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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

A September Holiday

page 156

A September Holiday.

Have you ever, kind reader, during a time of work from which there was no rest or escape—a summer of almost tropical heat, 'panting like a hart for the water-brooks' when your feet, morning and evening, beat pavement fiery as the desert—pictured to yourself the pleasures of those who were at that moment far away in deep wooded glens, scaling heather-topped hills where the air is ever cool and fragrant, or pursuing the course of some silver stream, rod in hand, as it wound from its sources amidst green uplands to join a mightier river in the fat alluvial vale ? "We will say nothing of alpenstocks and glaciers; neither will we touch on deer forests or grouse moors, because each and all of them are beyond the time and means that can be expended on a holiday such as we shall now attempt to describe—a holiday which comes within the reach of the humble reader; and we trust that, like the present writer, there are many such who revel in the pages of Baily's green-covered volume, and take as true a pleasure in its records as the men who can shoot over deer forests, drive grouse, and catch salmon, though their sporting exploits are confined to a short autumnal holiday every year. In them, however, the sporting instinct is as keen as in more fortunate individuals; and who shall say that the enjoyment is not heightened by the difficulty in obtaining the little sport that falls to their share ? But to return. Any one of the thousands of individuals pent within the modern Babylon, during the summer and early autumn, will appreciate the enjoyment with which a September holiday is looked forward to by one of their brotherhood—a week or so in which Mammon and all that appertains to it may be forgotten, and, freed from the trammels and toil of buisness, the Arcadian state may be once more imitated, if not rivalled, and the loosed son of toil be free to wander from sunset to dark by the river side and try his hand at catching fish. By-the-way, we quite forget whether they did fish in Arcadia, but, as it was a region of universal happiness, will take it for granted.

Some such holiday as this it was ours to enjoy during the past season; for an invitation to try our luck in the waters belonging to a friend gave the required excuse, of which we were only too happy to avail ourselves. It is true September is not just the best month in the year for trout-fishing, and in many rivers rods are by that time, for the most part, taken to pieces and landing-nets put away; but we were bound for a backward stream, where fish were yet in condition, and good enough, if you could catch them. That was the enigma to be solved. We all know as well as Thomson, that—

"Now when the first foul torrent of the brooks,
Swelled with the vernal rains, is ebb'd away;
And, whitening, down their mossy tinctur'd stream
Descends the billowy foam; now it the time,
page 157 While yet the dark-brown water aids the guile,
To tempt the trout. The well-disaeinbled fly,
The rod, fine tapering, with elastic spring,
Snatch'd from the hoary steed the floating line,
And all thy slender wat'ry stores prepare."

But it is a very different matter when spring and summer have run their course, and fish have feasted to the full on all the luxurious dainties therein provided for them, to lure them from the stream into the landing-net. However, there is an old saying, "Needs must when a certain person drives; and he who cannot fish when he would, must perforce fish when he can; and should sport fail him, if he only bears the mind, it is astonishing how much enjoyment he can glean in an autumn day's ramble." Let him follow that inimitable writer and true sportsman Charles Kingsley—become a minute philosopher, and see in how good stead the experiment will stand him.

By-the-way, being in doubt as to what sort of flies to rig ourselves out with, we were forced to take counsel with him, and, turning to ' Chalk Stream Studies,' see what he recommended for such a late excursion; for our path lay towards one of those streams where he had bought his experience of trout and how to catch them, and we fancied there was no better mentor to be found for our particular case. His list was a simple one. The caperer—which he says : "is certainly the one which will kill earliest and latest in the year; and though I would hardly go so far as a friend of mine, who boasts of never fishing with anything else, I believe it will from March to October take more trout, and possibly more grayling, than any other fly "—was at once selected for this especial journey. The governor—which he says is : "a deadly fly all the year round, and if worked within six inches of the shore, will sometimes fill a basket when there is not a fly on the water or a fish rising. There are those who never put up a cast of flies without one"—was also added to the book; but chiefest of all, the black alder, of which he has written so lovingly, "surpassed only by the green drake for one fortnight, but surpassing him in this, that she will kill on till September, from that happy day on which

'You find her out on every stalk
Whene'er you take a river walk,
When swifts at eve begin to hawk.'"

But enough; these and a few of our favourites, which we would not altogether discard, but are not vain enough to enumerate, were selected; and then, with a heart and pocket equally light, we set forth on our journey.

How beautiful everything looked as we sped away to cornfields about half cleared, and green hedges; and how eagerly we jumped from the train at the little station, and hastened by lane and footpath to our destination! But there are sacrifices to be made to the Lares and Penates of our friend ere a line can be wet; and with hospitable page 158 thoughts intent he is already on his doorstep, shading his eyes with his hand from the September sun, to watch our advent as we cross the last stile, and greets us cheerily on nearing the house. "Come along! here you are at last; Why, surely your train must be late to-day; but come in and have lunch; it's no use to think of fishing yet." And so, with a gripe of the hand that would do honour to Vulcan himself, he fairly drew us into his sanctum, and pouring out a brimming glass of real home-brewed ale, warranted only malt and hops, hands it to us, saying, "You must be thirsty after your walk; try that, my boy." Bright as sherry it is as it beads up in the glass, cool as the Sea of Ancient Ice itself, and verily a draught to offer the gods, were those immortals in the habit of taking a brisk walk on a hot day, which probably they are not. Unconsciously, as it were, we hold forth the empty glass, and again it foams and sparkles with the amber fluid, when an idea comes across us that discretion is the better part of valour, and that a head accustomed to the wish-wash drinks dispensed over London counters may not be able to try conclusions too rashly with such mighty beer as this. "Now, you are hungry," continues our kind-hearted host. And truly the viands set forth would create an appetite were it necessary, which it certainly is not. A ham, huge as that from the boar of Calydon; roast partridge, cold, but plump and inviting in its cover of parsley; hare pie, cunningly devised and seasoned; all claim their share of notice; and last of all, the fragrant weed from its cedar-wood bos, of the choicest brand, and thoroughly matured, lends its soothing influence to complete what the viands have begun, and induce a patient frame of mind until it is time to commence fishing.

At length the shadows began to fall from the westward, clouds come up and overclouded the hitherto brilliant sun; a few drops of rain fell, and our host said, "I think, if you are to do anything to-day, now is the time, though I cannot promise you much sport at this time of the year. I should advise you to go down to yonder bridge and fish upwards, and you cannot get out of bounds if you do not go beyond the mill." The rod was quickly put together, and starting for the far-distant bridge, at which our sport was to commence, we passed along a country lane instead of following the windings of the river, and soon met huge teams bringing home loads of golden-coloured barley, plodding along as if not only time, but the whole of eternity was at their disposal. A fat, rosy-cheeked urchin whistling by their side, now stopping to peer into the hedge for something or the other, then cracking his whip out of very wantonness, which had about as much effect on his team as a bull from the Pope had on Martin Luther, showing at any rate how seldom it was used to accelerate their motions. Anon came a cowboy, equally fat, equally happy looking, and equally slow; while in the next field was a shepherd leaning on his crook, whose only exertion appeared to consist of pelting his dog with stones page 159 and addressing him with opprobrious epithets. Surely, we thought, the down-trodden labourer, with his hard work and starvation wages, must be a mighty effort of the imagination on the part of those who have undertaken to set forth his wrongs; for here all look fat, all happy, and—shall we say it ?—all lazy; yet we wore in one of the union districts—a district, moreover, which had the attack in a somewhat virulent form.

So meditating we reach the bridge, and at once commence operations, wading to our knees, and flatter ourselves, fishing the stream as it should be fished; but not a fin is, so far, on the move. Patiently, steadily we toil onward, with care and perturbation at times—for, be it said, it is months since we handled a rod, and the trees at this part overhang the river in a way to make a hand at all out of practice fear for the result. Ha! there, we said so! that confounded branch of withy has caught our stretcher with a hold that refuses to yield, and we cannot but think how much easier it would have been to lose a trout than to get the hook out of that confounded branch. By Jove ! the water gets deeper, too, as we wade towards it: but there is no option; it is cither sacrifice our footlength or get there. Done at last! and everything safe, though the water did come to within half-an-inch of the tops of our wading boots. Now if we can only get into that sort of path in the rushes, so as to be well out of sight, and then fish close up under the weeds, it is ten to one on us. Well done! the flies begin to fall with some of the old thistle-down lightness as our arm gets into play. Whirr! and away goes a partridge from so close beneath our feet that we must have almost stepped on it, sending our heart into our mouth, and making us jerk away the fly just as there was a magnificent rise at it, the fish being right out of water. What business have partridges here in the reeds and rushes we had always considered sacred to wildfowl ? The discharge of half-a-dozen barrels in quick succession, in the turnips on the hill above us, answers the question. There is a noble lord and his party shooting, and this must be a bird which has got separated from the covey, and in its terror was glad, like a ship in a storm, to put in anywhere for shelter—unluckily causing us to lose that fish, though, all the same.

But let us try again. Yonder a fish has raised his lips above the water, and sucked down a fly so quietly that he scarcely stirred the current; if we can throw just above, and let our flies glide down over him, peradventure—Yes ! there it is, and right well he is hooked too ! a good fish by the way, he makes our rod—a stiffish one—bend, so we must bring him down stream, and across to yonder shelving bank as quickly as we can, for let him once get into the old piles about the hatchway, and we are done. He knows it as well as we do, and strains every nerve to gain his hold; but he literally has a hook in his nose and a bridle in his lips, and the days wherein he could go like the wind where he listed, are over, for he is fast coming to now; and having page 160 waded across to the opposite shore, we land the first victim to the black alder; and a right good fish he is, deep and well-shapen, and gay in his colours as a meadow in May. We may take time to admire him, and even have an excuse for following the fisherman's custom and drinking to him, for the fight has been a tough one, and he did not become the captive of our rod and our line without a struggle; so we are fain to sit down and wipe the moisture from our brow, and compute his weight at not an ounce under two pounds and a-half (we only made him three-quarters of a pound over the actual weight—which is pretty well for the first fish. Then, brightened up by our luck, we start once more, and in a deep still pool are soon fast in another fish, who when landed we find so lank and lean that there is nothing for it but to put him back to improve his condition for another season. Before the mill is reached, our fish in the pannier finds a brace of companions, both a little less than himself, but in quite as good condition; and we, to our surprise, see another fisher besides ourselves. Not a great loutish fellow with net or wire; not a gaunt heron, poised on one leg, watching for his prey; but—few will believe what we are going to write—a foxhound puppy, at walk, comes stealthily down to the river, regards it with meaning looks for a time, makes a quiet dive, and comes up with a fish in his mouth, which he leisurely trots off with, and then lies down to devour, resisting our attempt at capture with raised hackles and a copious display of teeth, so we are glad to let him eat in peace. However, finding he was domiciled at our host's, we managed to stop his little game for the future.

Lights are now shining in the distant cottages; wild-duck are sailing in long flights overhead; we have already stumbled into one drain in the meadows, and gone near to smash our rod; so it is time to pack up, and get back to the snug parlour of our friend, where a dinner awaits us such as might serve an Emperor—if he had been fishing. So for a week, with varied success, we whip the pleasant little stream, sometimes returning with a few fish, sometimes with none, but always with that intense feeling of enjoyment which sport, snatched as it were from the toils of a busy life, and a keen appreciation of Nature and her beauties can alone give; and when time is up, work all the harder and better for our September holiday.