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A full hundred yards broad it was, sliding on from broad pool to broad shallow, and broad shallow to broad pool, over great fields of shingle, under oak and ash coverts, past low cliffs of sandstone, past green meadows, and fair parks, and a great house of gray stone, and brown moors above, and here and there against the sky the smoking chimney of a colliery.
But Tom thought nothing about what the river was like. All his fancy was, to get down to the wide, wide sea.
And after a while he came to a place where the river spread out into broad, still, shallow reaches, so wide that little Tom, as he put his head out of the water, could hardly see across.
And there he stopped. He got a little frightened. “This must be the sea,” he thought. “What a wide place it is! If I go on into it I shall surely lose my way, or some strange thing will bite me. I will stop here and look out for the otter, or the eels, or some one to tell me where I shall go.”
So he went back a little way, and crept into a crack of the rock, just where the river opened out
into the wide shallows, and watched for some one to tell him his way; but the otter and the eels were gone on miles and miles down the stream.
There he waited, and slept, too, for he was quite tired with his night's journey; and, when he woke, the stream was clearing to a beautiful amber hue, though it was still very high. And after a while, he saw a sight which made him jump up; for he knew in a moment it was one of the things which he had come to look for.
Such a fish! ten times as big as the biggest trout, and a hundred times as big as Tom, sculling up the stream past him, as easily as Tom had sculled down.
Such a fish! shining silver from head to tail, and here and there a crimson dot; with a grand hooked nose and grand curling lip, and a grand bright eye, looking round him as proudly as a king, and surveying the water right and left as if all belonged to him. Surely he must be the salmon, the king of all the fish.
Tom was so frightened that he longed to creep into a hole; but he need not have been; for salmon are all true gentlemen, and, like true gentlemen, they look noble and proud enough, and yet, like true gentlemen, they never harm or quarrel with any one, but go about their own business, and leave rude fellows to themselves.
The salmon looked at him full in the face, and then went on without minding him, with a swish or two of his tail which made the stream boil again. And in a few minutes came another, and then four or five, and so on; and all passed Tom, rushing and plunging up the cataraci with strong strokes of
their silver tails, now and then leaping clean out of water and up over a rock, shining gloriously for a moment in the bright sun; while Tom was so delighted that he could have watched them all day long.
And at last one came up bigger than all the rest; but he came slowly, and stopped, and looked back, and seemed very anxious and busy. And Tom saw that he was helping another salmon, an especially handsome one, who had not a single spot upon it, but was clothed in pure silver from nose to tail.
“My dear,” said the great fish to his companion, "you really look dreadfuly tired, and you must not overexert yourself at first. Do rest yourself behind this rock;" and he shoved her gently with his nose, to the rock were Tom sat.
You must know that this was the salmon's wife. For salmon, like other true gentlemen, always choose their lady, and love her, and are true to her, and take care of her and work for her, and fight for her, as every true gentleman ought; and are not like vulgar chub and roach and pike, who have no high feelings, and take no care of their wives.
Then he saw Tom, and looked at him very fiercely one moment, as if he was going to bite him.
“What do you want here?” he said, very fiercely.
“Oh, don't hurt me!” cried Tom. “I only want to look at you; you are so handsome.”
“Ah?” said the salmon, very stately but very civilly. “I really beg your pardon; I see what you are, my little dear. I have met one or two creatures like you before, and found them very agreeable and well behaved. Indeed, one of them showed me a
great kindness lately, which I hope to be able to repay. I hope we shall not be in your way here. As soon as this lady is rested, we shall proceed on our journey."
What a well-bred old salmon he was! .
“So you have seen things like me before?” asked Tom.
“Several times, my dear. Indeed, it was only last night that one at the river's mouth came and warned me and my wife of some new stake-nets which had got into the stream, I cannot tell how, since last winter, and showed us the way round them, in the most charmingly obliging way.”
“So there are babies in the sea?” cried Tom, and clapped his little hands. “Then I shall have some one to play with there? How delightful!"
“Were there no babies up this stream?" asked the lady salmon.
“No! and I grew so lonely. I thought I saw three last night; but they were gone in an instant, down to the sea. So I went, too; for I had nothing to play with but caddises and dragon flies and trout.”
“Ugh!” cried the lady, “what low company!”
“My dear, if he has been in low company, he has certainly not learnt their low manners,” said the salmon.
“No indeed, poor little dear; but how sad for him to live among such people as caddises, who have actually six legs, the nasty things; and dragon flies, too! why they are not even good to eat; for I tried them once, and they are all hard and empty; and as for trout, everyone knows what they are.” Whereon she curled up her lip, and looked dreadfully scornful, while her husband curled up his, too, till he looked as proud as Alcibiades. 16
“Why do you dislike the trout so?” asked Tom.
“My dear, we do not even mention them, if we can help it; for I am sorry to say they are relations of ours who do us no credit. A great many years ago they were just like us; but they were so lazy, and cowardly, and greedy, that instead of going down to the sea every year to see the world and grow strong and fat, they chose to stay and poke about in the little streams and eat worms and grubs; and they are very properly punished for it; for they have grown ugly and brown and spotted and small; and are actually so degraded in their tastes that they will eat our children.”
CHAPTER IV O the salmon went up, after Tom had warned them of the wicked old otter; and Tom went down, but slowly and cautiously, coasting along the shore. He was many days about it, for it was many miles down to the sea; and per
haps he would never have found his way, if the fairies had not guided him, without his seeing their faces, or feeling their gentle hands.
And as he went, he had a very strange adventure. It was a clear, still September night, and the
16. Alcibiades was a particularly handsome and particularly proud Greek, who lived in the time of the great wars between the two Greek states of Athens and Sparta. He took part in these wars, first on the side of Athens, then on the side of Sparta, and finally succeeded in gaining the hatred of both states by his treachery and unscrupulousness. He went into exile, but was finally put to death by the Persians, at the command of the Athenians and Spartans (404 B. C.).