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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Twenty-two
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Twenty-two Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :606

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Twenty-two

KINLOCH RANNOCH.

It happened that the day we went north was a very fine one, and as soon as we got into the real Highland country there was nothing to hinder me from feeling that my feet was on my native heath, except that I was in a railway carriage, and that I had no Scotch blood in me, but the joy of my soul was all the same. There was an old gentleman got into our carriage at Perth, and when he saw how we was taking in everything our eyes could reach, for Jone is a good deal more fired up by travel than he used to be--I expect it must have been the Buxton waters that made the change--he began to tell us all about the places we were passing through. There didn't seem to be a rock or a stream that hadn't a bit of history to it for that old gentleman to tell us about.

We got out at a little town called Struan, and then we took a carriage and drove across the wild moors and hills for thirteen miles till we came to this village at the end of Loch Rannoch. The wind blew strong and sharp, but we knew what we had to expect, and had warm clothes on. And with the cool breeze, and remembering "Scots wha ha' wi' Wallace bled," it made my blood tingle all the way.

We are going to stay here at least a week. We shall not try to do everything that can be done on Scottish soil, for we shall not stalk stags or shoot grouse; and I have told Jone that he may put on as many Scotch bonnets and plaids as he likes, but there is one thing he is not going to do, and that is to go bare-kneed, to which he answered, he would never do that unless he could dip his knees into weak coffee so that they would be the same color as his face.

There is a nice inn here with beautiful scenery all around, and the lovely Loch Rannoch stretches away for eleven miles. Everything is just as Scotch as it can be. Even the English people who come here put on knickerbockers and bonnets. I have never been anywhere else where it is considered the correct thing to dress like the natives, and I will say here that it is very few of the natives that wear kilts. That sort of thing seems to be given up to the fancy Highlanders.

Nearly all the talk at the inn is about, shooting and fishing. Stag-hunting here is very different from what it is in England in more ways than one. In the first place, stags are not hunted with horses and hounds. In the second place, the sport is not free. A gentleman here told Jone that if a man wanted to shoot a stag on these moors it would cost him one rifle cartridge and six five pound notes; and when Jone did not understand what that meant, the man went on and told him about how the deer-stalking was carried on here. He said that some of the big proprietors up here owned as much as ninety thousand acres of moorland, and they let it out mostly to English people for hunting and fishing. And if it is stag-hunting the tenant wants, the price he pays is regulated by the number of stags he has the privilege of shooting. Each stag he is allowed to kill costs him thirty pounds. So if he wants the pleasure of shooting thirty stags in the season, his rent will be nine hundred pounds. This he pays for the stag-shooting, but some kind of a house and about ten thousand acres are thrown in, which he has a perfect right to sit down on and rest himself on, but he can't shoot a grouse on it unless he pays extra for that. And, what is more, if he happens to be a bad shot, or breaks his leg and has to stay in the house, and doesn't shoot his thirty stags, he has got to pay for them all the same.

When Jone told me all this, I said I thought a hundred and fifty dollars a pretty high price to pay for the right to shoot one deer. But Jone said I didn't consider all the rest the man got. In the first place, he had the right to get up very early in the morning, in the gloom and drizzle, and to trudge through the slop and the heather until he got far away from the neighborhood of any human being, and then he could go up on some high piece of ground and take a spyglass and search the whole country round for a stag. When he saw one way off in the distance snuffing the morning air, or hunting for his breakfast among the heather, he had the privilege of walking two or three miles over the moor so as to get that stag between the wind and himself, so that it could not scent him or hear him. Then he had the glorious right to get his rifle all ready, and steal and creep toward that stag to cut short his existence. He has to be as careful and as sneaky as if he was a snake in the grass, going behind little hills and down into gullies, and sometimes almost crawling on his stomach where he goes over an open place, and doing everything he can to keep that stag from knowing his end is near. Sometimes he follows his victim all day, and the sun goes down before he has the glorious right of standing up and lodging a bullet in its unsuspecting heart. "So you see," said Jone, "he gets a lot for his hundred and fifty dollars."

"They do get a good deal more for their money than I thought they did," said I; "but I wonder if those rich sportsmen ever think that if they would take the money that they pay for shooting thirty or forty stags in one season, they might buy a rhinoceros, which they could set up on a hill and shoot at every morning if they liked. A game animal like that would last them for years, and if they ever felt like it, they could ask their friends to help them shoot without costing them anything."

Jone is pretty hard on sport with killing in it. He does not mind eating meat, but he likes to have the butcher do the killing. But I reckon he is a little too tender-hearted. But, as for me, I like sport of some kinds, especially when you don't have your pity or your sympathies awakened by seeing your prey enjoying life when you are seeking to encompass his end. Of course, by that I mean fishing.

There are a good many trout in the lake, and people can hire the privilege of fishing for them; and I begged Jone to let me go out in a boat and fish. He was rather in favor of staying ashore and fishing in the little river, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to go out and have some regular lake fishing. At last Jone agreed, provided I would not expect him to have anything to do with the fishing. "Of course I don't expect anything like that," said I; "and it would be a good deal better for you to stay on shore. The landlord says a gilly will go along to row the boat and attend to the lines and rods and all that, and so there won't be any need for you at all, and you can stay on shore with your book, and watch if you like."

"And suppose you tumble overboard," said Jone.

"Then you can swim out," I said, "and perhaps wade a good deal of the way. I don't suppose we need go far from the bank."

Jone laughed, and said he was going too.

"Very well," said I; "but you have got to stay in the bow, with your back to me, and take an interesting book with you, for it is a long time since I have done any fishing, and I am not going to do it with two men watching me and telling me how I ought to do it and how I oughtn't to. One will be enough."

"And that one won't be me," said Jone, "for fishing is not one of the branches I teach in my school."

I would have liked it better if Jone and me had gone alone, he doing nothing but row; but the landlord wouldn't let his boat that way, and said we must take a gilly, which, as far as I can make out, is a sort of sporting farmhand. That is the way to do fishing in these parts.

Well, we started, and Jone sat in the front, with his back to me, and the long-legged gilly rowed like a good fellow. When we got to a good place to fish he stopped, and took a fishing-rod that was in pieces and screwed them together, and fixed the line all right so that it would run along the rod to a little wheel near the handle, and then he put on a couple of hooks with artificial flies on them, which was so small I couldn't imagine how the fish could see them. While he was doing all this I got a little fidgety, because I had never fished except with a straight pole and line with a cork to it, which would bob when the fish bit; but this was altogether a different sort of a thing. When it was all ready he handed me the pole, and then sat down very polite to look at me.

Now, if he had handed me the rod, and then taken another boat and gone home, perhaps I might have known what to do with the thing after a while, but I must say that at that minute I didn't. I held the rod out over the water and let the flies dangle down into it, but do what I would, they wouldn't sink; there wasn't weight enough on them.

"You must throw your fly, madam," said the gilly, always very polite. "Let me give it a throw for you," and then he took the rod in his hand and gave it a whirl and a switch which sent the flies out ever so far from the boat; then he drew it along a little, so that the flies skipped over the top of the water.

(Illustration: "I DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING, AND TAKING THE POLE IN BOTH HANDS I GAVE IT A WILD TWIRL OVER MY HEAD")

I didn't say anything, and taking the pole in both hands I gave it a wild twirl over my head, and then it flew out as if I was trying to whip one of the leaders in a four-horse team. As I did this Jone gave a jump that took him pretty near out of the boat, for two flies swished just over the bridge of his nose, and so close to his eyes as he was reading an interesting dialogue, and not thinking of fish or even of me, that he gave a jump sideways, which, if it hadn't been for the gilly grabbing him, would have taken him overboard. I was frightened myself, and said to him that I had told him he ought not to come in the boat, and it would have been a good deal better for him to have stayed on shore.

He didn't say anything, but I noticed he turned up his collar and pulled down his hat over his eyes and ears. The gilly said that perhaps I had too much line out, and so he took the rod and wound up a good deal of the line. I liked this better, because it was easier to whip out the line and pull it in again. Of course, I would not be likely to catch fish so much nearer the boat, but then we can't have everything in this world. Once I thought I had a bite, and I gave the rod such a jerk that the line flew back against me, and when I was getting ready to throw it out again, I found that one of the little hooks had stuck fast in my thumb. I tried to take it out with the other hand, but it was awfully awkward to do, because the rod wobbled and kept jerking on it. The gilly asked me if there was anything the matter with the flies, but I didn't want him to know what had happened, and so I said, "Oh, no," and turning my back on him I tried my best to get the hook out without his helping me, for I didn't want him to think that the first thing I caught was myself, after just missing my husband--he might be afraid it would be his turn next. You cannot imagine how bothersome it is to go fishing with a gilly to wait on you. I would rather wash dishes with a sexton to wipe them and look for nicks on the edges.

At last--and I don't know how it happened--I did hook a fish, and the minute I felt him I gave a jerk, and up he came. I heard the gilly say something about playing, but I was in no mood for play, and if that fish had been shot up out of the water by a submarine volcano it couldn't have ascended any quicker than when I jerked it up. Then as quick as lightning it went whirling through the air, struck the pages of Jone's book, turning over two or three of them, and then wiggled itself half way down Jone's neck, between his skin and his collar, while the loose hook swung around and nipped him in his ear.

"Don't pull, madam," shouted the gilly, and it was well he did, for I was just on the point of giving an awful jerk to get the fish loose from Jone. Jone gave a grab at the fish, which was trying to get down his back, and pulling him out threw him down; but by doing this he jerked the other hook into his ear, and then a yell arose such as I never before heard from Jone. "I told you you ought not to come in this boat," said I; "you don't like fishing, and something is always happening to you."

"Like fishing!" cried Jone. "I should say not," and he made up such a comical face that even the gilly, who was very polite, had to laugh as he went to take the hook out of his ear.

When Jone and the fish had been got off my line, Jone turned to me and said, "Are you going to fish any more?"

"Not with you in the boat," I answered; and then he said he was glad to hear that, and told the man he could row us ashore.

I can assure you, madam, that fishing in a rather wobbly boat with a husband and a gilly in it, is not to my taste, and that was the end of our sporting experiences in Scotland, but it did not end the glorious times we had by that lake and on the moors.

We hired a little pony trap and drove up to the other end of the lake, and not far beyond that is the beginning of Rannoch Moor, which the books say is one of the wildest and most desolate places in all Europe. So far as we went over the moor we found that this was truly so, and I know that I, at least, enjoyed it ever so much more because it was so wild and desolate. As far as we could see, the moors stretched away in every direction, covered in most places by heather, now out of blossom, but with great rocks standing out of the ground in some places, and here and there patches of grass. Sometimes we could see four or five lochs at once, some of them two or three miles long, and down through the middle of the moor came the maddest and most harum-scarum little river that could be imagined. It actually seemed to go out of its way to find rocks to jump over, just as if it was a young calf, and some of the waterfalls were beautiful. All around us was melancholy mountains, all of them with "Ben" for their first names, except Schiehallion, which was the best shaped of any of them, coming up to a point and standing by itself, which was what I used to think mountains always did; but now I know they run into each other so that you can hardly tell where one ends and the other begins.

For three or four days we went out on these moors, sometimes when the sun was shining, and sometimes when there was a heavy rain and the wind blew gales, and I think I liked this last kind of weather the best, for it gave me an idea of lonely desolation which I never had in any part of the world I have ever been in before. There is often not a house to be seen, not even a crofter's hut, and we seldom met anybody. Sometimes I wandered off by myself behind a hillock or rocks where I could not even see Jone, and then I used to try to imagine how Eve would have felt if she had early become a widow, and to put myself in her place. There was always clouds in the sky, sometimes dark and heavy ones coming down to the very peaks of the mountains, and not a tree was to be seen, except a few rowan trees or bushes close to the river. But by the side of Lock Rannoch, on our way back to the village, we passed along the edge of a fine old forest called the "Black Woods of Rannoch." There are only three of these ancient forests left in Scotland, and some of the trees in this one are said to be eight hundred years old.

(Illustration: Pomona drinking it in)

The last time we was out on the Rannoch Moor there was such a savage and driving wind, and the rain came down in such torrents, that my mackintosh was blown nearly off of me, and I was wet from my head to my heels. But I would have stayed out hours longer if Jone had been willing, and I never felt so sorry to leave these Grampian Hills, where I would have been glad to have had my father feed his flocks, and where I might have wandered away my childhood, barefooted over the heather, singing Scotch songs and drinking in deep draughts of the pure mountain air, instead of--but no matter.

To-morrow we leave the Highlands, but as we go to follow the shallop of the "Lady of the Lake," I should not repine.

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