This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
March came in "like a lion." The wind whistled round the farmstead on the hill, and through the doorway of the great kitchen, and down the open chimney. It woke up the old, grey-haired farmer who dozed on the " skew " in the ingle-nook by the crackling wood-fire; it almost made him feel young again with the vigour of the boisterous spring. It sang in the key-hole of the door between the passage and the best parlour; the mat at the threshold flapped with a sound as of pattering feet; and the gaudy calendars on the wall flew up like banners streaming in the breeze. The old man turned, and eagerly watched the hailstones, as they dropped tinkling on the roofs of the outhouses, or, driven aslant by the wind, crashed hissing against the ground, and, rebounding, rolled across the pebbled yard. The labourers came home to the mid-day meal, and, pausing at the door, shook the hail from their garments.
" Lads," said the farmer, " I've been spared to hear the whisper of another spring".
" God be thanked!" said the hind, " for seasonable weather at last. Every man to his trencher! the broth is in the bowls".
Out on the marsh the reeds beat in the wind. Every grass-fibre twisted and swung; the matted tussocks, drooping over stagnant pools near which the snipe, with ruffled feathers, probed the soil in search of food, were shaken and disentangled, so that the bleached blades of last year's growth fell apart, and exposed the fresh young sprouts rising from the bed of winter's death. Over the wide waste the March wind drove furiously, with blessing in the guise of chastisement, while, far above, the grey-blue clouds whirled fast across a steely sky, till the ashen moon gazed coldly on the waning day, as one by one the stars flashed overhead, the clouds rolled down into the pink and silver west, and the song of the wind became only a murmur in the leafless willows by the brook.
With the advent of March, a great change passed over the wild life of the uplands. The jack-hares threw aside their timidity, and wandered, reckless of danger, over the marsh, across the stubbles, and through the woods. Even in broad daylight, they frisked and quarrelled, in courtship and rivalry.
The leveret was now full-grown, and Nature's mothering instincts were strong within her. One evening, as she louped along her accustomed trail towards the turnip-field, she discovered a suitor following in her wake. Half in misgiving, half in wantonness, she turned aside and hid in the ditch. Presently she felt a soft touch on her neck: the jack-hare was pushing his way through the undergrowth. For a moment she stopped to admire him as the moonlight gleamed on a white star in the centre of his forehead. Then away she jumped, dodging round the bushes and hither and thither among the grassy tangles, while her admirer followed, frisking and leaping in sportive gaiety. Another jack-hare now came along the hedgerow. In utter mischief, Puss called " leek, leek, leek," as if pretending to be in distress and in need of help. "Leek, leek," came the low response, as, quickening his pace, the second hare sprang into the fern. But his audacity was not to go unchallenged. The first suitor immediately showed himself, and, making a great pretence of reckless bravery, prepared to give the second a warm reception. The doe-leveret, apparently indifferent, but nevertheless keenly interested in the combat, crouched on a little knoll by the path, while the jack-hares, sitting on their haunches, boxed and scratched, and rolled over each other in a singularly harmless conflict, neither suffering more than the loss of a few tufts of fur. The comedy might, however, have had a tragic ending. Presently one of the combatants—the hare that had come late on the scene — became slightly exhausted, and, ignominiously yielding to his rival's superior dexterity, ran back towards the distant hedge. Almost at once a fox crept out from the furze at the corner of the field, and trotted away on the scent of the fleeing hare, while Puss and her mate made off in the direction of a more secluded pasture.
A month passed — a month of general hilarity and indiscriminate fighting among all the hares in the district—and then, within a neat, dry "form," that Puss, with a mother's solicitude, had made in a carefully selected spot on a mound where the grass was tall and thick, her little leveret was "kittled." The doe-hare tended her offspring as carefully as she herself had been tended a year before. Her faithless lover had gone his own way. But Puss cared little for his desertion: she wished to live alone, under no monopoly as far as her affections were concerned, though for the time her leveret wholly engaged her mothering love.
So strong was her strange new passion that she was ready, if needs be, to brave death in defence of her young. And, not long after the leveret's birth, the mother's courage was tested to the utmost. A peregrine falcon, from the wild, rocky coast to the west, came sailing on wide-reaching wings across the April sky. Puss was resting in a clump of brambles not far from her "form," and saw the big hawk flying swiftly above. Any movement on her part would have instantly attracted the attention of her foe, so she squatted motionless, while her leveret also instinctively lay still in its "form." But the keen eyes of the falcon detected the young hare, and the bird descended like a stone on his helpless victim. Instantly, the doe rushed to the rescue, and, effectually warding the attack, received the full force of the "stoop" on her shoulders. As the hawk rose into the air, the doe felt a sharp pain in one of her ears — the big talons, closing in their grasp, had ripped it as with the edge of a knife. She screamed, then, grunting savagely, leaped hither and thither around the leveret, meanwhile urging it to escape into the adjacent thicket. The bird, aloft in the air, seemed perplexed, and eventually prepared to " stoop" again. In the nick of time, Puss vanished with her little one beneath an impenetrable tangle of friendly thorns, while the baffled peregrine proceeded on his way.