And Other Digressions
HENRY VAN DYKE
I do not count the hours I spend In wandering by the sea; The forest is my loyal friend, Like God it useth me:
Or on the mountain-crest sublime, Or down the oaken glade, O what have I to do with Time? For this the day was made.
—RALPH WALDO EMERSON
New York Charles Scribner's Sons MDCCCCVII
Copyright, 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons
Printed in October, 1907 Reprinted in November, 1907 Reprinted in December, 1907
To MY FRIEND AND NEIGHBOUR GROVER CLEVELAND WHOSE YEARS OF GREAT WORK AS A STATESMAN HAVE BEEN CHEERED BY DAYS OF GOOD PLAY AS A FISHERMAN THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED WITH WARM AND DEEP REGARDS
Avalon, July 10th, 1907.
I. Days Off 1
II. A Holiday in a Vacation 23
III. His Other Engagement 57
IV. Books that I Loved as a Boy 101
V. Among the Quantock Hills 117
VI. Between the Lupin and the Laurel 139
VII. Little Red Tom 177
VIII. Silverhorns 193
IX. Notions about Novels 221
X. Some Remarks on Gulls 233
XI. Leviathan 271
XII. The Art of Leaving Off 309
Our canoes go with the river, but no longer easily or lazily Frontispiece
On such a carry travel is slow 36
A notion to go down stream struck the salmon 88
There was the gleam of an immense mass of silver in its meshes 94
Tannery Combe, Holford 126
"Billy began to call, and it was beautiful" 206
There he stood defiant, front feet planted wide apart 218
She took the oars and rowed me slowly around the shore 266
"A day off" said my Uncle Peter, settling down in his chair before the open wood-fire, with that air of complacent obstinacy which spreads over him when he is about to confess and expound his philosophy of life,—"a day off is a day that a man takes to himself."
"You mean a day of luxurious solitude," I said, "a stolen sweet of time, which he carries away into some hidden corner to enjoy alone,—a little-Jack-Horner kind of a day?"
"Not at all," said my Uncle Peter; "solitude is a thing which a man hardly ever enjoys by himself. He may practise it from a sense of duty. Or he may take refuge in it from other things that are less tolerable. But nine times out of ten he will find that he can't get a really good day to himself unless he shares it with some one else; if he takes it alone, it will be a heavy day, a chain-and-ball day,—anything but a day off."
"Just what do you mean, then?" I asked, knowing that nothing would please him better than the chance to discover his own meaning against a little background of apparent misunderstanding and opposition.
"I mean," said my Uncle Peter, in that deliberate manner which lends a flavour of deep wisdom to the most obvious remarks, "I mean that every man owes it to himself to have some days in his life when he escapes from bondage, gets away from routine, and does something which seems to have no purpose in the world, just because he wants to do it."
"Plays truant," I interjected.
"Yes, if you like to put it in that objectionable way," he answered; "but I should rather compare it to bringing flowers into the school-room, or keeping white mice in your desk, or inventing a new game for the recess. You see we are all scholars, boarding scholars, in the House of Life, from the moment when birth matriculates us to the moment when death graduates us. We never really leave the big school, no matter what we do. But my point is this: the lessons that we learn when we do not know that we are studying are often the pleasantest, and not always the least important. There is a benefit as well as a joy in finding out that you can lay down your task for a proper while without being disloyal to your duty. Play-time is a part of school-time, not a break in it. You remember what Aristotle says: 'ascholoumetha gar hina scholazomen.'"
"My dear uncle," said I, "there is nothing out of the common in your remarks, except of course your extraordinary habit of decorating them with a Greek quotation, like an ancient coin set as a scarf-pin and stuck carelessly into a modern neck-tie. But apart from this eccentricity, everybody admits the propriety of what you have been saying. Why, all the expensive, up-to-date schools are arranged on your principle: play-hours, exercise-hours, silent-hours, social-hours, all marked in the schedule: scholars compelled and carefully guided to amuse themselves at set times and in approved fashions: athletics, dramatics, school-politics and social ethics, all organized and co-ordinated. What you flatter yourself by putting forward as an amiable heresy has become a commonplace of orthodoxy, and your liberal theory of education and life is now one of the marks of fashionable conservatism."
My Uncle Peter's face assumed the beatific expression of a man who knows that he has been completely and inexcusably misunderstood, and is therefore justified in taking as much time as he wants to make the subtlety and superiority of his ideas perfectly clear and to show how dense you have been in failing to apprehend them.
"My dear boy," said he, "it is very singular that you should miss my point so entirely. All these things that you have been saying about your modern schools illustrate precisely the opposite view from mine. They are signs of that idolatry of organization, of system, of the time-table and the schedule, which is making our modern life so tedious and exhausting. Those unfortunate school-boys and school-girls who have their amusements planned out for them and cultivate their social instincts according to rule, never know the joy of a real day off, unless they do as I say, and take it to themselves. The right kind of a school will leave room and liberty for them to do this. It will be a miniature of what life is for all of us,—a place where law reigns and independence is rewarded,—a stream of work and duty diversified by islands of freedom and repose,—a pilgrimage in which it is permitted to follow a side-path, a mountain trail, a footway through the meadow, provided the end of the journey is not forgotten and the day's march brings one a little nearer to that end."
"But will it do that," I asked, "unless one is careful to follow the straight line of the highway and march as fast as one can?"
"That depends," said my Uncle Peter, nodding his head gravely, "upon what you consider the end of the journey. If it is something entirely outside of yourself, a certain stint of work which you were created to perform; or if it is something altogether beyond yourself, a certain place or office at which you are aiming to arrive; then, of course, you must stick to the highway and hurry along.
"But suppose that the real end of your journey is something of which you yourself are a part. Suppose it is not merely to get to a certain place, but to get there in a certain condition, with the light of a sane joy in your eyes and the peace of a grateful content in your heart. Suppose it is not merely to do a certain piece of work, but to do it in a certain spirit, cheerfully and bravely and modestly, without overrating its importance or overlooking its necessity. Then, I fancy, you may find that the winding foot-path among the hills often helps you on your way as much as the high road, the day off among the islands of repose gives you a steadier hand and a braver heart to make your voyage along the stream of duty."
"You may skip the moralizing, if you please, Uncle Peter," said I, "and concentrate your mind upon giving me a reasonable account of the peculiar happiness of what you call a day off."
"Nothing could be simpler," he answered. "It is the joy of getting out of the harness that makes a horse fling up his heels, and gallop around the field, and roll over and over in the grass, when he is turned loose in the pasture. It is the impulse of pure play that makes a little bunch of wild ducks chase one another round and round on the water, and follow their leader in circles and figures of eight; there is no possible use in it, but it gratifies their instinct of freedom and makes them feel that they are not mere animal automata, whatever the natural history men may say to the contrary. It is the sense of release that a man experiences when he unbuckles the straps of his knapsack, and lays it down under a tree, and says 'You stay there till I come back for you! I'm going to rest myself by climbing this hill, just because it is not on the road-map, and because there is nothing at the top of it except the view.'
"It is this feeling of escape," he continued, in the tone of a man who has shaken off the harness of polite conversation and let himself go for a gallop around the field of monologue, "it is just this exhilarating sense of liberation that is lacking in most of our social amusements and recreations. They are dictated by fashion and directed by routine. Men get into the so-called 'round of pleasure,' and they are driven into a trot to keep up with it, just as if it were a treadmill. The only difference is that the pleasure-mill grinds no corn. Harry Bellairs was complaining to me, the other day, that after an exhausting season of cotillons in New York, he had been running his motor-car through immense fatigues in France and Italy, and had returned barely in time to do his duty by his salmon-river in Canada, work his new boat through the annual cruise of the yacht club, finish up a round of house-parties at Bar Harbor and Lenox, and get ready for the partridge-shooting in England with his friend the Duke of Bangham,—it was a dog's life, he said, and he had no time to himself at all. I rather pitied him; he looked so frayed. It seems to me that the best way for a man or a woman of pleasure to get a day off would be to do a little honest work.
"You see it is the change that makes the charm of a day off. The real joy of leisure is known only to the people who have contracted the habit of work without becoming enslaved to the vice of overwork.
"A hobby is the best thing in the world for a man with a serious vocation. It keeps him from getting muscle-bound in his own task. It helps to save him from the mistake of supposing that it is his little tick-tack that keeps the universe a-going. It leads him out, on off days, away from his own garden corner into curious and interesting regions of this wide and various earth, of which, after all, he is a citizen.
"Do you happen to know the Reverend Doctor McHook? He is a learned preacher, a devoted churchman, a faithful minister; and in addition to this he has an extra-parochial affection for ants and spiders. He can spend a happy day in watching the busy affairs of a formicary, and to observe the progress of a bit of spider-web architecture gives him a peculiar joy. There are some severe and sour-complexioned theologians who would call this devotion to objects so far outside of his parish an illicit passion. But to me it seems a blessing conferred by heavenly wisdom upon a good man, and I doubt not he escapes from many an insoluble theological puzzle, and perhaps from many an unprofitable religious wrangle, to find refreshment and invigoration in the society of his many-legged friends."
"You are moralizing again, Uncle Peter," I objected; "or at least you are getting ready to do so. Stop it; and give me a working definition of the difference between a hobby and a fad."
"Let me give you an anecdote," said he, "instead of a definition. There was a friend of mine who went to visit a famous asylum for the insane. Among the patients who were amusing themselves in the great hall, he saw an old gentleman with a long white beard, who was sitting astride of a chair, spurring its legs with his heels, holding both ends of his handkerchief which he had knotted around the back, and crying 'Get up, get up! G'long boy, steady!' with the utmost animation. 'You seem to be having a fine ride, sir,' said my friend. 'Capital,' said the old gentleman, 'this is a first-rate mount that I am riding.' 'Permit me to inquire,' asked my friend, 'whether it is a fad or a hobby?' 'Why, certainly!' replied the old gentleman, with a quizzical look. 'It is a hobby, you see, for I can get off whenever I have a mind to.' And with that he dismounted and walked into the garden.
"It is just this liberty of getting off that marks the superiority of a hobby to a fad. The game that you feel obliged to play every day at the same hour ceases to amuse you as soon as you realize that it is a diurnal duty. Regular exercise is good for the muscles, but there must be a bit of pure fun mixed with the sport that is to refresh your heart.
"A tour in Europe, carefully mapped out with an elaborate itinerary and a carefully connected timetable, may be full of instruction, but it often becomes a tax upon the spirit and a weariness to the flesh. Compulsory castles and mandatory museums and required ruins pall upon you, as you hurry from one to another, vaguely agitated by the fear that you may miss something that is marked with a star in the guide-book, and so be compelled to confess to your neighbour at the table-d'hote that you have failed to see what he promptly and joyfully assures you is 'the best thing in the whole trip,' Delicate and sensitive people have been killed by taking a vacation in that way.
"I remember meeting, several years ago, a party of personally conducted tourists in Venice, at the hour which their itinerary consecrated to the enjoyment of the fine arts in the gallery of the Academy. Their personal conductor led them into one of the great rooms, and they gathered close around him, with an air of determination on their tired faces, listening to his brief, dry patter about the famous pictures that the room contained. He stood in the centre of the room holding his watch in his hand while they dispersed themselves around the walls, looking for the paintings which they ought to see, like chickens searching for scattered grains of corn. At the expiration of five minutes he clapped his hands sharply; his flock scurried back to him; and they moved on to 'do' the next room.
"I suppose that was one way of seeing Venice: but I would much rather sit at a little table on the Riva degli Schiavoni, with a plate of bread and cheese and a mezzo of Chianti before me, watching the motley crowd in the street and the many-coloured sails in the harbour; or spend a lazy afternoon in a gondola, floating through watery alley-ways that lead nowhere, and under the facades of beautiful palaces whose names I did not even care to know. Of course I should like to see a fine picture or a noble church, now and then; but only one at a time, if you please; and that one I should wish to look at as long as it said anything to me, and to revisit as often as it called me."
"That is because you have no idea of the educational uses of a vacation, Uncle Peter," said I. "You are an unsystematic person, an incorrigible idler."
"I am," he answered, without a sign of penitence, "that is precisely what I am,—in my days off. Otherwise I should not get the good of them. Even a hobby, on such days, is to be used chiefly for its lateral advantages,—the open doors of the sideshows to which it brings you, the unexpected opportunities of dismounting and tying your hobby to a tree, while you follow the trail of something strange and attractive, as Moses did when he turned aside from his shepherding on Mount Horeb and climbed up among the rocks to see the burning bush.
"The value of a favourite pursuit lies not only in its calculated results but also in its by-products. You may become a collector of almost anything in the world,—orchids, postage-stamps, flint arrowheads, cook-books, varieties of the game of cat's cradle,—and if you chase your trifle in the right spirit it will lead you into pleasant surprises and bring you acquainted with delightful or amusing people. You remember when you went with Professor Rinascimento on a Della Robbia hunt among the hill towns of Italy, and how you came by accident into that deep green valley where there are more nightingales with sweeter voices than anywhere else on earth? Your best trouvaille on that expedition was hidden in those undreamed-of nights of moonlight and music. And it was when you were chasing first editions of Tennyson, was it not, that you discovered your little head of a marble faun, which you vow is by Donatello, or one of his pupils? And what was it that you told me about the rare friend you found when you took a couple of days off in an ancient French town, on a flying journey from Rome to London? Believe me, dear boy, all that we win by effort and intention is sometimes overtopped by a gift that is conferred upon us out of a secret and mysterious generosity. Wordsworth was right:
"'Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum Of things forever speaking, That nothing of itself will come, But we must still be seeking?'"
"You talk," said I, "as if you thought it was a man's duty to be happy."
"I do," he answered firmly, "that is precisely and definitely what I think. It is not his chief duty, nor his only duty, nor his duty all the time. But the normal man is not intended to go through this world without learning what happiness means. If he does so he misses something that he needs to complete his nature and perfect his experience. 'Tis a poor, frail plant that can not endure the wind and the rain and the winter's cold. But is it a good plant that will not respond to the quickening touch of spring and send out its sweet odours in the embracing warmth of the summer night? Suppose that you had made a house for a child, and given him a corner of the garden to keep, and set him lessons and tasks, and provided him with teachers and masters. Would you be satisfied with that child, however diligent and obedient, if you found that he was never happy, never enjoyed a holiday, never said to himself and to you, 'What a good place this is, and how glad I am to live here'?"
"Probably not," I answered, "but that is because I should be selfish enough to find a pleasure of my own in his happiness. I should like to take a day off with him, now and then, and his gladness would increase my enjoyment. There is no morality in that. It is simply natural. We are all made that way."
"Well," said my Uncle Peter, "if we are made that way we must take it into account in our philosophy of life. The fact that it is natural is not a sufficient reason for concluding that it is bad. There is an old and wonderful book which describes the creation of the world in poetic language; and when I read that description it makes me feel sure that something like this was purposely woven into the very web of life. After the six mystical days of making things and putting things in order, says this beautiful old book, the Person who had been doing it all took a day to Himself, in which He 'rested from all the things that He had created and made,' and looked at them, and saw how good they were. His work was not ended, of course, for it has been going on ever since, and will go on for ages of ages. But in the midst of it all it seemed right to Him to take a divine day off. And His example is commended to us for imitation because we are made in His likeness and have the same desire to enjoy as well as to create.
"Do you remember what the Wisest of all Masters said to his disciples when they were outworn by the weight of their work and the pressure of the crowd upon them? 'Come ye yourselves apart into a lonely place, and rest awhile.' He would never have bidden them do that, unless it had been a part of their duty to get away from their task for a little. He knew what was in man, more deeply than any one else had ever known; and so he invited his friends out among the green hills and beside the quiet waters of Galilee to the strengthening repose and the restoring joy which are only to be found in real days off."
My Uncle Peter's voice had grown very deep and gentle while he was saying these things. He sat looking far away into the rosy heart of the fire, where the bright blaze had burned itself out, and the delicate flamelets of blue and violet were playing over the glowing, crumbling logs. It seemed as if he had forgotten where we were, and gone a-wandering into some distant region of memories and dreams. I almost doubted whether to call him back; the silence was so full of comfortable and friendly intercourse.
"Well," said I, after a while, "you are an incorrigible moralist, but certainly a most unconventional one. The orthodox would never accept your philosophy. They would call you a hedonist, or something equally dreadful."
"Let them," he said, placidly.
"But tell me": I asked, "you and I have many pleasant and grateful memories, little pictures and stories, which seem like chapters in the history of this doubtful idea of yours: suppose that I should write some of them down, purely in a descriptive and narrative way, without committing myself to any opinion as to their morality; and suppose that a few of your opinions and prejudices, briefly expressed, were interspersed in the form of chapters to be skipped: would a book like that symbolize and illustrate the true inwardness of the day off? How would it do to make such a book?"
"It would do," he answered, "provided you wanted to do it, and provided you did not try to prove anything, or convince anybody, or convey any profitable instruction."
"But would any one read it?" I asked. "What do you think?"
"I think," said he, stretching his arms over his head as he rose and turned towards his den to plunge into a long evening's work, "I reckon, and calculate, and fancy, and guess that a few people, a very few, might browse through such a book in their days off."
A HOLIDAY IN A VACATION
It was really a good little summer resort where the boy and I were pegging away at our vacation. There were the mountains conveniently arranged, with pleasant trails running up all of them, carefully marked with rustic but legible guide-posts; and there was the sea comfortably besprinkled with islands, among which one might sail around and about, day after day, not to go anywhere, but just to enjoy the motion and the views; and there were cod and haddock swimming over the outer ledges in deep water, waiting to be fed with clams at any time, and on fortunate days ridiculously accommodating in letting themselves be pulled up at the end of a long, thick string with a pound of lead and two hooks tied to it. There were plenty of places considered proper for picnics, like Jordan's Pond, and Great Cranberry Island, and the Russian Tea-house, and the Log Cabin Tea-house, where you would be sure to meet other people who also were bent on picnicking; and there were hotels and summer cottages, of various degrees of elaboration, filled with agreeable and talkable folk, most of whom were connected by occupation or marriage with the rival colleges and universities, so that their ambitions for the simple life had an academic thoroughness and regularity. There were dinner parties, and tea parties, and garden parties, and sea parties, and luncheon parties, masculine and feminine, and a horse-show at Bar Harbor, and a gymkhana at North East, and dances at all the Harbors, where Minerva met Terpischore on a friendly footing while Socrates sat out on the veranda with Midas discussing the great automobile question over their cigars.
It was all vastly entertaining and well-ordered, and you would think that any person with a properly constituted mind ought to be able to peg through a vacation in such a place without wavering. But when the boy confessed to me that he felt the need of a few "days off" in the big woods to keep him up to his duty, I saw at once that the money spent upon his education had not been wasted; for here, without effort, he announced a great psychological fact—that no vacation is perfect without a holiday in it. So we packed our camping-kit, made our peace with the family, tied our engagements together and cut the string below the knot, and set out to find freedom and a little fishing in the region around Lake Nicatous.
The south-east corner of the State of Maine is a happy remnant of the ancient wilderness. The railroads will carry you around it in a day, if you wish to go that way, making a big oval of two or three hundred miles along the sea and by the banks of the Penobscot, the Mattawamkeag, and the St. Croix. But if you wisely wish to cross the oval you must ride, or go afoot, or take to your canoe; probably you will have to try all three methods of locomotion, for the country is a mixed quantity. It reminds me of what I once heard in Stockholm: that the Creator, when the making of the rest of the world was done, had a lot of fragments of land and water, forests and meadows, mountains and valleys, lakes and moors, left over; and these He threw together to make the southern part of Sweden. I like that kind of a promiscuous country. The spice of life grows there.
When we had escaped from the railroad at Enfield on the Penobscot, we slept a short night in a room over a country store, and took wagon the next morning for a twenty-five mile drive. At the somnolent little village of Burlington we found our guides waiting for us. They were sitting on the green at the cross-roads, with their paddles and axes and bundles beside them. I knew at a glance that they were ready and all right: Sam Dam, an old experienced, seasoned guide, and Harry, a good-looking young woodsman who had worked in lumber camps and on "the drive," but had never been "guiding" before. He was none the worse for that, for he belonged to the type of Maine man who has the faculty of learning things by doing them.
As we rattled along the road the farms grew poorer and sparser, until at last we came into the woods, crossed the rocky Passadumkeag River, and so over a succession of horseback hills to the landing-place on Nicatous Stream, where the canoes were hidden in the bushes. Now load up with the bundles and boxes, the tent, the blanket-roll, the clothes-bag, the provisions—all the stuff that is known as "duffel" in New York, and "butins" in French Canada, and "wangan" in Maine—stow it all away judiciously so that the two light craft will be well balanced; and then push off, bow paddles, and let us taste the joy of a new stream! New to the boy and me, you understand; but to the guides it was old and familiar, a link in a much-travelled route. The amber water rippled merrily over the rocky bars where the river was low, and in the still reaches it spread out broad and smooth, covered with white lilies and fringed with tall grasses. All along the pleasant way Sam entertained us with memories of the stream.
"Ye see that grassy p'int, jest ahead of us? Three weeks ago I was comin' down for the mail, and there was three deer a-stannin' on that p'int, a buck and a doe and a fawn. And——"
"Up in them alders there's a little spring brook comes in. Good fishin' there in high water. But now? Well——"
"Jest beyond that bunch o' rocks last fall there was three fellers comin' down in a canoe, and a big bear come out and started 'cross river. The gun was in the case in the bottom of the canoe, and one o' the fellers had a pistol, and so——"
Beyond a doubt it was so, always has been so, and always will be so—just so, on every river travelled by canoes, until the end of time. The sportsman travels through a happy interval between memories of failure and expectation of success. But the river and the wind in the trees sing to him by the way, and there are wild flowers along the banks, and every turn in the stream makes a new picture of beauty. Thus we came leisurely and peacefully to the place where the river issued from the lake; and here we must fish awhile, for it was reported that the landlocked salmon lay in the narrow channel just above the dam.
Sure enough, no sooner had the fly crossed the current than there was a rise; and at the second cast a pretty salmon of two and a half pounds was hooked, played, and landed. Three more were taken, of which the boy got two—and his were the biggest. Fish know nothing of the respect due to age. They leaped well, those little salmon, flashing clean out of the water again and again with silvery gleams. But on the whole they did not play as strongly nor as long as their brethren (called ouananiche,) in the wild rapids where the Upper Saguenay breaks from Lake St. John. The same fish are always more lively, powerful, and enduring when they live in swift water, battling with the current, than when they vegetate in the quiet depths of a lake. But if a salmon must live in a luxurious home of that kind, Nicatous is a good one, for the water is clear, the shores are clean, the islands plenty, and the bays deep and winding.
At the club-house, six miles up the lake, where we arrived at candle-lighting, we found such kindly welcome and good company that we tarried for three days in that woodland Capua, discussing the further course of our expedition. Everybody was willing to lend us aid and comfort. The sociable hermit who had summered for the last twenty years in his tiny cabin on the point gave us friendly counsel and excellent large blueberries. The matron provided us with daily bags of most delicate tea, a precaution against the native habit of "squatting" the leaves—that is, boiling and squeezing them to extract the tannin. The little lady called Katharyne (a fearless forest-maid who roamed the woods in leathern jacket and short blue skirt, followed by an enormous and admiring guide, and caught big fish everywhere) offered to lend us anything in her outfit, from a pack-basket to a darning-needle. It was cheerful to meet with such general encouragement in our small adventure. But the trouble was to decide which way to go.
Nicatous lies near the top of a watershed about a thousand feet high. From the region round about it at least seven canoeable rivers descend to civilization. The Narraguagus and the Union on the south, the Passadumkeag on the west, the Sisladobsis and the St. Croix on the north, and the two branches of the Machias or Kowahshiscook on the east; to say nothing of the Westogus and the Hackmatack and the Mopang. Here were names to stir the fancy and paralyze the tongue. What a joy to follow one of these streams clear through its course and come out of the woods in our own craft—from Nicatous to the sea!
It was perhaps something in the name, some wild generosity of alphabetical expenditure, that led us to the choice of the Kowahshiscook, or west branch of the Machias River. Or perhaps it was because neither of our guides had been down that stream, and so the whole voyage would be an exploration, with everybody on the same level of experience. An easy day's journey across the lake, and up Comb's Brook, where the trout were abundant, and by a two-mile carry into Horseshoe Lake, and then over a narrow hardwood ridge, brought us to Green Lake, where we camped for the night in a new log shanty.
Here we were at the topmost source—fons et origo—of our chosen river. This single spring, crystal-clear and ice-cold, gushing out of the hillside in a forest of spruce and yellow birch and sugar maple, gave us the clue that we must follow for a week through the wilderness.
But how changed was that transparent rivulet after it entered the lake. There the water was pale green, translucent but semi-opaque, for at a depth of two or three feet the bottom was hardly visible. The lake was filled, I believe, with some minute aquatic growth which in the course of a thousand years or so would transform it into a meadow. But meantime the mystical water was inhabited, especially around the mouth of the spring, by huge trout to whom tradition ascribed a singular and provoking disposition. They would take the bait, when the fancy moved them: but the fly they would always refuse, ignoring it with calm disdain, or slapping at it with their tails and shoving it out of their way as they played on the surface in the summer evenings. This was the mysterious reputation of the trout of Green Lake, handed down from generation to generation of anglers; and this spell we had come to break, by finding the particular fly that would be irresistible to those secret epicures and the psychological moment of the day when they could no longer resist temptation. We tried all the flies in our books; at sunset, in the twilight, by the light of the stars and the rising moon, at dawn and at sunrise. Not one trout did we capture with the fly in Green Lake. Nor could we solve the mystery of those reluctant fish. The boy made a scientific suggestion that they got plenty of food from the cloudy water, which served them as a kind of soup. My guess was that their sight was impaired so that they could not see the fly. But Sam said it was "jest pure cussedness." Many things in the world happen from that cause, and as a rule it is best not to fret over them.
The trail from Green Lake to Campbell Lake was easily found; it followed down the outlet about a mile. But it had been little used for many years and the undergrowth had almost obliterated it. Rain had been falling all the morning and the bushes were wetter than water. On such a carry travel is slow. We had three trips to make each way before we could get the stuff and the canoes over. Then a short voyage across the lake, and another mile of the same sort of portage, after which we came out with the last load, an hour before sundown, on the shore of the Big Sabeo. This lake was quite different from the others; wide and open, with smooth sand-beaches all around it. The little hills which encircled it had been burned over years ago; and the blueberry pickers had renewed the fire from year to year. The landscape was light green and yellow, beneath a low, cloudy sky; no forest in sight, except one big, black island far across the water.
The place where we came out was not attractive; but nothing is more foolish than to go on looking for a pretty camp-ground after daylight has begun to wane. When the sun comes within the width of two paddle-blades of the horizon, if you are wise you will take the first bit of level ground within reach of wood and water, and make haste to get the camp in order before dark. So we pitched our blue tent on the beach, with a screen of bushes at the back to shelter us from the wind; broke a double quantity of fir branches for our bed, to save us from the midnight misery of sand in the blankets; cut a generous supply of firewood from a dead pine-tree which stood conveniently at hand; and settled down in comfort for the night.
What could have been better than our supper, cooked in the open air and eaten by fire-light! True, we had no plates—they had been forgotten—but we never mourned for them. We made a shift to get along with the tops of some emptied tin cans and the cover of a kettle; and from these rude platters, (quite as serviceable as the porcelain of Limoges or Sevres) we consumed our toast, and our boiled potatoes with butter, and our trout prudently brought from Horseshoe Lake, and, best of all, our bacon.
Do you remember what Charles Lamb says about roast pig? How he falls into an ecstasy of laudation, spelling the very name with small capitals, as if the lower case were too mean for such a delicacy, and breaking away from the cheap encomiums of the vulgar tongue to hail it in sonorous Latin as princeps obsoniorum! There is some truth in his compliments, no doubt; but they are wasteful, excessive, imprudent. For if all this praise is to be lavished on plain, fresh, immature, roast pig, what adjectives shall we find to do justice to that riper, richer, more subtle and sustaining viand, broiled bacon? On roast pig a man can not work; often he can not sleep, if he have partaken of it immoderately. But bacon "brings to its sweetness no satiety." It strengthens the arm while it satisfies the palate. Crisp, juicy, savory; delicately salt as the breeze that blows from the sea; faintly pungent as the blue smoke of incense wafted from a clean wood-fire; aromatic, appetizing, nourishing, a stimulant to the hunger which it appeases, 'tis the matured bloom and consummation of the mild little pig, spared by foresight for a nobler fate than juvenile roasting, and brought by art and man's device to a perfection surpassing nature. All the problems of woodland cookery are best saved by the baconian method. And when we say of one escaping great disaster that he has "saved his bacon," we say that the physical basis and the quintessential comfort of his life are still untouched and secure.
Steadily fell the rain all that night, plentiful, persistent, drumming on the tightened canvas over our heads, waking us now and then to pleasant thoughts of a rising stream and good water for the morrow. Breaking clouds rolled before the sunrise, and the lake was all a-glitter when we pushed away in dancing canoes to find the outlet. This is one of the problems in which the voyager learns to know something of the infinite reserve, the humorous subtlety, the hide-and-seek quality in nature. Where is it—that mysterious outlet? Behind yonder long point? Nothing here but a narrow arm of the lake. At the end of this deep bay? Nothing here but a little brook flowing in. At the back of the island? Nothing here but a landlocked lagoon. Must we make the circuit of the whole shore before we find the way out? Stop a moment. What are those two taller clumps of bushes on the edge of this broad curving meadow—down there in the corner, do you see? Turn back, go close to the shore, swing around the nearer clump, and here we are in the smooth amber stream, slipping silently, furtively, down through the meadow, as if it would steal away for a merry jest and leave us going round and round the lake till nightfall.
Easily and swiftly the canoes slide along with the little river, winding and doubling through the wide, wild field, travelling three miles to gain one. The rushes nod and glisten around us; the bending reeds whisper as we push between them, cutting across a point. Follow the stream; we know not its course, but we know that if we go with it, though it be a wayward and tricksy guide, it will bring us out—but not too soon, we hope!
Here is a lumberman's dam, broad-based, solid, and ugly, a work of infinite labour, standing lonely, deserted, here in the heart of the wilderness. Now we must carry across it. But it shall help while it hinders us. Pry up the creaking sluice-gates, sending a fresh head of water down the channel along with us, lifting us over the shallows, driving us on through the rocky places, buoyant, alert, and rejoicing, till we come again to a level meadow, and the long, calm, indolent reaches of river.
Look on the right there, under the bushes. There is a cold, still brook, slipping into the lazy river; and there we must try the truth of the tales we have heard of the plentiful trout of Machias. Let the flies fall light by the mouth of the brook, caressing, inviting. Nothing there? Then push the canoe through the interlaced alders, quietly, slowly up the narrow stream, till a wider pool lies open before you. Now let the rod swing high in the air, lifting the line above the bushes, dropping the flies as far away as you can on the dark-brown water. See how quickly the answer comes, in two swift golden flashes out of the depths of the sleeping pool. This is a pretty brace of trout, from thirty to forty ounces of thoroughbred fighting pluck, and the spirit that will not surrender. If they only knew that their strength would be doubled by acting together, they soon would tangle your line in the roots or break your rod in the alders. But all the time they are fighting against each other, making it easy to bring them up to the net and land them—a pair of beauties, evenly matched in weight and in splendour, gleaming with rich iridescent hues of orange and green and peacock-blue and crimson. A few feet beyond you find another, a smaller fish, and then one a little larger; and so you go on up the stream, threading the boat through the alders, with patience and infinite caution, carefully casting your flies when the stream opens out to invite them, till you have rounded your dozen of trout and are wisely contented. Then you go backward down the brook—too narrow for turning—and join the other canoe that waits, floating leisurely on with the river.
There is a change now in the character of the stream. The low hills that have been standing far away, come close together from either side, as if they meant to bar any further passage; and the dreamy river wakes up to wrestle its way down the narrow valley. There are no long, sleepy reaches, no wide, easy curves, now; but sharp, quick turns from one rocky ledge to another; and enormous stones piled and scattered along the river-bed; and sudden descents from level to level as if by the broad steps of a ruined, winding stairway. The water pushes, and rushes, and roars, and foams, and frets—no, it does not fret, after all, for there is always something joyous and exultant in its voice, a note of the gaudia certaminis by which the struggle of life is animated, a note of confident strength, sure that it can find or make a way, through all obstacles, to its goal. This is what I feel in a river, especially a little river flowing through a rough, steep country. This is what makes me love it. It seems to be thoroughly alive, and glad to be alive, and determined to go on, and certain that it will win through.
Our canoes go with the river, but no longer easily or lazily. Every step of the way must be carefully chosen; now close to the steep bank where the bushes hang over; now in mid-stream among the huge pointed rocks; now by the lowest point of a broad sunken ledge where the water sweeps smoothly over to drop into the next pool. The boy and I, using the bow paddles, are in the front of the adventure, guessing at the best channel, pushing aside suddenly to avoid treacherous stones hidden with dark moss, dashing swiftly down the long dancing rapids, with the shouting of the waves in our ears and the sprinkle of the foam in our faces.
From side to side of the wild avenue through the forest we turn and dart, zigzagging among the rocks. Thick woods shut us in on either hand, pines and hemlocks and firs and spruces, beeches and maples and yellow-birches, alders with their brown seed-cones, and mountain-ashes with their scarlet berries. All four of us know the way; there can be no doubt about that, for down the river is the only road out. But none of us knows the path; for this is a new stream, you remember, and between us and our journey's end there lie a thousand possible difficulties, accidents, and escapes.
The boy had one of them. His canoe struck on a ledge, in passing over a little fall, swung around sidewise to the current, and half filled with water; he and Harry had to leap out into the stream waist-deep. Sam and I made merry at their plight. But Nemesis was waiting for me a few miles below.
All the pools were full of fine trout. While the men were cooking lunch in a grove of balsams I waded down-stream to get another brace of fish. Stepping carefully among the rocks, I stood about thigh-deep in my rubber boots and cast across the pool. But the best bit of water was a little beyond my reach. A step further! There is a yellow bit of gravel that will give a good footing. Intent upon the flight of my flies, I took the step without care. But the yellow patch under the brown water was not gravel; it was the face of a rock polished smoother than glass. Gently, slowly, irresistibly, and with deep indignation I subsided backward into the cold pool. The rubber boots filled with water and the immersion was complete. Then I stood up and got the trout. When I returned to the camp-fire, the others laughed at me uproariously, and the boy said: "Why did you go in swimming with your clothes on? Were you expecting a party of ladies to come down the stream?"
Our tenting-places were new every night and forsaken every morning. Each of them had a charm of its own. One was under a great yellow-birch tree, close to the bank of the river. Another was on top of a bare ridge in the middle of a vast blueberry patch, where the luscious fruit, cool and fresh with the morning dew, spread an immense breakfast-table to tempt us. The most beautiful of all was at the edge of a fir-wood, with a huge rock, covered with moss and lichen, sloping down before us in a broad, open descent of thirty feet to the foaming stream. The full moon climbed into the sky as we sat around our camp-fire, and showed her face above the dark, pointed tree-tops. The winding vale was flooded with silver radiance that rested on river and rock and tree-trunk and multitudinous leafage like an enchantment of tranquillity. The curling currents and the floating foam, up and down the stream, were glistening and sparkling, ever moving, yet never losing their position. The shouting of the water melted to music, in which a thousand strange and secret voices, near and far away, blending and alternating from rapid to rapid and fall to fall, seemed like hidden choirs, answering one another from place to place. The sense of struggle, of pressure and resistance, of perpetual change, was gone; and in its stead there was a feeling of infinite quietude, of perfect balance and repose, of deep accord and amity between the watching heavens and the waiting earth, in which the conflicts of existence seemed very distant and of little meaning, and the peace of nature prophesied
"That one, far-off divine event Towards which the whole creation moves."
Thus for six days and nights we kept company with our little river, following its guidance and enjoying all its changing moods. Sometimes it led us through a smooth country, across natural meadows, alder-fringed, where the bed of the stream was of amber sand and polished gravel, and the water rippled gently over the shallow bars, and there were deep holes underneath the hanging bushes, where the trout hid from the heat of the noon sun. Sometimes it had carved a way for itself over huge beds of solid rock, where, if the slope was gentle, we could dart arrow-like along the channel from pool to pool; but if the descent was steep and broken, we must get out of the canoes and let them down with ropes. Sometimes the course ran for miles through evergreen forests, where the fragrance of the fir-trees filled the air; and again we came out into the open regions where thousands of acres of wild blueberries were spread around us.
I call them wild because no man's hand has planted them. Yet they are cultivated after a fashion. Every two or three years a district of these hills is set on fire, and in the burned ground, the next spring, the berry-bushes come up innumerable. The following fall they are loaded so heavily with blueberries that the harvest is gathered with rakes, each of which has a cup underneath it into which the berries fall as the rake is thrust through the bushes. The land is owned by two or three large proprietors, who employ men and women to gather the crop, paying them a few cents a bushel for picking. Sometimes the proprietor leases his land to a factor, who pays a royalty on every bushel turned in at the factory in some village on the railroad or by the seashore, where the berries are canned or dried.
One day we came upon a camp of these berry-pickers by the river-side. Our first notice of their proximity was the sight of a raft with an arm-chair tied in the centre of it, stranded upon the rocks in a long, fierce rapid. Imagine how this looked to us after we had been five days in the wilderness! An arm-chair sitting up sedately in the middle of the rapids! What did it mean? Perhaps some vagrant artist had been exploring the river, and had fixed his seat there in order to paint a picture. Perhaps some lazy fisherman had found a good pool amid those boiling waters, and had arranged to take his ease while he whipped that fishy place with his flies. The mystery was solved when we rounded the next point; for there we found the berry-pickers taking their nooning in a cluster of little slab-shanties. They were friendly folks, men, women, and children, but they knew nothing about the river; had never been up farther than the place where the boys had left their raft in the high water a week ago; had never been down at all; could not tell how many falls there were below, nor whether the mouth was five or fifty miles away. They had come in by the road, which crossed the river at this point, and by the road they would go back when the berries were picked. They wanted to know whether we were prospecting for lumber or thinking of going into the berry business. We tried to explain the nature of our expedition to them, but I reckon we failed.
These were the only people that we really met on our journey, though we saw a few others far off on some bare hill. We did not encounter a single boat or canoe on the river. But we saw the deer come down to the shore, and stand shoulder-deep among the golden-rod and purple asters. We saw the ruffled grouse whir through the thickets and the wild ducks skitter down the stream ahead of us. We saw the warblers and the cedar-birds gathering in flocks for their southward flight, the muskrats making their houses ready for the winter, and the porcupines dumbly meditating and masticating among the branches of the young poplar-trees. We also had a delightful interview with a wild-cat, and almost a thrilling adventure with a bear.
The boy and I had started out from camp for an hour of evening fishing. He went down the stream some distance ahead of me, as I supposed, (though, as I afterward found, he had made a little detour and turned back). I was making my way painfully through a spruce thicket when I heard a loud crash and crackling of dead branches. "Hallo!" I cried; "have you fallen down? Are you hurt?" No answer. "Hallo, Teddy!" I shouted again; "what's the matter?" Another tremendous crash, and then dead silence.
I dropped my rod and pushed as rapidly as possible in the direction from which the sound had come. There I found a circle about fifty feet in diameter torn and trampled as if a circus had been there. The ground was trodden bare. Trees three and four inches thick were broken off. The bark of the larger trees was stripped away. The place was a ruin. A few paces away, among the bushes, there was a bear trap with some claws in it, and an iron chain attached to the middle of a clog about four feet long. The log hovel in which the trap had been set, we found later, a little way back on an old wood road. Evidently a bear had been caught there, perhaps two or three days before we came. He had dragged the trap and the chained clog down into the thicket. There he had stayed, tearing up things generally in his efforts to escape from his encumbrance, and resting quietly in the intervals of his fury. My approach had startled him and he had made the first crash that I heard. Then he lay low and listened. My second inconsiderate shout of "Hallo, Teddy!" had put such an enormous fear into him that he dashed through the trees, caught the foolishly chained clog across two of them, and, tearing himself loose, escaped with the loss of a couple of toes. Thus ended our almost adventure with a bear. How glad the old fellow must have been!
The moral is this: If you want a bear, you should set your trap with the clog chained at one end, not around the middle: then it will trail through the woods and not break loose. But the best way is not to want a bear.
Our last camp was just at the head of Holmes's Fall, a splendid ravine down which the river rushes in two foaming leaps. Here in the gray of the morning we lugged our canoes and our camp-kit around the cataract, and then launched away for the end of our voyage. It was full of variety, for the river was now cutting its course through a series of ridges, and every mile was broken with rapids and larger falls. There was but one other place, however, where we had to make a portage. I believe it was called Grand Falls. After that, the stream was smooth and quiet. The tall maples and ashes and elms stood along the banks as if they had been planted for a park. The first faint touch of autumn colour was beginning to illuminate their foliage. A few weeks later the river would be a long, winding avenue of gold and crimson, for every tree would redouble its splendour in the dark, unruffled water.
At one place, where there were a few cleared fields bordering on the river, we saw two or three houses and barns, and supposed we were near the end of our voyage. This was about nine o'clock in the morning; and we were glad because we calculated that we could catch the ten o'clock train for Bar Harbor. But that calculation was far astray. We skirted the cleared fields and entered the woodland again. The river flowed, broad and leisurely, in great curves half a mile long from point to point. As we rounded one cape after another we said to each other, "When we pass the next turn we shall see the village." But that inconsiderate village seemed to flee before us. Still the tall trees lined the banks in placid monotony. Still the river curved from cape to cape, each one like all the others. We paddled hard and steadily. Ten o'clock passed. Every day of our journey we had lost something—a frying-pan, a hatchet, a paddle, a ring. This day was no exception. We had lost a train. Still we pushed along against the cool wind, which always headed us, whether we turned north, or east, or south; wondering whether the village that we sought was still in the world, wondering whether the river came out anywhere, wondering—till at last we saw, across a lake-like expanse of water, the white church and the clustering houses of the far-famed Whitneyville.
It was a quaint old town, which had seen better days. The big lumber-mill that had once kept it busy was burned down, and the business had slipped away to the prosperous neighbouring town of Machias. There were nice old houses with tall pillars in front of them, now falling into decay and slipping out of plumb. There were shops that had evidently been closed for years, with not even a sign "To Let" in the windows. Our dinner was cooked for us in a boarding-house, by a brisk young lady of about fifteen years, whose mother had gone to Machias for a day in the gay world. With one exception that pleasant young lady was the only thing in Whitneyville that did not have an air of having been left behind.
The exception was the establishment of Mr. Cornelius D——, whose "General Store" beside the bridge was still open for business, and whose big white house stood under the elm-trees at the corner of the road opposite the church, with bright windows, fresh-painted walls, and plenty of flowers blooming around it. He was walking in the yard, dressed in a black broadcloth frock-coat, with a black satin necktie and a collar with pointed ends,—an old-fashioned Gladstonian garb. When I heard him speak I knew where he came from. It was the rich accent of Killarney, just as I had heard it on the Irish lakes two summers ago. But sixty years had passed since the young Cornelius had left the shores of the River Laune and come to dwell by the Kowahshiscook. He had grown up with the place; had run the lumber-mill and the first railroad that hauled the lumber from the mill down to tide-water; had become the owner of the store and the proprietor of some sixteen miles of timber-land along the river-front; had built the chief house of the village and given his children a capital education; and there he still dwelt, with his wife from Killarney, and with his tall sons and daughters about him, contented and happy, and not at all disposed to question the beneficent order of the universe. We had plenty of good talk that afternoon and evening, chiefly about the Old Country, and I had to rub up my recollections of Ross Castle and Kenmare House and all the places around Lough Leane, in order to match the old man's memory. He was interested in our expedition, too. He had often been far into the woods looking after his lumber. But I doubt whether he quite understood what it was that drew the boy and me on our idle voyage from Nicatous to the sea.
HIS OTHER ENGAGEMENT
Among the annals of the Petrine Club, which has for its motto the wise words of St. Peter, "I go a-fishing," there are several profitable tales. Next to the story of Beekman De Peyster's fatal success in transforming a fairly good wife into a ferocious angler, probably the most instructive is the singular adventure that befell Bolton Chichester in taking a brief vacation while he was engaged to be married. And having already told the former story as an example of the vicissitudes of "Fisherman's Luck," I now propose to narrate the latter as a striking illustration of what may happen to a man who takes "a day off."
Chichester is known among his intimate friends as "Chinchin." This nominal appendix was given to him not in allusion to his habits of speech, for he is rather a small talker, but with reference to the prominence of that feature of his countenance which is at once the organ of utterance, the instrument of mastication, the sign of firmness, and (at least in the Gibsonian period of facial architecture) the chief point of manly beauty.
Point is an absurd word to apply to Chichester's chin. It might better be called a surface, a region, a territory. Smooth, spacious, square, kept always in perfect order and carried with a what-do-I-care-for-that air, it gives him a most distinguished appearance, and makes you think, when you meet him, that you are in the presence of a favourite matinee actor, the hero of a modern short-story, or a man of remarkable decision of character.
The last, of course, is the correct interpretation of the sign. Bolton Chichester is the most decided man that I have ever known. He can make up his mind more quickly, on a greater variety of subjects, and adhere to each determination more firmly, than all the other members of the Petrine Club put together. For this reason we always anticipated for him a large success in life, and some even predicted that he would become President of the United States—unless he made up his mind to do something else on the way to the White House. At all events, we felt sure, he would get what he wanted; and when he became decidedly attentive to Ethel Asham it was taken for granted that he would woo, win, and marry her in short order.
She was rather a difficult person, to be sure; the eldest daughter of that cryptic old millionaire, Watson Asham, who lived in New York and resided, for purposes of taxation, at West Smithfield; a graduate of Brainmore College; president of the Social Settlement of Higher Lighters; a frequent contributor in brief fiction to the Contrary Magazine; a beauty of the tea-after-tennis type; the best dancer in St. Swithin's Lenten Circle, and the most romantic creature that ever took up the cause of Progress with a large P. It would not be fair to call her strong-minded, because the adjective seems to imply some kind of a limitation in her strength. She was even stronger in her impulses than in her mind; original in every direction; in fact, originality was a kind of convention with her. It was wonderful how many things she accomplished; but then she never lost any time; she was precise, punctual, inevitable in her sweet, feminine, self-possessed way; and her varied and surprising programme went through on schedule time, while she cherished in her heart the dream of a romance in the style of "The Prisoner of Zenda."
Naturally, such a many-sided young woman would be difficult to please; and a number of eligible young men had acquired personal knowledge of the fact. But the difficulty seemed to attract Chichester. He went at it in his bold, decided manner, with his chin forward; and he conquered. After the February campaign no one was surprised to hear, in March, that the engagement of Miss Ethel Asham to Mr. Bolton Chichester was announced, and that the wedding would occur in June.
The place was not specified. Conjectures were hazarded that it might be Dunfermline Abbey, the Castle of Chillon, Bridal Veil Falls in the Yosemite, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, or St. George's, Hanover Square. Little Pop Wilson, the well-known dialect novelist of the southeastern part of northern Kentucky, suggested that there was something to be said in favor of the Mammoth Cave—"always cool, you know. Artificial lights, pulpit rock, stalactites—all that sort of thing!" Even this was felt to be within the bounds of possibility. The one thing that was not open to doubt was that the wedding would certainly be celebrated in an original way and a romantic place, at precisely the appointed hour. If anyone had foretold that it would be broken off, and that the reason given would be "another engagement" on the part of Mr. Bolton Chichester, we should have laughed in the face of such a ridiculous prophet and advised him to take something to cool his brain.
Yet this is exactly what happened; and the secret of that other engagement is the subject of this brief, simple, but I hope not unmoral narrative.
Chichester had been with the Ashams at the residential farm-house in West Smithfield during the first fortnight of April, and had devoted the remainder of that showery month to his affairs in the city, diversified with a few afternoons of trout-fishing on Long Island: for like all the members of the Petrine Club he was a sincere angler. It was during this period that Ethel took up, in her daily correspondence with him, the question of the cruelty of angling. She was not yet quite clear in her mind upon the subject, but she wanted him to consider it seriously; and she quoted Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Aurora W. Chime's book, "The Inwardness of the Outward." Chichester promised to consider it.
The second week in May they spent together at a house-party near Portland, Maine; and he tried the landlocked salmon in Sebago Lake, twice. Ethel continued the subject of the cruelty of angling, in conversation, and illuminated her increasing conviction with references to the Reverend Wilbur Short's "Tales of Strange Things in Woods and Waters," and "Songs of the Scaly," by Alonzo Sweetbread.
"You would not allow any difference of thought or feeling to mar the perfect chord of our love, would you, Bolton dear?" she asked.
"Of course not," said Bolton.
"Then promise me faithfully that you will think about this pastime which gives so much anguish to the innocent fish—think about it very, very seriously."
"I do. I have to. It costs me seven or eight hundred a year."
"But you must think in a different way. Put yourself in the place of the fish."
"I did once. Fellow with a rod and line tried to land me in the tank at the gymnasium. Lots of fun. Never had a better fight."
"But suppose you had a hook in your mouth. How would you like that?"
"Better than the dentist's chair, I'm sure. I spent three afternoons there, last month."
"You're absurd," said Ethel, "you're perverse. Don't hold your chin up in that aggravating way. I don't believe—you—love——"
The rest of the conversation followed the usual course, which may be supplied from the pages of any of the fifteen-cent magazines, and ended with a promise on the part of Chichester that he would think again, and very, very seriously.
Meantime, you will understand, the preparations for the wedding had been going forward, in the regular way, modified, however, in one most important particular by Ethel Asham's passion for romantic originality. She insisted that the day and the place should be left entirely to her. She did not wish to have the ordinary, commonplace, fashionable wedding performance. She wanted something really and truly poetic and fitting, something to remember. She had a plan. The wedding should be in June? Yes. And she would be ready? Yes. And all the family, at least, should be there? Yes. But she asked that she might keep the secret of the precise time and the exact place as long as possible; it would make it all seem so much more spontaneous and natural.
The situation was a little peculiar, I grant you, and somewhat embarrassing to the rest of the family, including Chichester. But he took it like a man, and backed Ethel up with the utmost decision, just as if her idea was what he had always thought of and determined to do. What was his chin for, if he could not give her a firm support in a thing like this? As a matter of fact he did not care in the least where the wedding might be. A man never does. It does not seem to be his business. Ethel's paternal parent, however, had some misgivings which must be satisfied.
"Is it a church?" he growled; "none of your dusty, shabby little Higher Light shrines, eh?"
"Yes, it's a church," said Ethel solemnly, "and a very old and beautiful church."
"And a Christian ceremony," he insisted; "parson, robes, prayer-book—regular thing—no sideshow performance, eh?"
"Of course," said she, "what do you think? Do you suppose that just because I see things in an original way, I don't know what's proper? I like to hear the Swami Abikadanda talk; and I don't want a regular cut-and-dried wedding; but I'm not going to take any risks about a thing like that. The clergyman will be there, and you will give me away, and Gladys and Victoria will be the bridesmaids, and Arthur will be the best man, and Howard and Willis——"
"Well, well," grunted her father, with his chuckling laugh, "it's all right, I suppose, seeing that it's your wedding. Have it your own way while you can." For the old man had formed his idea of the significance of Chichester's chin.
So it was settled that the affair should remain unsettled for every one except Ethel; and the whole family was plunged into a cheerful state of evasion, prevarication, and downright falsification; and Chichester grinned and smoothed the left side of his chin with his forefinger and said, "What do I care for that? It's all right, I know," and everybody predicted that Ethel Asham was about to do something very original.
In the middle of June she marshalled her party for a little Canadian giro. There were her father and mother; and the inseparable twins, Gladys and Victoria, one of whom always laughed when the other was amused; and the three preternaturally important brothers, representing the triple-x output of Harvard, Yale and Columbia; and Aunt Euphemia van Benschoten, who had inherited the van Benschoten nose, a block on Fifth Avenue, and a pew in St. Mark's church (two of which possessions she was entitled to devise by will); and Miss Nancy Bangs, Ethel's most intimate friend; and the Reverend Oriel Bellingham Jenks, her favourite clergyman of the period; and—oh, yes! of course—there was Bolton Chichester.
It was quite a large party. They went first to Niagara, which Pop Wilson said was "premature, if not improper." Then they went down through the Thousand Islands, where Ethel pointed out the inhuman and cruel expression of the many fishermen, to which Chichester answered, "I don't know that it's cruel to catch pickerel, but it's certainly childish."
Then they descended the ridiculous rapids of Lachine, which splashed and murmured around them like a very mild surf at Shelter Island. They spent a couple of days in looking for the antiquities of Montreal, trying to find the romantic atmosphere of New France under the ancien regime. Then they went to Quebec, and found it.
Dear, delightful old Quebec, with her gray walls and shining tin roofs; her precipitous, headlong streets and sleepy squares and esplanades; her narrow alleys and peaceful convents; her harmless antique cannon on the parapets and her sweet-toned bells in the spires; her towering chateau on the heights and her long, low, queer-smelling warehouses in the lower town; her spick-and-span caleches and her dingy trolley-cars; her sprinkling of soldiers and sailors with Scotch accent and Irish brogue and Cockney twang, on a background of petite bourgeoisie speaking the quaintest of French dialects; her memories of an adventurous, glittering past and her placid contentment with the tranquil grayness of the present; her glorious daylight outlook over the vale of the St. Charles, the level shore of Montmorenci, the green Isle d'Orleans dividing the shining reaches of the broad St. Lawrence, and the blue Laurentian Mountains rolling far to the eastward—and at night, the dark bulk of the Citadel outlined against the starry blue, the trampling of many feet up and down the wooden pavement of the terrace, the chattering and the laughter, the music of the military band, and far below, the huddled housetops, the silent wharves, the lights of the great warships swinging with the tide, the intermittent ferry-boats plying to and fro, the twinkling lamps of Levis rising along the dim southern shore and reflected in the lapsing, curling, seaward-sliding waves of the great river! What city of the New World keeps so much of the charm of the Old?
The camp which Samuel de Champlain made in the wilderness three hundred years ago, has become one of the last refuges of the romantic dream and the courtly illusion, still haunted by the shades of impecunious young noblemen with velvet cloaks and feathered hats and rapiers at their hips; of delicate, high-spirited beauties braving the snowy wildwood in their silks and laces; of missionary monks, tonsured and rope-girdled, pressing with lean faces and eager eyes to plant the banner of the Church upon the shores of the West and win the fiery crown of martyrdom. Other figures follow them—gold-seekers, fur-traders, empire-builders, admirals and generals of France and England, strugglers for dominion, soldiers of fortune, makers of cunning plots, and dreamers of great enterprises—and round them all flows the confused tide of war and love, of intrigue and daring, of religious devotion and imperial plot. The massive walls of the old city have been broken, the rude palaces have vanished in fire or sunken in decay, but the past is still indomitable on Cape Diamond, and the lovers of romance can lose themselves in pleasant reveries among the winding streets and on the lofty, sun-bathed ramparts of Quebec.
It was there, in a shady corner of the Grand Battery, that Ethel disclosed to her mother and Chichester and the Reverend Father Bellingham Jenks her plan for the wedding; since, indeed, it was hardly possible to keep it a secret any longer.
"The day after to-morrow, you know," said she, "we are going to take the Saguenay boat for Tadousac. Do you know that village curving along the cliff at the base of the Mamelons; and the half-circle of the bay opening out into the big St. Lawrence, full of sunshine and blue water; and the steep, shaggy mountains of the Saguenay in the background; and the tiny old mission chapel of the Jesuit Fathers where the same bell has been ringing for nearly three hundred years? I was there the summer after I graduated; and I've never forgotten it. It's a picture and a dream. That is where I want to have my wedding. I don't believe that anybody else would have thought of it. Perhaps it's more than a hundred years since the last Indian wedding was held in that little deserted chapel; but it's all right, kept in good order, just as a relic beside the big new church. I think"—turning to the clergyman—"that it will be perfectly delightful and original to have you marry me there, at high noon, on the last day of June."
Well, of course, there was a good deal of astonishment and confusion and reluctance when this extraordinary plan came out. No one had imagined precisely this turn in Ethel's originality. Her mother was in a state of paralyzed dismay at an idea so wildly unconventional; the twins and her brothers and Miss Nancy Bangs bubbled over with practical difficulties and protests; Father Bellingham Jenks was doubtful and embarrassed. "Would it be possible—decorous—regular? The Roman Branch, you know, has not yet openly acknowledged the Anglican position in The Church. Might not objections arise—misunderstanding—refusal of permission to use the chapel? I should hesitate very much, you know!"
But Ethel carried things through with her usual sweet, sparkling high-handedness; and Chichester supported her with irresistible determination, as if he had decided on exactly this thing years ago.
"Certainly," he said, "splendid idea—entirely novel—quite correct—nothing could be better. Telegraph for one wing of the Tadousac Hotel, with drawing-rooms and private dining-room. Send down plenty of flowers and cakes and wines and whatever we need from here by boat on the twenty-ninth. Get a letter of introduction from my friend Paradol, the Minister of Fisheries and Lighthouses, to the archbishop here—letter from him to the cure at Tadousac—keys of the chapel—permission to make drawings and photographs of the interior every morning of next week. I've been at Tadousac almost every summer for the last five or six years, on the way to my salmon-fishing at the Ste. Marjorie Club. It's all perfectly easy and it shall be done."
The difficulties seemed to vanish before his masterful air, and everybody fell into line with sudden enthusiasm. Ethel smiled discreetly and moved along her pathway of inflexible originality with gentle triumph. The voyage down the river was delightful. The arrangements at the big white wooden hotel on the curving bay were rather primitive but quite comfortable; and three of the five days which were to pass before the ringing of the antique wedding-bell slipped away as if by magic.
On the fourth day, June twenty-ninth, Chichester having been assured by telegraph that all the things from Quebec had been safely shipped on the Ste. Irenee, was spending a morning hour with Ethel in the pavilion of the Government Fish Station at Anse a l'Eau, watching the great herd of captive salmon, circling round and round in restless imprisonment in their warm shallow pool. The splendid fish were growing a little dull and languid in their confined quarters, freshened only by the inflowing of a small brook, and exposed to the full glare of the sun. Many of them bore the scars of the nets in which they had been captured. Others had red wounds on the ends of their noses where they had butted against the rocks or the timbers of the dam. There were some hundreds of the fish, and every now and then a huge thirty-pounder would wallow on top of the water, or a small, lively one would spring high into the air and fall back with a sounding splash on his side. Here they must wait through the summer, the pool becoming daily hotter, more crowded, more uncomfortable, until the time came when the hatchery men would strip them of their spawn. To an angler the sight was somewhat disquieting, though he might admit the strength of the arguments for the artificial propagation of fish. But to Ethel it seemed a pretty spectacle and a striking contrast to the cruelty of angling.
"Look at them," she said, "how happy they are, and how safe! No fly-fishermen to stick a hook in their mouths and make them suffer. How can you bear to do it?"
"Well," said Chichester, "if it comes to suffering, I doubt whether the fish are conscious of any such thing, as we understand it. But even if they are, they suffer twice as much, and a thousand times as long, shut up in this hot, nasty pool, as they would in being caught in proper style."
"But think of the hook!"
"Hurts about as much as a pin-prick."
"But think of the fearful struggle, and the long, gasping agony on the shore."
"There's no fear in the struggle; it's just a trial of strength and skill, like a game of football. A fish doesn't know anything about death; so he has no fear of it. And there is no gasping on the shore; nothing but a quick rap on the head with a stick, and it's all over."
"But why should he be killed at all?"
"Well," said he, smiling, "there are reasons of taste. You eat salmon, don't you?"
"Ye-e-es," she answered a little doubtfully—then with more assurance, "but remember what Wilbur Short says in that lovely chapter on 'Communion with the Catfish': I want them brought to the table in the simplest and most painless way."
"And that is angling with the fly," said he, still more decidedly. "The fly is not swallowed like a bait. It sticks in the skin of the lip where there is least feeling. There is no torture in the play of a salmon. It's just a fair fight with an unknown opponent. Compare it with the other ways of bringing a fish to the table. If he's caught in a net he hangs there for hours, slowly strangled. If he's speared, half the time the spear slips and he struggles off badly wounded; and if the spear goes through him, he is flung out on the bank to bleed to death. Even if he escapes, he is sure to come to a pitiful end some day—perish by starvation when he gets too old to catch his food—or be torn to pieces by a seal, an otter, or a fish-hawk. Fly-fishing really offers him——"
"Never mind that," said Ethel, "what does it offer you?"
"A gentleman's sport, I suppose," he answered rather slowly. "That is, a fair and exciting effort to get something that is made for human use, in a way that involves some hardship, a little risk, a good deal of skill and patience and perseverance, and plenty of out-of-door life. I guess it must be an inheritance of the old days when people lived by the chase; but, whatever it is, almost every real man feels a certain kind of gratification in being able to get game or fish by the exertion of his own pluck or skill. Some day perhaps this will all be changed, and we shall be contented to take our exercise in the form of massage or croquet, and our food in compressed tablets. But not yet!"
Ethel shook her head and smiled rather sadly. "Bolton," she said, "you discourage me. You argue in this way because you like fishing."
"I do," he answered, promptly. "And so far as I can see, that is the principal reason why your friends, Aurora W. Chime and the Reverend Wilbur Short, and the rest of them, condemn it. They object to the evident pleasure of the fisherman more than to the imaginary suffering of the fish."
"Bolton!" she exclaimed earnestly, "that is not a fair thing to say. They are truly good and noble teachers. They live on a lofty plane and labour for the spreading of the Higher Light. You will know them when we are married. They will be far better company for you than the thoughtless fishermen in your clubs."
Bolton looked a little glum. But he behaved like a gentleman, and cheered up. "Well, well," he said, "of course—you know—your friends, my friends! I'll be glad to meet them, and hear what they have to say, and consider it all very, very seriously. I promised you that, dearest, you remember. But that reminds me—there are two of the men on the Ste. Marjorie now, at the club-house—Colonel Lang and the Doctor—old Harvey, you know—fine old chap. It's only twenty miles away. Couldn't we send word to them and ask them to come down for to-morrow? I'm so proud and happy about it all; I'd like to have them here, if you don't mind."
"Why, certainly," she answered, smiling with manifest pleasure, "that will be delightful. We'll send a messenger at once with a note to them. But stop a moment—I have a better plan than that! Why not drive over yourself, this afternoon, to invite them? You'll be glad to see them again; and if you stay here you'll only be in the way until to-morrow," laughed she. "Why not go over and spend the night at the club-house and come back early in the morning? That will be quite like the ancient days—the young adventurer hurrying out of the forest to meet his bride."
Bolton insisted that he couldn't think of it—didn't want to go—would much rather stay where he was. But Ethel was captivated with the novelty of the idea. She always liked her own plans. Besides, she really wished to have him out of the way for the rest of the day and the evening. There was a good deal to be done—letters to be written—a long, personal, uplifting talk with Nancy Bangs, and with Gladys, and with Victoria, and with each of her brothers separately—just half-an-hour of soul-counsel for each one: three hours altogether. She would see them in regular succession, beginning with the youngest brother, and winding up with Nancy. Then she was charmed with the picture of Bolton coming in, post haste, in the morning, as if he had just arrived from a journey across the great northern wilderness. So she carried her point, and when he had agreed to it, he found that he rather liked the plan too. It gave him something to do, a chance to practise his habit of putting things through with determination.
He sent a messenger over to Sacre Coeur at once, to say that he was coming and that a canoe should meet him at the landing-place on the North-East Branch. He finished up all the arrangements that remained to be made at Tadousac for the smooth running of to-morrow's affair. He ordered a good horse and a "quatre roue" to be ready for him at five o'clock; and having parted with Ethel in the manner appropriate even for so brief a separation, he was away for the river in due season.
The long road with its heavy stretches of sand, its incredibly steep clay hills, its ruts and bumpers over which the buckboard rocked like a boat in a choppy sea, and its succession of shadeless habitant houses and discouraged farms, had never seemed to him so monotonous. At eight o'clock, when it was growing dusk, and the moon rising, he reached the landing-place on the Branch, and found his canoe, with his two old canoe-men, P'tit Louis, and Vieux Louis, waiting for him. With their warm, homely greeting his spirits began to revive; and the swift run through foaming rapids and eddying pools, along the four miles of the Branch, brought him into a state of mind that was thoroughly cheerful, not to say exhilarated. There was Brackett's Camp on the point above the Forks; and there was the veteran painter-angler himself, with his white beard and his knickerbockers, standing on the shore to wave a salutation as the canoe shot by the point. There was the main river, rushing down with full waters from the northwest, and roaring past the island. There was the club-house among the white birches and the balsams on the opposite bank, with the two flags fluttering in the moonlight, and the lights twinkling from the long, low veranda. And there were half a dozen canoe-men with a lantern at the landing-steps, and old John the steward in his white apron rubbing his hands, and the Colonel and the Doctor blowing the conch and the fish-horn in merry welcome. It was all very jolly, and Chichester knew at once that he was at home.
Dinner at nine o'clock, before the big open hearth, with a friendly fire. Much chaffing and pleasant talk about the arrangements for to-morrow. A man to be sent off at daybreak to have two buckboards ready at the landing at seven for the drive to Tadousac. Then a reprehensible quantity of tobacco smoked in the book-room, and the tale of the season's angling told from the beginning with many embellishments and divagations. There were stories of good luck and bad; vituperations of the lumbermen for leaving tree-tops and broken branches in the stream to get caught among the rocks and ruin the fishing; accounts of the immense number of salmon that had been seen leaping in the estuary, waiting to come up the river. The interest centred in the story of a huge fish that had taken up his transient abode in the pool called La Fourche. The Colonel had pricked and lost the monster two days ago, and had seen him jump twice yesterday. The Colonel was greatly excited about it, and vowed it was the largest salmon seen in the river for ten years—"a whale, I tell you, a regular marsouin!" he cried, waving his hands in the air. The Doctor was provokingly sceptical about the size of the fish. But both agreed that there was one thing that must be done. Chichester must try a few casts in La Fourche early in the morning.
"Yes," said the Doctor, puffing slowly at his pipe, "plenty of time between daylight and breakfast—good hour for a shy, old fish—we give up our rights to you—the pool is yours—see what you can do with it—may be your last chance to try your luck—" for somehow a rumour in regard to Miss Asham's views on angling had leaked out, and Chichester's friends were inclined to make merry about it.
He rose to the fly decidedly. "I don't know about this being my last chance," said he, "but I'll take it, any way. John, give me a call at half-past three sharp, and tell the two Louis to be ready with the canoe and the rod and the big landing-net."
The little wreaths of grey mist were curling up from the river, and the fleecy western clouds were tinged with wild rose behind the wooded hills, as Chichester stepped out on the slippery rocks at the head of the pool, loosened his line, gave a couple of pulls to his reel to see that the click was all right, waved his slender rod in the air, and sent his fly out across the swift current. Once it swung around, dancing over the water, without result. The second cast carried it out a few feet further, and it curved through a wider arc, but still without result. The third cast sent it a little further still, past the edge of a big sunken rock in the current. There was a flash of silver in the amber water, a great splash on the surface, a broad tail waved in the air and vanished—an immense salmon had risen and missed the fly.