THE NIGHT GRANDMA SWAM THE LAKE
It was the swim to end all lake swims. In the all-star east were the white-haired Mrs. Crampton, four thugs called Rocky, a desperate reporter, a delicious damsel— and the entire swim-crazed population of Toronto
The sprawling city room of the Toronto Bugle was dark and deserted, except for the single figure of a man in shirt sleeves bent over a pile of copy at a table under a single bank of fluorescent lights in one corner. He looked up once, as though in alarm, and then bowed to his work again, but not for long.
He was standing now. hands on hips, looking down the gloomy cavern of the room to the door through which had entered a strange figure.
The newcomer was a young man with strawcolored hair, which had a tendency to stick out at the sides like the vagi on a television aerial. On his head he wore a cocked hat of vaguely
nautical design. His long thin neck was encased in a rolltop sweater of such shagginess that it looked to have a life of its own. For a jacket he wore a salt-stained garment that had once been worn bv a sublieutenant of what used to be called the Wavv Navy. Most of the rest of him was encased in fisherman's waders.
He was singing loudly and obscenely in praise of those splendid and virile men of the North Atlantic Squadron. The whole effect was one that might have been achieved through the unlikelv defection of a member of a road company of HMS Pinafore to a production of Peter Grimes at the end of the trout season.
He clumped to the desk under the light and saluted unsteadily.
"Able Seaman Henry Blodgett reporting, sir. ’ he mumbled. I hen. w ith a flourish, he reached into a pocket of his jacket and deposited a small dead fish on the spike securing the night's copy. "Here's the last take on the attempt of the brothers Karamazov—or is it Kranski ... I guess it s Kranski—to swim Lake Ontario, manacled together. ‘
Henrv pulled himself erect again tor he had been drooping slightly as he spoke.
”1 regret to report, night editor, sir. that the brothers were lured off course by a couple of
sneaks in a rival boat.” Blodgett leaned forward and dropped his voice to a confidential whisper. "They used a magnet.”
The night editor sat down and sighed wearily. " l ake that dead fish and get out of here. Blodgett,” he said. "I know how you feel. kid. These swims are driving us all nuts but get out of here before someone sees you in that outfit.”
Blodgett's wide comic mouth involved his whole face in a grin.
"You don't understand. It's not the uniform you salute, it's the man." He looked around. "Actually I filed my copy earlier on this soggy saga. You got it, I trust.”
“Sure, it's all tidied up,” said the night editor. "Why don't you just be a good fellow and run along.”
Blodgett nodded. "Sure, sure.” he said quickly. Then he held up a right forefinger. "But I won’t run.” He looked down at the waders. "These are my sea legs—-aren't they nice?”
The night editor was all business now. "I’ve got work to do.”
Blodgett looked around the room and then bent low over the desk.
"That business about the magnet—I made that up." he confided.
The night editor nodded. He picked up a pen-
cil. Blodgett had been dismissed had he realized it. But he was reluctant to go.
"Joe." he said. "I don't think I can stand much more of these swims.”
"Well, were all pretty tired of the damn things.”
"But, Joe, you don't understand how it is with me. I've covered them all from Marilyn Bell's swim right up to and including the Brothers Kranski and their magic handcuffs. Five times I've crossed the lake with Hensley Smeech. the man who throws himself in like a note in a bottle and trusts to Providence to float him across. I've been on three mass orgies when
continued on page 29
continued from page 17
the whole lake”—he threw his arm out in a wide arc—“was stiff with the wretches paddling for some prize or other. 1 was there the night the Egyptian tried to swim it on his back, 1 was there when the whole Disberry family tried it. I went across with the coach who threatened to use a bull whip on his swimmer last week.” He gripped the edge of the desk and raised his voice to a shout. "I've been out on that lake so much that 1 appear on the new maps.”
Joe bent his head. When he raised it his eyes were hard and his mouth was firm. “I know, Henry,” he said. “1 don't know how you’ve stood it these past three years.”
“Where does it all end. Joe? I ask you, where does it all end? I took my girl June to dinner two nights ago and w'hen the waiter recommended lake trout I went for his throat like a stoat, or 1 guess a lamprey eel would be more fitting. They were going to call the cops. June has asked a man who writes psychological documentaries for the CBC to analyze me.”
“Why don’t you get some sleep, Henry?”
The lanky man turned away. He walked a step and then stopped and took off his hat and looked at it sadly. He turned back.
Henry looked at the hat again and then put it back on his head. “All right. Joe." he said. “Don’t worry. Em going. But take hope, Joe. It will be all over soon.”
“That’s right. They haven’t tried swimming under the ice.”
Henry shook his head emphatically. "That isn't what I mean at all. Joe. It will all be ended—kaput—very soon indeed. This summer, 1 mean, without the blessed intervention of Old Mother Nature. Even now plans are being perfected that will blow the whole thing high and wide. Take heart, Joe, we will all be set free.”
“What do you mean, Henry?”
The tall one turned slowly in the axis of heels and when he was pointed once again in the direction of the door began to walk, a ludicrous yet somehow impressive figure with high cocked hat and grotesque footwear. "Take heart. Joe." he intoned once more from the shadows, and he was gone.
HPIHE next morning at his rooming A house Henry looked apprehensively at the hat, swaying gently from the ancient electric light which had originally been used for gaslight. Fearfully he sorted out his imperfect memories of the night before, particularly the last part of it. What had he told Joe about his scheme? Nothing much apparently because at the moment he couldn’t remember it himself.
But for a moment, at least, he did have a plan to end the marathon swimming madness that took Toronto in its damp clutches each summer. Henry, like most of the citizens and even those demicitizens, the newspaper reporters, thought the first crossing of the lake by a teenaged slip of a girl was a fine and gallant
“If this comes off,” said Henry, “it may well end marathon swims forever—or end my career”
thing. Indeed, he thought so highly of the exploit that he wrote a pretty powerful piece as his contribution to the Bugle's coverage of the event. It was so good, apparently, that ever since Henry had worked and lived, so it often seemed, either on some beach waiting for a swimmer to take off or come in, or on a small pitching boat out on the lake. This experience had not only given Henry a chronic case of seasickness, but a low opinion of mankind ashore and afloat. The swimmers, who still assaulted the lake in shoals for prize money and just for the notoriety, he felt were beyond redemption. Too long exposure in water, even though fresh, had somehow marinated their minds, he was sure. The antics of those on shore, their almost frenzied interest in each swim no matter how dull, he found harder to dismiss. He wanted desperately to save them from themselves and see their interests steered into legitimate drier channels.
He leaned on one elbow in bed and lit a cigarette. What was the plan now? He remembered he had the germ of an idea when he was talking to Joe last night—something about a magnet. He leaped out of bed and stood in the middle of the floor shivering with excitement. He remembered now. It would be a cinch to arrange. And the result — he spread his hands and beamed to all corners of the room, like a man accepting a nomination—the end of across-the-lake swims. Dignity would return to Toronto, which undoubtedly would become a kind of Athens with racetracks. And he. Henry Blodgett, would be saved from a gibbering end that would find him sitting in a corner of the City Hall pressroom plucking at his clothes and crying to no one in particular every few minutes, “Take him out, you fool. Can’t you see the boy will never make it?"
His next move was to call his girl— at least he hoped she was still his girl after that ugly episode in the restaurant a few nights before when he lost his head when the waiter suggested lake trout— and arrange to have lunch with her. June, in addition to being admirably constructed, was smart, far smarter than he was, Henry was willing to admit. He would need her help in this project designed to save a whole city from further ignominy and even disaster.
June would be very glad to have lunch with him.
JUNE G ROCiAN, besides being a very fetching gretchen indeed, wrote highly intellectual poetry on her own time, and on the time of an advertising agency wrote highly nonintellectual jingles in support of the month's new brand of detergent. In addition to being all the things mentioned earlier. June was also a w'eli-adjusted girl.
She was already at their favorite corner of their favorite café when Henry arrived for their luncheon date. Their favorite waiter was a former undertaker's assistant called Charlie. Charlie thought both of them were a little crazy but he had once said in an embarrassingly sentimental moment. "You're my kind of people."
"1 don’t care what people say. J.G., you look terrific." said Henry as he slid into the chair next to her.
"How do you know? You haven’t seen a woman who wasn’t wearing swimming goggles for two months."
"You know what, J.G.?" Henry whis-
pered earnestly to her so he wouldn't offend or, what was worse, puzzle Charlie. "Let’s face it. I’m my kind of guy."
June smoked her cigarette. It was part of their private code that neither showed the slightest approval of anything that was said. Usually, as today, this aplomb was not hard to maintain.
"What's this crazy scheme you told me about on the phone to smash the under water racket for good and all?" asked June.
"If this comes ofT it may well end the marathon swims forever. It can also end my career as a newspaperman."
“If it’s good you can get a job at our place. You're too fine, Henry, to be working for anything but money. By the way we’re going to start and push a new product. It’s called soap."
Henry drew a piece of copy paper from his pocket and spread it out between them. He poised his pencil.
“I figured this out last night as I lay groaning in the scuppers of the Pinta, cursing the day that I had ever left my boyhood home in Devon and set sail with such a ruffianly crew of ...”
“Ruffians." offered June.
Henry nodded his small gratitude, "Okay, ruffians.’’ He bent over the paper. "Here’s the deal. They make wire now that’s so fine it's almost invisible, especially against water, and so strong that it will support a family of six. This wire is hard to get but I know where I can get enough for the job. We stretch two wires from the two pilot boats and our swimmer lies on the sling they form and just paddles her way across."
He looked up with alarm. “June, where are you going?"
She had picked up her gloves and her bag anti was moving away from the table without even smoothing her skirt. “You said ‘her.' " she said accusingly.
Henry waved down her objection. “Don't he silly. I wasn’t even thinking of you for this assignment. Besides, you've got to keep working steady so I’ll have a place to land when they fire me, probably out of a cannon."
June gingerly resumed her place. “Perhaps it has occurred to you that it is even just slightly more illegal than salting a uranium mine.”
Henry looked pleased. “Of course it is. The guys in the two boats are
“I realize it won’t be too hard to find two boatloads of crooks, but that still doesn’t make it any more legitimate. They have referees and things on these swims, don't they?" asked June.
"Sure they have but when the official party comes around our men lower the wires into the water and our swimmer carries on freestyle while they are peering at her. I'll arrange to keep the press navy far enough back so they can't see too much. And as for the swimmer herself, she's not doing anything really illegal. We won't put her in competition for any prize. She'll just be doing it for . . . well, like the unemployed tinsmith who swam the lake this summer so he could get new' teeth for his mother."
“And what if an aroused populace showers her with gifts? You know how excited people still get about these swims. The mayor may even want to give her an expenses-paid trip to Montreal as a gift at a big City Hall reception. She'll be a thief."
"We turn down all gifts. We did if pour le sport."
“Leave the French out of this. They’re ar too wise to have anything to do with nything involving so much water,” said une. She examined the sketch for a noment and then looked up. “All right, o you have a gimmick that will tow omeone across the lake so it looks as .hough she were swimming. What I want to know now is, who is ‘her’?” Henry smiled. “Ah, that’s where you come in. As a matter of fact you come in at two places. First, you come in with some money because it’s going to cost something to set this up and pay the cast of characters. I’m being careful about the people I let in on it.”
“Gee, thanks,” said June without en'.husiasm.
“But I was depending on you almost entirely to find our leading .lady. She has to be photogenic, a reasonably good swimmer, with or without wires, and a grandmother.”
June’s big blue eyes were never bigger.
“A grandmother? You must be crazy.” Henry looked a trifle hurt.
“I thought a grandmother would be nice,” he said. “We’ve had teen-agers, war veterans, a one-legged man and a young mother. A grandmother, I think, would capture the imagination.”
“It’s indecent,” said June firmly.
“Of course it is. The whole thing Tías become indecent but having a grandmother conquer the cruel lake is just what the situation needs. New dignity, new meaning and ...”
“And new money. I pass,” she said. “This whole scheme is just so much fresh-water toffee. Your brain has been coddled by too many crossings of that dismal swamp.”
Once again she began to pick up her bag and gloves. She paused. “Just one thing before I go out that door, probably never to return. Just how will this end the silly spectacle of people swimming Lake Ontario while thousands of gristleheads cheer?”
Henry bent even closer and by the time he was through talking in a low conspiratorial voice, June was scrabbling for her cheque book and looking up names of likely grandmothers who had been used by the agency in ads for cake mixes.
At one point June looked at him with an ardor he had never before observed. "Henry,” she breathed, “have you ever thought of becoming a spy?”
THERE was no time for lunch because Henry had to report back to. swim headquarters, a shack on the waterfront maintained by the Bugle as an outpost. To Henry it had become a kind of prison. The only way he was able to tolerate it was to remind himself that it didn’t rock as much as a boat.
But later that day, much later, in fact, he was able to introduce June to the four boatmen he had hired for the job. The six of them crowded Henry’s room. His landlady, he was sure, was pacing the downstairs hall wondering whether she should call the police now instead of later.
Henry had supplied them all with sweatshirts with the word “Coach” in scarlet letters, about 124 point, the size used by the Bugle to headline a world war or a lake swim.
“Meet Rocky,” said Henry with a wave of his hand that pushed the smoke far enough, momentarily, so she could see them. “Rocky—June.”
They rose and bowed formally although on the way back up from the bow two of them knocked heads and turned a little ugly. “Which is Rocky?” asked June.
“All of them,” said Henry. “We thought it would be better that way."
“Live and let live, like,” said one of the Rockys with a grin that would have been more impressive if there had been some teeth behind it.
“You see,” explained Henry, “the boys have been operating a little lake venture of their own. It seems there is a wide gap between the immigration laws governing entry into the United States and those affecting Canada.”
June saw. They were smuggling immigrants, who couldn’t get into the U. S.
because of the quota, across the lake. Her earlier verdant enthusiasm for Henry’s genius was beginning to turn a little brown around the edges. With the feeling that she was living an experience she had already dreamed, she heard herself saying that she would go along in one of the boats “just for fun.”
“Good girl,” said Henry heartily. June shot him a glance. He realized he was not only talking to her as though she were a horse but he was acting suspiciously like a man who had known all along it would turn out this way.
The rest of the conference was devoted to details. Henry would deliver the wire in a few days so the Rockys could work out with it. One of them suggested a couple of loops would be a good idea so the “lady could get a good holt.” The middle of August, ten days hence, seemed a good time to make the attempt. Henry smiled. Attempt—this was one swim that wouldn’t end with the swimmer being pulled stem first over the stem.
They arranged a starting point near Youngstown, N.Y. The boys exchanged
“You are criminally insane,” sighed June, “and I am the biggest patsy since Mother Machree was a colleen”
glances. They happened to know a good little cove from which to begin. They of course already had the boats complete without outboard motors. Henry would be the only newspaperman there for the .start if security held up. June could deliver Grandmother Crampton in good time and that was about all there was to it, Henry concluded.
After Rocky, one to four inclusive, had left, Henry took June home in a ^taxi. Her silence worried him but not too much. She would go along. He refrained, however, from calling her "good girl” again. He didn’t want anything to go wrong now. He slept better than he had slept for weeks. He felt a little like a researcher on the verge of the discovery of a cure for the common cold.
EXCEPT for one show of intransigence on June’s part, when she called Henry from the airport and said she was taking the next plane to Bermuda for a two-weeks holiday, the planning went smoothly. Mrs. Crampton seemed perfect for this kind of work. She was technically a grandmother, all right. Some might wonder how this could be when her pneumatic young daughter Grace had only been married six months, but there was a lovely little boy called Harvey to offer as living proof of her status. Mrs. Cramptaypi’s kavr WVA ÇfftwwataMdrç ’«VvAe., which added what Henry described as a “homey” touch. She had never swum a 'lake before but she had years of experience with a water-ballet sideshow that had gone broke at the Brandon Fair in a particularly wet summer a few years before.
i“All you’ve got to do, Mrs. Crampton, is keep from getting cramps. That’s all you have to worry about,” Henry assured her before she and June left for the rendezvous.
Mrs. Crampton nodded and opened her bag for the tenth time to make sure the money Henry had given her was still there.
“And as for you, my dear,” he said as he turned to June while they waited for the train to be called, "well, what can I say?”
“If you're really stuck I can think of quite a few things,” said June.
“Don’t be bitter." he said.
“I have just figured it out, Henry,” she said wearily. "You are criminally insane and I am the biggest patsy since Mother Machree was a colleen.”
‘ Henry started at the sound of the train announcer's unearthly voice.
“There's your train. Good luck and”
•—he held up a skinny forefinger, the same one held up earlier in this story —“I have everything under control. Nothing can go wrong.”
June groaned. "Come, little mother,” she said taking Mrs. Crampton by the arm.
DISASTER struck with such perfect timing that one might have thought the blow had been carefully fitted into the plan.
June telephoned him at noon to say that Mrs. Crampton was all wired up and ready to go.
“Let’s start.” said Henry jubilantly. “The balloon has gone up.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” said June. “When do you get here, or have you got your bags packed?”
“Don't you be silly. I'll take off as soon as 1 clear with the office. But you get going before anyone hears about it.” Then he made what was to be a rou-
tine call to the city desk to tell them that he had an exclusive on a new swim and wanted to go across the lake to pick it up.
“Fine work, Henry,” said the city editor. “We’re sending a man down to take over from you.”
Henry sounded like a swimmer who had been left in too long. Finally, he gurgled, “No, not that!”
The city editor was a kindly man at heart in spite of that story, which was never really proved, about sending a reporter to interview an old and stately tree that had been stricken with Dutch elm blight. He was chuckling now like an ink-stained Kris Kringle
“Now hear this, Henry,” he said. “We are taking you off the swims. Henry, you can walk in the sun again, stand erect and look people in the eye.”
“But . . . but . . . but ... I want to cover one more. Just one more.”
Henry could hear him say in an aside, “You were right, Joe, the poor guy is waterlogged. He even sounds like a motorboat.” Then to Henry, “We've been talking it over here and we think you've done a grand job, just a grand job, but you’ve earned a rest.”
“But boss . . . ,” Henry began.
“You wait for Findlay and give him what you’ve got. Then you go up to City HaVi. They've been fighting an extra hundred-dollar grant to the Art Gallery. Alderman Eckworth says he’s sure some of those pictures are painted by Communists. He says they use them to transmit messages by code.”
And he hung up. For the next fifteen minutes Henry paced the creaking floor of the makeshift office by the lake. By the time Findlay appeared at the door he knew what he must do. But it was soon evident that Findlay was definitely not going to co-operate, not even for twenty dollars.
“This is my assignment and I’m going to do it,” he said firmly.
Henry’s face was a twisted mask of frustration and supplication. How could he convince Findlay short of revealing the plot to him? There was no way, it seemed . . . unless . . .
“Clyde,” said Henry in a new quiet voice that he hoped didn’t sound menacing, “what do you make of this?”
Findlay looked in the direction of the shack in which Henry was pointing and then took a step forward to get a better look. As soon as his back was turned Henry struck. He had no sooner slipped the rope around Findlay’s arms than his own were pinned to his body with even greater force.
“The boss was right,” croaked a guttural voice behind him. “The lad’s not well at all.”
Henry slumped in defeat. “Okay, okay," he said, "I'll go quietly.” He turned and faced Ryan, the driver of one of the news cars, who had been backstopping Findlay. "Sneak,” said Henry. Ryan grinned but kept a hand on his wrist. "I’m sorry, Clyde,” said Henry hesitantly to the other reporter who was massaging his skinny arms where the rope had bitten deep. “Something snapped, I guess.” He sighed. “I’ll give you the dope on this swim.”
Henry was happy to be able to pull the forensic fog generated by the citycouncil meeting over his head like a blanket for the next few hours. It kept him from thinking about what was happening out on the lake. After a while he was even able to ignore Ryan's wary watch beside him.
When he came out, shortly after five, the first headlines screamed a welcome to him. GRAN IN LAKE TRY, cried the Bugle. This would mean little or nothing to a man or woman from Mars or even from Buffalo, but to readers of the Bugle it said instantly and clearly that a sweet little white-haired grandmother was this very moment courageously struggling through the chilly waters of Lake Ontariobound for the Toronto shore and fame.
IT SAID with equal clarity to Henry that he was in deep trouble, the exact dimensions of which would not be known until Mrs. Crampton hit the beach as fast as outboard motors and larceny could get her there. Most of the swimmers, using the old-fashioned method of getting across the lake, took about twenty hours. Henry figured his entry would arrive about dawn.
He stopped and had a hamburger and a cup of coffee and then took a cab down to the breakwater at the Exhibition grounds and prepared to wait. He estimated that the damp night air, mixed with his remorse, made a combination only slightly less depressing than the news that he had six or maybe seven
months to live. By dawn Henry overheard himself asking what it would be like to drown.
But by that time the crowd had begun to gather, many of the people carrying special late editions of a morning paper. FIVE Mil.ES TO GO, screamed the headline. Making allowances for the time it took the paper to get to press, and Mrs. Crampton's unusual mode of locomotion, she should be a great deal closer than that by now.
Henry rose from the bench he was sharing with a family group and moved closer to the lakeshore. The little flotilla was visible now, joined by a score of larger boats, no more than a mile off shore. He was sure it was only an optical illusion but for a moment he thought he could distinctly see June’s scornful eyes burning through the light morning mist.
Now Mrs. Crampton was clearly visible, her white bathing cap moving slowly but steadily through the calm slick water. And in one of the boats someone was standing, at great peril to all hands, and cheering. This was no illusion; this was June Grogan, girl girl.
An earlier inclination to go up on the highway and thumb a ride to anywhere was now overcome by curiosity. Henry was swept along the water’s edge by the cheering crowd. What took place then was a familiar and distasteful scene to Henry. The pyrotechnic display of flashbulbs, the sordid squabbling and snarling of rival reporters trying to grab the swimmer, as though she were a piece of salvage, for exclusive interviews and pictures and the emergence of the man who always yelled. “Give ’urn air.”
Henry sighed deeply. He was in trouble. First, he’d failed to show up for Mrs. Crapipton's launching, leaving June with the job of piloting the show across the lake. Second, it seemed obvious from June’s cheers that the poor girl herself had been somehow smitten with swim fever. She’d never speak to him again, of course, but he had to put Phase D, the clincher, into motion. Quite obviously these people who should have been home in bed had been completely fooled. They would slobber over Grandmother Crampton for a few hours; he might give them as much as a day and then Henry would expose the whole thing for the fraud it was in an exclusive story in the Bugle.
The result would be that no one would ever trust a lake swim again and the swims would wither and die a belated death. Yes, in spite of June he must do this. He had never felt his civic duty more keenly than he did now even though he was quite ready to admit that his altruism had been somewhat marbled with larceny.
He turned away. He couldn’t face June, not right now. He wasn’t sure he could face the city editor, now that the moment of truth had arrived, but he decided he would be far less formidable.
WHEN Henry had finished speaking, the city editor got out of his chair and walked around his desk, for they had retired to the privacy of his office, and put a fatherly hand on Henry's shoulder.
“My boy,” he said, “you’re still not well. Why don’t you let us send you on a little holiday? We’ll pick up the tab.” Henry shook off his hand. “Look, you’re not going to treat me like some lush you want to dry out. I’m not sick and this swim is a fake. I can prove it.” The city editor picked up the noon edition and solemnly regarded the bannerline: GRAN LICKS LAKE. He looked down at Henry.
“I don't think you can. I don't think you can prove to all those people out there” — he vaguely indicated the city with a gesture—“that this lovable old lady who set a new record for crossing the lake is a phony.” His voice dropped. “I don’t think you would want to if you could. Henry.”
Henry was frantic now. What sort of a monster had he created out of this simple white-haired old harridan?
“I’ll be back in an hour,” he shouted and he raced from the office. Behind him he could hear someone call, “Ryan . . .” Rocky Mark II was at his usual table in the Jolly Plowman, done in stockbroker Tudor and dedicated to the solace of the two-dollar bettor. Henry threw himself into the chair beside the boatman whose red eyes were at least partly due to his long vigil as squire to Mrs. Crampton.
“Now they won’t believe me, Rocky.” he stammered. "They want to believe it was on the level.”
Rocky wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Buy a beer,” he suggested
brusquely. He looked closely at Henry. “You won’t get sore now, will you? After all, the old dame did get across the lake.”
Henry shook his head. “No, I won’t get sore. But I’ve got to expose the whole thing or I’ve done more harm, far more harm, than good. If we don’t blow this sky high this city will never recover from this sickness. You’ve got to help me tell them.”
Rocky tugged at his beer. He leaned forward. “You know me and the boys have done a little business taking clients out on the lake. You know that?” Henry knew that. “Well, once we get over to the other side we get a very urgent request from an old customer who wants to get back into Canada, but fast.”
“Well, so what?”
Rocky blushed a little under his beard and his windburn. “We sold him that there wire.”
“But . . . Mrs. Crampton.”
Rocky looked roguish. “We just never did tell her the wire wasn’t there.” He leaned across and dug Henry in the ribs. “She done real good, didn’t she?”
Henry had a feeling that he was going to be the first man to pass out in the Jolly Plowman after one weak beer.
“Oh, we told your girl after we got started. She was mad at first but after a while she was cheerin’ and bawlin’ and cheerin’ and eryin’.” He shuddered slightly. “What a night!”
Like a man in a trance Henry dealt some more change on the wet table top. “This other guy . . . how about him?” Henry wondered if his voice might stay
high and squeaky like that for the rest of his life. Shock did funny things to people. He must remember to look and see if his hair had turned white.
“Well, we didn’t want to let you down, see, so we fixed it up for another couple of boats—colleàgues of ours you might say—to bring Steve across. We stayed with the old lady.”
“You mean he’s swimming across?” Rocky nodded. “That’s right. I told you it was urgent. He should get in sometime tonight with a whole bunch of them that’s swimming for some prize. He figures he’ll just get lost in the crowd when they land and that way won’t have to bother the immigration guys.”
Henry walked slowly to the door. Then he hesitated and looked back at the table. “Say, Rocky,” he asked quietly, “what was Granny’s time?”
THE first person he saw when he entered the Bugle office was the last person he wanted to see anywhere. But June threw herself into his arms, the sort of thing that would have been very pleasant indeed under different circumstances. Her eyes were still damp with emotion.
“Henry, isn’t it wonderful! That courageous, wonderful little old lady.” She hugged him hard. “Oh, Henry, when I think of all the cynical remarks I've made about lake swimmers I’m ashamed of myself. Out there last night on the lake with the stars overhead and Mrs. Crampton fighting on and on beside us . . . Oh, Henry, I’ve never felt this way about anything before.”
Time, gentle time, might bring her
back to him, he thought as he looked into her radiant face.
“You’re not sore at me?” he asked quietly.
“Sore at you? Henry, you don’t know what this has meant to me. And to think that we had planned to make a fool of her and all the people who love her so much.”
“I was a beast,” said Henry simply.
June pointed excitedly down the hall. “They’re taking her picture. She says she isn’t the least bit tired. Someone has given her a lifetime supply of bluing for her hair. Oh, the gifts are just pouring in. The city is probably going to give her something.”
If my plan had worked they might have given her life, said Henry ruefully to himself.
Over the top of June’s head Henry could see the city editor charge out of his office. He walked with a characteristic flat-footed step like a man stamping out a grass fire.
“Henry!” he roared. “You’re back on swims as of now. There’s another guy halfway across and it looks as though he’s going to cut the record in half.” Henry wondered why should he think of that rest home again at this moment?
June’s body grew rigid with excitement as she heard the words. Henry patted her gently. He would have to stay near her; he would have to be strong for both of them in the difficult days to come.
The city editor was shouting again. “Get this, Henry,” he was saying. “This guy’s wearing a derby!” ★