Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

. (page 29 of 52)
Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 29 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

how he managed to catch so many ? " — the sportsman's eagerness
getting the upper hand. " What fly has he been using ? "

The younger Miss Rayne chimed into the dialogue. " Oh, John
doesn't fish with flies nor a w'od," remarked she.

" Then what has he been fishing with ? " Sir Hardman demanded
at large, blazing. What indeed ? What unholy contrivance ?

" John caught them all with his bird," Miss Sydney asserted.

"His what?*' Sir Hardman turned on the young creature;
she met him unflinchingly and repeated —

" His bird." Then she addressed herself in a foreign tongue
to John, who was sitting on the ground like an image of Buddha,
embracing his unexplained bag. What she said seemed equivalent

Digitized by



to " Show this gentleman, John." The heathen thrust in a yellow
hand, and from the mouth of the bag protruded a sleek head, two
shrewd fiery eyes, a powerful bill. ** It's a cormo'want, you see,"
Sydney superfluously explained.

Cormorant, Corvorant, Pelicanus carlo ! Across the baronet's
mind came the look and smell of library shelves, of a calf-bound
Bewick adorned with woodcuts — with charming and totally irrele-
vant woodcuts — and printed with long **s's" like "/s," so that to
his mind's eye the page read somewhat thus: ". . . The Corvor-
ant as before obferved is found in every climate . . . Among
the Chinefe it is faid that they have frequently been trained to
fifh . . ."

The memory passed, and in a flash came hard upon it a wild, a
grand, a desperate idea !

At the same second Horace lifted up his voice with quite a
perceptible shade of empressement, ** It's all right enough, Uncle
Hardman. There was a chap exhibiting with some birds like that
last winter in town. I went and saw it."

** Oh, the deuce you did ! " Sir Hardman was elated beyond all
propriety of speech. "Then it's more than likely, my lad, that
you'll see it again ! " he chuckled in a jubilant aside ; and Horace
stared uncomprehending at his relative's altered cheer. All smiles
now, the baronet pursued —

** Miss Rayne, would you oblige me by ordering your boy John
to catch one more of my fish ? "

Gracie showed surprise. The baronet overruled it. ** One
more fish ? " said she, in wonder.

** One only," he replied. " I'll show you which one ! " And
with this masterful utterance he waded across a shallow of the
Twist, scaled the farther shore, and motioned imperiously to Horace
to follow him.

The baronet was on the top of the bank and of the situation
too. Horace shouldered the net and walked through the river,
flannels and all, without protest. Possibly he thought his uncle had
developed sudden lunacy, and had better not be left. In a pregnant
silence Sir Hardman led on to within ten yards of the bridge;
stopped his personally-conducted party here with a gesture and a
scowl ; grovelled like an Indian scout along the bank, peered with
the stealth of an otter from behind an alder-stump, and from this
position commanded in a blood-curdling whisper, ** Miss Rayne
come here ! "

Gracie advanced.

** John, too, and the bag ! ''

John followed Gracie.

Digitized by



** On your hands and knees — crawl ! *' the baronet ordered.
Humble as we all are when at the mercy of justice, Gracie
dropped on all-fours, and John dragged himself like a wounded
snake, the cormorant flapping and kicking in the bag. Sydney in
the rear pulled nervously at her pigtail ; things were getting beyond
her. Horace reassuringly smiled, " Hold on, we shall see some
fun in a minute.'*

There was a colloquy, the conspirators squatting on the ground,
the baronet instructing in undertones hoarse with suppressed emo-
tion ; Gracie's eyes brightening — the mishap was turning out an
adventure — translating to John. The cormorant, making savage
grabs, was unloosed, a leather thong fastened round its neck, and
John manoeuvred it softly overside into the glassy reach.

Sir Hardman, puffing from his exertions (he wasn't of the build
that enjoys stooping, even to conquer), stationed himself as near
the water as he dared. Gracie retired a yard or two, Sydney let go
her plait and stood with her mouth open, Horace shortened his grip
of the landing-net. So disposed, the band held their breath in a
silence only broken by John, who from time to time addressed the
cormorant in a kind of yap.

Pelicanus Carbo looked superciliously about him ; dived beneath
the gin-clear surface, and swam upstream under water at an amazing
rate. Sir Hardman held his gaze fixed at a point where under the
bicj stone, his accustomed shelter, the Archdeacon hung at ease —
lazy, arrogant, picturesque. The cormorant eyed him — darted —
snapped short ; the great indignant trout rushed for the covert of
the weed-bed. The baronet trembled, and something like a pang of
remorse shot through him. Too late for him to repent, or for the
Archdeacon to escape ! He was already in the grip of those ruthless
mandibles. Now the baronet gloated over his scandalous triumph.
*' If only the beast doesn't bruise him ! " he panted. The * beast '
emerged and swam for land, the prey across his beak. Sir Hardman
already saw him dished up, saw the canon's dumbfoundered expres-
sion — ah ! he would have dished Foljambe, too ! — when, in act to
waddle ashore, the cormorant tossed the trout aloft — missed the
catch — the Archdeacon, a game fish to the last, made a desperate
twist in mid-air, and fell among the ooze and pebbles within six
inches of the river, of life and liberty !

With a yell the baronet flung himself flat and grabbed the
vanishing quarry at the extreme reach of both his arms ; his cap fell
off, and the cormorant snapped at that under a natural mistake;
Sir Hardman lay in a sprawl transfixed, rolling like a walrus in the
death flurry, and Horace, inspired by beauty's eyes, leapt like
Qiiintus Curtius from the bank above, and thrusting the net under

Digitized by



the baronet's hands still clenched upon his victim, shouted aloud :
" Tve got him, Uncle Hardman ; let go ! "

And thus, even thus, the Archdeacon was grassed. Mobbed
and hustled to his death, he fell to the base lure of an undesirable
alien — he who had mocked the arts of half a hundred fishermen —
O miserable end ! infandutn ! infandum !

He lay among the buttercups at Sir Hardman's feet; the
baronet had collapsed on the lowest step of the stile, and I believe he
shed tears. The girls clapped wildly : Horace waved the landing-
net round his head and cheered. What the cormorant's feelings
were nobody knows, for John crammed him back in the bag,
snapping like a turtle.

** By Jove ! " said the baronet, getting up and wiping the drops
of agony from his brow.

And the last tableau of this amazing drama presents a back
view of the baronet, of Sydney's pigtail swinging cheerfully beside
him, of Horace following, flirting with Gracie with the same staid
and resolute attack that marked his methods in the football field ;
the whole quartet making for the rectory, John having been dis-
patched as advance courier — how he reported the adventure I don't
know. Mrs. Rayne, a cheerful matron who had consorted with
heathen'potentates, was not at all flustered when her ofispring turned
up with the baronet in tow ; Horace discovered that the Rev. James
Rayne had in his day rowed in the Magdalen boat ; there was a
lively tea in the canon's bachelor sanctum. The Rayne family lived
on poached trout all next day, and the cormorant was (as heralds
describe it) ** royally gorged " on the same.

The Hon. Philip Foljambe, at St. Crambo's, received this
remarkable telegram :

** Archdeacon goes by parcel post to-night.*'

Rector and baronet still live side by side, and still fish their
joint property in peace and comradeship. I met the canon at a
fishing-inn up in the Shetlands, and he told me this tale. So I
know it is fact and not fable. Besides, a fable always has a moral,
and I am sure this hasn't any.

[Bewick quotes Whitlock and Willoughby with regard to this sport as practised in
England in the seventeenth century. The latter says the cormorants were " hoodwinked
in the manner of the falcons till they were let off to fish." ^^ hitlock avers that *• he had
a cast of them manned like hawks, which would come to hand," and relates that the best
he possessed was one presented to him by Mr. Wood, " Master of the Corvorants" to
Charles 1. {British Birds, Vol. II, p. 387). In China these domesticated cormorants are
the property of Government and carefully registered. " John " must have smuggled his
bird across somehow — possibly with the connivance of the missionary — a horrid surmise.]

Digitized by




However much we may pride ourselves upon the national idiosyn-
crasy of the English-speaking race, our love of hunting, there is no
gainsaying the fact that venery, to call the science of hunting
by its ancient name, came to us from France. It was there that
hunting was first regulated by the establishment of well-defined
rules and ceremonials, and became distinguished by a vocabulary of
its own, in which every man of gentle birth had to be well versed,
any transgression of the language or customs of the chase being
deemed as great a lack in education and good manners as would an
illiterate and badly-spelt letter be considered so to-day.

The worship of the tall red-deer came over to Britain with the
Norman conquerors, as did the latter's language, which remained
the Court tongue for quite three hundred years after the landing of
William at Senlac.

In the days of primitive man hunting was as much a measure
of self-defence as was war itself; for not only had our skin-clad
forefathers to pursue the beasts of the forest in order to fill their
larders, but an incessant warfare had to be waged against the
carnivorous beasts of prey who decimated their domestic kine, and
even against deer and wild boar, who devastated their crops. The
distinction between mere pot-hunting, pursued with the sole object
of filling the larder or of destroying noxious animals, and on the
other hand hunting for the sake of sport, dates back to the
earliest times. Arian already says that ** the true sportsman does
not take out his dogs to destroy hares, but for the sake of the course
and of the contest between the dogs and the hare, and is glad if the
hare escapes." And he adds that those Gauls who only course for
the sport and do not live by what they catch never use nets.

Digitized by



It has become the fashion to speak of the hunters of olden
times as unsportsmanlike, and as slaughtering rather than hunting
their game. One is told that they considered any means legitimate
so long as they achieved the principal end, the death of the quarry
and the filling of the larder, or the destruction of beasts of prey, in
as easy and inglorious a manner as possible. This is an entirely
unjustified reproach, and were those who utter such sentiments
better acquainted with the old literature of the chase, no such
sneers would be current.


No one, of course, would contend that hunting in the olden
days was the exact counterpart in every detail of what we enjoy in
England to-day. The surroundings, the game, as well as many
other circumstances, have created an unavoidable distinction.
Hunting the fox and the carted deer are modern forms of sport,
resulting from the almost entire annihilation of big game and the
steady deforestation of the country that has been going on for the
last six hundred years. We can take it, therefore, that from an
early date hunting, shooting, coursing, and driving for the sake of

Digitized by



Sport pure and simple were carried on side by side with the methods

which were more Saxon or Teutonic than French or Norman,

of hunting within an enclosed boundary for the sake of the larder.

It is necessary to lay emphasis on this, for dire confusion has been

occasioned by various writers who, after somewhat superficial

researches, have failed either to recognise the difference that obtained

in contemporary mediaeval methods of hunting, or to interpret

correctly the pictorial material illustrative of old sport that has come

down to us.


The sport that was first and foremost in the heart of all men of
gentle birth in the Middle Ages in France as well as in England
was stag-hunting proper. The descendants of the Gauls, the true
veneurs, discouraged the killing of any animal of venery unless it was
done in a knightly manner, allowing to the hunted beast a certain
amount of fair play. The chase conducted on these lines demanded
courage, skill, endurance, a considerable amount of knowledge of
hounds and of hunting lore. That the life of the stag, wild boar, or
wolf was eventually ended by a shot from a bow or a thrust from a
spear or sword, was merely an incident of no greater importance

Digitized by



than is the coup de grace that dispatches the stag standing at bay
before the Devon and Somerset in the twentieth century.

It was the pleasure of tracking the beast to its haunts, of seeing
the hounds picking out the scent, of helping them with voice and
horn, of encouraging them to follow staunchly the tracks of one and
the same beast in spite of all its wiles and ruses, which was the chief
enjoyment ; not the slaying of the hunted animal, nor the riding. A
man was on horseback when hunting in order to be near the
hounds, to check them if they ** hunted the change," to "sore
astry " them if they ran riot, and to be at the bay before antlers or
tusks could work havoc among the pack; he was not mounted
for the mere pleasure of riding. Throughout mediaeval literature
we see that the hounds were the essence of the chase, and not in a
single instance that we know of in the early French and English
literature on hunting is the horse discussed. Every man of gentle
birth was necessarily in those days a horseman ; but this by no
means qualified him as a veneur, for venery was an art by itself, which
required a lifelong apprenticeship. It is very likely that could one
of these mediaeval hunters come to life, he would be as much
astonished if asked to negotiate a post-and-rails or a bullfinch, as he
would be at the unorthodox views regarding the raison d'etre of
hunting entertained to-day by the large majority of riders to hounds.

Hunting with hounds was called hunting by strength of
hounds, a very direct rendering of the French prendre a force de
chiens, and was generally shortened in both languages to hunting at
force; in Germany, Par Force Jagd, Coursing with greyhounds
was called prendre a force de levriers. This latter was resorted to
when the deer had been hunted up in some enclosed or partiaUy
enclosed place, whether the boundaries were made of nets or hedges
or stations of huntsmen and greyhounds, which latter were called
** stables." Greyhounds were occasionally slipped when the quarry
broke covert and went away over an open country, in order to
wind or ** burst " the animal, so that the raches or hounds could
overtake it. The latter were of the heavy bloodhound type, endowed
with more nose than pace, and however invaluable they may have
been for forest hunting, they probably stood a poor chance of over-
taking a " light *' or swift beast which had got a good start of them
in a clear country.

Sportsmen of old were exceedingly particular about ** refusing
the change," i.e. of keeping to the stag they had first roused or
started, and killing him only. However often the wily hart might
push up another stag and make him take his place — he himself
lying down in some copse or thicket, his antlers laid low on his back,
thus hiding himself and causing the hounds to hunt his substitute—

Digitized by



no huntsman or hounds worth anything would accept the change,
and most praise was lavished on those hounds who staunchly stuck
to the line of the first stag, " unravelling the change '* even if the
pursued took refuge among a whole herd of deer.

In the fifteenth century, chiefly in consequence of civil disorders

brought about by the French wars, game was becoming scarcer in

England, and by the time Henry VIII. ascended the throne the ideas

about sport had undergone considerable changes, woodcraft being

no longer held up as the ideal. Sir Thomas Eliot, writing in 1531,

speaks of the chase as a means of obtaining exercise and showing


prowess, and he recommends a characteristic reward for the suc-
cessful hunter, which would have been hailed with derision by the
t;^w^wrs of preceding centuries. After stating that the red deer and
fallow deer be pursued with ** javelins and other waipons in manner
of warre,'* he declares that as a suitable reward at the end of the day
*• a garland or some lyke token be gyven in signe of victorie '* !

While James I. in the following century made an attempt to

reintroduce Norman hunting into England from France, where it

vv^as still flourishing, and for this purpose caused French veneurs and

hunting establishments to be brought to England, the changed

NO. cxxix. VOL xxii.— 'April 1906 D D

Digitized by



conditions of life as well as the scarcity of wild deer foredoomed it
to failure. It can therefore be said that old English hunting became
extinct in the fifteenth century.

Before reverting to the literature on our subject it is necessary
to say a few words about the pot-hunting professional hunter in the
Middle Ages, whose duty it was to keep the king's larder well
supplied with venison. The hunting establishments of the earlier
Plantagenet kings consisted of packs of harthounds, buckhounds,
harriers, and otterhounds, over each of which was placed a master


with a daily wage of twelve pence (Edward II.). As attendants they
had yeomen at horse, and yeomen berners who attended on foot to
the running hounds; then there were fewterers or veutrers, as were
called the attendants on the greyhounds ; then lymerers or limers,
who led the lymer or tracking hound ; then bercelettars or yeomen of
the bow, or archers, with a daily wage of two pence ; and finally
chacechiens or inferior grooms with a wage of three halfpence. Over
the whole ruled the Master of Game, a title created by Henrj' IV.
as a mark of special distinction for his cousin of York, a personage

Digitized by



of whom we shall presently have some more to say. These Royal
packs were sent about the country in order to obtain venison for
the King's larder in the Royal Forests ; and though as a rule the hart-
hounds were used only for stag-hunting, we occasionally come across
an instance of buckhounds being used for that purpose, or, vice versa,
harthounds for the chase of the fallow-buck. The principal season
for this larder-hunting was the ** fat venison season " in July and
August, when deer were in prime condition. A ** lardener " accom-
panied these expeditions, his duties consisting of salting and packing


the venison in barrels, for which he received a wage of two pence a
day. Besides these at that period sufficient wages, certain allow-
ances and fees were attached to each office. Clothes and boots
and, when actually at Court, also lodging and food were provided,
and the skins and certain minor parts of the animals killed were
divided amongst the staff. When the establishments were moved
about the country from one forest to another orders were sent
by the King to the sheriffs of the counties through which they
passed or where they hunted, commanding them to pay the wages
of the men, the keep of the hounds, which usually amounted to

D D 3

Digitized by



half a penny per day for each running hound, and a penny a day for
the limers and greyhounds, and to provide the necessary means for
transporting the venison barrels to the place where the Court
happened to reside. These sums were usually reimbursed to the
sheriff from the Royal Exchequer ; but one comes across numerous
instances of remissness in this respect, and consequently refusals
on the part of sheriffs to burden themselves with these payments,
notwithstanding that the order to do so was issued by a warrant
under the King's privy seal.

Sometimes curious means were adopted to pay long-outstanding
wages. Thus John Boys, the King's veuterfer, and Robert Compnore,
his ferreter, ** who have long served the King (Edward III.) and the
Black Prince without receiving aught, whilst the said John had in-
curred great expense c\ er the Royal greyhounds, and the said Robert
had spent his substance in the safe-keeping of the King's ferrets and
hounds," were given such sums of money as were due as fines to the
King (from the sheriff) for the escape from Bedford prison of three
prisoners. In certain instances old debts were squared by giving the
patient hunt-servant a **safe" post, such as "keeper of the chase
and warren " in some Royal forest, where the fees and profits, con-
sisting of the pannage-money which the surrounding owners of cattle
and pigs had to pay for the privilege of turning their kine into the
woods, formed a substantial income. In other cases, particularly in
that of trusted old servants past their work, they were domiciled in
priories or monasteries, where they were provided with the necessaries
of life free of charge. Thus ended William de Husseborne, Philip of
Candevere,'and William Twici, orTwiti, Edward II. 's famous hunts-
man, and author of the oldest existing treatise on English hunting,
penned in the curious Norman French which is still spoken in the
Channel Islands. There were other fees which helped the pro-
fessional hunters to tide over bad times. Thus the substantial sura
of seven shillings and sixpence was paid to him who killed the first
buck or stag of the season, while in France the man who brought the
first ** fraying- post," or tree against which stags had rubbed off the
velvet from their antlers (which showed that they were becoming
'* clean"), received a horse as present if he happened to be a "gentle-
man of the venery," and if he were a limereror "varlet of the blood-
hound " he received a coat.

Another usual reward for professional hunters was the gift of
firewood ; ** Henry de Candovre, the King's huntsman, keeping the
buckhounds {canes damericios),'' has two oak trunks for fuel in 1278,
and two years later we hear of a command to the sheriff to cause
** Richard le Sauser and Thomas de Candovere, the King's huntsmen,
to have six oak trunks in the King's woods for fuel." One of the most

Digitized by



desired rewards was to be appointed ** parker,** for the perquisites of

this office seem to have offered considerable attractions, Harrison

in his chronicles mentioning that ** besides his salary the parker hath

of every deer the skin, head, numbles, chine, and shoulders, whereby

he that hath a warrant for a whole buck hath in the end little more

than half"!

These professional huntsmen of the King no doubt conducted
their sport in a businesslike manner so as to obtain the venison as
expeditiously as possible. For this purpose they employed various


snares, pitfalls, and enclosures made of hurdle fences, which latter
Mrere one of the most ancient hunting appurtenances of our Saxon
forefathers, who called them hayes or haia. Saltatoriums or deer-
leaps were, as the name indicates, artificially-prepared contrivances
A^hich enabled stags to enter a forest or park, out of which they,
however, could not escape. Of these and other unsportsmanlike
snares and traps the man of gentle blood made but scanty use.
Gaston Phoebus, that most famous of all mediaeval sportsmen, and
author of what is unquestionably the best hunting book of the Middle
Ages, records his feehngs in the following words: ''After I have

Digitized by



spoken of how to hunt wild beasts with stren^h [i.e. with hounds] I

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 29 of 52)