A FISHING EXCURSION DOWN THE RIVER—DIFFICULTIES OF THE VOYAGE—A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS—OUR RETURN HOME, AND HOW WE WERE RECEIVED—A LETTER UPON THE GENERAL SUBJECT OF ANGLING—THE SORROWS OF THE FISHERMAN—LIEUTENANT SMILEY—HIS RECOLLECTIONS OF REV. MR. BLODGETT—A VERY REMARKABLE MISSIONARY.
T is said that there is good fishing in this vicinity. Several of my neighbors who have been out lately have brought home large quantities of fish of various kinds, together with glowing reports of the delightful character of the sport. A craving to indulge in this form of amusement was gradually excited in the mind of Mr. Bob Parker by the stories of the anglers and by the display of their trophies, and he succeeded in persuading me to assist in the organization of an expedition down the river to the fishing-grounds. Yesterday was selected for the undertaking. I hired a boat from a man at the wharf; and after packing a generous luncheon in the fish-basket and securing a box full of bait, we tossed our lines into the boat, together with a heavy stone which was to serve as an anchor, and then we pushed out into the stream.
It was early morning when we started, and to my dismay I found that the tide was running up with remarkable velocity. As we had to pull four miles down the river, this was a consideration of very great importance. Mr. Parker is not an especially skillful oarsman, and before he had fairly seated himself and dipped his blade in the water we had drifted two hundred yards in the wrong direction. After very severe labor for half an hour, we succeeded in getting three-quarters of a mile below the town, and then Bob informed me that he thought he could row better with my oar. Accordingly, I changed places with him, and during the time thus expended the boat went back a third of the distance we had gained. Another prolonged and terrible effort enabled us to proceed two miles toward our destination, and then Parker observed that he must stop and rest; he said he would die if he rowed another stroke. So we lay upon our oars for a while, and embraced the opportunity to wipe away the perspiration and to cool our blistered hands in the river. Parker then asked me if I would mind changing places with him again. He said be was now convinced that he had made a mistake in leaving his first position. We fell back half a mile during this period; and when we finally reached the grounds, the morning was far advanced. Bob was nearly worn out, and he proposed that we give up the idea of catching fish and row ashore, where we could lie down under the trees and begin operations upon the luncheon.
But as we had come to fish, I informed Bob that I was determined to do so. I should be ashamed to go home without bringing any game. I should be afraid to look in the face of the man who owned the boat when he asked me what luck I had. So we tied a rope around the stone, and tossing the stone overboard, we came to anchor. Our hooks were baited and the lines were thrown out, and then Bob and I waited patiently for bites.
It required a great deal of patience, for the fish did not take the bait with a remarkable degree of freedom. In fact, we only had a nibble or two at first, and then even this manifestation of the presence of the fish ceased. We were sitting with our backs to the shore, watching the corks in front of us, when Bob suddenly uttered an exclamation. Upon looking around, I found that we had drifted half a mile upstream and out into the middle of the river, which is here nearly four miles wide. The stone had dropped from the knot in the rope and released the boat.
Then we rowed back to shore and landed for the purpose of obtaining another stone. We could not find one, so we pulled out again; and sticking one of the oars in the mud, we fastened the boat to that. Then Bob had a bite. He pulled up, and dragged to the surface of the water a crab, which instantly let go and sidled under the boat. Then we each caught a small sunfish, and with this our enthusiasm began to revive. Just then the oar came out of the mud, slipped through the loop in the cable and floated off. The prospect of having to take the boat home with one oar seemed so appalling that I hastily threw off my coat and shoes and swam after the fugitive oar. Meantime, the boat floated off, and I reached it and was hauled in by Bob just as I had made up my mind to give up and go to the bottom.
We then fastened the oar down again, and I held it with one hand and my fishing-line with the other. Suddenly each of us had a splendid bite, and we both pulled in vigorously. The fish seemed to struggle violently all the way to the surface; but when the hooks came into view, we found that our lines were entangled, and that neither of us had a fish. The next time Bob attempted to take in his line his hook caught upon the bottom; and when, in a fit of exasperation, he tried to jerk it loose, the cord snapped and the hopes of the fisherman were blasted for that day. Then, as Bob tipped the boat while he washed his hands, the bait-box fell overboard, and so matters came to a definite conclusion, and we determined to quit.
When we started for home, the tide had turned, and we did not reach town until dark. The man who owned the craft had just telegraphed to Delaware City for the purpose of ascertaining if two suspicious men had landed there and attempted to sell a boat. He compelled me to pay half a day's hire extra for staying out so late, together with the cost of the telegram.
I consider it beneath me to notice the unnecessary violence of his language or the insolence of his criticisms upon our skill as fishermen.
This I could have borne with patience, but it was hard, very, very hard, upon arriving home, to have Mrs. Adeler come to the door with a smile upon her face and ask, "Where are the fish?" while she informed us that she had asked the Magruders over to tea, and had depended upon us to supply the principal dish, so that now she had not a thing in the house that she could cook.
"Mrs. Adeler, we return with two diminutive sunfish, one demoralized ham-sandwich, two crimson noses and a thorough, sincere, whole-souled and earnest disgust for the wretched business which some men choose to regard in the light of amusement. No, Mrs. Adeler, we have no fish that are worthy of the name, and hereafter when we wish to have some, we will purchase them from the unhappy beings who catch them. A fisherman deserves all the money he can get, my dear. I wouldn't be a professional piscator for the mines of Golconda and the wealth of a nabob to boot."
Our unfortunate experiences upon the river tempt me to refer in detail to the ills to which amateur fishermen, as a class, are exposed. The pleasures of angling have been said and sung by a vast multitude of sentimental people reaching all the way from old Izaak Walton to Mr. Prime; but the story of the suffering that too often accompanies the sport has not yet been narrated with a sufficient amount of vigor. The martyr fishermen have been too long kept in the background. The time has come for them to have a hearing. I have chosen to present their complaint in the somewhat singular form of a letter to Mr. Benjamin F. Butler, because at the time of the negotiation of the Washington treaty he manifested much indignation at the wrongs heaped upon American fishermen by that instrument, and because he is a very suitable person to figure in a remonstrance which has about it perhaps a slight flavor of burlesque, even though it is a narrative of real misery.
THE SORROWS OF THE FISHERMAN.
DEAR GENERAL: I have given a great deal of reflection, lately, to the fishery question, and I am convinced that your opposition to the fishery clauses of the Washington treaty had a basis of sound common sense. The treaty, in my opinion, wholly fails to consider in a spirit of wise statesmanship the causes which move the fisherman to complaint, and supplies no adequate means for securing their removal. Permit me to suggest to you the propriety of urging upon the government the reassembling of the joint high commission for the purpose of obtaining a reconsideration of the fishery question with the new light which I propose to shed upon it.
My experience in fishing has convinced me that one of the most serious of the primary obstacles to be overcome is the difficulty of procuring worms. Perhaps you may have observed an enthusiastic fisherman in pursuit of worms? The day is always warm, and his performance upon the shovel conduces to profuse perspiration. He seems never to strike precisely the spot where the worms frolic. He labors with tremendous energy until he has excavated a couple of cellars and a rifle-pit, from which he rescues but two or three worms, while all around him the earth is perforated with holes, into which other vermicular creatures are perceived to disappear before he can lay his hands on them. The alacrity with which a worm draws himself into a hole in the ground, and dives down apparently to the centre of the globe, when you want him, is a constant source of aggravation to the fisherman. The fishery interests suffer on account of it.
If a joint high commission would address itself in a conciliatory spirit to the work of obtaining concerted action from the civilized nations of the world upon the subject of the reformation of worms, blessed results would undoubtedly accrue. I know a fisherman who could make a speech in Congress on the subject of worms which would make that body weep the rotunda full of tears.
And even when bait has been secured, you are aware, perhaps, that the fisherman will sit for hours upon the bank of the stream watching his cork until he is nearly blinded, and until his head swims. At last, when his patience is exhausted and he is convinced that there are no fish about, he pulls up for the purpose of trying another spot, and finds that some disreputable fish has sucked the bait off the hook an hour before without making a perceptible nibble.
Perhaps a clause in the treaty upon the general subject of nibbles might be of service. I think a paragraph could be constructed on nibbles which would create more amazement and produce a greater sensational effect in diplomatic circles than anything that ever appeared in a treaty. The introduction of the subject of nibbles to international law would, give that science refreshing variety and probably prevent devastating wars.
It is another cause of suffering to the fisherman that when he has thrown in again, and has waited an hour for a bite, and waited in vain, he considers it safe to drop his rod for a moment, so that he can light his pipe. It is a peculiar circumstance, I say, that just as he has struck his last match he always gets the most vigorous bite of the whole day. The cork pulls under in the most exciting manner several times, and only floats up again permanently at the moment when the angler seizes his rod in eager haste and finds that the fish is gone.
It is this kind of thing that makes the fisherman feel as if he would be relieved by the use of violent language. The British premier, I am sure, will consent to the negotiation of another treaty if you will press this matter on him. He must see at once that unless bites are arranged with a greater regard for the feelings of the fisherman and for the sanctity of the law against profane swearing, the fishery interests will languish and the crop prove a humiliating failure.
I have often remarked, too, that when the fisherman has nearly landed a fish, which drops off the hook just as it appears to be safe, he collects all his energies for the next bite. He grasps the rod tightly with both hands, he rises and plants his legs firmly upon the ground, he watches the cork carefully, with his lips compressed and with fiery determination gleaming from his eyes. The cork moves slightly. It goes under; he has a good bite; he pulls up with frightful energy, determined not to lose this one, and the next instant his line hits the limb of the tree overhead, and winds around it as closely as if it was put there on purpose to splice that limb, so as to make it perfectly secure throughout the unending ages of eternity.
I always excuse the man for taking a gloomy view of life, and for saying over with ardor and vehemence his entire reserve stock of objurgations as he shins up the tree. But has the government no duty in the matter? What is the use of joint high commissions if these things are to be allowed? We have made the republic successful, we have fought mighty battles, we have paid millions of indebtedness and we have given the civilization of the world a tremendous impulse forward; now let us do something for the disgusted fisherman who has to fumble around out on that limb. Let us have a special treaty on that particular branch of the subject.
If something could be done in relation to eels, I think the government of our beloved country would rest upon a foundation of greater stability and have a more permanent hold upon popular affection. Perhaps you have fished for eels? The eel gently pulls the cork under and lets go. You pull up suddenly, and throw in again. The eel tenderly draws the cork beneath the surface, and, wild with fury, you jerk out your line a second time. This exhilarating exercise continues for some moments, and you make up your mind that existence will be a burden, the world a hollow sham, and groceries and marketing useless baubles, unless you catch that eel. Finally you do hook him and draw him out. He is active, playful and vivacious. He wriggles; he forms himself in quick succession into S's, C's and Q's. He points to all the four quarters of the compass at once. He swallows himself and spits himself out. He wraps himself around your boot and shoots up your leg and covers your trowsers with slime, and tangles your line into a mess by the side of which the Gordian knot was the perfection of simplicity. When you get your foot firmly on him, you find that he has swallowed the hook, and you have completely open, from head to tail, to get the hook out, and then, as likely as not, the eel will flip back into the water and escape. I think eels rarely die.
A joint high commission which would devote itself with philanthropic ardor and untiring energy to a dispassionate consideration of the subject of the immortality of eels might, perhaps, achieve important results. Any settlement of the fishery question which overlooked the hideous wickedness of eels would be a cruel mockery of human woe.
But for pure pathos, I can conceive of nothing that will equal the anguish of the fisherman when he imagines he has a catfish upon his hook. His cork is drawn slowly under the surface, and it goes down, down, down, until it sinks completely out of sight. He is certain it is a catfish—they always pull in this manner, he says; and he draws in his line gently, while the fish tugs and pulls at the other end. Gradually, v-e-r-y gradually, the fisherman pulls it in, in order to be sure to keep the prey upon the hook. It is evidently a very large fish, and he is determined to land it through the shallow water, so that it cannot drop back and escape. Slowly it comes up, and just as the hook nears the surface the angler gives a sudden jerk, and out comes a terrific snag with a dozen branches and covered with mud. And meanwhile, during all the fisherman's troubles, there is that infamous small boy sitting on the opposite bank of the creek pulling up fish by the dozen with a pin-hook and some wrapping twine.
It would gratify me if the new treaty would devote one clause to a definite settlement of the question of the bearing of snags upon the miseries of mankind, and about eight stupendous clauses to a determination of the fate that is deserved by that boy. My own humanitarian tendencies incline me to urge that he should be summarily shot. If a boy with a pin-hook is to be allowed thus to destroy the peace of older American citizens, the sooner we ask some efficient and reliable despot to come over here and break up the government and trample on us, the happier we shall be.
I commend the subject to your enlightened consideration, and ask for an earnest appeal to the next congress in behalf of suffering fishermen. If we cannot obtain redress by peaceful means, let us have it by force. I am ready to overturn the government, massacre the people, burn the cities and carry desolation, devastation and death into every home in the land, rather than to permit these outrages against justice longer to continue and these unhappy men to endure further persecution.
There are indications that the course of Bob Parker's true love will not run entirely smooth. The officers stationed at Fort Delaware, below here, come up to the village constantly upon social errands, and they are exceedingly popular with the young ladies. Lieutenant Smiley is, I think, the favorite; and as he has become a somewhat frequent visitor at Magruder's, Bob's jealousy has been aroused. He hates Smiley with a certain deadly hatred. Mr. Parker is not naturally warlike in his tendencies, but I believe he would willingly engage in hostilities with the lieutenant with an utterly reckless disregard of the consequences.
Smiley comes to see us sometimes; and Bob, I fear, regards even this family with gloom and suspicion because we receive the lieutenant courteously. But he says very little upon the subject; for when he begins to abuse Smiley, I always ask him why he does not propose to Miss Magruder at once and thus relieve himself from his agony of apprehension. Then he beats a retreat. He would rather face a regiment of Smileys armed with Dahlgren guns than to discuss the subject of his cowardice respecting the beautiful Magruder.
We like the lieutenant well enough, and we should like him better but for his propensity for telling incredible stories. He was in the naval service for eight or ten years; and when he undertakes to give accounts of his adventures, he is very apt to introduce anecdotes of which Munchausen would have been ashamed. It is one of Smiley's favorite theories that he sojourned for a considerable period among the Fiji Islands, and many of his narratives relate his experiences in that region. There was a missionary meeting at the church a night or two ago, and the lieutenant, having been defeated by Bob in his attempt to escort Miss Magruder to her home, came to our house; and very naturally he began the conversation with a story of missionary enterprise with which he assumed to have become familiar during his visit to the South Seas.
"Mr. Adeler," he said, "I was very much interested in the proceedings at that meeting to-night, but it seems to me that there is one defect in the system of preparing men for the work of propagating the gospel among the heathen."
"What is that?"
"Why they ought to teach the science of mesmerism in the divinity schools."
"I don't exactly understand the purpose of the—"
"Perhaps you never heard of the Rev. Mr. Blodgett, missionary to the Fiji Islands? Well, he saved his life once merely by practicing mesmerism. He has told me the story often."
"I should like to hear it"
"It seems that Blodgett in his sinful youth had been a traveling professor of mesmerism; but he had abandoned the business to go into the ministry and to preach to the heathen in Fiji. Well, his church out there got up a day-school picnic, it appears; and when the people all arrived upon the ground, they learned that the provisions had been forgotten. A meeting of the vestry was called, and after a brief consultation it was decided that the only thing which could be done to meet the emergency was to barbecue the minister. The inducement to this course was all the stronger because his salary was six months in arrears, and the church was entirely out of funds. So they built a huge fire; and seizing Blodgett, they began to strip him and to stick him with forks.
"In order to save himself, he immediately mesmerized each member of the vestry; and when they were all fixed, he called up the Sunday-school scholars, class by class, and put them comfortably to sleep. Having them all completely under his influence, he gave an entire class to each one of the vestrymen, and assured them that the innocent children were the most luscious kind of missionary. Thereupon the hypnotized vestry immediately ate up the somnambulistic Sunday-school and picked the bones clean. Blodgett was a very conscientious man in the performance of his. sacerdotal functions, so he read the funeral service over each class as it disappeared
"Rather an excessive meal, I should say."
"Yes, but they are large eaters, the Fijians. You might say their appetites are, in a certain sense, robust."
"I should imagine that such was the case. But proceed."
"Well, when the little ones were gone, Blodgett whispered to the magnetized wardens that their fellow-vestrymen were also succulent propagators of Christianity; whereupon the unconscious wardens fell upon their colleagues, and in a few moments nearly the whole vestry was in the process of assimilation. There remained now but the two wardens, and Blodgett, having prevailed upon the younger and more vigorous of the two to eat the other, then seized the body of his converted but erring brother and stood it on its head in the fire. The Rev. Mr. Blodgett went away alone from that picnic, and he went with a heavy heart. When he got home, they asked where the rest of the folks were, and he said they were enjoying themselves up there in the woods in their own quiet, innocent way, but that he had to come away in order to visit a sick friend who stood in need of his ministrations. And then he packed his trunk and borrowed a canoe and paddled away to our ship, determined to seek some sunnier clime, where the heathen rage less furiously, and where the popular appetite for warm clergyman is not so intensely vivid."
"That is a very remarkable narrative, lieutenant—very remarkable indeed!"
"Yes. But poor Mott was not so lucky."
"Who was Mott?"
"Why the Rev. Peter Mott—he was a missionary engaged upon one of the other islands. He knew nothing of mesmerism; and when his choir attacked him upon the way home from church one day, he was unable to defend himself, and they ate him."
"I had to carry the mournful news to Mrs. Mott, who lived in San Francisco. When we reached that port, I called upon her and performed the unpleasant duty. The manner in which she received the intelligence was, I conceive, in every way extraordinary. She cried, of course, and I offered her what consolation I could under the circumstances I alluded to the fact that all men must die at any rate, and dear Mott, let us hope, had gone to a better world than this one of sorrow and trouble and so forth.
"Mrs. Mott in reply said, with a voice broken with sobs:
"'It isn't that—oh, it isn't that. I know he is better off; I'm sure he is happier; but you know what a very particular man he was, and oh, Mr. Smiley, I fear that those brutal savages boiled him with cabbage.' There was no use trying to assuage her grief under such circumstances, so I shook hands with her and left. But it was an odd idea. Mott with cabbage! I thought as I came away that he would have tasted better with the merest flavor of onion."
When Lieutenant Smiley bade us good-night, I said,
"Mrs. Adeler, what do you think of that young man?"
"I think," she said, "that he tells the most dreadful falsehoods I ever listened to. It will be a burning shame if he succeeds in cutting out Robert with Miss Magruder."
"Mrs. Adeler, he shall not do that. Bob shall have Miss Magruder at all hazards. If he does not propose to her shortly, I shall go down and broach the subject to her myself. We must defeat Smiley even if we have to violate all the rules of propriety to achieve that result."