Chapter VIII. When the Black Bass Struck
 

"Lots of fish down in the brook,
All you need is a rod, and a line, and a hook,"

Hummed Jimmy, still lovingly fingering his possessions.

"Did Dannie iver say a thing like that to you before?" asked Mary.

"Oh, he's dead sore," explained Jimmy. "He thinks he should have had a jinted rod, too."

"And so he had," replied Mary. "You said yoursilf that you might have killed that man if Dannie hadn't showed you that you were wrong."

"You must think stuff like this is got at the tin-cint store," said Jimmy.

"Oh, no I don't!" said Mary. "I expect it cost three or four dollars."

"Three or four dollars," sneered Jimmy. "All the sinse a woman has! Feast your eyes on this book and rade that just this little reel alone cost fifteen, and there's no telling what the rod is worth. Why it's turned right out of pure steel, same as if it were wood. Look for yoursilf."

"Thanks, no! I'm afraid to touch it," said Mary.

"Oh, you are sore too!" laughed Jimmy. "With all that money in it, I should think you could see why I wouldn't want it broke."

"You've sat there and whipped it around for an hour. Would it break it for me or Dannie to do the same thing? If it had been his, you'd have had a worm on it and been down to the river trying it for him by now."

"Worm!" scoffed Jimmy. "A worm! That's a good one! Idjit! You don't fish with worms with a jinted rod."

"Well what do you fish with? Humming birds?"

"No. You fish with--" Jimmy stopped and eyed Mary dubiously. "You fish with a lot of things," he continued. "Some of thim come in little books and they look like moths, and some like snake-faders, and some of them are buck-tail and bits of tin, painted to look shiny. Once there was a man in town who had a minnie made of rubber and all painted up just like life. There were hooks on its head, and on its back, and its belly, and its tail, so's that if a fish snapped at it anywhere it got hooked."

"I should say so!" exclaimed Mary. "It's no fair way to fish, to use more than one hook. You might just as well take a net and wade in and seine out the fish as to take a lot of hooks and rake thim out."

"Well, who's going to take a lot of hooks and rake thim out?"

"I didn't say anybody was. I was just saying it wouldn't be fair to the fish if they did."

"Course I wouldn't fish with no riggin' like that, when Dannie only has one old hook. Whin we fish for the Bass, I won't use but one hook either. All the same, I'm going to have some of those fancy baits. I'm going to get Jim Skeels at the drug store to order thim for me. I know just how you do," said Jimmy flourishing the rod. "You put on your bait and quite a heavy sinker, and you wind it up to the ind of your rod, and thin you stand up in your boat----"

"Stand up in your boat!"

"I wish you'd let me finish!--or on the bank, and you take this little whipper-snapper, and you touch the spot on the reel that relases the thrid, and you give the rod a little toss, aisy as throwin' away chips, and off maybe fifty feet your bait hits the water, `spat!' and `snap!' goes Mr. Bass, and `stick!' goes the hook. See?"

"What I see is that if you want to fish that way in the Wabash, you'll have to wait until the dredge goes through and they make a canal out of it; for be the time you'd throwed fifty feet, and your fish had run another fifty, there'd be just one hundred snags, and logs, and stumps between you; one for every foot of the way. It must look pretty on deep water, where it can be done right, but I bet anything that if you go to fooling with that on our river, Dannie gets the Bass."

"Not much, Dannie don't `gets the Bass,'" said Jimmy confidently. "Just you come out here and let me show you how this works. Now you see, I put me sinker on the ind of the thrid, no hook of course, for practice, and I touch this little spring here, and give me little rod a whip and away goes me bait, slick as grase. Mr. Bass is layin' in thim bass weeds right out there, foreninst the pie- plant bed, and the bait strikes the water at the idge, see! and `snap,' he takes it and sails off slow, to swally it at leisure. Here's where I don't pull a morsel. Jist let him rin and swally, and whin me line is well out and he has me bait all digistid, `yank,' I give him the round-up, and thin, the fun begins. He leps clear of the water and I see he's tin pound. If he rins from me, I give him rope, and if he rins to, I dig in, workin' me little machane for dear life to take up the thrid before it slacks. Whin he sees me, he makes a dash back, and I just got to relase me line and let him go, because he'd bust this little silk thrid all to thunder if I tried to force him onpleasant to his intintions, and so we kape it up until he's plum wore out and comes a promenadin' up to me boat, bank I mane, and I scoops him in, and that's sport, Mary! That's man's fishin'! Now watch! He's in thim bass weeds before the pie-plant, like I said, and I'm here on the bank, and I think he's there, so I give me little jinted rod a whip and a swing----"

Jimmy gave the rod a whip and a swing. The sinker shot in air, struck the limb of an apple tree and wound a dozen times around it. Jimmy said things and Mary giggled. She also noticed that Dannie had stopped work and was standing in the barn door watching intently. Jimmy climbed the tree, unwound the line and tried again.

"I didn't notice that domn apple limb stickin' out there," he said. "Now you watch! Right out there among the bass weeds foreninst the pie-plant"

To avoid another limb, Jimmy aimed too low and the sinker shot under the well platform not ten feet from him.

"Lucky you didn't get fast in the bass weeds," said Mary as Jimmy reeled in.

"Will, I got to get me range," explained Jimmy. "This time----"

Jimmy swung too high. The spring slipped from under his unaccustomed thumb. The sinker shot above and behind him and became entangled in the eaves, while yards of the fine silk line flew off the spinning reel and dropped in tangled masses at his feet, and in an effort to do something Jimmy reversed the reel and it wound back on tangles and all until it became completely clogged. Mary had sat down on the back steps to watch the exhibition. Now, she stood up to laugh.

"And that's just what will happen to you at the river," she said. "While you are foolin' with that thing, which ain't for rivers, and which you don't know beans about handlin', Dannie will haul in the Bass, and serve you right, too!"

"Mary," said Jimmy, "I niver struck ye in all me life, but if ye don't go in the house, and shut up, I'll knock the head off ye!"

"I wouldn't be advisin' you to," she said. "Dannie is watching you."

Jimmy glanced toward the barn in time to see Dannie's shaking shoulders as he turned from the door. With unexpected patience, he firmly closed his lips and went after a ladder. By the time he had the sinker loose and the line untangled, supper was ready. By the time he had mastered the reel, and could land the sinker accurately in front of various imaginary beds of bass weeds, Dannie had finished the night work in both stables and gone home. But his back door stood open and therefrom there protruded the point of a long, heavy cane fish pole. By the light of a lamp on his table, Dannie could be seen working with pincers and a ball of wire.

"I wonder what he thinks he can do?" said Jimmy.

"I suppose he is trying to fix some way to get that fifteen feet more line he needs," replied Mary.

When they went to bed the light still burned and the broad shoulders of Dannie bent over the pole. Mary had fallen asleep, but she was awakened by Jimmy slipping from the bed. He went to the window and looked toward Dannie's cabin. Then he left the bedroom and she could hear him crossing to the back window of the next room. Then came a smothered laugh and he softly called her. She went to him.

Dannie's figure stood out clear and strong in the moonlight, in his wood-yard. His black outline looked unusually powerful in the silvery whiteness surrounding it.

He held his fishing pole in both hands and swept a circle about him that would have required considerable space on Lake Michigan, and made a cast toward the barn. The line ran out smoothly and evenly, and through the gloom Mary saw Jimmy's figure straighten and his lips close in surprise. Then Dannie began taking in line. That process was so slow, Jimmy doubled up and laughed again.

"Be lookin' at that, will ye?" he heaved. "What does the domn fool think the Black Bass will be doin' while he is takin' in line on that young windlass?"

"There'd be no room on the river to do that," answered Mary serenely. "Dannie wouldn't be so foolish as to try. All he wants now is to see if his line will run, and it will. Whin he gets to the river, he'll swing his bait where he wants it with his pole, like he always does, and whin the Bass strikes he'll give it the extra fifteen feet more line he said he needed, and thin he'll have a pole and line with which he can land it."

"Not on your life he won't!" said Jimmy.

He opened the back door and stepped out just as Dannie raised the pole again.

"Hey, you! Quit raisin' Cain out there!" yelled Jimmy. "I want to get some sleep."

Across the night, tinged neither with chagrin nor rancor, boomed the big voice of Dannie.

"Believe I have my extra line fixed so it works all right," he said. "Awful sorry if I waked you. Thought I was quiet."

"How much did you make off that?" inquired Mary.

"Two points," answered Jimmy. "Found out that Dannie ain't sore at me any longer and that you are."

Next morning was no sort of angler's weather, but the afternoon gave promise of being good fishing by the morrow. Dannie worked about the farms, preparing for winter; Jimmy worked with him until mid-afternoon, then he hailed a boy passing, and they went away together. At supper time Jimmy had not returned. Mary came to where Dannie worked.

"Where's Jimmy?" she asked.

"I dinna, know" said Dannie. "He went away a while ago with some boy, I didna notice who."

"And he didn't tell you where he was going?"

"No."

"And he didn't take either of his fish poles?"

"No."

Mary's lips thinned to a mere line. "Then it's Casey's," she said, and turned away.

Dannie was silent. Presently Mary came back.

"If Jimmy don't come till morning," she asked, "or comes in shape that he can't fish, will you go without him?"

"To-morrow was the day we agreed on," answered Dannie.

"Will you go without him?" persisted Mary.

"What would he do if it were me?" asked Dannie.

"When have you iver done to Jimmy Malone what he would do if he were you?"

"Is there any reason why ye na want me to land the Black Bass, Mary?"

"There is a particular reason why I don't want your living with Jimmy to make you like him," answered Mary. "My timper is being wined, and I can see where it's beginning to show on you. Whativer you do, don't do what he would."

"Dinna be hard on him, Mary. He doesna think," urged Dannie.

"You niver said twer words. He don't think. He niver thought about anybody in his life except himself, and he niver will."

"Maybe he didna go to town!"

"Maybe the sun won't rise in the morning, and it will always be dark after this! Come in and get your supper."

"I'd best pick up something to eat at home," said Dannie.

"I have some good food cooked, and it's a pity to be throwin' it away. What's the use? You've done a long day's work, more for us than yoursilf, as usual; come along and get your supper."

Dannie went, and as he was washing at the back door, Jimmy came through the barn, and up the walk. He was fresh, and in fine spirits, and where ever he had been, it was a sure thing that it was nowhere near Casey's.

"Where have you been?" asked Mary wonderingly.

"Robbin' graves," answered Jimmy promptly. "I needed a few stiffs in me business so I just went out to Five Mile and got them."

"What are ye going to do with them, Jimmy?" chuckled Dannie.

"Use thim for Bass bait! Now rattle, old snake!" replied Jimmy.

After supper Dannie went to the barn for the shovel to dig worms for bait, and noticed that Jimmy's rubber waders hanging on the wall were covered almost to the top with fresh mud and water stains, and Dannie's wonder grew.

Early the next morning they started for the river. As usual Jimmy led the way. He proudly carried his new rod. Dannie followed with a basket of lunch Mary had insisted on packing, his big cane pole, a can of worms, and a shovel, in case they ran out of bait.

Dannie had recovered his temper, and was just great-hearted, big Dannie again. He talked about the south wind, and shivered with the frost, and listened for the splash of the Bass. Jimmy had little to say. He seemed to be thinking deeply. No doubt he felt in his soul that they should settle the question of who landed the Bass with the same rods they had used when the contest was proposed, and that was not all.

When they came to the temporary bridge, Jimmy started across it, and Dannie called to him to wait, he was forgetting his worms.

"I don't want any worms," answered Jimmy briefly. He walked on. Dannie stood staring after him, for he did not understand that. Then he went slowly to his side of the river, and deposited his load under a tree where it would be out of the way.

He lay down his pole, took a rude wooden spool of heavy fish cord from his pocket, and passed the line through the loop next the handle and so on the length of the rod to the point. Then he wired on a sharp bass hook, and wound the wire far up the doubled line. As he worked, he kept an eye on Jimmy. He was doing practically the same thing. But just as Dannie had fastened on a light lead to carry his line, a souse in the river opposite attracted his attention. Jimmy hauled from the water a minnow bucket, and opening it, took out a live minnow, and placed it on his hook. "Riddy," he called, as he resank the bucket, and stood on the bank, holding his line in his fingers, and watching the minnow play at his feet.

The fact that Dannie was a Scotchman, and unusually slow and patient, did not alter the fact that he was just a common human being. The lump that rose in his throat was so big, and so hard, he did not try to swallow it. He hurried back into Rainbow Bottom. The first log he came across he kicked over, and grovelling in the rotten wood and loose earth with his hands, he brought up a half dozen bluish-white grubs. He tore up the ground for the length of the log, and then he went to others, cramming the worms and dirt with them into his pockets. When he had enough, he went back, and with extreme care placed three of them on his hook. He tried to see how Jimmy was going to fish, but he could not tell.

So Dannie decided that he would cast in the morning, fish deep at noon, and cast again toward evening.

He rose, turned to the river, and lifted his rod. As he stood looking over the channel, and the pool where the Bass homed, the Kingfisher came rattling down the river, and as if in answer to its cry, the Black Bass gave a leap, that sent the water flying.

"Ready!" cried Dannie, swinging his pole over the water.

As the word left his lips, "whizz," Jimmy's minnow landed in the middle of the circles widening about the rise of the Bass. There was a rush and a snap, and Dannie saw the jaws of the big fellow close within an inch of the minnow, and he swam after it for a yard, as Jimmy slowly reeled in. Dannie waited a second, and then softly dropped his grubs on the water just before where he figured the Bass would be. He could hear Jimmy smothering oaths. Dannie said something himself as his untouched bait neared the bank. He lifted it, swung it out, and slowly trailed it in again. "Spat!" came Jimmy's minnow almost at his feet, and again the Bass leaped for it. Again he missed. As the minnow reeled away the second time, Dannie swung his grubs higher, and struck the water "Spat," as the minnow had done. "Snap," went the Bass. One instant the line strained, the next the hook came up stripped clean of bait.

Then Dannie and Jimmy really went at it, and they were strangers. Not a word of friendly banter crossed the river. They cast until the Bass grew suspicious, and would not rise to the bait; then they fished deep. Then they cast again. If Jimmy fell into trouble with his reel, Dannie had the honesty to stop fishing until it worked again, but he spent the time burrowing for grubs until his hands resembled the claws of an animal. Sometimes they sat, and still- fished. Sometimes, they warily slipped along the bank, trailing bait a few inches under water. Then they would cast and skitter by turns.

The Kingfisher struck his stump, and tilted on again. His mate, and their family of six followed in his lead, so that their rattle was almost constant. A fussy little red-eyed vireo asked questions, first of Jimmy, and then crossing the river besieged Dannie, but neither of the stern-faced fishermen paid it any heed. The blackbirds swung on the rushes, and talked over the season. As always, a few crows cawed above the deep woods, and the chewinks threshed about among the dry leaves. A band of larks were gathering for migration, and the frosty air was vibrant with their calls to each other.

Killdeers were circling above them in flocks. A half dozen robins gathered over a wild grapevine, and chirped cheerfully, as they pecked at the frosted fruit. At times, the pointed nose of a muskrat wove its way across the river, leaving a shining ripple in its wake. In the deep woods squirrels barked and chattered. Frost-loosened crimson leaves came whirling down, settling in a bright blanket that covered the water several feet from the bank, and unfortunate bees that had fallen into the river struggled frantically to gain a footing on them. Water beetles shot over the surface in small shining parties, and schools of tiny minnows played along the banks. Once a black ant assassinated an enemy on Dannie's shoe, by creeping up behind it and puncturing its abdomen.

Noon came, and neither of the fishermen spoke or moved from their work. The lunch Mary had prepared with such care they had forgotten. A little after noon, Dannie got another strike, deep fishing. Mid-afternoon found them still even, and patiently fishing. Then it was not so long until supper time, and the air was steadily growing colder. The south wind had veered to the west, and signs of a black frost were in the air. About this time the larks arose as with one accord, and with a whirr of wings that proved how large the flock was, they sailed straight south.

Jimmy hauled his minnow bucket from the river, poured the water from it, and picked his last minnow, a dead one, from the grass. Dannie was watching him, and rightly guessed that he would fish deep. So Dannie scooped the remaining dirt from his pockets, and found three grubs. He placed them on his hook, lightened his sinker, and prepared to skitter once more.

Jimmy dropped his minnow beside the Kingfisher stump, and let it sink. Dannie hit the water at the base of the stump, where it had not been disturbed for a long time, a sharp "Spat," with his worms. Something seized his bait, and was gone. Dannie planted his feet firmly, squared his jaws, gripped his rod, and loosened his line. As his eye followed it, he saw to his amazement that Jimmy's line was sailing off down the river beside his, and heard the reel singing.

Dannie was soon close to the end of his line. He threw his weight into a jerk enough to have torn the head from a fish, and down the river the Black Bass leaped clear of the water, doubled, and with a mighty shake tried to throw the hook from his mouth.

"Got him fast, by God!" screamed Jimmy in triumph.

Straight toward them rushed the fish. Jimmy reeled wildly; Dannie gathered in his line by yard lengths, and grasped it with the hand that held the rod. Near them the Bass leaped again, and sped back down the river. Jimmy's reel sang, and Dannie's line jerked through his fingers. Back came the fish. Again Dannie gathered in line, and Jimmy reeled frantically. Then Dannie, relying on the strength of his line thought he could land the fish, and steadily drew it toward him. Jimmy's reel began to sing louder, and his line followed Dannie's. Instantly Jimmy went wild.

"Stop pullin' me little silk thrid!" he yelled. "I've got the Black Bass hooked fast as a rock, and your domn clothes line is sawin' across me. Cut there! Cut that domn rope! Quick!"

"He's mine, and I'll land him!" roared Dannie. "Cut yoursel', and let me get my fish!"

So it happened, that when Mary Malone, tired of waiting for the boys to come, and anxious as to the day's outcome, slipped down to the Wabash to see what they were doing, she heard sounds that almost paralyzed her. Shaking with fear, she ran toward the river, and paused at a little thicket behind Dannie.

Jimmy danced and raged on the opposite bank. "Cut!" he yelled. "Cut that domn cable, and let me Bass loose! Cut your line, I say!"

Dannie stood with his feet planted wide apart, and his jaws set. He drew his line steadily toward him, and Jimmy's followed. "Ye see!" exulted Dannie. "Ye're across me. The Bass is mine! Reel out your line till I land him, if ye dinna want it broken."

"If you don't cut your domn line, I will!" raved Jimmy.

"Cut nothin'!" cried Dannie. "Let's see ye try to touch it!"

Into the river went Jimmy; splash went Dannie from his bank. He was nearer the tangled lines, but the water was deepest on his side, and the mud of the bed held his feet. Jimmy reached the crossed lines, knife in hand, by the time Dannie was there.

"Will you cut?" cried Jimmy.

"Na!" bellowed Dannie. "I've give up every damn thing to ye all my life, but I'll no give up the Black Bass. He's mine, and I'll land him!"

Jimmy made a lunge for the lines. Dannie swung his pole backward drawing them his way. Jimmy slashed again. Dannie dropped his pole, and with a sweep, caught the twisted lines in his fingers.

"Noo, let's see ye cut my line! Babby!" he jeered.

Jimmy's fist flew straight, and the blood streamed from Dannie's nose. Dannie dropped the lines, and straightened. "You--" he panted. "You--" And no other words came.

If Jimmy had been possessed of any small particle of reason, he lost it at the sight of blood on Dannie's face.

"You're a domn fish thief!" he screamed.

"Ye lie!" breathed Dannie, but his hand did not lift.

"You are a coward! You're afraid to strike like a man! Hit me! You don't dare hit me!"

"Ye lie!" repeated Dannie.

"You're a dog!" panted Jimmy. "I've used you to wait on me all me life!"

"That's the God's truth!" cried Dannie. But he made no movement to strike. Jimmy leaned forward with a distorted, insane face.

"That time you sint me to Mary for you, I lied to her, and married her meself. Now, will you fight like a man?"

Dannie made a spring, and Jimmy crumpled up in his grasp.

"Noo, I will choke the miserable tongue out of your heid, and twist the heid off your body, and tear the body to mince-meat," raved Dannie, and he promptly began the job.

With one awful effort Jimmy tore the gripping hands from his throat a little. "Lie!" he gasped. "It's all a lie!"

"It's the truth! Before God it's the truth!" Mary Malone tried to scream behind them. "It's the truth! It's the truth!" And her ears told her that she was making no sound as with dry lips she mouthed it over and over. And then she fainted, and sank down in the bushes.

Dannie's hands relaxed a little, he lifted the weight of Jimmy's body by his throat, and set him on his feet. "I'll give ye juist ane chance," he said. "Is that the truth?"

Jimmy's awful eyes were bulging from his head, his hands were clawing at Dannie's on his throat, and his swollen lips repeated it over and over as breath came, "It's a lie! It's a lie!"

"I think so myself," said Dannie. "Ye never would have dared. Ye'd have known that I'd find out some day, and on that day, I'd kill ye as I would a copperhead."

"A lie!" panted Jimmy.

"Then why did ye tell it?" And Dannie's fingers threatened to renew their grip.

"I thought if I could make you strike back," gasped Jimmy, "my hittin' you wouldn't same so bad."

Then Dannie's hands relaxed. "Oh, Jimmy! Jimmy!" he cried. "Was there ever any other mon like ye?"

Then he remembered the cause of their trouble.

"But, I'm everlastingly damned," Dannie went on, "if I'll gi'e up the Black Bass to ye, unless it's on your line. Get yourself up there on your bank!"

The shove he gave Jimmy almost upset him, and Jimmy waded back, and as he climbed the bank, Dannie was behind him. After him he dragged a tangled mass of lines and poles, and at the last up the bank, and on the grass, two big fish; one, the great Black Bass of Horseshoe Bend; and the other nearly as large, a channel catfish; undoubtedly, one of those which had escaped into the Wabash in an overflow of the Celina reservoir that spring.

"Noo, I'll cut," said Dannie. "Keep your eye on me sharp. See me cut my line at the end o' my pole." He snipped the line in two. "Noo watch," he cautioned, "I dinna want contra deection about this!"

He picked up the Bass, and taking the line by which it was fast at its mouth, he slowly drew it through his fingers. The wiry silk line slipped away, and the heavy cord whipped out free.

"Is this my line?" asked Dannie, holding it up.

Jimmy nodded.

"Is the Black Bass my fish? Speak up!" cried Dannie, dangling the fish from the line.

"It's yours," admitted Jimmy.

"Then I'll be damned if I dinna do what I please wi' my own!" cried Dannie. With trembling fingers he extracted the hook, and dropped it. He took the gasping big fish in both hands, and tested its weight. "Almost seex," he said. "Michty near seex!" And he tossed the Black Bass back into the Wabash.

Then he stooped, and gathered up his pole and line.

With one foot he kicked the catfish, the tangled silk line, and the jointed rod, toward Jimmy. "Take your fish!" he said. He turned and plunged into the river, recrossed it as he came, gathered up the dinner pail and shovel, passed Mary Malone, a tumbled heap in the bushes, and started toward his cabin.

The Black Bass struck the water with a splash, and sank to the mud of the bottom, where he lay joyfully soaking his dry gills, parched tongue, and glazed eyes. He scooped water with his tail, and poured it over his torn jaw. And then he said to his progeny, "Children, let this be a warning to you. Never rise to but one grub at a time. Three is too good to be true! There is always a stinger in their midst." And the Black Bass ruefully shook his sore head and scooped more water.