An Oath in Heaven

An Oath in Heaven

by Alice M Browne

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IT was early morning in early November, and the chimes of St. Mary's,
Hurstwick, ringing out the hour of three fell gratefully upon the ear of
Boles, head gamekeeper to Dame Vernon, as he stood ankle-deep in the
rotting leaves of Feringham Wood. For him and his subordinate this was
the very witching hour, demanding their utmost vigilance. "If nothing
happened" between three and five a.m., the keepers might reckon upon
getting comfortably to bed a little after seven. But then one never knew;
and Boles could tell of desperate encounters fought out to the bitter end
in the broad daylight of a wintry morn. These late affairs annoyed him,
and his cruel strength degenerated into sheer savageness whenever
curtailment threatened his hours of slumber. The patent for his local
sobriquet--" B.B.B." (Brutal Brimstone Boles)--was unmistakeably
engrossed upon his countenance, and endorsed whenever he opened his lips,
from which curses tumbled with as much noise and naturalness as water in
flood on the removal of a sluice. Local poachers indeed, avoided
Feringham Wood, deterred from making raids thereon as much by the
proverbial ferocity of Boles, as by the extraordinary precautions taken
by Dame Vernon to prevent ingress or egress. She was no "sportswoman,"
yet was the first of the local landed proprietors to take advantage of
the new law permitting the employment of a second keeper. She bred her
game solely for the market, and as she would neither "let" the shooting
nor permit sportsmen upon her land, was regarded with contempt and
dislike by her neighbours, who never acknowledged her existence by look
or salutation. For this ostracism she cared not a jot, but derived an
immense amount of satisfaction from the fact that she was, at this date,
the sole possessor in the county of the beautiful ring-necked pheasant.
And very jealously these birds were guarded, so jealously, indeed, that
two young fellows in search of adventure had plotted to assault the
stronghold and carry off one of the cherished fowls. The affair
originated in a wager, Tom Ronaldson, the Hurstwick banker's son, betting
his friend, "Lord Jim" (other wise known as Lord James Bagshot Warner),
third son of the Marquis of Pierhampton, that he dared not attempt so
risky a performance. Jim at once took the bet, Tom deciding to be present
to see fair play, which he said was the better half of the fun.

They were aware that Boles' subordinate, Blake,had been dismissed from
his post ten days ago, they knew also that two days back the keeper had
not succeeded in finding a substitute. What time, therefore, could be
better than the present, for the premeditated attack? They counted upon
their excellent disguise for concealing their identity, and besides
assuming wigs and garments foreign to their habit, had arranged to speak,
should speech be obligatory, in the broadest dialect of the county.

The point of the joke with these young men, and one which hugely
delighted them, was that they, in propriâ personae, had feed [sic] Boles
two days previously to show them the ring-necked pheasants. They then saw
for the first time, and with something like dismay, the one long, narrow,
devious trail which was evidently the only route from the pheasants' huts
to the single gate leading to the high road. It would prove "a bigger
job" than they had expected, but the greater the difficulty, the greater
the glory.

The moon rode high in a sky almost cloudless; its stately, dreamy passage
above the wood marked by the ghostly multiplication upon its floor of the
weird, denuded trees. Here and there among the fallen leaves man-traps
were hidden, the boards that once gave warning of their presence hanging
defaced and unreadable from the bare timber above, the unmelodious
playthings of all the winds of heaven, but the special joy of Boles. That
individual found cause for rejoicing at this moment in the brightness of
the night, but the wind was rising, and that bank of clouds to the north
might be driven across the moon's face in no time. This possibility was
the supreme hope of the amateur poachers, who, deter-mined that Boles
solus should prove no match for the two of them, intended to be outside
the wood with the coveted bird before he became aware of their proximity.
Once out of the wood they were safe, for, as the law then stood, a
poacher could only be captured if found in the preserve.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013769076
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/07/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 284 KB

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