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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

IX. Trout-Fishing in the Traun

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Hallstatt is about ten miles below Aussee. The Traun here expands into a lake, very dark and deep, shut in by steep and lofty mountains. The railway runs along the eastern shore. On the other side, a mile away, you see the old town, its white houses clinging to the cliff like lichens to the face of a rock. The guide-book calls it "a highly original situation." But this is one of the cases where a little less originality and a little more reasonableness might be desired, at least by the permanent inhabitants. A ledge under the shadow of a precipice makes a trying winter residence. The people of Hallstatt are not a blooming race: one sees many dwarfs and cripples among them. But to the summer traveller the place seems wonderfully picturesque. Most of the streets are flights of steps. The high-road has barely room to edge itself through among the old houses, between the window-gardens of bright flowers. On the hottest July day the afternoon is cool and shady. The gay, little skiffs and long, open gondolas are flitting continually along the lake, which is the main street of Hallstatt.

The incongruous, but comfortable, modern hotel has a huge glass veranda, where you can eat your dinner and observe human nature in its transparent holiday disguises. I was much pleased and entertained by a family, or confederacy, of people attired as peasants--the men with feathered hats, green stockings, and bare knees--the women with bright skirts, bodices, and silk neckerchiefs--who were always in evidence, rowing gondolas with clumsy oars, meeting the steamboat at the wharf several times a day, and filling the miniature garden of the hotel with rustic greetings and early Salzkammergut attitudes. After much conjecture, I learned that they were the family and friends of a newspaper editor from Vienna. They had the literary instinct for local colour.

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The fishing at Hallstatt is at Obertraun. There is a level stretch of land above the lake, where the river flows peaceably, and the fish have leisure to feed and grow. It is leased to a peasant, who makes a business of supplying the hotels with fish. He was quite willing to give permission to an angler; and I engaged one of his sons, a capital young fellow, whose natural capacities for good fellowship were only hampered by a most extraordinary German dialect, to row me across the lake, and carry the net and a small green barrel full of water to keep the fish alive, according to the custom of the country. The first day we had only four trout large enough to put into the barrel; the next day I think there were six; the third day, I remember very well, there were ten. They were pretty creatures, weighing from half a pound to a pound each, and coloured as daintily as bits of French silk, in silver gray with faint pink spots.

There was plenty to do at Hallstatt in the mornings. An hour's walk from the town there was a fine waterfall, three hundred feet high. On the side of the mountain above the lake was one of the salt-mines for which the region is celebrated. It has been worked for ages by many successive races, from the Celt downward. Perhaps even the men of the Stone Age knew of it, and came hither for seasoning to make the flesh of the cave-bear and the mammoth more palatable. Modern pilgrims are permitted to explore the long, wet, glittering galleries with a guide, and slide down the smooth wooden rollers which join the different levels of the mines. This pastime has the same fascination as sliding down the balusters; and it is said that even queens and princesses have been delighted with it. This is a touching proof of the fundamental simplicity and unity of our human nature.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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