I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 19, 1945.

“Nix,” hissed Jimmie Frise, “look at the dough!”

“Where, who, which?” I responded sharply, stung by Jimmie’s urgence.

And there, right under my feet, in the midst of the crowded street, lay a roll of bills.

I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was looking. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs, letting good money lie loose under their very noses.

I slipped the wad into my pocket and we sauntered on.

“Let’s go around the corner and count it,” said Jim eagerly.

“There was a ten on the outside,” I muttered.

“I saw it first,” said Jim.

“I picked it up,” I informed him.

“You’d have walked right over it, like everybody else,” declared Jim, “if I hadn’t called your attention to it”

“We’ll split,” I submitted.

“Let’s see how much there is,” ordered Jimmie, halting and standing so as to shield me from the public view while I counted.

There were $17. A ten, a five and two ones.

“A very nice little sum,” said Jim very pleased. “Pick up a little wad like this every day of your life, and you wouldn’t have to worry.”

“It comes to $8.50 apiece,” I figured.

“Just about the cost, the expenses of a week-end fishing trip,” suggested Jimmie. “Gasoline, hotel bill and meals.”

“I’ll change the ten,” I said, “and give you your half right now.”

“Just a minute,” paused Jim. “After all, somebody lost this dough. Maybe it was some poor working girl. Maybe this is her week’s wages. She might have to pay her room rent and all next week’s meals out of it.”

I examined the little wad closely.

“It doesn’t look to me like a poor person’s money,” I stated. “It hasn’t that carefully folded, cramped, gripped-sort-of-look money that has fallen from a poor person’s possession.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “It might be a blind news vendor’s money. Or even a soldier’s pay.”

I examined the roll again.

“It has a sort of loose, easy-come, easy-go sort of look,” I declared. “It looks as it might be a gambler’s money. Maybe a bet he had just collected from some other worthless character.”

“I say,” proposed Jim, “that we keep it intact for a couple of days and watch the lost and found column. If some needy person lost that money, he will be sure to put a lost ad in The Star, giving the exact amount and maybe even the exact denomination of the four bills.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “But don’t forget, the rule of life is, finders keepers.”

“I still think,” said Jim, “that you should only get about a quarter or a third of the $17. After all, you were walking right past it, even though you are much closer to the ground than I am. If finders keepers is the rule, then my claim is morally and legally far greater than yours. All you did was pick it up for me.”

“Jim,” I said, “if you want to quarrel over a measly $17, you are welcome to it. After all, if two old friends like us, out for our daily lunch hour promenade, have to bicker and quarrel…”

“I’m not quarrelling,” asserted Jim. “I merely pointed out that you actually had nothing to do with the finding of the money, except, being much nearer the ground than me, you stooped and picked it up for me. I should by rights claim the whole $17. It was like me saying, Greg, hand me that money down there, will you?”

“Very good,” I said grimly. “Here’s your $17. And welcome.”

“Aw, now,” said Jim. “Don’t get sore. Over a little chicken feed.”

“I’m not sore,” I assured him. “I merely remark that it is a little small of you to bring up the legal and moral aspects of the matter which should really be an amusing little incident of a noonday stroll. Two life-long friends. Between them, they pick up $17…”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “that you were actually stepping over it when I called your attention to it.”

“I would have noticed it the very next instant,” I informed him. “Things catch my eye when I am close. It stands to reason, I am a foot shorter than you, a foot closer to the ground…”

“Well,” said Jim, pocketing the money, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll keep the money, and after we have allowed a decent interval for a lost and found ad to appear in the paper, I’ll pay all the expenses of our next week-end out of it. How’s that?”

“I thought I might buy a few trout flies,” I stated stiffly. “After all, treasure trove like that should be used to buy something more in the nature of a souvenir of a lucky find, a remembrance, sort of.”

“We’ll decide after we see whether it is advertised for or not,” said Jim.

So we continued our noon-hour stroll, a little frosty.

How Human Nature Works

But as we came into the stretch of King St. leading back to the office, the habits of a lifetime got the better of us and we loosened up in normal discussion.

“In miniature, Jim,” I presented, “our little argument about this measly $17 is the dead ringer for the vast arguments that are starting to grow all over the world right at this minute. It shows how human nature operates when there is anything to gain in an argument.”

“We really have no right to the money at all,” agreed Jim. “We should hand it over to the police.”

“So long as there is anything to be gained,” I pursued, “even the best of friends can come into conflict. If the basis of all the post-war settlements could be that nobody, no nation, no individual or group of individuals can make a single cent, or gain a single concession, the peace could be organized as easy as rolling off a log. But that can never be.”

“Who really won the war?” exampled Jim. “Did Britain win it by standing fast when all the world was at Germany’s mercy in 1940? Or did Russia win it by defeating Germany’s assault in 1941? For certainly if Russia had folded up in the 60 days everybody, even we, predicted, the Germans would have had their enormous strength all free to lash at England. And that would have been the end. Or did the U.S. win it, by her enormous war production and her immense and gallant fighting forces?”

“Who found that $17?” I inquired. “You saw it first. I undoubtedly would have seen it an instant later. And I actually did the picking up. Britain, Russia and the U.S. all have reason to believe that without their effort, the war would have been lost. At least, there aren’t many Britishers you can make agree that Russia won the war. And there aren’t many Yanks you can persuade that Britain really made it possible for the war to be won.”

“If we hand that money over to the police,” said Jim, “Neither of us will care a hoot who found it. It is only if we keep it that we start to argue who has the greater moral or legal right to it.”

“Well, now, don’t be hasty,” I cautioned.

“I was just pointing out,” explained Jimmie, “that if we could work out some plan of world settlement that eliminated all material gain from the peace negotiations, nobody would care a hoot who had the biggest share in fighting the war. But while a year ago we were fighting to save our skins, now it appears that zones of influence have to be arranged among the winners. And a zone of influence is nothing more nor less than cash money picked up by the nations off the street. A zone of influence means markets in which to sell, markets in which to buy raw materials at a cheap price, without competition from other nations. It means areas in which the influential men of the controlling big nation can get good jobs for their sons. All cash. All dough. All money to be picked up off the street.”

“Surely world government isn’t so shoddy and mercenary as all that,” I protested.

“When you come to think of it,” asserted Jim, “what is government of a nation, really? It is operating the nation so as to make it possible for the largest number of people to make the most money. Nothing more, nothing less. You think of government as being the creating and enforcing of laws. What are most laws about? Property.”

“Hmmmm,” I muttered.

Business Is Business

“You think of government,” went on Jim, “as being the building and keeping open of roads and communications. Why? To enable people to carry on business. The life of a nation is trade. And the government of a nation is first, last and all the time concerned with trade and business. You can’t think of a single department of government, or a single function of government that doesn’t trace back to making business better for somebody.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I confessed.

“Therefore,” said Jim, “why fool ourselves in thinking that governments now wrestling with world settlement problems are going to forget their chief and natural function and deal with world problems not as business men but as starry eyed philosophers?”

“Why doesn’t somebody,” I demanded, “come out flat and say so? If one of the great leaders in the world would just take a chance on his political future and make a radio speech to the whole wide world stating that business is business and call a halt to all the high sounding humanitarian platitudes!”

“It would be impossible,” said Jim. “Millions of men have died in this war. They didn’t die for business. They died for ideals.”

“But the ideal,” I pointed out, “is merely a decent suit of clothes for the naked fact that at the bottom of everything – of government, of national life, of life itself – is trade and commerce. Men live by business, therefore they die by it. Work, labor, trade, commerce are the very foundation of all human life and all human activity. How do we then get life so balled up and tragically ripped and torn in the name of idealism?”

“Precisely the same,” replied Jim, “as two old friends can get quarrelling over $17 they pick up on the street.”

“Well, I wasn’t quarrelling,” I informed him. “It was you who was doing the quarrelling. You kept trying to chisel me out of any claim to the find.”

“I was not chiselling,” insisted Jim politely. “I was merely stating a fact. If you remember, we were walking along, and I suddenly saw the money, just as you were about to step right over it unseeing…”

“I tell you,” I cut in, “that I never would have stepped over it. I see everything around my feet. It stands to reason, I am a short man. Short men always see the ground more clearly than tall men…”

“I should say, on the contrary,” stated Jim, “that a short man has to look up most of the time. Has to keep his eyes above, in order not to get stepped on.”

“Oh, well, if you want to be insulting,” I gritted.

And we walked the balance of the block to The Star office in dignified silence.

We went up and hung up our coats and went to our desks and started to work. The boy delivered The Star about 3 o’clock, and though it was nearly 1 o’clock when we had found the $17, Jimmie opened up the paper at the want ads, and found the Lost, and Found column.

“Here it is!” he sang out. And read it.

LOST: Will the two curious-looking characters who were seen picking up $17, a ten, a five and two ones, on Bay St., about 1 o’clock today. kindly return to owner. E. T. Blumm, 90 King St., before they get into trouble?

“Well,” I said aghast, “of all the insolence! Curious looking characters!”

“We’d better get in touch with him right away,” said Jim hurriedly. “We can’t afford to get mixed up in any scandal.”

Jim telephoned the man. He said he had just stepped into a cigar store and dialled a number on the pay telephone when he saw us pick up the money. He felt in his pocket and realized it was his $17. At that instant, the party at the other end of the call – Mr. Blumm’s boss – answered.

By the time Blumm got out on the street, we had disappeared.

So Jim said he would mail it to him in at registered letter.

“No,” Mr. Blumm said, “I’ll come right over for it.” Which he did.

And a pretty tight-fisted individual he turned out to be.

He took the money, said “thanks” through his nose and acted very much as if he thought Jimmie and I had every intention of keeping his measly $17.

Editor’s Note: $17 in 1945 would be $290 in 2023.