“No trouble at all to take him along,” said Jim. So the fat boy climbed into the back…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 11, 1936.

“This trip to North Bay,” said Jimmie Frise, “is going to cost us money.”

“Just the gas and oil,” I declared.

“Plenty more,” said Jim. “I’m a little shy right now.”

“Then let’s stay at home and economize,” I agreed.

“Stay home,” snorted Jim. “And economize! There are people who have been staying home and economizing all their lives, and where are they?”

“Still at home, I suppose.”

“At home is right,” pronounced Jim. “Poor dismal creatures, staying home and economizing all their lives, what for? I think it is almost blasphemous to live like that. Staying home and economizing. They only go through life once. They will never have a second crack at it. It’s wicked, that’s what it is. Like hiding their lights under a bushel.”

“All right, let’s go to North Bay,” I suggested.

“What I was working up to,” said Jim, “was this ‘room in a car’ stuff. You’ve seen the ads in the papers? Room in a car going to North Bay for share of expenses.”

“Is that a fact?” I exclaimed.

“Sure, every night, ads in the papers,” said Jim. “Some ads are for people wanting a ride in a car. Others are people with room in their cars to spare. The passenger pays half the expenses, it’s a cheap trip, and everybody is happy.”

“You’d have to be careful,” I pointed out, “of the passengers you got. You might get some dreadful people.”

“Oh, the mass of mankind are pretty decent people,” said Jim. “It’s only among the better classes you get the mean ones, and the better classes don’t take rides in other people’s cars for half the expenses.”

He wrote out the ad. Room in a car going to North Bay, for two passengers. Then his telephone number.

I was still at supper when Jim walked in to say he had our passengers already.

“They live only six blocks away,” he said. “A man and his wife. Middle-aged or maybe elderly.”

“Swell,” said I.

“And lovely sounding people,” said Jim. “It was the lady I talked to. Perfectly simple and gentle. They say they are old hands at this form of travel. They never travel any other way, except in strangers’ cars.”

“And half the expenses?” I asked.

“Half the expenses,” said Jim. “It’s a wonder we didn’t think of this years ago. We’d be in a lot of dough, if we had.”

“What time do we leave?” I asked.

“We pick them up at nine sharp,” said Jim. “That will get us into North Bay about mid-afternoon, daylight saving time.”

Such a Kind World

At eight-thirty a.m., Jim arrived in his big schooner at my place. I had reduced my baggage to one haversack. Jim’s was one small club bag.

“I see you have the old boat all dolled up,” I observed.

“I did tidy it,” confessed Jim. “I mean, after all, we are selling these people something, and it is only right we should give them a little service.”

We drove to the address and found a nice little bungalow, and as we stopped, an elderly gentleman came out the door and walked down to us smiling in a friendly way.

“Gentlemen?” he said, shaking hands. “Are we your passengers?”

We leaped out to help with the baggage. “My wife is just strapping up the bags,” said the old chap, whose name was Mr. Bird. “Just come and sit on the veranda a moment. It won’t be a moment.”

We sat. Inside were sounds of packing and quick walking. A dear little plump lady presently appeared, flushed and eager.

“Mrs. Bird,” said Mr. Bird introducing us.

“Mercy, gentlemen,” said Mrs. Bird, “I’m afraid I’m keeping you.”

“Not a tall, not a tall,” said Jim.

“What a lovely big car,” cried Mrs. Bird, looking out at Jim’s 1928 scow, shining at the curb.

“Lots of room,” smiled Jimmie.

Mrs. Bird returned into the house and continued the sounds of quick footsteps and paper rattling and things bumping. Minutes went by, while Mr. Bird chatted with us about his various adventurous trips in the cars of strangers.

“It’s really very wonderful,” he said. “So much kindness in this world, if we only look for it. Now, to think of you two gentlemen giving us room in your lovely car all for a few dollars of a share of the gas and oil? People like us who cannot afford cars, and couldn’t drive them if we had them, being privileged to ride great distances. It’s wonderful.”

“Maybe so,” said Jim, “but it is a business proposition, and we are glad to have you share our expenses. We have more room than we need. I think it is rather wonderful to be able to sell that space. To very nice people, too.”

“Thank you, thank you,” said Mr. Bird, deeply moved. “But my good friends, I am afraid Mrs. Bird is delaying you.”

“Not a tall, not a tall,” cried Jimmie. “Can we help her any way?”

“No, no, no,” said Mr. Bird. “She is just putting the finishing touches on her packing. You know the ladies!”

We laughed pleasantly, and waited, and still the quick footsteps galloped around inside, and the rustling of paper and the thudding of things. And at last, after quite a few minutes, Mr. Bird all flushed and eager, came to the door bearing two heavy bags which we seized from her, and carried to the car. Then she came out with another bag and a big brown paper parcel.

“I do hope,” she gasped, “we haven’t too much baggage.”

“Not a tall, not a tall,” cried Jim. “After all, you have to sit in the back with it.”

“I have just a couple more little packages,” she said, “but it is such a roomy big car, my!”

She came out with three small packages tied up in paper. We stowed the stuff neatly.

“Plenty of room,” said Jim. cheerfully. “Any amount of room.”

“I should say so,” cried Mrs. Bird, getting in the car. “Come Daddy, sit beside me.”

Mr. Bird got in, his thin old legs stretched luxuriously.

“Why, there’s oceans of room,” cried Mrs. Bird. “I wish I had known how big your car was gentlemen. I do wish I had.”

“Have you more stuff?” asked Jim, pausing as he was about to get behind the steering wheel. “If so, it won’t take a minute to gather it up.”

“It’s my little grandson I was thinking of,” gasped Mrs. Bird, all flushed and eager. “Why, we’d have plenty of room to take the dear little chap. How stupid of me, not to have thought of it.”

“Does he live near?” asked Jim.

“It’s on our way.” said Mrs. Bird, delightedly. “Oh, do you suppose we could?”

“Of course we could,” cried Jim heartily. “Nothing easier. Whereabouts does he live?”

She named a street. It seemed to me to be away over the other side of Parliament street. Away east. I looked at my wrist watch. It was nine-thirty.

“Why, I guess we could drive around that way,” said Jim.

“It’s really on our way, isn’t it?” said Mrs. Bird, so sweet looking and eager and flushed. “Only a step off Yonge St. for a big car like this. Just a minute until I go in and telephone my daughter to get the little man ready.”

Jim did not tell the kindly little soul that we had been planning to go out Dufferin St. the back way and save all that Yonge St. muddle.

But it just five past ten when we arrived at the address Mrs. Bird gave us. And there a big fat boy with a suitcase and a bundle was waiting on the front steps.

“Now, it’ll be no trouble at all,” cried Mrs. Bird, as she stacked the suitcase and bundle on the rest of the gear. The fat boy squeezed himself heavily in between Mr. and Mrs. Bird, and they put their arms around him.

“We’re off,” cried Mr. Bird, happily.

And into the familiar muddle of Yonge St. we drove and entered that log jam for the long drive to North Bay.

From narrow parts of Yonge St. we debouched into wide parts and from wide parts back into narrow parts, and Aurora, Holland Landing and Bradford were swept astern. Our passengers, though packed a little snug prattled happily, the grandparents and the fat boy. It was when we snored up the last of the hills heading for Barrie that I gathered from the conversation in the rear that something was brewing.

The boy kept saying over and over again that he wanted to see Aunt Grace and go for a swim.

So Nice About Everything

Mrs. Bird touched Jim’s back.

“I wonder,” she said anxiously. “I wonder would it be putting you out too much if we could turn in the other side of Barrie for just a minute, only a mile or so, while I see a niece of mine? Oh, perhaps not. Oh, no, no, never mind, really. I shouldn’t have mentioned such a thing.”

“Why, it would be no trouble,” said Jim. “If it’s only a mile.”

“No, no,” cried Mrs. Bird, while the boy kept repeating yes, yes in a low angry voice, “please forget it, it was just one of those passing notions. Really, I could kill myself for blurting like that. Why, you poor boys are dying to get to North Bay.”

“Not a tall, not a tall,” said Jim.

“We are making such splendid time,” said Mrs. Bird. “I should think you would want a moment’s rest, driving so big a car. Suppose we say we drop in just to say hello. It’s only a step off the highway.”

“Certainly,” said Jim.” Where is it, did you say?”

And the other side of Barrie, we slowed down while Mrs. Bird watched all the side roads.

“It’s right along here, one of these roads,” she said, watchfully. “Here it is.”

“This isn’t it,” said Mr. Bird.

“This isn’t it,” agreed the boy angrily.

“Don’t I know my own niece’s place?” demanded Mrs. Bird. “This is the road.”

We turned in. It was a bad road, a gravel side road. A few hundred yards in, it grew worse and became a couple of ruts in the sod.

“Mercy,” said Mrs. Bird. “I believe you were right.”

So we went back to the highway and kept slowly cruising along and presently found the right road, and went by it, by the speedometer, which I was now watching narrowly, three miles to the shore of the lake.

And there was Aunt Grace, and all her children, and we had a lovely family reunion, and as lunch was just about ready, Aunt Grace insisted that we stay. Mrs. Bird would not hear of it. “These poor gentlemen are trying to get to North Bay, poor boys.”

But Mr. Bird was so pleasant and Aunt Grace so insistent, and Mrs. Bird so flushed and embarrassed and eager, that Jim said he would love to stay for lunch.

And while lunch was being got ready, we all went down and watched the grandson and his cousins go for a swim. And as Aunt Grace explained, she so seldom saw Mrs. Bird, she couldn’t let her go with just one of those “take what there is” meals. So while it would take a couple of minutes longer, she was going to put on a hot meal for us. And it was two o’clock when we got everybody including the grandson back in the car and waved farewells to Aunt Grace and everybody.

And swept astern were Orillia and Severn Bridge, and Gravenhurst. And it was half way between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, with the week-end traffic now at its height, in mid-afternoon, and everybody hot and the car going fast and then slow, and anxiously rounding slow-goers, and then going slow behind parades of slow ones that Mrs. Bird suddenly shrieked out:

“There’s Annie! Oh, please stop!”

A car was pulled off the side of the road, and three perspiring ladies of middle age were grouped around it in hot and dejected attitudes.

“Please just stop for a second,” said Mrs. Bird. “It’s a niece of mine, they’re having car trouble.”

Jim backed our car perilously against the uproaring traffic until we reached the derelict on the roadside. There were wild scenes of affectionate greeting as Mrs. Bird piled out of Jim’s car and the three stricken ladies came rushing joyously to welcome us.

“Dear Auntie Bird,” they cried.

And we all got out and it seems the car, which they called Agatha, had been giving trouble all the way from Toronto. It had heated up and boiled and hissed. And presently, on hills, it had started missing and bucking and behaving very badly indeed.

So Mr. Bird and Jimmie and I got to work to inspect the situation. The ladies went and sat on the grass, utterly worn out.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, after a swift inspection, “this engine is badly neglected. I should think it hadn’t ever had a valve job, and it’s an old bus.”

“They just got it,” explained Mr. Bird confidentially, “Second hand. It’s their first venture in cars.”

“I guess what we ought to do,” said Jim, “is send them back a garage man from Bracebridge.”

“I’m a little afraid,” said Mr. Bird, “they might find that too expensive. They haven’t much of this world’s goods. If there is anything I could do to save them a dollar, I would. Let me see!”

And he stood looking hopelessly at the rusted and oil-smeared engine under the hood.

So Jim and I took off our coats and held a clinic. It was bad. It had little oil. There was a leak in the radiator. By the sound of it, as we turned the engine over, it was almost seized. The spark plugs each had a nubbin of gum on the points. We cleaned and wiped. We walked across to a farm for a pail of water. Jim drained a little of his own oil to put in their crank case. But when we tried to start her up, she coughed and sputtered and conked. The ladies all gathered around anxiously and Mrs. Bird kept saying:

“Tst, tst, tst, it’s nearly four o’clock.”

“I tell you,” said Jim at last, “I guess the best we can do for you is tow you into Bracebridge, and you can have it fixed there.”

The ladies looked tragic. They looked at one another with woe-begone expressions. “You poor girls.” cried Mrs. Bird. “I wish we could tow you all the way, but we can’t. We simply can’t. These kind gentlemen have already put themselves out so much…”

I gave Jim a surreptitious kick to keep him quiet.

“We were to have been in North Bay by mid-afternoon,” I said. “I’m afraid we will have to put on a burst of speed, as it is, to get there before nightfall.”

“If you could,” begged one of the middle-aged girls, “tow us as far as Bracebridge.”

So we rigged up a tow rope of wire and rope and this and that and with only a couple of breakages, we slowly and painfully towed them in the angry and accusing traffic as far as Bracebridge.

And at Bracebridge, after a long and sweet argument, Mrs. Bird decided it would be better, rather than leave the girls stranded in a strange town, if Mr. and Mrs. Bird and the grandson stayed with them.

“We can all get in their car,” Mrs. Bird explained. “I don’t know how, but we will manage. But how dreadfully we have delayed you dear kind boys.”

We unloaded all the bags and parcels on to the garage gravel. Mr. Bird produced a little thin package of bills and said:

“What do we owe you?”

“My dear sir,” said Jim. “We contracted to take you to North Bay. We have failed. You don’t owe us a cent.”

“But I insist,” cried Mr. Bird. “I insist.”

But Jim absolutely refused, and Mrs. Bird came over with tears to thank us for all our kindness and patience. And the grandson stared resentfully at us, and all the ladies gathered round us forlornly to bid us adieu.

And we got a mile out of Bracebridge. when I said:

“Jim, it’s five o’clock, it will be dark when we get to North Bay. That means no evening’s fishing. It leaves us only to-morrow morning, and then well have to turn around and come home.”

“What do you suggest?” said Jim, slackening speed.

“Let’s turn around and go home,” I said.

“I was thinking of that,” agreed Jim.

“Let this be a lesson to us,” I said.

“It would have worked perfectly,” stated Jim, “if they had only been mean or miserable people. But they were so nice. So kind and simple. Next time, we’ll pick a load of hard-boiled eggs for our passengers.”

“The nicest people,” I concluded, as we turned the car in a side road, “are often the biggest nuisance.”

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in So What? (1937).