Page images

This achieved, we walked rapidly round till we came to its base, at the opposite side to that where the noble bird was sitting in perfect security and peace. Peter now climbed slowly up, continuing his stories to most inattentive ears. I had some faint recollection, afterwards, of a curious bird with extraordinary feet, which frequented the forest, whose history he was relating with great animation just when he gained the ridge of the mountain. There, however, all his tales were at an end. He at once relapsed into the cool and wary hunter. Creeping forward with promptitude and decision, he knew, to an inch, where to look for the eyrie among all that fantastic chaos of rocks. Beckoning me to advance, he showed the outer sticks of the nest, and pointed to a rock close to us, where lay a grouse nearly devoured, and a ptarmigan beautifully picked, but with the skin unbroken. Our attack upon the eagle began by plundering her storehouse; for Peter, rolling up the ptarmigan in his handkerchief, pocketed it as a bonne bouche for dinner. We now held a consultation as to the easiest way of approach. Scrambling down a hollow, we were within fifty yards of the eyrie, when a ravine intercepted our progress. I pointed to a little bank of ochre-coloured moss beyond. "That's the place," whispered Peter. Back we ducked again, over the same ground, and, crawling along the ridge, evaded the ravine. The critical moment of failure or success was now arrived. With my left knee on the bank of moss, and my right foot planted against a rock, to prevent a slip on the steep,-my eye fixed on the outer rim of the eyrie, and Peter, mute as a stone but sharp as an arrow, awaiting the signal,-I stopped a moment to take breath. A slight nod over my shoulder, and Peter gently struck the palms of his hands together,

pat-pat. It was just enough for the eagle to hear, but it seemed very loud to me. Pat-pat-pat, louder and louder. I was now getting very nervous. 'Throw a stone at her!" Peter had too much generalship for that. He selected a small pebble, and threw it on the steep, directly above the eyrie. I watched every hop of the stone, lower and lower, till I saw that it must drop straight upon our victim. I knew it was now or never. Instantly, I caught sight of the bold flap of a giant wing, and the mighty bird soared majestically from the dizzy chasm. The shot was not difficult. I may say, that my aim was cool and determined. She reeled round and round, and fell headlong into the yawning abyss, quite dead. I now took a long breath, and but for Peter's delighted face, could scarcely persuade myself she had fallen. If he had either hallooed loud, or thrown straight at the eagle, she would most likely have dashed out, wheeling and tumbling

-an uncertain and difficult shot. Fain would I have secured the eggs, but this was impossible without ropes, which we had neglected to bring. Peter, however, offered to send them to Cladich the next day.

I was now impatient to secure my prize. We had to descend the sloping ridge, and come round in front, at the base of the chasm. It was, certainly, a lordly fortress— fit abode for this marauding Thane of the Wastes. Flanked by bastions and buttresses of massy rock, which guarded the stronghold on either side, and keeping watch upon its rugged eminence, the eagle's sleepless eye could detect the most minute or distant object in the valley beneath.


We searched the rough ground at the foot of the precipice for some time, without discovering the dead eagle.

Indeed, we both fancied that she had dropped much further off than was actually the case. At last I discovered the red-brown feathers, like a large tuft of her own heather, close to the foot of the cliff. A finer specimen could not be seen; the markings were perfect, and the plumage in the finest order.

The sun had now risen high and clear, the surrounding mountains looked low, warm, and blue. I was now gay as Peter, and, while we tramped over moor and moss, I made him repeat his forest tales. I found that the "extraordinary feat" he had so minutely described, belonged to the night-jar, which bird, however, is rarer in the forest than in more cultivated localities. Some of his anecdotes of eagles are really worth notice, as illustrating the strength and ferocity of the bird. A couple, cock and hen, were trapped at the same bait by Robertson. As they were not seriously injured, he wished to bring them home alive. This would have been an impossibility to most people, as there is but one way of carrying them with any degree of safety it is by placing the enormous creature under your arm, and holding his legs, immediately above the huge claws, firmly in your hand. As long as you walk steadily, and do not shake him roughly, the eagle will remain still, and make no effort to escape. But, if you stumble, or turn sharply round, it is ten to one that he fixes his talons to the bone in your thigh. Robertson was carrying the two birds in this manner, and, having come a long way, his arms became cramped, and he was trying to relieve them by leaning upon a stone dyke, when one of the savage creatures struck its claw into his leg. The pain was great, but he knew that, if he attempted to extricate himself, he would lose both birds. So, Spartan like, he


patiently waited till some assistance should turn up. On looking down the road, he saw a pack-man slowly padding along, but, in trying to accelerate his professional pace by a loud shout, he shook the hen bird, and she immediately repeated the attack on his other thigh. He was now fairly pinioned, and the pain scarcely bearable. At last the pedlar came up, but his horror was so great at poor Peter's predicament, that he only stared in blank dismay. “Toot, man, tak' my knife oot o' my pocket, and cut open this beast's claw." This was done with some difficulty. "Noo gang round on the ither side an' ye'll fin' anither job." The man, who had no idea that Peter was grappled on both sides, quickly obeyed, muttering, "Saw I ever sic sorrows in a' ma life!" Both eagles were brought safe home, but Peter assured me that he was unable to walk for many a day.

Another story of a prisoned eagle vindicating his dignity has so much of the comic about it, that we forgive the savage revenge. A raw-boned Highlandman came to Robertson's house:-" "Is faither at hame?"your 66 No," said one of his children. "Has na he a tame aigle?" The little girl pointed out the place where it was confined. There was a hole cut at the bottom of the door, where its food was thrown in; Donald peered cautiously into the hole; quick as light, the eagle seized his nose, and it was only by a severe struggle, and the cartilage giving way, that he effected his escape. When Peter came home, he found him sitting in a doleful plight, but, having comforted him with a dram, and patched up his nose with sticking plaster, he sent him away with his curiosity quite cured about eagles.

I mention one more, to show the power of the bird when

a mere nestling. Peter and two shepherds had gone to take an eaglet from the nest. The eyrie was a little way from the top of the cliff. Peter descended to it by a rope, one of the shepherds was a little above him, and the other, who had a very weak head, stipulated for a secure berth at the top. Peter passed the eaglet to the first man, who, in like manner, gave it safely to him at the top. But, he having most likely given it a nervous twitch, it seized him fiercely. Down he fell on his back, dread of toppling over into the abyss drowning all sense of pain. Up came the other shepherd, but when he saw the man moaning and helpless, he was seized with such an uncontrollable fit of laughter that he could give no assistance. When Peter reached the top, he drew man and eaglet upon firm ground, and then extricated the claw. As soon as he found himself upon level ground, and free, he rushed at his jocose neighbour, and Peter had some difficulty to prevent a battle. It was a mortal affront to mention an eagle in this man's presence ever after.

But we have now got back to Peter's cottage. Loch Tulla is glistering under a burning sun: I see the landlord at Inveruran slily peeping round the corner, anxious to discover whether we had returned empty-handed. My appetite also warns me that it is past nine; so, having appeased it by a subsoil of "'halesome parritch," and a top-dressing of fresh eggs, "Now, landlord, out with the 'shan-dra-dam.'


My jolting drive to Cladich in my "chariot was not over till towards two o'clock, but the keen air of the moun


• The name given by a rural minister of the kirk, who sported one of these vehicles, to a little spring cart with a seat across for the "dames." His servant would persist, in spite of him, to call it his "chariot."

« PreviousContinue »