The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Old Soldiers Never Die

By Greg Clark, July 30, 1938.

For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance

“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”

“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”

“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”

“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”

“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”

“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”

“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”

“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”

“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”

“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”

“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”

“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”

“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”

“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”

“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”

“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”

“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”

“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”

“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.

“Goats,” grated Billings.

“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”

“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”

“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”

“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”

“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.

Planning Revenge

“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”

“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”

“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.

And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.

“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”

“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”

“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”

“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.

And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.

Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.

Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.

They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.

They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.

“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”

“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.

“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.

“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”

“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.

As If Old Muscles Stirred

They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.

“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”

“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.

And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.

They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.

“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.

The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.

“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”

“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.

“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”

He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.

“Budd, sir,” said Budd.

“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.

They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.

“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”

He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….

The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.

“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”

They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.

“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:

“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”

There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.

“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”

“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.

The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”

And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.

“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”

Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.

“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.

In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.

“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”

One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.

“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”

They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.

They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.

Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.

“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”

He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.

Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.

“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”

“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”

And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:

“Let me give you a hand, major.”

And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:

“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”

And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.


Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.

Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.

An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.

The Afridi are a Pashtun tribe in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The old sergeant-major must have been in the army during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880)

The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 was a British two-seat biplane in the war. Heinies were a slang term for Germans.

Squeaks don’t come any Narrower!

By Greg Clark, July 7, 1930

“I’d like to see Mr. Denison, please,” I said to the lady at the desk in the hospital corridor.

Yes, hospital. Merrill, whether from the after affects of being jiggled on a horse’s back or from too much golf, was taken from the train at an eastern town and rushed to hospital where he was operated on for appendicitis.

And taking the first train after hearing the bad news, I dashed down to his assistance.

“Mr. Denison?” asked the lady in white. “You mean Dr. Denison.”

“Ha, ha,” said I to myself, “the big scamp is masquerading as a doctor is he! Doctor of what? Doctor of architecture, doctor of horse-back riding, doctor of expense accounts?”

“Very well,” said I to the lady, “Doctor Denison.”

Far be it from me to disrupt any of Merrill’s little schemes.

“You are expected,” said the lady in white. “If you will just come this way, I will hand you over to the nurses.”

It was a nice little hospital, surrounded by beautiful bushy gardens, and its corridors were spotless and shiny. I was glad Merrill had the good fortune, if he must be stricken away from home, to land into such a hospital as this.

The lady in white led me down the corridor into a small white room. On a table lay a quantity of linen. And at one side of the room stood one of those wheeled cots on which the sick are taken for a ride.

“Just undress here,” said the lady in white, and put on that white gown there. When you are ready, ring this bell and the nurse will come for you.”

I looked at her in astonishment.

“Undress?” said I.

“Of course,” said she.

“Why undress?” I demanded.

“You can’t go in your business clothes,” said she.

“Ah,” said I, “for sanitation’s sake?”

“Exactly,” said the lady in white, going out the door.

Well, the last thing in the world I would do would be to carry germs into Merrill, lying there exhausted from his operation. But how wonderful, I said to myself as I unbuttoned my collar, the way science is advancing! Here in a small city hospital you couldn’t even go in to visit a friend without undressing and putting on a sanitary nightgown.

“I suppose,” said I, as I removed my boots, “the next thing they will be doing will be making you take a bath before you can visit a friend in hospital.”

The hospital nightie did not exactly fit me. It was more like a tent than a nightshirt. But I liked its extreme modesty.

I rang the bell.

Two nurses entered the room.

“Will you come this way, sir, for your bath?” said the one with the blue eyes.

“Bath!” said I.

“Yes, sir, you must take a bath.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said I.

So they led me through an inner corridor and left at the bathroom where I had a real good shower. It was a dandy needle shower. I felt fine. Merrill, said I, will be glad to look at a chap as fresh and rosy as me. After the train journey, this bath is a good idea.

“This Gentleman Pulls a New One”

When I came out of the bathroom, the nurses were sitting waiting for me.

“Now we will go to the ante-room,” said the blue-eyed one, “where the male nurse will prepare you.”

“Prepare me?” said I. “Is anything wrong?”

“No,” said the blue-eyed nurse. “Prepare you means shave you and that sort of thing.”

“But I shaved this morning,” said I, somewhat indignantly, for even on a train I pride myself on giving my chin a good clean scrape.

The blue-eyed nurse laughed prettily.

“He’ll do a much better job,” said the nurse.

“Well,” said I, “your hospital is away ahead of anything in Toronto. I never heard of such precautions as you take. Why, you would think I was the world’s champion germ carrier. But if you don’t mind, nurse, I think we will pass up the shave. I feel perfectly presentable now.”

“Dr. Denison insists on everything,” said the nurse.

“He would be to glad to see me if I was covered with mud.” said I.

“Well,” said the nurse, “I’ll have to see the superintendent. Will you wait here?”

I waited. Presently the two young nurses came back with an elderly lady with a peculiarly cool and determined face.

“Good morning,” said she. “How do you feel?”

“Great,” said I.

“Have you any pain?” said the superintendant.

“Pain,” I snorted. I never felt better in my life.”

“That’s splendid,” said the superintendent. “Now, tell me, did it have a flexible handle?”

“I beg your pardon,” said I.

“Did it have a flexible handle? Or a stiff handle? In other words,” said the superintendent, “will it bend?”

“I certainly beg your pardon,” said I, entirely bewildered.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent.

“What toothbrush?” I asked.

The superintendent turned and winked at the two nurses who were smiling shyly.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “that you swallowed.”

It was like a dream. I have had looney dreams like this often.

“I didn’t swallow any toothbrush,” said I, laughing.

“No?” said the superintendent. “Now, like a good man, you just come with us to the ante-room where the male attendant will prepare you. It’ll all be over in no time.”

“Look here,” said I, “there’s a mistake somewhere. I didn’t swallow any toothbrush. All I came here for was to visit my friend Mr. Denison.”

“Now that is ingenious,” said the superintendent to the two young nurses, talking to them just as if I were not there at all, or as if I were a specimen in a case. “It is not at all uncommon for patients to lose their nerve at the door of the operating room. And they are very clever about it too. But this gentleman pulls a new one. He was coming to visit his friend Mr. Denison. I must tell Dr. Denison that.”

She led on. I stood fast.

“Look here,” said I. “Excuse me. Just be good enough to ask Mr. Denison if he is expecting me.”

“Dr. Denison is expecting you,” said she. “He is changing now. You must be ready in five minutes.”

“But I don’t know any Dr. Denison,” said I, shakily, for I could see no way out of this. “I just got off the train half an hour ago and dashed up here to see my friend Denison, who was operated on for appendicitis yesterday.”

Bound, Gagged and Bathed

“There is no Mr. Denison operated on for appendicitis here,” said the superintendent. “Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. You are in a very dangerous situation.”

“I know it,” said I.

“If that toothbrush gets past a certain point, you are likely to have peritonitis and die.”

“Look here,” I yelled, “I swallowed no toothbrush!”

The superintendent turned to the nurses.

“This is the gentleman?”

“He was handed over to us,” they said.

“Short, medium stout,” said the superintendent, sizing me up. “How was he dressed?”

“In a brown suit,” said the blue-eyed nurse.

“Rather shabby?”

“Well, yes,” said the blue-eyed nurse. Never put your faith in blue-eyed nurses. They look at you with such sweet eyes, but they think your suit is shabby.

“This the man all right,” said the superintendent. “Just call MacWhirtie.”

It was impossible to look dignified in that nightshirt. I knew that. Then the door opened, and in came great giant of a sandy-haired Scotchman in overalls, the kind they have one of in every hospital. His hair grew down almost to his eyebrows, and he had blue, simple eyes.

“Just help this gentleman into the ante-room,” said the superintendent.

“Hand’s off!” I roared as MacWhirtie advanced.

But, making soothing and clucking noises, MacWhirtie swept me up, smothered me in the colossal nightshirt and laid me down on a table. I struggled. He held me down.

“Careful,” said the superintendent. “He’s got a toothbrush in him. Don’t let him struggle like that.”

So MacWhirtie got one of those crag-climbing strangle holds on me, and pinned me down.

I could see, from under MacWhirtie’s arm, a pallid little man in soiled white overalls approaching me with a shaving mug and an old fashioned razor.

“Get away from me,” I yelled.

The door opened and in walked a tall thin blond man.

“Well, well,” said he.

“Dr. Denison, this the gentleman that swallowed the toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “and he has got a little fright just at the last minute.”

“We’ll soothe him,” said the doctor, “Get off, MacWhirtie.”

I sat up.

“Doctor,” said I, “there will be the devil to pay over this. I just came in on the train half an hour ago…”

“Where do you feel it now?” asked the doctor, sitting down on the edge of the table, and putting a kindly arm around my shoulder.

“I say,” I said stoutly, “I came up here to visit my friend Mr. Merrill Denison who yesterday was operated on for appendicitis. And they have seized me, bound me, gagged me, bathed me, put me into this nightshirt…”

“Well, well,” said Dr. Denison.

“Well, well, nothing!” I shouted. “I warn you I am not the man you think I am.”

“Then why did you accept the nightshirt and take the bath?” asked the doctor, good-humoredly and patiently. “Like a good chap, now, pull yourself together.”

“Listen,” said I, desperately, and probably by this time I did look like a man who had swallowed a toothbrush, “how do I get out of this?”

“Just as soon we get the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “All right, MacWhirtie, just assist the gentleman into the operating room and we’ll do without the shave. I’ll use plenty of alcohol first.”

Blue-Eyed Nurses Should be Forbidden

MacWhirtie assisted me.

He laid me down on a cold marble table with dazzling lights in my face. I lay there wondering what Merrill would have done in such a predicament as this. Merrill would have said something witty. But I couldn’t think of anything witty. MacWhirtie was standing over me, with a great compassionate look on his simple face.

I smelt druggy smells. I heard something making sizzing noises. The nurses were busily dashing about the dazzling room. They rolled a big thing like a tank on a baggage hand truck over beside me. I sat up. MacWhirtie laid me down.

A silence fell on us all. The doctor smiled down on me.

Then the door of the operating room opened.

The lady in white who met me at the door of the hospital, stood there.

“The gentleman who swallowed the toothbrush is waiting downstairs,” said she.

The silence continued.

Nobody moved.

The smile faded from the bending face of the doctor.

MacWhirtie put one hand under me and helped me sit up.

“Well,” said I.

The blue-eyed nurse started to giggle. I think blue-eyed nurses should be forbidden. They have no sense of other people’s dignity.

“Well, sir,” said I, “you nearly had me disembowelled!”

“We were just going to X-ray you for the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “It would have been quite a hunt.”

“Now, how about taking me upstairs to see Mr. Denison,” said I.

“There is no Mr. Denison here,” said the superintendent in a business like voice. She was the sort of lady who takes the offensive especially when she in the wrong.

“I have a telegram in my pants, if I can get them,” said I, “informing me that he is here.”

“Maybe he is at the other hospital,” said the doctor.

“What other hospital?” I asked.

“There are two hospitals here,” said the doctor, “Just go to the phone and ask if there is a Mr. Denison over there.”

The blue-eyed nurse hurried out.

By the time I got my clothes on, which I donned in the same room with scared little man who was hastily undressing, the nurse informed me that Mr. Denison was indeed at the other hospital.

I shook hands with everybody, the doctor, MacWhirtie, the little man who was now wearing the large nightshirt, and even the blue-eyed nurse.

Then I took a taxi over to the other hospital.

“Mr. Denison?” said the lady in white sitting in the corridor of this hospital. “Just come this way.”

She led me down a corridor.

“Just a minute,” said I. She halted.

“I shaved this morning,” said I. “I’ve had a bath, this suit was French-cleaned only the day before yesterday, and I’m in highly sanitary condition.”

“Yes, sir,” said the lady in white, stiffly.

She opened door.

And there, pale, weary, but with one eye shut in silent greeting, lay Merrill.


Editor’s Note: This is one of the early “pre-Greg-Jim” stories that Greg wrote co-starring fellow writer Merrill Denison, from the Star Weekly. He also worked as a playwright and would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly. Jim would often illustrate these stories.

Flappers Floppers & Fleepers

June 16, 1922

By Greg Clark, June 16, 1922

“I don’t understand all this business about flappers,” said Aunt Melinda. “What is a flapper? I thought it was one of those absurd girls who wear their galoshes unbuckled and flapping about their calves.”

“Flappers! Flappers?” exclaimed Aunt Agg, who sets herself up as an authority on everything modern and effete. “Why, my dear, isn’t a flapper a girl”- (she pronounced it gyerl) – “whose skirts flap about her knees? I’m sure that is the derivation of the word.”

Grandma, who was listening with unconcealed astonishment to this conversation, I dropped her knitting and her hands into her lap and gasped:

“Why, I thought a flapper was one of these deaf and dumb persons who converse by means of flapping their hands!”

“Mother!” said Aunt Agg with scorn. “If you aren’t the old-fashionedest–“

“Well,” continued Aunt ‘Linda, who was one of those persevering conversationalists, “I can’t see what there is to make such a fuss over these innocent little girls. We scandalized you, didn’t we, mother, when we were girls…”

“Not you, my dears,” replied Grandma, “but some of our neighbors children…”

“I think we should pay less attention to these pretty, harmless children, and try to do something for these bold, golfing, motoring, horseracing women of mature years,” said Aunt ‘Linda. “They are the ones who are undermining the foundations of society, to use the minister’s words. Look at these photographs of the fashionable crowds at the races. Not a female there under forty.”

“No,” interrupted Aunt Agg, pointing to the picture, “there are several flappers.”

Aunt ‘Linda examined the picture.

“You are wrong. Agg. All the flappers have their backs turned to the camera, and all the women of forty are facing it. It simply means that they look like flappers from behind, but are all over forty.”

“Tee, hee!” giggled Grandma. “That’s what we used to say about crinolines, that they made all women the same age from the back.”

“What is the sense,” went on Aunt ‘Linda. “of criticizing the youngsters when the gaudiest women we see downtown on our shopping trips are dowagers of near fifty? Who was it we saw smoking cigaret in the dining room of the Prince Edward last New Year’s but a fat woman on the verge of sixty? Think of our neighbor who goes off dragging her golf implements with her two friends every afternoon, all women of mature years, and I doubt not that out at the golf club they indulge in cigarets between every bout.”

“Indeed, I am told,” said Aunt Agg, “that the women have bottles full of cocktails in their cupboards out at these golf clubs.”

“I recall,” remarked Grandma in an absent manner, “when cocktails were first invented.”

“Mother!”

Grandma started guiltily and dropped a stitch. Her face flushed a little, and the shiny look that came into her eyes when she was about to become difficult now appeared. She hitched her rocking chair to face her two daughters.

“Girls” said she, “I have no patience with you middle-aged people. Young folk and old people have some redeeming qualities; youth has the charm of innocence, age the charm of sophistication.”

“I have just invented a new classification of the unfair sex: flappers, floppers and fleepers. The flappers are the young girls, whose skirts flap, whose galoshes flap, whose brains flap airily, bless them, in the lightest breeze that blows. The floppers are the middle-aged girls who flop about the lawns of society like large, sleek seals, who flop about the golf courses, flop about hotels and tea rooms, or whose tongues flop continually about the follies and frailties of their sisters old and young. We old ones are the fleepers, who fleep and cheep und wheeze our last few paces down the easy slope.”

“And of the three, the most disagreeable are the floppers.”

As usual when Grandma has one of her difficult spells, her knitting got into an awful tangle.

Now Aunt ‘Linda silently moved over and commenced unravelling the mess. Aunt Agg rose coldly and said-

“I think I’ll go and make a tray of tea.”

“Then, Agnes,” said Grandma, “would you bring up off the mantel that big box of candled cherries that grandson Eddie sent me?”


Editor’s Notes: This is another article from the early 1920s, that shows society’s confusion over the transformation of women’s roles. The characters focus scorn on flappers, young women who smoke, drink, and publicly enjoy themselves, the complete opposite of Victorian or Edwardian manners. Even in this article, it is unsure where the term “Flapper” came from.

“Grandma” mentions crinolines, the hoop-skirt type of fashion popular in the 1860s, presumably when she was young.

Smokes Screen Battles Gloom

By Greg Clark, May 10, 1941

In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.

There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.

In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.

Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”

But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.

And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.

Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.

His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.

You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.

The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.

Never Enough Smokes

Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.

Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.

Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!

Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.

Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.

Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.

And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.

In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.

But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.

However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.

And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.

H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!

God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.

I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.

I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.

There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.

Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.

Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.


Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.

The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.

Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.

Corporal Simson is Promoted

By Greg Clark, March 13, 1926

“How would Simson do?” asked the company sergeant major.

“Nothing doing,” replied Lieutenant Cinders.

Promotions caused more trouble in the army than you would think. The selection of cabinet ministers is small business compared with the selection of a sergeant for a platoon. Cinders’ platoon had lost its senior sergeant, Irwin, through measles; the Junior sergeant Attick became platoon sergeant, and which of the corporals would step up to three stripes was the mighty question confronting the allied armies, the cause of Britain and Number Sixteen platoon in particular.

“Simson a good man,” said the sergeant major.

“He’s too good,” said Cinders, reaching up and scratching match on his tin hat. That’s his trouble. He don’t take his rum issue, he don’t swear.” Cinders paused in thought. As matter of fact,” continued Cinders, rather awed by the thought, “he can’t swear. I don’t believe he knows the words. The point is, the platoon doesn’t respect him. He is too soft, too friendly, too wishy washy.”

“He’s the best corporal in the company.”

“On guard mounting, you mean. Or as corporal of the escort at a court martial. But as a trench man, major, now think of it, as a trench man, he’s a pipsqueak. I don’t want Simson.”

The sergeant-major spat over the paradox.

“I don’t know what the hell you want, Mr. Cinders.”

“I want a rough guy, a noisy guy, a man with crime sheet far back in his past. This platoon has been too darn lucky in guard mounting contests to suit me. Too frequently complimented by the colonel, too often mentioned in orders for its beautiful billets. I feel as if something is going to happen.”

Lieutenant Cinders stabbed the chalk wall of the trench with an impatient stick.

“Well, then,” said the sergeant major, “let’s ask the captain to hold the vacancy open to the end of this tour before you promote your sergeant. Perhaps something will happen to make the decision for us.”

“I feel it in my bones,” said Cinders, gloomily.

In the late evening dusk, he walked up the trench and, after looking at his wrist watch, shouted down the dugout mouth –

“Stand to, sixteen platoon.”

And obediently the men of his platoon began filing out of the dugouts, silent, cheerful, clean, fresh. They fixed their bayonets and leaned their rifles nicely against the parapet. The section leaders went smartly to the bomb stores and carried the little black boxes to their proper places along the fire-step. There was no bunching, no crowding. Each man went to his proper stand, watching the sergeant for the sign to climb up on to the fire step.

His Platoon Was Too Good

“Had a nice sleepy-bye?” asked Lieut. Cinders of the three lads nearest him.

“Yes, sir,” they replied, smiling.

“Nursey dress you all up pitty?” said the officer.

“We got one swell little dugout,” said the nearest man earnestly. “Driest I have been in for months.”

“Huh!” said Cinders, walking on. The sight of these smart, obedient, well-trained boys of his filled the lieutenant with a great restlessness. To him, there was something uncanny about it. He had a firm belief that soldiers in good health should be dissatisfied, grousing, growling he-bears, not any smarter than they had to be. For over a month his platoon had been suffering from this epidemic of smartness. It had been difficult for him to find anything to say on inspection. Not a dull razor in the outfit. Not a man held the toe of the butt too far forward or too far back of his toe. Every man had spare pair of shoelaces in his pack. Not a single top to a mess tin was missing.

At the far end of his trench, the lieutenant found Corporal Simson, whom Cinders believed to be largely responsible for the condition of his platoon. The tall, bashful corporal snapped to attention when he saw his lieutenant.

“Evening, corporal! No need for saluting in the front line, you know.”

“Yes, sir.” The luminous eyed corporal had deep, bass voice, reverent with respect.

“Cut your chin again, corporal? Why in hell to you shave to often in the line? I’d a darn sight rather see a few whiskers on my men in the line than have their faces all cut to pieces. You’re liable to get blood poisoning, if you aren’t careful.”

“Very good sir,” said the dark, eager man in his vibrant voice.

“Aw, what the…” growled Cinders as he turned away.

Sergeant Attick, full of his responsibility as senior sergeant, bustled along the trench giving the signal for the men to mount the fire-step for the evening stand-to-arms. Twilight had fallen.

“Sergeant.”

“Sir!”

“Everything pretty?”

“Smart as a drum, sir.”

“Tonight I want a working party to scrub these here bathmats”

“Very good, sir! Five men, ten men?”

“Oh, sergeant,” groaned Cinders, suddenly feeling very lonely, “go and chase yourself.”

“Yessir!” replied the sergeant soberly.

Cinders rushed down the trench, past his own flank, past Thirteen platoon which was holding next to him, down to Fourteen platoon where, in the dusk, he found his big fat friend, Lieutenant Thooms. Thooms was standing wide-legged in the trench, wailing: –

“Come on here, come on! I gave the order twenty minutes ago, and half the platoon is still in the dugouts! Sergeant! Corporal! Hey!”

Weary, disgruntled shadows were dragging about the trench. Cinders feasted his eyes on them. An untidy sergeant hurried by, cursing.

“Thooms, I’ll trade you platoons.”

“I’ll take you, doggone it!” cried Thooms, leaning wearily and heavily against the trench wall. “I never saw such a collection of half-witted, half-dead, lousy, weary, half-baked…”

“That’s the stuff!” cried Cinders, swaggering his shoulders with pleasure.

He watched with childish interest and delight the long-drawn-out, wrangling, grumbling process of getting Number Fourteen on to the fire-step.

“Now, if I had this bunch,” he said to Thooms.

“I’ll trade.”

“The captain wouldn’t hear of it,” said Cinders. “He wants me to bring up the rear of the company for my soul’s sake.”

He returned slowly to his own trench.

It was dark. From the right came the message, passed from man to man…

“From O. C. Don company, stand down.”

The shadowy figures stepped down into the trench.

“Who’s in Lulu Sap?” asked Cinders

“Corporal Simson and two men, sir,” replied Sergeant Attick.

“Let’s go and see them.”

They came to the narrow little trench leading forward into No Man’s Land. It twisted intricately and ran out about forty yards to a little hillock on which had once stood a small out-house of stone. From this little eminence a watchful listening post could keep track of the ground for many yards to right and left, the whole of the platoon section, in fact. Cinders had hardly set foot in the crowded little cockpit amidst the ruined stones of the sap-end before there came a shuffling, snuffling. whuffling sound which caused him and the four other men in the place to crouch down with closed eyes and open mouth.

With an unbelievable crash, a trench-mortar shell hit the ground half way between the sap-end and the main trench.

“Wow!” said Cinders, breathlessly. swallowing to remove the concussion from his ears. “If they are going to shell this sap, you come out Simson!”

“Very good, sir,” said Simson, straightening up and listening. “Here comes another!”

A Little Private Battle

A tiny, intermittent spark was arching high in the sky over the German lines. It curved up, up, paused and disappeared. All five pairs of eyes in the sap were turned upwards. Then to their chumping ears came the faint whuff-whuff-whuff of the shell. It came very slowly. Its swushing sound grew to a rush. The five men were cringed down to the very ground. They felt the ground shake with the fall of the huge shell. They gritted their teeth. Then the most awful blast of sound stunned them. Dirt pattered on their bent backs. The shell had fallen ten yards to the right of the sap.

“Get out of here!” gasped Cinders. “Attick, lead on and you two men follow.”

“Another one coming, sir,” said Simson, in his deep quiet voice.

“Run!” cried Cinders. The sergeant and two men plunged into the narrow sap towards the main trench. Cinders and Simson bowed themselves into the bottom of the sap end. They heard the rush and thud of the great shell. The gigantic, rending crash followed. The patter of earth and fragments passed. Cinders popped up and stared back. The shell had fallen clear of the narrow sap.

“We’re all right,” called Sergeant Attick from the darkness.

As he turned, Cinders was aware for a fleeting instant of a couple of rushing figures in the gloom ahead. Then he felt a numbing blow from behind. A throbbing darkness engulfed him.

But complete unconsciousness does not fall easily on a man of Cinders’ vital and thick-skinned nature. As in nightmare, he felt himself being clutched and grasped and hauled out of the listening post. He discovered himself being carried by his arm-pits and heels. He heard heavy breathing close to his ear. Even though it was like a fearful dream, and with a shocking ache on the back of his neck, Cinders knew he was captured. The most ignominious fate that can overtake a proud soldier had befallen him. He groaned and tried to shout for help. The sound he made emerged as a scream. He felt himself suddenly laid down.

Consciousness returned to him, and the fearful buzzing pain in his head was unbearable. His eyes, opened in the night, saw stars and rings swimming before him. Then be made out five kneeling figures. Two were crouched over him. And just a little forward, towards the German lines, he saw three other figures kneeling on top of what probably was Corporal Simson. And Simson was struggling on his face, his heels kicking impotently in the air.

A Lewis gun opened from behind them. All figures dropped prone on the ground. The man at his head shouted something in a hoarse muffled voice.

Cinders, groaning, moved, and passed his hand in a stealthy gesture, over his holster to find it empty, as he feared. A big rough band grasped his wrist and held it.

His cheek crushed against the damp earth. He stared in pain and hopeless abandonment at the group a few feet away. The Germans were lying across Simson. Simson, groaning, gave convulsive heave and collapsed very still. From the group came a short, gruff comment.

“Dead,” whispered Cinders.

The Lewis gun opened again. He heard the bullets hissing very close. Another gun opened from further down. It cracked high overhead and then swished past them, low.

“Thirteen platoon,” said Cinders to himself.

Mr. Cinders’ Problem Solved

The man at his head spoke gruffly. He was lifted and felt them lurching and swaying as they ran a few yards. Then dropped him, heavily, clumsily, falling on him, pinning him. He lay limp.

Behind came the other party, still carrying the sagging great frame of Corporal Simson. They too ran and dropped beside them, but they did not fall on top of their burden. The two Lewis guns continued to chugger and sweep, hissing and dying away as their stream of fire passed, and repassed.

The German at his head had his arm around Cinders’ neck, haft stiffling him. He head was pressed close to Cinders’ head. He spoke again, gruffly, commanding. Cinders had one eye clear of the great grey arm covering his mouth. He saw two figures kneel up, two at Simson’s feet and one at his head. A swish of Lewis fire swept close. The figure at Simpson’s head jerked to its feet, staggered backwards and fell, without a sound. He saw Simson’s two huge feet rear up and strike savagely, one at the head and the other at the small of the back of the bowed figures. In a flash, Simson was crouched over them. The man at Cinders head cried out, let go of Cinders, and after a fumble, fired with a pistol. But the figure that was looming towards him the night was not Simson but the rear end of one of the two Germans, whom Simson was holding up limply as a shield. The pistol bullet whacked into him with the sound of carpet beater.

Cinders felt a warm flood of wetness gush all over his face and head. The Lewises had stopped instantly. All he could hear was furious grunting and heaving while a great heavy weight collapsed on top of him. His ankles were tramped on. Suddenly he heard a clear, punctuated, low, vibrant series of the most famous oaths, cusswords and imprecations known to the English language. Cinders gave a great shove. The weight rolled from him. Above him, he beheld a shadow as two huge figures twisted and fought, body to body, in the sort of wrestling that comes under no known rules and regulations of the sport. Cinders, sick and dizzy, staggered up. The struggling shadow fell to earth. Cinders panting and whimpering, bent over the heaving forms and felt the top body. His hand encountered a strange leather strap, a strap unknown to him as part of Canadian equipment. Cinders drew back and with his heavy issue boot kicked into the soft side of that upper figure with all his weight, with every ounce of strength he had in him, the punting kick, the leaping kick that he had used at college. He felt something snap against his toe.

He swayed and felt himself caught once again in huge arms. But these arms didn’t stifle him. He was slightly sick. He coughed nosily.

“Hold my shoulder, sir!” whispered Corporal Simson, breathlessly.

He found himself being haft dragged. The world was rocking and rolling. He felt himself fall into a hole. It was the sap end. Sergeant Attick was there, seized him, dragged him down the narrow trench. Thooms was there, the captain was there, the sergeant-major was there, lifting him, carrying him. He was laid out blissfully on the fire-step.

“Where’s Sergeant Simson,” he heard himself asking, thinly.

“Where’s Sergeant Simson?” called the captain, sharply.

There was confused noise. The sound of German machine guns broke into the excitement and shuffling.

Sergeant Attick spoke breathlessly, “Corporal Simson bas just returned into the sap with two prisoners!”

“Sergeant Simson, if you please!” snapped Cinders from the fire-step.

“Yes sir!” said the senior sergeant.

“That’s the easiest promotion I have ever had to make,” said Cinders reaching out and pinching the sergeant-major’s leg.


Editor’s Notes: A Fire-step was built into each trench in World War One, cut into the wall some two or three feet from the trench floor. During the pre-dawn and dusk procedure of “Stand-To” each occupant of the trench would be expected to man the fire-step with rifle loaded and bayonet fixed. The floor of the trench was lower than the fire-step in order that men could pass along the trench without exposing their heads to enemy fire.

Bathmats was the term used for small trench floor coverings.

A Sap was a trench dug at a 90 degree angle of the main trench that would jut out into no-man’s-land for the purpose of monitoring enemy movement.

A Lewis Gun was a generic term used in World War One for machine guns, as it was the most common type used by Britain.

The Sweetest Age

By Greg Clark, December 17, 1921

There is no more vain and no more popular argument in the world than at what age a baby is most sweet.

At lunch the other day, I happened to remark to George that in my opinion a baby three months old was without doubt the sweetest and quaintest creature in the universe.

“It’s astonished gaze,” I said, “It’s smile, it’s first silvery chuckle, it’s first difficult groping with its hands –“

“I disagree with you,” put in George. “To my mind, a baby is at its most delightful age at about fourteen months.”

That, of course, is precisely what George would say, for his little girl is exactly fourteen months old. As if I didn’t see through his absurd point of view, he went on:

“At fourteen months, they are intelligent beings, essaying their first little words, their first timid steps, discovering for the first time all the wonders of the world. I repeat, at fourteen months they are intelligent creatures, not mere little bundles of soft flesh, crying and kicking and oblivious to everything in the world except noisy rattles and gesticulating and diddering parents at their cribside.”

This, I might say, was a deliberate dig at me and my little boy, who, by the way, is exactly three months old, and the gentlest, cunningest – However!

George continued to shout in that manner about his little girl until everyone in the restaurant was staring at him. I never knew anyone who could blather so about a child as George can.

“Hold on, just a minute!” I exclaimed. “Give me a chance, won’t you? You’ve had fourteen months to rave about your child to me. Surely you can shut up for a minute and listen to me. As I was saying, a child of three months is not far short of fairyland. What I mean is, as a child grow older, it grows coarser, becomes, in fact, more human, and therefore more gross. Now, a baby of three months has that elfin air –“

“Look here!” shouted George, quite angrily. “What do you know about it. My baby was three months old, and six months old, and ten months old, and now It’s fourteen months old, so I know what I’m talking about.”

“I’ve seen other children,” I remarked.

“That’s not the same,” replied George.

“No,” I answered sweetly, “it is not.”

And we finished lunch without even talking about the new dominion cabinet. George and I have this kind of row about once a month.

It shows the futility of arguing about babies.

For instance, a young lady who has two very kindly asked me how our baby was.

“And is he smiling yet?” she said.

“Smiling!” I exclaimed. “My goodness, yes! He’s been smiling since he was three weeks old!”

“Oh, but not knowingly,” said she. “They don’t smile really until the seventh week.”

“Well, this boy of mine was smiling at three,” I declared.

“Of course,” she said, “a little pain or makes them appear to smile.”

Now, what could you say to that?

“He laughed out loud at three months,” was all I could think of to say at the moment. But it fell on deaf and unbelieving ears.

Our old family doctor has the misfortune to be a grandfather. His first grandchild is just about the age of our boy. And in his attitude towards our baby we can detect something just a little more than the professional manner.

“Oh, a fine boy, a fine boy!” he says, as our fellow, observing that it is the doctor, shows off his lung development in a few shouts.

“My little-grandson,” adds the doctor, “just laughs and gurgles all day long. I’ve seen countless babies in my day, but I never met so good natured a child as he.”

Of course, we discount his professional opinion to a proper degree.

“Well, now,” we all say at once, “this little fellow is so good we often wonder if it is right. We can’t imagine what has got into him just at the moment.”

“This grandson of mine,” continues the doctor in a loud, firm voice, “gains nine ounces a week.”

“Oh, surely that isn’t healthy,” exclaims my wife. “Ours gains five and a half, and that’s just about right.”

“Tut, tut,” says the family doctor. “The more the better.”

Doctors shouldn’t have grandchildren.

Our boy’s maternal grandma lives with us. She is a philosopher.

“The most beautiful age for a child,” she states, “is the age it is.”

“You will have a lot of fun with this fellow when he is creeping.”

“Not more than now,” I say.

“You will have great sport with him when he walks, and you can take him out to the parks.”

“Not more than when he is creeping,” I say.

“He will be great company when he is four or five.”

“Not more than when he first walks,” say I.

“But the greatest day of all,” says grandma, “will be the day he presents you with a little boy just such as he now is.”

And before such a mystery, at so marvelous thought, I am dumb.


Hurrying Up

By Greg Clark, December 12, 1925

How many years make a man?

The climb from four years to twenty is long. To a very little boy, when he first thinks of it, it wears the incomprehensibility of infinity.

He goes to bed at night four years, two months and two days old. He wakes the next morning, twelve hours older. It’s tedious.

“When do I get to be a man, dad?” he asks me.

“Well, it is quite a process. First you are a little boy, then you are a little bigger boy, then you are a little bigger, and so on. Presently you go to school…”

“But if I wear my cowboy hat,” he interrupts, “am I a man.”

“No. It is a matter of time, of days, months and years.”

“If I take my medicine, am I a man?”

“Oh, I see? Yes, son, there is more to being a man than years. I see your point.”

“Well, if I have my cowboy hat on and take my medicine, then I’m a man.”

“You’re getting hotter.”

“Anyway,” he says, pressing in earnestly, “if I fall and don’t cry, and I have my cowboy hat on and took my medicine before that, then I am a man?”

“You want to be a man? Don’t you?”

“Yes. Then I can be with you.”

It is statements like this that so often cause daddies to pick up their papers, inexplicably, and retreat to their dens. It seems as if you can’t show daddies your love.

I retreated. Still stinging from that little barb of love. I pretended to myself to be reading. Suddenly the silence downstairs was burst by a crash and a thump. I stepped to the stair-head. The boy, somewhat bent, was staring up with a rueful expression, his cowboy hat cocked over one eye.

“I fell off my bicycle,” he said in a small voice, “and I didn’t cry.”

“Good man!” I said, and returned to my paper.

A moment later, there was another crash and thud downstairs, followed by silence, then the voice, more confident, floated up:

“Dad, I fell off again and I didn’t cry!”

“Be careful, young fellow.”

Hardly had I found my place when there came up another crash, more terrifying than the last. I went to the stairs. He was coming up to me, hurriedly, and holding one knee.

“I fell off again,” he said, climbing, “and I hurt myself and I didn’t cry.”

“But what’s the idea?” I demanded.

“Daddie, you didn’t say ‘good man’.”

“Good man! But you mustn’t tumble about like that.”

He took my hand and followed me to the den, where he climbed aboard me in my chair.

There was almost a swagger in his manner now, his cowboy hat awry.

“If I fall and don’t cry,” he said. “I am a good man, aren’t I?”

“Indeed you are.”

“If I fall all the time and don’t cry, then I will hurry up, won’t I?”

“Hurry up?”

“Hurry up to get to be a man,” he said. “So I will fall a lot of times and soon I’ll be a man?”

We stared long at each other’s colored eyes, shiny eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered presently, “rub my poor knee.”


It Isn’t the Restaurant

By Greg Clark, November 28, 1931

“Where do we eat?” demanded the mighty Griffin, shoving back his typewriter.

“What’s it matter?” I asked. “Let’s eat.”

“It does matter,” declared Frederick. “I am tired unto death of eating in any old restaurant. We go to the same old places day after day, eat the same old food. Look at the same old hash slingers. See the same stupid people around us, gobbling, guzzling, snorting, slurping their food.”

“You are a little off color to-day, Frederick,” said I.

“I never felt better in my life. This rebellion has slowly been coming to the boil in me for years. I’m going to find a place to eat where I will enjoy not only the eating but the surroundings.”

“I can take you,” I said, “to the quaintest little place …”

“Arrrh!” roared the Griffin. “I know what you mean. Ye Olde Boote! Ye Little Greene Puppe! Ye Trype and Yunions! Not for me. With their wall paper peeling, their funny china and Chinese brass hung around the walls and teetering on frail furniture. I may be an Anglican, but not the tea-room breed of Anglican, thank you.”

By this time we had our coats on.

“How about a hotel?” I asked.

“Arrrr!” roared Griff. “Business men’s luncheon, one dollar! And get what’s left of the stuff they prepared for the Rotary Club, or something.”

“Let’s go up to the Athenian Room, then, at the big store.”

“Nnnnn!” moaned Griffin, in intense agony. “And have to sit in bright daylight surrounded by thousands and thousands of young executives talking big.”

“Well, where the heck do we eat, then?” I inquired.

“And some of them have their wives with them!” cried the Griffin, passionately. “The wives of promising young executives! The alert way they sit, looking around! They make their husbands, those wives. Il it weren’t for them …”

“It isn’t the restaurants, then,” said I, as we reached the pavement on King St. “It’s the people.”

“I saw a man,” said Griffin, “just yesterday, in one of the finest restaurants in Toronto, two tables from me, deliberately take his fork, like this, see, and lift the top lid of his pie and peek underneath at the filling. It was apple pie. I don’t know for sure, but I think I saw him lean down and sniff at it. Just two tables from me,” shouted Griffin, so that people on King St. paused and turned to look at us.

“But you shouldn’t look around when you are eating,” I admonished him. “Just keep your eyes cast down and devote yourself to your food.”

A Sort of Progressive Lunch

Griffin stopped me and seized me by the arm.

“Listen!” he cried harshly. “I can’t! I can’t keep my eyes down! I’ve GOT to look around. And it’s terrible. Every day it is getting worse. Even out of the corner of my eye, I can see somebody doing something unspeakable. Do you know what I saw the day before yesterday?”

“What?”

“I saw a woman pick up her knife, fork and spoon and wipe them with her serviette.”

“Well?” said I. “Do you expect etiquette in a quick lunch?”

“It isn’t etiquette,” said Griffin. “Here was this woman suggesting that the spoons needed wiping, and I was half through my meal and it was too late to wipe mine.”

We proceeded along King street.

“Let’s make a game of it,” I suggested. “We will make a round of the restaurants. And whenever we see anything that offends us either in the manners of the customers, the food, the decorations or the help, we will get up and leave.”

“How much will it cost us?” asked Griffin.

“We won’t pay,” said I. “We’ll speak to the manager in each place and tell him we are couple of high-strung newspaper men and if his place offends us in any way, we are going to leave. We’ll pay for what we have eaten.”

“A sort of progressive lunch.”

“Exactly,” said I.

“And is a restaurant manager responsible for the manners of his guests?” asked Griffin.

“Well, anyway, we can play on the manager’s pride,” said I. “He likes to think the best people in town eat in his place.”

Griffin’s face lighted up.

“The search for the perfect eating place!” he cried, lengthening out his stride.

“Here,” said I. “This is the first place.”

And we turned into a fine big restaurant filled with the sounds and smells of noon.

“Sir,” said I to the manager, standing beside the cash girl. “We are a couple of high-strung, high-pressure newspaper men, and we are seeking the perfect place to eat.”

“You’re here,” said the manager, smiling proudly.

“Yes,” said I, while Griffin lowered at him, suspiciously. “But we wanted it understood, before we eat, that if anything offends us, either in the food, the waitresses, the decorations or the customers, we are not going to finish. We are going to get right up and walk out.”

The manager was unimpressed.

“You will find everything o.k. here,” said he. “Just find a table.”

As we hung up our coats, Griff said: “To begin with, I don’t like that manager.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“He thinks this place is perfect.”

We sat down. Opposite us sat a dark, bald-headed gentleman with serious ingrown countenance and downcast eyes.

The waitress, just as we sat down, placed before this gentleman a large plate filled with a mass of dark brown meat, about a pint of gravy and pale vegetables glowing dimly within its depths,

Seeing a Man Swallow Himself

Griffin nudged me sharply.

The dark, bald-headed man reached to the middle of the table. He took a firm grasp of the catsup bottle. With a far-away look in his eyes, he slowly removed the stopper of the bottle, up-ended it and splattered about a cupful of red catsup all over the goulash on his plate.

“Come on!” rasped Griffin, seizing me by the collar. “Git!”

We stalked past the manager.

“What’s the trouble, gents?” he cried in consternation.

“I’ll tell you,” said Griffin. “You cater to the catsup soppers! That’s what you do!”

And we strode out into the ungravied atmosphere of Yonge street.

“All right,” said Frederick, grimly. “Number one. Go ahead. Where’s number two?”

I led him into a cafeteria.

We took our trays and edged along.

Griff had a piece of pie and his bread and butter selected when suddenly he froze.

“Turn around!” he hissed. “Back out. Drop your tray!”

And before I knew it, he had bundled me out to the street.

“What did you see!” I gasped.

“I saw,” said Griffin, “an old guy with a long moustache. And on his plate was one of those great big mixed-up salads of stringy cabbage and floppy tomatoes and boughs of watercress.”

“What of it?” I demanded.

“Did you ever see a man with a droopy moustache eating one of these droopy salads?” asked Griff. “Half the time he is chewing his moustache and doesn’t know it. And even if he isn’t, I imagine he is. I have a horror of seeing a man swallow himself and turn inside out.”

“Yes, but maybe he wouldn’t sit where we could see him,” I pointed out.

“Life isn’t like that,” said Frederick calmly. “He would sit at the same table with us.”

So we went on our quest.

“Try one of these stool and counter affairs?” I inquired.

“Scientific investigators like us,” said Griff, “never neglect anything.”

So we went into one of those.

We had to stand for a minute or two behind the long row of stools waiting for a vacancy. Griffin surveyed the rank of bobbing and ducking heads. But any sounds of speedy feeding were drowned by a cheery clatter of dishes interspersed with loud shouts by the cowboys acting as waiters.

We got a stool each.

The cowboy on our part of the ranch reached forward with a large loose wet rag and made a grand flourish as he wiped the marble counter.

“Hawdie, boys!” said the cowboy to us.

“Hawdie, yourself!” said Frederick fiercely, and sprang from his stool. “Come on, Greg, and let us get the heck out of this wild west show!”

Up Yonge street we walked in silence. The silence was all mine.

We were passing restaurant after restaurant, tea room after tea room, until I felt Toronto had nothing but eating places in it. But Griffin had his head up and nostrils distended in that wild horse way, so I waited until we got to Queen street.

“What do you say,” I began – because Griffin was glaring at the policeman on traffic duty and I knew he had another red rag to distract his attention. “What do you say if we try one of these Chinese restaurants. They say they’re good.”

“No,” said Griffin.

Eggs a la Haileybury Fire

We got to Shuter street.

“Did you ever try one of these lovely white restaurants where it makes you feel clean even to go inside it?”

“And the bird next to you talks in loud voice for the benefit of everybody four tables around.”

“Not always …”

“Or,” stated Frederick in an emphatic Irish voice, “you get into one of those clubby groups, where they holler to each other, and come and stand talking to one another about business.”

“I know, but …”

“I’m getting hungry,” declared Frederick.

We passed Dundas street. We passed Eaton’s new store. We got up into the motor sales region and the antique furniture belt. We passed Bloor street.

“Gosh, Griff, I’m hungry. What time is it?”

“One-thirty,” said Griff, darkly.

Past gorgeous, glowing fruit stores, past a brewery warehouse, up Yonge street we strode, and came to St. Clair.

“A lot of swell eating places right around here,” said I, slowing down.

“School teachers,” said Griffin. “Musicians, people with long hair, childless housewives saving themselves the trouble of getting lunch, maybe some radio artists from CFCA. Artists wave their hands and upset things. They paw each other and talk with their faces right in the other fellow’s face.”

“Frederick, I’m starving.”

“All right, where do we eat, then?” roared Griffin.

“Any place,” said I, weakly.

“It’s four blocks to my house,” said Griffin. “Let’s go home.”

But the family were all out except the dog.

“I’ll cook you something,” said Griffin. “I know about eggs and things.”

We put on aprons. We started the stove. Griff broke three of the four eggs he dropped in the pan.

“Omelette,” said Frederick, stirring the eggs up.”

“Scrambled eggs,” said I.

But something was wrong. The eggs got brown instead of yellow.

We sat down in the kitchen.

“They taste funny,” said Griffin. “Just a minute.”

He produced a bottle of catsup. “Slather some of that over them,” said he.

I slathered.

We had bread and butter, scrambled eggs a la Haileybury fire, coffee that would make your toes open and shut, Griff upset the sugar bowl, I upset the milk bottle, we forgot to turn the stove off and the pan burned and made a terrible smell, and it was a quarter to three when we got back to the office.

Frederick threw off his coat and sat down to his typewriter with a tremendous bang.

All the editors looked up.

“Gentlemen,” said Griffin grandly, “I am about to write some sort of a masterpiece. For I have just been cured of a point of view. For one whole year, I will be able, now, to eat my lunch anywhere, with pleasure.”

So, while he writing his story, I have written this.


Editor’s Notes: This is a sort of proto Greg-Jim story from the early 1930s illustrated by Jim, but with fellow reporter Fred Griffin accompanying Greg.

The Haileybury fire was a huge news story in Toronto from 1922, which Greg was sent to cover.

“Don’t Spoil the Baby by Picking Him Up”

By Greg Clark, October 22, 1921

We are gradually getting on to the doctors.

For instance, one of their favorite tricks is to order you to do some impossible thing. And then when you fail, as you were bound to do, the doctors clear their throats, make a hopeless gesture with their eyebrows, and say – “I told you so!”

Now, take a baby, for example.

The nurse, egged on by the doctors, tells you right at the start:

“Don’t spoil the baby. Don’t rush and pick him up every time he cries. Let him cry: it won’t hurt him. It’ll exercise his little lungs.”

Then you have the doctor in, just to look over the baby to see that his legs are quite all right even if they are bent that way, and so on and so on –.

And after the usual assurances that it is indeed a remarkable child, the doctor hitches forward in his chair and says very earnestly, looking both parents in turn sternly in the eye:

“Now, don’t spoil the baby by picking him up every time he cries. You will let yourself in for to end of trouble. Just let him cry it out. He’ll be no bother after that.”

“But,” you expostulate, “maybe he has a little pain! Eh? What if he sounds as if he were in agony?”

“Oh, well, they have their little pains, you know,” replies the doctor, deprecatingly. “If you like, pick him up for a minute, and rest him against your shoulder.”

And so it goes. What a fiction! What a tradition! Let him cry it out!

This rule may be all very well for second, third, and subsequent babies. But as far as first babies go I’d like to see the parent, male or female, who has ever carried out the rule.

They always try, of course. In a case with which I am acquainted the baby sleeps beautifully, softly, finely all day. In fact, he can scarcely be waked up for his meals, and falls asleep before even they are half through. He is all pink and dimpled sighs, snuggles, with quaint momentary blinks of wakefulness when he stares Intently and somewhat embarrassingly at your teeth or your necktie or your hair.

All day he sleeps. But at six p.m., he comes alive. He stretches his little arms over his head, starts a few premonitory kicks and squirms, and then opens his mouth and yells.

The first night this occurred the parents were, of course, naturally concerned. They both leaned anxiously over the crib.

“Let him cry it out, now!” warned the father. “Don’t you pick him up!” retorted the mother.

And it must be admitted the father was leaning a little the closer.

So for forty long seconds these young parents leaned over that crib and watched their baby yell and kick and wave its little hands. Then the father cried:

“Now, see! That’s a cry of pain, or I’m a Dutchman!”

But he had not completed the sentence before the mother had taken the cue and scooped that baby up into her arms with a gesture so swiftly divine – Oh, well! –

For several nights this same drama was enacted. The spell lasted from six p.m. till midnight. And during this time father, mother and grandma took turns in walking, rocking and singing to the baby, hushing it to sleep, laying it down in its crib, only to have it waken immediately and let out a most indignant cry. They took turns in picking it up.

After about ten days the doctor’s admonition was recalled.

“To-night,” said the father, sorrowfully, “we must let him cry it out. It isn’t that I mind nursing him. But we are spoiling him. It’s for his own good.”

Mother and grandma acquiesced.

But that night, after about two minutes’ crying, all three elders detected a distinct note of pain in the baby’s cry. And in the stampede to the crib-side grandma won.

For two weeks now they have been trying to let him cry it out. The longest period so far has been twelve minutes. That evening, when laid firmly in his crib and left to himself, the baby started with a few, casual, good natured yells. The three adults, sitting breathlessly in the next room, were smiling broadly into space. The quaint little shouts from the nursery would fall off for a whole minute, and they could hear him gurgling and clucking to himself.

Then the little rascal must have discovered he was alone. For all at once there arose a most abandoned yell from the nursery.

And father and mother and grandma jammed each other in the doorway in their haste –

It’s no use. These young parents I speak of have practically given up the attempt. They are reconciled to having a spoiled baby.

“Anyway,” declared the mother. “I detest those soft little book-fed babies that haven’t any steam in them!”

And she cuddles her little fellow till his face! turns red and he cries –

“Wah!”

The only trouble about walking and rocking the baby is the songs that are inflicted on him. They are most demoralizing.

For instance, take this one, sung to the fine old tune of “There’s a Land That Is Fairer Than Day.”

The words come out something like this: (Sing it as you read it!) –

“There’s land that is fairer than day,

And by faith I think he’s going to sleep,

To-te-ta pick up the shawl off the floor

And put it on the head of the crib.

Chorus:

“In the sweet bye and bye,

This chair has an awful squeak,

In the sweet bye and bye

Turn out the light before I put him down.”

Then the father, along towards midnight, gets into a sort of comatose condition. And you can well Imagine the consternation of a church-going household, when the father, an ex-soldier, begins to vary his repertoire of cradle songs with some of the old war songs that have floated o’er Flanders fields. Picture him crooning, to the squeak-squeak of the rocking chair, the following billet favorite:

“Drunk-last-night,

Drunk-the-night-before,

Gonna get drunk to-night

If I never get drunk no more!

Chorus:

“Glor-i-ous, glor-i-ous,

One keg of beer between the four of us!

Praises be, there ain’t any more of us,

The four of us can drink it all alone!”

Following this unfortunate lapse grandma purified the little shaver’s ears by singing her favorite lullaby, which goes, to various tunes:

“Bye low, bye low!

Bye low, bye low!

Deedle dee, deedle dee!

Bye low, bye low!”


Editor’s Note: “I’m a Dutchman” is slang said after describing something that is obviously not true.

The Cootie Raid

By Greg Clark, August, 6, 1932

From back amongst the big leafed mangels, you could see the thing sticking straight out from Mericourt.

It was a brand new trench. The yellow sand and white chalk was flung up. It was a slightly zig-zag ditch and it seemed to end in a strong-point of some sort.

All day, the infantry scout officers and the artillery observers stared at it through telescopes. Some of the field guns and light howitzers fired at it, to get the range for night shooting.

No Man’s Land being hundreds of yards wide there, this new German digging could be of little danger to us. But we were curious.

“Maybe it’s one of those minniewerfer pits,” said Gold Tooth Cohen.

“They put them behind their front line, not in front,” said Mr. Johnson, the undertaker, who was Gold Tooth’s rear file.

Surely it wasn’t a listening post, because if ever piece of digging was like a toothache to the Canadians it was this hundred-yard trench jutting out into No Man’s Land.

The first night, patrols were ordered out to scout around it. During the night, the light howitzers and whizz-bangs fired on it. And in the morning, there it was just as plain and mysterious as ever. The patrols reported that they had heard nothing.

So the colonel came up to our company and lay out in the mangels with his field glasses and looked long and earnestly at it.

“Captain,” said he, “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it. I think to-night we ought to send a patrol across to get right into it.”

“Very good, sir,” said the captain, thinking at once of McDonald.

McDonald was a French-Canadian and he was, at one and the same time, the most useless soldier and the most valuable man we had.

No matter how you hid him, he always ruined the look of a platoon. They even had the regimental tailor specially cut an issue uniform in a desperate effort to make McDonald look smart. But they couldn’t. On his flat chest glowed the crimson of the D.C.M., and when a stranger suddenly saw that ribbon on so unprepossessing a little soldier, he always took another look at the dark, small face. And then he saw the cold gray eyes of the Highland shepherd with which McDonald was fitted.

McDonald was warm when everybody else was cold. He was dry when we were wet, fed when we were hungry. He came from somewhere “up nort,” and he could take rabbits and partridges out of No Man’s Land as a magician takes them out of a hat. His best deed so far was trapping a German lieutenant in a fox snare. He loved war and poaching and he hoped the war would never end.

“McDonald,” said the captain, when the colonel had left our company, “what do you think of that new trench Fritz has dug out there?”

“I t’ink,” said McDonald, “dat she is a joke. Nobuddy would buil’a trench like dat. Fritz she’s buil’ dat so we go over to look at her and by goly, he shoots us all up!”

The Mysterious Trench

“How would you like to come out to-night and take a prowl around with me?”

“Sure t’ing.” said McDonald.

And he went and had a wash and gave up smoking for the rest of the day, so, as he said, “he could smell good in de dark.”

Six other men went with the captain and McDonald. All good men. They left their tin hats at home, and carried nothing but two bombs each.

It was nearly two o’clock before they left, on hot and starry July night.

“If they are waiting for us, they will be tired by now,” explained the captain.

So the patrol vanished out into the dark and we stood watching across to where the distant flares rose and lobbed out of the German line. More than an hour passed, and suddenly, our eyes saw the red flash of bombs and heard the far whine, whine of Millses exploding. Up went German flares, three and four at a time, and machine guns rapped. A couple of German whizz bang guns opened up and slashed a few shells across at us and into No Man’s Land, and then everything grew still.

There we stood, waiting, silent, everybody up on the step, and after a time, we saw and challenged shadowy figures outside our wire. It was the captain, McDonald and only four men.

While the captain was back telling the colonel what had happened, our lieutenant gave us McDonald’s story. They had approached the mysterious trench warily, listened for a long time, and then two of the men were sent into the trench while the rest of the party crept along the top. Not a sound was to be heard. The whole trench seemed to be deserted,

And like a dogfight, everything started at once. There was a muffled yell from the men in the trench. The party on top leaped up and looked in. The two men had vanished. And from nowhere, a group of about eight Germans had popped up. After an exchange of bombs, there was nothing for our squad to do but beat it. Machine gun fire hissed around for a few minutes, and it was a miracle none of the fleeing party was hit.

A sorry enterprise. Should our gang have stood their ground and bombed it out with the Germans?

“No,” said our lieutenant, “the job of reconnaissance patrol is to get information, not to fight. And anyway, two of our men were in that trench somewhere.”

Dawn came and we stared with ugly feelings across at the lifeless low ridge of the German trenches.

McDonald did not go down to bed when morning came. It was a hot, sultry day, and he sat in the sun, with nothing to say, but thinking with bent head. About noon, the captain came up and they talked together.

“You were right, McDonald,” said the captain. “That trench was a trap.”

“Sure t’ing. I hear dose two men give little yell. I jump up and look straight in. Dey were gone. It was a trap door in de trench. A bat’ mat dat drop dem into a hole and fly back up.”

“That must have been it.”

“Sure t’ing. And dose Fritz was in funk hole and jump out to chase us away from de trap.”

“Should we go back again to-night? Will they expect us to go back to investigate?”

“Sure t’ing. But we don’t go back dere until we find out where de Fritz is in de firs’ place.”

“How can we do that?” asked the captain.”

“Dat’s why I am t’inking,” said McDonald, bowing his head again.

The captain respectfully left him.

Making a Collection For Fritz

That afternoon, when we came on top, McDonald came to each of us and he had an olive bottle in his hand he had got from the officer’s dugout.

“How is your cooties?” asked Me Donald. “I am start a little collection. Have you got some gray ones, or maybe blue? Who ‘as got some nice blue ones?”

And there, in the hot summer evening, we proceeded to chase cooties for McDonald.

“What’s the idea?” we asked.

“Dese are for Fritz,” said McDonald, who was one of those quiet men.

The captain issued orders through the platoons that no cooties were to be killed until further orders. All cooties were to be brought, immediately they were discovered, to McDonald. During the early part of the night, a sergeant came from both the companies in support with bottles containing slowly moving masses of crumbs.

At midnight, McDonald, alone, with two small bottles of lice, slipped quietly out into No Man’s Land.

We felt no tenseness that night. We just rested our chins on the parapet and watched patiently out across the blue silence. Because Me Donald was like a mink out there, a wild, silent creature and we knew he was as safe as if he were in Canada.

Until he called the password in, we did not see him coming back. He went straight to the captain.

“I dump dem all out into dat trench,” he said. “I want a lot more for tomorrow.”

By this time, the cootie collecting was going on far and wide. We sent some of our support company corporals through the highways and byways of the Mericourt-Avion trench system, gathering cooties in bottles. By nightfall, the collection amounted to wide-mouth marmalade bottle more than a third filled with the gray mass of tiny dopey-moving insects.

McDonald watched over them dotingly. He borrowed a few shirt clippings from some of the most notoriously unbathed members of the company and dropped these bits in amongst his pets.

“So dey wont’ get de shell shock,” explained McDonald.

Just an hour before morning, he passed the word that he was again going out, and he was gone until the break of dawn. He leaped back into the trench with a sort of glee on him. The first thing he did was strip off and hunt carefully through his clothes.

“I sprinkle dem,” he told the captain, carefully studying the seams of his underwear, “in five places in dat trench. Tonight we go listen again, hey?”

The famous cootie raid was started the minute it grew dark. McDonald claimed the right to lend the raid and sergeant went along just to add prestige to the undertaking.

“We are up,” said McDonald, carefully, to the four men he selected to help him, “against one of dose trick bunch of storm troopers Fritz has got. You know dat? He take some fellow and he give dem a soft and easy tam, leeving like officers, out of de line, and den he bring dem up for a raid or a special job. I t’ink dey will still be dere, in dat trick trench. Look out for de bat’-mat. Dey are trap over hole in de groun’. But dose Fritz, who leev like officer, will be scratching now like anyt’ing. Dese fashionable storm troop don’t meet ver’ many cootie in dere life.”

McDonald led his little expedition out into the dusk, and they crept as cautiously as the increasing darkness demanded until they were in a position down-wind of the German trick trench. Here they lay, advancing by dragging with their elbows and on hands and knees, listening and watching for the slightest sounds.

Ten minutes is a long time in which to preserve absolute silence. In ten minutes, man must cough or clear his throat or rattle his equipment or murmur to his mate. But six ten-minute periods passed while McDonald’s little company snaked themselves foot by foot to within a few yards of the upthrown earth; and no sound had come from the trench under the starry summer sky.

And then, when they were lying actually alongside the new earth, faintly there rose an obscure sound. It came from the left, further out into No Man’s Land. For breathless long minutes, the raiders harked. And then, with McDonald leading, they crawled toward the sound.

A Share in the Glory

There is a universal language in the sport of cootie hunting. It consists largely of the exclamation “Ahhhh!” enunciated with an expression of triumph and extreme satisfaction.

And somewhere below them, in the trench, amidst a furtive and infrequent mumble of sound, the raiders heard:

“Ahhhhh!”

And it had a very rich, German sound to it.

McDonald nudged and the nudge was passed along the party. With infinite caution and wildly beating hearts, they drew themselves, feeling over every inch of the soft earth, on to the bank of sand and chalk.

And they lay looking down into an empty trench!

Bathmats were scattered along the floor, as it thrown down in preparation for fitting the trench properly.

Yet from the trench, eight feet away, rose indistinct and intimate sounds.

“Ahhhhh!”

And the wall of the trench, in the purple darkness, moved.

McDonald, with the natural gifts of raider, took each of his men and after a soundlessly whispered instruction, placed him along the trench bank. They were spaced a yard apart.

Then McDonald slid soundlessly into the trench, and avoiding the bath mats like a rat, he crept along the wall. There was rough burlap curtain suspended over a large funk-hole in the side of the trench, and behind that curtain, which looked in the night exactly like the trench wall, hid a group of Germans.

And they were uncomfortable.

McDonald, flattening himself against the wall, with all his strength yanked the burlap curtain aside.

Five Germans were crouched there in the shallow funk-hole, their faces staring whitely up, to see, like the images of the sphinx in the Egyptian night, the heads and shoulders of the raiders spaced along the trench bank above.

“Parlais francais?” said McDonald softly, from the side, where they could not see him.

“Oui,” answered voice.

“Then,” said McDonald in French, “starting at this end, step out one by one with your hands high –”

But they were gallant lads. Out they came with rush. McDonald, crouching down, fired steadily with his pistol at their leg levels. Two of the Germans leaped on to a bathmat and disappeared magically like clowns in a pantomime, into a pit below.

Working with methodical speed, like baggagemen unloading an express, McDonald, from the trench, and the men from above, laid the three remaining Germans low.

Into the trench they all piled, to avoid the German machine gun fire that was lashing around above ground.

“Now for de hog from de crate,” cried McDonald.

They pried the trick bath mat up. It was on heavy spring hinges. In the commodious hole below crouched two large Fritzes whose discretion had got the better part of their valor. They had themselves been trapped in the pit they dug for the enemy.

Out they came to McDonald’s pistol like nails to a magnet. Down the trench the party shoved and hastened in the darkness, out over the end, despite the fact that machine gun bullets were still hissing and phutting.

In due time, they arrived at our trench and the captain joyously looked them over; they were two fine, stalwart specimens of the German special storm troops.

“Take them right back to the colonel,” said the captain.

“Excuse me,” said McDonald, “I must see dem in the dugout wit’ candle. Dey have got some of my cooties on dem.”

“Nonsense,” exclaimed the captain.

“Sure t’ing,” said McDonald. “I wan to have a couple of quart of dem cootie by winter tam. Dey make good trap baits.”

So McDonald watched over his prisoners In the candle light while they searched their clothes and retrieved half a dozen cooties, each of which McDonald hailed enthusiastically as an ally and a friend.

“Ho,” he said, “you fine fellow don’t know much about de cootie! But dere is more way of making a buck jump in de brush den by sticking him wit a bayonet.”

Which shows that from field-marshals to lice, everybody had a share in the glories of war.


Editor’s Notes: Mangel is a type of beet root.

“Minniewerfer” is slang for Minenwerfer, a German mortar.

Howitzer is a type of artillery piece.

Whizz-bangs” is Worlds War One slang for any German artillery.

D.C.M. is the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

When he speaks of “Millses” exploding, he is referring to Mills Bombs, a type of hand grenade.

Bathmats was the term used for small trench floor coverings.

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