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.
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!”
$14 in 1947 would be $212 in 2022.