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Chapter XIV. - The Twelfth of August

Coming events will cast shindies as well as shadows before, and such a shindy there was this morning— dogs barking, Ered shouting with glee, and Ward sounding the reveille on his comet; besides, some malignants had been sawing, shoving about, and nailing game-boxes under my window, hours before I rose.

Ered and Hope were first down to breakfast— pretty much what one might expect, grouse-shooting being to them a fresh and coming event; while the Major and I had been, as was replied by the muff when offered a mount (supposed for the first time) with the Quorn, "he had been, and had come to grief;” and although our trials were the reverse of disappointing, still the has been does temper enthusiasm in many things, grouse-shooting inclusive.

Another and a more cogent reason: Major Duncan and I are salmon-fishers, and all who follow this sport of sports know what a craze it becomes. The salmon, the fox, and the red deer are the sportsman’s three Graces; and, compared with their pursuit, other sports seem mere pastimes, not passions. How few men would rise soon after midnight, and stumble over moss and muir in the dark morning for a bag of game, a round of golf, or the choicest quartette at whist! Yet many would cheerfully do that, and more, for the mere chance of a salmon, a stag, or a good' run with hounds; and even Ward and Fred might have considered twice had grouse-shooting required them to pack up rods and leave the glories of loch and river. It was, therefore, scarcely meant to throw over the fishing, much as we were pleased at a lively change of sport.

Breakfast was just begun, when John Fraser rode past the window on a stout hill pony. This shaggy quadruped, named Punch, is to remain as an extra shooting-pony.

Fred brought in the gudeman for a second breakfast and a stirrup-cup.

Some extra baggage being mounted on Punch, we left at once, as all other requisites had gone on before with the men and our own pony.

The morning dull, but with a slight breeze from north-west—almost a sure promise of a dry day; and we all left in high spirits, the Major unusually bright, as he actually made a vile pun—about the only one I ever heard him try. He was quizzing Fred on his fussy impatience, and said, “Hever hurry, my boy: ‘hurry’ rhymes with ‘flurry ’—a bad thing in a sportsman.”

“Ah,” said Fred, “but I am only at my alpha yet, Major.”

“Yes,” whispered the Major; “but you will be at ‘ beta and game-ah ’ presently; ” and he laughed gleefully at the wonderful classical joke. Arrived at the boathouse, we found men, dogs, and all ready, and opened the campaign at once.

Major Duncan and Fred, with Archie and John Fraser, went off to range the moors on the north side of the loch, and Ward and I kept on the south.

We had with us Donald Cameron (Archie’s sub), and a shepherd boy with Punch. I liked the arrangement, as Donald lives on this part of the moors, and is, besides, capital with dogs. We had the two setters, Monk and Melrose (so called from being pupped near the Abbey). I like setters when really good; their range and dash, if combined with steadiness, is a pretty sight. Ward does not mind dogs’ qualities much, if he gets shooting.

Mel was first loosed, and we moved on towards the higher range. Soon after starting, Ward shot a hare; and almost at the same moment a single grouse flew past, which I killed. For some time after we saw little game; but on coming higher up Mel began to draw on birds, and we soon found this proved a nice covey of grouse. Ward missed and killed; I got a brace. We again found, and each had another bird.

When just over the crest of the hill, Mel made a dead set among some rushes; I expected ground game, but up rose a fine old blackcock within twenty yards: it was a great temptation, but he was spared till the 20th. Donald said it must be a wanderer, as black game do not frequent this part of the grounds. It was a pity to let him go, Donald thought, as we might never have another chance.

We had now, for some time, little shooting for much walking, as the hill faces here are rough and rocky, with tall heather on some parts and bare ground on others, where the heath has been burnt to the stumps. On these rough braes we found a good many rabbits, and killed five couple; but it proved blank almost for grouse, although good generally, later on in the season; and here we only got three birds.

Farther on, the ground looked better; but the heather was still too rank, and we only found old birds, and managed three brace. Here Ward made very good work, and twice wiped my eye, which I only half liked, as I have a fancy for wild shots; indeed, he killed here five of the six birds. On and on to still higher ground; but it was now plain that to make a bag we must seek the lower moors, so we turned down by a “slantindicular” route.

On the way downwards, it was curious to see how Mel manoeuvred the ground so as to catch the scent. She displayed her tactics by making long casts to the right and left, then tacking towards us and working the ground beautifully. In this way she found birds several times before we got down to the low moors; but being old birds, they did not sit as we came right in sight of them. When near the flat, Dick’s sharp eye caught sight of a bird moving in a clump of heather to the left; a cheep of Donald’s whistle brought Mel to the place, when she set dead. This was a fine covey of eleven birds, at which good work was made; a brace and a half at the first rise, and, by following up the birds, we again found, and each killed right and left.

We had now come to the low grounds, and for some hours enjoyed capital sport, adding to the bag several snipe, a plover, two hares, and six and a half brace of grouse.

While shooting, the others had been heard for some time, as shot after shot echoed among the hills, and on turning a shoulder at the head of the loch we met them almost in the face.

“Neatly met,” said Major Duncan; “have you had lunch?”

“Not yet.”

“That’s good. We are going on to a spring Archie knows of, and shall refresh there. What sport? we have about twenty brace.”

“Then you beat us in grouse, I think; but we have a nice mixed bag.”

“Well, Fred, did you kill anything?” Ward asked.

“Oh, dear, yes,” the Major said; “Fred helped the hag wonderfully, and he walks well, I can tell yon.” Arrived at the spring, the first duty was to have a glass of the clear sparkling water and lay out the game for inspection.

We now sat on a heather mound (on which Dick had laid out lunch), and we partook moderately and thankfully, as becometh muscular Christians. A few minutes in the icy spring cooled some light wine and spruce beer, which was the ostensible tipple. Major Duncan and I, being Scotch, may have taken a leetle speerits. I suspect we did to countenance John Fraser.

“Now, Major,” I said, as we settled for a whiff, “what is to be done next ? We should have nearly the grouse wanted: I believe about forty brace was arranged for?”

“Forty-four, I think; but our friends will not mind having a brace or two more. Your college box, Ward, may, I suppose, be any size?”

“Yes, the college dons can dispose of all.”

“No doubt; then suppose Fred and you do the shooting on the way home by the loch. We did not hunt near the water on our side. Abbott and I shall criticize.”

“Just the thing,” I said. “It is a pity we should disturb the moor between the Lodge and the loch; leave that for a shot or two as we walk over to fish occasionally.”

“Correct, ‘Sapientissimus;' then that’s settled.” Ward and Fred now went to the front, and both setters were loosed, as we wished to see them hunt together; and, truly, their behaviour did Archie credit. A fine sight it is when a couple of dogs quarter the ground well, and back each other with ready intelligence.

The first intimation of game was by Mel stopping suddenly in mid career. She had seen Monk set birds in a hollow to the right. On going up, a covey of six rose. Ward missed and killed; and Fred made a right and left—the third time he had done so to-day.

“Bravo, Freddy!” shouted the Major; “Hope must now give you the sandwich-box.”

“I suppose I must,” said Ward; “for as likely as not he may fluke again.”

“Come now, Hope, be magnanimous: he dropped his birds quick and neatly.”

By the time we had beat to the end of the loch they had got, since lunch, four and a half brace of grouse, three plovers, and a teal duck, which was thought sufficient; but, just as we were giving over, both dogs set at different parts of some rushy ground. Mel had found a single bird, which Ward shot; and Monk had set a covey of eight birds, and, by following up, five of these were killed.

It was now well on in the afternoon, and we walked home leisurely. Dick and the boy had gone away after lunch with the game, &c.

Some hours after arriving, the gong, I suspect, boomed on unwilling drowsiness; but, soon freshened up, we all were down just as Dick entered with a huge tureen of soup, which he put on the table with proud complacency.

“Shades of Cambaceres and Fontenelle!” exclaimed Ward, “what is it? What a bouquet! ”

“Did you ever hear of Meg Merrilies’s soup, Hope?” said the Major.

“No, never.”

“Then be grateful for a new pleasure, and go on.”

“Wonderful!” said Ward, after a trial; “most wonderful!—a combined aroma of grouse, truffles, flowers, and mountain-breeze. What can it be, Major?"

“Simply the broken game, grouse, hare, and wild-fowl, too much smashed to be kept; their juices extracted in Meg’s cauldron, and artistically developed into this fragrant soup. Do you like it, Fred?”

“Yes; and like Oliver Twist, I must ask for more.”

“Sensible boy!”

Following this potent soup, came fried trout, haricot, and the first grouse of the season, flanked with Burgundy and sparkling Hock, and we had dined. Burmah never overloads a table: to be sure, besides having natural genius, he has had civilised training.

After dinner we had coffee outside, and cigars in the gloamin.

“So, Hope, you enjoyed grouse-shooting?” I remarked.

“Yes, every way. The climbing these rough slopes, the wild scenery, and pure air would be charming, even without the fine sport; and I can tell you an old cock grouse is not the easiest shot in the world.”

“I knew you would soon find that out; but ‘wait awee’ till the birds get a month older, and you will find grouse-shooting tight work, as you must then shoot well, and walk well too, for six or seven brace; but such noble-looking birds when in full feather! Besides, in wide ranging you get a pretty mixed bag, now and then capped with a roedeer or some old blackcock.”

"Oh! I should like to kill a roe,” Fred said.

“Perhaps you may, Fred. They are scarce here, but Major Duncan says they are numerous at Dunesk, and if you have luck, you may get two or three; but it is not like grouse-shooting, for often one of the guns has all the chances, and the others get nothing.”

“I hope to be the lucky one. Where do we go to-morrow, Major?”

“Not settled yet. Probably down the glen, along the flats by the burn, and then the black moss, and round this side of Corrigan hill,—that should do,—eh, Abbott?”

“Just the plan. Two guns may be enough: no use spreading much till we have the great beats on the north side.”

It was now becoming dark and rather chilly, and we went in and had desultory reading and opinions on Prussia till bedtime.

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