In the second case the result was different. I was wading in a shallow where I could see the trout, which, as it turned out, was never to be mine. It was a light-coloured fish feeding actively and recklessly on the flies, which were coming down freely, and it took my fly at once with perfect confidence. It sometimes happens, however, that these active, reckless, easily hooked trout are more surprised and desperate when hooked than any others. I never saw anything more mad and sudden than the rush of this trout. It gained a pool below some hatches, where no doubt it lived, and took the line under the rough main stream into a fine whirling back-water: then I felt the confusion of having lost touch with the fish, for there was nothing but the dull sodden strain of a line hopelessly drowned in the contending currents of the hatch-hole. The trout jumped high in the middle of the pool, and showed me that, if under two pounds, he was certainly very thick and strong ; I dropped the point of the rod without being able to give the least relief to the fine gut at the end, and the stream swept downwards a useless length of submerged line without a fly.
Those anglers, who are used to thinking that a day's fishing means fishing all day, may ask whether it does not make the pleasure less when the actual fishing is concentrated into a space of sometimes only two, and at most four or five hours, as is the case on a chalk stream in the month of May. The answer is, that the pleasure and excitement are highly concentrated too, and that the work while it lasts is very hard. To be amongst plenty of large trout, with a small fly and fine gut, when there is a good rise, is a glorious experience. Before it is over the angler will have had thrilling and exciting incidents, enough to provide much reflection, and let us hope satisfaction too, and if the rise lasted all day we should be apt to miss much of the glory of the month.
There is so much to be seen and heard in May.
There are the separate and successive greens of the fresh young leaves of different trees, perhaps the most tender and the most transient of all the colours that leaves or flowers give to any season. Then there are the great blossoms of May, of which I especially value six, all so conspicuous in colour as to compel one's attention, and three of them wonderful in perfume. They are the lilac, hawthorn, gorse, horse-chestnut, laburnum and broom. Not to spend time in the country while all these things are at their best, is to lead a dull life indeed; and yet, if we are not to miss some of them, we must spend a part at least of every week of May in going about the country with attention free and eyes afield. Dry fly fishing leaves many hours free for this. The first half of May, too, is the most favourable time for making discovery of birds. The summer birds have nearly all arrived, and all birds are singing; but the leaves are not thick yet, and both in brushwood and in trees it is comparatively easy to see the different species. They are active with the business and excitement of the breeding season, and it is just at this time that they most attract the notice of eye and ear. A little later on the air will still be full of sound and song, but it will be much more difficult owing to the leaves to get a good sight of any bird that has attracted attention or raised a doubt of its identity by its song.
May is a good month on a chalk stream, but to my mind the perfection of dry fly fishing is to be had on a good day in mid-June, on water where the May-fly never appears, first to excite the trout and the anglers, and then to leave the fish without appetite and the angler too often discontented. The May-fly is a fine institution, and where it comes in enormous quantities, as it does on some rivers such as the Kennet, it provides a fortnight of most glorious fishing; but elsewhere it interrupts the season, and unless the trout are very large, or there is a great lack of duns and small flies, I would not attempt to reintroduce the May-fly where it has ceased to exist in any numbers.
And now let the pleasure of this June day be heightened by the contrast of work and life in London. This is not the place in which to write of the deep human interests of London, of what great affairs have their centre and of what issues are discussed and decided there. All that follows is written without any thought of denying or minimising the attraction of these things for men's minds; but there is an aspect of London which is inevitable and becomes most oppressive in hot June days. There is the aggressive stiffness of the buildings, the brutal hardness of the pavement, the smell of the streets festering in the sun, the glare of the light all day striking upon hard substances, and the stuffiness of the heat from which there is no relief at night—for no coolness comes with the evening air, and bedroom windows seem to open into ovens; add to these hardships what is worse than all, the sense of being deprived of the country at this time and shut off from it. Perhaps you own a distant garden, which you know by heart, and from which occasionally leaves and flowers are sent to you in London; you unpack these and spread them out and look at them, spelling out from them and recalling to memory what the garden is like at this time. There were the young beech leaves and the sprays of double flowering cherry in May, and now there come the first out-of-door roses and the first of other things, perhaps the flower of some special iris lately planted. You see- these things, you know the very trees, bushes, and places from which they were taken; you know the very form and aspect which the beauty of the season is taking in your garden, and you have the knowledge that it is passing away, that you are missing for all this year things which are dear to you, both for the delight of seeing them afresh each season and for many old associations of other years. At such moments there surges within you a spirit of resentment and indignation, kept in abeyance during the actual hours of hard work, but asserting itself at all other times, and you pass through the streets feeling like an unknown alien, who has no part in the bustle and life of London, and cannot in the place of his exile share what seem to others to be pleasures. Work alone, however interesting, cannot neutralise all this, because it is only partly by the mind that we live. Mental effort is enough for some of the satisfaction of life; but we live also by the affections, and where out-of-door things make to these the irresistible appeal, which they do make to some natures, it is impossible to live in London without great sacrifice. Happily it is possible to go away, if not to home, at any rate to some country retreat at the end of the week, and to combine the best of dry fly fishing with this on Saturday. Where this can be done, the prospect of the escape on Saturday till Monday is a great consolation in all moments of leisure during the week. It is borne about with us like a happy secret; it draws the thoughts towards it continually, as Ruskin says that the luminous distance in a picture attracts the eye, or as the gleam of water attracts it in a landscape.