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THE BLACK STAG OF CORRIE-GARRAN.
Reader-are you a disciple of Scroope? Do you swear by that Man of the Mountain, that inimitable Biographer of the Bothy, who brings before you, in a few graphic lines, just such a misty, heathery sketch of the wild Highlands, as Landseer would paint with brush and easel, and ticket, for the admiration of the world, with some such unassuming title as "Getting the wind of them," "Hinds on the hill-side," or mayhap simpler and pithier still, the "Stalk "-that one word which comprises, monosyllable though it be, the hopes and fears, the triumphs and misgivings of a life-time? Are you one of those who delight to chase the stag-not indeed shorn of his branching honours, and turned out of a box, looking very like an over-grown calf, to be pursued by two wellmounted officials in scarlet and gold lace, who are in their turn overtaken by a pack of weedy fox-hounds, drafted from their original profession for the various faults of delicacy, riot, and want of nose,-but free and glorious on his own wild hills, where the very breath of your body taints the pure keen breeze, and his instinct of liberty, taking the alarm from your grosser corporeal exhalations, bids him shun you though as yet unseen, and "stretching forward free and far," place glen and muir and moss and corrie between his precious person, in its "pride of grease," and you his natural enemy-less proud indeed, nay sufficiently humbled with your failure-but, shall we say it? not a little greasy too, with the superhuman efforts you made at that last interminable "brae "?
In short, do you love deer-stalking in your heart, with all its accessories and all its charms? the grey early morning, chill and dull upon the hill-side, the wreathing mists curling away upon the mountain-tops, or driving furiously athwart the glen, as though impelled by spirits of the air on some ghastly errand-the bonny heather-bells and the black juniper berries that brush your cheek in such close proximity as you crouch in your lair, or creep stealthily towards your prey; the wary forester, keen and cautious too, a man indeed of few words, yet in whose quick eye there is a game sort of glitter that looks like business; the gaunt grim deerhound, with his sharp lean head and continual yawn; the shaggy pony, whose trusty instinct bears him ever on the path of safety, and whom no forty-jockey-power could force into a peat-moss or other difficulty; the wild mountain scenery and the bracing mountain air, not forgetting the exhilarating mountain dew (in moderation of course!) when evening has set in, and stretching your legs before the glowing embers, you wander in a very kaleidoscope of imagination through all the enjoyments, the excitements, the events, and the scenery of the past day? Reader-I love it all, even to the very smell of the peat-smoke, and I hope you agree with me.
Alas! it is now some forty years since I was stalking in Glen-Garran, a wild remote district towards the far north; yet do I recollect as well as yesterday one long, toilsome, although most enjoyable day's sport, the
events of which led to my learning the wild legend of "The Black Stag of Corrie-Garran," and I may add, losing the best chance of a quiet shot at one of the finest animals in creation. Yes, there are certain scenes, as there are certain faces, indelibly daguerreotyped on the mind; we cannot tell the reason any more than we can understand the process, yet in that mysterious repertory termed the human intellect, memory will too often conjure up with startling vividness some long-forgotten drama with all its accessories-aye, its hero and heroine, its walking gentleman and subordinate characters, till we feel that the past is again our actual being, nay, that the present is not, and life has for the time flowed upward once more towards its source. Then comes a familiar sound-a ring at the door-bell-a servant waiting for us to order dinner, and lo! the vision melts, the curtain falls, and we are ourselves again, the sadder and soberer for the change. Well, it seems to me that I am even now stalking in Glen-Garran; it is the first week in October, and the stags are unusually late, yet a night's frost or two has brought them on wonderfully, and already they may be heard in the gloaming, bellowing all over the hill, answering each other in notes of pride and defiance; there is a bright autumnal sunshine on the mountain and the moor, deepening the heather into purple in the foreground, and melting the distance into a misty blue that mingles indistinctly with the sky; far below me the Garran is roaring and tumbling down his rocky bed, fringed here and there with alders, ere he disappears in a wood of stately pinesglorious old Scotch firs-a tree that, when in its indigenous beauty and free natural growth, shall not yield in "pride of place to the cedar of Lebanon itself; above me beetles a bare grey crag, amongst the pinnacles of which, year after year, the wild falcon makes her eyrie, and trains her young to their lawless predatory life; far a-head of me a loch with an unpronounceable name, signifying "the resort of the water-kelpie," lights up the distance, as it gives back the sun's rays like a sheet of burnished gold; whilst old Ben Wyvis, the giant guardian of the north, shuts in the whole, his lofty head, hoary with last year's snow, glistening and sparkling against the clear blue sky. I am knee-deep in heather, and striding manfully after Peter, the trustiest, as he is the most unsophisticated of hill-men; we have espied a parcel of deer feeding unsuspiciously enough on the opposite side of the glen, and we are now engaged in that indispensable operation which is termed "getting their wind." In those days, it was a most important matter not to throw a chance away. Forests were not then as strictly preserved as now; in fact, Glen-Garran could hardly be considered a regular forest at all; deer were by no means so numerous, neither was the sport of deer-stalking nearly so general; therefore was it no uncommon thing to bring down a magnifi. cent hart that would weigh from twenty to five-and-twenty stone after he was gralloched; therefore did heads adorn the hall, decked with branching antlers, to which the "royal" trophies of the present day are but as a four-and-nine-penny gossamer to the helmet of Achilles; and therefore were the qualities of patience, waryness, and sagacity far more prized than in these "faster" times. Now you go into a wellpreserved forest about eleven; you are correctly attired in a suit of shepherd's plaid, with a pair of white-kid gloves; you are armed with a Dollond telescope that mocks the very eagle's power of vision, and two double-barrelled rifles (stops and hair-triggers complete at 80 guineas),
with which you never ought to miss the bull's-eye at 100 yards; you ride an easy pony till one of the foresters, told off to take care of you, bids you alight and walk; you follow him unsuspiciously, first erect like a man, then on your belly like the serpent, to the detriment of the whitekids. When a sufficient time has elapsed, he brings you to a grey stone, from behind which you contemplate your destined victim feeding securely at the point-blank distance of eighty paces; the careful forester bids you get your wind, puts one of the rifles into your hand, and offers you his own sturdy shoulders for "a rest." Notwithstanding all this, should you make an unpardonable miss, what does it signify? Crack goes the rifle-away go the deer; never mind! there is another parcel undisturbed in the adjoining "corrie," and you can eat your sandwiches, take a pull at your flask, bid your indulgent attendant reload the rifle, and so "at 'em again;" or perhaps the considerate highlander opines" the gentleman is tired," so he arranges a nice little "drive " for you-that is to say, you sit down for an hour or so in a sheltered spot overlooking a narrow gorge or "pass," whilst the two or three men and the pony you brought out with you, by a few skilful manoeuvres, contrive to frighten half the deer in the forest towards your lair, so that they are compelled to pass under your very nose; your weapon is now brought to bear upon something very like the "run in for the Derby," at a distance of from ten to fifteen yards. It is very odd if you don't bag one out of the brown of them, and so ride quietly home to a seven-o'clock dinner, a self-satisfied sportsman.
But 'twas not so when I was young-single barrels and flint-and-steel locks were the order of the day; early starts at sun-rise, long fatiguing tramps over hill and dale, and often a fag home by starlight, only felt to be severe when following an unsuccessful stalk. On the day in question, we had indeed our share of real hard work; we had espied the deer in the early morning, feeding quietly down by the loch-side, on a bare flat expanse that promised but little covert, even if we could get within shot. "We'll no win at them " said Peter, "with the wind on this 'airt,' unless we come round the bit lochy ;" so the "bit lochy," a sheet of water at least three miles in length, we were forced to circumvent accordingly. We got round certainly, but alas! so did the wind, changing as suddenly as it often does in these mountain districts. tactics, of course, required to be varied with the breeze, and "bock agin" was now the order of the day. Once more we coasted the Loch, and tried them on the other tack." Contrairy deevils !" said Peter, when, without any apparent reason, they moved away up the hill-side to a sunny platform, where we could only get near them from above-always, by the way, when practicable, the best method of approaching deer. A stiff climb brought us over the mountain-brow; a long trailing stalk on back and sides and belly placed us within three-hundred yards, when "cock, cock," "whirr"! up got a jealous old patriarch of a grouse, I firmly believe the only bird of that species within twenty miles, and away went the deer, lurching along the hill-side apparently much at their leisure, but nevertheless at a pace which it would have taken good horse, let alone a highlander, to catch. "Diaoul"! said Pete, and his brow grew black; but I administered something consolatory which had paid no duty, and we sat down to consider our plans. After time the deer settled on the opposite side of the glen; the suns getting low-the days are
not very long early in October-and there was no time to be lost. Again we set to work with a will; again we walked and ran and crept and climbed, and the twilight was just approaching, when I found myself peering cautiously through a tuft of heather, as nearly as I could guess some hundred and fifty yards at least from my prey. I confess I am not very fond of "the long range," and never did "Chasseur de Vincennes " nor English rifleman look more eagerly for covert in the direction of the enemy, than did I. It was no use: the ground between us was as flat as my hand, and as bare as my chin was then; I had left Peter some distance in my rear, in order that the attacking force might be as small as possible, and I now gloated over my destined prey, as the tiger couching by the spring may be supposed to glare upon a "dear gazelle." What a magnificent fellow he was! It was getting too dark to count his "points;" but if those branching antlers were not "royal," I was indeed mistaken; and that swart hide, dyed black, I concluded by the peat-moss in which he had been "soiling himself,"—what a weight of venison must it cover! Yes, the reward had come at last; labour, pain, weariness, longing and anxiety had been mine all day, and now for fruition! I could shoot him right through the heart from here; I had a capital rest with my left elbow on the ground; he had lifted his head, but not in alarm, and stood perfectly still, save that ever and anon he stamped one forefoot sharply on the heather; already I covered him—already was my finger on the trigger, when I felt a tug at my jacket, and looking round, was aware of Peter gesticulating like a madman, his white face convulsed with terror, his lips perfectly blue, his eyes glaring in their sockets, and his whole countenance working like that of a man in a fit. "Lord-sake sir," he hissed out, in scarcely articulate accents, "haud yer hand! haud your hand! dinna do't, mon; dinna do't-'tis the Black Stag of CorrieGarran! and me to be the instrument, Gude forgive us! for any sake sir, haud yer hand!" What between surprise and alarm, for I thought Peter had gone raving mad, it is not wonderful that I turned somewhat uneasily in my lair; neither is it a matter of astonishment that the deer took the hint to be off, with their usual quickness of apprehension, and that the Black Stag moved rapidly away into the darkness, never again to greet my mortal vision, or come within the range of my disappointed rifle. I was, I am ashamed to say, much inclined to wrath, till totally disarmed by Peter's state of obvious terror and discomfort, a state from which he did not recover during our fifteen-mile walk home in the dark. From the disjointed narrative of my panic-stricken hillman, as well as from the gentle lips of my hostess, now alas! in her grave, I gathered the following wild Highland legend of "The Black Stag of CorrieGarran :"
The Maclures of Glen-Garran have held patriarchal state and feudal Sovereignty in their own wild district, from the earliest period of Scottish history. Half-barbarians as they were, not a chivalrous Norman cherishes a greater pride in the exploits and even the crimes of his comparatively polished ancestors, than does a fierce Maclure. "Red John" had followed The Bruce in his wanderings, and was one of the nine who landed with that monarch in his desperate and successful attempt to win a crown. It is said that Red John" supplied the starving hero and his retainers with venison when on the point of famine; and there is a dark report that the meat was procured by fouler murder than that of a noble
hart, and that "Red John" paid the sportsman whom he discovered breaking up the quarry with three inches of his dirk and a bed of heather, in return for his remonstrance at being robbed of his prey. Certainly the Maclures have ever since borne a "stag's head on their shield, and to this day they consider "Red John" rather a credit to the family than otherwise.
But the legend of "The Black Stag" is of far later date than the era of Scottish independence, and the victories of the Bruce : like many other traditionary tales of the old Highland families, it is connected with the unfortunate house of Stuart, and originates in the first half of the eighteenth century, when the Maclure of that day, who by the way bore the same Christian name as his red-bearded ancestor, came into his possessions amidst the rejoicings and triumphant demonstrations of his clan. John Maclure of Glen-Garran was a handsome spirited youth, tall and clean-made as became a Highlander, with a frank, fearless countenance and the sunny open brow that so seldom outlasts a few years of manhood's disappointments, hopes, and passions. As he sat in his own old hall, surrounded by his feasting clansmen, all in national costume, and armed moreover to the teeth, he looked the beau ideal of the young Highland chieftain. When the wassail was at its highest, and the "mountain dew," we may be sure, throbbing wildly in the brains of the good company, old Eachan, the privileged bard of the house, burst forth into one of those rhapsodies which were then esteemed the very inspiration of poetry, and in high-flown language detailed the glorious qualities of the young heir, the power and pride of his clan, the extent of his possessions, and the high hopes in store for the Maclure of Glen-Garran. But even as he spoke, the old man's lips trembled and his voice failed: Eachan was a seer, and the fatal gift of second-sight was upon him in the midst of his triumphant declamations; the busy hum that had greeted his early eloquence was now hushed; the cup was passed untasted by; each highhearted clansman, with a thrill of superstitious terror, gazed on the prophetic bard; and as the old man shrunk back into his seat, with his eyes glaring on vacancy and his countenance working convulsively, the low creeping tones in which he spoke chilled the very life-blood of his listeners, and many a gallant spirit that would have revelled to ecstasy in the shout of battle and the clash of steel, now cowered in childlike terror, horror-stricken, yet fascinated by the words of doom.
"The fir-tree grows straight and tall" said the prophet, "and its roots strike far and wide as it clings to its native soil; but the tempest is lying hushed in the caves and corries of Ben Wyvis, and its might shall awake in the morning, and the fir-tree's roots shall be torn bleeding from the earth, and its pride crushed into the dust. The eagle mounts upon the blast, and screams her shrill defiance as she soars away into the blue heavens, exulting in her freedom and the wings of her might; but the bullet is moulded that shall reach her heart, and the eagle shall fall and perish, and rot like the sparrow-hawk and the kestrel. There is a lily growing on the castle-wall to the west of the postern: the sun smiles down on her with a chastened ray; the south wind kisses her gently, and passes on, lest he should ruffle her petals or bend her slender stalk. Nature loves the lily; and man passes by, and smiles on her beauty, and his heart aches to think how fair she is. But the frost comes in the clear star-light, and he is keen and pitiless. So when the south wind returns,