Jim hauled ahead and I wobbled and staggered along between the shafts of the barrow…. “We’ll have to make it snappy,” said Jim….

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 21, 1938.

“Out in front of my place,” announced Jimmie Frise, strolling in my back gate, “there is a great big pile of stone.”

“So what?” I inquired.

“Well,” stated Jim, “it’s there, and I didn’t order any stone.”

“Maybe it is some neighbor’s,” I offered.

“It’s right on my lawn,” announced Jim with some astonishment. “Neatly stacked right on the lawn.”

“What kind of stone?” I inquired.

“Regular stone,” described Jim. “Stone for building or for rock gardens or for flagstone paths or anything.”

“When was it delivered?” I asked.

“Nobody knows,” said Jimmie. “I’ve asked all around the neighborhood, and nobody knows anything about any stone. All I know is my family looked out the window and there was the pile of stone.”

“Well, that’s a funny one,” I admitted. “Don’t you remember telling anybody that you’d like some stone? Maybe you just happened to drop the remark some time lately and some friend of yours has sent you a present of stone.”

“No, sir,” stated Jim emphatically. “I certainly didn’t. Because if there is anything in the world I don’t want, it’s a pile of stone. Here’s my family already agitating for me to build a rock garden. And I have always said, if there is one thing I don’t want it is a rock garden.”

“You had better leave the pile,” I decreed, “and whoever owns it will turn up and claim it. Probably it has been delivered to the wrong address.”

“And meantime,” cried Jim, indignantly, “my lawn is being ruined. I guess not.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I demanded.

“Well, it’s got to get the heck off my lawn, that’s. all,” declared Jim hotly. “I called the police and they said they wouldn’t know about a thing like that. If it was piled on the pavement they could take action. But since it is on my lawn, that is my affair.”

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “there is a reasonable explanation for all things. Don’t be hasty. Call up the various dealers in stone and sand and gravel and you’ll find that somebody has either delivered it to the wrong address or else somebody has sent you a gift. Maybe there will be a letter in the mail to-morrow morning informing you that you have won a load of stone in a raffle. Did you buy any raffle tickets lately?”

“Oh, I’m always buying twenty-five-cent raffle tickets,” admitted Jim, feeling in his pockets and bringing out little odds and ends of folded paper and looking at them one after another with surprise, “but I don’t recall any raffle tickets about a load of stone. Unless…”

“Unless what?” I asked.

A Tough Problem

“Unless it was that church raffle,” thought Jim, intently, “where they had a ton of coal and a radio and a pair of handmade patchwork quilts…”

“That would be it,” I assured him. “That’s what’s you’ve done. You’ve won a raffle.”

“Well, what the dickens,” protested Jim. “What do I want with a great big pile of stone?”

“What do you buy raffle tickets for?” I countered.

“I buy them to get rid of the guy,” admitted Jim; “the same as you or anybody else.”

“My dear boy, a load of good stone costs money,” I informed him. “You could sell that stone for maybe five or 10 bucks.”

“That’s an idea,” said Jim brightly. “Who will buy it? Do you want any stone?”

“I could do with some stone,” I admitted, looking around my garden. “I’ve sometimes thought of a rockery. Or maybe a flagstone path along here.”

“O.K., cried Jim, “it’s a deal. How much will you give me for my stone?”

“Not so fast,” I informed him. “I can get a ton of stone for four dollars, delivered right to my garden, down the side drive. Dropped on the spot, so to speak, for four dollars.”

“Hmm,” said Jim.

“In fact,” I pointed out, “that stone you’ve got is, roughly, 150 yards from here. It would have to be transported. Who would transport it?”

“Not me,” agreed Jim. “For any four bucks.”

“In fact,” I mused, “supposing I did take your stone, as a favor, so as to relieve you of it and save your front lawn from damage. I wouldn’t figure on paying for the stone; I’d figure on being paid for removing it.”

“I’ll pay nobody,” stated Jim warmly. “They can’t do this to me. They can’t just come and drop a load of stone all over my front lawn. No, sir. And put all kinds of notions into my family’s head. Why, at this very minute I’ll bet they are all out in the backyard planning where I’ll build a rockery.”

“You could collect damages,” I supported. “You could collect damages for mental anguish and the estrangement of your family’s affections and all kinds of things.”

“Besides wrecking my lawn,” agreed Jim.

“What you had better do,” I suggested, “is go and telephone around the sand and gravel men and offer them the load for nothing if they will come and pick it up. If you leave it there, indefinitely, you will certainly have to do something about it. Either you will have to haul it into your yard and build a rockery or else take it and pile it on the pavement, so bringing the matter to the attention of the police. Then something will be done.”

“And meantime,” added Jim, “my grass will be getting all yellow from the stone being piled on it.”

“Go ahead,” I suggested, “go and call up some sand and gravel men and offer it to them for nothing. And then, after they have picked it up. I might make them an offer to drop it here in my side drive.”

“Ho,” said Jim, eyeing me suspiciously.

“Sure,” I admitted. “I’ll be interested in that load of stone as soon as it is on board a truck. But not before.”

“I’m on the Spot”

So while Jim was gone back down to his house, I set briskly to work studying the garden to see just where a rockery would look best. I figured a small rockery in the southeast corner would look pretty smart, and, if the stone were not too lumpy, I might run a sort of flagstone walk across the bottom end of the garden, a kind of courtyard or close of flag stones, like the pictures in the fashionable magazines of financial wizards’ gardens. In fact, the longer I studied the proposition, the more I wanted some stone. A garden is funny that way. Just let the seed of an idea drop into your mind when you think of gardens and, by George, that seed sprouts as if it were in a garden in reality. With a stick I traced in the sod the outline of a flagstone court at the foot of the yard; and in the corner where the rockery would be, I pulled out a few of the less valuable seedlings, in preparation for the clean-out that would be necessary to make way for the stone.

Jim was gone quite a long time. And when he came back, he came briskly.

“Look,” he said, “I’ll be frank with you. I called up six different dealers and none of them were open after supper. Then I got a seventh, who said it wouldn’t pay him to pick up the load, as the big expense in stone is the handling. He’s got lots of stone already loaded.”

“What would he charge to transport it 150 yards?” I asked.

“He said he was too busy to handle a small order,” stated Jim. “In fact, I offered to pay him for transporting it for you.”

“My dear boy, that was very decent,” I cried. “But I wouldn’t think of letting you do that.”

“To be frank,” said Jim, “I’m on the spot. My family have been out and figured the whole thing out. We’re to have a rock garden.”

“Aha,” said I, disappointed.

“So I’ve got to act quick,” said Jim excitedly. “What kept me was, I drove them all down to the movie. Before they get home that pile of rock has got to be out of there. Do you want it or don’t you?”

“Sure I want it,” I assured him. “But how can we…?”

“We can do it,” cried Jim. “There’s a fellow down the street has a wheel-barrow. With the two of us working, I figure we can shift the whole pile in two hours. In less than two hours. Come on.”

“Wo-ho,” I protested suspiciously. “It’s a lot of work, Why don’t you just wheel it into your own yard? I mean, of the two evils, building a rockery in your yard seems a lot less than wheeling all that stone up here.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” said Jim. “I don’t want any rockery. And besides, you wouldn’t help me. Whereas, if I give you the stone, you’ll willingly help me get it out of the way.”

“I don’t like this haste,” I informed him.

All Figured Out

“Look,” cried Jim impatiently. “Once you give in, in this garden business, you’re sunk. This rockery is the beginning. If I get a rockery, it means two rockeries, it means flagstone paths and everything. It means planting and buying special rockery plants. I know. I’ve watched my neighbors.”

“Yet you expect me to build a rockery?” I argued.

“Ah, you’re different,” said Jim. “You’ve given in long ago to this garden stuff.”

“Oh, have I?” I snorted.

“Listen,” hissed Jim, “do you want the stone or don’t you? In one hour and 50 minutes, I’ve got to pick them up at the movie. Between now and then, that stone is going to be gone from my lawn. Do you want it?”

“Yes,” I admitted, high-pressured. “But where will you tell the family it went?”

“I’ll say the truck driver left it by mistake and came and took it away,” said Jim, desperately.

“O.K.,” I muttered, being a family man myself.

“I’ll just be five minutes, getting the wheel-barrow,” shouted Jim, already sprinting down the drive. “Come on down and see the stuff.”

So I slipped in and changed to my old shoes and then strolled down to Jim’s. A pile of stone it was, indeed. Lovely limestone gray and colored building stone of the best quality. No pick-up stuff out of a river bed, this. It was stone fit for a mansion or a public building. And there must have been two tons or more, a regular truck load of it.

While I was still estimating how many barrow loads of it there were, doubtfully, Jim came noisily up the street, on a fast walk shoving a big barrow.

“Jim,” I protested, “we can never get all this off of here in two hours.”

“Of course we can,” cried Jimmie. “If we hop into it. Two of us on the barrow.”

“Taking turns?” I asked. “And resting?”

“No, no, I’ve got it all figured out,” exclaimed Jim, throwing off his coat. “You’re the shortest. You hold the handles of the barrow and I’ll walk ahead, hauling on it, My long legs would tilt the barrow too high for it to hold a good big load. Have you any gloves?”

“No,” I muttered.

“Well,” said Jim, “we haven’t time to bother. Let’s get at it.”

Jim leaped with a will into the stone pile and laid in four chunks before I had shifted two, and then I picked up the barrow handles.

“That’s no load,” protested Jim.

“It’s load enough,” I growled, starting to push.

Jim leaped ahead and caught hold of the front of the barrow and hauled. A wheel-barrow is not really one of the larger of human inventions. It may have served its purpose back in the dim and blundering past, before men did any real thinking. But it is pitiful to think of all the generations of mankind who have been warped and twisted out of shape by wheel-barrows. If it hadn’t been for wheel-barrows, think of how tall and beautiful and straight the human race might have been by now? They might have been gods by now, but for the barrow. It drags at the shoulders, the arms, the back. It bends the legs and causes the feet to be flat and large and splayed. It bursts the muscles of the neck and causes the blood vessels of the head and face to bulge. It makes the eyes stick out and the ears to sing. It constricts the lungs and strains the viscera. It makes a man thick and squat, like a gorilla. Rather than believe that the human race is descended from monkeys, I am inclined to think that ages of pushing wheel-barrows has brought man down to the level of gorillas.

Too Late to Retreat

We made a fast trip with the first load.

There is a little terrace from Jim’s lawn requiring that we push the barrow up it, to avoid bumping heavily up or down three concrete steps. It was this terrace that was the hardest point in our short journey from Jim’s lawn to my garden.

“We’ll take turns,” I said heavily, “at the handles.”

“My legs are too long,” pleaded Jim. “A wheel-barrow really calls for a short man.”

“We’ll take turns,” I informed him sternly.

Jim hauled ahead and I wobbled and staggered along between the hafts of the barrow. We took five loads, and the rock pile did not seem to be even nibbled. Only one edge of it appeared to be slightly reduced.

“Seventeen minutes,” gasped Jim. “We’ll have to make it snappy.”

“My hands are blistered already,” I informed him.

The sixth return trip, a large gray empty truck was just backing up to Jim’s lawn.

“Oh, oh,” muttered Jimmie.

It was too late to retreat, because a largish young man in overalls and a stoney face was already swinging down from the truck and saw us.

“Hello,” he called. “What’s going on?”

“What’s the idea,” announced Jim, loudly, “of dumping a lot of rock on my lawn?”

“My axle broke this afternoon,” said the rough young man pleasantly. “I had to unload when the tow-truck called. I didn’t think anybody would mind for a couple of hours.”

“A couple of hours?” cried Jim. “Why. that stone has been there long enough for a whole lot of things to happen.”

“You’ve taken some of it away,” said the young chap, while an even larger and stonier man came down out of the truck cab, drawing on big gauntlets.

“We’ve moved five barrows of it,” I said drily, and a little gladly.

“You’ll have to bring it back,” said the young fellow. “This load is by weight.”

“Bring it back, heck,” said Jim. “You go and get it.”

“Oh, is that so?” replied the youth. “How about me calling the cops and reporting a couple of old guys stealing my stone when my back was turned?”

“And I’ll report that you damped stone on my lawn, ruining it,” shouted Jim.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but if you’ll drive around to my side drive, you can pick up the two or three measly barrow loads we’ve taken.”

“O.K., sir,” said the young fellow, recognizing a gentleman.

So Jim and I walked down the street to restore the barrow to its owner, while the two hearty lads thundered the big rocks back into the truck by hand.

“Well,” sighed Jimmie, “men like us need a little unusual exercise now and then.”

“We sure get it,” I mumbled.

Editor’s Note: This story also appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).