The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1935 Page 1 of 5

Strategy

The big man was hurling handfuls of sod at the little old bailiff…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 8, 1935.

“The nerve,” said Jimmie Frise, “of some people.”

We had just passed a rather cheesey-looking individual on the highway, who thumbed us most imperatively as we sailed by.

“He looked,” I admitted, “as if you might get bugs from him.”

“Why a raggedy-looking specimen like that,” said Jim, “should expect a lift is more than I can understand. I don’t mind giving a lift to a respectable-looking person, but some of the hikers who thumb most commandingly should hardly expect to be allowed in at a dog fight.”

“Maybe we could write something,” I suggested, “that would suggest to hikers that they clean themselves up. Let’s tip off the hiking fraternity that the ratio of the lifts they get is in exact proportion to their clean and tidy appearance.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Jim. “Yet I’m a little leery of those too tidy ones. Last week, I gave a lift to a very polished gentleman along by Port Hope, and he wondered if I wouldn’t be so kind as to run him up a few miles north of the highway to some forsaken little dump he mentioned.”

“The nerve!”

“Yes,” said Jimmie, “and when I refused, he got out of my car with all the outraged airs of a bank president who couldn’t get front row seats at the box office.”

“This whole business of hitch hikers is queer one,” I related. “I know a chap who was signalled by a nice-looking girl on the highway out near Oakville. She stepped right out in front of the car and he had to stop. She was in a hurry to get to Toronto. So he took her aboard. Just as they came over the Humber bridge, the girl suddenly tore her blouse and rumpled her hair, and started to scream. My friend slowed down in fright and astonishment. ‘Now,’ says the nice young lady, there’s a cop at the far end of the bridge. You come across with $5 or I’ll lean out and scream at him, and what a nice mess you’ll be in!””

“Good grief!” gasped Jimmie. “What did he do?”

“He did the only sensible thing,” I delighted to tell him. “He drove straight to the cop, and said, ‘Here’s a young lady who signalled me for a ride out the highway, and now she has torn her dress and said she’d scream to you if I didn’t hand her over $5.’ And the cop said, ‘Good, we’ve been on the watch for this jane for three weeks,’ so they all drove up to the police station.”

“Boy,” breathed Jim, “I wouldn’t know what to do in a jam like that.”

“I knew another chap picked up a young man and a girl,” I told, “and they said they were going to Orillia. My friend was going to Gravenhurst, so he said hop in. When they were passing one of those swamps beyond Barrie, the girl, who said she had once lived on a farm near there, told about a wonderful cold spring that bubbled out of the earth right near the road. The coldest, loveliest water you ever tasted.”

“I see what’s coming,” said Jim.

“So,” I related, “they stopped by the road and everybody got out and went into the cedar swamp. And the girl led the way into the thicket and said it’s right around here somewhere, so they scattered out to look, when my friend heard his car start.”

“Holy,” said Jim.

“So by the time my friend got out to the pavement,” I concluded, “there was his car vanishing up the road at sixty miles an hour. He flagged a lift and gave chase, but the car had disappeared. You can’t expect the first guy you beg a lift off to hit sixty. He got the police at Orillia to help him. But the next he saw his car, it was in Goderich, with a seized engine, and all his property gone out of it, and old tires on it in place of the good tires.”

“Well I never,” confessed Jimmie.

“The great thing is,” I stated, “don’t pick anybody up. It is better to be a meanie a thousand times than to try to explain something to your wife even once.”

“I suppose so,” agreed Jim. “There is enough trouble in this world, dealing only with your immediate friends and relatives, without getting yourself tangled up with strangers.”

We drove along in philosophic silence.

“Yet it seems a pity,” pursued Jim, “that a thousand deserving people, with sore feet and weary hearts, should have to be left standing on the side of the road all for the fear of the one scoundrel.”

“You can pretty well tell,” I said, “what a man is like from the outside. Men, for the most part, are pretty simple and straight-forward. Most men are not schemers.”

“I hate schemers,” declared Jim. “But I pride myself on the fact that I can smell a schemer a mile off. I can tell by their eyes. They have an honest, wide-eyed sort of look. They look you right in the eye.”

“I thought it was the other way around,” I exclaimed. “I thought schemers were shifty-eyed and never could meet your gaze.”

“That’s a lot of stuff you read in novels,” said Jim. “Just think of your friends. Think of the most honest of them all. Is he wide-eyed and innocent?”

I thought for a moment.

“No, by George,” I admitted, “now that you mention it, he has a shy and shifty glance. I never noticed that before.”

“It’s always the way,” pointed out Jim. “Human nature, at its best, is shy and timid and kindly and uncertain. But the boys who are certain and bold and crafty, they are the ones who look you bung in the eye.”

“Well, sir, that’s news to me,” I agreed.

Ahead of us, far up Yonge street, as we zoomed along for Lake Simcoe, we saw a figure of a man hobbling painfully on a stick.

As we neared him, we saw that he was elderly and bowed, and his foot was done up in a bandage. He was barely able to hobble.

“Poor chap,” said Jim, “I wonder if he has far to go?”

“This is an exception,” I admitted. “We couldn’t really pass him by.”

Jimmie was already slackening the car. We drew up ahead of the poor old chap, and as we did so, his face lighted up with pleased surprise and he hastened as fast as his bandaged foot would let him.

“Have you far to go?” called Jim, as I opened the car door.

“Just a little way,” cried the old man anxiously. “Up two cross roads, and then in one concession.”

“We can’t see you hobbling along like that,” said Jim.

“It’s a mighty sore foot,” said the old chap. “But of course I wouldn’t expect you to drive me right in. Just you gentlemen leave me on the corner, and somebody will come along sooner or later and take me in.”

“Not at all, not at all,” assured Jim. “We’ve nothing to do. We’re just going fishing. It won’t be ten minutes out of our way.”

The old chap’s face was a delight to behold, at this information.

“You’ll take me right to the door?” he exclaimed. “Well, now, I call that mighty fine of you gentlemen. You don’t find many folks that way these days.”

He got in the back seat and made himself comfortable. I noticed how wide and innocent and blue his eyes were. He had a candid gaze, if ever a man did. But I realized that in the country they have a more gentle and innocent outlook on life than we city slickers. They don’t have to be so crafty in the country.

“Two roads up,” said Jim, as he got the car booming along again.

“Two roads up, and then turn right, and it’s just near the end of the concession,” said the old chap. “My, this is nice of you. And what a nice big car you’ve got.”

“We couldn’t very well pass a man of your age, struggling along the way you were going,” admitted Jim. “Did you hurt your foot?”

“No, it isn’t exactly hurt,” contributed the old chap. “It’s a kind of sciaticky1 or arthritis or something. It catches me something terrible. And then all of a sudden it leaves me.”

“It isn’t gout?” asked Jim.

“No, not gout,” said the old chap. “I hardly ever took a drink in my life, scarcely. I think it’s what we used to call the rheumatics. But it’s an awful painful thing.”

Delivering a Blue Paper

“It must be bad getting around, if you’re a farmer,” suggested Jim.

“I’m not exactly a farmer,” said the old chap. I was turned to face him and I noticed how clear and guileless his eyes were. I thought of Gray’s Elegy2 and honest plowmen and all sorts of things. “No, I ain’t a farmer, exactly, although I have done farming.”

“What is your business?” asked Jim.

“Well, I’m a kind of an official,” said the old chap, proudly. “I’m a kind of sheriff’s man, a kind of bailiff, so to speak.”

“You ought to have plenty to do these days,” laughed Jimmie over his shoulder. “Throwing people off their farms and that sort of thing.”

“Oh, yes, I get some fun,” said the old chap.

“Is this the turn?” called Jim.

“Yes, this is it,” said the bailiff. “Now, if you feel you can’t waste the time…”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “It won’t take us five minutes. One concession over?”

“One concession,” agreed the old fellow. So we turned east and swung along a nice gravel road, passing farms on right and left.

“You live in here?” asked Jim.

“No,” said the bailiff, “I’m just delivering a paper in here. If it wouldn’t put you out any, I thought, maybe, while you are turning your car around, you might wait until I deliver the paper, and then I could get a lift back out to the road…”

“Certainly, certainly,” said Jim, but he gave me a look just the same.

“You gentlemen certainly are very kind,” said the bailiff. “I hope some day I can return you the favor.”

“It’s quite all right,” said Jim. “You won’t be long?”

“The next lane,” said the old fellow. “Just run up the next lane. You can see the farm house from here, see? And while you turn the car around, I can just pop this document in and be right aboard again.”

He seemed a little breathless. His wide. innocent eyes were shining with suppressed excitement.

Up the lane we ran, and into a farmyard in the midst of which stood a tidy house. But it had a sort of fortified look, if I make myself clear. There were no implements nor buck saws leaning about, not even a chair on the front porch. The blinds were down.

“Everybody away?” I said.

“No, he’ll be in all right,” said the old gentleman, as we drew up alongside the back door. He was shaking with excitement. He opened the car door quickly and hopped out, at the same time drawing a large blue paper from his pocket.

Jim started to turn the car. The old chap, whose sciaticky seemed much improved, skipped to the door and rapped loudly. The door opened, and as we were busy backing the car and turning it, I saw a huge man in overalls, with stubble all over his chin, looking fiercely out of the crack of the door down at the little man who was holding out the blue paper.

As we completed the turn in the yard. and started to back up to the door again for our passenger, we were both astonished to see him running wildly down the lane past us, with no trace of sciaticky at all in his foot, and behind him, taking large jumps and stooping to pick up handfuls of sods and gravel, the big man was bounding, shouting angrily and hurling the divots at the back of the neck of the little old bailiff.

“Here, here,” said Jim, starting the car. But the big chap was returning towards us with giant strides. We stopped.

The big fellow reached in and seized Jimmie by the scruff of his necktie and shirt front.

“So,” he said, “you’re a couple of professional bullies, eh? Who’s the little squirt, eh? Would it be Jack Dempsey3, maybe?”

And before I could say a word, he had reached past Jimmie and, seizing the brim of my hat, yanked it down over my nose.

“Keep out of here,” roared the big man, giving Jim’s head an awful waggle with that grip he had of Jim’s tie. “Don’t show your snoot around here, if you don’t want to be kicked over that there barn.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jim.

“Yes, sir,” said I.

Jim started the car. Down the lane we rocked, and made the turn. Far ahead, just vanishing over a rise in the road, we saw the bailiff. He was making time a high school boy would envy.

“I’ll run over him,” grated Jim, slamming into high gear.

As we came near, the bailiff jumped off into the grassy ditch. The bandage on his foot had come loose and was trailing. His face was flushed and he seemed to laughing.

“Would you mind,” shouted Jim, “explaining what this is all about?”

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” assured the little man, with anxious looks down the road. “I was serving eviction papers on him.”

“And what’s this about us being prize-fighters?” inquired Jimmie icily.

“Oh, I just told him for fun that I had a couple of hired prize-fighters along with me in the car,” deprecated the little old man.

“He nearly strangled me,” declared Jim, “with my own necktie.”

“He pulled my hat over my eyes,” I added indignantly.

“He didn’t catch me,” said the little bailiff, proudly.

“By the way, what about that sore foot?” demanded Jim. “You were hardly able to walk when we first saw you fifteen minutes ago.”

“Oh, just one of those things a bailiff has to think of,” said he, stooping to unwind the bandages. “I couldn’t get any of the local boys to come with me. They wouldn’t even come in a car. They wouldn’t even come as far as the lane, and wait down on the road. No, sir. I couldn’t get anybody in the whole township to come with me to serve those papers. So I just had to use strategy. I had six cars stop before you came along, but I wanted the right car, and that was you.”

“Strategy,” sneered Jim. “Strategy. A dirty trick, I call it.”

“If you were a bailiff,” said the old chap his rosy face bright with indignation, “you wouldn’t call it a dirty trick to try to get somebody to come with you to serve eviction papers on a man like that.”

In the distance, we heard buggy wheels flying on gravel.

“Hey,” gasped the little old man, scrambling towards us.

But Jim just slammed her into gear and away.

“Strategy,” he yelled back.

And we never waited to see whether be caught him or not.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. He means Sciatica, pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg. ↩︎
  2. This is Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, a poem by Thomas Gray. ↩︎
  3. Jack Dempsey was a famous boxer. ↩︎

“Consider the Lily!”

April 20, 1935

High Wire

“I spread my arms wide on the shingles and wiggled inch by inch up that precipitous slope to Jimmie’s assistance…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1935.

“My radio,” said Jimmie Frise, “is on the bum.”

“The same here,” I said. “Last night, I couldn’t get anything but sopranos and dramas.”

“I mean,” said Jimmie, “mine won’t work. It hisses and squawks and when you do get a program, it throbs and wavers.”

“You should have heard the soprano I had on last night,” I agreed. “Talk about throbbing and squawking.”

“What I mean is,” persisted Jim, “there is something mechanical wrong with mine.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I argued. “Even if you buy a new one, you’ll get sopranos that hiss and squeal worse than if your tubes were worn out. And dramas – there are certain hours, nowadays, where you can twist right around the dial and find nothing but dramas, tense-voiced men and terrified women. My idea is that we radio listeners should be able, at all times, to get what we want on the radio.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Certainly it’s so,” I said heatedly. “Why shouldn’t it be?”.

“Did it never occur to you,” demanded Jim, “that the people who put on that free entertainment are doing a rather magnificent thing for us?”

“Free?” I shouted. “Do you call it free entertainment when I pay $300 for the machine that allows those guys to shove their commercial advertisements right into the sanctity of my home?”

“Er-ah,” said Jim.

“Er-ah, exactly,” I said. “You are like a lot of other people. You sit down with a sappy grin and listen thankfully while hundreds of commercial enterprises come and yell at you.”

“But some of those advertisers,” pointed out Jimmie, “pay as much as $10,000 for a half-hour program.”

“Why shouldn’t they,” I inquired, “when there are potentially 1,000,000 listeners? We shouldn’t have to listen to baloney. There should be a law against baloney.”

“You could easily turn it off if you don’t like it,” explained Jim.

“Why should I have to get up, in my own home,” I shouted, “and turn off my own machine because some public nuisance is allowed on the air?”

“I never heard that argument before,” admitted Jim.

“Well,” I said, “there are too many sopranos and too many dramas on the air. And too many public speakers. And too many comedians. And too many gabblers. Gabble, gabble, gabble. Do you know, there is a fortune waiting for the announcer who will speak in a slow, dreamy voice? The way some of those announcers talk, you’d think they were describing a hotel fire.”

A Kind of Electric Scum

“Well, even so, I wish my radio was working right,” said Jim. “There are enough lovely programs to make it worth while.”

“Sure there are,” I agreed. “There is the Booka Boola hour. They don’t even announce the program. They just start a vast, heavenly orchestra and a more than heavenly choir. And for half an hour, without a single yammering, stuttering human voice to spoil it, they fill your house with ecstasy.”

“And the symphonies on Sunday,” said Jim.

“You can always turn off the commentator,” I admitted, “the guy who needs to clear his throat. He’s got me coughing so hard by the time his turn is over, I can’t hear the rest of the program. Curious about commentators, isn’t it? They’ve all got a bad cold.”

“I think it’s my tubes,” said Jim. “Although I got a new set just before Christmas.”

“Maybe it’s your aerial,” I said.

“I haven’t got an aerial,” said Jim.

“What?” I cried. “No aerial? How do you expect to catch the music out of the air without an aerial?” Hah, hah, hah, “so you’re radio isn’t working right?”

“Lot’s of people haven’t got aerials,” affirmed Jim.

“Nonsense, my dear boy,” I assured him. “You’ve simply got to have an aerial. Don’t you understand the first principles of radio? Don’t you appreciate the simplest everyday facts of radio?”

“I do not,” confessed Jim.

“The ether,” I showed him, “is full of waves. Not little waves like on Lake Ontario or even on the Atlantic ocean. But great big waves, as you can understand, seeing how big nothing is as compared with something. See?”

“Certainly,” said Jim.

“So these colossal waves go waving along, sometimes more than other times; for instance, when there is a storm, the waves are rough, as you can see from your radio. In bad weather, it is harder to catch the music with your aerial than in nice smooth weather.”

“I always understood,” interrupted Jim, “that radio was instantaneous. That we heard the music at the same instant it was heard in the studio away off in New York or London.”

“That just goes to show you,” I said, “how fast those ether waves are. But they have to be fast. They have to travel from here to the moon, to the sun, to the farthest star. And naturally, if a wave has to travel that far, it has got to be moving. That is, if it wants to get there in any sort of time at all. If the ether waves were slow, they might get so tired going a billion miles that they would lose interest altogether in where they were going. So you see the scientific principle there? They have a long way to go. So naturally, they go fast.”

“I think I follow you,” said Jim.

“Anyway, there on the top of that illimitable sea of ether, with gigantic waves flowing away in all directions, floats a sort of wreckage, a sort of flotsam and jetsam, of squeaks, squeals, moans, groans, words, notes, howls, yowls, bawls, squalls.”

“I can see it,” said Jim, closing his eyes. “A sort of scum.”

“A kind of electric scum,” I corrected, “to put it scientifically. You have to understand the science of physics these days, Jim. And this is where your aerial comes in.”

“Ah,” said Jim.

“You stick your aerial up into the air,” I demonstrated, “and it has, as you may have noticed, a kind of fish net or trap of wires on it. It catches that scum. That floating wreckage from a thousand ships. And down the wire into your house comes that stuff you catch in your aerial trap.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed Jim. “But how do you select only certain wreckage from all that must get tangled in your aerial?”

“That is done,” I said, “by the dials. That would be too technical for a beginner like you to understand. But you can see how important it is to have an aerial. My dear chap, without an aerial, you can’t expect to trap anything. No wonder you have been getting nothing.”

“I wonder how much it costs to put up an aerial?” Jim mused.

“Don’t be absurd,” I said. “You can put up the aerial yourself. Just get some wire and make a sort of bird cage out of it.”

“I have an old bird cage down cellar,” said Jim.

“Perfect,” I assured him. “Nail the bird cage on to a clothes prop, fasten a wire that will run to the ground, and nail the pole to the roof. Simple.”

“Lend me a hand?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” said I.

So we arranged to attend to the matter before supper, when we would still have daylight. It was only a matter of a few minutes to fasten the old bird cage on to a clothes prop and to attach to it the end of a long piece of telephone wire that would run down and in Jimmie’s side window. Jim borrowed ladders from a neighbor and we set them up to the roof.

“Which end will you carry?” asked Jim.

“You don’t need me up there,” I smiled.

“Of course I do,” cried Jim. “It’s the only place I do need you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jim, but I get the jimjams up any heights. You know that.”

“Listen, you’re on a roof. A big broad roof. Don’t be silly, I can’t hold it and nail it, both.”

“Absolutely no, Jim,” I assured him. “I get dizzy even hanging pictures.”

“What did I ask you to help me for?” cried Jim. “Was it to help me nail this thing in the cellar?”

“You’ll need somebody to stay on the ground and tell you if you have it straight up,” I pointed out. “I’ll do that part.”

“Then,” said Jim, “I’ll have to put it off until I get somebody with enough insides to climb a ladder on to a practically flat roof.”

“Being afraid of heights is not a matter of insides,” I protested. “It has to do with deep and hidden complexes. It is due…”

“Never mind,” said Jim, starting back to the cellar door.

“All right, then,” I said. “I’ll help. I’ll take the lower end. You go first.”

Alone On the Ridge

So Jim went up the ladder first, hoisting the bird cage end of the pole, and I followed, bearing the heavy or bottom end of the pole. Jim went carefully. So did I. Jim got to the roof.

“Wait till I take off my boots,” he called down. “Hold everything.”

“You’ll catch cold,” I warned, for the evening was growing dark and chill. Jim’s boots passed me going down. Then I saw his legs vanish slowly over the edge of the roof. Only his hands showing, he hoisted the pole, and I lifted.

“Hold steady,” said Jim, quietly, when I came to the top. He was sprawled out. What had looked like a big flat roof was now a steep and precipitous cliff.

“I’ll stay here,” I said, clutching the rungs and hooking my feet.

“Take off your boots,” said Jim, “it’s easy then, in your sock feet.”

“Never,” I assured him. “Just never.”

Jim shoved the pole and cage ahead of him, and with arms and legs spread wide, hinched himself up that awful eerie slope.

I closed my eyes and just hung tight.

“All right,” called Jim. “Come along.” When I opened my eyes, Jim was sitting straddle the roof peak, holding the pole upright beside the chimney.

“Come and hold it while I nail it here,” said Jim unsteadily.

“Jim, I’m sorry,” I said. “It couldn’t be done.”

Jim stared grimly at me in the twilight. The air was growing colder. Grimly, he stared.

“So,” he said, “my old friend, my dear old friend, gets me straddled up here and leaves me flat.”

I hooked one leg through the rungs. I slowly untied my laces. I heard my boots drop sickeningly to the distant earth.

I spread my arms wide on the shingles. I inched myself forward, my sock feet clinging pathetically to the last rungs. I thought of the war. I remembered crawling like this, so flat, across dark hushed fields, and I wished I was back at the war again, in No Man’s Land, out from Mericourt. It was better there.

I felt Jim’s grip on my arm. I got up straddled beside him. I held the pole. Jim nailed and hammered. He wound wire around the chimney.

“Now,” he said, “wait here until I go down and attach the wire to the radio, to see if we have the connections right.”

“It’ll be all right, Jim,” I said. “Let’s both go down together.”

“Wait,” said Jim, already leeching his way down the slope. “I’ll holler as soon as I find it’s working.”

“Don’t be long,” I called, as his head vanished over the edge.

I sat astride the ridge. The darkness was settling. The houses far below me across the street were all warmly lighted.

The Roof Gets Steeper

Suddenly, up the chimney, through the house, out the windows of Jim’s house, I heard a great orchestral boom. The radio was working. Working immensely. The house seemed to tremble, to vibrate with it.

“Ah,” I said, clearing my throat and getting ready to make the descent. I would call Jim up on some pretext, so that he would be standing at the top of the ladder to receive me.

I heard the program change. I heard it loud and then soft; I heard men’s voices jabbering fiercely in the supper-time children’s hour.

“Hey,” I roared.

A man passing quickly on the street, homeward bent, paused and looked all around him. Then hurried on.

Down the chimney, I roared: “Hey, hey.”

And in the Frise house, the tumult and thunder of a radio in good working order filtered through cracks and windows and walls and chimney. It was dark.

“Hey,” I bellowed, covering my sock feet with my coat tails.

I thought of taking my penknife and throwing it at a window of a neighboring house. But there were no windows near enough. I watched for passing pedestrians, but everybody in Jimmie’s district comes home by car. A dog went by. I yelled at him. He just ran.

“Help, Help, HAAAALP,” I get go.

I drummed with my heels on Jim’s roof. But all I heard was a constantly shifting faint series of programs, as Jimmie and all his family tried out the beautiful radio.

And every single minute that passed, that vanishing roof grew steeper.

“I-I don’t even know exactly where the ladder end is,” I quavered to myself. “Oh, haaaaaalllp.”

Then I solved it. I reached out and caught the aerial wire. I gave it a sharp yank. It parted.

I waited.

“Hello, up there,” came Jimmie’s voice from the backyard.

“Come up,” I said, “something has happened to the aerial.”

Jim came up. I saw his head emerge over the edge.

“Wait there,” I said. And down the slope I crabbed, my feet feeling for him.

“It suddenly faded,” said Jim.

“The wind shifted the pole,” I said. “I think the wire parted.”

So while I went down the ladder, Jim removed his boots and clawed up to the bird cage.

“Physics,” I said to him, as he came down and joined me at the foot of the ladder, “is a thing everybody ought to know a little about in these days.”


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978). I like the fact that in the introduction to that book, they call out this story as an example of “the old days”, because imagine that you need an aerial on the roof for your radio! But then aerials for television would go from common for 40 years only to become scarce again for 20-30 years, but you now see some digital aerials back on houses.

The New Chief

January 5, 1935

At the time, new municipal elections were held at the beginning of each year and terms were only for the year. This changed after 1956.

Concrete Facts

With his little drill, the man set to work on the cement…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 23, 1935.

“There are, say, about fifty guys in the world,” said Jimmie Frise, “who know whether there is going to be war and who’s to be in it. Fifty guys. A few politicians, a few big bankers and generals. The rest of us three or four hundred millions in Europe and America just sit back and wait.”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I confessed. “But the people chose them.”

“So they just leave things to them,” went on Jim. “They chose them, of course, because of their great interest in their welfare, didn’t they? They elected all those big international financiers and statesmen and generals, didn’t they? They went through the highways and by-ways of the world, seeking the most upright, gentle, kindly and humane of all men. And these they set up at their head, and said, brother, lead us in green pastures, beside the still waters.1

“Not exactly that way.” I agreed.

“No,” cried Jim. “Not exactly. But by reason of their brain-power, their hunger for wealth and influence, their incentive, as they call it; by reason of the drive and fury and cleverness, they chose themselves, rose up, fighting, scheming, battling, manoeuvring, gathering, amassing and hoarding, until they became the leaders, whether they were politicians or generals or super business men.”

“Aw, Jimmie,” I complained, “you’re bitter.”

“Bitter?” asked Jim. “Bitter? Oh, no. I’m just so happy that all over the world. there are such unselfish, humanitarian gentlemen at the controls of the human race.”

“How can people get a more tender type of man to be their rulers?” I demanded.

“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”

“Well, then,” I shouted, “what do you suppose people can do about it? I don’t want a war any more than anybody else. But how can you stop them?”

“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”

“It gives me an awful pessimistic feeling,” I submitted.

“You are a student of Nature,” began Jimmie, sitting back. “You spend all the time you can out on the good earth, looking at the birds, the trees, the flowers. I have seen you, almost like a simpleton, standing watching just the seasons coming and going. You love the good earth. It is a religion to you.”

“Yes,” I breathed.

“Very well,” said Jim. “In your interest and devotion to Nature, are you one of those who thinks we humans are outside Nature. Do you think we are something separate from Nature, and that Nature is only a sort of picture, at which we, from the outside, gaze?”

“Nature is God,” I said.

“Or do you think we humans are part of Nature itself,” questioned Jim; “that we are right inside the frame of that picture, part with the animals, the birds, the trees, the good earth itself?””

“That is the way I try to feel,” I admitted. “That is why I stand, if you like, like a simpleton, just feeling, feeling the seasons come and go. Come and go.”

Fighting Off the Facts

“I’ve got that feeling lately,” said Jim, gently. “This last while, with all the wars and confusions and muddles we humans are in, I have developed the notion within my own heart, that after all, we are only an item in Nature, and that now Nature’s laws are in process of working on us.”

“How?” I asked.

“Except in us humans,” said Jim, “the law of life is the law of the jungle. But we shouldn’t call it the law of the jungle. Because the law of the jungle also applies to the song birds in Muskoka and the mice in York county; we deceive ourselves when we talk, solemnly, about the law of the jungle, because that makes it seem far away. It is right here. In our gardens. The terrible, basic, stark law of Nature, the survival of the fittest.”

“And how do we come into it?” I inquired.

Because we humans,” said Jim, “are in the picture of Nature, too. And Nature’s laws govern us before any other laws. For some two or three thousand years, we have been artificially fighting off the facts by endlessly, struggling to prove that we are better than beasts, that there is something higher and nobler in us, that we are, after all, outside the grim grip of Nature.”

“And we aren’t?” I asked.

“We aren’t,” said Jim. “I show you the whole round world to prove it. In this age of grace, here we are looting and destroying and enslaving. Despite all the ruins of beauty two thousand years old, we are smashing and destroying again just like the Goths and Vandals who made those ruins, two thousand years ago. You can’t beat Nature. Nature has us in her grip.”

“This is terribly pessimistic, Jim,” I groaned.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jimmie. “Maybe we weren’t ever intended to be civilized. Maybe all this war and international confusion is just Nature’s patient way of sending us back to the good earth again, to dwell in caves and rude huts again, and to take our place in the good old natural struggle against bears and sabre-tooth tigers, and to hunt the mammoth.”

“The bees live in communities, Jim,” I pointed out, “and they have no wars.”

“And no politics, either,” explained Jimmie. “And they don’t elect their queen bee, either. She doesn’t rise up to enslave all her fellow bees. She’s born. God creates her. She hatches from the egg a different shape and size, bigger, more beautifully colored. She is queen by Nature’s decree, not the bees’.”

“Then it is not a case of going back to the land,” I suggested.

“Not at all,” said Jim. “It is going back to the jungle. Give us another great big slaughter of a war, another completely smashing and exhausting war, and about ninety-nine per cent. of us will be glad to throw together a valise full of blankets, pails and frying pans and beat it forever from so-called civilization to live alone, in isolated families, in some secret, safe forest. That is where Nature raised us. We left it of our own free will. We worked out a scheme called civilization. It wasn’t Nature’s idea. If Nature had that idea, she would have worked it out with some of her other creatures. So now we are headed back to where we belong.”

To Abandon Civilization

“Will you come and see me sometimes, Jimmie?” I asked. “Maybe we could get a couple of forests not too far apart. Let’s arrange a series of whistles and signals so that we can find one another once in a while. We could pass our signals down to our children so that a Clark would never fling a spear into a Frise, as they lurk through the jungle.”

“Maybe we could both go to the same. forest.” thought Jimmie. “You and your kids take one end of it, and I and my kids. would take the other.”

“It would never do, Jim,” I explained. “Sooner or later, it would come to a blood feud, and your great grandchildren would slay mine, or vice versa. The way it is now, the birds in Muskoka arrive on their ancestral nesting grounds, and they fight, even the tiny little white-throated sparrows that sing ‘Poor old Canada, Canada, Canada’, even these bright, tiny birds fight like demons amongst themselves until, by the time the nests are to be built, no two birds occupy the same feeding range of so many acres of bush. I have seen deadly battles between wrens, tiny brown wrens. All because they could not both nest in the same section of bush. There wasn’t enough feed in that one area of bush to support two families of wrens. Now Nature knows just how much woods a wren needs for its bailiwick. And Nature decrees that these wrens shall fight to the death, if necessary, until only one wren remains to nest. That’s Nature. And it isn’t in any jungle, either. It’s in every beautiful glade in Muskoka and all over the great big world.”

“Well,” said Jim sadly, “when the time comes for us to abandon civilization and head back for the bush, we can at least go part way together. We might go up Yonge St. as far as Orillia together.”

So we sat, brooding on the imminent end of a life-long friendship.

“Speaking of war,” said Jim, at length, “I have to lay a new concrete floor in my cellar. I was out getting the cement and stuff last night. And I was just thinking, hadn’t I better build a sort of concrete pill box in my cellar while I am at it? For air raids, and so forth.”

“And earthquakes, too,” I pointed out. “A good concrete vault in the cellar might prove a very handy item if these earthquakes become a habit around here.”

“War and earthquakes,” mused Jim. “The two things we can’t control. In the face of these two great manifestations of Nature, man can do nothing but fall back wholly on himself. What good are communities, cities, states, when an earthquake or a war strikes? Nothing. It is each poor little man for himself, just the same as in the jungle.”

“My dear boy, in war,” I protested, “men are in mass.”

“Yet every man is all alone,” stated Jim. “When you die, it is a solitary business. There is little or no satisfaction that ten other men are dying with you.”

“I fail to see it,” I declared. “It was just to defeat these disasters of war and earth- quake and what not that man invented the social idea and formed communities, instead of facing life lonely and alone, each in his separate den, like bears, in the jungle.”

“The deadliest feature of society,” propounded Jimmie, “is that masses of innocent men are swept away in the passion of war; and as far as earthquakes go I imagine you could survive it by yourself, but think of the dreadful battle in a great city to secure food and drinking water, just the simple essentials, after a real good earthquake? No, sir, either for war or earthquake, I would rather have a concrete pill box in the back areas of Muskoka than live on the finest avenue in Toronto. I think I’ll build me a pill box.”

“It might almost pay you,” I agreed. “About the safest place I ever was in in the war was a German pill box at Passchendaele. It was sunk in the ground almost to ceiling level. Its walls were five feet solid concrete and its roof was seven feet solid concrete. No shell could ever smash it.”

“Did any shells hit it while you were in it?” asked Jim.

“Several,” I said. “They sounded like somebody dropping a boot upstairs, that’s all.”

“What were you doing in the pill box?” asked Jim idly.

“Well, it sounds silly, but I had a typewriter,” I said, “and I was typing out the recommendation for Tommie Holmes’ V.C.”

“How quaint,” said Jim. “In a war, sitting in a pill box, with a typewriter, typing out a recommendation.”

“In septuplicate, too,” I added. “Six carbon copies and one original. In a pill box. In the mud. With shells landing on the top and sounding like a boot dropped upstairs.”

Nice Concrete Porridge

“War,” said Jimmie, “is silly.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but now that my memory recaptures that scene, twenty years ago, I was just figuring how you would build that heavy concrete pill box. We ought to remember things like that, Jim. We might need them some day again.”

“How would you like to come over tonight,” asked Jim, “and help me mix concrete for my cellar floor?”

“Nothing,” I said, “would please me better.”

So I got out my muskie fishing overalls and old boots and went over to Jim’s after supper where he had suspended the start of operations until I should arrive.

Jim had built a concrete mixing box in the yard. It was like a mortar mixing box, of planks, about six feet square and a foot high. I explained to Jim that the way concrete was really mixed was in a machine. But Jim solved that by showing me he had bought a new quick-drying cement that dried in a very short while, and you mixed fine sand with it to make it the consistency you required.

So Jim arranged that, while I mixed and stirred the concrete, he would hod2 it down to the cellar and spread it.

It was a fine starry night. We flung in bags of sand and bags of cement, and stirred in water with the hose. We made a nice porridge of concrete, and colored it with red powder from another bag. Jim had a little cup to test the proper thickness of the mixture.

“If it stands up, it is too thick,” said Jim. “If it smears down, it is too thin, but if it just sags a little, it is just right.”

So while Jim tested, I stirred, and finally we got just the right mixture of cement, sand and water, and Jim proceeded to carry the hod down into his brightly lighted cellar.

Up and down he trotted, while I stirred and stirred. In between hod trips, I tried, under the stars, a few little designs of pill boxes and bombproof shelters of one kind and another. I scooped out small handfuls of the concrete and moulded the little fortifications on Jimmie’s lawn.

About the tenth trip Jim made down the cellar, I was stooping down with a sort of ultra-modern design of a pill box, for dealing with poison gas as well as bombs and shells, when I inadvertently backed up against the board wall of the concrete mixing box.

And in a second, I had toppled backwards into the soggy cement. I sank a foot. I rolled over, keeping my chin above the heavy, boggy mixture, and got my elbows on the bottom and heaved.

But in rolling over. I had gathered my overalls a heavy load of the cement and it weighed me down.

“Jimmie,” I shouted loudly. “Jimmie.”

Jim came up the cellar steps.

“Quick, Jim,” I shouted. “It’s drying.”

And Jim rushed and took a grip my head and dragged me out of the box.

Wonderful Discovery

“What the heck?” he asked.

“I tripped, and fell in,” I explained.

“Well, it seems to be pretty dry, why haven’t you been stirring it?” demanded Jim. “Quick, come down cellar till we get your clothes off.”

Like a knight in heavy armor, I waddled to the cellar stairs and eased myself down. I was carrying about six inches of concrete all over me, except my head. My feet were the heaviest.

“Snappy,” said Jim. “It’s drying. And the heat of your body is helping it. This new-fangled concrete dries fast.”

I felt no panic. I reached the cellar and took my time selecting a good spot to undress, off Jim’s freshly laid floor.

“O.k.,” I said. “Unbutton the top button of my overalls, Jim.”

Jim shoved his hands into the concrete and I felt him fumbling for the button. My own hands were useless, encased in huge boxing gloves of the stuff.

Then I felt Jim starting to grab and fumble faster and faster and I looked at his face. It was white.

“It’s hardened,” he gasped. “Wait till I get a hammer or something.”

But by the time Jimmie had failed to find his hammer and had called at two neighbors until he borrowed one, I was encased in solid concrete from head to foot.

“My dear chap,” Jim groaned, as he beheld me, solidly rooted into the fresh concrete of his new floor.

“Jim,” I said, “get busy. Get a chisel. Get some stone masons. Phone the Labor Temple3. Get a bomb.”

Jim was hammering at me. It was vain. It was idle. His blows did not sound even like a little girl’s slipper falling to the floor in the room above.

“Jim,” I said, “on second thought, I tell you what you do. Go and get a hod of that concrete upstairs and pour it over my head. Encase me. Mummify me. Seal me up forever, and then at last I will be safe against all bombs and shells and poison gas and everything.”

“I wish,” said Jim, “I had never talked the way I did. Can you stand it until I go and get help?”

“I feel a great peace,” I stated.

And as I stood there, waiting for Jim to return with a squad of concrete workers and masons with mallets and roadworkers with those automatic machines for chopping up pavement. I thought how wonderful was my discovery!

“All we need,” I mused, “is a bag of this rapid-drying cement in the cellar of every house, one bag per member of a family. And a gas mask each. And the instant the alarm is sounded, everybody dive for the cellar, mix up a batch of concrete, bathe in it, adjust the nozzle of the gas mask in the mouth, pour the last hodful over the head and, presto – a personal pill box, a private, intimate fortress. And let the enemy do his worst, he cannot reach us in our final and complete individuality.”

But Jim just brought one man with him, a little old man in an old frayed sweater coat: and he, with a little electric buzzer sort of thing, cut a few cuts in the concrete and peeled it off me like peeling an orange.

“Jim,” I said, “our fortunes are made.”

But I didn’t tell him about it yet, because I want to have it patented.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. From the Bible, Psalm 23. ↩︎
  2. A hod is a three-sided box mounted on a pole for carrying bricks, mortar, or other construction materials over the shoulder. ↩︎
  3. A Labor Temple is in reference to a building like a community centre that houses labour unions. ↩︎

Four Bits

“The fat man put his foot slap over my fifty cents…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 2, 1935.

“What,” asked Jimmie Frise, sarcastically, “are you wearing that particular expression for?”

I was driving. We were bowling along Bloor street.

“What expression?” I inquired.

“An expression,” stated Jim, “of abject humility. A disgusting, lowly, Uriah Heep expression.”

“You saw that speed cop, didn’t you?” I demanded.

“Yes, I did,” said Jim. “And that is what I am getting at. You are driving along, perfectly natural. Suddenly, you see a speed cop standing on the curb. And you deflate yourself like a toy balloon. You fairly sag with humility. You cringe like a dog. You actually fawned in your seat. You did it so glaringly that the cop couldn’t help but see it.”

“I intended the cop to see it,” I explained. I did it for him.”

“Disgusting,” said Jim.

“Disgusting nothing,” I retorted. “That is how you don’t get summonses.”

“Absurd,” snorted Jim. “A cop is a hired official. We hire them. They work for us. The way you act, you’d think they were our masters.”

“A cop,” I expounded, “has a greater sense of majesty than anybody else in the world. No king left on earth has as much sense of personal majesty as a cop.”

“What of it?” cried Jim. “I’d take more pleasure in puncturing their sense of majesty than in contributing to it. The way you do.”

“Listen, Jim,” I begged. “Use your common sense. How does a cop select those to whom he will send summonses?”

“Why,” exclaimed Jim, “he selects those that speed or otherwise break the law.”

“Now it is you who are absurd,” I triumphed. “How many people in this city don’t break the speed laws every day?”

“Oh, well, I suppose there are a good many that do,” admitted Jim.

“A good many!” I cried. “Listen, Jim, the only people who don’t go faster than 20 miles an hour in Toronto are those who can’t. There is a certain type of wooden-jointed man, the kind of man who has to stop and think for a minute before he even picks up his knife and fork at the dinner table; and there is a certain kind of timid, middle-aged lady; but those are the only people in the city who don’t every day, every time they go driving, in short, every block they drive, exceed the speed limit.”

“I know. I know,” cut in Jim, “but the cops use a little reason. They only pick out the excessive speeders.”

“Aha,” I derided, “but did you ever get a summons for going thirty-one miles an hour?”

“Oh, yes,” agreed Jim.

“Yet you know thousands of your fellow citizens go more than thirty-one every day all around you?”

“Sure,” confessed Jim.

“Very well,” I inquired, “how did the cop pick on you out of all the thousands that were doing the same thing?”

“Er,” said Jim.

Why Does a Cop Pick You?

“Exactly,” I stated. “Exactly. He didn’t like your looks, that’s why he selected you. Every day a cop has to pick up so many people for speeding, see? He has thousands to pick from. Therefore, who does he pick?”

“Er,” said Jim.

“I’ll tell you,” I interrupted. “A cop is a human being, just like us. But he has a sense of majesty. The ones he picks, out of all the pickings, is the one that offends his sense of majesty, first. Or the one that, for some reason or another, he doesn’t like the look of.”

“This is awful,” gasped Jim.

“Sure, it’s awful,” I agreed. “It puts the whole problem of right and wrong back where it was in the middle-ages or in the time of Pontius Pilate.”

“How can we escape being selected?” asked Jim.

“By kow-towing,” I stated promptly. “By paying reverence to his majesty the cop. By slowing down when you pass him, even if you are only going as fast as all the other cars in the line. That little sudden slow down you do when you see a cop is a salute to him. A genuflexion. It is a bow to his majesty. He can’t help but love it. You and me, if we were cops, we’d love it. It would tickle us.”

“It won’t come very easy to me,” said Jim.

“All you have to do is look impressed,” I said. “People use the same expression whenever they meet the boss on the street. So what’s the difference? They don’t mean it then and they don’t mean it with the cop. It’s just a little social device. Treat a cop with reverence and you’ll never get a summons.”

“To hell with it,” suddenly Jim shouted. “To hell with it. I won’t do it. I’ll kow-tow to no cop. To nobody. To no bishop or king. To nobody. I won’t do it.”

“Dear me,” I said, for Jim was sitting up straight and glaring about, and I knew full well there would be a cop pretty soon, just along past that rise by High Park.

“What’s more,” said Jim, “I’m going out of my way to stand erect in the presence of all these artificial majesties. The majesty of wealth, pah!”

“Wait until we get past High Park,” I cautioned him.

“Pooie,” shouted Jim, “pooie to riches and power and authority. I’ll stand on my own two feet. I’ll curtsey to no cop.”

“Rich men,” I said, laughingly, “give me a pain, Jim. There has always been a trick I’d love to play on rich men. Did I ever tell you about it?”

“Cops,” sneered Jim. “Majesty.”

“My trick,” I said, “is to stand outside some club downtown, one of those rich men’s clubs, and hold a fifty-cent piece in my hand. Just as some of these big shots come down the steps of their club and step on to the sidewalk, looking very well fed and important and chatting together, I drop the fifty-cent piece on the pavement behind them.”

“And what?” said Jim, a little interested.

“See these big shots wheel as if they had been stung,” I crowed, “snatching at their pockets and all poised to make a grab for the coin.”

“It would be fun,” confessed Jim, somewhat mollified. We were now passing High Park, and the cop wasn’t there.

“Let’s do it,” I said. “For half an hour we could have more fun than a picnic.”

Which was the birth of our idea, and the next day, at noon, we hurried lunch and went and stood at a certain club where many wealthy citizens take their midday repast.

It was my fifty cents. A big, new, tingling one. I dropped it a few times, and it made a loud, rousing ring on the pavement.

The Ring of a Coin

I recommend this trick to you. You can make anybody in the world wheel around like a shot. You can make old and young, the deaf, the halt and the blind1, millionaires and bums – everybody stop in their tracks and grab for their pockets or purses. All with the merry ring of a coin dropped on the pavement. I wonder if it isn’t the saddest fact left in the world, today?

We took up our stand, as if we had just met on the street and were chatting about the weather.

The first citizens to emerge from the club were two tall, tweedy-dressed men in their late forties, keen-looking, bronzed, alert. As they turned on to the sidewalk, clink went the coin.

Both wheeled, the shorter one taking at grip on the arm of the other, as if to prevent him from getting there first. With a smile I picked the coin up; and blushing furiously, the two general managers straightened and hastened down the street.

The next was a large and lonely individual, troubled with his feet. He lowered himself down the steps with great care, one step at a time. Groaning and grunting, he reached the sidewalk.

He turned away. I dropped the coin.

“Ah!” gasped the decrepit chairman of the board, slapping both hands to his pockets, and turning with obvious difficulty. His eyes were popping from his head, and his soft mouth was wide open in the expression of one who has been clubbed on the head.

I picked up the coin with a smile. The gentleman stood, staring coldly at me for a long moment, doubtful, suspicious, his wrinkled fingers softly feeling the outside of his pockets.

At last, while Jim and I chatted briskly, he seemed to reach a decision. He turned away and walked down the street. I suppose he entered it in the books as a loss.

The next lot were three youngish men. The next after them, two very severe-faced gentlemen, pale and bony-jawed, their expression one of unrelaxed vigilance. When they die, it will be hard to get their eyes shut. All these wheeled, as everybody wheels. As you and I and Jimmie, as all the world wheels, to the siren jingle of a coin.

“I’m getting a little tired of this,” I said. “It makes me want to cry, not laugh.”

“Just one more,” gloated Jim. “Let’s try to knock off at least a president of something. Somebody. who is always having his pictures in the papers.”

But the next one that came out was another single. He was a short, stoutish gentleman in a bowler hat. He had a walking stick. He moved with short, waddling steps. His face, though round, was all shut up like a nut cracker. His eyes seemed shut. His mouth was tight shut, and walled in between little round pouchy cheeks. His ears were small and shut up close to his head. Down the steps he trotted briskly, carefully.

I dropped the coin.

The little man, never pausing, wheeled like a polo pony and before I could even start to stoop, down came a large, flat shoe, a shoe with no toe caps2, a square toed, well made shoe, slap on top of my fifty-cent piece.

“Pardon me,” I said, half stooping.

But the stubby little man himself stooped, carefully slid his boot to one side, until the edge of the coin was visible, and then with a cleverly bent finger, he released it, snapped it up and popped it in his pants pocket.

“Ah,” he sighed, comfortably, and started to move off, without even so much as looking at Jim or me. He seemed utterly unaware of us.

To Torment the Rich

“Just a minute, there,” said Jim, taking hold of the gentleman’s sleeve.

“What do you want?” demanded the gentleman crisply.

“That was my friend’s fifty cents,” warned Jim, standing close to the gentleman.

“It was nothing of the kind,” said the gentleman, not unkindly, but very finally, “I dropped it myself.”

“Now, just a minute,” said Jim, still gripping the gentleman’s sleeve, and drawing himself up. “I say I saw my friend drop it.”

“Why,” said the gentleman, pulling his arm free, “you two cheap thieves, trying to… Why, the very… I’ll call a policeman at once, the very…”

“Call a cop,” agreed Jim, loudly.

“No, no,” I cried. “Jimmie, no, no.”

The gentleman, pausing to stare us grimly up and down, turned and walked proudly down the street.

“Why not let him call a cop? Let us call a cop,” cried Jim.

“Don’t be absurd,” I pleaded. “Would a cop believe us against an obviously wealthy gentleman?”

“Gentleman,” sneered Jim. “I never saw anybody so quick with his feet in my life. And I bet he was sixty.”

“He’s been stamping on dimes and nickels and quarters all his life, Jim,” I said. “He’s had practice.”

“I’ve got a new idea for hell,” said Jim, as we went slowly back to work, I jingling twenty cents left in my pocket. “A special hell for rich men.”

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

“It will be a vast chamber, immense,” said Jim, raptly. “It will be entirely of black basalt or chalcedony3. Jet black. Its floor will be polished and hard. Its walls will be filled with little cubby holes and niches in which the spirits of rich men will hide at night. But all day long, the Devil, sitting in a balcony up above and armed with a big scoop shovel, will keep shovelling scoopfuls of dimes and nickels out, and flinging them so that they will scatter all over that polished onyx floor, jingling and dancing and ringing and running and spinning. And there the spirits of the rich men, millions of them, bereft of all their earthly passions except their greatest one, will crawl and scramble and fight and claw like maniacs after the dimes and nickels. To all eternity, forever and ever, chasing madly, furiously, after the dimes and nickels.”

“I’m glad you’re just Jim Frise,” I breathed.

“And they will all have little overalls on, with leather-lined pockets,” said Jim. “And every night they take the dimes and nickels into the little caves in the vast walls of chalcedony or onyx. But every morning. when they wake, all the dimes and nickels will be gone.”

“Oh, Jimmie,” I protested. “That is the cruellest thing I ever heard of.”

“Sure,” said Jim. “But it’s just a human little fancy. I’m human. Cops are human. Rich men are human. Everybody’s human. So let me have my fancies, the same as everybody else.”

So we went to the Morgue, as we call a newspaper filing room, and we hunted all through the clippings and pictures of the local rich men, but we couldn’t find any trace, even in the Morgue, of the little man with the shut face who got my fifty cents.

So that made it possible for us to write this story. Because if we knew who it was, we probably wouldn’t dare.


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in both Which We Did (1936) and Silver Linings (1978).

  1. This is from the King James Bible, Luke 14:21: “So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” The “halt and the blind” would now be translated as the “blind and the lame.” ↩︎
  2. This was likely the style at the time. ↩︎
  3. This is just a type of stone, that can come in black. ↩︎

Sound Ideas

Jim wrenched at the wires… The headlights went out but the horn continued to blow…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 19, 1935.

“The sap,” hissed Jimmie Frise.

Behind us, as we drove, came a car with its horn snorting at us.

“Does he expect me,” snarled Jimmie, “to pull in behind one of these parked cars and stop and let him past?”

Arp, arp went the horn, right at our tail. Parked cars were scattered along Bloor St., so that to accommodate our noisy friend either we had to get in behind one of them and stop or else keep on going.

Finally, letting the horn loose in a long, steady blast, the car passed us. The driver and his friend, both young men, leaned and glared at us. And vanished down the street haughtily.

That sort of thing,” said Jim, “gets my nanny. I couldn’t pull aside, except in a small space between parked cars. If I went faster he would have wanted to go faster still. So what the heck? Why all the tumult?”

“The city fathers are right,” I declared. “There is far too much noise, far too much horn tooting, banging, slamming.”

“That campaign for a civic quiet is old stuff,” said Jim. “In the past fifteen years somebody has brought it up every season. I don’t expect much results.”

Bloor St. was loud with sound, bright with lights. Street cars rumbled and rattled. Cars hooted and clattered. Boys yelled. Horses clip-clopped. Parkers slammed car doors. Motormen heeled bells. Dogs barked. Peanut whistles blew. A radio squawked from out a store door. A street orator bellowed from a side street. Street cars ground to sudden stops. Motor car wheels squealed. A truck loaded with boxes battered lazily along.

“Such a din,” I said.

“When you come to listen to it,” agreed Jim, “it is kind of staggering, isn’t it?”

“And most of it idle,” I added. “Just listen to this street car ahead. Listen to him dinging that bell. There is nothing ahead of him. He’s just got the habit.”

“Horn blowing is a habit, too,” said Jim. “Just listen.”

And as we drove we listened. It was a medley of horns. Short and long, high and low, the car horns, near and far, filled the world with small, nervous, impatient sound. Sound to which we have become accustomed and never notice. But once we do notice it, it gets on our nerves, haunts us, as when we suddenly become acutely aware of a cricket chirping, a cricket that has been chirping forever and we hadn’t been aware. of it.

“Yet,” said Jim, briefly thumbing his car horn and making a brief toot, “there is a case in point. That guy was just pulling away from the curb. If I hadn’t tooted, he would have kept on coming out and I would have bumped him. Or if I had stopped suddenly, the guys behind me would have bumped me. See? There I go again. That’s twice in one block I’ve had to toot.”

Man a Noisy Animal

“And why?” I asked. “Because we drivers have become too lazy to twist our necks and look out behind when we start away from the curb. We expect the horn. We start out and if no horn toots that means all is clear. It’s laziness at the bottom of all this horn tooting.”

“Mankind,” stated Jim, “is a noisy animal. Market places are noisy places. These business streets are noisy the way an Oriental bazaar or the Canadian National Exhibition is noisy. Selling is a matter of attracting attention. You can’t sell in silence.”

“Privately, Jim,” I offered, “I wouldn’t like too much silence. We will be silent so long presently. Somehow I love all this towny racket. It makes me imagine that I am part of something alive, vigorous, joyous. Joy is loud. Sorrow is silent.”

“Me, too,” said Jim, tooting his car horn sharply at a bicycle ahead that was most carefully hugging the proper side of the road. “I always toot at bicycles. I have a feeling I am going to hit every bicycle I ever pass. Never get over it. Yes, sir, I love the noise of cities. For five years1 I have missed, with a frequent sense of yearning, the tumult of a rivetting machine building tall buildings. Do you realize we haven’t heard that sound in all these years?”

“I like a steam shovel,” I said. “I think 99 out of the 100 men who stand staring at steam shovels aren’t looking at all. They are listening.”

“Which is lovelier,” asked Jim, “the sight of the fire-reels tearing along the city street or the sound of them? The scream of the siren. The roar of the engine and thunder of wheels.”

“It’s the sound,” I agreed.

“Yes, there’s something very dear about the sounds, the noise, of a city,” decreed Jimmie. “If you come downtown Sunday morning and see this city barren and deserted it has a sort of eerie and frightening effect. You are glad to get out of it. It feels strangely like a cemetery.”

“In the night,” I added, “when I am lying in bed I love the sound of footsteps tapping past my house.”

“I will be glad,” stated Jim, “when the noise of this city and all the great cities of the world gets real bad again; when high in the sky the rivetting hammers roar and down in the hopelessly crowded streets the traffic fights and snarls; truck drivers thundering through laden with merchandise to refuel the frantic stores; excited salesmen scrambling raucously for parking space; and the public so eager, so hurrying, so greedy and gay they can’t even hear the gigantic din of good times all around.”

“Aye,” I said. “It’s when we have nothing much to do but complain that we bother about civic noises.”

Thus we left Bloor St. and turned up Bathurst and sped up Bathurst to St. Clair and turned east into that distinguished region of mansions which was our destination. We were going up to put the finishing touches on a little duck shooting trip and our rich friend, as usual, couldn’t find his gun, so we were going up to help him find it. Last year I found it in his nursery.

Shattering the Silence

Off St. Clair into one of those noble streets we turned. Spacious lawns, quite respectably aged trees, large slumbering houses of stone or fancy brick stood aloof from the plain narrow asphalt.

“How peaceful,” Jim said. “No noise here. Silence begets silence.”

“If anybody got in the way here,” I seconded, “you wouldn’t dream of tooting at him. You’d just pleasantly slow down, as one rich man to another, and smile agreeably as you passed.”

“I bet,” said Jim, “there hasn’t been a car horn tooted in here for fifteen years.”

And we had scarcely these words out of our mouths when Jimmie’s horn began to blow.

Now Jim’s horn is not one of those melodious two-tone blasters of the later models. It is just a loud and raucous yawper of a horn. You just toot it once and a whole fleet of construction trucks will move aside.

“Jim,” I expostulated.

“Holly smoke,” gasped Jim. “I didn’t do anything. It just started itself.” We had to shout to be heard.

Waaawwwww, went the horn as we hastened up the brooding dim avenue.

“Stop,” I cried. “Maybe it will quit if the engine does.”

“I can tear the wires,” gasped Jim.

He hastily pulled up, turned off the engine, but the awful, sinewy, ear-piercing din kept up. As we scuttled out of the car, I saw lights come on in stately windows round about, doors opened, and heads appeared around corners.

“Quick,” I begged. “Jerk the wires.”

Two or three people came down front walks. A voice shouted something from an upstairs window.

“I don’t know which wires,” said Jim excitedly.

“Any wires,” I urged him.

Jim gave a wrench. The car headlights went out. But the din continued. The horn vibrated so that it felt like a massage you were having.

“Wrong wires,” said Jim. “Now I can’t see.”

“Let’s get the heck out of here,” I cried. “Drive for Eglinton as fast as we can. We can’t keep up this disturbance here.”

We vaulted into the car. Jim stepped on it and away we lurched. Without headlights.

“As long as we get out of this quiet neighborhood,” Jim said, anxiously, leaning forward on the wheel.

But over a little rise in the pavement, we saw ahead the bright ruby lights and criss-cross barricades of some roadwork.

“Road closed,” shouted Jim.

With great presence of mind, he swerved into the side drive of a particularly handsome mansion, the horn boring a hole right through the air towards the big house. And instantly doors leaped open and young people came rushing out.

Jim backed. He swung the car south. Down the street, with no lights but plenty of music, we started. People were grouped along the sidewalk and in doorways and on lawns. They waved and signalled angrily at us as we sailed past.

“Oh, oh, oh,” said Jim.

“Is It a Wedding?”

“The battery will soon die,” I shouted.

“It’s a brand new battery,” wailed Jim. “I bet it can keep this up for hours.”

I felt him kick the car under the dashboard, so I started giving various kicks at the old fool car, too. I tried pounding the steering column, the wheel, the floorboards.

To no avail. The horn, which had a frog in its throat when it started, now was thoroughly warmed up and its magnificent tenor cut through the night like a searchlight of sound.

As we went lower down the street, some people started running to keep abreast of us.

And just as we got within sight of the first cross street, a large limousine backed out of a side drive and parked itself fair across the narrow pavement.

“For heaven’s sake,” moaned Jim.

But we had to stop.

And out of the car that barred our path leaped a middle-aged gentleman with a haughty accent, and clad in a costly dressing gown.

“What the devil,” he shouted in the window, above the roar, “do you mean!”

“If you get out of the way,” shouted Jim fiercely, “we can get out of your sepulchral neighborhood.”

“You’ll wait for the police,” retorted the gent, violently. “I’ve sent for them.”

By this time, numbers of other important people were arriving, breathless.

“Is it a wedding?” squealed a girl excitedly.

“What frat?” demanded a handsome young man.

“Oh, how exciting,” cried an elderly lady, very flushed from running.

But standing right at the window, the gentleman in the dressing gown gritted his teeth, rolled his eyes in despair, and Jim’s horn, with never a quiver nor a shake, continued the incredible racket.

By now, the glare of several cars before and behind lighted the spectacle like a stage.

“It’s stuck,” Jim shouted to the crowd, but more for the benefit of the gentleman with the passion. “I can’t stop it.”

“What are you howling about without lights for?” roared the gent.

“Tried to pull the wires and got the wrong ones,” roared Jim back.

By now there were fifty people, all very respectable, including five maids in uniform. And they crowded right on top of us, as if the better they heard the horn the more they liked it. Dogs barked. Voices shouted explanations in the throng.

But no police came and the horns went on, and the gent at the window continued to grit his teeth, roll his eyes and pound his palm with his fist.

“Out the other door,” growled Jim. “Follow me.”

I slid out, and Jim after me. We pushed through the crowd.

“Now,” said Jim, in a low voice.

And we started to run.

We ran down to St. Clair, the horn fading as we ran. We ran west on St. Clair to Vaughan Rd., the faint horn still ringing. And there we sidled into a drug store where we sat down at the soda counter and had a drink.

“What do you intend to do?” I asked.

“Wait till we can’t hear it,” said Jim hollowly, “and then go back and get it.”

“But the police or somebody might go off with your car.”

“Do I care?” asked Jim darkly.

“Exciting, though, wasn’t it?” I encouraged.

“What I might have done,” said Jim, “was lift the hood and kick the horn loos from its moorings. I might have done that.

“Disconcerting, wasn’t it?” I assured him.

“After a while, we’ll go out and listen. And if we don’t hear it, we can go back,” decreed Jim.

So after another couple of sodas, we went out and stood listening. Above the honk and arp and hoo-hoo of the passing traffic we could hear no high, thin song.

Along St. Clair we sortied, reconnoitering with our ears.

No sound.

“Maybe the cops have got it,” I said, “and kicked it to bits.”

Up the quiet and stately street we crawled. As if nothing in all its history had ever disturbed its peace.

Far up, we saw Jim’s car. Just as we left it, slightly askew to the curb.

Without speech, we approached it. Examined it from a discreet distance and examined, too, all the windows and doors in the vicinity.

A small white card was stuck in the window of the car. Jim stepped over and examined it, under the street light.

“I kicked the horn loose,” it said, in pencil. “If you care to call, I shall discuss it with you.”

“Apparently,” said Jim, “the gent in dressing gown.”

So we just got in and quietly drove without lights, down to St. Clair and had everything fixed at a garage.

Being one hour and ten minutes late at our rich friend’s, and he had found the gun anyway. It was in the nursery.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Jim is remarking on the lack of construction due to the Great Depression. ↩︎

Public Mystery No. 1

September 28, 1935

This image went with a story by Merrill Denison about a rich executive keeping people waiting.

Here Comes the Ice-Man!

July 13, 1935

“I Do Not!”

The lady took his elbow and walked quickly up to the side door of the church…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 22, 1935.

“That chap,” said Jimmie Frise, indicating a young fellow desperately juggling with a jack and a flat tire and a spare, “has been fifteen minutes already, and he looks as if he were going clean crazy.”

“Why,” I asked, as we sat on Jim’s porch, “doesn’t he telephone for a garage man to come and do it? He’s all dressed up.”

“He’s going to a party or something by the look of him,” said Jim. “He has a white carnation in his buttonhole.”

“Maybe,” I said, excited, “he’s on his way to a wedding.”

“Maybe he is,” admitted Jimmie.

“Look at him,” I hissed. “He’s talking to himself. I believe he’s crying.”

“Holy Moses,” said Jimmie, deeply touched. “Suppose we go across and offer him a hand.”

So we both got up and hurried across the street.

The young man, all perspiration, in a brand-new dark suit, with a white carnation and a white tie, was moaning.

“Oh, oh, oh,” he kept moaning. “Oh, oh,” oh.”

“Let’s give you a hand,” said Jimmie kindly.

The young chap looked at us with glazed eyes.

“I’m late already,” he said, his mouth, trembling. “By now I’m 6 minutes late.”

“Give us the wrench,” said Jim, taking the tire wrench from the hand of the bewildered youth, who fell back limply against the polished fender of the car.

So while Jim undid the nuts I chatted with the boy.

“Going to a wedding?” I smiled.

“Yes,” he whispered, wiping his face with the back of his hand.

“We’ll have the tire off in a jiffy,” I reassured him. “Where’s the wedding?”

“The church is on St. Clair Ave.,” moaned the young man.

“Ten minutes will do it,” I comforted him. “You won’t miss much.”

“They’ll be waiting,” he gasped. “Waiting.”

“Are you taking part in it?” I inquired.

“Yes,” he said; “I’m getting married.”

“Jim,” I shouted, “make it snappy. This young man is getting married 10 minutes ago.”

The boy looked at his new wrist watch.

“Eight minutes ago,” he corrected. “Oh, oh, oh.”

I ran around to help Jimmie with the nuts, which were sort of varnished on.

“Snappy, Jim,” I begged. Then I went around to keep the boy company.

“Dear, dear,” I said, “why didn’t you telephone a garage man to come and fix this?”

“I thought I could do it quicker,” moaned the boy. “But I seemed to be all thumbs. I – I -I -“

“I understand,” I soothed him. “I’m a married man myself.”

“Besides,” said the boy, “I haven’t a cent of money.”

“No money,” I cried. “And on your way to be married. My dear chap.”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s one of these stylish marriages. Everything organized. My best man has the ring and my wallet, so that I won’t forget anything. He was to pick me up, but we decided at noon that I would drive my car instead and meet him at the church-“

“I see your plight,” I said, looking anxiously back where Jimmie was wrenching for all he was worth. “What a muddle you must have been in, and us sitting there on the porch looking at you.”

“Ah, you never know,” said the young man, with a tragic face, “what trouble people are in, do you?”

“You’ll be all right,” I laughed, slapping his back and starting to dust off his nice dark suit. “Straighten your tie a bit.”

His hands were dirty and they left a smudge on his tie and shirt. I said nothing.

“I can just see them,” the boy groaned. “Waiting. My mother-in-law. Oh, oh, oh.”

“Now, now, don’t get the mother-in-law trouble before you come to it,” I consoled him.

“She arranged everything,” the boy said brokenly. “All this was arranged by her. I don’t mind Margery so much. She’ll be all right. She’ll just wait. But her mother!”

“Let her stew,” I encouraged the boy. “Let the old lady stew.”

“We just wanted to be married at home,” the boy said, trying not to look at his wrist watch, “but her mother made all the arrangements. You’d have thought this was her wedding.”

“They are always like that,” I told the boy. I heard a loud snap, and then Jimmie came round from the back.

“Nut bust,” he gasped. “See? Broke right off.”

“Oh, ho, ho, ho,” wept the young man, banging his fist against the fender.

“Here,” shouted Jim, “we’ll drive you. And listen, tell me what church it is and I’ll telephone from my house to a garage near here, and they’ll fix this up and have it at the church by the time the ceremony is over.”

“Oh, ho, ho,” bellowed the young man, giving us the name of the church on St. Clair.

So Jim rushed into the house and phoned, and then backed his car out, and we shoved the boy into the back with me.

“Thirteen minutes,” the young man said, looking closely at his watch.

“We’ll be there in less than ten minutes,” Jimmie called over his shoulder.

“I was to be in the vestry,” the young fellow said hollowly, “at fifteen minutes to three.”

He pulled a slip of paper from his breast pocket and studied it.

“Yes,” he said. “Be in the vestry at 2.45 p.m. These are the orders. My mother-in-law wrote them for me. She had everything so perfect.”

“Aw, to heck with her,” I cried. “You’re not marrying her.”

“She started arranging this,” the boy said, “last November. She was training the best man in January. At Easter we held a rehearsal in the living-room.”

“Don’t worry, boy,” I said. “Inside of an hour you can tell her to go chase herself.”

“Oh, ho, ho,” went the young man.

“I always say,” said Jim cheerfully from, the front seat, “I always say, pick your wife by your mother-in-law. In seeking a wife a man ought to look at the mothers.”

“Watch these corners,” I said to Jimmie loudly.

“By looking at a girl’s mother,” went on Jim brightly, “a fellow can tell what his girl will be like in due time.”

“Oh, ho, ho,” moaned the young man, burying his face in his hands.

Reaching forward, I poked Jim violently.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “It’s true, isn’t it? A man is a fool that just looks at a girl. As if she was a thing all by herself.”

“Watch your driving, Jim.” I commanded. “Don’t bother talking. I’ll talk.”

“Well, I was only saying,” said Jim, “that men are fools. They get so infatuated with a girl-“

“What speed are we making?” I interrupted.

“Forty,” said Jim. “A man gets so infatuated with a girl he can’t see anything else. I tell you, a girl is only part of a scheme of things, an arrangement, a system.”

“Oh, ho, ho,” put in the young man, leaning back limply, with his eyes shut.

“Jim.” I gritted, “how about a little quiet driving?”

“What I mean to say,” insisted Jim, “is, life is life. A girl is only a biological item. She’s the daughter of her mother. See? Life goes on. That’s what I always say. Life goes on. Birth, marriage, death. And if a young man will just take the precaution to size up the mother-“

I got up and leaned forward I hissed into Jim’s ear.

“Shut up,” I hissed.

So as we did the first few blocks eastward along St. Clair, at forty, we had a little silence, and I took a narrow look at the young man, leaning limply back in his nice suit, with his smudged tie and shirt front. And I saw his mouth was set in a grim line.

“Well,” I cried gaily, “we’ll soon be there.” He opened his eyes slightly and looked at the passing streetscape.

“I see the church,” I announced. “I can see the steeple from here.”

The young man sat up.

“Oh, oh, oh,” he said, clenching his kneecaps with his hands. “If only-“

“See,” I cried. “In the distance you can see the cars lined up in front.”

“Drive right past,” gasped the young man. “Drive right past. Let me think.”

“Aw, don’t be scared of a little excitement,” I laughed. “They’ll be so glad to see you. And it will be all over in a few minutes. Come, come.”

“Drive right past,” repeated the young man in a sort of breathless voice. “I’ll crouch down.”

He started to get down on his knees on the floor of the car.

“Jimmie,” I ordered, “pull in there by the open space at the awning.”

Waiting at the Church

Cars were lined for a block and a crowd of people were standing on the steps and along the awning in front of the church.

“Please, please,” wept the young man, crouching down on the floor.

“Pull around to the side door,” I hissed to Jim, and we swung down the side street. “Drive down a bit and turn around, till we pull ourselves together.”

Jim drove down the street and turned in at sidedrive, while I frantically tried to soothe the young chap and get him to sit up.

“He’s just scared of the old dame,” said Jim. “Get out and run and get his friends, and I’ll watch over him.”

So Jim parked down from the side door of the church a bit and I ran for help. The side door was open and I took off my hat and sneaked in. Everything was hushed, though I could sense a crowd out in the church through a door with red cloth on it.

I tiptoed around, looking in little rooms with folding chairs leaning up against the walls and all deserted. Then I heard steps out in the hall and I dashed out. A minister and two men were anxiously walking toward me.

“The bridegroom,” I said breathlessly.

But they all just jumped at me, as if I were a church burglar, and before I could say Jimmie Frise or anything else they hugged me against their gowns, smelling of moth balls, and dragged me back through the hall and through the red cloth doors, and there they shoved me forward, with about a hundred people sitting in the sunny front pews.

“The bridegroom,” I hissed, trying to back away, “is -“

But the organ started to play and the three men behind me started shoving me.

In a haze I saw everybody stand up and a large woman in a blue and silver dress and a big hat ran at me with arms outstretched and palms toward me.

“No, no,” she shrieked. “No, no.”

Behind her I saw a beautiful girl in a white suit, and people running in all directions around her, helping to hold her up. I fought past the minister and the two other men, and with the large lady in blue and silver following I led them out into the hall, through the vestry door, and pointed down street.

“In that car,” I said weakly.

I could see Jimmie struggling with the young man. We ran down and opened the car door and out came the young man, flushed and tousled, but as soon as he saw the big lady he quieted right down.

“I had a flat tire,” he said sweetly.

But the lady just took his elbow and they walked quickly to the side door of the church, and in a minute we heard the organ start playing loudly again.

“How about going in and seeing it?” asked Jimmie.

“No,” I said, “I saw enough. Let’s go back and sit on your veranda.”

“Was that big lady the mother-in-law?” asked Jim.

“I assume it,” I replied.

“I always say,” said Jimmie, as we started off, “I always say -“

But you know what he always says already.

“We’ll have the tire off in a jiffy,” I reassured him. “Where’s the wedding?”

Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on May 20, 1944, as “Trouble Plus”

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