English Literature

Joe Wayring at Home by Harry Castlemon

Joe Wayring at Home by Harry Castlemon.jpg



I AM called “Old Durability”; but for fear my name may prove misleading, and cause those of my readers who are not acquainted with me to fall into the error of supposing that I am a very aged article, I desire to say, at the outset, that I am only four years old, and that I have been in active service just sixteen months. During that time I have seen a world of excitement and adventure, and have performed some exploits of which any fly-rod might be justly proud. I have hooked, at one cast, and successfully landed, two black bass, weighing together eight and a quarter pounds; I have so often been dumped in the cold waters of mountain 6lakes and streams that it is a wonder my ferrules were not rusted out long ago; I have been dragged about among snags and lily-pads, by enraged trout, pickerel and bass; I have been stolen from my lawful owner, been kept a prisoner by boys and tramps who either could not or would not take care of me, and one of my joints has been broken. Of course, I was skillfully patched up, but, like the man whose arm has been fractured, I am not quite as good as I used to be, and am reluctant to exert all my strength for fear that I shall break again in the same place. I can’t throw a fly as far as I could when I took my finest string of trout in front of the “sportsmen’s home” at Indian Lake, and when I am called upon to make the attempt, my ferrules groan and creak as if they were about to give away and let me fall to pieces. For this my master laid me up in ordinary (that is what sailors say of a war vessel when she goes out of commission, and is laid up in port to remain idle there until her services are needed again), saying, as he did so, that my days of usefulness were over, but that he would keep me for the good I had done.

7After having led an active life among the hills, lakes and forest streams almost ever since I could remember, you may be sure that I did not relish treatment of this sort. After doing my level best for my master, and landing more than one fish for him that he ought to have lost because he handled me so awkwardly—after going with him through some of the most exciting scenes of his life, and submitting to treatment that would have used up almost any other rod, must I be laid upon the shelf in a dark closet and left to my gloomy reflections, while a new favorite accompanied my master to the woods, caught the trout for his dinner, slept under his blanket, and listened to the thrilling and amusing stories that were told around the camp-fire? I resolved to prevent it, if I could; so when my master took me out of my case one day to assist him in catching a muskalonge he had seen in the lake back of his father’s house, I nerved myself to do valiant battle, hoping to show him that there was plenty of good hard work left in me, if he only knew how to bring it out.

The muskalonge, which was lurking in the 8edge of the lily-pads ready to pounce upon the first unwary fish that approached his lair, took the frog that was on the hook at the very first cast, and then began the hardest struggle of my life. My rheumatic joints complained loudly as the heavy fish darted up and down the lake, and then dove to the bottom in his mad efforts to escape, but I held on the best I knew how until he leaped full length out of the water, and tried to shake the hook from his mouth; then I was ready to give up the contest. He was the largest fish I ever saw.

“Scotland’s a burning!” exclaimed Joe. “Isn’t he a beauty? If this old rod was as good as he used to be, wouldn’t I have a prize in a few minutes from now?”

I ought to have told you before that my master’s name is Joe Wayring; and a right good boy he is, too, as you will find before my story is ended. Nearly all the young fellows of my acquaintance, and I know some of the best there are in the country, have some favorite word or expression which always rises to their lips whenever they are surprised, excited or angry, and the words I have just quoted are 9the ones Joe always used under such circumstances. No matter how exasperated he was you never could get any thing stronger out of him.

I will not dwell upon the particulars of that fight (my joints ache yet whenever I think of it), for I set out to talk about other matters. It will be enough to say that I held fast to the fish until he became exhausted and was drawn through the lily-pads to the bank; then the gaff-hook came to my assistance, and he was safely landed. He was a monster. I afterward learned that he weighed a trifle over nineteen pounds. Wasn’t that something of an exploit for an eight ounce rod who had been threatened with the retired list on account of supposed disability? I was so nearly doubled up by the long-continued strain that had been brought to bear upon me, that when my master threw me down on the ground while he gave his prize his quietus with the heavy handle of the gaff-hook, I could not immediately straighten out again, as every well-conditioned rod is expected to do under similar circumstances.

“Why, what in the world have you got 10there?” cried Joe’s mother, as the boy entered the kitchen, carrying me in one hand and dragging the fish after him with the other. She seemed to be a little afraid of the young fisherman’s prize, and that was hardly to be wondered at, for his mouth was open, and it was full of long, sharp teeth.

“It’s the biggest muskalonge that was ever caught in this lake,” replied Joe, as he laid me down upon a chair and took both hands to deposit his fish upon the table. “Didn’t he fight, though? I say, Uncle Joe,” he added, addressing himself to a dignified gentleman in spectacles, who just then came into the room with the morning’s paper in his hand, “I shall not need that new split bamboo you promised me for my birthday, though I thank you for your kind offer, all the same. This old rod is good for at least one more summer on Indian Lake. There is plenty of back-bone left in him yet.”

Uncle Joe was a rich old bachelor and very fond of his namesake, Joe Wayring, on whom he lavished all the affection he would have given to his own children, if he had had any. 11He was an enthusiastic angler, a skillful and untiring bear and deer hunter, and he generally timed his trips to the woods and mountains so that Joe and some of his particular friends could go with him.

“He is the most durable rod I ever saw,” added my master.

“Well, then, call him ‘Old Durability’,” suggested Uncle Joe.

The boy said he thought that name would just suit me, and from that day to this I have been known by every one who is acquainted with me as “Old Durability”.

Having introduced myself, because there was no one to perform the ceremony for me, and told you how I came by my cognomen, I will now go back and relate how I made the acquaintance of my master, Joe Wayring.

If you will review your own life, boy reader, you may be able to find in it some incident, which happened, perhaps, long before you were out of pinafores, and which you remember perfectly, while all your life previous to the occurrence of that particular incident is a blank to you. Just so it was in my own experience. 12When I first came to my senses, I found myself snugly tied up in my case and standing in a corner, looking through a glass door into a large store in which guns of all makes and fishing tackle of all kinds were kept for sale. At first I was greatly bewildered. I felt, if I may judge from what I have seen during my trips to the woods, like a boy who has just awakened from a sound sleep; but after a while my wits came to me, and then I found that I was not alone in the show-case. There were a dozen or two fly and bait rods standing in the corner beside me, and a little further down, looking toward the back end of the store, were single and double-barreled shot-guns, muzzle and breech-loading rifles, game-bags, creels, hunting knives, dog-whips, and almost every thing else that a sportsman is supposed to need. In the show-case, which rested on the long counter in front of me, were revolvers, pen-knives, lines, leaders, flies and ordinary fish-hooks without number; and on the opposite side of the store was an array of barrels containing glass balls, traps for throwing those balls, bicycles, tricycles, rowing and lifting machines—in fact, I saw so many 13things that I did not then know the name or use of, that I became confused while I looked at them.

“Hallo, there! Have you waked up at last?” cried a voice, breaking in upon my meditations.

A short investigation showed that the voice came from the case that stood next on my right. I did not know, of course, what sort of a rod he was, or whether or not he would prove to be an agreeable acquaintance; but wishing to be civil, I replied that I had waked up, and that, if he could tell me, I should be glad to know where I was and how I came there.

“Why, you are in a one-horse country town, a thousand miles from nowhere, and you have always been here,” was the answer, given as I thought in a tone of contempt. “I have traveled. I came all the way from New York.”

“Who are you?” I ventured to ask; for my new acquaintance spoke in so dignified and lofty a tone, that I stood somewhat in awe of him.

“I am a split bamboo,” said he; and then I saw very clearly that he was disposed to throw on airs, and to lord it over those who were not 14as fortunate as himself. “I am a gentleman’s rod, and it takes the ducats to buy me. I am worth forty-five dollars; while I see by the card tied to your case, that you are valued at only six and a half.”

Not being quick at figures at this early period of my life, I could not tell just how much difference there was between forty-five dollars and six and a half, but I knew by the way the bamboo spoke, that the gulf that separated him from me was a wide one. I have learned some things since then. I know now that the qualities of a fly-rod do not depend upon the varnish that is put on the outside of him, any more than a boy’s qualities of mind and heart depend upon the clothes he wears. The stuff he is made of and the company he keeps have much to do with the record he makes in the world. While I was turning the matter over in my mind, somebody who had been listening to our conversation, suddenly broke in with:

“You are neither one of you worth the money you cost.”

I looked around to see who the new speaker was, and presently discovered him in the person 15of a handsome bird gun, who rested upon a pair of deer’s antlers a short distance away.

“You can’t bring a squirrel out of the top of the tallest hickory in the woods, or stop a woodcock or a grouse on the wing, but I can,” continued the double-barrel.

“I can catch a trout, if I have some one to back me who understands his business, and that’s more than you can do,” retorted the bamboo, spitefully. “I can throw a line sixty or seventy feet; I heard the proprietor of this store say so.”

“And I can throw shot sixty or seventy yards, which is three times as far as you can throw a line,” shouted the double-barrel. “You seem to think yourself of some consequence because you came from New York. I came all the way from England, and that is on the other side of the ocean.”

“So you are an assisted immigrant, are you?” cried the bamboo, in tones indicative of the greatest contempt. “Well, that’s all I care to know about you.”

The disputants grew more and more in earnest the longer they talked, and pretty soon 16there were some hard words used. I took no part in the controversy, for I felt rather bashful in the presence of those who had seen so much more of the world than I had, and who were worth so much more money, and besides I could not see what there was to quarrel about. My sympathies were with the bamboo, arrogant as he had showed himself to be, because he was an American like myself; but still the English fowling-piece, “assisted immigrant” though he was, had a right to live in this country so long as he behaved himself, and as he was a showy fellow, I had no doubt that he would get out of the store before either the bamboo or myself. And so he did. While the dispute was at its height the door opened and a young man came in—a tall young man, with very thin legs, peaked shoes, gold eye-glasses and a downy upper lip. He walked with a mincing step and drawled out his words when he talked.

“A dude!” whispered the bamboo.

Before I could ask what a “dude” was, the proprietor came up, and the talking was for a moment hushed. Being impatient to be released from the show-case so that we could 17see what was going on in the great world outside, each one of us cherished the secret hope that we might find favor in the eyes of the prospective purchaser. We were so inexperienced and foolish that we didn’t care much who bought us, so long as we got out.

“I—aw! I want to look at a nice light bird gun,” said the young man; “something you can recommend for woodcock and the like, don’t yer know?”

“Why, that’s a countryman of mine,” exclaimed the double-barrel, who seemed to be highly excited by the discovery.

The bamboo hastened to assure me that he wasn’t—that he was an American trying to ape English ways.

“Do you want a hammerless?” asked the proprietor.

“I—aw! They come pretty ’igh, don’t they?”

“Not necessarily. Here’s one worth a hundred and twenty-five dollars,” replied the storekeeper; and as he spoke, he opened the show-case and took from it a double-barrel who was so very plain in appearance, that I had not before taken more than a passing glance at him. “I 18judge from your speech that you are an Englishman, and if you are, you of course know more about this make of guns than I can tell you. It is a Greener.”

The young man seemed pleased to know that he had succeeded in making the proprietor believe that he was not an American, but he did not seem to appreciate the gun, nor did he handle it as if he were accustomed to the use of fire-arms. He hardly knew how to bring it to his face properly.

“I—aw! Hit’s wery fine, no doubt,” said he, after he had made an awkward pretense of examining the gun, “but I—aw! I want something a little more showy and not quite so ’igh-priced, don’t yer know? Something that I can take pride in exhibiting to my ’unting friends, don’t yer know?”

“We have guns that are more showy than this, but they are cheap affairs, and we don’t recommend them. How would this one suit you?” said the proprietor; and as he spoke, he opened another door in the show-case, and took my bragging friend down from his place on the antlers.

19It may have been all imagination on my part, but I would have been willing to affirm that his nickel-plated ornaments grew a shade dimmer as he was taken out of the case, and I am of the same opinion still. By his boasting he had led us all to believe that he was worth at least two or three hundred dollars; and you can imagine how surprised we were when we learned that he was valued at a very small fraction of that sum.

“Aw! That looks more like a gun,” said the customer. “That’s a piece, don’t yer know, that a fellah can show to his friends. Hit’ll shoot, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes, it will shoot, but it will not do as clean work as the one I just showed you.”

“Hi’ll take the risk. ’Ow much for ’im?”

“Twenty-five dollars; and that includes a trunk-shaped case, loading-tools, wiping-rod and fifty brass-shells.”

The young man handed over the money and went out, after requesting that his purchase might be sent up to the Lambert House at once, as he wished to start for the woods on the following day. As soon as the door was 20closed behind him, the proprietor called out to the porter:

“Oh, Rube! Come here and take this Brummagem shooting-iron up to the hotel. Thank goodness it is the last one we have in stock, and I’ll never buy another.”

“I wonder how that boastful bird gun feels now,” whispered the bamboo. “His pride had to take a tumble, didn’t it? There’s no Brummagem about me, I can tell you.”

“What do you mean by—by—” The word was too hard for me, and I stumbled over it.

“By Brummagem?” said the bamboo, who felt so good over the discomfiture of the English fowling-piece that he was disposed to be friendly as well as civil. “Why, it’s something that is fine and showy, but which is not in reality worth any thing. A Yankee would say that that double-barrel was a ‘shoddy’ article.”

“I feel guilty every time I sell one of those guns,” continued the proprietor. “They are made in Birmingham, England, at the cost of nine dollars apiece by the dozen.”

“That dude will never hurt any thing with 21it,” observed the porter, who had taken a good look at the customer and heard all that passed between him and his employer.

“I hope he will not hurt himself with it,” answered the latter. “What does he want to go into the woods for? He doesn’t know a woodcock from an ostrich.”

“He goes because it is fashionable, I suppose,” said Rube; and I afterward found out that that was just the reason. I saw him in the wilderness a few weeks later, and had an opportunity to exchange a word or two with the Brummagem breech-loader. The latter looked decidedly seedy. He was covered with rust, his locks were out of order, and he had been put to such hard service that every joint in his make-up was loose. The second time I met him he could scarcely talk to me, because there was not much left of him except his stock. His ignorant owner—but we’ll wait until we come to that, won’t we?

The next customers who came into the store were an elderly gentleman and a young lady. I certainly thought my chance for freedom had come, for when the gentleman said that his 22daughter wanted to look at a fly-rod, something light enough to be managed with one hand, and strong enough to land a perch or rock-bass, the proprietor pushed open the door in front of me and took me out.

“Aha!” exclaimed the bamboo. “Your fate is to be the companion and plaything of a little girl, who will probably set you to catching sunfish and minnows, and throw you down in the mud when she gets through with you. I know that I am destined for the trout streams, and I have an idea that I shall be taken to Canada to have a shy at the lordly salmon. Good-by; but I am sorry for you.”

I did not thank the bamboo for his words of sympathy, because I did not believe they were sincere. I thought I could detect a hypocritical twang in them; but before I could tell him so, I was taken out of my case, and for the first time given an opportunity to see how I looked.

“There is a rod I can recommend. Lancewood throughout, nickel-plated ferrules and reel-seat and artistically wound with cane and silk,” said the proprietor, glibly. “I will 23warrant him to do good work, and if the lady breaks him she will not be much out of pocket—only six dollars and a half.”

“Oh, I don’t want a cheap thing like that,” exclaimed the young lady, who would not take a second look at me after she heard that I was worth so little money. “I want a nice rod.”

The storekeeper laid me on the show-case, and brought my friend the split bamboo out for exhibition. He was a splendid looking fellow, and I did not wonder that the young lady went into ecstasies over him, and declared at once that he was just the rod she had long been wishing for. Neither could I resist the temptation to say to him, as he was put back into his case:

“What do you think now of your chances of going among the trout streams and of taking a shy at the lordly salmon! Good-by; but I am sorry for you.”

The bamboo was so crest-fallen that he could make no response. He was carried away by his new owner, and I did not see him again until I was almost ready to be laid upon the shelf in my master’s closet, to enjoy a long 24winter’s rest after a season of the hardest kind of work. The pride and arrogance were all gone out of him, and he did not look much as he did when he left the store. If he had been a man, folks would have called him a tramp.


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