I'd waded through the frigid shallows in jeans and sneakers as far as the southwest corner of the lake, where a high yellow cliff blocked my way. Then I looked down into the water, and a wave of vertigo grasped and shook me as if I had been climbing the face of the cliff itself.
There was a touch of sharp fear also. How far down into that lapping, bottle-green water could I see? Fifty feet, a hundred? Those white and fibrous ghosts of ancient spruces that the refracted light made shift and roll, how deep were they? And what could live under the ledges, in the gouged-out caverns of the underwater cliff that fell away close to vertically?
It was a far less rational fear than the one I was entitled to feel, that suddenly the willows behind me would snap and crash and a bear materialize: There were grizzlies enough in the snow slides around the lake, those verdant lanes down the mountainsides where spring avalanches had smashed through the trees and cleared the way for the sweet young growth the bears relish.
If I tossed out the little Swedish spoon again, something Jungian was asking me, what aqueous horror, unknown to biologists, would slide from its lair and absorb it as it twinkled through the depths? Until now I had waded across a broad, knee-deep shelf. But here the drop-off was almost immediate. I had a couple of feet of standing room at the most.
I shook off the foolishness. Away at the far end of the lake I could see a patch of bright red, the little inflatable boat we had packed into the lake and which could only take two. Even now, I reckoned, Cranston, the guide, would be unloading Begg and the fly-fishing gear at the stream mouth, and then he would be heading back for me. Any moment now I would hear the motor start up. Then I would take off the small, slim, silver and brass spoon and head for the landing place, but meanwhile there was time for a cast or two. The vertigo, the chill of fear had gone. All there was in front of me was deep water with some dead trees and rocks in it. I swung the spoon back over my shoulder, flipped it out, let it sink a touch and started a slow, fluttering retrieve. It must have traveled two-thirds of the way home when it was hit with a violence that made my fantasy thin-blooded.
The reel sang its high, screeching obbligato, on and on, and then this marvelous silver and rose beauty was breaching clear of the water once, twice, three times, and I could see the plastic of the reel spool showing through. That meant almost 200 yards of line had been ripped away and the smash would come any second. Still I yelled across the sounding board of the lake for a landing net—not that anything we carried would have encompassed the biggest trout I had ever seen. And, shaking as I was, there was time for a fleeting thought: This was the Balmoral Trout, the one that should have been for Charlie.
This story, it should be understood, had its real beginning in London, in Buckingham Palace if you are willing to stretch a point, but more properly in the Flyfishers' Club on Brooke Street, where, earlier in the year, I was lunching with an old friend, Michael Begg. He is a TV producer for the BBC and he was looking more haggard than usual. He was not reticent about the reason. Upon his shoulders, he had just learned, had been put the responsibility of covering the wedding of the Prince of Wales in July. The way he talked, it was like being granted the honor of being the first man to try to climb Everest in tennis shoes. "Sixty-eight cameras," he was saying, "and me in the middle." He could be knighted, I suggested lightheartedly, if all went well.
"Or unemployed," he said, moodily pushing his Dover sole around the plate. A silence fell. Then—a man seeing the first crack of light at the end of the tunnel—he thought of something. "You got any plans for Afterward?" he asked me. "Fishing plans?" Time, for Begg, was clearly divided between the gray Now and the rosy Afterward.
It happened that I did. I had been in touch with a Vancouver lawyer by the name of Greg Cranston who was running an operation in northern British Columbia which he hoped would be different from the fly-in, booze-it-up, fly-out deal that so many wilderness fishing camps too often turn out to be. I told Begg about the packhorse train that we would be taking into the mountains, the mighty Dolly Vardens, the incredible grayling and the secret lake with the giant rainbows. "Can I come?" Begg asked pitifully.
The man had to have something to live for. "Sure," I said. We left it that we would meet in Vancouver, not the day after the wedding, as Begg urged, but very soon afterward. We would iron out the details then; Begg, I reasoned, would be incapable of coherent plans before that. I was mistaken.