Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

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Pritchard abandoned all present thoughts of trout-fishing by scientific
methods. He looked into her face with wonder.

"Do you mean to tell me," said he, "that there are two other
D-D-Darlings exactly like you?"

"Exactly - a nose for a nose; an eye for an eye."

"It isn't true," he proclaimed. "There is nobody in the whole world in
the least like you."

"Some time," said Gay, "you will see the three of us in a row. We shall
look inscrutable and say nothing. You will not be able to tell which of
us went fishing with you and which stayed at home - - "

"'This little pig went to market,'" he began, and abruptly became
serious. "Is that a challenge?"

"Yes," said Gay. "I fling down my gauntlet."

"And I," said Pritchard, "step forward and, in the face of all the
world, lift it from the ground - and proclaim for all the world to hear
that there is nobody like my lady - and that I am so prepared to prove at
any place or time - come weal, come woe. Let the heavens fall!"

"If you know me from the others," Gay's eyes gleamed, "you will be the
first strange young man that ever did, and I shall assign and appoint in
the inmost shrines of memory a most special niche for you."

Pritchard bowed very humbly.

"That will not be necessary," he said. "If I land the three-pounder. In
that case, I should be always with you."

"I wish," said Gay, "that you wouldn't refer so earnestly to a piece of
nonsense. Upon repetition, a joke ceases to be a joke."

Pritchard looked troubled.

"I'm sorry," he said simply. "If it is the custom of the country to bet
and then crawl, so be it. In Rome, I hasten to do as the Romans do. But
I thought our bet was honorable and above-board. It seems it was just
an - an Indian bet."

Gay flushed angrily.

"You shall not belittle anything American," she said. "It was a bet. I
meant it. I stand by it. If you catch your big fish I marry you. And if
I have to marry you, I will lead you such a dance - - "

"You wouldn't have to," Pritchard put in gently, "you wouldn't have to
lead me, I mean. If you and I were married, I'd just naturally
dance - wouldn't I? When a man sorrows he weeps; when he rejoices he
dances. It's all very simple and natural - - "

He turned his face to the serene heavens, and, very gravely:

"Ah, Lord!" he said. "Vouchsafe to me, undeserving but hopeful, this
day, a char - _salmo fontinalis_ - to weigh a trifle over three pounds,
for the sake of all that is best and sweetest in this best of all
possible worlds."

If his face or voice had had a suspicion of irreverence, Gay would have
laughed. Instead, she found that she wanted to cry and that her heart
was beating unquietly.

Mr. Pritchard dismissed sentiment from his mind, and with loving hands
began to take a powerful split-bamboo rod from its case.




IX


Gay's notion of scientific fishing might have been thus summed: Know
just where to fish and use the lightest rod made. Her own trout-rod
weighed two and a half ounces without the reel. Compared to it,
Pritchard's was a coarse and heavy instrument. His weighed six ounces.

"You could land a salmon with that," said Gay scornfully.

"I have," said Pritchard. "It's a splendid rod. I doubt if you could
break it."

"Doesn't give the fish much of a run for his money."

"But how about this, Miss Gay?"

He showed her a leader of finest water-blue catgut. It was nine feet
long and tapered from the thickness of a human hair to that of a thread
of spider-spinning. Gay's waning admiration glowed once more.

"That wouldn't hold a minnow," she said.

"We must see about that," he answered; "we must hope that it will hold a
very large char."

He reeled off eighty or ninety feet of line, and began to grease it with
a white tallow.

"What's that stuff?" Gay asked.

"Red-deer fat."

"What for?"

"To make the line float. We're fishing with a dry-fly, you know."

Gay noticed that the line was tapered from very heavy to very fine.

"Why is that?" she asked.

"It throws better - especially in a wind. The heavy part will carry a fly
out into half a gale."

He reeled in the line and made his leader fast to it with a swift,
running hitch, and to the line end of the leader he attached the fly
which they had chosen. Upon this tiny and exquisite arrangement of fairy
hook, gray silk, and feathers, he blew paraffin from a pocket atomizer
that it might float and not become water-logged.

"Do we fish from the shore or the boat?" Gay asked.

"From this shore."

"You'll never reach there from this shore."

"Then I've misjudged the distance. Are you going to use the landing-net
for me, in case it's necessary?"

Gay caught up the net and once more followed his stealthy advance upon
the brook.

Pritchard had one preliminary look through the field-glasses,
straightened his bent back, turned to her with a sorrowing face, and
spoke aloud.

"He's had enough," he said. "He's stopped feeding."

Gay burst out laughing.

"And our fishing is over for the day? This shall be said of you, Mr.
Pritchard, that you are a merciful man. You are not what is called in
this country a 'game hog.'"

"Thank you," he said gravely. "But if you think the fishing is over for
the day, you don't know a dry-fly fisherman when you see one. We made
rather a late start. See, most of the fish have stopped feeding. They
won't begin again much before three. The big fellow will be a little
later. He has had more than the others; he is older; his digestion is no
longer like chain lightning; he will sleep sounder, and dream of the
golden days of his youth when a char was a trout."

"_That_," said Gay, "is distinctly unkind. I have been snubbed enough
for one day. Are we to stand here, then, till three or four o'clock,
till his royal highness wakes up and calls for breakfast?"

"No," said Pritchard; "though I would do so gladly, if it were
necessary, in order to take this particular fish - - "

"You might kneel before your rod," said Gay, "like a knight watching his
arms."

"To rise in the morning and do battle for his lady - I repeat I should do
so gladly if it would help my chances in the slightest. But it
wouldn't."

He rested his rod very carefully across two bushes.

"The thing for us to do," he went on, "is to have lunch. I've often
heard of how comfortable you American guides can make the weary, wayworn
wanderer at the very shortest notice."

"Is that a challenge?"

"It is an expression of faith."

Their eyes met, and even lingered.

"In that case," said Gay, "I shall do what I may. There is cold lunch in
the boat, but the wayworn one shall bask in front of a fire and look
upon his food when it is piping hot. Come!"

Gay rowed him out of the brook and along the shore of the lake for a
couple of miles. She was on her mettle. She wished him to know that she
was no lounger in woodcraft. She put her strong young back into the work
of rowing, and the fragile guide boat flew. Her cheeks glowed, and her
lips were parted in a smile, but secretly she was filled with dread. She
knew that she had brought food, raw and cooked; she could see the head
of her axe gleaming under the middle seat; she would trust Mary for
having seen to it that there was pepper and salt; but whether in the
pocket of the Norfolk jacket there were matches, she could not be sure.
If she stopped rowing to look, the Englishman would think that she had
stopped because she was tired. And if, later, it was found that she had
come away without matches, he would laugh at her and her pretenses to
being a "perfectly good guide."

She beached the boat upon the sand in a wooded cove, and before
Pritchard could move had drawn it high and dry out of the water. Then
she laughed aloud, and would not tell him why. She had discovered in the
right-hand pocket of her coat two boxes of safety-matches, and in the
left pocket three.

"Don't," said Gay, "this is my job."

She lifted the boat easily and carried it into the woods. Pritchard had
wished to help. She laid the boat upon soft moss at the side of a
narrow, mounting trail, slung the package of lunch upon her shoulders,
and caught up her axe.

"Don't I help at all?" asked Pritchard.

"You are weary and wayworn," said Gay, "and I suppose I ought to carry
you, too. But I can't. Can you follow? It's not far."

A quarter of a mile up the hillside, between virgin pines which made one
think bitterly of what the whole mountains might be if the science of
forestry had been imported a little earlier in the century, the steep
and stony trail ended in an open space, gravelly and abounding in huge
bowlders, upon which the sun shone warm and bright. In the midst of the
place was a spring, black and slowly bubbling. At the base of one great
rock, a deep rift in whose face made a natural chimney, were traces of
former fires.

"Wait here," commanded Gay.

Her axe sounded in a thicket, and she emerged presently staggering under
a load of balsam. She spread it in two great, fragrant mats. Then once
more she went forth with her axe and returned with fire-wood.

Pritchard, a wistful expression in his eyes, studied her goings and her
comings, and listened as to music, to the sharp, true ringing of her
axe.

"By Jove," said he to himself, "that isn't perspiration on her
forehead - it's honest sweat!"

In spite of the bright sunshine, the heat of the fire was wonderfully
welcome, and began to bring out the strong, delicious aroma of the
balsam. Gay sat upon her heels before the fire and cooked. There was a
sound of boiling and bubbling. The fragrance of coffee mingled with the
balsam and floated heavenward. During the swift preparation of lunch
they hardly spoke. Twice Pritchard begged to help and was twice refused.

She spread a cloth between the mats of balsam upon one of which
Pritchard reclined, and she laid out hot plates and bright silver with
demure precision.

"Miss Gay," he said very earnestly, "I came to chuckle; I thought that
at least you would burn the chicken and get smoke in your eyes, but I
remain to worship the deity of woodcraft. An Indian could not do more
swiftly or so well."

Gay swelled a little. She had worked very hard; nothing had gone wrong,
so far. She was not in the least ashamed of herself. But her greatest
triumph was to come.

Uncas, the chipmunk, had that morning gone for a stroll in the forest.
He had the spring fever. He had crossed Placid Brook, by a fallen log;
he had climbed trees, hunted for last year's nuts, and fought battles of
repartee with other chipmunks. About lunch time, thinking to return to
Arthur and recount the tale of his wanderings, he smelled a smell of
cooking and heard a sound of voices, one of which was familiar to him.
He climbed a bowlder overlooking the clearing, and began to scold. Gay
and Pritchard looked up.

"My word!" said Pritchard, "what a bold little beggar."

Now, to Gay, the figure of Uncas, well larded with regular meals, was
not to be confounded with the slim little stripes of the spring woods.
She knew him at once, and she spoke nonchalantly to Pritchard.

"If you're a great deal in the woods," she said, "you scrape
acquaintance with many of the inhabitants. That little pig and I are old
friends. You embarrass him a little. He doesn't know you. If you weren't
here, he'd come right into my lap and beg."

Pritchard looked at her gravely.

"Truly?" he said.

"I think he will anyway," said Gay, and she made sounds to Uncas which
reassured him and brought him presently on a tearing run for her lap.
Here, when he had been fed, he yawned, stretched himself, and fell
asleep.

"Mowgli's sister!" said Pritchard reverently. "Child, are there the
scars of wolves' teeth on your wrists and ankles?"

"No, octogenarian," said Gay; "there aren't any marks of any kind. What
time is it?"

"It is half-past two."

"Then you shall smoke a cigarette, while I wash dishes."

She slid the complaining Uncas from her lap to the ground.

"Unfortunately," said Pritchard, "I didn't bring a cigarette."

"And you've been dying for a smoke all this time? Why don't you ask the
guide for what you want?"

"Have you such a thing?"

"I have."

"But you - you yourself don't - do you?" He looked troubled.

"No," said Gay. "But my father was always forgetting his, and it made
him so miserable I got into the habit of carrying a full case years ago
whenever we went on expeditions. He used to be so surprised and
delighted. Sometimes I think he used to forget his on purpose, so that
I could have the triumph of producing mine."

Pritchard smoked at ease. Gay "washed up." Uncas, roused once more from
slumber by the call of one of his kind, shook himself and trotted off
into the forest.

Gay, scouring a pan, was beginning to feel that she had known Pritchard
a long time. She had made him comfortable, cared for him in the wild
woods, and the knowledge warmed her heart.

Pritchard was saying to himself:

"We like the same sort of things - why not each other?"

"Miss Gay," he said aloud.

"What?"

"In case I land the three-pounder and over, I think I ought to tell you
that I'm not very rich, and I know you aren't. Would that matter to you?
I've just about enough," he went on tantalizingly, "to take a girl on
ripping good trips into central Africa or Australia, but I can't keep
any great state in England - Merrivale isn't a show place, you know - just
a few grouse and pheasants and things, and pretty good fishin'."

"However much," said Gay, "I may regret my _bet_, there was nothing
Indian about it. I'm sure that you are a clean, upright young man. I'm
a decent sort of girl, though I say it that shouldn't. We might do
worse. I've heard that love-matches aren't always what they are cracked
up to be. And I'm quite sure that I want to go to Africa and hunt big
game."

"Thank you," said Pritchard humbly. "And at least there would be love on
one side."

"Nonsense," said Gay briskly. "I'm ready, if you are."

Pritchard jumped to his feet and threw away his cigarette.

"Now," he said, "that you've proved everything, _won't_ you let me
help?"

Gay refused him doubtfully, and then with a burst of generosity:

"Why, yes," she said, "and, by the way, Mr. Pritchard, there was no
magic about the chipmunk. He's one my brother trained. He lives at The
Camp, and he was just out for a stroll and happened in on us. I don't
want you to find out that I'm a fraud from any one - but me."




X


The big trout was once more feeding. And Pritchard began to cast his
diminutive fly up-stream and across. But he cast and got out line by a
system that was new to Gay. He did not "whip" the brook; he whipped the
air above it. He never allowed his fly to touch the water but drew it
back sharply, and, at the same time, reeled out more line with his left
hand, when it had fallen to within an inch or two of the surface. His
casts, straight as a rifle-shot, lengthened, and reached out toward the
bowlder point near which the big trout was feeding, until he was
throwing, and with consummate ease, a line longer than Gay had ever seen
thrown.

"It's beautiful," she whispered. "Will you teach me?"

"Of course," he answered.

His fly hovered just above the ring which the trout had just made.
Pritchard lengthened his line a foot, and cast again and again, with no
further change but of an inch or two in direction.

"There's a little current," he explained. "If we dropped the fly into
the middle of the ring, it would float just over his tail and he
wouldn't see it. He's looking up-stream, whence his blessings flow. The
fly must float straight down at him, dragging its leader, and not
dragged by it."

All the while he talked, he continued casting with compact, forceful
strokes of his right wrist and forearm. At last, his judgment being
satisfied by the hovering position attained by fly and leader, he
relaxed his grip of the rod; the fly fell upon the water like
thistle-down, floated five or six inches, and was sucked under by the
big trout.

Pritchard struck hard.

There was a second's pause, while the big trout, pained and surprised,
tried to gather his scattered wits. Three quarters of Pritchard's line
floated loosely across the brook, but the leader and the fly remained
under, and Pritchard knew that he had hooked his fish.

Then, and it was sudden - like an explosion - the whole length of floating
line disappeared, and the tip of Pritchard's powerful rod was dragged
under after it.

The reel screamed.

"It's a whale!" shouted Gay, forgetting how much depended upon the size
of the fish, "a whale!"

The time for stealthy movements and talk in whispers was over. Gay
laughed, shouted, exhorted, while Pritchard, his lips parted, his cheeks
flushed, gayly fought the great fish.

"Go easy; go easy!" cried Gay. "That hook will never hold him."

But Pritchard knew his implements, and fished with a kind of joyous,
strong fury.

"When you hang 'em," he exulted, "land em."

The trout was a great noble potentate of those waters. Years ago he had
abandoned the stealthy ways of lesser fish. He came into the middle of
the brook where the water is deep and there is freedom from weeds and
sunken timber, and then up and down and across and across, with blind,
furious rushes he fought his fight.

It was the strong man without science against the strong man who knows
how to box. The steady, furious rushes, snubbed and controlled, became
jerky and spasmodic; in a roar and swirl of water the king trout showed
his gleaming and enormous back; a second later the sunset colors of his
side and the white of his belly. Inch by inch, swollen by impotent fury,
galvanically struggling and rushing, he followed the drag of the leader
toward the beach, where, ankle-deep in the water, Gay crouched with the
landing-net.

She trembled from head to foot as a well-bred pointer trembles when he
has found a covey of quail and holds them in control, waiting for his
master to walk in upon them.

The big trout, still fighting, turning, and raging, came toward the
mouth of the half-submerged net.

"How big is he, Miss Gay?"

The voice was cool and steady.

"He's five pounds if he's an ounce," her voice trembled. "He's the
biggest trout that ever swam.

"He _isn't_ a trout," said Pritchard; "he's a char."

If Gay could have seen Pritchard's face, she would have been struck for
the first time by a sort of serene beauty that pervaded some of its
expressions. The smile which he turned upon her crouching figure had in
it a something almost angelic.

"Bring him a little nearer," she cried, "just a little."

"You're sure he weighs more than three pounds?"

"Sure - sure - don't talk, land him, land him - - "

For answer Pritchard heaved strongly upward upon his rod and lifted the
mighty fish clear of the water. One titanic convulsion of tortured
muscles, and what was to be expected happened. The leader broke a few
inches from the trout's lip, and he returned splashing to his native
element, swam off slowly, just under the surface, then dove deep, and
was seen no more.

"Oh!" cried Gay. "Why _did_ you? Why _did_ you?"

She had forgotten everything but the fact that the most splendid of all
trout had been lost.

"Why did you?" she cried again.

"Because," he said serenely and gently, smiling into her grieved and
flushed face, "I wouldn't have you as the payment of a bet. I will have
you as a gift or not at all."

They returned to The Camp, Pritchard rowing.

"I owe you your prospective dividends for the year," he said. "If they
are large, I shall have to give you my note and pay as I can."

She did not answer.

"I think you are angry with me," he said. "I'd give more than a penny
for your thoughts."

"I was thinking," said she, "that you are very good at fishing, but that
the art of rowing an Adirondack guide boat has been left out of you."

"Truly," he said, "was that what you were thinking?"

"No," she said; "I was thinking other things. I was thinking that I
ought to go down on my knees and thank you for breaking the leader. You
see, I'd made up my mind to keep my word. And, well, of course, it's a
great escape for me.

"Why? Was the prospect of marrying me so awful?"

"The prospect of marrying a man who would rather lose a five-pound fish
than marry me - was awful."

Pritchard stopped rowing, and his laughter went abroad over the quiet
lake until presently Gay's forehead smoothed and, after a prelude of
dimples, she joined gayly in.

When Pritchard could speak, he said:

"You don't really think that, do you?"

"I don't know what I think," said Gay. "I'm just horrid and cross and
spoiled. Don't let's talk about it any more."

"But I said," said he, "I said 'As a bet, no; but as a gift' - oh, with
what rapture and delight!"

"Do you mean that?" She looked him in the face with level eyes.

Once more he stopped rowing.

"I love you," he said, "with my whole heart and soul."

"Don't," said Gay, "don't spoil a day that, for all its ups and downs,
has been a good day, a day that, on the whole, I've loved - and let's
hurry, please, because I stood in the water and it was icy."

After that Pritchard rowed with heroic force and determination; he
lacked, however, the knack which overlapping oar handles demand, and at
every fifteenth or sixteenth stroke knocked a piece of "bark" from his
knuckles.

Smarting with pain, he smiled gently at her from time to time.

"Will you guide me to-morrow?"

"To-morrow," she said, "there will be enough real guides to go around."

"You really are, aren't you?" he said.

"What?"

"Angry with me."

"Oh, no - I think - that what you said - what you said - was a foolish thing
to say. If I came to you with my sisters Lee and Phyllis, you wouldn't
know which of the three I was, and yet - you said - you said - - "

"It isn't a question of words - it's a question of feeling. Do you really
think I shouldn't know you from your sisters?"

"I am sure of it," said Gay.

"But if you weren't?"

"Then I should still think that you had tried to be foolish but I
shouldn't be angry."

"How," said Pritchard, his eyes twinkling, "shall I convince the girl I
love - that I know her by sight?"

Gay laughed. The idea seemed rather comical to her.

"To-night," she said, "when you have dined, walk down to the dock alone.
One of us three will come to you and say: 'Too bad we didn't have better
luck.' And you won't know if she's Lee or Phyllis or me."

* * * * *

Pritchard smoked upon the dock in the light of an arc-lamp. A vision,
smiling and rosy, swept out of the darkness, and said:

"Too bad we didn't have better luck!"

"I beg your pardon," said Pritchard, "you're not Miss Gay, but I haven't
had the pleasure of being presented to Miss Lee or Miss Phyllis."

The vision chuckled and beat a swift, giggling retreat to a dark spot
among the pines, where other giggles awaited her.

A second vision came.

"Too bad we didn't have better luck!"

Pritchard smiled gravely into the vision's eyes, and said in so low a
voice that only she could hear:

"Bad luck? I have learned to love you with all my heart and soul."

Silence. An answering whisper.

"How did you know me?"

"How? Because my heart says here is the only girl in all the world - see
how different, how more beautiful and gentle she is than all other
girls."

"But I'm not Gay - I'm Phyllis."

"If you are Phyllis," he whispered, "then you never were Gay."

She laughed softly.

"I _am_ Gay."

"Why tell me? I know. Am I forgiven?"

"There is nothing," she said swiftly, "to forgive," and she fled
swiftly.

To her sisters waiting among the pines she gave explanation.

"Of course, he knew me."

"How?"

"Why, he said there couldn't be any doubt; he said I was so very much
better-looking than any sister of mine could possibly be."

Forthwith Lee pinioned Gay's arms and Phyllis pulled her ears for her.

Mr. Pritchard paced the dock, offering rings of Cuban incense to the
stars.

* * * * *

From Play House came the sounds which men make when they play cards and
do not care whether they win or lose.

Maud was in her office, adding a column of figures which the grocer had
sent in. The triplets, linked arm in arm, joined her. Arthur came, and
Eve and Mary.

They agreed that they were very tired and ready for bed.

"It's going to be a success, anyway," said Mary. "That seems certain."

"We must have the plumber up," said Eve; "the laundry boiler has sprung
a leak. Who's that in your pocket, Arthur?"

"Uncas. He came in exhausted after a long day in the woods. Something


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Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 4 of 14)