Read Chapter VIII - Cicely’s dairy.  Hilary’s talk of Round About a Great Estate , free online book, by Richard Jefferies, on

Just outside the palings of the courtyard at Lucketts’ Place, in front of the dairy, was a line of damson and plum trees standing in a narrow patch bordered by a miniature box-hedge.  The thrushes were always searching about in this box, which was hardly high enough to hide them, for the snails which they found there.  They broke the shells on the stone flags of the garden path adjacent, and were often so intently occupied in the box as to seem to fly up from under the very feet of any one who passed.

Under the damson tree the first white snowdrops came, and the crocuses, whose yellow petals often appeared over the snow, and presently the daffodils and the beautiful narcissus.  There were cowslips and primroses, too, which the boys last year had planted upside down that they might come variegated.  The earliest violet was gathered there, for the corner was enclosed on three sides, and somehow the sunshine fell more genially in that untrimmed spot than in formal gardens where it is courted.  Against the house a pear was trained, and opened its white bloom the first of all:  in its shelter the birds built their nests.  The chaffinches called cheerfully on the plum-trees and sang in the early morning.  When the apples bloomed, the goldfinches visited the same trees at least once a day.

A damask rose opened its single petals, the sweetest-scented of all the roses; there were a few strawberries under the wall of the house; by-and-by the pears above enlarged, and the damsons were coated with the bloom.  On the tall plum-trees hung the large purplish-red plums:  upon shaking the tree, one or two came down with a thud.  The branches of the damsons depended so low, looking, as it were, right into the court and pressing the fruit against your very face as you entered, that you could not choose but take some when it was ripe.  A blue-painted barrel-churn stood by the door; young Aaron turned it in the morning, while the finches called in the plum-trees, but now and then not all the strength of his sturdy shoulders nor patient hours of turning could ‘fetch’ the butter, for a witch had been busy.

Sometimes on entering the dairy in the familiar country way, you might find Cicely, now almost come to womanhood, at the cheese-tub.  As she bent over it her rounded arms, bare nearly to the shoulder, were laved in the white milk.  It must have been from the dairy that Poppaea learned to bathe in milk, for Cicely’s arms shone white and smooth, with the gleam of a perfect skin.  But Mrs. Luckett would never let her touch the salt, which will ruin the hands.  Cicely, however, who would do something, turned the cheeses in the cheese-room alone.  Taking one corner of the clean cloth in her teeth, in a second, by some dexterous sleight-of-hand, the heavy cheese was over, though ponderous enough to puzzle many a man, especially as it had to come over gently that the shape might not be injured.

She did it without the least perceptible exertion.  At the moment of the turn, when the weight must have been felt, there was no knot of muscle visible on her arm.  That is the difference; for

    When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw

the muscles of the man’s limb knot themselves and stand out in bold relief.  The smooth contour of Cicely’s arm never varied.  Mrs. Luckett, talking about cheese as we watched Cicely one morning, said people’s taste have much altered; for she understood they were now fond of a foreign sort that was full of holes.  The old saying was that bread should be full of holes, cheese should have none.  Just then Hilary entered and completed the triad by adding that ale should make you see double.

So he called for the brown jug, and he and I had a glass.  On my side of the jug stood a sportsman in breeches and gaiters, his gun presented, and ever in the act to fire:  his dog pointed, and the birds were flying towards Hilary.  Though rude in design the scene was true to nature and the times:  from the buttons on the coat to the long barrel of the gun, the details were accurate and nothing improved to suit the artist’s fancy.  To me these old jugs and mugs and bowls have a deep and human interest, for you can seem to see and know the men who drank from them in the olden days.

Now a tall Worcester vase, with all its elegance and gilding, though it may be valued at 5,000_l._, lacks that sympathy, and may please the eye but does not touch the heart.  For it has never shared in the jovial feast nor comforted the weary; the soul of man has never communicated to it some of its own subtle essence.  But this hollow bowl whispers back the genial songs that were shouted over it a hundred years ago.  On the ancient Grecian pottery, too, the hunter with his spear chases the boar or urges his hounds after the flying deer; the women are dancing, and you can almost hear the notes of the flute.  These things were part of their daily life; these are no imaginary pictures of imaginary and impossible scenes:  they are simply scenes in which every one then took part.  So I think that the old English jugs and mugs and bowls are true art, with something of the antique classical spirit in them, for truly you can read the hearts of the folk for whom they were made.  They have rendered the interpretation easy by writing their minds upon them:  the motto, ’Prosperity to the Flock,’ for instance, is a good one still; and ’Drink fair; don’t swear,’ is yet a very pleasant and suitable admonition.

As I looked at the jug, the cat coughed under the table.  ‘Ah,’ said Mrs. Luckett, ‘when the cat coughs, the cold goes through the house.’  Hilary, returning to the subject of the cheese, said that the best was made when the herd grazed on old pastures:  there was a pasture field of his which it was believed had been grazed for fully two hundred years.  When he was a boy, the cheese folk made to keep at home for eating often became so hard that, unable to cut it, they were obliged to use a saw.  Still longer ago, they used to despatch a special cheese to London in the road-waggon; it was made in thin vats (pronounced in the dairy ’vates’), was soft, and eaten with radishes.  Another hard kind was oval-shaped, or like a pear; it was hung up in nets to mature, and traded to the West Indies.

He looked to see when the moon changed in ‘Moore’s Almanac,’ which was kept for ready reference on the mantelpiece.  Next to Bible and Prayer-book comes old Moore’s rubric in the farmhouse — that rubric which declares the ‘vox stellarum.’  There are old folk who still regret the amendments in the modern issue, and would have back again the table which laid down when the influence of the constellations was concentrated in each particular limb and portion of the body.  In his oaken cabinet Hilary had ‘Moore’ from the beginning of the century, or farther back, for his fathers had saved them before him.  On the narrow margins during his own time he had jotted down notes of remarkable weather and the events of the farm, and could tell you the very day cow ‘Beauty’ calved twenty years ago.

I thought the ale good, but Hilary was certain it was not equal to what he used to brew himself before he had so large an acreage to look after, and indeed before the old style of farm-life went out of fashion.  Then he used to sit up all night watching — for brewing is a critical operation — and looking out of doors now and then to pass the long hours saw the changes of the sky, the constellations rising in succession one after the other, and felt the slight variations of the wind and of moisture or dryness in the air which predict the sunshine or the shower of the coming day.  He seemed to have thought a good deal in those lonely watches; but he passed it off by referring to the malting.  Barn barley was best for malting — i.e. that which had been stored in a barn and therefore kept perfectly dry, for ricks sometimes get wet before they can be thatched.  But barn barley was not often come by nowadays, as one by one the old barns disappeared:  burned perhaps, and not rebuilt.  He had ceased to brew for some time; Cicely could, however, remember sipping the sweet wort, which is almost too sweet for the palate after childhood.

They still baked a batch of bread occasionally, but not all that was required.  Cicely superintended the baking, passing the barm through a sieve with a wisp of clean hay in it.  The hay takes off any sourness, and ensures it being perfectly sweet.  She knew when the oven was hot enough by the gauge-brick:  this particular brick as the heat increased became spotted with white, and when it had turned quite white the oven was ready.  The wood embers were raked out with the scraper, and the malkin, being wetted, cleaned out the ashes.  ‘Thee looks like a gurt malkin’ is a common term of reproach among the poor folk — meaning a bunch of rags on the end of a stick.  We went out to look at the oven; and then Mrs. Luckett made me taste her black-currant gin, which was very good.  Presently we went into the orchard to look at the first apple-tree out in bloom.  While there a magpie flew across the meadow, and as I watched it Mrs. Luckett advised me to turn my back and not to look too long in that direction.  ‘For,’ said she, ’one magpie is good luck, but two mean sorrow; and if you should see three — goodness! — something awful might happen.’

One lovely June afternoon as Hilary and I strolled about the fields, we passed some lambs at play.  ’Lamb is never good eating without sunshine,’ said Hilary.  Not only wheat and plants generally but animals also are affected by the absence of sun, so that the epicure should hope as devoutly as the farmer that the dull and overcast season of 1879 will not be repeated.  Hilary’s remark was founded upon the experience of long years — such experience as is only to be found in farmhouses where kindred succeed each other, and hand down practical observations from father to son.

The thistles were showing rather strongly in the barley — the result of last year’s rain and the consequent impossibility of proper clearing.  These thistles he thought came from portions of the root and not from seed.  Last year all the farmers had been Latter Lammas men.  The 1st of August is Lammas Day; and in the old time if a farmer had neglected his work and his haymaking was still unfinished on August 13 (i.e. old style), he was called in reproach a Latter Lammas man.  But last year (1879) they were all alike, and the hay was about till September; yet Hilary could recollect it being all done by St. Swithin’s, July 15.

Sometimes, however, the skilled and careful agriculturist did not succeed so well as the lazy one.  Once in seven years there came a sloven’s year, according to the old folk, when the sloven had a splendid crop of wheat and hardly knew where to put it.  Such a harvest was as if a man had gone round his farm with the sun in one hand and the watering-pot in the other!  Last year there had been nearly as much mathern (wild camomile) and willow-wind (convolvulus and buckwheat) as crop, and he did not want to see the colt’s tail in the sky so often again.  The colt’s tail is a cloud with a bushy appearance like a ragged fringe, and portends rain.

I remarked that it was curious how thunderstorms sometimes returned on the same day of the week and at the same hour for a month running.  Hilary said they had been known to return every day at the same hour.  The most regular operation on a farm is the milking:  one summer his fogger declared it came on to thunder day after day in the afternoon just as he took his yoke off his shoulders.  Such heavy and continuous downpour not only laid the crops, but might spoil them altogether; for laid barley had been known to sprout there and then, and was of course totally spoiled.  It was a mistake to associate thunder solely with hot weather; the old folk used to say that it was never too cold to thunder and never too warm to snow.

A sweet yet faintly pungent odour came on the light breeze over the next field — a scent like clover, but with a slight reminiscence of the bean-flower.  It arose from the yellow flower of the hop-trefoil:  honey sometimes has a flavour which resembles it.  The hop-trefoil is a favourite crop for sheep, but Hilary said it was too soft for horses.  The poppies were not yet out in the wheat.  When in full bloom some of the cottagers gather the scarlet flowers in great quantities and from them make poppy wine.  This liquor has a fine colour and is very heady, and those who make it seem to think much of it.  Upon the hills where furze grows plentifully the flowers are also collected, and a dye extracted from them.  Ribbons can thus be dyed a bright yellow, but it requires a large quantity of the flowers.

A little farther a sheep-dog looked at us from a gateway; and on coming nearer we found the shepherd busily engaged cutting the feet of his sheep one by one with a keen knife.  They had got the foot-rot down in a meadow — they do not suffer from it on the arable uplands where folded — and the shepherd was now applying a caustic solution.  Every shepherd has his own peculiar specific, which he believes to be the only certain remedy.

Tar is used in the sheepfold, just as it used to be when sweet Dowsabell went forth to gather honeysuckle and lady’s-smock nearly three centuries since.  For the shepherd with whom she fell in love carried

    His tar-boxe on his broad belt hong.

So, too,

    He leared his sheepe as he him list
    When he would whistle in his fist;

and the shepherd still guides and encourages his sheep by whistling.

Hilary said that years ago the dogs kept at farmhouses in that district did not seem of such good breeds, nor were there so many varieties as at present.  They were mostly sheep-dogs, or mongrels of the sheep-dog cast; for little attention was paid to breed.  Dogs of this kind, with shaggy black coats and stump tails, could be found at most farms, and were often of a savage disposition; so much so that it was occasionally necessary to break their teeth that they might not injure the sheep.  From his description the dogs at the present day must be far superior; indeed, there seems to have been no variety of dog and no purity of breed at that time (in that neighbourhood); meaning, of course, outside the gamekeeper’s kennels, or the hounds used for hunting.  Shepherds like to keep their flock in hurdles, folded as much as possible, that they may not rub their wool off and so get a ragged appearance.  Once now and then in wet weather the ground becomes so soft that a flock will not move, their narrow feet sinking so deeply in the mud.  It is then necessary to ’dog them out’ — to set the dog at them — and the excitement, fright, and exertion have been known to kill one or more of the flock.

Passing on to the lower grounds, we entered the meadows, where the men were at haycart.  The cart-horses wore glittering brazen ornaments, crescent-shaped, in front of the neck, and one upon the forehead.  Have these ornaments a history? The carters and ploughmen have an old-world vocabulary of their own, saying ‘toward’ for anything near or leaning towards you, and ‘vrammards’ for the reverse.  ‘Heeld’ or ‘yeeld,’ again, is ploughman’s language; when the newly sown corn does not ‘heeld’ or ‘yeeld’ it requires the harrow.  In the next field, which the mowers had but just cut, the men were ’tedding’ — i.e. spreading the swathe with their prongs.  Hilary said that hay was a safe speculation if a man could afford to wait; for every few years it was sure to be extremely dear, so that the old people said, ’Old hay, old gold.’

     As we returned towards Lucketts’ Place, he pointed out to me a distant house upon which he said slates had been first used in that neighbourhood.  Fifty or sixty years since no slates were to be seen there, and when they began to be introduced the old folk manifested great opposition.  They said slate would never last — the moss would eat through it, and so cause holes; and, in fact, some of the slate that was brought up did decay and become useless.  But that was, of course, an inferior kind, quite different to what is now employed.  In so comparatively short a period has everything — even the mode of roofing — changed that the introduction of slates is still in many places within the memory of man.  Hilary had still a lingering preference for thatch; and though he could not deny the utility of slate, his inclination was obviously in favour of straw.  He assured me that good straw from a good harvest (for there was much difference in it), well laid on by a good thatcher, had been known to keep out the weather for forty-five years.

We looked into the garden at the Place, where Hilary particularly called my attention to the kidney-beans; for, said he, if the kidney-beans run up the sticks well, with a strong vine, then it would be a capital hop-year.  On the contrary, if they were weak and poor, the hops would prove a failure.  Thus the one plant was an index to the other, though they might be growing a hundred miles apart, both being particularly sensitive to the same atmospheric influences.

In a distant tree beyond the rickyard there was something hanging in the branches that I could not quite make out:  it was a limb of a dead horse.  A cart-horse belonging to a neighbouring farmer had met with an accident and had to be killed, when, according to old custom, portions were sent round to each adjacent farmstead for the dogs, which then had a feast.  Thus, said Hilary, according to the old saw, the death of a horse is the life of a dog.