The Trout

by John Francis Whelan

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Julia, a twelve-year-old Irish girl, and her family have come to a place in the country that they have visited often before, perhaps the family’s home place. Still innocent enough to enjoy childish pleasure, Julia first races to a familiar dark, dank path nearly overgrown with old laurels, which she calls “The Dark Walk.” This is the first year that her brother, Stephen, is old enough to go to the Dark Walk with her, and she delights in his fearful shrieks as she races ahead of him. When Julia and Stephen return to the house and begin squabbling, one of the grown-ups distracts them by asking if they found the well. Although Julia haughtily disbelieves that there can be a feature of the Dark Walk with which she is unfamiliar, she later slips away and returns to the Dark Walk to find out for herself. After much searching, she uncovers a fern-shrouded hole in a rock, which contains about a quart of water and a desperately panting trout.

After sharing her discovery first with Stephen and then with a gardener, she returns to the house to tell the grown-ups, who begin formulating theories to explain how the trout could have gotten there. It is apparent to everyone that the fish cannot survive much longer in the cranny—the summer heat is drying up the water, and the trout already has too little room even to turn over. Julia thinks about the fish all day, returning to visit it often, bringing it bits of bread dough and a worm to eat. The trout, however, will not eat—it simply lies still, panting furiously. Although concerned about the trout, Julia does not think of freeing it; it is too fascinating, and she feels that because she has found it, it is hers to enjoy.

Stephen, apparently much younger than Julia, wants their mother to invent a fanciful story to explain how the trout got in the rock, and he delights in having her tell it to him over and over. Julia scoffs when Stephen repeats the story to her, but while in bed that night she only pretends to be reading her book while she is really listening to her mother recount the story yet again. When her mother tries to turn her story into a lesson about what happens to a naughty little fish who does not stay at home with daddy trout and mammy trout, Julia begs her not to make it a moral story. Her mother obliges by inventing a fairy godmother who sends enough rain for the trout to float safely out to the nearby river. Julia, unlike Stephen, understands that in real life no fairy godmother will save her fish. Sinking into melancholy, she is upset when she hears someone unwind a fishing reel.

Horrified that someone plans to catch—and presumably eat—her fish, Julia grabs a pitcher of water and runs barefoot down the rocky path in the moonlight, frantically searching for the imprisoned trout in the late night dark. When she finally locates the slimy crevice, she grasps the terrified fish, shoves him into the pitcher, and tears down to the end of the path, releasing her trout into the river. Returning unseen to her bed, she again hears the sounds of the fishing reel and giggles with joy at her daring rescue. The next day when Stephen wonderingly announces that the trout has disappeared, Julia suggests with an air of superiority that it must have been saved by a fairy godmother.

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