Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Salmon River
By Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)
From the ‘Water-Babies’

AND then, on the evening of a very hot day, he saw a sight.  1
  He had been very stupid all day, and so had the trout; for they would not move an inch to take a fly, though there were thousands on the water, but lay dozing at the bottom under the shade of the stones; and Tom lay dozing too, and was glad to cuddle their smooth, cool sides, for the water was quite warm and unpleasant.  2
  But toward evening it grew suddenly dark; and Tom looked up and saw a blanket of black clouds lying right across the valley above his head, resting on the crags right and left. He felt not quite frightened, but very still; for everything was still. There was not a whisper of wind nor a chirp of a bird to be heard; and next a few great drops of rain fell plop into the water, and one hit Tom on the nose, and made him pop his head down quickly enough.  3
  And then the thunder roared, and the lightning flashed, and leaped across Vendale and back again, from cloud to cloud and cliff to cliff, till the very rocks in the stream seemed to shake; and Tom looked up at it through the water, and thought it the finest thing he ever saw in his life.  4
  But out of the water he dared not put his head; for the rain came down by bucketfuls, and the hail hammered like shot on the stream, and churned it into foam; and soon the stream rose and rushed down, higher and higher and fouler and fouler, full of beetles, and sticks and straws, and worms and addle-eggs, and wood-lice and leeches, and odds and ends, and omnium-gatherums, and this, that, and the other, enough to fill nine museums.  5
  Tom could hardly stand against the stream, and hid behind a rock. But the trout did not; for out they rushed from among the stones, and began gobbling the beetles and leeches in the most greedy and quarrelsome way; and swimming about with great worms hanging out of their mouths, tugging and kicking to get them away from each other.  6
  And now, by the flashes of the lightning, Tom saw a new sight,—all the bottom of the stream alive with great eels, turning and twisting along, all down-stream and away. They had been hiding for weeks past in the cracks of the rocks, and in burrows in the mud; and Tom had hardly ever seen them, except now and then at night; but now they were all out, and went hurrying past him so fiercely and wildly that he was quite frightened. And as they hurried past he could hear them say to each other, “We must run, we must run. What a jolly thunder-storm! Down to the sea, down to the sea!”  7
  And then the otter came by with all her brood, twining and sweeping along as fast as the eels themselves; and she spied Tom as she came by, and said:—  8
  “Now is your time, eft, if you want to see the world. Come along, children, never mind those nasty eels: we shall breakfast on salmon to-morrow. Down to the sea, down to the sea!”  9
  Then came a flash brighter than all the rest; and by the light of it—in the thousandth part of a second they were gone again, but he had seen them, he was certain of it—three beautiful little white girls, with their arms twined round each other’s necks, floating down the torrent as they sang, “Down to the sea, down to the sea!”  10
  “Oh, stay! Wait for me!” cried Tom; but they were gone; yet he could hear their voices clear and sweet through the roar of thunder and water and wind, singing as they died away, “Down to the sea!”  11
  “Down to the sea?” said Tom: “everything is going to the sea, and I will go too. Good-by, trout.” But the trout were so busy gobbling worms that they never turned to answer him; so that Tom was spared the pain of bidding them farewell.  12
  And now, down the rushing stream, guided by the bright flashes of the storm; past tall birch-fringed rocks, which shone out one moment as clear as day, and the next were dark as night; past dark hovers under swirling banks, from which great trout rushed out on Tom, thinking him to be good to eat, and turned back sulkily, for the fairies sent them home again with a tremendous scolding for daring to meddle with a water-baby; on through narrow strids and roaring cataracts, where Tom was deafened and blinded for a moment by the rushing waters; along deep reaches, where the white water-lilies tossed and flapped beneath the wind and hail; past sleeping villages, under dark bridge arches, and away and away to the sea. And Tom could not stop, and did not care to stop: he would see the great world below, and the salmon and the breakers and the wide, wide sea.  13
  And when the daylight came, Tom found himself out in the salmon river.  14
  And what sort of a river was it? Was it like an Irish stream winding through the brown bogs, where the wild ducks squatter up from among the white water-lilies, and the curlews flit to and fro, crying, “Tullie-wheep, mind your sheep,” and Dennis tells you strange stories of the Peishtamore, the great bogy-snake which lies in the black peat pools, among the old pine stems, and puts his head out at night to snap at the cattle as they come down to drink? But you must not believe all that Dennis tells you, mind; for if you ask him—  15
  “Is there a salmon here, do you think, Dennis?”  16
  “Is it salmon, thin, your Honor manes? Salmon? Cart-loads it is of thim, thin, an’ ridgmens, shouldthering ache ither out of water, av ye’d but the luck to see thim.”  17
  Then you fish the pool all over, and never get a rise.  18
  “But there can’t be a salmon here, Dennis! and if you’ll but think, if one had come up last tide, he’d be gone to the higher pools by now.”  19
  “Sure, thin, and your Honor’s the thrue fisherman, and understands it all like a book. Why, ye spake as if ye’d known the wather a thousand years! As I said, how could there be a fish here at all, just now?”  20
  “But you said just now they were shouldering each other out of water.”  21
  And then Dennis will look up at you with his handsome, sly, soft, sleepy, good-natured, untrustable, Irish gray eye, and answer with the prettiest smile:—  22
  “Sure, and didn’t I think your Honor would like a pleasant answer?”  23
  So you must not trust Dennis, because he is in the habit of giving pleasant answers; but instead of being angry with him, you must remember that he is a poor Paddy, and knows no better: so you must just burst out laughing; and then he will burst out laughing too, and slave for you, and trot about after you, and show you good sport if he can,—for he is an affectionate fellow, and as fond of sport as you are,—and if he can’t, tell you fibs instead, a hundred an hour; and wonder all the while why poor ould Ireland does not prosper like England and Scotland and some other places, where folk have taken up a ridiculous fancy that honesty is the best policy.  24
  Or was it like a Welsh salmon river, which is remarkable chiefly (at least, till this last year) for containing no salmon, as they have been all poached out by the enlighted peasantry, to prevent the Cythrawl Sassenach (which means you, my little dear, your kith and kin, and signifies much the same as the Chinese Fan Quei) from coming bothering into Wales, with good tackle and ready money, and civilization and common honesty, and other like things of which the Cymry stand in no need whatsoever?  25
  Or was it such a salmon stream as I trust you will see among the Hampshire water-meadows before your hairs are gray, under the wise new fishing-laws—when Winchester apprentices shall covenant, as they did three hundred years ago, not to be made to eat salmon more than three days a week, and fresh-run fish shall be as plentiful under Salisbury spire as they are in Hollyhole at Christchurch; in the good time coming, when folks shall see that of all Heaven’s gifts of food, the one to be protected most carefully is that worthy gentleman salmon, who is generous enough to go down to the sea weighing five ounces, and to come back next year weighing five pounds, without having cost the soil or the State one farthing?  26
  Or was it like a Scotch stream such as Arthur Clough drew in his ‘Bothie’?—
                  “Where over a ledge of granite
Into a granite basin the amber torrent descended….
Beautiful there for the color derived from green rocks under;
Beautiful most of all, where beads of foam uprising
Mingle their clouds of white with the delicate hue of the stillness….
Cliff over cliff for its sides, with rowan and pendent birch boughs.”…
  Ah, my little man, when you are a big man, and fish such a stream as that, you will hardly care, I think, whether she be roaring down in full spate, like coffee covered with scald cream, while the fish are swirling at your fly as an oar-blade swirls in a boat-race, or flashing up the cataract like silver arrows, out of the fiercest of the foam; or whether the fall be dwindled to a single thread, and the shingle below be as white and dusty as a turnpike road, while the salmon huddle together in one dark cloud in the clear amber pool, sleeping away their time till the rain creeps back again off the sea. You will not care much, if you have eyes and brains; for you will lay down your rod contentedly, and drink in at your eyes the beauty of that glorious place, and listen to the water-ouzel piping on the stones, and watch the yellow roes come down to drink and look up at you with their great soft, trustful eyes, as much as to say, “You could not have the heart to shoot at us.” And then, if you have sense, you will turn and talk to the great giant of a gilly who lies basking on the stone beside you. He will tell you no fibs, my little man, for he is a Scotchman, and fears God; and as you talk with him you will be surprised more and more at his knowledge, his sense, his humor, his courtesy; and you will find out—unless you have found it out before—that a man may learn from his Bible to be a more thorough gentleman than if he had been brought up in all the drawing-rooms in London.  28
  No. It was none of these, the salmon stream at Harthover. It was such a stream as you see in dear old Bewick—Bewick, who was born and bred upon them. A full hundred yards broad it was, sliding on from broad pool to broad shallow, and broad shallow to broad pool, over great fields of shingle, under oak and ash coverts, past low cliffs of sandstone, past green meadows and fair parks, and a great house of gray stone, and brown moors above, and here and there against the sky the smoking chimney of a colliery. You must look at Bewick to see just what it was like, for he has drawn it a hundred times with the care and the love of a true north-countryman; and even if you do not care about the salmon river, you ought like all good boys to know your Bewick.  29
  At least, so old Sir John used to say; and very sensibly he put it too, as he was wont to do:—  30
  “If they want to describe a finished young gentleman in France, I hear, they say of him, ‘Il sait son Rabelais.’ But if I want to describe one in England, I say, ‘He knows his Bewick.’ And I think that is the higher compliment.”  31

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