SHORT STORIES

Said MacPherson to the Fisherman

Talbot Warren Torrance July 1 1910
SHORT STORIES

Said MacPherson to the Fisherman

Talbot Warren Torrance July 1 1910

Said MacPherson to the Fisherman

SHORT STORIES

Talbot Warren Torrance

THE doctor and the chief agreed between themselves—and then, as we separated at midnight, they

told me, their guest—that next morning would do nicely for a run down the river to Bass Rock.

Sunset had augured favorably—a glorious harmony of blended golds, rifting billowy masses of snowy cloud in shafts of strong, shimmering sheen —and the keg of dew-worms I had brought along had been duly inspected and rated up to standard, both in squirmility and fatness.

Biting began as the launch cleared the boat-house. The air did it. A four a.m. August atmosphere in Georgian Bay waters nips. I turned up the collar of my mackintosh, and watched to see whether the other fellows noticed the action. Next I carelessly pulled my cap down as far as

it would go ; and the move, happily, appeared to be unobserved. Thirdly, I edged farther for’ard and humped my back a trifle, to which nobody, I was pleased to note, paid any attention. The hump to the huddle was effected by easy gradation; and then came the genuine cold crouch, to be succeeded, I was fearing, by the savage grouch — when the doctor, who was adjusting the throttle, or the spark-plug, or the cut-off, or the airbrake, or the peak-load, or some other curious contraption of the motor mechanism—I never could get a clear grasp of motor-boat fixings—turned a quizzical but kindly look on me.

“Say,” he remarked — and, maybe I’m mistaken, but I though I caught an exchange of covert glances between him and the chief, who had the wheel—“if you should happen to feel

anyway uncomfortable in the bow, move back astern and get the warmth of the engine. She’ll be chugging quite a heat right away.”

“Oh, I’m snug as a bug in a rug!” was the hollow answer, as I painfully unlimbered and emptied coat-pockets of -hands so benumbed at the fingertips they couldn’t hold a match. “This mere suggestion of chill in the ambient air’ll soon wear ofF, and it’ll be shirt-sleeves for mine.”

“Shirt-sleeves,” I said I was inclining towards; when, as a matter of fact, what I wanted more than anything else on top of earth was a coonskin coat and link-lined gauntlets ! Yes, and shoe-packs, arctic shoepacks, too ! However, I hoped the two -hardened and husky chaps gave me some sort of credit for artistic dissimulation.

How the city man on an outing does want to appear to his backwoods comrades that he can stand it, if they can ! He, the tenderfoot, will yield to no seasoned dweller of the wilds—at it, off and on, the whole sporting season through—in grit, go and staying power, while his month’s vacation lasts ! He out of condition? Don’t you ever believe it. He’s as fit as a fiddle, hard as nails, game as a tortoise-shell bantam — in his mind. Of course, so far as the sporting “feeling” goes, the man’s all there. The old instinct to get out and kill things —to tramp long distances, to paddle weary miles, to undergo all the hardships afield and afloat, in quest of fin, feather or hide—is in every fibre. He is keyed up to that pitch when he’d give his last dollar for a dip into the bait pail or to feel the snug fit of his shooting-jacket and come up with his dog on a point.

But put him, fresh from town environment, right on the job, and see how queerly he holds it down—for the first few days, at any rate, while the soft covering is coming off and he’s getting really on edge.

Now, there were specific local reasons to account for any lack of form I may have manifested that memor-

able August morn. I had risen after three hours of my usual eight of sleep. Next, I had to grope my way from the house down to the wharf rendezvous. The road was new—to me, although a celebrated geologist had positively stated that it had existed, just as it was, for countless centuries, and that, unless some prying person discovered precious metal concealed beneath it, this unquestionably prehistoric and pretty humpy and hard rock road would continue to exist unimproved right straight along. Expert testimony on the origin and habits of the road was, of course, interesting and instructive at the time it was taken. Naturally also, it soothed and cheered me as I ambled along, zigzag and uncertain, over culverts, up hummocks and down toboggan slides, with now and then a nice even patch of pathway, to show there was no intentional ill-feeling on the part of the pavement. Furthermore, the thought that I was going fishing, if I could only find the place, was helpful.

“Now, there’s where you’ll find it nice and warm,” the doctor remarked cheerily,—“if you happen to want that sort of thing,” he added indulgently. “I sometimes.take a little of it myself, if the blood’s a bit sluggish.”

Here again I fancied I saw the chief and the doctor furtively eye each other. But, of course, you can’t always account for fancies. I settled down on the stern seat, silently, airily, but, oh, how gratefully! Yes, he was right. It was nice and warm. The exhaust passed right beneath and diffused comforting caloric. At first it was genial. Presently it grew obtrusively familiar. In ten minutes it had become painfully pronounced. I slid to one side, but the heat was all over the spot. From obnoxious fervency it increased to real fierceness and, despite a martyr effort to brace up and appear easy, I had to fidget and squirm—or else yell. I looked longingly towards my original seat and thought the occasional dash of cold spray over it the most beautiful and

inviting nozzle-play that ever happened. now 1 longed to have it spiash tne bosom—ot my trousers! blow 1 yearned to ian iorwara, or, rather DacKward, into the drenched bow ! rnew ! 1 he macintosh began to ex-

haie an oaor, as the trousers began to scoren, ana 1 was just garnering myseii lor a wild whoop and probably a jump overooard, wnen tne aoctor, without even glancing my way, said something to tne enect tnat, just as soon as i feit tne chili off, u l a move amiaships he'd show me a new wrinKie in gas-engine mechanism that vvouia-.

ihe chili off? Parbleu!—or, if you like, you can make it parboil !—it had come to the stage ot the skin off ! i shot up and ieaped torward to examine that new wrinide as n my hie depended on it—which, maybe, it did. And, mark this odd circumstance— and yet at certain times i couid go to work and reason out that-it wasn t an odd circumstance, but something studied and calculating—not a word did either ot my companions utter about tne smeli of singed ciothing. .Never a syllable was spoken touching the liability oi the stern seat of a gasolene launch becoming just the place tor a salamander. .No hint was dropped that my alacrity in changing quarters seemed undue, undignmed, or unsportsmanlike—all of which 1 somehow felt it was. The incident of which I was the—the—the moving figure, as it were, just seemed to close suddenly, that’s all. I let it go at that. Still, do you know, if I were to allow it, a shrewd suspicion might haunt me that-. But, no matter.

Pipes lit, and the smokers nicely out of the gasolene danger zone, we gave the boat a jack-up to the limit— although, probably, that isn’t the engineer’s technicality for going ahead at full speed—and lolled back for a good look around. Things were beginning to loom up with more distinctness out of the grizzled gloom and vanishing vapors, and a far-flung, ever-widening, all-compelling vista was slowly unfolding. At first dim, shadowy,

shifting, in the half-light of breaking uay, presently objects assumed üeñneu snape aiong tne nebulous shore-fine on either hand and stood out dearer against tne hazy horizon away beyond, wnere uie river ieli, langourous ana longing, on the bosom ox the bay.

' i he cold, grey dawn ot the morning alter ’ is proverbially unpleasant and painfully reminiscent. But "the coid, grey aawn of the morning of”— who snail set down, in apt ana fitting ianguage, its delights—oi anticipation, realization, and recollection? What it shaaows iurk along the way?— there s your patent saiety lantern to shoo them into limbo. The air is chili ana depressing:—put match to your cuddy and let the warmth radiate around your nose and the fragrance ot cut-pmg get next to your sorrowing soul! Apprehensive of the weather: What! after the sun last eve

lighting a gold path across the water and frankly promising fair morrow? Pshaw! i\o true sportsman is either a weakling, a grouch or the victim of a bogeyman. Conditions, time, place, contingencies—what figure do they cut with the healthy fellow on the threshold of another season’s outing? What does anything signify when you’re loosed for a month and the primal instinct of the chase has been rekindled in your breast: “Back to the savage life !” is an impulse so irresistible that one blindly obeys it— as the big moose answers the hunter’s cow-call, or the Roman voluptuary responded to the cry of the Egyptian siren—and revels in the act! Oh, the rapture ! Oh, the-”

“How’s that for a sample picture of northland life?”

The doctor pointed to a riverside home, before which we had hauled to, with power off to enable a few twists to be given a refractory coupling. The house evidently had been planned easily, but it had taken time to evolve. It seemed to have been originally built of an immense variety of superfluous lumber, with other varieties added as they came on the market and down the river, from year to year. The car-

penter hadn’t distained the use of infirm slabs in spots. If the material was principally bill-stuff, you’d say that the owner oughtn’t to have had serious trouble paying the bill. But yet the shanty was picturesquely patchy and neatly matched the surroundings. A square brick residence with iron dogs on the door-step might have looked odd at that spot. It was set back on the crown of the rock that sloped easily to the wateredge. It had unstudied window-frames, enclosing small panes of, let us say, beveledplate glass—for what’s the use of being so merciless with an enterprising but somewhat hampered builder, who appeared to have done the best he could with this suburban contract?

At the snug little wharf a staunch sail-boat lay moored, while a large skiff and a couple of good canoes were drawn up on the shore. There was no sign of life about the place at first, but just as the launch resumed its cheerful “chug!” a tall, swarthy man, of perhaps sixty, emerged from behind a considerable but job-lot wood pile and cheerily shouted the greeting that proclaimed his nationality, as his home did his pursuit. He pronounced it “b’zhoo !” but that made no difference. Yes, the day would be all right and the fishing at Bass Rock “sure” to be good. What more did we want than this kindly, sympathetic forecast of Francois Xavier Jean B’tiste Maepherson, fisherman, riverman and occasional trapper and guide, to whom land and water and sky were all like an open book, which he never read wrong? And will you please not marvel at the combination name? Around Byng Inlet are even more fearfully and wonderfully made patronymics, among the sturdy representatives of mixed races who have chosen that region for their home.

We got to Bass Rock a short while before sunrise and had spectacle of the poet’s

Chastened tinge of the sky,

When the trout leaps highest to catch the fly.

I wonder if any man will ever paint

a true picture of dawn breaking on a water horizon, at its most appealingly spectacular stage ? Still more absurd a thought: will it ever come within the-' pale of the cinematograph to give us a moving picture of how In the east a grey-light Prophesies the morn— and the prophecy reaches fulfilment— the transition from the subdued to the dazzling; from the hue of cold, dead slate to the rainbow effect, through which presently gleams the dull gold disc, transforming slowly, yet swiftly, palpably, yet subtly, into a blaze of silver effulgence that no human eye can withstand !

The spirit attuned to nature’s photographic wizardry, ravished by the_ sight, may mentally snap-shot the transcendant glories majestically unfolded—but the negatives will never print !

They say you can catch fish at Bass Rock any time ; but my experience is that just before sun-up is the magic hour. Statements to the contrary are, I am persuaded, the talk of flippant fishermen, who can stand being called early, but do not hanker for it. The scheme for the man who goes to Byng Inlet waters for this sport is to be nicely on the job while Old Sol, answering the porter’s call, is stretching limbs under oriental covers and yawning prodigiously.

Bass Rock lies at the mouth of the old Magnetawan, close to the north main shore.* It wasn’t worth while mentioning for size—half a dozen will fill the structure to its utmost capacity, others having to turn away from the door. It is clean bare and the elevation is such that any kind of sea washes over it and makes fishing, except out of a boat, a trifle embarrass-

* You reach it from Byng Inlet, a village on the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, some 200 miles north of Toronto, in the Parry Sound District. The advent of the C.P.R. has made access to the famous fishing grounds of Georgian Bay easy and pleasant. The Inlet is situated on the Magnetawan River six miles from its confluence with the Bay and is in all respects eligible headquarters for the sportsman or tourist desiring an outing in this charming region.

ing. At the south end, marking the best hole, is a huge boom-log, superannuated and permanently residing there, with an occasional floater happening in to ask how the old fellow’s toughing it. The edges slope only for a few feet out, when they sheer and the. channel depths are found. There are numerous crevices and cubby-holes around the rock, constituting eligible flats for select bass families. You fish at a depth not greater than six to eight feet and the shoals give you ideal water into which to coax a fighting fish and land him by pure tackle method. It is an unobtrusive spot, Bass Rock. It wouldn't invite you to go and live on it. Somehow, one doesn't regret leaving it after the sport's over. But it's fishing ground that lingers in the memory and fills one’s dreams. As a unit of the 38,000 justly celebrated Georgian Bay Islands you can overlook its faults when you think of the big bass that make it a haunt the season through.

As we tie up and make ready the bay is as smooth as a mirror; for not until the sun peers blinking over the distant skyline does a ripple show.

“We’re going to catch fish !” observed the doctor, “or I'm mightily mistaken.”

The chief expressed himself to the effect that such a contingency needn't unduly alarm us, seeing that one of our objects in coming down was to do a little fishing. And I think he expected me to add that I’d be delighted to catch something besides cold. But I didn't. I was game, anyway, the doctor was too busy digging up the biggest worm in the pail to heed, if he heard, ironical remarks.

Who made first cast that magic morning at Bass Rock is as profound an uncertainty as who got Judge Phin’s drink in the unfathonable Mystery of Grl Gal. But I have a vivid and wellauthenticated recollection that I got first strike. I hadn't gone ashore with the others ; for the stern-seat, having moderated to endurable heat, seemed to beckon me back, with penitent look.

Besides, it jutted over what the doctor pointed out as the “sure spot.”

That it was a good fish was plainly evident, and I hoped fervently that. I had him fast as I stood up to the struggle.

“Take it easy, old man!” advised the chief. “He’ll head down channel at first, but soon come in on you and hunt a hole.”

The fish held for away, but kept the depth; so I could merely surmise his proportions. My eight-ounce reel seemed to share with me the feeling that there was a contract on. Tip to grip, the strain was testing its quality, and the quality showed stay ; but when, all of a sudden, tension eased, as the bass doubled and began the predicted hunt for a hole, and I had barely time to reel in before the pull was renewed with a vigor that doubled the rod, I grew apprehensive. This self-same tackle had won out against the two-totwo-and-a-halfers on Lake Simcoe;

but here it was up against a-what ?

He decided to show me what, as, with a side-step towards shoal water, his back making a swirling current, he rose and took a leap two feet in air and, with a wrenching switch, turned and dove again down in the depths.

“Pretty nice one !” murmured the doctor, giving a careless glance at the eddy over the plunge. “And”—his figure straightening and the grip on his rod tightening—“I’ve got his mate, right here!”

“Another county heard from !” shouted the chief from the far end of the rock, as he, too, got busy with a strike.

“I think I said there’d be doings here this morning,” ventured the doctor, neatly playing his fish.

He was marvellously, aggravatingly cool. So was the other fellow. I was—well, I wasn’t cool. The sight of my quarry was a very revelation in bass fishing, to me. With them, used to the whale variety, susceptibility to surprise and glee had become somewhat dulled. But don’t you infer from this that those fellows didn’t want to catch fish, or didn’t know how to do

it, or felt indifferent as to who killed the prince of the catch. Fishing such as you get at Bass Rock never absolutely palls, or gives the fisherman a positive distaste for laurels, even though he’s a Byng Inlet man. I speak advisedly. I’ve been out with a whole lot of them. They may take their fishing a trifle more self-restrainedly than outsiders—but they take it, and all that’s coming to them, in this connection.

I resolved to play my fish more warily, for I felt that another surface break would rattle me and I’d lose both him and an inviting chance of proving my boasted patent of angling nobility.

He had taken deep water, just off the shoal, and held stubbornly to the spot. I reached out and reeled in a few feet. The operation worried him and he rose with a rush for renewed upper region gymnastics ; but I forced

him back and he took again to the ground flat, in water where I could gaze at and gloat over his great shape. The wag of the big tail was wicked and the twist of the huge head ominous. I held taut and sought to encourage a trip to the shallows. Barkis wasn’t willin’, but finally he came doggedly inshore and I began to see an end to the tussle. But vision was deceptive. The big bass still had a trump or two left, and, if I hadn’t had my arts about me, he’d have led out and euchred me. He led out, anyway. I followed suit—and the trick, happily, was mine. Immediately he threw up his hand and went the Kyook on me. I say, did you ever have a fish come the straight, unmitigated Kyook on you. A big, game fish, I mean, that understands the trick and has worked it until his diaphragm is full of gutted limericks? It’s a coined word, I know—maybe from the

Arabic, or, possibly, the Choctaw— but it pleases me to employ it until some native word is invented to take its place and do better work. The Kyook—well, this particular Kyook was pulled off with a neatness and dispatch I could have admired greatly, had some other fellow been performing with the fish. It exhibited me hanging on with every hand I possessed to a rod on which was a reel I’d never lost control of but once before —and that time I fell over the gunwale into twenty feet of pond water that hadn’t come from the hot faucet. There wasn’t an inch of line left to tell the Kyook tale. A hundred yards out a big, lusty scion of bass royalty had the front end of it hooked in his gill, and the wriggling tug-tug-tug he was putting up gave the rod and my wrist about the limit of strain. I could fancy the lordly fish saying to himself : “That fool fisherman up above has had about all the fun at mv expense that he’s entitled to ; so here goes for the usual get-away and walk around the block ! B-r-rip !” But “b-r-r-rip !” this time didn’t spell freedom. With nose up-stream he maintained a jerky draw, and the movement sent those indefinable thrills from the palm of the wrist, along the arm, to every nerve centre of the anatomy —those riotous, rapturous vibrations, you know, that awake response from the heart, the very soul of the man, and prove the meat, the essence, the exuberant climax of the angling sport. Now was the acute stage, the psychological moment, in the fight with the fish. I had managed to regain equipoise as well as the regulation grip on my rod, and, with supressio nervi, so to speak, coupled with suggestio know-it-alli, as it were, I tried grandstand pose and performance. There was no need to climb a step to perceive that the other fellows were taking in the performance and coldly figuring whether the issue would yield me an inflated bosom or a drooping jaw.

He was a fellow of infinite resource and a lightning change actor as well.

Responding to the hard left draw I made to relieve a situation becoming a bit monotonous, he shot up again to the surface, did another meat turn and followed it with a swishing dive and rush that simply obviated reeling, but gave my grip wrist the worst yank yet.

“Hold him under !” advised the doctor, sharply. “Can’t you tell he’s an old-timer and a high-air artist?”

“Hold your gran—!”

But, pshaw ! It was no time for back talk. The big one had swerved, done another tumbling stunt and, deep down, was sulking once more—all accomplished quicker than it takes to write it.

I gave him a brisk haw yank, a little riled at his manner of playing the game. Gee-r-r-r-zip ! he went, and the reel ticked swift message of his defiance. How long was this monkey business going to last? I asked myself irritably.

“Haul in and I’ll hand you the scoop!” sang out the chief.

“Rats !” I had time to pass up that size of a rejoinder. The net in a fight like this? Not on your life! “I’ll have you if the tackle holds, my festive fish,” I muttered. “And you’ll come to me just—”

Another dash for, or rather from the pole, and then he began a slow cake-walk movement, describing, back and forth, a half circle, just as you’ve seen a chained bear take a stroll in front of his post. The cake-walk was a variation and relief. I let him keep it up without remonstrance. He was fairly hooked, I guessed, and I pinned faith to the tether.

All this time, somewhat absorbed in my own work, though I was, I could not fail to note that my companions were doing things. Each had, in his more summary style, taken at least two or three fish, silently and unobtrusively, as became the expert and hardened class. But I wasn’t in the sport just for count. Still, even one’s fun has a limit; and then there was a feeling that, if I went ahead bestowing all my attentions on this one fish, there

were other fish attending this Bass Rock at home who might take offence.

So I resolved on a coup.

“Now, my gay finny friend,” I muttered, “don’t you think that, after fifteen minutes’ strained relationship, we’d better get come together? Come around here, Mr. Bass, where I can see and finally reason with you. You’re altogether too distant—too coy. So I want you, ma honey!”

Suiting action to the word, I climbed from the launch to the rock and firmly guided the big fellow towards an inviting shoal slope. He was pretty well beaten, but enough vigor remained for another dash up-stream. Then he sullenly obeyed the draw to the shallow, and, after a final futile protest, he lay floundering at my feet, the prize of that August morn outing at Bass Rock—a generous fish, black as a Cyclops from the forge ; with all the marks of a very bay blueblood,

mouth, eye, gloss and symmetry ; a creature of heroic mould ; a fish that had fought a good fight and kept the bait ; a noble fellow, anyway you took him.

And if I had killed no more of the thirteen, averaging four pounds, that made our catch that morning, I would have been amply satisfied with the triumph scored in securing this, my first five-pound-eight small-mouth bass.

“Grand prix du matin !” observed our riverside villa acquaintance, B’tiste Macpherson, as he took stock critically of the catch, on our way home, and singled out my capture for special' attention. “I bet dat fish she’s go-”

He hesitated and watched me again hook it to the steelyard.

Then he held the fish up and saw the indicator point the heft.

“Well, I’m be damn !”

That’s exactly what the good old man said.