There was a short, somewhat embarrassed
silence while Margot kept her eyes fixed on the scene
of the late meal, the two smouldering fires, the piled-up
hampers and baskets, and the Editor drummed with his
fingers, and chewed his moustache.
“Er-” he began
haltingly at last. “How do you think it
“You mean the-”
“Picnic! Yes. My
first entertainment. I feel responsible.
Think they enjoyed it at all?”
“I’m sure of it.
Immensely! They thawed wonderfully. Think
of the duet! To hear Mr Macalister singing was
a revelation. It has been a delightful change
from the ordinary routine. And the trout!
The trout was a huge success. How amiable of
it to let itself be caught so conveniently!”
The Editor smiled, with the conscious
pride of the experienced fisherman.
“There was not much `let’
about it. He led me a pretty dance before he
gave up the struggle, but I was on my mettle, and bound
to win. Do you know anything about fishing,
“I?” Margot laughed happily.
“Just as much as I have gleaned from watching
little boys fish for minnows in Regent’s Park!
I don’t think I have ever particularly wanted
to know more. It seems so dull to stand waiting
for hours for what may never come, not daring to speak,
in case you may scare it away! What do you think
about all the time?”
He turned and looked at her at that,
his lips twitching with amusement. Seated on
the ground as they were, the two faces were very near
together, and each regarded the other with the feeling
of advancing a step further in the history of their
“He really is young!”
decided Margot, with a sigh of relief. “It’s
only the frown and the stoop and the eyeglasses which
make him look as if he were old.”
George Elgood looked into the pink
and white face, and his thoughts turned instinctively
to a bush of briar roses which he had seen and admired
earlier in the day. So fresh, and fair, and innocent!
Were all young girls so fragrant and flower-like
as this? Then he thought of the little prickles
which had stung his hand as he had picked a bud from
the same bush for his buttonhole, and smiled with
latent mischief. After all, the remembrance
did not lessen the likeness. Miss Margot looked
as if she might-under provocation-display
a prickle or two of her own!
“What do I think about?”
he repeated slowly. “That is rather a
difficult question to answer; but this good little
river, I am thankful to say, does not leave one much
time for thought. There’s a little channel
just beyond the bridge that is a favourite place for
sea trout. Would you like to see it?”
“Might I? Really?
Oh, please!” cried Margot, all in a breath.
Her very prettiest “please,” accompanied
by a quick rise to her feet which emphasised the eagerness
of her words.
George Elgood lost no time in following
her example, and together they walked briskly away
towards the head of the dell; that is to say, in the
opposite direction to that taken by the other members
of the party. George Elgood had picked up his
fishing-tackle as he went-by an almost
unconscious impulse, as it seemed-and unconsciously
his conversation drifted to the all-absorbing topic.
“If we take a sharp cut across
this hill-I’ll give you a hand down
the steep bits!-we hit the river at the
best spot. You have been grumbling at the wet
weather, but you will see the good effects of rain,
from a fisherman’s point of view. The
river is full from bank to bank, rushing down to the
sea. It is a fine sight, a river in flood!
I don’t know anything in Nature which gives
the same impression of power and joy. That’s
where Norway has the pull. Her mountains can’t
compare with the Swiss giants, but everywhere there
is a glorious wealth of water. No calm sleeping
lakes, but leaping cataracts of rivers filling whole
valleys, as my little stream here fills its small banks;
roaring and dashing, and sparkling in the sun.
Norway is perfection, from a fisherman’s point
of view; but there is plenty of sport to be found
nearer home. I have had no cause to complain
for the last fortnight. This way-to
the right! It’s just a little rough going
at first, but it cuts off a good mile. You are
sure you don’t mind?”
Margot’s laugh rang out jubilantly.
She scrambled up the steep mountain path with nimble
feet, easily out-distancing her guide, until the hilltop
was reached, and she stood silhouetted against the
sky, while the wind blew out her white skirts, and
loosened curling tendrils of hair.
Below could be traced the course of
the river, winding in and out in deep curves, and
growing ever broader and fuller with every mile it
traversed. The sunlight which played on it, making
it look like a silver ribbon, played also on the yellow
gorse and purple heather; on the long grey stretch
of country in the distance; on that softer blue plain
joining the skyline, which was the sea itself.
A breath of salt seemed to mingle with the aromatic
odour of the heather, adding tenfold to its exhilaration.
As Margot stood holding on to her
hat, and waiting for her companion’s approach,
she felt such a glorious sense of youth and well-being,
such an assurance of happiness to come, as is seldom
given to mortals to enjoy. It was written in
her face, her radiant, lovely young face, and the
light in the eyes which she turned upon him made the
shy scholar catch his breath.
“You did that well! Magnificently
well!” he cried approvingly. “But
you must take the descent carefully, please.
There are one or two sudden dips which might be awkward
if you were not prepared. I know them all.
Shall I,-would you,-will you
take my hand?”
“Thank you!” said Margot,
and laid her hand in his with an acceptance as simple
as if he had been her own brother. It was a very
pretty little hand, in which its owner felt a justifiable
pride, and it lay like a white snowflake in the strong
brown palm stretched out to meet it.
For just a moment George Elgood kept
his fingers straight and unclasped, while he gazed
downward at it with kindling eyes, then they closed
in a tight, protecting clasp, and together they began
For the most part it was easy enough,
but the awkward places came so often and unexpectedly
that it did not seem worth while to unloose that grasp
until the bottom was safely reached. Margot had
a dream-like sensation of having wandered along for
hours, but in reality it was a bare ten minutes before
she and her guide were standing on level ground by
the side of the rushing river.
“Thank you! That was a
great help,” she said quietly. George Elgood,
with a sudden access of shyness, made no reply, but
busied himself with preparation.
“I’ll just make another
cast, to show you how one sets to work. I take
a pretty big fly-the trout like that.
These are the flies-all sizes, as you
see. I am rather proud of them, for I make them
myself in the winter months, when one can enjoy only
the pleasures of anticipation. It’s a good
occupation for a leisure hour.”
“You make them yourself!”
Margot repeated incredulously, stretching out her
hand to receive one of the hairy morsels on her palm,
and bending over it in unaffected admiration.
“But how clever of you! How can you have
the patience? It must be dreadfully finicky work!”
“It is a trifle `finicky,’
no doubt!” He laughed over the repetition of
the word. “But it’s a refreshing
change to work with one’s hands sometimes, instead
of one’s brain. Now shall I give you your
first lesson in the art? Don’t imagine
for a moment that fishing means standing still for
the hour together, with nothing more exciting than
the pulling-in of your fish the moment he bites.
That’s the idea of the outsider who does not
know what adventure he is losing, what hope and suspense,
what glorious triumph! Like most things, it’s
the struggle that’s the glory of the thing,
not the prize. Shall I soak this cast for you,
and give you your first lesson?”
“Oh, please! I’d
love it! It would be too kind of you!”
cried Margot eagerly. She had not the faintest
idea what “soaking a cast” might mean,
and listened in bewilderment to a score of unfamiliar
expressions; but it is safe to affirm that she would
have assented with equal fervour to almost any proposition
which her companion made.
There and then followed the first
lesson on the seemingly easy, but in reality difficult,
task of “casting,” the Editor illustrating
his lesson by easy, graceful throws, which Margot
tried in vain to imitate. She grew impatient,
stamping her feet, and frowning fiercely with her dark
eyebrows, while he looked on with the amused indulgence
which one accords to a child.
“Are you always in such a hurry
to accomplish a thing at once?”
“Yes, always! It’s
only when you don’t care that you can afford
“It sometimes saves time in
the end to make haste slowly!”
“Oh, don’t confound me
with proverbs!” cried Margot, turning a flushed,
petulant face at him over her shoulder. “I
know I am impetuous and imprudent, but-the
horrid thing will twist up! Don’t
you think I might have a demonstration this time?
Let me watch, and pick up hints. I’m sure
I should learn more quickly that way, and it would
be less boring for you. Please!”
At that he took the rod, nothing loth,
and Margot seated herself on the ground, a trifle
short of breath after her exertions, and not at all
sorry to have the chance of looking on while some one
else did the work. She was intently conscious
of her companion’s presence, but he seemed to
forget all about her, as wading slightly forward into
the stream he cast his fly in slow, unerring circuit.
How big he looked, how strong and masterful; how
graceful were the lines of his tall lean figure!
From where she sat Margot could see the dark profile
beneath the deerstalker cap, the long straight nose,
the firmly-closed lips, the steady eyes. It
was the face of a man whom above all things one could
trust. “A poor dumb body,” Mrs Macalister
had dubbed him, scornfully; but Margot had discovered
that he was by no means dumb, and that once the first
barriers were broken, he could talk with the best,
and bring into his conversation the added eloquence
of expression. She recalled the lighting of
his absorbed eyes as he had looked down at her own
white hand, and flushed at the remembrance.
Margot had often pitied the wives
and sisters of enthusiastic fishermen who had perforce
to sit mum-chance in the background, but to-day she
was conscious of no dissatisfaction with her own position.
She possessed her full share of the girl’s
gift of building castles, and it would not be safe
to say how high the airy structure had risen before
suddenly the rod bent, and the Editor’s intent
face lit up with elation. The fish was hooked;
it now remained to “play” with him, in
professional parlance, till he could be landed with
credit to himself and his captor.
For the next half-hour Margot was
keenly, vividly interested in studying the tactics
of the game. The reel screamed out, as the captive
made a gallant dash for liberty; the Editor splashed
after him, running hastily by the side of the river,
now reeling in his line, now allowing it full play;
and at the distance of a few yards she ran with him,
now holding her breath with suspense, now clasping
her hands in triumph, until at last, his struggles
over, the captive floated heavily upon the stream.
It was the end for which she had longed
throughout thirty of the most exciting moments that
she had ever known; but now that victory was secured,
woman-like she began to feel remorse.
“Oh, is it dead? Have
you killed it? But it’s horrid, you know-quite
horrible! A big strong man like you, and that
poor little fish-”
“Not little at all! It’s
a good six-pounder,” protested the fisherman,
quick to defend his sport against depreciation.
“No-he’s not dead yet, but
he soon will be. I will just-”
“Wait! Wait! Let
me get out of the way.” Margot flew with
her fingers in her ears, then pulled them out to cry-“Is
it done? Is it over? Can I come back?”
“Yes; it is all right.
I’ve put him in my bag. You will appreciate
him better in his table guise. I’ll take
him back as a peace-offering to Mrs McNab, for her
own evening meal. We have already had our share
at the pic-”
Suddenly his hands fell to his sides,
he straightened himself, and turned his eyes upon
her, filled with puzzle and dismay.
Margot faintly. Rosy red were her cheeks; a weight
as of lead pressed on her eyelids, dragging them down,
down, beneath his gaze. “I-I-forgot!
We were to have gone to find them! Do you suppose
they are-hiding still?”
He laughed at that, though in somewhat
“Rather not! Given us
up long ago. It must be getting on for an hour.
I can’t think how I came to forget-”
Margot glanced at him shyly beneath her curling lashes.
“It was the fish! A fisherman
can’t be expected to remember anything when
he is landing a trout!” she suggested soothingly.
Nevertheless she remembered with a thrill of joy
that his forgetfulness had dated back to a time when
there had been no fish in prospect. “Do
you suppose they have gone home?”
“We will go and see. From
that mound over there we can overlook the path to
the inn. Perhaps we had better keep a little
in the background! It would be as well that they
should not see us, if they happened to look up-”
If it were possible to feel a degree
hotter, Margot felt it at that moment, as she followed
George Elgood up the little hillock to the right,
and, pausing just short of the top, peered stealthily
around. A simultaneous exclamation broke from
both lips; simultaneously they drew back, and crouched
on their knees to peer over the heather.
There they went!-straggling
in a row in the direction of the inn, the party of
revellers who had been so basely deserted.
First, the clergyman, with his hands
clasped behind his back, his head bent in thought;
a pensive reveller, this, already beginning to repent
a heavy, indigestible meal; next, Mrs Macalister,
holding her skirts in characteristic fashion well
up in front and sweeping the ground behind; a pace
or two in the rear, her spouse, showing depression
and weariness in every line of his body. Yet
farther along the two young men carrying the empty
hampers; last of all, at quite a little distance from
the rest, the figure of the Chieftain stepping out
with a tread even more conspicuously jaunty than usual,
his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his head turned
from side to side, as if curiously scanning the hillsides.
At one and the same moment Margot
and the Editor ducked their heads, and scrambled backwards
for a distance of two or three yards. There was
a moment’s silence, then instinctively their
eyes met. Margot pressed her lips tightly together,
George Elgood frowned, but it was all in vain; no
power on earth could prevent the mischievous dimples
from dipping in her cheeks; no effort could hide the
twinkle in his eyes-they buried their heads
in their hands, and shook with laughter!
When at last composure was regained,
George Elgood pulled his watch from his pocket, glanced
at the time, and cried eagerly-
“There is still an hour before
we need be back for dinner. As well be hanged
for a sheep as a lamb. Let us go back to the
river, and try our luck once more!”