The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Little Armistice

“He went plunging about in full view of the enemy, stabbing rifles into the mud…

By Gregory Clark, November 6, 1937

Now on the 20th anniversary of Passchendaele it can be told – how a lone man forced the world’s cruelest battle to cease for half an hour

This big armistice we are celebrating next week was not the only armistice. It took all the kings of earth, all the prime ministers, statesmen, the international giants of industry and the super gangsters of blood and fury and the yearning hearts of 400 million people to bring about this armistice now about to enter its twentieth tremulous year.

But the little armistice, that fewer than a thousand Canadians and Germans saw, was staged by only one man.

It lasted 30 minutes. But this one man with his pallid face and his blue chin, had something. Joshua made the sun stand still on Gideon. This one man made the battle of Passchendaele stand still. And because what he had, all men may have, and what he did, any man may do, I would like to tell the tale.

It is true. You will find it recounted in the war records at Ottawa and in the history of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. In Schleswig-Holstein and Hanover, Germany, and in Grey county and New Brunswick, there are men who talk of it still, because they were in it.

They saw one man, alone, make Passchendaele stand still; which, in some men’s minds, was a greater feat than Joshua’s.

Passchendaele, you remember, was the titanic end of a greater battle, officially termed the Battle of Ypres, 1917, to distinguish it from all the other battles of Ypres around that shattered city which was the graveyard of an empire.

On July 31, 1917, the British, to keep up the pressure after Vimy, and to upset the Germans, who were rushing whole armies south from Russia, now that Russia had quit, started a major battle out from Ypres. They were going to smash across those Flanders lowlands, only a few feet above sea level, capture the ridges, six miles away, which were the first good ground beyond Ypres, and so relieve the three years’ pressure on that fateful city and salient.

But rain, rain that always has destroyed conquerors and always will, started to fall. That August was the wettest August in history. The plan of battle had to be postponed from day to day, waiting for the rain to cease. It did not cease. The great attack went on. But even indomitable infantry can go no faster than the guns that support it. And the rain and the guns had converted those low flats into a pudding.

Day after day, the attack waited, or tried minor moves; but the rain fell. September, it fell. And the Germans, inspired, suddenly selected all the little hillocks and bits of solid ground, amidst the quagmire, to erect solid concrete field forts, “pill boxes,” one behind the other, slantwise, the fire of each covering its neighbors. In these five-foot thick forts the German machine-gun crews hid while the British barrages reared. And the instant they lifted, the crews dashed out with their guns to the concrete wings and turned their withering fire on the plunging, floundering figures advancing not merely knee deep but often waist deep through the quaking bog. September the rain fell, October. That dreadful quagmire, flat, treeless, featureless save for the low sunk gray shadows of those pill boxes, became a quicksand filled with the bodies of British men from every part of the isles, from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland – everywhere but Canada. The roads were no more. To move at all, the troops had to lay their wooden bathmats, four abreast, across the bog, and these shelterless paths they called “tracks.”

Not an Ordinary Battle

So 9,000 yards in three months the great attack had penetrated. And on October 26, at 20 minutes to 6 a.m., dark, with lashing rain sweeping the first ridge lifting out of this dire swamp was 2,400 yards ahead. And the Canadians were starting.

To go that 2,400 yards or to retreat 9,000 yards, back across the flats to Ypres again – that was the choice. Winter was at the door.

Our division attacked, that first Canadian day, with only three of its twelve battalions in front. We had behind us all our Third Division artillery, all the New Zealand artillery, the 49th Imperial artillery division, two army brigades of Imperial Field Artillery, the 13th and 70th groups of Heavy Artillery for counter-battery work, the 16th and 62nd Groups of Heavy Artillery for bombardment, and the 1st, 3rd and 6th Canadian Siege Batteries to cap all this immense weight of guns.

Don’t ask an infantryman how those guns got into position amidst the swamp. Don’t ask how a gun can fire aimed shots on a platform of quaking bog. But there behind three narrow-fronted battalions lost in the outermost sea of mud, were all those guns.

Trenches did not exist. Where those shelterless tracks of bathmats ended the troops took to the mud and move their forward way, in the night and eternal rain, amidst the water-full shell holes, across swollen brooks that flooded far and wide. Waist deep, they waded and foundered. Instead of trenches, they found little disconnected series of shell holes joined together, wherever a slight mound or a suggestion of dryness presented itself to those who had gone before. No landmarks showed. The furtive guides sent back to lead the platoons into their battle positions got lost. It was 5 a.m. of the 26th of October, 10 minutes before zero hour that the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were all in position.

Ahead of them, Germans in concrete pill boxes, waiting. German cannon mased on the dry ridges of Passchendaele.

It was, of course, dark, when at 20 minutes to 6 a.m., all that British, New Zealand and Canadian artillery burst loose behind them.

The pauses between the 100-yard lifts of the barrage were 10 minutes. In ordinary battles, that pause is three or four minutes. But even 10 minutes was far too short a time for men to go the 100-yard dashes through that dark slime. Men swam. Men started only to have to return and seek a new path around some deeper bog. Men lightly wounded by the intense German bombardment that immediately broke loose sank and were smothered in the mud. The pill boxes blazed and laid the regiment in windrows. To add horror upon horror, both flanks were left open when the Canadian brigade on the right and the Imperial naval brigade on the left, were driven back, leaving the regiment enfiladed by pill boxes from both sides as well as in front. Yet when 10 a.m. came, four hours after the start of this incredible business, the 4th C.M.R. were 500 yards into the enemy, pill boxes had fallen to individuals like 17-year-old Tommy Holmes, V.C.; and the 1st, 2nd and 5th C.M.R., the fellow battalions of the brigade, were thrust forward, backing up the attacking battalion, squaring the flanks, filling the holes.

Scattered all over the front, the remnants of the battalion, isolated from one another but holding savagely on, saw, at noon, the magnificent performance of Captain Christopher O’Kelly. V.C., and Colonel W. W. Foster, of the 52nd Battalion, leading their men through a storm of fire to capture the first faint rise of ground that led on 2,000 yards to Passchendaele. This brought the right flank up. The Germans, fearful of that foothold on dry ground, began intense bombardments and counter attacks, but by 2.30 p.m., eight and a half hours from that start before the dawn, both flanks were level with the C.M.R.; and there they were, 500 yards deep. Four officers only, out of the 21 who started, were unhit; eight were killed, nine wounded. And 304 non-commissioned officers and men were killed, wounded or missing. Two of the battalion’s majors were dead.

An Astonishing Silence

But now, on the high ground, the Germans were beginning to catch their breath and realize that at last, after three months, and acres 9,000 yards, their enemy was within touching distance of solid earth and a ridge beyond which the Germans would have no direct view of that broad Ypres plain. The fury began to grow again. Now began the worst part of a battle, the holding.

It was about 3 p.m. that he was first noticed.

A familiar figure. Sturdy his helmet tilted curiously forward over his eyes.

He was surely the unlikeliest figure to be expected in such a place, in such a bloody slime and sea. He should have been back at the wagon lines, in the Canal Bank, in far-off Ypres. He was the padre.

Rev. W. H. Davis, the man who made the battle of Passchendaele stand still for half an hour.

Dramatize padres as we may have, the fact remains that the normal place to look for a chaplain is not in the middle of a battle. In the front line, frequently, yes. But this 4th C.M.R. chaplain, the Rev. W. H. Davis, was a little odd. He more or less lived in the front line.

And here he was, about 3 p.m. of the afternoon, floundering around right in the open, in full view of the enemy, in advance of the newly established line, acting in a very queer manner.

He had a handkerchief tied to his walking stick. Padres are not allowed to bear arms, by international law. Holding his stick up and waving it every time a blast of fire came near him, he went plunging about, bending and straightening, and stabbing rifles into the mud.

If it was a German wounded, he hung a German helmet on the gun butt. If Canadian, a Canadian helmet.

Men shouted to him to come in out of that. The heavens were about to break.

Aye, they were. In a funny way.

Serenely, the padre continued to quarter the dreadful ground this way, that way, while the crumps hurled in and the machine-guns stuttered and filled the air with their stomach-turning zipp and whisper.

One major caught the padre’s ear. Through the crumps, the padre waded over.

“I was getting anxious about you!” he cried.

They held him there a little while until, unnoticed, he slipped away, and appeared, far to the right, dipping and foundering, and setting up that ever-growing ragged chain of rifle butts, helmets aloft.

Small parties of his own men tried to reach him or to carry in one of the wounded he marked. But they were flattened with enemy machine-gun fire. The padre beckoned nobody. He called no man, Canadian or German, though he passed close to both. He simply stuck up the rifles, hung the helmets, and left them mutely there.

Then the heavens opened. But with silence. With a sudden gathering lull. Shellfire ceased. Machine-guns died, all across that narrow C.M.R. belt. To north, to south, the fury raged. But out from this solitary figure, resolutely plowing his zigzag course in the horror, there radiated a queer paralysis.

In a matter of minutes, silence grew. It was as if the sun stood still. As if the whole mad world were abashed. And there, all alone in the middle of the silence, walked the solitary figure, bending rising and stabbing rifles into the earth.

From the Canadian side figures crouched up, ventured forward. From the German side men rose. Where an instant before had been a three-year-old hate, grappled in its most tragic force, were men awkwardly and cautiously advancing, empty-handed, to meet one another. They ran to their own maskers, the helmets, German or Canadian. Some of the Canadians were far over amidst the Germans. Some of the wounded Germans lay back of the Canadian outposts. Canadians began to carry the Germans forward.

Padre Davis went and stood on the ruined remnants of a pill box, a few vast hunks of concrete. Aloft, he stood and beckoned the parties to him. He had established a clearing house.

They traded wounded. Enemy hands touched enemy hands. From German arms Canadian arms took wounded Canadians, tenderly. Cigarettes were offered. In amazement, enemy looked on enemy and grinned shyly. But with imperative signals and shouts, the padre bade them hurry. Waste no time. Garner in the sheaves.

For nearly 30 minutes this armistice maintained. And from back, thousand men stood and watched in astonishment.

Then, a mile away, some artillery observing officer, through his glasses, beheld the target. He could make out enemy uniforms. Yes, it must be enemy. Clustered, right in the open. What folly.

Aye, what folly. There is always an artillery observer, afar, not seeing, not hearing, not knowing.

Shells came whistling. The chaplain leaped down off his perch and commanded them all to run. Figures crouched and plunged homeward. The silence vanished in a rising mutter. In three minutes the whole dreadful business was in full roar again. And the dark came down, and the sons of God were all huddled in the foul swamp again, under the rain and the low Flanders sky, and the shriek and crack and stutter of night.

The 4th C.M.R. was relieved the next day and went away back to recruit and rebuild itself. Padre Davis was a week late in catching up with us. It took him the week to seek and find and consecrate as many of our dead as still showed a bit of themselves up in the bog. For, as you know, in two more attacks the Canadians went the full 2,400 yards and took Passchendaele and beyond, and handed it over safe and sound for the winter.

They pinned on him the M.C. when he arrived back. He put it on much as Dr. Livingstone would have put on some pagan ornament given him by the Congo savages. He was Dr. Livingstone, we were pagans. He was sane. We were a thousand lunatics.

An Order All to Himself

With his pallid, blue-jawed face, Padre Davis remains an eternal image in the memory of every 4th C.M.R. man. His pale gray eyes wide in innocent dismay and astonishment. He had the body of a man, the heart and mind of a child. He knew no fear. What we called courage – and hung decorations on him for it – he regarded with sheer amusement. He had something deeper. As preacher, with his thick Irish brogue and lilt, we could hardly understand a word he said. Even the passage from Revelations that ends the burial service – and surely we ought to know that by heart – sounded foreign as he lilted it. He had come out from Ireland as a missionary to some little Anglican Church in Alberta.

Canadian veterans will remember such scenes as this … guns being taken through shell-wrecked villages to the front lines.

But he was a queer one. He consorted with publicans and sinners. He deliberately sought out all the blacklegs in the battalion, the drunks, the gamblers, the blasphemers, the timid, the fearful, and sat with them, by day and by night, in the trenches. He carried around haversacks of secret treasures which we who loved him most accused him of having stolen somewhere, and these he gave to the least worthy.

He wheedled patrols out of sentimental platoon officers in order to go ghouling around in No Man’s Land to seek and bury fliers, British or German, it did not matter, who fell flaming between the lines; and there, before the abashed patrol guarding him, he would kneel, helmet laid aside, in the wind and the night, speaking softly from a little open book which he could not see in the dark; and in the morning the Germans would be astonished to see, in No Man’s Land, a fresh grave and a new cross shining.

We tried to keep him. The colonel thought up special duties for him, that would detain him at the wagon lines. He was not encouraged to spend his time up in the front trenches. His friends, both officers and privates, reasoned with him. He listened to all our importunities with earnest, wide stare, as if trying so hard to understand our point of view. We told him he was becoming a moral hazard; if anything happened to him, it would ruin the morale of us all. He just laughed. He buried a hundred or two of us. He was so mad, so lawless, so childish and irresponsible, that when, ten months later, we came to the Battle of Amiens, the Colonel favored Captain Davis with a special, personal order. Not merely a mention in operation orders. An order all to himself.

“From the O.C.

4th C.M.R.

To Captain W. H. Davis, M.C. Chaplain, 4th C.M.R

“During the coming engagement you will please remain at the battalion wagon lines at Boves Wood until you receive from the commanding officer a written order to come forward.”

At broad noon, we swept, almost a battalion in line, like in Wellington’s time, out of Le Quesnel to go, across a lovely August plateau of waving wheat, to Folies, 1,000 yards ahead.

About the middle of the line, stiff and straight, was Padre Davis, turning his head to right, to left, watching where they fell.

When enough had fallen he turned and ran back to the brick wall of the chateau in Le Quesnel and led out the bandsmen, who acted as stretcher-bearers in battle.

Leading them, pointing to where the boys had fallen, a shell struck at his feet.

And from his top left-hand breast pocket, the one the little purple and white ribbon was over, as we laid him number one in the long grave with Lieut. John McDonald and twelve men of the regiment, in Le Quesnel Catholic cemetery, though they were all Protestants, we took that same order, at the bottom of which the padre had written in pencil:

“Orders is orders.”

Whose orders?


Editor’s Note: The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles was the unit that Greg Clark belonged to in the First World War.

It’s a Barn-yard Call

October 16, 1937

The Evening’s Fishing

By Greg Clark, July 3, 1937

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, snuggling deeper behind the steering wheel, “that makes us so nuts about fishing?”

“It’s like having red hair,” I explained, “or being able to sing. It’s just born in us.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Jim. “Here we are, heading north at a high rate of speed for the opening of the bass season. We’ve spent every week-end in May and June trout fishing, to the neglect of our business and our families. We’ve spent far more money on it than any budget normally allows for pleasure.”

“Fishing only lasts,” I pointed out, “from May first to the middle of October. Five and a half measly months.”

“Most people,” stated Jim, “take two weeks’ holidays in the summer and let it go at that. Here we not only take two weeks but about twenty week-ends.”

“Everybody does something with their week-ends,” I countered. “Golfing, driving in the country. Lots of them take trips south.”

“Most of them,” corrected Jim, “just stay home.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it’s a free country. And if a man takes more pleasure staying home on week-ends and saving his money, that’s his pleasure. I would no more think of interfering with him staying home than I would permit him to interfere with me going away.”

“What I mean is,” said Jim, “those who stay home feel that they can’t really afford to go busting off on trips.”

“They’re welcome to feel anyway they like,” I admitted happily, “so long as by deed or word or facial expression they don’t attempt to interfere with my way of thinking. These people who stay home on week-ends are probably looking forward to a comfortable old age. That’s a form of amusement I have no use for. Comfortable old age! Imagine guys in good health sitting around all Saturday and Sunday greedily looking forward to a comfortable old age. Of all the disgusting habits.”

“I’d say it was mighty good sense. Farsighted.” said Jim.

“Short-sighted, you mean,” I insisted. “Can’t they see all around them that old age is hardly ever comfortable? It’s full of aches and pains. They’re so fat they can’t breathe or so thin they hurt all over even lying in bed. All the things that have happened to them in their lives seem to pile on top of them in the end. They’ve eaten too heartily or have got round-shouldered at sedentary jobs. What they thought all their lives was just being careful turns out in the end to be only mean and it shows in their faces. Unless you die when you’re about twenty-five life is always disappointing and the longer you live the more disappointed with it you grow. That is unless you go fishing or something.”

“You’ve got the worst philosophy I ever heard,” said Jim loudly and stepping on the gas.

“Well, show me something better than fishing,” I retorted.

“It’s the most selfish pleasure, on earth,” stated Jim. “A golfer only leaves his family for few hours and an occasional evening. But a fisherman runs away Friday night and never turns up until late Sunday night or early Monday morning, looking sunburned and guilty.”

“His family are glad to be rid of him,” I cut.

“Even week-end trips cost money,” said Jim. “A man runs away with a lot of money fishing.”

“I suppose it would be better,” I sneered, “if he were to save it little by little until the next depression. Surely nobody in the whole world believes in saving money any more.”

“Aw,” scoffed Jimmie.

“All right: all I say is, anybody is a fool to save,” I assured him. “And of all the ways of not saving, I think fishing is the best.”

“And,” questioned Jim, “when you are old and can’t go fishing any more and all your money is gone, how will you feel?”

“Far better than most of my generation,” I declared. “For I can say, ‘Here I am without any money, but I’ve had a hell of a good time.’ And the rest of the inmates of the poorhouse will be hunched up, their hands clasped between their boney knees, moaning. ‘Here I am without any money and look how I’ve suffered.’ I bet I’ll be the happiest old guy in the old men’s home. That’s something to look forward to.”

“I’m looking forward,” stated Jim. “to some swell fishing in about three hours. We’ll have the evening from at least six o’clock on. We ought to get our limit of six bass before dark in dear old Lake Skeebawa.”

“What a lake,” I agreed. “And to think we have it practically to ourselves.”

“What I like about Skeebawa,” said Jim, “is there are no motor boats on it. No engines humming and snorting and putting. No oil fouling the pure water. Just a little secret lake that seems to have escaped the march of progress.”

“What I hate about motor boats,” I said, “is that they allow wholly undeserving people, fat, cushion-sitting fish hogs, to race around the lake taking in only the very best fishing spots. Good fishing belongs to those who are willing to take the trouble to win it.”

“Of course, our guides’ do the paddling,” reminded Jim.

“Good old Simon and good old Sandy,” I cried. “Will they be glad to see us? I’ve brought Simon a couple of my old pipes and a pound of that cheap tobacco he likes.”

“I’ve brought Sandy that hunting knife I got for Christmas,” said Jim. “It’ll make a big hit with Sandy.”

“This makes ten years,” I mused, “that Simon and Sandy have paddled us the rounds of Skeebawa.”

“They’re grand old boys,” said Jim. “Let’s see: we’ll do the usual round. We’ll take to the left from the boathouse and cast all along that rush bed. Then cut across to Simon’s Point and fish the shoal for say half an hour. Then along those lily pads on the far side and so home by dark. We can do that in three hours.”

A Disturbing Sound

“Easy,” I agreed, turning to take stock of my various items of tackle, rods, boxes in the back seat. “What are you going to start with?”

“Red and white plug,” said Jim.

“I think I’ll start with that copper casting spoon,” I considered. “It’ll be a bright evening and after the hot spell the bass won’t be any too frisky.”

“Six bass apiece,” sang Jimmie; giving the gas to her. “And then in the dark walking up to Andy’s cottage for one of Mrs. Andy’s glorious fried bass dinners.”

“Then sitting out under the stars listening to the whippoorwills,” I joined in, “and talking slow and lazy with old Simon and Andy about last winter and how they worked in the lumber camps and what they trapped and the big lake trout they caught through the ice.”

“And,” sighed Jim, “going to bed knowing that tomorrow we have the whole glorious long day, from misty sunrise to moonlit dark, just casting, casting, casting.

We fell silent and watched the long road rolling under us and the bright summer fields and the farmers already in their hay. And, thinking the idle thoughts of the true angler, we watched the woods grow thicker and darker with the northering miles, and a tingle come into the air, and the smell of the lakes, the little lakes, come cool and secret through the summer.

We reached at last, both of us eager and sitting up fresh, the road that goes to Skeebawa, loveliest of the little lily-margined lakes. and wound down through familiar narrowing roads of cedar jungles and high stumpy barrens and aisled forests of maple and oak, seeing with joyous hearts the narrowing, the roughening that meant the ever nearer approach to the little lost water where Simon and Sandy would probably be waiting for us at the old broken rail fence at the turn down, as in all the happy past.

We reached the fence at last, both of us emitting ceremonial shouts and hurrahs. But neither Simon nor Sandy was waiting for us at the usual spot. Down the sandy ruts towards Sandy’s cabin we turned.

“Been a heavy car in here to-day,” said Jim briefly

“H’m,” said I. “Of course there are other guests always. But Simon will always save his canoe for me.”

“One thing is certain,” agreed Jim.

Over the knoll we rose and, as usual, stopped the car to feast our gaze on wrinkled blue Skeebawa spread below us. Jim turned off the engine and said,

“Aaaaahhhh.”

A curious and horrible sound came to our ears. It was the distant drone and whine of a powerful outboard motor engine.

“Jim,” I cried.

Jim snatched at the key and started the car.

“Sandy never,” Jim said, “never would have bought an engine. He couldn’t afford one, for one thing.”

“Let’s get there,” I said, and took hold for the bumps down the few hundred yards of sandy ruts to the cabin.

Mrs. Sandy came out as we drove in the yard, wiping her hands on her apron and waving to us.

“Mrs. Sandy,” I said, leaping out, “is that an engine?”

“It sure is,” said Mrs. Sandy delightedly. “An old gent arrived last night with a trailer and his own boat on it. See, there?”

Under the pines where our car usually rested was a big rich car and attached to it a trailer such as big skiffs are carried on. It was a rich man’s car.

“Where are the boys?” demanded Jim.

“Out with him,” said Mrs. Sandy. “What a time they’re having. That boat skims, so it does. Just skims. They’ve been all around the lake half a dozen times and got no end of bass, but he puts them all back over the six he’s allowed by the law.”

“Mrs. Sandy,” I said, “didn’t the boys know we’d be here?”

“Certainly they knew,” she cried. “Of course they did and come in and I’ll take you to your room.”

“But, Mrs. Sandy,” said Jim, “we were hoping to go right out. For the evening’s fishing.”

“The canoes are right where you’ll find them,” said Mrs. Sandy. “He’s paying the boys ten dollars a day to ride in that boat with him. Ten dollars a day. My, he’s a rich man.”

“Mrs. Sandy,” said Jim, “is there nobody to paddle us?”

“Simon tried all night nearly,” said she, “to get one of his nephews, but they were busy. The boys said you wouldn’t mind paddling yourself to-night and they’ll have some nephews for you in the morning.”

“In the morning?” said I. “Is the rich gentleman staying?”

“Staying?” cried Mrs. Sandy. “He’s crazy about the place. He says he’s been looking for it all his life. He’s telegraphed all his friends…”

“Ooooohhh,” moaned Jim, and I joined in and harmonized my groan.

“Why, gentlemen,” cried Mrs. Sandy, “the lake’s full of fish. He says he never saw such fishing. He’s hooked forty if he’s hooked one. And him and the boys, in that skimmer, has just been scooting from the one good spot to the next all day long, wasting no time…. He’s taking me for a spin in it after dinner tonight.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Let’s get on the water,” I muttered.

Hurriedly we carried our duffle to the house, where Mrs. Sandy showed us to the room next to our old one. Our old room was strangely packed with foreign duffle, scads of it, rod cases, big leather and canvas bags, expensive-looking tweed coats, rugs, tackle boxes flung about.

“Can’t we have our old room?” I demanded.

“He’s paying twenty dollars a day,” whispered Mrs. Sandy tremendously; “twenty dollars a day for this room and he says he won’t give a cent less.”

We dropped our bags in a little room with a slanting ceiling and stuffy smell, a room I had not even glanced into in all the years. We changed into old clothes, snatched up rods and boxes and walked down, in the evening to the ramshackle boathouse and got out Simon’s red canoe.

“I’ll paddle,” I growled so determinedly that Jim didn’t even haggle.

Silently I drove the canoe along toward the long-rush beds while Jim mounted his reel and tied on his favorite red and white bass plug. As we cast along, the drone and snarl of the engine resounded from the far end of the lake, starting and stopping, as we pictured just which best spots this old devil was fishing in turn. We fished the two hundred yards of rush beds without a single strike. Not a swirl. In past years we each always took two bass off this rush bed. Two and three pounders.

“Simon,” I said, “has probably had him along here.”

“Sandy, too,” said Jim shortly.

Far down the quieting lake we heard distant merry shouts and the familiar music of a man into a fish. It sounded like a big one.

I paddled Jim heavily across to the boulder point and set him just the right distance to cast over the shoals. Ten casts, not a bass. Twenty casts, not a bass.

“He’s probably been over this ground a dozen times to-day,” I suggested.

We heard the distant engine start up and around the far point came the smoothly skimming skiff. The water was still and like a creature of evil the skiff came boring and arrowing up the lake. I heard the loud calls as Simon and Sandy saw us, and the skiff turned and came for us, racketing the echoes of the quiet hills of Skeebawa and breaking the peaceful lake into waves and wash. In an instant the skiff curved alongside us and Simon, all grins like a child, turned the engine off.

In the middle, easy and quiet, sat a skinny little man. He was beyond seventy. He was wiry and bright eyed. In his hand he held the most expensive type of rod and it was mounted with one of those twenty-five-dollar reels.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said, as our craft touched sides gently. “The boys tell me this is your private little heaven. I hope you will welcome a new and unworthy angel?

And Jimmie and I, a little stiffly perhaps, welcomed him and denied it was any private heaven and that all lakes were public property and anybody who cared could come on them, and then we drifted off on the pretext of having just another couple of dozen casts at a special spot where some cedars hung out over…

“We done that,” cried Simon. “We done it twice this morning and three times this afternoon.”

And with a flourish he started the engine and away they snored for the cabin.

“Jim,” I said, “I can’t stay. I can’t even stay the night.”

“Me, too,” said Jim, reeling up.

And we slunk in and packed our stuff amid the lovely odor of frying bass while the stranger sat at feast. We told the boys and Mrs. Sandy we had just dropped in for old time’s sake, but that we had to meet a gang of friends at another lake forty miles up.

And into the night, directionless, not knowing whither, we drove, back out the old twisting road.

“The only thing a man can do,” said Jim, “is save his money and work like a fool when he’s young so as to be able to go fishing when he is old.”

“It’s the only way to compete nowadays,” I agreed.

“You never said a truer word,” said Jim, relapsing into the silence that befitted the dark and pine-girt night.


Editor’s Note: Lake Skeebawa is not real. If Greg and Jim did have a secret fishing spot, they would not reveal it in a story.

3 A.M.

June 19, 1937

Something Has To Be Done

By Greg Clark, May 29, 1937

“I see by the papers,” said Jimmie Frise, “that there are 15,000,000 dogs in North America.”

“It seems a pretty conservative estimate,” I commented.

“I was going to say,” said Jim, “that there were 15,000,000 dogs in Toronto. Maybe that’s a little high. But did you ever in all your life see so many dogs around as there are nowadays?”

“The country,” I admitted, “is really going to the dogs.”

“The less able the world is to keep dogs,” said Jim, “the more the fashion grows. In more spacious days, when there were no motor cars and every home had some ground around it, I could understand everybody keeping a dog. But under modern conditions It seems to me keeping a dog should be a privilege accorded only those who are qualified. And the qualifications should be enough ground around the home for the dog to play in without risking his life and limb on the trafficky streets. And the other and more Important qualification should be that the dog owner would have enough intelligence to control and master his dog.”

“Well, we’d qualify,” I agreed.  “I must say your old Rusty has almost a human intelligence. And as for my Dolly, she is practically a member of the family.”

“We’ve taken the trouble,” explained Jim. “to train and educate our dogs. Rusty and Dolly are, you might say, modernized dogs. But some of these wild animals that gang up and rove this neighborhood are not only a nuisance but a menace. Here I am putting in my garden for the next couple of nights. Now, Rusty is trained. He knows what a garden is. He never runs on the borders or tramples the young plants. You never catch Rusty digging up the garden or messing about the bushes.”

“Dolly’s the same,” I said. “In fact, I have seen her chasing other dogs out of our garden. Many’s the time last summer I have watched Dolly walking about the garden looking at the flowers just as if she were human being and enjoying them exactly as a human being.”

“Yesterday,” said Jim. “I happened to look out the back window and what did I see? Three of those mutts of the neighborhood, two half-breed collies and a wire-haired terrier, actually burying bones in my perennial borders.”

“Couldn’t you train Rusty to be a policeman?” I asked.

“He wasn’t around,” said Jim, “or he’d have soon had those tramps out of there.”

“I’d say,” I said, “that most of the people in our neighborhood keep dogs by force of habit. They apparently take no pleasure out of them, as we do in Rusty and Dolly. They let them out in the morning, probably giving them kick as they go, and they let them in at night. And for the rest of the day, those dogs just run at large, upsetting garbage pails, scaring the wits out of motorists by dashing recklessly all over the streets, digging in gardens, wrecking ornamental shrubs and generally being public nuisances.”

“It looks like it,” agreed Jim. “Something will have to be done.”

“Now there’s that apartment house along the street,” I reminded him. “I was counting the dogs in it. There are eight families in that house, and I’ll be jiggered if there aren’t nine dogs. One family has two of those bugeyes Pekes.”

On Other People’s Property

“That apartment house,” stated Jim, “has no yard at all. It has a concrete area at the back entirely filled with garages. It has no front lawn to speak of. Where do those nine dogs run?”

“On other people’s property,” I declared.

“Exactly,” said Jim.

“We certainly ought to do something about it,” I asserted. “And we, as dog owners and dog lovers, can’t be accused of being prejudiced against dogs either. I am one of the first to get my dander up when any of these anti-dog people begin their annual uproar about dogs running at large in the city. It is usually about now, when people are putting in their gardens, that the rumpus begins. But there is reason and moderation in all things, including dogs.”

“All I expect of other people,” agreed Jim, “is that they control their dogs the same way I do.”

“That’s it,” I supported. “Let that be our slogan. And if we dog owners start the agitation, it will go a long way further than if these anti-dog people try to do anything.”

“I can’t understand a man or a woman not having a dog,” said Jim. “If I were going to start a political party or a new religion or something, I would take a census of the homes of the city, and where there was a dog, that home I’d invite in.”

“I doubt if there ever was a villain who owned a dog,” I agreed.

“No food and no love is wasted in a house where there is a dog,” declared Jim. “It gets what is left over of both. You can tell all about a home by the dog.”

And with this kindly thought we went to our appointed tasks for the afternoon.

After supper, seeing Jim in his garden south of mine, and I not being quite ready to plant my annuals, as I like the garden to be best in September rather than July when all my family are away, I strolled down to watch him, Dolly joining me.

Jim had the little boxes of petunias and zinnias all laid out ready to be planted, the crimson nicotine and verbenas, the sweet william and orange flare cosmos. I helped him carry the little boxes of plantlings and distribute them around the borders where they would variously go. Old Rusty and Dolly solemnly accompanied us as we moved here and there.

“Look at them,” said Jim, fondly. “See how intelligently they watch us. They know what we are doing. They are interested. I bet they even realize that presently, as the result of this work of ours, the garden will glow and smother with flowers and sweet scents.”

With tongues out, the two sat, a little stoutly, maybe, a little over-fed, most amiably following us.

“No silly romping,” I pointed out. “No nonsense. There’s dogs, Jim.”

And we proceeded to set the plants, Jim scooping the holes with his trowel and I breaking out the seedlings with blocks of earth from the basket complete. We petted them down. Nasturtiums, marigolds, mourning bride, lantana. Clarkia in clumps because it is stringy, verbenas well separated because with their multi-colored stars they will reach and spread. The best part of May is the end where we plant the annuals.

To sort out some weeds that Jim bought to eke out the foot of his garden, such as sunflowers and some coarse climbing nasturtiums for along the fence, we went indoors and down to Jim’s cellar billiard room, and we had hardly been there a minute before Jim, glancing out the cellar window, let forth a wild bellow.

Rusty and Dolly had wandered off when we had come indoors, and as we reached the back door, there were no fewer than seven dogs holding a kind of canine gymkhana in the garden.

“Hyaaah,” roared Jimmie, hurling a flower pot at them.

There was a red setter, a police dog, a scrub collie, a wire-haired terrier, a goggle-eyed Boston bull, a Scotty, and big over-grown Springer spaniel, weighing about sixty pounds, a kind of a mattress of a dog, brown and white.

They were racing in circles, trampling all over the newly planted seedings, ducking around perennials just decently leafing out of the earth, plunging through spiraea…

“Hyaaaaaah,” we roared, charging into the yard.

All but the Springer spaniel, without so much as letting on they saw us, raced out of the back gate and down the street, like a gang of panting, laughing hoodlums.

The Springer, with a look of interest, was braced in behind Jim’s loveliest Japonica bush, watching us with rigid tail and cocked head.

“You!” said Jim, advancing cautiously.

“Easy, Jim,” I warned. “Get behind him and chase him out.”

“I’ll catch him,” said Jim. “and deliver him to his owner.”

“He may be cross,” I warned.

But the Springer spaniel, all feathers and wool and burly good nature, was far from cross. He was for play.

With a slithering, dirt-flinging spring, he wheeled and raced along the wire fence, every bound crashing him heavily on to some little cluster of freshly set and fragile plantlings.

“Hyaaahh,” we roared at him.

With a skid and a slither, he would halt and watch us, tail wagging frantically and mouth agape in a wide grin of joy.

“Don’t try to catch him,” I said, “he thinks we’re playing.”

“I’ll show him if we’re playing,” gritted Jim.

He advanced, half crouched.

The Springer, with an ecstatic slither, was off again, crashing through a bed of Darwin tulips with his whole sixty pounds and plunging into a young spiraea bush as if to play hide and seek.

“Aw,” moaned Jim terribly.

“Shoo him out, shoo him out,” I yelled. “He’ll romp in here all night, if you let him.”

“Rusty, Rusty,” roared Jimmie into the evening.

“Hyuh, Dolly, hyuh, hyuh,” I cried, “sick ‘im.”

But Rusty and Dolly were absent at the one time we needed them.

“Here, help corner him,” commanded Jim. “You come along that way and I’ll come this way and we’ll corner him by the house.”

So we slowly converged.

The Springer waited, with sly, joyous eyes, until we were almost on him before, with a plunge that flattened the spiraea and carried him horribly on top of the whole cluster of long slender orange fare cosmos plantlings, he burst the blockade and tore across to the opposite border of the garden and took refuge, playfully, behind a perennial phlox that, in another month, is the wonder of the whole district, so gorgeous a magenta is it, with its hundred blooms.

“Oooooh,” moaned Jim, “if he crushes that!”

“Throw something at him,” I insisted. “Make him get out.”

“Now I’m determined,” declared Jim gratingly, “to catch him and deliver him.”

“Very well, then,” I decreed, “Shut the gate.”

So while Jim shut the gate, I picked up a few odds and ends, the trowel, a couple of flower pots and a garden stake. And with these as ammunition, I drove the astonished Springer into the corner by the house while Jim charged in and grabbed him.

He struggled furiously and then angrily, growling and snarling.

“Get the rug out of the car,” panted Jimmie, wrapping himself around the astonished and frightened dog.

I nipped over and snatched the car rug and brought it. Jim managed to roll the big spaniel in it, leaving only his head out.

We straightened ourselves up and dusted off.

“There,” gasped Jim. “Now, Mister Springer, I know where you live.”

“What will you say?” I asked, “Better get it planned so you won’t just arrive in a temper and say worse than nothing.”

“I’ll simply say, ‘Sir’,” said Jim, “here is your dog. It came into my garden and trampled all over my newly planted seedlings. It plunged through my tulips and bushes and crushed my perennial phlox. I do not blame the dog. I blame the owner of the dog who has not taught it to behave and to respect gardens.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“I’ll hand him his dog,” said Jim “and warn him that if the dog damages my garden again, I will take steps that will astonish him.”

“Let’s go,” I said, because the big Springer was patiently struggling within the folds of the car rug and I was afraid he might work free.

Jim carried the extraordinary bundle down the street. The owner lived about eight doors south.

“Ring the front door,” said Jim. “We’ll make no back door peddling of this.”

I rang. I rang twice. I rapped.

“They’re out, I guess,” I guessed.

“Maybe they’re in the yard,” said Jim, starting around.

In the yard, on the clothes line, some sort of chintz curtain was hanging. My Dolly, sweetest and gentlest of dogs, was clinging to one corner of the curtain, taking little runs and a swing, and chewing and growling secretly and furiously with the fun.

Fair in the middle of the yard, in a bed of resplendent parrot tulips, elderly and amiable Rusty, most intelligent of all the dogs I ever knew, had all but vanished down an enormous hole he had dug, just his hind quarters and tail showing until Jim’s shout brought him backing out to look, with easy innocence, over his shoulder.

“Jim,” I said low, “drop that dog and let’s sneak.”

The kitchen window of the house next door squealed suddenly open and a red-faced lady put her head out.

“What are you doing with that dog in the blanket?” she demanded chokingly. “I’ll tell Mr. Hooper on you. The very idea. And look what those brutes are doing to his garden and to Mrs. Hooper’s chintz.”

Jim unrolled the Springer and he landed heavily and ran straight for Rusty, his hackles up.

“Those two creatures,” shouted the lady above the racket that Rusty and Dolly were making in a fight with the Springer, “are the worst nuisances in the entire neighborhood. And yet I catch you in the act of trying smother the loveliest, kindest dog in the whole city.”

Jim and I withdrew up the side drive and then turned and called Rusty and Dolly. They came, being glad to leave the Springer who was beginning to get rough.

We hastened up the street, the Springer pursuing us with hoarse and angry barks.

“It’s always the other fellow’s dog,” reflected Jim.

“And to somebody, I suppose,” I said, “we are always the other fellow. Should I let those people know who chewed the chintz?”

“No,” said Jim, as we turned into Jim’s yard. “The Springer will get the blame and it will all even up in the long run. He deserves the blame to make up for what damage he has done elsewhere.”

“These two,” I said, “never get any blame around here.”

“Oh, well,” said Jim, starting to walk along the borders to re-pet up all the little seedlings, “they behave around home. What more can you ask?”

So Rusty and Dolly, their tongues hanging out, followed us along, sitting down behind us to watch the job and getting up to follow whenever we moved five feet, and we rubbed their towsled heads and scratched their eternally itchy chins, and they looked up at us with half-closed eyes of adoration and perfect understanding.


Editor’s Notes: Pet ownership was not really that common until the rise of the middle class in the 19th century. You can see how things have changed, even since the time of the article in 1937. It was not unusual for dogs to roam free, even in a city. Children were warned to be wary of packs of dogs. Picking up dog poop was not a concern until legislation started in the 1980s. Even the concept of packaged dog food did not exist. Dogs were expected to just eat the scraps of the family meals. Canned dog food was only invented in 1922, and dry kibble was not invented until 1956.

A gymkhana is an Indian term which originally referred to a place of assembly.

"Dead Eye"

By Greg Clark, February 20, 1937

“Have you noticed,” asked Jimmie Frise, “these new shooting galleries around?”

“Don’t tell me,” I cried, “that shooting is coming back.”

“It is,” said Jim, “and with a bang. All over the country these little shooting galleries are opening up. You shoot for a pool.”

“Money?” I inquired sharply.

“Cash,” agreed Jim. “A certain amount of what everybody pays for his shots goes into a pot, like in poker. The target is a very tricky one. It is the capital letter Z. With three shots, you have to obliterate all the letter Z, which is in red ink on the target. If the slightest trace, of red remains, after your three shots, you lose. Only the most expert marksmen, and the luckiest marksmen, can cut out all that Z with three shots from a little .22 rifle.”

“Does the pot get very big?” I asked.

“I’ve heard of it growing to $60,” said Jim. “Often it goes as high as $20.”

“By George,” I assured him, “that’s worth shooting for.”

“And very exciting, too,” said Jim. “These little shooting galleries are located in shops and stores; and in their front windows they stick up signs or a blackboard and announce the size of the pool every hour or so. When the word spreads that the pool is growing big, the boys gather from far and wide to take a shot for the big money.”

“And the greater the excitement.” I supposed, “the bigger the pool grows, because nervousness and excitement spoils the shooting.”

“I heard of a case down in one western Ontario town,” said Jim, “where an old Black Watch sergeant-major, one of those regular old soldiers, used to wait until the pool got up around twenty bucks, and then he’d walk in and collect. He has carried off eight or nine of these big pools, I’m told.”

“I can picture that,” I laughed. “A Scotsman, cool and practical. And an old soldier. And he just walks in, very calm and cold-blooded, and shoots that twenty bucks right into his Caledonian pocket.”

“Certain of the bigwigs in the country,” said Jimmie, “look with disfavor on these shooting galleries. They are trying to find out how they can be stopped.”

“Why?” I demanded. “Don’t they want the plain people to have any fun?”

“Well, for instance,” said Jim, “old Colonel Lundy-Lane or some other patriot, sees in these shooting galleries a nefarious plan by which the Reds are getting in their target practice. And then Mr. Bulger Baggs, that widely known public pest, who watches the morals of the nation, hates to see anybody making $20 as easily as by shooting. If you let people make money easily, what will happen to the nation’s supply of hard workers? And anyway, Mr. Baggs is no good at shooting, himself, or he’d be down collecting those twenties.”

“Jim,” I said, “if public opinion in the persons of our prominent patriots and well known wealthy moral guiders is going against these shooting galleries, we had better get busy.”

“As Good As in My Pocket”

“Would you come with me and try a hand at it?” asked Jim.

“The money is as good as in my pocket right now, Jim,” I assured him. “You’ve never seen me really shooting. Do you realize, if I had cared to follow it, I would have been one of the greatest Bisley shots in history?”

“I’ve been hunting with you,” said Jim.

“Ah, yes, hunting,” I protested. “I admit that at hunting I am no great shakes. But that is no test. You take a little man like me, working in an office fifty weeks of the year, and then suddenly going out into the wilds to clamber about on rocks and through swamps, carrying a great big eight-pound high-power rifle. No wonder I can’t hit anything. And anyway, the muzzle blast and kick of those big rifles.”

“Now I come to think of it,” said Jim, “in twenty years I have never seen you hit anything.”

“Jim,” I informed him, “I’m not one to talk about myself and my exploits, but did you ever know I have shot at Hythe, which is the greatest musketry range in the world? Do you know that all the time I was in the army, I was conniving, every time my regiment was out of the line, to get the job of musketry officer? That I seized every opportunity that presented itself in a period of three years to shoot at the ranges? That I have fired tens of thousands of rounds?”

“But did you hit anything?” asked Jim.

“My boy,” I advised him, “there is all the difference in the world between range shooting and field shooting. Some of the greatest hunting shots in the world are no good at all at targets. And some of the greatest target shots couldn’t hit game with the flat side of a shovel.”

“Are you any good with the .22 rifle?” asked Jim.

“I’ll show you whether I am any good or not,” I informed him, “when we go to lunch. Are there any of these shooting galleries handy?”

“There’s one a couple of blocks over,” said Jim. “I looked in yesterday. The pot was around $8 at that time. And there were about fifteen guys lined up to shoot for it.”

“Jim,” I said, “in the army, my men called me Bull Clark, because of the way I used to shoot nothing but bull’s-eyes. At all ranges from one hundred yards up.”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “you took up target shooting in self-defence. Bull Clark, eh?”

“That’s what they called me,” I reminisced tenderly. “In the dark, as I would come along the trenches amongst my merry men, and they wouldn’t notice me on account of my size, I would hear them talking about me. ‘Wait,’ they’d say, ‘until the little Bull comes along.’ And that sort of thing, all very affectionate. Oh, they knew a good shot when they saw one.”

“Likely they did,” agreed Jim.

“Of course,” I related, “an officer is not supposed to do much shooting in the trenches. He leaves that to his men, and spends his time in administration.”

“Down in dugouts,” helped Jim.

“Well,” I explained, “you daren’t show any lights in the trenches, and an officer has to spend a good deal of his time down in dugouts, reading orders and looking at maps and that sort of thing, by the light of a candle.”

“It all seems very reasonable to me,” said Jim.

Firing At the Little Z

 “But often,” I went on, “my men used to plead with me to take shots in the trenches, when good targets offered. I recall one time they called me up out of the dugout in great excitement and pointed to a dark figure standing out in No Man’s Land. Even in the dark, I could see it was a German. The boys thrust a rifle into my hands and begged me to fire. But just in time I recollected the traditions of the British army and, instead of shooting, I ordered my men to line the parapet and open fire on the German. They just burst out laughing because it was a dummy they had put up for my amusement.”

“Still,” said Jimmie, “if you had shot you’d have hit it, don’t you think?”

“To tell the truth,” I confessed, “I have trained my mind and eye to the nice perfections of shooting at a range, with the result that both in hunting and in war I am a little at sea when it comes to what you might call rough and ready shooting. But with a prize of $20 up, I feel sure my former talents will come to the fore again.”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we really had no practice at what might be called shooting. It was more like arithmetic. There we’d be, in the mud, with our gun, its nozzle pointing off into space. Three miles away, over a couple of hills, would be the enemy. So we’d sit down with a piece of paper and do some figuring. We’d add and subtract, then we’d multiply and divide. And thus we would get a number. Then we’d walk over to the gun and twiddle some dials around until we got that number, or one near it. We would all strip to the waist and then fire six shells furiously at that number. Then we’d sit down and wait. If we didn’t get any messages from our own infantry that we were hitting them, we knew we were hitting the enemy. And from then on, all we did was shoot so many shells off in the morning and so many in the evening, and everybody was happy.”

“You don’t know what shooting is,” I informed him.

So at noon, after lunch, we strolled around to the new style shooting gallery which was in a formerly vacant dry goods shop. At the rear, sheet steel backdrops served to catch the bullets fired. The range was only ten feet, and you fire standing from the off-hand position, not resting your rifle on anything. But the target was so tiny, a sheet of paper with the Z to be cut out with three .22 bullets only if they were placed with supreme accuracy one on the top bar, one on the diagonal and one on the bottom bar of the letter. You could win cigars by shooting at other and easier targets. But it was the Z that was attracting most customers. Each one who missed increased the size of the prize.

And the pot was $9.75.

We watched the boys for some time before our turn came. They seemed to be pretty good. The rifles were regular little .22 repeaters, and after each three shots, the attendant changed the card and put up a new Z. Plenty of times, those marksmen would cut the top and bottom bar, but their third shot would go wild. Perhaps with nervousness

“Maybe the rifles are phoney,” I suggested to Jim.

“No,” he said, “they’re good enough to shoot right on the good shots.”

“Maybe every third cartridge,” I said, “is defective?”

“No, it’s the human element that provides the trick,” said Jim. “Watch.”

The shooters set themselves in fancy stances. Took curious holds and grips on the little rifle. Some held it lightly as a feather. Others wrapped themselves around it, as if they were trying to climb up it. Some fired almost the instant the sights fell on the tiny target. Others aimed and held their breath and aimed and held breath until you were fit to scream with the delay.

But none of them out the little Z clean. There were a couple of arguments, when near complete obliterations were achieved. But in each case tiny bit of the red letter was visible.

Jim stepped up. He fired four rounds of three. I felt sorry for him. He went at it so like the artillery. He thought he was firing shrapnel.

“Strip down to your waist, Jim,” I recommended, when, in three rounds, he had not even hit the Z anywhere. On his fourth round, he hit the top of the Z But his next two shots were two inches off.

“Here,” he said. “Let’s see what you can do, Bull.”

But it takes time to get the hang of a rifle again, and of a strange rifle. I may say it only took me two rounds to discover that what a man needs, even a very famous marksman, is practice.

“Well, Bull,” said Jimmie as we hurried out to make room for nee shooters, “you didn’t do so good.”

“I wasn’t trying,” I said. “Jim, I’ll tell you what let’s do. That big cellar of yours is perfect. I’ll borrow my son’s .22 and we can spend a few evenings brushing up. A little practice is all I need. And then we can go back in there and clean it up. Boy, did you see that pot when we left! It was $14.25. That would buy a lot of trout flies.”

Practice in the Cellar

So after supper, Jimmie and I repaired to his big cellar den, where he has the pool table and the paintings of Old Archie and the Town Constable on the walls in various sporting activities such as crap shooting and cock fighting, and we set up a rifle range. Jim had some sheet iron, and we nailed up a sort of protecting wall of boards to the back of which the sheet iron was tacked, and we then proceeded to work. We shut all doors to keep the crack of the little rifle from disturbing the neighbors, and made red, white and blue targets of suitable size for a range of 25 feet.

I soon showed Jimmie what shooting was. Jimmie showed me, too. We made series of bulls until we reduced the target to a mere patch in order to make it a sporting proposition.

“Why couldn’t we shoot like this at noon?” I demanded.

“Well, for one thing,” said Jim. “we’re leaning on the billiard table; and besides we’re using stronger ammunition, these are what they call ‘long rifle’. They’ll knock a cow over.”

“Let’s try some fancy shooting,” I suggested. “Just making bulls is too tame.”

So we tried off-hand shooting, that is, firing without a rest. At this, we were not quite so hot. Next, we tried firing five rounds rapid. We would fill the magazine with five shells, and then fire as fast as possible to see how many bulls we could get. We didn’t get so many. In fact, some of our shots were a foot or more off the target.

“I tell you,” I exclaimed, “we could practice snap shots. We could turn our back to the target, and then when the other fellow calls fire, we wheel around and fire at the target point blank.”

This was great fun. Some of our shots were on the target, but most of them were off on the planks to the side.

I was taking my third turn at snap shooting and fired a specially quick one when there came a dreadful crash from the cellar room next door.

“The fruit,” said Jim, rushing for the door.

As he opened the door, a cloud of smoke billowed into the room.

“The furnace,” shouted Jim.

And in an instant all was confusion as Jimmie and I rushed about opening windows and doors. We inspected the fruit cellar and found that a bullet had struck a quart of peaches, bursting it and causing it to topple several bottles of cherries, plums and marmalade to the floor in transit.

On inspecting the furnace, we discovered seventeen bullet holes in the pipes, through which little spouts of smoke and fumes were leaping.

“I guess you didn’t put enough thicknesses of planks and sheet iron to stop the bullets,” I explained.

“Thank goodness you hit the fruit,” said Jim, “or else we might have gone on shooting the furnace up and smothered us.”

But even so, we had scarcely time to get the furnace pipe plugged with putty and the house aired and the fruit cellar mopped up before the family got home.

“It’s just one of those things,” Jimmie called laughingly up the cellar stairs in answer to inquiries. “We were just trying a little off-hand target shooting.”

“It’s a boy’s game,” I remarked when he came back into the room.

“You said it, Bull,” agreed Jimmie.


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in “Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing” (1980)

22 Caliber ammunition is most common caliber in small rifles.

$20 in 1937 would be $170.50 in 2020.

Bisley is the location in Britain of the National Shooting Centre. Hythe Ranges is a British military shooting range.

The off-hand shooting position is a standing position, and considered the hardest.

It's As Easy as Easy

By Greg Clark, January 16, 1937

“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to take up skiing. It’s the rage.”

“It came,” I regretted, “just ten years too late for us.”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “There’s thousands of men our age skiing.”

“They started when they were younger,” I countered.

“It’s as easy as easy,” Jim informed me. There is no trick in it. You keep thinking of skiing as jumping off high ski jumps. That isn’t skiing, any more than high fancy diving is swimming. Skiing is like sailing. Or swimming. Nine-tenths of all skiing is just floating along over lovely levels and slopes, and one-tenth of it is sliding down pleasant hills with a sense of grace and speed that no other sport can give.”

“It looks the clumsiest sport I ever saw,” I protested. “Any I’ve ever seen skiing were either waddling or sprawling. In fact, outside the movies, I may say I have never to my knowledge seen a skier standing up.”

“It goes to show you,” groaned Jim, “just what prejudice can do to a man. We’ve had a couple of unfortunate experiences on skis. That settles it, as far as you are concerned.”

“It sure does,” I confirmed. “I’m not one of those who have to eat a whole egg to know it’s bad. Any game that makes me look and feel like a fool, that bumps me and bruises me and robs me of all my self-control isn’t going to get a second chance at me.”

“I know you are not a bigoted man,” said Jim, “so that is why I now ask you to keep an open mind in this matter and consider a few more points.”

“My mind,” I agreed, “is slightly ajar, but only slightly.”

“Skiing,” said Jim, “has come to stay. It is not a fad. It is as natural born a Canadian sport as it is possible to conceive.”

“It was born in Norway,” I corrected, “as a quick way for coming down a mountain. The Norwegians have never yet invented as quick a way for going back up the mountain.”

“Canadians, you admit,” said Jim, “are an outdoor people. They have more outdoors than most countries. Millions of square miles of Canada are nothing but outdoors. Good for nothing else forever.”

“Hence,” I agreed, “three hundred million dollars’ worth of tourists per annum.”

“Why leave it to the tourists?” asked Jim. “Now, in summer, we all go to summer cottages or camping. We fish and boat and swim. We are an outdoor people. But come winter, we hole up, like bears. Why? Because, except for skating, snowshoeing and tobogganing, there is nothing outdoors in winter to attract us.”

“I like holing up,” I stated. “Beside a bright fire.”

“Skating and tobogganing,” went on Jim, are restricted by the amount of clear ice and the hills available. Snowshoeing is a dreary business of picking them up and setting them down. But now comes skiing.”

“Hooray, slither, thud,” said I.

“Once You Get the Hang of It”

“Skiing, once you get the hang of it,” said Jimmie, “is the most fascinating, alluring, glorious sport there is. Unlike golf and tennis, it can be enjoyed by young and old. You can go as far as you like with it. Like fishing. You can restrict yourself to just floating around near home, enjoying the simple pleasure of sailing over the bright snow, amid the woods and fields. Or you can go as far as you like into the countless intricacies of the sport, learning to go with speed, with ever increasing style, over hills, over jumps, rushing at wind speed through forest aisles, as fully in control of your graceful movements as though you were walking, and all the time in the glorious pure winter air.”

“It costs money,” I pointed out.

“It is one of the few sports,” replied Jim, “that costs no more than the initial outlay. If you play golf, after you’ve bought your golf clubs you have to pay fees forever. If you ski, you just run outside the city and start skiing. It costs no more than walking.”

“There’ll be some catch in it,” I argued. “Or if there isn’t, somebody will soon put one in it.”

“They can’t,” said Jim. “Right now, all around the city for miles and miles there are the loveliest ski trails winding over the countryside, and what do they cost? Nothing. Because they are simply the trails left by others who have gone ahead. You just climb out of your car, find good trail clearly defined where plenty of other skiers have gone, and follow. Where the many have gone is the finest country, the best slopes, the prettiest scenes.”

“It sounds,” I said, “a little too good to be true.”

“All the best things in life do,” said Jim.

Thus, reluctantly, Jim persuaded me to go and shop around the ski stores with him. There were outfits from $8 up. But there were also boots alone that cost $28, and skis alone that went to fifty dollars. And of all the garments, gadgets and accessories to be seen in these ski stores, only a modern motor car emporium could show any greater diversity.

We ended up by buying $10 skis, and $4 poles; boots at $7, and three dollars’ worth of wax, klister, blister and blung or some such names, meaning wax for wet snow, medium snow and dry snow.

One thing about skiing, once you let it take hold of you, even by the tips of your fingers, it gets a grip that is worse than strong drink. Before Jim and I got home, we had bought ski pants and ski spats, ski coats and ski neck scarves, ski belts and ski lunch bags, ski garters and ski socks; ski berets and ski goggles; in fact, both of us had to leave our purchases out in the car in the garage until our families went to the movies after dinner.

To Live Up to Costumes

Part of any sport is the costume. The big thing, with thousands of horse addicts, for example, is the smart riding togs, in which they can drape themselves gracefully around fences and fashionable barnyards. Shooting and fishing call for a certain style, even if it is no style. Skiing certainly has costume. Jim and I dressed up in our new outfits and we visited together. These clothes give you a rugged feeling a sort of wide-legged, heavy-footed, glint-eyed Scandinavian feeling.

Saturday noon, in a keen and platinum-skied weather, we sortied out and joined the northward parade, on all highways, of cars bristling with skis. Less than an hour’s run north, we joined one of the numerous side road processions of cars seeking the white open spaces. And on a hill top, of pine and cedar, dark against the glorious white, we parked in the ditch along with dozens of other cars. And out over the wholesome world, traced with snake fences and etched woods, we could see hundreds of skiers, like dancers on damask….

“To-day,” said Jim. “we’ll try no hills. No fancy steps at all. Nothing but elementary straight sliding on the level.”

“We’ll have to live up to these clothes a bit,” I reminded him.

On the running-board, we sat to adjust the heavy clever harness of the skis.

“Will we be warm enough?” I asked, the keen stinging wind rattling spumey snow against us.

“As soon as we get going, we’ll warm,” said Jim.

And then we stood up, and started with slow, easy skids of the skis, to proceed to the sloping field edge, and enter on that far-flung dance of winter. It was, as Jim said, as easy as easy. No steep slopes, but slow rolling fields, down which it was a curious thrill to propel ourselves with ski poles and up which it was no trick at all to climb.

“It is like sailing,” I shouted to Jim, as we drifted from one fair field to another.

“Wind in the face,” cried Jim, “crisp snow under foot, blood tingling …”

“It’s warm,” I confessed.

“I was just thinking,” admitted Jim, veering nearer me, “we put on a little too much clothing. I often marveled at those ski costumes in the store, so flimsy.”

But we rested frequently and took it easy and cooled off wherever we felt like it. And presently, even the far-off hilltop where we had left our car dropped from sight behind the rolling hills of York county.

On fences, we saw coats and jackets hung. Haversacks and scarves and even caps were suspended from fence posts, such is the comradeship of the ski world, nobody fears to leave their possessions about.

“If I could take off this jacket,” I told Jim. “I could enjoy it a lot better.”

“Me, too,” agreed Jim, sliding for a little piney copse where against the dark green shone the colors of sundry garments where fellow skiers had hung them.

With jackets off, we took a new lease of life. A valley sloped away from the little copse, and into the valley ran a regular highway of ski tracks. Into the valley slid Jim and I, and amongst beautiful trees, we guided our points, slow slopes being followed by short steep climbs, and valleys branching off valleys, and all along the way we found garments and lunch bags suspended from the branches. And the gayer we went, the more we shed, Jim hanging up on one small cedar tree his cap, scarf, mitts and belt, so flushed and tingled were we with this rejoicing little valley.

All Hills Are Up

A little later, at the top of one of the steep short climbs, I shed my outer integuments, and Jim even removed his shirt.

“My underwear is perfectly respectable,” he retorted to my shocked glare. So I took off my shirt, too, and we turned into a more enticing valley than any we had yet seen, while from before and behind came little volleying parties and doubles and singles of skiers, all with such look of pleasure on their bright faces, it was like being a boy again.

But presently, even bereft of all extra garments, we began to tire.

“Jim,” I said, resting against a tree that fortunately presented itself, “we shouldn’t take it too hard or too far the first time. I bet we’ll ache to-morrow.”

“We can turn back any time,” agreed Jim, puffing.

So after a little rest, we turned and headed back through the valleys.

But, imperceptibly to the human eye, especially the human eye on skis, this valley sloped just the least little bit. And by the time we came out into the next valley, we were pretty weary.

“Tchah,” said Jimmie, as we rested.

“Pffffff,” I agreed.

We started up the next valley. It too had a gentle, an almost imperceptible, slope. Valley led into valley, like the joints of a clothes dryer. Sometimes we came to a fork in the valley, but I left the choice of the fork to Jimmie, who is taller and therefore can see farther.

In all the valleys were these glittering trails of ski tracks, and along all the trees were the garments shed.

“Jim,” I said, “we ought to be coming to that little cedar with our shirts on it.”

“Next bend, I think,” said Jim.

“Funny how chilly it is,” I remarked, “when you stop.”

“Funny how much oftener you stop going than coming,” said Jim.

But we did not come to the little cedar tree, and the next bend was a valley full of large gray boulders through which the trail led windingly.

“We certainly,” I declared, “did not come down this valley.”

But rather than go back and correct our bearings, Jim decided it would be easier if we climbed out of the little valley on to the level and struck overland for the right one.

We found one valley, and two valleys, cutting overland, but neither of them did we recognize. We then found a deep valley and then another shallow one. They were full of skiers both coming and going, who could not, even when we halted them, tell us if they had noticed on a small cedar tree a blue shirt and a green shirt and sundry caps, scarves and fancy woollen belts.

But nobody had. So I borrowed a pair of gloves off a tree, but Jimmie wouldn’t. And we went up valleys and across fields and down valleys, asking everybody if they had seen a cedar tree with blue shirts and green shirts on it.

So we abandoned the search and headed over hill and dale for what Jimmie said was the direction of our car. And we came at last to a side road where a skiing party took us into their car and drove us at dark to the highway, where, we were able to hire a taxi cab with blankets and go finding our own car.

“We still have our skis,” said Jim, as deeply wound up in rugs and cloth things Jim found under the back seat, we headed for home.

“And our pants,” I added gratefully.

The first lesson in skiing,” said Jim, don’t wear too much clothing.”

“And the second lesson,” said I, “is, all hills are up.”


Leading a Dog’s Life

December 31, 1937

This is an illustration by Jim for a Merrill Denison story. Jim used to regularly illustrate Merrill’s work when he was a regular writer for the Star Weekly. By the mid 1930s, he had moved to New York to write for plays, but would occasionally write another story for the Star Weekly, which usually starred his wife and dog.

The Old Home Town

December 24, 1937

Stamped Out

By Greg Clark, November 20, 1937

“Since when,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you been a stamp collector?”

“I’m not a stamp collector,” I denied indignantly. “This old stamp album I found in a trunk left with our family about forty years ago by an uncle.”

“It might be very valuable,” said Jim.

“You’re telling ‘me?” I snorted, thumbing through the yellowish pages thickly scabbed with aged stamps. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with my cousins for years to take the old trunk off our hands. I just heard the last of them had died up in Saskatchewan, so I decided to chuck the old trunk out. This was in it.”

“Maybe there’s a good fifty bucks in it,” said Jim, “to pay you for …”

“Fifty bucks,” I scoffed. “Jim, there are old stamps that sell as high as $14,000.”

“What?” said Jim

“Listen, my boy,” I said, as I studied eagerly the rows and rows of faded stamps all so neatly stuck in the album, “kings and queens collect stamps. Millionaires collect stamps the way other millionaires collect Rembrandts or Ming china. A thousand dollars is nothing for a rare old stamp dating back a hundred years, or, better, a stamp of a very small issue that was discontinued for some reason.”

“Your uncle,” said Jim, “wouldn’t have left that album lying for years in an old trunk, if there was any value like that in them.”

“He left it with us forty years ago,” said I, “and I bet he collected them when he was a young man. Look at the writing. That’s a young man’s writing. Maybe this album is sixty or seventy years old.”

“By golly,” breathed Jim.

“Everybody, Jim,” I declared, “is entitled to a little luck, once in his life. Some people get their luck by stumbling on a gold mine. Or some old relative leaves them a windfall, ten times bigger than they ever thought the relative was capable of. This old stamp album may be my luck, at last.”

“A reward, kind of,” said Jimmie, “for all the years you have patiently kept that trunk up in your attic.”

“Exactly,” I said piously, though there were plenty of times the old trunk got kicked around pretty badly, and old Uncle Seth had been called some fancy names.

“How are you going to get the album appraised?” asked Jim.

“That’s what I want to talk over with you,” I stated. There are catalogues that list all the stamps in the world, giving their value. I telephoned two or three stamp dealers and asked about those catalogues, and they all say the same thing. They say that the value of stamps has altered a great deal during recent years, owing to the depression and so forth, and if I will just bring the old album in, they can give me some idea of its value.”

“Oh, yeah?” scorned Jim. “Don’t let anybody pull that stuff on you. If you’ve got something valuable there, don’t let any dealer get his mitts on it.”

“Trust me,” I gloated. “I just laughed at them when they suggested the idea. No, sir, we’ve got to hunt around and get hold of one of those big catalogues and price lists. Or maybe if we make a list of the stamps in here and send it around to a dozen or so dealers.”

Getting Suspicious

“Telling each one,” warned Jim, “that we have sent the same list to other dealers.”

“That’s it,” I cried. “And then we’ll start them bidding.”

“Look here,” said Jim, “I know a dear old fellow; he used to be a postman. He’s one of the greatest stamp collectors in Canada. “If I can locate him, we could go and see him.”

“How could we trust him,” I demanded, “when it comes to a matter of thousands of dollars? Maybe $20,000.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “this old chap is as honest as the day. He hasn’t a cent in the world anyway. This is what we’ll do. We’ll offer to pay him a commission of five per cent for the proper valuation of this album if it is sold for what he appraises it at.”

“Not a bad idea,” I said, closing the album and taking a good tight hold on it. “But I have the queer sort of feeling about stamp collectors, as if it were a secret society.”

“How do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I don’t know,” I said, “On the face of it, it seems so silly, collecting old postage stamps. What’s there in it? It looks to me like one of those mysterious businesses that appear so silly on the outside, yet is full of secrets and mystery inside. Maybe this old postman of yours belongs to some kind of international organization and would value the album at a mere $500 and then split ten thousand with somebody else in the ring who buys it.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you’re getting suspicious like everybody else that gets his hands on a good thing.”

“Jim,” I said, “when you get your hands on something worth maybe $25,000, you’ve got to be suspicious. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head.”

So Jim did some telephoning and found that his old postman friend would probably be home around 8 p.m. He lived in a room on the third floor over one of those downtown blocks of stores on Queen street.

“I’ll pick you up after supper,” I said.

After supper, we drove downtown and parked the car near the Queen street number and located the place. It was one of those old blocks of stores, with intermediate doors leading up flights of stairs to apartments on the second and third floors.

Third floor we climbed, up dark, steep stairs, passing halls and doors where there were sounds of domestic activity and radios. At the top were two doors, one marked Beautician, and the other blank.

It was a massive door. They built doors in the eighties.

“This will be it,” said Jim, rapping.

Instead of the door opening, one panel in the upper half slid along sideways and a dim face appeared.

“Hello,” said Jim, a little startled.

“What do you want?” asked the face, just a faint blur in the open panel

“We’ve come to do a little business,” said Jim, pleasantly.

“Who sent you?” demanded the low voice.

“It was our own idea,” laughed Jim, as if this, were a game.

The panel slid shut. We waited. In a moment, it slid open again and we could make out two dim blurs in the darkness.

“Well?” said Jim.

“They look,” said a thinner voice than the first one we had heard, “like the type of guys we’ve been trying to get. Let ’em in.”

Something clunked. The door swung open, and we entered a dimly lit hallway, in which there was now only one man, a particularly heavy built individual who looked like a retired policeman.

“Hang your coats and hats here,” said this gentleman, gruffly. I felt his hand slide quickly down my back and up my left side, as he pretended to take my coat off. I clutched my parcelled stamp album tightly.

“What’s that?” demanded the stranger, brusquely.

“A stamp album,” I stated. “An old stamp album. That’s what we’ve come to see about.”

“To see about!” said the big fellow. “Oh, I see. Luck, huh?”

“It sure is luck,” I began, intending to start business without delay.

“Trot along in, then,” said the big fellow, “if the boss says you’re in, you’re in, cockeyed or not.”

He waved us along the hallway.

We opened the door. Instead of one man, there were thirty in the big room. Some were sitting at small side tables. Some were sitting on high benches around the side, like shoeshine parlor benches. And in the middle of the room was a big pool table, sort of, only it was not pool they were playing.

At one end of the table, a man in shirt sleeves was standing with a long hooked stick in his hand. Behind and above him, on a chair six feet high, like a chair on a ladder, was another man, sitting watching the table the way a cat watches a goldfish in its bowl.

A man at the side of the table was rolling big dice.

It was all quiet, smoky, muttery and hushed. As we entered, hardly anybody looked up. One man, who turned out to be the boss walked over and said quietly:

“Make yourselves at home. Buy your chips from the croupier. He cashes.”

“Chips?” said I, but Jim gave my sleeve a little jerk. We strolled over and looked between shoulders at the big table. It was not a billiard table at all. At one end, down by the man with the stick, there was a thick line painted across the green baize. Out in the middle were all kinds of squares, numbered. On the line and behind it were colored chips. In the squares were a lot of other chips.

A regular babble of talk was going on, and they were talking about the “hard eight and the “hard six.” At the far end, the man with the stick was repeating monotonously, “when you crap you double, when you crap you double,” and in return for cash money, he shoved out small piles of chips to the men standing around the table, yet never ceased his monotone, “crap you double.”

At the sides, where the men were putting their chips in the little squares, the battle ceased, and the man with the crooked stick put the dice in a leather tube, about the size of a condensed soup can. He handed it to one of the men on the side. He held it up, turned it around three times, shifted it to his other hand and rolled the dice out on the green baize.

There was an outburst, like “they’re off” when the horses start at the races. Chips went all directions and money was waved, and the man with the crooked stick raked in the dice and shoved chips this way and that. The man on the high chair never even blinked. He just sat up there, staring expressionlessly at the table.

“Jim,” I muttered, “how about my stamps?”

“All right, all right,” hissed Jim. “Wait a minute.”

“Well, what is this?” I insisted.

“Talk about luck,” said Jim, backing me out a little from the crowd. “that old stamp album of yours has led us right into a swell big crap game. One we couldn’t get into, maybe, except by accident, in a thousand years.”

“What of it?” I started.

“Luck,” whispered Jim fiercely. “Luck. Don’t you believe in hunches?”

“No gambling,” I declared firmly. “Not me.”

“How much have you got on you?” demanded Jim, feeling in his own pocket. I had $2.12. Between us, we had $7.40. Jim took my two and went around the end to the man with the stick. He returned with seven white chips.

“A dollar apiece?” I protested.

“Listen,” said Jim. “we’re in luck. The air is full of hunches. Watch me.”

He found an open spot at the table and I wedged in alongside. Jim put two of our white chips on the square marked 8 and two behind the long white line. We waited while the babble subsided, a tall elderly man threw the dice, and out came a nine. There was the outburst, and the swift moving of chips in all directions. Ours were lost in the scramble.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Just a minute,” said Jim, tossing three chips down in the squares, in various numbers.

The tall, thin man rolled again. Another nine.

There was wild, smothered hubbub and our three chips were swept away by strange hands that, as far as I could see, had nothing to do with it. But Jim just looked and said nothing.

“Now what?” I demanded.

Jim backed me out again.

“Let’s see that stamp album,” said he.

“What for?” I cried so sharply that the boss walked quickly over.

“What is it, gents?” he asked.

“Is there anybody around here,” said Jim. “knows the value of old postage stamps? Any stamp collector?”

“Ham up there,” said the boss, “he’s a regular fiend after stamps.”

“Jim.” I said, “be careful.”

We walked around and spoke up to the man on the high stool. As if waking from a trance, Ham looked down and listened while Jim explained about the stamp album. Ham reached down for it and looked through it casually

“Ten bucks?” he said.

“What?” I cried. “It’s worth hundreds.”

“Says you,” said Ham, handing it negligently down to me.

“Maybe thousands,” I repeated heatedly.

Ham’s eyes were fixed glassily on the table again.

“Look,” Jim said, “gamblers are the most honest men in the world. You’ve heard that all your life, haven’t you?”

“Ten bucks,” I said contemptuously, tying the string back on it.

“Look,” pleaded Jim, holding my lapel, “everything is luck. isn’t it? How do we know this dizzy old album …”

“Jimmie,” I warned, clutching the book.

“A bad beginning,” said Jim, “means a good end. If I get ten bucks, I’ll probably be able to clean up $500 here in half an hour. I’ll split.”

“Split!” I snorted.

“Two-fifty in the hand is worth ten thousand in a bushy old album,” begged Jim. “Listen, this is a straight hunch. Why should we stumble in here, with that old book, unless …?”

I handed Jim the album, slowly, painfully. He handed it up to Ham and Ham, never shifting his eyes from the table, handed down a ten.

Jim went and waited at the table until the dice came to him. He put ten white chips on the line, with a regular slap.

He rolled. It was a six.

After the hubbub, they gave the dice back to Jim. He held the tube up and passed it slowly from his right hand to his left.

He rolled.

Seven.

In the hubbub, our troubles seemed to be as nothing. We withdrew to a corner, and the boss came hurrying over.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he cried, “not so loud. No fighting in here, if you please.”

“We’re ruined,” I informed him loudly.

“Ham will always advance you taxi fare home,” said the boss, gently.

“We’ve got our own car, thanks,” I declared.

Which was all.

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 “Talk About Luck” in 1943 (illustration here).

December 11, 1943

Editor’s Notes: Jim was always portrayed as the one more comfortable gambling, where Greg would be seen as more prudish.

Baize is the material used for billiards tables and casino games.

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