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The Man In The Reservoir   By: (1806-1884)

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By Charles Fenno Hoffman

You may see some of the best society in New York on the top of the Distributing Reservoir, any of these fine October mornings. There were two or three carriages in waiting, and half a dozen senatorial looking mothers with young children, pacing the parapet, as we basked there the other day in the sunshine now watching the pickerel that glide along the lucid edges of the black pool within, and now looking off upon the scene of rich and wondrous variety that spreads along the two rivers on either side.

"They may talk of Alpheus and Arethusa," murmured an idling sophomore, who had found his way thither during recitation hours, "but the Croton in passing over an arm of the sea at Spuyten Duyvil, and bursting to sight again in this truncated pyramid, beats it all hollow. By George, too, the bay yonder looks as blue as ever the Ægean Sea to Byron's eye, gazing from the Acropolis! But the painted foliage on these crags! the Greeks must have dreamed of such a vegetable phenomenon in the midst of their grayish olive groves, or they never would have supplied the want of it in their landscape by embroidering their marble temples with gay colors. Did you see that pike break, sir?"

"I did not."

"Zounds! his silver fin flashed upon the black Acheron, like a restless soul that hoped yet to mount from the pool."

"The place seems suggestive of fancies to you?" we observed in reply to the rattlepate.

"It is, indeed, for I have done up a good deal of anxious thinking within a circle of a few yards where that fish broke just now."

"A singular place for meditation the middle of the Reservoir!"

"You look incredulous, sir; but it's a fact. A fellow can never tell, until he is tried, in what situation his most earnest meditations may be concentrated. I am boring you, though?"

"Not at all. But you seem so familiar with the spot, I wish you could tell me why that ladder leading down to the water is lashed against the stonework in yonder corner."

"That ladder," said the young man, brightening at the question "why, the position, perhaps the very existence, of that ladder resulted from my meditations in the Reservoir, at which you smiled just now. Shall I tell you all about them?"

"Pray do."

"Well, you have seen the notice forbidding any one to fish in the Reservoir. Now, when I read that warning, the spirit of the thing struck me at once as inferring nothing more than that one should not sully the temperance potations of our citizens by steeping bait in it, of any kind; but you probably know the common way of taking pike with a slip noose of delicate wire. I was determined to have a touch at the fellows with this kind of tackle.

"I chose a moonlight night; and an hour before the edifice was closed to visitors, I secreted myself within the walls, determined to pass the night on the top. All went as I could wish it. The night proved cloudy, but it was only a variable drift of broken clouds which obscured the moon. I had a walking cane rod with me which would reach to the margin of the water, and several feet beyond if necessary. To this was attached the wire, about fifteen inches in length.

"I prowled along the parapet for a considerable time, but not a single fish could I see. The clouds made a flickering light and shade, that wholly foiled my steadfast gaze. I was convinced that should they come up thicker, my whole night's venture would be thrown away. 'Why should I not descend the sloping wall and get nearer on a level with the fish, for thus alone can I hope to see one?' The question had hardly shaped itself in my mind before I had one leg over the iron railing.

"If you look around you will see now that there are some half dozen weeds growing here and there, amid the fissures of the solid masonry. In one of the fissures from whence these spring, I planted a foot and began my descent. The Reservoir was fuller than it is now, and a few strides would have carried me to the margin of the water... Continue reading book >>

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