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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XXXVIII


Warm showery Summer, disagreeable for the Tourist, but pastorally and agriculturally favourable —Xiphias Gladius, or Sword-Fish, cast ashore during a Midsummer Gale— Garibaldi dining on Potatoes and Sword-Fish steaks at Caprera—The General's Drink— Medicinal virtues of an Onion—Nettle Broth—Translation of a New Zealand Maori Song.

''Rather showery, sir," exclaims the pleasure-seeking butterfly tourist as he stands at his hotel window, or settles himself as comfortably as may be on the box-seat of the coach in the morning. "Not a bit of it, sir," responds the sturdy agriculturist or well-to-do drover; "not a bit of it, sir, the finest growing weather we could have : cattle and sheep getting into condition famously!" [July 1873]. In such a case it is best to avoid declaring positively for either party. In medio tutissimus ibis. Both are right from their individual standpoint; that of the agriculturist and drover being the utilitarian and anti-poetic, while the sentimental tourist, bent on sight-seeing and recreation, very pardonably grumbles that instead of clear skies and refreshing breezes he is as often as not enveloped in mist and small rain. In any case the country is at present most beautiful, and despite the grumblings of a few, who foolishly expect to have "a' the comforts of the Sautmarket" about them whithersoever they wander, such batches of tourists as we forgather with from time to time are in raptures with our glens, and bens, and lochs, and richly wooded shores, as well they may. And never before in the West Highlands were all the conveniences for "touristing" with ease and comfort, and all reasonable despatch, so perfect and so varied.

A tolerably perfect, though not very large specimen of the sword-fish, the Xiphias gladius of ichthyologists, was cast ashore in our neighbourhood during an unusually heavy midsummer gale from the south-west last week. The length of the elongated snout, commonly called the sword or dagger, was two feet seven inches, a really formidable weapon, with which it has been known, whether willingly or unwillingly it would be difficult to say, to perforate the bottom timbers of the stoutest ships, the sword in such cases luckily breaking off as a rule, and thus becoming an immediate as well as an efficient plug or stop-gap to the perforation. It is a more frequent visitor to our shores than our natural history books would lead one to believe, hardly a summer passing but you hear of one or more being caught or cast ashore somewhere. This is the fourth specimen that within twenty years has come under our personal inspection here on the west coast. The largest and finest we ever saw was captured by a well-known Fort-William fisherman, Iack Crubach, or Lame Jack. If we well remember, we think he told us that somebody gave him a sovereign for it. Its flesh is said to be excellent eating, while its liver affords an oil equal to eel oil in transparency, and of marvellous virtue, it is said, as a medicament. The favourite habitats of the sword-fish are the Sicilian and the Italian shores of the Mediterranean, where, at certain seasons of the year, it is caught in great numbers, the average weight being quite a hundred, and sometimes two hundred pounds or more. We have it in our Common-Place Booh that Major Healy, of the yacht "Wildbird," informed us in Fort-William (August 1869) that he had just returned from the Mediterranean; had called on Garibaldi at Caprera, and dined with him on potatoes and sword-fish steaks, which the gallant Major pronounced excellent. We may state, as something curious, that while the Major at said dinner had his choice of very good wines, with lots of capital bottled " Bass" from England, the General himself drank a funny decoction composed of Marsala, and water—half-and-half—in which a large onion, sliced lemon-wise, had been steeping for the whole previous night—a drink which the Major tasted, and in very emphatic phrase declared to be " beastly," but which he shrewdly guessed had something to do with the General's rheumatism and gout. Any of our readers having a tendency thitherwards might do worse than take the hint. There may be something in it, for we recollect, when a little boy in Morven, that an onion was somehow considered apanpharmacon, a perfect panacea—good for any and every ailment. That the mediaeval herbalist, like the mediaeval alchemist, was often a quack is very likely. In many instances he could hardly be otherwise when his profession was in such repute; but it is a question if our revulsion has not gone too far; if our modern medicinists do not rather much overlook, too contemptuously ignore, the inherent virtues, as to human ailments, of roots and herbs and "flowers of the field." An old lady in our neighbourhood, shrewd and intelligent beyond most of her class, told us not long ago as she was cutting nettles by the roadside, as an evening bonne bouche for her cow, that Stewart of Invernahyle, Sir \Walter Scott's friend, made it a point every spring to have nettle broth or soup on three consecutive days about the season of the vernal equinox, which he religiously believed acted as a safe and efficient diuretic for the remainder of the year. From Mairi Bhan, Invernahyle's sister, the

"Mhairi Bhan gur bar rail thu "

of Macintyre's well-known song, are descended at least two Presbyterian clergymen, though the Invernahyles themselves were strongly Episcopal ;.an—ourselves, namely, and the Eev. Mr. Cameron, Free Church minister of Ardersier. And the writing of the word " Episcopalian" above reminds us of the fact that the titular dignity of the Bishopric of Argyll and the Isles is at present vacant. The late Bishop, Dr. Ewing, with whom we had the honour of being on most intimate and friendly terms, was an unostentatiously pious, thoroughly good, and really very ahle man, whom nine-tenths of the clergy of his own Church would not or could not understand. Thank God that in the enumeration of the good men whom we have known, the fingers of both hands do not suffice; and of the really good men whom we have been privileged to know and honour with affectionate regard was the late Bishop Ewing.

Some months ago we wrote to an old college chum, now farming in New Zealand, advising him, as some occupation for his idle hours, to pick up and send us such scraps of songs and poems as he might find among the Maori race around him. No uncivilised people that we had read or heard of seemed to us, in many respects, so like our ancient Highlanders—the Fingalians, so called, of our older ballad poetry—and Ave thought that so much of their poetry and folk-lore as could be gathered could not fail to be interesting. Our correspondent says:—"The Maoris, as you so shrewdly guessed, have a good deal of poetry among them; short songs, however, for the most part, and rhymed proverbs, and "wisdom words," as they call them, very much like the Welsh "Triads," for they generally teach some three particular doctrines, or state historically some three particular facts. A few Aveeks ago I got an old man who came this way to sing me some aboriginal songs, and the one that most struck my fancy I now send to you. It is perfectly literal, for I know the native language well, and as you are fond of rhyming, you may put it into verse if you like. I can only send a true translation, line for line.

Maori Song.—
(
Translation.)

Fish in the pool? No fish in the pool;
And the women are sad because of it.
The men, too, are sad ; but to-morrow
The fish will be big, and fat, and many.

I heard the bird singing a pleasant song.
He sang of food; he also sang of love.
The name of this bird is known to me,
But I will not tell it till we meet under the moon.

The stranger, with his face so ugly and pale,
Has come from far over the sea.
He loves us, he says; but a Maori maid
Will not listen to his love.

The mountains and vales of our own land
Are pleasant to see and live among.
And the sun at his setting is very red—
Red with love to the Maori; angry at the stranger.

My father lived here long ago;
He lived here, and here also lived the
 paroipa (a kind of bird).
The
 paraipa is not here, and my father is dead:
Woe is me, I wander among strangers.


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