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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XVI. - Fishers and Fishing


As the evening drew on, the family who occupied the keeper's house gathered together like crows to their rookery. Mrs. Hugh, who had been helping at a large washing in "the big house," returned with a blythe face, full of cheer and womanly kindness:

"Hech! but I hae had sic a day o't! What a washing! an' it's no' half dune! But wha hae we here?" she asked, as she espied Jock seated near the fire. "Dae I ken ye?" she further inquired, looking at him with a sceptical smile, as if she feared to appear rude to one whom she ought, perhaps, to have recognised.

Jock, with a sense of respect due to her, rose, and said, "I houp no', for maybe I wad be nae credit tae ye as an acquaintance."

"A freen' o' my cousin's, Adam Mercer, o' Drumsylie," remarked old Spence. "Sit doon, my man."

"I'm glad tae see ye," sad the happy sonsy wife, stretching out her hand to Jock, who took it reluctantly, and gazed in the woman's face with an awkward expression.

"It's been saft weather, and bad for travellin', and ye hae come a far gait," she continued and forthwith began to arrange her house. Almost at her heels the children arrived. There were two flaxen-haired girls, one ten and the other about twelve, with bare feet, and their locks tied up like sheaves of ripe golden grain. Then came in a stout lad of about seven, from school and play. All looked as fresh and full of life as young roe from the forest.

"Gang awa, bairns, and snod yersels," said Mrs. Hugh.

This man," said old Spence, who was jealous of his authority over the household, pointing to Jock, "wull tak' his supper wi' us. He's tae sleep in the stable-laft."

"He's welcome, he's welcome," said Mrs. Hugh. "The bed's nae braw, but it's clean, and it's our best for strangers."

The last to enter, as the sun was setting, was John, the eldest, a lad of about fourteen, the very picture of a pure-eyed, ruddy zumplexioned, healthy, and happy lad. He had left school to assist his father in attending to his duties.

"What luck, Johnnie?" asked his father, as the boy entered with his fishing basket over his shoulder.

"Middlin' only," replied John; "the water was raither laigh, and the tak' wasna guid. There were plenty o' rises, but the troots were unco shy. But I hae gotten, for a' that, a guid wheen;" and he unslung his basket and poured out from it a number of fine trout,

Jock's attention was now excited. Here was evidence of an art which he flattered himself he understood, and could speak about with some authority.

"Pretty fair," was his remark, as he rose and examined them; "whaur got ye them?"

"In the Blackcraig water," replied the boy.

"Let me luik at yer flee, laddie?" asked Jock. The boy produced it. "Heckle, bad!—ye should hae tried a teal's feather on a day like this."

Johnnie looked with respect at the stranger. "Are ye a fisher?" he asked.

"I hae tried my han'," said Jock. And so the conversation began, until soon the two were seated together at the window. Then followed such a talk on the mysteries of the craft as none but students of the angle could understand:—the arrangement and effect of various "dressings," of wings, bodies, heckles, &c., being discussed with intense interest, until all acknowledged Jock as a master.

"Ye seem tae understan' the business weel," remarked Hugh.

"I wad need," replied jock. "Whan a manes life, no' to speak o' his pleasure, depen's on't, he needs tae fish wi' a watchfu' e'e and canny han'. But at a' times, toom or hungry, it's a great diverteesement "

Both Johnnie and his father cordially assented to the truth of the sentiment.

"Man!" said Jock, thus encouraged to speak on a favourite topic, "what a conceit it is whan ye reach a fine run on a warm spring mornin', the wuds hotchin' wi' birds, an' dauds o' licht noos and thans glintin' on the water; an the water itsel' in trim order, a wee doon, after a nicht's spate, and wi' a drap o' porter in't, an' rowin' and bubblin' ower the big stanes, curlin' into the linn and oot o't; and you up tae the henches in a dark neuk whaur the fish canna see ye; an' than to get a lang cast in the breeze that soughs in the bushes, an' see yer flee licht in the verra place ye want, quiet as a miclge lichts on yer nose, or a bumbee on a flower o' clover, an'—

Johnnie was bursting with almost as much excitement as Jock, but did not interrupt him except with a laugh expressive of hi delight.

"An' than," continued Jock, " whan a muckle chiel' o' a salmon, wi'oot time tae consider whether yer flee is for his wame or only for his mouth—whether it's made by natur' or by Jock Hall,—plays flap! and by mistak' gangs to digest what he has (Totten for his breakfast, but suspec's he canna swallow the line alang wi' his inornin' meal till he taks some exercise !—an' then tac see the line ticht, and the rod bendin' like a heuk, and tae fin' something gaun frae the fish up the line and up the rod till it reaches yer verra heart, that gangs pit pat at yer throat like a tickin' watch; until the bonnie cratur', efter rinnin' up and doon like mad, noo skulkin' aside a static tae cure his teethache, then bilkin' awa' wi' a scunner at the line and trying every dodge, syne gies in, comes tae yer han' clean beat in fair play, and lies on the bank sayin' 'Wae's me' Wi' his sail, an' makin' his will wi' his gills and mooth time aboot!—eh, man! it's splendid!" Jock wearied himself with the description.

"Whaur hae ye fished?" asked Hugh, after a pause during which he had evidently enjoyed Jock's description.

"In the wast water and east water; in the big linn an' wee linn, in the Loch o' the Whinns, in the Red Burn, an' in----"

"I dinna ken thae waters at a'," remarked the keeper, interrupting him, "nor ever heard o' them!"

"Nor me," chimed in old John, "though I hae been here for mair than fifty year."

"Maybe no'," said Jock with a laugh, "for they're in the back o' the beyonts, and that's a place few folk hae seen, I do assure you— ha! ha! ha!" Jock had, in fact, fished the best streams watched by the keepers throughout the whole district. Young John was delighted with this new acquaintance, and looked up to him with the greatest reverence.

"What kin' o' flee duve ye fish wi' ?" asked Johnnie. "Hae ye ony aboot ye e'enoo?"

"I hae a few," said Hall, as he unbuttoned his waistcoat, displaying a tattered shirt within, and, diving into some hidden recess near his heart, drew forth a large old pocket-book and placed it on the table. He opened it with caution and circumspection, and spread out before the delighted Johnnie, and his no less interested father, entwined circles of gut, with flies innumerable.

"That's the ane," Jock would say, holding up a small, black, hairy thing, "I killed ten dizzen wi'—thumpers tae, three pun's some o' them— afore twa o' clock. Eh, man, he's a murderin' chiel this! " exhibiting another. "But it was this ither ane," holding up one larger and more gaudy, "that nicked four salmon in three hours tae their great surprise And thac flees," taking up other favourites, "xvi' the muir-fowl wing and black body, are guid killers; but isna this a cracker wi' the wee touch o' silver? It kilt mair salmon—whaur, ye needna speer—than I could carry hame on a heather wuddic! But, Johnnie," he added after a pause, "I maun, as yer freen', warn ye that it's no' the flee, nor the water, nor the rod, nor the win', nor the licht, can dae the job, wi'oot the watchfu' e'e and steady han', an' a feelin' for the business that's kin' o' born wi' a fisher, but hoo that comes aboot I dinna ken— think I could maist catch fish in a boyne o' watet if there were ony tae catch!


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