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SOME SKILFUL SHOTS
OLONEL GERVASE, who was one of the large house-party assembled at Lannowe, did not go out with the guns on the following day. Although a very fair shot, he had no pretension to stand in the same category with Lord Bracebridge (whose record of over seven hundred grouse to his own gun in twelve hours of unremitting labour, seemed likely to secure for him a species of immortality) nor even with half a dozen others amongst Lord Lannowe's guests; so that he hardly felt justified in endangering the reputation of Mr. Nigel Scarth's celebrated moor, whither the sportsmen were bound. He had, besides, a certain unacknowledged, half-conscious reluctance to accept Mr. Nigel Scarth's hospitality; for he had not taken a fancy to that young man. For the rest, he was by no means the sole representative of his sex at the luncheon hour, being kept in countenance not only by such veterans as the Duke of Leith and Lord Lannowe himself but by sundry younger men who either preferred the society of the ladies to hard work under a broiling sun or distrusted their skill sufficiently to shelter themselves behind that
"It is Gospel truth that I didn't want to shoot today," Gervase assured Monica, when anxiously interrogated by her upon the subject; "I don't like disgracing
myself, and in these times a man is considered to disgrace himself if he misses half the number of birds that I should have missed. Moreover, I should have been sorry to disappoint my host; for I suppose I couldn't have done that without disappointing you also, could I?"
He had already disappointed her a good deal by the very lukewarm congratulations which he had addressed to her upon her betrothal, as well as by his curt confession that he did not much care about her fair friend Miss Dallison.
"I wish," she sighed, a little reproachfully, "you wouldn't talk about him in that way!"
"In what way?" Gervase inquired. "Have I spoken any evil of him?"
"No; only I can see that you don't like him, and I am afraid Ethel doesn't like him either, and you don't like Ethel. It is all so unfortunate!"
Gervase laughed, but did not dispute the truth of her assertions.
"It would not be fair," he remarked presently, "still perhaps it would not be altogether unnatural on my part if I were the least bit in the world prejudiced against your fiancé. I remember, though no doubt you have forgotten, a certain promise that you made to me in Paris."
"I have never forgotten it," the girl declared, colouring up; “but I thought you were speaking then of some marriage which my sisters might arrange for me."
"It is true enough that I was," Gervase answered; "whereas you entered into this engagement of your own free will. Yes, I must admit that that makes all the difference, and that consulting me would hardly have saved you-deterred you, I mean-from making it.” "I think perhaps it would," said Monica, with a
distressed look. "That is, if you had had any good reasons to give me. I am afraid," she went on, after moment, "you have the same idea as Ethel seems to have-that I do not care enough for Nigel."
Colonel Gervase's idea, which was the result of somewhat limited opportunities for observation, was that Nigel did not care enough for her; but he was not so ill-advised as to give utterance to it, and the above conversation, which had taken place on the terrace after luncheon, was broken off at this point by the Duchess, who stepped out through one of the open windows to say:
"I have ordered the waggonette, Monica, for you and for those who want to go and look at the shooters. All the old women are writing letters; so they may be left to take care of themselves. Ned, you can drive me in the pony-chaise, if you like."
It was certain that he would have to do so, whether he liked it or not. It is not equally certain that the party which was subsequently conveyed to the neighbourhood of Rixmouth in the waggonette, and thence proceeded on foot over a couple of miles of heathery moorland, liked the form of amusement provided for them; for to the majority of the ladies grouse-driving was no novelty, while there are more enjoyable experiences even to the most modest of men than admiring the prowess of their fellows. Monica and Ethel were exceptions. The former, knowing how nervously eager Nigel was to maintain the high renown of the moor to which he had succeeded, wanted very much to hear an account of the day's sport, while the latter wanted several things, of which the chance of beholding first-class marksmanship was only one. As a matter of fact, she did not see much shooting, for the ladies arrived upon the scene so late that they came in for no more than the
last two drives of the afternoon; still, since it was her privilege on both occasions to be stationed behind Lord Bracebridge, who did not miss a single bird that came within his range, she may be said to have witnessed the cream of the exhibition.
"Yes, it will be a very good bag, I believe," Nigel said, in answer to Monica's question. "Of course it might easily be increased if we were to go on another hour or so; but the keeper tells me it was one of my uncle's rules never to have more than sixteen drives in one day, and I am so ignorant upon the whole subject that I think my safest plan is to keep strictly to precedent."
He himself had taken no share in the sport. He was not anything like enough of an adept to do so in such company, he told Miss Dallison, when she pointed to the walking-stick in his hand and inquired what he had done with his gun.
"So you stand modestly aside even on your own land!" she exclaimed, "Isn't that rather Quixotic of you ?”
He answered, "Oh, no; it is quite customary." He did not seem at all desirous of entering into conversation with Miss Dallison. He avoided looking at her and kept close to the elbow of his betrothed, who was just then talking to Lord Bracebridge, a big, brown-bearded man with a loud voice. Lord Bracebridge was very well pleased with himself and was consequently in a good humour with all the world, including his little sister-in-law. Unlike the majority of famous shots, who are wont to be taciturn, he loved to expatiate upon the details of his recent feats, and in Monica he found an excellent, if not a remarkably intelligent, listener. She turned and walked down the hillside with him, while the remaining sportsmen, quitting
their respective shelters, approached the spot where Nigel and Ethel were left standing. Among these was a stalwart figure which the latter at once recognised. Nevertheless, she inquired of her neighbour who the tall young man in the dark-coloured clothes was.
"I thought you knew Cuthbert Gretton," he answered, with a quick, half-suspicious side-glance at her. "You met him in Paris last spring, didn't you?"
"Oh, Mr. Gretton, of course! Yes, he is a friend of some friends of ours there. I suppose he either shoots better than you do or is less unselfish than you are. Which is it?"
"I believe he shoots better than anybody here, except Lord Bracebridge. It is not unselfishness that prevents me from trying to do what I have not learnt to do yet; it is only fear of making the bag much smaller than it ought to be. I do not claim to be an unselfish person."
"Unselfish persons never do make that claim," observed Ethel pensively.
"You can't know what I am," was Nigel's ungracious rejoinder.
It was very unlike him to adopt such a tone, for he was, as a rule, scrupulously courteous in his relations with ladies; but Miss Dallison did not take offence. She smiled and returned quietly:
"Perhaps I may be permitted to guess, though. After all, I have eyes in my head."
She had indeed, and what was more, she had eyes which, when they chose, could insist upon being met. Nigel's encountered them now with evident and not unflattering reluctance. He said:
"If you have formed anything approaching to an accurate guess, you must be aware that I don't deserve further study."