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A Holiday in the Happy Valley with Pen and Pencil

The breast and underparts also scarlet

_May_ 6.--Jane took a respite from the chase, and I sallied forth alone at dawn up a nullah from Alsu to look for a bear which was said to frequent those parts. A brisk walk of some four miles over the flat, followed by a climb up a track--steep as usual--to the left of the main track to the Lolab, brought us to a grassy ridge, where I sat down patiently to await the bear's pleasure. I took my note-book with me, and whiled away some time in writing the following:--

Let me jot down a sketch of my present position and surroundings; it will serve to bring the scene back to me, perhaps, when I am again sitting in my own particular armchair watching the fat thrushes hopping about the lawn.

Well, I am perched in a little hollow under a big grey boulder, which serves to shelter me to a certain, but limited, extent from the brisk showers that come sweeping over from the Lolab Valley. The hollow is so small that it barely contains my tiffin basket, rifle, gun, and self--in fact, my grass-shod and puttied extremities dangle over the rim, whence a steep slope shelves down some 200 feet to a brawling burn, the hum of which, mingling with the fitful sighing of the pines as the breeze sweeps through their sounding boughs, is perpetually in my ears. Across the little torrent, and not more than a hundred yards away, rises a slope, covered with rough grass and scrub, similar to that in the face of which I am ensconced.

Here the bear was seen at 7 A.M. by a Gujar, who gave the fullest particulars to Ahmed Bot (my shikari) in a series of yells from a hill-top as we came up the valley. We arrived on the scene about seven, just in time to be too late, apparently. It is now 3 P.M., and the bear is supposed to be asleep, and I am possessing my soul in patience until it shall be Bruin's pleasure to awake and sally forth for his afternoon tea.

There is certainly no bear now, so I pass the time in sleeping, eating, smoking, writing, and observing the manners and customs of a family of monkeys who are disporting themselves in a deep glen to the left. Beyond this ravine rises a high spur, beautifully wooded, the principal trees being deodar, blue pine (_Excelsa_) and yew. This is sloped at the invariable and disgusting angle of 45 degrees. Beyond it rise further wooded slopes, with snow gleaming through the deep green, and above all is the changing sky, where the clear blue gives way to a billowy expanse of white rolling clouds or dark rain-laden masses, which pour into the upper clefts of the ravine, and blot out the serried ranks of the pines, until a thorough drenching seems inevitable--when lo! a glint of blue through the gloomy background, and soon again,

"With never a stain, the pavilion of Heaven is bare."

The immediate foreground, as I said before, slopes sharply from my very feet, where a clump of wild sage and jasmin (the leaves just breaking) grows over a charming little bunch of sweet violets. Lower down I can see the lilac flowers of a self-heal, and the bottom of the little gorge is clothed with a bush like a hazel, only with large, soft whitish flowers.

My solitude has just been enlivened by the appearance of a cheerful party of lovely birds. They are very busy among the "hazels," flying from bush to bush with restless activity, and wasting no time in idleness. They are about the size of large finches--slender in shape, with longish tails. They are divided into two perfectly distinct kinds, probably male and female. The former have the back, head, and wings black; the latter barred with scarlet, the breast and underparts also scarlet. The others--which I assume to be the females--replace the black with ashy olive, the wings being barred with yellow, the underparts yellowish. The very familiar note of the cuckoo, somewhere up in the jungle, reminds me of an English spring.

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