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The Gentle Life
by [?]

Do you remember that fair little wood of silver birches on the West Branch of the Neversink, somewhat below the place where the Biscuit Brook runs in? There is a mossy terrace raised a couple of feet above the water of a long, still pool; and a very pleasant spot for a friendship-fire on the shingly beach below you; and a plenty of painted trilliums and yellow violets and white foam-flowers to adorn your woodland banquet, if it be spread in the month of May, when Mistress Nature is given over to embroidery.

It was there, at Contentment Corner, that Ned Mason had promised to meet me on a certain day for the noontide lunch and smoke and talk, he fishing down Biscuit Brook, and I down the West Branch, until we came together at the rendezvous. But he was late that day–good old Ned! He was occasionally behind time on a trout stream. For he went about his fishing very seriously; and if it was fine, the sport was a natural occasion of delay. But if it was poor, he made it an occasion to sit down to meditate upon the cause of his failure, and tried to overcome it with many subtly reasoned changes of the fly– which is a vain thing to do, but well adapted to make one forgetful of the flight of time.

So I waited for him near an hour, and then ate my half of the sandwiches and boiled eggs, smoked a solitary pipe, and fell into a light sleep at the foot of the biggest birch tree, an old and trusty friend of mine. It seemed like a very slight sound that roused me: the snapping of a dry twig in the thicket, or a gentle splash in the water, differing in some indefinable way from the steady murmur of the stream; something it was, I knew not what, that made me aware of some one coming down the brook. I raised myself quietly on one elbow and looked up through the trees to the head of the pool. “Ned will think that I have gone down long ago,” I said to myself; “I will just lie here and watch him fish through this pool, and see how he manages to spend so much time about it.”

But it was not Ned’s rod that I saw poking out through the bushes at the bend in the brook. It was such an affair as I had never seen before upon a trout stream: a majestic weapon at least sixteen feet long, made in two pieces, neatly spliced together in the middle, and all painted a smooth, glistening, hopeful green. The line that hung from the tip of it was also green, but of a paler, more transparent colour, quite thick and stiff where it left the rod, but tapering down towards the end, as if it were twisted of strands of horse- hair, reduced in number, until, at the hook, there were but two hairs. And the hook–there was no disguise about that–it was an unabashed bait-hook, and well baited, too. Gently the line swayed to and fro above the foaming water at the head of the pool; quietly the bait settled down in the foam and ran with the current around the edge of the deep eddy under the opposite bank; suddenly the line straightened and tautened; sharply the tip of the long green rod sprang upward, and the fisherman stepped out from the bushes to play his fish.

Where had I seen such a figure before? The dress was strange and quaint–broad, low shoes, gray woollen stockings, short brown breeches tied at the knee with ribbons, a loose brown coat belted at the waist like a Norfolk jacket; a wide, rolling collar with a bit of lace at the edge, and a soft felt hat with a shady brim. It was a costume that, with all its oddity, seemed wonderfully fit and familiar. And the face? Certainly it was the face of an old friend. Never had I seen a countenance of more quietness and kindliness and twinkling good humour.