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BY JOHN MILLS.
The sun had just risen, and his rays were streaming into my
bedroom, as I leaped from repose fresh as a three-year old. It was indeed as beautiful a morning as ever cheered the heart of a mortal; the refreshing mist still hung upon the glittering grass in graceful folds, like the bridal veil shading, but not concealing, the covered charms. Hastily I completed my toilet, and descending the stairs, I found my host cleaning his gun in the hall, with his keeper standing idly by, surrounded with pails of hot water and cold, heaps of tow, rags, and cloths of many sizes and descriptions.
"Good morning, good morning! What! you could get up before ten for this sport, eh?" said he. “I expect you 'll hold him straight to-day."
Expressing a hope that I should, I asked why he was preparing his gun, thinking it no peculiarly pleasurable occupation.
"In my young days, Squire," he replied, “ men used to be thorough-going fellows, that knew how a gun should be kept, made, and held. They knew how to breed a dog, break, and hunt him ; but now, hang me, if they do either. Everything's done for them; and, something like the King who was surprised how the apples got into the dumplings, wonder how the devil they miss, when they fire with both eyes shut. Look at this gun: I've shot with it for thirtytwo years. No one has ever cleaned it except myself, and never shall; for when I've finished it, I'm satisfied that it is in good condition. I KNOW that it is; but how should I, if I didn't do it
myself ? "
My host was of the old school, - not of that obsolete one when gentlemen could not approach a trout-stream without velvet caps, or “tally-ho” a fox unless decked in court-wigs, perfumed and powdered; but he eschewed the dandyism of sporting practised universally by the Nimrods of the present day. To see a particularly wellcut tight-waisted shooting-jacket, a swaggering tasselled cap, light boots, a conspicuous cravat, scratchless stock, with the usual triling accompaniments of the September outfit, were to him objects of supreme contempt. He looked upon the owner as one disgracing the manly amusement; and he that once “ turned out” thus vainly equipped with old John Goodwin, would most assuredly avoid a second experiment.
On the fourth of October my host had invited his select friends for a choice day's pheasant shooting. His preserves were well filled with game; and the annual treat of " a battu" was anticipated with great pleasure by numbers of sportsmen.
“ Map, are the spaniels in trim?" inquired my host of one admiring keeper, who stood grinning with a dog-whip in one brawny hand, and some couples in the other.
“I should say they gist was, sir," replied Map, with a knowing nod of satisfaction.
“Are those boys got to beat for us?” VOL. VIII.
“ Yes, they be, sir.”
“ Have you looked at the threads this morning ?” asked the master, stopping in his task, and looking in the keeper's face, inquiringly.
“ I should think I gist did, sir, afore daylight. Not one broke. All 's right as a trivet.”
It was a plan of my host to fix pieces of thread across the woods in various parts. So that, in case of poachers visiting these sancta sanctorum without being seen by his watchful keeper Map, and his supernumeraries, it might be known by the thread being broken.
The cleaning of the gun being finished, we sat down to a breakfast of substantials that would have broken the hunger of a regiment of Irish dragoons. A huge piece of beef stood in the centre of the polished oak table, surrounded with cold chickens, ham, tongue, pigeon-pie, eggs, rounds of buttered toast, and other suitables too numerous to mention.
“Come, my boy, come, you must drink a pint of this stiff ale;" and, setting the example, he divided the snowy froth, and quaffed a draught both deep and long from a large brown jug, which was handed to him by the attentive Map, who had just drawn it from a capacious butt in the jaws of a cellar beneath, of dangerous dimensions for an explorer. So long was the pull at Sir John Barleycorn by my host, that Map began to fear the remainder in reversion would be short commons for him.
I took the jug, and drank of the strong beer, giving the sentient toast of “ The trigger,” as a preliminary, and “May we have as good sport as the quality of the ale," by way of a finish.
“Some of the early birds will be here soon now,” said my host, looking at his antiquated watch.
“ Here comes one on 'em, sir !” exclaimed Map, pointing to an equestrian cantering up the gravel drive towards the house upon a fine-looking horse, followed by a mounted groom with a gun-case under his whip-arm.
“ It’s Tom Merryweather, as usual,” said my host. “First for the meet, first at the death, and the last to leave good wine. Ha! ha! ha! Tom 's a sad dog !”
Tom entered the room with a remarkably unceremonious air, and seizing my host's hand, extended for the grasp, they both indulged in a loud hearty laugh, without either uttering a word, which clearly signified the extreme good terms existing between the cachinnatory indulgers. After my formal introduction to Tom Merryweather, another jug of ale was brought by Map, who offered it to him.
“ That's your sorts !” exclaimed Tom, with Goldfinch, in “ The Road to Ruin,”—“That's your sorts for me!” And his voice was silenced for a few moments, while he swallowed the potent liquid in very considerable quantities.
The host stood watching with goodnatured smiles the huge drink of the thirsty sportsman, and said, when the jug was brought gradually from his lips, “ You can't whistle, Tom, now--ha! ha! ha!
Tom screwed up his lips with a good endeavour ; but nothing but a pant came from them. By wetting my whistle so much, I've drowned it, farmer.”
Here followed a second edition of uproarious mirth from the two jolly light-hearted fellows.
“ Here they come! here are the boys, as thick as hops !” exclaimed my host, as a neat buggy quickly approached, followed by a dashing tandem, and a dog-cart, full of merry fellows, all laughing and smoking best Havannahs.
After mutual congratulations upon the fineness of the weather, introductions, and large libations of the admirable beer, the party, consisting of ten, armed with double barrels of the best kind, followed our entertainer and his keeper. Immediately preceding were six lubberly bumpkins, carrying long sticks in their hands to beat out the game with, and two brace of diminutive spaniels were obediently treading upon the heels of Map, much against their inclination. In this order we arrived at the first wood, and before the bumpkins and dogs were permitted to enter, we were requested to take our positions, according to our tastes or knowledge of the location. After each had settled the exact place for his range, Map heard the exclamation of “All right!” from his master. The little anxious spaniels, with a cheerful cry, sprang into the thick cover to the given order, followed by the motley group of bumpkacious bipeds.
was placed by the side of my worthy friend, who said, “Take 'em right and left. Never mind me, Squire. I'll strike a light at 'em when you are done with the tinder.”
The dogs were now yelping their musical cries, baving started some rabbits or hares, which, from feelings of self-preservation, continued in the wood, despite of the exertions to make them fair marks. The beaters hallooed, and thrashed the trees and bushes, and all the guns were prepared for a crack at anything that might present itself to the ready trigger.
“ Mark !-mar-r-rk!” hallooed Map, as his well-tutored ear caught the first flap of a pheasant.
High over the trees I saw him mount a long distance from me. On he came towards where I stood, with his many-coloured and beautiful breast glittering in the sun. Momentarily I expected to see him fall before some well-directed aim. Bang! bang ! snapped a double barrel; but on he came unscathed, with his neck stretched out.
“Missed ! ” whispered my friend. “ Take it coolly. He's for you."
I raised my gun, covered, pulled, and down the fine fellow plumped in the long grass at my feet, fluttering in the convulsions of death.
“Well shot, Squire !-well shot!” said my friend, picking up the bird ; " and a young cock, too,” continued he, looking at his spurs.
As I was charging, a rabbit popped out of the underwood with the swiftness of light, and as suddenly ran into it again. I started as a loud roar, resembling the report of a cannon, issued from my host's long piece close to me.
“ What use was that ? ” said I. “ It was impossible to kill it.”
He looked at me with a good-humoured smile, and going to the verge of the cover, knelt down. Creeping almost the length of his body into it, after a short time he backed out, dragging the rabbit riddled through the head.
“They never show a tip of their listeners to me without—” And he concluded by giving a very knowing nod with his left eye shut, and holding up the shattered head of the ill-fated rabbit.
“Mark, mark cock!” But the warning was scarcely given by the watchful Map, when down tumbled a woodcock before Tom Merry weather's gun.
“ Tom never misses !” exclaimed my friend, in a tone of admiration. “A sad dog that Tom-ha! ha! ha!”
Another rabbit jumped from the wood, and stood for an instant with fear at seeing us.' The yelping of a pursuing spaniel soon determined his wavering inclination. Away he ran with the fleetness of wind. I levelled my piece, and the charge cut a deep furrow in the ground, five feet at least behind the fugitive. Bang! went the remaining barrel ; but on fled the nimble rabbit, pursued by a yelping dog.
“Now I'll strike a light at him," coolly observed my old friend, as he brought his gun to bear. The echoes rang upon the surrounding hills as the rabbit leaped into the air from the unerring noisy piece.
“ That's a long one,” said I.
“ Fetch him—that 's a lad!” he said to the dog, who brought the rabbit, and laid it at the feet of his master. “Squire, that's what I call a wipe o' the eye, at something like eighty yards off.”
“How could I miss such a chance ?”
“ I'll tell you how. You didn't hold him straight,” replied he, with a chuckle. “Now, here come some beauties for you.'
I looked down the middle of the cover, in which there was a narrow break, and towards us flew a brace of pheasants, almost side by side. I pulled at a long distance, and down fell both.
“A long shot for ever!” exclaimed my friend. “ Too many at once, though. Keep cool, and you'll bag all."
The game, being driven to the corner of the wood where we were standing, now rose momentarily. Flash after flash succeeded each other, as the birds tumbled over to the earth. Rabbits and hares rushed from the skirts, and, before they could fly from the more-tobe-dreaded men than dogs, were bagged as lawfúl spoil. Few, comparatively speaking, effected an escape. The sportsmen selected by my host for this yearly “battu” were the crack marksmen of the county, and not one but would deem a “clean miss ” as a very annoying and almost an unaccountable incident.
Every head out, sir," said Map, crashing through some thick boughs into the open space where we were standing.
“ Any gone back?” inquired his master.
“ Not many doubled, sir. Most have made for the Hill-Moss copse that had the chance," replied Map, putting much emphasis upon the conclusion of the sentence.
“ Now, then, gentlemen!" hallooed my friend. “Tom Merryweather, I say, Tom !”
“Over !” cried a voice which cheers the horse to fly a rasper, “Here I am!” said Tom, clearing a hedge like a harlequin, and bounding close to us, with eyes bright with excitement, and glowing cheeks. “ Have
your share, Tom? ” asked the host. “Five brace o' long tails, leash oʻSarahs, two couple and a half of conies, and a cock," enumerated Tom.
“How many muffs?”
“Well done, Tom. That excuse shall pass muster.”
We were now joined by the remainder of the party, who had enjoyed excellent sport. All were in high spirits, and eager for a continuance of the glorious amusement. The crew of bumpkins were all chattering and haw-hawing at the various anecdotes each was relating of the others. How one threw himself face downwards into a bed of stinging-nettles, to avoid the shot flying thirty yards above his head. That another tripped over a stout prickly bramble, and bawled out that he was in a steel-trap. A third, upon seeing a weazel, called out, “ Mark, hare!” A pheasant, rising close under the foot of a fourth, so frightened him with the sudden whir-r-r-whiz! that, turning white as chalk, he began climbing a tree.
A half-clad urchin was seen approaching us astride of a donkey, evidently as reluctant to a quick movement as the rider was desirous of one. He held a basket of capacious dimensions, covered with a cloth white as mountain snow. The other arm clutched a stick of weighty material, which was being applied vigorously to the slowlyinclined animal.
“Here comes Jack," said our host, “with the indispensables. Confound that boy ! how he thrashes Dick!”
“He's used to it, sir, and doesn't mind a straw about a lickin'. Use is second natur',” philosophically replied Map.
We prepared for the anticipated arrival of the Mercury from the larder by sitting in a ring upon the grass, under the widely-spreading branches of a chestnut tree. The spaniels and beaters spread themselves out upon a mossy bank in our rear, while Map stood with folded arms à la Napoleon, waiting for the messenger with good tidings, with anything but stoical indifference as to the “come off” of the event.
The indignant voice of Dick's rider, with the smart thwack from the cudgel, were now very audible.
“What are you so cruel for, Jack ? " asked our host, as the two at length effected a terminus of their journey.
“ He won't mind me, zur. So I puts it on to 'em,” replied the dismounter. “I wants to break 'em of his bad ways, so I cracks 'em well, zur."
“He's too old to mend his ways."
“The parson says we can't be, zur. So I 'spose jackasses can't,” replied Jack with confidence.
We roared with laughter at Jack's unanswerable argument; but he looked quite serious, and wondered at the reason of our mirth.
Divers quantities, as a lawyer would say, of tempting delicacies were abstracted from the hamper. Cold chickens of delicate complexions, tongues, ham, bottles of milk-punch, claret, sherry, and, lastly, but not the less to be appreciated, a capacious stone jug of the admirable ale.
With sharpened appetites we discussed the early luncheon. Merry was the jest, and loud rang the hearty laugh through wood and vale. Never was there a set of lighter-hearted fellows. Upon the conclusion the liberal remainder was transferred to the expectant boys and spaniels, who effected a rapid demolition.
“Shall we make for the Hill-Moss copse, sir ? ” asked Map. “Yes; and from there to the kiln shrubbery,” replied his master. Upon a gradual elevation, in the middle of acres of golden stub