The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 18

Laying Down the Law

At 50, we spun, escorted, a short distance out the highway and then up a gravel side road.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, May 31, 1947.

“Are you nervous?” accused Jimmie Frise.

“You’re hitting 60!” I gritted.

“I’m barely doing 50!” said Jim, slackening speed to look at the speedometer. “Look: 52.”

“In the first place,” I announced, “the speed limit is 50…”

“We don’t average 50,” countered Jim, “what with slowing down through towns, and for traffic on the road.”

“The law,” I stated, “does not concern itself with your average speed. It says you can’t exceed 50…on your speedometer.”

“Personally,” said Jim, airily, “I think the law is a little more intelligent than most people give it credit for. Common law is nothing more or less than common sense. I think the speed limit of 50 naturally refers to your average speed.”

“Well, then,” I shifted, “I think you are showing very little common sense in driving this old rattle-trap at anything more than 40.”

“Rattle-trap!” snorted Jim. “Why, she’s just nicely broken in.”

“She’s 10 years old, Jim,” I reminded him.

“Just,” he said, accelerating slightly, “nicely broken in.”

At 30 miles an hour, Jim’s car is a lot noisier than at 40. At 50, the various clanks, clucks, hisses and hums all blend into a kind of high whine which is not entirely unpleasant. In fact, it lulls you.

He got it back to 50, and as I sat taut and tense watching the speedometer needle slowly rise to 53, 55, I heard a new and rather alarming sound rising above the normal whine.

It sounded like explosions: I gripped the seat in expectation of the whole engine flying apart.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what the new sound was.

It was a speed cop on a motorcycle, slowly forging alongside us, with one hand upraised.

“Cop, Jim!” I shouted above the din. “Pull over!”

“Of all the luck!” grated Jim, as he slacked speed and the cop shot past us and led towards the shoulder of the highway. “We’ll never get there now …”

We came to a steaming stop. The cop unlegged himself over the motorcycle and walked slowly back to us, feeling for his book.

“Let me see your driver’s permit,” he proceeded with the ritual.

He noted down Jim’s name: Took the car license number.

“What’s the trouble, officer,” inquired Jim humbly, with that innocent old Sunday school superintendent air we all assume in these situations.

“I paced you,” said the cop. “Doing 60. In this old crate. And on this piece of highway. Didn’t you notice this was a specially curvy stretch of pavement?”

“Officer,” protested Jim, very shocked, “I never go much over 40 …”

“You were going 60,” said the cop, “and we’ve had a lot of accidents along this stretch. We’re clamping down.”

He slapped his book and put it back in his pocket.

“Look, officer,” said Jim, can you give me any idea when this summons will be for? I’m going to be a long way off in the next couple of weeks…”

“Okay, I’ll take you before the magistrate right now, if you prefer,” said the cop agreeably. “It’s just in the next town, here.”

I nudged Jim sharply. We were going fishing right now. We were late as it was. This would delay us maybe half the afternoon …

“Fine,” exclaimed Jim. “How do I find the court house…?”

“Just follow me,” said the cop, walking to his cycle.

“Jim, you dope!” I hissed. “Here it is two o’clock. We’ve got a good two hours’ drive before we get to the trout pond. This ruins everything!”

“Do I want to come back,” snorted Jim angrily, “the middle of next week sometime, just to answer this summons…?”

“Maybe we could turn it into another fishing trip,” I suggested.

“We’ll get it over with,” muttered Jim, starting up the car, “and be done with it. It won’t take more than 20 minutes.”

“You’ll see!” I prophesied gloomily. “The fishing trip is ruined.”

“A fine fishing trip!” shouted Jimmie above the din, since the cop was leading us away at about 40, which is Jim’s car’s noisiest. “Bellyaching and back-seat driving all the way, and then … pinched!”

“All I say is,” I stated stoutly, “part of a fishing trip is the journey, the drive. A fishing trip should be leisurely, recreative, without stress or strain. If we drive like maniacs to get to the fishing spot, the trip is half ruined to begin with.”

“The evening rise will be over, at this rate,” ignored Jim.

“We present-day sportsmen,” I enlarged, in an attempt to take some of the sting out of the situation, “are destroying the very thing we seek. Fishing is called the contemplative man’s recreation. It is peace personified. Centuries ago, men wrote imperishable books about the healing power of angling. But never in human history more than now do we need the peace, the solitude and the escape of fishing.”

“If cops,” put in Jim, “would let us get any.”

“No, I declared, “we ourselves are destroying the virtue of fishing by pulling it into the hectic riot of the modern way of life. We GO fishing at 60 miles an hour, Izaac Walton WALKED to his fishing. Miles! And enjoyed the walk as much as the fishing. What do we do? After we get there, we insist on outboard motors, fast boats, expert guides to cut down the time wasted … WASTED we say! – in locating the fish. Hang it, locating the fish is more than half the mystery of fishing. Do you know what we have done, in recent years? We have, in the best tradition of efficient business, converted fishing into catching fish !!!”

“Hmmff!” said Jim bitterly.

“Business enterprise,” I philosophized loudly above the car’s row, “has taken the emphasis off fishing and put it on FISH.”

“Look at that cop,” cried Jim, “slowing down, so he can lead us in triumph through the town …!”

Glancing over his shoulder from time to time, as we entered the town limits, the cop slowed until he had us directly in tow. And thus we drove in to the court house.

He directed us where to park, then came and joined us.

“The magistrate,” he stated, “usually sits at two. It’s 2.20 now. If we haven’t missed him, okay. If we have, I’ll just forward the summons in the usual way.”

We walked into the court house, and in one of its dingy rooms we found the magistrate sitting at a desk with half a dozen prior customers.

We took the chairs indicated by the cop. And the magistrate glanced up and favored us with a nasty look.

He also gave the cop a nasty look.

The magistrate, in fact, was a pretty tough old customer. He was irritated, flushed and peevish. of maybe 60, with a weather-beaten face and wearing, to my way of thinking, pretty shabby old tweeds for a man of his rank and station in the community.

He was not holding court. He was simply in his office, settling certain matters out of court. The case in hand, when we entered, was a citizen charged with keeping chickens within the town limits in contravention of a by-law.

He was fined a dollar.

Next case: A man charged with keeping a vicious dog.

“Bring this up,” snapped the magistrate, “at the regular session of the court.”

“But Bill,” protested the accused, “you know as well as I do I can’t come in the morning!”

Bill was the magistrate.

“I want evidence,” chopped the magistrate. “Bring this up in the morning!”

“Well, doggone…” said the accused, flushed and angry. “At this season of the year, there’s no justice in this town …”

He jammed his hat on his head and stamped out, the magistrate following him with a malevolent look.

Two more cases presented their summonses, and with an air of fury, the little old magistrate jerked and rattled at the papers and burst into invective as to the type of people who can’t be content to appear in court in the normal course.

Jimmie and I exchanged glances. The cop sitting beside us leaned over and whispered:

“I guess we made a mistake, eh?”

I showed my wrist watch to Jim. 10 to three!

“Why didn’t you let the thing ride?” I whispered to Jim. “You’ll get the limit.”

“Silence!” roared the magistrate. “How do you expect me to attend to these things with everybody jabbering…!”

Jim gave me a reproving look.

At exactly three o’clock, by the town clock bell, the magistrate finished the business in hand, waved the defendants on their way and turned to us with indignation:

“Now, what do you want?” he demanded acidly.

“These gentlemen,” explained the cop standing up, “are charged by me with travelling at a rate in excess of 50 miles an hour, to wit 60. And as they will be out of the country in the next few weeks, they requested I bring them before you immediately. As not to have to come back later in response to the usual summons.”

“Indeed!” said the magistrate bitterly. “INDEED? For your convenience, I am to spend the whole day here fiddling… Constable, have you got a charge made out”

“Yes, your worship,” said the cop, sliding forward form he had filled out.

Jim stood up.

“Sixty miles an hour, eh?” grated the magistrate. “Do you plead guilty?”

“I would like to say,” began Jimmie …

“Unless you admit the charge,” roped the old gent, “you can’t settle it here. You’ll have to appear in court. Later.”

He tossed the charge sheet on the table and half rose, reaching for his hat.

“I admit it,” hastened Jim.

“H’m! 60 miles an hour?” said the magistrate. “You were in a hurry, eh? Well, so am I! 10 dollars and costs.”

“14 dollars,” said the constable promptly.

And he led us along the corridor to the clerk’s office.

“3.20, Jim,” I said gloomily, as we waited for the receipt. “And 60 more miles to go. There’ll be little fishing for us this trip.”

“Come on,” growled Jim.

We hustled down the hall and collided in the doorway with another hustling figure.

It was the magistrate.

“Hang it!” he howled, as we stood aside to let him pass out first. “You people still in a rush?”

He paused outside to adjust his hat and gave us an appraising stare.

He fixed his eyes on my hat.

“Hello?” he said, stepping up and lifting my hat off.

He examined the half dozen battered old trout flies I stuck in the band.

“Too big,” he said. “And too gaudy. I never use anything larger than size 12 at this time of year. And all drab, like the Greenwell’s Glory or a March Brown. Spider preferred.”

He put my hat back on my head, and reached up and took Jim’s hat off.

“You fellows are wasting your time,” he snapped, “using big loud flies like these. Hey! You two going fishing? Is that why you were in such a rush?”

“Yes, sir,” said Jim hollowly.

“Yes, sir,” I echoed.

“Well,” he said, “what do you suppose I’m in a hurry for? How far are you going?”

We named our destination, 60 miles off.

“You’ll never make it,” he cried, glancing up at the town clock. “The farmer who owns my pond phoned me an hour ago that the trout were rising like mad. You’ll never make it. It’ll be over by the time you go 60 miles.”

He opened the court house door again.

“Sam!” he bellowed.

The cop appeared.

“Jump on your bike,” he commanded, “and clear the road for us, out to the farm!”

“Yessir!” said the cop.

“Now,” yelped the old gent, “where’s your car? Make it snappy …”

And we ran for the car.

“My tackle’s out at the pond,” puffed the old boy, throwing himself in the back seat.

At 50, we spun, escorted, a short distance out the highway and then up a gravel side road.

At 4 pm, we lurched to a stop in a farm yard.

At 4.10, we were back of the barn, clambering into a punt.

At 4.12, the old boy had a half pound trout on.

At 4.12½, we all three had a half pound trout on.

At 4.12, we all three had a half-pound trout on.

It lasted until dark. And at dinner, in the farm house … (speckled trout and hashed brown potatoes) … the old magistrate laid down the law to us.

“In fishing,” he pronounced, “never, never be in a hurry!”


Editor’s Notes: Izaak Walton wrote one of Greg’s favourite books, The Compleat Angler.

$14 in 1947 would be $212 in 2022.

For Our Grandchildren’s Sake

We tried to look like mining promoters. We shook hand, over and over again with Mr. Milligrew and wished him luck.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 22, 1937.

“We ought to find some prospector,” stated Jimmie Frise, “and grubstake him.”

“What for?” I demanded.

“Grubstake him,” said Jimmie, “and send him forth to find us a gold mine.”

“What a chance,” I scoffed.

“I tell you,” cried Jim, “we’re derelict in our duty. What will our grandchildren think of us in years to come? When they know that we lived right in this great age of mineral exploration of Canada, and all we did was draw silly pictures and write sillier stories? What will they think of us?”

“Just what we think of our grandparents,” I suggested.

Think of all the great family fortunes in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver,” Jim exclaimed. “What were they founded on? On lumber and water power and railroad building. To-day the same opportunity to found our families fortunes lies before us. Mines, my boy. Gold mines are being discovered every day. Platinum mines. Radium mines. And here we sit, twiddling our fingers.”

“Stick to our trade,” I counselled.

“It’s so easy to grubstake a prospector,” explained Jimmie. “And in all the greatest mines of the past, it was the grubstakers who made the dough, not the finders of the mine. For about fifty dollars each, we could grubstake some practical experienced prospector and send him to the newest gold areas and, who can say – maybe six months from now, you and I would be on easy street.”

“It sounds too easy,” I protested. “I’m suspicious of easy ways of doing anything.”

“Ah, don’t be a sap,” cried Jim. “It’s plain business. Here are prospectors just dying to go prospecting. And here are we, just dying to own a gold mine. We bring our resources together. We provide the dough. The prospector provides the knowledge and experience. Without each other we are all helpless. Together, we set forces in motion that might lead to fortune.”

“I could use $50 a lot of ways right now,” I demurred.

“Listen,” said Jim. “Look at it in a bigger way. Never mind about you making a couple of million dollars. Think of what you owe Canada. Shouldn’t you help explore and develop Canadian resources? Think of the new wealth it would turn loose. Think of the work it would give thousands of men, if we found a gold mine. Think of the little town that would spring up around our mine, full of happy little homes. You could be honorary mayor of it. You could be patron of the hockey team. You could …”

“Where would we find a prospector?” I protested. “Prospectors aren’t wandering around city streets. They’re all in the bush at this season of the year.”

“No,” said Jim. “There is a constant flow of prospectors to and from cities at all times of the year. The minute a prospector makes a find, he rushes to the city with his samples to show it to the big shots. We could easily find a prospector if we wanted one.”

“Well,” I agreed doubtfully, “if we happen to meet up with a prospector …”

A Picturesque Figure

So we proceeded to make a systematic tour of the brokers’ board rooms downtown during our lunch hours. Jimmie explained that birds of a feather flock together. We might meet one in the hotels, but the best place would be in brokers’ board rooms where the old-timers would be gathered to see how the market was. And the second noon hour, sure enough, in one of the largest mining brokers’ ticker room, we spotted a prospector sitting all alone in one of the chairs at the back of the room, eating a sandwich.

He was a picturesque figure. He was about sixty, with a short grizzled beard.

After a cautious scrutiny, Jim and I decided to walk boldly up and accost him.

“Look at the simple, eager, child-like expression of him,” I whispered to Jim. “He’s the real thing.”

Nobody was paying any attention to him as he sat there munching his sandwich. I thought to myself, how true to life, all these pallid city slickers with their fifty-cent bets on mining stocks, ignoring this nobleman of the north, this seeker, this finder.

“Been down long?” we asked casually, dropping into the chairs on either side of the old-timer.

He nearly choked on his sandwich he was so delighted to be spoken to.

“Jist out,” he gasped excitedly. “Been out a couple of weeks. And wish to hell I was back agin.”

“Did you bring down some samples?” we asked.

“No, sir,” he said, “I came out to git me a grubstake to go into that there new Golconda Lake area. I was in there thirty years ago. Know every foot of it. But all me old friends is gone. I can’t locate nobody to grubstake me. I’m right down to this.”

And he held up the crusts of his sandwich with a broad grin.

“Me,” he said. “Old Pete Milligrew that has been in on all the gold rushes from the Klondyke to Great Bear Lake. And I can’t find me a grubstake. I guess it’s my age.”

“Shouldn’t age be an advantage?” I asked.

“Well, shouldn’t it?” demanded Mr. Milligrew mightily. “I should say it is. Half these kids rushing in there don’t know copper pyrites from pick splinters and wouldn’t know a fault if they committed it themselves.”

“Maybe they think you couldn’t stand the hardships?” I parried.

“Hardships?” cried Mr. Milligrew. “Me? Why, if them soft, pampered engineers and pretty boys can live in their fancy heated shanties and fly around in their cabin airyplanes, I guess old Pete Milligrew can throw up a brush lean-to any time he likes.

“How old are you, Mr. Milligrew?” I asked

“I’m in my prime,” said Mr. Milligrew proudly, “rising and thrusting out his chest and bending his biceps.

“Mr. Milligrew,” said Jim, quietly, “how much is a grubstake?”

And the old gentleman sank weakly back into his chair and rubbed his whiskers.

“Two hundred dollars,” he said, out of the corner of his beard, “would see me safe into the heart of Golconda Lake area and set me up for four months.”

“Would a hundred be any good to you?” asked Jim. “My friend and I might be willing to set up $50 apiece”

“Make it $150 between you,” said Mr. Milligrew.

“What would we get out of it?” I inquired.

“A fifty-fifty split on all I stake,” said Mr. Milligrew “We draw up articles. I take half and you take half between you. I tell you I know every foot of that country. I was all over it thirty years back, before I knew as much as I know now. I must have walked right over some of them million dollar finds. But they only got the edge of them. They’ve missed the core. I know the core. I camped on it for two months. Nobody’s there yet. It’s in a swamp. I can walk straight to it.”

“Mr. Milligrew,” said Jim, “when can you start?”

“I’ll catch the 9.30 train to-night,” said Mr. Milligrew.

And before our lunch hour was up, we had visited a lawyer of Mr. Milligrew’s acquaintance in a little office in a skyscraper and had signed a brief legal document wherein and whereby and whereas Mr. Peter Milligrew, party of the first part, undertook to share one-half of all mining claims, leases, etc., with the parties of the second part in consideration of the sum of $150, that is, $75 each from Jim and me.

And instead of going back to work, we took and fed Mr. Milligrew at a restaurant where for two hours he recounted for us the most fascinating tales of the north, about mining and prospecting and wild animals and tough characters. And hardly had we got to know one another before it was supper time and we decided to stay right with him until train time.

We dined him again on steak and onions.

“I won’t be seeing steak and onions for some time,” smiled the rugged old man, as he spread his legs beneath the table and shoved the minor accessories of eating aside to make him room. “Did you ever hear tell of a character that used to be up in the Porcupine…”

“Ah, but them days are done,” sighed Mr. Milligrew, shoving his meat plate aside and hauling the pie before him. “It’s all engineers now. Pale young guys in spectacles riding around the sky in airyplanes and hauling complete outfits all over the north with tractors. They live in camps with Eyetalian cooks and Chinese valets, with radio and liberries and everything.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well,” I said.

Partners in Adventure

And presently we found it was only an hour to train time, so we helped carry Mr. Milligrew’s packsack and bundles down to the Union Station, where we stood with him while interested throngs eyed us, enviously, as we saw our prospector off to the great north in the search for gold. It was a nice feeling. We tried to look like mining promoters. We shook hands over and over again with Mr. Milligrew and wished him luck and slapped his back and hired him a redcap to carry his duffle.

“How strange,” Jim said as we went and got our car. “This morning, we were just a couple of dumb guys squatting at desks. To-night, we are partners in the adventure of the age. Gold. Gold.”

“No matter what he finds, Jim,” I said, “I am not going to let it make any immediate difference to me. I’m not going to buy any big palace of a home. I’m not going to try and be a swell. We’ve got our children to think of, and nothing ruins a family like sudden wealth.”

Thus we chatted, Jimmie of race horses and I of cabins in the wilds near famous trout streams such as the Nipigon; and we drove west towards home, passing along Dundas St.

Jim tramped on the brakes at the same instant I saw Mr. Milligrew, with his packsack on his back and his bundles under his arms, hurrying along the crowded night street.

“Blow the horn, Jim,” I cried. “Signal him.”

“No, no,” hissed Jim. “What’s he doing here? He must have got off the train at the West Toronto station.”

“The old crook,” I said.

“No, no,” warned Jim. “He may have forgotten something. A map or chart or something important. We’ll just follow along and think this thing out. We mustn’t accuse him or he might throw it all back in our faces.”

Mr. Milligrew hurried, heavy under his packsack, in his prospector’s garb, along the unheeding street and turned up a dark side street. After a moment, so did we, driving slow. He turned in at a house and we saw him admitted.

“Well,” said Jim, drawing up to the curb and turning off the engine.

“He got off at West Toronto station,” I said. “It’s only three blocks away.”

“He’s doubtless forgotten something,” said Jim. “Anyway, his ticket is still good. He can catch the morning train.”

We sat watching and waiting. Presently a car drove up and two men got out and entered the same house. A little while later, two more men walked up and entered, all busy and active.

“Let’s go and ask for him.” I demanded.

“Give him half an hour,” said Jim. If he doesn’t come out in half an hour, we’ll call.”

Three more men came and entered the same house.

“It must be a lodge meeting,” said I.

“All right,” said Jim, “the half hour is up.”

We rang the bell and a man answered the door.

“Is Mr. Milligrew here?” we asked.

“Old Pete?” said the man.

“Can we see him?” we inquired.

“Are you friends of his?” asked the man. “Are you in the game?”

“Yes, we’re partners of his.”

“Oh, step right in,” said the man. Fling your coats right there in the hallway.”

Nothing Else to Say

There were a dozen hats and coats hung. We followed the man upstairs and along another hall where we could hear a mumble and buzz of sound. He threw a door open and showed us in.

There was a large table with greet cloth tacked on it. Around the table, in the smoke-filled room, were gathered a dozen men of all ages and descriptions. At one end, a man with a green eye-shade sat on a high stool.

Mr. Milligrew was standing with back to us, bending over the table. He turned his head over his shoulder when we came in.

“Ah, gents, just one minute and I’ll be with you,” he said.

We stepped up. On the table before him were three twenty-five-cent pieces. Out in various parts of the table were other piles of bills and silver in front of the different men.

Mr. Milligrew was waving his right hand in the air.

He threw. Two dice bounced and rolled over the green cloth.

Mr. Milligrew shoved the three quarters away and turned to us.

“Now, gents,” he said, “just step outside here in the hall a minute.”

“Mr. Milligrew,” I said fiercely, when we got into the hall, “what does this mean?”

“Now, gents,” said Mr. Milligrew, “It looks to me as if I was being framed.”

“Framed?” we both yelled.

“Sssshh,” said Mr. Milligrew. “I been in the mining now for fifty years and I never saw anybody get anything out of it yet. Seeing what nice boys you are, feeding me and everything, I figured I could do better with your $150 than take it up and lose it in the bush. So I just come here to some old friends of mine and tried – honest I did try – to double your money. Or even better. I was figuring on walking in on you tomorrow and surprising you with your money doubled. One hundred and fifty dollars – each!”

“Mr. Milligrew, we could jail you!”

“Ah, don’t be hasty,” he said. I’ll get your money back. There’s lots of grubstakes floating around. Leave it to me. I’ve got your addresses. Right here on this paper, see?”

“Give us the railway ticket,” I demanded.

“I sold it to a friend of mine on the train,” said Mr. Milligrew. “He was going up prospecting.”

“Mr. Milligrew,” I said, but could think of nothing else to say.

So we left him and went down and let ourselves out,

“It’s a shame to leave the old boy broke,” said Jim.

“Broke?” I said. “He’s got a packsack and clothes and a prospector’s pick and new high boots…”

“He’ll have no trouble,” said Jim, getting another grubstake,”


Editor’s Notes: Grubstake means what it implies in the story, providing financial backing for a share of profits. It was a commonly used term in prospecting.

$50 in 1937 would equal $965 in 2022.

Fishermen’s Luck

The trout rose and struck. … “Run up to the sporting department,” I said to Jim, “and get a landing net.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 12, 1934.

“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do you like my new fishing costume?”

“Beautiful, Jimmie!” I cried.

And it was beautiful. It was a rich Donegal tweed with large patch pockets and big pleats behind his arms and down the back.

It had plus fours so baggy and so long that they hung nearly to his boottops. It had that look you see in the advertisements of the very latest English styles in the very smartest American magazines.

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “you wouldn’t go fishing in that lovely suit!”

“Why not?” demanded Jim, still turning round and round for me to see him in all his Old Country splendor.

“Why, it’s for sitting on the verandas of exclusive clubhouses!” I declared. “You could go to the races in it and get your picture in the rotogravure. It is for walking about the lawns of those magnificent homes in Toronto’s latest up-the-creek suburb. That isn’t a suit for going fishing. That is a sport suit.”

“Isn’t fishing sport?” asked Jim.

“It certainly isn’t,” I assured him. “Look at sport model cars, sport model clothes, well-known sportsmen and so on and you’ll see what sport means. Sport means where there are a lot of people to see you. The races, baseball, horse shows. That’s sport.”

“What is fishing then?” inquired Jimmie, draping himself carefully on a chair.

“Fishing is a pastime,” I replied.

“Then this is my new pastime suit,” said Jim. “I am sick and tired of seeing people looking like tramps when they go fishing or camping. I see no reason why people should want to look dirty and shabby when they go forth to commune with Mother Nature. If we love Nature we should put on our best raiment when we enter her temples.”

“That’s good, Jimmie, but it isn’t practical,” I said.

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “These tweeds are as easy and loose as any old sweater I ever had. And these plus fours are twice as easy as any canvas pants I ever bought, badly cut and cramping your movements. And can’t I drive my car and walk across meadows and wander along streamsides quite as happily in these garments as in a lot of misshapen cast-offs? Won’t I feel better fishing in these clothes?”

“They’ll get dirty,” I said.

“There is no dirt in the country,” said Jim. “It is in the city there is dirt. In the country all is clean and pure. You dust off any clean earth that might touch you. I say, save your old clothes for the city, where there is dust and soot and filth and grease. And save your good clothes for the lovely clean country.”

Humble Ancestry Calls

“You certainly seem right,” I admitted, “but there must be some reason back of the universal habit of putting on shabby old clothes to go fishing.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Jim. “It is the Old Adam in us. We are descendants of a long line of dirt farmers, sheep herders, peasants, peat burners, cotters, laborers, shingle splitters, and so forth. In every ship that came to Canada a century ago there were, in the cabins above deck, two or three families of nervous gentry, younger sons of obscure small town politicians who had enough pull with Queen Victoria’s uncles to get their bewildered offsprings jobs as surveyors, curates, town council clerks, and so forth in the colonies.

“Down in the steerage, below decks,” went on Jimmie, “were some hundreds of odds and ends, starved farmers, unemployed carpenters and masons, wild young men, people who could no longer pay their rent or who were sick and tired of Napoleon and his wars and the Duke of Wellington and his peace, and who came heaving and rolling across the Atlantic to a promised land of freedom and opportunity.

“Now,” said Jimmie, redraping himself on the chair, “those half a dozen nobles in the cabin above decks have multiplied enormously in the past three or four generations. And those hundreds down in the steerage have practically died out. No trace of them remains. There is not in the whole of Ontario a single descendant of the steerage. Who were your ancestors?”

“Er-ah –” I said.

“Precisely,” said Jimmie. “Your ancestors were English officers retired on half-pay and given big land grants or something? Or were they government officials sent out to help rule the illiterate colonies?”

“I wear old clothes when I go fishing,” I said humbly.

“Good!” applauded Jimmie. “Good for you. An honest man. You wear old clothes when you go fishing because your humble ancestry calls to you, your humble blood begs within you to dress for a little while the way your race has dressed for ages – in homely and undistinguished garments.”

“I see,” I said.

“You love to put on old clothes,” went on Jim, “because it gives a feeling of spiritual honesty. No more pretense. No more bluffing. There you stand, in ragged garments, and all your ancestors for a thousand years, in the bogs of Ireland and on the sheep-clad hills of Scotland, salute you!”

“When I am fishing,” I admitted, “I do seem to see people on the hillsides.”

“However,” said Jim, “I have bought this suit to go fishing in and to go rabbit shooting next fall. I am through with my ancestors.”

“I would be willing to bet you,” I said, “that in my old brown pants and green sweater I could catch more fish than you can in that fancy sport suit.”

“Clothing,” said Jim, “has nothing to do with it.”

“I bet you,” I repeated.

“Ha, Getting Respectable!”

“I take you,” said Jim. “I wish we could I go fishing right now.”

“We can,” I stated.

“It’s the middle of the week,” said Jim.

“We can go fishing right now,” I insisted.

“For suckers or mud-cats in the Island lagoon?” asked Jim, with all the contempt of Donegal tweed.

“For speckled trout,” said I, “one and two pounders. Fourteen to eighteen inches long!”

Jim undraped himself from his chair.

“Where?” he breathed.

“In the basement of a departmental store,” I said, “right here in town.”

Jim looked at me wildly.

“There is a fountain down in the glassware department in the basement of the store,” I went on. “In that fountain are at least two dozen trout. Big ones.”

“But we can’t fish for them,” cried Jimmie.

“Who is to stop us?” I asked.

“Why, the floorwalkers, the store detectives, the salesgirls,” said Jimmie, disgustedly.

“We could fish for ten minutes before anybody could make up their mind what to do,” I said. “The first salesgirl to see us fishing would have to run and tell an older salesgirl. And she would have to go and find the manager of the glassware. And he might be hiding behind any one of those tall counters of glass or pottery. I judge we would have a full ten minutes.”

“‘It sounds nutty to me,” said Jim.

“See,” I cried. “That’s what fancy clothes do to you in fishing. It takes away your nerve. It makes you respectable.”

“It isn’t that,” muttered Jim, who hates to be accused.

“Let’s run up to my house,” I said. “I’ll get on my old green sweater and canvas pants. We’ll use one fly. We’ll toss to see who gets first cast. If the first one of us doesn’t get a trout in five minutes he hands the rod to the other. I bet you I get either a bigger or more trout than you do. And I lay it all on the clothes. Because we will be using the same rod, leader and fly.”

“It sounds nutty,” said Jim.

“Ha, getting respectable!” I sneered.

“What will we say when they stop us?” asked Jim.

“We will say we are simply testing out a fly we had bought at the sporting goods department.”

“It still sounds nutty,” said Jim.

But he stood up and took his hat.

We slipped into my house and I got into my green sweater and canvas pants. I also got my old fishing hat. I got out my light fly rod, reel and line. And we drove downtown.

Fishing in the Fountain

At this season of the year it is not out of the way to see a gentleman carrying a fishing rod. We got into the basement and I led Jimmie over to the fountain, where he stood and stared with rapt joy at the pool in which some large goldfish and a few mud turtles profaned the crystal water in which lazily great olive colored trout fanned the water anxiously and felt the spring creeping through their veins. Unhappy trout, I thought, as I looked at them. Here in a pool, safe, no doubt, but so far from all the mischief and adventure of the dancing stream, the changing skies, the soft sweet loveliness of May…

“Ah, well,” I said, “we’ll be giving them a little fun in a minute.”

“Sssshhh!” warned Jim.

Three ladies, four men and two children were standing about the fountain, gazing without a word at these fish lazily moving about the limpid pool. Especially the men. They were shabby men. They needed haircuts. They stood with hands behind them, with one knee bent, as if they had been, and were going to be, there forever. It would be nice, I thought, to know the thoughts that wandered in the minds of these four shabby men, standing staring so secretly at the trout, those jewels of the Madonna.

I led Jim back from the fountain and we got behind a pillar which was piled high with glassware. Nobody was around and nobody would pay any attention. I jointed the little rod and quickly threaded the line and knotted on the leader.

“Toss,” I said.

Jim took a coin and tossed. “Heads,” said I.

And it was heads.

I walked casually over to the fountain. Jim came behind me. I smiled two of the four men out of the way, and then I knelt beside the fountain. I whipped out the line. waved it to yet a yard or two of length, and then dropped the little greeny-gray fly fair over the nose of the biggest of the trout.

Crash! The trout rose and struck so instantly, so savagely, I had no idea how homesick he had been.

I stood up. The trout raced frantically about the pool, lashing it into a foam. The other trout raced crazily about and the goldfish fluttered excitedly about. A mud turtle became so perturbed he climbed right out of the fountain and started for the exit.

“Run up to the sporting department,” I shouted to Jim, “and get a landing net!”

Old Clothes are Luckier

By this time, of course, a crowd was gathering. One of the shabby men was shouting encouragement to me in a hoarse Scottish voice. Ladies were screaming. Then I felt a hand grip my arm and the gentleman who turned me around was a stranger.

“Pardon me,” I cried, “don’t you see I’m busy!”

And then my line came free. A sickening sensation. The trout was off. Peace descended on the pool. But the crowd was starting to mill about for a view, as crowds will when the victim is a small man.

“My friend,” I said, “will explain. We were trying out a new lot of trout flies we had got at the sporting goods.”

“What friend?” said the man who had my arm.

Jimmie was standing over by the decanters, in all his tweedy magnificence.

“That gentleman over there,” I said, “In the tweeds.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” asked the man, looking me up and down, hat and all.

“Certainly: he is with me.”

“Ha, ha,” said the man. He wore a blue suit. He had a cold Irish countenance.

“Jimmie!” I called, as the man shoved me through the gathering.

But Jimmie just picked up a decanter and looked at it appraisingly, as if he had not heard me.

The man took me up to the sporting goods. Fortunately, the manager knew me. He explained to the man in blue that I was an ardent angler, a fly fisher, in fact, and that at this season of the year all anglers, but especially fly fishers, were likely to be a little touched.

I bought two dozen flies and the matter was closed. I unjointed the fly rod and went quietly back down to the basement. Jimmie was standing by the fountain, looking with interest at the trout.

“Well,” I said, “I guess I win.”

“I wish I had won the loss,” said Jim gloomily. “Look at that trout there, the one by the corner!”

I turned cautiously and there was the large man in the blue suit, his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels and toes. He was looking straight at us and there was no expression at all in his eyes.

“Old clothes,” I said to Jim, “are luckier than new clothes.”

So Jim is going to save his Donegal tweeds for the races.


Editor’s Notes: Plus fours are a particular type of trousers, popular at the time.

Rotogravure is a photographic process, but by this time, meant the photo insert section of newspapers like the Star Weekly.

Donegal tweed is a woven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland.

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

Man of Character

And there on the roadside ahead, stood a figure that appealed to me.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 4, 1940.

“How you have the nerve,” protested Jimmie Frise, “to pass all these poor guys along the side of the road!”

“I only give lifts to men in uniform,” I stated.

“How do you know some of them aren’t heading some place to try to enlist?” demanded Jim.

“Maybe so,” I said. “But in this open car, anybody in the back seat gets their head blown off.”

“You’ve always got an excuse,” said Jimmie. “In times like these, you don’t know who might be passing on the highway.”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “Burglars. Carriers of typhoid. Guys with fleas.”

“The Scotch have a legend,” said Jim, “about the Gray Man. You will be walking along the road and meet a man all in gray. He will wait for you to speak to him. He is a messenger of Fate. If you treat him kindly, your fate will be different. If you treat him meanly, something terrible will happen to you. I often pick people up on the road just because they might be messengers of Fate. I do it for luck.”

“That’s all very well,” I countered, “if you are going along the highway on a journey. But we’re only going home to lunch. Why stop and pick somebody up for only a dozen blocks?”

“Okay,” said Jim. “We’re going home in your car. But we are coming back from lunch in my car. You see whether I pass anybody on the road.”

“Yours is a much nobler nature than mine,” I scorned. “And besides, yours is a closed car.”

We were going home for lunch for two reasons. First: we had decided, all of a sudden, to take the afternoon off and visit a trout pond a friend had invited us to, not 40 miles from the city. Second: to get Jimmie’s car, since it threatened rain.

“All I say is,” concluded Jimmie, who knows how much I like to have the last word, “It is little trouble to stop your car and give some poor guy a lift. You never know what kindness you might be doing.”

And there on the roadside ahead stood a figure that appealed even to me. He was a young man in rough working country clothes. He carried a pack. He was standing ruggedly out from the curb, thumbing in a strong, energetic fashion. But what made him different from most roadside thumbers was the grin on his face.

He fairly glowed with good-will and friendly expectancy. If there is anything I hate is to see a hitch-hiker thumb furiously at a car; and after the car passes, to see him glower, his mouth twisted in profane imprecations. But this lad was different. Two cars ahead of us whizzed by him. The broad grin on his face, the glow, did not fade. He shook his head good-humoredly and, with an extra flourish, hoisted his whole arm in a rollicking gesture, his homely thumb waggling, his eyes wide and eager, his face flushed with a sort of joy. And I noted his clothes were almost bleached they were so clean.

Naturally, I stamped on the brakes, and Jim muttered, “Attaboy.”

“Thank YOU,” cried the young man, scrambling for the side door and hoisting his pack in. “This is awful kind of you, sir.”

“How far are you going?” I inquired.

“Well, sir,” beamed the young man jovially, “I’m trying to get to the Tobacco Country. That’s down towards Windsor. But every little bit helps, even if you’re only going to the edge of the city.”

Exceptional Young Man

I let the clutch in and started. But drove slow, because it is hard to hear conversation in an open car.

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “I’m not even going to the edge of the city. I’m only going to High Park and then turn north. But since you have so far to go, I’ll gladly run you out as far as the Humber. You can catch lots of cars going west from there.”

“Oh, no, no, sir,” bellowed the young man, and he sat forward so as to talk in our ears. “No, no, sir. Don’t do that, please. I’ll get on, no matter where you drop me. Every little bit helps.”

“Not atall, not atall,” I assured him heartily.

“Please don’t go out of your way, sir,” insisted the young man. “It would spoil the grand feeling I have. I’ve had nothing but the greatest luck ever since I left hospital. I feel so good towards everybody. It would spoil it if I thought I took anybody out of their way.”

Jim nudged me. I nudged Jim.

“Where were you in hospital?” I inquired.

“Montreal, sir,” said the lad. “I was unemployed and couldn’t get no money or no job and I was that weak. And I got hurt in a street accident. I guess it was my own fault. But I was so sick and weak, I couldn’t jump lively enough, I guess …”

“Poor fellow,” I sympathized.

“They treated me wonderful in hospital,” he cried. “And then they fitted me out with these swell clothes and give me this pack. And I set out to join friends I got in the Tobacco Country where I am sure of a job. And all the way from Montreal, it has just been a case of one lift after another. It’s been wonderful. The kindest people…”

“You’ve got a nice attitude towards life,” said Jim.

“How COULD I have any other kind of attitude, sir?” laughed the young man uproariously. “Why, it’s just like a story. I never knew how swell everything could be.”

“Keep that attitude, son,” I stated, “and nothing can ever beat you.”

“You bet, sir,” cried the young man. “Gee, it’s swell in the back of this car. The wind in your face and the fresh air and everything.”

“I like an open car,” I agreed. “Except when it rains. These early rains are kind of mucky in an open car, even with the top up.”

“I like rain,” cried the lad. “I like rain in my face. If I don’t get a lift right away, I’m going to walk on a piece, and when the rain comes, I’ll just lift up my face and let her rain. Gee, it’s swell to get out of hospital.”

Jim looked at me, and I took my eyes off the road long enough to return the glance. Jim’s face was soft.

“Did your hospital give you any dough?” I inquired. “I mean, your meals and things?”

“Oh, no, sir,” said the lad, shocked. “They’d done enough for me. I wouldn’t have taken no money, even if they offered it. I can get along all right. I just walk along, and even my meals seem to come. It’s like you stopping and picking me up, just to carry me across the city.”

Again Jim gave me a nudge. I knew what he meant. Weren’t his last words on the subject about not knowing what good you might do by picking up some unknown?

“When did you eat last?” inquired Jim.

“Oh, I don’t worry,” laughed the young man evasively. “I’ll just drop in at some farm house along the highway. They’ll give me a handout. I’ll call at lunch time, so as not to put them to any trouble…”

“Haven’t you any money at all?” I demanded. “Not even a dime?”

“A man don’t need money,” replied the boy, “when he’s got his health and everything. The way everybody treats you, a guy don’t need money. Money only gets people into trouble.”

“You’re righter than you know, son,” I assured him. I was passing High Park. I was driving this exceptional young man to the Humber. Jim sat back very pleased with me, I could see. He was also feeling in his pants pockets, counting his change.

“Gee, what a swell city Toronto is,” said the boy, “with the blue lake all along it, and those trees in there. Ain’t they pretty? Gee, Toronto people should be glad to be alive.”

“We’re proud of our city,” I agreed. “People give it a bad name, sometimes, for being tight-fisted or not having much of the bright lights and jazz that goes with most big towns.”

“I kind of hate to be going through it,” said the young fellow. “But maybe some day I will come back.”

“I rather think you will, young man,” I stated. “And in different circumstances. A young man setting out in life with your philosophy is likely to be heard of, same day.”

“Gee, that’s a nice thing to say,” said the boy a little huskily. “But I guess it’s just part of the way everything is turning out so swell for me …”

A Superb Philosophy

He sat back in the seat, overwhelmed by the thought of his good fortune. And then we came to the Humber. I was genuinely sorry to come to the city’s edge. I would have liked to transport this young man a long way on his happy journey. Even to the Tobacco Country, where his friends awaited him. I imagined they would be rather nice friends.

“Here you are, my lad,” I said. “This is the city’s edge. Here you can catch the cars that are heading for the west.”

“I’ll have no trouble, believe me,” cried the young man, opening the back door and heaving up his pack. I had turned, to have a look at his fine open homely face, so ruddy, his eyes so frank and looking so straightly into yours. But I also turned to get at my pocket.

“Here, kid,” I said. “Two bits. Just to …”

“No, no,” he flushed, backing away. “Please, sir… it was swell of you…”

“Hey,” said Jim, “don’t be a fool, boy. Here’s a bit of change. You never know when you’ll need a bit of money. Always keep a few cents in your pocket. Come.”

And so firmly did Jim speak that the poor embarrassed young man reluctantly stepped forward with shamed hand accepted 50 cents from Jim and a quarter from me. It was my hand that was ashamed. I wished it was a dollar I had fished up.

“Thank you…” said the young man, torn between embarrassment but flushed with the joy of living that had him in its spell.

“Good luck, kid,” I cried, letting in the clutch.

And we turned back east and up through the park home.

“There,” said Jim, “is a man of character. The frank, honest eyes. The simple, amiable spirit. The gratitude. Isn’t it a terrible reflection on our day and age that that poor youngster should have been wandering the streets of Montreal, homeless, starving…”

“I have a feeling,” I said, “that he will get on. He has a superb philosophy. He finds the world good. And lo, it is good.”

“Let that be a lesson to us,” agreed Jim. “If we look upon the world as a hard, unfriendly place, that’s the way the world is. To us. But when you look upon the world as a happy, friendly, kindly place, the world can’t be too good to you.”

“I feel better for having encountered that young man,” I admitted. “I learned a lot from him.”

So I dropped Jim off at his place and dashed home to change into my old clothes and get my tackle together before Jim called for me. He was only allowing me 30 minutes.

And in 40 minutes, Jim tooted out in front and I hurried out with my haversack and rod case and climbed aboard Jim’s car. The rain had held off, but the sky was lowering.

We had to go back east through the city and out the Kingston Road to catch the north highway to the trout pond. As we emerged from the High Park road, and turned on to the Lake Shore drive again, we saw, standing on the downtownward curb a familiar figure.

“Hello,” said Jim. “There’s our friend again. I wonder what’s happened? Maybe he forgot something in the city.”

As we approached, he thumbed with the same boyish countrified enthusiasm, his face beamed, his eyes gleamed with expectation. We drew in alongside and he scrambled the back door open and threw his pack in.

“Gee, thank you, gentlemen,” he cried, as he sank into the seat. “With those rainclouds coming up, I was scared I’d never get a lift and I’ve got to get to Montreal before morning or never see my dear old mother alive again.”

I was just going to turn around when Jim gave me a very sharp nudge.

“It’s a long way to Montreal,” said Jim in in an unnatural voice.

“Yes, sir,” cried the young man, with deep feeling, “but I’ll get there, never fear. It’s just as if something or somebody was taking care of me. Helping me. Guess what time I left Windsor this morning, sir?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim. “If you left this morning you’ve certainly made good time to be this far.”

“I left,” cried the young man, with a sort of ecstasy in his voice, “at 8 o’clock. Boy, have I had luck, and has everybody been kind! How far as you going, gentlemen.”

“We’re going as far as Bowmanville,” said Jim, still in the queer voice and burying his neck in the old fishing coat he had on.

“Well, sir, that’s wonderful,” cried the lad. “You can drop me in Bowmanville, and I bet you won’t be out of sight before somebody else has picked me up. It’s the strangest thing. It’s almost supernatural.”

“Everybody Helping Me”

I cleared my throat, but Jim gave me another nudge.

“You see, sir,” said the young man in a quivering voice, “I haven’t been a very good son. I have been down in Windsor all winter, unemployed, and trying to get a little money to send home. I been sick, too, and often didn’t know where to sleep the night. But I always dreamed of getting a job in the motor industry down there, and who knows? I might have been somebody. I might have come to see my old mother far different from this…”

I could contain myself no longer. I turned around in the seat and glared at the young man. His face was one of the saddest I had ever seen. His eyes were dark with pain. His jaw was set as is the jaw of desperation. He looked bravely at me. But without recognition. Probably on account of my fishing clothes and old fishing hat.

“Will you be going into hospital in Montreal?” I inquired icily.

“Hospital?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “the hospital in Montreal will treat you swell and give you those clothes and that packsack and send you happily on your way to the Tobacco Country where your friends await you…”

He sat up sharply. His face instantly transformed itself into the happy, flushed sparkle-eyed lad we had picked up before lunch.

“Oh,” he laughed. “It’s you? You gents picked me up in the little open car?”

“That’s right,” I gritted.

“So what is this?” demanded the young fellow, grasping his packsack and a glint coming into his eyes. “Is this a hold-up?”

“We ought to drive you to a police station,” I snarled.

“And get your 75 cents back?” laughed the lad. “Too late. It’s a T-bone steak and three pieces of pie now.”

“You’re a swindler,” I shouted.

“Call me what you like,” laughed the young man boisterously, “so long as I eat.”

“Why, you… you…” I protested.

“Drive me anywhere,” he shouted cheerfully. “I can tell as good a tale to a policeman as to anybody. Drop me anywhere, on any road, and it will suit me as good as the next.”

“You’re nothing but a swindler,” I accused, though Jim was laughing helpless beside me.

“I suppose I am,” chuckled the young man “But it’s better than hopelessly wandering the streets or breaking my back for pennies. It’s better than starving. The stories I tell bring out the best in the people I meet. The few dimes they part with don’t hurt them. I’m an entertainer. I get paid for my entertainment. So what’s the difference?”

“Where do you want to be dropped?” cried Jim joyfully.

“On the far edge of the city will be best sir,” said the young man. “I can catch the travellers there, as they near home, full of a friendly feeling.”

King of the May

I started playing, “Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May.” “Tra-la, tra-la, tra-la,” cried Jim, starting to hippetty-hop around the pole

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 29, 1933.

“This here Hitler, now,” said Jimmie Frise, scratching at his drawing board, “how do you explain him?”

“He is a romantic,” I replied. “If you ever heard a German band, you will understand Hitler.”

“But lookit here,” said Jim, “didn’t we knock that heroics stuff out of the Germans? It took the whole world to do it, but you would think they’d take the hint. Why don’t they just knuckle down to being a nice country people like the Germans in the fairy tales.”

“All you can beat up,” I said, “is one generation. You beat up a man. And what happens? His son takes boxing lessons.”

“You mean?” said Jim.

“I mean,” said I, “that Hitler is the leader of the generation that wasn’t in the war. That means everybody up to thirty years of age. The generation of proud kids who had to swallow defeat, financial ruin, unemployment, revenge. So they have been taking boxing lessons, to kill time.”

“And now?” said Jim.

“Now Hitler is the boss of a few million handy adults who say, “Aren’t we supposed to live, aren’t we the children of the past, the Old Gods, the romance, the racial spirit expressed by our poets, musicians, Goethe, Wagner?”

“I like Wagner music,” said Jim.

“Did you ever hear the Love-Death from Tristan?” I asked. “Or the Fire Music from the Valkyrie?”

“I suppose so,” said Jim. “I always know Wagner music because it makes me get up out of my chair and conduct an imaginary grand orchestra! With augmented drums and trumpets!”

“Well,” I said, “that’s Hitler. You’ve got Hitler right there.”

“They say,” said Jim, “that he is going to discard everything, just as thoroughly as the Bolsheviks did; and then, instead of introducing the New, he is going to revive the Old.”

“It has never been done,” I remarked.

“But it ought to be,” said Jim. “We have thrown, away all the old things and traded them for a lot of shoddy, machine-made new things that don’t last. I’d like to see somebody come along and revive a whole lot of the old things. Here it is nearly May Day, and instead of having the whole community dancing around the maypole, all we will have will be a few agitators trying to hold a parade, and a lot of police making sure they don’t.”

“And Morris dancers on the green,” said I, “and floral dancers galloping through the streets, with musicians, in and out doorways.”

“No wonder there are people discontented with life the way it is,” said Jim. “If we had some of the old things, everybody would be happy, working off their steam in harmless joy.”

Let’s Have a Maypole

“There is nothing we can do about it,” said I.

“Certainly there is!” cried Jim. “We could have a May Day celebration out in our neighborhood, and maybe from that start who knows how it might spread. “Let’s have a maypole!”

“Where?”

“In that little park up the street from my place,” said Jim. “A maypole, with a hundred ribbons, and all the young people dancing around it!”

“Not a bad idea,” said I. “We’d have to get permission from the parks department.”

“Bosh!” cried Jim. “Must people get a permit to be joyful!”

“Then, the music?” I asked.

“Tabers, dulcimers, flutes, zithers and horns!” cried Jim, leaping to his feet.

“It would be easier,” I said, “to get a radio and run wires out to it in the park.”

“Never!” shouted Jim. “You can play a fife, you Orangeman! We’ll have you play the fife, and then all the children and youths can sing, as they swing around the maypole. Music enough!”

Jimmie was all worked up.

“What would they sing?” I asked. “We would need to rehearse this, because I can’t imagine the youth of our time dancing around the maypole and singing ‘Underneath the Harlem Moon.'”

“We could rehearse,” declared Jim. “We’ve got several days before the first of May.

And that is the way it started.

After supper, Jim and I went up and had a look at the little park, and we picked a spot where we could set up a nice maypole. There were a lot of youngsters playing baseball, lacrosse and tag in the park.

“They’ll quit that soon enough,” said Jim, “when we put the maypole up.”

“To-morrow evening we ought to try it on them,” I replied.

So Jim and I went back to his house and started to work on the maypole. Jimmie thought red, white and blue would be good colors for the ribbons, while I favored green, white and yellow. Jim thought a clothes prop would do for the Maypole, but I thought we should go out in the country and get a good big pole that would not pull down too easily. We compromised by adopting red, yellow and pink ribbons and fastening them on a pole we took out of Jim’s rose arbor. It was not very tall, but it would do for a rehearsal.

“Now,” said Jim, “you go home and practice on your fife.”

The next evening, about the time the children came out for a bit of play and about the time the young people began to stroll along the streets to escape helping with the dishes, Jimmie and I carried the maypole over to the park and I dug a little hole into which we set the pole and braced it up with earth and stones. A crowd of children and large boys came and stood around watching us, to Jim’s delight.

“What is it, mister?” the kids asked. “A goal post?”

“No,” said Jimmie, “it’s a maypole. Would you like to dance around it?”

“Aw, I’m in the second book,” replied the boy Jim addressed. “I got out of the kindygarten years ago.”

“But next Monday will be May Day,” said Jim. “It is the day when all through the ages everybody danced and sang for the return of spring.”

“Is it a holiday?” yelled several boys.

Jimmie shook out the ribbons on the pole.

“Now while this gentleman plays the flageolet,” said Jim, “let us all see how it feels to hold one of these pretty ribbons and dance in and out around the maypole.”

Jim nodded to me and I drew out the fife and tuned her up.

The boys somewhat shamefaced took ribbons and stood around while I started a party tune on the fife.

“Altogether now,” cried Jimmie gayly, “here we go round the mulberry bush, tra-la, tra-la, tra-la!”

People started coming over to the park from the sidewalks. A number of young people, youths.

A few of the boys started awkwardly hopping around, while others stood still. A couple of larger boys dropped their lacrosse sticks and grabbed half a dozen ribbons and, yelling in cracked voices, tra-la, tra-la, began to muddle the thing up. I blew hard on the fife.

“Easy, boys!” cried Jim, “nicely now, nicely! No rough stuff. In and out, inside one and outside the other.”

But the spirit of the larger boys was weightier than Jim and my fife both, and in about thirty seconds, everybody was wound tight into a heap around the maypole and crowding around it they knocked it over. Jim was in the bottom of the heap.

By this time a quite goodly crowd was assembled, and people were running from all directions into the park.

Jim got the pole up again and the ribbons unsorted.

“Now, young people,” said Jim, “the idea is to dance in and out of each other around the pole, then when we get all wound up, reverse and start unwinding again, you see? Winding and unwinding. For the spirit of old England! For the spirit of Robin Hood and King Richard the Lion Heart!”

Jim invited several of the pretty girls and tall young men to take hold of ribbons, and form a circle, and he signalled me to start again.

“In and out, round and round!” chanted Jim, dancing in the lead.

“Hey, Mike!” shouted a gentleman bursting through the crowd, “git away from that!”

And he grabbed a little red-headed boy that was one of the dancers and hauled him out.

“What are you trying to do,” shouted the gentleman, “making my kid dance to them party tunes!”

“Play an old English tune,” said Jim.

So I started, “Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May.”

“Tra-la, tra-la, tra-la,” cried Jim, starting to hippetty-hop around the pole. But it was too complicated, and in a few jiffies everything was tangled up again, and the pole fell over.

“Hey, guys,” yelled a voice, “how about the ball game?”

A lacrosse ball hit Jim on the neck. Several boys in the crowd started pulling at the ribbons.

“Hey, guys, club colors!” cried a voice.

“Our side red and yellow, your side yellow and pink! Tie it around your arms!”

Jim made a grab but the may pole started off through the legs of the crowd, ribbons and all.

“Just a minute!” shouted Jim, holding up his hand. “Just a minute, friends! How about Merrie England! Listen! Can’t we revive a sweet old custom without having a gang of hoodlums smash everything all up?”

“Who’s a hoodlum?” demanded a neighbor, stepping forward. “Did you call my kids hoodlums?”

“Wait a minute,” pleaded Jim, “all we are trying to do – with Hitler bringing back the old customs to Germany – an attempt to do something besides a lot of Communists holding meetings – give us a chance–“

“Ha, so that’s it?” cried the man, and several others backed him up. “I thought these ribbons were a funny combination. Communists, are you?”

“No, no!” shouted Jim above the din of kids starting to form teams and young girls and men laughing.

“What’s this about Hitler?” the gentleman demanded loudly. “Are these German colors?”

“No, no, Merrie England! St. George and Merrie England,” shouted Jim. “This is a maypole, we are trying to rehearse for May Day. Give us a chance.”

“Our kids have enough distractions from their school work,” announced another man loudly, “without people starting riots in the public parks.”

“This was just a little innocent dance–” began Jim.

“Dancing, is it?” interrupted still another neighbor. “Well, you can just take your public dancing out of this, in times like this; you’ve got your nerve, me trying to hold my kids down as it is–“

I reached in and tugged Jim’s coat tail.

We beat a decent retreat, leaving the ball game and the lacrosse game somewhat brightened by sundry bandages of pretty ribbons, and groups of elders and youths standing conversing in the park.

Sitting on boxes, we recaptured the dear old days of yore

So we went down in Jimmie’s cellar and there, sitting on boxes, with my fife, we recaptured the dear old days of yore, with music and songs, until Jim’s daughters hammered on the floor upstairs with their heels and told us they had to do their homework.


Editor’s Notes: Adolf Hitler just became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. The Reichstag Fire took place in February, and the Enabling Act (which gave Hitler dictatorial powers) was passed in March. At the time of the article, the clampdown on other political parties was underway, and many commentators in the rest of the world were trying to figure out what was going on, and what the Nazis were doing. It was still very much unknown at this time.

May Day is an ancient spring holiday, but it was also chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the socialists, communists and labour activists.

Morris dancing and Floral dancing are traditional English customs, as are the traditional instruments Tabor, Dulcimer, Zither, Fife, and Flageolet.

Underneath The Harlem Moon” was a popular song written by Mack Gordon in 1932. It has a lot of racist lines, the linked article has more information on why it might have been popular with Black audiences as well.

Surprise!

“Where did you get this?” he inquired indignantly.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 24, 1943.

“Hey,” came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “what’s all this on my front lawn?”

“Okay, what is it?” I inquired.

“Don’t you know about it?” demanded Jim. “It’s two full loads of fertilizer. The best I ever saw. I thought maybe that uncle of yours had come through.”

“By George, he may have!” I exclaimed. “He’s been promising us a load of fertilizer every spring for 10 years. But why would he deliver it at your place instead of my place? He knows where I live. And I don’t think he knows where you live.”

“Well, it’s swell stuff, anyway,” said Jim, enthusiastically. “Come on down and have a look. It’s beautifully rotted. And it seems to have loam mixed right in it. Boy, will it ever make my garden grow!”

I got my hat on and trotted down to Jim’s house at once. There was Jim, with a spade and a wheelbarrow, already in action.

“I was born on the farm,” declared Jim, fairly radiant with April glee, “but I never saw better fertilizer than that. Look: it oozes. And it’s all blended in with a kind of rich, black loam. That uncle of yours must be a real farmer.”

“I can’t understand,” I submitted, “why he would dump it off here instead of at my place. There are two loads, at least, there. Why would he dump both here?”

“Maybe your folks were out,” suggested Jim.

“No, they were in all day,” I said. “And Uncle Pete has been at my house no end of times.”

“Well,” sighed Jim happily, “my folks were out all day. So I can’t explain it. All I know is, we came home. And here she was. Two huge loads.”

“It must be Uncle Pete, all right,” I said. “Or have you dickered with anybody else about any fertilizer?”

“No,” replied Jimmie. “I’ve always counted on your Uncle Pete coming through with this. Every autumn, when he is down for the Winter Fair, he has promised us a load of fertilizer in the spring. Year after year, something turned up to prevent our getting it….”

“Last year,” I recalled, “he put 10 more acres under cultivation and couldn’t spare us any.”

“And the year before,” reminded Jim, “the roads were so bad.”

“This’ll be it,” I said confidently. “But I wish he had dumped my half up at my place.”

“Probably,” explained Jim, “he sent a driver with it. And the driver forgot the address and maybe he could remember my name; it’s an odd name, Frise. So he looked it up in the phone book and …”

Two Busy Spreaders

“Okay,” I agreed. “Now, how do we do? How can I get my half up to my place?”

“Let’s do this,” suggested Jim. “You help me spread mine around and then I’ll help you wheelbarrow your half up to your place. It won’t take half an hour to spread mine. And it’s three hours before dark.”

“Okay,” I submitted. “Let’s get going.”

“I’ve wheeled in three loads,” said Jim. “You wheel three, while I load you up. We’ll take turn about, three loads, eh?”

“Correct,” I said, seizing the barrow handles.

And Jimmie spaded up large gobs of the rich, globby fertilizer and dumped it in the barrow. And when it was full, I wheeled it in the side drive and dumped it along the garden borders. Jim had dumped his barrow loads at intervals of about 10 feet. So I followed the pattern. From these barrow loads, Jim could skite the stuff in all directions, over the garden borders, over the lawns, around the perennial bushes.

When I wheeled the empty barrow out to Jim and rested while he filled it, I said:

“Jim, are we making a mistake in putting this precious stuff on our flower gardens? Should we not make victory gardens? For potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, and other simple garden food plants?”

“A city back yard,” stated Jim, heaving with the spade, “is not really suited to the growing of vegetable crops.”

“This is the fourth spring of the war, Jim,” I reminded him. “Nineteen forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three. The fourth spring. We have talked every spring of making some economic use of our gardens. In 1940, it was a whimsical suggestion. In 1941, we thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea. In 1942, we very seriously considered it, as an aid to the war economy. This year, by golly, we are rationed, a food shortage actually looms. And here we are, spreading precious fertilizer over your lawns and flower beds.”

“Well,” said Jim, resting on his spade, “in the first place, city soil is sour and dry and sterile. City yards are shaded by neighboring buildings and trees for many hours of the day. Besides, we are away in the summer at the very time the crops need special attention regarding weeds and bugs.”

“I venture the opinion,” I said, seizing the barrow handles, “that if we got up 20 minutes earlier than usual each summer morning, we could do all the work necessary to make a success of a little market garden plot in our own yards.”

“All you’ve got to do,” replied Jim, as I headed off up the side drive, “is get out any summer morning early enough to see the market gardeners on the outskirts of the city. You’d change your mind. For they are up at dawn and still working at dusk, all summer through. We city gardeners spend one Saturday afternoon raking up and digging our flower beds. We spend two or three evenings, after supper, planting a few seeds and a few seedlings bought at the corner store. And then, except for an occasional grass cutting and a little weeding whenever the spirit moves us we sit back all the rest of the year and gloat amidst the profusion of our flowers and shrubs. But that isn’t the way crops grow. That isn’t the way the farmer makes his hard-earned money.”

I went on in the yard and emptied the barrow in another calculated pile. When I got back out to Jim, I had another angle.

“It seems to me,” I stated, as Jim proceeded to fill the barrow, “that if the food controller really wanted us city people to help produce food, he would have spent the winter organizing the city into gardening societies. Each city block should elect a chairman and a committee. What is a city block but a little community unto its self? It encloses anywhere from 20 to 100 gardens. A city block is a walled village. Within its walls are acres and acres of arable and productive land. Under proper management, those acres could produce valuable crops. But leaving us to our individual resources, we get nowhere.”

“You’ve got a swell idea there,” agreed Jim, shovelling. “Each block elects a committee of its own. The committee inspects each garden within its confines and decides which will grow potatoes, which cabbages and carrots, which corn and so forth. Each householder is then instructed by the committee how to prepare his garden. Then the committee secures the seeds or seedlings, and under expert advice – for there are always one or two good amateur gardeners in each city block – the householder plants his allotted portion.”

“And during the growing season,” I took up, “the committee would inspect and check up on the development of each garden in the block. If any of us are away, we could organize a system whereby our neighbors would look after the stuff. And we could take our turns looking after others when we’re here: Boy, it would work out magnificently.”

“We could add tons and tons, hundreds of tons,” Jim cried, “of invaluable food products to the nation’s food supply. All we need is organization.”

And I wheeled away for the side drive, as Jimmie said:

“The food controller is a man of no imagination.”

And while I dumped this load in its proper place, I thought up a new angle.

“Jim,” I enunciated, as I returned the barrow to the pile, “do you notice how intelligent and full of ideas we are tonight?”

“I was just standing here,” declared Jim, “thinking the same thing. It is as if merely breathing in this fertilizer, we were enriching our brains.”

“It may be that, Jim,” I submitted, “or it may be the way we are debating these questions. We talk together. Then I go in with the barrow for five minutes. That gives us time to reflect. Then I come out again, and we’ve both got bright ideas to communicate. I think the secret of intelligent conversation is being here revealed. The secret of intelligent discussion is in having pauses to reflect.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Too much discussion is begun and ended at one session, without pausing for reflection.”

“Parliament,” I declared, “ought to work the way we are working right here. Instead of meeting for 12 weeks at a stretch, they ought to meet one week a month, every month of the year.”

To Improve Parliament

“H’m,” said Jim, shovelling. “That would be kind of hard on the members of parliament, wouldn’t it?”

“How?” I demanded. “The reason parliament sits for 12 weeks at a stretch is because when parliament was first invented, there was no means of transportation except the slowest of stage coaches. Members of parliament had to come by horse, or on foot, from all over the British Isles. But why should we be handicapped by outmoded systems based on several hundred years ago? All the government has to do is employ a few airplanes to bring in the really outlying members. I bet 75 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons could get to Ottawa in less than 24 hours by train. And those in Vancouver could hop by airplane from the coast to Ottawa, leaving there at breakfast and would be in Ottawa for late dinner.”

“H’m,” said Jim, having filled my barrow.

“Operating on the principles employed in the time of Queen Anne,” I asserted, “our members of parliament meet once a year for a sort of gabfest. If they had to turn up each month for one week, we would get far better service from them. They would be up to date. They would have three weeks to reflect on last week’s discussions and have thought up their next line of action. There are only 245 of them. It’s time we modernized them. Our government is operating on a system as antique as the feudal system. We should adopt modern business methods, and employ the modern equipment that is everywhere at hand. If we are going to have representative government, we should be represented, not at an annual convention but at a monthly progress meeting.”

“Wheel it away,” said Jim.

So I wheeled it back up the side drive and planned my next subject of discussion.

“Jim,” I declaimed, as I laid the barrow down beside him for the next load, “did it ever occur to you…”

“This ought to be the last load,” interrupted Jimmie. “It looks as if I had my half about now.”

“By George,” I said sharply. “I was so busy thinking. Of course you’ve got your half. In fact, I don’t think we should take another barrow full…”

“Yes,” said Jim, firmly, “one more barrow full will make it about an even half.”

“But Jim,” I cried. That pile is not half the original pile! You had three borrow fulls in before I arrived.”

“I know the original size of the pile,” stated Jim calmly. “I tell you, one more barrow load and it will be evenly divided.”

So Jim loaded her up, taking, I thought, some pretty hefty spadefuls, at that. And just as I started to wheel away, several small boys came racing up the street, shouting and yelling.

“Here it is, Mr. Andrews. Here it is!”

And up the street came a panting gentleman in his shirt sleeves and very moist with exertion.

He stooped down and took a quick look at the texture of the fertilizer. He turned a bit of it over with his foot.

“Where did you get this?” he inquired indignantly.

“A friend of ours sent it to us from the country,” said Jim.

“I ordered two loads,” announced the stranger indignantly stretching his neck and looking down the side drive, “and when it didn’t arrive today, I phoned and discovered it had been delivered.”

“Ah?” said Jim.

“Delivered to the wrong address,” said the stranger, his voice rising. “The man I bought it from is a market garden specialist out in the suburbs. He can’t get in touch with his hired man to see where it was delivered. But I just thought…”

Jim looked at me and I looked at Jim, and we both thought of Uncle Pete and his past performance in regard to long promised fertilizer. And I imagine the stranger must have guessed something from our expressions.

“This fertilizer I ordered,” he said quietly, “is a very special grade. It is mixed with the finest loam and humus. It costs $10 a load.”

“Ten…” said Jimmie.

“I am using it in a victory garden,” explained the stranger. “I have turned my whole garden into a victory garden. I spent $20 on fertilizer. It’s terribly hard to get. I practically had to bribe this guy to get it. And now it has been delivered to the wrong address.”

“Don’t pay for it, then,” I said stoutly. “If a man delivers goods to the wrong address, is that your fault?”

“I have paid for it,” said the stranger, eyeing me coldly. “And besides, it’s the fertilizer I want. Not the $20.”

“Well, an uncle of his,” said Jim, indicating me with the spade, “sent this to us.”

“I just thought,” remarked the stranger, showing no intention of leaving, “that if you had this fertilizer by mistake, you wouldn’t want to have to rake it all back and put it out here again. The man I ordered it from is trying to find his driver. They may be along any time….”

“Jim,” I said, resting the barrow, “could I speak to you a minute in the garden? I want to show you where I’ve been dumping the barrow…. Excuse us, sir.”

“Certainly,” said the stranger, standing guard over my half of the pile.

Might Have Been Worse

“Jim,” I muttered, as we walked down the side drive, “we’re in a mess.”

“It looks like it,” agreed Jim. “Whew! Ten dollars a load.”

“I suggest we tell the guy.” I submitted. “Explain all about Uncle Pete and everything.”

“I’m glad we didn’t get it all spread out,” said Jim, looking at the several neat barrow loads piled around his yard.

“I’m sorry we didn’t,” I submitted. “Because even if we had to rake it all up, stuff as good as this fertilizer would do our gardens good, if only for a few hours.”

“It’s a pity it isn’t raining,” sighed Jim, “to wash some of the good out of that pile on to my front lawn.”

“Let’s go and tell him,” I concluded.

So we walked out and explained the whole situation to the stranger. He was very decent about it, especially when we walked him into the garden and showed him the several piles heaped about.

“If I had a load left on my lawn,” he agreed, “I’d naturally think some of the people who had promised me fertilizer had come through. Almost everybody in the world has been promised a load of fertilizer by their country friends, at one time or another.”

“Especially,” I said, “in the fall of the year.”

We heard a truck snorting out in front. And sure enough, it was the market gardener from out Islington way, with his confused and embarrassed driver.

All three of us took turns wheeling the small piles back out of Jim’s yard while the driver forked the main pile back on to the truck.

And when we all shook hands and they drove off, Jim said:

“Well, it was nice to have had it, if only for a little while.”

“Yes,” I reminded him, “and it seemed to fertilize us into some very brilliant ideas.”

“M’hm,” mused Jim. “I forget. What were they?”


Editor’s Notes: In this context, “to skite the stuff” means to move it quickly.

Victory gardens were vegetable gardens that people were encouraged to grow during wars to augment the food supply during times of rationing.

$10 in 1943 would be $165 in 2022.

It’s Mutiny!

“Suppose,” said the ash man, hands on hips, “everybody on the street hoarded up their ashes all winter?”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 20, 1946.

“A man’s cellar,” enunciated Jimmie Frise, “is his castle.”

“Just a minute …” I put in.

“It used to be a man’s home is his castle,” went on Jim firmly, “but that is no longer true. Little by little, in the past 50 years, men have been pushed farther and farther out of their own homes. Today, about the only part of the house a man is supposed to rule is the cellar.”

“When men began to shave off their beards,” I contributed, “they began to lose their authority in the home.”

“Once upon a time,” recollected Jim, “when a man came home from work, he sat down to supper in peace and quiet. There were no funnies in the newspapers, so nobody wanted to look at the paper but him. The family ate in orderly fashion. The children helped mother red up the dishes. Father retired to the living-room and sat down in his easy chair to spend the evening reading the news.”

“If there was too much noise in the kitchen,” I added, “the father roared for a little less racket.”

“Correct,” said Jim. “Then, when the dishes were done, the children quietly closed the dining-room doors and set to their home work on the dining-room table. Mother brought her knitting and settled down modestly in the rocking chair in the living-room. If father saw anything in the papers that he thought might interest mother, he might read a little of it to her.”

“Through his beard,” I pointed out.

”But mostly,” said Jim, “the evening went in perfect peace and quiet except for father clearing his throat occasionally, in a deep, warning sort of way, if anybody started whispering or giggling in the dining-room.”

“There was no radio,” I put in. “No phonograph. No comics. No movie theatre down at the foot of the street. No motor car in the side drive wheedling everybody to go places.”

“Those,” submitted Jimmie, “were the days. It paid to be a man in those days. The man was the bread winner. He was the mainstay, the prop, the foundation of the whole family. It was the duty of the family to nurture him, tend him, care for him.”

“Aaaaaahhh,” I sighed.

Then,” cried Jim, tensing, “the insidious change began. First – the phonograph.”

“Or was it the comics?” I questioned.

“Maybe it was the telephone,” corrected Jim. “Let’s go right back to the days when men wore beards and sat like gods in their living-rooms. Yes, I bet it was the telephone.”

“The jangle of the telephone bell,” I recalled, “would suddenly disturb the peace and serenity of the home. It might be somebody to talk to father. It might be somebody to talk to mother. At any rate, the seclusion, the sanctity of a man’s castle was broken, invaded.”

“Then followed all the other so-called advances,” said Jim. “The phonograph, the movies, the comics, cheap pianos around which the young people could gather, the motor car, to make home a mere base of operations, then radio …”

“Now,” I recounted, “instead of man coming solemnly and portentously home, to an institution awaiting him in all obedience and respect, a man comes home to find his children, like tiger cats, poised to jump him, grab the paper off him and tear it to pieces on the living-room floor. The radio is on full blast. The telephone is ringing. Mother has the movie page, picking out what show he’ll go to; and the housemaid is demanding to know if this is her night to have the car.”

“Spring Cleaning Time”

“And there, in the midst,” said Jim, “is the man, a poor little clean-shaven guy…”

“Jim,” I demanded, “do you suppose all these so-called advances of civilization might be an insidious plot on the part of the women of the world? Isn’t it a fact that the suffragette movement began just about the time the telephone was invented? Doesn’t it seem strange to you that all these inventions, like the phonograph, the radio, the movies, the motor car, have kept pace, step by step, with the emancipation of women?”

“Did,” added Jimmie, “the emancipation of women accelerate the invention of all these home-destroying agencies; or did the invention of all these home-destroying agencies… I refer to the destruction of the home from the point of view of the man … accelerate the emancipation of women?”

“There’s a very funny hook-up there somewhere, Jim,” I assured. “The more comfortable the world becomes, the more insignificant men become.”

“And the more uncomfortable,” said Jim.

“Aw,” I offered, “maybe we’re just suffering like this, Jim, because it’s the annual spring cleaning season.”

“That may be it,” sighed Jimmie. “Do you suppose that heroic guy we were describing a minute ago, that bearded big guy sitting reading the newspaper in a silent and orderly home, had to put up with housecleaning too?”

“Ah, worse,” I reminded. “Don’t you remember, the carpets were made the full size of the rooms and were tacked down all around the edges? There were carpets in the halls, there were carpets on the stairs, all fastened down with tacks and with nickel-plated corners to hold the stair carpets in place.”

“That was for the sake of quiet,” explained Jim. “A man didn’t want to be annoyed by the sound of people tramping around the house and pattering up and downstairs. Quiet was what a man wanted in those days. Peace and quiet.”

“Yes, but spring cleaning!” I exclaimed. “Boy, what a riot! All those carpets torn up, all of them taken out to the backyard and beaten with carpet-beaters. Wire carpet-beaters and rattan carpet-beaters…. I’ve swung them by the hour as a boy! And the scrubbing of the floors underneath. And the shifting and taking apart of beds, dressers, sideboards…”

“The city,” agreed Jim, “in spring was a din of carpets being thudded and tacked down, and the squeaking and banging of beds and sideboards being taken apart.”

“What did that old bearded guy do in those days?” I tried to recollect.

“He went trout fishing,” explained Jim. “That is why trout fishing used to begin on April 15. In those days there were no highways, so Papa had to make his trout fishing trip by train and be away a week to 10 days, somewhere up in the country, staying at one of those good, thriving hotels that flourished all over. While Papa, in his whiskers, was away trout fishing, his patient and obedient wife, with the aid of the older children, did the spring cleaning. And Papa arrived back to find everything in order and all sweet and tidy for another year of peace and quiet….”

“What dopes we are!” I muttered.

“Have they started at your place?” inquired Jim.

“They’ve been at it two weeks,” I sighed.

“Do they do the cellar?” asked Jim.

“Yes, there’s a playroom down there, so they won’t let me….” I explained.

“You’re lucky,” said Jim. “My cellar has the furnace-room, my work bench and the fruit cellar; and the tradition has been established that the furnace and the work bench make the cellar my problem.”

“Aw, that shouldn’t be much of a problem, Jim,” I chided. “After all, a little sweeping around your bench. A little straightening away of the furnace tools, the shovel, the poker….”

“I know, I know,” agreed Jim. “It’s just the principle of the thing.”

“Look, when I was a kid,” I laughed, “the cellar was my job. I did the tidying up there. I even sloshed down the floors with a few buckets of warm water and a long-handled sort of stable brush. I straightened away the furnace tools, put the coal bin planks neatly in one corner. Carried out a few old boxes and stuff. It didn’t take me half a Saturday morning. And then my mother would come down and inspect the cellar and congratulate me.”

“I suppose there’s nothing to it,” muttered Jim.

“Why, look,” I offered, “I’ll gladly come over and give you a hand at straightening up your cellar, if that’s what you are hinting at. It will give me a nice sentimental feeling. It will bring back my boyhood. …”

“Would you really?” smiled Jim eagerly. “Gosh, Greg, you’ve no idea how a little company, a little co-operation, makes light work of a hateful task.”

“Good Old Guys”

“Aw, it’s just that old-fashioned man in us that rebels,” I explained. “It’s a sort of resentment we feel, coming from our ancestors, good old guys who never deigned to do a tap around the house, on principle…”

“When can you come over?” asked Jim eagerly.

“What’s the matter now?” I replied. “We’ve nothing else on.”

“The reason I’d like to do it now,” admitted Jim, “is this is garbage day and there are a couple of things I’d like to put out…”

“Let’s go,” I agreed.

“How about you putting on some old clothes… ?” suggested Jim.

“Aw, these are all right,” I said. “There’s nothing to it. I won’t soil these clothes.”

“You’d better put on an old windbreaker,” suggested Jim cautiously, so I won’t feel I am imposing on you; I may kick up a little dust…”

“Okay, okay,” I consented. And went and put on an old windbreaker and an old and comfortable hat.

We walked around to Jim’s. All up and down the street were evidences that spring cleaning was in full blast in the neighborhood. Huge heaps of ash cans, cartons and boxes were piled out for the garbage men to collect. Ladies sitting, reversed, on window sills polishing windows. Vacuum cleaners humming, sounds of tapping and banging. An air of great activity. Jim’s house was no exception. There were no cartons or boxes, however, stacked on his side lawn.

“Aha,” I chuckled. “I see through you, Frise! You want me to help carry cartons of junk.”

“There’s not much,” said Jim, rather hurrying up his side drive.

“You are still obsessed,” I laughed, “with the idea that a short man can lift a box of rubbish easier than a tall man.”

“It’s mighty decent of you to come over,” applauded Jim as he opened the side door and led the way down cellar. Instantly I realized what a mistake I had made.

“Jim!” I accused bitterly, “have you left the whole winter’s ashes?”

In the front cellar were stacked a dozen large tin garbage pails, wooden boxes and paper cartons, all bulging with ashes. Back in the furnace room, I could see the shadowy shape of more boxes. And beyond them, the outline of a huge pile…

“Aw, I got a little behind the last few weeks,” apologized, Jim. “In that cold snap the furnace was misbehaving, and I had to spend so long tinkering with it I didn’t have time to carry out ashes too.”

“A little behind!” I snorted. “I bet your whole winter’s ashes are here.”

“No, no, no,” protested Jim. “Just towards the end of the winter, I got a little…”

“This is a dirty trick, Jim,” I stated firmly. “The whole business. Getting me all mixed up in your talk about the way men have lost their dignity in this world. And telling me to put on a windbreaker…”

“If you don’t want to lend a hand,” said Jim, “okay.”

“It isn’t their dignity men have lost,” I asserted. “It’s their energy.”

But Jim had hoisted the first big garbage can full of ashes and was sliding it heavily along the concrete floor. It was far too heavy for one man to lift.

“You even,” I suggested bitterly, “had me in mind when you filled that ash can fuller than you could lift it!”

Jim took one step up and, turning very red in the face, slowly hoisted the can up to him. It was a desperate effort.

“It was just a conspiracy,” I said, bending and getting a hold on the bottom of the can. “Even when you were dumping those ashes on the cellar floor, away last Christmas, you chuckled to yourself and said I’ll hornswoggle Clark into helping me clean out the cellar next spring.”

Jim grunted and heaved. I hove. The ashcan went up.

We doubled on the large cans and on the heavier boxes. We singled on the cartons and smaller odds and ends Jim had used for ash containers. It was dirty work. It was bitter-in-the-mouth work. We could hear the garbage and ash men coming down the street. Cans were clanging, boxes thudding. We had quite a collection out on the front lawn by this time.

“Let’s get it all out,” urged Jim.

“Let’s leave what is left for next collection day,” I countered.

“Aw, let’s get the job done,” cried Jim.

So we hustled.

“That loose pile,” I pointed to the heap of ashes, “will have to wait till next time.”

“You could bring down the containers, as the ash men empty them,” explained Jim heartily. “I’ll fill and you carry. We could clean up this little pile in four or five trips…”

“Nothing doing,” I declared flatly. “I undertook to come and help you sweep up a few shavings, straighten up a few furnace tools. If I’d known you had this mess on your hands, I would certainly never have come.”

An Intentional Oversight

The ash men were four doors up as we carried the tenth and eleventh cartons out and stacked them. When I came out with my next load, the ashmen were past Jim’s place. But our huge display of ashes had not even been touched!

“Hey,” I called. “Boys!”

But they paid no attention. I set the carton down and went over to the truck.

“Hey, boys,” I called “You’ve missed those.”

“And we intend to miss them,” replied the head ash man sharply.

“But it’s your duty…” I exclaimed.

“Suppose,” said the ash man, hands on hips, “everybody on the street, suppose everybody in the city, hoarded up their ashes all winter! How many trips would it take us, how many weeks would it take us, to remove all them ashes?”

“Why, there’s just a couple of weeks’ ashes …” I submitted.

“There’s six weeks’ ashes right there,” cried the ash man, “and he’s bringing up more!”

Jim was hastily retreating for another load.

“You can’t leave them there,” I protested.

“Can’t I?” said the ash man. “My truck is full. Suppose I go back and tell my boss that I had my truck full and a citizen had then come out with all his winter’s ashes. What would he say?”

“But it will be an awful eyesore to leave them,” I argued.

“An awful eyesore especially to you,” said the ash man.

“They’re not mine,” I explained hastily. “I’m just helping a friend.”

“Ah, in that case,” said the ash man, and his comrades were gathering, “don’t you think it would help to teach him to put his ashes out over the winter if we just left that pile a few days until our next round?”

“Couldn’t you make a special trip?” I asked, man to man.

“Not a chance,” said the ash man. “Our schedule is tight enough as it is. I don’t know but what my boss might decide that this was a case for the citizen to make his own arrangements for a private truck to remove the ashes. The city doesn’t contract to move a man’s ashes once a year. They undertake to do it twice a week. That makes it possible.”

Jim appeared with another big carton bulging. He was staggering pathetically under the load.

“If you don’t take them,” I said, “the poor guy will have to go to work and carry them all back in the side drive and hide them for the rest of the week.”

“The trouble you save yourself in January,” philosophized the ash man, “always catches up to you in April.”

“The trouble is, it catches me too,” I muttered. “I can’t walk out on my friend now.”

“Is he delicate or something?” asked one of the other ash men, watching Jimmie tottering back up the drive for another load.

Jim was certainly the picture of an invalid.

“Yes, very delicate,” I sighed, hitching up my windbreaker, and preparing to conclude the conversation.

“In that case, Bill,” called the ash man, “back her up.”

So they backed up, and in no time at all they had hoisted all the cans and boxes up, agreeing also to take the old cartons, And they even waited while Jim and I scooped up the pile in the furnace room and carried those cans out.

It is astonishing how much the ash men’s truck will hold; and also, how much an old friendship will hold too.

“Suppose,” said the ash man, hands on hips, “everybody on the street hoarded up their ashes all winter?”

Editor’s Note: “Red up the dishes” means to clear an area or make it tidy.

Rustlers!

With Jimmie on one side of the cow, the farmer on the other, and me shoving, we got the cow up the ramp.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 8, 1939.

How do you tell a cattle thief when you see one? Greg and Jim would like to know

“In the next few days,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve simply got to go and scout out a good trout stream.”

“The season is almost upon us,” I admitted.

“Remember last year,” warned Jim. “We left it so late, by the time the season opened all the good streams were leased up.”

“All the good streams are always leased up,” I corrected. “Only the fished-out streams are for rent.”

“No,” said Jim; “old men are always giving up their private brooks and men who were rich and idle last year are poor and very busy this.”

“Thank goodness for the stock market,” I agreed. “What a cruel world this would be if the market was always good.”

“It’s the bad luck of the world,” confirmed Jim, “that gives homely guys like you and me a chance at some of the good things.”

“Suppose,” I suggested, “we call up a few stock-brokers and get a list of some of the prominent men who have been ruined lately. Then we could check over and see if any of them are fishermen.”

“There’s a real idea,” cried Jim. “A sideline for brokers. Preparing confidential up-to-the-minute lists of people recently ruined. With data as to their tastes, style of life, personal possessions. Such lists would be invaluable to art collectors, antique dealers and sportsmen. I’ll bet we could pick up some real bargains in guns and sporting stuff of all kinds if we had such a list.”

“It ought to be a good way to locate a nice bit of trout property,” I agreed. “I know a couple of brokers. I’ll do a little quiet investigating.”

“We don’t want anything fancy,” cautioned Jimmie. “Just a nice little farm stream.”

“I have in mind,” I offered, “a stream that runs corner-ways across a farm, with plenty of woods and open fields, and a quiet pool, with logs in it, about every hundred yards.”

“With riffles,” said Jim, “and rapids in between.”

“And the whole thing,” I continued, “so situated that it can all be seen from the farmhouse. I have no use for trout streams that can’t be watched from the farmhouse.”

“Correct,” said Jim. “A good noisy dog is also a great help in keeping a trout stream in good condition.”

“And a bad-tempered farmer,” I added. “If anything ruins a trout stream, it is a good-natured farmer.”

“The best trout stream I ever fished,” related Jim, “was owned by a man who, whenever he looked out and saw somebody fishing his creek, he simply went and got his gun, stood in the doorway and hanged two shots, rapid, into the air.”

“Ah, that’s the kind of man we’re looking for,” I agreed. “Where was he?”

“Up in Simcoe county,” said Jim. “The last time I was chased off there must have been 10 years ago. He leased the creek to a couple of elderly doctors. By George, they may have got too old to fish.”

Two Shots in the Air

“Jimmie,” I cried, “do you remember how to find it? What do you say if we investigate.”

“Find it,” said Jim. “I could find it with my eyes shut. I could find it by the sweet odor of willows in bloom, by the music of the water of that little brook where it comes out under the log bridge on the side road.”

“Side road,” I lamented. “Is it far off the highway?”

“It’s only a mile off the highway,” said Jim.

“I wouldn’t care to take a chance at any country driving for the next couple of weeks,” I demurred. “The back roads will be awful.”

“We could walk in from the highway,” said Jim, “for that matter.”

“What is the stream like?” I inquired.

“It’s one of those narrow, deep, fast streams,” recited Jimmie raptly, “that winds through impenetrable tangles of alder and cedar and then comes rushing and bending out through meadows, forming deep pools with log jams, where great big trout lurk.”

“Good fly casting?” I breathed.

“In the thickets,” said Jim, “even a country boy couldn’t penetrate to fish with a worm. That means those bits of the creek are a haven for the trout. The stream can never be fished out. But in the open stretches the trout lie under the deep, soddy banks: and in the pools, they have the log jams and tree roots, all tangled for a hiding place. It is the loveliest place to cast a fly I have ever seen.”

“Jim,” I said solemnly, “how old were these doctors when you last saw them?”

“They were old, pottery fellows,” said Jim. “Maybe they’re gone now.”

“Let us devoutly hope so,” I said reverently. “When can you get away?”

“Tomorrow, if it’s fine,” said Jim, looking at his drawing board sourly.

And it being a fine day, with the earth fairly singing out of its prisoning bars, Jim and I slipped away after a long enough visit to the office to let all our editors see us very seriously hustling about; ten o’clock or thereabouts.

“Ah, Jim,” I cried, once we were well past the suburbs, “is there anything like April?”

“Me,” said Jim, “when I look out over those sopping black fields, I could get out and fall down, with my arms spread wide, and kiss the earth.”

“The world, Jim, the world,” I amended. “Kiss the world.”

“Men are lucky,” said Jim, “who are born with a love of fishing. It makes them do such silly things. Yet those silly things will be the only bright beads on the string when we are old and counting our memories.”

“Tell me now,” I said, relaxing after the poetry, “what kind of an old geezer is this farmer who owns the creek?”

“Well, I never got a close look at him,” said Jim, “or, to put it more accurately, he never got a close look at me. He must have been a middle-aged man, 10 years ago, because if he had been a young man, he would have chased me. All I recall is that as soon as I came out of the bushes, where I had been trying in vain to find a hole to drop my line, this fellow would appear at the door of his farmhouse and, pointing his shotgun in the air, would fire two shots. I would immediately start to leave. He would wave his hand in acknowledgement, and I’d keep on going.”

“Did you never get any trout?” I inquired.

“Never,” said Jim. “He was always too alert. I lived in hopes of some day having a few minutes before he saw me. But I wouldn’t be 10 feet out of the bushes before he’d spot me.”

“How do you know there were any trout in the creek?” I demanded.

“How do I know there is balm in Gilead?” retorted Jim. “I’ve seen trout a foot long scuttling up that stream before I could cast a single line.”

“Well, all I can hope is,” I sighed, “that the former lessees have gone to some better place.”

So, piously and tenderly thinking, we bowled northward on the all but deserted highway of early spring.

Through several towns, dull still with winter, we sped, and took a side highway for several miles, and then Jim began to slow down and study the country.

“I think,” he cried, “the next side road is it. If it has a frame church on the corner, it’s it.”

And to our delight we beheld, rising in the distance, a bleak and bony church, which stood sure enough at the corner of a side road lined with giant gnarled tree stumps for fences, and down which certainly no engined vehicle could possibly travel. The thaw was coming out in huge bulges and ruts.

“Okay,” said Jim. “Here we park, and walk in. The walk will give is an idea of the nature of the country. The farm we want is at the next corner in. We’ll strike the near corner of it just beyond that hill you can see.”

It was a beautiful type of country. Rolling hills, with a woodlot on the crest of each: and valleys full of cedar and alder shrubbery. The earth was black, but out of it nobbled great boulders, giving character and color to it. The first early crows flapped like black rags across the fields, and many kinds of small birds hurried in the bushes; chickadees sang their sweet spring call, not the “chicka-dee-dee,” but that faint, sweet call of two notes, like a young girl signalling from a small window, secretly.

Taking to the heavy turf along the side of the road, Jim and I stepped out boldly, with deep lungs.

“Can’t you just smell trout?” cried Jim.

“I can even feel trout,” I admitted, “in this soft turf, through my boots.”

It was glorious. We went heartily for half a mile and then breasted a rise in the road, over the top of which Jim proclaimed we would first behold the farm of the trout stream, and, in its folds, see the course of the little dark river.

“Aha,” said Jim, as we came to the top. “And there’s our friend, loading cattle.”

“It’s a kind of a bad time to talk business,” I suggested, “while he’s loading cattle. If he’s a bad-tempered man, nothing could put him in a worse temper than cattle loading.”

“There’s two of them,” said Jim. “We’ll just look the situation over when we get there. Maybe it isn’t for lease anyway.”

Lending a Hand

At the nearest corner of the field they had a truck backed to the fence. They had removed one section of the rail fence and erected a sort of corral and loading ramp.

As we approached, they quit work and lighted cigarettes and watched us draw near.

“Tiring work, gentlemen,” I hailed pleasantly.

“Mmmm,” they grunted, in the country tradition.

“We’re out looking for a trout stream,” I explained, “and we heard your place might be for rent.”

“It might be,” spoke up the older of the two. He might have been the father of the other.

“Too bad to call,” said Jim, “when you’re busy. Do you suppose we might have a few minutes with you later, sir?”

“After I get these cattle loaded,” said the farmer, “come on to the house.”

“Why,” said Jim, “we’ll give you a hand. Is there anything we can do?”

“No,” said the farmer. He turned his back on us and rounded up a cow and guided her to the ramp.

“Here’s our chance,” said Jim when bossie, with a bewildered sort of look, stepped off the ramp first one side and, when the farmer had run around to steer her back, then the other.

Jimmie and I sprang into action. With Jim on one side of the cow, the farmer on the other and me shoving from behind, we got the cow up the ramp.

“Is there anything else we can do?” inquired Jimmie pleasantly.

“Well, now,” said the farmer, “there is. There’s two heifers got away on me, and they’re down in that scrub, yonder. If you don’t mind a little mud, you might go down and shoo them up this way.”

“Certainly,” said Jim.

It was a muddy field. They had four cattle in the truck and three more cornered in the corral ready to be shoved up the ramp they had made with planks.

“We’ll get these on,” said the farmer, “and by the time you chase them two up we can go back to the house.”

“Come along,” said Jim, climbing the snake fence.

“Jim,” I said, quietly, after we got a few yards, “we’re not booted for tramping around muddy fields like this. We’ll get soaked.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “this may mean the difference between us getting the lease and not getting it. Use your head.”

So we floundered across the greasy field and down to the first little woods of alder and cedar.

Over a little rise we went to the next patch of small woods, and looked very carefully, without seeing or hearing any cattle.

“Jim, my feet are soaked,” I protested.

“Okay,” said Jim, eagerly, “over the next rise is the stream. You can have your first look at it.”

And sure enough, in the next small valley, with the dense thickets of a stream, we saw the two errant heifers.

“Gittem,” cried Jim. “Go that way and I’ll head ’em this way.”

A Sort of Sixth Sense

So we floundered in the coarse and swampy water meadow, in no time having caught the heifers’ attention and sending them anxiously headed back over the fields.

“Bang, bang,” went a gun.

“Look,” shouted Jim. “It’s him.”

From the farmhouse came a figure running furiously, and reloading as he ran.

“Hoy,” he roared.

So we waited.

“This is kind of funny,” said Jim, coming cautiously nearer to me but watching the oncoming figure.

“What’s going on here?” demanded the farmer grimly, looking us over. He had gray hair but his moustache was red. And his eyes close together.

“We’re helping the farmer round up these heifers,” I explained.

“What farmer?” demanded this one.

“The farmer that owns this farm,” said Jim. “The one up on the road with the truck.”

“What truck?” shouted the farmer. “Hey, you two follow me. Or else …”

And he brandished the gun.

He set us a terrible pace up over the hill and down the next gully and so up the last hill to the road.

The truck was gone. The ramp was gone. The hole in the snake fence remained and also the tell-tale tracks of cattle trampling about.

“Explain yourselves,” gasped the farmer, dangerously, standing facing us.

So we explained that we had heard of his trout stream and had parked our car and walked in to see about it. And finding two gentlemen loading heifers, we took them for the owners. And when they suggested we might assist them by rounding up a couple that had run away…

Did we get the number of the truck? No. What kind of a truck? Oh, just an old sort of a truck. What did the men look like? Like honest farmers. Just plain fellows. The older one had a moustache, but really we hadn’t taken much of a look …

“Well,” said the farmer, “you can come back while I call the police and you can give them what description you can, which is mighty little.”

“By the way, sir,” asked Jim, “is the stream for lease?”

“No,” roared the farmer, “it isn’t for lease. And if it was for lease, I’d be jiggered I’d rent it to a couple of half-wits that don know cattle thieves when they see them.”

“How could we know they were cattle thieves?” demanded Jim hotly.

“Oh, it’s a sort of sixth sense,” said the farmer grimly and he began looking Jimmie very intently.


Editor’s Note: There Is a Balm in Gilead is a biblical reference that was made into a hymn, basically meaning that he knew something was true.

There’s One in Every Cellar

She shoved back the hood and lifted the table cover. And looked with horror on the face of the clock.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 5, 1941.

“Are you busy?” inquired Jimmie Frise over the telephone.

“I’m just studying the seed catalogues,” I replied.

“I wonder would you drive down for a minute,” said Jim, “and take me over to the watch repair man’s?”

“Jim, my car’s in the repair shop,” I informed him rather comfortably, because it was a rotten day out. April showers. Cold sleet, in other words. In this country it is May showers bring June flowers.

“The kids have my car out,” grumbled Jim, “and they won’t be home till late.”

“Sorry, Jim,” I said. “I left my car in this morning for that spring overhaul. You know. The one they describe in the circular they send around. Your car needs spring cleaning.'”

“You’re falling for everything,” laughed Jim. “Circulars about your car. Seed catalogues.”

“It’s in the air, Jim,” I assured him. “Everybody’s restless at this time of year. What are you falling for? What do you want to drive to the watch repair man’s for? Why can’t you walk?”

“It’s our clock,” explained Jim. “I’m sick and tired of sitting here looking at a clock that not only isn’t running; it hasn’t run for six years. And I just suddenly decided to have it fixed.”

“Aha,” I crowed. “So you’ve got the spring bug, too.”

“That fool clock,” said Jim, “has been sitting on the mantel now ever since 1935 and it hasn’t uttered a tick. There in its place of honor, on the mantel, presiding over my household, it sits at two minutes to two. I’ve looked at it thousands of times. My family has done the same. It is always two to two.”

“I hate to see your high purpose come to nothing, Jim,” I urged. “Couldn’t you carry it over to the watch repair man? It’s only three or four blocks.”

“It’s too measly a day,” said Jim. “It’s raining. And while it’s not a heavy clock, it would be an awkward package to carry on a day like this.”

“Jim,” I egged him on, “maybe this impulse to have that clock fixed may never come again for another six years. I know this feeling. It passes very quickly.”

“I’ve had it dozens of times before,” confessed Jim. “But it never was strong enough to make me take the blame clock over. And now, when I haven’t a car and your car is in the repair shop, I’ve got the urge stronger than it’s ever been.”

“But not strong enough to make you carry it over,” I submitted.

“Maybe if you came with me I’d carry it,” wheedled Jimmie.

“It’s pouring rain,” I retorted. “And I’m just at the zinnias.”

“April showers,” pleaded Jim.

“Ice water,” I corrected.

Restlessness of Spring

And we hung up. But it only takes a little while to come to the end of a seed catalogue. Even if you take your pencil and mark with an X the ones you are going to get plants of and a V for the ones you are going to get seeds for, in about 15 minutes you come to the vegetables at the back. Then you get up and go to the back dining-room window and look out at the winter-killed garden, all full of mud and patches of ice in the lee and broken hockey sticks and half-buried rusty snow shovels. And what is more natural than that you should realize that it is a long time yet to the 24th of May and the planting of the garden?

Besides, the rain looks as if it were slackening.

So I put my coat on and an old hat and walked down to Jimmie’s.

“I’ve been sitting here expecting you,” he grinned.

“The heck you have,” I retorted. “I hadn’t the faintest intention of coming.”

“But you’re here,” cried Jim. “It’s the spring.”

“I don’t like people to be able to read my mind,” I informed him. “Or my character either.”

“I knew you’d come,” stated Jim, “because you are restless and impulsive like everybody and everything else at this time of year. Nature makes us all impulsive and restless in April. How else would all the June marriages take place if everybody didn’t go suddenly impulsive about the first of April?”

“I’d hate to understand everything the way you do,” I assured him. “Is this the clock?”

“And a lot heavier than I suspected,” said Jim.

I lifted the clock off the mantel. It weighed about 12 or 15 pounds.

“What a brute,” I exclaimed. “You couldn’t carry that.”

“We could carry it between us,” submitted Jim, “but it would be awkward walking half-sideways for four blocks with that thing between us. But I’ve thought up an idea while I was waiting for you. There’s an old baby carriage down cellar.”

“Then you don’t need me,” I said hastily. “You can wheel it over yourself.”

“You’ll help me carry the baby carriage up from the cellar?” inquired Jim.

“Certainly,” I agreed. “But you don’t catch me perambulating through the streets with a clock in a baby carriage. Not at my age. I mean, after all, there is a little dignity …”

“Now, look here,” protested Jimmie. “What’s wrong with pushing a baby carriage through the streets with a clock in it? What’s the difference what you’ve got in the baby carriage?”

“Jim,” I declared firmly, “a baby carriage is a baby carriage. It is dedicated to a high and sacred purpose. I gave up pushing baby carriages many years ago. I don’t expect to start again until my grandchildren begin to arrive. And then I’ll not only do it gladly; I’ll do it proudly. But in the meantime I don’t propose to go through the streets of my own neighborhood like a peddler shoving a barrow.”

“Just walk beside me,” insisted Jimmie.

“No, Jim, no,” I said emphatically. It wouldn’t look dignified, the two of us using a baby carriage for a wheelbarrow. No, sir.”

“You’re a snob,” accused Jim.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m a snob.”

“Thousands of people use baby carriages for carrying parcels,” pleaded Jim. “Every Saturday afternoon you’ll see hundreds of young couples out shopping with their baby and the carriage filled with parcels.”

“Ah, that’s different,” I said. “I don’t know why it is different. But the very idea of us using a baby carriage as a parcel carrier seems to me infra dig.”

“Well,” said Jim with finality, “I fail to see it. There is an old baby carriage in almost every cellar in the world. Put down there to keep in case some other member of the family might want it. But when it is wanted, no new parent would even look at a second-hand pram. There always has to be a new one. So all over the world are these little and highly useful vehicles lying in cobwebs and coal dust.”

“It can’t be helped,” I insisted.

“Well, there’s a war on,” stated Jim. “And we’re going to see a lot of funny things before it’s over. We are going to see people casting silly pride aside. We’re going to see old clothes worn with pride and baby carriages used for wheelbarrows. For I’m going to take my clock over to the watch repair shop in the pram. And there is no reason on earth, intelligent or otherwise, why I shouldn’t use a baby carriage to carry bundles. It has wheels. Okay. I wheel it.”

So I took off my coat and went down cellar with Jim and found the old baby carriage in behind stacks of stored garden furniture and curtain stretchers and retired iron beds and things. And we worked it out and dusted it off and carried it upstairs.

Jim lifted the clock and set it in the pram.

“Look,” said Jim. “What better vehicle could be imagined than this pram for carrying so delicate an instrument as a clock? See this little mattress? See those big soft springs? Why, it’s ideal for transporting clocks. Even a $2,000 car would jolt the stuffing out of a clock, as compared with the soft ride it’ll get in here.”

“Quite so,” I said drily, putting on my coat.

Jim went and got a couple of small tablecloths and a bridge table cover and tucked them over the clock.

“Ha,” I scoffed. “Weakening, eh? Trying to pretend it is a baby?”

“Certainly not,” said Jim. “I am just protecting the clock from the rain.”

I looked out. It had begun its weary April drizzle again.

“Turn that hood up well over it,” I suggested. “You don’t want a good clock all stained and wet.”

So while Jim was getting his coat on, I undid the little screws that hold the hood and turned it up so as to protect thoroughly the contents of the carriage. I altered the covers a little, tucking them down around the foot of the carriage and creating a lifelike illusion of a baby stowed within.

“There,” I said. “That’s realistic enough.”

“Help me down the steps with it,” said Jim.

So I took the front end and helped him lower the carriage down the front steps.

Then, since I was going his way as far as my house, I could not do other than walk with him as he pushed the pram along. After all, there was no way of telling, from appearances, that there was a clock in the carriage. The only thing that occurred to me was that if any of the neighbors saw Jimmie pushing a pram it might inspire some lively curiosity. I caught Jimmie casting a few slantwise glances at the windows of his immediate neighbors.

But half way up the block we encountered an elderly couple, a man and wife, walking under the one umbrella. And the way they stood aside for us, and the warm, friendly smiles they bestowed on us, trying to get a glimpse of the little one within as we went by, was quite gratifying. There is, after all nothing so flattering to people of 50 as to have people of 70 mistake them for youngsters.

Protests and Explanations

“I’ll stick with you, Jim,” I assured him as we went on.

“You don’t have to,” replied Jim. “I can get along very nicely.”

“You’d do as much for me,” I insisted.

As a matter of fact, despite the drizzle of rain, we got quite a kick pushing that pram. At the street crossings I got hold of it myself, and when Jim lighted a cigarette I had it all to myself and shoved it at least three or four doors along. It was years and years since I had felt a pram jouncing and smoothly rolling before me. Nice feeling.

When we turned on to the shopping street it began to rain a little heavier.

“Only a block more,” said Jim.

But an elderly lady barred our way.

“Tssk, tssk,” she said, smiling benignly. “You’ll soak the child. Don’t you men know how to tuck …”

She had shoved back the hood and lifted the table cover. And was looking with horror into the face of the clock.

Then she stared, with incredible suspicion on her face for so elderly and kindly a lady, at us.

Like a traffic cop, she signalled the doorman of the movie theatre to come to her aid: had sent a boy on a bicycle down the street for a policeman; and had 40 people in a tight ring around us so that we could neither escape nor make our protests and explanations heard above the loud murmur.

“Imagine,” said the elderly lady. “Making off with a clock! I’ve heard of them making off with a pound of butter. Or a can of peas. But a clock!”

“Slickest scheme I ever saw,” said the movie doorman. And others gave similar summaries, while Jimmie and I tried vainly to locate one neighborly face to whom we could explain that we were on the way to the watch repair shop.

At first the policeman was inclined to look upon us as guilty until proven innocent. But we produced our registration cards, drivers permits, letters, bills, receipts; and then the girl in the movie ticket window, who couldn’t resist the excitement any longer, came out and identified us as a couple of regular customers for years past, though she didn’t know our names. Finally a grocery messenger boy wheeled in and positively identified us. The policeman accompanied us down to the watch repair shop. And the man there knew us well.

So all was well except for one thing.

“You can push it home alone, Jim,” I assured him. “After all, snobbery is just another name for the respect for a certain type of law or convention. A baby carriage is for babies.”

However, the movie got out just then and in the crowd we saw two little neighbor girls from only a couple of doors away from Jimmie’s. And we hailed them and asked them if they would like to wheel the baby carriage back home for us.

Which they were vastly delighted to do.

With the little girls walking ahead, in the most ladylike, the most motherly air you ever saw, we followed slowly.

And so back home and down again into the cellar, behind the iron bed and the curtain stretchers and the garden furniture, went the baby carriage once more.


Editor’s Notes: “In the lee” means next to something. “Infra dig” means demeaning.

Film-Flammed

The whole reel like a great tangled skein, lay all over the floor. “You didn’t hook it in properly!” cried Jim loudly…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 26, 1938.

“One thing,” said Jimmie Frise bitterly, “leads to another.”

“You said it,” I assured him. “Learn that fact, and you’ve got all philosophy by the tail.”

“I wish,” said Jim, “I hadn’t been born so good-natured.”

“What have you let yourself in for now?” I asked.

“Oh, one of those things,” gusted Jimmie, unhappily. “Two months ago, some ladies called at the house in connection with the church. They said they were organizing a series of entertainments to help defray the cost of redecorating the Sunday school.”

“So?” I laughed.

“I said I’d be only too pleased to help,” said Jim. “Engagements two months away are so easy to keep.”

“I make it a rule,” I informed him, “never to make any engagement farther off than to-morrow night.”

“Good,” said Jim. “It’s to-morrow night this is.”

“Ah,” I countered. “Sorry, Jim, I’m all tied up for to-morrow night.”

“Look,” said Jim, “you’ve got to lend me a hand. I told these ladies I would arrange one whole evening for them.”

“It’s no trick for you,” I said, “to stand up there and scratch off cartoons of Old Archie and Pigskin and the rest.”

“For two hours?” cried Jim. “There has to be movies. I had the movies all arranged, and just a few minutes ago the fellow that owns the movie machine, called me to say he was laid up with a severe attack of bronchitis and couldn’t possibly come.”

“Anybody can run one of those things,” I pointed out.

“That’s what I say,” agreed Jim. “You could do it swell.”

“Not me,” I informed him decisively. “Anybody in the world but me, Jim. There is some convolution in my brain missing, or something, that has to do with practical things. I was no good at arithmetic or algebra at school. I simply don’t understand. Why, I have never even lifted the hood of a motor car in my life, I simply wouldn’t dare. And when daylight saving time comes, I never enter into the family discussion as to whether you put the hands of the clock forward an hour or back an hour. No, sir, Jim, there are some things I wouldn’t touch for a million dollars.”

“Pshaw,” said Jim, “any kid can run one of those little amateur movie things.”

“O.K.” I agreed. “Get some kid to do it then.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “he said I could have his projector, and three reels of travel pictures of China he’s got, and a couple of children’s pictures like Felix the Cat.”

“Nnn, nnn,” I shook my head. “Why don’t you run it yourself?”

“I have my hands full,” said Jim, “getting my big drawing board over and the paper and everything set up. I’ve got to have somebody look after the projector and screen and everything.”

“Anybody but me, Jim,” I assured him. “I have a holy horror of any kind of gadget that works. And what I’ve seen of those baby projectors, they hum and click and fizzle and do everything that makes me stiff with fright.”

“Listen,” said Jim impatiently. “they’re automatic. Just as simple as turning on the electric light. It’s all done with buttons.”

“Jim,” I advised him, “I was born about a century late. I don’t belong in this age at all. I belong about the time of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne. My belief is, that the human brain grows with each generation, so as to accommodate all the new things invented. But my brain happens to have slipped a couple of generations, probably owing to rickets when I was an infant, or maybe because I started to creep too young.”

“You’ve got a good brain,” encouraged Jim.

“Maybe, Jim,” I replied uneasily, “but you ought to feel the funny feeling that comes over me every time I get into a horse-drawn cab like in Montreal, or whenever I see a lovely old-fashioned bookcase or chest of drawers. I get a queer flood of feeling, as if I had suddenly met a long lost friend. Or like being lost in the bush and suddenly meeting a human being. Jim, machines are as foreign to me as to an Eskimo. I hate machines. I won’t come. No, sir, excuse me.”

“Very well,” said Jim, coldly, “I’ve helped you out of many a jam.”

“Mention one,” I suggested.

“The least you could do,” said Jim, “is help me. I’ll run the machine, if you’ll just come along to help carry the thing and set up the screen and that sort of thing. I’ll operate it.”

“Jim,” I said, “much as my experience of you warns me to keep as far as possible from you in cases like this, I’ll come along, as you suggest, merely as your helper; as your caddie.”

“That’s swell,” cried Jim, with vast relief. “I’ve got lots of other friends I could ask, but you’re the only one that sort of suits a church basement.”

“You call for it, then,” I arranged, “and bring the machine and the films to your place. Get some lessons on how to run it from the guy.”

“I planned to do that,” agreed Jim. “You come to my house about half past seven, and we’ll take the stuff over to the church and get it set up.”

“But let this be a lesson to you.” I warned him. “Never make any more long distance engagements. They always catch up with you.”

“It’s so easy to be a good fellow at two months’ notice,” said Jim.

“It’s so easy to do anything,” I corrected, “at 60 days or six months. It is like debts. You promise to pay one year from now. It seems to be so far away as to be almost never. But the fact of the matter is, if you can’t pay now, the chances are you will find it just as hard one year from now.”

“All the debts in the world,” said Jim, “are testimonials to the eternal optimism of the human race.”

“The way I do,” I explained, “is this: when somebody asks me to do something six weeks from now, I say to myself, do I feel like doing it now? Almost without exception, I don’t feel like doing it now, especially going out to a meeting or attending a gathering or something like that. So I say to myself, if I don’t feel like doing it now, I certainly won’t feel like doing it when I am six weeks older and wiser than I am now. So I just don’t make the date.”

“Don’t you ever feel,” inquired Jimmie, “that you sort of owe a little service to churches or society or anything? Especially when it’s weeks and weeks away?”

“Jim,” I declared, “I play fair. I don’t like listening to other people reciting or making speeches. So I don’t expect other people to listen to me. Do unto others as you expect others to do by you.”

“That’s a swell rule for mean people,” pointed out Jim.

“The world is full of people,” I retorted, “that not only love listening to others speaking, reciting and singing, but they love doing it themselves. It is a straight case of give and take. But if you don’t do any taking, why should you expect to do any giving?”

“I wish I had it worked out like you,” sighed Jim.

“If I had it worked out as good as I think I have,” I informed him, “I wouldn’t be making any date with you for to-morrow night.”

For This Worthy Object

Jim telephoned after supper to say he had just been over to his friend’s house and got the projector and three reels of film on travels in China, one reel of a motor trip down the Gaspe coast, one reel of a motor trip through the Niagara peninsula during blossom time and two rather aged reels of Felix the Cat, those animated cartoons that so delight the children.

“Come on down,” said Jimmie excitedly, “I’m going to run them through just to see what they are, and get a little practice at operating the machine.”

“No, thanks,” I assured him, “I see through you. You want to give me a lesson and then to-morrow night, just hand the job over to me.”

“Aw, come on, just a private family show,” cried Jim enthusiastically.

“No, thanks,” I said so unemotionally that Jim knew I meant no.

In the morning, Jim told me how delightfully simple the whole thing was.

“It’s a kind of an old-fashioned projector,” explained Jim. “Not one of these little compact babies they sell nowadays. It’s all open and shut. You just hitch the film in one wheel and turn the switch and away she goes. It’s as easy as running a wheelbarrow.”

“How are the films?” I asked.

“Swell,” cried Jim. “I wish you had come down. We had a lovely private show. The Chinese pictures are marvellous, showing what China was like before the war. They’re kind of old and speckled sort of, but mighty interesting. And the animated cartoons are cute. The kids will love them.”

“What time will I call to-night?” I asked.

“Make it 7.30,” said Jim, “so we can get everything set up in good time in the church basement.”

So at 7.30, I was at Jim’s and we loaded into the car his big drawing board, on which were tacked a dozen jumbo sheets of paper for him to do his charcoal cartoon act on, and the projector, a clumsy kind of contraption in a big scuffed case, a sheet and half a dozen tins containing the reels of pictures. We drove to the church but the caretaker was nowhere to be found and we had to sit in the car until 8 o’clock, by which time quite a gathering had assembled, waiting to get in.

We carried the stuff in, and while Jim set up his easel on the platform, I hung the sheet up, under his direction. I also helped open and set up the projector, so that several little boys took me for the specialist in charge of the movies. And I explained to them how it worked, though to tell the truth, the black, gadgetty thing gave me the creeps.

About 8.25 the ladies of the committee finally got their minds made up and one of them went to the platform and called the meeting to order. She spoke of the work of decorating the Sunday school, and how there was now $27.71 in the treasury for this worthy object, and how grateful everybody was that Mr. Frise had come to draw cartoons and Mr. Clark to show some of his delightful moving pictures taken on his trips to China.

So Jim went forward and drew big cartoons of Old Archie at the pump and Pigskin Peters with a snapping turtle hanging to his arm and seven or eight more dandies which delighted everybody very much. And then came the movies.

I tried to seize an opportunity to explain to the meeting that these were not my movies, that I had never been to China and had not only never taken any movies but didn’t know the first thing about them, but the crowd was so eagerly turning and craning to watch, and Jim was so busy plugging long electric cords into sockets and getting things set that before a chance offered, Jim sang out, “Lights out, please,” and we were in darkness.

I stood beside Jim, in case I was needed. I could hear him fumbling and scrabbling around the projector. I heard switches go snick several times, and Jim grunting, but nothing happened.

“I wonder,” said Jim, in that church basement voice, “I wonder could we just have the lights on a moment, please?”

And after a lot of stumbling and loud talking and heavy breathing, the lights came on again.

Jim turned the switch, and the contraption began to buzz merrily.

“Ah,” cried Jim. “I guess when you turn the lights off, it turns the power off for the projector, too.”

So a gentleman in the audience who was an electrician came and volunteered to help. He found a socket that was separate, and he also rigged up a pull string to the switches that Jim could reach, so that we could control the lights.

“Very well. All ready,” sang out Jimmie sweetly, and pulled out the lights. He turned the switch. The stab of light cut through the darkness towards the sheet on the platform. Jim seized the front nozzle and twisted it, to bring the hazy muddle on the sheet into focus.

But it was still a muddle. Before our astonished eyes, we saw a queer conglomeration of flickering Chinese figures, but they were all upside down and moving backwards A loud ripple of laughter rose in the audience.

“Just a moment, please,” sang Jimmie, switching on the light.

And rapidly, we both bent and took the reel off and shifted it this way and that, trying to get it the opposite of what it had been.

We switched the light off and turned on the machine.

But now the figures were merely upside down but backwards the opposite direction.

“Did you rewind these,” I hissed, after you showed them at your house last night?”

“Certainly I did,” said Jim, indignantly, as he switched on the lights again. “But we’ll try the Niagara in Blossom Time one, because I didn’t show it last night.”

I dove and got out the Niagara in Blossom Time reel, while Jim removed China No. 1. By now, most of the audience was standing up, looking back good-naturedly at us.

We rigged Blossom Time on, turned off the lights and set the machine going. Aha, right side up and front end foremost. But unhappily, the picture was mostly a family picture, and it spent most of its brief hundred feet showing close-ups of rather ordinary little kids and a lady in a 1929 hat, smiling and nodding speechlessly at us, while in the dim distance, faint outlines of peach trees in blossom showed, and a steady rain seemed to stream across the picture.

“Phew, Jim,” I whispered.

And this soundless, speechless record of a family excursion to Niagara came to a happily early ending, amidst a mild splatter of astonished applause from the audience.

By now I was perspiring and Jimmie was too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “the chairlady made a slight mistake when she said I had taken these pictures in China….”

But everybody interrupted by laughing, so I let it go, especially as Jim was kicking me for one of the Felix the Cat reels, which I handed him.

“Now,” said Jim heartily, “for a Felix the Cat cartoon.”

“Hurray,” said everybody, not only the children. The lights were doused, the machine flashed on, and there was Felix, upside down and backwards, busily leaping out of a great splash of water down through the air to a springboard.

“Let it go, let it go,” yelled several people amidst the explosion.

So Jim just let it go. I leaned over and congratulated him on the swell job of rewinding he had done at his home last night, and he just took it in dumb silence. I heard a kind of a sizzling, sleek, trickling sound, as I stood watching Felix absurdly jerking and backing through an incomprehensible adventure. I felt something softly touching my pant leg. But when Jim turned on the light at the unhappy end of the reel, neither he nor I was prepared for the sight of the whole reel like a great tangled skein, all over the floor.

“You didn’t hook it in properly,” accused Jim loudly.

“Who didn’t?” I cried. “I don’t know the first thing…”

Embarrassed, I picked up the film and began feeding it back through the machine, and now to everybody’s delight, Felix came right side up and front end foremost, as slowly the celluloid was picked up off the floor by the reel. I squatted down in the darkness to feed it carefully up to the machine.

“We have discovered our trouble,” explained Jim, heartily to the audience. “It will just take a few moments longer…”

And he ripped all the reel off China No. 1 on to the floor and then fed it right side up into the projector, which picked it slowly off the floor and projected it quite as pleasantly as if it had been on the reel.

And they were very nice scenes too, although the silence of them was somehow paralyzing.

And we got a very pleasant vote of thanks.


Editor’s Notes: The title of this is a play on the slang “flimflammed”, which means to swindle or trick someone.

Anyone old enough to remember operating projectors will understand the need to rewind and to thread the film properly.

Cartoonists in the early to mid-20th century would engage in public demonstrations much like Jimmie did. They were referred to sometimes as “chalk talks”, as a blackboard could be used just as easily as large pieces of paper. The artist would be on stage discussing what he was doing, or stories about his or her work, while drawing characters from their strips.

Felix the Cat was a cartoon character created in 1919 during the silent film era, and was the first popular cartoon character. By the late 1920s and the advent of sound movies, production stopped until a revival in the 1950s.

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