June 27, 1917
It was getting near the end of the month and Mark Robinson would be returning any day now with his family. School would be done this week, so he’d be packing up the wife and kids to spend the summer with him. When he left earlier in June, I had promised to finish up the berm for him at the shelter house. I’m a person to keep promises so I thought I’d better go up today and finish the job.
The shelter house at Joe Lake is a pretty respectable outfit. It has two separate rooms and when the summer kitchen is in operation there’s more than enough room for a family of five. The verandah out front counts as much as a room when the mosquito screens are up. On a pleasant summer evening, the verandah is the best room in the house to be in.
Before going to the shelter house I made a stop at Mowat Lodge. The main reason was to check for any mail. Annie got my mail. I had three letters: a short note from Dr. MacCallum – he had sold another sketch of mine, a bank account statement forwarded to Mowat P.O. and a letter from my sister out west. More importantly, I had not received anything from Billie Bear Lodge, so I just assumed that they were full on the dates that I requested. But I also began to suspect that they might not be interested in my business. Some of the other lodges, worried about the gaining the reputation of impropriety, required that newlyweds produce their marriage certificate before renting a room. The hotels in the cities and larger towns had a seedy reputation that the lodges tried hard not to be brushed with. So nothing in the mail from Billie Bear meant that the plan that Winnie and I would rendezvous at Bella Lake was effectively dead. That meant the other alternative, the New Queen’s hotel in South River is where Winnie I would need to meet.
I pondered my options going up to the shelter house. I decided to focus on the task at hand. Mark had already put the pine logs in place, so the remainder of the project was a matter of elbow grease and gravel. Judging by the amount, it was a three hour job – if I had a wheelbarrow. And there was none in sight. That’s when I decided to go over to George Rowe to ask for one. George is just on the other side of Joe Lake. It wasn’t too far away, but far enough that it meant it would be a social call as well.
“George, do you have a wheelbarrow I can use?” George didn’t need a friendly greeting. We were good friends already.
“Sure thing, Tom. Just over there.” George pointed to one at the side of his cabin, ” What do you need it for?”
“I need to finish Mark’s berm,” I replied.
“I’ll come help you, but a whisky first”
I couldn’t refuse the offer. After a perfunctory imbibement, we both headed over to the shelter house.
“Say, Tom. I can’t help but say that things aren’t going so well over at Shannon’s place. He hasn’t paid me for the last few jobs.”
“George, you need to finish them first.” I was trying to be humorous, but I knew the seriousness of the situation. Business wasn’t so good this year. That’s why Shannon was keen to take money from my account and then not pay George. He must be having trouble to make ends meet.
“Both me and Lowrie are having a hard time too. Work’s pretty short around the Lake.”
The conversation on hardships continued until we got to the shelter house. After an hour’s honest effort aided by the wheelbarrow, we finished the berm. Mark now had some level ground for his twin daughters to play on without rolling into the lake. A promise I made, fulfilled with the help of George.
“George, are you going to Huntsville any time soon? I need someone to deliver a message for me”
“Not me personally, Tom. But I think Lowrie might want to go. What’s your business?”
“I need to get a letter to Winnie. I can’t send it by mail because it’ll be taken by her parents.” I was confiding in George. He was someone I could trust.
“I’ll talk to Lowrie. He might be up for a trip to Huntsville too.” George wiped his brow with his handkerchief. I think the sweat was coming from the whisky we had. I noticed that in older men. When they drank whisky, they would sweat it off. I knew the smell of whisky-sweat – I had more than my share of that smell of canoe guiding trips. The whisky drank in the evening to take the edge of the hard day’s work would make the blankets in the tents reek in the morning. The only way to lessen the smell was to air them out in the sun, and smoke a pipeful of tobacco. I’m afraid George was of the whisky-sweat-smell age. I wasn’t there yet, thank goodness. I still had a few sweet-smelling years ahead of me.
As the afternoon went on, the breeze stopped and the air became dead and heavy. From the south I could see an angry set of purple storm clouds approaching. I knew a downpour was in short order because the clouds took over the whole sky with a vengeance. I managed to get back to my canoe and onto the lake and I could see the rain approaching. It was like the south part of the lake had turned into a boil. The boil was approaching northward and would overtake me before I got to my campsite. And sure enough it got me, 200 yards from my destination. I could see my laundry, once dry in the late afternoon, now soaked as if it had been just thrown in the lake. My bake-kettle was full of water, and my reflector oven was glistening. They weren’t damaged but I was cursing myself that I hadn’t put them away properly. I violated one of the cardinal rules of camping – if you leave your site, put away your stuff properly, no matter how short your departure might be. You never know if the weather will turn. You need to be ready for that. I thought of this rule and decided another one was in order. Whenever you decide to leave, no matter how long or short, make sure all of your promises you made are settled, because you might never come back.
The rain stopped as quickly as it started. The boiling surface of the lake changed to a deep black hue with no end. No sounds. Silence. Nothing but the dripping sounds from my tent. I laid down on my blankets. They did smell like whisky. I lit up my pipe and smoked. That would take the smell away. Cover it, at the least.