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Chapter 2. OBSERVATIONS OF THE OTTER AND CHUB
VENATOR. My friend Piscator, you have kept time with my thoughts; for the sun is just rising, and I myself just now come to this place, and the dogs have just now put down an Otter. Look down at the bottom of the hill there in that meadow, checkered with water-lilies and lady-smocks; there you may see what work they make. Look! look! you may see all busy, men and dogs, dogs and men, all busy.
PISC. Sir, I am right glad to meet you, and glad to have so fair an entrance into this day's sport, and glad to see so many dogs, and more men all in pursuit of the Otter. Let's compliment no longer, but join unto them. Come, honest Venator, let's be gone, let us make haste; I long to be doing: no reasonable hedge or ditch shall hold me.
VEN. Gentleman Huntsman, where found you this Otter?
HUNT. Marry, Sir, we found her a mile from this place, a-fishing: she has this morning eaten the greatest part of this Trout; she has only left thus much of it, as you see, and was fishing for more, When we came, we found her just at it: but we were here very early, we were here an hour before sunrise, and have given her no rest since we came; sure she will hardly escape all these dogs and men. I am to have the skin if we kill her.
VEN. Why, Sir, what's the skin worth?
HUNT. 'Tis worth ten shillings to make gloves; the gloves of an Otter are the best fortification for your hands that can be thought on against wet weather.
PISC. I pray, honest Huntsman, let me ask you a pleasant question: Do you hunt a beast or a fish?
HUNT, Sir, it is not in my power to resolve you. I leave it to be resolved by the College of Carthusians, who have made vows never to eat flesh. But I have heard the question hath been debated among many great clerks, and they seem to differ about it; yet most agree that her tail is fish: and if her body be fish too, then I may say that a fish will walk upon land, for an Otter does so sometimes five, or six, or ten miles in a night, to catch for her young ones, or to glut herself with fish, and I can tell you that pigeons will fly forty miles for a breakfast; but, Sir, I am sure the Otter devours much fish, and kills and spoils much more than he eats: and I can tell you that this Dog-fisher, for so the Latins call him, can smell a fish in the water an hundred yards from him: Gesner says much farther, and that his stones are good against the falling-sickness; and that there is an herb, Benione, which being hung in a linen-cloth near a fish-pond, or any haunt that he uses, makes him to avoid the place; which proves he smells both by water and land. And I can tell you there is brave hunting this water-dog in Cornwall; where there have been so many, that our learned Camden says there is a river called Ottersey, which was so named by reason of the abundance of Otters that bred and fed in it.
And thus much for my knowledge of the Otter, which you may now see above water at vent, and the dogs close with him: I now see he will not last long: follow, therefore, my masters, follow, for Sweetlips was like to have him at this last vent.
VEN. Oh me! all the horse are got over the river. What shall we do now? shall we follow them over the water?
HUNT. No, Sir, no, be not so eager: stay a little and follow me, for both they and the dogs will be suddenly on this side again, I warrant you; and the Otter too, it may be. Now have at him with Kilbuck, for he vents again.
VEN. Marry, so he does, for look, he vents in that corner. Now, now Ringwood has him: now he's gone again, and has bit the poor dog. Now Sweetlips has her; hold her, Sweetlips! Now all the dogs have her, some above and some under water; but now, now she's tired, and past losing: come, bring her to me, Sweetlips. Look, 'tis a Bitch-Otter, and she has lately whelped: let's go to the place where she was put down, and not far from it you will find all her young ones, I dare warrant you, and kill them all too.
HUNT. Come, Gentlemen! come all! let's go to the place where we put down the Otter. Look you, hereabout it was that she kennelled; look you, here it was indeed, for here's her young ones, no less than five: come, let's kill them all.
PISC. No, I pray, Sir, save me one, and I'll try if I can make her tame, as I know an ingenious gentleman in Leicestershire, Mr. Nich. Seagrave, has done; who hath not only made her tame, but to catch fish, and do many other things of much pleasure.
HUNT. Take one with all my heart, but let us kill the rest. And now let's go to an honest ale-house, where we may have a cup of good barley-wine, and sing "Old Rose," and all of us rejoice together.
VEN. Come, my friend Piscator, let me invite you along with us. I'll bear your charges this night, and you shall bear mine to morrow; for my intention is to accompany you a day or two in fishing.
PISC. Sir, your request is granted, and I shall be right glad, both to exchange such a courtesy, and also to enjoy your company.
VEN. Well, now let's go to your sport of Angling.
PISC. Let's be going with all my heart. God keep you all, Gentle men, and send you meet this day with another Bitch-Otter, and kill her merrily, and all her young ones too.
VEN. Now, Piscator, where will we begin to fish?
PISC. We are not yet come to a likely place: I must walk a mile further yet, before I begin.
VEN. Well then, I pray, as we walk, tell me freely how do you like your lodging, and mine host, and the company? Is not mine host a witty man?
PISC. Sir, I will tell you presently what I think of your host; but first I will tell you, I am glad these Otters were killed, and I am sorry that there are no more otter-killers: for I know that the want of otter-killers, and the not keeping the Fence-months for the preservation of fish, will in time prove the destruction of all rivers; and those very few that are left, that make conscience of the laws of the nation, and of keeping days of abstinence, will be forced to eat flesh, or suffer more inconveniences than are yet foreseen.
VEN. Why, Sir, what be those that you call the Fence-months?
PISC. Sir, they be principally three, namely, March, April, and May; for these be the usual months that Salmon come out of the sea to spawn in most fresh rivers, and their fry would about a certain time return back to the salt water, if they were not hindered by weirs and unlawful gins, which the greedy fishermen set, and so destroy them by thousands; as they would, being so taught by Nature, change the fresh for salt water. He that shall view the wise statutes made in the 13th of Edward I., and the like in Richard II., may see several provisions made against the destruction of fish; and though I profess no knowledge of the law, yet I am sure the regulation of these defects might be easily mended. But I remember that a wise friend of mine did usually say, "That which is everybody's business is nobody's business"; if it were otherwise, there could not be so many nets and fish that are under the statute size sold daily amongst us, and of which the conservators of the waters should be ashamed.
But above all, the taking fish in spawning-time may be said to be against nature; it is like the taking the dam on the nest when she hatches her young; a sin so against nature, that Almighty God hath in the Levitical law (Deuteronomy xxii. 6, 7) made a law against it.
But the poor fish have enemies enough beside such unnatural Fishermen, as namely, the Otters that I spake of, the Cormorant, the Bittern, the Osprey, the Sea-gull, the Heron, the Kingfisher, the Gorara, the Puet, the Swan, Goose, Ducks, and the Craber, which some call the Water-rat: against all which any honest man may make a just quarrel, but I will not, I will leave them to be quarrelled with and killed by others; for I am not of a cruel nature, — I love to kill nothing but fish.
And now to your question concerning your host. To speak truly, he is not to me a good companion: for most of his conceits were either Scripture jests, or lascivious jests; for which I count no man witty, for the Devil will help a man that way inclined, to the first, and his own corrupt nature, which he always carries with him, to the latter: but a companion that feasts the company with wit and mirth, and leaves out the sin which is usually mixed with them, he is the man; and indeed such a companion should have his charges borne, and to such company I hope to bring you this night; for at Trout Hall, not far from this place, where I purpose to lodge to-night, there is usually an Angler that proves good company. And let me tell you, good company and good discourse are the very sinews of virtue: but for such discourse as we heard last night, it infects others; the very boys will learn to talk and swear as they heard mine host, and another of the company that shall be name less; I am sorry the other is a gentleman, for less religion will not save their souls than a beggar's: I think more will be required at the last great day. Well, you know what example is able to do; and I know what the poet says in the like case, which is worthy to be noted by all parents and people of civility: —
Many a one
Owes to his country his religion:
And in another would as strongly grow,
Had but his nurse or mother taught him so.
This is reason put into verse, and worthy the consideration of a wise man. But of this no more, for though I love civility, yet I hate severe censures: I'll to my own art, and I doubt not but at yonder tree I shall catch a Chub, and then we'll turn to an honest cleanly hostess, that I know right well, rest ourselves there, and dress it for our dinner.
VEN. O Sir! a Chub is the worst fish that swims; I hoped for a Trout to my dinner.
PISC. Trust me, Sir, there is not a likely place for a Trout here about, and we stayed so long to take our leave of your huntsmen this morning, that the sun is got so high, and shines so clear, that I will not undertake the catching of a Trout till evening. And though a Chub be by you and many others reckoned the worst of fish, yet you shall see I'll make it a good fish by dressing it.
VEN. Why, how will you dress him?
PISC. I'll tell you by and by, when I have caught him. Look you here, Sir, do you see? — but you must stand very close, — there lie upon the top of the water in this very hole twenty Chubs. I'll catch only one, and that shall be the biggest of them all; and that I will do so I'll hold you twenty to one, and you shall see it done.
VEN. Ay, marry, Sir! now you talk like an artist; and I'll say you are one, when I shall see you perform what you say you can do: but I yet doubt it.
PISC. You shall not doubt it long, for you shall see me do it presently. Look, the biggest of these Chubs has had some bruise upon his tail, by a pike or some other accident, and that looks like a white spot; that very Chub I mean to put into your hands presently; sit you but down in the shade, and stay but a little while, and I'll warrant you I'll bring him to you.
VEN. I'll sit down and hope well, because you seem to be so confident.
PISC. Look you, Sir, there is a trial of my skill; there he is: that very Chub that I showed you with the white spot on his tail; and I'll be as certain to make him a good dish of meat, as I was to catch him, I'll now lead you to an honest ale-house, where we shall find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows, and twenty ballads stuck about the wall: there my hostess, which I may tell you is both cleanly, and handsome, and civil, hath dressed many a one for me, and shall now dress it after my fashion, and I warrant it good meat.
VEN. Come, Sir, with all my heart, for I begin to be hungry, and long to be at it, and indeed to rest myself too; for though I have walked but four miles this morning, yet I begin to be weary; yesterday's hunting hangs still upon me.
PISC. Well, Sir, and you shall quickly be at rest, for yonder is the house I mean to bring you to.
Come, Hostess, how do you? Will you first give us a cup of your best drink, and then dress this Chub, as you dressed my last, when I and my friend were here about eight or ten days ago? But you must do me one courtesy, it must be done instantly.
HOSTESS. I will do it, Mr. Piscator, and with all the speed I can.
PISC. Now, Sir, has not my hostess made haste? and does not the fish look lovely?
VEN. Both, upon my word, Sir; and therefore let's say grace, and fall to eating of it.
PISC. Well, Sir, how do you like it?
VEN. Trust me, 'tis as good meat as I ever tasted: but now let me thank you for it, drink to you, and beg a courtesy of you; but it must not be denied me.
PISC. What is it, I pray, Sir? you are so modest, that methinks I may promise to grant it before it is asked.
VEN. Why, Sir, it is that from henceforth you would allow me to call you Master, and that really I may be your scholar; for you are such a companion, and have so quickly caught and so excellently cooked this fish, as makes me ambitious to be your scholar.
PISC. Give me your hand; from this time forward I will be your master, and teach you as much of this art as I am able; and will, as you desire me, tell you somewhat of the nature of most of the fish that we are to angle for; and I am sure I both can and will tell you more than any common Angler yet knows.