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Nic Revel: A White Slave's Adventures in Alligator Land, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  The Captain was having his after-dinner nap when Nic took down one ofthe rods which always hung ready in the hall, glanced at the fly to seeif it was all right, and then crossed the garden to the fields. Heturned off towards the river, from which, deep down in the lovely combe,came a low, murmurous, rushing sound, quite distinct from a deep, sullenroar from the thick woodland a few hundred yards to his right.

  "No fishing to-day," he said, and he rested his rod against one of thesturdy dwarf oaks which sheltered the house from the western gales, andthen walked on, drawing in deep draughts of the soft salt air andenjoying the beauty of the scene around.

  For the old estate had been well chosen by the Revels of two hundredyears earlier; and, look which way he might, up or down the miniaturevalley, there were the never-tiring beauties of one of the mostdelightful English districts.

  The murmur increased as the young man strode on down the rugged slope,or leaped from mossy stone to stone, amongst heather, furze, and fern,to where the steep sides of the combe grew more thickly clothed withtrees, in and amongst which the sheep had made tracks like a map of thelittle valley, till all at once he stood at the edge of a huge mass ofrock, gazing through the leaves at the foaming brown water which washedthe base of the natural wall, and eddied and leaped and tore on alongits zigzag bed, onward towards the sea.

  From where he stood he gazed straight across at the other side of thecombe, one mass of greens of every tint, here lit up by the sun, theredeep in shadow; while, watered by the soft moist air and mists whichrose from below, everything he gazed upon was rich and luxuriant in theextreme.

  "The rain must have been tremendous up in the moor," thought the youngman, as he gazed down into the lovely gully at the rushing water, whichon the previous day had been a mere string of stony pools connected by atrickling stream, some of them deep and dark, the haunts of the salmonwhich came up in their season from the sea. "What a change! Yesterday,all as clear as crystal; now, quite a golden brown."

  Then, thinking of how the salmon must be taking advantage of the littleflood to run up higher to their spawning-grounds among the hills, Nicturned off to his right to follow a rugged track along the cliff-likeside, sometimes low down, sometimes high up; now in deep shadow, now inopenings where the sun shot through to make the hurrying waters sparkleand flash.

  The young man went on and on for quite a quarter of a mile, with thesullen roar increasing till it became one deep musical boom; and,turning a corner where a portion of the cliff overhung the narrow path,and long strands of ivy hung down away from the stones, he stepped outof a green twilight into broad sunshine, to stand upon a shelf of rock,gazing into a circular pool some hundred feet across.

  Here was the explanation of the deep, melodious roar. For, to hisright, over what resembled a great eight-foot-high step in the valley,the whole of the little river plunged down from the continuation of thegorge, falling in one broad cascade in a glorious curve right into thepool, sending up a fine spray which formed a cloud, across which, like abridge over the fall, the lovely tints of a rainbow played from time totime.

  It was nothing new to Nic, that amphitheatre, into which he had gazedtimes enough ever since he was a child; but it had never seemed morelovely, nor the growth which fringed it from the edge of the water tofifty or sixty feet above his head more beautiful and green.

  But he had an object in coming, and, following the shelf onward, he wassoon standing level with the side of the fall, gazing intently at thewatery curve and right into the pool where the water foamed and plungeddown, rose a few yards away, and then set in a regular stream round andround the amphitheatre, a portion flowing out between two hugebuttresses of granite, and then hurrying downstream.

  Nic was about fifteen feet above the surface of the chaos of water, anda little above the head of the pool; while below him were blocks ofstone, dripping bushes, and grasses, and then an easy descent to wherehe might have stood dry-shod and gazed beneath the curve of the fallingwater, as he had stood scores of times before.

  But his attention was fixed upon the curve, and as he watched he sawsomething silvery flash out of the brown water and fall back into thepool where the foam was thickest.

  Again he saw it, and this time it disappeared without falling back. Forthe salmon, fresh from the sea, were leaping at the fall to gain theupper waters of the river.

  It was a romantic scene, and Nic stood watching for some minutes,breathing the moist air, while the spray began to gather upon hisgarments, and the deep musical boom reverberated from the rocky sides ofthe chasm.

  It was a grand day for the fish, and he was thinking that there would beplenty of them right up the river for miles, for again and again he sawsalmon flash into sight as, by one tremendous spring and beat of theirtails, they made their great effort to pass the obstacle in their way.

  "Plenty for every one," he said to himself; "and plenty left for us," headded, as he saw other fish fail and drop back into the foam-coveredamber and black water, to sail round with the stream, and in allprobability--for their actions could not be seen--rest from theirtremendous effort, and try again.

  All at once, after Nic had been watching for some minutes without seeingsign of a fish, there was a flash close in to where he stood, and alarge salmon shot up, reached the top of the fall, and would have passedon, but fortune was against it. For a moment it rested on the edge, andits broad tail and part of its body glistened as a powerful stroke wasmade with the broad caudal fin.

  But it was in the air, not in the water; and the next moment the greatfish was falling, when, quick as its own spring up, there was a suddenmovement from behind one of the great stones at the foot of the falljust below where Nic stood, and the salmon was caught upon a sharp hookat the end of a stout ash pole and dragged shoreward, flapping andstruggling with all its might.

  The efforts were in vain, for its captor drew it in quickly, raising thepole more and more till it was nearly perpendicular, as he came out frombehind the great block of dripping stone which had hidden him from Nic,and, as it happened, stepped backward, till his fish was clear of thewater.

  It was all the matter of less than a minute. The man, intent upon hisfish--a magnificent freshly-run salmon, glittering in its silverscales--passed hand over hand along his pole, released his right, andwas in the act of reaching down to thrust a hooked finger in the openingand closing gills to make sure of his prize in the cramped-up space heoccupied, when the end of the stout ash staff struck Nic sharply on hisleg.

  But the man did not turn, attributing the hindrance to his pole havingencountered a stone or tree branch above his head, and any movement madeby Nic was drowned by the roar of the fall.

  The blow upon the leg was sharp, and gave intense pain to its recipient,whose temper was already rising at the cool impudence of the stout,bullet-headed fellow, trespassing and poaching in open daylight upon theCaptain's grounds.

  Consequently, Nic did take notice of the blow.

  Stooping down as the end of the pole wavered in the air, he made asnatch at and seized it, gave it a wrench round as the man's finger wasentering the gill of the salmon, and the hook being reversed, the fishdropped off, there was a slight addition to the splashing in the pool,and then it disappeared.

  The next moment the man twisted himself round, holding on by the pole,and stared up; while Nic, still holding on by the other end, leaned overand stared down.

  It was a curious picture, and for some moments neither stirred, thepoacher's not ill-looking face expressing profound astonishment at thisstrange attack.

  Then a fierce look of anger crossed it, and, quick as thought, he made asharp snatch, which destroyed Nic's balance, making him loosen his holdof the pole and snatch at the nearest branch to check his fall.

  He succeeded, but only for a moment, just sufficient to save himself andreceive another heavy blow from the pole, which made him lose his holdand slip, more than fall, down to where he was on the
same level withhis adversary, who drew back to strike again.

  But Nic felt as if his heart was on fire. The pain of the blowsthrilled him, and, darting forward with clenched fists, he struck thepoacher full in the mouth before the pole could swing round.

  There was the faint whisper of a hoarse yell as the man fell back; Nicsaw his hands clutching in the air, then he went backward into theboiling water, while the end of the pole was seen to rise above thesurface for a moment or two, and then glide towards the bottom of thefall and disappear.

  For the current, as it swung round the pool, set towards the fallingwater on the surface, and rushed outward far below.

  Nic's rage died out more quickly than it had risen, and he cranedforward, white as ashes now, watching for the rising of his adversaryout somewhere towards the other side; while, as if in triumphant mockeryor delight at the danger having been removed, another huge salmon leapedup the fall.