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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

VI. The Ristigouche from a Horse-Yacht

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We must try for another before we go back. Again fortune favours us, and at eleven o'clock we pole up the river to the camp with two good salmon in the canoe. Hardly have we laid them away in the ice-box, when Favonius comes dropping down from Patapedia with three fish, one of them a twenty-four pounder. And so the morning's work is done.

In the evening, after dinner, it was our custom to sit out on the deck, watching the moonlight as it fell softly over the black hills and changed the river into a pale flood of rolling gold. The fragrant wreaths of smoke floated lazily away on the faint breeze of night. There was no sound save the rushing of the water and the crackling of the camp-fire on the shore. We talked of many things in the heavens above, and the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth; touching lightly here and there as the spirit of vagrant converse led us. Favonius has the good sense to talk about himself occasionally and tell his own experience. The man who will not do that must always be a dull companion. Modest egoism is the salt of conversation: you do not want too much of it; but if it is altogether omitted, everything tastes flat. I remember well the evening when he told me the story of the Sheep of the Wilderness.

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"I was ill that summer," said he, "and the doctor had ordered me to go into the woods, but on no account to go without plenty of fresh meat, which was essential to my recovery. So we set out into the wild country north of Georgian Bay, taking a live sheep with us in order to be sure that the doctor's prescription might be faithfully followed. It was a young and innocent little beast, curling itself up at my feet in the canoe, and following me about on shore like a dog. I gathered grass every day to feed it, and carried it in my arms over the rough portages. It ate out of my hand and rubbed its woolly head against my leggings. To my dismay, I found that I was beginning to love it for its own sake and without any ulterior motives. The thought of killing and eating it became more and more painful to me, until at length the fatal fascination was complete, and my trip became practically an exercise of devotion to that sheep. I carried it everywhere and ministered fondly to its wants. Not for the world would I have alluded to mutton in its presence. And when we returned to civilisation I parted from the creature with sincere regret and the consciousness that I had humoured my affections at the expense of my digestion. The sheep did not give me so much as a look of farewell, but fell to feeding on the grass beside the farm-house with an air of placid triumph."

After hearing this touching tale, I was glad that no great intimacy had sprung up between Favonius and the chickens which we carried in a coop on the forecastle head, for there is no telling what restrictions his tender-heartedness might have laid upon our larder. But perhaps a chicken would not have given such an opening for misplaced affection as a sheep. There is a great difference in animals in this respect. I certainly never heard of any one falling in love with a salmon in such a way as to regard it as a fond companion. And this may be one reason why no sensible person who has tried fishing has ever been able to see any cruelty in it.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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