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A marshy tract along the river's side was the next place we visited. Here there was an abundance of snipe, and several of them were added to our bag. My practice at them was so bad, that H— laughed at me heartily, and attributed it to the whiskey I had imbibed, to keep the cold away after my wetting. I need not tell the reader that it was nothing of the kind. I was simply not used to snipe shooting, and the eccentric flight of the birds was, to say the least, bewildering to a young hand. A heron sailed majestically away from a dyke, but we refrained from shooting at it, as it would have been no use to us, and we both had a horror of needless slaughter. Leaving the marshes, we made our way to a mill, H, saying,
"My land ends here; and, although the good fellow at the mill yonder wouldn't mind our going over his meadows, I always make a point of asking leave. We will leave him a couple of rabbits.”
Leave was of course given. As we were turning away, I saw a fine pike lying motionless along the edge of the weeds in the millpool. H— said, “ We will do the miller a service, and rid him of the destroyer of his ducks. I have heard that you should always fire at the tail of a fish, and not at the head. It deprives him of the power of motion at once. Let us try the experiment."
He fired (again the right-hand barrel, by the way); but apparently the tail was not the vulnerable point of this particular pike, for a wave of water travelling with lightning rapidity up the pool showed us that his means of locomotion were unimpaired.
"Humph! So much the worse for the miller's ducks.”
A tramp over two or three meadows brought us a brace and a half of partridges, and to the foot of the hill. Up the side of the hill ran a sort of marshy ravine containing a thicket of dwarf bushes. As soon as the dogs were in, a woodcock floated out with that peculiar owl-like flight they sometimes assume. He paid the penalty of his rashness, as did two others which we flushed. Three more arose, but got clear away ; and then, as nothing more remained in the thicket, we turned our attention to the hillside and the rabbits. The snow had melted away in the bright rays of the sun, which shone out of a cloudless sky, and the short grass was as slippery as glass. It was owing to this circumstance, and our consequent ludicrous slipping about and breakneck tumbles, that the rabbits escaped more easily than we wished. Worse even than this was a part of the hill, covered thickly with blackberry bushes and thorns, and with a surface of loose stones. These stones gave way beneath us, and shot us into the midst of the thorns, so often and so painfully, that plentiful as the rabbits were, we voted the grapes sour, and turned our steps homeward, walking along the high road for some little distance, and then at my request turning down to the river again. I always like walking by the side of water when it is practicable. It shortens the way very considerably, although I cannot quite analyse the charm it has for me. As soon as we reached the river's bank, a solitary teal arose and fell to H—'s shot. Almost simultaneously I fired at and killed a snipe, which took wing from a neighbouring ditch. Refore we reached home two or three rabbits ended their existence, and H— succeeded at last in “wiping my eye” by killing a hare I had missed as it bounded over the furrows.
Only one other incident occurred before we reached home. That was the sight of a fox stealing cautiously along one side of a hedgerow towards a rabbit sitting unsuspiciously on the other. He looked so handsome, with his fur gleaming in the sunlight, that I was sorely tempted to shoot him for the purpose of having him stuffed; but I am happy to tell my fox-hunting readers that virtue was too strongly planted in my heart, and I refrained.
Not the least enjoyable part of a day's shooting or fishing is the return home to the cheerful fireside
and the well-cooked dinner, the happy chat over the after-dinner pipe, and the comfortable feeling that our rest is well earned.
Of course wild shooting varies in character according to place, but I think the foregoing is a pretty fair sample of it. Whether I have made my readers feel as I do about it I do not know, but any way the recital of one day's experience makes me long rather overmuch for more such days.