The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1937 Page 1 of 2

Vice Versa

The dentist started drilling. I let out an indignant nnnn or two but he went right ahead.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 4, 1937.

“Mmmmmm,” moaned Jimmie Frise, “have I got a toothache!”

“Poor chap,” I sympathized. “When are you going?”

“I’m waiting,” said Jim, “to see if it will go away. Often, if you just sit tight…”

“My dear man,” I protested. “Don’t be absurd. You might just as well wait for a broken ankle to go away. A toothache is a reality. A dreadful reality. The tooth enamel has decayed and exposed the nerve. Or maybe it’s an abscess at the root. Anyway you’ve got to get it fixed. And right away.”

“Lots of times,” said Jim, “I’ve had little twinges and they’ve gone away.”

“How ridiculous,” I cried. “Jim, have you no sense at all? Don’t you even read the advertisements? Those little twinges were warnings. Now you’re getting the works.”

“You’re telling me,” said Jim, with a gaunt look, placing his palm tenderly against his jaw.

“Clean your teeth twice a day,” I quoted. “See your dentist twice a year, whether you think you need it or not. But good heavens, man, when you have had twinges of toothache, don’t you realize…?”

“I hate dentists,” said Jim, intensely. “I hate them.”

“What nonsense,” I stated. “Do you hate doctors? Do you hate motor mechanics?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim, haggardly. “Dentists are different.”

“Poppycock,” I said. “You go into a garage and see your poor car all dismembered and lying around in horrible rusty gobs, greasy and repellent. There with its hind end all jacked up in the air on a pulley, stands your poor car, the companion of your joys and sorrows, and do you hate the guy that has done it? Even when he presents you with the bill, do you hate him?”

“That isn’t it,” said Jim hollowly, looking at space.

“A doctor hurts you a heck of a lot more than a dentist,” I pointed out. “He cuts right through your hide. He makes swipes with his knife that are sheer agony.”

“Yeah, but you don’t feel them,” said Jim. “You’re unconscious.”

“Dentists have anaesthetics,” I cried.

“Local anaesthetics,” said Jim. “They jab a needle into your gums.”

“You can take gas,” I reminded him. “You can take a local anaesthetic, and feel nothing until you wake up.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “But who would want to take a total anaesthetic for a mere toothache?”

I looked at him pityingly.

“What’s the use of arguing with a man like you?” I demanded. “You hate dentists, yet they can do more for you than any doctor living. They can whisk a tooth out, so you never feel it.”

“Until after,” said Jim.

“They can put you right under and do a week’s work on you,” I declared. “And you don’t know anything until it is over.”

“Yeah,” withered Jim, “until it’s over.”

Closely Allied to the Brain

“Anyway,” I said with finality, “you’ve got to go to a dentist. This tooth has been warning you. Like a baby, you have ignored the warnings. At last, it has collapsed. Now you’ve got to face the music. The nerve is exposed. Like a live wire, there it is, jumping and sizzling.”

“Throbbing,” said Jim, passionately.

“Exactly,” I said. “And now that you have delayed as long as possible, there is only one recourse. Who’s your dentist? I’ll make an appointment.”

I picked up the telephone.

“No, no,” begged Jim. “Wait a second. I think it is going away already.”

“Jim,” I said earnestly, “even if it does go away, don’t you understand that every twinge is a warning? This tooth is ill. It is slowly going to pieces.”

“What did our ancestors do,” demanded Jim, “before there were any dentists? They just grinned and bore it. And they were better men than us.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “don’t be silly. Our ancestors died at the age of 40. It was their teeth that killed them.”

“They were tough,” said Jim. “They could take it.”

“Look at the miracles,” I informed him, “that modern dentistry is performing. They are discovering new connections every day between the teeth and disease. You see one of your friends slowly growing thin and old. His eyes are dim. He is suffering from arthritis. He is slowly withering away. They pull a few teeth, and presto, he is born again. His teeth were slowly poisoning him.”

“I’ve heard all that,” said Jim. “But there’s nothing the matter with me. All I’ve got is a thumping toothache.”

“They’re finding more than that,” I persisted. “They’re discovering that teeth are responsible for thousand things besides physical disease. Teeth are responsible for bad temper, insomnia, indigestion, high blood pressure, overweight, thinness, baldness, failing eyesight, sinus trouble, antrum trouble.”

“Corns, warts and bunions,” said Jim.

“The teeth,” I informed him, “are in the head. The nerves of the teeth are closely allied to the brain. It is only a matter of a fraction of an inch from the tooth to the brain. They are beginning to believe that teeth are responsible for our mental quirks. They think criminal tendencies are due to defective teeth.”

“Now who’s been reading the advertisements?” jeered Jim.

“I tell you,” I announced, “they have pulled teeth out of habitual criminals and cured them. The poison from those teeth was responsible for the weakness, the instability, the mental and nervous disturbance that made criminals of the subject.”

“Maybe I’m a cartoonist,” said Jim, “because my teeth are defective? Maybe if you had your teeth pulled, you’d be an insurance agent?”

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I assured him. “Only a thin, fragile bit of bone separates the teeth from the brain. That nerve that is jumping in your jaw right now, is it any wonder you are suffering?”

“Mmmmmmmm,” said Jim, hissing cold air through his teeth and putting on an expression of agony.

Too Much Imagination

“Come,” I said, “what’s your dentist’s name? We’ll get this over with.

“If only they wouldn’t fiddle,” moaned Jimmie. “If they wouldn’t fiddle and poke around and pry. If only they didn’t have that drill.”

“They’ve got to prospect around,” l explained. They have to locate the source and nature of the trouble.”

“Why don’t they just yank it out?” asked Jim. “I think I’d be willing to have it yanked out.”

“Don’t be silly,” I laughed. “They know their jobs. Come, what’s his name?”

So Jim gave me the name of his dentist and I looked up the number in the book and Jim himself called him.

“I’d like you to have a look at my teeth,” said Jim, smiling easily into the telephone, “one of these days.”

“Here!” I commanded sharply.

“Haven’t you a spot about a week from now?” said Jim, quite cheerfully.

Apparently the dentist had not. Apparently, he was going on his holidays at this late season, he being a musky fisherman. So Jim had to take an immediate appointment.

“This afternoon,” said Jim, wanly, as he hung up the receiver. “At 4.”

“Good,” I said, “That’s the boy. I’ll go with you.”

“Come along,” said Jim hollowly. “See me suffer. Sit out in the office, reading last December’s magazines and hear me groan.”

But nothing could deter me from accompanying Jimmie to the dentist’s. I wouldn’t put it past him running his car into a hydrant half way to the dentist’s rather than face the music. He is a man of too much imagination. I made it my business to stay right with him for the balance of the morning, had lunch with him and then, with ever increasing vigilance, remained in sight of him as the afternoon drew on. At lunch, he barely ate anything, so severely did his toothache make him suffer. Beads of perspiration came out on his forehead and he kept issuing great sighs instead of groans.

But about 3 p.m. he began to brighten.

“Do you know,” he said,” the blame thing is weakening! Really weakening. I can hardly feel it, for minutes at a time.”

“Go on,” I scorned.” Don’t kid yourself.”

“It’s a fact,” he declared. “I honestly believe it was just another of those twinges…”

“Jim,” I said, “use your head.”

“That’s precisely what I am doing,” said he. “Why embarrass my dentist who is hurrying to clean up his business so as to get away on a holiday? Why start something that may take weeks to finish? If this twinge goes away, like the others did. I can telephone him and make an appointment for October, some time, when he’s back, and he can do a proper series of work on that tooth.”

“Jim,” I said, “I never heard such subterfuging. Anybody knows that a toothache seems better as soon as you reach the dentist’s office. This is just a case of your imagination getting the better of you.”

“I Gave You More Credit”

“I’ll give him a ring,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim,” I shouted. “I gave you more credit. This is childish. Your tooth is aching like sin. Get it fixed.”

Jim sat down again, his eyes turned aside as he listened for the toothache, as it were. A shadow of pain crossed his face.

“Very well,” he said, thinly. “We’ll go.”

And we went. I drove. We arrived promptly and without mishap at the dentist’s office at precisely 4 o’clock. There was one woman in the chair and three more waiting when we got up to his waiting room. It was 20 minutes to five by the time Jim’s turn came, and we read all the Geographic Magazines back as far as 1932 and Jim kept growing more and more cheerful as each of our predecessors was silently called into the inner studio. But at last Jim’s turn came, and the dentist, with a merry smile, beckoned him in. I walked in too, because in my heart, I knew perfectly well that old Jim was going to stage an alibi.

“Well,” laughed Jim heartily. “I’ve often heard about a toothache vanishing the minute you arrive at the dentist’s, but I never had it happen to me before.”

“Up here,” said the dentist tenderly, indicating the chair. “We’ll just have a look around.”

“I don’t even remember which side it was on,” said Jim, astonished at himself.

“We’ll just take a look,” soothed the dentist.

Jim straightened like a hero going to his execution, and sat up in the chair. The dentist tied on the bib and took the little mirror in hand and stood expectantly. Jim opened his mouth slightly.

The dentist peered and probed. He tapped around.

“Was it in this jaw?” he asked.

“Nnn, nnn,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“Upper jaw?” said the dentist.

“Nnnn, nnn, nnnn,” repeated Jim firmly.

The dentist got a little light and peered within the cavern. He probed and Jim sat like a rock. He had a kind of nut pick, with which he jabbed and scraped. Jim never uttered a sound, and the dentist frowning, sighed and grunted into Jim’s face.

“Well,” said the dentist, “I can’t see anything much wrong here. Was it on the left side or the right?”

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim, “I’m darned if I can recall. Maybe it was only a little neuralgia? Eh?”

“I see no signs of any cavities,” said the dentist. “As a matter of fact, your teeth are in pretty sound shape.”

Jim sat up eagerly.

“Wait a minute,” I said in a level voice. “Doctor, this man was in agony up to about an hour ago. It was his left jaw he had been holding all morning. A regular thumping toothache.”

“So You May Think”

The dentist was looking at me in a curious way. His eyes seemed narrowed right on to my mouth, as I spoke.

“Excuse me,” he said, suddenly stepping forward and taking my chin in his fingers. “Open. Open.”

“What is this?” I said, opening slightly.

“My dear sir,” said thee dentist anxiously “Step up here. Let me have a look at this.”

“What is it?” I said, standing firm.

“Caries. I’m afraid,” said the dentist, sadly. “Or perhaps trench mouth. Did you serve in the war?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Sit up here, please,” said he, as Jim slid off the chair. I climbed into the chair numbly.

“Open,” said the dentist, the nut pick poised.

“Mmmmm,” he said, peering inside “Mmmm, mmm, mmmm.”

“Nnnn, nnnnnn?” I asked.

“Your teeth are in wicked shape,” he said. “Wicked shape. Have you been attending to your dental responsibilities regularly?”

“I have had no trouble with my teeth,” I assured him, “for ten years. They’re perfect.”

“So you may think,” said the dentist gravely. “That is the worst of our profession. Unless you are driven here by the toothache, you imagine your teeth are in no need. I assure you, sir, that if you don’t have these attended to immediately, you will have no teeth in a year or so.”

“Nonsense,” I said, “I can crack hickory nuts with my teeth.”

“You will be toothless in two years,” retorted the dentist.

“I’ll have them looked at,” I said, starting to get up.

“Wait a minute,” cried Jim, seizing my elbows and pulling me back down in the chair. “I’m alarmed. Doctor, take a look. Give us a survey. It won’t take a second. Just tell him the extent of the damage.”

“I’ve got my own dentist,” I said firmly.

“I’m worried,” said Jim. “This is my partner. I’m entitled to know about this. Good heavens, anything might happen to him if he lets his teeth go. Let’s have an outline of the situation.”

The dentist pried. He scraped and cracked things loose. He jabbed down under the edges and pried up. While my eyes were closed in disgust, he got his drill, unseen by me, and began drilling. I let out an indignant nnnn or two, but he went right ahead, with Jim holding me firmly but kindly.

“There’s about ten hours’ work on them,” said the dentist, at last. “Ten hours good work.”

Jim released me.

“I’ll see my dentist at once,” I said, getting out of the chair with dignity.

“I’ll make a memorandum for him,” said the doctor, earnestly.

So I’ve got an appointment for next week.

The dentist pried, scraped and cracked things loose. I let out an indignant nnnn or two, with Jim holding me firmly but kindly. (September 11, 1943)
At last Jim’s turn came, and the dentist, with a merry smile, beckoned him in. (September 9, 1944)

Editor’s Notes: I’ve mentioned before that stories were sometimes repeated while Greg was off as a war correspondent during World War Two, but this one had the unusual distinction of being repeated twice, in 1943 with the same title Vice Versa, and again in 1944 as Open Your Mouth.

I had never heard of a nut pick, a sharp metal pick for digging the meat out of a nut, often sold in sets with nut crackers, but I guess they are not as common now.

“Caries” is just another term for cavities, and “trench mouth” is an infection that causes swelling and ulcers in the gums. The term comes from World War I, when this infection was common among soldiers.

Goosie, Goosie, Gander

“Hey,” came shrill voice … down the lane and out the gate came fierce little woman…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 7, 1937.

“What gets me,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way everybody is so sure they are right nowadays.”

“True,” I admitted.

“And so sure everybody else is wrong,” pursued Jim.

“Aye,” I confessed.

“We’re perfectly sure, for instance,” said Jim, “that our form of government is the only possible thing for self-respecting people. Germany is perfectly sure her system is the only possible. Italy the same. Russia, the same, breaking her neck not only to believe it herself but to teach the whole world to see the light.”

“We’ve done a little neck-breaking, in the past,” I pointed out.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Jim, “when we were the only nation showing others the glory of our particular kind of freedom. But nowadays, with every nation that isn’t defunct trying to stuff itself down the throat of all other nations, it’s getting a little tedious.”

“Tedious is the word,” I agreed.

“In former times,” said Jim, “we nations wed to fight over property. They’d quarrel over honor or something equally silly and practical. But now the nations are quarrelling over who’s got the best form of government. It’s childish.”

“You said it,” I assured him.

We were driving in the country and it is always best to agree with the man at the wheel. If you argue with him, he takes his eye off the road to turn and look at you.

“I blame education,” said Jim.

“The more you educate the people,” I said, “the more enlightened they become.”

“That was the theory,” declared Jimmie, “but it hasn’t panned out. It ought to be pretty evident now that you can’t change people’s ideas. They are born with their ideas, the same as they are born with their noses or the color of their hair.”

“Oh, come, come,” I said.

“All right,” cried Jim, “how do you explain the universal disagreement? For the past hundred years there has been an enormous and universal growth of education and enlightenment. Think of the vast expansion of publishing, until books and papers, billions in number, are like to bury mankind. Think of the movies and the radio in recent years, flooding the humblest places with facts and truth. Yet, instead of becoming gradually of one mind, we have never been of so many drastically different minds in human history. Not only donations disagree, but our provinces disagree, and we ourselves all disagree, until you can’t find two men in the whole world who think alike.”

“Ah,” I said, “education has set us free to think as we like.”

“No,” said Jim. “All education has done has been to give us self-confidence in our ignorance.”

“A fine opinion you have of yourself,” I suggested.

Nobody Changes His Mind

“Common sense and a casual glance at human history,” said Jim, “will show you that wise men are few and far between. Would there be one really wise man in every hundred men?”

“I hardly think so,” I admitted.

“Then,” said Jim, “ninety-nine of a hundred of us are ignorant.”

“Speak for yourself,” I stated.

“Yet,” said Jim, “education has taught us to read, write and talk. It has given us self-confidence. It has removed all doubt from our minds. However, as our beliefs and ideas are born in us, and can’t be changed any more than the shape of our noses, why, all we can do is give vent to these inherited notions.”

“I think for myself,” I declared.

“You think,” said Jim, “the way you were born to think. In former days, unless you had some special energy that made you stand out as a leader or thinker or firebrand, you kept silent. Your ignorance did not matter. But now, you need no special energy. You are forced to go to school, by law, until you are a competent blatherskite. If you are a little backward in expressing yourself, they put you in special classes, where your self-confidence is nourished by extra tuition. This has been going on now for about fifty years. The result is the universal cockeyed disagreement between nations, communities and finally individuals.”

“What do you suggest?” I inquired. “That we put an end to education?”

“I think everybody ought to be taught,” said Jim, “that they can’t help thinking what they think. It ought to be dinned into them, in the first book and the fourth book and in high school and at the university that the unfortunate notions they entertain cannot be altered by any process whatsoever, with this result, that we would all understand one another, at last.”

“It would fill us with contempt for one another,” I cried.

“And who else?” laughed Jim.

“Why, it’s an awful thought,” I protested.

“Think, now,” said Jim, “of all the people you have known, across the year, your family and friends, whom you have known since childhood, can you think of a single one, a single, solitary one of them who has ever really changed his mind?”

And across the years, I couldn’t. I marched them past my mind, one after another, my brothers – little fat boys and bold young soldiers and middle-aged business men; my friends – beloved chums, gay companions of my youth, comrades of my manhood, comfortable friends of my present life, and of them all, not one but was in the beginning what he is in the end; the same slants on life, the same ideas, notions, beliefs, subdued a little, maybe, or modified out of politeness of wisdom; but abandoned, never. Changed, never, thank God.

“Jim,” I said, “education is a good thing, even so. It points out to us a lot of things we wouldn’t perhaps have noticed in life, as we passed by.”

“Agreed,” said Jim, “but education is too proud. It ought to be humbler. It ought to wear the uniform of the spieler on a sightseeing bus. For that, in the end, is all it is.”

“A Nice Thing You’ve Done!”

We were driving through a very pleasant country full of ripening fields and bulging cattle and orchards already twinkling their fruit at us, and there was the first faint hint that in a few weeks the deep winds will be blowing all this away, all this green beauty that we think of as the permanence, and autumn, winter and spring only the impermanence.

Being in so pleasant a land to look upon, we were dawdling, so when a car with a voice like a ripsaw came from behind and, in a great swirl of gravel and dust, threw us to one side as it plunged past, our country humor was disturbed.

“The dang fool,” said Jim, recovering his control of the car, “where is he going at such a rate and what does it matter?”

Through the swirl of dust, we saw the stranger’s car lurch violently, swing to one side and then continue with increased fury, on its way.

And then just as we came to the place he had lurched, we saw a flock of geese scattering wildly up the ditches, and, on the side of the road a great fawn-colored gander, huge wings outspread, feebly flapping its last.

“Pull up, Jim,” I shouted. “A hit and run driver.”

Jim drew the car to a stop and we leaped out and ran back. The geese were making a great hissing and trumpeting, as they stood looking back at the great dead master. For now he flapped no more.

“What a magnificent bird,” I said, gazing down on him. “And Thanksgiving only a couple more fattening months away.”

“It must have been concussion,” said Jim, squatting down and touching the bird. “No signs of being smashed.”

“Hey,” came a shrill voice, and from a little farmhouse on the side, down the lane and out the gate came a fierce little woman.

“Let’s carry it into her,” said Jim.

So we picked the goose up by a leg each and started toward the house, like mourners.

But the little woman came, all hunched up with purpose, straight at us.

“Well,” she bit off, “a nice thing you’ve done.”

“Madam, we did…”

“That’s the prize gander,” stormed the little woman with a thin, penetrating voice, “at five fall fairs last year.”

“A car came past…” I began.

“And,” shouted the little woman huskily but raspingly, “it was going to bigger fairs this fall. That there gander…”

“We didn’t do it,” shouted Jim, unexpectedly.

“No, no, I suppose the gander hurled himself at your car,” screeched the little woman with a surprising reserve supply of voice. “I suppose you were travelling by at fifteen miles an hour when suddenly the gander just took a dislike to you and dashed his brain out against your car. I tell you, that gander was worth eight dollars if it was worth a cent. I been selling eggs sired by that gander for fifty cents apiece. Breeders from all over Ontario…”

“Madam,” I roared, still holding one of the feet of the poor gander. “I tell you we had nothing to do with it. We saw another…”

“Oho,” cackled the little woman with a break in her voice like those old stars of opera on the radio, “so I suppose it was some other car hit him and you just stopped to help the poor beast.”

“That’s it,” shouted Jim and I together.

“A likely story,” said the little woman witheringly. “A couple of gentlemen from the city passing along a country road see a gander brutally run over by another motorist and they stop to lend a friendly hand. Heh, heh, heh.”

“That’s precisely the case,” we both stated firmly.

The little woman was convulsed with mirth.

“You stand there,” she squealed, “trying to tell me that. We’ll see what the magistrate thinks.”

“Madam,” I announced loudly, “we are two humane men. When we saw the poor creature fluttering on the roadside, in the wake of a scoundrel who plunged by at fifty miles an hour…”

“I saw you,” hissed the little woman, crouching accusingly, “pick the bird up and start toward your car with it.”

“Madam,” we shouted, dropping the bird as if on a word of command.

When Education Doesn’t Help

“Oh, I’ve got your car number,” grated the little woman, and you’ll get a summons. And there’s been too much poultry killing in this county to suit the neighborhood. You’ll catch it.”

“We can prove we didn’t kill it,” I insisted.

“But you can’t prove,” cried the little woman triumphantly, “that when I came running out my door, you had stopped your car and picked the goose up.”

We stood gazing at one another heatedly. The poor beast lay at our feet in the dust.

“How much did you say the bird was worth?” demanded Jim.

“Eight dollars,” said the little woman firmly, “and I wouldn’t take a dollar less than four for him.”

Jim and I dug. Two dollars each.

“We keep the goose,” said Jim.

“If you want a run-over goose, you’re welcome,” said the little woman grimly.

She held the money in her hands, counting it two or three times. Jim and I picked the goose up by the feet and carried it, with dignity, to our car and laid it on the floor of the back.

“What’s the use,” demanded Jim, as he got behind the wheel, “of being humane? Why try to be decent? You’re always misunderstood.”

“Education wouldn’t help that situation we’ve just been through,” I sighed, as we got under way and bowled less observant through the country scene.

We heard a hard, thudding sound back of us. It was the gander.

“Jim,” I said sharply, “he’s come to.”

“Good,” said Jim, “we’ll sell him to some farmer down the road.”

Enormous flapping and scrambling sounds came from the back, then a fierce hiss, and my hat was kicked smartly over my eyes.

“Hey,” I ducked, “pull up the car.”

On the shoulder of the road, Jim and I leaped out, while the gander, fierce head erect, neck feathers swelling, hissed malevolently and flapped his immense wings helplessly around in the back of the open car.

“Open the door, let him out,” I ordered.

Jim opened the door and with a wild honk the gander leaped to the ditch and waddled furiously away toward the farm we could still see in the distance.

“Follow him,” I commanded. “Turn the car around and follow him.”

“To heck with him,” said Jim.

“He’s heading straight home,” I cried “Let’s get our money back.”

“To heck with him,” said Jim, but he got in and turned the car around and slowly and at a snail’s pace, we followed the silly bird back a mile. It waddled in the ditch and it took the fences; it paused and it sat down and rested; it turned its wicked eye on us if we got too close and simply stood its ground. I threw clods of sod at it to hurry it, and instead, it came back and attacked me, so losing twenty feet of good ground.

Finally, the weary and obese bird turned in its home lane, where with royal honks all its family welcomed it. We walked up to the farmhouse and rapped.

No answer. We went back to the barn and hallooed and howled and howled, but no sign of living person was to be seen. Across the fields, nobody moved.

“We’ll wait,” said I.

“So will she,” said Jim.

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I accused,” that gander was trained to play dead when cars go by. I wouldn’t wonder if she’s trained that bird to pretend to be hit…”

“What good does education do anybody?” said Jim, sadly.

“Well, I’ve got my own ideas,” I said.

“So has everybody,” sighed Jim, getting in the car and starting it. So I got in too and we went on our way.

“That’s the prize gander,” stormed the little woman with a thin penetrating voice.

Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on July 29, 1944 as “Getting Educated”. The bottom image is from that story.

Wotta Picnic!

July 17, 1937

What a Hustler

February 20, 1937

Christmas Crush

Before the astonished eyes of the attendant we skidded forth off the escalator.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 18, 1937

“So help me,” said Jimmie Frise devoutly, “I’ll never get caught in this last-minute Christmas rush again. So help me.”

“Millions and millions of people all over the world,” I informed him, “are saying the same thing, this same minute, in a hundred different languages.”

“So help me,” declared Jimmie firmly.

“You said it last year,” I stated. “You will say it next year. And so will all the other millions and millions.”

“Never again, so help me,” reiterated Jim, fiercely.

“There wouldn’t be any Christmas,” I said, “if there were no Christmas rush. That is what Christmas has come to mean. A time of crowding and gathering and jostling. A time of joy and weariness, of feasting and visiting. Of buying and selling.”

“Yeah, commercialized,” accused Jim.

“No, not commercialized,” I corrected. “That’s an easy sneer at Christmas. But suppose Christmas were nothing more than a holy day on the calendar, can you imagine how it would go by? Just as unremembered as any other holy day. Do you recall what you did on Good Friday three years ago? Certainly not. But you can remember what you did three, five, ten Christmases ago; who was at your house; how the children acted, especially the youngest one. You can count back. You can count back ten Christmases, when your youngest girl was three. And close your eyes, and there you can see it, as clear as if it were yesterday. Why? Because that was the year she crashed the Christmas tree in her new scooter, or something. And then, bit by bit, the whole dear, tender picture returns to you, and you’ve got something. A memory.”

“That’s all very well,” protested Jim, “anybody can get sentimental over Christmas and try to gloss over the evils of it. But I say, this Christmas crush is getting tougher all the time. And believe me, I’m through with it.”

“Tougher?” I cried. “My dear boy, nowadays it’s nothing compared to what it was a couple of thousand years ago, the day all this is supposed to commemorate. Don’t you remember that it was so crowded there wasn’t any room at the inn, and Joseph and Mary had to find a manger, in a stable?”

“Aw,” said Jim.

“Crowded?” I continued. “The streets jammed with people from miles around, and donkeys and camels, their bells tinkling and their drivers shouting and complaining and the inns roaring with trade and all the little shops filled with fighting people, trying to get waited on. Crowded? And detachments of Roman soldiers down from Jerusalem to help the tax enumerators do their work, and them in all the best billets in the little town. And the government men turning the front rooms of the inn into offices to work on their tax rolls, and outside, all the lineage of David lined up in queues and wanting to be away home again about their business. Crowded? Jimmie, Christmas has to be a kind of panjandrum, in memory of that day.”

“What Have You to Get?”

“Well, we’ve succeeded,” agreed Jim. “And Christmas has become the worst-tempered season of the whole year. Everybody tired and worried over money, and shopgirls so gaunt and white looking, and delivery men sloshing through the night, and factory girls working overtime, and store keepers dizzy for want of rest, and everybody’s nerves on edge and ready to crack any minute.”

“Fine,” I exulted. “Glorious. Instead of camel drivers shouting, we have car horns yelling impatiently, and instead of Roman soldiers lounging around keeping the crowds moving, we have extra police on duty. It’s a perfect representation.”

“Have you finished your shopping yet?” demanded Jim, grimly.

“No, siree,” I assured him. “I’ve still got a few things to get. And I’m proceeding with it in the spirit of the season. I’m going to be shoved and pushed and tramped on, and camel drivers are going to shout me out of the path, and Roman soldiers are going to thumb me on my way imperiously. I will rub shoulders with all my brethren, poor and rich. I will see, thrust close to mine, faces I have never seen before, thousands of them, my brothers in life. I will be full of pride and contempt and anger, all of them warm, healthy feelings. I will be conscious of my own importance, as I am pushed around by people far beneath me in money and clothes. That too is a nice sensation. There will be a great hum and roar of low sound, the sound of a multitude, and to men, so afraid of being alone, that great sound is always curiously comforting. There will be buying, selling, choosing, selecting, deciding. There will be possessing.”

“What have you to get?” inquired Jim.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” I assured him, “which is another grand part of the whole business. That glorious aimlessness with which the multitude wander through the stores and along the streets, undecided, indecisive, at a loss, bewildered. That’s the true spirit of Christmas, too.”

“That’s what makes me so mad,” disagreed Jim. “Me trying to go direct to the ladies’ glove counter and having to fight my way through a solid scrimmage of people who don’t want to go anywhere, or else don’t know where they want to go. That vacant stare, mixed with weariness and crankiness, that’s the expression of Christmas.”

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful,” I argued, “if at Christmas, everybody went trimly and smugly and smartly direct to what they wanted? How cold, practical, chilly, the whole business would be. No, Jim, it’s that complete breakdown of everything sensible and reasonable that makes Christmas what it is, the pinnacle of the year.”

“Well, if you don’t know what you want,” said Jim.

“Oh, I know roughly,” I explained, “that I want something for a boy of thirteen something for an elderly lady and something for a man, a tie or a cigarette tray or something casual.”

Everything Seems to Bulge

“We may as well go together,” said Jim, wanly. “I’ve got to get something for two of my girls and some other odds and ends. When you have somebody with you, it doesn’t seem so bad.”

“Come along,” I said.

And we entered the downtown streets which, even at nine a.m. are already congested and which, by four p.m. are just a hopeless slow tangle. Where do they come from? Are all the offices and desks and work benches abandoned, these last few days before Christmas? Is everybody shopping? The pedestrian traffic is trebled and the wheel traffic at least doubled.

Everything seems to bulge. The streets are congested, the windows are congested. Doorways are not wide enough and from the wagons and trucks parcels project perilously. People cannot pass one another, even in straight walking, but have to pause and bunt and wriggle around. At every doorway, there is confusion.

Nobody seems to have his mind on what he is doing, a general uncertainty prevails. People are all looking up, looking left, right or down. Their mouths are slightly open, as if listening to something inside them. They halt suddenly, turn around and return the way they had come. They burst into little trots. At the intersections, they impatiently attempt to cross against a red light, change their mind, stand dreaming, and then, when the green light comes on the people behind have to push them to get them started.

Jim and I got into the tide and drifted with it, storewards.

“How about an air rifle for that boy of 13?” said Jim, helpfully.

“No,” I said, “he got one two years ago. How about one of those nice needlepoint vanity cases for your girls?”

“No, they’ve got all that stuff,” said Jim. “Could you get your boy one of those metal hammering outfits?”

“He’s got one,” I replied. “Say, I saw some of the swellest ski outfits the other day for girls. Little helmet things….”

“No, no,” cried Jim. “They’ve got so much ski stuff. I think that’s what keeps the snow away. I wish I had boys to buy for. They’re so much easier to choose for than girls.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” I assured him. “I can go right through a department store without seeing a single thing fit for a boy, and every place I look, I see something a girl would just love.”

“You wouldn’t think so,” said Jim, “if you had girls to look after. It’s just the other way round, as a matter of fact. The stores are simply bursting with stuff for boys, but there hasn’t been a new idea in the line of Christmas presents for girls in the last ten years.”

Going With the Current

 “You certainly are cockeyed, Jim,” I assured him, as we joined a great herd and charged across an intersection, bunting and shoving.

We arrived at the big stores. What had been the Niagara rapids of traffic here became Niagara Falls. Clinging together like mariners wrecked, we went with the raging currents, timidly daring to steer a course, whenever an eddy permitted, towards the elevators but ending up at the escalators instead. Trying to catch the up one, we were inexorably forced on to the down one, which took us to the basement, and there, by skillfully pretending not to want to reach the elevators, we succeeded in arriving there and caught one almost empty which took us to the seventh floor before we could battle our way free. By putting on an expression of joy as if the seventh floor were really seventh heaven, where we had been trying to get for years, we had hardly any trouble getting to the stairs, and we walked down three flights to the sporting goods department. Jimmie and I find one thing about the sporting goods department. In case we do get marooned there, we have something to look at.

“Roller skates,” cried Jimmie. “The very thing for your boy.”

“The very thing for your girl, you mean,” I corrected. “Anyway, they can’t roller skate in winter.”

One of the young temporary salesmen they have at Christmas, one of those boys with the expression of a mischievous wire-haired fox terrier in his eyes, overheard my remark.

“Let me show you, sir,” he said, “the latest thing. Here’s a floating power skate, a ball-bearing, knee-action roller skate that is so pleasant to use, a boy will ride on it winter, summer, in the rain, at night, all the time.”

Very skillfully, like a cowpuncher herding steers, he manipulated us out of the swarming traffic into a kind of pocket. And he handed us each a very fancy looking roller skate.

“A kid,” said the enthusiastic young salesman, “will be asking you for messages to go, if he has these skates, see? He’ll be out in the fresh air, taking easy, natural exercise all day long. They’re like velvet. They’re soundless, smooth, like floating in a canoe. Like blowing along on the wind. In fact, I’m saving my money to own a pair of those skates myself. sir.”

We examined them. They just looked like roller skates to me.

“I’d be having,” I said, “to buy new rollers, new wrenches, all the time. They’d leave marks all over the hardwood floors.”

“Just sit down here, sir,” said the young man. “Just sit here one second.”

I am always glad to sit. So is Jim. We sat. The young man squatted down and skillfully snapped a skate on to my foot.

“See?” he cried. “Modernized. A patent device. It just snaps on. Nothing to fall off or work loose. Just a second.”

He snapped the mate on.

“Now, sir,” he said, “just stand up on those.”

I stood up, cautiously, the young chap holding my elbows to steady me. He rolled me a foot or two.

“Did you ever,” he demanded, “feel anything so airy, so smooth, as the action of those skates?”

I took a couple of cautious slides, holding to the counter edge. It was certainly an eerie sensation. Floating is the word. I shoved myself pleasurably along the counter. When I turned, also cautiously, I saw that Jim had been outfitted with them and, being more leggy than I was trying a few slow curvy strokes with them, amidst the crowd swerving past.

“Slick, eh?” said Jim, whirling over to me and doing one of those skating carnival halts.

“How much are they?” I asked.

“I didn’t ask,” said Jim, and we looked for our young man, who, in the true spirit of Christmas, was already waiting on somebody else, letting us soak, as it were, on our skates.

“I think I’ll get a pair,” said Jim.

“I’d imagine they’re pretty high,” I said, “Did you ever feel anything so smooth?”

Watching for a Break

Holding each other, we took a couple of slides along the counter. We came to the main aisle. Jim was being a little too expert and his weight carried us out into the driving storm of doggedly moving humanity.

“Hey,” I said, missing my grab for the counter. “Hey.”

But how was anybody to know we were on wheels? We held fast to each other, as the thick, packed throng moved us pleasantly away, waiting for an opening or else a chance to seize hold of a pillar.

We had become involved, however, in one of those solid swarms that slowly shuffle, hour by hour, through the great stores these final festive days, and, since we were so tightly packed neither Jim nor I could stoop down to undo the skates from our feet, and since it would have been ridiculous to try to explain to the uninterested people pushing from behind or leaning back against us in front, we just let matters ride, until we got a break.

“Don’t struggle,” warned Jim quietly. “If we upset, we might start some kind of a panic. Take it easy.”

We took it easy. The ones behind shoved, the ones ahead laid back, and there, as snug as steers in a cattle car, we moved effortlessly along.

“Jim,” I confided, “this is an idea. I bet we could sell this idea to the big stores. Roller skates for rent, to make Christmas shopping easy.”

We rolled once around the sporting goods and twice around the toys. A couple of times, I thought I saw the chance to climb over small children and get a grip on a counter edge, but Jim’s grasp on my sleeve prevented me.

“Jim,” I said, “try to signal that young brat that is waiting on us.”

But the tide set out to sea and we started leaving the sporting goods.

“Jim,” I muttered, “turn your toes a little to the right, and try to steer us to the side. We’re getting out of the sporting goods into the hardware.”

We both turned our toes right, but it made no difference. We were just lightly and easily rolled along, at the pace of the throng.

“One thing,” said Jim, “we can’t fall down and be trampled to death.”

“Hardware passing,” I said. “Linoleums next.”

We slowly rolled through the linoleums, past the coconut matting into the hooked rugs.

“Watch for a break,” I advised, “and see if you can make a grab. Once we get out of the crowd, we can fall down and take them off.”

But through the hooked rugs we slowly floated, and suddenly a dreadful presentiment assailed me.

“Pssst,” I hissed, “the escalator!”

“I’m afraid,” said Jim, “we’re for it.”

We could hear the dull rumble of the escalator. We tried to thrust out of the throng, but with nothing to grip with but our hands, all we succeeded in doing was irritating people whose arms we clutched, and they glared at us haughtily. Slowly the throng thickened, packed, pressed together and leaned hard over, in the general determination to get to the escalator. It was hopeless. When your turn comes to the escalator, you take it, willy nilly. We took ours.

Clinging to the fat rubber rails, we kept upright. I tried to raise one leg in order to unfasten one of the skates, but my knee bunted the lady ahead of me in an undignified fashion and she turned and hissed–

“Don’t get fresh!”

So, swiftly, inevitably, we reached the bottom of the escalator without having any time to plan or organize our arrival. And on the shining steel plate which bottoms all escalators our feet rolled forth and our helpless hands had to let go the fat rolling rubber railing and, ingloriously we skidded forth before the astonished eyes of the attendant and such shoppers as had enough interest left in life to bother looking.

The attendant helped us take the skates off. He did not, as I suggested to him, suppose we were trying to steal the skates.

“Not a tall, not a tall,” he assured us. “Things like this are happening all the time during the Christmas rush.”

So we took the skates slowly back to the young temporary salesman, who had not noticed our absence, and told him we would think the matter over.


Editor’s Notes: This story serves as a reminder to anyone who bemoans that Christmas has become commercialized. Long before Charlie Brown complained about the commercialization of Christmas in 1965, people were complaining about it even earlier.

Old roller skates were metal and had to be strapped to your shoes. Since “one size fits all”, you needed a skate “key” to adjust the length to fit to your feet, and tighten and lock it.

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.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén