C. J. Cornish

Except among the select few, generally either enthusiastic boys or London mechanics of an inquiring mind, who keep fresh-water aquariums and replenish them from ponds and brooks at "weekends," few persons outside the fancy either see or know much of the water insects,[1] or are aware, when floating on a summer day under the willows in a Thames backwater, of the near presence of thousands of aquatic creatures, swift, carnivorous, and pursuing, or feeding greedily on the plants in the water garden that floats below the boat, or weaving nests, tending eggs, or undergoing the most astonishing t

The cycle of dry seasons seems to be indefinitely prolonged. During the period, now lasting since 1893, in which we have had practically no wet summers, and many very hot ones, a very curious phenomenon has been remarked upon the high and dry chalk downs. The dew ponds, so called because they are believed to be fed by dew and vapours, and not by rain, have kept their water, while the deeper ponds in the valleys have often failed.

The amount of river gravel left in the part of the Thames Valley on which West London is built is extraordinary. It is all round, and mostly red, and as there are no rocks like the stone which makes up most of this gravel anywhere in the modern valley, it is puzzling to know where it came from. I went to see the digging of the foundations of the new South Kensington Museum, and the great excavation, which was like the ditch of a fortress, and the stuff thrown out, which was like the rampart, was all dug in, or made of, river gravel.

  "Now when you've caught your chavender, 
    (Your chavender or chub) 
  You hie you to your pavender, 
    (Your pavender or pub), 
  And there you lie in lavender, 
    (Sweet lavender or lub)."

  Mr. Punch.

A friend informs me that he has found a quantity of woad growing on the Chilterns above the Thame, enough to stain blue a whole tribe of ancient Britons, and also that on a wall by the roadside between Reading and Pangbourne he discovered several plants of the deadly nightshade, or "dwale." This word is said to be derived from Old French deuil, mourning; but its present form looks very English.

A few pairs of black swans have been placed upon the river. Some of these rear broods of young ones, and appear to be quite acclimatised. The black swan was known to the traders of our own East India Company nearly a century before Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks discovered Botany Bay. The first notice of it appears in a letter, written about the year 1698, by a Mr. Watson to Dr. M. Lister, in which he says, "Here is returned a ship which by our East India Company was sent to the South Land, called Hollandia Nova," and adds that black swans, parrots, and many sea-cows were found there.

Thames plants must strike every one as belonging to an ancient order of life. But the vast clouds of winged ephemeridae that dance over its waters when there is a rise of "May-fly" in early summer look to be not only the creatures of a day, but of our day.

Almost the greatest loss to country scenery is the decay of the ancient windmills and water-mills. The first has robbed the hilltops of a most picturesque feature, while in the valleys and little glens the roaring, creaking, dripping wheel sounds no longer, except in favoured spots where it still pays to grind the corn in the old way. The old town and city mills often survived longer than the country ones, and those on the Thames longer than those on smaller rivers.

Down near Thames mouth is the curious reclamation from the river mud known as Canvey Island. It is separated from the land by a "fleet," in which the Danes are recorded to have laid up their ships in the early period of their invasions, and the village opposite on the mainland is called Benfleet. Though on the river, it is a half-marine place, with the typical sea-plants growing on the saltings by the shore. In summer I noticed that the graves below the grey sea-eaten, storm-furrowed walls of the church have wreaths of sea-lavender laid upon them.

Fond as the butterflies are of the light and sun, they dearly love their beds. Like most fashionable people who do nothing, they stay there very late. But their unwillingness to get up in the morning is equalled by their equal desire to leave the world and its pleasures early and be asleep in good time. They are the first of all our creatures to seek repose.

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