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V. A Handful of Heather Henry van Dyke


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There were three churches in Stornoway, all Presbyterian, of course, and therefore full of pious emulation. The idea of securing an American preacher for an August Sabbath seemed to fall upon them simultaneously, and to offer the prospect of novelty without too much danger. The brethren of the U. P. congregation, being a trifle more gleg than the others, arrived first at the inn, and secured the promise of a morning sermon from Chancellor Howard Crosby. The session of the Free Kirk came in a body a little later, and to them my father pledged himself for the evening sermon. The senior elder of the Established Kirk, a snuff-taking man and very deliberate, was the last to appear, and to his request for an afternoon sermon there was nothing left to offer but the services of the young probationer in theology. I could see that it struck him as a perilous adventure. Questions about "the fundamentals" glinted in his watery eye. He crossed and uncrossed his legs with solemnity, and blew his nose so frequently in a huge red silk handkerchief that it seemed like a signal of danger. At last he unburdened himself of his hesitations.

"Ah'm not saying that the young man will not be orthodox--ahem! But ye know, sir, in the Kirk, we are not using hymns, but just the pure Psawms of Daffit, in the meetrical fairsion. And ye know, sir, they are ferry tifficult in the reating, whatefer, for a young man, and one that iss a stranger. And if his father will just be coming with him in the pulpit, to see that nothing iss said amiss, that will be ferry comforting to the congregation."

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So the dear governor swallowed his laughter gravely and went surety for his son. They appeared together in the church, a barnlike edifice, with great galleries half-way between the floor and the roof. Still higher up, the pulpit stuck like a swallow's nest against the wall. The two ministers climbed the precipitous stair and found themselves in a box so narrow that one must stand perforce, while the other sat upon the only seat. In this "ride and tie" fashion they went through the service. When it was time to preach, the young man dropped the doctrines as discreetly as possible upon the upturned countenances beneath him. I have forgotten now what it was all about, but there was a quotation from the Song of Solomon, ending with "Sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely." And when it came to that, the probationer's eyes (if the truth must be told) went searching through that sea of faces for one that should be familiar to his heart, and to which he might make a personal application of the Scripture passage--even the face of Sheila.

There are rivers in the Lewis, at least two of them, and on one of these we had the offer of a rod for a day's fishing. Accordingly we cast lots, and the lot fell upon the youngest, and I went forth with a tall, red-legged gillie, to try for my first salmon. The Whitewater came singing down out of the moorland into a rocky valley, and there was a merry curl of air on the pools, and the silver fish were leaping from the stream. The gillie handled the big rod as if it had been a fairy's wand, but to me it was like a giant's spear. It was a very different affair from fishing with five ounces of split bamboo on a Long Island trout-pond. The monstrous fly, like an awkward bird, went fluttering everywhere but in the right direction. It was the mercy of Providence that preserved the gillie's life. But he was very patient and forbearing, leading me on from one pool to another, as I spoiled the water and snatched the hook out of the mouth of rising fish, until at last we found a salmon that knew even less about the niceties of salmon-fishing than I did. He seized the fly firmly, before I could pull it away, and then, in a moment, I found myself attached to a creature with the strength of a whale and the agility of a flying-fish. He led me rushing up and down the bank like a madman. He played on the surface like a whirlwind, and sulked at the bottom like a stone. He meditated, with ominous delay, in the middle of the deepest pool, and then, darting across the river, flung himself clean out of water and landed far up on the green turf of the opposite shore. My heart melted like a snowflake in the sea, and I thought that I had lost him forever. But he rolled quietly back into the water with the hook still set in his nose. A few minutes afterwards I brought him within reach of the gaff, and my first salmon was glittering on the grass beside me.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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