The Angler and the Flower by Unknown

There the new-breeched urchin stands on the low bridge of the little bit burnie! and with crooked pin, baited with one unwrithing ring of a dead worm, and attached to a yarn-thread, for he has not yet got into hair, and is years off gut, his rod of the mere willow or hazel wand, there will he stand during all his play-hours, as forgetful of his primer as if the weary art of printing had never been invented, day after day, week after week, month after month, in mute, deep, earnest, passionate, heart-mind-and-soul engrossing hope of some time or other catching a minow or a beardie!

A tug—a tug! with face ten times flushed and pale by turns ere you could count ten, he at last has strength, in the agitation of his fear and joy, to pull away at the monster—and there he lies in his beauty among the gowans on the greensward, for he has whapped him right over his head and far away, a fish a quarter of an ounce in weight, and, at the very least, two inches long! Off he flies, on wings of wind, to his father, mother, and sisters, and brothers, and cousins, and all the neighbourhood, holding the fish aloft in both hands, still fearful of its escape, and, like a genuine child of corruption, his eyes brighten at the first blush of cold blood on his small fishy-fumy fingers. He carries about with him, up stairs and down stairs, his prey upon a plate; he will not wash his hands before dinner, for he exults in the silver scales adhering to the thumbnail, that scooped the pin out of the baggy's maw—and at night, "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined," he is overheard murmuring in his sleep, a thief, a robber, and a murderer, in his yet infant dreams!

From that hour Angling is no more a mere delightful day-dream, haunted by the dim hopes of imaginary minnows, but a reality—an art—a science—of which the flaxen headed school-boy feels himself to be master—a mystery in which he has been initiated, and off he goes now, all alone, in the power of successful passion, to the distant brook—brook a mile off—with fields, and hedges, and single trees, and little groves, and a huge forest of six acres, between him and the house in which he is boarded or was born! There flows on the slender music of the shadowy shallows—there pours the deeper din of the birch-tree'd waterfall. The sacred water-pyet flits away from stone to stone, and dipping, disappears among the airy bubbles, to him a new sight of joy and wonder. And oh! how sweet the scent of the broom or furze, yellowing along the braes, where leap the lambs, less happy than he, on the knolls of sunshine! His grandfather has given him a half-crown rod, in two pieces—yes, his line is of hair twisted—platted by his own soon instructed little fingers. By heavens, he is fishing with the fly! and the Fates, who, grim and grisly as they are painted to be by full-grown, ungrateful, lying poets, smile like angels upon the padler in the brook, winnowing the air with their wings into western breezes, while at the very first throw, the yellow trout forsakes his fastness beneath the bog-wood, and with a lazy wallop, and then a sudden plunge, and then a race like lightning, changes at once the child into the boy, and shoots through his thrilling and aching heart the ecstacy of a new life expanding in that glorious pastime, even as a rainbow on a sudden brightens up the sky. Fortuna favet fortibus—and with one long pull, and strong pull, and pull altogether, Johnny lands a twelve incher on the soft, smooth, silvery sand of the only bay in all the burn where such an exploit was possible, and dashing upon him like an Osprey, soars up with him in his talons to the bank, breaking his line as he hurries off to a spot of safety, twenty yards from the pool, and then flinging him down on a heath-surrounded plat of sheep-nibbled verdure, lets him bounce about till he is tired, and lies gasping with unfrequent and feeble motions, bright and beautiful, and glorious with all his yellow light and crimson lustre, spotted, speckled, and starred in his scaly splendour, beneath a sun that never shone before so dazzlingly; but now the radiance of the captive creature is dimmer and obscured, for the eye of day winks and seems almost shut behind that slow sailing mass of clouds, composed in equal parts of air, rain, and sunshine.

Springs, summers, autumns, winters,—each within itself longer, by many times longer than the whole year of grown up life, that slips at last through one's fingers like a knotless thread,—pass over the curled darling's brow, and look at him now, a straight and strengthy stripling, in the savage spirit of sport, springing over rock-ledge after rock-ledge, nor heeding aught as he splashes knee-deep, or waist-band high, through river-feeding torrents, to the glorious music of his running and ringing reel after a tongue-hooked salmon, insanely seeking with the ebb of tide, but all in vain, the white breakers of the sea. No hazel or willow wand, no half-crown rod of ash framed by village wright, is now in his practised hands, of which the very left is dexterous: but a twenty feet rod of Phin's, all ring-rustling, and a-glitter with the preserving varnish, limber as the attenuating line itself, and lithe to its topmost tenuity as the elephant's proboscis—the hiccory and the horn without twist, knot, or flaw, from butt to fly, a faultless taper, "fine by degrees, and beautifully less." the beau ideal of a rod by the skill of a cunning craftsman to the senses materialised! A fish-fat, fair, and forty! "She is a salmon, therefore to be woo'd—she is a salmon, therefore to be won"—but shy, timid, capricious, headstrong, now wrathful, and now full of fear, like any other female whom the cruel artist has hooked by lip or heart, and, in spite of all her struggling, will bring to the gasp at last, and then with calm eyes behold her lying in the shade dead, or worse than dead, fast-fading and to be reillumined no more the lustre of her beauty, insensible to sun or shower, even the most perishable of all perishable things in a world of perishing!—But the salmon has grown sulky, and must be made to spring to the plunging stone. There, suddenly, instinct with new passion, she shoots out of the foam, like a bar of silver bullion; and, relapsing into the flood, is in another moment at the very head of the water-fall! Give her the butt—give her the butt—or she is gone for ever with the thunder into ten fathom deep! Now comes the trial of your tackle—and when was Phin ever known to fail at the edge of cliff or cataract? Her snout is southwards—right up the middle of the main current of the hill-born river, as if she would seek its very course where she was spawned! She still swims swift, and strong, and deep—and the line goes, steady, boys, steady—stiff and steady as a Tory in the roar of opposition. There is yet an hour's play in her dorsal fin—danger in the flap of her tail—and yet may her silver shoulder shatter the gut against a rock. Why, the river was yesterday in spate, and she is fresh run from the sea. All the lesser waterfalls are now level with the flood, and she meets with no impediment or obstruction—the course is clear—no tree-roots here—no floating branches, for during the night they have all been swept down to the salt loch—in medio tutissimus ibis—ay, now you feel she begins to fail—the butt tells now every time you deliver your right. What! another mad leap! yet another sullen plunge! She seems absolutely to have discovered, or rather to be an impersonation of the Perpetual Motion. Stand back out of the way, you son of a sea-cook—you in the tattered blue breeches, with the tail of your shirt hanging out. Who the devil sent you all here, ye vagabonds?—Ha! Watty Richie, my man, is that you? God bless your honest laughing phiz! What Watty, would you think of a Fish like that about Peebles? Tam Grieve never gruppit sae heavy a ane since first he belanged to the Council. Curse that colley! Ay! well done Watty! Stone him to Stobbo. Confound these stirks—if that white one, with caving horns, kicking heels, and straight up tail, come bellowing by between me and the river, then, "Madam! all is lost, except honour!" If we lose this Fish at six o'clock, then suicide at seven. Our will is made—ten thousand to the Foundling—ditto to the Thames Tunnel-ha—ha—my beauty! Methinks we could fain and fond kiss thy silver side languidly lying afloat on the foam, as if all farther resistance now were vain, and gracefully thou wert surrendering thyself to death No faith in female—she trusts to the last trial of her tail—sweetly workest thou, O Reel of Reels! and on thy smooth axle spinning sleep'st, even, as Milton describes her, like our own worthy planet.

Scrope—Bainbridge—Maule—princes among Anglers—oh! that you were here! Where the devil is Sir Humphrey? At his retort? By mysterious sympathy—far off at his own Trows, the Kerss feels that we are killing the noblest Fish, whose back ever rippled the surface of deep or shallow in the Tweed. Tom Purdy stands like a seer, entranced in glorious vision, beside turreted Abbotsford. Shade of Sandy Givan! Alas! alas! Poor Sandy—why on thy pale face that melancholy smile!—Peter! The Gaff! The Gaff! Into the eddy she sas, sick and slow, and almost with a swirl—whitening as she nears the sand—there she has it—struck right into the shoulder, fairer than that of Juno, Diana, Minerva, or Venus—fair as the shoulder of our own beloved, and lies at last in all her glorious length and breadth of beaming beauty, fit prey for giant or demi-god angling before the Flood!

"The child is father of the man,
And I would wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety!"

So much for the Angler. The Shooter again, he begins with his pop or pipe gun, formed of the last year's growth of a branch of the plane-tree—the beautiful dark-green-leaved and fragrant-flowered plane-tree, that stands straight in stem and round in head, visible and audible too from afar the bee-resounding umbrage, alike on stormy sea-coast and in sheltered inland vale, still loving the roof of the fisherman's or peasant's cottage.

Then comes, perhaps, the city popgun, in shape like a very musket, such as soldiers bear—a Christmas present from parent—once a Colonel of volunteers—nor feeble to discharge the pea-bullet or barley-shot, formidable to face and eyes; nor yet unfelt, at six paces, by hinder end of play-mate, scornfully yet fearfully exposed. But the shooter soon tires of such ineffectual trigger—and his soul, as well as his hair, is set on fire by that extraordinary compound—Gunpowder. He begins with burning off his eyebrows on the King's birth-day—squibs and crackers follow—and all the pleasures of the pluff. But he soon longs to let off a gun—"and follows to the field some warlike lord"—in hopes of being allowed to discharge one of the double-barrels, after Ponto has made his last point, and the half-hidden chimneys of home are again seen smoking among the trees. This is his first practice in fire-arms, and from that hour he is—a Shooter.

Then there is in most rural parishes—and of rural parishes alone do we condescend to speak—a pistol, a horse one, with a bit of silver on the butt—perhaps one that originally served in the Scots Greys. It is bought, or borrowed, by the young shooter, who begins firing, first at barn doors, then at trees, and then at living things—a strange cur, who, from his lolling tongue, may be supposed to have the hydrophobia—a cat that has purred herself asleep on the sunny church-yard wall, or is watching mice at their hole-mouths among the graves—a water-rat in the mill-lead—or weasel that, running to his retreat in the wall, always turns round to look at you—a goose wandered from his common in disappointed love—or brown duck, easily mistaken by the unscrupulous for a wild one, in pond, remote from human dwelling, or on meadow by the river side, away from the clack of the muter mill. The corby crow, too, shouted out of his nest on some tree lower than usual, is a good flying mark to the more advanced class, or morning magpie, a-chatter at skreigh of day close to the cottage door among the chickens, or a flock of pigeons wheeling over head on the stubble-field, or sitting so thick together that every stook is blue with tempting plumage.

But the pistol is discharged for a fowling piece—brown and rusty, with a slight crack, probably in the muzzle, and a lock, out of all proportion, to the barrel. Then the young shooter aspires at half-pennies thrown up into the air—and generally hit, for there is never wanting an apparent dent in copper metal; and thence he mounts to the glancing and skimming swallow, a household bird, and therefore to be held sacred, but shot at on the excuse of its being next to impossible to hit him, an opinion strengthened into belief by several summers' practice. But the small brown and white marten wheeling through below the bridge, or along the many holed red sand bank, is admitted by all boys to be fair game—and still more, the long-winged legless black devilet, that, if it falls to the ground, cannot rise again and therefore screams wheeling round the corners and battlements of towers and castles, or far out even of cannon-shot, gambols in companies of hundreds, and regiments of a thousand, aloft in the evening ether, within the orbit of the eagle's flight. It seems to boyish eyes, that the creatures near the earth, when but little blue sky is seen between the specks and the wall-flowers growing on the coign of vantage—the signal is given to fire, but the devilets are too high in heaven to smell the sulphur. The starling whips with a shrill cry into his nest, and nothing falls to the ground but a tiny bit of mossy mortar, inhabited by a spider!

But the Day of Days arrives at last, when the school-boy—or rather the college boy returning to his rural vacation—for in Scotland, college winters tread close—too close—on the heels of academies—has a gun—a gun in a case—a double barrel too—of his own—and is provided with a license—probably without any other qualification than that of hit or miss. On some portentous morning he effulges with the sun, in velveteen jacket and breeches of the same—many-buttoned gaiters, and an unkerchiefed throat. Tis the fourteenth of September, and lo! a pointer at his heels—Ponto of course—a game bag like a beggar's wallet by his side—destined to be at eve as full of charity—and all the paraphernalia of an accomplished sportsman. Proud, were she to see the sight, would be the mother that bore him the heart of that old sportsman, his daddy, would leap for joy! The chained mastiff in the yard yowls his admiration, the servant lassies uplift the pane of their garret, and, with suddenly withdrawn blushes, titter their delight in their rich paper curls and pure night-clothes. Rab Roger, who has been cleaning out the barn, comes forth to partake of the caulker, and away go the footsteps of the old poacher and his pupil through the autumnal rime, off to the uplands, where—for it is one of the earliest of harvests, there is scarcely a single acre of standing corn. The turnip-fields are bright green with hope and expectation—and coveys are couching on lazy beds beneath the potatoe shaw. Every high hedge, ditch-guarded on either side, shelters its own brood—imagination hears the whirr shaking the dew-drops from the broom on the brae—and first one bird and then another, and then the remaining number, in itself no contemptible covey, seems to fancy's ear to spring single, or in clouds, from the coppice brushwood, with here and there an intercepting standard tree.

Poor Ponto is much to be pitied.—Either having a cold in his nose, or having ante-breakfasted by stealth on a red herring, he can scent nothing short of a badger; and, every other field, he starts in horror, shame, and amazement, to hear himself, without having attended to his points, inclosed in a whirring covey. He is still duly taken between those inexorable knees; out comes the speck and span new dog-whip, heavy enough for a horse; and the yowl of the patient is heard over the whole parish. Mothers press their yet unchastised infants to their breasts; and the schoolmaster, fastening a knowing eye on dunce and ne'er-do-well, holds up, in silent warning, the terror of the tawse. Frequent flogging will cow the spirit of the best man and dog in Britain. Ponto travels now in fear and trembling, but a few yards from his tyrant's feet, till, rousing himself to the sudden scent of something smelling strongly, he draws slowly and beautifully, and

"There fixed, a perfect semi-circle stands."

Up runs the Tyro, ready-cocked, and in his eagerness, stumbling among the stubble, when mark and lo! the gabble of grey goslings, and the bill-protruded hiss of goose and gander! Bang goes the right-hand barrel at Ponto, who now thinks it high time to be off, to the tune of "ower the hills and far away," while the young gentleman, half ashamed and half incensed, half glad, and half sorry, discharges the left-hand barrel, with a highly improper curse, at the father of the feathered family before him, who receives the shot like a ball in his breast, throws a somerset, quite surprising for a bird of his usual habits, and after biting the dust with his bill, and thumping it with his bottom, breathes an eternal farewell to this sublunary scene—and leaves himself to be paid for, at the rate of eight-pence a pound to his justly irritated owner, on whose farm he had led a long, and not only harmless, but honourable and useful life.

It is nearly as impossible a thing as we know, to borrow a dog about the time the Sun has reached his meridian, on the First day of the Partridges. Ponto by this time has sneaked, unseen by human eye, into his kennel, and coiled himself up into the arms of tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep. A farmer makes offer of a colley, who from numbering among his paternal ancestors a Spanish pointer, is quite a Don in his way among the chirpers, and has been known in a turnip-field to stand in an attitude very similar to that of setting. Luath has no objection to a frolic over the fields, and plays the part of Ponto to perfection. At last he catches sight of a covey basking, and leaping in upon them, open-mouthed, dispatches them right and left, even like the famous dog Billy, killing rats in the pit at Westminster. The birds are bagged, with a gentle remonstrance, and Luath's exploit rewarded with a whang of cheese. Elated by the pressure on his shoulder, the young gentleman laughs at the idea of pointing, and fires away, like winking, at every uprise of birds, near or remote; works a miracle by bringing down three at a time, that chanced, unknown to him, to be crossing; and wearied with such slaughter, lends his gun to the attendant farmer, who can mark down to an inch, and walks up to the dropped pout, as if he could kick her up with his foot; and thus the bag in a few hours is half full of feathers, while to close with eclat the sport of the day, the cunning elder takes him to a bramble bush, in a wall nook, at the edge of a wood, and returning the gun into his hands, shows him poor pussie sitting with open eyes fast asleep! The pellets are in her brain, and turning herself over, she crunkles out to her full length, like a piece of untwisting Indian rubber, and is dead. The posterior pouch of the jacket, yet unstained by blood, yawns to receive her—and in she goes plump, paws, ears, body, feet, fud and all—while Luath, all the way home to the Mams, keeps snoking at the red drops oozing through—for well he knows in summer's heat and winter's cold, the smell of pussie, whether sitting beneath a tuft of withered grass on the brae, or burrowed beneath a snow wreath. A hare, we certainly must say, in spite of haughtier sportsman's scorn is, when sitting, a most satisfactory shot.

But let us trace no further, thus step by step, the Pilgrim's Progress. Look at him now,—a finished sportsman—on the moors—the bright black boundless Dalwhinnie Moors, stretching away, by long Lock-Erricht-side, into the dim and distant day that hangs, with all its clouds, over the bosom of far Loch-Rannoch. Is that the pluffer at partridge pouts who had nearly been the death of poor Ponto? Lord Kennedy himself might take a lesson now from the straight and steady style in which, on the mountain brow, and up to the middle in heather, he brings his Manton to the deadly level! More unerring eye never glanced along brown barrel! Finer forefinger never touched a trigger! Follow him a whole day, and not one wounded bird. All most beautifully arrested on their flight by instantaneous death! Down dropped, right and left, like lead on the heather—old cock and hen singled out among the orphan's brood, as calmly as a cook would do it in the larder—from among a pile of plumage. No random shot within—no needless shot out of distance—covered every feather before stir of finger—and body, back, and brain, pierced, broken, scattered! And what perfect pointers! There they stand, still as death—yet instinct with life—the whole half-dozen—Mungo, the black-tanned—Don, the red-spotted—Clara, the snow-white—Primrose, the pale yellow—Basto, the bright brown, and Nimrod, in his coat of many colours, often seen afar through the mists like a meteor.