Ardenmohr Chapter VII. -
Alone on the Hills.After-Dinner Science.On Aristocratic
Descentand not from Adam
AS PROPOUNDED BY-
The modern sage
Who, by geology surmising
How much mans wisdom needs revising,
Dethrones at once his lore and pride
With fossil bones, and what beside,
By grabbing far in womb of time,
When monster lizards lived in slime
With mud Silurian quickly poses
Those who believe the Books of Moses;
Then, by development of races,
From newts a Newton clearly traces;
Proves Edens garden all a myth,
Unfit for, and not suited with,
Amphibious parents who were nursed
In mud, as other things at first
And clearly, therefore, like the rest,
Were toads or tadpoles at the best:
But after a few million ages
Their progeny, by lengthend stages,
Gaind limbs and wits more nearly human,
Articulation and acumen,
Progressd (as shown by retrospection,
And Darwins process of selection)
Frog, fish, bat, bear, and chimpanzee,
Gorilla, bush-man, yon and me;
Then this grand progress drops the veil
Just when our grandsires drop their tail.
Is this my faith, sweet sages? No, no;
Think Im an ape? Why, cui bono!
I had been telling Major Duncan of some curious
stones which I had seen on the hill, and as he expressed a desire
for a specimen, I, this morning, rose early, and went off before
breakfast to find some pieces of these stones.
Although a bad riser, when I can conquer sluggishness
I do enjoy an early stroll. And this morning was perfectiongrey and
still, yet no mist; and as I joyfully breasted the hill, feeling the
cool dry air, and breathing oxygen, ozone, or whatever stimulating
gases do most abound on the hills on early morn, I felt a sort of
remorse for past inaction, and even made resolvesalas, too
The grouse were flying hither and thither, and
crowing on the heather knolls; while overhead great flights of
garrulous jackdaws were coming from the rocks for their days
thieving and mischief.
Sad miscreants, these dwarf corbies; they pry
everywhere, from the hill-top to the hen-roost, and devour anything,
from a ehiek-pheasant to a dead cat. I remember, some years ago,
when the keeper at a Highland shooting-quarter had reared the young
of capercailzie grouse, and black game, by setting the eggs under
domestic fowls, the little game birds were thriving wonderfully, and
it was interesting to watch the shy youngsters running in and out
amongst the pine branches spread on the lawn for their shelter; but
these pests, the jackdaws, destroyed them all, chiefly by picking
out the eyes of the poor things, and the experiment of home-rearing
was never there tried again.
I got specimens of the stones, and was back in good
time, but, on going in to breakfast, I was worried by the whole
fraternity. Ward and Fred asked impressively if it was dyspepsy or
headache sent me out so early, and the ungrateful Major said I must
Ha! what is fey? asked Fred.
It is a Scotch word, Freddy. Any one who reverses
his usual habits is said to be fey, and that he will die soon. A
churlish person, for instance, becoming blanda miser doing a
liberal thingor a noodle saying a witty one.
Oh dear! poor Mr. Abbott is doomed, sighed Fred;
and so near the twelfthvery annoying, is it not, Major?
"Well, there is some chance for him, as this is
hardly a decided case, and Abbott has possibly been before out
early. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
It was settled that this day should be devoted to
making up arrears of letters, &c., too long delayed, and perhaps it
was as well, the weather being rather bright for fishing. To-morrow
was arranged for a visit to some small lochs on the east range of
hill, where, Archie said, we should find snipe and probably some
teal; and the day following fixed for a salmon chasseon the river.
So, having dawdled over breakfast, and enjoyed a social pipe under
the old fir-tree, I took my writing-case and note-book, and went off
to scribble in a favourite hollow on the hill-side.
This place is a pet retreat of mine, and I can hardly
tell why, as there are others equally accessible, and where the
views are finer. How is it that one takes to particular places and
persons irrespective of any definite excellence? Of the men I meet I
prefer the company of certain individuals, not necessarily the
wisest or best-mannered; but they suit me somehow; and, like the
distaste, to Dr. Fell, the reason why I cannot tell. As to places,
Puss and Ponto affect certain nooks for shade or sunshine, and most
people do so likewise. I wonder if the French cynic means to
indicate the indiffevents when he says that a good digestion and a
bad heart are the grand requisites for happiness; for there are
people who, provided things about them he comfortable, care little
for places or persons.
Ilalte la I whispers my mental mentor; all men are
not bundles of whims like yourself.
True, 0 Mentor; but, en revanche, the want of a
little fancy and geniality usually indicates the shell of a human
mollusc, not a nice sort of person for a friend. I plead for no
extremesin fact, plead for nothing; so permit me, good Mentor, to
get any whims that may crop up among the heather.
In an hour or two I had finished my letters, &c., so,
placing the whole in a safe corner, I set off to explore the terra
incognita away to the north-east march of the moors. Many people
might find such a walk lonely and tiresome, but to me it is
delightful. The day bright and hot, but the air, notwithstanding,
pure and bracing, and I passed lightly over miles » of springy
heather, every now and then coming to new peeps of rugged eorries
and lonely little glens, and at last I reached a gap in the hills
opening on cultivated fields and fir-woods.
I now found, by looking at my pocket-map of Ardenmohr,
that I was near the march, and about five miles from the Lodge, so I
turned to the right, and went along the course of a brawling burn
till I came to a black wood, part of the indigenous forest that once
covered so much of the Scottish moorland. None of the trees were of
great size, but many had a look of great antiquity, and, on going
through the wood, scarce a living thing was seen or heard, save a
few tiny woodpeckers creeping on the great boles of the trees, and a
pair of scraichin jays flitting about the dense crowns of the
pines. All through the wood the underground is mostly open; but in
some parts, especially near the end, I found a wilderness of bush,
huge bramble, juniper, and dense 'willowscover enough for a wild
elephant or a covey of rocs.
Apropos of rocs, what has become of those charming
childrens stories of old times? And what dry waifs of fiddle-faddle
and false morality now supersede them! For our poor town boys in
these delicate times have no fight and make friends, no snow forts,
no Sindbad the Sailor, no Bluebeard, except now and then in
pantomime. Country boys have rough play, and do well enough. Oh, the
delight to a boy, when school and snow-ball fights were over for the
day, to sit on the hearth-rug by a mothers foot, and read
the "Forty Thieves or "Gullivers Travels! After-life has not
many pleasures in store to beat these feelings of stirring
adventure, combined with the sweet sense of love and home security.
After passing through the black wood, I took along a
rough hollownice lying for gamerock, fern, and gorse in wild
confusion, interspersed with clumps of hazel and birch. Here I saw a
good promise of black game, and, at the end of the hollow, I started
three roe-deer; they broke out to the open hill, but soon stopped,
and took a good look at me; then, changing their minds, they turned
to the wood, and sped swiftly back to cover.
When I had gone a little farther I met the
game-watcher of this side of the grounds, and went with him to
inspect some vermin-stamps. There was nothing in the stamps but a
carrion, crow and a weasel.
The first is the worst of enemies to game-birds. I
look on the hoodie as more mischievous than the falcon, which hunts
so far and wide after game and wild-fowl, as she only knocks down a
grouse or a black-cock now and then about any one place; but the
hoodie crow haunts the same range day after day, and is, besides,
peculiarly destructive to the eggs and young of grouse, and she is
continually on the outlook. The common rook sometimes pilfers eggs.
I. saw one take the whole of the eggs in succession from a wild
ducks nest on an island, and although I shouted at the outrage from
As for weasels, they are mauvais sujets; but they
kill ratsa worse vermin than themselves, and might be forgiven if
their love of destruction had limits: their motto seems to be kill,
kill, every bird in a nest, mother included, when they find one.
A curious circumstance with a weasel was told me
lately by a country gentleman and a close observer of nature. He was
sitting at the edge of a wood when he noticed a rabbit run from
cover into the open field, and as its movements seemed peculiar, he
kept quiet and watched; presently a weasel came out on the rabbits
track, and Bunny, on seeing the weasel, lay on the ground and
squealed, and the little wretch ran in and seized it by the head,
and when my friend got up the weasel bolted, and he picked up the
rabbit near dead. So when he got home he had it at once skinned,
and, on carefully examining, found there was only this one wound on
the head, which almost confirmed him in the fascinating power of
Stoats are worse than weasels, but they are luckily
not numerous. I remember of a stoat coming some miles on a winter
night, and, after swimming across a small pond, it killed five
ducks; but being tracked back over the snow, the animal was
On the way to the Lodge I saw some well-grown coveys
of grouse, and by the time I got my papers from the cache it was
near five oclock. I found Major Duncan still writing, and he told
me that the others had gone up the burn; so I went after them, and
about half a mile up found Ward and Pred getting plenty of small
trout, and on the way down the bum they caught several of better
To-day I had been trusted with the ordering of
dinner, and thought I should go a little out of routine and puzzle
them. Fred said that snail broth and curried cat might be expected;
but we did very well. There was green-pea soup and trout; then came
a single dish carefully coveredno one guessed what: it was simply a
bunch of teal, beautifully roasted under Burmah's special care. For
the proper appreciation of wild-fowl, the appetite should not be
palled by pieces de resistance before. A pie of wild berries from
the hill, and a cheese omelette, finished the carte; and Fred, who
had devoured a couple of the miniature ducks, begged publicly to
express his sense of the merits of the caterer, and to drink his
After dinner Major Duncan again looked at the stones
I had brought in the morning, and as we got on to gossip on geology,
he explained by coloured sections the various strata, and touched
somewhat on Darwin's theory of natural selection.
Do you accept that theory, Abbott?" asked Ward.
Not quite, yet; it is specious, but unproved; even
if it did not make against so many of one5s religious ideas, or
prejudices, as they may be called by these new lights."
I am pleased you say so," said Hope. I do not
pretend to scientific knowledge in this theory, but I might
askwhere are the remains of these graduating animals? We find in
abundance those of the lower grade, and all up to the most perfectly
organized, but not the least appearance of any progressive stage,
which should be distinctly apparent in the strata of the earth, as
the progressive law is declared to go on perpetually.
Yes, and must be acting now, if ever. Yet, all
through the explored regions of the worldespecially in Southern
America, where life is superabundant from the smaller reptiles of
early ages to the highest classes of animal existence, we find no
graduates, but each genus and species sharply defined. True enough,
the monsters of the Crystal Palace are extinct; but no one will
suppose that they monopolised the faculty of graduating into
giraffes and. greengrocers; while with the others, existing through
all times up to the present, this said development seems about
limited to the tadpole, and soon ceases to act.
Frogs dont come to much, said Ward, laughing. I
have, in Paris, eaten the most highly developed a sort of
cannibalism, possibly; but they were very .nice, and had no look of
being ones great ancestors..
Frogs should get on, the Major said, for since
AEsops time they have had a reputation for ambition. Put what do
you say of the platypus, a sort of Australian water-rat, which seems
to develop at both endsat one extremity like a mole, and at the
other resembling a duck?
Ah, yes, Major; but he seems to have settled down,
and compromised with the forcing system, as his remains are found in
very early strata, and indicate he has made no progress for at least
a million of years in bones or beak; and, by the way, I once heard a
funny conundrum on this curiosity. Why is he like a tradesman at
I cant say.
Because he is a beast with a bill.
Oh, how jolly good! cried Fred. I must book that
Why, Fred, said Hope, what can you know about
bills, unless it be for hardbake or a cricket-bat?
You would wonder: many of our fellows owe good sums
for dress and trinkets.
But you avoid that, Fred, surely?
I think so: by no merit, as I get what pocket-money
I need, and I am not a great swell.
We had a good laugh at the little man, which he bore
like a Spartan; but he is not the sort to injure others for his
indulgence: I never met a more unselfish boy. .
On looking out before going to bed, there were
symptoms of change of weathergusts of wind and dull sky. The West
Highland climate is certainly variable; but even when wet it does
not produce the harsh, shivery sensations common on the east coast,
and the fine days are just ethereal.
We trusted the morrow, and scattered for the night.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.