"Lost it!" I yelled across to Graham.
"But you put up a jolly good fight!"
That shout came not from Graham. It came from a party of four who had watched from the bridge. So absorbed had I been that I never knew they were there. They gave me a hand and I tipped my hat to them.
I stopped on the road today to ask directions of a lollipop lady. A lollipop lady? One who halts traffic to let schoolchildren cross the road, using for a stop sign a dingus the shape of a big red lollipop. I thanked her. "Pleasure, my angel," she said. A touch of old Hampshire, I'm told.
cc: Al, Nick
Romsey, Hants., England
A party of fishermen, friends of our host's, have been using the cottage this weekend as a base, a shelter from the rain, a place to have a drink. One young fellow came dashing in day before yesterday to announce that he'd just seen the biggest trout of his life. It lay below the footbridge that spans the river to the island. We went down to have a look. It was a big fish, and had it been a trout, it would have been the biggest of anybody's life, but it wasn't; it was a pike. It lay in about three feet of water, looking as sinister as an enemy submarine lying in wait, and like a submarine camouflaged in stripes, green on green. I dutifully reported the fish's presence to the riverkeeper. These killers of trout are much hated by the owners of the water, who want the fishermen who lease rods from them to be happy with their catch. The keeper made several passes at snatch-hooking the fish with a spinning rod. He failed.
Yesterday, the weekend over, the party gone and with no trout anywhere to be seen, I thought I'd have a try for that pike. Dorothy accompanied me. The fish lay in the same spot—hadn't moved an inch. Using a Mepps spinner, I made a cast across stream and reeled it slowly past the fish. It struck. I struck back, hooked and in the same second lost it. I cast again instantly. Again the fish struck, and this time it was hooked solidly. The spinning rod was a small one, the line light, and the fight that ensued took me up and down the island several times before the fish surfaced. The net, a big net, hardly contained it. An old fish, to judge by its worn and blunted teeth, one that had devoured many a trout and duckling. Once again, word of my catch has spread through the valley, bringing invitations to fish other waters and rid them of these predators.
Rain has set in, as though to make up at once for the long dry spell. With no fishing possible I made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Winchester. On the gravestone of Jane Austen, inlaid in the floor of the aisle, rested a bouquet of flowers fresh from a florist. To the sender, Jane Austen was as alive as ever in life, for on the card accompanying the bouquet was written, "In gratitude."
Then to the Walton chapel. To most of the brotherhood their Izaak is more their patron than the sainted Peter (who, after all, fished with a net), and in 1914 the anglers of England and America honored him with a stained-glass window in the chapel of this great cathedral, where he's buried. Walton had two rivers in his long life, as he had two wives. Of his rivers, the first was the Staffordshire Dove; that of his old age (he lived to 90) was the Itchen, which flowed then, as it does now, just outside the walls of the Cathedral close. In the window's two portraits of him he's doing what English anglers in the course of a day's fishing do so much of: not fishing. In one he's reading, and in the other he's saying grace over his and his companion's streamside lunch.
Out by invitation to dinner last evening, the conversation turned to my native state. Said a citizen of this self-sufficient corner of the world, "Now, where is Texas?"
cc: Ted, Nick
Romsey, Hants., England
Kept indoors by pelting rain. You don't see any fish on days like these, and here, if you don't see a fish, you don't fish. So you stay indoors. At least, we do, though we see men whose one day of the week on the water it is stalking along the riverbanks and peering like hungry herons, oblivious to being streaming wet. And not just men. We share our home stretch here with two women who are the most fanatical anglers I've ever seen, and I've seen some fanatics. Nothing deters these two, nothing daunts them, nothing tires them, and both ladies are grandmothers more times than one. No matter how foul the day they are out till dark and then, even without a fish between them, they are sorry to quit. The other day, before they set off downstream to fish their way back up it, I invited them to come in for a drink and a drying-out when they returned. The downpour had been daylong. When they came back it was almost dark and they were dripping wet and their Wellingtons were caked with cow dung. I watched them through the window, primping themselves before knocking on the cottage door, each in turn holding up a pocket mirror for the other to make her face. Said one, "We're exhausted and, as for me, I'm being very wicked. It's Sunday and I've got a husband and a son for whom I ought to have cooked dinner, and today is the birthday of one of my granddaughters. But"—merrily—"here I am!"