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    Ch. 8: Shepherds and Poaching

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    Chapter 8
    Previous Chapter
    General remarks on poaching--Farmer, shepherd, and dog--A sheep-dog
    that would not hunt--Taking a partridge from a hawk--Old Gaarge and
    Young Gaarge--Partridge-poaching--The shepherd robbed of his
    rabbits--Wisdom of Shepherd Gathergood--Hare-trapping on the
    down--Hare-taking with a crook

    When Caleb was at length free from his father's tutelage, and as an
    under-shepherd practically independent, he did not follow Isaac's strict
    example with regard to wild animals, good for the pot, which came by
    chance in his way; he even allowed himself to go a little out of his way
    on occasion to get them.

    We know that about this matter the law of the land does not square with
    the moral law as it is written in the heart of the peasant. A wounded
    partridge or other bird which he finds in his walks abroad or which
    comes by chance to him is his by a natural right, and he will take and
    eat or dispose of it without scruple. With rabbits he is very free--he
    doesn't wait to find a distressed one with a stoat on its track--stoats
    are not sufficiently abundant; and a hare, too, may be picked up at any
    moment; only in this case he must be very sure that no one is looking.
    Knowing the law, and being perhaps a respectable, religious person, he
    is anxious to abstain from all appearance of evil. This taking a hare or
    rabbit or wounded partridge is in his mind a very different thing from
    systematic poaching; but he is aware that to the classes above him it is
    not so--the law has made them one. It is a hard, arbitrary, unnatural
    law, made by and for them, his betters, and outwardly he must conform to
    it. Thus you will find the best of men among the shepherds and labourers
    freely helping themselves to any wild creature that falls in their way,
    yet sharing the game-preserver's hatred of the real poacher. The village
    poacher as a rule is an idle, dissolute fellow, and the sober,
    industrious, righteous shepherd or ploughman or carter does not like to
    be put on a level with such a person. But there is no escape from the
    hard and fast rule in such things, and however open and truthful he may
    be in everything else, in this one matter he is obliged to practise a
    certain amount of deception. Here is a case to serve as an illustration;
    I have only just heard it, after putting together the material I had
    collected for this chapter, in conversation with an old shepherd friend
    of mine.

    He is a fine old man who has followed a flock these fifty years, and
    will, I have no doubt, carry his crook for yet another ten. Not only is
    he a "good shepherd," in the sense in which Caleb uses that phrase, with
    a more intimate knowledge of sheep and all the ailments they are subject
    to than I have found in any other, but he is also a truly religious man,
    one that "walks with God." He told me this story of a sheep-dog he owned
    when head-shepherd on a large farm on the Dorsetshire border with a
    master whose chief delight in life was in coursing hares. They abounded
    on his land, and he naturally wanted the men employed on the farm to
    regard them as sacred animals. One day he came out to the shepherd to
    complain that some one had seen his dog hunting a hare.

    The shepherd indignantly asked who had said such a thing.

    "Never mind about that," said the farmer. "Is it true?"

    "It is a lie," said the shepherd. "My dog never hunts a hare or anything
    else. 'Tis my belief the one that said that has got a dog himself that
    hunts the hares and he wants to put the blame on some one else."

    "May be so," said the farmer, unconvinced.

    Just then a hare made its appearance, coming across the field directly
    towards them, and either because they never moved or it did not smell
    them it came on and on, stopping at intervals to sit for a minute or so
    on its haunches, then on again until it was within forty yards of where
    they were standing. The farmer watched it approach and at the same time
    kept an eye on the dog sitting at their feet and watching the hare too,
    very steadily. "Now, shepherd," said the farmer, "don't you say one word
    to the dog and I'll see for myself." Not a word did he say, and the hare
    came and sat for some seconds near them, then limped away out of sight,
    and the dog made not the slightest movement. "That's all right," said
    the farmer, well pleased. "I know now 'twas a lie I heard about your
    dog. I've seen for myself and I'll just keep a sharp eye on the man that
    told me."

    My comment on this story was that the farmer had displayed an almost
    incredible ignorance of a sheepdog--and a shepherd. "How would it have
    been if you had said, 'Catch him, Bob,' or whatever his name was?" I
    asked.

    He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and replied, "I do b'lieve
    he'd ha' got 'n, but he'd never move till I told 'n."

    It comes to this: the shepherd refuses to believe that by taking a hare
    he is robbing any man of his property, and if he is obliged to tell a
    lie to save himself from the consequences he does not consider that it
    is a lie.

    When he understood that I was on his side in this question, he told me
    about a good sheep-dog he once possessed which he had to get rid of
    because he would not take a hare!

    A dog when broken is made to distinguish between the things he must and
    must not do. He is "feelingly persuaded" by kind words and caresses in
    one case and hard words and hard blows in the other. He learns that if
    he hunts hares and rabbits it will be very bad for him, and in due time,
    after some suffering, he is able to overcome this strongest instinct of
    a dog. He acquires an artificial conscience. Then, when his education is
    finished, he must be made to understand that it is not quite finished
    after all--that he must partially unlearn one of the saddest of the
    lessons instilled in him. He must hunt a hare or rabbit when told by his
    master to do so. It is a compact between man and dog. Thus, they have
    got a law which the dog has sworn to obey; but the man who made it is
    above the law and can when he thinks proper command his servant to break
    it. The dog, as a rule, takes it all in very readily and often allows
    himself more liberty than his master gives him; the most highly
    accomplished animal is one that, like my shepherd's dog in the former
    instance, will not stir till he is told. In the other case the poor
    brute could not rise to the position; it was too complex for him, and
    when ordered to catch a rabbit he could only put his tail between his
    legs and look in a puzzled way at his master. "Why do you tell me to do
    a thing for which I shall be thrashed?"

    It was only after Caleb had known me some time, when we were fast
    friends, that he talked with perfect freedom of these things and told me
    of his own small, illicit takings without excuse or explanation.

    One day he saw a sparrowhawk dash down upon a running partridge and
    struggle with it on the ground. It was in a grass field, divided from
    the one he was walking in by a large, unkept hedge without a gap in it
    to let him through. Presently the hawk rose up with the partridge still
    violently struggling in its talons, and flew over the hedge to Caleb's
    side, but was no sooner over than it came down again and the struggle
    went on once more on the ground. On Caleb running to the spot the hawk
    flew off, leaving his prey behind. He had grasped it in its sides,
    driving his sharp claws well in, and the partridge, though unable to
    fly, was still alive. The shepherd killed it and put it in his pocket,
    and enjoyed it very much when he came to eat it.

    From this case, a most innocent form of poaching, he went on to relate
    how he had once been able to deprive a cunning poacher and bad man, a
    human sparrowhawk, of his quarry.

    There were two persons in the village, father and son, he very heartily
    detested, known respectively as Old Gaarge and Young Gaarge, inveterate
    poachers both. They were worse than the real reprobate who haunted the
    public-house and did no work and was not ashamed of his evil ways, for
    these two were hypocrites and were outwardly sober, righteous men, who
    kept themselves a little apart from their neighbours and were very
    severe in their condemnation of other people's faults.

    One Sunday morning Caleb was on his way to his ewes folded at a distance
    from the village, walking by a hedgerow at the foot of the down, when he
    heard a shot fired some way ahead, and after a minute or two a second
    shot. This greatly excited his curiosity and caused him to keep a sharp
    look-out in the direction the sounds had come from, and by and by he
    caught sight of a man walking towards him. It was Old Gaarge in his long
    smock-frock, proceeding in a leisurely way towards the village, but
    catching sight of the shepherd he turned aside through a gap in the
    hedge and went off in another direction to avoid meeting him. No doubt,
    thought Caleb, he has got his gun in two pieces hidden under his smock.
    He went on until he came to a small field of oats which had grown badly
    and had only been half reaped, and here he discovered that Old Gaarge
    had been lying in hiding to shoot at the partridges that came to feed.
    He had been screened from the sight of the birds by a couple of hurdles
    and some straw, and there were feathers of the birds he had shot
    scattered about. He had finished his Sunday morning's sport and was
    going back, a little too late on this occasion as it turned out.

    Caleb went on to his flock, but before getting to it his dog discovered
    a dead partridge in the hedge; it had flown that far and then dropped,
    and there was fresh blood on its feathers. He put it in his pocket and
    carried it about most of the day while with his sheep on the down. Late
    in the afternoon he spied two magpies pecking at something out in the
    middle of a field and went to see what they had found. It was a second
    partridge which Old Gaarge had shot in the morning and had lost, the
    bird having flown to some distance before dropping. The magpies had
    probably found it already dead, as it was cold; they had begun tearing
    the skin at the neck and had opened it down to the breast-bone. Caleb
    took this bird, too, and by and by, sitting down to examine it, he
    thought he would try to mend the torn skin with the needle and thread he
    always carried inside his cap. He succeeded in stitching it neatly up,
    and putting back the feathers in their place the rent was quite
    concealed. That evening he took the two birds to a man in the village
    who made a livelihood by collecting bones, rags, and things of that
    kind; the man took the birds in his hand, held them up, felt their
    weight, examined them carefully, and pronounced them to be two good, fat
    birds, and agreed to pay two shillings for them.

    Such a man may be found in most villages; he calls himself a "general
    dealer," and keeps a trap and pony--in some cases he keeps the
    ale-house--and is a useful member of the small, rural community--a sort
    of human carrion-crow.

    The two shillings were very welcome, but more than the money was the
    pleasing thought that he had got the bird shot by the hypocritical old
    poacher for his own profit. Caleb had good cause to hate him. He, Caleb,
    was one of the shepherds who had his master's permission to take rabbits
    on the land, and having found his snares broken on many occasions he
    came to the conclusion that they were visited in the night time by some
    very cunning person who kept a watch on his movements. One evening he
    set five snares in a turnip field and went just before daylight next
    morning in a dense fog to visit them. Every one was broken! He had just
    started on his way back, feeling angry and much puzzled at such a thing,
    when the fog all at once passed away and revealed the figures of two men
    walking hurriedly off over the down. They were at a considerable
    distance, but the light was now strong enough to enable him to identify
    Old Gaarge and Young Gaarge. In a few moments they vanished over the
    brow. Caleb was mad at being deprived of his rabbits in this mean way,
    but pleased at the same time in having discovered who the culprits were;
    but what to do about it he did not know.

    On the following day he was with his flock on the down and found himself
    near another shepherd, also with his sheep, one he knew very well, a
    quiet but knowing old man named Joseph Gathergood. He was known to be a
    skilful rabbit-catcher, and Caleb thought he would go over to him and
    tell him about how he was being tricked by the two Gaarges and ask him
    what to do in the matter.

    The old man was very friendly and at once told him what to do. "Don't
    you set no more snares by the hedges and in the turmots," he said. "Set
    them out on the open down where no one would go after rabbits and
    they'll not find the snares." And this was how it had to be done. First
    he was to scrape the ground with the heel of his boot until the fresh
    earth could be seen through the broken turf; then he was to sprinkle a
    little rabbit scent on the scraped spot, and plant his snare. The scent
    and smell of the fresh earth combined would draw the rabbits to the
    spot; they would go there to scratch and would inevitably get caught if
    the snare was properly placed.

    Caleb tried this plan with one snare, and on the following morning found
    that he had a rabbit. He set it again that evening, then again, until he
    had caught five rabbits on five consecutive nights, all with the same
    snare. That convinced him that he had been taught a valuable lesson and
    that old Gathergood was a very wise man about rabbits; and he was very
    happy to think that he had got the better of his two sneaking enemies.

    But Shepherd Gathergood was just as wise about hares, and, as in the
    other case, he took them out on the down in the most open places. His
    success was due to his knowledge of the hare's taste for blackthorn
    twigs. He would take a good, strong blackthorn stem or shoot with twigs
    on it, and stick it firmly down in the middle of a large grass field or
    on the open down, and place the steel trap tied to the stick at a
    distance of a foot or so from it, the trap concealed under grass or moss
    and dead leaves. The smell of the blackthorn would draw the hare to the
    spot, and he would move round and round nibbling the twigs until caught.

    Caleb never tried this plan, but was convinced that Gathergood was right
    about it.

    He told me of another shepherd who was clever at taking hares in another
    way, and who was often chaffed by his acquaintances on account of the
    extraordinary length of his shepherd's crook. It was like a lance or
    pole, being twice the usual length. But he had a use for it. This
    shepherd used to make hares' forms on the downs in all suitable places,
    forming them so cunningly that no one seeing them by chance would have
    believed they were the work of human hands. The hares certainly made use
    of them. When out with his flock he would visit these forms, walking
    quietly past them at a distance of twenty to thirty feet, his dog
    following at his heels. On catching sight of a hare crouching in a form
    he would drop a word, and the dog would instantly stand still and remain
    fixed and motionless, while the shepherd went on but in a circle so as
    gradually to approach the form. Meanwhile the hare would keep his eyes
    fixed on the dog, paying no attention to the man, until by and by the
    long staff would be swung round and a blow descend on the poor, silly
    head from the opposite side, and if the blow was not powerful enough to
    stun or disable the hare, the dog would have it before it got many yards
    from the cosy nest prepared for its destruction.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 8
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