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   Chapter 3 NIGHT FISHING

The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 20677

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Jack Kilmeny crossed the river by the rope ferry and followed the trail that ran up. He took the water above the Narrows, about a mile and a half from camp. The mosquitoes were pretty bad near the willows along the shore, but as he got out farther they annoyed him less and with the coming of darkness they ceased to trouble.

The fish were feeding and he had a few strikes. Half a dozen eight and nine-inch trout went into his creel, but though he was fishing along the edge of the deep water, the big fellows would not be tempted. His watch showed a quarter to ten by the moon when at last he hooked one worth while.

He was now down by the riffles not far from the Lodge. A long cast brought him what fishermen along the Gunnison call a bump. Quietly he dropped his fly in exactly the same spot. There was a tug, a flash of white above the water, and, like an arrow, the trout was off. The reel whirred as the line unwound. Kilmeny knew by the pressure that he had hooked a good one and he played it carefully, keeping the line taut but not allowing too much strain on it. After a short sharp fight he drew the fish close enough to net the struggler. Of the Lochleven variety, he judged the weight of the trout to be about two pounds.

He would have liked to try another cast, but it was ten o'clock, the limit set by law. He waded ashore, resolved to fish the riffles again to-morrow.

Next day brought Kilmeny the office of camp cook, which was taken in turn by each of the men. Only two meals a day were eaten in camp, so that he had several hours of leisure after the breakfast things were cleared away. In a desultory fashion he did an hour or two of fishing, though his mind was occupied with other things.

The arrival of the party at the Lodge brought back to him vividly some chapters of his life that had long been buried. His father, Archibald Kilmeny, had married the daughter of a small cattleman some years after he had come to Colorado. Though she had died while he was still a child, Jack still held warmly in his heart some vivid memories of the passionate uncurbed woman who had been his mother.

She had been a belle in the cow country, charming in her way, beautiful to the day of her death, but without education or restraint. Her husband had made the mistake of taking her back to Ireland on a visit to his people. The result had been unfortunate. She was unconquerably provincial, entirely democratic, as uncultured as her native columbine. Moreover, her temper was of the whirlwind variety. The staid life of the old country, with its well-ordered distinctions of class and rutted conventions, did not suit her at all. At traditions which she could not understand the young wife scoffed openly. Before she left, veiled dislike became almost open war. The visit had never been repeated, nor, indeed, had she ever been invited again. This she had bitterly resented and she had instilled into Jack the antagonism she herself felt. When he was eight years old Jack's father had insisted on taking him back to meet his relatives. Immediately upon his return the youngster's mother had set about undermining any fondness he might have felt for his British kindred. Three years later she had died.

She had been a doting mother, with fierce gusts of passionate adoration for her boy. Jack remembered these after he forgot her less amiable qualities. He had grown up with an unreasonable feeling of dislike toward those of his father's family who had failed to get along with her. Some instinct of loyalty which he could hardly define set him unconsciously in antagonism to his cousins at the Lodge. He had decided not to make himself known to them. In a few days their paths would diverge again for all time.

Dusk found him again in the river just above the riffles. He fished down the stream slowly, shortening his line as darkness settled over the hills. His luck was rather worse than usual. The trout were nosing the flies rather than striking with any appetite.

He was nearly opposite the Lodge when he noticed a fisherman in front of him. Working steadily forward, Kilmeny found himself gaining on the other. In order not to pass too near he struck out into the deeper water toward the center of the river. When almost opposite the other he heard a splash not twenty feet away, followed by the whirr of the reel as the trout made for the deep water. From the shadows where his unknown companion was obscured came the click of the line being wound up. There was a flash of silver in the moonlight, and again the rapid whirl of the reel.

"You've hooked a whale, neighbor," Kilmeny called across.

The voice that came back to him across the water was eager and glad. Jack would have known its throb of youthful zest among a thousand. "Must I let him have all the line he wants?"

Kilmeny waded toward her as he gave counsel. "Don't make it too easy for him, but don't jerk. Keep his nose up if you can."

The humming of the reel and the steady click-click-click of the winding alternated. The trout fought gamely and strongly, but the young woman stuck to her work and would not give him any rest. Jack watched her carefully. He saw that she was tiring, but he did not offer any help, for he knew that she was a sportsman. She would want to win alone or not at all.

Yet he moved closer. The water was up to her hips, and no river in the Rockies has a swifter current than the Gunnison. The bottom too is covered with smooth slippery stones and bowlders, so that a misstep might send her plunging down. Deprived of the use of her landing pole, she could make less resistance to the tug of the stream, and the four or five pounds of dynamic energy at the end of her line would give her all she could do to take care of for the next few minutes. Her pole was braced against her body, which made reeling difficult. The man beside her observed that except for a tendency to raise the pole too much she was playing her trout like a veteran.

The thing that he had anticipated happened. Her foot slipped from its insecure rock hold and she stumbled. His arm was round her waist in an instant.

"Steady! Take your time."

"Thanks. I'm all right now."

His right arm still girdled her slight figure. It met with his approval that she had not cried out or dropped her pole, but he would not take the chance of an accident.

"HE'S HOOKED PRETTY FAST. TAKE YOUR TIME ABOUT GETTING HIM INTO YOUR NET. THESE BIG FELLOWS ARE LIKELY TO SQUIRM AWAY." P. 33

The trout was tiring. Inch by inch she brought him nearer. Sometimes he would dart away again, but each dash for liberty was shorter and weaker than the last.

Presently she panted, "My landing net."

It was caught in the creel. Kilmeny unfastened the net and brought it round where it would be ready for instant use.

"Tell me what I must do now."

"He's hooked pretty fast. Take your time about getting him into your net, and be careful then. These big fellows are likely to squirm away."

It was a ticklish moment when she let go of the rod with her left hand to slip the net under the trout, but she negotiated it in safety.

"Isn't he a whopper?" she cried in delight. "He won't go into the creel at all."

"Then let me have him. The glory is yours. I'll be your gillie to carry the game bag."

He got his fingers through its gill before he took the hook from the mouth of the fish. Carrying the trout in one hand and his pole in the other, he waded slowly through the swift water to the shore.

The girl's vibrant voice came to him as she splashed at his heels toward the bank. "He's such a ripping good one. I'm so pleased. How much do you think he will weigh?"

The young man took the catch far enough back from the river, so that they could examine him in safety.

"My guess is six pounds. He's the biggest taken this year so far. I congratulate you, Miss Dwight."

"I would never have got him if you hadn't been there to help me with advice. But I really did it all myself, didn't I? If you had touched the rod before I had him netted I'd never have forgiven you," she confessed, eyes glowing with the joy of her achievement.

"It's no joke to land one of these big fellows. I saw you were tired. But it's the sporting thing to play your own fish."

Her dark eyes flashed a questioning glance at him. She had been brought up in a society where class lines were closely drawn, but her experience gave her no data for judging this young man's social standing. Casual inquiries of old Ballard, the caretaker at the Lodge, had brought her the information that the party of fishermen were miners from the hills. This one went by the name of Crumbs and sometimes Jack. What puzzled Miss Dwight was the difficulty of reconciling him with himself. Sometimes he used the speech and the slow drawl of the plainsman, and again he spoke with the correctness of one who has known good society. In spite of his careless garb he had the look of class. The well-shaped, lightly poised head, the level blue eyes of a man unafraid, the grace with which he carried himself, all denied that he was an uncouth rustic.

A young woman of impulse, she yielded to an audacious one now. "I'm glad you let me do the sporting thing, Mr.-Crumbs."

His gentle laughter welled out. "Where did you get that?"

"Isn't it your name?" she asked, with a lift of the dark eyebrows.

He hesitated, barely an instant. Of course she knew perfectly well that it was not his name. But it suited him not to give one more definite.

"I reckon it's a name good enough to bring me to dinner by," he drawled, smiling.

He was back again in the Western idiom and manner. She wondered why. The change had come when she had spoken his name. A certain wariness had settled over his face like a mask. She could see that he was purposely taking refuge in the class distinctions that presumably separated them. Yet she could have sworn that nothing had been farther from his mind during the exciting ten minutes in the water while voice and presence and arm had steadied her for the battle.

They walked together up the slope to the big house. A fishing costume is not a thing of grace, but the one this girl wore could not eclipse the elastic suppleness of the slender figure or the joy in life that animated the vivid face with th

e black curls straying from beneath the jaunty cap. The long hip waders she wore so briskly gave her the look of a modern Rosalind. To deny her beauty was easy, but in the soft sifted moonlight showered down through the trees it was impossible for Kilmeny's eyes to refuse her an admission of charm. There was a hint of pleasant adventure in the dusky eyes of this clean-limbed young nymph, a plastic energy in the provoking dainty face, that stung his reluctant admiration. She had the gift for comradeship, and with it a freedom of mind unusual in one of her class.

She ran up the steps of the Lodge lightly and thanked him with a pleasant "Good-night." As he turned away Kilmeny came face to face with another fisherman returning from the sport of the night. The man opposite him was rather short and thickset. In his eyes was a look of kind shrewd wisdom. Red-faced and white-bearded, he was unmistakably an Englishman of the upper class.

Miss Dwight introduced him as Lord Farquhar, and the men shook hands.

"Guess what I've got," demanded the young woman, her hands behind her.

"Heaven only knows. It might be anything from the measles to a new lover," smiled Farquhar.

She flashed upon him the fish that had been hidden behind her waders.

"By Jove! Catch him yourself?"

She nodded, her eyes shining.

Farquhar, very much a sportsman, wanted to know all about it, after which he insisted on weighing the trout. Jack was dragged into the Lodge to join in this function, and presently found himself meeting Lady Farquhar, a pleasant plump lady who did not at all conform to the usual stage conception of her part. Her smile was warm for this supple blue-eyed engaging Westerner, but the latter did not need to be told that behind her friendliness the instinct of the chaperone was alert. The one swift glance she had thrown at Miss Dwight told him as much.

Into the room drifted presently Miss Seldon, a late novel in her hand. In contrast with her sheathed loveliness Miss Dwight looked like a young girl. There was something very sweet and appealing in Moya's slim indefinite figure of youth, with its suggestion of developing lines, but most men ceased to look at her when Joyce swam within the orbit of their vision.

Joyce Seldon was frankly a beauty in every line and feature. Her exquisite coloring, the soft amber hair so extravagant in quantity, the long lashes which shaded deep lovely eyes, satisfied the senses no less than the supple rounded young body which was carried with such light grace. Kilmeny was not very impressionable, but in her presence the world seemed somehow shot through with a new radiance. She laid upon him the spell of women.

Presently Dobyans Verinder dropped in with an empty creel and opened wide supercilious eyes at sight of Jack. He was followed presently by Captain Kilmeny and his sister, the latter a pretty Irish girl, quick of tongue, quicker of eye, and ready for anything from flirting to fishing.

From the talk, Jack gathered that Lord Farquhar and Miss Dwight had bet their catch would outweigh that of the other three, Farquhar and she to fish opposite the Lodge and the others half a mile below. The minority party had won easily, thanks to the big trout and Verinder's obstinacy in sticking to the flies he had used in England with success. There is a type of Englishman that goes through life using the flies he was brought up on and trying to make them fit all places and times. Any divergence is a form of treason. Neither Farquhar nor Kilmeny happened to be of that kind. They besieged the American with questions and soon had a pretty fair idea of fishing on the Gunnison.

"I should think you would ask me. I thought I was the one that catches the big fish," suggested Miss Dwight, who had just returned from having changed into more conventional attire.

"Make a habit of it, my dear, and we will," Lord Farquhar assured her.

"Once is enough, Moya. I can't afford a pair of gloves every evening," India Kilmeny protested.

"By Jove, leave some of the big ones for us, Miss Dwight," implored the captain. He was a spare wiry man, with the long clean build one expects to see in soldiers. Long residence in India had darkened his skin to an almost coffee brown, except for a wintry apple red where the high cheek bones seemed about to push through.

Supper, to which Lady Farquhar had insisted that the American stay, was being served informally in the living-room. Verinder helped himself to a sandwich, ogling Moya the while with his eyeglass.

"I say, you know, I believe in you, Miss Dwight," he asserted.

That young woman did not know why she resented more than usual his wheedling attentions. Lady Jim had invited the millionaire to join their party, as the girl very well knew, in order to give her charges a chance at him. Not that Lady Farquhar liked the man. She knew him quite well for an ill-bred little snob at heart. But he would pass muster in a crowd, and none of the young women of the party could afford to sniff at two millions sterling. It was entirely probable that Joyce, with her beauty and her clear vision of the need of money in the scheme of things, would marry as well as if she had a mother to look out for her. But Lady Jim felt it her duty to plan for India and Moya. She was more anxious about Miss Dwight than the other Irish girl, for Moya was likely to bolt the traces. Her friendships with men were usually among ineligibles. Verinder had shown a decided drift in her direction, but the girl had not encouraged him in the least. If she had been possessed of an independent fortune she could not have been more airily indifferent to his advances.

Since Captain Kilmeny had joined the party in Denver the plans of Lady Farquhar had been modified. The soldier had taken an early opportunity to tell her that he meant to ask Moya Dwight to marry him. He had been in love with her for years and had asked her just before his regiment left for India the last time. The captain was not rich, but he had enough. It happened too that he was a clean honest gentleman who had made a reputation for efficiency and gallantry in the army. If he was not brilliant, he was at least thorough. Lady Farquhar was quite willing to back his suit so far as she could.

"He's our kind, Ned Kilmeny is," she had told her husband. "I gave Moya her chance with Verinder but I should have been disappointed in her if she had taken him. If she will only fall in love with Ned I'll forgive her all the queer things she is always doing."

Farquhar had chuckled. "It's an odds-on chance she'll not fancy him, Di."

"For Heaven's sake, why not?" his wife had asked impatiently. "Does she expect to marry an emperor?"

"I don't know what she expects. The subject of matrimony is not all-important to Moya yet. But some day it will be-and then may I be there to see!"

"You're so ridiculously wrapped up in her," Lady Jim accused with a smile. "Why do you expect her love affair to be so interesting? For my part, I think Ned quite good enough for her."

"Oh, he's good enough. That isn't quite the point, is it? Moya wants to be stormed, to be swept from her feet into the arms of the man she is ready to love. A sort of a Lochinvar business-full of thrills and great moments. Ned can't give her those."

"No, I suppose not. Pity she can't be sensible."

"There are enough of us sensible, Di. We can spare her a few years yet for romance. When she grows sensible she'll have to give up something she can't afford to lose."

His wife looked at him and smiled fondly. "You haven't quite lost it yourself, Jim."

It was true enough that Lord Farquhar retained an interest in life that was refreshing. This evening his eyes gleamed while the Westerner told of the frontier day program to be held at the little town of Gunnison next day.

"You and your friends are miners, I understand. You'll not take part, then?" he asked.

"I used to punch cows. My name is entered for the riding. The boys want me to take a turn."

India Kilmeny sat up straight. "Let's go. We can ride up in the morning. It will be jolly. All in favor of going eat another sandwich."

"It will be pretty woolly-quite different from anything you have seen," the miner suggested.

"Thought we came here to fish," Verinder interposed. "Great bore looking at amateur shows-and it's a long ride."

"Move we go. What say, Lady Farquhar?" put in Captain Kilmeny.

"Do let's go," Moya begged.

"I don't see why we shouldn't," Lady Farquhar smiled. "But I'm like Mr. Verinder about riding. If he'll drive me up the rest of you can go on horseback."

"Delighted, 'm sure."

Verinder came to time outwardly civil but inwardly fuming. What the deuce did Lady Farquhar mean? Captain Kilmeny would have five hours clear with Miss Dwight and Miss Seldon during the ride back and forth. Ever since the soldier had joined the party things had been going badly.

"If we're going it's time you girls were in bed. You've had a hard day and to-morrow will be another," Lady Jim pronounced.

The Westerner rose to go.

"Night's young yet. Stop and sit in with us to a game of poker. What!" Farquhar invited.

"My pocketbook is at the camp," the American demurred.

"I'll be your banker," his host volunteered.

The ladies said good-night and departed. Chairs were drawn to the card table, chips sold, and hands dealt. The light of morning was breaking before Kilmeny made his way back to camp. He had in his pockets one hundred seventy three dollars, most of which had recently been the property of Dobyans Verinder.

An early start for Gunnison had been agreed upon by the fishermen at the camp. To go to bed now was hardly worth while. Jack took a towel from the willow bush upon which it was hanging, went down to the river, stripped, and from a rock ten feet above a deep pool dived straight as an arrow into the black water. The swirl of the current swept him into the shallower stream below. He waded ashore, beautiful in his supple slimness as an Apollo, climbed the rock a second time, and again knew the delightful shock of a dive into icy water fresh from the mountain snows.

Ten minutes later he wakened the camp by rattling the stove lids.

"Oh, you sluggards! Time to hit the floor," he shouted.

* * *

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