Down across the
boggy land half a mile away, beaters were moving some ducks, which came
downwind blasting over us at great speed. Lochamilton knocked down two high
ones—magnificent shots. While this was going on, Murdoch was beating for snipe
in front of us, and I saw one of those whirly birds get up in front of me,
lopsided and corkscrewing off—very silly-looking. I raised Emery's gun, tried
to lead the creature (never do this, just bang at it), lost it, shut my eyes
and fired. When I opened my eyes I heard Lochamilton say, "Sorry, old chap,
didn't quite get 'em both." Murdoch turned slowly and quietly said, "My
lord, I beg to say that you are mistaken." He walked over to the edge of a
path of gorse and reaching down, picked up two snipe: the one I had tried to
lead and one I had never seen. It had flown into my shot pattern from the left.
I had killed both birds with one barrel. Murdoch came toward me, arms
outstretched, a snipe in each hand. He stopped in front of me, bowed with a
warm dignity and placed the two birds at my feet.
shooters put down their guns and applauded, "Well done! Well done!"
I was in a
shambles of embarrassment. When I turned my head away it was almost more than I
could bear to see those two beautiful Highland girls applauding and cheering
wildly, the wind skittering around their kilted knees and buffeting their
locks. Ah, Ilsa! Anyone who has ever seen a really beautiful woman look on a
man with a pride in his accomplishment will know what I mean. Such a shot had
never been heard of. Two ducks, two grouse, two plover, two pheasants, yes. But
During the few
more days I was to be on the island, Lochamilton came for me every morning,
heaping me with praise and glory and begging me to go with him. He thought I
was marvelous because I had done what I did. Neither he nor anyone else ever
suggested how lucky I was. I had raised the gun, I had pulled the trigger, and
I had killed two snipe. It was a deed done—never mind how—and therefore it was
worthy of praise. In this one and possibly only respect, Lord Lochamilton and
Ambrose Littleghost had a lot in common.
Well, a few days
later we had a splendid party. It was my farewell to them all. I had heard from
the American consulate in Glasgow and had to sail home immediately. Things were
starting to get hot. The Firth of Forth bridge had been bombed and the mighty
had been sunk not too far from us up in the Scapa Flow.
MacKenzie and his wife helped me plan the party, and she cooked cakes and
trifles for two days. Murdo MacDonald showed up with a four-man combo which was
not very good but funny. However, MacKenzie had three whisky-filled pipers to
play for the reels, and they were magnificent; and with Ilsa and the rest I
danced many a fancy that I never danced before nor have since. Mibsy and his
countess were there, friendly and talking unceasingly about the snipe.
There were 20
couples, and we drank and ate and danced and laughed until the early morning.
Then Scot and Sassenach joined hands, made a circle and, placing me in the
middle, sang in a very straightforward and dignified way their song of
affection and goodby:
Safe across the friendly main;
Mony a heart would break in twa'
Would ya noo come back again.
A few of us went
to old David's tweed shop, sang a few last songs and had a last doch-an-dorris.
The girl with her head on my shoulder was Ilsa.
In the morning I
took the little steamer back across The Minch, the train from Oban to Glasgow,
the old American Merchant back to New York, and the train down to Pennsylvania
to my home that was not a home.