connecting link between the fowmarte [The name Fowmarte is a Scottish
corruption from the Teutonic Ful, fetid, and Merder, a martin.]
and the cat is not a native of this country. It was imported, I believe,
from America, and is pretty generally dispersed over the wild and wooded
districts of Scotland. It has none of the offensive odour of the fowmarte,
and even more alertness and activity than the cat. Running at a little
distance, it looks exactly like a giant weasel. In some the breast is nearly
white, whilst in others it is a bright orange, which has given occasion to
the supposition, that they are varieties of the species; but I have no
doubt they are the same. Of the many I have seen trapped or shot, I always
remarked that the male was darker in the colour, and his breast almost white; that of the female was orange, and the fur lighter brown. I had a male and
female stuffed that were trapped together at the same bait, exactly
answering to this description.
When pursued, the martin,
although its legs are so short, can run faster than a cat; this it does by a
succession of springs, for which its long body gives it a great advantage.
As a last resource, it will climb trees, and spring from one to another,
like a squirrel. I once, with two or three companions, had a curious hunt of
this kind. The martin had been driven by a very swift terrier into a clump
of pines, which it so nearly resembled in colour, that we had great
difficulty to keep sight of it. At last we thought of cutting off its retreat
by climbing all the adjacent trees: the creature showed great coolness when
thus driven to extremities, awaiting the approach of its enemy, perched on
the pinnacle of the tallest pine; and it was only when one of our party got
quite close, that it sprang from the top to the bottom of the tree,
rebounding nearly a yard from the hard turf, just where I was standing, and,
not a whit disconcerted, darted off at full speed, gained a precipice, and
made good its escape.
Unless hard pressed, however,
the martin is more apt to go to earth, or take shelter in the clefts of the
rocks, than upon trees. When run to ground by a fox-hound, there is no
creature more easily smoked out: it will bolt almost immediately, and
numbers are killed in this manner, although, from the quickness and
uncertainty of its exit, it is anything but an easy shot.
When in quest of prey, it is daring as
well as mischievous; not so apt to leave its secure haunts in the day-time,
but under cover of darkness will travel many miles, committing great
devastation in preserves; and unless trapped or shot, will return night
after night to the poultry-yard, killing many more fowls than it devours.
One of these marauders had nearly made a clear sweep of my father's poultry: it kept peering over the perch with the greatest impudence, and could
scarcely be driven thence by the dairymaid: no sooner was she out of sight
than it would return. One of the farm-servants at last procured a trap, and
having set it without art or covering, the loud screams of the robber
presently made known his capture.
The martin generally selects a
magpie's nest in the thickest pine-tree, and there rears its young; hence
it has obtained the name of pine-weasel. One, however, was brought me that
had its litter in the thatch of an old barn; it was detected by a dog,
driven out, and shot; the young were rather smaller than kittens, and quite
as sweet and clean.
If seized by the breast, the martin,
like the cat, is easily killed by a good dog; but the skull is so hard, that
I have seen one, when released from a trap with all its legs broken, roll
away upon the ground, after receiving half-a-dozen hard blows on the head
from the keeper's cudgel. This animal being easily trapped or run down, is
not nearly so numerous now as it was some years ago.