In a news article about Sir William Mulock, a photo was included showing him with Greg when they were trout fishing.
Tag: 1936 Page 1 of 2
This is an ice house, where ice from the frozen lake is stored in sawdust to keep it from melting. This was the only way to get ice (usually for iceboxes) in the warmer seasons before the advent of electricity and refrigerators or freezers. They would exist in rural areas well into the 1950s.
By Greg Clark, July 18, 1936
“Groundhogs,” said Jimmie Frise, “are at their best right now.”
“For eating?” I begged.
“For shooting,” said Jim. “The fields are deep with grain or clover. The groundhogs have lost that anxious alertness of the spring. Fat and free, they sit on their little mounds. They make a perfect target.”
“A target, eh?” I asked.
“An animated target,” said Jim. “The mind of man can’t discover any other use for a groundhog. Their meat is too soft. Their fur is sleazy and thin. The divine purpose of a groundhog, as far as I can figure, is to provide an animated target for farm boys and city sportsmen in the offseason.”
“Hmmm,” said I.
“The bad points of a groundhog are well known,” said Jim. “They not only cat crops, such as winter wheat, clover and so forth. I’ve known farmers to have their entire crop of brussels sprouts ruined by groundhogs. But in addition to their damage to crops, groundhogs cause a lot of damage to horses, Horses step in groundhog holes and break their legs.”
“The survival of the fittest,” I explained. “Nature realizes that the horse has numerous and powerful friends, while the groundhog has none.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I can’t figure out why Nature ever invented a groundhog. It has no earthly use.”
“Nature,” I stated, “didn’t figure the way man was going to steal the show when she did her designing. She simply set loose a lot of guesses. Nature is a gambler. She doped out a few hundred designs and then sat back and said go to it.”
“Wouldn’t it have been swell if the groundhogs had won?” jeered Jimmie.
“I can’t think of any life more agreeable than a groundhogs,” I admitted. “They have no economic value, therefore they are not enslaved like the cow and the horse and dog. Their fur is valueless, therefore they have not met the fate of the beaver and the fox. Their meat is of no interest, therefore they are not hunted as deer are.”
“Thank heaven,” said Jim, “for the sporting instinct of humanity, or the entire face of the earth would now be pitted with groundhog holes.”
“A groundhog,” I continued, “has a delightful life. Unlike the fox and the raccoon, he lives in a dugout of his own building, safe from life’s war. A nice warm dugout, with two or three entrances in case of danger. On his fast little legs he can jump into one of his dugout entrances at the first sign of hawk or human. He is a wise baby who digs his home in the midst of human endeavor. He selects a nice clover or grain field, and makes himself a home where he won’t have to move more than ten jumps from any one of his strategic entrances.”
“They’re stupid,” said Jim. “They sit erect like fools, right on the doorsill of their burrows, a perfect target.”
“In time,” I countered, “the groundhogs will learn that they can’t take any chances with men. The more groundhogs learn about us humans, the more they will develop long range rifles and telescope sights. So that in time, no groundhog will ever sit up at the door of his burrow. That is Nature’s way. Don’t think men are entitled to win in this gamble of Nature. Sooner or later, one of the other contestants in the race will get the bulge on us. And believe me, it will be a bulge.”
Winter Doesn’t Bother Him
“Do you mean,” demanded Jimmie, “that groundhogs might some day conquer the human race?”
“Why not?” I inquired. “Just because we humans have been top dogs for a few million years recently is no reason to suppose that Nature’s gamble is ended. The way men have been behaving lately. I’m willing to put a bet on the beetles at any reasonable odds.”
“Beetles!” ughed Jim. “Make it groundhogs.”
“Think,” I said, “of the way groundhogs hibernate during the winter. There is reals civilization. There is genuine economy. A groundhog. when the time comes, simply goes down into the deepest depth of his dugout, curls up, draws a few pebbles and handfuls of sand around him, and goes to sleep. Not for him are the hardships and rigors of winter. Not for him are starvation wages. He simply goes to sleep and spends all the winter months dreaming idly of the pleasures of summer. Then when spring comes, he wakes, and finds his winter dreams true, new shoots of grain growing, and life ready to amuse and feed him. Don’t you wish we humans had thought of hibernation about two hundred million years ago?”
“It would have been an idea,” agreed Jim. “No doubt Nature missed several good bets in connection with men, and hibernating was one of them. And wings was another. And a sting was another. I often wish I had a great big sting like a bee’s. But all the same, you haven’t mentioned any good reason for groundhogs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider them as just something to shoot at.”
“No doubt, you’re quite right,” I confessed. “Judged by the same standards, a great many human beings cut no more figure in this life than so many groundhogs. They might be regarded as something to shoot at.”
“The only difference is that the groundhogs can’t complain to the authorities. They can’t get even.” said Jim.
So when Wednesday, Jim’s half day off, came along and he signalled me to follow him from the office, I did so, and we walked down to the parking lot, and in Jim’s car was his rifle and several boxes of shells. And it being a lovely day and the birds likely to be mad with love and song. I went along, mostly to see the birds. Jim said that south of Georgetown were some wonderful sandy and gravel hills just lousy with groundhogs, and that way we went. And long before we spotted the first groundhog I was well paid by a no less beautiful sight than two cuckoos flying with their curious snakelike motion, and a Blackburnian warbler and no end of commoner birds which are to me like people I know as I pass along, and so life is less lonely.
Up a hill waving with green clover, and against a beautiful old boulder fence, we spied our first groundhog. He was all unaware, busily feeding, and not until we were within about forty yards of him did he suddenly sit up, the picture of indignation, his dark brow’s making him look very like an indignant fat man disturbed in his rightful business.
We lay down. Jim put the rifle to his shoulder and drew a careful bead. He drew and drew, breathing heavily and then holding his breath, and finally he touched off the trigger.
There was a loud plunk.
“Got him,” cried Jim, leaping up and racing towards the fence. But I saw the little brown beast scamper furiously and vanish into his hole in a sandy knoll of his own building.
“You only winged him,” I accused, as I ran alongside. “He got down his hole.”
“We’ll find him lying dead just inside the entrance,” said Jim.
But when we got to the little mound, and found the dark and secret entrance to the cave, there was no groundhog sprawled at the gate, nor was there any sign of blood.
“I heard it go plunk,” said Jim.
“Listen,” I commanded.
And from out the hole in the ground came, as from a distance of several feet, a faint squealing sound. It was a sound like newborn puppies make, and it was interspersed with a snapping or chopping sound which groundhogs make with their teeth as a warning.
“Jim,” I declared hotly, “there are babies in this den.”
“It’s the one I hit,” said Jim. “Squealing its last.”
“Pardon me,” I said, “but that is baby groundhogs making that squeaking sound.”
In the pleasant afternoon, soft with light and tenderness and joy and the love that broods in summer, we stood listening and then we knelt and finally we lay down with our ears at the hole.
“Suppose,” I accused, “that you have killed the mother of a brood of baby groundhogs?”
“Let’s go and find another,” said Jim, getting up.
“Jim. I’m going to dig these out,” I stated. “I’m going to go to that farm we passed back there and borrow a spade.”
“Listen,” said Jim, “why be a silly sentimentalist? Groundhogs are vermin. Why don’t you do something about all the beautiful baby sheep and baby pigs that are being slaughtered every day at the packing houses?”
“Wait till I come back with a shovel,” I commanded.
It was only a couple of fields back and the lady at the farmhouse gladly gave me a shovel.
“For groundhogs?” she said. “I hope you dig them all out.”
Jim was asleep on the mound when I got back. He said he would stand guard over the other exits of the groundhog burrow while I dug.
“It isn’t likely more than three or four feet down.” I assured him. And anyway. I want to show you what you have done.”
At first I intended to dig out the burrow the way drain menders dig out a sewer pipe, that is, by making a ditch that reaches down to it. But the entrance penetrated straight down for about five feet and then slowly sloped deeper still, and by the time I had burrowed six feet, I was under the stone fence and Jim was squatted at the entrance of the tunnel, watching me.
“Make it bigger,” he said, “so I can come down.”
“Go get a board off a fence,” I directed, “and come half way in and scoop the dirt back out as I dig.”
Ahead I could still hear the faint squealing of small animals, and this served to excite me on. Jim returned with a board and kneeling on knees and hands, he skited the earth I dug back between his hind legs like a terrier. We began to make progress.
The tunnel straightened out and ran like a gallery ahead. All I had to do was cut the earth around the hole already made by the groundhog and pass it back.
“Look,” I cried, “here’s a branch tunnel leading off. Isn’t this smart? Just like a German dugout in France.”
Something stabbed me on the knee.
“Jim,” I cautioned, “be careful with that plank.”
“It isn’t near you,” said Jim, skiting sand.
“Ouch,” I said, “what the dickens are you doing?”
Something whistled sharply, and a heavy furry object like a bag of something soft, such as flour, struck me violently in the pinnie.
“Back, Jim,” I shouted loudly. “Back.”
“What is it?” asked Jim, not backing, but leaning forward as if to see in the dark over my shoulder.
By now, there was a scuffling and a scurrying a whistling and a chunnying, a teeth-grating and a scratching; with a dexterous movement, I let Jim follow his curiosity while I heaved past him, and left him in rear. In the darkness, there was a sense of danger and of menace.
“Look out,” cried Jim in his turn, pushing at me to make way. “They’re attacking us.”
And with Jim assisting me, I made good time up the tunnel and we burst into the blessed wide open spaces with sand in our hair and grit in our teeth. We backed a respectable twelve feet from the hole we had made and stared down.
“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “the little brutes actually attacked us.”
From the shadows far at the bottom of our excavation there rose a chorus of menacing sounds, curious hoarse whistles and grindings, chucky grunts and snappings. Like a jack in the box, a brindled fat figure popped out a foot and then instantly back. It repeated this bold maneouvre three or four times while Jim and I stared ready for instant flight.
“I’ll be jiggered,” I said. “The little savages.”
So I stooped and grasped a boley, which is a pebble egg-sized or up.
“Easy,” cautioned Jim. “Don’t irritate them. We’ve only got a little twenty-two.”
He picked his rifle up gingerly, and held it behind him.
“In the case of bears,” I suggested in an undertone, “they say the best thing to do is walk quietly away. Don’t run.”
“Come on, then,” agreed Jim anxiously, for the sounds in the cavern were increasing, as if ground hogs were gathering from all the subterranean passages for miles around to man this pass of Thermopylae.
We backed slowly. We did not remove our eyes from the excavation. No fierce sabre-toothed groundhog head showed. We turned. We walked smartly. We ran. We got into the car and slammed the doors and rolled up the windows. Jim held the twenty-two on his knees.
“Ah,” we said.
“That’s gratitude for you,” I said. “Me trying to do a noble and humane deed, and they attack us.”
“You can carry humanitarianism too far,” said Jim. “Sometimes, humanitarianism is against the laws of life.”
“The ungrateful little brutes,” said I, bitterly.
“To tell you the truth,” said Jim. “I was afraid they might have rabies. That’s why I didn’t want to let them near me.”
“It was the shock that made me hurry,” I explained. “Shock and rage at their ingratitude. The vermin.”
Jim rolled down one of the car windows and stuck the twenty-two out. No fanged heads showed above the sandpile high up against the stone fence.
“Just fire one,” I said, “to show our contempt.”
So Jim fired one, and the little spurt of sand showed he had hit the fortifications.
“Yah,” I yelled. “Take that.”
So we drove back around through Georgetown and all the pretty little towns and scorned groundhogs from then on.
Editor’s Notes: Jim shows his farm-boy roots in this article, with his contempt for groundhogs, and his feeling they serve no purpose.
This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing, 1980.
By Greg Clark, May 9, 1936
“After lunch,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ll drop in at that auction sale place. There’s a sale of unclaimed packages.”
“Surprise packages, eh?” I consented.
“It’s good fun,” said Jim. “I’ve been to lots of them but I never bought anything.”
“If we go, we’ve got to buy something,” I stated, “because you really haven’t been to an auction sale unless you buy something. It’s like going to the races and not betting on a horse.”
“O.K.,” agreed Jim. “It won’t cost us much. Lots of the packages and bundles go for a few cents. Twenty cents, thirty cents.”
“You never can tell what you’ll get,” I pointed out. “I once heard of a man who bought a common little paper package at one of those unclaimed baggage sales, and when he opened it up, he found wrapped inside of five or six coverings of newspaper, a small box containing a diamond and ruby brooch. He sold it for $1,800.”
“I heard of another case,” said Jim darkly, “where a man bought a small trunk for two dollars and in it was a human leg.”
“You have no imagination, Jim,” I protested. “You don’t seem to understand the secret of happiness, and that is always to expect. Always expect something nice, something valuable, something exciting. And even though it never comes, you feel good.”
“I go by the reverse system,” said Jim. “I expect the worst. I look forward to nothing. I fear no good can come of anything, and when some good does come of it, look how surprised and delighted I am.”
“I suppose,” I agreed, “one way of looking at life is as good as another. What is to be is to be, and no amount of guessing one way or the other can change it.”
“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I was at one of these auctions one time and a terrible thing happened to me. A terrible thing. A funny-looking canvas valise came up. It was pretty greasy-looking and battered and rubbed. It looked like a prospector’s packsack. When I looked at it, I had a hunch I ought to bid for it. The auctioneer begged for bids but nobody rose to it. The auctioneer said it might contain nuggets of solid gold. But the way he was lifting it around, we could see there were no nuggets in it. It was light. Finally a man bid a quarter for it. And it went bang.”
“What was in it?” I begged.
“I followed the buyer,” said Jim, “out to the door of the auction room, where most of the buyers take a peek at their purchase. Before my eyes, that man drew forth a forty dollar pistol, a prismatic compass worth about $20, a fly rod in aluminum case, fly books, English reels, compact cooking kit nesting into a single large pail, in fact everything I have wanted all my life but never could afford.”
“Why didn’t you make him an offer?” I asked.
“Make him an offer?” cried Jim. “I followed him half way across the city, but all he would say was that he was something of a sportsman himself.”
“I hope we get a couple of hunches today,” I breathed.
“You never can tell,” said Jim. “The worst looking packages often contain the valuables, and vice versa.”
Hostage to Fortune
Jim and I hurried through a sandwich and walked briskly across downtown to the auction rooms where the unclaimed goods sale was in full fling. The customers were mostly pretty seedy-looking individuals, mostly men who looked as if all other hope in life was pretty well spent, and that this auction sale was their last despairing effort. Automobile tires were being offered when we arrived, new-looking, but, as Jimmie pointed out, if you could see what was really the matter with them you would know why they were unclaimed.
In a few moments, the tires were exhausted, and then began a series of surprising items. A large coil of galvanized wire, which went, after a brief bid, for thirty cents; a paper package tied with a dirty rope which went for twenty cents and turned out to be a beautiful set of lace curtains; a cardboard box mysteriously sealed with sticky paper, forty cents, and it contained, when the man opened it, a tin contraption that looked like part of something which even if completed, wouldn’t mean anything.
Then came a suitcase, cheap, aged and sagging, its handle repaired with string. A pair of men went ten cents at a time to sixty cents for it, in low, doubtful voices. And the one who won opened it to reveal a heap of soiled shirts, socks, red bandana handkerchiefs all the worse for use. He put it under his arm and went off with it. His last sixty cents shot. Hostage to fortune.
“Hm,” said Jim, as we stood on the outer fringe of the crowd, “not much doing to-day. I thought there would be packing cases and everything.”
“In times like these,” I explained, “if anything has any value whatsoever, it will be claimed.”
“Now here,” cried the auctioneer, “item one-sixty, is something out of the ordinary.”
A box about a foot square was lifted heavily shoulder-high by two strong men serving on the auction platform. It was bound with metal tape. It was fastened with screw nails. A flurry of interest stirred the crowd.
“Who can say what is in this?” demanded the auctioneer. “Would it be valuable instruments of some sort, or something in valuable metals? What am I offered for this unusual item, ladies and gentlemen?”
“Twenty-five cents,” said a determined voice. And instantly it snapped up by quarters and dimes, to a dollar, then to two dollars and then to three.
“Should we get in on this?” I asked Jim.
“No,” advised Jim. “What we want to bid on is something useless looking. It’s the surprise we are after.”
*Right,” said I, and listened while the bids went higher and higher, to four dollars and seventy cents before they slackened and came to a solid stop.
“Come, gentlemen,” the auctioneer cried. “this box is obviously a valuable article, you can see it is fastened with metal bands and secured with screw nails instead of common nails. In this box is something unusual, strange, valuable. I cannot understand why it is left unclaimed, unless its owner mysteriously passed away, before he had a chance to call for it at the express office. Who knows but what some great enterprise is held up all for the want of whatever is in this box?”
“Aha,” said I.
But the bidding stopped flat at four-eighty. And a well dressed but hard-faced middle-aged man took the box and carried it to the doorway to have a look at it.
“You’ve got something there, mister,” I said agreeably.
“Stand back and mind your own affairs,” said the gentleman with accustomed rudeness. He borrowed a screw driver from one of the luckier members of the audience and pried the box open. Jim and I stood discreetly and watched. When the lid was removed from the heavy little box, it appeared filled with silver. The gentleman pinched some of it with his fingers. He removed a note that lay on the top of the contents of the box. Read it. And suddenly flinging the note down on the floor, he rose and stamped angrily from the auction room.
Battle of Bidders
Jim stepped over and picked up the note. It was on the letterhead of a sand and gravel corporation in Montreal and it said:
“We are sending you herewith a working sample of our water-washed granite sand, No. 412X.”
“Let that be a lesson to you,” said Jim.
“Guys that look and act like that man,” I said, referring to the departed customer, “occasionally get their deserts.”
“But only occasionally,” agreed Jim.
And we returned to watching the sale.
More cardboard boxes with obvious things sticking out of them; a string of assorted old boots, a carpet, a case containing an oil burner that went for $16 after a bright tussle between two obvious dealers in such things, ladies’ hats, men’s hats, a crate of stove pipe.
Then came another string of seedy suitcases.
“Let’s bid in one of these,” suggested Jim.
“Let’s pick the worst looking one of all,” I submitted.
And when the auctioneer called item 189, the platform attendant held up as shabby a cheap and battered suitcase as ever it has been my lot to see. Its sides did not bulge; they sagged consumptively. It was torn and crudely sewn. Its handle was newer than the suitcase itself, a cheap handle fastened on by an amateur.
“Ten cents,” sang out Jimmie.
“Fifteen,” promptly shouted a hoarse voice from the far side of the crowd.
“Twenty,” said Jim.
“Twenty-five,” snarled the same voice.
And in no time at all, Jim and the unseen but foreign-voiced gentleman across the throng had run that old tramp of a suitcase up to two dollars!
“Don’t quit, Jim,” I hissed, “There is something odd about this.”
“Two-forty,” cried Jim, while the crowd stood rigid with excitement at the battle over the wreck.
At three dollars, the other bidder suddenly quit, with a despairing bellow of that amount Jim handed his three dollars over the heads of the throng and the suitcase was promptly passed from hand to hand over the crowd to Jimmie.
“It has nothing much in it,” said Jim, hefting it.
“Nix,” I said. “Is this the guy that was bidding?”
Two sinister-looking eastern Europeans were hastily coming around the edge of the crowd, keeping their eyes fastened on the suitcase, as if not to let it out of their view for one instant.
“Jim,” I said, “let’s get out of this. I don’t like the looks of these two customers.”
We walked out the auction room door into the street. And right on our heels, breathing down our necks, came the two foreigners.
We turned west. They followed, and walking quickly alongside of us, the larger of them leaned close and said, with an unpleasant and ingratiating smile:
“Please, boss, please!”
He had an old scar, such as a knife would make, across one cheek and it drew the corner of his mouth up viciously.
“What do you want?” said Jim, halting.
“Beat it,” I commanded.
“Please, boss,” repeated the larger one, and the shorter one squared around to block our passing.
“What do you want?” shouted Jim.
“Please,” wheedled the big one, reaching for the suitcase.
Jim leaped back, holding the suitcase behind him.
“What do you want? Speak up!” Jim glowered.
“No spik,” said the foreigner, shaking his head. “No spik. No money. No more. No spik. Pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssseee.”
And again he made a lurch for the suitcase, casting at the same instant a meaningful and sinister glance at his partner.
With a strong and adroit movement, the smaller man thrust me aside, and snatched the suitcase from Jim’s hand behind him.
“Haaaallp,” we roared, as the two thieves dashed down one of the streets past the market towards the waterfront. And we gave furious chase. Half a dozen people stopped and stared. But nobody helped. Nobody ever does. No policemen were in sight. Traffic didn’t even slow down to help us. Everything went right on as usual in the street while, headed on swift legs for the waterfront, we saw our thieves vanishing, and Jim and I puffing badly, brought up a vain rear.
“Jim.” I gasped, as we slowed up to a fast walk. “I bet you the crown jewels of Roumania or something were in that suitcase.”
“Too light,” said Jim. “No weight. But it’s funny.”
“Those were sinister-looking men,” I said. “I don’t feel like tackling them anywhere down here on the waterfront.”
“Like to know what was in there,” said Jim. “Why they were so desperately anxious.”
“High graders,” I suggested. “Full of gold.”
“No weight,” said Jim. “Perhaps papers or plans. Incriminating. Perhaps jewels. Very mysterious.”
We walked rapidly down to the Esplanade and halted at the railway tracks, looking down the lines of standing freight cars. We caught our breath.
“Jim, that was like out of a crime story,” I said. “Perhaps it is just as well we didn’t keep the suitcase. Maybe those birds would have followed us to our homes and committed murder. Maybe they were part of a gang.”
“Nix,” said Jim, “here they come.”
And astonishingly, from behind some freight cars, appeared our two villains, advancing straight for us.
“How about ducking,” I said. “Back up to good old King street, huh?”
“Wait,” said Jim.
The two advanced straight for us smiling fiercely yet apologetically. The large one was carrying a letter in his hand. Holding it out to show us.
“Please,” he said. “No spik. Please.”
“Come, come,” said Jim, “what is all this my man?”
“No spik,” repeated the big fellow. “You come?” He carried the suitcase without any fear. Up the street he led us back east past the auction rooms, and beyond.
“Here, where are you taking us?” I demanded.
“Please,” repeated the big fellow in a coaxing voice. “No spik. Some spik. Some spik come.”
With elaborate foreign gestures, he bade us wait while he and his friend stepped up to the door of an old house. In a moment a third foreigner appeared, and they engaged in furious conversation in a language that sounded as if its gears were clashing.
“Jim,” I said, “it’s bread daylight. But just the same…”
The foreigner who lived in the house came out and advanced to us.
“My friends,” he said slowly, “wish to apologize. They have lose their suitcase. It go for sale. In the suitcase is letter with address of their brother in west. In town with name they cannot remember.”
He held out the letter. We read the town. Tzouhalem, B.C.
“Mm, mm,” agreed Jim.
“He no find brother,” explained the interpreter, “he go die, he go starve, he no find his brother without that letter. He find at last suitcase. You buy.”
“Aaaaaah,” we said.
“He no steal, he just borrow,” said the interpreter. “He give you suitcase now.”
The big one held forth the suitcase.
“Aw, you keep it,” said Jim. “We only bought it for fun.”
“Please,” said the big foreigner, gratefully.
And we shook hands all around.
“Which shows,” said Jim, as we went back to the office and work, “that what is one man’s fun is another man’s tragedy.”
Editor’s Notes: $1 in 1936 would be about $18.50 in 2020.
By Greg Clark, February 8, 1936
“It’s the axle,” said Jimmie Frise.
“Then,” stated I, not indignantly, “we’re here for the night.”
“I guess so,” said Jim, staring around the strange little village, with its steamy windows throwing a faint light on the deep snow banks piled high against little stores, sheds, cottages.
“What does the garage man say?” I asked.
“He says it’s the axle,” replied Jim. “And it will take at least three hours to fix, and he’s got an engagement tonight.”
“An engagement?” I cried. “Do you mean to say he won’t fix our car because he’s got an engagement? An engagement? Whoever heard of garageman having an engagement?”
“He’s a very nice young fellow,” said Jim. “I told him we weren’t going any place except fox hunting, and we’d put up here for the night.”
“Is there a hotel?” I demanded.
“No, but he said he would run around and find a place for us.”
“Some old widda,” I snorted. “Damp spare beds, unslept in for fifteen years. An ice cold spare room, with golden oak dresser and an afghan…”
“Well, it’s a broken axle,” reminded Jim.
I entered the garage with Jimmie and we stood looking at the car, from under which scrambled a handsome young man wiping his hands hastily on waste.
“Well, young man,” said I, “I hear you’ve got an engagement. Do you suppose there is anything two visitors like us might do in this town?”
The young chap studied us excitedly for a moment.
“You might like to come with us,” he said.
“A sleighing party,” said he.
Jim and I looked at each other.
“I haven’t been on a sleighing party,” cried Jim, “for thirty years!”
“Perhaps the young ladies,” I said, “wouldn’t care to have a couple of elderly strangers horn in on what really is a very merry and intimate occasion.”
“It’s a stag sleighing party,” said the young garage man. “That is, kind of.”
“Stag?” said I, “What is it, a lodge? Or a Liberal rally?”
“It’s a kind of church affair,” explained the young fellow, unbuttoning his brown overalls and starting to peel out of them. He did not look to me like a Bible class young man.
“We’ll come,” said Jim, eagerly. “I don’t fancy going to bed at a quarter past eight.”
“Come on, then,” said the lad. “We can arrange where you stay after we come back. Leave it to me.”
So we left our bags and hunting gear in the car and followed the young chap out into the wintry world where he led us at a fast swinging stride up the village street under a moon so glorious, so round and radiant. it was like day. There was an air of excitement about our young friend. Past the church we hastened, where lights glowed in the basement windows. Past the end cottages. Out a couple of hundred yards past the end of the village, to a side road.
A Little Bit Puzzling
“Gents,” said the young man, “we are gathering at a farmhouse a little way up. Will you wait here? Just till I explain to the boys who you are.”
“Fine, fine,” said Jim and I. “It’s a lovely night to be waiting at a crossroads.”
And he left us and sped away up the road, while we stood under the splendor of the winter moon, amid the deep drifts, inhaling the crystal air and looking back at the shadowy village with its quiet lights.
“Jim,” I cried, “what a great way to live. Just drop down into a village like this, and right away enter into the heart of it.”
“Ah, the country,” said Jim, waving his arms and beating his chest with them. “The longer I live, the more foolish I feel for ever coming into a city.”
“Think,” I said, “of the simplicity and beauty of this life. This gentle village. This wide, quiet world of snow and moonlight. Of peace and kindliness.”
“Compare it,” said Jim, addressing the wide empty night, “with the strife and warfare of cities. That splendid young man we are with. So excited over a simple thing like a sleighing party. In a city, that young man would have to be up to all sorts of hellery to work up an excitement like this. Just a sleighing party. A church affair.”
Far off, we heard sleigh bells. We stared up the road and presently saw a big object moving down the snowy road towards us.
“Jim,” I stated, “there is an innocence about country life that we have lost in cities forever.”
“I thank heaven,” confessed he, “that I am still able to be thrilled by a sleighing party.”
And thrilled we were, as the mellow jangle of the sleigh bells grew louder, and the huge sleigh, hauled by sturdy horses, squealed across the snowy road towards us, and we heard the ringing laughter and shouts of young men.
The sleigh pulled up and our friend, accompanied by three or four other young chaps, leaped out and welcomed us gaily. And in a moment we were being hoisted aboard the sleigh and buried deep in buffalo robes and heavy blankets smelling richly of horse.
Beside me sat a very short, heavily built young man who seemed, under his rowdy cap, to be the least likely member of a young men’s Bible class I had ever met with.
“What an interesting group,” I said to him, as the sleigh lurched forward and the whip cracked and the bells and voices raised a din. “I understand this is some sort of church affair?”
“Sort of,” admitted the heavy youth, huskily.
“I associate church sleighing parties,” I conversed, “with a more, a more … shall I say?… a more …”
“Sissy?” helped the young man.
“Well, not sissy, exactly, but a less muscular and hearty type of young man,” I explained. “More reserved. Your companions are such a gay and hearty lot. It must be wonderful to attend a meeting of your Bible class.”
“It sure must be,” admitted the young fellow beside me, and he started a song. It wasn’t exactly a sleighing party song. The last time I heard it was east of Arras twenty years ago.
So there I sat, across from Jim, while we lurched and tugged through the night, under the ambient moon, turning north off the highway into a road aisled with tall cedars and balsams, and the young men sang and shouted gaily, and at the front, a group of the party stood up and cheered the horses on.
The horses, as a matter of fact, plodded much more rapidly than any I remembered of old sleighing parties. I remarked this to Jimmie.
“Sleighing parties,” he confessed across to me, over the fragrant buffalo robes, “seem to have pepped up.”
And after we had lurched and jangled two or three miles up lonely country roads, we sensed a gathering excitement in our twenty friends. Many of them leaped out and ran beside the sleigh at the hills and grades. And the crowd up at the driver’s seat, standing, were like rooters at a game.
“This is a curious sleighing party,” I shouted to Jim.
And then we heard our friends shouting:
“There they are, there they are! Giddap, giddap, sktch, sktch, give ’em the gad, Tom.”
Jim and I stood up. Far ahead on the road we beheld a dark object.
“Another sleigh,” cried Jim.
“It’s a race,” I exclaimed. “Let’s hop out and help.”
So Jim and I got out and ran beside the sleigh, holding on. The big sleigh sped, the bells clashed and sang and twenty figures bobbed and leaped alongside, while the driver of our sleigh wielded his whip and the horses broke into a blundering canter.
“They see us!” shouted someone.
And the sleigh ahead, which we had been rapidly overtaking, began to move more quickly.
With shouts and urgings, with bells and squealing of runners, we chased. I got winded and managed to haul myself aboard the sleigh. Presently Jim joined me.
“What thrill,” I shouted. “But what a shame our side is handicapped by us.”
“We were invited,” gasped Jim, recovering his wind.
“A racing sleigh party,” I cried, “Who ever heard of such a delightful way to spend a night. It takes the country to think things up.”
Now we could see dark figures piling out of the sleigh ahead and running alongside to lighten it. But slowly, slowly, we gained on them. Through another dark aisle of cedar and spruce we plunged and again out into a wide and shining open stretch. But ahead loomed a slow rise and when our plunging friends outside the sleigh saw that, they yelled in triumph. And steadily, steadily, we overlook the other party.
As we neared, it seemed to me like a boarding party in the old pirate days. I could hear the shrill screaming of feminine voices. Snowballs, hunks of hard snow off the road whizzed past us. When a piece of wood about the size of a stove stick thudded into the sleigh, I began to get anxious.
“Jim,” I said, “I don’t like this.”
But already we were overtaking the first sleigh, and crowding past it, forcing it over towards the ditch. Already some of our party had bounded ahead and were clasped in mortal combat with men who leaped out of the leading sleigh. Inside of half a minute, amid the screams of girls, the jangling of bells and the snorts of excited horses, twenty wild fighting figures were tumbling in the show, with yells, grunts and shouts and thuds. And suddenly over the side of our sleigh came very large young man who dealt me terrific punch on the side of the head, one of those country swings, and then trampling all over me, charged bull-like at Jimmie.
The Annual Thrill
Thus we were engaged in speechless heaving and grabbing and heavy breathing amidst the tumult for a few moments, until I heard a girl’s voice above me saying: “Oh, you brutes.”
But by the time we got to our feet, while the fighting was still going on in spots and spasms, out along the ditches and fences I saw my short heavy friend, grasping a girl by the elbow with each hand and dragging them from the other sleigh into ours.
And inside of one minute, the whole entire load of ladies was shifted. They yelled and laughed and protested. One young lady was weeping bitterly. Several strange young men charged forlornly at our sleigh but were violently thumped and tripped and flung backwards. Meanwhile, two or three of our party were unhitching the horses of the other sleigh, and presently brought them around and tied them to the back of ours. By this time our sleigh was jammed to suffocation and a valiant rearguard stood around us to beat off the failing attacks of the enemy. And with a final uproar of shouts of okay and ready we lurched into action and moved away.
Behind us, some of them following part way with fists shaking and gestures of despair, were left on the road the men of the first party.
And down under the vastly grinning men, we rode while girls’ voices screeched and laughed and still the young lady wept.
“Aw, cut it out, Grace,” called one girl from the tangled heap of robes and laughed.
“I won’t,” stamped the weeping girl. “I saw Eddie’s nose bleeding. You brutes.”
But presently there was singing, and working his way heavily back to Jim and me came the squat young man of my acquaintance leading large bundled figures behind him.
“That was the Bible class,” explained him to us. “Gents, I’d like to introduce our chaperones to you. They’ll be your partners, Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey.”
And Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey were squealing loudly the way chaperones do and waggled themselves space in the sleigh and sat with us, telling about the annual thrill when the church sleighing party is always ruined by the bad boys of the village.
With horses afore and aft, and merry bells thundering and songs rising one after another, we smothered across the white country and down the dark aisles and came at last to the village.
And in the village we drew up, with shouts and cheers, before the church where people came rushing out to welcome us and we all raced excitedly into the church basement where there was rich dark smell of coffee and long tables were spread under glaring lights with pies and cake and fruit and jam and sandwiches of ham, cheese, chopped egg, pork, cold beef, salmon, pickle salad and some private mixture that one never met before and never will meet again.
And there we ate and sang and ate again and looked at fifty bright and ruddy faces and eyes so clear and strange and filled with shy and lovely expressions that you never see in cities anymore; and a little old minister got up and spoke to this unexpected flock of young men, making hay while the sun shone, he explained; and after everything was eaten and the songs were being gone over for the third and even the seventh me seventh time – that seventh timer was the one about the music goes round and around ho,ooo,ooo,ooo – a few shy, angry young men came creeping down the basement entrance and into the door where they were met with loud and wild cheers of derision and crusts were flung at them; all but one brave, slim fellow with a bruised nose, who strode whitely and furiously in and sat down beside the little girl who had been weeping.
And under the silver radiance of the moonlight we went forth and Mrs. McGiffin took us into her house and she was a widda and the furious young man with the bruised nose was her son and we sat and had another tea and our room was the spare room, and the dresser was golden oak and there was an afghan and the floor was icy cold. But the bed was high and deep and dry and warm.
And the next morning we went fox hunting.
By Greg Clark, December 12, 1936
“Let’s see,” said Jimmie Frise, “how long is it to Christmas?”
“Yes,” I said scornfully, “how long have we left to be hard boiled and grasping and normal and natural until the one brief day when we are filled with sweetness and light?”
“Oh, hold on,” protested Jimmie. “The spirit of Christmas is a little wider than that I can feel the Christmas spirit now. You begin to feel it even in November. And I am sure it sort of lingers through until about the second of January.”
“It seems dreadful to me,” I declared, “that we should segregate our better feelings into certain times and seasons. Patriotism on July first. The spiritual at Easter. Moving on May first. Marriages in June. Why should we concentrate all our tenderest sentiments at the one Christmas season?”
“Thank heavens,” said Jim. “there are seasons that inspire us. I begin to get the Christmas urge along about now. I find myself looking tenderly at my family. I note a certain generosity in my handouts to bums. A mysterious expectation begins to stir in me, as if something very beautiful and unexpected but highly deserved might happen to me.”
“Personally,” I stated, “I feel pretty normal until about five p.m. Christmas Eve. That is about the time the family expects me to carry the Christmas tree in from the back yard and make it stand up in the living room. I guess it must be the sentimental smell of the evergreens. But about five p.m. the Christmas spirit hits me with a bang.”
“How long does it last?” asked Jim.
“It’s almost unbearable by midnight Christmas Eve,” I admitted, “when I find myself sneaking in for the fourth or even the fifth time to peek at the kids asleep. It lasts all Christmas morning and right through Christmas dinner, which is about one o’clock noon. But by four p.m. Christmas Day I’m pretty well over it. I’m sound and sane again by, say, five p.m.”
“That’s twenty-four hours,” figured Jim.
“Yeah,” I said, “by five p.m. Christmas Day I’m my old practical self once more. I’m through with nonsense. I want all the colored paper picked up. I want the toys and presents carried to their proper rooms and put away. I want the electric trains and that sort of junk removed from the living room floor and taken to the attic where they belong for the remainder of their life. I want a little quiet and peace in the house and I send the neighbor kids home.”
“By five p.m.?” said Jim.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m pretty average.”
“It seems a pity,” sighed Jim, “that when we are aware of the Christmas spirit we don’t seize on it and hold it all the time. I mean, if we were ignorant of the possibilities of human nature it wouldn’t be so bad. But when we DO know about Christmas how is it we willingly surrender that knowledge? It’s like knowing about sunshine, like knowing about a day in early June, with the sun glowing like a dream and everything green and lovely and the last iris on the stems and the first roses blooming and then deliberately choosing to have a day in November.”
Aching To Do Good Deeds
“As regards the Christmas spirit,” I said, “human nature is sound. It knows there are days in June and also days in November.”
“Are we never to do anything,” cried Jimmie passionately, “about human nature?”
“You can’t change human nature,” I pointed out, “any more than you can change oak nature or horse nature.”
“We’ve done something with horse nature,” said Jim, “and I don’t doubt we could do things with oak nature if it was worth the trouble.”
“But human nature,” I explained, “is tougher. Nobody has ever done anything with human nature yet.”
“The Christmas spirit,” cried Jimmie, as we sailed along the gravel highway, “is on me. I feel like doing glad and kindly deeds. I am prepared to think you are a merry and artless little man. If I were to see some poor old man carrying a bundle along this cheerful country road I would be inclined to stop the car and give him a lift.”
“The bundle,” I said, “would probably contain something loose and smelly.”
“Or if,” cried Jimmie, “I were to see a farmer along here stumping or maybe lifting big stones on to a stoneboat I’d be inclined to stop and help him.”
“We’ve got a two-hour drive to Toronto,” I warned him.
“I need,” said Jim loudly, “to do a good deed. I feel I will have bad luck if I don’t do a good deed. Something dark will befall me if I fail to live up to this feeling in me.”
“The good deed you can do,” I informed him, “is attend to your driving and spare my nerves by not weaving all over this gravel. That would be a kindness.”
But Jimmie was turning his gaze eagerly from side to side, looking for something to vent his goodwill upon. In the broad farm country there was nothing to see.
“A fence I could mend,” he was muttering. “Anything at all. A kind deed, in the name of Christmas.”
Ahead a car was standing by the roadside and, as we drove near, Jim let out a shout of joy.
The hood of the car was lifted. And nobody was in sight.
“Here’s the answer to my prayer,” said Jimmie, stopping opposite the derelict and shutting off the engine.
“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “It’s four o’clock and we said we’d be home for dinner.”
“Some poor fellow,” cried Jimmie, switching off his overcoat and digging into the pocket of the car door for an old pair of cotton work gloves he always carries there, “some poor fellow has gone for help, and it’s three or four miles to the next village. When he gets back his car will be fixed.”
“Don’t be fool, Jim,” I protested. “Maybe he doesn’t want anybody tinkering with his engine.”
But Jimmie had walked back to the other car and started his inspection.
“O.K.,” he called “He’s left his key in it. Just as I expected. Some gentle, innocent fellow, with no knowledge of mechanics.”
I got out and joined him.
“We’ve no time to waste,” I declared.
“It won’t take me five minutes,” said Jim. “You know me, I’ve owned all the crocks that are made. What I don’t know about engines hasn’t been invented yet.”
“It may be some serious injury,” I warned him. “Like the rear end gone or something. You might only wreck it.”
The Role of Unknown Friend
Jim got in and stepped on the starter. The starter hummed and turned the engine over. But there was no responding ignition.
“There you are,” cried Jim gaily. “Ignition. Or dirty points. Or carburetor trouble. I’ll find it in two shakes.”
“I wish you’d leave it alone,” I insisted.
But as he went to work with his wrench, taking out plugs and examining them, and rapidly checking over the wiring, he told me:
“If he isn’t back by the time I’m done, I’ll fasten down the hood again and leave a note. ‘Fixed. With the compliments of an unknown friend.’ Can you imagine the feelings of the man?”
“Suppose,” I asked, “he has gone and got a garage man? Suppose they come away out here in a tow truck? What will the feelings of the garage man be?”
“This car,” said Jimmie, “bears every evidence of belonging to a poor man, a man who cannot afford to hire tow trucks. I think he is more likely in one of those farm houses ahead, asking some farmer to come back and help him.”
“Hurry up,” I urged him. “It’s four-fifteen.”
So Jim wrenched and examined. He tested all the plugs and all the wiring. He removed the carburetor, cleaned it and put it back. I sat in the car, and as each step in the overhaul was completed, Jimmie asked me to step on the starter and see if she responds. But she did not respond.
“I would also say,” said Jim, resting his back, that this car belonged to a careless, happy-go-lucky man. Probably a very lovable type of person. Everything is neglected. The plugs were filthy. The wiring is almost rotten.”
Carefully adjusting the mixture on the carburetor, he asked me to step on her again. I did so.
“Jim,” I cautioned him. “I think by the sound of it this battery is getting weak. We’d better not do much more stepping on it.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” he said, bending into the vitals again.
He checked the starter connections and the timing. He followed all through the battery connections and removed and cleaned the terminals, which were caked with green corrosion. I stepped on it, still it wouldn’t go.
“Jim, this battery is certainly getting weak,” I insisted, “Let’s get going. You’ve done enough. You’ve done your best.”
“My best, ha?” said Jim, now quite greasy and smudged. “You’ve not seen my best yet, my lad.”
“What are you going to do now?” I begged.
“It may be water in the cylinders,” said Jim, “or leaky gaskets, or it might be the valves so sticky they won’t let go. In any case, off comes the casing.”
“Aw,” I said, getting out and starting to walk up the road in the hope of seeing the owner coming in the distance. But nobody was coming. And no smoke came from any of the chimneys of the distant farms. And no birds or animals or dogs moved.
The Owner Appears
When I got back, Jim had the car practically disemboweled. With the casing removed the valves stuck up black and gummy and decayed-looking Jim was wiping them and feeling under them with a nail file.
“The gasket was entirely worn out and retted,” he said, “He’ll have to have a new gasket anyway.”
“How will he get it?” I inquired. “Walk back for it or will we run his messages?”
“He’ll probably have a garage man with him,” said Jim easily. “I hope he has. What time is it now?”
“Four-fifty,” I said quietly.
“Step on it again.” said Jim
I stepped on it. But nothing happened. The starter suddenly stuck.
“There,” I said, “the battery’s quit.”
“She’ll be all right in a minute or two,” said Jim. “Well, it isn’t the valves and tappets.”
With the big wrench, he began to work on the nuts of the cylinder head.
“Wait a minute, Jim.” I shouted. “That’s a major operation.”
“It will have to be done by somebody,” he replied, with Christian fervor. “And now that I’m at it…”
He bent and swung at the corroded nuts. One by one he loosened them, drawing out the long pins and bolts. One of the corner nuts would not budge. He left it to the last. Then he went back at it with determination. With a grunt, it broke off, level with the top.
“A fine condition to let a car into,” cried Jim, angrily. “Now she is in a mess.”
“Anyway,” I informed him, “here comes somebody.”
Up the road, in the distance, a figure approached. He was carrying, we saw as he neared, a gasoline can. When he saw us at his car, he began to hurry. He was a small man, dark, foreign-looking.
“Hello, vot’s diss?” he called as he hastened towards us.
“We were just seeing if we couldn’t make your engine go for you,” replied Jim, heartily.
“You couldn’t make it go widout gas,” said the gentleman, and then he saw his engine. “Oy, oy, oy, oy!”
“It must be,” said Jim, “water in the cylinders.”
“It’s gas it run out of,” cried the little man, wildly. “And now you got it in pieces.”
“It was in bad shape,” said Jim. “I cleaned up your plugs and points …”
“Bad shape?” wailed the little man. “Bad shape? It was a good car. All she needed is a little gas.”
“She was positively dangerous,” stated Jim, heatedly. “In a dreadful shape.”
No Sense of Gratitude
“Fix her together again,” commanded the little man with sudden angry dignity. “Fix her right away together again.”
He pointed dramatically at the ruin.
“Well,” said Jim.
He tried to screw the cylinder head on but the broken nut at the corner left slight gape that both Jim and I knew would be fatal.
He fastened the lid back over the tappets, but there was no gasket except a few rugged tags of rotted cork. And he knew that would be bad.
Meanwhile the owner poured his can of gasoline into the tank at the back.
“There,” said Jimmie, hopefully, “get in and start her up.”
The stranger got in and stepped on his starter. No response. He trumped and stamped.
“You killed my battery,” he accused angrily, “Crank her.”
He got the crank and handed it to Jimmie. Jim cranked and yanked and swung. No results. The little stranger was getting madder every moment. He rolled his eyes to heaven in helpless expostulation. Jim rested a moment and the stranger leaned out the window:
“What do you want to fiddle with my car anyhow?” he asked
“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “It was just an impulse to do a kindly act.”
“She was running beautiful,” wailed the stranger. “And how she won’t run at all. Crank her again.”
Jim cranked and I cranked, and we adjusted the carburetor and altered the mixture and choked and unchoked.
Suddenly the stranger got out.
“Look,” he said, “I’m a business man. I got business. I’m in a hurry. I tell you I’ll take your car and you take mine. When you got her going bring it here, and get your car back.”
“No you don’t,” said Jimmie.
“No I don’t?” shouted the little man furiously. “I leave my car and go to get some gas. I come back and two…”
“All right, all right,” said Jim. “We’ll drive you back into town and pay for the garage man to come out.”
“I got business,” said the stranger. “It’s me will drive you into town and you come back with the garage man…”
And that’s the way it was, Jimmie going in as a passenger in his own car and returning in half an hour, in the dark, with the tow truck. The garage man towed us in the stranger’s car to his repair shop, refastened the cylinder head, twiddled this and that and cranked her, and away she went. Four dollars.
It was seven p.m.
“Jim,” I said, as we drove carefully homeward in the rickety car, “the least you can do, the Christian thing, would be to have his battery recharged.”
“To heck with him,” said Jimmie “He has no sense of gratitude.”
Editor’s Notes: Some jurisdictions had traditional “moving days” in the past when leases would come due and many people would move. In New York City, it was May first. It was the same in Quebec, until moving day was moved to July first, in 1973. It still exists today.
By Greg Clark, October 3, 1936
“Paris,” said Jimmie Frise; “Paris, aaaaaahhhhhh!”
“Maybe so,” I admitted, “but I don’t like sitting here on these wicker chairs like this. Right on the pavement.”
“It’s only raspberry vinegar,” Jim reminded me.
“Even so,” I argued, “suppose our minister should walk by?”
“My dear boy,” cried Jim, “you miss the whole point of Paris. Paris is the place you won’t see your minister walk by. You won’t see anybody you know. Frank and open, for the first time in your life, you can sit here on the Boulevarde des Capucines, on a wicker chair on the sidewalk, and look at the world without the world even casting glance at you. It’s a swell feeling.”
“Paris is kind of indifferent, isn’t it?” I admitted.
“The last time we were in the Old World,” said Jim, “we were soldiers and everybody looked at us. We made them look at us. We had drums and brass bands to make them look at us. We missed entirely the chief characteristic of the Old World. I’m glad we came back.”
“What is that chief characteristic?” I asked.
“The fact that nobody pays any attention to you as an individual,” said Jim. “In our country and in the United States people are always looking at you. You are eternally self-conscious. You can’t walk along the street without being aware that somebody is eyeing you. With curiosity or contempt or interest or something. You can’t come in a door, walk across a shop or a room, without seeing eyes raised to you, aware, appraising, watchful, measuring. We are forced to live secretly, guardedly. We can’t be ourselves. Even in our homes we have the feeling some window across the street is armed with watching eyes. We all have curtains on our windows.”
“So we have,” I remembered.
“But here in Paris windows,” said Jim, “are for seeing out of, so they have no curtains except along the sides. And when you come into your hotel lobby nobody looks at you, not even the clerk or the porter, until you go up to him to speak. In the stores the clerks do not even see you until you stop in front of them, and then you would think, the way they act, that you were the most charming person they had ever laid eyes on. In the streets …”
Jim waved his cigarette at the passing throng of Paris. He picked up his raspberry vinegar and held it to the light with an elegant gesture. The French drink the funniest things. They call them aperitifs. Some taste like liquorice, some like caraway seeds, some like postage stamps. They are bright red, bright yellow, bright blue. They are supposed to give the Frenchmen a wonderful appetite. And then the Frenchmen sit down to a meal of coffee without cream and a bun shaped like a crescent.
“The streets,” said Jim, movingly. “The Boulevarde des Capucines, bounded by the Opera, the Louvre and the Madeleine, Aaaaaaahhhh.”
Like Yonge St. With Trees
And on the wide sidewalk before us the casual throng of Paris strolled. And on the pavement the motor traffic attempted suicide. Little modern American-shaped taxis, cream in color with scarlet trim, scorched along with horns at full blast. When a Paris taxi driver steps on the gas with his foot he also steps on the horn with his palm. And even to go fifty feet he tramps the accelerator right to the floor boards. Then he lifts both foot and palm and tramps with both feet on the brakes. The result, a hellish din of horns and screaming tires. But the curious thing is the contrast between the almost panic-stricken motor traffic and the utterly lazy, leisurely, graceful throng on the sidewalks. In London you will see both cabinet ministers and clerks pushing and thrusting through the crowds. In Paris nobody hurries on foot. But on wheels they go mad.
“The trees,” said Jim.
If there were maple trees all down Yonge St., shading the stores, and if all the soda fountains had wicker chairs and tables out on the sidewalk, it wouldn’t be unlike Paris.
“I thought,” I said, “it would be kind of foreign, sort of.”
“The only thing they don’t do in Paris.” explained Jim, “is tear down old churches. Or pull up trees. We start by pulling down old churches and digging out the trees. Then we widen a street. In Paris they tear down everything but the old churches and the trees and then they look at it and say, now what kind of a boulevarde could we have here?”
“And they twiddle their architecture more than we do,” I observed.
“We’re beginning to twiddle back home.” said Jim. “Twiddling is the sign that we are beginning to lose our self-consciousness. Only the self-conscious people dress like inmates of an institution or buy homes like boxes. All our new skyscrapers have twiddles.”
“Now that you come to mention it,” I agreed, “about four out of five of all these stores and cafes and everything are just about the same as we’d see in Toronto or Detroit.”
“Sure,” said Jim. “We’re all related, the French and everybody. A few little differences on the outside. Like the way the French say the word garcon. They sort of snort it. They half swallow it. They have a soft spot somewhere in their throats that goes gug right in the middle of a word. They say gar-so, I say gar-song. But they understand it. Now watch. Gar-song. Gar-song.”
The waiter, a dark, sinister-looking man with beetling black eyebrows, leaped nimbly to Jim’s command.
“Noo,” said Jimmie, holding his cigarette up in a wavey way, “noo vooley avey – er – noo vooley avey a couple more of – how do you say – ?”
“Would ye like a couple more of they pink things?” asked the waiter in a heavy Scotch burr.
“Ah,” I cried. “Aberdeen?”
“Peebles.” said the waiter, sinisterly.
“He’s Scotch,” cried Jim.
“Oo, aye,” said the waiter, darkly. “In Scotland all the waiters are French. In Paris all the waiters are Scottish. A waiter is not without honor, sirr, save in his ain country.”
“Well,” said Jim, sadly, “bring us a couple more of these pink things.”
“Oui, monsieur,” said the waiter, curving away.
Design For Living
“There you see,” said Jim. “It’s a small world.”
“It’s a large world,” I disagreed. “Large and lovely and people can wander all over it.”
“And do,” agreed Jim.
“The only thing,” I said, “I don’t understand about France is the way they have a new premier every few days. The government is always resigning. Here, to look at, is the most peaceful, easy going, contented and indifferent people in the world. All minding their own business. Yet they change governments every few weeks.”
“True,” admitted Jim. “And only last July, this very cafe where we’re sitting was the scene of a bloody riot. People were shot, fifty cops picked wicker chairs out of their hides, the place was a shambles.”
“It’s hard to believe,” I said, as a fierce-looking young man, not more than twenty, a wild rakish youth in a cap over one ear, came wickedly to stand before us, a basket full of violets on his arm, and holding forth a glorious bunch of them to us.
“Cinq sous,” he hissed.
“Five cents,” translated Jim.
“Non, non,” I cried. “A thousand times non. I’ll drink pink carnation juice and sit on a chair in the streets but I won’t carry violets.”
“Buzzey-off,” commanded Jim. And the youth glided viciously away in the crowd.
“He may sell violets,” said Jim. “But I’d hate to tell you what his politics likely are. That’s the trouble with France. Old ladies knit baby clothes while the guillotine smacks down, and young men sell violets while plotting bloody revolution. In Canada, thank heaven, you can tell a Communist or a Tory at a glance.”
“I thought you said we were all brothers,” I reminded him.
“So we are, except in superficial things,” said Jim. “And politics is superficial.”
“We all owe France a lot,” I pointed out. “It did a great job of house-cleaning for all of us about a hundred and fifty years ago. We must never forget that.”
“But it had no new plan ready,” said Jim. “It smashed the existing order and then didn’t know what to do next. And it is still trying to discover a plan.”
“Don’t tell me,” I protested, “that this lovely country, of rich farms and old towns and villages, unchanged in hundreds of years, hasn’t got a plan. Don’t tell me, right here with all these happy, easy people promenading along, that they haven’t a design for living. Why, my dear boy, if I ever saw peace and comfort, here it is.”
“France,” said Jim, “is seething. Its government is Socialist. Wherever we go, we see young men doing this.”
Jim raised his left arm, and clenched his fist.
“And wherever we go,” he added, “middle-aged men are doing this.”
And he raised his right arm with his palm extended in the Hitler salute.
I tilted my chair back and leaned close to Jim.
“The gent next to you,” I whispered, “is listening to every word you utter.”
Jim glanced at his neighbor. A strange-looking man. Well-dressed, but with a dry and wicked face. His skin was tight-stretched over his face and head. His eyes were so gray they were colorless. He looked uneasily away when Jim turned.
“You’ve got to be careful,” muttered Jim, shifting his chair and leaning on his elbows near me, “I tell you. Paris is full of spies. Police agents. Secret service.”
“You shouldn’t wave your arms so,” I cautioned Jim. “Giving that Communist salute might have created another riot here out of a blue sky.”
“I was only illustrating,” said Jim, uneasily. For the pallid man was again leaning back our way, obviously trying to eavesdrop.
“Finish that dentifrice,” I said, “and let’s move on. I don’t like the feel of this place all of a sudden.”
And, indeed, a curious transformation seemed to have taken place. The group of wicker chairs under the awning seemed now tenanted by strangers, not brothers: men holding their breath and waiting. The throng on the streets seemed all of a sudden to be looking at us out of the corners of their eyes. The screech and horning of traffic might be only a camouflage of sound in which a couple of shots would pass all unnoticed.
The sinister Scottish waiter was nowhere to be seen. Jim signaled another wailer, who came over and added up the saucers. Each concoction is served on a saucer on which is printed the amount of the check. Add them up, and if nobody has put a saucer in his pocket for a souvenir, you get the total bill.
“Sept francs, quatre vingt cinq centimes,” said the waiter.
Jim dug out a pocketful of change, copper, bronze, brass and silver, including some six-pences and shilling from England and a couple of quarters, dimes and nickels from Canada. Some of the French coins had square holes in them. These are the ones the taxi-drivers give you back.
“Sept,” said Jim, “cinquante, soixante quinze …”
And he counted out carefully.
Dumped the coins into the waiter’s hand and we started off, for the pallid stranger was excitedly eyeing us, openly, boldly.
“Let’s turn a few corners,” said Jim, as we hurried amidst the slow strolling crowd.
We turned one corner.
“Ohey,” a voice shouted.
We glanced over our shoulders.
A gendarme, cape flying arm outstretched, was after us.
“What did I tell you, Jim?” I moaned.
“Stop before he shoots,” hissed Jim.
That Guggley French
The gendarme, a fine middle-aged man with a wet gleaming eye, spoke sharply to us in a gush of that guggley French that they never teach us in school.
“Monsieur,” said Jim, “noo sum Canadians. Noo care nothing really about politics.”
The gendarme let go another sort of giant popcorn at us.
“I,” said Jim, waving his arms eloquently, “moi, je merely deet a mon ami, here, Mr. Clark, je merely deet que la belle France was divided into two parties. I merely deet, monsieur, that some were for this…”
And Jim gave the Communist fist.
“And some for this.”
And he gave the Fascist salute.
The gendarme shook his head furiously, and tried to take Jim by the arm.
“Attendez,” cried Jim. “Listen. Takey us to Canadian high commissioner. Takey us to pilgrim headquarters. They telley you. We Canadians. We no politique. No politique whatever.”
Down the street came two or three more gendarmes, capes flying.
“We’re sunk, Jim,” I moaned. “We may be in a swell mess.”
The elder gendarme explained to his comrades. They looked at us darkly. They shook their heads.
“Listen, buddy,” said one of the gendarmes, “you can’t get away with that in gay Paree.”
“Thank heaven,” said Jim. “You speak English.”
“Like a native,” said the gendarme, “of Dayton, Ohio.”
“Officer,” cried Jim, joyously “lieutenant, captain, get us out of this mess. We’re Canadians. see? Just over the border. Canadians. We weren’t meaning anything. All I was doing was explaining to my little friend here about French politics. I merely raised my fist, like this…”
“What has politics to do with it?” asked the gendarme. “It’s only ten centimes. That’s about three-quarters of one cent.”
“Ten centimes?” said Jim.
“Sure.” said the gendarme. “You gypped the waiter back here of ten centimes when you settled your bill.”
“Is that all?” cried Jim. “My goodness.”
So we all marched back to the cafe where the manager in his morning coat and seven waiters were waiting anxiously for us and we paid the ten centimes and I handed back the saucer I had slipped in my pocket for a souvenir, and paid two francs that it said on it, and we apologized to the waiter from Peebles, whose name, I learned, was Hoggarth, spelt with two gs. His first name was Andra.
“We thought,” I explained, confidentially, that that guy sitting there with the tight face was a police agent, and that he had overheard us talking French politics.”
“Him?” said Andra. “He’s some kind of a Scandinavian foreigner who sits here all day trying to learn French. I bet he was sore puzzled by your French.”
“Not mine,” said Jim. “You understand it all right.”
“Pairfectly,” said Andra, bowing in that elegant French way.
Editor’s Notes: This story was written when Greg and Jim went on the “pilgrimage” to France for the unveiling of the Vimy memorial. There were several stories that take place in Britain and France.
It is interesting today that Greg would consider sitting in a cafe on a sidewalk weird, as well as trees lining a street. France was undergoing a tumultuous political situation in the 1930s, with the government changing regularly, as they mention. These political problems were thought to be one of the causes of their early defeat in World War Two.
In France, gendarme is a term for the police. French 5, 10, and 25 Centimes coins from this time period had holes in them.
By Greg Clark, August 14, 1943 (and August 15, 1936).
While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Cure for Lumbago” in 1936 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics.
“My uncle,” said Jimmie Frise, “has got the lumbago.”
“They say it’s very painful,” I said, “if you really have it.”
“How do you mean?” asked Jim.
“Well, of course,” I explained, “lumbago is one of the swellest fake ailments in the world. It is one of those diseases that are hard to diagnose. A man can pretend he has lumbago periodically for 30 years and escape an awful lot of hard work. And nobody can catch him at it. Even doctors are fooled.”
“H’m,” said Jim.
“There is only one way to tell if a man really has lumbago,” I informed him. “A medical officer showed me, in the army. We had a dreadful outbreak of lumbago in our regiment one time. Somebody knew that lumbago was hard to diagnose. So he passed the word around among the real lead-swingers of the regiment, and we had as high as 30 very serious cases of it.
“The medical officer was nearly crazy. The only thing he could do for lumbago was excuse the lead-swingers all parades and working parties; and the whole 30 of them lay around the billets playing red dog and penny ante. Suddenly, he had an idea. He had all the lumbago cases paraded before him, one by one. As each man, with drawn face and cautious step, came in front of him, the medical officer dropped a sheet of paper and asked the sufferer to pick it up. Each sufferer, very suspicious, slowly and with agony bent over and picked up the paper; then quickly straightened.
“Now in lumbago, it doesn’t hurt to bend down. But it hurts like blazes to straighten up. The whole 30 all made the same mistake. So the M.O. gave each of them two number nines and a dose of castor oil and they were all on duty parade the next morning.”
“We ought to tip off everybody to this diagnosis,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t wonder if there were thousands of guys faking lumbago all over the country. Especially when there is any heavy lifting to do.”
“Oh, it’s useful for lots of other things.” I said. “It isn’t only hard work. I know plenty of men who suffer from lumbago terribly every Sunday morning, and it is worst just about time to dress for church. Others get a pang of it when their wife wants them to accompany them over to Sister Emily’s or some other such place where you sit around all evening listening to a lot of family complaints.”
“We’ll do a lot of good,” agreed Jim. “revealing this trick about bending down. In real lumbago it is easy to bend down and hard to straighten up. Fake lumbago, they bend down in agony and straighten up quickly. Is that it?”
Uncle Horace’s Attacks
“Then there is cupping,” I said, “You get a good thick glass, the kind peanut butter comes in. You set fire to a little bit of paper in the glass and then pop it against the small of the back of the sufferer. The instant you slap the cup against the hide, the lighted paper goes out. But a vacuum has already been created in the glass sufficient to suck up the flesh under the cup like half a golf ball. You go all over the lumbago area, overlapping each cupping until you have applied suction to the whole area. This is an old-fashioned cure and a dandy. Anybody can do it.”
“But what has it to do with fake lumbago?” asked Jim.
“Well,” I showed him, “all you have to do is be a little clumsy and let the burning paper fall on the small of his back. And he lets out a yell, leaps to his feet and all his lumbago vanishes without the need of any treatment.”
“My uncle,” said Jim, “is a very fine man. A pillar of the church. A county councillor. But he does get the lumbago around haying time. And harvest generally.”
“H’m,” said I.
“His wife, Aunt Minnie,” said Jim, “wrote and asked if I wanted any clover honey. In the same letter she mentioned Uncle Horace had the lumbago very bad. I don’t suggest there is any connection. But I’m awfully fond of clover honey. She’d give us each a couple of big pails of it if we went down.”
“We?” I said suspiciously.
“Anyway,” said Jim, as a patriotic duty we should give Uncle Horace a hand with his harvest, lumbago or no lumbago.”
“The only thing we might have to do,” said Jim, “would be to lend a hand for an afternoon with the barley, probably. Or maybe oats.”
“Agricultural labor,” I stated, is what drove my family into the city three generations ago.”
“I don’t suggest you do any work,” said Jim. “But it might be fun to try out these tests on Uncle Horace.”
“You don’t suspect a county councillor of deceit,” I demanded.
“The only fault I have to find with Uncle Horace,” replied Jim, “is a certain nighness. He’s a little nigh. He reverences a dollar bill with devotion that is touching.”
“I can think of worse ways of spending a summer afternoon,” I said, “than sitting under a shady elm on a farm with a pitcher of iced tea beside me, watching you forking sheaves on to a wagon. Count me in.”
Our arrival at Aunt Minnie’s was timed exactly right. Lunch was just ready when we drove up to the kitchen door. There was cold pickled ham and lettuce; potato salad with little green onions in it; hot biscuits and clover honey; hot tea or iced tea; and Aunt Minnie had a plate of mint sprays to crush around the lip of the iced tea glasses, which were the old-fashioned kind that hold a pint.
We went in and saw Uncle Horace laid out in his bed. He is a lean and weather-beaten gentleman. His hands crossed peacefully on his chest, are big, capable hands. But there was a look of patient suffering in his eyes.
Applying the Test
“Jim,” he said, “it was mighty kind of you to come down at a time like this. And bringing a friend, too.”
“Ah, Aunt Minnie knows the trick,” said Jim. “Clover honey.”
“What would you like me to tackle, Uncle Horace? The barley, is it?” asked Jim.
“Well, the way I look at it,” said Uncle Horace, pushing his moustache back as if he were going to address the county council, or close a deal, “a hired man costs so much. And a pail of clover honey is worth so much. It all works out even.” “you can’t get a man around these parts for love or honey, let alone money, and I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t shown up.”
“It’s a small field of barley,” said Uncle Horace. “By dark, you could mow the whole thing. Then I have your Cousin James and his family coming down for the week-end. They are hearty eaters, but I figure they can get the whole crop into the barn for me. It’s a wonderful thing, Mr. Clark, to have relatives like mine. Especially when I am such a martyr.”
Aunt Minnie showed us the wash bench, basin and soft water pail.
“What do you think?” murmured Jim.
“We’ll try him out, after lunch,” I replied guardedly. Both systems. I didn’t like the sound of that word martyr.”
And after a wonderful two-helpings lunch, with three of clover honey and six tea biscuits, we walked into Uncle Horace’s bedroom on the ground floor.
“We’ll just help you up,” I said, “to sit here at the window and see us off.”
I then dropped a dollar bill on the floor, folded up.
“Careful, lads,” said Uncle Horace, extending his long legs out of the bed and moving very, very cautiously. He had two or three twinges in the process of getting his back off the bed and his heels on the floor. But with Jim and me on either side, slowly taking the weight, he got into a standing position and gasped heavily.
“I can manage now,” he said. But I knew he had his eye on the dollar bill.
Jim stepped over to the chair at the window, and I moved back and shook the bed quilt aside.
And Uncle Horace, bending very quickly picked up the dollar; and then, with every symptom of intense agony, slowly and with fierce groans, straightened up
“Did either,” he gasped, his face white and his eyes bulging, “of you lose a certain sum of money?”
Jim and I felt in our pockets and shook our heads.
“Well,” said Uncle Horace, painfully hitching himself towards the chair, it must have fallen out of one of my pockets.” Though I can’t imagine me losing my faculties to that extent just yet.”
He eased himself into the chair. Jim and I saw him comfortable in front of the window, and left him.
“The real thing?” asked Jim as we went around toward the barn.
“He sure has the real thing,” I agreed. “”He bent down as quick as lightning. But he straightened with intense agony. I never saw a man suffer more for a dollar bill.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” mused Jim. “A dollar bill would make Uncle Horace forget anything. Suppose he grabbed for the dollar bill. And then remembered suddenly he had the lumbago and groaned coming up.”
“He’s a marvellous actor,” I said, “if he hasn’t got lumbago. I hadn’t the heart to suggest the cupping cure, after seeing his face.”
“Then,” said Jim, “it is an act of charity we are doing, helping him with his barley.”
Purely As An Observer
I know nothing about the agricultural life.
My ancestors before me must have exhausted themselves so completely trying to wrest a living out of the soil that they used up even the instincts which normally might have been passed on to me. So it was purely as an observer that I accompanied Jim into the stable, saw him lead out three fine heavy horses, their sides shining like fresh peeled chestnuts. …their bellies and limbs fat and full of flesh. Jim stood them in the shade and bridled and harnessed them. Drove them cleverly to the lane where the big binder was standing ready. Expertly backed them on to the trees and fastened the traces. Walking slowly around them to see where every collar and every strap lay not too loose and not too snug. Slipped his hand under the bands. Slapped and patted the friendly beasts.
“What gorgeous horses, Jim,” said, from the rail fence where I perched.
“Uncle Horace knows his horses,” agreed Jim.
“They’re like lambs,” I admired.
“They are bred to be like lambs,” said Jim. “Nowadays, there are really no bad horses any more. The first principle of breeding is to eliminate all vice. In the past 40 or 50 years Canadian farmers have been breeding to an ideal horse, so they choose only the horse free of vice to breed from. It is as if, in human breeding, we only allowed good-tempered and quiet people to have children.
“That would be a swell idea,” I said, “for some of us. But why did we have such wicked horses in the army?”
“Ah,” said Jim, “those were riding horses you mean? They breed riding horses for style and courage, not for gentleness.”
“I have never really got over my experience with horses in the army,” I told Jim, as I walked along beside him to the mower. “What horses did to me in the war I have never quite eliminated from my character. My self-esteem is only about half what it would be normally, if it hadn’t been for the way horses threw me and bucked me and stepped on me.”
“You’d be a tough egg, then,” said Jim, “if it hadn’t been for horses.”
I watched Jim mount the seat of the big binder. I walked along as the huge machine, its paddles thrown out of gear so they did not operate during the drive down the lane, clattered and banged and rattled. Jim was like a Roman charioteer, reining the three magnificent rippling horses. They bent into the harness so willingly. They plodded so knowingly down the lane. They wheeled, almost without any directions of Jim’s voice or reins, into the barley field through the gate.
“Yee,” called Jim, sitting proudly on the binder seat, lifting the reins high, and gazing with the pride of a landowner across the glistening harvest.
Behind, I walked in the fresh springing stubble of the barley. Ahead, the great paddles whirled and the sheaves rolled out. We came to the end of the first swath. Jim yeed the beautiful beasts around on a five-cent piece, as it were, their chins across the fence, making the turn.
“Stook it up,” Jim shouted gaily to me pointing back along the swath of the sheaves.
“I never stook barley,” I shouted back. “I promised my old great-grandfather.”
Jim whoaed the three-horse team. They seemed actually to smile with a kind of harvest joy, those horses.
“How would you like to drive?” asked Jim,
“Are you a mind reader?” I replied. “Jim, if I could drive those horses even for two or three turns of the field it would restore the self-esteem I lost in France 20 years ago.”
Jim swung down off the seat.
“These horses,” said Jim, “could mow this field without anybody driving them.”
“Upsadaisy,” I said, springing into the high seat.
“Just hold the reins,” said Jim, “and let them do it.”
“Yee,” I said, “giddap.”
And without even a lurch, the three beauties curved and rippled their magnificent rumps before me and their heads bobbed, their black manes rose and fell, their ears flopped and twitched and signalled, and beside me the great paddles whirled and the wheels bumped and the seat swayed on its soft springs; and I was, after four generations, a husbandman again, a reaper of harvests, a bringer-in of sheaves.
Barley Field Jigsawed
But I hardly had time to feel the full bloom of age-long and forgotten sentiments. Some day I would like to mow a field, just to see if my instincts are really dead. About one third down the field, when I was just beginning to feel that thrill of achievement which comes to us even when we first ride a bicycle, the team stepped, I am reliably informed by Mr. Frise, into a bees’ nest. The same curious creatures who topped off for us our delectable lunch also served as a cure for lumbago.
With a couple of snorts, the gentle but massive ton and a half of glossy horseflesh writhing and rippling before me, suddenly backed, swerved and reared.
“Whoa,” I roared, seeing Jim out of the corner of my eye bending over sheaves some distance back of us.
But even the best-bred horses do not go for bees. The next thing agricultural science should develop are stingless bees. Paddle wheel whirling madly, wheels bumping and clanking, bars jerking, seat leaping perilously, we tore down the field, curving this way and that; losing all sense of geometry, coming to a fence and turning only when we had to.
I could hear Jim shouting directions, but above the noise of the binder I could not hear whether he was saying to pull on the reins or let them use their own good sense. But since a few bees zoomed around me, I thought he was saying to let them run. Anyway, I do not believe it would be humane to force poor dumb animals to submit to bee stings. Frankly, we did four diagonal and otherwise various swaths with the binder before Uncle Horace leaped the fence and caught the off-horse by the head strap and brought us to a stop.
“Get off that,” he roared at me
I got off it, quite willingly.
He climbed without lumbago into the seat He stood up and surveyed the barley field, all jig-sawed. His beautiful horses were standing as quiet as lambs.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” I said.
“Stch, stch, giddap,” said Uncle Horace.
“It was a bees’ nest,” said Jim, who had arrived.
“Yee,” said Uncle Horace, leaning forward to grasp the reins better and straightening back without even a grimace.
So Jim and I went to the side of the field and watched him once around; and as he did not notice us when he went by, we proceeded back up to the house and sat in rocking-chairs with Aunt Minnie in the kitchen. And she made us iced tea again; and after due consideration we decided to leave before supper. Aunt Minnie gave us each not two but three pails of clover honey; and in deference to my feeling for her tea biscuits, she did me up a dozen in a bag to take home, too.
Editor’s Notes: Lumbago is lower back pain, and was a more common term in the past.
Red Dog is a gambling card game, Penny-ante refers to very low sum bets.
A Stook is a stack of grain to keep the grain off of the ground.
By Greg Clark, July 25, 1936
There are two pilgrimages on Vimy Ridge this week. The one is ours; a few thousand middle-aged veterans returning to the scene of an old war.
The other pilgrimage is from the skies: the 58,000 young men, forever young, who died. It is not likely they would be absent when the British King tears down the bunting from the great memorial to their memory and in their honor.
There is pathos in our pilgrimage. No vestige remains of the ruin we made in our time. The healing hand of the years has made us all strangers in the land. Trees fifteen years old wave along bright, smooth roads, trees unaware, unmarred. On the site of villages and towns as desolate as Baffin Land when we knew this Vimy Ridge, there grow pretty and trim little villages of white and red. They sell picture post cards of how it all used to look. But now, to us, these pictures are hard to believe.
Pathos in us, to see us in our buses and cars, seeking, questing: tramping on foot, over grain fields and beet fields where, according to all our senses and very good maps, here used to be dreadful excavations we called home for two, three years of our best lives. Why, these strong young men toiling in the grain fields on Vimy’s slope were yet unborn when we harvested this slope long years ago.
No vestige remains, except a few museum pieces, carefully preserved; smelling, as it were, of camphor and as little like the real thing as a stuffed deer is like a living one.
So forgive me if I tell you of what I saw and found last evening, as I walked out of Arras northerly, looking for one spot, only one spot, where once I was a man. On the distant crest of Vimy loomed the silhouette of the shrouded memorial, which is soon to be unveiled by the King. On highways coiling with traffic, I walked towards Lens, and looked in vain for Madagascar Dump with its vast untidy piles of munitions. In vain for La Targette or the Nine Elms or Thelus. It was like going into the backyard to find an old tin can; but I cannot find it, so thick are all the old fashioned flowers.
Twilight; dusk; darkness; night enfolded and when I had, by taking a sideroad and a lane and a path and finally a field’s edge, come to the place where the third Canadian division had, in its time, swept up this slope like sea wave on the sand, I sat down to look into the darkness and divest myself, if possible, of this unnerving sense of pathos.
It is here you may leave me. If you do not believe in the mystical or the ghostly.
For ghosts, I do believe, exist; but only in our own hearts.
At first, I saw an aurora; an uncertain radiance like the northern lights. Presently, sound was added and I seemed to hear a hum of countless voices, laughter and a mouth organ, singing and cheers.
The Other Pilgrimage
It was the Other Pilgrimage. Out of the sky they came thudding and striding, like troops marching at ease, hordes of them, infantry, all arms, gunners in their cross bandoliers, all ranks. And they spread over the slope of Vimy, from Carency to Arras, lighting watch fires, setting up bivvies, all higgledy piggledy, just as it used to be. With shouts they went seeking comrades amidst the braziers. With joy and clumsy leaping, they encountered their friends. Crowds and knots gathered, moved this way and that. And as I watched the ghostly multitude of the Other Pilgrimage, some of the pathos began to leave me. In dream, an hour is only an instant: but after the whole high slope had flowered to one vast sea of fires and countless moving forms, I got up from the fence where I was seated and walked into the great bivouac. The bivouac in which they were the real and I was the shadow.
At first I sought friends: Muirhead, Abbey, Cutsey Smith, Butson, any of them. It would be fine to know where Abbey went to: what far continent of infinity he surveyed. Fine to see Muirhead and discover what rank the good Lord had given him. He would doubtless be a general by now, I thought.
But amongst the countless happy warriors, with ruddy faces shining in the watch fires, I saw no friends. At first I feared to look at them, since I might see wounds or scars. But there were no wounds; and such is the nonsense of dreams, I noticed that every soldier wore flowers: some in his cap, some on his breast; others, with nosegays of little bright flowers even on their backs, or pinned to their legs. One carried a bright spray of forget me-nots before his eyes, and as he walked, amidst the jibes of his comrades, he kept peeping from behind the flowers, as if to see his way.
They paid no attention to me; I was afraid they could not see me. So I asked directions of them, and they answered me politely and without curiosity. They were all young: I have gray hair by my ears. When they answered me, they clicked their young heels together and stood straight. Another dream hour, I walked and wandered amongst the watch fires, saw the rough boots sticking out of the bivvies, the old way; heard the old familiar taunts and shouts: saw more than one crown and anchor board laid out on the grass; heard many a song, even some of the rowdy ones whose words I had forgotten.
Finally, I came to a brazier where five young men were grouped, some red and some green and some blue patches on their shoulders. They were arguing. I stood for a moment and then asked if I might join their fire. They made way with pleasure.
“What’s the argument?” I inquired.
‘We were talking.” said the Green Patch, “about what we would have done if we had lived.”
“If I had lived,” explained the Red Patch, who wore a large spray of flowers on his breast, a lanky boy with bony face, “I would have been a farmer. And nothing else. It is the greatest life of all. I can see it right now. Haying time, and the barley next.
“I can see me, in the hot sun, driving the mower. Three horses in the mower. The sky hot and blue. The fences almost hidden in the long grass and the wheat. I go up this way and then I turn the three horses. Then I come down this way. It would be about five o’clock.
“If I had lived, I would have had a hundred and forty acres and thirty-head of Holstein cattle. I can see them, black and white, coming slowly up the lane from the back pasture. From the mower, I can see them coming up. and I look at them and think, these are my cows.”
“If I Had Lived.”
“There is no life,” said the Red Patch, “as good as farming. Nothing happier, safer, more comfortable. You make good money and set it away in mortgages at seven or six per cent: you work like a man until you are fifty and then move to a town like Guelph. Guelph is what I had in mind, if I had lived. And in the winter, I would have gone on visits to the States. I would attend the big cattle fairs in Chicago.
“No, you can take what you like, but if I had lived, I would have been a farmer.”
The group around the fire listened with grins.
“It may be a comfortable life,” said Green Patch, the best-looking of the boys, “and you may be free of all care and want on the farm; but would you really call it living?”
“Now if I had lived, give me the city. The bright lights, the speed, the excitement. I can see the street I used to live on. A quiet street with trees that used to arch overhead in summer. Mostly red brick houses with white verandas. I knew lots of girls on my street. You could go out and whistle after supper and they would part the curtains and then come running out. In white dresses.
“And just down at the foot of the street were the street cars and you could take her for a long ride. You could go down town and have a soda. If you had any money, you could take her to the vaudeville. Or you could just walk along and look in the store windows.
“In the city there are plenty of jobs for young fellows like us. I could have been a salesman in one of the big stores or my father was thinking of getting me a job in an office. All round you there is business and excitement, and you can look ahead and see the way you will go until you are a manager or an assistant manager. There is no life for a young man like the city, with all its opportunities and chances. On the farm, you may get no rain or something goes wrong, or prices fall…”
“Never,” said the young farmer. “People must always eat.”
“At any rate,” said Green Patch, with passion, “in a city, there is always something doing; always another job if the one you have doesn’t please you. A city is full of everything. It is the place to have lived. Are you a city man, sir?”
The question was to me, to bring me into the debate.
“Yes,” I said. “But excuse me, boys. I take it you are here on a special pilgrimage, like myself. Do you keep touch with the world much?”
“Oh, no,” they said. “We think about it – a great deal, but we don’t get much opportunity of coming back like this. And we are just here for a little while, until the unveiling. Then we have to go.”
“You,” I hesitated, “don’t keep track of what is going on in the world?”
“We have more important things to do,” explained young Green Patch.
“You see, sir,” said the Blue Patch, whose whole head was crowned with flowers, “we all have our appointed tasks. Where we are now, it is like the world, with its various continents and climes, and we are scattered all over it. But at times like this, when the world remembers us, we are allowed to come back. It is good fun to get together, a reunion like this. But we have much more absorbing interests.
“Pardon me,” I asked, “but what are the flowers you are all wearing?”
“Where we were wounded, we wear flowers,” explained Blue Patch, “With these uniforms, they look a little funny, but they insisted we wear our old uniforms to the unveiling.”
“And what would you have done, if you had lived?” I asked Blue Patch, who was older than the others. A man of twenty-six or seven.
“I am a school teacher,” explained Blue Patch. “I would have continued in that profession, sir. It is the finest profession on earth, I believe. My ambition was to become a master in a collegiate or even in a big private school. I can think of nothing nobler than leading young people into the full glory of life and understanding.”
“The noblest,” I agreed.
“The way Canada must be now,” said the young school master, with a tender expression, with no more war, no more oppression or tyranny, it must be wonderful for youth. The one regret I had, when I left the world, was that I did not live to see the full flower of our sacrifice. To think of all those millions of youngsters, free forever and ever of the fear of war and cruelty and oppression, able at last to devote themselves to the highest ideals of life, to work for something else than miserable and vicious gain…”
“When I was living,” he continued after a breathless pause, “there still lingered some traces of the older order of things. But I am happy to think that I and my comrades here, and all these thousands on this hillside to-night were instruments in setting the world free, at last, from the narrow, selfish and greedy instincts of humanity.”
All five of the boys wore proud expressions and glanced at one another affectionately.
“It is too bad,” I suggested, “that you can not see the results of your great sacrifice. Aren’t you allowed even a glimpse of the world you left, even now and then?”
“No,” explained Blue Patch, the school teacher. “They tell us it would distract our attention from greater tasks.”
The fourth young man was a gunner. He had that bunchy look, with his leather bandoliers and stiff cap.
“I’m afraid,” he chuckled, “that if I had lived, I would have been a bum. What I liked best to do was travel around the country. I’ve ridden the rods.”
He looked around us all, half proud, half embarrassed.
“Ridden the rods on freight trains,” he said. “Bummed my way on blind baggages. Tramped the ties, hundred of miles. I’ve slept in flop houses and out in barns and in empty box cars. I’ve often begged dimes in the streets and meals at back doors of houses. It may sound funny, but that’s what I liked.”
Again he cast his eye around us. Only in mine did he detect sympathy.
“If I had lived,” he said, “I was intending to go right back to that kind of thing.”
“That was all very well,” said the school master, “back in the old days. But I bet you wouldn’t have had the courage to do it, in the world the way it is now.”
“What moves me deeply,” I said, “is the beautiful memory you have of the world. It seems so dear to you.”
“It is,” said the farmer boy. “Not that we aren’t very happy where we are, you understand? But the way we feel, we would love to see it, the way it is now. It was lovely when we left. But how lovely it must be now.”
The fifth young man was Light Blue patch. His flowers he carried in his hands and held them before his eyes as if the light of the brazier dazzled him. He was a rugged youth, heavy set, and when he spoke, his accent was Scottish.
“If I had lived,” he said, soberly, “I would have liked to have had some kids. Two boys, I think, and a girl. The boys would be eighteen or so now. I would like to have seen one of them. The oldest one. In my family, the boys take after the fathers.”
“I should have said,” interrupted the farmer, “that I would have some kids around my farm. Those Holstein cows coming up the lane, the ones I could see from the mower when I was mowing, would be driven by a boy. Or maybe a boy and girl.”
“It is fine to have kids,” said the young Scot, holding the flowers before his eyes very close. “I could take them after supper down to the corner to get my tobacco. I could take them to fairs and that sort. My father was a strict man. He always hushed us. I am not that kind, myself. I like the racket of kids in the house.”
“Were you married?” I asked.
“No, but I had my eye on a girl. I was in tending to speak to her after the war.”
“Did you go with her?” asked the farmer, interested.
“I did not have her acquaintance,” said the young Scot. “I composed several letters to her in the trenches but I never posted them. She would be a fine woman now. I have no doubt she has children. I could wish they were mine. Two boys, and a girl. The oldest boy would be eighteen or thereabouts now. He would have sandy hair. I would buy them tartan neckties to their birthdays.”
He pressed the flowers to his eyes.
The others all stared at the fire or raised their eyes to look far off. The school master reached over and pitched the Scottie on the arm.
“You do not ask me about the world?” I said, after the silence.
And with the words, the vision seems to shiver as if struck by an earthquake, the figures so real before me suddenly began to lose color and shape; the watch fire itself began to dim swiftly; a mist swept in a vast wave, across the Vimy slope; the hosts of the Other Pilgrimage faded and vanished; their tumult subsided into a haunted silence.
And in a field in the dark, grizzled, weary, trembling and dreadfully ashamed, I stood all alone.
Editor’s Notes: The Vimy Memorial was completed and dedicated in 1936. The Toronto Star went all out in their coverage, paying the way for multiple staff members (including war veterans, included Greg and Jim). More can be read of the pilgrimage to the site by Canadians, and the vast undertaking that is was, from the link provided. This was huge news at the time, and weeks were devoted to the coverage. This advertisement appeared the same day as this story.
The Greg-Jim Stories did not pause during their trip (this was before common trans-Atlantic air travel, so everyone travelled by ship). Four separate stories of their adventures (2 in Britain, 2 in France) were published on their return as well.
The patches represented the divisions the soldiers belonged to:
- Red Patch: First Canadian Division
- Blue Patch: Second Canadian Division
- Light Blue (or Grey-Blue) Patch: Third Canadian Division
- Green Patch: Fourth Canadian Division
Greg felt embarrassed speaking to the apparitions, because of the state of the world in 1936, with the Great Depression in full swing (the price for the farmer’s food had plummeted, and the “bum” would be a common sight), and peace was not created by the Great War, as international relations were looking ever more troubling in 1936.