Rusty saw a cat. Then the tragedy happened. He chased the silly cat… it took a flying jump on to the car

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 10, 1934.

“Your car,” said Jimmie Frise, “needs a paint job.”

“It has reached the stage,” I admitted, “where it either has to have a paint job or it has to be turned in.”

“With an engine like that,” said Jim, “you would be crazy to turn it in.”

“The funny part of it is,” I said, “a paint job at the moment seems more expensive than the first instalment on a new car.”

“Heavens!” said Jim.

“A paint job,” I pointed out, “will cost $50. Right now. Whereas the first instalment on a new car will only come to about $38. And then I won’t have to pay it till a month from now!”

Jimmie looked at me curiously.

“I suppose,” he said, “the bulk of the public is like you.”

“I pride myself,” I agreed, “that I am an average man.”

“I tell you what,” said Jim. “I’m an artist. Color is my line. I am free and easy with a paint brush. If you like I will help you do a paint job on your car.”

“A home-made paint job,” I demurred, “always looks amateurish.”

“Sir,” said Jim, indignantly, “not even the most expert car painting establishments have artists in their employ!”

“I beg your pardon, Jimmie,” I cried hastily. “Of course I would be delighted to have you help paint the car. The only fear I have is that I might undo all the good you are capable of doing. I am a terrible painter. I get paint in my hair. Inside my shoes. It is incredible.”

“With me to guide you,” said Jim, “I think you would do a very good job of painting.”

“After all,” I agreed, “if we make a mess of it, I can turn the car in.”

“Now how about the color?” asked Jimmie.

“It is a kind of beige now,” I said. “A lightish brownish color.”

“Isn’t it funny,” said Jim, “how many bright-colored cars are shown at the motor shows and how many drab black, blue and other dull-colored cars the public buys?”

“I was thinking,” I said, “of a nice dark blue. It would be a nice change from its present color. And if we do a good job, the neighbors might even think it was a new car I had.”

“Funny,” remarked Jim, “how many new cars the neighbors sell!”

“Say dark blue with black fenders,” I suggested.

“I see,” said Jim, “that at heart you are a chartered accountant! You have a cold, mathematical mind! For you there is no joy in life. You have no soul for color.”

“I love color!” I cried. “I know no man who goes as crazy as I do in the spring, at the sight of tulips, daffodils…”

“Yet you want a black car,” said Jimmie. “You want to add to the gloom of this sad city. Toronto, with its sober streets, its drab windows, its cautiously dressed people. Never a splash of color, never a joyous burst of bright hue.”

“Express Yourself in Color”

“It is in the air of this country to be sober,” I pointed out.

“What!” shouted Jim. “With Ontario and her blue skies, her intense greens, her world-famous riot of autumn reds, purples, golds and yellows! With half her surface water, Ontario is one of the most colorful lands in all the world!”

“M’mm,” said I.

“As a true Canadian, a true denizen of Ontario, “went on Jimmie, excitedly, “you ought to express yourself in color. You should rebel against drabness. You, a son of the fifth and sixth generation in this glorious, color spangled Ontario!”

“Quite so,” I admitted proudly.

“And here you have the chance of a lifetime,” said Jimmie. “You are going to paint your own car, with the help of an artist. Let your car bespeak your true Canadian character!”

“What color do you suggest?” I inquired.

“Colors!” cried Jim. “Not color. I suggest a red body for the red leaves of October. Blue mudguards for the blue sky of Ontario, and the blue water of our myriad lakes. And the top…”

“Black,” I said.

“Everybody has a black top,” cried Jim scornfully. “Why not use a little imagination? I say, paint the top like an awning, which, after all, a top really is. Paint it red and yellow!”

“Oh, Jim!”

“Yes, sir, red and yellow, for the autumn leaves, for the fruitful grain fields of Ontario, for the yellow sands of Wasaga Beach and the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie!”

“Jimmie,” I breathed, “you are inspired!”

“How about Saturday afternoon?” demanded Jimmie, hotly.

“Done!” I said. “Let’s see, I’ll buy the paint. Red, blue, yellow.”

“And better get a little green for trimming,” said Jim.

Saturday noon, I had the garage laid out with all the paint and the brushes, step-ladders and so forth. My family was away for the day. Jim arrived the minute he was through his lunch and we donned our overalls.

Jim took a bed slat and ruled off the roof of the car into stripes, as we did the top first so as to have any paint drip down on the lower works before they were done.

“Now,” said Jim, “you do the yellow stripes and I’ll do the red.”

From the top of step-ladders it was no trick at all to do stripes.

In the winter sunlight that top looked lovely.

“I am sorry,” I said, as we surveyed it, “so few people will be able to see it.”

Unfinished Symphony

Then we started on the tonneau. Rapidly the scarred beige of the old car vanished under the proud, bold strokes of two patriots laying on the red of autumn leaves, the red of wintergreen berries, the red of wild strawberries, of Indian flame, of the scarlet tanager and the red-headed woodpecker, and all those other beautiful things we have in Ontario.

“We’re spilling a lot,” I said to Jim.

“The blue will cover it,” cried Jim, who was quite carried away by his emotions. He was swinging his paint brush the way the conductor of a symphony orchestra swings his baton during those rich, juicy bits.

Rusty, Jim’s so-called Irish water spaniel, was sitting watching us with delight. Next to water, which he has hardly ever seen, Rusty loves paint. He is an artist’s water spaniel and has chewed up many a tube of water colors in his day.

We finished the red, and started on the blue. The chassis, they call it. The blue was the blue of Ontario’s sky, of her lakes, of the eyes of her fairest daughters. I tried some out on one side of the hood.

“We should do this to music,” cried Jimmie, “we should have the radio playing ‘O Canada.'”

“Jim,” I said doubtfully, “take a look at it now we’ve done this side.”

“A symphony!” exclaimed Jim.

“It looks like an advertisement for something,” I said. “Gum or maybe barbers supplies.”

“It is an advertisement,” cried Jim. “An advertisement of Ontario, of her boundless color, of the spirit that animates at least one citizen of this joyous, flaming country!”

“But will my mother-in-law go to church in it?” I said. “If any of my folks get married, can we go to the wedding in it? Or won’t I run up the price of an ordinary paint job in taxi bills?”

Jim gave me a cold, long stare.

“Have you no imagination?” he asked.

Jim was up on one mudguard and I was over on the stepladder at the far side, sopping up some pools of yellow and red that had gathered in the corners of the roof, when the tragedy happened.

Rusty saw a cat. He chased the silly cat. The cat ran around the car a couple of times, and then took a flying jump on to the hood.

“Arrrgh!” screamed Jim.

But I was glad.

The cat slithered over the hood, Rusty followed, with swimming motions. The cat leaped to the roof. I helped it.

Rusty skated all over the roof. On to the hood again and along the mudguards.

Then up the alley they chased. So I went around to Jimmie’s side where he was shading his artist’s eyes with his cleanest hand.

“Let us call this the first coat,” I suggested gently, “and as soon as this dries, give it a good coat of black all over.”

Jim peeked at it through his fingers.

“Marbled,” he muttered. “Or shot, like silk. A sort of modernistic effect.”

“Or what do you say I turn it in?” I asked.

“I believe in signs and omens,” said Jim. “I guess this means to turn it in.”

So any day now a car dealer is going to get a shock.

Rusty saw a cat. Then the tragedy happened. He chased the silly cat… it took a flying jump on to the car

Editor’s Notes: $50 in 1934 would be $1,065 in 2022.

A tonneau is an area of a car or truck open at the top. It can be for passengers or cargo.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978), and was the cover image. The colour image really makes the difference in this story. It is also an early story, so for whatever reason it is considerably shorter than the standard later.