There were four of us in camp, skidding firewood into a yard, then splitting and hauling it to the camps around the lake.
Woodsmen may be rugged individualists. But they have a code of dress and behavior as rigid as any convent’s. We wore rubber boots, long johns, Ballard pants, wool shirts, and cowhide choppers.
Into this siberian sameness walked Barry Perkins, in brand-new Bean boots, blue jeans, down jacket, ski mitts, and a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker! We spotted him a mile away across the lake. The ice was wind-swept, so he was shuffling along, a duffle bag over his shoulder and a mitten over his nose. Every so often he’d stop and wave his arms in circles. We watched him coming all through lunch.
Finally he spotted the camp, climbed the bank, and stomped up onto the porch. Old George opened the door, and he came stomping in. His face was red, tears streamed down his cheeks, and a bright pearl dripped from the end of his nose.
“You lookin’ for the ski shop, Sonny?” asked George
“No, sir. I’m Barry Perkins. They sent me up to work.”
“Work, eh? Well, by Judast, you come to the right place!”
He didn’t know a maul from an ice chisel, or a peavey from a flat file. But he was bright and willing; and old-timers don’t ask any more than that. That first night, he fell asleep at the table. But soon he was sitting around with the rest of us till bedtime, or in the easy chair by the lamp, looking at old copies of Playboy.
We’d been there two weeks, when one Saturday afternoon Roger Benoit said, “Boy! If I was young again, I’d take ‘er for the Bor’as tonight!”
“What’s the Bor’as?” asked Barry.
“It’s a dance hall, boy, with a band on Saturday night, and lots of girls. But it’s quite a walk from here.”
It was, too — about twelve miles over a height of land into the Boreas Ponds. There was nothing there, of course, but swamps and snow.
Thirty minutes later, with my compass, George’s snowshoes, Bill’s flashlight, and a bag of cold cornbread, off went Barry into the gathering night.
We figured he’d return around breakfast time. We’d listen to his story and tell him where he’d gone wrong.
But he didn’t. As darkness fell Sunday, he was very much on our minds. “He isn’t back by breakfast, Roger,” said old Bill, “you’re gonna take a little stroll. I think that boy’s in trouble.”
He came in at dawn Monday, picked up the bucket and ice chisel and headed down to the lake. The rest of us were getting up when he came stamping back in.
“Where you been, boy?” asked Bill.
“Up t’the Bor’as.”
“How was it?”
“Great! Just like you said!”
Which was the last time anybody mentioned it. That kid was brighter than he looked. Whenever you passed his bunk, you couldn’t miss the aroma of perfume hanging in the air.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
–Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.