Day after day in early spring, as has been mentioned in the chapter on Temperature, the sport was disappointing; and that excited the thirst for knowledge. How many trout were in the loch ? Were a large proportion of them very big ? Did they all, like fish in a river, lie with their heads in one direction ? or did some of them look one way, some another, some another, and some another still?
Yes, my host said: the trout in the loch were very plentiful, and many of them were very big. As to how they lay, he was not sure; but his impression was that in a breeze they always kept head - to - the - wind. These things, he added, I could easily find out for myself. All I had to do was to go up the hill at noon some calm day when the sky was clear, and look down upon the loch through a powerful telescope. I should then have a wondrous spectacle. Wherever I looked I should see the trout, closer to one another than grouse in a covey, poised about a foot under the surface, watching the insects, and rising at them now and then. I should see uncountable thousands of the fish; and there would be other thousands far below, large ones that rarely took a fly but were often ready for a minnow.
Up the hill I went about four hundred feet, and, preparing for the survey, seated myself on a boulder.
It was a fine morning. In the motionless air, the valley was flooded with soft spring sunshine, dead-still upon the heather, which bore the russet hue of winter, and slightly shimmering on the tender green of early-budding trees; and the narrow loch, dark-blue, was like a mirror. It was almost difficult, as one gazed, to be sure where the land merged into the water. After a few moments' looking at it, the long sheet, being quite still, lost the aspect of water: it seemed to have vanished, and the space which it had occupied to be flanked by mountains of giant majesty and repose: only when one shook oneself to break the spell was there any sense of incongruity in beholding hills tapering from their bases downward.
All the conditions favoured the purpose with which I had climbed ; but what was this?
Below, a little to the east, rather more than a gunshot off, something was happening. In the midst of the sunlight, floating a little above the hillside, was an unshapen column, too fragile to be thought material. It did not intercept the beams. Permeated, indeed, it was with these, which seemed to be all the brighter for having something to play upon; and there was no shadow on the ground beneath. The column moved. Almost imperceptibly, it was changing its shape at every moment. Very slowly it was coming upwards, and was growing larger. On it came ; on, and on, and on ; silently ; radiant and softly sparkling, and that not only on the irregular edges, but also through its apparently impalpable mass; it was like a scene from fairyland in the broad light of day. By and by, without having noticed the contact at the first moment, I found myself swathed. The column was around me, and above; quite high above, I noticed on looking upward; around and above, too, the strange column, or rather that of which it was composed, small fluttering white things, still caught the sunbeams, and seemed to toss them to and fro.
It was snowing; and while the small fleecy crystals fell, as is their wont, the exquisite thin cloud from which they came, the magical column, rose!
In a few minutes, as mysteriously as it had appeared, it ceased to be; and where it had been, the tranquil sunlight lay.
This made one think about certain speculations of the learned. These flakes of snow, beautiful, each in perfect harmony with a design beyond all human ken, could not, in one sense, be said to have been evolved. They had come instantly, each in a flash, although the column of them had been slow in motion and in growth; and they had not come out of anything that the eye of man could see. Of course, there was the air, and in the air was moisture; and it was of air and moisture that the flakes had been made. What made them ? Perhaps the making of them had begun millions of centuries ago, when the fluid mass of nebulae that had solidified into our globe had been sent spinning on the course ordained. To that their approximate origin really might be traced : it was conceivable that what I had witnessed, the action of a wandering chill, was the inevitable outcome of forces that had been set in motion countless aeons before man appeared upon the earth, before, indeed, the earth had a separate being. Yes : the veriest Calvinist must see some cogency in the theory of Evolution, especially when it is applied not to the species to which he himself belongs, but to the species of equally marvellous things that are inanimate. On the other hand, was not all this a playing with words, or, rather, a playing with what words represent, those ineradicable necessities of thought which spring from the impact of phenomena upon the reflective consciousness ? Although they are ineradicable, they are not necessarily right. If mountains stood on their heads, and trees grew with their roots in the air, and birds walked the earth while wingless animals flew, and trout rose at flies through a yard of ice, it would be all the same: some argument into design, and from it, the familiar system, would be sure to be advanced in explanation of these circumstances, just as it is advanced in explanation of things as they actually are. Things must always be somehow, and, however they were, the human mind would strive to interpret them, and think it did : a sense of need for synthesis is inseparable from the human understanding. Synthesis is of various conceptions, however ; and there's the rub.
Did the First Cause yield up the power of causation when the whirl of the constellations was set going ? Calvinist and Evolutionist assume so; but, somehow, one doesn't quite like the tone of either. They take so much for granted that their dogmas should be small, and even then should have less of the last-word air than they habitually carry. If the First Cause did not surrender the faculty of causation ? If it be retained to this day ? That might account for the fairy snowstorm. It was just as wonderful a thing as the earliest appearance of any species of animal can possibly have been. Out of the dust was man made ; out of moisture and air, the snow. Man reproduces the species, and the snowflakes don't: one is a specific creation once for all; and the other are a special creation, constantly in repetition by forces outside itself. That is a difference, certainly; but is it as wide as it seems ? May not the coming of each new human creature be in a sense just as special an act as that of each new shower of snow ? Is the perception that the First Cause ordained the species incompatible with belief that the First Cause may still control the creation and the varieties of the units ? Can the occasional coming of a genius such as Shakspeare be accounted for by " natural laws " undisturbedly arranging their own issues? Were these wonderful snowflakes the result of a fiat issued that very day, or were they the result of something that had happened millions of centuries before? Even with the argument for Unbroken Causation borne in mind, it almost seemed as likely that I had witnessed an instantaneous act of creation as that the flakes were the inevitable outcome of the state of things which was arranged just after the earth ceased to be without form and void. You see, neither Calvinist nor Evolutionist, though both dogmatise from perceptions that one must admit to be necessities of thought, is at all times conscious of all the necessities: some of the perceptions exclude others that are equally to be respected. Is not this a notion quite clear, irresistible, absolutely impossible to escape from, when one mentions it: If the First Cause surrendered the faculty of causation immediately after the original creative act, there ceased to be an Omnipresent Cause at all, and God created the world only to leave it godless ? Thus does it seem that Calvinist and Evolutionist are headmasters in schools of dogmatic Atheism, one quite as questionable as the other; and that . . .
At the hospitable place where I was staying, when any one is on the hill or far out upon the lake, it is a horn, instead of a gong, that proclaims the approach of a meal. A blast rang through the valley, and shrilled off echoing in the corries. On rising to go down, I saw that a catspaw breeze was creeping over the water, and that the pleasant mysteries of the lake must for a time remain unsolved.