Chapter VII. The Apple of Discord Becomes a Jointed Rod
 

"What do you think about fishing, Dannie?" asked Jimmy Malone.

"There was a licht frost last nicht," said Dannie. "It begins to look that way. I should think a week more, especially if there should come a guid rain."

Jimmy looked disappointed. His last trip to town had ended in a sodden week in the barn, and at Dannie's cabin. For the first time he had carried whiskey home with him. He had insisted on Dannie drinking with him, and wanted to fight when he would not. He addressed the bottle, and Dannie, as the Sovereign Alchemist by turns, and "transmuted the leaden metal of life into pure gold" of a glorious drunk, until his craving was satisfied. Then he came back to work and reason one morning, and by the time Mary was about enough to notice him, he was Jimmy at his level best, and doing more than he had in years to try to interest and please her.

Mary had fully recovered, and appeared as strong as she ever had been, but there was a noticeable change in her. She talked and laughed with a gayety that seemed forced, and in the midst of it her tongue turned bitter, and Jimmy and Dannie fled before it.

The gray hairs multiplied on Dannie's head with rapidity. He had gone to the doctor, and to Mary's sister, and learned nothing more than the nurse could tell him. Dannie was willing to undertake anything in the world for Mary, but just how to furnish the "vital spark," to an unborn babe, was too big a problem for him. And Jimmy Malone was growing to be another. Heretofore, Dannie had borne the brunt of the work, and all of the worry. He had let Jimmy feel that his was the guiding hand. Jimmy's plans were followed whenever it was possible, and when it was not, Dannie started Jimmy's way, and gradually worked around to his own. But, there never had been a time between them, when things really came to a crisis, and Dannie took the lead, and said matters must go a certain way, that Jimmy had not acceded. In reality, Dannie always had been master.

Now he was not. Where he lost control he did not know. He had tried several times to return to the subject of how to bring back happiness to Mary, and Jimmy immediately developed symptoms of another attack of heart disease, a tendency to start for town, or openly defied him by walking away. Yet, Jimmy stuck to him closer than he ever had, and absolutely refused to go anywhere, or to do the smallest piece of work alone. Sometimes he grew sullen and morose when he was not drinking, and that was very unlike the gay Jimmy. Sometimes he grew wildly hilarious, as if he were bound to make such a racket that he could hear no sound save his own voice. So long as he stayed at home, helped with the work, and made an effort to please Mary, Dannie hoped for the best, but his hopes never grew so bright that they shut out an awful fear that was beginning to loom in the future. But he tried in every way to encourage Jimmy, and help him in the struggle he did not understand, so when he saw that Jimmy was disappointed about the fishing, he suggested that he should go alone.

"I guess not!" said Jimmy. "I'd rather go to confission than to go alone. What's the fun of fishin' alone? All the fun there is to fishin' is to watch the other fellow's eyes when you pull in a big one, and try to hide yours from him when he gets it. I guess not! What have we got to do?"

"Finish cutting the corn, and get in the pumpkins before there comes frost enough to hurt them."

"Well, come along!" said Jimmy. "Let's get it over. I'm going to begin fishing for that Bass the morning after the first black frost, if I do go alone. I mean it!"

"But ye said--" began Dannie.

"Hagginy!" cried Jimmy. "What a lot of time you've wasted if you've been kaping account of all the things I've said. Haven't you learned by this time that I lie twice to the truth once?"

Dannie laughed. "Dinna say such things, Jimmy. I hate to hear ye. Of course, I know about the fifty coons of the Canoper, and things like that; honest, I dinna believe ye can help it. But na man need lie about a serious matter, and when he knows he is deceiving another who trusts him." Jimmy became so white that he felt the color receding, and turned to hide his face. "Of course, about those fifty coons noo, what was the harm in that? Nobody believed it. That wasna deceiving any ane."

"Yes, but it was," answered Jimmy. "The Boston man belaved it, and I guiss he hasn't forgiven me, if he did take my hand, and drink with me. You know I haven't had a word from him about that coon skin. I worked awful hard on that skin. Some way, I tried to make it say to him again that I was sorry for that night's work. Sometimes I am afraid I killed the fellow."

"O-ho!" scoffed Dannie. "Men ain't so easy killed. I been thinkin' about it, too, and I'll tell ye what I think. I think he goes on long trips, and only gets home every four or five months. The package would have to wait. His folks wouldna try to send it after him. He was a monly fellow, all richt, and ye will hear fra him yet."

"I'd like to," said Jimmy, absently, beating across his palm a spray of goldenrod he had broken. "Just a line to tell me that he don't bear malice."

"Ye will get it," said Dannie. "Have a little patience. But that's your greatest fault, Jimmy. Ye never did have ony patience."

"For God's sake, don't begin on me faults again," snapped Jimmy. "I reckon I know me faults about as well as the nixt fellow. I'm so domn full of faults that I've thought a lot lately about fillin' up, and takin' a sleep on the railroad."

A new fear wrung Dannie's soul. "Ye never would, Jimmy," he implored.

"Sure not!" cried Jimmy. "I'm no good Catholic livin', but if it come to dyin', bedad I niver could face it without first confissin' to the praste, and that would give the game away. Let's cut out dyin', and cut corn!"

"That's richt," agreed Dannie. "And let's work like men, and then fish fra a week or so, before ice and trapping time comes again. I'll wager I can beat ye the first row."

"Bate!" scoffed Jimmy. "Bate! With them club-footed fingers of yours? You couldn't bate an egg. Just watch me! If you are enough of a watch to keep your hands runnin' at the same time."

Jimmy worked feverishly for an hour, and then he straightened and looked about him. On the left lay the river, its shores bordered with trees and bushes. Behind them was deep wood. Before them lay their open fields, sloping down to the bottom, the cabins on one side, and the kingfisher embankment on the other. There was a smoky haze in the air. As always the blackbirds clamored along the river. Some crows followed the workers at a distance, hunting for grains of corn, and over in the woods, a chewink scratched and rustled among the deep leaves as it searched for grubs. From time to time a flock of quail arose before them with a whirr and scattered down the fields, reassembling later at the call of their leader, from a rider of the snake fence, which inclosed the field.

"Bob, Bob White," whistled Dannie.

"Bob, Bob White," answered the quail.

"I got my eye on that fellow," said Jimmy. "When he gets a little larger, I'm going after him."

"Seems an awful pity to kill him," said Dannie. "People rave over the lark, but I vow I'd miss the quail most if they were both gone. They are getting scarce."

"Well, I didn't say I was going to kill the whole flock," said Jimmy. "I was just going to kill a few for Mary, and if I don't, somebody else will."

"Mary dinna need onything better than ane of her own fried chickens," said Dannie. "And its no true about hunters. We've the river on ane side, and the bluff on the other. If we keep up our fishing signs, and add hunting to them, and juist shut the other fellows out, the birds will come here like everything wild gathers in National Park, out West. Ye bet things know where they are taken care of, well enough."

Jimmy snipped a spray of purple ironwort with his corn-cutter, and stuck it through his suspender buckle. "I think that would be more fun than killin' them. If you're a dacint shot, and your gun is clane" (Jimmy remembered the crow that had escaped with the eggs at soap-making), "you pretty well know you're goin' to bring down anything you aim at. But it would be a dandy joke to shell a little corn as we husk it, and toll all the quail into Rainbow Bottom, and then kape the other fellows out. Bedad! Let's do it."

Jimmy addressed the quail:

"Quailie, quailie on the fince,
We think your singin's just imminse.
Stay right here, and live with us,
And the fellow that shoots you will strike a fuss."

"We can protect them all richt enough," laughed Dannie. "And when the snow comes we can feed Cardinals like cheekens. Wish when we threshed, we'd saved a few sheaves of wheat. They do that in Germany, ye know. The last sheaf of the harvest they put up on a long pole at Christmas, as a thank-offering to the birds fra their care of the crops. My father often told of it."

"That would be great," said Jimmy. "Now look how domn slow you are! Why didn't you mintion it at harvest? I'd like things comin' for me to take care of them. Gee! Makes me feel important just to think about it. Next year we'll do it, sure. They'd be a lot of company. A man could work in this field to-day, with all the flowers around him, and the colors of the leaves like a garden, and a lot of birds talkin' to him, and not feel afraid of being alone."

"Afraid?" quoted Dannie, in amazement.

For an instant Jimmy looked startled. Then his love of proving his point arose. "Yes, afraid!" he repeated stubbornly. "Afraid of being away from the sound of a human voice, because whin you are, the voices of the black divils of conscience come twistin' up from the ground in a little wiry whisper, and moanin' among the trees, and whistlin' in the wind, and rollin' in the thunder, and above all in the dark they screech, and shout, and roar,`We're after you, Jimmy Malone! We've almost got you, Jimmy Malone! You're going to burn in Hell, Jimmy Malone!'"

Jimmy leaned toward Dannie, and began in a low voice, but he grew so excited as he tried to picture the thing that he ended in a scream, and even then Dannie's horrified eyes failed to recall him. Jimmy straightened, stared wildly behind him, and over the open, hazy field, where flowers bloomed, and birds called, and the long rows of shocks stood unconscious auditors of the strange scene. He lifted his hat, and wiped the perspiration from his dripping face with the sleeve of his shirt, and as he raised his arm, the corn- cutter flashed in the light.

"My God, it's awful, Dannie! It's so awful, I can't begin to tell you!"

Dannie's face was ashen. "Jimmy, dear auld fellow," he said, "how long has this been going on?"

"A million years," said Jimmy, shifting the corn-cutter to the hand that held his hat, that he might moisten his fingers with saliva and rub it across his parched lips.

"Jimmy, dear," Dannie's hand was on Jimmy's sleeve. "Have ye been to town in the nicht, or anything like that lately?"

"No, Dannie, dear, I ain't," sneered Jimmy, setting his hat on the back of his head and testing the corn-cutter with his thumb. "This ain't Casey's, me lad. I've no more call there, at this minute, than you have."

"It is Casey's, juist the same," said Dannie bitterly. "Dinna ye know the end of this sort of thing?"

"No, bedad, I don't!" said Jimmy. "If I knew any way to ind it, you can bet I've had enough. I'd ind it quick enough, if I knew how. But the railroad wouldn't be the ind. That would just be the beginnin'. Keep close to me, Dannie, and talk, for mercy sake, talk! Do you think we could finish the corn by noon?"

"Let's try!" said Dannie, as he squared his shoulders to adjust them to his new load. "Then we'll get in the pumpkins this afternoon, and bury the potatoes, and the cabbage and turnips, and then we're aboot fixed fra winter."

"We must take one day, and gather our nuts," suggested Jimmy, struggling to make his voice sound natural, "and you forgot the apples. We must bury thim too."

"That's so," said Dannie, "and when that's over, we'll hae nothing left to do but catch the Bass, and say farewell to the Kingfisher."

"I've already told you that I would relave you of all responsibility about the Bass," said Jimmy, "and when I do, you won't need trouble to make your adieus to the Kingfisher of the Wabash. He'll be one bird that won't be migrating this winter."

Dannie tried to laugh. "I'd like fall as much as any season of the year," he said, "if it wasna for winter coming next."

"I thought you liked winter, and the trampin' in the white woods, and trappin', and the long evenings with a book."

"I do," said Dannie. "I must have been thinkin' of Mary. She hated last winter so. Of course, I had to go home when ye were away, and the nichts were so long, and so cold, and mony of them alone. I wonder if we canna arrange fra one of her sister's girls to stay with her this winter?"

"What's the matter with me?" asked Jimmy.

"Nothing, if only ye'd stay," answered Dannie.

"All I'll be out of nights, you could put in one eye," said Jimmy. "I went last winter, and before, because whin they clamored too loud, I could be drivin' out the divils that way, for a while, and you always came for me, but even that won't be stopping it now. I wouldn't stick my head out alone after dark, not if I was dying!"

"Jimmy, ye never felt that way before," said Dannie. "Tell me what happened this summer to start ye."

"I've done a domn sight of faleing that you didn't know anything about," answered Jimmy. "I could work it off at Casey's for a while, but this summer things sort of came to a head, and I saw meself for fair, and before God, Dannie, I didn't like me looks."

"Well, then, I like your looks," said Dannie. "Ye are the best company I ever was in. Ye are the only mon I ever knew that I cared fra, and I care fra ye so much, I havna the way to tell ye how much. You're possessed with a damn fool idea, Jimmy, and ye got to shake it off. Such a great-hearted, big mon as ye! I winna have it! There's the dinner bell, and richt glad I am of it!"

That afternoon when pumpkin gathering was over and Jimmy had invited Mary out to separate the "punk" from the pumpkins, there was a wagon-load of good ones above what they would need for their use. Dannie proposed to take them to town and sell them. To his amazement Jimmy refused to go along.

"I told you this morning that Casey wasn't calling me at prisent," he said, "and whin I am not called I'd best not answer. I have promised Mary to top the onions and bury the cilery, and murder the bates."

"Do what wi' the beets?" inquired the puzzled Dannie.

"Kill thim! Kill thim stone dead. I'm too tinder-hearted to be burying anything but a dead bate, Dannie. That's a thousand years old, but laugh, like I knew you would, old Ramphirinkus! No, thank you, I don't go to town!"

Then Dannie was scared. "He's going to be dreadfully seek or go mad," he said.

So he drove to the village, sold the pumpkins, filled Mary's order for groceries, and then went to the doctor, and told him of Jimmy's latest developments.

"It is the drink," said that worthy disciple of Esculapius. "It's the drink! In time it makes a fool sodden and a bright man mad. Few men have sufficient brains to go crazy. Jimmy has. He must stop the drink."

On the street, Dannie encountered Father Michael. The priest stopped him to shake hands.

"How's Mary Malone?" he asked.

"She is quite well noo," answered Dannie, "but she is na happy. I live so close, and see so much, I know. I've thought of ye lately. I have thought of coming to see ye. I'm na of your religion, but Mary is, and what suits her is guid enough for me. I've tried to think of everything under the sun that might help, and among other things I've thought of ye. Jimmy was confirmed in your church, and he was more or less regular up to his marriage."

"Less, Mr. Macnoun, much less!" said the priest. "Since, not at all. Why do you ask?"

"He is sick," said Dannie. "He drinks a guid deal. He has been reckless about sleeping on the ground, and noo, if ye will make this confidential?"--the priest nodded--"he is talking aboot sleeping on the railroad, and he's having delusions. There are devils after him. He is the finest fellow ye ever knew, Father Michael. We've been friends all our lives. Ye have had much experience with men, and it ought to count fra something. From all ye know, and what I've told ye, could his trouble be cured as the doctor suggests?"

The priest did a queer thing. "You know him as no living man, Dannie," he said. "What do you think?"

Dannie's big hands slowly opened and closed. Then he fell to polishing the nails of one hand on the palm of the other. At last he answered, "If ye'd asked me that this time last year, I'd have said `it's the drink,' at a jump. But times this summer, this morning, for instance, when he hadna a drop in three weeks, and dinna want ane, when he could have come wi' me to town, and wouldna, and there were devils calling him from the ground, and the trees, and the sky, out in the open cornfield, it looked bad."

The priest's eyes were boring into Dannie's sick face. "How did it look?" he asked briefly.

"It looked," said Dannie, and his voice dropped to a whisper, "it looked like he might carry a damned ugly secret, that it would be better fra him if ye, at least, knew."

"And the nature of that secret?"

Dannie shook his head. "Couldna give a guess at it! Known him all his life. My only friend. Always been togither. Square a mon as God ever made. There's na fault in him, if he'd let drink alone. Got more faith in him than any ane I ever knew. I wouldna trust mon on God's footstool, if I had to lose faith in Jimmy. Come to think of it, that `secret' business is all old woman's scare. The drink is telling on him. If only he could be cured of that awful weakness, all heaven would come down and settle in Rainbow Bottom."

They shook hands and parted without Dannie realizing that he had told all he knew and learned nothing. Then he entered the post office for the weekly mail. He called for Malone's papers also, and with them came a slip from the express office notifying Jimmy that there was a package for him. Dannie went to see if they would let him have it, and as Jimmy lived in the country, and as he and Dannie were known to be partners, he was allowed to sign the book, and carry away a long, slender, wooden box, with a Boston tag. The Thread Man had sent Jimmy a present, and from the appearance of the box, Dannie made up his mind that it was a cane.

Straightway he drove home at a scandalous rate of speed, and on the way, he dressed Jimmy in a broadcloth suit, patent leathers, and a silk hat. Then he took him to a gold cure, where he learned to abhor whiskey in a week, and then to the priest, to whom he confessed that he had lied about the number of coons in the Canoper. And so peace brooded in Rainbow Bottom, and all of them were happy again. For with the passing of summer, Dannie had learned that heretofore there had been happiness of a sort, for them, and that if they could all get back to the old footing it would be well, or at least far better than it was at present. With Mary's tongue dripping gall, and her sweet face souring, and Jimmy hearing devils, no wonder poor Dannie overheated his team in a race to carry a package that promised to furnish some diversion.

Jimmy and Mary heard the racket, and standing on the celery hill, they saw Dannie come clattering up the lane, and as he saw them, he stood in the wagon, and waved the package over his head.

Jimmy straightened with a flourish, stuck the spade in the celery hill, and descended with great deliberation. "I mintioned to Dannie this morning," he said "that it was about time I was hearin' from the Thrid Man."

"Oh! Do you suppose it is something from Boston?" the eagerness in Mary's voice made it sound almost girlish again.

"Hunt the hatchet!" hissed Jimmy, and walked very leisurely into the cabin.

Dannie was visibly excited as he entered. "I think ye have heard from the Thread Mon," he said, handing Jimmy the package.

Jimmy took it, and examined it carefully. He never before in his life had an express package, the contents of which he did not know. It behooved him to get all there was out of the pride and the joy of it.

Mary laid down the hatchet so close that it touched Jimmy's hand, to remind him. "Now what do you suppose he has sent you?" she inquired eagerly, her hand straying toward the packages.

Jimmy tested the box. "It don't weigh much," he said, "but one end of it's the heaviest."

He set the hatchet in a tiny crack, and with one rip, stripped off the cover. Inside lay a long, brown leather case, with small buckles, and in one end a little leather case, flat on one side, rounding on the other, and it, too, fastened with a buckle. Jimmy caught sight of a paper book folded in the bottom of the box, as he lifted the case. With trembling fingers he unfastened the buckles, the whole thing unrolled, and disclosed a case of leather, sewn in four divisions, from top to bottom, and from the largest of these protruded a shining object. Jimmy caught this, and began to draw, and the shine began to lengthen.

"Just what I thought!" exclaimed Dannie. "He's sent ye a fine cane."

"A hint to kape out of the small of his back the nixt time he goes promenadin' on a cow-kitcher! The divil!" exploded Jimmy.

His quick eyes had caught a word on the cover of the little book in the bottom of the box.

"A cane! A cane! Look at that, will ye?" He flashed six inches of grooved silvery handle before their faces, and three feet of shining black steel, scarcely thicker than a lead pencil. "Cane!" he cried scornfully. Then he picked up the box, and opening it drew out a little machine that shone like a silver watch, and setting it against the handle, slipped a small slide over each end, and it held firmly, and shone bravely.

"Oh, Jimmy, what is it?" cried Mary.

"Me cane!" answered Jimmy. "Me new cane from Boston. Didn't you hear Dannie sayin' what it was? This little arrangemint is my cicly-meter, like they put on wheels, and buggies now, to tell how far you've traveled. The way this works, I just tie this silk thrid to me door knob and off I walks, it a reeling out behind, and whin I turn back it takes up as I come, and whin I get home I take the yardstick and measure me string, and be the same token, it tells me how far I've traveled." As he talked he drew out another shining length and added it to the first, and then another and a last, fine as a wheat straw. "These last jints I'm adding," he explained to Mary, "are so that if I have me cane whin I'm riding I can stritch it out and touch up me horses with it. And betimes, if I should iver break me old cane fish pole, I could take this down to the river, and there, the books call it `whipping the water.' See! Cane, be Jasus! It's the Jim-dandiest little fishing rod anybody in these parts iver set eyes on. Lord! What a beauty!"

He turned to Dannie and shook the shining, slender thing before his envious eyes.

"Who gets the Black Bass now?" he triumphed in tones of utter conviction.

There is no use in taking time to explain to any fisherman who has read thus far that Dannie, the patient; Dannie, the long-suffering, felt abused. How would you feel yourself?

"The Thread Man might have sent twa," was his thought. "The only decent treatment he got that nicht was frae me, and if I'd let Jimmy hit him, he'd gone through the wall. But there never is anything fra me!"

And that was true. There never was.

Aloud he said, "Dinna bother to hunt the steelyards, Mary. We winna weigh it until he brings it home."

"Yes, and by gum, I'll bring it with this! Look, here is a picture of a man in a boat, pullin' in a whale with a pole just like this," bragged Jimmy.

"Yes," said Dannie. "That's what it's made for. A boat and open water. If ye are going to fish wi' that thing along the river we'll have to cut doon all the trees, and that will dry up the water. That's na for river fishing."

Jimmy was intently studying the book. Mary tried to take the rod from his hand.

"Let be!" he cried, hanging on. "You'll break it!"

"I guess steel don't break so easy," she said aggrievedly. "I just wanted to `heft' it."

"Light as a feather," boasted Jimmy. "Fish all day and it won't tire a man at all. Done--unjoint it and put it in its case, and not go dragging up everything along the bank like a living stump-puller. This book says this line will bear twinty pounds pressure, and sometimes it's takin' an hour to tire out a fish, if it's a fighter. I bet you the Black Bass is a fighter, from what we know of him."

"Ye can watch me land him and see what ye think about it," suggested Dannie.

Jimmy held the book with one hand and lightly waved the rod with the other, in a way that would have developed nerves in an Indian. He laughed absently.

"With me shootin' bait all over his pool with.this?" he asked. "I guess not!"

"But you can't fish for the Bass with that, Jimmy Malone," cried Mary hotly. "You agreed to fish fair for the Bass, and it wouldn't be fair for you to use that, whin Dannie only has his old cane pole. Dannie, get you a steel pole, too," she begged.

"If Jimmy is going to fish with that, there will be all the more glory in taking the Bass from him with the pole I have," answered Dannie.

"You keep out," cried Jimmy angrily to Mary. "It was a fair bargain. He made it himself. Each man was to fish surface or deep, and with his own pole and bait. I guess this is my pole, ain't it?"

"Yes," said Mary. "But it wasn't yours whin you made that agreemint. You very well know Dannie expected you to fish with the same kind of pole and bait that he did; didn't you, Dannie?"

"Yes," said Dannie, "I did. Because I never dreamed of him havin' any other. But since he has it, I think he's in his rights if he fishes with it. I dinna care. In the first place he will only scare the Bass away from him with the racket that reel will make, and in the second, if he tries to land it with that thing, he will smash it, and lose the fish. There's a longhandled net to land things with that goes with those rods. He'd better sent ye one. Now you'll have to jump into the river and land a fish by hand if ye hook it."

"That's true!" cried Mary. "Here's one in a picture."

She had snatched the book from Jimmy. He snatched it back.

"Be careful, you'll tear that!" he cried. "I was just going to say that I would get some fine wire or mosquito bar and make one."

Dannie's fingers were itching to take the rod, if only for an instant. He looked at it longingly. But Jimmy was impervious. He whipped it softly about and eagerly read from the book.

"Tells here about a man takin' a fish that weighed forty pounds with a pole just like this," he announced. "Scat! Jumpin' Jehosophat! What do you think of that!"

"Couldn't you fish turn about with it?" inquired Mary.

"Na, we couldna fish turn about with it," answered Dannie. "Na with that pole. Jimmy would throw a fit if anybody else touched it. And he's welcome to it. He never in this world will catch the Black Bass with it. If I only had some way to put juist fifteen feet more line on my pole, I'd show him how to take the Bass to-morrow. The way we always have come to lose it is with too short lines. We have to try to land it before it's tired out and it's strong enough to break and tear away. It must have ragged jaws and a dozen pieces of line hanging to it, fra both of us have hooked it time and again. When it strikes me, if I only could give it fifteen feet more line, I could land it."

"Can't you fix some way?" asked Mary.

"I'll try," answered Dannie.

"And in the manetime, I'd just be givin' it twinty off me dandy little reel, and away goes me with Mr. Bass," said Jimmy. "I must take it to town and have its picture took to sind the Thrid Man."

And that was the last straw. Dannie had given up being allowed to touch the rod, and was on his way to unhitch his team and do the evening work. The day had been trying and just for the moment he forgot everything save that his longing fingers had not touched that beautiful little fishing rod.

"The Boston man forgot another thing," he said. "The Dude who shindys 'round with those things in pictures, wears a damn, dinky, little pleated coat!"