We normally have a maximum of 5 rods on the fishery during any given week of July. It tends to get a bit crowded with more anglers than that.
On the particular week in question we had a couple of our regular guests staying, but the rest were new to us. Colonel Jameson and the Rev. Thomas we knew of course, they have been coming here for over twenty years, and Mr Sykes who I had met in the Bahamas last winter. Mr Sykes owns a hotel chain there. The other guests were Mr Jackson, an ex RAF man, and Mr Scholes. Mr Scholes was on his first visit to Scotland and appeared to feel a little out of place. He had recently won a considerable sum on the national lottery I understand.
There was a certain amount of friction from the start. Mr Jackson certainly made it very clear to me that he disapproved of Mr Scholes being present that week. For his part, Mr Scholes did not actually attempt to build any bridges either, so to speak. In fact there was an altercation between them on their first day here. Scholes had parked his Japanese Land Cruiser in such a manner as to block in Mr Jacksons Jaguar, then had gone fishing with Forbes, one of our ghillies, without leaving his keys with the desk. This infuriated Mr Jackson who needed to get into the village to send a fax. We don’t have anything like that here you see, other than an ordinary telephone. Bit behind the times I’m afraid. I had to take Mr Jackson to the village myself in my own car.
I did hear that some sharp words were exchanged between the two of them that evening in the bar, but that was all. They seemed to ignore each other thereafter and neither made much attempt to communicate with the other guests, though Mr Jackson was at all times a complete gentleman. He tipped the staff generously and was really quite popular with them. Mr Jackson also struck up a friendship with the Colonel. They took to each other straight away. Scholes however kept his own company and, may I say, was not the most pleasant of guests to ever stay with us. I’m afraid he was not above using strong language and did so frequently, which quite upset Mrs McIntyre, our cook. She has led a somewhat sheltered life out here you see. Not used to those big city ways.
I think it was on the fourth day that it all started. Yes, it was that evening in the bar that all the excitement took place. Mr Jackson and the Major had spent the day out on the loch. We’d had no rain you see, so the guests were amusing themselves by targeting the loch trout whilst awaiting a change in the weather. Mr McIntyre was ghillie for them on that day and he told me what had transpired.
They were out on the southern end, off the road bank point, when a fish rose, a fair bit out of casting range, so McIntyre started to row.
“Hold on” said Mr Jackson. “I think I can cover that from here”
“Nonsense!” said the Colonel, but by that time it was too late. Mr Jackson was already in mid-cast. McIntyre swore that he’d never seen anything like it in forty years as a ghillie. Jackson executed three false casts and then his line was curling out across the loch. Perfectly straight the line landed, and the leader dropped the point fly right in the centre of the ripples made by the rising fish. It was an astounding cast!
“Good God!” exclaimed the Colonel “Where on earth did you learn to cast like that?”
“My uncle” replied Jackson. “He had a stretch on the Tweed when I was a child. We used to spend our summer hols there. He made me practice until I hated him. But it was a lesson well learned and I respect him for it now. Of course the old boy’s gone now. Still, he taught me discipline and that’s the main thing”.
“Absolutely old boy. Discipline is all too often lacking in…” He broke off his words as a trout took the proffered fly and Jackson struck the hook home.
“Oh! Well done old chap!”
As Jackson played the fish to the boat he continued where the Colonel had left off. “Couldn’t agree more Colonel. That’s half the problem these days. It’s the schools you see. Go to a good school and you’ll get a man come out of it. Go to a bad one and all you’ll get is an ill mannered yobbo. Get the net Mac”.
McIntyre was already waiting. The Colonel spoke as he dipped the net. “Like that damn Scholes chap! Can’t stand the blighter. You should have heard him in front of Mac’s wife last night. Outrageous! Oh, what a lovely brownie. Must be nearly 2lb! Needs horsewhipping if you ask me. Scholes that is of course, not the fish”.
“It’s a fine troot Mr Jackson sir, and t’was an excellent cast that produced it. If ye can manage it again there’s another rise way over yonder. Your fly is still good sir”.
McIntyre pointed to a ripple on the surface thirty yards distant. Moments later a perfectly straight line dropped a fly into the centre of the spreading circles of water.
“God’s teeth man. You did it again!”. The Colonel was in raptures at the artistry displayed in Jacksons cast. “Used to be able to cast like that meself once. That was before I took a bullet in the shoulder in Malaya. Damned communists y’know”.
The two anglers shared a hip flask with their ghille and returned to the hotel when a light rain started to fall.
Later that evening after their evening meal the two men were in the bar sharing war memories. Or to be precise, the Colonel was, Mr Jackson being a good twenty years his junior. It seemed that Mr Jackson had also seen some action though, flying Lightnings on border patrols over West Germany. The two swapped their military tales and were having a very pleasant evening with the local distillery’s produce.
Mr Jackson had just left to visit the gentlemen’s room when a burst of profanity from the other end of the small bar stopped all conversation. It was Mr Scholes. He had taken a drop too much whisky I fear, and was in a belligerent mood. Mrs Mac called me into the bar, fearing some commotion I suppose.
The bar was still full. A few locals were there and all of our guests, though it was getting late. A few were wearing a rosy hue to their cheeks – our whisky is almost as famous as our salmon. Mr Sykes and the Reverend had interrupted their card game to follow the dialogue which was now ensuing between the Colonel and Scholes. I entered the bar in time to hear Mr Scholes berating the Colonel. It appeared that the Colonel had challenged Scholes over his use of bad language in front of the fairer sex.
“…And I don’t need any good manners or any of your bloody military discipline either mate, I’ve got money instead, so shove it. What do I need discipline for eh? Tell me that, Major!”
The Colonel looked beside himself with outrage. He noticed Jackson who had just re-entered the room and stammered quickly “D…Discipline would help you cast better for one thing!”
“Total bollo…” Scholes caught my eye and toned down his voice. “…Rubbish” he continued. “I can outcast anyone in this room. I was a casting champion for the Essex squad a couple of years ago, so don’t give me any of that caper”.
The Colonel narrowed his eyes and his voice grew softer. “Are you sure about that? Are you sure that you could outcast anyone? I mean, would you care to have a small wager on it?”
“Small wager? ‘Ark at ‘im! Tell you what General, I’ll bet you a grand I can outcast anyone in this camp, distance or accuracy!”
“Hmm.” The Colonel shook his head and began to turn away. “I doubt it. If you were so sure of yourself then you wouldn’t confine yourself to such a small sum. I understood that you were reasonably well off”.
This obviously made Scholes angrier “Well off! I won four an’ arf million on the lottery, mush. I can buy and sell the likes of you”.
The Colonel and Mr Jackson exchanged a swift glance then the Colonel turned his attention back to Scholes. His face adopted a sly smile. “Then what say we increase the wager. Shall we say a hundred thousand?”
You could have heard a pin drop.
He went on. “The manager here could hold the wager and be our referee if that would suit you”.
I had no chance to interject. Scholes was like a Jack Russell terrier. “What, so you reckon you can outcast me and you’re prepared to put up 100K to take me on. Is that it?”
The Colonel now leaned back against the bar, and sipped at his whisky . “Well, in principle yes. Of course I would be unable to compete myself, old war wound y’know, but I’m sure that I can find a worthy opponent for you”.
It was Scholes turn to narrow his eyes. “What, from someone in this camp?”
The suspicion in Scholes eyes faded as he took in the rest of the bar. “All right soldier. You’ve got y’self a deal. ‘Undred grand right? Oi, Landlord. C’mere a minute”.
And that was that. Naturally I tried to talk them both out of it but I think the combination of the finest quality Scotch whisky and the machismo that both were displaying would allow neither to suffer a loss of face. The duel was scheduled for the next mid-day.
The next morning, none of the guests went fishing. This despite the river now running high with fresh rain and a very good chance of a salmon. Even the ghillies, McIntyre and Forbes, were hanging around the grounds, trying unsuccessfully to keep out of my sight. I had other things on my mind however. If his Lordship were to hear of this! The atmosphere in the hotel was better suited to the OK Corral than to one of Scotland’s premiere salmon fishing retreats.
A tournament area was erected on the front lawn. We have a very large lawn you know, Capability Brown I’m told. The fountain is the centre-piece and depicts two salmon leaping.
Against my better judgement I had drawn up some rules. Mrs McIntyre had found some of the hotel’s less valuable plates which were to be used as targets. Even so, each of those plates represented a goodly slice of her daily remuneration and she clucked and shook her head at the madness of the exhibition.
The Colonel had spent the morning in town with Mr Jackson, who was obviously going to champion for him. They returned around eleven, Jackson clutching a large brown paper bag which he handed to me. “Scholes wanted to be sure that the Colonel could cover the bet. We had to visit three branches to get the cash, he won’t accept a cheque”.
Scholes had been watching from the dining room. He came through the French windows and down the steps to join us on the lawn, he was carrying a trout-bag.
“Brought the wedge have yer?” he asked. Without awaiting an answer he thrust the trout-bag into my hands and giving the Colonel a sideways glance sneered “Let battle commence”.
The trout-bag contained a huge bundle of fifty pound notes. English ones. The Colonel’s notes were also in fifties but these were from the Bank of Scotland. They watched as I took the money back up the steps to the dining room and counted it out on the window table. It took some time. I am unused to counting such large sums these days. Most of our customers pay by cheque in advance or by credit card, and I had to perform a recount at one point when I lost my way. Eventually the deed was done and the combatants followed me into my office where I locked the bundles of cash into the safe. When we emerged, our audience had swollen. The small crowd following us out to the lawn included all the guests and several members of the staff. Probably a dozen people in all. I addressed them, feeling a little foolish, like a circus ringmaster.
“Gentlemen. I will toss a coin. As it was Colonel Jameson who issued the challenge, Mr Scholes will call. The winner of the coin-call will be the first to cast. Is that understood?” All nodded agreement. “Colonel Jameson, have you decided upon a champion?”
“Mr Jackson here has kindly agreed to cast in place of me” said he, his hands behind his back and standing at-ease.
“And you Mr Scholes?” I enquired.
“Nah, I can fight my own battles. I do my own casting”.
I flipped the coin.
“Tails” declared Scholes. Tails it was.
Each combatant had brought their own weapons to the lawn. Mr Jackson was using a double taper line paired with his trusty Hardy split-cane tournament rod, a fine piece of equipment and one almost identical to one owned by his Lordship incidentally. Scholes had less traditional tackle. An American, carbon rod, a ‘Sage’ I believe they are called. His line too was one not often seen on the premises, a torpedo line.
The plates had been placed at 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 yards from the fountain, which, as referee, I had decreed as being the casting point. I made both parties aware of the rules I had set. They were both to cast to the first plate. If they could put the fly on that plate then they would in turn proceed to the next plate, and so on. The first person to miss the plate completely would be eliminated and would lose.
Jackson and Scholes arranged themselves on either side of the fountain and Scholes waved his American wand. There was a distinct ‘chink’ as his fly landed squarely on the first plate. Mr Jackson then aerialised some line and with extreme delicacy, landed his fly also on the plate. I expected no less from either; having questioned both McIntyre and Forbes I had already discovered that both men were extremely accomplished at casting.
The twenty and twenty-five yard plates were also easily within the scope of both men, and were it not for a slight breeze starting, I feel that they might have easily managed the thirty yard plate too. As it was, there was evident concentration on Mr Scholes face as he rolled his line into the air for that one and, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, I was rather willing him to miss it. I am only human after all and Mr Scholes had been quite obnoxious to several members of my staff. He did not miss however. His fly was clearly visible on the white china when he lowered his rod tip.
Mr Jackson took his turn. He too seemed slightly concerned at the freshening breeze but he took his place and raised his rod. The man was an artist. Graceful sweeping curves of line seemed to flow from his rod. I am not a poetic man by nature so I cannot describe his casting technique with any degree of adequacy. I do admit however that one could watch casting like that all day and never be bored. He too hit the thirty yard plate. I heard the Colonel murmur to him in appreciation.
I was beginning to wonder if I might have to place more plates out. There was, after all, just the one remaining plate to go. The tension in the watching crowd was almost tangible. For, by now, it really was a crowd. Even Mrs Mac and the kitchen staff were on the lawn behind us watching the spectacle. His Lordship would have thrown a fit, white aprons on the lawn indeed. However, I too was highly infected with the competitive spirit of the moment and could not break from my new task merely to admonish the staff. I turned a blind eye to them for once and concentrated on the final plate.
It was not a hot day but Scholes had removed his jacket. His shirt displayed large damp stains spreading from under his armpits. He did not seem at all worried though, his demeanour was more one of anger. When he cast, his face contorted into a snarl, his lip curling as the line shot from the rod tip toward the distant plate. The sound of his fly hitting the plate seemed as loud as a church bell sounding. A small grudging ripple of applause sounded from the better sports within the crowd. Scholes did not endear himself when he turned and grinned smugly at the Colonel’s camp, before making some lewd comment. The gentlemen ignored it of course.
It was at that point that the breeze picked up a little. Mr Jackson was clearly at a disadvantage and I, foolishly, had made no provision within the rules to negate this. Still, he did not complain, though several murmured complaints on his behalf could be heard from the spectators. The Colonel was looking seriously concerned and threw Jackson a pleading glance. Jackson just returned a stare as if to say ‘Don’t worry, I have it all under control’. Even then he seemed as cool as a cucumber.
Fixing the plate with his gaze, I watched him as he re-arranged his feet, placing his right foot forward, crouching slightly and beginning his cast. When that man was joined to his rod it was a picture of total harmony. He seemed to stroke the air with the rod, the line flew with mesmerising slowness and grace out and across the lawn. He would have hit the plate without a doubt, but for that gust of wind. As it was, when the rod tip dropped for the last time, the main line had performed as straight a line as is humanly possible between the rod and the plate, but the leader had been caught by that betraying gust. The fly came to rest curled six inches to the right of the plate.
An audible sigh went through those present and, hearing it, I realised I was still holding my breath. Some things in life are simply just not fair.
In his defence, Scholes was for once silent, though the look of smug satisfaction on his face plainly revealed him for what he was. He could hardly be described as a ‘good’ winner. He crowed. Silently, but you could see it written all over his face.
The Colonel was ashen faced but bore the brunt as would any man of his breeding. When Mr Jackson, with eyes downcast, poured out his profuse apologies the Colonel was the perfect gentleman. “Think nothing of it” I heard him say, though I doubt that he really meant that.
I paid up the vast sum of cash from the safe and Scholes, still crowing, thankfully retired to his room, as did Jackson and the Colonel. By suppertime, both Jackson and Scholes had checked out, though they were booked until the next midday. The Colonel never came down for supper and it was only when he never showed up for breakfast the next morning that I suspected something was amiss. He had suffered a stroke. Not fatal, thank God. The ambulance took him to the Perth Infirmary and I understand that he was there for over two weeks.
And then there was the money of course. On Mondays I do the banking. I drove into town that morning and it was there that the forged £50 notes in my payment were pointed out to me by the cashier. Naturally we immediately contacted the police. I went to the police station, gave a statement and they sent someone to the hotel to interview members of my staff. I have heard no more from them as yet, I really must phone them.
There is one thing that really bothers me however. I’m not really sure I should say this but… Well, it’s Mr Sykes you see. He telephoned me a few days later, after he had returned to the Bahamas. He said that on his way home he had spotted two men that looked for all the world to be the twins of Scholes and Jackson, drinking and laughing together! At Heathrow Airport in the bar… And they were drinking together! But it couldn’t have been. They detested each other. I really am very concerned.