Fiction

Shoparoon for Maggie

Meet the masters of Ecclefechan—their stern codes applied equally to rainbow trout and a pretty girl called Margaret

W. O. MITCHELL May 15 1948
Fiction

Shoparoon for Maggie

Meet the masters of Ecclefechan—their stern codes applied equally to rainbow trout and a pretty girl called Margaret

W. O. MITCHELL May 15 1948

Shoparoon for Maggie

W. O. MITCHELL

HE SCREEN on the back of the cabin slapped the morning stillness a dandy. Jimmy looked up and saw that it was not Margaret. He laid his partly jointed rod on the ground beside him, stared reflectively at the tired blue seat, Mr. Dart’s levies displayed as that gentleman bent to fill his arms with wood chunks.

Now that he thought of Margaret, Jimmy was suddenly aware of a swimming quality in the

mountain air and in the higher altitudes of his stomach he felt a heady sensation of warmth and sparkle that could not be blamed entirely on the ten flapjacks, six rashers of bacon, three eggs and two cups of coffee. Mr. Dart straightened up. He whistled as he walked back to the cabin, the usual tune that was sometimes sprightly, sometimes melancholy, but possessed always by a haunting sameness that defied recognition.

The first few days of the fishing trip, while it had rained, Jimmy had been sure Mr. Dart’s tune was “The Baggage Coach Ahead”; three days ago, “Now’s the Time to Fall in Love”; at the moment it sounded a little like “You Were Meant for Me.” He picked up the rod again, fitted the tip into its socket and began to run the taped line through the first guide.

Funny. Jimmy Riddle, salesman, angler and young man, laid down his rod. He looked over the cabin, corral and meadow nestling at the foot

of the peak of the Alberta Rockies known locally as the Senator’s Snout.

Ten days before he had come to this fishing lodge on the upper waters of the Highwood River, 35 miles as the eagle flew from Banff. He had come to forget Shirley who had broken his heart.

He had stopped his car at the end of a rutted trail to read the weather-beaten sign nailed to a pole gate: “Ecclefechan Retreat—Andrew MacNab,

Ernest Dart, Props.—Fishing—Hunting Guides.”

Ten days. He hadn’t thought of Shirley since Dart and MacNab had taken him in.

HE HAD MET Margaret on the first day. He had rounded the point of a sand bar and had smelled wood smoke, sharp on the thin air. He saw the smoke, then, a thin anaemic thread lifting straight, the tent standing under a lodge pole pine like a tired grey horse seeking shelter from a drizzle. And Margaret.

She turned to him, her face smudged with wood char and what he recognized immediately as tearstains. “A human!” she cried and lifted her arm to push back a wisp of hair with a bent wrist. “A man human!”

Jimmy looked at the litter on the ground, the

blackened coffee pot, a badly mangled loaf of bread, four partly opened cans of pork and beans, an unbelievable number of dead matchsticks. He stared at the heap of twigs. It looked to him like the hasty work of a muskrat with a nervous breakdown.

“Your wood’s wet,” said Jimmy. “You should have a supply under cover—just to start fires. Your tent—”

“I haven’t got round to chewing up some hide to patch it. It leaks—it’s leaked all over my sleeping bag. I’m all wet. I’m cold. I’m hungry and I’m tired and I want to go home—get some dependable disease that’ll keep me in a bed between four walls under one ceiling for the rest of my life.”

She looked down at the fire from which smoke no longer rose.

Meet the masters of Ecclefechan—their stern codes applied equally to rainbow trout and a pretty girl called Margaret

Jimmy, for no reason at all, was stirred by the conviction that she was too young to die young. Even with all that smudge, he could tell she was pretty. She probably had a beautiful mind behind those grey, soft eyes. She needed protecting and in large quantities.

“C’mon,” he said. “The cabin’s not far. There’s a good fire in the stove and a hot toddy’ll make you feel better.”

She had not objected. Women trusted Jimmy Riddle. He was long and loosely jointed and his features not particularly even. He was not the sort for whom they set their bonnets. He did not possess that crooked smile; his hair was not salted with a distinguished grey. It was dun-colored, straight, inclined to cowlick at the back.

When he extended the invitation he grinned. It

cracked bis face right across, threatened his ears. Jimmy’s smile was all right.

MacNab had not smiled. When the two had entered the cabin with its wealth of aromas, he had looked up from the chair by the stove and stared with mouth open while they stood in the doorway.

Without turning his head he called out: “Airnest! Dinna come oot. till ye’re decent!”

Ernest Dart, junior partner in the fishing and hunting guide company of Dart and MacNab, promptly appeared in the bedroom doorway, splendid in his long winter underwear. Shock appeared on his round face; he bobbed back in.

They stood in embarrassed silence while the gamy smell of drying buckskin, the pepper smell of burning birch chunks and the civet sweetness of pack rat, strove for the upper hand.

“Will ye sit doon, lass?”

Margaret seated herself on a chair of elkhorns, let her eyes rest on a whistling marmot pelt on the opposite wall.

Jimmy explained how he had found her. He pointed out to MacNab that the roads were impassable, that there was nothing to do but have Margaret stay with them. Continued on page 66

Continued from page 23

“What,” said MacNab, “are ye doin’ up here alone?”

“Painting,” said Margaret.

“Paintin’! ”

“I—I’m an artist—or try to be one.”

MacNab sighed. Mr. Dart chose that moment to come into the kitchen, his face still red with embarrassment.

“The lass—what’s your name?” MacNab asked.

“Margaret,” she said. “Margaret Willett.”

“Margaret is to stay wi’ us,” he explained to Mr. Dart, “till the roads allow her to make it into Bluebell.”

“Thank you, Mr. MacNab,” said Margaret. “It’s very—”

“Ye may bunk in yon bedroom. Airnest—you and Mr. Riddle and I will take our blankets to the woodshed.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Margaret. “I won’t put you people out of your beds. I have a sleeping bag. I could sleep on the floor — here — in the kitchen.”

“T’isna a matter of convenience. We hae sufficient bunks. The proprieties must be obsairved.”

“That’s silly!”

“We all know,” said Mr. MacNab heavily, “what artists are. Female artists,” he added for good measure.

That had settled it. Jimmy had busied himself with a rum toddy, handed it to Margaret.

Silently MacNab had taken it from her hand.

“Lasses,” he explained, “dinna booze.” He looked distastefully at the steaming drink, at Jimmy, at Mr. Dart, the slop pail. Then he emptied it himself.

IT HAD been a silent breakfast the following morning. A gloomy spirit hung over the cabin in spite of the brightness of the sunshine outside.

Jimmy tied a half a dozen Grey Bivisibles, a couple of Black Widows and three Blue Uprights. Margaret went out to sketch. Mr. Dart found his whistle again. He kept it up as he worked at the other end of the kitchen table.

Jimmy looked up only when he had to, for what Mr. Dart was doing seared bis soul. Jimmy was that Brahmin among fishermen, a dry-fly purist. He was, though he did not consider himself so, an artist. To watch him work was to watch a thing of beauty and a joy forever. His loop casting was pure grace, the art that conceals art. His rod was a Stradivarius among rods. He tied his own flies, from the midge-sized spider variety for beaver-dam pools to the flowing deerhair and feather creations of Black Ghost, Summer’s Gold and Black-and-White Optic. And who can say that all art from the Pathétique through La Belle Dame Sans Merci to Slogtoggles Saskatchewan Minnow, is not one and indivisible?

Mr. Dart’s was a utilitarian point of view, no pure art for him. At the other end of the table he worked with his steel leader and his number four hooks. One fished to catch fish. Fish liked worms. To the leader he bound three hooks, one above the other. On the first, when he baited his line, he would impale the head of the worm, wind it around once and catch it on the next hook, then round again to gig it on the last hook. This method had two distinct advantages: the spiraled worm took on a twisting and lifelike motion when dragged through the water; the fish got a murderous cluster of hooks that made skilful playing unnecessary and allowed Mr. Dart to whack him out and on the bank. He did this customarily with a reel of green pike

line only slightly lighter than lariat rope.

The day stayed clear. Margaret came in for lunch, went out again to sketch in the afternoon. Jimmy moved his fly vise out to a hoard he had nailed between two trees at the back of the cabin.

Since the river was still murky, and he did not see Margaret anywhere along it, he returned to the cabin clearing to practice casting. He did so with a running thrill of anticipation, as he imagined a Grey Bivisihle brave on the chop of the water, saw it swallowed from sight, mentally felt the electric tug, imagined the rainbow iridescence of a plump and gleaming side. He thought of all that and of Margaret and not of Shirley. That was all right. He had come out not to think of Shirley.

After supper he got out a deck of cards, invited Margaret to have a game of rummy. They were playing a second hand when Mr. MacNab came in from outside. Wordless, he swept the cards into a pile, gathered upthematchsticks.

“Lasses,” he said “dinna gomble.”

“But we were only playing for matches,” protested Margaret.

Mr. MacNab seated himself by the stove, put on steel-rimmed spectacles, took up a two-year-old copy of the Foothills’ Ranch Review.

Margaret’s face flushed. She bit her lip, stood hesitant a moment, left the room and returned with a black leather sketch case which she opened on the table. “I don’t suppose any of you foothills duennas would consider it immoral if I were to finish up a sketch or two!”

MacNab’s spare face turned to her. “It seems highly improbable that there could be anything immoral in a landscape.” He returned his attention to the magazine.

Margaret set up a water color against the wall, stepped hack and into Mr. Dart, who gaped at it with mouth ajar. Mr. MacNab looked up to see the shock on Ernest’s face. He rose. He stared long moments, lifted his glasses, looked, put them down again. Mr. Dart sucked at a tooth without relish.

“Well!” The word was a challenge.

Mr. MacNab grunted and returned to his chair.

“Would you care to make a criticism, Mr. MacNab!”

“I wouldna,” he said picking up the magazine. “Not till it has had time tae heal up!”

Margaret’s breath came out in a whoosh.

“He don’t mean no offense, Maggie,” said Mr. Dart soothingly.

“Margaret!”

“It’s jist you can’t paint. What 1 like to see isa real nice sunset—bloody— and a twelve-point hull elk—slashin’ at a couple of wolves a-tryin’ to hamstring him.”

“Do you!”

“Or a Indian girl with alia her feathers—standin’ up in the how of lier canoe—whilst—whilst—” Mr. Dart mentally searched out the romantic possibilities of the scene—“the loons is callin’ over the water an’ through the forests—”

“Primeval,” supplied Margaret, her voice slightly unsteady with feeling.

“Yeah. An’ she’s gazin’ over the water where her brave went to his watery grave.”

“You have a heart, Mr. Dart,” said Margaret as she snatched the sketch from the table, “of purest pull taffy.”

The ten-gauge under the weasel and fox pelt jumped on its nails as she slammed the cabin door.

Jimmy got up.

He saw the glow of a cigarette, found her seated on a log by the woodshed. He sat down. There were several

moments of uncomfortable silence. Jimmy cleared his throat.

“I liked it.”

“That’s all right. I might have known. Mr. Dart’s right. And James.” “James?”

“Ballantyne—School of Twenty and One.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy.

“My design instructor. ‘Cretin With Round-Mouthed Shovel.’ ” “Was he?”

“His most eclectic piece. I met him shortly after he painted ‘Fugue Rodent.’ He was hung—”

Jimmy made sounds of sympathy in his throat.

“—in the National Gallery. We were to be married until my—‘Trauma of Birth.’ ”

“What!” Jimmy started up from the log.

“Said it was trite—slick—that I had nothing to say!” Jimmy watched her cigarette tip glow fierce orange, then contract again. “Now it’s Marcia with her sprung rhythm. Poetess!”

An owl called, the sound spaced and deliberate and sad. Jimmy slapped at a mosquito.

She talked on about a world and people strange to Jimmy, about young men who “fused the didactic and the lyric,” people who “had something to say.” To the soft phosphorescence of fireflies were added such glowing words as: esoteric, eclectic, metaphysical.

And Jimmy thought of his work and he felt very sad indeed. He traveled in auto parts. There is nothing very esoteric about gaskets; it is difficult to say something with oil pumps.

It was a night for confidences—soft, clear. Jimmy told her about Shirley. He explained th&t credit managers don’t go on the road. He told her of how he had returned from the southern trip in time to give her a silver tray, wish them many little credit managers. Then he had taken his holidays in one chunk—to fish and forget.

“Me too,” said Margaret. “Only— sketch and forget.”

Jimmy said, “I liked your sketch. It —it was strong.”

“Thanks.”

“Sort of—uh—eclectic. It had something to say.”

“You’re a good boy, Jimmy,” said Margaret.

Through the night drifted a bright whistle. From far off came a shrewish yapping that ended in a long and drawn chorus.

“Kiyoots,” said Mr. Dart, joining them. “Lonely soun’—ain’t it?”

He sat on the end of the log. The ripe spice of eating tobacco floated to Jimmy and Margaret. “Makes a fella feel real sad,” said Mr. Dart gently. “Like be was the only one left in the whole world—like he didn’t have nobody—fussy about him.” He sighed. Then he said:

“Must of found the guts from the lump-jaw yearling Charlie Leggett shot fer the Cattle ’sociation.”

MARGARET and Jimmy became familiar with Mr. Dart’s whistle in the days that followed; it was with them wherever they went, except for those times that Mr. MacNab accompanied them. Several days later Jimmy was struck with the fact that they were never alone together. He spoke to MacNab about it.

Mr. MacNab eyed him sombrely a moment. “Shoparoon,” he said. “Chaperon!”

“ ’T’isna right and proper for her to be alone wi’ a young man, so Air-nest and I hae taken on the responsibility of shoparoonin’ the twro of ye.”

“Just a minute,” protested Jimmy “You fellows can’t—”

“We can,” said MacNab. “Wewull.”

And they did. Jimmy had found it singularly irritating. He had hesitated to bring it to Margaret’s attention. Then she had brought it up herself. Today they were to start out separately, Margaret first, to sketch; Jimmy after, to fish.

They would meet at Blackjack’s Pool and there without either MacNab or Mr. Dart Jimmy would continue the lessons he was giving her in dry-fly fishing.

Jimmy began to assemble his fishing rod. Soon he would start for their rendezvous.

The screen on the back of the cabin slapped the morning stillness again. This time it was MacNab. He walked to Jimmy.

“Maggie’s leaving,” he said.

“Oh, when?”

“Today. Yesterday Air-nest loaded her tent into her car for her. At my suggestion she hae gone to finish the job. The trail is passable now.”

“That’s nice.” Jimmy stood up, slid the net over one shoulder.

“Guess I’ll be going. Try my luck.” “Did ye hae any particular spot in mind?”

“Upstream—far as the deadfall.”

“Ye will not mind a bit of company.” “I could do without it.”

“I’ll just go along.” said MacNab. Jimmy slid the net from his shoulder. He laid his rod up against the cabin wall.

“Were ye not goin’ anglin’ Mr. Riddle?”

“Berries,” said Jimmy. “Berrypicking.”

“Saskatoons?”

“If you know of any good places— deadly nightshade.”

“Doesna grow in this part of the country,” said MacNab.

Maggie did not return at noon. Tbe men had their glum meal. She did not return at supper. Mr. MacNab’s face had become even more uncheerful. At his evening chores Mr. Dart did not whistle.

“Nothing could hae happened to the lass,” said MacNab.

“How about Blackjack’s Pool?” asked Mr. Dart.

“What about the pool?” asked Jimmy.

“Got it’s name off of Blackjack Riley —drowned there in oh two.” He was silent a calculating moment. He said “Muskeg.”

“Aye,” agreed MacNab, “there’s muskeg.”

“Awul slather between Cash crick an’ the Highwood. Seen a horse went down once.”

Jimmy got up abruptly. MacNab went for his hat.

Jimmy found her, after they had split up to search. He found her after a hoarse hour of anxiety and vicious willow brush—around the curve just below the pool—considerably frightened.

He sat down on a rock, a little dizzy and faint with relief. She told him how she had waited at Blackjack’s Pool, how she had got a little mixed up in her directions when she started to go back to the cabin.

As he got up he saw her creel. It overflowed with the mottled plumpness of cutthroat and the torpedo bodies of bull trout.

“There’s another over there,” said Margaret.

Jimmy turned his head. He felt a coldness come inside his elbows. He took a couple of paces and dropped to his knees. It was fitting that he should be on his knees. He was looking at what must be at least twenty-eight inches of trout—-eight pounds of fierce and beautiful rainbow flesh—all in one fish. He turned, still on his knees. “Margaret —beautiful— Maggie!”

Continued on page 69

Continued from page 67

SHE STOOD lined in the dying sunlight and as Jimmy looked up to her, saw her head haloed with the rays of the setting sun, he knew that he was staring at the second most beautiful thing in the world. And he knew now that he was a young man with “something to say.” He said it above the thumping of the falls and his heart. Ever since he had met her that first day in the rain, ever since she had been surrounded with partly opened cans of pork and beans. He was not esoteric. He was not eclectic. He loved her!

Maggie too, it seemed. Ever since the day he had defended her painting. She was glad he was not any of the things he said he was not. She wanted a man who traveled in auto parts. And would he for heaven’s sakes get up off his knees and come here.

Jimmy got up and came here.

It was dark by the time they reached the other side of Blackjack’s Pool. It was much darker when Jimmy stopped, turned to Margaret and said, “Don’t look now, Maggie, but I think you’re lost again.”

Margaret said, “That’s all right, Jimmy.”

“Can build a fire. If MacNab and Mr. Dart are still looking they’ll see it.”

They sat by the campfire’s hesitant light, the darkness around them, soothed with the murmur of the river, fresh with the scent of pine, wild mint, dewed grass. There was just a tinct of the burnt sweetness of distant skunk.

Margaret stirred in Jimmy’s arms. “It wasn’t just the fish, Jimmy?”

“The fish?”

“It’s me—not the trout, isn’t it?” “Had nothing to do with it,” Jimmy assured her. He believed himself.

“In a way we should be thankful to Mr. Dart. He showed me.”

“Showed you what?”

“He dug them for me,” she said.

“Dug what?”

‘T tiied your way but I kept getting all hung up.”

Jimmy took his arm from her shoulders. He said, ‘How did you catch those fish. Margaret?”

“Mr. Dart’s way. You just drop in your line and you wait. The line goes trickling out when a fish has swallowed the worms—”

“Worms!”

“And with three hooks—”

“You didn’t use Dart’s gear for catching—” He broke off. “Next time why don’t you try dynamite! Then they float belly up! Take a net!” “Jimmy !”

“Murder!”

“Lots of people fish with worms—” “No wonder you caught so many bull trout! No wonder—” His voice choked. “That big one—did you—was that caught on a—a worm?”

“I caught them all on worms.” “Don’t boast about it!”

“Jimmy—stop it !”

“Stop it-Ever since that—ever

since I—”

“All right, Jimmy.”

“I have to pick out of this whole world a worm fisherman—woman— gal who fishes with worms!”

“Yes, worms!” Margaret jumped to hei feet. “All caught on worms! Live worms! Wiggling worms! Earthworms! Brown worms! Little boy worms and little girl worms—you— you—” she paused for breat h—-“worm !” They were wakened in the pale dawn light by the crackle and popping of underbrush—MacNab first, Mr. Dart afterward. “I thought so,” said Mr. MacNab.

“We got lost,” said Jimmy.

“Aye,” said Mr. MacNab.

“Two plugs an’ a spit from the cabin,” said Mr. Dart.

They walked back to the cabin in silence. There, Mr. MacNab turned on them. “Air-nest and I hae failed in our responsibility. Yon lass has been compromised.”

“I have not!” said Margaret.

“She has not!” echoed Jimmy. “There’ll be a marriage right soon, I trust,” said MacNab heavily.

“Over my dead body !” said Margaret. “And mine!”

“Air-nest!”

“Now—now,” said Mr. Dart, his round face soft with fine sentiment. “You kin git married an’ have yourself a small home—an’—”

“Then what!” Margaret glared at him. “Spawn!”

“That,” said MacNab, “is indelicate.”

“Any indelicacy around here is all yours! You can’t railroad me into—” “Airnest—yon ten-gauge!”

“Huh!”

“Tak it doon.”

“My honor is no concern of yours or anybod—”

“Is it loaded?” asked MacNab.

“Yep.”

“I have not been compromised—”

“Is the safety catch on?”

“Shore is.”

“Well—tak it off!”

“I have no intention of living with I im in any heme he may care to supply. Lift* among the Riddle fingerlings isn’t my idea of—what aie you doing with I t hat gun !”

“Wi’ out fairther argy-bargy,” said MacNab, “I shall got tae toon. Rome, Methodist, Lutheran, United, Presbyterian, or Seventh Day—name yer creed.”

“ Mohammedan !”

“Druid!” gritted Jimmy.

“Neither is available in the toon of Uuebell. The Reverend Cameron will hae tae do. Diligence, Air-nest—I’m boldin’ ye responsible.”

The silence in the cabin after MacNab’s departure was a brooding ene. They waited with that mixture of tenseness and boredom and expectation peculiar to the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists.

“Why don’t you do something!” Jimmy looked at Mr. Dart’s steady eyes; he caught the cold blue glint of the shotgun barrel, saw that the hammeis were back, the safety catch off'.

Mr. Dart began to whistle, a bright meadow-lark sound, fitting as Mendels sohn’s “Spring Song” at a graveside service.

t I THERE WAS a breathlessness about X the arrival of MacNab with the minister. Jimmv sprang from his chair. “Ah-—ah-!”

He sank hack into the chair.

“1 couldna get the Reverend Cameron,” said MacNab. “I hae acquainted Mr. Schultz of the Fundamentalists of the New and Burning Nazareth wi’ the urgency—”

“Mr. Schultz, there is no urg—” started Jimmy.

of the situation,” went on MacNab, “Maggie—”

“Margaret !”

“Our niece—”

“I’m not your niece!”

“Air-nest’s by marriage—mine by my youngest sister. 1 hae taken out the license. Ye may start the procetdin’s, Mr. Schultz,” he said.

MacNab paid the minister’s fee. “Ye may put away the gun now, Air-nest,” he said.

Mr. Dart stood hesitantly, the tengauge across one elbow. He swallowed. “He ain’t kissed her yet.”

MacNab took the gun. “Kiss yon bride.”

Jimmy stepped forward.

“If lie does—I’ll bite him,” said Margaret.

“Look,” said Mr. Dart. “You know as well as I do I ain’t goin’ ’round shooting wimmen. The keys to that car. You got ’em, ain’t you?”

“Why—I—they—”

Jimmy stepped forward. He kissed her. He kept right on kissing her. And strangely, Margaret had got involved in the thing too.

“Just one thing,” said Jimmy.

“Yes, Jimmy?”

“Worms. About fishing — with worms.”

“Real good bait,” said Mr. Dart. “Beginnin’ of the season you can’t beat ”

“Us Riddles,” interrupted Maggie j abruptly and with heat, “don’t use j worms—ever!”

“MaggieMaggie!” said Jimmy. ; “Margaret,” said Maggie gently. "I’ll he a good girl, Jimmy.”

Jimmy could tell she meant it. ★