By Greg Clark, January 22, 1944
“Be honest,” said Jimmie Frise.
“I flatter myself,” I said, “I am honest.”
“Honesty,” said Jimmie, “is a curious thing. If you were absolutely honest, you would be clubbed to death by an infuriated mob before you had been honest for three hours.”
“Honesty,” I agreed, “must be tempered by common sense. For example, if you were honest, you would tell your friends the truth. You would tell them that never, by any stretch of the Imagination, will they ever be good singers. Yet if you told them that, it would be wicked and cruel.”
“How come?” demanded Jim. “It would save them a lot of grief. And a lot of trouble. It would spare them years of struggle, trying to be good singers. It would put an end to a lot of suffering on the part of people who have to listen to them trying to sing.”
“Yes, but,” I said, “there are really so few things to do in this life. You think at first there are a lot of things to do. But after a while, you discover life has only two or three things to do. And one of them might be singing. Or so you think.”
“That’s what makes life tough,” agreed Jim.
“So, if a man thinks he can sing,” I pursued, and he starts singing, wouldn’t it be wicked, cruel and terrible to deprive him of that belief? He thinks he can sing. It sounds beautiful to him, as he lets his voice blow through his throat. It has a nice, strong feeling. It fills him with a sense of power, of beauty.”
“Yet,” said Jim, “he might be inflicting suffering on five, ten, or even two hundred people, if for example, he were singing in a church choir.”
“Quite so,” I said, “but it is easier to bear the defects of others than to know your own defects.”
“That’s quite a wise saying,” admired Jimmie.
“It’s an honest saying,” I said. “It is more honest than telling a guy he can’t sing.”
“Then we should go about lying,” said Jim. “Lying to our friends by not telling them. Swallowing the truth is the same as lying.”
“Then believe me, we are all liars,” I said. “Or should be.”
“Don’t you think the world would be improved,” asked Jim, “if, instead of kidding one another, we all told the facts and got down to brass tacks? If we all knew our faults, wouldn’t the world be a happier place to live in, a more sensible and practical and business-like place to live in?”
“We would all be dead,” I replied. “There would be no object in living if we had not our dreams and our hopes and our false expectations.
You certainly make a virtue out of dishonesty,” admitted Jim.
“The best thing to do is not think about honesty at all,” I pointed out. “Just take life as It comes and help your brother.”
“It’s a good philosophy,” concluded Jim.
This conversation took place in Jim’s car as we drove to what they call the Annex, which is a district of Toronto north of the parliament buildings, a district where nearly everybody in Toronto was born but from which nearly everybody that was born there has moved away. It is filled with happy grandfathers and grandmothers; thousands of civil servants and university students dwell in it; it has a comfortable air but hardly any side drives. More bachelors and old maids reside in the Annex than in any other concentrated neighborhood of the city, with the result that the lights are out in the Annex earlier at night than in most neighborhoods. Panhandlers do not think very highly of the Annex because bachelors are always saving for their lonely old age.
But Jim knew some people who lived in one of the handsome apartment houses of the Annex. They had an uncle die who had been a great sportsman. He had left behind him great piles of fishing tackle and guns and mackinaw clothes and expensive hunting boots from Scotland. And we were on our way to buy some of the tackle for the benefit of the heirs. At least, that it what you say to your wife. Ah, we sportsmen are so devoted to one another!
“Despite our honesty,” said Jim, as we drove up in front of the beetling apartment house, I wouldn’t put it past us to control our expressions very carefully in case there are a couple of Cellini rods in this collection of junk we are going to see. I could do with a four-ounce Cellini.”
“The only thing to do,” I said, “is to bid one against the other. If there is a rod I want, I’ll say right out how much I’ll give for it. Then you say how much you’ll give. It will be a sort of private auction.”
“You’d never make a business man,” sighed Jim. And we walked up to the apartment house entrance.
Apartment houses always embarrass me. The embarrassment I feel on entering any strange house is multiplied exactly by the number of families living in the apartment. If there are forty apartments in the place, I am forty times as embarrassed. And further more there is, in a few of the better-class apartments, a sort of commissionaire standing in uniform in the front hall. Almost Invariably he is a veteran not of the Canadian but of the imperial army, and he has a high and snooty look.
There was such a one as we entered the foyer of this magnificent apartment house. He had a small red moustache and small bright brown eyes. He eyed us grimly.
Mr. Grimbleberry’s apartment?” asked Jim sweetly.
“Third floor, number thirty-four,” said the imperial, haughtily.
We went up the self-serve lift. It was an upholstered, creepy lift, like a coffin going heavenward.
On the third floor we got off and started to look for apartment thirty-four. Soft plush carpet, soft lights, soft music and soft odors of food lingered in the long corridors.
We went down the corridor and turned to the left, where we met a large, extra-stout gentleman in a derby hat coming to meet us.
“Ah,” cried the gentleman in the derby delightedly. “By Jove, you’re just the men I’m looking for! I’ve done a very silly thing.”
We paused politely. He was well dressed, obviously one of the better-class tenants of the high-class apartment.
“I’ve done an absurd thing,” he giggled, shamefacedly. “I’ve just snapped the door shut and left my key on the inside!”
The sergeant-major downstairs will fix it for you,” I suggested.
“Nonsense! That man!” giggled the gentleman in the derby. “He would merely start in motion an act of parliament to have the caretaker appoint somebody in the course of the coming week to make an adjustment of the matter. Look here, chaps, I want your help. I forgot an important matter, my wife’s wrap. I’m just rushing to meet her at a party. Do help me!”
“Certainly,” we both said. “How?”
“Through the transom,” he said. “The transom is slightly ajar.”
We walked along the corridor until we came to apartment number thirty-eight. It had, in fact, a transom. The transom was ajar.
“Better still!” cried the derby one. “I’m so big. You are just the size to go through a transom, by jove! Would you mind, I say?”
He was patting me on both lapels.
“I’m still athletic,” I agreed, taking off my overcoat and handing it to him.
Jim and the derby joined hands and I stepped on their palms and was hoisted aloft.
“You’ll see a sort of cotter pin,” said the derby-hatted one softly. “Just give it a smart pull. Then the transom will drop open. Don’t bang it. The people on this floor are very fussy about a little racket. Mostly old women.”
I drew a cotter pin holding the transom rod to the frame. The transom dropped and I caught it and let it softly down. With a few struggles and a wiggle or two, I got through, dropped to the floor and opened the door.
“There’s no key,” I pointed out. “It was just locked. The catch had sprung.”
“Good heavens, where’s my key, then?” cried the gentleman in the derby hat. “However, I won’t detain you. Would you care for a drop of something, raspberry vinegar or ginger cordial?”
“No, thanks,” said Jim. “We’ve an appointment.”
“Well, cheerio and thanks a lot,” said the gentleman in the derby.
So we went and found apartment number thirty-four and the Grimbleberrys were in, and they laid out the piles of their late Uncle Billie’s sporting gear. He had three Cellini rods, all about four ounces. Jim and I paid no attention to them. We just picked them up and laid them aside, as it to see more interesting exhibits. There were fly books crammed with fresh and untouched dozens of flies and boxes loaded with dry flies. There were precious fly lines rolled carefully on storage spools of cork. There were English reels with agate line guides. There were Scotch waders and brogues of leather. Baskets and rod carrying boxes of Spanish walnut with brass fittings and locks. There were English guns in leather cases. There were Harris tweed fishing coats with immense pockets that were just made to order for Jimmie. Nets, gaffs, fly oiling bottles and silver-cased pads of amadou for drying the fly. Pigskin valises and canvas kit bags of the wide-mouth English pattern, trimmed with genuine leather.
In fact, it was a sensation.
“Is That a Fair Price?”
We pawed casually amongst it all. I could feel Jimmie trembling every time he leaned against the table. I coughed loudly, and complained about a raw throat.
“Errumph,” said Jim. “Now one thing you have got to bear in mind, Grimbleberry,” said he, “there are plenty of rogues around who wouldn’t give you a fraction of the value of these things.”
“I’m sure there are,” said Mr. Grimbleberry.
“I’m sorry there isn’t much here that interests us,” I added. “We have so much stuff now our wives think we have gone crazy. In fact, I have to smuggle anything I buy into my own house.”
“Ha, ha,” we all laughed, including Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry.
“There are a few little items here,” I admitted, “that I think I could pick up, things I’ve worn out, and so on. But the great majority of the things are second-hand, of course, you see?”
“I wouldn’t mind one of these rods,” said Jim with a faint quaver in his voice.
“Oh?” I said, surprised. “I wonder what condition they are in? How long did your uncle have them?”
“I couldn’t say,” said Grimbleberry. “You see, I don’t fish, none of the family does. It’s just so much junk to us. I was hoping you chaps would take the whole shebang. Give us a lump sum for the whole works. That’s what I was hoping.”
“”Mmmmm,” said Jim and I together, like a duet.
I jointed up one of the Cellinis. It was like a living thing. It was like a jewel, like Aaron’s rod, pulsing with sensate life, a gorgeous, vital, leaping creation of bamboo yet weighing only four ounces for all its nine feet of length. It was worth every cent of the seventy-five dollars Uncle Billie, now with God, had paid for it new.
“Mmmmmm, not bad, Jim,” I said. “Feel that. Isn’t it a bit loggy to you?”
“Mmmmmm,” said Jim. He had actually to wrestle his gaze loose from that rod. He laid it aside doubtfully.
“How about twenty dollars for the lot?” asked Mr. Grimbleberry. “Is that a fair price? Ten dollars from each of you.”
I didn’t breathe. Jim cleared his throat.
“Or fifteen?” asked Grimbleberry. “I don’t want to impose on the fact that I know you two gentlemen.”
What was worrying me was how Jim and I were going to divide the loot. Who was to get the odd Cellini, for there were three. And who the pigskin bag? And that solid copper dry fly box?
At that terrific moment, there came sounds from the corridor outside the apartment. Excited voices and thudding feet. Grimbleberry hastened to his door, saying “There’s been a pants burglar working this neighborhood.”
Grimbleberry opened the door and a buzz of excited voices rose from the outer hall. Above all rose the irate and commanding voice of an imperial. He was saying:
“Two of them, a small one in a bright brown coat and a tall one. I spotted them the instant they came in.”
Jim strode to the door. “Are you looking for us, sir?” he demanded sharply.
The commissionaire from downstairs came and stared dubiously at Jim and me.
“These are guests of mine,” said Grimbleberry. “They have been here at least half an hour.”
“Beg pardon, sir,” said the commissionaire stiffly.
He told how the Bunthorpes in apartment thirty-eight had come in and found their place ransacked, their transom open and valuables stolen.
“It was a small man done it,” stated the commissionaire shrewdly. The only stranger I’ve seen here tonight was a big stout man in a derby hat, and carrying a club bag. But he couldn’t have got in through no transom, no, sir. Not him.”
He went away to pursue his criminal investigations.
We went back to the Grimbleberry’s dining room table were Uncle Billie’s collection of a lifetime – and a connoisseur – was spread out.
“Mr. Grimbleberry,” I said, stoutly, this stuff is worth more than twenty dollars.”
“In fact,” said Jimmie, “just one of these rods alone is worth a great deal more than twenty dollars.”
Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry looked at us with open mouths.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” I put in.
“That pair of waders with brogues is practically new,” said Jim, “and they sell, new for about forty dollars.”
“Good grief,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry casting a look around her apartment at the curtains and the rug with an appraising eye.
“One has to be honest,” said Jimmie. “Especially as, in this world, you are so often dishonest without knowing it. So I suggest this. I suggest you have a clerk from a fishing tackle store some night come up and set a fair valuation on all this stuff.”
“A great idea,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry.
“On an off night, have him come up,” I added, “and he can list all this stuff and put a fair second-hand value on everything.”
“And then we’ll come up again and bring some of our friends,” said Jim, and we can have a sale, eh?”
“Beautiful,” cried Mrs. Grimbleberry. “How much do you think it might come to?”
“Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea, I said.
“One hundred? Two hundred?” asked Mrs. Grimbleberry eagerly, and I saw Mr. Grimbleberry suddenly give her a sharp look.
“It wouldn’t be wise to say.” I suggested. “But it would bring you more than you’d get from a casual sale.”
So Jim and I left them and went down and as we passed through the foyer, the commissionaire saluted us respectfully.
“Ah,” said Jim, as we got into the car, “it pays to be honest.”
“Especially,” I agreed, “when it is within your power.”
Editor’s Notes: A Transom is a window that exists over a door frame. It was not uncommon for these to open on the horizontal in offices or homes.
Amadou patch is primarily composed of a mushroom, and its purpose is to squeeze a wet fishing fly between the two pads which sucks the water out, restoring its ability to float.
“Pants Burglar” was literally someone who stole pants. I guess the object was to also get money or a wallet that might be left in them, but there are historical newspaper references to people who just stole pants. It was a term used primarily in the early 20th century.