" Of course, all that is only Mr. Malloch's opinion."
"Good enough for me. Sir Herbert Maxwell says that as regards salmon and trout he is the most learned naturalist in the country."
"Sir Herbert seems to have been a bit off the line about the spring sea-trout. Now, don't you think that, as we have had our lunch, and there may soon be another rise of fly,-"
That represents, though feebly, a sound that suddenly rose from the pool. On looking round and down we saw that the rod fixed by the spear between stones at the edge of the water was in a lively state. It was bent and quivering, and the line was being torn across the deeps.
Simultaneously we both moved to go down; but neither of us was expeditious. We seemed to be hung dangerously high in the air. It had been easy to reach our seats on the branches; but it was not easy to quit them. For a moment I thought remorsefully about having looked upon the wine-cup when it was red and yellow; but soon I realised that the difficulty arose from just having peered down the side of the tree towards the river, which, unlike the side we had ascended, was perpendicular and of giddy height. In short, we had lost our bearings somewhat.
Miss Winsome, however, had not lost her wits. " I hope," she remarked, " it is not Yellow Sally he has taken. The knot wouldn't be all right."
" That," I said ruefully, "doesn't matter. Look !"
She looked in the direction I had indicated. " Two of the Enemy's gamekeepers," said she; " and a third coming round the bend in a boat."
" This," said I, " is a pretty picnic. Hide !"
She dived behind her particular branch, and I concealed myself behind mine. As soon as we were uncomfortably settled one of the gamekeepers had seized the rod.
" We seem to have come on they poachers at last," he said to the other. " We'll nab them this time."
" Golly, what a fisher ! " I heard Miss Winsome muttering. "See how he holds the rod! Nearly straight out! It looked far better when fishing by itself."
That was true. The gamekeeper did go about his unexpected privilege clumsily. There seemed danger that the gut might snap at any moment. If the rod is not held pretty high one cannot measure the strain. Nevertheless, luck, which favours the lame and the lazy, favoured the gamekeeper. The fish stopped in his rush before the reel was empty. Then he leaped, and bored, and sulked, by turns; but it became evident that he was yielding. The second keeper was ready with Miss Winsome's landing-net, which had been lying beside the rod. He dipped it into the water when, for the first time, the fish came within a yard of the bank.
" A grilse! Under his head, you silly!" exclaimed Miss Winsome, forgetting our equivocal situation. Turning to me, she added, in a whisper: "He's big enough to jerk out if he gets a smack at the net with his tail."
Fortunately, the Enemy's troops, being deeply engaged in the diversion, did not hear this monologue ; and soon the fish was landed.
"What's to be done noo, Peter?" said one, as the gamekeepers seated themselves just below our arbour. " Whaur d'ye think he'll be ? "
" Dear knows, Tarn," said Peter.
" At ony rate, it's weel we ha'e 'im by the heels noo," said Tarn. " I'll ha'e a chance o' gettin' to ma bed, instead o' bein' oot every ither nicht."
" But ha'e we got 'im by the heels ? " said Peter.
" Aweel," said Tam, " I canna' gang sae far as to say I see 'im; but he maun be i' the viceenity. Naebody but a daftie wud gae 'wa' withoot sic a bonnie rod."
"There's something in that, am thinkin'; but, Tam, he may ken what an awfu' deevil ye are wi' the poachers."
" Aye, mon; maybe," said Tam, touched by the compliment.
Peter was encouraged by his chiefs complacence. " His Lordship," he said, " will be weel pleased when we tak' hame the scoonrel's name an' address. Of course, we'll tak' the rod and net ? "
" Of course. It's no' exac'ly in accoard wi' the law o' interdic'; but we'll dae't."
Peter was mystified, but seemed impressed. " It's a graun' thing, book-learnin', Tam. But whaur the de'il's the poacher ? "
" Ca* canny, Peter, lad. I'll ha'e 'im if I have to sit here a' nicht."
" Losh, Tam, look at yon !" exclaimed Peter, rising hastily to his feet, and pointing to the boat.
" Dodsake, aye! The laddie has a fush on! This often happens at that bend."
Off they went to the assistance of the laddie. The difficulty into which he had fallen was explicable at a glance. The Otter's Stone Pool has two almost-rectangular bends. Apparently the three gamekeepers had been fishing it from the top, and, in the course of their harling, had disappeared behind the last corner when Miss Winsome and I ensconced ourselves in the fir-tree. Evidently, also, the youngest gillie had been told to bring the boat to the head of the pool again. He had left a line out, and while he was turning the corner, below which he had been keeping in the slowly-running water on the near side, the lure had been carried by the current into a place over which the boat had not passed, and had been taken by a fish. What a predicament! Even at summer level, the Tay is not to be compared with the puny Tiber or with the Thames. In many places, being a river with large margins, it is shallow and wimpling at the sides; but through the middle of every pool it pours a powerful flood. Had the laddie kept to the oars and on his course, the rod would have been overboard the moment all the line was out. It was, therefore, the rod he was attending to. The oars were hanging on their pins. The boat was drifting, helpless. Within two or three minutes it was beyond the turn of the river, and all that was left to us of the stirring scene was the salmon-rod wrigglingly erect above the bank.