot would think it also the greatest kindness to him."
"Well! it is a great pity," said Harry; “but I suppose it can't be helped."
Presently a skylark rose from the field sending out gushes of melody as she ascended higher, and reminding those who gazed on her of the Ettrick Shepherd's ode :—
"Wild is thy lay and loud,
Far in the downy cloud;
Love gave it energy: love gave it birth.
Where, on thy dewy wing,
Where art thou journeying?
Thy lay is in heaven, thy love is on earth."
It was a lovely evening, and they lingered long in the field. All around were fields in various stages of maturity. Some looked fully ripe, others were only a little turned, others again still looked Pasture fields were interspersed, and hop
plantations and patches of copse-wood. In the distance a range of purple moorland was seen, and
nosegays. The blue cornflower they had found in the field, and the purple flower of the corncockle. In the hedges there were the tall blue campanula or bell-flower, the hemp agrimony with its handsome cluster of flowers, the mullein with its yellow spike of blossoms, and the meadow sweet with its cream-coloured plume. The honeysuckle still hung here and there its fragrant branches, and Charles Neville drew down many blossoms which would otherwise have been beyond their reach. The humbler bloom of the yellow vetch and the milkwort, with its white and blue and pink blossoms, also grew at their feet, and the drooping panicles of the wild oat were mingled tastefully with all.
"Hark!" said Mrs. Beresford, "what is that strange whirring noise?"
"Oh, don't you know that sound, Aunt?" said Charles. "It is made by one of the birds we talk much about here—the night-jar, or fern-owl."
"Is that the fern-owl? I have often heard of the bird, but have never seen it-Where is it, Charles? Tell me where to look."
"It is flying round that oak at the corner of the field, and if we wait here a few minutes you will see it."
Presently the singular bird was seen chasing the young moths and making a famous meal, as Charles said, if he caught one every time he snapped his bill together.
"I recollect reading a good deal about this bird