Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

. (page 15 of 52)
Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 15 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

time, that should be made all right. Even an extra hundred pounds
on to the head keeper's income for a year couldn't hurt Mr. Curd-
ling; and Ferguson should have that. There wouldn't be any
shooting parties that season; Mr. Curdling didn't want to seem
quite a fool to his own guests. But next year, when he had got his
hand in, and could not only tell a stag from a hind, but maybe pot
one first shot — then things should hum profitably for Ferguson in
Glen Sloch.

" Come, my man, let's take it as settled that that nonsense
about your quitting is — shelved. At any rate for this season. I ask
it as a personal favour, Ferguson."

Ferguson gave way then. He could do no less, it seemed to

NO. cxxvu. VOL, xxu-^Febriury 1906 N

Digitized by



** It's no the money, sir, ye ken," he said.

"Of course not," said Mr. Curdling, with a worldly smile which
was not lost upon Ferguson.

" It's no the money, sir," repeated the head keeper, " but it
would wring my heart that a laird of Glen Sloch should have to be
taught the very rudiments of the craft by a'body but myself. It
wudna be decent for ye to be on the hills with a'body but myself,
sir, for awhile. I can see that. If I'm no respectful, I'll ask ye
to excuse me. And I'll be leaving ye the noo, sir."

Mr. Curdling swallowed this with difficulty, but he swallowed it.
Yes, and he let Ferguson go from his presence without a reproof.
He felt some fear of the great gaunt fellow, who looked as if he had
been weathered by prehistoric storms and sunshine, and stood so
unflatteringly erect and calm before him and his two millions of
money. He didn't inform Ferguson that there were other matters
to discuss. They might wait.

" But, hold hard a moment," he said, when Ferguson was at
the door, already bonneted — an insulting liberty that, whether due
to thoughtlessness or habit ! " About your holy burn ! I don't
change my mind when I've said a thing. It's closed to the public ;
and my orders are — drown all poachers. Well, say half-drown 'em,
and take their names afterwards. Good morning."

He gave Ferguson his back, and felt better.

And with a muttered '* Lord save us ! " Ferguson went from the
lodge which had in its day seen so much Maginton grandeur of
manliness — so the honest keeper rated it — mounted his pony, and
paced solemnly away.

It was a bitter task, but he did his duty to the letter that
morning. He rode slowly up the glen and gave all his subs their
instructions. They returned him nods for nods, and grim or less
grim smiles for his smiles, which were all of the far-away reflective
kind. They asked him what like the new laird was, being naturally
anxious, especially after such intelligence. But Ferguson preferred
to say little enough on that topic. They would soon be seeing him
for themselves. He wasna a Maginton. That was the most
Ferguson would say about Mr. Curdling.

Last of all, when he was again nearing his own quarters in the
lodge's precincts, he turned his sheltie's head up the glen of the
Gisach Burn. This attractive stream came down from a lonely
loch in the mountains, with red sand to its shores which the deer
foot - marked abundantly. It had pretty falls for a mile, and then
ran merrily into alternating dark pools and laughing lengths between
purpled banks until it lost itself in the greater Sloch River. Midway
in its course, some four miles from the lodge, was the house of

Digitized by

Google I


Peter Macdonald, another keeper. Peter was a comparatively new

importation. He was a rough and remote cousin of Ferguson's

from North Skye ; a silent, determined piece of natural man after

Ferguson's own heart. His one defect didn't matter greatly in

Glen Gisach. The fact that he had very little English had hitherto

not in the least detracted from his usefulness in a spot where there

was no one who hadn't the Gaelic.

Ferguson had no more to say to Macdonald about the new laird
than to the other men; but he was fiercely and ironically plain
about his remote cousin's particular responsibility.

" Look you', man," he said (but in Gaelic), " there is to be no
more free fishing in the Gisach. You are not even to behave your-
self like a Christian if you do find anyone throwing a fly in the
stream that has been open to all the world from the days of your
own great-great-grandmother; and that's the same as from the
beginning of time itself. Say to him * Go away ' first, and you may
tell him that an Englishman is now the master here. But perhaps
he will not go away. His father may have taken salmon in the
Gisach, ay and his father's father, and he shall tell you he is only
catching wee trouts no bigger than his thumb. It is all the same,
Peter Macdonald. You are not to stand arguing with him. It is
your duty now to be a different man to what you was when you
did come to the glen last October. Take him by the neck and an
arm, and throw him into the water. Drown him. Those are your
orders, man. Yes, you may stare. I do not wonder. It is not the
Scotland your father and I was born in."

" Drown 1 " stammered Peter Macdonald. " You do not mean
that, Mr. Ferguson ? "

" Those are your orders, I tell you," shouted Ferguson. But
he amended them just in time. ** No," he added, almost in
a whisper. " You must not drown the poor disappointed body
quite ; but toss him in and pull him out when you do see that he
cannot swim, if there is much water in the stream. And you may
ask him afterwards for his card and his opinion of Mr. Curdling,
the new English laird, for making you do such a thing. Ask him
that, Peter Macdonald, God bless you ! "

And then Ferguson went home to his dinner, relieved.
» » » « «

But at seven o'clock that evening, when Ferguson was sitting
in thought with his old wife and his granddaughter, Peter Macdonald
came flying to the door with remarkable news.

He had, he said, run all the way from his own cottage, and
now stood gasping and looking like a wild thing.

" I have drowned one of them already," he declared presently,

N t

Digitized by



" and I cannot get his breath back into him. Maybe you will lend
me a little whisky. It is a wicked sinner I am this day if I am to
have the death of a fellow creature on my mind."

Ferguson was distressed and shocked when he understood.

" The Lord be guid to us ! " he whispered, as he stepped to a
cupboard. He took from it a small bottle and hurried outside.

Macdonald accompanied him, but the old head keeper's strides
soon left him behind. The Glen Gisach man seemed dazed by his
feat of manslaughter, as he continued to believe it. He was co-
herent only as to the fact. He had espied a gentleman fishing one
of the best pools on the stream, not half a mile from his cottage ;
ay, and he was into a salmon. And he had gone to him and found
him still at that salmon. He had not touched the gentleman at
first — no, indeed ; but he had made it plain to him that he was not
now permitted to fish, no matter who he was. And then his temper
had got the better of him. The gentleman swore at him — Mac-
donald had heard English swearing before, and he recognised the
music of the words ; and, moreover, the gentleman did more, he
kicked out at him. And Macdonald was not likely to put up with
that, in the performance of his duty. Therefore, he had first
snatched the rod from the gentleman, and then, though not before
the gentleman had kicked him again and used awful language at
him, he had taken him by the leg and an arm and thrown him
into the pool with the hooked salmon. Having thrown him in,
he had grassed the fish, which was very tired, and foul-hooked
besides. And then he had turned his attention to the gentleman
again. The gentleman had splashed a great deal, and screamed,
and bobbed about; but he had not thought there was danger
for his life in a pool only six feet deep at the most. But it was
so, indeed ; and when Macdonald had gone in to his middle
and landed him also, he was quite still, with the face of a corpse.
And that was all indeed, barring the pains Macdonald had ex-
pended upon the poor gentleman, first to shake the water out of
his stomach, and then (in his cottage) to warm the life back into
him. And he had left him in his own bed, with hot bottles at
his feet and all his blankets and wardrobe piled on the bed.

Ferguson moderated his strides a little to let his Skye cousin
tell this tale.

** There never was such bloody doings in The Maginton's
time," he said briefly in comment. '* What kind of a gentleman
is he, Peter, my poor man ? Did you ever see him before ? "

But he was a stranger to Macdonald. Macdonald hadn't
watched him very closely. He Mas not much to look at whatever.
A small body, with a proud, rude manner. And it was all the same

Digitized by




what he was, he was sorry he had thrown the poor creature into
the water. It was the first time he had done such a thing, and
he would never do it again — no, not for ten new lairds.

Then, in silence, Ferguson quickened his pace, distanced
Macdonald, and reached the cottage in Glen Gisach fully a quarter
of a mile ahead of his subordinate.

Twilight was over the glen, and the cottage was only faintly
illumined by the peat glow on the hearth. But there was glow
enough and to spare to bring the confounding climax of that great
day quite home to the head keeper in a moment.

There, by the wall, on the broken-bottomed and worm-eaten
sofa which served Macdonald for a bed, lay the new laird of Glen

Ferguson uttered a suitable exclamation of dismay : and im-
mediately afterwards he cried something else, also befitting the
occasion, for Mr. Curdling had moved and his eyes were upon Fer-
guson, with a beseeching look in them. Yes, even in that dim i
room, the head keeper could see the terror in his master's eyes, or
he thought so. And then, thankful to the heart, he kneeled by the
couch and began his ministrations.

Better still, they were promptly efficacious. Mr. Curdling
absorbed the whisky with evident appetite. And while he did so
Ferguson poured out regrets and explanations and upbraidings of
the idiocy of Macdonald, as well as whisky.

*' But then, ye ken, sir," he added to the upbraidings, ** the fool
didna ken ye from a'body else, and wass only doing what with my
ain tongue I did tell him to do."

To all which Mr. Curdling said nothing. He gulped down
whisky, and coughed, and shut his eyes, and opened them again, and
gasped and coughed anew. ^

And then Macdonald crept in with the face of a haunted man.
The joy that came to him with the sight of the reviving gentleman
on his bed was checked a little by the torrent of abuse which his
remote cousin flung at him. He stood limp in the doorway, with
shaking hands, until bidden to light a lamp.

The new laird then spoke.

" Never mind," he whispered. And, as Ferguson was a living
and anxious man, the new laird seemed to laugh a short laugh after
the words ! ** It's all right, Ferguson. I see how it happened. He
didn't know me."

*' He has nae English worth a damn, sir ! " cried the still-
appalled head keeper. *' Licht the lamp, I'm telling you, man.
And, look ye, Mr. Curdhng, I'm ashamed that he is related to me at
all, though a very far cousin, and only on the mither's side at that.

Digitized by



Yes, indeed. And he shall gang awa' back to Skye, whaur they are
savages in the place he comes frae. You will remember that, Mac-
donald, in the morning. You will go out of the glen and be off with
you before sunrise, and never show your face in Glen Sloch again.
And another thing : One word to any living and intelligent body
about what you have done this day in Glen Sloch, and I shall have
the law at you for assaulting a stranger. Yes, you may well hold
your tongue. And be off with you now to your byre. You are no
better than your own cow ; not so good, indeed. I've tellt him, sir,"
he explained, gently, ** that he is to leave the morn. He wass never
o' muckle use at ony time, and he'll no daur tell on 't. Naebody in
the glen shall dae that, I promise ye, sir, as if ye wass The
Maginton himself."

Once more Ferguson was amazed by the sound of laughter
from his cousin's nasty bed. Mr. Curdling was moving, and had
made another discovery.

'* Hang me if I'm not — naked ! " he murmured.

This time he laughed almost vigorously, as he sat up and the
blankets fell from his shoulders.

" I'll have to borrow a kilt, eh, Ferguson ? " he said, feebly, yet
as if it were a joke.

Laughing again, he lay down. And now he completed the great
conquest of Ferguson's generous heart.

"There's no harm done," he said. *' Now I come to think ot
it, I deserved it. He's an honest chap, whoever he is; and as for
sacking him — rubbish ! And you may spread the story all over
Scotland for what I care. The only thing I do care about is some
dinner. Find me some dry things, Ferguson, old man, and let's
get out of this. I'm feeling better now."

By the modest light of his cousin's lamp Ferguson gazed with
set eyebrows and a firm mouth at his new master during those
words ; and then he set the seal on his continued and loyal alliance
with Mr. CurdHng of Glen Sloch.

"I'm askin' yer pardon, sir," he said, "for thinkin' what
I thought about ye. Ye're as fine a man as The Maginton him-
self, and — I canna say more. Ye're a good Christian moreover,

Mr. Curdling. Maybe Macdonald's own Sabbath clothes "


In Peter Macdonald's Sabbath clothes, somewhat adjusted,
Mr. Curdling was anon escorted proudly by Ferguson to the splen-
dours of the lodge, and their manly union was cemented ere the
gates were reached.

Digitized by




The Burman villager's idea of time is quite in keeping with his
casual nature. He measures time by " a betel-nut chew," or, if
pressed for greater accuracy, by ** the boiling of a pot of rice."

The sun is his time-piece. Three in the afternoon is indicated
by pointing to the sky half-way down towards the west, and six in
the evening is "the sun-going-in time,*' (for in this country the sun
sets at almost the same hour throughout the year), and the cocks
crow the watches of the night at regular intervals — at ten, one, and
four. At the appointed hour one eager voice will be raised and
the cry will be passed from house to house, when all will crow
together until the discordant sounds die away with the last shrill
clarion of the jungle-fowl in the bamboo thicket hard by.

Night treads close on the heels of day. Just as two black-
smiths, wielding hammers in concert, trust in each other's regular
motion, and each starts his hammer on its downward stroke before
the other has left the anvil : so, even before the sun has ended its
course, night swings overhead and falls down the sky, flattening out
the glowing bars of cloud on the anvil of the western horizon. There
is no long wait between day and night. The sun drops and chill
darkness shuts down at once.

We were seated one evening in the house of Ko Po, the head-
man. The village of Choon-thit is very small, and the head-man's
house was of no great pretensions. Four legs of rough-hewn tree-

Digitized by



trunks raised the floor above the fever-laden mists. Three sides
were walled with bamboo-matting and the roof was thatched with
grass. Access to the open front by means of a tree-trunk notched
into steps presented no difficulty to an agile man.

Within, at one corner, a canopy of dingy cloth hung over the
pallet-bed — a stuffv' but peaceful retreat from the attacks of the per-
sistent mosquito; at the other corner stood a loom, roughly
made and worn by use, the threads of home-spun cotton stretched
along it ; near this was an ingenious wooden mangle at which the
head-man's wife was occupied in squeezing the black seeds from fluffy
balls of freshly picked cotton ; a smoky rush-light guttered on the
floor beside her, and, on mats in the centre of the room, we were
seated round the betel-box with blankets pulled about us, for the
night air was wet and that truceless demon **ching" (the mosquito)
shrieked with triumph over every naked spot.

A short while before, in the slanting sun the cattle had been
charging in dusty herds all among the houses — for all must be inside
the stockade before the sharp-spiked bamboo gates are wheeled across
and fastened for the night — and now, before we had finished our
simple meal, every space was filled with darkness.

Looking from the open front of the house we could discern only
the outline of the carved wood- work on the priest's house opposite,
and the gaunt straight trunks of the toddy-palms standing like
sentinels round the dark mass of the pagoda silhouetted against the
dying sky. The sounds of the village came in with the damp night
air. Across the way Ma Gyee still pounded rice with a regular thug-
thug-thug; and from further off" came the quavering notes of a bam-
boo flute (the bamboo flute sounds quite melodious at a distance).
Then, when men were silent, we could hear, through the matting of
the wall, the buff'aloes munching in the straw, and through the gaps
in the floor the dogs arguing underneath the house.

On the top of the pagoda a bell tinkled lazily, and something
unseen fluttered among the palm-tree leaves — a bat, perhaps; or was
it one of the restless ** Nats," those spirits that infest the night ?
Simple beliefs of an untaught people ! Who could not sympathise
with them here amid the surroundings that gave them origin ?

In towns of human handiwork man may grow exultant by
reason of his numbers. But in the forest, surrounded by the signs of
nature's boundless energy, his spirit is subdued by the presence of a
superior power. How slight he seems beside those giant trees at
whose feet he wanders ; and that monstrous creeper, thicker than
a man's body, that like some huge snake gliding from the under-
growth has sprung upon its prey — the tree— and twisted up to its
very throat, where, with knots of tight-drawn muscle, it chokes the

Digitized by



life out of even that great tower of strength ! But trees and creepers
must all give place to the untamed mountain torrent that tears and
slashes its impatient way down to the open plains.

Man's fancy enthrones, amid these signs of strength, beings
more powerful, than himself. He feels their presence everywhere,
and by modest offerings of tribute he seeks to avert their wrath and
enlist their sympathies.

From the stag he kills, the simple hunter cuts the tips of the
ears and lips, and puts those pieces in a conspicuous place — on a
leaf, or in a cleft cut in
the bark of a tree — as an
offering of atonement. A
persistent vengeance will
dog the steps of the pre-
sumptuous man who neg-
lects these ceremonies
— how truly does con-
science make cowards of
us all.

He will be hunted ! an offering

The rotten bough,
the crumbling cliff, the chasm overgrown and hidden by the brush-
wood — what are these but traps laid for him, even as he lays them
for the beasts of lower order ?

The tiger will be put upon his trail, and the hidden serpent lie
in wait with poisoned arrow !

He may avoid these dangers in the day, — but in the night he
cannot see what causes that rustling in the bushes, those groans
and whispers in the tree-tops, and that cold wind which suddenly
breathes upon his back ; and can it be mere tree-roots that trip his
feet, and nothing more than creeping plants that twine about his
arms and throat while the hostile darkness closes round him,

waiting for its opportunity ?


** It is truth," assented Ko Po; **evil will befall the man who
slights the Nats. When Brown Thakin,^ the young policeman,
first came here he laughed at the * guardians of the forest.* He had
not tasted of it then, nor known what the lonely hunter feels of that
breathing close behind him, and that footfall in the leaves, nor what
the worker in the clearing knows of the eyes that watch him from
the face of the forest, and the unseen hands that plant the weeds as
soon as his back is turned. But he was soon to learn, and I helped
to teach him."

* Thakin = " Mr." or " the Englishman."

Digitized by



Ko Po stopped, and pulling ofif the lid of the betel-box, chose
out a fine green leaf from the lower tray, smeared it with just the
right amount of lime, snipped ofif a piece of betel-nut, added a
peppercorn and a pinch of tobacco, and rolled all up together, slowly
and deliberately folding the leaf — for everyone knows how a well-
mixed chew opens up wide thoughts and memories.

" One day," resumed Ko Po, " Brown Thakin was here. It
was the month of the ripening crops, when the rains had ended, but
the forest was thick. In the morning, Moung Pu, the woodcutter,
brought news of bison tracks fresh that very day. The Thakin
called me to him, and quickly filling a bag with dried fruit, bread,
and meat, and spirit-water in a flask, took two guns and ordered
me to follow.

'* One gun was large and heavy, with two barrels wide enough
for the thumb to slip easily in. A man might feel safe behind such
a gun as that. But the other was slight, and the powder-cases no
thicker than a rice stem. The Thakin laughed at my fears, and
said that he would take the smaller gun himself. Ah, he had still
to learn, for he had not yet seen a bison, nor felt it rushing on him
like a falling teak tree. Moung Pu came with us, and when we
reached the forest front I stopped to make offering to the Nats, as
is the custom ; but the Thakin would hurry on.

** Now it is always best to sit awhile, when the village is left
behind, till the ears are opened by the silence of the forest, and all
rash haste has left the body. Moreover, by signs that even a child
could read, I knew that the Nats were against us. The bamboo
twigs kept slashing in my eyes as the Thakin brushed past them,
and the thorny creepers pulled him back by his coat, while the
stones dislodged by his careless feet went leaping down among the
bushes with more than needful noise; the squirrels, too, in the
trees scampered chuckling on ahead to warn the game.

** It was in a path through the kine grass that we first picked
up the footprints, deep and fresh, for the ground was soft — a heavy
beast, tall as the hand could reach, I knew, and the breadth of
three men.^ It had been walking slowly, eating as it went. The
Thakin pressed on ahead, for the tracks were easy ; but soon he
stopped where the ground was hard and stony, for he had lost the
signs. I could see them, where the red stone was scraped. The
beast had turned to the right and climbed the hillside, but I made
pretence to cast around, for it was good that the Thakin should rest.

** When he was quieter he agreed that I should lead the way;
but that bison, in obedience to the Nats, had purposely confused

1 The Burma bison stands twenty-one hands.

Digitized by



his tracks, for his marks led up hills and down again over the

slippery bamboo leaves in nearly the same path, and round and

round where the ground was hard and stony and signs were few,

and through marshy places where the going was heavy and the feet

must be withdrawn slowly for fear of noise. And so the whole day

through, until at last I could see no more, and cast around in vain.

It was the first time that I had lost a trail.

" But the night was on us, and, as quietly as possible, we had
to make a thatch of grass and bring water from the stream and sit
and sup. It was a black night, and I was uneasy, for the dew fell
heavily and the wailing ching stabbed even through the clothes.
Moung Pu kept scratching his leg with a noise like the sharpening of


a saw, until the Thakin woke up and declared that if he did not
stop there would be no game within a day's march.

*' I Could not sleep, but sat listening to the song of the frogs
and the cry of a waterfowl in the valley. My thoughts were of the
cunning ways of bison — of how he will lead the hunter through
the tall, thick grass, where the track ends a step in front and is cut
off a step behind ; a wall of green on either side. There the hunter
must be wary, for the bison will make a circle back and stand hid
beside the path, waiting, to hunt the hunter. Twice in the night I

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 15 of 52)