The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Other Story Page 1 of 8

Innocent Handbags

June 18, 1927

By Gregory Clark, June 18, 1927.

Mr. Bodkin, who works in our office, carries a handbag.

He has carried it for years, and with his handbag, umbrella and his rubbers on, he is so serious and dignified a personage, none of us has ever ventured to jolly him about the bag.

As far as we know, he never carries anything in it. It just seems to be a habit of long standing, and he would as soon go out with no collar and tie on and come to business without his faithful old handbag.

Now it so happens that he parks his car three blocks away from the office, half a block from one of the new liquor stores.1

And that handbag has taken on a new and horrible significance.

The first day liquor was on sale, Mr. Bodkin came down Church street and saw the line-up. And being an old newspaperman, the instinct to stop, look and ask naturally halted him.

He is a shy sort of man, however, who depends on his powers of observation rather than his tongue, and he stood about for all of five minutes before he spoke to one of his neighbors in the crowd, to ask what the line-up was for and where everybody was going, because everybody was carrying a bag of some description.

“Booze,” replied the neighbor. “This is the opening day.”

You can imagine Mr. Bodkin’s horror. He has been a prohibitionist since birth, a tremendous worker for the dries, the author of many a strong article and influential pamphlet on the liquor traffic.

And here he had been standing, bag in hand, in the liquor store line-up for five long minutes while curious crowds of onlookers stared.

He got out of there so fast, he was limp when he reached the office.

We helped him out of his coat, and he flung the old handbag to the floor.

“If it hadn’t been for that!” he cried, with a mortified air.

We gathered around him.

And he told us of the tragedy.

“Five long minutes I stood there!” he wailed. “Goodness knows who saw me. Hundreds and hundreds passed by and paused to look. Amongst them must have, been scores of acquaintances, and probably the telephones wires are at this moment being burned up with the scandal that Bodkin, the great prohibition worker, was amongst the first to line up for his liquor!”

We soothed him.

“Boys,” said Bodkin, “do me a favor. Help me out of this mess, will you? Pass the word around amongst your friends that I was standing there in all innocence, as a newspaper man. That’s good fellows!”

“But,” said Jimmie, “that handbag. It will be hard to explain away that handbag.”

“Oh, dear!” sighed Mr. Bodkin.

For two days, he came to work without the handbag, but he was like a lost soul. He wandered around like a man who has forgotten his pipe. The rest of us could do no work, with him wandering around. He would sit and stare moodily at the place beside his desk where he used to park the handbag.

“I don’t enjoy the walk anymore.” he confided to me. “I have carried that bag for twenty years, and I think it has become part of me. Little did I dream the liquor business would ever strike me in a vulnerable spot. Its ramifications are so insidious, reaching into a man’s most sacred life. Curse the liquor traffic, I say!”

Jimmie had the inspiration.

“Look here,” said he to Bodkin, “just have the words ‘MSS Only’2 inscribed in gold letters on the bag, good and big.”

So Bodkin has his bag again and all is well. He has the words “MSS Only” in letters two inches freshly gilded on the faithful old bag. And he comes down Yonge instead of Church street now.

“It’s a much finer way to come anyway,” he says.

There must be hundreds and hundreds of people who have been made self-conscious since the liquor stores opened, lawyers, doctors, salesmen, who have to carry bags in the daily vocation.

But they can all follow Mr. Bodkin’s lead. Doctors can quite excusably work in a little free advertising for themselves by inscribing their name and title on their bags in large characters. Lawyers can put “Legal Documents Only.” Travelers can have the name of their firm or commodity emblazoned.

Or, to put another interpretation on the idea, although this is hardly fair to Bodkin, now that he has employed the idea in self-defence, could not those who do line up at the liquor stores camouflage their bag’s contents by all sorts of disarming inscriptions such as “MSS Only.” “Dr. Smith. horse doctor,” “Use Squkm Gramophone Needles,” “Hokem and Pokem, Barristers, Etc.”

The clever concealment of the true function of a handbag that is solely employed for the purpose of carrying two crocks from the liquor store will now be one of those things that will tax the ingenuity of a necessarily ingenious section of the public.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. The Liquor Control Act overturned prohibition as legislated in the Ontario Temperance Act and established the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), through which the province managed liquor distribution with government-run stores taking effect on June 1 1927. ↩︎
  2. MSS is an abbreviation for manuscripts.  ↩︎

Trout Fishing Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be–Not This Year!

Swish, thump! Out came a ten-inch beauty.

The Thrills Prove Chiefly to Be in the Anticipation – Farmers’
Minds Seem Hopelessly Confused on Some Things, But One of Them Breaks All the Traditions of Trout Fishing and Catches Three Beauties in Ten Minutes.

By Gregory Clark, May 29, 1920.

When you go trout fishing, take along a good supply of magazines, novels, an indoor baseball outfit and a ouija board.

For, about 2.30 o’clock of the afternoon of your first day on the fishing ground, you will begin to yearn for one or the other of the above forms of recreation.

Trout fishing consists, in the finer aspects, of anticipation and retrospection. There is no finer thrill than in picking early spring model fishworms in your backyard and visioning the swift stream and the flashing speckled jewel you will catch with each squirming wormlet. The planning, the talking it over, poetically, dramatically, with your friends, the packing, the first railway journey of the season – Ah! It is romance!

And the telling of it afterwards. In June, the eleven poor little trout you caught have multiplied to twenty-five. By midsummer, they are, fifty speckled beauties. By autumn, when a sportsman is at his best, from a literary point of view, that stingy little eleven has grown to many creels-full, with a whacking big realistic, dramatic lie attached to every fish.

There are three trout streams to the average trout expedition. The first is the brook you had in mind when you started on the trip. It is fished the first day, when enthusiasm is still high, and before the truth of the old adage about anticipation has sunk in. This first stream, the scene of all your spring dreams, yields three small trout of doubtfully lawful size.

The second stream is the one about four miles away which the natives inform you is full of fish. You visit it the second day, and after landing five three-inch chub, in one hour, you retire to a sunny bank and wait for the gang to re-assemble.

The third type of stream is the fabulous brook in which trout under one pound in weight are seldom if ever caught. The farmers and residents assure you that it is the real thing in trout streams But it is ten miles inland. And its a dirty and difficult stream to fish.

This third type renders up not even a chub. It runs cold and swift, full of dark, log-bound holes where beautiful trout should be lurking. But the most skilful sneaking of your bait in under these shadowy pools results in merely hooking a log.

At least, this was our experience up Lake of Bays way last week-end. We aren’t grouching, understand. We had our share of sport in planning, in the thrill of the journey, the arrival at Huntsville at 2 a.m., and the departure by boat from Huntsville at the still frostier hour of 7 a.m. But we hadn’t along any magazines or baseball kit.

The trout fisherman is advised to fish in the parts of the stream hardest to get at, because the easier places have been fished out. We tried that. We fought through acres of underbush and swamp and then found our rods were too long. They caught the line on all kinds of unexpected twigs. It is all nonsense to say that trees have no intelligence. After one day’s trout fishing, anyone who would say that all those branches grew where they were merely by chance is lacking in spiritual perception. Trees, especially alders, have a sense of humor, too.

Well, well! So we shortened our rods, and then found we couldn’t reach the best holes. About then, we began to yearn for a snappy detective story.

The confusion in the minds of the farmers and residents in the trout neighborhood is alarming. In the same family, father will say it is too cold for the trout to bite; son will say, it is too warm. At one farmhouse on the third or fabulous stream, where we were to get nothing but, one-pounders, the farmer said the trout hadn’t come up from the lake yet, and five minutes later, his wife assured us that the trout hadn’t come down from the spring sources yet.

Over near Baysville, I fished the second day until I had landed four chub out of a 500-yard stretch of creek. Not a trout did I flush. Not a fingerling. So I retired to a sunny bank and smoked, awaiting the gang’s return.

Down to the corduroy bridge came a young farmer and his small boy and a dog.

“Gettin’ any?” he asked, amiably.

“No. Not biting to-day. Too cold” I replied.

“Well, I’m counting on a couple for supper,” said he.

From behind a stump, he drew from concealment a seven-foot alder pole with a hook and line on it. Out of his vest pocket he produced a worm. The little boy scampered up and down the creek, peering and yelling into the pools I had so warily stalked. The dog excitedly followed the boy, barking at the creek. Dad threw his bait in and – swish, thump! Out came a ten-inch beauty. In 40 yards, be performed this deed three times, whistled for his boy and his dog, replaced his pole in hiding, bade me good evening and went home to a trout supper.

As soon as he was out of sight, I arose from the sunny bank and fished that stream inch by inch, carefully, carelessly; sneaking up to it one time, and standing boldly exposed the next; even yelling like a small boy and barking like a dog. But all I got was one pallid chub.

Where’s the sense in this, anyway?

However, the second phase of trout-fishing, retrospection, sets in early. When we got on the boat to go back to Huntsville, the purser asked us if we had any luck. And without collusion and nary a blush, we jovially assured him we had never had better sport, and we led him to believe our hand-bags were full of trout. By the time we reached the town, among the forty-odd passengers, we were pointed out as ardent trout experts returning from the kill. And thereupon began to form in our minds next autumn’s thundering tales of grand battles amid the alder groves of gleaming brooks.

At the hotel in Huntsville, we found two Presbyterian ministers standing beside a wooden box that was leaking water on the floor. They had ordinary 50-cent brass-jointed bamboo rods tied with string.

We manoeuvred into converse with them.

“Fish?” we asked, glancing at the big leaky box.

“Yes,” they said. “Speckled trout. We only had a couple of days, and we only got seventy. And now, it the ice doesn’t hold out, we’re afraid they might spoil.”

They were ministers. We had to believe them.

Sex War

…they are not much impressed with the new recruit.

(I am publishing out of order today, April 9th, in honour of the birthday of Greg’s daughter, Elizabeth (Clark) Wakabayashi. She is the only one of Greg’s children still with us. Please enjoy this story about her).

By Gregory Clark, October 15, 1932.

When a string of male offsprings comes to bless a home without the interruption of a little girl, that home takes on a definite masculine character.

No matter how tastefully a bride and groom may have furnished their living room, by the time their union has been blessed with a series of boys, it has assumed a clubby air. Many of the more tasteful articles and objects d’art are gone forever. The chesterfield that was born pale smoke-blue now wears a slip-cover of sturdy leather brown. The original fine Persian rug is almost forgotten even by the bride, and in its place is a stout dullish floor covering that is without character, but which serves admirably as a setting for the quarrels and the drama of a tribe of arrogant small males.

The hopeless war waged against toys, roller skates, aside-flung wind-breakers, hockey sticks propped against the fireplace, has long ago been lost. By the time the oldest boy is eleven, no clothes closet designed by twentieth-century man could hope to contain the essentials of juvenile life. So the walnut hall table, the buffet, the kitchen drain-board all share the burden, and you are just as likely to find a motor truck in the flat-silver drawer as a pair of orange and black rugby stockings in the book case.

Then comes a girl.

At first, the fact seems a little preposterous.

“Was it mother took a girl or you?” asks the eleven-year-old. “Who chooses?”

“Well, sir,” says I, “you just take what God sends you.”

“But don’t you speak to God first? What is praying for?”

“Wait till you see her,” says I. “The dearest wee little thing. With dark hair like fine spun clouds of night on her head, and a little mouth, like a mouth seen at a great distance…”

But when the boys, all done up in their Sunday blue suits and wearing that slicked look which betrays the unaccustomed hand of the father, line up and march into the glowing hospital room to see their proud mother lying with her face sideways on the pillow, they are not much impressed with the new recruit.

The seven-year-old will not look at her at all, and the eleven-year-old, after one horrified glance, retires to the foot of the hospital bed and says:

“Does it sound like a cat?”

Mother says:

“You are mighty lucky little boys to have a sister.”

A Family Show-Down

So after depositing their gifts of flowers and clumsily kissing their mother’s hand, the boys depart leaving behind them no uncertain air of reproach.

For some time, several months in fact, the disturbing presence of the young lady is not felt. Indeed, with the feeding and bathing and sleeping and washing connected with the new arrival, the boy brigade achieves further freedom and wider powers than they had ever enjoyed. They can stay out later. They often get by with washing their own faces before school.

But the first hint of tyranny comes one day when the Princess is put out in her carriage on the front lawn.

“Take those shabby bicycles off the front walk,” commands mother. “And pick up that board you’ve got there. Take them around to the back!”

And the Princess, sitting up, has a lovely tidy stage on which to shed the beauty of her presence. In about a week the boys come to me in deputation.

“Dad, we can’t play in front at all!” they complain. “We have to stay in the back all the time. Why can’t they put HER in the back sometimes?” The next step in the emasculization of the house has to do with dress and appearance. Mother can be seen at all hours of the day brushing or stroking the Princess’ hair, which is clouding out into curls. The Princess is old enough to have pretty little dresses. She wears two and sometimes three a day.

“Mother plays with her all the time just as if she was a doll,” complains the eleven-year-old. “Dressing her and undressing her. And carrying her around.”

“You boys look terrible!” mother begins saying. “I’ll have to be getting you some clothes.”

And both boys slink from the room.

“I don’t want any more blue suits!” yelps seven-year-old from the staircase, “as long as I live!”

But the fact is, mother is slowly growing feminine again, under the inspiration of her daughter. She has an ally. Her sense of the fitness of things is being restored. We had made a man of mother but it was a victory by force of numbers.

“Some ladies,” said Mother, “are coming to see Elizabeth this afternoon. I want you two boys, when you come home from school, to come in by the side door quietly, go upstairs, wash and put on your blue suits and then come down and be introduced.”

They saw a strange lady being admitted at the front door, which reminded them of the side door and the fateful instruction about being introduced. So the two of them hid behind the garage until nearly six o’clock. That night we had a family show-down.

“We are going to have a little system around here,” says mother. “You boys have had this house all to yourselves for more than ten years. Now we are going to divide it. The downstairs living room, dining room, front lawn are Elizabeth’s and mine. The den, your bedrooms and the back yard are for you men. No more playthings, hockey sticks, wagons, funny-papers downstairs here. If I find any of those things around, outside of the den and your bedrooms or the back yard, I’ll take them and give them to the gardener for his little boy.”

Over the Favor of a Lady

We men hang our heads, realizing that mother is a lady again.

It takes nearly a month for the full realization of the division in our house to sink in. But it works. Eleven-year-old has his bike locked up in the fruit cellar for three days for leaving it in front when Elizabeth was sunning in her carriage. Seven-year-old missed entirely The Star Weekly colored comics of the date of Sunday, May 29th.

And every week Elizabeth has a new dress, and her curls cloud more richly, and her very presence seems to work miracles in her surroundings, so that battered chairs glow and shine and the dining room has flowers on the table, new draw-curtains appear as if by magic, a spickness and spanness seems to blossom wherever Elizabeth goes.

Then, a month ago, she learned to walk.

“I taught her!” shouted eleven-year-old. “It was to me she first walked when Mother let go of her!”

“It was me taught her,” snarled seven-year-old. “I’ve been walking in front of her every day, showing her how. I said ‘lookit,’ and then she did it!”

“Let’s take her for a walk out on the street,” cried Eleven.

“Go and put your blue suits on, then,” said Mother.

And they raced upstairs.

Winks went round the living room.

From walking to riding piggie-back, from going on a long hike to the foot of the garden to pick the last ragged asters to exploring all the low-down cupboards and pantry closets has been a swift ascent, in which two ill-assorted boys have fought, even to drawing blood, over the favor of a lady.

And she had to have creeping overalls.

“She can have those old sailor pants of mine,” said seven-year-old, “when she’s big enough. And my old wind-breaker.”

Mother had a funny look on her face. Then Elizabeth learned to climb the stairs.

The turn of the tide came last Sunday. “Where is Elizabeth?” cried Mother suddenly, conscious of the silence.

“Upstairs,” said Eleven, in passing, “having some fun!”

And great thumps above proved it.

Editor’s Note: This story also appeared in So What? (1937).

The Good Thing That Soured

April 7, 1923

This illustration went with a story by Frank Mann about crooked hockey games.

Dollars are Cheaper

You could see by the slow way he walked over to the cashier that he was doing arithmetic

By Gregory Clark, February 20, 1932.

The city of Buffalo wishes the Canadian dollar were back at par.1

I stepped up to the news-stand in Buffalo’s finest hotel and picked up a newspaper.

I held out to the clerk a Canadian nickel. “I’m sorry,” said he, hastily, for they are very quick in Buffalo at feeling a coin, “I can’t take this.”

Take three cents out of it, instead of two,” I suggested. “Wouldn’t that look after the exchange?”

“You can’t compute exchange on a nickel,” said he.

So I produced a Canadian dollar. He took it.

First he deducted 17 cents exchange. That was at the rate at the moment. Then he. took two cents for the Times.

And he handed me back 81 cents, U. S.

Which, as change from a dollar in a deal involving a 2-cent newspaper, brings home the exchange problem nice and clearly.

My expression, however, as I stared down at those very high class coins in my palm was not any more pained than the news-stand clerk’s.

“Gees, it’s tough!” said he.

And like everybody else in Buffalo, he meant it. They really are pained by the situation. It is a nuisance every way you or they look at it. Buffalo has plenty of factories and therefore she can feel bad, the way hundreds of manufacturing cities and towns in the States feel bad, over the loss of millions of dollars worth of juicy orders for spring goods from Canada. But as $1,000 Canadian worth only about $800, Canadians can’t see that a $4 hat is worth $5. So while Canadians are patiently waiting for their dollar to rise – and doing a lot of buying at home meanwhile – the Americans are wishing the Canadian dollar would stand up and come walking across the border in millions again in the good old-fashioned way.

But Buffalo has a lot of private grief ever the Canadian dollar that is not shared by the rest of the U. S.

First of all, that all year round parade of amateur Canadian smugglers, of whom there are only about 9,000,000 in the Dominion, has sadly dwindled in the past few months. Every day in the week, including Sunday, there was a procession across all the bridges from Canada of people who think that goods are cheaper and more stylish in Buffalo. Or maybe it is just that they want to buy something in a foreign country to show the gals back home. Or possibly they think they can smuggle a pair of stockings in the hip pocket.

Buffalo has practically lost all that amateur smuggler trade.

“We made a special study of this exchange thing,” said Mr. A. T. Gerstner of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, introducing me to Mr. Percy Fahnstock, the financial editor of the Buffalo Times, with whom he was sadly communing when I called at the chamber. “And we couldn’t make head or tail of it. We had a special committee of selected intellects follow the exchange question as far as they could go. But when it ended in a swamp they came back to us with their tails dragging. In the meantime American industries are suffering for the want of Canadian orders. Every storekeeper and taxi driver in the city has to check up every morning on to-day’s exchange rate. There is bad feeling. We feel very sorry about it, because we like Canadian dollars just as much as you like American dollars. It’s too bad.”

And in the meantime, while the incoming traffic over the Peace bridge has fallen to a trickle, the outgoing traffic of Buffalonians in quest of Canadian goods at the Fort Erie liquor store shows no signs whatever of diminishing.

Buffalo Learns Arithmetic

“The funny part of it is,” said the financial editor, “that those Canadian liquor stores don’t know anything about this exchange thing. A bottle costs $3.75, Canadian. So we put down $3.10, American, which is the equivalent of $3.75, Canadian; but the clerks say they haven’t heard about that.

“‘Over on the American side, maybe,’ says the vendor, ‘but over here $3.75, anybody’s money.’ And there you are.”

“But you could change your money into Canadian before you get there,” I suggested.

“Yes,” said the financial editor, “but nobody thinks of it in time. And, anyway, it’s a nuisance changing it.”

“You should know something about a nuisance!” I exclaimed. “I bought a pair of silk stockings to-day for my wife in one of your big stores. They cost $1.65. When I handed the girl a Canadian $5 bill she asked me if I wanted exchange on the whole $5 bill or just on the sale. I said just on the sale.

“So she gave me back, with my parcel, three Canadian $1 bills and three cents. I asked her how she figured that.

“‘Well’, says she, ‘exchange to-day is 16 cents, isn’t it? On $2 that makes the exchange 32 cents. So $1.65 for the stockings, plus 32 cents exchange, is $1.97. Isn’t that right?’

“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘but all I am buying is the stockings. You should take,’ says I (working it out with a pencil on the paper the stockings were wrapped in), ’16 per cent. of $1.65, which is only 26 point 4 cents. Say 26. And that makes $1.91 and gives me back 9 cents instead of 3.’

“By this time three other sales girls and a department manager were hovering around. The girl was mixed up, but she raised her eyes to the ceiling, bit my pencil with her teeth and figured it out. They are well trained in arithmetic by now in Buffalo.

She raised her eyes to the ceiling bit her pencil with her teeth, and figured it out

“Suddenly she saw it! ‘Yes,’ she cried,’ but I would have to give you back your 9 cents change in Canadian money.’

“‘Then,’ said I, ‘do you mean to say that 3 cents American is as good as 9 cents Canadian?’

“And at that the manager stepped forward and said, ‘Excuse me, mister, but if you will come up to the office we will get the accountant to go over this with you.’ But I beat it. I took the 3 cents American, be- cause I wanted to buy another newspaper and I didn’t want to spend 19 cents out of my Canadian dollar to get one.”

The Chamber of Commerce man listened to my story.

“‘Well,’ said one, “there were five Americans in that mix-up and only one Canadian. You see how it adds up.”

Yes, Buffalo is very distressed, but very patient.

The hotel I stayed at is so good-natured about the exchange question that they take our Canadian money at par.

When I paid my room bill they took $4 Canadian. I got a $4 room for $3.32. At dinner, when I offered Canadian money to the waiter, he said:

“If you sign the cheque and charge it to your room you will get the meal at par, but if I go and get it changed at the desk they will take exchange out of it.”

So I charged it.

But I had my experience with a waiter all the same.

I am one of those plain country fellows that is friendly with waiters. This one I made great friends with. By the time lunch was over he figured I was just as nice as any waiter even. We talked about the meal, Germany, German food, German beer, how long he had been with this hotel and canaries.

But with a craftiness this good Dutchman of a waiter would never dream me capable of, I carefully schemed my lunch to cost exactly 80 cents!

Exchange that day was 17 cents.

When the table was cleared and the finger-bowl dibbled, my good fat friend laid down the cheque – 80 cents.

He figured, happy man, that a nice friendly customer could not do less than lay down a dollar bill and leave him the change.

But I laid down a Canadian one-dollar bill!

And then, in the mirror on the wall beside me, I watched the waiter’s face.

Computing is the New Sport

Slowly he reached out a dazed hand and picked up the cheque and the dollar. Slowly he turned and walked away. He walked with bent head. You could see by the slow way he walked over to the cashier that he was doing arithmetics.

My dollar was worth 83 cents over at that desk.

With a shamed look he walked slowly back to me, with bowed head, looking with distended eyes at a spectacle he had perhaps never before seen in all his years in that handsome and noble dining room.

It was 3 cents.

On a silver tray.

Speechless, he laid the offensive objects before me.

I looked at them.

Then I looked up at him.

Slowly he shrugged his shoulder, up, out.

So I dipped down and laid beside the three U. S. coppers a Canadian nickel and a Canadian dime.

And when I looked back from the dining room door at him he was standing with a pencil and a piece of paper translating his tip into terms he could understand.

Computing is the great Buffalo sport these days. It is like cross word puzzles.

I spent the evening at a movie. Admission was 65 cents and on the glass of the ticket booth was a card reading, “Canadian exchange to-day 17.”

I handed the girl a Canadian $1. She handed me promptly back 18 cents.

She was a pretty girl and I supposed therefore dumb.

“Just a minute,” said I, spreading out my change on my palm. “But how do you figure 17 per cent. of 65 cents?”

As quick as a flash she replied:

“I changed your dollar into American money, 83 cents, and then deducted the price of admission, 65 cents. Change, 18 cents.”

I was shoved from behind in the line-up or I might have attempted a feeble argument. But even the pretty girls in Buffalo can do arithmetic. I guess it is the practice they get.

The next adventure was in a taxicab.

I drove forty cents worth and then handed the driver two Canadian quarters.

“Hey,” he said; “that’s Canadian money!”

“It certainly is,” said I. “Note the King’s head on it. His name is George.”

“That’s only 40 cents, just the same,” said the driver, with a pleasant smile. “We count 20 cents for two bits, just to make it handy.”

“Well,” I retorted, “how much do I owe you?”

“That’s right,” said the driver, “forty cents.”

He didn’t want to let me get away with the idea that I was tipping him.

And I didn’t. This is why.

Outside the hotel, after nightfall, where the wind howls and whoops off Lake Erie around corners that must surely be the windiest in a windy land, I was held up by a panhandler.

“How about a cuppa coffee?” mumbled this member of a free and equal nation where even the panhandlers don’t know how to be beggarly.

“Aren’t you participating in the President’s Relief Fund2?” I asked, rejoicing in this chance to take a dig at the people who think my nickels aren’t worth taking.

“Huh?” said the startled bum.

“It’s presidential year,” I assured him. “Things ought to be booming now.”

“Well, they ain’t,” said the bum. “I was over to the American Legion for a suit of underwear and they was fresh out of them.”

I went over to a lighted window and drew forth my change. I selected the brightest Canadian quarter I could find.

“Here,” said I.

He looked down at it eagerly. Then a look of disappointment. And he half-handed it back to me. But I was looking as dignified as possible, with my stomach out and a kind of three rousing British cheers and a tiger sort of look. At least that’s what it felt like from the inside. You never know what these things look like from the outside.

“Well?” I demanded.

“You haven’t a – you wouldn’t happen to have a -” he said, holding the quarter out, but gripping its edge firmly.

“No,” said I, “they’re too expensive.”

“Well,” said he, taking another half-warm, half-cold look at the shining King’s head, “thanks very much anyway.”

And while I stood resenting that “anyway” right down to my boot heels the bum faded into the night.

I suppose he was at the Ar-gawn!3

Embarrassing a Customs Man

The only person I really gypped in Buffalo, outside of the telephone company, whose telephone booths take Canadian dimes as readily as American, was the little cigarette girl at the hotel, who walks around the dining rooms and corridors carrying a tray of cigarettes. I can’t smoke those American cigarettes. They taste to me as if the cigarette industry was trying to help out the American farmer.

But I beckoned the girl and took a package of those well-known cigarettes that are basted, sunburned and fricasseed.

And I handed her a Canadian quarter. Her highly burnished fingers at once detected the fraud.

“I can’t take this!” said she. “It’s on’y worth tway-unty say-unts!”

“Well,” said I, “here’s a Canadian nickel. That makes it even, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir; thank you, sir,” said she and went innocently on her way.

But I had done her wrong.

“I can’t take this!” said she. “It’s only twa-unty say-unts!”

The exchange rate that day, broadcast by the banks throughout the city of Buffalo, was 17 per cent., and 17 per cent. of 30 cents is 5 point 1 cents. So I had really only given. her 24 point 9 cents for a 25-cent package of cigarettes.

I felt bad for a little while. But later I gave the smokes away to a bellboy who had a very bad cough, so I figured I was even with my conscience.

It remained for Canada, however, to do the job to a royal and ancient finish.

I had a pair of stockings, $1.65, and a little baby girl’s padded pink kimono, $2.95, with me when I drove back over to the Canadian side.

The customs man asked if I had anything to declare, so out of my hip pocket where I had so carefully hidden them I drew the stockings and out of the inner lining of the car cushion I drew the kimono.

“Yes, sir,” said I to the shocked and embarrassed customs man.

And what do you think that arithmetician did?

First he added the two bills together, to $4.60.

Then he added the exchange, 17 per cent., to bring the amount I had spent to Canadian money, total $5.38.

And then he proceeded to figure the duty on that amount.

“Don’t you birds allow a man to bring home a couple of little gifts like this?” I demanded in a hurt tone. “That pink thing is for a dear little girl that would be just heart broken if I didn’t bring her home something. And anyway, after being gypped all over Buffalo, now you go adding what I was gypped on to what you are going to collect. Gee, you birds are trying to run yourselves out of a job. Pretty soon there won’t be any Canadians crossing over the border and then you will have to go back to the gas station.”

I think my act of pulling those two items of contraband out of their hiding places really softened this hard guy’s heart.

“Are they gifts?” he asked, with tears in his voice.

“Are they gifts?” asked the customs officer with tears in his voice

“One for my wife and the other for my dear little daughter, who would just -“

“Away you go!” commanded the customs man. Anyway, it was a pretty cold day to do figuring with a little stump of pencil with numb fingers.

Maybe you thought when I started this story that I was going to explain in some sort of Queen and Yonge street way the mystery of exchange. But that isn’t the idea. It is just a day in Buffalo, with the little things that happen to a Canadian’s pride and an American’s patience.

And while the lords of finance stir their mystic witches’ cauldron – out of which the lords of finance doubtless take something nice and juicy – the Yanks and the Canucks break about even.

Anyway, next summer when the little American shinplasters start rolling into these parts once more, let’s be good sports.

Let’s accept them at par.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Economics was complicated during the Great Depression, as politicians tried all sorts of solutions. A History of the Canadian Dollar, indicates some of the challenges. The Canada-U.S. exchange rate was basically at par for years (except for briefly after World War 1), so having to deal with exchange rates was something new. ↩︎
  2. This was one of President Herbert Hoover’s attempts at relief in 1931. ↩︎
  3. This is a slang term for Argonne, a reference to the Meuse–Argonne offensive at the end of World War 1. Unemployed former soldiers were a symbol of the times, so Greg is implying that he was a veteran. ↩︎

House Husbandry Course at the “Tech” to Train Young Men to be Useful Bridegrooms

“House-husbands qualified in all the domestic arts from, washing celery to basting a roast of beef”

Ornamental Hubbies Have Gone Out of Fashion – The Lad Who Has the Call To-day Is He Who Knows How to Prepare a Dainty Breakfast to Be Served to Milady in Bed.

By Gregory Clark, February 12, 1921.

The technical school, it is said, is about to institute a course in domestic science for young house-husbands.

In the last couple of years a very considerable demand has arisen for some sort of instruction for young men in light housekeeping, such as preparing dainty breakfasts, knocking out omelettes, tastefully arranging tea trays, and the like.

For in the most advanced feminine circles of younger Toronto the first requisite in a good husband is not his good looks, nor, indeed, how much money he makes; but whether he is handy at preparing a dainty meal on a tray to be consumed in bed.

And it is with regret that I must bring credence to this astonishing rumor.

When Jack married Ysobel six months ago, no one was more confounded than I. Jack is an amiable fellow, of course. But he is a shabby, moth-eaten little fellow, with a pet dog sort of an expression – perky, you know, but tame. And as for his other qualifications for marrying the magnificent Ysobel, the debonnaire, the almost boyish Ysobel, well, he is one of those bond salesmen who spend a busy day between the five soda fountains of Yonge street.

His income, as far as any of us ever knew, is equal to four sodas and one chocolate-egg1 per diem,

But he married Ysobel. And there they live, in their sporty apartment, amid a bliss that is the envy of all their friends, an ill-mated but preposterously happy couple.

What was the attraction Jack possessed? He tried to intimate to me that it was his war record that turned the trick. But I knew that Ysobel had been pursued by D. S. O.2‘s in her day, and Jack had not even the M. C.3

Only last week I made the amazing discovery.

I was passing Jack’s apartment house about ten in the morning, and decided to call and see if he would walk down town with me.

I rang his apartment bell, and Jack himself answered the door.

Jack, not yet shaven and partly dressed, with a print apron tied under his arms.

“Jack, partly dressed, with a print apron tied under his arms”

“Come in, old bean!” he cried, with a false joviality. He was blushing through his stubble.

He led me into the sitting room and sat down with me in an awkward silence.

“Thought I’d call to see if you are walking down,” I said.

“I’m hardly ready,” replied Jack.

“I’ll wait,” said I, cheerfully, with the cunning of a wolf on the scent.

And just at that moment, the sleepy, muffled voice of Ysobel rose from behind the bedroom door:

“Jack, Jack! What are you doing? When do I get my breakfast?”

It was out. The secret was mine. Before I left with Jack, Ysobel, magnificent and drowsy in her kimono, had spilled all the beans to me.

“Why, Jack is the dandiest house-husband imaginable,” she said. “His breakfasts are delicious and endless in their variety. And on Sundays he can cook a dinner and serve a tea that would knock your eye out!”

There lay his charm.

Since last week I have made great progress in this discovery. By dropping unexpectedly on all my young married friends, at odd hours of the day. I have found that almost without exception the husbands of the past couple of years are house-husbands, qualified in all the lighter domestic arts from washing celery to basting a roast of beef.

Is this the beginning of the revolt of women? Thus quietly and secretly are they inserting the thin end of the wedge of domestic equality?

Possibly the war had something to do with it. All these young fellows overseas, saying “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” for four years, clicking to everybody. And when they got home habit got the better of them, and they weren’t happy unless they were clicking to somebody. So they click to their wives.

It is a widespread and dangerous thing. Where will it end? I know one young fellow whose mother-in- law, who lives with him and his wife, informed him that the reason she supported his suit for her daughter’s hand was that all her life she had yearned to have a son-in-law who would get her her breakfast in bed. And he had looked promising to her!

It is a conspiracy, that’s what it is. We men should get together. Anyway, I purpose this article to serve as notice to certain parties who shall be nameless that in future they need not expect me to get their breakfasts for them except on Sundays and statutory holidays.

Editor’s Notes: Yes, this story is pretty sexist, but still highlights the confusion over changing roles after World War One and the “flapper” women.

  1. A chocolate egg cream was a popular soda fountain drink. ↩︎
  2. Distinguished Service Order ↩︎
  3. Military Cross ↩︎

Wine and Water

She rose quietly and came over to Hubert, who had removed his hat and was looking at her dumbly.

By Gregory Clark, February 4, 1922.

Three generations in the city, and the wine of life becomes water.

The third generation born and bred in the city has lost its spring, its sparkle, its flavor. It does one of two things. It seeks artificial and erotic stimulation, and so becomes that type of sophisticated and effete waster common enough in cities. Or it succumbs to the enfeeblement it feels within its veins, and joins the lower ranks of those drab, mechanical tollers who are the chief inhabitants of cities, the fourth or tenth or fiftieth generation of dwellers in cities.

For there appears to be an energy in the soil that man must absorb. The city man goes away in summer for a two-week holiday close to the soil, and sucks enough of this mysterious energy out of the earth to revive him for a year. But presently there comes to town a young man born and raised close to the earth and abounding in this primitive energy. And he drives the city man to the wall; outlasts him, out-moves him, skins him, picks his bones.

But this new man’s grandson is in turn the victim of a newcomer, fresh from the soil. All about us are examples of the third urbane generation putting up its unconscious struggle against a soily Fate. In some of the wealthier families, so filled were the first generations with energy, as the wealth they accumulated bears witness, that the fourth generation is sometimes left still in the ring.

But we have made the pursuits of the soil so hard, unpleasant and unprofitable that the enfeebled generation finds it easier to slip back into the permanent category of the city’s damned than to return boldly to the soil to recuperate in a few generations the supply of vital energy.

There is a way out, nevertheless.

And J. Hubert Waterberry found it.

Hubert was the third generation in Toronto. His grandfather, son of an immigrant who fought with Mackenzie’s rebels in 1837, came to town and built up a great contracting and building business. Scores of houses still standing south of Carlton street were built by Hubert’s grandfather.

Hubert’s father, however, was sent to school and became a lawyer. A good lawyer, too. He had offices in Victoria street and developed a big practice. But he found professional life to be merely the service of business life, and he determined that his son Hubert should be a business man.

Hubert was twenty-one in the year 1900. He was a sophisticated, elegant young man, fresh from college. His father got him into a prosperous firm of insurance brokers.

When Hubert was thirty, he was a bachelor. He had been hectically in love with several girls, but all had rejected him, in an indifferent way, as if they had sensed a want of energy in him. At thirty, he was feeling that want of stamina. On his father’s death, he used up every atom of his energy in breaking away from the big insurance firm with another young member of it, and starting a business of their own with the old man’s money.

But after five years, Hubert’s partner became restless for some reason and left the partnership.

At forty, Hubert was not so much a bachelor as an old maid. His office was a dim, dusty mausoleum in that remote district behind the King Edward Hotel. His business was reduced to those old accounts which had not yet been won away from him by live competitors. Hubert lived in the same select boarding house on Sherbourne street which he had taken on his father’s death.

Hubert’s only employe was elderly Miss Murdagh, who had been middle-aged when Hubert brought her with him from the old company.

In the dim office, with its maps, calendars and directories, these two sat from nine a.m. to five p.m., writing letters, issuing renewals of policies, but rarely going out for new business.

He had no clubs, no recreations. He read his newspaper at night, sometimes he went to a theatre or a lecture. His only hobby was his health, which, finding its self an object of interest, became steadily more complex.

His hair grew thin and grey. At forty he looked fifty.

Then one day old Miss Murdagh failed to turn up at the office. Hubert phoned her boarding house and learned that she had died during the night, quite unexpectedly.

Hubert was badly upset. He could handle the work all right, but it meant hustling. And Hubert had not hustled in fifteen years. three weeks after Miss Murdagh’s funeral at which Hubert was the chief mourner, he struggled alone in his dusty office, but found a wave of untidiness, disorder and tangled business engulfing him. Several faithful old accounts phoned him impatiently. Each night he went home later and more distressed.

He decided he would have to get help. After writing and re-writing half a hundred ads., he went down at noon one day to the newspaper offices with this:

“Wanted a mature woman acquainted with insurance business and office work. Telephone Mr. Waterberry, Main –”

At three o’clock that afternoon, girls began phoning him and calling at his office. They had looked up his address in the phone book. Hubert got into a panic. Suppose he picked the wrong girl? He couldn’t tell what they, were like over the phone. All who called at the office were young, flippant girls with powdered faces–

At three forty-five, with the telephone ringing. Hubert breathlessly seized hat and coat, locked up his office and fled home.

As he sat in his room waiting till dinner time, Hubert was filled with alarm. What would he do? Doubtless, when he went down to his office in the morning, there would be a queue of girls a mile long. He’d have to pick one. And Hubert didn’t want to have to pick one. He had lost his nerve. He would perhaps pick some horrible, hustling, cocksure creature.

Hubert decided he would be ill, in bed tomorrow, and maybe the ad. would blow over.

Just before supper-time, there was a knock on his door, and the housemaid said:

“You’re wanted on the phone, sir!”

Hubert went down.

“Mr. Waterberry?” asked a pleasant feminine voice.

“Yes,” His heart sank.

“I am answering your ad. in the paper today,” said the voice. “I hunted you up in the directory, finding your office, closed. Am I too late?”

Hubert was reassured by the softness of the voice. He could picture another Miss Murdagh.

“No,” he said.

“Then, I’ve had experience in insurance office work, not in Toronto, but in a small town in western Ontario,” said the woman. “I am very anxious to get any work, so whatever you regard as a fair salary I am willing to take.”

“Yes. All right,” said Hubert.

“Shall I call at nine or earlier?”

Hubert had an inspiration.

“Yes. And – and would you mind – I’m not very well – perhaps if you would take charge of the office for the morning and deal with the other applicants?”

“Why, yes!” said the woman. “The key?”

“Could you call here at my boarding house to-night? I’ll leave it with the housekeeper,” said Hubert.

“Very well.”

And Hubert, leaving the office key in an envelope, fled out and had dinner at a restaurant and spent a most enjoyable evening at Shea’s1.

The following morning Hubert went down town before lunch. He couldn’t help walking past his office, just to see–. There was no line-up of painted girls. He entered the building and paused outside his office door to listen.

There was a strenuous sound as of someone house-cleaning.

Hubert could scarcely eat his lunch, he was so excited. What if this woman he had engaged turned out to be one of those energetic, aggressive, chirpy women? What if she were young and bouncy? And Hubert spent a few minutes in prayerful remembrance of quiet, stodgy old Miss Murdagh.

Bracing himself, at two o’clock Hubert shoved himself down the back streets to his office. With leaden feet he climbed the old wooden stairs. He rapped nervously on his own office door and entered.

At the typewriter sat a big, splendid, brown-haired girl in a blue skirt and white waist.

She rose quietly and came over to Hubert, who had removed his hat and was looking at her dumbly. She smiled at him.

“Yes?” she said.

“I-I-ah!” said Hubert.

He looked expectantly at her. “Are – are you-?” he began.

“I’m in charge of the office. Mr. Waterberry is not in yet? Is there anything I can do?” said the pleasant young lady.

“Well,” said Hubert, immensely confused, and laying his hat down on a desk with an attempt at the proprietorial air. “I’m – ah – that is to say you see, I am –!”

“Ah, you’d care to wait?” said the girl, pulling out a chair.

And nodding pleasantly to him, she returned to the typewriter.

Hubert sat down weakly. He gazed around the office, noting its tidiness and order. “I – ah” he began.

The girl swung on her chair.

“You see,” said Hubert, “I’m Mr. Waterberry!”

What happened afterwards was a golden memory all his life to Hubert. The girl leaped up and helped him out of his coat. She escorted him over to his swivel chair. She was blushing furiously.

“Why – when you knocked,” she was saying, “you see, I was expecting Mr. Waterberry – but when you knocked, I thought you were a client. And then, when you stood there, with your hat in your hand –“

Her eyes were glimmering with laughter. Hubert looked sheepishly up at her and smiled. Then out came the laughter, boiling and bubbling. And Hubert suddenly joined in. He leaned back and laughed till he wept. They looked at each other and laughed again. It was years since Hubert had laughed with anybody. Years and years. It was a wonderful sensation. He hated to stop laughing. So he confessed about his fear, and how he ran away from the office yesterday -and – and –

So they chuckled and laughed. They exchanged confidences. Hubert how he detested these modern office girls. The girl, how she had come to move to Toronto. The minutes passed. Then an hour. Still they were talking. Hubert was zestfully explaining to her her work, the various accounts.

It was a long time since Hubert had been intimate with anyone.

When dusk caught them in the dim office. Hubert regretfully closed the discussion. He bade her a most cheery good night and went home feeling better than he ever remembered feeling in his life.

It was a new world for Hubert. It was a pleasure to go to the office. He felt infinitely younger, boundlessly young. The girl talked before a week was out, quite boldly about the need of new business. She discovered openings for it in old accounts. Hubert went and got it.

At the end of a year, the business and Hubert were so changed that Miss Pigeon – that was her name -found it necessary to hire another girl, and a little later, a young man.

She won Hubert over to joining a golf club. On business grounds.

Hubert and she still kept sacred their regular daily laugh and exchange of confidences. It was found necessary, after a while, to go to lunch together in order to complete these conversations. And finally, it came to theatres and movies.

Naturally, the whole thing had but one end. Hubert felt himself drawing the very breath of life through this vigorous, splendid girl. He depended on her more and more, in countless little ways, and in big ways.

Finally, she helped him select a new overcoat and hat.

He looked in the mirror of the hat store and beheld a mere lad of forty – a swagger, upstanding fellow–

And when they closed up the office that evening, the juniors having gone, Hubert helped Miss Pigeon with her ulster2. As he did so, something that had been smoldering in him all afternoon, broke loose. He felt as if an electric current were flowing from her to him, a magnetic, swirling current. And he released his hold on the collar of her ulster only to seize her shoulders, turn her around to face him and stare breathlessly and foolishly at her, and then enfold her in a vast, stupid hug.

Romance: thou art as sly of foot in Wellington street as in the castled fastnesses of Rosedale.

They were married in no time. They live in a bungalow out beyond High Park, in an atmosphere of the most absurd happiness, forty-four and twenty-five.

“You’ve made a new man of me,” says Hubert, at least once every twenty-four hours.

But while Hubert is aware of it, he doesn’t give proper value to the fact that his pigeon was born and raised on the farm.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Shea’s Hippodrome opened in 1914, and was the largest movie palace in Canada, and one of the largest vaudeville theatres in the world. It was demolished in 1957 to make way for Toronto’s new City Hall. ↩︎
  2. An Ulster coat is a Victorian style working daytime overcoat, with a cape and sleeves. ↩︎

One Keg of Rum

He hoisted one keg on his shoulder and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines where the pipers were waiting.
“It must be gas,” cried the major excitedly. “Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.”

By Gregory Clark, January 31, 1931.

In every regiment there are wheels within wheels. The colonel, the adjutant and the regimental sergeant-major are supposed to be the three paramount powers in whose hands separately and collectively the fate of thousand men lies.

But it is not so. Underneath the polished exterior of a regiment of infantry, shunting and wheeling and sloping arms so magnificently to the barked commands of one lone voice, there revolve wheels within wheels. Cliques, intrigues, parties grow and flourish. Some are founded on social distinctions, whereby men who were clerks and schoolmasters separate themselves from those of rougher hand. Others divided themselves on the substantial basis of county, so that men of Grey and Bruce held themselves in league against the men of Frontenac or the Maritimes.

But the greatest wheel of all, the mainspring of the works, was a sort of shabby Masonic brotherhood that scorned all pride of place or social position, and leaped the bounds of company or even the greater bounds of period of service, and consisted of those in the regiment who were ultra hard-boiled1. This secret society existed in every battalion of a thousand men. It was officered by a few old-timers, some of whom ranked as corporals or even as sergeants. Its membership was recruited from all companies, and even the signallers and scouts and the transport section contributed their little quota. If you were tough, you needed not to be a year or even six months with the battalion to be made welcome within the sanctuary of this old-soldiers’ lodge.

Most of the mysteries in any regiment’s history can be attributed to this ancient brotherhood. They held no meeting, they possessed no lodge room. Any estaminet2, any dugout, where two or three of them gathered together, was the holies of holies. These knights errant, who pitted their wits against highly technical fortifications of modern military organization were the heirs to the soldiers of fortune who, until a hundred years ago, roved the world in search of payment for their swords. It stands to reason that soldiers of fortune, like singers and dancers and horsemen born to a saddle, should still survive in this age.

I knew that my Corporal Jimmie Post was one of the high-ups within this secret sodality. Post was dusky, with mocking eyes and a scornful mouth, who sang courage back into his platoon with unspeakable songs, and who was to be found in time of disaster not with the little cliques of the brave, but lending his arrogant voice to comfort the weakest sister in the sector. He was aware of his gift of courage. He could throw it, a sort of blanket, around those of us who needed warmth in the cold gulf of fear. And he employed that mantle, and gloried in it.

Brotherhood’s Senior Warden

Court martials went astray, punishments were deflected, plans went amiss in that clean cold region where colonels, adjutants and regimental sergeant-majors live. And Corporal Jimmie Post knew all about it in advance. If any of my men got into serious trouble, Post would tell me, it would be all right. And it would be. Hard-looking strangers from other companies used to come into my trench and talk with Post. And he would be absent occasionally visiting abroad in the regiment in the line. Whenever I would be orderly officer, I would sometimes come on an estaminet being emptied at last post, where the gathering would adjourn with all the earmarks of a lodge meeting coming to an end; and Post was always in these companies. Post was senior warden, if not better, in some indefinable brotherhood of warriors.

Contrasted with Post, Sergeant Buster Parker had a saintly look. He was only a boy, but he had and still has, though one of his legs is gone, a mouthful of the most wholesome flashing teeth I ever saw in a human head. And, like many other men who had that flashing smile, he was gifted with power over his fellows. Despite the fact that he was a boy, Buster Parker was a sergeant and a crackerjack. And it was hard for me to believe now that if Corporal Jimmie Post was senior warden of that secret society in our regiment, Sergeant Buster Parker was worshipful master.

Captain Hal Franks, quartermaster, Lieutenant Seth Norton, transport officer and I as assistant or rear adjutant, were the officers of the horse lines who at that time were dwelling in comfort and security amidst the mud of Neuville St. Vaast while our regiment was up in the reaches beyond Vimy Ridge. Around us were uncamped the rear details, the drivers, the wagons, the orderly room and record clerks, the brass band and the pipe band, the provost sergeant and the artificers3 who are the tailors, horseshoers, carpenters and so forth; all of us the commissariat details of a regiment in the line, who take up their feed each night, and to whom the regiment comes back for rest when relieved.

We were a bomb-proof lot. Mostly old soldiers, retired to his ignominious region by reason of long service or weak backs. And we understood one another perfectly and got along like a lot of creatures in a barnyard.

There was an outbreak of impetigo4 in the regiment. Nasty skin disease that broke out all over, on the legs, body, hands and face. A few of the more valuable non-commissioned officers were sent out of the line to get themselves doctored up. But for most of the troops, it just meant salve and bandages.

Amongst those sent down to the horse-lines, I was delighted to find my old platoon corporal, Post, from whom I had been separated when I was promoted to the eminence and absurdity of assistant adjutant at the rear.

And a day or two later came down Sergeant Buster Parker, with sores like pennies all over his legs.

We spent some pleasant afternoons together in the thin March sunlight of Neuville St. Vaast and Aux Rietz Corners, talking of old-timers and how soft the war had been in my time as compared with now.

There would be, in all, counting these sick, lame and lazy and all the drivers and bandsmen, about a hundred and fifteen dwelling in the huts and tents of our rear camp.

A Memorable Saturday Night

It was a Saturday night that trouble came.

Out in the March night the wind howled and a chill rain lashed our hut. Captain Franks, Norton and I sat about our table, reading and writing and chatting in the desultory fashion known to rear headquarters. The batmen5 had retired. Our bedrooms were laid out. Captain Franks undressed and was preparing to insert himself into his blankets when, on the wild night air, there sounded a snatch of song.

Captain Franks, the senior, nodded to the door and I went and opened and listened. Through the storm and rain and across the mud I could see the lights burned in the scattered huts, and from them came the murmur of many voices.

And in a rift of the wind there came to us the loud skirl of bagpipes.

“Take a look around,” said Captain Franks. “It’s going on for eleven o’clock.”

I pulled on my rubber boots and raincoat and sloshed out into the night. The nearest hut was the guard-room where the provost sergeant lived in charge of whatever prisoners might be awaiting judgment. There were two men in confinement at that time.

A lone candle guttered in the guard hut, and it was empty. I called the sergeant. I called the guard. And no answer came, save the increasing murmur of song and bagpipes from the huts across the muddy field.

I circled round past the horse lines, where the horses drooped beneath their canvas shelters. I called for the piquet and got no answer. I walked around past the artificers’ shanties past the stores, rapping and calling, and got no reply.

And then I headed for the big huts, all glowing in the storm.

From a discreet distance I stood and looked in an open door. There was a sound of revelry. Some were playing cards. Some were lying and singing. Bagpipes skirled, and someone of the band was mournfully blowing a constantly interrupted solo on a trombone. Presently a drum came into action, and the laughter and tumult grew.

Without disturbing the scene, I returned and informed my senior officer that it was apparently somebody’s birthday. Beyond our hut lay the senior n.c.o.’s hut, where dwelt the quartermaster sergeant and transport sergeant and other nabobs in an isolation almost as grand as our own. I went to their door, and they dressed in hasty garments and went to investigate.

They returned in a few minutes, greatly disturbed.

“The whole outfit is tight6,” said they, standing across the table in the candle light. “Tight as owls. They must have got an awful lot of liquor.”

“Tight!” we cried.

“Everybody, the batmen, the clerks, the bandsmen, everybody,” said the quartermaster sergeant. “The provost sergeant is sitting in there singing with his two prisoners. The pipe band is putting on a concert. They are all jammed in there, and by the look of them it would be crazy to interfere. That Corporal Post and Sergeant Buster Parker and a bunch of others from up the line are raising hell.”

“Go and order the lights out,” said Captain Franks. “Get those men back in the guard room. Have everybody go to their quarters.”

The senior n.c.o.’s retired into the storm.

“There will hell to pay over this,” said the senior officer.

And we sat in silence waiting for the n.c.o.’s to return.

After a long wait they returned.

“The only thing you can do,” said they, “is send a riot call up to the battalion in the line and have them come back. Nothing else will stop them now. They’ve got rum. And I think they must have about ten gallons of it.”

“Are we to sit here and let it go on?” demanded the captain.

“I will crime the whole lot,” said the quarter-master sergeant, “but I think it would only aggravate matters it we tried to interfere now, with no men to back us up.”

We agreed with the n.c.o.’s, and we sat far into the night, listening to the rising and falling hubbub from the huts, in which no man came near us. And sometime in the stilly watches we retired, with maudlin snatches of music and yells faintly in our ears.

“Just a Little Party”

The first batman to rouse us was Bertrand, who supervised me. He wore a grin on his face and he looked much the worse of wear.

“I wouldn’t be in a hurry getting up if I was you,” he said to me, as he started laying out my razor kit.

“Why not?”

“The boys,” said Bertrand, “are in kind of bad shape this morning.”

“We thought we heard some noises last night,” said l. “What was up?”

“A little party,” said Bertrand. “Just a little party.”

“Were Post and Parker in it?”

Bertrand laughed, and withdrew apologetically.

We dressed and went forth to look at the wreckage. It was terrible. Many of the men were still sleeping, though buglers sounded the call to rouse and breakfast right into the hut doors. It was Sunday morning, and no parades until eleven o’clock to the church hut down on the Arras-Bethune road a few hundred yards away7.

Everyone ducked as we appeared. A few who still had a little in them brazenly appeared and it became a sort of duel whether we would approach them or they would approach us. Finally, the provost sergeant, looking extremely seedy, could stand the strain no longer, and he marched across the mud, quite unsteadily, and saluting with extreme care, said to us:

“Everything present and correct, shir.”

Saluted again and snapping about unsteadily, marched back to his guard hut.

We retired into our hut for breakfast.

“We can’t crime the whole camp,” said the captain. “We can only seek out the ringleaders. In any event, it is a scandal, and we are going to look very badly, however we handle it.”

The church parade was terrible. It was a travesty. But with a hundred sullen men still bleary from too much rum, it more than useless, it was unfair to attempt to goad them into resistance which would get them and us into deeper trouble.

After the church parade we held an investigation. My share was to sound out Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post, while the others dealt with the transport and quarters personnel.

“We got a little rum,” admitted Sergeant Parker. Post corroborated this statement.

“Where did get it?”

“Nobody knows where it came from,” they said, with deep interest in the subject. “It just appeared, and then everybody was singing.”

And then suddenly I realized I was up against that secret society within the regiment, as far these two were concerned, and I passed it up. At the hut, I found the captain and Norton. They had got nowhere. They had demanded, wheedled, threatened. But it appeared that the rum just came from nowhere, and nobody could remember who had had it first.

But Captain Franks that afternoon ordered Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post to return to the line for duty with their companies.

And he was right.

The Rum Story Spills Over

The story came in the door with Buster Parker the other day, as he tried to sell me a new car. He is a one-legged, two fisted salesman of Fords now, with his flashing smile undimmed.

Something recalled to mind that far-off March night, and in a minute the story was spilling over us with laughter.

“That episode,” said Buster Parker, sitting here fourteen years after in The Star Weekly office, “is remembered by you as one time you really felt the loss of authority. Some day I must write a book about all the times the officers thought they were in command and weren’t. But now I’ll tell you how we got the rum.”

Parker, with his infected legs, arrived out at the horse lines Saturday afternoon and immediately looked up Corporal Jimmie Post re the matter of the most comfortable flop. Post was living with the pipe band, a little group of ten Scotties, some of could not speak English at all; a distinct and isolated little band of superior beings, a sort of Scottish rite within that brotherhood I speak of, who were very particular who so much as sat down in their midst.

So Parker joined Post as a partner in the pipers’ hospitality.

“Now how about a little drink?” asked Parker, after his kit was settled away.

“None to be had,” said Post.

“How about Clarkie?” asked Buster.

“He’s gone mean since he joined the orderly room,” said Post. “I haven’t had a bottle from him for months.”

Then up spoke Brother Fluellen, who was a bugler by rights, but who had achieved by some devious route a position on the staff of the rear headquarters cook kitchen.

“You know this big ration dump down here below Aux Rietz Corners?” asked Fluellen.

“Yes,” said Sergeant Parker, sharply.

“It’s guarded,” said Cook Fluellen, “by a regular guard of crocks. They march sentry on it, one to each side of the dump. It’s about three hundred yards to a side. Well, the last time I was strolling along I had a look into the dump. It has sort of lanes running all through it. In one the lanes I seen some little six-gallon kegs.”

“Yes,” whispered Sergeant Parker, Corporal Post and all the ten pipers.

“So I says to the sentry, I says, what is in them little kegs back there, brother? And he says you would be surprised. I says, is it vinegar? And he says you would be surprised. And by the way he kept halting on his beat and looking back at me, boys, I know there is rum in them six gallon kegs.”

A great silence fell on the pipers’ hut.

Everybody knew the one-gallon rum jars in which the rum came up to the infantry. But a six-gallon keg!

Sergeant Parker rose to his feet. He looked out the door of the hut. Evening was falling and the March wind and rain made all the world a desolation.

“Corporal Post,” said the sergeant, “and Fluellen, you will parade in proper guard mounting order at eight o’clock to-night. You, corporal, will borrow from somebody a great coat with no stripes on it. Have your buttons shined to the nines, your pouches clean, and wear your tin hats.”

A New Guard for the Dump

Thus, at eight o’clock, after all the world of the horse lines had settled down for the night, there formed up discreetly out of the way of officers, a small parade consisting of a sergeant, corporal and a cook. Post and Fluellen, the pictures of soldiery smartness, stood side by side with rifles at the slope and bayonets fixed. Behind them stood Sergeant Buster Parker, dressed for guard mounting.

Down the deserted La Targette road they marched, in the wind and rain, the sergeant’s voice picking them up, hup, hup, until, half way down the road along the dump they overtook the sentry on duty on that side, who and turned outwards.

“Party, halt,” commanded Sergeant Parker, level with the sentry.

“Right turn,” said the sergeant in the business-like tone of the guard.

“What’s this?” asked the surprised sentry on the dump.

“Relief,” said Parker, surily. “All right, Smith,” to Post, “take post. Fall in, sentry.”

And with alacrity, the honest sentry stepped smartly out and fell in beside Fluellen. What a swell night to get relieved!

And without the slightest hesitation, Parker commanded the party to turn, quick march, and down the road in the rain and the darkness they proceeded.

After marching about hundred yards, and nearing the end of the dump, where another sentry might be standing, Parker halted his party.

He reached over and firmly took the rifle from the sentry.

“Boy,” he said, though the man could have been his father, “you are in bad trouble. You can take your choice, but I think you ought to submit to a beating up, because you will never be to tell your officer that you were relieved.”

“What’s this?” stammered the C3 sentry, suddenly filled with an awful fear that all was not well.

Parker chucked the rifle away in the dark and swung on the sentry. There was a moment’s scuffle while the sergeant and Fluellen mussed and muddied up a figure that struggled frantically on the road.

“There,” said the sergeant, “you look as if you had been assaulted. Now run and call your guard.”

And like rabbits, Parker and Fluellen dashed into the hedges, doubled back and forward, and in a moment were lost in the stormy March night. Meanwhile a bedraggled sentry was on the dead tear to his guard room, desperately trying to make up his mind what to tell the sergeant of the guard as to being relieved or assaulted. And whichever way, it would need a lot of explaining.

Post was like a cat in the dark, anyway. When the sentry party left him standing smartly in the rain, he waited until they got out of earshot and then he quietly walked into the dump, found the kegs exactly where Fluellen had described them, hoisted one to his shoulder, retrieved his rifle and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines, where the pipers were waiting.

Some New, Terrible Epidemic

The question was: Did the keg really contain rum. It did. They first of all poured the rum into two of Fluellen’s big cooking dixies8, then burned the barrel and inside of a few minutes, the free invitation party to all ranks at the regimental horse lines was under way.

“I,” said Parker, “as chief steward of the party, decanted off two full waterbottles of rum before the party started, and these I buried in the earth in a secret place. So that when Captain Franks ordered me to return to my company up the line, as I thought might happen, I was quite content. I went up that night with the ration wagon. I dug up my two bottles, and then clinging to the back of D company limber I fortified myself from time to time during the journey up, so that by the time I met the D company ration party, I needed help, which was gladly given, for a consideration.

“Among those to whom I confided a share of my rum were my fellow sergeants of D company. And only one of them took too much. Because he is probably by now an elder in the kirk9, I will not mention his true name. We will call him Tram. Anyway, Tram by morning was in bad shape. Rum cannot be trifled with like whiskey or brandy. And he trifled with it. So we lay Tram out on the firestep in the sunlight to boil out.

“He was still there, breathing heavily and noisily, when word came that Major Victor Sifton was on his way round the trenches, making his morning inspection. He would be in D company lines any minute.

“And there was Tram lying, unconscious on the fire step. We tried to lift him to hide him in a dugout, but he fought us fiercely and started to shout.

“‘Get a stretcher,’ said I to Tram’s boys. We laid Tram softly on a stretcher. Then I opened my first aid bandage, broke the iodine ampoule and poured the iodine all over the bandage.

“With this swab, I delicately painted Tram all over his face, neck, hands and wrists, so that he was the most terrible pale yellow-brown color you ever saw. It was the most awful case of jaundice imaginable.

“And I just had the job neatly finished and the swab pitched over the parapet, when around the traverse walked Major Sifton.

“”What’s this!’ cried Major Sifton. ‘It’s poor Tram.’ He was rather fond of Tram.

“I told him Tram had just been suddenly took this way.

“‘It must be gas,’ cried the major, excitedly. ‘Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.’

“So very smartly,” says Buster Parker, “I rustled out four men, and away went Sergeant Tram, breathing noisily and turned a terrible color.

“At the dressing station they just took one look at him and rushed him for the ambulance. I suppose there they just took one look and rushed him back to the clearing station. And there, if he had not recovered consciousness, they probably put a red ticket on him and made a special flying trip to the base with him.

“Anyway, it was three months before Tram came back to D company. Nobody ever found out about the run and iodine. Tram woke up and wondered where the dickens he was. He felt awful bad, and he was able to wash off some of the iodine. His pulse was bad, his heart and lungs were bad. The doctors were sorry he had lost his bad color, but they put him under special observation for a few days, for fear of some new and terrible epidemic.

“Then he was returned, but Tram was so good a soldier, all the divisional schools and reinforcement depots held him for a few weeks as instructor. So that it was nearly three months before Tram got back to us and heard the full story of his holiday.

“So that,” says Buster Parker, “is the story of one keg of rum, and I tell it to you just to show there was a lot of going on all around us in the war that we knew nothing about.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Some one who is hard-boiled is tough and does not show much emotion ↩︎
  2. An estaminet is French for a small café, bar, or bistro, especially a shabby one. ↩︎
  3. An artificer is an appointment held by a member of an armed forces service who is skilled at working on electronic, electrical, electro-mechanical and/or mechanical devices. ↩︎
  4. Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection. ↩︎
  5. A batman in the military is a servant to an officer. This was phased out between the wars. ↩︎
  6. Slang for drunk. ↩︎
  7. A church parade in the military is a parade by service personnel for the purposes of attending religious services. This was mandatory at the time. ↩︎
  8. A dixie comes from the Hindi word ‘degchi’ meaning a small pot. It consists of two parts, a large lower pan and a top lid that could be used as a frying pan or a serving platter. ↩︎
  9. This would be an elder in the Scottish (Presbyterian) Church. ↩︎

‘Twas Put to Good Use’

A greenish flare lighted up the whole scene.

“What can you do alone?”

 “I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You’ll be plunked the minute you move.”

“No, I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

By Gregory Clark, December 21, 1929.


The sergeant-major made it sound like a curse.

To the Canadian corps as a whole, burrowed in for the winter along the Lens front, the snow, fine and crisp, and comforting the ghastly ground swiftly, had a merry touch of home. The sentries, staring out over No Man’s Land, felt the strain relaxing as the white blanket grew. But the sergeant-major of C company of the Central Ontario regiment sensed a panic rising in his bosom.

“Now what the hell’re we going to do!” he groaned, as he thrust his way along the trench to the company officer’s dugout.

At the entrance, fat Captain Fannah was standing in the dark listening to the crisp pellets tinkling on his steel hat.

“Merry Christmas, sawm-major!” he squeaked.

“Sir, this jiggers the works,” said the sergeant-major, jabbing his heels into the bathmat1 by way of salute. “This snow is going to last. No Man’s Land is already white with it. The raid will be impossible.”

“What’s time?” demanded, the pudgy captain. Offhand, Captain Fannah was a type of man you would not like. It took a week to like him. And then you gave him your shirt.

“Nine-fifteen, sir.”

“Raid’s at one ack emma2,” said Captain Fannah. “Plenty of time to dope it out. Reduce the party from the full platoon to ten men. And inform Lieutenant Beaurien that I will take the raid instead of him.”

“Very good, sir. Will I report back to you or stay in the trench?”

“Tell Lieutenant Beaurien to take over trench duty. You come back. I want you tonight, sawm-major.”

The little fat captain spoke querulously3, like a head-waiter busy with a banquet. He struggled, grunting, into the dugout entrance.

The sergeant-major hurried to the left where Eleven Platoon stood, and picking up its sergeant, went on to where the platoon officer, Beaurien, was sitting on the firestep4 discussing the impending raid with a few of his toughest men.

“Sir,” said the sergeant-major, stamping his salute on the frosty bathmats, “here’s good news for most of your platoon. Captain Fannah has ordered plans changed in view of the snow. He will lead the raid himself, and will take only ten men instead of the whole platoon. With his compliments, will you please take command of the trench and act for him until further orders.”

Beaurien was visibly relieved. The good word spread along the trench and down into dugouts where Eleven Platoon lay worrying about the raid and the snow. But the handful of choice spirits who had been gathered round Beaurien gave no sign of joy. A raid is a jumpy business. A battle is one thing, with its tumult and vasty compass. In a battle you feel as if all the world is with you in disaster. But a little raid has a lonesomeness that eats into the core of a man. From the length of a brigade front away, a raid, with its two battery barrage, sounds like a drunken celebration with giant fire crackers. And you wonder about the little handful of lads that are scurrying about in the night beneath that angry vortex of shellfire in the heart of the great tropic stillness of the long No Man’s Land.

In every platoon were a half-dozen hard-boiled characters who invariably found themselves selected for raids, battle patrols, wire-cutting and the more desperate adventures of trench warfare. Five of these, standing about their relieved lieutenant, knew that no matter how the raiding party might be reduced, from thirty-five men to ten, they would be amongst the ten. And they were right.

“Well, troops,” said Beaurien, rising. “I don’t mind telling you I have been glad to sit down ever since this snow started falling. My legs is bad.”

“I’ve Got a Secret”, Said Fannah

Beaurien, with a white and purple ribbon on his tunic and enough bloody exploits to his credit to permit him the luxury of confessing fear, produced his little platoon roster from his pocket.

“You five will go,” he said. “Each of you pick one other man. How’s that? Then there can be no belly-aching about the wrong man being sent.”

The five departed along the trench to select their voluntary partners in desperation.

Raids were the peculiar pride of the Canadians. They had, in a sense, originated them. At any rate, back in Fifteen, they had become aware of a higher rate of individual initiative which existed amongst Canadians and had developed various forms of raids, some with the famous “box” barrage, three walls of shell-fire, the fourth or near wall being left open for the entry of the raiders. Then they went on to the stealth raid in its many forms, where no gunfire disturbed the silence of night, but only the sudden whang of bombs bursting and the muffled crack of pistols held close to the stomachs of surprised sentries in the violated trench. It was a stealth raid that Eleven Platoon was about to pull.

“And how,” Captain Fannah was saying into the little field telephone deep in his candle-lit, coke-gassey dugout, “can we make a stealth raid across a blanket of virgin snow?”

“Fannah,” came back the colonel’s Royal Military College voice, “brigade says we have got to – got to – get a prisoner for identification. I have put it up to you. This snow may last a week. I realize the mess this makes, but, my dear Fannah, you’ve got to figure it out. You can shift the time if you like.”

“One ack emma,” said Captain Fannah, in his pained voice. “They will go at one ack emma, colonel, but I am reducing the party to ten.”

“And Beaurien taking them?”

“Mmmm,” said Fannah, knowing that the crackling telephone, with its lines laid across the waste of mud between his and the colonel’s dugout, six hundred yards back, would convert this sound into an affirmative.

The sergeant-major, sitting on a cartridge-box beside the captain, filched a cigarette out of the captain’s leather case. These two, off parade and when no other ranks were looking, were more than comrades.

“What’s the dope?” asked the sergeant-major, as the phone was laid down.

“The Stokes guns5,” said Fannah, “are going to start right away and make a lot of dark holes out in that white No Man’s Land. They will fire at random around the open and over towards the German trench. Tell Beaurien to get as many of our men as he can risk out of the front line, so that some of the Stokes can fall short, close to our trench. It will look like a warming-up from a new bunch of Stokes just come in.”

“Won’t Fritz be on the lookout?”

“The Stokes will stop at twelve midnight. Starting at one o’clock, I want you to get the boys, one by one, out into the best Stokes holes that occur. Scatter them out from Tivvy Sap.”

“Then what?”

“Then,” said Fannah, sighing deeply and looking guiltily away from his sergeant-major, “when they are in position I go over and go in.”


“You know there is a gap in their wire?”

“I found it. But they may have closed it since last night. But what the devil can you do alone?”

“I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You will be plunked the minute you move.”

“No I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

“It will have to be done as slyly as possible. All I want them for is to cover me coming back. Just plain rifle fire. Some of us are going to get hurt, but I can’t see that can be helped.”

The first faint thump of the Stokes shells vibrated in the dugout and made the candles flicker.

“Get out and watch that Stokes stuff and pick a nice bunch of dark spots for the boys to lie on.”

“I don’t like your scheme,” said the sergeant-major, standing up and looking at his officer grimly. “I think you have gone nuts.”

“They won’t be able to see me,” said Captain Fannah. “I will be all white.”

Disappearing in the Snow

A random fire from Stokes mortars disturbed the night. These softly belching little cannon hurled their whiskey-bottle shells high in the air, to fall and lie a horrid moment on the ground before they went off with a terrific crash. They blew shallow, five-foot-broad patches of darkness on the snow-covered ground. A steady, thickening whirl of snow continued to fall. Machine guns woke up on the German side and chattered about nervously. Flares went up more frequently, to dazzle the new fallen snow. Fritz was on the alert. But the Stokes fire neither increased nor seemed to concentrate. It gave a lazy, casual and poorly-aimed battering to a strip of No Man’s Land for a three-hundred-yard stretch. About eleven o’clock, puzzled by this desultory crashing, the Germans ordered their field guns to fire some retaliation, which cheerfully increased the number of dark spots out in the snow.

As if quelled by this come-back, the Stokes died away at midnight. And peace, oddly spiritualized by the snow, settled over the line. The one point of discord in miles of silence was stilled.

About twelve-thirty the first of the covering party, crouched and swift, skipped out an opening in the Canadian wire and flung himself into one of the shell holes. There was a breathless moment of waiting, but no hint that the figure had been noticed came from the German trench. The bank of barbed wire, which was a filigree of rust and silver, acted as a dark screen for the raiders’ movements. Another figure made the dash, then another. Obviously the German sentries were lulled by the same feeling of security the new fallen snow gave the Canadians. One by one the ten men of Eleven Platoon got into the dark splashes on No Man’s Land where the Stokes and the German field guns had left their scars.

Then appeared queer and ghostly little figure in Eleven Platoon’s trench. His head was swathed in white field bandages. His legs and feet were likewise wrapped tightly in white. Over his arm he carried a large white garment. And from amongst the bandages emerged Captain Fannah’s plaintive voice:

“If any man fires from this trench until I return I will personally lame him!”

Beaurien and the other two lieutenants of C Company were with the captain to see him off. The sergeant-major was the last to go out before Fannah, and he was to go furthest and be closest to the lone white raider when the entry into the German trench was attempted. Shaking hands with the captain, the sergeant-major himself wrapped in bandages in different spots so that he appeared raggedly camouflaged, climbed over the parados6 and disappeared into the silence.

Not a Shot was Fired

Then Captain Fannah shook out the garment he was carrying and drew it over his head. He stood forth absolutely white, save for pencil-wide strip across his eyes.

“No shooting from the trench,” he said again. “The boys in front will do any shooting required.”

And helped by his lieutenants from behind the pudgy captain grunted his way over the parapet. The thick snow fell like feathers.

“I can’t see him already,” said one of the sentries.

Beaurien stood up on the fire-step. Through the haze of falling snow could faintly be seen the scattered dark splotches where the shells had cleared a space. But no movement disclosed the fact that in eleven of them, staggered across towards the German lines, lay eleven men with their rifles cocked and pointed to answer any flash from the enemy trench. And not a trace could be seen of Fannah, though Beaurien knew his stout little officer could not have got far on his dangerous mission.

A long time passed. Suspense during a stealth raid is a sensation never otherwise experienced. The burst of a bomb, the crack of a shot comes like a note of joy to break the tension. But no sound came from white-shrouded No Man’s Land. The usual night silence lay like a desert stillness, and you would never have guessed that within a square mile ten thousand men were standing with their wits wide awake. Only occasionally the German flares mounted and lobbed vividly through the glistening night. But there was no flare-thrower on duty closer than three hundred yards from Eleven Platoon’s front. Beaurien watched for a telltale moving shadow when the flares were falling, but on the shining shadows of No Man’s Land nothing stirred.

After twenty minutes that had seemed hours there was a quiet movement at the German trench, a hundred yards away. Shadows in the misty snowfall, dark figures moving fitfully against the white.

“Psst!” hissed the sentry beside Beaurien. A sergeant came running.

“Figures moving over against the German wire!” he cried in a low voice to Beaurien.

“I see them. Get back to your duty.”

Yet not a shot was fired, no flick of orange pecked in the darkness.

Then quite distinctly, moving slowly towards the Canadian lines, came two figures looming black against the snow. On they came, stumbling, hesitating. After a moment’s intent staring it appeared that they walked with their arms in the air over their heads.

“My God!” said the sentry, removing his safety-catch.

“Keep still, you…”

“They Thought I was a Fairy”

A greenish flare popped into the air opposite, burst and lighted the whole scene in dazzling splendor. The two figures stopped dead still in their tracks, their arms on high, lividly silhouetted against the snow. Beaurien, watching the shadows, not the objects themselves, as an old-timer should, saw what he was looking for, a small, round shadow in rear of the long shadows of the two standing Germans.

A shout came from the German trench. The flare lobbed to the ground and went out with a loud hiss. A shot was fired from the enemy. Instantly two shots from the dark shell holes spat back. The two dark figures against the snow began to run, hands held appealingly high. A machine gun opened from the German side. The shell holes began to spit, spit, redly. The way a typhoon could spring in an instant out of the solitude of No Man’s Land was a miracle not comparable to anything in the temperate zone. A very gale of machine gun fire rose out of the German front and support lines. White flares and red signal flares zipped and lobbed into the sky. The German artillery opened up with its usual smartness. But not a sign or sound came from the Canadian trench. The two tall Germans, guided by some unseen force in rear of them, wriggled and scrambled unhurt into the Canadian trench. A white-robed figure slid pantingly in on their heels. One by one the men in the shell holes leaped and crouched back through their wire gap. Two were wounded in the rush. The sergeant-major was last, a wounded man clinging to him.

In Captain Fannah’s dugout, ten minutes later, while his batman unwound the bandage from his head and legs, the purple-faced company commander stared up sulkily into the face of his colonel.

“I understood,” said the colonel, breathless after his dash up from his headquarters, “that Beaurien was doing this show?”

“No, sir,” said Captain Fannah. “I distinctly told you that I was going.”

“I didn’t hear you. Damn it, Fannah, you have no right to be fooling about on operations of this sort. We need you. You keep out of these things. Let the young fellows do it.”.

“Now tell me,” said the colonel, “how did this thing come off?”

“Very simply. I dressed all in white. I had a covering party in the Stokes holes. When I got close to their wire I heard voices singing softly. I had found the gap they had in their wire for working parties and patrols, and the voices were coming from the trench directly in front of the gap.

“So I crawled in the gap, got my pinnie7 caught in the wire a couple of times and finally going barely an inch at a time, got to where could see these two men here.

“They were singing what seemed to be Christmas carols. I guess the snow affects Germans the way it does us. Anyway, instead of watching the gap as was their duty they were facing each other, revelling in close harmony. They would brake off, argue quietly and then try the passage again, to get it just right. So while they were working out their harmonies I got within a few feet of them. Then I held up my pistol and said distinctly – ‘Bleib still8!'”

“They blibed. All they could see was the pistol about two feet from their heads, suspended in space. I told them, in my good high school German, to put their hands high and with me to come. They thought I was a fairy or a ghost of something. German folklore has other winter characters besides Santa Claus.

“So I digged them in the ribs to show them the visible gun was real. And here they are.”

“But where,” said the colonel, picking up the garment which Fannah had over his head, “did you get this? Why Fannah, it is a flannel nightshirt!”

“That,” said Fannah, “is my dear old mother’s Christmas present to her boy in the trenches, received in the mail.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. In World War 1, a bathmat is another name for a duckboard. Wooden planking were placed at the bottom of trenches and across other areas of muddy or waterlogged ground to avoid sinking into them. ↩︎
  2. Ack Emma is a British signalmen’s telephone pronunciation of A.M., before noon. So one ack emma is 1 a.m. ↩︎
  3. Querulously means in a complaining way, especially using a weak high voice. ↩︎
  4. A firestep is narrow ledge, located inside a trench, that allows soldiers to see over the parapet. ↩︎
  5. In World War 1, Stokes mortars were 3 inch mortars. ↩︎
  6. Parados were an elevation of earth behind a fortified place as a protection against attack from the rear, especially a mound along the back of a trench. ↩︎
  7. A pinnie is short for the British word “pinafore,” a term that originally meant “an apron or sleeveless garment”. ↩︎
  8. German for “Stay still”. ↩︎

Radio Heckling

By Gregory Clark, November 14, 1925.

Did you go in for radio heckling during the campaign?1

It’s the latest sport.

Amongst those invited in to hear the speech of the Right. Hon. Mackenzie King was our Aunt Jess.

She is getting on in years, but still bears a stout and doughty attitude towards life. And she is a Tory.

During the preliminary speeches Aunt Jess sat in stony silence, a slight smile on her face, which curled with mild scorn whenever there came the buzz of thunderous applause out the horn.

When the prime minister was announced she sat forward in her chair and bent a challenging gaze into the amplifier.

“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,” began the prime minister.

“Bah for you!” shouted Aunt Jess.

“Sssh!” we all hissed, in astonishment.

“It is a source of very special pride and pleasure,” continued the prime minister, unabashed by Aunt Jess’ rude interruption, “for me to-night…”

“Daddy, what did you do in the great war!” yelled Aunt Jess, who is a reader of the Telegram as well as the Mail.

“Sssh!, Whisssht!” we expostulated.

“… to have with me on this platform to night,” continued the prime minister, “my chief lieutenant in the government of this country.”

“For five days more!” yelled Aunt Jess, in a loud voice, and very red in the face.

We turned off the switch.

“Look here, Aunt Jess,” we cried, “you can’t do that! He can’t hear you, you know.”

“I know that, my lad,” replied Aunt Jess. “But you don’t know what pleasure it gives me to be quite rowdy. I have never heckled in my life before and here’s my chance. Turn that thing on again.”

“Please, Aunt Jess, we want to hear Mr. King’s message.”

“Would you deny an old woman her dying wish? Turn that thing on!”

“But –“

“But nothing. I have been going to political meetings all my life and have had to sit like a fool, afraid to open my mouth for fear everyone would turn and stare at me. Now’s my chance. Let ‘er go!”

Sat Closer Than Before

And Aunt Jess sat up closer to the horn than before, in a most rowdy attitude, her eyes sparkling. “Let ‘er go!”

“I understand, ladies and gentlemen,” came Mr. King’s voice, “that the right honorable the leader of the opposition…”

“Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Tiger!!!” roared Aunt Jess into the amplifier, while Mr. King’s voice continued unperturbed but somewhat drowned by the lone cheers.

“I would like to ask Mr. Meighen to do what I have attempted to do here,” went on the prime minister.

“Oh, is that so!” shouted Aunt Jess.

“I would like him to state on this platform, who he will have in his cabinet from Quebec, and who he will have in his cabinet from the west?”

“Better men than you’ve got!” cried Aunt Jess, her face up to the horn.

The old lady’s spirit was infectious. We all began to see this as a battle between Aunt Jess and the prime minister. As the speech went on Aunt Jess unloosed some expressions, some modern and some quite old and well-worn, that we had no idea she possessed in her ladylike vocabulary. When the prime minister got going in his stride, with long, oratorical sentences that could not very well be broken in on, Aunt Jess would merely retort with long, raucous laughter, utterly confusing and spoiling the effect of the prime minister’s best arguments. She produced a small flag from her sateen bag and began waving it in front of the horn with derisive shouts.

“These are the policies,” said the prime minister, “for which the Liberal party not only stands…”

“But falls!” shrilled Aunt Jess. And she rose to her feet.

Continued Right to the End

The prime minister was marching to a close.

Aunt Jess removed her little bonnet which she wears in the house. Eyes alight, voice husky from use, she continued her heckling right to the end.

“.. and with that greater understanding,” concluded the prime minister eloquently, “a larger fellowship for the good of the individuals concerned and the greater good of all.”

Aunt Jess hurled her bonnet into the horn, thus muffling the Liberal cheers which sprang from it.

“Hurray for Meighen!” she screamed. “Hurray! Hurray!” And she did a sort of dervish dance in front of the amplifier.

“The best time I ever had in my life,” declared Aunt Jess, breathlessly. “How much do these radio things cost?”

Aunt Jess has a lot of old scores to pay.

“There are singers I want to inform that they have rotten voices. There are certain ministers in this city I would like to interrupt.”

(Aunt Jess is an Anti2, you understand.)

“All my life, for over sixty years, I have had to go to concerts, meetings, and to church, and listen to people that irritated me beyond measure. Here is my chance to tell them what is on my mind. You see, I give them no offense, yet I get a burden off my mind that has weighed too heavily… Turn on some singer until I see what it feels like.”

We got a station in which a lady with a slow soprano was singing “Marquita.”

We sat in silence. Aunt Jess lifted her chin and tapped with her knitting needles.

“Too slow,” she called into the horn. “Don’t chew your words, girl. Enunciate. Enunciate. Oh, horrible. Stop her!”

We switched off.

Aunt Jess tossed her head delightedly.

“What a treat!” said Aunt Jess. “Are there any Unionist ministers preaching to-night?”

“No, not until Sunday.”

“Very well, I’ll be here Sunday,” said Aunt Jess.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. The 1925 federal election was close, with no party winning a majority. ↩︎
  2. In this case, she would be against the union of multiple churches to form the United Church of Canada in 1925. ↩︎

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