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The Ruling Passion Henry van Dyke

IV. The Gentle Life

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Where had I seen such a figure before? The dress was strange and quaint--broad, low shoes, gray woollen stockings, short brown breeches tied at the knee with ribbons, a loose brown coat belted at the waist like a Norfolk jacket; a wide, rolling collar with a bit of lace at the edge, and a soft felt hat with a shady brim. It was a costume that, with all its oddity, seemed wonderfully fit and familiar. And the face? Certainly it was the face of an old friend. Never had I seen a countenance of more quietness and kindliness and twinkling good humour.

"Well met, sir, and a pleasant day to you," cried the angler, as his eyes lighted on me. "Look you, I have hold of a good fish; I pray you put that net under him, and touch not my line, for if you do, then we break all. Well done, sir; I thank you. Now we have him safely landed. Truly this is a lovely one; the best that I have taken in these waters. See how the belly shines, here as yellow as a marsh-marigold, and there as white as a foam-flower. Is not the hand of Divine Wisdom as skilful in the colouring of a fish as in the painting of the manifold blossoms that sweeten these wild forests?"

"Indeed it is," said I, "and this is the biggest trout that I have seen caught in the upper waters of the Neversink. It is certainly eighteen inches long, and should weigh close upon two pounds and a half."

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"More than that," he answered, "if I mistake not. But I observe that you call it a trout. To my mind, it seems more like a char, as do all the fish that I have caught in your stream. Look here upon these curious water-markings that run through the dark green of the back, and these enamellings of blue and gold upon the side. Note, moreover, how bright and how many are the red spots, and how each one of them is encircled with a ring of purple. Truly it is a fish of rare beauty, and of high esteem with persons of note. I would gladly know if it he as good to the taste as I have heard it reputed."

"It is even better," I replied; "as you shall find, if you will but try it."

Then a curious impulse came to me, to which I yielded with as little hesitation or misgiving, at the time, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"You seem a stranger in this part of the country, sir," said I; "but unless I am mistaken you are no stranger to me. Did you not use to go a-fishing in the New River, with honest Nat. and R. Roe, many years ago? And did they not call you Izaak Walton?"

His eyes smiled pleasantly at me and a little curve of merriment played around his lips. "It is a secret which I thought not to have been discovered here," he said; "but since you have lit upon it, I will not deny it."

Now how it came to pass that I was not astonished nor dismayed at this, I cannot explain. But so it was; and the only feeling of which I was conscious was a strong desire to detain this visitor as long as possible, and have some talk with him. So I grasped at the only expedient that flashed into my mind.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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