The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 27

To Arms, to Arms!

“Listen, you two,” said the farmer. “I don’t want you to touch my starlings!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 17, 1934.

“Twenty thousand starlings,” said Jimmie Frise, “were bumped off last week by the farmers down along Lake Erie.”

“Little,” I said, “did those first sixty starlings that were released in Central Park, New York, thirty years ago, dream of the fate their children’s children would meet.1

“It was a ghastly mistake,” said Jim, “importing those European starlings to America. Why, you have no idea how they have multiplied. The sky down in Essex and Kent is black with them, Millions of them. They have spread all over America. They have established themselves permanently in the warm southern states, and yet they are reported up at Fort Churchill, on the edge of the Arctic.”

“What is the good of shooting 20,000 of them?” I asked.

“Well, when men decide a thing is bad, they like to do something about it,” explained Jimmie. “It makes them feel better to have killed 20,000.”

“But in the meantime, what are we going to do about it?” I asked.

“Nobody knows,” admitted Jim. “Whole cities, like Washington, are being conquered by the starlings. Park trees fifty years old are being sacrificed to try and drive the starlings away. Stately towers and belfries are being grotesquely boarded up in the hope that this inhospitable hint will be taken by the starlings and they will get out. But they don’t. It begins to look as if the starlings will alter the architecture of America.”

“It makes me feel very helpless,” I admitted.

“If I weren’t a hard-headed and clear-thinking twentieth century man,” said Jim, “I would almost imagine that this plague of starlings was nature’s revenge on us for destroying the passenger pigeon. It was just about the time the last passenger pigeon was slaughtered that the starlings were set loose in Central Park. Ironic, isn’t it?”

“Jimmie,” I declared. “I am a mystic. I believe in things like that. While we go blindly along imagining we can conquer the world by good business practices, while we march stupidly from one human disaster to another, each year getting more thoughtful, each year becoming more sure of our great human powers, nature keeps laughingly tossing us hints like these starlings. We strain our brains over economics. And nature plays her jokes.”

“Nature has no mind,” said Jim.

“No,” I countered. “But nature has a heart. In all our splendor and glory, we men conquer the earth and incidentally exterminate the passenger pigeon. Having conquered the earth, here comes the starling, just to see how much we have conquered.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “that for all the sob stories you hear about the passenger pigeon, it, too, was an enemy of man. Why, a flock of pigeons, big enough to cloud the sun, would drop down in a pioneer’s little clearing, into a field of peas. And in a few minutes, before the pioneer could wake up to the disaster, there wasn’t a pea left.”

“Well,” I said, “we got rid of the pigeon. We’ve got the peas. What good are they? We can’t sell them.”

“H’m,” admitted Jim.

“And now the starling has come,” I said, “in ever-thriving millions, to destroy us!”

“Then,” cried Jimmie, “what are we going to do? Submit to our destruction? A fine patriot you are. Why, to arms, to arms, and join the patriots of the Lake Erie shore!”

“It is a war,” I agreed.

“You bet it is a war,” cried Jimmie. “It will make commonplace human wars like the last one, or the next one, seem like sport. Why, the starlings could starve us in one year. They could become so numerous, they would eat all our grain, our grass, starve our cattle. All the ships on the sea couldn’t bring enough food, fast enough, to keep us from starving. The starlings would consume the food of our live stock and poultry. Exterminate our grain. Gobble up our vegetables and fruits. And what an awful spectacle it would be. All of a sudden, us lovely civilized people murdering one another for a scrap of food. Bank presidents eating their old shoes. Movie actresses gnawing old bones. It’s a terrible thought. We ought to get busy and arm against the foe.”

“And all the while,” I gasped, “the sky about us black with the rustling wings of millions of birds, like demons sent to humble and destroy us. What a revenge!”

“What a revenge nature can take on us, any time,” said Jim, “for our sins against her!”

“Jim,” I said, “do you think we could rouse the people to their danger? If we could get everybody in the world to take a gun and shoot starlings…”

“If we could send our militia, armed with shotguns, out into the forests and the deserts,” added Jimmie.

“And Arctic expeditions all across the vast spaces of the north,” I said, “to pursue the deadly starling to its last lair!”

“Yet,” said Jim sadly, “if we missed only two of them, if we overlooked just one pair, then in thirty years we would have the same old menace again!”

“That’s the trouble with nature,” I said. “It is so healthy.”

“We ought,” put in Jim, “to do something about it, however. It is our function as investigators of public matters, to go and shoot a few of them.”

“I am certainly with you,” I agreed.

Defending the Human Race

So instead of going rabbit shooting, the rabbit being another, menace that Jim and I have been keeping down for years past, we spent last week-end, armed with scatter-guns and small shot, out in the defence of the human race from extermination through starvation.

We drove west, the starling menace being greater the farther west you go. We drove out the Dundas highway and then went north, zig-zagging west and north, all the while scanning the sky for the black legions of the foe.

“If we see any on the ground, or sitting on a fence.” I asked, “should we shoot them? Or only take them on the wing?”

“Only on the wing,” cried Jim, emphatically. “Remember, we are sportsmen, even though we are on the verge of extermination!”

We passed Milton, and its cleft mountains. We got up into a very pretty country of farms and swamps. Two or three times. we stopped the car violently to leap out and take aim. But the little birds we had spotted in the evergreens were only goldfinches and siskins and other tiny songbirds.

We saw one crow below Guelph, but it was too smart. The moment we started to slow the car, it bounced into the air and went away with one sarcastic croak.

Turning south, we passed wide of the cities of Kitchener so as to get southward toward that infested sea of Erie. We saw several small drab birds flitting over the snow from the fences and weedy ditches where they had been creeping, like beggars sniping butts along the roadsides of the city.

“When we come on them,” said Jimmie, while the long snowy miles ticked by us, “by all accounts there will be immense flocks of them. You will have to be ready, and load and reload like lightning, firing into the mass of them as they fly over.”

“I’m ready,” I said, setting the shotgun shells in between the fingers of my left hand, where they were held as in a holder for instant action.

“Hssst!” warned Jim. “A bird!”

He slowed the car. Ahead, on a rail fence, sat a dark bird, nearly as big as a robin. It had a long pale beak and a short tail.

“A starling,” I hissed.

“We’ll slow down,” whispered Jimmie, “and both get out together. Then when it flies, we will both shoot, both barrels. A broadside!”

We slowed. The bird was a good forty yards away, sitting serenely on the fence, all unaware of our approach, it seemed, and unafraid.

We got out.

“Quietly,” whispered Jim, “let’s walk closer. We mustn’t miss! When I raise my gun, it will be the signal to fire.”

Down the rutted country sideroad, with nary a farm or a house or a barn to be seen. but only the heaving hills and the little copses in the fence corners, and the gray winter sky overhead, we crept pace by pace, toward this mortal enemy of human kind.

Our hearts were beating high. This was the mystical moment. The first shot. It would ring around the earth. This was another Sarajevo2. What prince of the enemy was this, sitting on the rail fence!

We paced, cautiously, nearer and nearer, the guns poised. Double barrel guns. Loaded with number seven shot. To scatter and wipe out the black demon.

Then we heard a soft sound.

The stupid enemy was singing!

Squatted there, on the fence rail, its head lifted a little like the head of a mother crooning to her baby in a rocking chair, half asleep in the gray winter light, the starling was softly and aimlessly warbling.

We stopped. We lowered our muzzles.

Squeak, warble, hiss, flute, flute, flute, went the starling. Jim took another step forward and I followed. Pace by pace, we advanced. We were within twenty yards, eighteen, sixteen.

Squeak, flute, flute, warble, hiss, tinkle, squeak, softly sang the starling.

Fourteen, twelve yards.

And now we could see that the starling was not a black bird. He was in masquerade costume. A harlequin, decked out in a suit of golden chain mail, overlaid on soft brown-black velvet!

An unreal, a strange, a beautiful creature, with a pale large bill tremulous as he sang in a guttural low voice a sort of Wagnerian song. The only song in all the white, gray, bitter world!

The song of an exile. A sad, small song.

In the winter stillness, we stood listening, with reverently lowered gun muzzles, until the starling got tired of his song and fluttered his feathers out and stood up, as a dreamer wakes. He turned his head and saw us. And without haste, he took wing and flew away across the frozen fields.

“Well, well,” said Jim.

“I hadn’t the heart,” I admitted. “It seemed so lone.”

“The only way you can work up any passion about starlings,” said Jim, “is when you get them in masses, in hundreds, thousands.”

“Yet each one of them is a little harlequin in gold and black, like that one,” I pointed out.

“In war,” said Jim, “you can’t stop to consider your enemy as individuals. You musn’t picture them as nice young men.”

We got in the car and drove down at couple of lots. In an orchard, as we drew near, we saw twenty birds in the apple trees.

“Hsst!” I hissed. “An outpost! Twenty of the enemy in those apple trees.”

Two Opinions About Everything

He stopped the car. We got out with guns alert and crept down the road. We deployed. Jim took the right and I the left.

“Bang,” went Jim’s gun into the orchard.

“Bang, bang,” went my gun, scoring two misses.

“Hoy!” roared a voice.

The trouble with farmers in winter is they look so much like a plowed field.

This farmer was carrying an armful of wood across the field just back of the orchard. He dropped the wood and came, on bent legs, bounding through the orchard.

“What the Sam Hill!” he shouted, feeling his face with a large hand.

It was useless to run. He would have got our license number anyway.

He halted inside the orchard fence and glared at us.

“We were shooting starlings, sir,” I said.

“You were shooting me, you mean!” yelled the farmer, though he was only twelve feet away.

“Pardon, sir,” said Jim. “We are two public-spirited citizens out helping the great crusade against the starling. You ought to thank us for coming to help you keep down the menace that threatens not only your crops, your stock but your own very life!”

The farmer studied us for a minute.

“City fellows, I suppose,” he said, quietly. “Full of linseed and beans as usual. Listen, you two. I don’t want you to touch my starlings!”

“Why, they are destroyers of –” began Jim.

“I been watching them all fall and winter,” said the farmer. “They have been eating cocoons and grubs out of the bark of my apple trees. They have been eating pounds and pounds of weed seeds. What else would they be staying around here for all winter? There’s no other food but weeds, bugs and waste.”

“They ruin cherries,” said Jim.

“I have no cherries,” retorted the farmer.

“They will destroy a field of peas.”

“I have no peas,” said the farmer.

“The farmers of Essex and Kent slaughtered 20,000 of them,” said Jim.

“All right, this isn’t Essex and Kent,” said the farmer. “Look, I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take your names and addresses. And if ever the starlings get so bad they are digging up my potatoes, or attacking my heifers, I’ll send for you to save me.”

“Good-day, sir,” we said, retreating back up the road to our car.

“You see,” said Jim. “There are two opinions about everything, even about extermination.”

We turned the car and went back the road we had come. And it so happened that when we came to the place where we had tried to shoot the starling on the rail fence, there it was again, huddled down in the fading afternoon.

So we got out of the car and crept up close and listened to it sing until it got up and flew away to its bed, probably some maple tree it calls its old Canadian home.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. ↩︎
  2. Reference to the start of World War 1 and the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. ↩︎

Be My Turpentine!

All this business, factories, offices, miles of streets – everything started because somebody was in love with somebody else
“This isn’t him,” she said to the big fellow. “Put on your dressing gown”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 11, 1933.

“Us non-conformists,” said Jim Frise, “are funny. We have thrown over all the saints except a few that are of commercial value.”

“Such as?” I inquired.

“Santy Claus and St. Valentine,” said Jim. “I think I’ll suggest to the government that they restore all the saints again and make a commercial hook-up with each of them, so that every day of the year we would have to send something to our friends. If that wouldn’t revive business, what would?”

“Pardon me,” said I, “for my brains. But, as a matter of fact, Jimmie, St. Valentine’s day1 is a lot older than any of the several St. Valentines. The custom of sending valentines and flowers and candies to your love on February 14 was in full swing long before the Christian era.”

“How?” asked Jim.

“February 14 was the day,” I went on proudly, “in ancient Rome when all the boys drew lots for their girls, in preparation for the next day, February 15, when Rome celebrated the arrival of spring. It was the day of Juno Februaria2, if you know what that means, because I don’t. It was a day of dancing and feasting. It was a day of rejoicing, love making.3

“Whoopee,” said Jim.

“Hotcha,” said I. “They killed nanny goats and threw hunks of meat at the girls, for luck.”

“Just like the elections in Toronto,” said Jim.

“You can’t think up anything new,” I said. “Rome went wawa4 for a couple of days. All in honor of spring. Bands marching up and down the main street, all the old men slightly pickled, all the old ladies in the kitchen roasting chickens, and all the young people galloping up and down, arm in arm, singing and hollering at each other.”

“You make it seem almost modern,” said Jim. “Except for the setting, it might be to-day.”

“No,” said I, “business interferes nowadays. All we’ve got is the shadow of the old customs. We mail a few valentines, and a few people give valentine parties. But on February 14, you won’t see any jubilee in this country.”

“Yes,” said Jimmie, sentimentally, dreaming out the window, “but love remains.”

“Does it?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “The outward customs may have changed, but love is just as strong as it ever was. All this great city, jammed full of love. All the men in all these tall buildings, all in love; all the pretty girls pretending to be working, but first of all in love. All the houses side by side, in a thousand streets, each one thinking it is hiding a secret, but every house a monument to love!”

“That’s swell, Jim!”

“Yeah, and out in the country, all the fields plowed, what for? For love. All the young men leaning on the rail fences, looking across the country at some house, some hillside, for love. Love is at the bottom of it all. Maybe they get lost, as time goes on. But love started everything. All this business, these factories, offices, miles of streets, everything started because somebody was in love with somebody else, and wanted to make things for her. Make her a fortune. Make her a living. Make her dreams come true. Every skyscraper a valentine, every mansion, every cottage, every shop counter, work bench, a valentine to some unknown, perhaps forgotten love!”

“Not bad, Jim.”

In Quest of Love

“So don’t let’s be cynical. St. Valentine’s day is the day for the celebration of love, and when we look at all this hustle and bustle, we ought to give love her due.”

“Then why not have our modern St. Valentine’s day,” I asked, “on October first, the beginning of the fiscal year?”

“There you go!” cried Jim. “You are cynical about love. You don’t think love is what it used to be?”

“I think we have reduced love to a pretty small potato in relation to life as a whole, to business, labor, success, progress or whatever it is we are trying to do these days.”

“All nonsense!” stated Jim. “I could take you out and show you more love in one evening than you could have seen in the whole of Rome, even in the midst of their whoopee.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere,” said Jim. “Any street, any village.”

“It might make a story,” I admitted. “You take me to-night and show me.”

After dinner I walked around to Jim’s and, telling his family that he was going to a political meeting with me (it’s great to be newspapermen!), he led me forth in quest of love.

“An apartment house,” said Jimmie, “is a regular love nest. I am taking you to an apartment where a couple of my friends live. They are, to my mind, the most joyously loving couple I have ever heard of. I just love to visit them. They know everybody else in the apartments, and they all visit each other, and the halls are filled with happy laughing people, young and middle-aged and old, every night. The place rings with happiness. Talk about ancient Rome! Why, that apartment house is just one big Roman festival all year long.”

“Oh, I admit,” I said, as we drove through the night, “I admit there are spots here and there. But on the great average love doesn’t cut much figure in the life of people nowadays.”

“These are average!” cried Jim. “This apartment house is just a cross section of humanity. You wait. Just because blinds are drawn and houses are detached, you needn’t think your house is the only abode of love in the whole world!”

We drove up Avenue road and came to a pleasant district where apartment houses cast their communal radiance into the night. We pulled up in front of a very handsome one and Jim led me into the foyer. It was Roman. Rich gilding and bright colors and Roman tile floor. A self-serve elevator carried us up three floors.

A number of muffled radios could be heard as we walked along the carpeted corridor past numbered doors. We heard a child crying. At another door we heard a lay5 screaming. At still another, as we marched along, we heard a man yell:

“Oh, is zat so!”

I plucked Jim’s coatsleeve and hinted with a head-movement that we scram.

“Just radio,” said Jim. “Listening to mystery dramas.”

“It sounded awfully life-like to me,” I replied.

Around a turn in the corridor we marched. This was a big cross section of humanity, this one. A door opened ahead of us and a young man holding a bowler hat tightly on his head, with his face very pale and set, came bouncing out and rushed past us in the hall, nearly knocking me down.

“You Home-Breaker!”

We paused outside the door. But inside was absolute silence. Not even a radio.

“H’m,” said I. “Well, lead on. Where’s your friend?”

“That was my friend!” said Jim. “He didn’t recognize me.”

I wanted to laugh, but Jim’s face deterred me.

“Why not let’s go in and see the lady?” I suggested. “Maybe what we saw was misleading.”

Jim rapped softly with his knuckles on the apartment door.

“Go way!” screamed a feminine voice within. “I hate you!”

So Jimmie and I went away. We walked down that long carpeted hall slowly, listening as we passed each door to the muffled radios, the tapping of heels on hardwood floors, the snatches of words, the silences.

“I tell you,” said Jim, “the last time I was here my friends took me upstairs to see the nicest middle-aged couple, the Gabwins. Let’s drop in on them while we’re here.”

“This is a bad night,” I said.

But Jim got me into the automatic elevator again, a queer, slow-moving, menacing thing with buttons to push. And up we went.

Again we started along a padded hall, Jim looking at the doors.

“I think,” he said, “it was either 24 or 34.”

We paused outside 24 and just as Jim was about to knock there was a terrific crash inside the door and a male voice roared:

“Pick up your feet!”

We hurried away down the hall.

“That wasn’t Gabwin’s voice,” said Jim.

“Try 34,” said I.

“We found 34 and after listening cautiously for a moment and hearing nothing Jim rapped delicately on 34.

The door jerked open.

A big man in a purple silk dressing gown, a big man with a purplish face and the most glaring eyes, stood before us.

His gaze fastened on me and he bared his teeth.

“So!” he said, through his nose, and crouching down slightly.

I backed up.

“So!” snarled the big man, treading with catlike steps toward me, “you brought a big friend with you, eh!”

With one grab, he took me by both coat-lapels and with a yank such as you see only in the movies he hoisted me through the air and hurled me inside his apartment, where I fell in a heap on the hardwood hall floor.

“Here!” I could hear Jimmie crying beyond, “a mistake! Excuse me! The wrong apartment! Just a minute! Hey!”

But dimly, as in a dream, I felt myself picked up again and yanked this way and that, and again I was hurled and this time I lit on a large, soft chesterfield.

“Hey!” I could hear Jim. “Hey! Just a minute!”

But a door slammed and Jimmie I could hear no more.

I removed my hat so as to see, and there standing before me was this large, bluish man, with his jaw stuck out.

“I,” he said, “am going to bust every bone in your body! Thought I was out of town, did you? Ha, ha!”

He laughed like Fu Manchu.

“Home-breaker!” he bellowed. “A little squirt like you daring to come hanging around my home, heh! I’ll –“

And in a blur of purple and blue fury he whipped off his dressing gown and started to roll up his sleeves.

“Love!” I croaked, hollowly.

“Annhh?” snarled the big man, stopped in mid-air.

“I said love,” said I, tucking my feet under me and drawing my neck down into my coat collar.

An Off-Night For Sentiment

The big man looked about to burst. His forehead, his neck and his stomach all appeared about to explode. He gasped staggered back.

“You – you –” he stammered, speechless.

There was a wild thumping on the door. Voices could be heard howling. A key scraped in the door and in burst Jimmie and a man with a dirty face whom I immediately recognized as the janitor, and a beautiful young lady.

“Are you hurt?” gasped Jim.

“I dared him to touch me,” said I.

The big man made a lunge for me, but the pretty girl thrust him aside lightly.

“This isn’t him,” she said to the big fellow. “Put on your dressing gown.”

“Isn’t him!” said the big man. “Then who is it?”

“He is my friend,” said Jim, heatedly, “and we are looking for Mr. Gabwin’s apartment. And we rapped at your door and this bird grabbed my little friend and whirled him through the air –“

The big fellow said:

“Well, I feel better anyhow!”

“My husband,” said the girl, “is very jealous of my men friends.”

The janitor beckoned Jim and me out. “The Gabwins,” said the janitor, as we got out in the hall, “aren’t living here anymore.”

“Why, it was only New Year’s I was here,” said Jim.

“Yes,” said the janitor. “It was very sudden.”

“Dead!” cried Jim.

“No,” said the janitor. “No, a little domestic trouble. She’s gone back to her mother and he’s living in a boarding-house down town.”

“Love nest,” said I.

“I beg your pardon?” asked the janitor.

“It is nothing,” said I.

We got in the elevator and softly, creepily, slowly descended to the street.

“Well?” said I.

“It’s an off night,” said Jim. “An off night. How would you like to go to a movie? There’s a swell love story down at the Uptown6.”

“How,” I asked, “about going to your place and letting me see all those old Birdseye Centre originals you’ve got. You said I could pick a few out for framing some time.”

“Well,” said Jim, “as a matter of fact, I’d rather not to-night. You see, we had a little row just before I came out over the children using my studio room for a play house — Let’s go to your place and look at trout flies. It’s only ten weeks to the first of May.”

“Not to-night,” I said. “My wife didn’t want me to go out to-night, it was my turn to stay home and mind the house. So, we – I — you see?”

“That’s too bad,” said Jim. “However, it will be Valentine’s Day on Tuesday.”

“And everything will be hunky-dory then,” said I.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Valentine’s Day history. ↩︎
  2. Specific details on Juno Februata. ↩︎
  3. “Love making” pre-1960s or so, meant courting or flirting, or perhaps a little kissing. ↩︎
  4. “Going wawa” meant acting all crazy. ↩︎
  5. I have no idea. This just might be a typo. Perhaps they meant “baby”. ↩︎
  6. The Uptown Theatre opened in 1920 and was demolished in 2003. ↩︎

Racqueteers

My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 6, 1943.

“How do they do it!” exclaimed Jimmie Frise.

“Who?” I inquired.

“The Russians1,” cried Jimmie. “With the whole resources of Europe – except Britain – against them. With the trained might of Germany, backed by the enslaved production of all the rest of Europe, concentrated on them. With most of the factory owners and moneyed and managerial classes of conquered Europe hating them and really aiding the Germans.”

“And Italy,” I reminded him.

“Phoooie,” said Jim.

“Phooie nothing,” I informed him. “I bet you, when the smoke clears away, that most of the skulduggery in North Africa and the confusion of the French cliques and parties will be traced to Italy. Don’t forget, it was Italy’s fear and hatred of communism that gave rise to the Fascist party. Don’t forget that Italy set up Mussolini long before Germany set up Hitler.”

“Italy,” said Jim. “Phooie.”

“Okay,” I warned. “But when history is written, I bet you it will be Italy’s demonstration of how to set up a boogey man and organize a Fascist party that gave all the rest of the world the idea of setting up another boogey man in Germany as a barrier against Russia. It was Russia the whole world was scared of 10 years ago. It was finagling against Russia that set up this whole devil’s kettle of a war. And now Russia appears to be the savior of the world.”

“Next to Britain,” said Jim.

“Next to us,” I agreed. “Us being whatever we are. Next to the good old U.S., if you are an American. Next to China, if you are Chinese. Next to Malta, if you are Maltese.”

“Don’t be cynical,” said Jim.

“I’m not cynical,” I assured him. “I am merely reminding you that you can’t help having a point of view. And your point of view depends entirely on where you happen to be standing. You wouldn’t deny a Chinese man the right to believe that but for China’s stand against Japan, years before our war broke loose, our war would now be lost.”

“Yes, but never forget we…” began Jim.

“Us?” I cried with passionate patriotism, “we’re wonderful!”

“Well, we are!” declared Jim angrily.

“That’s what I’m saying,” I retorted.

“But I don’t think you’re sincere,” said Jim.

Source of All Troubles

“I’m this sincere,” I submitted. “That so long as you allow Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians, Italians and all the rest to believe they are wonderful, we have a perfect right to believe we are wonderful too. The trouble is, however, with us, and Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians and so forth, is, we don’t include anybody else.”

“Aw, well,” protested Jimmie, “it’s human nature you’re complaining about.”

“Never cease complaining about it, Jim,” I pleaded. “It’s the source of all our troubles.”

“A fat lot of good complaining about human nature will do,” said Jim. “Human nature is as unchangeable as the very rocks of the earth. You might as well try to change the shape of the Rocky Mountains as change human nature.”

“Jim, not a day goes by,” I informed him, “but that the shape of the Rocky Mountains is being changed. The everlasting complaint of the winds, the rains, the snow and the ice, is forever changing the shape of the mountains and of the very earth itself. And never forget, one earthquake can change their shape so tremendously, they can be sunk right out of sight under the sea.”

“Are you looking for an earthquake to change human nature?” inquired Jim.

There have been plenty of earthquakes,” I submitted, “that have changed human nature. The birth of Jesus was an earthquake. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The invention of gunpowder was an earthquake. A peasant with a flintlock could destroy a king hedged round with battle axes. It would be a nice way to spend an evening, discussing which events in history were earthquakes that changed human nature.”

“I bet we’re not much different from the men who lived in caves,” said Jim.

“The winds of Shakespeare blew and are blowing on the granite of human nature,” I enunciated. “The rain of Charles Dickens’ tears, the snow of Alexander Hamilton’s logic, the ice of Charles Darwin’s speculations, all have eroded the Rocky Mountains of human nature…”

“See?” interrupted Jimmie triumphantly. “Every name you have mentioned is one of us!”

“When Marco Polo, in the year 1250 A.D., arrived in China,” I countered, “he found a civilization more advanced than Europe’s, and 1,500 years old.”

“Marco Polo!” scoffed Jimmie. “Who ever heard of him!”

“Each nation,” I said, “thinks it has its Shakespeares, its Dickenses, its Darwins.”

“Think is right,” said Jim.

“Well, you can’t help even us thinking,” I asserted.

“Anyway,” proclaimed Jimmie, “I think the Russians are wonderful. And I only wish I could feel we had done more to help them. I’d have more self-respect if I thought we had done something to help them. The performance they have put up, not only without much help from us but in spite of all the opposition we put in their way, across the years, makes it kind of embarrassing.”

“Geographically,” I pointed out, “they are the nearest people to Canadians in the world. We share with Russians the northern hemisphere.”

“I’ve often thought of that, this past winter, reading about the battles,” agreed Jim. “Leningrad is on a level with White Horse, in the Yukon. Lake Ladoga is on a level with Great Slave Lake.”

“Brrrrr,” I said.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Fort Churchill, away up half way on Hudson’s Bay, is south of Leningrad. The northern tip of Labrador, where it juts out towards Baffin Land, is level with Leningrad. Sure, we share the northern hemisphere with the Russians. But we haven’t occupied our share yet.”

“I had no idea,” I gasped. “I thought of Leningrad and Toronto or maybe North Bay or Timmins.”

“In the banana belt,” snorted Jim. “All of them. Even Stalingrad is away down south, about level with Winnipeg. But Leningrad is north of Juneau in Alaska. Remember all the fuss we made about the Alaska highway2?”

“Now who’s belittling us?” I demanded. “Well, I was just thinking about the railroad,” said Jim, “the Russians built over the ice of Lake Ladoga. We quit work on the Alaska highway just as winter arrived.”

“Well, some day we Canadians may have cities and towns up in northern Labrador and along the Hudson’s Bay coast,” I declared.

“There’s two million citizens in Leningrad normally,” retorted Jim.

“One thing we might have done for Russia,” I asserted, “and that is, ship her a few thousands pairs of good Canadian snowshoes.”

“Skis are better,” said Jim. “And skis come from Norway. The Russians will know all about skis.”

“Snowshoes,” I insisted. “Skis are all very well in open fields and for playing around in civilized country. But in the bush, you’ve got to have snowshoes.”

“Slow motion,” cracked Jim.

“You never hear of lumberjacks and trappers wearing skis,” I asserted, “except as a novelty. They use snowshoes. And since much of the fighting in Russia in winter is through vast forests and swamps, I bet you snowshoes would be of the most tremendous tactical importance.”

“Skis,” said Jimmie.

“Listen,” I stated warmly, “long before skis were ever heard of in this country, I was a champion snowshoer. I belonged to a snowshoe club here; and there was a Canadian Snow Shoe Association, with clubs all over Canada. And I may say we didn’t spend our time trying to wear out a couple of local hills. We didn’t wait until somebody cut a trail for us through a couple of local bush lots, either. We got out and travelled. We searched out the wildest regions of the country round about and explored it. The tougher the going, the denser the bush, the wilder the swamps, the better we liked it.”

“Waddling,” said Jim. “Bow-legged. Squish. Squish, squush, squish, squush!”

“Waddling my eye,” I cried indignantly. “An export snowshoer can drift over the ground faster than any skier, on a mile of ordinary rough bush country. Or on 20 miles. Put a skier in ordinary brush country and he’s sunk.”

“Squish, squush,” remarked Jim.

“I won my Winged Snow Shoe in 1914,” I announced. “And if you don’t believe it, I can dig my old Snow Shoe Club outfit out of the attic and show you. I’m entitled to wear a crest and a shield, with the Winged Snow Shoe. I’ve got a ceinture fleche3, too, that I won in a 10-mile cross country.”

“A what?” inquired Jim.

“Ceinture fleche,” I said. “It’s a beautiful sash.”

“Are You Game?”

“In the attic, did you say?” asked Jimmie. “Has snowshoeing gone out of fashion then?”

“Of course it has,” I said. “The young people are no longer interested in exploring and going places. They only want to go nowhere fast, down hill.”

“Now, now,” said Jim. “Don’t be hurt.”

“In a trunk in the attic,” I stated, “I have my whole old club outfit and two pairs of snowshoes. Are you game?”

“Game how?” asked Jim.

“Game to come for a hike,” I said, “right this afternoon, until I show you what snowshoes can do. I’ll take you into bush that no skier can penetrate. And maybe, if I can get you interested, you and I might start something real for Russia. We might launch a campaign to send half a million pairs of Canadian snowshoes to Russia. Great oaks from little acorns grow. You’re complaining about not having had any share in Russia’s triumph. Okay; here’s your chance to do something strategic.”

Along which lines, I persuaded Jim to come along for an old-fashioned afternoon in the open on snowshoes. I got my old club outfit from the mothballs and, though the webbing of the racquettes was dry and the frames slightly warped, 20 years in a trunk had done them little injury.

In the street car which we took to the end of the line, there were many skiers who took a lively interest in our appearance; but Jimmie insisted they were not laughing at us; it was just their youthful and joyous nature.

While the skiers headed straight away from the end of the car line to the nearest hill which they gathered on like ants on a cookie, Jim and I put on the racquettes and steered for the bush. It took me some little time to persuade Jim to let his legs hang loose, in the proper snowshoe stride, and simply drag the snowshoe over the snow, instead of tightening his legs up in a cramped curve.

“Walk,” I explained, setting the example, “with an easy loose shuffle, forgetting the snowshoes entirely. It’s not like skiing, where you have to think of the skis all the time. Just stride ahead, with loose legs, and trail each shoe naturally.”

Jim tumbled several times, because he walked too naturally, toed in, thus stepping on his own shoes, which naturally threw him on his head. But after crossing a couple of fields, he had the hang of it pretty well and we entered our first bush.

It was a dense bush. And we had not gone 50 yards in its pure and secret sanctuary before we picked up the fresh trail of a fox.

“See?” I cried. “He’s never been disturbed by any skiers. In fact, we’re the first to stir him from his security.”

We trailed the fox to the end of the wood lot and finally got a glimpse of him, his tail blowing sideways in the wind, as he raced across an icy open field for a neighboring woodlot.

“Here,” I said, “within the sound of a city’s factory whistle, we have seen a fox. That’s what snowshoers see.”

And we saw also, in the sanctuary of undisturbed bush lots, many birds such as partridges, jays, chickadees, nuthatches and a whole chime of redpolls and siskins, which are the confetti of the bird world. And in the quiet woods, we were sheltered from the cold and we climbed over windfalls and through dark deep cedar swamps where the highways of the rabbit kingdom were worn in the snow; and saw many and delightful manifestations of nature where she hides where man does not come.

Mal De Racquette

And then Jim sat on a log with a sudden exclamation.

“My leg,” he said, grasping the inside of his thigh.

“What?” I inquired.

“A red hot knife seemed to stick into me,” he said.

“Ah; mal de racquette4,” I informed him. “You’ve been walking with your legs tense. You didn’t walk loosely.”

“I walked the way I had to,” replied Jimmie, painfully. “Squish, squush!”

“We’ll have to head for the nearest road,” I said anxiously. “That mal de racquette is pretty serious.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“It ties some people up,” I said, “so they have to be dragged on a toboggan. They can’t even walk.”

Jim rubbed his thigh and then stood up. He sat down again promptly.

“Hey!” he agonized.

“Does it hurt?” I inquired.

“Ooh,” said Jim, starting to sweat.

So we sat for a little while on the log and then I got some birch bark and twigs and started a fire.

“Keep warm,” I advised, “while I go and scout out where the nearest road is.”

One thing about rural Ontario, there is always a road just over the hill. So I took what I believed to be the nearest cut out of the bush lot and found a good sideroad, well packed down with ruts, less than 400 yards away from Jimmie. And as I turned around to rejoin him, my snowshoe caught in a sharp stub sticking up through the snow. I was thrown on my face and what was worse, the dry babiche5 webbing of the shoe was ripped not only in the toe, but right in the mid-section where my foot fits.

The webbing was so old and dry it was like wire. So when I rejoined Jim, I was moving in a rather complicated fashion. My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip, depending on how deep the snow was.

Jimmie watched my approach with considerable relief from his pain.

“Now that,” he said, “is something! You look like one of those old-fashioned side-wheeler steamboats.”

“Jim,” I warned him, “it is going to be no fun getting out to the road.”

We extinguished the fire carefully. And then set out for the road. Part of the time Jim wore his snowshoes, and part of the time, he took them off and just waded. But it was more painful to have to lift his strained leg out of the drifts than to swing the snowshoe in a specially bow-legged stride.

But we reached the road and headed, on plain foot, towards the city and the street car terminus.

And when we stamped safely into the street car, in company with many ruddy and happy skiers, Jimmie remarked:

“What do you say if we start a movement to smuggle a few thousand pairs of snowshoes over to the Germans? That would finish them.”


Editor’s Notes:

  1. When this was written, the battle of Stalingrad, considered to be a turning point in World War 2, was just finished. ↩︎
  2. The Alaska Highway was under construction at the time. ↩︎
  3. The ceinture fléchée (French, ‘arrowed sash’) is a type of colourful sash, a traditional piece of Québécois clothing linked to at least the 17th century. ↩︎
  4. Mal De Racquette (Snowshoe sickness) is a term used when a person went lame while using snowshoes. ↩︎
  5. Babiche is a type of cord or lacing of rawhide or sinew traditionally made by Native Americans. ↩︎

Skixcursion

The young woman slid over our way. “Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 28, 1939.

“How’d you like to go,” asked Jimmie Frise, “on one of these ski excursions they’re running?1

“Heh, heh, heh,” I replied.

“They’re no end of fun,” declared Jim. “Whole trainloads of merry skiers, heading for the snow.”

“If the snow won’t come to the skiers,” I said, “the skiers go to the snow.”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “They are running ski trains out from Boston, New York, Chicago, all over the country. When there are thousands of city-penned people just dying to romp in the snow; and hills full of snow only 50 miles away, what’s the answer?”

“Read a book,” I replied. “Light the grate fire, pull up a deep chair and snuggle down to a good book.”

“Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been your answer,” sneered Jim.

“Oh, yes, it would,” I retorted. “Ten years ago, I preferred a deep chair to a snowbank even more than I do now. I have always maintained that winter was the season of hibernation. Nature does not intend us to go out romping in the snow. Why does she put the bear to sleep in his den, all winter; and the groundhog and all the rest of them? Why does she pack off all the birds to the south? Because the winter is fit for neither man nor beast. Because winter is no time for anybody or anything to be out. And we should take a tip from nature and stay in our dens as much as possible during the winter.”

“It’s just your age,” said Jim. “If a bear had heavy woollen underwear and a leather coat and fur-lined boots, he wouldn’t den up for the winter.”

“Physical comfort is the first law of happiness,” I decreed. “A man can have all other troubles, but if he is physically comfortable, dry, warm and at ease, he can withstand poverty, grief, fear, everything. What makes poverty unbearable is that it is so uncomfortable.”

“If you were younger,” prodded Jim, “you wouldn’t be so stuck on comfort. Young people get an actual thrill out of discomfort.”

“They can have it,” I assured him.

“One of the lovely things about youth,” went on Jim, “is that it has the stamina and resistance to deliberately submit itself to discomfort, in order to enjoy comfort all the more. They go out and ski in the cold and bitter weather, under a bleak sun, knowing that presently, after so many hours, they will be going back to a nice warm fireside. And oh, how much lovelier a fireside is, when it is contrasted with exposure and chilblains2.”

“I admit that,” I admitted.

“You take an aging and lazy person like yourself,” said Jim, “who never sticks his nose out of doors in winter unless he has to: think of how little real enjoyment he must get out of a fine log fire.”

“What do you mean,” I asked, “by aging and lazy? Whom are you referring to?”

“You,” said Jim.

Glands Must Be Applauded

“Jim,” I informed him, “I resent that. I am not aging. I am younger than you. I am in the very prime of my life.”

“You are in,” said Jim, “what are called the middle 40’s. That means you’re past 45,”

“At that age,” I declared, “a man is just ripe. Just seasoned. Just perfect.”

“Unless, of course,” submitted Jim, “he folds up and quits. Unless he abandons all forms of action in favor of comfort and rest.”

“No man is more active than I am in the spring, summer and fall,” I advised. “Fishing and shooting. But winter just doesn’t appeal to me.”

“It’s the thin end of the wedge,” said Jim. “It’s the beginning of the end. You surrender to comfort and inaction in winter a couple of years more, and then you’ll reach the stage where you put off the trout fishing until the end of May, rather than the wet and cold beginning of May. Then you’ll find it a little easier to sit on the cottage veranda during the hot weather than get out and row a boat…”

Jim could tell by my expression that he was hitting pretty close to the mark. As a matter of fact, I have been postponing the trout season a couple of weeks, and I did sit on the cottage veranda quite a bit last summer. In fact, I lay on a couch on the veranda. In short, I slept a good many afternoons…

“It’s insidious,” explained Jim. “There is no year of a man’s life at which you can say he is starting to grow old. There is no dividing line. You see lots of men who are old at 30. They’ve given in. They have surrendered to a routine of life that gives them the maximum of comfort. Poor, solemn, habited men, who go through life according to a dreadful routine. The streets are full of them, solemn young men, old at 30. But thank heavens you see other men who are not old at 70, who take life on the wing, who never submit to routine, who find zest and pleasure in every hour of every day, who never go to bed at the same hour, never do the same things twice, are full of zip and ginger and answer every beckoning call of life.”

“It’s their glands,” I suggested. “Healthy glands.”

“Glands have to be encouraged,” cried Jim. “But if you just ignore a gland, if you act as if it wasn’t there, what would you do if you were a gland? Why, you’d go to sleep too. You’d relax and pretty soon you would be dormant. Glands have to be encouraged and applauded. You have to take them for a ride every now and then. You have to go out in the cold and snow and test your glands, see how they can support you, for it isn’t your lungs and heart alone that keep you going under strain, but all the little glands strung through your system like the lights on a Christmas tree, the pituitary, the endocrines, they are the little batteries and generators distributed all through your system, and they are the power plant of all your energy.”

“I’ve tested mine,” I submitted. “They’re working. But they don’t crave to be chilled and exhausted.”

“No gland,” stated Jim, “gets any satisfaction out of lying dormant. The only thing at gland can do is work. One of these winters, my boy, you are going to hug a warm hearthstone once too often, and your glands are going to sleep and you won’t be able to wake them. up. When spring comes, they’ll be drowsy. That will be the end.”

Life Is Like Fire

“Drowsy, eh?” I muttered, remembering last summer on the cottage veranda.

“Life is like fire,” concluded Jim. “You’ve got to keep it stoked.”

“What is this excursion you were talking about?” I inquired.

“There is one every week-end,” said Jim, eagerly. “The train runs wherever the snow is. Sometimes the ski train goes up Owen Sound way or over the Caledon hills. Another time, it may go out Peterboro way. All you do is buy your ticket for the ski train, which leaves at 8 a.m. and you get aboard, and go where it goes. It has diners on it, for those who don’t carry their lunches. It waits on a siding all day, amidst the snow, and at dark. it leaves for home again, after suitable tootings of the whistle to warn all the passengers of the time.”

“My, that sounds good,” I agreed. “Have they a parlor car on too, in case a fellow gets tired of skiing and just wants to sit in a parlor car seat and read a book or look out the window?”

“I suppose that could be arranged,” said Jim.

But it was not arranged. For when, in the bitter week-end morning we arrived at the station and got aboard the ski train along with a hastening throng of other gaily clad ski-bearers, there was no parlor car, nor was there any diner. There were just half a dozen hissing and steaming day coaches of the plainest and most old-fashioned degree, best suited to carrying a crowd of noisy and joyous people, with their skis, poles, haversacks, massive boots, fogging cigarettes and an overwhelming air of hilarity.

Everybody handed up their skis and poles to the baggage car boys as they passed along the platform. Everybody swarmed into the steaming coaches, fighting past other skiers who were trying to keep places for belated friends, for whom they peered and watched. from the car doors.

There were very few young people and no elderly people. The entire passenger list seemed to consist of people at that age which is most oppressive both to the young and the elderly – 28 to 35. People of this age are curiously depressing. They have the energy of youth plus the wisdom and authority of years. They are doubly fortified. They are noisy, because they are young. But you can’t frown them down, because they are mature. Unlike 20-year-olds, they have no respect whatever for gentlemen in their middle 40’s. In fact, I think the great majority of skiers are 31 years old.

At the second to last coach in the train, Jim and I managed to slip on board past a crowd of place-guarders, by the simple pretext of joining on to the tail of a throng of five for whom the door was being held. Other place-keepers were all ready to jump into position and crowd the door, but we laughed and pretended to be part of the successful crowd and so got inside the coach and by a little finagling, got a seat together. The young fellow who had the double seat turned back, with his feet on it, succumbed to my stony stare and question. “Is this seat taken?”

He was only about 25. So very grudgingly, he gave up the spare seat, hoisted all his haversacks to another place, and Jim and I turned the back over and disposed ourselves very happily in the hot and smoke-filled coach.

Joyous Trainload

It was, after all, a joyous trainload. Their colored scarves and jackets, their sturdy air, their heavy boots giving them a sort of massive and hearty quality. They made a din. In groups and couples, men and women, they shouted greetings and laughed uproariously, as 30-year-olds laugh. In belated squads, they came and pushed and shoved through the coaches, looking for seats. And by the time the train, with a reluctant grunt, got under way, I was glad I had come.

The day was gray and wintry, with promise of a blizzard, and in no time the windows we so steamed and frosted you could not see out. So we just sat and observed the motley throng catching eyes and pleasant glances every now and then, with people strange and interesting and sometimes beautiful. The ski train giddley-bumped out into the country, northerly taking the Owen Sound line for luck, because they said there were big snow hills north of the Caledon mountains.

“Normally,” I said to Jim, “people of this age do not appeal to me. I avoid them. But they seem a very hearty crowd, after all.”

“What age do you mean?” inquired Jim.

“Thirty-one,” I explained. “They’re all 31.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim, staring round at them.

And after a long time, with several wheezing stops on sidings to let freight trains crawl by, we arrived at a siding in the hills where the train stopped with several merry hoots its whistle, and everybody piled out.

The train did not wait, however, on the siding, but after discharging a great stack of skis, went on its way, the brakeman telling us that it would be back for us at 6 p.m.

In no time at all, the pile of skis was demolished and skiers with their haversacks and poles were threading away in all directions over the fields, up and down a country road that crossed near by, while others proceeded to make little bonfires to prepare tea for lunch, because it was only an hour until noon. Jim and I elected to have a fire out of deference to my devotion to the beautiful element, not to mention our mutual devotion to a pail of good boiled tea. We had cheese and onion sandwiches and leberwurst3 sandwiches, some cold fried bacon and some cakes. And under a gray and muttering sky, we lunched and chose for our direction the way that fewest people had taken. Because Jim and I are what you might call chatty skiers. We just like to slither about.

A Hard Pail of Tea

We slithered across a field to a dark wood. Around the end of the dark wood, we saw a vista of rolling fields and lonely farm houses, and all the fences drifted deep. In no time at all, we had slithered a mile or two, until the dark wood was far behind us, and other dark woods beckoned us on. We rounded a couple of them, and swung northerly to where numerous dark moving dots on the horizon proclaimed some sort of rallying point. And after another pleasant hour of slithering and stopping to observe the view until our perspiration would begin to congeal into ice, we came to the rallying point, which was a long tricky hill, with humps on it, down which 30 or 40 skiers were trying their skill sliding between ski poles set up as markers.

Women and men both were furiously toiling up this hill and abandonedly hissing down it, swerving and swooping amidst the sticks. We joined the watchers at the top, but this was an aspect of skiing neither Jimmie nor I go in for. We haven’t got much swerve in us, to be exact. Up the hill, toiling and flushed and handsome, they came, and after a quick breather, down they would go, like children. Little fires burned. Tea pails bubbled. We decided to light a little fire of our own, for warmth, because just standing watching is cold skiing.

One particularly pretty young woman whom we had observed go down the hill twice with special grace and who now arrived at the top for another go, got her eye on us. She bared lovely advertisement-style teeth at us. She even waved a mitted hand.

“Do we know her, Jim?” I inquired eagerly.

“I don’t recall her,” said Jim.

She slid over our way.

“Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

“No,” I answered, “we’re just going to light a little fire. We’ve taken a long tour around, so we’re going to rest for a while.”

“Would you mind,” asked the beautiful young woman, she would be about 28, maybe, “putting our tea pail or your fire?”

“Not in the least,” I cried.

“Hurray,” cried the young woman, gliding smartly over to a group of men and women on the crest; “get the sack, Ted, and get our tea pail out. Grandpappy is going to boil our tea pail for us.”

So we boiled their tea pail for them, which was one of the hardest pails of tea I ever boiled in my life, and we gave it to them and they sat at another fire and then we skied back across the rolling fields to the dark wood and around it and so back to the siding where we built another and a bigger fire and sat by it, thinking, until the welcome train came in the darkness and we were two of the first aboard.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Ski or Snow trains were common in the 1930s as a Depression era way of boosting train travel. ↩︎
  2. Chilblains is a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It’s caused by exposure to damp air that’s cold but not freezing. ↩︎
  3. Leberwurst is another name for liverwurst. ↩︎

On the Double

A man came suddenly out of a shop door, let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1945.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “if we only had a little money!”

“What could you buy?” I protested. “You can’t buy shotgun shells. You can’t even buy .22 ammunition. You can’t buy any sporting goods…”

“What I’d like,” confided Jimmie, “would be to be walking down the street and find a wallet with $2,7631 in it.”

“Why that amount?” I asked.

“Oh, I just thought of a number,” sighed Jim. “I’d be walking down the street and there would be the wallet, a fine, tan one.”

“It wouldn’t be in your possession long,” I assured him. “Your conscience would at least make you put a lost-and-found ad in the paper if there weren’t one looking for it already.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “but suppose some unknown man dropped it, some American visiting Toronto overnight, and on arriving back at his hotel, and finding his wallet gone, he would drop dead.”

“Ah,” I considered.

“Nobody would know he had lost it,” went on Jim, “I wouldn’t know who he was. It would just remain an unsolved mystery….”

“He would be sure to leave some letters or other identification papers in a wallet with all that dough in it,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but this is just supposing,” explained Jim. “And the kind of guy I mean would be some mysterious individual, some crook, maybe, over here on crooked business, without any identifications.”

“Okay,” I said decisively, “finding a sum as big as that, you would simply have to notify the police. They’d take charge of it.”

“Aw, heck,” growled Jimmie. “Can’t I even suppose?”

“Go ahead,” I agreed. “But my point is, what would you do with all that. How much was it?”

“Two thousand, nine hundred and thirty- six dollars,” said Jim.

“It’s getting bigger,” I remarked. “Call it, $3,000.

“Nobody ever finds money in round numbers like that,” complained Jim. “Leave it at $2,866.”

“Any amount you like,” I submitted. “In the first place, finding all that money would simply move you up into a higher income bracket. You would feel so good with all that cash you’d spend it. Then, along comes the income tax…”

“I wasn’t figuring,” interposed Jim mildly, “on mentioning it to the tax department. It would be just found money, see?”

“My dear man,” I cried, shocked, “you have to report every cent, whether found or not.”

“In that case,” said Jim, “I don’t want to find any money. But in the first place you said, what could I spend the money on. And in the next breath, you say I feel so good at finding all that cash, I spend it.”

“We’re Sitting Pretty”

“Oh, I suppose a man could spend $2,800 if he had it,” I admitted. “But it wouldn’t he spent on anything useful. There is nothing of any really fundamental value to be bought any more. You can’t buy guns. There isn’t a car to be bought. There isn’t a canoe, let alone boat. About all a man could do with any surplus money he might come by these days is pay off his debts.”

“With wages as high as they are these days,” surmised Jim, “and with all the money there is, in comparison with what little there is to buy, there must be mighty few debts left unpaid.”

“Don’t forget the soldiers,” I reminded him. “There are 500,000 Canadians overseas. They aren’t rolling up any bank account.”

“But they’re going to get from $1,000 to $2,000 each for their rehabilitation grant,” said Jim. “That ought to cover any debts their wives may have run up. No, I’ll bet you, there are fewer debts outstanding in Canada today than at any other time in her history.”

“Think of poor old Britain,” I said. “And poor old France, and Italy and Germany and Russia. Do you think it’s lucky for Canada to be so comfortable?”

“Aw, nothing can happen to Canada,” cheered Jim. “The only enemies we had were Germany and Japan. They could have attacked our shores. But now! We’re sitting pretty. And all our debts paid and bonds in the bank.”

“Which puts us,” I announced, “in the worst position we have ever been in in our history. Because the better off you are, the more enemies you have, the envious friends you have, let alone enemies. I tell you, it’s just about now we Canadians ought to get anxious.”

“Aw, what are you giving us?” cried Jim. “Who would be enemies with dear little old far-off Canada?”

“Far-off?” I snorted. “Boy, we’re in the middle! Square in the middle of the map. We’re half-way between China and Europe. We’re half-way between Russia and the United States. We’re half-way between practically every place in the world. We have been brought up on flat maps, that showed Canada stuck away off in the far left-hand top corner. It’s time we started looking at the round map and see just where this comfortable, debt-paid, hotsy-totsy little country of ours is.”

“You can’t scare me with maps,” said Jim.

“Maps are about all we should be scared of,” I replied. “It is certainly maps the 300,000,000 people of Europe are scared of, right now.”

“Well, who would want any part of Canada?” demanded Jim.

“They’re talking about spheres of influence these days, Jim,” I offered darkly. “Suppose Russia announced that Canada came within her sphere of influence, so as to protect Russia against attack by the United States?”

“What nonsense!” laughed Jim.

“Or better,” I suggested. “Suppose the United States said they had to have a chunk of Canada in order to erect defences against possible aggression from Russia? Or China?”

“You’re dreaming!” scoffed Jimmie.

“When we were small boys, Jim,” I recalled, “do you remember the old scares in the United States about the Yellow Peril? How wild-eyed Americans foretold the day when Japan would fight America, so as to get land in which to expand the Japanese people outside their terribly limited islands? The Yellow Peril was scoffed at by 99 per cent of the American people. Well…?”

“Hm,” said Jim.

“What was a wild-eyed dream, I concluded, “has come true. And all I say is, the more comfortable and secure and happy a people is in that comfort and security, the more they should realize they have enemies. Enemies unseen. Enemies undreamed of.”

“It won’t be in our time,” said Jim.

“No,” I agreed. “And there are a few thousand old Americans long in their graves, who laughed loudest at the Yellow Peril, whose grandsons lie newly buried in the soil of uncharted Pacific islands.”

A More Pleasant Thought

“Well, I wish I had stuck to that wallet I was going to find,” muttered Jim, “with $2,985 in it. That was more pleasant to think about.”

“Okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll play. What would you buy with it, first of all?”

“Well, let’s see?” said Jim, looking up at the ceiling.

Suddenly he let the chair legs down with bump.

“Hey, what time is it?” he exclaimed.

“Ten to five,” I informed him.

“By golly, come on,” he cried. “I’ve got to pick up the steak at the butcher’s for supper. I nearly forgot, and they’ll be closed.”

So we threw our coats on, raced out to Jim’s side drive and piled into the car.

“Plenty of time, plenty of time,” I soothed.

“He closes as near after five, that old Scotchman,” urged Jim, “as the store gets empty. Any time after five, and if there isn’t a customer in the shop, bang goes the door and down comes the blind.

“Good old Davie,” I said, as we backed out.

We reached the butcher shop in good time. There were still three or four customers in the shop but you could see old Davie hustling to get them dealt with, his eye on the door all the time.

Jim got the steak and we exchanged a few cracks with Davie about rabbit hunting and the fact that it is only 14 weeks and two days to the opening of the trout season on May 1.

“In fact,” said Davie, “tae pit it anither way, in 10 weeks, it’ll be only four weeks and twa days…”

At which moment another customer opened the butcher shop door and Davie waved us angrily out.

“Now see what ye’ve done!” he hissed.

When Jim and I walked out to the car, there was another car double-parked outside of us.

“Well, well,” said Jimmie. “What nice manners people have in this district!”

As a matter of fact, at this busy hour of the afternoon, there were three or four cars double-parked along the one block of little shops. Last-minute shoppers.

Jim walked out, opened the door of the car that had us blocked and tooted the horn long and loud.

“Maybe he’ll recognize his own horn,” said Jimmie.

A couple of long minutes went by and nobody appeared.

“What an outrage!” stamped Jimmie angrily. “Imagine anybody having the infernal nerve…”

At which moment a dear old lady, with some knitting in her hands, came toddling out from the sidewalk.

“I hope,” she said, “we are not impeding you.”

“Oh, not at all,” said Jimmie, cheerfully.

“My daughter has just stepped into one of these stores,” said the old lady, getting in the car. “I was just along looking to see what was keeping her but I couldn’t see her.”

“Aw, she’ll be along,” said Jim heartily.

Three cars ahead, a truck started to work itself out from the curb.

“Ma’am,” said Jimmie, to the old lady in the car, “would you mind if I just drove you ahead into that open space the truck is leaving? Could you keep your eye peeled for your daughter when she comes along?”

“Oh, by all means,” said the old lady. “That’s very good of you, I’m sure.”

So Jim got into the driver’s seat, the key being left in. And I got on the running board, just to make sure the old lady would feel easy about strangers.

But as Jim started the car, and just as the truck moved out of the space, another car, with a hustling lady at the wheel, came smartly from behind and, cut in front of Jimmie, stealing the place.

“Well,” laughed Jim, “we’ll just go ahead a bit….”

But ahead, there were no more spaces. In fact, it was a good 75 yards before we found an opening.

“Jim,” I suggested, “go right around the block. This lady’s daughter will never find her away down here. It’s an imposition on the lady to have her get back and watch…”

“Okay, okay,” said Jim, putting on speed.

So we went around the block.

And as we slowly moved around the corner. in front of the shops, not only was there no parking space, but a man coming suddenly out of a shop door let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

A Big Mistake

“Any relation of yours?” inquired Jimmie of the old lady.

“I’m sure I never saw the gentleman before,” said she, eyeing him shrewdly as we drove past. He started chasing us.

“What do you suppose is the idea?” demanded Jim.

And he was so busy figuring it out, that lost the one chance of a parking space that offered.

“Round the block again, Jim,” I counselled.

“You didn’t notice your daughter along there?” inquired Jim anxiously.

“I’m afraid I didn’t,” she said.

So we turned the corner and started around the block a second time. And then we heard the furious sound of a car horn right under our tail bumper.

Toot, toot, toot, went the horn furiously. And suddenly we felt a violent bump from its bumper.

“Hey, what’s this!” demanded Jimmie, hotly. And he slowed the car and stopped in the middle of the street.

The door of the car behind burst open and a lady came charging out.

“Mother, mother!” she cried breathlessly. “Where are these men taking you?”

And she tore the door open and seized the old lady by the arm protectively.

“Why, my dear,” said the old lady, looking around the car. “Isn’t this our car?”

“It isn’t, it isn’t!” cried the younger woman brokenly. “Oh, these brutes!”

“Calm yourself, darling,” soothed the old lady. “I must have got in this car by mistake and the two gentlemen were just going-“

The sound of heavy footfalls and loud breathing suddenly burst upon us from the other side.

And there, with two other men with him, one of them a truck driver armed with a large wrench, was the gentleman who had come out of the shop shouting at us.

“Aha,” he breathed furiously. “Caught in the act! Caught red handed! And with a pious old dame in it for camouflage, eh?”

“Come on,” said the truck driver loudly brandishing the wrench. “We’ve sent a call for the cops. Don’t try anything funny.”

“Oh, oooh,” wailed the younger woman the other door.

“Now, now, my dear,” cried the old lady, starting to get out.

“Stay where you are!” roared the truck driver, darting around the back of the car with the wrench.

“Don’t you dare, you brute,” screamed the young woman, taking up a defensive position in front of her poor old mother.

By which time, people were coming from all directions, and it was a mob scene, with us parked in the middle of the street.

Well, it took quite a lot of explaining. We told about the car double-parked outside ours. And how the old lady came along and got into the wrong double-parked car by mistake. And how, when we saw a space offering….

The truck driver said he would escort us back to the shop. And if our car was there, as we said, why, he would let us go.

But he followed behind us all the way, with the wrench.

“You see, Jim,” I explained, as we started back with the steak for Jim’s supper, “how easy a war starts? It is always somebody who thinks he is being wronged.”

“Two of them,” growled Jim.


Editor’s Note:

  1. $2,763 in 1945 would be $47,630 in 2023. ↩︎

Charity Game

We were introduced with great enthusiasm to the men around the table…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 15, 1938.

“How are you,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “at raising money?”

“Middling,” I replied. “When I want $100 I always ask the bank manager for $300.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “canvassing. You know: raising funds for a worthy cause.”

“That’s something,” I admitted, “that I have never tried.”

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s some kind of a new service club starting out in the west end here. Sort of like a junior Rotary or Kiwanis club. It is starting a campaign to raise a sort of operating fund for its first year.”

“I’ll give you a dollar1,” I said, seeing it was Jim.

“No, no,” he cried. “It’s not that. The boys in charge of it came to see me last night to ask if you and I would do some canvassing for them.”

“Two dollars,” I offered. “I’ll make it two dollars.”

“I offered them five,” said Jim, “if they would let me out of it. But they kind of high-pressured me. They said you and I were so well known, we’d get them the dough like nobody’s business.”

“Ah,” I admitted, “that was very decent.”

“Yes,” went on Jim, “they said that this new service club is really for the younger men of the west end here, where they are sort of out of the swim, as far as the boys of say 16 to 20 are concerned. We’re seven miles from the University. We’re the same distance from downtown and the museums and main libraries and everything. A service club devoted to youth, they say, would fill a long-felt want.”

“I’ll go five too,” I offered.

“Look,” said Jim. “These fellows told me last night that you and I would get $100 as quick as unknown canvassers would get $10.”

“There might be something in it,” I submitted.

“It’s a very simple job,” pointed out Jim. “All we have to do is go out after supper and work about four short streets. They suggested just these four streets right around here. All well-to-do people. We could probably do 15 houses in an evening, between say 7.30 and 10 o’clock. What do you think?”

“Somehow,” I said, “it doesn’t exactly appeal to me. Somehow, I feel that we belong to the giving kind, not to the getting kind.”

“But look,” said Jim, “what have we ever done for the community? Here we are living our selfish lives, not doing a single uncomfortable thing. All we do is buy our way out of a little work with five bucks.”

“Or two,” I corrected. “Make it two bucks, as a rule.”

“And these fellows were really,” continued Jim, “very kind to say what they did about how easy it would be for us. And it’s true, at that, I suppose.”

“That is the only part of the proposition that appeals to me,” I submitted. “Beyond this: that it might be kind of fun to see inside all these homes around here.”

“Yeah,” said Jim, eyes widening.

Going Out Canvassing

“I’ve often,” I informed him, “had a sort of hankering to see what some of these nice big homes are like around here. I see the people who live in them. I see the outside of their houses. But I wonder what the insides are like? What kind of pictures have they on the walls? Have they got any enlarged photographs of defunct aunts, in walnut frames? What books have they? In what opulence or meanness do all these neighbors of ours dwell, who walk so proudly amongst us?”

“It would be fun,” admitted Jim.

“I tell you,” I offered, “let’s tell your friends that we will try one night’s canvassing for them. Tell them we are pretty busy men, but we’ll give them one night, see?”

“That will be safest,” agreed Jim.

“And we can have one grand evening looking over the domiciles of our neighbors,” I laughed. “Nothing is so revealing as the front room of a man’s home.”

“I’ll call the boys,” said Jim, “and tell them we’ll do a night’s work for them. All they’ve got to do is supply us a list with the names, addresses and business occupations of the householders. That’ll guide us.”

“I want,” I said, “to see the inside of an insurance man’s home.”

So Jimmie got in touch with the committee men of the new venture and they sent him a list of selected prospects in our immediate neighborhood. There were insurance men, managers of factories like ink or shoes, doctors, lawyers. And Jim and I went for a preliminary ramble of the district to look over the outside of the prospects and select the kind of houses we would prefer to see the inside of. We selected out of 50 names a short list of 20 which we could nicely cover in one night’s fast work.

“We won’t stay long,” explained Jim. “The boys impressed that on me. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes. The real trouble with the art of canvassing is the inclination to dawdle. Cover the ground: that’s the secret of success.”

“How much should we try to get?” I asked.

“Well, they told me,” said Jim, “to try for an average of $10 and we’d probably average five. But here and there, if we have any luck at all, we’ll strike perhaps $25 or even $50. We mustn’t forget that most of the neighbors around here know us, and some of them might want to impress us.”

“Especially,” I pointed out, “if we catch them sitting in their shirt sleeves in a living room with a lot of shabby looking furniture…”

“Now you’re talking,” cried Jim, who is only an amateur in the science of psychology.

So, putting on our best hats and the special mufflers we got for Christmas that our wives had put away in a drawer, we sallied forth. It was a lovely night.

“I imagine a lot of people will be out on a night like this,” I suggested.

“We have to take our chances on that,” said Jim.

In a Worthy Cause

The first home we had extra-selected on our list was that of a lawyer, a gentleman whose name is often in the papers. He occupies one of the larger and remoter houses in our neighborhood. It stands back. It has trees in front of it.

“This,” I said, “is going to be imposing. Tall, book-lined walls. Old walnut furniture. A few dim, expensive paintings by old masters on the wall.”

We rang.

We rang again.

Lights glowed within, so we knew somebody was home. But often, in these better-class homes, it takes even the maid a long time to answer the door. It is as if even the maid had more important things to do.

So we rang again, long and steady.

In the distance we heard sounds as of somebody coming. We saw, through the frosted glass of the inner door, a shadow of somebody moving. Then the inner door opened, and there appeared a queer sight. It was the gentleman we sought, true enough, the lawyer, but he was grotesquely attired. He had on some old kind of a dressing gown. he had a towel around his neck, his hair was all tousled, and he was stooped over, as if he were huddling from the cold. He opened the door a crack.

“What is it?” he demanded shortly.

“We’ve dropped in,” I started pleasantly, “in connection with a very worthy cause that has been started in the neighborhood….”

“Good grief, man,” shouted the lawyer thickly. “I only came to the door because I thought you were the doctor. I was up taking a mustard foot bath. I’m nearly dead with a cold, would you mind getting out of this with your…”

And with a terrific slam, he shut the door in our faces.

“Hmmmm,” said Jim.

So we went down the street four doors, rather hurriedly, to the next selected house on our extra-selected list.

“The poor fellow,” I suggested. “Us bringing him down to the door.”

“A bad beginning means a good end,” replied Jim.

We mounted the steps of the next house with confidence.

A girl came dancing to the door.

“Is Mr. Puckle in?” we asked beamingly, as became workers in a worthy cause.

“Just a minute.” said the young girl, uncertainly, and she left us in the vestibule.

The house was loud with music. The radio was going full blast. A swell band was raving and whanging, and somebody on the air said something and the house was filled with laughter.

To Change Their Luck

The girl went inside, and a man in his shirt sleeves came hurriedly out the hall and leaned into the vestibule, as if in flight.

“Mr. Puckle?” said Jim, heartily.

“Yes?” said Mr. Puckle, sharply.

“We’re a couple of neighbors of yours,” began Jim. We wanted to see you for a few minutes on a matter respecting a worthy cause, a new venture in the interests…”

“Not now, not now,” cried Mr. Puckle, his ears laying back as he tried to hear what the radio comedian was saying at the same time. “It’s Thursday night, man. Not to-night.”

“But we only require five minutes,” started Jim.

He made shushing gestures with his hands. “Don’t you understand?” he shouted. “Thursday night. It’s the biggest night on the radio. Nobody should be allowed out on Thursday nights. Imagine, you come here trying to talk to me about some worthy cause… here!”

And he stepped strongly past us, opened the door and waved us out.

Just plain out.

“Well,” breathed Jim as we stood on the steps under the stars.

“I guess he didn’t know who we were,” I suggested.

“Probably he didn’t and perhaps he did,” said Jim. “But so far, we haven’t averaged five bucks.”

“The night’s young,” I encouraged him, as we went down the walk a little way and looked at our list under the street light for the next house.

Well, the next house was another handsome edifice where the maid who answered the door wanted to know our business when we asked for the gentleman. We explained our business.

“I’m sorry,” said the maid. “My instructions are that all requests for aid or money should be referred to the master in business hours.”

“Just take our names in,” I suggested.

She took our names in, and we waited on the veranda.

She returned.

“He says, will you please see him in business hours?”

So we again went down the street and this time we studied the list more closely. To change our luck, we decided to go around a block and start on a new segment of our list.

It was, to the eye, a more appealing home we selected than any of the others. It too had a jolly look, but when we got to the veranda and listened in the window, we could hear no big Thursday night radio rumpus. We rang. In a smoking jacket, a man swung the door wide, in a generous gesture.

“Hello?” he said cheerily.

“We’re calling on you,” said Jimmie, “in connection with a worthy cause connected with this neighborhood. It is a sort of youth service club that some of the people around here…”

“Come on in,” said the gentleman gaily, “and rest your hats.”

We stepped into his parlor.

“Now, look,” said our host, “I’ve got a few of the neighbors in the dining room. We’ve got a little game on. How’d you like to speak your little piece to the whole bunch of us and save time?”

“Swell,” we cried.

And we were led into the dining room, where around the dining room table three gentlemen were sitting in the usual poker attitudes. We were introduced with great enthusiasm, though I didn’t recollect ever having seen any of the neighbors before, and they obviously had never heard of us. Still, it was neighborly.

Jimmie Makes a Speech

Jim made the speech. He explained the purpose of the proposed organization. How it would benefit the whole community insofar as offering some activity and interest to the younger men and older boys. It would teach them public speaking, self-assurance and confidence. Jim really did a beautiful job. All four gentlemen sat back, their cards laid down. and smoked their cigars in that thoughtful way poker players smoke their cigars, in little, puckered-mouth puffs, slowly steaming out.

When Jim concluded, with a rousing request for a few donations on the dotted line, to be followed in due course by a suitably engraved acknowledgment from the president and executive of the new organization, the four gentlemen looked at one another thoughtfully.

“Well, Bill,” said our host to the only one of them in his shirt sleeves, and they tell me those are always the most dangerous poker players, “what say?”

“Personally,” said Bill, slowly and in a deep, cigar-stained voice. “I make it a practice never to give money away. I offer my money on the altar of chance. If a cause is worthy, it generally survives the ordeals of chance.”

“Well put,” cried they all. “Well stated, Bill.”

“My suggestion is,” went on Bill, “that these two gentlemen sit into this game and, if their cause is really worthy, it will probably plaster them with luck and they can take my money off me, and welcome.”

“It’s an idea, gentlemen,” cried our host, offering to take our hats and coats.

“Wait a minute,” said Jim. “I don’t happen to have more than three or four dollars on me.”

“I’ve only got two,” I put in drily. Poker is not one of my good points.

“Why,” said Bill, “you stand to win ten times as much as you could collect out of us.”

“I’m in,” said Jim, starting to take off his coat.

So I sat in too. I sat in to play my own kind of game. I play poker my own way. It is this. I play nothing but jackpots. That is, I ante. And then, if I get one of three hands, a royal flush, a straight flush or a full house, I bet for all I am worth. But unless I get one of those three, I throw my hand in. True, I seldom get such a hand. But in a long evening’s play, all I can lose is my ante. And as the ante was five cents and the game five and ten, naturally, I was able to sit the game out with my two dollars for forty deals. Forty deals I sat and watched that game, and never did I get anything better than three aces, though I got several two pairs.

It took Jim all that time to lose and win and lose his four dollars, back and forward, and back and forward. But this little group of neighbors had a rule that on the stroke of midnight the game ended, no matter what, by finishing out the hand.

And when the stroke of midnight sounded. Jim pushed all his chips, and what do you think he was betting on?

A pair of fives.

Naturally he lost, and for all our night’s canvassing, we had nothing but our key rings and penknives and a couple of buttons and stuff in our pockets.

But the gang broke up with a swell tray-load of chicken sandwiches and coffee, and while none of us had ever heard of one another, and didn’t seem to care, we thanked everybody for a very pleasant evening and went forth into the night.

“So much for canvassing,” said Jimmie.

“So much,” I agreed, and we parted at the corner.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. $1 in 1938 is the equivalent of $20.85 in 2023. ↩︎

Aristocracks

I would forbid any of my tenants to shoot my rabbits

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 6, 1934.

“If you had a million dollars,” said Jimmie Frise, as we sat over our cigarettes and dirty dishes in a downtown lunch place, “what would you do with it in times like these?”

“I have a great idea,” I replied. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it this last couple of years.”

“Let’s have it,” said Jim, sitting back.

“If I were a millionaire I would go down around Port Hope or maybe north of Brampton,” I said, “and I would buy 2,000 acres of farmland.”

“Old stuff,” said Jim. “Rich man buys a farm.”

“Wait a minute,” I protested. “You haven’t heard my scheme yet. I’d buy 2,000 acres of fine farmland, with various kinds of soil – clay, clay loam, sandy loam, swamps, pasture, and so forth.”

“Mixed land,” said Jim.

“Yes, and then I’d divide it up into small farms. I would have 100-acre cattle ranches and 10-acre market gardening farms, five-acre chicken ranches and 100-acre mixed farms, for grain and roots, and so forth.”

Real estate racket, eh?” asked Jim.

“On each of these farms,” I went on, “I would build a beautiful modern farm house, of brick, with good barns and buildings, with all modern conveniences like running water and septic tanks and everything. The cattle farm would have modern stables. The small farm suitable for chicken raising would be all chicken runs and houses.”

This has been done before,” said Jim.

“In the midst of this two-thousand-acre estate,” I said, “I would build my own house, the Manor, a large and beautiful house, in the old fashion, but with every convenience, with garages and stables and kennels for all my dogs. From this manor house would radiate drives to all parts of the estate.”

“Ah, you’re going to have a large family?” guessed Jimmie.

“No, sir,” I said. “When I had it all laid out, I would advertise the farms for rent on five-year leases. I would invite the sons of farmers, graduates of the agricultural college and the better class of young farmers who had no land of his own, to come and lease these specialized farms from me. In no time, I would be surrounded by young men, with their wives and little families, working ideal farms provided with every aid to modern agriculture.”

“And what would you do?” Jim inquired.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I would then hire a professor from the agricultural college to act as manager of the estate. He would have a nice house a little way from the Manor. He would do the dividing up of the estate into proper lots of land. He would select the tenants. He would act as adviser to the tenants and to me. Instead of there being an agricultural representative for the county, I would have our own resident adviser, and it would be written right in the leases that the Professor, as we would no doubt call him, would have the right to oversee all operations.”

Lord of the Manor

“Yes, and what would you be doing all this time?” asked Jimmie. “Sleeping? Or gone fishing maybe?”

“I would be the Squire,” I said. “I would be seen in the early mornings, with the dew on the grass, riding a nice quiet little horse about the lanes and roads, amidst the hedges. I would get myself made a J.P.1, so that I could do all the marrying and so forth. I would just visit around all the tenants inspiring them, joking with them, taking a great interest in the children, acting generally as the lord of the manor.”

“And collecting the rents,” said Jim.

“Yes,” I said, “I have figured out that the rents would give me a good return on my million dollars, especially as I would have a clause in the lease that would let me break it if they didn’t come through.”

“You would certainly have a good time,” said Jim.

“Yes,” I cried. “Think of it. I could pack of beagles and I would forbid any of the tenants to shoot my rabbits. Two thousand acres would provide me a lot of rabbit hunting.”

“How about giving me a job?” asked Jimmie.

“If you really knew anything about farming,” I said, “I might make you the manager of the estate. But you were only born and raised on the farm. How about you renting one of my small farms? There’s an idea.”

“One of the five-acre chicken ranches,” said Jimmie.

“Then,” I went on, “think of the social activity around the manor house! The parties! The tenants coming and going; the people from the city, all my city friends, driving out for the week-ends.”

“You would have to turn Tory,” said Jim.

“Yes, I suppose I would have to,” I said. “I can’t imagine even a Liberal, let alone a Radical lord of the manor. One has to be firm about one’s rents, and you can’t do that if you have any funny political ideas. Yes, I’d be a Tory. And I have thought, too, that I would build a church on the estate. We would have our own church and our own minister. It would be nice to have a front family pew, perhaps raised a little, with me and all my children and grandchildren in it.”

“Ah, grandchildren?” said Jimmie.

“Yes,” I said, “I can picture myself growing pleasantly old around that large and happy community, loved and respected, and perhaps, if titles ever come back, I might have a grandson that would be Lord Clark.”

“Ah, Lord Clark!” cried Jimmie, waving his cigarette. “Lord Clark of Brampton or Port Hope!”

“Mind you,” I cried, “an old-fashioned lord. A lord of the old school. Not one of these industrial lords, in shipping or manufacturing.”

To Recover a Lost Happiness

“But you would still collect the rents,” said Jimmie.

“Yes, and I’d have a community general store on the estate,” I said. “The storekeeper would draw a salary, and he would sell everything at cost to the farmers. I might even have a co-operative marketing office, like the U.F.O.2 A fleet of trucks to carry the produce of the farms to the city.”

“Your tenants would never really have to go to town at all,” said Jimmie. “They could just sit there in the peace and quiet of your magnificent estate, and worry about nothing.”

“What would they want go to town for?” I demanded. “You miss the point of the whole scheme. It is to recover a lost happiness. To bring back a former glory. Yes, the professor would manage the co-operative marketing system. There might be even a little profit there. In time, one of my sons might get a good job right on the estate as marketing expert, at a good salary. A salary that would keep him in a condition that befits the son of the manor.”

“And maybe you could bring up one of your sons in the ministry, and he could run the community church?” said Jim.

“Self contained,” I agreed. “That’s the idea.”

“It’s a great idea,” said Jimmie. “I know of no safer way to invest your million. Your family would be fixed for generations to come. How about the sons of your tenants?”

“They could inherit the leases,” I explained.

It was time to go. The waitress was leaning over us piling the dishes on her tray.

We put on our coats and walked out to the street, and I must say, I was surrounded by a kind of pearly-colored glow. I felt benign and serene. I felt kindly toward all mankind, and if any bum had caught me right then, as we stepped out on to the street, I would have given him a shilling or maybe even half a crown, as you might call a fifty-cent piece, along with some sound advice. Yes, sir. I wished I had a walking stick, as I stepped out on to Yonge St.

We walked over to Jimmie’s car that was parked on the kerb, and there was a truck parked ahead of it, with its engine running.

“Drat the truck!” said Jimmie, surveying the way we were trapped by cars behind and in front. It was the usual street scene.

“The man will be out in a moment,” I said. “Don’t be impatient, Jimmie. No gentleman is ever indignant. Or impatient.”

We got into Jimmie’s car and sat there. Three, four, five minutes went by, and still the big truck stood right in front of us, prisoning us, with its body gently jiggling all over with the engine running.

“Look here, Jim,” I said. “There’s an opening across the road. I’ll just get out and drive the truck across to that space.”

“If you like,” said Jimmie.

Back To Reality

I got out and looked about. There was no sign of any truck driver.

I got in the cab of the truck. It was just the same as an ordinary car. I let go the brake, let in the gears, and drew carefully out from the kerb and steered for the open space across the road. But just as I got into the middle of the street, a car slid along and parked itself in the opening I was aiming for.

I drove on slowly. There were no more spaces in the block!

So I drove around the block, carefully, trusting that by the time I got back, there would either be a new opening along the kerb, or else Jimmie would see the situation, move out of his place and let me in and wait for me.

But all down the block there was no open space, and there sat Jimmie, solemnly waiting at his wheel. I drew alongside of him with the truck and stopped.

“Hey!” I cried. “I’ll go around the block once more, and you watch for me coming. And when you see me. draw out of the kerb here and let me drive in. Then wait for me a jiffy.”

“Right-o!” cried Jimmie.

So I drove around the block once more. I ran into a few delays. There was a traffic jam on a side street. And I was held up at all three corners of the block.

And then I got back on to Yonge St, and started slowly for Jim, watching ahead to see if he saw me coming. Jimmie is forgetful.

But there he was, turned in the driver’s seat and watching me approach. I slowed.

Suddenly, I saw a figure running beside me.

He was big and hairy, he had on overalls, his arms were bare and dirty, and he had the most terrible expression I have seen on a human face since the last of the great war cartoons.

“Aaarrrrnnnnnhh!” he snarled, galloping alongside the truck.

I surmised he was the truck driver.

“Just a minute, my good man!” I cried down to him, trying to handle the brakes, gears and steering wheel and also to keep an eye on traffic, though both my eyes were strongly attracted down to this man snarling below me on the pavement.

“Gearrrratttt!” roared the big brute. And while I clung helpless to the big steering wheel, he leaped on the step and laid hold of my shoulder.

“Gearrrratttt!” roared the big brute as he leaped on the running board

He chucked me out over his shoulder as if I were a pillow. As I felt myself passing over his head, I sensed him sliding as if in masterful hands, gain speed and leap down the street.

At that moment, I landed. I landed in slush and mud and cigarette butts and old chewing gum.

Independence Highly Prized

I landed right in front of Jim’s car. I slid quite a piece, gathering slush as I slid. I lay still.

Jimmie was out and beside me in an instant. I felt him wiping my face off with his handkerchief.

“Ah,” cried Jimmie, “as I live! If it isn’t Lord Clark of Port Hope!”

“Jimmie,” I spluttered, “get me out of this!”

He assisted me to my feet. He hastened me into his car. Only a few of the common people had gathered around to see me. “Take me somewhere,” I cried, as we drove off. “Take me to a cleaner’s and presser’s or something.”

“How about a Turkish bath, milord?” asked Jimmie.

“Did you ever see anything so brutal?” I demanded, holding my hands in the air, because I was all gooey. “That truck driver might have known by my appearance that I was not a car thief!”

“Well, if you were a truck driver,” said Jimmie, “and you came out and saw your truck vanished, and then all of a sudden saw your truck driving along the street with a stranger at the wheel, what would you do?”

“Throw him to the street!” I said hotly. “I never saw such outrageous conduct!”

“Ah, times have changed,” said Jimmie. “In the old feudal days, in the days of the manor house, for example, truck drivers knew their place and they knew the lord of the manor when they saw him. Now in the old days, that truck driver would merely have tipped his cap to you. And curtseyed!”

“Jimmie!” I said.

“But you see,” explained Jimmie, “times have so changed. There is a great independence abroad in the world. Men want that independence even more than they want comfort and security.”

“It was outrageous,” I said.

“Sure,” said Jimmie, “but no matter how honest your intentions, you can’t monkey with a truck driver’s truck nowadays. That big guy would rather drive a truck and have the right to throw a benign old squire like you in the mud, than be your flunkey and live on the fat of the land.”

“If I had a million dollars,” I said, “do you know what I would do with it?”

“What?” said Jim.

“I’d buy a fleet of trucks, and by George, I would teach those truck drivers manners!”

“Ah, well,” said Jim, “the main thing is you haven’t the million dollars.”

March 23, 1940

Editor’s Notes:

This story was repeated on March 23, 1940 as “Times Have Changed”.

  1. Justice of the Peace. ↩︎
  2. United Farmers of Ontario. This party formed the Ontario government from 1919-1923. By the time of this article, they were in decline and dissolved by 1944. ↩︎

The Holiday Spirit

“… the entire community should burst forth in a great national festival.”

The beauty of winter, Jim and Greg discover, can easily run away with the imagination

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, December 27, 1947.

“Come on!” protested Jimmie Frise. “Wake up!”

“I’ve et too much,” I groaned.

“Look!” cried Jimmie, shaking me. “It’s the holiday season. Listen to the kids outside. Look at that beautiful snow.”

“Relax,” I begged. “Let’s relax. Let everybody relax.”

“Listen to this,” insisted Jim. “It’s something we should never forget. If we live to be 60, and if we sleep eight hours a day, we have spent 20 years – 20 YEARS – of our lives unconscious!”

“Unconscious,” I murmured, sinking deeper into the after-luncheon easy chair.

“Doesn’t that horrify you?” demanded Jim hotly. “Twenty years – a third of your entire life – you have spent, wasted, thrown away, in sheer unconsciousness.”

I waked slowly. I slowly sat up. I fought back the lovely soft, drowsy waves of sleepiness that had me, even to my finger tips and toes, in their luscious embrace.

I pushed myself heavily out of the easy chair. I stood up and re-buttoned my vest. There is nothing dearer to me than a holiday afternoon snooze following a good fat lunch.

“What,” I inquired formally, “did you say?”

“I said,” repeated Jimmie distinctly, “that if you live to be 60, and if you sleep eight hours a day, you have spent 20 years of your life UNCONSCIOUS!”

I fixed my mind on that horrifying statement. The more I examined it, the more horrible it became. With a sudden jolt, as it were, I came wide awake. I walked with decision to the window and looked out at the street.

A gorgeous new fall of snow had mantled the whole familiar dismal scene in Arctic splendor. The vulgar frowning houses across the road were cheerily fantastic in blankets, hoods, veils of shimmering white. The sky above was icy blue. The sun cut strange golden patterns with mauve shadows.

“Jim,” I demanded, with Canadian tears in my eyes, “what do you suggest we do?”

“Well,” considered Jim over my shoulder, “look at those kids building show men. How about going out and romping with the kids?”

“What an absurd suggestion!” I snorted. “Romp with the kids! Jim! As Canadians, on a day like this, it is our holy duty to celebrate it in some fitting fashion.”

“Two minutes ago,” scoffed Jim, “you were all for sleeping.”

“Heaven forgive me,” I whispered, pushing the curtain aside and looking out again on the vision of loveliness that comes with winter’s first snowfall.

“We Canadians,” I enunciated, “ought to have long ago devised some ceremonial, some sort of spontaneous carnival to welcome winter on its first true arrival. I mean a day like this. Not those bleak and slushy early December days. But a day like this should, by common consent, be the occasion of a city-wide, a country-wide celebration for which we have all been waiting. We should have carnival costumes all ready, we should have family parties organized and standing by. And when the first true, glorious day of full winter dawns, work should be forgotten, routine cast aside, and the entire community should burst forth in a great national festival.”

“Yeah,” interrupted Jim. “The only trouble is, this snow we’ve got here is more than likely local; and out in the suburbs, it’s still mud.”

“Er…uh…” I submitted. “But it’s a beautiful idea, don’t you think?””

“I think,” stated Jim, “we ought to put our coats on and go out and romp with those kids. They’re trying to make a snow man. Let’s go and show them what a real snowman looks like. Eh?”

“Jim,” I responded, “I feel more like standing here at this window, in this warm room, looking out upon the glories of winter and thinking beautiful thoughts about it.”

“There!” agreed Jim. “There you are: the typical Canadian! Our glorious winter is something to be viewed with deep appreciation from the storm windows of a nice cosy room.”

“I assure you,” I said, “that if there were some sort of festival, some kind of public celebration today, nobody would be out there joining in it with more gusto than I. But merely to go out and flounder around in the snow, with a bunch of children…”

“You are getting old,” smiled Jim. “You forget that this is the holiday season. All those youngsters are enjoying their freedom. The holiday spirit should be shared by us elders. When I was a child, my parents romped with me, built snow men for me, hauled me on toboggans, took me to the hills where I could slide….”

“Kids are more independent today,” I pondered. “They prefer to make their own fun.”

“What an alibi!” scorned Jim. “And still you wonder at juvenile delinquency! Still you complain about the lack of discipline in children! The secret of it all is, we have brushed our children off. We shoo them away to school as soon as they get up in the morning. We give them the radio to play with, rather than be bothered listening to their little questions. We toss them a quarter to go to the movies, to be rid of them for an evening. I venture the opinion that we are the most selfish generation in all history. We don’t want to be bothered with our own children!”

“Those kids out there,” I remarked, pushing the, curtains aside to look, “aren’t our children.”

“No, but they’re happy, joyous little creatures,” pursued Jim, “and I can’t imagine any finer, pleasant, more seemly way for you and me to give thanks for such a beautiful winter afternoon than by going out there right now and taking a kindly, human interest in them. Build them a snow man. Show them how. Make ’em a snow man six feet high. With a funny nose. And old hat. With coal for eyes…”

“Where are their own parents?” I queried. “Why aren’t their own parents out romping with them?”

“Probably,” said Jim bitterly, “their own parents kicked them out of the house to be rid of them. Greg, don’t let us fret about other people. Let us face our own consciences. That’s the great need of this day and age: let us face our own consciences!”

I could feel the old drowsiness starting to sneak back over me. The snow had such a glare. It made me have to shut my eyes. The room was so warm. The big chair so empty, so soft…

“Come!” cried Jim, detecting the symptoms. “You want to celebrate the arrival of the true, the glorious Canadian winter! You want a festival, a carnival, welcome it! For half an hour, for just a few minutes to breathe that clear delicious air…”

He ran to the vestibule and came back with my overcoat and muffler and hat and piled them on me. He hastily flung on his own.

“Come on!” he exulted. “Some day we’ll be unconscious for keeps.”

And that did it. For after all, on a genuine winter day, you can’t help but feel how good life is, and how precious the blood pumping in your veins; how fleeting the days and the years.

We stood on the verandah, inhaling the spice of the cold. Spice is the word for it; because the air of a snow-washed afternoon has that same almost aromatic tang to it that ginger and cloves possess.

Yet it was not a sharp cold. It was, in fact, the perfect afternoon for making snow men. It had just the right temperature to make the snow packy in the hand and squeaky under foot.

“Let’s,” I suggested, “take a brisk walk.”

“Let’s,” corrected Jim, suddenly leaping down the steps, “make a snow man.”

Stooping down, with his gloves on, he rolled a good fat snowball about the size of a grapefruit. This he placed on top of the snow and started to roll it.

In a moment, he had a good big snowball the size of a pumpkin. In another jiffy, he was grunting with the effort of rolling ahead of him across the lawn a monster snowball as big as an apple barrel.

“Come on!” he cried, flushed and puffed. “Hey, kids!”

On both our side of the street and across the road, a variety of small children paused in their revelry to look.

“Hey! Come on, kids! Let’s make a snow man!” roused Jim, waving his arms.

Several of them, I observed, had the makings of snow men of various sizes already rolled up. Nothing very big.

“Come on,” wheedled Jim. “Roll yours over here, and we’ll combine on a snow man six feet high!”

“You roll yours over here!” retorted a little girl in a high clear voice.

And all the others bent to their own enterprises.

“Oh, very well!” cried Jim heartily.

So I came down off the steps and helped him roll our snowball down the slope and start it across the street.

But it was pretty heavy going, as the snowball grew in size with each revolution. In fact, when we got it half way across the pavement, it had grown so large that the two of us could barely move it.

The children had by now quit their individual efforts and came running from the different lawns to watch us. They stood on the far sidewalk in silence, a snowsuit jury.

“Yo-heave!” commanded Jim.

We laid our shoulders to the ball and got it another 10 feet.

“Where,” inquired the little girl with the high clear voice, “where are you going to put that dirty big thing?”

We stood back. It had picked up quite a bit of dirt off the road as it rolled.

“Roll it back,” ordered the little girl, “where it came from. We don’t want any dirty big thing like that over in front of our house.”

“Roll it back,” ordered the little girl, “where it came from.”

“Don’t you want a great big, six-foot snow man?” coaxed Jimmie breathlessly.

“We’re building a fort,” said the little girl. “We’re going to have a fight. To the death.”

“Oh,” said Jim.

“I’m Superman,” announced a little boy who needed his nose wiped.

“I’m building,” lisped another little girl, “the Yempire State Building.”

“Take it back,” interrupted the little boss girl with the clear voice. “Get it the heck out of here.”

She indicated our large snow sphere with her foot. Jim started to speak and changed his mind. We both bent to roll the ball, now waist-high. But it stuck and we couldn’t move it. Jim kicked a large chunk off it, to reduce it. I kicked another. The children went back to their enterprises. The segments of our big snowball we cast away in various directions so as not to obstruct the pavement.

Then, in silence, we returned back across the road to our own side. We walked slowly up the front walk and stood at the foot of the steps.

“How,” I began, clearing, my throat, “how about a nice brisk walk?”

“Maybe,” ventured Jim, “if we stayed here on our own lawn and built a real big dandy of a snow man, we could show them…”

We both heard a sudden deep rumbling sound.

But it was already too late.

A big snowslide had begun on Jim’s roof, right over our heads. It fell on us like a ton of bricks.

As we picked ourselves up and started knocking the snow from our heads and shoulders and hooking it from inside our collars with crooked fingers, we could hear the hilarious laughter of little children in the distance.

“Jim,” I puffed, as we stumbled up the steps and into the vestibule, “the thing to do on a beautiful winter day is look at it through the window.”

Christmas Box

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse…. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 22, 1945.

“Watch that guy,” whispered Jimmie Frise.

I glanced around the street car and, observing Jim’s gaze, saw it fastened on a pleasant little elderly fellow opposite us

He had a cardboard box on his knees, which he held with both hands as if it contained the Holy Grail.

On his face was a sweet, faraway, tender look which he lifted above all the rest of us in the car, and his eyes twinkled and gleamed behind spectacles in an expression of intense anticipation.

“What about him?” I murmured to Jim.

“Watch,” said Jim quietly.

The car was fairly crowded but would be much more so at the next big transfer corner. I watched the little man.

He sat, lurching with the car, smiling to himself, a secret, proud smile. His eyes darted from side to side, unseeing, as he pictured something in his mind, something pretty nice.

Quietly, he bent down over the box on his knees. He seemed to be listening. His hands caressed the box.

Jim nudged me.

“So what?” I muttered to Jim.

“What do you suppose he’s got in that box?” demanded Jim softly. “Did you ever see so happy a man?”

“He’s been doing his Christmas shopping,” I suggested.

“Obviously,” agreed Jim, “but what has he got in that box?”

“Is this some new guessing game?” I inquired. “Riding in a street car and trying to guess what all the Christmas shoppers have got in their parcels?”

“He’s got half the people in the car watching him,” said Jim.

I glanced around. Sure enough, everybody who could see the little man appeared to be watching him.

Men with newspapers suspended before them were covertly observing him over the tops of their newspapers. Ladies, with that casual way they have, were fastening the little man with the corners of their eyes.

So I joined the party. I shifted my seat slightly to see around a man standing in the way.

With the fixed, faraway smile on his face, the little fellow let his gleaming eyes wander along the advertisement cards up along the car ceiling. Then, with a sudden recollection of his secret, he drew the box closer on his lap, bent slightly down, and shook the box ever so lightly.

Whatever response came from the box, the little man fairly glowed with joy. I glanced around, and saw that everyone watching him was nearly frantic with curiosity. They shifted their positions in an irritated fashion, and those immediately beside him leaned closer to him as if to try to overhear what he heard; or to peek.

“It wouldn’t be a pup?” I suggested to Jim.

“Box too small,” said Jim. “Might be a kitten.”

“He’d have air holes for a kitten,” I submitted. “Anyway, if it was a kitten, we could hear it meowing when the car stops.”

After a couple more blocks, the little man, cuddling the box close, leaned down and very cautiously raised one corner of the lid and peered within.

Then, lowering the lid, he lifted his radiant face in the same faraway expression and wrapped his hands around the box in a gesture of supreme possession.

Of All the Nerve!

“Darn it,” said Jimmie, “I wish we knew what was in there!”

“It’s none of our business, Jim.” I responded.

But the man sitting next to the little fellow couldn’t stand it any longer either. Leaning close, he spoke. The little man smiled happily at the questioner but did not open his lips. He just shook his head.

The baffled neighbor glanced around at the rest of us as much as to say, “Well, I did my best.”

Before we travelled another block, the little man, overcome with his own curiosity, bent down again, cautiously lifted another corner of the box lid and took a long, lingering peep in through the opening.

By this time, a regular fever of curiosity was in possession of the street car. Those standing began to shift down to the middle of the car in the hope of getting a closer look at the mystery. In fact, they shut off Jim’s and my vision of the little man, so we got up and gave our seats to a couple of ladies who moved down; and this enabled us to stand where we could keep the little man in view.

Oblivious to the excitement and curiosity he was inspiring, he let his absent gaze wander for an instant but immediately it returned to the box on his knees and he seemed to quiver with an inward delight.

“Why doesn’t somebody,” gritted Jim beside me “ask him straight out? A man shouldn’t be allowed to create all this curiosity.”

“It’s his business, Jim,” I asserted, leaning out so as not to lose sight of him. “Just look at this guy butting in in front of me. Of all the nerve!”

“Push him over,” ordered Jim.

I tapped the interloper on the shoulder.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but you pushed right in front of me.”

“It’s a crowded car,” replied the interloper.

“Yes, but you don’t have to jam right in front of me,” I insisted.

He reluctantly moved to one side, affording me a view under his elbow.

“Of all the vulgar curiosity,” I muttered to Jim. “Bulging in like that!”

“It’s the Christmas rush, you know,” reminded Jim. “Look! He’s peeping again!”

The little man was hunched down, lifting the box lid and taking another long, fascinated peep within the box.

The people beside him, behind him, in front of him, fairly coiled around in their desire to see what was in the box.

He restored the lid, patted the box tenderly and resumed his flushed and excited gazing at space.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” exclaimed Jim under his breath, “why doesn’t somebody do something about it? Just standing there!”

A lady standing over him hanging to at strap – I had seen her sitting farther down the car only a moment before – leaned down and spoke smilingly to the little man.

He smiled bashfully up at her and said:

“Four!”

The lady leaned down and said something more, but the little man simply shook his head, beamed and cuddled the box more closely.

“Four what?” Jim passed the question.

And from both directions, “Four what?” was eagerly passed to the lady who had done, the interrogation.

“He just said four,” the lady announced to us all generally. “He didn’t say four what.”

“Ask him four what?” called Jimmie.

“Ask him yourself,” retorted the lady, but not relinquishing her place directly over the little man.

“Maybe he’s hard of hearing,” suggested the gentleman who had crowded so vulgarly in front of me.

“Here,” said Jim, “let me in there! I’ll ask him.”

The car had stopped at the big transfer point and a heavy Christmas crowd was shoving from the front end. Jim got in next to the little man. Putting on his best salesman smile, Jim leaned down and said very distinctly:

“You’ve got a surprise there, eh?”

“Four,” replied, the little man gently beaming.

“Four what?” Jim said more loudly.

“Yes, SIR,” agreed the little man enthusiastically. “Beauties!”

The Christmas crowd was making it tough for Jim, shoving.

“I say,” cried Jim, leaning low, “what are they? Four WHAT?”

“Only two bits each,” replied the little man agreeably. “Two bits. It’s a bargain.”

“WHAT are they?” persisted Jim, though several newcomers had jammed their way this far down the car and weren’t aware of the mystery that had all the rest of us in its grip. They shoved Jim rather roughly.

“Don’t mention it,” replied the little man amiably. “It’s a pleasure, I’m sure.”

Jim was shoved three seats back.

And for about six blocks, I lost my view, and Jim, tall as he is, could not crane far enough to see the little man either.

But by the time enough people had got off the car to allow us to resume our vigil, even the newcomers had been caught in the spell, and very grudgingly indeed they made room for me to peer under their elbows, and for Jim to stand tip-toe to look over their shoulders.

But there, lost in his happy maze of anticipation, was our little friend in the very act of lifting the box lid again for another wonderful peep at whatever was inside.

Long and craftily he gazed into the open corner. And when he replaced the lid, it was a starry gaze he listed, to turn and look out the car window to see where he was.

“Has anybody found out what he’s got?” Jim inquired those who had been lucky enough to stand close for the past few blocks.

Everybody shook their heads and ventured various opinions.

“It’s something alive,” decreed a lady with her arms full of Christmas parcels.” I heard him sort of whistling at it.”

“A canary, I bet you,” suggested another.

“No, canaries come in small wooden cages when you buy them,” announced another.

“I don’t think it’s anything alive,” asserted a third. “I think it’s some kind of toy he’s taking home to his grandson. Maybe an airplane.”

The little man was entirely indifferent to all this conversation right in his face. His hands enfolded in the box lovingly and he smiled inscrutably and happily at the coat front of the gentleman leaning right over him.

“I don’t think anybody,” declared Jim warmly, “has any right to create all this disturbance. Especially at this season of the year.”

“I suppose,” I said bitterly, “we should pile on top of him and rip the cover off the box and satisfy our curiosity.”

“If he’d only keep still,” protested Jim, “and not keep peeping all the time! If he’d only not look so excited!”

“My dear Jim,” I scoffed, “has it come to this, in cities, that nobody can have any private thoughts any more? Must we all wear dead pans? Even at Christmas time, can’t a man look happy and eager? This gentleman is taking something home to his little grandson. He is very delighted with his purchase. Maybe it’s a doll…”

When the Lid Came Off

“He said there were four,” corrected Jim.

“Maybe it’s four dolls,” I suggested, “for his little granddaughter.”

“He said they were two bits each,” pointed out Jimmie. “You can’t get dolls for two bits.”

“Jim,” I announced, “I’m prepared to move back to the far end of the car and forget it. I never saw such an exhibition of nosey idle curiosity in my…”

But I was cut short, because the little man was again bending slowly over, and with a delicate finger lifting one corner of the box for another peek.

We all surged close. We shoved, elbowed and shouldered one another for a closer look.

He raised the corner of the box lid about a quarter of an inch and then, lifting the box, put his eye to the hole and seemed transfixed by what he beheld. His hands shook. He heaved a sigh. And then, lowering the box and replacing the lid, gazed ecstatically from face to face of us all glaring above him.

“CANARY?” suddenly yelled the lady with all the parcels.

“Pardon me!” cried the little man.” I didn’t think! Of course you may have my seat. I’m terribly sorry…I…”

And as he scrambled to his feet, the lid of the box popped off and slid to one side, out leaped four white mice so fast and so twinkling, they seemed to vanish like blobs of quicksilver.

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse. Ladies shrieked and men yelled encouragement at them. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder and powdered its nose. The lady, perfectly upright, fell perfectly horizontal, with three men easing her down. The little man had darted after his pets and on hands and knees shoved and dived amid the ankles of passengers all retreating in the two possible directions.

The car came to a stop. The doors slid open and there was a wild stampede for the exit, ladies fairly vaulting over the backs of those ahead, gasping and giving small squeaks or screams, while gentlemen soothed and shouted courage to them, at the same time assisting them out the car doors.

In a matter of 20 seconds, the car was empty, save for the little man and about five of the more valiant of the men, including Jim and me, who were forming ourselves into a posse to round up the mice.

“Shut the doors!” we commanded the motorman.

“What’s cookin’?” he called.

“White mice got loose,” shouted one of the posse.

“You’d think it was lions or tigers,” called the motorman.

“Hold everything, and they can get back on again,” commanded Jim.

“Who, the mice?” called the motorman.

“No, the passengers,” said Jim.

“To heck with that!” retorted the motorman, starting the car. “I’ve got a schedule to meet. If people want to get off my car, they can.”

So while the car made the next few blocks, the little man with his posse rounded up three of the four. Jim caught two in his hat. Another of the posse lapped his mitt over another. And after he had searched all over for the fourth, and had almost decided it had got off with the passengers, maybe in some lady’s hat, the motorman sang out:

“Aw, here’s the little darling up here! Right on my window sill.”

So the little man went up and snapped it into the cardboard box.

And we all shook hands with him, all flushed and beaming.

“It’ll be a great surprise,” he cried happily.

“It sure will,” we all agreed, slapping him on the back.

And we all got off at our corners.

Sweet and Low

“In less than 30 seconds, the first of the intruders were pushing in our door.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 19, 1942.

“Well sir,” said Jimmie Frise, “I never felt less like Christmas in my life.”

“Maybe this is the way our folks felt,” I submitted, “on the fourth war Christmas in the last war, when we were over there.”

“Fourth Christmas!” exclaimed Jim. “Is this the fourth war Christmas?”

“Thirty-nine was the first,” I reminded him. “This war has been a lot longer than you think.”

“The counterpart of this Christmas, then, “figured Jim, “was Christmas, 1917.”

“And a pretty grim one it must have been,” I recalled. “The Germans were still lodged solid in France. We had staged a couple of battles, like Vimy and Passchendaele – how small they seem now. On a front of a couple of miles, we hammered and raged, and advanced a mile. In a whole battle.”

“We were proud of those battles,” declared Jim.

“Yet on Christmas, 1917, which was the fourth Christmas, like this one,” I said, “it looked as if the war might go on forever.”

“I wonder if we dare hope,” sighed Jim, “that next Christmas will be like Christmas, 1918?”

“Well, if those of us who want the war to end,” I proposed, “will work and fight harder than those who don’t want it to end, it might well be over by next Christmas.”

“Those who don’t want it to end?” demanded Jimmie hotly.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “We must not overlook the fact that there is a pretty powerful element, all over the world, in all countries, who will look with regret on the war’s end.”

“What monsters!” scoffed Jim. “Surely…”

“Oh, they’re not really monsters.” I explained. “They don’t consciously want the war to keep on. They don’t deliberately plan to keep the war going. It is a passive thing in them, not active. But scattered and hidden though they be, in all countries, they are a power and a force to be reckoned with.”

“Fifth columnists,” muttered Jim.

“Not at all,” I countered. “For example, in all armies, everywhere, among the generals and big shots are a few who are having the time of their lives. They were insignificant squibs before the war, they have risen to be persons of great importance now. And they know in their hearts that the minute the war is over, they are going right back to obscurity. They look with dread on peace.”

“It can’t be,” Jim exclaimed.

“Oh, yes,” I assured him. “Then, consider all the people, in all countries, people of importance and power, who are afraid of what is coming after the war, socially, economically and industrially. Those people are mighty worried. It looks, right now, terribly unsettled to them. They are talking about it, this very hour, in clubs and board rooms, in offices and mansions, trying to see into the future, trying to organize their security. Do you imagine such people would not, in some quiet, unconscious way, try to prolong the war a little while until they can see a little farther?”

“Utter monsters,” declared Jim.

Winds of Opinion

“They didn’t get rich and powerful,” I pointed out, “by fretting about the mass of mankind. But besides them, there must be people, in all countries, who are definitely far better off than they ever were before, due to war industry. The minute the war ends, they feel, in their hearts, that they are going back to the weary, tricky, hazardous life of unemployment and insecurity. These are people drawn from all classes, professional, managerial, workers. To suppose that a number of such people does not exist is simply silly. And it is the job of all of us who want the war to end victoriously as soon as possible to be alert for them. Because, sooner or later, at some stage of the victory, circumstances might arise that would allow these people to gang up and actually interfere. Public opinion is a funny thing. It is like the breeze. Mostly it is a vagrant breeze, idly flowing this way and that. Often, it sets strongly in one direction, like a west wind or an east wind. Sometimes it blows a gale. But there are also little unexpected winds of opinion that blow -like, on a fine day, an east wind rises, and in no time, there is a thunderstorm. Or. on a pleasant summer day, suddenly a sharp gust sweeps up, and canoes and sailboats out on the shining water are upset, and tragedy stalks in our midst.”

“That is exactly,” agreed Jim, “like public opinion. Each part of the country has its different prevailing winds; like Ontario, Alberta, and so forth.”

“In this strong gale of war,” I concluded, “we’ve got to keep our eye skinned for the little currents of adverse wind that might deflect it. In the hearts and minds of people there are areas of high and low pressure, just the same as in the atmosphere, which make the winds of opinion.”

“People who would try to keep the war going, so much as by one hour, one minute,” said Jimmie, “are monsters.”

“The tragic part is,” I explained, “they are utterly unconscious of their influence. They believe themselves to be as true patriots as anybody. No man ever really knows what he is up to, any more than the wind knows where or why it is blowing.”

“I wish,” said Jimmie, “I knew how to celebrate Christmas this year. Should I have a Christmas tree? Should we decorate our houses?”

“Oh, I think so,” I offered. “After all, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. In untroubled times, we forget all about that and make Christmas the high celebration not of Jesus’ birthday but of our own prosperity. We’re pretty humbled these days, so maybe if we keep in mind what Christmas really is, we can decorate our houses modestly and go ahead with as much of the spirit of Christmas as we can decently afford. This might be the chance to revive a whole lot of the forgotten and old-fashioned Christmas customs.”

“Like waits1,” said Jim.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Each family could organize itself into a little choir and practise up a few carols and go and serenade its friends and neighbors.”

“Isn’t it a pity,” said Jim, “the modern family has no musical talent, like when we were kids. The radio and the phonograph finished that. But when I was a youngster, every home had one or two musicians amongst the kids. My first great possession in this world was a saxophone. Do you remember the saxophone craze around 1910?”

“I once owned a cornet,” I confessed.

“Well, well, well,” cheered Jimmie. “I had no idea we had musical interests in common.”

“I played in the school band,” I announced.

“And in Birdseye Center2,” stated Jim, “we had a very snappy little dance orchestra of five pieces. I played sax.”

“When I got home from the war,” I said, “my kid brother had been using my cornet as a bugle, playing soldier. It was wrecked.”

“I sold my sax,” related Jim, “to get enough money to come to Toronto and try to get a job as an artist.”

“It would be a nice thing,” I mused, “to be able to play some instrument. How changed the world is! Everything is specialized. We leave music to the professionals.”

“Wouldn’t it be fun,” said Jim, “if we could borrow a sax and a cornet off somebody and go around and serenade our friends Christmas Eve?”

“That is exactly the sort of thing we ought to do, this war Christmas,” I admitted. “We haven’t the right to celebrate it as usual, with the whole world in flames. What Christmas ought to be this year is the greatest religious festival in history. It should be a day of prayer and atonement. The churches should be filled. We should gather our families together not for a feast and a hullabaloo but for a conference and a discussion of the war, of ourselves and of the future. It should be a day of meetings, public and private, of men gathering humbly together to take stock of themselves and the world.”

“And I can’t think of anything,” declared Jimmie; “more fitting than that people like us should forget our proud and foolish ways and go out, as simple, honest men did centuries ago, to sing and play to one another the carols of Christmas.”

“I’m thinking of it,” I protested, “in a broad, general way.”

“And I’m trying,” asserted Jim, “to get down to brass tacks. How about you and me borrowing a couple of instruments and practising up? Maybe there are half a dozen others in our neighborhood who can play horns and things. We might get a regular community band going in time for Christmas.”

“You can’t find musical instruments these days for love or money,” I informed him. “They’re right off the market. And the only people who own them are using them professionally.”

“I saw a sax in a second-hand store window on York St., not three days ago,” declared Jim.

So at lunch hour, we strolled up York St. and looked in the second-hand store windows, and sure enough, not only did we find the sax Jimmie had spotted, but as we stood outside the window, we could hear the strains of a violin being played inside.

The second-hand dealer, when we opened the door, was sitting in a chair at the back of his congested and cluttered emporium, a fiddle under his chin and a sheet of music propped up. It was Brahms’ Lullaby he was playing. He nodded to us and went ahead to the bottom of the page. Then he laid the fiddle down reluctantly and came to meet us.

“Gentlemen?” he said.

“We were wondering,” asked Jim, “if we could rent that saxophone in your window?”

“Ah, it’s not for sale,” said the dealer, “or rent. It is being bought on the instalment plan by a young man who comes every night and practises here on it. He has only $12 to pay until it is his. Meantime, he and I have very pleasant concerts here, each evening.”

“So you’re interested in music?” I inquired.

“It is my life,” said the second-hand dealer. “My passion, my blood, my very existence. But I don’t play very good.”

“We,” said Jim, “were thinking of renting or borrowing a saxophone and a cornet to practise up for Christmas. We were going to serenade our friends and neighbors this Christmas, as an old-fashioned reminder of the lost spirit of Christmas and what it stands for.”

“That is a most delightful fancy,” said the dealer. “Especially this year, since all the regular musicians who go about playing cornets from door to door are more profitably engaged in war work.”

He reached in the window and handed Jimmie the saxophone.

“Please play a few bars,” he invited courteously.

“I haven’t had one of these in my hands,” said Jim bashfully, “for 30 years.”

But he hurriedly took off his gloves and cuddled the clumsy instrument and after a few hot blows on the mouthpiece, puffed out his cheeks and ran up the scale.

He did it fairly well, with only a few blurts and a couple of squawks.

“Good,” cried the dealer. “After 30 years that’s good. What do you play, mister?”

“I used to play a cornet,” I informed him modestly.

He went out through the back and came in with a very large and slightly battered instrument that looked like a cross between a cornet and a trumpet.

“A beautiful Yugoslavian instrument,” he said, “that my late wife used to play.”

I tried it. It was not the same key as Jim’s saxophone and it took some pretty fancy puckering on my part to sound Jim’s A.

Serenaders Practice

The dealer hurriedly picked up his violin and set the Brahms Lullaby up before all three of us.

“One, two…” he said, waving the fiddle bow.

But of course, you couldn’t expect much under such circumstances, and after a bar and a half of riot that caused a policeman to open the shop door and look in anxiously, the dealer rapped with his bow in the approved maestro manner.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “I tell you what we do.”

For the sum of $1 each we could borrow the instruments for the afternoons, with the understanding that we could have full possession of them Christmas Eve and all day Christmas.

There were no cases for the instruments so we wrapped them in newspaper and carried them back to the office, entering by the freight door and up the freight elevator. Nobody noticed us smuggle them into our room. We shut the transom and the window and hastily unwrapped our prizes.

“Softly, now,” I warned.

“Do scales first,” suggested Jim.

But only an artist can play softly. And in less than 30 seconds, the first of the intruders were pushing in our door. And in two minutes, half the staff was crowded outside, until the assistant city editor arrived, with the managing editor’s compliments, and suggested that the paper storage vaults down in the basement might be a better place to work.

So that is where we are practising now, half an hour each afternoon, not counting a few bars of Brahms’ Lullaby up at the second-hand dealer’s each lunch hour and each evening as we return the instruments.

“John Peel3” is our most successful number so far, all except that high note.

But by Christmas Eve, we hope to have “Holy Night.”

And maybe it will be us outside your door.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Christmas waits were bands of street musicians who formed during the holiday season to play carols around their community in hopes of raising money. ↩︎
  2. In stories, they often said that Jim came from Birdseye Center, rather than give his actual birthplace (Township of Scugog). ↩︎
  3. “Do you know John Peel?” is a famous Cumberland hunting song written around 1824 by John Woodcock Graves. ↩︎

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