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Ardenmohr
Chapter XIX. - Romeo and Juliet: with Juliet absent


A few more days of climbing the hills up among the ptarmigan, visits to Loch Na Seachin, and other pleasant places, and our friends’ time was up; they had to leave on the Saturday morning, but as they were to be in the neighbourhood of Dunesk in October, this promised to mitigate the deprivation sure to be felt on their departure.

I had observed Major Duncan to be occasionally dull and distrait lately; not very pronounced, certainly, in one of his calm temperament, but still there tv as something, and I fancied it might have to do with the approaching dissolution; which sagacious surmise was soon confirmed in this wise.

On the afternoon of the Thursday before they left, the Major and I being alone in the library writing letters, I was speaking of the departure, and remarked that Hope would by-and-by meet his beloved after so long an absence.

“A week or two is not a very trying separation,” the Major said quietly.

“A week or two? Why, bless the man, more than a year!”

“What did you say, Abbott?” and, starting to his feet, he grasped my shoulder like a vice.

“I just meant to say, that Hope’s second cousin, Emily Peyton, has returned from Germany, and is to join Mrs. Peyton soon; they are in a sort engaged, Mrs. Peyton tells me.”

While I explained this, Major Duncan was looking at me with such a strange, anxious expression, then he said, almost in a whisper—

“And it is is not Annie?”

“Certainly not, never was.”

On my saying so, he leant his head on his hand for a while, seemingly in deep thought; at last he looked up in my face and with an odd smile he said, “What a fool I have shown myself! You will forget all this, Abbott?”

“Well—a—yes; until you remind me. And nothing could be better.”

“How better?”

“Nothing better than that two persons admirably suited for each other should find this out; both seem to me to have made the discovery.”

When I said this there was a palpable blush on the Major’s bronzed cheek, and his eye sparkled, but he merely quietly remarked, in his usual manner, “She is so young, Abbott, and I thought^ her destined for Hope.”

“Young! to be sure she is; and in not a few things you are the youngest-minded of us all, spite of your gravity; nor is thirty-three a very patriarchal age.”

“That is a disputed point, my good friend,” he observed.

“Then make the lady umpire, oversman, or something of the kind,” I said, laughing, as we rose to leave the room; but he only shook his head and said, “Time may show, Abbott.”

Such was all of Eomeo and Juliet seen on the surface until our friends departed, which they did on the Saturday morning, much to our regret, and somewhat to the detriment of fish and fowl on loch and moor, now left without any defence to what (by Mr. Greg, and the philosophy of the new school) is termed “our savage instincts;”

In fact, that very afternoon, when they left, we took to the hills in pursuit of mountain hares as a tonic for peace of mind, nor did we return until dark to a bachelor’s dinner.

Of course, anything like depression could merely be temporary with a few light-hearted sportsmen; but, to a certain extent, it was inevitable on the sudden and complete separation of friends so very agreeable, and for whom we one and all had real regard and affection. Major Duncan seemed least hipped of any; but the evening before they left he had a long stroll up the glen with Mrs. Peyton— had he broken ground about Annie, and not been discouraged?—quite possible.

Sport and sociable enjoyment had now gone on without a hitch to near the end of September, by which time most of the resources of Ardenmohr (excepting the more remote covers) had been thoroughly tested.

Salmon fishing was still carried on, but by the middle of September fish begin to lose condition in the river, and are sensibly depreciated in the loch, although much more plentiful. Notwithstanding this drawback, the shooting was often let alone that we might have a cruise on the loch or a cast on the river; and every now and again a salmon would be caught newly run from the sea, and as fair and shapely as a summer fish.

Grouse for some time had been packed (that is, having broken up their family coveys, they associate together in large crowds, or packs, of from fifty to one hundred or more), and when so congregated they become wild and wary, and are only to be got at by stalking them cautiously from behind rocks or knolls, or by an unseen approach along some ditch or gulley, and by having them driven past where the sportsmen are concealed. Yet there is always a sprinkling of birds that do not pack, especially old cock grouse.

We could always get some shots on the rough rocky braes near the lodge, or amongst the “ heights and hows ” of Corrigan, and the dry shaggy clumps at the black moss; thus, by walking singly, and coming warily round corners, and over abrupt risings on the moors, we had given the packs many a surprise, and considerably circumvented and thinned out the astute old cocks. All of us liked this sort of wild shooting, when moderately successful, quite as much, if not more, than the easier work of the early season; besides, when the weather becomes cool, brisk exercise in the fresh mountain air is a positive luxury.

Major Duncan and I missed the working of the dogs, for by this time we merely required a retriever to pick up a wounded hare, or find a bird that had fallen in cover or amongst rank heather.

In all kinds of wild shooting, Ward (an untiring walker, and almost too quick a shot) positively revelled; and he would be olf and away for the long day on these solitary stalks, with some provisions in his pocket and a game-bag on his shoulder. And on such occasions would come home late, sometimes not until dark, with three or four brace of grouse, looking as proud as if they were red deer; in the evening he would detail each ruse and surprise with infinite zest.

Driving grouse we did not quite approve of, even could we have got together a sufficient number of drivers to do it thoroughly, which might have been difficult in so sparsely populated a district. Still, sometimes, on sighting a pack well placed for being driven overhead, the temptation was too much, and once or twice raking volleys were sent with great effect into these crowds of grouse; but on discussing this matter one evening, and speculating on the many birds that might be wounded, it was nem. con. agreed that it should be discontinued.

With black game any manner of ruse is excusable, as they are nearly unapproachable when full-grown— except by silent and artful going in cover—or, in the open, by having them driven; besides, the packs of black game are neither so large, nor do they fly so close together, as grouse, thus there is less chance of damaging outsiders. Moreover, when started they usually go swiftly past, three or four together, affording famous sport to a good quick shot, who can sight and drop the old cocks out of each passing flight; but, oh dear! this is a sport especially disastrous to muffs. How pitiful they do look as they stand with the smoke scarcely arisen from their harmless guns, and the great blackcock skimming on to the woods! How an enthusiastic novice can sleep, after having that day missed six consecutive groups of black game, is only to be accounted for by fatigue. An evil conscience should be mild to his self-reproach. Yet there are seared or stolid individuals who refuse to feel humbled in such circumstances—men who will sleep soundly, and hold up their heads next day at breakfast.

Several excursions had been made to the north and north-west marches for the purpose of shooting black game, and my notes record two special red-letter days, Friday and Saturday, at the close of September, when a nice variety of game and excellent sport was the result.

Having arranged to look for partridges on the small farms at the north march, and to range the outlying covers for black game, we, after an early breakfast, drove quietly by the hill road to a farmhouse some five miles from the lodge. Here we found Archie, who had ridden over with the pony and taken the pointers, and presently arrived Peter Doig and other men from about the place ; so, taking the hampers out and putting them on the pony, we set off through the woods towards the north march. In passing by these woods we killed some hares, and Fred shot a jay, its blue and black feathers being useful in dressing certain kinds of flies- We saw two roes, but did not get a chance at them-

Found the farm folks engaged at cheesemaking, and stayed a while to have a look at the cattle and get a drink of whey, then moved on to find the partridges.

Although well on in the morning, we saw some black game and grouse still feeding on the stubbles upon the higher fields near the moor, hut in unapproachable situations. Several coveys of partridges were flushed and driven into the turnip fields or among the broom and fern, and in a few hours we had fourteen brace and some hares and rabbits. The hill partridge is smaller than the birds of the better cultivated lowlands, but equally plump and swift of wing, so we had a good morning’s sport.

The next move was on to the gorse covers and birch wood, where we saw a good head of black game, and secured six and a-half brace—four of them old cocks—besides hares and rabbits.

After luncheon we sought the open moor to try for some grouse, and shot in line along the braes and rough boggy grounds. The birds were mostly packed, but we managed to secure five grouse, eight golden plovers, and a few snipe, before arriving at the farm.

By the time we got the horses harnessed it was late, and before coming to the lodge by the ticklish hill-road it was dark; but we had enjoyed a fine day’s sport, and made a pretty bag of various sorts of game.

No late sitting to-night; besides, next day’s walking would likely be even harder.

On Saturday, spite of a certain degree of stiffness in the joints, we left earlier, and had come to the farm in good time, quite freshened up with the bracing mountain air.

Nearly the same routine as yesterday had been fixed on; but, after having discussed the partridge grounds, we went on to the hitherto untried woods at the extreme north-east of our march. Here the dense cover was so closed with fern, bush, and thorns that rather stiff work was anticipated—and so it proved.

The whole of the terriers were brought out to-day to lend their help in ransacking this almost impracticable wilderness of thorns. So, being duly and uselessly admonished, they were let in at the end of the cover. Zealously did they perform their work; but the riot they made was, to speak moderately, lively and demonstrative, and this continually until the whole of this rugged cover was worked out; as in too many cases of superlative fuss, the wool was nothing to the noise, yet there was a fair amount of shooting and a great deal of fun.

These peppery wretches of terriers quite reverse the manners of the more docile spaniel; for, when once their blood is up, they are deaf to command and heedless of whip or strong language, but will go recklessly at everything, from a hedgehog to a highland stirk. Yet, in such a rugged and thorny waste, they are invaluable, and, with their keen sight and scent, and perfect indifference to orders or to the most obdurate thickets of bramble, I hardly think they left a living thing behind them in the cover. Here a dilatory partridge would flurry from a bush, leaving its tail in a terrier’s mouth; then in the next clump of bushes a rushing and barking, and a bolting of rabbits, now and again varied with the death squeak of some victim of indecision; or a long-legged hare would go off with the varmint pack at her heels, only to come back baffled and panting to regain their wind, and again brush through the thorns for more blood.

Having finished out these covers, Peter Doig took us along the burn for a mile or so, and then over a rising ground that looked on a small glen sprinkled with birch-trees, with a thick undergrowth of bush, fern, and rank heather; he said that “there was whiles a roe or twa in the wood,” and that they would beat it up slowly: so, having taken us round and placed us at different corners by the end and edges of the wood, he went away back to have it beat up.

It was so long before any symptoms of game appeared, that I thought Archie and Peter had improved the occasion to smoke a pipe and rest a while; but by-and-by the black game showed they were disturbed, and a good many were now passing overhead or by the skirts of the wood. I had several shots, and killed two, and I heard the others fire occasionally. Hares and rabbits were now scudding along, and as the beaters came nearer there was a loud shouting and cries of “Mark roe,” “Roe forward.” I looked keenly out for a shot, but no roe came my way. Only two were seen; they broke out near where Hope was posted, and he luckily got one, a fine buck, which I found Pred contemplating with great delight when I joined the others.

It was now getting rather late, so we gave over shooting, set off direct for the farm, and having got the horses harnessed, drove in the dusk along the ticklish hill-road, and came safely home before it was quite dark; and very tired we all were.

After dinner there was an inspection of letters, &c., come to-day, and Hope gave us part of a droll letter from Annie Peyton, commiserating our bachelor loneliness and sombre dinner parties, holding out fairer prospects on our visit to Dunesk.

“But, Hope, you have two letters,” Fred said, looking slyly at another paper in Ward’s hand.

“Ho, not as you think; it is a rhythm, you curious imp.”

“May you read it?” the Major smilingly inquired.

“Surely, if you listen with becoming reverence; besides, it is in some sort a warning to bachelors.”

“In what way, Hope?”

“Just that the lines are by a young lady on the occasion of leaving, for her marriage, the home of an old bachelor uncle who had brought her up almost from childhood. Annie is her friend, and also a favourite with the old gentleman, so she was sent a copy of the verse.”

“Oh, yes, I see; doting old uncle—spoilt girl —trousseau—farewell—anticipated future, &c., &c. Proceed with the recitation, circumventor of grouse cock.”

“Very good; then listen soberly.”

ON LEAVING MY UNCLE’S HOME, AND MY OWN

The days when thy proud manhood shone,
Have quickly passed,
And time to find thyself alone
Hath come at, last..

For one by one friends of thy youth
Are gone, or lost by newer ties,
While he, best loved for heart and truth,
Thy other self, near Alma lies.

Thy once bright mind subdued and still,
Its spirit fled;
The firmest foot on crag and hill
Must now be led.

Around thy chair no loving ones,
No wife’s unselfish tending seen.
Where be the brave and manly sons,
On whom thy feeble steps should lean?

Yet one leal heart was close to thine,
Unseen, unsought.
Ah! hadst thou read that hidden line,
How changed thy lot

You then had come to love and trust
The mission a good woman bears,
Nor would she left thee, as I must,
For other duties—other cares.

Still, Uncle dear, I dare not blame
Gay years so brief;
For none e’er joined thine honoured name
With other’s grief.

But when age bows the strong and bold,
The proudest feel, yet may not own,
This simple truth the sage hath told,
“Man is not meant to live alone.”

Gerty.

“Well spoken, young lady—bravo!” the Major observed; “the old gentleman is bound to miss her and feel alone. What is your opinion, Fred?”

“I daren’t venture an opinion, Major. I am no judge of rhymes; besides, Hope has just read it, and is large-souled with potting a buck to-day. One must be cautious of his Honour for a while.”

“Don’t be jealous, small boy,” Ward said; “your luck will come at Dunesk.”

“I hope it may; but to-day when I heard the shouts of ‘Mark roe,’ I was so awfully shaky that they would have got away scot-free had they come my way.”

“Oh, never fear; a roe is a big mark, and when you get a chance at one just you snap shoot at him with both barrels. I’ll back you to scare—beg pardon—no, to secure him, Freddy.”

The brief time we had yet to remain soon passed away, and much as before as regarded shooting, excepting certain days devoted exclusively to driving and thinning down mountain hares, which, when too numerous, are very detrimental to the hill pasturage. So, in having the sport we also did duty for the benefit of the sheep-farms, and distributed the hares amongst the neighbours. The great beats for mountain hares are generally made in winter and early spring—at that time they are pure white and in highest condition; but we made the best of circumstances, and were very successful. Grouse and black game had now become scarce and harder to come at, but the more valued on this account; and by October all game-birds are in full feather and in perfect shape.

No days were more enjoyed than those now and then passed among the high, windy peaks of the hills in pursuit of ptarmigan. Doubtless the ascent always necessitated toilsome walking, but, having accomplished the climb up to the sky-line, the travel afterwards became easy enough; and after having ranged on these lofty crests and secured a few brace of the beautiful birds, it was so pleasant to bivouac for a time on some wind-sheltered slope, and look around us at the wild, barren cliffs, or to gaze far below on the wide moors and wood and water of the open country.

When descending from these high tops there was hardly any attempt at shooting; it requires all one’s attention to avoid getting an awkward cropper, or, perhaps, a sprained ankle; but, when down to the more level moor, it was time to look out and make a finish with the grouse or golden plover, when we could sight a flock of them.

The golden plover, some of the gull tribe, the curlew, &c. &c., may be styled as partially migratory birds, for they never entirely leave the country.

Every spring these, and some others of like habits, desert the sea-coast and fly inland to rear their young in the undisturbed solitudes of the hills. The gulls soon return to sea, but the others long remain; yet when the weather becomes wintry and the earth frostbound they all go back to the seacoast.

Some of the peculiarities of migratory birds appear so mysterious and puzzling that I fancy no Fellow (of whatever distinguished association) can understand them. For instance, there is much sound and circumstance accompanying the migrations of certain birds, while others come and leave with secrecy and reticence. The migrations of wild geese, swallows, oyster-catchers, red shank, &c., are all carried out with more or less demonstration; while the woodcock, the landrail, the cuckoo, &c., arrive in the country silently and unobserved, and again disappear under silence and mystery.

I had often wondered that the landrail, which always journeys at night, should never use its powerful voice to indicate its whereabouts to the others; but once, and only once, about four years since, on a darkish night at the time of their arrival, I heard passing overhead the craik-craik of the landrail clearly and distinctly, and also the answering call of another flying at some distance away to the north.

That the woodcock should he mute is not so much to be wondered at. Ho doubt it has a sort of voice, for in the breeding season it flies about at dusk croaking mildly, and occasionally gives a sort of chinking squeak; how different from its long-beaked swamp cousin, the curlew, which has a pipe like a railway whistle. Yet, sharp and loud although it be, still is it a wild and pleasing voice when heard near the whaup’s haunts in the wide and desolate moor, or far out on the sandy sea-shore.

Another puzzle is the migration of the swift; it is the latest to arrive of all the swallow tribe, yet, strange enough, it is much the earliest to leave us. Hot a swift is to be seen by the end of August, and at that time insect life is in full abundance. It has most wonderful powers of flight, and, considering its tardy arrival, should rather overstay the others, instead of being off so hurriedly. In fact, the only rational elucidation of the business seems to have been given long ago by Charles Lamb, who, when he worked in the India House, was rated for being always latest at his office: “Ah! yes,” he said, “but I am first to go.”


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