AMONG the annals of the Petrine Club, which has for its motto the wise words of St. Peter, "I go a-fishing," there are several profitable tales. Next to the story of Beekman De Peyster's fatal success in transforming a fairly good wife into a ferocious angler, probably the most instructive is the singular adventure that befell Bolton Chichester in taking a brief vacation while he was engaged to be married. And having already told the former story as an example of the vicissitudes of "Fisherman's Luck," I now propose to narrate the latter as a striking illustration of what may happen to a man who takes "a day off."
Chichester is known among his intimate friends as "Chinchin." This nominal appendix was given to him not in allusion to his habits of speech, for he is rather a small talker, but with reference to the prominence of that feature of his countenance which is at once the organ of utterance, the instrument of mastication, the sign of firmness, and (at least in the Gibsonian period of facial architecture) the chief point of manly beauty.
Point is an absurd word to apply to Chichester's chin. It might better be called a surface, a region, a territory. Smooth, spacious, square, kept always in perfect order and carried with a what-do-I-care-for-that air, it gives him a most distinguished appearance, and makes you think, when you meet him, that you are in the presence of a favourite matinee actor, the hero of a modern short-story, or a man of remarkable decision of character.
The last, of course, is the correct interpretation of the sign. Bolton Chichester is the most decided man that I have ever known. He can make up his mind more quickly, on a greater variety of subjects, and adhere to each determination more firmly, than all the other members of the Petrine Club put together. For this reason we always anticipated for him a large success in life, and some even predicted that he would become President of the United States – unless he made up his mind to do something else on the way to the White House. At all events, we felt sure, he would get what he wanted; and when he became decidedly attentive to Ethel Asham it was taken for granted that he would woo, win, and marry her in short order.
She was rather a difficult person, to be sure; the eldest daughter of that cryptic old millionaire, Watson Asham, who lived in New York and resided, for purposes of taxation, at West Smithfield; a graduate of Brainmore College; president of the Social Settlement of Higher Lighters; a frequent contributor in brief fiction to the Contrary Magazine; a beauty of the tea-after-tennis type; the best dancer in St. Swithin's Lenten Circle, and the most romantic creature that ever took up the cause of Progress with a large P. It would not be fair to call her strong-minded, because the adjective seems to imply some kind of a limitation in her strength. She was even stronger in her impulses than in her mind; original in every direction; in fact, originality was a kind of convention with her. It was wonderful how many things she accomplished; but then she never lost any time; she was precise, punctual, inevitable in her sweet, feminine, self-possessed way; and her varied and surprising programme went through on schedule time, while she cherished in her heart the dream of a romance in the style of "The Prisoner of Zenda."
Naturally, such a many-sided young woman would be difficult to please; and a number of eligible young men had acquired personal knowledge of the fact. But the difficulty seemed to attract Chichester. He went at it in his bold, decided manner, with his chin forward; and he conquered. After the February campaign no one was surprised to hear, in March, that the engagement of Miss Ethel Asham to Mr. Bolton Chichester was announced, and that the wedding would occur in June.
The place was not specified. Conjectures were hazarded that it might be Dunfermline Abbey, the Castle of Chillon, Bridal Veil Falls in the Yosemite, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, or St. George's, Hanover Square. Little Pop Wilson, the well-known dialect novelist of the southeastern part of northern Kentucky, suggested that there was something to be said in favor of the Mammoth Cave – " always cool, you know. Artificial lights, pulpit rock, stalactites – all that sort of thing!" Even this was felt to be within the bounds of possibility. The one thing that was not open to doubt was that the wedding would certainly be celebrated in an original way and a romantic place, at precisely the appointed hour. If anyone had foretold that it would be broken off, and that the mason given would be "another engagement'' on the part of Mr. Bolton Chichester, we should have laughed in the face of such a ridiculous prophet and advised him to take something to cool his brain.
Yet this is exactly what happened; and the secret of that other engagement is the subject of this brief, simple, but I hope not unmoral narrative.
Chichester had been with the Ashams at the residential farm-house in West Smithfield during the first fortnight of April, and had devoted the remainder of that showery month to his affairs in the city, diversified with a few afternoons of trout-fishing on Long Island: for like all the members of the Petrine Club he was a sincere angler. It was during this period that Ethel took up, in her daily correspondence with him, the question of the cruelty of angling. She was not yet quite clear in her mind upon the subject, but she wanted him to consider it seriously; and she quoted Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Aurora W. Chime's book, "The Inwardness of the Outward." Chichester promised to consider it.
The second week in May they spent together at a house-party near Portland, Maine; and he tried the landlocked salmon in Sebago Lake, twice. Ethel continued the subject of the cruelty of angling, in conversation, and illuminated her increasing conviction with references to the Reverend Wilbur Short's "Tales of Strange Things in Woods and Waters," and "Songs of the Scaly," by Alonzo Sweetbread.
"You would not allow any difference of thought or feeling to mar the perfect chord of our love, would you, Bolton dear?" she asked.
"Of course not," said Bolton.
"Then promise me faithfully that you will think about this pastime which gives so much anguish to the innocent fish – think about it very, very seriously."
"I do. I have to. It costs me seven or eight hundred a year."
"But you must think in a different way. Put yourself in the place of the fish."
"I did once. Fellow with a rod and line tried to land me in the tank at the gymnasium. Lots of fun. Never had a better fight."
"But suppose you had a hook in your mouth. How would you like that?"
"Better than the dentist's chair, I'm sure. I spent three afternoons there, last month."
"You're absurd," said Ethel, "you're perverse. Don't hold your chin up in that aggravating way. I don't believe you – love"
The rest of the conversation followed the usual course, which may be supplied from the pages of any of the fifteen-cent magazines, and ended with a promise on the part of Chichester that he would think again, and very, very seriously.
Meantime, you will understand, the preparations for the wedding had been going forward, in the regular way, modified, however, in one most important particular by Ethel Asham's passion for romantic originality. She insisted that the day and the place should be left entirely to her. She did not wish to have the ordinary, commonplace, fashionable wedding Performance. She wanted something really and truly poetic and fitting, something to remember. She had a plan. The wedding should be in June? Yes. And she would be ready? Yes. And all the family, at least, should be there ? Yes. But she asked that she might keep the secret of the precise time and the exact place as long as possible; it would make it all seem so much more spontaneous and natural.
The situation was a little peculiar, I grant you, and somewhat embarrassing to the rest of the family, including Chichester. But he took it like a man, and backed Ethel up with the utmost decision, just as if her idea was what he had always thought of and determined to do. What was his chin for, if he could not give her a firm support in a thing like this? As a matter of fact he did not care in the least where the wedding might be. A man never does. It does not seem to be his business. Ethel's paternal parent, however, had some misgivings which must be satisfied.
"Is it a church?" he growled; "none of your dusty, shabby little Higher Light shrines, eh?"
"Yes, it's a church," said Ethel solemnly, "and a very old and beautiful church."
"And a Christian ceremony," he insisted; "parson, robes, prayer-book – regular thing – no sideshow performance, eh?"
"Of course," said she, "what do you think? Do you suppose that just because I see things in an original way, I don't know what's proper ? I like to hear the Swami Abikadanda talk; and I don't want a regular cut-and-dried wedding; but I'm not going to take any risks about a thing like that. The clergyman will be there, and you will give me away, and Gladys and Victoria will be the bridesmaids, and Arthur will be the best man, and Howard and Willis – "
"Well, well,"grunted her father, with his chuckling laugh, "it's all right, I suppose, seeing that it's your wedding. Have it your own way while you can." For the old man had formed his idea of the significance of Chichester's chin.
So it was settled that the affair should remain unsettled for every one except Ethel; and the whole family was plunged into a cheerful state of evasion, prevarication, and downright falsification; and Chichester grinned and smoothed the left side of his chin with his forefinger and said, "What do I care for that? It's all right, I know," and everybody predicted that Ethel Asham was about to do something very original.
In the middle of June she marshalled her party for a little Canadian giro. There were her father and mother; and the inseparable twins, Gladys and Victoria, one of whom always laughed when the other was amused; and the three preternaturally important brothers, representing the triple-x output of Harvard, Yale and Columbia; and Aunt Euphemia van Benschoten, who had inherited the van Benschoten nose, a block on Fifth Avenue, and a pew in St. Mark's church (two of which possessions she was entitled to devise by will); and Miss Nancy Bangs, Ethel's most intimate friend; and the Reverend Oriel Bellingham Jenks, her favourite clergyman of the period; and – oh, yes! of course, there was Bolton Chichester.
It was quite a large party. They went first to Niagara, which Pop Wilson said was "premature, if not improper." Then they went down through the Thousand Islands, where Ethel pointed out the inhuman and cruel expression of the many fishermen, to which Chichester answered, "I don't know that it's cruel to catch pickerel, but it's certainly childish."
Then they descended the ridiculous rapids of Lachine, which splashed and murmured around them like a very mild surf at Shelter Island. They spent a couple of days in looking for the antiquities of Montreal, trying to find the romantic atmosphere of New France under the ancien régime. Then they went to Quebec, and found it.
Dear, delightful old Quebec, with her gray walls and shining tin roofs; her precipitous, headlong streets and sleepy squares and esplanades; her narrow alleys and peaceful convents; her harmless antique cannon on the parapets and her sweet-toned bells in the spires; her towering château on the heights and her long, low, queer-smelling warehouses in the lower town; her spick-and-span caléches and her dingy trolley-cars; her sprinkling of soldiers and sailors with Scotch accent and Irish brogue and Cockney twang, on a background of petite bourgeoisie speaking the quaintest of French dialects; her memories of an adventurous, glittering past and her placid contentment with the tranquil grayness of the present; her glorious daylight outlook over the vale of the St. Charles, the level shore of Montmorenci, the green Isle d'Orleans dividing the shining reaches of the broad St. Lawrence, and the blue Laurentian Mountains rolling far to the eastward – and at night, the dark bulk of the Citadel outlined against the starry blue, the trampling of many feet up and down the wooden pavement of the terrace, the chattering and the laughter, the music of the military band, and far below, the huddled housetops, the silent wharves, the lights of the great warships swinging with the tide, the intermittent ferry-boats plying to and fro, the twinkling lamps of Levis rising along the dim southern shore and reflected in the lapsing, curling, seaward-sliding waves of the great river! What city of the New World keeps so much of the charm of the Old?
The camp which Samuel de Champlain made in the wilderness three hundred years ago, has become one of the last refuges of the romantic dream and the courtly illusion, still haunted by the shades of impecunious young noblemen with velvet cloaks and feathered hats and rapiers at their hips; of delicate, high-spirited beauties braving the snowy wildwood in their silks and laces; of missionary monks, tonsured and rope-girdled, pressing with lean faces and eager eyes to plant the banner of the Church upon the shores of the West and win the fiery crown of martyrdom. Other figures follow them – gold-seekers, fur-traders, empire-builders, admirals and generals of France and England, strugglers for dominion, soldiers of fortune, makers of cunning plots, and dreamers of great enterprises – and round them all flows tile confused tide of war and love, of intrigue and daring, of religious devotion and imperial plot. The massive walls of the old city have been broken, the rude palaces have vanished in fire or sunken in decay, but the past is still indomitable on Cape Diamond, and the lovers of romance can lose themselves in pleasant reveries among the winding streets and on the lofty, sun-bathed ramparts of Quebec.
It was there, in a shady corner of the Grand Battery, that Ethel disclosed to her mother and Chichester and the Reverend Father Bellingham Jenks her plan for the wedding; since, indeed, it was hardly possible to keep it a secret any longer.
"The day after to-morrow, you know," said she, "we are going to take the Saguenay boat for Tadousac. Do you know that village curving along the cliff at the base of the Mamelons; and the half-circle of the bay opening out into the big St. Lawrence, full of sunshine and blue water; and the steep, shaggy mountains of the Saguenay in the background; and the tiny old mission chapel of the Jesuit Fathers where the same bell has been ringing for nearly three hundred years ? I was there the summer after I graduated; and I've never forgotten it. It's a picture and a dream. That is where I want to have my wedding. I don't believe that anybody else would have thought of it. Perhaps it's more than a hundred years since the last Indian wedding was held in that little deserted chapel; but it's all right, kept in good order, just as a relic beside the big new church. I think " – turning to the clergyman – "that it will be perfectly delightful and original to have you marry me there, at high noon, on the last day of June."
Well, of course, there was a good deal of astonishment and confusion and reluctance when this extraordinary plan came out. No one had imagined precisely this turn in Ethel's originality. Her mother was in a state of paralyzed dismay at an idea so wildly unconventional; the twins and her brothers and Miss Nancy Bangs bubbled over with practical difficulties and protests; Father Bellingham Jenks was doubtful and embarrassed. "Would it be possible – decorous – regular? The Roman Branch, you know, has not yet openly acknowledged the Anglican position in The Church. Might not objections arise – misunderstanding – refusal of permission to use the chapel ? I should hesitate very much, you know?'
But Ethel carried things through with her usual sweet, sparkling high-handedness; and Chichester supported her with irresistible determination, as if he had decided on exactly this thing years ago.
"Certainly," he said, "splendid idea – -entirely novel – quite correct – nothing could be better. Telegraph for one wing of the Tadousac Hotel, with drawing-rooms and private dining-room. Send down plenty of flowers and cakes and wines and whatever we need from here by boat on the twenty-ninth. Get a letter of introduction from my friend Paradol, the Minister of Fisheries and Lighthouses, to the archbishop here – letter from him to the curé at Tadousac – keys of the chapel – permission to make drawings and photographs of the interior every morning of next week. I've been at Tadousac almost every summer for the last five or six years, on the way to my salmon-fishing at the Ste. Marjorie Club. It's all perfectly easy and it shall be done."
The difficulties seemed to vanish before his masterful air, and everybody fell into line with sudden enthusiasm. Ethel smiled discreetly and moved along her pathway of inflexible originality with gentle triumph. The voyage down the river was delightful. The arrangements at the big white wooden hotel on the curving bay were rather primitive but quite comfortable; and three of the five days which were to pass before the ringing of the antique wedding-bell slipped away as if by magic.
On the fourth day, June twenty-ninth, Chichester having been assured by telegraph that all the things from Quebec had been safely shipped on the Ste. Irenée, was spending a morning hour with Ethel in the pavilion of the Government Fish Station á Anse l'Eau, watching the great herd of captive salmon, circling round and round in restless imprisonment in their warm shallow pool. The splendid fish were growing a little dull and languid in their confined quarters, freshened only by the inflowing of a small brook, and exposed to the full glare of the sun. Many of them bore the scars of the nets in which they had been captured. Others had red wounds on the ends of their noses where they had butted against the rocks or the timbers of the dam. There were some hundreds of the fish, and every now and then a huge thirty-pounder would wallow on top of the water, or a small, lively one would spring high into the air and fall back with a sounding splash on his side. Here they must wait through the summer, the pool becoming daily hotter, more crowded, more uncomfortable, until the time came when the hatchery men would strip them of their spawn. To an angler the sight was somewhat disquieting, though he might admit the strength of the arguments for the artificial propagation of fish. But to Ethel it seemed a pretty spectacle and a striking contrast to the cruelty of angling.
"Look at them," she said, "how happy they are, and how safe! No fly-fishermen to stick a hook in their mouths and make them suffer. How can you bear to do it?"
"Well," said Chichester, "if it comes to suffering, I doubt whether the fish are conscious of any such thing, as we understand it. But even if they are, they suffer twice as much, and a thousand times as long, shut up in this hot, nasty pool, as they would in being caught in proper style."
"But think of the hook!"
"Hurts about as much as a pin-prick."
"But think of the fearful struggle, and the long, gasping agony on the shore"
"There's no fear in the struggle; it's just a trial of strength and skill, like a game of football. A fish doesn't know anything about death; so he has no fear of it. And there is no gasping on the shore; nothing but a quick rap on the head with a stick, and it's all over."
"But why should he be killed at all?"
"Well," said he, smiling, "there are reasons of taste. You eat salmon, don't you?"
"Ye-e-es," she answered a little doubtfully – then with more assurance, "but remember what Wilbur Short says in that lovely chapter on 'Communion with the Catfish': I want them brought to the table in the simplest and most painless way."
"And that is angling with the fly," said he, still more decidedly. "The fly is not swallowed like a bait. It sticks in the skin of the lip where there is least feeling. There is no torture in the play of a salmon. It's just a fair fight with an unknown opponent. Compare it with the other ways of bringing a fish to the table. If he's caught in a net he hangs there for hours, slowly strangled. If he's speared, half the time the spear slips and he struggles off badly wounded; and if the spear goes through him, he is flung out on the bank to bleed to death. Even if he escapes, he is sure to come to a pitiful end some day – perish by starvation when he gets too old to catch his food – or be torn to pieces by a seal, an otter, or a fish-hawk. Fly-fishing really offers him – "
"Never mind that," said Ethel, "what does it offer you?"
"A gentleman's sport, I suppose," he answered rather slowly. "That is, a fair and exciting effort to get something that is made for human use, in a way that involves some hardship, a little risk, a good deal of skill and patience and perseverance, and plenty of out-of-door life. I guess it must be an inheritance of the old days when people lived by the chase; but, whatever it is, almost every real man feels a certain kind of gratification in being able to get game or fish by the exertion of his own pluck or skill. Some day perhaps this will all be changed, and we shall be contented to take our exercise in the form of massage or croquet, and our food in compressed tablets. But not yet!"
Ethel shook her head and smiled rather sadly. "Bolton," she said, "you discourage me. You argue in this way because you like fishing."
"I do," he answered, promptly. "And so far as I can see, that is the principal reason why your friends, Aurora W. Chime and the Reverend Wilbur Short, and the rest of them, condemn it. They object to the evident pleasure of the fisherman more than to the imaginary suffering of the fish."
"Bolton!" she exclaimed earnestly, "that is not a fair thing to say. They are truly good and noble teachers. They live on a lofty plane and labour for the spreading of the Higher Light. You will know them when we are married. They will be far better company for you than the thoughtless fishermen in your clubs."
Bolton looked a little glum. But he behaved like a gentleman, and cheered up. "Well, well," he said, "of course – you know – your friends, my friends! I'll be glad to meet them, and hear what they have to say, and consider it all very, very seriously. I promised you that, dearest, you remember. But that reminds me – there are two of the men on the Ste. Marjorie now, at the club-house – Colonel Lang and the Doctor – old Harvey, you know – fine old chap. It's only twenty miles away. Couldn't we send word to them and ask them to come down for to-morrow? I'm so proud and happy about it all; I'd like to have them here, if you don't mind."
"Why, certainly," she answered, smiling with manifest pleasure, "that will be delightful. We'll send a messenger at once with a note to them. But stop a moment – I have a better plan than that! Why not drive over yourself, this afternoon, to invite them? You'll be glad to see them again; and if you stay here you'll only be in the way until to-morrow," laughed she. "Why not go over and spend the night at the club-house and come back early in the morning? That will be quite like the ancient days – the young adventurer hurrying out of the forest to meet his bride."
Bolton insisted that he couldn't think of it – didn't want to go – would much rather stay where he was. But Ethel was captivated with the novelty of the idea. She always liked her own plans. Besides, she really wished to have him out of the way for the rest of the day and the evening. There was a good deal to be done – letters to be written – a long, personal, uplifting talk with Nancy Bangs, and with Gladys, and with Victoria, and with each of her brothers separately – just haft-an-hour of soul-counsel for each one: three hours altogether. She would see them in regular succession, beginning with the youngest brother, and winding up with Nancy. Then she was charmed with the picture of Bolton coming in, post haste, in the morning, as if he had just arrived from a journey across the great northern wilderness. So she carried her point, and when he had agreed to it, he found that he rather liked the plan too. It gave him something to do, a chance to practise his habit of putting things through with determination.
He sent a messenger over to Sacré Coeur at once, to say that he was coming and that a canoe should meet him at the landing-place on the North-East Branch. He finished up all the arrangements that remained to be made at Tadousac for the smooth running of to-morrow's affair. He ordered a good horse and a "quatre roue" to be ready for him at five o'clock; and having parted with Ethel in the manner appropriate even for so brief a separation, he was away for the river in due season.
The long road with its heavy stretches of sand, its incredibly steep clay hills, its ruts and bumpers over which the buckboard rocked like a boat in a choppy sea, and its succession of shadeless habitant houses and discouraged farms, had never seemed to him so monotonous. At eight o'clock, when it was growing dusk, and the moon rising, he reached the landing-place on the Branch, and found his canoe, with his two old canoe-men, P'tit Louis, and Vieux Louis, waiting for him. With their warm, homely greeting his spirits began to revive; and the swift run through foaming rapids and eddying pools, along the four miles of the Branch, brought him into a state of mind that was thoroughly cheerful, not to say exhilarated. There was Brackett's Camp on the point above the Forks; and there was the veteran painter-angler himself, with his white beard and his knickerbockers, standing on the shore to wave a salutation as the canoe shot by the point. There was the main river, rushing down with full waters from the northwest, and roaring past the island. There was the club-house among the white birches and the balsams on the opposite bank, with the two flags fluttering in the moonlight, and the lights twinkling from the long, low veranda. And there were half a dozen canoe-men with a lantern at the landing-steps, and old John the steward in his white apron rubbing his hands, and the Colonel and the Doctor blowing the conch and the fish-horn in merry welcome. It was all very jolly, and Chichester knew at once that he was at home.
Dinner at nine o'clock, before the big open health, with a friendly fire. Much chaffing and pleasant talk about the arrangements for to-morrow. A man to be sent off at daybreak to have two buckboards ready at the landing at seven for the drive to Tadousac. Then a reprehensible quantity of tobacco smoked in the book-room, and the tale of the season's angling told from the beginning with many embellishments and divagations. There were stories of good luck and bad; vituperations of the lumbermen for leaving tree-tops and broken branches in the stream to get caught among the rocks and ruin the fishing; accounts of the immense number of salmon that had been seen leaping in the estuary, waiting to come up the river. The interest centred in the story of a huge fish that had taken up his transient abode in the pool called La Fourche. The Colonel had pricked and lost the monster two days ago, and had seen him jump twice yesterday. The Colonel was greatly excited about it, and vowed it was the largest salmon seen in the river for ten years – "a whale, I tell you, a regular marsouin!" he cried, waving his hands in the air. The Doctor was provokingly sceptical about the size of the fish. But both agreed that there was one thing that must be done. Chichester must try a few casts in La Fourche early in the morning.
"Yes," said the Doctor, puffing slowly at his pipe, "plenty of time between daylight and breakfast-good hour for a shy, old fish – we give up our fights to you – the pool is yours – see what you can do with it – may be your last chance to try your luck – " for somehow a rumour in regard to Miss Asham's views on angling had leaked out, and Chichester's friends were inclined to make merry about it.
He rose to the fly decidedly. "I don't know about this being my last chance," said he, "but I'll take it, any way. John, give me a call at half-past three sharp, and tell the two Louis to be ready with the canoe and the rod and the big landing-net."
The little wreaths of grey mist were curling up from the river, and the fleecy western clouds were tinged with wild rose behind the wooded hills, as Chichester stepped out on the slippery rocks at the head of the pool, loosened his line, gave a couple of pulls to his reel to see that the click was all right, waved his slender rod in the air, and sent his fly out across the swift current. Once it swung around, dancing over the water, without result. The second cast carried it out a few feet further, and it curved through a wider are, but still without result. The third cast sent it a little further still, past the edge of a big sunken rock in the current. There was a flash of silver in the amber water, a great splash on the surface, a broad tail waved in the air and vanished – an immense salmon had risen and missed the fly.
Chichester reeled in his line and sat down. His pulses were hammering, and his chin was set at the angle of solid determination. "The Colonel was right," he said, "that's an enormous fish, and he's mine!"
He waited the full five minutes, according to ancient rule, before making the next east. There was a tiny wren singing among the Balm-o'-Gilead trees on the opposite shore, with a voice that rose silverly above the noise of the rapids. "Cheer up, cheer up," it seemed to say, "what's the matter with you – Don't hurry, don't worry, try it again – again – again!"
But the next cast was made in vain. There was no response. Chichester changed his fly. The result was the same. He tried three different flies in succession without effect. Then he gave the top of the pool a rest, and fished down through the smooth water at the lower end, hooking and losing a small fish. Then he came back to the big salmon again, and fished a small Durham Ranger over him without success. A number four Critchley's Fancy produced no better result. A tiny double Silver Grey brought no response. Then he looked through his fly-box in despair, and picked out an old three-nought Prince of Orange – a huge, gaudy affair with battered feathers, which he had used two years before in flood-water on the Restigouche. At least it would astonish the salmon, for it looked like a last season's picture-hat, very much the worse for wear. It lit on the ripples with a splash, and floated down stream in a dishevelled state till it reached the edge of the sunken rock. Bang! The salmon rose to that incredible fly with a rush, and went tearing across the pool.
The reel shrieked wildly as the line ran out. The rod quivered and bent almost double. Chichester had the butt pressed against his belt, the tip well up in the air, the reel-handle free from any possible touch of coat-flap or sleeve. To check that fierce rush by a hundredth part of a second meant the snapping of the delicate casting-line, or the smashing of the pliant rod-tip. He knew, as the salmon leaped clear of the water, once, twice, three times, that he was in for the fight of his life; and he dropped the point of the rod quickly at each leap to yield to the sudden strain.
The play, at first, was fast and furious. The salmon started up the stream, breasting the rapids at a lively rate, and taking out line as rapidly as the reel could run. Chichester followed along the open shore, holding his rod high with both hands, stumbling over the big rocks, wading knee-deep across a side-channel of the river, but keeping his feet somehow, until the fish paused in the lower part of the pool called La Batture. Here there was a chance to reel in line, and the men poled the canoe up from below, to be ready for the next turn in the contest.
The salmon was now sulking at the bottom, with his head down, balanced against the current, and boring steadily. He kept this up for a quarter of an hour, then made a rush up the pool, and a sidelong skittering leap on the surface. Coming back with a sudden turn, he threw a somersault in the air, close to the opposite shore, sank to the bottom and began jigging. Jig, jig, jig, from side to side, with short, heavy jerks, he worked his way back and forth twice the length of the pool. Chichester knew it was dangerous. Any one of these sharp blows might snap the leader or the hook. But he couldn't stop it. There was nothing to do but wait, with tense nerves, until the salmon got through jigging.
The change came suddenly. A notion to go down stream struck the salmon like a flash of lightning; without a moment's warning he took the line over his shoulder and darted into the rapids. "Il va descendre! Vite, rite! Le canot! Au large!" shouted the two Louis; but Chichester had already stepped into his place in the middle of the canoe, and there were still forty yards of white line left on the reel, when the narrow boat dashed away in pursuit of the fish, impelled by flashing paddles and flinging the spray to right and left. There were many large rocks half hidden in the wild white water through which they were plunging, and with a long line there was danger that the fish would take a turn around one of them and break away. It was necessary to go faster than he went, in order to retrieve as much line as possible. But paddle as fast as they could the fish kept ahead. He was not towing the boat, of course; for only an ignoramus imagines that a salmon can "tow" a boat, when the casting-line that holds him is a single strand of gut that will break under a strain of ten pounds. He was running away, and the canoe was chasing him through the roaring torrent. But he held his lead, and there were still eighty or ninety yards of line out when he rushed down the last plunge into La Fourche.
The situation was this: The river here is shaped like a big Y. The salmon went down the inside edge of the left-hand fork. The canoe followed him down the outside edge of the same fork. When he came to the junction it was natural to suppose that he would follow the current down the main stem of the Y. But instead of that, when the canoe dropped into the comparative stillness of the pool, the line was stretched, taut and quivering, across the foot of the left-hand fork and straight up into the current of the right-hand fork. "He's gone up the other branch," Chichester, above the roar of the stream shouted, "we must follow him! Push across the rapids! Push lively!" So the men seized their setting-poles and shoved as fast as they could across the foot of the rapids, while the rushing torrent threatened at every moment to come in over the side and swamp the canoe. There was a tugging and a trembling on the line, and it led, apparently, up the North-East Branch, past Brackett's Camp. But when the canoe reached the middle of the rapids P'tit Louis uttered an exclamation, leaned over the bow, and pulled up the end of a tree-top, the butt of which was firmly wedged among the rocks. Around the slender branches, waving and quivering in the current with life-like motion, the line was looped. The lower part of it trailed away loosely down the stream into the pool.
Chichester took in the situation in a flash of grieved insight. "Well," he said, "that is positively the worst! Good-by, Mr. Salmon. Louis, pull out that – er, er – that branch!" and he began slowly to reel in the line. But old Louis, in the stern of the canoe, had taken hold of the slack and was pulling it in hand over hand. In a second he shouted "Arrâtez! Arrâtez! M'sieu, il n'est pas parti, il est la!"
It was a most extraordinary affair. The spring of the flexible branch had been enough to keep the line from breaking. The salmon, resting in the comparatively still water of the pool, had remained at the end of the slack, and the hook, by some fortunate chance, held firm. It took but a moment to get the line taut and the point of the rod up again. And then the battle began anew. The salmon was refreshed by his fifteen minutes between the halves of the game. No centre in a rush-line ever played harder or faster.
He exhausted the possibilities of attack and defence in La Fourche, and then started down the rapids again. In the little pot-hole in mid-river, called Pool à Michel, he halted; but it was only for a minute. Soon he was flying down the swift water, the canoe after him, toward the fierce, foaming channel which runs between the island and the eastern bank opposite the club-house. Chichester could see the Colonel and the Doctor at the landing, waving and beckoning to him, as he darted along with the current. Intent upon carrying his fight through to a finish, he gave only a passing glance to what he thought was their friendly gesture of encouragement, took his right hand from the reel for a second to wave a greeting, and passed on, with determination written in every line of his chin, following the fish toward the sea.
Through the clear shallows of La Pinette, and the rapids below; through the curling depths of Pool à Pierre, and the rapids below; through the long, curving reach of L'Hirondelle, and the mad rapids below; so the battle went, and it was fight, fight, fight, and never the word "give up!" At last they came to the head of side-water and the lake-like pool beside the old quay. Here the methods of the fish changed. There was no more leaping in the air; no more violent jigging; no more swift rushing up or down stream; but instead, there was just an obstinate adherence to the deepest water in the pool, a slow and steady circling round and round in some invisible eddy below the surface. From this he could only be moved by pressure. Now was the time to test the strength of the rod and line. The fish was lifted a few feet by main force, and the line reeled in while the rod was lowered again. Then there was another lift, and another reeling in; and so the process was repeated until he was brought close to the shore in comparatively shallow water. Even yet he did not turn over on his back, or show the white fin; but it was evident that he was through fighting.
Chichester and P'tit Louis stepped out on the shore, old Louis holding the canoe. P'tit Louis made his way carefully to a point of rock, with the wide-mouthed, long-handled net, and dipped it quietly down into the water, two or three feet deep. The fish was guided gently in toward the shore, and allowed to drop back with the smooth current until the net was around him. Then it was swiftly lifted; there was the gleam of an immense mass of silver in its meshes, an instant of furious struggle, the quick stroke of a short, heavy baton; and the great salmon was landed and despatched.
The hook was well set in the outside of his jaw, just underneath his chin; no wonder he played so long, with his mouth shut! Bring the spring-balance and test his weight. Forty-eight pounds, full measure, the record salmon of the river – a deep thickset fish, whose gleaming silver sides and sharp teeth proved him fresh-run from the sea! It was a signal victory for an angler to land such a fish under such conditions, and Chichester felt that fortune had been with him.
He enjoyed a quarter of an hour of great satisfaction as the men poled the canoe up-river to the clubhouse. But there was a shadow of anxiety, of vague misgiving, that troubled him; and he urged the men to make haste. At the landing the Colonel and the Doctor were waiting, with strange, long, inscrutable faces.
"Did you get him?" they said.
"I did," he answered; "forty-eight pounds. Hold up that fish, Louis!"
"Magnificent," they cried, "a great fish! You've done it! But, man, do you know what time it is? Five minutes to ten o'clock!"
Nearly ten, and twenty miles of rough river and road to cover before high noon. Was it possible? In a second it flashed upon Chichester what he had done, what a fearful situation he must face. "Come on, you fellows," he cried, stepping back into the canoe. "Now, Louis, shove her as you never shoved before! Ten dollars apiece if you make the upper landing in half an hour."
The other canoe followed immediately. They found the two buckboards waiting, and scrambled in, explaining to the drivers the necessity for the utmost haste. Chichester's horse was a scrawny, speedy little beast, called Le Coq Noir, the champion trotter of the region. "Hé, Coq!" shouted the driver, flourishing his whip, at the top of the first long hill; and they started off at a breakneck pace. They passed through the village of Sacré Coeur a mile and a half ahead of the other wagon. But on the first steep côte beyond the village, the inevitable happened. The buckboard went slithering down the slippery slope of clay, struck a log bridge at the bottom with a resounding thump, and broke an axle clean across. The wheel flew off, and the buckboard came to the ground, and Chichester and the driver tumbled out. The Black Cock gave a couple of leaps and then stood still, looking back with an expression of absolute dismay.
There was nothing to do but wait for the other buckboard, which arrived in ten or fifteen minutes. "Will you have the kindness to lend me your carriage?" said Chichester elaborately. "Oh, don't talk! Get out quick. You can walk!" They changed horses quickly, and Chichester took the reins and drove on. Quarter past eleven; half past; quarter to twelve – and three miles yet to go! It was barely possible to do it. And perhaps it would have been done, if at that moment the good little Black Cock had not stumbled on a loose stone, gone down almost to his knees, and recovered himself with a violent wrench – lame! Chichester was a fair runner and a good walker. But he knew that the steep sandy hills which lay between him and Tadousac could never be covered in fifteen minutes. He gave the reins to the driver, leaned back in the seat, and folded his arms.
At twenty-five minutes past twelve the buckboard passed slowly down the main street of Tadousac, bumped deliberately across the bridge, and drew up before the hotel. The little white chapel on the other side of the road was shut, deserted, sleeping in the sunlight. On the long hotel piazza were half a dozen groups of strangers, summer visitors, evidently in a state of suppressed curiosity and amusement. They fell silent as the disconsolate vehicle came to a halt, and Arthur Asham, the Harvard brother, in irreproachable morning costume and perfect form, moved forward to meet it.
"Well?" said Chichester, as he stepped out. "Well!" answered the other; and they went a few paces together on the lawn, shaking hands politely and looking at each other with unspoken interrogations.
"I'm awfully sorry," Chichester said, "but it couldn't be helped. A chapter of accidents – I'll explain."
"My dear fellow," answered young Asham, "what good will that do? You needn't explain to me, and you can't explain to Ethel. She is in her most lofty and impossible mood. She'll never listen to you. I'm awfully sorry, too, but I fear it's all over. In fact, she has driven down to the wharf with the others to wait for the Quebec boat, which goes at one. I am staying to get the luggage together and bring it on to-morrow. She gave me this note for you. Will you read it?"
Asham politely turned away, and Chichester read:
My Dear Mr. Chichester:
Fortunate indeed is the disillusion which does not come too late. But the bridegroom who comes too late is known in time.
You may be sure that I have no resentment at what you have done; I have risen to those heights where anger is unknown. But I now see clearly what I have long felt dimly – that your soul does not keep time with the music to which my life is set. I do not know what other engagement kept you away. I do not ask to know. I know only that ours is at an end, and you are at liberty to return to your fishing. That you will succeed in it is the expectation of
Your well-wisher, E. Asham.
Chichester's chin dropped a little as he read. For the first time in his life he looked undecided. Then he folded the note carefully, put it in the breast pocket of his coat, and turned to his companion.
"You will be going up in to-morrow's boat, I suppose. Shall we go together?"
"My dear fellow," said Arthur Asham, "really, you know – I should be delighted. But do you think it would be quite the thing?"