An invitation to shoot rooks—The sub-editors gun—A quotation from “The Rivals”—The rook in repose—How the gun came to be smashed—Recollections of the Spanish Main—A greatly overrated sport—The story of Jack Burnaby’s dogs—A fastidious man—His keeper’s remonstrance—The Australian visitor—-A kind offer—Over-willing dogs—The story of a muzzle-loader—How Mr. Egan came to be alive—Why Patsy Muldoon smiled—The moral—Degrees of dampness—Below the surface—The chameleon blackberry—A superlative degree of thirst.

A FRIEND of mine once came to my office to invite me to an afternoon’s rook-shooting. I was not in my room and he found me in the sub-editor’s. I inquired about the trains to the place where the slaughter was to be done, and finding that they were satisfactory, agreed to join him on the following afternoon.

Then he turned to the sub-editor—a pleasant young fellow who had ideas of going to the bar—and asked him if he would care to come also. At first the sub-editor said he did not think he would be able to come, though he would like very much to do so. A little persuasion was sufficient to make him agree to be one of our party. He had not a gun of his own, he said, but a friend had frequently offered to lend him one, so that there would be no difficulty so far as that matter was concerned.

The next day I managed, as usual, just to catch the train as it began to move-away from the platform. My colleague on the newspaper had the door of the compartment open for me, and I could see the leather of his gun-case under the seat. I put my rook rifle—it was not in a case—in the network, and we had a delightful run through the autumn landscape to the station—it seemed miles from any village—where my friend was awaiting us in his dogcart, driving tandem. The drive of three miles to the rook-wood was exhilarating, and as we skirted some lines of old gnarled oaks, I perceived in a moment that we could easily fill a railway truck with birds, they were so plentiful. I made a remark to this effect to my friend, who was driving, and he said that when we arrived at the shooting ground and gave the birds the chance to which they were entitled we mightn’t get more than a couple of hundred all told.

The shooting ground was under a straggling tree about fifty yards from the ruin of an old castle, said to have been built by the Knights Templar. Here we dismounted from the dogcart, sending it a mile or two farther along the road in charge of the man, and got ready our rifles.

“What on earth have you got there?” my friend inquired of the sub-editor, who was working at the gun-case.

“It’s the gun and cartridges,” replied the young man; “but I’m not quite certain how to make fast the barrels to the stock.”

“Great heavens!” cried my friend. “You’ve brought a double-barrelled sporting gun to shoot rooks!”

And so he had.

We tried to explain to him that for any human being to point such a weapon at a rook would be little short of murder, but he utterly failed to see the force of our arguments. He very good-humouredly said that, as we had come out to shoot rooks, he couldn’t see how it mattered—especially to the rooks—whether they were shot with his gun or with our rook rifles. He added that he thought the majority of the birds were like Bob Acres, and would as lief be shot in an ungentlemanly as a gentlemanly attitude.

Of course it is impossible to argue with such a man. We only said that he must accept the responsibility for the butchery, and in this he cheerfully acquiesced, slipping cartridges into both barrels—the friend from whom he had borrowed the weapon had taught him how to do this.

We soon found that at this point the breaking-strain of his information was reached. He had no more idea of sport than a butcher, or the Sonttag jager of the Oberlander Blatter.

As the rooks flew from the ruins to the belt of trees my friend and I brought down one each, and by the time we had reloaded, we were ready for two more, but I fired too soon, so that only one bird dropped. I saw the eyes of the man with the shot-gun gleam, “his heart with lust of slaying strong,” and he forthwith fired first one barrel and then the other at an old rook that cursed us by his gods, sitting on a branch of a tree ten yards off.

The bird flapped heavily away, becoming more vituperative every moment.

“Look here,” I shouted, “you mustn’t shoot at a bird that’s sitting on a branch.”

“Oh. yes,” said my friend, with a grim smile. “Oh, yes, he may. It’ll do him no more harm than the birds.”

Not a bird did that young sportsman fire at except such as had assumed a sitting posture, and, incredible though it may seem, he only succeeded in killing one. But from the moment that his skill was rewarded by witnessing the downward flap of this one, the lust for blood seemed to take possession of him, as it does the young soldiers when their officers have succeeded in preventing them from blazing away at the enemy while still a mile off. He continued to load and fire at birds that were swaying on the trees beside us.

“There’s a chance for you,” said my friend, “sarkastik-like,” pointing to a rook that had flapped into a branch just above our heads.

The young man, his face pale and his teeth set, was in no mood for distinguishing between one tone of voice and another. He simply took half a dozen steps into the open and, aiming steadily at the bird, fired both barrels simultaneously. Down came the rook in the usual way, clawing from branch to branch. It remained, however, for several seconds on a bough about eight feet from the ground; then we had a vision of the sportsman clubbing his gun, and making a wild rush at his prey—and then came a crash and a cheer. The sportsman held aloft in one hand the tattered rook and in the other a double-barrelled gun with a broken stock.

He had never fired a shot in his life before this day, and all his ideas of musketry were derived from the stories of pirates and buccaneers of the Spanish Main—wherever that may be—which had come to him for review. He thought that the clubbing of his weapon, in order to prevent the escape of the rook, quite a brilliant thing to do.

He had, however, completely smashed the gun, and that, my friend said, was a step in the right direction. He could not do any more butchery with it that day.

It cost him four pounds getting that gun repaired, and he confessed to me that, according to his experience, fowling was a greatly overrated sport.

It was while we were driving to the train that my friend told me the story of Jack Burnaby’s dogs—a story which he frankly confessed he had never yet got any human being to believe, but which was accurate in all its details, and could be fully verified by affidavit. He did not succeed in obtaining my credence for it. There are other forms of falsehood besides those verified by an affidavit, and I could not have given more implicit disbelief than I did to the story, even if it had formed the subject of this legal method of embodying a fiction.

It appeared that never was there a more fastidious man in the matter of his sporting dogs than one Algy Grafton. Pointers that called for outbursts of enthusiasm on the part of other men—quite as good sportsmen as Algy—failed to obtain more than a complimentary word from him, and even this word of praise was grudgingly given and invariably tempered by many words which were certainly not susceptible of a eulogistic meaning.

Among his friends—such as declined to resent the insults which he put upon their dogs—there was a consensus of opinion that the animal which would satisfy him would not be born—allowing a reasonable time for the various processes of evolution—for at least a thousand years, and then, taking into consideration the growth of radical ideas, and the decay of the English sport, there would be little or no demand for a first-class dog in the British Islands.

Algy Grafton had just acquired the Puttick-Foozler moor, and almost every post brought him a letter from his head-keeper describing the condition of the birds and the prospects of the Twelfth. Though the letters were written on a phonetic principle, the correctness of which was, of course, proportionate to the accuracy of a Scotchman’s ear, and though the head-keeper was scarcely an optimist, still there was no mistaking the general tone of the information which Algy received through this source from the north: he gathered that he might reasonably look forward to the finest shoot on record.

Every letter which he got from the moor, however, contained the expression of the keeper’s hope that his master would succeed in his search for a couple of good dogs. The keeper’s hope was shared by Algy; and he did little else during the month of July except interview dogs that had been recommended to him. He travelled north and south, east and west, to interview dogs; but so ridiculously fastidious was he that at the close of the first week in August he was still without a dog. He was naturally at his wit’s end by this time, for as the Twelfth approached there was not a dog in the market. He telegraphed in all directions in the endeavour to secure some of the animals which he had rejected during the previous month, but, as might have been expected, the dogs were no longer to be disposed of: they had all been sold within a day or two after their rejection by Mr. Grafton. It was on the seventh of August that he got a letter from his correspondent on the moor, and in this letter the tone of mild remonstrance which the keeper had hitherto adopted in referring to his master’s extravagant ideas on the dog question, was abandoned in favour of one of stern reprimand; in fact, some sentences were almost abusive. Mr. Donald MacKilloch professed to be anxious to know what was the good of his wearing out his life on the moor if his master did not mean to shoot on it. He hoped he would not be thought wanting in respect if he doubted the sanity of the policy of waiting without a dog until it pleased Providence—Mr. MacKilloch was a very religious man—to turn angels into pointers and saints into setters, a period which, it seemed to Mr. MacKilloch, his master was rather oversanguine in anticipating.

It was not surprising that, after receiving this letter from the Highlands, Algy Grafton was somewhat moody as he strolled about his grounds on the morning of the eighth, nor was it remarkable that, when the rectory boy appeared with a letter stating that the Reverend Septimus Burnaby was anxious for him to run across in time to lunch at the rectory, to meet Jack Burnaby, who had just returned from Australia, Algy said that the rector and his brother Jack and all the squatters in the Australian colonies might be hanged together. Mrs. Grafton, however, whose life had not been worth a month’s purchase since the dog problem had presented itself for solution, insisted on his going to the rectory to lunch, and he went. It was while smoking a cigar in the rectory garden with Jack Burnaby, who had spent all his life squatting, but with no apparent inconvenience to himself, that Algy mentioned that he was broken-hearted on account of his dogs. He gave a brief summary of his travels through England in search of trustworthy animals, and lamented his failure to obtain anything that could be depended on to do a day’s work.

“By George! you don’t mean to say there’s not a good dog in the market now?” said Mr. Burnaby, the squatter.

“But that’s just what I do mean to say,” cried Algy, so plaintively that even the stern and unbending MacKilloch might have pitied him. “That’s just what I do mean to say. I’d give fifty pounds to-day for a pair of dogs that I wouldn’t have given ten pounds for a month ago. I’m heart-broken—that’s what I am!”

“Cheer up!” said Mr. Burnaby. “I have a couple of sporting dogs that I’ll lend to you until I return to the Colony in February next—the best dogs I ever worked with, and I’ve had some experience.”

“It was Providence that caused you to come across to me to-day, Grafton,” said the rector piously, as Algy stood speechless among the trim rosebeds.

“You’re sure they’re good?” said Algy, his old suspicions returning.

“Good?—am I sure?—oh, you needn’t have them if you don’t like,” said the Australian.

“I beg your pardon a thousand times,” cried Algy. “Don’t fancy that I suggest that the dogs are not first rate. Oh, my dear fellow, I don’t know how to thank you. I am—well, my heart is too full for words.”

“There’s not a man in England except yourself that I’d lend them to,” said Mr. Burnaby. “I give you my word that I’ve been offered forty pounds for each of them. Oh, there isn’t a fault between them. They’re just perfect.”

Algy was delighted, and for the remainder of the evening he kept assuring his poor wife that he was not quite such a fool as some people, including the Scotch keeper, seemed to fancy that he was.

He had felt all along, he said, that just such a piece of luck as had occurred was in store for him, and it was on this account he had steadily refused to be gulled into buying any of the inferior animals that had been offered to him.

Oh, yes, he assured her, he knew what he was about, and he’d let MacKilloch know who it was that he had to deal with.

The Australian’s dogs were in the custody of a man at Southampton, but he promised to have them sent northward in good time. It was the evening of the eleventh when they arrived at the lodge. They were strange wiry brutes, and like no breed that Algy had ever seen. The head-keeper looked at them critically, and made some observations regarding them that did not seem grossly flattering. It was plain that if Mr. MacKilloch had conceived any sudden admiration for the dogs he contrived to conceal it. Algy said all that he could say, which was that Mr. Burnaby knew perfectly well what a dog was, and that a dog should be proved before it was condemned. Mr. MacKilloch, hearing this excellent sentiment, grunted.

The next day was a splendid Twelfth so far as the weather was concerned. Algy and his two friends were on the moor at dawn. At a signal from the head-keeper the dogs were put to their work. They seemed willing enough to work. Under their noses rose an old cock. To the horror of every one they made a snap for him, and missing him they rushed full speed through the heather in the direction he had taken, setting up birds right and left, and driving them by the score into the next moor. Algy stood aghast and speechless. It would be inaccurate to describe the attitude of Donald MacKilloch as passive. He was not silent. But in spite of his shouts—in spite of a fusi-lade of the strongest “sweers” that ever came from a God-fearing Scotchman with well-defined views of his own on the Free Kirk question, the two dogs romped over the moor, and the air was thick with grouse of all sorts and conditions, from the wary cocks to the incipient cheepers.

To the credit of Algy Grafton it must be stated that he resolutely refused to allow a gun to be put into the hands of Donald MacKilloch. There was a blood-thirsty look in the keeper’s eyes as now and again one of the dogs appeared among the clumps of purple heather. When they were tired out toward evening they were captured by one of the keepers, and led off the moor, Algy following them, for he feared that they might meet with an accident. He sent a telegram that night to their owner, and the next morning received the following reply:—

“The infernal idiot at Southampton sent you the wrong dogs. The right ones will reach you to-morrow. You have got a pair of the best kangaroo hounds in the world—worth five hundred guineas. Take care of them.—Burnaby.”

Kangaroo hounds! kangaroo hounds!” murmured Algy with a far-away look in his eyes.

It seems that he is not quite so fastidious about dogs as he used to be.

When in the west of Ireland some years ago, pretending to be on the look-out for “local colour” for a novel, I heard, with about ten thousand others, a very amusing story regarding a gun. It was told to me by a man who was engaged in grazing a cow along the side of a ditch where I sat while partaking of a sandwich, fondly hoping that at sundown I might be able to look a duck or two straight in the face as the “fly” came over the smooth surface of the glorious lake along which the road skirted.

“Your honour,” said the narrator—he pronounced the words something like “yer’an’r,” but the best attempts to reproduce a brogue are ineffective—“Your honour will mind how Mr. Egan was near having an accident just as he drew by the bit of stone wall beyond the entrance to his own gates?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I remember hearing that he was fired at by some ruffian, and that his horse ran away with him.”

“It’s likely that that’s the same story only told different. Maybe you never heard tell that it was Patsy Muldoon that was bid to do the job for Mr. Egan, God save him!”

“I never heard that.”

“Maybe not, sir. Ay, Patsy has repented for that shot, for it knocked the eye of him that far into the inside of his head that the doctors had no machine long enough to drag for it in the depths of his ould skull. Patsy wasn’t a well-favoured boy before that night, and with the loss of his ear and the misplacement of his eye—it’s not lost that it is, for it’s somewhere in the inside of his head—he’s not a beauty just now. You see, sir, Patsy Muldoon, Conn Moriarty, Jim Tuohy, and Tim Gleeson was all consarned in the business. They got the lend of a loan of ould Gleeson’s gun, and the powder was in a half-pint whisky-bottle with a roll of paper for a cork, and every boy was supposed to bring his own bullets. Well, sir, ould Gleeson, before going quiet to his bed, had put a full charge of powder and a bullet down the throat of the gun, and had left her handy for Tim in the turf stack. But when Tim got a hoult of the wippon, he didn’t know that the ould man had loaded her, and so he put another charge in her, and rammed it home to make sure. Then he slipped the bottle with the rest of the powder into his pocket and strolled down to the bit of dead wall—I suppose they call them dead walls, sir, because they’re so convanient for such-like jobs. Anyhow, he laid down herself and the powder-bottle handy among the grass, and went back to the cabin, so as not to be suspected by the polis of interferin’ with the job that was Patsy’s by right. Well, sir, my brave Conn was the next to come to the place, just to see that Tim hadn’t played a thrick on him. He knew that it was all right when he saw herself lying among the grass, and as he didn’t know that Tim had loaded her, he gave her a mouthful of powder himself and rammed down the lead. After him came my bould Tuohy, and, by the Powers, if he didn’t load herself in proper style too. Last of all came Patsy that was to do the job—he’d been consalin’ himself in the plantation, and it was barely time he had to put another charge into the ould gun, when Mr. Egan came up on his horse. Patsy slipped a cap on the nipple, and took a good aim from the side of the wall. When he pulled the trigger it’s a dead corp that the gentleman would ha’ been only for the accident that occurred just then, for by some reason or other that nobody can account for, herself burst—a thing she’d never done before—and Patsy’s eye was druv into his head, and he was left searching by the aid of the other for the half of his ear, while Mr. Egan was a mile away on a mad horse. That’s the story, your honour, only nobody can account to this day for the quare way that Patsy smiles when he sees a single barr’l gun with the barr’l a bit rusty.”

It was, I recollect, on the day following the rehearsal of this pretty little tale—the moral of which is that no man should shoot at a fellow man from the shelter of a crumbling wall, without having ascertained the exact numerical strength of the charges already within the barrel of the gun—that I was caught on the mountain in a shower of rain which penetrated my two coats within half-an-hour, leaving me in the condition of a bath sponge that awaits squeezing. While I was trickling down to the plains I met with the narrator of the story just recorded, and to him I explained that I was wet to the skin.

“And if your honour’s wet to the skin, and you with an overcoat on, how much worse amn’t I that was out through all the shower with only a rag on my back?”

It is said that it was in this neighbourhood that the driver of one of the “long cars,” on being asked by a tourist what was the name of a berry growing among the hedges, replied, “Oh, them’s blackberries, your honour.”

“Blackberries?” said the tourist. “But these are not black, but pink.”

“Oh, yes, sir; but blackberries is always pink when they’re green,” was the ready explanation.

I cannot guarantee the novelty of this story; but I can certainly affirm that it is far more reasonable than the palpable invention regarding the nervous curate who is said to have announced that, “next Tuesday, being Easter Monday, an open air meeting will be held in the vestry, to determine what colour the interior of the schoolhouse shall be whitewashed outside.”

“Am I dhry? Is it am I dhry, that you’re afther askin’ me?” said a car driver to a couple of country solicitors, whom he was “conveying” to a court-house at a distant town on a summer’s day. “Dhry? By the Powers! I’m that dhry that if you was to jog up against me suddint-like, the dust would fly out of my mouth.”

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