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THE DYING PHEASANT.
The worthy Baronet was as good as his word, for, on the following day, our hero found the home cover more plentifully stocked than he could have expected, and such justice was done to the sport by himself, his uncle, and his cousin, that old Waddinghead, the keeper, vowed that it was the smartest shooting he had ever beheld.
Late in the afternoon, when the general thirst for carnage was somewhat abated, an unforeseen but most welcome diversion was afforded by the appearance of Constance and Cecile, who, on their return from a long walk, had, accidentally no doubt, strayed in the direction of the guns. After a momentary interruption of the proceedings, the new comers so strongly expressed their desire not to interfere with any previous arrangements, that the beaters returned to their task and afforded the sportsmen an opportun ty of exhibiting their skill before their fair visitants.
"Are you a good shot, St. Edmunds?" asked Constance of her cousin.
"Only pretty fair," replied he j "not so good as Edward."
"Can you shoot the birds right and left in the way he does'?"
"Well, I have done such a thing. Look here, there are two getting up together now; one is a hen, but never mind. When they are straight over my head, I will fire."
The young Viscount deliberately watched the moment for a double coup du roi and then discharged either barrel to such good purpose, that both the birds fell almost perpendicularly to his feet.
"That is wonderful," cried Constance; "I only hope that the unfortunate creatures are quite dead."
"The cock is, at all events," answered St. Edmunds, as he glanced towards the gaudier victim, while re-loading his gun.
"Yes," observed Cecile; "but I fear the little hen is not. See, Conny, she is fluttering still."
"Oh! so she is, CeVile. It is a shocking sight! I cannot bear to look upon it."
"It is in truth, and yet it arrests the eye. Poor little modest housewife," continued Cecile, in a low, musing tone, "thy homely garb might well have protected thee from the fate of thy chivalrous lord! I do not know how it is, Conny, but I am less moved by the aspect of the torn and mangled limbs, beautifully and intricately fashioned as they are, than by the thought that a life—a distinct, animated, sentient existence, is even now flitting before our eyes. See, there is the last convulsive struggle ;—now, all is ended."
"Poor little animal," cried Constance, "how I wish she were alive again!"
"Ah!" resumed Cecile, "will Kings, or Councils, or Parliaments restore for one brief hour that priceless gift which the ruthless shot has destroyed !—What say you, Conny? Perhaps this is the same poor little lady who, in January last, used to hang about the windows of the library, and so tremulously pick up the crumbs of bread we would throw to her. Do you remember how we discovered her afterwards so carefully preparing her lonely nest in the shrubbery. Twice we fell in with the young unfledged brood. How anxiously she watched over them; with what unwearied solicitude she provided for all their wants, and defended them from every peril until the whole sixteen could sally out, in noble array, around their exulting parent! I do not know how it is, but I do not think that I should much like shooting."
"What's the row?" exclaimed the Baronet, who with his son had drawn close to the unconscious speaker. "Has anything happened?"
"Oh! it is only Saint Cecilia moralizing upon the death of a pheasant," observed Edward.
"That girl will die in a mad-house, upon my word, she will," remarked Sir Charles, in a tone of the deepest conviction.
"Nothing more probable," said Ce'cile, scarcely recovered from her alarm on perceiving that her half uttered thoughts had found so many listeners.
"Well, but I shall have to join you there some day or other," resumed Edward, "if to be strangely arrested by such a sight is any indication that so fearful a goal is to be the term of our course. Shall I tell you what often strikes me when I witness the gradual extinction of any life, however humble, in the order of Creation?"
"No, pray do not," cried his smiling cousin: "I am sure that it is some dreadful induction of your German rationalism, which may full as well remain untold and unheard."
"Come, come," resumed Edward, observing that his father and Constance had moved on, "I cannot allow my thoughts to be put to the Index before they are spoken. Did you ever reflect, Saint Cecilia, when you have chanced to watch, as now, the conscious, animated, immaterial spirit forsaking the frail form of one of these little beings, what close kindred that spirit might claim to our own?"
"I have, Edward, and not without some feeling; of awe."