"Greg and Jim"

The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Case of Mistaken Identity

The farmer just stared. “A lot of queer ducks in this neighborhood,” I remarked.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 21, 1941.

“Here comes a guy,” muttered Jimmie Frise, “that might tell us where the fish are.”

“Maybe he’s the owner,” I muttered back, “going to kick us off.”

We went on fishing with that extra-innocent air that is used when what appears to be the landlord comes through the bushes.

“Hyah,” said Jimmie agreeably to the stranger.

“Good-day, gentlemen,” said the sinister-looking stranger. “I thought you might be cows.”

“Cows?” I said indignantly.

“I’ve lost four cows,” said the stranger. “They’re around here somewhere. You haven’t seen any cows lurking about, have you?”

He was certainly a strange looking man. His clothing was ragged and coarsely patched. He had a week’s growth of scattered tan stubble on his jaws. His eyes were close-set and he narrowed them curiously when he looked at you. It did not seem likely to me that such a man would own any cows.

“No, sir,” I said shortly, “we haven’t seen any cows lurking.”

“Two brown ones,” he said, and his voice was soft and his speech almost scholarly. “Two brown ones, one Jersey and one white and brown. Heifers.”

“This is a tough country to lose cows,” said Jimmie. “Why don’t you bell one of them?”

“I should, I should,” said the stranger thoughtfully. “Are you having any luck?”

“Not a rise,” said Jimmie, who is always ready to talk to the most unprofitable kind of people. “We’d heard this was a good trout stream.”

“It is good,” said the stranger softly, “but at this time of June, they gather in the pools that have springs in them. The larger stretches of the stream are getting too warm for trout. So they foregather in the spring pools.”

“Foregather,” I said, because the word seemed so funny coming from such a tramp.

“Yes,” he replied gently. “I could show you the spring pools, if you like.”

“We’d be very grateful,” said Jimmie.

“Go ahead, Jim,” I announced. “I’ll just fish along.”

“In one of the spring pools,” said the stranger in his quiet, prim voice, “I imagine I could show you a two-pound trout.”

“In this creek?” I scoffed.

“Unless someone has caught it since last Sunday,” said the stranger, “it ought to be still there.”

“Couldn’t you catch it?” I inquired.

“I do not try to catch them,” smiled the sinister man, veiling his eyes and looking me up and down. “I love things to be free.”

“Like cows,” I suggested.

“I do not bell them,” said the shabby man.

“Let’s go,” cut in Jim, “and see these spring holes.”

The Glorious Big Trout

And though I did not care for the stranger, I reeled up my line and followed, because a two-pound trout is a two-pound trout.

The stranger took the lead and with the bent legs of a man who knows how to stumble skilfully and loosely through the bush, as an Indian does, he wove in and out of the trodden path along the stream made by the feet of generations of anglers. He showed us two or three smallish spring pools, and sure enough there were trout to be seen.

“Don’t fish now for them,” said the stranger. “There will be clouds in about an hour. Come back and fish these pools when the clouds come over.”

“You won’t fish,” I smiled, “but you will show others how to fish.”

“I like everybody to be happy,” returned the stranger with a sinister smile. “I like the trout to be free. But I also like anglers to catch fish. I am not partisan. I love trout. But I do not therefore hate fishermen.”

He turned on his heel before I could think up any dig back at him. A most unpleasant, smooth, ragged man, I thought.

Through alder and cedar thickets he led us with almost animal-like craft, showed us pool after pool. including some large ones, dark and motionless, where he assured us there would be as many as a dozen trout of a pound or over.

“Trout,” he said, “like human beings or wrens or seagulls, or anything else for that matter, live according to a natural economic law. Where food is most plentiful, where the living conditions are best and where there is the most security, they are most plentiful. This pool is the biggest town on this river.”

“Is this where the two-pounder is?” I asked, getting my rod ready.

“No,” replied the stranger, when he got big enough to be the object of too much attention, he retreated into a suburban area, handy enough to the big town so that he can run in and gobble a smaller trout when the mood strikes him, yet secluded enough to be safer than in this busy traffic.”

“You’re quite a philosopher,” admired Jimmie.

“There is little else to be,” said the stranger, gliding again into the brush.

And 100 yards further down, he showed us the big trout. In a small deep ice-cold pool deep amidst cedar roots, where it was impossible to dunk a worm much less place a trout fly, the glorious trout lay. You had to lie down and peer amidst the stout cedar roots to see him. Flecks of sunlight dappled the four-foot depths of the pool, and to one side, on a golden patch of sand washed clean by some bubbling spring beneath the lordly trout lay fanning.

“Sir,” I said to the stranger. “I beg your pardon. This is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.”

“Don’t mention it,” said the sinister one with a twisted smile. “But if you see my lost cows, you might let me know. I live in a rather tumble-down place just a hundred yards or so to the north of the end of this road out here.”

“If we see them,” said Jim, kneeling up from worshipping the great trout down below, “we’ll bring them home to you.”

“Don’t trouble yourselves,” said the stranger, “just drop by and tell me where they are. I think they’re out along this road somewhere.”

“Good-by,” we called, as he vanished again into the silent brush.

“What a queer bird,” I submitted.

“Some kind of a hermit,” said Jim.

“A poet,” I corrected. “Jim, there’s a man with a true touch of genius.”

“A little cracked, I think,” said Jim.

“This is Uncanny”

So we knelt and studied the great trout for half an hour. We went out to a clearing and caught grasshoppers and dropped them in. He ignored them. We stuck sticks down, and with great and noble laziness, he turned out of the way, to return to his golden sand throne the moment we left him alone.

“Some hill-billy,” I declared, “will bomb him out of here with stumping powder.”

“Well, anyway, there is no way we can catch him,” said Jim.

So we left him and, clouds coming along as the sinister stranger had foretold, we sought out the spring pools we had been shown and cast our flies and caught two fine baskets of trout. In the “main town” pool, Jim took three and I took two of the one-pound trout he had predicted.

And when, with heavy baskets and rods taken down we walked out to the road to our car, there, grouped around the car, cropping the luscious grass of the country backroad, were four heifers.

“Two brown,” cried Jimmie excitedly, “a Jersey and a white and brown.”

“Jim,” I agreed, “this is uncanny. We will have the pleasure of returning his cows to the man who gave us one of the best fishing days of our lives.”

So Jim cut a couple of gads and I drove the car. And as Jim herded the cattle ahead, I held the road and low-geared along to keep the four strays from turning back, as they constantly tried to do.

“A little wild, all right,” said Jim. “They won’t stray after another winter in the barn.”

As we moved slowly along, we encountered a gentleman driving a buggy, who drew to the side of the road to let us by. He surveyed us with a look of extreme astonishment. In fact, when we both greeted him with a cheery good evening, he did not even answer us. He just stared and then clucked to his horse and went off at a trot.

“A lot of queer ducks in this neighborhood,” I remarked.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I’ve often noticed: the better the trout fishing, the queerer the ducks.”

At the cross roads. we looked north and sure enough, there amidst the abandoned looking back country farmland, with its brush and sketchy fences, we saw the old roof of a house.

“Soooo bossy,” said Jim, slapping the cows lightly with his gad. “Gee, haw.”

And we turned them up the road and in a moment had them started down the lane. It was as sinister an old house as the man who owned it. Its windows were blank and deserted. Its gates and doors hung awry. There were weeds thick in its barnyard and no sign of any habitation.

Right Under Their Noses

We drove the cows into the yard and Jim lifted the gate which had not been moved for years, by the look of it. I tooted the horn loudly, and when the stranger did not appear, I got out and rapped cautiously on the door. There was no reply.

“A kind of run-down place.” I recalled. “Just north of the cross roads.”

“This is it all right,” said Jim. “Halllooo!”

We heard a car coming. We heard two cars. Two cars came tearing up the road and in the lane in clouds of dust. And seven men boiled out of them.

“I’m the county constable,” said the first of the seven to reach us. “What are you doing with these cows?”

“They are strays,” I explained, “and the man who owns them asked us to let him know …”

Them’s my cows,” cut in an elderly and agitated man, “and everybody here knows it.”

“We were fishing down yonder,” stated Jim, firmly, “and met a man hunting for stray cattle, two browns, a Jersey and a brown and white. When we came out on the road, there they were…”

“You took ’em right off my property,” cried the elderly man.

“They were on the roadside,” I informed him.

“Yes, right beside my own fields,” accused the owner.

The county constable and the others were standing in a circle around us, eyeing us with hard, alert gaze.

“What kind of a man did you meet down there fishing?” inquired the county constable.

“Why,” I said, “he was a most interesting man, knew the stream like a book, showed us all the best holes …”

“That would be him,” said all the others.

“What did he look like?” demanded the constable.

“Well, he was very shabby,” I replied, “and he was brindled and kind of odd looking, and he spoke in a soft, gentle voice …”

“That’s him,” they all cried.

“That’s who?” demanded Jimmie.

“The man that used to live here, in this farm,” said the constable. “He is the biggest cattle thief in history. Been to prison four times for cattle stealing. Can’t quit it, no matter what they do to him.”

“Does he live here?” I asked in dismay, looking at the abandoned house.

“Nobody has lived here since he went to prison 18 years ago, the first time,” said the constable. “But he comes back every now and then and steals cattle right under the noses of his old neighbors.”

Feeling Very Mystified

“How do we know,” demanded a rather pious-looking little farmer with a raspy voice, “that these men aren’t in cahoots with him? How do we know …”

“No, no,” laughed the county constable, “this is the perfect job. He’s probably hiding in the bush watching us right now and laughing. If Mr. Potts had not met these gentlemen driving your cattle off, they would have by now been pleasantly hidden back in the bush there: and tonight, a truckload of his prison friends would have arrived and carted them off.”

“Why, the scoundrel,” I exclaimed.

“He does it for the mischief of it,” said the constable.

“Mischief nothing,” I said hotly. “Why, we would have been accessories to a crime, and driven off and never even known. Look here: pinch him the next time you see him and we’ll come back and give evidence.”

“Pinch him!” said the constable. “Nobody ever sees him. He hasn’t been seen by anybody that knows him around here for 10 years. He creeps in and creeps out, usually with a bunch of cattle. We know who does it. But we can’t prove it. He’s like a mink in the bush.”

“What a strange life,” said Jim.

“He was a wrong one, even as a youngster,” said the constable. There was never enough to keep him amused around here, so he took to tricks.”

So we all shook hands and said good-by and we drove off, keeping anxious eyes on the shrubbery along the back roads until we got safely out to the highway.

“I knew he was a crook,” I stated. “The minute I saw him, I had a hunch he was a bad ‘un.”

“He sure knew his trout,” said Jim.

“Crook was written all over him,” I maintained.

“Yet he was as gentle as a child,” said Jim.

“I wouldn’t trust him with my back turned,” I insisted.

“He showed us more about a trout stream in 20 minutes,” said Jim, “than anybody has shown us in years.”

“Yet the whole business,” I cried, “was a frame-up to get us to help him steal some cattle. I bet he drove those cows around our car.”

“And him hiding in the thickets, watching us,” said Jim.

“It’s eerie,” I mused, “to think of lives so twisted up as that.”

“I don’t know,” said Jim very mystified. “I kind of liked him, I imagine he is a more natural man than all us human clothes pegs.”

Upon which it was dark enough to have to turn on the car lights and pay attention to the driving, and the conversation languished.

Pigs and Lilacs

By Gregory Clark, June 19, 1926.

Friday, 3 P.M. – This being the second pause in our journey, and Willie having definitely disappeared over the horizon in search of a mechanic, Madge and I find nothing better to do than keep a diary of this motor trip. The first ten miles of a trip exhausts all topics of conversation. Madge and I are tired of exclaiming every time we see a sow with a litter of piglets. So now we will keep a diary.

Madge and Willie invited me to accompany them on a week-end tour of Northwestern Ontario. Because I had once bought a second-hand car, Willie thought I would be valuable member of the tour.

Our first pause occurred just outside the city limits. Bowling along in that high spirit in which all motor trips begin, we were suddenly conscious of a decided thudding feeling which caused all the second-hand windows of the second-hand sedan to clatter. Willie glanced around in dismay.

“It’s that tire!”

“What tire?” we cried.

“That tire I have been suspicious of!”

We drew in to the roadside, where the off-sounding tire was discovered to be flat.

“I think there is only one thing in the world more horrid to look at,” said Madge, “than a flat tire.”

“What’s that?” we asked her, rolling up our sleeves and commencing to unload all the stuff out of the back to get at the tools.

“Two flat tires,” said Madge.

After removing everything from the car in order to get at the tools, we then had to move the car about to get the flat tire over a solid bit of turf so the jack would stand up. It was only a matter of minutes until we had the spare on and the soft one on the rear.

“Leave the tools out where they will be handy,” said Madge.

“No, no!” exclaimed Willie. “That would be courting trouble.”

We concealed them all under the back seat and repacked everything on top again.

This pause, the second, some thirty miles forward on our tour of northwestern Ontario, is due to some mysterious trouble which Willie says is either in the carburetor or the main bearing. The trouble manifests itself in the engine simply moving. Willie and I have examined everything in between the front bumper and the rear bumper and are at a loss. So he has gone looking for a mechanic while I stay to guard Madge and the car. I am now going to unload cargo so that tools may be got at.

3.45 p.m. Willie returns with a young farm lad in blue overalls and red hair.

“He isn’t a mechanic, but he drives a tractor made by the same people who made this car,” explains Willie. The young man looks earnest, and selects a hammer from the tools I have spread out on the grass.

“Does she cough at all?” asks the young man.

“No. She won’t answer the starter,” we say.

“You got gas, have you?”


“Well, let me look at her.”

Autocratic Big Cars

He bends lankily into the engine, rattles this and pulls that and hits the cylinder casing two whacks with the hammer.

“What’s that for?” asks Madge, as he swipes the rusty iron with the hammer.

“Oh, I always hit my tractor like that and I don’t know what it does, but it helps.”

“I think it’s in the carburetor,” says Willie sternly.

“Try her now,” says the young man.

Willie steps on her and way she goes, with a loud belch of blue and dirty smoke out of her exhaust.

“Something lodged in her windpipe!” yelled the young man, above the roar. So we put all the stuff back, the tools under the seat again and drive the young man back to his tractor.

4.15 p.m. Willie cries: “Look at that litter,” at some immense sow and her family.

4.16. Madge screams: “Lilacs! Oh, don’t you love lilacs! I’d love to live in the country just for the lilacs.”

“There’s pigs in the country, too,” I cry above the rush of the car. Madge favors me with the look of a wounded maiden.

4.25. Going up a slight incline, car labors heavily.  Wille mutters, but we can’t hear what he says.

5.05. Pass a large car.

5.06. Large car passes us.

5.07. Pass a large car.

5.08. Large car passes us.

5.09. Pass a large car. “Eight cylinders!” yells Willie, as we sail by.

5.10. Large car passes us, slows up and stops obliquely across the narrow highway. We stop. A savage looking young man steps out and walks back.

“What are you trying to do?” he demands.

“How do you mean?” asks Willie.

“Tearing past me like that and then slowing down in front of me?”

“Slowing down? I wasn’t slowing down.”

“Listen, fella, said the golfy locking young man, “anything that passes me has got to get its dust out of my face darn quick or it doesn’t stay past me. I am going to hit forty miles an hour all day. Are you?”

“Yes,” says Willie. “But go on.”

5.13. Large car disappears in the distance in a cloud of dust that settles before we reach it.

“These big cars make me sick,” says Madge.

5.16. Car develops a peculiar erratic motion.

5.17. Car stops. Traffic being thicker, Willie runs wheel off on to the turf. We can hear engine gurgling. With glove on. I unscrew radiator cap. It blows off violently and we never see it again. It may have come down.

“Shall I shift the cargo?” asks Madge.

“This is not a job for tools,” says Willie. “I think we have burnt out a bearing.

Cars go whizzing by. We dispose ourselves on the grass.

“Pick out,” say I, “the rockiest looking flivver that goes by. The man driving such a flivver generally knows all about flivvers. He has to to make his go.”

A very rusty one comes panting along. Its rear end sagging, steam blowing from its radiator. The driver, a man with a rakish mustache and firm grip on the wheel, slows when he sees us and regards us with an expectant eye.

“Need help?” he shouts, eagerly, stopping.

“Thanks, we do,” said Willie. Sorry to bother you”

“It’s no bother. Glad to help. Boiling, eh?”

“She’s hot, all right.”

Automaniac Helps Out

He lifts the hood and stares shrewdly at the engine, sniffs, listens, touches the cylinders.

“An engine,” he remarks, “should be hot to perform its best. But not this hot.”

“Yes, she’s hot all right.”

We gather around. Madge is piling out the cargo to get at the tools.

“Well, let’s see about the spark,” says the mustache. “Mixture too thin, maybe, or maybe too thick. Step on her, will you?”

Willie steps on her. She snorts and gaggles and coughs and has a series of hemorrhages. The Samaritan turns the mixture down, and the engine stops. When it gets going again he turns the mixture up, and the engine stops.

“H’m!” says he. “You’ve got plenty of oil, have you?”

“Oh, yes.”

“You haven’t got too much, have you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, we’ll have to see what’s wrong with this thing.”

And suddenly the shabby Samaritan becomes furiously busy. He seizes tools right and left and begins turning, unscrewing, removing, lifting, setting aside. His hands become plastered with grease and oil. He stands on top of the engine and crawls underneath the car. In his eye is a joyous light. His teeth are bared in an ecstasy of effort. He removes, if I remember my automotive geography, the exhaust pipe and gets at the cylinder heads. From his own car he fetches weird and huge tools of all sorts. He disconnects the line and disassembles the carburetor. Parts of our car are strewn all over the running boards and on the grass.

Idraw Willie aside. “I think we are in the hands of an automaniac. This fellow is one of those bugs who glory in taking a car to pieces. He may be dangerous. Look at the thing to drives himself.”

“You said to pick the worst looking wreck of a car that passed.”

“But not so bad as his, man!”

“What will we do? We can’t ask him to leave it now. It’s all apart.”

We go back and watch the Samaritan. He is grunting, his teeth bared, wrenching and tearing. He is covered with grime and grease.

“We had no idea you would do all this work. It is too bad to…”

“It’s a pleasure, I assure you,” said he, diving under the car and emerging with a huge, dirty segment of iron. “I think I have the trouble now. Your car will run like a clock from now on, or I am mistaken.”

Slowly, like a man stringing out a pleasant meal as long as possible, he begins to put the car together again. Each nut, each bolt and segment goes back into place with a sigh. Madge has fallen asleep on the grass. Slower and slower goes the business of assembling the car. At last all is in place but one large bolt. He tries it several places. There is no room for it. Not a hole can be found.

“Well, I never saw one of these before,” says the Samaritan, studying it with amazement. “What model is this car?”

“1925,” says Willie.

“Ah, then this is a bolt they don’t use in earlier models. It has got me beat.”

“But my gracious, we’ve got to get it in somewhere,” says Willie, getting angry.

“All right!” cries the Samarian enthusiastically. And he seizes the tools with renewed gusto and starts tearing her down again. Willie and I get down and watch for holes.

Out on the grass come all the pieces once more, darkness approaching. Thousands of cars have tooted and hooted at us in passing. We find no hole. We hang the bolt in likely looking places, we feel about in dark crannies. But however slowly we assemble again, accompanied by the delicious grunts and sighs of the Samaritan, we have the bolt left over at the end. We sit on the road and stare at it.

“The speedometer reads sixty-seven miles,” calls Marge from above. “And we were going to be in Owen Sound tonight.”

“Well,” says the Samaritan, now almost covered with slime and grit, “try her anyway.”

Willie gets in and starts on the starter. The engine bursts into song, clear, regular, like a young thing fresh from the paint shop.

“Drive her slow to the next garage and they will know where this bolt fits,” says the Samaritan.

He will accept no money. Not even a dollar. We heap thanks upon him. The car has never run like this before, even if a bolt is to spare. We crank his junk heap for him and wave him on his way.

8.55 – We arrive at a garage.

“We took our car apart,” says Willie to the garage man, “and when putting it together wo had this bolt left over.”

“What make is your car?”

“Flivver,” says Willie.

“This is a Rolls-Royce bolt,” says the garage man. “You must have picked it up off the road.”

2.25 a.m. Saturday – I woke up with Willie prodding me.

“Owen Sound,” he says. “Take Madge in and register while I put the car away.”

Saturday, 9am – Away we go on the second lap of our tour of northwestern Ontario.

9.35 – “Look there!” yells Willie. “How’s that for a family?”

Another litter of pigs.

9.40 – Madge screams at a hedge of lilacs. We all look.

9.50 – Flat tire. No pigs or lilacs in sight.

10.20 – “That,” shouts Willie, “is the biggest litter I ever saw in my life. There must be thirteen!”

Another litter of pigs.

10.25 – Sure enough, we pass a farmhouse, almost hidden with lilacs.

“OOOOh!” screams Madge. “There’s where I could spend my old age.”

On the far side of the house appear two sows, each followed by litters of dancing little pigs.

“Aaaah!” cries Willie. “That’s what you call hog raising.”

10.50 – Flat tire. We can hear pigs mooing in the distance and there is the perfume of Iliacs stealing on the air.

11.30 – Hit a bump and crack front springs. We would fix it up with a block of wood if we could find a block of wood. So we go bumpety-bump along, a village showing nine miles ahead on the map.

12.20 – Arrive at village, but no garage, only a gas pump and the man who runs it didn’t know that flivvers had springs. We find a block of wood.

1.40 – Arrive, somewhat shaken, at Wasaga Beach, where the garage has no front springs, but plenty of back springs. The man will do a repair job with a block of wood that will carry us home.

3.20 – We leave for home. Madge says she has seen all of northwestern Ontario. It is a great hog-raising country.

3.22 – Flat tire. Fortunately, we had our spare mended at the Beach.

3.32 – Flat tire again. Have to mend the tube. Not half the fun shifting a spare is.

4.15 – Raining. Flat tire. Block of wood is slipping. Barrie only seven miles way. Madge wonders if any trains to Toronto run soon. Passed several lilac bushes and Madge didn’t look at them.

5.05 – Block of wood slipped. Barrie in sight. Madge can bear trains whistling.

“Look!” yells Willie. “My gracious, there must be fifteen in that litter…”

7.30 – Madge and I are sitting on the Barrie station platform and Willie has gone on with the car.

“Next week-end,” says Bill, in parting, will do the eastern tour. Peterboro, Brockville, Kingston.”

We wave him cheerily on.

Madge and I sit on the station platform.

“There is something,” says Madge, “about a train that thrills me. I can’t see one go by without getting the most homesick feeling of wanting to be on it.”

A freight comes huffing past.

It is all cattle cars.

The cars are filled with pigs.

Editor’s Notes: Cars were fairly unreliable in the early days, but people loved them just the same. It is accurate that people had to have certain mechanical skills to operate a car back then. Flat tires were much more common than now, though not nearly as common in the story.

A Flivver was slang for an old or cheap car. An automanic was as described in the story, a person who loved working on cars.

The “Pinch” Hitter

June 18, 1938


“Hey!” gasped the man, breathless from the run, and waving his arms angrily.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 16, 1945.

“Come on,” cried Jimmie Frise excitedly. “Let’s get going!”

“Where, what’s up?” I responded, rising.

“I’ve got a bargain,” declared Jim eagerly. “It’s one of …”

“Whoa,” I said, sitting down again. “You know what we’ve agreed on about bargains.”

“But this is a sensation!” cried Jim urgently. “This is one of those pre-fabricated wartime houses. It originally cost over $700 ….”

“Now, Jim,” I cut in. “What the dickens would we want with another house. And a wartime house!”

“The most perfect little summer cottage,” gushed Jim, “you ever saw. It cost over $700. It has only been lived in a year. And we can get it for $200.”

“We’ve got a cottage,” I reminded him.

“But $200!” expostulated Jimmie waving his arms. “Why, it’s a give-away. We could buy it and have it sent up to our summer place and we could either erect it as an annex – our families are increasing – or else tow it up on a scow to one of the inland lakes where we go bass fishing. Set it up there, and instead of having to drag ourselves back and forth, back and forth, we could go in and spend a whole week on the fishing lakes …”

“Jim,” I counselled sagely, “you know what has happened to us with every bargain we ever got. There is no such thing as a bargain. Everything has its true value. Or its true worth. And if you get it for less than its true worth, either there is something wrong with it, or else….”

“Just a minute,” interrupted Jimmie. “This isn’t a bargain in the sense that all those other bargains we’ve bought were. This is a war and peace bargain. The world is full of them right now. In fact, for the next couple of years, there are going to be some of the greatest bargains we ever saw. And this portable house is one of them.

“Mmmmm,” I demurred.

“We’ve got to step lively,” cried Jim agitatedly. “If we don’t grab it, somebody else will. I’ve seen it. It’s wonderful. Simply wonderful. A swell little four-room cottage, painted cream and red. It all comes apart. Most of it is bolted together. Only a few nails are used in setting it up. It goes together like a jig-saw puzzle….”

“I don’t like puzzles,” I put in.

“Now, don’t be stupid!” snorted Jim. “This is the chance of a lifetime. A mere $200. That’s $100 each.”

“It can’t be much good,” I stated firmly, “if you can get it for that. It is probably junk.”

“I tell you I have been out to see it,” declared Jim. “This family has been living in it a whole year. Right through the winter. And it was as cosy as any brick house they’d ever lived in. He’s one of these war workers and he is going back to his own home town now. I met him at lunch, and he was telling me about it.”

“Who is he?” I inquired.

“Just a guy I met at lunch,” said Jim. “We got to talking about the war being over and he said he was through with his war job and was returning to his native town. Then we got talking about the effect of the war ending. And he spoke of this little house he’d bought.”

“You’re so gullible,” I protested. “Just because a guy says it is a bargain, you get all excited.”

“But it is a bargain,” insisted Jim. “A real wartime bargain. Boy, we’re in on the ground floor. While everybody is waiting for the War Assets Disposal Board to decide what to do with all the war material, we just grab off the one thing we want. An annex to the cottage. Or a little fishing cabin away off the beaten track. A little cabin hidden in the wilds…”

One Problem at a Time

“I admit,” I said cautiously, that the fishing is pretty well shot at the cottage. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have another little cabin in on one of those lakes back in the bush. …”

“Ah, now you’re regaining consciousness,” exclaimed Jim, genially. “Besides, with the kids growing up and filling the cottage with young folk, there will be plenty of times from now on when we’ll be glad of some little hideout off by itself.”

“A hundred bucks,” I mused, “Then there’ll be the cost of dismantling it.”

“Dismantling it?” laughed Jim. “Why, the two of us can take it all apart on a Saturday afternoon!”

“Well, then,” I pursued, “there’ll be the cost of having it transported by truck up north. Then the cost of getting Joe Neault or somebody up there to haul it by scow up the river. It isn’t going to be easy to manhandle those big sections through the bush to the site we choose on one of the lakes.”

“Aw, let’s face those problems as they arise,” said Jim, signalling me to get my coat on. “The big thing is, to get it while we can. Let’s go right out now and see the cottage. He gave me the key.”

Jim held a key out.

“Some key,” I remarked. “It looks like one of those skeleton keys you buy in the five and ten.”

“It’s a cottage key,” explained Jim. “Paid $20 for that key.”

“You what?” I inquired, pulling on my jacket.

“I paid the guy $20 for the option,” said Jim. “But I knew you’d come in on it as soon as you see it.”

So we drove right out to see the place. It was in the suburbs, a mile or so beyond the city limits in one of those very temporary residential mushroom regions that have grown up in the vicinity of the big war plants. The road into it was one of those ready built tarmac paths, good for a season. Half a dozen other little cottages were scattered along the road over the field.

“They certainly look worth more than $700,” I admitted as we walked in.

“Wait till you see inside,” assured Jim.

All the other cottages in the row were occupied, but ours was vacant. The neighbors watched us curiously as we stood examining our new purchase from various angles.

“It’s a beaut, Jim,” I confessed. “So substantial.”

“Now do I know a bargain when I see one?” gloated Jim. “You should thank me for letting you in on it. I might very easily have nabbed this for myself.”

Tackling the Job

We entered the cottage. There was a small front living and dining room combined. Two little bedrooms and a kitchen. It was tidy and beautifully kept. Whoever left this little house was a good housekeeper. She had left it spick and span, instead of in the usual mess vacated houses are left in, with old rags and bits of clothing and wire hangers strewn about.

“Jim,” I announced, “I am certainly in this with you. I congratulate you. I’ve seen you make worse bargains.”

“You write me your cheque tonight,” said Jim. “The guy is going to give me a call a week from today. He’s gone to his home town, Cannington or something. I forget. My option is good for a week. He’ll pick up our cheques at the office.”

“Swell,” I said. “But have we much time to waste in getting it up north? I suggest–“

“What’s the matter with tonight?” demanded Jim. “He said it shouldn’t take us more than four hours to dismantle it. Suppose we arrange for a cartage company to pick it up tomorrow. We can take it all apart tonight, pile the pieces here and arrange with the neighbors to keep their eyes on it. By tomorrow night, it will be up at the landing, and we can wire Joe Neault to take charge of it and scow it up to the cottage….”

“Well, it’s a little sudden,” I protested, “How about tomorrow evening?”

“Do you realize the date?” asked Jim. “The family will be moving up to the cottage next week. No. Let’s do it tonight. Let’s have this whole thing up at the cottage before our families find out about it. You never can tell what the reaction might be with our wives and kids. Maybe they’ll want it as an annex, right behind the old cottage.”

I could see this beautiful little cabin hidden amid the balsam and birch groves of Beaver lake or Green Grass lake. There is a point on Wolf lake where Jim and I have camped for 30 years past. How wonderful it would be to have a little private hideout on that rocky point of Wolf lake!

“Okay,” I said.

So we drove home and quietly got on some old pants and shirts, and unobtrusively collected a bunch of hammers, wrenches, screw drivers and crowbars for the dismantling job. After a hasty supper, we drove full belt for the suburbs.

First, we removed the doors, front and back.

One of the neighbors strolled across.

“Taking her away?” he inquired.

“Just bought her this afternoon,” said Jim, already working at one of the main nuts of the bolts that held the main structure together.

“What happened to Mr. Matthews?” inquired the neighbor.

“Who’s he?” inquired Jim.

“I understand he had bought it,” said the neighbor. “He’s been out every day for the past week with his wife. I understood they were moving in today or tomorrow.”

“Must have fallen through,” said Jim, starting on another nut. “The former owner gave me an option on it today.”

“Gee, I’m sorry,” said the neighbor. “Matthews was a nice guy. And besides, we hate to see the street starting to break up like this. It’s been a happy little community.

“Too bad,” said Jim, unscrewing.

“We’re taking this,” I explained to the neighbor, “up north. It’s going to be a fishing cabin, a hideout. Away back in the bush.”

“Well, they’re swell little houses,” said the neighbor.

“You’re telling us,” said Jim.

So we went to work. There is this to be said about a portable house. It is not quite so portable as it sounds. And when they put one up, they put it up to stay.

The nails were all very firmly driven home. The nuts or the bolts fastening the beams and stringers together were very tightly bound home.

We took off the outer sections of wall first. These were large sections, firmly plated with shingle-style planking. Then we removed the beaver board lining from the uprights of the house. We piled everything very tidy in a neat workmanlike stack. And I discussed with the neighbor who was hanging around the matter of keeping his eye on the pile overnight until our transport truck would call for it. Their office had been closed when we called at supper time. But we’d get them first thing in the morning.

In about two hours, long before dark, we had succeeded, working like beavers actually, in getting all the front and one side wall divested of both the outer shell of plated planking and the heaver board lining. The frame now stood revealed, with the two sides out. And a fine sturdy frame it was.

“Jim,” I said, as he loosened a window sash and lowered it to me, “I can hardly believe a house like this cost only $700.”

“The wartime prices people,” explained Jim,” kept everything down to a minimum. That’s what I was telling you. These war bargains are lollapaloosas.”

“Lollapaloosa!” I cried. “That’s what we’ll christen her when we get her up to Wolf Lake.”

Jim paused on the ladder as he lowered a section of beaver board and gazed over my head.

A moving van was slowly wobbling off the pavement and coming in our tarmac road.

Ahead of the moving van, running from a car they had parked out on the main road, came a man, and a lady dressed in red.

Trouble Arrives

Moving van and runners arrived together. “Hey!” gasped the man, breathless from the run and waving his arms angrily.

The lady came around him and snatched the window frame from my grasp.

“You … you…” said the man.

Jim came down the ladder. The man rested himself against the pile of building material and the lady, breathing tumultuously, went over and tried to set the window sash back in the empty wall.

“You thieves!” finally gasped the man. “You burglars! Stealing a house!”

“Stealing?” demanded Jim haughtily. “I beg your pardon. I bought this house today.”

“It has been mine,” gasped the stranger, “for two weeks.”

“I bought it,” asserted Jim, “from the former owner at noon today.”

“Former owner?” cried the man. “What’s his name?”

“I forgot to take a note of it,” said Jim. “I paid him $20 for the option….”

By this time, a dozen of the neighbors, both ladies and gentlemen, had gathered. They were greeting Mr. and Mrs. Matthews warmly.

“The former owner,” shouted Mr. Matthews, “is that factory over there.”

“Then, who,” demanded Jim indignantly, “was the man I paid $20 to, the man who brought me out here this noon, and gave me this key….”

But I was already putting my coat on.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” said Mrs. Matthews, seeing me. “You stay right here and put it together again. You can’t do this to us.”

Which was quite right. After all, this was no worse than most bargains Jimmie and I have encountered in the past 30 years.

When everything had cooled off and we had explained to Mr. and Mrs. Matthews about the stranger Jimmie had met at lunch, there was some sympathy for us, but not much. Because Mr. Matthews pointed out that even people with lame brains could have seen that this house was worth more than $700 and by no stretch of the imagination, not even believers in the Irish Sweepstakes, should have imagined that they could get such a house for $200.

It was still an hour to dark. And with all the neighbors and Mr. and Mrs. Matthews helping, we got the beaver board back on and the wall sections and the windows. In fact, the moving van boys, after they had moved in most of the furniture and stuff, lent a hand with the doors; and it was just black dark when the Hydro man for the township arrived and turned on the Matthews’ electricity. And on their electric stove, the Matthews made tea for all hands including Jimmie and me.

And when we got in our car to drive home, the first thing Jim said was:

“Now, about this $20 I paid this guy at lunch.”

“Nothing doing!” I cried emphatically.

“After all,” said Jim, “it was on behalf of the two of us I paid it. You were only too eager to get in on it, once you saw the house.”

“That’s different,” I said. “I wasn’t taken in by any confidence man. I’m no sucker.”

“Okay,” said Jim, grimly. “Never mind. I’ll get that $10 out of you some other way. And you’ll never know I got it.”

And we explained to our families that our tiredness and blisters were from helping an old friend build a dog kennel.

Editor’s Notes: $200 in 1945 would be $3275 in 2022.

The Irish Sweepstakes was a lottery that ran from 1930-1986, and was large in the popular imagination at a time when lotteries were illegal in North America and Britain before the 1970s. It was supposedly for raising money for Irish hospitals, but was more of a scam where it made the organizers rich.

We Women

June 12, 1926

This illustration accompanied a story by Mary Lowry Ross about women’s philanthropic societies, and how they can be politicized.

‘Way up the River

June 17, 1922


All the din and snorting and beeping that accompanied us as we pedalled up toward Bampton was enough to shatter your nerves.

By Gregory Clark, illustrated by James Frise, June 9, 1934.

“We’re all hopelessly,” said Jimmie Frise, “overcapitalized.”

“I have no capital,” I demurred.

“No, but you’ve got a car and a house and a lot of furniture and everything,” said Jim. “You’re overcapitalized.”

“It sounds interesting,” I admitted. “I’m overcapitalized.”

“We are all putting on too much dog,” continued James. “The whole world has got to pipe down.”

“But how can we be persuaded to start?” I asked.

“Tens of thousands of us are being persuaded already,” said Jim. “I’ve a good notion to get a couple of bicycles. One bicycle for me, one for the family, and a few pair of roller skates. That’s about my real speed.”

“I remember,” I said, “the bicycle days. Good old days, they were. I can dimly remember meetings of bicycle clubs in High Park, hundreds of bicyclists, men and women, gathered for a hike through the pleasant country roads west and north of Toronto.”

“Those were the good old days,” said Jim; “when a twenty-mile journey was all the far a man or a woman wanted to go away from home. The Gay Nineties! The age when all our ancestors had group photographs taken in their funny derbies, the ladies sitting with a graceful droop and the men standing, legs akimbo, with one hand resting on the back of the chair, as if to say, here we are; will there ever be a generation like us again?”

“And carpets were tacked,” I said.

“And paper under the carpets,” said Jim. “You could hear it crackling.”

“And curtain stretchers,” I said.

“And elderly ladies with tall lace collars held up with little pieces of whalebone,” said Jimmie, “seemed to be the boss of everything. They wore watches pinned to the front of their black pleated dresses. Pearl sunbursts at their throats.”

“Old ladies,” I said, “and every Thursday they baked cookies and put them in big blue starch tins.”

“Let’s get a couple of bicycles some day,” said Jim, “and go for a ride out through the country, and go sailing leisurely along.”

“What kind of costume do you suggest we wear?” I asked. “The bicycle costume I remember in my boyhood were rather cramping for these days.”

“Let’s wear sport shirts and khaki shorts,” said Jim, “and golf socks, and those tennis visors. Just nice airy costumes.”

“And we could carry small haversacks,” I said, “with lunch and cooling beverages.”

“When do we go?” cried Jim, happily.

“Let’s not get excited,” I said. “The first real fine afternoon. And you arrange where we can rent a couple of bikes.”

The two that Jimmie delivered at my house at noon were the same size. We lowered the seat of mine several times, until it rested on the cross bar. But it still felt a little stretchy to me. Jimmie and I set forth for the pleasant highways that lead northwest from the outer edges of Toronto.

The breeze was lovely in our faces. Our speed was easy and natural. Except for a slight stretch at the end of each shove of my legs, there was really no effort to riding, and all the balance and skill of my boyhood returned. Jimmie was a little inclined to get ahead of me, and he wanted to “scorch” on all the small hills, but quite merrily we bowled along until we came to the Centre Rd., leading to Brampton.

And as soon as we touched the asphalt, the tooting began.

I trust I shall never again toot my car horn at a bicycle. Of all the din and snorting and beeping that accompanied us as we pedalled up towards Brampton, it was enough to shatter your nerves. Not a motor car felt free to pass us, although we hugged the edge of the pavement, without a long, deafening blast on the horn.

Road’s Too Much Used

You would think we were a public menace the way drivers shouted brief nothings at us out the windows as they went by.

Jim was leading and he kept up a continual chatter which I could not hear. If I pedalled up alongside him, two cars had to pass, immediately beside us, and while I wobbled back into position in rear, the two cars jammed brakes, tooted and shouted at us.

“Let’s get off the highway,” I called to Jim. “Let’s find some pleasant country lane to travel in.”

So Jimmie turned west off the highway and we went merrily along, side by side.

I heard a car coming and I had just time to run my bike into the grassy ditch when a couple of young girls in a roadster flashed between us with a snort of a double horn and a couple of derisive yells.

“Even the country lanes,” I sighed, remounting.

“How are you coming?” asked Jim.

“A little achy,” I admitted.

The road grew sandy, and at the hills we both dismounted to push the bikes up. But there were farmers to talk to whenever we came to them and places you could slow down and look at cows and chickens. I picked some wild flowers at a dell and stuck them in my visor.

“Ah, Jim,” I said. “This is the life.”

One of those modern cars had crept up to within ten feet of me, let go its snort and swished by. Both of us fell in the ditch.

“There ought to be a law,” cried Jimmie, “requiring these modern cars to carry sleigh bells.”

“Let’s get off this road,” I said. “It is too much used.”

We turned north on the next road. Within fifty yards we had to take to the ditch for a truck that slammed past in a cloud of dust. Five times before we came to the cart tracks leading back east, we had to leap for our lives. Then we came to two cart tracks, not a road but just a happy track leading to the east, with grass growing between the ruts and in the distance, woods and wide fields.

So Jim took the right hand rut and I took the left, and at last we had perfect cycling. There were birds to see and farms to stop at for drinks out of pumps. Farmers to talk to across snake fences and homecoming country school children with little red lard pails emptied of lunch. A flock of sheep watched us go by with startled interest and lambs raced away at our approach. We came even to a large pig lying in my rut, and I had to get out and go around her, because she just turned up a very nasty little eye, with long Hollywood eyelashes of a dusty color, and dared me.

We came to a woods and sat down for our sandwiches. My legs ached on the insides and they had turned a rich red color.

“You burn,” said Jim. “I just brown.”

We lay in the grass and finished our sandwiches, even the crusts, and the sun blazed down and my ache grew and my burn was stinging and the hide just above my knees began to feel stiff.

Aches and Splinters

“Jim,” I said, “I think we had better get headed back for home.”

“We can take back roads home towards dusk,” said Jim, half asleep in the deep grass. A herd of cows was coming lazily up the road.

“My ache is growing,” I said, “and I feel as if this sunburn is going to stiffen. I forgot when I put on these shorts that so much of my leg would show, sitting on a bicycle.”

“I brown,” said Jim, drowsily.

So while Jim snored gently, I patted my sunburn and massaged the thick muscles on my legs. But I sensed a growing discomfort.

“Come on, Jimmie,” I shook him.

“This is the life,” drowsed Jim.

We mounted the bike and my skin felt as if it would crack above my knees. They were scarlet.

We pedalled easily eastward and came to a steep hill with an old wooden bridge at the bottom.

“Wheeee,” cried Jim, letting her go down, scorching.

I heard him rattle over the bridge. I dipped the front of my bike down and in a moment I had lost the pedals. My legs felt so stiff I couldn’t get a grab at them. I was so busy steering I had no time to waste feeling for pedals.

I felt the front wheel hit the plank bridge, the bike went north and I went south and I had splinters in me. Jim pedalled back down the far hill.

“Where’s the bike?” he asked with interest.

“It went your way,” I said, moving over to a shady spot on the bridge without having to get up.

Jim rested his against the bridge and hunted high and low.

“Maybe it went into the crook,” said he.

It no doubt did. We got long poles and scratched around in the muddy water, but without any luck.

“What on earth will we do?” asked Jimmie, amused yet not amused.

“I go home on your handle bars,” I said.

And since it was easier to ride on the pavement than on the county back roads, we stuck to the pavement. And if it was any of you who saw us as Jim pedalled me carefully along the edge of the pavement, amidst all the rushing evening traffic, and if I made faces instead of smiling when you tooted your horns warningly at us, it was on account of sunburn and discomfort, rather than any indignation with you.

“How about putting on a happy expression?” asked Jim, as he shoved southward towards Cooksville.

“Relax. Lean back. Look like the Gay Nineties!”

But it is difficult to look happy on handle bars, with your legs stiff from sunburn and your shorts kind of pinching and your tennis visor continually slipping down over your nose.

Editor’s Notes: This story is shorter than most, for unknown reasons, but was not that uncommon in the earlier ones.

The 1890s were a period of huge interest in cycling, since early cars were still very expensive, and the “safety bicycle” was invented in the late 1880s.

Paper was placed under carpets as an early carpet liner to help prevent the ingress of dust from gaps between boards. A curtain stretcher was a large wooden frame designed to hold a lace curtain tightly in position in order for it to dry without creases and retain its shape during the drying process. Curtain stretchers were useful when it came to caring from delicate fabrics that could not be ironed.

Jimmie said “crook” to refer to a “creek”, which was not uncommon.

Shooting Cowards

The adjutant, standing out in front of the parade with the accused abjectly facing them under guard, would read out that the accused had been sentenced to death by the court.
Cowardice merely causes that gust of pity or contempt which is the thing men fear from their comrades more than bullets.

By Gregory Clark, June 9, 1928.

Does Killing A Man Make His Comrades Brave?

What is a coward?

Where does cowardice begin or end?

These questions have recently been debated in the British House of Commons in connection with the matter of abolishing the death penalty for cowardice in time of war.

And some of the most interesting thoughts on cowardice that have ever been produced were advanced during this debate.

Are cowards born or made?

Isn’t a man who is cowardly born that way, with all the other miserable ingredients in him, part of him and his heritage, like the color of his hair and eyes, his size, his way of walking, or his ability to sing?

And if a man was made that way by God, why shoot him? Can the death penalty prevent cowards from enlisting?

Lord Hugh Cecil, speaking from the point of view of the born aristocrat, made the best plea for the death penalty.

“If,” said the noble lord, “you shoot a soldier for cowardice, that makes the whole army think that it is a shocking thing. The penalty of death has quite the unique quality of setting up a particular offence, and making people think that that is a thing which no one should do not mainly from the fear of the actual penalty but because It sets a stigma upon the offence which nothing else can do.”

Mr. Dutt Cooper, M.P., financial secretary to the War Office, if not an aristocrat himself, at least married to one, supported Lord Hugh Cecil’s view ingeniously:

“During the war,” said he, “at one time it was made a crime for which people could be sent to prison to take matches into a munitions factory. Some careless young employee, some girl perhaps under twenty, forgetting the importance of that rule, would take a box of matches into a munitions factory.

“No moral turpitude whatever was involved in it, and yet people were sent to prison for doing it, and rightly, because it was only by putting upon them some terrible penalty that you could make people realize the seriousness of the act they were carrying out.

“In the same way, in time of war, when one man’s action may betray so many others and may lead to such great disaster, you attach a penalty to it such as we are asking the committee to pass to-day.”

Whether for these or other reasons, and in spite of very strong objections expressed against the death penalty for cowardice and desertion – which is merely the effect of cowardice – the old fashioned and time-honored institution of death for the coward was preserved in the British army.

Opposing the Death Penalty

Australia went on record, at the outset of the last war, against the death penalty, and sent her contingent to the war on the understanding that the death penalty would not be inflicted – at least without reference to the government of Australia. But Canada abides by the king’s regulations and orders – therefore Canada still employs the death penalty for cowardice.

But since the war, nine other army crimes that were during the war punishable with death before a firing squad – looting, striking a sentry, sleeping on sentry post and so forth – have been deleted from the army regulations. Only two – cowardice and desertion, are left of the laws that have prevailed in the armies of the world since, you might say, Caesar’s time.

Those who were opposed to the death penalty for cowardice in the House of Commons were soldiers -not Labor members.

General Sir Frederick Hall was one.

“I do not know where cowardice starts or where it finishes,” said the general, “but I remember that during the war this point was brought home to me most vividly in the case of a schoolmaster upon whom devolved a rather difficult duty which required a certain amount of courage to be shown. I believe that that man had as much courage as many of those who did not show any fear under similar circumstances.

“I have yet to learn that there is any man, from the highest to the lowest degree, who served in the important danger zones during the war who did not experience some fear come upon him, not once or twice or thrice, but very often. It was not a question of the death penalty that kept men from showing fear. The men felt that they had a job to carry out. I do not think that fear of the death penalty affects the soldier at all; he does his job because he thinks it is his job, and I do not think any fear of the death penalty enters his head.

“When the schoolmaster I have alluded to came to me and told me the condition he was in, I saw the medical officer, and I got him sent back to the base. A week or two after he came back, and I am sure that man was no more desirous of showing cowardice than any other soldier, but fear was in his nervous system.

“He had been brought up in quite a different life, and he possessed the scholastic mind. I told this man what it meant if he acted nervously, and I pointed out to him that his actions might place others in a most difficult position. I want hon. members to realize that this kind of thing deflects upon the men themselves, although I cannot say where cowardice starts or where it finishes.”

There is a curious punch to the ideas Major Hills submitted to the debate. He said:

“You shoot a man for cowardice, but you do not make that man any braver, for he is dead. Do you make his comrades any braver?

“Many members of this House know what it is just before the zero hour – just before going over the top. I am perfectly certain that no man said to himself, ‘I must go forward, or else I shall be shot,’ and I rather mistrust the argument that you make men brave by that threat. … My experience of life, and such experience as I had in the war, have shown me that the greatest men are afraid of something, and that the greatest cowards are brave under some conditions.

“Cowardice is a matter of the greatest difficulty. Some people, fortunately, were not afraid of shells, but they might have been afraid of something else; and a man might be shot just because the special sort of danger of which he was afraid was one which he could not resist. Perhaps the greatest argument which I have against it is this:

“It is all very well to have a death penalty when you have a professional army, and men enlist on terms which they know, but if we were, unfortunately, at war again, our army would not be a professional army, but an army of all the manhood of the nation. What right have we to take a man from the shop or the office and, if his nerves failed under the strain of war, to shoot him? I do not think that we have that right, and I do not think that it would do any good, or make the army braver.

“Courage is something in the man himself, and is not put into him by the idea of any punishment such as death.”

Comically Amended Sentences

As far as Canadians are concerned, there is a point of view that was entirely overlooked by the Scotsmen and Englishmen who were arguing.

And that point is that not only does the death penalty or, as it might be called, the threat of execution, not deter men from being cowards, but it offends and hurts them in a curious way that has its reaction in the psychology of discipline.

Fortunately, I never had anything to do with an execution nor was any man I was ever acquainted with executed for any cause. But it has been my duty, more than once, as an adjutant of infantry, to call a parade and read out the sentence of the court martial on a man. We would muster a parade -deliberately. I would have it made as flimsy and weak a parade as the regulations permitted – the accused soldier would be paraded before the assembled companies, and in a voice about as clear and audible as a shy curate’s, I would mumble over the business of the court martial, reading the charge, the conviction, the sentence of the court.

It would go like this: automatically, a man found guilty of desertion – not an uncommon crime amongst the wilder Canadians – has to be sentenced by the ordinary field general’s court martial to death. But that was merely because the king’s regulations – dating back to hard-boiled days when soldiers were enlisted by the press gang for instance – demanded death as the penalty for desertion. But none of the officers of the court who made the conviction had the slightest expectation that the poor devil would be executed. The case would be passed from brigade to division and from division to corps, each general in turn taking a whack at paring the sentence, until after it had gone through the hands of Sir Arthur Currie, the thing would come back vastly, almost comically amended.

So that the adjutant; standing out in front of the parade, with the accused abjectly facing them under guard, would read out that the accused had been sentenced to death by the court, which sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the brigade commander, which sentence was reduced to ten years penal servitude by the divisional commander, which sentence was reduced and confirmed by the corps commander to two years hard labor.

Aside from the fact that the accused, after spending a more or less hard-worked period of three or four months at some military prison down near the base, In total security and bomb-proofedness, would be restored to his regiment, looking hale and hearty and ready for another desertion if it offered enough excitement, the interesting feature of all this pomp and circumstance is this: that if the adjutant read the charges out loud enough for all the men to hear, there would be a most decided sense of embarrassment and resentment on the part of the men.

What had all this to do with them?

Were we trying to scare them? Them?

If so, we were a pretty poor lot. For was not the officer reading the papers himself a bomb-proof dug-out king? And were any of the officers on parade a bit better than the men, as far as courage went?

That sense of resentment and affront which manifested itself whenever occasion demanded what you might call an “example” being made was most apparent to myself, since my profession as a newspaper man calls for sensitiveness to public feeling of this sort.

Brave Men Experience Fear

It is perfectly safe to say that the death penalty, as far as the Canadians were concerned, created only pathos and bitterness wherever it appeared, and that as far as deterring men from being cowards, it had no effect whatever.

For we had our cowards like all other armies. And those of us who were cowardly were so despite deterrents far more powerful than the fear of death by firing squad.

What is cowardice?

Is it fear? It is not, because ninety-nine per cent of soldiers in the last war experienced fear, and they were not cowards.

Is it submitting to fear, surrendering to fear, so that one fails in one’s duty because of fear?

That is about it. One of the bravest officers I ever knew was walking across a grain field during the battle of Amiens when an unexpected machine gun opened on him. He was in full view of three or four hundred of his comrades. He ducked and lay down, ran and crawled in the most comic fashion that you could imagine. He slithered down banks, lay flattened to earth with his expression clearly visible as he glared back at us and used, we doubt not, profane language at this public reduction of himself to the absurd. At last he got out of range of the enemy gun and rejoined us, shaken and outraged and very crestfallen.

He was no coward. He was performing no duty when this occurred. He was merely strolling across what looked like an innocent field to get a look at some ground we were expecting to attack in an hour or two.

An hour later, that same officer, in the performance of his duty leading his men in battle, executed simple marvels of bravery and courage, exposing himself to fire, attacking strong points and hedges fearlessly, a very demon of courage, who, a short hour before, had been sliding like a scared rabbit from machine gun fire.

And both times he was doing his duty; first, in not getting needlessly killed; second, in risking his life in order to ensure dash and valor to the attack, which called for those very qualities first and above everything.

There are a great many of us who often think that, were it not for a certain occasion when we were cowardly for a moment, we would not be here.

It is that fact which makes us very careful about the use of the word coward even now long after the war. And certainly, during the war, I never heard the word coward used, nor the word cowardice, by any man, though something like two hundred officers and three thousand men passed through my regiment while I was with it. There were poor fellows, timid by nature, whose very shape and physical condition we that of rickety and nervous men, who were spared everything possible by their comrades, because, simply, they were “no good”. They were cowards. In the old meaning of the word, that’s what they were. They swung the lead: that is, they pretended they were sick on every occasion; they had sore feet, pains, they would malinger, which means that they would take steps to make themselves sick, by eating mildly poisonous matter, or by starving themselves, or by the reversal of Christian Science, deliberately thinking and willing themselves to be ill.

They did all duties badly. They were always complaining, grousing.

Cracking Up Under Strain

If you found anybody crouching down in the trenches during a strafe it would be one of them. They were well known in practically every platoon. Nobody minded them. They came in for a lot of unmerciful kidding from the rest of the platoon. And the worst part of their lives was the fact that they knew themselves that they were cowards. But they had reached that state of nerves, or they were naturally born with that state of mind, that they did not care, so long as they were spared.

The others did not revenge themselves on these chaps. In fact, they were rewarded. For they escaped all patrols and dirty Jobs. No officer or n.c.o. wanted them with them. And if any soft bombproof jobs came along, such as working at a divisional dump or helping at a laundry or bath house, or turning the crank at a movie tent, these abject, timid fellows and not the good brave men were rewarded. Not only could we not spare the good men, but there was more or less feeling about taking bombproof jobs. I have known men to refuse them indignantly.

I had a sergeant who had come in June, 1916, and who, after the Somme, Vimy and Passchendaele, was getting old at the game. Perfectly natural. He had seen much war, close up. He had seen scores of his men killed and mangled in every conceivable fashion. He had had dozens of his comrades and chums pass on to their doubtful reward. He had had his own hair breadth escapes from that indescribable destruction that modern machine warfare dishes up. He could recall them easily enough, I suppose, in those long night watches, where we drifted, lonely and alone, in a world of ghostly light and shadow. He began to crack up a little. He became irritable and his hair began to grow gray at the sides. He was in his late thirties. At home he had a wife and four little boys. One night we had a patrol. Before going out, the darkness did not conceal from me that he was nervous and trembling and that he had a little trouble with his voice. It was husky – ah, what a familiar symptom!

He was not, I venture to say, one-half as frightened as I was at that moment. But I was younger, greener and had a little more of what might either be intelligence or low cunning – I could hide my feelings better for those several reasons. We had a rotten time of it. No enemy was met. No shot was fired. But of all patrols I ever remember, that was the jumpiest, most nerve-racking, for I knew the sergeant was windy, which made me windy, and the sergeant sensed my condition and the men caught it, like a yawning fit, froze us. I was a rag when we re-entered the trench.

Two days later I had a chat with my old sergeant and put it up to him: would I try to wangle him a job somewhere? There were some splendid jobs to be had as an instructor at the divisional school, and I was sure the colonel would admit the sergeant had had a long siege and would appoint him to the next vacancy.

What do you suppose that sergeant did?

He flew into a rage.

What did I think he was? A shell-shock? Who was I to accuse him of being jumpy? Was there a man or officer in the regiment who had done more real fighting? He always thought I was his friend, and then I go and suggest a thing like this! Instructor at a school! Refuge for broken-down old women!

He stayed on a few weeks, getting rockier and rockier, until the men began to feel it, and all the splendid two years’ reputation of this valiant sergeant began to count for naught.

Where does cowardice enter in here? Not by a thousand miles was this man a coward. Yet if we had had a jam of some kind about that time, I am perfectly sure the old sergeant would have failed, not from cowardice, but from nervous exhaustion. For he ended up in tears, asking to be relieved, and sent to some place to recover his old fire.

Oh, it has a thousand aspects. I have known timid, nervous men who were the scariest mortals imaginable at the start, but who, as time went on, and experience stiffened them, became bolder and gamer every month. It is a fact.

We had an officer join us and the minute he came in we smiled secretly at one another. For he was so obviously the raw material of shell-shock, as we termed all limitations as to courage. He was a mamma’s boy, by the look of him. He was assigned to one of the companies and plans were made to get rid of him at the first opportunity to some command job away from the regiment where he wouldn’t have much rough work to do. Yes, that’s the way it worked. For we were hanged if we wanted our jobs made more difficult by the shortcomings of junior officers.

For month or two he was the perspiring image of alarm and fear. He could change color from red to white and red again quicker than any man I knew, to the sound of an incoming shell.

One night there was a rumpus on our left front, a German patrol unquestionably came close to our front, either to raid us or to bring us gifts of some kind, we didn’t know. But a Lewis gun that mysteriously and unexpectedly appeared some distance out in No Man’s Land and raked flank-wise along the raiding party’s course, put it all to an end.

A Hero of Fiction Type

When the hero was sought, he was found in very perspiring and nervously giggling lieutenant, who said:

“My sergeant and I distinctly saw, from the side, against a distant flare a mile or so north of us, a group of Germans walking about in No Man’s Land, up opposite the next company. So I ordered out a Lewis gun and just as we got into a position to fire, their barrage came down. So we caught them, curiously enough, exactly at the moment their raid started.”

“Did you take the sergeant with you?” we demanded, expecting to get at the secret of this dandy stunt.

“How could I?” cried the nervous lieutenant. “I could not leave the trench without one of us in charge, could I?”

No. He did it alone. And when we cautiously inquired of the number one of the gun crew, it transpired that the lieutenant, from his superior position, had insisted on firing the gun himself.

“I took quite a good mark in machine gunnery at school in England,” blushed the lieutenant unhappily when the accusation was made in the mess, later.

That was the start of the most curious evolution I encountered overseas: a man who actually got better and bolder as time and experience went on. This chap ended up with a reputation for daring – soft, polite daring, that belongs in fiction rather than in fact.

“Once you get the hang of the thing …” he used to say.

There were some of us who were what civilians call cowards all the time; and all of us were cowards upon occasion, except, of course, those blood-in-the-eye lads who worked back of the line, or at the bakeries at the base. For it was curious how bloodthirsty people got as the distance increased from the front line. Why, we poor fellows in the front line were nambly-pamby compared to the gallant bayonet instructors over on the far side of England.

No official facts have ever been produced respecting the number of Canadians who were executed during the great war. It has been a carefully guarded secret, to spare the kin of those few who were victims of a quite meaningless institution. But it is supposed that there were twenty-two executions amongst Canadians, most of them in the early part of the war, before there had crystallized that quite distinct and characteristic Canadian discipline which was as noble a thing as any other kind of discipline history recounts. Most of these executions would have been for desertion. A few were certainly for looting. Outrageous cases of looting, where men simply went amuck and neglected important duties to loot – cases where example would really count, since the men appeared to be getting something out of it.

But as for the example of a coward – in modern warfare, so slowly does it move, and on such machine made scale, the example of a coward can rarely be seen.

And when seen, it merely causes that twinge or gust of pity or contempt which is the thing men fear from their comrades more than bullets –

Bullets fired at twenty paces, at a white sheet, on which is marked a round, red circle.

There are a great many of us who often think that were it not for a certain occasion when we were cowardly for a moment we would not be here now.
It was curious how bloodthirsty people got as the distance increased from the front line.

Editor’s Note: This was a very controversial aspect of the First World War in Canada, as can been seen by the content of the article at the time, as well as subsequent debates in the decades since. A total of 25 Canadians were executed during World War One, 22 for desertion, 1 for cowardice, and 2 for murder. The ones not charged with murder were posthumously pardoned on 16 August 2006. The concept of PTSD (“shell-shock” in WW1, and “battle fatigue” in WW2) was not understood at the time.


June 10, 1944

Forgive Your Enemies

I hit the big bag. It groaned and swung wider …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 1, 1935.

“What’s up?” asked Jimmie Frise. “You look gloomy.”

“I wish,” I replied, “that this were 1735 instead of 1935.”

“Why?” inquired Jim.

“So I could call a certain man out,” I stated.

“Out where?”

“Call him out,” I explained. “Fight him a duel.”

“Dear me,” said Jim. “Now who’s crossed you?”

“There is a man in this town,” I announced, slowly and distinctly, “that I would like to kill. Killing is the only solution. I would like to stand him up, in a glade in High Park, on a very early misty morning, about five o’clock, at twelve paces, and then, with an old-fashioned duelling pistol, put a two-ounce slug right through his gizzard.”

“What’s he done?” cried Jimmie.

“That’s the trouble,” I admitted, “he hasn’t really done anything. It’s just the way he looks and acts. He stops me on the street and sneers patronizingly down on me. He greets me from a distance, like at the corner of Bay and King, when I am delving past in my touring car, and shouts out some mocking remark. He butts in when I am standing talking to friends, and bawls out – ‘Well, Greg, how’s the old windbag to-day?’ That sort of thing.”

“Why don’t you think up some retort?” asked Jim. “Why not use your own brains? Shoot something back at him.”

“The trouble is,” I explained, “the very sight of him seems to paralyze my brains. I can never think of anything to shoot back at him.”

“He’s got your goat,” judged Jim. “He gets in your hair.”

“All of that, and more,” I admitted. “The man haunts my idle thoughts. Whenever I have nothing to do, I find myself grinding my teeth and wishing I could punch that guy on the nose.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Jim.

“He’s too big,” I said. “He’s head taller than me and weighs forty pounds more.”

“That’s nothing,” encouraged Jimmie. “Is he tough?”

“He’s a big soft slob,” I exclaimed. “A great big fat blob. He has nasty piggy eyes and no chin and a weak, writhy sort of mouth that I’d just love to smash my fist on.”

“Why don’t you crack down on him?” asked Jim. “It’s nothing unusual for man of 140 pounds whaling the stuffing out of a man 180 pounds weight, if the big fellow is soft.”

“The difficulty there,” I pointed out, “is that I am a little soft and slobby myself.”

“Ah,” said Jim, surveying me critically.

“Ages ago,” I expounded to Jim, “the big men had it all their own way. We little men just had to hang our tails and take it. But then along came gunpowder, which put the big fellows in their place. Because, all I had to do was practise with a pistol and get to be a crack shot, and then I had all the advantage over the big man in a duel, no matter how good a shot be was. The bigger he was, the easier he was to hit. The smaller I was, the less target I made. In fact, in the great days of the human race, the little roosters were the dangerous men. They strutted around this earth the terror of everybody. Good shots and small targets.”

“All I am is Smaller”

“I bet you would have been a mean little customer a couple of hundred years ago,” admitted Jim.

“I’d have rid the world of a lot of big stuffed shirts,” I agreed. “But then what happened? The big guys got together. They passed a law. They made it illegal to duel. And, ever since, we little people have been dragging our tails in the mud again.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jimmie. “I’ve seen some wonderful little flyweight boxers that could trim a bigger guy to a frazzle.”

“I’m no boxer,” I regretted.

“But you could be,” urged Jim. “Not in a professional sense, you understand. You’re past the age. But you could join one of those gymnasiums where they teach boxing and weight lifting and physical culture. And in about two months you could be in wonderful shape.”

“Two months,” I snorted.

“In two months, training three nights a week in good gym, under a real boxing instructor,” said Jim, “you could be in such shape you would be afraid to hit no man living. It’s science versus brute strength. You know.”

“Mmmmm,” I mused,

“I’d even go along with you, some nights, anyway,” said Jim. “Because I know the state of mind you are in, and I know nothing will cure an inferiority complex …”

“Pardon me,” I assured him, “I have no inferiority complex. Don’t get that into your head. I’m not inferior to some big softy. All I am is smaller than he.”

“I see,” said Jimmie.

“I like everything about our idea.” I said, “except the long wait. I’d like to punch this guy on the nose to-day, tomorrow, this week. I hate the idea of having to wait two months before I can bash him one. I’ve waited years as it is. Now that I have decided to act, I want to act now.”

“Nonsense,” protested Jim. “Think of the way you can build up. Think of every night training on a punching bag or with a sparring partner, and every blow you strike you can imagine is aimed at this fellow. By the way, who is he?”

“I mention no names,” I said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“You know the way they train a gamecock?” asked Jim. “The way they train a game-cock, after they have fed him and fattened him and got him into perfect condition in the stable, is to put him out on what they call a walk. This walk is an enclosure, from which the fighting cock can see other roosters and plenty of lady hens, but he can’t mix with them. He has to romp up and down his run or cage, crowing bloody murder and flapping his wings, and yelling at all the other birds he can see, until he is in such a state of rage and temper and got himself so lean and tough with racing up and down the cage, that he is in the right mood to kill any rooster he sees anywhere. Now, this program I suggest for you is much the same. For two months, you’ll train and get into shape, and by the time you are ready to meet this guy, you’ll just step up and sock him one perfecto supremo on the schnozzle, and that’s all there will be to it.”

“Oh, I don’t want to knock him out with one blow,” I exclaimed. “I want to draw it out a little. I’d like him to fight back for a while, with me slowly cutting him to pieces. I’d like it to last maybe ten minutes.”

“I get you,” agreed Jimmie.

To Cut Him to Pieces

“Yes,” I built up, “the way I see it is this. I’ll be standing at the corner of Bay and King, chatting with some friends, when along will come this guy, his coat tail flying, his fat legs stretching along, just as if he were a man instead of a slob. And as usual he’ll make some crack as he goes by, with that big grin he’s got. And I’ll reach out. ‘Just a minute,’ I’ll say, kind of easy like, and smiling thinly. ‘Just a minute. Look, I’d like to speak to you privately a second’.”

“Go on,” said Jim, his eyes gleaming.

“So I’ll walk up Bay a few steps and into one of those lanes. You know the lanes? And I’ll lead him in there, he never suspecting. When I get well up the lane, I’ll say, “Now, you big so-and-so, stick them up and take it.’ And I’ll square off, like this, see? And he’ll try to laugh it off, so I’ll tap him a little one right on the kisser. That will make him mad. It makes anybody mad. He’ll come for me. And then, oh boy!”

“Oh, boy,” agreed Jimmie.

“Scientifically, neatly, every blow counting, some of them on his eyes and nose, and others in his mid-section, I’ll just neatly and completely batter that guy until he sits down and cries. In the lane.”

Jim was open-mouthed in admiration.

“Boy,” he said, “I wish I had somebody I hated.”

“Where should we go for these lessons?” I asked.

“Well,” said Jim, with a big sigh, “there are several private gymnasiums. Some of them do weight lifting, and so on, and nearly all of them teach boxing. They are run by old boxers.”

“Do you know any?” I inquired.

“I have friends go to fellow called Magonigle, or some such Italian name, and he’s down town here, handy.”

“Let’s try him,” I agreed. “Two or three nights a week, we can stay downtown for supper and get in a couple of hours workout.”

Jim found Magonigle’s address from his friends, and after a light supper, such as sporting gentlemen should eat, we called at the downtown emporium of Buck Magonigle. Half a dozen youngish fellows, bare except for athletic shorts, were already at work in the upstairs flat where the Magonigle gymnasium was situated. Some of them were lifting iron rods on which iron weights were fastened. Others were working on wall pullers. Three were shadow boxing and punching the bags.

“There he is,” I hissed to Jimmie.


“That big bag,” I grated. For besides the little bags like footballs, there was one large bag, like a dunnage bag, suspended from the ceiling. It was full of sand or something soft and soggy, and a young man was whaling the daylights out of it. “That bag,” I said, “is the exact image of the man I’m laying for. Already, I can see his facial features beginning to grow on that bag. That is the object of my attentions, from right now on.”

“You don’t take on that bag,” said Jimmie, “until you’ve got some wind and some punch.”

“I’m taking on that bag,” I said, removing my coat, “to-night.”

Mr. Magonigle at this moment walked up and welcomed us gravely. He did not look like a gentleman, but he spoke and acted like one. It was like hearing an engine purring perfectly under the hood of battered old wreck of car. Mr. Magonigle was all bunches and twists, his nose looked cast and his ears looked south-west, one eye was out of line, but his chassis was like a Jersey bull’s – low, long and lean. “Gentlemen,” purred Mr. Magonigle.

Socking the Big Bag

So we talked over the situation, and in three minutes I was stripped and wearing a pair of Mr. Magonigle’s athletic shorts. They were big for me, but he had a safety pin.

First he lectured me on the basic principles of physical culture. I had no idea there was so much science and philosophy in a gymnasium. Especially the way Mr. Magonigle phrased it.

“It is not,” he said, out of his large and battered mouth, “a question of strength, so much as a matter of psychology. I say to my boys, I don’t train them, they think themselves into strength and perfection. Mr. Clark, you must think perfection every day. when you wake up, all day while you are at work, and the last thing at night before you sink to rest, you must think of perfection. You must feel your muscles, your limbs, enjoy the feel of them. Enjoy your food. Enjoy what sights your eyes behold. And under my training system, you will feel yourself, who were dead, suddenly coming to life. You will be strong. You will be perfect.”

I’m afraid I can’t quite get the quality of these noble words coming out of Mr. Magonigle’s mouth, sort of out of one side, with his eyes rolling as he talked, and accompanied by gestures of his huge and broken hands. And his voice was slightly husky. When he said perfect, he said poifect, and he shut his eyes, with his head thrown back.

Jim got into shorts, too, and Mr. Magonigle said he would first get us to expand our lungs on the wall pullers. So Jim and I pulled ropes with weights on them, and then, while Mr. Magonigle was out – he explained he had to see a man about something – we tried lifting the bars with weights on them, and finally, since the young men had all quit and were leaning out the window looking at some stenographers working late across the street, I took on the punching bag.

The little bag was too high for me, but I gave it a few good smacks.

“Leave the big bag,” advised Jim.

“Just a couple of socks in the belly,” I said.

The big bag was full of sand or worse. It hung by a rope from the ceiling and its lower end bulged.

I hit it. It swayed only a little. As it came back, I let it have another.

“Back up, you,” I said to it.

“Sock ‘im,” said Jim.

I gave it another. My arm hurt, but I gave it another.

“Right on the beezer,” grated Jimmie, crouching down.

I let him have it. The big bag’s swings grew wider.

“Now give him one in the solar plexus,” cried Jimmie.

I gave him one in the solar plexus. The big bag groaned. It swung higher and wilder.

“Lift him off his feet,” hissed Jim.

And I let him have it. I laid back, I lowered my fist to the floor, I upped and atted him.

“Hooray,” cried Jimmie, as the big bag leaped away from the blow. My attention was distracted.

Something struck me heavily, lifted me, threw me.

All was dark.

The darkness was filled with a deep buzzing. Small orange stars darted through the darkness. I heard a dentist’s drill. I heard small sounds like birds chirping.

And then Jimmie’s voice was saying: “It knocked him back and he fell with his head against the radiator.”

“It’s nothing,” I heard the voice of Mr. Magonigle. “He’ll be around in a second or two.”

They assisted me to dress.

“Physical culture,” explained Mr. Magonigle, as he helped me into my pants,”is a question of growth. By taking thought, you cannot add a cubicle to your weight, as the Bible says.”

“I am only interested in physical culture,” I said grimly, for the pain in my head was very bad where the radiator had hit me, “for a special and specific purpose. I have no desire to be in better physical condition than I am except for one particular job. Maybe ten minutes.”

“Like a masquerade,” said Mr. Magonigle. “You want to dress up strong for an evening or something?”

“Precisely,” I said, while Jim tied my tie.

“I fear,” said Mr. Magonigle, “you can’t do that. You are either strong or you are not strong. You can, with patience and purpose, become stronger. But as a general rule, we are the way God made us and mostly we stay that way all our lives.”

“Would you say,” I asked him, “from your wide experience, that I was fit to hit guy forty pounds heavier than me?”

“You can give,” said Mr. Magonigle, “but can you take?”

So we shook hands.

“The great thing,” Jimmie said, as he helped me down the dark stairway of Mr. Magonigle’s gymnasium, “is to forgive your enemies.”

“Never,” I said ” I’ll think up some other way of fixing him. Brains will prevail over brawn.”

And then Jimmie’s voice was saying: “It knocked him back and he fell with his head against the radiator.”

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on March 4, 1944 under the title “Brains Vs. Brawn” (image at end).

A Dunnage bag was the type of large bag that sailors would use to carry their belongings. It would more commonly be referred to as a duffle bag today.

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