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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter X - Dick Burnaby and Grouse the First


SOON after my removing to Soval, I lost my friend Burnaby. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the tax-payers, the survey of the Lews was completed, and he took his departure, to the universal regret of the whole island; for he was one of those who have the singular knack of attaching everybody and everything to them. “Nil tetigit quod non omavit.” The survey is a model of what can be done under adverse circumstances, for surveying and contouring the island of Lews with such a climate is no joke. Looking after his work took him to wild places, and to many of those wild places did l accompany him. Work done, didn’t we play and shoot and fish?

We ran entirely in couples. He had a little gig and a small pony, Johnnie, the best piece of horse-flesh I ever knew. He was little over twelve hands high, but, once started, he clattered up and down hill, and never stopped till you readied your destination. Then he was taken out and tethered by the road-side—harness off and locked up in the little gig, for fear of the cows, that invariably eat any stray prize left out—and away we went somewhere. The quantities of fish we used to extract from loch and river, from Gremsta and Blackwater, and other places adjacent, were considerable. I had my own ground. By right of his office of surveyor-general, and by permission, Dick Burnaby roamed anywhere, and I roamed in company with him. F. M. and I then owned half the island, and the rest was unlet, and remained so for a long time, so that Dick and I had a wild world to face; and manfully we faced it. He was a beautiful fisherman, and a very quick shot—very quick, but not steady with the rifle. Seldom was it we, came home anything but full-handed. Then he had the merriest, lightest-hearted dog I ever knew, Grouse I., a beautiful black and tan Gordon setter, whom I afterwards bought of him on his leaving the island—a rare dog, whose blood I still have, and prize beyond all other I possess, save old Tom’s. Grouse would run behind the trap, with two good otter terriers that never left us, for nothing ever came amiss in our walks. In their company he would chase everything along the road, from a luckless wild Hebridean child to a black-faced sheep, as we all clattered along—Johnnie, Dick, and I, and doggies—in that wild exuberance of spirits which mountain and sea air combined, together with the anticipation of wild sport from an otter to a deer, a snipe to an eagle, a brownie to a salmo, alone can produce.

Arriving at the disembarking point, the terriers came to heel, Grouse resumed his senses, and proceeded to traverse the muir in a style seldom surpassed. Great nose, with sound sense and wonderful powers of finding, he passed nothing. I never could find out whether he was best at snipes, woodcocks, or grouse. He was the only dog I ever saw who laughed when he performed some wonderful circumventing feat. He had a power no other dog of my acquaintance possessed of producing brown owls. This always excited his risible faculties. Once he produced a white one, and then he screamed again, and I thought he would have gone into convulsions. He retrieved everything that was wanted to be retrieved, and cared nothing for a loch in the coldest of days.

Suddenly, perhaps, as we were walking along, one of the terriers would cock one ear, as only a good Scotch hill terrier can (I don’t mean a prize Bedlington, or some of the rare specimens of eccentricity exhibited at shows), and look sagaciously at his friend, who would return his observation by dropping one or both of his, already cocked; and then both would start as straight as a crow flies, without a note, for a small loch, distant, perhaps, a mile. In a moment Grouse twigged the game up, and made in a straight line for the said loch, barking for his life in an ecstasy of delight. Away went Dick and I, as fast as we could carry our little bodies (for we were neither of us giants) to the loch too. Arrived there, we found our little friends, each at the mouth of a sort of a small cavern with two exits, one on land and another into the loch, stationary, like two grim little sentinels, and Grouse, half mad, circling round them. As soon as we have got our breath to articulate and strength to enlarge a little the land entrance, with a cheering “have at him” in goes the land side terrier. A rush and a bustle, and a yelp for the first time are heard, a strange noise, and then, like lightning, the other sentinel at the water mouth is knocked over, and with that extraordinary; springing, demoniac bound he alone can give, a large dog otter plunges into the loch and disappears. Savagely spring Grouse and the terriers after him, and an otter hunt, Hebridean fashion, begins.

Don’t be afraid, reader, I am not going to describe an otter hunt; we have no such thing there. I once got two or three foxhounds, and some terriers, but it would not do; the lochs were too many and too large, and the beast always beat us. But if you can get an otter into a small loch, in which you can keep him, with two or three sagacious and real good dogs, you may have some exciting fun in its way; but then it must be very calm, and you must have good eyes.

Our loch was small; Dick took one side, I the other; and at him went our terriers and Grouse, showing, the first excitement over, a sagacity that made up for want of numbers. One of the three always kept the shore, to detect the otter if he banked or tried to quit the loch; the others swam as handy to him as they could. Our office was to watch the otter blowing or venting, and to keep him down by shooting over him whenever he did so ; above all, if possible, not to let him leave the loch unknown. Sometimes we lost him altogether for half-an-hour—at one time so long that we thought him gone, when off set the terriers by agreement to his old den, where they recommenced their old game at the find. In went the terrier, out went the otter again with doggie Sticking to him. The other settled to as well, and the brave beast dashed into the loch again, With both Skyes fastened to him, soon, however, in his native element, to shake them off. And so the game goes on; but by degrees otter diving even comes to a close. He breathes more frequently, and the dogs get at him now and then; the fights in the shallows are niore savage; till at last you see one terrier fastened well between the forelegs, and down go otter, terriers, Grouse, and all, into the loch, and remain so long under that you think they are drowned, till a bubbling commotion is seen, and up surges the half-dead otter, with Grouse and terriers sticking steadily to him, and dragging him on shore, where terriers finish him, and Grouse, as soon as he has got his wind, dances frantically, barking; round a fine old dog otter, twenty-six pounds weight. Oh, blame me not, ye otter heroes of the Wye and the Usk, that in these our parts we so ignominiously slay this game beast! But what can we do ? Who would shoot a wild boar that could ride to hog? But, since that grandest of amusements is denied, shooting a charging boar is not to be despised.

Pen souviens tu mon cher Dick, of these our pastimes in those days of yore, which I believe we both thought the happiest of our lives? The last time we met you were in civilized society; you were quartered on the Curragh of Kildare; your occupation, providing for the defences of that noble camp, erecting sheds for troopers; doing your work well, there as everywhere, and respected by all. But you found something to do there too. I remember we went after some imaginary snipes on the bog of Allen; I don’t think there was a fish within miles. But you took to hunting, you dog—and that makes up for a great deal—and you tried Kildare and went well. Do you remember the day you were going so well—a little bit too close, perhaps, for you even got jealous—and we took a pull round the crest of the hill so as not to be blown up, when the hounds got hid from our sight for a moment round the hill, and we never saw them again? How savage you were! and I don’t wonder, for it is hard to err with the best intentions. Do you remember that day in the park, when we passed so many hours watching that stag near the loch, when the beast would come upon us instead of our going to him, and to get out of sight we had to take the soil and get into the said loch and walk about under its bank— depth varying from the ankle to over the waist —not able to get out for hours or get our shot, and it was not a warm day; and then, when we emerged from our pleasant hiding-place, the animal had moved, and we had to follow him to Larcastal; and at last, after getting a shot and killing your stag, you found him worthless, his horns being rotten? Do you remember this, and then our walk down Ben-more afterwards—for Fred had not then made his road up its side—against time to reach our boat before dark, and before the weather came on too bad to cross Loch Seaforth, which it was evidently fast doing, and our passage across without McAulay, my gillie being a cur, and yours not much better? However, we got back safe to the Aline diggings. And then do you remember the long, long stalk from Fordmore to close under Diensten bothy, from morn till night, and the crossing that nice long loch, half-swimming, half-wading, with old Finlay M‘Lean as our stalker, and lying directly afterwards so comfortably for a couple of hours under that stone, whence we could not move ? And at last, getting close up to the stag in the gloaming, and missing him as clean as a riband, you dog, whereat I was wondrous wroth, and swore you should go home to Stornoway that night and get no supper; and even Lochiel blew you up, and said you should be ashamed of yourself, and he would follow your fortunes no more ? Do you mind (Scottice) inveigling me one day over to Dalbeg from Callernish, under pretence of woodcock shooting there, ten miles over the muir, getting only one old cock grouse? Then our being confined three days to the house with a Lewis gale, and the nice hailstorms rattling on the skylight windows, and the grand Atlantic tumbling over the cliffs above the house, and our lying down under the spray to watch the breakers. It was. a grand sight, was it not ? And then the snipes round that quaint little lake inside the sea bay ! And at last, when the weather did clear, do you remember the woodcocks round Brahgar Hill, and up the glen and down the haggy flat towards Sebastopol Loch; and then the Carloway glens, and that hillside where you had to cling on by your eyelids to get over the cocks, and how frightfully one always missed them there ? And that deceiving Carlo way river, with its nice pools, rushing streams, and long, deep, apparently good holding water, in which one never .saw or got a fish? Do you remember our snipe-shooting round Stornoway, when we roved where we liked, and nearly bagging two old women close into the huts at the end of the town ? And the snipe-shooting at Gress and round Agnish point; and. old Alexander, our great pal, who was. seldom sober, and never bought and sold when he was, for fear of being taken in ?. And do you remember the grand entertainment at Stornoway on the occasion of the wedding of one of our friends in the town, when festivities commenced at three in the afternoon with a sumptuous dinner, when everybody made speeches and gave toasts, and swam in Champagne till eight? Then dancing commenced, and continued—with constant refreshment, whisky cold and without, or hot and with, or real cold, as the Highlander prefers (that is, pure)—till half-past six in the morning, when you and I, and your dear little wife, turned out of a fine April morning with the sun shining in our faces, not so very much the worse considering; but that under her convoy we reached your habitation, the cottage, in safety. Do you remember all these things now, dear Dick, in your quarters in Halifax? And, as you go in for moose deer and North American salmon, and look after the woodcocks with poor Duke, that I sent you out—old Grouse the First’s grandson—do you ever think of those days and the old trapper that shared them, now a miserable, old worn-out one indeed ? Yes, those were happy days, and we were then both merry hearts; we both had cheerful homes, the day’s work over, to return to.

"Two blyther hearts ye ne’er would see,
The lee-lang night in Christendie.”

And there were those who loved to listen to our account of our day’s work. And now how changed! Cheerily has gone and goes the world with you, and long may it continue so to do; but you are now a staid patriarch, with pledges to the State for the grave and sober observance of your patriarchal duties, and would not turn out to dine at the governor’s in Halifax with Madame, with little Johnnie and his trap, as you used to do at the Castle in Stornoway; while I live almost on recollections of the past—of the light that once brightened my own happy fireside—of the long-loved home, now passed away to others.


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