The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 8

Sprinkler System

By Greg Clark, July 14, 1945

“How much hose, inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you got left?”

“By golly,” I said, “I’ve only got about 30 feet.”

“That’s about what I’ve got,” muttered Jim. “And even that leaks.”

“Mine,” I informed him, “spurts all over at the tap. It has two main flaws which shoot fine jets about 15 feet. And in between are sundry soft spots that dribble.”

Mine’s exactly the same,” said Jim. “What I was going to suggest, we ought to pool our hose. I’ll bring my section over and we’ll make a new splice and join them up together. It will make one good hose. Then, on alternate nights we’ll roll it up and take it to each other’s house.”

“A fine suggestion,” I commended. “Maybe out of the two 30-foot lengths we could get one decent hose of 50 feet. Which would just about reach the foot of my yard.”

“Same here,” said Jim. “At this moment some of the best flowers I’ve got are parching to death, 10 feet out of range of my hose.”

“Shouldn’t we have bought some of this ersatz hose?” I inquired. “This wartime composition rubber? I see lots of that hose for sale.”

“Not me,” declared Jim. “I’m waiting for the experiments to end before I invest in any wartime substitutes.”

“I’ve talked to some people,” I advised, “who say that these rubber substitute hoses are better than any rubber hose they ever owned.”

“Maybe so,” said Jim. “But if rubber heels and the rubber soles you get on sport shoes these days are any sample of what rubber substitute is, I don’t want any of it. Did you ever notice the black scars the kids’ shoes make on the hardwood floors?”

“So that’s what it is?” I cried. “I’ve been wondering what those black scratches were.”

“Every scar,” asserted Jim, “is a little bit of wear and tear on the rubber substitute in the shoes. At that rate, they can’t last any time. And I bet hoses and tires are the same.”

“But it stands to reason,” I countered, “that science would sooner or later find some substitute for rubber. The minute the motor car was invented and good roads began to branch out in all directions all over the world, we should have foreseen that mankind would not for long be dependent on the juice of a tree that would only grow in certain restricted climates.”

“It does seem silly,” agreed Jim. “The whole world, from the Arctic through the temperate zones to the tropics and on down through the south temperate zone into the Antarctic, hundreds of millions of people with millions of motor cars each with five tires, all dependent upon a few South Sea Islanders squeezing the sop out of some special trees.”

“It isn’t good enough,” I submitted. “Science just had to get busy, war or no war.”

“Yet,” pointed out Jim, “look how dependent the world still is for so many different things on some small section of the world. Tea, for example. And coffee. How is it the whole world has become so victimized by certain habits and customs? Russia drinks billions of gallons of tea every day. Look at Britain, soaking up tea in lakes and gulfs. Up in northern Canada trappers having to have their pail of tea breakfast, noon and supper. And coffee! Millions of Americans, millions of South Americans, Frenchmen huddled over their coffee cups all along those open-air cafes of the boulevards. Spaniards, Italians …”

Mystery of the Moose

“That’s a queer thing,” I admitted. “A little bush grows in China and India. A few famished Chinese soak the dried leaves in boiling water. They’ll soak anything in boiling water. Sharks’ fins, birds’ nests. So they soak dried leaves. Presently, the queer little habit had spread all over the earth, and hundreds of millions simply can’t do without it.”

“Science hasn’t done anything about that,” pointed out Jim. “Maybe they can find a substitute for rubber. But can they find a substitute for all the other odd things men squeeze out of trees or pluck off bushes in comparatively small areas of the earth’s surface?”

“Do you know, Jim,” I mused, “it seems to me mankind is the laziest animal of all. Admitted, a moose is lazy. All a moose had to do, 1,000 years ago, was keep on slowly feeding south, through continuous lily pad ponds and willow brush and all the other things he eats, in order to reach the southern states. And there, in lush comfort, with no severe winter, the moose tribe would have found heavenly habitat. But are there any moose in Louisiana or Georgia? No. They are found exclusively in the hardest, bitterest spruce tracts of the north, where winter comes like grim death and hangs on for six months out of the 12. Why didn’t the moose tribe feed steadily southward? Why were they so lazy as to stick up in the inhospitable Canadian north?”

“Hmmm,” said Jim.

“The same with so many other beasts,” I said. “But man, apparently so energetic, so discontented, so eternally in search of better and more comfortable regions in which to live, is so lazy that If some Chinese shows him how to soak dried leaves in boiling water, mankind thinks the Chinese have the only leaves that can be soaked. Why haven’t we experimented with our own leaves?”

“Maybe we have,” said Jim. “Maybe those of us that are still left are the ones that haven’t – experimented. I think it is safer to let the Chinese experiment with soaking dried leaves and the Turks experiment with roasted berries. Always let somebody else do the experimenting. If they find something good and it doesn’t kill them, okay. Let’s use it.”

“That’s the trouble with us,” I protested. “Is there a sillier spectacle on earth than the past 30 years, with millions of motor cars racing all over the world, in seven continents, surely the most energetic and hectic spectacle in all human history. Yet the whole vast pandemonium dependent on the juice of some trees growing in a couple of small tropic areas. Modern industry may be a marvel. Modern science may be a wonder. But they both ought to be ashamed of themselves, putting the whole traffic of humanity on a foundation of bug juice from some pagan island.”

A Question of Rubber

“The best principle to observe in modern business,” explained Jim, “is, if it works, leave it alone. The first use of rubber in connection with traffic was rubber tires for wealthy men’s buggies and dog carts. Then – came the bicycle. And before anybody had time to invent a synthetic substance for the millions of bicycles in the 90’s, the rubber importers, who had got busy to meet the buggy trade, were able to produce enough wild rubber to meet the first onset of the bicycle tire trade. Then, foreseeing the great days ahead when the whole world would travel on bicycles, the rubber planters began to create orchards of rubber trees. Nobody foresaw the motor car. But by the time the motor car dawned, the rubber growers had got far enough ahead with their dreams of a world entirely bicyclized to meet the first onset of the motor car.”

“And of course,” I put in, “the motor car would have been simply out of the question without rubber tires.”

“Correct,” agreed Jim. “So you see, the rubber growers and rubber importers in every case were far enough ahead to meet the demand. So science had no call to get busy and invent a substitute. Industry always leaves well enough alone. Business says, if it works don’t change it. And that is why, up until now, there has been no call to science to invent a substitute for rubber.”

“Have they really got it?” I questioned. “Don’t you think rubber, like tea or coffee, like leather for shoes and wool for clothes, is something natural-born and right and fitting? Even if they do work out a perfect substitute for rubber, won’t there always be a demand for genuine rubber tires? They’ve invented no end of substitutes for wool and cotton for clothes. They’ve got imitation leather of every description. But people still like wool clothes as the ancient Romans did, and cotton, as the ancient Egyptians did, thousands of years before Christ. And can you imagine the day ever coming when men will give up genuine leather shoes?”

“Rather than be ruined,” Jim submitted, “I imagine the rubber planters of the east will offer their rubber so dirt cheap that the rubber Importers and the rubber processors will see the chance to make a little dough; and the rubber industry will be revived. Then we’ll witness a great pitched battle between the synthetic rubber interests and the natural rubber interests. Cartels will be formed. Little gangs of British bankers and investors, desirous of cutting the throats of other British bankers and Investors, will gang up with little gangs of American bankers and investors desirous of cutting the throats of other American bankers and investors. That’s a cartel.”

“I thought a cartel,” I interrupted, “was where all the British bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats got together with all the American bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats, because it was agreed that the public was hardly worth all the throat cutting. So they ganged up and cut the public’s throat instead.”

“I guess that is a cartel,” amended Jim. “And it may well be that rather than stage a pitched battle over synthetic rubber versus natural rubber they will organize a gigantic world-wide stock company of all the natural rubber plantations. All the planters will be bought out. All the importers and processors will be bought out. And then they’ll sell the stock to the public.”

“That would be a good way to put an end to the natural rubber industry,” I agreed. “But in the meantime I sincerely hope they get through with their experiments on synthetic rubber before the tire rationing comes off. Don’t you think one of us ought to invest in one of these rubber substitute hoses?”

“Look,” said Jim. “There’s just this one summer left. Surely we can pool our hoses and get by for the next couple of months. Then, by next year, either real rubber will be back or else a first-class substitute will be available. I have the feeling that with the war still on the best substitutes are still going into war materials.”

“Okay,” I subsided. “You bring your hose over and we’ll see what we can salvage from the two.”

So Jim ran home in the car and rolled his hose and brought it over to my garden. Jim’s hose was already synthesized. Of the 35 feet he had serviceable, 20 was an old smooth-bore type of hose dating back to the year of his marriage, about 1918. And the rest was the ribbed type, part of an extension he had bought about 1926.

Mine was just the one brand. It was the old smooth-bore style and was the relic of the first and only hose I ever bought. It had three splices in it. The passing years had seen soft spots and bends and cracks appear. I cut the defective section of a foot or so out, and then rejoined the good bits with those metal tubes and rings that splice hose together.

Evening in the Garden

Jim’s had an old-fashioned bronze nozzle. Mine had a more modern nickel-plated nozzle, with a knurled section for easy turning. But the connections at both my nozzle and the tap ends were so defective that regular fountains played at both ends. I had to stand at arm’s length from my nozzle; and even so my feet got soaked.

“So we’ll use my terminal connections,” suggested Jim.

A couple of summer bachelors can spend no more profitable evening than pottering in their gardens with hoses and hoes. With a sharp knife I severed from my three-spliced hose both the nozzle and the tap connection. We attached Jim’s hose to the tap to locate the best spot in which to splice in my hose.

His tap connection was flawless. Not a drop oozed. His nozzle was pretty good, but it had only two kinds of spray – either a great heavy flood like hailstones beating the zinnias and phlox; or else a fine mist of spray that would take all night to dampen the pansies.

But it was the mid-section of Jim’s hose that really fell short. There were several soft spots, dozy, like punky wood. These allowed water to seep out. There were also several real cracks, from which spouts of water 10 feet high curved up in various directions when the tap was turned up full.

“Jim,” I said, “this looks to me like a deal you’re putting over on me. There isn’t a five-foot stretch of your hose that hasn’t got a leak in it.”

“Cut it in the middle,” urged Jim, “and we’ll splice your hose in. Maybe with a good 30-foot section in the middle, like that, the water will flow too fast through mine to leak.”

“Nonsense; the more the pressure, the greater the leak,” I stated. “I don’t think it’s worth while trying to splice yours. Wait minute.”

And I went along and counted seven leaks.

“Each of those leaks,” I pointed out, “would require at least six Inches of hose cut out. That reduces your hose by close to four feet. And seven splices would require seven splicers.”

“Oh, try it anyway,” cried Jim. “We’ve got two splicers. Hitch her up and see if we can get enough pressure at the nozzle to reach the back of your yard. If not, we will simply have to go and buy some substitute rubber hoses.”

So we squatted down and went to work on the splices. We cut Jim’s hose at the junction between the old smooth-bore and the later model ribbed hosing. Then we dragged mine up and spliced its 32 feet in between.

When we pounded the end of the ribbed iron splicer into Jim’s hose, the perished rubber split, and we had to keep on paring off an inch or two until we finally hit upon the idea of filing the splicer a little smoother.

We got it hitched at last and then Jim walked back to the tap and turned it on.

It was quite a performance. I was holding the nozzle. If I turned it to the coarse stream a wavering jet, about seven feet long, wobbled and splattered heavily on the turf, digging a hole. If I turned to the fine spray a round balloon appeared, about the size and shape of an umbrella, and most of it drifted back to me.

An Idea Dawns

But back down the hose there was a wonderful display. From Jim’s two sections seven different spurts rose and arched in various directions. From both splices angry little explosions hissed in all directions. And from my section, in the middle, one very fine spurt and two smaller ones divided the north and south about equally between them.

We stood and watched for a moment.

“Turn her off, turn her right off, at the nozzle!” cried Jim suddenly. “Turn the way for the fine spray until she goes tight off.”

I turned. And as I did so all the spurts and fizzles and splutters suddenly arched higher. And three new ones appeared.

Jim strode up to me.

“My boy,” he cried excitedly, “this has been staring mankind in the face for centuries. Ever since hoses were first invented, we’ve been enslaved by the one idea. The fire hose. The hose with one stream to be directed on one target. But a garden hose should have not one but 10 or 20 outlets.”

“Don’t you see?” he expanded, “Talk about substitute rubber and drinking tea and coffee! Why, it has taken the war to show us what a proper garden hose should be like. Instead of the human race having to stand on damp lawns, steering a silly hose yard by yard over the flower borders, we invent a modern hose, a hose with 10 or 15 little nozzles. And then, all we do is walk down and stretch the hose the length of the garden, turn her on, and then sit back in the garden chairs and watch the garden get watered properly, simultaneously and at our ease!”

“Jim, if we patent this!” I gloated expectantly.

I laid the nozzle end down, and we walked the length of the hose, inspecting the leaks. Those that were not quite big enough, I enlarged with my pen knife, until they threw a nice spurt about 10 feet.

“Cut new holes, at regular intervals,” suggested Jim.

And judiciously turning the tap on and off, we spaced our cuts at regular intervals, until we had a series of 19 jets that, with the evening breeze wavering them, covered the whole expanse of the garden.

“Think,” I said, as we sat back in the deck chairs and watched the play of the little fountains, “of the old-fashioned sprinklers. The kind you had to keep getting up every few minutes to walk over wet grass and get squirted yourself, shifting them from place to place.”

“All we have to do now,” added Jim, “when we’re through, is turn off the tap and haul the hose back in. Only our hands get wet.”

As we sat and gloated, my next door neighbor came out and looked over the fence.

“Some hose,” he remarked.

“There you see,” I informed him, “the birth of a great idea. It is going to be patented. Our fortunes are made. This is the Frise-Clark hose. Or the Frike hose. Or maybe the Clarf hose. History is being made before your eyes.”

“Didn’t you ever see a cloth hose?” inquired my neighbor.

“A what?” I inquired.

“A cloth hose that waters the ground all along its length?” he asked.

“I certainly didn’t,” I said. “But anyway, it doesn’t sprinkle.”

“Sprinkling is the worst feature of hoses,” said the neighbor. “If we could water our gardens without sprinkling the flowers and foliage, causing them to weaken and blight, but merely wetting the earth, we would have the ideal hose. And we’ve got it in the cloth hose.”

“Where did you ever see one?” I demanded.

“You could have seen one for the past three summers,” said the neighbor, “by just looking over the fence.”

Which we did. And there, draped along the flower borders and over the grass, was an earth-brown hose of cloth, originally white, he told us. And it was quietly leaking water onto the parched earth, leaving the flowers and foliage to the dew, but richly soaking the ground and the roots.

“I got it,” he explained, “rather than one of those substitute rubber things.”

Jim and I went back to our garden chairs.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I like the look of ours better.”

And we noticed, at the same time, that the spurts were not quite so high.

But when we counted them, instead of 19, there were already 22.


Editor’s Note: Rubber was rationed during World War Two. Innovations in the different types of synthetic rubber was stepped up to meet demand.

The Evening’s Fishing

By Greg Clark, July 3, 1937

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, snuggling deeper behind the steering wheel, “that makes us so nuts about fishing?”

“It’s like having red hair,” I explained, “or being able to sing. It’s just born in us.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Jim. “Here we are, heading north at a high rate of speed for the opening of the bass season. We’ve spent every week-end in May and June trout fishing, to the neglect of our business and our families. We’ve spent far more money on it than any budget normally allows for pleasure.”

“Fishing only lasts,” I pointed out, “from May first to the middle of October. Five and a half measly months.”

“Most people,” stated Jim, “take two weeks’ holidays in the summer and let it go at that. Here we not only take two weeks but about twenty week-ends.”

“Everybody does something with their week-ends,” I countered. “Golfing, driving in the country. Lots of them take trips south.”

“Most of them,” corrected Jim, “just stay home.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it’s a free country. And if a man takes more pleasure staying home on week-ends and saving his money, that’s his pleasure. I would no more think of interfering with him staying home than I would permit him to interfere with me going away.”

“What I mean is,” said Jim, “those who stay home feel that they can’t really afford to go busting off on trips.”

“They’re welcome to feel anyway they like,” I admitted happily, “so long as by deed or word or facial expression they don’t attempt to interfere with my way of thinking. These people who stay home on week-ends are probably looking forward to a comfortable old age. That’s a form of amusement I have no use for. Comfortable old age! Imagine guys in good health sitting around all Saturday and Sunday greedily looking forward to a comfortable old age. Of all the disgusting habits.”

“I’d say it was mighty good sense. Farsighted.” said Jim.

“Short-sighted, you mean,” I insisted. “Can’t they see all around them that old age is hardly ever comfortable? It’s full of aches and pains. They’re so fat they can’t breathe or so thin they hurt all over even lying in bed. All the things that have happened to them in their lives seem to pile on top of them in the end. They’ve eaten too heartily or have got round-shouldered at sedentary jobs. What they thought all their lives was just being careful turns out in the end to be only mean and it shows in their faces. Unless you die when you’re about twenty-five life is always disappointing and the longer you live the more disappointed with it you grow. That is unless you go fishing or something.”

“You’ve got the worst philosophy I ever heard,” said Jim loudly and stepping on the gas.

“Well, show me something better than fishing,” I retorted.

“It’s the most selfish pleasure, on earth,” stated Jim. “A golfer only leaves his family for few hours and an occasional evening. But a fisherman runs away Friday night and never turns up until late Sunday night or early Monday morning, looking sunburned and guilty.”

“His family are glad to be rid of him,” I cut.

“Even week-end trips cost money,” said Jim. “A man runs away with a lot of money fishing.”

“I suppose it would be better,” I sneered, “if he were to save it little by little until the next depression. Surely nobody in the whole world believes in saving money any more.”

“Aw,” scoffed Jimmie.

“All right: all I say is, anybody is a fool to save,” I assured him. “And of all the ways of not saving, I think fishing is the best.”

“And,” questioned Jim, “when you are old and can’t go fishing any more and all your money is gone, how will you feel?”

“Far better than most of my generation,” I declared. “For I can say, ‘Here I am without any money, but I’ve had a hell of a good time.’ And the rest of the inmates of the poorhouse will be hunched up, their hands clasped between their boney knees, moaning. ‘Here I am without any money and look how I’ve suffered.’ I bet I’ll be the happiest old guy in the old men’s home. That’s something to look forward to.”

“I’m looking forward,” stated Jim. “to some swell fishing in about three hours. We’ll have the evening from at least six o’clock on. We ought to get our limit of six bass before dark in dear old Lake Skeebawa.”

“What a lake,” I agreed. “And to think we have it practically to ourselves.”

“What I like about Skeebawa,” said Jim, “is there are no motor boats on it. No engines humming and snorting and putting. No oil fouling the pure water. Just a little secret lake that seems to have escaped the march of progress.”

“What I hate about motor boats,” I said, “is that they allow wholly undeserving people, fat, cushion-sitting fish hogs, to race around the lake taking in only the very best fishing spots. Good fishing belongs to those who are willing to take the trouble to win it.”

“Of course, our guides’ do the paddling,” reminded Jim.

“Good old Simon and good old Sandy,” I cried. “Will they be glad to see us? I’ve brought Simon a couple of my old pipes and a pound of that cheap tobacco he likes.”

“I’ve brought Sandy that hunting knife I got for Christmas,” said Jim. “It’ll make a big hit with Sandy.”

“This makes ten years,” I mused, “that Simon and Sandy have paddled us the rounds of Skeebawa.”

“They’re grand old boys,” said Jim. “Let’s see: we’ll do the usual round. We’ll take to the left from the boathouse and cast all along that rush bed. Then cut across to Simon’s Point and fish the shoal for say half an hour. Then along those lily pads on the far side and so home by dark. We can do that in three hours.”

A Disturbing Sound

“Easy,” I agreed, turning to take stock of my various items of tackle, rods, boxes in the back seat. “What are you going to start with?”

“Red and white plug,” said Jim.

“I think I’ll start with that copper casting spoon,” I considered. “It’ll be a bright evening and after the hot spell the bass won’t be any too frisky.”

“Six bass apiece,” sang Jimmie; giving the gas to her. “And then in the dark walking up to Andy’s cottage for one of Mrs. Andy’s glorious fried bass dinners.”

“Then sitting out under the stars listening to the whippoorwills,” I joined in, “and talking slow and lazy with old Simon and Andy about last winter and how they worked in the lumber camps and what they trapped and the big lake trout they caught through the ice.”

“And,” sighed Jim, “going to bed knowing that tomorrow we have the whole glorious long day, from misty sunrise to moonlit dark, just casting, casting, casting.

We fell silent and watched the long road rolling under us and the bright summer fields and the farmers already in their hay. And, thinking the idle thoughts of the true angler, we watched the woods grow thicker and darker with the northering miles, and a tingle come into the air, and the smell of the lakes, the little lakes, come cool and secret through the summer.

We reached at last, both of us eager and sitting up fresh, the road that goes to Skeebawa, loveliest of the little lily-margined lakes. and wound down through familiar narrowing roads of cedar jungles and high stumpy barrens and aisled forests of maple and oak, seeing with joyous hearts the narrowing, the roughening that meant the ever nearer approach to the little lost water where Simon and Sandy would probably be waiting for us at the old broken rail fence at the turn down, as in all the happy past.

We reached the fence at last, both of us emitting ceremonial shouts and hurrahs. But neither Simon nor Sandy was waiting for us at the usual spot. Down the sandy ruts towards Sandy’s cabin we turned.

“Been a heavy car in here to-day,” said Jim briefly

“H’m,” said I. “Of course there are other guests always. But Simon will always save his canoe for me.”

“One thing is certain,” agreed Jim.

Over the knoll we rose and, as usual, stopped the car to feast our gaze on wrinkled blue Skeebawa spread below us. Jim turned off the engine and said,

“Aaaaahhhh.”

A curious and horrible sound came to our ears. It was the distant drone and whine of a powerful outboard motor engine.

“Jim,” I cried.

Jim snatched at the key and started the car.

“Sandy never,” Jim said, “never would have bought an engine. He couldn’t afford one, for one thing.”

“Let’s get there,” I said, and took hold for the bumps down the few hundred yards of sandy ruts to the cabin.

Mrs. Sandy came out as we drove in the yard, wiping her hands on her apron and waving to us.

“Mrs. Sandy,” I said, leaping out, “is that an engine?”

“It sure is,” said Mrs. Sandy delightedly. “An old gent arrived last night with a trailer and his own boat on it. See, there?”

Under the pines where our car usually rested was a big rich car and attached to it a trailer such as big skiffs are carried on. It was a rich man’s car.

“Where are the boys?” demanded Jim.

“Out with him,” said Mrs. Sandy. “What a time they’re having. That boat skims, so it does. Just skims. They’ve been all around the lake half a dozen times and got no end of bass, but he puts them all back over the six he’s allowed by the law.”

“Mrs. Sandy,” I said, “didn’t the boys know we’d be here?”

“Certainly they knew,” she cried. “Of course they did and come in and I’ll take you to your room.”

“But, Mrs. Sandy,” said Jim, “we were hoping to go right out. For the evening’s fishing.”

“The canoes are right where you’ll find them,” said Mrs. Sandy. “He’s paying the boys ten dollars a day to ride in that boat with him. Ten dollars a day. My, he’s a rich man.”

“Mrs. Sandy,” said Jim, “is there nobody to paddle us?”

“Simon tried all night nearly,” said she, “to get one of his nephews, but they were busy. The boys said you wouldn’t mind paddling yourself to-night and they’ll have some nephews for you in the morning.”

“In the morning?” said I. “Is the rich gentleman staying?”

“Staying?” cried Mrs. Sandy. “He’s crazy about the place. He says he’s been looking for it all his life. He’s telegraphed all his friends…”

“Ooooohhh,” moaned Jim, and I joined in and harmonized my groan.

“Why, gentlemen,” cried Mrs. Sandy, “the lake’s full of fish. He says he never saw such fishing. He’s hooked forty if he’s hooked one. And him and the boys, in that skimmer, has just been scooting from the one good spot to the next all day long, wasting no time…. He’s taking me for a spin in it after dinner tonight.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Let’s get on the water,” I muttered.

Hurriedly we carried our duffle to the house, where Mrs. Sandy showed us to the room next to our old one. Our old room was strangely packed with foreign duffle, scads of it, rod cases, big leather and canvas bags, expensive-looking tweed coats, rugs, tackle boxes flung about.

“Can’t we have our old room?” I demanded.

“He’s paying twenty dollars a day,” whispered Mrs. Sandy tremendously; “twenty dollars a day for this room and he says he won’t give a cent less.”

We dropped our bags in a little room with a slanting ceiling and stuffy smell, a room I had not even glanced into in all the years. We changed into old clothes, snatched up rods and boxes and walked down, in the evening to the ramshackle boathouse and got out Simon’s red canoe.

“I’ll paddle,” I growled so determinedly that Jim didn’t even haggle.

Silently I drove the canoe along toward the long-rush beds while Jim mounted his reel and tied on his favorite red and white bass plug. As we cast along, the drone and snarl of the engine resounded from the far end of the lake, starting and stopping, as we pictured just which best spots this old devil was fishing in turn. We fished the two hundred yards of rush beds without a single strike. Not a swirl. In past years we each always took two bass off this rush bed. Two and three pounders.

“Simon,” I said, “has probably had him along here.”

“Sandy, too,” said Jim shortly.

Far down the quieting lake we heard distant merry shouts and the familiar music of a man into a fish. It sounded like a big one.

I paddled Jim heavily across to the boulder point and set him just the right distance to cast over the shoals. Ten casts, not a bass. Twenty casts, not a bass.

“He’s probably been over this ground a dozen times to-day,” I suggested.

We heard the distant engine start up and around the far point came the smoothly skimming skiff. The water was still and like a creature of evil the skiff came boring and arrowing up the lake. I heard the loud calls as Simon and Sandy saw us, and the skiff turned and came for us, racketing the echoes of the quiet hills of Skeebawa and breaking the peaceful lake into waves and wash. In an instant the skiff curved alongside us and Simon, all grins like a child, turned the engine off.

In the middle, easy and quiet, sat a skinny little man. He was beyond seventy. He was wiry and bright eyed. In his hand he held the most expensive type of rod and it was mounted with one of those twenty-five-dollar reels.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said, as our craft touched sides gently. “The boys tell me this is your private little heaven. I hope you will welcome a new and unworthy angel?

And Jimmie and I, a little stiffly perhaps, welcomed him and denied it was any private heaven and that all lakes were public property and anybody who cared could come on them, and then we drifted off on the pretext of having just another couple of dozen casts at a special spot where some cedars hung out over…

“We done that,” cried Simon. “We done it twice this morning and three times this afternoon.”

And with a flourish he started the engine and away they snored for the cabin.

“Jim,” I said, “I can’t stay. I can’t even stay the night.”

“Me, too,” said Jim, reeling up.

And we slunk in and packed our stuff amid the lovely odor of frying bass while the stranger sat at feast. We told the boys and Mrs. Sandy we had just dropped in for old time’s sake, but that we had to meet a gang of friends at another lake forty miles up.

And into the night, directionless, not knowing whither, we drove, back out the old twisting road.

“The only thing a man can do,” said Jim, “is save his money and work like a fool when he’s young so as to be able to go fishing when he is old.”

“It’s the only way to compete nowadays,” I agreed.

“You never said a truer word,” said Jim, relapsing into the silence that befitted the dark and pine-girt night.


Editor’s Note: Lake Skeebawa is not real. If Greg and Jim did have a secret fishing spot, they would not reveal it in a story.

Dogs Are Only Human

By Greg Clark, June 26, 1948

Even a big and fighting Airedale can be licked by an irate lady, Jim and Greg find

“That dang Airedale!” barked Jimmie Frise.

“Fighting again?” I inquired.

“No: he jumped the fence,” growled Jim, “and scratched and kicked our zinnia bed all to pieces.”

“Aw, at this time of year, Jim,” I soothed, “all dogs are pretty frisky. Maybe it was some other…”

“No, no, the family saw him,” snorted Jim. “He just jumped the fence, glanced around the garden and saw the zinnia bed all nicely laid out. He jumped right into the middle of it and started scratching and kicking for all he was worth. Malicious damage, if ever you saw it!”

“What are you going to do? See McGillicuddy?” I asked.

“Something has got to be done,” declared Jim with finality. “That dog has become a public nuisance and a public menace.”

“McGillicuddy is very fond of that dog, Jim,” I submitted. “After all, like master, like dog. McGillicuddy is a big, rough, cheery, quarrelsome sort of guy.”

“I don’t care how big and rough he is,” snapped Jim. “I’m going up and have a showdown about that dog.”

“Look,” I reasoned. “All dogs are public nuisances and public menaces. If every dog was as tame and docile as Dolly here …”

I had Dolly on a leash out for an evening stroll. That is how I happened to walk around to Jim’s.

“Hi, Dolly!” greeted Jim.

Dolly, puffing, gave her tail a brief wag. She is a cocker spaniel, black and white. Veterinary science has condemned her to permanent spinsterhood. She used to have too much coat, so we clipped her. That made her coat grow into fur. Now she is as broad as she is long, round as a bolster and finds life pretty heavy going. But she is the gentlest, mildest, least playful little spinster in the world.

“Dolly is at least a lady,” said Jim. “I don’t suppose she ever did a mischievous thing in her life.”

“Oh, yes, when she was a pup, she chewed up slippers and things,” I admitted.

“I suppose,” said Jim, “she is the only dog for five blocks around here that hasn’t been chewed up by that dang Airedale!”

“Aw, even fighting dogs don’t fight with females,” I reminded him. “That’s one thing about dogs. They know enough to leave a lady dog alone. Lady dogs can be pretty spiteful.”

“That Airedale of McGillicuddy’s,” declared Jim, “has nearly killed every dog in the neighborhood.”

“I don’t think McGillicuddy would be bothered,” I reflected, “with a dog that wasn’t the boss of the street.”

“Terrier!” said Jim, caustically. “Airedale terrier, they call it! Why, that dog weighs 50 pounds, if It weighs an ounce.”

“It’s still a terrier,” I pointed out.

“Terriers,” countered Jim, “are small, handy dogs: not moose. I bet a true terrier doesn’t weigh 10 pounds.”

“Oh, yes,” I assured him. “A fox terrier can weigh as much as 18 pounds. Maybe an Irish terrier can go as much as 25 pounds. A good 45- or 50-pound Airedale isn’t out of the way…”

“But terriers,” complained Jim, “are supposed to be rat-killers, vermin-killers. What kind of vermin could a 50-pound Airedale find to kill?”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Airedales are used out west for hunting grizzly bears and mountain lions. They’re mighty fighters.”

“I think I’ll suggest to McGillicuddy,” said Jim acidly, “that he send his dog out to the Rockies. I’ll suggest that if he admires pugnacity, he ought to give his dog a chance, instead of letting him tear up little spaniels and house pets…”

“Aha, has he been at your Rusty again?” I exclaimed seeing the light.

“No, no,” assured Jim. “While I object to his fighting, it’s this malicious damage to gardens that has got me roused up.”

“Why don’t you report it to the police ” I suggested.

“Aw, everybody in the district,” scoffed Jim, “has reported that dog one time or another in the past year. And what happens? The cops call on McGillicuddy. He invites the cops in, and they sit around talking about he-man dogs and sissy neighbors. And then the cops come out, laughing, and waving good-bye to McGillicuddy like birds of a feather.”

At this moment, we heard barking up the street. And down came Rusty. Jim’s Sinn Fein Irish water spaniel, like a brown streak, while behind him, bellowing like a lion, came McGillicuddy’s big Airedale, Pete.

When Dolly saw them, she promptly sat down a bared her little teeth.

The two raced past, as Rusty made for the shelter of Jim’s house. Pete, suddenly distracted by Jim’s shoulder and waving arms, gave up the chase and rather indignantly paused, stared at Jim and then retreated with dignity back up toward his own house.

“See what I mean?” growled Jim fiercely. There was a fight, if Rusty hadn’t run. Did you ever see such a sullen, impudent stare as an Airedale can give you? Why, they don’t look you in the face at all. They look at your calf or your thigh or some place on your anatomy, as if cogitating whether to make a grab or not.”

“Pete’s quite a dog,” I murmured.

Rusty came out, looking a little verminous, and glanced cautiously up the street. He trotted over to greet Dolly. But she bared her little white teeth and snarled. Rusty, respectful as all dogs are to ladies backed away and ignored her.

Up the street, there was a sudden squall and yammer of dogs fighting, and down came a small black dog running for his life, with Pete, the Airedale, in large bounding pursuit.

“Awfff!” cried Jimmie, suddenly. “I’m going to deal with this business RIGHT NOW! Come on!”

“Why not write him a letter, Jim?” I suggested.

But Jim was striding up the street. I hauled Dolly to her feet and we followed.

As we neared McGillicuddy’s house, we could see him kneeling on his front steps. He was painting them. In the cool of the evening.

When we drew close, I noted that he had just finished painting his verandah, a pretty Spanish tile red, and was now starting down the steps. He had the top one done.

Pete, the Airedale, was sitting on the lawn watching his lord and master. And as we drew level and paused, Pete stood up and barked at us loudly and vulgarly, as only an Airedale can. His button eyes studied us anatomically.

“Shut up,” commanded McGillicuddy, turning around. “Hey! Hullo!”

McGillicuddy is one of those big, brindled, freckled characters, jovial and hearty, the Airedale type himself. He will be friendly or quarrelsome with you at the drop of the hat. Whichever you like. He is one of those breezy obliging type. I am rather fond of McGillicuddy; but he isn’t my near neighbor, you understand.

“Mac,” said Jim, “I’ve got to complain about Pete.”

“Shut up. Get away. Sit down!” commanded McGillicuddy, and Pete obeyed. “What’s he done now?”

“He came into our garden,” enumerated Jim, “he jumped the fence, see? And after a brief look around, he leaped square into the zinnia bed and proceeded to scratch and kick it all the pieces.”

McGillicuddy looked long and steadily at Jim, with an Airedale expression in his eyes.

“No dog,” he said. “would do such a thing!”

“But I tell you,” cried Jim with sudden heat, “the family saw him. He just jumped the fence, stood looking around a minute. And then took one leap into the zinnia bed and started scratching and kicking for all he was worth. A straight case of malicious damage!”

McGillicuddy began to get a little red in the face. His freckles stood out.

“Look!” he said, “It doesn’t make sense! Why would dog do such a thing?”

“That isn’t for me to answer,” retorted Jim. “That’s for you to answer. That darn dog of yours is a public menace. He is fighting all the time. He upsets garbage pails. And he tears up gardens.”

McGillicuddy took a long, slow breath, and took a couple of strokes with his paint brush on the top step to cool himself off.

“Now, let’s be reasonable,” he said. “Dogs are only human. You can’t expect a big, vigorous dog like Pete to sit around like a bump on a log like that silly little spaniel there.”

He indicated Dolly, who was sitting rather like a bump. I pulled the leash and got her to her feet. She panted with the effort.

“Every man,” explained McGillicuddy heartily, “to his taste in dogs. I can’t see what you see in that flop-eared Irish water spaniel you’ve got.”

“I’ve got a golden retriever too,” declared Jim with dignity. “but a farmer keeps him out in the country.”

“Every man to his fancy,” agreed McGillicuddy. “But you see, I like Airedales. I like big Airedales, big, lively, spirited dogs. Sure, he fights a little; sure, he is a little rough and rowdy. But there you are!”

“I think,” said Jim levelly, “I’ll bring my golden in to town for a few days. He’s about the size of that Airedale. He might teach Pete a little lesson.”

“Oho, is that so?” scoffed McGillicuddy, suddenly roused. “Well, mister, any old time you like…”

He stepped down off the steps.

Pete, sensing his master’s ire, leaped up and jumped toward us.

Dolly, like a flash, jerked the leash out of my hands and with a small fierce feminine snarl and her lady teeth bared viciously, made a dive for the big dog.

Without a yelp, Pete turned like lightning and bounded past McGillicuddy’s legs.

He bounded up the steps. On the wet top step he skidded. On his side and rump, he slid across the full depth of the freshly painted tile red verandah and came up with a bump against the wall. Little Dolly, fairly fizzing with rage, was right after him.

Around and around in a mad, slithering scramble, the two raced and snarled and fought, the big dog desperately trying to avoid the nasty nips the bulgy little cocker was inflicting on him. McGillicuddy bounded on to the verandah and booted them both off, I caught the leash as Dolly yipped past, and Pete, all red with paint, fled down the side drive.

“Okay,” wuffed McGillicuddy from the wrecked verandah. “Okay! You win, boys. Any dog that would run from a little wee whiffet like that thing…”

“All dogs are scared of irate ladies,” I apologized for Pete.

“To heck with it!” panted McGillicuddy. “Look at my verandah! The clumsy big oaf! Chased by a rabbit, by gosh! Okay: I’ll send him out to my brother in the country. He raises rabbits.”

“Sorry, McGillicuddy,” said Jim, with stiff lips.

“To heck with it,” growled McGillicuddy, turning to stare at the mess.

We walked back down the street, Dolly fairly staggering with exhaustion.

“Dear,” breathed Jim, when we got a few doors down, “dear little Dolly!”

And with my permission, paint and all, he picked her up and carried her.

This is Jimmie Frise’s last contribution to the Magazine. The beloved cartoonist, who brought humor to hundreds of thousands of Canadian homes, died suddenly June 13.


Editor’s Notes: As indicated by the last note in the story, this was the last published Greg-Jim story. His obituary was written by Greg in the previous week’s issue. After a week off, he returned with a story called “The Young Volunteer”, about a boy volunteering to be his new partner. Greg speaks with him suggesting that it is not that easy to find a partner.

“What kind,” he asked, as we fell in step, “of adventure do you think we could have?”

“My rule is,” I informed him, “just walk along and adventure will befall you.”

The next few weeks had stories illustrated by different artists until Duncan Macpherson became the regular artist on August 7, 1948. The new stories included fictional relatives and neighbours, and continued weekly until June 3, 1950, and then became infrequent, with Greg sometimes writing stories, and other times straight up reporting. Macpherson would eventually become a celebrated editorial cartoonist in Canada. The magazine and newspaper industry was undergoing rapid change due to changing consumer tastes and competition from television. The Montreal Standard ceased publication on August 18, 1951, and became “Weekend Picture Magazine” on September 8, 1951, and shortly after changed to “Weekend Magazine”. Greg’s stories in these publications were usually not illustrated, and were the basis for many of his books published in the 1950s and 1960s.

Weekend Magazine was distributed free of charge with 9 daily newspapers across the country in 1951. Weekend offered high-quality colour reproduction to advertisers, good photographs, feature stories and recipes to readers, and a profit-making supplement that boosted circulation for the newspaper publishers. By the 1960s Weekend Magazine was carried in 41 newspapers with a circulation over 2 million, and it was the most popular advertising vehicle in the nation. Colour television and the turn away from general-interest periodicals hurt the magazine, and it got thinner each year. By 1979 it had been merged with The Canadian, and in 1982 Today, the successor supplement, ceased publication.

Ginseng Hounds

By Greg Clark, June 18, 1938

“It’s too hot,” gasped Jimmie Frise, “for trout fishing and the bass season isn’t open.”

“The song birds,” I agreed, “are too busy hunting worms for their young, to sing decently.”

“All the best of the wild flowers,” added Jim, “are through blooming.”

“So what is there to do,” I sighed, “but put on cream flannels and go, like all the rest of the saps, and sit around on wharves and verandas, looking sporty?”

“Never,” gritted Jim.

“Never, too,” I coincided. “I sometimes think that our prejudice against golf is ill-advised, Jim.”

“A man has to have some prejudices,” pointed out Jimmie. “All my life, I have found it a little difficult to form a prejudice. No sooner did I form a good one than I met the guy, or did the thing, or in some way contacted my prejudice. And lo, it vanished.”

“If we played golf,” I said, as we sat on the edge of the trout stream in the shade of a cedar tree, “we could fill up all this part of the year very happily.”

“No, the trouble with golf is,” explained Jim, “that it steals away all a man’s other recreations. Golf is a thief. Golf is the only thing there is to do in early April, so a man goes forth to this earliest amusement. And before he knows where he is, he is committed to a dozen pleasant golf engagements with friends. By the time he should be going fishing or taking his children into the wilds to hear the first songbirds or to see the first wild flowers blooming, the golf season is in full swing, and the poor devil can’t disentangle himself from its insidious meshes.”

“It’s the easiest way, too,” I agreed. “Here is a man faced with a week-end. He can either go out fishing or tramping in the woods or visit the summer resort in advance of the season. Or else he can slip out to the golf links and play golf. Of all the choices, golf appears the cheapest and handiest.”

“Never let golf get us,” said Jim, devoutly, and we sat in silence in the fragrant cedar shade, while a catbird, its bill full of pale green worms, came secretly and looked at us, on its way to some hidden nest. In a moment, we heard it mew, and knew its young were fed.

“The great thing in life,” said Jim, “is not to get entangled. Don’t commit yourself to any belief or sect or sport or business. The essence of freedom is detachment.”

“Most people,” I disagreed, “are looking for an anchor. Most people love to be moored fast to the shore, instead of being adrift on the sea, calm or stormy.”

In Tune With Nature

“Which is better?” inquired Jim, bravely, since we were safe in the sweet safety of a pleasant woods. “Which is better? To be wrecked at sea? Or to sink at the wharf, a decayed and rotted old hulk that has never even crossed the bay?”

“For,” I added sententiously, “we all sink, in the end.”

“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I would rather be sitting right here, in this idle glade, with the limpid stream barren of trout and no cow bells, even, to be heard, and no sense of activity or industry or improvement, no birds calling that we can pretend we are studying, no flowers to make us imagine ourselves amateur botanists – just sitting here, in utter idleness.”

“Not even thinking,” I pointed out.

“I often think,” mused Jim, “that the Chinese are going to inherit the earth. They are the only race that seems in complete tune with nature. They have no great ambitions. They have only the ambitions that nature itself has, like these trees and that catbird and that stream. To live and grow and flow along. If storms come, fine. If the weather’s fine, fine. But all the powers of man, in the past centuries of trying, have never succeeded in making the weather fine, if the weather wants to storm.”

“But we’ve improved housing,” I protested proudly, “and invented raincoats and cars and trains to keep us dry on our way to work. You can’t say we haven’t done something to make our lives more comfortable than a catbird’s.”

“I was speaking,” said Jim, loftily, “in the allegorical sense. Unlike the Chinese, we have been trying for centuries to improve our physical life. With what result? That our world to-day is in greater confusion and terror and anxiety than ever before. It seems to be hovering eternally, day after day, year after year, on the brink of an immense precipice.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and where are the Chinese, may I ask?”

“Oh, they’re suffering a little storm, at the moment,” said Jim lightly. “But you know and I know and even the Japanese know, by now, that when the storm is spent, the Chinese will be there, as yesterday, today and forever, multiplying, living strangely and happily and slowly Inheriting the earth.”

“That gives me an idea,” I said. “Let’s hunt ginseng. Come on, let’s walk through the woods here and hunt ginseng?”

“You mean jinsin,”corrected Jim, not getting up.

“Ginseng is its proper spelling,” I informed him.

“Say, listen,” scoffed Jim, “don’t you try to tell me anything about jinsin. I was born on the farm. Lots of my neighbors grew big covered acres of jinsin. Why, every farm newspaper carried big advertisements about the fortunes that were to be made out of growing jinsin.”

“Wild ginseng,” I informed Jim, “is the only kind with magical properties.”

The Root of Life

“Listen,” laughed Jim, “I’ve seen all around our neighborhood, when I was a boy, big yards all roofed over with boards. There were posts stuck up every few feet, and the whole jinsin field roofed over with planks, with big cracks between, to let only a little sunlight in, just like in the deep forest where the jinsin grows.”

“Call it ginseng, Jim,” I insisted. “That’s the way it is spelled in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, although the Chinese call it Jen Sheng, the root of life.”

“All right,” said Jim. “if the Chinese call it Jen Sheng and the encyclopaedia calls it ginseng, then I’ll call it jinsin, which is what everybody called it up around my old home, and they grew it. So there.”

“Jen Sheng,” I said. “The root of life. The Chinese paid fabulous prices for the root of this wild plant. They paid as much as $3,000 for a forked root.”

“They paid what?” said Jim, sitting up and almost standing up.

“They paid,” I said, clearly, “as high as $3,000 for a good big forked root. Forked roots, which the Chinese thought looked like a man, have greater magical properties than plain roots. They restore youth. They lengthen life. They were the monkey glands of the Chinese, a thousand years ago.”

“Where did you get all this?” demanded Jim, actually rising.

“In the encyclopaedia,” I informed him. “Whenever I haven’t anything else to do and it’s raining. I go down and read the encyclopaedia. You’d be surprised at some of the things I’ve read.”

“But $3,000,” said Jim, grimly, gazing off into the leafy shadows of the woods around us.

“Ordinary ginseng,” I said, “sells at around $5 a pound for the roots. They’re sort of translucent, half-transparent, brittle. It takes years to grow a good root.”

“All the years,” muttered Jim, “that I lived right amongst all those fields full of jinsin.”

“Ah, but the cultivated stuff,” I explained, “doesn’t command the price of the wild root. The Chinese find a far greater power in the wild root.”

“Do you know what it looks like?” demanded Jim. “Would you know it if you saw it?”

“Jim,” I said stiffly, “perhaps you forget that I am something of a botanist.”

“Okay,” said Jim, throwing off his creel and other useless gear. “Let’s go look. What kind of ground does it grow on?”

So as we started to explore the woods, I explained to Jim in starts and fits of how ginseng grew in the deep woods, in shade and on high humus soil. I told him some of the legends of ginseng, and how the Chinese emperor, a thousand years ago, had to forbid the Chinese to search for it, because they were exterminating it from the whole of China, and it is a vast country. Ginseng hunters pushed back the borders of the Chinese empire. Into Manchuria and northern Siberia the ginseng hunters went, seeking the green treasure. I told him how it was discovered growing wild in America and how clever Americans began to cultivate it for the Chinese market. But how the Chinese were clever enough to know the cultivated from the wild root.

I explained that European doctors and pharmacologists had studied the root and found that it had no real virtues, but that it had a psychic value, since anything you believe in is as likely to help you as anything else. Far better than epsom salts, anyway.

And then we discovered, the ginseng. At least, I should say, I found it, because Jim’s boyhood memories were pretty vague. All he could recollect were shadowy green jungles under plank roofs which the local farmers guarded with violent jealousy.

“Are you sure this is it?” asked Jim.

“Am I sure?” I scorned. “I tell you this is the genuine article. Look. I’ll pull one up and show you the root.”

I pulled tenderly, digging around the root with my fingers, and drew up out of the earth a queer, transparent, brittle root, about two inches long. And it was forked!

“Forked!” cried Jim. “My gosh, man, maybe you’ve just yanked up $3,000 by the roots.”

He knelt and began digging furiously.

“Don’t waste time,” I explained, “taking the roots only. Take the whole plant and when we get an armful we can sit down and remove the roots.”

So did we ever dig? And did we ever get some forked roots, Jim getting one nearly four inches long? And did we ever have an armful each when a little dog suddenly appeared out of the underbrush and begin barking furiously at us?

And in a minute, did two little boys with fishing poles and freckles ever come out of the underbrush like groundhogs and stand staring speechless at us?

“Hey, mister,” said the forwardest little boy, “ain’t you scared?”

“Scared?” I inquired, from the kneeling position.

“Ain’t you scared of poison ivy?” asked the child.

Jim dropped his armload violently.

“This,” I said, leaping up, is not poison ivy, my son, this is ginseng.”

That ain’t ginseng,” said the little boy swallowing. “It’s plain poison ivy, mister. You’ll have spots all over you.”

“Poison ivy,” I stated firmly, has shiny leaves and the leaves have a reddish color at the base of the leaf.”

“Yeah, in the fall it has,” agreed the little boy, tenderly, “but when it’s young it hasn’t. You’ll have blisters everywhere, on your hands and arms and all over.”

“I thought it was poison ivy,” rasped Jim, his hands dangling far out for fear he would inadvertently touch his face. “I know ivy when I see it. That’s poison ivy.”

“Jim,” I said.

“Come on,” said Jim. “Let’s get to the nearest drug store, quick. We can bathe in soda or something.”

So without even thanking the little boys, we went plunging through the woods and got our tackle and hurried out the path to the car and, throwing everything in, started for town, the nearest town where there was a drug store being 11 miles.

The druggist was half asleep when we burst in but he came immediately to life when we explained that we had just submitted ourselves to serious infection from poison ivy.

“Look,” I said, pointing to my chest, where there was already a slight rash.

Too Far to Go Back

Jim examined his chest and neck, and there was not only a rash but some little red spots already showing.

“Gents,” said the druggist smartly, “step in to the back here; I’ve got a tub. I’ll fix up a bath of ferric chloride and stuff and we’ll see what can be done. But I’m afraid it’s too late to allay the infection if you actually touched the stuff.”

“Touched it?” groaned Jimmie.

And out in the back, while we peeled off to the waist, the druggist ran a tub of water in a wooden washtub and dumped ferric chloride and glycerine, and Jim and without ado plunged into the tub and slathered the stuff all over us. The druggist helped us, pouring additional little bottles of this and that into the tub as he recalled the various cures and antidotes to poison ivy. We sloshed and splashed and labored mightily, wasting no time for talk, until, as we had thoroughly saturated ourselves and had the water running down into our pants, the druggist inquired how we had got messed up with the poison ivy.

“It was ginseng we were looking for,” I explained humbly. “I thought I knew ginseng when I saw it. We picked armfuls of it.”

“There’s lots of ginseng through here,” admitted the druggist.

”Two kids came through the woods, with a little dog,” I elucidated, “or else we would have carried armfuls of the stuff up against our faces and everything.”

“Two little boys, with what color of a dog?” asked the druggist. “Whereabouts were you hunting?”

“Two concessions north and the sixth side road west,” I explained, also going into details as to the little dog and the little boys, gratefully.

“Were these kids,” asked the druggist, “freckled and did one of them do all the talking?”

“That’s them,” said Jim.

The druggist stepped forward and examined the rash on our chests and the red spots on Jimmie’s neck.

“That’s prickly heat,” he said, “and that’s mosquito bites. That’s from over-exertion in the heat.”

“Not poison ivy?” said Jim.

“No more poison ivy than I am,” said the druggist. “And that was ginseng you had. And those two kids are the biggest ginseng hounds in the whole county. And they interrupted you pulling up one of their favorite beds of it I suppose.”

“Nnnn, nnn, nnn,” said Jimmie and I.

But when we got dried up and everything, and paid the druggist for the bath, we decided it was too far to go back, and anyway the kids would be vanished by then, and besides, what could we do if we did find them?


Editor’s Notes: The “little storm” Jim mentions in the story is the Second Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937. It was the prelude to, and some say the real start of World War Two.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

Politics

By Greg Clark, June 16, 1934

“What part,” asked Jimmie Frise, “are you taking in the coming elections?”

“I’m afraid,” I admitted, “I am not much at politics. Politics seem to have died out in this generation. I’ve heard how my grandfather, Willie Greig, used to sit on his horse at the crossroads near his farm at Pickering far into the winter night, shouting politics with his neighbor, also on a horse.”

“Why on a horse?” asked Jim.

“So they couldn’t fight,” I explained. “It was agreed between them never to talk politics when on foot.”

“What party was your grandfather?” asked Jim.

“I couldn’t say,” I said.

“There you are!” cried Jimmie. “You know all about the intensity of your grandfather’s political feeling. But you don’t know whether he was a Grit of a Tory.

“I think a man like you,” Jim went on, “would go well in politics. You have a soft, kind look. People would trust you.”

“I’ve often thought of entering public life,” I said, “that is, if I ever got ahead a little at the bank and had the time to spare.”

“I bet you could make a great political speech,” went on Jim.

“Ahem,” I said. “I talk easily.”

“What this country needs,” pursued Jim, “are politicians who will look out for the common man. Men without big ideas of themselves. Men who will serve with courage and devotion the interests of the mass of the people. You are such a man.”

“Nonsense, Jimmie,” I cried. “You are the man! You have described yourself to a tee. Modest, honest and always interested in the common man. You should go into politics.”

“But I can’t talk,” explained Jimmie. “I may have sound ideas, but I can’t express them. Whereas, however unsound your ideas, your expression of them is excellent.”

“We might,” I surmised, “enter public life together: you to provide the character and ideas and I to express them. We could get seats beside each other in parliament and you could mumble at me while I stood up and made fiery orations. My prompter.”

“I wonder,” asked Jim, “if it is too late to get in on this election? It seems to me you can’t run unless you are entered.”

“We could start by attending some meetings,” I suggested, and if we make a hit with the people they will insist on us running.”

Country Meetings are Best

“I wonder where there are any meetings?” mused Jim.

“Why, there are meetings all over, in schools and dance halls, everywhere,” I said.

“I have a hunch,” said Jim, “that we ought not to start at city meetings at all. Let’s go out to country meetings. We would show up better there. After all, we are more country than city, aren’t we?”

“That’s a wonderful suggestion,” I assured him. “Our sympathies are with the country people. Country folk can detect real worth in people far more quickly than city people. City people are dumb. They are so used to being bamboozled, hornswoggled and high-pressured they can’t tell the genuine article when they do see it.”

“Then we can drive out to the country after supper and attend a meeting in one of the little towns near Toronto,” decided Jim. “Country meetings are quieter and not so well organized as city meetings. You will be able to find a spot to get to your feet easier in a nice, slow-going country meeting than at one of these cut-and-dried city meetings. Have you some good, high-sounding words to pull? Do you need to rehearse your speech? What will you talk on?”

“I always trust to the inspiration of the moment,” I stated.

“Oh, by the way,” asked Jim, “which party are we supporting?”

“We can decide that when we attend the meeting,” I explained. “There is no use us deciding which side we are on until we can tell, from the tone of the meeting, which side the meeting is on. Then we horn in on the right side. It’s to get elected we are doing this, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” agreed Jim. “Well, you had better read the papers to-day and get a line on the main arguments on both sides.”

“I’ll prepare two sets of notes,” I suggested. “One for either side.”

“Good,” said Jim. “Work in a lot of phrases like ‘This is a time of great change, of transmutation of all our former values into modern terms,’ or ‘Fellow citizens, at such a time as this, dare we, dare we tamper with those institutions which the generations of our fathers have, by their life and their death, proven to be sound?’ You know the stuff.”

“I get it,” I said, anxious to be off to read the newspapers and get organized.

“Get some facts and figures, too,” said Jim. “Some large millions, and look up a lot of words that mean embezzlement and fraud, without actually saying it.”

“How’s this: derelict in their sacred duty?” I tried.

“That’s it!” cried Jimmie. “Derelict. Swell.”

I spent part of the day reading the papers, and it was easy, by putting some of them on the table and the others on the bureau, to separate the political situation very simply and work up a collection of notes on both sides. I got some beautiful words. Machine. Chaotic. Quack medicines. Invasion of public rights. And so forth.

The Spirit of Battle

Jimmie called for me right after supper. “James,” I said, because if we went on the one side, we might have to favor titles, and Sir “Jimmie” is obviously out of the question, “James, which direction should we go?”

“Any direction,” said Jim, “until we come to a public meeting in the country. And the country is full of them.”

It looked like a thunderstorm as we left the city in a northwesterly direction. And we were scarcely in the country before one of those real old thunderstorms was in progress, in which every bolt of lightning seems to be directed, if not directly at you, at least to the lone elm tree which you are just passing.

“I hope we don’t have too far to go,” I said.

“Just nicely in the country,” said Jim.

We passed through a couple of little villages, semi-suburban, where a few people loitered in the shelter of gas stations and gloom prevailed all otherwise.

We passed farmhouses in connection with which it was impossible to imagine politics.

“What do you suppose the political complexion of this neighborhood would be?” I asked.

“You never can tell in the country,” explained Jimmie. “In the city, it does not matter to you what politics your neighbors entertain, or the people across the road. But out in the country, there are so many factors to decide your politics. For example, in the country, a man usually follows his father’s politics. But if you don’t like your neighbor, you hold the opposite political views from him. It is one of the ways of expressing your dislike for your neighbors.”

“Perhaps it is not going to be easy,” I suggested, “if we do succeed in finding a meeting to discover which is the stronger side for us to be on.”

“I’ll advise you,” said Jim.

Ahead we saw a village. And as we neared the village, Jim seemed to sense there was a political meeting here.

Just this side of the village was a big building all lighted up. And cars were parked densely around.

“Here we are!” cried Jim.

It was a handsome sort of building one of these modern-looking community halls the country is starting to erect, and by the well-to-do look of the motor cars packed around it, this was a meeting of successful farmers, country gentlemen of the first rank.

“Boy,” I breathed, “this would be the place to get our start in the world of politics! Look! Sport roadsters and everything!”

“Perhaps,” said Jim, as we got out of the car in the rain, “there might be some of these big retired business men farmers at this meeting.”

We hurried to the door, and as we entered, we sensed the tension, the spirit of battle, which filled the meeting. There were no loiterers in the lobby, and no young men smoking cigarettes in the corridor. Everybody was in the packed hall, and even the door was jammed with the backs of men straining forward to listen, while a voice boomed angrily amidst little gusts of clapping and occasional cheers.

Jim could see over the heads of the men jammed in the door, and he relayed the news to me.

“It’s crowded,” whispered Jim. “Jammed to the walls. I don’t recognize the chairman. But there is certainly something doing here. Listen.”

Loud cheers and boos and stamping of feet ended the remarks of the booming voice.

I could hear the chairman making some remarks, and then a new voice began. A strong, nasal, penetrating voice.

“Those of us who have been charged with the government of this …”

“BOOOOO! Minaaoooww! Boo, boo!” came roars from the meeting, amidst hisses and feet stampings.

Jim caught my arm and led me to the outer door.

“You can see the meeting is against the government,” exclaimed Jim excitedly. “There can be no doubt about those boos and hisses. Let’s get in somehow, perhaps we can get in by a door or a window. And at the first opportunity, you jump up and start lambasting the government or something. At the top of your lungs. And don’t forget to stick your clenched fist forward at arms length. A fighting posture. You know!”

“All right, all right,” I agreed breathlessly. “Why can’t we just push in past those fellows at the door?”

“The aisle is crowded, too,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get in somewhere that you can be seen. Let’s scout.”

We went outside in the rain and walked around the building. There were two side doors, both locked. There was a back door, also locked, with a man inside who gestured us through the window to go away.

But up about ten feet was a small window, with the downpipe from the eavetrough running beside it. The water gurgled in the downpipe and from the open window above us streamed light and tumult and cigar smoke.

“Could we get in through there?” I asked.

“I imagine,” said Jim. “that window is right at the back of the platform. We wouldn’t want to land with a thump on the platform, would we?”

So we went all around again without finding any other windows or doors, and we went inside the hall again and tried to wiggle through the jam at the door; but it was no use. And the meeting was getting hotter all the time.

“Jimmie,” I said, “we’ll simply have to climb through that window, platform or no platform? It will be dramatic entry! It will certainly focus attention on us. And anyway, there are a lot of people on the platform, and they may screen our actual arrival.”

So Jim hunted about and got an old table, a large lawn roller and an empty tar barrel, and with these we built a sort of ladder to reach the window. I got up first, and Jim came close behind, so as to help boost me through the window.

I peeped in. I saw, through a fog of smoke, a packed sea of faces, like pebbles on the shore. All eager. All excited and hot. In the near foreground, almost where I could touch them, were two rows of heads, mostly bald, with their backs to me. These were the gentlemen on the platform.

“How’s she look?” hissed Jim.

“It’s about a six-foot drop inside. If I can get through the window quickly, they will hardly notice me at all. I’ll just drop in and sit on a chair until you get in. Then you come and sit calmly beside me, as if this was the way we always come to meetings. There are several empty chairs at the back of the platform, right under me here. Can you manage to get through all right?”

“I’ll be right after you,” said Jim.

It was raining more heavily.

“What I think,” shouted the speaker with the nasal voice, amidst an uproar of feet and yells and boos, “of a lot of people like you, no gratitude, not a spark of gratitude for all the years we have faithfully served you …”

“Psst!” said Jim, just as I raised one leg to enter. “If I were you. I would rush to the front of the platform and start your speech the instant you touch the floor.”

I pulled myself together. I quickly slipped one leg over the window sill and swung the other one after, bounced to the floor, leaped across the platform, and thrusting through the row of men sitting on chairs, stuck my clenched fist out at the audience, who stared with open mouths and glaring eyes.

“Down,” I roared, “with the government or something! How about the returned soldiers! Who kept the…”

“BOOOOOOOOO!” bellowed the crowd, rising to their feet.

It was all over in a minute. The chairman and several bald-headed men took me, while others surged on to the platform from the audience, and amidst an immense confusion I was carried across the platform to the window, hoisted up and dropped out.

Jimmie caught me.

The chairman stuck his head out of the window.

“Scat,” he said. “Beat it, you Bolshevik.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jimmie.

We went around the building, where hall a dozen younger men were waiting for us having come out the front door. They looked at us curiously in the light from the porch.

“Which party is this meeting for?” asked Jim.

“Party?” asked the young men.

“Yes, which side are they on? Did the government call the meeting, or the opposition?” asked Jim.

“You’ve got the wrong place,” said the young men. This is the Twitchgrass Golf and Country Club, and they are holding their annual meeting.”

“Oh, pardon,” said Jim, “we thought it was a political meeting.”

“No, there’s a political meeting of some kind down in the county hall at the far end of the village,” said they.

Jim and I got in the car.

“How about it?” asked Jim. “Will we go on down?”

“It’s such a nasty night for politics,” I said.

So we drove back home.


Editor’s Notes: “Grits” was slang for the Liberal Party, and “Tories” is slang for the Conservative Party.

When they speak of the upcoming election, they probably mean the Ontario Election of 1934, which was to be held in 3 days on June 19th. This election was won by Mitchell Hepburn, the first Liberal victory in very Conservative Ontario since 1902. His victory was mainly an anti-incumbent sentiment that generally occurred in the early years of the Great Depression.

Greg mentions the “returned soldiers” as an issue. Great War veterans were not always reintegrated into society on their return and the problem was highlighted during the Depression with unemployed veterans. It was seen as shameful that these men volunteered for their country and then those who needed help on return were treated poorly. It was this experience that ensured that veterans benefits and support were promised when World War Two began.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Room for Rent

By Greg Clark, June 5, 1943

“If you’ve nothing to do,” bitterly came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “walk down here and lend me a hand.”

“What’s gone wrong now?” I inquired.

“By a typographical error in the want ads,” said Jim, “my house is supposed to have a room for rent.”

“What can I do about that?” I asked. “I’m hoeing the potatoes right now.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ve warned you before. Leave those poor potatoes alone. They’ll never grow if you keep niggling at them. Come on down and help me sit on the front steps and steer the crowd to the right house.”

“Crowd?” I inquired.

“Ever since three o’clock,” declared Jim, “an endless procession of excited house hunters have been swarming up our walk. You never saw such a mob. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor. By the time I got home for supper, my family was exhausted answering the door bell. So I’ve taken over. I’m sitting on the front steps. Before they get out of their cars, I just yell at them that it’s a mistake. It isn’t Humbercrest. It’s Humbergarden avenue they’re looking for.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I said, “you don’t need me for that. I’ve got one row of potatoes hoed. I’m just starting …”

“Look, I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie. “I have hoed enough rows of potatoes in my life to reach from here to Duisburg. And I tell you that silly little patch of potatoes you have planted, about the size of a dinner table, will die of worry if you don’t leave it alone to grow …”

“I beg your pardon, Jim,” I informed him. “It is 18 by 11 feet. I expect two bags of potatoes …”

“I’m telling you,” stated Jim. “you want to come down here and see this phenomenon. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people trying to rent a room that doesn’t exist. I yell at them as they stop their cars out in front. I call to them as they start up the front walk on the run. Poor old ladies, utterly exhausted and perspiring. Young men newly married or just about to be married. Kids of 15. Old men of 90. All streaming down the street on a vain quest. And even when I warn them that there is a mistake and it’s Humbergarden, they keep coming right on up the walk. They won’t give in even when I explain that there is a mistake. They insist on seeing the room. So now I am simply yelling out that the room is rented. Even if there isn’t a room.”

“I’ll come down,” I said, “I’d like to see this.”

“You’re Holding Out!”

So I went and gave the potato patch a few farewell and loving pats with the hoe and then walked down to Jim’s.

As I hove in sight, I could see Jimmie sitting on his steps arguing with couple of ladies.

As I drew near, a car rushed up and drew to a stop with a man leaping out waving a newspaper.

“Hey,” he shouted, as he ran up the walk, “I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key!”

“Sorry,” said Jim, “the place you are looking for is on Humbergarden avenue. It’s a typographical error in the ad…”

“Come off that stuff,” said the man, placing himself in front of the two women who were also loath to depart. “Let’s see the room, mister. I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key, see?”

“Look, stated Jim angrily. “I tell you there is no room for rent here. It is a mistake in the paper, see? You’re wasting your time.”

“Seventy-five bucks for the key!” said the stranger insinuatingly. “Seventy-five. I like this district, see? I’ll pay a hundred bucks for the key. Come on, show us the room.”

“I tell you,” announced Jim, standing up and bristling, “there is no room for rent here. It is on another street, about a mile from here. It’s a mistake.”

“Aw, I know you guys,” the stronger snarled. “Holding out. I’m on to you. Holding out. How much do you want for the key? Name your price.”

“There is no room,” shouted Jim.

“Oh,” said the stranger. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

And he rushed down the walk and leaped into the car.

“Humbergarden, did you say?” he yelled. And away he raced.

“You’re quite sure, sir,” said one of the two ladies, softly, that there isn’t a room for rent here? You live here, do you? This is your residence?”

“Ladies,” said Jim, raising his hand in a kind of Nazi salute, “so help me, Hanna, there is no room for rent here.”

Sadly, reluctantly, the two ladies turned and walked away.

“Can you beat it?” Jim whispered jubilantly.

“What’s all that stuff about seventy-five bucks for the key?” I inquired.

“The law says you can’t raise the rent of a room from what it has been,” explained Jim. “So they try to get around that by offering a bonus, a cash bonus. They buy the key.”

“Aha,” I saw. “But isn’t that illegal?

“There are loopholes in most laws,” said Jim. “But the government is now plugging loopholes in wartime laws by sticking its finger not in the loophole but in the offender’s eye.”

Wham came another car to a violent stop and out jumped three men.

Up the walk they ran.

“Room for rent here?” panted the leader. “I’ll take it.”

“It’s gone,” said Jim.

“Who took it?” panted the leader. “What’s his name? Is he in? I want to speak to him.”

He started to push past Jim up the steps.

“Look,” said Jim, “it’s gone. The guy who took it wouldn’t let it go for anything.”

“Who are you?” demanded the leader darkly. “What business is it of yours?”

“If you want to know,” said Jim. “I’m the householder here.”

“Okay, then it’s none of your business,” said the stranger. “How do you know the guy doesn’t want to rent? I want to see the guy that rented it?”

He marched past Jim and rang the door bell.

“Look,” said Jim, “he’s not in.”

“What’s his name?” inquired the stranger.

“I don’t know his name,” stated Jim. “He just rented the place and said he would be back later.”

“Okay, Bill,” said the stranger to one of his friends. “You sit here while I go on around the other numbers. If the guy turns up, make him an offer. Any offer. But get the room!”

“Suppose,” said Jim. “I don’t want you for a tenant?”

“Oh, is that so?” sneered the stranger. “Since when are you offering a room for rent and then choosing who’ll take it?”

‘Well,” said Jim. “I can tell you one thing, I won’t have you for a tenant, at any price.”

“Aha,” cried the stranger, to his companions, “You hear that? The guy don’t even know he can’t raise the ceiling! Listen, mister, I get the room and I get it for the same rent you was charging before, see?”

Jim took a deep breath.

“Listen, you, mister,” he said. “There is no room for rent here. This is a private home. Due to a typographical error in the paper, a room for rent on Humbergarden avenue was mistakenly represented as my house. To save time explaining to a lot of lunkheads who wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them it was a mistake, I have merely been telling the stupidest ones that the room is gone.”

The stranger listened intently to Jim.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t believe you even rented the room. Come on, mister, show us up to the room.”

“Will you get out of here,” demanded Jim, or will I call the cops? One, two, three, four …”

“Oh, well, if you want to get tough,” said the stranger.

They went and sat in their car, discussing the matter for a moment.

“Humbergarden, did you say, mister?” called out the leader.

“That’s right,” said Jim.

It’s a Parade

But just as they were about to drive off, another car pulled up and two girls got out and hurried up. So the first car paused and waited to see whether the girls got any farther than they did.

Jim showed the girls the paper and explained the error. They accepted the facts at once and hurried back to their car. And the car with the three fatheads rushed off to beat them to the next stop.

“The world, Jim,” I submitted, “is coming to a pretty pass when a man can scarcely keep strangers from invading the sanctity of his home.”

“Look who’s next,” muttered Jim.

Up the walk came a short, thick-set woman of extremely foreign appearance.

“Room?” she demanded, holding up the newspaper.

“Gone,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“How much?” said the lady.

“Gone,” said Jim, emphatically. “Taken.”

“Aw,” said the woman bitterly. “I know. You don’t like foreigners. You don’t want me, eh? Well, I show you some day.”

And she turned and strode with excessive stiffness down the walk.

Two more cars pulled up and then drove on as soon as Jim called the news to them. Then came, on foot, slowly down the block, an elderly and charming lady.

“Pardon me,” she called from the street, “but is this the house that has the room for rent?”

Jimmie and I both hurried down to explain the situation to her. She was the sweetest old thing.

“Oh, dear,” she said wearily. “I have been to so many places today. When I turned down your lovely street, something told me I had come to the end of my search…”

“Come and rest on the veranda,” suggested Jimmie. “I’ll get a chair…”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said the old lady, pleasantly. “I must keep on. If I don’t get a place by tomorrow night, I will have no home at all.”

“But surely,” I suggested, “your family …?”

“My only son,” smiled the old lady, “a bachelor, not young either, has gone to war. He is in Halifax. On his way over. When he left, I gave up our apartment, thinking it was selfish for only one person to keep a big apartment of five rooms. I thought I could pick up a room, very easily…”

“My, this is bad,” said Jim. “Surely, your friends …?”

“I am afraid,” said the old lady sweetly, “we have been the kind of people who didn’t bother about making friends… I guess people should always go to church, shouldn’t they? But my son did not care for church. He preferred to take me into the country on Sundays. Dear, dear. Now he is gone to war. And I am so anxious to have a nice little place for him to come home to. I had the notion that if you let me have the one room, I could become friends with you, as time went on, and when he returns, you might let me have an adjoining room . . .?”

“But, I’m sorry,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, yes,” she sighed. “You have not even the one room. Of course. Well, gentlemen, I must keep on.”

And she walked slowly up the street, heading back for the bus stop.

“Hang it,” muttered Jim. “We can’t even offer her a lift in the car.”

A screech of tires rounding the corner drew our attention as we returned to Jim’s front steps. Two cars, one almost touching the tail of the other, raced down and drew up with a rush and a bump. And out leaped a man from each.

Neck and neck they raced up the walk.

“Hey,” began one.

“No, you don’t!” grunted the other, giving the first a shove.

And before another word was said, they were swinging.

Haymakers, clinches, short swings and jabs, they batted each other furiously and wordlessly. One tried to get his foot on the lower step of Jim’s veranda and the other grabbed him and dragged him down.

“Here,” I shouted, stepping in to part them.

“Look out,” warned Jim.

“Keep out of this, you little rat,” muttered one of the battlers, giving me the fairest punch so far in the fight – an elbow to the chin.

“Gentlemen,” chanted Jim, from the top step, “gentlemen, I don’t know what’s the matter, but if it is the room for rent you have come about, I want to tell you there is no room. Owing to a mistake…”

And while the two grunted and punched and swung and sweated, Jimmie slowly and loudly outlined the whole circumstances surrounding the typographical error.

Finally, in a clinch, the two exhausted fighters paused and looked up at Jim.

“What’s that you say?” panted one.

Good Luck Omen

So Jim repeated the whole speech. The two still clung firmly to each other until Jim had finished. Then they let go of each other and dusted themselves off and straightened their ties.

“I’m sorry, brother,” said the one who had clipped me on the pin.

“My own fault,” I assured him. “You should never try to stop a fight.

They glared at each other and then grinned sulkily.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie.

“Well, we apparently have the same list,” said one. “We’ve been running neck and neck for the past five places. I guess we got excited.”

They wiped their brows and necks with their hankies and turned slightly aside and each drew a list from his pocket and consulted it furtively.

“Look, boys,” said Jim, “just up the street, see, is that elderly woman. She’s on foot. She has been all over the city, at her age, trying to get a room. I tell you what. I’ll give good luck to whichever of you gets to her first and gives her a lift.”

“How do you mean?” muttered one.

“Well, getting a room is a case of luck, isn’t it?” said Jim. “And anybody that helps that old lady find a room first is going to have luck…”

The two turned. One leaped in his car and took a short turn into Jim’s side drive to get faced the other way.

But the other just backed. At about 40 miles an hour, he backed up the street and flung the car door open before a very astonished old lady.

And just as the other car came racing, with horn blowing, the old lady stepped into the first car, very gratefully.

“Okay,” said Jimmie, “wish them all luck.”

So we went in and got a large piece of cardboard and Jim lettered boldly on it –

“Sorry. Room rented.”

Which he put on the front steps.


Editor’s Notes: During World War Two, as housing construction was reduced considerably, and there was less construction in the Great Depression that preceded it. As demand increased because of War work, there was considerable housing shortages in major cities and other locations of wartime factories or activity. Renting rooms in private houses, and the creation of boarding houses was common. The story outlined above could have really happened given the situation.

There really is a Humbercrest Boulevard in Toronto near the Humber River, but no Humbergarden now. It may never have existed as I don’t see it on old maps in the area, and I could believe that an editor at the time insisting on a fake street to avoid the slight chance that someone took the story seriously and ended up looking for a room for rent. Many of the Greg-Jim stories implied that they lived near each other (at least a short walk away), and for a time, they really did. Greg lived on Baby Point Road in two different houses during this time. As mentioned in other stories, Greg was a renter while Jim was an owner, so it is possible Jim really lived on Humbercrest at the time of the story.

Something Has To Be Done

By Greg Clark, May 29, 1937

“I see by the papers,” said Jimmie Frise, “that there are 15,000,000 dogs in North America.”

“It seems a pretty conservative estimate,” I commented.

“I was going to say,” said Jim, “that there were 15,000,000 dogs in Toronto. Maybe that’s a little high. But did you ever in all your life see so many dogs around as there are nowadays?”

“The country,” I admitted, “is really going to the dogs.”

“The less able the world is to keep dogs,” said Jim, “the more the fashion grows. In more spacious days, when there were no motor cars and every home had some ground around it, I could understand everybody keeping a dog. But under modern conditions It seems to me keeping a dog should be a privilege accorded only those who are qualified. And the qualifications should be enough ground around the home for the dog to play in without risking his life and limb on the trafficky streets. And the other and more Important qualification should be that the dog owner would have enough intelligence to control and master his dog.”

“Well, we’d qualify,” I agreed.  “I must say your old Rusty has almost a human intelligence. And as for my Dolly, she is practically a member of the family.”

“We’ve taken the trouble,” explained Jim. “to train and educate our dogs. Rusty and Dolly are, you might say, modernized dogs. But some of these wild animals that gang up and rove this neighborhood are not only a nuisance but a menace. Here I am putting in my garden for the next couple of nights. Now, Rusty is trained. He knows what a garden is. He never runs on the borders or tramples the young plants. You never catch Rusty digging up the garden or messing about the bushes.”

“Dolly’s the same,” I said. “In fact, I have seen her chasing other dogs out of our garden. Many’s the time last summer I have watched Dolly walking about the garden looking at the flowers just as if she were human being and enjoying them exactly as a human being.”

“Yesterday,” said Jim. “I happened to look out the back window and what did I see? Three of those mutts of the neighborhood, two half-breed collies and a wire-haired terrier, actually burying bones in my perennial borders.”

“Couldn’t you train Rusty to be a policeman?” I asked.

“He wasn’t around,” said Jim, “or he’d have soon had those tramps out of there.”

“I’d say,” I said, “that most of the people in our neighborhood keep dogs by force of habit. They apparently take no pleasure out of them, as we do in Rusty and Dolly. They let them out in the morning, probably giving them kick as they go, and they let them in at night. And for the rest of the day, those dogs just run at large, upsetting garbage pails, scaring the wits out of motorists by dashing recklessly all over the streets, digging in gardens, wrecking ornamental shrubs and generally being public nuisances.”

“It looks like it,” agreed Jim. “Something will have to be done.”

“Now there’s that apartment house along the street,” I reminded him. “I was counting the dogs in it. There are eight families in that house, and I’ll be jiggered if there aren’t nine dogs. One family has two of those bugeyes Pekes.”

On Other People’s Property

“That apartment house,” stated Jim, “has no yard at all. It has a concrete area at the back entirely filled with garages. It has no front lawn to speak of. Where do those nine dogs run?”

“On other people’s property,” I declared.

“Exactly,” said Jim.

“We certainly ought to do something about it,” I asserted. “And we, as dog owners and dog lovers, can’t be accused of being prejudiced against dogs either. I am one of the first to get my dander up when any of these anti-dog people begin their annual uproar about dogs running at large in the city. It is usually about now, when people are putting in their gardens, that the rumpus begins. But there is reason and moderation in all things, including dogs.”

“All I expect of other people,” agreed Jim, “is that they control their dogs the same way I do.”

“That’s it,” I supported. “Let that be our slogan. And if we dog owners start the agitation, it will go a long way further than if these anti-dog people try to do anything.”

“I can’t understand a man or a woman not having a dog,” said Jim. “If I were going to start a political party or a new religion or something, I would take a census of the homes of the city, and where there was a dog, that home I’d invite in.”

“I doubt if there ever was a villain who owned a dog,” I agreed.

“No food and no love is wasted in a house where there is a dog,” declared Jim. “It gets what is left over of both. You can tell all about a home by the dog.”

And with this kindly thought we went to our appointed tasks for the afternoon.

After supper, seeing Jim in his garden south of mine, and I not being quite ready to plant my annuals, as I like the garden to be best in September rather than July when all my family are away, I strolled down to watch him, Dolly joining me.

Jim had the little boxes of petunias and zinnias all laid out ready to be planted, the crimson nicotine and verbenas, the sweet william and orange flare cosmos. I helped him carry the little boxes of plantlings and distribute them around the borders where they would variously go. Old Rusty and Dolly solemnly accompanied us as we moved here and there.

“Look at them,” said Jim, fondly. “See how intelligently they watch us. They know what we are doing. They are interested. I bet they even realize that presently, as the result of this work of ours, the garden will glow and smother with flowers and sweet scents.”

With tongues out, the two sat, a little stoutly, maybe, a little over-fed, most amiably following us.

“No silly romping,” I pointed out. “No nonsense. There’s dogs, Jim.”

And we proceeded to set the plants, Jim scooping the holes with his trowel and I breaking out the seedlings with blocks of earth from the basket complete. We petted them down. Nasturtiums, marigolds, mourning bride, lantana. Clarkia in clumps because it is stringy, verbenas well separated because with their multi-colored stars they will reach and spread. The best part of May is the end where we plant the annuals.

To sort out some weeds that Jim bought to eke out the foot of his garden, such as sunflowers and some coarse climbing nasturtiums for along the fence, we went indoors and down to Jim’s cellar billiard room, and we had hardly been there a minute before Jim, glancing out the cellar window, let forth a wild bellow.

Rusty and Dolly had wandered off when we had come indoors, and as we reached the back door, there were no fewer than seven dogs holding a kind of canine gymkhana in the garden.

“Hyaaah,” roared Jimmie, hurling a flower pot at them.

There was a red setter, a police dog, a scrub collie, a wire-haired terrier, a goggle-eyed Boston bull, a Scotty, and big over-grown Springer spaniel, weighing about sixty pounds, a kind of a mattress of a dog, brown and white.

They were racing in circles, trampling all over the newly planted seedings, ducking around perennials just decently leafing out of the earth, plunging through spiraea…

“Hyaaaaaah,” we roared, charging into the yard.

All but the Springer spaniel, without so much as letting on they saw us, raced out of the back gate and down the street, like a gang of panting, laughing hoodlums.

The Springer, with a look of interest, was braced in behind Jim’s loveliest Japonica bush, watching us with rigid tail and cocked head.

“You!” said Jim, advancing cautiously.

“Easy, Jim,” I warned. “Get behind him and chase him out.”

“I’ll catch him,” said Jim. “and deliver him to his owner.”

“He may be cross,” I warned.

But the Springer spaniel, all feathers and wool and burly good nature, was far from cross. He was for play.

With a slithering, dirt-flinging spring, he wheeled and raced along the wire fence, every bound crashing him heavily on to some little cluster of freshly set and fragile plantlings.

“Hyaaahh,” we roared at him.

With a skid and a slither, he would halt and watch us, tail wagging frantically and mouth agape in a wide grin of joy.

“Don’t try to catch him,” I said, “he thinks we’re playing.”

“I’ll show him if we’re playing,” gritted Jim.

He advanced, half crouched.

The Springer, with an ecstatic slither, was off again, crashing through a bed of Darwin tulips with his whole sixty pounds and plunging into a young spiraea bush as if to play hide and seek.

“Aw,” moaned Jim terribly.

“Shoo him out, shoo him out,” I yelled. “He’ll romp in here all night, if you let him.”

“Rusty, Rusty,” roared Jimmie into the evening.

“Hyuh, Dolly, hyuh, hyuh,” I cried, “sick ‘im.”

But Rusty and Dolly were absent at the one time we needed them.

“Here, help corner him,” commanded Jim. “You come along that way and I’ll come this way and we’ll corner him by the house.”

So we slowly converged.

The Springer waited, with sly, joyous eyes, until we were almost on him before, with a plunge that flattened the spiraea and carried him horribly on top of the whole cluster of long slender orange fare cosmos plantlings, he burst the blockade and tore across to the opposite border of the garden and took refuge, playfully, behind a perennial phlox that, in another month, is the wonder of the whole district, so gorgeous a magenta is it, with its hundred blooms.

“Oooooh,” moaned Jim, “if he crushes that!”

“Throw something at him,” I insisted. “Make him get out.”

“Now I’m determined,” declared Jim gratingly, “to catch him and deliver him.”

“Very well, then,” I decreed, “Shut the gate.”

So while Jim shut the gate, I picked up a few odds and ends, the trowel, a couple of flower pots and a garden stake. And with these as ammunition, I drove the astonished Springer into the corner by the house while Jim charged in and grabbed him.

He struggled furiously and then angrily, growling and snarling.

“Get the rug out of the car,” panted Jimmie, wrapping himself around the astonished and frightened dog.

I nipped over and snatched the car rug and brought it. Jim managed to roll the big spaniel in it, leaving only his head out.

We straightened ourselves up and dusted off.

“There,” gasped Jim. “Now, Mister Springer, I know where you live.”

“What will you say?” I asked, “Better get it planned so you won’t just arrive in a temper and say worse than nothing.”

“I’ll simply say, ‘Sir’,” said Jim, “here is your dog. It came into my garden and trampled all over my newly planted seedlings. It plunged through my tulips and bushes and crushed my perennial phlox. I do not blame the dog. I blame the owner of the dog who has not taught it to behave and to respect gardens.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“I’ll hand him his dog,” said Jim “and warn him that if the dog damages my garden again, I will take steps that will astonish him.”

“Let’s go,” I said, because the big Springer was patiently struggling within the folds of the car rug and I was afraid he might work free.

Jim carried the extraordinary bundle down the street. The owner lived about eight doors south.

“Ring the front door,” said Jim. “We’ll make no back door peddling of this.”

I rang. I rang twice. I rapped.

“They’re out, I guess,” I guessed.

“Maybe they’re in the yard,” said Jim, starting around.

In the yard, on the clothes line, some sort of chintz curtain was hanging. My Dolly, sweetest and gentlest of dogs, was clinging to one corner of the curtain, taking little runs and a swing, and chewing and growling secretly and furiously with the fun.

Fair in the middle of the yard, in a bed of resplendent parrot tulips, elderly and amiable Rusty, most intelligent of all the dogs I ever knew, had all but vanished down an enormous hole he had dug, just his hind quarters and tail showing until Jim’s shout brought him backing out to look, with easy innocence, over his shoulder.

“Jim,” I said low, “drop that dog and let’s sneak.”

The kitchen window of the house next door squealed suddenly open and a red-faced lady put her head out.

“What are you doing with that dog in the blanket?” she demanded chokingly. “I’ll tell Mr. Hooper on you. The very idea. And look what those brutes are doing to his garden and to Mrs. Hooper’s chintz.”

Jim unrolled the Springer and he landed heavily and ran straight for Rusty, his hackles up.

“Those two creatures,” shouted the lady above the racket that Rusty and Dolly were making in a fight with the Springer, “are the worst nuisances in the entire neighborhood. And yet I catch you in the act of trying smother the loveliest, kindest dog in the whole city.”

Jim and I withdrew up the side drive and then turned and called Rusty and Dolly. They came, being glad to leave the Springer who was beginning to get rough.

We hastened up the street, the Springer pursuing us with hoarse and angry barks.

“It’s always the other fellow’s dog,” reflected Jim.

“And to somebody, I suppose,” I said, “we are always the other fellow. Should I let those people know who chewed the chintz?”

“No,” said Jim, as we turned into Jim’s yard. “The Springer will get the blame and it will all even up in the long run. He deserves the blame to make up for what damage he has done elsewhere.”

“These two,” I said, “never get any blame around here.”

“Oh, well,” said Jim, starting to walk along the borders to re-pet up all the little seedlings, “they behave around home. What more can you ask?”

So Rusty and Dolly, their tongues hanging out, followed us along, sitting down behind us to watch the job and getting up to follow whenever we moved five feet, and we rubbed their towsled heads and scratched their eternally itchy chins, and they looked up at us with half-closed eyes of adoration and perfect understanding.


Editor’s Notes: Pet ownership was not really that common until the rise of the middle class in the 19th century. You can see how things have changed, even since the time of the article in 1937. It was not unusual for dogs to roam free, even in a city. Children were warned to be wary of packs of dogs. Picking up dog poop was not a concern until legislation started in the 1980s. Even the concept of packaged dog food did not exist. Dogs were expected to just eat the scraps of the family meals. Canned dog food was only invented in 1922, and dry kibble was not invented until 1956.

A gymkhana is an Indian term which originally referred to a place of assembly.

A Mere Matter of Clothes

By Greg Clark, May 23, 1941

In which Greg and Jimmie confirm the old adage that one good turn deserves another good turn

“Guess who’s in the army?” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Goodness knows,” I guessed.

“Wesley,” shouted Jim.

“Not old Wes?” I protested. “Why, he’s older than we are.”

“He’s in,” declared Jimmie excitedly. And he’s coming over to the house tonight. In his uniform. And I said you’d be there for sure.”

“I’ll be there. I stated. “If only to find out how he did it.”

“Well, he did it by persistence, of course, said Jim. “He hasn’t drawn a happy breath since this war started. Now he’s in heaven.”

“But he’s away over 50,” I protested. “Wes is just about the Methuselah of the army, I’d say.”

“You’re jealous,” smiled Jimmie. “Just jealous.”

“Not me,” I assured him. “I’ve seen a lot more of this war than old Wes will ever see. I’ve seen more of it than most of our army has seen yet.”

“Yeah, but a war correspondent isn’t a soldier,” submitted Jim, “even if you have a uniform.”

“This country has come to a pretty pass,” I insisted, “if they have to take men as old as Wes.”

“I think they took him,” said Jim, “to get rid of him. He has been public nuisance Number One at all the military headquarters in the country, including Ottawa. He has a file nearly a half a foot thick from Ottawa alone.”

“What’s he going to do?” I inquired. “What branch is he with?”

“Oh, some supply department,” said Jim. “He’s too old to fight.”

“Why, he was in the old First Division, a quarter of a century ago,” I scoffed. “He enlisted on August 5, 1914. I remember thinking he was rather oldish for a lieutenant in that old war.”

“He was a great fighter,” declared Jim. “He won two decorations.”

“Maybe it is just to show off his ribbons that he’s been so crazy to get back in,” I suggested.

“Now, that’s a lousy thing to say,” declared Jim. “Even if your jealousy does hurt you, you shouldn’t say a thing like that. Wes deserves great credit and honor. If there had been more men like Wes in this country we’d have been better off.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “You’re quite right. Wes is a real patriot, even if he hasn’t done so good these past 20 years.”

“He’s just had bad luck,” said Jim.

“Bad luck?” I laughed. “The last war ruined Wes. He came back from the old war a hero. And there was no more call for heroes. So instead of forgetting about the old war and settling down to business like the rest of us, he tried to travel through life on his reputation as a soldier. There were plenty like him.”

Solver of All Problems

“I didn’t know you felt like this about Wes,” said Jimmie. “I thought you liked him a lot.”

“I do like him,” I explained. “But I think it is silly for an old guy like him…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie. “I’d like to see the standing broad jump you’d take if you got the same chance Wes got.”

“I know my age,” I declared, “and my capacity.”

“Ah, the army,” sighed Jim dreamily. “No more worry. No more fretting. You get up to a bugle and you go to bed by a bugle. You eat to a bugle call and you go to work to a bugle call. Your pay goes on, whether you work or not. The more dependants you have, the larger your allowance. No cares in the world.”

“It sure must be heaven to old Wes,” I agreed. “He hasn’t had a steady job for 22 years until now. He first tried selling insurance to all his old army friends. Then he went into the stock brokerage business. Then he got a job as sales manager of a novelty furniture company. He came in to see me one day with some crazy kind of collapsible shell he tried to sell me. His life, ever since the last war, has been one long worry. No wonder he was frantic to get back into the good old, safe old, cosy old army.”

“Well, the way things are going,” said Jim, “with taxes and everything, it seems to me the boys in the army are the wise guys.”

“Maybe that’s why I feel a little envious,” I confessed. “The army sure was wonderful wasn’t it? When I first enlisted, I thought with a kind of horror about the surrender of my personal liberty to an institution like the army. But suddenly I found all my personal cares had been lifted from me. All the little, petty carping worries and anxieties of my daily life vanished. I had nothing any more to decide. Everything was decided for me. Always somebody to tell me what to do. I did not even have to decide how to dress for the day. It was all laid down in orders. I did not have to make any decisions as to how I would spend the day or even my spare time in the evenings. There it all was, laid down in the syllabus.”

“It’s freedom, that’s what it is,” declared Jim. “Army life is not the surrender of freedom. It is the sudden liberation from a thousand little, unrealized cares that like a swarm of bees follow a man in civilian life wherever he goes.”

“We never understand how enmeshed like fish we are in little bonds and shackles,” I agreed, “until we go into the army and discover the nearest approach to freedom there is in the world.”

“A monk in holy orders,” said Jim, “escapes from the cares of the world.”

“And a soldier can do what he likes in the evening,” I added.

“The army is the solver of all problems,” declared Jim.

“It is the only way I know,” I concluded, “in which you can chuck your troubles and tribulations on the nation’s back and get credit for it.”

“Maybe Wes can give us some tips on how to get back in,” suggested Jim.

Back in Uniform

“What rank has he got?” I inquired.

“Lieutenant,” said Jim.

“Well, I couldn’t get along on lieutenant’s pay,” I pointed out. “I was a major in the last war. If I could get a colonel’s job…”

“You’re a lot wiser than you were in the old war,” agreed Jim.

“And there are a lot of jobs on organization and so forth,” I submitted, “where I could fit in without losing my wind at all the hills.”

So after supper I went down to Jim’s and we sat on the steps until Wes arrived. We saw him coming halfway up the block. He was magnificent. The old Wes I had seen many a time bowed and shrunken with his worries and disappointments of the past 10 years had left not a vestige of its mark upon the fine upstanding soldier coming down the street, his back as straight as ever it was, his head up, his chin out, and carrying his little swagger-stick as carelessly as though he had held a swagger-stick all his life. His stride was long and lithe. He was like a parade all in himself.

“Let’s give him a cheer,” I said.

“Don’t embarrass him,” cautioned Jim.

So we rose to our feet and stood forth to meet him in honor.

“Wes,” I said, wringing his hand, “this is a great treat for us all.”

“It’s nothing, boys,” he said happily. “It’s where I should have been 18 months ago …”

Even his manner was altered. Wes, of recent years, had got a tired sort of voice, with a little tinge of complaint in it. Not now. His voice was vigorous and it rang. And there was just the trace of an English accent in it, such as many of us affected in the old war.

So we went inside and got settled in the living-room and all gloated.

“When did you put it on, Wes?” we asked.

“I didn’t get the uniform until 5 o’clock,” laughed Wes. “I haven’t had it on three hours.”

“And yet you look as if you had never had it off,” said Jim heartily. “Sit down, Wes.”

But Wes would not sit down. He preferred to stand. He stood against the mantel. He stood over by the windows, his hands behind his back. He walked back and forth in the living room. In a new uniform, you hate to sit down.

His ribbons glowed on his chest. Men of 50 are pretty crafty at noting the age of their peers. A man of 50 who can carry his years is an ever-pressing reproach to all his fellows.

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow morning.”

“Are you going to have to drill again?” I exclaimed

“Ah, no,” said Wes. “This is just an office parade. I mean that I must present myself to my new C.O. at 8.30 am. He’s quite a stickler. I want to make a good impression.”

A Bit of Spit and Polish

You could see the old Wes feebly trying to assert himself amidst the force and splendor of the new Wes.

“May I suggest,” I ventured kindly, “that you could put a bit of the old spit and polish on those buttons?”

“They’re lacquered,” said Wes. “I haven’t got a batman yet. I may not have one for some time, they told me. So I thought I would leave that lacquer as long as I could to protect the shine.”

“Aw, Wes,” I protested. “An old soldier like you? With dull buttons?”

“They’re not dull,” said Jim.

“I agree they’re not what they should be,” said Wes, looking down appreciatively at his handsome frontal expanse. “But I have no button stick, yet, and no polish. It takes a little time to get things organized again, after all the years…”

And he gazed at space with a strange, joyous, exalted expression on his face.

“After all the years,” he said quietly.

“What chance,” began Jimmie, “do you think we might have, Wes, of getting back into the game?”

“I’m shocked, Wes,” I cut in, “to think that an old soldier like you would be stumped by the want of a button stick. Haven’t you made hundreds of them, in your younger days, out of cardboard?”

“Where’s some cardboard?” laughed Wes, promptly. “Jimmie, find us a bit of stiff cardboard. And have you any metal polish in the house?”

“Down cellar there’s sure to be polish,” said Jim, rising.

So we followed him. And down cellar on the shelves we found three kinds of metal polish. And Jim got a piece of heavy card board, from which we fashioned a button stick. In the army, it is usually of brass. It is a small panel of brass with a slot cut in it which you slide under your buttons to polish them and keep the cleaning fluid off your tunic. We made one, as most soldiers do, out of the cardboard.

“Have you got a good polish,” asked Wes. “that will cut the lacquer?”

From the three assorted polishes, we chose the one that seemed likely to have the most bite.

“Wes,” I said, “take off your tunic and let me have the honor of being your first batman in the great world war.”

And Jim gave me a friendly look, as much as to say that I was making decent amends for some of the things I had said behind Wes’ back. But I am a great believer in acts of humility. I sometimes think they are about the only ones that God happens to notice.

Wes took off his tunic and handed it to me. I slid on the button stick under the buttons and proceeded to wet them up. The lacquer was very hard. I had only rags, but Jim dug up an old brush and with that I scrubbed the buttons. And under Wes’ anxious eye, I began to get results. The lacquer certainly began to dissolve.

“Now,” said Wes, “lay on the flannelette.”

And you should have seen those buttons gleam.

“To think,” said Wes, ashamed, “I came through the streets with those dull buttons.”

A Great and Broken Cry

Long and tenderly we buffed and fluffed the brass buttons until they shone like liquid jewels.

“You know,” I submitted, “a batman’s life isn’t so bad.”

But when we removed the cardboard button stick to attack the smaller buttons on the pockets of the tunic, Wes let out a great and broken cry.

For around each button was a nasty yellowish stain from the brass polish seeping through the cardboard.

“Quick, quick,” shouted Wes in an agonized voice. “Get something.”

“Water, Jim,” I shouted.

“No, no,” bellowed Wes, “some kind of cleaning fluid.”

“Cleaning fluid,” said Jim, promptly diving into the cupboard. “I saw it here.”

And he came out with a large glass jug labelled “Cleaning fluid.”

“Douse it on,” I commanded.

“Easy now, easy,” begged Wes, his voice cracking with anguish.

Jim got a fresh rag and we dipped it in the cleaning fluid and wiped it over the stains around the buttons. Instantly the nasty yellowish stains turned white, as if the very dye out of the khaki cloth had been removed.

“Oh, oh, oh,” roared Wes, snatching the tunic from us.

Jimmie found out later, from the family, that this cleaning fluid was for cleaning floors and sinks and things like that.

“Wes,” I said, as he stood staring in rage at the beautiful new tunic with the horrid ghastly stains all down the front, as neatly spaced as the buttons themselves, “I hope you don’t think I did this on purpose.”

“On purpose?” cried Wes, too confused and amazed to try to understand.

“I’m an artist,” said Jim, resolutely, “I think I can mix up some color in some kind of medium that will touch out those spots temporarily.”

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow at 8.30.”

“The tunic is ruined,” I said bitterly.

“Come upstairs,” commanded Jim firmly. “I’ll see what can be done.”

So while Wes sat, all hunched up and broken in heart in the living-room, Jim worked in his study, where he keeps his amateur artist stuff – he is in artist by profession, but is a pretty fair amateur artist on the side tinkers at landscapes and things – and taking a tiny patch of cloth from the inside of one of the tunic pockets he worked with colors in ink and alcohol until he got a reasonable match for khaki.

But when he picked up the tunic to start applying the color, he found, with a great yell, that the nasty spots had almost disappeared from the cloth. Only a vague circle of paler color surrounded the buttons.

So we took a damp cloth and sponged around some more until we had abstracted still more of the offending polish and cleaner. And by the time the cloth dried, you could barely see the stains, even in bright 100-watt light.

Wes donned the tunic and stood a little way off.

“Why,” cried Jimmie, “all it looks like that the shine of the buttons has lit up the surrounding cloth.”

So Wes ceased muttering and went off home and we have no doubt his first parade was a complete success.


Editor’s Notes: As indicated in the story, Greg was already a war correspondent at this point in World War Two, and was in Europe during the fall of France.

A swagger-stick was a short stick like a riding crop that officers would carry as a symbol of authority.

A batman was a servant to an officer. This was much more common in the First World War, when class hierarchies were much more prominent in the British Army, and to a lesser extent, in Canada.

As described in the story, a button stick was used as an aid to polishing buttons.

Off to Sea!

By Greg Clark, May 20, 1933

“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s just run away from it all!”

“All what?” asked Jim.

“All this trouble and work and being in debt,” said I. “Just let’s disappear.”

“How about our wives and children?” inquired Jim.

“They’d be all right,” I said. “In fact, they might be better off without us for a few years.”

“A few years?” cried Jim.

“Well, life is passing us by,” I explained. “Here we are, Jim, you and me, and except for a little war now and again, we have never been no place and we ain’t seen nothing. Look at Gordon Sinclair. Where is he now? In some incredible, land around the other side of the earth. In Zanzibar or the Heebie Jeebie Islands. He sees life. He’s living. But we will get old and die, and it will be Just the same as if we had never lived at all.”

“Life is pretty quiet for most people,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I cried. “Don’t let us be saps! We’ve done pretty well by everybody so far. We’ve been faithful husbands and model fathers. We’ll be forgiven if we just suddenly vanish.”

“Well,” admitted Jim, “they knew we were a little bit goofy all along.”

“They would say the strain told on us,” I said. “They’d be all right. Somebody would look after them.”

“Who?”

“Well, better people than us are on relief,” I said. “And while we are suffering on some tropical coral reef, like Sinclair is, our families will be going through a valuable and character-building experience here. What I am afraid of is, Jim, that not only are we missing life, but our families are being brought up soft.”

“H’m,” said Jim. “You should be selling stocks and bonds. You have a pious line.”

“Jimmie,” I demanded, rising, “do you plan to go on drawing Birdseye Centers till you die? Do you plan to keep adding Birdseye Centers to Birdseye Center until, added end to end, they will stretch from here to Indo-China? Why not go to Indo-China yourself?”

Jim turned pale. I had hit him where he lives. The only way he can get one Birdseye Center done is by pretending it is the last he will ever do.

Jim shoved back his chair and stood up. From his window in the tower of The Star building you can look right down on Toronto bay, and see all the docks, with the steamers and big tramp ships like toys lined up below you. The bay was shimmering blue. The ships were bright with red and white and black. I came and stood looking down on them with Jim.

Far beyond, to the blue and beckoning horizon, stretched the great lake.

Jim stood staring. As we watched in silence this gateway from the prison of life, a steamer backed slowly out from one of the wharves and turning its slim bow seaward, gathered speed and slowly, emotionally, sped away under our very noses.

“Jim,” I cried, huskily, “there she goes!”

“Day after day,” said Jim in a low voice, “the same old round. Down to the office. Sit at the desk. Wiggle the fingers. Push back the chair. Go back home. Steal a little joy with your family and kids. Then up in the morning. Back to the office. Wiggle the fingers.”

He whirled around and glared at me.

“Let’s go!” he rasped. “Let’s go, let’s start, and if we go we go! And if we don’t go, it will be a sign.”

“Wait a minute,” I cautioned him. “We ought to just straighten up our desks and settle a few –“

“No,” declared Jim, harshly, shoving his pens and paper and stuff aside and reaching for his hat. “We go right now!”

“Come on,” commanded Jim. “When we go, we go. We’ll go down there to the bay, and we’ll find the biggest tramp ship with steam up and we’ll grab jobs on her – deck hands, stewards, stokers, anything, and where she goes, we’ll go. No use dilly-dallying. When you decide to go nuts, go nuts. Come on.”

I followed him as he strode down the hall, into the elevators. My skin was prickling. You don’t just walk out of the dear old Star office just like that! There were hands I wanted to shake. Farewells to say. Grudges to forgive with a warm handclasp. Bygones to be let go by.

But Jim stood in front of me as the elevator plunged to the ground. He took my arm in the lobby and hustled me on to the street.

“Wo ought to have old clothes,” I protested as he scampered me along beside him.

“What for?” demanded Jim. “What do we want these clothes for any more?”

“I should have telephoned my house,” I said. “I’d like to hear my wife’s voice just once more. Or maybe my little girl’s. She plays in the room where the telephone is.”

That would kill it,” said Jim. “One sound and you’d change your mind. Listen, don’t even think about such things until we are outside the Gulf of St. Lawrence!”

“It’s pretty sudden,” I said weakly.

We hustled down Bay St. Along the waterfront we hastened, past all kinds of ships, passenger ships, small freighters, big freighters.

“Out here beyond the Terminal Warehouse,” said Jim, “there are some big freighters. I saw one with steam up from my window.”

We saw ahead a big black funnel sticking up above the wharf houses, and from it rose a thin stream of black smoke.

“Here we are,” said Jim tensely, “the ship of Fate.”

As we came even and started down her immense and rusty side, no one was visible. Not a living soul was to be seen. My spirits rose a little.

“Ship ahoy!” shouted Jim.

A man appeared on her deck. A huge, unshaven man in a black sweater, smoking a cigar.

“Hello,” he said.

“Are you taking any hands aboard?” asked Jim, in a strong, hearty, seafaring manner.

“What kind of hands?” asked the big man, spitting overside.

“Well, we’re a couple of landlubbers,” said Jim, “who are tired of being ashore and we want to go to sea. I’m asking you, man to man, have you got any place for a couple of men who don’t care how little money they make as long as they go to sea.”

“I might,” said the big fellow in crafty voice, “need a couple of stokers.”

A Stirring Moment

“Where are you bound?” asked Jim.

“All over the world,” said the unshaven one.

“South America?” asked Jim. “Valparaiso, Rio?”

“All over,” said the big fellow, distantly, “Suez, Port Said.”

“When do we sail?” asked Jim, advancing to the gang plank.

“Almost any time,” said the big fellow.

“Are we hired?”

“As stokers,” said the big fellow. “Git below.”

So Jim led and I followed up the gang plank, along a dusty and dirty deck and back to the rear end of the ship where there was a sort of cabin with ladder leading far down into stoke-hole in which a dim fire glowed.

“Leave your coats up here,” said the big fellow.

“Are you the captain?” I asked.

“Sure,” said the big man, tipping his soiled cap back.

As we removed our coats, a man in greasy overalls appeared out of another door.

“Whose these?” he demanded gruffly of the captain.

“A couple of new stokers,” said the captain. “Just signed on for the run to Venezuela and Valparaiso.”

The greasy man stared grimly at us and vanished.

“The chief engineer,” explained the captain.

He led us down the ladder. The place was full of soft coal, and on one side, in one of the four furnace doors, fire was glowing.

“Now,” said the captain, “I’m going to leave you birds in here all day. I’m going to close down the hatch so as not to have too much draft on that fire. But you two have got to keep that gauge there up to one hundred pounds, no more, no less.”

“Are we going to be alone at this?” asked Jim.

“The night watch is just gone off duty,” said the captain. “They will come on about six o’clock.”

“Where will we be by then?” asked Jim.

“Somewhere in the St. Lawrence,” said the captain.

“How about lunch?”

“I’ll bring it down to you myself,” said the captain.

He climbed the ladder.

“Git going,” he said to us, as he reached the top and slammed the iron doors shut.

It was romantic down in that black hold. The black coal. The red glow of fire. We took big shovels and heaved couple of scoops of coal on to the fire.

“Well,” said Jim, resting on his shovel, “we’re away.”

And at that instant we felt the throb of engines starting and the ship trembled all over.

It was stirring moment. Jim and I leaped to our shovel and heaved coal. The gauge had risen to 110.

“Easy there,” cried Jim in his new nautical manner. “Vast heaving. Hold her at a hundred, the captain said.”

So we sat down on hunks of coal and looked at each other as we felt the ship moving out from her berth. We could feel her slowly turning as she backed into Toronto Bay and swung her nose to the open world.

The engines slowly thumped and thudded, sometimes going fast, sometimes slow, and once they stopped altogether.

“Going through the eastern gap,” said Jim with a catch in his voice. “Taking it slow.”

Just a Little Homesick

Once more the engines started their steady thumping. Jim and I stood up in the dark and glowing coal hold and shook hands solemnly. We were at sea!

The gauge stood steady at 100.

Mile by mile the engines throbbed steadily. We could hear feet pounding along the decks above.

“Who says stoking coal is hard job?” Jim demanded. “Why, it’s just a lot of sailor’s bunk!”

An hour went by and all we had to shovel was about four scoops of coal each. In fact, we had to argue as to whose turn it was to shovel – we both wanted to do it.

It grew a little warm.

“I wish we could go up and get a breath of air,” said Jim.

He climbed the ladder and hammered on the iron doors with his shovel handle. The captain opened the door an inch or two and demanded what we wanted.

“There’s nothing much to do down here,” said Jim, “why can’t we go on deck turn about?”

“You’re at sea,” roared the captain. “Git below, there, you scum! You do your trick in the stoke-hole and then you’re off duty. But when you’re on, don’t come hollering out here!”

He clanged the doors. But we had caught a glimpse of the heavenly blue sky and moving clouds, and we could visualize that lovely lake slipping by, the ship with a bone in her teeth, as we sailors say, and a spanking wind on our stern.

Anyway, it was a long day. I had imagined toiling in the stoke-hole was a job for giants. But Jim and I, two softies from city jobs, held down that engine boiler at 100 pounds with the greatest ease. In fact, we had it over the 100 several times and never under.

At noon, the captain came to the door and handed down two hot dogs wrapped in paper.

“Your lunch,” he bellowed, and dropped them into our waiting hands.

Hot dogs! A funny food for sailors.

During our lunch, the engines slowed and stopped.

“Entering the Lachine Canal!” announced Jim.

“Not already?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “This is a fast ship we are on. I can tell by the smooth, even way she has.”

“Boy, I wish we were upstairs where we could see the sights. All that lovely Quebec shore, and the locks.”

“We’ll be off at six,” said Jim. “Six bells. And then we can watch the St. Lawrence shores slipping by in the twilight.”

All afternoon, as we passed through the Lachine Canal, the engines stopped and started, and our gauge stood steady at 100 pounds without any trouble at all to us. Jim had a little sleep about 3 p.m., and I stood to the fires alone. We heard thumpings and scrapings, and feet tramping on deck, as we worked our way slowly through the canals. And then we started about five o’clock on another long, even run of engines, while I visualized the broad St. Lawrence marching by.

Jim woke.

“We’ll soon be off duty,” said he. “Well, son, how do you feel about it all now?”

“Well, while you were asleep,” I said, “I got a little homesick, to tell you the truth. I got thinking.”

“Cut out thinking.”

It Gets Everybody

 “What will our wives do to-night when we don’t come home as usual?” I asked. “They will wait and wait and about nine o’clock to-night they will start telephoning the editors.

“Wait till the editor starts worrying about next week’s Birdseye Center,” said Jim gleefully.

“And then,” I said, perhaps a little plaintively, “they will notify the police. They will sit up until morning. I can just see my wife walking from room to room.”

“Aw, lay off,” said Jim.

“Yes,” I continued. “Walking from room to room, looking at each of my little children sleeping there so serenely, and she will be wondering what is to become of them. And as the weeks go by, and the months. And perhaps the years!”

I broke down slightly.

Jim slammed shovel of coal into the fire.

“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s telephone long distance from the first place we stop!”

“Don’t be a softy!” said Jim. “You started this. Now you are all for quitting. If you are hard boiled, you can go through with it. There are some things too sacred to fool with, and human liberty is one of them.”

“All right,” I said.

“We can telephone from Quebec City, maybe,” said Jim, suddenly sitting down.

So I sat down on another hunk of coal and we were sitting with our elbows on our knees and our chins on our hands when the doors above opened and the captain shouted down:

“All hands on deck!”

We scrambled up the ladder.

To the right was the Terminal Warehouse building.

Before us spread the homely, lovely, happy, panorama of the city of Toronto. Behind us shimmered Toronto Bay in the evening light.

Men were trooping off the gangplank ashore.

Jim and I stood speechless.

“All right, boys, beat it,” said the captain.

We moved in a daze toward the cabin door where our coats hung clean on nails.

“We didn’t sail?” Jim gasped.

“We’re just overhauling engines,” said the captain.

“Oh!”

“And I’m not the captain,” said he. “I’m the stoker. I want to thank you boys for a nice day sitting here in the sun. I got a good coat of tan. I’ll need it in another month or so when we sail.”

“Oh, mister,” I said, “thank you so much!”

“Don’t mention it,” said the stoker, who all of a sudden appeared a kind and gentle sort of man for all his unshaven chin and his black and dirty sweater.

“We really didn’t want to go to sea,” Jim explained. “We were just a little… sort of …”

“I know,” said the stoker. “Wanderlust. It gets everybody about this time of year. I usually get dozen or so like you each spring when we are overhauling engines. It gives me a nice rest and it helps the boys get over their troubles.”

We shook hands warmly and the stoker introduced us to the engineer, who thanked us and said we had kept him up a nice pressure all day while he was repairing engines.

We hustled down the gang plank and started back for the office to wash up before going home.

“We can tell our wives we were sent out on a story and we couldn’t get at a telephone,” I said as we headed for Bay St.

“Perhaps we’d better telephone from the office,” said Jim. “They don’t like to have dinner kept waiting.”


Editor’s Notes: In this early story, there is mention of Gordon Sinclair, a Toronto Star reporter who was very well known for his travels around the world in the 1930s and reporting from exotic locations.

The Lachine Canal runs through Montreal to bypass the Lachine rapids for access to the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence River.

Surprise Package

By Greg Clark, May 9, 1936

“After lunch,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ll drop in at that auction sale place. There’s a sale of unclaimed packages.”

“Surprise packages, eh?” I consented.

“It’s good fun,” said Jim. “I’ve been to lots of them but I never bought anything.”

“If we go, we’ve got to buy something,” I stated, “because you really haven’t been to an auction sale unless you buy something. It’s like going to the races and not betting on a horse.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim. “It won’t cost us much. Lots of the packages and bundles go for a few cents. Twenty cents, thirty cents.”

“You never can tell what you’ll get,” I pointed out. “I once heard of a man who bought a common little paper package at one of those unclaimed baggage sales, and when he opened it up, he found wrapped inside of five or six coverings of newspaper, a small box containing a diamond and ruby brooch. He sold it for $1,800.”

“I heard of another case,” said Jim darkly, “where a man bought a small trunk for two dollars and in it was a human leg.”

“You have no imagination, Jim,” I protested. “You don’t seem to understand the secret of happiness, and that is always to expect. Always expect something nice, something valuable, something exciting. And even though it never comes, you feel good.”

“I go by the reverse system,” said Jim. “I expect the worst. I look forward to nothing. I fear no good can come of anything, and when some good does come of it, look how surprised and delighted I am.”

“I suppose,” I agreed, “one way of looking at life is as good as another. What is to be is to be, and no amount of guessing one way or the other can change it.”

“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I was at one of these auctions one time and a terrible thing happened to me. A terrible thing. A funny-looking canvas valise came up. It was pretty greasy-looking and battered and rubbed. It looked like a prospector’s packsack. When I looked at it, I had a hunch I ought to bid for it. The auctioneer begged for bids but nobody rose to it. The auctioneer said it might contain nuggets of solid gold. But the way he was lifting it around, we could see there were no nuggets in it. It was light. Finally a man bid a quarter for it. And it went bang.”

“What was in it?” I begged.

“I followed the buyer,” said Jim, “out to the door of the auction room, where most of the buyers take a peek at their purchase. Before my eyes, that man drew forth a forty dollar pistol, a prismatic compass worth about $20, a fly rod in aluminum case, fly books, English reels, compact cooking kit nesting into a single large pail, in fact everything I have wanted all my life but never could afford.”

“Why didn’t you make him an offer?” I asked.

“Make him an offer?” cried Jim. “I followed him half way across the city, but all he would say was that he was something of a sportsman himself.”

“I hope we get a couple of hunches today,” I breathed.

“You never can tell,” said Jim. “The worst looking packages often contain the valuables, and vice versa.”

Hostage to Fortune

Jim and I hurried through a sandwich and walked briskly across downtown to the auction rooms where the unclaimed goods sale was in full fling. The customers were mostly pretty seedy-looking individuals, mostly men who looked as if all other hope in life was pretty well spent, and that this auction sale was their last despairing effort. Automobile tires were being offered when we arrived, new-looking, but, as Jimmie pointed out, if you could see what was really the matter with them you would know why they were unclaimed.

In a few moments, the tires were exhausted, and then began a series of surprising items. A large coil of galvanized wire, which went, after a brief bid, for thirty cents; a paper package tied with a dirty rope which went for twenty cents and turned out to be a beautiful set of lace curtains; a cardboard box mysteriously sealed with sticky paper, forty cents, and it contained, when the man opened it, a tin contraption that looked like part of something which even if completed, wouldn’t mean anything.

Then came a suitcase, cheap, aged and sagging, its handle repaired with string. A pair of men went ten cents at a time to sixty cents for it, in low, doubtful voices. And the one who won opened it to reveal a heap of soiled shirts, socks, red bandana handkerchiefs all the worse for use. He put it under his arm and went off with it. His last sixty cents shot. Hostage to fortune.

“Hm,” said Jim, as we stood on the outer fringe of the crowd, “not much doing to-day. I thought there would be packing cases and everything.”

“In times like these,” I explained, “if anything has any value whatsoever, it will be claimed.”

“Now here,” cried the auctioneer, “item one-sixty, is something out of the ordinary.”

A box about a foot square was lifted heavily shoulder-high by two strong men serving on the auction platform. It was bound with metal tape. It was fastened with screw nails. A flurry of interest stirred the crowd.

“Who can say what is in this?” demanded the auctioneer. “Would it be valuable instruments of some sort, or something in valuable metals? What am I offered for this unusual item, ladies and gentlemen?”

“Twenty-five cents,” said a determined voice. And instantly it snapped up by quarters and dimes, to a dollar, then to two dollars and then to three.

“Should we get in on this?” I asked Jim.

“No,” advised Jim. “What we want to bid on is something useless looking. It’s the surprise we are after.”

*Right,” said I, and listened while the bids went higher and higher, to four dollars and seventy cents before they slackened and came to a solid stop.

“Come, gentlemen,” the auctioneer cried. “this box is obviously a valuable article, you can see it is fastened with metal bands and secured with screw nails instead of common nails. In this box is something unusual, strange, valuable. I cannot understand why it is left unclaimed, unless its owner mysteriously passed away, before he had a chance to call for it at the express office. Who knows but what some great enterprise is held up all for the want of whatever is in this box?”

“Aha,” said I.

But the bidding stopped flat at four-eighty. And a well dressed but hard-faced middle-aged man took the box and carried it to the doorway to have a look at it.

“You’ve got something there, mister,” I said agreeably.

“Stand back and mind your own affairs,” said the gentleman with accustomed rudeness. He borrowed a screw driver from one of the luckier members of the audience and pried the box open. Jim and I stood discreetly and watched. When the lid was removed from the heavy little box, it appeared filled with silver. The gentleman pinched some of it with his fingers. He removed a note that lay on the top of the contents of the box. Read it. And suddenly flinging the note down on the floor, he rose and stamped angrily from the auction room.

Battle of Bidders

Jim stepped over and picked up the note. It was on the letterhead of a sand and gravel corporation in Montreal and it said:

“We are sending you herewith a working sample of our water-washed granite sand, No. 412X.”

“Let that be a lesson to you,” said Jim.

“Guys that look and act like that man,” I said, referring to the departed customer, “occasionally get their deserts.”

“But only occasionally,” agreed Jim.

And we returned to watching the sale.

More cardboard boxes with obvious things sticking out of them; a string of assorted old boots, a carpet, a case containing an oil burner that went for $16 after a bright tussle between two obvious dealers in such things, ladies’ hats, men’s hats, a crate of stove pipe.

Then came another string of seedy suitcases.

“Let’s bid in one of these,” suggested Jim.

“Let’s pick the worst looking one of all,” I submitted.

And when the auctioneer called item 189, the platform attendant held up as shabby a cheap and battered suitcase as ever it has been my lot to see. Its sides did not bulge; they sagged consumptively. It was torn and crudely sewn. Its handle was newer than the suitcase itself, a cheap handle fastened on by an amateur.

“Ten cents,” sang out Jimmie.

“Fifteen,” promptly shouted a hoarse voice from the far side of the crowd.

“Twenty,” said Jim.

“Twenty-five,” snarled the same voice.

And in no time at all, Jim and the unseen but foreign-voiced gentleman across the throng had run that old tramp of a suitcase up to two dollars!

“Don’t quit, Jim,” I hissed, “There is something odd about this.”

“Two-forty,” cried Jim, while the crowd stood rigid with excitement at the battle over the wreck.

At three dollars, the other bidder suddenly quit, with a despairing bellow of that amount Jim handed his three dollars over the heads of the throng and the suitcase was promptly passed from hand to hand over the crowd to Jimmie.

“It has nothing much in it,” said Jim, hefting it.

“Nix,” I said. “Is this the guy that was bidding?”

Two sinister-looking eastern Europeans were hastily coming around the edge of the crowd, keeping their eyes fastened on the suitcase, as if not to let it out of their view for one instant.

“Jim,” I said, “let’s get out of this. I don’t like the looks of these two customers.”

We walked out the auction room door into the street. And right on our heels, breathing down our necks, came the two foreigners.

We turned west. They followed, and walking quickly alongside of us, the larger of them leaned close and said, with an unpleasant and ingratiating smile:

“Please, boss, please!”

He had an old scar, such as a knife would make, across one cheek and it drew the corner of his mouth up viciously.

“What do you want?” said Jim, halting.

“Beat it,” I commanded.

“Please, boss,” repeated the larger one, and the shorter one squared around to block our passing.

“What do you want?” shouted Jim.

“Please,” wheedled the big one, reaching for the suitcase.

Jim leaped back, holding the suitcase behind him.

“What do you want? Speak up!” Jim glowered.

“No spik,” said the foreigner, shaking his head. “No spik. No money. No more. No spik. Pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssseee.”

And again he made a lurch for the suitcase, casting at the same instant a meaningful and sinister glance at his partner.

With a strong and adroit movement, the smaller man thrust me aside, and snatched the suitcase from Jim’s hand behind him.

“Haaaallp,” we roared, as the two thieves dashed down one of the streets past the market towards the waterfront. And we gave furious chase. Half a dozen people stopped and stared. But nobody helped. Nobody ever does. No policemen were in sight. Traffic didn’t even slow down to help us. Everything went right on as usual in the street while, headed on swift legs for the waterfront, we saw our thieves vanishing, and Jim and I puffing badly, brought up a vain rear.

“Jim.” I gasped, as we slowed up to a fast walk. “I bet you the crown jewels of Roumania or something were in that suitcase.”

“Too light,” said Jim. “No weight. But it’s funny.”

“Those were sinister-looking men,” I said. “I don’t feel like tackling them anywhere down here on the waterfront.”

“Like to know what was in there,” said Jim. “Why they were so desperately anxious.”

“High graders,” I suggested. “Full of gold.”

“No weight,” said Jim. “Perhaps papers or plans. Incriminating. Perhaps jewels. Very mysterious.”

We walked rapidly down to the Esplanade and halted at the railway tracks, looking down the lines of standing freight cars. We caught our breath.

“Jim, that was like out of a crime story,” I said. “Perhaps it is just as well we didn’t keep the suitcase. Maybe those birds would have followed us to our homes and committed murder. Maybe they were part of a gang.”

“Nix,” said Jim, “here they come.”

And astonishingly, from behind some freight cars, appeared our two villains, advancing straight for us.

“How about ducking,” I said. “Back up to good old King street, huh?”

“Wait,” said Jim.

The two advanced straight for us smiling fiercely yet apologetically. The large one was carrying a letter in his hand. Holding it out to show us.

“Please,” he said. “No spik. Please.”

“Come, come,” said Jim, “what is all this my man?”

“No spik,” repeated the big fellow. “You come?” He carried the suitcase without any fear. Up the street he led us back east past the auction rooms, and beyond.

“Here, where are you taking us?” I demanded.

“Please,” repeated the big fellow in a coaxing voice. “No spik. Some spik. Some spik come.”

With elaborate foreign gestures, he bade us wait while he and his friend stepped up to the door of an old house. In a moment a third foreigner appeared, and they engaged in furious conversation in a language that sounded as if its gears were clashing.

“Jim,” I said, “it’s bread daylight. But just the same…”

The foreigner who lived in the house came out and advanced to us.

“My friends,” he said slowly, “wish to apologize. They have lose their suitcase. It go for sale. In the suitcase is letter with address of their brother in west. In town with name they cannot remember.”

He held out the letter. We read the town. Tzouhalem, B.C.

“Mm, mm,” agreed Jim.

“He no find brother,” explained the interpreter, “he go die, he go starve, he no find his brother without that letter. He find at last suitcase. You buy.”

“Aaaaaah,” we said.

“He no steal, he just borrow,” said the interpreter. “He give you suitcase now.”

The big one held forth the suitcase.

“Aw, you keep it,” said Jim. “We only bought it for fun.”

“Please,” said the big foreigner, gratefully.

And we shook hands all around.

“Which shows,” said Jim, as we went back to the office and work, “that what is one man’s fun is another man’s tragedy.”


Editor’s Notes: $1 in 1936 would be about $18.50 in 2020.

The is still a place on Vancouver Island called Tzouhalem, a part of North Cowichan, near Mount Tzouhalem.

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