The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 16

Fake Magic

Into the tube after the rabbits they went…
Out from the hole in the table came the frightened rabbits, one right after the other…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 5, 1936.

“Do you know anything,” asked Jimmie Frise, “about magic?”

“You mean black magic?” I inquired.

“I mean ordinary magic for kids,” said Jim. “Parlor magic. Tricks.”

“At one time,” I replied, “I was going to be a magician. I think that was when I was about fifteen.”

“Do you remember any tricks?” asked Jim.

“No, I gave up the magic idea,” I confessed, “after a few tries. I’m one of those people who wants to make the coin really disappear. If I flip the coin up my sleeve, I am the first to see through it.”

“There’s a kids’ party at my house,” said Jim, “and I was thinking I could put on some magic for them.”

“Between the two of us,” I suggested, “we could pull some magic.”

“Let’s get a book of magic,” said Jim, “and practice up some tricks. I think it would be swell if we could work out a little program of magic. We could not only do parties at our own homes, but we could render a nice favor to our friends, going about putting on children’s shows like that.”

We got a book of magic and it was wonderful the simple tricks we learned in no time. The card tricks and coin tricks are mostly done by quickness of the hand deceiving the eye, and neither Jim nor I were very good at that. Our eyes were too quick, and our hands not quick enough. However, we practiced these hand tricks patiently, and even though we couldn’t fool each other, we felt that we would at least fool children; especially small children.

It was, however, in the tricks of magic requiring devices that we discovered the most interesting field. For example, by fastening things to long pieces of elastic, we could make them vanish like lightning. Under our coats, we could fasten a handkerchief or a flower or a ball, the elastic holding it hidden. By a quick, careless swing of the hand, we could pull the object into view, in the hand. Then, with a kind of mumbo-jumbo and a wave of the hand, we simply let go of the object and it vanished past our elbow out of sight, so fast nobody would see it. After showing our empty hands, we made the casual, quick snatch and produced it again, apparently from the air.

So we had a very nice time, sitting around with all doors shut, practicing with cards and coins and elastics, and investigating the interesting realm of magic. We spent about $3.65 on all kinds of magic balls, vanishing cups, trick match boxes, and inside-out silk handkerchiefs that you could turn from red to blue by a simple movement of the hand. We developed these mechanical tricks to a high state of perfection, and the children’s party drew rapidly nigh.

“Jim,” I assured him, “we’ll be a knock-out.”

For a Grand Finale

“Kids are so hard to fool, nowadays,” said he. “They know it all. Even The little ones all have the oh yeah complex.”

“We’re short,” I suggested, “one big grand slam trick to wind our program up. We’ve got a nice lot of little ones that we can run through like seasoned veterans. But we ought to have a grand finale sort of act.”

“The nearer I get to the party,” said Jim, “the less confident I feel. Kids aren’t like they used to be. Once upon a time, adults used to be kept busy keeping things from the children. Nowadays, the children are busy keeping things from the adults.”

“My dear Jimmie,” I laughed, “we’ll roll them in the aisles with our act. We’re perfect. I assure you. That vanishing watch trick of yours will have them absolutely mystified. And as for my trick with the three red balls under the cup, I venture to say I could go on the stage with it.”

“I wish we had a rabbit act or something,” said Jim. “Or one of those sword acts where I put you in a box and stick a sword through it, only to find you vanished when the box is opened.”

“I prefer a rabbit act,” I agreed. “Maybe an act, with six rabbits. Like that one in the book where the six rabbits come out of the plug hat.”

“We could do that easily enough,” said Jim. “All we need is a table with a hole in the top and about fifteen feet of stove pipe.”

“I’m with you,” I exclaimed. “The grand finale. We get a cheap table and cut a hole the size of a stove pipe in the top. We run the stove pipe down along the floor into the kitchen. I feed the rabbits in the pipe and then shove the long wire with the piece of fox fur on the end of it, to chase them through to you.”

“I set the plug hat with the loose top,” said Jim, “on the table, covering the hole where the pipe emerges. The loose top falls aside, and as I make the magic passes, you start the rabbits coming. The wire chases them through, and out they come from the hat, like bullets out of a gun.”

“I can picture it, Jim,” I exulted.

“The only thing,” said Jim, “is the stove pipe. How could we conceal it from the kids? They’ll be all over the house before the show starts. They’ll see the stove pipe along the floor of the hall.”

“I tell you what,” I exclaimed. “Let’s use a cloth tube instead of stove pipe. We could sew up a long tube of cotton, and brace it with barrel hoops. Just a few minutes before this final act, while you are entertaining them, I’ll slip out to the hall and string out the cloth tube. Very quiet, see?”

“How would you scare the rabbits through?” asked Jim.

“If we made it big enough,” I cried, “I could come through the tube, chasing the rabbits ahead of me, and last of all, up through the table would come my head, wearing the hat.”

“Great,” agreed Jim. “Unique. Different. A real creation. The true magician is the one who invents or improves upon tricks.”

With little time to spare, Jim and I bought twenty-two feet of cotton sheeting and sewed it up, in secret, into a tube. From the grocer on the corner we got enough wooden hoops off old barrels to set them every four feet inside the cloth tube, tacking them in place. So that, closed up like a concertina, it was easy for me to handle alone.

We got an old pine table and cut a hole in its top just the size of a plug hat which we had given us by the widow of an Orangeman, and we so tapered the end of the cloth tube that it could be quickly fastened into the hole in the table, from beneath, with a wire ring. We practiced stringing the cloth tube silently and skillfully along the back hall from the living room doorway where Jim and I were to stage our magic performance.

“For fear of discovery,” explained Jim, “we’ll keep the rabbits in a box out in the yard, and we’ll hide the cloth tube on the shelf in the clothes closet. It will be only a matter of a minute for you to slip out, set up the cloth tube from my table to the kitchen, pick the rabbits from the box in the yard and pop them into the tube. Then you chase them through to me.”

“Perfect,” I said. “Letter perfect.”

The night of the party Jim and I donned our tuxedos for the occasion to give the correct magic tone. We were both on hand before six o’clock to arrange all our effects. And at six, the children began to arrive. Both boys and girls, all old friends of the neighborhood, who, after a few moments of remembering their parental warnings, and getting over the strangeness of seeing one another in their Sunday clothes, promptly let loose; and the familiar din of a children’s party filled the house,

The first item on the program was the party supper, which took a good three-quarters of an hour. Then there was a miniature movie, which, it seems, all the children had seen before several times. Then there were games for about twenty minutes, which ended up with two little girls crying because they didn’t get all the prizes, and two little boys staging a fight in the hall. And at last, came the great event of the evening, the Magic Hour, by Messrs. Frise and Clark. I must say, Jimmie and I were both trembling with excitement.

All the children were ranged on chairs and stools and benches in the living room, well back from the entrance from the hall; and in this entrance, Jimmie and I set our table.

“Now, children,” said Jim, the lights being dimmed, and soft music being located on the radio, “we are about to show you a few tricks of legerdemain which my assistant and I have learned in our travels in many parts of the world.”

“Birdseye Center,” said a boy’s voice.

Jim and I stood face to face behind the table, and began manipulating the red celluloid balls, Jim’s vanishing miraculously from between his outspread fingers while mine miraculously appeared. It was pretty well done, except that mine slipped a few times and I had to pick them up, as they rattled lightly on the floor.

“Let Pinkie Do It”

“Whhhooop,” comes a raspberry from the audience.

“Let Pinkie do it,” called a girl’s voice. “He can do it good.”

And Pinkie; a freckled little boy of about seven with red hair, came up and took the balls from me and manipulated them like lightning.

“Heh, heh, heh,” Jimmie and I applauded, to show him it was time for him to go back and sit down. But he kept on doing tricks with the red balls, making them vanish in his hands, plucking them out of his ears and from the back of my neck, until the house almost came down, and finally I had to give the little brat a pinch and hiss to him to go and sit down. Whose show was it, anyway?

We then did the colored handkerchief, and loud raspberries and cat calls greeted this performance; Jim hastily started picking the magic watch off his pant leg, where the watch is caught by a small pin projecting from it. But only loud jeers met all these efforts, while several of the boys crowded forward and seized the appurtenances of our art off the table and began doing the tricks we had been intending to do, only doing them better, if I must say it.

So Jim and I stood back, while the various boys put on the show.

“You see,” explained Jim, “one of the commonest Christmas and birthday presents during the past five years has been magic sets. All the big stores have departments now for selling magic and the salesmen are magicians who teach the kids the tricks.”

“Ah,” I told him, “but we’ve got one trick in the bag, thank heaven. Wait till they see the rabbits coming shooting out of that plug hat.”

In due time, the little boys had exhibited all our tricks, simultaneously, a sort of seven or eight-ring circus. They broke most of the things, snatching them from one another, and at last they wore everything out, and Jimmie stepped forward, calling for order.

“Now, children,” he laughed, “you have all had a good time, as we intended, performing these tricks which we provided you. But there is some magic you are not so familiar with. I grant these little common tricks are all very nice. But my assistant and I have prepared a little surprise for you.”

As Jim began this speech, I quietly slipped out through the dining room and into the hall. Lifted the concertina cloth tube down and loosened its hoops, and strung it along the hallway. Concealed behind the curtain draped over Jim’s table, I crawled in and fastened the tapered end of the cloth tube with a wire ring into the hole in the table.

With this to hold the tube firm, I backed up the hall, lifting the hoop-supported tube into shape and backed into the kitchen. There Jimmie and I had arranged some hooks in the wall to hold the other end of the tube taut, thus keeping the tunnel gaping open right through.

“This is a very mysterious trick,” I could hear Jim saying in a hushed voice. I place this hat, empty, as you all see, on the table like this. Now, in a few minutes, I shall make a mystic series of passes over this hat, and if I have the mystic rite right, out of that hat will come a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Maybe three. It all depends on how quiet you are as I begin the incantations.”

I slipped out the back door, where we had left the box with the six white rabbits we had rented from the bird store.

A strange sight met my eyes in the darkness. Around the wooden crate were grouped a regular pack of dogs. Jimmie’s Gordon setter, Gyp, was playing hostess.

She had apparently invited all the dogs in the neighborhood to the party, to smell the box full of rabbits.

There were spaniels and wire-haired terriers, Bostons and Pekes, a Chow, a young Newfoundland and sundry mutts, all sitting in a group around the rabbit box, some of them anxiously rising to sniff at the cracks.

“Hyah,” I snarled at them, but Gyp bounded happily to meet me, “Get away out of that, you …”

The box was heavy, but I lugged it to the back door. The whole party of dogs followed, anxiously and noisily jumping at the box, and ganging one another, with yips and growls. I managed to get the door open with only Gyp and one other dog getting past with me. Inside, I laid the box down until I had shooed Gyp and her friend out.

Carefully opening the box, I lifted the rabbits out two by two and set them inside the cotton tube a couple of feet.

Just as I stooped to enter the tube and chase the bunnies through, the back kitchen door burst open with the plunging of the dogs and in they came, yipping and snarling, a mob. I turned to meet them, but they were over and under and around me and into the tube.

All hushed, in the dim-lighted living room, the incantations were being recited by Jimmie, waving his wand.

There was a scuffle, a series of muffled yips and snarls.

Out of the plug hat popped a rabbit.

The hat was shot rolling.

One, two three, out from the hole in the table popped a sort of sausage string of rabbits, so fast they could hardly be seen, said Jim.

The dogs, trapped in the narrowed end of the cloth tube, writhed and fought furiously in the confusion. The ring came loose from the table. From under the table writhed a monstrous shape, a giant twisting serpent of ghostly white in the dimness.

The children rose in a screaming body and fled and leaped and clutched, while the bagful of dog twisted and snarled and writhed with a dreadful sound all over the living room, bumping, banging, while the little darlings leaped on chairs and screeched into the halls and up the stairs.

Jimmie and I dragged the tube out to the kitchen and then accompanied the dogs into the yard, where we remained for some time, until the last parent had called and taken her child away.

“Magic,” sighed Jimmie, “is great stuff.”

“Especially,” I explained, “If you have a magician working for you.”

From under the table writhed a monstrous shape, a giant twisting serpent of ghostly white.

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on December 4, 1943, under the title “Hocus Pocus”.

An Orangeman is a member of the Orange Order in Canada. Orangeman played a major role in politics for a very long time, but declined after World War 2 as a result of more secularization and less association to Britain in society.

A concertina is a small bellows based musical instrument that was losing favour at the time, being replaced by accordions in popularity.

At a time when men wore suits all of the time, wearing a tuxedo would be considered “dressing up”. Greg and Jim could have owned them for attending fancy evening parties. Also note that the children were wearing their “Sunday clothes”, meaning that it was expected that they would also dress up for a party, in this case wearing their nice clothes they would wear to church.

Legerdemain is a phase meaning “sleight of hand” when doing tricks.

Since Jim’s dog Rusty is a recurring character in so many stories, it is a bit unusual that this one has Gyp, the Gordon Setter.

Hardships of War

As we came through the door, a lady from behind gave an impatient shove, and to my horror, the bag of sugar, balanced conspicuously on the top of my load, fell off and burst with a most horrible squash fair in a puddle on the rainy sidewalk.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 28, 1942.

“I’ve got the week-end shopping to do,” announced Jimmie Frise. “Want to come along?”

“Wait till I phone,” I said, “and see if I can do our family shopping, too.”

And I phoned and got a list of a few things the house required together with due warnings not to go and buy up a lot of silly things we didn’t need.

“You’d think,” I said to Jim, “women would be glad of a change.”

“Aw,” smiled Jim, “the Saturday shopping trip is the most delightful fixture of the housewife’s life. The market place is one of the oldest of human institutions. And in the modern city, where the market place is spread along miles and miles of shopping streets, it is still perhaps the greatest human institution.”

“In days gone by,” I offered, “it was in the market place that public opinion was formed. Nowadays, to form public opinion, you have to organize service clubs, like Rotary and Kiwanis, the Board of Trade and other business organizations.”

“And the trade unions, don’t forget,” added Jim, “and the churches. In the olden days, when the market place was the centre of the community, all they did in church was worship God.”

“I have the idea,” I submitted, “that as the market place gave way to rows and rows of shops, and men stopped coming to market and let their wives do all the shopping, public opinion began to lose its power.”

“Nonsense,” scoffed Jim. “There was never so much public opinion as there is now.”

“Nor was it ever more confused and formless,” I retorted. “In the time of King Charles, the yokels in the market places had more opinion that mattered than we have within half a mile in all directions from King and Yonge streets. They had so much that the king lost his head.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “you can always dramatize history. It was just a gang of Nazis that executed King Charles. That was the only time Britain ever had a dictatorship.”

“They had market places in the days of the Roman Empire,” I recounted, “and in those market places, a little bunch of agitators called Christians told their story and took possession of the whole earth. They had market places all across the ages that followed and there resulted the slow and patient destruction, by an ever maturing public opinion, of tyrants and masters and cruel government. In the palaces, the rulers gave forth their edicts. But the palaces fell to dust and the market places stayed on. In the monasteries and colleges and churches, the thinkers spoke and wrote with the sublime power of logic and intelligence. But what they spoke and wrote seemed silly in 50 years, even to their own successors, and the market places stayed on and flourished. For in the market places, the mass of mankind met and talked, free of all party or sect, because in the market place, there is no room for party or sect.”

To Form Public Opinion

“But they could go home with their vegetables in their arms,” pointed out Jim, “but with their prejudices and convictions still in their minds.”

“No, sir,” I stated, “in the market place you go to buy or sell. And to buy well or sell well, you can’t take into account your own personal opinions nor those of the man you deal with. A service club or a lodge or a union or a church, you join it to signify the opinions you already hold. It is a place in which not to change your opinions. But in the market place, new, strange and often disturbing opinions are to be met with. You are exposed to the ever-present danger of the germ of a new idea in the market place.”

“You’re just one of those,” accused Jimmie, “who try to see something noble and spiritual in sordid business.”

“Far from it,” I responded. “It is the way in which sordid modern business has robbed us of the market place that disturbs me. For it is the way modern business has cut all men off from one another so that most business is done without men ever meeting one another and sharing each other’s minds that has got us all adrift in a vast sea of trouble.”

“The world has got too big,” said Jim, “for market places. The market place we are heading for now, down on Bloor St., is 15 miles long and 60 feet wide.”

“And in no half mile of it,” I declared, “is public opinion the same. Sometimes, Jim, I feel awfully suspicious of Nature in connection with this war. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t Nature that flings us headlong at each other’s throats every once in a while. Because we are too numerous. She is always trying to cut us down in numbers, so that we can get together more easily. In the rest of the animal kingdom, whenever rabbits or pigeons or anything else grow too numerous, a plague gets loose among them and they are practically wiped out – all except the strongest and toughest. As rabbits grow more susceptible to plague, the more numerous they are, so do men grow more susceptible to war, the more numerous they are. Because they can’t get together in market places and form their opinions. They have no opinions. Then along comes a small gang with a powerful opinion – like the plague germ in rabbits -and away we all go into a dreadful war.”

“There might be something in it,” said Jimmie, as we neared the corner and could see ahead the principal shopping district of our neighborhood. “And I can’t think of any cure for it, unless it was made the civic duty of all men to go shopping with their wives.”

“That is an important idea, Jim,” I exclaimed. “The civic duty of all men to go shopping with their wives. And while the wives are shopping around the shelves, the men could gather in little neighborly groups and chat together. ….”

“The way it is now,” said Jim, “the weekend is given over to men to golf or go fishing. The one period of the week when men might get together, as neighbors, and exchange a few ideas is given over to escaping from their neighbors, and to the companionship of those they have chosen to be with.”

“Yet there seems to be quite a lot of men, Jim,” I said, as we reached the corner and looked over the throng of Saturday afternoon shoppers milling along. “Why, there are hundreds of men out with their wives.”

“I should say, then,” pronounced Jim, “that these men we see are full of civic virtue. These are our better fellow citizens.”

Men Who Go Shopping

And despite the fact that a little rain had started to fall, cold November rain, we stood on the corner, watching the crowds of shoppers hurrying past, with our eyes especially on the men, to see what manner of men they were.

There were plenty of middle-aged men and not a few men in their 30s. And here and there some quite young house husbands. 30 and under.

“There is one thing about the men in this shopping scene,” said Jim, a little doubtfully, “they do look a little hen-pecked. Don’t you think?”

“Well, not hen-pecked, exactly,” I submitted. “They just look like guys who can’t think of anything better to do.”

“Now that one there,” muttered Jim, as a young, rosy faced man in spectacles and with light red hair, passed by with arms full of parcels, “looks as if he were fond of his stomach. I can understand him coming shopping.”

“And that cadaverous bird,” I pointed out. “He looks as if he wouldn’t trust his wife with the money. Maybe he just comes along to pay the bill.”

“And that one,” checked Jim, as a thin, neat little man trotted anxiously past in the wake of his large, commanding wife, “is obviously just brought along to carry the parcels.”.

“Our theory,” I submitted, “is not upset in the least by these examples. It is the men who don’t want to come shopping who should be obliged by law to come to market.”

And upon this reflection, and the rain starting to come down in earnest, Jimmie and I stepped into the stream of shoppers and hustled along to the big store where Jimmie prefers, if not to buy all his supplies, at least to look over the vast array of provender and get some ideas as to what to buy from the smaller merchants whom he has known for years and who give you the feeling of having bought something rather than having popped something out of a slot.

“I’ll get my tea here,” said Jimmie, putting Rusty on the leash and picking up a basket from the basket rack. “I’ve got the tea coupons, I hope.”

And to our astonishment, he had the tea coupons sure enough, and we went and got the one precious pound of tea for Jim’s numerous family. And then we started exploring, after tying Rusty up in the vestibule. One thing about these big modern groceries is that there seems to be no end to their expansion. The next thing they will be selling is phonograph records and 49 cent novels; and then the drug business will really have to step out.

I had a basket, and we moved happily along the high banks of merchandise, I getting a new shoe brush, a bottle of ginger marmalade and a new kind of light rope clothes line I had never seen before that would come in very handy next summer for putting new bow lines on the rowboat and canoes, up at the cottage.

Jim collected oranges, two cauliflower, ketchup, a small bag of flour, a carton of salt, a peck of potatoes and so forth; and then we came to the canned goods. We love the canned goods. Not only their immense array and variety but the human comedy that goes on in their presence. It is delightful to edge slowly along past the high cliffs of brightly clad cans, noting all the endless variety of the things that can be bought already cooked, from vegetables to filet mignons, from carrots to pig’s tails; fish, flesh, fruit, of every description. But one of the best things about the canned goods section is a lady buying a can of anything. Jimmie and I have spent hours observing the ladies. They stand wrapt before a huge pile of one sort of canned goods. There are 50 cans, all the same, all containing the same thing, all the same size, the same brand, all the same price. Nothing, not even a fly speck, distinguishes one can from the other.

The Wrong Basket

But it is more than a lady can stand. Not easily does a lady give in to the triumph of modern business.

There she stands, baffled and troubled. She stares intently at the trim stack of, let us say, canned tomatoes; all the same brand, same size, alike as modern scientific perfection can make them. She picks one off the top and examines it. Then she puts it back and takes down its neighbor. This she sets back, carefully, on the pile, and removing two other cans to one side, selects one perilously from the second row.

She nearly takes this one. She almost gets it into her basket but her eye unwillingly strays back to the stack and she pauses. Fascinated, she stares again, returns the can she has selected to its place and, with still greater risk of upsetting the whole stack, takes one from the third row. This she studies intently and thoughtfully for a moment, then steps back and stands gazing with wide-awake intelligence at the whole stack.

Abruptly, she steps forward, sets the can she has in her hand resolutely back on the shelf and takes one, any one, from the top of the stack. This, with an air of great resolution, she drops into the basket; and with an air of tremendous accomplishment, she moves along to the next stack.

“It never fails,” breathed Jimmie, rejoicing.

“Maybe there is something about the solder, or the way the can is closed,” I suggested.

“No, no! They all do it,” gloated Jim.

And he reached down to pick up his basket so that we could proceed with our own affairs.

“Hey,” he said. “Where’s my basket?”

“That’s yours,” I assured him.

“No it isn’t,” declared Jim. “I didn’t buy any bread. And hey… where’s my TEA!!”

He was looking in the basket. There was no doubt of it. His precious pound of tea was gone.

“Why, somebody has picked up my basket by mistake,” he said, raising his voice in the hope of attracting the attention of the guilty party. Everybody around examined their baskets. But Jim’s was not among them.

“Let’s get to the turnstile, quick,” I advised. For I too like tea.

At the turnstile, we explained to all the young ladies what had happened, and inquired if anybody had found a pound of tea they didn’t belong to. But nothing of the sort had been reported.

Again we examined Jim’s basket. In in among other things, was a bag of sugar, about six pounds.

“Well,” said the head girl, “whoever has lost that sugar would probably be as anxious to get it back as you are the tea.”

So Jim took one aisle and I another and we cruised up and down, looking at every body’s basket, without any luck.

“Look here,” said Jim, very worried, “that was our two week’s ration of tea. Can I get any more, by explaining….?”

“Maybe if you wrote the Tea Controller,” suggested the girl.

“Was That My Sugar?”

So Jim took back all the stuff in the basket, and set each item back where it belonged, except the sugar, which he kept as hostage. And then refilled his basket with the oranges, ketchup, potatoes, cauliflower, etc. that he required. And very crestfallen, stood before the tea counter for a while, hoping somebody would restore his tea. And also before the sugar counter, hoping that the loser of the sugar would come with his complaint.

“Men,” said Jimmie, as we wended our way hopelessly back to the turnstile, “should never be allowed to go shopping. They are too sloppy. They pick up the wrong basket.”

“How do you know it was a man?” I inquired.

“No woman would pick up the wrong basket.” said Jim.

Our parcels were bagged up, all except the sugar, which Jim gave me to carry as he wished to lay no claim to it.

“Take your time,” he pleaded, “Don’t let’s be in a hurry. Let’s even hang around in front for a few minutes…”

As we came through the door, a lady from behind gave an impatient shove, and to my horror, the bag of sugar, balanced conspicuously on the top of my load, fell off and burst with a most horrible squash fair in a puddle on the rainy sidewalk.

“Was that my sugar?” cried the lady angrily.

She had a square package in her hand.

“Is that my tea?” inquired Jimmie, taking it.

I was trying to scoop what sugar was still dry into my hat, and at the same time chasing Rusty away from the widening pool of sweetness.

Everybody was sympathetic about the sugar, but the lady accused us of having picked up her basket; and we retorted by fetching witnesses to prove our basket had been picked up first, because we had gone all over the place trying to set the mistake right; whereas the lady had to admit that she had only discovered her mistake when she came to the counter a moment before.

So Jim got his tea. And the lady accepted as a compromise the three pounds I had salvaged in my hat, plus a pound each from Jimmie and me, which we would faithfully deliver to her house in a few minutes, from our own domestic supply.

“For after all,” said Jimmie eloquently, clutching his pound of tea firmly, “aren’t all in this war together?”


Editor’s Note: Receiving rationed goods during the war would require you to hand in ration coupon before receiving the product (it would be behind a counter that someone would have to get for you). This would explain why Jim was distressed while he was still shopping when he lost his tea, as the coupon was already spent, and why he could hold the sugar “hostage”.

“Wrapt” is an archaic spelling of “rapt”.

Mad Dog Loose

There was an instant’s hush and then a riot. “Mad dog! Mad dog loose!” came the yells…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 22, 1947.

“Never,” counselled Jimmie Frise, “go to a dog show at night.”

“Well, it’s the only convenient time,” I submitted.

“We’ll be trampled to death,” declared Jim. “Let’s go in the morning, or even in the afternoon. The judging goes on from 10 am to 10 pm. We can find out what time the retrievers are being judged.”

“Or the hounds,” I checked. “Especially the beagles, the dear little beagles.”

“The last time we went to the Winter Fair dog show,” recollected Jim, “we had sore feet for weeks. We got trampled, stamped on, butted, biffed, shoved, dug in the ribs…”

“Jim,” I announced, “I regard that tremendous crowd at the dog show as only fitting. I think it is the proper and just tribute of human beings to the oldest and noblest companion of humanity across thousands and thousands of years.”

“But my feet …” complained Jimmie.

“Personally,” I pursued, “I prefer to get caught in the jam at a dog show. I prefer to go at night, when all the crowds are there, so as to be a part of this annual celebration in the honor of the dog. Do you realize that it is just possible that there would be NO human race if it hadn’t been for the dog?”

“How do you make that out?” demanded Jim in surprise.

“Before the introduction of agriculture,” I informed him, “what little wandering bands of human beings there were, scattered sparsely over the earth, had to live on what they could find in the perilous and monster-filled wilderness. They had to be warned of the approach of tigers and other savage creatures. They had to hunt game, their only meat. In both those profoundly important factors in the survival of these poor, trembling human beings, the dog played an immense – in fact, an absolutely essential – part.”

“Big dogs?” inquired Jim.

“Big dogs and little dogs,” I assured him. “The astonishing thing about dogs is that, either big or small, they are to be found, in the most ancient times, all over the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America – everywhere but in a few Pacific islands. And wherever they were, big or small, they were the companions, the helpers, the guardians and warners of men!”

“Well, by golly….!” exclaimed Jim.

“Yes, SIR!” I warmed up. “The first actual historical record of dogs goes back to carvings and paintings of ancient Egypt, on the tomb of King Amten, in the year 4000 BC. Hunting dogs, hounds.”

“You mean,” calculated Jim, “6,000 years ago?”

“And that,” I assured him, “is only yesterday in the history of the dog. Because in the most ancient diggings in the cave men era, in all parts of the world, we find the bones of dogs mixed with the bones of men.”

“You mean,” said Jim, “that back in the days before there was any possible communication between the human tribes, say, in Europe and China, or Africa and North America, men and dogs had already got together?”

“Exactly,” I insisted, “There has been a mutual affinity between men and dogs all over the earth and from the very beginning of time. In South America, they were little dogs. In Asia they were mastiffs, giants. But they all helped man hunt, they all warned man of his monstrous wild enemies, they all shared man’s bed and board.”

“Well, this explains,” suggested Jim, “all the various and wholly different breeds of dog; yet all dogs?”

“A little Mexican chihuahua,” I recollected, “can weigh one pound. A mastiff can weigh 175 pounds. But they are both dogs, and definitely related.”

“We don’t see many mastiffs nowadays,” reflected Jimmie,

“That’s a funny thing,” I admitted. “Because we owe the very word ‘dog’ to the mastiff. When the Norman conquerors invaded Britain, they found the country full of giant mastiffs. These were the popular dogs in Britain. Every little baron, every knight, had a house full of them. Every farmer owned a couple. They were called tie-dogs. That is, tied up by day; loose by night.”

“Brrrr,” shivered Jim.

“The Norman French word for ‘mastiff’,” I explained, “was ‘dogue,’ It still is the French word for mastiff. And we poor dopey British, as so often happened to us whenever we were conquered by the Romans or the Vikings or the Saxons and so forth, had a foreign word shoved down our throats. The word ‘dogue,’ which meant ‘mastiff’ to our new bosses, came at last to mean ‘dog,’ meaning any little peewee.”

“Man, I hate to think of those early days,” murmured Jim, “when they had all those mastiffs turned loose every night.”

“Oh, the mastiff was a good many thousand years here before the Normans landed in England,” I advised. “The Romans found him in Britain, also the giant Irish wolfhound. They took ’em home and fed Christians to them in the Colosseum. The ancient kings of Persia had mastiffs. It’s only in quite recent times that men have gone in for the smaller dogs.”

“Thank heavens,” said Jim.

So, with our heaviest boots on, we went to the dog show, in the evening after all. In honor of the dog.

And just as Jimmie had predicted, it was a jam. You see, at the dog show, they have long aisles of small benches on which the show dogs recline. And the public wanders up and down these aisles, viewing the various and beautiful creatures. It could not be any other way. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. But a dog show is capable of traffic jams beyond the wildest dreams of Piccadilly or St. James street and McGill. Certain of the aisles are occupied, say, by one particularly popular breed, like the cocker spaniels. And naturally, everybody pushing along is looking for the cockers. And everybody who is already in the cocker aisle is holding firm. It takes quite a little time to look at a cocker spaniel.

Then, of course, there are the social gatherings. Mrs. Gotrox, who raises Pekingese, is sitting right on the bench, in sporty outdoorswoman costume, among her darlings. And what more natural than that all Mrs. Gotrox’s social friends, with numbers of others who merely like to bask in the obviously social atmosphere surrounding Mrs. Gotrox, should form a traffic jam in front of the Pekingese which is impossible from either direction?

But it is all very fine-tempered and smiling. People who come to look at dogs are a special breed of people. They are probably the old-fashioned kind, the ones not entirely dehumanized by civilization. They have inherited from the long past some memory of the dog that was not a friend merely, but an ally against the encircling darkness. At a dog show, you find yourself looking into the eyes of crowds of people who might easily be your brothers or sisters.

Jimmie wanted to turn left and start with the terriers. I wanted to turn right and start with the Great Danes. Either way, we would be going against the traffic. At dog shows, traffic moves in all possible directions.

“Gosh, what stallions!” gasped Jimmie, as we came in front of the Great Dane exhibit. There were 20 or 30 of them, fawn, black, brindled and harlequin – incredibly striped and blotched in black and white. Their giant jaws agape, their tiny ears pricked up, their stern gaze staring into the multitude looking for one, ONE friend.

So we edged along, passing the chows, the toys, funny balls of knitting called Pekes and Italian greyhounds so tiny and so slender that you might think the Italians got the idea of spaghetti from looking at their diminutive little greyhounds.

We came at length to the dogs Jim was looking for: the retrievers, especially the golden retrievers; although Jimmie isn’t finicky. He will look at any dog so long as it is a retriever – a Labrador, a curly-coated, flat-coated, a Chesapeake Bay. So long as it is half the size of a moose, with a coat like a duck, and with dark wise eyes that suggest it would know exactly what to do both before and after a gun barks.

Now, my fancy is hounds; and the smaller the better. Thirteen-inch beagles, for instance.

But before we got to the hounds and after Jimmie had created a half-hour traffic jam around the retrievers, with his duck-talk to them and his measuring of

But before we got to the hounds and after Jimmie had created a half-hour traffic jam around the retrievers, with his duck-talk to them and his measuring of them at the shoulder and the loin, and his picking the bored creatures up to guess their weight, and stroking their otter-like ears that lie so snug and waterproof against their heads, we had to fight our way into and through a traffic jam in front of the English bulldogs.

And the cause of this particular jam was one particular bulldog. He had the most sinister face I have ever seen, including the great Lon Chaney AND Boris Karloff. He was white, with brindle markings. He weighed well over 40 pounds. His massive brow was not only wrinkled, it twitched into new wrinkles every time he blinked his eyes, which were terrible. And under his mushed snout there protruded two white fangs, upward, bared and ready.

The traffic jam stood respectfully well back from his bench. Because, on the back of the partition of the bench was tacked this sign:

DANGEROUS

DO NOT HANDLE!

“WHAT a brute!” breathed Jimmie.

“He’s beautiful,” I stated.

And the brute looked up at me, from his squat stance, with a sudden, alert expression.

“Bee-yeautiful!’ I repeated rather cautiously,

And the brute chopped his terrible toad jaws at me in a fiendish grin, waggled his broken twisted tail ecstatically and wriggled his massive, bowlegged body into a regular fandango of friendliness.

“By golly,” gasped Jim, “he likes you!”

And a little murmur of applause rose from the silent traffic jam all around.

“Hi, Beautiful!” I said carefully.

The brute leaned out of his bench and strained on the heavy chain that held him.

“Don’t get fresh with that baby,” warned a voice behind me. “He’s a bad actor!”

I glanced to see a tall, raw-boned character in the crowd who had a know-it-all air about him.

“I know something about bulldogs,” he said wisely. “That one is a killer, A BAD dog!”

But the brute was now shimmying in a monstrous and grotesque fashion, straining on his chain in my direction, his eyes wide with friendliness and his terrific pie plate of a mouth in a wide gape of chumminess.

“Careful!” muttered Jim.

But I took a chance. I put my hand out on his head. I slid it firmly down his neck and scratched.

The bulldog snuggled right up to my thigh. And he sat down with a sort of a dump and emitted a great sigh of joy.

“He’s a fool!” said the character in the crowd.

But the traffic jam was entirely charmed by the spectacle and their murmurs rose to little cheers of delight. I sat down beside the brute on the bench and put my arm heartily around him. He fairly pushed me over, he was so happy. He licked my face and panted with brotherly love.

He fairly pushed me over, he was so happy.

The crowd closed in nearer.

I noted that the chain which held the brute was I caught under his hind leg. I tried to hoist him free of it, but he just snuggled tighter to me. I took the snap off the chain and undid it from his collar to pass the chain under him —

With bound, the massive bulldog leaped free and down into the crowd among their fast-moving legs …

The character, who had been so loud in warning me, let go in a stentorian voice:

“Look out! Bad dog loose!”

There was an instant’s hush and then a riot.

“Mad dog! Mad dog loose!” came the yells and squeals from every direction.

And you never saw a traffic jam melt so fast in your life. Not only in our particular vicinity, but in all the adjoining aisles. Out on the main exit, &a veritable stampede.

But above the tumult, I could hear one voice scolding.

And down our aisle came a man in a white sweater, lugging the brute by the collar. He hoisted him summarily into his place on the bench.

“How’d he get loose?” he demanded, seeing I was sitting on the bench.

“I’m sorry,” I confessed. “His chain was caught under him. I unsnapped it for an instant …”

“Didn’t you see that sign?” demanded the handler grimly. “Dangerous! Do not handle!”

By now the crowds were coming sheepishly back.

“That dog isn’t dangerous,” I scoffed, “The friendliest…”

“The friendliest dog in this here whole show, bar none!” said the handler to me in a low voice. “I just put that sign up to make people keep their dirty hands off him. They carry infection from one dog to another.”

“He’s a beauty,” I agreed.

“That’s his name: Beautiful,” revealed the handler. “That’s what we call him – Beautiful.”

“Ah, that explains it,” I said.

And I went ahead through the much-thinned crowd, and joined Jimmie at the beagles.


Editor’s Notes: McGill and St. James would be a busy intersection at the time in Montreal (and would be used as a reference since this was published in the Montreal Standard). Though English speakers would call it St. James, it is officially Rue Saint Jacques.

Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff were well known horror actors, playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein’s monster respectfully.

Brindle markings is a coat pattern that is described as tiger-striped, though the variations of color are more subtle and blended than distinct stripes.

A stentorian voice is very loud and strong.

First Prize!

The pig ran down the row of tents and suddenly ducked under a tent rope

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 12, 1932.

I am forced to attend three or four fall fairs every year by Jimmie Frise. He says it is to help me understand human nature. So while I wander around amongst the agricultural implements and mammoth pumpkins studying human nature, Jimmie watches the trotting races. Oh, I see through him, all right!

The “lucky number” idea has hit the fall fairs. When you buy your admission to the grounds, they give you a piece of paper with a number on it. Late in the afternoon they call out the lucky number, and you get a prize. Sometimes it is a prize donated by one of the exhibitors, like a plow-share or pint bottle of Somebody’s Ready Relief, good for man or beast, for cuts, aprains, burns, bruises and internal disorders. Sometimes it is a prize cheese or ten pounds of butter or a bag of taties.

Last week Jim took me to the Parkville Fall Fair. That isn’t its right name. But it isn’t sixty miles west of Toronto.

The man taking our money stuffed a little square of paper in my hand as we drove through the fence into the fair grounds. It was the usual lucky number, printed in pencil on a bit of cheap paper. I stuck it in my pocket.

Jim headed straight for the track to see the trotters running around. And I put my hat on the back of my head, pulled some of my front hair out under the brim of the hat, pulled my necktie crooked, and thus disguised as one of the local boys, I proceeded to mingle with the crowd to study human nature.

About four o’clock a voice started bellowing through a megaphone and all hands began moving toward it. It was the lucky number draw for five handsome prizes.

“Two seventy-one,” shouted the man with the megaphone. “Two hundred and seventy-one. Lucky number. Everybody look at your tickets, folks. The lucky number, first prize, to two seventy-one.”

I pulled the bit of paper from my pocket and looked at it

“271.”

“Here,” I shouted. “Here you are, 271!”

And everybody smilingly made way for me as I worked my way forward to the man on the wagon box.

“The first prize to-day, ladies and gents,” said the announcer, “goes to No. 271. The prize consists of a magnificent Large White. This Large White is a prize winner, donated through the kindness of our distinguished neighbor, Mr. Robertson. The lucky winner approaches. Here y’are, mister. Just step right up here.”

Willing hands and elbows hoisted me on to the wagon box amidst the throng. I stood up beside the announcer and bowed to the cheers and applause.

“What’s the name, mister?”

“Clark,” said I.

“Where from?”

“Toronto.”

“That’s great,” said the announcer. “Ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce Mr. Clark, winner of the first prize in the lucky number draw. Mr. Clark comes from Toronto, our big sister metropolis. It goes to show that the fame of Parkville is spreading when gentlemen from Toronto come here to return the compliment of our visits to their fair. Mr. Clark, your prize is there. Harry, bring forward Mr. Clark’s prize.”

At first I thought a Large White might be a chicken, which would be very handy for Sunday.

Applause For the Winner

Through the crowd came a young farmer in overalls. He was holding a stout rope which was tied to the hind leg of one of the biggest pigs I ever beheld. He was prodding the large, pink pig with a sharp stick, and as it came through the crowd, shaking its head violently from side to side, with its foamy mouth open, it was emitting noises like five o’clock and all the factories out.

“There you are, sir,” said the announcer, loudly. More applause. “Give the gent the rope, Harry.”

Harry held up the rope which I took.

“Thank you, Mr. Clark. Now the second prize winner, number eighty-nine. Number eighty-nine!”

And he signalled to me graciously that he did not need me anymore.

I handed the rope to a man below the wagon and got off the far side. My idea was to make a run for it and disappear in the crowd, but just as I got to the ground, the pig made a sudden charge and dragged the man who was holding it around before me.

“Here she is,” said the man, giving me the rope.

The pig continued to squeal in a voice that ought to have torn its windpipe. It gave a sudden jerk and the crowd opened and away we went, with every jump its roped foot kicking up mud and sawdust into my face. It was all so sudden, from start to finish, from the moment I found the lucky number in my pocket until I found myself fastened to a 300-pound pig that I couldn’t believe it.

The pig ran down the row of tents and suddenly ducked under a tent rope. Before I could decide whether to let go of the rope altogether or to duck under the tent rope, too, I had done the latter. I just went down and under that tent rope as slick as the pig did.

Suddenly the pig stopped. I never knew anything in the world to be so sudden as a pig. The one minute he was galloping clumsily on his three legs and kicking out with the one I was tied to, and the next instant he was standing there thinking, and I was on the ground beyond him where I had tripped over him. Several gentlemen and ladies came and helped me up and one of the men held the rope.

“Gracious!” said the Iady, “I guess you don’t understand pigs.”

“There are a lot of things, lady, I don’t understand, and pigs is one of the newest.”

“Where is your crate?” she asked.

“I came in a friend’s car,” I said. “It somebody would please hold that pig for a minute, I would go and get my friend. He was born and raised on the farm and he would help me.”

“George,” she said, “tie that pig up for the gentleman.”

So they tied the pig to the fence.

I found Jim sitting on the steps of the judge’s stand. He seems to know all the judges in the world.

“Hullo,” said Jim. “Have you been in fight?”

“Worse,” I said. “Listen, Jimmie, we won the first prize in the lucky number.”

“Hurray,” said Jim.

“But, listen, it’s a pig,” I said. “An enormous pink pig as big as a Union Station policeman.”

Jim slapped me on the back. “Good for you,” he said.

“Us, you mean,” I corrected. “The man at the gate gave us the one ticket, didn’t he? Well, that means it is our pig.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “You took the ticket. It’s your prize.”

“Excuse me, Jim,” I said, “we came in your car, didn’t we? And the one ticket was handed to us. Then it is your prize. Good for you, Jimmie! You won the first prize.”

“She’ll Be Just Like a Pet”

“Now lookit here,” said Jim, “there’s a race just starting here in a minute. Run along and look after your prize. I gotta watch this race.”

“Jimmie!” I pleaded.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“It’s tied to the fence down there.”

“It won’t run away.”

“You don’t know this pig,” I said. “Come and look at it and see what we are going to do?”

“We?” said Jim. “It’s your pig. You claimed it. Look after it yourself. And incidentally, you don’t figure I am going to let you take that pig home in the back seat of my car, do you?”

“Quit kidding me, Jim,” I said. “This is the worst jam I’ve been in since the war. Come and help me figure it out.”

“Listen,” said Jim. “You don’t figure I am going to miss the trotting races just because you go around winning prizes at fall fairs, do you? Now, you go and gloat over your prize and when the races are done, I’ll come and give you a hand.”

So I went back to the far side of the fair grounds. There was my pig standing in defiant attitude, tied to the fence. A half dozen people and some boys were standing admiring it.

“Well, sir,” said one man, “you sure won a pig. That’s a real pig.”

“How old would he be?” I inquired.

“She,” said he. “It’s a she. She’s about two years old, I’d say.”

“I don’t know what on earth to do with her,” I confessed. “You see, I live in the city, and there is a law against keeping pigs in your back yard.”

“She won’t be no trouble,” said the farmer. “Just like a pet.”

“But you don’t know the neighborhood I live in,” I said. “They object to dogs, even. I think I’ll sell her.”

“You won’t get much of a price for her,” said the farmer. “But you’d be foolish to sell her. Premier Bennett was just announcing the other day that this country’s future in tied up in the pig. He says we are going to be shipping forty million pigs to Britain by 1942.”

“I can’t keep this pig ten years,” I gasped. I had only had her about ten minutes.

“But she’s a breeder,” said the farmer. “You could raise a herd of a thousand pigs off of her in ten years. She’s a regular Bennett pig. Why don’t you be patriotic and start helping out Mr. Bennett with this here for a start? There’s maybe a fortune in it for you.”

The lady standing beside the farmer said:

“Perhaps this gentleman doesn’t understand your kind of jokes, Abner.”

Several more people came along, and everybody had nothing but admiration for my pig. They told me all kinds of interesting things about pigs. They estimated the amount of bacon on her. I sat down near her and passed the afternoon away. By the time it began to get dusk, I was a pretty good pig farmer. And then I began to watch for Jimmie.

I sat down beside her and passed the afternoon away

The last man to leave the track, he came just before dark, with that swinging, jaunty air of a man who has put in a profitable and worth-while afternoon.

“Well, sir,” he cried. “Here you are, both of you. Now, what will we do with you?”

“She’s valuable,” said I. “She’s one of the best bacon breeds in the world. If the market were any good, she’d be worth something.”

“It’s your pig,” said Jim. “If she was worth a hundred dollars I wouldn’t claim fraction of her. Twenty-five years ago I took a solemn vow that I would never have any dealings in pigs again as long as I live, and I’m not starting now.”

The people were leaving the fair. They had been leaving for an hour. Car lights were on and there was a general air of departure.

“How will we get her home?” I asked.

“She won’t ride in my car,” said Jim, flatly.

“Would she lead behind?” I suggested.

“Not she.”

A Funny Sense of Humor

“We could sort of tow her, like a rowboat,” I said.

“Cruelty to animals,” said Jim. “I’m a great friend of the Humane Society.”

“Well, for Pete’s sake, say something,” I cried.

“Why didn’t you arrange, then, to get one of the farmers that has a truck to deliver her the next time he comes to the city?”

“Because,” I said, “I still think you are entitled to a share of this pig and I didn’t want to do anything without you being in on it.”

“Get this straight,” said Jim. “That’s your pig or nobody’s.”

“If I do get somebody to bring it to the city, what will I do with it?”

“Get a cage for it and hang it in the sunroom,” said Jim. “Dear little piggie-wiggie.”

And he poked her in the side with his foot. She squealed with that torn sound again. Pigs are sensitive things; they can tell whether people like them or not.

“I’ll sell it,” I said. “I’ll go over there and ask some of those people if they would like to buy it.”

“Make it snappy,” said Jim. “We’re going to be the last out of here.”

I went over and mingled with the remaining people standing about their cars and waiting their turn to leave the fair grounds.

“Would anybody like to buy a pig?” I called. “Anybody like a pig?”

Nobody did. I went up to one man who had a trailer to his car loaded with pumpkins and baskets.

“Sir,” I said, “how would you like to buy that pig I won for first prize?”

“No, sir,” he said. “I’ve got more pigs eating their heads off over at my place than I know what to do with. I wouldn’t take it for a gift.”

“But surely somebody would like it?” I protested. “Couldn’t you take it and give it to some needy family?”

“No, sir,” said the farmer. “It was me donated that pig to the fair committee for first prize.”

“Dear me!”

Jim came running over.

“It’s all right,” he called. “I’ve got rid of her for you.”

“How much did you get?”

“I gave her away,” said Jim.

“Gave her away?” I shouted. “What’s the idea of giving my pigs away? I like that.”

I caught the farmer giving Jim a wink. Jim laughed.

“Good-by, Alex,” he said to the farmer I had been talking with.

“Good-by, Jim,” said the farmer.

At the gate the fellow who took the admission was holding a lantern to show folks out.

“Good-by, Jimmie,” yelled this man as we drove out.

“Do you know that guy?” I asked suspiciously.

“Sure, he’s my cousin.”

“You knew that other guy that I was talking to when you came over?”

“That’s another cousin of mine, Alex Robison.”

“You’ve got a lot of cousins at these fall fairs, haven’t you?”

“Yep,” said Jimmie. “That’s what I like about the country. You know everybody. It’s a great place to study human nature.”

“I learned plenty to-day,” said I, watching him narrowly.

“I thought you would,” said Jim.

And if you think what I think, I ought to keep away from the country when I’m with Jim Frise.

The country has got a funny sense of humor.


Editor’s Note: As this is one of the earlier stories, it does not follow the pattern of the standard pattern of the later stories, where they discuss something philosophically, and then do an activity where antics ensue. So it seems a little odd that they are separated for most of this one.

Iced Duck

We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy… Jim’s teeth were chattering and I was cold beyond all shivering.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 5, 1938.

“I’m open,” said Jimmie Frise, “this week-end for a final go at the ducks.”

“Take some of your thicker-skinned friends,” I replied.

“I can’t get over your indifference to duck shooting,” said Jim. “It is, in the opinion of the greatest sportsmen in the world, the cream of all outdoor sports.”

“Duck shooting,” I informed him, “is sheer bravado. Only men who get a kick out of showing how tough they are go duck shooting.”

“Isn’t it funny,” mused Jim, “how a man can outfit himself with opinions in defence of his own ignorance?”

“Duck shooting,” I went on, “is the last survival of the hair shirt instinct in humanity. In past ages men wore hair shirts to show what they thought was their piety. It was only the desire to show how tough they were. Duck shooting is the same. You love to suffer, in order to demonstrate the vigor of your character.”

“Can’t you grasp,” pleaded Jim, “the delight there is in doing something entirely different from your normal life? Can’t you imagine any joy in entering a world as strange and different from the everyday world as it is possible to enter?”

“I don’t like being cold,” I stated. “I don’t like being wet or sleety. I don’t like to have to sit like a frozen dummy for hours on end in an icy bog, with a wind whistling amongst rushes.”

“The first delight of duck shooting,” interrupted Jimmie, “is the getting up at 4.30 a.m. You think of it with horror. As a matter of fact, it is the strangest and most delightful sensation imaginable. Your whole being is astonished. Your body, your mind, your secret spirit, tingles with a queer, a fascinating, joy, just to be up in this mysterious and unearthly hour.”

“Maybe my nervous system,” I suggested, “is too close to the surface of me.”

“Then,” went on Jim, “the going out, after good hot breakfast, into the stormy night, the chill, the stars, the wind. The walking and the rowing out to the duck blinds. The setting out of the decoys, in the darkness and the little waves, seems to wake in your deep heart some age old cunning, and it gives you the same lovely tingle as hearing, softly, the tune your mother used to sing to you when you were in her arms, a child.”

“What a queer comparison to make,” I protested.

“It’s true enough,” declared Jim. “Most of the deepest feelings in us are queer. And rightly so, because all our deepest feelings are the ones that have survived from time immemorial in us, handed down to us from our fathers, generation after generation across uncounted ages. Yet in the past few hundred years we have been trying to squelch these ancient things in us in order to be, as they say, civilized. So what we say and do and think, as civilized beings, seems plain and open. But whenever the deep, ancient things in us stir we find them strange.”

“We’ll be a better race,” I stated, “when we have succeeded in squelching those ancient things entirely. The day will come when nobody will go duck shooting, partly because it is idle to kill wild ducks when it is so easy to kill tame ducks. And partly because it is silly to go out and expose yourself to cold and discomfort and possible danger of pneumonia.”

Two Philosophies of Life

“I see,” retorted Jim. “So you’re one of the new pacifists. It is not because war Is evil that you would put an end to war. But because it is silly and expensive and uncomfortable.”

“Precisely,” I cried.

“Then in time to come,” suggested Jim, “there will be no more fishing, eh? Or golf or any amusements except the indoor amusements?”

“Even the indoor amusements,” I informed him, “will have to be pretty intelligent to get by. Playing bridge will prove to be silly, sitting up stiff in an uncomfortable chair, having to keep your mind alert…it won’t go. Mankind is moving definitely towards the understanding, of life that they arrived at centuries ago in India and China. And that is, that life, at its perfection, is simply sitting perfectly still, doing nothing, feeling nothing.”

“How about the Germans?” demanded Jim. “They don’t believe in any such perfection. All the trouble the Germans have been to the rest of the world in the last 50 years is because they believe so utterly in action, in discipline, in suffering, in exposing themselves to hardship, in living and dying dangerously.”

“Sparta,” I replied, “believed that, too. But what is Sparta? Just a word. A printed word. Nothing else of it remains. No statuary or vases, no literature, no philosophy or laws. Sparta terrified the whole Greek world in its time. But it was the rest of Greece, the terrified part, that handed down to us anything that we value of Greek civilization.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “this is all recent stuff, this Greek and Roman business. Just the other day. What I am talking about is the stuff that is in human nature for the past fifty million years. Because the Greeks or the Romans had certain experiences are we to be guided by them? Because they succeeded or failed. just within the past couple of thousand years, are we going to base our whole system of life on their experience?”

“What other experience is recorded?” I demanded indignantly.

“Recorded?” cried Jim. “You mean on paper? My dear boy, that counts out all the most valuable experience of all, because writing is only a recent invention. How about the records of human experience written in our very souls? In our minds and hearts and instincts. That’s where you want to look for records.”

“You,” I exclaimed, “are striking at the roots of civilization. Our entire world depends upon the written experience of humanity.”

“Therefore,” triumphed Jim, “if, in the past couple of thousand years, everything mankind has done has been in error, your whole world is founded on error.”

“But error couldn’t survive for two thousand years,” I protested.

“Oh, couldn’t it?” inquired Jim, sweetly. “Then how long do you say error can survive? Take a look around you at the world, before you answer.”

“Look,” I said, irritated, “what has this got to do with duck shooting?”

“Everything,” said Jim. “Because you can choose between two philosophies of life. You can either sit at home this week-end, doing nothing, feeling nothing, sagged in a chair like Buddha himself, believing in your numbed and all but lifeless mind that you are at that moment achieving the perfection of life. Or else you can come duck shooting with me, and feel cold and wind, and be aware of your skin and your eyes and your ears; filled with mystery of time and space, of stars and shadows and, as dawn begins to break, of swift flying little squads of wild ducks, swishing past, while you sit, controlling even your cold shudders, motionless as a stump, and the squad of ducks, seeing your decoys dim in the reeds, bank and turn and wheel and come, wings set and rigid, coasting down into range of your gun.”

Swell Day for Ducks

“You make a very unfair comparison,” I declared. “If I stay home, there are a hundred little things I can do. I can paste all this past summer’s fishing snapshots in my album. I can rearrange my book shelves, and index the latest acquisitions to my collection of early Canadian and American angling literature.”

“Very worthy, very worthy,” agreed Jim. “Pottering about with a paste pot, sighing over yesterday, thumbing through old withered pages of books written by men who were men of action, who, a hundred years ago, fished all our noblest waters when they were wild, and shot ducks and passenger pigeons and wild turkeys…. You think you are civilized. You are only debilitated, like our lakes and woods.”

“I like comfort,” I stated. “And so did cave men. I’m the natural man, not you.”

“You’re just getting a little feeble,” retorted Jim.

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded, that I couldn’t sit out in a bog as easy as you? Do you suggest that you are more fit to stand a little wind and weather…”

Well, you know how it goes? Somebody is always trapping us by the old personality method. At any rate, with a gun borrowed from my brother, and in hip rubber boots borrowed from the garage man, and in woollen shirts and leather vests and canvas hunting coats and great clumsy slicker borrowed from my son, I waited in the cold rain for Jim to hack into my side drive to pick up my dunnage bags and valises full of spare woollens, and shell boxes and all the equipment a normal man can think of taking with him at this time of year on a most unnatural undertaking. Including a hot water bottle.

“A swell day for ducks,” gloated Jim, shoving open the car door heartily.

“And for the flu,” I agreed. “It smells as if it were going to snow.”

Thus, for a period of three hours, along deserted highways amid a forsaken world, we drove, the rain flooding and volleying eternally, and the short afternoon waning to an unpleasant and mischievous darkness, out of which raced glaring lights of unhappy vehicles, and the dim, unfriendly lights of towns and villages wrapped in November gloom.

Jim professed to love it all, the feeling of strong and virile isolation from a timid and withdrawn world. He talked about the arts of wing shooting, of leading a duck so many feet per yard of distance per angle of flight. He raved about the flavor of wild duck, believing that a split teal, broiled in a wire broiler over charcoal, cooked merely to a perfection that still permitted the juices to run, and served with boiled wild rice, boiled celery served only with butter, and hot dry toast, to be the supremest wild flavor the human palate could appreciate.

We came at length, at what seemed midnight but was merely 8 p.m., to a village at which we turned east and took a rain-sodden country road. This we followed with caution for six miles to a farmhouse where everybody had gone to bed but a jovial elderly man, our host, who fed us rather sketchily on some overdone cold meat of some description, a lot of big loose bread, butter so salty it stung and hard stewed crab-apples in pink sweet water.

Jim and Jake talked loudly of the morrow, and the wind increased and the rain quit, and when we stepped out before going up to bed, the air had got so cold it pinched our cheeks.

“Will they ever be flying in the morning?” cried Jim mightily.

“Will they ever,” agreed Jake, heartily.

And he led us up a creaky stairs to a gloomy slope-ceilinged room with two unmatched beds between barren walls. So damply, strangely, uneasily into bed and the lamp blown.

But almost immediately, the lamp was relit, and there, shadowed monstrously on the walls, was Jake, whispering us that he had the kettle on, and we dressed. In damp wool, in scrapy, frigid canvas, we dressed, and, rubber boots clumping and flapping, we went down to a breakfast of coffee-colored tea, thick, dry-fried bacon, two eggs fried stiff and turned over, thoroughly saturated with bacon grease. Then, wiping mouths hastily, off into the night, at 18 minutes to 5.

Jake showed us the boat and shoved us off from shore, with a husky but hearty good-by, good luck. We had to tramp away a thin shell of ice that held the boat to the frozen mud shore.

“She’s freezing,” I shivered.

“The wind will get up before daylight,” shuddered Jim.

With frequent peerings and bendings low, Jim steered a zig-zag course across the sullen water, and we came at last to a sort of promontory of swamp and bulrushes jutting out.

“Drop out the decoys,” muttered Jim.

I fumbled amidst the potato sacks full of damp decoys, unwound the stiff cord, and dropped them overboard at Jim’s direction. Twenty. “Bluebills, all,” said Jim. “But whistlers will come into them.”

Then with a powerful drive of oars, Jim thrust the punt into the point of bulrushes, ice crunching sharply and startlingly under the bow.

Waiting for the Sunrise

“Lovely,” I murmured. “Do we sit on the ice?”

“We sit in the boat,” said Jim, and with the oar, he cracked the thin ice ahead and handed the punt inward with grips of the tall bulrushes. When we had battled our way six feet in, Jim began cutting bulrushes and sticking them upright along the gunwales of the punt.

“Now,” said Jim, “for daylight. We’re at exactly the right time.”

Dawn is praised by poets. But poets are seldom out in November. Through the spaces in the rushes, we gazed out at blackness. The wind had fallen completely. But it was bitter cold.

“Don’t stamp your feet,” hissed Jim. “Squeeze them with your hand.”

And a little later:

“Don’t cough.”

And, just as a faint and sickly pallor became visible on the sky, he said: “Now you have to sit really still.”

I could barely see the decoys, immobile in the glassy water, a few yards out from the rushes. Far off, a gun barked, again and again. Quite close, two guns banged the sun and frigid air. We strained our eyes out into the sky above our decoys. But nothing passed.

It seemed hours for the dawn to break through. The sky was leaden. The air was icy. Not a breath moved the driest rush tip.

“She sure is cold,” whispered Jim.

“Ssssshhh,” I warned fiercely, massaging my feet through the rubber boots.

Seven o’clock came and went. Daylight, ghostly and wan, came. Our decoys lay inert and motionless on the queerly still water, but now we had to keep low, for fear of being seen.

“On a day like this,” whispered Jim, “they may fly a little late….”

“Whisht,” I warned, both hands inside my innermost garment.

Eight o’clock, like an invalid in a chair, rolled slowly in. Passed, and at 8.30, Jim stirred noisily.

“Well,” he said in a profane voice amid the silence, “I guess there’s no use sitting here any longer. We’ll pray for wind tonight, for the evening shoot.”

We stood up in the punt, and she did not wobble.

“Ho, ho,” said Jim, rocking the boat. But she did not rock.

“Frozen in,” I suggested,

So with the oars, we cracked the thin shell of ice around the punt, and, with Jim in the bow like George Washington, we broke a narrow passage out of the rushes. For 20 feet out, a lovely thin sheet of ice had frozen in the three hours of dawn.

Our decoys were fast in it. We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy, Jim making the passage. I picking up the wooden beasts and winding the stiffening cord around them, after chipping off the fringe of ice.

Jim’s teeth were chattering and I had reached the stage of cold that is beyond all shivering.

“I think,” I said, carefully, “that my circulation has stopped.”

“We’ll be back in by the fire in 15 minutes,” clicked Jimmie.

So like two Buddhas, we sat by the fire until 4 p.m., and then, no wind having risen and the sheet ice being 40 feet out from the muddy shore, we packed up roughly, and in the dark, drove home slowly, on a slippery pavement.


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

The Tired Rich

“That’s the trouble with you Perkins. you go about with your eyes shut. It was a brand new tire Perkins – brand new tire – right here !!!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 28, 1933.

“I’d hate,” said Jimmie Frise, “to be a rich man in these times.”

“Goodness me,” I said, “right now I could do with a little riches.”

“Think of the way the rich are abused,” went on Jim. “Public speakers attacking them in no uncertain terms, everybody blaming them for wrecking the world, people sneering at them as they drive by in their costly limousines, the Reds cursing them … No, sir, I’d hate to be a rich man now.”

“Aw,” I said, “it’s just an accident if you are rich or poor. Just a matter of luck. Why should we blame people if they are fortunate. You might as well blame a guy for being six feet tall.”

“Luck!” cried Jimmie. “Accident! I’ve heard that before, and of all the ridiculous things I ever heard! Listen, my bow-legged little friend, a man isn’t rich by accident. I defy you to show me a single instance in which a man is rich except by hard labor, brains, eternal vigilance, long vision, slow amassing of pennies and dollars.”

“I’ve heard of fellows finding gold mines,” I said.

“After years of hard labor and toil, the like of which you haven’t the power to imagine,” said Jim.

“Well, how about rich men’s sons?” I asked. “They didn’t do anything for it.”

“Oh, didn’t they!” howled Jim. “I think the average rich man’s son earns his money ten times over. You don’t know rich men!”

“Well, I still think there is a lot of luck and good fortune in it,” I said. “A man thinks something up, or he gets an idea, or the market booms at the right minute or something.”

“Show me a single case,” demanded Jim. “I’ll tell you how people get rich. It’s in their nature. They are born with the gift. There are lots of industrious men that are poor. But few lazy men that are rich. How would you like to come out with me to-night while I demonstrate the difference between rich men and poor men?”

After supper, Jim came to my house and asked me if I had an old tire off my car lying around the garage.

“Yes, I have,” I said. “How would you know?”

“I am a profound student of human nature,” said Jimmie. “I just knew you were the kind of guy to have an old worn-out tire hanging up in your garage, along with a lot of other useless junk.”

A Test of Mankind

Jim carried the old tire, and it was a very old one, with the tread all worn off in spots, out to his car, and we drove down the street to a garage.

“Bill,” said Jim, “lend me some of that narrow brown paper that is wrapped around new tires.”

“Help yourself,” said the garage man.

So with my assistance, Jimmie carefully unwrapped the long narrow ribbon of brown paper off a new tire and then as carefully wrapped it around my old tire.

“What’s the idea?” I asked, as we struggled to get the paper on evenly.

“The idea,” said Jim, “is to make this old tire of yours look like a new tire.”

After we had the job done, Jim carried the tire out to the car again, and we drove to the west end of the city and out the highway in the night.

“This looks like a very mysterious experiment to me,” I said. “Are we going to find a rich man in the suburbs?”

“We are going out to find all men,” said Jim. “Out here a little way we will have all mankind revealed to us.”

We slowed down at all side roads, peering up them and at the bushes and ditches, and at length, about ten miles out, Jimmie slowed down on the pavement, drove up the side road fifty yards and parked the car on the turf.

Carrying the wrapped tire and a long piece of light rope, Jim led me back to the highway. Along the road a hundred yards or so we came to a spot where, across the ditch from the pavement was a clump of dense bushes. Jim jumped the ditch and went in and examined the bushes, and then announced, “This spot will do.”

He tied the rope to the tire. He laid the tire on the earth shoulder of the highway, with just the edge of it touching the pavement. Then, unwinding the rope, he walked back to the bushes, and crawled into them and hid.

“Come on in here,” said Jim. “The great experiment in human nature is about to begin. We are about to have revealed to us the hidden character of mankind. The secret of Croesus is about to be laid bare.”

I got into the dark and damp bushes alongside of Jimmie and we waited in the night.

Traffic was not really heavy at this season of the year on the highway. Three or four cars passed going the other way on the far side of the pavement, but presently a car’s lights hove in view and we waited, as it came sailing along at about forty-five miles, and its rapidly brightening lights picked out the tire lying on the edge of the road.

Reactions To Opportunity

As it whizzed by, we heard a yell from it.

Then we heard its brakes go on and the car slowed.

Jim gave a yank on the rope and hauled the tire hand over fist into the bushes with us.

The car came backing slowly along the edge of the road.

“It was right along here, somewhere,” cried a lady’s voice. The car came slowly past us. We could see two men and two ladies in it, all peering out the open windows.

It was a medium sort of car, not new, not old, in about the $1,000 price class. It was blue in color and neatly washed and polished.

“Maybe you were seeing things,” said a man’s voice.

“I tell you it was a brand new tire,” cried the lady’s voice. “All wrapped in that windey paper. And it was right along here. Right here.”

They back on past us. They went fifty feet back of where the tire had lain, and then the lady got out, with one of the men, and with the car crawling slowly along behind them, they came walking past us, looking in the ditch.

“That’s the funniest thing,” said the lady, in a puzzled voice. “I’d have sworn I saw a tire lying there.”

“Come on, get in,” said the driver. “You were just seeing things as usual.”

“I tell you I saw a tire on the –” And amidst the shifting of gears and the stepping on the gas, a first-class quarrel was in process as the car pulled away and left us in the night hiding in the bushes.

“There you are!” said Jim, getting up to replace the tire on the highway. “The woman sees the opportunity. But nobody believes her. Now she even doubts her own senses.”

We laid the tire in the same spot and retreated into the bushes as another car’s lights glimmered over the rise in the distance.

This was an old car. It was going a bad forty. It rattled and hummed and chattered. It almost ran over the tire, slowed a little bit and then went right on.

I looked in amazement at Jimmie.

“There,” said Jimmie, “is your poor man for you. He saw the tire. He actually started to stop. But then he either doubted his eyes, or else he thought it wasn’t worth while stopping. The poor lose all faith in their luck. They don’t believe in opportunity even when they see it.”

Another car was coming.

It was another old-timer. It had curtains.

It saw the tire and jammed on its brakes with might and main. Jim yanked the cord and hauled the tire into safety.

Then Unheeding Youth

The old car sputtered and backed dangerously up the road toward us, as a man’s head stuck out the side, directing the driver.

“It was right back here,” said a man’s voice. “Another ten yards or so.”

He had the spot right.

“Well, that’s a queer thing,” he said, in an easy way. “I saw a new wrapped tire right there, and now it’s vanished.”

“Aw, it probably wouldn’t have fitted anyway,” said the voice of the driver. “Or we might have got pinched by the police for trying to sell it. It’s just as well. Let’s go on.”

“Back up just another ten yards,” said the near man. “Distance is deceptive in the dark.”

They backed ten yards past where the tire had lain.

“Let it go,” said the near man, lazily. “I doubt if it was a tire after all. So often things that look like something aren’t really anything after all.

And the shabby old car humped up and jaggled on its way.

“There you are,” said Jim. “That’s the poor man. He has no faith in himself or his luck or anything else.”

We carried the tire back and laid it on the edge of the asphalt again.

Two cars passed without seeing it. Then came far away the low whine and hum of a fast car. Its lights were blazing, and it was boring gaily right down the centre of the road. As it whizzed past, a girl’s voice sang out. And the car took about a hundred yards to come to a stop.

Jim hauled the tire into the bushes.

Skillfully, speedily, the car backed up to us. It was a very new car, well up in the $2,000 price class, de luxe sport model. Wine red. All aglitter.

“It was a tire, Eddie!” said the girl’s voice clearly.

“Aw, the heck with it!” cried Eddie’s voice. “Let’s get on to the party. Who wants a tire, anyway? We’ve got a tire!”

And blithely, they shifted gears and raced away.

“That,” said Jim, rising from the bushes with the tire, “needs no comment. That is Youth!”

We laid the tire again.

A couple more cars went by, unheeding. Their drivers’ eyes glued to the centre of the road. their passengers sunk in the reverie of riding.

Then came the large, bold headlights of a big car.

It came with a steady, smooth pace of a big rich car.

As it sailed majestically past us, we saw it was driven by a chauffeur in uniform, his face lighted with the dashlights.

And the high, angry voice of a large fat man suddenly bellowed: “Perkins, Perkins’, slow down, you fool!”

How a Rich Man Gets Rich

The big car came to a smooth, $6,000 stop.

“Back up, back up!” came the high, irritable voice.

Jim had hauled the tire in and we held it in our laps. We could see the head of a large man projecting from the side window of the limousine, all dark blue and glossy.

“Stop here,” cried the high voice.

Out of the car stepped a fat man in a heavy ulster and a derby hat.

“It was right here,” shouted the big man in his high, angry voice. “Right on that spot.” And he pointed to the very spot Jimmie had laid the tire.

“Didn’t you see it, Perkins?” demanded the high voice testily.

“No, sir, no sir!” said Perkins, coming quickly out of his driving seat and standing on the road shoulder.

“That’s the trouble with you, Perkins,” shouted the rich man. “You never see anything. You go about with your eyes shut. It was a brand new tire, Perkins and it was wrapped in spiral paper. A brand new tire. Right here.”

“Well, sir, it isn’t there now,” remarked Perkins.

“Of course it isn’t!” shouted the rich man. “I can see that myself.”

“Maybe it was an optical illusion,” ventured Perkins.

“Am I in the habit of having optical illusions?” roared the rich man, in a choking voice. “Don’t be a d—- fool, Perkins. The tire was right here. Now it is gone. Let’s find it. Tires don’t vanish.”

Perkins stared at the ground.

But the old man, after a couple of fierce glares up and down the ditch, suddenly walked straight forward across the ditch and before Jim or I could move a leg, he was on top of us, staring down at us in the brush, with the tire on our knees.

“Here,” commanded the rich man, give me that tire!”

Jim untied the knot with a couple of left twitches. He handed the tire up. The rich man seized it, and stamped back over the ditch, and flung the tire into his limousine.

He stamped back to the car carrying the tire

“There you are!” he yelped at Perkins. “Drive on!”

And Jimmie and I were sitting in the bushes.

“Well,” sighed Jim. “What do you know about that! He knew he saw the tire. He had the exact spot. He knew tires don’t evaporate. He simply went and looked for it. And when he found it, he took it.”

“Phew!” said I, struggling to my feet.

“Now that,” said Jim, “was a rich man. No doubts, fears, or illusions. No waste of time. He just gathered that tire in.”

“I’ll say he did.”

Jim rolled up his heavy string and stuffed it in his pocket and we walked back to the highway toward the side road where Jim was parked.

“I’m laughing,” I said, “to think of that rich guy when he opens the tire and sees that old tire of mine.”

“I suppose,” said Jim, “that most things a rich man gets turn out to be junk. But there is just one thing loose in that idea.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“He won’t open the tire,” said Jim. “He’ll sell it. The surprise will be somebody else’s.”

“As usual,” I muttered.


Editor’s Notes: Croesus was the king of Lydia in ancient Greece, and was synonymous with great wealth.

Tires sold at the time would commonly be whitewall tires. New tires were wrapped in paper for shipping, to keep the white stripe clean, and for preventing the black of other tires from rubbing on the whitewall side.

$1000 in 1933 would be $19,800 in 2021. $6000 would be $119,000.

Even though this is one of their earlier stories, it is the first time I saw censoring of language (“d—–” instead of “damned”).

Each to His Trade

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 20, 1934

“My family,” said Jimmie Frise, “are after me to clean the furnace pipes.”

“It’s a trifling job,” I said. “My gardener does it in a few minutes each year and doesn’t even mention it at the end of the month.”

“Still,” demurred Jimmie, “I don’t see why I should rob some poor man of a dollar.”

“It would do you good to engage occasionally in a little unpleasant toil,” I said. “One of the things that is wrong with the world is specialization, not only in industry, but in life itself.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“We kick about the deadening effect of mass production,” I stated, “and the evil effect upon the human race of having men doing one small thing over and over again all their lives, like screwing up nuts or tightening a bolt or some other automatic action. It drives men mad. But how about us all living our lives as automatically, never straying out of the rut, always doing the same things every day at the same time, getting out of bed the same side, shaving in the exact same way, starting with our top right cheek and ending with our left neck, kissing the same woman goodby each morning at the same place in the same hallway, and so forth.”

“What has this got to do with stove pipes?” demanded Jim.

“The deadly routine of your life.” I went on, “includes a furnace, and you stoke it and shake it, and remove the ashes and stoke it again. But the ghastly routine would be broken if, once in while, you cleaned the pipes. It would be like getting out of bed the other side, and shaving your left neck first and ending with your right top cheek, and kissing somebody else goodby in the front hall. It would give you a fresh and sudden zest.”

“I never heard anybody rave about furnace pipes the way you do,” said Jimmie. “How about helping me with them?”

“I could ask my gardener to,” I agreed.

“How about the ghastly monotony of your own life?” sneered Jim.

“I often shave backwards,” I said. “And sometimes I kiss my little daughter goodby instead.”

“If I clean the furnace pipes,” said Jim, “it won’t be for any philosophic or psychopathic reason. It will be simply to save a buck. For five years now I have been trying to end the depression by spending all I made, by sharing my work with others, by hiring people on the slightest pretext to do my work for me. But I can’t see it has made the slightest difference. So from now on I am going to be thrifty and careful like everybody else, and do all my own chores and sole my own boots and cut my own grass and clean my own furnace pipes.”

“And what will you do with the money you save?” I asked.

“I’ll buy bonds,” said Jim.

“That’s patriotic,” I assured him. “Instead of spending your dollars on small jobs like furnace pipes and your garden, you will lend It to the government to pay relief. Then, after they have paid relief to a few million people, you get your money back in ten years. Meantime, who paid the relief?”

“Don’t confuse me,” begged Jim. “I am trying to do the right thing by my country. My country wants cash. To lend it to them, I am going to cut down my spending. I am going to do my own furnace pipes.”

“And the people you no longer help support,” I argued, “will get your money just the same, only in relief.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Jim.

“Then,” I demanded, “where does the money come from, twenty years from now, when the government pays you back the money they borrowed from you?”

“Look,” said Jim, “I have five children. In twenty years they will all be grown up and making money. The government can reborrow from them to pay me back.”

“I’d rather have my furnace pipes done by a pipe cleaner,” I said. “It makes him happy. And it only costs me two dollars. It wont cost my grandchildren anything.”

“But there will be five Frises to borrow from instead of only one pointed out Jim. “It will be easier. That’s what the government figures on. It will be easier to borrow by the time their note to me falls due.”

“It looks to me,” I said, “as if we were paying for having our pipes cleaned and cleaning them ourselves. It is all very confusing.”

“I only want to do what is right,” said Jim. “If they say spend, I spend. If they say save, I save.”

“And if you spend, it’s gone,” I enlightened, “and if you save, It’s loaned.”

But Jimmie had risen from the steps of his house, where we had been sitting in the sunshine, and was staring at a little man walking down the street.

This little man was small and smudgy. Under his arm, he carried a roll of what appeared to be very dirty carpet, and from the ends of the carpet protruded filthy brushes on long wire handles.

“Speak of the devil,” exclaimed Jimmie.

The little man, passing, halted and in a deep English voice cried.

“‘Ow’s yer pipes?”

“Come up a minute,” called Jimmie.

“A real chimney sweep, like in Dickens,” I breathed to Jim.

The little man drew nigh and rested his roll of carpet.

“Are you a chimney sweep?” I asked excitedly, picturing him as one who has spent his entire childhood and infancy in the chimneys of Old London.

“No, sir,” he said, with dignity. “I am a financial man, by profession, but during the present interregnum, as you might say, I am picking up what I can.”

“You clean chimneys?” asked Jim.

“I clean furnace pipes,” said the little man.

“How much do you charge?”

“Two dollars,” said he.

“Two dollars!” cried Jim. “Two bucks Just to rattle a few furnace pipes into an ash can! Man, you’re crazy.”

“It’s quite a job,” said the chimney man.

“Why, for two dollars I could drive my car from here to Montreal!”

“But your pipes would still be choked,” said the small man, “when you got back ‘ome.”

“Two dollars! Why, that is ridiculous,” said Jim. “Some of you people have no sense of proportion. Just because a job is a little unpleasant, you charge three times what it is worth. My friend and I can do those pipes in a few minutes after supper.”

“I shouldn’t try it of an evening, sir,” said the little man. “Professionally speaking.”

“Thanks very much,” said Jim, dismissing the small man, who hoisted his roll of carpet. “I had no idea.”

And as the little man retired down the walk, Jim said: “Look here, you save Saturday afternoon, we’ll do mine and yours both.”

“Mine were done,” I pointed out.

“Lend me hand, just for the experience,” said Jim. “I want to look into this business of small jobs. Two bucks!”

Saturday Jim drove me home from the office very kindly and then reminded me, as he let me out, to come over at 2 p.m.

It is curious how seldom one looks at a furnace. One visits it in the dark, shovels coal into a glowing hole, rattles a shaker, reaches up to a familiar doohickey and turns the draft on or off, and the furnace remains a dimly seen, faintly disliked, something to be admitted only part way into one’s consciousness.

Jim and I surveyed his furnace in some awe. It was a bulging and somehow bowlegged sort of furnace. It was aged and scaley and corroded. There were bands or bolts of clay around it that fell away like dust when you touched them. Everything was rusty and squeaked.

Dark Cloud of Endeavor

The pipes were fragile and sagged. When we slapped them, they felt soggy and stuffed.

“How long is it since you had your pipes cleaned?” I asked Jim, doubtfully.

“I don’t recall them being cleaned.”

“Why, you have been wasting fuel for years and haven’t been getting a fraction of the British thermal units you should have been getting.”

“You’d better take off your coat,” said Jim, throwing his across the empty coal bin stall.

I stood ready while Jim stretched up and took firm hold of the joint of pipe that vanished into the cellar wall. It was stuck. It was corroded.

He tapped it with a stick. He hammered it with the shaker handle. He punched a hole in it.

“Poof,” said Jim, as a darkish mist filled the air.

“Get a couple of chairs, and we’ll both take hold and twist,” I suggested.

So Jim got on a box and I got on a chair, and we took firm hold of the pipe and twisted.

It was only a matter of a fraction of a second, but as the pipe came free, Jim, who was curved in one of these fantastic postures tall men can get into when doing the most commonplace things, lost his balance off the box and I felt a heavy and clumsy pipe slip from my grasp.

“Are you there, Jim?” I asked, from the depths of the inky darkness which had suddenly enveloped the furnace room.

“Curious-pfft-smell, isn’t it-pfft!” said Jim from below.

“We had better go outside,” I suggested.

“Tale a section of pipe each,” said Jimmie. “There are ash cans in the side drive.”

I felt above and found a sagging section of pipe. It came fairly easily into my arms, but I felt a cool dry flood of something like talcum powder flow over my hands and wrists as I tilted the pipe level.

“Easy, there,” said Jimmie, coughing.

By only half breathing, we got out of the cellar, dark as night, into the semigloom of the stairs, and preceding Jimmie, I carried the pipe to the side door. It was heavy. You can have no idea how neglected those pipes were. I saw a garbage can and I dumped the pipe smartly head first into the can.

A great whoof of midnight whirled into the bright afternoon air.

“Make way,” gasped Jim, behind me, and as I turned, still marvelling at the fog, I beheld a devilish figure, black from head to foot, heave a section of pipe alongside mine into the ash can, and another and a vaster and a more deadly black cloud billowed into the air.

“Jimmie!” I cried. “You’re filthy. What have you been doing?”

But I could tell by the red gape of Jim’s mouth in his face that I too, was soiled.

“You’ll pay for cleaning this suit, young man,” I assured him. The more you try to brush soot off, the worse you get. Especially if you are perspiring a little.

“Keep still,” said Jim. “Wait till I think.”

But from the rear of the house came screeches and screams and moans in a female voice. It was the next door neighbor. We ran around the corner, and there was a lady, her arms held over her head like the statue of victory, and she was staring transfixed at three large curtains or drapes of a silvery blue color, that were hanging on the clothesline, while the dark cloud of our endeavor slowly engulfed them like a fog.

“Dear, dear,” said Jimmie, drawing me back from the corner.

Better Stay in the Rut

To the lady’s screams were suddenly added loud, brief and profane shouts of a man.

It was the man whose house abuts the rear of Jim’s place.

Head low to avoid the cloud, he came hurling over the fence and faced us.

“Look at that!” he roared. “Painted this morning, and now look at it!”

We could make out the back of his house. I was finished in white and light green. The cloud was aiming straight at it, and vanishing into the paint as cigarette smoke vanishes into an electric fan.

The lady was standing waiting.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Jim, “I will make it right with you.”

“They just came back from the cleaners,” wept the lady, “and I was airing that smell off them before putting them up before dinner when my father-in-law is coming and we have roast chicken, and they cover the living room windows and now …”

“That job,” interrupted the man, “cost me forty-eight dollars and to have the back done, by George, will cost you at least twenty. Twenty, l estimate. Yes, sir, twenty would be fair estimate.”

There we stood, with the two pipe sections upended in the ash can, and with us the man and the lady, when we heard footsteps up the drive and the little man with the roll of carpet that we had seen last Wednesday joined us.

“Glory!” yelled Jim.

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

“How did you turn up?” said Jim, trying to wring the little man’s hand, but the little man evaded him.

“I overheard you say Saturday, so I just dropped around. I do quite a little business this way, whenever I hear of gents planning to clean their furnaces.”

He laid his roll of brushes down in a business-like way.

“I’ll give you $5 to clean all this up,” cried Jimmie. “That is, if you can empty these two joints as well.”

“It would have been better,” said the little man, “if you had left the pipes. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Five dollars,” said Jim.

“And a dollar and a half to clean this suit,” I said.

“And a dollar and a half for this one,” added Jim, looking down at himself.

“And twenty for the paint job,” I calculated.

“And say three for the curtains?” contributed Jim.

The little man, who had trotted down the collar, reappeared.

“You’ll need new pipes,” said he. “These are all rotted and pitted.”

“How much?” asked Jim. “I should estimate about two,” said he.

“Total,” said Jim, “thirty-three dollars.”

He was very cheerful.

“Now you see,” said Jim, “that it is best not to try to get out of the rut. Accept the ghastly monotony of your life. And don’t try to be thrifty. It always costs you more in the end. Each man to his trade. I’m an artist. You’re a writer. And this gentleman cleans furnaces.”

“The furnace itself,” said the little man, picking up his carpet roll, “isn’t in bad shape.”


Editor’s Notes: $2 in 1934 would be almost $40 in 2021. $33 would be $650.

Old coal furnaces ran by having coal delivered through a chute in the basement window, and would require the owner to stoke the furnace with coal to keep it hot. The shaker handle was accessible from the outside and you would crank it to activate shaker plates in the bottom that would help the ashes from the burnt coal to get to the bottom ash pan. You would have to then collect the ash to put in an ash can that would be picked up from your curb.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Let the Chips Fall

With a sway and a creak the tree started to fall – straight for the house…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 17, 1936.

“What’s the good of a sunroom,” asked Jimmie Frise, “if a big tree shades it?”

“Build the sunroom somewhere else,” I explained.

“Cut the tree down, you mean,” said Jim.

“Nonsense,” I cried. “A tree takes longer to grow than you do. It takes a tree a hundred years to mature.”

“This tree,” said Jim, “was just a little bit of a thing when I bought the house. A slim little girl of a tree. Who would ever have suspected it of growing up into a great fat dowdy matron of a tree that would become a nuisance?”

“We’re all human,” I pointed out.

“It has grown higher than the house,” said Jim, “and it not only cuts off all the sun from the sunroom but the grass won’t grow under it any more. Its big fat arms wave and scratch at the roof. One of these days it is going to rip a cornice off. It’s got to go.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “pause. You can cut off a branch here and there, if it offends. But if you cut that tree down, you will miss it as you would miss a member of your family at the table. A vacant chair.”

“It will be a great relief to see the thing gone,” said Jimmie. “Every time there is a thunderstorm we imagine the lightning hitting the tree and jumping across to the house, killing us all in bed. Fresh air will blow in our windows again. A dampness that has slowly been increasing on that side of our house will vanish, and the good sun will cleanse and brighten us.”

“A nest of robins in its hair,” I reminded him. “Lifts its leafy arms in prayer.”

“Caterpillars drop off it to the window sills,” stated Jim, “and crawl into the house. Black squirrels use it for a ladder to enter our home and chew nests under our eaves.”

“It will cost almost is much,” I declared, “to have the tree cut down as it will to remodel the house and put the sunroom on another corner.”

“I’ll cut it down myself,” said Jim.

“Once I had a tree cut down,” I said, “and it cost $38. Two Norwegian sailors came and scaled the tree like a mast, and started cutting it off from the top, a few feet at a time. I never saw anything so cruel and terrible in my life. This lovely tree, that had patiently thrust itself up, up, year by year, being patiently chopped off, from the top, hour by hour. It took them all afternoon to cut that tree down. And I missed it ever since.”

“Why did you have it cut down?” asked Jim.

“Because its roots were breaking into my drain pipes,” I answered. “Not because it gave me shade.”

“My tree has got to go,” said Jim. “It has outlived its usefulness and beauty. What we need is air.”

“I warn you, Jim,” I assured him. “I warn you. This sacrifice of all life in careless worship of our own needs is some day going to get us humans into a dreadful jam.”

“A tree is a tree,” said Jim.

“That Would Be a Swell Joke”

“It lives,” I declared. “It has life. It probably has feeling. And who knows but it may actually think.”

“Yeah,” agreed Jim. “I often hear it muttering.”

“Jim,” I insisted, “did you ever pause to think of the dreadful slaughter of life that man is responsible for? Think of the creatures mankind has destroyed in the past few millions of years in order to eat. The billions of deer, fowl, cattle, sheep, goats. The incalculable hordes of beasts, birds, fish, oysters. Just so merry little man might write his story on the stones of the earth.”

“Everything eats something,” said Jim. “If we hadn’t eaten them, wolves would have.”

“Ah,” I said, “think of all the things man has destroyed for which he had no earthly use, but just because they were in his way. The wolves, tigers, lions. The elephants. Poor, gentle elephants, doing no harm, yet man slaughtered them for their teeth.”

“We had to play billiards,” explained Jim, “and before we invented composition balls, all we had were ivory balls.”

“The buffalo,” I reminded him. “Once our plains were black with buffalo. So men went forth and slew them, leaving a thousand carcasses a day to rot on the prairie, while the hunters ripped off the hides and sold them for cheap leather in the east at a dollar a hide.”

“How could western farmers operate their wheat fields,” demanded Jim, “if there were a lot of buffalo stampeding all over the place?”

“And the passenger pigeon,” I recalled. “Just to make a holiday, men trapped these lovely wild creatures by the tens of thousands and caged them and sold them to the trap shooters, so that, on a Saturday afternoon, the sportsmen could go to the gun club and each shoot a hundred live birds.”

“If you had lived in Toronto in 1880,” said Jim, “you would have been glad of a little live-bird shooting to break the monotony.”

“To make our fields,” I cried loudly, “we burned and chopped and blasted the forests primeval. To make our fields, we destroyed the buffalo and the deer and all the wild things. For our sweet sake, we have chased and hunted and killed and exterminated not only billions of individual creatures given, like us, the divine blessing of life on this earth, but we have completely wiped out certain whole species.”

“Now that you come to mention it,” agreed Jim, “we have kind of hogged the show.”

“Hog is right,” I mused. “And now, by golly, having nothing else to chase and fight and kill, we are turning on each other. Look at the nations of the earth.”

“That would be a swell joke,” agreed Jim. “Having killed everything else, we kill ourselves.”

“Nature,” I stated, “is essentially humorous. Nature has played a lot of jokes in her time. The various proud races she has built up, and then let them drop in the mud. The species she has allowed to rule the roost, only to have them end up as monstrous and comic skeletons in a museum. I guess the dinosaurs didn’t realize they were comic, in the days they thrashed around the earth, making all living creatures flee in terror. But I get a big snicker out of them whenever I see their great waddling obscene bones in a museum.”

Jimmie Wields the Axe

“Do you think Nature really designed those dinosaurs?” asked Jim. “With clown frills around their necks, and faces like gargoyles, and limp necks seventeen feet long and thick legs three feet long?”

“I believe Nature is a joker,” I assured him. “And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she was busy right now playing a joke on men. I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation of the world as it is to-day. Somebody is having fun with us. It can’t be serious. It must be somebody’s idea of fun.”

“I guess a humorous basis for life would be just as good as a serious one,” said Jim. “If we could only persuade everybody, Hitler and Gen. Blanco and Stalin and everybody, that it was all a joke, then they wouldn’t be so serious about everything and we could all have fun and sleep easy.”

“The first thing you do, then,” I said, “is spare that tree and shift your sunroom to some other part of the house.”

“The tree,” said Jim, “is coming down. Do you know what we call that tree in our house? We call it Mussolini. It is coming down, with a crash. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you give me a hand with it, I’ll plant a new baby tree in its place. Right in the same spot. A new baby tree, of any kind you like to choose.”

“I would as soon,” I said “shoot your dog as cut down your tree. Wait. You’ll find out.”

But the next evening, when I heard an axe ringing unaccustomed in our quiet neighborhood, I knew it was Jim. And, after listening to the sound that has for five thousand years been the most characteristic of all human sounds on this round earth, I felt a curious fascination growing in me and I went down the back lane the three doors that separate our homes, and there was Jim, swinging a bright blade. Already a great white gash showed in the hip of the beautiful tree.

“Which way,” I called, after watching Jim for several minutes, “do you intend it to fall?”

Jim rested from chopping and surveyed the tree.

“Back towards the lane,” said Jim. “I cut a big notch on this side, see? Then I go to the other side and cut a smaller notch a little above the other, so that when the weight begins to tell, the tree will fall towards the larger and lower notch.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

“A lot of good wood in this tree,” said Jim appraisingly. “I’ll saw up the trunk and larger branches. I bet I get three cord of lovely firewood.”

“A wood fire is a fine thing,” I admitted.

“To anybody that wanted a little wood,” said Jim. “I’d be glad to give those large limbs, if they would go to the trouble of sawing or chopping them off, after she’s down.”

“I’d be glad of the branches,” I submitted.

Jim stepped up, spat on his hands, and began to swing the axe again, in great sweeping blows, making big white chips leap out on to the lawn.

There is something graceful about swinging an axe. Graceful and satisfying. It uses all of a man. His arms, shoulders, back. His legs, thighs, calves, feet. A good swing of an axe is about as complete a use of the human body as can be imagined. It may be all this dreadful orgy of killing and chopping and cultivation was the result of early man discovering how nice it is to swing an axe. Maybe even war started from man liking the feel of an axe. Maybe.

“Jim,” I called, “if you need a hand.”

Jim took a few more extra heavy whangs and then let the axe fall, and rested.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I say, if you would like a rest, I could take a few swings.”

“Certainly,” agreed Jim, stretching his shoulders.

I took the axe, and felt the slide of its smooth handle through my hands; felt the heavy bite of its blade into the gleaming wood. It is a sort of rhythm that makes good chop. You don’t heave and thump with an axe. You simply swing it, in a rhythmic and accelerating arc, allowing the weight of the blade to do the work, and concentrating the mind on the accuracy of the blow.

“Don’t widen the cut,” called Jim, who was standing admiring my work. “Keep to the same notch I was making.”

“Listen, boy,” I said, “my great-grandfather owned the hogs that hollowed out Hogg’s Hollow. Tell me about an axe!”

But in a minute, Jim stepped in and I handed it over to him.

“We’re not the right sizes,” he said, “to both work on the same notch. “You’ve widened this all out.”

“Good clean chips, though,” I said.

“I’ll have to even it out,” said he.

And with a few keen, upcurving strokes he joined the lower part of the notch where I was hitting to the larger notch he had made.

“You had better go around and start your higher notch now,” I warned him. For the big notch was more than half way through.

“I do a workmanlike job,” said Jim, pausing to study the notch and then stepping up and giving a series of neat, sharp chops to remove a few rough cuts.

A loud crack.

A creak, a squeak, and I saw the tree starting to sway. A sudden rending splitting sound, and the tree began to fall not towards the lane, but straight for the house.

We leaped aside, and as it fell, the unchopped side caused the trunk to swing a little, so that what it did strike was not the house but the sunroom, jutting out from the back. A side-ways swinging blow. And in a tremendous shower of glass and splintering frames, the sunroom collapsed like an orange crate.

There was a long moment of utters silence, such as always marks the fall of a noble tree, even in the lonely forest, where the wood choppers toil. And then the trouble began. Family, neighbors, that sort of thing.

“The point is,” said Jim, as he and I stood out in the lane while everybody else crowded around the tree and the hanging sunroom, “the point is, we had more or less decided to take your advice in the first place, and shift the sunroom around to the south side.”

“Then why did you chop down the tree?” I demanded.

“We thought we’d do both,” said Jim.

“Nature is humorous,” I suggested. “And often she’s very helpful.”


Editor’s Notes: $38 in 1936 is $730 in 2021.

Who is this Gen. Blanco, on par with Hitler and Stalin? Probably Luis Carrero Blanco, Francisco Franco’s right hand man. As the Spanish Civil War only started a few months earlier, maybe it was not clear who was in charge of the Nationalist side?

Kit Inspection

To my deep joy, Jimmie … let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way cowboy throws a lariat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 7, 1939.

“With a little walnut juice or something,” said Jimmie Frise, “I could dye my hair.”

“The trouble is,” I explained, they have our records at Ottawa. Every old soldier, 600,000 of us, is all docketed at Ottawa. You can’t fool them, unless, of course, you want to get in under an assumed name.”

“If this war continues,” said Jimmie, “we won’t have to worry. They’ll take all the old soldiers. And be mighty glad to have us.”

“I tell you what they ought to do,” I stated. They ought to recruit what the Germans called the Landwehr in the old war. All men over a certain age, who had no particular right to serve in the active battalions, were enlisted in reserve battalions of older men They did all kinds of secondary work like guard duty, digging trenches, laying wire entanglements, repairing roads, and everything like that.”

“Not for me,” declared Jimmie. “Just because I’m over age is no reason why they should work me to death.”

“Jim, you’re romantic,” I said. “It is just as honorable to die from a heart attack while carrying a heavy plank, 30 miles behind the battle lines, when you are in uniform, as to die in a battle raid.”

“And somebody has to carry the planks,” agreed Jim.

“The way I’d do it,” I enunciated, “if I were the minister of defence, I would enlist every man who wants to enlist, so long as he is fit. Young, old, weak, strong, keen, dull, gay, crabby, enlist them all into a sort of depot. A sort of recruiting pool. Then let the recruiting officers of the infantry come along, for example, and call a parade of the pool and ask for those who wanted to enter the infantry, please step forward.”

“Who’d have first choice of them?” inquired Jim. “I wouldn’t want the infantry to get all the best men. Don’t forget the artillery.”

“Oh, no,” I enlightened. “The boys in the pool would know that all branches would be coming for them, so those that wanted to get into the artillery or the engineers could hold back until the officer from those arms called for them. Now, when the infantry officer came, a lot of men would step forward who aren’t suited to infantry, too old, too fat, too tall.”

“Huh,” snorted Jimmie.

“Yes, too tall,” I insisted. “If I were minister of defence, the first call for the infantry would be for men between five feet and five feet three inches and weighing not more than 125 pounds.”

“Good grief,” laughed Jim. “The Guards.”

“Modern infantry,” I informed him, “travels in trucks. You can get far more small men in a truck than you can big ones. Small men can move over the ground far slicker than tall ones, and instead of having to dig six-foot trenches, you would only need five-foot trenches. In a trench 100 miles long, I bet that would save enough digging to fill up the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Tall men are a waste of time in the infantry.”

“I suppose you’d put all the big men in the artillery,” scoffed Jim.

“Certainly,” I agreed “Because when you run out of gasoline, somebody has to haul those guns around. And the more beef you’ve got in the artillery, the sooner you bombardiers are going to be helping us poor little infantry away out there in the blue.”

New Plan For Recruiting

“I want to inform you,” said Jim, “that we artillery men have the highest respect and admiration for the infantry. It’s a pity you infantry haven’t got more feeling for us gunners.”

“We have the highest respect for you,” I assured him, “when you take time to aim your guns.”

“Now, that’s too much…” cried Jim indignantly.

“What I was getting at,” I interrupted calmly, “is that when men are over age for the active service battalions or units enlisted, they would automatically be appointed to the reserve units of the army, all branches; reserve infantry reserve artillery, reserve engineers and everything. For instance, I’d be a major of a reserve battalion of infantry, and you’d be a gunner in a reserve battery of artillery.”

“Yeah,” said Jimmie. “And you’d be swelling around ordering a lot of poor old soaks to dig roads and pile lumber, while I’d find myself with a hose and a sponge cleaning the tractors of some battery of the active force, who are far too busy and valuable to do any rough jobs like car washing.”

“The point is,” I explained, “by this reserve system of recruiting we older men would be learning the organization and set-up of the new army, we would be in training all the time. So that when the time came and I had to take my battalion of old soldiers to fight, and you had to go with your comrades of the old artillery to man the decimated guns, we would at least know the ropes.”

“I can still remember every detail,” said Jim, “of my old training on the 18-pounders.”

“Yes, but by the time you would be called up,” I pointed out, “it wouldn’t be 18-pounders they would be using, but some new-fangled, quick-firing anti-tank gun or some electrically operated group of anti-aircraft quick-firers that shoot 40 rounds at one shot.”

“Let them get electricians, then,” retorted Jimmie. “If they think they’ve got a new war, they’re crazy. This war, once they’ve bust up all the new-fangled machines, will get right back to Julius Caesar the way the last one did.”

“I doubt it,” I informed him. “You’re like the old Boer War veterans that were with us in the last war. Remember how we used to get so bored with the old Boer War veterans?”

“I know,” agreed Jim, “but they thought war was a matter of riding hell for leather across the veldt and capturing kopjes.”

“Well, you’ll admit,” I pointed out, “that our war was quite a surprise to them. With our trench mortars and our 50-foot dugouts, and that good old trench routine, a civilization all its own. Like Venice.”

“You forget,” said Jim bitterly, “that I did not see much of trenches. I saw gun pits. Holes dug in the hard earth, in which to seat a gun. Holes dug in the earth to store the shells for the guns. I saw roads, not trenches. When I had to deliver a mule load of shells to my guns, there were no deep, safe communication trenches for me. No, sir, I had to ride my mules right up the dark, blasted, riven road.”

“That was 20 to 25 years ago, Jim,” I said. “And those Boer War veterans had their war only 13 years before ours. If the Boer War veterans looked a little corney to us, how do you suppose we look to these young soldiers of today?”

Old Tunics and Breeches

“You’re talking like an infantry man,” corrected Jim. “But to us gunners, war never changes. Weapons do. But not war. We still have to haul our guns into position. Then we have to protect them. And then we fire them. I could deliver shells to guns just as good as I ever did.”

“On mules?” I scoffed.

“Yes, on mules,” said Jim. “War never changes. Only the uniforms and the size and the shape of weapons.”

“Did Julius Caesar have airplanes?” I mocked.

“No, he had scouts on flying horses,” said Jim.

“And could they drop tons of bombs on towns?” I insisted.

“No, but they could kill defenceless people just as dead with swords and lances,” retorted Jim. “They could set fire to temples; and to plain people cowering on distant hillsides. What’s the difference whether a bombing plane or one of Julius Caesar’s horsemen set their village on fire?”

“You have very old-fashioned notions,” I remarked.

“You infantry people,” said Jimmie, “give me a laugh. You are always thinking up something new, but it never works. There you were in the last war, millions of you, solemnly marching in and out of trenches. And what did you do? Not a thing. Whenever anything happened, you fired off sky rockets to signal us gunners to cut loose, There you at, in your trenches, in deep caverns and holes, while we gunners, on both sides, plastered the stuffing out of you. But you were happy because you figured you had thought up something new.”

“Artillery,” I shouted, “is just an accessory, a side-arm, of the infantry. We use you. We tell you where we want to go and you blow open a path.”

“Gravel crushers,” said Jim.

“Horse polishers,” I sneered.

As became my rank and appointments, however antiquated, I felt that it was beneath me to bandy words with a mere gunner, another rank. So I got up and left the room.

When I got home, I went straight up to the attic and amidst the quiet and the rafter smell of the trunk room, I found an old brown bag and unfastened it.

It was like undoing a bundle of old letters. Twenty years is quite a long time for a cap to go unworn, and the wrinkles of 20 years in a tunic, however good the cloth, are deep wrinkles. Field boots that once upon a time were such a pride and glory that it was a question whether I was wearing the boots or the boots were wearing me, can wither up very hard and dry in 20 years.

I got them out and brushed them down with my hands and pulled at the wrinkles and creases. I tried the tunic on, and it would button, only in one button, the top. My Sam Browne belt had vanished, however I scrabbled through the old brown valise. And I suddenly remembered seeing, six or seven years ago, a dog harness my sons had built for Dollie, the cocker spaniel, to draw a sleigh. My Sam Browne.

The breeches were more of an abdominal supporter than a pair of pants, but I got them on. The field boots were agony. I dragged them back and forth over a rafter. I rubbed them and anointed them with oil. But you can’t bask in the soft air of peace for 20 years and expect old leather field boots to stay limber, up in hot attics.

But when I came downstairs, some shadow of the former man followed me. The cap had shrunk and perched a little unsteady. By carrying my stomach well in and one hand in my tunic pocket, very jaunty, I could pass a mirror sideways and not look too terrible. Of course, with the years comes charity, in relation to oneself.

A lane connects the back of Jim’s garden, four doors south, from mine. And down this lane, in the quiet of the supper hour, I walked smartly, meeting nobody. And when I rapped at Jim’s back door, Jim happily opened to me, a tea cup in his hand. He was having bachelor supper, the family being all out.

“Holy Moses,” he said.

“Jim,” I offered, snapping my salute and standing very stiff, “I don’t think two old friends should quarrel at a time like this, over old jealousies dating back to the old war. Twenty years ago.”

“Come in, come in,” cried Jim. “Where did you dig up all the souvenirs?”

“Excuse me, Jim,” I protested, “this is my old service kit. It fits me pretty good, don’t you think?”

“I wonder where my stuff is?” said Jim, eyeing me enviously.

“Other ranks were supposed to hand their kit in, on demobilization,” I recalled.

“And come home from the war naked?” said Jim. “I’ve got my stuff here somewhere.”

Kit Bag in the Attic

I followed Jimmie up dark attic steps, and into the trunk room. All attics are alike.

Jim explored around amidst trunks, bags, and, under a pair of oars and duck decoys and a pile of things that appear to be anything at all, he found his old artillery kit bag, inscribed J. L. Frise and his regimental number. In an old topped trunk of pre-war vintage, he unearthed another treasure trove of the wars. I counted five moths when he opened the bag and trunk.

“Hm,” said I. “A fine way to keep your kit.”

My boots were chafing terribly.

Jim removed his trousers and had put on the artillery breeks with their clumsy leg patches.

“They fit,” he said a little huskily.

“Now try on your riding boots,” I submitted.

“I wore puttees when I was demobilized,” said Jim, rummaging in the trunk and pulling out spurs, all rusted, shirts, leather goods.

“Here’s the puttees,” he gloated. They are just the way I took them off 20 years ago.”

I stood and watched with grim amusement. I always knew the artillery did not know how to wear puttees. They always put them on upside down. The started the winding at the knees and tied them down at the ankle, on some wild theory that they were better that way riding a horse, but who would ride a horse in puttees.

To my deep joy, Jimmie, after trying on the puttee this way and that with a growing sense of bewilderment, finally started rolling them at the ankle, the way, the infantry did, and instead of rolling it snugly against his leg on the way up, carefully judging the distance of each lap, he let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way a cow puncher throws a lariat.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said pleasantly.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, very flushed and studying the problem as from a far distance.

“Can’t even remember how to put on a puttee,” I said.

Jimmie straightened up and let the puttee fall on the floor.

“And you can’t even remember,” he said loudly, “how to button your tunic.”

“It isn’t my memory that is at fault,” I remarked bitterly.

“And your cap looks like a fungus,” said Jim, “and your pants don’t meet, and your boots look like an Eskimo’s mukluks.”

“Easy, Jim, easy,” I warned. “We won’t get anywhere criticizing our appearances.”

“And we won’t get anywhere,” remarked Jim, “making cracks about forgetting how to wrap puttees on.  Who the heck wears puttees anyway? Just a lot of mudhookers and infantry.”

“Pardon me, Jimmie,” I began.

“Puttees have been abandoned by the army, anyway,” cried Jim. “And infantry has been pretty near abandoned too. But the good old guns are bigger and better than ever.”

We eyed each other fiercely for a minute in the moth-filled attic room, and then he took off the artillery breeches and puttees and trousers and packed all the stuff back tenderly in the round-topped trunk and brown bag with the regimental number and we went downstairs and out the door and up the lane to my place. I changed back into Harris tweed and we listened to the radio news broadcast and thought of the young men that were out tonight doing all the old-fashioned jobs, the creeping and the crawling, the standing and watching, and the dim view of fat brown shells and the jerking of the yards of guns.


Editor’s Notes: This appeared shortly after the start of World War Two, and a lot of old WWI veterans were thinking on how they could help. Unfortunately, the right hand side of the microfilm was badly cut off, so some of the text had to be filled in with my best guess.

Walnut juice is a natural hair dye made from walnut shells, which is still popular today among those who want natural products.

Kopjes is a South African reference to small hills.

Breeks are trousers that stop below the knees. Puttees are bandages wrapped for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, and were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform from 1902 until 1938. The Sam Browne Belt is a belt supported by a strap over the shoulder.

Gravel crushers and mud hookers were slang terms to refer to the infantry (along with foot sloggers, gravel grinders and mud crushers, an insult that carried over from the cavalry, implying that the infantry just marched around). A horse polisher is an insult to refer to the cavalry, implying they just looked after horses, but it could also refer to the artillery of WW1, as Jim indicated that he spent a lot of time delivering shells (more likely by mule). A cow puncher is just a cowboy, someone who works on a ranch controlling cattle.

Dangerous Crossing

With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me, and Jim followed with a little girl and boy.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 5, 1946.

“The world,” insisted Jimmie Frise, “is getting better.”

“I can see no signs of it,” I asserted.

“It’s getting better and better all the time.” declared Jim. “Better and better for ever larger numbers of people in ever wider areas of the world’s surface.”

“Aw,” I protested, “you mean India and China and Africa and such…”

“Certainly,” said Jim sharply. “Why not? Do you mean the world just around you? Maybe it isn’t so comfortable right in your own immediate circle.”

“How can I judge the world,” I demanded, “except from where I sit?”

“From where we sit,” smiled Jimmie, “is where most of us are judging the world these days.”

“Back in the good old days,” I complained, “we didn’t know about the rest of the world. Occasionally, some missionary would come home from China or Africa and preach to us about the tragic way of life of all those teeming millions. So we gave a dollar to the missionary fund.”

“Conscience,” agreed Jim, “was cheap a few years ago. But nowadays, with the movies and radio and everything, there is no escape for us.”

“Not to mention,” I added, “that millions of British, American and Canadian boys have been in those far parts of the earth – India, China, Africa – and are apt to have formed some opinion.”

“Public opinion,” submitted Jim, “was easy to manage, 20, 30 years ago. Nobody knew anything but what they were told.”

“And now,” I confessed, “when a politician gets up and tries to steer the mob his way, 20 or 50 or 100 young guys who have been in China or India or Africa can get up in the audience and slaughter him with a few words.”

“It isn’t going to be easy to be a politician from now on,” gloated Jim cheerfully. “Too much food for thought lying around everywhere. Newspapers, feature magazines, radio, movies. And too many people eating it.”

“Eating what?” I inquired.

“Food,” said Jim, “for thought.”

“Do you think,” I asked, “that if more people start thinking, the world will get better?”

“Maybe not for us comfortable people,” explained Jim, “who have been doing the thinking in the past.”

“Does thinking make us comfortable?” I parried.

Mental Indigestion

“Thinking,” elucidated Jim, “is merely masticating or chewing food for thought. If you don’t give the people anything to think about, they don’t think. Back 50 years, when only a selected few were allowed to go forward with their education as far as the end of high school, much less the university, only a selected few were given any food for thought. There were no modern newspapers and magazines. No movies, no radio. The serious theatre was expensive and largely designed for that same selected few who had already been supplied, by education, with food for thought. But look at the world now! Education is becoming compulsory. Forced feeding. Whether the young people of today have any appetite for food for thought or not, they are stuffed with it by force. And modern publishing, movies and radio are furiously competing in cooking the food for thought in attractive forms and serving it up in an appetizing way.”

“Darn you and your metaphors,” I groaned.

“I don’t suggest all these millions,” went on Jim, “are going to think straight. But they are going to think. You can’t shove food for thought into the mouths of millions without them chewing it.”

“It’s a horrible simile,” I protested, “Everybody, will have indigestion. Mental indigestion.”

“Maybe, maybe,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “But which is worse? Starving? Or indigestion?”

“In the past, Jim,” I presented, “the people who went ahead eating food for thought were those with the appetite for food for thought.”

“I think,” mused Jim, “that everybody is born with the appetite in some measure. But the way we have had the world organized, the appetite was killed in early life for the vast majority of human beings.”

“But not any more?” I queried.

“Not any more,” said Jim.

Jim drove the car slowly homeward. It was only mid-afternoon, but we had a caulking job to do at Jim’s house. We were going to go all over his downstairs window frames which, over the years, had shrunk somewhat, leaving wind cracks for winter.

“It’s a sort of cafeteria,” he suggested. “And even compulsory education is getting into line with publishers, book, newspaper and magazine, the movies, the radio and all the other distributors of food for thought, so as to make the cafeteria presentation as attractive as possible.”

“Jim,” I suggested, “in the past, when only a comparatively few people were equipped for thinking, what did they devote their thinking to?”

“Okay, what?” asked Jim guardedly.

“They devoted their thinking,” I stated, “to how to get out of doing work. They devoted their thinking to how to get others, who didn’t think, to do their work for them, and make a profit.”

“Now, now,” laughed Jimmie.

“It’s a fact,” I cried. “That’s all thinking really amounts to. How to escape working for somebody else.”

“Well …” said Jim, puzzled.

“And if we equip everybody in the world to think,” I demanded, “then what happens?”

“Well …” floundered Jimmie.

Suddenly he tramped on the brakes and steered the car sharply towards the curb. We were just approaching a big public school. Not a soul was to be seen about it, except a middle-aged man wearing a white cap and white cross bands of canvas over his chest, who was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands.

“I’ll Handle The Traffic”

“Something wrong here,” muttered Jim.

“He’s the guy who ushers the kids across the intersection when school’s out,” I said.

“I know, but look at him,” said Jim, as we bailed out.

“Hi,” said Jim.

The man turned a gray face up to us.

“Sorry,” he said. “I had a bad turn there for a minute …”

“Are you all right?” asked Jim. “Can we run you home? Or to a doctor, maybe?”

“No, no, I’ll be all right,” said the old boy, trying to struggle up. But his knees gave way under him.

“Say, look,” cried Jim, putting his arm around the old chap. “Let’s run you home, eh?”

“No, no,” he said thickly. “The children will be out in a minute …”

I looked at my watch. It was 3.15.

“They won’t be out,” I assured him, “for 15 minutes. Look, we can take you home, and my friend and I …”

“Hey!” interrupted Jim sharply and gave me a fierce look.

“We can call the police station,” I corrected, “and they’ll …”

“There’s no time,” moaned the old boy, weaving in some sort of anguish. “There’s no time to get a substitute.”

“Then,” I stated firmly, glaring straight at Jim, “you give me your hat and cross belt, mister, and while my friend drives you home or to your doctor, I’ll handle the traffic…”

The old fellow clutched his stomach and looked up at me eagerly.

“Would you?” he gasped. “Would you do that? It’s a grave responsibility. All those little children …”

Jim shook his head at me with an expression of disgust on his face.

“Certainly I will,” I assured the old boy kindly. “Think nothing of it. It is a duty any citizen…”

“It would be terrible,” groaned the old man. “All the teachers will think I’m on the job. Nobody will be watching. They’ll stream across … the smallest ones are the worst.”

He was unfastening his cross belts. He handed me his white cap, and a round fanlike sign with “Stop” printed on it. Jim assisted the old chap to his feet and led him to the car.

“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he told me.

I stood near the school-yard gate, holding the cross belt, cap and stop sign behind me; and planned my strategy. Traffic was typical 3.30 traffic – delivery trucks in charge of slouching boys whizzing past; middle-aged ladies out on their afternoon jaunts, gripping their steering wheels with fixed expressions; trucks, oil tankers, business men busily chewing the fat with their fellow passengers and not looking at the street at all.

Children – Millions of them!

As I watched the traffic in this pleasant residential neighborhood. I suddenly became conscious of its menace. I had never noticed that menace before. Highway traffic has menace. Downtown traffic has menace. But does menace come away up into these nice residential regions?

A small scarlet delivery truck in the hands of a surly youth of about 17 suddenly careened around the corner of the school. His tires screeched. My outraged glare he countered with a lazy sneer and waft of his hand. Down the street came four passenger cars in a row, and behind them a giant truck with trailer. As the parade neared the school, the truck slewed out of line, roared its engine and by-passed the passenger cars.

I looked at my watch. It was 3.26. Four minutes!

To me, it seemed as if traffic suddenly exploded. Cars, trucks, lorries, vans, motorcycles appeared from north, south, east and west.

Two minutes!

I cautiously started to strap on the white cross belt.

One minute!

Glancing around, I tried the white cap on. It didn’t fit. It perched on the top of my hair. Suddenly. I hear bells ringing in the school. And instantly. I could FEEL the school burst into a thousand little lives. At which instant, I heard a particularly fierce screech of tires on the pavement, and there was Jimmie bounding out to my aid.

I had no time to ask him how the old boy was. Already the school doors had swung wide and out poured the children, millions and millions of them. All yelling, all screaming, all darting in every direction like darning needles, butterflies and ants.

“We’re fools!” gasped Jim, as he helped lash the cross belt on me. “Fools! Talk about thinking!”

“Thinking!” I grated. “What this world needs is action, and not so…”

But the horde was already streaming past us. Jim leaped to the gate. I ran to the corner, holding the white cap with one hand and waying the stop sign with the other.

“Stand fast, everybody!” I bellowed in the most authoritative manner, holding the stop sign as high as possible.

A Rabble of Ruffians

A rugby ball took me fair on the back of the head and knocked my cap off.

“Here, GIVE me that football,” I yelled amid the screaming, screeching and din.

“Hey never mind that,” came Jim’s voice bellowing above the tumult.

Cars whizzed, children screeched, trucks groaned, lorries hooted, cars tooted, motorcycles machine-gunned, bicycles swerved and the whole earth seemed a madhouse of racing, gyrating, tumbling, dancing, jumping children of all ages.

“Steady!” came Jim’s voice in my ear.

I held the stop sign to the fullest extent of my arm high over my head. I held my other arm extended. Then I proceeded to walk slowly and with dignity across the intersection. A rabble formed about me, swarmed ahead of me. The football came sailing from nowhere and knocked the stop sign out of my hand. I made a wild leap and caught the ball AND the stop sign in one stoop.

Car horns tooted from all four points of the compass. I was tackled by three young ruffians. With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me. Jim followed, holding a little boy and a little girl by the hand.

But 1,249 other children went north, east, west and south, regardless. And when I reached the far corner, 19 young hoodlums tackled me and downed me on a doctor’s lawn. There they played bags on the mill with me until Jim finally got them off.

By which time, the traffic jam had untangled itself, most of the children had gone the way they wanted to go, nobody had been killed, and my services were no longer required.

I walked across and sat on the curb in the exact spot the old man had been sitting when we found him. I too, put my head in my hands. Jim stood over me.

“You see,” he said, “thinking is not enough. You have to reflect. You have to weigh and ponder.”

Three lady teachers came out of the school and walked over to us.

“You might have caused a disaster,” scolded the eldest. “We were watching from the window. Who appointed you to this corner?”

“He appointed himself,” explained Jim. “The regular crossing guard was taken ill and I drove him home while my friend here undertook to take over the duties …”

“You should know better,” said the same lady, “To be a school crossing guard calls for a very special talent.”

“Which my friend hasn’t got,” added Jim.

He helped me to my feet. We undid the white crossbelts off me, and retrieved the white cap and the stop sign from the doctor’s lawn across the street. And we drove around to the regular incumbent’s house and returned his property.

“He’s in bed,” said his wife at the door. “I’ve given him a nice hot drink. He’ll be all right.”

So Jim drove me home and we too revived ourselves with nice hot drinks.


Editor’s Note: I’m not quite sure what “they played bags on the mill with me”, means, but from what I can tell, it just might mean piling up on top of each other.

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