AN CABRACH MOR.
I have already said that the young men had not done well as hunters.
They had neither experience nor trustworthy attendance: none of the
chief's men would hunt with them. They looked on them as intruders,
and those who did not share in their chiefs dislike to useless
killing, yet respected it. Neither Christian nor Sercombe had yet
shot a single stag, and the time was drawing nigh when they must
return, the one to Glasgow, the other to London. To have no proof of
prowess to display was humbling to Sercombe; he must show a stag's
head, or hide his own! He resolved, therefore, one of the next
moonlit nights, to stalk by himself a certain great, wide-horned
stag, of whose habits he had received information.
At Oxford, where Valentine made his acquaintance, Sercombe belonged
to a fast set, but had distinguished himself notwithstanding as an
athlete. He was a great favourite with a few, not the best of the
set, and admired by many for his confidence, his stature, and his
regular features. These latter wore, however, a self-assertion which
of others made him much disliked: a mean thing in itself, it had the
meanest origin--the ability, namely, to spend money, for he was the
favourite son of a rich banker in London. He knew nothing of the
first business of life--self-restraint, had never denied himself
anything, and but for social influences would, in manhood as
infancy, have obeyed every impulse. He was one of the merest slaves
in the universe, a slave in his very essence, for he counted wrong
to others freedom for himself, and the rejection of the laws of his
own being, liberty. The most righteous interference was insolence;
his likings were his rights, and any devil that could whisper him a
desire, might do with him as he pleased. From such a man every true
nature shrinks with involuntary recoil, and a sick sense of the
inhuman. But I have said more of him already than my history
requires, and more than many a reader, partaking himself of his
character to an unsuspected degree, will believe; for such men
cannot know themselves. He had not yet in the eyes of the world
disgraced himself: it takes a good many disgraceful things to bring
a rich man to outward disgrace.
His sole attendant when shooting was a clever vagabond lad belonging
to nowhere in particular, and living by any crook except the
shepherd's. From him he heard of the great stag, and the spots which
in the valleys he frequented, often scraping away the snow with his
feet to get at the grass. He did not inform him that the animal was
a special favourite with the chief of Clanruadh, or that the clan
looked upon him. as their live symbol, the very stag represented as
crest to the chief's coat of arms. It was the same Nancy had
reported to her master as eating grass on the burn-side in the
moonlight. Christian and Sercombe had stalked him day after day, but
without success. And now, with one poor remaining hope, the latter
had determined to stalk him at night. To despoil him of his life,
his glorious rush over the mountain side, his plunge into the
valley, and fierce strain up the opposing hill; to see that ideal of
strength, suppleness, and joyous flight, lie nerveless and flaccid
at his feet; to be able to call the thicket-like antlers of the
splendid animal his own, was for the time the one ambition of Hilary
Sercombe; for he was of the brood of Mephistopheles, the child of
darkness, whose delight lies in undoing what God has done--the
nearest that any evil power can come to creating.
There was, however, a reason for the failure of the young hunters
beyond lack of skill and what they called their ill-luck. Hector of
the Stags was awake; his keen, everywhere-roving eyes were upon
them, seconded by the keen, all-hearkening ears of Bob of the
Angels. They had discovered that the two men had set their hearts on
the big stag, an cabrach mor by right of excellence, and every time
they were out after him, Hector too was out with his spy-glass, the
gift of an old sea-faring friend, searching the billowy hills.
While, the southrons would be toiling along to get the wind of him
unseen, for the old stag's eyes were as keen as his velvety nose,
the father and son would be lying, perhaps close at hand, perhaps
far away on some hill-side of another valley, watching now the
hunters, now the stag. For love of the Macruadh, and for love of the
stag, they had constituted themselves his guardians. Again and again
when one of them thought he was going to have a splendid
chance--perhaps just as, having reached a rock to which he had been
making his weary way over stones and bogs like Satan through chaos,
and raised himself with weary slowness, he peeped at last over the
top, and lo, there he was, well within range, quietly feeding,
nought between the great pumping of his big joyous heart and the hot
bullet but the brown skin behind his left shoulder!--a distant shot
would forestall the nigh one, a shot for life, not death, and the
stag, knowing instantly by wondrous combination of sense and
judgment in what quarter lay the danger, would, without once looking
round, measure straight a hundred yards of hillocks and rocks
between the sight-taking and the pulling of the trigger. Another
time it would be no shot, but the bark of a dog, the cry of a
moorfowl, or a signal from watching hind that started him; for the
creatures understand each the other's cries, and when an animal sees
one of any sort on the watch to warn covey or herd or flock of its
own kind, it will itself keep no watch, but feed in security. To
Christian and Sercombe it seemed as if all the life in the glen were
in conspiracy to frustrate their hearts' desire; and the latter at
least grew ever the more determined to kill the great stag: he had
begun to hate him.
The sounds that warned the stag were by no means always what they
seemed, those of other wild animals; they were often hut imitations
by Bob of the Angels. I fear the animal grew somewhat bolder and
less careful from the assurance thus given him that he was watched
over, and cultivated a little nonchalance. Not a moment, however,
did he neglect any warning from quarter soever, but from peaceful
feeder was instantaneously wind-like fleer, his great horns thrown
back over his shoulders, and his four legs just touching the ground
with elastic hoof, or tucking themselves almost out of sight as he
skipped rather than leaped over rock and gully, stone and
bush--whatever lay betwixt him and larger room. Great joy it was to
his two guardians to see him, and great game to watch the motions of
his discomfited enemies. For the sake of an cabrach Hector and Bob
would go hungry for hours. But they never imagined the luxurious
Sasunnach, incapable, as they thought, of hardship or sustained
fatigue, would turn from his warm bed to stalk the lordly animal
betwixt snow and moon.
One night, Hector of the Stags found he could not sleep. It was not
for cold, for the night was for the season a mild one. The snow
indeed lay deep around their dwelling, but they owed not a little of
its warmth to the snow. It drifted up all about it, and kept off the
terrible winds that swept along the side of the hill, like sharp
swift scythes of death. They were in the largest and most
comfortable of their huts--a deepish hollow in the limestone rock,
lined with turf, and with wattles filled in with heather, the tops
outward; its front a thick wall of turf, with a tolerable door of
deal. It was indeed so snug as to be far from airy. Here they kept
what little store of anything they had--some dried fish and venison;
a barrel of oat-meal, seldom filled full; a few skins of wild
creatures, and powder, ball, and shot.
After many fruitless attempts to catch the still fleeting vapour
sleep, raising himself at last on his elbow, Hector found that Rob
was not by his side.
He too had been unable to sleep, and at last discovered that he was
uneasy about something-what, he could not tell. He rose and went
out. The moon was shining very clear, and as there was much snow,
the night, if not so bright as day, was yet brighter than many a
day. The moon, the snow, the mountains, all dreaming awake, seemed
to Rob the same as usual; but presently he fancied the hillside
opposite had come nearer than usual: there must be a reason for
that! He searched every yard of it with keenest gaze, but saw
They were high above Glenruadh, and commanded parts of it: late
though it was, Rob thought he saw some light from the New House,
which itself he could not see, reflected from some shadowed
evergreen in the shrubbery. He was thinking some one might be ill,
and he ought to run down and See whether a messenger was wanted,
when his father joined him. He had brought his telescope, and
immediately began to sweep the moonlight on the opposite hill. In a
moment he touched Rob on the shoulder, and handed him the telescope,
pointing with it. Rob looked and saw a dark speck on the snow,
moving along the hill-side. It was the big stag. Now and then he
would stop to snuff and search for a mouthful, but was evidently
making for one of his feeding-places--most likely that by the burn
on the chief's land. The light! could it imply danger? He had heard
the young men were going to leave: were they about to attempt a last
assault on the glory of the glen? He pointed out to his father the
dim light in the shadow of the house. Hector turned his telescope
thitherward, immediately gave the glass to Bob, went into the hut,
and came out again with his gun. They had not gone far when they
lost sight of the stag, but they held on towards the castle. At
every point whence a peep could be had in the direction of the
house, they halted to reconnoitre: if enemies were abroad, they
must, if possible, get and keep sight of them. They did not stop for
more than a glance, however, but made for the valley as fast as they
could walk: the noise of running feet would, on such a still night,
be heard too far. The whole way, without sound uttered, father and
son kept interchanging ideas on the matter.
From thorough acquaintance with the habits of the animal, they were
pretty certain he was on his way to the haunt aforementioned: if he
got there, he would be safe; it was the chiefs ground, and no one
would dare touch him. But he was not yet upon it, and was in danger;
while, if he should leave the spot in any westward direction, he
would almost at once be out of sanctuary! If they found him
therefore at his usual feed, and danger threatening, they must scare
him eastward; if no peril seemed at hand, they would watch him a
while, that he might feed in safety. Swift and all but soundless on
their quiet brogs they paced along: to startle the deer while the
hunter was far off, might be to drive him within range of his shot.
They reached the root of the spur, and approached the castle;
immediately beyond that, they would be in sight of the feeding
ground. But they were yet behind it when Rob of the Angels bounded
forward in terror at the sound of a gun. His father, however, who
was in front, was off before him. Neither hearing anything, nor
seeing Rob, he knew that a shot had been fired, and, caution being
now useless, was in a moment at full speed. The smoke of the shot
hung white in the moonlight over the end of the ridge. No red bulk
shadowed the green pasture, no thicket of horns went shaking about
over the sod. No lord of creation, but an enemy of life, stood
regarding his work, a tumbled heap of death, yet saying to himself,
like God when he made the world, "It is good." The noble creature
lay disformed on the grass; shot through the heart he had leaped
high in the air, fallen with his head under him, and broken his
Rage filled the heart of Hector of the Stags. He could not curse,
but he gave a roar like a wild beast, and raised his gun. But Rob of
the Angels caught it ere it reached his shoulder. He yielded it,
and, with another roar like a lion, bounded bare-handed upon the
enemy. He took the descent in three leaps, and the burn in one. It
was not merely that the enemy had killed an cabrach mor, the great
stag of their love; he had killed him on the chief's own land! under
the very eyes of the man whose business it was to watch over him! It
was an offence unpardonable! an insult as well as a wrong to his
chief! In the fierce majesty of righteous wrath he threw himself on
the poacher. Sercombe met him with a blow straight from the
shoulder, and he dropped.
Rob of the Angels, close behind him, threw down the gun. The devil
all but got into Rob of the Angels. His knife flashed pale in the
moonlight, and he darted on the Sasunnach. It would then have gone
ill with the bigger man, for Bob was lithe as a snake, swift not
only to parry and dodge but to strike; he could not have reached the
body of his antagonist, but Sercombe's arm would have had at least
one terrible gash from his skean-dhu, sharp as a razor, had not, at
the moment, from the top of the ridge come the stern voice of the
chief. Rob's knife, like Excalibur from the hand of Sir Bedivere,
"made lightnings in the splendour of the moon," as he threw it from
him, and himself down by his father. Then Hector came to himself and
rose. Rob rose also; and his father, trembling with excitement,
stood grasping his arm, for he saw the stalwart form of his chief on
the ridge above them. Alister had been waked by the gun, and at the
roar of his friend Hector, sprang from his bed. When he saw his
beloved stag dead on his pasture, he came down the ridge like an
Sercombe stood on his defence, wondering what devil was to pay, but
beginning to think he might be in some wrong box. He had taken no
trouble to understand the boundaries between Mr. Peregrine Palmer's
land and that of the chief, and had imagined himself safe on the
south side of the big burn.
Alister gazed speechless for a moment on the slaughtered stag, and
heaved a great sigh.
"Mr. Sercombe," he said, "I would rather you had shot my best horse!
Are you aware, sir, that you are a poacher?"
"I had supposed the appellation inapplicable to a gentleman!"
answered Sercombe, with entire coolness. "But by all means take me
before a magistrate."
"You are before a magistrate."
"All I have to answer then is, that I should not have shot the
animal had I not believed myself within my rights."
"On that point, and on this very ground, I instructed you myself!"
said the chief.
"I misunderstood you."
"Say rather you had not the courtesy to heed what I told you-had not
faith enough to take the word of a gentleman! And for this my poor
stag has suffered!"
He stood for some moments in conflict with himself, then quietly
"Of course, Mr. Sercombe, I have no intention of pushing the
matter!" he said.
"I should hope not!" returned Sercombe scornfully. "I will pay
whatever you choose to set on the brute."
It would be hard to say which was less agreeable to the chief-to
have his stag called a brute, or be offered blood-money for him.
"Stag Ruadh priced like a bullock!" he said, with a slow smile, full
of sadness; "--the pride of every child in the strath! Not a
gentleman in the county would have shot Clanruadh's deer!"
Sercombe was by this time feeling uncomfortable, and it made him
angry. He muttered something about superstition.
"He was taken when a calf," the chief went on, "and given to a
great-aunt of mine. But when he grew up, he took to the hills again,
and was known by his silver collar till he managed to rid himself of
it. He shall he buried where he lies, and his monument shall tell
how the stranger Sasunnach served the stag of Clanruadh!"
"Why the deuce didn't you keep the precious monster in a paddock,
and let people know him for a tame animal?" sneered Sercombe.
"My poor Euadh!" said the chief; "he was no tame animal! He as well
as I would have preferred the death you have given him to such a
fate. He lived while he lived! I thank you for his immediate
transit. Shot right through the heart! Had you maimed him I should
have been angrier."
Sercombe felt flattered, and, attributing the chief's gentleness to
a desire to please him, began to condescend.
"Well, come now, Macruadh!" he began; but the chief turned from him.
Hector stood with his arm on Rob's shoulder, and the tears rolling
down his cheeks. He would not have wept but that the sobs of his son
"Rob of the Angels," Alister said in their mother-tongue, "you must
make an apology to the Sasunnach gentleman for drawing the knife on
him. That was wrong, if he had killed all the deer in Benruadh."
"It was not for that, Macruadh," answered Rob of the Angels. "It was
because he struck my father, and laid a better man than himself on
The chief turned to the Englishman. "Did the old man strike you, Mr.
"No, by Jove! I took a little care of that! If he had, I would have
broke every bone in his body!"
"Why did you strike him then?"
"Because he rushed at me."
"It was his duty to capture a poacher!--But you did not know he was
deaf and dumb!" Alister added, as some excuse.
"The deaf makes no difference!" protested Bob. "Hector of the
Stags does not fight with his hands like a woman!"
"Well, what's done is done!" laughed Sercombe. "It wasn't a bad shot
"You have little to plume yourself upon, Mr. Sercombe!" said the
chief. "You are a good shot, but you need not have been so
frightened at an old man as to knock him down!"
"Come, come, Macruadh! enough's enough! It's time to drop this!"
returned Sercombe. "I can't stand much more of it!--Take ten pounds
for the head!--Come!"
The chief made one great stride towards him, but turned away, and
"Come along, Rob! Tell your father you must not go up the hill again
"No, sir," answered Bob; "there's nothing now to go up the hill for!
Poor old Buadh! God rest his soul!"
"Amen!" responded the chief; "but say rather, 'God give him room to
"Amen! It is better.--But," added Kob, "we must watch by the body.
The foxes and hooded crows are gathering already--I hear them on the
hills; and I saw a sea-eagle as white as silver yesterday! We
cannot leave Ruadh till he is iznder God's plaid!"
"Then one of you come and fetch food and fire," said the chief. "I
will be with you early."
Father and son communicated in silence, and Rob went with the chief.
"They worship the stag, these peasants, as the old Egyptians the
bull!" said Sercombe to himself, walking home full of contempt.