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CEDAR BROOMS AND A NOBLE STRING OF TROUT
It was a part of Gram's household creed, that the wood-house and carriage-house could be properly swept only with a cedar broom. Brooms made of cedar boughs, bound to a broom-stick with a gray tow string, were the kind in use when she and Gramp began life together; and although she had accepted corn brooms in due course, for house work, the cedar broom still held a warm corner in her heart. "A nice new cedar broom is the best thing in the world to take up all the dust and to brush out all the nooks and corners," she used to say to Theodora and Ellen; and when, at stated intervals, it became necessary, in her opinion, to clean the wood-house and other out-buildings, or the cellar, she would generally preface the announcement by saying to them at the breakfast table, "You must get me some broom-stuff, to-day, some of that green cedar down in the swamp below the pasture. I want enough for two or three brooms. Sprig off a good lot of it and get the sprigs of a size to tie on good."
The girls liked the trip, for it gave them an opportunity to gather checkerberries, pull "young ivies," search for "twin sisters" and see the woods, birds and squirrels, with a chance of espying an owl in the swamp, or a hawk's nest in some big tree; or perhaps a rabbit, or a mink along the brook.
If they could contrive to get word of their trip to Catherine Edwards and she could find time to accompany them, so much the more pleasant; for Catherine was better acquainted with the woods and possessed that practical knowledge of all rural matters which only a bright girl, bred in the country with a taste for rambling about, ever acquires.
A morning proclamation to gather broom-stuff having been issued at about this time, the three girls set off an hour or two after dinner for the east pasture; Mrs. Edwards, who was a very kind, easy-going woman, nearly always allowed Catherine to accompany our girls. Kate, in fact, did about as she liked at home, not from indulgence on the part of her mother so much as from being a leading spirit in the household. She was very quick at work; and her mother, instead of having to prompt her, generally found her going ahead, hurrying about to get everything done early in the day. Then, too, she was quick-witted and knew how to take care of herself when out from home. Mrs. Edwards always appeared to treat Kate more as an equal than a daughter. There are children who are spoiled if allowed to have their own way, and others who can be trusted to take their own way without the least danger of injury, and whom it is but an ill-natured exercise of authority to restrict to rules.
The Old Squire was breaking greensward in the south field that afternoon with Addison and Halse driving the team which consisted of a yoke of oxen and two yokes of steers, the latter not as yet very well "broken" to work. My inexperienced services were not required; but to keep me out of hurtful idleness, the old gentleman bade me pick up four heaps of stones on a stubble field near the east pasture wall. It was a kind of work which I did not enjoy very well, and I therefore set about it with a will to get it done as soon as possible.
I had nearly completed the fourth not very large stone pile, when I heard one of the girls calling me from down in the pasture, below the field. It was Ellen. She came hurriedly up nearer the wall. "Run to the house and get Addison's fish-hook and line and something for bait!" she exclaimed. "For there is the greatest lot of trout over at the Foy mill-pond you ever saw! There's more than fifty of them. Such great ones!"
"Why, how came you to go over there?" said I; for the Foy mill-pond was fully a mile distant, in a lonely place where formerly a saw-mill had stood, and where an old stone dam still held back a pond of perhaps four acres in extent. The ruins of the mill with several broken wheels and other gear were lying on the ledges below the dam; and two curiously gnarled trees overhung the bed of the hollow-gurgling stream. Alders had now grown up around the pond; and there were said to be some very large water snakes living in the chinks of the old dam. It was one of those ponds the shores of which are much infested by dragon-flies, or "devil's darn-needles," as they are called by country boys, — the legend being that with their long stiff bodies, used as darning needles, they have a mission, to sew up the mouths of those who tell falsehoods.
"Oh, Kate wanted to go," replied Ellen. "We went by the old logging road through the woods from the cedar swamp. She thought we would see a turtle on that sand bank across from the old dam, if we sat down quietly and waited awhile. The turtles sometimes come out on that sand bank to sun themselves, she said. So we went over and sat down, very still, in the little path at the top of the dam wall. The sun shone down into the water. We could see the bottom of the pond for a long way out. Kate was watching the sand bank: and so was I; but after a minute or two, Theodora whispered, 'Only see those big fish!' Then we looked down into the water and saw them, great lovely fish with spots of red on their sides, swimming slowly along, all together, circling around the foot of the pond as if they were exploring. Oh, how pretty they looked as they turned; for they kept together and then swam off up the pond again.
"Kate whispered that they were trout. 'But I never saw so many,' she said, 'nor such large ones before; and I never heard Tom nor any of the boys say there were trout here.'
"We thought they had gone perhaps and would not come again," Ellen continued. "But in about ten minutes they all came circling back down the other shore of the pond, keeping in a school together just as when we first saw them. We sat and watched them till they came around the third time, and then Kate said, 'One of us must run home and tell the boys to come with their hooks.' I said that I would go, and I've run almost all the way. Now hurry. I'll rest here till you come. Then we will scamper back."
In a corner of the vegetable garden where I had dug horse-radish a few mornings before, I had seen some exceedingly plethoric angle-worms; and after running to the wood-house and securing a fish-hook, pole and line which Addison kept there, ready strung, I seized an old tin quart, and going to the garden, with a few deep thrusts of the shovel, turned out a score or two of those great pale-purple, wriggling worms. These I as hastily hustled into the quart along with a pint or more of the dirt, then snatching up my pole, ran down to the field where Nell was waiting for me, seated on one of my lately piled stone heaps.
"Come, hurry now," said she; and away we went over the wall and through brakes and bushes, down into the swamp, and then along the old road in the woods, till we came out at the high conical knoll, covered with sapling pines, to the left of the old mill dam. There we espied Kate and Theodora sitting quietly on a log.
"Oh, we thought that you never would come," said the former in a low tone. "But creep along here. Don't make a noise. They've come around six times, Ellen, since you went away. I never saw trout do so before. I believe they are lost and are exploring, or looking for some way out of this pond. I guess they came down out of North Pond along the Foy Brook; for they are too large for brook trout. They will be back here in a few minutes, again. Now bait the hook and drop in before they come back. Then sit still, and when they come, just move the bait a little and I think you'll get a bite."
I followed this advice and sat for some minutes, dangling a big angle-worm out in the deep water, off the inner wall of the dam, while my three companions watched the water. Presently Theodora whispered that they were coming again; and then I saw what was, indeed, from a piscatorial point of view, a rare spectacle. First the water waved deep down, near the bottom, and seemed filled with dark moving objects, showing here and there the sheen of light brown and a glimmer of flashing red specks, as the sunlight fell in among them. For an instant I was so intent on the sight, that I quite forgot my hook. "Bob it now," whispered Kate, excitedly.
I had scarcely given my hook a bob up and down when, with a grand rush and snap, a big trout grabbed worm, hook and all. Instinctively I gave a great yank and swung him heavily out of the water, my pole bending half double. The trout was securely hooked, or I should have lost him, for he fell first on some drift logs and slid down betwixt them into the water again. Seizing the line in my hands, since the pole was too light for the fish, I contrived to lift him up and land him high and dry on the dam, close at the feet of the girls.
"Well done!" Theodora whispered. "Oh, isn't he a noble great one, and how like sport he jumps about! Too bad to take his life when he's so handsome and was having such a good time among his mates!"
"Unhook him quick and throw in again!" cried Kate. "Be careful he don't snap your fingers. He's got sharp teeth. Don't let him leap into the water. That's good! We'll keep him behind this log. Now bait again with a good new worm."
"But they've gone," said Theodora. "They darted away when you pulled this one out. It scared them."
I had experienced some difficulty in disengaging my hook from the trout's jaw, but at length put on another worm and dropped in again, not a little excited over my catch.
"I'm afraid they will not come around again," said Ellen. Kate, too, thought it doubtful whether we would see anything more of the school. "I guess they will beat a retreat up to North Pond," said she.
We sat quietly waiting for eight or ten minutes and were losing hope fast, when lo! there they all came again — swimming evenly around the foot of the pond in the deep part, as before, winnowing the water slowly with their fins.
Again I waited till my hook was in the midst of the school; and this time I had scarcely moved it, when another snapped it. I had resolved not to jerk quite so hard this time; but in my excitement I pulled much harder than was necessary to hook the trout and again swung it out and against the wall of the dam. With a vigorous squirm the fish threw himself clean off the hook; but by chance I grabbed him in my hands, as he did so, and threw him over the dam among the raspberry briars — safe.
"Well done again," said Theodora.
In a trice I had rebaited my hook and dropped in a third time; but as before the vagrant school had moved on. They had seemed alarmed for the moment by the commotion, and darted off with accelerated speed. But we now had more confidence that they would return and again settled ourselves to wait.
"Oh, I want to catch one!" exclaimed Ellen.
"I wish we had more hooks," said Kate. "We would fish at different points around the pond."
After about the same interval of time and in the same odd, migratory manner, the beautiful school came around four times more in succession; and every time I swung out a handsome one. Kate then took the pole and caught one. Then Ellen caught one; and afterwards Theodora took her turn and succeeded in landing a fine fellow which flopped off the dam once, but was finally secured. In the scramble to save this last one, however, I rolled a loose stone off the dam into the water; and either owing to the splash made by the stone, or because the trout had completed their survey of the pond, they did not return. We saw nothing more of the school although we had not caught a fifth part of them.
After waiting fifteen or twenty minutes we went along the shore on both sides of the pond but could not discern them anywheres. It is likely that they had gone back to the larger pond, two miles distant.
At that time, the very odd circumstances attending the capture of these trout did not greatly surprise me; for I knew almost nothing of fishing. But within a considerable experience since, I have never seen anything like it.
We laid the nine large trout in a row on the dam, side by side, and then strung them on a forked maple branch. They were indeed beauties! The largest was found that night to weigh three pounds and three quarters; and the smallest two pounds and an ounce. The whole string weighed over twenty-two pounds. Going homeward, we first took turns carrying them, then hung them on a pole for two to carry.
Our folks were at supper when we arrived at the house door with our cedar and our fish. When they saw those trout, they all jumped up from the table. Addison and Halse had never caught anything which could compare with them for size; both of the boys stared in astonishment.
"Where in the world did you catch those whopping trout?" was then the question which we had to answer in detail.
Kate carried three of them home with her; and we had six for our share. The Old Squire dressed two of the largest; and grandmother rolled them in meal and fried them with pork for our supper. I thought at the time that I had never tasted anything one half as good in my life!
Next morning Addison got up at half past four and having hastily milked his two cows, went over to the old mill-pond, to try his own hand at fishing there. He found Tom Edwards there already; but neither of them caught a trout, nor saw one. Addison went again a day or two after; and the story having got abroad, more than twenty persons fished there during the next fortnight, but caught no trout.
Evidently it was a transient school. I never caught a trout in the mill-pond, afterwards; although the following year Addison made a great catch in a branch of the Foy stream below the dam under somewhat peculiar circumstances.
At the far end of the dam, a hundred feet from the flume, there was an "apron," beneath a waste-way, where formerly the overflow of water went out and found its way for a hundred and fifty yards, perhaps, by another channel along the foot of a steep bank; then, issuing through a dense willow thicket, it joined the main stream from the flume.
Water rarely flowed here now, except in time of freshets, or during the spring and fall rains; and there was such a prodigious tangle of alder, willow, clematis and other vines that for years no one had penetrated it. From a fisherman's point of view there seemed no inducement to do so, since this secondary channel appeared to be dry for most of the time.
In point of fact, however, and unknown to us, there was a very deep hole at the foot of the high bank where the channel was obstructed by a ledge. The hole thus formed was thirty or forty feet in length, and at the deepest place under the bank the water was six or seven feet in depth; but such was the tangle of brush above, below and all about it that one would never have suspected its existence.
An experienced and observing fisherman would have noted, however, that always, even in midsummer, there was a tiny rill of water issuing through the willows to join the main stream; and that, too, when not a drop of water was running over the waste-way of the dam. He would have noted also that this was unusually clear, cold water, like water from a spring. There was, in fact, a copious spring at the foot of the bank near the deep hole; and this hole was maintained by the spring, and not by the water from above the dam.
Addison was a born observer, a naturalist by nature; and on one of these hopeful trips to the mill-pond, he had searched out and found that hidden hole on the old waste-way channel, below the dam. When he had forced his way through the tangled mass of willows, alders and vines and discovered the pool, he found eighteen or nineteen splendid speckled trout in it.
Either these trout had come over the waste-way of the dam in time of freshet, and had been unable to get out through the rick of small drift stuff at the foot of the hole; or else perhaps they were trout that had come in there as small fry and had been there for years, till they had grown to their present size. Certain it is that they were now two-and three-pound trout.
Did Addison come home in haste to tell us of his discovery? Not at all. He did not even allow himself to catch one of the trout at that time, for he knew that Halstead and I had seen him set off for the old mill-pond. He came home without a fish, and remarked at the dinner-table that it was of no use to fish for trout in that old pond — which was true enough.
The next wet day, however, he said at breakfast to the Old Squire, "If you don't want me, sir, for an hour or two this morning, I guess I'll go down the Horr Brook and see if I can catch a few trout."
Gramp nodded, and we saw Addison dig his worms and set off. The Horr Brook was on the west side of the farm, while the old mill-pond lay to the southeast. What Addison did was to fish down the Horr Brook for about a mile, to the meadows where the lake woods began. He then made a rapid detour around through the woods to the Foy Brook, and caught four trout out of the hidden preserve below the old dam. Afterwards he went back as he had come to the Horr Brook, then strolled leisurely home with eight pounds of trout.
Of course there was astonishment and questions. "You never caught those trout in the Horr Brook!" Halstead exclaimed. But Addison only laughed.
"Ad, did you get those beauties out of the old mill-pond?" demanded Ellen.
"No," said Addison, but he would answer no more questions.
About two weeks after that he set off fishing to the Horr Brook again, and again returned with two big trout. Nobody else who fished there had caught anything weighing more than half a pound; and in the lake, at that time, there was nothing except pickerel. But all that Addison would say was that he did not have any trouble in catching such trout.
The mystery of those trout puzzled us deeply. Not only Halstead and I, but Thomas Edwards, Edgar Wilbur and the Murch boys all did our best to find out where and how Addison fished, but quite without success.
Cold weather was now at hand and the fishing over; Addison astonished us, however, by bringing home two noble trout for Thanksgiving day.
THOSE BIG TROUT.
The next spring, about May 1st, he went off fishing, unobserved, and brought home two more big trout. After that if he so much as took down his fish-pole, the rumor of it went round, and more than one boy made ready to follow him. For we were all persuaded that he had discovered some wonderful new brook or trout preserve.
Not even the girls could endure the grin of superior skill which Addison wore when he came home with those big trout. Theodora and Ellen also began to watch him; and the two girls, with Catherine Edwards, hatched a scheme for tracking him. Thomas had a little half-bred cocker spaniel puppy, called Tyro, which had a great notion of running after members of the family by scent. If Thomas had gone out, and Kate wished to discover his whereabouts, she would show him one of Thomas's shoes and say, "Go find him!" Tyro would go coursing around till he took Thomas's track, then race away till he came upon him.
The girls saved up one of Addison's socks, and on a lowery day in June, when they made pretty sure that he had stolen off fishing, Ellen ran over for Kate and Tyro. Thomas was with them when they came back, and Halstead and I joined in the hunt. The sock was brought out for Tyro to scent; then away he ran till he struck Addison's trail, and dashed out through the west field and down into the valley of the Horr Brook.
All six of us followed in great glee, but kept as quiet as possible. It proved a long, hot chase; for when Tyro had gone along the brook as far as the lake woods, he suddenly tacked and ran on an almost straight course through the woods and across the bushy pasture-lands, stopping only now and then for us to catch up. When we came out on the Foy Brook at a distance below the old dam, the dog ran directly up the stream till he came to the place where the little rill from the hidden hole joined it; then he scrambled in among the thick willows.
We were a little way behind, and knowing that the dog would soon come out at the mill-pond, we climbed up the bank among the low pines on the hither side of the brook.
Tyro was not a noisy dog, but a few moments after he entered the thicket we heard him give one little bark, as if of joy.
"He's found him!" whispered Kate. "Let's keep still!"
Nothing happened for some minutes; then we saw Addison's head appear among the brush, as if to look around. For some time he stood there, still as a mouse, peering about and listening. Evidently he suspected that some one was with the dog, most likely Thomas, and that he had gone to the mill-pond to fish; but we were not more than fifty feet away, lying up in the thick pine brush.
After looking and listening for a long while, Addison drew back into the thicket, but soon reappeared with two large trout, and was hurrying away down the brook when we all shouted, "Oho!"
Addison stopped, looking both sheepish and wrathful; but we pounced on him, laughing so much that he was compelled to own up that he was beaten. He showed us the hole — after we had crept into the thicket — and the ledge where he had sat so many times to fish. "But there are only four more big trout," he said. "I meant to leave them here, and put in twenty smaller ones to grow up."
The girls thought it best to do so, and Halstead and I agreed to the plan; but three or four days later, when Theodora, Ellen and Addison went over to see the hole again, we found that the four large trout had disappeared. We always suspected that Thomas caught them, or that he told the Murch boys or Alfred Batchelder of the hole. Yet an otter may possibly have found it. In May, two years afterward, Halstead and I caught six very pretty half-pound trout there, but no one since has ever found such a school of beauties as Addison discovered.