The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 2 of 13

The Hard Way

“Excuse me,” I said, “could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” “You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 9, 1940

In which Greg and Jim learn it’s not easy job panhandling or selling on the street

Jim Frise and I were walking back from lunch when a young man with his coat-collar turned up stopped us and whispered:

“Could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

I fumbled and Jim paid. A quarter. And a kind smile.

“Jim,” I said, “how much do you give away in a week to panhandlers?”

“Bread on the waters,” said Jim. “Get a line of credit. Some day I may be wanting a dime.”

“I bet,” said I, “it costs more than two bits to work up courage enough to beg a dime on the street.”

“It would take more than I’ve got,” said Jim.

“That would make an interesting story for the folks,” said I. “You and me trying our hand at bumming dimes.”

“You do the bumming,” said Jim, “and I’ll follow at a distance and make sketches.”

“You’re afraid,” I declared.

“So are you,” said Jim.

It was a sunny March day. Spring was in the air. The noon streets were crowded. I made a quick, rabbit shooter’s estimate of the throng and selected a tall, solemn man wearing a hard hat and smoking a cigar.

“Excuse me,” I said, touching his arm and falling out to the side of the pavement. I turned up my coat collar.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered.

“Ha, ha!” laughed he.

“Please,” said I: “I ain’t had nothing to eat or drink since the day before yesterday.”

“You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

I looked at him. But his face was unfamiliar.

“I’m not worrying about that $47,” he smiled. “Take your time. I know you’re good for it.”

Forty-seven dollars! Let’s see, who did I owe $47 to? Sixty-five, 40, nineteen… ah. yes! Forty-seven dollars to the insurance company that insures my car. I suddenly recognized him as the cashier who accepted my cheques through a cage at the insurance company.

“Ha, ha,” said I. Jim was right at my elbow by now. “I was afraid you would be getting after me for that money. Ha, ha.”

“Quite all right,” said the cashier. He was still chuckling. “You’ve got a great line, Mr. Clark.”

“Good-day,” I said laughingly.

“How much did you get?” asked Jim, very puzzled.

“Hang it,” said I, “I owe too many people money to attempt panhandling. I knew that guy. He was the cashier of the insurance company that handles my car insurance and I owe them $47. He thought I was kidding him about owing the money.”

“Try again,” said Jim. “Pick somebody not so well dressed. See what it feels like to be turned down.”

“Don’t Spend It on Drink”

We came to The Star lane and there was a seedy-looking man in a derby hat standing watching the crowd pass. I sidled up to him.

“Excuse me,” said I, “but could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

He looked sharply at me, up and down.

“Listen, buddy,” said he; “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”

“Huh?”

“You’re pretty well dressed to be working this game,” said the man in the derby. “Are you really hungry?”

“Haven’t et since Thursday,” said I.

“Here,” he exclaimed sympathetically. He dug down into his pocket, pulled out a half a dozen dimes and nickels and handed me one dime.

“Don’t spend it,” said the man in the derby, “on strong drink.”

Jim and I shuffled off down the street.

“I’ll frame this dime,” said I. “The first dime I ever panhandled.”

“This adventure,” said Jim, “is going all flooey. We ought to think up something else to study the situation, I tell you. Let’s sell something. Let’s put up one of these stands in a lane or in some nook along the street and sell things. We will see what it feels like to make an honest living.”

“How about stuff to take spots off vests?” I asked.

“Or corn killer?” said Jim.

“You’re a good spieler,” said Jim. “You make up the spiel and I’ll handle the sales in silence.”

“But let’s get something unusual to sell, something useful. The big thing in all merchandising is the idea,” said I.

“One thing I always want and never have around my house,” said Jimmie, “is nails. No matter how many nails and tacks and screws I buy I never can find them.”

“That’s an idea,” said I. “We could get a little tin box about the size of a tobacco tin and fill it with an assortment of tacks and nails and sell them like hot cakes. After we have exhausted the street corner sales we could go from door to door. We could organize a company and hire hundreds of unemployed men, and not only would we be relieving the economic situation but we would be rendering real public service to the homes of this city. And at the same time we could make money. “Suppose,” said I, “we only made one cent on each box of assorted nails. There are at least 90,000 homes in Toronto alone. Let’s not think of Canada yet. But 90,000 cents is how much, Jimmie? Nine thousand dollars! Nine thousand dollars! Jimmie, at one cent profit. That’s $4,500 apiece.”

Jimmie was walking with his head in the air, thinking.

“It’s $900, not $9,000,” said he. I did a little figuring.

“Well, anyway,” said I, “that’s $450 each. Just from Toronto alone. You take Ontario-“

“Wait a minute,” said Jimmie. “We are going to do this for a story. Let’s go down to one of those wholesale hardwares and get a supply of them and try it. Are you game?”

So we went down to Wellington St. and went into a hardware supply house, and while Jimmie did the buying I leaned on the counter and wrote out the notes for my selling talk.

A young clerk with red hair waited on Jim.

Ten of these little boxes,” said the clerk, “at seven cents each. And nails?” He did a little figuring. “One-inch brads, one-and-a-half, two-inch, two-and-a-half and three-inch nails, a couple of packages of tacks, some screws, assorted screws.”

We laid the empty boxes along the counter and with the nails and tacks spread out we took a pinch of this and a pinch of that and filled the boxes.

“What do these come to?” asked Jim.

“The red-headed clerk added up the cost. “Seventy for the tins and 45 for the nails and screws. A dollar and 15 cents.”

“Let’s see,” said Jim. “That comes to 11 ½ cents a box. We will charge 15 for them and make three and a half cents a box.”

The clerk listened and nodded.

So Jim and I sunk the boxes in our coat pockets and went out to look for a good place to stand.

“Let’s get well away from the office,” said I. “Our friends will buy them if they see us. We don’t want any sympathy buying. Let’s sell on our merits.”

So we got on Church St. above King. There was a vacant store front, with dust and papers gathered in the doorway.

Jim held a box in each hand and I started my spiel:

“Come this way, gents; come this way!” Three men were passing, but none of them looked at us. “Here y’are,” I shouted louder. “Here y’are, gents! A boon to every household. The secret of domestic happiness. No more quarrels about where the hammer and nails are. No more fingers smashed trying to straighten old nails. No more lockjaw from fooling with rusty nails. Here y’are, gents, the discovery of the century. Something you have been looking for all your life. This way, gents.”

Jim had the lids off and the boxes held forth to the public view. But seven more people passed and none of them paused.

“Sensational value!” I yelled. “A dollar’s worth of handiness for only 10 cents.”

“Fifteen,” hissed Jim.

“Fifteen cents,” I bellowed. “Come this way, ladies and gents, and give your wife a surprise! Bring peace and comfort to your home. Hang that picture! Nail up that fruit shelf in the cellar! Mend that broken window sill. For 15 cents, gents, a box of nails that will last you a lifetime.”

There are not many people on Church St. anyway.

“Make it louder,” said Jim. “And funnier.”

“Take a box of nails home to your little boy, ladies and gents. A boy can have the time of his life with this little magic box. He can nail up everything. Every boy is yearning for a box of nails like this. Look, 15 cents!

Not as Easy as It Looks

One man stopped and looked at us.

“That’s a good idea,” he said. And walked on.

“Make it 10 cents,” said Jim.

“Ten cents,” I bellowed. “Less than cost, ladies and gents. The greatest boon to the housewife-“

“Appeal to the men,” growled Jim. “There aren’t any women.”

“Hide this box of nails in your collar-box,” I cried, “and you’ll always have nails-“

“Men don’t have collar boxes any more,” said Jim. “Your spiel is rotten. Offer 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents.”

“Going out of business,” I bellowed. “Selling at a loss, 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents!”

A man with a tool-bag stopped and looked as us.

“Do you mean to say,” he demanded sourly, “that that is 11 cents worth of nails?”

“Counting the tin box and the nails,” said Jim, “there is 11 ½ cents worth there.”

“Well, then,” said the man, “don’t offer 11 cents worth of nails for 10 cents, because you haven’t got ’em.”

A young fellow was standing out on the curb.

“Ten cents,” I yelled. “A box of nails for 10 cents. How about you?”

The young chap came over.

“How many have you got at 10 cents,” he asked.

“Ten,” said I.

“I’ll take the lot,” said he. He held out a dollar bill.

Jim and I unloaded our pockets, and the young man took them all and stuffed them into his coat.

“Excuse me,” said Jim, “but aren’t you the fellow at the hardware store that waited on us?”

“Yes,” smiled he, and I saw his red hair under his cap.

“Well,” said Jim and I.

“I make 15 cents on this deal,” said he. “In times like these, 15 cents isn’t to be sneezed at. It buys my lunch.”

Jim and I went one way and he went the other.

“The trouble was,” said Jim, “your spiel was no good. You have to be a special kind of personality for selling things.”

“All you did,” said I, “was stand there like a cigar store Indian with the boxes in your hands. You should have used gestures. You should have held them and demonstrated them.”

“Like a cloak model,” said Jim.

“I guess panhandling and selling things the street isn’t as easy as it looks,” said I. “But I wish we had kept one of those boxes of assorted nails. That was a swell idea. They’d come in mighty handy around the house.”

So we both turned back down to the hardware supply house and got a box each from the red-headed clerk.

He charged us 15 cents.

“Labor and overhead,” he said.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered to the tall man.
“Here y’are gents!” I shouted. “A boon to every household!”
“Listen buddy,” said he, “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”

Editor’s Notes: This story seemed too “Depression related” for 1940. The style seemed a little off too, so I decided to investigate further. There are so many stories, that I have not read them all, and usually only read them for the first time when I randomly choose one to feature. I knew that there were stories repeated when Greg was away on different occasions as a war correspondent in World War Two, but was not aware of the extent. So I did a more extensive review of the stories , and this is indeed a repeat of “Dimes Come Tough” from November 19th, 1932, one of their earliest ones. I’m still missing some time periods from the war, but there seems to have been extensive periods of repeats in early and late 1940, and from the summer of 1943 right to the beginning of 1945. The images at the bottom are from the 1932 story.

“Cast your bread upon the waters” is from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11:1. Nowadays we would say “pay it forward”, meaning, do a good deed and someday someone will do a good deed for you.

It may be confusing when Greg mentioned the well-dressed man had a “hard hat”. In this case he meant that he was wearing a Bowler hat, which is made of hard felt, rather than a fedora, or other style, which would be made out of a softer felt.

Greg was also showing his age when he suggested the nails could be kept in a collar box, and Jim told him so. Circa 1860-1920, men’s collars and cuffs were detachable from shirts. The idea was that you could change the collars and cuffs to keep them looking nice without having to change the shirt. They could also be made of separate material like celluloid to keep them stiff. The collar box was somewhere where you could store them to keep them clean.

Mike Fright

In that awful hushed silence following the announcer’s words, I accidentally stepped on Rusty’s tail.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 23, 1935

“Mike fright,” said Jimmie Frise, “seems a silly thing to me.”

“It’s like stage fright,” I explained.

“But stage fright is understandable,” said Jim, “facing thousands and thousands of people, row on row. But mike fright, that’s silly. Imagine being frightened of a little round instrument about the size of a turnip or a tin of gingersnaps!”

“It’s the unseen that frightens you,” I further elucidated, “the unseen, the unknown.”

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” cut in Jimmie.

“Yes, but you do know,” I said. “You know that there are thousands, maybe millions, of people listening to you. They are not at your mercy, sitting in theatre seats, all more or less obliged by good manners to sit and say nothing. On the air you picture all those people, thousands, millions, sitting in their own homes where manners do not exist. Some millions of them are reading the newspaper. Other millions of them are sitting talking together. Very few of them are actually sitting in rows in front of the radio listening to you as they would listen to you from the stage.”

“Ah,” said Jim, seeing the point.

“Yes, I went on. “The unseen, the unknown. As you step up in front of that little round microphone the first thing you imagine is that about ninety-nine million out of the billion will promptly, at the first sound of your voice, jump up angrily and turn you off. They can’t do that in a theatre. Or in a public meeting. But that’s what you imagine. You say to yourself, “How can I speak so gently, how can I be so immediately interesting that everybody in the world, with a loud Anarrrhhnnn, won’t jump up and rush over and cut me off?’ That’s how you get mike fright.”

“The reason I ask,” said Jim, “is that Bill Berry has to speak over the air to-morrow night. And he’s nearly crazy.”

“Who, Bill?” I exclaimed. “I didn’t think he’d be fazed by anything in the world.”

“He’s nearly nuts,” said Jim. “He’s been in, to see me the last three nights at the house and walked the floor and rehearsed his speech for me. He’s nearly nutty.”

“The poor chap,” said I.

“I drove him down to work this morning,” proceeded Jim, “and dear old blatherskite Billy sat there like a man in a trance. He never spoke all the way down, except to moan a few times.”

“The poor fellow,” I agreed.

“I’ve seen Bill Berry,” stated Jim, “meet notables and millionaires and statesmen as if he were their buddy. I’ve seen him the life of a hundred parties. He has the nerve of a canal horse. At hockey games he stands up and roars and yells like a bull in a barn and thinks no more of the stares and “sit-downs” of the mob than if they weren’t there. But this morning Bill Berry was worse than a bride with the hives on her nuptial morn.”

Scared By Remote Control

“How did he ever get himself into this jam?” I inquired.

“Oh, some service club,” said Jim. “Some service club is putting on a fifteen-minute appeal. And nobody but Bill Berry could put over the right gusto, the right hail-fellow, the right life of the party. And Bill admits he was kind of tickled at first with the idea of talking over the radio. It was just four or five days ago that he got mike fright.”

“He shouldn’t have mike fright yet,” I cried.

“He’s got it,” said Jim. “Mike fright, by remote control. Every hour it gets worse. It’s worse than buck fever. It’s worse than waiting for the day of your execution. Last night he didn’t sleep a wink. Do you know what he did last night?”

“No.”

“He just sat in a rocking chair all night and rocked.”

“Oh, dear,” I said.

“I wonder what we could do to help him?” asked Jim. “You’ve often talked over the air. Can’t you think of something?”

“Could somebody else make the speech for him?” I suggested.

“I told him that,” said Jim, “but he’s too proud. He won’t hear of it.”

“Maybe we could get a doctor to give him some dope,” I thought, “some sleeping pills, something that will dull him down for the remaining twenty-four hours.”

“He’s full of aspirin now,” said Jim. “And sleeping powders.”

“I am sorry for him,” I said, “but I can’t see what’s to be done about it. A guy undertakes to talk over the radio, he’s got to take what comes with it.”

“How would you like to come with us?” asked Jim. “I said I’d drive him to the studio to-morrow night. You’re a good hand at cheering people up. Come with us.”

“Sure I will,” I agreed.

The next night Jim picked me up at the house about 7.30. In the front of the car beside him sat Bill Berry.

“HUL-lo, Bill,” I cried, in my best service club manner. “Howsa boy?”

Bill did not answer. He just settled a little deeper into his coat collar. In a swift glance, I saw how he had failed. His derby, instead of being on the side and somewhat on the back of his head, was set primly on the centre. It seemed a little too big for him. His face had shrunk. It was pallid and expressionless, and there was a dull look in his eyes.

“Well, well, so we’re making our radio debut?” I cried, opening the back door and stepping in.

Rusty was there. Jim’s Rusty, an Irish water spaniel of advanced age, a dear old dog, but somewhat fallen from his natural estate. Rusty was bought eleven years ago by Jimmie to be a retriever of countless ducks that Jimmie was going to shoot. Rusty comes of a noble breed that fears not the roaring wave nor the icy water, but will plunge in where polar bears would fear to tread, after wild ducks.

But Rusty had two paths to take, and he took the lesser. He became, in a few weeks, a house dog, a guardian of children and property rather than a noble beast of the chase. During the past ten years, any time Jim takes Rusty into the duck blind, poor Rusty just sits there emitting whines in a hoarse Irish voice, demanding to be taken back to terra firma, and houses and property and children, his chief interest.

“Hullo Rusty,” I said as I got in beside him and he grudgingly gave me a bit of the seat to sit on.

A Very Strict Rule

Jim drove rapidly downtown. I could see Bill Berry’s head, with that incongruous bowler sitting so stiff and straight on his head. His neck seemed shrunk. His head looked shaky and his ears stuck out forlornly in a way I had never noticed before.

I tried four or five starts at conversation. I tried the Rotary, then the Kiwanis, then the Lions and finally the Young Men’s Board of Trade manner on him.

None of them worked.

“Bill,” I said, “how would you like me to sub for you? They’ll announce you, and then I’ll step up and imitate your voice so that even your own wife wouldn’t know it wasn’t you?”

“No, no,” said Bill hollowly. “I’ll see it through.”

So I spent the rest of the ride scratching Rusty and talking to him.

“You can’t leave Rusty in the car,” I remarked to Jim. “What was the idea of bringing him?”

“My nights belong to Rusty,” said Jimmie. “Where I go he goes.”

“But he goes frantic if he is left alone in the car,” I reminded Jim.

“We’ll take him inside and tie him up to a radiator in the hall or something,” said Jim easily.

At the studio, we both had to help poor Billy Berry out of the car. He had gone stiff. His legs wouldn’t bend. In his right hand he clutched a wad of paper that was his speech. It was just a wad.

We got him out and stood him there, like an invalid, while Jim put the leash on Rusty and handed it to me.

I held Rusty on the leash and Jim and I each took an arm of Bill and led him slowly down the street and into the radio broadcasting station door.

His feet dragged, he was breathing in short gasps and you could hear a slight moan with every third or fourth breath.

As we went through the door, he leaned his weight on us and stumbled.

“Here, here,” I hissed. “Bill, this won’t do at all.”

In the lighted entrance. I saw his face. It was white and beaded with moisture. His eyes had a glassy look and his lips were muttering. I caught a few words:

“… now altogether, with one heart and voice, let us say…”

“Wait till you get into the studio,” I said, patting his back.

We were ushered upstairs into a waiting room with wicker chairs. We lowered Bill Berry into the biggest one. A few ladies in evening dress stared at him coldly and unsympathetically, and one man in a dress suit played faint trills on a piccolo across the room.

“Is this dog going to take part in any program?” asked a very young man who had come into the waiting room.

“No,” I said. “He’s just an onlooker.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to take him out,” said the young aristocrat, pleasantly. “There is a very strict rule.”

Jim winked at me.

I started out with Rusty, who dragged back on the leash. Rusty knows his nights are for Jimmie.

“Put on That Smile”

Jim caught me in the hallway.

“Walk around here and there,” said Jim, “and at two minutes to eight sharp, come up here. Hide Rusty under your coat.”

“Under my coat?” I expostulated, “Him weighing fifty pounds?”

“I always said that coat of yours was for you and who else,” said Jim. “Stuff him up under your coat, walk in here at the right minute and then push in with the rest of us.”

“No, Jim.” I protested. “I hate trouble. You take Bill inside. I won’t need to go.”

“Listen, you come,” declared Jim. “He’s better, just having you near. I can see it. You sit in the studio where he can see you. Put on that smile. You know the one. The smile that means ‘great stuff, fella.'”

“Aw.”

“Now do it for me.”

“Why didn’t you leave Rusty at home?” I demanded.

“I should have,” said Jim. “But he knows he goes where I go at night. I couldn’t disappoint him.”

“I can readily understand why he isn’t a bird dog,” I said, giving a yank to the leash.

So Rusty and I went out and walked around the street for six or seven minutes, and then, by the clock, I started sneaking back in. We took the stairs up. We went slowly. I watching the wrist-watch, and Rusty anxiously sniffing his way back up to Jimmie.

At exactly one minute to eight o’clock, we were at the top step of the stairs of the studio floor. I reached down and put Rusty under my arm and draped my large English-style overcoat over him. In the hall, as I came through, the party to which Bill belonged was thronged at the doorway of the studio.

All was hushed and “hissed.” Young officials of the studio were signalling with eyes and fingers and forming soundless words with their mouths.

I drew alongside the throng of artists and speakers. Jim mode way for me so that I was in the middle of the group.

The studio door opened and out came sounds of final, triumphant, signing-off music. I heard a quiet voice announcing the end of a program. Our party was ushered, like a herd of cows for the slaughter, into the studio. Its hushed atmosphere was slightly broken by the rising and departure of a horde of shirt-sleeved musicians tip-toeing out. The quiet voice again speaking, and as the outgoing throng made way, we crept anxiously to chairs and benches. There were curtains on the walls and curtains dependent from the ceiling There were wires and cables on the floor and strung across the room itself in midair.

All was hushed and disorganized, yet strangely organized. Rusty was wriggling under my coat and I patted him.

The men on the box, who was talking in the quiet voice, signalled toward Bill Berry and Jim led him forward. A lady was already playing the piano and a short fat man in a dress suit suddenly burst into loud baritone song. Rusty struggled fiercely under the coat, so I let his head out and he glared about the room until he saw Jim. Then he sagged comfortably.

In the Awful Silence

I sat down to one side, where Bill could see me. Jim was holding Bill’s arm, they were seated side by side, and Bill’s face was as white as death. He was listening with intense interest and an expression of surprise, to the man singing. Other officials of the service club were grouped around, most of them looking quickly at Bill and then looking quickly away again.

It was all very swift. Time flies in a studio. On hushed wings it flies.

“It is now my pleasure,” said the announcer up on the box, with an easy and jolly manner, and common gesture toward Bill, “to introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, one who is known throughout the city and, indeed, throughout the country as a whole, as a great fellow, a great organizer, a great leader, a great worker in many noble and worthy causes, who will put, in a nutshell, the meaning of this campaign in the behalf of an underprivileged section of our great community, Mr. William Berry!”

He said it the way Joe Penner’s announcer announces Joe.

Bill was on his feet. He was in a trance. Jim was whispering in his ear, trying to get him to take a step forward. But Bill’s legs were locked, apparently.

I had to act quick, if I was going to act at all.

I slid Rusty down on to the floor. I stood up. I started toward Bill and Jim.

And under my foot, in that awful hushed silence, I felt Rusty’s tail go squnnch!

“Ki-yi-yi-yi,” yelled Rusty. “Ki-yi-yi-yi! … oooowww!”

“Here, here!” I rasped. But Rusty was crouched down, scrambling out of the way of all big feet, under chairs, looking over his shoulder in terror and letting out a staccato stream of

“Ki-yi-yi-yi-yi-oooooowwww!”

The room was in a panic. Announcers rushed from side to side signalling madly but all in that awful hush in which Rusty’s incredible yowling and ki-yi-ing filled and blasted the air. Frantic faces appeared at windows looking into the studio. Five of six of us were now sprawling on the floor trying to quiet Rusty, but the more we struggled the worse Rusty yelled, and chairs fell over and finally –

“Cut!” roared the announcer.

At that loud call, Rusty and I were like two worms tossed into a flock of chickens

The hush was broken with a babble of voices as officials rushed in and seized Rusty and me and everybody else out the studio, except Jim and Bill.

I stood outside explaining to a mob of infuriated radio experts for only a half a minute until out came Jimmie, leading poor Bill, who was now just one complete quiver, head, knees and all.

They grabbed their coats. We went in a body down the stairs.

“What happened?” I asked Jim. “Did he speak?”

“He couldn’t speak,” said Jim, quite simply. “So the announcer said, ‘You have just heard a few remarks by Mr. William Berry, that well-known worker in behalf of the underprivileged of this great city.'”

“So Rusty made the speech? I cried.

“That was him,” said Jim.

We drove Mr. William Berry back home to his astonished and waiting wife.


Editor’s Notes: Greg did speak often on the radio, he even considered giving up newspaper work in the late 1930s to become a radio announcer. He participated in a series called “Let’s Face the Facts” in 1940, where speeches by notable Canadians commented on different aspects of the war effort. This was accumulated in a single volume in 1941.

Joe Penner was a popular radio comedian at the time.

“Wonky Clocks”

Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow. Jim removed screws, large and small, and laid them across the table.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 19, 1944

“For instance,” said Jimmie Frise, “a man could mend umbrellas.”

“True, Jimmie,” I mused. “When I was a boy, I recollect the umbrella menders. There would be one come along our street at least once a month. They would have a half a dozen tattered old umbrellas under their arms, and a little bag of tools, like a doctor.”

“They would rap at each door,” went on Jim, “and say to the lady, with a lift of the hat, ‘Any umbrellas to mend, lady?'”

“Nowadays, I still see scissors grinders,” I confessed, “with a little treadle strapped on their backs, and ringing a hand bell through the streets.”

“They are foreigners now,” said Jim. “But when I was a boy, they used to be our fellow countrymen. And the children would come and gather round to see the blue sparks fly off the wheel, and to hear him sing. I knew one Irishman, young Irishman, with a bright face, and he loved sharpening scissors and knives. And he used to sing a tune in time with his foot pumping on the treadle. A quick tune.”

“I can’t understand any man nowadays,” I stated, “being out of work even though he can’t do war work. There are so many things a man can do. Things men used to do, that seem to be forgotten. Why, I remember the spectacle sellers. Don’t you remember the spectacle sellers? Nicely dressed young men who, when you opened the door, were standing there, with a bright smile, and a sort of suitcase strapped around their necks and spread open in front of them filled with spectacles of all sorts fastened to the tray. From door to door, these merchants went, fitting spectacles to all the housewives.”

“And,” cried Jimmie, “the packmen! With a big black oilcloth pack on their backs with a tray in their hands, containing everything the home required – needles, threads, buttons, tape, elastic, bobbins, wool of all shades, hooks and eyes, buckles.”

“I remember,” I admitted, “my dear old grandmother searching all over the house one time for a bodkin, and finally saying – ‘I wish the packman would come by.’ And then she stopped still and looked wistfully out of the window, and said, ‘Why, I haven’t seen a packman in thirty years.’ And that day she grew many years older.”

“The packmen,” said Jim. “Merchants, with their stores on their backs. Today, it a man comes to your door with needles, thread, shoe laces, all he has got is a little bit of stuff in his hands and he is so shabby and importunate, you know he is only begging. But packmen never begged. They were proud men. They were merchants. Merchants of a prouder and older order than these modern ones that sit in stores. They belonged to that ancient craft of merchants who travelled by camel train and little ship across all the earth, selling as they went.”

“And the clock menders,” I cried. “Where are the clock menders? Don’t you remember the men, mostly with gray beards, who called at each door, and asked ‘Any clocks to mend, lady?’ They had a little handbag full of tools. I can still remember how they would come in and take the clock apart on the dining-room table, and we were allowed to stand there, with our hands behind our backs, and watch him in silence. And these clock menders were silent men, who breathed heavily through their beards as they bent over the mysterious million wheels and springs on the dining-room table. We always used to give them a cup of tea when they were finished, and the clock’s fine gong was ringing through the house again.”

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

“Now there,” said Jim, emphatically, “is an idea.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“This city, this whole country,” declared Jim, “is full of wonky clocks that people want repaired because some lines of new ones are hard to get on account of the war. Why, I’ve got two big clocks right now in my house that don’t go and haven’t gone for years and years.”

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

“Isn’t that funny thing?” mused Jim. “I have, up in this minute, thought of those clocks just as ornaments. It is years since they went. I wonder why I haven’t done anything about them?”

“Because,” I stated, “the clock menders no longer call from door to door. Because you can’t think of anybody to come and take them away. Because they are too big and clumsy to take downtown yourself. I bet there is a million dollars’ worth of clock mending to be done right in this city.”

“I wonder,” thought Jimmie, “if it is because we have all grown lazy and indifferent? I wonder if, as the result of all the inventions of the past fifty years, life hasn’t become so soft, so easy, that the whole human species has grown lazy, careless, indifferent. Why wouldn’t I go to the trouble of taking a clock off the mantel, carry it out to my car in the morning and deliver it to a store downtown?”

“Nobody wants to do the little old-fashioned things any more,” Jim went on. “Even the piano tuners. Do you remember the piano tuners? You didn’t have to send for the piano tuner. He just turned up.”

“I remember, even,” I submitted, “a sort of general mender that used to come around about once a year. He had a wooden box on his back. He used to sit in the vestibule. He could resole shoes, mend leather gloves, sew up carpets that were torn, mend carpet sweepers, regild picture frames …”

“The country is full of work. And the grandest kind of work of all – working for one’s self,” said Jim.

“I guess the only kind of work anybody wants now,” I said, “is what somebody else tells them to do.”

“Well,” stated Jim, “one good thing has come out of this conversation. I’m going to get my clocks repaired.”

“The same here,” I said. “Only, it seems a shame that after all this talk about laziness and loss of enterprise, I have to confess that I am the great-grandson of a clockmaker.”

“Are you?” said Jim.

“Yes, my great-grandfather, born here in York, before it was Toronto, even, was Thomas Bradshaw McMurray, watchmaker, probably the first native born watchmaker in this city.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Maybe, some of these countless clocks that aren’t going all over Toronto were actually made by him.”

“Possibly,” I confessed. “But I inherit not the slightest aptitude with machinery of any kind.”

“You would hardly call a clock machinery,” pointed out Jim. “A clock is, after all, a very simple mechanism. It is, in fact, as simple as a child’s wind-up toy. It consists of a spring you wind up, a ratchet that holds the spring, and a series of geared wheels which relax the springs at a rate controlled by levers with tension on them. Really very simple.”

“Even so,” I confessed, “I have a horror of opening a clock. I must inherit some reaction from my great-grandfather. I shudder even when I take the back off my wrist watch. To look in and see all those tiny, delicate wheels and sprockets and springs breathing, as it were. Breathing and slowly ticking, ticking, like the beat of a heart. It gives me the creeps.”

“You surprise me,” said Jim. “All I see to clock mending, is, unscrew the works, take it all apart, laying each separate piece in a precise spot on the dining-room table, so that you will remember just when, rather than where, it goes back. Wipe everything with a rag dipped in gasoline or some such solvent. Reoil with great care, and very sparingly; and then reassemble. I should think it would be very simple.”

“Jim,” I cried. “Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “if we learn how to mend a clock, then anybody can learn. And we could then not only advocate clock mending as a trade to the unemployed, but we could actually, when some poor chap calls at our door with a packet of needles or soap. bring him in, teach him the trick of clock mending in an hour or two, and set him on his way a free man, man with a trade and calling.”

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

“How about the country?’ demanded Jim. “You pass all these little villages and cross roads in the country. There is no glazier there, but all the windows are mended. There is no clockmaker, no plumber, no tinsmith, no dentist, but all the country’s clocks are ticking in the kitchens, the pumps work, the roofs are tight … there must be men all over this country who do know about making things go.”

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

But Jim went back to work at his drawing board with a hard dry look in his eyes, and that night, when the telephone rang right after dinner, I knew it would be Jim. And it was. And he invited me to come over to his place to see him mend a clock. And of course, a man would be a pretty poor specimen that wouldn’t do that much for a friend.

The clock, which Jim had standing on the bare dining-room table, was a large greenish yellow marble clock with gold pillars at the corners and a gold ornament on top. It was a clock made after the shape of a post-office or the British royal exchange or maybe the Greek temple or something severe. Jim had the dining-room doors closed and locked.

“I have here,” he said, “the small screwdriver from the sewing machine, a large screw-driver, a thing to tap with, in case of rust, a rag moistened with gasoline and an oil can. The whole outfit wouldn’t cost a dollar.”

Jim removed the back of the clock with four deft twiddles of the screw-driver. He peered inside, studied, examined, lit matches and peeked; and finally undid a large screw which let him lift out the bowels of the whole clock. It was heavy, brassy and compact.

“I will start at this corner of the table,” explained Jimmie, “and work across the table diagonally that way. I will lay each thing I take out, in its proper order. Thus, when reassembling the clock, I will start at that far corner. And so, as simple as falling off a log, it will go together again.”

I said nothing. Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow.

Jim removed eleven screws, large and small, and laid them, in a sort of row, across the table. Then removed the whole disjointed carcass forward to the head of the row, and delicately pulling, lifting, twisting, he began to take the machinery apart. Each piece he laid separately in the row.

“See,” he said, breathing heavily, “how simple it will be?”

I just moaned.

He worked straight across the table and then made a wide turn and started back on a second row. Still the machine came apart. Still grew that incredible line of wheels, screws, levers, bolts. The spring came away, a thick, dreadful looking thing, coiled like a serpent. Jim studied it, looked through its coils.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Gummed with ancient oil. Glued, you might say. I will swish it in a bowl of gasoline.”

But on, on he went, finishing the second row and starting on a third. The face of the clock fell out. Jim picked it up and detached the hands.

“There,” he cried. “Was that difficult? Was that intricate?”

I stifled a groan.

With his gasoliney rag, Jim proceeded to wipe each part. He rubbed and scrubbed.

“Be careful,” I said hoarsely. “Don’t lean against the table. Don’t jiggle the least bit.”

“Imagine a man,” remarked Jim, “having a horror of clock insides!”

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

And then Jim, shifting the duster in his hands to get a fresh clean bit to use, flicked with the tail of the rag the middle row of parts. It was just the lightest possible flick. But my rivetted and fascinated gaze saw a small brass wheel and a very tiny steel pin about the size of a one-inch nail, scamper across the table, and I let out a yell.

“You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined it!” I shouted.

But Jim, bending down, picked up the wheel and the bolt and a sort of rocking beam sort of thing like on the top of an old-fashioned steamboat. It had a hole at each end.

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

“I remember where they go,” said Jim easily, and he bent over, studying the rows of parts, and looking for the space the parts belonged to. “Here, this is where the wheel was. Or was it the rod?”

“I’m going home,” I stated.

“Just a second,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s see. This flat thing was here. And this wheel was … there. Was it?”

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, “I remember this large sprocket was there. It must have moved, too. I’ll put it back there, and then this … Let’s see. This … Well, well, mmm, mmm, dear me.”

He straightened up. He stared narrowly at the rows of bits.

“Jim,” I said, taking his hand tenderly. “I’m off. Good-night.”

“Hold on, a jiffy,” said Jim, eagerly. “Now wait a minute.”

But he was frightened, and it showed. There was perspiration along the top of his forehead, too. I couldn’t leave the poor chap in such a plight. I hid my face in my hands and sat down.

“Mmm, mmm,” Jimmie kept saying, “Mmm, mmm.”

I heard little clicks. I heard snaps, clinks, snucks and taps. I heard things going together and things being grunted apart. I heard a loud tapping, and looked up to see Jim hammering a wheel on to an axle, using the butt end of a screw-driver.

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

“Well, anyway,” sighed Jim, holding small gear about the size of a dime, “I’ve found one thing I’ve been looking for for months. This gear will exactly fit my casting reel. The one with the black handles.”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t start trying tinker with your fishing reel.”

“It’s the very fit,” said Jim. “And now I know where I can get wheels and springs and anything like that.”

And he laid the clock on its back and rescrewed the face on it, and then laid it on its face and on its back door he just dumped, dumped all the works, packing them in and prying them in with the screw-driver and tamping them down with the butt of the screw-driver, and finally getting the back door closed and the little button turned.

“There,” he said. “Nobody will ever notice.”

“Let me see,” said Jim. “Where does this wheel go?”

Editor’s Note: Gasoline was also used as an all-purpose cleaner back in the old days.

This story is a repeat of “Mmmm, Mmmm!” which was published on February 29, 1936. The image from that story is at the end.

Pardon My Elbow!

Giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 13, 1943

“Meet me,” instructed Jimmie Frise, “at exactly 10 to 5.”

“Make it 5,” I suggested.

“No, sir, not by a jugful,” cried Jim. “I don’t want to get torn to pieces, and clawed and trampled into the bargain.”

“I beg your pardon?” I inquired.

“If you’re not there by 10 to 5,” stated Jimmie, “I’ll go on. Ten to 5 on the dot.”

“What is all this?” I insisted. “Why the exact specifications?”

“If you get on the street car,” explained Jim, “at 10 to 5, you can get far enough back in the car to have a fighting chance. But at five minutes to 5, the women are already on the run. And at 5 exactly, the stampede of the women is on. Your life isn’t worth a cent if you get in their path.”

“Women!” I protested. “How do you mean?”

“Don’t tell me,” said Jim, “that you haven’t been on a crowded street car lately. Don’t tell me you haven’t observed the Wartime Woman.”

“Jimmie,” I enunciated, scandalized, “the womanhood of Canada has risen to a man…”

“Yah,” cried Jim. “You hit it on the head. Risen to a man. That’s the trouble.”

“Why, Jimmie,” I protested. “If it weren’t for the women who are helping in industry, in the factories and munitions plants, where would we be right now?”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m talking about,” asserted Jimmie. “They’re wonderful. They’re real he-men, to the core. They’ve got all the best traits of the men whose work they are doing. They have all a man’s innate courtesy and consideration for his fellow mortal.”

“Then who …?” I demanded.

“Wait till I finish with the war worker,” said Jim. “Those girls demonstrate a curious fact: give a girl a man’s work to do, and she develops the character of a man. I think the sight of a street car crowded with tired munitions girls going home from work is one of the most moving spectacles of our time. Weary to the bone after a long day’s toil, free by reason of their work clothes from that awful self-consciousness which the ancient laws of style and personal beauty have imposed on women, they sit relaxed, their faces untouched by make-up, with a softness and naturalness that a man somehow associates only with his nearest and dearest, like his mother or sister; those munitions girls are far more lovely to look at than they dream.”

“I agree,” I said.

The Wartime Woman

“If girls only knew,” sighed Jim, “how much more attractive and truly appealing they are when they are tired, a little dishevelled and unconscious of themselves.”

“A man,” I said, “hardly ever falls in love with a girl, no matter how hard she slaves over her make-up and clothes and pretty ways, until suddenly one day he catches her in tears, or scared to death or all mussed up and bewildered. That’s when a man falls in love.”

“When he sees,” summed up Jim, “what a girl really is, not what she is trying to be, he feels it safe to fall in love with her.”

“That’s it,” I declared. And I bet you some of the happiest marriages this world has ever seen are being framed up right now, when all those beautiful girls in the factories and war plants are being too busy to be anything but themselves.”

“Isn’t it a pity so many of the boys are away at the war,” Jim muttered. “The best guys may be missing their match.”

“Never,” I cried. “What these girls in the factories are learning about being natural they will never forget. And the wisest of them know that one fine day, a quarter of a million young unmarried men are coming swarming home from war, fuller of love of home and all the things that really matter to a happy life than any of the canny lads who have stayed home, no matter how valuable their services here may be. Those girls will wait for their boys to come home, don’t fear.”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m scared of,” declared Jim.

“Then who’s this Wartime Woman you referred too?” I inquired.

“War,” detailed Jim, “due to the absence of a huge percentage of the male population, places new and unaccustomed burdens and duties on women. Those who enter men’s work, like in factories, are brought under men’s discipline. But of those who remain women, though brought out of the home into business and affairs, some become a problem.”

“How?” I inquired.

“It has taken men centuries and centuries,” explained Jim, “through contact with one another in the market place and the factory, to learn public manners. I grant you, men’s manners are still a long way from perfect. But you rarely find a man who will act in a crowded street car the way too many women do.”

“Jim,” I cautioned him, “you are on very dangerous ground. One of the oldest traditions in the world is the tradition of the gentler sex.”

“Gentle my elbow,” snorted Jim. “Women are lawless, untamed. For centuries, we have had to keep them tied up in the home while we men went out into the world to try and work out a system of civilization.”

“If women are so untamed,” I demanded, “how did we weak, sentimental men succeed in keeping them tied up in the home?”

“By refusing to marry any but the kind who would stay home,” Jim explained. “We men glorified the soft, feminine, gentle characteristics of an imaginary ideal womanhood. We hoped, by the process of natural selection, to eliminate the lawless woman. It worked to some extent. For a few centuries, we kept them tied up with domestic duties, family cares, trying to get them all worn out before they could break loose. We’ve always known they were untamed. We built up our civilization, in the hope that it would be too strong for the women to destroy even if they did get free. Then, 40 years ago, about the start of the 20th century, they got free. They entered business. Next they got the vote. Now they are loose upon the world. And look at it.”

Ladies in a Hurry

“For mercy’s sake,” I protested, “you don’t blame the women for the mess the world is in today!”

“The 20th century,” stated Jim, “is already known to history as the Bloody Century. Two of the most savage wars in all human history have taken place, and the century’s not half over yet. Now, what is the other thing the 20th century is notable for? What basic thing, different from all others? The emancipation of women.”

“Why, Jim, this is terrible,” I cried. “To accuse womanhood of any share in the things they hate and detest most …”

“Who hates and detests?” demanded Jim. “Is it that ideal woman we men have been dreaming up for a couple of thousand years? You just wait till we get on the street car after 5 o’clock. Anyway, I make no accusations. I draw no morals. All I do is go into the forest of speculation and bring out a few logs of fact. You do the building any way you like. I say the century of the emancipation of women happens also to be the Bloody Century. Maybe there is no connection.”

“The 20th century,” I cried, “has seen the greatest strides in social reform in all history. And the influence of women is to be credited with much of that reform.”

“The 20th century,” announced Jim, “is also the bloodiest century in human history. No other century can hold a candle to it.”

“But how could women be involved in that?” I shouted.

“Good grief,” shouted Jim, “it’s five to 5! Come on!”

So we grabbed our coats and hats and hurried out to the elevator. The elevator was full of girls, all with very determined expressions on their faces. The girl operating the elevator said:

“Room for one only.”

And as I tried to squeeze in beside Jim, she threw the lever that automatically slides the door shut, and I was very nearly sliced like a ham.

“Wait for me,” I yelled to Jim as the elevator door slammed.

The next elevator had a couple of men in it, along with about twice as many girls as the elevator would hold. The men held their breath and drew in their stomachs to allow me to squeeeeeeze in.

As the elevator door opened on the ground floor, and I stood aside to let the ladies out first, the lady behind me gave me a shove in the back with her knuckle.

“Okay, lady, no hurry,” I mumbled.

Jim was standing over by the pillars and we joined forces and fought our way out the revolving doors. Girls are nimble. They have grace. They can nip through revolving doors. But a man likes to approach a revolving door deliberately.

It was spinning too fast for me; so I paused. Two spaces whizzed round empty.

“Come on, Grampaw,” said a commanding voice behind me, and a young lady bunted me into the next vacancy and came round with me.

“Young lady…” I said indignantly as we popped out on the street and I caught my hat.

But she was gone in the throng.

“See?” said Jim, coming pop out after me.

When we reached the street car stop, there was a big crowd, about equally men and women. Three cars arrived in a bunch. The second one was our choice. We ran for it.

So did about five determined looking men and about nine women and girls. The men won.

They grabbed the hand rails and clung on the steps.

The girls panted behind us.

“How about this, Jim?” I inquired, my face buried in the coat tails of the gentleman ahead of me.

“Aw, we have to get on first,” explained Jim, “because the girls have to hunt through their handbags for their street car tickets. It is always best for the men to get on first, because they always have their tickets in their hands.”

“I see,” I said, hoisting myself another step up.

And more by luck than good management, Jim and I, poke checking a couple of men ahead of us, and executing a sort of echelon movement familiar to students of naval battles, got an empty seat together.

“Aaaaah,” we breathed, in a sigh familiar to all street car riders.

The warlike women poured in after us, nabbing seats with agility and speed until the seats were all filled and they scattered themselves down the aisles. None of them paused near Jim and me until, near the last of the load, a lady of about our age, obviously not a downtown worker but a shopper, came and grabbed the handrail of the seat with a very heavy sigh and a slight groan.

And she leaned back slightly and stared expectantly at Jimmie and me.

“How about it, Jim?” I murmured, when she shifted her fierce gaze off us for a minute.

“We come to a factory in two or three blocks,” said Jim out the side of his mouth. “Save our seats for a couple of war workers.”

“Okay,” I said firmly, and stared with intense interest, like a stranger in town, out the window.

The lady in the red-feathered hat and handbag, swayed alarmingly as the car started and stopped. She braced herself in the aisle against all who attempted to squeeze down the car to make room.

Her handbag caught Jim a couple of suggestive cracks on the ear. She continued emitting heavy sighs and faint groans and occasionally seemed to be muttering to herself. But I kept watching out the window with unabated interest.

Then we came to the factory street stop which we knew by the merry sounds of laughter and of crowds outside the car doors.

“Move down, lots of “room at the back,” cried the motorman heartily.

“Umffff,” snorted the lady beside us, holding her ground.

But despite her efforts, half a dozen of the slim war workers managed to eel their way past and at the sight of the first of them, Jim and I leaped dutifully to our feet and with the detached courtesy that becomes grizzle-headed old gents, gave them our seats.

“When We Stop Idealizing”

I could feel the lady’s breath hot on the back of my neck. For an instant, I feared for myself.

“Mashers,” she muttered; but I heard her.

The car started.

I lurched back. My foot came down on something softish and lumpish.

“Ow-ooooo!” screeched the lady with the red handbag.

And giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

“Clumsy fool,” she grated.

I limped down the car and Jim followed, screening my confusion from the eyes of those who had witnessed the little contretemps.

“See?” murmured Jimmie in my ear, when we found a spot to cling.

I was too busy suffering to continue the debate. But after about 30 blocks, the crowd thinned in the car and I saw the lady in the red feathered hat get off the car and shake herself with all the grace of a horse getting up after a roll in the stubble.

“She didn’t get a seat all the way,” I gloated.

“Now you see what I mean about women,” said Jim. “No man would deliberately stamp on your foot like that.”

“But my dear sir,” I exclaimed, “she was only one. Look at all the rest of the fair sex in this car. All quiet and feminine and self-effacing. You can’t base a whole philosophy on one woman in a carload.”

“How’s your foot?” inquired Jim.

“I think,” I said, wriggling them cautiously, “she broke one of my toes.”

“Well, it wasn’t any man did that,” argued Jim.

“The thing is too complicated for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “That lady belonged to our generation. She was brought up to expect a seat in a car, no matter how crowded. It wasn’t my accidentally stepping on her foot that made her sore. She felt insulted.”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “we were at fault in idealizing them. If that dame is a sample of what idealizing does, we were wrong. If all the rest of the girls in this car are a sample of what letting them work in factories does, we sure were wrong.”

“Maybe keeping them tied up at home,” I submitted, “made them bad tempered, like tying up a dog.”

“Maybe,” rounded up Jimmie, “when we stop idealizing all things for our own comfort and security, even wars will end.”

And then a couple of dopey looking downtown business men, who had been sitting like two potatoes all the way, got up.

And Jimmie and I, like two potatoes, sat down for the remaining seven blocks.


Editor’s Note: A lot of creative writing had to go into this piece to both praise and complain about women on the home front during World War Two. I can picture their editor being very careful to ensure that women working would not be offended.

Cricket on the Hearth

Once more we listened, and, faint and gentle, the cricket began its nervous little harping. “I’ll get him,” said Jim.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 4, 1939

“Of all the nuisances,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “there’s a cricket in our living room.”

“Lucky man,” I assured him.

“Lucky heck,” retorted Jim, “have you ever had a cricket in your house?”

“Plenty of times,” I informed him, “and many’s the time I have found a cricket in the garden and carried it into the house in the hope that it would take up residence in the fireplace. A cricket is the luckiest thing a house can have. Luckier than horse-shoes, luckier than a little dark man being the first to cross your doorstep on New Year’s Day.”

“Aside from all that baloney,” said Jim, “how do you get rid of a cricket? You know all about insects and things.”

“Baloney?” I exclaimed. “Jim, I assure you, it is no baloney. A cricket in the house is a very lucky thing. I know dozens of cases where people killed the cricket in their home and the worst kind of bad luck followed.”

“Don’t be an ass,” laughed Jim. “I know you entertain a lot of quaint little superstitions, but this is no joke, this cricket. It has become a major nuisance. It interrupts the radio.”

“Come, come, Jim,” I protested. “A little wee cricket, interrupting the radio?”

“He’s somewhere around the fireplace, see?” explained Jim. “He only emits a few little lazy chirrups during the day, but when the family is all gathered in at supper time, then he tunes up. Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, he goes, as loud as if he were a member of the family.”

“As, indeed he is; fortunately for you,” I assured.

“He seems to warm up around supper time,” went on Jim, “and by the time supper’s over and we are gathered in the living room, and the radio is turned on, he really gets going. You can actually hear him, believe it or not, above the din of Jack Benny’s program.”

“Oh, nonsense,” I said.

“He is the loudest cricket I ever heard,” declared Jim. “In the loveliest, smoothest dance music, you can hear him, chirrup, chirrup, upsetting the time, spoiling the melody. He has no sense of music at all. No sense of rhythm. He seems to feel he has got to compete with the radio, so he saws away, with incredible power; the louder the radio, the louder he works. Last Sunday he drowned out a Wagner prelude.”

“Jim, you’re exaggerating,” I smiled. “You often have to hold your breath to hear a cricket on the hearth.”

“Not this fellow,” disagreed Jim. “He must have got into some place where there are special acoustic properties. He must have a sounding board behind him. He’s awful. The kids have hunted for him, they’ve ransacked the fireplace, the floor board, pulled out the grates and the dampers, but they can’t get him.”

“It’s lucky they didn’t,” I submitted.

“Don’t be silly,” groaned Jim. “I tell you, I’ve got to get that bug out of my house, and I thought you’d know some tricks.”

It Brings Us Luck

“Jim,” I stated firmly, “I am just as serious about that cricket as you are. You’re one of these modern persons, realists to the marrow, who believe nothing strange or mysterious or superstitious. You believe only what can be seen, felt, or proven with instruments. I tell you, you leave that cricket alone.”

Jim just smiled the smile we use for children, dogs and very old people.

“Tell me,” he said sweetly, “what relation can a cricket have with luck or with anything else? How can a cricket, a little shiny black bug, have any connection with whatever befalls, good or bad, in my house?”

“I don’t know, Jim,” I confessed. “If I did know, I could start a new religion that would sweep the whole world like a storm. But all I do know, there are great powers and forces of evil and of good in this world, which we are ignoring, because we have sold out body and soul to the machines, the chemists, the scientists and the realists. It is impossible, any longer, to believe that a cricket on the hearth brings luck, because we know so much about entomology, the science of bugs, and because we cannot prove that luck exists by either chemistry or physics.”

“The entomologists,” said Jim, “know all there is to know about crickets.”

“Except one thing,” I pointed out. “And that is, how they bring luck to a house.”

“What rubbish,” laughed Jim.

“All right,” I cried, “how about this? Albert Einstein invented the relativity theory and succeeded in measuring the universe. Previous to him, men had measured the distance to the farthest star. But it took Einstein to measure the universe. Only a hundred men in the world can comprehend Einstein’s method of measuring the universe. But they all these greatest brains in the world, agree that Einstein is right. Yet Albert Einstein, the man who measured the universe, dare not go home to his native land.”

“Why not?” cried Jim.

“Because,” I said softly, “he is a Jew.”

“Aaaaah,” said Jim.

“We know more,” I declared, “about the universe and the world and of every living thing in it ever was known or ever was dreamed could be known. Yet never in all the history of the world have men been so homeless in the earth, nor more frightened of it, nor less secure in it. Never.”

“What has that got to do with silly superstitions about bugs?” demanded Jimmie.

“I don’t know,” I submitted. “Except only this. That maybe one of the forms of the grace of God in our hearts is that we believe a cricket on the hearth brings us luck. A cricket irritates us. It is only a little, noisy bug. It sings all day, and sings all night, and may not seem altogether sanitary to have in our house. But don’t you see, if there is a sort of gentleness and bigness in our hearts, if we have room in our hearts for little nuisances and noises, if we have tolerance, even of bugs, then we are likely to be the kind of person and the kind of house, on to which those blessings pour, not from without, but from within our own selves.”

“I get you,” said Jim.

“In some countries,” I furthered, “they are throwing out the Jews. In your house, you want to exile a little cricket that sings to you all the day long. If you sell out to reality entirely, if you are the kind of cold-blooded realist who has no patience with crickets on the hearth, then you are going to be the kind of person who has no patience with anything, and your life will grow narrower and narrower, with your patience and one thing after another will be thrown out of your life because it is not efficient or not agreeable, or not scientifically correct, until, at the end, you will be as cold as a machine and there you will sit, your heart clanking, your mind humming, perfected, consummated, rationalized, 100 per cent. And dead as a door nail.”

Ventriloquial Insect

“I still think,” said Jim, after a pause, “that you can be a human being and not have bugs in the house.”

So I just sighed, and let it go.

“This cricket,” said Jim, “is the eeriest thing. You squat down on the floor, by the fireplace, and listen intently. The noise is loud and ringing. You listen and decide that it is over in the right hand corner. So you softly creep over there, and then, instead of being in the right hand corner, it sounds to be over in the left hand corner.”

“One of the interesting things about crickets,” I admitted, “is their ventriloquial effect of their music.”

“Honestly,” said Jim, “I’ve spent three evenings squatting at that fireplace, in addition to all the work the kids have done, trying even to locate the beast. But by the time I’ve got through, it has got me into a sort of daze. Actually dizzy, trying to locate the place the sound comes from.”

“You should use your ears,” I explained, “the way I do when my hounds are running. You’ve seen me cock my head sideways?”

“That’s what I was coming to,” admitted Jim. “It was your ear I was hoping to enlist to help me locate it. I’ve watched you harking to hounds and marvelled at the sense of direction you have.”

“It’s not sense of direction, Jim,” I explained. “It’s just the way you turn your head. Your ears stick out and catch distant sounds at a certain angle. Your ear-flaps act as sound catchers. Turn the hole of your ear towards the sound and you don’t hear it half so well as you do setting your ear-flaps out, at an angle, to catch the vibrations of distant sound. That’s the way I listen to hounds.”

“How do you spot the right direction, then?” demanded Jim.

“By experience,” I explained. “I know, from long experience. just what angle, from my head, the sound is exactly coming. So you’ve seen me harking to hounds, two miles off with my face looking in one direction, yet I go another direction, at a certain exact angle, to find the hounds.”

“I’ve seen that, plenty of times,” admitted Jim. “I thought it was a gift.”

“Not at all,” I stated. “Just science. Angles and vibrations. Pure physics, that’s all.”

“I thought it was I who was the realist,” smiled Jim.

“Science has its place,” I informed him, “even in such idle ways of wasting one’s life as hunting hounds. The main thing is, hunt hounds.”

“Or crickets,” said Jim.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” I offered. “I’ll lend you my ears, if you will promise not to kill the cricket.”

“It will be better to kill it,” said Jim, “than to turn it out into the cold wintry world.”

“Give it to me,” I offered, and I’ll take it to my house and give it a home. You never can have too much luck, even if luck doesn’t exist.”

“Okay,” laughed Jim. “You come and help me catch the cricket and you can have it.”

So after supper, I walked around to Jim’s and the children were all going to the movie and there were no good programs on the radio, and a quiet evening promised.

The cricket was a dandy. I have never heard a better one. He was loud, for a fact. A big bull cricket, he must be. His chirrup was sharp and keen, with a powerful echoing sound in it.

One of those off-night programs was on, in which a dance orchestra dispensed very loud and rousing music to offset the fact that the announcer was a very long-winded man with an infernally repeated announcement to make. Yet all through the dance numbers, the cricket sawed and ripped away, increasing his tone with every burst of trombones and relaxing his tone when the fiddles played.

“Jim,” I stated emphatically, “I wouldn’t disturb that cricket for the world. It would be most unfriendly of me to rob you of that harbinger.”

“Where is he?” asked Jim, turning off the radio. “Where do you figure he is?”

I hunkered down by the fireplace and listened. I cocked my head this way and that, letting my ear-flaps catch the vibration. I shifted my position variously, so as to get various bearings on the sound.

“Jim,” I said, “he’s behind that very brick.”

An Astonishing Hunt

“Listen,” I said, and I tapped gently on the brick behind which I knew the little fellow hid.

And instantly he stopped singing, right in the middle of a chirrup.

“Good for you,” shouted Jim, rushing from the room. He came back in a moment with a hammer and a little cold chisel.

“Jim,” I warned him, earnestly. “I think you are a great fool to disturb this fellow.”

“You said you’d take him,” said Jim. “So here he comes.”

Without ado, Jim knelt down and starting chipping the mortar around the brick. It was one of the inner bricks of the hearth, and would not show much defacement. Jim chipped and chipped, with careful blows of the hammer, while I watched, thinking of the little dark terror of the cricket within, and how he must be wondering what all this fury was about.

With only a slight break off one corner of the brick, Jim got it loose and lifted it out. Craftily.

We peered down into a dark hole.

“See?” I cried. “You’ll never get him. He has a whole cavern to hide in.”

“Let’s listen,” said Jim, resting his hammer.

So we sat and listened and after about a minute, such is the good cheer of all crickets, the little fellow started again, very faint and not nearly so resounding, now that we had punctured a hole in his sounding board.

“He’s up here,” I laughed, pointing to a brick at least six rows up the side of the fireplace wall, inside.

“Okay,” said Jim sharply. “I’ll get him.”

And despite my remonstrances, Jim set to work to remove that brick, while I went and sat in the easy chair, helping the cricket to think of a new place to hide.

The brick came out, and another with it that was apparently loose.

“Jim,” I pleaded, “you’re getting covered with soot. And you’ll weaken the whole fireplace. That cricket is nowhere near that hole now.”

“We’ll listen,” declared Jim.

So once more we listened, and faint and gentle, as if in reproof, the cricket began its nervous little harping.

“Aaaaah,” cried Jim, fiercely, starting to hammer and bang at another brick two feet to the right of the last one, and half a foot higher.

“Be careful,” I warned him. “One of the conditions was that I would get him uninjured.”

“I’ll not injure him,” said Jim, darkly, hitting harder with the hammer.

“Jim,” I commanded, “let me coax him out with a bit of lettuce.”

The brick Jim was working on came out very unexpectedly.

Jim made a furious crack at something with his hammer.

“I saw him,” he shouted. “I nearly got him that time.”

“Be careful.” I bellowed, as Jim made another furious smack at the new hole he had made.

But it was no use. For with poor Jimmie leaning well into the fireplace, the whole back wall and part of one side collapsed, all over his head and shoulders, pinning him firmly so that I had to lift bricks off him and release his head where it was jammed against the front.

A cloud of soot eddied around us, and Jim was black as the ace of spades when he emerged.

But his eyes were round and white with astonishment as he sat back and surveyed the ruin.

“Sooo,” I said long and slow.

And Jim gave a nervous little snicker.

“Did you hit him?” I demanded.

“No, breathed Jim, “thank goodness.”

So we piled things up and cleaned things off the best we could before the family came home and long before we were finished, the cricket was chirruping loud and happily in another wall of the hearth.


Editor’s Notes: The title of this story comes from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth. Crickets were considered lucky in Europe and Asia, and I would not be surprised if this bit of superstition came to Greg from his Grandma Grieg.

Jack Benny was a famous comedian, whose radio program was one of the most popular when is was on from 1932-1955.

Comes the Revolution

“As a matter of fact … we did put on a little burst of speed. I remember now.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, January 31, 1948

“See,” snarled Jimmie Frise bitterly, “what I’ve got!”

He held up a blue paper.

“A summons!” I exclaimed. “You haven’t had one for years.”

“For 10 or 15 years!” barked Jim. “I’m the most cautious driver in the city. In the province! I always drive the same. I’m the sample of the good, steady, law-abiding citizen…”

“What’s it for?” I interrupted.

“Speeding,” protested Jim. “Travelling at a rate in excess of 30 miles an hour. Approximately, it says here, approximately 40 miles an hour. What is approximately? See? The guy couldn’t even figure out what speed I was going.”

“Where was it?” I interrogated.

“You were with me!” cried Jimmie. “You’re my witness. It was last Thursday morning. Remember? Going up that slight slope along the Lake Shore Drive near the canoe club. Remember?”

“By golly, Jim,” I said warmly, “nobody would speed there. Everybody in town knows there is a speed cop at the top of that hill.”

“Everybody but strangers,” agreed Jim. “All of us who live in the west end know that speed cop. He’s been stationed there for the past eight or 10 years.

“Certainly,” I confirmed. “Do they think we west-enders are crazy? That speed cop is put there to catch strangers from out of town and people who live in other parts of the city. Jim, there must be some mistake. No resident of this part of town is going to deliberately speed past a cop he knows as well as he knows every traffic light on the route!”

“As a matter of fact,” ruminated Jim, “if you’ll think back to last Thursday, we did put on a little burst of speed going up that slope. I remember now. In fact, I recall looking at the cop, when we passed him, to see if he had noticed.”

“You did speed?” I questioned.

“In the interests of good driving,” declared Jim. “In the public interest. In the interest of traffic itself, which this cop is supposed to superintend. Don’t you remember? There was an old schooner of a heavily loaded truck struggling up the slope. At about 10 miles an hour…”

“Ah, yes, I do! I do!” I cried. “An old, lobsided truck, with ramshackle furniture piled on it.”

“That’s the one,” concurred Jim. “It was obstructing traffic. It was holding up the whole stream of businessmen traffic, heading downtown. So all I did was move out and pass it, at the speed necessary to keep the traffic stream moving and close up the gap created by this anti-public-interest truck.”

“Then,” I announced triumphantly, “the fault is not yours. The fault lies with that speed cop for failing to observe the circumstances surrounding the incident.”

“We’ve got him,” gloated Jim. “That cop is a robot, an automaton. He doesn’t use his brains. He doesn’t observe anything. He just fixes his mind on a car and times it with his stop-watch…”

“How could he?” I cut in. “Even there, we’ve got him! To time a speeding car, he has to pick it up with his eye at a certain spot, see? And then clock it until it passes him. You didn’t start to pass that truck until we were part way up the hill. Okay: he simply saw you going faster – for that 100 yards necessary to close up the traffic gap – and make a wild guess that you were going 40. That explains the ‘approximately’. He could see you were going more than the standard 30. So he just guessed…! Jim! Let’s fight this case! Let’s go to court. Let’s make an example of that speed cop!”

“Aw,” said Jim wearily.

“Come on,” I pleaded. “Jim! I’m your witness. I’ll go with you. We’ll fight this case. In the public interest!”

“It takes so long,” groaned Jim. “A whole afternoon wasted. It’s so much easier just to go and pay the 10 bucks, in the lineup.”

I studied Jim in shocked silence.

“So much easier,” I breathed bitterly. “A whole afternoon wasted! My dear man, is justice and freedom to be flung away, all for the sake of convenience? Are the things our fathers fought for, across 100 centuries to be chucked away by us for the sake of an afternoon? Are we to submit, without a struggle to the imposition of a police state upon us?”

“A police state?” demanded Jimmie.

“A police state,” I assured his gravely, “is already well established upon us. It already exists. And unless we rebel, it will gradually enlarge its hold over us.”

“Police courts,” complained Jim, “are so long and dreary and dragged out.”

“Precisely,” I triumphed. “That’s part of the scheme, don’t you see? They make it so unpleasant to attend court that the public gradually falls into the habit of accepting every summons, no matter how unjust, pleading guilty, throwing away their hard-bought liberty, in order to go and line up in the police court clerk’s office and pay the fine automatically. In other words, we are suborning INJUSTICE!”

“You can’t beat the cops,” sighed Jim.

“We’ve beaten the cops,” I cried, “across 2000 years of British history! What were the cops, 1000 years ago but the bailiffs and bullies of the local lord? What were the cops, 100 years ago, but the semi-military hirelings of the gang in power?”

“The cops today,” corrected Jim, “are the employee of the municipality – of us.”

“Yet,” I vociferated, “you are going to line up at a wicket and pay 10 bucks because some robot of a speed cop – who didn’t use his own eyes – issues you a summons? Your employee!”

“If we go to court,” argued Jim, “and don’t win, it will be 10 bucks and costs – maybe 14 bucks.”

“Jim,” I said, restrainedly, “sooner or later, somebody is going to lead a revolt against this vicious and dangerous system of making it easy to pay your fine and hard to plead your case. I tell you, if you’ll come in on this with me, we’ll make history with this case. We’ll lead the revolt. When I’m called to the witness stand, I’ll make a speech that will ring all over this country. The reporters will take it down…”

“They’re tough in police courts,” interrupted Jim. “They don’t go for speeches.”

“I’ll make a speech,” I exulted, “that will wake the people of this country to the danger they’re in. We’ll inspire thousands of our fellow-citizens to fight their cases in court, instead of tamely lining up at the police court clerk’s wicket. We’ll jam the police courts so they’ll have to hold night sessions. We’ll have every police magistrate in the country yawning. We’ll force all these frisky speed cops to have to come and sit in court, hour after hour, waiting their turn, like us. We’ll upset the whole apple cart. There aren’t enough magistrates or enough cops or enough court rooms in the whole country to handle the traffic, if once we poor dopes wake up and start calling the bluff.”

“It would be kind of fun,” reflected Jim, cautiously.

“They’ve built up,” I pointed out, “a very handy little system of taxing the public through summonses that are never contested. If everybody, in the name of justice, demanded a hearing, instead of tamely lining up at a wicket, by George, it would create a situation that would make a cop pause and reflect before he starts flinging his summonses around!”

“Let’s see,” checked Jim. “I haven’t had a summons of any kind in 12 years or more. I am, by that fact, demonstrated to be a law-abiding citizen. On this occasion, in order to close up the traffic, in the public interest, I …”

When’s the summons for?” I cut in. Jim studied the blue paper.

“Tuesday,” he said. “That’s today! This afternoon. 2 o’clock, it says.”

“We’ll probably have to sit,” I admitted, “until maybe 5 o’clock. But we’d better be there on time, just in case.”

I stood up and buttoned my coat, loosened my shirt collar and tried out my vocal cords for public speaking.

Jim and I had a quick lunch, during which we went very carefully over the case, confirming various points of evidence, such as the time, the kind of day it was, the curve of the road, the absence of any other traffic moving against us at the time.

We arrived at the City Hall well ahead of 2 o’clock, and just for the sake of inspiration, passed down through the lower corridor where the police court clerk’s office is located. There, as usual, was the melancholy queue of citizens, lined up to pay their fines without protest, without argument, with no consideration of justice. There were well dressed men and poorly dressed men, and of all styles and characters. And I thought: what a tragic thing this is to submit so tamely to impositions and outrages to spare us which our forefathers gave their very blood.

Convenience! Comfort! A little time saved! Ah, for trifles have the mass of men so oft peddled their birthright!

“Just look, Jim,” I muttered, “how gloomy and sullen they all appear. I tell you, they are ripe for revolt. We’ll lead them!”

“Just look how gloomy and sullen they all appear. I tell you, they are ripe for revolt. We’ll lead them!”

Upstairs, the gloomy, battered old police court room was already pretty well filled by the time we got there. A constable guarding the door asked us our business.

“We’ve got a summons for speeding,” I informed him calmly, “which we are going to fight.”

The door constable looked at us as if we were lunatics, but let us pass. We selected a seat in the second row of the gallery and took off our overcoats for a good long stay.

Already, the court room was filling with police, clerks and lawyers. Its dingy expanse, decorated with massive bench and oversize brass lighting fixtures of a more pompous bygone day, seemed heavy with much lost breath over the years. I noticed that by far the majority of my fellow-citizens in the benches around me were shabbily dressed. There was hardly a well dressed per son in the whole company. Where were the well dressed? Ah, out there in the lineup at the wicket, I suppose. Who, I thought to myself, who will rally the well dressed? It is they, they, who are treasonable to our liberties. I recollected the retreat to Dunkirk, in 1940, and how, as I fled from village to village and town to town, all the well dressed had already gone, leaving only the shabby behind. My most tragic memory …!

The court room stirred; and a ringing voice cried “Order!” A magistrate, gray and patient and small, took his seat high on the bench. And then began, like an auction sale, with all the haste and loud calling and sudden silences of an auction mart, the grinding of the mills.

For 15 minutes, Jimmie and I were entranced by the drama. But after half an hour, we were weary of the same old routine; the public health cases, the chicken yards kept in restricted areas, the dog licences, the boys playing shinny on the public streets. We looked at each other. Jim furtively glanced at his watch. After an hour had passed, I had the boldness to get up and thrust my way past the crowds up to the police court clerk’s small desk – the lad who calls out the offenders’ names – and I whispered to him.

“Can you call Frise now? F-r-i-s-e?”

“Others,” whispered the clerk, “are just as anxious as you are to get out of here. Keep your turn!”

I tiptoed back and sat beside Jim.

“Not much speechmaking here,” remarked Jim, in a barely audible whisper.

But though the court was a rumble and hum of noises, a mighty voice yelled “Order in the court!” and sundry hostile glares were levelled at us.

Three-thirty. Four pm I glanced at Jim, to see that he was asleep, his chin on his necktie. I nudged him. He woke with a grunt.

“Order!” roared the minion. “Order in the court!”

Dimmer grew the big dingy room. Fewer grew the crowd, of civilians, of police, of lawyers. Four-thirty boomed on the City Hall tower clock.

Again Jim dozed. But I kept alert, clearing my vocal cords, and running over in my mind the things I wished to say about the well dressed, the police, convenience, lineups at wickets …

“This court,” roared the minion, “now stands adjourned until 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon!”

I jerked Jim awake. The magistrate fled from the bench. All others were streaming for the doors. I hustled Jimmie to the clerk’s small desk.

“We weren’t called!” declared Jim with the anger of the newly-wakened.. “What’s the idea, keeping us sitting here all afternoon, and then …”

“Let me see your summons,” said the departing clerk wearily.

He studied it briefly.

“This,” he said disdainfully, “is for Thursday. Day after tomorrow.”

“It says Tuesday!” cried Jim, snatching the blue paper. After a close look, he snorted: “Why, the lugs can’t even write plainly!”

“Some people can’t read,” remarked the clerk, vanishing.

So we went downstairs and got in the lineup that was dwindling, too. And in about seven minutes, Jimmie paid his $10. And reached through the wicket and silently shook hands with the astonished tax collector.


Editor’s Notes: In the days before radar guns, police would use a stopwatch to measure the time a car would travel between two fixed points on the road that were a known distance apart. The car’s average speed was determined by dividing the distance travelled by the time taken to travel it.

Greg, as a war correspondent, was personally witness to the Dunkirk evacuation.

Strength of Character

It was a wonderful pioneering feeling that filled our bosoms

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1934

“You’re not,” said Jimmie Frise, “the man your great-grandfather was.”

“I suppose not,” I admitted. “Did you know him?”

“What I mean,” said Jim, “Is that to get along at all in your great-grandfather’s time you had to be strong. Nowadays anybody can get along.”

“In a way,” I said.

“Every year,” went on Jim, “it becomes easier for the weak to compete with the strong.”

“So much the better,” I stated.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Jim. “Just hold on a minute. Where you get out of bed in the morning, in a house heated with a furnace, your great-grandfather…”

“Call him Ebenezer,” I put in.

“Ebenezer had to creep out of bed in an ice-cold shanty and light a fire in the stone fireplace. Where you get your breakfast on a gas stove Ebenezer had to cook his at the open hearth. Where you back your car out or catch a street car Ebenezer had to walk to his job.”

“I don’t think the winters were as cold in those days,” I said. “At any rate, not being accustomed to steam heat, they wouldn’t feel the cold the way we do.”

“In your great-grandfather’s time,” continued Jimmie, “it was easy to pick a man of strong character. They stood out over the heads of all the men of weak character. Men of weak character succumbed to all the hardships of climate and toil. Nowadays, it is as easy for a man of weak character to get along in life as it is for a man of strong character.”

“The weak still fail,” I argued.

“Yes, but the whole scheme of modern life is to prevent them failing,” said Jim. “It won’t be necessary much longer to have strong characters.”

“Holy doodle, Jim!” I gasped, as the power of his argument lifted me.

“Your great-grandfather Ebenezer,” went on Jim, “wanted a wife. Having demonstrated his strong character by the way he stood the hardship, stuck to his job, delivered the goods, he was entitled to one of the best girls in the neighborhood. And he got her. To-day a girl doesn’t have to be much of a hand to be a competent housewife, with ready cooked foods, newspapers full of menus and ideas, electric devices for cooking and cleaning. How much variety would a modern girl get into her cooking if she had nothing but an open fireplace to cook on and if she had to walk three miles to the nearest store for her groceries?”

“How much variety did Ebenezer’s wife get?” I inquired.

“We’re All Getting Soft”

“Men can make a good living nowadays,” said Jim, “just sitting and watching a machine. In the olden days there used to be a sort of fat, loquacious man who sat all day on a barrel in the corner store, discussing everything. To-day that fat man is a big shot salesman, with the help of a car to haul him around from barrel to barrel all over the land.”

“Life is certainly filled with opportunity these days,” I admitted.

“But no opportunity to demonstrate character,” said Jim. “And that is why leaders are so hard to find, all over the world. Only a hundred years ago our leaders stood out clearly defined in every village. And they chose our leaders for the country. And the leaders of the countries directed the world, with firm hands. No doubt they were often wrong. But they were firm. It is that firm touch we miss to-day.”

“What are we going to do about it?” I asked.

“We could give up our motor cars and walk to work,” said Jim.

“My great-grandfather never walked eight miles to work,” I said. “And even if he did, it wasn’t across a hundred streets filled with dangerous traffic. It was along pleasant paths through the woods.”

“We ought to do something,” said Jimmie, uneasily. “I feel as if we were all getting soft. This is the era of ease and comfort. When it is so easy to keep warm, get good food and earn an easy living, why should we bother about vague, faraway things such as Ottawa or Geneva or Hollywood or the chain broadcasting corporations! They are our real rulers. But why worry?”

“We could take out our telephones,” I suggested, “and send our kids over to do the messages to the stores.”

“That would be good for our kids,” admitted Jim. “But it wouldn’t strengthen our characters.”

“I feel all weak inside, Jimmie,” I said. “I never realized how soft my character has become.”

“Look at the Scotch,” said Jim. “They are noted all over the world, in business, politics, war, for their strong character. And it comes from the fact that they have no fancy modern inventions in Scotland.”

“Do you suggest we stop all inventing and bust up all the factories and wreck Niagara?” I cried.

“Which would you rather have?” retorted Jimmie, sternly, “comfort or character?”

“Well, we’ve got comfort,” I said. “Can’t we get character, too?”

“How?” demanded Jimmie.

“We could all start thinking about it,” I ventured.

Resolving To Go Primitive

“You can’t add one cubicle to your character,” declared Jimmie, “by taking thought.”

“Well, then?”

“Well, then, this very night,” cried Jimmie, “we will go primitive! We will try to recapture some of the stern stuff our forefathers were made of. We will test ourselves, just to see how far we have fallen, how shabby our strength of character is, our resolution, our firmness. We will start by walking home from work!”

“Oh, Jimmie, it’s a cold night!”

“My ancestors,” shouted Jim, “trekked forty miles through the virgin winter wilderness to carry a sick woman to the nearest doctor!”

“My great-grandfather Ebenezer,” I claimed, drove heard of twenty cattle from Holland Landing to the town of York for twenty-five cents!”

“We’ll walk home to-night,” declared Jim.

“What will our wives say?”

“My wife is out,” said Jimmie, “for supper and for the whole evening.”

“I’ll telephone my wife and tell her I have to work tonight,” I said.

So we started at five-thirty to walk to Lambton, where we live, near the banks of the Humber.

It was a fine cold night. Our spirits were inspired by the feeling of character actually growing within us. We set out, as Jimmie explained, to follow the old Dundas road which Colonel Denison cut through the wilderness during the War of 1812, to allow travellers to escape the American gunboats lying off the mouth of the Humber which would shoot at wayfarers following the lake shore highway.

Side by side we strode out Dundas street and we passed the Grange and Spadina avenue and were well past Bathurst street before we began to slow up a bit.

“How do you feel?” asked Jim.

“My character feels a hundred per cent improved,” I replied, “but my feet are starting to hurt. Our ancestors didn’t have to wear shoes like ours and walk on hard, icy pavements. They wore moccasins and walked on lovely, soft snow.”

“The more your feet hurt, the better for your character,” said Jim.

“It seems a long way to Roncesvalles,” I said. “And then from there to the Humber…!”

So we took it a little easier and talked about other means we might discover for improving our characters.

“One thing we will do,” said Jimmie, “when we get home, we’ll go to my place and cook our supper on the open fire in the grate! My folks are all out to-night. We can have the place to ourselves.”

“Ham and eggs,” I said. “Boiled potatoes.”

“And tea,” said Jim. “We’ll boil the potatoes and the tea and fry ham and eggs. That’s the sort of food our ancestors cooked on the hearth.”

“Is it a wood fire?” I asked.

“No. I’ve nothing but soft coal, but we will get some wood on the way home.”

“How?”

“If we pass wood yard,” said Jim, “we could each carry an armful. Or maybe we could go down in the valley by the Humber and cut some wood. That would be better. There weren’t any wood yards in our great-grandfathers’ days.”

These discussions spurred our feet, but by the time we got to Lansdowne avenue, to what used to be called the White Bridges, I noticed even Jimmie was picking his feet up tenderly, while I had sharp aches up both my legs and my feet were sore, as if scalded. But my character was shining inside of me like a 60-watt bulb.

“It’s ten minutes past seven,” said Jim. “Perhaps this is enough character building for to-night. To get on with the cooking before my folks get home, perhaps we had better take the street car.”

So from Lansdowne we took the car, and walked from the end of the bus line to Jimmie’s house. We got an axe and went down to the end of the street and into the Humber ravine.

“We want pine and birch,” said Jimmie.

“It is illegal to cut trees down here,” I warned him.

“Men of character do not let technicalities deter them,” said Jim.

But no matter how woodsy the Humber valley looks in summer you would be surprised how few fire-wood trees there are. We slithered and slid around the valley for nearly half an hour before we found a birch tree and a small fallen pine. And while I kept watch for the county police, Jim cut firewood. And with two good big armfuls we climbed the hill and hastened back to Jim’s without meeting any police and hardly any surprised pedestrians.

In no time we had a splendid fire roaring in the grate and it was a toss-up which shed the brightest glow about Jimmie’s living room, our characters or the crackling wood fire. Jim got a couple of fancy candles from the dining room and lit the living room with them, turning out the electric lights.

He got two pots and the frying pan. I peeled the potatoes while Jim arranged some pokers and curtain roads on the fire basket to serve as cranes and hobs, such as our ancestors used for cooking.

On the living room table Jim spread bread and butter, salt and a Spanish onion.

Wonderful Pioneer Feeling

There, glowing with the loveliest glow, we squatted before the fireplace and started to prepare our meal. We set the potato pot and the tea pail on the rods and got the frying pan hot for the ham and eggs. Owing to the fact that Jim’s fireplace was not originally intended for cooking, the addition of these pots and pans in some way affected the draught, so that a lot of smoke got into the room.

“But that is all the more real,” said Jimmie. “Our ancestors lived in smoky rooms.”

The potatoes took a long time to start to simmer, and there was no sign of boiling in the tea pail, when Jimmie, in moving the frying pan, tipped the potato pot over and the water put the fire out.

It took all of fifteen minutes to recover the potatoes and get the fire going again.

“I guess you had better go down and cut some more wood,” said Jim.

“It’s against the law, Jimmie.” I said. “We got away with it once. But the law of averages is now against us. This time, we would be caught.”

“There isn’t enough wood left,” said Jim.

“Seeing this is our first experiment,” I said, “let us fall back on coal. Our ancestors were resourceful men. They would not have hesitated to use coal if it were handy.”

So we put soft coal on and had a splendid fire in no time, though it took the potatoes a terrible time to get started again. Once they did start to boil, it took one man all his time lifting them off every time they boiled over for fear they would put the fire out again.

With the tea pail and the potatoes boiling merrily, and the ham and eggs sizzling in the pan, I tell you it was a wonderful pioneer feeling that filled our bosoms, crouching there in our shirt sleeves before the open fire. It was now nine-thirty, and we were hungry enough to eat a horse.

The coal cracked and spluttered a good deal, and quite a lot of black smoke got into the ham and eggs. They caught fire once, and Jimmie leaped back so violently with the frying pan ablaze that he upset the potatoes again. But there was so little water in them that it did no harm.

“Now,” cried Jimmie, ladling the ham and eggs on to plates on the table. “Now how does your character feel?”

“I certainly have an empty feeling,” I said, “if that is character.”

Jim laid the frying pan down, and there was a hiss as it scorched a big bubbly ring in the living room table top.

“Not so good,” said Jim, laying the pan back on the brick hearth.

When Character is Rugged

The potatoes were not quite boiled. The ham and eggs tasted of coal. The tea tasted of something funny, but we never discovered what it was. But character, when it is strong, can stand for almost anything in the way of food. We were just finishing our meal when Jimmie cried: “Hist!”

There were sounds on the veranda.

“Quick!” cried Jimmie, leaping up. He led me out through the kitchen, the back porch and into the dark yard.

“No time!”, he gasped. “My family!”

“But where do we go?”

“We’ll hide out here for a while, until they get over it,” said Jimmie. “And then we will go back in and say we know nothing about it.”

“It’s an awful mess,” I said. “Those pails and pans and the wet wood ashes, and smoke all through the house, and that burn on the table!”

“We’ll say we were at a movie. We’ll say it must have been burglars that broke in,” said Jimmie.

“But our coats and hats are inside,” I protested.

“We’ll say we just ran out for the police.”

“Jimmie!” I cried. “Is this character? Lying out of it like this?”

“They would never understand,” said Jimmie.

“We could explain that we are building up our characters, we could tell them the whole story,” I said.

“No, I have a better idea,” said Jim. “Let’s go over to your house and I can stay there until my folks are all in bed, then I can sneak in. It is easier to explain things in the morning than at night.”

So in our shirt sleeves, we hustled through the night to my house. It was easy to explain our shirt sleeves to my family because we told them we had run out suddenly from Jimmie’s to see a car crash we had heard in the night, and it was half way to our house, and we just ran over here to let Jimmie see a new book I had on dogs.

Jim and I sat drowsily in my den until about one o’clock and then, he wearing one of my old coats, I let Jimmie out quietly.

“Good luck,” I whispered.

“I’ll be all right,” replied Jim.

“Sneak in softly,” I warned.

“Leave it to me.” said Jim softly.

So, full of character, we parted.


Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing in the mid-1930s, Greg and Jim really were close neighbours. It was indicated that they lived in the Lambton neighbourhood, which is essentially correct. Greg lived on Baby Point Road, so it is the general area. So if they wanted to walk from the old Toronto Star Building at 80 King Street West to the corner of Baby Point Road and Jane Street, it would be a distance of 10.6 kilometres (about 6.5 miles). They also mention Roncesvalles, which would be a neighbourhood they would pass.

Captain John Denison was an early Toronto settler.

Smoke detectors were not a common household item until the 1970s, so they would not have had to worry about the house filling with smoke.

This story appeared in the book Silver Linings (1978).

Spinach

We are capitalizing on the piety of the people. They associate whiskers with saints

For lunch we had an eggnog through a straw

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 14, 1933

“I see by the papers,” said Jim Frise, “that whiskers are coming in again.”

“It’s about time,” said I. “Nothing but whiskers will save the world.”

“What are you giving us?” snorted Jim.

“I’m telling you,” I repeated, “nothing but whiskers can save the world. Whiskers went out of style about forty years ago. And since then what have we had? Just a series of mistakes, disasters, wars and calamities. A lot of women have been running the world. The razor is Satan’s cleverest invention.”

“How could whiskers help us?” asked Jim.

“Whiskers,” I said, “are the symbols of masculine authority. The trouble with the world these days is that there is no authority. Nobody is boss. All faces are bared to the light of day and each of us can see what poor, weak faces all the rest of us have. Now, God provided us with whiskers to disguise our true character. A man hidden behind a bush of imposing red whiskers can get away with anything. You can’t see his expression. It is the same as a masked bandit. You are impressed by him. You can’t see his lips trembling with anxiety or nervousness. He seems to be a rock of purpose and courage.”

“Maybe you’re not so far wrong,” admitted Jimmie.

“Just look at the past ten years,” I went on. “Just a series of bare-faced disasters. International conferences where a lot of woman-faced politicians revealed their true intentions to one another, and each world conference more useless than the last. Whereas, if nobody but men with whiskers had been allowed to attend those conferences, all entrenched behind their barricades of fur, with nothing but their sharp and clever eyes peering out at one another, I bet you the world’s problems would have been solved by 1925.”

“By gosh,” said Jim, “when you come to think of it I am a lot more impressed by Dr. Chase’s remedies on account of the late Dr. Chase’s whiskers than I am by President Hoover’s problem solving, just because I look at Hoover’s face and say to myself, nobody with an expression like that could think of anything new.”

“You’ve got it,” said I.

“The past half a century,” said Jim, “has been a period of revelation. Revealing everything, even our faces. No secret of nature or science too sacred to be yanked out into the full view. What we need is a return to concealment. I tell you what! I’ll start growing whiskers if you will.”

“M’m,” said I. “It takes time to grow whiskers.”

“What of it?” demanded Jim.

“The worst part of whiskers is what you might call the period of incubation. One time I grew whiskers for a month on a camping trip. I know about whiskers. They don’t grow the same length at the same time. Here and there they are thicker than elsewhere. It makes you look as if you had leprosy or the mange.”

“What do you care for appearances?” cried Jim.

“Well,” said I, “to tell you the truth, my wife …”

“Ah, there you go!” accused Jim. “There’s the secret! It was the women who robbed us of our whiskers, like Delilah did to Samson. And they will die fighting before they will ever let us get back our old glory and power.”

Feeling a Sense of Power

“I tell you what we might do, Jimmie,” I suggested. “We might, experiment a little. We can get very good false whiskers at these masquerade costume places. I’ve seen them. They put them on so cleverly nowadays that they would fool even a detective.”

“You mean,” said Jim, “we could go around and see what effect whiskers would have in increasing our authority?”

“Precisely.”

“I’m on,” shouted Jim. “Black whiskers for me and red whiskers for you!”

And that was how it came about that you could have seen walking along King street the other morning two gentlemen who might have stepped right out of the eighteen-seventies. Jimmie’s whiskers were a sort of blue-black, suiting his lean and oriental cast of countenance. They were wide and full, concealing not only all his features but his eyes and nose but also his necktie and scarf. They entirely transformed that genial gentleman, whom all bums instinctively salute for a dime, into a sinister and menacing Riff chieftain.

My whiskers unfortunately were governed by the fact that I have hardly any neck, and they were therefore reddish, short and bushy, and no matter how the masquerade costume man tried to make me look romantic or imposing all he could make out of me was a sort of bad-tempered man peering spitefully out of a fox-colored hedge.

“We ought to have different overcoats,” I said to Jim. “Our friends will know us by our clothes.”

“I wouldn’t know you,” said Jim. “In fact, I don’t believe it is you now.”

So we went out on to King street and started walking bravely toward the business district.

The effects of our whiskers were instantaneous. Instead of the casual glances of passing strangers, every person we passed looked at us with a most respectful and even a slightly shocked expression.

“By gosh,” said Jim, as two girls went by with scared averted eyes after one swift, wide-eyed survey of us, “I feel a sense of power.”

“Maybe,” said I, “it is one of those instinctive feelings of respect our whiskers inspire. When all these people were little they were brought up on pictures of the twelve apostles, and they all had whiskers. We are capitalizing on the early piety of the public. They associate whiskers with saints.”

As we got into the business section dozens, scores, hundreds of people passed and every one of them gave us a definite, respectful and awakened glance. I know how Professor de Champ feels now.

“Look who’s coming!” hissed Jimmie.

It was our editor. He is a wide-eyed and observant man. He saw us forty feet away and fastened his eyes on us. We stared back at him. He did not remove his eyes from us until we passed, and never before nor ever again shall we achieve such a respectful expression in our editor’s gaze.

“Boy!” breathed Jim, as the ordeal was over. “Let’s do all our conferences with him in these whiskers.”

In the next block, which was near the office, we passed six different men and two girls who are known to us and who know us. They stared at us and drew delicately aside as we passed.

Our friend, Horses Ayers, runs a tobacco shop in between writing times as a horse authority. He knows us better than a brother. He knows us as only a man can know those who borrow money. We walked into his store.

“Cigarettes,” I commanded, in my ordinary voice, naming my usual brand. I handed him a two-dollar bill.

“Yes, sir,” said Horses, in soft and polite voice. He gave me the cigarettes and change, $1.75.

“That was a five-dollar bill I gave you,” I said sternly, making my red whiskers bristle.

“I BEG your pardon!” cried Horses, diving into the till and giving me three dollars more. “I BEG your pardon.”

“I beg your pardon,” said “Horses,” diving into the till and giving me three dollars more

“Granted!” said I, splendidly.

Jim and I stalked out of the store and got out of sight and had our first practise at laughing in whiskers. It is rather a terrible experience. There you are looking at your friend yelling haw, haw, haw, and it is like a corpse laughing.

“Listen,” groaned Jim, “anybody that can take three dollars off Horses Ayers..!”

“We could make a good living out of short-changing in whiskers,” said I.

“It just goes to show you,” said Jim. “Whiskers give you power.”

Symbols of Authority

“What now?” said I.

“Let’s go up to the city hall and complain about the tax rate,” said Jim.

There is no need to give you the details of our journey all over town. We were received with remarkable politeness by the mayor’s office. They were extremely sorry his worship was out, but they took down carefully all we had to say about the tax rate. We went up to see Premier Henry, but he was out of town. Anyway, they were most cordial. Our complaint to Premier Henry was about the color of this year’s automobile licenses. Yellow again! Could they not think of any colors but yellow and white? Had they, no imagination at all? In sad times like these did they not realize the psychological importance of brightness? Why did they not make the 1933 markers a bright cherry red?

They took it all down and said the matter would receive the attention of the minister.

“Of the cabinet council!” said Jimmie, sternly.

“Yes, sir, of the cabinet council,” replied the official, his hand trembling with the pencil.

We asked a policeman where there was a good speakeasy in the neighborhood. He was sorry he did not know. A real estate agent drove us all over Forest Hill village and showed us through the fifty-thousand-dollar houses.

“Haven’t I seen your picture?” asked the realtor of Jim. “Your face is very familiar.”

“Doubtless, doubtless,” said Jimmie.

When he asked us our names we informed him that our names did not matter. We had seen his goods and if we wanted any of them we would let him know. Hidden behind those whiskers, with the tell-tale mouth and the expressive lines of the face all concealed, it is astonishing how rude and bold you can be.

“How about lunch?” Jim asked about one thirty.

“Nothing doing,” said I. “It takes a lifetime to learn to eat through whiskers, and then very few of them ever learn to do it well.”

“But I don’t want to take these oft yet,” said Jim, thinking of the painful operation of removing the gum that attached the hair to us.

“Let’s have an eggnog through a straw,” said I. Which we did.

“Now,” said Jim, as the afternoon wore on and we could think of no further ways of proving the power of whiskers. “Let’s go home and see what happens.”

So we went home. I do not know the true facts about Jimmie’s case. He says they just laughed. His wife is supported by four daughters, which is, of course, an unfair disposition of the troops in any case.

“Oh, they just laughed,” said Jim.

When I let myself in the front door the maid screamed and ran into the kitchen.

My wife came into the hall and stood staring at me.

“Are you hurt?” she gasped.

“How do you like me in whiskers?” I asked.

“What on earth are you up to?” said my wife. “I thought that was some kind of a fancy bandage you have on your neck.”

“Whiskers,” said I. “How do I look in them?”

“You look as if you had the eczema,” laughed my Delilah.

“Aw, go easy,” I begged. “Don’t they sort of give me a look of importance?”

“Boys,” called my lady, “come and take a look at your daddy!”

My various boys trooped in and all at once the whole scene became a rowdy pandemonium, with everybody dancing around me and dragging me into the light.

“He looks like Duke!” shrieked my mother-in-law. Duke is an Airedale dog of our acquaintance.

“Wait! Wait!” roared the oldest boy. “I know who it is! It’s Paddy Lone!”

Paddy being a feeble-minded gentleman who sits on the side roads up in our part of Muskoka.

I strode upstairs and removed the whiskers.

All of which goes to prove that whiskers do give a man a power, an authority he does not enjoy in his bare-faced condition.

Everywhere except at home.


Editor’s Notes: Spinach” is slang for a beard. It seems to have been most in use in the intra-war years. Since the 1870s and 1880s were the high point of extravagant beards and moustaches, it would be older men who still sported them in 1933.

The “late Dr. Chase” is Dr. A.W. Chase, a 19th century “patent medicine” seller who sold home remedy recipes, under the title Dr. Chase’s Recipes; or, Information for Everybody. He would also sponsor popular almanacs that would still be sold by his company long after his death, and would be known in 1933. He had a very long beard.

Referring to Jim as a “Riff chieftain”, is in refence to the Rif War, a 1920s colonial war between the Spanish and French on one side, and Berber tribes of the Rif mountainous region of Morocco on the other.

Greg indicated that “I know how Professor de Champ feels”. He is referring to Charles Saint-Elme de Champ, founder of the Alliance Française de Toronto. He also had a magnificent beard.

George Stewart Henry was Premier of Ontario from 1930-1934.

Though 1933 Ontario licence plates were yellow, they did go with red in 1937.

The Green Parcel

Just as the big guy flirtatiously closed his eyes in sniffing, I reached out smoothly and…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, Janaury 11, 1947

“Well, of all the nerve!” murmured Jimmie Frise in my ear.

“Mmmm?” I inquired.

“Did you see that?” hissed Jim more sharply. “Did you see that guy calmly pick up my parcel?”

“Uh?” I said, removing my attention from the counter where Jim and I were inspecting fleece-lined gloves.

“My green parcel!” whispered Jim. “See? That big guy at the end of the counter….”

At the end of the counter, a big fellow was pausing casually to look at some merchandise. Along with another smaller parcel, he was carrying Jim’s green package containing a beautiful llama wool sport cap of the kind the Swiss hunters wear, a sort of round wool cap that can be pulled down around the neck and ears. Grand for rabbit hunting at this time of year.

“He was standing here beside us,” whispered Jim hurriedly. “I’d laid my parcel down. Just as he walked away, I noticed my parcel gone….”

“Go and ask him for it!” I commanded promptly. “Before he gets away.”

“Nix,” said Jim, “let’s follow the guy. Let’s watch him operate. It’ll be an education.”

“It’ll be a story,” I corrected. “Okay. Now don’t let him see we’re on to him.”

We went ahead examining gloves. Out of the corners of our eyes we watched the big guy stalling around. Obviously he was stalling. He was waiting to see if we would miss the green package and raise an outcry. In which case he could easily plead he had picked the parcel up with his other, by mistake.

“He’s waiting,” murmured Jim guardedly, “for a bunch of people to come by in the aisle and then he’ll just melt into the crowd.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Don’t let’s lose him.”

“We can’t lose him,” said Jim. “Imagine a guy the size of that engaging in shoplifting! Why, he’s as conspicuous as a moose.”

“And intimidating,” I submitted. “Lots of people, even if they suspected him, would be a little leery of tackling a man that size.”

At which moment, just as we expected, a little crowd of people came down the wide aisle of the store. And as smooth as silk, the big fellow quietly swung in with them and started away.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I chuckled, as Jim and I, without hurry, calmly fell in pursuit.

“The nerve of him!” admired Jim. “Look, he doesn’t ever try to conceal the parcel. Look, he’s carrying it more conspicuously than the other.”

“Aplomb,” I said. “A shoplifter, or any other kind of crook for that matter, has to have aplomb.”

“What the heck is aplomb?’ inquired Jim.

We Study the Master

“It’s self-possession, sort of,” I explained, as we casually strolled along in the shopping crowd, our victim fair in view. “The word aplomb comes from the same root as plummet. It means perpendicular. Straight up and down. A hotel doorman has aplomb. A bishop has aplomb. This guy has aplomb. Look at the proud, self-possessed way he carries himself! A successful crook always has that air. An unsuccessful crook cringes, is bent over, looks anxious. You can see he is a crook. But this kind of smooth operator is always ready to carry off any accident with the greatest assurance. I bet he wiggles out of 100 per cent of the cases in which he is caught in the act.”

He had paused at the notions counter. He was slowly moving, a step at a time, along the counter, studying with rapt attention the cards of buttons, the cards of hooks and eyes, dome fasteners.

“See!” hissed Jimmie, as we too slowed along the opposite side of the aisle. “See that woman ahead of him? And that expensive-looking package she’s carrying? Well, wait till she lays it down!”

We watched covertly with bated breath.

“What art!” I breathed. “What technique! The guy is a master. He knows that in the notions counter women are always picking things up, and in order to pick things up, they’ve got to lay things down. How much do you bet he gets that expensive-looking package?”

“By the look of that package,” assessed Jim. “I figure she’s got a $15 bed-jacket. Or maybe one of those $20 cashmere cardigans …”

Slowly, the unsuspecting lady, with the parcel tucked under her arm, moved along the notions counter, peering at everything, the spools, the safety pins, the knitting needles. And slowly behind her, moving with the greatest indifference, lost in contemplation of the trivial things on the counter, drifted the big man.

She halted. The man halted. She picked up a large spool of colored elastic. She studied it intently. She made as if to take the package from under her arm. We stiffened.

But she suddenly changed her mind and tossed the elastic back and walked briskly on. The man followed. When the lady turned right at the end of the notions counter, the big fellow paused, and then turned left.

“He takes his time,” admired Jim, as we followed, at leisure. “No ordinary packages for him. He only chooses the best.”

“What a queer hobby!” I mused. “It’s sort of like gambling. He never knows what he’s getting until he gets home.”

We followed him up the main aisle, and then began a most fascinating chase. He went to the escalator and took it up. At a discreet distance, we followed.

“Do you think he’d recognize us following him?” I inquired.

“Not him,” said Jim. “He’s like a hound on the scent. He’s like a setter at point. Each job, once done, is forgotten in favor of a new victim…”

The Vulnerable Point

“But look here, Jim, how about your llama cap?” I demanded. “At what stage are you going to get that green parcel back? If by any chance he did see us, and recognize us as the two guys he stuck down there at the glove counter, he might make a sudden dive into an elevator or something … Or he might even chuck your green parcel out a window.”

“Hmmmm,” said Jim uneasily. “I don’t want to lose that $3 cap. Let’s keep a closer watch …”

So instead of following 30 feet behind, we moved up to about 15 feet.

He was marvellous. He got off the escalator at the third floor and wandered straight over to the ladies’ lingerie department. If there is any place the ladies lay their parcels down, it is in the lingerie department. No lady is ever satisfied merely to look at lingerie. She’s got to feel it, finger it, twiddle the silk between her fingers. And to do that, she’s got to put her parcels down on a counter.

“I wonder if he takes purses?” I suggested.

“I wouldn’t think so,” said Jim. “Purses are too easily identified, too immediately noticed if gone. Ladies don’t often lay down their purses, even when they set down all their packages. And besides, there is never very much in a woman’s purse. Maybe $3 or $4. No, it’s parcels this guy is after. They’re easily explained a mistake, madam, a mistake! I’m very sorry! With that aplomb …”

We followed the big fellow around the lingerie department. He was a superb actor. He paused here and there to examine various garments with that shy and slightly self-conscious air a man uses in the lingerie.

When the masterful salesladies of the lingerie department came and spoke to him, he just smiled, shook his head and wandered on.

Two or three times, we thought we were about to witness a snatch. Ladies did lay parcels down and wander a few feet away. The big guy DID pause, long enough to cast his practised eye over the packages. But apparently none of them were good enough to merit his attention.

“I guess an expert,” said Jim, “can tell at a glance what’s in a parcel.”

We followed him up to the fourth floor, then to the fifth. He went with unerring instinct to the departments where people set parcels down. The wool department. No lady can buy wool with other packages in her arms. She must feel the wool, fondle it.

The china department. Several people laid themselves open, became vulnerable here. To examine a tea cup or a cheese dish, you’ve got to lay your parcels down. The big fellow moved calmly about the china department, pausing here, pausing there; and we could see, in each instance, just which victim he was appraising.

In the china department, he startled us by actually buying something. He bought a green glass beer mug with a wooden handle.

“Hmmm,” said Jim, puzzled. “Do you suppose by any chance he has spotted us following him around? Do you think this little purchase is intended to throw us off the scent?”

“Jim,” I urged, as we retreated a little way in confusion, “let’s get it over with now. Either walk right up to him and demand the parcel back, or else get a floor-walker to act for us. The floor-walker can do it very nicely, no scene …”

“Are you afraid of that big lug?” Jim demanded meanly.

“Well, there’s no use getting punched on the nose,” I submitted.

One on Him!

“Listen, all we’ll do,” said Jim, covertly watching the rascal as he calmly awaited his parcel and change, “is walk up to him quietly and ask him what is in the green parcel. Tell him we saw him pick up our parcel and have followed him all over the store. That’ll frighten him. He’ll know we’re on to him. When we ask him what’s in the green parcel, of course he won’t know. Whatever he says, we’ll say it’s a llama wool cap. We’ll demand he open it, or we’ll call the store detectives…”

“Look!” I exclaimed. “I’ve got a better idea, Jim. Why not serve him his own trick? Why not US pinch your green parcel off HIM?”.

“Eh!” Jim checked.

“Let’s,” I said with increasing excitement, “beat him at his own game! Let’s tag on to him until he lays HIS parcels down and quietly snatch yours back.”

Jim looked speculatively over to where the big crook was standing with his back to us, awaiting his parcel. He had, for a fact, laid his other parcels down. Jim’s green one was on top.

“That,” chuckled Jim suddenly, “is an idea! Imagine his feelings when he finds the green parcel gone! He’ll be in a panic …”

At which moment, the salesgirl came back and gave him the beer mug which, after a moment, he stuffed into his overcoat pocket. Then he meandered over to the elevator and took it down to the main floor, us packed beside him in the car. It was breathtaking to be this close to the scoundrel. For there, just under my nose, and not a foot from Jim’s, was Jim’s green parcel brazenly exposed. Oh, it was exciting!

We let him off first. He led us to the perfume counter. He laid his two parcels down, green one on top. He spoke jokingly to a salesgirl, and she proceeded to let him sniff a variety of perfume bottles.

It was an odd sight. This big goof going through all the ecstasies, and refinements of selecting an itty-bitty bottle of perfume…

I cased the joint. Jim moved over to protect me from the off side. Just as the big guy flirtatiously closed his eyes in sniffing, I reached out smoothly and, all in one sweet swipe, picked the green package off the counter, moved on and handed the parcel to Jim. Without pause, we went straight out the main door and down Yonge St.

Our hearts were beating wildly. Our breath was coming fast. But it was with laughter we were bursting.

“What a joke!” bellowed Jim as we got out into the winter air. “Boy, I’d like to see that guy’s face right now…”

Who Robbed Who?

We went into a coffee shop for our 11 o’clock pot of tea and relaxed. Ah, it was delightful! There is nothing more enlivening to the humdrum life of modern society than a little excursion like this into the realm of the unusual, the bizarre…

I got my tea and sat back. From my coat pocket I took my own package and opened it to have a look at the muffler I had bought.

Jim, with doting fingers, undid his green parcel to try on the llama cap.

It WASN’T a llama cap!

It was a lady’s bright blue nightgown!

“Oh, my gosh…” gasped Jim, struggling to his feet. “Oh, OH, my gosh!”

We stood transfixed with horror.

“What do we do?” moaned Jim. “What do we DO!”

“The.. uh… who … aw …” I explained.

“Don’t you see!” wailed Jimmie. “We’ve ROBBED a guy, a poor, innocent big guy…”

“You saw him snatch the parcel … the green parcel…” I croaked.

Jim stood staring agonized into space.

“No,” he whispered. “No! Now that I come to think of it, I believe I left my green parcel on the fishing tackle counter, when we were talking to Jack Sutton …”

“You … you …” I accused.

So we left our tea and hastily wrapped the green package and ran back up the street to the big store.

We ran to the perfume counter. We hastily searched the aisles, but in the crowds we knew it was hopeless. We hastened to the tackle counter and, as soon as Jack Sutton saw us coming, he reached down under the counter and picked up a green parcel, which he waved reassuringly to Jim.

“Oh … oh … OH!” moaned Jim.

So this is what we did.

We went up to the lost and found office and turned the other green parcel over to the girl.

We said we had found it on Yonge St, and, on opening it, we had found the bill inside and knew it had come from this store.

“You are very kind,” the girl smiled, “and very HONEST.” (The capitals are mine.)

“Say, just for fun,” I said, “will you keep track of whoever calls for that parcel, if someone does I’d like to know what kind of person buys nightgowns that color?”

“Tee-hee-hee, I will,” assured the girl.

I telephoned the next day.

“It was a great big man,” the girl informed me. “He was a policeman on his day off. And he was so glad to get the parcel, because he was sure somebody had snatched it on him. Some shoplifter. And he said he was SO MAD…!”

Just as the big guy flirtatiously closed his eyes in sniffing, I reached out smoothly and…

Editor’s Note: This was the last Greg-Jim story published in the Toronto Star Weekly before they moved to the Montreal Standard. The microfilmed image is at the end, while the colour image is from an online auction.

Cat’s Paw

With nasty spitting sounds, the cat retreated farther and farther out on the cross-beam.

“What life requires of us, now and then, is a feeling of sudden desperation.” Like climbing telephone poles after cats, for instance

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 6, 1940

“Come for a walk,” said Jimmie Frise, appearing at my front door. “It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon.”

“A walk?” I said, being in the middle of a good book on trout fishing.

“A walk,” said Jim. “W-a-l-k. Look, you move your feet like this. Walk.”

“Okay,” I said. “Only you sort of surprised me.”

“The way you acted,” said Jim, as I threw on my overcoat, “you would think I had invited you to come for a fly or a creep or a hop-scotch or something.”

Rusty was with him, waiting on the steps, and I joined them and we stepped merrily out into the mellow winter sunshine. It was for a fact a lovely afternoon.

“Walking,” said Jim, as we started away, “is becoming an unusual act. Your surprise, at my invitation, was probably quite normal. It is probably far more unusual to receive an invitation to come for a walk than to receive an invitation to come for a fly in an airplane.”

“Walking,” I agreed, “is going out of fashion. The only walking we do any more is the little we have to do between vehicles. We walk to the garage. Then we walk from the parking lot to the office. Then we take the elevator.”

“At the office,” went on Jim, “everything is laid out on an economic plan that requires as little walking as possible between departments. The less walking done in a modern plant, the happier the management is.”

“And rather than walk three rooms to see a colleague,” I pointed out, “we telephone him on the private switchboard.”

“The whole scheme of modern life,” said Jimmie, “is to eliminate walking. I suppose the perfection towards which we are struggling is to have all mankind squatted on a soft pillow and carried from place to place by miraculous vehicles. A vehicle to lift us, on our pillow, out of bed in the morning, carry us all over the world, and then deposit us tenderly back in bed at nightfall, without having to set foot on the vulgar earth.”

“I wonder, Jim,” I submitted, “if all our troubles may not be due to our loss of touch with the earth? My grandmother would never let me wear rubber-soled running shoes when I was a boy because she said it would give me weak eyes. She held the opinion that it was necessary for human beings to touch the earth all day. If you cut yourself off from the earth by any unnatural substance like rubber, you were like a plant whose stem was cut.”

“Well, the less we walk,” said Jim, “the worse off we seem to become. The more we perfect our mechanization, the less human we grow. Never in the world’s history did we walk less. And never were we in a greater muddle, intellectual, spiritual and physical.”

“My grandmother may have been right,” I declared. “Maybe we are children of the earth after all. Maybe we have to keep touch with the soil. Maybe there is some divine elixir, like electricity, that exudes out of the earth into our bodies. And to have perfect strength and health of mind and body, we have to get our daily charging, through our feet.”

Contact With the Earth

“Well, I will say this,” submitted Jimmie. “Most of the craziness of the present world comes from cities rather than from the country. You don’t find many country people in the governments that lead the various nations to disaster. The more industrialized people grow, the crazier they grow. And living in cities, they rarely touch the earth with their feet.”

“We might have hold of something there, Jim,” I declared.

“Look at Rusty,” said Jim, pointing to his amiable Irish water spaniel. “See how he scorns the sidewalk. The sidewalk is dry and warmed by the sun. Yet Rusty prefers to adventure out on the icy and snowy lawns. Why? Because he is in contact with the true earth.”

“Maybe my grandmother was right,” I repeated. “Maybe there is some strength we get out of walking on the earth.”

“When people are ill,” said Jim, “we send them out into the country. We say it is the country air. With the wind blowing all day, how can country air be any different from the air in cities? No, it isn’t the air that heals people. It is something that comes out of the earth, some emanation, some rays, unseen, essential. And we can’t get them in cities of concrete and brick.”

“There is a blind need to put our feet on the earth,” I pointed out. “Look at golfers. Is there anything in the game of golf to justify the passion golfers develop for it? Biffing a silly little ball around the fields? But when you understand that the passion these men have for the game arises out of the soil, then all is clear. They think they love the game because of the club and ball. They really love it because, as slaves of the city, they are given the opportunity, in golf, to walk on the earth and absorb the life-giving rays, whatever they are.”

”That’s true of all outdoor sports,” said Jimmie. “What can there be in fishing trips which are always a fizzle, or shooting trips where you never see any game, yet which call us out, time after time?”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “As the bee is drawn to the flower we are drawn to the country. We think up a thousand excuses for going to the country. The simple fact is, we have to go to the country to get recharged out of the earth.”

“Walking,” asserted Jim, “should be enforced. The more our masters, the industrialists, eliminate walking as waste, the more we should make laws requiring so many miles of walking from all of us who are workers in cities. All city workers should work five days. And then, by law, have to go walking in the country for two days. Then the world would return to normal.”

“I’m glad you brought me on this walk, anyway,” I informed him. “I feel more normal already.”

Nothing Like Walking

There is a kind of winter’s afternoon that is not excelled by any other hour of all the year. May and early June at its loveliest always is lovelier by reason of contrast with the dreary March and April that preceded it. Star-scattered nights of August are incomparable, but there is the murmur of September in them. A mid-January afternoon, with a slight melting at the edges of roofs and crispness unsalted with wind or chill, is a jewel of time. Its vivid brightness, its purity, its hardness is like a diamond. It defies comparison with May or October. It has no sadness or envy in it. Every sound rings. No thought of sprouting flower or of vivid dying leaves creates that sense of time’s movement. Men close to 50 might choose to live in a perpetual afternoon of mid-January.

“Did you ever try to keep a record,” I asked Jimmie, “of the actually perfect hours of your life? There are not many of them.”

“Most of them,” said Jim, “have usually been associated with walking.”

“You’re quite right,” I agreed. “You don’t get into accidents or smashups while walking, Mischief never suggests itself to a man on his two feet.”

“Walking is the most peaceful of all things,” said Jim. “Let even two such peaceful men as we are sit down for five minutes, and trouble starts.”

“Atta boy, Rusty,” I said suddenly.

Because Rusty had come upon a cat sunning itself on a sidewalk. And with his tail wagging and a look of expectation, Rusty was moving in a stiff circle around the cat which slowly arched itself into a standing position and turned its head malevolently towards Rusty.

“Here, Rusty,” commanded Jim shortly.

“Atta, boy, Rusty,” I muttered.

And with a pounce and a hoarse bark, Rusty accepted the more agreeable of the two suggestions and made for the cat.

“Hyah,” roared Jim indignantly.

But Rusty was after the cat and chased it briefly to a telephone pole, up which it went, much to Rusty’s delight.

“Now, look,” accused Jim. “See what you did.”

“Good boy, Rusty,” I asserted.

Jim walked over and scolded Rusty away from the pole where he was barking,

“Okay, come on,” I suggested.

“You can’t leave a cat up a pole like that,” said Jim hotly.

“What are you talking about,” I retorted. “If a cat can run up a pole, can’t it run down?”

“No, it can’t,” said Jim. “The poor creature might be marooned up there all night. It might never come down. They might have to get the fire department to come and rescue it.”

“Oh, nonsense,” I protested. “You’ve another of those cat-conscious people. Don’t baby them.”

“Furthermore,” said Jim, “I don’t altogether like the way you interfere between me and my dog. When I speak to my dog. I don’t like people to countermand my orders.”

“Cats always excite me,” I apologized. “I’m sorry, Jim, but whenever I see a cat, something malicious springs to life in me.”

“There are people who love cats more than we love dogs,” stated Jim.

“A cat is not a normal human associate,” I stated. “It is purely a pet. You might just as reasonably love a crocodile. A dog is a natural friend of man, because it serves him, hunts for him, guards him. What does a cat do? Just creeps slyly about the house. And kills songbirds.”

A door opened in the house immediately beside us and a lady looked out.

“How,” she asked, “are you going to get it down?”

“Oh, it’ll come down as soon as we go away, madam,” I explained nicely.

“Oh, no it won’t,” said the lady. “We’ve had to have the fire department come more than once to rescue that cat.”

I looked up the pole, and hanged if the silly thing had not gone up right to the crosspiece.

“Why do people keep animals like that around?” I demanded.

“Why do people keep dogs,” retorted the lady, “that haven’t been sufficiently trained to leave cats alone?”

“The dog is perfectly all right,” Jimmie informed her, “if he weren’t sicked on by people who have no business to.”

“Do you suggest,” I asked, “that I climb up that pole and rescue that cat?”

“Well, you don’t suggest I do?” countered Jim.

“I’ll go up,” offered a small boy standing by, “for a quarter, mister.”

“No you won’t,” cried the lady. “We don’t want any children killed around here just because people keep savage dogs.”

“Lady,” said Jim. “this dog is no savage.”

“There are usually some young fellows hanging around that drug store Sunday afternoons, Jim,” I suggested. “Suppose we walk around by the corner and I get a couple of them to come and climb the pole?”

“Are you scared of a little climb like that?” demanded Jim. “With those rungs sticking out?”

“Certainly not,” I informed him. “But what do I do when I get the cat? I hate the feel of cats. So soft and limp.”

“Pshaw,” scoffed Jimmie. “Scared of a kitten. And I’ve seen you grab great big slimy muskellunge and haul them bodily into a canoe …”

“I don’t like soft, mushy things,” I stated firmly.

“Okay,” said Jim, unpleasantly, “okay, come on and hire some young hero hanging around the drugstore.”

“Just a minute,” called the lady on the veranda. “Are you going to leave that cat up there?”

“We are going to get somebody to bring it down,” I explained.

“Why can’t you get it down?” demanded the lady in one of those penetrating voices.

“Because,” called Jimmie, “he doesn’t like soft, mushy…”

Which caused me to leap to the pole and start up it before he even got the sentence finished. What life requires of us, now and then, is a feeling of sudden desperation.

But It Just Backed Up

Much as I dislike heights, even moderate ones, I clambered from spike to spike up the pole, and as I approached the top, the cat, with nasty spitting sounds, retreated farther out on the cross-beam.

“Come on, kitty,” I said, masking my natural instincts regarding cats in a gruff, kindly manner.

But cats have always been to me creatures that lacked any true human affinity. Even the most pampered cats act as if they didn’t really give a tinker’s rivet for their master or mistress or the fine home they share. True, they have a coy way of arching their backs and rubbing themselves against your leg. Or they will lie and purr on your lap. But that only goes to show how cheaply, with a little purring, you can wangle your way through life.

This cat eyed me with hard, glaring eyes. It bared its teeth in a soundless meow and arched its whiskers at me.

“Come on,” I said, not unkindly “Let’s both get down out of this.”

But it just backed up.

“Grab it,” called Jim. “Pick it up by the scruff of the neck. It won’t hurt you.”

In my boyhood, I have carried mice and even snakes in my pockets and all I can ask is, that those who dislike mice or snakes offer me the same respect I have for their fancies.

“Will you come down,” I hissed at the cat.

“Ffftt,” said the cat.

“He won’t come down,” I explained to Jim.

“For Pete’s sake,” said Jim disgusted.

So I reached quickly and caught the cat by the horribly loose fur on his neck, and pulled him clear of the cross-beam to which he stuck like a burr with all his nasty little claws. I lifted him and he curled around and clawed my wrist but I hung on and came down the rungs so slick and so quick Jim says I practically slid the whole way.

As I neared ground, I let go the cat and it lit as light as a ping pong ball and danced away for the veranda.

And even Rusty didn’t move. He just sat and looked eagerly at Jimmie and I never opened my mouth.

So we went to the drug store after all and I got a 15-cent bottle of iodine and carefully dabbed all my scratches. And for the remainder of the walk, we talked about the war, not about walking.


Editor’s Notes: More homespun wisdom from Greg’s Grandma Greig can be found in many of the stories Greg wrote that were collected in his solo books.

This was a nice example of Jim working a different angle, making the illustration long and thin, taking up the whole length of the newspaper page.

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