The big man was hurling handfuls of sod at the little old bailiff…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 8, 1935.

“The nerve,” said Jimmie Frise, “of some people.”

We had just passed a rather cheesey-looking individual on the highway, who thumbed us most imperatively as we sailed by.

“He looked,” I admitted, “as if you might get bugs from him.”

“Why a raggedy-looking specimen like that,” said Jim, “should expect a lift is more than I can understand. I don’t mind giving a lift to a respectable-looking person, but some of the hikers who thumb most commandingly should hardly expect to be allowed in at a dog fight.”

“Maybe we could write something,” I suggested, “that would suggest to hikers that they clean themselves up. Let’s tip off the hiking fraternity that the ratio of the lifts they get is in exact proportion to their clean and tidy appearance.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Jim. “Yet I’m a little leery of those too tidy ones. Last week, I gave a lift to a very polished gentleman along by Port Hope, and he wondered if I wouldn’t be so kind as to run him up a few miles north of the highway to some forsaken little dump he mentioned.”

“The nerve!”

“Yes,” said Jimmie, “and when I refused, he got out of my car with all the outraged airs of a bank president who couldn’t get front row seats at the box office.”

“This whole business of hitch hikers is queer one,” I related. “I know a chap who was signalled by a nice-looking girl on the highway out near Oakville. She stepped right out in front of the car and he had to stop. She was in a hurry to get to Toronto. So he took her aboard. Just as they came over the Humber bridge, the girl suddenly tore her blouse and rumpled her hair, and started to scream. My friend slowed down in fright and astonishment. ‘Now,’ says the nice young lady, there’s a cop at the far end of the bridge. You come across with $5 or I’ll lean out and scream at him, and what a nice mess you’ll be in!””

“Good grief!” gasped Jimmie. “What did he do?”

“He did the only sensible thing,” I delighted to tell him. “He drove straight to the cop, and said, ‘Here’s a young lady who signalled me for a ride out the highway, and now she has torn her dress and said she’d scream to you if I didn’t hand her over $5.’ And the cop said, ‘Good, we’ve been on the watch for this jane for three weeks,’ so they all drove up to the police station.”

“Boy,” breathed Jim, “I wouldn’t know what to do in a jam like that.”

“I knew another chap picked up a young man and a girl,” I told, “and they said they were going to Orillia. My friend was going to Gravenhurst, so he said hop in. When they were passing one of those swamps beyond Barrie, the girl, who said she had once lived on a farm near there, told about a wonderful cold spring that bubbled out of the earth right near the road. The coldest, loveliest water you ever tasted.”

“I see what’s coming,” said Jim.

“So,” I related, “they stopped by the road and everybody got out and went into the cedar swamp. And the girl led the way into the thicket and said it’s right around here somewhere, so they scattered out to look, when my friend heard his car start.”

“Holy,” said Jim.

“So by the time my friend got out to the pavement,” I concluded, “there was his car vanishing up the road at sixty miles an hour. He flagged a lift and gave chase, but the car had disappeared. You can’t expect the first guy you beg a lift off to hit sixty. He got the police at Orillia to help him. But the next he saw his car, it was in Goderich, with a seized engine, and all his property gone out of it, and old tires on it in place of the good tires.”

“Well I never,” confessed Jimmie.

“The great thing is,” I stated, “don’t pick anybody up. It is better to be a meanie a thousand times than to try to explain something to your wife even once.”

“I suppose so,” agreed Jim. “There is enough trouble in this world, dealing only with your immediate friends and relatives, without getting yourself tangled up with strangers.”

We drove along in philosophic silence.

“Yet it seems a pity,” pursued Jim, “that a thousand deserving people, with sore feet and weary hearts, should have to be left standing on the side of the road all for the fear of the one scoundrel.”

“You can pretty well tell,” I said, “what a man is like from the outside. Men, for the most part, are pretty simple and straight-forward. Most men are not schemers.”

“I hate schemers,” declared Jim. “But I pride myself on the fact that I can smell a schemer a mile off. I can tell by their eyes. They have an honest, wide-eyed sort of look. They look you right in the eye.”

“I thought it was the other way around,” I exclaimed. “I thought schemers were shifty-eyed and never could meet your gaze.”

“That’s a lot of stuff you read in novels,” said Jim. “Just think of your friends. Think of the most honest of them all. Is he wide-eyed and innocent?”

I thought for a moment.

“No, by George,” I admitted, “now that you mention it, he has a shy and shifty glance. I never noticed that before.”

“It’s always the way,” pointed out Jim. “Human nature, at its best, is shy and timid and kindly and uncertain. But the boys who are certain and bold and crafty, they are the ones who look you bung in the eye.”

“Well, sir, that’s news to me,” I agreed.

Ahead of us, far up Yonge street, as we zoomed along for Lake Simcoe, we saw a figure of a man hobbling painfully on a stick.

As we neared him, we saw that he was elderly and bowed, and his foot was done up in a bandage. He was barely able to hobble.

“Poor chap,” said Jim, “I wonder if he has far to go?”

“This is an exception,” I admitted. “We couldn’t really pass him by.”

Jimmie was already slackening the car. We drew up ahead of the poor old chap, and as we did so, his face lighted up with pleased surprise and he hastened as fast as his bandaged foot would let him.

“Have you far to go?” called Jim, as I opened the car door.

“Just a little way,” cried the old man anxiously. “Up two cross roads, and then in one concession.”

“We can’t see you hobbling along like that,” said Jim.

“It’s a mighty sore foot,” said the old chap. “But of course I wouldn’t expect you to drive me right in. Just you gentlemen leave me on the corner, and somebody will come along sooner or later and take me in.”

“Not at all, not at all,” assured Jim. “We’ve nothing to do. We’re just going fishing. It won’t be ten minutes out of our way.”

The old chap’s face was a delight to behold, at this information.

“You’ll take me right to the door?” he exclaimed. “Well, now, I call that mighty fine of you gentlemen. You don’t find many folks that way these days.”

He got in the back seat and made himself comfortable. I noticed how wide and innocent and blue his eyes were. He had a candid gaze, if ever a man did. But I realized that in the country they have a more gentle and innocent outlook on life than we city slickers. They don’t have to be so crafty in the country.

“Two roads up,” said Jim, as he got the car booming along again.

“Two roads up, and then turn right, and it’s just near the end of the concession,” said the old chap. “My, this is nice of you. And what a nice big car you’ve got.”

“We couldn’t very well pass a man of your age, struggling along the way you were going,” admitted Jim. “Did you hurt your foot?”

“No, it isn’t exactly hurt,” contributed the old chap. “It’s a kind of sciaticky1 or arthritis or something. It catches me something terrible. And then all of a sudden it leaves me.”

“It isn’t gout?” asked Jim.

“No, not gout,” said the old chap. “I hardly ever took a drink in my life, scarcely. I think it’s what we used to call the rheumatics. But it’s an awful painful thing.”

Delivering a Blue Paper

“It must be bad getting around, if you’re a farmer,” suggested Jim.

“I’m not exactly a farmer,” said the old chap. I was turned to face him and I noticed how clear and guileless his eyes were. I thought of Gray’s Elegy2 and honest plowmen and all sorts of things. “No, I ain’t a farmer, exactly, although I have done farming.”

“What is your business?” asked Jim.

“Well, I’m a kind of an official,” said the old chap, proudly. “I’m a kind of sheriff’s man, a kind of bailiff, so to speak.”

“You ought to have plenty to do these days,” laughed Jimmie over his shoulder. “Throwing people off their farms and that sort of thing.”

“Oh, yes, I get some fun,” said the old chap.

“Is this the turn?” called Jim.

“Yes, this is it,” said the bailiff. “Now, if you feel you can’t waste the time…”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “It won’t take us five minutes. One concession over?”

“One concession,” agreed the old fellow. So we turned east and swung along a nice gravel road, passing farms on right and left.

“You live in here?” asked Jim.

“No,” said the bailiff, “I’m just delivering a paper in here. If it wouldn’t put you out any, I thought, maybe, while you are turning your car around, you might wait until I deliver the paper, and then I could get a lift back out to the road…”

“Certainly, certainly,” said Jim, but he gave me a look just the same.

“You gentlemen certainly are very kind,” said the bailiff. “I hope some day I can return you the favor.”

“It’s quite all right,” said Jim. “You won’t be long?”

“The next lane,” said the old fellow. “Just run up the next lane. You can see the farm house from here, see? And while you turn the car around, I can just pop this document in and be right aboard again.”

He seemed a little breathless. His wide. innocent eyes were shining with suppressed excitement.

Up the lane we ran, and into a farmyard in the midst of which stood a tidy house. But it had a sort of fortified look, if I make myself clear. There were no implements nor buck saws leaning about, not even a chair on the front porch. The blinds were down.

“Everybody away?” I said.

“No, he’ll be in all right,” said the old gentleman, as we drew up alongside the back door. He was shaking with excitement. He opened the car door quickly and hopped out, at the same time drawing a large blue paper from his pocket.

Jim started to turn the car. The old chap, whose sciaticky seemed much improved, skipped to the door and rapped loudly. The door opened, and as we were busy backing the car and turning it, I saw a huge man in overalls, with stubble all over his chin, looking fiercely out of the crack of the door down at the little man who was holding out the blue paper.

As we completed the turn in the yard. and started to back up to the door again for our passenger, we were both astonished to see him running wildly down the lane past us, with no trace of sciaticky at all in his foot, and behind him, taking large jumps and stooping to pick up handfuls of sods and gravel, the big man was bounding, shouting angrily and hurling the divots at the back of the neck of the little old bailiff.

“Here, here,” said Jim, starting the car. But the big chap was returning towards us with giant strides. We stopped.

The big fellow reached in and seized Jimmie by the scruff of his necktie and shirt front.

“So,” he said, “you’re a couple of professional bullies, eh? Who’s the little squirt, eh? Would it be Jack Dempsey3, maybe?”

And before I could say a word, he had reached past Jimmie and, seizing the brim of my hat, yanked it down over my nose.

“Keep out of here,” roared the big man, giving Jim’s head an awful waggle with that grip he had of Jim’s tie. “Don’t show your snoot around here, if you don’t want to be kicked over that there barn.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jim.

“Yes, sir,” said I.

Jim started the car. Down the lane we rocked, and made the turn. Far ahead, just vanishing over a rise in the road, we saw the bailiff. He was making time a high school boy would envy.

“I’ll run over him,” grated Jim, slamming into high gear.

As we came near, the bailiff jumped off into the grassy ditch. The bandage on his foot had come loose and was trailing. His face was flushed and he seemed to laughing.

“Would you mind,” shouted Jim, “explaining what this is all about?”

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” assured the little man, with anxious looks down the road. “I was serving eviction papers on him.”

“And what’s this about us being prize-fighters?” inquired Jimmie icily.

“Oh, I just told him for fun that I had a couple of hired prize-fighters along with me in the car,” deprecated the little old man.

“He nearly strangled me,” declared Jim, “with my own necktie.”

“He pulled my hat over my eyes,” I added indignantly.

“He didn’t catch me,” said the little bailiff, proudly.

“By the way, what about that sore foot?” demanded Jim. “You were hardly able to walk when we first saw you fifteen minutes ago.”

“Oh, just one of those things a bailiff has to think of,” said he, stooping to unwind the bandages. “I couldn’t get any of the local boys to come with me. They wouldn’t even come in a car. They wouldn’t even come as far as the lane, and wait down on the road. No, sir. I couldn’t get anybody in the whole township to come with me to serve those papers. So I just had to use strategy. I had six cars stop before you came along, but I wanted the right car, and that was you.”

“Strategy,” sneered Jim. “Strategy. A dirty trick, I call it.”

“If you were a bailiff,” said the old chap his rosy face bright with indignation, “you wouldn’t call it a dirty trick to try to get somebody to come with you to serve eviction papers on a man like that.”

In the distance, we heard buggy wheels flying on gravel.

“Hey,” gasped the little old man, scrambling towards us.

But Jim just slammed her into gear and away.

“Strategy,” he yelled back.

And we never waited to see whether be caught him or not.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. He means Sciatica, pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg. ↩︎
  2. This is Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, a poem by Thomas Gray. ↩︎
  3. Jack Dempsey was a famous boxer. ↩︎