One that (thankfully) got away

Anno Domini 1922 I went into the bank and bought my first fishing license. Robert E. Randall, our local lawyer and trial justice, was town clerk at the time, and as agent of the state issued the licenses for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Game. Since he was also president of the bank, I went into the bank to buy my first fishing license. Mr. Randall (I don't recall anybody ever called him Judge Randall) asked my age, checked off M and W, set down that my hair was brown and my eyes hazel, and said he thought things had come to a pretty pass when a money-hungry state government had to harass a youngster who wanted to go fishing. I paid him the 25 cents fee just the same, and the license he handed me said it would be valid so long as I remained a bona fide resident of the State of Maine. I still have it, encased in protective plastic these many years, but the state long since reneged on the bona fide part. The fee for the annual license now required has escalated as the chance of finding a trout has declined.

The young wardens of the force today never saw one of these bona fides, and most of them never knew they existed. It is accordingly fun, now and then, when a warden steps out of the bushes to find if I'm legal, to hand him the old 25 -center and with blank face let him get acquainted. It is an occasion for judgment each time, so I have learned to fetch out my current and valid license before he begins to realize the put-on.

A few years back I was giving Mel Smith a lesson in dropping a fly properly so it will entice a white perch chowder, during which I was lolling on the oars, the boat was drifting, the evening was lovely, and the moment was ours. We were rudely interrupted by the arrival of a young game warden who had a tin boat and an outboard motor. The motor was on full charge and the tin boat was making all the noise a tin boat makes when it has an opportunity. There was an urgency to his arrival, so that I barely shipped the portside oar before he cut his motor and grabbed our cheeserind to slow his momentum, dragging us some yards as a bull calf at the fair might drag his 4-H friend.

''Checking licenses!'' he yelled, unmindful that his motor had been cut and there was no need to shout. I handed him my bona fide 25-center, now no more than a museum piece, and he gave it the usual curiosity look-see. He waggled his head. He turned the license over and turned it back. ''This is one of those old licenses -- I hope you have a current one?''

Because of his precipitous approach and lack of introductory formalities, I felt he had asked for some put-on, so I feigned and he explained, and just then Mel handed over his proper license. The warden held it up for me to see and said , ''Like this one!''

It was time, my judgment said, to ease off and bring out my like-this-one, but as I was reaching for it the warden grabbed the struggle-string on his motor , gave it a yank, and his tin boat fairly leaped from the lake as things caught and engaged at high speed. He swept the tin boat in a short circle, and at full throttle headed for the shore, where he beached out a good ten feet above the water. Mel hove out his fly and said he guessed maybe the fellow had something on his mind.

He did. Pinky Barnes told us afterward what was afoot. Somehow this joker had put a bullet from his service revolver through the bottom of his official tin boat, and as carelessness of that sort would bring questions from above, he had not called attention to it. A green warden on his way up, eager and earnest, would hesitate to advertise anything like that. Instead, he could sit on his sternsheets to run his motor, and reach forward to put one foot over the hole, thus slowing the intake of lake water, and if he paid close attention he could stay afloat long enough to go out and check a license. Only just. My obsolete 25 -center bona fide had caused delay enough to upset his timing, and when we learned about this Mel and I were grieved to realize we had almost drowned a game warden.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.