Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

to a good many pounds, need not be considered much, for very few sportsmen carry their own rifles. It was in the light report, and in the comparative absence of smoke, that the advantage came in. Firing this small weapon he constantly used it for rooks-made so little noise that deer paid scant attention to it; the sound was lost at once if there was any wind, or any turns and corners in the hill. Whereas a 450 is heard far and wide, and puts everything for a great distance round on the alert, if it does not shift them altogether. A 320 is a very pretty weapon, and quite as deadly as the larger kind if it is used properly the disadvantage is the smaller shock its bullet gives, and the absolute necessity there is for holding it very straight. A deer which is wounded by a 320 bullet and all but secured, would be almost certainly secured if it had been hit in the same place by the heavier ball. Our friend also used solid instead of expanding bullets, and an indifferent shot working with this arm and ammunition would be sure to wound and lose a good many deer in the course of the season.


[ocr errors]

We all silently watched our stag till we could watch him no longer. He disappeared in the remote mosses On the Achnashellach march. Then we had a solemn drink, and started again. It was a subject of almost nightly debate at the little lodge what its inmates should drink. The cellar at Strathmore is an unpretentious-looking apartment; but it contained an ample supply of very good champagne, and it may be set down to the credit of the two men who jointly possessed the key that they sometimes rose superior to temptation, and did not drink any of it, thus showing that there is something in the

theory which asserts that true sportsmen are self-denying beings. There are some men SO constituted" that it makes little difference to them what they drink or how much of it; but mere ordinary mortals have to take more care of themselves, and will find that a bottle of champagne at dinner, and the usual allowance of whisky before going to bed— which latter in this country may be called a necessity—are not conducive to good shooting with a rifle the next day.

After our last stopping-place had been left far behind, and become an indistinguishable dot on the huge face, hope again revived in our breast. When we had run down into Tollachurin and crossed its burn, and got round the shoulder of the mountain called Scurr na Conbhaire, we all felt warmer and better, and willing to forget the hours passed in the misty bivouac. The day was not so very old; the wind was still good; there would no doubt be stags somewhere on before us,— there might be balm in Gilead yet.

There was a stag before us: we came on him of a sudden, peering at us from the sky-line, round the shoulder of the hill. Perhaps for a shot of this kind, when a man cannot sit down and fire from his knees, as he would for a chance below, the best plan is to stand boldly up and shoot from the shoulder. To sit down on very steep ground, with nothing but the atmosphere behind you, and fire uphill is a poor game, as any one who tries it will find out. Angy, however, on the spur of the moment, acted as the something behind, and with his support -a support which must always under such circumstances be an unreliable one-and with the rifle wobbling about and a general feeling of insecurity attending us,

we fired at the stag and hit him -low be it said-in the haunch. (It was the only one we did so hit.) The poor beast made off, and then there was a mighty hunt: he could go far faster than any of us, and he did it. This was the way of the chase, which passed along the slippery green hillside, cut into every now and then by mighty scoops, in which were burns. First-a good way-the stag. Then Macphail, nipping along like a chamois, balancing himself on anything he chose to balance himself on, and never making a false step. Then the rifleman, a middling third, doing his best; every now and then going an imperial cropper on some unusually steep bit, and coming to on the top of a stone, with a sensation as if his heart had been driven into his stomach, and found its new abode too small for it. Decency forbade Angy to pass the latter, so he was fourth. To cut short what might be made a long story, we got another bullet into the deer as he was climbing out of one of the great water-courses, and crippled him terribly, but still he went on. We missed him then, first with both barrels and then with one, and finally managed to hit him again, and so finished him. It was a wild business while it lasted; and it looked at one time as if he would get away from us and down the mountain, and have done us after all. It was a bad place to lose a wounded stag in; there were holes about which it would take days to examine, whence our hurry and anxiety to keep him in view. He cost as many cartridges-and as the three other deer. When a man is streaming with perspiration, panting like a cabhorse, with a heart jumping like a steam-engine, it is not easy to hold a rifle straight.


So this fourth stag died, and we were left about four o'clock high up on Scurr na Conbhaire with Macphail and three cartridges, for Angy was despatched to drag the deer down into the valley below, where a pony could get at it, and the hillside was so steep and smooth he could easily do this alone.


We went on for another hour, keeping high and ever round, till we got above the wild glen which runs up to Balloch, called Cruithin, where Achnashellach and Monar meet, and where, at the foot of the hill opposite Ben Tharsin, we hoped to see deer. There were a great many deer between us and the Balloch; but the wind blew wrong here, and they soon found us out, and went scampering up into the snow towards the Bowman's Pass and the "Hill with Eleven Steps," to write the name which, in Gaelic, would take some minutes, and fill half a page of Maga. It was getting late now, and raining heavily, and daylight would be soon changing into dusk. Far away down below us were a good many hinds and a fine stag, and though the wind was queer and uncertain, we decided to try for them. At the beginning of a day the sight of these deer and their position would have necessitated the holding of a council of war, and much debate, and perhaps a good deal of waiting to see if they would move into a better place; but there was no time for this now, and the stalk had to be made and the shot fired in less than an hour, if at all. The stag was in a very unsettled state, driving off small rivals which kept coming round the herd, and running his hinds up and down the face, trying to herd them, just as a sheep-dog will his flock. had to make the stalk from the side instead of coming right down, and the deer were sometimes for


a time above us. There was some rapid delicate manoeuvring on our part, a good deal of shifting of ground on theirs, and at last, just before six o'clock, we got the chance, and shot the stag through the heart. The second one killed in the morning weighed only a little over thirteen stones, and he pulled down the average, which for the five deer was 14 stones 7 lb.

It is wonderful how indifferent a man becomes to time and distance in a forest. On a hot August day, when lazy with a good long tramp, it is an exertion to go a couple of hundred yards up a steep bit of hill to a point. But in a forest at the same time in the evening one thinks nothing of as many thousand feet either your sport has been good, and you wish to add to it, or it has been indifferent, and you wish to retrieve the day. After shooting grouse, too, or any Lowland game, no one thinks of walking six or eight or ten miles home; but this again must often be done after stalking, and if the road back is rough and the night dark, the tramp is sometimes rather a dismal one. There are some minor troubles in life which are so aggravating that when they beset us, and stick persistently to us for a long time, they almost make us cry with vexation. Any one who has had to come down an immensely long Alpine moraine in a bad light, or many thousands of feet of hill which is just not sufficiently steep to be dangerous, will know what we mean. The pleasure of the day is past, and its excitement; you have conquered your peak, or perhaps it has beaten you, and now-jaded and weary-you have to go on for hours downward, till your knees ache with the burden so continuously put upon them.

So it is here: you set your foot on what you think is a stone, and


it turns out to be a hole. are willing to step into a pool of water which seems a foot below you, but it is three feet below you, as you know when you have sufficiently recovered from the unexpected shock to climb out of it. You rejoice on getting on to a nice smooth slope, but it is a slope uphill, and seems to tilt and jar you all over.

You tumble into a great

peat - hag, landing on the bank opposite on your chest, and bite your tongue, and drive all the wind out of your body, and wish you were dead-yes-if you had shot fifty stags. And if you have shot none-if you have only a sorrowful tale of misses to relate when you get in—what a fate is yours! But Monar is well provided with pony-tracks, and one is never long in striking one somewhere, and once on a path, even in a dark night, it is always possible to get along.

We reached the lodge in an hour and a half, and found that our companion there had also had fine sport. Indeed, when we got down into the low country, and added up the scores for the two lodges for the last few days to our host, his kind face assumed for a little a somewhat severe expression.

But only for a little: none knew better than he the temptations to which his poor children in the wilderness had been exposed; no one could enter more sympathetically into all our hopes and fears and anxieties than he-himself a keen stalker-did; and forgiveness was soon meted out.

The next day we bade adieu to a long line of stalkers and gillies, who set then their melancholy faces towards their respective abodes in the forest, and prepared to possess their souls with what patience they might during the dreary coming winter and long fruitless spring.



It is common to say that it is the bystander who sees most of the game; and there is so much wisdom in the elastic proverb that it may be accepted as at least one of those half-truths to which we often pin our faith, more strongly than to better established axioms. There is a kind of bystander who plumes himself on seeing behind the scenes, and knowing the dessous des cartes, the often small strings which pull the wires of fate. But this is a dangerous assumption, and is very apt to seduce the rash looker - on into false conclusions and prophecies unwarranted by any after fulfilment. We make no such pretension on our part. The summer is nearly over, the season is ending in that rush and whirl of clashing engagements and festivities, too many for even the capacity of those skilful persons born to amuse themselves, who make a business of it, and dovetail their engagements like a clever mosaic. Very soon the picture - galleries will be emptied, the great actors will leave the stage clear for humbler performers. Already the annual consumption of brown paper has begun, and shutters are being closed in the noble purlieus of Belgravia, even in the stony serenity of South Kensington. A sense of dust, of shabbiness, of fatigue, is in the air-although nothing is really shabby but the minds of the elegant crowd, not its dresses certainly, nor even its ardour in the pursuit of pleasure. One thing is undeniably shabby, and that is Parliament, where the unfortunate persons who rule us get greyer and greyer; and the time seems ever nearer approaching

when the professional politician will become a necessity, as he has already become in most other countries. Such sessions as we have had lately are scarcely possible except for those to whom they are a trade. "Six weeks! few of my constituents have so long a holiday as that," said lately to us a member of this class, whose hard-working steadiness at his profession would have been most praiseworthy and admirable had his profession been that of making shoes, or even of writing books and newspaper articles, and not of governing a great empire.

The season, however, is over; even members of Parliament will get free one time or another, and those people who are affected by the rush of the season have time now to pause a little and think what they have been about. There is a list of marriages as long as one's arm in the columns of the papers which concern themselves with these subjects. Things have been done which cannot be undone; dreadful lights of publicity have been thrown into unlookedfor places, betraying much that makes the heart sick; reputations have been made, mildly or foolishly, here and there; they have been ruined wantonly in other places. But in the meantime it is all over. The world withdraws to talk over its feats, to give the coup de grâce to the fallen in the small talk of the country-houses, and prove to itself that those who have risen instead of falling have done so by petty arts, and may be comfortably dissected another day. The painters take back their pictures, the briefless barristers close their chambers, which it has been

so little use to keep open, moralising sadly over the shame and pity it is that some people should be killed, or nearly killed, by overwork, and some have nothing or next to nothing to do. Why should this be, and is there nothing that can ever equalise it? It is the hard fate of educated men that they cannot believe in tradesunions, or take the matter into violent hands, and try to rectify it by force as the ignorant do.

One of the most curious facts about the season, formally so called, is the small number of people who are really affected by it, and the immense number of people who pretend to be-nay, are really somehow moved by the back turn of its tide, and obey its laws, though under circumstances totally different, and conditions of their own. We heard lately of a large Scottish commercial town which must be entirely unaffected by any flux or reflux of Society, where everybody was on the wing -everybody was already, with the first and finest flight of the great world, going away. And a very sensible thing too: flying from the dust and smoke of the town to country retreats and good air, and green trees, even though the head of the house must plod back wearily to town and business every day-but not one that would occur if it were not the fashion. In

a very different kind of region, in a little English country town, buried in woods and tranquil fields, the same exodus takes place. Amidst our quiet gardens, and surrounding woods, and all the glory of the August weather, a belated family finds itself, like the hermit in the wilderness, alone— or like a man in a forsaken club, in those deserts which form the parish of St James. The season is over, how simple a one! with

no riotous enjoyment,—and everybody has gone away. Thus the rule of Society, which carries off tired revellers, to save their lives, from town and its breathless rush of occupation, affects the quiet population everywhere, even in places where it would do a great deal better to enjoy itself at home while home is beautiful, and go away when all is dull and dreary under November skies.

In this respect Society is wiser than its humble imitators: for Town is never so good to live in as in May and June; and when the smart people, as they call themselves (heaven forbid that we should brand any of our fellow-creatures with such a name !), have done all that flesh and blood can do in the way of racketing, it is home they go- -as many of them as have homes to go to-to refresh themselves in the natural and genuine way: whereas the small people leave home when it is at its best, and make themselves uncomfortable in seaside lodgings or Swiss hotels. Thus Society, being more experienced in the methods of enjoying itself, and having (in some cases) more money and resources for enjoyment, does better, and, in reality, more sensibly, than those who follow its usages more or less servilely, without understanding the moral of themat least the meaning of them, for no moral is necessarily involved. Imitation is always subject to this drawback-for in the first, the example, there is usually a certain meaning, whereas in the copy the letter remains, but the spirit, not being understood, is very apt to steal away.


The three months of the season are certainly the time in which our world is seen at its best, if it is not precisely the best time to study its character and understand its ways.

« AnteriorContinuar »