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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter XIX - M'Auley's Stories


MURDOCH M‘AULAY was not only a good stalker, boatman, and right-hand man, but he was altogether quite a character. Born in Harris, he believed there was no such a country in the world, and he rather looked down on the Lews. His family had been foresters for generations under the McLeods, and afterwards under the Dumore family, who came in after the McLeods. He was fond of the old stocks; and, if the truth must be spoken, had no sort of reverence, respect, or love for any but the old stock. He looked upon all purchasers of Highland property as men who had acquired their property unjustly; and I believe he would at any time readily have joined in any raid to turn them out again. I can understand it, for the bodies one sees now in possession of some of the old Highland properties are not lovable specimens of humanity, and seem utterly out of their places when attempting to do Highlander. In addition to these peculiarities, he was a great relator of stories, and he always prefaced them by saying—“A man once told me, but I don’t believe him,” though he firmly did, and a great deal more too.

We were stalking together in Carneval, over Loch Lewid, one very fine day, and he pointed out to me a very small island on it, which had been the scene of a very queer story. There was a man who many years ago used to stalk this hill very much, and he was a very bad man, and never cared what day he went out. He was stalking once, and it was on the Sunday, and he had inveigled out with him a friend not quite so bad as himself—one who for worlds would not have shot a stag on the Sabbath himself, but who, at the same time, would not have had the slightest objection to partake of one shot on that holy day. They had been a long weary way, and, at last, very tired, sat down to have a wee bit luncheon and a dram, and a smoke, by the side of Loch Langavat, opposite a small island not very far out. To their surprise, in the middle of their smoke, they both saw a large, full royal lying down comfortably on the island, which they must have been blind not to have perceived before. The bad man took his rifle, loaded it, and swam away for the island, never losing sight of his stag; when, lo! on his landing, and getting to the spot on which he had seen it, it was gone. He swam to shore very savage, and abused his friend for his bad watching—when he positively declared he had never seen the beast move, and there ..it was still, and he pointed to it lying in exactly the same attitude and spot in which it was first seen. Bad man then re-swam to the island with exactly the same success as the first time; and returned the second time more savage than ever with his friend, who, however, again pointed out to him this singular stag in the same spot. Nowise daunted, this desperate man swore he would not be foiled, and prepared for the third time to return to the island. His friend in vain implored him not to try any more, that the beast was “ no canny,” and that evil would come of this third attempt: but no—wilful man must have his way, and this man swore a frightful oath that he would have that stag, or that stag should have him. According he swam out the third time; and, as he reached the island, his friend saw the stag rise, and walk quietly on towards the place where the stalker would land—viz.: the far-off side of the island—till he disappeared over the crest of the hill. Long did that man wait for his bad friend, but he never returned.

“And what became of him, M‘Aulay ? ”

“I do not know, I do not believe the story; but he was a very bad man.’ He believed every word of it.

He had another story of Glenvicadale, the first glen in Harris, just after you pass the stream that runs up it, and which gives it its name. This is a very pretty little brook, which, when there is much water in it, is a very rattling stream. Many a pleasant day have I passed by its banks, catching brown and small sea-trout. At its head, about two miles up the glen, is a diminutive loch — you might almost call it a pond, so surrounded is it everywhere with sedge that the water is not to be got at for it. Out of this small lochie, said to be unfathomable, runs the river—and it is this spot that is the scene of one of M‘Aulay’s traditions.

About a mile above this loch—which was once supposed to be much larger—is a very large rock, in which is a great cavern, with a natural wall so running across in front of it, that a few bars of wood and planks could at any time convert it into a comfortable temporary abode for a night or so. In former days, when deer-stalkers were not so particular about their accommodation, many an old chief of those parts made this cavern his resting place. Once upon a time, then, a tired deer-stalker betook himself, with his two deerhounds, to this shelter for the night. In those days the deerhound was always the faithful companion of the deer-stalker; and sorry indeed am I that the custom was ever given up, for the deerhound is a noble beast—and when really made the companion of man, for whom of all dogs he is the most fitted from his sagacity and attachment, is the best. Besides, bringing the stag to bay with two good hounds is the best part of deer-stalking. Well, after, of course, eating and drinking, our stalker and his hounds were sitting by the fire, winking and dozing as bipeds and quadrupeds generally do after a hard day’s walking—a tremendous knocking at the door was heard. I suppose, had he lived in our times, our tenant of the cavern would have sung, “Who’s that knocking at the door, Miss Dinah?” But he was not up to this, so, like a bold forester as he was, he opened the door—when, lo! before it stood an enormous monster, armed, of course, with a big club, who demanded who dared intrude thus and take possession of his castle ? My stalker, being a man of quick impulse and presence of mind, answered not, but set his hounds at the monster. Accustomed to stags5 antlers, they cared little for an unarmed head, and at the monster they went, who did not act up to the savagery of his appearance, but fairly turned tail and fled at an awful pace in the direction of the wee bit lochie. Into this he jumped with a terrible bound and demoniac yell, the hounds fastening on him as he sprang. Long did the master wait for the appearance of his faithful dogs. But nothing was ever seen or heard of monster or hound. It is supposed to be unfathomable, this loch, and occasionally in the calmest of weather to be most violently agitated, and to froth black. This is the effect of the monster and the hounds struggling every now and then to lose their hold and come to the surface, which they can’t, of course. It is full of fish, which never are to be captured. Such was McAulay5s story, which he said he did not believe, either. I dispelled the charm, as far as catching fish went, by getting a little coble to it one day, when I got the most frightful midging I ever in my days, even in the Lews, experienced, and caught only a sea-trout or two; but did not ever try it again, for the simple reason that the game was not worth the candle.

But there was another story of that stout henchman that beat them all. He was stalking in the park one day, before we took the Aline shooting, with a former tenant. They had never been able to spy any stag that they thought worth shooting; and, towards the afternoon, they sat down to luncheon rather disconsolate. While discussing this meal, they were all of a sudden astonished by a little old man in a grey coat joining them unawares, his approach not having been perceived. He sat down a little way from them* looking* wistfully at the bread and cheese. They took him for one of the park shepherds, though wondering at not knowing him by sight even. With true Highland hospitality, they tendered him of their fare, of which he greedily and gratefully, but silently, partook. Whisky, to their very great astonishment indeed, he refused. After the usual pipe they resumed their stalking, never noticing the disappearance of their little old friend in the grey coat; but he was gone, and nobody saw him go. Very shortly afterwards they found a stag with a very odd, queer head, and, apparently, a good body—-just the sort of beast to set a stalker’s heart on fire. At him they went with a will; and, after a long, hard stalk, got up to him and killed him. They found him to be a very old stag indeed, with a head denoting great age, and a very large, but thin body. McAulay never remembered seeing this head before, and such a forester as he was could not have ever seen this head and not remember it. But, at any rate, there he was, and a very curious beast, well worth the trouble he had given. They bled him, they gralloched him, and in his stomach they found the bread and cheese !!!

Murdoch McAulay was a wonderful stalker, and rather a wag about it, as the following story will prove. For some time before shootings and forests became what they are now— so dear that none but very rich gentlemen and cotton lords, et hoc genus omne, can look at them, both Harris and Lewis were much neglected, and there was a great deal of quiet poaching of deer going on. There was one— I won’t mention his name, for he was a great friend of mine, though now dead, and recollections may be unpleasant, and so we will call him Donald—who was a very good stalker; and, his farm or holding being near where deer lived, and lie fond of venison, sometimes helped himself to some. One day he had set his heart upon a particularly fine stag, which he was getting up to well. It happened, though rather unluckily for him, that Murdoch M‘Aulay was stalking the identical same beast, and, during the operation, he descried our friend Donald and his similar pursuit. A thought struck Murdoch—to drop stalking the stag, and stalk Donald instead. He instantly put his thought in practice, and very successfully. Donald had just got to his stone, or lump, or knoll, handy for a shot at his prey, and was taking his last anxious peer over its top to ascertain his stag’s exact position, and, for that purpose, had done what all stalkers do—laid his rifle cannily by his side, convenient to his right hand. Alongside this spot ran a sort of burn or watercourse, at this time all but dry, into which M‘Aulay had wormed himself, and while Donald was making his last observations, quietly lifting his hand he abstracted the rifle, and retreated down the burn again. Satisfied with his position and that of the stag, our stalker felt for his weapon, when, to his horror, it responded not to his touch, and, lo! it was gone; and, after a few seconds of great suspense, a deep, sepulchral voice sounded from the depths of the earth, "Donald, whare’s your rifle?” Horrified, Donald sprang to his feet, regardless of deer, or anything but that he was bewitched, and ran for his life, never stopping till he reached his own cabin-door.


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