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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter XXII - Conclusion


IT is a good rule, I believe, to give up doing what you wish to do, provided it is not an absolute duty to do it; for if you err, you err on the safe side. Now, I am heart and soul in these wilds, and I believe I could find something to say about them as long as life lasts. Every day brings some fresh occurrence, creating some new idea. Above all, every day seems to sharpen up the memory of the past. As, then, I feel how bitter it is to tear myself away from a subject so dear to me; as each companion in these wild regions is recalled to my memory, how gladly would I say something of him as his shadow passes before me, and seems to hover about the spots endeared by some recollection !—as I feel all this, it makes me sad to think that the time is come when I must part with the shadow, as I have already parted with the substance. But it must be done. Were I a poet, how should I endeavour to describe what I so acutely feel?“ The old man’s occupation’s gone.”But there is a consolation still. Do you remember that great man’s picture—great let me call him, for he painted, and paints, dogs as they are—Landseer’s, “There’s life in the old dog yet”? There is much that I still could say which might do in a book, but would not suit the columns of the Field, to whose editor, for his courtesy and kindness in allowing me scope to express my real feelings about the Lews, I take this public opportunity of returning my sincerest thanks. There are visions passing through the old man’s brain, as old Whack lies dreaming and whining at his feet over the woodcocks on Dalbeg Hill, of, if time and opportunity permit, retouching and adding to these sketches till they attain the form of a book, and their writer going down to posterity as having written one ; for “ it is a very great performance,” as a very clever woman once said to me, “to write a book at all, bad as it possibly may be.” For the present, however, he feels, and with deep sorrow, that it is time to draw his mantle round him.

Before quitting the subject, however, allow him to hang a little more upon it. Like the old hound, he will keep sniffing about a scent, still remembering how once he could throw his head to the wind and run it breast high.

It has been my endeavour in these reminiscences to give a thoroughly truthful and impartial account of a wild region—its pros and cons. Those as well acquainted with the country as myself tell me I have succeeded in doing so. I have written, too, with a sincere love for the Lews warming my heart, and the wish therefore to do it good. I feel bound to do so, not only in gratitude for the happy times spent there, but for the repeated acts of disinterested kindness received at the hands of many, many of its inhabitants. I believe I have left some friends, few enemies, in that country, and feel certain that if polled, the great majority of the Lewisians will do full justice to these Reminiscences and the spirit in which they are written. Of course, no one expects or wishes to please the whole world—nay, more, as some celebrity once said of another, “ Thank God, he has always abused me!” and there may be, and no doubt are, those who are highly offended at the freedom of these Reminiscences. Of such the opinion is to me matter of the most supreme indifference. But even liere the time will come when justice will be done and the ridiculous idea abandoned that the Reminiscences were undertaken with the view of “crabbing the Lews shooting." I entirely repudiate so unworthy an imputation, and am convinced the exact contrary will be their effect. Now, I will just tell a little Irish story of days of yore, and try to apply it here.

A long, long time ago, I was invited to a merry party at an Irish country-house, where was a great “gathering of the clans,” for it was in the heart of the best part of the Kilkenny country, towards the close of the November meeting. We had a rattling run from Knockroe that day, and I arrived at my destination in bare time to dress for dinner. I was in high glee, for I was to ride my pet grey horse the next morning—the draw, Bally-spellan and the Rock. On the stairs I met our kind hostess, who, after the usual salutations, asked me whether I was hungry. I replied that I had been on horseback since six in the morning—it was now near that hour in the evening—done at least fifty (Irish) miles along the road, besides a very heavy run, and this upon one’s biscuit and sherry-flask. “Very sorry for it, for it is unknown when we shall dine. Mr. B. was obliged to go to Dublin this morning, and the whole establishment is drunk.” I reached my room, where I found my things ready to dress—only, my coat was before the fire, my dressing-gown laid out on the bed. I looked at my servant. He was steadily drunk. He was the best of men, passionately attached to his horses, a keen sportsman, and a good and daring horseman, with that rare gift—a light hand. Yet he never inquired about the hunt, or how his favourite Paddy had carried me; he did not trust himself to speak. Bad look-out, thought I to myself, as I dressed and repaired to the drawing-room. But who, when he entered that pleasantest of rooms, thought of anything but the merry, laughing, beautiful eyes, and the batch of pretty musical voices that were inquiring after the run, and where I came from last, and the particularly meaning inquiries about old John Downie’s (my man’s) health ? Alas! but few of that joyous band are now left, though two are, I know, for I saw them last spring; and if this meets the eye of either —one, I know, reads The Field—let them send me some token they remember my tale. At no dinner-table I ever sat down, to have I seen so many beautiful, happy faces ranged under its lights. One understood then the bashful Irishman asking the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire to let him light his pipe by the light of her eyes. And there sat our hostess —the merriest of that merry lot, handsomer even than her young, beautiful daughter— making the best of everything. The order of the table was strange—the waiting something wonderful: you got nothing you asked for, everything you did not want. Still our hostess never winced till, turning to her butler to beg him to interfere with a footman who showed symptoms of commencing a jig in the corner with Buttons, she saw her only stay lost, and she exclaimed, in an agony of despair, “ Greaves, you are drunk ! ” That, portly, old-fashioned functionary drew himself up to his full height, and, with consummate dignity, answered, in a clear, sonorous voice, “ Mrs. B., I’m ashamed at your entertaining such mane ideas.” This was too much, and I don’t believe such a roar was ever heard at a civilized dinner-table before or since. I once dined at a large family party at my banker’s in Berlin, where the dinner began at three and was not ended at eight, and at different intervals every male of the party, except myself, got up and kissed his neighbour. They were all hideous old women, such as Berlin alone can produce—for though it is the city of heroes, it is not the capital of beauties. How I did wish it had been the custom at our party ! for my neighbour was “ La Belle Sylvia,” as we used to call her; and I never shall forget the ring of her voice or the laughter of her eyes at the butler’s speech.

And now, to apply my story. To those, then, who, having known me for twenty years, must be aware that noblesse oblige forms some part of a gentleman’s character, yet imagine that, from private pique, I would injure the beloved Lews, I say, “Mrs. B., I’m ashamed at you entertaining such mane ideas.”

Let, then, these Reminiscences speak for themselves, and those capable of understanding them will say they are a proud justification, if, indeed, any was needed.

The mere shooter, who wants to let off his gun often, and do his grouse, his salmon, his deer, within a certain space of time, and get back to his partridges, his pheasants, and his early November hunting; or the man out only for a limited space of time—the man who don’t like rough weather, rough country, rough work, or can’t rough it—who is not fond of his dog, or don’t understand . him—who, above all things, can’t find resource within himself— had best bide away from the Lews. But the true and genial lover of one of God’s greatest gifts—the beauties of the wilderness, and being allowed to roam unmolested through them— this biped, who is thus three parts bred a hunter of wild things ; who, of course, loves his dog as part of himself, and therefore understands him, and daily learns a great deal from, in his intercourse with, him; but which said biped can, if occasion need, sit for days inside the bothy when the weather won’t let him go outside ; let such biped eschew the world for some half the year, pitch his tent in these wilds, and he will be repaid.

I have, as I believe I have said before, shot grouse on the moss of Monaltree; killed woodcocks in all the wild coverts of the three Killarney lakes, on Turk Mountain, and in Mucross; snipes in the old Cambridgeshire and Norfolk fens, in the bog of Allen, and the shaky swamps of the Rhine; I have killed fish in most of the best rivers in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and white trout in Galway and Kerry; but give me a ten years’ lease of life, a fresh pair of legs, my old team of Gordons, with Tom and Jock and Whack in the pride of their youth, and the Long Island for me against them all.

THE END


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