Read CHAPTER TEN - AMONG THE TROUT. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

The next week passed, and the next, and more than one of the employes said a word or two to Will about how strange it seemed without James Drinkwater.

They were not alone, for Mr Willows made the same remark to his son.

“The place doesn’t seem the same, Will, without James in his old place.  By the way, have you seen anything of him since?”

“Yes, father; Josh and I went up to take Mr Manners some flies, and James was in the garden digging; but, as soon as he saw me, he slipped away round by the back, and went off into the woods.  Josh said that he shied at me.”

“But you, my boy?  You didn’t show any resentment for his behaviour to you?”

“I?  Oh, no:  not I, father; I didn’t mind.  I knew he was in a temper.  I should have gone and shaken hands with him if he had stopped.”

“Quite right, my boy.  He’ll be better soon, and come back, like the true, honest fellow he is, and ask to be taken on.”

“But what about his threats, father?”

“Pooh!” ejaculated Mr Willows.  “Mr Manners was right.”

One afternoon Josh came down as usual from the Vicarage, rod in hand.

“What about fishing, Will?” he said.  “There’s a lot of fly out on the upper waters.  Get your rod, and let’s rout out old Ra, and see if we can’t show him some better sport than we had the other evening.”

“Ah, yes,” said Will.  “I believe he thought we took him where there wasn’t a fish, just to play him a trick.”

“Yes, that comes of getting a bad character,” said Josh.  “He’ll be treating us like the shepherds did the boy in the fable who cried `wolf!’”

“Oh, bother!  There were plenty of fish up there, only they had been having a good feed, and wouldn’t rise.”

The boy hurried off to where his long, limber, trout rod was resting on three hooks, all ready with winch, taper line, and cast, under the eaves of the mill-shed nearest to the water.

“What flies are you going to try?” said Josh.

“Oh, black gnats.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” said Josh.  “Red spinner is the one for to-night.”

“Ah, to be sure!  Have you got any?”

“Have you?”

“Not one; but you have, or else you would not have proposed them.”

“Come on; but I say, doesn’t it look black!” said Josh.

“Yes, we shall have some rain to-night, I think,” said Will; “and if it does come down and Bad Manners gets wet, he’ll think it another trick!”

The boys shouldered their rods, and went up upon the dam, whose waters looked deep and dark, and smooth as glass, save where here and there a big trout quietly sucked down some unfortunate fly, forming ever-expanding rings on the mirror-like surface.

“My!  There’s a whopper!” cried Josh, as the fish broke the surface with a loud smack.

“What are you going to do?” cried Will.

“Do?  Why, have a few throws; they are rising splendidly.”

“More reason why we should fetch old Manners.”

“All right,” said Josh, securing his fly again to one of the lower rings of his rod, shouldering it, and following his companion along the ascending path leading to the cottage.

They had passed along the second of the zig-zags when, at the third turn, they came suddenly upon Drinkwater standing in the shade of a drooping birch, gazing intently down upon the mill.

The boys were close upon him before he heard their steps, and then, starting violently, he wrenched himself round, leaped actively upon a heap of stones at his side, seized one of the hanging boughs, dragged himself up, and dived at once into the dense undergrowth, disappearing with a loud rustling amongst the bracken.

“All right, old chap!” said Will, cavalierly, “just as you like!  But you are fifty, and I wouldn’t behave like a sulky boy.”

“Oh, take no notice,” said Josh.  “Father says that he is sure to come round.”

“Not going to,” said Will.  “Come along.”

Ten minutes later they reached the cottage gate, to find Drinkwater’s sad-looking, patient-faced wife looking anxiously over the hedge.

“How are you, Mrs Waters?” cried Will, cheerily.  “We haven’t come for tea this time.  We are going to catch some trout ­a good creelful ­for you to cook.”

“I hope you will, my dears,” said the woman, gently.  “Mr Manners was sadly disappointed the other night.  He said he thought that you had played him another trick.”

“There, what did I say?” cried Will.  “Is he in his room?”

“No, my dears; he’s painting down by the birches, below the cave.”

“All right,” cried Will.  “Look here; I’ll take his rod and basket.”

The creel was hanging from a nail beneath the cottage porch, and the rod stood up like a tall reed with its spear stuck in one of the garden beds; and, quite at home, Will took them from their resting-places, swung the creel strap across his back, laid the rod alongside his own over his shoulder, and then walked sharply on along familiar paths, with a booming noise growing louder and louder as they progressed, till at one of the turns of the stream they came full in sight of the great fall where the water was thundering down into the rocky hollow it had carved, and a faint mist of spray rose to moisten the overhanging ferns.

“Big mushroom, Josh!” cried Will, pointing to the great, open umbrella.  “What shall we do?  Say we are coming with a stone?”

“No, no,” said Josh; “no larks now.”

“Well, I could hit it like a shot,” said Will, picking up a rounded pebble.

“Why, so could I, if you come to that,” said Josh.

“Not you!  Come, let’s try.”

“No, no; I don’t want to tease him.  Let’s get him on to fish.”

“You couldn’t hit it,” said Will.

“All right; think so if you like,” said Josh, and Will sent his stone flying with a tremendous jerk right away into the trees beyond the stream.

“Coo-ee!” he shouted.  “Mr Ra!  Ahoy!”

“Don’t!” cried Josh.


“He won’t like it.  Father says that he told him once that he was sadly disappointed that he had not had more success with the pictures he sent to town.”

“Poor old chap!” said Will.  “Well, I suppose they were not very good.”

“That’s what father thinks,” said Josh.

“How does he know?” said Will.

“Oh, he says that if they were good they wouldn’t all come back.”

“Well, Ra goes on painting them all the same,” said Will.  “Coo-ee!  Mr Manners, ahoy!”

This time the artist looked up, rose from his seat, stretched himself, and waved his palette in the air.

“Hollo, young ’uns,” he said, as they came up; “off fishing again?”

“Yes,” said Will, “and I’ve brought your rod.”

“Very much obliged to you,” said the artist, sarcastically.  “But not this time, thank you; I would rather paint.”

“Oh ­oh!” cried Will.  “Do come!  I’ve brought your basket too.”

“To put nothing in, eh?  No, not this time, thanks.”

“But it’s a good evening, Mr Manners, and the fish are rising splendidly.”

“Honour?” cried the artist, with a searching look.

“Bright!” cried Josh, earnestly.

“All right, then.  Here, I want to put in that little bit of sunlight, and then I’ll come.  How do you think it looks?” he said, resuming his seat and beginning to paint once more.

The boys were silent for a few moments, as they examined the picture critically.

“Lovely,” said Will, at last.

“Yes,” said Josh; “I like it better than that last you did.”

“Mean it, boys?”

“Why, of course!” said the lads together.

“Hum!  Hum!  Yes, it isn’t so bad as usual,” said the artist, sadly.  “I may say it is pretty.  But that’s all.  I have tried very hard, but there is nothing great in my stuff.  I suppose I haven’t got the right touch in me.  But never mind; painting has given me many a happy day amongst the most beautiful scenes in creation, and I suppose that I oughtn’t to grumble if it gives me honest pleasure instead of coin.  Why, it has made me friends, too, with a pair of as reckless young ruffians as ever gloried in playing a trick.  My word, Josh, I must be a good man!  If I hadn’t a better temper than your friend Drinkwater, Master Will, I should have loosened both your skins with a good licking more than once.”

“Well, don’t do it now,” said Will, grinning.  “Mine feels quite loose enough, and I want you to come and fish.”

“Brought my rod, then, have you?  But what am I to do with my traps?”

“Fold up the umbrum,” said Will, “and I’ll climb up here and stuff them into the cave.  Then they’ll be out of the wet when the rain comes.”

“Ah, to be sure,” said the artist.  “Capital!  But it isn’t going to rain.”

“It is,” said Will, decisively.  “Look yonder:  the old Tor’s got his nightcap on.”

“So he has,” cried the artist, eagerly, as he looked up at the mountainous top, miles away, nearly hidden by a faint white mist.  “Here, hold hard a minute; I must dash that in my picture.”

“No, no,” cried the boys, in a breath.  “You can do that any time.  Come on.”

“Well, it seems a pity,” said the artist, “but somehow you two always make me feel quite a boy again and ready to take holiday and play.  There, put away my traps.”

A few minutes later, umbrella, easel, and colour-box were safely stowed away in a narrow opening in the face of the limestone rock, and the three were trudging on upwards to a mighty bend.  There a great rift opened out into a wide amphitheatre, where, shallow and bright with flashing stickle, the stream danced among the stones, to calm down directly after in deep pool after pool, which looked like so many silvery mirrors netted by the rings formed by the rising fish.

“Now, Mr Manners,” cried Josh, “what do you say to that?  Are there any trout in Willows’ waters?”

“Yes, splendid!  We ought to get some fish to-night.  Here, where are your creels?”

“Haven’t brought them,” said Will.  “We are going to help fill yours.”

And they did, for the fish rose to nearly every cast, quarters and half-pounders, the artist to his great delight landing two both well over a pound, for it was one of those evenings when, as if warned by their natural instinct of a fast to come, the trout rose at every fly, taking in their heedless haste the artificial as well as the true, and only finding their mistake when gasping out their brief life upon the bracken laid at the bottom of the artist’s creel.

The trio fished on till the creel was nearly full, so intent upon their sport that they paid no heed to the gathering clouds, Nature’s harbingers of the storm about to break among the hills, till a bright flash of light darted down the vale, followed almost instantaneously by a mighty crash, which went roaring and rumbling on in echoes, to die distantly away.

“Hold on!” shouted Will.  “Look sharp; we shall have to run.  It’ll be wet jackets as it is.  I say, Mr M, lucky I put away your traps!  Wasn’t I right?”

“Right you were, young ’un,” cried the artist, making a whizzing noise as he wound up his multiplying winch.  “But I’m not going to bark my shins running amongst these stones.  Now then, boys.  ’Tention!  Shoulder rods!  Right face!  March!” And he led off at a rapid rate down by the side of the stream.  “Here, lads, that’s heavy,” he cried at the end of a few minutes, just as the rain began to make chess pawns upon the surface of the pools.  “I’ll carry it now.”

“No, no,” cried Will.  “But let’s shelter here for a few minutes.  It’s only going to be a shower now.”

He ran into where a great mass of slatey-looking rock stood out from the perpendicular side of the gorge, heedless of the fact that it necessitated splashing in through the shallow water, which nearly covered his boots.

“Nice dry spot this,” said the artist, laughing, as they stood in the ample shelter.

“Oh, it is only wetting one’s feet,” said Will.  “We are quite dry upstairs.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” said the artist.  “My word!  It is coming down.  How it hisses!  But you are right:  it won’t last long.”

In less than half an hour the sky was nearly clear again, but water enough had fallen to make the stream which rushed by their feet rise full five inches, bringing forth the remark from Josh that they were getting it warmly higher up in the hills.

Possibly he alluded to the lightning, for flash after flash divided the heavens in zig-zag lines, though none seemed to come near them, and they were soon after tramping on, wet-footed only, back towards Vicarage, cottage, and mill.

“I say, hark at the fall!” cried Will, as they neared the spot where they had picked up their friend.

“Yes, it is coming down,” said Josh.  “Well, your father wanted it.”

“Yes,” said Will; “the dam was getting low.  I say, Mr Manners, I told old Mother Waters to get her frying-pan ready, for there’d be some fish.”

“Yes, and you were right this time,” said the artist; “but I’m not going to take in all these.  Here, Will, pick out four brace of the best.”

“Shan’t!” said Will, shortly.  “We get quite as many as we want.  Take them all in yourself.  One moment ­send Mr Carlile up some instead.  Here, come on; it’s going to rain again.  My!  Isn’t the fall thundering down!”

Will was right.  Another heavy shower was coming over from the hills; but it did not overtake the party before they had all reached home, and then Nature made up for a long dry time by opening all her reservoirs, to fill pool, gully, and lynn, the waters roaring for hours down the echoing vale, till the next morning the placid stream was one foaming torrent that seemed to threaten to bear away every projecting rock that stood in its way, while every sluice was opened at the mill to relieve the pressure of the overburdened dam.