Mr. Nelson, my neighbor, reappeared for a short time. His absence of late is thus explained: He planted a row of rosebushes around his tillage, and this is the year of the rampage. I don't know the floribundas from the multifloras, but whichever Mr. Nelson planted has ringed his activities with an impenetrable jungle of heavy fragrance through which birds cannot fly, animals cannot pass, and eyesight fails. Behind this, Mr. Nelson has cultivated his garden in secret rites and solitary manner, remaining aloof. He came out the other day to ask me if I would take my boat and him to Pulpit Pond so he could catch a mess of horned pouts.
Naturally I said no, as I assumed Mr. Nelson's prolonged isolation had brought on that endemic Maine malady known sometimes as cabin-coocoo and sometimes as woods-nutty. There's nothing the matter with you except too much of your own company. "No," I said, and I hoped a little lucid conversation might retrieve him from his distress and his whimsy would pass.
The horned pout, or brown bullhead, is the only member of the family Ameiuridae native to fresh Maine waters. This is the catfish family, so our bullheads are related to the several catfishes found in Mark Twain and tributaries. So long as our trout brooks sparkle at time to the roll of a real fish, no State o'Mainer in his right mind will mention bullheads. Poor Mr. Nelson!
But I couldn't divert him. After he had approached me in my garden, I tried to turn his intent with, "Notice that I am not at all ashamed of my crops -- I have no reason to hide them from critical eyes behind a bower of stinking rosebushes!"
Mr. Nelson made reply: "It has been said that envy is not so much a fault of the envious, but a result of flaunting by successful men who would do better to conceal their successes. So long as the Town of Friendship cannot see my beau tiful gardens, Friendshippers are not consumed by the green monster. Why won't you take me to Pulpit Pond so I can catch some bullpouts?"
I tried to dissuade him, but I was ineffectual. He heard none of my intelligent explanations. I finally had to be rude with my flat refusal, and he left me. The next afternoon he stopped his automobile by my garden so I would be obliged to notice that he had a tin canoe in transport, and I could see the tip of a rod out an open window. "You're serious!" I said.
"Of course I'm serious. I want to stock my little pond with hornpouts, and John Lash says Pulpit Pond is the place to get some."
So I had misunderstood, and he wasn't bananas from his rosebush cloister. With a pistol at my ear, I might have put my good boat to the indignity of a bullpout hunt if I had understood. For stocking a pond, maybe; but I had con strued in the contexts of pan fish and sport. Principle. Off went Mr. Nelson with his borrowed canoe, leaving me off the hook, so to speak, but unhappy that I had let a neighbor down. After him I called, "Good luck!"
He had the very best of fishermen's luck. He didn't catch any hornpouts. Maybe he didn't follow the directions, maybe things had changed since John Lash went pouting. Anyway, the Nelson Pond does not as yet have any fish in it. Mr. Nelson came to tell me he planned to go again, and until he caught a pailful. "What irks me," he said, "is that I had to pay seven-fifty for a fishing license to go after fish nobody wants."
"There are several answers to that," I countered. "One is that when you become seventy, the state gives you a free license, and you can wait. Another is that people do the same for trout, salmon, and togue. And if you don't like seven-fifty, wait until the judge fines you for introducing fish without a permit from the commissioner." Mr. Nelson withdrew behind his bower.