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V. A Handful of Heather Henry van Dyke

Common Heather.

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The inn at Lairg, overlooking the narrow waters of Loch Shin, was embowered in honeysuckles, and full of creature comfort. But there were too many other men with rods there to suit my taste. "The feesh in this loch," said the boatman, "iss not so numerous ass the feeshermen, but more wise. There iss not one of them that hass not felt the hook, and they know ferry well what side of the fly has the forkit tail."

At Altnaharra, in the shadow of Ben Clebrig, there was a cozy little house with good fare, and abundant trout-fishing in Loch Naver and Loch Meadie. It was there that I fell in with a wandering pearl-peddler who gathered his wares from the mussels in the moorland streams. They were not of the finest quality, these Scotch pearls, but they had pretty, changeable colours of pink and blue upon them, like the iridescent light that plays over the heather in the long northern evenings. I thought it must be a hard life for the man, wading day after day in the ice-cold water, and groping among the coggly, sliddery stones for the shellfish, and cracking open perhaps a thousand before he could find one pearl. "Oh, yess," said be, "and it iss not an easy life, and I am not saying that it will be so warm and dry ass liffing in a rich house. But it iss the life that I am fit for, and I hef my own time and my thoughts to mysel', and that is a ferry goot thing; and then, sir, I haf found the Pearl of Great Price, and I think upon that day and night."

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Under the black, shattered peaks of Ben Laoghal, where I saw an eagle poising day after day as if some invisible centripetal force bound him forever to that small circle of air, there was a loch with plenty of brown trout and a few salmo ferox; and down at Tongue there was a little river where the sea-trout sometimes come up with the tide.

Here I found myself upon the north coast, and took the road eastward between the mountains and the sea. It was a beautiful region of desolation. There were rocky glens cutting across the road, and occasionally a brawling stream ran down to the salt water, breaking the line of cliffs with a little bay and a half-moon of yellow sand. The heather covered all the hills. There were no trees, and but few houses. The chief signs of human labour were the rounded piles of peat, and the square cuttings in the moor marking the places where the subterranean wood-choppers had gathered their harvests. The long straths were once cultivated, and every patch of arable land had its group of cottages full of children. The human harvest has always been the richest and most abundant that is raised in the Highlands; but unfortunately the supply exceeded the demand; and so the crofters were evicted, and great flocks of sheep were put in possession of the land; and now the sheep-pastures have been changed into deer-forests; and far and wide along the valleys and across the hills there is not a trace of habitation, except the heaps of stones and the clumps of straggling bushes which mark the sites of lost homes. But what is one country's loss is another country's gain. Canada and the United States are infinitely the richer for the tough, strong, fearless, honest men that were dispersed from these lonely straths to make new homes across the sea.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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