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Chapter XVIII. - Ward grumbles at our Inaction, and Hard Work is Resumed

Several long summer days were now passed in wandering by hill and loch, or in drives about the country; but, chiefly, it was the river- side we sought for enjoyment, as it seemed a never-ceasing delight to fish and sketch on its wild and beautiful banks, the more so as each one tried to be pleasant and useful for the others. But, meanwhile, the grouse were being sadly neglected, and the salmon-fishing was not prosecuted with the pertinacious zeal which this noble sport demands. True enough, we always got fish of some sort, and Mesdames Peyton and Clive were becoming keen anglers; indeed, Miss Clive had hooked, and very nearly landed, a grilse—an event drolly sketched by Ward, in pronounced colour and caricature, to that young lady’s intense horror and to Mrs. Peyton’s infinite amusement. But, this rose-water sort of thing could not go on, at least so thought one of the party.

“Really, this will never do!” exclaimed Ward, as one fine scenting morning we smoked the morning pipe on the fir brae—“never do at all. Some thirty brace of grouse in the best part of a week; the north beats not even touched, and the birds daily becoming wilder.”

“What of that, thou forlorn Hope,” Major Duncan laughingly said; “there is wide time to kill half the grouse in the country, if you keep cool and haud straicht, as Archie advises; besides, we can’t leave our friends quite alone.”

“Nonsense, Major. My aunt, and girls too, for that matter, would be miserable, if they suspected that the shooting was going to pigs and whistles on their account; they would go off at once, I can assure you.’’

“Well, well, I suppose you must temporise; and pray manage it with your gentle diplomacy.”

“Oh, you need not laugh, Abbott,” said Ward, on seeing me smile; “I can arrange it all easily, and with perfect fair play to them, too. Why, look at their resources—pony-phaeton, kilted Jehu, lovely scenery, burn-fishing, inartistic sketching, and the last batch of magazines,—endless resources.”

“A.strong case for the client, Hope,” the Major said; “and, besides, it is possible we may not be so requisite as we fancy. Say Wednesday for the great beat; but see you carry it off nicely.”

“Ha! military decision at last,” said Hope; and on meeting the ladies he did do his mission with a quiet tact for which I had hardly given him credit. Still, he did somewhat risk compromising us by promising blackcock feathers for the maidens’ hats; this was rash, for. it is not at all child’s play to put salt on the tails of the full-grown Tetrao tetrix, the old cocks of this family being swift of wing, and as wary as red deer.

On the morning arranged we drove off, and by an early hour dismounted at an old shealing on the hill-side above Loch-na-Seachin; and, having stabled the horses in a shed and provided for their comfort, we walked down to the side of the loch, and found men and dogs all ready.

The weather aspects were not promising—a dull gloomy sky and not a breath of wind; but, looking over the ranges of rugged brae, bog, and moor around us, there seemed little doubt of seeing plenty of game, as the ground was hitherto untouched; so we at once buckled-to for work, and started.

Major Duncan and Ward went round by the south end of the loch to try for teal, and then to beat over the black moss; while Fred and I proceeded to hunt the slopes to the north, and we saw nothing more of the other party for four or five hours, when we met, as agreed upon, on the hill close to the black game country.

We soon found grouse: they were somewhat wild, and the scent indifferent, still, the sport was excellent; and, when we met our friends, Fred and I counted for eighteen brace of grouse, five golden plovers, and a hare; while they had twenty-' three and a-half brace of grouse, three hares, a teal, and (great luck) two curlews. We rested a quarter of an hour on a rising ground facing the ranges for black game, looking on a wide expanse of' choice cover. In the hollow a brawling burn runs down the glen, the foaming water glinting here' and there between the birch and alders fringing' its banks, beyond which, the hills on right and left slope gradually up to the top; in some parts open moor, and in others varied with birch, juniper,

great stones, and patches of gorse; while higher up spread the larch woods, and beyond that, we could see the dark edge of the pine' forest that extends far away on the other side of the hill.

After a short survey of this new land we wrent down hill, and crossed the bum as we best could, and were presently on the open moor beyond. The dogs found some coveys here, and still higher up hill, where the juniper and fern afforded closer cover, we hit off covey after covey, and had a great deal of shooting; but, after all, the pursuit of black game, when young and half-feathered, is but tame sport, as they sit so close that they must almost be kicked up, while the old cocks are seldom at home in these domestic parties, but are away somewhere on their own selfish intents and purposes; still, two or three venerables were circumvented higher up in the birch wood; but, on the whole, even with plenty of shooting, the bagging of young black game was pronounced to be unsatisfactory, and we turned back for the grouse moors. It is very different later in the season, when they are in full feather, and strong and rapid in flight; then it is real excitement to have a pack of these fine birds driven overhead, and to single out and bring down the glossy old blackcocks with a thud on the heather. This is sport for princes.

On coming down to the bum, a lave of hands and face in its sparkling water was refreshing after the close heat of the covers; and here we lunched, smoked a pipe, and arranged how the moor was to be taken on the way back. There was by this time a fresh cool breeze, and the general voice was for no loitering, so we again divided and went on.

All afternoon the sport was excellent; still, no one was sorry when we at last came to the shealing, felt travel was over, and no walking home to be done. The horses harnessed, the bulk of the game was put into the carriage to lighten Punch’s hampers, in consideration of his feelings, he having done a long day’s work without a grumble, or even hinting at a strike, which is saying a good deal for his sense in these times. No one had today seen any capercailzie or roe deer, but this is hardly to be wondered at, the outskirts of the covers merely having been gone through; besides, it is necessary to beat the woods systematically for the larger kinds of game, and this later on, after the fern and undergrowths have somewhat died down.

On arriving at the Lodge, although past six o’clock, everybody was out. By-and-by Mrs. Peyton came in and said she had enjoyed so much a long quiet stroll up the glen; but it was near seven before the girls returned from burn-fishing, pictures of health and youthful beauty; although (as Miss Peyton mirthfully related) her boots were soaked, and all day she had been severely exercised with gadflies, and Miss Clive likewise, to say nothing of having left half her skirt on a thorn-bush; but when by-and-by those young ladies came down to dinner, their appearance would have satisfied any exigencies of town criticism. Nor did Mrs. Peyton object to such independent ramblings. So far from it, she observed that being herself country bred, and used to much walking and riding, she attributed her after health greatly to this, and always had pitied girls who were kept too close to the chimney; and more so, when they showed a languid indifference to wholesome exercise: the same langour was to be looked for in their work and studies she feared.

The blackcock were exhibited in the evening, the feathers being yet far from perfect. We promised they should have regal cockades by-and-by.

When nearly dusk we went out to the open air, as the evening was still and warm.

Although naturally of retired habits, and quite happy and content on the hillside alone, still I fully appreciate the amenities of social life. True enough, there are certain unpleasant phases, such as public speechifying, private prosing, and occasional balaam and bumptuousness; so one must learn to tolerate some things as a necessary consequence of mixing freely in the world and sharing its many pleasures; and is it not pleasant to meet sociably with the travelled and accomplished, or to listen to the home truths of hard practical ability ? How pleasant is a “twa-handed crack” with a man of sense and good feeling, how charming the society of unaffected women of the world, and how very nice a mild flirtation with one at a time!

And so is this very pleasant, I thought as I now reclined on the soft turf on this fair summer’s gloamin, while dreamily consuming an unexceptionable Cabana, and now and again joining in the cheerful conversation, or listening to the gentle laughter of the girls, my mind occasionally wandering far awa}T, even to the polished Greek and luxurious Roman, whose social customs deprived them of such easy, yet reverential freedom as we now enjoyed; or, again, thinking of how little in common have the literary displays or Watteau-like garden scenes of the Continent with our freer intercourse.

“Pooh!” says some sensible youth; “what a palaver is this, about having a cigar out of doors with the girls; can’t see what it is all about.” Well, don’t you try, young Solomon—it is not given to every one to see a problem or solve a joke (do not reverse the terms); and believe me, my young friend, that if snipe shooting be a special faculty, so is logical acumen, and so, also, is the mental chemistry required in distilling the ethereal spirit of the gloamin.

Mrs. Peyton was comfortably placed in an armchair, with a large shawl over her head and shoulders, the others grouped around reclining on plaids, &c., spread on the turf.

As usual in these outdoor parties, there was much merriment; but gradually, as the light decreased, quietness succeeded; at last, silence in all but the rippling sound of the brook.

“Dear me! how contemplative we are becoming,” remarked Miss Clive, after a pause of silence;

“this awful stillness seems to depress your spirits, good people.”

“Express, not depress,” said Hope; “I am under that sort of dreamy ecstasy that opium eaters are said to seek, when mere thinking is a bore, let alone speaking; it may be Abbott’s Eoman punch and my second pipe, eh, Miss Clive ? surely not silence alone.”

“I hope only the last—‘ Usci la notte e sotlo V ali meno ll silentio,’ says Tasso; suppose you take a nap and dream out the poem.”

“Why, I seem to dream now,” he said; “and how is it that times in our lives leave the odd impression of being shadows, while others, not of a bit greater moment, are so emphatically real?”

“Ha, Mr. Philosopher,” said the Major, “you are not going to give the ladies a dose of metaphysics, are you? But you are right enough; and, more curious still, there are individuals now and then seen, whose whole lives seem not to belong to this stern world, but who come and go like spirits. I was just now thinking of two such visionary beings.”

“Oh, do tell us about them, ” said Mrs. Peyton.

“I was only thinking of my brother’s wife and child, Mrs. Peyton; a sad but quite a simple story,” he replied.

“Forgive my asking you; I have unintentionally pained you, I fear?”

“No, no, no; it was years ago; I often think of it, and shall tell you about them, if you care to hear it.”

“Yes, very much, if you will be so kind.”

And so Major Duncan related :—

“My brother Robert had died when I was abroad; and four years after his death, when home on leave at my mother’s place in Lanarkshire, she told me one morning that my brother’s widow and child were on their way from England to visit us, and I was glad, as I had not yet seen them.

“How well I remember that time. They arrived late, and scarcely showed; but next morning, on going down to breakfast, there they were in the room. before me, the. quaintest little widow and child in the world. The mother very fair, with deep blue eyes and silky brown hair braided below her widow’s cap; but such a slight girlish figure —a flower in mourning. And her wee mite of a daughter just as striking a picture, robed in some Indian gauzy thing of a buff colour, with strange devices of green and blue all over the dress ; still the image of her mother—a miniature of a miniature.

“Well, these fairy-like creatures got presently domesticated with us all; but the curious devotion of that mother and child to each other was at once their peculiar distinction. Not that either was self-willed or uncompanionable, far from it, and both were to my mother’s side at a whisper, and they would go anywhere or do anything in the cheeriest, bird-like way; but it was when alone together they seemed happiest. And what rambles they had over the moors and through the woods, only to come back late, tired, and sleepy like children, as children they both were; although my poor little sister-in-law was religious, pure principled, and had the usual lady-like accomplishments, still she was a baby.

To the time I left for India, in a week or so, it was always the same; and you may think how grieved I was not many months afterwards, to get a letter telling me that little Lucy had died suddenly after their return home. I much feared her mother would not survive it, but she did; and, as I heard, soon became composed and often even cheerful, and spoke freely of her daughter to my mother and those she liked. 'How I wish Lucy had seen this' or 'How I wish she were here!’ she would often remark on seeing anything fair in art or nature. It was, however, plain that her whole hopes and thoughts were in the future; yet she lived for two years more.

“Although apparently in good enough health, a slight cold had confined her to bed, and it was clearly seen that she was dying. Yet her spirits seemed to rise as she became weaker, as she faded away; and just before she died she lifted her head from the pillow, and distinctly said, in her pure, sweet voice, ‘Coming, darling, coming!' and fell asleep like a child.”

“How very sad,” Mrs. Peyton said, as the Major gave her an arm to go into the house. “Yes, your fairy relatives do not seem to have been made for this rough world. I shall not easily forget this, your dreamlike story among the Highland hills."

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