I was on him like a flash, and had my hat on top of him before you could say Jim Frise.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, March 8, 1947.

“Dickie,” announced Jimmie Frise hollowly, “is sick.”

“Dickie who?” I inquired, alarmed.

“The canary,” explained Jim. “He hasn’t uttered a peep for a month.”

“How long have you had him?” I asked.

“Six years,” said Jim. “Six happy, cheery years.”

“Well, heck,” I submitted, “you can’t keep a canary forever. Probably he’s just come to the end of his time. He’s about to pop off.”

“Don’t say that!” snapped Jim indignantly. “That little bird is practically a member of my family.”

“You people,” I scoffed, “who carry sentimentality for animals and birds to silly extremes make me sick. If all the love and affection lavished on dogs and cats and birds were directed to the human race instead, this world would be a far warmer place for a great many neglected people.”

“Dickie,” stated Jim as if he hadn’t heard me, “is a great little fellow. He’s brought music and gaiety into the house, winter, summer, fair weather and foul. He doesn’t shut up shop, like common birds, as soon as spring’s gone. He sings the whole year through. Until now!”

Jim gazed gloomily out the window.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake!” I cried cheerfully, “you can replace him for six bucks. You can get another so like him that you can’t tell the…”

Jim whirled on me angrily.

“Kindly don’t talk,” he grated, “about something you know nothing about. Some people are color blind. Some people are tone deaf. And there are people in this world who are incapable of true, affection for small and helpless creatures.”

“I like dogs,” I protested, “but I don’t elevate them to human stature. I keep them in their place, I’ve seen people hugging dogs. I’ve actually seen people KISS dogs!”

“I’ve often felt,” said Jim sadly, “like kissing Dickie. Often, when he’s in one of his frenzies of song, I’ve been so lifted out of myself that I’ve jumped up from reading or whatever I was doing, and gone over and put my arms around his cage.”

“Huh!” I laughed. “Cage! You love Dickie but you keep him in jail. A pitiful little prisoner…”

“Now, look here!” snarled Jimmie.

“Of all the muddled and perverse forms of affection I ever heard of,” I pursued relentlessly, “loving a canary that you keep imprisoned every day, every hour of his poor little life!”

“We don’t keep him a prisoner,” declared Jim hotly. “Every day he is let out of his cage and he flies around the house in complete freedom. But would he leave us? Never!”

“Probably,” I suggested helpfully, “while you’ve let him fly all over the house, he’s picked up something that has poisoned him. Maybe he’s swallowed a pill, or possibly a needle.”

“Good heavens!” gasped Jim, jumping up.

“Ah, you see?” I followed heartily. “Possibly the poor little thing has swallowed a sharp glass bead. Or maybe has taken a sip out of a dish of cleaning fluid or something…”

“I’m going straight home!” declared Jim, “I’m going to rush him up to a pet shop I know. There’s a specialist there…”

“This is what comes,” I hung on, “of trying to make a human being out of a dumb animal. You let the helpless little thing have the run of your home. Sure! You love it. But what kind of love is it to expose a defenseless creature to all the perils of the modern home?”

“I’ll take him straight to the specialist,” muttered Jim, getting into his overcoat.

“There’s probably little can be done,” I sympathized, “for a bird that’s been poisoned. They’re so fragile and small. If it hasn’t sung for a month, as you say, it’s probably too far gone. If you look around the pet shop while you’re there, you will likely find the exact replica of Dickie…”

“You’re not coming, are you?” demanded Jim, seeing me up getting my coat on too.

“Certainly,” I said. “I’m not the kind that would ignore a friend in trouble – even a trifle like a sick canary.”

“I’d prefer…” said Jim, hurrying out the door.

But I could see the poor chap was really perturbed. And I followed on his heels.

“The beauty about canaries,” I pointed out, as we strode down to the parking lot, “is, they are all very much alike, you can’t tell one from the other. Now, if you lose a dog…”

“I’m not losing Dickie,” asserted Jim, lengthening his pace.

“Dogs,” I went on, just to take his mind off his worries, “are individuals. No two dogs are alike, in temperament. When you lose a dog, I can understand a certain amount of personal grief. But canaries, don’t you see, are much lower in the scale than dogs. A bird has practically no brains at all. Therefore it can’t have personality. A bird, for example, is incapable of feeling affection…”

Jim swung the car door open and flung himself inside. I joined him.

“Look,” said Jim, quietly, “I’ll tell you about Dickie. The time we got him, we had a lot of sickness in the house. A lot of sickness and a lot of trouble. It was gloomy. Now, I forget just how we happened to think of the bird. But somehow, Dickie took up his stand by the living room windows of the house. And I tell you – it wasn’t a day, it was hardly an hour, until that bird had transfigured our house. They say new birds don’t sing for a few days, until they get accustomed to the new environment. You say birds have no brains?”

“Everybody knows that,” I agreed.

“Well, then,” demanded Jim fiercely, “how did that bird know, the minute he got into my house, that he was needed, that he had to sing…!”

“Just coincidence,” I murmured.

“Ah,” ignored Jim. “He started to sing. And the sick ones started to sit up and take notice. And the tired and weary ones began to smile and cheer up. And Dickie sang and sang and fairly yelled. He hopped around, cheering through the bars as if he were trying to single each of us out for a special song…”

“What imagination can do!” I chuckled.

“In two days,” cried Jim, “he had sung us all into happiness again. In a week, he was the treasured darling. In a month, he was the king of the house. THAT’S the bird you say you can pick up three for a dime!”

“A dollar apiece, wholesale, probably,” I corrected.

“Let’s not talk about it,” muttered Jim.

So we reached his house and went in. Dickie was in his cage. A kind of a dowdy looking yellow bird, with random dark markings. Just a tired, aging canary to my eye. But I decided not to air my opinion at the moment.

“I’ll take him,” said Jim, “in a paper bag. That will be warmer than the cage.”

He got a paper bag of the size half a dozen oranges come in. Dickie made no resistance when Jim reached into his cage and picked him off the perch. He emitted one hoarse cheep as Jim slid him into the bag, and wrung the paper around to make a sort of neck. The bag ballooned out with the air in it. Dickie fluttered around inside.

“The air in there,” explained Jim, “will stay at the house temperature for the time it takes us to reach the pet shop.”

We went back out to the car and I offered to hold Dickie on my lap.

“No,” said Jim, “he’ll be less, frightened right back there on the back seat.”

And he placed the bag tenderly on the cushions.

“This specialist,” said Jim, as we drove off, “is a wonderful man with birds…”

And he regaled me with a lot of optimistic details about some gnarled little Englishman, an ex-sailor, who ran the pet shop.

We were just nicely into the business district when I happened to hear, behind me, a curious thrrripp- thrrripp! of wings. And I turned in time to see Dickie, loose in the car, flit out the slightly opened window.

“Jim!” I bellowed. “Dickie’s loose…!”

Well, sir, it was quite a chase. We got parked and ran back. And sure enough, there was Dickie perched up on a swinging signboard over a shop entrance. Three or four ladies were stopped watching.

“Dickie!” called Jim in a high, falsetto voice. “Pffft! Peeeep! Dickie!”

He held his hand up toward the scared and chilly looking bird.

But Dickie just hunched himself, and turned his head sideways to look in a dazed fashion at the enormous wide moving world around him.

“Oh, he’ll perish!” cried one of the ladies.

“Jim, get him moving,” I commanded. “Keep him on the go, or the cold will finish him.”

Jim threw his hat up at Dickie, who immediately flew to another hanging signboard; a higher one.

“There,” snarled Jim. “You’ll drive him up to the roofs and that’ll be the end of him…”

“I didn’t do it!” I protested hotly.

By now, a dozen ladies, half a dozen men and 20 kids had gathered around us.

“I’ll get the people who live above the shop,” offered a lady, “to scare him down.”

Heads came out of the windows above Dickie a moment later and away flew the little bird in fright. He went straight at a brightly lighted Neon sign.

He struck it.

And fluttering, he fell to the pavement.

I was on him like a flash, and had my hat on top of him before you could say Jim Frise.

“Good!” yelled Jim, shoving through the moiling crowd. “Let me reach under…”

“No, no!” I cried. “You’ll crush every bone in his poor little body. You go and get the bag out of the car and I’ll just guard him right here…”

“Okay,” puffed Jim, shoving through the crowd.

Now, if there is anything that excites a crowd, it is the sight of a gentleman squatted down on the pavement with something hidden under his hat.

What had been, to start with, a couple of dozen idle passersby became, in an instant, a shoving, heaving crowd. From stores up and down the street they came on the gallop. Everybody behind shouted to know what the- excitement was. And those in the inner circle shouted that it was a man with a canary under his hat,

But all THAT did was make those in the outer circumference fight all the harder to get inside the crowd until I was in danger of being crushed to death. I had to bellow at the top of my lungs and take a few sharp jabs at the legs nearest me, when I heard the voice of authority.

It was the police.

“Here, what’s this?” he demanded. “Break it up! Break it up!”

But when a policeman joins a mob, that only attracts more. The fact is, traffic began to be tied up. I heard car scrape to a stop. Horns began to toot impatiently, both above and below.

The cop got through to where he could look down on me.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“I’ve got a canary” I explained up. “If you can make a lane through this mob, my friend with a paper bag can…”

At the moment, a sound rose loud and fierce above the noises of the crowd. It was the savage horn of a car, some little distance up the street, coming at a furious clip. And almost simultaneous with the roar of the horn came the screech of brakes, cries of fright, the furious racing of an engine – as though the car were backing – and then a loud, thunderous crash.

The cop burst his way through the crowd toward the racket. Another car, and then another, came roaring down the street.

My crowd melted as though struck by a tornado. I heard strong shouts.

“Grab them! Grab him! Gunmen! Hold-up men.”

Occupied as I was, I did not see what was transpiring. But Jim, freed of the crowd, came puffing; and he had Dickie in the bag in a jiffy.

“It’s gunmen!” Jim gasped. “They were driving hell bent down the street until our crowd stopped them! The cops have got them…!”

“Why, Jim!” I cried. “Maybe there’s a reward for them! Maybe they’re desperate characters and a thousand dollars reward for them! In that case, it was me that created the crowd. It was MY crowd that blocked their escape and enabled the cops to capture them. Wait till I get in there and see the cops…”

“It was WHOSE crowd?” demanded Jim, stepping in front of me. “It was WHO created the crowd?”

“Why… me!” I gulped.

“It was DICKIE!” shouted Jim, clutching the paper bag to his bosom tenderly.

So we drove a block farther to the pet shop where we went in and found the little gnarled Englishman. We revealed Dickie to him from within the paper bag, at the same time telling him, with great gusto, the story of how Dickie had been instrumental in the capture of two fleeing bandits.

“Well, well, WELL!” said the little old sailor, picking Dickie up in his knotted hand.

“Well, well, WELL!” said the little old sailor, picking Dickie up in his knotted hand, feeling him roughly over the wishbone and giblets, and then tossing him in the air.

Dickie flew frantically about the shop, past all the cages full of singing birds, the budges, the parrots. He took up his stance on the topmost row of cages, leaned back and burst into ecstatic song.

“There y’are, see?” said the specialist. “All ‘e needed was a little excitement!”