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The Bag
by [?]

“The Major is coming in to tea,” said Mrs. Hoopington to her niece. “He’s just gone round to the stables with his horse. Be as bright and lively as you can; the poor man’s got a fit of the glooms.”

Major Pallaby was a victim of circumstances, over which he had no control, and of his temper, over which he had very little. He had taken on the Mastership of the Pexdale Hounds in succession to a highly popular man who had fallen foul of his committee, and the Major found himself confronted with the overt hostility of at least half the hunt, while his lack of tact and amiability had done much to alienate the remainder. Hence subscriptions were beginning to fall off, foxes grew provokingly scarcer, and wire obtruded itself with increasing frequency. The Major could plead reasonable excuse for his fit of the glooms.

In ranging herself as a partisan on the side of Major Pallaby Mrs. Hoopington had been largely influenced by the fact that she had made up her mind to marry him at an early date. Against his notorious bad temper she set his three thousand a year, and his prospective succession to a baronetcy gave a casting vote in his favour. The Major’s plans on the subject of matrimony were not at present in such an advanced stage as Mrs. Hoopington’s, but he was beginning to find his way over to Hoopington Hall with a frequency that was already being commented on.

“He had a wretchedly thin field out again yesterday,” said Mrs. Hoopington. “Why you didn’t bring one or two hunting men down with you, instead of that stupid Russian boy, I can’t think.”

“Vladimir isn’t stupid,” protested her niece; “he’s one of the most amusing boys I ever met. Just compare him for a moment with some of your heavy hunting men–“

“Anyhow, my dear Norah, he can’t ride.”

“Russians never can; but he shoots.”

“Yes; and what does he shoot? Yesterday he brought home a woodpecker in his game-bag.”

“But he’d shot three pheasants and some rabbits as well.”

“That’s no excuse for including a woodpecker in his game-bag.”

“Foreigners go in for mixed bags more than we do. A Grand Duke pots a vulture just as seriously as we should stalk a bustard. Anyhow, I’ve explained to Vladimir that certain birds are beneath his dignity as a sportsman. And as he’s only nineteen, of course, his dignity is a sure thing to appeal to.”

Mrs. Hoopington sniffed. Most people with whom Vladimir came in contact found his high spirits infectious, but his present hostess was guaranteed immune against infection of that sort.

“I hear him coming in now,” she observed. “I shall go and get ready for tea. We’re going to have it here in the hall. Entertain the Major if he comes in before I’m down, and, above all, be bright.”

Norah was dependent on her aunt’s good graces for many little things that made life worth living, and she was conscious of a feeling of discomfiture because the Russian youth whom she had brought down as a welcome element of change in the country-house routine was not making a good impression. That young gentleman, however, was supremely unconscious of any shortcomings, and burst into the hall, tired, and less sprucely groomed than usual, but distinctly radiant. His game-bag looked comfortably full.

“Guess what I have shot,” he demanded.

“Pheasants, woodpigeons, rabbits,” hazarded Norah.

“No; a large beast; I don’t know what you call it in English. Brown, with a darkish tail.” Norah changed colour.

“Does it live in a tree and eat nuts?” she asked, hoping that the use of the adjective “large” might be an exaggeration.

Vladimir laughed.

“Oh no; not a biyelka.”

“Does it swim and eat fish?” asked Norah, with a fervent prayer in her heart that it might turn out to be an otter.