Willis walked down one of the city wharves. He was going to see his father, Mr. Sutherland, who was one of the men employed by the State Harbor Commissioners in repairing wharves. The piles that supported the wharves often needed renewing, being eaten by teredos. Sometimes the flooring of the wharves sagged and needed restoring to the former level.
Willis liked to see the pile-driver with its big hammer. He marveled at the air-pumps with which sagging wharves were raised. Perhaps three air-pumps at a time would be stationed over as many “caps,” as the twelve-inch timbers under the wharf’s flooring were called. The pumps, being worked, would raise the caps and hold them until blocks could be shoved underneath. Then the pumps were worked some more, and other blocks put under, till the wharf was restored to the required level. Great screws such as are used in raising buildings were also employed under wharves sometimes. There were rocks under some wharves, and water was under others. Whichever it was, Willis’ father often had to go under the wharves and climb around among the caps and stringers and piles, repairing.
Seven or eight other men were employed like Mr. Sutherland. It was mid-forenoon, but Willis saw that three or four of the men were not working. They were idling around the engine of the pile-driver, and were eating something that Willis found to be cooked crabs.
“Where’s father?” asked Willis. “Under the wharf, working,” answered one man. “He thinks the State’s looking after him every minute.”
Willis saw some planks had been taken up in a distant part of the wharf’s flooring. He went there and swung himself down under the wharf. There were rocks there, and Willis, following the sound of a hammer, came to his father.
“That you, Willis?” asked his father pleasantly.
“Pa,” said the boy, “some of the other men are up there eating crabs. Why don’t you go up and get some, too?”
“It isn’t lunch-time,” returned Mr. Sutherland. “We’re expected to work now.”
“Three or four of the men aren’t working,” said Willis.
“No,” rejoined his father. “Several of the men lately have taken to catching crabs sometimes during work-hours.”
“The men tie a rope to a big twine net, and bait it, and let it out into the bay. In a little while they haul it in again, and there are maybe half a dozen big crabs in the net. The men have made a sort of boiler out of an empty kerosene can with one end cut off. They attach a hose to the boiler of the engine and fill that can with hot water. The crabs cook in a short time and those men stop work to eat. It would be all right if the men cooked the crabs at noon, when we’re allowed to lay off, but they stop in the fore-noon sometimes an hour, and again in the afternoon sometimes, and eat crabs. The foreman we have now allows it. He does it himself.”
While Mr. Sutherland talked he was working. Several of the other men were working up on top of the wharf, as Willis could tell by the sounds, but the boy’s thoughts were with those three or four other men who were idling. Were not those men employed to work as steadily as his father?
“It isn’t fair for them to stop and you to have to keep on,” objected Willis. “I should think those, men would be discharged.”
“They may and they mayn’t,” said his father. “They are appointed by different Harbor Commissioners, and as long as the Commissioners don’t know, I suppose the men will keep their places.”
“One man told me you thought the State was looking at you every minute,” said Willis.
“My boy,” answered Mr. Sutherland, fitting a block into place, “it’s true that I’m employed to work for the State, and I feel just as much that I must do honest work for the State as if I were working for some individual. But it isn’t thought of the State that makes me faithful. A Christian ought to give an honest day’s work. Some people don’t seem to think cheating the State is as bad as cheating another person. But it is.”