A Story from the Field Book of a Reluctant Surveyor
“How many more?” the chainman looked across with the sledge hammer poised in his hand.
The surveyor glanced at his watch. Four forty-five. The chainman’s concern was justified. It was getting late and it was time they commenced packing the equipment away. He looked down the grassy slope and checked the position of the tall figure making its way slowly up the hill. Probably a curious neighbor wanting to chat and learn something about his land. He was getting closer. It would not be long before he would reach them. They should finish before he arrived.
He looked back towards the chainman. “Only another three. One there, another there and then one in the corner. We’ll be finished in a minute.”
The surveyor referred to his notes and set another angle giving the chainman line and distance allowing him to proceed driving a wooden peg into the ground. He again checked the position of the figure.
The man was tall and lean. His face was still concealed under a dark, wide brimmed hat that drooped at the edges. He carried a stick with which he occasionally tapped the ground or swung over his shoulder. A small short-haired dog appeared and scurried between the tussocks of grass and then darted from one side of the man to the other.
“Line?” the chainman expressed his impatience.
The surveyor gave the chainman line and distance on top of the peg and then turned the next angle.
“Hi, how yah goin’?”
The surveyor pulled back from the theodolite surprised to see the man was already upon them. He stood slightly behind the surveyor, leaning on his stick. A wide smile lit up his tanned weather-beaten face. “Not bad,” the surveyor replied before returning to the theodolite to attend to the chainman’s needs.
“What’s that?” the man inquired cheerily, interrupting the surveyor’s concentration.
The surveyor looked up and studied the face of the newcomer. He had an uneasy feeling that he had seen this face somewhere before, but he could not place it. The smile was unchanged on the drawn face and when the man knew he had the surveyor’s full attention he nodded towards the peg that he had seen the chainman put in and clarified the gesture by swinging the stick towards it.
“A corner peg,” the surveyor replied.
“Yeah, I know that, but where does it fit in?”
The surveyor came from behind the theodolite and approached the peg.
“It’s the corner of this block here,” he swung his arm in an arc.
“No it can’t be; that’s over there.”
“I think you’ll find that it is here,” the surveyor replied politely.
“No it’s over there. It’s been there ever since I’ve been living here. A surveyor put a peg there just after I bought the place.”
“Which place is that?”
“I own the block next door here. This boundary was surveyed just after I moved in.” He pointed behind him and then looked back at the surveyor. There was something about the knarled and shaking hand. “I forget the surveyor’s name. He’s probably dead by now. It was…let me think…probably gettin’ on for thirty years ago now, but he put a peg in over there. I saw it not so long ago.”
“Well I have tied into all the surveys in the area and I have found the corner to be here.”
“No, it’s over there,” the man concluded with an air of finality.
The surveyor studied the man’s face to gain an insight into his challenge. Was the man serious or was he just seeking amusement from the argument. The grin still hadn’t left his face, and this the surveyor found disturbing. This was the last thing he needed at this late stage in the day. All the traversing and locating of old monuments followed by hours of calculations to determine the position of each and every corner of the land just in one day was a massive undertaking and he had almost achieved it. But now this man was attempting to destroy all that. There was always the lingering doubt that maybe he had in fact made a mistake and what the man was saying was correct. The surveyor pushed the thought out of his mind.
The little dog scurried around the theodolite sniffing at everything and at one point promptly cocked his leg and urinated on one of the wooden legs.
“What’s the next bearing?” the chainman moved behind the theodolite, his hand unclamping the horizontal circle. The cardinal sin of stand up comedians was to let the heckler take control of the microphone. The surveyor momentarily wondered if the same applied to chainmen. Things were getting out of hand. He wanted to pack up and go home; understandable at this time of the evening.
“Um…just wait a minute,” the surveyor stalled to give himself some time to assess this latest development. “Is there a peg there now?” he turned back to the man.
“No not now, but there was one there.”
“Well where did it go?” The surveyor sensing he was making little headway in the debate let his frustration at being landed in this quandary begin to show.
“I don’t know, but it was there.”
“Will I start packing up?” the chainman interrupted.
“No, just wait a minute. We’ll get this last peg in.” The surveyor still hoped to salvage the moment.
“There’s not much point,” the man added, “the corners not here.” He turned and started heading back down the hill. “Come along Bluey.“
“Didn’t we come across him sometime ago?” The surveyor turned to find the chainman standing beside him.
“There is certainly something familiar about him.”
“The corner’s over there I’m tellin’ yah,” the man shouted without looking back. He waved his stick out to his left. The surveyor and chainman stood and watched the figure slowly recede down the hill; the little dog trotting patiently a few steps behind.
They weren’t sure but they thought they heard faintly in the still air, “I used to see the peg every time I went past on the tractor.”