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Ardenmohr
Chapter III. - First Blood~at Salmon-Fishing


In the morning I was awakened by Ward playing a barcarolle on the comet; and, on looking out, saw it was raining, and the hill-tops were hidden by mists.

Hope has two objectionable habits—early rising and brass bugling; but I forgive the music, as he really plays well; indeed, he might take a solo at a concert; besides (like many who can go at a thing with credit) he does it but seldom. As for early rising, stiff braes and strong air will soon tone that down.

I think every one is made happier by having some hobby. Major Duncan, who has rubbed about in the world, and faced savage man and beast, is a zealous entomologist, and spends hours in arranging his cases of insects, and is pleasingly occupied when contemplating, through his microscope, the whiskers of a gnat. Ward bugles, sketches, and etches; while I scribble notes.

“Who’s for tea? Put aside your book, Fred, and be useful,” said Ward. “Hulloa, Major ! what is this thing like cigar-cases in red sauce?”

“A very fine eel,” the Major replied; “and Burmah is divine at eels.”

“I never eat them,” Ward said, “their look and habits being, at least, peculiar; but up here they should be cleanly, so I may venture. Ah, excellent! If Burmah be preserved to us, we might even live on this for a month.”    .

“An eelementary double condition,” said Fred. “Eel speared and cook spared; is that your mathematics, Hope?”

“No: save your quibbles, youngster, and try if you can catch a salmon, rather than hook a wretched pun.”    .

“Never mind him, Freddy,” said the Major; “and give me a look at your fly-book. Hem! nothing here for salmon or grilse; but you have some pretty trout flies. Your spinning-tackles, too, are excellent; but I have lots of all kinds. And you, Abbott, are, I suppose, Men monte?

“I should be, with the pet flies of three crack rivers—Tweed, Thurso, and Shannon.”

“Ah! let us look at your Thurso lot; they ought to do here. Yes, very good flies; they are, perhaps, a trifle large; but these mallard and gledwings look vicious. Now for the Tweed batch.  Good! a business-like set—all sizes and colours. And now for the Tipperaries. What a bright array!—Gould’s humming-birds tied on Limeriek bends. Yet very effective; and, strange enough, often in clear water, which is against all one’s fishing theories.”

“Major, do you fish to-day?”    I inquired.

"Not much to-day. I mean to coach Fred; we shall go high up the river towards the loch, and you should fish the lower parts.”

“That’s a good plan; and Ward wants to sketch and, same time, study salmon-craft.”

“Good boy, Hope,” said Fred. “You take your first course from Abbott, and by-and-by I may finish you off at surds and salmon.”

“Hear the wretch! Lucky if some monster pike may bolt him.”

When we started for the river our course was first up by the bum, then, crossing the stepping-stones, we walked, by an entirely new line of country, and by the top of the glen, to the game-watcher’s hut; here we divided, the Major and Fred going straight over hill, while Ward and I (under guidance of the keeper) went round to get to the lower waters.

It still rained a little, but Archie, the keeper, said it would soon clear, as the wind was rising. And Archie was right; before long the mists began to rise up-hill, the breeze freshened, and the day cleared up beautifully.

We now came upon the sparkling waters, and heard the rushing sounds so musical to the fisherman’s ear. Archie had led us down to a broad, dark pool; deep and rough at the farther side, and which he said “whiles held a gude fish."

I took my rod and at once proceeded to fix up, and when carefully binding the splices with well-waxed twine, Archie looked up approvingly, nodded, and said, "That’s wise like, sir.”

“What is wise like, Archie?”

“It’s your tie rod. When I see a tie rod I’m sure enough its owner can fish, for learners or bad fishers dinna like the trouble of tying splices; or mair likely they’re no aware that it is lighter and casts farther than the ither.”

This was encouragement, as Archie is rather of a sombre turn, and far from rash or ready in his approval. I may mention that this, my favourite rod, is only seventeen feet long, the butt very light, being of seasoned fir, the middle piece hickory, and the top lancewood, tipped with horn. With this weapon I had pumped the monsters of Tay and Tweed, and consequently thought it sufficient for anything I might meet here. All is ready-—to the strong tapered cast.

“Now, Archie,” I said, “look at my flies, and see if we can pick a killer.”

After deliberately inspecting the contents of the book, Archie remarked, “There’s nae want o’ tackle, sir; ye have some grand hooks;” and we fixed on a turkey-wing and dark body for a beginning.

Wading at once into the river at the head of the pool, and, having first carefully wetted and stretched my line, I cast across the deepest part and began work.

At every other cast I hoped to see a fish, yet for some time I had not a rise; but near the finish of this pool, just as it begins to narrow at the fall, I rose a very heavy fish. I went back, and in a little fished over him again. No notice. A few yards farther on, and just over the stones at the head of the broken water, I hooked a nice grilse. “Ye have him this time,” shouted Archie from the bank. I got to the shore beside the keeper and Hope, who was in great glee at his first sight of a tussle; but a few minutes finished the business, for, although a lively grilse, it was small, and it was easy work to keep him in the pool and tire him. Archie gaffed him neatly.

"That was a grand fish that rose first,” Archie remarked, "and we maun gie him anither trial in the afternoon.”

“Very well, Archie; but I hardly think there is much chance to-day; he did not seem keen, and rose too sleepily.”

“May be, sir; but he must get anither trial, and if he doesn’t take this day, he will next. A fish of that size is likely to keep the big pool for a day or twa.” Leading on to the next good pool there is a long stretch of broken water, with some likely casts. On this part I got another grilse and some sea trout; but as most of this ground is too rough and shallow for lying fish, we passed on quickly to what Archie called the “Fern Hole.”

This is one of those perfect pools often seen on the smaller Highland rivers. The water broken with great rocks at the head of the pool, which is wide and rough for a long way, and deep nearly to the very edge.

Before trying this place we had lunch, with a mossy hillock for a seat, and a large stone for a table; so, resting a little, we refreshed; and while Ward was rapidly sketching the scene, I smoked a pipe, and changed my fly for one with a “gled” wing and an orange body..

“Hope,” I said, “you had better fish this pool.” “Ho, no; I shall wait a little at my lessons, as Fred said. Besides I am enjoying all this mightily, and I wish to see the handling of a big fish.”

“How, then, we shall try,” I said, and rose to begin casting this lovely reach of water. Hor had Hope long to wait. At the fourth or fifth. cast, a splendid fish dashed at my fly; and, just as I caught a glimpse of his bright side, I struck lightly, and felt I had him.

As often happens with heavy fish, he was stolid at first, but all of a sudden he rushed, like a rocket, up the river, then turned and ran straight through the pool, and down the water. It is useless trying to resist the first burst of a strong salmon—he would smash rod and tackle in a moment—so I gave line freely, and stumbled over rock and brae after him down the river, till the stream became deeper, and the current easier, before I got anything like pressure to bear on the fish. I now gave line more grudgingly, and found I had him somewhat in hand, when he suddenly ceased running, and sulked; but this was only to change his tactics. Back his old course he sped again; and, as he flew through the rough water, I heard Archie shout out, “Keep your point up, or he’ll cut the line on the rocks.” But this run was different from the first. I could bring a strain to bear; and, by the time he got into the deep pool again, I felt he was mine, if the tackle held honestly.

Kow for the final struggle. Archie was by my side with his handy cleek, and after several vicious bolts, my fish working more easily, I began to shorten line, and he came in “dourly” and steady enough, till Archie was just about to cleek him, when he made one terrific rush up water, taking out nearly all my line. “Lord, sir, be canny! ” cried Archie; “he’s a grand fish, and we mustna’ lose him.”

This, however, was his final effort; for, after a little difference of opinion, I got him near the bank, and, quick as thought, Archie had the cleek through his silver side, and the salmon high and dry on the rocks.

“Eh! hut he’s a bonnie fish!” said Archie; “no’ a better in the river; although the first ye rose might be heavier.” As for Ward, he was speechless; and for myself, I confess to being always shaky after finishing off a game salmon. It is long since I lost all tremour in shooting a capercailzie or a deer, but the glorious struggle with a rushing fish still tingles my nerves as it did years ago.

I took the small steel weigher, which I usually carry, and we weighed our fish on the spot— twenty-three pounds exactly. And truly “a bonnie fish,” as Archie said; short, thick, and smallheaded, and with a skin like burnished silver.

“Now for a dram of cognac.” The dram on such occasions is de rigueur.

I was glad to have a stretch on the heather for a few minutes.

“What is to be done next, Archie?” I inquired.

“Weel, it’s for yoursel’ to judge, sir; the first cast below is near half a mile down, and it’s about the time we were to meet the Major and Mr. Frederick: it’s no’ far from six o’clock.”

“So be it; ” and we walked up the river-side to meet them.

“Are there any good places above, Archie?” I inquired, “if we should be long in seeing the other party.”

“On, ay, we have some likely casts atween here and where they leave off, and ye have the muckle fish ye rose before to try.”

By the time we got back to the first pool the sky had become dull, and there was a smart breeze blowing; yet although I fished every inch with a fresh hook, and even changed back to the first fly, the big one refused to show, and Archie grumbled at the “sulky brute.”

A little further up the river we met our friends —Fred leading the van with glowing face, and shouldering the Major’s heavy rod.

“So I see you have had sport,” the Major said, as he looked at the weighty bag that Archie and I carried between us.

“Yes, a famous day. How did Fred get on?” “Come and see,” cried Fred; “here Hope, and you,” and he dragged us up to where his man was placing the pannier on the grass, the contents were turned out, a grilse and some nice sea trout.

“What!” said Ward; “you did not kill these yourself?”

“That I did, every one of them, and lost a bigger than any.”

“Alas! thereby hangs a tale,” chuckled the Major. “It was the first fish that rose, and Fred was flurried, broke the top joint of his rod, and lost him; but he did well with mine after. He will make a brave angler; won’t you, Fred?”

“I mean to try hard: and you were very patient with me, Major.”    .

“And I suppose I must say you are a tractable pupil so far.”

Our bag being turned out to Fred’s infinite amazement; he stared for a while, but the small varmint did not refrain from quietly asking Archie “where he had left the net?”

We now set off home straight across the hill, and arrived about seven o’clock; and half an hour after sat down to table in great content:. and having dined, every one settled into the most comfortable lounge he could arrange. Freddy in particular, buried in a great arm-chair, with a great glass of claret beside him, was a picture for a good man to contemplate.

“You did not fish to-day,” the Major said to Ward; "how did you enjoy yourself?”

'"Very much. Awfully pleasant and pretty, as some girls would say; but it was really charming, the wild river scenes—the rough banks of heath and rock —the faint blue of the far-off hills—and then that foreground of humanity, waist deep in the broken current, struggling with a salmon.”

“How tersely poetical, Hope! I declare you should do it in verse.”

“Hardly; but I tried to do some sketches in memoriam.”

“Let us see them.”

“Here they are; but they are merely rough hints for after-work.”

“Hints! my dear boy, they are little gems of colour; and, to my idea, such things, dashed off on the spot, have often a lifelike freshness that more finished copies may want.”

“That is quite true; and I myself find always certain little effects and touches in these hurried sketches which by no care can I reproduce, eyen with the aids of perfect leisure and all materials about me.”

“Yes: an appearance of fitness unstudied. Observe a very young girl, how pretty the artless grace of all her movements! She becomes a ‘young lady,’ and gains increased mind and beauty, but she cannot retain the unconscious charm of early girlhood.”

“Pretty much the same with the great works of art,” I said; “these have cost years of thought and labour, but their chief perfection is a look of singleness and simplicity: a Gothic cathedral or a Greek statue have that grandly simple grace. Even the complicated yet smooth-moving steam-engine looks as if it were the cast of single thought; how different from the flagrant elaboration of a state carriage or a Brighton terrace!”

“Ora Brighton belle compared with a quiet gentlewoman,” said Ward.

The Major added, "Or Tennyson’s ‘Enoch Arden’ compared with the exquisite simplicity of Auld Bobin Gray,’ which tells a similar story, with ten times the force and feeling, in a few verses.”

“Ho, ho! Major, another heresy. How shall I own, when I get back to civilization, that I was on friendly terms with a man who actually deprecated college life and Tennyson’s poems?”

“Say he was a little crazy. Yet in face of such a reputation I must protest against dishes of flummery, however prettily served.”

“Flummery! oh, my loved poet! Is 'In Memoriam ’ wishy-washy, or the 'Idyls of the King’?”

“The first is not; hut a good deal of the idyls may be called balderdash; ditto the laureate’s magazine poems.”

“Tennyson seems hardly your favourite poet?”

“Certainly not—yet an. accomplished man, and a graceful versifier; but he is the fashion, and about the best we have now.”

“But, tell me, who has written better poetry— Wordsworth?”

“Neither am I a Wordsworthian enthusiast; he erred as far in affected simplicity as Tennyson does in what Americans call ‘high faluten.’ Yet Wordsworth has a certain depth of thought and poetical expression that Tennyson, with all his finish, has not quite reached. Of course, like many poets, he wrote namby-pamby of some bulk.”

“Yes; about milkmaids, and pedlars, and daisies, and daffodils.”

“True, and he might as easily have written about great kings, great swelling hearts, great salt tears, and great nonsense; but, to Wordsworth, a cat lapping milk under a shed was as poetical as a tiger lapping your blood beneath a palm-tree. And 'what for no’?”

"And of your countryman, 'Sir Walter Scott,' Major?”

“I am at one with the world, and which now thinks Scott’s strength was prose, more poetical than his poetry. Yet are the Lady of the Lake’ and ‘Marmion’ something beyond these pretty -idyls, and will, I think, be read when such fanciful things have passed.”

“Then Byron, for whom Sir Walter made way; will he do?”

“Yes; he is one of the very few. Byron was indeed a poet. Poor fellow! he had scant years or peace of mind to develop his full strength; but he showed his power, and had he lived to divest himself of his cynical morgue, and, in his right mind, have quietly thought out the great problems of life, the world would have been richer. And how few poets have written such lines as these?”

Then the Major took down a copy of “Byron’s Poems,” and read aloud one of the fine passages from “Childe Harold”—the address to the Sea—

lines rolling grandly like the great waves themselves; while they describe the decay of the kingdoms of the past, and ever freshness of the ocean, finishing with—

Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow:
Such as creation’s dawn beheld—thou rollest now.”

“Have these verses the true ring of poetry? And what of this?” the Major added, as he picked a gem of a stanza from that bouquet of wickedness,

“Don Juan.”

Ward confessed that Milton had nothing finer— Tennyson nothing sweeter.

“Pope for my money,” I said. “Sentimental critics say he was not poetical, because he never wrote hazy nonsense; and all the donkeys hate him because he scourged them. Yet where do you find more beautiful thoughts than in Pope? or who writes with so delicate a fancy on fanciful things, or such neat, clear, expressive verse on' matters of common sense?—but, Fred, it is scarcely common sense to keep you so late. You seem sleepy.”

“No wonder. People talking high art all night, when I am dying to hear about fishing.”

“Bravo, Fred!” said Ward. “And some night soon, Major, we shall have a tilt with our hobbies. What about to-morrow? You know it is Sunday.”

“Go to church, of course.”

“Yes; but it is a good way off,” I observed. “We must drive to the Frasers’ Arms, and then walk a mile or two. You don’t mind that.”

“Settled, if the weather permit.”


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