Page images


most days of a short stay was dale, we discovered that the not the fault of the proprietors, but even when the sun elected to shine we might just as well have left our guns at home, so far as sport was concerned. The proprietor of the hotel, a gentleman with field-boots and superior manners, was kind enough to accompany the shooting-party in the capacity of of guide, philosopher, friend, and, I presume that I may add, gamekeeper. He was, at anyrate, the only gamekeeper in evidence, though the advertisement had distinctly stated that the charges were so much a-week, "inclusive of the services of the gamekeeper." And hereby hangs a tale. For when at the end of our short stay the bill was presented, our paymaster was confronted by the item, "Gamekeeper, 7s. 6d."

On his referring the lady book-keeper to the wording of the advertisement, the illogical fair one said with a sweet smile

"Inclusive of gamekeeper means that you pay for his attendance," and as the paymaster unfortunately had a sort of feeling that he did not like to contradict a lady, he submitted to the imposition. "Sweet smile, 7s. 6d.,' would have been a more equitable version of the item. Independently of the extra payment, we felt very strongly that we might have had a little more shooting on our own account had we left the "gamekeeper" at home. For, early in the course of a six hours' tramp up hill and down

gentleman in field - boots had
it in his mind that he would
do the little shooting there
was to do, while his paying
guests played the part of
beaters. About ten cartridges
were fired by the party in the
course of the day, and the bag
at the finish contained
hare, one rabbit, one pheasant,
and one carrion crow - the
last - named being contributed
by myself. The hare and the
rabbit fell to the "gamekeeper,"
who had managed to put him-
self in the way of firing eight
of the ten shots, but did not
hold his gun very straight.
And the hen - pheasant was
annexed late in the day by
the junior member of our
party, who, after doing a ter-
rible amount of hard walking
and rough scrambling, struck
work, and on being invited
to walk through a small but
prickly - looking covert while
the "gamekeeper" stood at
the end, suggested that it was
about time for himself to stand
outside while the other took a
turn at walking through. After
a brief argument he carried his
point, and his strategy re-
ceived a due reward when he
shot the only pheasant seen
on the day.

"It's a hen bird!" exclaimed the "gamekeeper" as he emerged from the covert, looking after his battle with the thorns rather less superior than usual.

"I never said it wasn't," replied the successful sportsman, in nowise abashed.

"I should have thought that any sportsman would would have

known better than to kill a hen pheasant in January."

"What you may have thought does not interest me a bit," retorted the guilty one. "But I don't mind telling you that I thought it was about time that one of us let off his gun. You don't suppose we have travelled two hundred miles to see you shoot-badly."

As the bag was the property of the hotel, our one full day's shooting may be summed up as follows: The "gamekeeper" did rather more than the lion's share of the shooting, kept the game, and was paid for the day's sport; we practically acted as unpaid beaters, and were made heartily welcome to my carrioncrow. From a sporting point of view, then, I feel that I cannot recommend this establishment though, in the matter of creature comforts, the bona fide traveller in search of a harbour of refuge on a wet day might go farther and fare worse.

Go farther and fare worse! Yes, indeed; in our next visit to a shooting hotel our party of four did both one and the other. So far as sport was concerned, we may be said to have gained several steps up the ladder. But the accommodation and commissariat arrangements were much on a par with our landlord's manners, which were rough even to barbarism. Among other things, he had the same objectionable habit as that which characterised Martin Chuzzlewit's visitor, Hannibal Chollop; but whether, like the free-and-easy American gentleman, he could

"calc'late his distance to an inch," or whether he required a two-foot or a ten-foot circle for his operations, are matters into which we were not overcurious to inquire. His evening appearance in our room, with a view to sketching out the plan of campaign for the following day, was a signal for the immediate withdrawal of our four chairs into as many corners of the room, by way of giving him a clear line of fire to the grate. Like the independent American, he elected to keep on his hatan ultra-greasy wideawake— and to smoke a a black and evil-smelling pipe while he discoursed to us. In only one point did he fall short of "taking every possible liberty with liberty -for we did not consider it incumbent upon ourselves to teach our landlord manners, he preferred to stand while he was talking, and, lest he should be tempted to prolong the interview, we were careful never to suggest that he should take a chair.

The one thing that partially redeemed these unsavoury surroundings was the circumstance that we managed to get rid of a fair amount of cartridges in the course of our walks abroad, and the so-called gamekeeper who attended our wanderings was so far an improvement upon the gentleman in field-boots that he carried our cartridges instead of his own gun. It could not, however, be urged in his favour that he took a lively interest in our sport; and if he had any ideas on the subject of likely

harbourage for game, he kept them entirely to himself. Inquiries made by the inquisitive member of our party elicited the information that "our William" had poetical aspirations, and the the melancholy which "marked him for her own" induced the conclusion that his thoughts, as he sauntered along, were occupied in the composition of either a funeral ode or a suitable inscription for his own headstone. We furthermore discovered at an early stage of our acquaintanceship that by reason of his mental abstraction the only way by which we could make sure of not losing him lay in placing him in the middle of the party, and after the first day's experience we ceased to pay any attention to him when at intervals, awaking from a reverie, he stood still, and pointing heavenwards with his finger, ejaculated, "Doock!" "Wild duck in abundance" had figured in the advertisements of our hotel, and I fancy that the landlord had impressed upon William's mind the vital necessity of never omitting to draw visitors' attention to the fact that such creatures were fully to the fore. Unfortunately for us, the "Doock" pointed out by the poet were always in the dim distance, though it is fair to add that a party of sportsmen more adventurous, more experienced, and perhaps better chaperoned than ourselves, secured a fair number by moonlight flighting. If it is part and parcel of the shootinghotel's gamekeeper to provide

or assist in providing sport for his temporary employers, I am afraid that I must write down "our William" as a singularly inefficient specimen. Nor, although our inquisitive member, not a particularly keen sportsman, assured me to the contrary, was his companionship in any way exhilarating. Still, regarded in the light of a beast of burden, he had his good points, being perfectly indifferent how many cartridgebags and how many head of game he carried, provided always that the pace of walking was not made too warm for him, that he was kept well supplied with tobacco and matches, and was allowed ample time for eating and digesting his midday meal.

It had been agreed at the outset of our campaign that game proper-i.e., pheasants, partridges, hares, and rabbits

should be handed over to the landlord, while extraneous creatures in the way of snipe, woodcock, plovers, and wild fowl should be at our disposal. This arrangement, which was fair enough on

enough on the surface, worked very well for the first few days, and neither party to the contract had much ground for dissatisfaction. But wholly unexpected contretemps, resulting-such at least is the most charitable interpretation - from William's apathy, coupled with a little subsequent inadvertence on our own part, completely turned the scale in the landlord's favour, when he reaped a golden harvest at the expense of two of our party.

We had started one frosty morning on an entirely new beat, and were walking over unknown country in our usual order, I myself on the extreme left, William mooning along in the centre, and Tertius, a man to whom that name had clung from the day when he had been enlisted as the third member of our original party, on the extreme right. The inquisitive member was next to William on the left, and the inside right was our latest recruit, a shy and modest individual, who, although he carried a gun, had professedly joined the party with the idea of getting open air and exercise in the daytime and whist in the evening. The general idea of the day's operations was that we should shoot our way to a remote rivulet where there was reported to be wild duck. Very barren of game, however, was the dreary waste through which we two left-hand guns found ourselves condemned to trudge, and visions of a blank day were occupying my mind, when joyful surprise! I heard from the far right first a single and then a double shot and then prolonged individual firing. The cause of the fusilade was from my position a matter of pure conjecture. I could see William, some three or four hundred yards to my right, strolling along more suo on the near side of a high hedge; but being in the same condition as Mr Weller, who explained that he had a pair of eyes indeed, but not a pair o' patent double million magnifyin' gas microscopes of hex

[ocr errors]

tra power," and consequently unable to see what the guns on the far side of the hedge were blazing at, I could only guess that they had come across a snipe-bog and envy them their good fortune. That William did not seem to be taking the slightest interest in their performances, that even when the firing ceased and a prolonged halt ensued he stood with his back to the hedge and his shoulders hunched up smoking stolidly, that it never seemed to occur to him to scramble through the hedge and assist in the problematical search for dead birds,all this was merely typical of our William. I know no more unsatisfactory occupation for a frosty morning than that of standing still in a cutting wind and waiting till a distant gun has retrieved or is essaying to retrieve a dead bird. A sportsman under these conditions is even more to be pitied than the rash mortal who accompanies his wife on a shopping expedition, and is expected to stand shivering in the street. while the lady haggles over the price of lingerie or discusses the latest symptoms of the shopwoman's baby. her companion, if he be a wise man, will have donned a greatcoat, while the sportsman is more or less lightly clad. Accordingly, at the expiration of full ten minutes I lent a willing ear to to a suggestion made by my fellow - sufferer, the air-and-exercise man, that we should move on, and steering in an oblique direction intercept the rest of the party


"You seem to have had pretty good sport," I remarked. "Yes, good sport, thank you, and a good row too," snapped Tertius. "That double-distilled idiot"-indicating William "let us go poaching beyond our boundary, and we've mopped up pretty well a whole covey of somebody's tame birds, and got caught in the act by the gamekeeper!"

[ocr errors]

at the far end of the hedge- such startling rapidity that row. There we were presently our air - and - exercise member joined by the trio, who were went off into a wild shout of all now walking on our side of laughter, which proving to be the hedge, Tertius loudly ex- contagious sensibly relieved the postulating with William, that situation. When the party individual looking more like a had returned to their sober martyr than usual, and the senses Tertius proceeded to uninquisitive one apparently lack- fold his dolorous tale. It aping some of his characteristic peared that William, astute urbanity. enough to keep his own precious carcase on the right side of the hedge, had either of inadvertence or design allowed our friends on the right to wander into a neighbouring squire's turnip-field, wherein was lying a covey of partridges which the keeper had carefully reared and preserved as breeding-stock for the future. As the poor tame things lay like so many stones, and It may be remembered that got up either singly or in Mr Pickwick, most charitable pairs, no less than fifteen out of mankind, on one occasion of eighteen had fallen to our eyed a horse "with looks ex- guns, who innocently supposed pressive of hatred and revenge, that fickle fortune had been and more than once calculated unusually kind to them. The the probable amount of the slaughter over, there followed expense he would incur by the small matter of retrieving cutting its throat." So, too, the game; and as repeated the normally placid Tertius shouts and entreaties had was now eyeing the guilty about as much effect upon William with any feeling William as the cuttings with rather than that of affection knives and lancets upon Baal in his mind, when the last- on Mount Carmel, the two named individual, pointing sportsmen buckled to the task with his finger, slowly ejac- themselves. Gathering dead ulated "Doock!" and surely birds in rime-covered turnips enough there were three of even with a dog is a difficult those birds high in the air, task, without a dog wellnigh well within half a mile of us. hopeless. With exceeding "Dn the duck!" rasped great joy, then, the searchers out the inquisitive one in a hailed the appearance on the tone which showed that the scene of action of a man with iron had entered into his soul a retriever, and in all confidalso. Fortunately or unfor- ence they invoked his assisttunately, this anticlimax folance. With the help of these lowed William's climax with new allies the game was duly

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »