By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 4, 1939
“Of all the nuisances,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “there’s a cricket in our living room.”
“Lucky man,” I assured him.
“Lucky heck,” retorted Jim, “have you ever had a cricket in your house?”
“Plenty of times,” I informed him, “and many’s the time I have found a cricket in the garden and carried it into the house in the hope that it would take up residence in the fireplace. A cricket is the luckiest thing a house can have. Luckier than horse-shoes, luckier than a little dark man being the first to cross your doorstep on New Year’s Day.”
“Aside from all that baloney,” said Jim, “how do you get rid of a cricket? You know all about insects and things.”
“Baloney?” I exclaimed. “Jim, I assure you, it is no baloney. A cricket in the house is a very lucky thing. I know dozens of cases where people killed the cricket in their home and the worst kind of bad luck followed.”
“Don’t be an ass,” laughed Jim. “I know you entertain a lot of quaint little superstitions, but this is no joke, this cricket. It has become a major nuisance. It interrupts the radio.”
“Come, come, Jim,” I protested. “A little wee cricket, interrupting the radio?”
“He’s somewhere around the fireplace, see?” explained Jim. “He only emits a few little lazy chirrups during the day, but when the family is all gathered in at supper time, then he tunes up. Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, he goes, as loud as if he were a member of the family.”
“As, indeed he is; fortunately for you,” I assured.
“He seems to warm up around supper time,” went on Jim, “and by the time supper’s over and we are gathered in the living room, and the radio is turned on, he really gets going. You can actually hear him, believe it or not, above the din of Jack Benny’s program.”
“Oh, nonsense,” I said.
“He is the loudest cricket I ever heard,” declared Jim. “In the loveliest, smoothest dance music, you can hear him, chirrup, chirrup, upsetting the time, spoiling the melody. He has no sense of music at all. No sense of rhythm. He seems to feel he has got to compete with the radio, so he saws away, with incredible power; the louder the radio, the louder he works. Last Sunday he drowned out a Wagner prelude.”
“Jim, you’re exaggerating,” I smiled. “You often have to hold your breath to hear a cricket on the hearth.”
“Not this fellow,” disagreed Jim. “He must have got into some place where there are special acoustic properties. He must have a sounding board behind him. He’s awful. The kids have hunted for him, they’ve ransacked the fireplace, the floor board, pulled out the grates and the dampers, but they can’t get him.”
“It’s lucky they didn’t,” I submitted.
“Don’t be silly,” groaned Jim. “I tell you, I’ve got to get that bug out of my house, and I thought you’d know some tricks.”
It Brings Us Luck
“Jim,” I stated firmly, “I am just as serious about that cricket as you are. You’re one of these modern persons, realists to the marrow, who believe nothing strange or mysterious or superstitious. You believe only what can be seen, felt, or proven with instruments. I tell you, you leave that cricket alone.”
Jim just smiled the smile we use for children, dogs and very old people.
“Tell me,” he said sweetly, “what relation can a cricket have with luck or with anything else? How can a cricket, a little shiny black bug, have any connection with whatever befalls, good or bad, in my house?”
“I don’t know, Jim,” I confessed. “If I did know, I could start a new religion that would sweep the whole world like a storm. But all I do know, there are great powers and forces of evil and of good in this world, which we are ignoring, because we have sold out body and soul to the machines, the chemists, the scientists and the realists. It is impossible, any longer, to believe that a cricket on the hearth brings luck, because we know so much about entomology, the science of bugs, and because we cannot prove that luck exists by either chemistry or physics.”
“The entomologists,” said Jim, “know all there is to know about crickets.”
“Except one thing,” I pointed out. “And that is, how they bring luck to a house.”
“What rubbish,” laughed Jim.
“All right,” I cried, “how about this? Albert Einstein invented the relativity theory and succeeded in measuring the universe. Previous to him, men had measured the distance to the farthest star. But it took Einstein to measure the universe. Only a hundred men in the world can comprehend Einstein’s method of measuring the universe. But they all these greatest brains in the world, agree that Einstein is right. Yet Albert Einstein, the man who measured the universe, dare not go home to his native land.”
“Why not?” cried Jim.
“Because,” I said softly, “he is a Jew.”
“Aaaaah,” said Jim.
“We know more,” I declared, “about the universe and the world and of every living thing in it ever was known or ever was dreamed could be known. Yet never in all the history of the world have men been so homeless in the earth, nor more frightened of it, nor less secure in it. Never.”
“What has that got to do with silly superstitions about bugs?” demanded Jimmie.
“I don’t know,” I submitted. “Except only this. That maybe one of the forms of the grace of God in our hearts is that we believe a cricket on the hearth brings us luck. A cricket irritates us. It is only a little, noisy bug. It sings all day, and sings all night, and may not seem altogether sanitary to have in our house. But don’t you see, if there is a sort of gentleness and bigness in our hearts, if we have room in our hearts for little nuisances and noises, if we have tolerance, even of bugs, then we are likely to be the kind of person and the kind of house, on to which those blessings pour, not from without, but from within our own selves.”
“I get you,” said Jim.
“In some countries,” I furthered, “they are throwing out the Jews. In your house, you want to exile a little cricket that sings to you all the day long. If you sell out to reality entirely, if you are the kind of cold-blooded realist who has no patience with crickets on the hearth, then you are going to be the kind of person who has no patience with anything, and your life will grow narrower and narrower, with your patience and one thing after another will be thrown out of your life because it is not efficient or not agreeable, or not scientifically correct, until, at the end, you will be as cold as a machine and there you will sit, your heart clanking, your mind humming, perfected, consummated, rationalized, 100 per cent. And dead as a door nail.”
“I still think,” said Jim, after a pause, “that you can be a human being and not have bugs in the house.”
So I just sighed, and let it go.
“This cricket,” said Jim, “is the eeriest thing. You squat down on the floor, by the fireplace, and listen intently. The noise is loud and ringing. You listen and decide that it is over in the right hand corner. So you softly creep over there, and then, instead of being in the right hand corner, it sounds to be over in the left hand corner.”
“One of the interesting things about crickets,” I admitted, “is their ventriloquial effect of their music.”
“Honestly,” said Jim, “I’ve spent three evenings squatting at that fireplace, in addition to all the work the kids have done, trying even to locate the beast. But by the time I’ve got through, it has got me into a sort of daze. Actually dizzy, trying to locate the place the sound comes from.”
“You should use your ears,” I explained, “the way I do when my hounds are running. You’ve seen me cock my head sideways?”
“That’s what I was coming to,” admitted Jim. “It was your ear I was hoping to enlist to help me locate it. I’ve watched you harking to hounds and marvelled at the sense of direction you have.”
“It’s not sense of direction, Jim,” I explained. “It’s just the way you turn your head. Your ears stick out and catch distant sounds at a certain angle. Your ear-flaps act as sound catchers. Turn the hole of your ear towards the sound and you don’t hear it half so well as you do setting your ear-flaps out, at an angle, to catch the vibrations of distant sound. That’s the way I listen to hounds.”
“How do you spot the right direction, then?” demanded Jim.
“By experience,” I explained. “I know, from long experience. just what angle, from my head, the sound is exactly coming. So you’ve seen me harking to hounds, two miles off with my face looking in one direction, yet I go another direction, at a certain exact angle, to find the hounds.”
“I’ve seen that, plenty of times,” admitted Jim. “I thought it was a gift.”
“Not at all,” I stated. “Just science. Angles and vibrations. Pure physics, that’s all.”
“I thought it was I who was the realist,” smiled Jim.
“Science has its place,” I informed him, “even in such idle ways of wasting one’s life as hunting hounds. The main thing is, hunt hounds.”
“Or crickets,” said Jim.
“I tell you what I’ll do,” I offered. “I’ll lend you my ears, if you will promise not to kill the cricket.”
“It will be better to kill it,” said Jim, “than to turn it out into the cold wintry world.”
“Give it to me,” I offered, and I’ll take it to my house and give it a home. You never can have too much luck, even if luck doesn’t exist.”
“Okay,” laughed Jim. “You come and help me catch the cricket and you can have it.”
So after supper, I walked around to Jim’s and the children were all going to the movie and there were no good programs on the radio, and a quiet evening promised.
The cricket was a dandy. I have never heard a better one. He was loud, for a fact. A big bull cricket, he must be. His chirrup was sharp and keen, with a powerful echoing sound in it.
One of those off-night programs was on, in which a dance orchestra dispensed very loud and rousing music to offset the fact that the announcer was a very long-winded man with an infernally repeated announcement to make. Yet all through the dance numbers, the cricket sawed and ripped away, increasing his tone with every burst of trombones and relaxing his tone when the fiddles played.
“Jim,” I stated emphatically, “I wouldn’t disturb that cricket for the world. It would be most unfriendly of me to rob you of that harbinger.”
“Where is he?” asked Jim, turning off the radio. “Where do you figure he is?”
I hunkered down by the fireplace and listened. I cocked my head this way and that, letting my ear-flaps catch the vibration. I shifted my position variously, so as to get various bearings on the sound.
“Jim,” I said, “he’s behind that very brick.”
An Astonishing Hunt
“Listen,” I said, and I tapped gently on the brick behind which I knew the little fellow hid.
And instantly he stopped singing, right in the middle of a chirrup.
“Good for you,” shouted Jim, rushing from the room. He came back in a moment with a hammer and a little cold chisel.
“Jim,” I warned him, earnestly. “I think you are a great fool to disturb this fellow.”
“You said you’d take him,” said Jim. “So here he comes.”
Without ado, Jim knelt down and starting chipping the mortar around the brick. It was one of the inner bricks of the hearth, and would not show much defacement. Jim chipped and chipped, with careful blows of the hammer, while I watched, thinking of the little dark terror of the cricket within, and how he must be wondering what all this fury was about.
With only a slight break off one corner of the brick, Jim got it loose and lifted it out. Craftily.
We peered down into a dark hole.
“See?” I cried. “You’ll never get him. He has a whole cavern to hide in.”
“Let’s listen,” said Jim, resting his hammer.
So we sat and listened and after about a minute, such is the good cheer of all crickets, the little fellow started again, very faint and not nearly so resounding, now that we had punctured a hole in his sounding board.
“He’s up here,” I laughed, pointing to a brick at least six rows up the side of the fireplace wall, inside.
“Okay,” said Jim sharply. “I’ll get him.”
And despite my remonstrances, Jim set to work to remove that brick, while I went and sat in the easy chair, helping the cricket to think of a new place to hide.
The brick came out, and another with it that was apparently loose.
“Jim,” I pleaded, “you’re getting covered with soot. And you’ll weaken the whole fireplace. That cricket is nowhere near that hole now.”
“We’ll listen,” declared Jim.
So once more we listened, and faint and gentle, as if in reproof, the cricket began its nervous little harping.
“Aaaaah,” cried Jim, fiercely, starting to hammer and bang at another brick two feet to the right of the last one, and half a foot higher.
“Be careful,” I warned him. “One of the conditions was that I would get him uninjured.”
“I’ll not injure him,” said Jim, darkly, hitting harder with the hammer.
“Jim,” I commanded, “let me coax him out with a bit of lettuce.”
The brick Jim was working on came out very unexpectedly.
Jim made a furious crack at something with his hammer.
“I saw him,” he shouted. “I nearly got him that time.”
“Be careful.” I bellowed, as Jim made another furious smack at the new hole he had made.
But it was no use. For with poor Jimmie leaning well into the fireplace, the whole back wall and part of one side collapsed, all over his head and shoulders, pinning him firmly so that I had to lift bricks off him and release his head where it was jammed against the front.
A cloud of soot eddied around us, and Jim was black as the ace of spades when he emerged.
But his eyes were round and white with astonishment as he sat back and surveyed the ruin.
“Sooo,” I said long and slow.
And Jim gave a nervous little snicker.
“Did you hit him?” I demanded.
“No, breathed Jim, “thank goodness.”
So we piled things up and cleaned things off the best we could before the family came home and long before we were finished, the cricket was chirruping loud and happily in another wall of the hearth.
Editor’s Notes: The title of this story comes from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth. Crickets were considered lucky in Europe and Asia, and I would not be surprised if this bit of superstition came to Greg from his Grandma Grieg.
Jack Benny was a famous comedian, whose radio program was one of the most popular when is was on from 1932-1955.