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This was a wild one, bright and fresh run into the loch. The old rule says it should take a minute to the pound to land a salmon, but this one took three times as long. By then we were out in the middle of the loch and the fish had nearly killed itself before Donal put the landing net under it, and the same was true of Donal himself. There is an honorable custom in Scotland, though, that the whiskey is passed round when a salmon is killed. We toasted it in turn, and Williams and I looked away politely as Donal uptilted the flask, not wanting to appear curious about the length of his swallow. The reward was just enough. "Verra weel!" Donal shouted. "We'll go back for another. Have you any Connemara Blacks at all?" he demanded of Williams, who was already tying one on.
Within minutes he was into a fish the twin of mine, but it jumped a couple of times and threw the hook; we'd been told that because of small flies the percentage of South Uist fish that become unstuck is high. But this was going to be a good morning. Ten minutes later Williams got another chance and a salmon only a little smaller was soon alongside mine in the stern of the boat. And there was still the House of Lords to come.
We should have headed there straight away instead of going ashore for lunch. We'd have got an hour at least among the aristocratic sea trout. But, as the minister might have said to us consolingly, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." No sooner had we brushed off the crumbs and screwed up the flask than the wind got up hard, whistling in from the Atlantic and kicking up whitecaps. A new man now, Donal pulled into the teeth of it, but by the time we crossed the loch the discoloration was already obvious in the water. "The man who is fishing Loch Bharp this afternoon," said Donal meaningfully, "will need to have plenty of whiskey with him." Not to keep out the cold, naturally, but to toast the many fish that would be coming aboard. I'd forgotten that it was the doctor's day on Bharp. Maybe, after all, Williams and I would not be the only ones to use the weighing scales and then bend modestly over the game book to make out entries. With that thought in mind both of us flogged the water harder than ever, even though it had taken on a pale yellow muddiness and Donal had lapsed into sardonic silence after suggesting several times that we go home. He was right, of course. We had to admit that in the end. We left off fishing early and headed back to Lochboisdale.
But at least we could bloody the scales, although, being the first back to the hotel, we had no audience. I weighed the fish, then opened the game book and wrote the date and the weather conditions, then "Gammon and Williams. 2 salmon. 8 lbs. and 7 lbs. Fly: Goat's Toe." Williams nodded approvingly. He saw the tactics: First fluster the opposition—where had we got our Goat's Toes?—then make it feel at a severe disadvantage by subtly confirming their already strong belief that it was no use trying anything else. It's a cruel business, hotel salmon fishing in Scotland.
In spite of Miss Morag, who turned up the Gaelic folk music program on her transistor as soon as we walked in, we took up our position in the cocktail bar. It might be inhospitable, but it gave us a fine view of the hotel entrance. If the doctor came in staggering under a load of fish we would have a little time to prepare ourselves. Meantime, one by one the others arrived, passed the cocktail bar and disappeared to their rooms. Nothing to fear there. The commander, indeed, seemed to be muttering to himself as he stumped through the door. It was almost dark before we heard the doctor's car.
He parked with the car facing us, and he and his wife spent an eternity around back, rummaging in the trunk; all we could see was a side view of the rear end of his tweed trousers as he maneuvered to lift some heavy object. A big canvas bag with six, seven, maybe eight salmon in it I guessed fearfully.
But no. The sky seemed to lighten. He emerged burdened with an elaborate picnic basket. His wife carried a movie camera and a couple of camping seats. Truth dawned. Putting too much trust in the weather forecast, he had promised to take his wife on a tour of the island. Remorselessly, she had held him to it. Smiling in a friendly style, Williams and I emerged from the bar to greet them.
Negley Farson, curiously enough, once found himself in our position in a Scottish hotel. (You'll find it in Chapter IV of Going Fishing.) "Dammit all," Farson quotes an envious admiral, "I'm glad to see anyone catch a salmon." Which, as Farson observed, could have been put otherwise. At Lochboisdale that night there was a similar degree of frigidity. the congratulations were somewhat formal. Only the minister, looking like the martyred St. Sebastian in those medieval paintings with the Roman arrows thunking into him, insisted masochistically on a cast-by-cast description of our day. The doctor and his wife didn't seem to be on speaking terms. Straight after dinner she retreated with her knitting into a corner of the lounge. The weather forecast didn't help to lift the temperature, either. It might have been wrong the night before, but there was no way of misinterpreting the deep low that was now drifting between Iceland and Scotland. Tomorrow there was going to be a gale of westerly wind. Bharp was going to be perfect. Williams and I were down for Bharp.
As we hoped, it turned out a beautiful morning, rain lashing at the window and the wind howling in across the Atlantic. We were the first down to breakfast, and gobbled it fast and alone. We were into our oilskins and away to fetch Donal before there could be any embarrassing encounter with our fellow guests. Donal himself looked in better shape than he'd been all week. "Have ye got them Connemara Blacks?" he enquired fiercely. "There will be slaughter today. A bloody great slaughter."
Kildonan and the other lochs had been flat, desolate places flush with the boggy moorland. Bharp was a long black cleft in the hillside, the rocks rising high above it and the shore strewn with boulders as big as the boat. The gale was sending breakers crashing onto the stones, and with cold, wet fingers it was hard to tie on the small flies. Once afloat, the first drift made it plain that Donal couldn't manage the boat with the two of us in it. The salmon lay along the lee shore, very close in among the stones, so that the boat had to be kept edging across the wind and held a cast's length out from the boulders. We came ashore, flipped a coin and Williams lost. He said he'd go back for a quiet morning and a hot lunch. Then we'd switch around and he'd fish the afternoon session.