Articles

RIG FOR SUMMER

TRAVIS INGHAM October 1 1949
Articles

RIG FOR SUMMER

TRAVIS INGHAM October 1 1949

RIG FOR SUMMER

TRAVIS INGHAM

WE’RE NOT overly partial to summer folks, down in these parts. I can’t speak for other sections where they’ve got big hotels and such, but along our coast city people remind us of mackerel. They arrive in schools at a certain time of year and they splash around for a few weeks, dashing this way and that, and then they go back where they came from. Meanwhile we keep on about our business, much as usual. Our business is mostly lobsters hereabouts, and always has been.

Some of the summer folks are really neighborly sort of. Then there are others—like old man Quirt.

I could tell you lots of tales of Quirt’s orneriness, including how he posted Bubbling Well where the clipper ships used to fill their kegs and more recently, near-by islanders when their wells went dry in August. This isn’t Quirt’s story and it’s just to indicate what kind of a daddy his youngest had the misfortune to pick when she put in a belated appearance about twelve years after the other kids were born.

It was just as though old man Quirt and his wife looked over their brood and then went back to pick up something they’d missed. They sure enough found it in a little blue-eyed thing with corn-silk hair called Sally.

I must, have been about thirteen when I first saw Sally; she was about three. I was fishing for flounders off the town float when she got out of the Annabelle, Quirt’s boat, and paddled right over to offer me a piece of sticky candy. This was procedure contrary to the usual dockings of the Quirt tribe who ordinarily came right in without looking at anybody, or speaking. My mouth was half-ajar with surprise and anticipation when the old lady sailed over, gave me a furious look, grabbed the nipper and snaked her up the gangplank, dangling like a crab.

Sally managed to throw me the candy, nevertheless.

“That’s the leastist one,” observed Jaspar Crummins. “They ain’t got to her yet but they will.”

JASPAR’S weather predictions—a combination of corns, currents, sea gull cries and dyspepsia— were practically infallible. He knew nothing about females, however, and he was, praises be, wrong about this one.

Sally, it seemed, was a different cut of jib entirely from the rest of her breed. She was as natural as beans on Saturday night, pretty as a July Nor’wester, and she grew up friendly with everybody. Here in Comfort we were always glad to see her coming and the toughest old barnacle would gladly drop his business and pass the time of day with her, counting it well spent.

As for old man Quirt, it was easy to see that Sally was the apple of his eye and the single soft spot in his make-up. At last he and Comfort had found something in common.

Well, sir, one day Sally’s a little girl in pigtails, sit ting on her haunches communing with the clamdiggers; the next she’s a young lady and a dandy, too, slim where she ought to be and full rigged otherwise. She grew up in a hurry and we all felt sad and sorry, thinking she’d follow the example of her brothers and sisters before her and quit these parts summers.

Not Sally, however. She kept coming with her pa and ma when she should have been off to dances and parties. And why? She was some part of a tomboy to be sure, and there was no gush and

giggle about her: but matter of the fact was that she was one of us from the start, even if some folks were so bullheaded they couldn’t see it: my brother Lew, for instance. I’m coming to him.

Sally must have been about seventeen years old, the August afternoon she came up to our house and poked in her head to enquire: “Anybody home?”

We were all home, as a matter of fact, and I saw my Dad’s face light up as it always did when he looked at Sally. Ma hadn’t even been able to give him a girl, only boys—me, Eldred, the shavers and Lewellyn, who we called Lew. Lew’d just turned eighteen.

“I’m in a spot,” said Sally, floating around the kitchen, peeking into what Ma had on the stove and helping herself to a doughnut just as if she belonged, which of course she did. “Father’s got three of his stuffy old business friends down for the week end and the Annabelle’s cracked a cylinder head. Guth can’t get to her until tomorrow afternoon and we’ve got a picnic planned. Can you take us out around Monhegan, Cap’n Sam?”

Dad was having a spell of rheumatism. He lifted his game leg off the chair and moved it back and forth a couple of times. I could tell by his face that this was a bad one.

“Hate to tell you no, Sally,” he said gently, “but I guess I’m getting too old to go gallivantin’ about the outer ledges.”

“Nonsense,” said Sally indignantly.

“It’s true,” Dad grinned ruefully. “Now maybe Arthur here?” and he looked at me. Ordinarily I’d have been delighted but it so happened that I had a date with Mabel, my steady then as now.

“I guess the junket is off, then,” said Sally looking resigned. “We’ll just have to sit on the porch and watch those windbags drink Scotch and listen to them brag.”

By this time our family was about t he only one in town without a personal grievance against old man Quirt. Nobody else would even lift a finger for him, no matter what he offered. But Dad was always just a shade above the next. “Life’s too short for grudges,” was the way he put it.

Sally was about to take her departure when Lew spoke up from the corner. “I believe I could go,” he said, not looking at anybody but the lobster peg he was whittling for me.

Lew’s not like the rest of us. We’re fair while he’s dark like his granddaddy Amos, who was lost off the Banks years ago; dark and big and steady, even as a boy. Sometimes people are inclined to think Lew’s a dight slow, but he thinks things out in his own time and fashion. He never says much nor pushes any—so when he spoke up like this we were all surprised. Sally, too.

“Lew’s hardly more’n a boy,” said Dad, “but he knows his business. Come thick weather, he’ll run you in and set you down closer to your dock than I could myself.”

This was high praise, coming from Dad. I^ew looked up from under that shock of hair he can’t even keep in place and he grinned.

“H’mm,” said Sally, and she looked my brother over as if she’d just discovered him, which was probably true.

Lew was awfully shy as a boy: he’s shy now', as man, until you get to know him or vice versa, which is more important.

After a while he stopped whittling and looked Sally right back and with interest. A little color started under his

tan. “What time you want to get started?” he asked as though it was all settled.

Knowing Sally I expected her to put this young upstart in his place, but I guess I didn’t know her quite as well as I thought. “Let me see,” she said, rousing up a little color herself, which took nothing away from her. For a minute she was actually flustered. Then she pulled herself together and became very businesslike and dignified, for seventeen.

“Nine o’clock sharp at our landing,” she said. “And bring a hod of clams, if you will. We may want to drop a line.”

Off she went.

Lew concentrated on his peg and cut it down to a toothpick. The old man lighted his pipe. His eyes were twinkling and he was grinning around the stem of his pipe.

“Big water out where you’re heading, son,” he said. “Better check your charts and compass.”

Lew turned the color of boiled lobster.

“I guess,” he said, slow and hot, “if I’m big enough to skipper your boat, I’m big enough to skipper my own.”

And off he banged toward the clnmflats.

WE DO have romances up along here between summer boys and girls and our own. It wouldn’t l>e youth, human nature and the time of year if we didn’t. But usually they end at labor Day, or thereabouts. We’ve got our good clothes — “grave clothes” we call them hert* but when we put them on we look stiff and uncomfortable, which we are. On the other hand, when city folks break out their regular clothes, you know the dungarees and slacks were just a rig for summer.

It. makes a difference.

I wondered if Ix*w was thinking of this, some days later, when he said good-by to Sally in the grain shed on t he dock, while her old man was put t ing the bags in the limousine and being nasty to the chauffeur who’d come all the way from the city to fetch them home in style.

If so, Lew didn’t let on. He was busy with both eyes taking in a long, long drink of Sally as though it had to last him quite a while. Sally was doing all right in this department herself. They’d covered quite a lot of ground, it seemed, in just a few weeks.

There wasn’t much to their conversation which I just happened to overhear without straining.

“You’ll be back next summer?” Lew asked, anxiously.

“Sure thing,” said Sally. “And you’ll write me?”

“I’m not much for letters,” said Lew, “but I’ll try. What’s your address?”

Sally was ready for this and she pressed a little piece of paper into his hand and seemed in no hurry to let go.

“This is my girl friend’s address,” she explained. “She’ll see that I get your letters, unopened.”

Lew studied on this a bit. He looked puzzled.

“Why can’t I write you directly where you live and save time?” he wanted to know.

“Oh, a lot of reasons,” said Sally, one ear cocked for her old man, who let out a bellow just then. “It’s . . . it’s too complicated to explain right now.” She paused. “Well, good-by for another year,” she said and stood on tiptoe and kissed him.

THAT was the end of summer for that year, so far as the residents of Pine Island were concerned: and the

end of that, in my humble opinion. Lew, when he got his bearings again, seemed to feel likewise. We’d always been close and confidential and finally he said: “I’m darned if I’ll beat around Robinson’s barn for any girl. If I can’t write her honest and aboveboard, I just won’t write.”

He didn’t either. He got two or three letters from Sally, but he never answered them. She sent him a Christmas card and after that she stopped trying. During the winter she came out in society and the next summer she didn’t come back to the island, nor did her folks.

But Lew didn’t take up with any of the local girls though plenty were both eligible and eager. Once or twice I caught him perusing the society notes in the city paper where it said that Miss Sally Quirt, the popular young debutante, was figuring prominently in and about dances and parties that season.

Lew made no comment on this, however.

Some months later I came across her picture in the Sunday Rotogravure: same little Sally only prettier if possible. It seemed that she was about to co-skipper one of those dinky little knockabouts the rich folks race. I showed this to Lew.

“Who’s the boy friend?” he enquired casually—referring to a husky, vitamin-fed product in white ducks who was grinning at Sally in the glossy rotogravure.

The caption indicated that this was the son of Cyrus Flack, the leather king, and a most eligible bachelor. In fact it was rumored that he and Sally were thus and so.

“You reckon that’s what she wants?” said Lew, calmly.

“Could be,” I said. “Birds of a ! feather; rich get rich.”

“Sounds logical and right,” said Lew. Couple of days later, however, he did a funny thing. We were coming in from outside with Lew at the wheel —my boat had broken down and we hauled together that day—when he suddenly steered in to old man Quirt’s dock. I’d noticed he’d been studying the cottage on the way out. Lew never studied anything without a reason.

“Back in a jiffy,” he said and hopped ashore, hammer in hand. A minute later 1 saw him up on the roof where the tar paper was torn and wrinkled He worked away up there with a handful of shingles and by and by he came back and cast off again, without a word.

“Only thanks old man Quirt will give for that is to have you arrested for trespass,” I observed presently.

“That’s Sally’s room it’s weathering in on,” Lew replied. She’ll be back, one of these days.”

So he wasn’t over it, after all.

HE WAS right. Sally did come back that next summer, with her ma and pa. Old man Quirt was pretty feeble by now, and age hadn’t altered his disposition for the better. The old lady looked more resigned than ever. But Sally was the same natural herself j —all of nineteen and something to see.

Well, not quite. Sally’d always acted as though life were fun and the world her particular oyster. Now she didn’t seem so sure. She looked tired and bewildered, as though she’d been running around in circles looking for someI thing she couldn’t quite put her finger on. I began to wonder if old Jaspar was right, those many years ago, and if Quirt and his kind were beginning to get hold of her at last.

Right away Sally dispelled this particular doubt. Lew and I were towing in a load of birch from one of the outer islands when she came alongside in the Chriscraft her dad had bought to take the place of the Annabelle. We were beginning to get good engines in our ! boats by this time and Quirt couldn’t bear to be passed by anyone: espe-

cially not by a lobsterman.

So, then here were the speedboat and Sally in her jersey and dungarees in which she looked better than many a girl in her best, and the old familiar grin and greeting we knew so well—

“Hi, there! Bet you thought I was gone for good.”

I admitted that I had had some I doubts—not shared by all hands, how| ever. Sally caught on and she looked at Lew.

“Then you must have been the kind ! soul who fixed the roof,” she said to him. “Gee, thanks a lot.”

“Nothing to that,” said Lew.

So far everything was dandy. But I right there Sally made a mistake.

I “We’d like to pay you for your I trouble,” she said.

I could feel Lew stiffen. The grin froze on bis face.

“No charge,” he said.

“It was Dad’s idea,” Sally explained. “1 knew you’d feel like that.”

She s;it there at the wheel of the speedboat, the motor idling and the exhaust fretting and you could see she was sorry. Lew couldn’t see, however, for he wasn’t looking at her at all but way off somewhere else. Somebody was bound to say something, so I asked: “How long you going to be up this summer, Sal?”

She thought this over a little while before she said: “I don’t rightly know. We’ve got friends coming up in two weeks and after that, well, it depends.

Perhaps we’ll leave the first of August,” she added and slipped Lew a little worried glance to see how this struck him.

I nudged Lew, but you might just as well nudge a road roller. When he gets sensitive, he shuts down and outclams a clam.

Sally tried another track. “These people will want to have a taste of deep-sea fishing. Do you suppose one of you boys could take us out?”

“Don’t believe I can spare the time from my traps,” Lew said. “But Arthur might oblige you.” He kicked the shift rod and we began to move ahead.

I could see the little white line of Sally’s chin grown firm and 1 battened down the hatches for a blow, figuratively speaking. She threw in the engine of her own boat and slid alongside again.

“Thanks, Arthur,” she said, though I hadn’t opened my face. “ You've always been most accommodating.” With that she gunned the motor and the Chriscraft almost jumped out of its mahogany hide. Off she went, blond hair and spray flying.

OWERFUL hurry, isn’t she?” Lew observed.

I felt like throwing him down and tromping on him.

“Now what do you want to be so contrary for?” I asked. “You know right well you could spare a day from your traps.”

“I could,” Lew said, “but I guess I don’t have to jump every time she whistles. Rich people give me a pain.”

“Sally’s not people,” I reminded him. “She’s just plain folks and you know it.”

“Still and all she’s rich—or will be some day.”

“Well, what of that? What difference does it make?”

“Plenty,” said Lew. “I’m figuring on doing the keeping in my family.”

I said, “But aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself, Lew. The point in question appears to me to be a fishing party, not matrimony.”

Lew didn’t answer and we left the matter there, for the time being.

THE VISITORS appeared, but they didn’t arrive quite the way we expected. They came sailing down in a great black Marconi rig yawl that was all brass and spit, and they dropped anchor in the cover on Pine Island. A lot of very fancy people went ashore in a dinghy with an egg beater on behind to save rowing a few rods.

Right away I recognized the skipper of this outfit. It was young White Ducks of the races and the leather fortune. The way he greeted Sally on the landing left no room to doubt where his cap was pointed.

It was a Tuesday when the folks over on Pine Island wanted to go fishir g and Dad’s big old Friendship sloop they wanted to have carry ’em. The last was Sally’s decision. Whereupon Lew, in that odd turn-about fashion of his, made one of his own.

“1 do believe I’ll join you,” he said to me, at the last minute. “Those yacht club sailors won’t be much help. You’ll need a hand, hoisting and lowering.”

W’e found plenty of old sea out by the Old Woman Ledge and codfish, likewise, and all this was duck soup to the boys and girls of the Jolly Roger as the yawl was called. After fishing, we had a monstrous clambake on shore with considerable champagne for the upper crust. They took us right into their midst and while Lew and I skipped the fizz, it was all very democratic and good fun as Sally’s expedidor s always were.

The breeze freshened with the turn of the tide. I gave the tiller to Lew and I thought—now we’ll see. Going back we wallowed and lurched and yeed and yawed. Nobody changed a particle of color, leastwise not this Roger Flack. It turned out he was a born sailor who knew just what to do and did it before Lew could tell him or 1 could get to it.

On the outside Lew took all this in stride, but down in I could hear him bubble. He’d got a hunch that he wasn’t showing Sally a thing about sailing a sloop that Mister Flack didn’t know or couldn’t do himself, and that’s a hard mouthful for any Coast man to swallow.

Anyway he spanked old Betty home close-hauled to the last inch and the way he did it was a caution. I was glad Dad wasn’t around to see him heel her over. Betty was thirty if she was a day, and she groaned and complained plenty, but she took it like a lady.

“Nice going, Captain,” applauded this Roger when Lew came about and pat the Betty alongside Quirt’s dock, nice and gentle as a lamb. “I’d be htppy if you’d come out with me tomorrow and work out the Roger. She’s new and needs a good shakedown.” Lew didn’t go for this “Cap’n” stuff any more than he did young Mister Flack. “I’ll hold with old Betty,” he said, real short, “if it’s all the same to you.”

“Why sure, sure,” said Roger Flack, looking surprised and puzzled. “Didn’t mean any offense to the Betty. She’s swell. Finest Friendship I ever saw. The way you handled her was great.” “Thanks,” said Lew drily. “Cast off, Arthur, and let’s be on our way.” S dly didn’t miss any of this. I could see her little chin go up as she looked at Lew. Then she turned to her guest.

“I’ll go out with you, Roge,” she said, her voice clear and carrying. “In fact I might take you up on that invitation to cruise the Reach, after all.”

“Gee, that’s swell,” said the boy, busting over with pleasure, “but I thought you said—”

“Changed my mind,” she interrupted. “Female prerogative.” She slipped her arm through his and they went up the path together.

For once I held my tongue. I was ashamed of Lew for being so short and yet, in a way, I understood. By and by he let down and sighed. He looked all in. “Guess 1 shouldn’t have said that,” he admitted as Lew always does when he’s wrong and knows it. “He meant no harm.”

We coasted past the yawl and Lew’s face lit up in spite of himself. “I did want to try her awfully,” he said, boylike. “Ain’t she a honey? What I wouldn’t give for a craft like that, just to pleasure with.”

“Might as well wish for the moon on a piece of pie,” I said.

“Feller can dream, can’t he?”

“It appears to me that’s all some fellers do,” I said. “When you going to wake up, mister?”

“Right about now,” said Lew, unconsciously squaring bis shoulders as though he were bracing against something, or somebody. “That cruise ought to fix it, reckon?”

“Shouldn’t be surprised.”

Lew nodded. “He’s not a bad sort. She could do worse.”

I didn’t contradict him. I was beginning to think maybe I’d been playing wrong hunches all the time.

O ALLY didn’t cruise long, however.

After a bare week she was back —by train. I’d been fetching for the

Quirts in the meanwhile and when I remarked on this, she just said: “I

was worried about Dad—and things.”

No details.

Something had happened either on the cruise or to Sally or maybe both, so much was clear to me. Oh, Sally said hello as always, with a little smile, but her eyes darted about as though she half hoped she’d see somebody and half hoped she wouldn’t. If the somebody was Lew, she was wasting her time. He’d put out fifty extra traps and seemed bound to catch every lobster in the sea, if it took him from dawn to dark, which it did.

So Sally did her business on the mainland and did it fast without tarrying: nor for that matter did the

summer. The season is short enough, Lord knows, but this one had wings. Hardly was it August when September first came rolling around, taking me over to Pine Island to help close up as usual. But this year there was a difference 1 could smell directly I set foot on the island.

Sally and I dragged the Chriscraft out of the water, the two of us and a power windlass, and we pulled in the moorings and the skiff. Then we went to work on the cottage shutters. All this time Sally hardly said a word and her face was grim. There was an awful air of finality about everything we did and presently, just to break the silence, I said: “Summer folks always leave

just as the weather gets good. You ought to stay on through September, Sally.”

“I’d like to,” she said, simply, and looked over the fields of yellow goldenrod with what we call the fall change hanging close.

“Pretty soon those maples will begin to flame pure gold and red,” I continued, “and the evergreens grow darker. Ducks will commence to V down onto the mussel beds and way up high against the full moon you'll see the geese honking south. On shore the working will be over, and the hunting and living will begin. The day will be blue and white, and the nights nippy and bright with Northern Lights. Fall’s really something to see, up here.”

Sally looked at me and out to sea and back again. Her blue eyes filled with tears. “Please, Arthur,” she said. “Don’t tell me any more.”

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, no, no,” she said. “It’s all so wonderful and right. It’s what I want more than anything in the world, if only—” She broke off and made an effort to pull herself together. “You see, we’re closing the cottage for good, this time. Mother has never liked it here and Dad is old and ill and I—I—”

She ran into the house and shut the door.

SO THAT’S IT, I thought. I felt pretty bad myself and put a shutter on upside down before I got hold of myself. Not to have Sally around was something unthinkable. Summer wouldn’t be summer without her.

I finished up what I had to do and dashed back to the Main to look for that brother of mine, thinking I’d bash some sense into his head before it was too late—for I knew from what Sally hadn’t said that this didn’t have to happen. I found him and Lew listened. At least he let me talk until I’d run down and had to stop for breath.

“Anything else you’d like to get off your chest?” he asked.

“Plenty,” I said, “but it’s your turn to talk now.”

Lew looked unhappy. He also looked stubborn.

“I’ve been getting over Sally, or trying to, the best way I know how.

It’s not easy and you’re not helping any. Why don’t you mind your own business, for a change?”

“Besides,” he added, as though he’d been repeating it to convince himself, “it just wouldn’t work, that’s all.”

I opened my mouth to contradict him, but Lew had had enough. “You keep still, Arthur,” he said very quietly, “or you and me are going to have trouble.”

That was the last of him for that day.

We all worried and fretted, Ma especially, but Lew didn’t show up by nightfall nor the next morning when I went over to pick up the Quirts and their duffle.

Old Lady Quirt lowered in and thanked heaven this was the last time. The old man, all wrapped up in his bum ticker, merely grunted and Sally was no help. She was pale as a ghost as though she hadn’t slept a wink, which was doubtless true. All the way over she perched on the stern, leaning her cheek against the jigger mast and watching the island drop away.

At the town float she swept her eyes around and then she came and stood by me. “I hate good-byes,” she said. “Especially this one. So will you tell your folks?” I nodded. “And—Lew?” she added. “I suppose he’s off at his traps.”

“I can’t rightly say just where he is,” I said.

“You told him we were leaving today?”

I wanted to spare Sally but I couldn’t lie to her; not with those blue eyes on me.

“He knows,” I said.

“Oh,” she said and turned to the baggage. There was a lot of it, more than usual and we didn’t strain ourselves. We took our time but we couldn’t stall forever. I was going back for the last load when I saw Lew’s boat tearing down between the islands, wide open.

“He’s coming now,” I whispered to Sally, “hell bent for election.”

She hesitated a moment, worrying her lip with her teeth, and then she took off for the float with me right behind her. I couldn’t see Lew’s face beneath his long-visored cap but there was something mighty anxious about the way he was crouched forward over the stick, like a man who’s made up his mind and is afraid he’s too late to do anything about it.

He saw Sally and relief was written all over his face. In he came with a great wash of wake that flooded the float and ran up over her ankles, only she didn’t seem to notice. Lew hopped out, tossed the painter in the general direction of a post and in just two strides he got alongside. Then he hauled up short, breathing fast and just looked at her.

Sally spoke first. “I was afraid you wouldn’t make it, Lew,” she said. “I —wanted to tell you good-by. Only it’s for keeps, this time.”

“Arthur allowed as much,” said Lew and fidgeted a little. “Is that the way you want it, Sally?”

She looked halfway between mad and tears. “Of course it’s not,” she said. “You know how I feel about —things up here. Or you would, if you’d ever cared to ask.”

“I’ve wanted to, Sally,” he confessed. “Lots of times. But it didn’t seem I had any right. Is it too late to ask now?”

Sally studied on that and when she answered, it wasn’t directly. “This place means a lot of things to me,” she said, “all the important ones. It means sun and sky and air to breathe and space to live in and folks—not people, folks. Like your mother and dad and the boys and Arthur. And you.” She dropped her voice. “Especially you.”

“Me?” whispered Lew, hardly daring to believe he’d heard right.

“Of course. There’s never been anyone else, Lew,” she said. “You’re all of it.”

Lew’s face blazed up to glory, like a juniper bush taking fire, but only for a moment. He looked down at his rubber boots and his big hands twitched Then he faced Sally square and honest.

“I’m just a lobsterman, Sally, and probably always will be. I ain’t— haven’t much to offer a somebody like you. I do all right in my way and what’s mine is paid for. That’s about all.”

“Go on, Lew,” said Sally, taking a deep breath. “Go on."

“That's the extent of it, Sally, except-—except anybody takes up with me has got to live my way on what I earn and share pot luck what comes.”

“Of course,” breathed Sally. Her eyes were dancing now as if Lew were painting a wonderful picture right in front of her. “It has to be your way, darling.”

That last boosted him over the fence.

“So what I’m trying to say is if you’ve got a hankering to stay around here, if you don’t want to go—you don’t have to. I—I guess I love you, Sally.”

I secured Lew’s boat and then I went away quietly, though I could have danced a jig for all those two would know or care. Up on the land I met old man Quirt, shirttails flying, so to speak.

“Where’s Sally?” he bellowed in something like his old form. “What’s keeping her down there?”

This was a moment I had been waiting considerable years. I let him dangle a minute. Then I said.

“Lew is, Mister Quirt, and from the looks of things, he means it to be permanent.”