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Ardenmohr
Chapter XII. - Rabbit-Ferreting, etc.


This morning bright and warm; but Major Duncan and I had arranged to stay at home and put our accounts and correspondence into shape, as we might not have such a good opportunity after the shooting season fairly opened. Ward and Fred left immediately after breakfast, for a special day at the sea-trout.

One gets through a great deal of work in four or five hours, so that by three o’clock affairs were in a satisfactory condition. The Major is a perfect dragon for order and expedition: doubtless he had enjoyed practice, as adjutant and interpreter; and, although easily muddled when disturbed, I, with such quiet as to-day, get on moderately at the three R’s, and now felt the sort of satisfaction one has in performing even humble labours.

After lunch, when just on the way to join the anglers, Archie came to the Lodge, and it was agreed that instead of going to the river we should have a turn at the rabbits; so leaving Archie to get his dinner and bring the ferrets, we went off to the hill and waited till he joined us with the ferrets and retriever.    .

It is very pretty practice this same ferreting; and there is a certain excitement in slipping up to the burrows, dropping the ferret, and with ready gun waiting the issue.

Odd enough, rabbits do not always bolt when their homes are invaded by their enemy, and, when they do so, often dawdle out as if for an airing, instead of the headlong rush one might expect; but. they put on steam directly they see the sportsman.

The first burrows were drawn nearly blank; but on getting round to the sheltered side of the hill we found plenty, and they bolted well: eight couple were killed in a short time—some clipping shots made, and some shameful mulls.

It is very strange how “dour” at times rabbits are to leave their burrows; you can hear them rumbling below, as the ferret pursues them through the tunnels, yet, with open doors for escape, they will often allow the ferret to commit what Scotch law calls “hajne-sucken.”

On the high rocks there were few rabbits; but the holes being shallow they bolted at once, and it needed quick shooting to get them, as they were out of sight in a twinkling.

At one of the burrows here we had an incident in the sport. Archie had put a ferret into a hole just under a shelf of rock, but she came out quickly, and evidently in great excitement, with her hair fussed up like an angry terrier’s; put in again, the same was repeated.

“There’s a polecat or something in the hole,” said Archie, “and there’s nae use trying to howk him oot of hard rock.”

“Put in another ferret,” I said; “two should bolt a fox.”

On this Archie took a large dog-ferret from the bag and put him to the hole, the other one following.

All was quiet for a second or two, when out rushed two common cats with tails like bottle-brushes: one I shot, and Grace pinned the other before Ward had time to fire.

“What think you of this, Archie?” I said.

“’Deed, sir, I scarcely ken what to think. There’s no’ a house nearer than three miles, and I’m sure they’re no our cats.”

“Very true; but house cats wander far at times, and will lay up in such a good kitchen when they find it.”

“Deevil doot them; and had they been left, there would have been a braw toll oot of the warren. But wha would have supposed ferrets would bolt them, Mr. Abbott?”

“Oh! I have seen it before; and on one occasion I saw a large she-ferret kill a cat in a hutch directly when put in. It was a boy’s cruelty; but I remember well that the eat seemed stupified with fear.”

“It’s weel to ken that, for I’m whiles troubled to get at house cats that tak’ to hunting, and in places whar it’s no’ safe to lay down traps or poison.” “Are there any wild cats about here?”

“Not now: they used to be; but being bad to game, and no hard to trap, they get killed oot.”

On the way home we saw a single hen-harrier, and asked Archie if he had killed the other. He said no. We got home about seven, and the anglers did not arrive till we had sat down to dinner.

“Any sport?” the Major inquired.

“Yes, yes;” and Fred was proceeding eagerly with details.

“All right, my boy; but you two be off and change’: we shall have it all at dinner.”

They were not long appearing, and the tumblers of ice-cold water which Ward gulped seemed odd, after being all day beside a whole river.

“So, Hope, you had sport: what did you do?” I asked.

“Well, first we took the lower pools for sea-trout. The river has fallen in considerably; but there was a smart breeze. I crossed at the Heron-stane, and Fred fished this side.”

“What did you get in that pool?”    .

“Only three sea-trout: farther down I had two more and a small salmon, and Fred landed two grilse and a trout for his share. On the upper pools we hardly saw anything.”

“Hot bad, on the whole. Any event of note in your travels?”

“Why, yes; flushed a young lady in the heather.” “Ho! ho! an event to a grass bachelor: tell us about it.”

“Ask Fred; he was first spear.”

“A base pig-sticking allusion; but bow was it, Fred?”

“Ob! just this: Hope was fishing opposite me, and I was going down to another place, when I came plump on a girl sketching; and such a pretty girl! Of course I doffed my cap, and we exchanged courtesies.”

“And what said ye to the bonnie bairn, my boy Freddy?”

“Informed her that it was a fine day, and that the long-legged biped opposite belonged to me,” said Fred, laughing; “and she told me that her brother and a friend were fishing a little way down the river; so I joined them, and by-and-by Hope forded, and did the civil.”

“Who were your friends, Ward?” inquired the Major.

“Part of the household of Birkdrum, or some such name: one, a Mr. Coles, a capital angler; and Pother, Morton, a youngster about Fred’s age.”

“And Miss a a?”

“Morton also, sister to the boy. Fred and she quickly got friendly in consuming cakes and honey.”

“No doubt; and Hope Ward touched up her sketches?”

“Not quite. I only admired them and her. She draws nicely, and has dainty feet, albeit cased in hobnailed shoes; but where’s Birkdrum?”

“Quite ten miles away luckily, Hope. And did you ask them to call?”

“Yes; and if Mrs. Peyton be here when they come to fish the loch, it is possible mademoiselle may come with them.”

“Is she so. pretty as Fred says?”

“Yes; a slight-made girl, with frank manner, blue eyes, and a fresh bright look when she smiles.” “Ah, I see, Hope: none of that classical shoulder and cut features dear to novelists; but ‘Not too good For human nature’s daily food,’ eh?”

After dinner the Major said to Ward (who was putting, some tackle in order) that “it would be nice if we could get for an hour or two to a theatre and see a good play.”

“So it would, Major, if one might have a choice tragedy in human language, for once in a way.”

“What do you mean?”

“Simply that play verbiage seems so unnatural often, if one feels captious.”

“Not Shakspeare surely?”

“Yes, Shakspeare and others; false exceedingly, though beautiful exceedingly,” said Ward jokingly.

“In what way?”

Here Ward turned round to Fred, saying fiercely, “Vile, treacherous youth, hast thou purloined my fly? ” “Which fly, Hope?” inquired Fred.

“My loveliest Irish prince, graced with fair Argus plumes; its shapely waist banded with silver cord, all deftly fashioned by a beauty’s hand.”

“Oh I see, one of the lot Emmy tied. I never touched them.”

“Ah, Frederick Peyton, do I hear aright thy rude denial? I’ve lost my treasured charm, and thou, thy truth.”

“Was it a good one, Hope?”

“Good! This is brave mockery, young sir; good is a mean term for such a priceless lure. With it I’ve drawn the rushing monsters from the deep; with it yet would have had more. How, now for ever lost by the dark treachery of a heartless boy; that boy my kinsman: and, Major, that sort of easy rubbish is said to be natural, forsooth; why, if one spoke so in actual life, the nearest doctor for lunatics would be sent for.”

“But, my good Ward, dramatic language is not for flies and trifles, but to express deep feeling or passion.”

“Oh, bother feeling and passion. If a man deeply injured you, would you make him a florid speech on your withering sorrow and his vile depravity? No, verily; you should simply cut or shoot him, as circumstances required.”

“It is rather late to discuss the drama, Hope; but I thought you liked it?”

“So I do. I delight to witness the plays of Moliere, Sheridan, and such; but Corneille, Shak-speare, or Bacine I had rather read than see played.” “How do you read with pleasure what you think unnatural?”

“Because I quietly taste both the charm of their clear natural insight and their beauties of artificial style.”

“What about the present stage, thou creature of whims?”

“The Green Bushes and Arrah somethings? Well, I don’t know much about them; but the scenery is really pretty in some I have seen.”

“You would, perhaps, prefer Congreve, Wycherly, or such improprieties? You have read them?”

“To my shame, yea. Are they not mighty lively and witty? and can’t be pruned, more’s the pity.”

“Hem! yes. Still, the loss of a few depraved plays is not much; besides, the curious may read them, Hope.”

Galore of whist this evening. Ward and I rather turned the tables on the other two.


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