“Well,” said his host, “there is a good bit along here, if you would rather go on.”
“Go on?” said he. “Of course!”
And it was a “hot corner.” They came to it at the end of a long double hedgerow connected with the wood they had just beaten; and as there was no “stop” at the corner of the wood, the pheasants in large numbers had run into the channel between the double line of hedge. Here they were followed by the keepers and beaters, who kept gently driving them along. Occasionally one got up, and was instantly knocked over by one of the guns; but it was evident that the “hot corner” would be at the end of this hedgerow, where there was stationed a smock-frocked rustic who, down on his knees, was gently tapping with a bit of stick. The number of birds getting up increased, so that the six guns had pretty sharp work to reckon with them; and not a few of the wildly whirring objects got clean away into the next wood—Lord Beauregard all the time calling out from the other side of the hedge, “Shoot high! shoot high!” But at the end of the hedgerow an extraordinary scene occurred. One after the other, then in twos and threes, the birds sprang high over the bushes; the rattle of musketry—all the guns being together now—was deafening: the air was filled with gunpowder smoke; and every second or two another bird came tumbling down on to the young corn. Macleod, with a sort of derisive laugh, put his gun over his shoulder.
“This is downright stupidity,” he said to Major Stuart, who was blazing away as hard as ever he could cram cartridges into the hot barrels of his gun. “You can’t tell whether you are hitting the bird or not. There! Three men fired at that bird—the other two were not touched.”
The fusillade lasted for about eight or ten minutes; and then it was discovered that though certainly two or three hundred pheasants had got up at this corner, only twenty-two and a half brace were killed—to five guns.
“Well,” said the major, taking off his cap and wiping his forehead, “that was a bit of a scrimmage!”
“Perhaps,” said Macleod, who had been watching with some amusement his friend’s fierce zeal; “but it was not shooting. I defy you to say how many birds you shot. Or I will do this with you—I will bet you a sovereign that if you ask each man to tell you how many birds he has shot during the day, and add them all up, the total will be twice the number of birds the keepers will take home. But I am glad you seem to enjoy it, Stuart.”
“To tell you the truth, Macleod,” said the other, “I think I have had enough of it. I don’t want to make a fuss; but I fancy I don’t quite see clearly with this eye. It may be some slight inflammation; but I think I will go back to the house, and see if there’s any surgeon in the neighborhood.”
“There you are right; and I will go back with you,” Macleod said, promptly.