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Francis Wharton.

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mayor. Dark-eyed Petra, the recognized belle of a region
where it must be admitted that rivals were few, headed
the motley procession of guards, beaters, and miscellaneous
folk from the lower regions, and gracefully ii^vested the
blushing brows of Santiago, who knelt before her, with a
chaplet of flowering arbutus. Then the loving cup passed
round, and each drank to the health of the fair donor and
the wearer of the crown. There followed a scene of
festivity and ordered revels. The spacious court-yard was
lit up by a blazing bonfire, and in its lambent light danced
stalwart figures arrayed in the picturesque costume of



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A ^VINTBR CAMPAIGN IN DOSANA. 857

rural Andalucia, while maiden forms alternately revolved
and pirouetted in graceful minuet or fandango, keeping
time to the guitar, and each accompanying her own move-
ments with the castanets. We were told that a trio of
brunettes had travelled the long four leagues from the



GROUP OF FOREST-GUARDS.

hamlet of Eocio to our lonely quarters to join the festive
scene, but felt too much flattered by the compliment to
inquire if such was really the case.

The revelry continued till far on in the night, but for all
that, a faithful few were taking a hasty cup of coffee at



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858 WILD SPAIN.

5 A.M. preparatory to an early attack on the greylags. A
strong west wind howled across the waste, whistling
through the cracks of roof and rickety window-frames —
favourable omens — and before the smi rose we were far out
in the marsh, lying concealed on the furthest projecting
points of dry land. Then, as the approaching dawn set



PANNIER-PONY AND GAME.

the wildfowl in motion, the half-lit skies were serried with
hurrying files, and the cold air resounded with the cries of
the various ducks and geese. Our luck this morning was
hardly so good as expected, but four guns brought in 7
geese, 21 teal, and 8 mallards.



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A WINTER CAMPAIGN IN DOSaNA. 359

This day agwi proved a lucky one — several deer and a
lynx, besides minor game, being piled on the panniers of
the carrier-ponies before night. The lynx was a specially
handsome beast, an old male with bushy whiskers, his
tawny pelt boldly splashed with dark spots. He was killed
by a rifle-ball when going at top speed across a glade. The
writer's mind that evening was, nevertheless, tinged with
regret. While posted as " point-gun," amidst some lovely
but very broken forest ground at a remote corral, I observed
an object move slightly among some young pine-scrub in a
hollow on my front. It was the antlers of a stag; and soon,
by the forest of ivory tips, I perceived they belonged to a
hart of no ordinary degree. Presently the owner emerged
from the covert and for several seconds stood, fully
exposed, at 100 yards, an enormous beast, looking as black
as coal against a background of dead yellow flags. He
presented a certain shot ; but, alas ! was still within the
heat ; and though the stag stood in a slight hollow where
rising ground behind rendered the shot perfectly safe, I
hesitated to break the rules, and the chance was lost — the
grand beast going away wide to the right. The vision of
that stag, with his broad and branching head and unnum-
bered points, his massive frame and glossy coat, haunted
me awake and asleep that night and for many another.

A few weeks afterwards, when " still-hunting " with a
single Spanish companion in the same district, we came
somewhat unexpectedly (it was only 4 p.m.), on a stag
quietly splashing through a marsh-belt that separated two
patches of forest. The beast was more than half a mile
ofif ; but on reaching the place after a detour, we observed
him standing under the shade of some trees 400 yards
distant. On putting the glass on him, to my intense joy,
I recognized my old friend of a month ago — there he stood
fljcliiiig^ at the flies, the black stag beyond a shadow of
douU ! A Bearer direct approach was not possible ; but
Jose s^ggnfltp^ tilAJ^by going round in. a wide circuit and
giving the rteij liiB^iii«nd» ha would probably move him my
way. This mano&«mi/w» pssMSidWl \» cacry out, and in
half an hour's time I had flin iinifaiwiliiini of obrnvmig the



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860 WILD SPAIN.

great beast's first signs of suspicion. He had, meanwhile.



SPANISH RED DEER— A MOUNTAIN-HEAD FROM MORENA.

laid down ; now he rose and moved uneasily away, stopping



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A WINTER CAMPAIGN IN DOf^ANA. 361

and sniffing alternately. Then he seemed to have made
up his mind, turned deliberately, and slowly trotted in my
direction. Jose had managed the business in a masterly
way — never showing. Already the stag had reached a long
range shot, when from the nearer, opposite, covert dashed
five hinds, which came splashing through the water, right
between me and the big stag. How persistently those
confounded hinds interposed their useless bodies right
between the foresight and its mark ! Already the black
hart was within thirty yards of the water's edge and the
shelter of the forest ; when, for a few moments, I got a
clear view of his broadside at rather long range, took
a full sight with the 100-yard flap up, and fired. Thud !
went the conical Paradox ball right on the point of his
shoulder, and he pitched forward, stone-dead, in the water.
It was a pretty shot, well placed, though rather high,
breaking the spine close below the withers. Such shots
are, of course, instantly fatal ; but are too risky to try for,
since they come mthin an inch or two of a clean miss !

There is a degree of mental gratification in occasionally
" pulling ofif " shots of this kind — that is, in killing clean
with ball a large animal in full career, and at long distance
— that must probably be experienced to be appreciated.
And, after all, how much is due to the marvellous precision
and power of modern sporting weapons ! This stag carried
sixteen points, and his horns measured along the curve 82
inches, with a sweep of 28 inches. In weight he probably
exceeded any we have shot on the Spanish plains, and his
rich velvety pile was conspicuously dark and glossy.

One other incident, with a moral : towards the end of
one campaign an afternoon was devoted to burning the
carrizales, or bamboo-brakes, which in places form belts of
jungle, extending over several miles, and afiford secure
harbour for various wild animals, including, occasionally,
deer. These places, owing partly to the impervious nature
of the covert and partly to the quicksands and quaking
bogs with which the jungle is interspersed, cannot be
traversed : hence the only effectual means of driving out
the game which may lie within their shelter is by fire.



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362 WILD SPAIN.

The writer, to-day, though the first gun in line, was posted
some half a mile back from the commencement of the
beat, and was endeavouring to make a hasty sketch of the
beautiful landscape of cane-brake, bamboo, and marsh-land
which stretched away before us. The dry sedges and canes
were fired at several points: but hardly had the distant
smoke- wreaths begun to curl upwards in the clear still air,
than a first-rate stag slowly trotted across the open, right
before me. I had not seen him come ; the sketch-book
was in hand ; the gun — loaded in both barrels with shot,
for cats and the like — lay on the ground ; truly a magnifi-
cent bungle ! One ball-cartridge was inserted ere the game,
still unconscious of an ambush, was passing, full broadside,
at 80 or 90 yards — as easy a shot as need be wished. But
in the flurry of unreadiness, I forgot to raise the sight,
and the ball passed immediately beneath the breast, miss-
ing both forelegs. Again a cartridge had to be changed ;
and now the stag was bounding away, end-on, at 150 yards.
This time the aim was refined and nerves braced by a very
sense of shame, and the impact of the ball was distinctly,
though faintly, heard. On went the stag, disappearing
over rising ground behind, and hardly had the cartridges
been replaced, than a second hart, breaking back, offered
a long and infinitely more difficult shot ; but, after one
vertical bound, like that of a lightly-hooked salmon,
dropped stone-dead in his tracks. Soon afterwards a small
stag with three hinds showed on the outer edge of the
jungle; but, though more than one express rifle was
levelled at him, the distance was too great (300 or 400
yards), and the bullets uselessly ricochetted across the
swampy wastes. Towards the end, two wild-cats bounded
from the fringe of burning bamboos, and simultaneous
shots stretched both lifeless among the tamarisks.

The spectacle from our posts was remarkable, the whole
area, many hundred acres, enveloped in smoke ; here and
there tongues of flame shot upwards as the flying sparks
carried forward the conflagration across some marsh-
channel and renewed the dying blaze. Dense black clouds
rolled away to leeward, amidst which hovered swarms of



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A WINTER CAMPAIGN IN DOf!JANA. 363

swallows and insect-feeding birds with an outer fringe of
kites, kestrels and magpies, all preying on belated locusts
and coleoptera. Legions of mice — common house-mice,



A STAG OF THIRTEEN POIXTS.



as far as we could judge — with land- and water-rats, fled
from the fiery jungle ; here and there a grizzly mongoose



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864 WILD SPAIN.

hurried off up the sloping dune ; otters, genets and badgers
were seen at various points, while coots and bitterns, rails,
crakes, and waterhens flapped about, half-dazed with
fright. Over the smoking brakes swept buzzards and
marsh-harriers which, forgetting their fears in opportunity,
pounced boldly on the homeless and helpless.

As soon as it was over, we went eagerly to examine the
tracks of the big stag. Yes ! blood was there sure enough
— whole streams of it ; but the verdict of the gnardas was
prompt and emphatic — "that stag you will never get.
See ! the blood is all at one side. The bullet has merely
grazed his off-flank, causing a flesh-wound which bleeds
much, but does no vital harm." They were right. Im-
pelled by shame and self-reproach, we followed the trail for
miles ; but though we twice sighted our quarry afar, it was
evident he had sustained no serious injury, and as he
headed for a wild region where leagues of jungle afforded
secure refuge, we were fain, at dusk, to acknowledge defeat,
and to leave him in peace.

Now for the moral — though perhaps it hardly needs
pointing. Never attempt to sketch, or otherwise play the
fool, when every energy should be concentrated on the
sport in. hand. One thing well done is as much as poor
mortals are capable of at one time.

Thus, amidst varied and abundant sport, fun and good-
fellowship, amidst lovely scenes and a glorious climate,
sped all too quickly those happy days in Dofiana — some
devoted to big game, some to small ; on others we divided
forces, one party going to the partridges, or quail, another
preferring wildfowl ; while those who had confidence in
their skill with the rifle elected to rastrear — that is, to track
a deer to his lair, following the r astro, or spoor, of some
big hart, perhaps for leagues, across the broken plains and
corralesy with only the uncertain prospect of a difficult,
often impossible, snap-shot after all. But there is a
reward in seeing the skill in woodcraft displayed by the
Spanish guardas, who seem to diagnose by intuition the
unfulfilled ideas and desires which, some hours previously,
have been passing through the mind of the hart, whose



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A WINTER CAMPAIGN IN D05^ANA. 365

faint rastro they follow with the certainty and patience of
a bloodhound. This is, however, a distinct branch of
sport, to which we owe many a pleasant day on the South-
Spanish plains, and a separate chapter is devoted to its
description.

One day we tried a novel method of approaching the
wildfowl on the shores of a lake which lay at a distance of
three or four miles. This was by means of the cahreato, or
decoy pony — a curious experience. The wildest waterfowl
are at the mercy of a clever fowler provided with one of
these ponies. As there are many half-wild mares pas-
turing at large over the swamps, the ducks are accustomed
to the sight of them and take no alarm at their proximity.
As we approached the lake, its flat sandy margin was in
places black with wildfowl, while myriads sat on the
surface, splashing and pluming themselves in the sun-
shine. With each of the three ponies went its owner, a
patero, or professional wildfowl-shooter, each taking with
him one of us — almost literally — " in tow," for, with one
hand grasping the pony's tail, the other carrying the gun,
we followed each close behind his ixitero, who directed the
pony towards the thickly-covered shore. We proceeded
thus, crouching behind the pony's quarters, till we had
approached within 100 yards of the fowl. The leading
patero now stopped his pony, which at once com-
menced to feed, an example followed by the rest — we six
men sitting meanwhile on the grass. No alarm was shown
by the ducks. A cord was now slipped over the neck of
each cahrestro and made fast to its oflf foreleg above the
knee, bringing the heads of the ponies close to the ground,
thus giving them the appearance of grazing, though in
truth we were now on bare dry mud. We continued
approaching thus, and the interval was now reduced to
fifty yards; looking beneath the ponies we could see
hundreds of ducks all playing themselves in fancied secu-
rity. There, close at hand, sat or swam wigeon and
mallards, shovelers, garganeys, teal and pintails, a
few gadwall and several of the curious heavy-headed
**porrones" {Erismatura mersa), with diving-ducks and



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366 WILD SPAIN.

grebes of many kinds. The nearer shore was massed
with teal, and a few yards beyond a big pack of mallards
were daintily pluming themselves. As the teal came first
in line, it was to them we directed our attention : with
alternate progression and feigned halts to ** graze " we
continued our slow advance. We were now within twenty-
five yards of the teal : already a movement of preparation
had been made by the leading gun, instantly imitated by
the two who followed, when a tremendous scare took place
among the wildfowl, and the whirr of wings threw the
whole lake into confusion. A kite had swept across the
birds, and all had taken to the refuge of the deep waters.
** Paciencia," resignedly muttered our friends the pateros.
We uncocked our guns and squatted on the mud, each
under cover of his beast, thus spending an hour while the
frightened fowl gradually swam ashore and reformed on
the margin. A second time the moment to pull trigger
had almost arrived when the tyrant again swept over with
the same result as before. At last, however, the twice
delayed moment arrived, and our six barrels drove together
through the ranks of teal, leaving upwards of fifty dead
or wounded on the shore, of which we ultimately bagged
forty-four. This shot was taken against the wishes of
our friends, who declared that had we waited an hour
longer we should have had the birds thick enough to have
killed three times that number. But we had other sport in
view, and could not wait for this golden opportunity ; besides,
our rival the kite might have spoiled our game again.
We had, however, seen enough to understand that one of
these men and his sagacious auxiliary can really account
for the almost fabulous number of ducks which they are
said occasionally to obtain at a single shot. These
men shoot for a living; hence they liever fire except
when they have made certain of a heavy shot. It is
not at all unusual for them to manoeuvre for a whole
day without discharging their ancient fowling-pieces.
They make the slowest approach, get to the closest
quarters possible, and never unnecessarily disturb the
fowl. When they do fire it is a bumper. In summer their



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A WINTER CAMPAIGN IN DOfJANA. 867

occupation is varied by fishing and catching leeches in the
swamps, which they do by flogging the surface of the
water, when the leeches fasten upon their legs. A trained
eahrest4) pony, though a rough, shaggy little beast, is of
considerable value to these men, among whom there exists
a sort of brotherhood, and an intruder of their own class
fares badly if he ventures into the lonely districts which
they almost regard as their exclusive domain.*

At length the time for our departure had arrived, for
we intended spending a few days among the big game in
the extensive pine-forests which cover the southern ex-
tremity of the Goto Douana. The pack-mules with the
baggage being despatched by a direct route, we rode off on
an almost summerlike morning, taking a wider course so
as to get a " drive " of some of the wooded cor rales that
lay towards the west. Here, in one of the wildest spots,
Manolo placed the line of guns. The writer is posted on a
mound of blown sand, one of the many which form the
irregular broken country around. The cocked rifle is
placed conveniently for instant grasp while one surveys
the position and speculates on the likeliest spot for a stag
to appear — quickly taking note of the uneven ground, its
hillocks and hollows where it will be necessary to enter-
prise a snap-shot, and again where more dehberate aim
may be taken. Every here and there similar mounds
present an unbroken view, spots where the driven sand
has collected around some stalwart pine, taking various
picturesque forms and crowned with the dark green foliage
of latest growth.

Presently the sharp crack of a rifle breaks our reverie
and gives startling evidence that game is afoot. A few
seconds later the patter of galloping feet is heard on
the hard sand and the expected quarry bounds across
the glen, his antlers thrown back as he scents danger

♦ Since the above was written we have acquired the sporting
rights over parts of these great marshes, and have engaged the worthy
wildfowlers, Vasqnez and Vergara, as keepers. Many pleasant days
have we spent with them and their ponies. Bat of this sport a
fiiller accomit will be found in another chapter.



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368 WILD SPAIN.

and redoubles his speed. Full in the shoulder strikes the
express bullet, stopping his flight and sending him head-
long to earth, where a second shot ends his agony with



instant death. In this fortunate drive four stags and two
boars are brought to bag. One of the latter, in a thick
brambled mancha^ for some time defied the dogs, which
declined to face him at close quarters. He was a brute



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A WINTER CAaiPAIGN IN DO^ANA. 869

of unusual size, and each time he faced the dogs with
gnashing tusks, they retired. At last a shot fired in the
air dislodged him, and a quick rifle-shot took effect in
his lower jaw. Again he sought refuge among the bram*
bles, but the dogs now held the advantage, and inch by
inch he was driven forward to a point where he offered an
easy mark to several guns, and soon Manolo's long navaja
was performing his obsequies. Another stag of thirteen
points {see photo, p. 868), and a brace of foxes, right and
left, were secured in a small isolated thicket just before
dusk, and the last ten miles of our ride had thus to be
managed in the dark.

One more incident before we leave these forests. Early
on a winter morning we had reached the remote covert
of Salavar, and owing to its extent, and the strong wind
blowing, which would prevent the shots being heard, it was
decided to drive it in two sections. At the end of the first
beat, which had produced three stags — two lynxes also
passing the line unscathed — the guns and drivers were
assembled preparatory to the second (windward) batida,
when, from that direction, a couple of distant gunshots
were distinctly heard. Clearly poachers were at work, and
already the forest-guards were conjecturing (and rightly
as it proved) the personality of the depredator — an old
offender who had before given trouble. The man pene-
trated to the heart of these wild regions accompanied only
by his son, and his mode of procedure was to station him-
self to the leeward of any likely bit of covert, and sending
the lad round, to await the chance of the latter driving
forward any deer which might happen to be lying in it.
His two shots had been at hinds. Leaving the main party
to surround the mancha, two of the keepers galloped off in
the direction of the shots, separating so as to enclose the
poacher and cut off his retreat. Soon one of these came
across the tracks of naked feet on the sand, and shortly
overtook the culprit already preparing a drive of the covert
we had just beaten. Taken by surprise, resistance or flight
were impossible ; the poacher's gun was taken from him, and

B B



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870 WILD SPAIN.

he and his soa marched oflf prisoners to our main party —
an ill-looking ruffian clad in deer-skins, of whom some
ugly tales were told. Brought before our friend represent-
ing the proprietary, the captive showed an undaunted and
even impudent demeanour, asserting that it was the
hunger of his children that had brought him from a village
on the Guadiana (some fifty miles away), to kill the deer,
which, he said, belonged to Jiim equally with any other of
God's creatures. Such primitive principles availed but
little with these fierce keepers, imbued with almost feudal
respect for forest-game, and this bold adherent of " com-
monwealth " was deprived of his gun and ordered oflf to
the coast, with a warning that he would shortly have to
answer for his conduct before the magistrate at Almonte.
As he turned to obey, old Bartolo, whose estimate of the
terrors of Spanish law evidently stood low, shouted after
him, with a significant tap on the stock of his ancient
escopeta, " Look here, Cristobal ! you have given us a deal
of trouble ; you will come here once too often ! "

It may occur to the reader to conjecture how the poacher
could have utilized his deer, had he secured one, in so
remote a spot. Far away on the distant boundary of the
Goto, he had his donkey hidden in some thicket of len-
tiscus, and under cover of night would have returned for his
spoils, and moving stage by stage to the sea-shore, would
contrive to reach his village before daybreak. He was, how-
ever, securely caught, for within an hour another keeper
arrived, who also had detected the trespasser's footprints
at a point some ten miles away, and suspecting they were
none of honest man, had followed the trail. Thus, even
had Cristobal not been captured by us, he would still have
been intercepted by this second adversary.



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871



CHAPTER XXXIII.

WILDFOWLING IN THE WILDERNESS.

I. — A Wet Winter : A Eecord of Difficulties and
Disappointments.

The wildfowl-shooting of the Peninsula in favourable
seasons and situations is probably equal to any in Europe.
But much depends on the place, and everything on the
season. There are plenty of provinces and miles of
marsh-land where the hardest work is barely rewarded by
a pair or two of ducks, or perhaps five couple of snipe,
and where many a long day will be registered blank. Then,
as just stated, ererything depends on the weather. For
climatic conditions vary extremely as between one winter
and another. Some Spanish winters are dry and rainless ;
hardly any moisture remaining save in certain favoured
spots ; and to these sparse green oases throng the aquatic
hosts. Here, at such times, come the red-letter days for
the fowler.

But Spanish winters are not always dry ; on the con-
trary, it frequently happens that the rains set in in autumn
with semi-tropical fury, converting this drainless land into
one vast swamp, and inundating the marismas till they
grow into inland seas. The difference between a wet and a
dry winter is marvellous. We propose in this chapter to
describe the somewhat indifferent sport of a 2vet winter,
even in a good locality, together with its effect on the
habits and distribution of wildfowl.

The winter of 1887-8 will serve as a typical example.
In November the rain set in ; during December it descended
day after day, and by the end of the month the swollen



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 28 of 36)