By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, August 30, 1947.
“It’s hard to believe!” muttered Jimmie Frise.
“That summer’s over?” I sympathized.
“No,” said Jim, heatedly. “That here we are, all packed and waiting for Joe Badeau to come with the launch and take us away. And not one – NOT ONE – thing have we done that we planned to do this summer!”
“We fished,” I pointed out.
“Yah, but the roof!” cried Jim. “We planned to stain the shingles on the roof. We’ve got the shingle stain down there in the boathouse, and it’s been there since early July!”
“And the verandah and steps,” I recollected.
“Yes, and the paint for them,” declared Jim angrily, “has been right there in the boathouse, too.”
“And the wharf!” I remembered.
“Yes,” said Jim bitterly, “the wharf! Remember the plans we drew last April and May, of the new wharf? Those sketches must be around here somewhere.”
“Aw, Jim,” I consoled, “it’s always like that at a summer cottage. Nobody ever gets the jobs done that they plan in spring.”
“But, Greg,” protested Jim sharply, “this isn’t the first year we’ve fiddled away on that wharf. Last summer, don’t you remember, we came up here with every intention of repairing the wharf and putting some new logs under the far end?”
“Well, last year,” I pointed out kindly, “don’t forget, there was a nail shortage. You couldn’t get spikes …”
“Spikes!” cried Jim. “Why, the year before that, we got a whole pailful of six-inch spikes! Don’t you recall? They’re down in the boathouse, too!”
“Ah, yes,” I admitted. “Then, this is the third summer…”
“And the blankets!” went on Jim, enumerating our sins. “My wife brought up all those blankets from the city for us to wash in this lovely soft water”
“We never got around to it,” I excused.
“Never got around to it?” expostulated Jim. “We never got around to anything!”
The baggage was all stacked on the cottage verandah. Inside, all was clean and tidy and ready to be abandoned to the long silence of fall, winter and spring. The shutters were up. Screen doors removed and stacked in the spare room. Pails turned upside down. Kettles emptied. All left-over food of every description packed in a carton to take home. And in a little while, around the islands, would come Joe Badeau with his launch to carry us off.
“Blankets,” I pondered. “I can’t understand why we didn’t do the blankets. There’s nothing I like better than tramping blankets in a tub.”
“You can’t wash blankets in a city,” agreed Jim, “the way you can up here. A tubful of warm water. A good mild suds. And us in our bare feet, tramping, tramping, tramping…”
“And then, two separate tubfuls of clear water to rinse them,” I reminded. “Tramping and tramping again.”
“And don’t forget the shaking,” gloated Jim. “The two of us with a blanket between us, shaking and whipping the water out, until it is white and fluffy.”
“And then,” I concluded, “hanging them on the line, in a fresh west wind, on a fine sunny day. Man, no new fangled washing machine can wash blankets like that!”
“How sweet and soft they are,” sighed Jim, “for the winter!”
“But,” I sighed too, “we didn’t do them! We didn’t get around to it.”
Jim got up off the trunk he was sitting on and stood staring out over the bay.
“What DID we do this summer?” he demanded. “Let’s just pause and take stock of ourselves. I tell you, it’s nothing to feel smug and easy about. When you think of all the things we had set down in black and white…”
“Listen, Jim,” I soothed, “summer is like that. Summer cottages are like that. You aren’t supposed to do anything, really, at the summer cottage. At home, in the spring, when you’re dreaming of summer, you are in the grip of the city and its purposeful spirit. You make a lot of plans. That’s part of being in the city. But the real joy of summer is to let everything go hang ….”
“But you’d think,” cut in Jim, “that we would at least have enough sense, enough energy, to attend to the upkeep of the place. Most of the things we intended to do were necessary repairs and upkeep. I can’t think why we didn’t stain those shingles on the roof, for one thing.”
“Or the wharf,” I admitted. “We were in swimming every day, down there at the wharf. There’s all those logs there, on the beach. All we had to do, any day, was go and get an axe, a hammer, and that pail of spikes out of the boathouse …”
“Exactly!” cried Jim. “Every time we were in swimming, that dilapidated old wharf was right there before our eyes. What happens to people like us when they seem to go blind to their duty, to their plans, to their intentions …”
“Aw,” I soothed, “when you’re in swimming, it’s so cool and pleasant and dreamy.”
“But that wharf!” protested Jim. “GLARING at us.”
We both turned our embarrassed gaze down at the old wharf. I don’t know how many years old it really is. It is a composite of many years and many wharves. Some of the logs and a few of the planks must date back 30 years. The stone-filled crib that is the foundation of the outer end has been skewgee as long as anybody can remember. The inner end leans upon the rock, inches under water when the water is high: cockeyed and aslant and high and dry when the water is low. It has been unsafe to walk on for five seasons. Guests and strangers alike have sprained ankles on it; picked up splinters; skidded off into the water from it. It is an eyesore and a public reproach.
Yet, with a few pieces of log pried under it for legs with a couple of fresh chunks spiked on to the trembling crib, a dock fit for another 10 years could be made by two gentlemen in their bathing suits in about, say, 40 minutes.
“Conscience, Jim,” I propounded, “must be at its lowest ebb in summer. It may be that conscience is like a barometer and has its high periods and its low periods. Maybe the seasons have a lot to do with human conduct. For instance, I would think conscience is at its highest fury about the middle of February and at its lowest about the end of July.”
“All these jobs stared at us,” gloomed Jim, “day after day. And we utterly ignored them.”
“Human nature remains,” I uttered, “a profound mystery. For centuries, great minds – philosophers, teachers, preachers, kings, politicians – have been studying human nature with tireless zeal. Billions of words have been written by men of every race and clime, trying to solve the mystery of human nature. But guys like you and me go right on being mysterious, even to ourselves.”
“What time is it?” demanded Jimmie, with sudden intent.
“Ten-twenty,” I informed him. “Every once in a while across the centuries, some great leader rises up who thinks he has got the mystery of human nature solved. And he sets forth to master the world with his knowledge. Hitler was the latest of them …”
“Joe Badeau will be here at 11,” stated Jim, taking off his city coat and starting to unbutton his city shirt collar. “We’ve got exactly 40 minutes ….!”
“No, no, no, Jim!” I protested, leaping up.
“We’ll put on our bathing suits,” he declared. “In a jiffy. We can hoick a couple of logs under this end of the wharf. I’ll get the spikes and the axe …”
“Aw, Jim, Jim!” I begged. “You can’t make good in 40 minutes the errors and omissions of a whole summer. Look, sit down, take it easy. It’s our last few minutes here in this lovely place …”
But Jim had popped indoors and seized our bathing trunks off the hook in the store room. He came forth and tossed me mine.
“Jim, be reasonable, “I pleaded. “Joe Badeau always arrives ahead of time. He’ll be rounding the point in five or 10 minutes.”
“Come on,” commanded Jim, filled with an extraordinary zeal.
And he popped out of his trousers and shorts and into his trunks.
“I’ll go get the axe, and the pail of spikes,” he announced, striding off the verandah, “and we can haul a few short logs.”
Now, I like a dip about as well as anybody. But this I was one of those coolish August days with a brisk west wind ablowing, and the cool water of the deeper lake being churned by lively waves.
“Jim,” I called, “we don’t both have to be in our trunks, do we?”
“Don’t hedge!” shouted Jim over his shoulder “Here’s our chance to make some amends to our character. Come on, get into your trunks!”
Character! Is surrendering to the soft and Idle charm of summer a weakness of character? Is it wrong to enjoy the bounty of the seasons? Why should summer end in a hasty scramble, as though we were slaves, and conscious the driver with a whip? Why should not summer end like a song, lingering in the heart?
I got into my trunks.
I listened for the far mutter of Joe Badeau’s engine. But the August wind and waves denied me.
Jim unlocked the boathouse and came out with the axe and a large bucket containing the six-inch spikes purchased three, maybe four, years ago, for this very purpose. I picked up the hammer and the swede saw from its nail. The swede saw is that lumberjack weapon like a modernized bucksaw. It melts its way through old dry logs.
“Snappy, now,” ordered Jimmie. “Let’s select three or four good stout logs.”
Boldly, he jumped into the water up to his armpits at the deeper end of the dock and scrutinized the underpinnings.
“We need a six-foot log on this side,” he announced very engineeringly, “and the mate to it on the opposite side. Here on the crib, I should think three pieces, let’s see, four feet long, will tighten her up.”
“The ice, this winter,” I prophesied coldly, “will swipe the logs from under…”
“Then, we need a nice light log, about 20 feet long, as a crowbar, to hoist her up a little while I spike the…”
I walked off the dock and into the rushes along the beach where sundry logs, drifted in over the years, were either lying half-buried in the sand, or were dry as old bones up among the shrubbery of the shore:
Jim came behind me with the swede saw.
“Here’s one,” he announced. “Cedar, at that!”
And out of the harsh grass, he hoisted one end of an eight-inch cedar log, dried and bare from maybe half a century of weathering. Out of its middle, we cut two fine posts six feet long. The swede saw released the imperishable aroma of cedar with the sawdust.
A little farther along, we pulled out two old pine sawlogs that probably escaped from the lumberjacks’ booms years ago when they were cutting through this part of the country.
“Enough here,” announced Jim. “to build an entire new crib.”
With the saw, we cut four good billets for the crib.
“I think I hear Joe Badeau!” I exclaimed.
We both paused to listen.
“I don’t hear him,” said Jim.
Neither did I.
So we went and hunted up a long, light log for me to use as a pry or lever, while Jim was setting the new legs under the dock.
All these selected pieces of wood we dragged over to the wharf. Using a boulder for a base, I thrust one end of the 20-foot pole under the edge of the wharf, and then leaned all my weight on the other end. This raised the more dilapidated end of the wharf slightly, so that Jim, in the water, could jag one of his six-foot logs underneath, upright, for a leg or support. With his six-inch spikes, driven in obliquely, he secured the legs to the battered old stingers.
Working fast, Jim set both legs in place and then moved around to the crib. This was where I entered the water too, to tow the crib pieces into place and hold them while Jim, with the axe, drove spikes wherever he could find a spot they would bite between the fresh logs and the old cribbing,
“I hear him!” I announced.
Jim harked a moment.
“Okay,” he said, “we’ve just got time to get half a dozen rocks to put in the crib.”
Many of the original rocks had fallen out of the crib during the years of disintegration. Three or four we found with our feet on the lake bottom, and these we lifted easily, in the water, and set back in the crib.
“That’ll hold her,” I suggested, hopefully.
“The crib is the foundation of the whole thing,” asserted Jim. “Come on.”
In the neighboring sand, we found and uprooted half a dozen more boulders, which tear the arms out of you to carry. We were exhausted by the time the crib was declared full by Jim.
“There!” he heaved. “Now I can face the winter with a decent conscience!”
Joe Badeau was rounding the point, a mile away.
We dashed up to the house, dried, and dived into our clothes. Together, we carried down the trunk. Individually, we toted down the dunnage bags, grips and cartons.
“There,” cried Jim. “Feel how solid she is!”
The old wharf DID feel solid.
Joe Badeau was 100 hundred yards out.
Jim dashed up to the cottage to lock the door.
I stood on the wharf while Joe steamed in.
The wind was with him.
His boat is old, his engine older.
Often before this, it had failed to respond to his rusty gear shifts and throttles.
On it came.
“Hey!” I warned.
Jim was half-way down the rocks.
“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau.
But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.
There was a splintering crash. Everything gave way. The old wharf just tilted up and surrendered.
In went all the baggage, the trunks, the cartons, the dunnage bags, the grips.
“How’s your conscience?” I gritted, as Jim lent me a helping hand back onto the rock.
Editor’s Notes: This is another example where you can see the difference between the original colour image, and the microfiched version, especially in the case of later Montreal Standard stories where the image is split over 2 pages. This is the only example of a Montreal Standard story where I have the original, and you can see that the picture is not printed in full colour. I’m not sure what this printing process is called, but it can be seen in some older magazines, which I assume was cheaper.
Skewgee means slanted or crooked.
A Swede saw was a name for a modern bow saw. It was invented in the 1920s by a Swedish company.