Other streams played a part in the education of that happy boy: the Kaaterskill, where there had been nothing but the ghosts of trout for the last thirty years, but where the absence of fish was almost forgotten in the joy of a first introduction to Dickens, one very showery day, when dear old Ned Mason built a smoky fire in a cave below Haines’s Falls, and, pulling The Old Curiosity Shop out of his pocket, read aloud about Little Nell until the tears ran down the cheeks of reader and listener—the smoke was so thick, you know: and the Neversink, which flows through John Burroughs’s country, and past one house in particular, perched on a high bluff, where a very dreadful old woman come out and throws stones at “city fellers fishin’ through her land” (as if any one wanted to touch her land! It was the water that ran over it, you see, that carried the fish with it, and they were not hers at all): and the stream at Healing Springs, in the Virginia mountains, where the medicinal waters flow down into a lovely wild brook without injuring the health of the trout in the least, and where the only drawback to the angler’s happiness is the abundance of rattlesnakes—but a boy does not mind such things as that; he feels as if he were immortal. Over all these streams memory skips lightly, and strikes a trail through the woods to the Adirondacks, where the boy made his first acquaintance with navigable rivers,—that is to say, rivers which are traversed by canoes and hunting-skiffs, but not yet defiled by steamboats,—and slept, or rather lay awake, for the first time on a bed of balsam-boughs in a tent.
The promotion from all-day picnics to a two weeks’ camping-trip is like going from school to college. By this time a natural process of evolution has raised the first rod to something lighter and more flexible,—a fly-rod, so to speak, but not a bigoted one,—just a serviceable, unprejudiced article, not above using any kind of bait that may be necessary to catch the fish. The father has received the new title of “governor,” indicating not less, but more authority, and has called in new instructors to carry on the boy’s education: real Adirondack guides—old Sam Dunning and one-eyed Enos, the last and laziest of the Saranac Indians. Better men will be discovered for later trips, but none more amusing, and none whose woodcraft seems more wonderful than that of this queerly matched team, as they make the first camp in a pelting rain-storm on the shore of Big Clear Pond. The pitching of the tents is a lesson in architecture, the building of the camp-fire a victory over damp nature, and the supper of potatoes and bacon and fried trout a veritable triumph of culinary art.
At midnight the rain is pattering persistently on the canvas; the fronts flaps are closed and tied together; the lingering fire shines through them, and sends vague shadows wavering up and down: the governor is rolled up in his blankets, sound asleep. It is a very long night for the boy.