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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 14. A Friend
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 14. A Friend Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3141

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 14. A Friend


His death-wound! There was but little suggestion of any death-wound about the manner or speech of this light-hearted and frank-spoken fellow who now welcomed his old friend Ogilvie ashore. He swung the gun-case into the cart as if it had been a bit of thread. He himself would carry Ogilvie's top-coat over his arm.

"And why have you not come in your hunting tartan?" said he, observing the very precise and correct shooting costume of the young man.

"Not likely," said Mr. Ogilvie, laughing. "I don't like walking through clouds with bare knees, with a chance of sitting down on an adder or two. And I'll tell you what it is, Macleod; if the morning is wet, I will not go out stalking, if all the stags in Christendom were there. I know what it is; I have had enough of it in my younger days."

"My dear fellow," Macleod said, seriously, "you must not talk here as if you could do what you liked. It is not what you wish to do, or what you don't wish to do; it is what Hamish orders to have done. Do you think I would dare to tell Hamish what we must do to-morrow?"

"Very well, then, I will see Hamish myself; I dare say he remembers me."

And he did see Hamish that evening, and it was arranged between them that if the morning looked threatening, they would leave the deer alone, and would merely take the lower-lying moors in the immediate neighborhood of Castle Dare. Hamish took great care to impress on the young man that Macleod had not yet taken a gun in his hand, merely that there should be a decent bit of shooting when his guest arrived.

"And he will say to me, only yesterday," observed Hamish, confidentially--"it wass yesterday itself he wass saying to me, 'Hamish, when Mr. Ogilvie comes here, it will be only six days or seven days he will be able to stop, and you will try to get him two or three stags. And, Hamish'--this is what he will say to me--'you will pay no heed to me, for I hef plenty of the shooting whatever, from the one year's end to the other year's end, and it is Mr. Ogilvie you will look after.' And you do not mind the rain, sir? It is fine warm clothes you have got on--fine woollen clothes you have, and what harm will a shower do?"

"Oh, I don't mind the rain, so long as I can keep moving--that's the fact, Hamish," replied Mr. Ogilvie; "but I don't like lying in wet heather for an hour at a stretch. And I don't care how few birds there are, there will be plenty to keep us walking. So you remember me, after all, Hamish?"

"Oh ay, sir," said Hamish, with a demure twinkle in his eye. "I mind fine the time you will fall into the water off the rock in Loch na Keal."

"There, now," exclaimed Mr. Ogilvie. "That is precisely what I don't see the fun of doing, now that I have got to man's estate, and have a wholesome fear of killing myself. Do you think I would lie down now on wet sea-weed, and get slowly soaked through with the rain for a whole hour, on the chance of a seal coming on the other side of the rock? Of course when I tried to get up I was as stiff as a stone. I could not have lifted the rifle if a hundred seals had been there. And it was no wonder at all I slipped down into the water."

"But the sea-water," said Hamish, gravely; "there will no harm come to you of the sea-water."

"I want to have as little as possible of either sea-water or rain-water," said Mr. Ogilvie, with decision, "I believe Macleod is half an otter himself."

Hamish did not like this, but he only said, respectfully.

"I do not think Sir Keith is afraid of a shower of rain whatever."

These gloomy anticipations were surely uncalled for; for during the whole of the past week the Western Isles had basked in uninterrupted sunlight, with blue skies over the fair blue seas, and a resinous warmth exhaling from the lonely moors. But all the same, next morning broke as if Mr. Ogilvie's forebodings were only too likely to be realized. The sea was leaden-hued and apparently still, though the booming of the Atlantic swell into the great caverns could be heard; Staffa, and Lunga, and the Dutchman were of a dismal black; the brighter colors of Ulva and Colonsay seemed coldly gray and green; and heavy banks of cloud lay along the land, running out to Ru-Treshanish. The noise of the stream rushing down through the fir-wood close to the castle seemed louder than usual, as if rain had fallen during the night. It was rather cold, too: all that Lady Macleod and Janet could say failed to raise the spirits of their guest.

But when Macleod--dressed in his homespun tartan of yellow and black--came round from the kennels with the dogs, and Hamish, and the tall red-headed lad Sandy, it appeared that they considered this to be rather a fine day than otherwise, and were eager to be off.

"Come along, Ogilvie." Macleod cried, as he gave his friend's gun to Sandy, but shouldered his own. "Sorry we haven't a dog-cart to drive you to the moor, but it is not far off."

"I think a cigar in the library would be the best thing for a morning like this," said Ogilvie, rather gloomily, as he put up the collar of his shooting-jacket, for a drop or two of rain had fallen.

"Nonsense, man! the first bird you kill will cheer you up."

Macleod was right; they had just passed through the wood of young larches close to Castle Dare, and were ascending a rough stone road that led by the side of a deep glen, when a sudden whir close by them startled the silence of this gloomy morning. In an instant Macleod had whipped his gun from his shoulder and thrust it into Ogilvie's hands. By the time the young man had full-cocked the right barrel and taken a quick aim, the bird was half way across the valley; but all the same he fired. For another second the bird continued its flight, but in a slightly irregular fashion; then down it went like a stone into the heather on the opposite side of the chasm.

"Well done, sir!" cried old Hamish.

"Bravo!" called out Macleod.

"It was a grand long shot!" said Sandy, as he unslipped the sagacious old retriever, and sent her down into the glen.

They had scarcely spoken when another dark object, looking to the startled eye as if it were the size of a house, sprang from the heather close by, and went off like an arrow, uttering a succession of sharp crowings. Why did not he fire? Then they saw him in wild despair whip down the gun, full-cock the left barrel, and put it up again. The bird was just disappearing over a crest of rising ground, and as Ogilvie fired he disappeared altogether.

"He's down, sir!" cried Hamish, in great excitement.

"I don't think so," Ogilvie answered, with a doubtful air on his face, but with a bright gladness in his eyes all the same.

"He's down, sir," Hamish reasserted. "Come away Sandy, with the dog!" he shouted to the red-headed lad, who had gone down into the glen to help Nell in her researches. By this time they saw that Sandy was recrossing the burn with the grouse in his hand, Nell following him contentedly. They whistled, and again whistled; but Nell considered that her task had been accomplished, and alternately looked at them and up at her immediate master. However, the tall lad, probably considering that the whistling was meant as much for him as for the retriever, sprang up the side of the glen in a miraculous fashion, catching here and there by a bunch of heather or the stump of a young larch, and presently he had rejoined the party.

"Take time, sir," said he. "Take time. Maybe there is more of them about here. And the other one, I marked him down from the other side. We will get him ferry well."

They found nothing, however, until they had got to the other side of the hill, where Nell speedily made herself mistress of the other bird--a fine young cock grouse, plump and in splendid plumage.

"And what do you think of the morning now, Ogilvie?" Macleod asked.

"Oh, I dare say it will clear," said he, shyly; and he endeavored to make light of Hamish's assertions that they were "ferry pretty shots--ferry good shots; and it was always a right thing to put cartridges in the barrels at the door of a house, for no one could tell what might be close to the house; and he was sure that Mr. Ogilvie had not forgotten the use of a gun since he went away from the hills to live in England."

"But look here, Macleod," Mr. Ogilvie said; "why did not you fire yourself?"--he was very properly surprised; for the most generous and self-denying of men are apt to claim their rights when a grouse gets up to their side.

"Oh," said Macleod simply, "I wanted you to have a shot."

And indeed all through the day he was obviously far more concerned about Ogilvie's shooting than his own. He took all the hardest work on himself--taking the outside beat, for example, if there was a bit of unpromising ground to be got over. When one or other of the dogs suddenly showed by its uplifted fore-paw, its rigid tail, and its slow, cautious, timid look round for help and encouragement, that there was something ahead of more importance than a lark, Macleod would run all the risks of waiting to give Ogilvie time to come up. If a hare ran across with any chance of coming within shot of Ogilvie, Macleod let her go by unscathed. And the young gentleman from the South knew enough about shooting to understand how he was being favored both by his host and--what was a more unlikely thing--by Hamish.

He was shooting very well, too; and his spirits rose and rose until the lowering day was forgotten altogether.

"We are in for a soaker this time!" he cried, quite cheerfully, looking around at one moment.

All this lonely world of olive greens and browns had grown strangely dark. Even the hum of flies--the only sound audible in these high solitudes away from the sea--seemed stilled; and a cold wind began to blow over from Ben-an-Sloich. The plain of the valley in front of them began to fade from view; then they found themselves enveloped in a clammy fog, that settled on their clothes and hung about their eyelids and beard, while water began to run down the barrels of their guns. The wind blew harder and harder: presently they seemed to spring out of the darkness; and, turning, they found that the cloud had swept onward toward the sea, leaving the rocks on the nearest hillside all glittering wet in the brief burst of sunlight. It was but a glimmer. Heavier clouds came sweeping over; downright rain began to pour. But Ogilvie kept manfully to his work. He climbed over the stone walls, gripping on with his wet hands. He splashed through the boggy land, paying no attention to his footsteps. And at last he got to following Macleod's plan of crossing a burn, which was merely to wade through the foaming brown water instead of looking out for big stones. By this time the letters in his breast pocket were a mass of pulp.

"Look here, Macleod," said he, with the rain running down his face, "I can't tell the difference between one bird and another. If I shoot a partridge it isn't my fault."

"All right," said Macleod. "If a partridge is fool enough to be up here, it deserves it."

Just at this moment Mr. Ogilvie suddenly threw up his hands and his gun, as if to protect his face. An extraordinary object--a winged object, apparently without a tail, a whirring bunch of loose gray feathers, a creature resembling no known fowl--had been put up by one of the dogs, and it had flown direct at Ogilvie's head. It passed him at about half a yard's distance.

"What in all the world is that?" he cried, jumping round to have a look at it.

"Why," said Macleod, who was roaring with laughter, "it is a baby blackcock, just out of the shell, I should think."

A sudden noise behind him caused him to wheel round, and instinctively he put up his gun. He took it down again.

"That is the old hen," said he; "we'll leave her to look after her chicks. Hamish, get in the dogs, or they'll be for eating some of those young ones. And you, Sandy, where was it you left the basket? We will go for our splendid banquet now, Ogilvie."

That was an odd-looking party that by and by might have been seen crouching under the lee of a stone wall with a small brook running by their feet. They had taken down wet stones for seats; and these were somewhat insecurely fixed on the steep bank. But neither the rain, nor the gloom, nor the loneliness of the silent moors seemed to have damped their spirits much.

"It really is awfully kind of you, Ogilvie," Macleod said, as he threw half a sandwich to the old black retriever, "to take pity on a solitary fellow like myself. You can't tell how glad I was to see you on the bridge of the steamer. And now that you have taken all the trouble to come to this place, and have taken your chance of our poor shooting, this is the sort of day you get!"

"My dear fellow," said Mr. Ogilvie, who did not refuse to have his tumbler replenished by the attentive Hamish, "it is quite the other way. I consider myself precious lucky. I consider the shooting firstrate; and it isn't every fellow would deliberately hand the whole thing over to his friend, as you have been doing all day. And I suppose bad weather is as bad elsewhere as it is here."

Macleod was carelessly filling his pipe, and obviously thinking of something very different.

"Man, Ogilvie," he said, in a burst of confidence, "I never knew before how fearfully lonely a life we lead here. If we were out on one of the Treshanish Islands, with nothing round us but skarts and gulls, we could scarcely be lonelier. And I have been thinking all the morning what this must look like to you."

He glanced round--at the sombre browns and greens of the solitary moorland, at the black rocks jutting out here and there from the scant grass, at the silent and gloomy hills and the overhanging clouds.

"I have been thinking of the beautiful places we saw in London, and the crowds of people, the constant change, and amusement, and life. And I shouldn't wonder if you packed up your traps to-morrow morning and fled."

"My dear boy," observed Mr. Ogilvie, confidently, "you are giving me credit for a vast amount of sentiment. I haven't got it. I don't know what it is. But I know when I am jolly well off. I know when I am in good quarters, with good shooting, and with a good sort of chap to go about with. As for London--bah! I rather think you got your eyes dazzled for a minute, Macleod. You weren't long enough there to find it out. And wouldn't you get precious tired of big dinners, and garden-parties, and all that stuff, after a time? Macleod, do you mean to tell me you ever saw anything at Lady Beauregard's as fine as _that?_"

And he pointed to a goodly show of birds, with a hare or two, that Sandy had taken out of the bag, so as to count them.

"Of course," said this wise young man, "there is one case in which that London life is all very well. If a man is awful spoons on a girl, then, of course, he can trot after her from house to house, and walk his feet off in the Park. I remember a fellow saying a very clever thing about the reasons that took a man into society. What was it, now? Let me see. It was either to look out for a wife, or--or----"

Mr. Ogilvie was trying to recollect the epigram and to light a wax match at the same time, and he failed in both.

"Well," said he, "I won't spoil it; but don't you believe that any one you met in London wouldn't be precious glad to change places with us at this moment?"

Any one? What was the situation? Pouring rain, leaden skies, the gloomy solitude of the high moors, the sound of roaring waters. And here they were crouching under a stone wall, with their dripping fingers lighting match after match for their damp pipes, with not a few midges in the moist and clammy air, and with a faint halo of steam plainly arising from the leather of their boots. When Fionaghal the Fair Stranger came from over the blue seas to her new home, was this the picture of Highland life that was presented to her?

"Lady Beauregard, for example?" said Macleod.

"Oh, I am not talking about women," observed the sagacious boy; "I never could make out a woman's notions about any thing. I dare say they like London life well enough, for they can show off their shoulders and their diamonds."

"Ogilvie," Macleod said, with a sudden earnestness, "I am fretting my heart out here--that is the fact. If it were not for the poor old mother--and Janet--but I will tell you another time."

He got up on his feet, and took his gun from Sandy. His companion--wondering not a little, but saying nothing--did likewise. Was this the man who had always seemed rather proud of his hard life on the hills? Who had regarded the idleness and effeminacy of town life with something of an unexpressed scorn? A young fellow in robust health and splendid spirits--an eager sportsman and an accurate shot--out for his first shooting-day of the year: was it intelligible that he should be visited by vague sentimental regrets for London drawing-rooms and vapid talk? The getting up of a snipe interrupted these speculations; Ogilvie blazed away, missing with both barrels; Macleod, who had been patiently waiting to see the effect of the shots, then put up his gun, and presently the bird came tumbling down, some fifty yards off.

"You haven't warmed to it yet," Macleod said, charitably. "The first half hour after luncheon a man always shoots badly."

"Especially when his clothes are glued to his skin from head to foot," said Ogilvie.

"You will soon walk some heat into yourself."

And again they went on, Macleod pursuing the same tactics, so that his companion had the cream of the shooting. Despite the continued soaking rain, Ogilvie's spirits seemed to become more and more buoyant. He was shooting capitally; one very long shot he made, bringing down an old blackcock with a thump on the heather, causing Hamish to exclaim,--

"Well done, sir! It is a glass of whiskey you will deserve for that shot."

Whereupon Mr. Ogilvie stopped and modestly hinted that he would accept of at least a moiety of the proffered reward.

"Do you know, Hamish," said he, "that it is the greatest comfort in the world to get wet right through, for you know you can't be worse, and it gives you no trouble."

"And a whole glass will do you no harm, sir," shrewdly observed Hamish.

"Not in the clouds."

"The what, sir?"

"The clouds. Don't you consider we are going shooting through clouds?"

"There will be a snipe or two down here, sir," said Hamish, moving on; for he could not understand conundrums, especially conundrums in English.

The day remained of this moist character to the end; but they had plenty of sport, and they had a heavy bag on their return to Castle Dare. Macleod was rather silent on the way home. Ogilvie was still at a loss to know why his friend should have taken this sudden dislike to living in a place he had lived in all his life. Nor could he understand why Macleod should have deliberately surrendered to him the chance of bagging the brace of grouse that got up by the side of the road. It was scarcely, he considered, within the possibilities of human nature.

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