Through The Lens: The Adventure of Catfish Jack and Crow Part 2
If you remember last week, my old friend Samuel stopped by as I was relaxing in the late evening’s sun on the porch. He proceeded to tell me about how Catfish Jacks’ Cousin, Crow Waken had returned from down river with a proposition to get rich in the side show business. All Jack had to do, was to come up with a jar of seven toes. And if that were not enough, he had to find a monster catfish head.
After listening to Crow’s proposition, Jack finally leans forward as he said, “First off, where can we get a jar full of toes? You know darn well that catfish long since passed my toes. Second, a wooden catfish head? Come on, folks right off will be knowin’ it’s made up just for showin’. NO, they’ll be thrown rotten tomatoes at us and threatening to run us out of town on a rail.”
Crow grinned as he explained to Jack how he had it all worked out in his head. All Jack would have to do was sit on stage, show where his missing toes had been, and tell his story of the fish that nearly ate him for supper. He added, it would not hurt if Jack added a little more excitement to his story, like maybe they pulled him down inside that old boiler so far, he was a thinking he could see the glow of hades’ fires. Them weren’t just catfish, they was the guardians of the gate to the underworld below the river as Crow would have him tell his story.
Jack thought for a moment as he pondered Crows offer. Then he asked, “Okay, let’s say we can get that feller who claims he can carve us a fish. Whose gonna’ get a piece of cow hide and fit it around the wooden head?”
Crow explained he had talked with the Widow Hendershot, the local seamstress, and she had told him for twenty dollars she would help wrap the hide around the head and use her sewing tools to stitch it together. She even said her brother could get us two yellow marbles from the glass factory. For a small fee of course. As for the toes, Crow had talked with Homer Blackman on his way back up river. He was a fellow Crow knew who worked at the medical school down river. Blackman said for a fee, and our word to never to be a telling where they came from, he could get us seven toes. He would even make sure they were the correct toes.
After some convincing, Crow’s get rich scheme started to interest Jack’s need for cash. It was coming on summer and the fish were going to deep water. Trapping turtles to sell to the finer restaurants in town was a hit and miss operation. Most of the big turtles had already been caught. This time of year was a lean time for Jack’s money making jobs. He usually ended up picking up turns at the glass factory or the tobacco mill. So after a while, he agreed to Crow’s plan.
Early the next morning, they went looking for the feller who did wood carvings. Sure enough they found him working on making a wooden pony for a kid’s birthday present. The two men explained what they wanted. At first it was just the head of the great pretend fish. But by the time they finished talking with the carver, he had convinced them they needed a whole catfish, and it was only going to cost them fifty dollars, gold coin. Jack and Crow agreed. Of course they convinced the carver that he would get paid after they started making money. He made them sign a paper with them words on it.
Next, they set off to talk with the Widow Hendershot. Jack wanted to see if she was still willing to help wrap the full size wooden fish with a cow hide. They found her working on a dress for the mayor’s wife. It were a big dress for the wife of the mayor. She was a full size lady with a blaze red hair and the need to be dressed in the finest clothes in town. After all, she was the mayor’s wife.
The Widow Hendershot listens as the two men explained about the fish and it size. When it came to the size of the fish, her eyes became large and she drew in a great breath as she said, “Now boys, were takin’ a heap of hard work. More than the seven dollars I am chargin’ the mayor’s wife. Just how are you two river rats gona’ pay me that kind of money?” Again the two convinced the widow that they would pay her out of their earnings from the side show. Crow explained about the feller that bit the heads off snakes, and how much he made each night. Crow figured with Jack telling his story, and showing his missing toes, they were sure to make at least twice the money of the snake eater each night. She agreed they both were crazy, but she knew people would pay good money to see crazy things and people.
A week later, the carving feller contacted Jack and Crow and told them he had finished. Sure enough he had done a fine job. The fish was nearly six feet long and its head was near twenty-four inches across. He had carved it with it mouth open about six inches. He even carved out the insides so people could look clear down into the gullet of the fish. Then came the inspiring part. He had went down by the old train station where a honey locust grew. Some folks called it a thorn locust because it had four inch thorns all over the tree trunk. The carver cut off dozens of the thorns about a half an inch long and glued them inside the fish’s mouth. It gave the wooden fish a fearful appearance. Next, he made the holes for the marble eyes. At the bottom of each hole, he place a small mirror. Then he placed the yellow glass eyes over the mirror. They reflected the light back through the glass eyes, making it look as if they were glowing inside.
Even Jack began to believe Crow’s idea may turn out to be a good one after all. But, still they had to cover the fish with cow hide and make it look convincing. On the outskirts of town was the tanner. Jack and Crow had spoken with their cousin, Birdy. He was the man who pulled the hides out of the solution after the hair had fallen off. It took great skill to know when to pull the hides at just the right moment. Too soon and the hair was not gone. Too long in the solution and the hides began to break down. Birdy knew his stuff and pulled the hides at just the right moment. He had been watching for just the right hide to cover the wooden fish. It needed to be large in size and not too thick. Best if it were from a young bull. Finally he contacted the men and told them he had one just right for them. But, before he would give it to them, he wanted his money. No IOU’s or papers with payment due in the future signed by the two men. He wanted his money now. What was Crow and Jack going to do?