If you do find the body of a mouse orshrew lying unburied in England, it occursalmost always on a path or high-road. Nowthis fact is in itself significant; for the high-roadis practically a man-made desert, sohardened and steam-rollered, so poundedand wheel-ridden, that no plant can grow onit; so exposed that small animals will onlyscurry across it for dear life in fear andtrembling; and so difficult to dig into thatno burrowing creature can hope to wormhis toilsome way through it. Hence theanimals that die on the road arealmost never buried; while thosethat die in the field or copse areeither eaten at once by largerbeasts, or else decently interredwithin a few hours by the sextonbeetles and other establishedscavengers. Indeed, a commonsuperstition exists among countryfolk that one of the small long-nosed,insect-eating animals knownas shrews cannot so much as crossa road without being killed instantly.A human track is supposedto be fatal to them. Thesuperstition has arisen in this way:shrews die of cold and hunger ingreat numbers at the approach ofwinter. A certain proportion ofthem perish thus in the openfields; these, however, are immediatelyburied by the proper authorities,the sexton beetles. But a few happen todie as they are crossing a road or path;these lie where they fell, because thesextons cannot there pierce the hardground, and seldom even dare ventureon the road to carry them off to softerspots for burial. The rustic sees deadshrews in the road, and none on the openground: so he hastily concludes in his easy-goingway that to cross a human path issudden death to shrews, who are alwayssupposed for other reasons to be witch-likeand uncanny animals. If the road leads toa church, a fatal stroke is specially certain:for the shrews, like all witch-creatures, hateChristianity.
"You can imagine the general alarm, Mr.Fritz. It was naturally supposed that amurder had been committed at Spinbronnsome years before, and that the victim hadbeen thrown into the source. But theskeleton, which was blanched as white assnow, only weighed twelve pounds; and Dr.Haselnoss concluded that, in all probability,it had been in the sand more than threecenturies to have arrived at that state ofdesiccation. 2b1af7f3a8