I have since been sorry that I did not interview this truffle-hunter as to his methods and as to his dog, for I believe he is no longer to be seen in his old haunts. But I did get a pound or two to try, and was disappointed by the absence of flavour. I have since read that the English truffle is considered very inferior to the French, which is used in making pâté de foie gras.
To study the insect rabassier in my own house I had to obtain a small store of its favourite food. To seek it myself, by digging at random, would have resulted merely in waste of time; the little cryptogam is not so common that I could hope to find it without a guide. The truffle-hunter must have his dog; my guide should be the Bolboceras itself.
When at length the bells stop swinging and their vibrations die away, a screech-owl flies close by the open gallery of the house, which we call a balcony, and startles me with its ghostly scream. The day comes again, fair and hopeful. I am waiting for the old truffle-hunter, with whom I made an appointment for this morning.
It is pretty to see them swimming across a stream; they dive when alarmed, and remain out of sight a long time; they never leave the water or the bank, and are quite innocent of depredations on corn. In some counties, but not so far as I am aware in Worcestershire, one of the harmless snappers up of unconsidered trifles is the truffle-hunter.
In the calm of the twilight the little truffle-hunter goes abroad, chirping softly to encourage itself. It explores the soil, and interrogates it as to its contents, exactly as does the truffle-gatherer's dog. The sense of smell warns it that the desired object is beneath it, covered by a few inches of sand.
This means a repetition of the disappointments which I had before, when, to find a caterpillar, I was obliged to watch the Ammophila while hunting and to be guided by her hints, as the truffle-hunter is guided by the scent of his Dog. A patient exploration of the harmas, one tuft of thyme after another, does not give me a single worm.
The man is gray and old, with a sharp prominent nose, suggestive of his chief occupation, and with a bent back the effect, perhaps, of stooping to pull the pig's ear in the nick of time should the beast be tempted to snap up one of the savoury cryptogams. When it is added that he wears a short blouse and a low, broad-brimmed felt hat, I have described the appearance of the truffle-hunter.
Such a feat did not strike me as particularly possible; the insect is rare, flies off quickly when alarmed, and is lost to view. To observe it closely under such conditions would mean a loss of time and an assiduity of which I do not feel capable. Another truffle-hunter will show us what we could hardly learn from the fly.
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