Jim jagged a small hole in the bag. A trickle of grain began to fall…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 6, 1945.

“The injustice of it!” stormed Jimmie Frise.

“Under our present system, Jim,” I soothed, “if a man wants to get rich in order to buy a farm where he can raise pheasants so as to have good shooting in the pheasant season ..”

“I don’t mind a man getting rich,” declaimed Jim, “in order to build a great house. Or to own a huge factory in which to exercise his authority and sense of power. I can’t even get excited at a man using his wealth to buy up streets of houses so he can live off the rents. I can look at the pictures in the fashion magazines of guys with big yachts, and never turn a hair. But the thought of this guy Baggs buying a farm and loading it with pheasants for his private shooting somehow gets my nanny.”

“It’s just jealousy, Jim,” I pointed out. “You’ve got all the house you need, so you’re not jealous of rich men’s houses. You’re too lazy to be jealous of a man owning a great big troublesome factory. You hate looking after money, so you feel no jealousy of a man owning a street full of houses. And as for yachts, you prefer a dinghy anyway. But you love pheasant shooting.”

“The thought of this guy,” gritted Jim, as he steered his car over the autumn-tinted back road leading to his Uncle Abe’s farm, “makes a Bolshevik out of me.”

“The difference between jealousy and a sense of justice,” I submitted, “is very hard to define. How many Bolsheviks are really inspired by a sense of justice and how many are actuated by good old plain jealousy is difficult to figure out. If the Bolsheviks knew how much you love a shotgun, I doubt if they’d let you join their party because of your feelings about Mr. Baggs and his farm full of pheasants.”

“I’d be a good recruit,” declared Jim grimly.

“Until the pheasant season is over,” I suggested.

“I’m for putting an end to all privileges,” announced Jim.

“Unless you can be privileged,” I retorted. “How often do we see the spectacle of a poor relation fighting bitterly in the courts for his share of a rich uncle’s estate. Justice and fair dealing is all he wants. Then, by some trick of the law, he suddenly gets in the lead and it looks as if he is going to get the major share of the loot. How suddenly he changes his tune! How quickly he adds a couple of new – and more expensive – lawyers to his case!”

“You’re talking about Baggs,” muttered Jim.

“That’s how he got his wealth,” I agreed. “He was just a shabby, poor man, hard working, embittered, sour. We both knew him in those days.”

“He didn’t even own a gun,” sneered Jim.

“He took no fun out of life at all,” I said. “At school, he worked like a fool, remember? He used to predict a bad end for us. Then, in later years, whenever we encountered him, Baggs could hardly conceal his jealousy of our happy-go-lucky way of life. He just acted contemptuous.”

“Then his rich uncle died,” growled Jim.

“And you remember the court case?” I gloated. “It was in all the papers.”

“How he fought for the minor heirs,” said Jim, “until all of a sudden, something turned up that made him look like a major heir.”

“A letter from his uncle,” I reminded. “And then he turned on the minor heirs and ended up with almost the entire estate.”

Curious Coincidence

“So he buys a farm,” said Jim, “right next to my Uncle Abe’s farm, of all places. Buys guns. Guns by the dozen. English guns, costing a thousand dollars for a matched pair. And outfits himself with shooting tweeds and plus fours.”

“And imports an English gamekeeper, to raise pheasants,” I included. “Who also teaches him to shoot.”

The guy who never owned a gun!” scoffed Jim.

“And who all through the years,” I agreed, “sneered at us for wasting our time in sport.”

“He woke up at last,” sighed Jim.

“I suppose,” I said, “that if Baggs had used his money to buy up apartment houses, you wouldn’t have minded. If he’d bought a yacht, or gone in for raising race-horses, you would never have turned a hair.”

“It’s the curious coincidence,” asserted Jimmie, “of his buying that particular farm, right adjoining Uncle Abe’s, that gets me. It was a worthless farm. In fact, it was hardly a farm at all. It was just 400 acres of waste land. I bet he didn’t pay much more than a thousand dollars for it.”

“It was ideal for his purpose,” I pointed out. “What pheasants we ever got around your Uncle Abe’s farm were generally got on that waste land adjoining.”

“Pheasants love creek beds and low marshy tangles,” explained Jim. “With that old farm and barns on the hill, and all that low lying ground full of scrub and wild berry bushes along the creek, he couldn’t have bought a better place for raising pheasants.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I consoled, “the overflow will come into your Uncle Abe’s farm.”

“Like heck!” cried Jim, as we crested the last rise before coming into view of Uncle Abe’s. “I telephoned him last night, and he said there wasn’t a pheasant on his place. He saw a few in the summer. But with the shooting season only a few weeks off, the birds began to disappear into the Baggs farm. And little wonder. Baggs feeds them lavishly. He grows grain only to feed his birds. He must have thousands of them.”

“When the shooting starts on the Baggs place,” I assured, “you can bet the birds will come flying out over Uncle Abe’s.”

“On the contrary,” said Jim, “Baggs never has more than three or four guests. I’ve seen them. Mean, sour-puss guys like himself. And on all the farms adjoining, including Uncle Abe’s, there will be maybe 40 or 50 guys shooting. Every pheasant in the township will fly straight into Baggs’ place and hide in the tangle.”

While Baggs’ English gamekeeper,” I recollected, “with half a dozen hired bullies, will patrol the borders of the estate.”

“Uncle Abe says he has already got great big keep-off signs every hundred feet all along the fences,” said Jim.

“I’m glad we’ve come up for the week-end, anyway, Jim,” I concluded, as we drove in Uncle Abe’s lane. “We can look the situation over and pick the likeliest spots to stand when the shooting begins. We ought to be able to get our bag limit the first day, anyway, from birds flying into the Baggs’ place.”

“That’s my idea, too,” agreed Jim.

Uncle Abe greeted us warmly. He had a recurrence of the lumbago and there were a few heavy chores around the farm that he wanted Jimmie and I to attend to, such as lifting a few bags in the barn and putting blocks under a broken binder wheel. Which chores Jimmie and I are always only too eager to attend to with the shooting season only a matter of weeks.

“I’ve had a very poor crop this year,” said Uncle Abe, as he got himself comfortable in the rocking chair in the kitchen. “I don’t know as I am going to be able to make ends meet this winter.”

This was his usual attitude. He had gone through life without ever tying even a granny knot in the ends.

After a little, Jimmie and I got around to Baggs.

“Baggs is a pretty good sort,” said Uncle Abe.

“We’ve known him since our school days,” I said coolly. “He may have improved.”

“I like to see a man improve, as the year go by,” philosophized Uncle Abe. “Too many of us deteriorate with time.”

He groaned with the lumbago and looked earnestly in the direction of the barn, where there were chores to be done.

“So you haven’t seen many pheasants around lately?” I asked cosily.

“When my tomatoes were ripening,” said Uncle Abe, “I seen hundreds of them. They almost ruined my tomato crop. They swarmed out of Baggs’ place every morning at daybreak and punctured thousands of tomatoes.”

“You should sue the guy,” cried Jim indignantly.

“Oh, I didn’t need to,” said Uncle Abe cheerfully. “I called Baggs and he came over and bought the tomato crop complete. Gave me a good price. And even so, I hear he made about $300 on the deal.”

“He would,” I said bitterly.

“Well, he took a lot of grief off my mind,” said Uncle Abe. “He gave me what I asked, which was more than I expected after I hired somebody to pick the tomatoes. My lumbago was coming on at the time….”

He groaned again, absently took a bank-book from his shirt pocket, stared at it a moment and put it back with a pat.

“But lately,” I pursued, “you haven’t seen many birds?”

“No, the past two weeks or three,” said Uncle Abe, “I haven’t seen more than a dozen, flying over the fences into Baggs’. He feeds them so. Around his barn, of an evening, you can see two or three hundred…”

“Aw, no!” I groaned.

“All in all, I bet he has a thousand birds in here,” said Uncle Abe. “An expensive hobby. He grows the finest grain for them. That Englishman he’s got working for him could win all the prizes in the fall fair, if he wanted to. But he just feeds it to the birds.”

A Brain Wave

“Jim,” I said excitedly, “how about us getting on with some of Uncle Abe’s heavy chores. I bet there are lots of things, Uncle Abe, you’d like us to …”

“Aw, what’s the hurry,” said Jim very astonished.

But I got Jim out to the barn as fast as I could.

“Jim,” I said exultantly when I got him out of hearing, “I’ve had a brain wave. When Uncle Abe told me about that prize grain, something stirred in my memory. It was a story I heard in my childhood about my great-great-grandfather, back in Ireland …”

“The poacher?” inquired Jim.

“The poacher,” I gloated. “The story was about how he enticed game birds off the property of the gentry.”

“Enticed?” queried Jim eagerly.

“This ancestor of mine, as I’ve often told you,” I recounted, “was a plain guy like us who didn’t think the gentry should have all the shooting. So he would go, just before the season opened, and buy a bag of grain from the landlord of the big estate.”

“So?” urged Jim.

“And as he went, like an honest peasant,” I gloated, “out the beck gate of the big house, he would slit a small hole in the bag. And as he walked home across the fields, carrying his homely burden, he left a little trail of grain behind him.”

“Aha!” cried Jim.

“Especially,” I hissed, “through and near the copses where the pheasants roosted. And he would lead the trail into a copse off the estate of the big house, some abandoned copse, where even the humblest peasant could shoot. And there he would distribute the balance of the grain lavishly among the bracken and the gorse.”

“What a mind!” admired Jim. “Your great-great-grandfather should have been a famous statesman or something.”

“He emigrated to Canada,” I explained. “Now all we’ve got to do is pay a social call on our old friend Baggs just before the season opens. And I will tell him I have a modest little place up near Lake Simcoe, where I grow choice grain as a hobby. Purely as a hobby. Just to win prizes. And Baggs, being Baggs, will promptly start bragging about his grain. And in the end, I’ll buy a bag from him, out of sheer admiration. And we’ll carry it home across the field, there, to Uncle Abe’s …”

“Aaaaah!” breathed Jimmie ecstatically.

And we’ll take it straight into the sugar bush,” I concluded. “There is a lot of thick cover there. Hazel bushes and that one little wet swampy patch. And there we’ll spread broad a lavish feast of grain. And the next day, when the shooting starts, we’ve got a little estate of our own…!”

Jim rubbed his hands with glee.

“We won’t let Uncle Abe in on it?” he inquired anxiously.

“No,” I considered, “because you know Uncle Abe. Last time we shot here, he had let nearly 30 people on the farm, at $5 a head.”

“It’s against the law,” said Jim hotly.

“Well, they all took a basket of tomatoes or some melons for their five dollars,” I reminded. “Your Uncle Abe is no slouch. The lumbago makes a man smart in the head.”

Jimmie walked around the end of the barn and looked across the fields to the Baggs farm perched on the hill. A formerly tumbled-down farm, which Baggs, in true city farmer style, had renovated into a very comfortable establishment. We could see the pheasants strutting in the distant barnyard and, as we watched, a couple of noble cock birds flew, like bronze meteors, across the horizon.

“The place is crawling with them,” I sighed.

“Look,” said Jim, with decision. “Why wait until the season is about to open? Why not let’s go up and buy a bag of grain right now and start accustoming the pheasants to the scheme? They’ll be less suspicious. Don’t forget. Pheasants are canny birds.”

“How could we buy two bags of grain from Baggs?” I scoffed. “He’d suspect. In fact, I’m a little afraid he might suspect us even as it is.”

“Let’s go and see the guy now,” insisted Jim. “And then, on the night before the season opens, we can take a bag of Uncle Abe’s grain and sneak up into Baggs’ place after dark…”

“I don’t like it,” I said. “Baggs is a pretty crafty customer.”

“Not as crafty as us,” gloated Jim. “Thanks to your ancestors.’

“Mmmmmmm….” I demurred.

But Jim led off. And I followed. And for the first time since our old school chum Baggs had fallen into his wealth, we went to pay him a visit.

As we came over the last field towards the Baggs barn, a kennel full of wild hounds made a terrific uproar and the English gamekeeper came out to meet us across the fence. “

“Mr. Baggs is not at home,” said the gamekeeper stiffly, after we had explained we were a couple of old school chums of his master.

So we started working on him, telling him what beautiful birds he had raised. And no gamekeeper can resist a little flattery. He took us in and showed us the big field full of pens where the pheasant chicks are raised in the spring. And we had to walk knee-deep, you might say, through perfectly tame birds all the way. Jim and I pretended to know nothing about them and expressed our wonderment that men could shoot such beautiful tame creatures.

“Ah, they’re wild enough, five minutes after the first gun on opening day,” said the gamekeeper.

Grain Grower in Action

Finally, I got my eye on the feeding troughs and the grain. And I went instantly into my pose, as a fancy grain grower. Purely as a hobby. Just to win prizes. The keeper was even further flattered by my excited admiration for the grain and readily agreed to my request that he sell me a bag of it for seed.

The price was very steep. He demanded $10!

“Why,” protested Jim, nearly spoiling the deal, “the best seed grain is only three-fifty…”

But I hushed him and between us we raised the $10 and I paid the keeper.

“We’ll just carry it across the field to Uncle Abe’s,” I explained, as the keeper started to lift the bag into a wheel-barrow.

So we shook hands, like true-hearted grain growers, and started off. It was a pretty heavy heft, two bushels of seed. But no burden is too heavy to conspirators borne aloft by their enterprise.

Jim watched over his shoulder; but the keeper had vanished into the barn. With his penknife, Jim jagged a small hole in the bag. A trickle of grain began to fall….

Over the fields we went, at a nice pace, adjusted exactly to the sort of trail you would follow if you were a pheasant. Over fences, around copses, through a couple of swampy places, we labored, our burden growing lighter all the time.

At especially “pheasanty” nooks, we changed over carrying and so left regular little puddles of grain to catch the notice of the birds. And on to Uncle Abe’s property we came, with only a stubble field between us and the sugar bush, which was to be our goal.

“We’ll scatter what’s left, maybe a third of the bag,” said Jim, “right around the sugar house. It’s very bushy there, and plenty of roosting places. They’ll be accustomed….”

Over the stubble and into the sugar bush we wove our path. Up to the sugar house where, with a triumphant sigh, we deposited the bag and began to scatter handfuls of seed amid the bracken and the hazel. And when we came round the end of the sugar house, with our hands heaped with grain, there, on the stoop of the open door, sat Baggs!

Smoking a pipe, in plus fours, with his walking stick against his knee. Baggs.

“Hell-LO!” he cried delightedly leaping up. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old school mates, Jimmie and Greg!”

We dropped the handfuls of grain down the back of our pant legs.

We shook hands enthusiastically, as only old school mates can.

“My keeper,” said Baggs, “told me a couple of characters had bought a bag of his precious seed and wandered off over the fields. An old trick, boys, but a good one.”

“I… uh … we … uh…”

“But why so early?” inquired Baggs anxiously. “You should have tried it the night before the season opens.”

“We … uh…I… ahh…”

“Boys,” said Baggs, enthusiastically, “I’ve known you all my life and I never thought you guys had it in you! I thought you were just a couple of dopes. Look: I’ve leased the shooting on Uncle Abe’s farm here for the season, on account of my hand-raised birds living on it. Nobody is going to shoot here. So how would you two like to join my party this season? Over at my place? Come the night before opening. I’ve got plenty of room to put you up…”

“Why … uh… I… we … uh…” we both cried heartily.

Editor’s Notes: Plus fours are breeches or trousers that extend four inches below the knee and were common for sportsmen at the time.

Lumbago is the general term referring to low back pain.

A granny knot is used to secure a rope around an object. Saying that someone had gone through life without ever tying even a granny knot in the ends, means that they are lazy.

A copse is a small group of trees. Bracken and gorse are low-lying bushes and scrub.