The Trout That Drove Them to Distraction
"Oh, that was good!" said a "sport" one day after Bucky, the guide, had fried off a pan of trout for the lunch-out at Fontinalis Point. Bucky said, "Good now and then." "Not me," said the sport, which is what Maine guides used to call their dude employers, "I could tuck away a feed of brookies day after day after day."
"Nope," said Bucky, "It don't work like that. You find, after a couple of meals, your hanker's dimmed and you'd like a peanut-butter sandwich. Three meals at the most. Did you ever hear Ed Grant's story of the famine at the Big Sag?" Every sport that Bucky took out on the lake knew Bucky was to be encouraged when he offered a narrative, so the sport said, "I never did, but I surmise I'm about to."
Noonin' over, now came the story, before returning to the pond to do what they'd come to do. As Bucky rinsed the dishes, he began:
"Worst winter weather ever seen hereabouts. The Big Sag cutting had 45 men chopping, which don't count the cook, boss, bull-cook, teamsters, and filer, and the snow was three feet over the 12-foot snowboard. It wasn't too cold, but the snow was so deep the horses couldn't work, and the road to town was drifted something fierce.
"Camp ran out of food. No way to get anything. Len Farlow, the boss cook, got down so low he just didn't know what to do. Ran out of potatoes and sugar, flour down to the bottom of the barrel, and everything else used up and no road to town. It hadn't happened in a long time that a lumber camp in Maine ever ran out of everything, but here it was. Probably wouldn't have been so bad if the snow wasn't so deep, as the men couldn't work and all they did was sit around camp and think about food, and this nettled them. They grumbled as meals came and there was less and less to tackle. They began blaming the cook, and he made sweet reply until they got to fighting about it, and then the cook began feeding trout.
"They kept a hole in the ice down front of the cook shack, where the bull-cook got pond water for washing dishes, and the bull-cook rigged a trap to fish in the hole. The next day, Cook had a fair supply of good-sized trout, running maybe two pounds, and just right to a man. That's all he had. But he had cornmeal enough for a johnnycake or two, and then it came on to snow for two more days.
"You guessed it. There came the last day, and except for the usual brook trout gotten out of the hole in the ice, the camp had nothing but the scrapings in the bottom of the last barrel of flour. Just enough flour, Cook said to himself, for one teensy-weensy biscuit for every man in camp!
"And, by that time the crew had eaten solid trout for five solid meals in a solid row, and the desire for more trout had waned into innocuous desuetude. Every man in camp was fed up to his ears and ready for anything except the only thing they had, which was trout.
"I'm telling you," Bucky said, "You get enough trout mighty fast, no matter how much you like trout and no matter who you are. Trout has got something about it that fends off a habit. And now it got the crew at the Big Sag, and there wasn't a man that could look a trout in the gills, if I may coin the phrase, without quailing. This was at a grievous time, when every man in camp was weak from not eating as usual and would have polished off a boiled owl or a six-buckle overshoe. And it kept on snowing.
"Cook couldn't do anything else. Every forenoon he'd send the bull-cook down to the hole in the ice, and he'd bring back these magnificent trout, and Cook would dress them and fix them for the oven, and they would come to table as pretty as any pail of new milk. Then he'd tell the chore-boy to whang the come-and-get-it.
"The men, as lumber-camp crews are wont to do, would come awake where they had been dozing in famished persuasion, and they would lope into the happy salle manger and sit up to table in lavish anticipation. The clang of that dinner gong made them all forget the dire circumstances that prevailed. They would gather there in the anguish of faint, thinking about beefsteaks and other favored items, and then all at once they would come to and go back to their placid undernourished grumbling.
'THIS went on until the men began to look peak-ed, and Cook worried about them. He couldn't think of a thing to do but keep on serving trout, and by this time those poor men were so firm in their feelings about trout that if you just said 'trout,' their mouths would clap shout and you couldn't get a mouth in camp to open if you pried with a cant hook.
"Something had to be done now, or Big Sag Camp was doomed to starvation. I'm telling you," Bucky would tell his sports, "this was a most sad occasion, and I never heard of nothin' to beat it, ever."
This is where Bucky would pause and begin to push the boat out so the sport could go back to fishing. "Yessir," said Bucky. "But things worked out. Cook did scrape the flour barrel and got enough to make that one small biscuit for each man. Not a one was ever eaten. Men used 'em as decoys. Held the biscuit up, and thinking it was coming in, each mouth would pop open, force of expectation. Then the man would pop in a forkful of trout. Without that last biscuit, every man in camp wouldn't be here today! But come spring, everybody was in good shape. The decoy biscuits were well worn, but the trout got ate. It just goes to show."