Of blood-stains also he spoke - how the skilled hunter may see at a glance if blood be dark and frothy, which means a mortal hurt, or thin and clear, which means that the arrow has struck a bone.
"By such signs," said he, "you will surely know whether to lay on the hounds and cast down the blinks which hinder the stricken deer in its flight. But above all I pray you, Nigel, to have a care in the use of the terms of the craft, lest you should make some blunder at table, so that those who are wiser may have the laugh of you, and we who love you may be shamed."
"Nay, Sir John," said Nigel. "I think that after your teaching I can hold my place with the others."
The old Knight shook his white head doubtfully. "There is so much to be learned that there is no one who can be said to know all," said he. "For example, Nigel, it is sooth that for every collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may be confused with another."
"I know it, fair sir."
"You know it, Nigel, but you do not know each separate name, else are you a wiser man than I had thought you. In truth - none can say that they know all, though I have myself picked off eighty, and six for a wager at court, and it is said that the chief huntsman of the Duke of Burgundy has counted over a hundred - but it is in my mind that he may have found them as he went, for there was none to say him nay. Answer me now, lad, how would you say if you saw ten badgers together in the forest?"
"A cete of badgers, fair sir."
"Good, Nigel - good, by my faith! And if you walk in Woolmer Forest and see a swarm of foxes, how would you call it?"
"A skulk of foxes."
"And if they be lions?"
"Nay, fair sir, I am not like to meet several lions in Woolmer Forest."
"Aye, lad, but there are other forests besides Woolmer, and other lands besides England, and who can tell how far afield such a knight errant as Nigel of Tilford may go, when he sees worship to be won? We will say that you were in the deserts of Nubia, and that afterward at the court of the great Sultan you wished to say that you had seen several lions, which is the first beast of the chase, being the king of all animals. How then would you say it?"
Nigel scratched his head. "Surely, fair sir, I would be content to say that I had seen a number of lions, if indeed I could say aught after so wondrous an adventure."
"Nay, Nigel, a huntsman would have said that he had seen a pride of lions, and so proved that he knew the language of the chase. Now had it been boars instead of lions?"
"One says a singular of boars."
"And if they be swine?"
"Surely it is a herd of swine."
"Nay, nay, lad, it is indeed sad to see how little you know. Your hands, Nigel, were always better than your head. No man of gentle birth would speak of a herd of swine; that is the peasant speech. If you drive them it is a herd. If you hunt them it is other. What call you them, then, Edith?"
"Nay, I know not," said the girl listlessly. A crumpled note brought in by a varlet was clinched in her right hand and her blue eyes looked afar into the deep shadows of the roof.
"But you can tell us, Mary?"
"Surely, sweet sir, one talks of a sounder of swine."
The old Knight laughed exultantly. "Here is a pupil who never brings me shame!" he cried. "Be it lore - of chivalry or heraldry or woodcraft or what you will, I can always turn to Mary. Many a man can she put to the blush."
"Myself among them," said Nigel.
"Ah, lad, you are a Solomon to some of them. Hark ye! only last week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of having seen a covey of pheasants in the wood. One such speech would have been the ruin of a young Squire at the court. How would you have said it, Nigel?"
"Surely, fair sir, it should be a nye of pheasants."
"Good, Nigel - a nye of pheasants, even as it is a gaggle of geese or a badling of ducks, a fall of woodcock or a wisp of snipe.