Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Voices from the Past: Bilkin's Electric Frog (1908)

The following story by F.L. Harding from Outing Magazine (August 1908) is a charming story about a fishing contest and a special lure. I enjoyed it very much, and wish now to have a Bilkin's Electric Frog of my very own.

Bilkin's Electric Frog

by F.L. Harding

ENTERPRISE was the slogan of the Parmacheenee Piscatorial Association. Their mahogany bungalow at the salmon reserve up in Canada was chock full of novelties and inventions appropriate for anglers. There was the marble bust of Walton on an alabaster pedestal greeting one right in the front hall. Its electric-lighted eyes had blue bulbs, the chromatic accuracy of the blue having been settled through special appropriation passed standing.

Then the Personal Experience Library swelled the proud breasts of the members when visitors came to wonder and stayed to applaud. It was Crixton's idea. Crixton was Vice-President and chief machine. Many thrilling yarns of their fishing feats were nightly told at the open fire. Why not preserve these Homeric legends? Why not collect these testimonies to the Parmacheenee pluck and skill? A talking-machine, a few words of persuasion to the blushing salmon devastators and a superb assortment of canned fish stories stocked the reading room, on tap at all times.

Life was rosy at the fishing club bungalow. The moving casting platform dotted with wicker reclining chairs, ran along the bank at the salmon run, furnishing a thorough whipping of the water with no chance for fatigue. It passed along the near shore and down the other side, crossing a pair of rustic bridges with a stop only at the buffet for gin rickeys. The power was supplied by the Falls below. Here Crixton's fine Roman hand appeared again.

'Twas he, too, that invented the aquarium railroad car in which live grilse were brought in for planting, as cosy as could be. The "Piscatorial Limited" was the envy of all the neighboring clubs. He was working on what he termed his "preparing tank" when the Events Committee announced the early approach of the Annual Tournament. His scheme was to instill abnormal vigor into the fish by a short sojourn in his swan pool in which Perrier Jouet '78, had been slightly added to the water. So far the results had been rather disheartening and demonstrated the diverse effects of the "craytur" on finny temperaments. "Crixton's salmon jags" were derided by his club-mates. Abandoning his immoral effort to under- mine the stamina of Salmonidae, he threw himself heart and soul into devising a new rod for the great Tourney.

About this time a new member, one Bilkin, turned up at the Lodge and ex- pressed his intention of competing for the attractive prizes offered by the munificent Tournament Committee. Little attention was paid to Bilkin, however, for all the membership list was engaged in fitting out for the coming event. The President's Gold Loving Cup upon which a sportive salmon with emerald eyes was engraved by Diffany of the metropolis. was in danger of permanent capture. The devastating Crixton had two grips on it and needed but a third to amble off with the glorious trophy. His cunning contrivances had seduced the heaviest fish for two years running. With many a pledge of Scotch and soda, his fellow-members swore that this time the tide would turn.

The appointed day broke threateningly but Pluvius withheld his wrath when Crixton emerged in immaculate cream flannel. The sun shone forth as the honorable company took their accustomed chairs and the casting platform was set in motion. Every angler had his valet to keep the ice in his glass, untangle his line from interfering shrubbery and to regulate the angle of his sun shade. The day was warm for June and these minor comforts were dated. The heavily stocked stream yielded a plenitude of sport.

The salmon were in most cases, however, liberated after weighing. The valet, when a struggling fish neared the shore, hopped off the slowly gyrating platform and seizing the line, steered the protesting salmon into the nearest Submarine Scales. Void Crixton encore! Dotted along the shore were small machines, tested daily for accuracy, where a registering arm upon the bank connected with a glass tank beneath the surface. Leading a fish over this trap, a foot-lift ashore elevated the glass cube above the water with the contented catch paddling about within. The pounds were duly noted and the tank returned below the surface. It was the work of but a moment for the valet to draw the salmon to the bank, remove the hook and, running back to his place. mix up a self-congratulatory highball for his exultant patron.

Crixton's new rod was the talk of the day. "Jolly smart chap, old Crix!" was the universal comment. A complicated framework beside his pneumatic-cushioned steamer chair supported the slender rod of aluminium, fifteen feet in length. It weighed three ounces, an exceedingly sporty weapon. His new reel had Baltham Watch Co. mechanism, jewel set with ball bearings. The wooden framework by the chair was his patent Automatic Fly-Caster. Place the rod in the grips, aim your casting sight, note the elevation, draw back the spiral spring attached to the rod tip, place the fly in the sub-catapult, discharge the weapon! Voila, a bull's-eye! It couldn't miss and was absolutely noiseless. Crixton spent many sleepless nights over the plans with a consulting artillery engineer and at last-perfection!

After the cast was executed, he removed the rod, took a fresh-lit monogram cigarette from the attendant and complacently fished that bit of water. Crixton enjoyed his angling.

An hour before sunset, at which time the Tourney was to officially end to give place to a simple repast of sixteen courses at the bungalow, the heaviest fish was credited to the Automatic Fly Caster. It weighed thirty-one pounds, a noble catch. The great Gold Cup was fast slipping from its nook upon the mantelpiece. In sixty short minutes, the greedy paws of Crix. would close upon it for good and all. Too bad and yet no help for it!

Suddenly the new member, Bilkin, was seen to dash down the hillside. Breathlessly he leaped upon the casting platform, and fitted up his rod. Three attendants lugged a large case after him, which he ordered placed at his side. "Been waiting all day for my stuff," he told his neighbor. "Just came in now!"

An ordinary bamboo rod appeared in his hand. His reel seemed to have a glass section in the base like a non-conductor. The line upon it was most peculiar. It was a bit thick for casting and seemed wrapped about a core of some weight. The inside end ran out of the side of the reel and a lackey connected it with the large black box. His movements in the approaching dusk were indistinct but still the curious anglers noted his producing something with elaborate care from a box of cotton waste.

To their disappointment, a common rubber frog appeared which he snapped on to the line with a peculiar swivel and cast out upon a famous pool he chanced to be passing.

His neighbor told them afterward that Bilkin's men started up an electric storage battery in the box, that Bilkin's line was wired, that Bilkin's common frog glowed in the water with a soft effulgence and kicked with most alluring spasms. It jerked about the surface; a perfect counterfeit of a live froggie disporting in his front yard.

He got the big salmon or there would have been no story. He caught "Old Baldy," observed daily, but last taken by the famous Carter ten years before. The old patriarch was half blind, put up no fight at all and fell a victim to a foul deceit in his second childhood. In the last decade as the record showed, he had put on twelve pounds and his forty-seven had Crixton's thirty-one beaten to a custard.

Of course Crixton was sore. He begged the Committee to disqualify Bilkin's frog as an illegitimate device, but the Club upheld the victor. The Gold Cup was saved at the eleventh hour. And now they all use the Bilkin's Animated Batrachian.

-- Dr. Todd

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