The Davy Boys Fishing Pond by L. M. D.

BOYS,” said Mr. Davy, “how would you like to have a fishing-pond?”

The five boys looked at him eagerly, to see if he were in earnest.

“O, splendid, papa!” say they in chorus; “but how can we have a fishing-pond?”

“You know that hollow down in the pasture,” continued Mr. Davy, “and what a blemish it is upon the farm. I have wondered if we could not make it useful in some way, and at the same time improve the looks of things. I think we might build an embankment upon the open side, make the slope steeper all round, bring the water into it from the creek, and so have a fishing-pond. We should have to make a race-way from the creek to the pond, and cut a channel through the meadow, in which the water could flow back to the creek again below the fall. I think it could be done,” said Mr. Davy, after a pause, “only there would be a great deal of work necessary, and we could hardly afford to hire it done.”

 “O, father, we can do the digging,” shouted five voices in chorus; “we can do it with our spades and wheelbarrows. School doesn’t begin for a month yet, and we can get it all done in that time.”

“Hurrah for a fish-pond!” cried Percy, and in imagination he fairly felt the bites of the three-pound trout he was to catch before summer was over.

Mr. Davy is a practical farmer. By that I mean that he cultivates the land with his own hands. He, with his men, and those of the boys who are old enough, are in the fields every morning in summer by five o’clock, ploughing, planting, sowing, or milking the cows, and, later in the season, haying, harvesting, or threshing. Tommy, the eldest of his sons, is thirteen years old; Clarence, the youngest, is five.

Mr. Davy had been thinking of the fishing-pond for some time, and had matured the plan in his mind before speaking of it to the boys. The morning after the conversation of which I have told you, I saw the five boys standing in thoughtful silence upon the bank above the hollow in the pasture. I do not believe the engineer who is planning the bridge across the British Channel, to connect England and France, feels anymore responsibility than did the Davy boys that morning.

“May we begin to-day, father?” said they, eagerly, at breakfast-time.

“Yes; and Patrick can help you,” was the reply.

The horses were harnessed to the plough, and driven to the hollow. Patrick was instructed how to proceed. He put the reins round his neck, and took firm hold of the handles. “Go on wid ye, now!” he cried to the horses. A furrow was soon turned, and the fish-pond fairly begun.

“Your work,” said Mr. Davy to the boys, “will be to wheel away the earth which Patrick ploughs out. The first thing is to lay a plank for your wheelbarrows to run upon.”

Tommy and George soon brought the planks from the tool-house. Blocks were laid the proper distance apart to sustain them, and, after two or three hours’ work, a line of plank, which looked to the boys as grand as the new Pacific Railway, stretched across the hollow. The little laborers went in to dinner flushed with excitement and hard work, but as happy, I dare say, as if they had been to Barnum’s Museum, and seen the wax figures and wild animals.

Patrick had, during the forenoon, ploughed a good many furrows, and now the boys were busy enough carrying away the earth. Each had a wheelbarrow of his own—Clarence’s a toy, which, with a tiny spade, his father had brought from the city with a view to the work now in progress. It required a steady hand to keep the wheelbarrows upon the plank. They would run off once in a while, and then all hands halted, and lifted them upon the track again. The earth was to be deposited—“dumped,” the boys said—upon the site of the new embankment. As the first loads were overturned, Mr. Davy made his appearance.

“This fish-pond must have an outlet, you know,” said he, “at the point where the bottom is lowest. I will measure it off for you, and drive three stakes on either side. Here we will have a gate; for our pond will need emptying and cleaning occasionally. Fish will not live in impure water.”

The boys were delighted. All this excavating, laying out of earthworks, and planning of gate-way, seemed like real engineering. They were reënforced, after a while, by Patrick and the horses; and then how suddenly they became tired, his shovelfuls were so large in comparison with theirs—his wagon carried away so much more at a load!

 Pretty early that evening little Clarence crept into his mother’s lap, and told her a marvellous story of the amount of earth he had wheeled away; but his tired little eyes acted as though some of it had blown between their lids; and soon mamma tucked him away for twelve hours’ sleep.

The hollow in the pasture, I forgot to say, was half an acre in extent, and appeared as though Nature had scooped it out on purpose to make a place for the Davy boys’ fishing-pond. The creek, too, running nearly alongside, was there to supply it with water.

“What shall we ever do with that hill?” said Percy, pointing to a rise of ground on one side the hollow, as he and his brothers were surveying their work; “we never can cart all that away, nor dig up those trees, either.”

“Let’s leave it for an island,” said Frank—“a real island—land with water all round it” (he had just begun studying geography); “and the trees will make a splendid grove, where we can have picnics.”

“The island will afford a harbor for the boat, too,” said Mr. Davy, who had just joined the children. “I suppose you will want a boat on your pond—will you not?”

The boys could scarcely believe their ears. A boat of their own, on their own pond! They had never dreamed of anything half so nice.

“Time to be at work!” said Mr. Davy.

All the forenoon, as I watched them from my window, I saw the embankment growing slowly, but steadily, while the sloping sides of the hollow became steeper and steeper. At night a visible step had been taken towards a fishing-pond.

I cannot tell you about every one of the days during which the Davy boys worked so industriously. At last, however, the excavation was completed, the embankment raised to the desired height. The frame for the gate-way stood firm between its crowding sides. Gates were in progress at the carpenter’s, made of solid plank, a door sliding up and down over an open space near the bottom. This was easily worked by means of a handle at the top.

“And now,” said Mr. Davy, “to get the water into the pond. Patrick and Michael must build a dam a little way up the creek and the race-way from a point just above. We shall need a gate similar to the one at the outlet.”

The boys were glad to give way to Patrick and Michael, when it came to building dams and race-ways. In the mean time they assisted the mason who was lining the embankment on either side the gate with stone, to protect it against the action of the water. The stone-boat, a little, flat vehicle which slides over the ground without wheels, was brought out, for piles of stone were to be drawn from a distant part of the farm.

“But I shall want one of you to carry the hod for me,” said the mason.

It was arranged that they should take turns at this; so one would stay and fill with mortar the queer little box which hod-carriers use, and bear it on his shoulders to the mason, who was fast laying the curved wall.

“Why do you have the wall laid in this rounding shape, papa?” asked George. “Why not have it straight?”

“Because the curve makes it stronger to resist the force of the water. You notice that the mason chooses stones which are larger at one end than at the other. He lays them so that the larger ends form the outer side of the curve—the smaller form the inner or shorter side, as you see by looking at this wall. The stones, thus wedged against each other, could not be as easily forced out of place as if they were square in shape, and laid in a straight line. Imagine the water pressing upon the inner side of the curve. How readily  the wall would give way, and the water come pouring through! Have you never observed, children,” continued Mr. Davy, “that in bridges, culverts, or any structure which is to sustain a heavy weight, the foundations are always laid in the form of an arch?”

“Yes, papa,” answered George; “but I never knew why it was. I see now that it is to make them strong.”

The boys had quite enough of hod-carrying and stone-quarrying before the wall was done. In fact, Patrick was pressed into the service repeatedly. The hod became too uneasy a burden for the boys’ shoulders, even though it was padded with sheep-skin.

A channel to convey the water from the pond was now the only thing wanting. This was speedily begun, and the little workmen found themselves down in a trench behind a low rampart of earth.

“Let’s play we are soldiers,” said George. “We’ll have Patrick and Michael for captain and lieutenant (only they must work, if they are officers), and papa for general and engineer.”

Each little soldier did his best. The officers worked faithfully. The engineer came round often, and the dark thread across the bright, green meadow spun out rapidly.

“Let’s elect Frank quartermaster,” said Tommy; “then he’ll go to headquarters, and make requisition for rations. I think it’s time for dinner.”

“Tell mother to send a big basketful, Frank. Soldiers get awful hungry,” said Percy.

“Tell mother we want to make coffee in the field, too,” said George. “Real soldiers do.”

I fear that Patrick and Michael did most of the work after this, for the department of the commissary seemed to require the attention of all the boys.

Mamma was willing to issue rations in the field. “But,” said she, “soldiers often have only hard tack and coffee. I suppose you will want nothing more.”

This was a view of the case for which the boys were not prepared. They did not wish to seem unsoldierly, but they were very hungry.

“You know, mother,” said Percy, “soldiers had bacon sometimes with their hard tack.”

“And we are only playing soldiers. We ain’t real soldiers,” said matter-of-fact Clarence.

His brothers were quite ashamed that he should give this as a reason for wanting a good dinner, yet when they saw the pies and cakes going into the basket, they made no remarks.

While the quartermaster was at the house, Tommy and George had built a fire, to boil the coffee. Two crotched stakes were driven firmly in the ground. A stout rod lay across them, and on this hung the kettle. A lively fire was burning underneath, the water boiling. In a few moments the coffee was made.

After washing carefully in the creek,—for everything must be done as soldiers do,—all sat down in a circle on the ground. The coffee was served in tin cups; but shall I confess that our soldiers were so unsoldierlike as to drink it with cream and sugar?

Patrick and Michael partook; but as they were absent directly afterwards, under pretence of smoking a noon pipe, I fancy they ate still further rations in the farm-house kitchen. The boys, however, said it was the best dinner they ever ate in their lives.

They were now ready for a visit from the general. “We will have these breastworks,” said he, “smoothed down in regular shape, and sow grass-seed upon them, so that in a few weeks there will be a green slope in place of these unsightly clods.”

 I assure you that as I look from my window while writing this story, those slopes appear very pretty, with the merry, sparkling stream flowing between.

But I must hasten; for you will be anxious to know that the pond, gates, outlet, and all were done at last. Then came the day upon which the water was to be let in. A great day it was for the whole neighborhood. All the boys for a mile round were there to see.

When everything was ready, Mr. Davy, who was up at the dam, hoisted the gate; the water came rushing through; in a few moments it had reached the end of its course, and poured over into the pond.

Such a shout as rose from the throats of the forty or fifty boys! It must have surprised those placid meadows and the great solemn rocks around. And you would have thought the sleepy old hills had actually been startled into life, such sounding echoes they sent back in answer.

The water spread itself thinly at first over the bottom of the pond. Slowly it rose; the little hollows were filled up, the slight elevations hidden from sight. Gradually it closed round the tiny green island which stood out above its surface like an emerald set in shining silver. By night the pond was full. The water began running over the top of the gate, making the prettiest little waterfall, and over it a light spray rose softly towards the evening sky.

Bright and early the next morning there was commotion at the Davys’. The boys were going to Maxwell’s Creek, ten miles away, fishing. Mrs. Davy was stirring round, preparing their lunch. George and Percy hurried to the stable.

“Come, Brown Billy,” said Percy to the favorite pony; “time to get up and have your breakfast. We are all going fishing to-day;” and he laid his hand smartly upon the pony’s back.

Brown Billy raised his head, opened his eyes in astonishment to see the boys so early in his stall; but hearing their merry voices, he seemed to understand the situation at once, and to be in full sympathy with them. An extra allowance of oats was put in the manger, and while the boys were eating their breakfast in the house, Brown Billy leisurely munched his in the stable. Then, after a draught from the pump, he was put into the traces. Two casks and a large basket were lifted in, the luncheon deposited, and soon they were on their way. The sun was just peeping above the horizon, spreading a crimson glory over every hill, and tree, and shrub; but this was so familiar a sight to the Davy boys, that it caused no remark, though they were not insensible to its beauty.

The scene of their day’s sport was a beautiful glen among the hills, through which the stream, a genuine, untaught child of the woods, jumped and tumbled at its own wild will, now leaping from precipices in the loveliest cataracts, then fretting noisily over its stony bed, and, a little farther on, flowing as smoothly as if it never thought of foaming or fretting in all its course.

Tommy tied Brown Billy to a tree, giving him a long tether, that he might pick at the fresh grass.

Trout are the most delicate of fishes, and require careful treatment. Indeed, they are quite the aristocracy of the finny tribe. Mr. Davy had given Patrick directions not to allow them to be caught with a hook, as it could not be taken from their mouths without causing much pain, and perhaps death.

Patrick chose a place in the stream where the channel was narrow, but deep, and waded in.

“Now, boys,” said he, “yes all go above a little way, wade out into the sthrame, and bate the wather with yer fish-poles. This will drive thim down,  and I’ll see what I can do wid the basket.”

The boys pulled off shoes and stockings, and rolled their trousers above the knees. Clarence sat on the bank, paddling with his bare feet in the stream. Stepping out into the creek, they hopped from one mossy stone to another, the water pleasantly laving their feet. Standing in a row across the stream, they began beating rather gently, at the same time walking slowly forward, hoping to drive the fish before them. Presently Patrick brought up the basket, the water streaming from it as it did from Simple Simon’s sieve, and in the bottom, wriggling and squirming, lay four fine trout. Tommy seized the basket, and in an instant the fish were within the cask, in their native element again, though in rather close quarters. The boys hung over the barrel, gazing at the pretty creatures with intense delight. The sun shone down into the water, making the bright spots on their sides look like gold.

“Never mind, little trout,” said Franky; “you are not going to be hurt—only moved to our fish-pond.”

Do you not think they enjoyed that day far more because there was no cruelty in their sport?

Their amusement was varied by a delicious lunch, and an occasional ramble through the woods. Towards evening they drove home, elated with their success. The cask contained nearly as many fish as could swim. The second cask was filled with fresh water, to replace that in the first when it should no longer be fit for the use of the fish. These delicate little trout are so sensitive to any impurity, that they could not have remained in the same water during the drive home without suffering. Indeed, they might have died before reaching the pond.

My young readers may not know that fish breathe an element of the water which is a part of air also. In fact, the same element which sustains us sustains them also, viz., oxygen. Only one ninth part of water, however, is oxygen, while of air it is one fifth. I dare say you have all seen goldfishes, shut up in crystal prisons, swimming their endless round in a quart or two of water. Perhaps you have observed them lifting their heads above the surface, mouths wide open, gasping for breath. The oxygen is exhausted from the water, and unless it be speedily changed their mistress will lose her beautiful pets.

The trout were put into the pond—a small beginning, to be sure; but it was a beginning. How lonely they must have been at first! What a boundless ocean it must have seemed to them!

We will hope they found some cosy harbor in the grassy-lined sides of the island, where they could meet together and talk over their strange experience of moving. Plenty of company came soon, however; for all the boys in the neighborhood were interested in stocking the pond.

A boat was in progress in Mr. Davy’s tool-house. The boys watched every inch of its growth, from the shaping of the skeleton frame to the last dash of the paint-brush. When it was done, the seats put across from side to side, the coatings of white paint laid on, and elevated upon four stakes to dry its glistening sides, the boys thought nothing was ever half so beautiful; but when they saw it upon the pond, gently rocking from side to side, the oars hanging in the locks, and lazily swaying to the motion of the water, it seemed to them more beautiful still.

This is not all a fancy sketch, dear boys and girls. Perhaps some of the farmer children who read it may persuade their papas to make a fishing-pond of some unsightly “hollow in the pasture” upon their own farms.