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3 corrections, most recently by peter-macinnis - Show corrections

LONDON LIMNINGS.

(Written expressly for the Sydney Morning Herald.)  

BY PETER 'POSSUM  

BEASTS, BIRDS, AND FISHES.

A MARCH morning-quite warm when the sun comes out but keen when he once more pulls over his ruddy

face the coverlct of cloud. In the Zoological Society's Gardens in Regent's Park the trees and shrubs are framed with glossy buds, and the flower-beds arc fringed with a glorious show of crocuses,-of gold, of amethyst, of alabaster, ovally folded, or holding spot- les goblets to catch the sunlight which makes blood as wcll as sap stir with its prophecies of spring. A little throng of holiday-makers are inquiring for the new monkey-house, and are directed thither by a civil keepcr whose uniform makes him look like a cross between a railway porter and a policeman.

Vithin the morkey-housc there is a genial glow. A , reheats it The sunbeams glitter on its glass. ulipB nnd other flowers arc bursting into raany olotucel bloom, and all the monkeys, with the excep ion of a couple of little grey ones that hug one uiothcr disconsolately like deserted babes in the wood, seem to bo thoroughly enjoying themselves. The orang-utan isa little girl orang-utan, snlyfour years old. She looks like a human dwarf of eighty in a rusty-biown jacket i but, notwithstanding the old aspect of her bald face, there is fun in it, as she iuitively holels out her paw for provender, which a keeper ii stationed to see that she elocs not receive. 'Ilicchimpaiii'cc is also juvenile and of the "fair" H.x ; looking, iie^eithcle.ss, iikc n, chimney-sweeper's .stunted child. She iimubes heiself by scolding tho orang-utan, pulling a chair to pieces, and nfter w.utls ¡.quailing down very gravely to repair it. The s.itred monkey v eli gn i ti eel in its di'ollciy.' It seems to remember the times in which ii was allowed to help

itself to fliiytliing it chose in any Indian house it pleased to visit, and had rice lcvciently offered to itin Indian temples by priest and congregation. The Bar- bai y ape c\ei anel anon ceases to gambol, and appears lost in thought. "What is lie thinking of î-the fact that in F.uicpe only three of his kind, perched on Gibraltar Rock, ícmain unenught ? The spider monkeys run up wiies and rope-ladders, swing from (lnngling lopes, and swann up bare poles like sailors, or rather fin moicbwiitly andBafelythanthebeatA.il. 'J heir tails coil round a branch, and, as they hang, they sciateh. Again they seize the ropes, and as they suing, they drive at their fellows at the bottom of the cage, and gil e them, cn passant, sounel boxes on the cai. One puts out his lanky arm, nnd snatches from the hat of a loaring little girl a handful of artificial corn. Chuckling o^er his spoil, digging his fellows in the ribs, as he goes, to make thom understand and share the joke, he mounts to the very top of the wired enge, and, hanging there, munches his prey and grins and chatters at the laclirymosc dcfriudcd damsel. The frolics of the monkeys, tho Lemurs watch sedately, almost sadly- one little fellow, with very clerical white whiskers, seems half inclined to burst his wires and theirs, and go out as a mistionary to the frivolous race. 1 spend some how s in the gardens, but whenever I look into it, the monkey-house is full of amused spectators. Whence comes this intense human interest in monkeys? Is Professor Huxley right ? and do wc watch them curiously just as we vt ateh children- because they are men not yet grown up 1 I wander next to the western aviary, and- meet with some old friends that have cleared, like me, from an Australian port. The luughing jackass greets me with a chuckle, and makes mc think of a morning long ago when, by a chorus of such cachinnationsin full loree, I was awakened hard by Wiseman's Ferry, after having lain awake dilling the greater^ part of the night beneath a pelting rain with only a pumpkin-^ino for bedclothes. I see again the arbour of the glossy satin bower- bird-woven of Middlesex twigs. The poecil beauty of the budgeree-gha, the metallic brilliance of the bronzewing, and the quaint head-dress of the crested dove, also awoke thoughts of auld lang syne. The wonga wonga, I find, has bred in the gardens: so have   the crested dove, the budgeree-gha (of which thou- sands of pairs have been brought to England since Mr. Gould first imported it), the red-backed, the turquoisine, and the crested grass parrakeets. To Mr. George Macleay the gardens arc chiefly indebted for their wonga-wongas. The crested dove is not the only crowned pigeon in the western aviary. It boasts

also the Goura colonata and the Goura Victoria;.

These come from the Indian Archipelago. From continental Asia, from Africa, from America, and from Europe, continental and insular, come birds whose curiously contrasted forms and feathers and other quaint "jargouing" make the western aviary a very inteiesting ornithological omnium-gatherum. As I pass its wired out-run, an American white eyret walks into its water-pan, through which fresh water ever dribbles, and stands there cooling his yellow toes, whilst long-billed brown birds I don't know the name of, standing on one leg on dry ground, stolidly stare at the hydropathist. " I wish my toes was as wann ns ?nis'n," says a Cockney pater iamilias to his wife, as he clumps by at the head of eight children. In the crane paddocks, the magnificent mantchourian cranes, haughtily raising their heads on high, whisk- ing theil- tails as a dowager duchess adjusts her train, and stepping through the water as if they degraded their oriental feet by dipping them into an accidental pond, first attract attention. Soon, however, I see my old acquaintance, the native companion, and cease to look at the mantohourians. The Grui Austral asiana seems very much at home, save that, when the sun goes in, the bird's red hood looks as if it were worn to bave its weaver from neuralgia. The Stanley crane has just the aristocratic look poor Frank Fowler describes in his Last Gleanings. Here is another bird, hailing from India, but found in Australia also, the southern zabiru; lankily lofty, like a life guardsman, and with a Frenchman s appe- tite for frogs. And here is the old white stork, common enough in undrained England, but a "sieht for sair een " in high-famed Britain now. And here, again, is the marabou, with the ornaments of whose tail fashionable ladies aro pleased to decorate their heads. And here-but I have neither time nor space for mention of every creature that strikes my eye an unmistakable smell of pigs-a most farnilinr grunting-but unfamiliar swine. Here aro striped little wild porkers from the north, and Red River hogs from the west of Africa, and half-torpid pcccaiics moodily brooding beneath an English March sky, over memories of Mexican sunlight-very melancholy pigs are those poor peccaries. At the best of times, it is said, they fur- nish very sorry pork. I certainly should not covet one of their plumply-covered spare-ribB now. The fat would taste like bitter fate. In the pond hard by the snowy-breasted, golden-billed gulls aie lively enough, keeping the green water in a constant splash- ing eanter. The water-hens and ducks that are the gulls' neighbours are very jolly, too ; and amongst them I meet with two more old friends, the Aus- tralian porphyrio and the Australian shieldralce. I pass on to the whale pond-so called because it holels a sturgeon. Here perished the porpoise at which Punch poked l.is fun, and to cxpluin whose doom I wiotc, but didn't get printed, the following .

Se-mnviovs ECLOGUE:

Porpoise.

Who nie you 1 I'd like to know.

Sturgeon. Mctptutcr tturio.

r.

If you arc, jou needn't poke me.

S.

I'll do more if you provoke mc. If I could but once got at you !

' But yon can't, you blind old flat, von 1

P. I'm no flat fish.

S.

Yon'ic a lubber.

Good for nothing bul your blubber. I

P. <r

Stuck-up fool, because your bellv , Holds a little tasteless felly 1

8

Stinking, clumsy, angry ass, Jealous ol my isinglass,

Would you have it taste like train-oil î

P.

Well, from you they cannot gain od.

Tah, thut-up, plebeian blower, - , Mow abom'nably you lower I My exclusive pond's gentility 1 l

P.

Where 1»vc met with such civility !

Hold your tongue, or out vou go I

P. ' . I Itascal, I'll rend out your roe.

S. I

Will yon, porpoise ! No, no, no 1 ' You won't give, my seedy pal, , " Caviare to the general."

I'm throughout a dainty fish,

When the Ancients had the dish,

l'lowcr-wreathcd waters brought mc in, Treasured to my smallest fin ;

' I wa« hailed with strains of music

How tbey irouM have been of you sick 1 Then, again, ray little cousin, Sterlet-why a dirty dozen

Of you porpoises would bring

Less than that samo little thing. - ' Za?m tnc Volga, vulgar ead,

They transport the little lad, AU olive in water-tanks,

Jo the Neva's palaced banks ;

, "hT the gounntttf moistaouths greet h'm,

Where the nobles flock to cat tim; """"»

Prince Potcmkin oft was so- ' ' .

coft, tay ionie, but J say Ne- .-. ,. ,d

Knee that ten times thirty «rabies Ile wonld give for Sterlet gobbles.

< lassies, cousins, yon rely on "J'was my cousin saved Arion.

8.

1'ut ! Hint wns a mythic Job I'liotv, own you're but a snob.

P.

You're another, Aceipenser.

K. > r"r-^

Beggar, off, slops, tramp, nee hence, sir 1

P.

Go yonrself aiitt sweep your pool

?With your nose-'twiil keep you cool. (>o, 1 say, scoop up the mud

?With your snout ol'noble blooel. You're a scavenger, you know.

Though you choose to call mc low.

So'« my kinsman, the Solana. ' .

8.

Yts, but not so much ft? me- lamen, lont, to Law'» decree :

Of the fturgcon first 'tis sail*.

Oh; of course, yon turn jour head Jllum integrum habebit ;

Do ballena-wait a wee bit- , Vtro sußeit-mark that Si rex caput habeat,

AT regina caudam. Torpoisc,

That's the flsLy Habeas Corpus.

"Well, then, Stuige, it seems to nie, 1 can now cock over tlicc.

If I understand your lingo.

Plain enough it seems, by jingo,

That the head of a Malana,

Close of kin to rue, rhncwna,

Hanks with a whole Aeeipeiutr:

Tell me, is it that jou meant, sir f

S.

. lleic dwell not long both thon and I

1'icMimptuoiii Porpoise, thou shalt die 1 .

Some more Australian friends-brush-turkeys and their mound ; one of the turkeys hatched within the mound. These ^stumblings upon denizens of the Australian bush moke me sentimentally nmemosynal, miel when I get home I indite the following lines :

r-Kl'ULTLS IN UMBUM.

' ] low crs float upon the creek like virgin snow,

The plnsi-giiiu click that creeps in noiseless course, Savo'by the spit y nriovv-frnss unslemmed,

Around the gnllj's foot where sleeps the dead, lier sOMbic trcs^is on the f.irthci bank

The swamp-oak droops ; from blossom golden-bright The w attie sighs swcet odour ; and, unheard,

'J he gumtree showers its glitt'ring manna down. With crimson fruit and alabaster blooms

"Wild nispb'rrius clothe the bank ; serried in front A pholanx finn of green and tawny reeds 1'pUlt their pennoncd spears.

Throughout the day An eerie hush hangs o'er that sunny stream, I"or months loll on and no man passcth by. It sings no song, but to a chorus low

Of inscct-nnirmurs glides upon its way. l'erchuncc a little string of silver bells

Comes up and hursts ; there is a Hash of Ans A sprinkling splash-then all again is still. Cr now and then three little liquid notes

Arc thrice repeated, and the songster stopB; Or the harsh cackle of the bushman's clock, Or scream of burnished parrots Hying o'er, Startles the silence-but again it sleeps ;

And through it, ghost-like, the king-fishcr darts Ilithir and thither, beautilul and curst.

And ceiic is the wnk'ning- of the Btrcam.

At dusk the shy, weird watennole rolls forth

For uncouth gambols 'neath tho bright'ning moon ;

And through the long night hours, or bright or black, Tall, spectral cranes croak hoarsely to their mates ; The bittern booms ; and with despairingwaU, Doleful ns fpiritsjost for evermore,

The curlew curds the blood ; whilst down the gloom Of the dark gully comes a sobbing moan,

The night-wind crooning its mysterious woe.

The filtered gold that specks the twilight shade "Which fills the gally on the brightest dav, A cryBtnl shade, 'olent of damp and death, Ages of ve'getntion passed awaj

Ilath rarely fallen on the face of mon ;

And when the Foiithcrn Cross's solemn light

Streamed from the sky, no human foot, mcthinks, Was ever planted in that darksome cleft,

Choked willi bush verdure.

At the streaming mouth Tea-trees tkoot rankly from a swamp, and snakes,

The wicked big brown snakes coil round the poles, And guard the entrance with their hooded heads, Lissome and loatbey. The deaf adder, eke, Stupid and stunted, but as dire as dull,

Lies loglikc on the moist and mouldering soil.

With festering fangs whose touch is certain death. The bulla-bulla haunts that lonely shade,

And perched on trcc-stump, spreads its glossy tail, As lyre for breeze to play on, but no breeze

Stirs the curved plumes, and weary of the hush,

The pheasant tempts a song from songster« mute Hy artful call, then mocks them dumb again, And a drear silence once more reigns around. The Iguana, with its old, old eye,

Which one might swear had seen ere man was bom, The iguana, seemingly bowed down l)y burden of a life without an end,

The wasted iguana haunts the shade,

And makes it weirder with his weary gaze.

The sassafras breathes perfume from its bark,

The blackwood soars to catch the distant light,

The boccli that fadctli not spreads wide its Doughs, And o'er a dewy carpet richly green

Luxuriant fern-lrecs bend their feathery fronds, The living batten on the trampled dead. A w astc of weeds has almost blotted out

The fenced-in spot where lies the human dead.

Creepers and scrub have surged up round the rolls, The rough grey rails, that mark the sepulchre. Who lies there buried 1 .' B. Y. '39."

I read the inscription on a crumbling slab,

Lichcncd and mossed, and slimed, and faintly gilt, ? With a chance sprinkle of the filtered gold,

From which a lizard glided as I read. And what the story of the epitaph 1

I know not. Wc must wait for Israfll.

His trump shall ring within the gully's gloom, But till the dead arise to meet their God,

" li. Y." is blotted from the rollB of men. In the hushed gully by the silent stream

He sleeps obscure. Ero many years have passed His tomb will be entombed»-and if it he !

The little fame that gives some score of years Of posthumous existence to a man-

ís that worth much Î. And e'en the brightest finns Must one day fade-as well, then, soon as late !

And for the common herd,-who reads the stones With which they strive to dam out Lethe's flood? Peep in the southern bush, or in the sea That in a second severs mon from men,

Fleep isas sweet as 'neath cathedral flags.

* Data sunt ¡psis quoque fata sepulchris.-JOCKXAL X. r. HC.

(To be continued.)

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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