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0100_005E X. At the Sign of the Balsam Bough Henry van Dyke


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In the back of my fly-book I discovered a tiny phantom minnow--a dainty affair of varnished silk, as light as a feather--and quietly attached it to the leader in place of the tail-fly. Then the fun began.

One after another the big fish dashed at that deception, and we played and netted them, until our score was thirteen, weighing altogether thirty-five pounds, and the largest five pounds and a half. The guardian was mystified and disgusted. He looked on for a while in silence, and then pulled up anchor and clattered ashore. He must have made some inquiries and reflections during the day, for that night he paid a visit to our camp. After telling bear stories and fish stories for an hour or two by the fire, he rose to depart, and tapping his forefinger solemnly upon my shoulder, delivered himself as follows:--

"You can say a proud thing when you go home, M'sieu'--that you have beaten the old Castonnier. There are not many fishermen who can say that. "But," he added, with confidential emphasis, "c'etait votre sacre p'tit poisson qui a fait cela."

That was a touch of human nature, my rusty old guardian, more welcome to me than all the morning's catch. Is there not always a "confounded little minnow" responsible for our failures? Did you ever see a school-boy tumble on the ice without stooping immediately to re-buckle the strap of his skates? And would not Ignotus have painted a masterpiece if he could have found good brushes and a proper canvas? Life's shortcomings would be bitter indeed if we could not find excuses for them outside of ourselves. And as for life's successes--well, it is certainly wholesome to remember how many of them are due to a fortunate position and the proper tools.

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Our tent was on the border of a coppice of young trees. It was pleasant to be awakened by a convocation of birds at sunrise, and to watch the shadows of the leaves dance out upon our translucent roof of canvas.

All the birds in the bush are early, but there are so many of them that it is difficult to believe that every one can be rewarded with a worm. Here in Canada those little people of the air who appear as transient guests of spring and autumn in the Middle States, are in their summer home and breeding-place. Warblers, named for the magnolia and the myrtle, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, blue-backed, and black-throated, flutter and creep along the branches with simple lisping music. Kinglets, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned, tiny, brilliant sparks of life, twitter among the trees, breaking occasionally into clearer, sweeter songs. Companies of redpolls and crossbills pass chirping through the thickets, busily seeking their food. The fearless, familiar chickadee repeats his name merrily, while he leads his family to explore every nook and cranny of the wood. Cedar wax-wings, sociable wanderers, arrive in numerous flocks. The Canadians call them "recollets," because they wear a brown crest of the same colour as the hoods of the monks who came with the first settlers to New France. They are a songless tribe, although their quick, reiterated call as they take to flight has given them the name of chatterers. The beautiful tree-sparrows and the pine-siskins are more melodious, and the slate-coloured juncos, flitting about the camp, are as garrulous as chippy-birds. All these varied notes come and go through the tangle of morning dreams. And now the noisy blue-jay is calling "Thief--thief-- thief!" in the distance, and a pair of great pileated woodpeckers with crimson crests are laughing loudly in the swamp over some family joke. But listen! what is that harsh creaking note? It is the cry of the Northern shrike, of whom tradition says that he catches little birds and impales them on sharp thorns. At the sound of his voice the concert closes suddenly and the singers vanish into thin air. The hour of music is over; the commonplace of day has begun. And there is my lady Greygown, already up and dressed, standing by the breakfast-table and laughing at my belated appearance.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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