« VorigeDoorgaan »
spect the land, and, moving onwards about twenty yards, "Tally-ho!" was the cry. "Will your horse stand?"
"Well," said I, "he's not very fond of it, but I'll try him."
I loosened the bearing rein, to let him graze (which he did immediately); and I joined my friend, who said
"An otter has been up this burn lately, and 'tis a dog otter I think; if not, 'tis a tremendous bitch. But, I'll tell you more presently. Look out on the other side for seals."
I stepped, or rather jumped, across the burn; and sure enough I found the unmistakable print of an otter's foot.
"Which way going," said my friend, "in or out?"
"In,” said Ï.
"Tally-ho! I have it," said my friend; "and a tremendous bitch she is, with two young ones, whom she's teaching to fish. Tally-ho!" he cried, "I have her again; and she has turned back, and away down the river. Now for the 'spraynts,"" he said; "look out!" And while I 66 was looking out," Mr. E found what he wanted. "Three days old," he said, after considerable handling, and application to his olfactory organs. "What's to-day?" "Tuesday." said I.
"Then the bitch was here last Sunday; and I should like to throw off to-morrow at least eight miles down the river."
"All right," said I. "Then Bewick Mill is your place; and we'll see what can be done."
Before my friend Mr. E- was again seated in the dog-cart, he took an accurate measurement of the print of the bitch and her young ones on the envelope of a letter, saying at the same time, "Now we can track the family, I think; and if we don't kill, at least we shall know the sealings.'
At 4 A.M. on the following morning the "zealot was ready for a start, which we made soon afterwards, and drove straight to Bewick Mill, three couple of the best and truest otter-hounds awaiting our arrival.
My horse was no sooner stabled and supplied with a feed of corn than we started in pursuit of the large bitch and her family.
We soon perceived the tracks of an otter, which, on application of my friend's envelope, exactly agreed in point of measurement, and, from the after-prints of the young ones, were evidently those of the veritable otter which had been fishing the burn. "She's miles further down," said my friend, "or we should have heard music by this time."
We pursued our way for three miles, the hounds continuing their amphibious course past Chillingham Castle, the seat of the Earl of Tankerville; and further on, at the village of Chatton, one of the hounds gave a challenge, but Plunger, the stanchest of the little pack, scarcely responded to it, and my friend consequently gave but little heed to the music of the young one. The deep-toned voice, however, of Rattler had put us all on the alert; numbers on foot, and several equestrians having already joined us, while the throng continued to increase as we travelled onwards. About a mile and a-half below Chatton, old Plunger gave tongue, and the rest of the pack (of six), three of which were swimming, joined in full chorus. Excitement now commenced in earnest on the part both of the human and canine species.
Spear-heads were quickly screwed into ferrules of what had hitherto served us as leaping poles. And now old Izaak's words were verified: "Look! down at the bottom of the hill there, in that meadow, chequered with water-lilies and lady-smocks; there you may see what work they make. Look, look! you may see all busy; men and dogs, dogs and men-all busy."
"We're on her now," roared my friend, as the rich deep bass of old Plunger became as sonorous to us as that of the lamented Lablache, whose voice triumphed over an orchestra.
While some were on terra firma, and others swimming, old Plunger made good his name by plunging in, and keeping up his melody, to the delight of all on shore.
"Look out," roared my friend with a voice that has been admired in many a fox-hunting field-"look out for her bubbles as she rises to vent."
The deep tones of Plunger were reiterated by the surrounding woods, while young Rattler, and the other four hounds, lent their more shrill voices. Oh ye gods! the otter's snout was seen above the surface as she rose to vent; and again she dived. The hounds were now in their glory, and the highest pitch of excitement was manifested by all spectators. The music of the three couple was now incessant; and Rattler gave promise of one day matching the veteran Plunger. We were all anxiously awaiting an opportunity for the use of our spears-but, alas! the wily bitch took advantage of a subterraneous retreat, from which it proved utterly impossible to dislodge her. The hounds were as little inclined as ourselves to give up the matter, but we were obliged to return home, tired and somewhat disappointed; although my friend was determined to hunt again after giving the hounds a day's rest.
Next day we were hammering away at the partridges, and on the following morning we drove to the house of a noted foxhunter, where, after a hospitable entertainment, we retired at an early hour to our balmy slumbers. The hounds were well provisioned even for such rapacious feeders, and allowed another night's rest.
At an early hour the next morning (those who take otter-hunting in hand can hardly be too early), long before the dew had evaporated, we were a-foot, and "threw off" at Ford Bridge, a few hundred yards distant from the residence of our host, who was keen to witness a species of hunting to which he was unused. We had not gone far before old Plunger opened on the scent of an otter, which we concluded to be the old bitch, as my friend's measure on the envelope agreed exactly with prints which we frequently observed in the sand. They were faint, however, and partially obliterated; and my friend prognosticated plenty of exercise before we should come up with her. He augured rightly, for it was after several miles of walking, running, and leaping that the identical bitch was killed, near Wooler.
This was certainly a triumph of skill and experience which repays the true sportsman for any amount of labour. A print had been observed beside a small burn by a short-sighted man, who soon became convinced that an otter had been fishing there, had turned back, and would probably be eight or ten miles down the water. He was right; and we came upon her track on our first expedition. We commenced again according to his dictation, and found and killed the very bitch otter!
My friend had long been celebrated as a first-rate rider across country, both with foxhounds and harriers, but latterly to a great extent he had abandoned everything for otter hunting-a hobby which he rode to perfection whenever he had the opportunity. He was always examining the banks of rivers for tracks by day, and perpetually dreaming of otters by night.
I shall here take leave of my friend for the present, and endeavour to give a brief description of a scene which, although we did not attain the object of our pursuit, was enjoyed by all present, and may possibly be interesting to otter hunters generally.
During the summer of 1856 I happened to be fishing at Dunkeld, and during my stay, the town and neighbourhood were occasionally put on the qui vive by an announcement that His Grace the Duke of Athol intended to go out with his fine pack of otterhounds. One day I determined to lay aside the rod, and avail myself of the opportunity of joining this noted pack; and I accordingly repaired with my friend Captain P to the rendezvous at 8 A.M., the hour specified for the meet.
We entered the Duke's beautiful grounds, and walked towards the house; and while standing near the old ruined cathedral, the deep notes of the hounds, as yet unkennelled, kept up a continual chorus, according well with the surrounding scenery, which speaks of the chase by moor and flood. The grouse, the capercalzie, the red deer, the roe, the salmon, and the trout swarm in this locality to say nothing of hares, rabbits, pike, perch, and other inhabitants of land and water.
Ere long the hounds arrived, kept in order by their attendant whips, who wore the kilt, while the jacket gave place to a loose shirt of scarlet flannel, and the Highland bonnet to the black velvet hunting cap with a red silk tassel. We now turned our gaze from the architecture of our ancestors to the pack beside us, and a fine pack it was! In a few minutes a man appeared, of almost Hurculean stature, armed with an otter-spear, and personifying, to my ideas, Goliath of Gath, as he came out from the ranks of the Philistines, to astonish David. This mighty man, whose hair flows over his shoulders, while his beard and moustache are so large as to have obtained for him the appellation of "Beardy Willie," has been long in the service of his Grace, and is, from all accounts, a faithful and valued servant.
The Duke, attended by several gentlemen, soon joined us, and (with, I think, about three exceptions) the kilt was "the order of the day;' and a terribly hot day it was, and I would gladly have parted EVEN with my kilt, and walked "in puris naturalibus, save a pair of shoes. We were fairly started before nine o'clock, and through his Grace's lovely grounds we went, at a moderate pace at first, which, however, soon increased to something like walking, in order to keep up with the trotting hounds. Soon after leaving Dunkeld, the hounds were all on the alert some ashore, and others in the water, questing every tangled root, and rocky crevice, in which the wary otter might hide himselfwhen his Grace determined that the opposite side of the river should be tried also. Two whips embarked in a boat, the whole pack plunging in and swimming in their wake. It was indeed a magnificent sight; and an artist, who had come out to witness it, seemed almost lost in admiration. After a short time, he drew my attention to the varied tints of the foliage, the strong lights and shadows on the surrounding objects,
while the black deep pool was enlivened by the foam and ripple caused by the swimming hounds. The kilts and scarlet of the whips were strongly reflected in the water, which appeared green near the shore, from the surrounding wood. Truly it was a picture worthy of our best artists; while the plash of the oars and sonorous notes of the hounds which lent such music to the scene, would become mute upon the canvass even of Sir E. Landseer. After most careful questing of the opposite bank by the entire pack, two of the hounds took a line of their own, and one of the whips intimated to us his opinion that an otter had gone up the Braan. The Duke, and several others of the party, unfortunately misunderstood the information given by the huntsman as to the hounds which had gone back, his Grace supposing them to be young ones, whereas they were two of the oldest and stanchest in the pack. One of the huntsmen was ordered to follow them, and the other continued his course up the river, whilst we proceeded on the opposite bank, nearly to Logierait, a distance of eight miles from Dunkeld. The day was intensely hot, and the sky almost cloudless, and we were glad of a short rest, as we crossed the Tay in two boats, which were rather heavily laden, as the gunwales were only a few inches above the water. On the opposite shore we met the hounds, which stood panting and openmouthed, and evidently sensible of the heat, notwithstanding their frequent immersions in the river.
In the midst of luncheon-which had been prepared, and laid out in a large stranded boat-a man arrived on horseback, bearing the intelligence that the two hounds had been hunting an otter up the Braan, and the Duke determined to lose no time in going, if possible, to the scene of action. His Grace, anxious to be up with the two old hounds, took his seat in the carriage of a gentleman residing on the river, and with a pair of good-stepping horses 300n reached the Braan, leaving orders with Goliath, as I term him, to get forward with the pack as soon as possible. The giant obeyed his Grace's bidding, and strode over the ground with his otter-spear, to keep up with the trotting hounds, which kept us all walking at a racing-pace, till we once more joined the Duke at Inver, about a mile distant from Dunkeld. The two hounds had gone some distance up the Braan, and it was not deemed expedient to hunt again. The Duke, who, I need not say, is a most zealous otterhunter, was perhaps more disappointed than any of us, as, independently of the delight he takes in the sport himself, he is ever anxious to gratify those who attend him in the chase. His Grace, with the utmost kindness, took us through the private walks to see the water-fall and summer-house, which amply repaid inspection.
I shall now wind up my lines upon otter-hunting, hoping to give, in a future number, an account of an animated kill with the fine pack of His Grace the Duke of Athol.
*The river Braan flows into the Tay a little above Dunkeld.
THE ALPEN STOCK;
OR, GLACIAL TOILS AND SUNNY RAMBLES.
BY CAPTAIN J. W. CLAYTON,
(Late of the 13th Light Dragoons: Author of " Ubique.")
[COMMUNICATED TO, AND EDITED BY, LORD WILLIAM LENNOX.]
The town of Aosta, though dirty, narrow, unwholesome, and seemingly the chief depôt of the world's off-scum, disease, and deformity, boasts, as Augusta Prætoria, of an origin 400 years before the foundation of Rome, and not sixty years after the building of the great Pyramid of Egypt. About thirty years before the birth of Christ it was sacked by the Romans, and the inhabitants reduced to poverty and misery, and in such a state have they been ever since. Some tolerably perfect remains of Roman triumph still adorn its suburbs, the exact meaning of which, what they are, or why they are there, is a problem to the population, and no Edipus among them can be found to solve it. Having discussed Aosta in a day, the next following we commenced our journey along the valley in the direction of Turin. The roads were none of the smoothest, which rendered the motion of our conveyance, which ignored springs, anything but favourable to the natural course of digestion in the human frame. "We are fearfully and wonderfully made," said Dr. Johnson, as he was contemplating the dead donkey. Yet the internal economy of our carriage, as it was jocularly called, was fearful and wonderful too, suggesting the idea of the ancient torture of the "Little Ease," a receptacle shaped like a cone, in which the confined victims could neither sit, stand, kneel, nor recline. However, we were at all events conveyed along, with sympathies sharply enlisted in behalf of ancient martyrs and sufferers, from the principle of "fellowfeeling," &c., &c. Passing through a series of squalid villages, there vomited forth from each, on our approach, crowds of scarcely human urchins, and limping wretches, supporting with both hands the goître tumours appended to their throats, which often were twice the size of their heads, and hanging down in horrid bags of flesh to their waists. Upon our scattered bounty not satisfying the by no means moderate demands of these beggars, curses, imprecations, and the sign of the evil-eye were liberally and elaborately bestowed upon us-alas! we, who needed so much sympathy and consolation, crawling along in our pillory upon wheels! The richness of the varied foliage, the magnificent bursts of distant view, and the towering grandeur of the wild rocks around, were however consolatory in a great measure. After four hours' journey our progress was barred by the ruins of a village, which lay strewn far