[Written at 'The Downs', Crowborough in 1886]
An old beech tree had been broken off about five feet from the ground, and becoming hollow within, was filled with the decay of its own substance. In this wood - sorrel had taken root, and flower and leaf covered the space within, white flower and green leaf flourishing on old age. The wood-sorrel leaf, the triune leaf, is perhaps more lovely even than the flower, like a more delicately shaped clover of a tenderer green, and it lasts far on into the autumn. When the violet leaves are no more looked for, when the cowslips have gone, and the bluebells have left nothing behind them but their nodding seed-cases, still the wood-sorrel leaf stays on the mound, in shape and colour the same, and as plea-santly acid to the taste now under the ripening nuts as in May. At its coming it is folded almost like a green flower; at Midsummer, when you are gathering ferns, you find its trefoil deep under the boughs; it grows, too, in the crevices of the rock over the spring. The whortleberry leaves, that were green as the myrtle when the wood-sorrel was in bloom, have faded some-what now that their berries are ripening. Another beech has gone over, and lies at full length, a shattered tube, as it were, of timber; for it is so rotten within, and so hollow and bored, it is little else than bark. Others that stand are tubes on end, with rounded knot-holes, loved by the birds, that let air and moisture into the very heart of the wood. They are hardly safe in a strong wind. Others again, very large and much shorter, have sent up four trunks from one root, a little like a banyan, quadruple trees built for centuries, throw-ing abroad a vast roof of foliage, whose green in the midst of summer is made brown by sacks and sacks of beech nuts. These are the trees to camp by, and that are chosen by painters. The bark of the beech is itself a panel to study, spotted with velvet moss brown-green, made grey with close-grown lichen, stained with its own hues of growth, and toned by time. To these add bright sunlight and leaf shadow, the sudden lowering of tint as a cloud passes, the different aspects of the day and the evening, and the changes of rain and dry weather. You may look at the bark of a beech twenty times and always find it different. After crossing Virgil's Bridge in the deep coombe at the bottom of Marden Hill these great beeches begin, true woodland trees, and somehow more forest-like than the hundreds and hundreds of acres of fir trees that are called forest. There is another spirit among the beech trees; they look like deer and memories of old English life.
The wood cooper follows his trade in a rude shed, splitting poles and making hoops the year through, in warm summer and iron-clad winter. His shed is always pitched at the edge of a great woodland district. Where the road has worn in deeply the roots of the beeches hang over, twisted in and out like a giant matting, a kind of cave under them. Dark yew trees and holly trees stand here and there; a yew is completely barked on one side, stripped clean. If you look close you will see scores in the wood as if made with a great nail. Those who know Exmoor will recognise these signs in a moment; it is a fraying-post where the stags rubbed the velvet from their horns last summer. There are herds of red deer in the park. At one time there were said to be almost as many as run free and wild over the expanse of Exmoor. They mark the trees very much, especially those with the softer bark. Wire fencing has been put round many of the hollies to protect them. A stag occasionally leaps the boundary and forages among the farmers' corn. or visits a garden, and then the owner can form some idea of what must have been the diffi-culties of agriculture in mediaeval days. Deer more than double the interest of a park. A park without deer is like a wall without pictures. However well proportioned the room, something is lacking if the walls be blank. However noble the oaks and wide the sweep of sward, there is something wanting if antlers do not rise above the fern. The pictures that the deer make are moving and alive; they dissolve and re-form in a distant frame of tree and brake. Lately the herd has been somewhat thinned, having become too numerous. One slope is bare of grass, a patch of yellow sand, which if looked at intently from a distance seems presently to be all alive like mites in cheese, so thick are the rabbits in the warren. Under a little house, as it were, built over a stream is a chalybeate fountain with virtues like those of Tunbridge Wells.