FISH STALKING
BY D. J. HALL

The Romanian Scene
Henry Baerlein (editor)
Frederick Muller Ltd., London, 1945, pp.184-8
from Romanian Furrow
D. J. Hall
Landon, Methuen & Co., 1933, pp.33-8



The great heat returned, strengthened it seemed by its rest after the rain.

"It is strange," said the peasants, shaking the sweat from their faces. "Many years have gone since the summer was so long. See how the storks gather together in the fields. Now it is like July."

Each evening I found relief in the river which flowed near the village. It was shallow and turbulent, tearing over its stony bed, but so translucent that the sun's rays picked out the pebbles, making them glow dully beneath the surface. It was mountain cold too, springing from the Carpathians. After so long a drought the water was low, tracing a winding course through the broad bed, most of which was dry and white, scattered with boulders down by the spring floods. Tall willows fringed its banks, silvery, unearthy beside the beech-trees which covered the hills rising beyond. Never have I seen such gentle hills. They rose up and folded one into another; thick with the soft green of their trees it was hard to tell where one ended and another began. They seemed to go on for ever.

Costică, the son of the house, went nearly always with me for these evening bathes. Lazily we strolled down the dusty road feeling already the coolness in store. Then off to the left down a little lane which lost itself in plum orchards. There was a steep slope down which we slid to a narrow, green field. Beyond, across the dry shingle, was a pool Costică knew, with a strip of sand by it and a tree that dipped its branches. As the wavelets tumbled against the branches they splashed the leaves with a fine spray; on the hottest day they always glistened freshly.

There we stripped naked, leaped and shouted in the tingling water. Lying on the sand we let the sun draw the moisture from our cooled bodies. And as we lay there Costică sang, looking up at the sky, slow songs that held in their music all the vastness of that land which travels over the hills to the plains of Moldavia, on, on to the Russian steppes beyond the Dniester:

Green leaves, thick grass,
Rich river grass.
There is nowhere more lovely
Than our village.

Spring ploughs the hill,
Ploughs with two oxen.
How sweet is the cuckoo's singing,
On the bough by the water.

The music had a queer twist in it that caught at the heart. I would listen to the first two lines, hearing the long cry to the earth. There came a break in the voice, a sudden turn from slow contemplation to realization, "How sweet is the cuckoo's singing," and with that the music became quick with a lilt of joy, only to die away in an endless throbbing note that sang on in my consciousness long after the sound of it had passed.

I asked Costic„ why the songs had such sad music. "They are not sad. It is only that when we sing we are thinking of the words. You cannot sing quickly and think. In the dances you hear gay music, for then we forget and only dance."

"Perhaps, Costic„, it is also because your country is so big."

I had always this feeling about Romania, for although it is in itself not large it is apart of the great, geographical scheme which embraces southern Russia.

"Maybe. I do not know. But always we have worked the land, and such work, is slow and hard. Also the winter and summer are very long. The spring is short and beautiful; the flowers do not last long; it is sad."

Often as We stood naked by the water's edge, women came by driving the cattle home from the fields. Sometimes they bathed near to us, naked as we were, splashing and singing to one another. From the first I felt no embarrassment; they were not shy of their bodies or of mine.

One morning as I was setting out for the fieds Costic„ came into my room carrying a gun. It was an immense old Mšnnlicher and I asked him what he was going to do with it.

"This evening we are going to fish," he said.

"What, with that gun?" I asked incredulously.

"Surely; with what else?"

At which we both laughed, he at my surprise, I thinking he was joking.

"You will see," he said. "To-night we shall have fish for supper."

"I shall believe that when I see them on the table."

He went out laughing.

In the evening we set off through the plum orchards, Costic„ with his gun, I carrying a handful of cartridges out of which he had taken the bullets, stuffed them full of gunpowder and put back the bullets loosely. I hoped that the gun would not explode.

As we neared the river bank the fever of the chase caught Costic„; silently he motioned me to fall behind him. On tiptoe we moved to the edge, bending low. If we had shouted at the top of our voices it would have made no difference, for the stream was singing its loudest as it thrashed over the stones. But we were hunters seeking a difficult quarry. At a pool formed by a curve in the bank we slowly raised our heads and peered into the water. It was filled with tiny fish.

"Minnows!" I exclaimed.

"Hush! They will hear you. There, they have gone already. You see, you must be silent. Fish have sharp ears." Costic„ stood up, crestfallen at their escape.

"Now we will have to drive them down to the pool again."

"But they are very small."

Costic„ was a great joker. He knew it was absurd, but the chase enthralled him.

"Perhaps; but they are good to eat. Oh, very beautiful. Now! Follow me."

Again we crept silently along the bank.

"There! There they are. Now we will drive them."

We threw stones and sticks into the water while the fish scattered downstream. After waiting a: few minutes we went back to the pool. There were the innocent little fishes swimming round in circles.

"Now," whispered Costic„, "you must go into the water below them. When I fire, watch for the fishes and catch them. "

I stripped and wading into the shallows waited expectantly. Costic„ slipped a cartridge into the rifle, lay down on his stomach and with the muzzle within an inch of the water pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

"Dumnezeu!" he muttered. "The powder is damp."

I was now taking the affair very seriously and could hardly bear the disappointment. Going ashore I condoled with him. He emptied out the powder and put the cartridge in his pocket.

"We will try another. Here is a special one I have filled."

I returned to my watch in the water while Costic„ lay down once more. This time there was a shattering explosion and fountains of water shot into the air. Costic„ danced on the bank.

"There they go. Quick, quick before the river takes them!"

I leaped about snatching at the stunned, silver bodies as they were turned and swept down to me by the current, throwing them on to the shore as I caught them. Costic„ counted.

"Twelve. That is not so bad."

"No," I said, standing over the glistening fishes not one of which was more than five or six inches long and slim at that. "But we shall need more for a good supper."

"Surely. We will go on down the river."

So we worked the pools, scrambling over the rocks and debris of the spring floods. At last when the sun had almost gone and we had caught about thirty I said it was enough. But Costic„ was fired with success, he wanted more, always more. We had come to a place where the stream ran close under high banks; Costic„ could see larger fish there. But I could not catch them, because the water was too deep. He went over to a little house among the willows and returned with a man carrying a widespread net on the end of a stick.

I did not offer to help. I felt lazy now and lay watching them. Behind me the wooded hills had fallen back beyond a field of close-cropped grass; across the stream the bank's face was ochre. All things stood calm and still in the late evening light. I turned on my back and watched the paling sky in which tiny, flickering points of light were beginning to appear. The mingled jingle and low resonance of cow-bells drew nearer. The woman driving them before her stopped by me.

"What will you do if the jandarm finds you catching fish with a gun?"

"I do not know," I laughed. "I have not a gun."

"But Costic„ has, the bad boy. You will both go to prison, domnule Englez."

Her dark eyes danced. She was beautiful, her skin dark from the sun, only her small hands were roughened with toil. "It is fine here, is it not? To-night there will be a moon."

She moved on, smiling mischievously.

"Good night," I said, laughing, "and thank you for your advice."

"Aie, aie," she cried to her cows.

Turning on my stomach I called to Costic„, still busy on the far bank of the darkening river.

"It is time to go home. I am hungry."

"I too. The fish are going to bed. I cannot catch them."

We were far beyond the village, and, as we went through the fields of corn, the moon rose over the hills.

Give me your hands to kiss,
For I die of quivering.
If you go, I who stay
Will be lonely in this great world,

sang handsome Costic„, for the beauty of the evening went quickly to his heart. Quickly moved are he and his people. They love much, plunge deep and rise high who live close to the earth, know well its sorrow and its joy. The spring is short, the long summer full of passion, and in winter life is hard.

Give me your hands to kiss,
Let me with foolish suffering
Weep on your soft breasts
Beneath the rays of the moon.