Almost at the last moment Silverbridge and his brother Gerald were induced to join Lord Popplecourt’s shooting-party in Scotland. The party perhaps might more properly be called the party of Reginald Dobbes, who as a man knowing in such matters. It was he who made the party up. Popplecourt and Silverbridge were to share the expense between them, each bringing three guns. Silverbridge brought his brother and Frank Tregear — having refused a most piteous petition on the subject from Major Tifto. With Popplecourt of course came Reginald Dobbes, who was, in truth, to manage everything, and Lord Nidderdale, whose wife had generously permitted him this recreation. The shooting was in the west of Perthshire, known as Crummie-Toddie, and comprised an enormous acreage of so-called forest and moor. Mr Dobbes declared that nothing like it had as yet been produced in Scotland. Everything had been made to give way to deer and grouse. The thing had been managed so well that the tourist nuisance had been considerably abated. There was hardly a potato patch left in the district, nor a head of cattle to be seen. There were no inhabitants remaining, or so few that they could be absorbed in game-preserving or cognate duties. Reginald Dobbes, who was very great at grouse, and supposed to be capable of outwitting deer by venatical wiles more perfectly than any other sportsman in Great Britain, regarded Crummie-Toddie as the nearest thing there was to a Paradise on Earth. Could he have been allowed to pass one or two special laws for his own protection, there might still have been improvements. He would like the right to have all intruders thrashed by the gillies within an inch of their lives; and he would have had a clause in his lease against the making of any new roads, opening of footpaths, or building of bridges. He had seen somewhere in print a plan for running a railway from Callender to Fort Augustus right through Crummie-Toddie! If this were done in his time the beauty of the world would be over. Reginald Dobbes was a man of about forty, strong, active, well-made, about five feet ten in height, with broad shoulders and greatly-developed legs. He was not a handsome man, having a protrusive nose, high cheek-bones, and long upper lip; but there was a manliness about his face which redeemed it. Sport was the business of his life, and he thoroughly despised all who were not sportsmen. He fished and shot and hunted during nine or ten months of the year, filling up his time as best he might with coaching polo, and pigeon-shooting. He regarded it as a great duty to keep his body in the firmest possible condition. All his eating and all his drinking was done upon a system, and he would consider himself to be guilty of weak self-indulgence were he to allow himself to break through sanitary rules. But it never occurred to him that his whole life was one of self-indulgence. He could walk his thirty miles with his gun on his shoulder as well now as he could ten years ago; and being sure of this, was thoroughly contented with himself. He had a patrimony amounting to perhaps 1000 pounds a year, which he husbanded so as to enjoy all his amusements to perfection. No one had ever heard of his sponging on his friends. Of money he rarely spoke, sport being in his estimation the only subject worthy of a man’s words. Such was Reginald Dobbes, who was now to be the master of the shooting at Crummie-Toddie.
Crummie-Toddie was but twelve miles from Killancodlem, Mrs Montacute Jones’s highland seat; and it was this vicinity which first induced Lord Silverbridge to join the party. Mabel Grex was to be at Killancodlem, and, determined as he still was to ask her to be his wife, he would make this opportunity. Of real opportunity there had been none at Richmond. Since he had had his ring altered and had sent it to her there had come but a word or two of answer. ‘What am I to say? You unkindest of men! To keep it or to send it back would make me equally miserable. I shall keep it till you are married, and then give it to your wife.’ This affair of the ring had made him more intent than ever. After that he heard that Isabel Boncassen would also be at Killancodlem, having been induced to join Mrs Montacute Jones’s swarm of visitors. Though he was dangerously devoid of experience, still he felt that this was unfortunate. He intended to marry Mabel Grex. And he could assure himself that he thoroughly loved her. Nevertheless he liked making love to Isabel Boncassen. He was quite willing to marry and settle down, and looked forward with satisfaction to having Mabel Grex for his wife. But it would be pleasant to have a six-month run of flirting and love-making before this settlement, and he had certainly never seen anyone with whom this would be so delightful as with Miss Boncassen. But that the two ladies should be at the same house was unfortunate.
He and Gerald reached Crummie-Toddie late on the evening of August the eleventh, and found Reginald Dobbes alone. That was on Wednesday. Popplecourt and Niddledale ought to have made their appearance on that morning, but had telegraphed to say that they would be detained two days on their route. Tregear, whom hitherto Dobbes had never seen, had left his arrival uncertain. This carelessness on such matters was very offensive to Mr Dobbes, who loved discipline and exactitude. He ought to have received the two young men with open arms because they were punctual; but he had been somewhat angered by what he considered the extreme youth of Lord Gerald. Boys who could not shoot were, he thought, putting themselves forward before their time. And Silverbridge himself was by no means a first-rate shot. Such a one as Silverbridge had to be endured because from his position and wealth he could facilitate such arrangements as these. It was much to have to do with a man who could not complain if an extra fifty pounds were wanted. But he ought to have understood that he was bound in honour to bring down competent friends. Of Tregear’s shooting Dobbes had been able to learn nothing. Lord Gerald was a lad from the Universities; and Dobbes hated University lads. Popplecourt and Niddledale were known to be efficient. They were men who could work hard and do their part of the required slaughter. Dobbes proudly knew that he could make up for some deficiency by his own prowess; but he could not struggle against three bad guns. What was the use of so perfecting Crummie-Toddie as to make it the best bit of ground for grouse and deer in Scotland, if the men who came there failed by their own incapacity to bring up the grand total of killed to a figure which would render Dobbes and Crummie-Toddie famous throughout the whole shooting world? He had been hard at work on other matters. Dogs had gone amiss; — or guns, and he had been made angry by the champagne which Popplecourt had caused to be sent down. He knew what champagne meant. Whisky-and-water, and not much of it, was the liquor which Reginald Dobbes loved in the mountains.
‘Don’t you call this a very ugly country?’ Silverbridge asked as soon as he arrived. Now it is the case that the traveller who travels into Argyleshire, Perthshire, and Inverness, expects to find lovely scenery; and it was also true that the country through which they had passed for the last twenty miles had been not only bleak and barren, but uninteresting and ugly. It was all rough open moorland, never rising into mountains, and graced by no running streams, by no forest scenery, almost by no foliage. The lodge itself did indeed stand close upon a little river, and was reached by a bridge that crossed it; but there was nothing pretty either in the river or the bridge. It was a placid black little streamlet, which in that portion of its course was hurried by no steepness, had not broken rocks in its bed, no trees on its low banks, and played none of those gambols which make running water beautiful. The bridge was a simple low construction with a low parapet, carrying an ordinary roadway up to the hall door. The lodge itself was as ugly a house could be, white, of two stories, with the door in the middle and windows on each side, with a slate roof, and without a tree near it. It was in the middle of the shooting, and did not create a town round itself as do sumptuous mansions, to the great detriment of that seclusion which is favourable to game. ‘Look at Killancodlem,’ Dobbes had been heard to say —‘a very fine house for ladies to flirt in; but if you find a deer within six miles of it I will eat him first and shoot him afterwards.’ There was a Spartan simplicity about Crummie-Toddie which pleased the Spartan mind of Reginald Dobbes.
‘Ugly do you call it?’
‘Infernally ugly,’ said Lord Gerald.
‘What did you expect to find? A big hotel, and a lot of cockneys. If you come after grouse, you must come to what the grouse think pretty.’
‘Nevertheless, it is ugly,’ said Silverbridge, who did not choose to be ‘sat upon’. ‘I have been at shootings in Scotland before, and sometimes they are not ugly. This I call beastly.’ Whereupon Reginald Dobbes turned upon his heel and walked away.
‘Can you shoot?’ he said afterwards to Lord Gerald.
‘I can fire off a gun, if you mean that,’ said Gerald.
‘You have never shot much?’
‘Not what you call very much. I’m not so old as you are, you know. Everything must have a beginning.’ Mr Dobbes wished ‘the beginning’ might have taken place elsewhere; but there had been some truth in the remark.
‘What on earth made you tell him crammers like that?’ asked Silverbridge, as the brothers sat together afterwards smoking on the wall of the bridge.
‘Because he made an ass of himself; asking me whether I could shoot.’
On the next morning they started at seven. Dobbes had determined to be cross, because, as he thought, the young men would certainly keep him waiting; and was cross because by their punctuality they robbed him of any just cause for offence. During the morning on the moor they were hardly near enough each other for much conversation, and very little was said. According to the arrangement made they returned to the house for lunch, it being their purpose not to go far from home till their numbers were complete. As they came over the bridge and put down their guns near the door, Mr Dobbes spoke the first good-humoured word they had heard from his lips. ‘Why did you tell me such an infernal-, I would say lie, only perhaps you mightn’t like it.’
‘I told you no lie,’ said Gerald.
‘You’ve only missed two birds all the morning, and you have shot forty-two. That’s uncommonly good sport.’
‘What have you done?’
‘Only forty,’ and Mr Dobbes seemed for the moment to be gratified by his own inferiority. ‘You are a deuced sight better than your brother.’
‘Gerald’s about the best shot I know,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Why didn’t he tell?’
‘Because you were angry when we said the place was ugly.’
‘I see all about it,’ said Dobbes. ‘Nevertheless when a fellow comes to shoot he shouldn’t complain because a place isn’t pretty. What you want is a decent house as near as you can have it to your ground. If there is anything in Scotland to beat Crummie-Toddie I don’t know where to find it. Shooting is shooting you know, and touring is touring.’
Upon that he took very kindly to Lord Gerald, who, even after the arrival of the other men, was second only in skill to Dobbes himself. With Nidderdale, who was an old companion, he got on very well. Nidderdale drank and ate too much, and refused to be driven beyond a certain amount of labour, but was in other respects obedient and knew what he was about. Popplecourt was disagreeable, but he was a fairly good shot and understood what was expected of him. Silverbridge was so good-humoured, that even his manifest faults — shooting carelessly, lying in bed, and wanting his dinner — were, if not forgiven at least endured. But Tregear was an abomination. He could shoot well enough and was active, and when he was at the work seemed to like it; — but he would stay away whole days by himself, and when spoken to would answer in a manner which seemed to Dobbes to flat mutiny. ‘We are not doing it for our bread,’ said Tregear.
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘There’s not a duty in killing a certain number of these animals.’ They had been driving deer on the day before and were to continue the work on the day in question. ‘I’m not paid fifteen shillings a week for doing it.’
‘I suppose if you undertake to do a thing you mean to do it. Of course you’re not wanted. We can make the double party without you.’
‘Then why the mischief should you growl at me?’
‘Because I think a man should do what he undertakes to do. A man who gets tired after three days’ work of this kind would become tired if he were earning his bread.’
‘Who says I am tired? I came here to amuse myself.’
‘And as long as it amuses me, I shall shoot, and when it does not I shall give it up.’
This vexed the governor of Crummie-Toddie much. He had learned to regard himself as the arbiter of the fate of men while they were sojourning under the same autumnal roof as himself. But a defalcation which occurred immediately afterwards was worse. Silverbridge declared his intention of going over one morning to Killancodlem. Reginald Dobbes muttered a curse between his teeth, which was visible by the anger of his brow, to all the party. ‘I shall be back tonight, you know,’ said Silverbridge.
‘A lot of men and women who pretend to come here for shooting,’ said Dobbes angrily, ‘but do all the mischief they can.’
‘One must go and see one’s friends you know.’
‘Some girl!’ said Dobbes.
But worse happened than the evil so lightly mentioned. Silverbridge did go over to Killancodlem; and presently there came back a man with a cart, who was to return with a certain not small proportion of his luggage.
‘It’s hardly honest, you know,’ said Reginald Dobbes.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14