By Greg Clark, July 10, 1926
“Bugs,” said Madge, “spoil more picnics than rain. Why don’t we have bug probabilities?”
“From the department of agriculture,” put in Willie. “Daily bulletin of the entomology branch, department of agriculture: Today, damp and bugless. Tomorrow, fine and buggy.”
“That’s the idea,” continued Madge. The government knows all about bugs. They know where the bugs are. They have scientists getting $3,000 a year for no other reason. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice, just before we make a motor trip, to look up the paper and see that there is a big plague of bees in northwestern Ontario, but that in the Kawartha Lakes region, the potato bugs are not yet up and few June bugs have been reported.”
“It would be fine,” Willie and I admitted.
This conversation took place on a beautiful grassy roadside near Peterborough, while we were munching our noonday sandwiches.
We had so far had a very peasant ride. Except for bugs. Bugs and bees. Not far out of Toronto, we were gliding along with windows open to a stray bit of summer warmth, when, in passing a cover field, in whammed a large bulbous bee. Wille, at the wheel, swerved the car violently, narrowly missing the ditch. Madge screamed and gathered her fashionably short skirt around her knees. I, being in the back seat, laughed heartily.
“Stop the car!” screamed Madge.
“Don’t be silly,” said Willie. “It’s only one bee.”
“One bee!” cried Madge, witheringly, scrambling over into my lap. Willie made a swat at the bee with his hat. The bee disappeared.
“Now you’ve done it!” moaned Madge. “Where is it? A missing bee is the worst thing I could imagine. I won’t go back into that seat.”
“Stay right here,” I begged. Willie groped about on the floor for the bee. Suddenly I felt a furious stab on my shin bone, just north of the top of my sock.
“Ow!” I roared, heaving Madge back into her place.
“It’s all right now,” Madge said in a soothing voice. “A bee can sting only once.”
So on we toured, with all windows closed, while the first real day of summer grew on, hotter and hotter. Bees of all sizes, lean, rakish looking hornets and swollen looking bumbles with orange stripes around them, batted furiously against our windshield. Past certain fields, we thrust our way through swarms of them. We all ducked our heads instinctively as each bee hit against the glass.
“I’m smothering,” said Madge.
“Open your window then,” said Willie.
Car Windows Need Screens
“I think we will get screens for the car,” replied Madge.
At length, we halted for roadside lunch. Not a bee was to be seen as we spread our paper cover on the grass. Madge set out the various delicacies attractively. Willie and I stretched ourselves upon the turf.
Suddenly Willie sat up and scratched urgently at his neck.
“Hang it!” he cried, pulling at his collar. “An ant or something.”
I thrust my hand down his collar and felt about. “I can feel it walking along my ribs,” said Willie. Opening his shirt, he contorted himself and presently, having been in the army, withdrew his hand, pinching between finger and thumb a small, squashed ant. Madge, who had been a sympathetic spectator, suddenly screeched:
“Look at our lunch!”
Our lunch was in the act of moving away. Swarms of ants were busy as wrecking crews on our sandwiches and hard boiled eggs.
“Whew! Scat!” squealed Madge, holding her skirt tight at her knees with one hand and wielding a paper napkin with the other.
“I’m not going to sit down here,” she said. “Let’s have lunch in the car.”
“Oh, come on,” said Willie. “They’re gone now.”
“You don’t know ants,” retorted Madge. “They are never gone. They have no intelligence whatever. They won’t take a hint.”
So Madge got into the car and willie and I acted as butlers to her, eating our own lunch in between battles with the little black battalions that swarmed up out of the grass.
“It’s a wonder to me,” said Madge as we continued to drive, “that bugs haven’t won long ago.”
“Won what?” we asked.
“Won everything. Won against us. Think of the millions of kinds of bugs there are all after the things we’re after, eating our vegetables, eating our animals, eating us! Germs are bugs. Why weren’t we exterminated ages ago, long before doctors were thought of?”
“All you’ve got to do,” said Willie,” is squash them.”
“Yes,” said I. “With your hat!”
By this time, the hail of bees was renewed against our windshield. Our windows were shut and the summer sun beat upon our prison cell.
“The next nice little lake we come to,” said Madge, “we will stop and have a swim.”
Madge wears her bathing suit under her clothes. It is one of these little 1926 bathing suits. Shortly, we came to a lake and ran the car down to a beautiful and utterly deserted sand beach. There was an ideal little clump of dense underbush handy for Willie and me to dress for bathing in. Madge is so handy, she can perform the rite in the sedan.
In the distance, we could see other beaches, all jammed and crowded with picnickers. But our little golden beach was a paradise all to ourselves. We stood on the soft, firm sand and saw how it shelved away into the limpid water.
“Mysterious,” said Madge, “why this little beach is deserted and all those other beaches are jammed to suffocation! Yet it is perfect, isn’t it? Come on, let’s get in. You boys dress in that bush.”
The Bugs Win the Day
So leaving Madge in the sedan, we took our suits and pushed our way into the little forest of brush and birches.
We joyfully threw off our few clothes.
“Beat you in!” I said to Willie already in my BVD’s. At that same instant we both heard a curious sound.
It was a humming and a buzzing. It sounded like an aeroplane in the distance. We looked up.
It was not an aeroplane in the distance. It was a large wasp’s nest about eight feet over our heads. I dropped everything and leaped. Willie crowded in front of me and delayed me. I yelled. Something stung me. Willie yelled. We emerged on to the open beach in our linen and sprinted for the car, shouting to Madge to open the door.
A swarm of wasps pursued us. They got ahead of us and tried to bar our way. We got to the sedan.
“Open! Open!” we screamed to Madge, in her scanty bathing suit within.
And Madge, that sweet girl, took a firm hold of the door handle and hung on.
You see, it was a delicate problem for both Madge and us. If we insisted on getting into the sedan, we would assuredly admit with us a dozen or more angry wasps; and little Madge, most of her exposed, would have been stung. Yet poor tender-hearted little Madge had to struggle with her fear of wasps and with the pain of seeing her husband and her husband’s best friend being eaten alive by hordes of hornets. So her good sense prevailed, as it always does, over her womanly softness. She hung on.
To be sure, Willie and I yelled and roared for admittance, before we realized what a plight we were putting the poor girl in. But when we realized – and of course, we were being stung throughout the process of realizing – we left her and fled like two Olympic track athletes down the road.
At the next beach down, we paused in front of about forty people, all standing facing and all with their mouths wide open in paroxysms of outlandish laughter. We glared at them.
“Haw, haw, haw!” they roared, man, woman and child.
We slowly retraced our steps back to the car and Madge.
“We might have known there was something wrong with that beach,” said Willie.
“Might have known!” I snorted. “We do know!”
Madge could not speak for some minutes.
“What a terribly cowardly thing to do!” she said at last, her face white.
“Oh, my dear girl, don’t feel badly. You did the perfectly right thing.”
“Me?” screamed Madge. “I mean you. You two big brutes trying to bring a thousand bees into the sedan where I was scarcely clothed at all!”
We dressed behind the car and then drove on in silence.
The bug probabilities for that day were fine and buggy, for certain. Bees, mayflies, ants, potato bugs, lady bugs, and last but not least, on our way home, under a beautiful full moon, Willie got out of the car to admire the view from a hill top. Madge and I sat inside. All was silence.
Suddenly there rose a wild, unearthly yell in the night, and Willie leaped into the car and slammed the door. We could feel him trembling.
“What is it?” we gasped.
“A June bug!” said Willie, brokenly. “A June bug as big as a golf ball came with a deep snoring sound and struck me – like in automobile collision – struck me – ugh – June bug…”
As far as this day was concerned, we think the bugs won.
Editor’s Notes: Some of Greg’s stories before the ones with Jim in the 1920s and 1930s involved activities with couples. The names are probably made up, but the women often are called “Madge” for some reason.
BVD is a company that produced men’s underwear. “BVD’s” came to be used for any underwear in the style popularized by BVD.