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and of course, when one is fired at, the others take the hint and scuttle away from the immediate neighbourhood. The pheasant, on the other hand, is an easy shot at all times, and shooting him on his perch is nothing less than butchery. There is no sport in killing ferve naturae unless some “law” is given them. Although I take the trouble to give this explanation, I do not expect anybody who is not a sportsman to agree with me in my reasoning. Certainly not Mr. Freeman.
In the wood such a solemn silence and stillness reigned. There was no breeze to awaken the sighing of the branches. Even the aspen, had it been there and in leaf, would not have trembled. Carefully avoiding the brambles and rabbit-holes, I picked my way to a tree stump, on which I sat and looked about me.' Before long I made out a dark lump in the top of a tree close to, which I knew to be a pigeon ; but the quiet was so great and deep, that I hardly felt inclined to break it. I sat still and listened, like men do listen when alone at night in the country, though what one expects to hear I do not know. I listened with ears strained to catch the slightest sound. Oh, JupiterJehoshaphat! What was that? A sudden and prolonged shriek, that sent the blood curdling in my veins, and made my scalp and back “creep” and my fingers tighten on the gun barrel. A white shape flits between the tree stems. It is an owl on the look out for his breakfast, and the noise that startled me proceeded from his downy throat.
He had broken the spell that was creeping over me, and, taking aim at the ring-dove, I fired. A hundred echoes awoke the silence, and, as the bird slowly fell from branch to branch ere it reached the ground, scores of its fellows left their roosting-places in hurried and noisy flight. Ere I left the wood I killed two more.
At daybreak we made our way to a spring in a glade of an oak plantation by the river. This, we guessed, the frost would not have touched, and we expected the wild ducks would have found it out. We were not disappointed. Ere we reached it we heard them quacking and spluttering in the shallow rivulet. They rose as we came within shot,-three couples of them. Two ducks fell to our shots—one to each—a fine drake with glossy plumage and beautifully tinted neck to my barrel, and a duck to H_'s. “A good beginning,” said H-; “now, as you are the youngest, you take the top of that bank, and I will take the bottom, and we will walk along and pick up whatever we can.” We did so, the dogs, a spaniel and a retriever, keeping to heel. Ere we had gone many yards a rabbit popped out of a bramble bush just under my feet. In my hurry I missed him.
“Now, see how I shall wipe your eye,” said H—, and, taking a deliberate aim, he fired. To my delight, his gun went off with a sort of puff instead of a report, and the shots were just ejected a few feet from the barrel and pattered on the grass. Bunny gave a flick of his white tail, and dived unhurt into a burrow. “Ha! ha!” laughed I,“ how about wiping my eye, and those excellent gun-cotton cartridges ?”
H- looked rather discomposed, but his faith in them was not shaken. The same thing, however, occurring three or four times again in the course of the day, he was compelled to admit that, although gun-cotton sometimes gave very satisfactory results, yet it was not to be depended upon like gunpowder. After knocking over one or two more rabbits, we walked down to the river side. A water-hen, disturbed by our approach, flew up stream, her legs skimming the water in the awkward way peculiar to waterfowl when they take to flight. I fired, and she dropped into the water, evidently winged, and swam underneath a clump of bushes that projected into the stream. I went up to this clump, and climbed out upon it for the purpose of dislodging the wounded bird. To my surprise, one water-hen after another fluttered away, until nearly a dozen had escaped. They appeared to have made it a sort of harbour of refuge, for I certainly never saw so many collected together before. Unlike coots, waterhens are not gregarious even in severe winter weather. We shot three of them, for a water-hen properly cooked, and skinned instead of being plucked, is quite a dainty morsel.
Passing through an oak covert, a brace of pheasants was added to our bag, which by this time was becoming rather heavy. Then we came to a weir, on the edge of which, half-way across, was a small island. From this island a couple of wild ducks took wing, and went away out of shot. Presently we saw them wheel around and come back, but at a great height. H— took the No. 5 cartridge out of his right-hand barrel, and replaced it with one filled with No. 1 shot. Just as the ducks came overhead he fired. One of them, great as the distance was, came down with its wing broken.
“That is the fourth time in succession that you have fired off that right-hand barrel of yours. You will wear it out before the other.”
“It's good stuff—it won't wear out; but all the same it is a bad habit to fire one barrel oftener than the other. You see, the trigger of this barrel comes first to the finger, and when only one barrel is fired off, ten to one it is the right-hand one."
Meanwhile, the duck had fallen into the river and floated down to the island. It became a difficult matter to retrieve it, for the water flowed'swiftly over the weir on to a nasty jumble of rocks below, and, if we sent the retriever across, he would probably be carried over and hurt. Rather than let a wounded bird escape to pine away in agony, I determined to retrieve it myself. I had on a pair of wading boots reaching up to the thigh; and as the water was only about nine inches deep on the wooden sill of the weir, I thought I might get across in safety. I had, however, miscalculated the strength of the current, which had such a hold on the wide and buoyant boots, that I was nearly carried off my legs at the first attempt. I had to lean against the stream in order to keep my feet, and before I was half-way across a sudden slip took me in deeper. The water rushed in over the tops of the boots, and poured down my legs in an icy cold deluge. It, however, answered the purpose of taking in ballast and steadying me in my further progress. The duck was recovered, and rather than lie on my back and hoist my legs in the air, to let the water run out, as suggested by H-, I made my way to a neighbouring farm-house, and sending to the hall for a pair of boots, I made myself comfortable.