« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
from thirty hoarse throats, dragged him down to the water's edge, towed him off, and hoisted him in with a runner and tackle, not liking to trust his great weight to the yard.
As the survey detained us here several days, we had a good opportunity of exploring the immediate vicinity. Not a day passed without our seeing herds of cattle grazing around. To attack these would not be so dangerous an adventure as to encounter the outlying bulls, which, in number, are disproportionate to the cows. This, no doubt, has arisen from the great slaughter for food of the latter, whose flesh is preferable to that of the males—a slaughter committed by ships of all nations some few years ago, before the Falklands were under the English flag. I generally remarked that the outlyers were covered with gashes, received, probably, in many a hard battle; and that they laboured under the disadvantage of not having their horns pointed upwards, whereas the bashaws who lived in female society had remarkable advantages in that weapon of offence. This
be a wise ordination of nature, to prevent the great number of males from injuring the breed, which would certainly ensue were not some of the bulls turned out of the herd and kept at a distance by their more favoured brethren.
HAVING seen that every thing was in order in our little vessel, I thought a good opportunity was before me to carry out one of the orders given by the Admiralty to my commanding officer-namely, to form little gardens in any convenient spot in the Falkland Islands. I therefore determined to seek out a locality adapted to so well-intentioned a purpose.
At half-past ten in the forenoon, I manned the dingy with four boys, and pulled along the shore, frequently landing as a favourable place seemed to present itself, each of which, however, on examination, proved impracticable. At length we arrived at a little creek, about forty yards wide, running inland. Up this we went, following the windings of the stream about a mile, when they terminated in a small rivulet running from a lake situated at a short distance. Leaving the boat in charge of three of my young crew, I landed with the fourth boy, and walked to the wild and sequestered mere, which presented a sight to charm the eye of a sportsman. The extent of the water-barely two acres-was thickly dotted with birds. Two majestic swans, with ebony necks issuing from snowy bodies, floated, with an air of haughty patronage, among innumerable geese, ducks, teal, and divers; but, to my great amazement, the feathered crowd, instead of appearing the least alarmed and skurrying off, drew towards us : unlike their civilised brethren, they were ignorant of the treachery of man.
I sat down on the brink of the lake, wondering whether, on my return, I should be able to convince people of the truth of that which I then beheld. Except the swans, the whole assembly of fowl approached gradually until some hundreds were within twenty yards of me. A chorus then arose from them, as if with one accord they inquired my business there, and sought to know in a friendly way why I disturbed their privacy.
may here remark, that the sounds they utter in a wild state are totally different from their notes when domesticated, and I should not
have recognised the species by the ear alone. The entire congregation appeared to be so tame and unsuspecting, that, reluctant to make my presence shunned by dealing death among them, I contented myself (although my double-barrel, loaded with No. 6, was lying across my knees), with taking the seal-club from my boy's hand, and shying it ainong
the birds. This had an effect contrary to what I expected ; for, instead of being alarmed, they gathered, as if with curiosity, round the missile, and pecked at it. Never was so glorious an opportunity of making an immortal shot! But again my humanity struggled with my love of sport: I could not kill the poor confiding creatures, who placed themselves almost within my grasp.
At this moment a more legitimate opportunity offered: a flock of teal flew over my head from another place. Mechanically my gun jumped to my shoulder, and before I was aware of it, both barrels had done their work: five birds fell from the discharge of the first, and four from that of the second. For a few minutes, the Autter and confusion that followed on the lake was indescribable ; but quiet was soon restored, except that every now and then were heard little bursts of rapid chattering, as if excited by wonder.
Bagging my teal, I resumed my quest of a site for a garden, passing more than once the skeleton of a wild bull or cow-rather grim landmarks in a wild solitude. One of these strongly excited It lay in a pass over a small boggy rivulet at the bottom of a deep ravine. Here the poor brute must have stuck in trying to cross : the surrounding earth was torn up, and the vegetation destroyed as if by hoofs and horns. I was inclined to suspect that this might have been done by wild cattle, in horror at the terrible death of their fellow, who must have perished of starvation : his head was stretched out as in the act of bellowing. While “moralising this spectacle,” I quite forgot the purpose for which I landed; and was only roused from my brown study, and warned of my distance from the boat, by the sudden trumpeting of wild bulls. I felt convinced we were chased.
Hoping to get back in a direct line, we ascended the side of the ravine, and made for a hill, on the summit of which was a little rock which, luckily for us, was scaleable only by bipeds. On gaining the base of this position, impregnable to quadrupeds, 1 climbed up, closely followed by my boy, who had hardly got a footing on the top, when we descried five huge brutes who closed in our little fortalice, and declared war by furiously tearing up the ground.
With all convenient speed I drew from my gun the charges of small shot, and loaded with ball; but alas ! not expecting a fight, I had only four bullets ; and considering those not quite sufficient to physic five fullgrown bulls, I determined to lay them by for a last resource, and await the chapter of accidents; knowing full well that, should we not return by a certain time, a party would be sent to our assistance, who would soon deliver us by raising the siege. To beguile the time, I struck a light for my cigar, and reclining at my ease, expected the brutes would take themselves off
. But no such thing: they did not even graze, but watched the rock as a cat would watch a mouse-trap. I could not help laughing to see my little companion every now and then lift up his head, reconnoitre the enemy, and extend his fingers from his nose according to the elegant method now in vogue of “taking a sight.”
We remained thus blockaded about three hours, when suddenly came on a furious squall of snow and sleet, which completely enveloped us all in the clouds. This being too good an opportunity to be lost, we swiftly and silently evacuated our position, and ran at least a mile without stopping, after which a rough walk of an hour and a half brought us down to the boat. I resolved that, in future land excursions, I would carry more bullets.
In the afternoon of the following day, I again landed, having our purser for my compainion. While rounding an angle in the island, I saw, spread out fast asleep, a hair seal of about seven feet in length. Being anxious to observe the movements of one of these creatures, I halted, and quietly watched him. My friend had also seen the animal from another point of view, and, being armed with a boarding-pike, had stealthily approached him. The assailant, brandishing his weapon, had so earnest an expression of countenance, and seemed inspired by so knightly a determination (as though a new St. George was about to attack a new dragon), that I could not refrain from bursting into a loud laugh. This roused the seal, who, slowly raising his head, gazed round about with sleepy eyes. The next moment the purser's pike was stuck with right good will into the beast's hind-quarters, on which he scuttled into the water, followed by his persecutor, who, in his excitement, tumbled after him (repeating his digs) into the water, whence, what with my excessive laughter, and the thick kelp, I had some difficulty in extracting him. Thus ended our exploration for the day. In the thoroughly soaked condition of my friend, a speedy return to the ship was necessary:
As, about this period, we had not much experience in combating wild cattle, we deemed two persons with guns quite sufficient to attack one beast. When, however, we had gained a little more knowledge, we became cautious, and generally took with us three or four men well armed. Our first irrational valour arose from ambition of the honour of vanquishing a bull single-handed-an exploit attempted by Captain Sulivan and myself; after which, being satisfied with our experiment, we were in no hurry to repeat it.
One morning early the surveying party landed, and were soon lost in the windings of the creeks. About two hours after their departure I ascended, with my spy glass, to our mast-head, for the purpose of getting a better view, and could see the party on a distant hill building a mark. In a short time I observed them pointing their glass very earnestly in the direction of a particular spot, much nearer the vessel, towards which, having finished the mark, and put a pole on its summit, they started at a rapid pace. I conjectured that the object of their anxiety must be a herd of cattle. Immediately arming myself with my usual weapons, I pressed into the service my dog La Porte, together with a brave boy of the name of Popham, who afterwards always carried my second gun, and who never once flinched from putting it into my hand at the proper moment. Knowing, from the nature of the ground, that I should stand a much better chance of getting near the animals than was possessed by the surveyors, who must cross one or two creeks and approach their prey from an open plain, I landed, and marched in a direct line to the place denoted. After progressing about two miles, we observed, just over the crest of a hillock, a black ridge or eminence, like a bush or small rock,
which suddenly started into life, developing a huge head and pair of horns. It was a bull, grazing ; and a magnificent creature he appeared to be. These wild fellows are very different from their species in a tame state. I cannot more fitly describe them than by saying they have a terrible aspect; so much so, that some of our men, and one officer, although as brave and careless of their personal safety as any could be, were never able to get over their dread of the gorgon-like visages of these beasts, which operated so powerfully on one or two occasions, as to prevent the individuals in question from venturing on the main land. This peculiar terror on the part of men of high courage, must, I imagine, have arisen from early impressions made in childhood, similar to the dread some persons have of being alone in a dark place.
While considering how best we might attack the brute, a herd of about forty or fifty was suddenly exposed to our view. Starting La Porte at them, and enjoining my brave young companion to keep close to me, we ran full speed towards the animals, the whole of which seemed panic-stricken, and scoured off. One bull took a direction across my path, at a distance of about fifty yards. I levelled my rifle at his fore shoulder, and heard (immediately after its sharp crack) the dull sound of the bullet striking him. This enraged the animal, when, turning his head at me, on he came at speed, with tail high above his back. In a moment I had changed guns, and, with my left knee on the ground, waited his approach. La Porte did all a dog could do to divert his course; but on me the bull had fixed his eye, and nothing could shake his purpose. I must confess I felt as if I should have been much safer anywhere else ; but it was too late to think of that. The animal was within twenty yards when my first barrel opened on him. The ball entered his forehead, but not sufficiently deep to cause instantaneous death, or even to disable him for the moment. Regardless of pain, he still galloped forward, when, at ten yards, my remaining barrel pierced his left
eye. Mad, and half blinded, he now swerved from me and rushed headlong on my boy, whom, without attempting to toss, he knocked down, trampled on, and passed over. Before he could turn, La Porte had him by the nose, and for a few seconds held him; but he soon threw the dog off, and came upon us streaming with blood. During the next two or three minutes we exerted every nerve and muscle to keep clear of his repeated, though weakened, charges, and only succeeded by La Porte's powerful assistance, who, when we were nearly caught, sprang upon him like a tiger.
At length the bull appeared to stagger slightly, and the dog pinned him. Drawing my hunting-knife-which, by the hye, I could shave with, I ran up, and was in the act of hamstringing him, when once more he threw off the dog and bounded at me. While making the third bound (and when I fancied I could feel his hot breath, he was so close), the tendon having been severed, the remaining cartilages of the leg gave way, and, with a loud bellow, he was stretched on the earth. The next moment my knife was sticking in his heart. After a little time we cut his throat and examined his wounds, each of which was mortal. He was of the low-quartered breed, but young. One of the surveying party, who afterwards came up, pronounced him to be only three years old.
We now collected our hats, guns, &c., which had been scattered around, and were beginning to compose ourselves, when, to our infinite discomfort,
two more bulls appeared over the rising ground, with tails up (a sign of mischief), and making direct for us. My first impulse was to load, and be prepared to receive our pursuers; but in the heat of the last battle I had dropped my powder-flask. Nothing therefore remained wherewith to defend ourselves but our knives, which we clutched desperately, taking up a position behind the carcase of our former antagonist. The brutes advanced furiously; flight would have been impossible ; we deemed our case hopeless. At the moment when the bulls were within two hundred yards of us, we were unexpectedly cheered by a loud shout, and, with delight inappreciable by any one who has not been in a similar predicament, we saw all the surveyors hastening to our assistance, some with guns, others with boats' stretchers, and one with a very suspicious instrument, which looked marvellously like a theodolite-stand. This timely diversion had the desired effect. The bulls stopped short, and, our allies giving a shout, turned tail and fled.
We now cut up the carcase of the bull I had slain, carried the joints down to the boat, and then proceeded to prepare lunch. Four men were employed to collect “ diddledee;" one was sent with my rifle to procure a couple of geese, and another was employed in lighting a fire. In a very short time a heap of fuel was fiercely blazing, and a couple of geese lying beside it. Our cookery was not very elaborate: the man whom we deputed to officiate cut off the heads of the birds, pulled out the long wing-feathers, and rolling up the bodies in a heap of a diddledee," committed them to the flames. In about twenty minutes the geese were thoroughly roasted, and unceremoniously kicked out of the fire. Thus dressed, they looked exactly like two balls of cinder: this dirty appearance, however, vanished on skinning them, when they were as white as, and seemed much more delicate than, their tame brethren with all the sophisticated treatment of a scientific cook. The insides were not disturbed during the process of roasting, or rather burning, in order to prevent the juices of the flesh from being dried up. These birds, together with a few beefsteaks from the beast just killed, made (considering we were in the wilderness) a most sumptuous luncheon, salt and biscuit being always carried with us. After our repast we lighted our cigars, and being still further animated by a potent glass of grog,
Fought all our battles o'er again,
And thrice we routed all our foes, and thrice we slew the slain. I am sure we enjoyed our entertainment in these primeval solitudes with greater zest than could have been felt in nine-tenths of the sumptuous picnics at Richmond or elsewhere-always excepting the irresistible charm of ladies' eyes, of which, alas! we were destitute. After spending a reasonable time in this wild pleasure, I returned to the vessel, and the surveyors resumed their work.
A few evenings after this, having surveyed the upper part of the harbour, we dropped down towards the entrance and moored abreast of a long narrow tussock islet. On examining this the next day, we discovered traces of pigs; and an officer having caught sight of one wander
* A small shrub, of so inflammable a nature that it will burn fiercely even when soaked in water. The above name is given to it by the sailors.