Carpe Diem

by the Author of "Mountain, Meadow and Mere"

When one gets ever such a little older, one gets very much more disinclined to take much trouble, much physical trouble that is, about hobbies which once were ridden to death. A few years ago it was a pleasure to get up at two o'clock in the morning, and have six hours' fishing before it became necessary to get to work at Blackstone and Chitty, and the endless writing of "common forms"; now I prefer keeping within the sheets until breakfast-time, and leaving fishing expeditions for legitimate holidays. So that, as holidays are not very frequent, and often necessarily taken up in other ways, and as fishing stations are distant, and not easily accessible, my hand is in danger of forgetting its cunning in wielding a fishing-rod. I do not so much miss my favourite sport, until, in an unfortunate hour, I get hold of a book of angling reminiscences, of which there are plenty, and reading in its pages vivid descriptions of days by the riverside, such as I used to experience myself, my fancy sets to work, and, aided by memory, conjures up such delightful visions that at last I cannot sit still; the room, ay, and the town, seem to stifle me, and I long for a glorious ramble, rod in hand, as much as I ever did.

Following close upon the perusal of such a book, and the feelings awakened by it, I was pleased beyond measure to find myself possessed of a few days of leisure, and once more in the bonny border land of Wales. I took care to make the most of my time, and seize the opportunity of renewing my acquaintance with some of those charming spots with which, as an angler and a writer, I had in times past identified myself.

One day I spent in tracing the wanderings of the burn whence a lusty trout had been transferred to my pannier. Another afternoon I set out for a carp pool, not the carp pool par excellence of our boyish days, but one nearly as good, where I had caught some six-pounders years ago. I walked to the place—it was two miles and a half away—burdened with three rods and a huge bagful of worms, intent upon slaughter. I neared the field, I crossed the hedge. I stood still and gazed in astonishment. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. There was no pool there. I walked round the field and across the field, which was strewn with clumps of rushes. A peewit had laid four eggs on the very spot, as I calculated, where I had hooked my biggest carp. A small boy hove in sight. I seized him, and asked him where the pool had gone. He answered, "Whoy, mun, it ha' been drained dry these three years." I sat upon a gate and smoked four cigarettes, then walked home, my rods feeling twice as heavy as when I came that way.

I was to be recompensed, however, for my disappointment by a day at the carp pool on the hill at Craigyrhiw, Coed-y-gar, or Penycoed, for it goes by all three names, the first being the most proper. By accident I met an old friend from a distance, who, when he heard where I was bound to, offered to accompany me. I was glad of his companionship for more than one reason. He had affected to disbelieve my accounts of the big fish to be caught there, and this was an opportunity of vindicating myself from the charge of exaggeration. He got his rods and we started, pausing on the way to get a couple of small Melton Mowbray pies for lunch. My friend, whom I shall call A., left the commissariat department to me, and I, having just had a good breakfast, did not contemplate the possibility of becoming very hungry during the day, so considered we should have quite sufficient to recruit ourselves with. Leaving the town, we passed under the beautiful avenue of limes in the churchyard, musical with rooks and sweet with the spring fragrance, and so on to Oswald's Well. Under a tree at this spot King Oswald fell in battle, and out of the ground afterward sprang water, said to be endowed with healing power. The well is neatly arched over with stone, and has an effigy of King Oswald at the back; but the latter offered too good a mark for the stones of the grammar-school lads to remain undefaced. Oswaldestree is now corrupted into Oswestry, or more commonly among the country people, Hogestry or Osistry. Just above the well is the present battle-ground, where affairs of honour among the schoolboys are, or used to be, settled by an appeal to fisticuffs.

Crossing Llanvorda Park we enter Craigvorda woods, at once the most beautiful and picturesque of the many similar woods on the borders. The ground is mossy underfoot, the trees meet overhead, glossy green ferns pave the noble corridors, which have for pillars straight and sturdy firs and larch, and for a roof the heavy foliage of interwoven sycamore and oak. At intervals the chestnut too lifts its gigantic nosegay of pink and white and yellow flower-spikes, and near it, out of some craggy knoll, the "lady of the forest," the silver birch, bends tenderly over the masses of blue hyacinths below. "The shade is silent and dark and green, and the boughs so thickly are twined across, that little of the blue sky is seen between;" but there is no lack of blue underfoot, for the hyacinths seem to have claimed the wood as their own property, and shine like a shimmering sea of blue between the tree-stems, quite putting out of countenance with their blaze of colour the modest violet, growing by the side of the runnels leaping downward to join the noisy brook.

We crossed the Morda, a purling trout stream, out of which you may easily basket a score of trout in the spring; up a lane, the banks of which were crowded so thickly with spring flowers, starwort, and other snow-white flowers, deep-blue germander speedwells, red ragged robins, and wild geraniums, monkshood, daisies, dandelions, and buttercups, that the green of the leaves and grasses was quite absorbed and lost in the brighter hues; up and up, until our legs began to ache, and at last we came to the crest of the hill, in the hollow a few feet below which lay the tarn, gloomy enough, but weirdly beautiful. The water itself looked green from the prevailing colour of the rushes and flags, and the deep belt of green alders, which grew half in and half out of it all round.

"Look," I said, "there are two herons, a couple of wild-ducks, with their young brood just hatched, twenty or thirty coots and waterhens, and some black leaves sticking up out of the water, which are the things we are after."

"What do you mean?" asked A.

"They are the back fins of carp."

A.'s rods—he had two, as I had—were put together with remarkable quickness. I took it more leisurely, and watched him searching about for a place to cast his line in, with some amusement.

"I say, how are we to get at the water?" he cried.

"Wade." But this he was averse to doing. He found a log of wood, and pushing it out beyond the bushes, where it was very shallow, he took his stand upon it in a very wobbley state, with a rod in either hand. I took up a position a short distance from him, and we waited patiently for half an hour without a bite. Suddenly I heard a splash, and looking round, saw that A. had slipped off his perch, and was halfway up to his knees in water, with a broken rod and a most rueful expression on his face.

"I have lost such a beauty."

"Serves you right. You can't pitch a big carp out like you could a trout. This is the way—see."

I struck at a decided bite, and found that I was fast in a good fish, which, after a lively bit of splashing and dashing about (the water was only knee-deep, though so muddy the fish could not see us), I led into a little haven or pond, where the inmates of a cottage in the wood came to get their water, and lifted him out with my hands—a tidy fish of three pounds in weight. In about a quarter of an hour A.'s float moved slightly. He was all excitement directly. He had never caught anything larger than a half-pound trout. Some minutes elapsed before another movement took place.

"He has left it," said A.

"No, he has not. Don't move; you will get him presently."

Then the float or quill gave a couple of dips; then in a few seconds more moved off with increasing rapidity. "Now strike." A. did so, and soon landed a carp of two pounds. From that time we had steady sport throughout the day. Every quarter of an hour one of us had a bite; and although we missed a good many through striking too soon, our respective heaps of golden-brown fish (very few of the carp there are at all white) grew rapidly in size.

As we were coming back from a small larch-tree where we had found a beautifully constructed golden-crested wren's nest, suspended from the under side of a branch, A. suddenly clasped me round the middle, and gave me a very neat back throw.

"Hullo! what's that for?" I exclaimed, considerably astonished as I sat on the ground.

"Your foot was just poised over that beggar," he said, pointing to a big brown adder, which was gliding away like an animated ash-stick.

"Ah, thanks; there are too many of those fellows here."

We had eaten the two pies, and as four o'clock drew near we got mighty hungry again.

"Just hand me over another pie, old fellow, Nature abhors a vacuum," said A.

"I haven't got any more," I answered.

"Not got any more? O dear!" After a pause, "I am hungry." In a little while longer A. started off, saying, "You mind my rod while I am away. I am going foraging for food. I'll try and catch a rabbit, and eat him alive, oh! I've been meditating upon those fish, but I don't like the look of them."

He was gone for about half an hour, during which time I had landed three fish. When he came back he had the countenance of a man who had dined well. He said to me,

"Go as straight as you can through the wood in that direction, and you will come to a cottage where there is plenty of hot tea, a loaf of bread, and some butter awaiting you. I never dined better in all my life, and I forgive you for only bringing two pies."

I obeyed his directions, and the tea certainly was refreshing, although I could not get any sugar with it.

It was time to be going. We counted our fish. I had eleven (my usual number at that pool, by the way), and A. had ten, most from two to three pounds each, but one or two heavier. We selected the best, and as many as we could conveniently carry, and gave the rest to some cottagers.

From the shooting-box, which is at the top of the hill, and is, by the way, in a state of dilapidation, we had a most magnificent view, one well worth the walk to see. It was a view which embraced Shropshire, Cheshire, Montgomeryshire, Denbighshire, and Merionethshire. In the vividly green valley below us the little village of Llansilin slumbered, scarcely noticeable were it not for the dark and massy yew-trees in its churchyard.

From the rocks farther on we saw a pretty sight. A fox was standing on a stone, and on a sloping slab beneath her five cubs were sprawling and gambolling about like a lot of Newfoundland puppies.

Presently the vixen trotted off a little way and lay down; and while we were watching her a rabbit popped out of his burrow, and came several yards towards Reynard without seeing her. With one bound fox was upon bunny, and the pair rolled over and over down the hill. The captor then slunk off with her captive, not to her young ones, but to a quiet hole in the cliff, to have a gorge all by her greedy self.

In a hollow tree in the cliff we found three jackdaws' nests, each with four eggs in; and we were amused at watching a woodpecker tapping away at a tree. The noise produced was like that made by drawing a stick very rapidly over some wooden palings, and quite as loud, or even more like a watchman's rattle worked rather slowly. A curious spectacle was presented in the lane on going home. It was a warm damp night, and every dozen yards or so a glowworm exhibited its eerie light, and each successive one seemed to shine more whitely and brightly than the last.

The day was done, its pleasure seized, and—no, not gone, for a pleasant memory remains wherewith to delight myself, and perchance please my friends, among whom I would fain number all angling readers.