Wipers had one of the decoys … we immediately shoved the punt out and went for him. He all but upset us as Jimmie heaved his wet and heavy bulk in over the side.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 17, 1942.

“The way I look at it,” propounded Jimmie Frise, “the meat shortage justifies us going duck shooting.”

“All over this country,” I responded, “people just like us are still able to find excellent excuses for doing what they like to do as usual.”

“What would be gained, to the war effort of Canada,” demanded Jim, “if we did not go duck shooting for one day?”

“I can’t put my answer into practical words, Jim,” I admitted, “but there is an answer and it isn’t practical. It is spiritual. It is mystical.”

“Mystical fiddlesticks,” scoffed Jim. “One day out of three long months of the duck season. September, October, November. One day.”

“It is the religion of it,” I fumbled, trying to find the right answer. “Our religion now should be the war. Not ducks. Not relaxation. Not civilian morale. Not anything but war, in our hearts, in our heads, day, night, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thur…”

“Look,” said Jim, picking up a pencil and making notes on a piece of paper to show how practical the whole question was, “we leave here by train – no gas wanted – at 8 pm. We are at Trenton three hours later. We are at Washabong Lake 40 minutes later, in Terry’s cabin. Up at 4.30 a.m., and out on the duck marsh until 10 a.m. We each have 10 ducks. Big northern blacks. Fat bluebills. Maybe a couple of red heads. Maybe even a mallard or a canvasback. Big, juicy, rich ducks, all added to the sum total of the country’s food supply. Ducks which we interrupted in their flight to the United States, where they would be added to the food supply of that nation. And don’t forget the foreign exchange involved. Add 10 per cent to the value of those ducks the minute they fall in the drink. They were U.S.-bound ducks until you shot them.”

“Ten ducks each, Jim,” I interrupted, “is wishful thinking.”

“Those ducks, at four pounds each,” went on Jimmie, still adding up figures on the paper, like an accountant, “make 80 pounds of highest grade provender contributed to the food supply of the nation at war. While we eat those ducks we are sparing the country’s ration of beef, lamb and other food materials. And all at the cost of one morning which we would otherwise have spent sitting at our desks trying to think up stories to write or cartoons to draw.”

“We Must Catch Fire”

“It sounds practical, Jim,” I sighed, “but it isn’t. There is something involved here, something mysterious, spiritual…”

“Don’t pull that mystical stuff on me,” warned Jimmie. “Never in our history has it been more necessary to be practical, to be icy cold practical…”

“We’ve been practical,” I cut in, “ever since September 1st, 1939. Now it is necessary for us to be infinitely more than practical. Now we must be spiritual. Now we must catch fire, as the Germans, Japs and Russians are on fire. Practical considerations – which have governed us all from start to finish so far -must go by the board. What is practical, what is reasonable, what is possible must be flung to the winds. The practical men who have been in charge of things for three years, the leaders, directors, managers generals, colonels, must be got rid of at once. And the crazy men, the fiery men, the impractical and visionary and mad men who carry fire in their very hands and who can set us afire and know what to do with fire when they set it – these must come to rescue us from the practical.”

“Sheer dither,” said Jim balling up the paper and throwing it away.

“Well, Jim,” I sighed, “I’ve been all over the world in this war. I saw the highly practical Frenchmen being blown like autumn leaves before a tornado of mad dreamers in steel tanks. There were a thousand practical ways of halting those insane men in the tanks, but with the infernal imagination of the mad the tanks always came round from an impractical direction. I’ve just now come home from flying 2,000 miles up the Pacific coast to Alaska, and I’ve visited dozens of stations where our young men, in the uniforms that attest to their vision, wait with strange expressions in their eyes for the slow feet of the practical to catch up to them and set them free upon their inspired mission. Love is not practical. Hate is not practical. None of the greatest deeds in human history has been practical. As a man falls in love, so must we now go to war.”

“Puh,” said Jimmie impolitely. “What has that got to do with a couple of middle-aged ginks like us taking a morning off to shoot a few ducks?”

“We should be afraid to go duck shooting,” I said darkly.

But shortly after supper Jimmie walked around the corner to my house with a large hay-colored dog.

“This is Tod Brown’s Chesapeake Bay retriever,” he said. “By the name of Ypres, pronounced Wipers.”

He was a terrific-looking dog. He had baleful yellow eyes and when he glared at you he held his breath an instant, as if deciding whether to attack you or not. It was a relief to see him start breathing again and let his tongue out.

“Mild as a lamb,” said Jim, snapping his fingers and caressing the beast when it ran to him. “See, here. Look at this Chesapeake coat. Dense, wiry yet soft. Like a duck’s coat. He can enter the iciest water without suffering. The Chesapeake is the most famous of all duck retrievers, strong, vigorous, intelligent. Tod Brown says Wipers is trained to a hair. He has retrieved hundreds of ducks for Tod in the three years he’s had him.”

Wipers the Retriever

“What are you doing with him?” I inquired coldly.

“I’ve decided,” said Jim, “to respect your principles as you respect mine. I am leaving on the 8 o’clock train for Trenton. And I am taking Wipers here as my companion instead.”

“I hope you have a good time,” I said grimly.

“I will,” said Jim heartily. “I’ve never yet had a real good shoot with a retriever to do all the dirty work. None of this weary business of having to shove the punt out of the duck blind every time you knock a duck down. No time wasted rowing in the cold and ice after a dead duck. The minute the bird hits the water, out goes Wipers here, overboard, swims unerringly to the duck, brings it back, shakes himself politely outside the blind and then comes back in to lie at your feet, alert and watchful, to leap again the minute a duck hits the water. Tod says the dog is practically human.”

I looked at Wipers and he certainly didn’t look human. He looked more like a grizzly bear. He was fat. His yellow eyes had an alert expression in them all right. But I didn’t like the look in them whenever our eyes met, for invariably he shut his mouth, held his breath and glared at me, as though still undecided…

It took me only a few minutes to pack my old clothes, gun and shells and make the necessary arrangements with the family. A newspaperman’s family is trained to unforeseen circumstances.

We arrived at Trenton on schedule, where Terry met us, and we got Wipers out of the baggage car and piled into Terry’s station wagon for the short run to Wishabong Lake, where Terry’s cabin nestles almost amid the bulrushes of the finest duck shooting in the country. Being hardened duck shooters, we wasted no time sitting around talking at the cabin, but headed straight to bed, for the few hours until Terry would wake us by personally pulling us out of bed at 4.30 a.m.

Wipers had been permitted to sleep in the kitchen. And even the preparations for breakfast had not waked him by the time I reached the kitchen. Even the cheering sounds of plates and forks rattling as we hastily ate the eggs and fried oatmeal porridge which is Terry’s established duck breakfast failed to disturb the big brute lying on a hooked rug back of the stove.

In fact when we were all ready to go, at a minute before 5 a.m., Jimmie had to practically lift the dog to its feet.

“Maybe he’s sick?” I suggested.

But there was no sign of illness in him, only a sort of burly reluctance as we opened the kitchen door and urged him to accompany us out into the black and windy night.

“Come on, you sap,” commanded Jimmie, shoving Wipers out the door with his knees. “Duck shooting! See? Quack, quack!”

As we walked down the path to the punts Wipers quietly eluded us in the dark and Jim had to go back and get a string on him.

“Some swell retriever,” I offered.

“This is his first trip this season,” said Jim, hauling the brute along; “maybe he has to get freshened up each year. Tod said he was raring to go.”

“Some raring,” I submitted, as we chose our punt and shoved it frostily into the dark water.

Terry had prepared our favorite blind for us, on a point where the ducks pass in droves at the first glimmer of dawn. While Jim held Wipers in the stern, I rowed out to the blind, where we drew the punt safely in on the mud and rushes and got ourselves settled on the boxes so that we could watch out over the blind for the passing ducks. A friend of Terry’s was to be in a blind opposite us, and Terry had arranged that the other fellow’s decoys would do for both of us, since the channel between the points did not allow of two sets. Anyway, it was more like pass shooting than shooting over decoys at this favorite point.

Wipers would not come into the blind. He insisted on standing in the stern of the punt, where he sniffed back towards the cabin and uttered loud, dismal whines.

“Shut up,” hissed Jim.

“Wurrrow,” said Wipers. “Yaw wooooo!”

I heaved a clod of mud at him. And even in the dark I could see his head turn sharply, his yellow eyes glare balefully at me while he shut his mouth and held his breath.

“I don’t care for that dog,” I told Jim confidentially.

In another five minutes we would be able to see the decoys bobbing quietly out in the gloom. And still the silly dog kept up his restless moaning and whining, his toenails scratching about in the punt.

“Aw, get him under control,” I demanded.

So Jimmie got in the punt and sat with Wipers, who still struggled restlessly, scratching and muttering, even though Jimmie was petting him.

“Bang!” went the gun of the shooter opposite. “Bang.”

In the Stranger’s Set

Vaguely I could see a flock of eight or 10 ducks wheeling or flaring in the faint light. But I didn’t get the gun on them.

But Wipers was all alert. He stood crossways now, his big head lifted as he stared intently across at the other gunner.

With a sudden leap, he hit the water.

“Whee!” cried Jim. “How’s that? Isn’t that the stuff? Look at him go.”

The rapidly increasing light showed Wipers’ head thrusting mightily through the water in the direction of the other hunter.

“Hey,” called Jim, “my retriever is on his way over for your duck. Don’t shoot him.”

“Okay,” muffled the stranger.

Wipers swam in among the decoys and presently turned and started plodding back.

He seemed to be having trouble.

“It’s a wounded duck,” explained Jim. “He can’t get a proper grip.”

Wipers would take a few strokes and then have to wheel around and take a new hold on the duck.

“See?” said Jimmie gleefully. “Now if we hadn’t had a retriever that wounded duck would never have been got. It would have hidden in the rushes and died a struggling death, wasted …”

Wipers struggled on, with numerous halts and turns. And at last, by which time it was good and light enough to see, he came near enough for us to behold what he had.

He had one of the decoys.

We immediately shoved the punt out and went for him. He all but upset us as Jimmie heaved his wet and heavy bulk in over the side.

“Reset the decoy,” I growled. “The best part of the flight is over. The cream.”

So we went on and reset the decoy in the stranger’s set.

“That’s quite a dog you got there,” called he.

At the sound of the stranger’s voice, Wipers rose up and stared with that same baleful glare. And before either of us could make a grab over the side he went, swimming strongly towards the stranger’s hide.

I was in the act of untangling the sinker and lowering it so as to set the decoy in its proper relation to the others. So that only by a miracle was the punt saved from upsetting entirely. As it was, we shipped several pailfuls of icy water which caught me in a sitting position.

“Some dog,” repeated the stranger from his hide. “Here, get the hell out of this!”

But Wipers was with him and seemed to be making friends.

“Come and get this bloody dog,” commanded the stranger.

Which we did anyway. Because I was thoroughly wet and Jim had scooped water in his boots. So we got Wipers and rowed back to Terry’s wharf and went and changed our clothes and sat around the fire to warm our chilled bones. Wipers, with a sigh of content relaxed on the hooked rug again.

And I got a pencil and a piece of paper

“Let’s see,” I began, “10 ducks each, that’s 20; at four pounds apiece…”

But Jimmie didn’t see the joke. And anyway, Terry had got the morning newscast which opened with the cheering information that the Russians were still putting up a glorious and savage resistance.

Editor’s Notes: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large-sized breed of dog belonging to the retriever, gundog, and sporting breed groups, similar in appearance to the Labrador Retriever, but with a wavy coat.

Ypres is a Belgian town that was central in several battles in World War 1. British troops called it Wipers.