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Chapter X - Dull and Uneventful.—Hope Ward deprecates Advice-giving, and is encouraged therein

A miserably wet morning; that was plain even before rising. And on getting up and looking through the bleared window, I saw it was likely to be a Highland rainy day of the most persistent type.

The low leaden clouds were charged with moisture, and the dense rain was driven in gusts of southwest wind, while the mists hung heavily down to the very base of the hills.

On going down to breakfast, I was pleased to find a bright wood fire crackling on the hearth; this, with the drowned look of the shrubs outside, and the twittering of birds in the eaves, gave quite an antumnal feeling to this summer morning. No one but Fred seemed to mind much, as we had plenty of resources indoors, and Fred, forcing his spirits with hope of still more sea-trout, hailed me with—

“Have an egg or a cutlet, Mr. Abbott ? Do not people declare that fish won’t take before rain?”

“Yes; but yesterday was an exception.”

“I should say so: yesterday fish far from diffident, and this day is far from dry.”

“Be quiet, little boy, and hand me the toast; we can talk after breakfast.”

“Now, Fred,” I said, on finishing my third cup, “what do you want to know about fishing?”

“Oh, just why some coming rains prevent fish rising, and others do not.”

“Who can say why barometer, wind, and sky, all fail to indicate certainty, one can only go by common observation. So be content with general rules, Fred; they do well enough. Any day with high, clear water and few white clouds should do for salmon, and dull warm days for trout, and that ten out of a dozen times.”    .

“You find pike are very capricious, do you not? Sometimes they refuse everything? ”

“Yes; and at others are just as determined tc feed, as I once saw.”

“Oh, tell me about it."

"Well, it was last year, when, being rowed across a loch, I hooked a trout of half a pound or so, and when winding him in I felt my line stopped as if it had caught a stone, and on looking to see what was up I saw a huge pike had my trout by the middle, just as a terrier would grip a rat, and I nearly had the landing-net oyer the bold fish ; but on being touched he let go and darted off.” .

“Why did you not gaff him?”

“I had no cleek. I was only trout-fishing.”

“Could we not have a regular day for yellow trout, some time?”

“Yes, Fred, we shall. There is a small loch near the north march with fine trout, the keeper says; but they are very shy. We must see, however, what careful fishing can do. Now for work; what are you to be about?”

“Tasks for Hope, and two letters.”

The day passed quickly with various occupations, and a visit to the kennels.

We did not care to have too many dogs, and considered our lot might do, viz., two couple of pointers and a brace of setters—all good—and besides we had the amiable Grace and her puppy in training, and five or six varmint-terriers.

By-and-by the half-drowned post-boy came with the letters—all satisfactory—except one, which Ward pitched on the sofa with an angry growl.

“Hope, no bad news, I trust,” said the Major; “anything wrong?”

“Wrong enough and to spare,” Ward replied. “Here is Anthony C , barrister-at-law, my halfuncle and self-appointed guardian, fearing I am losing time in Scotland.”

“Ah, dear! another advice-grievance; but no great harm in that.”

“No; but some cheekiness, and much conceit. The idea of C:-, who is no great things, after his long life of self-seeking presuming to speak of a sojourn here as lost time!”

I noticed the Major looking humorously at Ward’s angry face, so I listened for some fun.

“Tell him gently, Hope,” the Major said, “that we do not lose time.”

“I trow not; but how mighty vexatious are these platitudes about saving minutes and halfpence, as if one’s very breathing-intervals’ should be utilised in glancing at Plato or polishing one’s razors!”

“Still, many wise people so speak of stolen minutes,”

“Oh dear, yes—peculiar men in peculiar circumstances. Franklin, for instance, who had to force hoth means and time in his early drudgery, and he did well and wisely for himself and the world; but why should I follow poor Peter’s maxims?”

“Why not, Hope?”

“Because I have ample time and means for study, if I use them aright, without being brought to book for a Highland vacation.”

“Yes, surely; but many quiet people might think your very wrath proves Anthony sagacious.”

“Then many quiet people would be very wrong. I try to improve in my own way as I get along : I might ponder on advice from some men, but not from a muff.”

“Still, improve the shining hour’ is a sound platitude even from a muff.”

“Hem! Why, just the other day, Major, I was riled at the autobiography of a petty Solon of this stamp. The man had been staying at a nice country house, where even he allowed the company to be composed of educated, agreeable people; but it seemed they did not suit him; probably they did not bleat over others’ shortcomings, and laud one another; at all events, he drivels somewhat in this way— Alas! for several misspent days, aimless rambles, field sports, and light conversation!” "Good, prejudiced man.”

"Nonsense, Major. I know well enough there are prejudices to be respected; but in an honest household, amongst decent people, he might have found exercise for his exceptional wisdom. He was not obliged to join frivolities, miss birds, or revoke at whist.”

“Possibly he missed his wiser friends.” "You are quizzing; but the farce is, this stickler for lost time among pleasant people in a lovely country was a poor creature, incapable of enlightening his washerwoman; and, plainly, by his autobiographical showing, liked to 'be cock of a coterie, and was far from blind to his own petty interests and comforts.”

“Eheu! Hope. It is as well you keep such notions from Mrs. Grundy.”

“Ah, yes; but Ardenmohr is a free country, Major: one doe3 not need proof here, nor, by the same token, to weigh one’s words much.”

“Nor to feel particularly uneasy if Uncle Anthony thinks you should be in England at work, and I somewhere cutting throats.”

“Shall I write and tell him my ideas, and also of your veneration for prigs?”

“To what end, mon brave? You would only confirm him that he is a step nearer Solomon, and that, besides losing time, you keep strange company. Eather tell him,” said the Major demurely, “that on walking the moors, we extract the square root of each take of fish, and never pass a stream without calculating the cubic feet of water passing per minute.”

“I shall write discreetly, Major; trust me.”

“And is my advice good for naught?” I inquired. “Not for much, Samuel Abbott; one might defer to you in the matter of a black hackle or a bird’s egg, but in men and manners I’m a host, and the Major improves.”

“And I am flattered; but I say, Hope, was not Uncle Anthony the worthy who caned you for making a kite of his manuscripts?”

“The identical gentleman.”

“Then, Major, take his opinions cam grano: he bears malice.”

“Not for the thrashing—I deserved it; yet the cane might have been lighter. Anthony is simply a very vexatious and pompous individual.”

“Is he a Papist, Hope?” the Major asked.

“Come, you are too hard on me. To the rescue, Abbott—‘Desdichado to the rescue!’ Ah, what a book that ‘Ivanhoe’ is! an education itself, Major.”

“Yes, in romance.”

“Of course it is not a treasury of learning, like the books of Fuller, Burton, or Montaigne.”

“Bare old authors, Hope; your reading has been peculiar but good, I have noticed. Who directed you in your choice?”

"Odd enough, it was a venerable lady, and a very dear friend; I shall tell you about her some day. But it seems to have cleared up : anybody for a stroll ? ”

We went for a walk up the glen; and although still damp and close, the mists were dispersing, and the birds flitting about. On the steep side of the valley the swollen rivulets were brawling down their stony beds to join the burn, which was now a little river in noise and importance. A pair of ravens were cruising along its swollen banks in search of any drowned sheep or hare, and a long-legged heron was watching trout in the shallows, and was coveted for his salmon hackles.

The aspect of affairs changes quickly in the Highlands, for when we returned in an hour or two it was quite fine weather, and the waters much fallen in. We found Fred busy fishing near the Lodge ; hut the burn being too large, he had few trout.

Although there was little walking to-day, the red trout and Highland lamb at dinner were found to be excellent, and Ward said he felt quite amiable after haying written a two-edged letter to Uncle Anthony, dined, and filled his pipe. Moreover, he had to-day mastered some mathematical problem, which had been puzzling him for a week.

There was this evening a gorgeous sunset, and afterwards we remained out till bed-time. I lay awake for some time listening to the owls and the hushing sound of the burn.

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