Louis lived close to, and later owned, several trout waters such as stretches of the Rivers Itchen and Test, so I have always imagined that he must have loved trout fishing. I therefore wrote one of those fictional passages, a couple of which appear in the published version of Prinny’s Taylor. This one didn’t make it but I think it’s fun just the same:-
The boy Louis, because of the demands of the business and the family, had little time to himself, but when a possible hour or so of freedom presented itself he would head inexorably for the river. The family would chaff him, saying that the youth held an unhealthy fascination for the river but he did not care. The river and its roaring or ripply magic were his solace and he crept down there whenever he could, to immerse himself, though not literally, in it, except on hot summer days when its chilliness was welcome. He loved the frisson of being there, of experiencing the sounds and smells, the occasional surprise of a flipping trout, the cool and cavernous reaches where the quieter water was full of promise, and the smell of wild herbs as he waded through the lush vegetation on his quest to reach parts of the Gorges du Tarn that others had never taken the trouble to get to. He owned no fishing tackle to speak of. His brothers would occasionally on a Sunday afternoon take out their long hazel rods to fish for carp, and, in the winter, pike, but Louis always saw this as a family entertainment, lubricated by much wine and surrounded by many galloping screaming children, so not touching the serious pursuit of The Trout, which had become in his mind the most beautiful, alluring and artful fish he had ever seen. So it was that he spent any of his free time observing the pretty antics of this gentleman of the stream, and thinking of ways to secure one for himself. He saw of course that they entrancingly rose to water flies floating down the stream, and realised that a particularly good feeding spot, because of the eddies that carried plenty of flies there, would hold a larger trout, as shown by the solidity of his rise to slurp down each ephemeral morsel. Louis’ efforts to catch these paragons on his inadequate tackle were limited because he was unable to cast his worm or maggot far enough in the gin-clear water not to be seen by the wary fish.
One autumn morning, when the leaves on the sweet chestnut trees were just starting to turn that yellowish-brown which makes them an unlovely second-best to the more showy maples, Louis had managed to slip away to his riparian solace. Nimbly loping along the bank he reached one of his favourite rocks, where as part of his river ritual he would habitually perch for a few moments to survey his domain. Here he would sample the sights, smells and sounds which gave him so much inner peace and freedom. He would relish every sensation and take comfort in the rightness and perfection of that place.
Today, though, something was not so right. Above the enveloping rush-noise of the water his keen ears detected a scuffling, a grating, which disturbed his small world. Sliding awkwardly down the steep opposite bank was Grigor, the club-footed gypsy boy. Louis watched, slowly sliding backwards into a less conspicuous spot where his rock sloped backwards from the bank. Grigor carried a small burlap bag which had a long drawstring which would loop over his shoulder, and could therefore be tucked under his armpit when required. Grigor, when getting closer to the rocky bank, showed the greatest delicacy in the way he moved. Not only did he slither with increased stealth, but he hunched and crept so that there was no chance of his arrival being noticed by the trout. Louis instinctively understood what he was about, but was very curious because Grigor carried no fishing tackle of any kind. The boy prostrated himself on the bank and reached carefully down into the water. He seemed to be feeling his way along, but suddenly withdrew his hand sharply. He crawled a few yards along the bank and once again put his hand under the water. From his vantage-point Louis could see the boy’s body tense with concentration. Suddenly, a relaxation, and Grigor quietly and deliberately lifted a trout from the water. He held it firmly round the gills, admired its red and black-speckled beauty for an instant, and quickly dashed its nose on the rock to kill it. Into the burlap bag it went. Grigor then crept for some distance down the bank, becoming almost lost to sight, so that Louis had to sidle through the brush to take up a new position so as to see what would happen next. The gypsy boy settled himself in another favourite spot and quietly groped under the bank. In a short time he withdrew his hand – no good fish had commandeered that hole since he had removed the last incumbent a few days ago. At that moment, a caterwauling in an unknown tongue struck their ears and Grigor rapidly straightened and scrambled up the bank, soon to disappear, presumably summoned by his mother.
Louis lay where he was for a few moments, replaying in his mind what he had seen. His recollection of the village children, trying to wade into the crystal-clear waters of the Tarn, on the off-chance of getting close enough to a fish to spear it, or even less likely, to scoop it out of the water, struck him as ludicrous at that moment. There was a different way, to charm the trout as it rested from the current in a favourite hole in the bank. He started to reach into the water on his side of the river, and realised that about a foot below the surface the emerging river had gouged channels in the rock. He glided his nimble tailor’s fingers along such a channel and suddenly felt a nip. Now he understood why Grigor had whipped his hand out of the water. An eel, jack or even a trout could give an unexpected bite to a pink fleshy hand that came within range. Even the toothless carp will have a nibble at anything as grub-like as an immersed human finger.
Louis’s courage returned in an instant and he was keen to try his luck again. This time, as he felt his way along the channel, his fingers encountered the glassy side of a plump fish, but he was too sudden and it shot off upstream, leaving a flurry of fins and tail on the surface in its hurry to be away. He was due home now, but he could feel it in his fingers that next time he would touch the fish as gently as a piece of weed floating by. He would lightly caress its silky side until he had reached its gills, whereupon he would gently encircle its head, the only place where one could hold a live trout, and quietly lift the captive from its element.
In time he got to know all of the rocky places where the trout chose to lie in the dark and sheltered holes away from the current. A favourite rock had a tunnel which ran right through it, opening to the side towards the back. He would place one hand over the mouth of this hole and with the other feel for a fish in the side channel. More than once a fish would shoot upstream inside the rock and he would catch it by the nose between two finger joints. The fish he brought home made a welcome addition to the family’s diet, usually fried in butter.