FICTION

Lolly Was a Lady

It isn’t every girl who's nimble-witted enough to land a prize trout and a man on the same slender hook

ED. ZERN May 15 1943
FICTION

Lolly Was a Lady

It isn’t every girl who's nimble-witted enough to land a prize trout and a man on the same slender hook

ED. ZERN May 15 1943

THE TROUBLE really started with The Boy. Like Hank said, if the Lollapalooza hadn’t of hurt his feelings, there wouldn’t of been no testimonial dinner, and— but shucks, I better tell you the story from the beginning.

Hank claims it is really a love story. Me, I say it is a fish story, although I got to admit it was love that killed Lolly.

Naturally, I can’t tell a story as good as, say, Mr. Gering, who writes professional, and used to spend a lot of time at Hank’s Haven. But I was one of Hank’s kitchen help at the time, and I will try to put it down as near like it happened as I can remember.

Of course, if you’re a trout fisherman you already know about Broadside Creek and how it’s called “the biggest little trout stream in North America.” And you’ve probably heard about Hank’s Haven, and how it is strictly a fishermen’s hotel, chiefly on account of nobody would have any reason for going there except they wanted to fish the two miles of stream that Hank had leased and reserved for guests.

You might even know about Herman, who was stuffed and hung up over the bar, and was twenty-seven inches long. Which is some long for a brown trout. Herman had a big head with an ugly hook jaw, like old cock brownies get, and he was not a very snappy job of stuffing, but nobody minded. Least of all Hank, who claimed to of caught him on a Light Cahill dry fly and knew he helped make conversation when strange fishermen dropped in.

Chances are, though, you never heard about the Lollapalooza. According to Hank, the Lollapalooza was Herman’s grandpa, and he headquartered in the Bridge Pool which is a deep, tricky hole full of crosscurrents and eddies below the old bridge. It is a dandy pool, and almost every evening during the season there were a couple of real nice trout caught out of it by Hank’s guests. Late at night you could sit on the bank and hear big brownies sucking in the leftovers from the evening hatch of flies, or wallowing in the shallows after minnows. And once in a while there would be a kerplash like someone threw a plank into the pool, and you would think, ha! there is that Lollapalooza!

Or rather, you would think ha! there’s Lolly! because that’s what the Inmates called him for short.

Also, if you’re a fisherman you know something about the kind of folks that come to Hank’s Haven —and leaving out them that just stumbled in accidental, thinking it was a roadhouse, and didn’t ever come back. There was maybe thirty-five, forty regulars, fishermen that came up almost every week end, and even during the week when they could make it. Maybe you think trout fishermen are crazy, and maybe you are right, because the regular customers called themselves the Inmates.

For instance, there was “Prexy” Jenkins who was head man of a snooty school for girls, and Old Man Sawyer who was someone big with a railroad, and “Doc” Hadley who was a big-league sawbones, and Judge Kummer who was a judge; and I think I mentioned Mr. Gering who writes stories.

But the most important Inmate of the bunch, as far as Lolly was concerned, was The Boy. His real name was Archibald something—I forget his last name because everybody called him The Boy, meaning he was lots younger than most of the Inmates and still had his shape and his hair.

This Boy, now, he was not strictly an Inmate. I mean most of them has been coming to the Haven for years but The Boy only came this one season.

He stopped in at Hank’s Haven the opening week end because he had heard tell about the place. He got there in the afternoon, and after Hank put him in a room in the wing he got into his waders and came down and asked where was the best place to fish and the best fly.

Hank was busy, but he told him to fish a dry Iron Blue Dun upstream starting at the white water below the Haven. (It was warm for opening week end, and there was some flies on the stream.) Ordinarily Hank would give a stranger a pep talk about the fifteen-incher the Judge had brought in before breakfast, and about how highly educated these Broadsides brownies get from having the best anglers in the country pursuing them all season long. But like I said, Hank was busy—so The Boy went out without even hearing about Lolly.

THAT evening it was just turning dark when The Boy came back. He was real upset about something, and after he’d stood his rod in the corner he started in to talk all excited and trembly. He said he’d fished up to the Bridge Pool and had a couple of rises but no real action, and just about dusk he decided to call it quits. Only just then a smallish trout, maybe six-seven inches, nailed his floating fly. So because he was going to quit anyway, and the fish was so small, he let it play around for a while, hoping it would maybe unhook itself and save him the trouble.

When what should happen but that something took a-hold of that small trout and started swimming around with it. He said he couldn’t see it, but that it made waves in the pool, just swimming slow and easy in big circles. He said, no fooling, it seemed like an hour while that leviathan (he called it) monkeyed with the small trout, and all the time he was keeping a tight line and wondering—if the monster swallowed it—would he be able to land him. So finally, he said, the what-ever-it-was must of swallowed his trout, because it turned and headed up the pool.

By that time The Boy had quite an audience, including me and the second cook listening from the kitchen door, and everybody knew what had grabbed his little trout and what had happened to his 4X leader. And that is how The Boy came to be an Inmate.

He just naturally could not stand the idea of the Lollapalooza making a fool of him that way, even after Judge Kummer and Harry Davis and a couple of other Inmates present had told him about their own sad experiences with Lolly. Which they were always happy for an excuse to tell about.

The Boy said it was the uppity way that speckled stem-winder had toyed with his little fish for so long, and then thumbed his nose and snapped the leader! The Boy took it personal, and swore he’d land that Lollapalooza if it took until Doomsday. And I guess he meant it, because from then on he was at the Haven every week end,, and sometimes even a couple of days during the week when he could play hooky from his job.

Sometimes he even ducked out of his office early and trained it a hundred miles to the Haven just to get in an hour’s fishing of an evening. But he never fished anywhere except at the Bridge Pool, nor for any other fish except Lolly.

Of course The Boy caught a lot of trout out of the Pool but he never kept them. He even threw back a couple of eighteen-inchers. Hank and the other Inmates used to tell him he was foolish, but The Boy wouldn’t listen. He tried everything in the book to bamboozle Lolly. He tried all the trout-fly patterns he could find in the tackle shops and then began making them up out of his head and tying them himself.

He even tried a cork-bodied bass-bug, and claimed Lolly had come up and batted it with his tail; but except for that once he never so much as laid eyes on that fish. Some of the Inmates got a little huffy about the bass-bug, so The Boy stuck to regular flies after that.

Well, sir, it finally got on to the last week of the season. I’d noticed Hank brooding over something for a couple of weeks, and then he up and announced that he was going to throw a free banquet for all the Inmates. The only testimonial dinner, Hank told us, that was ever gave in honor of a trout!

And there didn’t none of us have to ask him what trout, you can bet!

Hank sent out telegrams to every one that could classify as an Inmate, telling them to be at the Haven the last night of the season for a testimonial dinner to the Lollapalooza and to hear an important announcement. Then he put us all to work getting ready for the big doings.

Come the last night of the season there were about forty Inmates showed up. There was, of course, some very fancy eats, and while the Inmates were drinking their coffee Hank stood up from the table and hammered on a glass with a spoon.

“Gents,” said Hank, “this is a historical occasion! We are gathered here from all necks of the woods to pay tribute to a brown trout.

“After a while I am going to make an important announcement about this here trout, but right now I am going to call on you Inmates to get up and tell us about your personal experiences with the Lollapalooza. Because, gentlemen,” and here Hank’s voice got sort of ominous and sinister, “I don't think you will talk much about Lolly, after tonight!"

He looked around. “Judge, how about you lead off?”

So the Judge got up and told how one morning two years ago he had hooked the Lollapalooza and had had him on for upwards of forty minutes, until Lolly got bored and stripped all the guides off the Judge’s rod. It was a good story that everybody had heard seventeen times before, and everybody cheered when the Judge sat down.

Then “Prexy” Jenkins stood up and told how one evening he was sitting beside the Bridge Pool watching a bat skimming around and all of a sudden whoosh! no bat! That Lollapalooza had jumped three feet out of the water and splashed back with Mr. Bat in his mouth!

One by one the Inmates got up and told about their dealings with Lolly—them as had had him on the end of a line (including The Boy, who was there and looking very glum) and those who had only seen him gobbling up twelve-inch trout and that sort of thing; and even a few who admitted they had never even seen Lolly but only heard him chasing minnows after dark.

After everybody had stood up and recited his favorite yarn about Lolly, The Boy jumped to his feet. He had a wild look in his eye.

“Nuts to this!” he said, starting toward the door. “This is the last day of trout season and, so help me, before midnight I am going to catch that Lollapalooza! You potbellied sentimentalists can talk all you want about that big hunk of trout-flesh, and how smart he is, and how noble, and big, and strong. Well, gentlemen, I am smarter than any brown trout that ever swam—and nobler, and bigger, and stronger! I am a better man than that overstuffed answer to an angler’s prayer, and I’m not going to sit around bragging how he made a sap of me! Excuse me, gentlemen, I’m headed for the Bridge Pool!”

But before The Boy could get through the door, Hank jumped up. “Now you just set down, sonny!” Hank said. “If it wasn’t for you there wouldn’t of been no dinner tonight! Them sirloins set me back plenty, and the least you can do is sit here until the meeting’s adjourned.” The Boy sat.

“Gentlemen, I got an announcement to make,” Hank went on. “It’s about the guest of honor, so to speak. It’s about the Lollapalooza Gentlemen—” and Hank looked very embarrassed and took a deep breath, there ain't no such animal! Or rather, there ain’t no such fish, and there never was!”

A FEW of the Inmates started to snicker, thinking it was a joke. But the others just sat staring at Hank, and you could see their minds trying to get hold of what Hank had said. And just when a sort of rumble of indignation began to roll around the room, Hank started talking again.

“Inmates,” he said, “this ain’t a pleasant task for me. But I might as well tell you the story from the beginning.

“Maybe you recall five years ago when the Broadsides Rod and Gun Club leased the water from the covered bridge up to the National Park line and I begun to lose business. Five of my Inmates joined the Club and some others of you began to think serious about it.

“I begun to get worried. And then I remembered how business was so good for a spell after Harry Davis caught that six-and-a-half pound brownie below the island. Of course folks forgot about it after a while, but for three-four weeks business was dandy.

“So I got an idea.

“I got the idea I would invent the Lollapalooza! A brown trout to end all lies about brown trout ! A tackle-smasher that would give old Herman height, weight and reach!

“So, knowing something about fishermen, I just dropped the word that I’d seen a trout in the Bridge Pool that must of had some whale blood in his family tree.

“Gentlemen,” said Hank, “I didn’t mean no harm. I just figured it would give you something to talk about for a few days. I was hoping it would take your mind off that highfalutin club. And then what happens except ‘Doc’ Hadly comes in one evening with his eyes popping out and says he hooked into the Lollapalooza, and shows everybody a set in his best rod to prove it.

“And the next week Old Man Sawyer tells how Lolly took out all his backing and then spit the fly in his face. After that I didn’t ever do anything but listen to you gents telling about how you seen that colossal brownie, or hooked him, or done everything except catch him.

“And I knew he wouldn’t ever be caught, because the best fisherman in forty-nine counties can’t catch a fish that ain’t! Meantime, of course, my idea was paying out wonderful. You Inmates stopped talking about that fancy club, and started talking about Lolly instead. Fishermen begun coming here to the Haven just to try for that imaginary brownie— in fact, some of them club members even snuck down here for a day or two to have a crack at Lolly.

“I got to admit, gentlemen, my conscience bothered me some at first. But shucks, half the time I caught myself believing there really was such a trout in that pool, and the other half I figured no harm was being done.

“Until you come along!” And Hank pointed a finger at The Boy.

“You gummed it, all right!” said Hank, sadly. “Until you started carrying on about that fake fish, I didn’t mind. But when you commenced to coming here two-three times a week, just to fish for Lolly, I knowed I was taking money under false pretenses. I laid awake nights worrying about it—until I made up my mind to hold this here testimonial dinner and get the whole thing off my conscience. Now it’s off.”

And Hank sat down and drank the rest of his coffee.

Well, sir, I wish you could of been there, to see the way them Inmates carried on! Like I told you, all but two or three of them claimed to of at least seen Lolly, if not to of hooked him once or twice, and they were hopping mad. There couldn’t of been more righteous indignation in that room if the Mounties had marched in and arrested them for Nazi spies.

And there couldn’t of been more noise and general ruckus—until Hank stood up again and hollered for attention.

“Lookit here, gentlemen!” said Hank, when he got some quiet. “Maybe some of you Inmates misunderstood me. I ain’t calling anybody a liar. But you got to admit that fishermen are kind of funny about some things—and there never was a fish that shrunk after getting away. We all know there are some big brown trout up there in the Bridge Pool, and—”

Just then the porch door opened, and in came the Lollapalooza.

THERE was a young lady with him, holding him by the gills, and it was all she could do to hold him up.

Well, maybe you have seen some big brown trout in your day. But you sure as shooting never seen a trout like that one. Looking at Lolly there, even them Inmates that i claimed to of seen him or hooked him was speechless.

Except for The Boy, though, I guess the most surprised person in the room was Hank. “It’s—it’s him!” said Hank, his eyes fairly bulging out of his head.

“It’s not him,” said the lady. “It’s her!”

“The Lollapalooza!” Hank gasped, goggling at Lolly. “I—I invented him. And there he is!”

“There she is!” said the lady—or rather, The Girl, because she was just a girl and prettier than most of them.

But by this time The Girl was surrounded by indignant Inmates demanding to know how she had got a-hold of the Lollapalooza. Maybe you can understand how most of them would feel about any stranger, much less a female stranger, walking in and dumping Lolly in their laps. Most of them were very put out. But finally she clapped her hands like a schoolmarm and told everybody to sit down. Everybody sat down.

“I’m in a hurry,” said The Girl. “I have to get the train back to the city tonight, and it’s late. So keep quiet and I’ll explain why I had to interrupt your silly party.

“Last winter I acquired a—a suitor. I had oodles of them at the time, and this additional one wasn’t anything very sensational, really. Pretty much the run-of-mill suitor, to look at him objectively.

“The trouble was, I didn’t look at him objectively. Oh, I suppose it happens to lots of girls. I suppose lots of girls sit around holding hands, waiting for a chance to say this-is-so-sudden. I suppose lots of them get jilted, too.

“But they don't get jilted for an outsize trout!”

The Girl slowed up to catch her breath, and The Boy jumped up onto his feet.

“Jilted, indeed!” he said. “Now you look here, Susan—”

“Don’t you look-here me,” she said. “ You—you trout-fishing trifler! You—you fly-casting cad! So you don’t like the word ‘jilted’? Well, I didn’t like being left to twiddle my pretty little thumbs every week end, while you went traipsing off on a wild-trout chase! I didn’t like—”

“Just a minute, miss!” hollered Hank, hammering on the table with a spoon. “Whoa up, there! Now, you listen to me, ma’am.” She listened.

“I don’t mind you trespassing on my property,” Hank told her. “And I don’t mind you poaching on my stream. I don’t even mind when you catch my imaginary fish and make honest men out of all them liars setting there. In fact, miss, I ain’t even complaining that you busted up my testimonial dinner. It was kind of getting out of hand, anyhow.

“But by Jiminy Whiskers, I think we got a right to know how you caught Lolly, and what kind of fly . . . say!” And Hank’s voice got suspicious-sounding. “You did catch him on a fly, didn’t you?”

“If you call this a fly, I did,” said The Girl, holding up a bunch of fur and feathers on a hook. “And please don’t keep calling her a him. Lolly’s a lady!”

‘‘What the jumping blue blazes kind of a trout fly is that?” asked “Prexy” Jenkins, looking at The Girl’s lure like it was something out of Typhoid Mary’s handbag.

“I’ll tell you,” said The Girl. “It’s the kind of fly that you catch Lollapaloozas on! I tied it myself. In fact, I invented it, just to catch this silly old trout with. Now I’m through with it. Here!” And she handed it to “Prexy.”

“Prexy” took it, while a lot of the other Inmates, the ones that weren’t still gaping at Lolly, crowded around for a look. It was all wet and bedraggled, and “Prexy” held it up close to his eyes to see it better, and then held it to his nose, and then let out a snort.

“Pee-yoo!” he hollered, gasping for breath. “It’s—perfumed!”

“Certainly!” said The Girl. “Itsy-Bitsy Sin on the hackle and Red Scent No. 5 on the body. And don’t squiggle up your nose that way— they’re both twelve dollars an ounce!”

OLD MAN SAWYER who is a pretty good fly-tier edged into the crowd and squinted at the fly close-up. “Ye gods and little trout!” he said. “What kind of hackle is that supposed to be, madam?”

“I don’t know, really,” said The Girl. “I picked up the feathers in Lilly DeShay’s workroom—she’s the most expensive milliner in the city, so they should be good. And the body’s a mixture of wild mink, platinum fox and chinchilla furs. The tail’s sheared beav—”

“Stop!” yelled “Prexy” Jenkins. “Now, see here, young lady! I dislike being rude to anyone as decorative as yourself—but this has gone far enough. Are you trying to tell us that this noble fish,” and he waved toward Lolly who was getting pretty stiff by now, “succumbed to the sweepings from a furrier’s stockroom? Poppycock!”

The Boy started shouldering his way through the crowd toward “Prexy.”

“Be careful whose girl you go calling a liar, sir!” he said.

“Oh, fiddlesticks,” The Girl said. “Sit down, Archie—I can handle these fancy-pants fishing experts by myself. Besides, you have a nerve calling me your girl! Just because your precious Lolly’s a goner—” “Now, now, now!” said Hank. “You’re getting off the subject. We’re still waiting to hear tell how you caught him.”

“Her!” said The Girl.

“Okay, lady,” said Hank. “Her.”

“That’s better,” The Girl said. “Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yes—I was jilted. By him,” she said, pointing to The Boy. “For a fish. Imagine! Well, in my family the women don’t give up their men so easily. Ordinarily, we scratch out the other woman’s eyes, or something like that. But then, ordinarily, the other woman isn’t a fish. There’s only one way to handle a scheming brown trout, and that’s to catch it.” She paused. “So I caught it.”

“That’s fine,” said Hank. “Now tell us how.”

“Why, it was simple,” said The Girl. “I’d heard about all you men trying to catch the Lollapalooza—but I’d never heard about any women trying. So I figured that Lolly must be a lady, and the way to catch her was by appealing to her femininity. So I bought a hook, and collected the kind.of fur and feathers that any female would fall for, and the man at the sporting-goods shop showed me how to tie them on the hook. Then I argued him into renting me a rod, reel, line, leader and landing net. I knew all about using them, because I’d seen a newsreel short on fly-fishing.”

Old Man Sawyer groaned, but The Girl went right on talking.

“And then I came up here tonight, and found the Bridge Pool that Archie always talks about, and the third time 1 swished my fly in the water the Lollapalooza ate it.”

“Doc” Hadley got up and left the room.

“So I scooped her up in the net, like the man in the movie short, but she wouldn’t fit in it, and after she jumped out three or four times I just pulled her out on the bank. It was pretty hard work.”

Mr. Gering got something stuck in his windpipe.

“But it was worth it. Because if I hadn’t caught her tonight I’d have had to wait until next opening day, and Archie would have moped all winter thinking about that speckled hussy. I got pretty nervous when she didn’t eat it the first time I swished it in the water. I can see, now, that trout fishing’s really quite a science.”

Judge Kummer took his head in his hands, and shook it.

“I guess I better start going to the movies oftener,” Hank said. He stuck his finger in Lolly’s gills, and hefted her. “Well, ma’am,” he said, “you got yourself a fish. Now what?”

“Now,” said The Girl, “I’m going home. I’m dreadfully sorry to break up your party, but you understand now why I had to. If one of you gentlemen will carry that dead fish out for me—”

Hank still had Lolly in his hands, but The Boy grabbed her away from him. “When she says ‘one of you gentlemen,’ ” he said, very cheerful, “she means me. Don’t you Susan?”

“I certainly do not!” The Girl said. “In fact, I’m not at all sure that we’re on speaking terms. In fact, you may consider our engagement broken. In fact, I hate you!” And she started to cry.

“Puh-leez!” said Hank. “After all this ain’t the proper place for busting engagements! Let’s change the subject. Uh—tell me, miss, what are you going to do with Lolly, now that you got her?”

The Girl stopped crying and dabbed her eyes with her hanky.

“It’s none of your business what I’m going to do with Lolly,” she said. “But if you must know, I’m going to have her stuffed, like that little one up there,” she said, pointing to Herman over the bar.

“As a warning,” she said, “to any other scheming female that might try to take Archie away from me.”