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Nether Lochaber
Chapter LX


A Trip to Glasgow—Kelvin Grove Museum—Highland Association—A run to Rothesay— Rothesay Aquarium.

Favoured by the most splendid Christmas weather [January 1878], piercingly cold, indeed, but beautifully bright and clear, a run from Lochaber to Clydesdale on an agreeable errand is exceedingly enjoyable. Our first day in Glasgow was devoted to the Kelvin Grove Museum, which we had now an opportunity, for the first time, of examining thoroughly and at leisure, and with which, as the reader may believe, we were very much delighted. On handing our card to Mr. Paton, the curator, we were received by himself and his assistant, Mr. Campbell—the latter, of course, a Highlander —in the friendliest manner; and a couple of hours were very pleasantly and profitably spent in examining a really curious and valuable collection, so admirably catalogued and arranged, that we believe we saw and minutely studied everything to be seen as leisurely and satisfactorily as was possible in the time at our disposal. Our friend Mr. Snowie, of Inverness, had written us before leaving home that he was sending some contributions to the museum, of which he begged us to undertake the formal delivery, and see properly placed \ and this of course we had much pleasure in doing. These contributions are a valuable acquisition to the museum, and are as follows :—(1.) Hoopoe (Upupa epops, Linn.), a female, in fine plumage, and admirably set up. This bird was captured by the boys at the Inverness Reformatory School, and dying, notwithstanding it received all the attention and kindly care that could he bestowed upon it, it passed into Mr. Snowie's hands. (2.) Wild cat, stuffed, an excellent specimen, with very prominent markings, trapped at Fasnakyle, on The Chisholm's estate. (3.) A white blackbird, and an albino bunting, both shot by Mr. T. B. Snowie near Inverness. (4.) Snipe and other marsh-bird skins, shot by the same. (5.) Two small hares preserved in a bottle; taken out of an unusually large-sized female shot at Dochfour in September 1875 ; a very interesting preparation. (6.) Head of otter, trapped on the River Peffer in 1876. (7.) Owl (Strix jiammea, Linn.), shot in October 1877 by Mr. T. B. Snowie. (8.) Egg of golden eagle; this last, perhaps, the most welcome gift of all, as eagles' eggs are now become so rare as readily to command prices ranging from 5 to 10 each. Attached to the museum proper there is a fresh-water aquarium. In one of the tanks, in which several fine pike are "interned," we noticed that one of the largest, who advanced to the front of the tank, in order to examine as closely as possible a slip of paper which we were trailing along the glass by way of bait, had his muzzle, more particularly the anterior part of the upper jaw, seriously disfigured by a fungoid growth of jelly-like appearance; and calling the curator's attention to the fact, we made the remark that the poor pike seemed too seriously diseased to live long. We were surprised when told that the fish was none the worse for his fungoid moustache; that it had been long in that way, and that all that was needed wras an occasional cleansing of the muzzle, as you would wipe away a clot of jelly that had accidentally fallen on your knife-handle at dessert, and the fish then seemed all right enough until it grew again to such a size as to be an inconvenience.

Leaving the museum, we had but barely sufficient time for dress and dinner before proceeding to take the chair at the Gathering of the Clans in the City Hall, and a very splendid and enthusiastic gathering it was. From floor to ceiling the huge building was crammed, and as we took our seat and bowed in acknowledgment of the truly Highland welcome that greeted us in the shape of round upon round of loud and lusty cheers, we could not help feeling a little nervous and out of sorts in realising the fact that we were for the moment "the observed of all observers," and, by the kind partiality of the Highlanders of Glasgow, made to occupy a position of which any one might well be proud. We were soon at our ease, however, and found no difficulty in discharging our duties in connection with a meeting which was from first to last, and in all its belongings, a great success. The dancing was excellent; the singing could hardly have been better; while the pipe music was of itself well worth going a much longer distance to hear than that which separates Nether Lochaber from the City Hall of Glasgow. No other living man, perhaps, can play reels and strathspeys as Donald Macphee can play them; and we do not think we ever heard anything more admirably played than was Malcolm Macpherson' sport mor or piobaireachd proper, Fhuair mi pbg's laimh mo righ, composed at Holyrood in 1745 by Ewen Macdhomhnnil Bhuidhe, a Macmillan from Glendessary and piper to Lochiel, on seeing his chief kiss Charles Edward's hand at a levee held in the palace of his ancestors hy that Prince a day or two after the victory at Gladsmuir. Macpherson played this piobaireachd so exquisitely that some of us felt our eyes grow moist, and were in no wise ashamed of it, long ere he had reached the difficult but beautifully managed fingering of the concluding urlar. We have always had a warm regard for James Boswell, Johnson's biographer, for this amongst other reasons, that, on his own confession, music frequently affected him as it affected many of us on;this occasion. "Sir," growled Johnson, "I should never hear it if it made me such a fool." But then a man, however great, cannot be everything; and Johnson was not only not a Scotchman, but the very antipodes of a Scotchman—he was an Englishman, proud and prejudiced, and deaf and dead as a stone to the charms of music, whether vocal or instrumental. When at Sleat, in Skye, many years afterwards, he made the confession that "he knew a drum from a trumpet, and a bagpipe from a guitar, which was about the extent of his knowledge of music." We parted with our friends of the Highland Association on the best terms; they were good-natured enough to say that they were pleased with us; we certainly had every reason to be pleased with them.

We were astir betimes next morning, in order to fulfil an engagement undertaken at the request of some naturalist friends in London—a visit, namely, to the Aquarium at Rothesay, an admirably conducted institution, one of the best in the kingdom. We expected to see a great deal that could not well fail to interest us, and we did see a great deal that pleased us very much indeed; the best proof of which is that after several hours' wandering from tank to tank, it was with a sigh of regret that our attention was called to the fact that it was already time for us to put up our note-book and find our way as quickly as possible to the pier, if we would overtake the Mountaineer for Greenock, in order to reach Glasgow again that evening. Of all the tanks, that which Ave lingered longest before, perhaps, was that set apart for sea anemones, of which the collection is exceedingly curious and interesting. All the specimens seemed perfectly healthy and Avell-to-do, though, owing to the fact that the afternoon had now become wet and dull, they were disinclined to display their beauties in full. In another of the tanks, of which the most distinguished inhabitant is a conger eel of a large size, Ave were much amused with the conduct of a seven or eight pound cod, that seemed as if he would willingly have spoken to us if he could. As soon as he became aware of our presence, he came sailing out of a dark recess behind a rocky promontory—a sort of Mull of Kintyre in miniature—which is his usual howf, and advancing straight to the front of the tank, put his nose to the glass, wagging his tail, and staring at us with an expression of countenance so queer and comical, that it made us laugh outright. "Well, Nether Lochaher, my boy," he seemed inclined to say, "how are you? This is all very fine, but on the word of a cod, believe me that I'd far rather he cruising about the shores and shallows of Loch Linnhe, down yonder in your own neighbourhood, than he confined here from year's end to year's end, to he stared at hy a lot of people who may pretend some interest in me from a purely scientific point of view, hut who, between ourselves, if the truth were known, never see me hut they straightway think of how I should be boiled and served with sauce. Only the other day, for instance, a lady visitor from Glasgow asked one of the attendants what he thought might be my weight, and if he was of opinion that a cod out of an aquarium tank would be quite as good eating as one direct from the sea? When I hear talk of that kind, it hurts my feelings, I can tell you." All this, and a great deal more, we fancied the cod would have said if he could; and as we tapped the glass at his nose and bade him a friendly good-bye, we almost persuaded ourselves that he responded with a knowing wink, as with a single sweep of his tail he put about and joined the conger in a brisk constitutional round and athwart the tank—a tank so crystal clear, and clean and comfortable, as indeed are all the tanks, that the inmates, abundantly and regularly fed, ought to be happy enough, were it not that, like Sterne's starling, they probably find the great drawback on their happiness in the fact that after all they are prisoners, that they can't get out. We were much delighted with the seal-house and its lively and intelligent occupants. The shape of a seal's head is sufficient to convince the most careless observer that it must contain a great deal of brains; while its full and lively eye bespeaks a high and active order of intelligence. Those at present in the Rothesay Aquarium, three in number, are most interesting animals, and almost as tame as lapdogs. It so happened that we entered their house at a time when they were exceedingly active and lively, for they were well aware that a large hasket, which had just been carried to the side of their tank, contained fresh fish of some kind or other for their dinner; and they raced and leaped about in eager expectation of the treat, for they were evidently hungry— always a good sign of an aquarium inmate. The fish consisted of small flounders ; and the agility and graceful ease of the motions of these seals, as they dived and dashed after a fish, which, while they were begging dog-like before us at one end of the tank, we suddenly tossed to the other end, was so admirable that we continued a long time to play at a sort of pitch-and-toss game that was quite as agreeable to them as it could possibly be interesting to us. We only ceased our part of the performance when we thought that for the time they must have had enough, the seal being probably as liable to indigestion as the result of a surfeit as is any other animal. When, however, they found that they had nothing more to expect from us, they showed their intelligence and nous by at once commencing to climb out of their tank, at the very spot, too, where it was easiest of accomplishment, on the side on which they knew the fish-basket was placed. What could they now be after] was the question we asked ourselves. One after another they got out and waddled along the pavement, awkwardly indeed, but as quickly as they could, past us, keeping their big and beautiful eyes steadily fixed on ours, till they reached the basket, and in a moment each had seized a fish, with which he instantly tumbled heels-over-head into the tank again at the point nearest him, evidently afraid that we might try and intercept him, and deprive him of a bonne, bouche, which all of them seemed perfectly well somehow to understand they had no right to take in such reiving fashion. We noticed that when we threw a fish into the tank, and one of them got hold of it, the other two endeavoured to snatch it from him, and for the moment there was a wild tumult and tumble, in which the water was lashed into foam. In this, however, as far as we could judge, there was no manifestation of anything like anger, or the slightest attempt to hurt or injure each other. It was more like the rough and tumble play of children after a ball, or something of that sort, which all may strongly desire to possess, but which only one can have for the moment.


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