Tag: 1936 Page 1 of 2
By Greg Clark, May 9, 1936
“After lunch,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ll drop in at that auction sale place. There’s a sale of unclaimed packages.”
“Surprise packages, eh?” I consented.
“It’s good fun,” said Jim. “I’ve been to lots of them but I never bought anything.”
“If we go, we’ve got to buy something,” I stated, “because you really haven’t been to an auction sale unless you buy something. It’s like going to the races and not betting on a horse.”
“O.K.,” agreed Jim. “It won’t cost us much. Lots of the packages and bundles go for a few cents. Twenty cents, thirty cents.”
“You never can tell what you’ll get,” I pointed out. “I once heard of a man who bought a common little paper package at one of those unclaimed baggage sales, and when he opened it up, he found wrapped inside of five or six coverings of newspaper, a small box containing a diamond and ruby brooch. He sold it for $1,800.”
“I heard of another case,” said Jim darkly, “where a man bought a small trunk for two dollars and in it was a human leg.”
“You have no imagination, Jim,” I protested. “You don’t seem to understand the secret of happiness, and that is always to expect. Always expect something nice, something valuable, something exciting. And even though it never comes, you feel good.”
“I go by the reverse system,” said Jim. “I expect the worst. I look forward to nothing. I fear no good can come of anything, and when some good does come of it, look how surprised and delighted I am.”
“I suppose,” I agreed, “one way of looking at life is as good as another. What is to be is to be, and no amount of guessing one way or the other can change it.”
“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I was at one of these auctions one time and a terrible thing happened to me. A terrible thing. A funny-looking canvas valise came up. It was pretty greasy-looking and battered and rubbed. It looked like a prospector’s packsack. When I looked at it, I had a hunch I ought to bid for it. The auctioneer begged for bids but nobody rose to it. The auctioneer said it might contain nuggets of solid gold. But the way he was lifting it around, we could see there were no nuggets in it. It was light. Finally a man bid a quarter for it. And it went bang.”
“What was in it?” I begged.
“I followed the buyer,” said Jim, “out to the door of the auction room, where most of the buyers take a peek at their purchase. Before my eyes, that man drew forth a forty dollar pistol, a prismatic compass worth about $20, a fly rod in aluminum case, fly books, English reels, compact cooking kit nesting into a single large pail, in fact everything I have wanted all my life but never could afford.”
“Why didn’t you make him an offer?” I asked.
“Make him an offer?” cried Jim. “I followed him half way across the city, but all he would say was that he was something of a sportsman himself.”
“I hope we get a couple of hunches today,” I breathed.
“You never can tell,” said Jim. “The worst looking packages often contain the valuables, and vice versa.”
Hostage to Fortune
Jim and I hurried through a sandwich and walked briskly across downtown to the auction rooms where the unclaimed goods sale was in full fling. The customers were mostly pretty seedy-looking individuals, mostly men who looked as if all other hope in life was pretty well spent, and that this auction sale was their last despairing effort. Automobile tires were being offered when we arrived, new-looking, but, as Jimmie pointed out, if you could see what was really the matter with them you would know why they were unclaimed.
In a few moments, the tires were exhausted, and then began a series of surprising items. A large coil of galvanized wire, which went, after a brief bid, for thirty cents; a paper package tied with a dirty rope which went for twenty cents and turned out to be a beautiful set of lace curtains; a cardboard box mysteriously sealed with sticky paper, forty cents, and it contained, when the man opened it, a tin contraption that looked like part of something which even if completed, wouldn’t mean anything.
Then came a suitcase, cheap, aged and sagging, its handle repaired with string. A pair of men went ten cents at a time to sixty cents for it, in low, doubtful voices. And the one who won opened it to reveal a heap of soiled shirts, socks, red bandana handkerchiefs all the worse for use. He put it under his arm and went off with it. His last sixty cents shot. Hostage to fortune.
“Hm,” said Jim, as we stood on the outer fringe of the crowd, “not much doing to-day. I thought there would be packing cases and everything.”
“In times like these,” I explained, “if anything has any value whatsoever, it will be claimed.”
“Now here,” cried the auctioneer, “item one-sixty, is something out of the ordinary.”
A box about a foot square was lifted heavily shoulder-high by two strong men serving on the auction platform. It was bound with metal tape. It was fastened with screw nails. A flurry of interest stirred the crowd.
“Who can say what is in this?” demanded the auctioneer. “Would it be valuable instruments of some sort, or something in valuable metals? What am I offered for this unusual item, ladies and gentlemen?”
“Twenty-five cents,” said a determined voice. And instantly it snapped up by quarters and dimes, to a dollar, then to two dollars and then to three.
“Should we get in on this?” I asked Jim.
“No,” advised Jim. “What we want to bid on is something useless looking. It’s the surprise we are after.”
*Right,” said I, and listened while the bids went higher and higher, to four dollars and seventy cents before they slackened and came to a solid stop.
“Come, gentlemen,” the auctioneer cried. “this box is obviously a valuable article, you can see it is fastened with metal bands and secured with screw nails instead of common nails. In this box is something unusual, strange, valuable. I cannot understand why it is left unclaimed, unless its owner mysteriously passed away, before he had a chance to call for it at the express office. Who knows but what some great enterprise is held up all for the want of whatever is in this box?”
“Aha,” said I.
But the bidding stopped flat at four-eighty. And a well dressed but hard-faced middle-aged man took the box and carried it to the doorway to have a look at it.
“You’ve got something there, mister,” I said agreeably.
“Stand back and mind your own affairs,” said the gentleman with accustomed rudeness. He borrowed a screw driver from one of the luckier members of the audience and pried the box open. Jim and I stood discreetly and watched. When the lid was removed from the heavy little box, it appeared filled with silver. The gentleman pinched some of it with his fingers. He removed a note that lay on the top of the contents of the box. Read it. And suddenly flinging the note down on the floor, he rose and stamped angrily from the auction room.
Battle of Bidders
Jim stepped over and picked up the note. It was on the letterhead of a sand and gravel corporation in Montreal and it said:
“We are sending you herewith a working sample of our water-washed granite sand, No. 412X.”
“Let that be a lesson to you,” said Jim.
“Guys that look and act like that man,” I said, referring to the departed customer, “occasionally get their deserts.”
“But only occasionally,” agreed Jim.
And we returned to watching the sale.
More cardboard boxes with obvious things sticking out of them; a string of assorted old boots, a carpet, a case containing an oil burner that went for $16 after a bright tussle between two obvious dealers in such things, ladies’ hats, men’s hats, a crate of stove pipe.
Then came another string of seedy suitcases.
“Let’s bid in one of these,” suggested Jim.
“Let’s pick the worst looking one of all,” I submitted.
And when the auctioneer called item 189, the platform attendant held up as shabby a cheap and battered suitcase as ever it has been my lot to see. Its sides did not bulge; they sagged consumptively. It was torn and crudely sewn. Its handle was newer than the suitcase itself, a cheap handle fastened on by an amateur.
“Ten cents,” sang out Jimmie.
“Fifteen,” promptly shouted a hoarse voice from the far side of the crowd.
“Twenty,” said Jim.
“Twenty-five,” snarled the same voice.
And in no time at all, Jim and the unseen but foreign-voiced gentleman across the throng had run that old tramp of a suitcase up to two dollars!
“Don’t quit, Jim,” I hissed, “There is something odd about this.”
“Two-forty,” cried Jim, while the crowd stood rigid with excitement at the battle over the wreck.
At three dollars, the other bidder suddenly quit, with a despairing bellow of that amount Jim handed his three dollars over the heads of the throng and the suitcase was promptly passed from hand to hand over the crowd to Jimmie.
“It has nothing much in it,” said Jim, hefting it.
“Nix,” I said. “Is this the guy that was bidding?”
Two sinister-looking eastern Europeans were hastily coming around the edge of the crowd, keeping their eyes fastened on the suitcase, as if not to let it out of their view for one instant.
“Jim,” I said, “let’s get out of this. I don’t like the looks of these two customers.”
We walked out the auction room door into the street. And right on our heels, breathing down our necks, came the two foreigners.
We turned west. They followed, and walking quickly alongside of us, the larger of them leaned close and said, with an unpleasant and ingratiating smile:
“Please, boss, please!”
He had an old scar, such as a knife would make, across one cheek and it drew the corner of his mouth up viciously.
“What do you want?” said Jim, halting.
“Beat it,” I commanded.
“Please, boss,” repeated the larger one, and the shorter one squared around to block our passing.
“What do you want?” shouted Jim.
“Please,” wheedled the big one, reaching for the suitcase.
Jim leaped back, holding the suitcase behind him.
“What do you want? Speak up!” Jim glowered.
“No spik,” said the foreigner, shaking his head. “No spik. No money. No more. No spik. Pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssseee.”
And again he made a lurch for the suitcase, casting at the same instant a meaningful and sinister glance at his partner.
With a strong and adroit movement, the smaller man thrust me aside, and snatched the suitcase from Jim’s hand behind him.
“Haaaallp,” we roared, as the two thieves dashed down one of the streets past the market towards the waterfront. And we gave furious chase. Half a dozen people stopped and stared. But nobody helped. Nobody ever does. No policemen were in sight. Traffic didn’t even slow down to help us. Everything went right on as usual in the street while, headed on swift legs for the waterfront, we saw our thieves vanishing, and Jim and I puffing badly, brought up a vain rear.
“Jim.” I gasped, as we slowed up to a fast walk. “I bet you the crown jewels of Roumania or something were in that suitcase.”
“Too light,” said Jim. “No weight. But it’s funny.”
“Those were sinister-looking men,” I said. “I don’t feel like tackling them anywhere down here on the waterfront.”
“Like to know what was in there,” said Jim. “Why they were so desperately anxious.”
“High graders,” I suggested. “Full of gold.”
“No weight,” said Jim. “Perhaps papers or plans. Incriminating. Perhaps jewels. Very mysterious.”
We walked rapidly down to the Esplanade and halted at the railway tracks, looking down the lines of standing freight cars. We caught our breath.
“Jim, that was like out of a crime story,” I said. “Perhaps it is just as well we didn’t keep the suitcase. Maybe those birds would have followed us to our homes and committed murder. Maybe they were part of a gang.”
“Nix,” said Jim, “here they come.”
And astonishingly, from behind some freight cars, appeared our two villains, advancing straight for us.
“How about ducking,” I said. “Back up to good old King street, huh?”
“Wait,” said Jim.
The two advanced straight for us smiling fiercely yet apologetically. The large one was carrying a letter in his hand. Holding it out to show us.
“Please,” he said. “No spik. Please.”
“Come, come,” said Jim, “what is all this my man?”
“No spik,” repeated the big fellow. “You come?” He carried the suitcase without any fear. Up the street he led us back east past the auction rooms, and beyond.
“Here, where are you taking us?” I demanded.
“Please,” repeated the big fellow in a coaxing voice. “No spik. Some spik. Some spik come.”
With elaborate foreign gestures, he bade us wait while he and his friend stepped up to the door of an old house. In a moment a third foreigner appeared, and they engaged in furious conversation in a language that sounded as if its gears were clashing.
“Jim,” I said, “it’s bread daylight. But just the same…”
The foreigner who lived in the house came out and advanced to us.
“My friends,” he said slowly, “wish to apologize. They have lose their suitcase. It go for sale. In the suitcase is letter with address of their brother in west. In town with name they cannot remember.”
He held out the letter. We read the town. Tzouhalem, B.C.
“Mm, mm,” agreed Jim.
“He no find brother,” explained the interpreter, “he go die, he go starve, he no find his brother without that letter. He find at last suitcase. You buy.”
“Aaaaaah,” we said.
“He no steal, he just borrow,” said the interpreter. “He give you suitcase now.”
The big one held forth the suitcase.
“Aw, you keep it,” said Jim. “We only bought it for fun.”
“Please,” said the big foreigner, gratefully.
And we shook hands all around.
“Which shows,” said Jim, as we went back to the office and work, “that what is one man’s fun is another man’s tragedy.”
Editor’s Notes: $1 in 1936 would be about $18.50 in 2020.
By Greg Clark, February 8, 1936
“It’s the axle,” said Jimmie Frise.
“Then,” stated I, not indignantly, “we’re here for the night.”
“I guess so,” said Jim, staring around the strange little village, with its steamy windows throwing a faint light on the deep snow banks piled high against little stores, sheds, cottages.
“What does the garage man say?” I asked.
“He says it’s the axle,” replied Jim. “And it will take at least three hours to fix, and he’s got an engagement tonight.”
“An engagement?” I cried. “Do you mean to say he won’t fix our car because he’s got an engagement? An engagement? Whoever heard of garageman having an engagement?”
“He’s a very nice young fellow,” said Jim. “I told him we weren’t going any place except fox hunting, and we’d put up here for the night.”
“Is there a hotel?” I demanded.
“No, but he said he would run around and find a place for us.”
“Some old widda,” I snorted. “Damp spare beds, unslept in for fifteen years. An ice cold spare room, with golden oak dresser and an afghan…”
“Well, it’s a broken axle,” reminded Jim.
I entered the garage with Jimmie and we stood looking at the car, from under which scrambled a handsome young man wiping his hands hastily on waste.
“Well, young man,” said I, “I hear you’ve got an engagement. Do you suppose there is anything two visitors like us might do in this town?”
The young chap studied us excitedly for a moment.
“You might like to come with us,” he said.
“A sleighing party,” said he.
Jim and I looked at each other.
“I haven’t been on a sleighing party,” cried Jim, “for thirty years!”
“Perhaps the young ladies,” I said, “wouldn’t care to have a couple of elderly strangers horn in on what really is a very merry and intimate occasion.”
“It’s a stag sleighing party,” said the young garage man. “That is, kind of.”
“Stag?” said I, “What is it, a lodge? Or a Liberal rally?”
“It’s a kind of church affair,” explained the young fellow, unbuttoning his brown overalls and starting to peel out of them. He did not look to me like a Bible class young man.
“We’ll come,” said Jim, eagerly. “I don’t fancy going to bed at a quarter past eight.”
“Come on, then,” said the lad. “We can arrange where you stay after we come back. Leave it to me.”
So we left our bags and hunting gear in the car and followed the young chap out into the wintry world where he led us at a fast swinging stride up the village street under a moon so glorious, so round and radiant. it was like day. There was an air of excitement about our young friend. Past the church we hastened, where lights glowed in the basement windows. Past the end cottages. Out a couple of hundred yards past the end of the village, to a side road.
A Little Bit Puzzling
“Gents,” said the young man, “we are gathering at a farmhouse a little way up. Will you wait here? Just till I explain to the boys who you are.”
“Fine, fine,” said Jim and I. “It’s a lovely night to be waiting at a crossroads.”
And he left us and sped away up the road, while we stood under the splendor of the winter moon, amid the deep drifts, inhaling the crystal air and looking back at the shadowy village with its quiet lights.
“Jim,” I cried, “what a great way to live. Just drop down into a village like this, and right away enter into the heart of it.”
“Ah, the country,” said Jim, waving his arms and beating his chest with them. “The longer I live, the more foolish I feel for ever coming into a city.”
“Think,” I said, “of the simplicity and beauty of this life. This gentle village. This wide, quiet world of snow and moonlight. Of peace and kindliness.”
“Compare it,” said Jim, addressing the wide empty night, “with the strife and warfare of cities. That splendid young man we are with. So excited over a simple thing like a sleighing party. In a city, that young man would have to be up to all sorts of hellery to work up an excitement like this. Just a sleighing party. A church affair.”
Far off, we heard sleigh bells. We stared up the road and presently saw a big object moving down the snowy road towards us.
“Jim,” I stated, “there is an innocence about country life that we have lost in cities forever.”
“I thank heaven,” confessed he, “that I am still able to be thrilled by a sleighing party.”
And thrilled we were, as the mellow jangle of the sleigh bells grew louder, and the huge sleigh, hauled by sturdy horses, squealed across the snowy road towards us, and we heard the ringing laughter and shouts of young men.
The sleigh pulled up and our friend, accompanied by three or four other young chaps, leaped out and welcomed us gaily. And in a moment we were being hoisted aboard the sleigh and buried deep in buffalo robes and heavy blankets smelling richly of horse.
Beside me sat a very short, heavily built young man who seemed, under his rowdy cap, to be the least likely member of a young men’s Bible class I had ever met with.
“What an interesting group,” I said to him, as the sleigh lurched forward and the whip cracked and the bells and voices raised a din. “I understand this is some sort of church affair?”
“Sort of,” admitted the heavy youth, huskily.
“I associate church sleighing parties,” I conversed, “with a more, a more … shall I say?… a more …”
“Sissy?” helped the young man.
“Well, not sissy, exactly, but a less muscular and hearty type of young man,” I explained. “More reserved. Your companions are such a gay and hearty lot. It must be wonderful to attend a meeting of your Bible class.”
“It sure must be,” admitted the young fellow beside me, and he started a song. It wasn’t exactly a sleighing party song. The last time I heard it was east of Arras twenty years ago.
So there I sat, across from Jim, while we lurched and tugged through the night, under the ambient moon, turning north off the highway into a road aisled with tall cedars and balsams, and the young men sang and shouted gaily, and at the front, a group of the party stood up and cheered the horses on.
The horses, as a matter of fact, plodded much more rapidly than any I remembered of old sleighing parties. I remarked this to Jimmie.
“Sleighing parties,” he confessed across to me, over the fragrant buffalo robes, “seem to have pepped up.”
And after we had lurched and jangled two or three miles up lonely country roads, we sensed a gathering excitement in our twenty friends. Many of them leaped out and ran beside the sleigh at the hills and grades. And the crowd up at the driver’s seat, standing, were like rooters at a game.
“This is a curious sleighing party,” I shouted to Jim.
And then we heard our friends shouting:
“There they are, there they are! Giddap, giddap, sktch, sktch, give ’em the gad, Tom.”
Jim and I stood up. Far ahead on the road we beheld a dark object.
“Another sleigh,” cried Jim.
“It’s a race,” I exclaimed. “Let’s hop out and help.”
So Jim and I got out and ran beside the sleigh, holding on. The big sleigh sped, the bells clashed and sang and twenty figures bobbed and leaped alongside, while the driver of our sleigh wielded his whip and the horses broke into a blundering canter.
“They see us!” shouted someone.
And the sleigh ahead, which we had been rapidly overtaking, began to move more quickly.
With shouts and urgings, with bells and squealing of runners, we chased. I got winded and managed to haul myself aboard the sleigh. Presently Jim joined me.
“What thrill,” I shouted. “But what a shame our side is handicapped by us.”
“We were invited,” gasped Jim, recovering his wind.
“A racing sleigh party,” I cried, “Who ever heard of such a delightful way to spend a night. It takes the country to think things up.”
Now we could see dark figures piling out of the sleigh ahead and running alongside to lighten it. But slowly, slowly, we gained on them. Through another dark aisle of cedar and spruce we plunged and again out into a wide and shining open stretch. But ahead loomed a slow rise and when our plunging friends outside the sleigh saw that, they yelled in triumph. And steadily, steadily, we overlook the other party.
As we neared, it seemed to me like a boarding party in the old pirate days. I could hear the shrill screaming of feminine voices. Snowballs, hunks of hard snow off the road whizzed past us. When a piece of wood about the size of a stove stick thudded into the sleigh, I began to get anxious.
“Jim,” I said, “I don’t like this.”
But already we were overtaking the first sleigh, and crowding past it, forcing it over towards the ditch. Already some of our party had bounded ahead and were clasped in mortal combat with men who leaped out of the leading sleigh. Inside of half a minute, amid the screams of girls, the jangling of bells and the snorts of excited horses, twenty wild fighting figures were tumbling in the show, with yells, grunts and shouts and thuds. And suddenly over the side of our sleigh came very large young man who dealt me terrific punch on the side of the head, one of those country swings, and then trampling all over me, charged bull-like at Jimmie.
The Annual Thrill
Thus we were engaged in speechless heaving and grabbing and heavy breathing amidst the tumult for a few moments, until I heard a girl’s voice above me saying: “Oh, you brutes.”
But by the time we got to our feet, while the fighting was still going on in spots and spasms, out along the ditches and fences I saw my short heavy friend, grasping a girl by the elbow with each hand and dragging them from the other sleigh into ours.
And inside of one minute, the whole entire load of ladies was shifted. They yelled and laughed and protested. One young lady was weeping bitterly. Several strange young men charged forlornly at our sleigh but were violently thumped and tripped and flung backwards. Meanwhile, two or three of our party were unhitching the horses of the other sleigh, and presently brought them around and tied them to the back of ours. By this time our sleigh was jammed to suffocation and a valiant rearguard stood around us to beat off the failing attacks of the enemy. And with a final uproar of shouts of okay and ready we lurched into action and moved away.
Behind us, some of them following part way with fists shaking and gestures of despair, were left on the road the men of the first party.
And down under the vastly grinning men, we rode while girls’ voices screeched and laughed and still the young lady wept.
“Aw, cut it out, Grace,” called one girl from the tangled heap of robes and laughed.
“I won’t,” stamped the weeping girl. “I saw Eddie’s nose bleeding. You brutes.”
But presently there was singing, and working his way heavily back to Jim and me came the squat young man of my acquaintance leading large bundled figures behind him.
“That was the Bible class,” explained him to us. “Gents, I’d like to introduce our chaperones to you. They’ll be your partners, Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey.”
And Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey were squealing loudly the way chaperones do and waggled themselves space in the sleigh and sat with us, telling about the annual thrill when the church sleighing party is always ruined by the bad boys of the village.
With horses afore and aft, and merry bells thundering and songs rising one after another, we smothered across the white country and down the dark aisles and came at last to the village.
And in the village we drew up, with shouts and cheers, before the church where people came rushing out to welcome us and we all raced excitedly into the church basement where there was rich dark smell of coffee and long tables were spread under glaring lights with pies and cake and fruit and jam and sandwiches of ham, cheese, chopped egg, pork, cold beef, salmon, pickle salad and some private mixture that one never met before and never will meet again.
And there we ate and sang and ate again and looked at fifty bright and ruddy faces and eyes so clear and strange and filled with shy and lovely expressions that you never see in cities anymore; and a little old minister got up and spoke to this unexpected flock of young men, making hay while the sun shone, he explained; and after everything was eaten and the songs were being gone over for the third and even the seventh me seventh time – that seventh timer was the one about the music goes round and around ho,ooo,ooo,ooo – a few shy, angry young men came creeping down the basement entrance and into the door where they were met with loud and wild cheers of derision and crusts were flung at them; all but one brave, slim fellow with a bruised nose, who strode whitely and furiously in and sat down beside the little girl who had been weeping.
And under the silver radiance of the moonlight we went forth and Mrs. McGiffin took us into her house and she was a widda and the furious young man with the bruised nose was her son and we sat and had another tea and our room was the spare room, and the dresser was golden oak and there was an afghan and the floor was icy cold. But the bed was high and deep and dry and warm.
And the next morning we went fox hunting.
By Greg Clark, December 12, 1936
“Let’s see,” said Jimmie Frise, “how long is it to Christmas?”
“Yes,” I said scornfully, “how long have we left to be hard boiled and grasping and normal and natural until the one brief day when we are filled with sweetness and light?”
“Oh, hold on,” protested Jimmie. “The spirit of Christmas is a little wider than that I can feel the Christmas spirit now. You begin to feel it even in November. And I am sure it sort of lingers through until about the second of January.”
“It seems dreadful to me,” I declared, “that we should segregate our better feelings into certain times and seasons. Patriotism on July first. The spiritual at Easter. Moving on May first. Marriages in June. Why should we concentrate all our tenderest sentiments at the one Christmas season?”
“Thank heavens,” said Jim. “there are seasons that inspire us. I begin to get the Christmas urge along about now. I find myself looking tenderly at my family. I note a certain generosity in my handouts to bums. A mysterious expectation begins to stir in me, as if something very beautiful and unexpected but highly deserved might happen to me.”
“Personally,” I stated, “I feel pretty normal until about five p.m. Christmas Eve. That is about the time the family expects me to carry the Christmas tree in from the back yard and make it stand up in the living room. I guess it must be the sentimental smell of the evergreens. But about five p.m. the Christmas spirit hits me with a bang.”
“How long does it last?” asked Jim.
“It’s almost unbearable by midnight Christmas Eve,” I admitted, “when I find myself sneaking in for the fourth or even the fifth time to peek at the kids asleep. It lasts all Christmas morning and right through Christmas dinner, which is about one o’clock noon. But by four p.m. Christmas Day I’m pretty well over it. I’m sound and sane again by, say, five p.m.”
“That’s twenty-four hours,” figured Jim.
“Yeah,” I said, “by five p.m. Christmas Day I’m my old practical self once more. I’m through with nonsense. I want all the colored paper picked up. I want the toys and presents carried to their proper rooms and put away. I want the electric trains and that sort of junk removed from the living room floor and taken to the attic where they belong for the remainder of their life. I want a little quiet and peace in the house and I send the neighbor kids home.”
“By five p.m.?” said Jim.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m pretty average.”
“It seems a pity,” sighed Jim, “that when we are aware of the Christmas spirit we don’t seize on it and hold it all the time. I mean, if we were ignorant of the possibilities of human nature it wouldn’t be so bad. But when we DO know about Christmas how is it we willingly surrender that knowledge? It’s like knowing about sunshine, like knowing about a day in early June, with the sun glowing like a dream and everything green and lovely and the last iris on the stems and the first roses blooming and then deliberately choosing to have a day in November.”
Aching To Do Good Deeds
“As regards the Christmas spirit,” I said, “human nature is sound. It knows there are days in June and also days in November.”
“Are we never to do anything,” cried Jimmie passionately, “about human nature?”
“You can’t change human nature,” I pointed out, “any more than you can change oak nature or horse nature.”
“We’ve done something with horse nature,” said Jim, “and I don’t doubt we could do things with oak nature if it was worth the trouble.”
“But human nature,” I explained, “is tougher. Nobody has ever done anything with human nature yet.”
“The Christmas spirit,” cried Jimmie, as we sailed along the gravel highway, “is on me. I feel like doing glad and kindly deeds. I am prepared to think you are a merry and artless little man. If I were to see some poor old man carrying a bundle along this cheerful country road I would be inclined to stop the car and give him a lift.”
“The bundle,” I said, “would probably contain something loose and smelly.”
“Or if,” cried Jimmie, “I were to see a farmer along here stumping or maybe lifting big stones on to a stoneboat I’d be inclined to stop and help him.”
“We’ve got a two-hour drive to Toronto,” I warned him.
“I need,” said Jim loudly, “to do a good deed. I feel I will have bad luck if I don’t do a good deed. Something dark will befall me if I fail to live up to this feeling in me.”
“The good deed you can do,” I informed him, “is attend to your driving and spare my nerves by not weaving all over this gravel. That would be a kindness.”
But Jimmie was turning his gaze eagerly from side to side, looking for something to vent his goodwill upon. In the broad farm country there was nothing to see.
“A fence I could mend,” he was muttering. “Anything at all. A kind deed, in the name of Christmas.”
Ahead a car was standing by the roadside and, as we drove near, Jim let out a shout of joy.
The hood of the car was lifted. And nobody was in sight.
“Here’s the answer to my prayer,” said Jimmie, stopping opposite the derelict and shutting off the engine.
“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “It’s four o’clock and we said we’d be home for dinner.”
“Some poor fellow,” cried Jimmie, switching off his overcoat and digging into the pocket of the car door for an old pair of cotton work gloves he always carries there, “some poor fellow has gone for help, and it’s three or four miles to the next village. When he gets back his car will be fixed.”
“Don’t be fool, Jim,” I protested. “Maybe he doesn’t want anybody tinkering with his engine.”
But Jimmie had walked back to the other car and started his inspection.
“O.K.,” he called “He’s left his key in it. Just as I expected. Some gentle, innocent fellow, with no knowledge of mechanics.”
I got out and joined him.
“We’ve no time to waste,” I declared.
“It won’t take me five minutes,” said Jim. “You know me, I’ve owned all the crocks that are made. What I don’t know about engines hasn’t been invented yet.”
“It may be some serious injury,” I warned him. “Like the rear end gone or something. You might only wreck it.”
The Role of Unknown Friend
Jim got in and stepped on the starter. The starter hummed and turned the engine over. But there was no responding ignition.
“There you are,” cried Jim gaily. “Ignition. Or dirty points. Or carburetor trouble. I’ll find it in two shakes.”
“I wish you’d leave it alone,” I insisted.
But as he went to work with his wrench, taking out plugs and examining them, and rapidly checking over the wiring, he told me:
“If he isn’t back by the time I’m done, I’ll fasten down the hood again and leave a note. ‘Fixed. With the compliments of an unknown friend.’ Can you imagine the feelings of the man?”
“Suppose,” I asked, “he has gone and got a garage man? Suppose they come away out here in a tow truck? What will the feelings of the garage man be?”
“This car,” said Jimmie, “bears every evidence of belonging to a poor man, a man who cannot afford to hire tow trucks. I think he is more likely in one of those farm houses ahead, asking some farmer to come back and help him.”
“Hurry up,” I urged him. “It’s four-fifteen.”
So Jim wrenched and examined. He tested all the plugs and all the wiring. He removed the carburetor, cleaned it and put it back. I sat in the car, and as each step in the overhaul was completed, Jimmie asked me to step on the starter and see if she responds. But she did not respond.
“I would also say,” said Jim, resting his back, that this car belonged to a careless, happy-go-lucky man. Probably a very lovable type of person. Everything is neglected. The plugs were filthy. The wiring is almost rotten.”
Carefully adjusting the mixture on the carburetor, he asked me to step on her again. I did so.
“Jim,” I cautioned him. “I think by the sound of it this battery is getting weak. We’d better not do much more stepping on it.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” he said, bending into the vitals again.
He checked the starter connections and the timing. He followed all through the battery connections and removed and cleaned the terminals, which were caked with green corrosion. I stepped on it, still it wouldn’t go.
“Jim, this battery is certainly getting weak,” I insisted, “Let’s get going. You’ve done enough. You’ve done your best.”
“My best, ha?” said Jim, now quite greasy and smudged. “You’ve not seen my best yet, my lad.”
“What are you going to do now?” I begged.
“It may be water in the cylinders,” said Jim, “or leaky gaskets, or it might be the valves so sticky they won’t let go. In any case, off comes the casing.”
“Aw,” I said, getting out and starting to walk up the road in the hope of seeing the owner coming in the distance. But nobody was coming. And no smoke came from any of the chimneys of the distant farms. And no birds or animals or dogs moved.
The Owner Appears
When I got back, Jim had the car practically disemboweled. With the casing removed the valves stuck up black and gummy and decayed-looking Jim was wiping them and feeling under them with a nail file.
“The gasket was entirely worn out and retted,” he said, “He’ll have to have a new gasket anyway.”
“How will he get it?” I inquired. “Walk back for it or will we run his messages?”
“He’ll probably have a garage man with him,” said Jim easily. “I hope he has. What time is it now?”
“Four-fifty,” I said quietly.
“Step on it again.” said Jim
I stepped on it. But nothing happened. The starter suddenly stuck.
“There,” I said, “the battery’s quit.”
“She’ll be all right in a minute or two,” said Jim. “Well, it isn’t the valves and tappets.”
With the big wrench, he began to work on the nuts of the cylinder head.
“Wait a minute, Jim.” I shouted. “That’s a major operation.”
“It will have to be done by somebody,” he replied, with Christian fervor. “And now that I’m at it…”
He bent and swung at the corroded nuts. One by one he loosened them, drawing out the long pins and bolts. One of the corner nuts would not budge. He left it to the last. Then he went back at it with determination. With a grunt, it broke off, level with the top.
“A fine condition to let a car into,” cried Jim, angrily. “Now she is in a mess.”
“Anyway,” I informed him, “here comes somebody.”
Up the road, in the distance, a figure approached. He was carrying, we saw as he neared, a gasoline can. When he saw us at his car, he began to hurry. He was a small man, dark, foreign-looking.
“Hello, vot’s diss?” he called as he hastened towards us.
“We were just seeing if we couldn’t make your engine go for you,” replied Jim, heartily.
“You couldn’t make it go widout gas,” said the gentleman, and then he saw his engine. “Oy, oy, oy, oy!”
“It must be,” said Jim, “water in the cylinders.”
“It’s gas it run out of,” cried the little man, wildly. “And now you got it in pieces.”
“It was in bad shape,” said Jim. “I cleaned up your plugs and points …”
“Bad shape?” wailed the little man. “Bad shape? It was a good car. All she needed is a little gas.”
“She was positively dangerous,” stated Jim, heatedly. “In a dreadful shape.”
No Sense of Gratitude
“Fix her together again,” commanded the little man with sudden angry dignity. “Fix her right away together again.”
He pointed dramatically at the ruin.
“Well,” said Jim.
He tried to screw the cylinder head on but the broken nut at the corner left slight gape that both Jim and I knew would be fatal.
He fastened the lid back over the tappets, but there was no gasket except a few rugged tags of rotted cork. And he knew that would be bad.
Meanwhile the owner poured his can of gasoline into the tank at the back.
“There,” said Jimmie, hopefully, “get in and start her up.”
The stranger got in and stepped on his starter. No response. He trumped and stamped.
“You killed my battery,” he accused angrily, “Crank her.”
He got the crank and handed it to Jimmie. Jim cranked and yanked and swung. No results. The little stranger was getting madder every moment. He rolled his eyes to heaven in helpless expostulation. Jim rested a moment and the stranger leaned out the window:
“What do you want to fiddle with my car anyhow?” he asked
“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “It was just an impulse to do a kindly act.”
“She was running beautiful,” wailed the stranger. “And how she won’t run at all. Crank her again.”
Jim cranked and I cranked, and we adjusted the carburetor and altered the mixture and choked and unchoked.
Suddenly the stranger got out.
“Look,” he said, “I’m a business man. I got business. I’m in a hurry. I tell you I’ll take your car and you take mine. When you got her going bring it here, and get your car back.”
“No you don’t,” said Jimmie.
“No I don’t?” shouted the little man furiously. “I leave my car and go to get some gas. I come back and two…”
“All right, all right,” said Jim. “We’ll drive you back into town and pay for the garage man to come out.”
“I got business,” said the stranger. “It’s me will drive you into town and you come back with the garage man…”
And that’s the way it was, Jimmie going in as a passenger in his own car and returning in half an hour, in the dark, with the tow truck. The garage man towed us in the stranger’s car to his repair shop, refastened the cylinder head, twiddled this and that and cranked her, and away she went. Four dollars.
It was seven p.m.
“Jim,” I said, as we drove carefully homeward in the rickety car, “the least you can do, the Christian thing, would be to have his battery recharged.”
“To heck with him,” said Jimmie “He has no sense of gratitude.”
Editor’s Notes: Some jurisdictions had traditional “moving days” in the past when leases would come due and many people would move. In New York City, it was May first. It was the same in Quebec, until moving day was moved to July first, in 1973. It still exists today.
By Greg Clark, October 3, 1936
“Paris,” said Jimmie Frise; “Paris, aaaaaahhhhhh!”
“Maybe so,” I admitted, “but I don’t like sitting here on these wicker chairs like this. Right on the pavement.”
“It’s only raspberry vinegar,” Jim reminded me.
“Even so,” I argued, “suppose our minister should walk by?”
“My dear boy,” cried Jim, “you miss the whole point of Paris. Paris is the place you won’t see your minister walk by. You won’t see anybody you know. Frank and open, for the first time in your life, you can sit here on the Boulevarde des Capucines, on a wicker chair on the sidewalk, and look at the world without the world even casting glance at you. It’s a swell feeling.”
“Paris is kind of indifferent, isn’t it?” I admitted.
“The last time we were in the Old World,” said Jim, “we were soldiers and everybody looked at us. We made them look at us. We had drums and brass bands to make them look at us. We missed entirely the chief characteristic of the Old World. I’m glad we came back.”
“What is that chief characteristic?” I asked.
“The fact that nobody pays any attention to you as an individual,” said Jim. “In our country and in the United States people are always looking at you. You are eternally self-conscious. You can’t walk along the street without being aware that somebody is eyeing you. With curiosity or contempt or interest or something. You can’t come in a door, walk across a shop or a room, without seeing eyes raised to you, aware, appraising, watchful, measuring. We are forced to live secretly, guardedly. We can’t be ourselves. Even in our homes we have the feeling some window across the street is armed with watching eyes. We all have curtains on our windows.”
“So we have,” I remembered.
“But here in Paris windows,” said Jim, “are for seeing out of, so they have no curtains except along the sides. And when you come into your hotel lobby nobody looks at you, not even the clerk or the porter, until you go up to him to speak. In the stores the clerks do not even see you until you stop in front of them, and then you would think, the way they act, that you were the most charming person they had ever laid eyes on. In the streets …”
Jim waved his cigarette at the passing throng of Paris. He picked up his raspberry vinegar and held it to the light with an elegant gesture. The French drink the funniest things. They call them aperitifs. Some taste like liquorice, some like caraway seeds, some like postage stamps. They are bright red, bright yellow, bright blue. They are supposed to give the Frenchmen a wonderful appetite. And then the Frenchmen sit down to a meal of coffee without cream and a bun shaped like a crescent.
“The streets,” said Jim, movingly. “The Boulevarde des Capucines, bounded by the Opera, the Louvre and the Madeleine, Aaaaaaahhhh.”
Like Yonge St. With Trees
And on the wide sidewalk before us the casual throng of Paris strolled. And on the pavement the motor traffic attempted suicide. Little modern American-shaped taxis, cream in color with scarlet trim, scorched along with horns at full blast. When a Paris taxi driver steps on the gas with his foot he also steps on the horn with his palm. And even to go fifty feet he tramps the accelerator right to the floor boards. Then he lifts both foot and palm and tramps with both feet on the brakes. The result, a hellish din of horns and screaming tires. But the curious thing is the contrast between the almost panic-stricken motor traffic and the utterly lazy, leisurely, graceful throng on the sidewalks. In London you will see both cabinet ministers and clerks pushing and thrusting through the crowds. In Paris nobody hurries on foot. But on wheels they go mad.
“The trees,” said Jim.
If there were maple trees all down Yonge St., shading the stores, and if all the soda fountains had wicker chairs and tables out on the sidewalk, it wouldn’t be unlike Paris.
“I thought,” I said, “it would be kind of foreign, sort of.”
“The only thing they don’t do in Paris.” explained Jim, “is tear down old churches. Or pull up trees. We start by pulling down old churches and digging out the trees. Then we widen a street. In Paris they tear down everything but the old churches and the trees and then they look at it and say, now what kind of a boulevarde could we have here?”
“And they twiddle their architecture more than we do,” I observed.
“We’re beginning to twiddle back home.” said Jim. “Twiddling is the sign that we are beginning to lose our self-consciousness. Only the self-conscious people dress like inmates of an institution or buy homes like boxes. All our new skyscrapers have twiddles.”
“Now that you come to mention it,” I agreed, “about four out of five of all these stores and cafes and everything are just about the same as we’d see in Toronto or Detroit.”
“Sure,” said Jim. “We’re all related, the French and everybody. A few little differences on the outside. Like the way the French say the word garcon. They sort of snort it. They half swallow it. They have a soft spot somewhere in their throats that goes gug right in the middle of a word. They say gar-so, I say gar-song. But they understand it. Now watch. Gar-song. Gar-song.”
The waiter, a dark, sinister-looking man with beetling black eyebrows, leaped nimbly to Jim’s command.
“Noo,” said Jimmie, holding his cigarette up in a wavey way, “noo vooley avey – er – noo vooley avey a couple more of – how do you say – ?”
“Would ye like a couple more of they pink things?” asked the waiter in a heavy Scotch burr.
“Ah,” I cried. “Aberdeen?”
“Peebles.” said the waiter, sinisterly.
“He’s Scotch,” cried Jim.
“Oo, aye,” said the waiter, darkly. “In Scotland all the waiters are French. In Paris all the waiters are Scottish. A waiter is not without honor, sirr, save in his ain country.”
“Well,” said Jim, sadly, “bring us a couple more of these pink things.”
“Oui, monsieur,” said the waiter, curving away.
Design For Living
“There you see,” said Jim. “It’s a small world.”
“It’s a large world,” I disagreed. “Large and lovely and people can wander all over it.”
“And do,” agreed Jim.
“The only thing,” I said, “I don’t understand about France is the way they have a new premier every few days. The government is always resigning. Here, to look at, is the most peaceful, easy going, contented and indifferent people in the world. All minding their own business. Yet they change governments every few weeks.”
“True,” admitted Jim. “And only last July, this very cafe where we’re sitting was the scene of a bloody riot. People were shot, fifty cops picked wicker chairs out of their hides, the place was a shambles.”
“It’s hard to believe,” I said, as a fierce-looking young man, not more than twenty, a wild rakish youth in a cap over one ear, came wickedly to stand before us, a basket full of violets on his arm, and holding forth a glorious bunch of them to us.
“Cinq sous,” he hissed.
“Five cents,” translated Jim.
“Non, non,” I cried. “A thousand times non. I’ll drink pink carnation juice and sit on a chair in the streets but I won’t carry violets.”
“Buzzey-off,” commanded Jim. And the youth glided viciously away in the crowd.
“He may sell violets,” said Jim. “But I’d hate to tell you what his politics likely are. That’s the trouble with France. Old ladies knit baby clothes while the guillotine smacks down, and young men sell violets while plotting bloody revolution. In Canada, thank heaven, you can tell a Communist or a Tory at a glance.”
“I thought you said we were all brothers,” I reminded him.
“So we are, except in superficial things,” said Jim. “And politics is superficial.”
“We all owe France a lot,” I pointed out. “It did a great job of house-cleaning for all of us about a hundred and fifty years ago. We must never forget that.”
“But it had no new plan ready,” said Jim. “It smashed the existing order and then didn’t know what to do next. And it is still trying to discover a plan.”
“Don’t tell me,” I protested, “that this lovely country, of rich farms and old towns and villages, unchanged in hundreds of years, hasn’t got a plan. Don’t tell me, right here with all these happy, easy people promenading along, that they haven’t a design for living. Why, my dear boy, if I ever saw peace and comfort, here it is.”
“France,” said Jim, “is seething. Its government is Socialist. Wherever we go, we see young men doing this.”
Jim raised his left arm, and clenched his fist.
“And wherever we go,” he added, “middle-aged men are doing this.”
And he raised his right arm with his palm extended in the Hitler salute.
I tilted my chair back and leaned close to Jim.
“The gent next to you,” I whispered, “is listening to every word you utter.”
Jim glanced at his neighbor. A strange-looking man. Well-dressed, but with a dry and wicked face. His skin was tight-stretched over his face and head. His eyes were so gray they were colorless. He looked uneasily away when Jim turned.
“You’ve got to be careful,” muttered Jim, shifting his chair and leaning on his elbows near me, “I tell you. Paris is full of spies. Police agents. Secret service.”
“You shouldn’t wave your arms so,” I cautioned Jim. “Giving that Communist salute might have created another riot here out of a blue sky.”
“I was only illustrating,” said Jim, uneasily. For the pallid man was again leaning back our way, obviously trying to eavesdrop.
“Finish that dentifrice,” I said, “and let’s move on. I don’t like the feel of this place all of a sudden.”
And, indeed, a curious transformation seemed to have taken place. The group of wicker chairs under the awning seemed now tenanted by strangers, not brothers: men holding their breath and waiting. The throng on the streets seemed all of a sudden to be looking at us out of the corners of their eyes. The screech and horning of traffic might be only a camouflage of sound in which a couple of shots would pass all unnoticed.
The sinister Scottish waiter was nowhere to be seen. Jim signaled another wailer, who came over and added up the saucers. Each concoction is served on a saucer on which is printed the amount of the check. Add them up, and if nobody has put a saucer in his pocket for a souvenir, you get the total bill.
“Sept francs, quatre vingt cinq centimes,” said the waiter.
Jim dug out a pocketful of change, copper, bronze, brass and silver, including some six-pences and shilling from England and a couple of quarters, dimes and nickels from Canada. Some of the French coins had square holes in them. These are the ones the taxi-drivers give you back.
“Sept,” said Jim, “cinquante, soixante quinze …”
And he counted out carefully.
Dumped the coins into the waiter’s hand and we started off, for the pallid stranger was excitedly eyeing us, openly, boldly.
“Let’s turn a few corners,” said Jim, as we hurried amidst the slow strolling crowd.
We turned one corner.
“Ohey,” a voice shouted.
We glanced over our shoulders.
A gendarme, cape flying arm outstretched, was after us.
“What did I tell you, Jim?” I moaned.
“Stop before he shoots,” hissed Jim.
That Guggley French
The gendarme, a fine middle-aged man with a wet gleaming eye, spoke sharply to us in a gush of that guggley French that they never teach us in school.
“Monsieur,” said Jim, “noo sum Canadians. Noo care nothing really about politics.”
The gendarme let go another sort of giant popcorn at us.
“I,” said Jim, waving his arms eloquently, “moi, je merely deet a mon ami, here, Mr. Clark, je merely deet que la belle France was divided into two parties. I merely deet, monsieur, that some were for this…”
And Jim gave the Communist fist.
“And some for this.”
And he gave the Fascist salute.
The gendarme shook his head furiously, and tried to take Jim by the arm.
“Attendez,” cried Jim. “Listen. Takey us to Canadian high commissioner. Takey us to pilgrim headquarters. They telley you. We Canadians. We no politique. No politique whatever.”
Down the street came two or three more gendarmes, capes flying.
“We’re sunk, Jim,” I moaned. “We may be in a swell mess.”
The elder gendarme explained to his comrades. They looked at us darkly. They shook their heads.
“Listen, buddy,” said one of the gendarmes, “you can’t get away with that in gay Paree.”
“Thank heaven,” said Jim. “You speak English.”
“Like a native,” said the gendarme, “of Dayton, Ohio.”
“Officer,” cried Jim, joyously “lieutenant, captain, get us out of this mess. We’re Canadians. see? Just over the border. Canadians. We weren’t meaning anything. All I was doing was explaining to my little friend here about French politics. I merely raised my fist, like this…”
“What has politics to do with it?” asked the gendarme. “It’s only ten centimes. That’s about three-quarters of one cent.”
“Ten centimes?” said Jim.
“Sure.” said the gendarme. “You gypped the waiter back here of ten centimes when you settled your bill.”
“Is that all?” cried Jim. “My goodness.”
So we all marched back to the cafe where the manager in his morning coat and seven waiters were waiting anxiously for us and we paid the ten centimes and I handed back the saucer I had slipped in my pocket for a souvenir, and paid two francs that it said on it, and we apologized to the waiter from Peebles, whose name, I learned, was Hoggarth, spelt with two gs. His first name was Andra.
“We thought,” I explained, confidentially, that that guy sitting there with the tight face was a police agent, and that he had overheard us talking French politics.”
“Him?” said Andra. “He’s some kind of a Scandinavian foreigner who sits here all day trying to learn French. I bet he was sore puzzled by your French.”
“Not mine,” said Jim. “You understand it all right.”
“Pairfectly,” said Andra, bowing in that elegant French way.
Editor’s Notes: This story was written when Greg and Jim went on the “pilgrimage” to France for the unveiling of the Vimy memorial. There were several stories that take place in Britain and France.
It is interesting today that Greg would consider sitting in a cafe on a sidewalk weird, as well as trees lining a street. France was undergoing a tumultuous political situation in the 1930s, with the government changing regularly, as they mention. These political problems were thought to be one of the causes of their early defeat in World War Two.
In France, gendarme is a term for the police. French 5, 10, and 25 Centimes coins from this time period had holes in them.
By Greg Clark, August 14, 1943 (and August 15, 1936).
While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Cure for Lumbago” in 1936 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics.
“My uncle,” said Jimmie Frise, “has got the lumbago.”
“They say it’s very painful,” I said, “if you really have it.”
“How do you mean?” asked Jim.
“Well, of course,” I explained, “lumbago is one of the swellest fake ailments in the world. It is one of those diseases that are hard to diagnose. A man can pretend he has lumbago periodically for 30 years and escape an awful lot of hard work. And nobody can catch him at it. Even doctors are fooled.”
“H’m,” said Jim.
“There is only one way to tell if a man really has lumbago,” I informed him. “A medical officer showed me, in the army. We had a dreadful outbreak of lumbago in our regiment one time. Somebody knew that lumbago was hard to diagnose. So he passed the word around among the real lead-swingers of the regiment, and we had as high as 30 very serious cases of it.
“The medical officer was nearly crazy. The only thing he could do for lumbago was excuse the lead-swingers all parades and working parties; and the whole 30 of them lay around the billets playing red dog and penny ante. Suddenly, he had an idea. He had all the lumbago cases paraded before him, one by one. As each man, with drawn face and cautious step, came in front of him, the medical officer dropped a sheet of paper and asked the sufferer to pick it up. Each sufferer, very suspicious, slowly and with agony bent over and picked up the paper; then quickly straightened.
“Now in lumbago, it doesn’t hurt to bend down. But it hurts like blazes to straighten up. The whole 30 all made the same mistake. So the M.O. gave each of them two number nines and a dose of castor oil and they were all on duty parade the next morning.”
“We ought to tip off everybody to this diagnosis,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t wonder if there were thousands of guys faking lumbago all over the country. Especially when there is any heavy lifting to do.”
“Oh, it’s useful for lots of other things.” I said. “It isn’t only hard work. I know plenty of men who suffer from lumbago terribly every Sunday morning, and it is worst just about time to dress for church. Others get a pang of it when their wife wants them to accompany them over to Sister Emily’s or some other such place where you sit around all evening listening to a lot of family complaints.”
“We’ll do a lot of good,” agreed Jim. “revealing this trick about bending down. In real lumbago it is easy to bend down and hard to straighten up. Fake lumbago, they bend down in agony and straighten up quickly. Is that it?”
Uncle Horace’s Attacks
“Then there is cupping,” I said, “You get a good thick glass, the kind peanut butter comes in. You set fire to a little bit of paper in the glass and then pop it against the small of the back of the sufferer. The instant you slap the cup against the hide, the lighted paper goes out. But a vacuum has already been created in the glass sufficient to suck up the flesh under the cup like half a golf ball. You go all over the lumbago area, overlapping each cupping until you have applied suction to the whole area. This is an old-fashioned cure and a dandy. Anybody can do it.”
“But what has it to do with fake lumbago?” asked Jim.
“Well,” I showed him, “all you have to do is be a little clumsy and let the burning paper fall on the small of his back. And he lets out a yell, leaps to his feet and all his lumbago vanishes without the need of any treatment.”
“My uncle,” said Jim, “is a very fine man. A pillar of the church. A county councillor. But he does get the lumbago around haying time. And harvest generally.”
“H’m,” said I.
“His wife, Aunt Minnie,” said Jim, “wrote and asked if I wanted any clover honey. In the same letter she mentioned Uncle Horace had the lumbago very bad. I don’t suggest there is any connection. But I’m awfully fond of clover honey. She’d give us each a couple of big pails of it if we went down.”
“We?” I said suspiciously.
“Anyway,” said Jim, as a patriotic duty we should give Uncle Horace a hand with his harvest, lumbago or no lumbago.”
“The only thing we might have to do,” said Jim, “would be to lend a hand for an afternoon with the barley, probably. Or maybe oats.”
“Agricultural labor,” I stated, is what drove my family into the city three generations ago.”
“I don’t suggest you do any work,” said Jim. “But it might be fun to try out these tests on Uncle Horace.”
“You don’t suspect a county councillor of deceit,” I demanded.
“The only fault I have to find with Uncle Horace,” replied Jim, “is a certain nighness. He’s a little nigh. He reverences a dollar bill with devotion that is touching.”
“I can think of worse ways of spending a summer afternoon,” I said, “than sitting under a shady elm on a farm with a pitcher of iced tea beside me, watching you forking sheaves on to a wagon. Count me in.”
Our arrival at Aunt Minnie’s was timed exactly right. Lunch was just ready when we drove up to the kitchen door. There was cold pickled ham and lettuce; potato salad with little green onions in it; hot biscuits and clover honey; hot tea or iced tea; and Aunt Minnie had a plate of mint sprays to crush around the lip of the iced tea glasses, which were the old-fashioned kind that hold a pint.
We went in and saw Uncle Horace laid out in his bed. He is a lean and weather-beaten gentleman. His hands crossed peacefully on his chest, are big, capable hands. But there was a look of patient suffering in his eyes.
Applying the Test
“Jim,” he said, “it was mighty kind of you to come down at a time like this. And bringing a friend, too.”
“Ah, Aunt Minnie knows the trick,” said Jim. “Clover honey.”
“What would you like me to tackle, Uncle Horace? The barley, is it?” asked Jim.
“Well, the way I look at it,” said Uncle Horace, pushing his moustache back as if he were going to address the county council, or close a deal, “a hired man costs so much. And a pail of clover honey is worth so much. It all works out even.” “you can’t get a man around these parts for love or honey, let alone money, and I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t shown up.”
“It’s a small field of barley,” said Uncle Horace. “By dark, you could mow the whole thing. Then I have your Cousin James and his family coming down for the week-end. They are hearty eaters, but I figure they can get the whole crop into the barn for me. It’s a wonderful thing, Mr. Clark, to have relatives like mine. Especially when I am such a martyr.”
Aunt Minnie showed us the wash bench, basin and soft water pail.
“What do you think?” murmured Jim.
“We’ll try him out, after lunch,” I replied guardedly. Both systems. I didn’t like the sound of that word martyr.”
And after a wonderful two-helpings lunch, with three of clover honey and six tea biscuits, we walked into Uncle Horace’s bedroom on the ground floor.
“We’ll just help you up,” I said, “to sit here at the window and see us off.”
I then dropped a dollar bill on the floor, folded up.
“Careful, lads,” said Uncle Horace, extending his long legs out of the bed and moving very, very cautiously. He had two or three twinges in the process of getting his back off the bed and his heels on the floor. But with Jim and me on either side, slowly taking the weight, he got into a standing position and gasped heavily.
“I can manage now,” he said. But I knew he had his eye on the dollar bill.
Jim stepped over to the chair at the window, and I moved back and shook the bed quilt aside.
And Uncle Horace, bending very quickly picked up the dollar; and then, with every symptom of intense agony, slowly and with fierce groans, straightened up
“Did either,” he gasped, his face white and his eyes bulging, “of you lose a certain sum of money?”
Jim and I felt in our pockets and shook our heads.
“Well,” said Uncle Horace, painfully hitching himself towards the chair, it must have fallen out of one of my pockets.” Though I can’t imagine me losing my faculties to that extent just yet.”
He eased himself into the chair. Jim and I saw him comfortable in front of the window, and left him.
“The real thing?” asked Jim as we went around toward the barn.
“He sure has the real thing,” I agreed. “”He bent down as quick as lightning. But he straightened with intense agony. I never saw a man suffer more for a dollar bill.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” mused Jim. “A dollar bill would make Uncle Horace forget anything. Suppose he grabbed for the dollar bill. And then remembered suddenly he had the lumbago and groaned coming up.”
“He’s a marvellous actor,” I said, “if he hasn’t got lumbago. I hadn’t the heart to suggest the cupping cure, after seeing his face.”
“Then,” said Jim, “it is an act of charity we are doing, helping him with his barley.”
Purely As An Observer
I know nothing about the agricultural life.
My ancestors before me must have exhausted themselves so completely trying to wrest a living out of the soil that they used up even the instincts which normally might have been passed on to me. So it was purely as an observer that I accompanied Jim into the stable, saw him lead out three fine heavy horses, their sides shining like fresh peeled chestnuts. …their bellies and limbs fat and full of flesh. Jim stood them in the shade and bridled and harnessed them. Drove them cleverly to the lane where the big binder was standing ready. Expertly backed them on to the trees and fastened the traces. Walking slowly around them to see where every collar and every strap lay not too loose and not too snug. Slipped his hand under the bands. Slapped and patted the friendly beasts.
“What gorgeous horses, Jim,” said, from the rail fence where I perched.
“Uncle Horace knows his horses,” agreed Jim.
“They’re like lambs,” I admired.
“They are bred to be like lambs,” said Jim. “Nowadays, there are really no bad horses any more. The first principle of breeding is to eliminate all vice. In the past 40 or 50 years Canadian farmers have been breeding to an ideal horse, so they choose only the horse free of vice to breed from. It is as if, in human breeding, we only allowed good-tempered and quiet people to have children.
“That would be a swell idea,” I said, “for some of us. But why did we have such wicked horses in the army?”
“Ah,” said Jim, “those were riding horses you mean? They breed riding horses for style and courage, not for gentleness.”
“I have never really got over my experience with horses in the army,” I told Jim, as I walked along beside him to the mower. “What horses did to me in the war I have never quite eliminated from my character. My self-esteem is only about half what it would be normally, if it hadn’t been for the way horses threw me and bucked me and stepped on me.”
“You’d be a tough egg, then,” said Jim, “if it hadn’t been for horses.”
I watched Jim mount the seat of the big binder. I walked along as the huge machine, its paddles thrown out of gear so they did not operate during the drive down the lane, clattered and banged and rattled. Jim was like a Roman charioteer, reining the three magnificent rippling horses. They bent into the harness so willingly. They plodded so knowingly down the lane. They wheeled, almost without any directions of Jim’s voice or reins, into the barley field through the gate.
“Yee,” called Jim, sitting proudly on the binder seat, lifting the reins high, and gazing with the pride of a landowner across the glistening harvest.
Behind, I walked in the fresh springing stubble of the barley. Ahead, the great paddles whirled and the sheaves rolled out. We came to the end of the first swath. Jim yeed the beautiful beasts around on a five-cent piece, as it were, their chins across the fence, making the turn.
“Stook it up,” Jim shouted gaily to me pointing back along the swath of the sheaves.
“I never stook barley,” I shouted back. “I promised my old great-grandfather.”
Jim whoaed the three-horse team. They seemed actually to smile with a kind of harvest joy, those horses.
“How would you like to drive?” asked Jim,
“Are you a mind reader?” I replied. “Jim, if I could drive those horses even for two or three turns of the field it would restore the self-esteem I lost in France 20 years ago.”
Jim swung down off the seat.
“These horses,” said Jim, “could mow this field without anybody driving them.”
“Upsadaisy,” I said, springing into the high seat.
“Just hold the reins,” said Jim, “and let them do it.”
“Yee,” I said, “giddap.”
And without even a lurch, the three beauties curved and rippled their magnificent rumps before me and their heads bobbed, their black manes rose and fell, their ears flopped and twitched and signalled, and beside me the great paddles whirled and the wheels bumped and the seat swayed on its soft springs; and I was, after four generations, a husbandman again, a reaper of harvests, a bringer-in of sheaves.
Barley Field Jigsawed
But I hardly had time to feel the full bloom of age-long and forgotten sentiments. Some day I would like to mow a field, just to see if my instincts are really dead. About one third down the field, when I was just beginning to feel that thrill of achievement which comes to us even when we first ride a bicycle, the team stepped, I am reliably informed by Mr. Frise, into a bees’ nest. The same curious creatures who topped off for us our delectable lunch also served as a cure for lumbago.
With a couple of snorts, the gentle but massive ton and a half of glossy horseflesh writhing and rippling before me, suddenly backed, swerved and reared.
“Whoa,” I roared, seeing Jim out of the corner of my eye bending over sheaves some distance back of us.
But even the best-bred horses do not go for bees. The next thing agricultural science should develop are stingless bees. Paddle wheel whirling madly, wheels bumping and clanking, bars jerking, seat leaping perilously, we tore down the field, curving this way and that; losing all sense of geometry, coming to a fence and turning only when we had to.
I could hear Jim shouting directions, but above the noise of the binder I could not hear whether he was saying to pull on the reins or let them use their own good sense. But since a few bees zoomed around me, I thought he was saying to let them run. Anyway, I do not believe it would be humane to force poor dumb animals to submit to bee stings. Frankly, we did four diagonal and otherwise various swaths with the binder before Uncle Horace leaped the fence and caught the off-horse by the head strap and brought us to a stop.
“Get off that,” he roared at me
I got off it, quite willingly.
He climbed without lumbago into the seat He stood up and surveyed the barley field, all jig-sawed. His beautiful horses were standing as quiet as lambs.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” I said.
“Stch, stch, giddap,” said Uncle Horace.
“It was a bees’ nest,” said Jim, who had arrived.
“Yee,” said Uncle Horace, leaning forward to grasp the reins better and straightening back without even a grimace.
So Jim and I went to the side of the field and watched him once around; and as he did not notice us when he went by, we proceeded back up to the house and sat in rocking-chairs with Aunt Minnie in the kitchen. And she made us iced tea again; and after due consideration we decided to leave before supper. Aunt Minnie gave us each not two but three pails of clover honey; and in deference to my feeling for her tea biscuits, she did me up a dozen in a bag to take home, too.
Editor’s Notes: Lumbago is lower back pain, and was a more common term in the past.
Red Dog is a gambling card game, Penny-ante refers to very low sum bets.
A Stook is a stack of grain to keep the grain off of the ground.
By Greg Clark, July 25, 1936
There are two pilgrimages on Vimy Ridge this week. The one is ours; a few thousand middle-aged veterans returning to the scene of an old war.
The other pilgrimage is from the skies: the 58,000 young men, forever young, who died. It is not likely they would be absent when the British King tears down the bunting from the great memorial to their memory and in their honor.
There is pathos in our pilgrimage. No vestige remains of the ruin we made in our time. The healing hand of the years has made us all strangers in the land. Trees fifteen years old wave along bright, smooth roads, trees unaware, unmarred. On the site of villages and towns as desolate as Baffin Land when we knew this Vimy Ridge, there grow pretty and trim little villages of white and red. They sell picture post cards of how it all used to look. But now, to us, these pictures are hard to believe.
Pathos in us, to see us in our buses and cars, seeking, questing: tramping on foot, over grain fields and beet fields where, according to all our senses and very good maps, here used to be dreadful excavations we called home for two, three years of our best lives. Why, these strong young men toiling in the grain fields on Vimy’s slope were yet unborn when we harvested this slope long years ago.
No vestige remains, except a few museum pieces, carefully preserved; smelling, as it were, of camphor and as little like the real thing as a stuffed deer is like a living one.
So forgive me if I tell you of what I saw and found last evening, as I walked out of Arras northerly, looking for one spot, only one spot, where once I was a man. On the distant crest of Vimy loomed the silhouette of the shrouded memorial, which is soon to be unveiled by the King. On highways coiling with traffic, I walked towards Lens, and looked in vain for Madagascar Dump with its vast untidy piles of munitions. In vain for La Targette or the Nine Elms or Thelus. It was like going into the backyard to find an old tin can; but I cannot find it, so thick are all the old fashioned flowers.
Twilight; dusk; darkness; night enfolded and when I had, by taking a sideroad and a lane and a path and finally a field’s edge, come to the place where the third Canadian division had, in its time, swept up this slope like sea wave on the sand, I sat down to look into the darkness and divest myself, if possible, of this unnerving sense of pathos.
It is here you may leave me. If you do not believe in the mystical or the ghostly.
For ghosts, I do believe, exist; but only in our own hearts.
At first, I saw an aurora; an uncertain radiance like the northern lights. Presently, sound was added and I seemed to hear a hum of countless voices, laughter and a mouth organ, singing and cheers.
The Other Pilgrimage
It was the Other Pilgrimage. Out of the sky they came thudding and striding, like troops marching at ease, hordes of them, infantry, all arms, gunners in their cross bandoliers, all ranks. And they spread over the slope of Vimy, from Carency to Arras, lighting watch fires, setting up bivvies, all higgledy piggledy, just as it used to be. With shouts they went seeking comrades amidst the braziers. With joy and clumsy leaping, they encountered their friends. Crowds and knots gathered, moved this way and that. And as I watched the ghostly multitude of the Other Pilgrimage, some of the pathos began to leave me. In dream, an hour is only an instant: but after the whole high slope had flowered to one vast sea of fires and countless moving forms, I got up from the fence where I was seated and walked into the great bivouac. The bivouac in which they were the real and I was the shadow.
At first I sought friends: Muirhead, Abbey, Cutsey Smith, Butson, any of them. It would be fine to know where Abbey went to: what far continent of infinity he surveyed. Fine to see Muirhead and discover what rank the good Lord had given him. He would doubtless be a general by now, I thought.
But amongst the countless happy warriors, with ruddy faces shining in the watch fires, I saw no friends. At first I feared to look at them, since I might see wounds or scars. But there were no wounds; and such is the nonsense of dreams, I noticed that every soldier wore flowers: some in his cap, some on his breast; others, with nosegays of little bright flowers even on their backs, or pinned to their legs. One carried a bright spray of forget me-nots before his eyes, and as he walked, amidst the jibes of his comrades, he kept peeping from behind the flowers, as if to see his way.
They paid no attention to me; I was afraid they could not see me. So I asked directions of them, and they answered me politely and without curiosity. They were all young: I have gray hair by my ears. When they answered me, they clicked their young heels together and stood straight. Another dream hour, I walked and wandered amongst the watch fires, saw the rough boots sticking out of the bivvies, the old way; heard the old familiar taunts and shouts: saw more than one crown and anchor board laid out on the grass; heard many a song, even some of the rowdy ones whose words I had forgotten.
Finally, I came to a brazier where five young men were grouped, some red and some green and some blue patches on their shoulders. They were arguing. I stood for a moment and then asked if I might join their fire. They made way with pleasure.
“What’s the argument?” I inquired.
‘We were talking.” said the Green Patch, “about what we would have done if we had lived.”
“If I had lived,” explained the Red Patch, who wore a large spray of flowers on his breast, a lanky boy with bony face, “I would have been a farmer. And nothing else. It is the greatest life of all. I can see it right now. Haying time, and the barley next.
“I can see me, in the hot sun, driving the mower. Three horses in the mower. The sky hot and blue. The fences almost hidden in the long grass and the wheat. I go up this way and then I turn the three horses. Then I come down this way. It would be about five o’clock.
“If I had lived, I would have had a hundred and forty acres and thirty-head of Holstein cattle. I can see them, black and white, coming slowly up the lane from the back pasture. From the mower, I can see them coming up. and I look at them and think, these are my cows.”
“If I Had Lived.”
“There is no life,” said the Red Patch, “as good as farming. Nothing happier, safer, more comfortable. You make good money and set it away in mortgages at seven or six per cent: you work like a man until you are fifty and then move to a town like Guelph. Guelph is what I had in mind, if I had lived. And in the winter, I would have gone on visits to the States. I would attend the big cattle fairs in Chicago.
“No, you can take what you like, but if I had lived, I would have been a farmer.”
The group around the fire listened with grins.
“It may be a comfortable life,” said Green Patch, the best-looking of the boys, “and you may be free of all care and want on the farm; but would you really call it living?”
“Now if I had lived, give me the city. The bright lights, the speed, the excitement. I can see the street I used to live on. A quiet street with trees that used to arch overhead in summer. Mostly red brick houses with white verandas. I knew lots of girls on my street. You could go out and whistle after supper and they would part the curtains and then come running out. In white dresses.
“And just down at the foot of the street were the street cars and you could take her for a long ride. You could go down town and have a soda. If you had any money, you could take her to the vaudeville. Or you could just walk along and look in the store windows.
“In the city there are plenty of jobs for young fellows like us. I could have been a salesman in one of the big stores or my father was thinking of getting me a job in an office. All round you there is business and excitement, and you can look ahead and see the way you will go until you are a manager or an assistant manager. There is no life for a young man like the city, with all its opportunities and chances. On the farm, you may get no rain or something goes wrong, or prices fall…”
“Never,” said the young farmer. “People must always eat.”
“At any rate,” said Green Patch, with passion, “in a city, there is always something doing; always another job if the one you have doesn’t please you. A city is full of everything. It is the place to have lived. Are you a city man, sir?”
The question was to me, to bring me into the debate.
“Yes,” I said. “But excuse me, boys. I take it you are here on a special pilgrimage, like myself. Do you keep touch with the world much?”
“Oh, no,” they said. “We think about it – a great deal, but we don’t get much opportunity of coming back like this. And we are just here for a little while, until the unveiling. Then we have to go.”
“You,” I hesitated, “don’t keep track of what is going on in the world?”
“We have more important things to do,” explained young Green Patch.
“You see, sir,” said the Blue Patch, whose whole head was crowned with flowers, “we all have our appointed tasks. Where we are now, it is like the world, with its various continents and climes, and we are scattered all over it. But at times like this, when the world remembers us, we are allowed to come back. It is good fun to get together, a reunion like this. But we have much more absorbing interests.
“Pardon me,” I asked, “but what are the flowers you are all wearing?”
“Where we were wounded, we wear flowers,” explained Blue Patch, “With these uniforms, they look a little funny, but they insisted we wear our old uniforms to the unveiling.”
“And what would you have done, if you had lived?” I asked Blue Patch, who was older than the others. A man of twenty-six or seven.
“I am a school teacher,” explained Blue Patch. “I would have continued in that profession, sir. It is the finest profession on earth, I believe. My ambition was to become a master in a collegiate or even in a big private school. I can think of nothing nobler than leading young people into the full glory of life and understanding.”
“The noblest,” I agreed.
“The way Canada must be now,” said the young school master, with a tender expression, with no more war, no more oppression or tyranny, it must be wonderful for youth. The one regret I had, when I left the world, was that I did not live to see the full flower of our sacrifice. To think of all those millions of youngsters, free forever and ever of the fear of war and cruelty and oppression, able at last to devote themselves to the highest ideals of life, to work for something else than miserable and vicious gain…”
“When I was living,” he continued after a breathless pause, “there still lingered some traces of the older order of things. But I am happy to think that I and my comrades here, and all these thousands on this hillside to-night were instruments in setting the world free, at last, from the narrow, selfish and greedy instincts of humanity.”
All five of the boys wore proud expressions and glanced at one another affectionately.
“It is too bad,” I suggested, “that you can not see the results of your great sacrifice. Aren’t you allowed even a glimpse of the world you left, even now and then?”
“No,” explained Blue Patch, the school teacher. “They tell us it would distract our attention from greater tasks.”
The fourth young man was a gunner. He had that bunchy look, with his leather bandoliers and stiff cap.
“I’m afraid,” he chuckled, “that if I had lived, I would have been a bum. What I liked best to do was travel around the country. I’ve ridden the rods.”
He looked around us all, half proud, half embarrassed.
“Ridden the rods on freight trains,” he said. “Bummed my way on blind baggages. Tramped the ties, hundred of miles. I’ve slept in flop houses and out in barns and in empty box cars. I’ve often begged dimes in the streets and meals at back doors of houses. It may sound funny, but that’s what I liked.”
Again he cast his eye around us. Only in mine did he detect sympathy.
“If I had lived,” he said, “I was intending to go right back to that kind of thing.”
“That was all very well,” said the school master, “back in the old days. But I bet you wouldn’t have had the courage to do it, in the world the way it is now.”
“What moves me deeply,” I said, “is the beautiful memory you have of the world. It seems so dear to you.”
“It is,” said the farmer boy. “Not that we aren’t very happy where we are, you understand? But the way we feel, we would love to see it, the way it is now. It was lovely when we left. But how lovely it must be now.”
The fifth young man was Light Blue patch. His flowers he carried in his hands and held them before his eyes as if the light of the brazier dazzled him. He was a rugged youth, heavy set, and when he spoke, his accent was Scottish.
“If I had lived,” he said, soberly, “I would have liked to have had some kids. Two boys, I think, and a girl. The boys would be eighteen or so now. I would like to have seen one of them. The oldest one. In my family, the boys take after the fathers.”
“I should have said,” interrupted the farmer, “that I would have some kids around my farm. Those Holstein cows coming up the lane, the ones I could see from the mower when I was mowing, would be driven by a boy. Or maybe a boy and girl.”
“It is fine to have kids,” said the young Scot, holding the flowers before his eyes very close. “I could take them after supper down to the corner to get my tobacco. I could take them to fairs and that sort. My father was a strict man. He always hushed us. I am not that kind, myself. I like the racket of kids in the house.”
“Were you married?” I asked.
“No, but I had my eye on a girl. I was in tending to speak to her after the war.”
“Did you go with her?” asked the farmer, interested.
“I did not have her acquaintance,” said the young Scot. “I composed several letters to her in the trenches but I never posted them. She would be a fine woman now. I have no doubt she has children. I could wish they were mine. Two boys, and a girl. The oldest boy would be eighteen or thereabouts now. He would have sandy hair. I would buy them tartan neckties to their birthdays.”
He pressed the flowers to his eyes.
The others all stared at the fire or raised their eyes to look far off. The school master reached over and pitched the Scottie on the arm.
“You do not ask me about the world?” I said, after the silence.
And with the words, the vision seems to shiver as if struck by an earthquake, the figures so real before me suddenly began to lose color and shape; the watch fire itself began to dim swiftly; a mist swept in a vast wave, across the Vimy slope; the hosts of the Other Pilgrimage faded and vanished; their tumult subsided into a haunted silence.
And in a field in the dark, grizzled, weary, trembling and dreadfully ashamed, I stood all alone.
Editor’s Notes: The Vimy Memorial was completed and dedicated in 1936. The Toronto Star went all out in their coverage, paying the way for multiple staff members (including war veterans, included Greg and Jim). More can be read of the pilgrimage to the site by Canadians, and the vast undertaking that is was, from the link provided. This was huge news at the time, and weeks were devoted to the coverage. This advertisement appeared the same day as this story.
The Greg-Jim Stories did not pause during their trip (this was before common trans-Atlantic air travel, so everyone travelled by ship). Four separate stories of their adventures (2 in Britain, 2 in France) were published on their return as well.
The patches represented the divisions the soldiers belonged to:
- Red Patch: First Canadian Division
- Blue Patch: Second Canadian Division
- Light Blue (or Grey-Blue) Patch: Third Canadian Division
- Green Patch: Fourth Canadian Division
Greg felt embarrassed speaking to the apparitions, because of the state of the world in 1936, with the Great Depression in full swing (the price for the farmer’s food had plummeted, and the “bum” would be a common sight), and peace was not created by the Great War, as international relations were looking ever more troubling in 1936.
By Greg Clark, June 13, 1936
“With your luck,” said Jimmie Frise, “and my brains we could clean up a fortune at race-tracks.”
“I think racing,” I declared, “is the dizziest pastime in the world. I wouldn’t give you five cents for the races. I would rather stay at the office and work any day.”
“Come this afternoon,” begged Jimmie. “Just to change my luck, see? I’ll buy you a good mystery novel. You can sit in the grand-stand and read it. You don’t even have to look up when the horses come down the stretch. Honest, I have a hunch. Do me the favor of coming to the track. For luck.”
“There is no such thing as luck,” I stated. “There is a co-ordination of circumstances. There is a series of facts, always shifting, always varying in force and value. But there is no luck.”
“You said it,” agreed Jim. “Get all the facts and you get all the luck. But just the same, I have a hunch that if you would come to the races with me I’d make money.”
“How silly,” I submitted.
“Put it this way,” said Jim. “You’re sort of simple. You see things that most other people don’t see, just because you are simple. You could come to a race-track where there are fifteen thousand people and, because you are the only one that never looked at a race-horse before, you could see that race-horse the way nobody else could see it. We would be looking at its legs. You would be looking at the expression in its eyes or something.”
“Offhand,” I admitted, “I would suggest you could tell a lot more about a race-horse by looking at the expression in its eyes than by looking at its form in a chart.”
“There you are,” cried Jim. “It is that instinct you have that I want to work for me. Just come to the races once. Come this afternoon.”
“I would rather go this morning.” I pointed out, casting an eye out the window at a very bright and cheerful day, “if it is to look over the horses you want my particular gifts.”
“There’s an idea,” confessed Jim.
So after a little business of confusing the editors with a few imaginary phone calls and busy dashing out into the corridor and back, which is the way Jim and I create the impression there is a big story about to break and we have it exclusively, we slipped out the back door and into the parking lot and in no time at all, through a shining morning. we arrived out at the race-track. If I were ever to become interested in racetracks it would be only in the middle of the mornings. There is something so old-world, so Kentucky, so lazy and roostery crowing, so stable boys sleeping in the sun about a race-track in the middle of the morning that I wonder anybody can be bothered crowding into the enclosures in the afternoon just to watch a pack of skins go panting around the ring.
“Now There’s a Horse”
“Jim,” I said, as we started to stroll down the first aisle of stables, “do they mind us walking in here?”
“We’re newspapermen,” pointed out Jim.
We nodded smilingly and wisely to little groups of stable boys sitting and lying about, looking up at us from under the peaks of caps. We paused and watched men binding horses’ legs, brushing, petting. We stood and gazed at the splendid beasts, brown and lean and with that curious quality of specialness that you feel in actresses and beauties and all people who do something very extra particular. To me, at least, there is no feeling of communion with a race-horse, such as I can feel with a common horse. It is like looking at a china horse or a picture of a horse. They have developed rice-horses so fine and far they have pushed them almost over the distant edge of plain, hearty, common life.
“What a beauty,” breathed Jim, as we came to a stall where a horse looked with wild bright eye out of the upper half-door. “Did you ever see such spirit?”
“Yes,” I said, “in a maiden lady rowing a boat in a gale of wind. I wouldn’t bet five cents on that horse. It has the jitters. Any horse that can look like that on a lazy morning like this is in need of a couple of months at a sanatorium.”
“All race-horses are like that,” explained Jim. “They wouldn’t be race-horses unless they had spirit.”
“In that case,” I informed him, “the highest form of track athletics ought to be the St. Vitus dance.”
Down near the end of the second aisle of stables we came to a deserted set of stalls where one horse stood looking sleepily out.
“Ah, now there’s a horse,” I said, “There is a happy horse.”
It twitched one eyelid at us. It wobbled its upper lip.
“A healthy horse,” I declared, “A horse without a care in the world.”
Jim stepped up and spoke tenderly to it and caressed its silky nose.
“Hello, baby,” said Jim, running his hand up the horse’s flat face bone and slapping its neck.
The horse opened one eye and looked sleepily at Jim.
“If this horse is running to-day, Jim,” I said, “bet him.”
The horse, with a heavy sigh, woke up and lifted its head and tenderly nibbled Jim’s arm. Its eyes were dark and gentle. Its expression was benign. It stretched out its neck and rested its long chin on Jim’s shoulder.
“It likes us,” I cried.
And while Jim and I admired the great creature with the heavy chin it closed its eyes and kept shifting its chin from Jim’s shoulder to mine and back again, and continued to emit large, lazy sighs.
“I love the smell of stables,” said Jim, stroking the horse’s neck and scratching its ear. “I sometimes think I might have been a great horseman. I get queer feelings when I am around racing stables, as if I had been on earth before. As if something were trying to call me, to tell me, to waken me.”
“I kind of like it myself,” I admitted, taking the other side of the horse’s neck. “The laziness. The color. The interesting people.”
“If we ever make any money,” said Jim, dreamily stroking the horse’s nose, “there is nothing I’d like better than owning a little string of race horses.”
Getting Into the Game
“I could wear the kind of clothes I like, then,” I agreed.
“The Frise-Clark stables,” said Jim.
“I would wear a yellow vest,” I said.
“The King’s Plate,” said Jim. “Mr. Frise and Mr. Clark, from left to right, receiving the King’s Plate from His Excellency.”
I heard footsteps and turned to behold an interesting looking gentleman smiling cheerfully at us. He was tall and had bushy black eyebrows. On his chest dangled a pair of binoculars. He was smoking a big cigar.
“Like her?” he asked proudly.
“It’s a her, is it?” I said.
“That’s Cleopatra,” said the stranger, in a moving voice. “One of the grandest horses running to-day.”
“Are you connected with this stable?” asked Jim politely.
“Connected with it?” smiled the stranger, “I’m the owner of it.”
Jim and I showed we were duly honored. We praised Cleopatra.
“Could you take her out and let us have a look at her?” asked Jim.
“Excuse me, boys,” said the owner. “I never break routine. Cleopatra is resting. She done a grand workout this morning. She’s just cooled out. I would rather not disturb her. She’s got a race this afternoon. And she’s going to win.”
He said this in a whisper and looked around carefully as he said it.
“It must be great,” said Jim, stroking Cleopatra’s cheek, “to be an owner. But I suppose you have your worries.”
“It ain’t the worries,” said the owner confidentially, “It’s the lone responsibility that gets me. I got six horses. I’ve owned hundreds. But I got it down to six of the best. Six of the best anywhere from Tia Juana to Montreal. But sometimes I wonder what would happen if anything ever happened to me.”
He removed the cigar from his mouth and coughed deeply and sepulchrally.
“You should get some partners,” said Jim.
“Never,” said the owner, firmly. “Never. I’ve had partners in my time. But they’re ruin, that’s what they are. Sheer ruin. Never no more partners for me, brother.”
“They gypped you?” asked Jim.
“Gyp isn’t the word,” said the owner sadly. “Not only can’t you trust them, but they are always trying to run the stable. I bet you Cleopatra there would be fit for the boneyard if I ever had partners. You don’t find men with a love of horses every day. No, nor every year.”
“Why,” asked Jim, stepping on my foot quietly, “don’t you take on some ordinary business men as partners? I don’t mean professional horsemen, but sportsmen?”
“Ah,” sighed the tall man, sadly, “but how often do you meet sportsmen?”
“They’re some,” said Jim. “There’s some. Now you take us. We’re ordinary business men. But we love horses. We love the sport of racing. We were just saying a moment ago, as we chatted here with Cleopatra, that if we ever got any money, we’d love to own a little string of race horses. Not to make money, you understand. But just to have something to think about. A hobby. Something we could quit work and go out into the country to see. Imagine us having a horse like Cleopatra here we could come and see every day or so. See her training. See her getting into shape. And imagine the thrill of being on the lawn when she races?”
“You must be sportsmen,” said the owner, sincerely. “You’ve got it. I wish I could find a couple of gents like you to come into the game with me. Not nosey. Not trying to tell me how to train horses. But just to share with me the interest and joy and thrill of it all. Ahhhhh!”
“I wish we had the money,” I said devoutly, for the gentleman was exactly the kind I would like to stand on the lawn with, and me in a gray derby.
“Money,” he laughed bitterly. “Money. It isn’t money you need. It’s the heart. The right spirit. The sporting blood.”
“Money counts,” I pointed out.
“Listen,” said the owner. “I would be glad to sell a half interest in that beautiful mare there, Cleopatra, one of the finest horses running to-day, for one grand. One grand! Can you imagine?”
“A thousand,” Jim explained to me. “One grand is a thousand bucks.”
“That’s it,” I said, dismally. “Where would we ever get a thousand bucks?”
Sportsman At Last
The owner looked at us for a long moment with an expression of mingled tenderness and contempt. Suddenly he laughed and snapped his fingers at us.
“Boys,” he said, half bitterly. “I’ve been a fool before and I suppose I will be again. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a half interest in Cleopatra for one grand. I’ll do more than that. I’ll take whatever cash you’ve got in your jeans right now — right now — whether it be a hundred dollars or fifty dollars — I’ll take it as the down payment. And … listen … and … you can pay the balance of the grand out of her winnings!”
“But,” I gasped, “you don’t even know our names.”
“I know a lot of guys’ names,” said the owner grimly.
He held out his hand, cupped.
I had only $3.65. All my life, when opportunity knocked at my door, I have always had about $3.65, Jim had seven dollars in ones.
”Ten-sixty-five,” said the owner. “Good enough. It seals the deal.”
He pocketed the money. He stood looking at us fondly.
“Boys,” he said, “I have a feeling you are going to bring me luck.”
“This morning,” said Jim to me, “you said there was no such thing as luck.”
“When certain of my relatives and friends hear of this,” I chuckled, hardly grasping the splendor of the situation. I reached up and patted Cleopatra’s nose. Jim seized her affectionately and wth a proprietorial air by the neck. She sighed heavily.
Along the long aisle of stables a man in a wide hat was walking slowly. The owner said sharply:
“Well, boys, take care of her. I’ve got a busy morning. See you later.”
And he walked briskly around the corner.
The man in the broad hat strode towards us, head forward, his eyes searching us keenly.
“What do you want?” he asked in a bass voice.
“Where?” I asked.
“How?” asked Jim.
“I say, what do you want?” repeated the man in the wide hat. “I don’t like birds hanging around my horses.”
“We’re not around your horses,” I said. “This is our horse.”
Jimmie took a few fast steps to the corner of the stable and looked in all directions.
“Come on,” said Jim to me. “He’s gone but maybe we can catch him.”
“Who?” I asked, “What are you talking about? This is half our horse.”
“Get going palooka,” said the man with the bass voice. “And don’t let me see you hanging around my stables any time, any where.”
He sort of tightened himself up as if he were going to either kick or punch. I stepped after Jimmie.
As we hurried out past the stables, to look for the man with our $10.65, we heard Cleopatra whinny loudly.
“That’s the horse laugh,” explained Jimmie.
But he had to listen to me all the way home to the city as I chatted about horse racing.
Editor’s Notes: St Vitus’ dance is a term used to describe Sydenham’s chorea. It is characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements.
The King’s Plate is oldest and most distinguished horse race in Canada. It refers to the reigning monarch, and so was changed to the Queen’s Plate in 1952.
Palooka was a slang term used to refer to stupid, clumsy, oafs, and was particularly used to describe boxers. It was popularized by the comic strip Joe Palooka which began in 1930.
By Greg Clark, April 4, 1936
“I wonder what it is,” said Jimmie Frise, “we are after?”
“Who?” I asked.
“All of us, the whole world,” said Jim. “Just stop a minute. Think. Think of the whole world, at this minute. Moving, rushing, hurrying. New York, Hong Kong, Moscow, Toronto. Rushing, racing, hasting. Millions, millions, millions, all bent forward, chasing something. In cities, towns, roads, ships, streets, trains, factories, stores, highways, hundreds of millions of us desperately hurrying.”
“The half on the other side of the world,” I pointed out, “are asleep.”
“Yes, fitfully sleeping,” admitted Jim, “snoring, snorting, muttering, turning, twitching, millions of them, in India, China, Russia, Siam, hastily sleeping till the dawn to wake them to another day of dreadful pursuit. What is it they are after?”
“Should I answer?” I asked
“No, don’t interrupt,” said Jim. “Sometimes I am terrified by just thinking of all the madly hastening life that is going on at this instant, at every instant we breathe. Think of all the humans, the millions, at this moment working, toiling, loving, playing, dancing, dying. The Niagara of tears right now flowing in Rio de Janeiro and Sweden, Japan and Paris. But on top of that, think of the sea. The sea filled with vast shoals of herring, of millions, billions of sharks and porpoises — stop! — at this instant, hissing, cutting, curving through the vast deep ocean, eating, grinning, chasing; think of all the slow legs of beetles, at this very split second, moving in Brazil and the Congo, the myriad flies of Mexico and the billions of butterflies hurrying in the south of France. The animals, which at this instant, as we think of them, are prowling in Canada, mink, fox, deer; in Tibet, the strange goats, sheep, fleeing up the mountains; in Chicago, the rats and mice, armies of them, deep down in the basements of all the rotting cities, seeking, sniffing; the flowers, rising, reaching, dying, in the Swiss plateaux, in the jungles of Borneo; the trees that lift, the grass — life!”
“Life,” I echoed weakly. “It is an awful spectacle.”
“Spectacle?” said Jim. “We can’t see even the fringe of it. It is a sensation. By sitting absolutely still for a second, and feeling it, we can get a quick, vanishing, frightening sense of it. Life, at this awful instant, racing all over the earth, in the sea and in the air, animal, vegetable, in a screaming, hungry, dreadful chase.”
“I don’t see why you harp on it,” I declared. “It’s nice and comfortable here.”
“But If we get up and so much as look out the window,” said Jim, “we see it. We see the city, all of a roar.”
“Then the great thing,” I said, “is not to look out any windows.”
“What was in my mind,” said Jim, putting his feet up on the desk, “was this: if we humans are so intelligent, why it is we have never paused long enough to figure out what we are after? Why do we go right on doing what the sharks are doing, right now, forever and ever, in the sea; and the bugs in Brazil? And so forth?”
“Some of us,” I pointed out, “take life pretty easy. You and me, for instance. And some farmers we know. And hotelkeepers in the country.”
For a National Festival
“Yes,” said Jim, “but the whole tendency, nowadays, is away violently from that. A hundred years ago, even, man could spend his life away in perfect peace and ease, with no sense whatever of that awful urgency of life. But now, wherever a man may hide, motor cars will cover him with dust, aeroplanes will yell across his skies, and if he comes in for a plug of tobacco to a poor country crossroads store, some radio will burst his quiet forever by telling him a play by play account of a wreck or a battle or seductive voice will sing unforgettable sweetness into his rest. He cannot hide to-day from the exciting, gesturing, beckoning figure of action.”
“It is pretty nice in the country,” I said, “on a June afternoon. I have spent whole afternoons lying on a river bank, not even thinking, not even sleeping, but just lying there, motionless even in my mind.”
“What could we do,” demanded Jim, “to cause people to stop and think what they are doing? What they are after? What it’s all about?”
“It ought to be easy with Canadians,” I said. “Canadians have such interesting things to do, like driving in cutters in winter and going on canoe trips in summer. That would be a straight case of doing now what we used to do when things were gentler. That’s what the pioneers did.
“We might try to popularize canoe trips,” said Jim, “and walking in the country. We might agitate against good roads.”
“That’s a real idea,” I enthused.
“I bet we could get a big following,” said Jim, “of people who don’t want this modernizing of the world to go any farther.”
“Nudists, kind of?” I suggested. “Intellectual nudists, like?”
“For example,” said Jim, sitting up excitedly, “take maple syrup making. That’s going on all over the country right now. The greatest fun in the world. A true Canadian institution, of which everybody in cities and towns know nothing. A festival. A true, national, essential festival, and it is ignored. Why shouldn’t it be a feature of our life that at maple sugar time, everybody heads for the country to partake of the festival of the maple.”
“The maple is our national emblem,” I cried.
“In bright overalls of all colors,” went on Jim, excitedly, “men and women, children, everybody, greeting the rising of the sap, the return of life to the earth, by toiling in the beautiful sun-bathed maple forests, carrying sap, burning the fragrant fires, making the huge sap kettles to boil and bubble. And at night, dancing about the leaping fires while they sugar off.”
“It would be in the news reels,” I cried, “like those Swiss yodelers and the African witch doctors and the Apache sacred snake dance!”
“We have no national festival,” declared Jim, “except July first, which is the day everybody moves to the summer cottage.”
“The first of July, my friend,” I reminded Jim, “is, to a very large section of the country, the opening of the bass season, don’t forget.”
“That’s it,” agreed Jim. “It’s just a day off. It’s no festival. But the Festival of the Maple, lasting a whole week, from coast to coast, would be something. Did you ever attend a sugaring off?”
“I regret to admit I haven’t,” I said.
“Then,” said Jim, coldly, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You aren’t a Canadian at all. After five generations, you are just some sort of an immigrant. I suppose you wear a rose on St. George’s Day?”
“No, but I wear a sprig of heather on St. Andrew’s Day,” I confessed.
“Paugh,” said Jim.
And at two p.m. we were headed out of town to find a sugar camp.
“The sap,” explained Jim, sitting at the steering wheel, “dribbles down the little metal spout into a bucket suspended to the spout. In olden days, the spout was wood. The sap carriers bring the sap to the big cauldron or sap kettle hung over the fire. Most farmers have what they call a sugar house in the midst of their maple bush, where all this is done and where the equipment is kept from spring to spring.”
“Is the sap sweet?” I inquired.
“Yes, but it is also a laxative,” warned Jim. “If anybody offers you a drink of sap. just smile and say something farmery. Don’t let them suspect you are a city slicker. There are a lot of tricks can happen at a sugaring off.”
“So the sap boils?” I reminded him.
“It boils for several hours,” said Jim, “getting thicker and sweeter. The fragrant wood smoke helps give the syrup a flavor. The demand for syrup is nowadays greater than the demand for sugar, but every farmer makes some sugar. Years ago, the only sugar the farmers had was maple sugar.”
“Is there any better?” I asked.
“Not this side of heaven,” said Jim.
We drove to a certain town and turned then into the west, seeking at each little village the directions to where we might find a sugar bush in action. But at the gas stations, the young men seemed surprised at the mention of maple sugar and smiled sweetly at the very remembrance our question brought up. Some of them thought John P. Parker had just finished his maple syrup, and others thought Andrew J. McPhedran was not quite ready to do his yet. And it was away the other side of the next town that we came upon a wayside general store and gas pump where a grizzled and active little old man directed us down a side road with advice as to where we might find a sugar bush in full flood.
Three Men and a Gun
“P’s place,” said our informant. “Just ask your way to P’s place, it’s two concessions in and one to your right, and you’ll see a deserted house there. Painted white it was. Follow the cow path straight back of that house, and there you are.”
And down cedar-sheltered narrow country roads we crawled in second gear, because the spring was coming out of these side roads, and any day they would go to pieces. We slithered and slid and ground and growled down two concessions and one to the right and in due time came to an abandoned farm house where lilac bushes big with bud showed somebody had here once lived and loved.
Leaving the car, we followed a soft and muddy path over hill and dale, past old and fallen snake fences and across log bridges over rushing brooks, until on the slope ahead we beheld the bright figure of a hardwood bush. And into this bush, the path, pocked with footsteps, led.
“Smoke,” said Jim. “Smell the hardwood smoke?”
And in amidst the trees at last, we descried a little gray shanty, from the chimney of which a wisp of smoke rose.
“Not many maples here,” said Jim, scrutinizing the trees as we passed.
“Hello,” I sang out, in loud Canadian greeting.
But when we drew near the shanty, no bright figures in blue overalls strode forth to greet us heartily.
“I see no buckets,” said Jim. “But there’s a kettle in there.”
And we politely intruded. Around the inside of the sugar house, which was largely open to the elements, there were stacked grain bags and cardboard cartons. Under a large black kettle, a slow bright fire of hardwood coals glowed hotly, and the kettle made a soft purring sound.
But above the kettle there rose a large dull copper spiral of pipe almost as thick as a garden hose. And it coiled and rose and passed along the ceiling and then descended into another large pot which stood against an open side of the shanty.
“They didn’t make syrup this way,” said Jim, staring at the machinery, “when I lived in the country.”
“Some new-fangled way of making it,” I suggested. “More sanitary. Maybe this is the way they can get bigger production.”
“Why,” said Jim, backing slowly out of the shanty, “this looks like a still.”
“It is a still,” I said. “A maple syrup still.”
“Stand steady, you two!” said a loud nasal voice.
And Jim and I turned to see three gentlemen in rubber boots, one of them pointing a double-barrelled shotgun at us.
“Put up your hands, boys,” said the nasal gentleman, advancing. “City operators, eh?”
“We were just looking,” I explained.
“So were we,” said the nasal one. “We’ve been watching this outfit for nearly a week now. And it never occurred to us to expect city fellers. I’m the constable. You’re under arrest.”
In Pursuit of Something
But Jim and I were able to produce letters, pictures of our children, assignments, unpaid bills and the things newspapermen always carry about with them, and proved to the constable that we were innocent journalists out looking for a sugar maple camp.
“How’d you find this whisky still?” asked the constable.
“Why,” said Jim, “we were just driving along in here looking for a sugar bush, when I smelt wood smoke and we walked back the path.”
“Well, on your way,” said the constable. “And don’t mention to anybody about meeting us here.”
And we walked back out the path, while the three gentlemen with the gun went back into the underbrush and hid again.
When we got back to the main road, we pulled in to the gas pump and the grizzled little cricket of a man came hopping out eagerly.
“Did you find it?” he asked.
“Yep,” said Jim.
“Anybody there?” asked the little man.
“Yep. Three men with a gun,” said Jim.
“H’m,” said the little man. “Still hanging around, are they?”
“You might have got us shot,” I declared.
“Them fellers never shoot,” said the little man. “I was kinder anxious to know if they was still there.”
“Well, they are.”
“Makes it kind of difficult,” said the little man, “to keep the fire fed. But the half-owner of the business lives out on the other road where they park their car. He telephones me an order for groceries every time they arrive. And then telephones and cancels the order as soon as they leave.”
“Any sugar bushes in this neighborhood?” I asked.
“I can’t say,” said the little man. “I haven’t been interested in maple sugar for some years. Doesn’t pay.”
“Well,” we said, “so long.”
So we drove out to the big highway and got in line with the rest of the traffic whizzing madly along in pursuit of something.