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Chapter IX - A Highland Salmon River.—Crude Politics, etc.

“This day should do,” Ward remarked, as we sat down to breakfast—“nice grey sky; and see, the south-west wind just moves the leaves outside. How do you feel, Fred?”

“Bloodthirsty exceedingly, cousin mine.”

“And do you know you are to have Abbott’s pet rod, as you have deported yourself decently of late?”

“Oh, that is so kind ! Mr. Abbott; I shall see I do not injure it.”

“No fear, Fred; unless you fall amongst stones, or lay it down carelessly. When you put it on the ground have it level, for if a rod gets a set twist it is ruined.”

“What if I break the top with a fish, as I did with mine?”

“Never mind, boy; give your fish full justice. I have spare tops for both fly and minnow.”

“Thank you; and, Major, am I to be with you again?”

“So it seems arranged, and Archie goes with us this time. But no net” he laughingly added.

“And where go the philosophers?”

“To fish the lower waters as before, and the pools far down.”

“We must beat them: you fish, of course, Major?” “Yes; we can take turn about, and at some places be both at work.”

“That’s jolly; now, Mr. Abbott, look to your laurels.”

“Little boys should be modest,” said Ward.

“Why, that is not the dictum of the ancient classic I read with you, for he says, "first of all confidence— last confidence”

“But not presumption, my pet; and the snrtout audace is not for chickens.”

“By which you mean—hatch first your chickens.”

“Preceesely, as Archie would say.”

We left soon after breakfast, and crossed the moors in high spirits as the day looked so promising. On the way we found some patches of lovely white heather, and Ward, who is fanciful, bid Archie mark the place carefully, as it would be so neat to pack some grouse in red, and ptarmigan in white heather.

“Especially for E ’s box,” said Fred.

“Do you know Mrs. Dod’s recipe for cooking goslings, Frederick ? ”

“No. What is it?”

“I wish I did know, for your sake.”

At the top of the hill we divided, Major Duncan, Fred, and Archie going up by the river bend, while we went down to the water to get along the banks to the lower pools.

Again, the glorious salmon stream with its rich heather banks, past which the bright waters come dancing and leaping over their stony beds, now pausing to surge slowly round some sullen pool, then breaking away over the shallows in sparkling bubbles and rolls of silver fleece; here pushing and fretting through a narrow gorge rocky and fern clad, then, in placid breadth, slipping past green braes fringed with juniper and drooping birch. Truly a Highland river is one of the fairest and sprightliest of Nature’s beauties!

After walking for some distance down the banks we came to the first pool to be fished, Archie’s boy acting as guide, as, from being much with the keepers, he knows every good cast on the river.

This pool is long, and the current rapid ; and being only deep in the middle, Ward had to wade in to cast it. Although it took some time to go over this stretch, I was hardly disappointed that he only got a small grilse here, and rose some trout.

The next place is so like the great black pool above, that I looked for something serious, and Ward did very soon get a rise. As advised, he waited some time before casting over his fish again. This turn the salmon rose bravely, and Ward shouted—

“I have him, Abbott. Must I come on shore?”

“No; but come into shallower water, for fear he may run down, that you may follow.”

The fish kept the pool, although he fought hard for nearly half an hour, when I managed to gaff him, yet not so deftly as Archie would have done. A nice bright salmon, close on twelve pounds.

Ward now wanted me to take the lower part of the pool; but I asked him to go on, and upon this same reach of water he rose two large fish, and killed another salmon a pound heavier than his first, but rather coarse-headed and not very bright in colour, yet a strong and active fish, which tested his skill and tackle thoroughly.

“This is real sport,” said Ward, still flushed with the exciting game; “now for some brandy-and-water.”

I may mention that rivers of short course, and having a loch for a reservoir, are seldom discoloured, especially when there are no important tributaries; so, in fishing, we could always get pure and nice water.

Next pool, the place looked rather shallow, and we did not fish it, but went on to the “Heron Stane Pool.”

The rock, from which this cast takes its name, is a huge mass of isolated stone on the river hank, and jutting into the water; and on scrambling up to the top of it we had a fine view up and down the river. A little below it, and just above the pool, a good-sized hill burn falls in.

This pool seemed full of sea-trout, and I got seven, all of them fresh run, hut did not see a “fish,” although it looks a fine hold for salmon. We now rested a while, and then went up the river to try the old places.

When a Scotch angler speaks of a fish, he indicates a salmon; even a grilse is not honoured with the title of a fish.

On the way up an otter was seen in the shallows, where it might have easily been shot; and we came on a colony of teal at a reedy swamp by the banks.

All the next pools were taken in succession by Ward and myself, and we had good sport. Ward killed a grilse and some trout, and I got a grilse and bungled and lost a salmon in a very stupid way. The fish took my fly just over a rapid, and rushed at once to tie strong deeps at the farther side. On wading the shallow part to get better scope at him, I had my line grasped close to the rod, when he made another bolt, and, of course, snapped the strong line like a thread.

On coming now to the black pool of leviathan fame, I resolved to try fairly for the big one; so I waded in at the very top and fished it, inch by inch, to the bottom, yet without a rise. The boy said it was strange; and as it was nearly the best pool in the river, he thought the otter had lately been through it.

Otter or not, I determined on another trial with a fresh fly. So I put on a large rough hook, with turkey wing and grey body, banded with silver, and again went over the pool, casting as far across as I could manage. On and on, yet not a move, till just where the large fish had before risen. A whirl and a wave by my fly and I had him. For three-quarters of an hour I played this fish, and although I had chosen my stoutest tackle for the contingency, he doggedly refused to come to terms, and worked always to the far side of the river where the stream is strong and deep, but luckily he did not rush down the shallows. At last I got him directed to the easy water, where Archie (who with the others had joined us) waded in and cleeked him. This salmon was only twenty-four and a half pounds, very little heavier than the one I had last day, and rather dark coloured from being some time in the river, but still a fine handsome fish. Archie and the Major agreed with me in thinking that, from its colour, and keeping so firmly to the pool, it must be the one before seen and supposed to be so large.

The other party had had a pleasant day’s sport. The Major caught two grilse, and Fred got, strange enough, the only salmon. They had merely killed three trout, although we had seen so many.

Sea-trout do not go far up large, strong, running rivers. In the Tay, for instance, they are scarce a few miles above tide way. Grilse go farther, but few travel beyond Dunkeld. While the strong, vigorous salmon rush straight through the rapids and rocky falls right up to Loch Tay, where, in early spring, they tingle the fingers and heighten the pulse of many a keen angler amidst the wild and beautiful mountain scenes of Breadalbane.

After an hour’s rest, the marching order was “home.”

“What a pleasant, exciting day this has been!” said Ward after dinner, as he leant back in his chair and sent forth great puffs of tobacco-smoke. “The loch has its charms, but the river is the more sporting game.”

“No doubt,” the Major replied; “every pool brings change of scene and tactics, and fish are so strong and active in rapid currents.”

“Why is there no poaching here?” Ward inquired. “Archie says there has not been a case for a year.” “Distance,” I replied; “we are away from towns and villages; and I am glad we have no prosecutions, as I have a sort of tenderness for poaching when not professional, and do not feel vindictive at a sly cast for a salmon, or a boy catching a rabbit, or even a cotter trapping a hare in his cabbage-garden.”

“Whom then should you prosecute?”

“All professional poachers and their resetters, firmly; but not any one about my neighbourhood, unless the habit were becoming chronic.”

“You go with the spirit of the times, gentle Abbott; by-and-by no one will be troubled but the police for interfering with the sweet liberty of the subject to pin hares and talk treason.”

“It looks a little like it; but John Bull is fond of extremes, At one time old women were burnt as witches, and now a certain class of old women get the pick of choice berths at times.”

Ward laughed and said, “What of those times when poor devils were weekly hanged in batches for petty crimes, compared with the present, when the most pestilent scoundrels get what is called penal servitude, i.e. well-aired rooms, baths, exercise-grounds, and criticized food? ”

“Yes; and when they are brought into condition by care and feeding, hoax the chaplain and inspectors, and get out for fresh eccentricities; while certain good people are now clamoring to give cut-throats and murderers a life interest in places mightily better kept than the poor houses.”

“What is treason, by the way?” Ward asked; “is it any sort of poaching, Abbott?”

“I really can’t say. It used to indicate acts dangerous to the State; but since mobs of scoundrels give seditious lectures in the very pleasure-grounds of Johnny’s capital, at which papers applaud and statesmen weep, it might be hard to define.”

“Humph!” growled the Major; “nice toleration, instead of bundling them home at the point of the bayonet.”

“Na, na! Major,” I said, “they are J. Stuart Mill’s misguided pets. You, as a scientific man, would respect them ; that excuse is enough.”

“Yes, enough to have had him commanded to cease his moonshine about conditioned and unconditioned, and write something of the ill-conditioned, or a stump among the Sheffield saw-grinders—something practical."

“Hear the dreadful Tory!” said Ward; “but politics being defended on the moors, you are both fined ten shillings.”

“We spoke of men, and not measures, mon cher,” I said.

“Pretty strong measures, Mr. Mill’s disciples might think; but I endorse them freely, illos metaphysicos nunquam legi since the time I muddled my poor brains between the extremes of Locke and Berkeley, seeking nothing out of nothing, and to nothing of a purpose.”

“And you, a distinguished collegian! Why, our anti-classical vandalism is nothing to this!”

“Ah! no. You and Major Duncan were didactic and general in remark; I merely mentioned my private feelings.”

“No sophistry, Hope; you yourself are fined for that.”

“Which makes thirty shillings for the church plate, very well; but, as your feet are wet, better go through the bog. Now what class,. Abbott, would you wish to rule this country?”

“No single class, we have had all in turn— kingly, priestly, noble, and political, and the innings is now coming to ignorance and impecu—how much, eh?”

"Impecuniosity, I suppose you mean.”

“Too Johnsonian for after dinner; say poverty and presumption, and it needs small wit to foresee the end.”

“A manufacture of guillotines in Birmingham, and a British revolution.”

“Hardly, but sharp reaction; not that we could not turn out as ugly sans culottes as France; but France had intellect and industry forcing the movement^ although few wished it to go so far.” “And would English discontent culminate more moderately, do you think?”

“English grievances are not very awful, Hope Ward, and a little clamour about red tape and rabbits can hardly bring on a general massacre of the innocents.”

“So you do not fear that monstrous bugbear called the working-man?”

“Not the least; thousands of them are the noblest humanities of us all, and, with much to bear and little to hope for, are manly and modest. Still, that does not make them fit to rule in a complicated government like this; indeed, most of them own it, and only seek to be properly represented and cared for—not to guide others better educated and more experienced than themselves.”

“And how, after all, can the ship of State be neatly managed?”

“Perhaps somewhat by considering every interest in the ship—say land and wealth, owners, commerce, cargo, workmen, crew.”

“And Samuel Abbott skipper?”

“Too much luck for the owners.”

“Gracious! what a privation for Parliament to lose all this!” the Major said; “and the sportsmanlike manner in which Ward snap-shoots at every question, while Abbott quietly aims ahead at passing events!”

“But we have lagged little." said Ward, laughing; “and, apropos of your simile, do you shoot in front, or direct, at game?”

“When I think what I’m about, I do allow for long shots; but as often forget and miss.”

“Then you think it proper to aim well forward?” “Undoubtedly: all perfect shots do so at times. Yet many really fair shots fire direct at far and near birds.”

“I suppose there are but few perfect shots, quick yet calculating?”

“Such as Mr, St. John or Captain Boss, you mean.”

“Were they so good?”

"Wonderful, I am told; a glance at a woodcock, or a rabbit in thickest cover, or a right and left at rock-pigeons going overhead—nothing escaped them.” “Might not one’s interest be spoilt by such perfection?”

“I dare say a pheasant-drive or a Norfolk turnip-field might seem dull work with their skill; but in wild shooting, where every shot is a triumph, it must be nice to make fine practice.”

“Yes, when one thinks of it; just like a poet polishing off a gem of a stanza, or Millais putting in a perfect touch of colour.”

“Or Hope Ward breathing a velvet note through his trumpet.”

“Cornet, you savage. Trumpets are the rude noisy things you soldiers use: as well try to shave with your sabre as attempt a delicacy on the trumpet.”

“Yet I have seen a beard neatly taken off with the sabre.”

“And the head along with it, perhaps.”

“The Ghoorkas are dons at that work. See, that is a Ghoorka sword next the matchlock there; take it down, and feel it.”

“Heavy, but efficient, no doubt; Fred would call this a rum shaver.”

“Yet with that sword a crack swordsman will nearly behead a bullock at a stroke.”

“Hear these beastly owls hooting; I wish somebody would behead them, they make such a row at night.”

“What! behead the bird sacred to Minerva?” “Viciously, if I had a chance; besides, Minerva was one of your strong-minded women with no nerves; she petted those sleep-destroyers, the cock and the owl.”

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