0 views today | 6 total views | 6,773 words | 35.65 pages | read in 40 mins

Leviathan-henry-van-dyke-shortstoriescoin-image Leviathan - Henry van Dyke

The village of Samaria in the central part of the State of Connecticut resembled the royal city of Israel, after which it was named, in one point only. It was perched upon the top of a hill, encircled by gentle valleys which divided it from an outer ring of hills still more elevated, almost mountainous. But, except this position in the centre of the stage, you would find nothing theatrical or striking about the little New England hill-town: no ivory palaces to draw down the denunciations of a minor prophet, no street of colonnades to girdle the green eminence with its shining pillars, not even a dirty picturesqueness such as now distinguishes the forlorn remnant of the once haughty city of Omri and of Herod.

Neat, proper, reserved, not to say conventional, the Connecticut Samaria concealed its somewhat chilly architectural beauties beneath a veil of feathery elms and round-topped maples. It was not until you had climbed the hill from the clump of houses and shops which had grown up around the railway station,–a place of prosperous ugliness and unabashed modernity,–that you perceived the respectable evidences of what is called in America “an ancient town.” The village green, and perhaps a half dozen of the white wooden houses which fronted it with their prim porticoes, were possibly a little more than a hundred years old. The low farmhouse, which showed its gambrel-roof and square brick chimney a few rods down the northern road, was a relic of colonial days. The stiff white edifice with its pointed steeple, called in irreverent modern phrase the “Congo” church, claimed an equal antiquity; but it had been so often repaired and “improved” to suit the taste of various epochs, that the traces of Sir Christopher Wren in its architecture were quite confused by the admixture of what one might describe as the English Sparrow style.

Page 2

The other buildings on the green, or within sight of it along the roads north, south, east, and west, had been erected or built-over at different periods, by prosperous inhabitants or returning natives who wished to have a summer cottage in their birth-place. These structures, although irreproachable in their moral aspect, indicated that the development of the builder’s art in Samaria had not followed any known historical scheme, but had been conducted along sporadic lines of imitation, and interrupted at least once by a volcanic outbreak of the style named, for some inscrutable reason, after Queen Anne. On the edges of the hill, looking off in various directions over the encircling vale, and commanding charming views of the rolling ridges which lay beyond, were the houses of the little summer colony of artists, doctors, lawyers and merchants. Two or three were flamboyant, but for the most part they blended rather gently with the landscape, and were of a modesty which gave their owners just ground for pride.

The countenance of the place was placid. It breathed an air of repose and satisfaction, a spirit which when it refers to outward circumstances is called contentment, and when it refers to oneself is called complacency. The Samaritans, in fact, did not think ill of themselves, and of their village they thought exceeding well. There was nothing in its situation, its looks, its customs which they would have wished to alter; and when a slight change came, a new house, a pathway on the other side of the green, an iron fence around the graveyard, a golf-links in addition to the tennis-courts, a bridge-whist afternoon to supplement the croquet club, by an unconscious convention its novelty was swiftly eliminated and in a short time it became one of the “old traditions.” Decidedly a place of peace was Samaria in Connecticut,–a place in which “the struggle for life” and the rivalries and contests of the great outside world were known only by report. Yet, being human, it had its own inward strifes; and of one of these I wish to tell the tale.

Page 3

In the end this internal conflict centred about Leviathan; but in the beginning I believe that it was of an ecclesiastical nature. At all events it did not run its course without a manifest admixture of the _odium theologicum_, and it came near to imperilling the cause of Christian unity in Samaria.

The Episcopal Church was really one of the more recent old institutions of the village. It stood beside the graveyard, just around the corner from the village green; and the type of its wooden architecture, which was profoundly early Gothic and was painted of a burnt-umber hue sprinkled with sand to imitate brownstone, indicated that it must have been built in the Upjohn Period, about the middle of the nineteenth century. But Samaria, without the slightest disloyalty to the principles of the Puritans, had promptly adopted and assimilated the Episcopal form of worship. The singing by a voluntary quartette of mixed voices, the hours of service, even the sermons, were all of the Samaritan type. The old rector, Dr. Snodgrass, a comfortably stout and evangelical man, lived for forty years on terms of affectionate intimacy with three successive ministers of the Congregational Church, the deacons of which shared with his vestrymen the control of the village councils.

Page 4

The summer residents divided their attendance impartially between the two houses of worship. Even in the distribution of parts in the amateur theatricals which were given every year by the villagers in the town hall at the height of the season, no difference was made between the adherents of the ancient faith of Connecticut and the followers of the more recently introduced order of Episcopacy. When old Dr. Snodgrass died and was buried, the Rev. Cotton Mather Hopkins, who was an energetic widower of perhaps thirty-five years, made an eloquent address at his funeral, comparing him to the prophet Samuel, the apostle John, and a green bay tree whose foundations are built upon the rock. In short, all was tranquil in the ecclesiastical atmosphere of Samaria. There was not a cloud upon the horizon.

The air changed with the arrival of the new rector, the Rev. Willibert Beauchamp Jones, B.D., from the Divinity School of St. Jerome at Oshkosh. He was a bachelor, not only of divinity but also in the social sense; a plump young man of eight and twenty summers, with an English accent, a low-crowned black felt hat, blue eyes, a cherubic smile, and very high views on liturgics. He was full of the best intentions toward the whole world, a warm advocate of the reunion of Christendom on his platform, and a man of sincere enthusiasm who regarded Samaria as a missionary field and was prepared to consecrate his life to it. The only point in which he was not true to the teachings of his professors at St. Jerome’s was the celibacy of the parish clergy. Here he held that the tradition of the Greek Church was to be preferred to that of the Roman, and felt in his soul that the priesthood and matrimony were not inconsistent. In fact, he was secretly ambitious to prove their harmony in his own person. He was a very social young man, and firm in his resolution to be kind and agreeable to everybody, even to those who were outside of the true fold.

Page 5

Mr. Hopkins called on him without delay and was received with cordiality amounting to _empressement_. The two men talked together in the friendliest manner of interests that they had in common, books, politics, and out-of-door sports, to which both of them were addicted. Mr. Jones offered to lend Mr. Hopkins any of the new books, with which his library was rather well stocked, and promised to send over the _Pall Mall Review_, to which he was a subscriber, every week. Mr. Hopkins told Mr. Jones the name of the best washerwoman in the village, one of his own new parishioners, as it happened, and proposed to put him up at once for membership in the Golf Club. In fact the conversation went off most harmoniously.

“It was extraordinarily kind of you to call so early, my dear fellow,” said Jones as he followed his guest to the door of the little rectory. “I take it as a mark of Christian brotherhood; and naturally, as a clergyman, I want to be as close as possible to every one who is working in any way for the good of the place where my parish lies.”

Page 6

“Of course!” answered Hopkins. “That’s all right. I guess you won’t have any trouble about Christian brotherhood in Samaria. Good-bye till Monday afternoon.”

But as he walked across the green, the skirts of his black frock-coat flapping in the September breeze, and his brown Fedora hat set at a reflective angle on the back of his head, he pondered a little over the precise significance of his _confrere’s_ last remark, which had not altogether pleased him. Was there a subtle shade of difference between those who were working “in any way” for the good of Samaria, and the “clergyman” who felt bound to be on good terms with them?

On Monday afternoon they had appointed to take a country walk together, and Hopkins, who was a lean, long-legged, wiry fellow, with a deep chest, gray eyes, and a short, crisp brown beard and moustache, led the way at a lively pace over hill and dale around Lake Marapaug and back,–fourteen miles in three hours. Jones was rather red when they returned to the front gate of the rectory about five o’clock, and he wiped his beaded forehead with his handkerchief as he invited his comrade to come in and have a cup of tea.

Page 7

“No, thank you,” said Hopkins, “I’m just ready for a bit of work in my study, now. Nice little stroll, wasn’t it? I want you to know the country about here, and the people too. You mustn’t feel strange in this Puritan region where my church has been established so long. We’ll soon make you feel at home. Good-bye.”

An hour later, when Jones had sipped his tea, he looked up from an article in the _Pall Mall Review_ and began to wonder whether Hopkins had meant anything in particular by that last remark.

“He’s an awfully good chap, to be sure, but just a bit set in his way. I fancy he has some odd notions. Well, perhaps I shall be able to put him right, if I am patient and friendly. It is rather plain that I shall have a lot of missionary work to do here among these dissenters.”

The Valley of Spiders

So he turned to his bookshelves and took down a volume on _The Primitive Diaconate and the Reconstruction of Christendom_. Meantime Hopkins was in his study making notes for a series of sermons on “The Scriptural Polity of the Early New England Churches.”

Page 8

Well, you can see from this how the great Leviathan conflict began. Two men meeting with good intentions, both anxious, even determined, to be the best of friends, yet each unconsciously pressing upon the other the only point of difference between them. Now add to this a pair of consciences aggravated by the sense of official responsibilities, and a number of ladies who were alike in cherishing for one or the other of these two men a warm admiration, amounting in several cases, shall I say, to a sentimental adoration, and you have a collection of materials not altogether favourable to a peaceful combination.

My business, however, is with Leviathan, and therefore I do not propose to narrate the development of the rivalry between these two excellent men. How Mr. Jones introduced an early morning service, and Mr. Hopkins replied with an afternoon musical vespers: how a vested choir of boys was installed in the brown church, and a cornet and a harp appeared in the gallery of the white church: how candles were lighted in the Episcopalian apse, (whereupon Erastus Whipple resigned from the vestry because he said he knew that he was “goin’ to act ugly”), and a stereopticon threw illuminated pictures of Palestine upon the wall behind the Congregational pulpit (which induced Abijah Lemon to refuse to pass the plate the next Sunday, because he said he “wa’nt goin’ to take up no collection for a peep-show in meetin'”): how a sermon beside the graveyard on “the martyrdom of King Charles I,” was followed, on the green, by a discourse on “the treachery of Charles II”: how Mrs. Slicer and Mrs. Cutter crossed each other in the transfer of their church relations, because the Slicer boys were not asked to sing in the vested choir, and because Orlando Cutter was displaced as cornetist by a young man from Hitchfield: how the Jonesites learned to speak of themselves as “churchmen” and of their neighbours as “adherents of other religious bodies,” while the Hopkinsians politely inquired as to the hours at which “mass was celebrated” in the brown edifice and were careful to speak of their own services as “Divine worship”: how Mr. Jones went so far, in his Washington’s Birthday Speech, as to compliment the architectural effect of “the old meeting-house on the green, that venerable monument of an earnest period of dissent,” to which Mr. Hopkins made the retort courteous by giving thanks, in his prayer on the same occasion, for “the gracious memories of fraternal intercourse which still hallowed the little brown chapel beside the cemetery”: how all these strokes and counterstrokes were given and exchanged in a decorous and bloodless religious war which enlivened a Samaritan autumn and winter almost to the point of effervescence: and how they were prevented from doing any great harm by the general good feeling and the constitutional sense of humour of the village, it is not my purpose, I say, to relate in detail.

Page 9

The fact is, the incipient fermentation passed away almost as naturally and suddenly as it began. Old Cap’n Elihu Gray, who had made a tidy fortune in his voyages to the East Indies and retired to enjoy it in a snug farmhouse beside the Lirrapaug River, a couple of miles below the village, was reputed to be something of a freethinker, but he used to come up, every month, to one or other of the two churches to sample a sermon. His summary of the controversy which threatened the peace of Samaria, seemed to strike the common-sense of his fellow-townsmen in the place where friendly laughter lies.

“Wa’al,” said he, puffing a meditative pipe, “I’ve seen folks pray to cows and jest despise folks ‘at prayed to elephants. ‘N I’ve seen folks whose r’ligion wouldn’t ‘low ’em to eat pig’s meat fight with folks whose r’ligion wouldn’t ‘low ’em to eat meat ‘t all. But I never seen reel Christians dispise other reel Christians for prayin’ at seven in the mornin’ ‘stead of at eleven, nor yet fight ’bout the difference ‘tween a passel o’ boys singin’ in white nightgowns an’ half-a-dozen purty young gals tunin’ their voices to a pipe-organ an’ a harp o’ sollum saound. I don’t ‘low there is eny devil, but ef ther’ wuz, guess that’s the kind o’ fight ‘d make him grin.”

Page 10

This opinion appeared to reach down to the fundamental saving grace of humour in the Samaritan mind. The vestry persuaded the Reverend Willibert that the time was not yet ripe for candles; and the board of deacons induced the Reverend Cotton Mather to substitute a course of lectures on the Women of the Bible for the stereopticon exhibitions. Hostilities gently frothed themselves away and subsided. Decoration Day was celebrated in Samaria, according to the Hitchfield _Gazette_, “by a notable gathering in the Town Hall, at which the Rev. Jones offered an eloquent extemporaneous prayer and the Rev. Hopkins pronounced an elegant oration on the Civil War, after which the survivors partook of a banquet at the Hancock Hotel.”

But the rivalry between the two leaders, sad to say, did not entirely disappear with the peaceful reconciliation and commingling of their forces. On the contrary, it was as if a general engagement had been abandoned and both the opposing companies had resolved themselves into the happy audience of a single combat. It was altogether a friendly and chivalrous contest, you understand,–nothing bitter or malicious about it,–but none the less it was a _duel a l’outrance_, a struggle for the mastery between two men whom nature had made rivals, and for whom circumstances had prepared the arena in the double sphere of love and angling.

Page 11

Hopkins had become known, during the seven years of his residence at Samaria, as the best trout-fisherman of the village, and indeed of all the tributary region. With the black bass there were other men who were his equals, and perhaps one or two, like Judge Ward, who spent the greater part of his summer vacation sitting under an umbrella in a boat on Lake Marapaug, and Jags Witherbee, the village ne’er-do-weel, who were his superiors. But with the delicate, speckled, evasive trout he was easily first. He knew all the cold, foaming, musical brooks that sang their way down from the hills. He knew the spring-holes in the Lirrapaug River where the schools of fish assembled in the month of May, waiting to go up the brooks in the warm weather. He knew the secret haunts and lairs of the large fish where they established themselves for the whole season and took toll of the passing minnows. He knew how to let his line run with the current so that it would go in under the bushes without getting entangled, and sink to the bottom of the dark pools, beneath the roots of fallen trees, without the hook catching fast. He knew how to creep up to a stream that had hollowed out a way under the bank of a meadow, without shaking the boggy ground. He had a trick with a detachable float, made from a quill and a tiny piece of cork, that brought him many a fish from the centre of a mill-pond. He knew the best baits for every season,–worms, white grubs, striped minnows, miller’s thumbs, bumble-bees, grasshoppers, young field-mice,–and he knew where to find them.

Page 12

For it must be confessed that Cotton Mather was a confirmed bait-fisherman. Confession is not the word that he would have used with reference to the fact; he would have called it a declaration of principles, and would have maintained that he was a follower of the best, the most skilful, the most productive, the fairest, the truly Apostolic method of fishing.

Jones, on the other hand, was not a little shocked when he discovered in the course of conversation that his colleague, who was in many respects such a good sportsman, was addicted to fishing with bait. For his own angling education had been acquired in a different school,–among the clear streams of England, the open rivers of Scotland, the carefully preserved waters of Long Island. He had been taught that the artificial fly was the proper lure for a true angler to use.

For coarse fish like perch and pike, a bait was permissible. For middle-class fish, like bass, which would only rise to the fly during a brief and uncertain season, a trolling-spoon or an artificial minnow might be allowed. But for fish whose blood, though cold, was noble,–for game fish of undoubted rank like the salmon and the trout, the true angler must use only the lightest possible tackle, the most difficult possible methods, the cleanest and prettiest possible lure,–to wit, the artificial fly. Moreover, he added his opinion that in the long run, taking all sorts of water and weather together, and fishing through the season, a man can take more trout with the fly than with the bait,–that is, of course, if he understands the art of fly-fishing.

Page 13

You perceive at once that here was a very pretty ground for conflict between the two men, after the ecclesiastical battle had been called off. Their community of zeal as anglers only intensified their radical opposition as to the authoritative and orthodox mode of angling. In the close season, when the practice of their art was forbidden, they discussed its theory with vigour; and many were the wit-combats between these two champions, to which the Samaritans listened in the drug-store-and-post-office that served them in place of a Mermaid Tavern. There was something of Shakspere’s quickness and elegance in Willibert’s methods; but Cotton Mather had the advantage in learning and in weight of argument.

“It is unhistorical,” he said, “to claim that there is only one proper way to catch fish. The facts are against you.”

“But surely, my dear fellow,” replied Willibert, “there is one best way, and that must be the proper way on which all should unite.”

The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
In recording from time to time some of the curious experiencesand interesting recollecti ...

“I don’t admit that,” said the other, “variety counts for something. Besides, it is up to you to prove that fly-fishing is the best way.”

“Well,” answered Willibert, “I fancy that would be easy enough. All the authorities are on my side. Doesn’t every standard writer on angling say that fly-fishing is the perfection of the art?”

Page 14

“Not at all,” Cotton Mather replied, with some exultation, “Izaak Walton’s book is all about bait-fishing, except two or three pages on the artificial fly, which were composed for him by Thomas Barker, a retired confectioner. But suppose all the books were on your side. There are ten thousand men who love fishing and know about fishing, to one who writes about it. The proof of the angler is the full basket.”

At this Willibert looked disgusted. “You mistake quantity for quality. It’s better to take one fish prettily and fairly than to fill your basket in an inferior way. Would you catch trout with a net?”

Cotton Mather admitted that he would not.

“Well, then, why not carry your discrimination a little farther and reject the coarse bait-hook, and the stiff rod, and the heavy line? Fly-tackle appeals to the aesthetic taste,–the slender, pliant rod with which you land a fish twenty times its weight, the silken line, the gossamer leader, the dainty fly of bright feathers concealing the tiny hook!”

“Concealing!” broke in the advocate of the bait, “that is just the spirit of the whole art of fly-fishing. It’s all a deception. The slender rod is made of split cane that will bend double before it breaks; the gossamer leader is of drawn-gut carefully tested to stand a heavier strain than the rod can put upon it. The trout thinks he can smash your tackle, but you know he can’t, and you play with him half-an-hour to convince him that you are right. And after all, when you’ve landed him, he hasn’t had even a taste of anything good to eat to console him for being caught,–nothing but a little bunch of feathers which he never would look at if he knew what it was. Don’t you think that fly-fishing is something of a piscatorial immorality?”

Page 15

“Not in the least,” answered Willibert, warming to his work, “it is a legitimate appeal, not to the trout’s lower instinct, his mere physical hunger, but to his curiosity, his sense of beauty, his desire for knowledge. He takes the fly, not because it looks like an edible insect, for nine times out of ten it doesn’t, but because it’s pretty and he wants to know what it is. When he has found out, you give him a fair run for his money and bring him to basket with nothing more than a pin-prick in his lip. But what does the bait-fisher do? He deceives the trout into thinking that a certain worm or grub or minnow is wholesome, nourishing, digestible, fit to be swallowed. In that deceptive bait he has hidden a big, heavy hook which sticks deep in the trout’s gullet and by means of which the disappointed fish is forcibly and brutally dragged to land. It lacks refinement. It is primitive, violent, barbaric, and so simple that any unskilled village lad can do it as well as you can.”

“I think not,” said Cotton Mather, now on the defensive, “just let the village-lad try it. Why, the beauty of real bait-fishing is that it requires more skill than any other kind of angling. To present your bait to the wary old trout without frightening him; to make it move in the water so that it shall seem alive and free”; (“deception,” murmured Willibert), “to judge the proper moment after he has taken it when you should strike, and how hard; to draw him safely away from the weeds and roots among which he has been lying; all this takes quite a little practice and some skill,–a good deal more, I reckon, than hooking and playing a trout on the clear surface of the water when you can see every motion.”

Page 16

“Ah, there you are,” cried Willibert, “that’s the charm of fly-fishing! It’s all open and above-board. The long, light cast of the fly, ‘fine and far off,’ the delicate drop of the feathers upon the water, the quick rise of the trout and the sudden gleam of his golden side as he turns, the electric motion of the wrist by which you hook him,–that is the magic of sport.”

“Yes,” replied the other, “I’ll admit there’s something in it, but bait-fishing is superior. You take a long pool, late in the season; water low and clear; fish lying in the middle; you can’t get near them. You go to the head of the pool in the rapids and stir up the bottom so as to discolour the water a little—-”

“Deceptive,” interrupted Willibert, “and decidedly immoral!”

“Only a little,” continued Cotton Mather, “a very little! Then you go down to the bottom of the pool with a hand-line—-”

“A hand-line!” murmured the listener, half-shuddering in feigned horror.

“Yes, a hand-line,” the speaker went on firmly, “a long, light hand-line, without a sinker, baited with a single, clean angle-worm, and loosely coiled in your left hand. You cast the hook with your right hand, and it falls lightly without a splash, a hundred feet up stream. Then you pull the line in very gently, just fast enough to keep it from sinking to the bottom. When the trout bites, you strike him and land him by hand, without the help of rod or landing-net or any other mechanical device. Try this once, and you will see whether it is easier than throwing the fly. I reckon this was the way the Apostle Peter fished when he was told to ‘go to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up.’ It is the only true Apostolic method of fishing.”

Page 17

“But, my dear fellow,” answered the other, “the text doesn’t say that it was a bait-hook. It may have been a fly-hook. Indeed the text rather implies that, for it speaks of the fish as ‘coming up,’ and that means rising to the fly.”

“Wa’al,” said Cap’n Gray, rising slowly and knocking out the ashes of his pipe on the edge of his chair, “I can’t express no jedgment on the merits of this debate, seein’ I’ve never been much of a fisher. But ef I wuz, my fust ch’ice’d be to git the fish, an’ enny way that got ’em I’d call good.”

The arrival of the Springtime, releasing the streams from their imprisonment of ice, and setting the trout to leaping in every meadow-brook and all along the curving reaches of the swift Lirrapaug, transferred this piscatorial contest from the region of discourse to the region of experiment. The rector proved himself a competitor worthy of the minister’s mettle. Although at first he was at some disadvantage on account of his slight acquaintance with the streams, he soon overcame this by diligent study; and while Hopkins did better work on the brooks that were overhung with trees and bushes, Jones was more effective on the open river and in the meadow-streams just at sundown. They both made some famous baskets that year, and were running neck and neck in the angling field, equal in success.

Page 18

But in the field of love, I grieve to say, their equality was of another kind. Both of them were seriously smitten with the beauty of Lena Gray, the old Captain’s only daughter, who had just come home from Smith College, with a certificate of graduation, five charming new hats, and a considerable knowledge of the art of amateur dramatics. She was cast for the part of leading lady in Samaria’s play that summer, and Mr. Jones and Mr. Hopkins were both secretly ambitious for the post of stage-manager. But it fell to Orlando Cutter, who lived on the farm next to the Grays. The disappointed candidates consoled themselves by the size of the bouquets which they threw to the heroine at the close of the third act. One was of white roses and red carnations; the other was of pink roses and lilies of the valley. The flowers that she carried when she answered the final curtain-call, curiously enough, were damask roses and mignonette. A minute observer would have noticed that there was a fine damask rose-bush growing in the Cutter’s back garden.

There was no dispute of methods between Jones and Hopkins in the amatorial realm, like that which divided them in matters piscatorial. They were singularly alike in attitude and procedure. Both were very much in earnest; both expressed their earnestness by offerings presented to the object of their devotions; both hesitated to put their desires and hopes into words, because they could not do it in any but a serious way, and they feared to invite failure by a premature avowal. So, as I said, they stood in love upon an equal footing, but not an equality of success; rather one of doubt, delay and dissatisfaction. Miss Gray received their oblations with an admirable impartiality. She liked their books, their candy, their earnest conversation, their mild clerical jokes, without giving any indication which of them she liked best. As her father’s daughter she was free from ecclesiastical entanglements; but of course she wanted to go to church, so she attended the Episcopal service at eleven o’clock and became a member of Mr. Hopkins’s Bible Class which met at twelve thirty. Orlando Cutter usually drove home with her when the class was over.

Page 19

You can imagine how eagerly and gravely Cotton Mather and Willibert considered the best means of advancing their respective wishes in regard to this young lady; how they sought for some gift which should not be too costly for her to accept with propriety, and yet sufficiently rare and distinguished to indicate her supreme place in their regards. They had sent her things to read and things to eat; they had drawn upon Hitchfield in the matter of flowers. Now each of them was secretly casting about in his mind for some unique thing to offer, which might stand out from trivial gifts, not by its cost, but by its individuality, by the impossibility of any other person’s bringing it, and so might prepare the way for a declaration.

The Woodman and Mercury
A man that labour'd in the woodHad lost his honest livelihood;That is to say,His axe ...

By a singular, yet not unnatural, coincidence, the solution presented itself to the imagination of each of them (separately and secretly of course) in the form of Leviathan.

I feel that a brief word of explanation is necessary here. Every New England village that has any trout-fishing in its vicinity has also a legend of a huge trout, a great-grandfather of fishes, praeternaturally wise and wary, abnormally fierce and powerful, who lives in some particular pool of the principal stream, and is seen, hooked, and played by many anglers but never landed. Such a traditional trout there was at Samaria. His lair was in a deep hole of the Lirrapaug, beside an overhanging rock, and just below the mouth of the little spring-brook that divided the Gray’s farm from the Cutter’s. But this trout was not only traditional, he was also real. Small boys had fished for him, and described vividly the manner in which their hooks had been carried away,–but that does not count. Jags Witherbee declared that he had struggled with him for nearly an hour, only to fall exhausted in the rapids below the pool while the trout executed a series of somersaults in the direction of Simsville,–but that does not count. What really counts is that two reputable clergymen testified that they had seen him. He rose once to Jones’s fly when he was fishing up the river after dusk, and Hopkins had seen him chase a minnow up the brook just before sunrise. The latter witness averred that the fish made a wake like a steamboat, and the former witness estimated his weight at a little short of five pounds,–both called him Leviathan, and desired to draw him out with a hook.

Page 20

Now the thought that secretly occurred to each of these worthy young men, as I say, not unnaturally, but with a strange simultaneousness which no ordinary writer of fiction would dare to invent, was this: “Catch Leviathan on the last day of the trout-season and present him to Miss Gray. That will be a famous gift, and no one else can duplicate it.”

The last day of the season was July 31st. Long before daybreak the Rev. Cotton Mather Hopkins stole away from the manse, slipping through the darkness noiselessly, and taking the steep path by Bushy Brook towards the valley of the Lirrapaug. In one pocket was his long, light, hand-line, carefully coiled, with a selected sneck-bend hook of tempered steel made fast to the line by the smallest and firmest of knots. In the other pocket was a box of choice angle-worms, dug from the garden two days before, and since that time kept in moss and sprinkled with milk to make them clean and rosy. It was his plan to go down stream a little way below the rock-pool, wait for daylight, and then fish up the pool slowly until he reached Leviathan’s lair and caught him. It was a good plan.

Page 21

The day came gently and serenely; a touch of gray along the eastern horizon; a fading of the deep blue overhead, a paling of the stars, a flush of orange in the east; then silver and gold on the little floating clouds, and amber and rose along the hill-tops; then lances of light showing over the edge of the world and a cool flood of diffused radiance flowing across field and river. It was at this moment, before there was a shadow to be found in the scene, that the bait-fisherman stepped into the rapid below the pool and began to wade slowly and cautiously upward along the eastern bank. Not a ripple moved before him; his steps fell on the rocky bottom as if he had been shod with velvet. The long line shot out from his swinging hand and the bait fell lightly on the pool,–too far away yet to reach the rock. Another cast follows, and still another, but without any result. The rock is now reached, but the middle of it projects a little into the pool, and makes a bend or bay which is just out of sight from the point where the fisherman stands. He gathers his line in his left hand again and makes another cast. It is a beauty. The line uncoils itself without a hitch and the bait curves around the corner, settling down beside the rock as if a bit of sand had fallen from the top of the bank.

Page 22

But what is that dark figure kneeling on the eastern bank at the head of the pool? It is the form of Willibert Beauchamp Jones, B.D. He has assumed this attitude of devotion in order that Leviathan may not see him from afar; but it also serves unconsciously to hide him from the fisherman at the foot of the pool. Willibert is casting the fly very beautifully, very delicately, very accurately, across the mouth of the spring-brook towards the upper end of the rock. The tiny royal coachman falls like a snowflake on the water, and the hare’s ear settles like a bit of thistledown two feet beyond it. Nearer and nearer the flies come to the rock, until at last they cover the place where the last cast of the hand-line fell. There is a flash of purple and gold in the water, a great splash on the surface,–Leviathan has risen; Willibert has struck him; the royal coachman is fast in his upper lip.

At the same instant the fisherman at the lower end of the pool feels a tightening of his line. He gives it a quick twitch with his right hand, and prepares to pull in with his left. Leviathan has taken the bait; Cotton Mather has struck; the hook is well fastened in the roof of the fish’s mouth and the sport begins.

Page 23

Willibert leaps to his feet and moves towards the end of the point. Cotton Mather, feeling the heavy strain on his line, wades out towards the deeper part of the pool. The two fishermen behold each other, in the moment of their common triumph, and they perceive what lies between them.

“Excuse me,” said Hopkins, “but that is my fish. He must have taken my bait before he rose to the fly, and I’ll be much obliged to you if you’ll let go of him.”

“I beg your pardon,” replied Jones, “but it’s quite evident that he rose to my fly before you felt him bite at your bait; and as I struck him first and hooked him first, he is my fish and I’ll thank you to leave him alone.”

It was a pretty situation. Each fisherman realized that he was called upon to do his best and yet unable to get ahead of the other without danger to his own success,–no time for argument surely! Yet I think they would have argued, and that with fierceness, had it not been for a sudden interruption.

“Good morning, gentlemen!” said the voice of Orlando Cutter, as he stepped from the bushes at the mouth of the brook, with a landing-net in his hand, “I see you are out early to-day. I came down myself to have a try for the big fish, and Miss Gray was good enough to come with me.”

Page 24

The rosy, laughing face of the girl emerged from the willows. “Good morning, good morning,” she cried. “Why it’s quite a party, isn’t it? But how wet you both are, Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Jones,–did you fall in the water? And you look vexed, too! What is the matter? Oh, I see, both your lines are caught fast in the bottom of the pool,–no, they are tangled together”–(at this the fish gave a mighty splash and a rush towards the shore,)–“oh, Orlando, it’s a fish, and such a beauty!”

The trout, bewildered and exhausted by the double strain upon him, floundered a little and moved into the shallow water at the mouth of the brook. Orlando stepped down and quietly slipped the landing-net under him.

“I see it is a fish,” he said, “and it seems to be caught with a bait and a fly, but it certainly is landed with a net. So in that case, gentlemen, as your claims seem to be divided, I will take the liberty of disengaging both your hooks, and of begging Miss Gray to accept this Leviathan, as–may I tell them?–she has just accepted me.”

Page 25

By this time the newly risen sun was shining upon the ripples of the Lirrapaug River and upon the four people who stood on the bank shaking hands and exchanging polite remarks. His glowing face was bright with that cheerful air of humourous and sympathetic benevolence with which he seems to look upon all our human experiences of disappointment and success.

The weary anglers found some physical comfort, at least, in the cool glasses of milk which Miss Gray poured for them as they sat on the verandah of the farmhouse. On their way up the hill, by the pleasant path which followed Bushy Brook, these two brethren who were so much of one mind in their devotion to their fishing and who differed only in regard to the method to be pursued, did not talk much, but they felt themselves nearer to each other than ever before. Something seemed to weave between them the delicate and firm bonds of a friendship strengthened by a common aim and chastened by a common experience of disappointment. They could afford to be silent together because they were now true comrades. I shall always maintain that both of them received a great benefit from Leviathan.

Page 26


Leviathan – Henry van Dyke – Literature Short Stories

Disclaimer: All the stories, poems and images used on this website, unless otherwise noted are assumed to be in the public domain. If you feel your image or story or poem should not be here, please email us to [email protected] and it will be promptly removed.
Note: We do not use any of our content for commercial purpose.