The Shooting Season - Isobel Starling

The Missive

Monday 20th December 1897

I stepped from my carriage into the frigid, smoggy London city night, and to ward off the biting chill, pulled the fur lapels of my greatcoat closed.

Being of a somewhat reserved disposition I was content to do business at my offices during the day but did not commonly venture out in London after dark. I was not comfortable in crowds, I did not like to be touched, and the bustle of crowds caused me great anxiety. On the rare occasion I did endeavor for company I would attend my club where I could overnight should I require. But this night I had ventured into the filthy city and I was not attending my club. There was an errand I must undertake that was of such great import that I could not allow my irrational fears or misgivings to thwart me.

A young uniformed porter stepped from the shadows and doffed his cap.

“Here, boy,” I bellowed. “Take my trunk to the Caledonian Sleeper first-class baggage car”.

He nodded subserviently and received my wheeled traveling trunk from the coachman. I tossed the coachman a sixpence, far too munificent for a tip, but it was the season of goodwill and I was in a generous mood.

Hearing the warning shriek of the train whistle, I grasped the handle of my small overnight case, gripped my silver-topped cane, and then hurried into the mercifully vacant Euston Railway Station. I swiftly made my way to the ticket booth and on purchasing my first-class ticket with an additional charge for the sleeping compartment, I rushed toward platform one where the magnificent snarling steam engine stood. It was huffing and puffing like a beast on the bridle, desperate to escape its bonds and fly. I edged through the billowing clouds of smoke and steam to find an empty platform, free at this late hour, of the hubbub of people bidding adieu to their loved ones.

The porter dragged my wheeled trunk to the train and awaited assistance at the baggage car to lift it aboard.

“The first-class carriage is coupled at the front of the train sir.” The cockney porter called as I hurried past. I was most anxious to find the correct carriage, warm myself, and settle my nerves with a glass of mulled Port. The winds that whistled through the station threatened snow but the newspapers suggested we would be spared a blizzard until Christmas Day, five-days hence. I was traveling to Scotland and therefore, did not trust that forecast one bit.

At last, I found my carriage. I removed my top hat and stepped out of the cold night and aboard the luxurious ten-thirty p.m. Caledonian Sleeper train from London Euston. I would arrive, well-rested, at Glasgow Central Station at seven a.m.

My reason for making such an arduous journey during the coldest season of the year was contained in a letter that I’d folded neatly and placed in my breast pocket, not an hour before reaching the Railway Station. My errand was partly business in nature, but primarily it was to feed my obsession. I was traveling to Dunecht Hall on the Glenlair Estate near Fort William for the auction of the personal treasures of the late Lord Percival Ardmillan. The letter explained that Lord Ardmillan’s Last Will and Testament contained a clause stating that the most prized possessions from his personal collection were not to be left to his son and heir, Euan, but would be auctioned to a select group of art and antiquity collectors exactly one year from the day of his passing. Then a public estate sale would commence after Hogmanay to dispose of fripperies, such was the need to cover Lord Percival’s death duties. I would be long gone by then, snug in my London townhouse with a glass of Sherry and a wedge of stilton, marveling over my prized purchase.

I have been a collector of art and antiquities since I was a boy, a passion fueled by my beloved uncle Barnard. He was quite the adventurer and traveled to the Americas, the Far East, and Europe. Having no children of his own, he brought me back all kinds of wondrous gifts and with each he had a story to tell. I have a gold doubloon coin dated 1711 which he told me he had fished from a pirate shipwreck, an ancient Viking ring honed from twisted silver found in the belly of a fish, and a set of eight ceramic marbles from Ancient Greece covered in the strangest of symbols. As