The salmon looked at him full in the face, and then went on without minding him, with a swish or two of his tail which made the stream boil again. And in a few minutes came another, and then four or five, and so on; and all passed Tom, rushing and plunging up the cataract with strong strokes of their silver tails, now and then leaping clean out of water and up over a rock, shining gloriously for a moment in the bright sun; while Tom was so delighted that he could have watched them all day long.
And at last one came up bigger than all the rest; but he came slowly, and stopped, and looked back, and seemed very anxious and busy. And Tom saw that he was helping another salmon, an especially handsome one, who had not a single spot upon it, but was clothed in pure silver from nose to tail.
“My dear,” said the great fish to his companion, “you really look dreadfully tired, and you must not over-exert yourself at first. Do rest yourself behind this rock;” and he shoved her gently with his nose, to the rock where Tom sat.
You must know that this was the salmon’s wife. For salmon, like other true gentlemen, always choose their lady, and love her, and are true to her, and take care of her and work for her, and fight for her, as every true gentleman ought; and are not like vulgar chub and roach and pike, who have no high feelings, and take no care of their wives.
Then he saw Tom, and looked at him very fiercely one moment, as if he was going to bite him.
“What do you want here?” he said, very fiercely.
“Oh, don’t hurt me!” cried Tom. “I only want to look at you; you are so handsome.”
“Ah?” said the salmon, very stately but very civilly. “I really beg your pardon; I see what you are, my little dear. I have met one or two creatures like you before, and found them very agreeable and well-behaved. Indeed, one of them showed me a great kindness lately, which I hope to be able to repay. I hope we shall not be in your way here. As soon as this lady is rested, we shall proceed on our journey.”
What a well-bred old salmon he was!
“So you have seen things like me before?” asked Tom.
“Several times, my dear. Indeed, it was only last night that one at the river’s mouth came and warned me and my wife of some new stake-nets which had got into the stream, I cannot tell how, since last winter, and showed us the way round them, in the most charmingly obliging way.”
“So there are babies in the sea?” cried Tom, and clapped his little hands. “Then I shall have some one to play with there? How delightful!”
“Were there no babies up this stream?” asked the lady salmon.
“No! and I grew so lonely. I thought I saw three last night; but they were gone in an instant, down to the sea. So I went too; for I had nothing to play with but caddises and dragon-flies and trout.”