The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 9

Going, Going, Gone

“Reputed,” droned the auctioneer’s voice,”to be genuine Ming! Nine-fifty I am offered!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 20, 1947

“Come on!” pleaded Jimmie Frise. “They’re fun!”

“Auction sales are a fraud,” I scoffed. “They’re a racket!”

Jim had slowed the car in front of an old house in the downtown district which had been converted into an auction sale headquarters. Over the lighted portico, a large canvas banner proclaimed “Auction now in progress.” And cars were parked densely all around, while a regular church congregation seemed to be pouring into the emporium.

“Come on,” egged Jim. “We’ve nothing better to do.”

“I haven’t seen ‘Great Expectations’ yet,” I complained. “We can find it at one of the neighborhood theatres.”

“Look,” said Jim, “movies are all the same. Once you’ve seen one movie, you’ve seen all movies. But an auction sale is a riot. You see human nature revealed there in the raw – not all taffied up by some movie director. If you want a good chuckle, go to an auction sale.”

“Jim, they’re just a racket!” I protested, as he started to manoeuvre for a parking space up the street. “And it’s just junk they sell.”

“Oh, don’t think I was suggesting we buy anything,” laughed Jim. “It’s just to see the show.”

“It’s always the same, Jim, I made my last bid. The same old crowd always attends these auction sales. The auction sale habit is like the bingo habit or the racetrack habit or any other rut certain people seem to get into. You see the same types at an auction sale just as you see the same types at a race track. There’s an auction sale type.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jim, turning off the ignition. “And it’s fun to see them in operation, just the same as it’s fun to watch a bingo crowd. First of all, there’s the regular dealers who are in attendance, the secondhand dealers and antique dealers. Attending auction sales is a part of their business. They pick up a few dollars worth of odds and ends, bric-a-bric, china, silver, to eke out their own stocks in their shops.”

“Then,” I pointed out, “there are those other semi-professionals – they don’t have stores. But it’s a sort of sideline or hobby with them. They attend auctions as regular as the second-hand dealers, to pick up odds and ends which they take home, and then either sell to their friends and neighbors, or else advertise them in the want ads of the daily newspapers, turning over a little profit.”

“There could be worse hobbies,” asserted Jim, as he wound up the car windows. “It doesn’t cost anything. There’s no admission charge to an auction sale. And after a little experience, I suppose a man can become real expert at picking up things he knows he can make two or three dollars on.”

“It’s these second-hand dealers,” I pointed out, “and these semi-professional picker-uppers who make it next to impossible for the ordinary guy, like you or me ever to get anything worth while at an auction, Jim. They don’t just walk into an auction and sit down, like us They go beforehand and size up the merchandise that’s going on the block. They spot all the articles of any value and wait for them to come up. They have made up their minds in advance how much they will go for it, and still leave them a margin of profit on the resale.”

“That’s when you see the fun start, at an auction,” agreed Jim, as we left the car and started down street towards the emporium. “When the dealers begin bidding against each other.”

“With the odd outsider, like us,” I recollected, “butting in and upsetting the apple cart.”

“A good auction sale,” explained Jim, “is one that has a few worthwhile articles salted in among the junk. Only the dealers and the professionals know the real stuff from the junk. But their bidding, on the real stuff excites the rest of the congregation to bid on the junk. And that’s where the gravy comes in. For the auctioneer.”

We went up the steps and into the spacious and cluttered rooms of the old mansion.

A smell of new carpets and old dust filled the air. From the big living room and dining room of the old house – which had been opened up into one large chamber for the auction hall – came the monotonous but incisive voice of the auctioneer, rising above a low babble. The sale was already under way.

But in the lofty and outer halls, numbers of people, the men hat in hand, were wandering around with that slightly absent air you observe on people in an art gallery. They were inspecting the great clutter of goods piled and stacked around awaiting their turn on the auction block.

There were great heaps of carpets and rugs all rolled up. There were articles of furniture, tables, nets of tables, lamps, with shades, chairs, sofas, chesterfields, beds, dressers. All were spotless and recently polished.

“Just look at the rugs and carpets,” said Jimmie “Where do all the rugs come from that are put on auction?”

“Culls, I suppose,” I suggested, “and seconds picked up from jobbers or from the manufacturers. Besides, probably any number of these auction addicts get into the habit of buying and trading back their rugs every little while. The home of an auction addict probably never does get set. It’s in an eternal state of flux. They keep on adding little bits here and little bits there – each new piece of furniture upsetting the design or color scheme; so they’ve got to sell things to restore the balance. Probably a real bad auction addict never keeps a rug more than three months. Turn it in and snap up a new one.”

We examined the furniture. None of it was anything we would ever want to own. It was either large and florid, or extra plain. A great many pieces seemed random bits that had got cut adrift from what once upon a time must have been suites. We also examined a find set of china that was really beautiful, except that a pale bilious green rim on each piece spoiled it completely.

“Now how the dickens,” demanded Jim, the artist, “could any designer ever ruin a lovely design by such a fool rim as that?”

“Probably something went wrong in the mixing of the colors and in the firing,” I suggested, “and as the result this set has been on the auction circuit for the past 20 years. If you owned a china factory, and something got spoiled like this, what would you do? Why, sell it to an auctioneer! It’s the last hope for things that go wrong.”

A rising babble and mutter in the big room made us stop and listen. The auctioneer’s voice took on a ringing tone, excited. And we could hear the rising clamor stabbed by voices making rapid bids as they were shooting their bids like arrows.

We hurried over to the auction room doorway and stretched our necks and tiptoed to see over the heads of the others suddenly attracted.

“Sixty!” shot the auctioneer, leaning tensely. “Do I hear sixty-five? Sixty-five, do I hear?”

“Sixty-two-fifty!” came a hoarse voice.

“Sixty-five!” snapped another voice.

There was a deadly stillness.

“Seventy? Do I hear seventy?” rasped the auctioneer. There was dead silence.

“What’s selling?” I whispered to a tall man in front of me.

“A pair of Dresden china figures,” be replied quietly. “The dealers are after them.”

“Going!” wheedled the auctioneer. “Going!”

And they went at seventy.

Half a dozen people got up to leave and Jimmie and I seized the chance to get seats.

“Maybe,” chuckled Jim, “we’ll see that set of bilious china go.”

We had arrived right in the middle of a list of china, glassware, ornaments and other crockery. The battle of the dealers for the Dresden figures had stirred the crowd to great excitement. Everybody was shifting in their chairs and chattering excitedly. The next item was a large red glass vase which the auctioneer described as reputed to be genuine Bohemian, though I’m sure I have seen any number of the same down in the basement china departments of the big stores. Large, dark and ruby red.

The bidding started at $1 and went in about five minutes to $10. One of the bidders was a young woman, sitting just in front of us, obviously a newlywed. For every bid she upped, her young husband turned a glowing face on her, as though he loved the sound of her voice. Several other women and a couple of men were on the tilt. The auctioneer seemed a bit startled at the bidding, because he went over and had another good look at the red monstrosity, as if to make sure he wasn’t making some sort of mistake. When he resumed, he let the bidding go to $11.50 and then knocked it down very suddenly to the young newlyweds.

“You’ll notice,” whispered Jim gleefully, “there were dealers in on the tilt.”

“How about those two men bidding?” I suggested.

“Probably a couple of the auctioneer’s shills,” said Jim, “spotted in the crowd to excite the bidding. The shills always look like dealers.”

Sure enough, the beautiful set of china with the bilious border was tenderly brought in by three or four auctioneer’s helpers and ceremoniously displayed to the audience. The auctioneer described it as genuine Milton, one of the famed English chinamakers, and for the past 20 years the prized and tenderly cared for treasures of one of the city’s most prominent families.

“What am I offered?” he demanded.

“A hundred!” called a man.

“A hundred and ten!” promptly came a woman.

“A hundred and twenty!” rung another man.

“A hundred and twenty!” took up the auctioneer enthusiastically. “Come now, ladies and gentlemen…”

A curious apathy stood like a fog curtain between the auctioneer and the audience, and almost abruptly, knocked it down to the man who had bid the $120.

“A shill!” whispered Jimmie.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, we saw the man who bid the $120 out in the hallway showing some rugs to a pair of women.

“What a racket!” chuckled Jimmie, as we watched a man bid down all contestants for a brass coal scuttle that went for $14. And six glass tumblers that went to a fat man for $7. And a large glass dome, such as you see sandwiches displayed under in railroad restaurant counters, for $4.

“What the dickens,” I muttered, “would anybody want a thing like that?”

“Maybe the guy owns a railroad restaurant lunch counter,” hazarded Jim.

I was busy watching the crowd bidding on the next thing trying to pick the shills from the genuine bidders, and the dealers from the semi-professionals, and the neophytes from the newlyweds, when I heard Jimmie suddenly sing out:

“Four-fifty!”

I turned sharply. Sure enough it was Jim! He was sitting slightly forward on the edge of his chair, his chin lifted, his face flushed and a queer look in his eye.

Somebody called “Four seventy-five!” and Jim, rising slightly, snapped “Five!

I raised myself to see what was going.

It was one of those huge china vases, three feet high, in bright Chinese red, green and gold, with a golden dragon writhing around it.

I hadn’t seen one in years. Back in my boyhood, my grandmother had one in the front hall to put umbrellas in.

“Six-twenty-five!” rang Jim’s voice, as I realized the bidding was cracking faster and faster.

“Jim!” I hissed, taking his sleeve.

“Seven!” yelped Jimmie, jerking his sleeve from my grasp.

I furtively stood up and took another look, to be sure. Yes, the auctioneer’s helper was lifting the huge vase with laborious effort, to show its great weight. I noticed, now, that the slender neck of the vase would not permit umbrellas to go in it. It must have been for something else my grandmother had the bulky thing standing in the front hall.

“Nine!” quivered Jimmie’s voice beside me.

“Reputed,” droned the auctioneer’s voice, “to be genuine Ming! Nine-fifty I am offered!”

“Ten!” I shouted unexpectedly.

“Ten-fifty!” barked Jim.

“Hey!” I hissed, leaning out to try and fix his attention. “What the Sam Hill do you want that great ugly thing for?”

“You keep out of this!” snarled Jim, a wild look in his eyes, and elbowing me away. “Eleven-twenty five!”

The bidding had swept past us.

“Twelve!” I shouted.

“Twelve-fifty croaked Jim, turning his shoulder to me.

Well, it went at $14.25, to Jim!

And 20 minutes later we were outside in the lobby, paying the $14.25 to the cashier, while the auctioneer’s helper stood by, holding the great vase in his arms.

We both felt curiously limp and bewildered, as though we had been smitten by a sudden fever, sort of instantaneous malaria. Our faces were flushed. I had to lend Jim my $4.60 to eke out the $14.25.

Neither of us wished to look at the vase, which the helper kept confronting us with.

“I’ll carry it out to your car?” he wheedled. “You’ve got a car?”

“We’ll carry it,” said Jim grimly, pocketing his receipt.

We picked it up. Jim the heavy butt end, I the slender neck. We walked sideways to the door.

We picked it up, Jim the heavy butt end, I the slender neck

On the verandah, just at the top of the concrete steps, Jim’s foot caught, and he slipped.

The priceless Ming vase crashed to splinters down the steps.

“Thank heavens!” I gasped.

“Gosh!” whuffed Jimmie, taking his handkerchief and mopping his brow, “the way that thing strikes you! I didn’t know I was bidding. I just heard my voice!”

“It’s all very confusing, Jim,” I consoled, patting his shoulder. “Will we get somebody to come and sweep up this?”

“No, no,” said Jim, heading down the driveway. “They’re used to it. They expect it.”

And as we melted into the shadows, we saw the auctioneer’s helper come out with a carton and a broom and hastily sweep up the remnants.


Editor’s Notes: Great Expectations was a film released in 1946. It was adapted for the stage by Alec Guinness from the Charles Dickens novel. He also starred in the movie version.

$14.50 in 1947 is equivalent to $195 in 2020.

Money Trouble

The storekeeper picked up the new twenty-dollar bill and examined it closely … In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold undisguised suspicion.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 16, 1944

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, “that makes us Canadians so desperately respectful of authority?”

“I don’t imagine,” I replied, “that we’re any more respectful of authority than other people. The English, for instance, or the Germans.”

“Ah,” argued Jimmie, “yes, but the Germans have to be respectful or have their fingers jammed in doors in internment camps. And as for the English, it’s only put on. Did you ever try to pull a little authority over an Englishman?”

“If I had the authority, I think the English would recognize it as readily as anybody else,” I informed him.

“If you were an Englishman and had the authority,” corrected Jim. “They have a sort of agreement among themselves, a working agreement. But you take Canada. Somebody up top says what’s what and we all submit. There are no outbreaks. It isn’t as if these authorities had any tough gendarmes or black shirt police to back them up. I’m beginning to think Canadians are the most docile people on earth.”

“Remember the Chinese,” I protested. “Or the Eskimos.”

“All I’m thinking of,” said Jim, “is that cop back there at that fork in the highway. The way he ran up alongside of us and arrogantly turned us into the side of the road with a flick of his head.”

“He was perfectly right,” I said, “you didn’t slow down at that fork. There was a sign distinctly saying ‘slow to 15 miles’.”

“I’ve passed that fork a hundred times,” said Jim, “and there never was a cop there before.”

“That isn’t the point,” I assured him. “The law is the law whether there are any cops looking or not.”

“I don’t mind how many laws we’ve got,” said Jim, “so long as I am not humiliated in the enforcement of them.”

“You’re not mad at the cop,” I jeered. “You’re only mad at yourself for being so humble.”

“I wasn’t humble,” stated Jim. “I was only sensible.”

“You squawk about Canadians being docile,” I laughed, “and if ever I saw a docile Canadian, it was you when that cop nodded you haughtily to the side of the road and then bawled the daylight out of you.”

“I stared him straight in the eye,” cried Jim.

“Yes,” I said, “with your eyes wide and alarmed and full of an expression of deepest respect and humility.”

“We’ll Have to Be Smart”

“Oh, I did not,” protested Jim heatedly. “I did nothing of the kind. And anyway, how could you see me when you were cringing down in your seat as if God had suddenly appeared at the car window.”

“You were servile,” I declared. “You even called him sir.”

“An old habit,” said Jim, “I contracted in the last war. It was his khaki uniform.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it does seem absurd to me the way we kowtow to a cop. The way they bawl us out, the tone they take, you would think they were magistrates instead of cops. I don’t think we should put up with it.”

“The next cop,” said Jim, “I’m going to put in his place, if he so much as uses a tone I don’t like. He’s an employee.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said, sitting up hopefully to watch for cops.

“There must be some guilty conscience in us, or something,” mused Jim. “We Canadians must be descendants of people who came to this country fleeing from the law. All servility is based on fear. We must have some inherited fear of cops.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said guardedly (because after all what do we really know about our great-great-grandfathers?).

“I wish,” sighed Jim, “I had inherited something else from my ancestors than a guilty conscience. Craftiness, for example. I had a great-uncle Zebulon who was the craftiest man in seven townships. If I was crafty, I’d know what luck we were going to have tonight in finding the best place to go fishing.”

“It won’t be hard to find out,” I said. “A few discreet inquiries around the village.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “there are only nine houses, one general store and a gasoline pump in this village. Every man in the place is a musky fisherman. Dyed in the wool. The muskies at this time of year have left the weed beds and the deeps and have come in shore, along by the rocks and boulders. They are easier to catch and fight harder than at any other time of year. It is the peak, the glorious climax of the fishing season. These villagers look upon this season of the year as their share of the fishing. All summer long even in wartime they have been working madly for the benefit of vacationists who were getting all the fishing. Now the vacationists are gone, and it’s the villagers turn. They will resent us even arriving.”

“We’ll worm it out of them,” I assured him.

“We’ll have to be pretty smart,” said Jim.

“We can watch where they fish,” I reminded him.

“Yes, and waste half the morning trying to locate them,” argued Jim. “They’ll all be out before daybreak.”

“Jim,” I said, “you’ve got a poor opinion of country people. All we need to do is the old trick. Buy a few things at the general store, ask a few questions. Buy some gasoline, ask a few questions. Rent a boat, ask a few questions. Put two and two together, and there we are.”

Full of Great Quietness

We floated deeper into the musky country where civilization and the rocks were coming to grips. The farms grew fewer and more curiously laid out in fields bordered with shoals of primitive rock. We saw the first maples, gone gold and red. The villagers are right. This is the best time of year to go fishing.

The villages began to be farther apart. We left cement for gravel and gravel for sand, and finally entered a lovely narrow road winding amidst rocks and tall hardwood forests which we knew, according to our written directions, was the road that led to our happy destination where, along the rocky shores of a twisted and many-bayed lake, the big muskies, sick of the rotting weed beds, lay in the pure shallow shore water, waiting for something to wiggle past them, such as a well-cast lure.

And towards evening, we came to the village, full of a great quietness amidst all the equipment it had for summer, its park, the brightness, its shuttered outlying cottages. We cruised slowly down its one street, planning our campaign of reconnaissance.

“The general store, first,” I suggested.

And in front of the general store we drew up. It was the regular general store, with its ceiling covered with galvanized pails, bundles of hats, baled socks, boots. One side groceries. Other side, drygoods. Back, hardware.

Three or four men lingered leaning on counters as if expecting nothing to happen anyway.

“Good evening,” we said cheerily, in that easy city fashion. Our entry seemed to break a spell that had been holding the general store in thrall.

Everybody muttered except the storekeeper, an elderly gray moustached man who eyed us over his spectacles and said nothing. He went ahead quietly parcelling something out of sight.

Jim and I wandered slowly down the store, looking at the merchandise to see what we could reasonably buy as an excuse for visiting the store. Something inexpensive but useful.

“I think I’ll get a pair of overalls,” I said quietly, whispering through my nose.

“Nice bandanas,” murmured Jim. “How about a couple of bandanas each? Handy fishing.”

“You get the bandanas,” I muttered, “and I’ll take a hank of that clothes line. Good stuff to have in our kit for an anchor.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim, “and two or three cans of tomatoes. I don’t like drinking this weedy water; and canned tomatoes are swell.”

“O.K.” I muttered, as we turned and proceeded to the front of the store where everybody was covertly taking us in out of the corners of their eyes.

The storekeeper finally finished whatever he was doing and came and stood facing us, planting both palms on the counter.

“Good-evening,” said Jim, amiably. “How much are those bandanas?”

“Two for a quarter,” said he, handing down a sheaf of them.

We examined them carefully.

“Two of them,” said Jim pleasantly.

“How much is that clothesline?” I inquired with a winning smile.

The storekeeper looked at me expressionlessly and said: “Thirty cents.”

“I’ll love one,” I informed him enthusiastically.

But it seemed very difficult to rouse any response. Jim strolled back eyeing the shelves speculatively, and I followed.

“What did I tell you?” Jim murmured. “We’re suspected.”

“Ask about the fishing anyway,” I whispered.

“Not now,” said Jim shortly. “Hostile.”

Our murmured conversation was not lost upon the silent company in the store. The merchant was tying up our small purchases in paper.

“Three cans of tomatoes,” said Jim. “About a pound of cheese and a box of soda biscuits.”

A Faint, Cold Smile

The storekeeper slowly gathered these items and set them on the counter. He seemed to be waiting. So did all the others. A curious electrical feeling was in the dim air of this store.

“That will be all,” said Jim, reaching into his pocket.

“Here,” I said, “you bought the gasoline. I’ll attend to this.”

“No,” said Jim, “I want this changed.”

And he laid a crisp new $20 bill on the counter.

The storekeeper’s hands paused in the act of spreading a piece of wrapping paper. He stared at the bill. He picked it up gingerly and examined it closely. He held at up to the light. “I can’t change this,” he said.

“Can you get it changed handy?” asked Jim.

The storekeeper looked long and steadily at Jim. Then he shifted his gaze to me. There seemed to be a faint cold smile in his eyes.

“No,” he said.

“Can any of you gentlemen?” said Jim, turning to the others standing back in the store.

They stirred and looked away and shook their heads.

“Here,” I said diving into my pocket. But I had only 17 cents and a $10 bill, the expenses of the fishing trip, plus any sudden emergencies.

“Can you change the ten?” I said, tossing down the nice new Bank of Canada dix.

The storekeeper reached out cautiously and picked it up and examined it closely. He shot a quick look around at the men standing behind us.

“No,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Well, heh, heh,” I said, “I’ve only got 17 cents. How much have you got, Jim?”

“Just a dime,” said Jim.

“You can take two cans of tomatoes,” said the storekeeper, “or the two bandanas. Or the rope and one can of tomatoes. Or…”

“Maybe the gas-pump man can change it,” suggested Jimmie.

“Do You Mean to Insinuate?”

All eyes turned to one of the men standing back of us. He, it seems, was the service-station man.

“Sorry,” he said. “All I got is tens myself.”

In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold, undisguised suspicion.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “do you mean this money is no good?”

I picked up my 10 and examined it closely.

“It may be all right,” said the garage man, he was a heavy set and sulky type, “but there has been some phoney money spread around this country lately.”

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded of the public at large, “that we are trying to pass bogus money? Are you accusing us at being criminals?”

Nobody replied, but the storekeeper turned his back and began replacing on the shelves the articles we had almost bought.

Jim and I looked anxiously around at the faces. They were mostly averted, and there was no friendliness on any of them.

“Could you tell us,” asked Jim, “If there is a boarding house in the village open or anywhere we can put up for a couple of nights?”

Everybody looked at us.

“We’re here for a couple of days’ fishing,” I put in.

“Fishing?” said the sulky garage man. “Well, my mother takes in a couple now and then.”

“Mrs. Tom is still open, I believe,” said the storekeeper.

His and everybody else’s face had come to life.

“I’ll slip over and see what mother says,” said the garage man, buttoning his windbreaker in a business-like way.

“Muskies you’re after, eh?” said the storekeeper, breaking into a friendly grin.

“Yes,” we said, “but er … ah…”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the storekeeper. “If you want that stuff I can change your 20 easy enough.”

“How’s this?” demanded Jim. “A minute ago…”

“Sure, sure,” soothed the storekeeper. “But you acted so suspicious when you came in.”

“Suspicious?” I asked.

“Guilty as anything, the both of you,” laughed the storekeeper, starting to hand down the tomatoes and bandanas again “Didn’t they gents?”

Everybody smiled and nodded.

“I couldn’t figure out,” said the storekeeper, whose name proved to be McAndrews, and can he ever catch muskies? – “until you laid down that new 20, and naturally I thought there was something funny about it.”

“Well,” said Jim, “if we looked guilty it was only because our real purpose coming in here was to get some tips on where to go fishing tomorrow, but we were going to buy some odds and ends and ask you casually …”

“Ah,” said Mr. McAndrews, “a guilty conscience always shows.”

“All right,” said Jim, “here’s a straightforward question.”

And we got a straightforward answer, and five muskies, and we know the first name of the whole 14 men in the village and we hope to leave a lot of tens and twenties there in the future.


Editor’s Note: $20 in 1944 would be $301 in 2020, so 10s and 20s were quite valuable back then.

Millions in Mink

We drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, September 6, 1947

“There’s millions,” declared Jimmie Frise, “in mink!”

“I wouldn’t invest a cent,” I stated.

“This fellow I met,” went on Jim excitedly, “offers us what they call a trio – male and two females – for only $140!”

“Not a cent,” I repeated decisively.

“Look,” said Jim. “We go shares. Seventy dollars each. He keeps the mink on his ranch, see? All we do is invest our money. He needs the money for development of his ranch. He does all the work. Now, suppose our two females have five kits each…”

“Kits!” I checked.

“That’s what they call young mink,” explained Jim. “There’s 10 kits. And so it goes. Maybe two or three litters a year. They’re like rabbits. They multiply rapidly. Why, before the year is out, we’ve got maybe 30 or 40 mink to our credit.”

“If there’s millions in mink,” I demanded cunningly, “What does this guy want $140 for?”

“You don’t understand,” complained Jim. “It’s like the mining game. You’ve got to put money in for development. I just met this mink rancher on the road. He was thumbing a lift, and I happened to be lucky enough. to pick him up.”

“Lucky?” I scoffed.

“Yes, I consider myself lucky,” asserted Jim, “in having picked this guy up. He certainly opened my eyes.”

“What was he doing thumbing a lift,” I questioned sarcastically, “if he is in the big money?”

“That’s the point!” cried Jim. “Don’t you see? He’s just developing into the mink racket. Do you think, if he were an established mink rancher, he’d let a couple of outsiders like us into a partnership?”

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” I grumbled.

“You’re like all the rest of mankind who miss the boat,” protested Jimmie. “The whole secret of success in life is speculation. Who makes the millions out of the gold mines of this country? The people who buy the stock AFTER the mine has proved good? No, sir! The people who make the millions are those who invested a little capital to develop the mine in the first place. The people with the courage to risk a little capital for the DEVELOPMENT of the mines. Those are the guys who own the two-tone convertible jobs.”

“Mink,” I stated, “are a fad.”

“A fad, my neck!” protested Jim. “Do you know how much they are paying for mink coats in New York and London right now? As high as $20,000!”

“That’s absurd,” I submitted.

“For blue mink coats,” said Jim. “Twenty, twenty-five thousand bucks!”

“Blue mink?” I requested.

“Yes, that’s the latest,” explained Jim. “The fine under-fur of the mink is a beautiful blue color. It gives the richest, most glorious lustre to the fur.”

“I’ve seen lots of mink,” I admitted, “but I never saw a blue one yet.”

“Well, up in the far north,” elaborated Jim, “the wild mink have this beautiful bluish under-fur. And on the world markets, mink pelts from the northern Quebec and James Bay district have always commanded the most fabulous prices. So, in recent years, the mink breeders have been specializing on this blue mink. Now, are you listening?”

“Go ahead,” I muttered.

“This fellow Middity I met, Hugh Middity, his name is,” said Jim dramatically, “is going to raise blue mink. And he’s letting us in, for only $140! Seventy bucks apiece!”

“Not for blue mink,” I asserted. “Nor for pink mink. Nor for any other kind of mink.”

“Aw, look,” pleaded Jim. “The world is hungry for mink. There isn’t a woman from the Atlantic to the Pacific who doesn’t covet a mink coat. So far, only the wealthiest and most pampered women – the movie stars, the wives of rich tycoons – have been able to afford mink. But there’s millions to be made …”

“Jim,” I assured, “when I was a boy, seal was the rage. No lady considered herself a lady until she owned a bob-tailed seal coat, with a frill around the bustle and large leg-of-mutton shoulders. So the fur trade produced millions of seal pelts and killed the fashion right off. The next thing I remember was Persian lamb. The next fashion was Hudson seal – which was muskrat clipped and dyed to look like seal. Next – mink!”

“But it will be years, years,” cried Jim, “before we satisfy the craving of the womanhood of America and Europe for mink coats!”

“I’ll tell you something, Jim,” I informed him. “Do you know that there are thousands of mink being bred right in the city limits of cities like Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg? Do you know that in back yards, all around the suburbs and actually inside the city limits, there are hundreds and hundreds of pens where little guys like store clerks and accountants and mechanics are raising mink for the market you are raving about? They have a long pen, about two feet square on the front, and about eight or 10 feet long, for each mink. A wire floor in each pen, and a little den of a sleeping box at the back…”

“Mink ranches are out in the quiet country,” interrupted Jimmie, “and the ranchers keep them solitary and free of worry from dogs barking or other disturbing noises.”

“Jim, I got it from a vet friend of mine,” I insisted, “who attends these city mink breeders. There are thousands of mink raised every year right in cities and the suburbs.”

“Well, what of it?” exclaimed Jim. “There’s a fortune in it! I’m not talking about guys raising half a dozen mink in a back yard. I’m talking about mink RANCH. We invest in a trio – one male and two females. At the end of the first year, we’ve got 30 or 40 mink. Forty mink! Do you know how much one blue mink – for breeding purposes – will sell for? TWO HUNDRED BUCKS!”

“For one mink,” I checked.

“For one mink,” assured Jim. “In fact, a good breeder blue male mink will sell as high as six hundred. Or even a thousand. It’s all luck. It’s like the gold mines. If you happen to develop a good blue strain, why there’s no limit to the money you can make. Look at what bulls sell for? You often see a bull selling for $15,000.”

“Yeah, a bull,” I admitted. “But a mink is a mighty small animal compared to a bull.”

“Greg,” said Jim, patiently, and a little sadly. “You don’t seem to understand how big money is made. You don’t get rich in this world by hard work. If hard work made a guy rich, there wouldn’t be a poor day laborer or a poor farmer or a poor mechanic in this world. No sir. The way you get rich is by shrewd and intelligent foresight. You look ahead and see what your fellow-man doesn’t see – yet! Now, any fool could look at the world today and see this mink coat racket and realize there’s millions in it. Every woman in the world – rich AND poor — wants a mink coat. Where are they going to come from?”

“Did you say this guy was breeding BLUE mink?” I inquired.

Now, during this debate, Jim was driving me 30 miles north of the city to meet the man he had picked up on the side road who had implanted in Jimmie this passion for mink.

“Two miles further,” said Jim, turning on to a gravel road.

And in no time, we drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house, set among fields of stones and underbrush, a picture of decay.

We got out and Jimmie walked to the gaping front kitchen door and rapped. No answer.

We walked over past the barn, where there was neither animal nor man.

But beyond the barn, on a sloping bare pasture field, we saw eight or nine small structures amid the weeds which, on closer examination, appeared to be cages or pens. And among them, a man was bending.

We walked over the hills and hailed him.

“Jim,” I muttered, as we drew nearer, “this is an awful shabby outfit. If there was any money in mink, wouldn’t this guy have things a little more presentable?”

“I tell you,” hissed Jimmie, “it’s like the mining game. If this guy didn’t need capital to get his ranch going, would be ever be fool enough to let strangers like us in on the ground floor? I tell you, it’s a lucky strike, a bonanza for us!”

When we came up to the pens, the rancher, Mr. Middity, came forward to welcome us. He was a small, dignified little man, either with a very weak beard or else in need of a shave for about three weeks. His features were close set and narrow, and his eyes deep in his head. When he spoke, his small mouth revealed sharp marrow teeth, and I thought he looked more like a mink than some of the animals he showed us in the pens.

“Ah, Mr. Clark,” he said in a cultivated tone much in contrast to his ragged and dilapidated appearance, “I’m a city man born and raised myself. But I saw the folly of the city some years ago, and have been in the mink game.

“How many mink have you?” I interrupted, starting along the pens.

“Easy, easy!” warned Mr. Middity. “Don’t startle them? As a matter of fact, you have caught me at a fortunate moment for you and an unfortunate moment for me. I am in the throes of transition. I have just sold out, lock, stock and barrel, all my standard bred minks and have preserved only a very choice selection of breeding stock. Blue, Mr. Clark! I am confident I have solved the mystery of breeding the true blue mink. Not the mutation. Not the albino. But the true blue!”

“How many mink have you?” I repeated.

“Er… seven,” said Mr. Middity. “Let me see? Yes, seven.”

I glanced along the pens and could only see three.

“When strangers come around,” explained Mr. Middity, “they are very shy. They retreat into the sleeping dens.”

Jim was creeping from pen to pen, lost in a sort of ecstasy, even when looking into an empty pen. The screen of the pens was rusty and patched.

“At this stage,” explained Mr. Middity, “I am looking for a little capital to develop the property. I have, as I said, satisfied myself that I have the secret of the true blue strain in mink. It is a secret I am not at liberty, of course, to reveal at this time. But in due time, to my partners …”

And he smiled very minkily, and waved his hand airily.

Jim was down on his hands and knees at one of the far pens, making a sound like “eeky-weeky” at a very pale brown mink that was peering sleepily out of its den at the back of the pen.

“My proposition,” said Mr. Middity in a loud voice so as to include Jim, “is that I sell you a trio of three – a male and two females -“

“I was telling my friend,” assured Jim, jumping up and joining us.

“It was sheer chance, our meeting,” smiled Mr. Middity. “I was heading into the village to discuss the matter with one of my friends, there, the storekeeper. And who should pick me up …?”

“Which three are you going to sell us?” I inquired.

“Would you rather I sold you three particular mink?” asked Mr. Middity. “Or would you not prefer just to have a three-mink share in the enterprise?”

“I’d rather have three particular mink,” I stated. “Then we could keep track of the litters.”

“Aw, yes,” agreed Jim. “I think we’d prefer to have three particular mink.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Middity. “How about these three on the far end? The farthest is a male, and the next two pens are females. How would they do?”

“Can we see them?” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Mr. Middity. “If they’re out. But you know how shy mink are.”

The pale brown one – the one Jimmie had been going “eeky-weeky” at – had retired back into his den box. The other two pens appeared empty.

“If we wait a minute or so, quietly …” suggested Mr. Middity.

So we stood very quiet, watching. But after a good five minutes, nothing stirred. No sign of any mink appeared, either in the end pen or in the two adjoining ones.

“Ah, well,” sighed Mr. Middity. “They’re all the same, anyway. Only the rarest and choicest specimens were kept when I sold out the surplus, The three on the end, then, the male and two females, will be yours.”

And we went back to the broken down farmhouse, where Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque for $140.

Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque.

“I collect from you tonight,” Jim smiled at me.

Which he did.

That was Wednesday. This is Saturday. In this morning’s mail, Jim got the following letter from Mr. Middity:

“Dear Partners –

“In last night’s thunderstorm, a high wind blew the pens over, and your three mink escaped. I doubt if we can recover them. It’s the luck of the game. However, I have a beautiful azure blue female, a nice quiet animal that wouldn’t run away if she had the chance. I would be happy to let you have her for the sum of $200. Please let me know at once if this opportunity appeals to you, as it isn’t everybody I would take in on partnership.

“Your for bigger and better business,

“HUGH MIDDITY.”

Jim read the letter over the telephone to me.

“What do you think?” he asked enthusiastically.

“I think.” I replied, “it’s the same as gold mines.”

And I hung up.


Editor’s note: $140 in 1947 would be $1977 in 2020.

Semi-Nudism

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend here can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1934.

“Look at you,” declared Jimmie Frise. “Almost at the end of the summer and you haven’t a speck of color.”

“I got a good tan in July,” I said.

“It’s all gone now,” stated Jim. “You look as pallid as a garment worker. You have no more color than a sheep. The summer is the time we Canadians should soak up the sun and warmth to carry us over the long and blood-chilling winter.”

“I don’t tan,” I said. “I burn.”

“Everybody tans,” corrected Jim. “Some of us have to take it in easy stages, but we tan. Tan is the sign that you have done your duty, as a good Canadian, in so far as storing up energy against the winter. Like bees storing up honey.”

“I guess I have it inside of me,” I suggested.

“Look at those kids now,” said Jim.

Two girls and two boys were walking along King St. ahead of us. The boys were both shock-headed blonds and the girls were sleek brunettes. The boys were bare-armed, bare-necked and they were tanned a gorgeous orange shade. The girls, their backs and shoulders bared by print dresses, were a deep chocolate.

“There,” cried Jimmie, “are true Canadians. They will survive the winter. They will be full of pep next March when the last fatal blizzards blow.”

“Jimmie,” I accused, “I believe you are a nudist at heart.”

“No, just a semi-nudist,” said Jim. “I’m going down to Sunnyside this afternoon and lie in the sun. I think you should come along.”

“It’s a pretty hot day.”

“This late-season sun doesn’t burn,” assured Jim. “It has lost its sting. The sun is already sloping far down to the south, only we don’t realize it. The weather is still hot because all the heat the sun has been baking and pouring on to the earth this last two months keeps things warm. The earth has been doing what we should do. It has been soaking up the sun. But there is no kick in the sun now.”

“I’ll come,” I said, “but I think I’ll bring a parasol.”

Jimmie looked at me with contempt.

“You don’t deserve to be a Canadian,” he snorted. “You act like a soft Californian or a Jamaican. To be a Canadian you have got to be able to take it, hot or cold.”

“We will have bathing suits?” I inquired.

“Trunks only,” said Jim. “I’m going to wear my trunks and a sweat-shirt in the car until I get there.”

After lunch Jimmie picked me up at the house. He was handsome in bright blue trunks and a yellow sweat-shirt. I wore my striped dressing gown over my regular bathing suit. I beckoned him to come into the side drive to pick me up. With my family, away. I don’t want the neighbors seeing me traipsing around in a striped bath robe. Sunnyside is all right. You are lost in the picture there. But summer bachelors have to use discretion.

Spectacle of Happiness

There were thousands spread along the Sunnyside shore. Bathing, beach bathing, sun bathing, in clots and mobs and family parties, along the bright shore and the blue water, they made a spectacle of color and health and happiness.

“Now,” said Jimmie, coasting along the highway, “it is illegal for us semi-nudists to parade in half a bathing suit, so we just have to hunt along the beach until we see an unfrequented spot. There are hundreds of our fellow sun-worshippers there on the beach, lying flat and out of sight. The only time the police pick you up is when you walk around in full view.”

“It would look fine in the papers,” I said, “in the police court news-‘journalists pinched for nudism.’ I can’t take any chances, Jim. Not with my family. Let’s drive out to the country somewhere and lie down in the middle of a ten-acre field with a hollow in it.”

“The beach is the proper place,” said Jim. “What would the cows think of seeing us in their field? And, anyway, it would be a far worse crime to be semi-nude in the middle of a ten-acre field in the country than semi-nude on a city beach. You don’t understand the rural mind.”

“I’ll only tan my legs and arms,” I said. “And if the cops see you I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”

Jim parked the car. Down even with us on Sunnyside were scattered bushes and long grass and far away to the east and well off toward the west were bright crawling hordes of sun-worshippers, but in front of us were just a few scattered couples.

“This is ideal,” said Jimmie. “You can’t see a person lying down here.”

We walked down the terraces and out across the grassy and sandy approaches. The few scattered couples paid no attention to us. I observed that several of them were exposing gleaming backs to the bright rays of the sun. The water was glassy. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Jim chose a nice spot, well distant from any others, and we lay down on the sand. Jim skillfully peeled off his yellow sweatshirt and I removed my dressing gown and spread it for a quilt to lie on.

“Ah,” we said. And it was lovely We chatted lazily about this and that. About the ancient peoples who worshipped the sun as the giver of life. About nudism.

“The Germans started this nudism,” said Jimmie. “I think it was symbolical. They went nude to show the world how thoroughly they had been stripped by the war and the pence.”

“No,” I said, “there has always been nudism. It is a deep instinct in us. It harks back to the ages when we all went around nude. But of course in those days we wore a heavy hide of fur all over us. But whenever a race gets weak and worn out nature starts stirring in their blood old hankerings and ancient instincts. The Germans after the war were weak and defeated, and to bring them back to life old Mother Nature waked in them the idea of running about naked. That explains all this stuff about the old gods and Hitler trying to bring back the ancient German virtues. It is like a sick man trying to show how strong and active he is. He sticks out his chest and talks in big deep voice, but he doesn’t fool anybody.”

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie. His eyes were closed. The sun was like a flood. I looked discreetly about and as far as the eye could see was just blue water and yellow sand and couples and groups of delightful people minding their own business. And not a cop was in sight anywhere. So I slipped off the shoulder straps of my bathing suit and peeled it politely down to my waist. I lay back.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie.

So I just lay there and drowsed and I fell asleep.

Jimmie waked me.

“Turn over,” said Jim. “You are done on the front. Now for your back.”

I turned over. It felt cool and dry.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“About three-thirty,” thought Jimmie. “Isn’t this swell?”

“It ought to be part of the public health laws of Ontario,” I declared, “to spend so many hours a week taking the sun.”

So we talked on our stomachs for a while about ants and desert sand and grass and so forth. We thought of this good old earth with all the vasty face of it covered by these countless, uncountable grains of sand, of all the blades of grass standing pointing at the sun in a sort of Hitler salute…

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie, who has been tired of Hitler for four months.

I lay watching the ants and the small bugs and the fatheaded baby grasshoppers working out their silly destiny at the end of my nose, and the great sun fired its millions of life-giving electrons or whatever it is into my back and down my legs. I could feel them tingling rather tightly.

“Jimmie,” I said quietly, “did you say the August sun had no power?”

“Mmmm,” said Jim, his head on his arms.

So I fell asleep, too, and I dreamed I was Gordon Sinclair snapping my fingers under the noses of tigers in Samarkand and climbing mountains in Asia on the southern slopes, where a sun like a furnace fried my back.

Jimmie woke me.

“Wah-ho,” l yawned. “Ouch!”

“It must be six o’clock,” said Jim.

The sun was far over Hamilton, London and points west.

I started to roll over.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Now, now,” said he. “I’m still on my face myself. Take it easy.”

My back felt as if it was all bound up with court plaster. It had a cold feeling, As I lay there a kind of shiver ran across.it. I tried to straighten my arms to lift my upper part clear of the sand. But my elbows would not bend.

“Jimmie, my elbows won’t bend!”

“Not as bad as my knees not bending,” said Jim. “Fifft! Woe is me!”

I turned my head, but something was holding the back of my neck. I moved one leg, but the skin on the back of my knee had stiffened and I had a feeling it would not stretch, like skin, but would crack, like glass.

I could see Jim. He was a bright fiery red.

“You look boiled,” I gasped.

“I would sooner look boiled than fried,” said he, looking me over.

I found that my middle section, covered by my bathing suit, still had a joint in it. Somehow, despite terrible lacerating sand and cruel spikey grass, I got turned over and sat up, with arms, legs and neck held carefully rigid.

“Boy,” I yelled, and even my voice felt crackly, “boy, come over here!”

A little boy was passing and came over.

“Please go and get somebody,” I said, “a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. Get somebody and bring them here.”

“We’ll Pay For the Ambulance”

The little boy scampered away down the beach, and in a little while he returned with a great black-armed, black-chested, black-faced life-guard in a red bathing suit and a white hat.

“Well, gents,” said the great mahogany life-guard.

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend there can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

“Where’s your car?” asked the life-guard.

“Level with us up there,” groaned Jimmie.

“I’ll carry you up,” said he. “Once you get home you can go to bed and call the doctor.”

I didn’t like the thought of the great walnut hands gripping my skin. I felt as if large slithers of skin would slip off me wherever he touched me.

“Perhaps,” I said, “if you could send for an ambulance with a stretcher it would be better. We’ll pay for the ambulance.”

“Just take it easy,” said the life-guard. walking muscularly and bow-leggedly and very chocolately away.

In a few minutes he came back with two planks and a wheel-barrow.

“Easy,” I begged. Jim and I were not speaking. In fact we hadn’t spoken at all.

The life-guard laid the planks down beside me, rolled us on to the planks, skidded us on to the wheel-barrow and tenderly trundled us across the rolling sands and through the harsh grass and over all the ants and grasshoppers, up the terrace to our car.

“This happens all the time,” he said gently. He lifted Jim in his immense black arms and I noted the contrasts between his color and Jim’s. It was different.

He laid me on the back seat.

“Now,” he said, “you’ve got a good beginning. Let this lay a couple of days and then, if you don’t blister or peel, come on down for another dose. In about two weeks you’ll have a nice color.”

“You’ve very kind,” Jimmie and I whispered.

Jim, like a jointed doll, slowly turned on the switch, stepped on the starter.

“I’m glad,” said Jim, “there aren’t many turns on the road home.”

“Think of to-morrow,” I said hollowly.

“What’s the matter with the police force in Toronto!” demanded Jimmie, angrily, not moving his neck. “Why don’t they get on the job and stop this semi-nude stuff on our beaches!”

“You’re right,” I said.


Editor’s Notes: It was still illegal in 1934 for men to go topless in public. That is why when you see old pictures of people in bathing suits, the men have an undershirt part to it. Also at this point in history, Adolf Hitler had only recently became Chancellor of Germany and started consolidating his power. He would be a prominent news figure, and curiosity, but not likely considered a real threat yet.

Samarkand is a city in southeastern Uzbekistan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. The writer Gordon Sinclair was famous during this time for his stories of travels to exotic locations.

Court plaster, is just another name for an adhesive bandage.

And The Fish Were Biting!

And licketty bang, we went thundering and bouncing over the field in a hay rick …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 22, 1942.

“I’m glad,” stated Jimmie Frise, “that you I are wearing your business clothes.”

“As a matter of fact,” I confessed, “it is getting a little harder all the time to put on my fishing togs. At least, in public.”

“To tell the truth,” said Jim, “the reason I suggested we leave as early as this was to avoid the neighbors seeing me pack up the car with fishing tackle and the outboard engine.”

“I noticed you drove up to my house very quietly,” I informed him, “not tooting your horn as usual, but just rolling up into my side drive.”

“Well, I didn’t know what you might be wearing,” explained Jim. “I’m glad to see you put your fishing clothes and tackle in an ordinary suit-case this time, instead that old canvas bag you generally use.”

“I guess we both feel the same about going fishing,” I submitted, “We are both trying to conceal the fact that we are taking a holiday.”

“Well, for all our brave talk,” said Jim, “this is the first time we’ve gone fishing since the opening of the season, away back in the end of June.”

“And now the summer’s nearly over,” I sighed.

“If people knew how we measure our lives,” said Jim, “not by years, but by days spent in the open, they mightn’t think ill of us.”

“Well, I hope we have some luck,” I stated. “This is our last fishing trip for 1942. With the end of this trip, another year has gone out of our lives.”

“We should kick,” said Jim. “Think of the boys in the army who have been three years away.”

“They’re young,” I reminded him. “They can catch up.”

“If,” said Jimmie.

Be Ashamed of Others

Which brief remark gave us a few minutes of silence as we drove out of the city and got on to the highway leading north. We were both in our regular business clothes. Our bags and fishing rods were carefully stowed out of sight in the car. We might have been mistaken for a couple of gentlemen of the War Prices Board heading out to some neighboring city to investigate a scandal.

“I guess,” said Jimmie, after we had both pondered that wicked little “if” for a while. “I guess when people begin being ashamed of themselves, the war may be said to have arrived in our midst.”

“The best way to avoid being ashamed of ourselves,” I agreed, “is to be ashamed of others. When you are busy being ashamed of the government or your neighbors or relatives, you have no time to think up things to be ashamed of in yourself.”

“And the louder the critics talk about others,” pointed out Jim, “the nearer, probably, they are to realizing their own faults. The awful day dawns sooner or later.”

“Of course, there are some people,” I recollected, “who are physically incapable of being ashamed. They haven’t got the necessary mental organ to feel shame with.”

“That’s called conscience,” said Jim.

“No, it’s different from conscience,” I declared. “Conscience is the moral sense of right and wrong. And right and wrong are like the stock market; you’ve got to have the latest quotations. But I know lots of people who do the most dreadful things without the least sense of shame. To be able to be ashamed, you’ve got to be a little soft. The harder you are, the less shame you can feel.”

“Then where does that let us off?” demanded Jimmie. “Because it certainly isn’t softness we need now. The war demands hardness from us in every possible respect. Hardness in our soldiers and fighters. Hardness in us at home here, to quit our selfish, creeping ways and get into the chain-gang of war. If being ashamed is a sign of softness, then we should not feel ashamed.”

Old Man Wilson’s Oats

And as we rolled up hill and down dale, we noted the farms and how thoroughly gleaned they all looked; all the fields stubbly brown; all the barns full; threshing going on at some; and only here and there a few farmers still toiling in the fields.

“Oats,” said Jim, “and wheat.”

Ahead of us on the side of the gravel road, a man was sitting who as we drew near, rose to his feet with every indication that he intended to hail us; a hitch-hiker, no doubt.

He waved his arm with more authority than most hitch-hikers and signalled us to halt.

He put his head in Jim’s window.

“Good-day, gents,” he said. “Are you from hereabouts?”

“No, we’re from the city,” I replied with dignity. There was something breezy and commanding about this man in his shirt sleeves that caused me to regard him with suspicion.

“H’m,” he said, casting his eye over our baggage. “Are you bent on business? Urgent business?”

“Yes,” I said shortly.

“Could it wait for a few hours?” he inquired. He had a cold, hard eye, with a slight glint in it.

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim a little sharply. “What are you getting at?”

“Well, gents,” said the stranger, “the probabilities are rain tomorrow. The farmer who lives in here is an elderly man. His oats are still in the shock. We have organized this township the past three weeks better than any other township in the province, but we still haven’t got Old Man Wilson’s oats in.”

“So?” I said firmly.

“I’m out here, on the road,” said the stranger, “commandeering anybody I can find to come in and help us get those oats in.”

“I’m afraid,” I stated, “we wouldn’t be much use to you. City men are hardly the type you are seeking.”

“Listen,” said the commando stranger, “anybody can pitch sheaves of oats.”

“I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie proudly, leaning back.

“Hey, then, will you come?” cried the high-jacker, delighted.

“I thought,” I stated loudly, “that you had all these farm commandos worked out within your own township. Why stop people who…”

“We did have it organized,” explained the stranger, giving me a hostile look. “Even the boys in the army from the farms around here came and spent their leaves pitching oats and wheat. All the old men, all the girls and women …”

“Wouldn’t you be better employed,” I inquired pleasantly, “in there pitching sheaves than standing out here on the road?”

“Well, I’m a city man myself,” said the stranger, “and I’ve been up since 4 o’clock this morning. And I could see we would never get the job done before dark if we didn’t have at least eight more forks working…”

“We’re on,” said Jim, grabbing the steering wheel. “Hop on the running board and show us in.”

“No, drive right in,” said the stranger. “I’ve got to get two more…”

Just Opposite Types

So we left him on the road and drove up a few rods to the lane and drove in.

In the distance, we saw four wagons on the fields, some loaded and headed for the barn, some empty or half laden, out in the fields. And at least eight men were working on the wagons or with forks in the fields.

“Old Man Wilson’s got a lot of oats,” I remarked.

“And the country needs them all,” said Jim.

“I don’t think I like our friend out on the road,” I stated, as we drew up at the barn.

“I don’t think he likes you either,” smiled Jim. “You’re just opposite types, that’s all.”

“I think he is one of those busybodies,” I said. “There is at least one in every service club. One on every church board of managers. Always going about, doing good; in loud voice and with a commanding manner.”

“He seemed a good guy to me,” said Jim.

“What do we do?” I demanded grimly, getting out of the car.

“First put on our fishing clothes,” said Jim, “and come on out in the fields and I’ll show you how to pitch oats.”

And while we changed, the stranger arrived in the barnyard on the running board of another car with three men in it.

He greeted us in our fishing clothes with hearty enthusiasm.

“Hah,” he said “you even have the clothes. Gents, my name is Wilson, I’m nephew of the Old Man who owns this farm. These gentlemen were just heading into town to sign some property deeds so they figured that could wait.”

The three newcomers were farmers; the six of us marched in a body into the field where, at the back of the barn, Old Man Wilson was sitting amidst a collection of hay forks, pails of lemonade and other accoutrements of the harvest. Old Man Wilson was an extremely old man in his 80’s by the look of him. He was long past work himself.

“I’ll pay you regular wages,” he quavered at us grinning, as the whole platoon of us swarmed around him. “Regular wages, by jimminy. Now wade in there, boys.”

An empty hay rick came clattering out from the barnyard and Mr. Commando Wilson hailed it and signaled to Jim and me to climb aboard.

“There’ll be two others down there to help you pitch on this one,” he yelled, giving the horses a spank.

And licketty bang we went, thundering and bouncing over the field in the hay rick, headed for the long row of stooked oats.

I tried to yell to Jim that this was quite a fishing trip, but the words came out all jiggled. All the end of a half pitched row, the rick drew up and almost before Jim and I got off, the sheaves were flying from below the as the two farmers already on the job began pitching.

From everything I have seen of farm life, it’s a leisurely profession. You never, for example, see a farmer actually plowing. He is either resting from plowing; just going to plow; just finished plowing; or else is stopped down by the fence talking to somebody passing on the road.

But this was different. This oats pitching. It takes more skill than strength. But it takes strength too. Jim, after a few minutes, was almost as good as the two farmers on the far side of the rick. But after about 10 minutes, one of the farmers from the far side came around and traded places with Jim.

“I’ll just team up with you,” he said to me amiably, “until you get the knack of it.”

Getting the Knack of It

They said, at supper, that I did get the knack of it, more or less, before the day was done. I may have. But I had knacks in my neck, and knacks in my waist, kidneys and tenderloins; knacks in my legs, arms and shoulders. I was one large knack.

The wagon keeps slowly moving ahead, in short starts and stops, as the sheaves are pitched. The more you pitch on, the higher and harder you have to pitch. By the time the rick is loaded, you are heaving those apparently flimsy bundles of straw right over the moon, it seems.

By resting the handle the fork over my hip, I could get a fair heave. But to tell the truth, it was the farmer who came around to my side who really did most of the pitching. He would pretend, as he caught one I fumbled in midair, and pitched aloft for me, that that was a great improvement on the ordinary way of pitching oats. He said I had probably stumbled on a new idea of great importance to agriculture, to have a little man and a big man on one side of the rick so that the little man could pitch it halfway, and the big man catch it and pitch it the rest of the way.

He was a swell guy.

We had the whole field done well before supper time, and Old Man Wilson’s grand-daughter had prepared a magnificent spread for us.

Before we sat down, Old Man Wilson came in and staged a regular ceremony. He had an old purse, and from it he counted out our wages. We each got a dollar thirty.

“These high wages,” said the Old Man, “will be the ruin of farming.”

Mr. Commando Wilson took each of our dollar-thirties off the whole party to send to the boys of the township overseas in cigarettes from “the Oats Pitchers”.

“I came up here,” declared Mr. Commando Wilson, “on a holiday. I came up here to fish. And I got let into more work than I’ve done in 30 years…”

“Where were you intending to fish?” I inquired.

“In the lake here, back of the farm,” said he. “There’s a little lake back here, about 40 rod, that has more big bass, by big bass. I mean five, five and a half…”

Well, of course, it was too late for anything but a few casts before dark. We got two each, Wilson, Jim and I.

But we had the whole of the next day.


Editor’s Notes: Greg and Jim probably feel guilty enjoying themselves during this period of the war, when everything was still uncertain.

A rod, is an old unit of measure, about 5 metres in length.

A hay rick is a wagon, stooked oats means uncut oats, and a stook, is the stack they are in.

Backyard Trappers

There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, with my rat trap clinging to her finger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 11, 1945

“How queer,” said Jimmie Frise, “the city looks in summer.”

“You mean the streets like this?” I suggested, as we drove up our old familiar avenue. “Sort of slumbering.”

“I imagine,” mused Jim, “there isn’t another city in the world that has the percentage of summer absentees Toronto has. I bet there are more people in Toronto who have summer cottages than in any other big city on earth.”

“It’s because our lake country,” I submitted, “begins less than 50 miles from the city limits. Not many big cities have a Muskoka, Haliburton and Georgian Bay within a couple of hours’ drive.”

“Montreal?” queried Jim.

“In Montreal, I pointed out, “you see the summer cottages right in the suburbs. But per population, I don’t think Montreal uses her Laurentians to the extent Toronto uses Muskoka. For one thing, vast hunks of the Laurentians are leased out to comparatively small clubs of wealthy men. Some of the choicest lakes near Montreal are exclusive.”

“Just look at this street!” cried Jim. “Not a soul in sight. Not a dog, not a cat. Every house deserted. Look at the trees, all hanging heavy with summer. Look at the bushes and the flower beds. Untouched by human hands for weeks.”

“Let out a yell,” I suggested, “and see if a single curtain stirs.”

We drove in our side drive in the dusk. We were home for just overnight, to attend to a matter of urgent business. We were going straight back to the cottage in the morning, as soon as we had bought some potatoes.

“I’ll just run around to my place,” suggested Jim, “and see if everything is okay. Then I’ll come back and spend the night here, so we can get organized for the morning.”

“No use disturbing two houses for the one night,” I agreed. “Let’s leave it until morning, and we’ll call at your place in passing.”

“Okay,” concurred Jim, taking off his coat as we entered the house.

It had the close smell of the summer-deserted house. We went about opening windows and doors. We turned on the radio, tried the taps to see if civilization was still functioning. The cool air of early night blew through the house, freshening it.

We strolled out the kitchen door into the garden. In the gloom of final dusk, we could see the lawn grass thick and wild, and the flower borders tangled and strange with hundreds of blooms. The spare and trim and skimpy garden we had last seen in early July was now a regular jungle of lush growth.

“Jim,” I called, “come over and look at these zinnias!”

Nobody ever succeeds in planting zinnias far enough apart. In the optimism of June, when you buy the little boxes with the baby zinnia plants in them, they look so spindly and lonely, one by one, that you can’t resist the human temptation to plant them close together. Plant them as far apart as you should, and they look like little orphans.

But my zinnia bed was, even in the dusk, a riot of light and dark, of great flat heads of blossom standing above a solid mass of foliage.

We strolled along the borders, peering. The verbenas that had been straggly little wisps of plants were now sturdy clusters from which sprays of bloom lifted, to my lighted match, ping, blue, white and henna. In that false spring we had in April, I had taken a walking stick and poked a hundred little holes here and there all over the borders and dropped cheap nasturtium seeds in. Every inch of my garden that had not already been conquered by some mightier breed was solidly squatted upon by swarms of nasturtiums fairly squirting perfume into the night air. In one spot where I had never seen anything much grow before, a large bush loomed in the dark. My lighted match shower it to be a pom pom chrysanthemum.

“What Was That?”

“Why,” I cried delighted, “there used to be a scraggly little mum bush, here. This is a great year for flowers.”

“It ought to be,” said Jim gravely. “The way we have kicked this poor earth around the past six years I guess it just naturally feels like blooming again.”

“Remember how late the spring was?” I recollected. “It will likely be a wonderful year for autumn flowers.”

“Autumn flowers,” said Jim, “are all Toronto people ought to plant. The average home that can afford a reasonable garden can also afford a summer cottage. The family is all away for July and August. Therefore, Toronto should be famous for its autumn flowers. All our gardens should concentrate or things that bloom in September and October.”

“See that stuff there?” I pointed in the dark to large forests of tall shapes. “Sunflowers, golden glow and other bright gaudy yellow things for September.”

“It’s wonderful the way things have thrived, without watering,” admitted Jim.

“I bet the ground under those things is moist right now,” I said, pushing cautiously among the shadowy stalks and feeling down.

At which instant there was a sharp squeak, right under my hand. And some creature, somewhere in size between a chipmunk and a cocker spaniel, thrashed away up the garden amid the plants.

I leaped back with a yell.

“Hey,” I barked, “what the heck was that?”

“It sounded like a groundhog,” said Jim, tip-toeing up the lawn in the direction in which the animal had gone. “Psst! Scat!”

But whatever it was, it lay very doggo.

“Jim,” I exclaimed, “it was huge. It was as big as a collie.”

“Hardly,” said Jim. “It might have been a rat. Or it might have been a small groundhog.”

“It barked,” I declared.

“No, that was you that barked,” said Jim. “It gave a kind of squeak.”

“Or whistle,” I suggested. “I just about put my hand on it. I was going to feel the ground and I could feel the wind from it as it jumped.”

“Maybe it was a groundhog,” surmised Jim, “that has wandered in from the park. The park is only a few blocks away. And in a city as deserted as this, probably the groundhogs and other animals wander at will through the desolate streets.”

“Let’s get a flashlight,” I proposed, “and ferret it out. I don’t want any wild animals loose in this garden. Why, a groundhog could wreck the place in a week.”

We went and searched the house for a flashlight but without luck. All the torches had been taken to the cottage. We stood on the veranda and gazed up and down the street. Not a window showed a light. There was no flashlight to be borrowed from any neighbor. And the drug store closes at 9, bringing Toronto’s night life to an absolute stop.

“I tell you what we will do,” I suggested. “We’ll each get a clothes prop and poke around in the garden. If we give it a scare, maybe it will keep out for the rest of the summer. I’m worried about what it can do to those lovely plants.”

So we went back to the garden and I located the clothesline props in their usual corner by the garage. Armed with 10-foot poles, Jim and I went systematically around the garden, cautiously poking in among the shrubbery, the flower plots and the unseen tangles of sweet william, perennial phlox, ferns and salvia. In the spot where the mysterious marauder had vanished up the border, Jim thought he detected some movement. He gave a loud “boo” and made a menacing jab with his clothes prop. But it was a false alarm, and when he hauled the pole out, I could see something dangling from the crotch at the end. I struck a match. And it was almost an entire verbena plant Jim had torn loose. One of those rare henna-colored ones.

“Well, if you want me to help hunt…” retorted Jim to my groans.

“Let’s Set a Trap”

We went all over the garden without disturbing anything but a few small moths. And we caused a few crickets to cease their singing for a moment or two.

“It may have been a rabbit,” declared Jim.

“Rabbits don’t bark,” I said sharply.

“That thing did not bark,” said Jim firmly. “It squeaked.”

“Or sort of whistled,” I insisted.

“Okay, whistled,” resigned Jim. “But it certainly isn’t here any more.”

I stood in the dark, picturing my beautiful garden all eaten off to stubble by the time we got home from the cottage.

“I’ve got it!” I cried suddenly. “A trap. Let’s set a trap?”

“What kind of a trap?” demanded Jim.

“Down cellar,” I said, “I’ve got an old rat trap that we brought from a house we used to live in. It’s a sort of oversize mouse trap.”

“It wouldn’t hold a groundhog,” said Jim.

“But it would scare the bejeepers out of it,” I asserted.

“You don’t want some poor little animal,” accused Jim, “wandering around with a trap fastened to it. A trap should be used for vermin, like mice or rats. And it should kill instantly.”

“Wouldn’t a rat trap kill a groundhog instantly?” I demanded. After all, that was a pretty small animal…”

“I thought you said it was as big as a collie dog,” said Jim.

“First impressions are always hasty.” I excused, “especially in the dark.”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of setting traps at random,” declared Jim. “If you know what you’re after, okay. But to set a trap for an unknown animal is pretty risky.”

“No animal has any right,” I asserted, “in my flower beds. I have my gate locked, so no dogs can get in. I have spent quite a number of dollars on this garden. After all, this garden is my crop. It is my property. Even if it is only ornamental, it is still my property. And anything that damages it is liable to the consequences.”

“Let’s see the trap,” suggested Jimmie.

Which was only his excuse for getting back into the lighted kitchen and organizing a cup of tea. While the kettle boiled, I went down cellar and hunted up the trap. Incidentally, I explored the cellar and found a number of things that would be handy up at the cottage. A box of assorted nails, mostly second hand; a scythe that I had forgotten buying, 10 years back; a long iron bar that I had never seen before but which would certainly come in handy for something up at the cottage.

When I came clattering up the cellar stairs, Jim exclaimed:

“What in thunder is all this junk?”

And when I explained, he muttered:

“Some people should never go down cellar!”

I showed him the trap. Just an ordinary over-size mouse trap. He washed it under the tap and it came up as good as new.

“What will you bait it with?” he inquired.

“I don’t intend to bait it,” I said. “I’m just going to set it. And leave it concealed in among the likeliest looking things. I’ll wait until daylight to place it on a runway. All these groundhogs and things follow regular runways or paths. We’ll find them sure, in the morning.”

“Then,” reasoned Jim, “whatever it is we heard squeaking in the bushes will have to step, with its tiny foot, on this tiny little trigger…”

“Ah, no,” I explained. “That is where my humanitarian instincts come into play. I’ll set the trap and then rest a long stick over the trigger in such a way that whatever steps on or disturbs the long stick will set off the trap with a loud and terrifying smack. Listen …”

And I set the trap and then tapped it with a table knife. It sure made a terrifying sound. It made us both jump.

“The idea,” I pointed out, “is to scare the creature, not to kill it.”

“Ah, this is better,” agreed Jim, pouring the tea.

After we had finished the tea, we went back into the garden with the trap. From the lattice fence, I peeled off a slender strip about the size and thickness of a school ruler. Down among the mint and chives, my two favorite vegetables, I hid the trap, ready set, with the help of matches. Across the trigger, I tenderly laid the strip of wood.

“Now,” I explained, “whatever comes through the mint bed gets the fright of its life.”

Caught in the Mint

And feeling a lot happier about the autumn flowers, Jim and I went in and luxuriated in the unaccustomed pleasures of a hot shower, getting off us a lot of that scale that encrusts the human body after a few weeks in the pure air and cold water of the Ontario northland.

And with rooms flushed full of cool night air, we went to our beds with all the oohs and aaahs of summer cottagers returning from the hard mattresses of the vacation to the light, soft mattresses of the effete city.

It was bright gleaming morning when we were awakened.

I sat bolt upright.

Jim called from his room:

“What was that!”

“Something woke me!” I called back.

Then it came.

A loud shriek.

From my back garden.

I leaped to the window, and looked out. There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, a charming lady, with my rat trap clinging to her finger. After a pause in which she stared in anger and astonishment at the outrage, she let out another shriek.

Down the stairs we raced in our pyjamas. Out the back door.

“My dear, my dear lady,” I gasped as I reached her and seized the trap.

“Did you set that?” she demanded angrily, snatching it away.

“Please, please,” I begged, “let me open it.”

Jim held it, while I pried its hungry snapper up.

The lady nursed her hand and studied me sternly.

“What was the idea,” she inquired, “of a trap in the mint?”

“Why, last night,” I babbled, “last night, when we got home … we heard a groundhog or something… last night, just after we got home … Say, I didn’t know you were home.”

“I got home at midnight,” said my neighbor. “And I didn’t know you were home!”

“But … but…” I fumbled.

“Your wife told me,” said the lady firmly, “to help myself to the mint any time I was down in the summer. I came down just to get some potatoes and some supplies, and I was leaving right away. Suddenly, I thought of the mint. And this …”

She held up her damaged fingers.

“Do you believe me,” I inquired earnestly, “when I tell you we heard some sort of animal in the shrubbery here… Jimmie, did we hear some sort of groundhog?”

Jimmie, in his pyjamas, solemnly bore me out.

“I don’t think,” said my neighbor, “that you deliberately set the trap for me. But it was me you got.”

So we picked her a nice big bouquet of mint, with some chives too, though they’re not at their best this late.

And I took the trap back down cellar and hid it up in the furnace pipes.

And Jim made another pot of tea.


Editor’s Note: “Down cellar” (meaning “in the basement”) is a regional phrase common to old Ontario. My grandparents said it all the time.

The Complete Anglers

“His plug hit my hat, lifted it from my head and flung it 12 feet away.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 6, 1938

Anyway, it was Greg’s own fault. He should have helped Jimmy catch frogs

“Will you help me,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “catch frogs?”

“I will not,” I informed him emphatically.

“You’re a lot closer to the ground than I am,” complained Jim. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t help a friend catch a frog or two.”

“I object to it,” I stated, “on all grounds. I can’t think of even one reason why I should help you catch those poor little devils that after all look more like human beings than even monkeys do.”

“We could go fishing sooner,” proposed Jim. “That’s one good reason for helping me catch them. It takes me an hour to catch 10 frogs.”

“Why don’t you give up bait fishing,” I asked, “and take up casting artificial lures, like plugs or spoons? It’s far more effective and 10 times the fun.”

“I do cast,” protested Jimmie indignantly.

“Yah,” I said, “Side-swiping. You don’t call that casting.”

“I get the line out,” declared Jim.

“You side-swipe,” I informed him. “You side-swipe. You grab the rod and take a swing any old way and hope for the best. You endanger the lives of everybody around you, in boat or on wharf. And no man living, much less you, can tell where the bait is going.”

“I’ve caught plenty of fish casting,” stated Jim.

“If you,” I said, “can catch plenty of fish side-swiping and flummoxing the plug around, how many more fish could you catch if you would only make an honest effort to learn how to cast properly, over your head?”

“I like fishing with a frog,” pleaded Jimmie. “It’s the old-fashioned way. Bass love frogs. I hate to fool a bass with a hunk of painted wood.”

“You hypocrite,” I hissed.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I give him an even break. I toss him a frog. If he gets the frog off the hook, he at least has got something for his trouble. But what do you cast him? Just a hunk of painted wood or a little blade of brass or copper. And if he does succeed in taking that off you, what good is it to him?”

“You quibbler,” I grated.

“Fishing,” said Jim, “is like religion. If you don’t do it the way I do, you’re wrong. Why not let me fish my way and you fish your way and we’ll all have fun?”

“Fine,” I agreed. “But don’t expect me to go creeping and pouncing through the long grass, chasing poor little green frogs for you.”

“I only suggested that you help me, to save time,” said Jim. “And anyway, you’re good at catching frogs. Back in the old days, before you went high brow and started bait casting, you used to be able to catch more frogs than all the rest of us put together.”

“I have too many frogs on my conscience now,” I muttered. “I don’t want to add to the burden on my soul. Thousands of frogs. Baby frogs. I feel like King Herod.”

The Right Way Is So Easy

“Aw, a frog has no feelings,” said Jim. “Hardly any. Nature made frogs to feed herons, fish, snakes and people like that. If they were made for food, it stands to reason nature didn’t equip them with much feelings. The more rarely a creature is eaten, the higher are its sensibilities. That’s true, isn’t it?”

“It is true,” I admitted. “But I am not thinking so much of feelings as of life itself. Life is just as dear to that little frog as it is to us. We may have a little deeper feeling for life, but a frog is just as full of that feeling as we are, in proportion. I hate to take a frog’s life.”

“How about taking a fish’s life?” cried Jim.

“That’s different,” I guarded. “To take frog’s life in order to take a fish’s life, that seems to me doubly damned.”

“You have taken thousands of lives from fish,” said Jim. “Do you feel no compunction about that? Doesn’t it ever twinge your conscience?”

“Not in the least,” I defended. “In taking a fish’s life, I am relieving it from a very miserable, wet and slimy existence. Think of the life a fish must lead, forever down in that cold, dark chasm of the water. Beset by enemies of every kind, including his own kind. A fish lives in terror every hour of its life, from the minute it is hatched from the egg, a tiny helpless wriggler, until it ends at last the victim of my lure, deceitful, clever and skilled.”

“I imagine fish get used to living in the water,” said Jim. “Anybody can get used to his environment in time.”

“No, sir,” I said. “A frog, especially a bright green frog with gold markings on him lives a happy life in the shining grass alongside a lovely sandy beach. Amid sunlight and pretty flies iridescent in the sun, he dwells, and whenever he feels like it, he hops down and goes for a swim in the cool, lilied water. But a fish lives in shadow and gloom, in weeds and slime and cold. Beset with terrors, he slinks his way to maturity, and when he reaches maturity, what has he got? Does he escape from his lowly element? Like aquatic insects, does he emerge from the water, a slimy thing, and shed his skin, to become a light and airy dancer in the evening sunlight for a day? No. He grows old and scaly and scabby and mouldy and dies. Unless. …”

“Ah, unless,” said Jim.

“Unless I,” I said, “or some other humane soul comes along and rescues him from his unhappy lot.”

“With a painted plug,” said Jim.

“Or a good copper casting spoon,” I suggested, since I had decided to use a spoon fishing today.

“O.K.,” said Jim. “I’ll cast.”

“Not side-swiping?” I protested.

“You cast your way, I’ll cast my way,” said Jim.

“My dear boy,” I said, “it is so easy to learn to cast a plug overhead. The correct way. It is like throwing an apple off a pointed stick.”

“I never could get on to it,” said Jim.

“Look,” I said. “Rest your thumb firmly on the spooled line, see? That holds the plug dangling six inches from the tip of the rod. Point the rod in the direction you wish to cast. Then, with a short, smart upward movement, not forceful but swinging, cut an arc over your right shoulder, straight back to a little past the vertical.”

“I see it, so far,” agreed Jim. “Now what?”

“Not now what,” I protested vehemently. “It isn’t two motions. It is one continuous motion, back and forward.”

“That’s where I go wrong,” agreed Jim.

One Continuous Motion

“It is where nearly everybody goes wrong who can’t cast,” I informed him. “They make two distinct motions of the cast. They lay the rod back over their shoulder. They stop. Then they make a chuck forward. That isn’t it at all. It is one continuous motion, that throwing of the rod back and flinging it forward.”

“Let me see?” said Jim, taking my rod, with the spoon already on it for casting.

“You sort of bounce the plug forward,” I explained. “You use the spring of the rod. It is all very gentle and simple. No force. No chucking. You just swing the rod in an arc, over your shoulder, and instantly forward again, gently relaxing, but NOT releasing, the pressure of your thumb on the spooled line.”

“Ah, you don’t let go of the line?” cried Jim.

“Never,” I assured him. “That is what causes backlashes, or snarls. You just relax the pressure of your thumb enough to let the plug fly high and smooth through the air. You watch it sail out, feeling, gently, with your thumb the dwindling spool of line under it.”

“I think I’ve got it,” said Jim.

And standing forth and taking a deep breath, he swung the rod a few times back and forward and then, with a sudden effort, slashed forward with the rod. The spoon jerked wildly through the air for eight feet and then spanked ignominiously to earth. The reel was just a bird’s nest, just a great tumbled tangle of line.

“I must have let go my thumb,” muttered Jim.

“You didn’t,” I informed him. “You put enough energy into that forward cast to throw a cat over a barn. I tell you, make one continuous motion of the back and forward throw of the rod, and the plug bounces, without effort, really, straight and smooth through the air.”

“I’ll try again,” said Jim, picking at the backlash. He got it cleared up and rewound evenly on the spool. He tried a few more practice swings and then, the same as before, hurled all his muscles, from the balls of his feet to the back of his neck, into a violent forward shoot.

The spoon streaked forward in a blur of speed, curved back like a yo-yo ball, then dangled to a stop around the rod.

“Tch, tch,” I said. “You’ve done the same thing all over again!”

“Here,” rasped Jim. “Take your rod. I’ll do it my way. I can get it out as slick as syrup from a bottle my way. Your way is just fancy. Just a fishing refinement.”

“It is not a refinement,” I stated. “It is the only way to cast not only for the safety of others, but for accuracy. You don’t know where your lure is going if you chuck it sideways.”

“Fish are likely to be any place,” argued Jim. “Just as likely in the place my plug lands as in the place I try to land it.”

“We will go in separate boats,” I ordained.

“Let’s go together,” pleaded Jim. “so that I can watch you and perhaps profit by observation.”

“In that case,” I agreed. So we went together in the same punt, and proceeded with the pleasurable sport of bait casting. It is a comparatively new sport. It has the fascination of golf, in that there is the test of where you want them. But happily, unlike golf, you do not have to walk hopelessly after your shots, you merely reel them back into you, sitting. The art of bait casting from a multiplying reel and short rod was developed in Kentucky by the bass fishermen of the 90’s. At first, they cast their metal spoons, live minnows, frogs and other baits, weighting them to about three-quarters of an ounce, to make a nice weight to fling. About 1900, the wooden minnow or “plug” began to appear and today, there are hundreds of patterns, brilliantly painted creations, with three sets of treble gang hooks. They wobble in the water as they are being reeled in, and whether a fish takes them for food or merely out of curiosity, like the angler who bought them in the store, nobody knows, because I get most of my fish on the plugs that look the least like anything. The less it looks like something, the better it is.

I gave Jim the whole of the boat except the stern. I took the stern seat and huddled down in it, so that Jim, with his sideswiping, could have the whole world to himself.

“Now watch,” he said, rising to stand unsteadily in the punt.

And with a vicious looping side cut, he lashed his rod horizontally through the air, the plug flying savagely over the water to land, much to Jim’s astonishment, 30 feet to the left of where he intended it to go.

“Good,” he said. “That’s a better spot than the one I intended.”

And slowly he reeled the plug home, watching intently for the strike of the fish.

But no fish struck, as indeed, is usually the case, and rightly so. If fish came easy, who would fish except fish dealers? It is the casting that is the fun, saved from monotony now and then at long intervals by the sudden and wholly unexpected interruption of a fish. I suppose the average man casts 500 times for one fish landed. Perhaps a thousand.

Without ostentation, I did my overhead casting steadily and slowly and with intense pleasure. I laid my spoon precisely where I wanted it, or nearly so; along rock and ledge, stump and lily pad, as slick and trim as Ivanhoe ever laid his arrows, or nearly so. And with a whooshing sound and a fury of bodily effort, Jim swung and swiped and startled the great open spaces of water with the plunging arrival of his gaudy wooden plug. Once it snarled and the plug leaped back into the boat narrowly missing my leg.

“Let me out,” I said, “at the next point. I’ll be safer on land.”

But just then from a cottage veranda a young lad hailed us.

“There’s a nice bass hanging around our boat house,” he called. “See if you can catch it.”

And Jim, hastily reversing his stance, turned to face the boat house, side-swiped with power and his plug hit my hat and lifted it from my head and flung it 12 feet away in the water.

“Gee, I’m sorry,” said Jimmie.

“You’d be a funny one if you weren’t,” I said thinly.

“I never did that before,” said Jim, reeling my hat back into the boat.

“You never will again,” I informed him, “not the same person, anyway. Row ashore.”

“Listen, cast and get that bass,” begged Jim.

“Row ashore,” I commanded, in a Basil Rathbone sort of a voice.

So Jim rowed ashore, looking very flushed.

“Now, my friend,” I announced, as we stepped ashore, “take off one of your socks.”

“What for?” demanded Jim.

“For a frog bag,” I advised crisply.

So Jim removed one of his socks and we went frog hunting. It is not a knack. It is rather a comprehension. You see your little frog. You transfix it with a trance-like gaze. You stoop slowly to a squatting posture. All in the same lithe, effortless motion, your right arm is extended. It is a continuous motion. Your right hand reaches out in the air over the little creature, whose tiny intelligence seems to be paralyzed by the slow, rhythmic motions. In the same instant, your hand suddenly halts. The frog seems to tense. Then you dart your open hand straight down, not to where the frog was, but to where he is, in mid-air, about four inches straight ahead of where he was sitting when the manoeuvre began.

We got eight frogs between us. We returned to the boat and Jim rigged his rod with a sinker, to trail frogs over the side and I sat in reasonable security in the midst of the punt, casting.

And Jimmie caught one bass, four pike, one perch and nine rock bass with his frogs, and I got nothing with my spoon.

Which only goes to prove that it is every man to his own method.


Editor’s Notes: The colour illustration is from the cover of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979), where this story also appears. The scanned image from the microfilm at the end shows a bit more of the artwork. I’ve also started to make some format changes. I will no longer include scanned title in the stories, as it is redundant since the title appears at the top. I’m also transliterating the captions that appear with the images. The idea is to focus more on the art, and not the text. As such, I will also be crediting both Greg and Jim with the date of publication. I’m also going to add new tags for common themes.

Basil Rathbone was an actor, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes at the time.

Bear with Us

By Greg Clark, August 3, 1935

“What I like,” said Jimmie Frise, “is blueberries.”

“I’m with you,” I assured him. Strawberries are very nice, if they aren’t sandy. But they give me hives. Raspberries are good, if they haven’t got little white bugs creeping about them. And raspberry seeds get between my teeth.”

“Thimbleberries,” contributed Jim, aren’t bad, but it is hard to get a feed of them. I like a feed of wild berries.”

“The wild strawberry,” I took on, “is probably the finest wild berry in the world. The French-Canadians preserve them.”

“Yes, but give me blueberries,” said Jimmie. “I don’t mean blueberries you get in the city, with the blue down all rubbed off them, and looking kind of damp. I mean blueberries you pick yourself and eat right out on the rocks.”

“I follow you,” I assured him.

“They are so tight in their skins,” said Jim. “They burst, they pop in your mouth.”

“Like celery, sort of,” I helped.

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Nothing like it. They are alone, unique, unequalled. Tight in their skins, with that cool, downy powder on them, and a kind of faint wild spicy flavor.”

“That’s it,” I moaned. “Faintly spicy.”

“Not rough and harsh, like Oriental spices, but a delicate Canadian spiciness,” said Jim. “Dear me, excuse me, my mouth is watering.”

He got out his handkerchief and attended to himself.

“The thing I like about them, too,” went on Jimmie, “is the way they burst in your mouth, a whole big handful of them.”

“Do you like the bright blue ones or the darkish, blackish huckleberry kind?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s hard to choose,” agreed Jim. “The dark ones often have a rich spiciness, yet on the other hand, the bright blue ones have a kind of tang. I don’t know.”

“The bright blue ones,” I pointed out, “are lovely to come on when you are wandering around on the rocks, blueberry picking. You walk along, looking here and there, and then all of a sudden, in one of those big cracks or crevices in the rocks, you see a whole hedge of little bushes that are a vivid sky blue.”

“The Jesuit Relations say,” stated Jim, “that in the olden days, away back in 1600 and something, the Indians used to pick great bushels of blueberries and spread them out on the rocks to dry and then pack them in big birch bark sacks. In the winter, they would use these dried berries to eke out their dog meat and pounded corn porridge.”

“I prefer to think of going somewhere this afternoon,” I submitted, “and picking about two quarts of blueberries and eating them right there as I pick. I’m blueberry conscious.”

“There’s no place handy where we can go on short notice,” Jim thought. “Wonder if there are any blueberries this side of Muskoka or Parry Sound?”

“Would you be game,” I inquired, “to take a run up as far as Midland and hire a boat and go out to one of those rocky islands that are fairly covered with blueberries?”

Doing Something Silly

“Do you mean in the middle of the week?” Jim exclaimed. “That would be silly.”

“Everybody ought to do something silly once in a while,” I offered, “like loosening those little twisters on the end of a banjo handle, so as to relax the tight wires. We’re full of tight wires. Can you think of any silly thing to do that would be as pleasant as driving up to Midland and hiring a little boat and going somewhere to bulge ourselves with blueberries?”

“This heat is getting you,” suggested Jimmie.

“I’m full of tight wires,” I said. “I’m going to reach up and loosen those little tighteners. I’m going to do something silly. And it might as well be pleasant.”

“I could go,” said Jim, “and think. Us artists have to do some conceiving. We ought to be free to run off and hide now and then to invite our souls.”

“The same with writers,” I agreed. “You can’t make a flower grow by walking out very day and yelling, ‘Grow, damn you, grow!’ can you?”

“Artists and writers,” said Jimmie, “are just like flowers. The heat gets them.”

“How about it?” I demanded.

“How long would it take?” asked Jim.

“If we drove to-night,” I said, “we’d be there in three easy hours. Sleep in the car, right in the tourist camp. Rise with the lark, drive down and hire a little launch for a couple of bucks, and scoot half an hour out across the lovely morning water…”

“That’s done it,” said Jim.

“Spend from, say, seven or eight o’clock till noon picking and eating berries,” I said. “Then the boat picks us up by prearrangement and scoots us back across the lovely water to Midland, we hop in the car, and saturated with that noble and patriotic berry, we drive home to Toronto, arriving about 3 p.m., much to everybody’s astonishment.”

“What would we say?” asked Jim.

“We’d say we slept in, or something,” I offered. “Or maybe in this heat nobody would have observed our absence.”

“Well, I guess,” said Jim sleepily.

And before the five o’clock whistles had stopped blowing in the suburbs, we were pointed north for Midland. And the sun was still high when we arrived in that pleasant town. Under the long, lingering sunset, we watched the boats coming and going and observed all the white-clad summer resorters so busily coming and going, probably driving their launches fifty miles for a package of phonograph needles or a camera film. So busy. So intent.

And with the floating sounds of summer in our ears, we folded ourselves up in Jim’s big car and went to sleep. Dawn and a cramp woke us. We took no breakfast, though the light was still burning in the Chinese restaurant as we drove down the street to the docks. The man we had hired the night before was sleepily waiting for us in his little putt-putt. It was just a row boat with an engine in it, but it could not have been better.

Gaily Across the “Open”

“If it is blueberries you want,” said the boatman, steering out into the bay where we could look far across the shining “open” of the Georgian Bay, “you ought to go to a point I know where I take my folks on picnics. It’s up from Beausoleil Island a piece. It will cost you a dollar extra, each way. But it has more blueberries than any other I ever heard of hereabouts. The Indians never picked berries on it because it was supposed to be haunted, or something, and they never went near it.”

“Take us there,” we agreed.

There are cottages on nearly every point of the Georgian Bay, but far in through the channels we came to an inner point, a withdrawn and rather rough and homely point where there was nothing but rude, jagged rocks and burnt-over woods and dead trees sticking up in all directions.

“Here she is,” said the skipper. “Not very handsome, but lousy with blueberries.”

And with promises to return a little before twelve o’clock, he putt-putted noisily away.

We scrambled up the rowdy rocks. Literally, the point was burdened with blueberries. Maybe three hundred yards this point juts out from that vast and practically uninhabited mainland of the Party Sound country of rock and scrub and little hidden lakes and beaver meadows. A blueberry paradise.

“Jimmie,” I said, between munches of the first handful, “don’t let us start right here. As a couple of old blueberry pickers, let us survey the land and find one of those mossy crevices hedged about with two-foot blueberry bushes where we can actually recline at our ease and pick and eat without moving except by either crawling or rolling over.”

“I know the kind of place,” agreed Jim. stooping for another fistful. And so stooping and pausing and staring and walking, we surveyed the point. There were rock gullies and little rock cliffs, little clumps of woods and sheltered spaces all clad in deep bronzy green moss. And around those little clumps of bushes and along the shady margins of those damp mossy carpets the blueberry bushes were massed and dense. And they glowed with a million fat jewels of dusky blue.

“Let’s start here.” cried Jim, finding a little island of birch and pine about the size of a street car, which was entirely surrounded by a ten-foot margin of mass. And the hedge of bushes around the copse was like a belt of azure.

“This is the place,” I admitted, kneeling down on the moss.

“You take this side,” said Jim. “I’ll go around to the far side.”

And around he vanished.

“How is it over there?” I called.

“Just about the same as your side,” said Jim.

There were both kinds. The higher bushes were the bright blue kind. And hidden in amongst the taller blue bushes were the squatter bushes of the big, succulent, black huckleberry. You would take three handfuls of the blue and follow with one of the black. Some of the black ones were as big as grapes.

“Um-yum,” I said, loud enough for Jim to hear.

“Slurp, slurp,” said he. I use the word slurp. but it hardly conveys the astonishing and slightly disgusting sound Jimmie made as he picked, unseen by me, on the far side of the little copse.

“Mind your table manners, Jimmie,” I said.

“Swush, swush, swush,” retorted Jimmie, from beyond the bushes.

“Boy,” I said, “you ought to come around to this side.”

“Whoosh,” replied Jim.

I thought how curious it is: you know a man for years and years, and all of a sudden he comes out with some curious and hitherto undetected habit.

“Jim,” I said, through a full mouth, “it may have been funny the first time you smacked your lips like that, but it is getting a little on my nerves.”

“Squish, sqush, slurp, whooof!” retorted Jim.

“Aw, cut it out,” I retorted, and hinched myself another yard along the hedge. Ah, such berries. Now I was abreast of a three-foot-high dense hedge that positively sagged with the vivid blue ones, big as alleys, clustered like grapes, cool to the touch, cool and firm and thin-skinned.

“Ah, yum-yum,” I confessed, making a little racket myself.

The sun grew warmer. I began to fill up. I could hear silly old Jim working his way around to meet me. And he was slurping.

“Jim,” I begged. “For goodness sake. You’re awful.”

It was at the next hitch I took of a yard further along the bush that I saw Jimmie was wearing a fur hat. I was mildly surprised, because at the moment my eyes were gloatingly beholding surely the greatest blueberry bush ever seen in the history of Canada. It was four feet high, it was laden, as if with blue dew, and deep within its stems I beheld the darkly glowing shapes of scattered huckleberries of size I had never seen before. My mind was divided between these two spectacles – the greatest berry bush in the world, and Jim wearing silly fur cap in the middle of summer.

Finally, with a sudden tiny tingling of my scalp, I withdrew my fascinated mind away from the berry bush in deal exclusively with Jim’s fur cap.

And I saw, to my intense astonishment, that Jimmie’s fur hat had movable ears.

“Not To Endanger You”

I stood up.

So did the bear.

With its short front legs held quaintly before it, and its head cocked on one side, it surveyed me across the bushes.

It was a youngish bear. It was about my size. It was glossy black, with brown ruchings, and its mouth was slightly open in a friendly grin. Frothy blueberries fringed its deckle-edged lips.

“Er-hello?” I said.

“Squish, squish,” replied the bear, swallowing. I could see it was not as surprised as I. I was not wearing a fur cap.

“Where’s Jimmie? Mr. Frise?” I asked weakly.

“Mmmfft,” said the bear, cocking its head on the other side.

“Yoo-hoo, Jimmie?” I inquired, not very loudly.

“Sniff, sniff,” said the bear, looking away to one side, as if not knowing exactly what to do.

“Oh, Jimmie?” I repeated, just a little louder. “Are you there?”

The bear looked at me again, and I detected a more serious expression in its small, twinkling eyes.

“Nice berries,” I said, conversationally. I was backing slowly across the moss to where my boots, hat and coat lay piled.

The bear disappeared by dropping on to his four feet. I backed more quickly. The bear appeared at the corner of the copse and again stood up. His stomach hung very low.

Without removing my eyes from him stooped and fumbled for my boots and clothes. I continued backing.

The bear was now looking, with an expression of immense satisfaction, at the very large patch of berries I had discovered at the same instant I had discovered him.

I half turned and backed quartering away.

The bear dropped down and sat, as I had sat, before that shrine of blue. I turned and ran. In my stocking feet I ran, careless of the hot and ragged rock. Up a cliff or two and down a couple of gullies I scrambled. Looking back, I could see the bear sitting. like a schoolboy, before that feast of blue.

No sign of Jim. I felt badly to have left him. Where could he be? Had he tired of the plenty and gone wandering farther inland? I decided to avoid endangering him with shouting. I decided to go right out to the end of the point and wait for him.

When I came to the rough headland of the point, there, on the outermost pinnacle of the rock, ready to jump into the blue Georgian Bay, was Jimmie, looking fearfully up at me.

“Jim!” I accused. “You left me without a sign of warning.”

“He came out of the bushes just as I left you to take the other side of the patch,” said Jim. “So I just went right on walking.”

“You did, eh?”

“I decided not to endanger you by shouting,” said Jim.

“You did, eh?”

“I decided to come out here and wait for you,” said Jim.

So we both waited, right out on the very little and point of rock, until the boatman came for us at twelve sharp.


Editor’s Notes: The Jesuit Relations are chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France, written annually and printed beginning in 1632 and ending in 1673.

Beausoleil Island was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Hot Dogs

By Greg Clark, July 22, 1939.

“It’s little wonder,” declared Jimmie Frise, “that our generation is dying off in middle age.”

“Referring?” I inquired.

“Referring to you,” said Jim. “You’ve had the jitters now for three solid hours. Why don’t you relax?”

“Relax?” I cried. “Relax?” How can I relax when you said you’d be ready to leave at 12 noon. And now It is precisely 3.15 p.m.?”

“I have my work to do,” said Jim with dignity.

“You said you’d have it all finished last night,” I complained. “You said there would be nothing for you to do this morning but clean off your desk.”

“I miscalculated the job,” said Jim. “Anyway, what’s the difference? If we lose three hours on this end of the trip, let’s take three hours at the far end of it. Why this slavish devotion to plan?”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” I moaned.

“That’s what’s killing off the human race,” said Jim, working away industriously at his drawing board at a cartoon that should have been in last Tuesday. “Trying to be machines. Trying to work with the precision of a machine. Trying to make and keep schedules for everything. It’s unnatural. It’s killing us off.”

“You should live to a ripe old age,” I submitted.

“Now, look,” said Jim kindly. “Explain to me. What are you all in a lather about? Why are you acting slightly demented just because I am a couple of hours later than I expected to be?”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “we make arrangements to spend the week-end at Pat’s cabin. It’s 150 miles. We agree to leave at 12 noon sharp, so as to get there early enough to have part of the late afternoon and all evening. If we had got away on time, we would have been at the cabin by now. But where are we? Here. In Toronto. In your office. On a Saturday afternoon, in a deserted city. And you ask me, what am I fretting about?”

“But look,” said Jim calmly. “What real difference does it make? Next October, what difference will it make if we don’t go at all? Why get all in a foam over the fact that some trifling detail of a week-end trip away back here in midsummer was a little muddled? I can’t see it. Honestly I can’t. In a few hours today is yesterday. Next fall this hour is so far buried in the past you won’t even recall it. Then why in heaven’s name give this hour such tremendous importance?”

“Jim,” I began indignantly; but what could anybody say in reply to such outrageous thinking?

“The trouble with our generation,” went on Jim, “is it has no sense of the past or the future. It is aware only of the present. Nothing matters but now.”

“But, good heavens,” I argued.

“It’s machines that are to blame,” sighed Jim. “We invented machines about a hundred years ago. Now, instead of trying to be worthy of being God’s image, we are trying to make ourselves into the image of the new god, the machine.”

“That’s not bad, Jim,” I admired.

A Silly Human Mistake

“Human nature never was and never will be capable,” stated Jim in a platform manner, “of precision. There have been a lot of silly mistakes in human history. Men have tried to be a lot of things different from what they are. They have always paid for it. But the attempt to convert men into machines is the silliest and stupidest mistake of all. And we’ll pay for it heaviest. In fact, we are paying for it now. Paying for it in confusion and fear and anxiety and insecurity. Paying in world-wide bewilderment.”

“A man should still be capable of being on time,” I contributed.

“Absolutely not,” said Jim. “A man who presumes to be always on time is guilty of blasphemy. Not against God, but against human nature.”

“You can always think up remarkable excuses,” I said.

“Leave a man a man,” said Jim, “and he lasts 70, 80 years, hearty and happy. Try to make him a machine, and he wears out like a machine. Why is it, may I ask, that despite all the wonderful advances in medical science, the almost unbelievable surgical discoveries, the actually spooky revelations regarding glands, why is it that despite all this and all the improvements in every department of living, men do not only not live longer but live less long than they used to?”

“I admit we live shorter,” I said, “but we live better and more fully.”

“Puh,” said Jim. “Our whole social philosophy today is the philosophy of the libertine. Never mind tomorrow. Just live for today.”

“Life is ten times more interesting than it was in the Middle Ages,” I declared.

“Ask somebody who lived in the Middle Ages,” suggested Jim. “Life, my friend, is life. In proportion, life is just as dear to a bug as it is to a man. When you have it, it is all. When you lose it, you lose all. When you step on a bug, you have ended something that was, in its proportion, mysterious, beautiful, and never to be restored. You think nothing of stepping on a bug. But now, you are growing careless with your own life. You think only of now. You do not pause to look back over the past and remember all that was best in it. If you did, you would act in the present in such a way as to preserve in the future the most and the best of what you had in the past.”

“Hurry up with that cartoon,” I muttered.

“By George,” said Jim, “I just remember I haven’t had any lunch.”

“Let’s call the trip off,” I suggested bitterly. “I’ll go and ‘phone the village store to send a message in to Pat that we’ll be up some other time.”

“Five minutes, and I’m done,” said Jim. “And I can grab a sandwich or a chocolate bar in passing somewhere.”

“You’d better have some lunch,” I said reluctantly, “if you want to live to a ripe old age.”

But Jim set to and scratched the final pen strokes on his cartoon, studied the finished product wryly, rolled it up for the engravers, and we dashed for the corridor.

The lunch counter we usually snack at was closed. The downtown streets deserted except for a few underprivileged citizens in their best clothes slowly strolling in the desert of blank shop windows and pavement. So willy-nilly we hastened around to the parking lot, where our car stood all alone.

And in 15 minutes we had left the city behind and joined the ragged procession of the belated for the north.

“As a matter of fact,” pointed out Jimmie, “it is a lot pleasanter being late than getting caught up in the traffic fury of the early birds. The guys who are all trying to be first.”

And it was. Now and then a furious individual, all cramped up to his steering wheel, passed us madly. But most of us late-goers seemed to be a reconciled lot. A sense of our lateness imbued us. We just plodded along.

“Hot dogs, three hundred yards ahead,” sang out Jimmie, reading a sign.

“Okay, if you must,” I sighed, slackening for a gasoline station on the right hand side ahead. “I could do with one myself. If they’re any good.”

“Hot dogs are always good,” said Jim. “The mustard kills any bacilli, if any.”

“Ugh,” I stated.

When we ran off on to the gravel of the gas station we saw a little booth to one side labelled hot dogs. As we got out, a man came hurrying from inside the gas station, his hands and arms all smeared black with oil.

“Is it hot dogs, gents?” he asked anxiously. “I’m sorry. My wife has just run up to the village …”

“We’ll get to Pat’s some day next week,” I offered Jim.

“I’m right in the middle of a generator job,” said the service man, apologetically. “But if you like, help yourselves and leave the money in the cigar box behind.”

“Can we go right in?” exclaimed Jim, very pleased.

“The wieners are on a little gasoline heater,” said the garage man, pushing the side door of the booth open with his elbow, “and the buns are in that box there.”

“Okay,” cried Jim, heartily. “Go about your business, mister, and we’ll help ourselves.”

“You don’t mind?” smiled the garage man.

“This is swell,” assured Jim. “Self-serve hot dogs. The idea ought to go big.”

It was cosy in the booth. An old automobile sent served as a lazy bench. On a tiny gas burner a saucepan simmered, with three wieners in it, all plump and suntanned. I opened a large tin biscuit box, in which reposed dozens of hot dog buns.

“Nice and fresh,” I announced, pinching them.

“Okay, two up,” cried Jim.

Two Good Samaritans

And I slit the buns with the large knife lying on the shelf; Jim lifted the wieners and let them drip, laid them restfully in the buns. From the big jar of bright yellow mustard we ladled out the condiment in lush blobs.

“Yummmm,” said Jim, biting his.

And as we ate, conscious of the pleasantly sharp mustard, the soft bun and the gently bursting sausage between our teeth, another car whirled into the gas station yard and ran up in front of us.

“Five,” yelled the genial gentleman at the wheel. “Five fat ones and make it snappy, boys.”

The garage man came rushing out, all greasy and embarrassed.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said to the new arrivals. “My wife has had to run uptown. These gentlemen are just helping themselves…”

“Okay, brother,” Jim interrupted, “If you’ll appoint us your wife’s deputies we’ll gladly serve these folks.”

“That’s the spirit,” joined in the stranger.

“It’ll just be a minute,” said Jim, turning up the gas flame to make the water bubble. “I have to heat the weenies.”

In a basin on the lower back shelf lay a couple of dozen wieners, and from the pile Jim took six and popped them into the saucepan.

I dug out five buns and expertly slit them open.

“Gentlemen,” said the stranger, leaning outside on the counter, “I envy you. Gosh, how I envy you. Taking time off to do a decent little job like this for that garage man. And for me and my family. And for yourselves.”

“It’s a pleasure,” said Jim, standing back in the expert chef manner and shaking the saucepan on the flame.

“Now, you take me,” said the stranger. Those women in the car have been yelling at me for the past five hours to hurry, hurry, hurry. We’re late. It will be dark before we get to the cottage. The kids will be tired and cranky. It’s been an awful day. And here I stand, looking at two people who have all the time in the world to be a couple of good Samaritans along the highway.”

Jim stepped on my foot.

“Gosh, gentlemen,” said the stranger, “you’ve got the right slant on life.”

“Okay, brother,” said Jim, lifting the pan and seizing the fork to spike out the fatly gleaming sausages.

And with me holding the buns and the stranger ladling out the mustard, we did very expert job. And 50 cents went plunk very loud into the cigar box.

“There,” murmured Jim, as the stranger distributed the hot dogs, “that’s your answer. What could have happened to us up at Pat’s half as amusing as what has happened the past 10 minutes?”.

“Here’s some more,” I retorted, as another car, with four young people in it, whirled dustily on to our gravel.

“Okay,” said Jim, grabbing another handful of wieners from the basin and dumping them into the saucepan.

Nobody Complained

So I dived for the buns and slit them, and when the garage man came and grinned anxiously out the door of the gas station at us Jim yelled:

“We’ll carry on until your wife gets back!”

“She’ll be back any minute,” sang back the gas man. “She don’t like to miss any dimes.”

So we fed the four youngsters and before their hot dogs were assembled another car with two arrived; and a moment later a car with five; and by the time all these were served there were only three wieners left in the basin.

“Do we want another?” inquired Jim. “Before they all go?”

But before we could decide a final car hove in, with three customers. And the sausages now were all gone. We kept the pan stewing, the buns splitting and mustard flying, and when the last were served we hastily lifted the hooks and lowered the front of the booth as a sign that the hot dogs were run out.

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s eighteen hot dogs and $1.80 in the cigar box that wouldn’t have been there.”

“And we’re a good half hour later than we would have been,” I reminded.

And at that moment a car drew in and lady got out with a parcel. It was the garage man’s wife, sure enough, and he came out and explained to her what a fine job we had been doing for her. Which we blushingly took.

“Why, that’s lovely,” said she, coming in the booth and looking around, “but where did you get the wieners?”

“In the basin,” said Jim.

“Oh, mercy,” said the lady.

“Why, wha…” said Jimmie and I.

“Why, those,” cried the lady, “those were as stale as anything. I threw them out. I was up to the village for a new supply.”

A mucky kind of silence occurred.

“Were they bad?” I inquired hollowly.

“Not bad,” said the lady, “but stale. I wouldn’t have served them.”

“Nobody complained,” stated Jim. “Every body ate them very heartily.”

“Well, I suppose men feel differently,” murmured the lady, looking into the cigar box and ticking over the money with her finger tip.

“Anyway,” pursued Jim, “all hot dogs are good. The mustard fixes them.”

“And besides,” I added, “the human race is getting tougher all the time.”

Upon which, I stepped on Jim’s foot, and we shook hands and drove off and watched all the way along the highway for miles, but saw nobody dead.


Editor’s Note: Jim could be slow with his work, resulting in time where the presses had to be held up until he finished.

Groundhogs

By Greg Clark, July 18, 1936

“Groundhogs,” said Jimmie Frise, “are at their best right now.”

“For eating?” I begged.

“For shooting,” said Jim. “The fields are deep with grain or clover. The groundhogs have lost that anxious alertness of the spring. Fat and free, they sit on their little mounds. They make a perfect target.”

“A target, eh?” I asked.

“An animated target,” said Jim. “The mind of man can’t discover any other use for a groundhog. Their meat is too soft. Their fur is sleazy and thin. The divine purpose of a groundhog, as far as I can figure, is to provide an animated target for farm boys and city sportsmen in the offseason.”

“Hmmm,” said I.

“The bad points of a groundhog are well known,” said Jim. “They not only cat crops, such as winter wheat, clover and so forth. I’ve known farmers to have their entire crop of brussels sprouts ruined by groundhogs. But in addition to their damage to crops, groundhogs cause a lot of damage to horses, Horses step in groundhog holes and break their legs.”

“The survival of the fittest,” I explained. “Nature realizes that the horse has numerous and powerful friends, while the groundhog has none.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I can’t figure out why Nature ever invented a groundhog. It has no earthly use.”

“Nature,” I stated, “didn’t figure the way man was going to steal the show when she did her designing. She simply set loose a lot of guesses. Nature is a gambler. She doped out a few hundred designs and then sat back and said go to it.”

“Wouldn’t it have been swell if the groundhogs had won?” jeered Jimmie.

“I can’t think of any life more agreeable than a groundhogs,” I admitted. “They have no economic value, therefore they are not enslaved like the cow and the horse and dog. Their fur is valueless, therefore they have not met the fate of the beaver and the fox. Their meat is of no interest, therefore they are not hunted as deer are.”

“Thank heaven,” said Jim, “for the sporting instinct of humanity, or the entire face of the earth would now be pitted with groundhog holes.”

“A groundhog,” I continued, “has a delightful life. Unlike the fox and the raccoon, he lives in a dugout of his own building, safe from life’s war. A nice warm dugout, with two or three entrances in case of danger. On his fast little legs he can jump into one of his dugout entrances at the first sign of hawk or human. He is a wise baby who digs his home in the midst of human endeavor. He selects a nice clover or grain field, and makes himself a home where he won’t have to move more than ten jumps from any one of his strategic entrances.”

“They’re stupid,” said Jim. “They sit erect like fools, right on the doorsill of their burrows, a perfect target.”

“In time,” I countered, “the groundhogs will learn that they can’t take any chances with men. The more groundhogs learn about us humans, the more they will develop long range rifles and telescope sights. So that in time, no groundhog will ever sit up at the door of his burrow. That is Nature’s way. Don’t think men are entitled to win in this gamble of Nature. Sooner or later, one of the other contestants in the race will get the bulge on us. And believe me, it will be a bulge.”

Winter Doesn’t Bother Him

“Do you mean,” demanded Jimmie, “that groundhogs might some day conquer the human race?”

“Why not?” I inquired. “Just because we humans have been top dogs for a few million years recently is no reason to suppose that Nature’s gamble is ended. The way men have been behaving lately. I’m willing to put a bet on the beetles at any reasonable odds.”

“Beetles!” ughed Jim. “Make it groundhogs.”

“Think,” I said, “of the way groundhogs hibernate during the winter. There is reals civilization. There is genuine economy. A groundhog. when the time comes, simply goes down into the deepest depth of his dugout, curls up, draws a few pebbles and handfuls of sand around him, and goes to sleep. Not for him are the hardships and rigors of winter. Not for him are starvation wages. He simply goes to sleep and spends all the winter months dreaming idly of the pleasures of summer. Then when spring comes, he wakes, and finds his winter dreams true, new shoots of grain growing, and life ready to amuse and feed him. Don’t you wish we humans had thought of hibernation about two hundred million years ago?”

“It would have been an idea,” agreed Jim. “No doubt Nature missed several good bets in connection with men, and hibernating was one of them. And wings was another. And a sting was another. I often wish I had a great big sting like a bee’s. But all the same, you haven’t mentioned any good reason for groundhogs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider them as just something to shoot at.”

“No doubt, you’re quite right,” I confessed. “Judged by the same standards, a great many human beings cut no more figure in this life than so many groundhogs. They might be regarded as something to shoot at.”

“The only difference is that the groundhogs can’t complain to the authorities. They can’t get even.” said Jim.

So when Wednesday, Jim’s half day off, came along and he signalled me to follow him from the office, I did so, and we walked down to the parking lot, and in Jim’s car was his rifle and several boxes of shells. And it being a lovely day and the birds likely to be mad with love and song. I went along, mostly to see the birds. Jim said that south of Georgetown were some wonderful sandy and gravel hills just lousy with groundhogs, and that way we went. And long before we spotted the first groundhog I was well paid by a no less beautiful sight than two cuckoos flying with their curious snakelike motion, and a Blackburnian warbler and no end of commoner birds which are to me like people I know as I pass along, and so life is less lonely.

Up a hill waving with green clover, and against a beautiful old boulder fence, we spied our first groundhog. He was all unaware, busily feeding, and not until we were within about forty yards of him did he suddenly sit up, the picture of indignation, his dark brow’s making him look very like an indignant fat man disturbed in his rightful business.

We lay down. Jim put the rifle to his shoulder and drew a careful bead. He drew and drew, breathing heavily and then holding his breath, and finally he touched off the trigger.

There was a loud plunk.

“Got him,” cried Jim, leaping up and racing towards the fence. But I saw the little brown beast scamper furiously and vanish into his hole in a sandy knoll of his own building.

“You only winged him,” I accused, as I ran alongside. “He got down his hole.”

“We’ll find him lying dead just inside the entrance,” said Jim.

But when we got to the little mound, and found the dark and secret entrance to the cave, there was no groundhog sprawled at the gate, nor was there any sign of blood.

“I heard it go plunk,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I commanded.

And from out the hole in the ground came, as from a distance of several feet, a faint squealing sound. It was a sound like newborn puppies make, and it was interspersed with a snapping or chopping sound which groundhogs make with their teeth as a warning.

“Jim,” I declared hotly, “there are babies in this den.”

“It’s the one I hit,” said Jim. “Squealing its last.”

“Pardon me,” I said, “but that is baby groundhogs making that squeaking sound.”

In the pleasant afternoon, soft with light and tenderness and joy and the love that broods in summer, we stood listening and then we knelt and finally we lay down with our ears at the hole.

“Suppose,” I accused, “that you have killed the mother of a brood of baby groundhogs?”

“Let’s go and find another,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim. I’m going to dig these out,” I stated. “I’m going to go to that farm we passed back there and borrow a spade.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “why be a silly sentimentalist? Groundhogs are vermin. Why don’t you do something about all the beautiful baby sheep and baby pigs that are being slaughtered every day at the packing houses?”

“Wait till I come back with a shovel,” I commanded.

It was only a couple of fields back and the lady at the farmhouse gladly gave me a shovel.

“For groundhogs?” she said. “I hope you dig them all out.”

Jim was asleep on the mound when I got back. He said he would stand guard over the other exits of the groundhog burrow while I dug.

“It isn’t likely more than three or four feet down.” I assured him. And anyway. I want to show you what you have done.”

At first I intended to dig out the burrow the way drain menders dig out a sewer pipe, that is, by making a ditch that reaches down to it. But the entrance penetrated straight down for about five feet and then slowly sloped deeper still, and by the time I had burrowed six feet, I was under the stone fence and Jim was squatted at the entrance of the tunnel, watching me.

“Make it bigger,” he said, “so I can come down.”

“Go get a board off a fence,” I directed, “and come half way in and scoop the dirt back out as I dig.”

Ahead I could still hear the faint squealing of small animals, and this served to excite me on. Jim returned with a board and kneeling on knees and hands, he skited the earth I dug back between his hind legs like a terrier. We began to make progress.

The tunnel straightened out and ran like a gallery ahead. All I had to do was cut the earth around the hole already made by the groundhog and pass it back.

“Look,” I cried, “here’s a branch tunnel leading off. Isn’t this smart? Just like a German dugout in France.”

Something stabbed me on the knee.

“Jim,” I cautioned, “be careful with that plank.”

“It isn’t near you,” said Jim, skiting sand.

“Ouch,” I said, “what the dickens are you doing?”

Something whistled sharply, and a heavy furry object like a bag of something soft, such as flour, struck me violently in the pinnie.

“Back, Jim,” I shouted loudly. “Back.”

“What is it?” asked Jim, not backing, but leaning forward as if to see in the dark over my shoulder.

By now, there was a scuffling and a scurrying a whistling and a chunnying, a teeth-grating and a scratching; with a dexterous movement, I let Jim follow his curiosity while I heaved past him, and left him in rear. In the darkness, there was a sense of danger and of menace.

“Look out,” cried Jim in his turn, pushing at me to make way. “They’re attacking us.”

And with Jim assisting me, I made good time up the tunnel and we burst into the blessed wide open spaces with sand in our hair and grit in our teeth. We backed a respectable twelve feet from the hole we had made and stared down.

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “the little brutes actually attacked us.”

From the shadows far at the bottom of our excavation there rose a chorus of menacing sounds, curious hoarse whistles and grindings, chucky grunts and snappings. Like a jack in the box, a brindled fat figure popped out a foot and then instantly back. It repeated this bold maneouvre three or four times while Jim and I stared ready for instant flight.

“I’ll be jiggered,” I said. “The little savages.”

So I stooped and grasped a boley, which is a pebble egg-sized or up.

“Easy,” cautioned Jim. “Don’t irritate them. We’ve only got a little twenty-two.”

He picked his rifle up gingerly, and held it behind him.

“In the case of bears,” I suggested in an undertone, “they say the best thing to do is walk quietly away. Don’t run.”

“Come on, then,” agreed Jim anxiously, for the sounds in the cavern were increasing, as if ground hogs were gathering from all the subterranean passages for miles around to man this pass of Thermopylae.

We backed slowly. We did not remove our eyes from the excavation. No fierce sabre-toothed groundhog head showed. We turned. We walked smartly. We ran. We got into the car and slammed the doors and rolled up the windows. Jim held the twenty-two on his knees.

“Ah,” we said.

“That’s gratitude for you,” I said. “Me trying to do a noble and humane deed, and they attack us.”

“You can carry humanitarianism too far,” said Jim. “Sometimes, humanitarianism is against the laws of life.”

“The ungrateful little brutes,” said I, bitterly.

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim. “I was afraid they might have rabies. That’s why I didn’t want to let them near me.”

“It was the shock that made me hurry,” I explained. “Shock and rage at their ingratitude. The vermin.”

Jim rolled down one of the car windows and stuck the twenty-two out. No fanged heads showed above the sandpile high up against the stone fence.

“Just fire one,” I said, “to show our contempt.”

So Jim fired one, and the little spurt of sand showed he had hit the fortifications.

“Yah,” I yelled. “Take that.”

So we drove back around through Georgetown and all the pretty little towns and scorned groundhogs from then on.


Editor’s Notes: Jim shows his farm-boy roots in this article, with his contempt for groundhogs, and his feeling they serve no purpose.

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

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