« PreviousContinue »
wheels, drawn by two bullocks-in which situation he bears altogether as close a resemblance to some malefactor on his road to Tyburn in days of old, as can well be imagined ; and when all this has been arranged, off he starts, accompanied by his keeper, and followed by a suite of Jaibs and Ma'am Jaibs, either on horseback or on elephants, that would not disgrace the court of a nigger prince.
Instead of the gun, the rifle, or the hogspear, the party arm themselves with the more harmless telescope, and if on the back of an elephant, with a huge umbrella also, made of the leaves of the tallipot tree; whilst those who go for a gallop make a solah toper, an awfully broad-brimmed hat, made from a pulp extracted from the solah tree, do the duty of the monster parasol, and trust to their horses' speed and their natural optics to bring them within sight of the finish.
The ground on which the antelope is generally found and hunted consists of a series of undulations, which can be likened to nothing better than a sea with a long, heavy swell on, being free from jungle, or nearly so; and between these undulations the body of the antelope is entirely concealed, and, as they are proverbially timid, it requires no slight degree of generalslıip to get near them. On reaching the ground, the eagle-eye of the shikaree wallah and the telescopes of the hunting party wander round the horizon in search of the antler of the quarry, which is, of course, the first visible feature, and at a distance where one of, what Samuel Weller calls, limited vision would fail to descry an elephant, the practised native marks and gives notice of the moving antlers of the antelope.
And now commences the business of the sport. Plucking a handful of dried grass, the master of the ceremonies (which important function is vested in the nigger) throws it in the air, to discover which way the wind blows, as from the power of scent with which the antelope is endowed, it is absolutely necessary to approach them up-wind. When this point is ascertained, and a proper position taken up, the cavalcade moves forwards to as near a contiguity to the prey as is considered expedient, when the cheetah is at last divested of his hood, and taken off his cart. It is not difficult to make him understand the whereabouts of the victim; he catches sight of the antler, or rather, perhaps, he scents the hidden beast in an instant, and crawling, in company with his keeper, who still leads him, he reaches the summit of the “wave," on the other side of which grazes suspecting herd of antelope. His trammels are then slipped off, and the surprised animals view their deadly foe within a hundred yards of them. For a moment all is “ confusion worse confounded!” the terrificd brutes break off in all directions. But ere the commotion is begun, one alone has riveted the eye of the cheetah ; and, disregariling all the rest, off he dashes into his full stride in pursuit of the victim, the field following as fast as they are able.
And now comes the excitement of the scene, such at least as it possesses. Pressing on at tip-top speed, you keep the chase in view. At first the superior speed of the antelope causes him to gain ground, but not possessing bottom to back it, this advantage cannot last long. On, on ihey speed over the sandy flat, the poor antelope straining
every muscle to save its life, the cheetah intent only on his prey and his dinner, his previous starvation having added a fresh stimulus to his pace, whilst the field are kept at a respectable distance ; and he that views the death must boast of a decent bit of horseflesh. Shortly-for it is soon over-the antelope visibly slackens its pace until but a few yards intervene between him and his pursuer ; he feels the hot breath of the cheetah already upon him, and plunges desperately forward; but nature refuses to do more. Swift as lightning crouches the cheetah, in his stride as 'twere, to the ground, to gain a better spring, then darting himself forward in the air, literally, as an arrow from a bow, he alights on the neck of the worn-out antelope, and brings it to the earth. Throwing back its head, the stricken deer appears to give one last imploring look to heaven, whilst the tears that roll down its face might betray that there was even a soul within, that prompted that dying glace. Alas! it avails him not from the merciless jaws of his enemy, who either strangles him then and there itself, or holds it until the “ field” comes up and cuts its throat. When this is done, the cheetah gets his “ blow out" from the blood and entrails of the dead animal, and having been replaced on his cart, together with his prostrate foe, he is again drawn home, apparently as well pleased with the morning's amusement as any one of the party, if not better.
There is a terrible sameness in this sport; a “find” is always certain, or nearly so; and when that is over, the only thing left is a good gallop over the flat. No leaps, no charges, no change of even a scratch—no fun, “no nothing;" like coursing in England without even a "jump"_“ like the tragedy of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet omitted."
THE OTTER, OTTER-HOUNDS, AND TERRIERS.
The majority of mankind are prone to mark the change of seasons by the arrival and departure of the feathered or finny tribes, and this disposition may be traced to a period when the world was yet in its infancy. “The stork knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow, observe the time of their coming. The
augirs of ancient Rome were an important class of men, and the
success of every undertaking was estimated by the flight of their birds; a superstition probably derived from Noah's dove, that went and came during the flood as the harbinger of grief or good tidings to all that remained unengulphed of the human and brute creation. In our own times, the Balaam and Balak lessons announce the proach of mackerel ; and on the sea coast, an extraordinary capture of fish is often held to be the forerunner of dearth. The otter hunter looks for the cuckoo as his signal for commencing the season, and joyous to him is the note that announces the approach of his favourite pastime. What the exact period is it would be difficult to define, indeed White of Selborne and the author of the “Journal of a Naturalist,” both close observers of nature, avoid the question of the cuckoo's arrival altogether, as though its migratory habits were not sufficiently established. The 20th of April, however, is pretty near the mark, and then does otter hunting begin. There are many considera ns, however, which will influence the otter hunter in the choice of his “opening day;" for instance, the state of the springs and the fulness or size of the rivers with which he has to contend ; genial weather, too, is a sine quâ non, if he have any regard for the health and well-doing of man or beast.
On Thursday, the 1st of May, 1845, the “P. M. P.," a pack of otter hounds, met by appointment, at Saltstone Bridge, on the river Bow, at ten o'clock. The day looked every thing that was amiable, bright, warm, and beautiful; the wind, however, though soft, might have blown a trifle more gently, for in the event of a find, the bubble of the beast would have been scarcely discernible on the rippled surface of the waters. The hounds, ten couple, seemed by their bearing as though they belonged to the Plantagenet blood-bold, muscular, and noble; the terriers as though they had been bred by Canning's “Knife Grinder"—torn, ragged, and up to a row. Happiness and contentment sat on the brow of every member of the hunt, and the whole ménage looked very much like business. A council of war was then held on the bridge, as to the advisability of drawing up stream or down; after some deliberation the ups had it, and accordingly the hounds' noses were set in that direction. By a few of the most sanguine of the party the decision was soon held to be a bad one, inasmuch as mid-day was at hand, the great Grist-mills had been passed, and as yet no hound had touched upon a trail; but scarcely had their objections been urged, and a downward course almost determined
when a few of the old hounds were observed to feather more freely upon the bank, and “Nestor” plunging into the stream, threw his tongue with su much energy and action, that all doubt and discussion ceased at once; his namesake’s eloquence (the Gerenian knight Nestor) never had half the effect upon the feelings of his followers. Several hounds then spoke simultaneously, and away they went up stream, carrying a merry trail, “at a good old hunting pace.” From certain indications already alluded to, it was conjectured that we had commenced at the right end of the trail; and from the hounds landing frequently, cutting off the angles of the river, dropping into the deep pools, and avoiding the strong currents, it was pretty evident that the otter had been working up against stream.
Somerville's well-known and practical description would apply especially to this part of the chase
“ Now on firm land they range, then in the flood
They plunge tumultuous, or thro' reedy pools
Their curious search." Two or three miles of river had been traversed in this manner, when “ Baronet" came to a mark in a hover formed by an old oak tree. “That sounds solid," was the general observation, as the hound's peculiar earnestness carried conviction to all, that the game was at hand. “Solid and sure,” was Ned Fullbert’s reply, as he caught a terrier by the tail, and quietly dropped him through the hollow of the tree. “Now, look below, gentlemen; Fox is aboard him ; and if he don't bolt in a second or two, I'm deceived; so look below, for be'll slip by you like a conger.” War to the knife was at once heard at the roots of the tree, and a chain of small bubbles rising to the surface, told all that the otter had bolted. The hounds now settled upon him down stream, and for an hour or more worked him incessantly." His life a’nt worth a farden,” says Ned; "'tis too hot to hold him.” The otter now landed, unseen by any one, while the hounds flashed away down stream on the scent of the water for several hundred yards. Here they threw up for a time; but, at the sound of the horn, again heading back, they hit off his line with an avidity that seemed to say his very minutes were numbered. Howe ever, it was not so, for by the aid of a small copse through which he ran, he managed to reach the hover from which he was first bolted. Great was Ned's grief at this occurrence, for he knew the punishment that awaited his “fire-side friends," as he always called the terriers, and he predicted the very bones of their head would be cracked ere the otter could be made to quit his strong holt a second time. “Hallooin-loo,” said he, as a couple of them got in. “I'll warrant me they'll do their duty." Every hound pricked his ear, and every man seemed a statue of attention ; it was a strange contrast to the scurry and excitement that had just prevailed. A rattling, rumbling noise was quickly heard, and the chain of bubbles again shot up, glistening like so many pearls, and announcing at once the evacuation of the fortress. The otter was now fairly beaten, he vented more frequently, and was
“gazed” without intermission. “ Paridum caput extulit undis," old Beeswing grabs at him, then Rattler, then all, “ stant littore puppes." “Well done, good hounds, well done.” Worry, worry, worry; you can't tear hiin and eat him,' lads, who-whoop. Ned took the otter by the tail with his left hand, and with the whip in his right he kept off the hounds that were baying in a circle around him, while he screeched at the top of his voice" Who-whoop.”
It is of the greatest advantage that hounds should have blood as early as may be in the season, especially young hounds; because if they have not yet entered, a first impression of what they are to pursue is sure to have a future if not an immediate good effect. When short of blood, even old hounds that understand their work will become slack, and draw carelessly and with indifference. This is always regarded as a great misery; but I would not go quite so far as Daniel,
who says of fox hunting that “the whole art is to keep hounds well in blood, therefore every advantage of the fox is taken.' When there are many unentered hounds, an early hour is preferable for meeting, as in the morning a fresh scent is afforded, which is likely to make them draw more readily than a staler scent. Every encouragement should be given to induce them to stoop; and though they commence by marking small vermin, it may be regarded as a prelude to better things; and they should in no wise be rated before they are cognisant of that game which it is intended they should follow. Too many hounds are very objectionable for this sport, as in general they only serve to foil the water and add to the confusion when the otter is found, while upon a trail they are more apt from jealousy to get ahead, without using that steadiness and caution which is so essential for discovering an animal that conceals itself so effectually as the otter. The size of your pack, however, ought to be regarded by the size of your rivers : if they be broad, you cannot well manage with less than twelve or fifteen couple ; but if they be chiefly brooks and small streams, eight couple would be ample. In the former case an otter when found does not adhere to the line of one bank of the river, but is constantly crossing as he is marked and dislodged on either side; to cope with him under these circumstances, it is necessary to have your pack divided and working both banks at the same time, or there would be no end to your day's sport, if indeed you not lose him, which would be highly probable. When it comes to be a matter of swimming against diving, the wild beast has greatly the advantage, and without the spear would never be taken, unless the above method be resorted to. Upon small streams the case is different : there all your power, however short it be, is concentrated and brought into action at the same time, and your
hounds cross and recross with as much or even more facility than the otter himself.
Having decanted thus much of my stock, my friends will excuse me, I am sure, if I reserve some small quantity in bottle for future
In the meantime I will promise them, at no very distant date, a biographical sketch of Ned Fullbert, who for forty years has had no common intercourse with our various beasts of venerie, and can supply yarns upon the subject as long as “the great sea-snake.”
A NIGHT ON ULLESWATER.
BY AUGUSTUS GUEST, M.A.
Abundant as this our little island is in lovely and enticing scenery, there is no part of it which can claim rivalship with the lake district of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The shires of Devon and Derby have each their respective attractions ; the one for the richness of its soil, and the salubrity of its climate; the other, for its romantic vales and rocky cliffs, its clear and bubbling streams, and, more than all,