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The Gamekeeper At Home Sketches of Natural History and Rural Life   By: (1848-1887)

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The Gamekeeper At Home Sketches of Natural History and Rural Life By Richard Jefferies Published by Smith, Elder & Co, London. This edition dated 1878. The Gamekeeper At Home, by Richard Jefferies.



Those who delight in roaming about amongst the fields and lanes, or have spent any time in a country house, can hardly have failed to notice the custodian of the woods and covers, or to observe that he is often something of a "character." The Gamekeeper forms, indeed, so prominent a figure in rural life as almost to demand some biographical record of his work and ways. From the man to the territories over which he bears sway the meadows, woods, and streams and to his subjects, their furred and feathered inhabitants, is a natural transition. The enemies against whom he wages incessant warfare vermin, poachers, and trespassers must, of course, be included in such a survey.

Although, for ease and convenience of illustration, the character of a particular Keeper has been used as a nucleus about which to arrange materials that would otherwise have lacked a connecting link, the facts here collected are really entirely derived from original observation.




The keeper's cottage stands in a sheltered "coombe," or narrow hollow of the woodlands, overshadowed by a mighty Spanish chestnut, bare now of leaves, but in summer a noble tree. The ash wood covers the slope at the rear; on one side is a garden, and on the other a long strip of meadow with elms. In front, and somewhat lower, a streamlet winds, fringing the sward, and across it the fir plantations begin, their dark sombre foliage hanging over the water. A dead willow trunk thrown from bank to bank forms a rude bridge; the tree, not even squared, gives little surface for the foot, and in frosty weather a slip is easy. From this primitive contrivance a path, out of which others fork, leads into the intricacies of the covers, and from the garden a wicket gate opens on the ash wood. The elms in the meadow are full of rooks' nests, and in the spring the coombe will resound with their cawing; these black bandits, who do not touch it at other times, will then ravage the garden to feed their hungry young, despite ingenious scarecrows. A row of kennels, tenanted by a dozen dogs, extends behind the cottage: lean retrievers yet unbroken, yelping spaniels, pointers, and perhaps a few greyhounds or fancy breeds, if "young master" has a taste that way.

Beside the kennels is a shed ornamented with rows upon rows of dead and dried vermin, furred and feathered, impaled for their misdeeds; and over the door a couple of horseshoes nailed for luck a superstition yet lingering in the by ways of the woods and hills. Within are the ferret hutches, warm and dry; for the ferret is a shivery creature, and likes nothing so well as to nozzle down in a coat pocket with a little hay. Here are spades and billhooks, twine and rabbit nets, traps, and other odds and ends scattered about with the wires and poacher's implements impounded from time to time.

In a dark corner there lies a singular looking piece of mechanism, a relic of the olden times, which when dragged into the light turns out to be a man trap. These terrible engines have long since been disused being illegal, like spring guns and the rust has gathered thickly on the metal. But, old though it be, it still acts perfectly, and can be "set" as well now as when in bygone days poachers and thieves used to prod the ground and the long grass, before they stepped among it, with a stick, for fear of mutilation.

The trap is almost precisely similar to the common rat trap or gin still employed to destroy vermin, but greatly exaggerated in size, so that if stood on end it reaches to the waist, or above... Continue reading book >>

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