“We carried it the whole three-quarters of a mile with the three of them following very jolly on behind.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 31, 1942.

“What gripes me,” announced Jimmie Frise sadly, “is what war does to friendships.”

“There is no brotherhood,” I informed him, “like the brotherhood of arms. I have sometimes thought that there is no human relationship deeper, dearer, more passionate than the comradeship of men who have passed through battle together.”

“Yet,” sighed Jimmie, “where are our blood brothers of the last old war? I remember swearing eternal friendship with comrades of mine. Yet inside six months or a year at most after the war, we had forgotten about each other. We were embarrassed when we met. Inside of three years, we were avoiding each other…”

“I remember,” I confessed miserably. “I went through the same experience. Don’t remind me.”

“After six months of front line experience,” went on Jim, “you know the difference between men and mice. You gravitate together, according to your quality. The brave guys gang together. The tough guys chum up. The medium brave guys segregate themselves into little groups. The lazy and the crafty, the lead-swingers and the bums, cast off by all the other groups, are forced into each other’s company.”

“That’s it exactly,” I recollected.

“Ordinary peacetime life,” continued Jimmie, “does not offer the same chance to weigh and measure your friendships. But in war, you see a man for what he is, morning, noon and night. He can’t pretend to be better than he is for long. The truth comes out. I think there is no greater time in a man’s life to choose his friends than in war.”

“Then why,” I demanded, “have we all drifted away from our war-made friends?”

“I remember in Hersin-Coupigny,” related Jimmie, “five of us who had served together a long time formed a sort of little lodge or secret society of our own. We lived in at billet in Hersin-Coupigny. We had it all worked out. We made complete plans for our lives when the war was over. The main feature of the plan was that we were going to stick together after the war, come hell or high water.”

“I suppose half of them were casualties?” I submitted.

“No, I was the only casualty,” said Jim, “and all I lost was a finger. We five never got together again. We’ve met, one by one, across the past 25 years. But we don’t ever refer to the plan of Hersin-Coupigny. Yet I never in my life made a more earnest and sincere vow than we made in that old chalk barn in France, a quarter of a century ago.”

“Of course, those were hard years, right after the war, Jim,” I reminded him. “We had to scramble like hogs to get jobs and get back into the swim of peacetime life.”

“If we had stuck together,” declared Jim, “we soldiers, maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard for us. But we threw off our uniforms, turned our backs on one another, and started burrowing, each his little burrow.”

“And of course,” I recollected, “the political parties of those days had no intention of letting us old soldiers form a soldier party. They both saw to that. Every time a veterans’ organization got going successfully, the politicians would finance a rival veterans’ organization with smart politicians guiding them. And so we were bust up into fragments, easily handled. Divide and rule is the ancient prescription. It worked on us old soldiers.”

“Still, that doesn’t explain,” insisted Jim, “how all our old war friendships were abandoned.”

We sat thinking about it for a while, with guilty hearts. And at length I offered this suggestion:

“Maybe friendship, the real, deep friendship such as the comradeship of war inspires, requires hardship, struggle and danger to keep it aflame. War is so stark and simple and honest. Peace is so filled with pretense and compromise, bluff and fakery. To live honestly as a civilian is ten times harder than to live as a good soldier. Maybe when we got back to the creeping, crawling ways of civil life, we were ashamed to look our wartime friends in the eye.”

“Maybe that’s it,” muttered Jim.

“How did we get on this melancholy subject?” I demanded.

“Oh, I was just thinking,” said Jimmie, “how war busts up friendships. For the past 20 years, we have been patiently sorting over our acquaintances, gathering together a little gang of those we are entitled to describe as our friends. It isn’t easy to gather together six or eight men who are all equally willing to go places and do things together; such as deer hunting.”

“Ah, deer hunting,” I said. “No thanks. Not for me. Not after last year.”

“Well, that’s what I mean,” declared Jimmie. “Up until 1939, we had, for 10 long years, the best, most congenial hunting party in Canada. No eight guys anywhere in the country were as harmoniously blended into a unit as we were. Then what happens? Jake and Lou are whisked off to war jobs in Ottawa.”

“Joe and Andy went into the army,” I added.

“Pete had to go back to the United States,” completed Jim, “and Sam wouldn’t go deer hunting because his son was in the air force and he thought it would be unpatriotic of him.”

“And there we were,” I rounded up, “you and me.”

Arguing About Shooting

“So we went. November, 1939,” said Jimmie, “and what happened? We found out that two men can’t hunt deer.”

“They certainly can’t,” I agreed. “Not you and me, anyway. We never even saw a deer, did we?”

“Not one,” said Jim. “Then, in 1940, after you got home from Dunkirk, we rigged up a dandy party. Jake and Lou both promised to take a week off their war duties at Ottawa. Pete promised to come up from Chicago. And at the last minute, they all reneged.”

“So we didn’t go at all,” I recounted. “That was 1940.”

“Last year,” began Jimmie.

“Ugh!” I said and shuddered.

We sat, with cold smiles, remembering last year’s deer hunting party.

“I never,” declared Jim, “in my life, saw three such heartless, selfish, cold-blooded guys all in one group.”

“They played us for suckers, all right,” I admitted.

“How did we ever get tangled up with them?” demanded Jim. “How did it start?”

“It started, you remember,” I said, “at lunch that day. The three of them were sitting at the next table to us. I’d often seen them around the downtown district, and at lunch and in elevators. In fact, I was on nodding terms with Jackson long before that day.”

“And I knew Buddy and Jones,” admitted Jim, “by sight anyway.”

“Well, you remember,” I exclaimed. “They were talking about whether a .30-30 was accurate at 500 yards. Jackson was blowing away about having shot lots of deer at 500 yards…”

“Ah, yes,” recollected Jim. “And you leaned over to their table and said that at only 300 yards, a .30-30 had a midway trajectory of 12 feet. And that at 500 yards, it probably had a mid-range rise of nearly 30 feet.”

“And what did our pompous friend Jackson say?” I inquired.

“He said,” laughed Jimmie uproariously, “that he always allowed for that.”

“Then,” I recalled, “we got into an argument. I asked him if in these 500-yard shots of his, the deer was standing still or running. And he said running.”

“Then you said,” remembered Jim, “with the mid-range trajectory of about 30 feet, how many yards ahead of the running deer did he shoot? And besides, how did he know which way the deer was going to jump?”

“Oh, boy,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes. “That was some argument.”

“It was the first of hundreds!” said Jimmie. “I don’t know which was the hardest part of last year’s hunt; washing the dishes when it was Jackson’s or Jones’ or Buddy’s turn; or listening to you and Jackson arguing.”

“Well, there was nothing else to do,” I protested. “Was I to sit there silent and listen to that big blowhard?”

“It would have been better,” sighed Jim.

“It shows you how easily you can get into trouble,” I mused. “There we were having lunch. We had no intention of going deer hunting last year. It was only eight or 10 days to the opening. Then, overhearing that big fat slob’s ridiculous chatter, I lean over and make a casual remark. And inside of 15 minutes, we are invited to join their hunting party.”

“And,” said Jimmie bitterly, “what’s worse, we went.”

“It was awful from the start,” I recalled. “Do you remember the night up at Jackson’s house, planning the grub list?”

“That was bad,” agreed Jim, “but how about the trip on the train?”

“The hike into the cabin was worse,” I submitted. “I can see Jones still, carrying that one little carton. I tried a dozen times to pick it up, whenever we rested along the trail, just to see if it was heavy. I never did get my hands on it until we reached the cabin. And then we found it was nothing but a carton of soda biscuits.”

“Buddy,” said Jim, “with his sprained ankle!”

“Ah, yes, sprained at the station,” I remembered. “And he could barely hobble when we started down the trail. So he didn’t have to carry anything. And next morning, he insisted on going away over to the Cedar Narrows, two miles away, the best runway of all. And he walked like an athlete!”

“They sure made pack mules of us, that trip,” confessed Jim.

“Pack mules!” I said. “Did either of us get a shot, did we get one shot, at a deer between us, in the whole week? Who cooked the meals? How many meals did Jackson cook? How many times did Buddy wash or dry the dishes? And did Jones do a single chore the whole week?”

“Every time it was his turn,” recalled Jim, “he had palpitation of the heart. And Jackson was in with him on it, because it was always Jackson who rushed him off to bed and fed him pills. They just took us for a ride, that’s all.”

“It’s hard to say which I disliked the most of the three,” I pondered. “Jackson, with his pompous airs of captain of the hunt. Buddy with his tricks for getting out of chores, like dishwashing. Do you remember, the minute the meals were over, how he’d go out and stand by the wood pile with his shotgun, watching for ducks flying over?”

“Jones was the worst,” insisted Jimmie. “Him and his palpitations! That doe he shot, I bet he chased it two miles over hill and dale, through muskeg and tag alders. And when we caught up to him, he was as fresh as a daisy. Yet, when somebody had to bring in an armful of wood, he had heart murmurs and palpitations.”

“I can hear Jackson’s voice, yet.” I grated. “First thing in the morning, he lying, there in his sleeping bag roaring at us to get up. And the last thing at night, as you or I sometimes fixed the stove and turned out the lamps, Jackson sleepily droning from his snug bed the instructions for the morrow.”

“You would think one of them,” declared Jim, “would have been a little thoughtful of the visitors.”

“The first thing Jackson said,” I reminded him, “when we arrived in the cabin was- ‘now this is a hunting party, boys, and we all have to pull our weight’.”

“Whereupon,” said Jim, “they put the harness on us.”

“Why didn’t we rebel?” I demanded. “We knew what kind of birds they were, before the first day was over.”

“Well,” explained Jim, “for the first two or three days, we were sort of strangers in camp. The next couple of days, we were so mad about it, it was funny; and we just kept on to see how much they would let us do. Then, the last couple of days, we had more or less given up hope, and we just carried on…”

“We were guides, that’s what we were,” I asserted. “Two guides, without pay. Will you ever forget carrying out Jackson’s big buck?”

“I won’t ever forget it,” said Jim, “but I still don’t understand it. Not one of them laid a hand on it.”

“I gutted it,” I reminded him. “You went and cut the pole to carry it. We both tied it on to the pole.”

“Then,” said Jim, “we hoisted it up and carried it. Carried it the whole three-quarters of a mile to the river.”

“With the three of them following very jolly on behind, carrying our rifles,” I gritted bitterly.

“Well, on a hunting party,” sighed Jimmie, “some of us aren’t happy unless we are suffering.”

“Maybe that’s it.” I said. “But it certainly goes down in our history as the worst hunting trip we have ever been on, and the queerest trio of cold-blooded, lazy loafers we have ever encountered.”

“How sweet, though,” smiled Jim, “they make the memory of dear old Jake and Lou, and Pete and Joe and Andy…”

“Ah, what a gang!” I agreed. “The hunting trips we’ve had. I wonder if they’re thinking about us now, too, with the opening of the season only a couple of days off?”

“I’ll bet they are,” said Jim. “Especially Joe and Andy, over there in England somewhere…”

The phone rang and Jimmie reached for it.

“Who?” he said, eyebrows up. “Oh, hello, there, how are you? Glad to hear your wheezy old voice.”

Jim winked at me violently.

“You don’t say? When? Saturday, eh? Who else is going?”

Jimmie hunched up his shoulders and rolled his eyes at me in glee.

“Just Buddy and Jones and you, eh?” said Jim into the phone, “Are you going to the same camp?”

He reached out with his foot and kicked me, winking furiously at the telephone mouth piece.

“Well, well, well, we were just talking about you, Jackson. Sure, he’s right here.”

“No, no,” I growled. “I don’t want to speak to the…”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Jimmie. “We had no plans made for this year. Our party is still all scattered to the four winds. I think we’ll wait till the war ends, and then we’ll have a grand reunion…”

Jimmie sat listening to a long harangue from Jackson. I could hear the mutter of his voice. My hair bristled at the mere sound.

“That’s a fact,” said Jim. “Mmm-hmmm. That’s a fact. Well, I hardly think we could I make it on this short notice. If you had called us a week ago…”

“Jim,” I hissed. “Hang up on him!”

“That’s a fact,” said Jim in the phone. “That’s so. Mmm-hmmm. A cook, eh? How many? Three guides, eh? Well, that would be a lot handier than last year, doing all our own work.”

I listened intently.

“Yes, you’re right,” said Jim. “It was sort of catch-as-catch can. Yes, that’s a good idea. Draw for runways each morning. Sure, that would give everybody an even break. Sure, sure; I realize that. You wanted us to get the hang of the country before putting us on the best runways.”

I waved my hands in front of Jim’s face, but he shut his eyes and went right on listening.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’ll talk over with him and if he feels the way I do, I’ll call you back at supper time tonight. That will give plenty of time to get the extra provisions…”

Jimmie hung up and looked at me with glittering eyes.

“Listen,” he said. “In this world, you have to take such friends as you can find.”

Anyway, excuse us now. We have to and try and locate some ammunition in the shops. And this year it is awfully hard to find.