We were past the fish now, but the baits were just about even with them. Paul and Matello were looking out over the stern, and I saw Mr. Cunningham steering with one hand while looking astern. Then the baits went past, too, and it seemed as if everyone was holding his breath. Suddenly Paul brought his arm up fast and yelled, "There!" I looked as hard as I could into the school and couldn't see anything different. Then I looked to where Paul was pointing and I saw it.
Something was coming right up in the middle of the Sarah's wake, pushing two walls of water. The tuna hit the middle bait and it was like a depth charge going off. A plume of water went straight up and there was nothing to see but water in the air and white water on the ocean as if an enormous wave had broken on a submerged boulder, and the sound came, hanging on the mist of exploded water. It was no sound I had ever heard before.
Paul grabbed the pole out of the starboard rod holder and Matello took the port one and they both started to reel like madmen. I climbed down into the stern thinking there was something I could do, but the only thing I could do was stare at the rod set in the fighting chair.
The line was going out so it was only a blur and I couldn't see the spool on the big reel at all. It had the sound of a racing engine going wide open just this side of too fast. A little more speed and it would scatter itself.
Paul and Matello were still reeling in the outboard lines and I wondered what in heaven's name you would do if more than one of those fish hit at once. No one was paying any attention to me or to the rod with the tuna on it. And then, just then, I thought—who in the hell is supposed to catch this fish? If they don't get started soon, there isn't going to be any fish to catch.
The line was still going out, and I came to the inevitable conclusion, "Hey! I'm supposed to catch this fish! That's why he brought me out here, to get me on the other end of a quarter of a ton of tuna fish," and I took a step toward the rod.
"Mr. Packard! Please don't touch the rod."
I turned around. Mrs. Cunningham was standing in the door to the main cabin, and she was pulling on a pair of cotton work gloves.
She walked over to the chair and sat down. Paul buckled the harness onto the reel and she spread her feet wide on the footrest. Then she threw the strike-drag, grabbed the rod with both hands up in front of the reel and hit the fish. She hit it again, and then once more, and Paul yelled, "Hooked up!"
The Sarah went into reverse and the water around the stern boiled as the propellers changed direction. Mrs. Cunningham came back on the rod again with everything she had.