« PreviousContinue »
as they form the great inducement to the gentry to reside during a part of the year on their estates, and to spend some of their money in the country, it would certainly be unwise to destroy or extripate entirely, even if the laws permitted us so to do. The farmer, however, often suffers severely from the appetite of these creatures, at the same time that he is forbidden to indulge his own with one of their number in return.
And now it is the 18th of June, and though the weather is not quite so settled as we could wish, yet, as the barometer is a little on the rise, and the grass is fully ready, we think it
best to begin this most anxious toil. Northcountry men and Irish labourers are already at our gates, with their arms shouldered, ready for action. Ten days ago, indeed, they would have persuaded us that the fine weather was going, and the grass was spoiling; but on this point, until within a day or two, we have decidedly differed from them.
These poor men travel hundreds of miles from their own country to supply the extra demand for hands, during the hay and corn harvests of the south of England. They find their own tools, and make the best bargain they can with their employers; working either by time or by the piece, as may be agreed on. Three and sixpence an acre, is, I believe, a very common price for mowing.
The apparently simple and easy operation of cutting the tender blades and stems of grass
with the scythe, is, however, admitted by master and man to be the most severe bodily exertion of any rural employment. The strain upon the back and arms is very great; and many strong men are knocked up by it, especially at first. There is also an important measure of knack and skill required for whetting, setting, and holding the blade, or the labour is intolerably increased, and the consequence would be a scored and ill-cut field.
To be better understood, I will proceed to a small enclosure, in which are six men, set on to mow. I see by their cans they have not forgotten to empty them, lest they should be kicked down by a careless foot. Their wooden keg, or bottle, hangs snugly within the hedge. The beer we find them. The substantial materials they supply themselves; and as this is,
suppose, the first job they have had lately, they will have but little to eat until they take money on account at night.
Pray how do my little city friends suppose these six men proceed with their six scythes mowing down this piece of grass ? 6. How ! why they need not consider long about that,” perhaps you reply; “ each may begin in any part, and leave off when all is mown." Not
you please :—they might, if they had no plan of operation, miss portions, or meet casually, or follow carelessly, and cut each other's feet. The way is this: one commences alone at the side of the field, and cuts a few swaths; that is, by the sweep of his scythe he clears a certain space, and leaves the grass he has cut, in a straight row on his left hand as he goes on. This first man in time and place is called “my lord.” When he has got a
paces forward, the second man begins also at the side of the piece, and just where the sweep of his own scythe will take off a similar width, without leaving any grass standing between his own pathway and that of the man who precedes him. This second man also leaves the swath in a line at his left hand, which forms another row.
In the same way, when he has got far enough away, the third man begins, and so on, if there were twenty. It is easy to see that in this way no man can interfere with his companion's work. All is regular, and there is no danger of patches being left undone, to require a second visit. When the field is thus cut, the grass is said to be “ lying in the swaths.” In this state it is best to lie, if rain should come on, or appear probable. At any rate, it is not usual to disturb it, until the mowers are out of the field; unless, on