“Be sure,” ran the memorandum, “to wear your old clothes for a rough time will be had by all.”
Chess is only one more of the innumerable games which has a big following in Toronto. And a chess tournament is a memorable sight. The tournament we witnessed was between forty members of the Toronto Chess Club and a single international expert and former world champion. To come to this scene in the Central Y.M.C.A. fresh from a baseball game touched the gamut of sport in one of the liveliest sport cities in the world.
The tables were laid in a hollow square. At each table sat a player with a friend at each elbow with whom he might consult. Around the inner side of the ring of tables walked the international expert, stopping a brief moment at each player to make his move and then on to the next. He played forty games against every other player’s one.
The large Y.M.C.A. room was crowded. Densely packed in back of the players were several hundred people, almost exclusively men, with eyes glued on to the nearest board. A complete silence reigned.
The players were of all ages. There was one old gentleman from Hamilton in his seventies. There was a boy of thirteen! There were university professors and mechanics, men run all to head and men all run to body, florid beef-eating men and pallid, biscuit eating men. But one thing they all had in common from the little boy and the very young men right through to the greyest head of all, and that was a peculiar air of contemplation which was fortified by a common mannerism-head rested on the hand and eyes glued to the board.
There is a stance in chess as there is in golf, tennis, bowling or anything else. Slightly sunk in the chair, each player sits forward enough to rest one elbow on the table, so that he can support his head on his hand.
As the great international expert arrives at his table the chess player does not look up. He wears a conscious, secretive expression, perhaps gently rubbing his head. The great expert looks at the board, glances shrewdly at the player’s downcast face, and then with a sudden, almost contemptuous gesture, makes his move. The player, his face unmoved except rarely by a faint smile that might reveal chagrin, never lifts his eyes from the board, but broods on and on, preparing for his next move.
Chess is a brooding, contemplative game. There appears to be hypnotism in it. The intensity of the attention which is directed down on that board for motionless minutes at time appears to be an effort to read some immense riddle, as if from some slight psychic gesture of the chessmen some hint could be got.
All the faces, after a little while, take on a blank expression as if the spirit had retreated to some far inner secret place. Hours and hours pass. The tournament started at 8 o’clock at night and the last of the games was not played until between 2 and 3 the next morning.
They say there is a peculiar type of mentality required for success in chess. In checkers, which is an infant’s game, there is life, movement, triumph, humor, action. It is a skirmish. Chess is a battle on a grand scale. The players try to read the riddle of enemy’s moves. Time does not enter into it. You could not dream of one of these players saying to another, “Come on, hurry up!” The players, for a fact, do not seem to be aware of each other at all. There is no human element visible. Abstraction settles down like winter night.
You can still see ping-pong played at the Y.M.C.A. There is still a lively trade in croquet sets at the big stores. Badminton – batting feathered shuttlecock across a net – takes up large space at the Armories. Every known form of card game has its devotees in Toronto, down to the queer fan-tan with buttons counted out from under an inverted saucer in the Chinese kitchens on Elizabeth street.
But for the remote extreme from those games of which huge grand stands and uproarious yelling is perhaps the most essential factor you must go to the brooding, contemplative, timeless abstraction of the ancient game of chess.
Editor’s Note:Fan-Tan is a form of a gambling game long played in China. It is a game of pure chance which has similarities to roulette.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Editor’s Note: Normally I would reproduce an article by Greg for this, but this time it is just a synopsis. At the time of this article, jazz was taking over popular music, and there was a lot of hand-wringing by older people about it’s influence on society.The news article starts off well enough, explaining that new dance forms like the Charleston were to difficult for older people, and that the decline of traditional dancing would affect dance popularity. This was also a period in time when dancing followed “rules”. You have to learn the various dance steps, and how “good” you were was defined by how well you performed them. This was true up until the rock and roll era of the 1950s and 1960s. The article then went on to declare that the various “dance masters” (i.e. influencers of the time period) we predicting a return to more traditional dances in the coming season.
The article has not been reproduced, because Greg interviews a “dance master” whose views are racist to modern readers. To put it mildly, the person interviewed did not have a high opinion of jazz, and “negro dance”. The nice illustration by Jim is still worth reproducing.
“Bugs,” said Madge, “spoil more picnics
than rain. Why don’t we have bug probabilities?”
“From the department of agriculture,” put in
Willie. “Daily bulletin of the entomology branch, department of
agriculture: Today, damp and bugless. Tomorrow, fine and buggy.”
“That’s the idea,” continued Madge. The government
knows all about bugs. They know where the bugs are. They have scientists getting
$3,000 a year for no other reason. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice, just
before we make a motor trip, to look up the paper and see that there is a big
plague of bees in northwestern Ontario, but that in the Kawartha Lakes region,
the potato bugs are not yet up and few June bugs have been reported.”
“It would be fine,” Willie and I admitted.
This conversation took place on a beautiful grassy
roadside near Peterborough, while we were munching our noonday sandwiches.
We had so far had a very peasant ride. Except for bugs.
Bugs and bees. Not far out of Toronto, we were gliding along with windows open
to a stray bit of summer warmth, when, in passing a cover field, in whammed a
large bulbous bee. Wille, at the wheel, swerved the car violently, narrowly
missing the ditch. Madge screamed and gathered her fashionably short skirt
around her knees. I, being in the back seat, laughed heartily.
“Stop the car!” screamed Madge.
“Don’t be silly,” said Willie. “It’s
only one bee.”
“One bee!” cried Madge, witheringly, scrambling
over into my lap. Willie made a swat at the bee with his hat. The bee
“Now you’ve done it!” moaned Madge.
“Where is it? A missing bee is the worst thing I could imagine. I won’t go
back into that seat.”
“Stay right here,” I begged. Willie groped
about on the floor for the bee. Suddenly I felt a furious stab on my shin bone,
just north of the top of my sock.
“Ow!” I roared, heaving Madge back into her
“It’s all right now,” Madge said in a soothing
voice. “A bee can sting only once.”
So on we toured, with all windows closed, while the
first real day of summer grew on, hotter and hotter. Bees of all sizes, lean,
rakish looking hornets and swollen looking bumbles with orange stripes around
them, batted furiously against our windshield. Past certain fields, we thrust
our way through swarms of them. We all ducked our heads instinctively as each
bee hit against the glass.
“I’m smothering,” said Madge.
“Open your window then,” said Willie.
Car Windows Need Screens
“I think we will get screens for the car,”
At length, we halted for roadside lunch. Not a bee was
to be seen as we spread our paper cover on the grass. Madge set out the various
delicacies attractively. Willie and I stretched ourselves upon the turf.
Suddenly Willie sat up and scratched urgently at his
“Hang it!” he cried, pulling at his collar.
“An ant or something.”
I thrust my hand down his collar and felt about.
“I can feel it walking along my ribs,” said Willie. Opening his
shirt, he contorted himself and presently, having been in the army, withdrew
his hand, pinching between finger and thumb a small, squashed ant. Madge, who
had been a sympathetic spectator, suddenly screeched:
“Look at our lunch!”
Our lunch was in the act of moving away. Swarms of
ants were busy as wrecking crews on our sandwiches and hard boiled eggs.
“Whew! Scat!” squealed Madge, holding her
skirt tight at her knees with one hand and wielding a paper napkin with the
“I’m not going to sit down here,” she said.
“Let’s have lunch in the car.”
“Oh, come on,” said Willie. “They’re
“You don’t know ants,” retorted Madge.
“They are never gone. They have no intelligence whatever. They won’t take
So Madge got into the car and willie and I acted as
butlers to her, eating our own lunch in between battles with the little black
battalions that swarmed up out of the grass.
“It’s a wonder to me,” said Madge as we
continued to drive, “that bugs haven’t won long ago.”
“Won what?” we asked.
“Won everything. Won against us. Think of the
millions of kinds of bugs there are all after the things we’re after, eating
our vegetables, eating our animals, eating us! Germs are bugs. Why weren’t we
exterminated ages ago, long before doctors were thought of?”
“All you’ve got to do,” said Willie,” is
“Yes,” said I. “With your hat!”
By this time, the hail of bees was renewed against our
windshield. Our windows were shut and the summer sun beat upon our prison cell.
“The next nice little lake we come to,” said
Madge, “we will stop and have a swim.”
Madge wears her bathing suit under her clothes. It is
one of these little 1926 bathing suits. Shortly, we came to a lake and ran the car
down to a beautiful and utterly deserted sand beach. There was an ideal little
clump of dense underbush handy for Willie and me to dress for bathing in. Madge
is so handy, she can perform the rite in the sedan.
In the distance, we could see other beaches, all jammed
and crowded with picnickers. But our little golden beach was a paradise all to
ourselves. We stood on the soft, firm sand and saw how it shelved away into the
“Mysterious,” said Madge, “why this
little beach is deserted and all those other beaches are jammed to suffocation!
Yet it is perfect, isn’t it? Come on, let’s get in. You boys dress in that
The Bugs Win the Day
So leaving Madge in the sedan, we took our suits and
pushed our way into the little forest of brush and birches.
We joyfully threw off our few clothes.
“Beat you in!” I said to Willie already in my
BVD’s. At that same instant we both heard a curious sound.
It was a humming and a buzzing. It sounded like an
aeroplane in the distance. We looked up.
It was not an aeroplane in the distance. It was a
large wasp’s nest about eight feet over our heads. I dropped everything and
leaped. Willie crowded in front of me and delayed me. I yelled. Something stung
me. Willie yelled. We emerged on to the open beach in our linen and sprinted
for the car, shouting to Madge to open the door.
A swarm of wasps pursued us. They got ahead of us and
tried to bar our way. We got to the sedan.
“Open! Open!” we screamed to Madge, in her
scanty bathing suit within.
And Madge, that sweet girl, took a firm hold of the
door handle and hung on.
You see, it was a delicate problem for both Madge and
us. If we insisted on getting into the sedan, we would assuredly admit with us a
dozen or more angry wasps; and little Madge, most of her exposed, would have
been stung. Yet poor tender-hearted little Madge had to struggle with her fear
of wasps and with the pain of seeing her husband and her husband’s best friend
being eaten alive by hordes of hornets. So her good sense prevailed, as it
always does, over her womanly softness. She hung on.
To be sure, Willie and I yelled and roared for
admittance, before we realized what a plight we were putting the poor girl in.
But when we realized – and of course, we were being stung throughout the
process of realizing – we left her and fled like two Olympic track athletes
down the road.
At the next beach down, we paused in front of about
forty people, all standing facing and all with their mouths wide open in
paroxysms of outlandish laughter. We glared at them.
“Haw, haw, haw!” they roared, man, woman and
We slowly retraced our steps back to the car and
“We might have known there was something wrong
with that beach,” said Willie.
“Might have known!” I snorted. “We do
Madge could not speak for some minutes.
“What a terribly cowardly thing to do!” she
said at last, her face white.
“Oh, my dear girl, don’t feel badly. You did the
perfectly right thing.”
“Me?” screamed Madge. “I mean you. You
two big brutes trying to bring a thousand bees into the sedan where I was
scarcely clothed at all!”
We dressed behind the car and then drove on in
The bug probabilities for that day were fine and buggy,
for certain. Bees, mayflies, ants, potato bugs, lady bugs, and last but not
least, on our way home, under a beautiful full moon, Willie got out of the car
to admire the view from a hill top. Madge and I sat inside. All was silence.
Suddenly there rose a wild, unearthly yell in the
night, and Willie leaped into the car and slammed the door. We could feel him
“What is it?” we gasped.
“A June bug!” said Willie, brokenly. “A
June bug as big as a golf ball came with a deep snoring sound and struck me – like
in automobile collision – struck me – ugh – June bug…”
As far as this day was concerned, we think the bugs
Editor’s Notes: Some of Greg’s stories before the ones with Jim in the 1920s and 1930s involved activities with couples. The names are probably made up, but the women often are called “Madge” for some reason.
BVD is a company that produced men’s underwear. “BVD’s” came to be used for any underwear in the style popularized by BVD.