A Case of Trespass by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It was the forenoon of a hazy, breathless day, and
Dan Phillips was trouting up one of the back creeks
of the Carleton pond. It was somewhat cooler up
the creek than out on the main body of water, for
the tall birches and willows, crowding down to the brim,
threw cool, green shadows across it and shut out the scorching
glare, while a stray breeze now and then rippled down the
wooded slopes, rustling the beech leaves with an airy, pleasant
Out in the pond the glassy water creamed and shimmered
in the hot sun, unrippled by the faintest breath of air. Across
the soft, pearly tints of the horizon blurred the smoke of the
big factory chimneys that were owned by Mr. Walters, to
whom the pond and adjacent property also belonged.
Mr. Walters was a comparative stranger in Carleton, having
but recently purchased the factories from the heirs of the
previous owner; but he had been in charge long enough to
establish a reputation for sternness and inflexibility in all his
One or two of his employees, who had been discharged by
him on what they deemed insufficient grounds, helped to
deepen the impression that he was an unjust and arbitrary
man, merciless to all offenders, and intolerant of the slightest
infringement of his cast-iron rules.
Dan Phillips had been on the pond ever since sunrise. The
trout had risen well in the early morning, but as the day wore
on, growing hotter and hotter, they refused to bite, and for
half an hour Dan had not caught one.
He had a goodly string of them already, however, and he
surveyed them with satisfaction as he rowed his leaky little
skiff to the shore of the creek.
"Pretty good catch," he soliloquized. "Best I've had this
summer, so far. That big spotted one must weigh near a
pound. He's a beauty. They're a good price over at the hotels
now, too. I'll go home and get my dinner and go straight over
with them. That'll leave me time for another try at them
about sunset. Whew, how hot it is! I must take Ella May home
a bunch of them blue flags. They're real handsome!"
He tied his skiff under the crowding alders, gathered a big
bunch of the purple flag lilies with their silky petals, and
started homeward, whistling cheerily as he stepped briskly
along the fern-carpeted wood path that wound up the hill
under the beeches and firs.
He was a freckled, sunburned lad of thirteen years. His
neighbours all said that Danny was "as smart as a steel trap,"
and immediately added that they wondered where he got his
smartness from—certainly not from his father!
The elder Phillips had been denominated "shiftless and
slack-twisted" by all who ever had any dealings with him in
his unlucky, aimless life—one of those improvident, easygoing
souls who sit contentedly down to breakfast with a very
faint idea where their dinner is to come from.
When he had died, no one had missed him, unless it were
his patient, sad-eyed wife, who bravely faced her hard lot, and
toiled unremittingly to keep a home for her two children—Dan
and a girl two years younger, who was a helpless cripple,
suffering from some form of spinal disease.
Dan, who was old and steady for his years, had gone manfully
to work to assist his mother. Though he had been disappointed
in all his efforts to obtain steady employment, he was
active and obliging, and earned many a small amount by odd
jobs around the village, and by helping the Carleton farmers
in planting and harvest.
For the last two years, however, his most profitable source
of summer income had been the trout pond. The former
owner had allowed anyone who wished to fish in his pond,
and Dan made a regular business of it, selling his trout at
the big hotels over at Mosquito Lake. This, in spite of its
unattractive name, was a popular summer resort, and Dan
always found a ready market for his catch.
When Mr. Walters purchased the property it somehow
never occurred to Dan that the new owner might not be so
complaisant as his predecessor in the matter of the best trouting
pond in the country.
To be sure, Dan often wondered why it was the pond was
so deserted this summer. He could not recall having seen a
single person on it save himself. Still, it did not cross his mind
that there could be any particular reason for this.
He always fished up in the cool, dim creeks, which long
experience had taught him were best for trout, and came and
went by a convenient wood path; but he had no thought of
concealment in so doing. He would not have cared had all
Carleton seen him.
He had done very well with his fish so far, and prices for
trout at the Lake went up every day. Dan was an enterprising
boy, and a general favourite with the hotel owners. They
knew that he could always be depended on.
Mrs. Phillips met him at the door when he reached home.
"See, Mother," said Dan exultantly, as he held up his
fish. "Just look at that fellow, will you? A pound if he's an
ounce! I ought to get a good price for these, I can tell you.
Let me have my dinner now, and I'll go right over to the
Lake with them."
"It's a long walk for you, Danny," replied his mother pityingly,
"and it's too hot to go so far. I'm afraid you'll get sun-struck
or something. You'd better wait till the cool of the
evening. You're looking real pale and thin this while back."
"Oh, I'm all right, Mother," assured Dan cheerfully. "I
don't mind the heat a bit. A fellow must put up with some
inconveniences. Wait till I bring home the money for these
fish. And I mean to have another catch tonight. It's you that's
looking tired. I wish you didn't have to work so hard, Mother.
If I could only get a good place you could take it easier. Sam
French says that Mr. Walters wants a boy up there at the factory,
but I know I wouldn't do. I ain't big enough. Perhaps
something will turn up soon though. When our ship comes
in, Mother, we'll have our good times."
He picked up his flags and went into the little room where
his sister lay.
"See what I've brought you, Ella May!" he said, as he
thrust the cool, moist clusters into her thin, eager hands.
"Did you ever see such beauties?"
"Oh, Dan, how lovely they are! Thank you ever so much!
If you are going over to the Lake this afternoon, will you
please call at Mrs. Henny's and get those nutmeg geranium
slips she promised me? Just look how nice my others are
growing. The pink one is going to bloom."
"I'll bring you all the geranium slips at the Lake, if you
like. When I get rich, Ella May, I'll build you a big conservatory,
and I'll get every flower in the world in it for you. You
shall just live and sleep among posies. Is dinner ready,
Mother? Trouting's hungry work, I tell you. What paper is
He picked up a folded newspaper from the table.
"Oh, that's only an old Lake Advertiser," answered Mrs.
Phillips, as she placed the potatoes on the table and wiped her
moist, hot face with the corner of her gingham apron. "Letty
Mills brought it in around a parcel this morning. It's four
weeks old, but I kept it to read if I ever get time. It's so seldom
we see a paper of any kind nowadays. But I haven't looked at it
yet. Why, Danny, what on earth is the matter?"
For Dan, who had opened the paper and glanced over the
first page, suddenly gave a choked exclamation and turned
pale, staring stupidly at the sheet before him.
"See, Mother," he gasped, as she came up in alarm and
looked over his shoulder. This is what they read:
Anyone found fishing on my pond at Carleton after
date will be prosecuted according to law, without
respect of persons.
"Oh, Danny, what does it mean?"
Dan went and carefully closed the door of Ella May's room
before he replied. His face was pale and his voice shaky.
"Mean? Well, Mother, it just means that I've been stealing
Mr. Walters's trout all summer—stealing them. That's what
"Oh, Danny! But you didn't know."
"No, but I ought to have remembered that he was the new
owner, and have asked him. I never thought. Mother, what
does 'prosecuted according to law' mean?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, Danny. But if this is so, there's
only one thing to be done. You must go straight to Mr. Walters
and tell him all about it."
"Mother, I don't dare to. He is a dreadfully hard man. Sam
French's father says—"
"I wouldn't believe a word Sam French's father says about
Mr. Walters!" said Mrs. Phillips firmly. "He's got a spite
against him because he was dismissed. Besides, Danny, it's
the only right thing to do. You know that. We're poor, but we
have never done anything underhand yet."
"Yes, Mother, I know," said Dan, gulping his fear bravely
down. "I'll go, of course, right after dinner. I was only scared
at first. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll clean these trout nicely
and take them to Mr. Walters, and tell him that, if he'll only
give me time, I'll pay him back every cent of money I got for
all I sold this summer. Then maybe he'll let me off, seeing as I
didn't know about the notice."
"I'll go with you, Danny."
"No, I'll go alone, Mother. You needn't go with me," said
Dan heroically. To himself he said that his mother had troubles
enough. He would never subject her to the added ordeal
of an interview with the stern factory owner. He would beard
the lion in his den himself, if it had to be done.
"Don't tell Ella May anything about it. It would worry her.
And don't cry, Mother, I guess it'll be all right. Let me have
my dinner now and I'll go straight off."
Dan ate his dinner rapidly; then he carefully cleaned his
trout, put them in a long basket, with rhubarb leaves over
them, and started with an assumed cheerfulness very far from
his real feelings.
He had barely passed the gate when another boy came
shuffling along—a tall, raw-boned lad, with an insinuating
smile and shifty, cunning eyes. The newcomer nodded familiarly
"Hello, sonny. Going over to the Lake with your catch, are
you? You'll fry up before you get there. There'll be nothing
left of you but a crisp."
"No, I'm not going to the Lake. I'm going up to the factory
to see Mr. Walters."
Sam French gave a long whistle of surprise.
"Why, Dan, what's taking you there? You surely ain't
thinking of trying for that place, are you? Walters wouldn't
look at you. Why, he wouldn't take me! You haven't the ghost
of a chance."
"No, I'm not going for that. Sam, did you know that Mr.
Walters had a notice in the Lake Advertiser that nobody
could fish in his pond this summer?"
"Course I did—the old skinflint! He's too mean to live,
that's what. He never goes near the pond himself. Regular dog
in the manger, he is. Dad says—"
"Sam, why didn't you tell me about that notice?"
"Gracious, didn't you know? I s'posed everybody did, and
here I've been taking you for the cutest chap this side of
sunset—fishing away up in that creek where no one could see
you, and cutting home through the woods on the sly. You
don't mean to tell me you never saw that notice?"
"No, I didn't. Do you think I'd have gone near the pond if I
had? I never saw it till today, and I'm going straight to Mr.
Walters now to tell him about it."
Sam French stopped short in the dusty road and stared at
Dan in undisguised amazement.
"Dan Phillips," he ejaculated, "have you plum gone out of
your mind? Boy alive, you needn't be afraid that I'd peach on
you. I'm too blamed glad to see anyone get the better of that
old Walters, smart as he thinks himself. Gee! To dream of
going to him and telling him you've been fishing in his pond!
Why, he'll put you in jail. You don't know what sort of a man
he is. Dad says—"
"Never mind what your dad says, Sam. My mind's
"Dan, you chump, listen to me. That notice says
'prosecuted according to law.' Why, Danny, he'll put you in
prison, or fine you, or something dreadful."
"I can't help it if he does," said Danny stoutly. "You get
out of here, Sam French, and don't be trying to scare me. I
mean to be honest, and how can I be if I don't own up to Mr.
Walters that I've been stealing his trout all summer?"
"Stealing, fiddlesticks! Dan, I used to think you were a
chap with some sense, but I see I was mistaken. You ain't
done no harm. Walters will never miss them trout. If you're
so dreadful squeamish that you won't fish no more, why, you
needn't. But just let the matter drop and hold your tongue
about it. That's my advice."
"Well, it isn't my mother's, then. I mean to go by hers. You
needn't argue no more, Sam. I'm going."
"Go, then!" said Sam, stopping short in disgust. "You're a
big fool, Dan, and serve you right if Walters lands you off to
jail; but I don't wish you no ill. If I can do anything for your
family after you're gone, I will, and I'll try and give your
remains Christian burial—if there are any remains. So long,
Danny! Give my love to old Walters!"
Dan was not greatly encouraged by this interview. He
shrank more than ever from the thought of facing the stern
factory owner. His courage had almost evaporated when he
entered the office at the factory and asked shakily for Mr.
"He's in his office there," replied the clerk, "but he's very
busy. Better leave your message with me."
"I must see Mr. Walters himself, please," said Dan firmly,
but with inward trepidation.
The clerk swung himself impatiently from his stool and
ushered Dan into Mr. Walters's private office.
"Boy to see you, sir," he said briefly, as he closed the
ground-glass door behind him.
Dan, dizzy and trembling, stood in the dreaded presence.
Mr. Walters was writing at a table covered with a businesslike
litter of papers. He laid down his pen and looked up with a
frown as the clerk vanished. He was a stern-looking man with
deep-set grey eyes and a square, clean-shaven chin. There was
not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his frame, and his voice
and manner were those of the decided, resolute, masterful
man of business.
He pointed to a capacious leather chair and said concisely,
"What is your business with me, boy?"
Dan had carefully thought out a statement of facts beforehand,
but every word had vanished from his memory. He had
only a confused, desperate consciousness that he had a theft
to confess and that it must be done as soon as possible. He did
not sit down.
"Please, Mr. Walters," he began desperately, "I came to
tell you—your notice—I never saw it before—and I've been
fishing on your pond all summer—but I didn't know—honest—I've
brought you all I caught today—and I'll pay back for
them all—some time."
An amused, puzzled expression crossed Mr. Walters's noncommittal
face. He pushed the leather chair forward.
"Sit down, my boy," he said kindly. "I don't quite understand
this somewhat mixed-up statement of yours. You've
been fishing on my pond, you say. Didn't you see my notice in
Dan sat down more composedly. The revelation was over
and he was still alive.
"No, sir. We hardly ever see an Advertiser, and nobody
told me. I'd always been used to fishing there, and I never
thought but what it was all right to keep on. I know I ought to
have remembered and asked you, but truly, sir, I didn't mean
to steal your fish. I used to sell them over at the hotels. We
saw the notice today, Mother and me, and I came right up. I've
brought you the trout I caught this morning, and—if only you
won't prosecute me, sir, I'll pay back every cent I got for the
others—every cent, sir—if you'll give me time."
Mr. Walters passed his hand across his mouth to conceal
something like a smile.
"Your name is Dan Phillips, isn't it?" he said irrelevantly,
"and you live with your mother, the Widow Phillips, down
there at Carleton Corners, I understand."
"Yes, sir," said Dan, wondering how Mr. Walters knew so
much about him, and if these were the preliminaries of prosecution.
Mr. Walters took up his pen and drew a blank sheet
"Well, Dan, I put that notice in because I found that many
people who used to fish on my pond, irrespective of leave or
licence, were accustomed to lunch or camp on my property,
and did not a little damage. I don't care for trouting myself;
I've no time for it. However, I hardly think you'll do much
damage. You can keep on fishing there. I'll give you a written
permission, so that if any of my men see you they won't interfere
with you. As for these trout here, I'll buy them from you
at Mosquito Lake prices, and will say no more about the matter.
How will that do?"
"Thank you, sir," stammered Dan. He could hardly
believe his ears. He took the slip of paper Mr. Walters handed
to him and rose to his feet.
"Wait a minute, Dan. How was it you came to tell me this?
You might have stopped your depredations, and I should not
have been any the wiser."
"That wouldn't have been honest, sir," said Dan, looking
squarely at him.
There was a brief silence. Mr. Walters thrummed meditatively
on the table. Dan waited wonderingly.
Finally the factory owner said abruptly, "There's a vacant
place for a boy down here. I want it filled as soon as possible.
Will you take it?"
"Mr. Walters! Me!" Dan thought the world must be turning
"Yes, you. You are rather young, but the duties are not
hard or difficult to learn. I think you'll do. I was resolved not
to fill that place until I could find a perfectly honest and trustworthy
boy for it. I believe I have found him. I discharged the
last boy because he lied to me about some trifling offence for
which I would have forgiven him if he had told the truth. I can
bear with incompetency, but falsehood and deceit I cannot
and will not tolerate," he said, so sternly that Dan's face
paled. "I am convinced that you are incapable of either. Will
you take the place, Dan?"
"I will if you think I can fill it, sir. I will do my best."
"Yes, I believe you will. Perhaps I know more about you
than you think. Businessmen must keep their eyes open.
We'll regard this matter as settled then. Come up tomorrow
at eight o'clock. And one word more, Dan. You have perhaps
heard that I am an unjust and hard master. I am not the former,
and you will never have occasion to find me the latter if
you are always as truthful and straightforward as you have
been today. You might easily have deceived me in this matter.
That you did not do so is the best and only recommendation I
require. Take those trout up to my house and leave them.
That will do. Good afternoon."
Dan somehow got his dazed self through the glass door and
out of the building. The whole interview had been such a surprise
to him that he was hardly sure whether or not he had
dreamed it all.
"I feel as if I were some person else," he said to himself, as
he started down the hot white road. "But Mother was right.
I'll stick to her motto. I wonder what Sam will say to this."