The Shootings of Achnaleish by E. F. Benson
The dining-room windows, both front and back, the one looking into
Oakley Street, the other into a small back-yard with three sooty
shrubs in it (known as the garden), were all open, so that the table
stood in mid-stream of such air as there was. But in spite of this
the heat was stifling, since, for once in a way, July had remembered
that it was the duty of good little summers to be hot. Hot in
consequence it had been: heat reverberated from the house-walls, it
rose through the boot from the paving-stones, it poured down from a
large superheated sun that walked the sky all day long in a benignant
and golden manner. Dinner was over, but the small party of four who
had eaten it still lingered.
Mabel Armytage--it was she who had laid down the duty of good
little summers--spoke first.
"Oh, Jim, it sounds too heavenly," she said. "It makes me feel
cool to think of it. Just fancy, in a fortnight's time we shall all
four of us be there, in our own shooting-lodge--"
"Farm-house," said Jim.
"Well, I didn't suppose it was Balmoral, with our own
coffee-coloured salmon river roaring down to join the waters of our
Jim lit a cigarette.
"Mabel, you mustn't think of shooting-lodges and salmon rivers and
lochs," he said. "It's a farm-house, rather a big one, though I'm
sure we shall find it hard enough to fit in. The salmon river you
speak of is a big burn, no more, though it appears that salmon have
been caught there."
"But when I saw it, it would have required as much cleverness on
the part of a salmon to fit into it as it will require on our parts
to fit into our farm-house. And the loch is a tarn."
Mabel snatched the "Guide to Highland Shootings" out of my hand
with a rudeness that even a sister should not show her elder brother,
and pointed a withering finger at her husband.
"'Achnaleish,'" she declaimed, "'is situated in one of the
grandest and most remote parts of Sutherlandshire. To be let from
August 12 till the end of October, the lodge with shooting and
fishing belonging. Proprietor supplies two keepers, fishing-gillie,
boat on loch, and dogs. Tenant should secure about 500 head of
grouse, and 500 head of mixed game, including partridge, black-game,
woodcock, snipe, roe deer; also rabbits in very large number,
especially by ferreting. Large baskets of brown trout can be taken
from the loch, and whenever the water is high sea-trout and
occasional salmon. Lodge contains'--I can't go on; it's too hot, and
you know the rest. Rent only £350!"
Jim listened patiently.
"Well?" he said. "What then?"
Mabel rose with dignity.
"It is a shooting-lodge with a salmon river and a loch, just as I
have said. Come, Madge, let's go out. It is too hot to sit in the
"You'll be calling Buxton 'the major-domo' next," remarked Jim, as
his wife passed him.
I had picked up the "Guide to Highland Shootings" again which my
sister had so unceremoniously plucked from me, and idly compared the
rent and attractions of Achnaleish with other places that were to
"Seems cheap, too," I said. "Why, here's another place, just the
same sort of size and bag, for which they ask £500; here's
another at £550."
Jim helped himself to coffee.
"Yes, it does seem cheap," he said. "But, of course, it's very
remote; it took me a good three hours from Lairg, and I don't suppose
I was driving very noticeably below the legal limit. But it's cheap,
as you say."
Now, Madge (who is my wife) has her prejudices. One of them--an
extremely expensive one--is that anything cheap has always some
hidden and subtle drawback, which you discover when it is too late.
And the drawback to cheap houses is drains or offices--the presence,
so to speak, of the former, and the absence of the latter. So I
"No, the drains are all right," said Jim, "because I got the
certificate of the inspector, and as for offices, really I think the
servants' parts are better than ours. No--why it's so cheap, I can't
"Perhaps the bag is overstated," I suggested.
Jim again shook his head.
"No, that's the funny thing about it," he said. "The bag, I am
sure, is understated. At least, I walked over the moor for a couple
of hours, and the whole place is simply crawling with hares. Why,
you could shoot five hundred hares alone on it."
"Hares?" I asked. "That's rather queer, so far up, isn't it?"
"So I thought. And the hares are queer, too; big beasts, very dark
in colour. Let's join the others outside. Jove! what a hot
Even as Mabel had said, that day fortnight found us all four, the
four who had stifled and sweltered in Chelsea, flying through the
cool and invigorating winds of the North. The road was in admirable
condition, and I should not wonder if for the second time Jim's big
Napier went not noticeably below the legal limit. The servants had
gone straight up, starting the same day as we, while we had got out
at Perth, motored to Inverness, and were now, on the second day,
nearing our goal. Never have I seen so depopulated a road. I do not
suppose there was a man to a mile of it.
We had left Lairg about five that afternoon expecting to arrive at
Achnaleish by eight, but one disaster after another overtook us. Now
it was the engine, and now a tyre that delayed us, till finally we
stopped some eight miles short of our destination, to light up, for
with evening had come a huge wrack of cloud out of the West, so that
we were cheated of the clear post-sunset twilight of the North. Then
on again, till, with a little dancing of the car over a bridge, Jim
"That's the bridge of our salmon river; so look out for the
turning up to the lodge. It is to the right, and only a narrow track.
You can send her along, Sefton," he called to the chauffeur; "we
shan't meet a soul."
I was sitting in front, finding the speed and the darkness
extraordinarily exhilarating. A bright circle of light was cast by
our lamps, fading into darkness in front, while at the sides, cut off
by the casing of the lamps, the transition into blackness was sharp
and sudden. Every now and then, across this circle of illumination
some wild thing would pass: now a bird, with hurried flutter of wings
when it saw the speed of the luminous monster, would just save itself
from being knocked over; now a rabbit feeding by the side of the road
would dash on to it and then bounce back again; but more frequently
it would be a hare that sprang up from its feeding and raced in front
of us. They seemed dazed and scared by the light, unable to wheel
into the darkness again, until time and again I thought we must run
over one, so narrowly, in giving a sort of desperate sideways leap,
did it miss our wheels. Then it seemed that one started up almost
from under us, and I saw, to my surprise, it was enormous in size,
and in colour apparently quite black. For some hundred yards it raced
in front of us, fascinated by the bright light pursuing it, then,
like the rest, it dashed for the darkness. But it was too late, and
with a horrid jolt we ran over it. At once Sefton slowed down and
stopped, for Jim's rule is to go back always and make sure that any
poor run-over is dead. So, when we stopped, the chauffeur jumped down
and ran back.
"What was it?" Jim asked me, as we waited. "A hare."
Sefton came running back.
"Yes, sir, quite dead," he said. "I picked it up, sir."
"Thought you might like to see it, sir. It's the biggest hare I
ever see, and it's quite black."
It was immediately after this that we came to the track up to the
house, and in a few minutes we were within doors. There we found that
if "shooting-lodge" was a term unsuitable, so also was "farm-house,"
so roomy, excellently proportioned, and well furnished was our
dwelling, while the contentment that beamed from Buxton's face was
sufficient testimonial for the offices.
In the hall, too, with its big open fireplace, were a couple of
big solemn bookcases, full of serious works, such as some educated
minister might have left, and, coming down dressed for dinner before
the others, I dipped into the shelves. Then--something must long have
been vaguely simmering in my brain, for I pounced on the book as soon
as I saw it--I came upon Elwes's "Folklore of the North-West
Highlands," and looked out "Hare" in the index. Then I read:
"Nor is it only witches that are believed to have the power of
changing themselves into animals...Men and women on whom no
suspicion of the sort lies are thought to be able to do this, and to
don the bodies of certain animals, notably hares...Such, according
to local superstition, are easily distinguishable by their size and
colour, which approaches jet black."
I was up and out early next morning, prey to the vivid desire that
attacks many folk in new places--namely, to look on the fresh country
and the new horizons--and, on going out, certainly the surprise was
great. For I had imagined an utterly lonely and solitary habitation;
instead, scarce half a mile away, down the steep brae-side at the top
of which stood our commodious farmhouse, ran a typically Scotch
village street, the hamlet no doubt of Achnaleish.
So steep was this hill-side that the village was really remote; if
it was half a mile away in crow-flying measurement, it must have been
a couple of hundred yards below us. But its existence was the odd
thing to me: there were some four dozen houses, at the least, while
we had not seen half that number since leaving Lairg. A mile away,
perhaps, lay the shining shield of the western sea; to the other
side, away from the village, I had no difficulty in recognising the
river and the loch.
The house, in fact, was set on a hog's back; from all sides it
must needs be climbed to. But, as is the custom of the Scots, no
house, however small, should be without its due brightness of
flowers, and the walls of this were purple with clematis and orange
with tropæolum. It all looked very placid and serene and
I continued my tour of exploration, and came back rather late for
breakfast. A slight check in the day's arrangements had occurred, for
the head keeper, Maclaren, had not come up, and the second, Sandie
Ross, reported that the reason for this had been the sudden death of
his mother the evening before. She was not known to be ill, but just
as she was going to bed she had thrown up her arms, screamed suddenly
as if with fright, and was found to be dead. Sandie, who repeated
this news to me after breakfast, was just a slow, polite Scotchman,
rather shy, rather awkward. Just as he finished--we were standing
about outside the back-door--there came up from the stables the
smart, very English-looking Sefton. In one hand he carried the black
He touched his hat to me as he went in.
"Just to show it to Mr. Armytage, sir," he said. "She's as black
as a boot."
He turned into the door, but not before Sandie Ross had seen what
he carried, and the slow, polite Scotchman was instantly turned into
some furtive, frightened-looking man.
"And where might it be that you found that, sir?" he asked.
Now, the black-hare superstition had already begun to intrigue
"Why does that interest you?" I asked.
The slow Scotch look was resumed with an effort.
"It'll no interest me," he said. "I just asked. There are unco
many black hares in Achnaleish."
Then his curiosity got the better of him.
"She'd have been nigh to where the road passes by and on to
Achnaleish?" he asked.
"The hare? Yes, we found her on the road there."
Sandie turned away.
"She aye sat there," he said.
There were a number of little plantations climbing up the steep
hill-side from Achnaleish to the moor above, and we had a pleasant
slack sort of morning shooting there, walking through and round them
with a nondescript tribe of beaters, among whom the serious Buxton
figured. We had fair enough sport, but of the hares which Jim had
seen in such profusion none that morning came to the gun, till at
last, just before lunch, there came out of the apex of one of these
plantations, some thirty yards from where Jim was standing, a very
large, dark-coloured hare. For one moment I saw him hesitate--for he
holds the correct view about long or doubtful shots at hares--then
he put up his gun to fire. Sandie, who had walked round outside,
after giving the beaters their instructions, was at this moment close
to him, and with incredible quickness rushed upon him and with his
stick struck up the barrels of the gun before he could fire.
"Black hare!" he cried. "Ye'd shoot a black hare? There's no
shooting of hares at all in Achnaleish, and mark that."
Never have I seen so sudden and extraordinary a change in a man's
face: it was as if he had just prevented some blackguard of the
street from murdering his wife.
"An' the sickness about an' all," he added indignantly. "When the
puir folk escape from their peching fevered bodies an hour or two, to
the caller muirs."
Then he seemed to recover himself.
"I ask your pardon, sir," he said to Jim. "I was upset with ane
thing an' anither, an' the black hare ye found deid last night--eh,
I'm blatherin' again. But there's no a hare shot on Achnaleish,
Jim was still looking in mere speechless astonishment at Sandie
when I came up. And, though shooting is dear to me, so too is
"But we've taken the shooting of Achnaleish, Sandie," I said.
"There was nothing there about not shooting hares."
Sandie suddenly boiled up again for a minute.
"An' mebbe there was nothing there about shooting the bairns and
the weemen!" he cried.
I looked round, and saw that by now the beaters had all come
through the wood: of them Buxton and Jim's valet, who was also among
them, stood apart: all the rest were standing round us two with
gleaming eyes and open mouths, hanging on the debate, and forced, so
I imagined, from their imperfect knowledge of English to attend
closely in order to catch the drift of what went on. Every now and
then a murmur of Gaelic passed between them, and this somehow I found
"But what have the hares to do with the children or women of
Achnaleish?" I asked.
There was no reply to this beyond the reiterated sentence:
"There's na shooting of hares in Achnaleish whatever," and then
Sandie turned to Jim.
"That's the end of the bit wood, sir," he said. "We've been
Certainly the beat had been very satisfactory. A roe had fallen to
Jim (one ought also to have fallen to me, but remained, if not
standing, at any rate running away). We had a dozen of black-game,
four pigeons, six brace of grouse (these were, of course, but
outliers, as we had not gone on to the moor proper at all), some
thirty rabbits, and four couple of woodcock. This, it must be
understood, was just from the fringe of plantations about the house,
but this was all we meant to do to-day, making only a morning of it,
since our ladies had expressly desired first lessons in the art of
angling in the afternoon, so that they too could be busy. Excellently
too had Sandie worked the beat, leaving us now, after going, as he
said, all round, a couple of hundred yards only from the house, at a
few minutes to two.
So, after a little private signalling from Jim to me, he spoke to
Sandie, dropping the hare-question altogether.
"Well, the beat has gone excellently," he said, "and this
afternoon we'll be fishing. Please settle with the beaters every
evening, and tell me what you have paid out. Good morning to you
We walked back to the house, but the moment we had turned a hum of
confabulation began behind us, and, looking back, I saw Sandie and
all the beaters in close whispering conclave. Then Jim spoke.
"More in your line than mine," he said; "I prefer shooting a hare
to routing out some cock-and--bull story as to why I shouldn't. What
does it all mean?"
I mentioned what I had found in Elwes last night.
"Then do they think it was we who killed the old lady on the road,
and that I was going to kill somebody else this morning?" he asked.
"How does one know that they won't say that rabbits are their aunts,
and woodcock their uncles, and grouse their children? I never heard
such rot, and to-morrow we'll have a hare drive. Blow the grouse!
We'll settle this hare-question first."
Jim by this time was in the frame of mind typical of the English
when their rights are threatened. He had the shooting of Achnaleish,
on which were hares, sir, hares. And if he chose to shoot hares,
neither papal bull nor royal charter could stop him.
"Then there'll be a row," said I, and Jim sniffed scornfully.
At lunch Sandie's remark about the "sickness," which I had
forgotten till that moment, was explained.
"Fancy that horrible influenza getting here," said Madge. "Mabel
and I went down to the village this morning, and, oh, Ted, you can
get all sorts of things, from mackintoshes to peppermints, at the
most heavenly shop, and there was a child there looking awfully ill
and feverish. So we inquired: it was the 'sickness'--that was all
they knew. But, from what the woman said, it's clearly influenza.
Sudden fever, and all the rest of it."
"Bad type?" I asked.
"Yes; there have been several deaths already among the old people
from pneumonia following it."
Now, I hope that as an Englishman I too have a notion of my
rights, and attempt anyhow to enforce them, as a general rule, if
they are wantonly threatened. But if a mad bull wishes to prevent my
going across a certain field, I do not insist on my rights, but go
round instead, since I see no reasonable hope of convincing the bull
that according to the constitution of my country I may walk in this
field unmolested. And that afternoon, as Madge and I drifted about
the loch, while I was not employed in disentangling her flies from
each other or her hair or my coat, I pondered over our position with
regard to the hares and men of Achnaleish, and thought that the
question of the bull and the field represented our standpoint pretty
accurately. Jim had the shooting of Achnaleish, and that undoubtedly
included the right to shoot hares: so too he might have the right to
walk over a field in which was a mad bull. But it seemed to me not
more futile to argue with the bull than to hope to convince these
folk of Achnaleish that the hares were--as was assuredly the
case--only hares, and not the embodiments of their friends and
relations. For that, beyond all doubt, was their belief, and it would
take, not half an hour's talk, but perhaps a couple of generations of
education to kill that belief, or even to reduce it to the level of a
superstition. At present it was no superstition--the terror and
incredulous horror on Sandie's face when Jim raised his gun to fire
at the hare told me that--it was a belief as sober and commonplace as
our own belief that the hares were not incarnations of living folk in
Also, virulent influenza was raging in the place, and Jim proposed
to have a hare-drive to-morrow! What would happen?
That evening Jim raved about it in the smoking-room.
"But, good gracious, man, what can they do?" he cried. "What's the
use of an old gaffer from Achnaleish saying I've shot his
grand-daughter and, when he is asked to produce the corpse, telling
the jury that we've eaten it, but that he has got the skin as
evidence? What skin? A hare-skin! Oh, folklore is all very well in
its way, a nice subject for discussion when topics are scarce, but
don't tell me it can enter into practical life. What can they
"They can shoot us," I remarked.
"The canny, God-fearing Scotchmen shoot us for shooting hares?" he
"Well, it's a possibility. However, I don't think you'll have much
of a hare-drive in any case."
"Because you won't get a single native beater, and you won't get a
keeper to come either."
"You'll have to go with Buxton and your man."
"Then I'll discharge Sandie," snapped Jim.
"That would be a pity: he knows his work."
Jim got up.
"Well, his work to-morrow will be to drive hares for you and me,"
said Jim. "Or do you funk?"
"I funk," I replied.
The scene next morning was extremely short. Jim and I went out
before breakfast, and found Sandie at the back door, silent and
respectful. In the yard were a dozen young Highlanders, who had
beaten for us the day before.
"Morning, Sandie," said Jim shortly. "We'll drive hares to-day. We
ought to get a lot in those narrow gorges up above. Get a dozen
beaters more, can you?"
"There will be na hare-drive here," said Sandie quietly.
"I have given you your orders," said Jim.
Sandie turned to the group of beaters outside and spoke half a
dozen words in Gaelic. Next moment the yard was empty, and they were
all running down the hillside towards Achnaleish.
One stood on the skyline a moment, waving his arms, making some
signal, as I supposed, to the village below. Then Sandie turned
"An' whaur are your beaters, sir?" he asked.
For the moment I was afraid Jim was going to strike him. But he
"You are discharged," he said.
The hare-drive, therefore, since there were neither beaters nor
keeper--Maclaren, the head-keeper, having been given this "dayoff" to
bury his mother--was clearly out of the question, and Jim, still
blustering rather, but a good bit taken aback at the sudden
disciplined defection of the beaters, was in betting humour that they
would all return by to-morrow morning. Meanwhile the post which
should have arrived before now had not come, though Mabel from her
bedroom window had seen the post-cart on its way up the drive a
quarter of an hour ago. At that a sudden idea struck me, and I ran to
the edge of the hog's back on which the house was set. It was even as
I thought: the post-cart was just striking the high-road below, going
away from the house and back to the village, without having left our
I went back to the dining-room. Everything apparently was going
wrong this morning: the bread was stale, the milk was not fresh, and
the bell was rung for Buxton. Quite so: neither milkman nor baker had
From the point of view of folk-lore this was admirable.
"There's another cock-and-bull story called 'taboo,'" I said. "It
means that nobody will supply you with anything."
"My dear fellow, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," said
Jim, helping himself to marmalade.
"You are irritated," I said, "because you are beginning to be
afraid that there is something in it."
"Yes, that's quite true," he said. "But who could have supposed
there was anything in it? Ah, dash it! there can't be. A hare is a
"Except when it is your first cousin," said I.
"Then I shall go out and shoot first cousins by myself," he said.
That, I am glad to say, in the light of what followed, we dissuaded
him from doing, and instead he went off with Madge down the burn. And
I, I may confess, occupied myself the whole morning, ensconced in a
thick piece of scrub on the edge of the steep brae above Achnaleish,
in watching through a field-glass what went on there. One could see
as from a balloon almost: the street with its houses was spread like
a map below.
First, then, there was a funeral--the funeral, I suppose, of the
mother of Maclaren, attended, I should say, by the whole village. But
after that there was no dispersal of the folk to their work: it was
as if it was the Sabbath; they hung about the street talking. Now one
group would break up, but it would only go to swell another, and no
one went either to his house or to the fields.
Then, shortly before lunch, another idea occurred to me, and I ran
down the hill-side, appearing suddenly in the street, to put it to
the test. Sandie was there, but he turned his back square on me, as
did everybody else, and as I approached any group talk fell dead. But
a certain movement seemed to be going on; where they stood and talked
before, they now moved and were silent.
Soon I saw what that meant. None would remain in the street with
me: every man was going to his house.
The end house of the street was clearly the "heavenly shop" we had
been told of yesterday.
The door was open and a small child was looking round it as I
approached, for my plan was to go in, order something, and try to get
into conversation. But, while I was still a yard or two off, I saw
through the glass of the door a man inside come quickly up and pull
the child roughly away, banging the door and locking it. I knocked
and rang, but there was no response: only from inside came the crying
of the child.
The street which had been so busy and populous was now completely
empty; it might have been the street of some long-deserted place, but
that thin smoke curled here and there above the houses. It was as
silent, too, as the grave, but, for all that, I knew it was watching.
From every house, I felt sure, I was being watched by eyes of
mistrust and hate, yet no sign of living being could I see. There was
to me something rather eerie about this: to know one is watched by
invisible eyes is never, I suppose, quite a comfortable sensation; to
know that those eyes are all hostile does not increase the sense of
security. So I just climbed back up the hillside again, and from my
thicket above the brae again I peered down. Once more the street was
Now, all this made me uneasy: the taboo had been started,
and--since not a soul had been near us since Sandie gave the word,
whatever it was, that morning--was in excellent working order. Then
what was the purport of these meetings and colloquies? What else
threatened? The afternoon told me.
It was about two o'clock when these meetings finally broke up, and
at once the whole village left the street for the hill-sides, much as
if they were all returning to work. The only odd thing indeed was
that no one remained behind: women and children alike went out, all
in little parties of two and three. Some of these I watched rather
idly, for I had formed the hasty conclusion that they were all going
back to their usual employments, and saw that here a woman and girl
were cutting dead bracken and heather. That was reasonable enough,
and I turned my glass on others.
Group after group I examined; all were doing the same thing,
Then vaguely, with a sense of impossibility, a thought flashed
across me; again it flashed, more vividly. This time I left my
hiding-place with considerable alacrity and went to find Jim down by
the burn. I told him exactly what I had seen and what I believed it
meant, and I fancy that his belief in the possibility of folk-lore
entering the domain of practical life was very considerably
quickened. In any case, it was not a quarter of an hour afterwards
that the chauffeur and I were going, precisely as fast as the Napier
was able, along the road to Lairg. We had not told the women what my
conjecture was, because we believed that, making the dispositions we
were making, there was no cause for alarm-sounding. One private
signal only existed between Jim within the house that night and me
outside. If my conjecture proved to be correct, he was to place a
light in the window of my room, which I should see returning after
dark from Lairg. My ostensible reason for going was to get some local
As we flowed--there is no other word for the movement of these big
cars but that--over the road to Lairg, I ran over everything in my
mind. I felt no doubt whatever that all the brushwood and kindling I
had seen being gathered in was to be piled after nightfall round our
walls and set on fire. This certainly would not be done till after
dark; indeed, we both felt sure that it would not be done till it was
supposed that we were all abed. It remained to see whether the police
at Lairg agreed with my conjecture, and it was to ascertain this that
I was now flowing there.
I told my story to the chief constable as soon as I got there,
omitting nothing and, I think, exaggerating nothing. His face got
graver and graver as I proceeded.
"Yes, sir, you did right to come," he said. "The folk at
Achnaleish are the dourest and the most savage in all Scotland.
You'll have to give up this hare-hunting, though, whatever," he
He rang up his telephone.
"I'll get five men," he said, "and I'll be with you in ten
Our plan of campaign was simple. We were to leave the car well out
of sight of Achnaleish, and--supposing the signal was in my
window--steal up from all sides to command the house from every
direction. It would not be difficult to make our way unseen through
the plantations that ran up close to the house, and hidden at their
margins we could see whether the brushwood and heather were piled up
round the lodge. There we should wait to see if anybody attempted to
fire it. That somebody, whenever he showed his light, would be
instantly covered by a rifle and challenged.
It was about ten when we dismounted and stalked our way up to the
house. The light burned in my window; all else was quiet. Personally,
I was unarmed, and so, when I had planted the men in places of
advantageous concealment round the house, my work was over. Then I
returned to Sergeant Duncan, the chief constable, at the corner of
the hedge by the garden, and waited.
How long we waited I do not know, but it seemed as if æons
slipped by over us. Now and then an owl would hoot, now and then a
rabbit ran out from cover and nibbled the short sweet grass of the
lawn. The night was thickly overcast with clouds, and the house
seemed no more than a black dot, with slits of light where windows
were lit within. By and by even these slits of illumination were
extinguished, and other lights appeared in the top story. After a
while they, too, vanished; no sign of life appeared on the quiet
house. Then suddenly the end came: I heard a foot grate on the
gravel; I saw the gleam of a lantern, and heard Duncan's voice.
"Man," he shouted, "if you move hand or foot I fire. My rifle-bead
is dead on you."
Then I blew the whistle; the others ran up, and in less than a
minute it was all over. The man we closed in on was Maclaren.
"They killed my mither with that hell-carriage," he said, "as she
juist sat on the road, puir body, who had niver hurt them."
And that seemed to him an excellent reason for attempting to burn
us all to death.
But it took time to get into the house: their preparations had
been singularly workmanlike, for every window and door on the ground
floor was wired up.
Now, we had Achnaleish for two months, but we had no wish to be
burned or otherwise murdered. What we wanted was not a prosecution of
our head-keeper, but peace, the necessaries of life, and beaters. For
that we were willing to shoot no hares, and release Maclaren. An
hour's conclave next morning settled these things; the ensuing two
months were most enjoyable, and relations were the friendliest.
But if anybody wants to test how far what Jim still calls
cock-and-bull stories can enter into practical life, I should suggest
to him to go a-shooting hares at Achnaleish.