By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 11, 1939.
“Ah, what’s the use.” cried Jimmie Frise, “of being in a bad humor?”
“There’s little in the world today,” I assured him, “to be good humored about.”
“Even so,” persisted Jim, slackening the speed of the car as he always does when he feels a speech coming on, “even so, what can bad humor do to help the state of the world?”
“I think,” I submitted, “that if we all got mad, it would clear the air. If everybody, all of a sudden, just got raging mad, mad clean through, you might see some surprising results. Suppose, all over the British world, if everybody, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, just jumped up with a wild yell and started out the front door. Suppose all the streets of all the cities of Britain, in Edinburgh and Dublin and London and Montreal and Cape Town and Calcutta and Regina, suddenly filled with angry men and women, roaring and bellowing with rage.”
“At what?” demanded Jim.
“At the way the world’s going,” I stated. “Do you know what one of the major causes of world confusion is right now?”
“What?” asked Jim.
“British good nature,” I declared. “The serene good nature of kindly men and women, of tolerant. easy-going, gentle-minded men and women, young, middle-aged and old. I can see all the cities of the British, all the towns and villages, all the farms, in England, in Canada, in Australia, full of solid, quiet, good-humored people. You can’t jar them out of their good nature. They are shocked at the rest of the world. But they let it go at that. Why don’t they get mad? Why don’t they leap up out of their rocking chairs and start smashing things? I bet you a good big burst of British temper would settle all the racket in this world the way the roar of a lion quells all the silly tumult of the desert. All the jackals quit their snarling, all the monkeys cease their chattering, all the querulous birds are still.”
“It will take a lot to rouse British temper,” said Jim. “What we’ve been through the past three years proves that. We dethroned a king without a tear. We have respectfully withdrawn our navy and our armies, here, there, everywhere. With polite bows, we have rationalized and understood. We have evacuated, stepped aside, gone visiting up hills, and sent notes of protest so polite the receiver thought they were fan letters. Maybe we haven’t any anger left. Maybe our anger is exhausted.”
“I’d like to send a valentine,” I declared, to certain quarters of this globe.”
“Good-nature conquers, in the end,” said Jim.
“I bet the dinosaur was a good-natured beast,” I agreed. “Whenever we dig up a dinosaur. it always has a good-natured grin on its face.”
“Without good-nature,” decreed Jim, “no human accomplishment ever amounts to anything.”
“Good-nature has its place,” I corrected. “Good-nature is the spirit of enjoyment of something we have won. But good-nature doesn’t enter into the winning or the defending of that thing.”
“A good-natured man can get far more than an ill-humored man,” countered Jim.
“I deny it,” I retorted. “The most successful men on earth are the ones capable of the most powerful ill nature.”
“What a terrible thing to say,” protested Jim.
“Suppose,” I offered, “that we had gone into the Battle of Vimy filled with good nature. Can you imagine the result? Instead, we went into that battle like tigers. Trained tigers. They trained us for six weeks solid, day and night; marching us endlessly to make us hard: feeding us like prize fighters to make us strong: filling our minds with fear and hate to make us alert; and when we did the trick, we did it like a tornado. And it was a great success. No, sir; good-nature has its place, but it isn’t in winning or defending something we deem precious.”
“We’ve had such a long spell of the dumps,” pleaded Jim. “Ever since 1929, we’ve been going around with our tails between our legs. Now you suggest that we go in for a spell of bad temper.”
“We should have gone into a temper in 1929, instead of into the dumps,” I declared. “We should have recoiled on the people and the forces and the influences that wrecked us. We should have cleaned house then, the way you do when the plaster falls. Instead, we were gloomily good-natured over the whole mess. Our good nature is our curse.”
“What we need now,” said Jim, “is a supremely good-natured leader who can overcome the forces of evil by the sheer power of human good-will massed behind him.”
“Mr. Chamberlain is good-natured,” I replied, “Mr. Roosevelt is good-natured. Mr. King is good-natured, Mr. Hepburn, Mr. Aberhart, everybody is good-natured. I tell you, there never was such an opportunity for a bad-tempered politician as right now. What we are craving is a bad-tempered, ill-natured, cantankerous statesman. And one will arise, before very long, and you’ll see the whole British world catch hold of his coat tails.”
“I wonder what this bad-tempered gentleman wants?” interrupted Jimmie, taking his foot off the gas and starting to brake the car.
Standing in the middle of the road was a stout man with his hand up in a commanding gesture. He was a middle-aged man, dressed in patched trousers and red sweater. On the side of the road was an aged and dilapidated car.
And on the face of the gentleman signalling was an expression of fury.
“Pass him,” I suggested. “What’s he want, holding us up as if he were a cop.”
Since he was standing resolutely in the middle of the road, and as Jim always likes to be of help to people, we could not pass him, and we drew to a stop. Jim running down the window that the irate man could speak to us.
“Gents,” he said, angrily, “would you mind giving me a push?”
“Not at all,” said Jim. “Is she stalled?”
“Stalled,” the stranger gritted fiercely. “The blankety blank blank blank!”
“I’ll back up and come around,” said Jim eagerly.
“You’d think it was the car’s fault,” I muttered, as Jim started to back up and the stranger got into his car and slammed the door.
Stranger Gives Orders
We eased up gently to the rear of the old car. Its bumper was bent and askew. but Jim got a grip on it with his strong front bumper and with a slight grinding of gears, started the old bus moving.
The stranger steered into the middle of the highway and held it straight.
“Well,” I demanded, “why doesn’t he get it going?”
The stranger was sitting perfectly straight, making no visible effort to work his choke or his gears or anything else.
“Why doesn’t he put it into second gear?” I demanded again.
And Jim and I sat watching through the window ahead and seeing nothing but the head of the stranger as he sat serenely at his steering wheel.
“I’ll ask him what’s the idea?” said Jim, slacking speed so that the car ahead rolled free and came to a gradual stop. We drove up behind and Jim waited for the gent to come out. But he didn’t. He just sat in his car, not even turning his head.
Jim got out and walked ahead.
“It won’t start,” Jim explained, “if you don’t put her into gear.”
The stranger glared at Jim out of red-rimmed eyes.
“Okay,” he said, “okay, brother, give us another shove.”
So we got into position again and got the bumpers engaged and started. We could feel the resistance as the stranger let in his clutch and engaged his gears. We shoved for about 50 feet and then the stranger let out the gear again and we bowled him along at a neat 20 miles an hour.
“He must be out of gas,” said Jim. “We’ll just shove him along to the next gas station.”
Since we were nearing the suburbs of Toronto, there was a gas station likely to appear any minute. We cheerfully pushed the stranger ahead of us the better part of a mile before a gas station hove in view.
But the stranger showed no intention of turning in, as we drew near, and Jimmie started to slacken speed. Out the window ahead came the hand of the stranger, beckoning us to go on.
Jim slowed down and the stranger proceeded straight ahead, coming to a halt in the middle of the highway. We turned into the gas station.
“I’ll pretend I need gas,” explained Jim.
The stranger got out of his car and walked back on to the gas station gravel.
“Out of gas?” he inquired sharply.
“Yes,” said Jim. “I thought maybe you were out of gas… when she wouldn’t start after you put her in gear.”
“I’ve got gas, all right,” stated the stranger coldly.
Enough is Plenty
He stood waiting. Jim ordered three gallons, though he didn’t need it, and asked the boy to look at his oil and water. The stranger stood waiting and watching.
“We don’t want to leave my car out there in the middle of the highway,” he informed us, a little hotly.
“Just a minute,” said Jim, “how far do you expect me to push you?”
“I’m trying to get it started,” snarled the stranger, growing very red in the face and angry of eye. “Do you begrudge a little shove to a man who can’t get his car started?”
“Look here,” said Jim, growing a little angry, himself, “we’ve shoved you more than a mile, and you haven’t made the slightest effort to get it started. We’ve been watching you. You just sit there and steer.”
“Didn’t I let her into gear?” retorted the stranger, very hot.
“Why don’t you run it in here and let this gas station man help you?” inquired Jim, in a friendly tone.
“And get gypped,” roared the stranger, “for doing something I can do perfectly well myself! Listen, mister, if you don’t want to give a little shove to a fellow motorist on the highway…”
“Okay, okay,” said Jim, eagerly. “I’ll be right out.”
“Jim,” I said, “I never saw such nerve as this guy’s got. What the Sam Hill you are wasting our time shoving this bird …?”
“One more try,” said Jimmie.
So we got going, after a few preliminary bumps and false starts and drove him a good half mile down the highway.
“Jim,” I said, “why not let us help him get it going. Between us, we know the rudiments of an engine. Instead of us shoving this bird at 20 miles an hour all the way into the city let’s get out and have a look at his engine and see if we can get it started.”
“That’s an idea,” said Jim, honking his horn and signalling to the stranger to turn off to the side of the road. He did not pay any attention, so we slacked speed and left him to roll on to a stop.
We followed and parked behind him and got out.
“Look,” said Jim, “we can’t go on shoving you indefinitely. Let’s have a look at your engine. Maybe we can …”
But as Jim started to lift the hood of the engine, the stranger let out a bellow: “Hold on there, mister,” he shouted angrily. “None of that.”
“None of what?” shouted back Jim.
“You leave that engine alone,” commanded the stranger, clambering out of the car.
“What’s going on here?” roared Jimmie, fiercely jerking the hood and opening it.
A Very Nice Bluff
A comical spectacle met our gaze. There was no engine. Well, there was a cylinder block and a lot of odds and ends hanging to it, but no carburetor and no generator and none of the things that naturally meet the eye when you lift the hood of a car.
“What is this?” hissed Jimmie, furiously peering into the stranger’s face.
The stranger seemed to dissolve before our gaze. All his anger and fury vanished.
“Tell me,” choked Jim, “what’s the big idea?”
“Well, you see,” said the stranger wearily, “I was just bluffing.”
“I’ll say you were bluffing,” shouted Jim, furiously, pointing in at the gutted engine.
“I bought this,” explained the stranger meekly, “in Brampton. For $10. I thought if I got it home, I might tinker with it and pick up some spare parts and things. You see, I’m unemployed. I haven’t any money and I always wanted a car and I never had one.”
“You haven’t got one yet,” I suggested, looking at the ratty vehicle in detail.
“I did $10 worth of work,” went on the stranger sadly, “and took this car in payment. Then I got shoves. Some people gave me little shoves and others gave me quite long ones, longer even than you.”
“You mean to say,” I cried, “that you’ve got shoves all the way from Brampton to the outskirts of Toronto?”
“Yes,” said the stranger meekly. “After all, it’s just like hitch-hiking, sort of, isn’t it?”
“Like heck it is,” said Jim.
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” said the stranger, “how much good-nature there is in the world. All going to waste. What’s the harm in using a little of it when you can? Lots of people who shoved me seemed pleased to have the chance.”
“Did they know you were deceiving them?” I inquired, as a moralist.
“Oh, no,” said the stranger. “But I did find that the ruder I was, the better service I got.”
“Oh, did you?” said Jim.
“Yes, it’s a curious thing,” said the stranger, who now appeared to be quite a gentle little man. “If I stood in the road and smiled, they drove right by. If I glared, they stopped. If I asked politely for a shove, they replied that they had engine trouble and couldn’t help me. But if I looked angry and swore and held my breath so my face got red, they were only too anxious to help me.”
“That’s a curious thing,” we agreed.
“Not at all,” said the stranger. “The worse-tempered a man is, the more good-natured are the people around him. They’re cowed, see?”
“Ah,” said Jim. “Cowed. Well, mister, do you expect us to shove you any further?”
“Oh, no,” said the stranger, gently. “Not at all. I’m very grateful to you for helping me on my way. I’ll have no trouble getting another shove.”
So we bid him good-by, and as we drove away, I looked back and saw him taking up his stand in the middle of the road again, hunching up his shoulders, holding his breath to make his face red, and generally assuming an attitude of power and fury.
Editor’s Notes: All of the politicians mentioned were contemporary to the article, Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the United States), William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister of Canada), Mitchell Hepburn (Premier of Ontario), and William Aberhart (Premier of Alberta).
Depending on where you start and end, the distance between Brampton Ontario and the “outskirts” of Toronto, would be between 20-30 kilometers.