Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Rob Harlow's Adventures: A Story of the Grand Chaco, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  For at that minute a slight sound from the schooner made him cast hiseyes in that direction and see a lithe-looking lad of about his own agesliding down a rope into a little boat alongside, and then, casting offthe painter, the boat drifted with the current to that in which Rob wasseated.

  "Had your nap?" said Rob.

  "Yes," replied the lad in good English, but with a slight Italianaccent, as he fastened the little dinghy and stepped on board. "Howmany have you caught?"

  Rob winced, and Shaddy chuckled, while Giovanni Ossolo, son of thecaptain of the Italian river schooner _Tessa_, looked sharply from oneto the other, as if annoyed that the rough fellow should laugh at him.

  "Shall I show him all you've caught, sir?" said Shaddy.

  "Haven't had a touch, Joe," said Rob, an intimacy of a month on theriver having shortened the other's florid Italian name as above.

  The Italian lad showed his teeth.

  "You don't know how to fish," he said.

  "You'd better try yourself," said Rob. "You people talk about the fishin the Parana, but I've seen more alligators than sprats."

  "Shall I catch one?" said the new-comer.

  "Yes; let's see you."

  The lad nodded and showed his white teeth.

  "Give me an orange," he said.

  Rob rose and stepped softly to the awning, thrust his hand into a basketbeneath the shelter, and took out three, returning to give one to theyoung Italian and one to Shaddy, reserving the last for himself andbeginning to peel it at once.

  Giovanni, alias Joe--who had passed nearly the whole of his life on hisfather's schooner, which formed one of the little fleet of Italianvessels trading between Monte Video and Assuncion, the traffic beinglargely carried on by the Italian colony settled in the neighbourhood ofthe former city--took his orange, peeled it cleverly with his thin brownfingers, tossed the skin overboard for it to be nosed about directly bya shoal of tiny fish, and then pulled it in half, picked up the gimphook and shook his head, laid the hook back on the thwart, and pulledthe orange apart once more, leaving two carpels, one side of which heskinned so as to bare the juicy pulp.

  "The hook is too small," said the boy quietly.

  "Why, it's a jack hook, such as we catch big pike with at home. Butyou're not going to bait with that?"

  "Yes," said the lad, carefully thrusting the hook through the orangeafter passing it in by a piece of the skin which, for the first time,Rob saw he had left.

  "I never heard of a bait like that."

  "Oh, I dunno, my lad," said Shaddy. "I've caught carp with green peasand gooseberries at home."

  "Orange the best bait for a dorado," said the Italian softly, as heplaced the point of the hook to his satisfaction.

  "Dorado? That ought to be Spanish for a golden carp," said Rob.

  "That's it. You've about hit it, my lad," cried Shaddy, "for these hereare as much like the gold-fish you see in the globes at home as onepea's like another."

  "Then they're only little fish?" said Rob, with a contemptuous tone inhis voice.

  "Oh yes, only little ones, my lad," said Shaddy, exchanging glances withthe new-comer, who lowered the baited hook softly over the side of theboat, and rapidly paid out the line as the orange was borne away by thecurrent.

  "There, Rob, you fish!" the Italian said. "Hold tight if one comes."

  "No; go on," replied Rob. "I'm hot and tired. Bother the flies!"

  The young Italian nodded, and sitting down, twisted the end of the stoutline round a pin in the side of the boat, looking, in his loose flannelshirt and trousers and straw hat, just such a lad as might be seen anysummer day on the river Thames, save that he was bare-footed instead ofwearing brown leather or canvas shoes. Excepting the heavy breathing ofthe sleepers forward, there was perfect silence once again till Shaddysaid,--

  "Wind to-night, gentlemen, and the schooner will be off the bank."

  "The pampero?" said Giovanni--or, to shorten it to Rob's familiarnickname, Joe--quietly.

  "Looks like it, my lad. There you have him."

  For all at once the line tightened, so that there was a heavy strain onthe side of the boat.

  "That's one of them little ones, Mr Rob, sir."

  Joe frowned, and there was a very intense look in his eyes as the linecut the water to and fro, showing that some large fish had taken thebait and was struggling vigorously to escape.

  Rob was all excitement now, and ready to bewail his luck at having givenup the chance of holding so great a capture on the hook.

  "To think o' me not recollecting the orange bait!" grumbled Shaddy."Must have been half asleep!"

  Those were intense moments, but moments they were; for after a fewrushes here and there the taut line suddenly grew slack, and as Robuttered an ejaculation expressive of his disappointment Joe laughedquietly and drew in the line.

  "Look," he said, holding up the fragment of gimp attached by its loop tothe line. "I knew it was not strong enough."

  "Bit it in two," said Shaddy. "Ah, they have some teeth of their own,the fish here. Ought to call 'em dogfish, for most of 'em barks andbites."

  While he was speaking Joe had moved to the side of the dinghy, reachedover to a little locker in the stern, opened it, and returned directlywith a big ugly-looking hook swinging on a piece of twisted wire by itseye.

  "They will not bite through that," he said as he returned.

  "Oh, but that's absurdly big," said Rob, laughing. "That would frightena forty-pound pike."

  "But it wouldn't frighten a sixty-pound dorado, my lad," said Shaddyquietly.

  "What?" cried Rob. "Why, how big do you think that fish was that gotaway?"

  "Thirty or forty pound, perhaps more."

  By this time the young Italian was dividing the orange which Shaddy hadlaid upon the thwart beside him, and half of this, with the pulp wellbare, he placed upon the hook, firmly securing this to the line.

  "Now, Rob, your turn," said Joe; and the lad eagerly took hold, loweredthe bait, and tossed over some twenty yards of line.

  "Better twist it round the pin," said his companion.

  "Oh no, sir; hold it."

  "Well, then, let me secure the end fast."

  Rob was ready to resent this, for he felt confidence in his own powers;but he held his tongue, and waited impatiently minute after minute, inexpectation of the bite which did not come.

  "No luck, eh?" said Shaddy. "I say, I hope you're not going to catch awater-snake. I'll get my knife out to cut him free; shall I? He mightsink us."

  "Do be quiet," said Rob excitedly. "Might have one of those John Doreysany moment."

  But still the minutes went on, and there was no sign.

  "How are you going to manage if you hook one?" said Joe quietly.

  "Play him till he's tired."

  "Mind the line doesn't cut your fingers. No, no, don't twist it roundyour hand; they pull very hard. Let him go slowly till all the line'sout."

  "When he bites," said Rob in disappointed tones. "Your one hasfrightened them all away, or else the bait's off."

  "No; I fixed it too tightly."

  Just then there was a yawn forward, and another from a second of theIndians.

  "Waking," said Rob. "May as well give it up as a bad job."

  "No, no, don't do that, sir. You never know when you're going to catcha big fish. Didn't you have a try coming across?"

  "No; they said the steamer went too fast, and the screw frightened allthe fish away."

  "Ay, it would. But you'd better keep on. Strikes me it won't befishing weather to-morrow."

  _Thung_ went the line, which tightened as if it had been screwed by apeg, and Rob felt a jerk up his arms anything but pleasant to hismuscles; while, in spite of his efforts, the line began to run throughhis fingers as jerk succeeded jerk. But the excitement made him hold onand give out as slowly as he could. The friction, though, was such thatto check it he wound his lef
t hand in the stout cord, but only to feelit cut so powerfully into his flesh that during a momentary slackeninghe gladly got his left hand free, lowered both, so that the line restedon the gunwale of the boat, and, making this take part of the stress,let the fish go.

  "Best way to catch them fellows is to have a canoe and a very strongline, so as he can tow you about till he's tired," said Shaddy.

  "Is the end quite safe?" panted Rob, whose nerves were throbbing withexcitement; and he was wondering that his new friend could be soimpassive and cool.

  "Yes, quite tight," was the reply, just as all the line had glided out;and as Rob held on he was glad to have the help afforded by the linebeing made fast to the pin.

  "What do you say now, sir?" cried Shaddy.

  "Oh, don't talk, pray."

  "All right, sir, all right; but he's going it, ain't he? Taking aregular gallop over the bottom, eh?"

  "I do hope this hook will hold."

  "It will," said Giovanni; "you can't say it's too big now."

  "No," said Rob in a husky whisper. "But what is it--a shark?"

  "I never heard o' sharks up in these parts," said Shaddy, laughing.

  "Or would it be an alligator? It is awfully strong. Look at that."

  This was as the prisoner made a furious rush through the water rightacross the stern.

  "Nay; it's no alligator, my lad. If it were I should expect to see himcome up to the top and poke out his ugly snout, as if to ask us whatgame we called this. Precious cunning chaps they are, and as they liveby fishing, they'd say it wasn't fair."

  "Oh, Shaddy, do hold your tongue!" cried Rob. "I say, Joe, how longwill it take to tire him?"

  "Don't know," said the lad, laughing. "He's tiring you first."

  "Yes; but how are we to get him on board?"

  "Hullo, Rob, lad! caught a fish or a tartar?" said a fresh voice, and abronzed, sturdy man of about seven-and-thirty stepped up behind them,putting on a pith helmet and suppressing a yawn, for he had just risenfrom his nap under the awning.

  "Think it's a Tartar," said Rob between his set teeth.

  "Or a whale," said the fresh comer, laughing. "Perhaps we had bettercut adrift."

  "No, no, sir," cried Rob excitedly. "I must catch him."

  "I meant from the schooner, so as to let him tow us if he will take usup stream instead of down."

  "No; don't move; don't do anything," cried Rob hoarsely. "I'm so afraidof his breaking away."

  "Well, he is doing his best, my lad."

  "Getting tired, Mr Brazier," said the Italian lad. "They are _very_strong."

  "They? What is it, then--a fresh-water seal?"

  "No; a dorado. I know it by the way it pulls."

  "Oh, then, let's have him caught," said Martin Brazier, head of thelittle expedition up the great Southern river. "I am eager to see thegilded one. Steady, Rob, my lad! Give him time."

  "He has had time enough," said Giovanni quickly. "Begin to pull in now,and he will soon be beaten."

  Rob began to haul, and drew the fish a couple of yards nearer the boat,but he lost all he had gained directly, for the captive made a franticdash for liberty, and careered wildly to and fro some minutes longer.Then, as fresh stress was brought to bear, it gradually yielded,stubbornly at first, then more and more, till the line was gatheringfast in the bottom of the boat, and a sudden splash and tremendous eddyhalf a dozen yards away showed that the fish was close to the surface.

  Just then the Italian captain's son came close up to Rob, and stoodlooking over, holding a large hook which he had fetched from the dinghy;but he drew back, and looked in Mr Brazier's face.

  "Would you like to hook it in?" he said, "or shall we let him go? It isa very big one, and will splash about."

  "Better let me, sir," said Shaddy, drawing his knife. "Keep clear ofhim, too, for he may bite."

  Martin Brazier looked sharply at the man he had engaged for his guide,expecting to see a furtive smile, but Shaddy was perfectly serious, andread his meaning.

  "It's all right, sir; they do bite, and bite sharply, too. Give us thehook, youngster."

  He took the hook the young Italian handed, and as Rob dragged the fish,which still plunged fiercely, nearer the side, he leaned over, and afterthe line had been given twice and hauled in again, there was a gleam oforange and gold, then a flash as the captive turned upon its side, andbefore it could give another beat with its powerful caudal fin, Shaddydeftly thrust the big hook in one of its gills, and the next moment thedorado was dragged over the gunwale to lay for a moment in the brightsunshine a mass of dazzling orange and gold, apparently astonished orhalf stunned. The next it was beating the bottom heavily with its tail,leaping up from side to side and taking possession of the stern of theboat, till a sharp tug of the hook brought its head round, and a thrustfrom Shaddy's knife rendered the fierce creature partially helpless.

  Rob's arms ached, and his hands were sore, but he forgot everything inthe contemplation of the magnificent fish he had captured. For as itlay there now, feebly opening and closing its gills, it was wonderfullylike an ordinary gold-fish of enormous size, the orange-and-gold scalearmour in which it was clad being so gorgeous that, in spite of histriumph in the capture, Rob could not help exclaiming,--

  "What a pity to have killed it!"

  "There are plenty more," said Joe, smiling.

  "Yes, but it is so beautiful," said Rob regretfully.

  "Yet we should not have seen its beauty," said Brazier, "if we had notcaught it." And he bent down to examine the fish more closely.

  "Mind your eye, sir," shouted Shaddy.

  "You mean my finger, I suppose," said Brazier, snatching back his hand.

  "That's so, sir," replied Shaddy. "I'd a deal rather have mine in arat-trap. Just you look here!"

  He picked up the boat-hook and presented the end of the pole to the fishas its jaws gaped open, and touched the palate. In an instant the mouthclosed with a snap, and the teeth were driven into the hard wood.

  "There, sir," continued Shaddy, "that's when he's half dead. You cantell what he's like when he's all alive in the water. Pretty creetur,then," he continued, apostrophising the dying fish, "it was a pity tokill you. They'll be pretty glad down below, though, to get rid of you.Wonder how many other better-looking fish he ate every day, Mr Harlow,sir?"

  "I didn't think of that," said Rob, feeling more comfortable, and hisregret passing away.

  "With teeth like that, he must have been a regular water tyrant," saidBrazier, after a long examination of the fish, from whose jaws the polewas with difficulty extracted. "There, take it away," he continued."Your cook will make something of it, eh, Giovanni?"

  "Yes," said the lad; "we'll have some for dinner."

  "But what do you suppose it weighs?" cried Rob.

  "Good sixty-pound, sir," said Shaddy, raising the captive on the hook atarm's length. "Wo-ho!" he shouted as the fish made a struggle,quivering heavily from head to tail. "There you are!" he cried,dropping it into the dinghy. Then in the Guarani dialect he told two ofthe Indian boatmen to take it on board the schooner, over whose sternseveral dark faces had now appeared, and soon after the gorgeous-lookingtrophy was hauled up the vessel's side and disappeared.