The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1936 Page 1 of 3

Fake Magic

Into the tube after the rabbits they went…
Out from the hole in the table came the frightened rabbits, one right after the other…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 5, 1936.

“Do you know anything,” asked Jimmie Frise, “about magic?”

“You mean black magic?” I inquired.

“I mean ordinary magic for kids,” said Jim. “Parlor magic. Tricks.”

“At one time,” I replied, “I was going to be a magician. I think that was when I was about fifteen.”

“Do you remember any tricks?” asked Jim.

“No, I gave up the magic idea,” I confessed, “after a few tries. I’m one of those people who wants to make the coin really disappear. If I flip the coin up my sleeve, I am the first to see through it.”

“There’s a kids’ party at my house,” said Jim, “and I was thinking I could put on some magic for them.”

“Between the two of us,” I suggested, “we could pull some magic.”

“Let’s get a book of magic,” said Jim, “and practice up some tricks. I think it would be swell if we could work out a little program of magic. We could not only do parties at our own homes, but we could render a nice favor to our friends, going about putting on children’s shows like that.”

We got a book of magic and it was wonderful the simple tricks we learned in no time. The card tricks and coin tricks are mostly done by quickness of the hand deceiving the eye, and neither Jim nor I were very good at that. Our eyes were too quick, and our hands not quick enough. However, we practiced these hand tricks patiently, and even though we couldn’t fool each other, we felt that we would at least fool children; especially small children.

It was, however, in the tricks of magic requiring devices that we discovered the most interesting field. For example, by fastening things to long pieces of elastic, we could make them vanish like lightning. Under our coats, we could fasten a handkerchief or a flower or a ball, the elastic holding it hidden. By a quick, careless swing of the hand, we could pull the object into view, in the hand. Then, with a kind of mumbo-jumbo and a wave of the hand, we simply let go of the object and it vanished past our elbow out of sight, so fast nobody would see it. After showing our empty hands, we made the casual, quick snatch and produced it again, apparently from the air.

So we had a very nice time, sitting around with all doors shut, practicing with cards and coins and elastics, and investigating the interesting realm of magic. We spent about $3.65 on all kinds of magic balls, vanishing cups, trick match boxes, and inside-out silk handkerchiefs that you could turn from red to blue by a simple movement of the hand. We developed these mechanical tricks to a high state of perfection, and the children’s party drew rapidly nigh.

“Jim,” I assured him, “we’ll be a knock-out.”

For a Grand Finale

“Kids are so hard to fool, nowadays,” said he. “They know it all. Even The little ones all have the oh yeah complex.”

“We’re short,” I suggested, “one big grand slam trick to wind our program up. We’ve got a nice lot of little ones that we can run through like seasoned veterans. But we ought to have a grand finale sort of act.”

“The nearer I get to the party,” said Jim, “the less confident I feel. Kids aren’t like they used to be. Once upon a time, adults used to be kept busy keeping things from the children. Nowadays, the children are busy keeping things from the adults.”

“My dear Jimmie,” I laughed, “we’ll roll them in the aisles with our act. We’re perfect. I assure you. That vanishing watch trick of yours will have them absolutely mystified. And as for my trick with the three red balls under the cup, I venture to say I could go on the stage with it.”

“I wish we had a rabbit act or something,” said Jim. “Or one of those sword acts where I put you in a box and stick a sword through it, only to find you vanished when the box is opened.”

“I prefer a rabbit act,” I agreed. “Maybe an act, with six rabbits. Like that one in the book where the six rabbits come out of the plug hat.”

“We could do that easily enough,” said Jim. “All we need is a table with a hole in the top and about fifteen feet of stove pipe.”

“I’m with you,” I exclaimed. “The grand finale. We get a cheap table and cut a hole the size of a stove pipe in the top. We run the stove pipe down along the floor into the kitchen. I feed the rabbits in the pipe and then shove the long wire with the piece of fox fur on the end of it, to chase them through to you.”

“I set the plug hat with the loose top,” said Jim, “on the table, covering the hole where the pipe emerges. The loose top falls aside, and as I make the magic passes, you start the rabbits coming. The wire chases them through, and out they come from the hat, like bullets out of a gun.”

“I can picture it, Jim,” I exulted.

“The only thing,” said Jim, “is the stove pipe. How could we conceal it from the kids? They’ll be all over the house before the show starts. They’ll see the stove pipe along the floor of the hall.”

“I tell you what,” I exclaimed. “Let’s use a cloth tube instead of stove pipe. We could sew up a long tube of cotton, and brace it with barrel hoops. Just a few minutes before this final act, while you are entertaining them, I’ll slip out to the hall and string out the cloth tube. Very quiet, see?”

“How would you scare the rabbits through?” asked Jim.

“If we made it big enough,” I cried, “I could come through the tube, chasing the rabbits ahead of me, and last of all, up through the table would come my head, wearing the hat.”

“Great,” agreed Jim. “Unique. Different. A real creation. The true magician is the one who invents or improves upon tricks.”

With little time to spare, Jim and I bought twenty-two feet of cotton sheeting and sewed it up, in secret, into a tube. From the grocer on the corner we got enough wooden hoops off old barrels to set them every four feet inside the cloth tube, tacking them in place. So that, closed up like a concertina, it was easy for me to handle alone.

We got an old pine table and cut a hole in its top just the size of a plug hat which we had given us by the widow of an Orangeman, and we so tapered the end of the cloth tube that it could be quickly fastened into the hole in the table, from beneath, with a wire ring. We practiced stringing the cloth tube silently and skillfully along the back hall from the living room doorway where Jim and I were to stage our magic performance.

“For fear of discovery,” explained Jim, “we’ll keep the rabbits in a box out in the yard, and we’ll hide the cloth tube on the shelf in the clothes closet. It will be only a matter of a minute for you to slip out, set up the cloth tube from my table to the kitchen, pick the rabbits from the box in the yard and pop them into the tube. Then you chase them through to me.”

“Perfect,” I said. “Letter perfect.”

The night of the party Jim and I donned our tuxedos for the occasion to give the correct magic tone. We were both on hand before six o’clock to arrange all our effects. And at six, the children began to arrive. Both boys and girls, all old friends of the neighborhood, who, after a few moments of remembering their parental warnings, and getting over the strangeness of seeing one another in their Sunday clothes, promptly let loose; and the familiar din of a children’s party filled the house,

The first item on the program was the party supper, which took a good three-quarters of an hour. Then there was a miniature movie, which, it seems, all the children had seen before several times. Then there were games for about twenty minutes, which ended up with two little girls crying because they didn’t get all the prizes, and two little boys staging a fight in the hall. And at last, came the great event of the evening, the Magic Hour, by Messrs. Frise and Clark. I must say, Jimmie and I were both trembling with excitement.

All the children were ranged on chairs and stools and benches in the living room, well back from the entrance from the hall; and in this entrance, Jimmie and I set our table.

“Now, children,” said Jim, the lights being dimmed, and soft music being located on the radio, “we are about to show you a few tricks of legerdemain which my assistant and I have learned in our travels in many parts of the world.”

“Birdseye Center,” said a boy’s voice.

Jim and I stood face to face behind the table, and began manipulating the red celluloid balls, Jim’s vanishing miraculously from between his outspread fingers while mine miraculously appeared. It was pretty well done, except that mine slipped a few times and I had to pick them up, as they rattled lightly on the floor.

“Let Pinkie Do It”

“Whhhooop,” comes a raspberry from the audience.

“Let Pinkie do it,” called a girl’s voice. “He can do it good.”

And Pinkie; a freckled little boy of about seven with red hair, came up and took the balls from me and manipulated them like lightning.

“Heh, heh, heh,” Jimmie and I applauded, to show him it was time for him to go back and sit down. But he kept on doing tricks with the red balls, making them vanish in his hands, plucking them out of his ears and from the back of my neck, until the house almost came down, and finally I had to give the little brat a pinch and hiss to him to go and sit down. Whose show was it, anyway?

We then did the colored handkerchief, and loud raspberries and cat calls greeted this performance; Jim hastily started picking the magic watch off his pant leg, where the watch is caught by a small pin projecting from it. But only loud jeers met all these efforts, while several of the boys crowded forward and seized the appurtenances of our art off the table and began doing the tricks we had been intending to do, only doing them better, if I must say it.

So Jim and I stood back, while the various boys put on the show.

“You see,” explained Jim, “one of the commonest Christmas and birthday presents during the past five years has been magic sets. All the big stores have departments now for selling magic and the salesmen are magicians who teach the kids the tricks.”

“Ah,” I told him, “but we’ve got one trick in the bag, thank heaven. Wait till they see the rabbits coming shooting out of that plug hat.”

In due time, the little boys had exhibited all our tricks, simultaneously, a sort of seven or eight-ring circus. They broke most of the things, snatching them from one another, and at last they wore everything out, and Jimmie stepped forward, calling for order.

“Now, children,” he laughed, “you have all had a good time, as we intended, performing these tricks which we provided you. But there is some magic you are not so familiar with. I grant these little common tricks are all very nice. But my assistant and I have prepared a little surprise for you.”

As Jim began this speech, I quietly slipped out through the dining room and into the hall. Lifted the concertina cloth tube down and loosened its hoops, and strung it along the hallway. Concealed behind the curtain draped over Jim’s table, I crawled in and fastened the tapered end of the cloth tube with a wire ring into the hole in the table.

With this to hold the tube firm, I backed up the hall, lifting the hoop-supported tube into shape and backed into the kitchen. There Jimmie and I had arranged some hooks in the wall to hold the other end of the tube taut, thus keeping the tunnel gaping open right through.

“This is a very mysterious trick,” I could hear Jim saying in a hushed voice. I place this hat, empty, as you all see, on the table like this. Now, in a few minutes, I shall make a mystic series of passes over this hat, and if I have the mystic rite right, out of that hat will come a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Maybe three. It all depends on how quiet you are as I begin the incantations.”

I slipped out the back door, where we had left the box with the six white rabbits we had rented from the bird store.

A strange sight met my eyes in the darkness. Around the wooden crate were grouped a regular pack of dogs. Jimmie’s Gordon setter, Gyp, was playing hostess.

She had apparently invited all the dogs in the neighborhood to the party, to smell the box full of rabbits.

There were spaniels and wire-haired terriers, Bostons and Pekes, a Chow, a young Newfoundland and sundry mutts, all sitting in a group around the rabbit box, some of them anxiously rising to sniff at the cracks.

“Hyah,” I snarled at them, but Gyp bounded happily to meet me, “Get away out of that, you …”

The box was heavy, but I lugged it to the back door. The whole party of dogs followed, anxiously and noisily jumping at the box, and ganging one another, with yips and growls. I managed to get the door open with only Gyp and one other dog getting past with me. Inside, I laid the box down until I had shooed Gyp and her friend out.

Carefully opening the box, I lifted the rabbits out two by two and set them inside the cotton tube a couple of feet.

Just as I stooped to enter the tube and chase the bunnies through, the back kitchen door burst open with the plunging of the dogs and in they came, yipping and snarling, a mob. I turned to meet them, but they were over and under and around me and into the tube.

All hushed, in the dim-lighted living room, the incantations were being recited by Jimmie, waving his wand.

There was a scuffle, a series of muffled yips and snarls.

Out of the plug hat popped a rabbit.

The hat was shot rolling.

One, two three, out from the hole in the table popped a sort of sausage string of rabbits, so fast they could hardly be seen, said Jim.

The dogs, trapped in the narrowed end of the cloth tube, writhed and fought furiously in the confusion. The ring came loose from the table. From under the table writhed a monstrous shape, a giant twisting serpent of ghostly white in the dimness.

The children rose in a screaming body and fled and leaped and clutched, while the bagful of dog twisted and snarled and writhed with a dreadful sound all over the living room, bumping, banging, while the little darlings leaped on chairs and screeched into the halls and up the stairs.

Jimmie and I dragged the tube out to the kitchen and then accompanied the dogs into the yard, where we remained for some time, until the last parent had called and taken her child away.

“Magic,” sighed Jimmie, “is great stuff.”

“Especially,” I explained, “If you have a magician working for you.”

From under the table writhed a monstrous shape, a giant twisting serpent of ghostly white.

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on December 4, 1943, under the title “Hocus Pocus”.

An Orangeman is a member of the Orange Order in Canada. Orangeman played a major role in politics for a very long time, but declined after World War 2 as a result of more secularization and less association to Britain in society.

A concertina is a small bellows based musical instrument that was losing favour at the time, being replaced by accordions in popularity.

At a time when men wore suits all of the time, wearing a tuxedo would be considered “dressing up”. Greg and Jim could have owned them for attending fancy evening parties. Also note that the children were wearing their “Sunday clothes”, meaning that it was expected that they would also dress up for a party, in this case wearing their nice clothes they would wear to church.

Legerdemain is a phase meaning “sleight of hand” when doing tricks.

Since Jim’s dog Rusty is a recurring character in so many stories, it is a bit unusual that this one has Gyp, the Gordon Setter.

Let the Chips Fall

With a sway and a creak the tree started to fall – straight for the house…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 17, 1936.

“What’s the good of a sunroom,” asked Jimmie Frise, “if a big tree shades it?”

“Build the sunroom somewhere else,” I explained.

“Cut the tree down, you mean,” said Jim.

“Nonsense,” I cried. “A tree takes longer to grow than you do. It takes a tree a hundred years to mature.”

“This tree,” said Jim, “was just a little bit of a thing when I bought the house. A slim little girl of a tree. Who would ever have suspected it of growing up into a great fat dowdy matron of a tree that would become a nuisance?”

“We’re all human,” I pointed out.

“It has grown higher than the house,” said Jim, “and it not only cuts off all the sun from the sunroom but the grass won’t grow under it any more. Its big fat arms wave and scratch at the roof. One of these days it is going to rip a cornice off. It’s got to go.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “pause. You can cut off a branch here and there, if it offends. But if you cut that tree down, you will miss it as you would miss a member of your family at the table. A vacant chair.”

“It will be a great relief to see the thing gone,” said Jimmie. “Every time there is a thunderstorm we imagine the lightning hitting the tree and jumping across to the house, killing us all in bed. Fresh air will blow in our windows again. A dampness that has slowly been increasing on that side of our house will vanish, and the good sun will cleanse and brighten us.”

“A nest of robins in its hair,” I reminded him. “Lifts its leafy arms in prayer.”

“Caterpillars drop off it to the window sills,” stated Jim, “and crawl into the house. Black squirrels use it for a ladder to enter our home and chew nests under our eaves.”

“It will cost almost is much,” I declared, “to have the tree cut down as it will to remodel the house and put the sunroom on another corner.”

“I’ll cut it down myself,” said Jim.

“Once I had a tree cut down,” I said, “and it cost $38. Two Norwegian sailors came and scaled the tree like a mast, and started cutting it off from the top, a few feet at a time. I never saw anything so cruel and terrible in my life. This lovely tree, that had patiently thrust itself up, up, year by year, being patiently chopped off, from the top, hour by hour. It took them all afternoon to cut that tree down. And I missed it ever since.”

“Why did you have it cut down?” asked Jim.

“Because its roots were breaking into my drain pipes,” I answered. “Not because it gave me shade.”

“My tree has got to go,” said Jim. “It has outlived its usefulness and beauty. What we need is air.”

“I warn you, Jim,” I assured him. “I warn you. This sacrifice of all life in careless worship of our own needs is some day going to get us humans into a dreadful jam.”

“A tree is a tree,” said Jim.

“That Would Be a Swell Joke”

“It lives,” I declared. “It has life. It probably has feeling. And who knows but it may actually think.”

“Yeah,” agreed Jim. “I often hear it muttering.”

“Jim,” I insisted, “did you ever pause to think of the dreadful slaughter of life that man is responsible for? Think of the creatures mankind has destroyed in the past few millions of years in order to eat. The billions of deer, fowl, cattle, sheep, goats. The incalculable hordes of beasts, birds, fish, oysters. Just so merry little man might write his story on the stones of the earth.”

“Everything eats something,” said Jim. “If we hadn’t eaten them, wolves would have.”

“Ah,” I said, “think of all the things man has destroyed for which he had no earthly use, but just because they were in his way. The wolves, tigers, lions. The elephants. Poor, gentle elephants, doing no harm, yet man slaughtered them for their teeth.”

“We had to play billiards,” explained Jim, “and before we invented composition balls, all we had were ivory balls.”

“The buffalo,” I reminded him. “Once our plains were black with buffalo. So men went forth and slew them, leaving a thousand carcasses a day to rot on the prairie, while the hunters ripped off the hides and sold them for cheap leather in the east at a dollar a hide.”

“How could western farmers operate their wheat fields,” demanded Jim, “if there were a lot of buffalo stampeding all over the place?”

“And the passenger pigeon,” I recalled. “Just to make a holiday, men trapped these lovely wild creatures by the tens of thousands and caged them and sold them to the trap shooters, so that, on a Saturday afternoon, the sportsmen could go to the gun club and each shoot a hundred live birds.”

“If you had lived in Toronto in 1880,” said Jim, “you would have been glad of a little live-bird shooting to break the monotony.”

“To make our fields,” I cried loudly, “we burned and chopped and blasted the forests primeval. To make our fields, we destroyed the buffalo and the deer and all the wild things. For our sweet sake, we have chased and hunted and killed and exterminated not only billions of individual creatures given, like us, the divine blessing of life on this earth, but we have completely wiped out certain whole species.”

“Now that you come to mention it,” agreed Jim, “we have kind of hogged the show.”

“Hog is right,” I mused. “And now, by golly, having nothing else to chase and fight and kill, we are turning on each other. Look at the nations of the earth.”

“That would be a swell joke,” agreed Jim. “Having killed everything else, we kill ourselves.”

“Nature,” I stated, “is essentially humorous. Nature has played a lot of jokes in her time. The various proud races she has built up, and then let them drop in the mud. The species she has allowed to rule the roost, only to have them end up as monstrous and comic skeletons in a museum. I guess the dinosaurs didn’t realize they were comic, in the days they thrashed around the earth, making all living creatures flee in terror. But I get a big snicker out of them whenever I see their great waddling obscene bones in a museum.”

Jimmie Wields the Axe

“Do you think Nature really designed those dinosaurs?” asked Jim. “With clown frills around their necks, and faces like gargoyles, and limp necks seventeen feet long and thick legs three feet long?”

“I believe Nature is a joker,” I assured him. “And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she was busy right now playing a joke on men. I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation of the world as it is to-day. Somebody is having fun with us. It can’t be serious. It must be somebody’s idea of fun.”

“I guess a humorous basis for life would be just as good as a serious one,” said Jim. “If we could only persuade everybody, Hitler and Gen. Blanco and Stalin and everybody, that it was all a joke, then they wouldn’t be so serious about everything and we could all have fun and sleep easy.”

“The first thing you do, then,” I said, “is spare that tree and shift your sunroom to some other part of the house.”

“The tree,” said Jim, “is coming down. Do you know what we call that tree in our house? We call it Mussolini. It is coming down, with a crash. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you give me a hand with it, I’ll plant a new baby tree in its place. Right in the same spot. A new baby tree, of any kind you like to choose.”

“I would as soon,” I said “shoot your dog as cut down your tree. Wait. You’ll find out.”

But the next evening, when I heard an axe ringing unaccustomed in our quiet neighborhood, I knew it was Jim. And, after listening to the sound that has for five thousand years been the most characteristic of all human sounds on this round earth, I felt a curious fascination growing in me and I went down the back lane the three doors that separate our homes, and there was Jim, swinging a bright blade. Already a great white gash showed in the hip of the beautiful tree.

“Which way,” I called, after watching Jim for several minutes, “do you intend it to fall?”

Jim rested from chopping and surveyed the tree.

“Back towards the lane,” said Jim. “I cut a big notch on this side, see? Then I go to the other side and cut a smaller notch a little above the other, so that when the weight begins to tell, the tree will fall towards the larger and lower notch.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

“A lot of good wood in this tree,” said Jim appraisingly. “I’ll saw up the trunk and larger branches. I bet I get three cord of lovely firewood.”

“A wood fire is a fine thing,” I admitted.

“To anybody that wanted a little wood,” said Jim. “I’d be glad to give those large limbs, if they would go to the trouble of sawing or chopping them off, after she’s down.”

“I’d be glad of the branches,” I submitted.

Jim stepped up, spat on his hands, and began to swing the axe again, in great sweeping blows, making big white chips leap out on to the lawn.

There is something graceful about swinging an axe. Graceful and satisfying. It uses all of a man. His arms, shoulders, back. His legs, thighs, calves, feet. A good swing of an axe is about as complete a use of the human body as can be imagined. It may be all this dreadful orgy of killing and chopping and cultivation was the result of early man discovering how nice it is to swing an axe. Maybe even war started from man liking the feel of an axe. Maybe.

“Jim,” I called, “if you need a hand.”

Jim took a few more extra heavy whangs and then let the axe fall, and rested.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I say, if you would like a rest, I could take a few swings.”

“Certainly,” agreed Jim, stretching his shoulders.

I took the axe, and felt the slide of its smooth handle through my hands; felt the heavy bite of its blade into the gleaming wood. It is a sort of rhythm that makes good chop. You don’t heave and thump with an axe. You simply swing it, in a rhythmic and accelerating arc, allowing the weight of the blade to do the work, and concentrating the mind on the accuracy of the blow.

“Don’t widen the cut,” called Jim, who was standing admiring my work. “Keep to the same notch I was making.”

“Listen, boy,” I said, “my great-grandfather owned the hogs that hollowed out Hogg’s Hollow. Tell me about an axe!”

But in a minute, Jim stepped in and I handed it over to him.

“We’re not the right sizes,” he said, “to both work on the same notch. “You’ve widened this all out.”

“Good clean chips, though,” I said.

“I’ll have to even it out,” said he.

And with a few keen, upcurving strokes he joined the lower part of the notch where I was hitting to the larger notch he had made.

“You had better go around and start your higher notch now,” I warned him. For the big notch was more than half way through.

“I do a workmanlike job,” said Jim, pausing to study the notch and then stepping up and giving a series of neat, sharp chops to remove a few rough cuts.

A loud crack.

A creak, a squeak, and I saw the tree starting to sway. A sudden rending splitting sound, and the tree began to fall not towards the lane, but straight for the house.

We leaped aside, and as it fell, the unchopped side caused the trunk to swing a little, so that what it did strike was not the house but the sunroom, jutting out from the back. A side-ways swinging blow. And in a tremendous shower of glass and splintering frames, the sunroom collapsed like an orange crate.

There was a long moment of utters silence, such as always marks the fall of a noble tree, even in the lonely forest, where the wood choppers toil. And then the trouble began. Family, neighbors, that sort of thing.

“The point is,” said Jim, as he and I stood out in the lane while everybody else crowded around the tree and the hanging sunroom, “the point is, we had more or less decided to take your advice in the first place, and shift the sunroom around to the south side.”

“Then why did you chop down the tree?” I demanded.

“We thought we’d do both,” said Jim.

“Nature is humorous,” I suggested. “And often she’s very helpful.”


Editor’s Notes: $38 in 1936 is $730 in 2021.

Who is this Gen. Blanco, on par with Hitler and Stalin? Probably Luis Carrero Blanco, Francisco Franco’s right hand man. As the Spanish Civil War only started a few months earlier, maybe it was not clear who was in charge of the Nationalist side?

None o’ This ‘Ere, ‘Ere!

“I was getting enthusiastic in my speech, but they just stood and looked surlily at us….”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 26, 1936.

“What do you like most,” asked Jimmie Frise, “about London?”

“No matter how funny you look,” I replied, “in London somebody always looks funnier.”

“True,” said Jim.

“And no matter how foolish you act,” I added, “somebody is always acting foolisher.”

“True,” cried Jim.

“The trouble with Toronto,” I explained, “is, that if the Almighty in His wisdom made you kind of goofy, you have a dreadful time, because everybody is down on you and trying to force you to be like them. You know: dress like a mouse and act like a rabbit?”

“Sure,” said Jim, as we promenaded along Piccadilly and looked in all the windows, especially fishing tackle.

“What do you like about London?” I inquired, so as to be mutual.

“I like everything,” cried Jim. “I like it because it is so old and because it is so young. I like all the eating you can do in London. At any time. I mean, you can have roast beef for breakfast if you like.”

“Rare roast beef for breakfast,” I agreed, “With pan roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding.”

“What I like in London,” went on Jim, “is the way they have what they call a floor waiter on each floor of your hotel. You just push a button, beside the bed, and the waiter comes. Any time day or night. And you order.”

“Swell,” I admitted. “And don’t forget the telephones. Especially the pay telephones.”

“Marvellous,” admitted Jim. “When you consider what a nuisance our Canadian telephones are. So perfect. So dreadfully perfect that nothing can save you if somebody wants to get you or you foolishly want to get somebody. How many times do we call people up, in Canada, when we really hope they are out? But always, always we get them. Here in dear old London, the telephone is perfectly adjusted to human nature. Nobody can get you and you can’t get anybody. And when you fail, especially in the pay telephone, everybody is happy.”

“I’ve lost at least eighteen pence-wumpenny,” I declared, “in those pay phones. But what I like is the way they have these little public phone booths all over the streets. You don’t have to go into a store to use a pay phone, and raise some poor merchant’s hopes, only to dash them.”

“Four shillings and nuppence is what I’ve slid into those pay phones,” admitted Jim. “But I really wasn’t trying to get anybody. It was just for the pleasure of not getting anybody I did it. How gloriously free one is in London.”

“Jim,” I cautioned, “you better be careful of that English accent. Don’t let it get you.”

“Has anybody interfered with you yet, in London?” asked Jim joyously. “Or so much as given you a look? No. Never! Why? Because in London, you can’t do anything wrong. Whatever you do it’s your affair. That’s what I love.”

Riding on the Goods Lift

“This morning,” I recounted, as we arrived at Piccadilly Circus and turned north into Regent St., “I walked along the corridor of the hotel and came to the freight elevator, or goods lift, as they call it. I mistook it for the passenger lift, and rang the bell. The porter of the goods lift arrived at my floor, took one horrified look at me and slammed over the controls vanishing hurriedly down again. I was a little mystified. But remembering I was in London. I waited. In a moment, the goods lift returned, this time with another operator in it, one of the passenger operators, resplendent in uniform of light blue and gold. He opened the doors, stepped out, bowed me into the lift, and drove me down. I says to him, ‘What’s the idea?’ And he explained that the goods lift man was not allowed to transport passengers as he was not properly clothed. I asked the lad why the goods lift operator had not merely smiled and told me it was the goods lift and directed me to walk a little farther along the corridor. ‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he says, ‘but orders is for one of us to take the goods lift when any gentleman wishes to come down.'”

“Yesterday afternoon,” related Jim, in his turn, “I got a little muddled up, thinking north was south and east was west, and all I was trying to do was see the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, so I asked a policeman. He walked seven blocks with me, to put me on the right track. I asked him if it wasn’t a little off his beat to go all this way with me. He looked very astonished. He says, ‘My first duty, sir, is to the citizens.’ I said, ‘Suppose there is a hold-up while you are away’. And he says, ‘What is a hold-up, sir?’ I explained to him, and he was intensely interested. He got all excited and flushed. ‘You mean to say, sir, that someone might actually walk into a shop with a pistol?’ I said ‘Sure.’ ‘How frightfully exciting. sir.’ said the cop. So I asked him what would happen in that case. ‘Ah,’ said he ‘they would wait until I returned.'”

“Really, Jim?” I asked.

“Really,” said Jim.

Which embarrassed us a little as often happens in London; so we looked in the windows of Regent St. for quite while, and saw shops in which there was nothing but leather; and vast shops filled with incredible beauty of silk; and a shop where nothing but toys are sold, and we got heavy hearts because we were so poor and yet had so many children; and tiny shops where they sold nothing but handkerchiefs, and you could pay five dollars for one hanky embroidered by the nuns of Lhasa, or sixpence for hankies all edged with forget-me-nots, and in due time we came to Oxford St., which is like Yonge St., and we turned west to walk to Hyde Park and the Marble Arch, where we used to put up, long, long ago, when we were little soldiers in the time of fury.

Not a Lifted Eyebrow

“What don’t you like about London?” asked Jim.

“All their soap,” I replied, “is flavored vanilla.”

“Vanilla?” exclaimed Jim.

“It smells like vanilla,” I assured him. “Anyway, I always have to take two baths, one with soap and then another to get the vanilla off me before I dare go out.”

“About the only thing I don’t like,” said Jim, “is the way they sell you an umbrella and then can’t teach you how to roll it. All the Englishmen I see are striding along with a bamboo handled umbrella as neat and tidy as a stick. Look at mine. It looks like a gamp. Look at yours. Yet when I asked the clerk who sold me this to show me how to roll it, you never saw such a mess he got into. He turned purple and began to perspire and glare around the shop so pitifully that I just snatched it from him and ran.

“What I would like to do,” declared Jim, “would be to make London give us a look. If I could just get one Englishman to call me down or bawl me out.”

“In Canada,” I agreed, “Old Countrymen are always bawling us out or telling us how.”

“Yeah,” explained Jim “but they are the ones that left the Old Country.”

“Well, we left the Old Country,” I pointed out.

“A long time back,” said Jim.

“Even so,” I objected.

And so we came to Hyde Park and after a long and tender look at old familiar vistas of the Bayswater Road where we had once on a time been so young and gay and proud and equal to all occasions such as death, we peregrinated, so to speak across by Hyde Park.

Listening to the Orators

“And now,” cried Jim, “let’s go listen to the orators. This is what we Canadians ought to do, before all else. Take a lesson in free speech.”

On a sort of cinder patch, a wide expanse as big as several tennis courts, with the trees and lawns of the great park behind it, were gathered the crowds that listen to orators. And on little ladders and portable pulpits and home-made platforms made of boxes, the orators were hard at it. We were disappointed to find that more than half of the speakers were evangelists. Curious-looking evangelists, bearded old men with distorted countenances, who roared fiercely with eyes tight shut; odd-looking young men with cruel mouths acidly spouting the eternal tendernesses of Judea; incredibly modernistic men speaking coldly in behalf of Roman Catholicism. Around each of them a throng of fascinated people, young and old, rich and poor. I think, privately that the crowds who do the listening in Hyde Park are those shy, speechless Englishmen and they are taking a lesson in talking.

But sure enough we found what we sought; the real challengers of free speech. Men in spare and ragged clothes and wild eyes, with the Jeremiah look, who roared and ranted ….

“I tell you wot,” cried one, with a voice like a diving aeroplane, “we’re governed by a lot of bloody merchants, Baldwin is a merchant, that’s wot he is. A bloody merchant. And wot do merchants sell? Goods? Never. They sell us, they sell our bodies and souls, they reckon up our unborn children and trade away our rotting mothers.”

“What poppycock,” I said to Jim. “Imagine Mr. Baldwin.”

He went on, talking about the revolution. With arms uplifted, he called upon us, the masses, to roise, roise, roise. He conjured us to slay, burn, fire; to cleanse the nation of the merchants, the bloody merchants.

“And the pound,” commented Jim, “at five dollars and seven cents. Some merchants, I should say.”

We went along to another of the mobs. This was a tall gaunt man in black, with a yellow face, who, in a voice as dry and distinct as a mathematics professor, was detailing the elementary principles, as he said, of practical communism. It consisted largely of the ownership of all the means of production by the state, plus a certain amount of firing squads; the emancipation of the masses from all the stupid follies they are capable of under so-called democracy, and the complete surrender of themselves, like in religion, to the state, plus a certain amount of pistoling of the resistant or rigid type who have not that lovely gift of surrender.

“Jim,” I said, after we had listened a little while to this Egyptian of the new school, “I’m going to make them a little speech.”

“Swell,” said Jim. “Be yourself.”

“I mean,” I said, “this is the famous Hyde Park. It will be nice to go back home and tell the boys we made a speech in Hyde Park. It would make it seem more real. Not that we had listened to free speech in Hyde Park but had made a free speech in Hyde Park.”

“Where’s your pulpit?” asked Jim, looking down at me.

We walked out to the street and in a moment found a barrow and from the man hauling it, bought, for fourpence, a fine strong empty box. This we carried back to the cinder court where nine orators held nine crowds spellbound.

We selected a nice clear patch and I got on the box.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, as one addressing Massey Hall, “as a stranger to your fair city and to these islands, I feel called upon, after listening to some of the speakers here in Hyde Park, to bring to your attention a few facts which seem to be overlooked.”

Several people on the edges of the nearby groups turned on hearing my voice and strolled over to me. Jim stood amiably among them, a sort of capper for me, applauding at the end of each sentence, where you pause for applause. You know.

“For instance,” I laughed, “your pound, which we ordinarily can get for around $4.75 cents we now have to pay $5.07 cents for.”

Again Jimmie led the applause, but nobody followed. In fact, I observed on the faces gathering quietly around me an expression of chill, an unfriendly, a hostile look. And this, despite the fact that I was smiling in that beaming, chin-uplifted fashion that is so useful to Sunday school superintendents and candidates for the board of education.

“Fellow Britishers,” I declaimed, trying a new tack, “fellow Britishers, do you realize you live in one of the securest, freest, happiest, healthiest, most comfortable countries on the earth?”

“None of that there ‘ere,” shouted a large fat man right underneath me. I could have touched him.

“Sir,” I said.

“None of that there ‘ere,” he bellowed, rising on his toes and shouting right in my face.

“None of what?” I demanded indignantly. But I noticed all the others were craning their necks at me, staring angrily, and muttering unsympathetically.

“Bloody foreigner,” said a thin man in the crowd. Now dozens were joining my group Jim put his foot on my soap box, in a friendly way.

“You misunderstand me, gentlemen,” I cried, smiling intensely. “I was merely about to sing the praises of Britain, and of London, in particular. Your own dear old London.”

“Chuck him aht,” came a voice.

A sudden loud murmur swelled, and the crowd began to push and shove around me.

“Pull his box aht. Push ‘im off. Give im the bunt. Bloody foreigner. Tryin’ to come one over us, so he is.”

“I assure you,” I shouted.

“Wot right,” shouted the fat man, who now also had one foot on my soap box, “‘ave you buttin’ in ‘ere?”

“Isn’t this Hyde Park?” I asked furiously. “I thought this was the very altar of free speech.”

“Free speech?” scoffed the fat man and all the crowd growled. “Free speech! That stuff you was tryin’ to give us? We don’t want none o’ that there ‘ere.”

“Well, I’ll …” I said.

“‘Op it,” said the fat man, stepping back.

“Very well,” I said, with dignity.

“‘Ere,” he said. “Take your box.”

Jim took the box. They made a lane for us. They stood, watching us with narrow eyes. When we got a good start, I turned.

“Come out to Canada,” I yelled. “We’ll show you.”

Three or four of them made that sudden start as if to chase us. But they didn’t. So Jim took my arm and hurried me and we hailed a taxi and drove back down to where the tackle stores are.

The only dirty thing we did was leave the box in the taxicab.


Editor’s Notes: Stanley Baldwin was the Prime Minister of Britain at the time.

This story was part of the series that were published in 1936 when Greg and Jim went to Britain and then France for the dedication of the Vimy Memorial. Many old WWI veterans went from Canada as part of the “pilgrimage”, and the Toronto Star sent veterans from their staff to cover it.

Toronto Star veterans on the Vimy pilgrimage. Greg is the short one in the center with his hat askew, with Jimmie on his right, with the usual cigarette in his hand.

Polo Bears

“I leaned over my horse’s neck and armed a quick swoop of the ball …”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 12, 1936.

“If we are going abroad,” said Jimmie Frise, “we ought to get evening clothes.”

“Dress suits?” I asked.

“Tails,” said Jim. “And even a frock coat for afternoon occasions.”

“It’s all very well for people with long legs like you,” I protested. “But you can have no idea of the way we short people feel about things like that. Tails. And frock coats. I can wear a tuxedo without being mistaken for a waiter more than two or three times in an evening. But in tails, or even a frock coat, I always look as if I were standing in mud up to my knees.”

“You can get away with a tuxedo in Canada,” said Jim, “but not in England. Suppose we get invited to Buckingham Palace?”

“Jimmie,” I said, “I am sorry I cannot wear tails.”

“Then,” stated Jim, “your future is restricted to the semi-formal. You can never become really great or famous. You are doomed for life to the fringe of things. You are forever an almost.”

“Do you mean to say,” I demanded, “that no matter how great I may become, even if I went into politics and in time became prime minister, that my refusal to wear certain kinds of monkey clothes would handicap me?”

“All I say is,” said Jim, “that if we go to England and get invited around to meet really big people, you can’t go without tails.”

“What if I went in tweeds?” I insisted. “Suppose I acted the part of an eccentric genius. You know, landed at the function in baggy tweeds, and smoking a pipe?”

“The butler would not let you in,” said Jim. “If you were a famous labor leader or a world famous portrait painter or poet, maybe yes. Maybe the butler would have special instructions. But remember, we’re just a couple of guys from Canada.”

“Well, then,” I said bitterly, “I guess I won’t be going abroad. That’s all.”

“Ah,” smiled Jim, “leave the big social functions to me. You can have plenty of fun looking in the windows of shops on the Strand and that sort of thing. You can spend your evenings sitting in the back seats of galleries of theatres. You’ll have a swell time. I’ll attend to the social end. If anyone asks for you, I’ll say you are unfortunately indisposed.”

“Indisposed to make a monkey of myself,” I declared. “What’s more, there are plenty of things in England besides standing about in self-conscious attitudes in drawing rooms. Some of the greatest fly fishers in the world are in England and Scotland. Suppose I get invited to go fishing on the Test or the Itchen? Will I need monkey suits there? Not me. My good old Canadian tweeds are plenty good enough. I’ve got a fishing coat or two that will make even an English duke sit up.”

“There is one thing about it,” said Jim, “you can meet the most important people in England in lots of places besides full dress functions. The races for example.”

“I don’t care for races,” I reminded him.

“Or,” said Jim, “at the tennis matches at Wimbledon. You don’t need to dress up for that. In fact, from pictures I’ve seen of the swells in the English society magazines, you look exactly like them. Kind of moth-eaten, as if you had slept outside the free pass gate all night.”

“Funny,” I agreed, “how the English all look like tramps at four p.m. and by eight p.m. they all look like the nobility.”

“We’d Be in Like a Duck”

“Or polo,” said Jim suddenly, “Hurlingham and polo! We can pretend to be big polo enthusiasts. And if anybody in the middle classes over there wishes to entertain us and asks us how, we can say we are nuts about polo. And after five or six visits, to Ranelagh or some of the swell polo grounds, we are sure to meet the upper classes. The English aren’t hard to meet after five or six tries.”

“Polo,” I said, “Polo. That’s the game you play with mallets on horseback, banging a ball around.”

“Listen,” said Jim. “you’re an old mounted rifles officer. I’m an old artillery gunner. We both know horses. I wonder how long it would take us to learn the rudiments of polo?”

“Jimmie,” I warned.

“Listen,” cried Jim, standing up so as to think easier. “I’ve got an idea. There are several guys I know around Toronto who play polo, sort of Suppose we get a half dozen lessons in polo? Don’t you see? In England, if you play polo, you are in. Like a duck.”

“Jimmie,” I warned him again.

“Why, it’s a cinch,” shouted Jim. “All we have to do is buy a polo outfit, the white britches and shirts, the helmet, boots and so forth. Far cheaper than a dress suit. And when anybody wants to entertain us, all we have to do is say we’d like a spot of polo, see? A couple of chukkers.”

“Chukkers?” I asked.

“It’s a polo term,” said Jim. “Like a hole of golf. Or a set of tennis. Or a period in hockey. Why my dear boy, this is brain wave. You know as well as I do that the English are simply nutty about polo. It is played only by the cream de la cream. I’ll call you major. You’d look magnificent in a polo kit.”

“But my dear boy,” I pointed out, “we’d have to play. And that would be the end of it.”

“Now, now,” said Jim. “Polo, like everything else, consists mostly of standing about the clubhouse verandas and lawns. We can laughingly assure everybody that we are dreadful dubs. You know the way. Laughingly. And then if we are dubs we can the rules are different in the part of Canada we come from. Anyway, we can ride furiously around the field on borrowed ponies.”

“Ponies?” I said. “Ah, that’s different.”

“They call the horses ponies,” said Jim. They’re pretty nearly full-sized horses. But the main thing is in our polo outfits. We would meet everybody, lords, dukes, bishops and everything. We’d be in. Like a duck. They wouldn’t expect a couple of colonials like us to be able to play really. But they would admire in us the ambition, anyway. It’s a swell idea.”

“I don’t like it,” I demurred. “I’d rather stick to fishing or the Kensington Museum and the Tower of London, and so forth.”

“Just like any tourist,” sneered Jim. “I thought you were a man of ambition. Little did I think that a few imaginary social barriers would beat a man of your radical mind. How on earth did you ever get to be a major in the war?”

“By all the tall officers getting killed,” I explained.

“You can choose,” said Jim, “between evening dress with tails or polo kit. One or the other. Otherwise you can resign yourself to the high spot of your trip being the London Zoo.”

Two Gentlemen From Canada

So he kept at it. Each day he would renew the attack. He even arranged to borrow a couple of riding horses. He even got friend to lend us a field on his farm. So finally, I submitted.

“It won’t do any harm,” I agreed, “to try it out. You may be night. Maybe there is the makings of a real polo player in me. I have been looking over these English society magazines the last few days and I see a lot of small men in the polo teams. And middle-aged men like me too. Majory looking little men. Maybe I’ve got it in me.”

“My boy,” said Jim, “I knew you had it in you. Instead of this trip abroad being a case of a couple of tourists trying to keep track of their laundry, you may be the means of getting us into the finest society. By George, we might even get our pictures in the society magazines. Two gentlemen from Canada who have been performing well at Ranelagh this season. You know the sort of thing?”

“Smiling haughtily,” I agreed. “Holding our helmets in the crook of our arms, right leg bent with foot turned out.”

“Right,” cried Jim.

Whereupon we took the afternoon off and went up beyond Summit to the farm of one of Jimmie’s race track friends. We took with us our old army breeches and a polo shirt, they call it, borrowed from our children, and also those sun helmets they wear. Jim had arranged with an acquaintance who belongs to the Hunt Club to borrow a couple of polo sticks, but when he went to borrow them they were locked up. So Jim brought a couple of croquet mallets which, he said, would do as well for practice purposes. And on our arrival at the farm, the handyman led us to the stable where two large horses were stalled.

“I thought you said ponies,” I accused Jim.

“Make the best of it,” said Jim. “I’ll take the larger one.”

But they were both large horses, and after examining them carefully, I took the one with the kindest expression. The handyman saddled them up and shortened the stirrups to the last hole for me, and we mounted.

“Here’s your mallet,” said Jim, handing me up the pretty thing.

“I can’t touch the ground with it,” I showed him, “even when I hang right out of the saddle.”

“Wait until we get into the excitement of the game,” counselled Jim.

We joggled and bumped down the lane to the field where the handyman opened a gate. Jim gave me one end of the field and he took the other.

“We’ll start in the middle,” he said, “and whoever hits the other’s fence first, wins the chukker.”

Riding Off Your Opponent

He tossed a rubber ball to the ground.

“Shoot,” he said, and swinging low, hit the ball a bang towards my fence. I geed my horse and playfully it see-sawed after Jimmie, but Jim, with the greatest of ease, beat me to the ball and with about six bangs, sent the ball against my fence and so took the first chukker.

“Now” said Jim, “put a little more vim into it. Get after me. The big thing in polo is to ride your opponent of the ball. When you see me with the ball, ride at me, put the shoulder of your horse at me, and push me aside, so as to get a fair swing at the ball.”

“Wait,” I said, “until I get my sea legs on this horse. It’s too high. I ought to have a longer mallet.”

“Go on,” scorned Jim. “Lean down. You can hit a ball that size.”

“Toss it in,” I said, we having teetered back to midfield.

Jim tossed the ball and with a quick swoop, I landed a neat crack, sending the ball through my horse’s legs towards Jim’s fence. We swung the steeds and galloped neck and neck thirty feet after the ball. Jim getting there first and hitting the ball back, I got my horse turned and beat Jim to it, but he charged his horse at mine, and shouldered us aside, stealing the shot, and making a terrific slam that carried the ball bounding down again towards my fence.

I felt my horse stiffen under me at this attack. He snorted and pawed the sod like a bull for a moment before I could get him under way again. So that Jim beat me easily to the ball, and scored another goal. But my horse was going beautifully by the time I neared Jim, and as Jim swung down to poke the ball under the rail fence, where it had stuck, my horse, whirling on its feet as we drew alongside, turned and lashed out a beautiful kick, which caught Jim’s horse in the ribs.

“Hey,” yelled Jim, as he struggled to recover his balance. His horse curvetted and danced angrily.

“I didn’t do it,” I called to him. “My horse did.”

“Cut that stuff out,” cried Jim. “Keep your horse in hand.”

“How did I know what he was going to do?” I demanded. “You butted us. So I suppose he thinks this is a free for all.”

“Keep him in hand,” commanded Jim, tapping the ball back to mid-field to start a third round.

I could see a nasty look on Jim’s horse’s face, however, as we curved around in mid-field for a fresh start. And when he called “go,” I felt my horse go all rubbery under me, and it sprang toward Jim. And Jim’s came, head down, toward us. And as we met, with mallets upswung for the stroke, both horses suddenly wheeled on their bunched feet and lashed at each other.

“Hey, hey,” we both yelled, rearing tight and kicking our heels into them.

Horses Are Militaristic

A horse, however, is a horse. And a polo pony probably takes years to learn that polo is a game for gentlemen, both two-legged and four-legged. And these two horses were just plain cross-country riders. Circling warily, with tails and heads up and snorting and neighing and blowing their noses violently like pugilists, they suddenly bunched themselves and charged again. Again Jim and I swung back our mallets for the ball. But again the horses whirled their hind ends to each other and lashed violently.

“Hey, hey,” we both roared again, jerking the reins and kicking their ribs and speaking horse words to them.

“Ride yours down the field away,” yelled Jim, “and we’ll quiet them.”

So I went to one end of the field and Jim to the other and we talked soothingly to them and slapped their necks comfortingly, and after a few minutes, we had them gentled and I called:

“O.K. now. Jim.”

So we rode quietly toward middle field where the ball still lay, and we watched each other’s horse warily. Their ears were twitching. Their necks arched. Their eyes shining with the effort to understand.

“Go,” said Jim, uplifting his mallet,

And with a squeal, the two horses crouched, leaped, whirled and kicked, and I felt a loud grunt as my horse landed a doozer on the ribs of Jim’s. Jim’s – its name was Nettie – screamed and as quick as a cat, turned with bared yellow teeth and, narrowly missing my knee, took a good fat hold of my horse’s hide. I could hear her teeth click.

“Wah, hah, hah,” roared my horse in an agonized bellow and broke away in a dreadful series of bucks and kicks and hump backs, punctuating each wild jump with a short squeal of fury.

“Ride away,” I heard Jim cry.

And seeing Nettie coming with neck outstretched. I kicked mine in the ribs, shook out the reins and let him run. Around and around the field we raced, Jim dragging on Nettie’s bit and I giving my horse all the encouragement of heel and hand and tongue I would muster.

Whenever we paused, Nettie would make a sudden furious charge, cutting corners, until the handyman came running down the lane.

“What is it?” he bellowed. “The battle of Waterloo?”

“Open the gate,” commanded Jim, in the best Ranelagh manner. And I rode my horse to safety.

In a moment, the handyman had me on shore. He led my horse to the stable. Jim then rode Nettie, all slathered with foam and furious of eye, down the lane and the handyman held her head while Jim slid off and sprang aside.

“I didn’t think they’d stand for polo,” said the handyman apologetically.

“I never understood cavalry before,” said Jim. “Now I can see what the charge of the Light Brigade meant. Or the battle of Agincourt. I always thought it was only the men that fought.”

“Ah,” said the handyman, “a horse is a militaristic beast.”

“You see, though,” said Jim to me, “what a thrilling game polo could be?”

“How much,” I asked, “is a dress suit with tails?”


Editor’s Notes: This story takes place just before they leave for Britain and France, for the Vimy pilgrimage. This was the trip taken by many veterans of WWI to the dedication of the Vimy memorial in France. Greg and Jim were sent with other Toronto Star veterans to cover it, and their next 4 stories would take place in England and France.

The Toronto Star veterans on the pilgrimage. Greg is in the center with his hat askew, with Jim to his right.

Though men wore suits regularly in the 1930s, more formal attire could be required for special evening events, thus the possibility of needing tails or frock coats.

Hurlingham and Ranelagh are old London sports clubs.

Weekend Party

Jim worked the cord of the motor while I bailed water out of the boat…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 4, 1936.

“You’re coming up,” said Jimmie Frise, “to my cottage this week-end.”

“Maskinonge,” I asked, “or bass?”

“Both,” said Jim. “I have a letter here from the family saying that a great big monster has been rolling every morning out in front of the cottage not fifty yards off shore. They say it will go twenty pounds.”

“They’ll have it before we get there,” I suggested.

“They are saving it for you,” said Jim, kindly. “We can have a grand time. We’ll get there about five p.m. Saturday and go straight out fishing. All we have to do is push the skiff out from the dock and start casting right off our beach. It is grand musky water. Then, we can take the outboard and scoot down about a mile and a half to gravel point where the bass are as thick as swallows around a barn.”

“Boy, this sounds grand,” I cried. “When do we have to leave there for home?”

“We don’t have to leave until after supper Sunday evening,” said Jim. “That’ll get us in town by midnight.”

“It sounds like a real week-end,” I enthused.

“I’ve been wanting to take you up for the past three summers,” said Jim, “but somehow we never could match up our week-ends. But this time you’re coming.”

“Sure I’m coming,” I declared. “That musky rolling out in front of the cottage has got me. What bait do you generally use?”

“Oh, spoons,” said Jim. “Cast in spoons, little brass ones, with black feathers on the hook. But bring your whole outfit. We’ll go after them in a big way.”

And when we set sail Saturday noon, Jim’s car was so laden with boxes of vegetables and baskets of peas and all my fishing tackle that we could not see out of the rear view mirror.

“I love this week-end business,” I told Jim as we lurched through city traffic heading for the broad highway. “This business of loading up supplies. It’s a sort of Christmassy feeling every week. We poor husbands lonely at home, watering gardens, going to movies, sighing around the house in the heat. And then comes Saturday, and we get almost the same old feeling we used to get years ago when we were going to call on our best girl. We buy gifts. Instead of roses, we buy meat and vegetables and marshmallows and canned fruit. And with high hearts and a flush on our faces, we head for the wilderness, where our dear ones, amid the cool and pleasant wilderness, have hardly thought of us all week.”

“I wonder,” said Jim, “if other parts of the world are as happy as Canada, in regard to summer resorts? The minute a Canadian gets enough money to buy a car, he has got to have a summer cottage.”

“Imagine,” I cried, “having a place to park our families in summer where there are great big muskies and tough fighting bass right off the front porch! How many muskies did you get last year, by the way?”

“Oh, you know me,” said Jim. “I talk a lot about fishing and I buy a lot of tackle, and I plan to go fishing a lot. But I don’t really fish much. By the time I get to the cottage, I want to lie in the hammock.”

Eager and Gay

“Not this week-end, my boy,” I assured him. “You’re with a real fisherman this time.”

“That’s what I need,” agreed Jim. “Somebody to egg me on.”

“Listen, we’ll pull up in front of your cottage,” I planned, “and unload the tackle out of the car straight into the skiff and push right off? Is it a bet?”

“You’re on,” agreed Jim delightedly.

So we arrived at the broad highway and began the four-hour battle. All bright and gay, the country smiled encouragingly as thousands of us debilitated city dwellers fought our way north, east and west. Good cars and old cars, cars laden with provender and cars loaded with mattresses, camp cots and tents; trucks grinding their obstructive way while long lines of us sweatily horned and tooted and glared sideways back at them while we passed; sport models full of superior and carefree youth that zipped by us more sedate citizens; tie-ups, old junk cars coughing up hills; ah, the parody of Saturday afternoon. If it were not that we were as bridegrooms, if we were not eager and gay, we would never so much as take our cars out of the garage of a Saturday afternoon.

But Jim drove and cussed and sneered; and I leaned out the window and shouted uncomplimentary remarks to drivers of less agile craft than ours; or retorted to the jeers of others whose cars were more agile than ours. And in due time we came to the end of pavement, and launched forth into a highway of gravel, where we ate dust, and skittered and bumped over washboards, and finally left even the gravel to take to a narrow little backwoods road where, if you meet a car coming against you, either you or it has to back up to a wide place to pass.

And about the time we struck this country road, the sky had darkened, rumbles of thunder warned of weather, and down into the leaves that brushed the sides of the car spattered the first big drops of summer rain.

“All the better for fishing,” I assured Jim. “You aren’t afraid of a wetting?”

“The best muskie I ever got,” replied Jim, “I got in a heavy rain that made the water leap up in a million little jets.”

And at six p.m. daylight saving time, in a world gray and sweeping with rain, we arrived at Jim’s cottage. And from indoors, as we turned in, came a bevy of gay young people, and we unloaded the chariot and the boxes were happily hustled indoors. But I could sense a certain embarrassment. I could see them catching Jim’s eye and giving him signals. And in a few minutes Jim came out heartily and said:

“They’ve got some kids staying with them, so I guess it’s the tent for us two old campaigners.”

“Grand, Jim,” I cried. “I love the sound of rain on a tent.”

“We had better put it up now, rather than when we come in from fishing,” suggested Jim.

“Right-o,” said I.

But then we were called for supper, and by the time supper was over and I looked out across the dimpling water, where the rain still slanted and peppered, it seemed to be getting a little dark.

“Jim,” I said, “let’s slam the tent up or we won’t get out to-night.”

Caulking the Old Boat

Jim went hunting and came back with a roughly-bundled tent of an oldish grayish color, and then we both hunted for the poles which never turned up.

“We can cut poles in a jiffy,” said Jim. Which we did, and they weren’t very good poles. We unrolled the tent and figured it all out, and struggled with the poles and the billowy canvas, and the rain still spattered and slanted. We had to go and cut pegs for the guy-ropes of the tent, and it got darker all the time.

“Just cut pegs for the corners,” said Jimmie. “We’ll do with a rough job tonight.”

“We’ll never get fishing,” I said. “But we can be up bright and early.”

The tent was pretty damp by the time we had it more or less erected, and the ground was soaked. But Jim got camp cots out of the cottage, and presently we got to bed.

“Early to bed, early to rise,” said Jim.

“The mosquitoes are fairly bad,” I answered.

The sun waked us. I could tell by the angle of the sun that it was not really early. In fact, it was the voices of children in the distance, apparently in swimming, that really wakened me.

“Jim,” I cried, looking at my watch, “it’s after nine, daylight saving.”

We leaped out of bed to find a lovely sunny morning, the water still as a mill pond, and nobody up yet.

“We’ll just go in and snatch a bite of breakfast,” decreed Jim. “And away.”

Quietly, so as not to wake everyone, we had a bowl of dry cereal and bread and jam. And then we gathered up our tackle and headed for the little dock in front of Jim’s.

“The boat,” said Jim, “was kind of leaky last week but I told them to leave it in the water to soak up.”

The boat, however, was on the beach, turned over. And I could see right through the cracks in the keel.

“Can we get a boat handy?” I inquired, businesslike.

“It won’t take ten minutes to caulk this up,” said Jim. “I brought a can of new caulking stuff for it.”

Which he produced from his fishing tackle box.

“Jim,” I said, “don’t fool with this skiff. Let’s rent one or borrow one, handy.”

“The nearest place to rent one is six miles up the lake,” said Jim, “and I wouldn’t dream of borrowing anybody else’s boat around here. Anyway, they are likely all out fishing.”

“Well,” said I. So I laid down all my tackle, rod cases, steel boxes, leather bags, nets, gaffs and what not, and helped Jim pry the lid off the caulking cement.

“This stuff is elastic,” explained Jim happily, cutting himself a sort of spreader from a stick. “It dries quick, the man said. But it is elastic and sticks in the cracks.”

The stuff was very liquid. We stirred it and spread it carefully in the wider cracks. Then we found smaller cracks and nail holes and carefully stuffed the cement into them.

“This is a great old boat,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t get rid of it for any boat they make nowadays. It’s a pleasure to handle this boat.”

We just went on stuffing and spreading. We found some quite large holes at the ends.

“Now,” said Jim, “let her dry, a few minutes, and away we go.”

“Let’s Prove We’re Anglers”

I sat down and batted mosquitoes away.

Jim walked out on the little dock. It was high and dry and the piles of stones that supported it were at least ten feet from water’s edge.

“The water in these lakes,” said Jim, “is dropping every year.”

“Maybe if we waited a few years,” I said, “we could come up and catch the muskies on dry land.”

Jim started moving stones from under the ricketty dock out towards the water. There is something attractive about moving a stone.

Jim moved about four stones. I got up and picked one up that I saw him deliberately avoid. I hoisted it. Waddled down to the water with it. Plunked it down.

“Boy,” said Jim, “you’ve got a back.”

“Short men are good at lifting,” I explained.

“We might as well do this,” said Jim, “while waiting for the boat to dry.”

One by one, we hoisted the stones. Jim tried several he couldn’t even get knee high, I hoisted them easily.

“I never realized,” said Jim graciously, “how strong you really were.”

“I was always a good lifter,” I assured him.

We got them all shifted. We made two good strong piles of them, and Jim said we might as well shift the planks, now that we had got the stones moved. It was only a matter of ten minutes before we had a nice little dock rebuilt, right where it should be.

We were just testing the caulking on the skiff when there came a strong call from the cottage.

“Dinner!”

“Dinner,” I said. And my watch showed noon.

We went up and squeezed in at a very crowded table, with several of the smaller children sitting at a side table, and had a great big summer dinner of cold meat and salad and about five cups of tea the way you can drink it at a summer resort. And it was two o’clock, daylight saving, when we walked out on the veranda, and Jim sagged into the hammock.

“Come, me lad,” I laughed at him. “None of that!”

“Just for five minutes,” said Jim. “Just to start digestion.”

I sat and rocked while the veranda filled with youth; and old Jim, with a grin on his face, closed his eyes and enjoyed a brief snooze.

“Up you get,” I commanded. “We’re anglers. Let’s prove it.”

“Oh, me,” groaned Jim, and rose heavily and went indoors to get the outboard motor, I helped him carry it down. The skiff was not yet dry. As a matter of fact, the cement only had a sort of crust on it, which broke when you stuck your finger on it, and the sticky stuff clung to your finger.

“Let her go,” said Jim. “The water will harden it.”

We launched the skiff, carefully.

“She leaks,” I noted.

“You bail,” decreed Jim. “It will close up in no time.”

He adjusted the outboard. I bailed. I batted mosquitoes. The lake was glassy smooth. There was a haze. I scanned the water for the boil of a monster musky rising. But only the dip of little water flies disturbed the glassy smoothness.

Jim wound up the engine cord and jerked. The water bubbled. The engine hissed and sucked. We moved, in slow bunts, forward with each jerk of the outboard cord.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said Jim, opening this and shifting that. He stuck his finger in the fuel tank and inspected the mixture. He gave little quick pulls of the cord. Long, slow hauls at it. He twiddled gimmicks and gadgets.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said I.

But bailing was necessary. There were several small clear little pencils of water spouting up out of the bottom of the boat from places we had not suspected.

“Paddle her in to the dock,” said Jim.

“What with?” I asked politely.

“Oh, I forgot the oars,” said Jim. “Paddle her in with your bailing can.”

I paddled as best I could the little distance we had drifted. Jim unscrewed the outboard and hoisted it on to the wharf.

“It won’t be a second,” said Jim. “I know the insides of these things like a book.”

I went for a little walk along the beach while Jim took the thing apart. I came back and sat down and watched him, as he unscrewed and unbolted, examined, refitted. He got covered with black grease. He seemed so concentrated, I hated to disturb him.

He tried three different bolts in the one nut he was holding, so I said:

“Jim, it occurs to me we ought to get an early start home so as to miss that dreadful traffic. A day like this, I bet it would take seven hours to get back to town.”

Jim pondered. He tried the three small bolts in two other nuts.

“Hm,” said he. “What time is it?”

“It’s three-fifteen.”

“Not much of a day for fishing,” he said, gazing at the glassy and brassy lake.

“I don’t think a fish would look at a bait on a day like this,” I agreed, rising. “What do you say if we get an early start and avoid the traffic jam?”

“I’m with you,” agreed Jim. “I’ll take this thing back to town and have it overhauled. By next week, the boat will be thoroughly tight. We’ll make a day of it next week.”

We got a box and Jim put all the loose parts of the outboard in it. We packed our stuff into the car.

“I should attend to a couple of leaks in the roof,” said Jim. “They were nearly flooded out last night. It wouldn’t take ten minutes to slip a few shingles in under the spots that leak.”

“How about doing that next week?” I asked. “Time is flying. We don’t want to get into that traffic jam.”

We made our farewells to the one or two who were not having the afternoon siesta.

“Next week,” said Jim, gazing tenderly at his cottage, the placid lake, the dock, the boat, once more upside down, its repaired bottom bright with spots of pale cement, “we’ll make a real day of it.”

“Yes,” I said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Only I made each yes sound different from the others.


Editor’s Notes: For some reason, Greg says Maskinonge, which is French for Muskellunge, which is the pronunciation he normally uses.

As mentioned before, the weekend only started on Saturday afternoon back then, and it was common for men to stay in the city and work while their families would spend all summer at a cottage. The men would then go up on Saturday afternoon, and leave Sunday afternoon.

This story appeared in both So What? (1937), and Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Wiring Party

Every time we freed ourselves of one coil of wire we were seized by another…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 6, 1936.

“Tell me,” said Jimmie Frise, “something about the war.”

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “this is wonderful of you. Nobody ever asks me about the war any more.”

“Oh, I just wanted to freshen up my memory of some of the infantry angles,” said Jim. “Us artillery men missed certain features, you know.”

“Jim,” I said, “this is very kind of you. You can have no idea how congested I get sometimes just from wanting to talk about the war. But nobody will let me. I’ve worn out all my family. I used to look forward to the days when my little sons would be old enough to want to hear about the war. But now that they are getting into long pants they haven’t the slightest interest. If I even try to stick in just one little apologetic anecdote about the war they hear somebody whistling outside and jump up and leave me flat.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “I’m a veteran myself.”

“Yes, but,” I pointed out, “the artillery couldn’t have had all the adventures the infantry had. Don’t forget that.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Just the same old thing every day for you gunners,” I explained. “Firing a modern gun is just like working a lathe or running an engine. You don’t see anything. You just twiddle some wheels, adjust some gadgets, pull a string and bang she goes off into space, aimed at an arithmetical calculation instead of a romantic target.”

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“But don’t let me offend you,” I hurried. “You wanted to hear about the war. My dear boy, I appreciate this more than I can tell you.”

“Just a certain aspect of it,” said Jim.

“It has got so,” I assured him, “that not only does my family walk out on me whenever I introduce even the least teeny weeny bit of war, even just in passing, but now my old gardener has folded up on me. He used to love to have me walking beside him when he was running the lawn mower, for example, and tell him about the war. Many’s the hour we have sat in the garden when he was edging or weeding, and remembered old times together. But now whenever I see him he is so busy he just has to rush.”

“Maybe you have told him all your stories for the second time,” suggested Jim.

“Second time?” I protested. “My dear boy, a war story doesn’t really get rich and fruity until the third or fourth time.”

“What I wanted to know,” said Jim, “was about these wiring parties. What was a wiring party?”

“Ah, now you are asking somebody,” I cried, settling back. “Jim, you are talking now to one of the most expert wirers in the world. I have strung literally miles of wire. I have laid acres and acres of barbed wire.”

“You mean your men did,” said Jim.

“Naturally,” I admitted. “An officer does not go around, as a rule, with canvas mitts on hauling barbed wire. When I speak of having strung miles of barbed wire I speak as an engineer speaks when he says he has built miles of road, see? But as a matter of fact, Jim, I have actually laid quite a lot of wire myself in my time. I remember one night…”

Infantry Experts

“Tell me,” said Jim, “was the wire in big coils?”

“No, no,” said I. “It came in tight spools or bobbins. Remember, we had to carry that wire into the trenches, as well as string it after we got it there. I recollect one night – was it in June, seventeen …?”

“Was it springy, sort of?” asked Jim. “When you started to undo a coil of it did it spring out and get all tangled?”

“No, no,” I assured him. “You cut a couple of small bits of tie wire, and then, with the spool on a stick, you just backed up and unrolled it. Now, this night I speak of in June, I think it was, seventeen, or was it May? Now, let me see? We went from Enquin lez Mines back up to Les Brebis and Mazingarbe…”

“I should think,” said Jim, “that anybody who had handled barbed wire could handle almost any kind of wire.”

“You’re right,” I said. “There were about 300,000 Canadians in the infantry from time to time and every one of those men to-day, wherever he is, is an expert wire man. But as I was telling you, we were on the Bully Grenay front, out by Loos, you remember. It was a fine summer’s night…”

“How did you get the wire tight?” asked Jim. “After you had laid it where you wanted it, how did you pull it snug and tight?”

“A fine summer’s night,” I explained. “One of those luminous June nights, with the stars fairly dripping from the sky. It was quiet, too. Here and there a flicker of guns, like summer lightning. Now and then the lazy bang of a five-nine somewhere in the distance …”

“How many men would you use on one spool of wire?” asked Jim.

”The major says to me, ‘Clark,’ he says, ‘I want you to take the wiring party tonight. It’s a ticklish bit. It’s those old chalk pits. On our side, the wire is about as useful as a lace curtain. I want some wire in there that is wire. I want you to handpick your party, Clark,’ he says, ‘and make a night of it.’ It must have been about nine o’clock …”

“Is this the story,” asked Jim, “about the time the two Germans crawled out and asked you the time, thinking you were a German?”

“Ha, ha,” I laughed. “You’ve heard that, eh? Wasn’t that a scream?”

“I have heard it six or seven times,” admitted Jim admiringly, “and every time it gets better.”

“One keeps remembering details,” I explained. “I wonder if I ever told you one little detail in that story about…”

“What I am trying to get at,” said Jim, still laughing reminiscently. “is this – you see, I had no experience of wiring – and now I am trying to put up a fence at my place. I wanted your advice.”

“A wire fence?” I asked.

“You know that little green wire fence I’ve got?” said Jimmie. “Gyp, my new setter, can hop it in her stride. What I am doing is putting up about twenty tall stakes, with holes bored through them, and then stringing two wires along them, about a foot apart, above the top of the regular fence. Then I am going to plant morning glories and sweet peas and things and grow a sort of screen. I don’t think Gyp will jump through that.”

“It should be very simple.” I said, “just threading wire through holes in stakes.”

“I was trying it last night,” said Jim, “but the wire coil springs out fearfully when you snip the little bits of wire tying the coil together.”

“Hold it with one hand, my dear fellow,” I smiled, “and thread it with the other.”

“I wish I had been in the infantry,” sighed Jim.

“Tut, tut,” I said. “I’ll run over after dinner to-night.”

Which I did, and Jimmie had all the material laid out just like a regular old supply dump back of the lines in Flanders. Four large coils of good stout wire. A heap of long green painted stakes with holes ready bored in them. Smaller posts of two by four for reinforcing them.

“You haven’t the stakes up yet? I pointed out.

“I got three or four up as you see,” said Jim, “but I thought I had better get your advice on that, too, because half the problem of wiring must be the stakes, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I recall one time down on the Arras front, out by a place called Roclincourt straight ahead from Madagascar Dump, if you remember?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “Which do you suggest? Should we just drive the stakes down or should we first dig a little hole to soften the earth and then drive them in?”

“On this Roclincourt front,” I explained, “”the problem consisted of an overbody of soft, mucky earth on top of a stratum of hard chalk. And the way we drove our angle iron stakes and screw stakes was this.”

“Here’s a shovel,” said Jim.

He removed his coat and vest eagerly and picked up a fence stake and carried it over to the side of the garden. I followed suit, bringing the shovel. I dug a small hole. About a foot deep.

“Now,” said Jim, “which will I do? Hold the stake or drive it with the axe?”

“You hold it,” I agreed. “I’ll show you a trick or two.”

So in a matter of twenty minutes we had three stakes well and firmly buried in their proper places, except that the first one had the holes for the wire pointing the wrong way.

“That won’t matter,” I showed. We will just jog the wire there and it will make it all the tighter.”

In less than an hour we had ten stakes firmly planted, and that gave us the one full side of the garden and all along the bottom.

“Now, Gunner,” I explained, “we’ll string some wire just before it gets dark, so that you will know how to carry on.”

“This is the part I am interested in,” said Jim.

The big coils of wire were heavy. It would be impossible to hold one in one hand and steer it with the other. So we agreed that one of us would carry the coil and the other steer it through the little holes in the pickets. Jim handed me the pliers to snip the tying wire around the coils.

“Wire,” I explained, as I squatted down to snip, “has a character all its own.”

“Shouldn’t you kneel on it?” asked Jim, “before you cut that last bit?”

I snipped and the coil of wire sprang into the air with a twanging, hissing sound like a serpent. It seemed to be wrapping itself around me. I threw myself on it, and held it down.

“Jimmie,” I commanded, “lend a hand here and tuck it back under me.”

So I lay on it while Jim slowly tucked it back in rings and circles about the size it was originally.

“Ease up a little,” said Jim. “As I coil these coils under you.”

“We never used to have this happen in Flanders,” I said.

“Upsadaisy,” said Jim, “but not too much. Just relax a trifle, while I slide this end under.”

And thus spreadeagled on the very untidy and always struggling wire, I lay while Jim patiently worked it back under me.

“I wish some of your old troops could see you now,” said Jim, appreciatively. “The ones that you used to wire miles and miles with.”

“They’d help me if they did,” I declared.

“And be just about as handy as you are,” said Jim.

“One time,” I said, “out near the Canal du Nord, it was in August, eighteen, if I recollect…”

“Ease up a little,” said Jim, “just a little.”

“We were stopped,” I continued, “on account of our flanks having failed to keep up with us, so I had to put out some wire, just a temporary belt of wire, while we dug in and waited for a day or so…”

“Lift your left leg,” said Jim.

“That’s very wiry wire,” I admitted, after we had got most of it back somehow and laid the axe and a few stakes on it to hold it down.

“I’ll sit on it,” said Jim, “right here on the ground while you work it out carefully and fasten one end to the first stake.”

So Jim sat on the rather untidy coil while I sought out the end of the wire and slowly edged out yard after yard of it until I had enough to reach the first post, up near the house end of the proposed fence. With staples I secured it firmly and wound it several times around the post.

“Now,” I said.

“Good heavens,” said Jim.

For now, having secured one end, we had the whole coil on the ground before us to thread through the holes of the dozen remaining pickets.

“Mmm,” said I. “I guess we should have threaded it first, eh?”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we always put the shell in the breech before we fired the gun.”

“I’ll thread this end,” I explained. “It will all come to the same thing.”

It did. In removing a few more coils, Jim eased up just a trifle too high and a whole burst of coils leaped front tinder him and, like lariats, flung themselves around me before I could grasp the situation and let go my end. Jim seeing me trapped, foolishly leaped up to help me and as he did so, the clever coils had him. In a moment, we were both netted in the wire, which, every time you freed yourself of one coil seized you with another.

“Up around Arras,” asked Jim, “what did you do when this kind of thing happened?”

“It didn’t happen,” I declared. “We had proper wire. Barbed wire. Wire that had some sense to it.”

“I suppose all you had to do was call the troops, and they uncoiled you?” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, as I shoved the coils down off my chest and legs, only releasing them to have them snare Jim instead. “I think you might remember that I sunk most of those pickets for you. I did the digging. I did the pounding.”

“It was your experience with wire that I wanted,” said Jim. “Even gunners can dig holes.”

We gradually got free of the wire, and it committed a few more twangs and leaps and futile snatches in our direction and then subsided into a large, loose and twisted tangle in the middle of Jim’s garden.

“Now let’s see,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said. “I promised my boys I’d drive them over for an ice cream soda before bed.”

“Good old infantry,” said Jim.

So when I looked back as I went down the gate steps, Jim was standing, the way the gunners always did, just looking down with his hands in his pockets.

Fireworks!

May 23, 1936

May 24 is Victoria Day and is a Canadian public holiday, currently celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25. Initially in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday, it has since been celebrated as the official birthday of Canada’s sovereign. It used to be colloquially referred to as “Firecracker Day”, as it used to be the only holiday when fireworks were shown. Though fireworks are still used, it was overtaken over 40 years ago by Canada Day on July 1st.

Grape Nuts Ad – 5/2/36

May 2, 1936

This is another in the series of Grape Nuts ads by Jim featuring “Ernie Energy”.

Egged On

“It’s one way of making a living,” said the chicken farmer. “I clear $15 a week…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 25, 1936

“Every man,” said Jimmie Frise, “should have a profitable side line.”

“For instance,” I suggested.

“Rich men,” said Jim, “have their successful business. But on the side, they invest their profits in stocks and bonds. Pretty soon, they are making as much money with their investments as they are in their business. In fact, after a while, they become so interested in the market, they regard their regular business as a side line.”

“But what kind of a side line,” I asked, “could plain people like you and me have?”

“Well, for example,” said Jim, “you’re a writer. You could raise pedigreed dogs as a side line.”

“I raise hounds now, for my own pleasure,” I retorted, “and they cost me a small fortune.”

“Hounds, yes,” said Jim. “But I mean profitable dogs, like Pekingese or dachshunds.”

“How about you?” I submitted. “You’re an artist. What could you do for a side line? Why don’t you start up a little factory for making some artistic article of common use like lamp shades?”

“It takes capital to start a factory,” said Jim. “My idea of a side line is something that takes no effort and no expense.”

“All you need,” I countered, “is a little one-room shop and two smart girls, to start with. You are full of artistic ideas. Your true self can’t express itself in cartoons only. Here you are a master of line and color, a man endowed with artistic talent of the highest order. But just because you made your first hit with a cartoon, you’ve spent your life cartooning.”

“I’ve often thought of taking up serious painting,” admitted Jim. “Landscapes, and so forth.”

“No money in it,” I assured him. “But you take this lamp shade idea. A little one-room factory. Start with only two girls. You design the shades. One girl to cut them out. The other to color them. I bet you Jim Frise lamp shades would be in a class with Baxter prints in no time. No fashionable home, no collector, could afford not to have a few Frise lamp shades.”

“What kind of lamp shades have you in mind?” asked Jim, interested.

“That’s for you to decide,” I pointed out. “You’re the artist. Do you realize the ordinary home in this city has an average of thirty lamp shades in it? Bridge lamps and wall brackets, ceiling fixtures and table lamps. And how dreadfully the same are they all? Silk or glass or parchment. I tell you, Jim, there is a very real need for something new and beautiful in lamp shades.”

“Have you any ideas?” Jim asked.

“If I had,” I snorted, “would I be a newspaper writer? My dear boy, it is ideas that count. Anybody with reasonable skill or training can carry out other people’s ideas. It is ideas that make the fortunes.”

“It keeps me busy thinking up ideas for cartoons,” said Jim.

Thinking Up a Side Line

“Listen,” I cried, “a man who can think up a new idea for a cartoon week after week, year after year, for twenty years, ought to be smart enough to think up about six ideas for lamp shades. Think, Jimmie. A lamp shade. Artistically, it has every advantage on its side. It has light behind it. Being lighted, it instinctively attracts the eye. We spend big money on rugs, pictures, furniture, to make an artistic room. And then we break our necks trying to discover a lamp shade that will attract no attention at all. It’s wrong. Jim. The lamp shade ought to be as much an artistic feature of the room as the painting over the mantel, or the curtains and drapes.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “But what kind of a lamp shade do you suggest?”

“I don’t suggest any,” I snorted indignantly. “If anybody could suggest lamp shades, they would have made the money long ago. The only opportunity there is in this idea of mine lies with your power, as a creative artist, to think up some new ideas in lamp shades.”

“It’s funny,” said Jim. “I can’t think of any.”

“Very well,” I said, “let’s drop it. I was only trying to help you find a side line. But obviously we are barking up the wrong tree.”

“My idea of a side line,” said Jim, “is one that would practically run itself. Like chicken farming.”

“Chicken farming!” I exclaimed.

“It’s a great life,” said Jim. “Buy a bunch of chickens. Feed them a couple of times a day. You don’t even have to go to feed them, the way you have to go and feed cows. You just open the back door, call ‘chiiiich-chik-chik-chik’ and they come running. All that remains to be done is walk out once a day, along about sundown, and gather the eggs.”

“Now there,” I admitted, “is a side line.”

“Can you imagine,” said Jim, raptly, “a life more delightful than owning a nice little chicken ranch somewhere about fifteen or twenty miles outside the city? Say, four or five acres of pleasant land, with pine trees on a hill.”

“And a brook,” I offered, “running through it, full of little trout about eight inches.”

“Far enough outside the city,” said Jim, “to be free of the curse of city life. Yet near enough to the city that you can run in whenever you like to see a movie or to shop.”

“Not really a chicken rancher,” I added, “but a country gentleman.”

“That’s it,” agreed Jim. “Country gentlemen. We could have a nice little house, and fill it up with our sporting equipment, the walls covered with guns and creels and snowshoes. I can see it.”

“But where could we get such a place?” I demanded suddenly. “If chicken ranching is so lovely, we wouldn’t be able to buy a ranch for love or money.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, there are any number of little chicken ranches for sale. It’s strange, but true. Hundreds of people get the same idea we have here. But they don’t make a go of it.”

A Marvellous Idea

“Ah,” said I, “why?”

“Because it is so lazy a life,” said Jim. “It gets them. A young couple, for instance, will suddenly get the idea of going back to the land. They are tired of the city. Tired of making a living like slaves. So they throw up their job, borrow a few hundred from their parents, and go chicken ranching.”

“They’re too young,” I explained. “We’re old enough to know our own mind.”

“It isn’t that, it’s the laziness,” said Jim. “I know about this. I have had dozens of friends try it. It’s the dreadful laziness. You see, there is nothing to do all day long but lie around listening to the low, comfortable clucking of the hens. They don’t have roosters on the modern ranches. So there is no triumphant yell of roosters to give the scene a more lively air. Just the day-long, slow, quaaaa, qua, qua, qua, of hens, scratching in the dust.”

“How peaceful it would be,” I sighed.

“For a while, yes,” agreed Jim. “And with nothing to do all day long but come and throw feed from the back step, and once a day to walk around the hen houses and collect the eggs. It begins to wear on the ranchers. The wife begins to neglect her hair. She starts, after a few weeks, to wear nothing but a print wrapper all day. The husband decides to shave only twice a week, and for such jobs as he has to do, he pulls his rubber boots on over his pajamas. Then he comes back and goes to sleep. It is that awful, day-long sleepy squaw-squawking of the hens.”

“It’s not a bad life,” I offered,

“It gets them,” said Jim. “It gets them. They start quarrelling. The dreadful monotony works on them. They both long for a little action, a little excitement. After a couple of quarrels, the wife comes into town to stay with her parents a few days. She comes back to find her husband with a six-day stubble on his face and he forgot to wash. The dishes aren’t done, and there is a general air of the Deep South about the ranch. That finishes it. Another chicken ranch is for sale.”

“How could we run such a place, as a side line?” I inquired

“Don’t you see?” asked Jim. “Day about. Neither of us needs to be at the office all day every day. We take turn about spending one day at work and the next day at the ranch. Only a half hour outside the city. Our families would not object. Not at our age. We could explain that we need the change in order to rest our spirits after the strain of creative work.”

“A marvellous idea, Jim,” I confessed.

“Taking it day about,” said Jim, “it would never pall on us. Neither of us could get slovenly. On our alternate day of peace, we could think of scores of ideas for our regular work. It would be a hundred per cent.”

Looking Things Over

“How much do you suppose we could make?” I asked.

“I know one chicken farmer,” said Jim, “who has survived the ordeal, and he says he makes clear about fifty dollars a week.”

“Twenty-five bucks apiece,” I cried, “Jim, think of the fishing tackle and guns we could buy with that! Think of the trips we could take! Nipigon, and down to Pelee Island for pheasants, and a real moose hunt.”

“Who’d run the ranch on all these holidays?” pointed out Jim.

“Don’t let that discourage us,” I hastened. “Jim, you’re a man of brains. Let’s make inquiries without delay.”

So Jim telephoned out to his friend in the country who is making a success of his chickens, and he arranged to show us over the ranch next day, to give us an idea.

His place was on a highway, and I timed it. It was just 23 minutes from the city limits until we turned down a lane and saw before us a nice little painted frame house and about six long, low chicken houses.

The entire area was as bare as a schoolyard, and all fenced in with high chicken wire. And inside this barren and lifeless compound were about a million white chickens.

The air was a din of low sound. As we drove up, nary a chicken so much as looked at us. They were not the fat, comfortable hens I had in mind. They were slim and pigeon-like pullets, snowy white, with bright scarlet combs. And all busier than wheels in a wrist watch. Busy scratching running, hurrying. Busy clucking and skwarping and muttering in low chicken voices. Busy as the deuce at one spot on the bleak and barren soil, and then darting quickly a few feet, busier than ever at another equally barren patch of hard dry earth.

Out of the low red houses they fluttered. Into the low red houses they fluttered. There was a sense of ceaseless anxiety, hurry and excitement. An excitement surrounded with a low muttering sound, as if all the hens were swearing desperately, at the fruitless and hopeless round of their lives.

I sat in the car while Jim walked up to the house to get his friend. Ceaselessly the hens moved in a dense throng like a sea of white feathers. Ceaselessly they squawed and muttered and yelped suddenly with sharp sideways jumps. Their din was confusing at first. And then it became distressing. I stood up and waved my arms wildly to change the tempo. But except for an automatic flutter on the part of a few of the nearer chickens, it never made so much as a pause in their dreadful murmuring.

Chickens, I said to myself, attempting to reason myself into a better mental attitude towards them, chickens are man’s best friend. Not dogs, not horses, but chickens. Long ages before man dared to try and captivate a well and train it into a dog, he doubtless had wheedled these silly birds out of the jungle and into the front porch of the cave. Countless centuries before man ever had the courage to try to lasso a horse and convert it patiently into a harmless slave, man had so weaned chickens away from nature that a chicken would not dare return to the jungle.

And what a friend the chicken has proved? If the two billion people in the world all eat an egg a day. . . let’s see? . . . in a year, that will be what?

And the faster the hens laid eggs, the healthier men got, and the more people there were to eat eggs, and the more hens were needed to lay eggs. Maybe, I mused, the chicken, that willing provider of man’s most tasty and nourishing food, was the real source of man’s evolution from a furred animal to a relative of the gods. Chickens, I decided, and not lions or eagles, should be the emblem of all intelligent nations.

Back came Jim with his friend, a short leathery man in canvas overalls. He liked like a rooster. His bright, beady eyes and sharp nose gave me the idea that he was about to rise on his toes and crow at any minute.

“Well, boys,” he cackled sharply. “what is it you’d like to see?”

“I Feel a Little Dizzy”

“We were thinking of taking up chicken ranching as a side line,” Jim explained. “And we just wanted an idea of the layout.”

“Well, that’s all there is to it,” he cackled. Some chicken houses, nesting boxes, an enclosure, and there you are.”

“What’s the routine?” asked Jim.

“I get up about half an hour before daybreak,” said our friend. “Patrol the property to see no owls have been in. Then I carry water to them, about fourteen pails, and next I mix the feed and feed them. That takes me to about 8 a.m., and then I eat breakfast.”

“Breakfast,” said I.

“Then,” said the rancher, “I spend the morning cleaning the houses. That’s a good morning’s job. You have to keep these houses spotless, or you’re up to your neck in vermin and disease. Some afternoons I spend driving to town for feed and other days I deliver the eggs to market. The rest of the time, I am grading eggs, packing them or doing special trapping in the nests. Other days I have to do killing. Usually I’m through by 10 p.m., and then I’m glad to go to bed.

“I should say,” I agreed.

“But,” he said, “it’s one way of making a living. I clear $15 a week…”

“Fifty?” I interrupted.

“Fifteen,” said the rancher. “If I was clearing 50, I wouldn’t call the king my nephew.”

“I thought you said 50,” said Jim.

“Fifty, mercy,” said the rancher. “What do you think I am, an artist or a writer? Now let’s go and see the houses.”

We entered the wire enclosure and waded through a vast white pool of chickens which fluttered and made way and closed again around us. As we approached the first low red house, 40 chickens launched themselves madly from within, fluttering wildly and uttering lamentable cries, and my hat was knocked off by them. As we entered the warm shanty, other chickens that had not escaped charged insanely about, banging themselves against wire partitions and scrambling frantically in all directions.

“Pay no attention,” said our host.

But a white hen in one of the little lidded boxes all along the wall fixed me with a glittering eye, suddenly leaped from the nest, and, frantically fluttering, passed over me and dropped a hot egg square on the top of my head. Naturally, it broke.

“Nervous,” said the rancher, scooping palmful of the egg off my hair. “These high bred chickens are all nerves.”

The startled sounds of our entry had silenced as suddenly as they had begun, but the world was full of that low, querulous din again, the scraping, droning, muttering sound of a vast throng of passionless creatures devoid of hope or rest.

“Jim,” I said, “I feel a little dizzy. It must be the warmth in here. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you outside.”

So I escaped from the enclosure, hurried out the lane and sat afar on a snake fence and watched a groundhog on a knoll until Jim, in due time for Jim, came along with the car and we drove home.

“How about it?” asked Jim, slipping into high.

“It’s out,” I said, shifting my hat so it would not get stuck to my hair.


Editor’s Notes: More Chickens! Following last week’s posting of a later 1941 story, this week’s was earlier when they thought bigger. Maybe they learned that they should think smaller in 1941, which resulted in more success (if it were not for the neighbours)?

“I wouldn’t call the king my nephew” and “I wouldn’t call the queen my aunt” were phrases that meant “I am happy with my situation.” The idea is that even becoming royalty could not improve your position.

Happy Landings

April 4, 1936

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