Herbert Ernest Bates

The October leaves have fallen on the lake. On bright, calm days they lie in thousands on the now darkening water, mostly yellow flotillas of poplar, floating continuously down from great trees that themselves shake in the windless air with the sound of falling water, but on rainy days or after rain they seem to swim or be driven away, and nothing remains to break the surface except the last of the olive—yellow lily pads that in high summer covered every inch of water like emerald porcelain. The lilies have gone too, the yellow small—headed kind that in bud are like swimming snakes, and the great reeds are going, woven by wind and frost into untidy basket islands under which coot and moorhen skid for cover at the sound of strangers.

All summer in this world of water —lilies, the coot and moorhen lived a bewildered life. There was no place where they could swim and all day they could be seen walking daintily, heads slightly aside and slightly down, across the lily-hidden water, as bemused by the world of leaves as they had been in winter by the world of ice. In the clearer water they are more active. The lake is long and unbroken except for two small islands. The birds, as the fit takes them, dash madly up and down it, taking off and touching down it, taking off and touching down like small fussy black sea-planes. Beside them the arrival of the wild duck, at much higher speed, is almost majestic. They plane down, the necks of the drakes shining like royal green satin, with the air of squadrons coming in after long flights from home.

It was not until late summer that fishing was possible. The water was so low and clear after drought that fish could be seen in great dark shoals, sunning themselves, shy, impossible to catch. Only in the evening, as the air cooled and the water darkened, and the surface was broken with the silver dances of the rising shoals, would you perhaps get a bite or two, a baby perch sucking at the worm, a roach no bigger than a sardine. All the time, on bright hot mornings especially, great pike would lie out in the middle of the lake in shoals of ten or even twenty, like black torpedoes, transfixed, never moving except in sudden immense rises that rocked the water-surface with rings.

It is curious, but all the life on and about water seems to belong to water. Except for a solitary wren fidgeting delicately about the bands under the alder trees, or a robin singing in the October afternoons across the water from the islands, all the bird—life is that of water—birds. Rooks never seem to come here, nor starlings; an occasional pigeon flaps across to the woods; even the sea-gulls belong to the ploughed land. But wild swans come back to nest in the piles of fawn coloured reeds in the spring, and two great herons stalk the water-meadows everyday, struggling ponderously upwards at the sound of voices. Snipe whirl away across the tussocks of brown-quilled sedge on the adjacent marshland, and a solitary kingfisher breaks with magic electric streaks the dark enclosures under the alders that span the narrowest water. But sometimes and for long periods, there is no life and no sound at all. The water is slowly stilled after the last fish have broken it, the coots are silent, the leaves cease their shaking and falling in the dead October air. The crimson float comes to rest on water that seems to have on it a skin of oil.

On such still clear days the colour is wonderful. From the south bank of the water polar and alder and ash and horse—chestnut let fall high liquid curtains of lemon and bronze. Orchards of cherry and pear smoulder with drooping orange flames beyond the light wall of almost naked willows. The oaks are still green, but the beeches in the distance stand like red mountains. And on the lake itself unexpected colour springs up: an island of quince trees, still green, but hung with many ripe lanterns of bright fruit that no one gathers.