Knocknagow - CHAPTER XV.



THE snipe was at the well, as Bob Lloyd had foretold, and the moment it rose, the doctor "blazed away." But greatly to his surprise, the snipe did not fall with its wing broken.

"He's wounded," the doctor exclaimed, on seeing the snipe pitch in the next field. "I'll make sure of him the next time."

All three blazed away the next time; and when the smoke cleared off they saw the snipe quietly dropping into its old quarters near the well.

Re-loading their guns they retraced their steps, and another volley woke the echoes of Mount Tempe. The snipe as jack-snipes are wont to do flew a couple of hundred yards, and dropped again among the rushes in the next field.

The affair now became quite exciting, and volley after volley made the unhappy fox among the flower pots shiver and creep from one corner to the other of its prison for a full hour and more.

"Hugh is doing business," said Bob Lloyd, on hearing the report of Hugh's gun from the bog.

"Ay, faith," he added, on seeing him quietly walk forward and pick up his bird.

"I'll do that fellow's job," exclaimed Richard, through his clenched teeth, as he rammed home the charge in the long duck gun with a very unnecessary expenditure of force. "Let me alone, if I don't polish him off."

We trust we need not say he did not mean his brother, but the jack-snipe.

But just as the doctor had put his gun on full cock, Bob Lloyd laid his hand on his shoulder.

"Is it a duck?" Richard asked.

"Ay, faith," replied Bob. "The ice is broken on the pond, and he's coming about it."

The wild duck flew round and round in a circle, and so low that the chances of a shot seemed not improbable.

Bob Lloyd hurried to the corner of the field and stooped behind the fence. Richard and Mr. Lowe took up a position at some distance, and all three watched the wild duck with breathless excitement as it came nearer and nearer in each round of its flight. The doctor had his long gun to his shoulder at one time, and would have blazed away if Mr. Lowe had not stopped him.

"Why don't you let me tumble him?" the doctor asked, in a whisper. "I had him covered just when he was passing the sally-tree."

"Don't you see," Mr. Lowe replied, "that that tree is fully three hundred yards from us?"

The duck suddenly changed from its circular course, and shot slantwise like an arrow into the pond. This move took the sportsmen by surprise; but recovering themselves, all three hurried along the fence, with their heads on a level with their knees. On, on they crept till they reached the part of the fence nearest to the pond. There was the duck quietly swimming among the broken fragments of ice, but not within shot.

"How are we to manage?" said the doctor.

"We're at the end of our tether, Dick," replied Bob Lloyd.

"I'll get over the ditch and take him by surprise," said the doctor.

And suiting the action to the word he climbed over the fence, and walked quickly towards the pond. The wild duck seemed really taken by surprise, for it remained hid behind a fragment of ice till the doctor reached the brink of the pond. He stood panting for a few seconds, with his gun half raised to his shoulder, but the duck never stirred. He advanced a step or two on the ice, and was beginning to think that the duck had got off in some inexplicable manner, when a tremendous splash and clatter in the water made him start. The duck rose so close to him that his first impulse was to step back. In doing this his feet slipped from under him, and he came down with extraordinary celerity on the end of his spine. The shock caused a queer sensation in his throat, and, in fact, he was much in the same state as Mrs. Slattery when she implored Father Hannigan to inform her whether she was killed.

"Why the blazes didn't he fire?" exclaimed Bob Lloyd.

"And why doesn't he get up?" Mr. Lowe asked, as he stood on his toes and looked over the fence,

"Faith, he's taking it easy," said Bob Lloyd. "Let us come down to him,"

"What's the matter, Dick?" he asked, on reaching the pond.

In reply Doctor Richard Kearney informed his friends in quiet, matter-of-fact manner, and in the fewest and shortest words, that the part of his person upon which he had fallen was "broke,"

"Misfortunes never come alone, Dick," said Bob Lloyd. "Get up, and let us be at the jack again."

"Yes, 'tis the pleasantest," replied the doctor. " Help me up. For, hang me if I'm quite sure whether I can stand."

He found, however, that he had the use of his limbs; and then returned to the well in pursuit of the jack-snipe.

But the jack-snipe was not to be found. In vain they tramped through the rushes, and along the drains and ditches, and everywhere that a snipe would be likely to be found. The invulnerable jack had disappeared from the scene altogether.

"He's dead," said the doctor. "I knew I peppered him the last time."

"But if he was dead," Mr. Lowe remarked, "wouldn't the dogs find him?"

They took one more round through the rushes; and then, as if moved by a single impulse, the three sportsmen grounded arms.

Bob Lloyd rested his elbow on the muzzle of his gun, and dropped his chin into the palm of his hand.

"Bad luck to that duck," said Bob Lloyd solemnly. "We lost our day's shooting on account of it."

"What is Hugh up to?" the doctor asked, pointing to his brother, who was standing on a little bridge on the bog road, and waving his handkerchief to them.

"I think it is calling us he is," said Mr. Lowe. "Let's have another glass of grog," the doctor suggested. "Ay, faith," replied Mr. Lloyd. "Come over." They returned to the house; and after another application to the square bottle, retraced their steps to the bog road, where Hugh was waiting for them.

"Ye had good sport it would seem," Hugh remarked, "Game must be plenty in Mr. Lloyd's preserves?"

"Well, we didn't meet much," replied Mr. Lowe.

"And we lost our day's shooting on account of that duck," said Richard, putting his hand under his coat-tails with a look suggestive of a disagreeable sensation.

"If we cross over to the turf-ricks on the high bank," Hugh remarked, "we may get a shot or two at the plover coming into the bog. They are flying low."

"I vote for going home," replied the doctor. "I have got enough of it for one day."

"I dare say you will have a good appetite for your dinner."

"Well, rather; but we had lunch at Bob's."

"What do you say, Mr. Lowe?" Hugh asked. "Shall we cross the bog and try and add a few grey plover to our bag?"

"Well, I confess, I'm inclined to vote with the doctor for home."

"Home is the word," said the doctor. And on seeing some country people approaching he managed to let the head and neck of his snipe hang out of his pocket, and, with the long gun on his shoulder, stepped out at a quick pace, looking as if he had done wonders during the day.

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