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The Cat on the Pommel


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Ronan's report

Wednesday October 13th, 2010

The northern tributary ran south before meeting its rocky partner to form the main river that ran through deep cut gorges, westward, thirty miles to the sea. With the foothills of the main cordillera on one side and open pampas on the other, this branch was fed by occasional springs and boulder strewn streams flowing from the mountains towards the flatter ground.

Though it was muddier banked and more prone to taking colour with the rain than the waters that drained the glacial lakes to the south, it was stuffed with healthy trout. These fish were not huge but plenty big enough for a great day out and free to rise. We fished it in the middle reaches and parked our truck at a solitary, plank walled, single storey farmhouse before walking in through the flood plain scrub. As a fee we would leave a carton of cheap cigarettes on the wooden doorstep in the morning. They were always gone when we returned at nightfall…the curtains never twitched and I never saw a soul.

One hot afternoon I was fishing a heavy run beneath an overhanging bank. Summer was hopper time. Plague levels and a good wind kept a constant supply dropping onto the water and the fish took these insects with a gloop and left a big floating bubble after the rise. Concentrating on generating a convincing plop I was unaware of the approach of our enigmatic farmer and he must have watched me for some time before he rode up and spoke…

"Hola Señor" he said.

Even in the full heat of the valley floor, with his wide brimmed hat, long, raw wool poncho and burr matted sheepskin chaps, he was dressed for the high mountain pastures and the glacier breezes. He had a gun and looked chill wind weathered and distinctly menacing. Two dogs panted in his shadow.

"Hola" said I.

He slowly rode his horse into the water and waded it up the run until he was beside me. He slackened the reins to let the animal drink.

Looking up at him I could see, sitting comfortably on the crude wooden pommel of his sheepskin saddle, a small, grey, yellow eyed, cat.

He offered me a cigarette, which I accepted, and he bent way down and lit it with a cheap plastic lighter.

"There is a Puma nearby" he said "It has killed a sheep and fed but you must still take care when you walk back."

He looked up at the blazing sun and said

"It is not usual to find them so low here in the summer"

We smoked companionably in silence, him on his horse, me in the water and the cat on the pommel, all watching the fish rise in the shade beneath the overhang and the big bubbles floating down stream.

"Nice cat" I said when we had finished our cigarettes.

He looked down at me for a moment then once more back at the fish bubbles.

"She came to me after my wife died" he said, apparently by way of explanation, then backed the horse downstream a little, turned and rode it out of the water and up the near bank.

"Do you have a pet? Gringo " he called

"Not here" I said

"Una Pena" he said quietly, smiled and walked the horse away through the low bushes and out of sight.

I never saw him again… but, the next time I went, I left some better quality smokes and a tin of condensed milk on the doorstep.

Mark "Stoats" Surtees.

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