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Little Melton-of-the-West, to prepare, as far as I was individually concerned, for my first gallop with the "wild red deer" hounds on Exmoor, to the meet of which, it so occurred, that I was doomed to wend my way alone.
OLD REMINISCENCES OF YOUNG FISHING DAYS.
BY THEOPHILUS SOUTH.
Hei mihi! Fui Piscator!
"What! an empty pannier again, South? When will your love of the gentle art permit the scales of enthusiasm to drop from your eyes, and enlighten you to the glaring fact, that it is one thing to take Hope' out for an airing, on tiptoe with rod and line, by the shady streams and rivers of old England, and another to drag Languid Expectation' out for a roasting, by the stagnant waters of the tropics ?"*
This was said by Mr. Percy to Theophilus South, a rubicund, happyfaced, more than middle-aged gentleman, who had found his way to Jamaica with his friend, to whom his mania for the rod and line was yet a paradox.
"An empty pannier, indeed, as far as fish are concerned," said South, somewhat despondingly; for even his modesty thought his art might be considered in fault; "but," continued he, "I have collected a tolerable sample of land shells-three new species, a few insects, plenty of orchids, shot a few birds, killed and bottled a few snakes, a yellow boy of nine feet long-not bottled him—and I have seen such fish!"
Percy had a laugh in his heart, but just then he sympathized too deeply with the disappointment of his friend to laugh outright.
"Certainly, we have, at times, the clearest water in this island I ever beheld, Percy," continued South, as he handed into Mrs. Percy's keeping his conchological and other acquisitions-not the yellow one.
Stagnant, quotha! 'Tis more like air in a ripple. Plumb down, full twenty feet, have I been gazing thirty minutes through pale blue, bright, pellucid water, at seven such glorious mullets, vibrating-the black-backed rascals-over the pebbles at the bottom of a beautiful mountain basin of the Sambo river; every fish a six-pounder, if a single pennyweight, and you might have counted every scale. The first moment that water is a little discoloured, I shall be prepared with proper tackle, and will have those monsters to a certainty. I know how."
Percy smiled, for he felt sure the thirty minutes mentioned by his friend had been recorded in his mind among similar scattered treasures, to make up an aggregate of unmitigated delight.
Well, well, South, yours has not been the monotonous excursion I took it for; at least, thirty minutes of it, and the shells and other
*This, and the following chapters, were written many years ago, in Jamaica.
specimens repay you, I suppose. And you've been thinking how to circumvent those poor fish, eh? But while you were peering down into the deep, with longing, studious, contemplative eye, like a barn-door fowl into a quart-pot with a grain of corn at the bottom of it, the ladies have been turning the house up-side-down, and we have discovered,— ah! South, you are a miserly hoarder of treasures,--we have discovered-"
"What in the name of Heaven have you discovered ?" asked the bewildered South. "I declare, Percy, you make me feel as if I had just got a nibble, and a run with one of those monster mullets."
"A run, a nibble, man? it is a bite of the first class," said Percy; "but it is our float that is bobbing now, not yours; and take care we do not find a somewhat novel monster of the deep, yclept Theophilus South, writhing on our hook, when we bring it to the light of day. But sit down, my good friend, and you shall hear the whole story. Doubtless you may remember," continued Percy, with mock pomposity, "that a certain great city, called Rome, was celebrated for the number of geese which lived within its walls; and that one night, while all the wise and great inhabitants were snoring to their hearts' content, the geese having been turned outside the gates of the Capitol, were wide-awake. Some historians have inferred that this must have been on a Michaelmas night, when all the fat and drowsy ones of the flock had been highly approved of by the Capitol gentlemen of Rome; yet that there is some difference in opinion as to this fact must be admitted. Be it as it may, it seems certain that one Brennus and his Galli Senones had been basting,' if not geese, that day, at all events Romans, and that, geese-like, the said Romans had taken unto themselves wings, and had flown to the Capitol for safety; and that during the night in question, Mr. Brennus and his gentlemen barbarians thought to steal a march by marching up the Tarpeian rock, and so surprise the Romans by their agile feat. But when the former went to the gate, and were in the act of raising the knocker, the geese being, as I said before, wide-awake, all cried out at once in some unknown tongue, Who the dare you?' This awoke the Romans, who also joined in the chorus, Qui est vous-la?' and forthwith they took Master Brennus by the breech, and sent him and his friends somewhat quicker down the said rock, wishing it deeper than was natural, and that they might meet a warm reception. Hem!"
"Why, what are you driving at?" interposed South, knitting his brows in wonder and perplexity, and at the same time turning a bewildered look of inquiry on Mrs. Percy, who laughingly avoided answering it, by saying to her younger sister,
"Make our cousin a glass of your Sangaree, Alice; it will the better enable him to contend with Henry's raillery."
"Why, I was only reminding you," Percy continued, addressing South, "of one instance in which a very insignificant creature, the goose, did very great service to the State, in order to lead you to another instance, ending with the same glorious result; and as you are a great lover of natural history, I am sure you will be deeply interested. sir, what say you to cockroach, a fat, disgusting cockroach, having done this day a deed so great, that it deserves mortal immortalization? Yes,
sir, a cockroach! an immortal cockroach,-think of that, Master Brookes-has done a great service to the world at large.'
There was mischief in every eye, save the unfortunate South's. "Geese-Brennus-Romans-fat, disgusting, immortal cockroachnovel monster, yclept Theophilus South," pondered he. "Well, Romans, countrymen, and lovers, I confess I am fairly mystified!" at length he exclaimed; "and thank you, Marian; your proposition is most welltimed; for I thirst, and it may place me on a par with this quizzical riddler. Alice, if you please, the proper dash of nutmeg."
"Two-thirds Madeira, Theo?" archly inquired Alice.
"No, one-sixth water, the crystal ice will make the difference up," with demure politeness added Mr. South.
"Don't put too much sugar," cried Percy, calling after the retreating form of the young Hebe; "and mind, sing all the time, that we may be assured-"
"Thank you, Henry," interrupted Alice, "I make by rule, and by like rule ne'er taste."
"Riddler versus Wriggler," continued Percy, turning to South, "I see our hook holds fast, and I'll soon land you safely out of the muddy depths of your profound perplexity. Why, South, you've lost this day one of the best hunting scenes I have witnessed for many a long year. I have scarce yet recovered from the severe laughter it occasioned us."
"Now, my respects to you, Percy," said South, as he rose from his chair to receive the brimful goblet from the fair hand of the laughterloving Alice, and bowed with respectful solemnity to the other ladies.
Percy, with hands uplifted in mock astonishment, watched the goblet as it reached its destination. Its heel rose higher and higher, till the deep-drawn draught had fairly disappeared; and while South was smacking his lips, and recovering his suspended breath, Percy improvisatorized and half sang,—
"Oh, 'tis a glorious sight to see
A rubicund face in its jollity,
But when that wine is Sangaree,
And a coil of lime-peel sliced daintily,
South, may that nose be thine."
"Ha! ha ha!" laughed South, waving the empty goblet on high; "indifferently well, as an extemporary effusion from a small-beer poetaster. Now, Percy, on with your jeers, I am your match," he triumphantly exclaimed, holding the goblet before him,—
"Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And blest (?) be he that first cries,-Hold, enough!"
"Well," said Percy, "first for the hunt and the immortal cockroach. Already I have unfolded to you that the ladies have been turning the house inside out, till at last they came to the library. Removing one row of books from the shelves, the immortal was discovered. The hunt commenced; but shunning the profanation of mortal eyes, the Immortal' vanished again behind another row. On went the hunt! and little
rued those barbarous, murderous hands how high a destiny that cockroach was predestined. On went the hunt! the view-halloa was raised, and rent the skies. The one and more of the doomed ones were discerned. On went the hunt! the dreadful, dismal din of darkening death drowned the dirge the deities were disposed for. Jupiter himself, with pallid face, looked on despairingly from Olympus, nor dared he to dispute the deed with direful Destiny. On went the hunt! Then rose the mightier call To arms! to arms! Come, come, come,-run, run, somebody, everybody. Here, Percy, Alice, Frances, and old lady; come Sarah, Harriet, Marcus and Damnastines, Ailey and Prince, Eliza, Cook, Sabina, Thomasine and Rodney, M'Coy, M'Clean, and Nelly-come every one!' screamed Marian. What a commotion! One would have thought that all the several demons of the seven fatal bullets of Von Weber had tumbled into the room en masse. And then the motley group of whites and blacks, from samboes, musties, brownies to quadroons, being gathered together upon this war of extermination, down from the shelves by handfuls fell the books upon the open floor. On went the hunt! The prey ran here and there. Stop it! stop it! under that book!' cried Marian, There, at your feet!' cried Ego. There, in your dress!' cried the old lady. 'Shake it off-take it off!' screamed Alice. What, the dress?' cried Ego. Well done, little Blenheim; that's right, good .dog,' Bright eyes!' cried others. On went the hunt! till every foe lay massacred, and then some hundred bodies strewed the affrighted plain.' The hunt was done! But apart from all the rest, there lay the immortal,' true to his high destiny; and close beside him laywhat do you think, good Master South?"
Here Percy drew from its place of concealment a pile of papers, bound with leathern straps.
"Yes," he continued, looking full at South, "and there beside him lay this pile of manuscript. Immortal cockroach!"
Deeper and deeper still, South's visage grew. That which was rubicund before assumed a redder hue; for he was almost bursting with suppressed fun. Such an inquiring look he cast on Mrs. Percy, that it clearly said, "How's this?" and then he frowned and smiled, and frowned and smiled again on the tormenting Percy. "Dost know this manuscript?" continued his annoyer. "Is not the novel monster of the deep, yclept Theophilus South, writhing on our hook, and has he not been fairly brought to the light of day? Shall not the world glory in this discovery, and vote the cockroach earned canonization? Immortal cockroach!"
"Why dost thou shake thy plaguing jests at me?"" burst from the angler's lips. "Thou can'st not say I did it!""
Notwithstanding the bantering tone in which this was said, a shade of seriousness passed over the good-humoured face of South.
"Some pleasant chord is jarred, I see," said Percy, feelingly; "but, mayhap, touching it again, and handling it more freely, it may vibrate grateful music still. Pardon me if I have brought to light that which, while it may, in the moment of its discovery, affect your modesty and want of self-assurance, redounds, nevertheless, believe me, to your honest
This is a Negro perversion of "Demosthenes."
fame. Tell me, and tell me truly, South, what are these papers Marian has before her? With her permission-for I find she has been their keeper-I have passed an agreeable day reading many parts. Are they your own, or thoughts and extracts from some other honied store? I long to learn. The summary of them is "Fishing." Here and there we have puffs and panegyrics on one Theophilus South. Your name is not so common; this must be you. Then we have geometrical diagrams, mathematical elucidations, and algebraic calculations as to length, girth, and weight of fish, and strength of tackle; drawings of fish and fishhooks, feathers and flies; beautiful paintings of delicious river and landscape scenery; recipes and directions for dyeing, which seem to put to blush the gaudiest colours of the rainbow; letters and scraps with eminent names attached; cum multis aliis, all pointing, true as the compass, to one end-Angling, and the love of nature. You seem, at least, to have bestowed much attention on the subject, by preserving these things so carefully, and I cannot resist jumping to the conclusion hat you are the writer. Blush not to find it fame; for though many men consider that such things are too frivolous for mental exercise, I am not one of them; and, rest assured, that in whatever way the human powers can be turned to good account, either to the amelioration of our fellow-man, to the preservation of our food, or to the increase of our means of enjoying hours of relaxation, which as Old Isaak says, 'are then not idly spent,' they should not be suffered to bate their force in idleness. True is the poet's maxim,
'That which doth good disgraceth no degree;'
so tell me candidly, what do these papers mean?"
"Oh, how it grieves my heart to look upon such relics!" cried South, with emotion; " bringing back, as they must do, bright visions of happy moments, in years of early struggle; yet they are almost rubbish now, and as well left upon the shelves as food for cockroaches and ants! Useless, alas! and shelved they well maybe!" "Nonsense, South," said the encouraging Percy. "Trust me, those few portions I have read are, to my mind, admirably executed. That which a mere pastime is, is turned to usefulness in many ways-science in sport, indeed, is there brought forth; learning and instruction linked with recreation, enough for every mind. 'Tis fishing throughout, 'tis true, but much besides. Each practical science has come by turn to a free pen; natural history, of bird, of beast, of insect and of flower, strews the writer's path on every hand. The very arts, e'en the very trades, are made subservient to his end. And it rejoices me to think that the author is my good friend South. 'Tis very strange, that during the long years of our enduring friendship, I never found how rich this vein in you. Oft has the subject 'fish' been started at our board, and you've been silent on it, or have let it pass as though you felt no interest. And even when your rod has accompanied you on your curiosity-hunting excursions, it has seemed to me more as though you were carrying it as a walking-stick, for companionship sake, than with any serious piscatory intent. I never knew you for a fisherman so ardent !"
"Henry, you're right," exclaimed Mrs. Percy, "I have rated this