Designed to Make City Dwellers So Fond of the City They Will Be Contented to Stay There and Slave – The Wail of an Urbomaniac Who is Now Fed Up With Summer Resorting
This is the holiday season.
Now for the annual going away in order more gladly to return.
Now for the fevered escape from the city into the beautiful sun-soaked, clean winded land of the mosquito, ant, sunburned nose and summer hotel food. Out of the frying pan, say I, into the fire. Aye, as in the old fable, it is a goodly thing to pop out of the frying city into the fiery country in order, more thankfully, to return in a couple of weeks to the city.
This sounds pessimistic, so early in the season. But it is not meant as a criticism of the holiday habit. It is
rather, an investigation into the psychology of summer resorting.
A radical gentleman of my acquaintance, familiarly known as “the Red” states as his earnest opinion that the summer holiday is one of the most devilish devices of the capitalists.
It is eminently to the wicked capitalists’ interests to make the common herd love the city, he says. The capitalist has many means. He encourages movies, parks, ice cream parlors. But, greatest of all, is known as the summer holiday. He gives, free, to all his salaried employees, that powerful but unsuspicious middle class, two weeks at full pay, which to go to some remote original spot in the wilderness. To the propaganda in the press, these are made out to be the places for holidays. At any rate, a deep and malignant power is at work. For, in two weeks the poor man of the brick and asphalt who fled so willingly and into the picturesque wilds, returns to his desk and his high stool like a shipwrecked mariner comes home.
That, my friend “the Red’s” view does not matter. My own experience to some respects, bear him out.
The street car strike added to the expense and gayety of our departure. After setting our trunks safely away three hours before train time, we did not remember, in our excitement, that the street cars were on strike until one hour before train time. Hastily, we seized the telephone and called up a garage. Too late! No cars available for two hours. One after another, for fifteen increasingly desperate moments, we called all the garages in the directory. None could send a car in ten minutes or in half an hour.
Taking the dilemma by its horns, we seized our suitcases, paper bundles, coats, umbrellas, fishing rods and golf sticks and raced madly for the street.
Jitneys, indeed, were plentiful. But it was the hour of even, when young ladies and gents go for cheap tours in jitneys at five cents the mile. The jitneys were full.
We raced to main corner, five blocks distant, in hope of getting an empty jitney there. But no; a crowd of one hundred leisurely evening revellers were there in the same hope.
Standing at the kerb, however, was a motor delivery truck fitted up with benches. Aboard it were eight others. We scrambled atop bag and baggage. And then we whispered to the driver:
“We have to be at the Union Station in thirty minutes. Make it, and we give you a dollar each!”
“Right-ho!” replied the driver, and leaped to the throttle.
I have many times jumped for my life to escape being hit by motor trucks. But not till that night did I realize how unnecessary such leaps were. Motor trucks make a great sound of speed. But they go about four miles an hour. This one of ours roared and hummed. But it crawled. And it stopped for several passengers en route. The minutes fled by.
As we neared Simcoe street, the driver said:
“I can’t go around by the station. You’ll have to run for it.”
So from King and Simcoe we ran, bag, baggage, golf sticks and all. When we reached the cobbled subway leading to the Union Station, it was six minutes to train time.
Baggage men, undoubtedly, are in league with the capitalists. We had three trunks to check. There were fifteen flurried people ahead of us at the check room desk. Five minutes! Four!
The baggage men, as cool and unhurried as though our train were not leaving for an hour, moved quietly at their task. Our agonized expression finally caught the eye of one checker Three minutes! He accepted our tickets, helped us we find our trunks; calmly he affixed checks and returned our tickets. One minute! Out to the platform we galloped. Just as a far baritone voice wailed:
We got on the train with the preliminary jolt of the engine.
Inside, the car was filled. That is to say, every two persons had their seat turned in so as to form a cosy rest for their feet. They occupied four seats per pair. As we paused beside each set, they would look suggestively backwards, as much as to say that there was lots of room further on. We struggled and bumped our way down the aisle, from car to car. The train was now moving.
But the conductor and brakesmen gave us no help. Why could not they go through and turn back those double seats?
Finally, we picked out couple of helpless and harmless looking people and turned the extra seat over on them.
Ha! Whew! We were on our way!
Of the heat and the smell of that car, of the intoxicated gentleman from the far north who made frequent and unsteady pilgrimages through the cars; of the stale sandwiches and tan-bark tea obtained at “ten minutes for refreshment” station; our arrival at a Muskoka station and our journey by boat to our hotel, little need or can be said.
After a week, we can look back through sun-seared and mosquito-bitten eyes, at a memory, fragrant with pine and balsam; of spacious bright days and still moonlit nights. We have eaten many curious things. Our noses have peeled twice. Our lips are sunburned, but look as if consumed by cold sores. We fished and caught nothing but sunstroke. We golfed and lost seven balls and busted four clubs. We tramped in the fragrant forest and got bitten from every angle and grew creepy with unseen spider webs striking our faces, as we walked. We have listened, in the moonlit evening to the life story of a dozen middle-aged ladies We’ve heard all about the boot business, the wholesale grocery business, and several other vocations represented on the hotel register. Our ears still ring with all the song hits of 1919, played on piano, mandolin, and gramophone, and sung in all the voices from old maid treble to baldhead basso profundo. And there is no health in us!
Ah, the music of the birds! Especially at five o’clock in the morning, when a cheery little warbler sticks his beak trough the mosquito screen of our bedroom and says:
“Tweetle, tweetle, tweet!”
And the lowing of the kine! Here the poets are wrong. The kine do not low at eventide. They come along to the hotel just after daybreak. And they are not kine. They are cows They do not low. They bawl and moo.
But, on second thought, now that I have this all off my chest, I must admit that the brittle feeling has gone out of my spine I feel a whole lot bouncier and brisker than I did ten days ago. And what’s more, the city looks good to me. What lovely trees, with no spider webs strung between them. What well-trained robins and sparrows, who do not screech at the dawn. How good the grub at the cafeteria tastes! How dry and fresh the sheets of my bed! And the movies! And the Ice cream parlors! And the neat, orderly streets, with no winged monsters to leap out and sting you unawares!
Beautiful city, how art thou misjudged!
Editor’s Notes: Kine is a collective term for cows.
Last week’s story told of a street car strike in 1919. There must have been one in 1920 as well.
In the early 20th century, the weekend only consisted of 1.5 days. Office workers still worked on Saturday mornings. As can seen in the jokes of this comic, people often resented working on Saturday and could not wait to leave for their weekend plans. It was not until the 1930s that getting the whole Saturday off became common.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, June 28, 1947
“Incidentally,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “are you color blind?”
“Certainly not,” I informed him.
“The reason I ask,” went on Jim, “is the way you dress.”
“What’s the matter,” I demanded, “with the way I dress? I’d rather dress with a little individuality than the way most men dress. In drab grays, blues, browns. Like inmates of an institution.”
“I’d rather look,” replied Jim, “like an inmate of an institution than like an escaped inmate of an institution.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked hotly.
“Weeeeelll, after all,” soothed Jimmie, “it pays to conform. After all, there are certain standards in this world. It’s a lot more comfortable to conform.”
“I’m comfortable enough,” I assured him.
“Just look at you!” scoffed Jim. “A rowdy tweed coat. A green shirt. Navy blue pants. And brown shoes.”
“Look:” I interrupted. “What difference does it make to anybody in the world how I dress? Actually, does it matter in the very slightest degree to a single living soul in this whole earth whether I dress this way or some other way?”
“There’s me,” suggested Jim. “The sight of you makes me uneasy.”
“How could it?” I protested.
“It’s this way,” explained Jim. “Society is an institution. An artificial institution. Society doesn’t come natural to man. Cattle and sheep live in herds. That’s society. But men are more like wolves or other predators. They live best in small packs. In the beginning, men did live in small packs. And the packs were continually fighting one another for trespassing on each other’s hunting preserves. So, after a long struggle, a system was worked out, called human society, in which an effort was made to persuade men to abandon their natural wolf pack way of life and adopt the social system of the herds of cattle and sheep.”
“Now, just a minute…!” I tried.
“What I’m getting at,” persisted Jimmie, “is that it is the duty of everybody in human society to try and conform to the herd. All sheep look alike. All cattle in a herd look alike. You can’t really tell one from another; unless, of course, you’re the owner of a small herd, and you know them Individually as Bessie, and Brownie and Bunty. I’m referring to great herds, like the human herd.”
“Now, hold on there!” I argued.
“To make human society work,” went on Jim, calmly, it is the duty of every one of us to fight back those individualistic impulses that throw back to the wolf in us. That is why clothes and fashions are so important. The highest type of social man is the man who looks most like all other men.”
“Some of the greatest men we’ve ever had,” I challenged, “like Winston Churchill, were famous for their funny-looking hats and conspicuous clothes!”
“Ah, the leaders, yes,” agreed Jim easily. “The herd bull is often a mighty and individualistic-looking creature. The ram that leads the flock is distinguished by huge and spectacular horns. I imagine the leaders of human society are entitled to the same distinctions. But I’m talking about the vast mass, the rank and file of human society. Its function – its DUTY – is to conform, to be uniform, to be standardized.”
“Are you talking socialism,” I demanded, “or Nazism?”
“The army,” concluded Jim, “is the highest expression of human society. There, the rank and file are dressed as like as pins, and trained, as far as possible, to act and think exactly alike. The generals, of course, are gaudy.”
“Jim,” I pleaded, “you don’t really believe all this, do you?”
“If it weren’t true,” retorted Jim, “then why do you see, in a big city like this, all the men breaking their necks to look all alike, to wear the same suits, coats, hats? Why do the great majority look askance at any man who dresses against the fashion? Like you?”
“Do people look askance at me?” I snorted.
“I’m looking at you askance,” confessed Jim, gently. “Ow! That shirt! Those pants! Those yellow boots!”
I looked down at myself and saw little to complain of. The coat is a favorite. It has great big bellows side pockets in which you can carry pipe, tobacco, all the letters you’ve got in the last few days, a notebook, a couple of small books like a bird guide or a fishing book, a small camera, a bottle of vitamin pills and any of the other things a man likes to have handy.
The navy blue pants, I admit, were not what I had intended to put on. But I picked them off the hook in the dark closet and had them on before I noticed they weren’t the gray flannels. But is a man to go around looking at his own pants all the time?
The green shirt? Well, it was the top shirt in the drawer.
And the yellow boots? Ah, now we’re on fighting ground. Boots are a man’s foundation. Comfortable, sturdy boots are the basis of a man. Rich or poor, look at a man’s boots, and you can tell his character at glance. I had my yellow boots on because they are the most comfortable.
Jim slowly surveyed me from head to foot, and shuddered.
“Ordinary consideration,” he said, “for your fellow-citizen should prevent you from a get-up like that.
Jim, never since the days of George IV.” I informed him, “has there been such color and freedom in men’s clothes as there is today. Sport coats, sport shirts, hand-painted neckties, pastel hats…”
“But they don’t clash!” cried Jim. “They blend, they co-ordinate.”
“Did you notice,” I asked bitterly, “in the papers a few weeks back all the excitement about Bobby Locke’s plus fours?”
“The golf champion?” said Jim.
“Yes, the South African,” I declared, “who came over here and grabbed off a lot of the big cash prizes in the golf tournaments. Now, what do you suppose was the biggest news about Locke? What do you imagine all the newspapers and the wire services featured about Bobby Locke? It was his plus fours. His big baggy pants. Why, even Time had a feature on them.”
“Well, they’re a little old fashioned,” pointed out Jim. “Back 20 years ago, plus fours were the standard golf costume. No gentleman felt himself properly dressed for a golf game unless he had on plus fours.”
“Plus fours,” I stated, “have nothing to do with golf, then or now. Plus fours were sanctified by the grouse shooters, deer stalkers and salmon fishers of Scotland ages before the golfers took them up. Plus fours are the finest sporting garments ever designed. There is more freedom in them than anything save the kilt. They’re roomy where room is needed, and leave your lower legs and ankles free of the flapping nuisance of trouser cuffs. And I have a pair.”
“Of plus fours?” exclaimed Jim. “I never saw you in them.”
“I wear them on special occasions,” I explained, cautiously.
“Such as going to the opera, I suppose,” scoffed Jim, “or to weddings!”
“They’re heavy Harris tweed,” I explained stiffly. “I got them in Scotland about 20 years ago.”
“Funny I never saw you in them,” muttered Jim.
“Well, there are too many burrs in this part of Canada,” I mentioned. “First time I wore them out rabbit hunting in the fall, I got into a burr patch and it kind of gummed me up. Took my entire family and me the whole evening to pick them free.”
“Still, there have been several funerals,” persisted Jim,” where I would have expected to see you in them…”
“Okay, Jim,” I submitted sadly. “You dress like a chartered accountant if you like. You go socialist if you like, and dress like a numb little robot. An I can say is, Bobby Locke wore plus fours and almost swept the golf world. I’m willing to bet he owed a lot to the plus fours on two accounts: first, because they gave his legs the fullest freedom possible; and second, the psychological effect of them on his opponents. They were a mental hazard. You see a man waddling around in plus fours, and you get an entirely erroneous idea of what he’s got underneath them.”
“Let’s see you in your plus fours, some time,” laughed Jimmie.
When I went home for supper, I went to the attic and opened up all the pillow cases full of old hunting clothes until I came to the plus fours, forgotten all these years. There were still some burrs in them.
I took them down and changed into them, and selected a windbreaker and a nice quiet sport shirt of one of the gloomier Scottish clans. I found the coarse woolen knee hose that go with the plus fours balled up in the pockets of the garment. My yellow shoes completed the ensemble.
And after dinner, I walked around the corner to Jim’s, finding him weeding the petunias. He sat back on his haunches and surveyed me.
“By George,” he breathed, “you look like something dug up out of the twenties! You look like a Scotch countryman out on the misty hills looking for a shilling a friend said he had lost. Did you come round the front way, or through the back lanes?”
“Does anything clash?” I inquired sharply. “Isn’t this shirt and windbreaker in conformity with the plus fours? The hose are a proper blend with the tweed…?”
“It’s not the blend I refer to this time,” said Jim, rising. “Let’s go indoors, eh?”
“Are you afraid of the neighbors?” I sneered.
“Well, after all,” said Jimmie, “it’s not the season for masquerade parties.”
I stood my ground.
“Jim,” I enunciated, “I’m going around to the corners to get some tobacco. Want to come?”
“Think of your wife and children,” suggested Jim.
“They don’t mind me,” I said.
“Wait till after dark,” urged Jim. “Come on in.”
“You’ve got a psychosis,” I charged. “You’ve gone socialist without knowing it. You may be a Tory in your surface mind but underneath, you’re licked, Jim. You are frightened. You conform. You want to hide in the herd – that herd of sheep you were talking about this afternoon.”
“You’ve got a good point there,” agreed Jim, “come on in and sit down and we’ll talk it over.”
“I’m going to walk around and get some tobacco,” I stated, starting for the front walk.
“If you were taller,” suggested Jim, “if you weren’t so wide … sort of … or if the plus fours weren’t QUITE so bloomy …”
“Even personal insults, eh?” I gritted.
“Oh, well…” sighed Jim, throwing down the trowel and dusting off his hands.
So we walked out to the pavement and turned south to go the three blocks to the shops.
It is easy to be nonchalant in plus fours. They afford great freedom to the nether limbs and also to the mind. They are airy, roomy, and from them arises a spirit of liberty that affects the whole being.
On the verandahs of the neighbors, as we passed, there were outbreaks of sudden short coughs; and also sudden silences. Whenever we met people walking, Jim stepped smartly ahead of me, as if to shield me from view. Normally, Jim is very respectful to the sensitiveness of a short man, who always hates to be stood in front of. But tonight, he was obviously in distress. A car full of young people honked their horn loudly as they passed, and cheers wafted from them. Another car, farther on, slammed on its brakes with a screech of tires, as it passed us.
Some small children, playing in the street, called to one another and formed a procession behind us, chanting some unintelligible nonsense, until Jimmie drove them away.
At the corners, where there were groups of people waiting for the bus and lingering in the store fronts, there were again those sudden silences as we passed along into the cigar store,
“See, Jim?” I explained. “Those abrupt silences are marks of respect. Everybody respects a person of obvious individuality.”
We got our tobacco and emerged into the evening.
“Let’s go round the other way,” suggested Jim. “Right around the block.”
“Okay.” I said.
Again, the silences on the verandahs. Again a couple of salutes from car horns and several cars slowed down for the view.
“What’s the hurry, Jim?” I remarked, for he was walking far faster than his usual gait.
A bunch of kids were playing soft ball on the pavement ahead. One of them got his eye on me at a little distance and yelled. They were all ganged up on the sidewalk for our passage. Their cries and exclamations grew louder,
“Hey, mister,” yelled one, “what have you got in there? Samples? Hey, give us some samples!”
Another made a snatch at my plus fours, as I passed. I thrust him firmly aside. They formed into a parade and followed, yelling variously.
“He’s got SOMETHING in there!” one screamed. “Biggest pockets I ever saw ….”
“Go away! Go away!” Jimmie and I both commanded.
But they followed; the procession grew; and a small wirehaired terrier, seeing the excitement, joined in, yapping perilously at my heels. People came forward on their verandahs, and out their side drives. A cocker spaniel, of gloomy mien, joined in and, with the terrier, started yapping very close to the lower extremities of the plus fours. I walked faster.
On a lawn ahead stood a large sheepdog. From behind the screen of hair over its eyes, it viewed the gathering procession with lifted head and the tension of alertness.
I walked faster.
“Not too fast!” hissed Jim, beside me. “It makes them waggle.”
The sheepdog bounded forward. It took up the head of the parade behind me. The smaller dogs went frantic. The sheep dog took a small, speculative nip at the Harris tweed.
I lengthened stride.
I started to run.
The sheepdog took a good wide grab.
And in a great confusion of small boys, dogs, parents and the owner of the sheepdog, I was wrested free by Jimmie, who escorted me rapidly the rest of the block to my own house.
In the long hall mirror, I examined myself over my shoulder.
“I’m TERRIBLY sorry it was a sheepdog,” consoled Jimmie.
Editor’s Note: As they mentioned, Bobby Locke was a South African golf champion, whose early career was interrupted by World War Two. He was invited to the USA by the golfer Sam Sneed in 1947.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June, 19, 1943.
“What a waste,” cried Jimmie Frise, “of valuable energy.”
“Where?” I inquired, glancing about the passing countryside.
“Right here, in this car,” declared Jim hotly. “You and me.”
“I can think,” I stated, “of no more honest use of our few gasoline coupons than visiting an old friend who is perhaps on his deathbed. Sam is one of our oldest friends.”
“What I mean,” cut in Jimmie, “is, we could have killed two birds with one stone. Right back there we crossed another trout stream.”
“I wish, Jim,” I said sternly, “that you would give up this eternal struggle to carry on your life as usual. We have entered into a solemn pledge not to waste our time, energy, money or gas on idle sport. Okay, let us stick to it, in the letter and the spirit.”
“Look,” pleaded Jim. “If one thing is going to hamper the war effort of this country, it is being stupid and stodgy. Never in our lives has it been more important that we use our imaginations, that we remain flexible and intelligent and alert, so that our every act, our every dollar, our every calorie, shall be fully spent to the best value. What is our situation right now? Sam, our lifelong friend, is very ill and has sent word that he would love to see us. We couldn’t get to his place by bus. And to go by train would be difficult, tedious and expensive of time. So we decide to use four of our precious coupons in driving out to visit him. Okay. After all, the human factor still survives, even in the midst of total war.”
“Total,” I asserted.
“Now,” said Jim, “in going to Sam’s, we know we have to cross at least seven famous trout streams.”
“Aw, Jim,” I snorted impatiently.
“Wait a minute,” insisted Jim. “We are both expert trout fishermen. Not many men in this country can get as many trout, in as short a time, as you and I. In certain respects, you and I are fish hogs.”
“Pardon me,” I stated. “I resent that.”
Just a Line of Talk
“Well, what I mean,” said Jim, “is, we could be professional fishermen, if we had to. There are not many tricks about taking trout out of a stream that you and I don’t know, are there?”
“I haven’t been really skunked,” I confessed, “in the past 15 years.”
“Okay,” pursued Jimmie. “There is, at the moment, a food shortage throughout our country. Every pound of meat we eat, every sausage, every chicken, is just another cipher added to the shortage.”
“Mmmmm,” I muttered, seeing his line.
“We have,” said Jim, “in the past half hour, crossed half a dozen trout streams. In each of them are several hundred pounds of speckled trout, the finest, if I may suggest, the finest meat in the world. And we have stupidly, ignorantly, pig-headedly passed right over them, though they were ours for the mere asking. Why? Because of a wholly unintelligent pledge we made with each other not to indulge in sport. It’s criminal, that’s what it is!”
“Jim,” I stated wearily, “it is just such a line of argument as you are using that is the curse of our war effort right now. What you have just said, in relation to our little problem, is being said by men and women all over Canada, only in relation to their own lives, habits and desires. Big industrialists, bankers, financiers and members of the board are sawing off, just the way you want us to saw off, about trout fishing. Before them is the straight, grim hard road of war. But every one of them is seeking the rational, the sensible course by which they can follow that straight, hard road and at the same time take a little shortcut to pick a few daisies. Each of them is searching for the ideal system by which they may give their all, and at the same time keep as much as possible.”
“Hah, the usual cynical line,” cut in Jim.
“If it were cynical,” I assured him, “it would not be so bad. But it is here, right in this car, with us. It is in great big factories, where, for all the furious war activity, the deepest thinking around the place is being done for the future salvation of the factory. Not a worker in the factory but spends some minutes of every day talking or thinking about his private rights and privileges, and how to improve or secure them.”
“Rightly so,” declared Jim.
The Pharisees of War
“We are the Pharisees of war,” I submitted. “It is more important that we appear to be in the war effort than that we are in it. Great and terrible as are the demands of war, our own little private concerns are deeper in our hearts.”
“There are exceptions,” said Jim.
“Yes, I admitted. “There are, after all, a few really good people in the world. But, like white pine, they are usually far back from the railroads. I am speaking about us all, as a whole.”
“Still,” said Jim, slowing the car at the top of a long slope from which we could see a great dark valley full of cedar swamp, amidst which we knew one of the finest little trout streams in Ontario chills its secret course, “still, I think this case is different. We have to visit Sam. We have to use gas. We have to cross over these streams where, in maybe one hour you and I could take, for the alleviation of the food shortage, ten pounds each of the finest food…”
“Jim,” I said, closing my eyes so I could not see the valley, “you cannot temporize with life, much less with war. You have to set a hard and often grim rule. And stick to it as you would the ten commandments.”
Slowly down the mile long slope we coasted.
“I’m saving gas,” explained Jim, eating up the valley with his eyes.
When we entered the first fringe of the cedars, it was cool and fragrant, and Jim drove even slower. And when we reached the bridge over the stream, he stopped the car altogether.
We sat and looked at the beautiful dark, hurrying water. There is no water on earth as beautiful as a trout stream’s. There is a majesty about noble rivers. The St. Lawrence, below Quebec; the Ottawa above Mattawa, a noble river little known to millions of Ontarians: the Fraser, amid its mountains, a drama all unto itself. Certain lakes are incredibly beautiful. The sea is often so mighty in its beauty that it leaves you shrivelled and shrunken from that hour forth. But a trout stream, to be a trout stream, has to come from pure springs. It must travel in cool ways, avoiding the warmth of the open sun. It must be broken with riffles and rapids and falls, it must be alive and full of air, to be a trout stream. It must be secret and aloof in its character.
Jim got out the far side and I got out my side and we walked cautiously to the edges of the bridge and peered down under. Dark, quivering shadows darted this way and that, and suddenly a large trout, the size of a stick of stove wood, swung majestically around and hung poised in the shadows, its orange and milk edged fins fanning.
“You,” grated Jimmie, “and your temporizing! If it hadn’t been for you, there would be a fly rod in the back of my car.”
“Do you mean to say,” I demanded bitterly, “that you haven’t a fly rod in the back of your car?”
Jim just gave me a long, cold stare, as if he had never seen me before.
“In the back of my car,” I stated indignantly, “there is always an old fly rod. I always keep an old rod and a box of flies …”
Jim jerked so violently, the big trout vanished and all the small ones darted in all directions frantically. He walked off the bridge and wandered up the streamside amid the cedars, pausing to look cautiously into each pool. I went downstream, peering into the log jammed pools and seeing many a trout of good size, half a pound and up. In about 10 minutes, over 50 yards of water, I saw my 10 pounds of potential wartime emergency provisions.
By the time I got back to the bridge, Jimmie had cooled out, and he was signalling me eagerly from a clump of cedars up the stream.
When I reached him, he led me, stepping as soft as possible, to the edge of a pool. A spring came in there, right in the stream bed, and its golden sand whirled and eddied not only from the current but from the billowing up of icy fresh water from the earth. There, alert and filled with the lightning of their species, five glorious speckled trout circled and poised, ready for instant flight. They were all of a size, which would be about 16 inches each, or say a pound and ten ounces per.
“There,” hissed Jim, “is war effort!”
And after a good quarter hour of fascination, we wended our way back through the brush to the car, Jimmie not speaking at all.
He got in and slammed his door. I got in and shut mine politely. Jim stepped on the starter. It growled.
It continued to growl.
“Wait a minute, maybe she’s flooded,” I suggested.
Jim rested her a few seconds, and then impatiently tramped on the starter again. At the end of five minutes, we knew something was wrong with the engine. We had the hood up. We examined the carburetor. We checked the wiring to the spark plugs. We did all the things we could think of. But the engine was very hot. And very dead.
“What time is it?” demanded Jim.
“It’s just noon,” I replied.
“We were to be at Sam’s at noon,” said Jim pettishly, “and it’s another 30 miles to Sam’s.”
“Let her cool for a little while,” I suggested.
A Treat For the Eyes
So we stood around and studied the stream some more. I went back up to the spring hole and sat down and soaked my eyes in those five lunkers. Jim kept fiddling about the car. He put a hatful of the icy stream water into the radiator. I heard him grinding the starter again, and I came out.
“Don’t wear your battery out,” I warned.
In reply to which, Jim gave the horn a short, sharp snort.
“Well,” he cried, “are we going to spend all day here? If we only had a trout rod…”
“Let’s walk up the road,” I suggested, and find a telephone. Maybe in the next village there is a garage.”
Which we did. The valley was wide, maybe half a mile, and just at the far edge of it, where the cedars began to give way to hardwood, we saw a little cabin set back in the woods.
In the doorway, an elderly man was standing and he waved cheerily at us.
We walked in his path to inquire where we could get the nearest telephone.
He was a genial old boy. Apparently he was just cooking his lunch, for he had an old tea towel in his hand, and from the door came the most ravishing odor of cooking.
“No phone,” he said, “within two miles. Abbott’s used to have a phone, just over the top of the hill, there. But they took it out about 12 years ago.”
“Two miles,” we sighed, for it was a warm day and a long hill ahead.
“Stay right here,” suggested the old boy, “and in about an hour, Jake the mail man comes by. He’ll give you a lift to the nearest phone.”
“Mmmm,” I said, “we don’t want to interrupt your dinner.”
“Come on in,” cried the old boy, “and share it. I don’t often get visitors. It’ll be a pleasure.”
“Is it trout?” I inquired eagerly.
“No, I’m fed up with trout,” said the old boy. “I’ve ate enough trout this year to last me. What with the prices they can get, the farmers around here even haven’t any eggs, let alone a bit of meat. But sit down, I’ll have a dish fit for the king in another 10 minutes.”
We came inside the tidy cabin and the old boy went to the stove and forked the frying chops which sizzled with the most punishing of savors.
“No woman here?” I asked.
“Never had a woman here,” said the old boy above the frying, “women, are too pernickety for me. I like to lead my own life, always have.”
New Kind of Chops
We had arrived at the psychological moment, for the chops were just done, the potatoes were boiled and a small saucepan full of some fragrant sauce was simmering on the back of the stove. In a few exciting minutes, the old boy had three tin plates all neatly portioned and laid before us.
“Aaaah,” he said, “that sauce is made of things I picked up in the bush right handy here. Pepper root, wild garlic, tansy mustard and sweet cicely! Have plenty.”
And from the saucepan he poured liberal helpings of the sauce over the golden brown chops.
We set to.
“Gosh, that’s good!” I exclaimed.
“Lamb?” inquired Jim.
“You’d be crazy to eat lamb now,” said the old boy, stuffing it in. “Conserve your lamb, brother. Mutton will bring a good price next winter.”
“What on earth is it?” I asked, for the chops were not chops at all, but neat little sections of tender and delicate steak. I even got a miniature rib on one of my pieces.
“What do you say it is?” the old boy asked Jim.
“Well, sir, it’s mighty good, whatever it is,” said Jim. “Would it be chicken?”
“Guess again,” laughed the old boy, stowing away, and mopping up the wild herb sauce with his potato.
So we tasted and tested and guessed. And by the time we had tasted it all and tested and rolled it about and savored and sniffed, and gave up, the old boy sat back, with a heavy sigh.
“The red ones,” he said, “are no good. Only the gray ones. The grayer the better…”
“Squirrel?” I cried.
“No, groundhog,” said the old boy, picking his teeth. “Young choice groundhog. I call it the Brown Market.
Jim and I could not think of anything to say so we just looked at him.
“It stands to reason,” he said, “that a groundhog should be choice victuals, because it eats only the best. From early spring to late autumn, only the finest shoots of young wheat, garden vegetables, Brussels sprouts, only the finest.”
“I thought it would be kind of soft…” ventured Jim, trying his voice.
“Not it,” said the old boy, “Only use the good gray ones, cut out the little kernels from under the fore legs, boil him for an hour to remove any flavor there might be, and then fry him. You’ve got a dish for the king.”
I felt all right. I felt good, as a matter of fact, except spiritually. Moses did not mention groundhogs in his instructions to the Chosen People; but somehow I felt I had just offended against Holy Writ.
So we thanked the old boy. And on Jim’s suggestion, the mail man not having come by, we walked the half mile back to give the car one more try before deciding to walk the two miles over the hill.
At the first growl, the starter took, and the engine leaped to life.
“There you are, Jim,” I said. “If we had had trout rods with us, we would never have tasted groundhog.”
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 11, 1921
Mr. Raney may be right. But he is not fashionable.
For one Mr. Raney there are thousands of men who love horses passionately: racehorses that is, not these great, clumsy wagon-horses.
Mr. Raney has been entirely misled by somebody as to the motives of these tens of thousands of men and women in Toronto who attend race meets. Someone ought to be made to suffer for kidding a minister of the crown.
Does Mr. Raney imagine for a moment that these great hordes of people go to the races only from motives of sordid gain? Is he so innocent as to believe that these mobs of sportsmen and horse-lovers attend the races only to bet?
Mr. Raney must have a very poor opinion of his fellow men.
As a matter of fact, it is time we horse-lovers began to proclaim the truth.
And the truth is, if you are willing to believe the sportsmen who love horses, that betting has nothing to do with the popularity of the racetrack. Betting is done for two reasons: First, because it is an ancient and honorable custom in connection with horses, dating back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome -merely a formality; second, because it encourages horse-breeding. But as for mere money –!
In short, the one and only reason for the great crowds at the race tracks is love of horses.
I will admit, right at the start, that up till a week ago, I held very much the same views as Mr. Raney. Because I had never seen a racecourse. But one day my friend James L., an ardent sportsman and horse lover, insisted on my going up to Thorncliffe with him. I had frequently been guilty of condemning James for his absence from the office. I looked on him as a deep-dyed gambler. And his protestations that it was just his passion for seeing horses run I regarded just as so much tosh.
I went with him. Leaving all my money, my watch and wallet securely locked in my desk, I drove in his flivver with him up to Thorncliffe Park.
“Now,” said James, as we drove up Yonge street, “I have fifty bucks on me. If I bet that on a twenty-to-one shot that would give me a thousand dollars. Then if I planted the thousand onto a ten to one shot – ten thousand. By that time I’ll go close on a few favorites and sure things. And maybe I’ll come home with twenty thousand dollars!”
And James’s face lighted, and he switched up the gas, narrowly missing a traffic constable.
“Think of it!” he cried. “Here I go up Yonge street with fifty measly bucks. And in four hours I may be coming down with twenty thousand.”
“But,” I protested, “what has this to do with horses?”
“My boy,” said James, soberly, “don’t let me kid you. We horse-lovers talk like that about betting just for fun. We all do. But don’t let that deceive you. It’s just our jolly manner.”
But as we passed through the cemetery through which the road to the racetrack runs, I noticed James crossed the fingers of both hands on the steering gear, and turned the lucky ring on his finger.
At the race track – a small grand stand, several stables, all painted white and a large oval race track in front – was a crowd of about seven thousand people.
At first glance, I was not at all impressed by the crowd. There seemed to be a larger than usual percentage of hard-boiled looking people in it. But James reassured me.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” he cried, “what a noble thing is man’s love for a dumb creature, even among people you wouldn’t expect it of?”
And as I looked about at some of the faces around me I was deeply moved that such noble emotions could be concealed behind such unpromising exteriors.
The crowd surged under the grand stand where the betting machines were located, then surged out again to the fence. And before I realized what was doing, a race was run.
It was all very sudden. A bugle blew. Several horse-lovers cried hoarsely: “They’re off!”
Then a tense silence for a few seconds while seven thousand horse-lovers feasted their eyes on the sight they loved best – beautiful horses running.
Then it was over.
And I must say only a very few seemed interested in which horse had won. The rest of the crowd, just turned away, deeply disappointed that the beautiful sight of running horses was soon finished, and went down under the grand stand where the betting machines were, to rest and wait for the next race.
I didn’t see much of James while the races were on. He was rushing about, like a true horse-lover, chatting enthusiastically with different people about the beautiful steeds. In fact, I saw him earnestly talking with some very disreputable-looking men and I marveled at the equality that existed between horse-lovers. These strange fellows he was talking to were pointing out for James on his program the special qualities and beauties of the horses that were to run in the next race.
The horse-lover is an intense person. This crowd at Thorncliffe was not a crowd in the ordinary sense. There was no crowd feeling. They were simply seven thousand individuals, each deeply engrossed in his devotion to horses. They all walked with bent heads, devouring the facts contained in little newspapers specially printed for horse-lovers.
To imagine that all this intensity was over mere filthy money getting, mere greed, would be surely to misconceive the finest qualities of mankind. You never see such devotion at a dog show or a poultry show. You never see cat lovers bumping into each other so intently as they study the pedigree and former prizes won by their favorite cat! These horse-lovers are a race apart.
James and I met at the end of the last race.
He had tired look.
“Well,” said I, “have you got your twenty thousand?”
“You’re a jinx!” said James, with pretended bitterness.
He was very glum all the way down to the city. I then understood how fatigued a horse-lover could become with enthusiasm.
But I also noticed, at the garage where we had to stop for gasoline, that James could only find forty-five cents.
So we only took one gallon.
Editor’s Notes: This can be considered a very early Greg-Jim Story, as “James L.” is definitely James Llewellyn Frise. We also know from past stories Jim’s love of the race track.
William Raney was Attorney-General of Ontario at the time. He was known for his opposition to gambling on horse racing and the sale of alcohol. It is interesting that when the UFO (United Farmers of Ontario) won the 1919 election, the leader, Drury, approached Raney, a Liberal, to be Attorney-General since the UFO had elected no lawyers.
Thorncliffe Park Raceway existed from 1917-1953. It used to exist in the location of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto today.
A “flivver” was early slang for cars, usually referring to a Ford Model T.
Currency conversion for 1921 to 2021: $50 = $665, $20,000 = $265,900.
45 cents/gallon in 1921 equals $1.31/litre in 1921 (which happens to be the same price of gas the day I write this!)
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 10, 1939
“The trouble with going four in a car,” said Jimmie Frise,”is, you can’t hold conversation.”
“The more the better,” I differed.
“That’s a common mistake,” stated Jim. “The perfect setup for purposes of pleasant conversation is two people. Like man and wife, for example. Why did polygamy die out of the more civilized world? Because a man couldn’t carry on a decent conversation with five wives.”
“I don’t agree,” I declared. “When two people engage in conversation, it generally boils down to a one-sided conversation. You rarely find two people of equal wind.”
“Some people are natural born listeners,” pointed out Jim.
“I like about three or four people in a group,” I explained, “because then, if there is one windbag in the party, the three others can generally work up enough between them to sort of balance the windbag.”
“Then,” said Jim, “you will be happy today. Because Skipper and Vic will very nicely help me hold the balance against you.”
“I resent that, Jim,” I informed him.
“I always hate to get into a car with you and several people,” said Jim, “because the minute you see three people you think it is an audience and you begin making a speech.”
“Is this the spirit,” I demanded, “in which to start off on a nice trip to the country?”
“If there were only two of us in our car,” said Jim, “I could let you drive and then I could go to sleep. I’ve often worked that scheme.”
“I never knew you to be so unpleasant,” I protested. “What’s got into you?”
“Oh, nothing,” sighed Jim. “I just feel like having a fight with somebody.”
“Jim,” I consoled, “I often feel that way myself. Life gets humdrum, not from having to do the same things over and over forever and ever, but because it gets so eternally pleasant. Life gets pleasanter all the time. I don’t think human nature can stand it.”
“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Look at all the inventions of the past 30 years. All to make life pleasant. The motor car, to take us quickly and pleasantly wherever we get the whim to go. The movies, to give us the pleasant thrill of romance for 35 cents. The radio, so that with a click of a button we can get any sort of entertainment we desire, from a symphony to an educational talk about how to kill potato bugs.”
“Life is getting too pleasant,” I concurred. “Why, even the poor can’t be poor any more. They are hounded and chased and given food and clothing and life made as pleasant as possible for them. Criminals can’t even find any real unpleasantness in life because they are making jails into educational institutions.”
“At the rate we are going,” decreed Jim, “there will be no escape from pleasantness except in our own natures. The more perfect the conditions of life are made, the worse our characters are going to become.”
“Nobody wants perfection,” I admitted.
“It is the struggle for perfection,” explained Jimmie, “that makes life interesting. To attain perfection must be a horrible thing.”
“We can always figure,” I reassured, “on things going wrong, however we perfect life and all its arrangements.”
“No,” said Jim. “the way we are heading now, life is going to be made perfect. For all. There will be no more poor, no more underprivileged, no more unhappy. The whole vast force of humanity is right now in the throes of a gigantic struggle toward perfection, Hitler going one way. We democracies the other. But back of it all, a countless army of scientists, thinkers, workers, politicians, all striving day and night to find some road to perfection for all mankind. It will be a technical perfection as well as a social perfection. We will have pleasant ways of going where we want to go as far ahead of the motor car and airplane as they are far ahead of our grandfather’s buggy. They will have pleasant ways of being entertained and amused as far ahead of movies and radio as they are ahead of the ham actor touring theatrical companies and elocutionists of our grandfather’s time.”
“But always something will go wrong,” I assured him.
“No, sir,” prophesied Jim. “As they have taken out the defects of the motor car, progressively, over the past 20 years, so will they take out the defects of the social system during the next hundred years.”
“What a smooth running world it will be,” I mused.
“And,” said Jim, “life being perfect, we will turn to our own natures for a little relief. We will turn into cantankerous, mischievous, troublesome and altogether miserable creatures, just for a little relief.”
“Just for an occasional surprise,” I agreed. “Because if we get things perfect in this life, we take out all the surprise. And what is life without its surprises?”
“You’re right,” said Jim. “Of all the deadly dull people to have to live with, the perfect characters are the worst.”
“They never surprise you,” I admitted, “even with their perfection.”
“I wish somebody would surprise me today,” sighed Jimmie, sinking back into his former gloom.
“Look here,” I suddenly thought, “we can surprise Skipper and Vic, even if I can’t surprise you. You know that speed cop on the highway between Orangeville and Shelburne?”
“Eddie?” said Jim. “What about him?”
“Look,” I chuckled, “we’ll have Skip and Vic in the back seat. Eddie usually takes his stand on that long hill about five miles north of Orangeville. When we see him ahead, you call out and warn me. Make sure the others hear you. Then I’ll say, ‘Aw to heck with speed cops. I’m not afraid of speed cops. And I’ll step on the gas and shoot her up from 50 to as high as she’ll go.”
“Swell,” laughed Jimmie, quite refreshed.
“And we’ll go by Eddie at 70 miles an hour,” I exulted, “and Skipper and Vic will think I’ve gone nuts.”
“This is a swell idea,” agreed Jim. “I wish it was on me you were playing the trick. I’d like somebody to give me a thrill.”
“Well, you can have the second-hand thrill,” I pointed out, “of imagining how Skip and Vic will feel.”
Something Up Your Sleeve
So when we came to the time to pick up Skipper and Vic it was with that good-humored feeling you have when you’ve got something up your sleeve. In fact, it was a very jolly party that sped in the late afternoon out of Toronto northerly and westerly to visit some friends in Owen Sound and have a little early morning trout fishing the next day.
“No hurry, no hurry,” shouted Skipper from the back seat. “This is swell. Let’s take it slow enough to see the scenery.”
Which you can see from an open car in a fashion unknown to those addicted to closed cars.
So I slowed down to a lazy 40 and under; and when we passed through Orangeville, I slowed her even more, so as to make the surprise all the more exciting.
“Speed cop ahead,” suddenly cried Jim.
And sure enough, half a mile ahead, Eddie’s motorcycle sparkled modestly in the shadows and there stood Eddie, watching the great sweep of hill before us.
“Speed cops don’t worry us,” said Skipper, from the back seat.
“Oh, don’t they?” I retorted a little indignantly.
And I started stepping on the gas.
“Hey, hey, hey,” warned Skip. “There is a cop there. I can see him.”
“Aw, who cares about speed cops,” I shouted over my shoulder. And put my foot right down on the floor boards and the old car picked up all she had and flew.
“Hey, hey,” cried Skipper, from the back seat. Don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.”
“I’ll make it 75 by the time we pass that guy,” I shouted, amidst the wind of our passage.
And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!
Jim was sitting beside me and behind sat Skipper and Vic almost out of sight so did they huddle. The fear of a speed cop is curiously ingrained into the human species. And it was with a feeling of having committed blasphemy that the two of them crouched as I drove the car at a mad pace past.
Eddie was magnificent. I cast him a sly smile over my shoulder so as to tip him off to chase us. And hidden behind his goggles, he put on an expression of outrage and indignation it is impossible to do justice to. Just as we are intimidated by the sight of a speed cop – other than a friend – is a speed cop astounded and hurt by indifference.
“Have You Gone Nuts?”
In the rear view mirror I watched, as I still tramped on the gas, and sure enough, with every indication of outrage, Eddie grabbed his cycle and with a run and a jump was after us.
“He’s after you; he’s after you,” wailed Skipper, looking back. “Slow up, slow up. Have you gone nuts?”
“Let him catch me,” I roared, holding the speed.
“The guy’s gone nuts,” shouted Vic, leaning forward to grab Jim’s shoulders and shake him. “Turn off the ignition!”
“Aw,” replied Jim loudly, “what we need is a little excitement. Let him go.”
“Excitement,” groaned Vic, relapsing back.
“Yes,” said Jim, turning around so he could see the rapid approach of Eddie on his motorcycle, but with an air of bravado also, “a little excitement. We’re sick of going through life with nothing happening.”
“Turn round, turn round,” hissed Skipper at Jim. “Let on you don’t see him.”
“Aw, I see him all right,” shouted Jim, half raising in his sent and looking over their heads back at Eddie, who was now within 30 feet of us and gaining fast however hard I tramped down the gas. In fact I had it on the floor boards.
I made plenty of room for Eddie by keeping well over to the side. I didn’t want any accidents to mar our little fun.
Eddie went by with a final wild rush. It was magnificent. He blew his horn as he flew by and veered in ahead of us, forcing me to slack speed. His arm flew out to signal us to stop. I slacked and drew into the shoulder of the road, and Eddie dismounted ahead of us.
“Aw, what’s the matter!” I roared hotly “We were only doing 50.”
Eddie swung off his cycle, turned, walked slowly back, lifted his goggles – and it wasn’t Eddie.
It wasn’t Eddie. It was a white-faced cop I had never seen before and hope never to see again. His eyes were blazing in his face. He stood and looked for a long steady minute at me, while I slowly shrank and shrank.
“First,” said this stranger, “permit me to smell your breath.”
I permitted him.
“Next,” he said, “permit me to behold your driving license.”
And he suited the action to the word by producing his own little notebook. I fumbled numbly through several pockets and finally found the little black case I always carry in the same pocket.
“Is there any explanation,” inquired the stranger frigidly, “for your actions in increasing your speed when you approached me and continuing to accelerate your speed though you had full knowledge that I was in pursuit of you?”
I tried to speak, but it just went gug.
“I think,” put in Skipper in a rather weak voice, “that he went a little nuts for a minute, officer. He’s had a lot of work lately, he’s overworked, he works night and day, he’s a tremendous worker, and maybe he just went a little nuts for a second.”
“Did you go nuts?” demanded the constable grimly.
“May I speak to you a minute privately, constable?” I inquired.
“Certainly,” said he. He sounded like a university graduate.
I crept out of the car, steadying my legs under me and grasping the fender for support. I walked up ahead of the car and the constable followed me. In a low voice, up beside his motorcycle, I explained to him how I knew Eddie so well and I just thought would have a little joke on my two friends the back seat who were very high strung, jittery fellows.
“Jittery, are they?” said the policeman.
So he gave me his arm and we returned to the car.
“I think one of you jittery gentlemen should take the wheel,” suggested the speed cop.
So Skipper did.
Editor’s Note: 35 cents for a movie ticket in 1939 would be about $6.50 in 2021.
“My doctor,” said Merrill, “has ordered me to take up horse-back riding.”
“You’ll require a horse,” said I doing something else.
“Horse-back riding,” said Merrill, “is good for the liver, it jounces you around and makes up in one hour for all the jiggling your insides could get from a year’s work with pick and shovel.”
“Have you ever ridden?”
“No,” said Merrill. “I am told there is a kind of electric spark that passes from the horse to the rider as he bounces up and down which does a man a great vitality.”
“I think you’ll enjoy riding,” said I, “if you can persuade a horse that it will.”
“I am counting on you,” said Merrill. “You can teach me to ride. You were with the cavalry in the war, weren’t you?”
“Mounted Rifles,” said I, quickly.
“The same thing,” said Merrill. “When can you come with me?”
Of course, it wasn’t the same thing by any means. The Mounted Rifles may have intended to have horses but all of the time I knew them, they were just plain gravel crushers. Any riding I did in France was on a lorry. But men are silly. No sooner are they flattered with the notion that they were dashing cavalry men than they submit themselves to situations which are unbearable.
So I stand here writing this – I’ve had my typewriter set up on a high desk so I don’t have to sit down – I realize that the most cowardly part of a man is his tongue. Why didn’t I briskly tell Merrill that I knew nothing whatsoever about horses? But no:
“Any time you say,” said I. “Make arrangements for a couple of horses and I’ll go any day”
And the following noon, Merrill phoned to say that he had made arrangements with a riding academy up Yonge St. for that very afternoon. He would pick me up in his car.
Merrill called at the office in riding clothes, hard hat, shiny boots – as if he were a life long member of the Hunt Club.
“Where’s your bag?” asked Merrill.
“I’ve no bag,” said I.
“But your britches,” said Merrill. “How will you ride without britches?”
“The Mounted Rifles never rode in britches and always rode in trousers.”
“The academy fellow said to be sure to wear britches,” said Merrill.
Anyway, we arrived in a back lane that smelled strongly of horses and in a few minutes of being shown through a dark stable by a sun-tanned riding master who seemed to regard me with deep suspicion.
“Haven’t you better have britches, sir?” he said. Merrill had told him on the telephone that a cavalry officer was a friend of his and was going to teach him riding.
“No, no,” said Merrill, interrupting. “The Mounted Rifles always rode in trousers.”
“Merrill,” said I, “you should have a good tall horse, strong and well built.”
“I’ve the very thing,” said the groom. And backed out of its stall a huge brown horse that had to duck its head under the stable rafters. “Here’s a good strong horse, with lovely manners and it doesn’t care what it carries.”
Merrill looked unimpressed. So did the horse. It snorted loudly.
“Haven’t you got a lower horse?” asked Merrill. “A lower, wider horse, with shorter legs and broader across the back. I’d feel more sure.”
Spanked on a Large Scale
This is the very horse for you, sir,” said the groom. “Now for you, sir.”
And the groom stood inspecting me for a moment.
“You’d like something pretty,” said he. “No nags for you, sir.”
“Oh, just a nice little horse,” said I, trying to look cavalry. “I don’t want to be too busy riding to devote some attention to my friend here.”
He backed out a small, yellow horse with its ears pointing back.
“I don’t like its ears,” said I.
“That’s all right sir,” said the groom. “That’s the way he wears them all the time. He’s a dandy little horse.”
With the help of a couple more grooms, the two steeds were soon saddled. Twice I saw my little horse stretch out its neck towards Merrill’s big horse, and both times the big horse backed violently away.
“Are these horses good friends?” I demanded.
“The little chap is playful,” said the groom. “but don’t mind that, sir. You’ll have no trouble managing him.”
When Merrill came to mount, all three grooms had to help him up. It was a terrific heave. They had to push the horse up against the lane fence and then hoist Merrill on with the fence for a backing.
“Wait a minute,” said Merrill uneasily. “Suppose I fall off, are their any loading platforms in the neighborhood where I can get on again, or are you three going to follow me about?”
“You won’t fall off, sir,” said the head groom.
“I feel as if I will fall off at the slightest movement,” said Merrill. “This horse is like a barn roof.”
I have seen hundreds of horsemen mount their charges in the movies, at the horse show, and so forth. I stepped boldly up to my small horse, seized its reigns, raised one foot for the stirrup when the little brute swerved violently away from me.
“The other side, sir!” shouted the head groom. It appears you cannot climb on a horse from any side. There is a particular side. I forget which one now, but with one of the grooms holding his head, I managed to clamber up the side of the beast and get myself in the saddle. Merrill and his large horse were standing waiting in the lane.
I don’t know anything more deceiving than a horse. It looks, from the ground to be a nice round animal, with a broad, smooth back slightly curved downward as if for the comfortable seating of a man. But the minute you get on top, you find it entirely different. A horse is really a three-cornered animal. It is triangular in shape, and one of the edges is up. The saddle is a small seat on this thin and dangerous edge, and your legs hang down two slippery sides.
And even my small horse seemed to be ten feet high.
Its ears were pointing back all of the time. The minute the groom let go, it gave a couple of little skips and, with its neck outstretched, trotted towards Merrill’s horse.
Merrill’s horse wheeled suddenly, almost upsetting him right at the start, and made off down the lane.
When a horse runs, it bobs up and down. By some curious lack of sympathy between man and horse, a man is always coming down just as the horse is coming up. I know of no other sensation quite like it. It is like being spanked on a large scale. And also like being hit on the jaw by a man much bigger than yourself. Both Merrill and I went out the lane being spanked. And I am not sure, but I think I heard veiled laughter from the grooms behind us.
“Whoa!” shouted Merrill, as we came out of the lane to the street. “Hold your horse back away from mine. Mine’s nervous of yours.”
A Horse Can Jump Sideways
I hauled on the reins and mine stopped.
“Which way will we go?” asked Merrill. “Up north of Forest Hill Village is nice.”
“Let’s go there then.”
“Turn left,” said Merrill, pulling on the left rein. But his big horse turned right.
“We’ll go this way,” Merrill called back to me. So one behind the other, we proceeded east towards Yonge St.
Merrill’s horse paid no attention to traffic. But mine began to prance every time a motor car passed. It laid back its ears and pointed itself in different directions, and sometimes it even backed up a little, which was very disconcerting. My trouser legs were beginning to work up and show my garters.
“We’ll go north on Yonge,” said Merrill, as we approached.
But at Yonge, when he pulled the north rein, the big horse turned south.
“Hey,” said I, “north on Yonge.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” called Merrill. “We’ll ride in the Rosedale ravine, it’s more secluded.
My pant legs were working up so high that I wished I had got britches. I don’t believe the Mounted Rifles ever rode in trousers. They probably wore puttees.
Amid traffic, we proceeded at a walk down Yonge St., Merrill having to slow up every little while until my small horse stopped pointing itself at half the cars that passed.
When we came level with the entrance to the Rosedale Glen, Merrill stopped his horse, turned it facing the entrance and then clicked his tongue and started it. But, without the slightest concern, the horse turned and proceeded down Yonge St.
I let my horse loose just a little bit and came within speaking distance of Merrill.
“We don’t want to go down town,” I said.
“He knows where he’s going,” said Merrill. “Take the lead yourself if you like.”
I tried to move my horse past Merrill. In doing so, I must have conveyed the wrong impression to him. I clicked and said “Giddap,” and slightly urged him forward with my body. And the fool horse started to trot!
As soon as he started to trot, Merrill’s big horse gave a lurch and started not to trot but to gallop.
“Whoa!” roared Merrill. I yelled whoa too. But it appears in the best horseman circles, nobody ever says whoa to their horse. Around a corner off Yonge St. we charged.
Merrill’s horse was going at what is called a canter, and Merrill was bouncing easily up and down. But my small yellow horse, with its ears back, was trotting smartly, with the result that I was joggled horribly, and I could only see in a blur. I could see in his elbows that Merrill was trying to stop his horse. Just as he got it slowed, we caught up, and mine gave a small whinny and made a nudge at Merrill’s.
A horse can jump sideways. You would be surprised at how far a horse can jump sideways. I wonder they don’t include sideways jumping events at the horse shows. Anyway, it was all of ten feet from where Merrill hit the pavement to where the horse stood, all trembling and indignant. For fear my horse would step on him, Merrill scrambled up and my horse stood up on its hind legs. I executed a smart manoeuvre I had learned in the Mounted Rifles in getting off the back of moving lorries. I slid off the rear end of my horse while it was standing up.
The two horses trotted in a leisurely way along the street towards Queen’s Park, which glimmered greenly a block distant.
“Well,” said Merrill.
“I was afraid you were hurt,” said I, pulling down my pant legs.
“What about the horses?” asked Merrill.
“What do you say if we let them go?” said I. “They will find their way home. Horses are marvellous that way.”
“It’s all my fault,” said Merrill. “I’m sorry. But if you ‘ll try me just once more, let’s go and catch them and you take the lead. I’ll follow.”
We walked with an accompaniment of small children, over to the park, where our horses were nibbling the grass peacefully and a park attendant was creeping warily up on them.
“You catch yours first,” said Merrill, “and then you can ride mine down and catch him.”
“No, Merrill,” said I. “I’m the teacher. I want you to learn to catch your horse right at the start. It is one of the most important things.”
“But how will I get back on it?”
“Some of this crowd will help,” said I. For all of the people in the park, who had been lying on the grass and lounging on the benches, had suddenly come to life and were gathering to see us catch our horses.
We stalked the big horse carefully. Merrill called “Co-bossy, nice co-bossy,” to it. Just as we were about to grasp the reins, it raised its head suddenly and galloped a few yards away, where it began to nibble the grass again. This was repeated several times, and we had made almost the complete turn of the park when a policeman came walking briskly up and said to Merrill:
“Here, you’ll have to get that horse off here.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Merrill.
“Well go on – get it off,” said the policeman.
“All right, all right,” said Merrill, approaching the big horse.
“Come on, now, no fooling. Get it off of here right away,” said the policeman.
Merrill reached for the reins and again the big horse bolted a few yards off.
“Look here,” said the policeman, sternly, “are you going to get that horse off of here, or are you not?”
Merrill turned to me.
“I guess you’d better catch yours, after all,” said he.
So we turned our attention to the small yellow horse, which had been watching the whole proceedings out of the corner of its eye while nibbling grass.
The crowd now numbered hundreds. To the nearest of them, I explained how we used to catch our horses in the Mounted Rifles. I said we used to turn out the whole battalion and form a huge circle, just like ring-around-a-rosy, and then narrow it down until the horse was caught in the middle. I asked them if they would like to help us. And a large circle was formed around the little yellow horse, so that five men, the policeman, Merrill and I managed to corner the beast, and a short man with bow legs and a peaked cap walked bang up to the brute and took it coolly by the straps.
“‘Ere’s your ‘orse,” said the little man. “What’s your trouble?”
“I was teaching my friend here to ride,” said I, “and he fell off.”
“Did he fall off bofe ‘orses?” asked the bow-legged little man.
“I got off to help him catch his horse.”
“Ow, I see!” said the little man. “Now then, wot?”
“We’re going to get on again,” said Merrill, “if we can find a sort of platform around here anywhere. Maybe a couple of benches one on top of the other will do.”
“Perhaps,” said the little man in the cap, “you’d like the ‘ave the ‘orse kneel down for you to get on?”
“Will it do that?” asked Merrill, eagerly.
“Sure,” said the small fellow. “An’ roll over.”
“You catch my horse now,” said Merrill to me. “Let’s hurry. This crowd is getting noisy and the policeman is getting out his little book.”
“That Horse is a Killer”
“We’ll catch yours the same way as we caught mine,” I said. “I don’t like galloping all around this park. There are women and children to be considered.”
“Form another ring,” said Merrill.
“Wite a minute,” said the little man holding my horse. “Do you want me to get that other one for you?”
“Do you mind?” I asked quietly.
The little man was quivering with anxiety to get on my horse. You could see that.
Up went one leg, with an easy bound the little man was on top and had hooked his bow-legs over that prancy yellow beast of mine. Its prancing stopped. With an easy twist or two, he rode it up to the big horse, took the reins and brought the two of them to us more quickly than it takes to write about it.
“Now then,” said Merrill, looking haughtily at the policeman, “up we go.”
“Merrill,” said I, holding him by the lapel, “look at the eye of that horse of yours! Just look at it! I didn’t notice it before. But that’s a bad horse you’ve got. A bad horse!”
“Eh!” said Merrill.
“That horse is a killer,” said I. “I’m sorry I ever let you get on such a horse as that. I wouldn’t dream of being responsible for you on a bad horse like that. He’s got blood in his eye.”
“What shall we do?” asked Merrill.
“I’ll ask this little chap if he would like to take the two of them back to the stable,” said I.
“All right then,” said Merrill. “I’m mighty glad you saw in time.”
“Would you like,” I asked the small man, still sitting on my horse, “to take the two of them back to their stable?”
“Right-o,” said he.
“What’s the address of that stable, Merrill?”
“Oh, I knows it,” said the little man. “I come from there and I’m the groom what the boss sent down to follow you two gents in case you got in trouble.”
“The very idea!” cried Merrill indignantly, looking to me to burst out into cavalry temper.
“Right-o,” said the little chap, wheeling the horses and taking them tamely out of sight.
“Let’s walk over to Yonge and get a taxi,” said I. We walked away and left the crowd to sort itself out on the benches and grass again.
“Ouch,” said Merrill.
“What is it?”
“That electric spark from the horse is catching me,” said Merrill. “It feels like a knife inside my leg up there.”
I walked a short distance and noticed the same thing.
We were walking slightly bow-legged by the time we got to a taxi. The next day we both stayed home. To-day I am working at my task standing up.
“What shall I tell my doctor?” asked Merrill.
“Tell him you consulted a cavalry officer who said that you were not cut out for a horseman and ask him if riding in a tank would server the same purpose.”
And the doctor retorted that Merrill should go in for sea fleas.
Editor’s Note: This is a pre-Greg and Jim story, in the similar format, but with Greg and Merrill Denison, another Star Weekly columnist. A few of these stories would run in 1930. Denison would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly, and Jim would still illustrate his stories. The quality of the microfilm was also quite bad, so I had to make some guesses with the text.