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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Landing the Trout
By Richard Doddridge Blackmore (1825–1900)
 
From ‘Alice Lorraine’

THE TROUT knew nothing of all this. They had not tasted a worm for a month, except when a sod of the bank fell in, through cracks of the sun, and the way cold water has of licking upward. And even the flies had no flavor at all; when they fell on the water, they fell flat, and on the palate they tasted hot, even under the bushes.  1
  Hilary followed a path through the meadows, with the calm bright sunset casting its shadow over the shorn grass, or up in the hedge-road, or on the brown banks where the drought had struck. On his back he carried a fishing-basket, containing his bits of refreshment; and in his right hand a short springy rod, the absent sailor’s favorite. After long council with Mabel, he had made up his mind to walk up-stream as far as the spot where two brooks met, and formed body enough for a fly flipped in very carefully to sail downward. Here he began, and the creak of his reel and the swish of his rod were music to him, after the whirl of London life.  2
  The brook was as bright as the best cut-glass, and the twinkles of its shifting facets only made it seem more clear. It twisted about a little, here and there; and the brink was fringed now and then with something, a clump of loosestrife, a tuft of avens, or a bed of flowering water-cress, or any other of the many plants that wash and look into the water. But the trout, the main object in view, were most objectionably too much in view. They scudded up the brook at the shadow of a hair, or even the tremble of a blade of grass; and no pacific assurance could make them even stop to be reasoned with, “This won’t do,” said Hilary, who very often talked to himself, in lack of a better comrade. “I call this very hard upon me. The beggars won’t rise till it is quite dark. I must have the interdict off my tobacco, if this sort of thing is to go on. How I should enjoy a pipe just now! I may just as well sit on a gate and think. No, hang it, I hate thinking now. There are troubles hanging over me, as sure as the tail of that comet grows. How I detest that comet! No wonder the fish won’t rise. But if I have to strip, and tickle them in the dark, I won’t go back without some for her.”  3
  He was lucky enough to escape the weight of such horrible poaching upon his conscience; for suddenly to his ears was borne the most melodious of all sounds, the flop of a heavy fish sweetly jumping after some excellent fly or grub.  4
  “Ha, my friend!” cried Hilary, “so you are up for your supper, are you? I myself will awake right early. Still I behold the ring you made. If my right hand forget not its cunning, you shall form your next ring in the frying-pan.”  5
  He gave that fish a little time to think of the beauty of that mouthful, and get ready for another, the while he was putting a white moth on, in lieu of his blue upright. He kept the grizzled palmer still for tail-fly, and he tried his knots, for he knew that this trout was a Triton.  6
  Then, with a delicate sidling and stooping, known only to them that fish for trout in very bright water of the summertime,—compared with which art the coarse work of the salmon-fisher is as that of a scene-painter to Mr. Holman Hunt’s—with, or in, or by, a careful manner, not to be described to those who have never studied it, Hilary won access of the water, without any doubt in the mind of the fish concerning the prudence of appetite. Then he flipped his short collar in, not with a cast, but a spring of the rod, and let his flies go quietly down a sharpish run into that good trout’s hole. The worthy trout looked at them both, and thought; for he had his own favorite spot for watching the world go by, as the rest of us have. So he let the grizzled palmer pass, within an inch of his upper lip; for it struck him that the tail turned up in a manner not wholly natural, or at any rate unwholesome. He looked at the white moth also, and thought that he had never seen one at all like it. So he went down under his root again, hugging himself upon his wisdom, never moving a fin, but oaring and helming his plump, spotted sides with his tail.  7
  “Upon my word, it is too bad,” said Hilary, after three beautiful throws, and exquisite management down-stream; “everything Kentish beats me hollow. Now, if that had been one of our trout, I would have laid my life upon catching him. One more throw, however. How would it be if I sunk my flies? That fellow is worth some patience.”  8
  While he was speaking, his flies alit on the glassy ripple, like gnats in their love-dance; and then by a turn of the wrist, he played them just below the surface, and let them go gliding down the stickle, into the shelfy nook of shadow where the big trout hovered. Under the surface, floating thus, with the check of ductile influence, the two flies spread their wings and quivered, like a centiplume moth in a spider’s web. Still the old trout, calmly oaring, looked at them both suspiciously. Why should the same flies come so often, and why should they have such crooked tails, and could he be sure that he did not spy the shadow of a human hat about twelve yards up the water? Revolving these things, he might have lived to a venerable age but for that noble ambition to teach, which is fatal to even the wisest. A young fish, an insolent whipper-snapper, jumped in his babyish way at the palmer, and missed it through over-eagerness. “I’ll show you the way to catch a fly,” said the big trout to him: “open your mouth like this, my son.”  9
  With that he bolted the palmer, and threw up his tail, and turned to go home again. Alas! his sweet home now shall know him no more. For suddenly he was surprised by a most disagreeable sense of grittiness, and then a keen stab in the roof of his month. He jumped, in his wrath, a foot out of the water, and then heavily plunged to the depths of his hole.  10
  “You’ve got it, my friend,” cried Hilary, in a tingle of fine emotions; “I hope the sailor’s knots are tied with professional skill and care. You are a big one, and a clever one too. It is much if I ever land you. No net, or gaff, or anything. I only hope that there are no stakes here. Ah, there you go! Now comes the tug.”  11
  Away went the big trout down the stream, at a pace very hard to exaggerate, and after him rushed Hilary, knowing that his line was rather short, and that if it ran out, all was over. Keeping his eyes on the water only, and the headlong speed of the fugitive, headlong over a stake he fell, and took a deep wound from another stake. Scarcely feeling it, up he jumped, lifting his rod, which had fallen flat, and fearing to find no strain on it. “Aha, he is not gone yet!” he cried, as the rod bowed like a springle-bow.  12
  He was now a good hundred yards down the brook from the corner where the fight began. Through his swiftness of foot, and good management, the fish had never been able to tighten the line beyond yield of endurance. The bank had been free from bushes, or haply no skill could have saved him; but now they were come to a corner where a nut-bush quite overhung the stream.  13
  “I am done for now,” said the fisherman; “the villain knows too well what he is about. Here ends this adventure.”  14
  Full though he was of despair, he jumped anyhow into the water, kept the point of his rod close down, reeled up a little as the fish felt weaker, and just cleared the drop of the hazel boughs. The water flapped into the pockets of his coat, and he saw red streaks flow downward. And then he plunged out to an open reach of shallow water and gravel slope.  15
  “I ought to have you now,” he said, “though nobody knows what a rogue you are; and a pretty dance you have led me!”  16
  Doubting the strength of his tackle to lift even the dead weight of the fish, and much more to meet his despairing rally, he happily saw a little shallow gut, or back-water, where a small spring ran out. Into this by a dexterous turn he rather led than pulled the fish, who was ready to rest for a minute or two; then he stuck his rod into the bank, ran down stream, and with his hat in both hands appeared at the only exit from the gut. It was all up now with the monarch of the brook. As he skipped and jumped, with his rich yellow belly, and chaste silver sides, in the green of the grass, joy and glory of the highest merit, and gratitude, glowed in the heart of Lorraine. “Two and three quarters you must weigh. And at your very best you are! How small your head is! And how bright your spots are!” he cried, as he gave him the stroke of grace. “You really have been a brave and fine fellow. I hope they will know how to fry you.”  17
  While he cut his fly out of this grand trout’s mouth, he felt for the first time a pain in his knee, where the point of the stake had entered it. Under the buckle of his breeches blood was soaking away inside his gaiters; and then he saw how he had dyed the water. After washing the wound and binding it with dock-leaves and a handkerchief, he followed the stream through a few more meadows, for the fish began to sport pretty well as the gloom of the evening deepened; so that by the time the gables of the old farm-house appeared, by the light of a young moon, and the comet, Lorraine had a dozen more trout in his basket, silvery-sided and handsome fellows, though none of them over a pound perhaps, except his first and redoubtable captive.  18
 
 
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