Page images

hearted enough to spare even one engagements and staying for a few thing that was in his days in bed.

To be in possession, before halfpast nine, of two stags, is to be in possession also of a large amount of positive happiness,-happiness to be added to indefinitely when you think of the possibilities of a day begun so well. The deerpony men had been spying us from the lodge, and were soon on their way, but long before they arrived we were high up on the mountain above, on the blunt rounded ridge which runs up to the stony top of Spiegen. We had spied a good stag in Corrie Hallie in the morning. The great bend in the mountain had long cut him off from us, but when we came in sight of the place he was still there, and our proceedings at "the Rock" all unknown to him. So we got high up on the huge grey stony saddle, and prepared to come down on the top of him, and just then we heard a rifle - shot. To get at the man who fired it—our lodge companion

power. We said just now that a stag does not fight mankind with his arms-which are his horns. This is true when he is in a wild state; when he is in a tame state he will sometimes fight you to the death -to your death. For if you go into a paddock or enclosure where there is a savage tame stag kept for breeding or any purpose, and you are unprovided with a gun or rifle, your death is certain. If Scotland was paved with gold a foot thick, and we could have it all for passing unarmed through such a place, we should think the reward very poor compared with the service asked. To follow a wounded tiger into cover or crawl into a bear's den to shoot him there would be much less risky; you might conceivably escape them, but you would be a doomed man if once caught in the quarters of such a deer. There is another peculiarity about these animalsthey will sometimes injure you after they are dead. One of our host's sons came down during this particular stalking season with a cut on his right hand. By long practice he had taught himself to jam open his Henry rifle, get the empty case out and another cartridge in, with wonderful quickness. That a hole should be cut in the palm of his hand by constantly carrying out this opera--Strath Mhulich-which lay in a tion was to him a matter of indifference; speed was wanted, and the hand had to take care of itself. And other little cuts and scratches were acquired during his scrambles. Then, from handling deer-probably their horns- -some subtle substance got into the small wounds, and he was fortunate, though he hardly thought so at the time, in getting through a sharp attack of blood-poisoning with no greater loss than giving up some shooting

would have meant several thousand feet of up and down, and a good bit of glen to cross, but the sound came in a quicker way. Macphail thought the report might disturb our deer, so we ran, squintway, across the face of the corrie, still keeping high, so as to have command of the ground, and to be able to cut them off if the start made them make for the Sanctuary

bare tarn-filled glen on the right.

Easy and graceful were the movements of two out of that party of three as they passed along the hillside. For the hundredth time we admired the elegance with which a man used all his life to steep hills can run on them. Farquhar Macphail is not a very young man; some would call him old; many at his time of life would think that they had earned a right to sit in their gar

dens and smoke their pipes, and talk of what they had done. With beautiful ease he ran along the steep, sharp-pointed, stone-covered ground; he never seemed to hurry, and seldom cared to use his stick, which stuck for the most part out behind him, wagging like a tail. This writer flatters himself that if the occasion arose he could run down a pretty steep hillside in a way which would, at any rate, extort the admiration of people who did not know very much about good hill-work. But when he has been toiling after Macphail, either up or down, he has always felt as if he was a very poor copy of an admirable picture-that he accomplished with more or less difficulty and clumsiness what the other did with no difficulty at all. Angy came trotting along contentedly behind we always felt thankful, when out with that boy or his brother Murdoch, that they had a good heavy double-barrelled rifle on their shoulders to carry in addition to themselves; they have the blood and the teaching of their father, and less than a third of his years. There is always a great difference between a fairly good amateur and a first-class hill-man; witness Swiss guides: you may fancy when you are roped on to them, and do a hard day's work with them, that you are nearly as good as they. It is when you are off the rope, and watch them unhampered, that you see the differ


Macphail was right; when we were able to see the place where the deer had been, we saw the place only-they had disappeared. So we had to go on too-hurrying a little more now, keeping a very sharp look-out below, lest we should run into them: there were great swells and rounded dips in the ground, and often it was impossible to see many yards, but we

hit off the right place; the deer were coming up, squinting along for the corrie. On a little farther, and then there was the quick sitting down, the hurried question and answer, the whipping of the rifle out of its cover-so much easier when it is a hammerless; the shoving two spare cartridges into Angy's ready hand-in case of need. Then fifty yards of careful slipping down the wet hillside, and we were in position, and within fifty yards of the stag. And he too went down; the gods were on our side that day. He got a second bullet and then a third, and then he was ours. Three stags before eleven o'clock.


When you have crawled slipped into the place from which to take the shot and raise the rifle to fire there are two frames of mind in which to be in. To think within oneself, "I hope I shall hit him!" is one. The other is the best; it is to clench one's teeth, and grip the rifle hard and say, "By Jupiter! I'll get a bullet into you somewhere, anyhow!" If the stag drops instantaneously to the shot, you cannot do better than put another into him as speedily as may be. For he is very likely only grazed, stunned for a moment, and if nothing more is done to stop him, may be off and away, and never seen again. A deer shot in the heart seldom drops at once; but his movements then tell any one who has had a little experience that he is safe. A bullet through the head or neck, or through the backbone, is of course instantly fatal, and the deer will fall at once; but so he will if he is just grazed on the point of the shoulder or on the back, and the beast is none the worse for these wounds. How often has the man who writes this stormed and raged we might use stronger words at himself, for not doing

what he knew he ought to have done; for leaving a well-begun bit of work unfinished, and losing it all when it was within his power to complete it with certainty The most experienced men will sometimes make mistakes when a stag first tumbles over; will say "All right!" when it is all wrong. You get your chance, and the deer falls and lies where he fell: but, if the ground is steep, a wriggle or a kick may lift him over some stone which is keeping him, or out of some small hollow, and he may roll for hundreds of yards more; if the place is not actually precipitous the fall and the bullet combined may do him no great harm, and, after cautiously descending, and carefully peering into this or that hole or corner for your dead or dying stag, you may suddenly hear an impatient exclamation from the stalker, and the snapping open of a glass, and then realise, with a disgust that is hard to describe, that your deer has pulled himself together, and is off—a mile away-never to be seen by you again. This is a maddening incident in a day's work, and it can often be avoided: if your stag, however bad he may seem, show any signs of feebly struggling to his feet on to his legs, shoot him again; another loud crack, where there has been already one or more, does not do much harm, and if you get the ball into the neck or ribs, the venison is little the worse. We once had hold of a stag's foreleg, and thought he was dead, and the knife was just at his throat when he gave such unmistakable signs of life that we confess it-we fled out of his way. That stag went far, and it was good luck alone which let us get at him again. We have heard of a deer going off with the knife actually in his throat, and never a one of the two of them ever being seen again.

We heard a shot now, on the opposite south face, and then a second, and then a third. A careful search with the glass showed that our neighbour had also been fortunate, and had finished his stag up on the skyline, close to the Attadle march, and then we knew that there was at any rate one other man in the world who at that particular moment was happy. A curious little natural phenomenon had been in evidence between these two points a few days before. The same man fired a shot, and immediately heard another, as it were an echo, from the other side of the glen. He was afraid he might have disturbed deer his host was after, and on meeting the latter at night said so. "Oh!" said the other, "but I fired first." The truth was that they had fired simultaneously, and the time it took the sound to travel made each think he had been the first to pull the trigger. It was something of a coincidence that when only two people were out over a vast extent of country, firing only two or three cartridges each, the identical moment should have been chosen by both of them for these shots.

There had been a heavy fall of snow during the previous day, and the high ground was quite white; in some places the steep smooth slopes were difficult to walk on, and here and there dangerous. Far up-just where the hanging mist and snow ran into one another, so that it was difficult to say where either began, lay a good stag: to get at him from above it was necessary to climb nearly to the top of sharp-peaked, over three thousand feet high, Spiegen. we set our faces to the hill and plodded steadily up,-passing the place where a day or two before we had killed a royal, and found when we got to him that his four brow - antlers were broken short


off, by a fall, or by a fence when the horn was green; passing another place where things had gone badly instead of well, and a good stag had gone away with a bullet in him, and, after giving us a weary hunt for many hours, had disappeared altogether from our ken. As we toiled up, the snow, from merely powdering the sharp-edged stones, covered them, and made them difficult to cross; it was sometimes a couple of feet deep. The storm had not driven the ptarmigan down; here and there their dismal croak was to be heard through the mist, and once or twice Angy stopped to have a shy at a covey crouching some fifteen or twenty yards away. Most stalkers have wonderful stories to tell of the execution they have at times done among these birds; but we have never seen any killed by their sticks or stones.

We came right down above the deer; the stag was still lying, and we got within some hundred and fifty yards of him, as near as the ground would allow. Some one else in past days had seen deer in the same place, and had made the same stalk, and had chosen the same position that we did for the shot, for on a stone in front of us were lying four empty cartridgecases. Was it a good or evil omen? we wondered if they had done their work.

The stag was lying just as we had seen him at first: only the tops of his horns were visible out of the hole in which he had settled himself; but his kind is seldom quiet long at this time of the year, and we confidently expected to see him soon get up.

Our watching

place was a somewhat exposed one; we were just out of the deep snow, but had taken plenty of it away with us in shoes and knickerbockers, and we all hoped for a speedy termination to the stalk.

"He'll very soon be up," said Macphail. Half an hour passed, and the stag still lay; an hour passed-an hour and a half all but passed, and still that provoking beast sat in his hole. How we all hated him! Once indeed he stood up, and showed he was a deer, and not a couple of withered sticks, as we were beginning to fear; but he was down again in the same bed in a moment. What was to be done? Setting aside the cold, it does not do to wait long at this time of the year for any stag unless he is something quite out of the common. Just as a fisherman-on a river where salmon are plentiful and taking well-will not allow an impudent ten-pounder to sulk and put off much time, so now it was not advisable, when stags were many and days short, to bear patiently a very long delay. Yet it was difficult to know what we should do it was impossible to get nearer, and equally hopeless to fire at a pair of horns. In such emergencies we have tried various experiments, such as whistling softly, or pitching stones down the hill. Such plans sometimes work. But deer have a nasty habit of listening attentively, till they get to know exactly where the strange sounds come from, and then bolting all of a sudden, without giving the opportunity of anything but a hopeless flying shot. And so we waited on, trying to keep one hand warm by clasping the thick of the thigh, and the other tight in a pocket. After the first hour we were all three pretty cold, and the luxury of stamping or beating one's self, or indeed moving anything but one's eyes, was out of the question.

At last one hour and five-andtwenty minutes after we had taken up our places-the enemy played into our hands. The hinds got up, and walked slowly up the hill till they passed well within a hun

[ocr errors]

dred yards of us, and then the stag― seemingly reluctant even then got up and followed them. He was a light-coloured big-bodied stag, with long narrow-set horns, and he stood within seventy yards of us. And we missed him; it was certainly the nearest and the easiest chance we had that season, and we missed him-first with one barrel, and then with the other. Then a change came over the feelings of the responsible member of that party; the sun, which had been shining in a sickly way before, seemed to die out and leave the world all grey and cold and dim: the thought of the three already slain deer gave him no consolation; he felt both inside and out - like a refrigerator. When Mr Briggs missed his Royal, Leech has shown us how the forester threw up his arms in despair, and though we not told what he said, we can guess some of it. We have never had the ill fortune to be out with a man who whispers, "Mind you hit him!" when you are just about to fire, or makes disagreeable remarks when you miss. To a young stalker advice of this kind is not only useless but most harmful, as tending to make him nervous, of course he will hit if he can. Macphail is not of that kidney if he feels vexed at a good chance being lost he never shows it; he takes a miss most philosophically. On this occasion he watched the deer carefully for a long time, and when he had satisfied himself that it was untouched, he shut up his glass, and muttered, half to himself, with a little sigh, "A big brute!" That was all.



The running commentary Macphail would make when following with his glass a wounded stag was sometimes amusing, always instructive. "Lying down," he


would say, getting into a comfortable position for the spying.

[ocr errors]

Up again—going on-going east -standing-going east-lying down-up-going east-looking back-looking back still-looking back-going on." If our own glass was spoiled with damp, as was often the case, it was with great anxiety we used to listen to these remarks. The lying down was satisfactory (a wounded stag will sometimes lie and get up again twenty times within a few hundred yards), but the "going east" brought temporary despair to one's heart.

For missing this stag we had no excuse to make except the cold; there was no grass waving about before the sights, and no smoke came back into the shooter's face, for the wind took that away as soon as made. It is not easy to see how any great improvement


now be made in sporting rifles; a hammerless ejecting-if one does not mind the clickmodern express is very nearly a perfect weapon. But with powder there is more scope; and one or other of the new smokeless and comparatively noiseless materials will probably soon altogether take the place of the honest black stuff which has played so prominent a part in gunnery for so many centuries. There is a great advantage in using a chemical powder in a rifle, for on still muggy days the reek of the other hangs about in a thick cloud, and often prevents a second barrel being got in. The writer's rifle was a double 450, and it made a report which could be recognised from other reports so he was told — at a great distance. Our host's eldest son shot with a 320, and he gained a great deal by being able to use such a small bore. The difference in weight, which amounts


« PreviousContinue »