With the same noiseless stroke that Walter had so much admired in the morning Big Jim worked the canoe shoreward toward the widening circle where the last fish had broken. At his signal Walter cast, ten feet—twenty feet—thirty feet. The flies dropped lightly almost directly above the spot where they had seen the fish. Hardly had the tackle touched the water when there was a swift flash of silver and with a deft twist of the wrist Walter struck.
With a rush the fish started for deep water, while the reel sang merrily. Gently but steadily Walter applied the pressure of the rod, when the first rush was checked, reeling in every inch of slack, until five minutes later he led the tired captive within reach of Big Jim's eager fingers, which closed in his gills and the prize was theirs, a shining half-pound spotted beauty', which the guide promptly and mercifully killed by slipping a thumb into the mouth and bending the head back till the spine broke at the neck.
So they drifted alongshore, Walter taking two more of about the size of the first one, and several smaller ones. As they approached a lone rock some fifty feet offshore he made a long careful cast just to the edge of the deepest shadow of the rock. The strike which followed was so fierce and the strain on the rod so great that but for the screaming of the reel Walter would have been sure that he had caught a snag. But there was no mistaking the active form at the other end of the line. Big Jim had waked to the battle royal now in progress and was bringing to bear all his skill in the handling of the canoe.
Straight out into the lake shot the fish. " Give him th' butt, boy, give him th' butt, but be careful ! " shouted the guide. This Walter did, elevating the tip of the rod until the springing little bamboo was bent almost double, the fish pulling against the full spring of the rod, clear from the butt. This served to check the rush. A period of sulking in deep water followed. Then the line slackened until it hung limply from the end of the straightened rod.
" He's off," thought Walter, his heart sinking. But the guide was not so easily fooled.
" Reel, boy, reel !" he shouted, deftly turning the canoe as on a pivot.
Then Walter waked to the fact that the fish had started a rush straight toward the canoe, hence the slack line. Madly he reeled until a sharp tug that pulled the tip of his rod under water told him that he was still fast. With a sigh of relief he gently increased the pressure.
" Must be a four pounder, sartin," said the guide, skilfully keeping the canoe bow on. " Funny he don't break water. He ought t' hev been in th' air half a dozen times 'fore this."
Thus far they had not had so much as a glimpse of the finny warrior. Thrice he had come almost to the surface, but instead of the silver flash arching through the air, which is the joy of the fisherman, there had been no more than a sudden swirl of the placid surface, and the fish had again sought the depths.
Walter's wrist was feeling the strain. Despite the excitement he was becoming tired. His heart was pounding with conflicting emotions, alternate hope of landing a record prize and fear of losing it. Another fit of sulking gave him a few minutes' respite. When the next rush started he felt that it was weaker, nor was it as long. Inch by inch he was recovering his line, not for one instant relaxing the steady strain on the fish.
The rushes were short now and quickly checked. Inch by inch, foot by foot the reel took up the line. At last in the clear depths he got a glimpse of a shadowy form as it started another rush. Big Jim had seen too. Indeed, he had seen more than Walter had.
" Two o' em, by gum!" he shouted. " Steady now, pard ! 'Twon't be safe t' try t' land 'em in th' canoe without a landin' net. I'm goin't' work in t' thet bit o' shingle over yonder. Jes' yer keep 'em comin' an' don't let up on 'em fer a minute."
The guide was right. Both flies had been seized at once. By this time Walter could occasionally see the two fish, and the sight brought his heart into his throat. Could he save both ? What a chance to score for the Delawares ! And what a record to send home to father! He understood now why there had been no leaping; the fish had checkmated each other.
As the canoe grated on the pebbles the guide leaped over, knee-deep in the water. Walter stood up and gently led the fish toward the waiting guide. So tired were they that they were almost passive, their broad tails feebly winnowing as, getting the line in his left hand, Big Jim drew them slowly to him. Gently he sank his right arm in the water that no sudden move should startle the fish into a last frantic struggle. Would he save them? Walter sat down weakly, trembling with the strain and anxiety.
Slowly the guide's big hand slipped up the length of the fish on the dropper. The stout fingers locked in the gills, there was a deft throw—Walter could never tell just how it was done—and both fish were flapping on the shore. Jim threw himself upon them a second after, for his quick eye had seen that the tail fly had torn out. When he stood up he held out a fish in each hand, such fish ! The young angler could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes.
" Smallest'll weigh 'bout two an' a half pounds, an' 'tother 'bout a pound heftier," said Jim, eyeing them critically. " Pard, thet's goin' some fer a beginner. Reckon yer must carry a rabbit's foot in yer pocket fer luck."
Walter disclaimed any witch charms whatsoever as he produced the neat little spring scales which had been a parting gift from his father. These proved the accuracy of Jim's guess, one being an ounce less and the other an ounce and a half more than the weights he had named. They were the true broad tails or speckled trout, commonly called brook trout (Salvilinus fontinalis) than which no more beautiful fish swims.
As he admired their exquisitely painted sides something very like regret for a moment subdued the boy's elation and pride, for he was one of the true nature lovers, to whom the destruction of life must ever bring a feeling of sadness.