The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1936 Page 1 of 2

Star Gazers

Jim took a piece of chalk from his pocket and started calculating. “The farthest stars are 840,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away,” he stated.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 28, 1936.

“What a night,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Did you ever see the stars so bright,” I agreed. “They are fairly dripping with light. Millions of them.”

“Millions nothing,” laughed Jim. “Even if you had good eyesight, which you haven’t, you could only see 3,000.”

“What are you talking about?” I snorted. Three thousand?”

“That’s the most you can see at any one time with the naked eye,” declared Jim. “Of course, there’s another 3,000 hidden around the other side of the earth. But even if you sat up all night and watched the whole parade of them go round, you could, with the best sight in the world, only see 6,000.”

“Why, Jim,” I scoffed. “I can see millions of them without turning my head.”

“All right,” said Jim. “Cup your two hands around your eyes, like this, and look up at one spot. Count the number in that one small section. You can count them easy.”

“Well,” I said, “I seem to see millions, anyway.”

“That’s the funny part of it,” said Jim. We seem to see millions. And there really are millions. Billions. Every time they build a bigger and better telescope, they find another few million stars. See all those dark bits of night, in between the stars? Well, even through a little bit of an amateur telescope, you find that each one of those dark bits, in between the stars we can see with the naked eye, has just as many stars as the sky itself now appears to have in it, without a telescope.”

“Jim,” I said, “suppose we don’t talk about it. This star stuff always gets me feeling kind of woozy after a few minutes.”

“You’re what they call an infinity coward,” said Jim. “You reel back from the edge of thinking about vast space the way some people reel back from the edge of a cliff, or a tall building.”

“I see nothing to be gained by thinking about astronomy,” I declared. “There are much more important matters to solve here on earth before we start exploring out into space looking for other things to solve.”

“You’ve got the infantile mind, all right.” stated Jim. “Science is not interested in problems. It is only interested in facts. Science looks in all directions. One scientist is sitting humped over a bottle of ketchup in a factory laboratory. Another is sitting humped up under a giant telescope, looking at something so far away, it took the light from it a million years to reach his eye. Yet they are both after the same thing. Truth.”

“Now, there’s something worth talking about,” I agreed heartily. “Ketchup. Let’s talk about ketchup and decide whether we like home-made or store ketchup the best. And why.”

“The stars,” said Jimmie, “are a perfect example of the distance that now exists between the mass of the people and the scientists. The average person thinks about stars as something pretty up in the sky on a fine night. If you ask them to think more than that, and ask them how many stars they can see, they will say, like you, millions whereas they don’t even know they can only see 3,000. If you ask them to pause and think about the vast endless empty space out there, filled forever and ever, amen with stars – they reel back, the way you do, from it. Yet the scientists working on astronomy are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 million light years off into space. The distance the stars are away from us is only exceeded by the distance the scientists are away from the mass of the people.”

“That’s why I say let’s talk about ketchup,” I said, “Now, my grandmother used to put a lot of mustard…”

“Do you know what a light year is?” demanded Jim.

“Not the faintest,” I said.

“The astronomers,” said Jimmie, “got into such large figures in trying to tell how far the stars were away, that they were using up all their books just with 00000000. For example, a scientist once wrote a set of books about the stars. Volume I consisted of the introduction and the first sentence of his monumental work, and then he started to write how far away the farthest stars were, so the rest of Volume I consisted of just 000000000 for another 240 pages. Volumes II, III and IV each was nothing but 000000000, and then in Volume V, he got down to his thesis. It was one of the greatest works on astronomy ever published.”

“I can believe you,” I said. “Now, with this mustard as a base…”

“Pardon me,” said Jim, looking dreamily up at the starry sky. “I have to explain what a light year is. It was the invention by which scientists saved paper. Light travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. See?”

“You mean the light of an oil lantern,” I asked, “or the light of a car headlight?”

“All light,” said Jim. “It travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. Now the astronomers multiplied the number of minutes in a year by 11 million and got what they call a light year. A light year, therefore, which is like counting ‘one’ to an astronomer, is six million MILLION years.”

“That’s just ‘one’,” I said.

Yes, that’s just the figure 1 to an astronomer,” said Jim. “So now when I tell you that the farthest star they have been able to see so far is 140 million LIGHT YEARS away – try and write that down on a piece of paper!”

“I tell you, Jimmie,” I said, “you write that down on a piece of paper and I’ll write down that recipe of my grandmother’s for ketchup with an extra mustard in it. You can have no idea the tang…”

“Would you like to see,” said Jim, “how far away the farthest stars yet found really are?”

“It wouldn’t register, Jim,” I protested. “Once I get over about 1,000, I don’t believe it anyway.”

Jim Does Arithmetic

Jim, always the artist, took a piece of chalk from his pocket and under a street lamp, started to do his arithmetic. We went along multiplying under seven street lights across one intersection and half way to the grocery store before he finished it.

There you are,” said Jim, gazing far along the street, “that’s how far it is, in miles – 840,000,000,000,000,000,000!”

“The thing,” I assured Jim, “doesn’t interest me. They haven’t even a name for it. Skillions, whillions -there isn’t even a word for it, and even the guys who think they’ve got only a million discover it’s all gone flooie in the market before they can count it. Why worry about things like this, Jim, when there are all the troubles we need just on this little world? Hitler and Mussolini, and Reds and Fascists, and winter coming on with thousands of babies with nothing to eat and only an old shawl to put around them. And disease and pain and old people dying in agony of ills we can’t solve so why bother about the stars?”

“Would you deny science the right to study the stars?” asked Jim hotly.

And hotly I considered the question.

“Yes, by golly, I would,” I shouted, so that a policeman walking along the dark street coughed warningly. “Yes, I would deny science the right to fiddle with the stars.”

“What a dreadful idea,” cried Jim. “Why, you belong in the middle ages.”

“All right,” I agreed. “I belong in the middle ages. I am glad to go back to that time in the middle ages where we all took the wrong turn and where science got off on the wrong foot, with its silly wild-goose chases after all knowledge.”

“What wild goose chases?” inquired Jim sarcastically.

“All the wild goose chases,” I stated, “that led the human heart away from the real problems at hand. The problems of this one small world. The problems of liberty, and poverty and disease and unhappiness. For all they have discovered about the stars and mathematics and physics and the mysterious contents of everything from pitchblende to ketchup, how far have we got since the middle ages in solving hunger, tragedy, fear, and death? With all the cowardly brains of the world for the past five hundred years running and hiding from these real problems and chasing the stars instead? Or molecules? Or theories of relativity?”

“What would you have the scientists do?” demanded Jim.

“I tell you what I would do,” I assured him. “I would put a world-wide ban on all idle science. I would forbid any man to waste his time or his brains on anything but the essentials. Let the whole scientific brain power of the world, Europe, America, Asia, everywhere, be devoted at once to the problems of society in this world – wealth, poverty, hunger, justice, wrong, pain, unhappiness. Not until all these so-called intellects have solved the human problem will they be allowed to go fooling around with the stars.”

Cringing Intellects

“My poor friend,” said Jimmie, “with every widening are of human understanding of the universe around us, a fuller understanding of humanity is implied.”

“Utter,” I cried, “utter poppycock. The cowardly cringing intellects that have been ducking the real problems have been putting up that bluff for ages. It’s time we called that bluff. All we have to do is ask them, for heaven’s sake, to look at the world. To pull their heads out of the sand, or down from among the stars, and look at the world. A great bewildered mass of misunderstanding, hate, poverty, pain, fear. Those are the facts. To hell with their theories.”

“Have you ever,” asked Jimmie, “visited a modern observatory? Do you know what you are even talking about? Have you ever looked through a great modern telescope?”

“No, and I most certainly don’t want to,” I assured him. “If I saw the Milky Way, all I would think about was the need of milk in a hundred poor streets not five miles, much less a million miles, from where we stand at this minute.”

“If I were you,” said Jim, “I would at least inform myself of the activities of science before turning myself into a street corner orator like this. I am willing to bet you anything you like that if I once got you into the new observatory up Yonge St., and had you set your eye to that wonderful reflector lens that will send your poor little soul sizzling out through infinite space for a brief journey, you would not be so free in condemning the intellect that has ventured into infinite space.”

“I could look through that telescope,” I stated loudly, “and say pooh!”

“Heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie sinisterly. “What time is it?”

“It’s 8.15,” I said, “and the second show doesn’t start until 9.”

“How,” said Jim, “would you like to come with me up to the observatory on Yonge St. instead of going to the show? I can drive you there in thirty minutes.”

“It’s a swell night for it,” I admitted, looking up at the glorious heavens.

“Come on,” said Jim. “I dare you. I dare you to risk one look at infinite space. If it doesn’t alter your notions!”

So we went. And up Yonge St. we drove, with all the myriads of traffic, and all the people just going along having fun, and being in love and going to shows and visiting the little fruit stores for beans and oranges, and at last we came out on to the big highway.

“It’s up here,” said Jim, “north of the prison farm, somewhere. You just turn off on to a side road.”

“Nice idea,” I agreed “Prison farm right here and a telescope for looking 140 whillion skillion miles somewhere else.”

We slowed down and watched for the turn.

“If I recollect,” I said, “I saw a sign somewhere along here.”

“We’re getting pretty far north,” said Jim. “Maybe this is it.”

Jim slowed down the car. Traffic behind us horned and hooted angrily.

“This will be it, I guess,” said Jim, making the turn into the side road.

But it wasn’t the turn. And we crept slowly along, looking for a lane. It was a clay road. A bad, holey, rutty road. With puddles.

“You’d better turn the first chance,” I warned Jimmie.

“I’ll turn,” he said.

But he didn’t turn and we came to a large clay bog hole and as Jim tried to negotiate the edge of it, I felt the wheels on my side slide easily and gooily in. Jim gave her the gas. A splurge, a surge and we backed splendidly right into the middle of it.

So we went and got garage men and lanterns and tow trucks and so forth, walking along under the stars.

“If those stars, Jim.” I said, as we walked, are as you say a hundred million light years away, how do we know they are there?”

“They aren’t there,” said Jimmie. “That’s the point. That’s where they were when the light we are getting now from them left them, a hundred million years ago.”

“So that at the moment,” I asked, “they might be right underneath us, or off to the side somewhere. or anywhere but where they appear to be?”

“The chances of them being where they appear to be,” stated Jim, “are very remote, considering the vast ages and ages and millions of years this light now striking our eyes left them.”

“Then,” I said, triumphantly, “maybe they aren’t there at all. Maybe they have died and blown up fifty million years ago. Maybe there are no stars by now!”

“That is quite possible,” admitted Jim.

“Then won’t it be a swell joke on your scientists if,” I cried, “just when they have discovered all there is to know about stars, they find there aren’t any stars?”

“That would be ironic,” said Jim.

“Very well,” I concluded, for now we were out where the bright glare of traffic on Yonge St. made the stars a little dim, “very well, I much prefer to think about starving babies wrapped in old shawls, who are with us to-day, than muddle my poor head about a lot of things that used to be where we think they are a billion years ago.”

“I give in,” said Jim.

And the garage man only charged us 75 cents.


Editor’s Notes: When Greg refers to “pitchblende”, is is the old term for Uraninite, a radioactive, uranium-rich mineral and ore.

The observatory they are referring to is the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill. When an observatory in downtown Toronto could no longer function due to light pollution, this observatory was constructed in 1935 (a year before this story). At the time, the main telescope was the second largest in the world and the largest in Canada. It operated from 1935 to 2007.

Mayor Says Club’s Show “Too Crude”

Right next door we glimpse Jane Terry, one of the beauties of the Club Esquire, the opening of which has been attended with some discussion as to the propriety of dress worn by the stunning entertainers. Some opinions express shock, while other citizens are content to preach a policy of laissez faire. Adjoining Jane Terry, in the style of the gay nineties, is another gay lady, Mae West, those memory can hark back to the day when the police patrol wagon backed up against her theatre, with no great detriment to the box office revenues.

By Gregory Clark, November 28, 1936

“Too crude, too rough,” declared Mayor W. D. Robbins to-day when shown photographs of the chorus girls of the new Club Esquire at Sunnyside, which opened with a $7.50 per couple bang last night.

“I have been asked for a report,” admitted Sergeant George Eagleson, head of the Toronto morality squad, who attended not only an official police preview but the big bang as well.

“I shall report the matter to Chief Constable Draper on his return to the city Monday,” said Deputy Chief George Guthrie.

Thus once more the defenders of this good old Alcazar, Toronto the Good, are manning the ramparts to guard against the invasion of the city by fourteen Eves, with little more than a fig leaf and a few pine needles apiece to cover them.

“There were many eminent citizens at the opening of the club,” said Sergeant Eagleson, “I heard no adverse comments.”

Last night, when the Club Esquire opened, this reporter happened to be in Callander, Ont. visiting the Quints, which is a fine way for a newspaperman to miss the last boat. But a few discreet inquiries amongst friends who had $7.50 plus some loose change for hat checking and car parking and such emergencies of a gentleman of fashion’s life, discover the fact that compared with New York, Montreal, Chicago and Buffalo night clubs, the performance was decidedly prim and proper. But that compared with any previous attempts at introducing night clubs to Toronto. It was a long step either forward, backward or sideways.

Looks Like Free Ad

“In some of the numbers,” they told me, “the girls did that floating gauze dance like they do at the Skating Carnival, only they were dressed for summer, not winter, and they had no skates. They had, as a matter of fact, what is called a G-string in the night club business, plus a brassiere perhaps not quite as big as those bandana handkerchief brassieres that were so popular last summer at the swimming beaches. But of course, it was nothing like the strip-acts that have created former scandals in Toronto burlesque theatres, nor even remotely as daring as the acts to be seen at practically every night club everywhere in the world except Toronto.”

As a matter of fact, this whole action on the part of the city fathers come Monday will probably boil down to a beautiful free ad for Mr. William Beasley, promoter of the Club Esquire, a publicity which he couldn’t buy even if he did spend $70,000 on his new club.

In feeling Toronto’s pulse, as they say, about this matter, I did not interview any ministers, because we know anyway what ministers would think and say. Nor did I interview any furriers or ladies’ tailors, since obviously they too would condemn any move toward nudism. Being unable to reach Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., I only talked to a ticket seller at the station, and he said it would certainly cut the traffic to New York and elsewhere if night clubs like this were allowed in Toronto, since the only thing Toronto hasn’t got, as a convention city, is a series of night clubs adequate to the convention business.

“Wow, Oh Boy”

But I did sneak the pictures of the girls off the editor’s desk and took them out into the snowstorm to show to the man on the street, as the saying is.

And was he ever interested?

“Wow, oh, boy!” and things like that were their comments, in the same tone of voice you will hear from the lads at the swimming baths in July and August, when a particularly daisy one strolls, ah, so unconsciously, along the concrete in a three-ounce bathing costume.

One thing that always stands out in this controversy every time it recurs in Toronto is the lack of humor displayed on both sides. The condemners are shocked beyond measure. The upholders are as mad as wet hens.

A quarter of a century ago, when I was a cub reporter, Rev. John Coburn created a front page sensation by attending a burlesque show disguised in smoked glasses and then reporting a sensational disclosure of the depravity of man or the theatre. I forget which.

Rev. J. Coburn’s View

Here, a quarter of a century later, Rev. John Coburn makes the following statement:

“Toronto does not need to import the American night club. There are already abundant means of entertainment for the people. I was shocked this morning to find that a group of people had spent $10,000 last night on that kind of thing. For thoughtless people to spend $10,000 a night in dissipation while multitudes of good folk are forced to live in semi-starvation here is to inspire and encourage violent discontent. Such callous disregard of the needs of the disinherited is one of the forces making for revolution. A newspaperman has shown me some photographs which he claims were taken at this club. If these photographs are true pictures I have no hesitation in saying that the entertainment was not of a wholesome character.”

Hard to Draw Line

I was thinking of going to see a snazzy movie to-night, but now I guess I won’t. It’s hard to draw a line. What tickles me doesn’t tickle these 1,000 top hatters who went to the Esquire last night at all. They probably wouldn’t even twitch their upper lip at Laurel and Hardy, whereas I actually get down under my pew and stuff my plaid neck muffler down my throat to prevent myself dying at Laurel and Hardy. It’s pretty depraved of me to enjoy myself so in times like these. And all I say is, anybody who has got $7.50 plus a little loose change in case of a flat tire or anything, and a silk hat and a dress suit, is probably so depraved anyway that there is practically no use trying to lift him up.

It each of those 500 couples who were at the Esquire last night will kick in $7.50 to The Star Santa Claus Fund, I personally will for give them this once.

And as for Mr. Willie Beasley and his fourteen little girls who were probably positively perspiring I under all that gauze and stuff, Mayor Robbins Chief Draper and Sergeant Eagleton, the eagle eye, will tell us Monday.


Editor’s Notes: $7.50 in 1936 is equal to $139 in 2020.

William D. Robbins was mayor of Toronto briefly between 1936-37. He was appointed mayor after the death of incumbent Sam McBride and remained in office until defeated by Ralph Day in the 1937 elections.

The Morality department of the Toronto Police was formed in 1886, to go after drinking, gambling, prostitution, Sunday opening, juvenile delinquency, and other “social evils”. Some context can be found here and here. Because of this strict morality, Toronto was known as “Toronto the Good”. As the article indicated, it was considered by some as much too strict.

The history of Club Esquire at Sunnyside Beach can be found here. Built in 1917, the Sunnyside Pavilion held two restaurants and a tea garden with views looking out on to the lakeshore. In 1920, the building was enlarged and a new south entrance was added. At this time, the pavilion became known for the Blue Room, with a capacity for 400 diners or 175 dancing couples, and the Rose Room, which could seat 300 or hold 150 couples. Dancing would follow supper, with music often provided by a live orchestra. In 1936, the Sunnyside Pavilion was renovated and became known as the Club Esquire Supper Club, with stage shows and dancing. In 1941, the building was converted again, into the Top Hat Night Club. The building was eventually demolished in 1956 to make way for the new westbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard.

Greg and Jim Write Book Now It’s Up to Posterity

GREG AND JIM GO LITERARY
Twirling back the pages of time, Greg Clark and Jim Frise have taken a peep into the past to bring forth “Which We Did” – the official publication of their many and varied experiences on the bumpy road of life. It is their first attempt at book writing and the proud fathers of Birdseye Center and the Adventures of Greg and Jim have outdone any of their previous mirth-making efforts in this new brain child. Left is a picture of Greg Clark and on the right an adventure as depicted by the able pen of Jimmy Frise.

By R.C. Reade, November 14, 1936

Many of the Greg-Jim articles which have long been a feature of The Star Weekly are to-day issued in book form under the title “Which We Did.” The volume, published by S. J. Reginald Saunders, Toronto, contains sketches which have previously entertained Star Weekly readers in addition to several new ones hitherto unpublished.

A representative of The Star Weekly had in Paris recently an experience which shows that the fame of Gregory Clark and James Frise as humorists has spread far beyond Canada. The gentleman in question was introduced to an editor of Le Paris Soir, one of the largest and most successful of Parisian papers and especially famous for its feature articles and high literary standard.

“So you are from the paper that every week has the funny article,” the Paris editor ejaculated, with open arms. “They are wonderful, magnificent, classic!” Both the French and English language were totally inadequate on him.

This from a prominent editor in a country which still regards Moliere as its standard in comedy is high praise indeed and a great tribute to these collaborators’ power of comic invention.

Perhaps one of the great reasons for their success is their spontaneity and naturalness. No man knows what they are going to do next or write and draw next. Neither does Gregory Clark nor Jimmy Frise.

Necessity is often the spur to their invention, when the roaring presses will permit no further procrastination. They are like clever after-dinner speakers who, when unexpectedly called upon, can take a felicitous subject from thin air as a magician draws a rabbit from a hat. This gives their work the charm of the impromptu.

Their admirers invariably ask, “How on earth do you ever think of all the queer things you do?”

Their only answer to that is an expressive gesture which means, “Search me. How do I know?”

Their real reason is that they dip into the stream of current contemporary life, and that rich flow never fails to bring fish to their net. Their acute awareness of what is in the mind of the average man gives their work the authentic stamp of actuality.

Another question frequently put to this writer and his illustrator is, “Do you actually do all the queer stunts you say you do?”

“And the funny thing,” said Greg, “is that people will swallow our most fantastic adventures and refuse to believe some of the very simple things such as dropping a 50-cent piece on the pavement for a prosperous citizen to stamp on and claim as his own.”

“Last summer in the hot spell,” remarked Frise, “when the postman came to my door he said ‘Surely you fellows didn’t fry an egg on the city hall steps? You can’t make me believe that.'”

“I happened to have by me a photograph of Greg and I watching the egg sizzle in the sun with my dog Rusty looking over our shoulders. I showed that to the postman and seeing was believing for him. I am sure now that there is no adventure Greg can concoct which that postman won’t fall for, hook, line and sinker.”

After going through the ordeal this morning of a formal interview for The Daily Star, neither Greg nor Jim were in the mood for any further agony to provide a sprightly birth notice for “Which We Did.”

An efficiency expert would never approve of their methods of collaboration. There is good deal of artlessness in their art. They may arrange a rendezvous in an armchair lunch and the important conference may be adjourned since die without a scintilla of an idea.

Clark may climb to Frise’s tower studio and elevate his short legs to Jimmy’s littered desk while Jimmy drapes his long legs around his drawing board. There for half an hour or more they may commune like Quakers in silence. Then Greg suddenly, like Archimedes, may cry out, “Eureka! I have it,” or they may exclaim simultaneously, for their two minds are so well attuned that they often have a single comic thought.

The reading public that laughs at their printed adventures does not get half the humor that there is in their eccentric modes of joint production.

With regard to Liddell and Scott’s well-known Greek dictionary, there is a famous query as to which half was by Scott and which half was by Liddell. It is just as difficult to unscramble the partnership of Clark and Frise. Greg, of course, is the scribe who plays Boswell to Frise’s Johnson, but a Greg-Jim article without Jimmie as the eternally baffled stooge and without Jimmie’s characteristic illustration would be like “Hamlet” without Hamlet.

Frise in his modesty is apt to deprecate his own contribution, but without Jim’s art and whimsicality there would be no Greg-Jim.

Theirs is no artificial union, a mere stage partnership. Everyone who knows them is aware that they admirably balance one another’s qualities and are, as the slang phrase has it, a pair of naturals.

As it takes two greyhounds to course and capture a hare, so it is necessary for these two humorists to hunt their quarry together. Their book’s title “Which We Did,” bears witness to the duality of their comic existence.

To one who ponders the reason for the Paris editor’s remark that their humor is classic, it is apparent that it is a humor of situations, a factual humor, and not a mere fireworks of verbal wit. Their adventures can be filmed like those of Mr. Pickwick.

And so they have created a living human comedy, giving their readers a vivid sense of their essential reality as the long and the short of the genus homo, and go merrily on their way in their present book as in their past articles perpetuating as veraciously as any Mr. Gulliver, the popular illusion that their life is one long series of laughable, farcical adventures.


Editor’s Notes: This article was published on November 14, 1936 to promote their book, Which We Did (and reprinted again the next week on November 21).

R.C. Reade was a staff writer for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly, who had some of his stories illustrated by Jim in the 1920s and 1930s.

Whoa – Steady Boy!

September 26, 1936

Photo from “Our First Canadian Citizen”

August 1, 1936

In a news article about Sir William Mulock, a photo was included showing him with Greg when they were trout fishing.

It’s His Beauty Sleep

August 8, 1936

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.

Groundhogs

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.

Grape Nuts Ad – 6/13/36

Jun 13, 1936

Another in the series of advertisements for Grape Nuts cereal featuring “Ernie Energy”.

Surprise Package

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.

The is still a place on Vancouver Island called Tzouhalem, a part of North Cowichan, near Mount Tzouhalem.

Sleighing Party

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.

“Where?”

“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.”

Gathering Excitement

“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.


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