“Don’t waste time on blather,” said the policeman. “Put on some speed.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 18, 1939.

“You can scare a man into generosity,” said Jim, and a policeman proved his point

“The most wonderful thing about human nature,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way we all fall in line as soon as war is declared.”

“It wouldn’t be healthy to do anything else,” I pointed out.

“Now, don’t be cynical,” cautioned Jim. “In times like these, you should look for the best in human nature.”

“I think human nature never changes, Jim,” I submitted. “I think that those of us who are noble will act no more nobly now than we have always acted, and that those of us who are mean will act meanly now, as usual.”

“War brings the best out of us,” declared Jimmie firmly.

“And the best that some of us have got isn’t much.” I reminded. “You can’t change a greedy man into a generous man merely by asking him to be generous.”

“But we can scare him into generosity,” stated Jim hotly.

“That’s what I say,” I repeated. “It wouldn’t be healthy not to fall in line, in time of war. You have to pretend to be noble and generous and patriotic. But you would be surprised if you could read the hearts all around you, and see how men are plotting to get contracts, and scheming to get jobs and commissions in the army, not out of any desire to serve, but only because it is their nature, and their lifelong habit, to get as much as they can.”

“Most of us aren’t like that,” asserted Jim.

“Quite right,” I agreed. “Most of us are the way we are, just plain, patient people, without any startling talent, without any special ambition or drive. We have our joys and our sorrows. We love much more than we hate. We can rise to great heights of faith and patriotism, and we really give much more than we ever get.”

“That’s true,” said Jim. “One of the truest things you ever said. The vast majority of people really give far more than they get.”

“But when you admit that the majority of people are gentle and generous and friendly,” I persisted, “you must also admit that there is a percentage of them that are mean and greedy and crafty. They’re still here. Even with the war on, they’re still with us, and all the war in the world wouldn’t make them any different. So you see, war doesn’t actually affect human nature at all. All it does is emphasize the fact that the majority of mankind is fairly noble. Because the ignoble ones have, for safety’s sake, camouflaged their true character.”

Making Money By Accident

“That’s an awful view to take,” sighed Jim.

“Aw, Jim, think,” I protested. “Think of any mean, crafty, greedy guy you know. Think of him now. With the war on. In what way is he any different? Do you imagine for a minute that he has given up scheming and conniving? Do you think that now, having never done a generous or unselfish thing in all his life, he is suddenly going to offer himself up as a sacrifice?”

“I think war,” said Jim, “gives men the one great chance of their lives to make amends for a mean life.”

“It does,” I agreed, “but who takes that chance?”

“There were lots of bad actors in our war,” said Jim. “I can recall men who were regular ne’er-do-wells before the war who were heroes in the war.”

“It is not the ne’er-do-wells I am thinking of,” I submitted. “It is the always-do-wells. The guys who go through life, eternally alert, eternally alive to every chance, crafty, grasping, clever, selfish to the very core, who give only to get back treble, who are kind only when it pays. Those are the birds we’ve got to watch now. In the last war, they made millions. Somehow, we must see that they make not a cent this time.”

“How can we prevent it?” demanded Jim.

“By not assuming, as you did,” I stated, “that war changes the character of men; that in war, we all fall in line. Let us bear in mind every hour of the day that human nature does not change, and that those among us who have prospered by greed and cunning and hardness are not going to act any differently now.”

There are lots of prosperous men,” countered Jim, “who are not greedy and crafty.”

“If you are referring to you and me,” I said, “okay. Present company always excepted.”

“You’re a terrible cynic,” said Jimmie.

“No, sir,” I said. “I’m a poet. A dreamer. And when the war’s over, I am going to run for parliament and be prime minister. And the first thing I am going to do is seize all the banks and go through the ledgers. And every man who has made any money during the war, I am going to have a bronze statue made of him, a fine, lifelike image. In every city and town, all across the country, wherever these men live, these huge bronze statues will be set up. In big cities, dozens of them in a row. Their names will be inscribed in large, imperishable letters. And above them will be the legend, ‘They made money in the war.’ And on the first day of spring there will be a great public holiday and the school children will march through the streets of all the cities and towns, and gather at these mighty rows of brazen statues, and the little children will hurl mud at them and laugh and jeer at them. In this way, we shall learn more about war than if we had the little children lay wreaths upon the memorials of those of us who die in war.”

“Don’t you realize,” demanded Jimmie, “that some people can’t help making money?”

“By accident, sort of?” I queried. “Against their will, almost?”

“Aw,” cried Jim, “you’re unreasonable.”

“No,” I agreed, “all I say is, if one Canadian dies in this war, then everybody who makes money out of the war is taking money with a curse on it. Whether it be the red juice out of a big contract, or merely the greasy fat wages of munitions, that money will have a curse on it, and anybody who believes otherwise is just childish.”

“It’s you who are childish,” said Jim.

“All right, then, Man,” I submitted. “Go ahead and bury yourself still deeper under the curses of all the ages.”

“Then you’re another of these anti-war agitators,” accused Jim.

“On the contrary,” I stated. “I have never been in a war I liked better than this one. It is exactly the kind of a war all wars should be – a war in defence of those who cannot make war for themselves. All I say is, anybody who makes money out of war is an enemy, a rogue and a fool. Because every cent he makes is poison.”

“Suppose,” said Jimmie, “I had a million dollars right now …”

“Jim,” I interrupted him, “you’ve hit the nail right on the head. All you’ve got, you see, is your life.”

“Follow That Car”

Which was so subtle a remark that Jimmie sat perfectly silent beside me as I drove the car cautiously through the streets on our way home and I amused myself by thinking that if I had a million dollars right now I would give at least half of it away to honest patriotic enterprises, which would still leave me half a million dollars for myself.

And all of a sudden, right in front of me, a policeman leaped excitedly on to the roadway and held up his hand imperiously.

I jammed on the brake and pulled up the hand brake too.

“Quick,” commanded the cop, tucking his notebook into his coat tails, “see that black car just disappearing … there … turned north. Follow it!”

I shifted gears, slammed on the gas and the cop hung perilously with his arm in the window, standing on the running board.

“Gee,” said Jim, “maybe it’s a hold-up.”

But when you are suddenly commandeered by the law you do not waste time thinking. It is like war being declared. You just put on the gas and do what you’re told. I raced the old bus, paying no attention to the rules of traffic, whirling out past the middle of the road when I required, and tooting my horn haughtily at all the world to make way for me. It is not often a motorist gets a cop riding on his running board.

At the turn, I swung up the residential street, to see, now far ahead, the suspect black car, putting the distance between us.

“Give it to ‘er,” shouted the cop, outside.

So I gave it to ‘er, and we whirled furiously up the residential street, my horn warning children and bakers’ wagons and boys on bikes to stand aside.

“Watch ‘im,” shouted the cop.

And I saw the fleeing criminal turn to the right along a main traffic street.

“After him, after him,” shouted the cop outside. “Put some pep into it, buddy.”

Which I did, and Jimmie crouched lower and lower, making indrawn hisses with his teeth, and holding his hat on.

“Don’t wreck the car,” Jim muttered. “Suppose those guys are armed. Suppose they take a pot at us.”

“Don’t talk,” I growled. “I’m busy.”

“Don’t get too close,” insisted Jim. “Just keep them in sight. Then maybe he’ll jump off at a stop light and overtake them on foot.”

“Jim,” I said, very shocked.

“Hey,” commanded the policeman, “don’t waste time in blather. Put on some speed.”

So I put on another rush of speed, and in a long stretch of three blocks with hardly any traffic I gained almost a block on the fugitives from justice. It was some relief to me, the mere thrill of driving. It was some thrill for the cop, overtaking fugitives from justice. But to Jimmie it was merely trying to sit with a policeman’s elbow in his face, and feeling the lurch and swoop of a car that ordinarily jogs along very undistinguished, in the hurly-burly of traffic.

“We pay taxes,” said Jim, in a very mild, complaining voice, “and the police have all the cars they need. I don’t see why citizens have to…”

Whooop,” roared the cop.

And I saw, just in time, a car driven by a lady start backing out of a driveway. I swept the car around it in a breath-taking curve.

“Okay,” yelled the policeman, “now we’re gaining.”

And indeed we were. Only a block separated us from our quarry. The cop was shifting his position, as though getting ready to reach for his six-shooter, or to spring upon the pirate craft as I drew abreast.

“The shooting may start any minute,” said Jim, with a dry tongue.

“I’ll start swerving,” I gasped, “as soon as we get near. They can’t hit us if I’m swerving.”

“Don’t swerve any more than you’ve been doing,” said Jim. “I’d prefer a bullet to a lamp post.”

“One more burst,” shouted the cop.

I tramped the pedal right down to the floor boards. The old car, smelling of hot paint and scorched rubber and a kind of boiled oil, rose to the occasion and with a wild, final spurt, drew up almost on the tail of the fleeing car. Then I set my teeth, and, as we started to pass, I ran so close alongside I feared the policeman would be wiped off the running board.

The fugitive, instantly I drew abreast, slammed on his brakes. So did I. I cornered him. Driving cheek by jowl, inch for inch, slackening exactly as he slackened, I bore him into the curb.

In the other car, at the wheel, sat a policeman.

Our policeman was talking to him, through the window. He stepped from my running board to the other’s, and signalled me to draw in behind.

“I’m sorry,” said our policeman, coming around to my window. “It was a mistake in car numbers. I saw this car go whizzing by and I only caught a glimpse but it was almost the identical number of a stolen car we were looking for. Just a 2 and a 7 different.”

“Well,” I gusted, “well, well, well.”

“Thanks,” said the policeman. “You did a swell job. Thanks a lot.”

And he waved a cordial hand and dismissed us. He walked around the other car and got in the far door beside his colleague.

They drove off.

“Jim,” I hissed, “did you ever see such a sell!”

“Now, now,” cautioned Jim, “you’ve no right to think that.”

“That cop,” I declared hotly, “saw a friend go by and he just wanted to catch him. Maybe they were both going home, off duty.”

“Now, now,” admonished Jim. “It was just a coincidence. I have every sympathy with policemen who have to keep a whole raft of stolen car numbers in their head…”

“Don’t tell me,” I scoffed. “I tell you, we were commandeered. That bird just wanted to catch his chum. Maybe he just wanted to tell him a story. Maybe they’re both committee members for the Policemen’s Ball.”

“You have no right,” insisted Jim, “to suspect the police. I tell you, when our cop saw that car go whizzing by he had every reason to pursue it. What difference does it make that another policeman was in it?”

“Well, you’ll admit it was a let-down,” I complained. “After all that furious driving, not to have even a little excitement, no shooting, not even a scramble or a fight.”

“I was mighty glad,” declared Jim, “to see it was another policeman. Anyway, what business is it of yours who was in the other car. The law is the law. When the law wants your car, it takes it.”

“Still, it was a pretty tame ending to what might have been something to talk about,” I asserted.

“Well,” said Jim, as I let in the clutch to continue our humdrum way, “it was on way home. We’ll be home quicker than ordinarily.”

So we started to talk about profiteers again.

The cop hung perilously with his arm in the window, standing on the running-board. (October 23, 1943)

Editor’s Notes: There was a lot of anger over war profiteers after the first World War, so it would be a concern again at the very beginning of the next war.

Baker’s wagons were horse drawn delivery vehicles for bakeries. Now, he might have been referring to a delivery truck and just called it that, but some horse drawn delivery services still existed in the 1930s.

This story was repeated on October 23, 1943 as “Profiteers”.