Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/388

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382
THE MISTLETOE.

trot. It was a beautiful country through which they were passing, densely wooded here and there, and here and there showing long stretches of heathy common with patches of black firs standing clear against the sky. And the bright May sunlight was shining through the young green foliage of the beeches and elms; the air was sweet with the scent of hawthorn and lilac; now and again they heard the deep "joug, joug" of a nightingale from out of a grove of young larches and spruce.

By-and-by they came to a plain little lodge, and passed through the gates, and drove along an avenue of tall elms and branching chestnuts. There was a glimmer of a grey house through the trees. Then they swept round by a spacious lawn, and drew up in front of the wide-open door; while Mr. John, leaping down from his horse, rang loudly at the bell. Yet there seemed to be nobody about this deserted house.

It was a long, low, rambling building of grey stone, with no architectural pretensions whatsoever. It had some pillars here and there, and a lion or two, to distinguish it from a county jail or an asylum: otherwise there was nothing about it to catch the eye.

But the beauty of Lady Sylvia's home lay not in the plain grey building, but in the far-reaching park, now yellowed all over with buttercups, and studded here and there with noble elms. And on the northern side this high-lying park sloped suddenly down to a long lake, where there was a boat-house and a punt or two for pushing through the reeds and water-lilies along the shore; while beyond that again was a great stretch of cultivated country, lying warm and silent in the summer light. The house was strangely still; there was no sign of life about it. There was no animal of any kind in the park. There was no sound but the singing of birds in the trees, and the call of the cuckoo, soft, and muffled, and demote. The very winds seemed to die down as they neared the place; there was scarcely a rustle in the trees. It was here, then, that the Lady Sylvia had grown up; it was here that she now lived, and walked, and dreamed, in the secrecy and silence of the still woodland ways.




From Hardwicke's Science-Gossip.

THE MISTLETOE.

This plant seems to produce a premature aging of the whole tree on which it grows, and the particular branch which supports it soon gets withered and dead. This becomes an economical question in cider-orchards. To a tenant the growth of mistletoe on his trees is an advantage, as he gets the benefit of age in producing a larger crop of smaller and sweeter apples, more suitable for cider-making. To the owner this is a short-sighted policy, as it causes the premature aging and decay of his trees, and the same quality of fruit can be produced by skilful pruning. The plant is diæcious, having somewhat conspicuous flowers, the male ones possessing a strong honey-like odor. Hence it is evident that it must be fertilized by insects. As the berries are almost invariably formed, this fertilization must be frequent. In many books it is said to be indebted to a moth for the performance of this office, but the species (if only one) is not mentioned. In a paper in the Gardener's Chronicle it is said that bees are attracted by the smell of the male flowers in its season. Lubbock, in his excellent little book on British wild-flowers in their relations to insects, does not mention the mistletoe at all. The anthers have their faces curiously punctated, and are attached to the perianth; I have seen no mention of honey-glands, nor have I ever been able to examine the flowers, so cannot say if the honey is accessible or not. If the plant is dependent on one species only for its fertilization, that species must be a frequent one, and have a large range. I have not heard of its being the larval food of any insect, nor of any species of aphis dependent on it. The plant seems to be indebted to birds for all its natural propagation. The berries are said to be greedily eaten by many birds, and the seeds to pass through the stomach without digestion. Many writers of the eighteenth century disputed this fact. One says that birds would not eat what they could not digest; and if they did so, the seeds let fall in their dung upon the trees would always grow upon the upper side, whereas we find the mistletoe at all inclinations with the bough. Relating to this idea and to the use of the berries in making birdlime, is a Latin proverb, occurring in several forms, one of which is as follows: "Tardus sibi malum cacat." I must leave its translation to your readers. One author says of the mistletoe,