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.
When the calm night was illumined, but not too brightly, by the moon and stars, the leveret would venture far away from her retreat to visit a cottage garden where the young lettuces were crisp and tender. Her depredations among the carrots and lettuces were scarcely such as to deserve punishment. She ate only enough of the lettuces to make a slight difference in the number of seeding plants ultimately devoured by the cottager's pig, or thrown to the refuse-heap ; and from the great pile of carrots, to be gathered and stored in the peat-mound by the farmstead, the few she destroyed could never by any chance be missed. On all the countryside she was the most inoffensive creature—the harmless gipsy of the animal world, having no fixed abode, her tent-roof being the dome of the sky.
As autumn advanced, the reapers came to the corn. She heard them enter by the gate; and presently, along the broad path cut by the scythe around the field, the great machine clanked and whirred. All day the strange, disturbing noise continued, drawing gradually nearer the spot where the leveret lay. Through the spaces between the stalks she watched the whirling arms swinging over, and the horses plodding leisurely by the edge of the standing wheat. At last, but almost too late, she leaped from her "form" as the cruel teeth cut through the stalks at her side ; and, taking the direction of her " creep," rushed off towards the nearest gap and disappeared over the brow of the hill.
In the middle of the night she wandered back to the wheat-field. The scene before her eyes revealed a startling change. The corn stood in "stooks" on the stubble; no winding paths led here and there through a silent sanctuary, where countless waving, nodding plumes, bent and released by a gentle-flowing wind, had shimmered in the bright radiance of the harvest moon, when, coming home late at night from the marsh across the hill, she had stayed for a while on the mound by the gate, and tiptoe, with black-fringed ears moving restlessly, had listened to some ominous sound in the farmyard. The prickly stubble felt strange to her feet, so, carefully picking her way by the ditch, she crossed to the nearest gate and ambled down the lane. But the change noticed in the wheat-field seemed to have passed over the whole countryside. It was more and more pronounced during the following week, till, in October, the late harvest had all been cleared. The habits of the hare altered with the season. Having at last grown accustomed to the varied conditions of her life, she sometimes frequented the old tracks over the upland, but rarely resorted to the " forms" in which she had lain amid the summer wheat.
October brought her an experience which might have proved disastrous, but which, fortunately, resulted in nothing more than a passing fright. In the stalk of the rye occurs a knot, forming a slight bulge known to the peasantry as the " sweet joint." Rabbits and hares are extremely fond of this succulent morsel, and, in consequence, the rye-crop, if near a large warren, is in danger of being totally destroyed. Puss one night had wandered far to a field, where, some time before, she had discovered a patch of standing rye. The few remaining stalks were hard and uninviting, but there were some delicious parsnips among the root-crops. At dawn she settled down to hide between the rows of swedes close by, and remained secreted for the day; but towards evening a sportsman came in at the gate, and, with a low word of command and a wave of the arm, "threw off" his brace of red setters to range the field. Working systematically to right and left, the dogs sought eagerly for game. Soon the hare was scented, and while Juno, with stiffened " stern " and uplifted paw, stood almost over her, Random, "backing" his companion, set towards the furrow where Puss, perfectly rigid, and with ears well over her shoulders, crouched low, prepared for instant flight. Step by step the sportsman, with gun in readiness, moved towards Juno, cautioning her against excitement; while Random, sinking on his haunches, awaited patiently the issue of events. Suddenly, convinced that in flight lay her surest chance of escape, the hare leaped from her "seat," and with the utmost speed, though from the ease of her motions appearing to run slowly, made her way towards the hedgerow. There was a quick rush behind her as she started from the furrow, and then a loud, rasping exclamation from the sportsman, but nothing more; no shot was fired. She owed her life to several circumstances. The dogs were young, and in strict training; their master, knowing the natural fondness of " first season" setters for " chasing fur," had purposely refrained from killing the hare, and had turned his attention to the behaviour of his dogs. Then, again, he cherished a certain fondness for Puss, believing her to be the most persecuted, as well as the most innocent and interesting, of Nature's wildlings in the wind-swept upland fields.
Henceforward, but for one other incident, the life of the hare was singularly uneventful till the early spring. That incident occurred within a week of her escape from the setters, and once more her luck was due to the humanity of him who had found her among the turnips. The farm-lands frequented by the leveret were a favourite resort of many of her kind, and when moving about in the darkness of the night she often found signs of their presence near the gaps and gateways. The sportsman, knowing well that after harvest the poaching instincts of the peasantry and of the professional village "mouchers" would receive fresh stimulus, determined to forestall his enemies, and render futile some, at least, of their endeavours. So it came about that one night a keeper, assisted by several of the guests at the " big house " in the valley, and having previously made every preparation for the event, placed a net near each gate and before each likely gap within a radius of half a mile from the heart of the estate.