Thou askest me, my brother, how first and where I met the Bloody Doctor? The tale is weird, so weird that to a soul less proved than thine I scarce dare speak of the adventure.
* * * * *
This, perhaps, would be the right way of beginning a story (not that it is a story exactly), with the title forced on me by the name and nature of the hero. But I do not think I could keep up the style without a lady-collaborator; besides, I have used the term “weird” twice already, and thus played away the trumps of modern picturesque diction. To return to our Doctor: many a bad day have I had on Clearburn Loch, and never a good one. But one thing draws me always to the loch when I have the luck to be within twenty miles of it. There are trout in Clearburn! The Border angler knows that the trout in his native waters is nearly as extinct as the dodo. Many causes have combined to extirpate the shy and spirited fish. First, there are too many anglers:
Twixt Holy Lee and Clovenfords,
A tentier bit ye canna hae,
sang that good old angler, now with God, Mr. Thomas Tod Stoddart. But between Holy Lee and Clovenfords you may see half a dozen rods on every pool and stream. There goes that leviathan, the angler from London, who has been beguiled hither by the artless “Guide” of Mr. Watson Lyall. There fishes the farmer’s lad, and the schoolmaster, and the wandering weaver out of work or disinclined to work. In his rags, with his thin face and red “goatee” beard, with his hazel wand and his home-made reel, there is withal something kindly about this poor fellow, this true sportsman. He loves better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep; he wanders from depopulated stream to depopulated burn, and all is fish that comes to his fly. Fingerlings he keeps, and does not return to the water “as pitying their youth.” Let us not grudge him his sport as long as he fishes fair, and he is always good company. But he, with all the other countless fishermen, make fish so rare and so wary that, except after a flood in Meggat or the Douglas burn, trout are scarce to be taken by ordinary skill. As for
Thae reiving cheils
who use nets, and salmon roe, and poisons, and dynamite, they are miscreants indeed; they spoil the sport, not of the rich, but of their own class, and of every man who would be quiet, and go angling in the sacred streams of Christopher North and the Shepherd. The mills, with their dyes and dirt, are also responsible for the dearth of trout.
Untainted yet thy stream, fair Teviot, runs,
Leyden sang; but now the stream is very much tainted indeed below Hawick, like Tweed in too many places. Thus, for a dozen reasons, trout are nigh as rare as red deer. Clearburn alone remains full of unsophisticated fishes, and I have the less hesitation in revealing this, because I do not expect the wanderer who may read this page to be at all more successful than myself. No doubt they are sometimes to be had, by the basketful, but not often, nor by him who thinks twice before risking his life by smothering in a peaty bottom.