Old Nick’s bell went silent. Gideon closed in. He spied the dog, crouched and quivering. He heard the grouse’s querulous pert-pert call and the thunder of its wings, which, even though he was expecting it, still made his heart jump. The bird came thrashing out of the thicket in swift flight. The judge’s shotgun leaped to Gideon’s shoulder. The swarm of shot stopped the grouse in midair like a huge invisible hand.
Gideon called “Fetch!” and the setter broke point, dashed ahead, and picked up the fallen grouse. He came padding back, wagging his tail. Gently he laid the bird in Gideon’s hand.
Gideon pouched the grouse and set about reloading. As he worked with powder and shot, he stared out into the brush, hoping he might see, for just a moment, an erect, sober-faced, gray-haired man.
But he was alone. He was using the judge’s dog and gun. He felt that in a small measure he was carrying something forward, something that went beyond simply enjoying sport or procuring game. It was a way of letting the land seep inside him, work its magic on his soul. A way of honoring his friend.
This text is excerpted from A Stranger Here Below (Skyhorse Publishing), a new historical mystery by Charles Fergus. In 1835 in the Pennsylvania backcountry, a young sheriff unearths disturbing links among a judge’s suicide, a trial and hanging 30 years before, and a recent murder. To conduct his investigation, Sheriff Gideon Stoltz must relive his own mother’s murder, a crime that remains unsolved.
Fergus has written many articles for Shooting Sportsman and previously served as the magazine’s Book Review Editor. His books on upland hunting include A Rough-Shooting Dog, The Upland Equation and A Hunter’s Book of Days. He has a second book coming out this year: Make a Home for Wildlife (Stackpole Books), which explains how landowners can create habitat on their properties.