As an angler, Monsieur Vernet was not in the least fussy; he didn't know much about it, he's not inspired, he didn't talk about it at great length, he wasn't unbearably boring. He hadn't got special clothes, expensive and useless gear, and the day before the season opened, he wasn't feverishly excited.
He was quite happy with a line – just a length of twine – a discreetly coloured float, worms from his own garden as bait, and a cloth bag to bring home his catch. Yet Monsieur Vernet did like fishing, though passionately would be an exaggeration; he was very fond of it, it was the only thing he was fond of, after having progressively had to give up other things he preferred.
Once the season was open, he'd go fishing every day, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, mainly at the same spots. Other anglers think it's important to study the direction and strength of the wind, the heat of the sun, what the water's like; Monsieur Vernet never bothered. With his hazelwood fishing rod, he set off when he felt like it. He'd walk along the Yonne, stopping as soon as he didn't want to go any farther, uncoil his line, put it in the water, and spend a few pleasant hours until it was time to go home for lunch or dinner. Monsieur Vernet was far too sensible to eat uncomfortably outdoors on the pretext of going fishing.
Thus it was that last Sunday morning, rather early because it was the first day of the season, he found himself sitting on the grass, not in a deckchair, beside the river.
He immediately started to enjoy himself: it seemed to him a delightful morning, not just because he was fishing but because the air was cool, the Yonne was shimmering, and he could see long-legged mosquitoes skimming over the water and hear crickets singing behind him.
All the same, he was also greatly interested in fishing.
He soon caught a fish.
This wasn't anything extraordinary: he'd caught fish before. He didn't pursue fish madly, he was quite capable of doing without them, but every time a fish was too greedy, you had to pull him out of the water. And every time he did it, Monsieur Vernet always felt a slight thrill. You could tell this because while putting on a new bait, his fingers were trembling.
Before opening his bag, Monsieur Vernet put the gudgeon down on the grass. And don't say, "What? Only a gudgeon?" There are big gudgeons which shake your line so violently that the heart of an angler starts beating faster, just as it would at the theatre.
Monsieur Vernet had calmed down. He cast his line back into the water and, for some strange reason (he could never say why), instead of putting the gudgeon in the bag, he looked at it.
After a few frantic jerks, which left it exhausted, the gudgeon lay quite still on its side and gave no further sign of life, except through its obvious efforts of trying to breathe.
With his fins flat against his back, he was opening and closing his mouth; his lower lip was adorned underneath with two tiny barbels, like a soft little moustache. Slowly, his breathing became more and more difficult, and he even had trouble closing his jaws.
"How funny," Monsieur Vernet said, "I can see it's suffocating."
And added: "How he must be suffering!"
This was something he'd never noticed before and it was as clear as it was unexpected.
Translated by Douglas Parmée