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

The Island Pool.

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Among the mountains there is a gorge. And in the gorge there is a river. And in the river there is a pool. And in the pool there is an island. And on the island, for four happy days, there was a camp.

It was by no means an easy matter to establish ourselves in that lonely place. The river, though not remote from civilisation, is practically inaccessible for nine miles of its course by reason of the steepness of its banks, which are long, shaggy precipices, and the fury of its current, in which no boat can live. We heard its voice as we approached through the forest, and could hardly tell whether it was far away or near.

There is a perspective of sound as well as of sight, and one must have some idea of the size of a noise before one can judge of its distance. A mosquito's horn in a dark room may seem like a trumpet on the battlements; and the tumult of a mighty stream heard through an unknown stretch of woods may appear like the babble of a mountain brook close at hand.

But when we came out upon the bald forehead of a burnt cliff and looked down, we realised the grandeur and beauty of the unseen voice that we had been following. A river of splendid strength went leaping through the chasm five hundred feet below us, and at the foot of two snow-white falls, in an oval of dark topaz water, traced with curves of floating foam, lay the solitary island.

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The broken path was like a ladder. "How shall we ever get down?" sighed Greygown, as we dropped from rock to rock; and at the bottom she looked up sighing, "I know we never can get back again." There was not a foot of ground on the shores level enough for a tent. Our canoe ferried us over, two at a time, to the island. It was about a hundred paces long, composed of round, coggly stones, with just one patch of smooth sand at the lower end. There was not a tree left upon it larger than an alder-bush. The tent-poles must be cut far up on the mountain-sides, and every bough for our beds must be carried down the ladder of rocks. But the men were gay at their work, singing like mocking-birds. After all, the glow of life comes from friction with its difficulties. If we cannot find them at home, we sally abroad and create them, just to warm up our mettle.

The ouananiche in the island pool were superb, astonishing, incredible. We stood on the cobble-stones at the upper end, and cast our little flies across the sweeping stream, and for three days the fish came crowding in to fill the barrel of pickled salmon for our guides' winter use; and the score rose,--twelve, twenty-one, thirty-two; and the size of the "biggest fish" steadily mounted--four pounds, four and a half, five, five and three-quarters. "Precisely almost six pounds," said Ferdinand, holding the scales; "but we may call him six, M'sieu', for if it had been to-morrow that we had caught him, he would certainly have gained the other ounce." And yet, why should I repeat the fisherman's folly of writing down the record of that marvellous catch? We always do it, but we know that it is a vain thing. Few listen to the tale, and none accept it. Does not Christopher North, reviewing the Salmonia of Sir Humphry Davy, mock and jeer unfeignedly at the fish stories of that most reputable writer? But, on the very next page, old Christopher himself meanders on into a perilous narrative of the day when he caught a whole cart-load of trout in a Highland loch. Incorrigible, happy inconsistency! Slow to believe others, and full of sceptical inquiry, fond man never doubts one thing--that somewhere in the world a tribe of gentle readers will be discovered to whom his fish stories will appear credible.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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