The Fishers

“Fish’ll bite their own tails on a day like this, Gilbert, and will go crazy at sight of a grasshopper,” Cousin Rolland remarked one afternoon as we came out from luncheon and were well clear of the house.
“Yes,” I answered, looking up at the sky, which was overcast with gray clouds.
“What do you say, then, to a little diversion—after office hours?” he asked, coaxingly, as if seeking to influence me.
“I’d like it,” I answered, which he knew well enough.
“Well, then, suppose you be at the inlet at four—that is, if your cousin can spare you,” he added, winking, and glancing in the direction of the house.
“What kind of bait shall I get?” I asked, disregarding his reference to Cousin Angeline.
“Oh, anything. If you could lay hold of a frog, though, we might get a bass or pickerel, maybe; but pork or worms will do for cat and suckers, and they are good enough fishing for me.”
“All right; I’ll be there with what I can find,” I answered, as he walked away.
Like all good-natured men, Cousin Rolland was very fond of this kind of sport, and without much, if any, reference to the weather, though if favorable, as in the present instance, he never failed to make it an excuse. Fishing, indeed, was the one thing in our lives from which we derived unalloyed pleasure, albeit partaken of surreptitiously and with fear and trembling as regards Cousin Angeline, who looked upon such things as weak and frivolous, and not to be countenanced, much less encouraged.
The ground we most frequented was a little inlet below the town, near where the Sacs and Foxes once had their home, though for pickerel and bass we often went as far as the juncture of the two rivers, some way off. Hid away in the little cove I have mentioned, Cousin Rolland kept a boat, which I was privileged to use when I could steal away; and this was much oftener than one would think, because of Cousin Angeline’s frequent absences from home in pursuance of her many charitable labors. When Cousin Rolland’s work permitted, he would join me, and loosing our little craft, we pulled into the quiet bay in search of such sport as the day afforded. This, however, without hope of any great catch as regards number or quality of fish, but with many idle comments regarding the water and nature of the bait and other things of that kind, such as fishermen are given to.
One place in the little inlet, where the water was deep and the bottom black with mud, catfish were always to be found in the shade of the evening, and here at such times we were in the habit of casting our lines; and in regard to this fish, I am bound to say it is not generally held in the high estimation its plastic nature and grave character merit. Moving about all its life in the quietude of the deep, cool water, it comes to the surface without flutter or hurry of expectation, but with a steady pull on the line such as one might expect from its bulk and dignified character. This absence of flurry is misconstrued by the unthinking, and causes many fishermen to underestimate the value and game qualities of the fish. For one must not suppose that it is without feeling or spirit because it makes so little fuss. On the contrary, its grinding teeth and close-set jaws clearly evince its courage and disposition to fight if there was anything to be gained by such waste of energy. “Why struggle against the inevitable!” it seems to say, and in this clearly shows itself superior to all others of its kind, though if one would clearly understand its rage and undying hate he has but to watch its pliant whiskers as they wag and twirl as it emerges from the water, and afterward when lying helpless in the bottom of the boat. Curiously, the head of this fish is in all things too big for its body, but why this is so I have never heard any one venture an opinion. It is as if it were made for some other and bigger animal, but there being none such about, nature had in derision clapped it on this creature, all too small. This unfortunate fish afforded us no end of pleasure, but of our catch, after giving it some examination and remark, we generally ended by slipping it back into the stream, to be caught again, unless, indeed, it was of considerable size and firmness, when if we thought it prudent, we put it aside for Cousin Angeline’s table or charitable endeavors.
If it happened that we were on hand too early for cat to bite, we fished for suckers, of which there were great numbers about the mouth of the little bay. It is from this harmless fish, you must know, that feeds mainly on succulent grasses, that the good people of Illinois derive their patronymic. Why it, any more than another, should have had so great an honor thrust upon it I do not know, unless, indeed, because of its great prevalence in the sluggish streams of the state. Viewed from the exterior, it is as shapely a fish as one could wish, but inwardly is full of bones; not diffused, indeed, as in the case of other fish, but tied up like faggots or sheaves of wheat, and in such diminutive parcels that no ingenuity of the gourmand is sufficient to evade the delicate morsels. The mouth of the sucker is its striking feature, however, and from this it derives its name. Without teeth and featureless, this interesting fish has a way of puckering its lips into a knot and then pursing them out suddenly, as a child will in derision of its playmates; or perhaps more like a man who, firmly drawing in his lips, as if nothing could ever move him from his set purpose, suddenly relaxes and gives up all without a struggle.
Nothing could exceed our delight in snaring the inoffensive creatures that frequented the little inlet, and indeed it is difficult to imagine any form of recreation more refreshing or likely to relax the overstrained nerves of men. This more especially, I may say, in the case of philosophers and others not given to much hardness of muscle. Its restive properties, too, are far greater, I am constrained to believe, than are to be found in the new-fangled reel and more alert game, whereby your nervous system is much overwrought and the fish put to a vexation of spirit every kindly man must deplore.
9In this way, and as I have described, the days went by until two months had come and gone, when one afternoon, as we sat watching our lines, Cousin Rolland remarked, spitting on his bait a second time:
“Your Cousin Angeline has more work to do, Gilbert.”
This news, while important, as was everything concerning Cousin Angeline, seemingly did not concern me, and so I only answered:
“Yes, cousin.”
“She has a correspondent.”
“Has she?” I replied, absently, pulling in a bullhead that wriggled on the hook as if some one were tickling it to death.
“Cousin Angeline’s fond of writing and accounts.”
“This has nothing to do with the charities, though,” he answered, reflectively.
“I suppose letter-writing’s strange here?” I replied, throwing the bullhead back into the water and putting on a fresh worm. “But we ought always to write to our kin, and Cousin Angeline’s got a lot, you know.”
“Yes, including papa and the two nephews; but it is not her kin who are writing to her now,” he replied, jerking at his line. “Drat it! that’s the third worm that turtle has picked off my hook.”
“Try a grasshopper, cousin; but who else writes to her?” I answered, dropping my hook close to the bottom for cat.
“A lawyer, of all men.”
“A lawyer! What can he have to say?” I answered, little interested.
“Oh, there are many things lawyers can write about, as in this case,” he replied. “You would jump out of the boat, too, if you knew his name.”
“Why, what have I to do with it?” I answered, looking up surprised.
“Can’t you guess who it is?” he answered, eying me sideways.
“No, unless it’s Mr. Lincoln. I don’t know any other,” I answered.
“It is not Mr. Lincoln, for he never heard of your cousin. It is some one you dislike, and for good reason,” he replied. slowly.
“Some one I dislike!” I answered, trying to think who he could mean.
“Yes, but it is all right, I hope. It’s—it’s—Moth,” he answered at last, catching his breath.
This piece of news, which he had sought to lead up to with, so much pains, and which if I had not been so dull I would have guessed, I was altogether unprepared to hear. Surely nothing so startling could have been dreamed of, and repeating the name over and over, I sat staring at him, unable to say more. NORFLOXACIN IP
“Yes, Moth,” he went on, “the rascal! I saw the letter on her table.”
“What did it say?” I asked, after a while, scarce able to speak.
“I could only read the name, for your cousin came in at the moment, and made such an ado about my spying into her correspondence that I was frightened. When I told her again and again that I had not read a word the letter contained, she finally appeared to believe what I said, and there the matter dropped.”
“Do you think he knows I’m here?” I asked, foolishly, feeling sure he did.
“I am afraid so, else why should he write to her? He must have found out that you stopped off here, and so have traced you. Some one in Rock Island has written him—betrayed you, Gilbert, I fear,” he added, coloring, and winding his line absently about the stick he held.
“Yes, but what am I to do? I’ll not let Moth take me. I’d throw myself into the river first,” I answered, scarce knowing what I said.
“No, of course not; and if it turns out that he is really after you, you must go to your Uncle Job. It is only a few hours’ ride, and if there is no boat, you can go by the highway. There is no need to act hastily, though. Let us watch and see. Maybe it is all right, after all.”
“No, they’re after me, and I’m not going back to the house,” I answered, determined never to come into Moth’s clutches.
“That will never do, Gilbert. We will go home and spy out the ground, as I have said. Moth will never come this far on so uncertain an errand,” he added, as if to comfort me.
“Yes, he will, now that he has found out I’m here and he has some one to help trap me,” I answered, thoughtlessly, as I should not have done, because of Cousin Rolland. He, however, took no notice of what I said, but taking up the oars brought us to the shore, and securing the boat we started for home, much cast down in spirits.