One day, however, Miss Winsome made a suggestion in which there seemed no harm. We had been fishing in the customary parts all morning, and, with comfortably heavy baskets, had reached the end of our stretch. " You're still determined not to poach a little, I suppose," she said; "but surely we can have lunch in the Enemy's old fir-tree?"
The idea was alluring. On a bright, hot day the fir-tree was the very place for an outdoor meal. It grew out of a precipitous sandy bank just behind the fishermen's narrow track by the side of the river. It was a stately tree, from the bole of which, about twelve feet above the roots, two thick branches, like the limbs of an enormous catapult, forked out and up. Broom stood in patches on the bank. By gripping the bushes we could climb, and then step into the curves of the old tree from a branch which drooped to the bank on the inside.
" Come on, then," I said, having considered the suggestion. " You go first," I added, when we came to the spot, "and I will hand up the luncheon basket when you're in the tree."
"Just a moment," said she. "This end fly is rather worn. I think I'll put on a Yellow Sally. Sally's due about this time of the year; in fact, I saw her out to-day, just round the corner there. If I put Sally on now, she'll be well soaked when we come down again. You run up, and I'll follow in a minute."
I did as I was bidden, and from the eyrie in the fir saw my companion throw her line upon the pool and then fix her rod by the spear between two stones. She had chosen a peculiar place in which to soak a fly. Her rod hung over the point of a small peninsula slanting down the stream and carrying the main current towards the middle; her cast was moving about in slack, deep, rippling water a good many yards from the bank. I could see Yellow Sally swimming gently, but vivaciously, to and fro, a little under the surface.
Rarely had I relished a luncheon so much as that which I was soon enjoying. Miss Winsome is daring in pursuit of trout, and, as has been indicated, she has no pedantic respect for the Game Laws; but she is an exceedingly merry companion, and was surely a safe one up a tree. What more could a fellow want? Sir John's butler had done his duty well. In our basket we found a chicken, a dainty pie, other things to eat, and two bottles of wine. Here was I, after a morning of brisk sport, and with the prospect of more in the afternoon, lunching in an immemorial tree, by the bank of the grandest river in the kingdom, with a pretty girl! What more, I ask again, could a fellow want ? It was like living in the Forest of Arden.
This feeling seemed to call for expression in phrases which naturally took in the blueness of the sky, the sigh of the south wind, and the songs of lark and missel-thrush; but discourse on this theme was cut short. Miss Winsome is a damsel of fine sensibilities and rather hostile to sentiment. Her interests were purely practical. She desired to be informed as to what was the difference between a sea-trout and a young salmon. How was she to distinguish? In her basket, she said, she had a fish about three pounds. It was exactly like a salmon; yet surely it was too small to be one ?
" What's his tail like ? " I asked, dropping from poesy with a thud.
" What has that to do with it ? " Miss Winsome asked.
" The tail of a salmon is more forked than that of a sea-trout of the same age."
"Ah," she said thoughtfully, as if trying to remember, " I think the tail is rather straight. Is there no other difference ? "
" On the slanting lines from the dorsal fin to the line along the middle of the side a sea-trout has fourteen or fifteen scales, and a salmon has only twelve. Do you see the birds ?-
" The woosel-cock, so black of hue, With orange-tawny bill, The throstle with his note so true, The wren with little quill."
" Claret," said Miss Winsome, " is a dull drink by itself. It needs something to stir it up. Lemonade has been forgotten. Please pour some champagne into my glass."
I vowed that the wines would make an evil blend; but she showed no more respect for chemistry than she had shown for Shakespeare. "Things," she remarked, " always taste best when they are pretty to look at, and a little brightening improves the colour of claret. I've tried it often. There are sea-lice on my three-pounder. That's good! It must have come up with last night's tide."
"Yes; and what a joy it must have been to run up this wooded river in the moonbeams! And to think of it now-its next stage the cooking-range!"
"That's a wrong tack," said Miss Winsome. "Fine words from a man who's browsing on the wing of a chicken! I can't join in these emotions about animals. If I did I should have nothing to eat. Besides, it seems to be crooked thinking. Have you ever noticed that people who rejoice in their love of cats and dogs and birds are always those who can't get on with human beings ? "
I admitted that they were tartars as a rule.
" I am sorry to see that Mr. Andrew Lang has taken to this sort of thing. He says that worm-fishing should be prohibited everywhere, because it's not fair to the worm. Yet I've always understood he's a good man. Of course, it may be a mere slip of judgment with him, from his having to think so much-an error of the head rather than of the heart. Men of letters sometimes get hold of wrong ideas in solitude, and then put them into print. Perhaps that comes of their being so much in the study by themselves."
"Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company, For you, in my respect, are all the world : Then how can it be said, i am alone, When all the world is here to look on me ? "
" By the way," said Miss Winsome, " I've found out a singular thing about maggots in the gills of a salmon. You would think that they're a bad sign ; but they're not. Mr. Malloch explained the matter to me when I was at Perth yesterday for flies. There were in his place several salmon just out of the Tay. He pointed to two in particular, and said that, although he had not examined them, one would have maggots in the gills and the other wouldn't. It turned out exactly as he said. Then he asked me which did I think the better fish ? Of course I said, 'The one without maggots.' 'No; that's wrong,' he told me. 'salmon that have maggots are'-I forget exactly how many per cent- 1 superior'-in fatty matter, and so on-' to salmon that haven't.' I then asked how he had told the one with maggots from the one without. He said by the irregular dark spots, like small splashes, on the sides. That was the one that had the maggots. It seems that it used to be thought a bull-trout-that is, a cross between a salmon and a brown trout or a sea-trout; but now it is understood to be a real salmon."