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Chapter XVI. - A Day at Loch-na-Seachin.—Ladies arrive at the Lodge

“SALMON-fishing for me,” said Ward decisively, as we stood in front of the Lodge in the morning.

“And for me,” said Major Duncan, scanning the flying clouds. “Are you for loch or river, Abbott?” “Either,” I replied: “the weather is good for both. What say you, Fred? We go together, it seems.”

“Yes, so you promised; but might we not go to the Loch of the Fairies?” said Fred half timidly.

“Surely; I’ll go with pleasure: I want another look at Loch-na-Seachin. You had better take your gun, and kill some grouse on the way; but let us in to breakfast, as it is a long walk.”

Leaving word for the boy to bring the fishing-tackle, &c., on Punch, we set off straight across the hill, then diverged to the peat road, and kept by the path as we did not wish to disturb the fresh grouse beats ; but Fred easily got five brace as we walked to the loch.

As expected, Fred was charmed, and said he had sometimes dreamt of such a spot; but, like a boy, he was looking less at scenery than for Punch, and presently descried that sedate quadruped on the sky-line; and we went to the head of the loch, and waited for the tackle.

Having unpacked the pony, and put up the rods, we proceeded to test the Loch-na-Seachin; but it soon became apparent that she was a “shy-loch,” as, after an hour’s patient fishing, we had only one trout, although that was a beauty in shape and colour, and about two pounds weight. It seemed useless to go on fishing in the meantime, so we went to the rushy end of the loch to look for wild-fowl, and with Fred’s light gun I got three teal and some snipe.

All the morning the weather had been capricious, alternate sunshine and cold blustering showers, which the herd-boy called “scuds;” but towards afternoon the sky became very black in the north. We returned to the head of the loch, and had scarcely sheltered below a huge projecting ledge of rock when the storm came on with a vengeance, and continued so persistingly that it was resolved to face it and go home, should it not soon improve. At last, however, a change seemed impending; the wind calmed, and the rain fell more heavily in a straight-down thunder shower bubbling the whole surface of the loch. By-and-by bits of blue sky showed here and there, and a light westerly wind dispersing the clouds; the sun came forth, and the hills were once more glorified with sunshine, while every bush and heather-sprig seemed dropping diamonds.

The trout were freely rising here and there on the loch, as if to make up for their previous apathy; and I told Fred that now was his time, if we wanted to save being quizzed by Hope.

So we set earnestly to fishing, and enjoyed one of those exceptional times which will occur even on the “shyest” of lochs; for, on finishing, we had thirteen trout—golden beauties, most of them over a pound, and two of nearly three pounds; and we set off to the Lodge well satisfied.

From the hill-top we looked back at the fair loch, now glassy and glowing under the setting sun; and Fred remarked how lucky, after all, was the rough weather, as, without it, the trout might have laughed at our beards—or baskets at all events, he added, on seeing me smile.

We got to the Lodge rather late, for the others had been home some time, and they had killed four salmon, a grilse, and some sea-trout.

On meeting at dinner, Ward inquired gaily, “I say, Fred, who, think you, comes here tomorrow?”

“Don’t know; unless it be your sketching friends, the Mortons.”

“Hardly. Only your mother, and Annie, and Miss Clive, and your mother’s bonne, and all sorts of bonnets and band-boxes.”

“Oh! Hope, that’s capital! How jolly ! and won’t we take them to the Fairy Loch? But will not Janet be bored, Major?” added Fred.

“Far from it, my boy,—she is quite pleased and amiable; and she says it will be like old times when her lady kept Ardenmohr full of company; and Hope was just now telling her that his friends were easy-going people, and could rough it in harder quarters.”

"I should rather think so, and in worse company,” drawled the little man, while he twisted an imaginary moustache.

This evening and the following day were passed in preparations for expected guests; and it was nearly six in the afternoon before the carriage drew up at the Lodge, and daylight of civilisation beamed on our bachelors’ camp in the advent of Mrs. Peyton and two charming girls, a French maid, a poodle, and a world of boxes. Greetings and introductions being speedily accomplished, the travellers were carried off by Janet Cameron to the ladies' gallery.

We had made the old-fashioned dining-room as neat as possible: the polished arms glittering on the walls were intermixed with flowers and fern; and Ward had placed for each of the girls a bouquet of white heath centred with a blush rose. The evening being warm, the windows were thrown open, and the ladies sat down to dinner in full view of glen and mountain.

This, our first attempt, got on famously—everyone pleased and cheerful. Dick waited with the power of half-a-dozen servants; while Burmah flitted about in snowy turban and gorgeous scarf, gravely dispensing cunning compounds of wine and ice.

"This is quite nice and piquant,— eh, Miss Clive?” said Mrs. Peyton. “Why, hardly an hour since, when coming through that wild glen, Annie was just speculating if you might not be troubled in receiving ladies, and, lo ! here is a castle with all sorts of graceful appliances.”

“All at your command, Mrs. Peyton; but we can give you merely the fruits indigenous to the soil,” the Major remarked.

“A land of Goshen,” said Miss Peyton; “and tell me, Hope, you who know the country, do these odd-shaped bottles grow on trees here? Your dogs, of course, find truffles, as in France.”

All this was said quite gravely, and created some mirth.

“I begin to suspect you young men,” Mrs. Peyton remarked. "You write us such pitiful letters about your hardships when living en gargon or in Highland quarters; and when (as Hope would say) you are unearthed, some such heart-breaking scene as this is the result.”

"Don’t be uncharitable, mother dear,” Annie said; “but look closely to find the sad truth. Perhaps no library or cigar-shop within fifty miles, not to mention the awful possibility of the house not containing one pack of cards. Cause enough,” she added quietly, “for grave consideration before you blame.”

“Yours is true charity, Miss Peyton,” remarked the Major, while he tried in vain to look solemn.

“And, Annie,” said Hope, “let it soothe your gentle spirit to know we have cards, and you shall have your rubber at whist; but here is luxury,” lie said, as Dick placed three antique china bowls on the table, “and specially culled for Miss Clive and you.”

“Pray explain, Hope.”

“Easy enough: the first bowl contains cream unapproachable, even in Devonshire; another, wild fruit; the third is ice.”

“A simple affair of fruit and milk, Hope,” Annie said, with a droll peep under her long eyelashes.

“Just so, sweet cousin; as beauty is a simple affair of creamy complexion and eyes dark as—as wild berries.”

"Hem ! and what of. ice,” she said, with a meaning look.

Hope coloured slightly, from some cause or other, as he remarked that neither beauty nor berry should be much iced.

"And what do yon say to all this, Miss Clive?” Annie inquired.

“Oh! I can hardly judge,” she replied demurely; “I never use ice.”

When the ladies left the table, Hope said he thought Charley Clive could use ice in very cooling knobs, if it suited her.

On going to the drawing-room we found a sleepy party after their long journey, too sleepy for whist; and they retired early.

Next morning the weather was beautiful; and it was quite a novel pleasure to hear the sweet gay voices of the girls about the Lodge. Let me try to describe our guests.

First in honour, Mrs. Peyton, stout, comely, and debonnaire, as beseemeth a British matron; had, nevertheless, a certain haughty presence, which was entirely belied by her real, simple, kindly nature; for, grave and sensible as she was, no one could better enjoy pleasantry, and her quick appreciation and ready sympathy soon taught us to confide with her in any quiz or droll event as freely as we should have done in sorrow or difficulty.

Neither Major Duncan nor I had before seen Miss Peyton; and, certainly, it would be hard to imagine a more lovely young woman. Tall, rather slight in figure, and graceful as a young roe; her refined features and large lustrous grey eyes harmonizing with a dark complexion, brown almost as a Spanish girl’s, yet exquisitely delicate; moreover, she had fine dark hair, perfect mouth and teeth, and a look of sweetness and intelligence that took the heart at once. But, to my taste, perhaps her greatest charm was her voice, rich and musical in every accent; and, when particularly amused, she had an odd way of looking at you with her great bright eyes, and shrugging her pretty shoulders, which was positive infection: grave as I am, I could never resist her; for, notwithstanding a queenly presence, like a demoiselle in an ancient picture, Annie Peyton was a thorough, joyous, frank, innocent girl.

Her friend, Charlotte (or, as intimates styled her, Charley Clive), by all was declared to be an unmistakably nice girl. Hardly so tall as Miss Peyton, and somewhat fuller in figure, she had a pleasing expression, a wealth of golden chestnut hair clubbed behind her pretty ears, high features, blue eyes, a dainty mouth, and a dimple. As might be expected, she was reserved at first; yea, almost what is called in Scotland “douce,” but soon proved a treasure of quiet humour, that rare feminine quality; for, in spite of much twaddle about women being visionary and romantic, they are more often shockingly matter-of-fact, and thereby lose a little charity and a good deal of amusement. Be that as it may, Miss Clive was humorous and, consequently, good-natured; and having been well educated, and seen something of the world, she was excellent company and great fun.

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