“Take a sniff of that,” said Jim. “Pfui,” I gasped. “What is it? I’ve smelled that before.”

Greg and Jim are convinced they really had something until they picked the wrong bottle

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 22, 1939.

“Don’t forget.” warned Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to invent a real good fly dope this spring.”

“You said it,” I agreed. “Will you ever forget the black flies up on the Mattawa?”

“Huh,” said Jim, “black flies. It’s those infernal mosquitoes I hate.”

“No, black flies are worse,” I insisted. “A mosquito is a gentle and effeminate creature, who sticks its long bill into you and sucks your blood and ends up by sucking back all his poison. But a black fly is a butcher. He’s a gouger.”

“I hate mosquitoes,” declared Jim, “I hate everything about them. Their shape, skinny and trailing. Their sound, thin and penetrating and insistent. A black fly is a gentleman. A pugilist. He steps right in and gives you a bite.”

“Why,” I protested, “the dirty little sneaks will crawl up your pant leg, down your collar, up your sleeve. Why, black flies are about as much a gentleman as a burglar. I’ve come in from fishing and found my whole body bathed in blood from bites they took all unknown to me. A mosquito is a real sport. He warns you with his music. Then, if you don’t take alarm, he warns you with a sharp little sting the minute he punctures you.”

“Music,” sneered Jim. “You call that music, that mean, high, infinitesimal scream; you call that music? I tell you, one mosquito, one solitary mosquito, in a room at night has more than once almost driven me insane.”

“You’re fragile,” I assured him. “You’re high-strung. The best way to treat a mosquito that gets into your room is make a game of it with him. Treat a sportsman like a sportsman.”

“Ignore him, huh?” scoffed Jim. “Let him sting you, and, just lie there until he’s full, and then he’ll fly off, loaded, and take his sting with him. I’ve heard that tale before.”

“No, make a game of it,” I insisted. “I always take a flashlight to bed with me in the early summer, and when I hear a mosquito, I don’t waste time making wild swipes through the dark, or waiting until he lights and then trying to smack him. The minute I hear him, I quietly reach out for my flashlight and suddenly point the beam at the sound. Then I chase him.”

“Get out of bed,” cried Jim, “and go stumbling around chasing a mosquito? I see myself.”

“Well,” I pointed out, “it’s the surest way. I used to be nervous of mosquitoes myself. But I decided the best way to solve the problem was to face it like a man.”

“Armed with a searchlight,” said Jim.

“No,” I said, “there’s no doubt about it, a mosquito is a very superior person to a black fly. Black flies give no warning. They fly almost invisibly. In fact, I believe they know enough to approach you from behind. They have no sound. You can’t feel their feet on your neck, as they run. And they can run like lightning. And they even know enough to crawl down your collar or up your pantleg. That lets them out. They’re criminal. They show all the criminal traits.”

A Chance For a Fortune

“You remember that fly dope you had last year?” said Jim, darkly. “The one you raved about so, before we went north.”

“Aw, well,” I submitted, “science never does anything in a day. It experiments.”

“Experiment,” said Jim. “I’ll say that was an experiment. It was pie a la mode to those flies and mosquitoes.”

“It kept the black flies off,” I reminded him.

“For the first few minutes,” said Jim. “And then it egged them on like bacon frying. No, my boy. I’m taking nobody’s advice in the fly dope question. This very month, before the season opens, I’m going to invent me a fly dope that will really dope them. I want a fly dope that will not only keep the flies off me, but out of the whole township. I want a fly dope that will stop the birds from singing, and when I walk by, all the little buds on the trees will shrivel.”

“And your skin?” I queried.

“What did your dope do to our skins last year?” cried Jim. “It peeled us as if we’d been boiled.”

“Ah, I should have left out the carbolic acid,” I admitted. “But trial and error, you know?”

“What was in that stuff you had last year?” demanded Jim.

“Well,” I enumerated, “there was oil of pine tar, oil of citronella, oil of pennyroyal, camphor, eucalyptus, oil of cedar, lavender, castor oil, carbolic acid, mange cure, a dash of turpentine and a squirt of pain killer.”

“And it didn’t work?” Jim was amazed. “If all those things won’t keep flies off, what will?”

“Well, you see, the principle of the thing,” I explained. “I had lots of good ingredients in there, but the ones that evaporate, like citronella, camphor and so forth, just whiffed the good stuff off. Especially if we got hot and perspired.”

“What we’ve got to do,” stated Jim, “is invent a fly dope that not only stinks but sticks.”

“You’ve got it,” I admired. “Sticks but stinks is a good slogan for it. Maybe we could patent it. Maybe we could make a little money out of a real fly dope.”

“That’s the way some of our greatest fortunes were founded,” agreed Jim. “Some- body invented a little pill, and suddenly they were millionaires, and even knights.”

“With the King coming, and everything.” I mused. “Now, there’s an idea.”

“Look,” said Jim. “We’re just a couple of poor newspapermen, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t stumble on some little idea, some gadget, something everybody must have. We look forward to a long and ever wearier life writing and drawing and little by little nobody laughing at our jokes any more. And all we’ve got to do is think up some simple problem like this fly dope and we’re all set. Millions in it. Thousands, anyway.”

“Jim,” I said respectfully, “I think you’ve got something. Do you realize how many people there are in this country who would give anything for a good reliable fly dope? Think of the summer resorts, the cottagers, and the guides and lumberjacks.”

“Lumberjacks,” cut in Jim, “just rub a hunk of fat bacon rind all over their faces and hands.”

To Do Some Experimenting

“I mean something,” I cried, “that you could put on a little baby. Something a beautiful girl could put on her face. Think of the fortunes that must have been made this last two or three years in suntan oil.”

“No pretty girl,” agreed Jim, “wants to look all warty with mosquito bites.”

“Okay,” I snapped, “let’s get going. Let’s start running down the ingredients one by one that are known to be repulsive to mosquitoes and flies.”

“Citronella,” started Jim.

“Too volatile,” I said. “It evaporates in a few minutes.”

“Citronella in olive oil,” said Jim.

“Too greasy,” I submitted, “When you’d perspire you’d smell like a salad even to yourself. You wouldn’t be able to hold anything in your hand. You’d be slippery.”

“Pine tar,” said Jim, writing each of these things down.

“It’s too black,” I countered. “Ladies hate it. It stings sensitive hides and you can’t get the smell of it out of your hair for about three weeks after you come home from the bush.”

“All right,” said Jim, “what have you to offer?”

“Well, there’s oil of cedar,” I submitted.

“Poisonous,” said Jim, “and burns.”

“Flea powder,” I offered.

“Be useful,” begged Jim. “Think. We won’t ever make any fortunes this way.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I declared. “It isn’t by thinking that you get rich. If everybody that sat down to think things out got rich, there wouldn’t be any poor people in the world. It’s by accident the great discoveries are made.”

“So you’re sitting here waiting for an accident?” inquired Jim.

“I mean,” I said, “don’t let us just say what we think is sensible. That flea powder idea of mine was a good one. How do we know that if you dissolved flea powder in coal oil or something, it wouldn’t make the greatest fly dope the world will ever see? If we just sit here thinking of the obvious things, we’ll never get anywhere. It’s the adventurous minds get the prizes.”

“Okay,” agreed Jim bitterly. “Shoe polish. Soap chips. Goose grease. Boy, I can hear those mosquitoes singing already. I wish we could get some place. What’s in these patent fly dopes you buy?”

“Oh, citronella, lavender and things like that,” I said. “But they’re mostly the same. If you put enough on, like a thick coat of butter, you can keep the flies off because flies haven’t got any butter knives, but that’s about the size of it.”

Jim sat pondering, now and again glancing furtively up in the air around his head, so nervous had he got himself with thinking about mosquitoes.

“I tell you,” he said finally. “The sensible thing to do would be to do some experimenting. Let’s get a bunch of these things and make some combinations and see what we get.”

“At your house?” I queried.

“How about yours?” suggested Jim. “We kind of wrecked my house last week.”

“Well, Jim,” I said, “there’s a little difficulty there. You see, I made up that fly dope I had last year in my kitchen, and I had to promise never to do it again. I mean, it’s an understanding, see? A fixed agreement.”

“Do you think there might be any druggist that would let us tinker around in back of their shop?” mused Jim.

“No, those kind of drug stores,” I pointed out, “are one with Nineveh and Tyre. The modern drug store is the kind full of everything but drugs and a smart uniformed man comes charging out from the back the minute you half open the door. I know the kind of drug store you mean – a kind of dim, sleepy place, where the owner comes out from behind after you have coughed three times, and then spends five minutes pulling out drawers until he finds what you want.”

“The kind of drug store I mean,” said Jim, “had a big transparent green jar in one window and a big red one in the other, with lights behind them.”

“That’s the kind of place to invent a fly dope,” I admitted.

“Why, shoot,” shouted Jimmie, leaping up, “my cousin Fred. My forty-second cousin Fred. He’s a druggist.”

“What kind of a druggist?” I asked.

“The old-fashioned kind,” cried Jim, excitedly. “Why, he’s had a drug store out in the suburbs for the past 30 years. And it’s exactly the kind of a place we’ve been talking about; in fact, it’s the one that was in my mind’s eye all the time. Why, shoot….”

And in no time at all, Jimmie had his cousin Fred on the phone, and it was no trick at all to explain what we wanted to do, and all was arranged for us to go out in the evening after supper and make ourselves at home.

Fred was a shy smiling and slow-speaking fellow with a bushy head of hair and a kind of far-away look about him. As you talked to him, he kept looking absently out the window. His drug store was sure enough a relic of the past. The windows were largely filled with huge cardboard placards supplied free by patent medicine companies. The brown shelves were filled with hundreds of bottles of extinct medicines in faded paper wrappers. No spring hats, no bathing caps, umbrellas, patent bottles, alarm clocks or other modern equipment of the notions counter of a drug store were to be seen. He had a little damp-looking stationery, a jar or two of colored candy drops, but other than that, nothing but drugs.

“I think I see what you’re after,” he said, when Jim and I had detailed our ideas of a fly dope. “You want something insect repellent but emollient.”

“Whatever you say, Fred,” Jim agreed eagerly.

“Well, come on in to the back,” invited Fred, and he led us into the holy of holies, that secret small place which remains today one of the few mysteries of modern life.

“I’ll set you down all the insecticides and repellents I can think of,” said Fred, “and some emollients or soothing agents, and then just help yourselves. Light up that little gas burner there, Jim, and use those little pots and things all you like.”

Fred was a slow, kindly man – far from the madding rush of modern pharmacy.

So Jim and I took off our coats and rolled up our sleeves to feel a little more pharmaceutical and proceeded to examine and sniff the various bottles Fred had set down on the old stained desk.

There were powders and liquors and oils; there were greases and pastes and salves. Every few minutes, Fred would stroll back from the fore part of the store and watch us gently. Occasionally he would bring us something else he had thought of.

“The way we go about it is,” said Jim, “we’ll melt up various combinations and number them, the way the research men do. No. 1, No. 2, and so forth. Frise and Clark’s No. 23 may some day be on everybody’s lips.”

“Let’s start at 100,” I submitted. “It sounds a little more scientific.”

So we started at 100, and Jim poured some oil of lanolin in the heating saucepan, and to it added a small quantity of citronella, a pinch of camphor and a dash of something that sounded like squills but probably wasn’t. This we poured into a small bottle and labelled No. 101.

Next was a combination of lavender, essence of cedar, creosote and olive oil.

“Boys,” said Fred, interrupting. “I’ve got to run this message up the street. Would you tell anybody that comes in I’ll be right back?”

“Sure, I’ll wait on them,” I offered.

“No, no,” blushed Fred, awkwardly, “you can’t wait on them. It’s against the law.”

“We’ll stall anybody that comes,” I assured him.

Jim had a third concoction on the little gas burner. It was Frise and Clark No. 103. As it simmered and Jim put a pinch of this and a sniff of that in, he eyed the wall above him, looking at all the big fat dusty bottles with their mysterious algebra on them.

“I wish,” he said, “I had some nice, limpid, delicate stuff to put in this one. It’s a little too greasy.”

He reached up and lifted a few of the bottles, holding them to the light and shaking them.

“Ah,” he breathed, “here’s one. Look at that sparkle.”

He lifted it down and pulled the glass stopper. He sniffed it, jerking his head back violently.

“Oh, boy,” he gasped, “take a sniff of that.”

“Pfui,” I said. “What is it? I’ve smelled that before.”

“Would it be ammonia?” asked Jim, cautiously lifting the topper and taking another cautious sniff.

“Or some kind of methylated spirits?” I suggested.

“It’s the very thing,” said Jim, “for this mixture. It’ll sure lighten it up.”

“And will it ever knock the black flies dizzy,” I cried, as Jim poured a small libation of it into a sort of little gravy boat thing to transfer it into the saucepan.

“Quick,” I said, “that stuff is rank.”

“Okay,” said Jim, bending and pouring it into the saucepan.

“Jim, hurry,” I commanded. “That stuff will stink out the store.”

“Awwwwwggghhh,” garbled Jimmie in a weak and trailing voice and, to my horror, slowly slid down the edge of the desk and on to the floor.

“Jim,” I shouted.

I picked up the gravy boat, which had spilled some of its contents over Jimmie’s shirtfront, and when I stooped to get my arms around Jim’s shoulders to prop him up, I felt very dizzy and then weak, and then, my nose falling gently on Jim’s shirt front, I passed away gently and swimmily.

It was Fred’s voice.

“Okay,” he was saying, amongst the buzzes and ringing and thumping and humming. “Okay, okay, okay, now, okay.”

We had been hauled out along the linoleum floor to the front of the store and the door was open and two ladies were looking at us darkly.

“What was it?” I inquired, seeing Jim looking at me groggily.

“Just chloroform,” said Fred easily, “just chloroform.”

Editor’s Notes: Fly dope is a term for insect repellant.

Greg mentions the visit by the King and Queen to Canada, that was coming up from May 17 to June 15, 1939.

“Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!” is from the poem “Recessional”, by Rudyard Kipling. They are mentioned in the Bible as the capitals of empires that no longer exist, so it means “no longer exists”.