As Ellery’s launch was slacking up to the dock, Old Methuselah suddenly leaped three feet in the air off the end of the wharf.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 7, 1946.

“Well, it’s a sad business,” sighed Jimmie Frise, standing on the cottage veranda in the cool September evening and gazing fondly over the bay, the islands, the channels.

“Sad or otherwise,” I stated briskly, “for once we are going to be on time when the launch calls for us.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you put too much importance on things like that. What does it matter if we keep a launch waiting a few minutes?”

“A few minutes!” I expostulated. “Last summer, Jim, you started to varnish the outboard skiff half an hour before the launch was ordered for.”

“Yeah, blame me,” retorted Jim. “You wouldn’t let me help put the shutters up last year, because you said I left cracks that the mice got in. Well, who was still hammering at the shutters after we’d loaded all the baggage on the launch?”

“We can’t have mice in the cottage, Jim,” I protested.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “here we are all packed the night before. All our bags packed except the last little things on top. Most of the shutters up, only four to put up in the morning. The ice-house all padlocked. Boats put away. Everything tidy.”

“And the launch ordered,” I reminded him firmly, “for 8 o’clock in the morning. Instead of 10 or noon, like in the past.”

“Why, the sun will hardly be up,” snorted Jim.

“We’ll have an early start,” I pointed out. “We’ll be at the Landing before 10. We’ll be on the highway before 10.30. And we’ll be comfortably home in the city before all the week-end traffic has started to boil its way down.”

“You have very little love or affection for your fellow man, have you?” remarked Jimmie. “I think you’re a natural born Tory. A poor man’s aristocrat, that’s you…”

“Because I don’t like stewing all the way home in a week-end traffic jam?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t forget, Mr. Frise, this week-end is the end of summer, the homecoming week-end for tens of thousands of families. All the kids getting back for school. It’ll be a madhouse on the highways.”

“Well, it’s a festival,” argued Jim. “It’s the triumphant return of tens of thousands of families from their lovely summer vacation. All browned and tanned and full of health and strength for another year in the dusty city. You should rejoice to be among those crowds, you should get a kick out of feeling part of them…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” I replied.

“If we Canadians had any imagination,” went on Jimmie, “all the towns along the highways should regard this week-end as a festival in its own right. They should have the town bands out, playing all afternoon and evening of this week, along the edge of the highway, to salute the passing multitudes of homing cottagers.”

“What a hope!” I scoffed. “They’re all glad to see the last of us. From now on, a dog can cross the road in those towns without risking his life. Mothers can rest easy, whenever the children are out of their sight. This week-end is regarded by most of the towns and villages along the summer-resort highways with a great heave and a sigh of thanksgiving. Garagemen can take a long and well-deserved rest. All the storekeepers can sleep in from now on. THEY can go on holidays.”

The Practical Shepherd

“You forget,” reminded Jimmie, “that without the swarming multitudes on the highways, half the towns and villages along those highways would be little lost hick towns, half the size they are now, half as active. Why, if it weren’t for the summer resort and tourist throngs of July and August, those communities would starve to death.”

“Even so,” I stated, “they feel mighty glad to see the last of us.”

“They should hold this week-end,” declared Jim, “as a public festival. They should decorate their main street with flags, bunting and colored lights, the way they do for Old Home Week. They should have the town bands out to play us through. Those little towns have no imagination and mighty little gratitude.”

“They’ll feel gratitude Monday,” I chuckled, “when that great, sweet, lovely silence descends on them for another 10 months.”

“You’re,” asserted Jim, turning from viewing the sweet landscape, “you’re nothing but a misanthrope. You dislike your fellow man. You impute the lowest motives to him. You look upon all your fellow men as lugs.”

“I don’t dislike them,” I countered. “I just see through them.”

“I bet you come,” continued Jim, “from a long line of petty aristocrats, tax collectors, deacons, school inspectors…”

“I come,” I informed him, “of a long line of shepherds, from Banffshire in Scotland. My name, Gregory, comes from Latin and means shepherd. Grex, gregoris. Of the flock.”

“A fine shepherd you’d make,” laughed Jim. “Kicking the poor little lambs ahead of you…”

“Ah, no,” I corrected. “You misunderstand shepherds. A shepherd takes the kindest care of his lambs. He goes out on the hills afar and finds the lost lamb. Why? Because as soon as it’s grown, he’s going to fleece it. Then, when the market is right, he’s going to knock it on the head, skin it, and sell it in the market.”

“Now, just a minute,” protested Jim hotly. “That isn’t the picture of a shepherd I’ve been brought up on.”

“There has been a lot of bunk about shepherds,” I agreed. “But if you stop to think for a minute, you’ll see that a shepherd takes the gentlest care of his silly, brainless, dopey sheep, for the simple reason that, while they are weak and foolish and easily hurt, they fetch a good price in the market.”

“My, you’re cynical tonight,” muttered Jim, turning again to gaze on the sunset. “On this night of all nights, our last at the cottage for another long year, you should be mellow.” You should be sentimental. You should be filled with sweet and kindly thoughts.”

“Just because I’m not a sap,” I replied, “is no reason for supposing that I’m not capable of tender thoughts. I love this place as much as you do or any man living. We’ve had a great summer here. We’ve fished. We’ve picked blueberries. We’ve walked over the wild rocks and seen partridge, fox, deer, raccoon and mink. We’ve soaked up about a million candlepower of sun. We’ve breathed out of our systems thousands of cubic yards of the evil air of cities.”

“See?” said Jim. “Your reasons are all mercenary, all based on practical gain. If you love this place, it’s because you got something out of it.”

“What is love?” I posed, paraphrasing Pontius Pilate.

“The way I like to see the world,” said Jim, relaxing in one of the two chairs I had left on the veranda. All the rest had been stored away. “The way I’d like to see the world, would be a world full of people who have ideas, ideals and sentiments based on something other than gain.”

“So would the Communists,” I explained.

“What I mean,” mused Jim, sentimentally, “is this: why do people all fight one another all the time? For example, we don’t fight children. We love our own children. And we have a natural feeling of affection for most other children.”

“When Philosophers are Kings”

“A lot of them are brats,” I mentioned.

“Precisely!” cried Jim. “There’s the point. But suppose you are driving your car and you see a little kid run out on the road ahead of you. He looks like a brat. He is a brat. But do you run over him with your car? No, sir. You practically break your neck swerving to avoid him.”

“So what?” I demanded.

“Now, as soon as that brat grows up,” went on Jim, “into an adult brat, your whole attitude changes.”

“I don’t run over him deliberately,” I replied warmly.

“No, but in all other things but your car, you run over him,” declared Jim excitedly. “Our whole social system is based on the theory that those who are born smart or clever or gifted are entitled to live off the dumb majority. Of course there are adult brats. Of course there are adults who are as lazy, as spoiled, and unlikeable, as crafty, as evasive and essentially selfish as any brat of a child.”

“Admitted,” I agreed grandly.

“My question is,” concluded Jim, “why don’t we reorganize all our social ideas and oblige those of us who are born smart enough to live easily to look upon our fellow men who aren’t born that way with the natural affection and understanding with which we now regard all children, good, bad and indifferent?”

It took me a minute to feel the force of that question.

“You see,” pursued Jimmie intently, “only a small percentage of human beings are born smart. The great majority have to depend on those few to originate the work, to set up the work and to manage the work. But there is one thing wrong. Those who originate, set up and manage the work want to look upon all the rest of their fellow mortals the way you say a shepherd looks at his flock. To be cared for, within reason, but to be shorn, slaughtered and sent to market.”

“Hardly,” I protested.

“They have no fellow feeling for their less smart or gifted fellows,” insisted Jim. “We don’t really LOVE all children. Plenty of children give us the feeling that we’d like to kick them. But in all of us there is a natural feeling of affection, forgiveness, toleration and sacrifice for children. Why can’t that feeling be expanded into the adult world?”

“Plenty of religions have tried to do that, Jim,” I suddenly recollected. “The whole Christian principle is based on the fact that God is the Father and all men are his children. Therefore, we are all brothers.”

“Brothers be hanged!” cried Jim. “Plenty of brothers fight each other worse than they fight strangers. What I’m getting at is not to treat our fellow men as brothers, but as children. That is, the smart, the clever, the gifted, be obliged to adopt an adult attitude towards those not born smart or clever or gifted.”

“Hmmm,” I pondered.

“In the schools, the colleges, the universities,” rounded up Jim, “there should be special lectures, which all men, both clever and dumb, would be obliged to take. In these lectures, it would be explained that no man is clever in his own right, any more than that any man is born. And some will become adult. And others will remain children, naughty, lazy, selfish to the end of their days. Therefore, the adults – that is, the smart – must adopt and maintain an adult attitude to the end of their days.

“It can’t be done,” I asserted.

“It can be done,” retorted Jim. “Because we’ve done it with children. It is simply a case of our smart people growing up. A hundred years ago, little children were slaves in mills and mines. Today, every child MUST go to school until he’s 16. And childhood is revered and respected even by the most hopelessly stupid people.”

After Methuselah

Jim had me. There was no comeback I could think of. So we both sat watching the last soft light of day fading from our well-beloved and familiar summer scene. The rocks, the earth, the sea and sky – to the artist a form of religion, as they said at George Moore’s burial.

So, with the launch coming at 8 a.m., and we having to be up at 6 to have breakfast and tidy up the last remnants of our habitation in the old cabin, we went to bed.

And we got up at 7.10, as Jim turned the alarm clock off in his sleep, so he says. I KNOW it wasn’t I. And we hastily bolted a pot of tea and some toast. And at 7.40 we were hammering up the last four shutters. And at five minutes to 8, just as Ellery, the taxi launch man, hove in view around the island, we were carrying out valises and dunnage-bags and tackle-boxes to the wharf.

And at precisely 8, as Ellery’s launch was slacking up to the dock and my arm extending to save the bump, Old Methuselah, the big muskalonge that Jim and I had fished for, week in, week out, for five summers past, suddenly rose off the end of the wharf, leaped lazily three feet into the air in a gorgeous arc, leered at us, and fell back into the water with. a splash that made Ellery’s boat rock.

The last time we had seen Old Methuselah was in late July, out off the point of the little rocky island facing the cottage. He was well over 30, maybe close to 40 pounds. In 1943, Jimmie actually had him on the hook, but after a brief fight, Old Methuselah had simply jumped in the air, rolled over, fell on Jim’s line, and broke it like cotton thread.

We had both, at various other times, seen him jump, and had seen, in the cool of the evening, his colossal swirls out in the bay as he gulped down some wandering pike or bass.

Ellery’s boat bumped. Jim dropped the dunnage-bag and tackle-box he was carrying. I looked at my watch.

It was one minute past 8 a.m.

Ellery leaped out of the launch and made her fast. Jim began unpacking his rod and getting his reel out of the tackle-box.

I ran for the boathouse, with the key of the padlock in my hand.

With Ellery at the oars of the square stern skiff, we proceeded systematically to comb the shore. Starting at our wharf, we worked south a couple of hundred yards. Then we worked north. Then we crossed the channel to the best lunge-fishing shore in our district, a shore of large boulders interspersed with gravel.

I looked at my watch. It was 10.20 a.m.

“Ellery,” I asked, “haven’t you got any other calls to make today?”

“Plenty,” said Ellery, taking a firmer grip of the oars and turning to spy out the next course. “I shoulda been at the McCormac’s at 10. But they’ll just figger my engine broke down. It’s been going to break down all the past week…”

“But when you don’t come… ?” I remonstrated.

“When I don’t arrive with you on time,” explained Ellery, “they’ll dig up another launch some place for the McCormac’s.”

He started to row vigorously for a small rocky islet that is the second best place for muskies.

“And,” he added, “for the Brown’s at 12. And the Henry’s at 2. And the Henderson’s at 4. And so on.”

And so on!

At any rate, we arrived at the Landing at 6.45 p.m. and drove all the way to the city in the worst stinking, boiling, stewing traffic jam ever.

And of course we never saw so much as a ripple from Old Methuselah.

Editor’s Notes: Old Home Week is a practice to invite former residents of a town – usually people who grew up in the area as children and moved elsewhere in adulthood – to visit the “Old Home”.

George Moore was a novelist and art critic.