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Fish-tails, and some true ones online

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J. F. B.





The bUssing of ST. PETER'S Master be with mine,
and on all who love Vertue and Quietness and Angling.

The dearest friend to me, the kindest man,
The best conditional and unwearied spirit
In doing courtesies."

Merchant of Venice.


True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy
to pomp and noise: it arises, in the first place, from
the enjoyment of one's self, and, in the next, from the
friendship and conversation of a few select com-
panions. . . .


But, O, how bitter a thing it is to look info happiness
through another mans eyes!




I. WHY 13


















io Contents.



XX. LUCK 204





1. HOMEWARD Frontispiece

2. THE GREAT TEMPTATION . . Facing page 36



5. BERGEN ,, 102

6. THE HAPPY VALLEY .... ,, 114

8. AFTER FOUR HOURS . . . . ,, 157

9. THE BEST POOL ,, l8l

10. ERIC ....... ,, 191

11. GYMNASTICS ,, 204

12. A LIKELY PLACE ,, 226

13. THE CUSTOM-HOUSE MOLE ... ,, 241



" / live in the "world rather as a Spectator of Mankind
than as one of the species. . . . " ADDISON.

" The gravity and stillness of your youth
The -world hath noted" Othello.

THE object of the makers of books is gener-
ally twofold, for they desire the fruits of their
genius and their labours in non- material as
well as material form : fame and fortune
(money and notoriety), pelf and a peerage,
pennies and popularis aura what else do
romancists desire? Anonymous newspaper-
men have to be satisfied with less; but who
can appraise their consciousness of power?


14 Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

It is not, however, with the hope of gain,
still less in the expectation of waking Byron-
ically, that the fabricator of these trifles asks
you for the patronage which leaves you debtor ;
it is with a more secret motive that the little
vessel trims its sails to the wind of readers'
favour. I am the victim of success, as the
world counts it, and am condemned to per-
ennial gloom by an undeserved reputation for
an almost puritanical sobriety. In my con-
stituency, and round the modest mansion with
which my grandfather's assiduous habits and
commercial probity have provided me, I am
pointed at by prudent parents as a paragon,
and hated by boys, I have little doubt, as a
hypocrite. They alone know me, for they
judge me by themselves.

My uncle always intended that I should
occupy his seat in the House, regardless of
my private opinions, when the incursion of
Labour Members in flannel shirts had in
process of time rendered St. Stephen's un-
bearable to his old-fashioned prejudices ; and
with this future before me I early felt that
gaiety would be unbecoming, and wine,

Why. 15

laughter, and song as dangerous as they were

I became a slave: I am still in bondage,
and every year adds a new rivet to my fetters ;
so this book is the safety-valve of an over-
charged existence.

Even at school people took me for serious ;
and when, a couple of years ago, I put forth
that little volume on Bimetallism as a Panacea
for Pauperism (which nobody has ever read), I
was sadly convinced that all my friends would
say how well I had fulfilled my destiny. I
have, in fact, succeeded where to fail is happi-
ness, and am now chained for life to a reputa-
tion which I have not hitherto had the moral
courage to injure, and can never hope to shake
off. When I last saw my large and expres-
sionless features in the illustrated papers, I
writhed beneath my mask in powerless fury,
smiling sardonically to think that with my
handsome majority, no profession, and what
rich men call a competence, I am for life a
public man. For the next half-century, it may
be, my chief duty will be to march and
countermarch to the crack of the Whip, to

1 6 Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

gravely discuss the details of party measures I
may not desire, and to vote against reforms I
am convinced would be beneficial to the com-
munity. In the execution of this blameless
programme my simplest actions are spied upon
and praised by my unwelcome admirers, and I
have to consult their tastes and prejudices
before my own. I must not be absent from
my place in church, I must not play golf on
Sunday, I must eschew clay pipes and beer,
and books which others read with interest and
enjoyment must not lie upon my table : in
fact, I have to eat, drink, smoke, and read to
order, and to travel three hundred miles to
find a desert place to laugh in.

To be the thrall of petty principles, shackled
by the restrictions of a narrow morality; to
have no more individual existence than an
oyster or a cabbage ; to desire the unconven-
tional merely because it is free ; and to despise
the voice of praise : if this be success, I cer-
tainly have not failed. But human nature has
its limitations even in public men, and I have
been compelled to indulge privately in a
pleasure which is both risky and enchanting.

Why. 17

I write. " I was not born under a rhyming
planet," but when my friends, acquaintances, or
political allies are characteristically offensive,
when the ladies I have the honour to be
associated with besmear me with confident
adulation, I relieve the tension of my mind by
caricaturing them in pen and ink, and writing
personal sketches which would be easily recog-
nised by their fidelity, if published, and would
be ruinous from their red-hot rancour. I have
scores of them by me which might make the
fortune of a literary aspirant, but they are per-
fectly useless to a Conservative and Unionist
M.P. ; dozens more of my harmless fireworks
have been converted, without editorial interven-
tion, into that constituent of our atmosphere
that gives us trees. Oh that you could have
seen my Post-obita Dicta, or my Laughable
Lyrics, by a Liliputian Laureate \

But the taste for ink grows into a passion,
and having wasted hours on the enjoyment of
composing what must be safely hidden or in-
stantly destroyed, I drifted insensibly to articles
and sketches which do not betray their author-
ship, though they would be severely damaging,

1 8 Fish-Tails, and some True Ones.

if detected, to a name like mine. Here are
some of the least trivial and the least slangy of
them, all connected, as it happens, with one
subject ; and I hope it will not be long before I
have the opportunity of openly disparaging my
own secret creations to those who honestly
think me incapable of anything less serious
or less " important " than an Essay on Man, or
an article in the Quarterly. This is the object
of publication. It has long been the desire of
my life to find upon the drawing-room tables
of my lady -canvassers, and my more rigid
neighbours, a frivolous, shallow, useless book
(as they will successfully invite me to call it),
which they may possibly hear well spoken of
by detrimentals, and called " gossipy " by
indolent reviewers. After all, fishing itself is
eminently respectable as well as fascinating,
and if some untoward accident should reveal
the authorship of what was originally com-
posed as the indulgence of a passion, it is no
hanging matter, and by some, by most, I shall
be forgiven for all except the preface. I
need hardly say that I shall deny everything.


The Bent Pin.

*'. . . As unto the weaker vessel. . . ." i PET. in, 7.

" IT'S ill feeshin' wi' bent pins," old Sandy
once said to me when I was a boy, and had
broken the barb of my hook against a stone :
at which sarcasm I could not repress an angry
flush as I tried a shorter cast with a new fly.
In earlier years I did not despise the bent pin
when I used to go out with my nurse, or my
brother, and fish for sticklebacks in the brook,
with a string. But somehow one gets out of
the way of practising that branch of angling,
and when I started on my honeymoon I cer-
tainly did not think that I should ever be
tempted to take to it again. However, early
married life is full of surprises, and one of my
first was a fishing adventure with a bent pin.


2O Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

In sporting phraseology, I had landed my
matrimonial fish in August, to carry out the
simile I suppose I ought to represent Hymen
standing by with a gaff instead of a torch,
and we had chosen the Lakes for our honey-
moon. I like being near water; and as my
wife was anxious to visit the land of Words-
worth, we gave ourselves up to touring about
from lake to lake, unfettered by rigid plans,
basking in the sunshine, and making each
other's acquaintance.

One day we were strolling along, arm in arm,
within sight of the placid mirror of Ulleswater,
when we came upon a grove of cherry trees
loaded with a plentiful crop of the small black
and juicy fruit which is so common in that
part of the country. Two boys were lodged
in the branches of two neighbouring trees,
busily engaged in eating cherries, and occa-
sionally throwing down a few to a bright-eyed
little girl who stood below. She was bare-
headed, her hat dangling by a piece of elastic
from one podgy little fist, and she kept begging
her brothers to give her a share of their spoil,
and also to come down for a game in which she

The Bent Pin. 21

could take a more interesting part. They
replied with the superiority of possession, and
sarcastically alluded to her sex in the pleasant
way boys have when conversing with a younger
sister from whom there is nothing to be gained
at the moment.

" Girls can't play games," said the elder.

" Go and learn to bowl at the chair in the
garden," chimed in the other.

When this kind of thing had been going on
for some minutes, and the girl was becoming
obviously piteous and unhappy, the young
lords of creation perceived the presence of
strangers, and slowly descended, looking self-
conscious under their smears of juice. My
wife's eyes are calculated to make unkind boys
feel a bit ashamed of themselves even at a little
distance : so the trio went off together, and we
saw them no more that day.

On the next, however, they gave evidence of
their continued existence by fishing in the lake
within sight of our window. Each boy had a
nice little rod, and the girl was courageously
trying to scull them about in one of the
dingheys belonging to the inn. Their voices

22 Fish-Tails, and some True Ones.

travelled to us over the water, and we con-
cluded that there was a wrangle going on about
the management of the boat. I made a mental
resolve to take the downtrodden sister to fish
by herself, if opportunity offered, and we
strolled out, discussing the ways of brothers,
female suffrage, and the equality of the sexes ;
but before our well-meant interference was
possible affairs took on a different complexion.

A day or two afterwards we were taking a
lovers' walk beside the burn which tumbles
down the hill behind the inn, when we again
came upon our young friends. The girl was
evidently making a strong appeal to her
brothers to be allowed to fish for trout with
them, but they were obdurate.

" Girls can't fish," said the elder.

" You've got no rod," added the other. " And
who's going to put on your worms ? You
can't do it yourself."

Upon this the poor child sat down on the
bank and began to cry, while the boys moved
off down stream, and disappeared. So ended
Act II. Now comes the point of my story.
It is a small one not much larger, in fact,

The Bent Pin. 23

than a needle's end, but, in its way, worth

As soon as the boys were out of sight, our
first idea was to take the weeping Ariadne for
a row ; but before we had time to show our-
selves, or call to her, she stopped crying, and
looked up with such an appearance of deter-
mination that we paused to see what it would
lead to, and sat down behind a convenient tree
to watch her.

She first drew herself up, and casting upon
the ground an old sunshade that she had been
carrying, took out of her pocket a piece of thin
string about five feet long ; then abstracting a
pin from some place in her frock where it could
best be spared, she slowly bent it into a V
shape, and tied the string to it. The other
end was quickly fastened to the ferule of the
parasol, and the child stood equipped with a
rod, line, and hook. Her tear-stained face was
bright with the instinct of sport, and the con-
centrated desire to show that inferiority of sex
need be no bar to skill in angling. I could
not make up my mind to interfere at present,
so we remained hidden, lazily watching the

24 Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

progress of events, and wondering when the
difficulty of bait would put a stop to the pre-
parations. A moment later the infant Ariadne
laid down her tackle and sped like a wood
nymph towards the house which was near the
cherry trees where we had first seen her. The
voices of her brothers, who must have been
talking Committee Room No. I 5 politics, came
to us on the breeze. It was a beautiful after-
noon, and with my wife's permission I leisurely
lighted a pipe.

Ariadne soon returned, carrying a piece of
bread in one hand and a loose newspaper parcel
in the other, and, seating herself by the parasol,
carefully fixed a cubic inch of bread upon the
bent pin. I felt a great desire to come forward
now and offer my advice and assistance, but the
lady at my side was too anxious for the honour
of her sex to allow it, so we two lay low while
the girl cautiously began to fish.

I presume that the bread was soon washed
ofF, for after a short interval the young fisher
evidently made up her mind to the final struggle,
drew out the line, and taking a small worm
from the paper parcel, set her teeth, and impaled

The Bent Pin. 25

it on the pin. She looked like Cornelia de-
voting the last of the Gracchi to his country's

Between her and the pool she was fishing
was a rock, beneath which the brook ran deep
and brown, hiding indefinite possibilities of
little fish, so round this cover she stealthily
crawled, and dropped the worm softly into the
water. It was a moment of supreme excite-
ment, then splash she whisked out a small
trout, high and dry. Like the ranks of Tuscany
in the ballad, I could scarce forbear to cheer.
She had actually caught a fish, and was softly
contemplating it with radiant rapture, and
indeed it was a remarkable feat.

At this point the boys reappeared upon the
stage. Their patent tackle, town-made rods,
and gut lines had caught nothing. One had
broken the top of his rod, and the other his
line ; but as they could not agree to join their
scattered forces for a combined attack, they had
decided to " chuck it " and play cricket, so they
came for their sister to field and longstop.
Their faces were a study when they saw the
trout. They hurried up, asked a hundred

26 Fish -Tails ) and some Trite Ones.

eager questions, examined the worms and bread,
and finally " forgave " their sister, and bore her
off to play cricket on equal terms, and "have
her innings like a man." Noble fellows ! they
little knew how my right foot was tingling.

And now, when I cannot get a rise with my
best March Brown or Olive Dun y fishing " fine
and far off," when difficulties seem insuperable,
or when I hear some glib young man talking
about the natural inferiority of woman, my
mind goes back to that dingy old parasol, the
string, and the bent pin.


How to catch Pike in the Thames.

" We'll try a better one by and by"

Sam Weller.

"Sweet Themmes, rttn softly till I end my song."


IN the pursuit of my favourite pastime I
had had a day's fishing on Virginia Water,
and had found out what other brethren of
the craft have discovered before, that ordinary
mortals do not take very large fish there,
except in story. I thought, however, that
the Thames might afford me more sport,
and decided to consult Anderson, who lives
near us, and has the reputation of being a
nineteenth-century Izaak Walton ; so I called
upon him one evening, and found him dozing
over the Field in the little den in which
tobacco is allowed at " The Pines." Anderson


28 Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

is one of those mysterious people who live, it
is supposed, by journalism ; but as he has
never written anything over his own name,
we do not know whether he forms our
political opinions, or does the acrostics for
Johnson's Weakly. In consequence of this
mystery, we regard his life as being some-
thing apart and esoteric, and make no further
inquiry, any more than we do when a new
resident's wife says her husband is " in the
City." He may belong to the profession of
Miss Skum's Husband, for all we care in

" Good-evening," I said politely, when my
entry brought him broad awake. " I have
called to ask you a few questions about
Thames fishing. I have a mind to catch a
pike somewhere on Saturday."

We shook hands. Anderson motioned me
to a chair, pushed a jar of tobacco across
the brass-topped Moorish table, and said

" It is very good of you to come round
and spare me half an hour from your Blue-
books and Private Bills. My wife's aunt is
here, so I have a headache : she is a most

How to catch Pike in the Thames. 29

estimable woman. And what can I tell you
about the river? You live half a mile nearer
to it than I do, and ought to be better up
in it."

" I am better up in the mists than you
are," I smartly returned. " I was up to my
neck in them last night, but I have never
tried the fishing. I see people in punts and
boats, and on the banks sometimes, but they
are mostly sad and silent, and catch no more
than the man in Happy Thoughts. But the
people I do not see write to the papers with
accounts of famous bags : I want to go where
they go."

" Oh, you want to try the stone jar and
cigar-box business in a punt, do you ? " said
my host. " Poor young man ! Angling is
an art, and there is no doubt a certain amount
of skill necessary, but what you chiefly need
is imagination. Look at that Turner engraving :
it is the small ' Lucerne.' Do you suppose
you would have seen it like that ? "

He waved his pipe towards a picture on the
wall, and I examined the beautiful print with
admiration, but confessed that in my recollec-

30 Fish-Tails, and some True Ones.

tion the place looked flatter. " Just so," said
my friend : " that is Art."

" But you are a fisherman, are you not ? "
I said, "so you ought not to be sceptical.
People exaggerate, of course, and the biggest
fish are always the ones that get off ; but still
some good ones are landed, and I will be
satisfied with others like them. I suppose
you fish in the Thames sometimes ? Tell me
where to go to."

Anderson was looking dreamily into the fire.

"Yes," he said, "I have fished in the
Thames once. It was with old Stephen Fare-
brother, one of the best-known river anglers."

" I know his name," I remarked encourag-
ingly. " Tell me about it."

Instead of replying directly, Anderson rose,
and after a moment's hesitation, took from a
shelf a bound volume of the Field, which he
opened, and running his finger along a few
paragraphs, directed my attention to one near
the bottom of a page. It ran thus :

"On Saturday, Mr. Anderson of Dipton was out with
Stephen Farebrother, the well-known Thames fisherman,
and had fair sport: the best fish were jack, 10 lb., 7 lb.,
and 5 lb."

How to catch' Pike in the Thames. 3 1

" Capital ! " I cried with enthusiasm. " That's
just what I wanted to see. What's Fare-
brother's address ? I'll engage him for Satur-

" I am afraid you cannot do that, because
he has taken a permanent appointment at
the Angler's Rest on the Styx," said the
subject of the stirring paragraph (who is of a
slightly irreverent turn of mind) ; " but you can
get somebody equally good, I have no doubt."

He smiled thoughtfully as we settled our-
selves back into our chairs, and the twinkle of
the successful sportsman glittered in his blue

" I will tell you about it," he went on : " fill
your pipe. I was once staying with my
brother-in-law, who has a rectory at Thornton ;
his garden adjoins the squire's park in the
usual way, and a good-sized lake is visible
from the dining-room window."

I should never think of interrupting any-
one telling a story, much less a man like
the humorous Anderson, but I spasmodically
clutched my latchkey as I observed a Thames
fish-tale beginning fifty miles off in a pond.

32 Fish- Tails, and some True Ones.

" I was working one morning," he went on,
with great deliberation, " in this dining-room,
and was rather pressed for time, when I was
interrupted by a small boy in a knickerbocker
suit, who was looking at me inquiringly
through the window. He asked where the
rector was. I said shortly that I did not
know ; but he would not go away, and stood
shifting from one leg to the other, and feeling
something in his jacket pocket."

(We now seemed farther from the subject
than ever ; but my chair was comfortable,
anglers should be patient, and so I waited.)

" At last I got from him that the rector
had promised to show him how to fish in the
lake, our lake, he said, and he was not
going away without instruction, so to get rid
of him I stepped out on to the lawn and
asked him what tackle he had got. The
squire was evidently not over-generous to his
offspring in the matter of gear : there was
no rod, and for a line a strong cord was to
do duty, attached to an enormous hook, made
for conger eels, I should suppose ; there were
a dozen wine-bottle corks, a dead sparrow,

How to catch Pike in the Thames. 33

and a moist, flaccid little frog, which the lad
had been caressing in his pocket. I walked
the young gentleman off to the lake, put the
frog on the hook, tied a bundle of corks to
the line, fastening the shore end to a tree, and
told Master Hopeful to sit on the bank, and
tell me when the corks had been submerged
for five minutes, and not before. I never saw
a boy so good : he sat down without a word,
and devoured the corks with his eyes. I went
back to my work, secure for the day."

" So that put you in mind of more serious
fishing in the Thames?" I ventured to suggest
during a pause.

" Not at all. I settled down to my writing
again as quickly as possible, but in half an
hour the boy appeared again. ' Hi ! ' he
yelled. * Come, come along, we've got him on ! '
It was no use objecting ; I had to go back
to the lake, and there, sure enough, I found a
pike securely hooked. He scaled seven pounds."

" How extraordinary ! " I said, admiring my
friend's unobtrusive good-nature.

" Yes, the boy was pleased, I recollect.
Indeed, with one exception, I think it was the

34 Fish -Tails, and some True Ones.

largest fish I ever came across, personally,
that was killed on such a rag-bag assortment
of tackle."

" With one exception ? " I repeated mechani-
cally, feeling that we were sliding off into the
deep waters of anecdote.

" Yes," said Anderson ; " for the next one,
which was hooked an hour later, weighed
just ten pounds. I felt like a doctor in large
practice, or Sawyer late Nockemorf, I assure
you. That morning was a succession of calls
from the imp of a boy, for by lunch-time we
had added a third to our bag a five-pounder.
Then we drew stumps for the day, or we
might have glutted the market. So, you see,
fish are sometimes caught."

" Yes, but," I said, rising to go, and wonder-
ing if Anderson's headaches made him confuse
ideas as well as metaphors, " but it was the

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Online LibraryBradnock HallFish-tails, and some true ones → online text (page 1 of 11)