DANNY AND THE TRAGOPED
This fish story is much easier to believe than most, because you want to believe that such wonderful things can happen
AS ALWAYS at the sound of Miss April Hunter’s voice, butterflies began to dance in a sudden vacuum under Danny Breen’s
“Foot trouble again,” Miss Hunter told him. “This time it’s a tragoped. He wants hip boots and Mr. Sloan can’t find a thing in the department to fit him. Be a sweetheart and come up here, will you, Danny?”
Who wouldn’t be your sweetheart? Danny wanted to ask her. You’re what makes the birds sing. The lilacs bloom for you. You’re the loveliest thing in the whole darn store.
He said, “Sure, right away. You’re certain he’s a —a what you called him?”
“A tragoped? That’s what it sounded like. He’s a queer little man.” When next she spoke the hint of laughter was gone from her warm voice. “And . . . Danny.”
“Yes, MÍHS Hunter?”
“About your transfer to sports, I thought you’d sooner I told you than Mr. Sloan. It didn’t go through. I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks,” Danny mumbled. The butterflies had folded their wings but the vacuum remained. “I well, thanks a lot, Miss Hunter.”
Danny replaced the phone and sidled toward the elevator. He was breaking rule 17 of Royd & Benson’s instructions to employees which decreed that clerks should be brisk in walk and manner, but he couldn’t make himself care. He’d hung a lot of bright brash dreams on that transfer from shoes to sports, even though he’d known all along that Mr. Sloan would kill it.
When you looked at it logically, of course, the department, manager was right. The man for the job was someone big and brown and hearty like Jim Sloan himself, an outdoorsman who could talk to the customers in their own language, swap gossip about last Saturday’s catch on the Au Sable or what low water was doing to the Willowemac. Not a city mouse who stood five foot four in the mud-colored socks his sister knitted for him, who spent his days fitting ladies with corrective shoes
and his evenings tying trout flies for other people to use, and who’d never caught a brownie or a rainbow or a squaretail in his life.
But letting himself get bitter wouldn’t help. Miss April Hunter had said she was sorry as if she really meant it and that at least was comforting.
It occurred to him as he stepped out of the elevator at the fourth floor that he didn’t quite know what a tragoped was. Something the foot specialists had dreamed up, he suspected—those boys were always hatching a new one.
THE sports department, already three-quarters dressed for Outdoors Week, was crowded. Danny spotted Miss Hunter’s sunny blond head at once, though, and his heart bounced like a chip in a riffle at the sight of her. Today she was wearing the short-sleeved white linen dress with the scarlet belt and, framed like that in an evergreen arch with a canoe for background, she could have stepped straight off the cover of a resort folder. Mr. Sloan, hulking beside her in a suit of flashy checks, helped the picture, even though he did look hot and irritated and a bit bewildered.
“Danny,” Mr. Sloan hailed him with bluff forthrightness, “here’s a man needs something special in hip boots . . . He’s a . . . what was it again, Mr. Waters? Trogipoid, you said?”
“A tragoped.” The voice was clipped and pleasant, with just a hint of accent. “And the name is Rivers.”
Danny wrenched himself away from Miss Hunter’s smile and turned to the owner of the voice. Automatically, he glanced first at the feet. They were small—nearly as small as Miss Hunter’s. The man who stood on them was small, too, but solid almost to the point of being squat and his hairy green Irish tweed suit made him appear even wider. His hat was a rakish Homburg of long-napped green felt, which he wore tipped back from a shrewd, sharp-chinned, very brown face. About him, in his hazel eyes flecked oddly with green, in the tilt of his head and the way he lounged against the Angler’s Notions’ counter with his hands in the patch pockets of his jacket, was a casual, almost animal alertness.
“We could try a boys’ size, sir,” Danny said to him, “but they’d be tight in the leg.” He deliberated while Miss Hunter watched him anxiously and Mr. Sloan’s smile began to sag ever so slightly at the corners. “Let’s see now,” he said at last. “I know what might do it, but I’m not sure you’d like the idea.”
“Proceed,” said Mr. Rivers. “You won’t offend me.” Humor stirred in his curiously flecked eyes although his leathery face remained grave. “As a matter of fact I’m rather proud of my small feet.” So that’s all a tragoped is, Danny thought as he
made a snap estimate for size. Those foot doctors!
“All right,” he said. “Miss Hunter, could you please get me a pair of girls’ boots, Trout Queens in plain black? A five should about do it.”
Miss Hunter gave Danny a smile which anyone less humble might have construed as admiring and went to fetch the Trout Queens from her Sportswoman’s Nook. She walked with long-legged grace as if she had forest moss under her feet instead of linoleum tile. The tragoped, who had perched himself on an upturned canoe, eyed her appreciatively. “A pretty girl,” he remarked. “I like a pretty girl.”
He had one chunky brogue off before Danny could kneel to help him. His socks were of heavy wool in an assertive diamond pattern and the shanks above them were uncommonly hairy. Danny looked up; the bright, flecked eyes were studying him with something measuring and speculative in their depths. They woke a queer uneasiness in him but he grinned back, propping himself with one hand on the floor.
“That trout fly in your lapel,” Mr. Rivers said. “I’m not familiar with the pattern. One of the larger Mays, perhaps?”
“Yes, sir,” Danny told him. He hadn’t meant the fly to show. He’d tied it during the thunderstorm last night with his sister reading poetry to him and he’d snicked it inside his lapel this morning because something about it, some extra jauntiness and lucky combination of shadings had tickled his fancy. “It isn’t any regular pattern,” he added half apologetically. “Just one of my own.”
Above him, Mr. Sloan gave out with his fullthroated chuckle. “Danny makes ’em but he doesn’t fish ’em. Doubt if you’ve ever seen a fly on the water, eh, Danny?”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Rivers, still with his disturbing gaze on Danny’s upturned face. He began to whistle softly in a subdued and liquid undertone, almost like a bird calling from a far thicket, Danny thought. Miss Hunter had been right—he was an odd customer.
The boots fitted reasonably well. They were a trifle long in the toe, but snug enough to bring a satisfied nod from Mr. Rivers. “I’ll take them with me,” he said. “It’s just possible I’ll need them soon.”
He paid from a large, old-fashioned billfold, nodded to Mr. Sloan, twinkled at Miss Hunter and flipped a coin into Danny’s hand. Before Danny could protest, he was clopping across the floor with the boot box under his arm. Just for a moment, at the edge of the crowd by the elevators, he turned and looked straight at Danny. His brown face crinkled and his teeth gleamed in a grin, then the crowd surging into a down car swallowed him.
“Screwball,” Mr. Sloan announced. “Some kind of foreigner, I’d say. That was a smart notion of yours, Danny—matter of fact it struck me a second after I’d turned him over to you.” He unleashed his breezy laugh. “Maybe there’s something in this telepathy business after all . . . Come on, April, we’d better eat before some other old goat wanders in.”
“Not today,” Miss Hunter told him. “I should have mentioned it earlier. Danny’s taking me to lunch.”
“Well!” Mr. Sloan said, in a tone less hearty than his usual, while Danny tried not to gape. “I’m afraid you’ll find the cafeteria pretty crowded. Still, that’s your business.” He dismissed the matter with a shrug. “Come back this evening if you can, April. Been hoping one of the boys would show up with a fish we could centre in our OutdoorsWeek window display, but it looks like I’ll have to tend to that myself. I’m flying upstate this after-
noon to a pond I know, spot that always produces.”
He added brusquely as he turned away, “I didn’t, see you take that tip, Danny. Rules of the store, you know—better watch out for ’em.”
Danny tightened his fingers around the coin in his pocket, staring at Mr. Sloan’s beefy back. He realized with a distinct, shock that he’d never felt this way toward the department chief before. You big grandstander, he thought. 1 should poke you right in the puss.
Miss Hunter’s warm voice returned him to himself. “You do want to take me, don’t, you, Danny?”
“Uh— sure,” he gulped. Since this was only Wednesday his sister hadn’t laid out lunch money, just seventeen cents for cigarettes, and Mr. Rivers’ tip felt to his damp fingers suspiciously like a nickel. But he had his insurance payment in his wallet and if Sara disapproved he could tell her truthfully that, he’d run into an emergency.
“Mr. Sloan was right about the cafeteria,” he said. “There’s a place across from the west entrance—”
“It’s cute,” Miss Hunter said. “If we hurry, perhaps we’ll beat, the rush.” Her grey eyes were smiling at him and he discovered she wasn’t really taller after all, it was just her high heels and her hair-do. “And Danny, I do have a first name. Why don’t you call me April?”
RIDING down in the elevator, walking through the arcade with April’s white pumps clicking beside him and her hand light, on his arm, Danny tried—but not, too hard —to shake off the feeling that he’d been snatched up miraculously into a dream. Come to think of it, there’d been something not, quite real about the whole morning. In him was oleasant uneasiness which he could no more pin wn than he could identify the liquid lilting tune •/at Mr. Rivers had whistled while he waited for s boots. This can’t be happening, he t hought. Not ;> me, I’ll wake up in a minute and it’ll be time to ’o to work.
But the pressure of April’s hand was real enough. So was her voice, low
Continued on page 26
Continued from page 25
and surprised in hise^r: “Danny, I just saw that little man in the green suit. The tragoped. I do believe he’s following us!”
Danny looked around, certain for a moment that she was right, that the melody like a far bird calling was more than just an echo in his brain. But he saw no brown, sharp-chinned face, no bottle-green suit of hairy Irish tweed, only the summer-clad crowd eddying through the arcade.
“I don’t see him,” he said. “You’re sure that’s who it was, Miss Hunter? I mean April?”
“Well, maybe not.” She glanced over her shoulder again and Danny realized that her frown as well as her smile had a curious effect on his pulse. “Just for a second, though, I did think it was him. There was something about him ... it sounds silly I know, but he made me nervous.”
Behind its candy-striped marquee, the little cafe was narrow and dim and intimate. Sitting across from April, wondering whether one gulped a Martini or sipped it and what one did with the olive, Danny felt panic gathering in him. He had to say something, but what? He couldn’t just blurt out that he loved her, had been in love with her ever since those evenings last winter when he went up to help sports with their stocktaking. She’d think him crazy if he told her how he’d collected memories of her just as he saved gay feathers for his trout flies . . . the way she pushed her shining hair back from her temples, her smile and the grace of her walk.
“That storm last night,” he said— maybe April would give him a lead on the olive—“It was pretty bad.”
“I loved it,” April said. “I’ve always loved thunder and lightning, the way things smell after a rain.” She laughed, it seemed to Danny rather sadly. “Still a country girl, I guess.”
“Then this isn’t your home town?”
“I was raised on a chicken ranch. Chickens are stupid birds and they get sick just out of contrariness and die whenever they feel like it. But . . .” she gave her white-linen shoulders a little shake . . . “sometimes I fairly ache to have roosters wake me in the morning again.”
Her grey gaze, which for a moment had been faraway, returned to Danny. She picked up her olive on its toothpick and nibbled it daintily. “Now, tell me about you,” she said. “I know you’re patient with cranky old ladies and you always wear fan socks and bow ties. You’ve got a nice gentle nature and you let people impose on you.” She nibbled again, smiling at him. “People like Jim Sloan. Tell me the rest, Danny.”
“Nothing much to tell,” Danny said. “I live with my sister in a three-room flat. Sara’s an invalid. I’ve hardly ever been out of the city. But I’d sure like to have roosters wake me up. Miss —April. I like fishing tackle and outdoor stuff. Just handling it does things to me. And making trout flies—”
“For Jim Sloan,” April said.
“Not all of them. I’ve got boxes at home. 1 guess I’ve tied thousands of flies. Last night in the storm I’d just finished the one Mr. Rivers noticed when that big crash came and the lights went out. It scared Sara. She’d been sitting on the chesterfield reading poetry out loud.”
“Does your sister read you poetry often?” April asked.
“Almost every evening,” Danny told her, “when she isn’t knitting me socks. I never pay much attention,
though—you can’t when you’re tying a trout fly.” He finished his cocktail. It made him feel warm inside and he hoped the warmth wasn’t spreading to his ears. From not being able to find words, he was talking too much, fairly chattering, but he couldn’t seem to stoj). “For instance, all I can remember about the piece she was reading last night is the name. ‘Invocation to Pan.’ He was one of those old-time Greek gods, I think.”
April was frowning. He had been talking too much, rambling on as if his home life could possibly interest her. He stared hard at the menu, wishing the waiter would come back.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t ask,” April said, “but just what is the matter with your sister?”
“Nothing you can put your finger on, exactly. Sara’s never been what you’d call strong. I’ve tried to get her to see a doctor, April, but she won’t listen to me.” There he went again, words bubbling out of him. “She worked for a while after we lost our parents and got the flat, but it tired her too much. So now she spends most of her time taking extension courses or going to lectures or at the library.”
“And improving your mind evenings,” April said. Her voice had a barely noticeable edge. “I’m sure Sara is very clever.”
She was, he saw with dismay, reaching for gloves and dachshund-sized white handbag. “Danny, I’m afraid I won’t be able to wait for lunch. I’m not really very hungry and if I’m going to help Mr. Sloan finish off for Outdoors Week I’ll have to scurry this afternoon.”
He fumbled for words, but now when he most needed them they wouldn’t come. April gave him her sunny smile. “See you tonight perhaps,” she told him, then her white pumps were clicking out of the cafe and he was left alone with a chunk of lead where his heart should be.
SO IT had been only a dream after all. He’d talked too much and the things he’d gabbled to her must have sounded altogether dull to a golden girl off a resort folder. However else April used her evenings she certainly would not spend them with a book of poems in a walk-up flat.
You dope, he told himself. You dreary mouse. She gives you a break and what do you do? You mess it up!
The waiter came then. “Lady be back?” he asked.
“No,” Danny told him. “I don’t think she will be.”
He paid for the cocktails and was halfway to the door when the waiter tapped his shoulder. “That tip you gave me, chum,” he said sourly. “Here — you better take and stick it back in your collection.”
Danny peered at the coin in his hand. It must be the one Mr. Rivers had given him. Silver all right, but not good U. S.—it looked anyway a couple of thousand years old. He couldn’t read the writing around the edge and the man on it had curly hair and a nose that ran straight off his forehead like Harry Peiopolous’ in Royd & Renson employees’ cafeteria kitchen.
Cheeks burning, he blundered out. Unaccountable, that bird-call melody was in his ears again. Only closer this time, right behind him. A hand touched his arm and he jerked around. It was the man in the hairy green suit.
Danny blinked at him, half blinded by noon sunlight. Then April hadn’t been imagining things after all! He should tell the little guy off; but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. In fact the way he felt now nothing mattered much.
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 26
“Say,” Danny asked dispiritedly, “are you tagging me?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Rivers in his clipped and cheerful voice. “That is, 1 . . . all . . . happened to In* in the booth behind you there and I followed you out.” His hand closed on Danny’s elbow, a square, stub-fingered hand, very brown and furry behind the knuckles. Without knowing just how it came about, Danny found himself walking south on the hot white pavement with the tragoped clopping beside1 him. “It’s a liberty 1 often take when I see young people in trouble,” Mr. Rivers told him.
“I’m not in trouble,” Danny said without conviction.
Mr. Rivers disregarded the remark. “Resides,” he said, “l owe you an apology. I’m afraid that coin embarrasser! you. I travel considerably, you see, and my change often gets mixed. Very awkward. Now, let’s consider your problem, Danny.”
“There isn’t anything to consider,” Danny said. “I shot off my hig mouth. She got tired of listening and ran out on me.” He added glumly, “1 don’t blame her.”
“She’s a remarkably pretty girl,” Mr. Rivers observed. “In a bathing suit she’d be a veritable Aphrodite. No, Aphrodite is too hippy. Let’s say Acantha, eh? She mustn’t be wasted on your Mr. Sloan.” His grip tightened. There was something both conspiratorial and comradely in the gesture. “This way, please. My car is on the roof parking lot. Danny, I’m taking you fishing.”
“Rut 1 was going to the store tonight.” Again Danny had that sudden, uneasy sense of being caught up in a dream—a dream now moving much too fast for him. “It’s our Outdoors Week and—”
“And April will be there. Don’t worry, I’ll have you back in time.” Mr. Rivers paused at the foot of the ramp leading to the roof lot. It was cool and quiet here between concrete walls and no one else was in sight. He tugged a worn, leather-covered flask from a pocket over his haunch. “Here,” he said. “A nip of this is just what you need. Try it—it’s imported.”
Danny fitted his mouth to the neck of the flask and swallowed. The liquor had a strange resiny tang, not at all like the Martini in the cafe, but it slid down smoothly and he gulped again.
What happened after that, he was never quite sure. His memories were all blurred and confused, like looking cross-eyed at double exposures. Mr. Rivers’ smiling face grew darker and longer and he seemed of a sudden very broad and tall. There was a murmur in Danny’s ears like the humming of many bees, lie was travelling at great speed with a cold wind in his face, and a whole choir of birds were calling to each other inside his head.
WHEN his brain cleared he was sitting in summer-brown grass beside the rear fender of a flossy maroon convertible with paneled sides. It was parked at the end of a lane that had oxeye daisies growing tall between its ruts. Directly below was an Lshaped valley so solid with trees that their tops made an undulating emerald floor. Mr. Rivers was standing over him, wearing his new hip boots, and he was stringing line through the guides of a slim green flv rod.
“Dear me,” he said mildly. “I didn’t mean to knock you out, Danny.”
“It’s not your fault. Where are we, Mr. Rivers?” said Danny.
“A spot of my own,” Mr. Rivers said. “I stumbled on it some time ago and you’ll pardon me if I don’t mention the name, t trust your discretion, of
course, but if the word did get out this place would be overrun in a week. You know how it is with streams on the edge of a city.”
While he was talking his stubby fingers were looping a leader to the line. “I’ve given your problem considerable thought,” he said. “Usually the girl is the one pursued. Different in your case, though, and that’s what complicates it.”
“You mean she’s chasing me?” Danny gawked up at him. “Why, she hardly knows I’m alive, Mr. Rivers. 1 hate to say this when you’re being so darn good to me, hut l think you’re nuts!”
“Am I?” Mr. Risers flashed him a shrewd glance. “Doesn’t she?” He held out the rod, butt first. “You’ll find a path to the creek. Upstream two hundred yards there’s a pool where the trees begin to thin. Off wit h you now— there’s nothing like running water to cure worry.”
He turned and rustled away through the long grass and the brown and gold daisies. “1 have a call to make,” lie tossed back over his shoulder. “Fly box in the glove compartment, hut I’d suggest you try the one in your lapel first. ’Light lines, Danny!”
His green suit bobbed into the timber and Danny was left alone with Mr. Rivers’ fly rod in his hand. He hefted it curiously. It was extremely lightsomething under four ounces—and it felt like a Garrison or maybe an English Hardy. Rut when he looked for the maker’s signature there was only a faint, unreadable scrawl.
Danny stepped into the path that ambled down toward the singing creek. The stream was larger than he’d expected and it reminded him strongly of pictures he’d seen of the Rea verkil I. It. couldn’t he the Beaverkill, though, for his watch told him they were less than an hour out of the city. Rut. by this time he was losing his capacity for curiosity. “The pool where the trees thin,” Mr. Rivers had said. Excitement quickened to a tingle as he jogged along the faint upstream trail.
The tingle became a shiver of delight when he poked the rod tip through a flowering thicket and followed it out to the tail of the pool. This was what he’d read about, longed for in dreams all mixed up with April while he fitted impatient ladies with Seven-A’s in Royd & Benson’s shoe department. The stream danced into the head of the pool down a sunshiny riffle. On the far side, where an alder overhung it, the water ran smooth as silk and dark as satin.
Here, he knew without knowing how he knew, was the place for a big trout, a real old lunker that would bring customers clear in from Jersey for a look at Slcan’s Outdoors Week window.
Danny worked the fly loose from his lapel and tied it to the leader’s fine point. Then he rolled his pants above his knees and, recklessly careless of his shoes, waded into the shallows. The water whispered past his ankles with a cold caress, running over amber gravel. It was sixty feet easy to the shadowed glide under the alder . . . he’d never he able to cast that far.
He bungled his first try and stripped the line in with a guilty backward glance. It was a screwy notion, but it was as if the rod had known what was needed of it and struggled against his clumsy misdirection. Next cast he let the green fly rod handle itself. The fly drifted out to land lightly just where the riffle smoothed away. It floated down the glide at t he edge of the alder shadow and Danny followed its course with nerves taut as fiddlestrings. A hig trout was iazing there. He knc.ui it. But no strike came.
He settled into the lulling rhythm of
cast and recover. The sun was warm on his face and the air was sweet with the breath of evergreen and meadow grass. In the wild pasture across the stream a large cow with horns and a red and white coat watched him stupidly.
He was still casting when Mr. Rivers addressed him from so close behind that he jumped and gasped. “What luck?”
“Didn’t see you come back,” Danny said. “I’m afraid I haven’t been doing so well.”
“No?” Mr. Rivers’ shaggy eyebrows lifted. “I’d rather expected . . . H’mmm . . . Let’s see now.” He studied the river for a moment, then, abruptly, snapped his fingers. “Of course! I must be growing absentminded. You’re using a May and the May fly season is over. Try again in ten minutes.”
He was gone, then, melting into the thicket so quietly that Danny only saw a rustle among the leaves and heard his pleasant voice. “Sorry 1 can’t stay with you. But I just remembered. There is one more call I must make.”
Danny squatted on the bank and lit a cigarette. The feeling of excitement, of something terrific about to happen, had receded but not disappeared. The stream slid past with its silken rustle and the breeze was lazy and warm.
He tossed his cigarette butt into the downstream flow, where a fingerling promptly torpedoed it, and reached for the rod. The line snaked out, the leader unrolled in a flat and graceful curve. The fly he’d tied to the tune of thunder landed deep under the alder with wings prettily cocked. It rode two inches, then disappeared in a quiet dimple.
Minnow! thought Danny disappointedly. Smaller even than the one that hit his cigarette. He lifted the rod tip, felt solid weight and vibrant power. Then his wrist was jarred as if someone had cracked it with a stick, the rod whipped over and the reel sounded off with a long, wild rising scream.
Across the river the red and white cow snorted and lowered its head.
Danny’s wrist began to ache and the ache climbed to his shoulder and after a while his whole arm went numb. He had no idea how long the trout bucked and ran and bored for the shelter of the alder roots, but at last his lunker was finning weakly over the gravel where the shallows dipped into deep water. He raised the rod higher, sliding the fish closer to shore. The cow, he noted in a worried side-glance, was sloshing through the lower riffle in a very businesslike manner, and even a city man could tell it was no cow but a bull.
Danny lurched backward and the trout wavered over on its side and came with him. Someone stepped past him, stooped, and hooked a finger through the gaping gills. Spray flew in a sparkling, drenching shower, then Mr. Rivers straightened with the trout flapping in his hand.
Long as his leg, Danny thought, wits in a whirl and eyes full of water. Mr. Sloan never caught one like this!
He’d quite forgotten about the bull. It was out of the stream now, rumbling toward them with an uprooted bush tangled in its short, shining horns. Mr. Rivers turned to face it. In a calm, almost friendly gesture, he lifted his green Homburg. His hair was black and curly and the curls stood up in a hump on either side of his hfetíti. There was something peculiar about these humps, but Danny couldn’t be sure, and perhaps it was only the spray in his eyes.
For the space of a heartbeat Mr. Rivers and the bull looked at each other. Then, with a moan of pure terror, the bull whirled. Tail down, it crashed off through the thickets.
“Unmannerly creature,” said Mr. Rivers casually as he replaced his hat. “Well, my boy, you’ve done it. He’s a native trout, a true redspot that never saw a hatchery trough. One of the last in these parts, I imagine.” His greenflecked eyes were twinkling. “Your Mr. Sloan will be interested. Danny, 1 think the occasion calls for a short smash.”
He reached for his haunch and brought out the leather-covered flask, whistling softly. A bird answered him out of the apple-green evening across the stream. Danny took the flask and drank. The resinous liquor was cool in his throat, washing away the tight dryness, then it became a fire in his blood and the bird song was swelling into a great sustained note as if someone had pulled out all the stops on an organ. Mr. Rivers’ face, shrewd, sharpchinned, darker and larger, wavered before him. Mr. Rivers’ voice was a diminishing sound in his ears, saying something about a chicken ranch, something about Acantha, or maybe it was April . . .
DANNY found himself leaning against a lamppost across from the Royd & Benson employees’ entrance.
The night elevator man grumbled him up to sports. April was poised on a stepladder, cedar boughs in her hands.
In a white blouse and pleated skirt she’d never looked lovelier.
For a long moment she stared at Danny. Then, slowly, she came down off the ladder. Mr. Sloan was crossing the floor, too. His face was bumpy and j one eye was puffed shut and he looked | distinctly out of sorts. Cradled in his ! arms was the ancient stuffed trout from over the Angler’s Notions counter. I “Since you’re here,” he said crossly, “you can take this down to the window dressers. It’ll have to do for our centre. Hurry! I want to get through.” The eye that wasn’t swollen widened then and the stuffed trout clattered to the floor.
“Danny,” April breathed. “What! ever . . . Where on earth did you get it?”
“I guess I caught it,” Danny said. “You?” Mr. Sloan stuttered. “Baloney! You never go fishing. Here, let me see that!”
Danny flopped his trout on the counter. The light glanced from its burnished sides, turned its crimson speckles to points of fire. April gave a small, soft gasp. “The fly you tied,” she whispered. “Still in its mouth. Oh, Danny !”
Mr. Sloan swallowed twice before he spoke. “All right,” he said. “So you caught it, don’t ask me how. Take it away and put it on ice somewhere. We’ll need it for our window.”
“It’s not going in the window,” Danny told him. Funny, he’d never noticed before how Mr. Sloan’s hair was thinning and how soft he looked around the middle. “I’m pretty tired of selling shoes. In the morning I’m taking this trout over to Hacketts! It’s a native, a real redspot, one of the last in these parts and maybe a record. Hacketts’ will be darn glad to have it, Mr. Sloan. I’m going to trade this fish for a job in their sports department.”
He must be crazy, talking like that, but Mr. Sloan was swallowing again and he looked as if he’d just bitten a lemon.
“Now wait, Danny,” he said, and loosed a laugh that was only a cackle. “Hold your horses. If you’d told me you were a fisherman you’d have been in here long ago. I’ll fix it first thing tomorrow.” He cackled again, nervously. “Matter of fact I almost had that old squaretail’s double this afternoon. Mine could even have been a shade bigger. Played him ten minutes
and was just reaching for my net when—”
“When what, Mr. Sloan?” April asked in a very cool voice.
“When that little pest jumped out of a hush behind me. The foreigner in the green suit, the trogolyte or whatever the devil he called himself. He’d kicked up a wasp’s nest. I think he did it on purpose.”
But he couldn't haw been there. Danny thought. He just couldn't! Mr. Rivers was with me!
“I’m stung all over,” Mr. Sloan said morosely. “Probably get blood poison. Put that fish on ice, Danny—I’m going home.”
April frowned after him. “He must be mistaken,” she said in a puzzled voice. “About the little man, I mean. Mr. Sloan wouldn’t tell an outright fib, even if I don’t believe he hooked a trout like yours. Hut I’m certain it wasn’t the tragoped.”
Danny opened his mouth only to close it again with the words unspoken. He could tell her—but should he?
“Mr. Rivers was at your flat,” April said. “He called on your sister. He’s some kind of doctor and what he did for Sara is simply amazing.” She checked then, her cheeks gone wild-rose pink.
“How do you know that?” Danny asked her.
“Because I called on your sister, too,” she said, looking down at the
linoleum while the blush spread to the tips of her ears. “Right after I left you, Danny. I didn’t want you to have to spend your evenings listening to poetry —it sounded so dreadfully lonely—”
Danny reached for her hands, but still she wouldn’t look up. “He told Sara she needn’t be an invalid,” her voice hurried on. “He said there was nothing really wrong with her and all she needed was to find a boy friend and go dancing. When I got there she was bundling up all her hats for salvage collection and talking about hunting a job tomorrow.”
She ran out of words then. Danny put a hand under her chin and made her lift her face. Her cheeks were damp, but she smiled back at him and moved into his arms, and having her there was wonderful. He didn’t understand about Mr. Rivers, but, he decided, there were some things it was maybe better if a fellow never told his girl.
“April,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. We could save up enough to buy us a chicken ranch in the country by a trout stream. You said you liked chickens, April.”
“I love them,” she sighed. Her lips were very close and her eyes misty-soft. “Danny, before I forget. Your sister told me what a tragoped is. It means goat foot” . . .
But Danny had found her lips at last and that was wonderful too. ir