Chapter XIX. On Fishing

"'It is not for you to waste your time in useless speculation as to the unknowable source of your life-stream, or in seeking to trace it in the ocean. It is enough for you that it is, and that, while it runs its brief course, it is yours to make it yield its blessings. For this you must train your hand and eye and brain--you must be in life a fisherman.'"

"Come boy," said the Doctor at last, laying his hand upon the young minister's shoulder. "Come, boy--let's go fishing. I know a dandy place about twelve miles from here. We'll coax Martha to fix us up a bite and start at daylight. What do you say?"

"But I can't!" cried Dan. "Tomorrow is Saturday and I have nothing now for Sunday morning." He looked toward the waste basket where lay his sermon on "The Christian Ministry."

"Humph," grunted the Doctor. "You'll find a better one when you get away from this. Older men than you, Dan, have fought this thing all their lives. Don't think that you can settle it in a couple of days thinking. Take time to fish a little; it'll help a lot. There's nothing like a running stream to clear one's mind and set one's thoughts going in fresh channels. I want you to see Gordon's Mills. Come boy, let's go fishing."

The evening was spent in preparation, eager anticipation and discussion of the craft, prompted by the Doctor. And as they overhauled flies and rods and lines and reels, and recalled the many delightful days spent as they proposed to spend the morrow, the young man's thoughts were led away from the first real tragedy of his soul. At daylight, after a breakfast of their own cooking--partly prepared the night before by Martha, who unquestionably viewed the minister's going away on a Saturday with doubtful eyes--they were off.

When they left the town far behind and--following the ridge road in the clear wine-like air of the early day--entered the woods, the Doctor laughed aloud as Dan burst forth with a wild boyish yell.

"I couldn't help it Doctor, it did itself," he said in half apology. "It's so good to be out in the woods with you again. I feel as if I were being re-created already."

"Yell again," said the physician with another laugh, and added dryly, "I won't tell."

Gordon's Mills, on Gordon's creek, lay in a deep, narrow valley, shut in and hidden from the world, by many miles of rolling, forest-covered hills. The mill, the general store and post office, and the blacksmith shop were connected with Corinth, twelve miles away, by daily stage--a rickety old spring wagon that carried the mail and any chance passenger. Pure and clear and cold the creek came welling to the surface of the earth full-grown, from vast, mysterious, subterranean caverns in the heart of the hills--and, from the brim of its basin, rushed, boiling and roaring, along to the river two miles distant, checked only by the dam at the mill. For a little way above the dam the waters lay still and deep, with patches of long mosses, vines and rushes, waving in its quiet clearness--forming shadowy dens for lusty trout, while the open places--shining fields and lanes--reflected, as a mirror, the steep green-clad bluff, and the trees that bent far over until their drooping branches touched the gleaming surface.

As the two friends tramped the little path at the foot of the bluff, or waded, with legs well-braced, the tumbling torrent, and sent their flies hither and yon across the boiling flood to be snatched by the strong-hearted denizens of the stream, Dan felt the life and freshness and strength of God's good world entering into his being. At dinner time they built a little fire to make their coffee and broil a generous portion of their catch. Then lying at ease on the bank of the great spring, they talked as only those can talk who get close enough to the great heart of Mother Nature to feel strongly their common kinship with her and with their fellows.

After one of those long silences that come so easily at such a time, Dan tossed a pebble far out into the big pool and watched it sink down, down, down, until he lost it in the unknown depths.

"Doctor, where does it come from?"

"Where does what come from?"

"This stream. You say its volume is always the same--that it is unaffected by heavy rains or long droughts. How do you account for it?"

"I don't account for it," grunted the Doctor, with a twinkle in his eye, "I fish in it."

Dan laughed. "And that," he said slowly, "is your philosophy of life."

The other made no answer.

Choosing another pebble carefully, Dan said, "Speaking as a preacher--please elaborate."

"Speaking as a practitioner--you try it," returned the Doctor.

The big fellow stretched himself out on his back, with his hands clasped beneath his head. He spoke deliberately.

"Well, you do not know from whence your life comes, and it goes after a short course, to lose itself with many others in the great stream that reaches--at last, and is lost in--the Infinite." The Doctor seemed interested. Dan continued, half talking to himself: "It is not for you to waste your time in useless speculation as to the unknowable source of your life-stream, or in seeking to trace it in the ocean. It is enough for you that it is, and that, while it runs its brief course, it is yours to make it yield its blessings. For this you must train your hand and eye and brain--you must be in life a fisherman."

"Very well done," murmured the Doctor, "for a preacher. Stick to the knowable things, and don't stick at the unknowable; that is my law and my gospel."

Dan retorted, "Now let's watch the practitioner make a cast."

"Humph! Why don't you stop it, boy?"

"Stop what?" Dan sat up.

The other pointed to the great basin of water that--though the stream rushed away in such volume and speed--was never diminished, being constantly renewed from its invisible, unknown source.

The young man shook his head, awed by the contemplation of the mighty, hidden power.

And the Doctor--poet now--said: "No more can the great stream of love, that is in the race for the race and that finds expression in sympathy and service, be finally stopped. Fed by hidden, eternal sources it will somehow find its way to the surface. Checked and hampered, for the moment, by obstacles of circumstances or conditions, it is not stopped, for no circumstance can touch the source. And love will keep coming--breaking down or rising over the barrier, it may be--cutting for itself new channels, if need be. For every Judge Strong and his kind there is a Hope Farwell and her kind. For every cast-iron, ecclesiastical dogma there is a living, growing truth."

Dan's sermon the next day, given in place of the one announced, did not please the whole of his people.

"It was all very fine and sounded very pretty," said Martha, "but I would like to know, Brother Matthews, where does the church come in?"