Again I excused myself, guessing that the discomfited Charles would put all sorts of stories about concerning me, and not wishing to look foolish before a party of grand strangers, no doubt chosen for their skill at this particular form of sport.
“Well, Allan,” exclaimed Scroope, who always had a talent for saying the wrong thing, “you are quite right not to go into a competition with Lord Ragnall over high pheasants.”
I flushed, for there was some truth in his blundering remark, whereon Lord Ragnall said with ready tact:
“I asked Mr. Quatermain to shoot, not to a shooting match, Scroope, and I hope he’ll come.”
This left me no option, and with a sinking heart I had to accept.
“Sorry I can’t ask you too, Scroope,” said his lordship, when details had been arranged, “but we can only manage seven guns at this shoot. But will you and Miss Manners come to dine and sleep to-morrow evening? I should like to introduce your future wife to my future wife,” he added, colouring a little.
Miss Manners being devoured with curiosity as to the wonderful Miss Holmes, of whom she had heard so much but never actually seen, accepted at once, before her lover could get out a word, whereon Scroope volunteered to bring me over in the morning and load for me. Being possessed by a terror that I should be handed over to the care of the unsympathetic Charles, I replied that I should be very grateful, and so the thing was settled.
On our way home we passed through a country town, of which I forget the name, and the sight of a gunsmith’s shop there reminded me that I had no cartridges. So I stopped to order some, as, fortunately, Lord Ragnall had mentioned that the guns he was going to lend me were twelve-bores. The tradesman asked me how many cartridges I wanted, and when I replied “a hundred,” stared at me and said:
“If, as I understood, sir, you are going to the big winter shoot at Ragnall to-morrow, you had better make it three hundred and fifty at least. I shall be there to watch, like lots of others, and I expect to see nearly two hundred fired by each gun at the last Lake stand.”
“Very well,” I answered, fearing to show more ignorance by further discussion. “I will call for the cartridges on my way to-morrow morning. Please load them with three drachms of powder.”
“Yes, sir, and an ounce and an eighth of No. 5 shot, sir? That’s what all the gentlemen use.”
“No,” I answered, “No. 3; please be sure as to that. Good evening.”
The gunsmith stared at me, and as I left the shop I heard him remark to his assistant:
“That African gent must think he’s going out to shoot ostriches with buck shot. I expect he ain’t no good, whatever they may say about him.”
ALLAN MAKES A BET