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sir, I thought we had wanted three miles of this house till you showed it to me. But now we are at it, we'll turn into it, and refresh ourselves with a cup of drink, and a little
Pisc. Most gladly, sir; and we'll drink a civil cup to all the otter-hunters that are to meet you to-morrow.
Ven. That we will, sir, and to all the lovers of angling too, of which number I am now willing to be one myself; for by the help of your good discourse and company, I have put on new thoughts both of the art of angling, and of all that profess it. And if you will but meet me to-morrow at the time and place appointed; and bestow one day with me and my friends, in hunting the otter, I will dedicate the next two days to wait upon you; and we two will, for that time, do nothing but angle, and talk of fish and fishing.
Pisc. It is a match, sir; I will not fail you, God willing, to be at AMWELL-HILL to-morrow morning before sun-rising.
Venator. My friend Piscator, you have kept time with my thoughts; for the sun is just rising, and I myself just now come to this place, and the dogs have just now put down an otter. Look! down at the bottom of the hill there, in that meadow, chequered with water-lilies and ladysmocks; there you may see what work they make; look! look! you may see all busy; men and dogs: dogs and men; all busy.
Pisc. Sir, I am right glad to meet you; and glad to have so fair an entrance into this day's sport; and glad to see so many dogs, and more men, all in pursuit of the otter. Let us compliment no longer, but join unto them. Come, honest Venator! let us be gone, let us make haste; I long to be doing; no reasonable hedge or ditch shall hold me.
Ven. Gentleman huntsman, where found you this otter? Hunt. Marry, sir, we found her a mile from this place a-fishing. She has this morning eaten the greatest part of
this trout; she has only left thus much of it as you see, and was fishing for more; when we came we found her just at it but we were here very early, we were here an hour before sun-rise, and have given her no rest since we came; sure she will hardly escape all these dogs and men. I am to have the skin if we kill her.
Ven. Why, sir, what is the skin worth?
Hunt. It is worth ten shillings, to make gloves; the gloves of an otter are the best fortification for your hands that can be thought on against wet weather.
Pisc. I pray, honest huntsman, let me ask you a pleasant question; do you hunt a beast or a fish?
Hunt. Sir, it is not in my power to resolve you; I leave it to be resolved by the college of Carthusians, who have made vows never to eat flesh. But I have heard, the question hath been debated among many great clerks: and they seem to differ about it: yet most agree that her tail is fish. And if her body be fish too, then I may say that a fish will walk upon land; for an otter does so, sometimes, five or six, or ten miles in a night,3 to catch, for her young ones, or to glut herself with fish. And I can tell you that pigeons will fly forty miles for a breakfast. But, sir, I am sure the otter devours much fish; and kills and spoils much more than he eats. And I can tell you, that this dog-fisher, for so the
1 "Would ye preserve a num'rous finny race?
2 Walton takes his account of the Otter from Topsell's "History of Fourfooted Beasts," London, 1607, who translates from Gesner's Historia Naturalis, 1551. The reader is not likely to adopt implicitly any of the early writers as a present authority in the science of natural history, and need hardly be told that no part of the otter is fish. See a good account of the animal in Mrs. Loudon's "Entertaining Naturalist.”—ED.
3 An otter, when there is a scarcity of fish, will go to farm-yards far inland, to feed on poultry, rabbits, sucking-pigs, &c. It may be tamed, and taught to catch fish enough to sustain not only himself but a whole family; and Bewick relates an instance of a tame otter, which followed his master like a dog, and obeyed the word of command. Nothing can well be imagined more graceful than its movements in the water. They have occasionally been found drowned in the eel-baskets, or bucks, set in the river Thames, but always during high floods.-ED.
Latins call him, can smell a fish in the water an hundred yards from him: Gesner says much further—and that his stones are good against the falling (sickness; and that there is an herb, benione, which, being hung in a linen-cloth, near a fish-pond, or any haunt that he uses, makes him to avoid the place; which proves he smells both by water and land. And I can tell you, there is brave hunting this water-dog in Cornwall where there have been so many, that our learned Camden says, there is a river called Ottersey, which was so named, by reason of the abundance of otters that bred and fed in it.
And thus much for my knowledge of the otter: which you may now see above water at vent, and the dogs close with him; I now see he will not last long. Follow, therefore, my masters, follow; for Sweetlips was like to have him at this last vent.
Ven. Oh me; all the horse are got over the river; what shall we do now? shall we follow them over the water?
Hunt. No, sir, no: be not so eager; stay a little, and follow me: for both they and the dogs will be suddenly on this side again, I warrant you, and the otter too, it may be. Now have at him with Killbuck, for he vents again.1
Ven. Marry! so he does; for, look! he vents in that corner. Now, now, Ringwood has him: now, he is gone. again; and has bit the poor dog. Now, Sweetlips has her; hold her, Sweetlips! now all the dogs have her; some above and some under water: but, now, now, she is tired, and past losing. Come bring her to me, Sweetlips. Look! it is a bitch-otter, and she has lately whelped. Let's go to the place where she was put down; and, not far from it, you will find all her young ones, I dare warrant you, and kill them all too.
Hunt. Come, gentlemen! come all! let's go to the place where we put down the otter. Look you! hereabout it was that she kennelled; look you! here it was indeed; for here
1 The otter, after swimming sometime under water to escape his pursuers, lifts his head to vent or breathe.-ED.
The real otter-hound is believed to be extinct in this country, Lord Cadogan having had the last. The peculiarity of the breed consists in their having a valve in the ear to prevent the entrance of water, and being web-footed to the extremity of the feet.-ED.
are her young ones, no less than five; come, let us kill them all.
Pisc. No: I pray, sir, save me one; and I'll try if I can make her tame, as I know an ingenious gentleman in Leicestershire, Mr. Nich. Seagrave, has done; who hath not only made her tame, but to catch fish, and do many other things of much pleasure.
Hunt. Take one, with all my heart; but let us kill the rest. And now let's go to an honest ale-house, where we may have a cup of good barley wine, and sing Old Rose,' and all of us rejoice together.
Ven. Come, my friend Piscator, let me invite you along with us. I'll bear your charges this night; and you shall bear mine to-morrow-for my intention is to accompany you a day or two in fishing.
Pisc. Sir, your request is granted; and I shall be right glad, both to exchange such a courtesy, and also to enjoy your company.
1 The following are the words of "Old Rose
Now we're met like jovial fellows,
When the jowl with claret glows,
The bellows, and burn, burn, the bellows, the bellows.