Chapter 5: Michael Kilkenny’s Wake

Posted on March 27, 2013

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Rough and Tumble Waters

Author’s Notes

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

With the whole town turning out, Michael had to book the hall. Wakes are not a thing that come about from long planning, but rather long practice. The place was scrubbed clean, and had a buffet against one long wall, where the women would be, and a bar on a table in the corner for the men. The coffin was up on saw horses covered in a black crepe skirt. All was in order, including the casseroles, excepting one thing – no Michael in the box.

People were straggling in and I could see the American coming down the street, and still no Michael. At the last moment, he comes sneaking in through the back stops and stares at the coffin.

“There isn’t a moment to lose!” I said coming up behind him and taking his arm.

“If you don’t mind,” says he. “This is a solemn moment and I need a little time.” He jerked his arm away and swayed a little on his feet. I could tell he had made good use of that bottle.

“Michael, this is no time to be philosophical!”

“It’s not that, it’s just that I did not order such a fine casket.” He looked at me, “Two-and-a half quid!”

Donovan, the undertaker walked up. “Mr. Kilkenney, you cannot take such matters lightly. Having not planned ahead for this event, I had to supply you with what was in stock.”

Thompkins walked in the door. I made eye contact with Roberta, but she was already on her way over to him. The rest of the girls huddled in the corner whispering and jealous behind her.

“But making me buy it, sir, that is the issue. I will only need it but for a few hours.”

“Indeed, and who then would lie in a used coffin? That is not for me to sell. You may if you like.”

Michael turned to him, the cords standing out in his neck and raised a finger as surely he was going to raise his voice. I nodded to the boys on either side and they lifted him up and placed him not gently into the coffin which rocked a little on its supports.

“Enough, you two.” Donovan stood there looking smug and waxy. And who is to blame him for don’t we all shun the dead and those who favor us by dealing with him? Why not exact your payment in gold if you cannot get it in kindness. “I will buy your coffin, Michael, if I go first, which is not likely if you don’t lie down and shut up.” I reached in and crossed his hands, and then he suddenly snapped shut his eyes. With his red hair and beard, he looked the perfect leprechaun lying there, in his fine new suit.

“So, this is the late, great, Michael Kilkenny, the best fisherman in all of Ireland, and a kind soul of whose merits I’ve heard nothing but since I have reached town.” Thompkins was there behind me staring into the coffin, and Roberta had him by the crook of the arm, looking for all the world like she was on a date. I must say, Mr. Thompkins cut a fine image in his new tailored suit.

“Aye. Cut down before he could do half of the things he intended, a very civic-minded man, said the father, coming up to us.”

He wisely steered Thompkins to the bar and Michael let out his breath with a whoosh.

“I thought he would never leave.” He said between pressed lips. “I’m as parched as if I was in Hell itself.”

With that one of the boys passed in a flask and he had a quick nip.

I could overhear the conversation from the bar. “It’s a bit unfortunate that you are so late in the season, Mr. Thompkins. The runs are nearly done.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe for your traditional wet flies. They have done some tremendous things with the hair wings on the Restigouche late season, especially with the grilses. They may not be big, but you can have a hundred-fish day on them.”

Michael actually sputtered. “I won’t be having any of those new-fangled American flies in my river. O’Shaunesseys have worked here for over 100 years…” He actually started to sit up and the boys had to restrain him.

Thompkins looked over at the scuffle.

“The hairwing,” says Shamus, “perhaps an American concoction would work over there, but here, we like our traditional flies. Blacker wasn’t born far from here, and some say he developed his Gaudy flies fishing in these very meadows.”

“And no doubt, those flies had some success even on our side of the pond,” he used that trivializing American phrase for the Atlantic, like even conquering that was a days outing in paddle boat for the brash young country. “But the hairwing, are more mobile while many of the feather wings are stiff. They pulsate in the current and act alive. They are juicily translucent while many of the feather-wings are opaque.”

I heard more commotion behind me and used my body to block the view of the casket.

I heard “Here Michael, have a wee snort, why don’t ye?” And things quieted down a bit.

“It matters not, Mr. Thompkins, there is not enough water in the lies for a fly, your fishing opportunities are slim.”

“Well, if not enough for a wet fly, A.E.H. Woods proved long ago that Salmon will rise to a dry fly on a greased line.”

Michael became apoplectic. “Greased line!” says he so loud the men at the bar all turned in our direction.

“Greased line,” I repeated. “Isn’t that fished on the swing?”

“A very common misconception, Mr. “ Thompkins replied. “Actually, Mr. Woods has made some extreme innovation. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a lecture last year while I was in business in London. According to him you present the fly ‘sidling past him and floating downstream’ like a dead leaf. He mends obsessively, and regards any pull on the fly as fatal. According to him the fly should be presented just awash, swimming ‘in a natural manner; wobbling, rising and falling with the play of the eddies exactly as would an insect, or a little fish which was in trouble.’ It’s on account of him that I am using the relatively short 12’ rod.”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Michael had lost his ability to speak, and I heard him given just another dram to quiet him down.

“Twelve feet! Who ever heard such a thing?” says I.

“Mr. Lee Wulff recently landed an Atlantic salmon on a dry fly with a 6’ rod, and he challenges any man to out fish him on any stream with that rod.”

At this point there was such a ruckus behind me that Michael actually fell out of the coffin. The boys acted with alacrity, putting setting up the braces, restoring the crepe and putting the column aright. But as Michael was now under the coffin, they chose the expedient of tossing Jimmy O’Malley into it.

“For a moment, says Donovan, I swear I saw him move. God forgive me my clumsiness.

Thompkins stared over with raised eyebrows.

“A six-foot rod? Mr. Thompkins, you stretch credibility.”

“Sir, I tell the truth, and it was on a dry fly no less.” I saw somebody kick at the crepe out of the corner of my eye.

“Wood and Halford developed the dry fly technique, but it was the Americans who perfected it. Theodore Gordon of course made them work in America’s rough and tumble waters, especially for trout, and Hewitt, La Branche and Monell really made them work for Salmon with the the Colonel Monell, Soldier Palmer, Pink Lady Palmer, and the Mole patterns which Wulff used in his recent success. I plan to try to duplicate these feats on these waters.”

“A bold statement sir, to expect to come here and outfish us. Not a fish has been caught in the river in a good three weeks.”

Some degree of confinement must’ve been achieved behind us, because I knew for a fact that Michael had salmon for dinner not this Tuesday last.

“One would think you would’ve tried the nymphing techniques invented by your countryman G.E.M. Skues. His first book, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, was revolutionary, as was his with The Way of a Trout with a Fly.”

“Skues, sir, was English, and his nymphing techniques show the dishonest and low born traits of his heritage.” I could see Shamus ball his fists.

“I meant not to offend.” Thompkins held his hands up. “I suspect your lack of fish has more to do with over fishing than lack of skill. As Wulff said, ‘game fish are too valuable to be only caught once.’ I release whatever I catch.” Cries of outright disbelief from the croud. I could see the boys standing abreast in front of the coffin back-kicking at the crepe. “I am sure of success in these waters using my techniques.”

“Would you be taking a bet sir?” I could not believe the words had come out of my mouth. Here we were needing to keep him off the water at all costs and I had just challenged him to fish. His arrogance had undermined me. The innocence in his grin only redoubled my anger.

“I am, as they say, a betting man.”

My mind was racing, but I thought of Michael’s nocturnal expeditions and a thought occurred to me. “Sea trout.”

“Sea trout? I, ah.” I could see I had him now and my plan was simple.

“Are you not up for it?”

“In honesty, I have never fished for the sea run brown, they not being native to the Americas.” He beamed a smile. “I do like a challenge, though. When shall we go?”

“Right after the wake,” says I. Sea trout ran up the river at night. We would fish him through the night, put him to bed tired and hung over and gain one more day out of sight of the lord.

“Finally,” he said. “Fishing. Send your boy around and I’ll meet you back here in one hour.” Roberta looked like she might either cry or punch him, but he turned without notice and walked out the door.

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