Rusty thrust his head in the tent, a black and white object in his jaws…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 20, 1935.

“The editor,” said Jimmie Frise, “is off for a few days buying paintings for the picture section.”

“Then,” I said, “let’s go fishing.”

“Not fishing,” said Jimmie. “I am tired of fishing. Let’s go camping. There is a sort of anxiety and hurry about going fishing. Camping, you can just dope along.”

“Morally,” I hesitated, “we are justified in sneaking off like this when the editor goes away. Because it is far, far better that we should take care of our health than that we should just stick to the mere letter of the law. We aren’t Pharisees, I hope.”

“Both for the sake of our employers,” said Jim, “as well as for the sake of our families and dependents we should use our initiative in the matter of keeping well and efficient. How long do you suppose the editor will be away?”

“Let’s take a chance on four days,” I estimated.

“I feel poorly,” admitted Jim. “I really do. I feel the need of a few days drowsing in the shade beside some cool lake. The editor doesn’t go away now as much as he used to, does he?”

“We don’t get quite as much opportunity for using our initiative in the matter of our health and well-being,” I confessed. “Let’s take a chance on three days. Nobody will notice it.”

“You remember the time he came back in two days?” warned Jimmie.

“We must remember,” I said, “not to get sunburned. When a boss comes back and finds his whole staff all sunburned it gives rise to suspicions. We working-class people are pretty dumb. You notice the assistant bosses always go golfing on dull afternoons?”

“By jove,” admitted Jim.

“With our families all away,” I proposed, “we can just go on a nice little camping trip, the kind all men want to take but never can. Most men are prisoners. They can’t do what they like at the office. And they can’t do what they like at home. And when the so-called holidays come the poor fellow has to go where the family tell him. Now’s our chance for a three-day escape from prison. Where will we go? Peterborough? Parry Sound?”

“Suppose,” said Jim, “suppose we just get in the car, with a tent and some pots and pans and some grub, and turn either left or right at every fourth gallon of gas?”

“A perfect idea,” I cried. “You drive and I’ll watch the gas. And at every fourth gallon we’ll take the next turn.”

“Real gipsies,” exulted Jimmie. “Wotting not whither we goeth.”

“We won’t fish. We won’t even hunt birds’ nests. We’ll just dangle along all day and when five o’clock comes we’ll look for a place to pitch our tent and there we’ll pitch it.”

“And,” sang Jimmie, “if we don’t feel like getting up in the morning we won’t. And if we find a nice shady spot, by a cool lake, we’ll just stay there. We don’t have to keep on going, do we?”

“Not at all,” I agreed. “The only rule will be, however, that at every fourth gallon we take the first turn, either to the right or the left, it doesn’t matter.”

“Swell,” said Jim.

To The Wide Open Spaces

So, after making a few discreet inquiries around the editor’s secretary and trying to find out from the art department how many paintings it needed for the next while, Jimmie and I quietly slipped away and went to our homes and packed.

“Don’t take much,” ruled Jim. “Your little tent, and my outboard motor…”

“We’re not going fishing,” I cut in.

“It will be handy to have along, in case we want to go for a spin somewhere.”

“And my gasoline stove,” I added.

“And Rusty,” submitted Jim.

Rusty, his Irish water spaniel, had been left home by the family because it takes him so long to get acquainted with the other dogs up at the cottage. In fact, it takes the whole two months, July and August, for Rusty to get on speaking terms with the dogs of the beach.

“Very well, bring Rusty,” I conceded. “You can’t very well leave him for three days.”

And soon Jimmie and I were, with a carefully filled and measured gas tank, on our way up Yonge St. for the wide open spaces.

It was a beautiful day. We who rarely see the highways except when they are frantic with week-end traffic can have no real appreciation of this beautiful land of ours as it appears when leisure fills the main roads and the lush fields wave and blow in the summer wind.

“Ah, Jimmie,” I said, “to think of all those poor chaps and poor girls back in town, sweltering over desks, dancing attendance on machines, tools, boxes, bales. Couldn’t life be wonderful if only we knew how to arrange it?”

“Canada,” said Jim, waving one arm off the steering wheel, “Canada, my own!”

The lazy miles whipped by.

“Curious,” said Jim, “that we put on speed every time we hit a good pavement and so the sooner get off it on to a bad one. Why don’t we go slow over a good highway and fast over a bad one?”

“It would be more sensible,” I confessed.

So we cut down to twenty-five miles an hour and felt Yonge St., beyond Aurora, peel off under us yard by yard at a lovely sight-seeing pace.

It was between Barrie and Orillia that the four-gallon mark arrived, at which we had to turn either right or left. So we turned right, across country road that led us down to Lake Simcoe.

“This means.” said Jim, “that we should follow around the lake and cross into the Kawartha district.”

“So be it,” I agreed.

And through Atherley we drove, following the highway southward and looking, since evening was drawing on, for a handsome place to pitch our gipsy tent.

“Clouding up,” commented Jim.

And out of the west, large majestic white clouds were rearing themselves vastly, with bright, gleaming edges and dark shadows in their midst.

“Did you get the tent repaired that place?” Jim asked.

“I can put a towel over it,” I said, “It isn’t much of a hole.”

“Let’s turn left over towards Bobcaygeon,” said Jim.

“Not till four gallons are gone,” I pointed out.

“But we’ll be back in Whitby before another four gallons,” protested Jim.

“We’ll find a good spot along here soon,” I said, looking out at the clouds.

“What I like about Ontario is the infinite variety. All kinds of earth, rock and soil. All different trees, hardwood here, spruce there. And all kinds of weather. There is no sameness about this country. If it had stayed bright and blue all day, like it was this afternoon, we’d soon weary of it.”

“I like a storm,” agreed Jim, also looking over his shoulder. “There is something bracing about it.”

And Rusty, sleeping on the dunnage bags in back, got up and yawned and looked out, too. He whined.

“There’s a spot,” exclaimed Jim.

We were north of Brechin somewhere, and off to the left, sweet rolling meadows, sloped with spruce and cedar and topped with clusters of birch and pine, beckoned us.

Without conversation. Jim took a rutty little side road. In five minutes we were stopped at the foot of as perfect a camping spot as ever gipsies found. A small, bright brook went by the sloping meadow. Birches on a flat-topped hillock stood ready to shelter our little tent. Grass and herbage made a ready couch for our blankets.

“My own Canadian home,” lilted Jim.

And a faint mutter of thunder applauded him.

“Here,” I said, “let’s get the tent up right away.”

So while Rusty went exploring. Jim and I cheerfully unloaded the car and carried the little silk tent up the slope. Picked a level spot for it to pitch. Strung the rope between two graceful birches. And in five minutes, our home was ready.

“Let ‘er rain,” laughed Jimmie.

And we looked at the mighty towering clouds, which now were much higher and higher, and from them hung down ragged smoke-colored remnants, sweeping towards us.

“Let’s get the stuff in the tent,” I cried.

Blankets and corrugated box of grub, gasoline stove and pots and pans.

“I’ll just bring this outboard motor in,” said Jimmie.

“Leave it,” I hurried, two big drops starting to swing down at us. “There isn’t room in the tent.”

“Car doesn’t lock,” shouted Jimmie, for a gale suddenly bent everything over. “Sure to be stolen if I leave it in the car.”

So he staggered the engine up and we just shoved into the tent as the first deluge plunged down out of the clouds.

“Here, Rusty. Rusty, whit, whit,” whistled Jimmie, Rusty having disappeared.

“Shut the flaps,” I shouted.

The little tent was all cluttered and abulge with bundles, boxes, stove, engine, pots and what not. I sat on the stove and Jim on the tank of his engine.

And the little tent bellied and clapped loudly with the gale, while a regular thunder of rain beat, like bursting ocean waves, against the frail silk.

“These summer showers,” I cried, “are soon over.”

Troubles Multiply

“Thank goodness,” called back Jimmie, “we have your little gasoline stove. Dry wood won’t be found after this.”

“We forgot to get gas for it,” I remembered. “We can siphon some out of your tank.”

“If we have a siphon,” shouted Jim.

And then thunder roared and lightning hissed and cracked, and Jim found a small stream starting to run under the tent and across the ground.

“Get off the stove,” said Jim, “and I’ll set the grub box on it to keep it dry.”

“So I stand up?” I inquired.

I half stood up and half sat down, while the walls of the tent sagged looser and looser, and the thunder growled and the ground grew all wet, and we kept shifting things around in the cramped tent.

“I wish I knew where Rusty is,” said Jim.

“Fighting some local dog,” I suggested.

“Rusty hates rain,” said Jim.

“Sure, he’s a water spaniel,” I explained. Jim peeped out the tent flaps.

“Very black over by the east,” he said.

“Sometimes, these summer storms that come up in the late afternoon,” I said, “mean an all-night rain. And a westerly blow.”

“Rusty, Rusty, whit, whit,” went Jim out the tent flaps.

“Aw, let him alone,” I exclaimed, “He’s probably found somebody his own size.”

The rain seemed to slacken.

“Jim,” I said, “while I’m seeing if there is any gas in this stove tank, take a run down to the brook and get a pail of water so we can make tea. It looks like an indoor supper to-night.”

When Jim was gone with the pail, I looked, and as I fully expected, there was no gas in the stove tank.

Jim scratched hastily in through the flaps.

“The creek,” he said, wiping rain off his face, “is running yellow mud. Pure mud.”

So we sat and listened to the thunder and blinked to the lightning and shoved articles of furniture up against the corners of the tent to keep the steadily sagging walls from coming entirely in upon us.

Ants, spiders, striped worms and small beetles began climbing up everything that was dry, such as us.

“Pshaw,” said Jim, “think of our poor ancestors who came to this country in the early days. They didn’t even have tents. They had to rush up some kind of a roof over their heads, made of split logs. Think of bring huddled in here with all your family, including little babies, in a storm like this. And they had storms like this in 1800.”

“Our ancestors,” I taught Jim, “were simpler folk than we. They came from mud huts in Ireland and shacks made of granite rocks in the Highlands. My ancestors used to have the chickens roost on the foot of the bed when they first came to Ontario.”

“What I mean,” said Jim, pulling his feet up under him, “is that we ought to have, just underneath our skins, the makings of good men. Tough men. Men who can suffer hardship like this. It can’t have gone out of us completely in only two or three generations.”

“I wish I had my plus-fours on,” I said. “Did you ever have an ant up your pant leg? I don’t think our ancestors wore pants.”

“Think,” said Jimmie, brushing off couple of spiders and a small green hump worm, “of our Scottish ancestors, coming to this country in kilts.”

But a loud flash and bang of lightning made us stop thinking of our ancestors.

The ground was now squishy under our feet. The rent in the tent that we had got last fall was dripping water into the left rear corner, and I was in the right.

“Skunk,” said Jim suddenly.

“Phew,” said I.

And Rusty thrust his dripping wet face in the flaps.

“Get out,” I yelled.

Rusty backed out. But in a moment, he thrust his head in again, this time gripping in his wide jaws, and his eyes glancing proudly above, a black and white object limp in his jaws. And of overpowering fragrance.

“Get out. Scat.”

Even Jimmie threw a pail at him.

Hating To Admit Defeat

And so we had whines from Rusty outside, to add to the things we had to listen to, as the darkness continued to deepen, and the thunder went away and then came suddenly and surprisingly back again. And the wind changed direction and began shoving at the front flaps.

“Jim,” I said, “we can’t stay here.”

“Let’s wait and see,” said Jim.

“Put that engine out and give us some room,” I insisted.

“Nothing doing,” replied Jim.

“We have no water, no wood, no gas for the stove,” I complained.

“Maybe it will clear,” said Jim.

“That dog,” I said, “has put the kibosh on everything. I can hardly breathe.”

“We have to take him home in the car,” pointed out Jim.

“I say we beat it,” I concluded.

“Where to?” asked Jim.

One hates to admit defeat. I gazed hopelessly about the little tent, its dripping walls sagging close to our heads.

“Jimmie,” I cried, looking about at the grass and herbage on which our beds were to be laid. “What’s that plant right beside you there!”

“Gee,” said Jim, drawing up his hand.

It was three-leaved, glossy green, reddish tinges at the base of the leaves. It was cool, cold, cruel looking.

“Poison ivy, Jim.” I gasped.

“I guess we had better go,” agreed Jim half rising, which was all he could do.

And as we stepped out the door, a long glorious blade of evening sunlight burst across the glade. The dripping world shone and sparkled. Rusty barked hoarsely and started to show us his latest victim.

“How about it?” asked Jim. “We’ll go. But where?”

“Home,” I said, for both of us.

And into the back of the car we stuffed the soaking tent, just bundled in anyhow, and the engine and the stove and the grub box. Jim scrubbed Rusty with bunches of grass, to no purpose.

“Zing,” said something.

“Now the mosquitoes,” said I.

And before we had the car loaded, the soft, muggy summer evening was alive with great big after-the-storm mosquitoes, focusing on our ankles and wrists.

“Make it snappy,” said Jim.

“I’m ready,” I snorted. “What about Rusty?”

“Whit, whit,” said Jim to Rusty, and Rusty, all damp clambered in.

And under a radiant, starry sky, we drove down to Whitby.

“Four gallons, exactly,” said I, as we rounded the turn to Toronto.

And so to bed.

Editor’s Notes: The Pharisees were a Jewish social movement that were legal experts in traditions, so when Greg said “we aren’t Pharisees”, he meant that they were not strict rule-followers.

Jim was quoting the Bible, John 12:35, specifically the Tyndale Bible of the 16th century, “He that walketh in the darke wotteth not whither he goeth.” This would be more recently translated as “Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. “

Brechin Ontario is on the northeast edge of Lake Simcoe.

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.

My Own Canadian Home” was a patriotic song written in 1887. It was considered “Canada’s National Song”, but it’s popularity faded by the mid-20th century.

Plus fours are trousers that extend four inches below the knee, and were popular for sporting activities.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).