"Well, Ben", from the angler.
"Well, Sir", from Ben.
"All ready, Ben? the train is somewhat late, so let's to work."
"No use yet, Sir.
There's full an hour yet to spare before the fish'll be on the feed, and it'll take me all that to go up to the village and get the lunch on board."
"Yes, Ben, you're right!
I forgot all about our bait.
Let's have some cold meat and cheese, and if you can, a nice crusty loaf, and say - how much beer?
"Well, as usual I suppose, Sir."
"Good, I'll leave that to you."
"And a little drop of gin, Sir?"
"Yes, yes, Ben, get what you like.
But look sharp, as I want it to get afloat, whether the fish are waiting for us or not."
Ben, in about an hour, is seen coming down the village towards the water with an earthenware bottle in one hand and the other assisting a lad to carry a heavy basket, or rather hamper.
All on board, angler and man, shove off.
Angler puts his tackle together, and declaring his intention to spin for a trout, asks Ben to give him a nice little bleak or dace out of the well.
Ben goes on punting up stream and close into the bank under the willows, the branches of which every now and then jeopardise the angler's wide-awake, but Ben is both dumb and deaf.
Ben is asked again for a bait.
"Bait!" echoes Ben, sarcastically, "bait, where am I to get bait?
I marn't have no net worth a cuss, and it would take me a day with such as I have to get a dozen fit for a flight of hooks.
If I throw away a day, who's to pay me for my time - a penny-piece wouldn't do it, nor tuppence, nor thruppence, neither."
"Well, Ben, the new regulations are certainly hard upon both fisherman and angler; but I thought you might get a few with a proper net, and no notice would be taken by the authorities."
"A few!" cried Ben, contemptuously, "what's a few?
If the Bailie is in a good humour, fifty , or maybe a hundred or more, is 'a few'; but if he's sulky, or I arn't not got no jacky about me, why half-a-dozen's a few , or a few is only two and one.
No, I arn't going to risk a summons.
I've had one on'st for leaving a rye-peck in, and lost the customer who I pitched it for, cos he won't show up, as he knows I shall ask him for the fine.
No, let it be law , and I' ll do it - or if it arn't law , well, let the angler take both the risk and the fish."
"Well, Ben, that's but fair, anyhow.
But if you have no fry I must put up my spinning-tackle again; and if you will find us a good swim , we'll try for a bait or two, during which we may stand the chance of having a lark with a barbel, and not unlikely legally kill a trout."
"All right, Sir, that's talking sensible.
Here, we can't have a better spot, and while I fixes the punt you can put in a dollop of pudding or two to bring 'um round."
"Igh, igh, Ben!"
And the angler tucks up his sleeves preparatory to diving into the ground-bait tub for the bran-bread and clay, but looks around in vain for that necessary utensil.
"Where's the ground-bait, Ben?"
"Why, arn't you got none? You said nothing about ground bait in your letter, and some of my customers are so precious that they say country bread won't do, - the bran we get from the mill is either too coarse or too pollardy, and even the clay bean't stiff enough, or is too stiff and holds the stuff too long, so they all'is now brings their own dumplings."
"Well, Ben, that's a pretty go!
I have not brought any; but we can throw in a few gentles or worms in the Nottingham style.
I have always been of opinion that we use too much ground-bait, rather satiating the fish than creating an appetite amongst them,
so I'll begin to strike an average and go without ground-bait for once."
"That's right, Sir; you're what our clergyman who fishes with me calls a feeling hofficer."
"A philosopher, I suppose you mean, Ben, but you are complimentary.
It is only because I can't help it I submit; so give us your gentle-box."
"Here it is, Sir."
"What's up now, Sir?"
"Why, Ben, this is empty."
"I knows it is, and I thought you axed for it to fill it.
You don't mean to say you've not brought no gentles, when you was amongst tons of 'um in London; and we arn't allowed to breed 'um now, cos of the Sanitary, 'spector."
"No bait, no ground-bait, no gentles, Ben! well, this is a sell.
Perhaps you havn't any worms?"
"You're right there, Sir; who would expect worms arter April?
Why, they've gone down into the middle of the earth for moisture, and you might dig your heart out before you saw the tail of one."
A dead silence on the part of fisherman and angler for five minutes; the feelings of each must be guessed at.
The former's eye is upon the stone bottle, the latter's steadily fixed on the bottom of the punt.
The angler is the first to break silence.
"What are we to do?"
"Let's have summut to drink."
This is too much for the good-humoured angler, and he bursts out into a hearty roar of laughter, which Ben interprets as an affirmative, and the bung flies upwards from the fermenting beer accordingly.
A good swig and Ben's week's beard is wiped with his sleeve; Ben appears a little more genial and familiar, observing,
"Well, this is a go! who'd a thought that an angler like you, who have been at it from a babe, would a come down without nuffen you wanted.
I could forgive a Cockney, who'd never gone out afore, but it's unnatural to the likes of you.
That beer's precious bitter, Sir;
I'll just take a thumb-bit of cold pork on a crust of bread."
"Cold pork did you say, Ben? Is it boiled? That's all right.
Eureka! we are saved, we are saved!"
"What's up now, Sir?"
"Here, Ben, don't throw that rind away.
Hand it over; this sharp knife will do the business.
There, see ; what fish without spectacles could tell those choice bits from gentles?
We shall have some roach yet, Ben.
See, I throw in a few pellets of bread, and if they won't take the pork we have got the wherewithal to make some paste.
We shall do yet. Hurrah!
I've got a roach, and a bouncer; he cannot be less than three quarters of a pound.
Where there is one, there is always more.
Another, by George! and now - no, I missed that bite from too great an eagerness - I have him though.
I say, Ben, fish are not of the Jewish persuasion."
"No, Sir, the perswasion appears to be pork"; and Ben chuckled at his joke.
"But in all my days this is the first time I ever knowed roach to take pork."
"There is nothing new in it, Ben; it is a tough and good bait in the absence of gentles.
Why, I knew a party on the Norfolk Broads who were as badly off for bait as we are, taking a large basket of roach with roast goose.
Here, I've got a pretty bleak at last.
There, I will put my float shallower.
Yes, I am now amongst the fry, and have enough to commence spinning, so up poles and go to work, Ben."
Ben shakes his ears slightly at the word "work", but to do him justice commences punting with sufficient judgment to give ample opportunities for the angler to display his skill in spinning, and presently elicits several ejaculations of "well cast", "beautiful", and "that ought to have 'um if anything did," from Ben; but after three or four small jack and a perch or two were successfully caught and thrown back again, as being too small for capture, and a goodly trout was hooked, Ben became perfectly enthusiastic, and looked on at the excellent play with unfeigned admiration, finally lifting the exhausted fish into the punt for his customer with a whoop of delight that made the neighbouring woods echo again.
It was fully eight pounds in weight, and in splendid condition, the largest and finest, as Ben declared, that had been killed that season.
It certainly was a most beautiful fish , and deserved the praise bestowed upon it.
Another bleak was soon on the flight with the prettiest possible bend, to make it spin true and well, and our angler is about to commence again, when his arm is arrested by Ben.
"What, Sir!" he exclaims.
"What's the matter, Ben?"
"What's the matter!" exclaims Ben, in apparent astonishment at the question,
"What's the matter! why, we arn't wetted it."
This is a custom which is greatly honoured on the Thames upon the taking of a more than usually good fish, and is seldom or never dispensed with, if the necessary offerings of liquor are at hand to do full justice to the ceremony.
It is, indeed, stoutly maintained by the Thames fishermen that this sacrifice upon the Altar of Luck is necessary to propitiate the river-god , without which exhibition of spirit upon the part of the fisherman, the aquatic deity invariably refuses to assist below in the capture of the fish.
Whether this be so or not, it was somewhat remarkable that the taste of the gin was scarcely out of Ben's throat before he was called upon again to lift another trout, this time, however, of not more than half the size of the former.
"Cuss that gin!" exclaimed Ben, after looking at the presumed shortcomings of the second fish.
"Cuss that gin! it bean't strong enough to put more pounds on.
Do you know, Sir , what werdic I should bring in over that ere gin if I was coroner?
Why, I should have it, 'Found drowned.'"
" "Perhaps double the quantity would make up for its weakness, Ben," suggests the angler.
"That's it, Sir; I ought a'thought of that afore."
And Ben made up for any neglect in the particular in question.
However, truth compels us to state that although a full quart was appealed to very often and most devoutly, the effects of the juniper-berry appeared to have departed, for not another trout could Ben induce, with all his pulling at the neck of the bottle, to immolate itself on the barbarous triangles of the angler's tackle.
"But what are you dodging behind my chair for, Ben?
You'll have me in the river."
"Why, Sir, don't yer see them foot-hoggers?"
"Yes; they are photographers, Ben.
It's Mr. Taunt, and his staff of assistants.
They'll have you and me, as sure as anything."
"Not if I knows on it", cries Ben, ducking his head from side to side like a toy-mandarin;
"tho' they do say that they catches a fellow with a bull's eye as quick as a flash o' lightning out for a holiday.
They got my missus on'st while she was hanging out my guernsey to dry, and made a lady on her in a pictur they sells thousands and thousands on, at a shilling a-piece; and the old woman has never bin herself since.
Such airs and graces, molly come up!
But there now!" exclaimed Ben, with the look of one who had dropped a gold watch overboard,
"while I bin talking to you, Sir, I'm blamed if I don't believe they've got me, for I felt for a moment just as if I had bin picked up and dabbed as flat as a pancake on a plate, and stuck in a windy for ever.
I don't call such proceedings as them all taut * and above-board";
and Ben supplemented a grin at his own joke.
Could Ben, however, have been mesmerised as well as photographed?
We must leave this philosophical question for the Oxford professors.
And now the clouds collect, the atmosphere gets chilly, Ben has contrived to drink up all the beer, and the angler considers it is time to prepare for his return by train.
"I pity those who has given away their winter togs", remarks Ben , with a dash of Christian sympathy, as he shoved towards the landing.
"Yes, Ben; but they must have warm hearts, Ben."
"Ah, I didn't think of that, Sir, God bless 'um !
It's never been my chance though to find one of that sort", added Ben, looking down at his own rusty velveteen.
"That's well thought of, Ben; you have some long boots of mine, and a shooting-coat, and some tackle at your cottage."
"Well, you may keep those, Ben; I daresay I shall be none the colder for it.
This is indeed an inclement May, and an extra thick coat is needed on the water both early and late."
"God bless yer, Sir!
You're the right sort, you are; and next time I gets a letter from you, there sharn't be no ground-bait, no worms, nor gentles, sharn't there?
if I has to go down as deep as a well for 'um , and ten mile for the clay.
Good arternoon, Sir.
that sov'll make it right with what's owing at the public; and here's your trout, Sir, done up prime in rushes by my missus, who sends her respects.
I throwed the tother fish in, cos it's close time - and here's the train.
And so say we, "Good afternoon, Ben", but with this injunction, either that the angler should never leave the question of a supply of bait to the fisherman, or give such instructions as would insure his providing so necessary a requirement, although we have here shewn that even where the general character of bait may be absent, with a little tact sport is not altogether out of the reach of the ingenious angler.
* Ben mistook my name, but I don't Taunt him about it. - ED [H.W.Taunt].
This sketch is included in Taunt's Thames Map 2nd edition, 1873