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Title: Crocker's Hole - From "Slain By The Doones" By R. D. Blackmore
Author: Blackmore, R. D. (Richard Doddridge)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By R. D. Blackmore

From “SLAIN BY THE DOONES” by R. D. Blackmore
Copyright: Dodd, Mead And Company, 1895


The Culm, which rises in Somersetshire, and hastening into a fairer
land (as the border waters wisely do) falls into the Exe near Killerton,
formerly was a lovely trout stream, such as perverts the Devonshire
angler from due respect toward Father Thames and the other canals round
London. In the Devonshire valleys it is sweet to see how soon a spring
becomes a rill, and a rill runs on into a rivulet, and a rivulet swells
into a brook; and before one has time to say, “What are you at?”--before
the first tree it ever spoke to is a dummy, or the first hill it ever
ran down has turned blue, here we have all the airs and graces, demands
and assertions of a full-grown river.

But what is the test of a river? Who shall say? “The power to drown a
man,” replies the river darkly. But rudeness is not argument. Rather
shall we say that the power to work a good undershot wheel, without
being dammed up all night in a pond, and leaving a tidy back-stream to
spare at the bottom of the orchard, is a fair certificate of riverhood.
If so, many Devonshire streams attain that rank within five miles of
their spring; aye, and rapidly add to it. At every turn they gather
aid, from ash-clad dingle and aldered meadow, mossy rock and ferny wall,
hedge-trough roofed with bramble netting, where the baby water lurks,
and lanes that coming down to ford bring suicidal tribute. Arrogant,
all-engrossing river, now it has claimed a great valley of its own; and
whatever falls within the hill scoop, sooner or later belongs to itself.
Even the crystal “shutt” that crosses the farmyard by the woodrick, and
glides down an aqueduct of last year’s bark for Mary to fill the kettle
from; and even the tricklets that have no organs for telling or knowing
their business, but only get into unwary oozings in and among the
water-grass, and there make moss and forget themselves among it--one and
all, they come to the same thing at last, and that is the river.

The Culm used to be a good river at Culmstock, tormented already by
a factory, but not strangled as yet by a railroad. How it is now the
present writer does not know, and is afraid to ask, having heard of a
vile “Culm Valley Line.” But Culm-stock bridge was a very pretty place
to stand and contemplate the ways of trout; which is easier work than to
catch them. When I was just big enough to peep above the rim, or to lie
upon it with one leg inside for fear of tumbling over, what a mighty
river it used to seem, for it takes a treat there and spreads itself.
Above the bridge the factory stream falls in again, having done its
business, and washing its hands in the innocent half that has strayed
down the meadows. Then under the arches they both rejoice and come to a
slide of about two feet, and make a short, wide pool below, and indulge
themselves in perhaps two islands, through which a little river always
magnifies itself, and maintains a mysterious middle. But after that, all
of it used to come together, and make off in one body for the meadows,
intent upon nurturing trout with rapid stickles, and buttercuppy corners
where fat flies may tumble in. And here you may find in the very first
meadow, or at any rate you might have found, forty years ago, the
celebrated “Crocker’s Hole.”

The story of Crocker is unknown to me, and interesting as it doubtless
was, I do not deal with him, but with his Hole. Tradition said that he
was a baker’s boy who, during his basket-rounds, fell in love with a
maiden who received the cottage-loaf, or perhaps good “Households,” for
her master’s use. No doubt she was charming, as a girl should be, but
whether she encouraged the youthful baker and then betrayed him with
false _rôle_, or whether she “consisted” throughout,--as our cousins
across the water express it,--is known to their _manes_ only. Enough
that she would not have the floury lad; and that he, after giving in his
books and money, sought an untimely grave among the trout. And this was
the first pool below the bread-walk deep enough to drown a five-foot
baker boy. Sad it was; but such things must be, and bread must still be
delivered daily.

A truce to such reflections,--as our foremost writers always say, when
they do not see how to go on with them,--but it is a serious thing to
know what Crocker’s Hole was like; because at a time when (if he had
only persevered, and married the maid, and succeeded to the oven, and
reared a large family of short-weight bakers) he might have been leaning
on his crutch beside the pool, and teaching his grandson to swim by
precept (that beautiful proxy for practice)--at such a time, I
say, there lived a remarkably fine trout in that hole. Anglers are
notoriously truthful, especially as to what they catch, or even more
frequently have not caught. Though I may have written fiction, among
many other sins,--as a nice old lady told me once,--now I have to deal
with facts; and foul scorn would I count it ever to make believe that I
caught that fish. My length at that time was not more than the butt of
a four-jointed rod, and all I could catch was a minnow with a pin,
which our cook Lydia would not cook, but used to say, “Oh, what a shame,
Master Richard! they would have been trout in the summer, please God! if
you would only a’ let ‘em grow on.” She is living now, and will bear me
out in this.

But upon every great occasion there arises a great man; or to put it
more accurately, in the present instance, a mighty and distinguished
boy. My father, being the parson of the parish, and getting, need it
be said, small pay, took sundry pupils, very pleasant fellows, about to
adorn the universities. Among them was the original “Bude Light,” as he
was satirically called at Cambridge, for he came from Bude, and there
was no light in him. Among them also was John Pike, a born Zebedee, if
ever there was one.

John Pike was a thick-set younker, with a large and bushy head, keen
blue eyes that could see through water, and the proper slouch of
shoulder into which great anglers ripen; but greater still are born with
it; and of these was Master John. It mattered little what the weather
was, and scarcely more as to the time of year, John Pike must have his
fishing every day, and on Sundays he read about it, and made flies. All
the rest of the time he was thinking about it.

My father was coaching him in the fourth book of the Æneid and all those
wonderful speeches of Dido, where passion disdains construction; but the
only line Pike cared for was of horsehair. “I fear, Mr. Pike, that you
are not giving me your entire attention,” my father used to say in his
mild dry way; and once when Pike was more than usually abroad, his tutor
begged to share his meditations. “Well, sir,” said Pike, who was very
truthful, “I can see a green drake by the strawberry tree, the first
of the season, and your derivation of ‘barbarous’ put me in mind of my
barberry dye.” In those days it was a very nice point to get the right
tint for the mallard’s feather.

No sooner was lesson done than Pike, whose rod was ready upon the lawn,
dashed away always for the river, rushing headlong down the hill, and
away to the left through a private yard, where “no thoroughfare” was put
up, and a big dog stationed to enforce it. But Cerberus himself could
not have stopped John Pike; his conscience backed him up in trespass the
most sinful when his heart was inditing of a trout upon the rise.

All this, however, is preliminary, as the boy said when he put his
father’s coat upon his grandfather’s tenterhooks, with felonious intent
upon his grandmother’s apples; the main point to be understood is this,
that nothing--neither brazen tower, hundred-eyed Argus, nor Cretan
Minotaur--could stop John Pike from getting at a good stickle. But, even
as the world knows nothing of its greatest men, its greatest men know
nothing of the world beneath their very nose, till fortune sneezes
dexter. For two years John Pike must have been whipping the water as
hard as Xerxes, without having ever once dreamed of the glorious trout
that lived in Crocker’s Hole. But why, when he ought to have been at
least on bowing terms with every fish as long as his middle finger, why
had he failed to know this champion? The answer is simple--because of
his short cuts. Flying as he did like an arrow from a bow, Pike used to
hit his beloved river at an elbow, some furlong below Crocker’s Hole,
where a sweet little stickle sailed away down stream, whereas for the
length of a meadow upward the water lay smooth, clear, and shallow;
therefore the youth, with so little time to spare, rushed into the
downward joy.

And here it may be noted that the leading maxim of the present period,
that man can discharge his duty only by going counter to the stream, was
scarcely mooted in those days. My grandfather (who was a wonderful man,
if he was accustomed to fill a cart in two days of fly-fishing on the
Barle) regularly fished down stream; and what more than a cartload need
anyone put into his basket?

And surely it is more genial and pleasant to behold our friend the
river growing and thriving as we go on, strengthening its voice and
enlargening its bosom, and sparkling through each successive meadow with
richer plenitude of silver, than to trace it against its own grain and
good-will toward weakness, and littleness, and immature conceptions.

However, you will say that if John Pike had fished up stream, he would
have found this trout much sooner. And that is true; but still, as it
was, the trout had more time to grow into such a prize. And the way in
which John found him out was this. For some days he had been tormented
with a very painful tooth, which even poisoned all the joys of fishing.
Therefore he resolved to have it out, and sturdily entered the shop of
John Sweetland, the village blacksmith, and there paid his sixpence.
Sweetland extracted the teeth of the village, whenever they required
it, in the simplest and most effectual way. A piece of fine wire was
fastened round the tooth, and the other end round the anvil’s nose, then
the sturdy blacksmith shut the lower half of his shop door, which was
about breast-high, with the patient outside and the anvil within; a
strong push of the foot upset the anvil, and the tooth flew out like
a well-thrown fly. When John Pike had suffered this very bravely, “Ah,
Master Pike,” said the blacksmith, with a grin, “I reckon you won’t
pull out thic there big vish,”--the smithy commanded a view of the
river,---“clever as you be, quite so peart as thiccy.”

“What big fish?” asked the boy, with deepest interest, though his mouth
was bleeding fearfully.

“Why that girt mortial of a vish as hath his hover in Crocker’s Hole.
Zum on ‘em saith as a’ must be a zammon.”

Off went Pike with his handkerchief to his mouth, and after him ran Alec
Bolt, one of his fellow-pupils, who had come to the shop to enjoy the

“Oh, my!” was all that Pike could utter, when by craftily posting
himself he had obtained a good view of this grand fish.

“I’ll lay you a crown you don’t catch him!” cried Bolt, an impatient
youth, who scorned angling.

“How long will you give me?” asked the wary Pike, who never made rash

“Oh! till the holidays if you like; or, if that won’t do, till

Now the midsummer holidays were six weeks off--boys used not to talk of
“vacations” then, still less of “recesses.”

“I think I’ll bet you,” said Pike, in his slow way, bending forward
carefully, with his keen eyes on this monster; “but it would not be fair
to take till Michaelmas. I’ll bet you a crown that I catch him before
the holidays--at least, unless some other fellow does.”


The day of that most momentous interview must have been the 14th of May.
Of the year I will not be so sure; for children take more note of days
than of years, for which the latter have their full revenge thereafter.
It must have been the 14th, because the morrow was our holiday, given
upon the 15th of May, in honour of a birthday.

Now, John Pike was beyond his years wary as well as enterprising, calm
as well as ardent, quite as rich in patience as in promptitude and
vigour. But Alec Bolt was a headlong youth, volatile, hot, and hasty,
fit only to fish the Maelstrom, or a torrent of new lava. And the moment
he had laid that wager he expected his crown piece; though time, as the
lawyers phrase it, was “expressly of the essence of the contract.”

And now he demanded that Pike should spend the holiday in trying to
catch that trout.

“I shall not go near him,” that lad replied, “until I have got a new
collar.” No piece of personal adornment was it, without which he would
not act, but rather that which now is called the fly-cast, or the
gut-cast, or the trace, or what it may be. “And another thing,”
 continued Pike; “the bet is off if you go near him, either now or at
any other time, without asking: my leave first, and then only going as I
tell you.”

“What do I want with the great slimy beggar?” the arrogant Bolt made
answer. “A good rat is worth fifty of him. No fear of my going near him,
Pike. You shan’t get out of it that way.”

Pike showed his remarkable qualities that day, by fishing exactly as he
would have fished without having heard of the great Crockerite. He was
up and away upon the mill-stream before breakfast; and the forenoon he
devoted to his favourite course--first down the Craddock stream, a very
pretty confluent of the Culm, and from its junction, down the pleasant
hams, where the river winds toward Uffculme. It was my privilege to
accompany this hero, as his humble Sancho; while Bolt and the faster
race went up the river ratting. We were back in time to have Pike’s
trout (which ranged between two ounces and one-half pound) fried for the
early dinner; and here it may be lawful to remark that the trout of the
Culm are of the very purest excellence, by reason of the flinty bottom,
at any rate in these the upper regions. For the valley is the western
outlet of the Black-down range, with the Beacon hill upon the north,
and Hackpen long ridge to the south; and beyond that again the Whetstone
hill, upon whose western end dark port-holes scarped with white grit
mark the pits. But flint is the staple of the broad Culm Valley, under
good, well-pastured loam; and here are chalcedonies and agate stones.

At dinner everybody had a brace of trout--large for the larger folk,
little for the little ones, with coughing and some patting on the back
for bones. What of equal purport could the fierce rat-hunter show? Pike
explained many points in the history of each fish, seeming to know
them none the worse, and love them all the better, for being fried. We
banqueted, neither a whit did soul get stinted of banquet impartial.
Then the wielder of the magic rod very modestly sought leave of absence
at the tea time.

“Fishing again, Mr. Pike, I suppose,” my father answered pleasantly; “I
used to-be fond of it at your age; but never so entirely wrapped up in
it as you are.”

“No, sir; I am not going fishing again. I want to walk to Wellington, to
get some things at Cherry’s.”

“Books, Mr. Pike? Ah! I am very glad of that. But I fear it can only be

“I want a little Horace for eighteen-pence--the Cambridge one just
published, to carry in my pocket--and a new hank of gut.”

“Which of the two is more important? Put that into Latin, and answer

“Utrum pluris facio? Flaccum flocci. Viscera magni.” With this vast
effort Pike turned as red as any trout spot.

“After that who could refuse you?” said my father. “You always tell the
truth, my boy, in Latin or in English.”

Although it was a long walk, some fourteen miles to Wellington and back,
I got permission to go with Pike; and as we crossed the bridge and saw
the tree that overhung Crocker’s Hole, I begged him to show me that
mighty fish.

“Not a bit of it,” he replied. “It would bring the blackguards. If the
blackguards once find him out, it is all over with him.”

“The blackguards are all in factory now, and I am sure they cannot see
us from the windows. They won’t be out till five o’clock.”

With the true liberality of young England, which abides even now as
large and glorious as ever, we always called the free and enlightened
operatives of the period by the courteous name above set down, and it
must be acknowledged that some of them deserved it, although perhaps
they poached with less of science than their sons. But the cowardly
murder of fish by liming the water was already prevalent.

Yielding to my request and perhaps his own desire--manfully kept in
check that morning--Pike very carefully approached that pool, commanding
me to sit down while he reconnoitred from the meadow upon the right bank
of the stream. And the place which had so sadly quenched the fire of the
poor baker’s love filled my childish heart with dread and deep wonder
at the cruelty of women. But as for John Pike, all he thought of was the
fish and the best way to get at him.

Very likely that hole is “holed out” now, as the Yankees well express
it, or at any rate changed out of knowledge. Even in my time a very
heavy flood entirely altered its character; but to the eager eye of Pike
it seemed pretty much as follows, and possibly it may have come to such
a form again:

The river, after passing though a hurdle fence at the head of the
meadow, takes a little turn or two of bright and shallow indifference,
then gathers itself into a good strong slide, as if going down a slope
instead of steps. The right bank is high and beetles over with yellow
loam and grassy fringe; but the other side is of flinty shingle, low and
bare and washed by floods. At the end of this rapid, the stream turns
sharply under an ancient alder tree into a large, deep, calm repose,
cool, unruffled, and sheltered from the sun by branch and leaf--and that
is the hole of poor Crocker.

At the head of the pool (where the hasty current rushes in so eagerly,
with noisy excitement and much ado) the quieter waters from below,
having rested and enlarged themselves, come lapping up round either
curve, with some recollection of their past career, the hoary experience
of foam. And sidling toward the new arrival of the impulsive column,
where they meet it, things go on, which no man can describe without his
mouth being full of water. A “V” is formed, a fancy letter V, beyond
any designer’s tracery, and even beyond his imagination, a perpetually
fluctuating limpid wedge, perpetually crenelled and rippled into by
little ups and downs that try to make an impress, but can only glide
away upon either side or sink in dimples under it. And here a gray bough
of the ancient alder stretches across, like a thirsty giant’s arm, and
makes it a very ticklish place to throw a fly. Yet this was the very
spot our John Pike must put his fly into, or lose his crown.

Because the great tenant of Crocker’s Hole, who allowed no other fish
to wag a fin there, and from strict monopoly had grown so fat, kept
his victualing yard--if so low an expression can be used concerning
him--within about a square yard of this spot. He had a sweet hover, both
for rest and recreation, under the bank, in a placid antre, where
the water made no noise, but tickled his belly in digestive ease. The
loftier the character is of any being, the slower and more dignified his
movements are. No true psychologist could have believed--as Sweet-land
the blacksmith did, and Mr. Pook the tinman--that this trout could
ever be the embodiment of Crocker. For this was the last trout in the
universal world to drown himself for love; if truly any trout has done

“You may come now, and try to look along my back,” John Pike, with a
reverential whisper, said to me. “Now don’t be in a hurry, young stupid;
kneel down. He is not to be disturbed at his dinner, mind. You keep
behind me, and look along my back; I never clapped eyes on such a

I had to kneel down in a tender reminiscence of pasture land, and gaze
carefully; and not having eyes like those of our Zebedee (who offered
his spine for a camera, as he crawled on all fours in front of me), it
took me a long time to descry an object most distinct to all who have
that special gift of piercing with their eyes the water. See what is
said upon this subject in that delicious book, “The Gamekeeper at Home.”

“You are no better than a muff,” said Pike, and it was not in my power
to deny it.

“If the sun would only leave off,” I said. But the sun, who was having a
very pleasant play with the sparkle of the water and the twinkle of
the leaves, had no inclination to leave off yet, but kept the rippling
crystal in a dance of flashing facets, and the quivering verdure in a
steady flush of gold.

But suddenly a May-fly, a luscious gray-drake, richer and more delicate
than canvas-back or woodcock, with a dart and a leap and a merry zigzag,
began to enjoy a little game above the stream. Rising and falling like
a gnat, thrilling her gauzy wings, and arching her elegant pellucid
frame, every now and then she almost dipped her three long tapering
whisks into the dimples of the water.

“He sees her! He’ll have her as sure as a gun!” cried Pike, with a gulp,
as if he himself were “rising.” “Now, can you see him, stupid?”

“Crikey, crokums!” I exclaimed, with classic elegance; “I have seen that
long thing for five minutes; but I took it for a tree.”

“You little”--animal quite early in the alphabet--“now don’t you stir a
peg, or I’ll dig my elbow into you.”

The great trout was stationary almost as a stone, in the middle of the
“V” above described. He was gently fanning with his large clear fins,
but holding his own against the current mainly by the wagging of his
broad-fluked tail. As soon as my slow eyes had once defined him, he grew
upon them mightily, moulding himself in the matrix of the water, as a
thing put into jelly does. And I doubt whether even John Pike saw him
more accurately than I did. His size was such, or seemed to be such,
that I fear to say a word about it; not because language does not
contain the word, but from dread of exaggeration. But his shape and
colour may be reasonably told without wounding the feeling of an age
whose incredulity springs from self-knowledge.

His head was truly small, his shoulders vast; the spring of his back was
like a rainbow when the sun is southing; the generous sweep of his deep
elastic belly, nobly pulped out with rich nurture, showed what the power
of his brain must be, and seemed to undulate, time for time, with the
vibrant vigilance of his large wise eyes. His latter end was consistent
also. An elegant taper run of counter, coming almost to a cylinder, as
a mackered does, boldly developed with a hugeous spread to a glorious
amplitude of swallow-tail. His colour was all that can well be desired,
but ill-described by any poor word-palette. Enough that he seemed to
tone away from olive and umber, with carmine stars, to glowing gold and
soft pure silver, mantled with a subtle flush of rose and fawn and opal.

Swoop came a swallow, as we gazed, and was gone with a flick, having
missed the May-fly. But the wind of his passage, or the stir of wing,
struck the merry dancer down, so that he fluttered for one instant on
the wave, and that instant was enough. Swift as the swallow, and more
true of aim, the great trout made one dart, and a sound, deeper than a
tinkle, but as silvery as a bell, rang the poor ephemerid’s knell. The
rapid water scarcely showed a break; but a bubble sailed down the pool,
and the dark hollow echoed with the music of a rise.

“He knows how to take a fly,” said Pike; “he has had too many to be
tricked with mine. Have him I must; but how ever shall I do it?”

All the way to Wellington he uttered not a word, but shambled along with
a mind full of care. When I ventured to look up now and then, to surmise
what was going on beneath his hat, deeply-set eyes and a wrinkled
forehead, relieved at long intervals by a solid shake, proved that there
are meditations deeper than those of philosopher or statesman.


Surely no trout could have been misled by the artificial May-fly of that
time, unless he were either a very young fish, quite new to entomology,
or else one afflicted with a combination of myopy and bulimy. Even now
there is room for plenty of improvement in our counterfeit presentment;
but in those days the body was made with yellow mohair, ribbed with red
silk and gold twist, and as thick as a fertile bumble-bee. John Pike
perceived that to offer such a thing to Crocker’s trout would probably
consign him--even if his great stamina should over-get the horror--to
an uneatable death, through just and natural indignation. On the other
hand, while the May-fly lasted, a trout so cultured, so highly refined,
so full of light and sweetness, would never demean himself to low bait,
or any coarse son of a maggot.

Meanwhile Alec Bolt allowed poor Pike no peaceful thought, no calm
absorption of high mind into the world of flies, no placid period of
cobblers’ wax, floss-silk, turned hackles, and dubbing. For in making of
flies John Pike had his special moments of inspiration, times of clearer
insight into the everlasting verities, times of brighter conception and
more subtle execution, tails of more elastic grace and heads of a
neater and nattier expression. As a poet labours at one immortal line,
compressing worlds of wisdom into the music of ten syllables, so toiled
the patient Pike about the fabric of a fly comprising all the excellence
that ever sprang from maggot. Yet Bolt rejoiced to jerk his elbow at the
moment of sublimest art. And a swarm of flies was blighted thus.

Peaceful, therefore, and long-suffering, and full of resignation as he
was, John Pike came slowly to the sad perception that arts avail not
without arms. The elbow, so often jerked, at last took a voluntary jerk
from the shoulder, and Alec Bolt lay prostrate, with his right eye full
of cobbler’s wax. This put a desirable check upon his energies for a
week or more, and by that time Pike had flown his fly.

When the honeymoon of spring and summer (which they are now too
fashionable to celebrate in this country), the hey-day of the whole year
marked by the budding of the wild rose, the start of the wheatear from
its sheath, the feathering of the lesser plantain, and flowering of
the meadowsweet, and, foremost for the angler’s joy, the caracole of
May-flies--when these things are to be seen and felt (which has not
happened at all this year), then rivers should be mild and bright, skies
blue and white with fleecy cloud, the west wind blowing softly, and the
trout in charming appetite.

On such a day came Pike to the bank of Culm, with a loudly beating
heart. A fly there is, not ignominious, or of cowdab origin, neither
gross and heavy-bodied, from cradlehood of slimy stones, nor yet of
menacing aspect and suggesting deeds of poison, but elegant, bland, and
of sunny nature, and obviously good to eat. Him or her--why quest we
which?--the shepherd of the dale, contemptuous of gender, except in his
own species, has called, and as long as they two coexist will call, the
“Yellow Sally.” A fly that does not waste the day in giddy dances
and the fervid waltz, but undergoes family incidents with decorum and
discretion. He or she, as the case may be,--for the natural history of
the river bank is a book to come hereafter, and of fifty men who make
flies not one knows the name of the fly he is making,--in the early
morning of June, or else in the second quarter of the afternoon, this
Yellow Sally fares abroad, with a nice well-ordered flutter.

Despairing of the May-fly, as it still may be despaired of, Pike came
down to the river with his master-piece of portraiture. The artificial
Yellow Sally is generally always--as they say in Cheshire--a mile or
more too yellow. On the other hand, the “Yellow Dun” conveys no idea of
any Sally. But Pike had made a very decent Sally, not perfect (for he
was young as well as wise), but far above any counterfeit to be had in
fishing-tackle shops. How he made it, he told nobody. But if he lives
now, as I hope he does, any of my readers may ask him through the
G.P.O., and hope to get an answer.

It fluttered beautifully on the breeze, and in such living form, that
a brother or sister Sally came up to see it, and went away sadder and
wiser. Then Pike said: “Get away, you young wretch,” to your humble
servant who tells this tale; yet being better than his words, allowed
that pious follower to lie down upon his digestive organs and with deep
attention watch, There must have been great things to see, but to see
them so was difficult. And if I huddle up what happened, excitement also
shares the blame.

Pike had fashioned well the time and manner of this overture. He knew
that the giant Crockerite was satiate now with May-flies, or began to
find their flavour failing, as happens to us with asparagus, marrow-fat
peas, or strawberries, when we have had a month of them. And he thought
that the first Yellow Sally of the season, inferior though it were,
might have the special charm of novelty. With the skill of a Zulu, he
stole up through the branches over the lower pool till he came to a spot
where a yard-wide opening gave just space for spring of rod. Then he saw
his desirable friend at dinner, wagging his tail, as a hungry gentleman
dining with the Lord Mayor agitates his coat. With one dexterous whirl,
untaught by any of the many-books upon the subject, John Pike laid his
Yellow Sally (for he cast with one fly only) as lightly as gossamer upon
the rapid, about a yard in front of the big trout’s head.

A moment’s pause, and then, too quick for words, was the things that

A heavy plunge was followed by a fearful rush. Forgetful of current the
river was ridged, as if with a plough driven under it; the strong line,
though given out as fast as might be, twanged like a harp-string as it
cut the wave, and then Pike stood up, like a ship dismasted, with the
butt of his rod snapped below the ferrule. He had one of those foolish
things, just invented, a hollow butt of hickory; and the finial ring of
his spare top looked out, to ask what had happened to the rest of it.
“Bad luck!” cried the fisherman; “but never mind, I shall have him next
time, to a certainty.”

When this great issue came to be considered, the cause of it was sadly
obvious. The fish, being hooked, had made off with the rush of a shark
for the bottom of the pool. A thicket of saplings below the alder tree
had stopped the judicious hooker from all possibility of following;
and when he strove to turn him by elastic pliance, his rod broke at the
breach of pliability. “I have learned a sad lesson,” said John Pike,
looking sadly.

How many fellows would have given up this matter, and glorified
themselves for having hooked so grand a fish, while explaining that they
must have caught him, if they could have done it! But Pike only told me
not to say a word about it, and began to make ready for another tug of
war. He made himself a splice-rod, short and handy, of well-seasoned
ash, with a stout top of bamboo, tapered so discreetly, and so balanced
in its spring, that verily it formed an arc, with any pressure on it, as
perfect as a leafy poplar in a stormy summer. “Now break it if you can,”
 he said, “by any amount of rushes; I’ll hook you by your jacket collar;
you cut away now, and I’ll land you.”

This was highly skilful, and he did it many times; and whenever I was
landed well, I got a lollypop, so that I was careful not to break his
tackle. Moreover he made him a landing net, with a kidney-bean stick,
a ring of wire, and his own best nightcap of strong cotton net. Then
he got the farmer’s leave, and lopped obnoxious bushes; and now the
chiefest question was: what bait, and when to offer it? In spite of
his sad rebuff, the spirit of John Pike had been equable. The genuine
angling mind is steadfast, large, and self-supported, and to the vapid,
ignominious chaff, tossed by swine upon the idle wind, it pays as much
heed as a big trout does to a dance of midges. People put their fingers
to their noses and said: “Master Pike, have you caught him yet?”
 and Pike only answered: “Wait a bit.” If ever this fortitude and
perseverance is to be recovered as the English Brand (the one thing that
has made us what we are, and may yet redeem us from niddering shame),
a degenerate age should encourage the habit of fishing and never
despairing. And the brightest sign yet for our future is the increasing
demand for hooks and gut.

Pike fished in a manlier age, when nobody would dream of cowering from a
savage because he was clever at skulking; and when, if a big fish broke
the rod, a stronger rod was made for him, according to the usage of
Great Britain. And though the young angler had been defeated, he did not
sit down and have a good cry over it.

About the second week in June, when the May-fly had danced its day,
and died,--for the season was an early one,--and Crocker’s trout had
recovered from the wound to his feelings and philanthropy, there came
a night of gentle rain, of pleasant tinkling upon window ledges, and
a soothing patter among young leaves, and the Culm was yellow in the
morning, “I mean to do it this afternoon,” Pike whispered to me, as
he came back panting. “When the water clears there will be a splendid

The lover of the rose knows well a gay voluptuous beetle, whose pleasure
is to lie embedded in a fount of beauty. Deep among the incurving petals
of the blushing-fragrance, he loses himself in his joys sometimes,
till a breezy waft reveals him. And when the sunlight breaks upon his
luscious dissipation, few would have the heart to oust him, such a gem
from such a setting. All his back is emerald sparkles all his front red
Indian gold, and here and there he grows white spots to save the eye
from aching. Pike put his finger in and fetched him out, and offered him
a little change of joys, by putting a Limerick hook-through his thorax,
and bringing it out between his elytra. _Cetonia aurata_ liked it
not, but pawed the air very naturally, and fluttered with his wings

“I meant to have tried with a fern-web,” said the angler; “until I saw
one of these beggars this morning. If he works like that upon the
water, he will do. It was hopeless to try artificials again. What a
lovely colour the water is! Only three days now to the holidays. I have
run it very close. You be ready, younker.”

With these words he stepped upon a branch of the alder, for the tone
of the waters allowed approach, being soft and sublustrous, without
any mud. Also Master Pike’s own tone was such as becomes the fisherman,
calm, deliberate, free from nerve, but full of eye and muscle. He
stepped upon the alder bough to get as near as might be to the fish, for
he could not cast this beetle like a fly; it must be dropped gently and
allowed to play. “You may come and look,” he said to me; “when the water
is so, they have no eyes in their tails.”

The rose-beetle trod upon the water prettily, under a lively vibration,
and he looked quite as happy, and considerably more active, than when he
had been cradled in the anthers of the rose. To the eye of a fish he was
a strong individual, fighting courageously with the current, but sure
to be beaten through lack of fins; and mercy suggested, as well as
appetite, that the proper solution was to gulp him.

“Hooked him in the gullet. He can’t get off!” cried John Pike, labouring
to keep his nerves under; “every inch of tackle is as strong as a
bell-pull. Now, if I don’t land him, I will never fish again!”

Providence, which had constructed Pike foremost of all things, for lofty
angling-disdainful of worm and even minnow--Providence, I say, at this
adjuration, pronounced that Pike must catch that trout. Not many anglers
are heaven-born; and for one to drop off the hook halfway through his
teens would be infinitely worse than to slay the champion trout. Pike
felt the force of this, and rushing through the rushes, shouted: “I am
sure to have him, Dick! Be ready with my nightcap.”

Rod in a bow, like a springle-riser; line on the hum, like the string
of Paganini winch on the gallop, like a harpoon wheel, Pike, the
head-centre of everything, dashing through thick and thin, and once
taken overhead--for he jumped into the hole, when he must have lost
him else, but the fish too impetuously towed him out, and made off in
passion for another pool, when, if he had only retired to his hover, the
angler might have shared the baker’s fate--all these things (I tell you,
for they all come up again, as if the day were yesterday) so scared me
of my never very steadfast wits, that I could only holloa! But one thing
I did, I kept the nightcap ready.

“He is pretty nearly spent, I do believe,” said Pike; and his voice was
like balm of Gilead, as we came to Farmer Anning’s meadow, a quarter of
a mile below Crocker’s Hole. “Take it coolly, my dear boy, and we shall
be safe to have him.”

Never have I felt, through forty years, such tremendous responsibility.
I had not the faintest notion now to use a landing net; but a mighty
general directed me. “Don’t let him see it; don’t let him see it! Don’t
clap it over him; go under him, you stupid! If he makes another rush, he
will get off, after all. Bring it up his tail. Well done! You have him!”

The mighty trout lay in the nightcap of Pike, which was half a fathom
long, with a tassel at the end, for his mother had made it in the winter
evenings. “Come and hold the rod, if you can’t lift him,” my master
shouted, and so I did. Then, with both arms straining, and his mouth
wide open, John Pike made a mighty sweep, and we both fell upon the
grass and rolled, with the giant of the deep flapping heavily between
us, and no power left to us, except to cry, “Hurrah!”

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