By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 4, 1936.
“You’re coming up,” said Jimmie Frise, “to my cottage this week-end.”
“Maskinonge,” I asked, “or bass?”
“Both,” said Jim. “I have a letter here from the family saying that a great big monster has been rolling every morning out in front of the cottage not fifty yards off shore. They say it will go twenty pounds.”
“They’ll have it before we get there,” I suggested.
“They are saving it for you,” said Jim, kindly. “We can have a grand time. We’ll get there about five p.m. Saturday and go straight out fishing. All we have to do is push the skiff out from the dock and start casting right off our beach. It is grand musky water. Then, we can take the outboard and scoot down about a mile and a half to gravel point where the bass are as thick as swallows around a barn.”
“Boy, this sounds grand,” I cried. “When do we have to leave there for home?”
“We don’t have to leave until after supper Sunday evening,” said Jim. “That’ll get us in town by midnight.”
“It sounds like a real week-end,” I enthused.
“I’ve been wanting to take you up for the past three summers,” said Jim, “but somehow we never could match up our week-ends. But this time you’re coming.”
“Sure I’m coming,” I declared. “That musky rolling out in front of the cottage has got me. What bait do you generally use?”
“Oh, spoons,” said Jim. “Cast in spoons, little brass ones, with black feathers on the hook. But bring your whole outfit. We’ll go after them in a big way.”
And when we set sail Saturday noon, Jim’s car was so laden with boxes of vegetables and baskets of peas and all my fishing tackle that we could not see out of the rear view mirror.
“I love this week-end business,” I told Jim as we lurched through city traffic heading for the broad highway. “This business of loading up supplies. It’s a sort of Christmassy feeling every week. We poor husbands lonely at home, watering gardens, going to movies, sighing around the house in the heat. And then comes Saturday, and we get almost the same old feeling we used to get years ago when we were going to call on our best girl. We buy gifts. Instead of roses, we buy meat and vegetables and marshmallows and canned fruit. And with high hearts and a flush on our faces, we head for the wilderness, where our dear ones, amid the cool and pleasant wilderness, have hardly thought of us all week.”
“I wonder,” said Jim, “if other parts of the world are as happy as Canada, in regard to summer resorts? The minute a Canadian gets enough money to buy a car, he has got to have a summer cottage.”
“Imagine,” I cried, “having a place to park our families in summer where there are great big muskies and tough fighting bass right off the front porch! How many muskies did you get last year, by the way?”
“Oh, you know me,” said Jim. “I talk a lot about fishing and I buy a lot of tackle, and I plan to go fishing a lot. But I don’t really fish much. By the time I get to the cottage, I want to lie in the hammock.”
Eager and Gay
“Not this week-end, my boy,” I assured him. “You’re with a real fisherman this time.”
“That’s what I need,” agreed Jim. “Somebody to egg me on.”
“Listen, we’ll pull up in front of your cottage,” I planned, “and unload the tackle out of the car straight into the skiff and push right off? Is it a bet?”
“You’re on,” agreed Jim delightedly.
So we arrived at the broad highway and began the four-hour battle. All bright and gay, the country smiled encouragingly as thousands of us debilitated city dwellers fought our way north, east and west. Good cars and old cars, cars laden with provender and cars loaded with mattresses, camp cots and tents; trucks grinding their obstructive way while long lines of us sweatily horned and tooted and glared sideways back at them while we passed; sport models full of superior and carefree youth that zipped by us more sedate citizens; tie-ups, old junk cars coughing up hills; ah, the parody of Saturday afternoon. If it were not that we were as bridegrooms, if we were not eager and gay, we would never so much as take our cars out of the garage of a Saturday afternoon.
But Jim drove and cussed and sneered; and I leaned out the window and shouted uncomplimentary remarks to drivers of less agile craft than ours; or retorted to the jeers of others whose cars were more agile than ours. And in due time we came to the end of pavement, and launched forth into a highway of gravel, where we ate dust, and skittered and bumped over washboards, and finally left even the gravel to take to a narrow little backwoods road where, if you meet a car coming against you, either you or it has to back up to a wide place to pass.
And about the time we struck this country road, the sky had darkened, rumbles of thunder warned of weather, and down into the leaves that brushed the sides of the car spattered the first big drops of summer rain.
“All the better for fishing,” I assured Jim. “You aren’t afraid of a wetting?”
“The best muskie I ever got,” replied Jim, “I got in a heavy rain that made the water leap up in a million little jets.”
And at six p.m. daylight saving time, in a world gray and sweeping with rain, we arrived at Jim’s cottage. And from indoors, as we turned in, came a bevy of gay young people, and we unloaded the chariot and the boxes were happily hustled indoors. But I could sense a certain embarrassment. I could see them catching Jim’s eye and giving him signals. And in a few minutes Jim came out heartily and said:
“They’ve got some kids staying with them, so I guess it’s the tent for us two old campaigners.”
“Grand, Jim,” I cried. “I love the sound of rain on a tent.”
“We had better put it up now, rather than when we come in from fishing,” suggested Jim.
“Right-o,” said I.
But then we were called for supper, and by the time supper was over and I looked out across the dimpling water, where the rain still slanted and peppered, it seemed to be getting a little dark.
“Jim,” I said, “let’s slam the tent up or we won’t get out to-night.”
Caulking the Old Boat
Jim went hunting and came back with a roughly-bundled tent of an oldish grayish color, and then we both hunted for the poles which never turned up.
“We can cut poles in a jiffy,” said Jim. Which we did, and they weren’t very good poles. We unrolled the tent and figured it all out, and struggled with the poles and the billowy canvas, and the rain still spattered and slanted. We had to go and cut pegs for the guy-ropes of the tent, and it got darker all the time.
“Just cut pegs for the corners,” said Jimmie. “We’ll do with a rough job tonight.”
“We’ll never get fishing,” I said. “But we can be up bright and early.”
The tent was pretty damp by the time we had it more or less erected, and the ground was soaked. But Jim got camp cots out of the cottage, and presently we got to bed.
“Early to bed, early to rise,” said Jim.
“The mosquitoes are fairly bad,” I answered.
The sun waked us. I could tell by the angle of the sun that it was not really early. In fact, it was the voices of children in the distance, apparently in swimming, that really wakened me.
“Jim,” I cried, looking at my watch, “it’s after nine, daylight saving.”
We leaped out of bed to find a lovely sunny morning, the water still as a mill pond, and nobody up yet.
“We’ll just go in and snatch a bite of breakfast,” decreed Jim. “And away.”
Quietly, so as not to wake everyone, we had a bowl of dry cereal and bread and jam. And then we gathered up our tackle and headed for the little dock in front of Jim’s.
“The boat,” said Jim, “was kind of leaky last week but I told them to leave it in the water to soak up.”
The boat, however, was on the beach, turned over. And I could see right through the cracks in the keel.
“Can we get a boat handy?” I inquired, businesslike.
“It won’t take ten minutes to caulk this up,” said Jim. “I brought a can of new caulking stuff for it.”
Which he produced from his fishing tackle box.
“Jim,” I said, “don’t fool with this skiff. Let’s rent one or borrow one, handy.”
“The nearest place to rent one is six miles up the lake,” said Jim, “and I wouldn’t dream of borrowing anybody else’s boat around here. Anyway, they are likely all out fishing.”
“Well,” said I. So I laid down all my tackle, rod cases, steel boxes, leather bags, nets, gaffs and what not, and helped Jim pry the lid off the caulking cement.
“This stuff is elastic,” explained Jim happily, cutting himself a sort of spreader from a stick. “It dries quick, the man said. But it is elastic and sticks in the cracks.”
The stuff was very liquid. We stirred it and spread it carefully in the wider cracks. Then we found smaller cracks and nail holes and carefully stuffed the cement into them.
“This is a great old boat,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t get rid of it for any boat they make nowadays. It’s a pleasure to handle this boat.”
We just went on stuffing and spreading. We found some quite large holes at the ends.
“Now,” said Jim, “let her dry, a few minutes, and away we go.”
“Let’s Prove We’re Anglers”
I sat down and batted mosquitoes away.
Jim walked out on the little dock. It was high and dry and the piles of stones that supported it were at least ten feet from water’s edge.
“The water in these lakes,” said Jim, “is dropping every year.”
“Maybe if we waited a few years,” I said, “we could come up and catch the muskies on dry land.”
Jim started moving stones from under the ricketty dock out towards the water. There is something attractive about moving a stone.
Jim moved about four stones. I got up and picked one up that I saw him deliberately avoid. I hoisted it. Waddled down to the water with it. Plunked it down.
“Boy,” said Jim, “you’ve got a back.”
“Short men are good at lifting,” I explained.
“We might as well do this,” said Jim, “while waiting for the boat to dry.”
One by one, we hoisted the stones. Jim tried several he couldn’t even get knee high, I hoisted them easily.
“I never realized,” said Jim graciously, “how strong you really were.”
“I was always a good lifter,” I assured him.
We got them all shifted. We made two good strong piles of them, and Jim said we might as well shift the planks, now that we had got the stones moved. It was only a matter of ten minutes before we had a nice little dock rebuilt, right where it should be.
We were just testing the caulking on the skiff when there came a strong call from the cottage.
“Dinner,” I said. And my watch showed noon.
We went up and squeezed in at a very crowded table, with several of the smaller children sitting at a side table, and had a great big summer dinner of cold meat and salad and about five cups of tea the way you can drink it at a summer resort. And it was two o’clock, daylight saving, when we walked out on the veranda, and Jim sagged into the hammock.
“Come, me lad,” I laughed at him. “None of that!”
“Just for five minutes,” said Jim. “Just to start digestion.”
I sat and rocked while the veranda filled with youth; and old Jim, with a grin on his face, closed his eyes and enjoyed a brief snooze.
“Up you get,” I commanded. “We’re anglers. Let’s prove it.”
“Oh, me,” groaned Jim, and rose heavily and went indoors to get the outboard motor, I helped him carry it down. The skiff was not yet dry. As a matter of fact, the cement only had a sort of crust on it, which broke when you stuck your finger on it, and the sticky stuff clung to your finger.
“Let her go,” said Jim. “The water will harden it.”
We launched the skiff, carefully.
“She leaks,” I noted.
“You bail,” decreed Jim. “It will close up in no time.”
He adjusted the outboard. I bailed. I batted mosquitoes. The lake was glassy smooth. There was a haze. I scanned the water for the boil of a monster musky rising. But only the dip of little water flies disturbed the glassy smoothness.
Jim wound up the engine cord and jerked. The water bubbled. The engine hissed and sucked. We moved, in slow bunts, forward with each jerk of the outboard cord.
“Hm, hm, hm,” said Jim, opening this and shifting that. He stuck his finger in the fuel tank and inspected the mixture. He gave little quick pulls of the cord. Long, slow hauls at it. He twiddled gimmicks and gadgets.
“Hm, hm, hm,” said I.
But bailing was necessary. There were several small clear little pencils of water spouting up out of the bottom of the boat from places we had not suspected.
“Paddle her in to the dock,” said Jim.
“What with?” I asked politely.
“Oh, I forgot the oars,” said Jim. “Paddle her in with your bailing can.”
I paddled as best I could the little distance we had drifted. Jim unscrewed the outboard and hoisted it on to the wharf.
“It won’t be a second,” said Jim. “I know the insides of these things like a book.”
I went for a little walk along the beach while Jim took the thing apart. I came back and sat down and watched him, as he unscrewed and unbolted, examined, refitted. He got covered with black grease. He seemed so concentrated, I hated to disturb him.
He tried three different bolts in the one nut he was holding, so I said:
“Jim, it occurs to me we ought to get an early start home so as to miss that dreadful traffic. A day like this, I bet it would take seven hours to get back to town.”
Jim pondered. He tried the three small bolts in two other nuts.
“Hm,” said he. “What time is it?”
“Not much of a day for fishing,” he said, gazing at the glassy and brassy lake.
“I don’t think a fish would look at a bait on a day like this,” I agreed, rising. “What do you say if we get an early start and avoid the traffic jam?”
“I’m with you,” agreed Jim. “I’ll take this thing back to town and have it overhauled. By next week, the boat will be thoroughly tight. We’ll make a day of it next week.”
We got a box and Jim put all the loose parts of the outboard in it. We packed our stuff into the car.
“I should attend to a couple of leaks in the roof,” said Jim. “They were nearly flooded out last night. It wouldn’t take ten minutes to slip a few shingles in under the spots that leak.”
“How about doing that next week?” I asked. “Time is flying. We don’t want to get into that traffic jam.”
We made our farewells to the one or two who were not having the afternoon siesta.
“Next week,” said Jim, gazing tenderly at his cottage, the placid lake, the dock, the boat, once more upside down, its repaired bottom bright with spots of pale cement, “we’ll make a real day of it.”
“Yes,” I said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Only I made each yes sound different from the others.
Editor’s Notes: For some reason, Greg says Maskinonge, which is French for Muskellunge, which is the pronunciation he normally uses.
As mentioned before, the weekend only started on Saturday afternoon back then, and it was common for men to stay in the city and work while their families would spend all summer at a cottage. The men would then go up on Saturday afternoon, and leave Sunday afternoon.