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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 8. The Twelfth
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 8. The Twelfth Post by :LadyFingersJr Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3258

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 8. The Twelfth


When Lionel went down early next morning, he found Lady Adela's father in sole possession; and was not long in discovering that the old earl was in a towering rage.

"Good-morning!" said this tall, pale, stooping-shouldered old gentleman, whose quite hairless face was surmounted by a brown wig. "Well, what do you think of last night's performance? What do you think of it? Did you ever know of any such gross outrage on common decency? Why, God bless my soul and body, I never heard of such a thing!"

Lionel knew quite well what he meant. The fact was that a Free Church minister whom Sir Hugh Cunyngham had met somewhere had called at Aivron Lodge; as the custom of that part of the country is, he was invited to stay to dinner; he sat late, told many stories, and drank a good deal of whiskey, until it was not judged prudent to let him try to get his pony across the ford, even if hospitality had not demanded that he should be offered a room for the night; and then, when every one was thinking of getting away to bed, the worthy man must needs insist on having family worship, to which the servants had also to be summoned. It was the inordinate length of this service at such a time of night that had driven old Lord Fareborough to the verge of madness.

"Look at me!" he said to Lionel, in tones of deep and bitter indignation. "Look at me--a skeleton--a wreck of a human being, who can only get along by the most careful nursing of his nervous system. My heart is affected; I have serious doubts about the state of my lungs? it is only through the most assiduous nursing of my nerves that I exist at all. And what is more maddening than enforced restraint--imprisonment--no chance of leaving the room, with all those strange servants at the door; why, God bless my soul, I call it an outrage! I yield to no one in respect for the cloth, whether it is worn by a Presbyterian, or a Catholic, or one of my own church; but I say that no one has a right to thrust religious services down my throat! What the devil did Cunyngham mean by asking him to stay to dinner at all?"

"As I understand it," said Lionel, with a becoming diffidence, "it was some suggestion of Captain Waveney's. He said the Free Church ministers were particular friends of the crofters--and of course the good-will of the crofters is of importance to a shooting-tenant--"

"The good-will of the crofters!" the bewigged old nobleman broke in, impatiently. "Are you aware, sir, that the Strathaivron Branch of the Land League met last week and passed a resolution declaring salmon to be ground-game? What are you to do with people like that? How are you to reason with them? What is the use of pacifying them? They are in the hands of violent and malevolent revolutionaries--it is war they want--it is 1789 they want--it is plunder and robbery and confiscation they want--and the right of every man to live idle at the cost of the state! Why, God bless my soul! the idea that you are to try to pacify these ignorant savages--"

But here Lionel, who began to fancy that he had discovered another Octavius Quirk, was afforded relief; for the minister himself appeared; and at the very sight of him Lord Fareborough indignantly quitted the room. The minister, who was a rather irascible-looking little man with a weather-reddened face and rusty whiskers, inquired of Lionel whether it was possible to procure a glass of milk; but when Lionel rang the bell and had some brought for him, the minister observed that milk by itself was a dangerous thing in the morning; whereupon the butler had to be sent for, who produced the spirit-decanter; and then, and finally, the minister, boldly discarding the milk altogether, poured out for himself a good solid dram, and drank it off with much evident satisfaction.

Now the ladies began to make their appearance, some of them going along to the gun-room to hear what the head keeper had to say, others of them trooping out by the front door to guess at the weather. Among the latter was Miss Honnor Cunyngham; and Lionel, who had followed her, went up to her.

"A beautiful morning, isn't it?" he said.

"I'm afraid it's too beautiful," said she, in reply. "Look up there."

And she was right. This was far too picturesque and vivid a morning to portend well for a shooting-day. Down at the farther end of the strath, the skies were banked up with dark and heavy clouds; the lake-like sweep of the river was of a sombre and livid blue; and between the indigo stream and the purple skies, a long neck of land, catching the sunlight, burned the most brilliant gold. And even as they stood and looked, a faint gray veil gradually interposed between them and the distant landscape; a rainbow slowly formed, spanning the broad valley; and then behind the fairy curtain of the shower they could see the yellow river-banks, and the birchwoods, and the farther-stretching hills all vaguely and spectrally shining in the sun.

"But this is a very peculiar glen," said she. "It often threatens like that when it means nothing. You may get a perfectly dry, still day after all. And, Mr. Moore, may I ask you if what you said about your shooting yesterday afternoon was entirely true or only a bit of modesty?"

"If it comes to that," he said, "I never shot a grouse in my life--no, nor ever shot _at one."

"Because," she continued, with a certain hesitation which was indeed far removed from her usual manner, "because you--you seem rather sensitive to criticism--to other people's opinion--and if you wouldn't think it impertinent of me to offer you some hints--well, for what they are worth--"

"But I should be immensely grateful!" he answered at once.

"Well," she said, in an undertone, so that no one should overhear, "you know, on the Twelfth, with such still weather as we have had for the last week or two, the birds are never wild; you needn't be in the least anxious; you won't be called upon for snap-shots at all; you can afford to take plenty of time and get well on to the birds before you fire. You see, you will be in the middle; you will take any bird that gets up in front of you; my brother and Captain Waveney will take the outside ones and the awkward cross-shots. And if a covey gets up all at once, they won't expect you to pick out the old cock first; they'll do all that; in fact, you must put yourself at your ease, and not be anxious, and everything will be right."

"Honnor!" called Lady Adela, "Come away at once--breakfast is in." So that Lionel had no proper opportunity of thanking the young lady for her friendly counsel and the interest she took in his small affairs.

Breakfast was a merry meal; for, as soon as the things had been brought in, the servants were allowed to leave; and while Lady Adela poured out the tea and coffee, the gentlemen carved for themselves at the sideboard or handed round the dishes at table. The Rev. Mr. MacNachten, the little Free Church minister, was especially vivacious and humorous, abounding with facetious anecdotes and jests and personal reminiscences; until, observing that breakfast was over, he composed his countenance and proceeded to return thanks. The grace (in spite of Lord Fareborough's nervous qualms) was comparatively a short one; and at the end of it they all rose and were for going their several ways.

But this was not to the minister's mind.

"Your leddyship," said he, addressing his hostess in impressive tones, "it would be ill done of us to be assembled on such an occasion without endeavoring to make profitable use of it. I propose to say a few words in season, if ye will have the kindness to call in the servants."

Lady Adela glanced towards her husband with some apprehension on her face (for she knew the importance attached to the morning of the Twelfth); but whatever Sir Hugh may have thought, he made no sign. Accordingly there was nothing for it but that she should ring the bell and summon the whole household; and in a few minutes the door of the room was surrounded by a group of Highland women-servants and gillies, the English servants rather hanging back in the hall. The breakfast-party had resumed their seats; but the minister remained standing; and presently, when perfect silence had been secured, he lifted up his voice in prayer.

Well, it was a sufficiently earnest prayer, and it was listened to with profound attention by the smart-looking lasses and tall and swarthy gillies clustering about the door; but to the English part of his audience its chief features were its curiously exhortatory and argumentative character and also its interminable length. As the minister went on and on, the frown of impatience on Lord Fareborough's face deepened and deepened; he fretted and fumed and fidgeted; but, of course, he could not bring disgrace on his son-in-law's house by rising and leaving the room. Nor did it convey much consolation to the sportsmen to hear the heavy tramp of the head keeper just outside the windows; for they knew that Roderick must be making use of the most frightful language over this unheard-of delay.

But at last this tremendous oration--for it was far more of an oration than a prayer--came to an end; and the congregation drew a long breath and were about to seize their newly found liberty when the minister quietly remarked:

"We will now sing the Hundred and Twenty-First Psalm."

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Lord Fareborough, aloud; and Lady Adela flushed quickly; for it was not seemly of her father to give way to such anger before those keen-eyed and keen-eared Highland servants.

However, the Rev. Mr. MacNachten took no heed. He began to sing, in a slow and raucous fashion, and to the melancholy tune of "Ballerma,"

"'I to the hills will lift mine eyes, From whence doth come mine aid;'"

and presently there came from the door a curious nasal wail, men and women singing in unison, and seemingly afraid to trust their voices. As for the people in the room no one tried to join in this part of the service--no one except Honnor Cunyngham, who appeared to know the words of the Psalm and the music equally well, for she accompanied the minister throughout, singing boldly and simply and without shyness, her clear voice making marked contrast with his raven notes. Nor was this all; for, when the Psalm was finished, the minister said,

"My friends, when it hath pleased the Lord that we should meet together, we should commune one with another, to the perfecting of ourselves for that greater assemblage to which I hope we are all bound." And then, without further preface, he proceeded to exhort them to well-doing in all the duties of life--as masters and mistresses, as servants, as parents, as children, as brothers, as fellow-Christians; while at the end of each rambling and emphatic passage there came in a verse from Ecclesiastes: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."

Alas! there was no conclusion to this matter. The little, violent-faced minister warmed to his work, insomuch that several times he used a Gaelic phrase the better to impress those patient listeners at the door, while he paid less and less attention to the congregation in the room. Indeed, the hopeless resignation that had at first settled down on some of their faces had given place to a most obvious resentment; but what did that matter to Mr. MacNachten, who was not looking their way? Again and again Sir Hugh Cunyngham forlornly pulled out his watch, but the hint was not taken. Lord Fareborough was beside himself with unrest; he drummed his fingers on the table-cloth; he crossed one leg, and then the other; while more than once he made a noise between his tongue and his teeth, which fortunately could not be heard far amid the rolling periods of the sermon. Captain Waveney, who was master of the ceremonies in all that concerned the shooting--even as he was Sir Hugh's right-hand man in the matter of cattle-breeding at the Braes--on several occasions, when a momentary pause occurred, jumped to his feet as if on the assumption that the discourse was finished; but this ruse was quite ineffectual, for the preacher took no notice of him. And meanwhile the huge figure of Roderick Munro could be seen marching up and down outside the windows, while a pair of wrathful eyes glared in from time to time; and Lady Adela, noticing these baleful glances, began to hope that the irate head keeper would not secretly instruct a gillie to go and throw the minister into the river as he was crossing the ford on his way home.

"May God forgive the scoundrel!" cried Lord Fareborough, when, the long sermon at length being over and the small crowd allowed to disperse, he was free to hasten along to the gun-room to get his boots. "And I am expected to shoot after having my nerves tortured like this! Who are going with me? Rockminster and Lestrange? Well, they must understand that I will not be hurried and flurried--I say I will not be hurried and flurried. I don't want to fall down dead--my heart won't recover this morning's work for months to come? God bless my soul, who asked that insolent scoundrel to stay the night? And what's that, Waveney--the ladies coming out to lunch? The ladies coming out to lunch on the Twelfth--and the day half over; they must be out of their senses!"

"That is the arrangement," Captain Waveney said, with rather a rueful laugh, as he, too, was lacing up his boots. "Lady Rosamund is going to take a sketch of the luncheon-party."

"Let her take a sketch of the devil!" said this very angry and inconsiderate papa. "Why can't she do it some other day?--why the Twelfth? Good heavens! is everything conspiring to vex and annoy me so that I sha'n't be able to hit a haystack?"

"Sir Hugh never says 'no' to anything that Lady Rosamund asks," observed Captain Waveney, with much good-humor.

"Sir Hugh be--" And here Lord Fareborough expressed a wish about his son-in-law and host that was probably only a figure of speech.

"Well, I don't know about that," the other replied, complacently, as he went to the couch and removed the cloth laid over the guns to protect them from the fine peat-dust (for a huge peat-fire burned continuously in this great gun-room, for the drying of garments brought home wet from the shooting or fishing). "I don't know about that; but at present the arrangement is that we lunch at the top of the Bad Step; and I believe that Miss Cunyngham is coming back from the Junction Pool, so that Lady Rosamund may have her sketch complete."

Indeed, this untoward incident of the minister's misplaced zeal seemed to throw a certain gloom over the small party to which Lionel soon found himself attached, as it moved away from the house. The tall, brown-bearded head keeper was in a sullen rage, though he could only reveal his wrath in sharp little sentences of discontent. Sir Hugh had also been put out at losing the best part of the morning; and Captain Waveney, who was a dapper little man, full of brisk spirits, did not care to talk to silent persons. As for Lionel, he was certainly very nervous and anxious; but none the less resolved to remember and act upon Honnor Cunyngham's advice. The tail of the procession was brought up by a gillie leading, or rather holding in, two brace of remarkably handsome Gordon setters, and another gillie in charge of a patient-eyed pony with a couple of panniers slung over its back.

However, the busy work of the day soon banished these idle regrets. When they had climbed a bit of the hillside, and passed through a gate in a rude stone wall, they stopped for a second to put cartridges in their guns; the keeper had two of the dogs uncoupled; while the gillie, putting a strap on the coupling of the other two, led them away to a convenient knoll, where he lay down, the gillie with the pony following his example. And scarcely had the two dogs begun to work this open bit of moorland when one of them suddenly ceased its wide ranging--suddenly as if it had been turned to stone; and then slowly, slowly it began to draw forward, its companion, a younger dog, backing beautifully and looking on with startled, watchful eyes. It was an anxious moment for the famous young baritone of the New Theatre; for the dog was right in front of him; and as the three guns, in line, stealthily moved forward, he made sure that this bird was going to get up just before him. Despite all his resolve to be perfectly cool and calm, his heart was beating quickly; and again and again he was repeating to himself Honnor Cunyngham's counsel, and wondering whether he would disgrace himself at the very outset, when some bewildering brown thing sprang from the ground, there was a terrific whir, a crack from Captain Waveney's gun--and away along there the grouse came tumbling down into the heather. Almost at the same moment there was another appalling whir on his right--followed by a bang from Sir Hugh's gun--and another bird fell headlong. After the briefest pause for reloading, the setter, that had obediently dropped at the first shot, was encouraged to go forward, the guns warily following. But it turned out that this had been an outlying brace of birds; the dogs were soon ranging freely again; Roderick picked up the slain grouse, and the whole party went on.

"Sorry you didn't get the first shot, Mr. Moore," said Sir Hugh, who was a short, thick-set man, with a fresh-colored face, iron-gray hair, and keen, light-blue eyes.

"I wish the birds would all rise to you two," Lionel said. "Then I shouldn't have to pitch into myself for missing."

"Oh, you'll soon get into the way of it," Sir Hugh said, good-naturedly. "There's never much doing along this face."

"I'll bet Bruce is on to something," Captain Waveney exclaimed, suddenly. In fact, only one of the ranging setters was now in sight; and Roderick had quickly run up to the top of a heathery knoll, to have them both in view. At the same moment they saw him hold up his arm to warn the inattentive Venus.

"How, Venus! How, Venus!" he called, in a low voice; and immediately the dog, observing that its companion was drawing on to a point, became rigid.

The guns were on the scene directly; and they were just in time; for, with a simultaneous rattle of wings that seemed to fill the air, a small covey of birds sprang from the heather and appeared to vanish into space. At least Lionel saw nothing of the others; his attention was concentrated on one that seemed to be flying away in a straight line from him; and after pausing for half a second (during which he was calling on himself to be cool) he pulled the trigger. To his inexpressible satisfaction the bird stopped in mid-air and came down with a thump on the heather, where it gave but one flutter and then lay still. He turned to see what his companions had done, with their brisk fusillade. But he could not make out. They were still watching the setter, that was again being encouraged to go on, lest a stray bird or two might still be in hiding. However, the quest was fruitless. The whole of the small covey had risen simultaneously. So Roderick picked up the dead birds and put them on a conspicuous stone, at the same time signalling to the gillie with the pony, who was slowly coming up. Then the shooting-party went forward again.

"How many birds rose then?" Lionel asked of his host.


"And you got them all?" he said, judging by what he had seen the head keeper pick up.

"Oh, yes, we got them all. They spread out like a fan. Waveney got one brace and I another. I suppose," he added, with a smile, "you were too intent on your own bird to notice?"

"Yes, I was," he said, honestly; but he was none the less elated, for he knew that a good beginning would give him confidence.

And it did. They were soon at a part of the moor where the fun grew fast and furious; and, keeping as close as he could to certainties, or what looked like certainties, he was doing fairly well. As for the other two, he could only judge of their prowess by the birds the keeper picked up; for he kept strictly to his own business and rarely adventured on a second shot. But it was clear that both Sir Hugh and Captain Waveney were highly pleased with the way things were going. There were plenty of birds; they lay well; the dogs were working beautifully; and the bag was mounting up at a rate that promised to atone for the delay of the morning. In fact, they were now disposed to regard that episode as rather a comical affair.

"I say, Waveney," Sir Hugh remarked, as they paused for a moment to have a sip of cold tea, for the day was hot, "you'd better confess it; you put up the old minister to give us that frightfully long service this morning. It was a joke on Lord Fareborough--now, wasn't it?"

"It may have been; but I had nothing to do with it, anyway," was the answer. "Not I. Too serious a joke. I thought his lordship was going to have a fit of apoplexy when he came into the gun-room."

"My good fellow, don't talk like that!" the other exclaimed. "If you mention apoplexy to him, he'll add that on to the hundred and twenty diseases and dangers that threaten his life every moment. Apoplexy! What has he got already?--gout, asthma, heart disease, his lungs giving way, his liver in a frightful condition, his nervous system gone to bits--and yet, all the same, the old hypocrite is going to try for a stag before he leaves. I suppose he'll want Roderick to carry him as soon as he quits the pony! Well, come along, Mr. Moore; we've done pretty well so far, I think."

But it was not Lionel who needed any incitement to go forward; he was far more eager than any of his companions, now that he had been acquitting himself none so ill. Moreover, he had youth on his side and a sound chest, while nature had not given him a pair of well-formed calves for nothing; so that he faced the steep hillsides or got over the rough ground with comparative ease, rejoicing the while in the unwonted freedom of knickerbockers. It was Sir Hugh, with his bulky habit of body, who got blown now and again; as for Captain Waveney, he was a pretty tough subject and wiry. So they fought bravely on, to atone for the inhuman detention of the morning; and by the time it was necessary to make for the appointed luncheon rendezvous they had the wherewithal to give a very excellent account of themselves.

Now, several times during the morning they had come in view of the Aivron, winding far below them through the wide strath, or narrowing to a thread as it rose towards the high horizon-line in the west; and always, when there was a momentary chance, Lionel's eye had sought these distant sweeps and bends for some glimpse of the lonely angler-maiden, and sought in vain. The long valley seemed empty; and some little feeling of shyness prevented his asking his companions to point out the Junction Pool, whither, as he understood, she had been bound in the morning. And as they now approached the appointed place of meeting, he was quite disturbed by the fancy that she might have strayed away into unknown regions and be absent from this general picnic; and the moment they came in sight of the group of people who were strolling about, or looking on while the servants spread out the table-cloth on the heather and brought forth the various viands, one swift glance told him she was not present. Here was a disappointment! He wanted to tell her how he had got on, under her kind instruction--this was his own explanation of the pang her absence caused him; but presently he had found another; for Lady Rosamund was grouping the people for her sketch; and what would the sketch be without Honnor Cunyngham in it? He made bold to say so.

"Oh, you can't depend on Honnor," Lady Adela said. "She may have risen a fish, or may have got hold of one. But if you want to know whether she is likely to turn up, you might go out to that point, Mr. Moore, and then you'll be able to see whether she is coming anywhere near the Bad Step."

Willingly enough he went down through the scattered birch-trees to a projecting point overlooking the river from a very considerable height; and there, right below him, he discovered what it was they called the Bad Step. The precipice on which he stood going sheer down into the Aivron, the path along the stream left the banks some distance off, came up to where he stood, and then descended again by a deep gorge probably cut by water-power through the slaty rock. And even as he was regarding this twilit chasm it suddenly appeared to him that there were two figures away down there, crossing the burn at the foot; and then one of them, in gray--unmistakably the fisher-maiden herself--began the ascent. How she managed to obtain a footing he could not make out; for the path was no path, but merely a zig-zag track on the surface of the loose shingle--shingle so loose that he could see it yield to her every step, while the debris rolled away down to the bed of the burn. But still she fought her way upward, and at last she stood face to face with him, smiling, but a little breathless.

"That's a frightful place to come up," said he.

"Oh, it's nothing, when you know it," she said, lightly. "Tell me, how did you get on this morning?"

"Thanks to you, I think I did pretty well," said he.

"I'm awfully glad of that," said she; and the soft, clear hazel eyes repeated her words in their own transparent way.

"I remembered all your instructions," he continued (and he was in no hurry that Miss Cunyngham should go on to the luncheon-party; while old Robert stood patiently by). "And I was very fortunate in getting easy shots. Then when I did miss, either Sir Hugh or Captain Waveney was sure to get the bird? I never saw such smart shooting."

"What have you done?"



"I don't know. The panniers are being emptied, to make a show for Lady Rosamund's sketch. I fancy there are close on sixty brace of grouse, with some blue hares and a snipe and a wild duck."

"What has Lord Fareborough's party done?"

"I don't know? they have just shown up--so you needn't hurry on unless you are hungry."

"But I am--very hungry," said she, with a laugh. "I have been hard at work all the morning."

"Oh, in that case," he said, eagerly, "by all means come along, and I'll get you something at once. You and I needn't wait for the emptying of the other panniers. Oh, yes, that will do first-rate; I'm a duffer at shooting, you know, Miss Cunyngham, but I'm a splendid forager at a picnic. Let me carry the gaff for you."

"Oh, no, thank you," she said, "I merely use it as a walking-stick coming up the Bad Step."

"And there," he exclaimed, as they went on through the birch-wood, "look at the selfishness of men! You ask all about my shooting; but I never asked what luck you had with your fishing."

"Well, I've had rather bad luck," she said, simply. "I lost a fish in the Geinig Pool, after having him on for about five minutes, and I rose another in the Horse-Shoe Pool and couldn't get him to come again all I could do. But I mean to call upon him in the afternoon."

A sudden inspiration flashed into his brain.

"I should like to come and see you try for him," he said, quickly. "I suppose they wouldn't mind my sending home my gun?"

"Mr. Moore!" she said, with her eyes downcast. "They'd think you were mad to leave a shooting-party on the Twelfth. You can see a salmon caught, or catch one yourself, any time."

He felt a little bit snubbed, he hardly knew why; but of course she knew what was right in all such things; and so he humbly acquiesced. Indeed, he could not contest the point, for now they had come upon the picnic-party, where luncheon was in full swing. Lord Fareborough had declared on his arrival that he would not wait for the completion of his daughter's sketch; his nervous system was not to be tried in any such fashion; luncheon must be proceeded with at once, and Lady Rosamund could make her drawing when the gentlemen were smoking afterwards. Lady Adela wanted to wait for Mr. Moore, but she, too, was overruled by the impatient hypochondriac. So Lionel set to work to form a seat for Miss Honnor, out of some bracken that the gillies had cut and brought along; and also he exclusively looked after her--to Miss Georgie Lestrange's chagrin; for Lord Rockminster was too lazy to attend to any one but himself, and what girl likes being waited on by her brother when other young men are about?

And now the burly and broad-shouldered host of all these people called on them to unanimously forgive the minister for the injury he had unintentionally done them in the morning.

"It wasn't the good man's fault at all; it was Waveney's," Sir Hugh continued, as he got hold of a spoon and delved it into a pigeon-pie. "I assure you it was a practical joke that Captain Waveney played upon the whole of you. He gave the minister a little hint--and the thing was done."

Lord Fareborough glared at the culprit as if he expected to see the heavens fall upon him; but Lady Adela observed, with a touch of dignity,

"I hope I know Captain Waveney well enough not to believe that he would turn any religious service into a practical joke."

"I hope so, too, Lady Adela," the dapper little captain instantly replied, though without any great embarrassment. "That's hardly my line of country. But there's another thing: Sir Hugh may ask you to believe anything, but he won't make you believe that I could trifle with such a sacred subject as the morning of the Twelfth."

"Faith, you're right there, Waveney," Sir Hugh said, with a laugh. "Well, we've done our best to make up for the loss of time. And now, Rose, if you want to have your sketch, fire away! I'm going to light a pipe; but, mind, we sha'n't stop here very long. You'd better put in us men at once; and then you can draw in the ladies and the game and the luncheon at your leisure."

"And if you want me, Rose," Honnor Cunyngham said, "please put me in at once, too; for I'm going away back to the Horseshoe Pool."

"My dear child," Lady Adela protested, "you'll break your neck some day going down that Bad Step. I really think Hugh should have a windlass at the top and let people down by a rope. Now look alive, Rose, and get your sketch begun; I can see the gentlemen are all impatient to be off. And mind you have Mr. Moore rolling up a cigarette: it won't be natural otherwise."

She was right about one thing, anyway; the sportsmen were undoubtedly impatient to be off; and it is to be feared that Lady Rosamund's sketch suffered by the restlessness of her models. Indeed, after a very little while, Lord Fareborough indignantly rose, and declared he never had known a Twelfth of August so shamelessly sacrificed. He, for one, would have no more of it. He called to the under-keeper to bring along the gillies and the dogs; whereupon Lady Rosamund, who had a temper not quite in consonance with the calm and statuesque beauty of her features, closed her sketch-book and threw it aside, saying she would make the drawing some other day when she found the gentlemen a little more considerate.

And soon Lionel and his two companions were at their brisk occupation again; though ever and anon his thoughts would go wandering away to the Horseshoe Pool, and his fancy was picturing the fisher-maiden on the summit of a great gray boulder, while a fifteen-pounder raced and chased in the black deeps below. Sometimes he tried to get a glimpse of the upper stretches of the river; but this was a dangerous trick when all his attention was demanded by the work on hand. In any case his scrutiny of those far regions was unavailing; for the Horseshoe Pool is on the Geinig, a tributary of the Aivron, and not visible from the hill-slopes along which they were now shooting.

The bag mounted up steadily; for the afternoon, despite the threats of the morning, remained fine and clear and still; the birds lay close, and the two outside guns were skilful performers. As for Lionel, he had now acquired a certain confidence; he took no shame that he reserved for himself the easy shots; the nasty ones he could safely leave to his companions. At last, as they came in sight of a lovely little tarn lying under a distant hillock, and could descry two small dots floating on the surface of the water, Sir Hugh said to his head keeper,

"See here, Roderick, are those duck or mergansers?"

The keeper took a long look before he made reply.

"I'm not sure, Sir Hugh, but I am thinking they are mergansers, for I was seeing two or three lately."

"Very well, call in the dogs. I'm going to sit down and have a pipe. I suppose you'll do the same, Mr. Moore--though I must say this for you that you can walk. You have the advantage of youth, and you haven't as much to carry as I have. Well, I propose we have a few minutes' rest? and we will occupy ourselves in watching Waveney stalk those mergansers. There's a job for you, Waveney. They are the most detestable birds alive to have near a forest or a salmon-stream."

"Why, what harm can they do to the salmon?" Lionel asked, as he saw Captain Waveney at once change the cartridges in his gun for No. 4's and set off down the hillside.

"They snap up the parr, of course," said his heavy-shouldered host, as he drew out a wooden pipe and a pouch of black Cavendish, "but that isn't the worst: they disturb the pools most abominably--swimming about under water they frighten the salmon out of their senses. But when you get them about a deer-forest they are a still more intolerable nuisance; you are never safe; just as you are getting up to the stag, creeping along the course of a burn, perhaps, bang! goes one of those brutes like a sky-rocket, and the whole herd are instantly on the alert. Oh, that's a job old Waveney likes well enough; and it will give the dogs a rest as well as ourselves."

By this time the stalker had got out of sight. He was making a considerable detour, so as to get round by the back of the hillock unobserved; and when he came into view again, he was on the other side of the valley. The mergansers, if they were mergansers, were still swimming about unsuspectingly, though sometimes at a considerable distance apart.

"Does Miss Cunyngham shoot as well as fish?" Lionel ventured to ask.

"She has tried it," her brother said, as he called up Roderick and gave him a dram out of his capacious flask. "And I think she might shoot very well, but she doesn't care about it. It is too violent, she says. The sudden bang disturbs the charm of the scenery--something of that kind--I'm not up in these things; but she's an odd kind of girl. Tremendously fond of quietude and solitude; we've found her in the most unexpected places--and there _are some lonely places about these hills. I tell her she shouldn't go on these long excursions without taking old Robert with her; supposing she were to sprain her ankle, she might have to remain there all night and half the next day before we could find her. Sooner or later I know she'll startle some solitary shepherd out of his senses: he'll come back to his hut swearing that he has seen a Gray Lady where no mortal woman could be. Hullo, there's Waveney again--he'll soon be on them."

They could see him stealing across the top of the hillock, and then making his way down behind certain rocks that served as a screen between him and the birds. Then he disappeared again.

"Why doesn't he fire?" Lionel asked, presently. "He must be quite close to them."

"Not so close as you imagine," was the answer. "Probably he is waiting until they come nearer together."

The next moment there stepped boldly forth the slight, brown figure; the birds instantly rose from the water and, with swift, straight flight, made down the valley; but they had not got many yards when there were two white puffs of smoke, both birds almost simultaneously came tumbling to the ground, and then followed the double report of a gun.

"Waveney has got his eye in to-day for certain," Sir Hugh said. "But what's the use of his bringing the birds along?--they're no good to anybody."

"I thought perhaps they might be of some use for salmon-flies," Captain Waveney explained, as he came up. "Aren't they, Roderick?"

The keeper regarded the two birds contemptuously, and shook his head.

"Well, Waveney, we will give you five minutes' grace, if you like," Sir Hugh said. "Sit down and have a pipe."

But this slim and wiry warrior had not even taken the gun from his shoulder.

"No, no," said he, "if you are ready, I am. I can get plenty of smoking done in the South."

So they began again; but the afternoon was now on the wane, and the beats were leading them homewards. Only two small incidents that befell the novice need mentioning. The first happened in this wise: the dogs were ranging widely over what appeared to be rather a barren beat, when suddenly one of them came to a dead point a considerable distance on. Of course Captain Waveney and Sir Hugh hurried forward; but Lionel could not, for he had got into trouble with a badly jammed cartridge. Just as he heard the first shot fired, he managed to get the empty case extracted and to replace it with a full one; and then he was about to hasten forward when he saw the covey rise--a large covey it was--while Captain Waveney got a right and left, and Sir Hugh fired his remaining barrel, for he had not had time to reload. At the same instant Lionel found that one of the birds had doubled back and was coming right over his head; up went his gun; he blazed away; and down rolled the grouse some dozen yards behind him.

"Well done!" Sir Hugh called out, "A capital shot!"

"A ghastly fluke, Sir Hugh!" Lionel called out, in return. "I simply fired in the air."

"And a very good way of firing, too!" was the naive rejoinder.

But his next achievement was hardly so creditable. They were skirting the edge of a birch-wood that clothed the side of a steep precipice overlooking the Aivron, where there were some patches of bracken among the heather, when the setter in front of him--a young dog--began to draw rather falteringly on to something.

"Ware rabbit, Hector!" the keeper said, in an undertone.

But meanwhile the older dog, that was backing in front of Captain Waveney, whether it was impatient of this uncertainty on the part of its younger companion, or whether it was jealous, managed, unobserved, to steal forward a foot or two, until suddenly it stopped rigid.

"Good dog, Iris, good dog!" Captain Waveney said (for he had overlooked that little bit of stealthy advance), and he shifted his gun from his right hand to his left, and stooped down and patted the animal's neck--though all the time he was looking well ahead.

Then all at once there was a terrific whir of wings; Waveney quickly put his gun to his shoulder--paused--took it down again; at the same moment Lionel, finding a bird within his proper field, as he considered--though it was going away at a prodigious speed--took steady aim and fired. That distant object dropped--there was not a flutter. Of course the keeper and Sir Hugh were still watching the young dog; but when this doubtful scent came to nothing, Sir Hugh turned to Lionel.

"That was a long shot of yours, Mr. Moore," said he. "And very excusable."

"Excusable?" said Lionel, wondering what he had done this time.

"Of course you knew that was a blackcock?" the other said.

"A blackcock?" he repeated.

"Didn't you hear Roderick call out? Didn't you see Waveney put up his gun and then take it down?"

"Neither the one nor the other; I only saw a bird before me--and fired."

"Oh, well, there's no great harm done; if a man has no worse sin on his conscience than shooting a blackcock on the Twelfth, he should sleep sound o' nights. Waveney is fastidious. I dare say, if the bird had come my way, I should not have resisted the temptation."

Lionel considered that Sir Hugh was an exceedingly considerate and good-natured person; and in fact when they picked up the dead bird, and when he was regarding its handsome plumage, it cannot fairly be said that he was very sorry for his venial mistake. Only he considered he was bound in honor to make confession to Miss Cunyngham.

Alas! he was to see little of Miss Cunyngham that night. As soon as dinner was over--and Sir Hugh and his satellite had left the dining-room to enter up the game-book, write labels for special friends, and generally finish up the business of the day--Lady Adela proposed a game of Dumb Crambo; and in this she was heartily backed up by the Lestranges, for Miss Georgie seemed to think that the mantle of Kitty Clive had descended upon her shoulders, while her brother evidently regarded himself as a facetious person. Speedily it appeared, however, that there was to be a permanent and stationary audience. Lord Fareborough--especially after dinner, when his nervous system was still in dark deliberation as to what it meant to do with him--was too awful a personage to be approached; Honnor Cunyngham good-humoredly said that she was too stupid to join in; and Lord Rockminster declared that if that was her excuse, it applied much more obviously to himself. Accordingly, the remaining members of the house-party had to form the entertainers; and never had Lionel entered into any pastime with so little zest. These people could not act a bit, and yet he had to coach them; and then he and they had to go into the drawing-room and perform their antics before that calm-browed young lady (who nevertheless regarded the proceedings with the most friendly interest) and her companion, the stolid young lord. He could not help acknowledging to himself that Miss Honnor Cunyngham and Lord Rockminster formed a remarkably handsome couple as they sat together there on a couch at right angles with the fireplace; but the distinguished appearance of the audience did not console him for the consciousness that the performers were making themselves absurd. He was impatient, ashamed, of the whole affair. Dark and sullen thoughts went flashing through his brain of saving up every penny he could get hold of and going away into some savage wilderness in Ross or Sutherland, to be seen of actors and amateurs no more. His gun and his rod would be his sole companions; his library would consist of St. John, Colquhoun, "Stonehenge," and Francis (not of Assisi); by moor and stream he would earn his own subsistence; and theatres and fashionable life and the fantastic aspirations and ambitions of _les Precieuses Ridicules would be banished from him forever. But fortunately a nine-o'clock dinner had driven this foolish entertainment late, so that it did not last long; the ladies were unanimously willing to retire; the gentlemen thereupon trooped off to the gun-room to have a smoke and a glass of whiskey and soda water; and very soon thereafter the deep-breathing calm of the whole household told that the labors of the Twelfth were over.

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 9. Venator Immemor Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 9. Venator Immemor

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CHAPTER IX. VENATOR IMMEMORAnd why was it, when, in course of time, it became practicable to arrange a deer-stalking expedition for him, why was it that he voluntarily chose to encounter what Lord Rockminster had called the very extremes of fatigue and human misery? He knew that he was about to undergo tortures of anxiety and privation; and, what was worse, he knew he was going to miss. He had saturated his mind with gillies' stories of capital shots who had completely lost their nerve on first catching sight of a stag. The "buck-ague" was already upon him. Not for him

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CHAPTER VII. IN STRATHAIVRONIt was still early in the afternoon when Lionel found himself driving along a loftily-winding road overlooking the wide and fertile valley of the Aivron. Right down below him, and visible through the birch-trees, was the river itself, of a brilliant, clear-shining blue, save where in some more distant sweeps it shone a silver-white; on the other side of the broad strath rose a range of hill fringed along its base with wood, but terminating in the west in far altitudes of bare rock and heather; while now and again he could catch a glimpse of some still