If the water is high, you will follow it down, and have easy fishing.
If the water is low, you will go upstream, and fish "fine and far-off."
Every turn in the avenue which the little river has made for you opens up a new view,--a rocky gorge where the deep pools are divided by white-footed falls; a lofty forest where the shadows are deep and the trees arch overhead; a flat, sunny stretch where the stream is spread out, and pebbly islands divide the channels, and the big fish are lurking at the sides in the sheltered corners under the bushes. From scene to scene you follow on, delighted and expectant, until the night suddenly drops its veil, and then you will be lucky if you can find your way home in the dark!
Yes, it is all very good, this exploration of new streams. But, for my part, I like still better to go back to a familiar little river, and fish or dream along the banks where I have dreamed and fished before. I know every bend and curve: the sharp turn where the water runs under the roots of the old hemlock-tree; the snaky glen, where the alders stretch their arms far out across the stream; the meadow reach, where the trout are fat and silvery, and will only rise about sunrise or sundown, unless the day is cloudy; the Naiad's Elbow, where the brook rounds itself, smooth and dimpled, to embrace a cluster of pink laurel-bushes. All these I know; yes, and almost every current and eddy and backwater I know long before I come to it. I remember where I caught the big trout the first year I came to the stream; and where I lost a bigger one. I remember the pool where there were plenty of good fish last year, and wonder whether they are there now.
Better things than these I remember: the companions with whom I have followed the stream in days long past; the rendezvous with a comrade at the place where the rustic bridge crosses the brook; the hours of sweet converse beside the friendship-fire; the meeting at twilight with my lady Graygown and the children, who have come down by the wood-road to walk home with me.
Surely it is pleasant to follow an old stream. Flowers grow along its banks which are not to be found anywhere else in the wide world. "There is rosemary, that 's for remembrance; and there is pansies, that 's for thoughts!"
One May evening, a couple of years since, I was angling in the Swiftwater, and came upon Joseph Jefferson, stretched out on a large rock in midstream, and casting the fly down a long pool. He had passed the threescore years and ten, but he was as eager and as happy as a boy in his fishing.
"You here!" I cried. "What good fortune brought you into these waters?"
"Ah," he answered, "I fished this brook forty-five years ago. It was in the Paradise Valley that I first thought of Rip Van Winkle. I wanted to come back again for the sake of old times."
But what has all this to do with an open fire? I will tell you. It is at the places along the stream, where the little flames of love and friendship have been kindled in bygone days, that the past returns most vividly. These are the altars of remembrance.
It is strange how long a small fire will leave its mark. The charred sticks, the black coals, do not decay easily. If they lie well up the hank, out of reach of the spring floods, they will stay there for years.
If you have chanced to build a rough fireplace of stones from the brook, it seems almost as if it would last forever.
There is a mossy knoll beneath a great butternut-tree on the Swiftwater where such a fireplace was built four years ago; and whenever I come to that place now I lay the rod aside, and sit down for a little while by the fast-flowing water, and remember.
This is what I see: A man wading up the stream, with a creel over his shoulder, and perhaps a dozen trout in it; two little lads in gray corduroys running down the path through the woods to meet him, one carrying a frying-pan and a kettle, the other with a basket of lunch on his arm. Then I see the bright flames leaping up in the fireplace, and hear the trout sizzling in the pan, and smell the appetizing odour. Now I see the lads coming back across the foot-bridge that spans the stream, with a bottle of milk from the nearest farmhouse. They are laughing and teetering as they balance along the single plank. Now the table is spread on the moss. How good the lunch tastes! Never were there such pink-fleshed trout, such crisp and savoury slices of broiled bacon.
Douglas, (the beloved doll that the younger lad shamefacedly brings out from the pocket of his jacket,) must certainly have some of it. And after the lunch is finished, and the bird's portion has been scattered on the moss, we creep carefully on our hands and knees to the edge of the brook, and look over the bank at the big trout that is poising himself in the amber water. We have tried a dozen times to catch him, but never succeeded. The next time, perhaps--
Well, the fireplace is still standing. The butternut-tree spreads its broad branches above the stream. The violets and the bishop's-caps and the wild anemones are sprinkled over the banks. The yellow-throat and the water-thrush and the vireos still sing the same tunes in the thicket. And the elder of the two lads often comes back with me to that pleasant place and shares my fisherman's luck beside the Swiftwater.
But the younger lad?
Ah, my little Barney, you have gone to follow a new stream,--clear as crystal,--flowing through fields of wonderful flowers that never fade.
It is a strange river to Teddy and me; strange and very far away. Some day we shall see it with you; and you will teach us the names of those blossoms that do not wither. But till then, little Barney, the other lad and I will follow the old stream that flows by the woodland fireplace,--your altar.
Rue grows here. Yes, there is plenty of rue. But there is also rosemary, that 's for remembrance! And close beside it I see a little heart's-ease.
A SLUMBER SONG FOR THE FISHERMAN'S CHILD
Furl your sail, my little boatie; Here 's the haven, still and deep, Where the dreaming tides, in-streaming, Up the channel creep.
See, the sunset breeze is dying; Hark, the plover, landward flying, Softly down the twilight crying; Come to anchor, little boatie, In the port of Sleep.
Far away, my little boatie, Roaring waves are white with foam; Ships are striving, onward driving, Day and night they roam.
Father 's at the deep-sea trawling, In the darkness, rowing, hauling, While the hungry winds are calling,-- God protect him, little boatie, Bring him safely home!
Not for you, my little boatie, Is the wide and weary sea; You 're too slender, and too tender, You must rest with me.
All day long you have been straying Up and down the shore and playing; Come to port, make no delaying!
Day is over, little boatie, Night falls suddenly.
Furl your sail, my little boatie; Fold your wings, my tired dove.
Dews are sprinkling, stars are twinkling Drowsily above.
Cease from sailing, cease from rowing; Rock upon the dream-tide, knowing Safely o'er your rest are glowing, All the night, my little boatie, Harbour-lights of love.