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Chapter XV. - Grouse again.—A Fresh Beat

We left later to-day, as merely the black moss and the base of Corrigan had to be gone over, the upper part of the hill and the sloping range to the north being cut out for the next day; and it was about twelve o’clock before we reached the moss.

Only two guns were carried; Ward and Fred doing the shooting, Major Duncan and I looking on.

On the level by the burn some coveys were found, and five and a half brace killed before we entered the black moss, besides a mallard and three hares shot by the burn side.

When we came on the black moss, there could be no doubt that here was a most likely range. The moor extends for abotit a mile to the base of Corrigan, the rising ground on both sides thickly clothed with heather, the moor being interspersed with swamp, peat hags, and those shaggy knolls which are usually choice bits for old cocks.

Here the sport was capital, as the birds sat well both on the flat and hill sides. Neither Ward nor Fred shot well at first; but they improved, and, before finishing at the foot of Corrigan, they had increased the bag by twenty-seven brace of grouse, five rabbits, a hare, and three snipe. ‘We had then a stiff climb to get to the spring, where we lunched; but it was quite worth the exertion.

Under a rock, which shades its pure water from the sun, the “muckle spring” bubbles up in a circular basin of some five feet in diameter by three in depth, the water so beautifully clear that you can see the smallest pebble at the bottom, and the supply so ample that it overflows in a tiny stream and splutters over the stones in wee dwarfish waterfalls, while all around the spring the. mosess are brighter and the heather more intensely purple than elsewhere. The water of the “muckle spring” may neither be colder nor sweeter than in springs in other places, but it looks so much more jolly—like a magnum of champagne compared with a wretched pint.

“Ha! this is nice,” said Major Duncan. “Anybody for lunch? and, first, what do you make out the bag to be, Archie?”

“Seventy-six head, Major.”

“So do I. Now take that basket of provision for yourselves. No no, not that one; that’s the grouse pie, man. And, Archie!”

“Yes, Major.”

“Don’t give the men too much whiskey: that spring looks treacherous.”

“It’s what, Major? They say it’s the finest spring in the West Heelands.”

“Just what I mean, Archie: it may make the whiskey go down too freely.”

“Precisely, sir,—nae fear;” and Archie smiled grimly, and vanished with his comforts behind the rock.

“Have grouse pie, Abbott?”

“Yes, thank you, Major.”

“And you, Hope?”

“Much obliged, not yet; I must first have some pickled trout.”

“And drink the spring dry. What will you take, Fred?”

“Grouse, gruyere, spring water, and a cheroot,

After lunch there was an adjournment to the long heather over the rock, for a smoke in Turkish “sofatude.”

The view from this spot is wild and desolate enough, looking on one side across the rugged face of Corrigan and on the other down the glen; but yet it has a peculiar charm of its own, and one feels a sense of its tranquil beauty in dreamily gazing on the varied shapes of the hills, with their changing lights and shadows, as the summer clouds float past the mountain tops, while silence broods over all, save when now and then is heard the voice of some wild bird, or when the light wind brings faintly on the ear the soft sound of distant waters.

After an hour of this indolent delight, the Major and I took the guns to beat homewards along the rough stony sides of the hill, and we had some pretty shooting at single birds, and got seven brace of grouse (five of the birds old cocks), besides some ground game.

At dinner we felt as if we had had only a few miles’ walk, and we enjoyed a fresh parcel of papers and magazines; and Fred went away to the stables to have a gossip with the keepers.

Ne&t day Major Duncan and I beat over the higher parts of Corrigan and neighbouring heights. The birds were a little wild, but we got nine brace and fifteen blue hares. The mountain hare is not in perfect condition until later in the season: they are not so good for soup as the brown hare, unless it be clear soup, for which they are nearly as good as grouse.

On coming into the dining-room a bright wood fire made things look cheerful.

“Alas! no Meg Merrilies soup,” said Fred; “when shall we have it again, Mr. Abbott?”

“Likely enough when we hunt the north side. I look for great sport there ; still the fewer smashed the better,—it is bad shooting.”

“Ah, but sometimes the shot will go like a cartridge into a bird.”

“And sometimes small boys will fire at ten yards’ distance. Bless us, what a night! ” I remarked, as the heavy rain dashed against the windows. “We may soon have a word to say to the salmon.”

“Verily,” said the Major, “my fingers itch to have a bout with a thirty-pounder.”

“A twenty will do; besides, Hope can’t breakfast in peace without his kippered salmon.”

“Nonsense; you Scotch suppose every Englishman to be either 'gourmand’ or ‘gourmet.’ Now kipper is goot, and whiskey is goot, but you two can exist without.”

“Goot riposte, Hope. You had him there; and, apropos, do you like fencing?”

“Yes; famous exercise. I am somewhat clumsy with the. foils, but better at singlestick, as I had my teaching from a serious master—one Burt of the Guards, who welted me into caution and hard hitting.”

“Culture and sweetness,” drawled Fred, “we have plenty at school;—it puts one on squarer terms with the big bullies; and don’t they funk it sometimes!”

“Likely enough,” said Ward; “these Neros and Napoleons often show badly under reverses, boys or kings,—eh, Major?”

“Quite true; and, on the other hand, I have seen some stout soldiers in the field mild enough spirits at other times.”

“I can believe it. Many noted heroes were distinguished equally for gentle deportment: Bayard, without fear or reproach; Lord Falkland, that sweet and chivalrous soul; and your own Douglas, Major,

*Tender and True.’”

“Ah yes, Hope; such men leaven selfish humanity. And you have them even at school, Fred; what you call bricks, who stand up for a friend and divide freely their cakes and tips.”

“I see,” said Fred. “Hunter and Phillips are the sort Major Duncan means,—eh, Hope?”

“Why Phillips onee thrashed you badly, Fred.” “To be sure, but in fair fight; and he didn’t bully me afterwards.”

“What are your notions of fisty-cuffs, Major?” I asked.

“Antiquated, of course; and had I a son I should rather see him come in with a black eye than a scented handkerchief.”

“What a Goth to approve of rude fightiDg, boys!”

“No; neither coarse nor quarrelsome. But there is a deal of cant now about boys’ dignity; besides, the Greek and Roman fellows they read about were always fighting, and neither Caesar nor Scipio wanted dignity.”

“Oh, ho!” said Ward; “you bringing in those tiresome classics.”

“Come, Hope, don’t affect to have misunderstood me; I am only anti-finical, not anti-classical. One may perfectly relish and understand Spenser or Gibbon, yet not be able to parse a line of either.”

“O you incorrigible! Come outside, and have a look at the sky.”

The wind had fallen, but it still rained; and we turned in without having arranged anything for next day.

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