The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Iced Duck

We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy… Jim’s teeth were chattering and I was cold beyond all shivering.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 5, 1938.

“I’m open,” said Jimmie Frise, “this week-end for a final go at the ducks.”

“Take some of your thicker-skinned friends,” I replied.

“I can’t get over your indifference to duck shooting,” said Jim. “It is, in the opinion of the greatest sportsmen in the world, the cream of all outdoor sports.”

“Duck shooting,” I informed him, “is sheer bravado. Only men who get a kick out of showing how tough they are go duck shooting.”

“Isn’t it funny,” mused Jim, “how a man can outfit himself with opinions in defence of his own ignorance?”

“Duck shooting,” I went on, “is the last survival of the hair shirt instinct in humanity. In past ages men wore hair shirts to show what they thought was their piety. It was only the desire to show how tough they were. Duck shooting is the same. You love to suffer, in order to demonstrate the vigor of your character.”

“Can’t you grasp,” pleaded Jim, “the delight there is in doing something entirely different from your normal life? Can’t you imagine any joy in entering a world as strange and different from the everyday world as it is possible to enter?”

“I don’t like being cold,” I stated. “I don’t like being wet or sleety. I don’t like to have to sit like a frozen dummy for hours on end in an icy bog, with a wind whistling amongst rushes.”

“The first delight of duck shooting,” interrupted Jimmie, “is the getting up at 4.30 a.m. You think of it with horror. As a matter of fact, it is the strangest and most delightful sensation imaginable. Your whole being is astonished. Your body, your mind, your secret spirit, tingles with a queer, a fascinating, joy, just to be up in this mysterious and unearthly hour.”

“Maybe my nervous system,” I suggested, “is too close to the surface of me.”

“Then,” went on Jim, “the going out, after good hot breakfast, into the stormy night, the chill, the stars, the wind. The walking and the rowing out to the duck blinds. The setting out of the decoys, in the darkness and the little waves, seems to wake in your deep heart some age old cunning, and it gives you the same lovely tingle as hearing, softly, the tune your mother used to sing to you when you were in her arms, a child.”

“What a queer comparison to make,” I protested.

“It’s true enough,” declared Jim. “Most of the deepest feelings in us are queer. And rightly so, because all our deepest feelings are the ones that have survived from time immemorial in us, handed down to us from our fathers, generation after generation across uncounted ages. Yet in the past few hundred years we have been trying to squelch these ancient things in us in order to be, as they say, civilized. So what we say and do and think, as civilized beings, seems plain and open. But whenever the deep, ancient things in us stir we find them strange.”

“We’ll be a better race,” I stated, “when we have succeeded in squelching those ancient things entirely. The day will come when nobody will go duck shooting, partly because it is idle to kill wild ducks when it is so easy to kill tame ducks. And partly because it is silly to go out and expose yourself to cold and discomfort and possible danger of pneumonia.”

Two Philosophies of Life

“I see,” retorted Jim. “So you’re one of the new pacifists. It is not because war Is evil that you would put an end to war. But because it is silly and expensive and uncomfortable.”

“Precisely,” I cried.

“Then in time to come,” suggested Jim, “there will be no more fishing, eh? Or golf or any amusements except the indoor amusements?”

“Even the indoor amusements,” I informed him, “will have to be pretty intelligent to get by. Playing bridge will prove to be silly, sitting up stiff in an uncomfortable chair, having to keep your mind alert…it won’t go. Mankind is moving definitely towards the understanding, of life that they arrived at centuries ago in India and China. And that is, that life, at its perfection, is simply sitting perfectly still, doing nothing, feeling nothing.”

“How about the Germans?” demanded Jim. “They don’t believe in any such perfection. All the trouble the Germans have been to the rest of the world in the last 50 years is because they believe so utterly in action, in discipline, in suffering, in exposing themselves to hardship, in living and dying dangerously.”

“Sparta,” I replied, “believed that, too. But what is Sparta? Just a word. A printed word. Nothing else of it remains. No statuary or vases, no literature, no philosophy or laws. Sparta terrified the whole Greek world in its time. But it was the rest of Greece, the terrified part, that handed down to us anything that we value of Greek civilization.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “this is all recent stuff, this Greek and Roman business. Just the other day. What I am talking about is the stuff that is in human nature for the past fifty million years. Because the Greeks or the Romans had certain experiences are we to be guided by them? Because they succeeded or failed. just within the past couple of thousand years, are we going to base our whole system of life on their experience?”

“What other experience is recorded?” I demanded indignantly.

“Recorded?” cried Jim. “You mean on paper? My dear boy, that counts out all the most valuable experience of all, because writing is only a recent invention. How about the records of human experience written in our very souls? In our minds and hearts and instincts. That’s where you want to look for records.”

“You,” I exclaimed, “are striking at the roots of civilization. Our entire world depends upon the written experience of humanity.”

“Therefore,” triumphed Jim, “if, in the past couple of thousand years, everything mankind has done has been in error, your whole world is founded on error.”

“But error couldn’t survive for two thousand years,” I protested.

“Oh, couldn’t it?” inquired Jim, sweetly. “Then how long do you say error can survive? Take a look around you at the world, before you answer.”

“Look,” I said, irritated, “what has this got to do with duck shooting?”

“Everything,” said Jim. “Because you can choose between two philosophies of life. You can either sit at home this week-end, doing nothing, feeling nothing, sagged in a chair like Buddha himself, believing in your numbed and all but lifeless mind that you are at that moment achieving the perfection of life. Or else you can come duck shooting with me, and feel cold and wind, and be aware of your skin and your eyes and your ears; filled with mystery of time and space, of stars and shadows and, as dawn begins to break, of swift flying little squads of wild ducks, swishing past, while you sit, controlling even your cold shudders, motionless as a stump, and the squad of ducks, seeing your decoys dim in the reeds, bank and turn and wheel and come, wings set and rigid, coasting down into range of your gun.”

Swell Day for Ducks

“You make a very unfair comparison,” I declared. “If I stay home, there are a hundred little things I can do. I can paste all this past summer’s fishing snapshots in my album. I can rearrange my book shelves, and index the latest acquisitions to my collection of early Canadian and American angling literature.”

“Very worthy, very worthy,” agreed Jim. “Pottering about with a paste pot, sighing over yesterday, thumbing through old withered pages of books written by men who were men of action, who, a hundred years ago, fished all our noblest waters when they were wild, and shot ducks and passenger pigeons and wild turkeys…. You think you are civilized. You are only debilitated, like our lakes and woods.”

“I like comfort,” I stated. “And so did cave men. I’m the natural man, not you.”

“You’re just getting a little feeble,” retorted Jim.

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded, that I couldn’t sit out in a bog as easy as you? Do you suggest that you are more fit to stand a little wind and weather…”

Well, you know how it goes? Somebody is always trapping us by the old personality method. At any rate, with a gun borrowed from my brother, and in hip rubber boots borrowed from the garage man, and in woollen shirts and leather vests and canvas hunting coats and great clumsy slicker borrowed from my son, I waited in the cold rain for Jim to hack into my side drive to pick up my dunnage bags and valises full of spare woollens, and shell boxes and all the equipment a normal man can think of taking with him at this time of year on a most unnatural undertaking. Including a hot water bottle.

“A swell day for ducks,” gloated Jim, shoving open the car door heartily.

“And for the flu,” I agreed. “It smells as if it were going to snow.”

Thus, for a period of three hours, along deserted highways amid a forsaken world, we drove, the rain flooding and volleying eternally, and the short afternoon waning to an unpleasant and mischievous darkness, out of which raced glaring lights of unhappy vehicles, and the dim, unfriendly lights of towns and villages wrapped in November gloom.

Jim professed to love it all, the feeling of strong and virile isolation from a timid and withdrawn world. He talked about the arts of wing shooting, of leading a duck so many feet per yard of distance per angle of flight. He raved about the flavor of wild duck, believing that a split teal, broiled in a wire broiler over charcoal, cooked merely to a perfection that still permitted the juices to run, and served with boiled wild rice, boiled celery served only with butter, and hot dry toast, to be the supremest wild flavor the human palate could appreciate.

We came at length, at what seemed midnight but was merely 8 p.m., to a village at which we turned east and took a rain-sodden country road. This we followed with caution for six miles to a farmhouse where everybody had gone to bed but a jovial elderly man, our host, who fed us rather sketchily on some overdone cold meat of some description, a lot of big loose bread, butter so salty it stung and hard stewed crab-apples in pink sweet water.

Jim and Jake talked loudly of the morrow, and the wind increased and the rain quit, and when we stepped out before going up to bed, the air had got so cold it pinched our cheeks.

“Will they ever be flying in the morning?” cried Jim mightily.

“Will they ever,” agreed Jake, heartily.

And he led us up a creaky stairs to a gloomy slope-ceilinged room with two unmatched beds between barren walls. So damply, strangely, uneasily into bed and the lamp blown.

But almost immediately, the lamp was relit, and there, shadowed monstrously on the walls, was Jake, whispering us that he had the kettle on, and we dressed. In damp wool, in scrapy, frigid canvas, we dressed, and, rubber boots clumping and flapping, we went down to a breakfast of coffee-colored tea, thick, dry-fried bacon, two eggs fried stiff and turned over, thoroughly saturated with bacon grease. Then, wiping mouths hastily, off into the night, at 18 minutes to 5.

Jake showed us the boat and shoved us off from shore, with a husky but hearty good-by, good luck. We had to tramp away a thin shell of ice that held the boat to the frozen mud shore.

“She’s freezing,” I shivered.

“The wind will get up before daylight,” shuddered Jim.

With frequent peerings and bendings low, Jim steered a zig-zag course across the sullen water, and we came at last to a sort of promontory of swamp and bulrushes jutting out.

“Drop out the decoys,” muttered Jim.

I fumbled amidst the potato sacks full of damp decoys, unwound the stiff cord, and dropped them overboard at Jim’s direction. Twenty. “Bluebills, all,” said Jim. “But whistlers will come into them.”

Then with a powerful drive of oars, Jim thrust the punt into the point of bulrushes, ice crunching sharply and startlingly under the bow.

Waiting for the Sunrise

“Lovely,” I murmured. “Do we sit on the ice?”

“We sit in the boat,” said Jim, and with the oar, he cracked the thin ice ahead and handed the punt inward with grips of the tall bulrushes. When we had battled our way six feet in, Jim began cutting bulrushes and sticking them upright along the gunwales of the punt.

“Now,” said Jim, “for daylight. We’re at exactly the right time.”

Dawn is praised by poets. But poets are seldom out in November. Through the spaces in the rushes, we gazed out at blackness. The wind had fallen completely. But it was bitter cold.

“Don’t stamp your feet,” hissed Jim. “Squeeze them with your hand.”

And a little later:

“Don’t cough.”

And, just as a faint and sickly pallor became visible on the sky, he said: “Now you have to sit really still.”

I could barely see the decoys, immobile in the glassy water, a few yards out from the rushes. Far off, a gun barked, again and again. Quite close, two guns banged the sun and frigid air. We strained our eyes out into the sky above our decoys. But nothing passed.

It seemed hours for the dawn to break through. The sky was leaden. The air was icy. Not a breath moved the driest rush tip.

“She sure is cold,” whispered Jim.

“Ssssshhh,” I warned fiercely, massaging my feet through the rubber boots.

Seven o’clock came and went. Daylight, ghostly and wan, came. Our decoys lay inert and motionless on the queerly still water, but now we had to keep low, for fear of being seen.

“On a day like this,” whispered Jim, “they may fly a little late….”

“Whisht,” I warned, both hands inside my innermost garment.

Eight o’clock, like an invalid in a chair, rolled slowly in. Passed, and at 8.30, Jim stirred noisily.

“Well,” he said in a profane voice amid the silence, “I guess there’s no use sitting here any longer. We’ll pray for wind tonight, for the evening shoot.”

We stood up in the punt, and she did not wobble.

“Ho, ho,” said Jim, rocking the boat. But she did not rock.

“Frozen in,” I suggested,

So with the oars, we cracked the thin shell of ice around the punt, and, with Jim in the bow like George Washington, we broke a narrow passage out of the rushes. For 20 feet out, a lovely thin sheet of ice had frozen in the three hours of dawn.

Our decoys were fast in it. We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy, Jim making the passage. I picking up the wooden beasts and winding the stiffening cord around them, after chipping off the fringe of ice.

Jim’s teeth were chattering and I had reached the stage of cold that is beyond all shivering.

“I think,” I said, carefully, “that my circulation has stopped.”

“We’ll be back in by the fire in 15 minutes,” clicked Jimmie.

So like two Buddhas, we sat by the fire until 4 p.m., and then, no wind having risen and the sheet ice being 40 feet out from the muddy shore, we packed up roughly, and in the dark, drove home slowly, on a slippery pavement.


Editor’s Note: This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

Halloween Masks

October 1, 1938

BOYS AND GIRLS! JOIN IN THE FUN!

No. 4 Gregory Clark

Here’s a mask of Gregory Clark waiting for you to cut out and wear as a false face

It’s a Cinch to Make This Mask

ARE you going to a Hallowe’en party? The Star Weekly comic masks are made to order to liven up that spooky night’s fun. If you start right now and cut out Gregory Clark, you’ll have five different masks to wear, for next week you’ll have Wimpy, then Maggie, then Jimmie Frise, then Jiggs. That’ll bring you right up to Hallowe’en when you’ll be looking around for a funny disguise to wear. And if you want more, you can get back issues of The Star Weekly for masks of Popeye, Old Archie and Olive Oyl. Just wear them and you’ll find they’ll bring you more fun than a bushel of monkeys whether you’re going to a Halloween party or not.

Cut out this illustration of GREG CLARK in a square, leaving about an inch border all the way around. Get a sheet of paper about 15 inches square. Any good heavy wrapping paper or light-weight cardboard will do. Paste the illustration, on the paper. When dry, cut the outer edges of the mask but be sure to follow the line around the square flaps indicated at each of GREG CLARK’S ears. Use a razor blade or a sharply pointed knife to cut around his nose, eyes and chin on the dotted black line. Next, fold down the flap along his ears. Get two medium sized rubber bands. Place one side of the rubber band inside the fold of the flap and paste down firmly. Do not attempt to use the mask until the flap is dry and firm. Now, placing the rubber bands around your ears, march over to a mirror and there you are, GREGORY CLARK himself.

October 22, 1938

HEY, KIDS Look who’s here!

It’s JIMMIE FRISE

your seventh STAR WEEKLY FALSE FACE

Be ready for Hallowe’en with this mask of Jimmie

YOU’LL FIND THE STAR WEEKLY COMIC MASKS MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF MONKEYS FOR A “SHELL-OUT” OR HOUSE PARTY THIS HALLOWEEN. SO BRING OUT YOUR PASTE POT AND SCISSORS RIGHT AWAY AND JOIN IN THE FUN.

Cut out this illustration of JIMMIE FRISE in a square, leaving about an inch border all the way around. Get a sheet of light weight cardboard about 15 inches square. Paste the illustration on the cardboard. When dry, cut the outer edges of the mask but be sure to follow the line around the square flaps indicated at each of JIMMIE’S ears. Use a razor blade or a sharply pointed knife to cut through the inner pink circle of his eyes. Smaller children can use the mask if they cut out the portion of the white circle nearest JIMMIE’S nose. Next, fold down the flaps along his ears. Get two medium sized rubber bands. Place one side of the rubber band inside the fold of the flap and paste down firmly. Do not attempt to use the mark until the flap is dry and firm. Now, placing the rubber bands around your ears, march over to a mirror and there you are, JIMMIE FRISE himself.


Editor’s Notes: In October 1938, the Toronto Star Weekly printed Halloween masks based on comic strip characters that kids could cut out and use. Note that “trick or treating” was not as common at the time, (referred to as “shell out” above), so it was suggested they could be worn to a party. I like that Greg characteristically has his hat at a jaunty angle, and Jimmie is portrayed with his ever present cigarette in his mouth.

Modern readers would likely know Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy from Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar (who died on October 13, 1938, around when these were published). Jiggs and Maggie were from Bringing Up Father by George McManus. And of course Old Archie was Jimmie Frise’s own from Birdseye Center.

One-Man Top

Jimmie tried to hurry it up but the top jammed and we had to start all over again… And the rain come down in larger drops.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 30, 1938.

“Well, sir,” said Jimmie Frise, “will wonders never cease?”

“What has happened?” I Inquired.

“I was just reading,” said Jim, “about a new machine some German has invented. All you have to do is put meat and vegetables and flour and butter and stuff in one end. Turn a button. And one hour later, open the back door of your machine and there’s dinner, all ready on the plates.”

“Cooked?” I asked.

“The vegetables,” cried Jim, “peeled, washed and salted. The meat basted and turned. The flour and butter and stuff all mixed and rolled, and baked into a pie.”

“Get away!” I scoffed.

“So help me,” said Jim. “It’s an electric stove, with a lot of tubes and compartments around it that you feed the unpeeled vegetables and rough meat and fruit for your pie. It’s all automatic. It does each thing in the right time to have all cooked and come out the back on a little conveyor belt at the same moment. It even serves the food on plates that you stick in a slot.”

“It’s criminal, Jim,” I declared.

“That’s what Hitler, thinks, too,” admitted Jimmie. “He won’t let the inventor, market it in Germany. It would ruin the old-fashioned housewife.”

“It would ruin more than that,” I protested. “Nobody would need to get married any more if they had machines like that. Does it wash the dishes, too?”

“There’s a dish washing attachment,” agreed Jim. “Feed the dishes in one end and they come out all dried, and the garbage pops out a trap door in the bottom, all parcelled up.”

“Well,” I stated, “all I can say is the inventors are going too far. Somebody had better call a halt to all this inventing.”

“Wait a minute,” laughed Jim. “Who can it harm? The only people who can afford to buy one of those machines are the people so rich that they never have to cook a meal or wash the dishes anyway.”

“It will put a lot of cooks and maids out of jobs,” I informed him. “Just like all the other labor-saving devices. They don’t save labor. They starve, labor.”

“The more the hard and dirty jobs in this world,” said Jim, “are handed over to machines, the happier the human race is going to be in the end.”

“And the more people are going to be on relief,” I pointed out.

“We call it relief now,” said Jim. “But in ten years we’ll call it leisure. We are just in the early stages of realizing that a large proportion of the human race don’t have to work any more. Machines have taken the work over. At first, when people lost their work on account of machines, we never thought about them at all. Then we thought they should get other work. Now we realize that there is no other work, so we support them on what we call relief. Relief, hell. It’s freedom. It’s leisure. They don’t have to work any more.”

It Sounds Wonderful

“Who is going to support them?” I demanded, outraged.

“The machines,” said Jim. “Who else? At first, when we started inventing labor-saving machinery, we imagined the inventors and the big industrialists and smart business men were going to benefit. We were all wrong. As usual, we were thinking with our feet instead of our heads. The first people to benefit from labor-saving machinery are the people whose labor the machinery saved. They are being benefitted now. True, relief isn’t very generous. But it will become rapidly more generous in the next 10 years, as everybody begins to catch up with the idea.”

“Preposterous.” I muttered.

“Not at all,” explained Jimmie. “The first great steps in labor-saving machinery were in excavation machinery and other machines that did away with pick and shovel. They are the first, now, to be unemployed. Next came the machines for doing fairly simple mechanical work. You will observe that in exact proportion, the unemployed are mostly the laboring and unskilled mechanical classes. So it will go. As more and more expert machines are invented, more and more skilled mechanics will become unemployed. Why not? Their work is being done for them.”

“But good heavens,” I protested, do you mean to say we’ve got to go on paying more and more taxes, ever higher and steeper, to maintain in idleness ever-growing classes of unemployed?”

“Ah, no,” explained Jim. “Taxes will only go a little bit higher before all of us suddenly understand the situation. Then we will demand that machines pay the support of all these millions that have been disemployed.”

“Ah, disemployed?” I offered.

“Yes,” elucidated Jimmie, “these people are not unemployed, they are disemployed. Their work is finished. They have had a machine invented to do their work for them. They’re lucky. The machines will now pension them off.”

“It sounds wonderful,” I breathed.

“It is wonderful,” said Jim, “as soon as we wake up to the facts. The joke, however, is on us. On us who can’t be relieved by machines. No machine can draw cartoons or write articles. No machine can manage a plant or an office. All us smarties that thought we were so clever will be the only ones who will have to work on, unrelieved, unpensioned. We can never be disemployed.”

“Then,” I cried, “I ought to alter my sons’ plans and educate them to be mechanics or shoemakers, in the hope that soon a machine will be invented to pension them off into the leisure class for life.”

“Certainly,” agreed Jim. “If you go ahead with your idea of making your sons business men and lawyers and doctors, they’ll have to work all their lives. The leisure class of the next generation will be the workers whose work is done. Done by machines.”

“Jim, I see it,” I cried, “I see it.”

“Good,” said Jim. “The sooner everybody sees it, the sooner this silly business of taxes will end and machines take over the burden they have created. Why should my taxes increase? My cartoons haven’t put anybody out of a job.”

“We’ve been letting machinery get away with murder,” I agreed.

We’ll All Work for Fun

“Murder is the word,” said Jim. “Slow murder. But any day now, when the ever-increasing disemployed become too much for our ordinary tax system to carry, we’ll face the simple facts and hand the job over to the machines. All the profit of the machines goes to the owner of the machines. How silly! How do the machines save them any work? All it saves them is money. O.K. Where the money is, that’s where we get it. Isn’t it?”

“Correct,” I agreed, “But Jim, now I come to think of it, I wonder how happy we’ll all be when machinery reaches its logical conclusion and does everything for us? Will the human race be any happier doing nothing than it was when it was busy all day long?”

“There will be plenty to do,” said Jim. “Fishing, hunting, travelling, motoring.”

“Do you mean to say the disemployed will have motor cars?” I gasped.

“Certainly,” said Jim. “Where else will the market for motor cars be when the majority of mankind are disemployed?”

“They’ll have to be awfully cheap,” I argued.

“They might as well be cheap,” explained Jim, “because, one way or the other, the money will be taken off the machines that make the cars.”

“Then who’ll go into the car manufacturing business,” I triumphed, if there is no money in it?”

“There will always be people,” said Jim, “who will be wanting to be making things, whether there is money in it or not. Some people wouldn’t take leisure as a gift. I think there are enough of that kind of people to keep the rest of us in cars and farm produce and other essentials when the great day comes.”

“Jim, it’s a dream,” I scoffed.

“The one comical discovery the human race has yet to make,” declared Jim, “is that the hardest thing in the world to bear is leisure. When we all can have it, nobody will want it. Then comes the millennium. We’ll all work for the fun of it.”

“Then,” I exclaimed, “come on, you inventors!”

“They’re doing pretty well,” protested Jim. “Do you realize that just 15 years ago there was no radio and now look at it, a vast industry, a giant art, a major profession.”

“And think,” I agreed, “that when we were young men, the first high-behind motor cars were chugging and spluttering through the astonished streets.”

“We were born and raised,” said Jimmie, “in the buggy age. The fastest thing in town was the butcher’s high two-wheeled delivery gig.”

“And the streets,” I reminded him, “were lit with gas lamps on tall green iron posts, about one every hundred yards. A silent, bitter little man used to come huddled along the winter streets, about dusk, carrying a sort of stick with a light on the end of it, lighting all the gas lamps.”

“But on the corners,” said Jim, “there was a tall pole with a round globe dangling from the top, lit with electric carbon lights that hissed and sparked redly all night long, fading and bright by turns. Swinging in the night wind.”

“We had telephones, then, too,” I recollected. “Wall telephones, and the receiver had two bright red bands around it.”

“Only doctors and rich people had telephones,” remembered Jim.

“Yes, all the neighbors came in,” I recalled, “when ours was installed. My old man had got a raise to $25 a week, which put him in the leisure class.”

“Then, cried Jim, “just there, at the turn of the century, something happened. The whole world, the human race, the universe, nature itself, seemed to squirm with a sort of ecstasy of creation. The motor car came. Giant electrical plants were founded. Streets were suddenly ablaze with lights every few paces.”

“The block pavements,” I said, “began to be torn up, contemptuously, and macadam and asphalt laid down, with engines snorting and arrogant Irishmen slamming it down, whole city blocks at a time.”

“What a century’s beginning was that,” cried Jim warmly. “Hardly had it got going, ablaze, moving, gallant, until men were flying in airplanes and a Frenchman flew the English channel.”

“And an Italian buzzed messages through space across the Atlantic,” said I. “Then with a great whoop and rush, we went into the war.”

“And then invention went mad entirely,” said Jim. “We talk of mass production. Mass production was invented in the war. Factory production was developed to unbelievable heights. Research was carried into every conceivable field, to find substitutes, to find cheaper and faster ways of making everything from food to steel.”

“The aeroplane,” I said, “that would have taken twenty years to develop as a novelty, was developed in a few months for war purposes to almost its present perfection.”

“And gas engines,” said Jim. “More was learned about engines in connection with aeroplanes than the automobile industry would have found out in fifty years.”

“Oh,” I summed up, “there was never an era of exploration and development of the material world to equal the four war years and there may never be another.”

“Funny,” said Jim, “that in the four years that humanity lost more than it will ever know, in the spiritual realm, it gained more than it will ever know, in the material realm.”

“By selling our souls to the devil of war,” I suggested, “we bought, like Faust, sundry things that do not matter.”

“How do we get our souls back?” asked Jim. “How did Faust get his soul back?”

“He never lost it,” I explained. “Because he knew that signing a compact with the devil would never damn him; only the self-satisfaction out of the things he would buy would damn him. He found no satisfaction in the things the devil gave him, just as we find no satisfaction in the countless wonders science is giving us. So we’re not damned. Yet.”

“It was a wild, energetic, extravagant beginning of a century,” admitted Jimmie. “Something to be proud of, something we should be glad we shared. But invention has steadied down. The whole genius of men now seems to be bent on thinking of humanity. The motor car and the radio are the two greatest and most characteristic inventions of the new age. Both have set free the human spirit. The one sets free the human body. The other sets free the human mind.”

“I guess the motor car is the greatest development of all time,” I concluded. “It has made one community of whole continents. It is making neighbors of whole nations. Every year it breaks down new barriers and new boundaries.”

“Because of motor cars,” said Jim, “highways are being built to the ends of the earth, across deserts that man would forever have abandoned, through jungles and forests, leaving the trail of village and hamlet and town and city wherever they go.”

“Sure, I’ll Watch You”

“The motor car has set free the farmer from his hermitage,” I recounted, “and discovered a thousand beauty spots for the human heart to feast upon. It rescued mankind from an age of slavery to machines in cities and for that alone we should be consciously grateful every day.”

“God bless the motor car,” confessed Jim, “and all inventors working to set man free.”

“How,” I suggested, “about going for spin? I don’t feel like any more work today.”

“It looks like a thunder storm,” said Jim, flinging his drawing pen aside and walking to the office window to look out over the city.

“Nothing so refreshing,” I said, “as a thunder storm in the country.”

“Will we go in my car or yours?” asked Jim, hopefully.

“Why ride in an oven,” I inquired, “When you can sit in a swell little open job like mine, floating through space? It’s like riding in a launch, over water.”

“O.K.” said Jim, shutting up his desk.

So we went down the back way, on account of editors, and wove my little speed boat out of the parking lot and in no time at all were out the Lake Shore Road headed for pastures old. Great white clouds loomed monstrously on all horizons. A heavy sense of thunder was in the air, but with the little open car washing the breeze over us, like a bath, the contrast with all the world around us, made us all the happier.

“When she starts,” said Jim, looking at the moving mountains of white based upon vast heavens of fateful black, “we ought to run into a gas station to stick the top up.”

“Why?” I inquired sharply.

“The guys can help us,” said Jim.

“Guys nothing,” I informed him. “This is a one-man top. I can stick it up in half a minute by myself.”

Jim just continued to lean back and let the humid air bathe him. We scooted north on the Centre Road. Traffic seemed to have all gone to sleep with the heat and the impending storm. Growls of thunder battered and shook. A livid blast of lightning flashed across the black sky and suddenly the white mountains vanished. A couple of big drops slashed against the windshield.

“How about the top?” asked Jim.

“We’re just on the edge of Brampton,” I advised, letting her out. “We can pull into the curb there.”

Which we did, while everybody stood under awnings and doorways and the great thunder shower fell. First, there was the top envelope to get off, and mostly it comes off like a mitt but sometimes it comes off like a wedding glove. And this time it came off that way, with Jimmie pulling too hard on his side. Then there were the little straps to undo. And when we got them undone, there were the little nuts to loosen, and while usually they are all too loose, this time, they stuck.

Then there was the lifting of the top, which has to be done evenly or else it jams. And carefully, or else it catches your fingers in the numerous hinges and swivels and bolts and bands. But with the rain now pouring straight down in heavy vertical rivers, not in drops, but in continuous spurts half an inch thick and two miles long, up, Jimmie tried to hurry and it jammed and we had to lay it back and start all over again.

“Watch me,” I commanded.

“Sure, I’ll watch you,” said Jim, skipping across under the awning of a store. “It’s a one-man top, eh?”

So I did it myself, the slow way but the right way. And I just thought to myself, as I struggled it through, that in one feature of motor car, inventors have been just a little lackadaisical.


Editor’s Notes: Jim’s description of a machine that could cook your dinner sounds ridiculous and like science fiction, but perhaps there was a sliver of truth to it, since 1938 was the year the first home Pressure Cooker was invented.

Greg mentions sidewalks being made of macadam and asphalt. Macadam is just another name for a type of asphalt.

Car roofs on old convertible cars were notoriously hard to raise. You can watch someone try and raise one on an old Model T by himself here (skip to the 6:30 mark for raising it). Note he says a few times that it is really a two person job. By the 1930s, some manufacturers were touting “one-man” roofs, or automatic roofs.

“You Look Bad”

“You look bad,” said George. “What’s the matter?” “We’re O.K.,” said Jim emphatically.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 12, 1938

“What’s the matter?” cried Jimmie Frise sharply.

“How, who?” I replied, startled.

“You,” said Jim. “You look as if you had been pulled through a knothole.”

“I feel all right,” I stated.

“You look bad,” said Jim. “You look terrible. My dear chap.”

He stood staring at me, his face full of anxiety and concern.

“Wh-hy,” I laughed nervously. “I feel all right. I feel the same as ever.”

“Were you reading late?” inquired Jim, earnestly, “Or anything?”

“I was in bed before 11,” I said stoutly, “and I slept like a log and woke, now you mention it, feeling like a million dollars. Why. my family was all kidding me, not an hour ago, about my singing while I was shaving.”

“Hmmm,” said Jim, scrutinizing me narrowly, as I took off and hung up my hat and overcoat.

I sat down at my desk, rubbing my hands together. I smiled around the familiar office, at its pictures, mottoes and framed cartoons. I felt fine. I felt perfect. Not a pain or an ache.

“Maybe,” I suggested, “I just need a haircut.”

But I felt Jimmie watching me covertly. In fact, each time I looked up from opening my mail, I caught Jimmie just glancing away from me, with a secret look about him.

“Look here,” I said, “what’s the idea? What’s the big idea of peeping at me like that?”

Jim sat back in his chair and looked long and earnestly at me.

“How long is it,” he asked tenderly, “since you saw a doctor?”

“Say,” I cried, “what the dickens is the matter?”

“I’m asking you,” said Jim. “How long is it since you saw a doctor?”

“I had a life insurance examination,” I informed him, “less than two years back.”

“A lot of things,” said Jim, hollowly. “can develop in two years. In two weeks, even.”

And after a long, lingering stare, he returned to his work.

I finished opening the mail and noticed, incidentally, that my hands looked a little different from the last time I had looked at them. They seemed knucklier. The skin on them seemed drier and more crinkled than I had noticed ever before. I held up the left one. I was astonished to see that it was shaking slightly. Very slightly. When I tried to hold it perfectly steady, it trembled most decidedly. A very slight, but certainly a decided, tremble. I felt Jimmie watching me slyly, and looked up in time to catch him at it. He glanced away with an expression of shame.

“Hrrrmmph,” I said.

“When Did You See a Doctor?”

I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window. I then slowly went all over myself, with my mind, as it were, feeling all my joints, parts and insides. Slipping my thumb casually in the armhole of my vest, I felt my heart, first of all.

“Ga-bump, ga-bump, tiddle, ga-bump,” went my heart.

I had never noticed that “tiddle” before. In fact, that “ga” in front of the “bump” was not altogether familiar.

I listened, as it were, to my lungs, liver, kidneys and stomach. Quite suddenly, and without warning, I noted my eyes seemed queerly dull. The gray March light outside seemed grayer than March used to be. I tasted a little different taste in my mouth than I had ever observed before. And finally. I seemed to feel a slight limpness or numbness in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles.

As I turned from this contemplation of myself, this stock-taking, I caught Jim just turning his head from having been watching me intently.

“Jim,” I said, rising, “what is it you notice about me? Do I look pale?”

Jim got up and came to meet me.

“Look,” he said, “you just look kind of queer, that’s all. Not pale, but sort of drawn and peaked. There is a funny look to your eyes. You seem to have shrunk, somehow.”

“Jim,” I said, “what do you suppose it is?”

“How would I know?” demanded Jim. “But as your old friend. I think I have the right to tell you you look bad, when you do.”

I looked intently at Jim, to read his thoughts, to know the truth. And then I noticed Jim had a funny look about him. His eyes, which, the last time I had bothered to observe, were bright with light and twinkle, now seemed, as it were, faded. His skin seemed polished across the cheek bones. There were pouches under his eyes and the bridge of his nose looked bony.

“Jim,” I suggested sympathetically, “you don’t look so good yourself.”

“Eh?” said Jim.

“You don’t look very well yourself,” I said gently. “How have you been feeling lately?”

“Never better,” said Jim heartily. “I feel in the pink, that’s what made me conscious of you, I guess.”

“Jim,” I corrected, “you may feel in the pink, but you don’t look it. Now that my attention is drawn to it, your eyes have a dull sort of look, there are heavy pouches under your eyes, and look the way you are standing!”

Jim straightened sharply.

“Ah,” I pointed out, “you have been walking around awfully stoop-shouldered this last while. We get so used to seeing each other, we don’t notice these things until something forces our attention to it. Jim, you’re a kind of yellow color, do you know that? How is your liver? When did you see a doctor last?”

Jim walked over and looked out the window. He pulled up his belt and straightened his shoulders. He coughed and shrugged and I could see he, too, in his turn, was giving himself a mental going over, outside and in.

“Why,” he said, “I had a doctor look me over just last spring, when I had that tooth trouble. Or was that two springs ago?”

“Hmmmm,” said I. “a lot can happen…”

Sudden Anxiety

Jim turned from the window anxiously.

“How do you mean I look kind of yellow?” he asked, earnestly.

“Bilious, or jaundicey,” I said, turning him to the light so I could give him a good honest report. “Why, Jim, isn’t it funny how we change so suddenly? The last time I remember looking at you, and I see you every day of my life, practically, you were a lithe, springy, ruddy fellow, life in your eyes and skin and every movement.”

“And what’s the matter with me now?” questioned Jim crisply.

“Well,” I said sympathetically, “to put it very simply, Jim, you seem to have suddenly aged, your skin is sort of parchment like, your eyes have a dull look. I don’t know, you just seem to be aged, somehow.”

Jim stiffened and walked back to his desk. He sat down and picked up his drawing pen and started to scratch with it. He glanced up and caught me watching him.

“Let’s forget it,” he suggested, “Let’s just forget it.”

“Very well,” I agreed. “There is nothing we can do right now, but I’m going to see the doctor to-night.”

“The same here,” said Jim, humping down over his drawing board. And I addressed myself to the typewriter with intensity.

So through the morning Jim scratched, with little to say, and I banged and thundered on the machine, though I noticed long pauses in Jim’s scratching, and the pauses of my own machine grew ponderous and frightening, as I slowed between thoughts. I hated to feel a pause. I wrote many pages that I tore up because there was really nothing on them, only words that I wrote to fill the office with a busy sound.

We were both very happy when it came 12 o’clock and lunch. We put on our coats with an obvious sense of relief. We smiled and joked extra loudly in the corridors, as we met our colleagues of many departments going to lunch. We cracked the usual ones with the elevator man. It was a snappy day, and Jim and I, instead of dawdling along, stepped out with conscious vigor, and wove in and out through the lazy noon hour crowd. We arrived at the lunch counter we favor on those days we feel like walking three blocks and got stools side by side.

George, the boss of the lunch counter, who stepped up to ask us our order and dish us a glass of water, froze when he saw us.

“Hello,” he said, “what’s the trouble?”

“Eh?” said Jim and I heartily.

“You look bad; what’s the matter?” said George, solicitous and low leaning over the counter.

“We’re o.k.,” said Jim, emphatically. “I’ll take a hot beef sandwich with peas and coffee.”

“Have you had any bad news or anything?” queried George.

“Make mine,” I stated firmly. “hot pork with plenty of gravy, french fried and peas on the side. Brown bread.”

Friends are Solicitous

George looked at me closely.

“I wouldn’t recommend pork,” he said, surreptitiously. “Pork’s heavy.”

Saying which, he slid Jim’s plate on the counter, the big sandwich drowned in rich gravy. the peas vivid green, scoop of soft pallid mashed potatoes balanced on the edge.

George waited on somebody else while I thought what I wanted other than pork. Jim stared intently at the beef sandwich and picked up his knife and fork slowly and deliberately.

“I think,” said Jim, “I think I’ll change my mind. Make mine a… ah… a chopped egg sandwich and a glass of cold milk, eh, George?”

“Good,” said George.

“Mine the same,” I stated.

“Good,” said George, very kindly. “You’ll feel better than eating a big meal, the way you feel now.”

He slid away, but we could feel, as we nibbled the sandwiches, that George’s friendly eye was on us, sideways. I stole a glance at Jim. He was gaunt and hunched, and he was eating his sandwich as if it contained poison. I felt Jim looking at me, and I tried to take a big bite of my sandwich but I choked slightly.

“Here,” muttered Jim, flinging down the half of his sandwich. “Let’s get out and go for a walk. What we need is fresh air.”

As we paid our checks, we encountered three of the boys from the composing room.

“Well, well, well,” said they, standing us back to look at us, “what kind of flowers do you guys like? Will we make it a wreath or just a spray? Those sprays of spring flowers are …”

But Jim and I pushed out the door and got into the throng.

The lazy throng. The noon throng with gaze turned inward, digesting their food or perhaps pondering problems left unfinished at their offices. How comfortable and at ease they all looked, especially the girls, the business girls, with that superb look of indifference which distinguishes them from non-business girls.

Listlessly we drifted with them, they thrusting and pushing by with vigor and energy.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie, as a particularly fat, healthy girl bounced past as if she was made of rubber all over, “little do they guess.”

“I never saw people so disgustingly healthy,” I stated. “They seem to flaunt it.”

“Yet any day,” said Jim, “any one of all these may glance in the mirror in the morning, and see the signs.”

“They look lovely now,” I submitted.

“One of the evils of being well,” said Jim, is that you never think of your health. It’s only when you lose it you think of it. We ought to have big posters all over the streets, saying in great big type, ‘Do you feel well? All right, then gloat.’ Or something of that kind.”

“I think,” I said, thinly. “I’ll lay off for the afternoon I’ll just go home and lie down for two or three hours.”

“I’ve got a good notion,” said Jim, “to slip up and see the doctor. His hours are from one to two.”

“That’s a better idea,” I admitted. “We’ll both go, and that will save time and money. We’ve both got the same trouble anyway.”

So we got Jim’s car and drove out home to see Jim’s doctor. We drove slowly. In fact, we drove too slowly.

“Just put a little steam into it, Jim,” I suggested. This slow pace sort of, sort of …”

So Jim put on the gas; even so, we did not travel along the Lake Shore at quite our usual pace. The doctor was in but there were three people ahead of us, an old lady whose head trembled all the time and who had a look of despair; a man with a bandage over his face, concealing something mysterious; and a young woman as pale as a ghost who never raised her eyes from the ragged old magazine she was only pretending to read. One by one, these three were called ahead of us, and we could hear far off, dim sad sounds in the utter silence of the waiting room.

When our turn came, we were so limp we could hardly get to our feet.

“Well, for heaven’s sakes,” said the doctor, with that relief doctors always feel when they come to their last patient, “and what are you two old hickories doing here?”

“How do we look, doc?” demanded Jim, posing.

“You look all right to me,” said the doctor. “What is it? Life insurance? Or are you trying to get me on some committee. Sit down and rest your feet.”

“Honest, doc,” said Jim, “how do we look?”

Feeling Terrible

The doctor sat back and looked with that secret professional eye at both of us sitting very stiff and pretty.

“Well,” he said, “off hand, I should say you look like a couple of steers all combed up for the Royal Winter Fair. Why, what’s up? Am I supposed to see a rash on you or something?”

So we told him. We said we were feeling fine, but we both had noticed how the other had failed lately, and then, when we went to lunch, everybody looked at us and said we looked bad.

“And did you feel bad?” asked the doctor.

“Not until Jim noticed how badly I looked,” I admitted.

“You do feel bad?” asked the doctor.

“Doctor,” I declared, “I feel terrible. To tell the truth. I feel kind of gone. My eyes feel dull and I can’t eat. I choke on my food, my mouth has a funny taste, and in all my joints, I’ve got a weak feeling, see?”

“How about inside?” asked the doctor.

“I have no pain,” I confessed, “but I have a sort of woozy feeling, as if something was wrong, something seriously wrong, perhaps.”

“Exactly the same here,” said Jim. “only I didn’t like to say so. I feel as if any minute I would get a sharp shooting pain in my insides.”

“Well,” said the doctor, very earnestly, “I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the spring.”

“The spring?” said we.

“The spring,” said the doctor. This time of year is like 4 o’clock in the morning. If you wake up at 4 in the morning, your faculties, your glands and humors are all at their darkest ebb. You feel only half alive. It is the same now, in March and part of April, until the first iris reaches up until the first buds get sticky, until the first robin nests in your tree.”

I looked at Jimmie. He was transformed. Before my very eyes, he seemed suddenly flooded with life and health.

“Maybe,” said the doctor, “you need a little sulphur and molasses, but probably you don’t. Probably all you need is to keep from thinking about how you feel. Don’t think at all. Don’t feel. Just wait for these weeks to pass…”

“Why, look at him,” cried Jim, pointing at me. “Look at the little beggar, fairly busting with health. What’s he been trying to put over, drooping around the office this morning as if he were in a galloping decline!”

I stood up. Jim stood up. The doctor stood up.

“Listen,” said the doctor, “never tell anybody they look bad, especially at this time of year.”

“That’s an idea,” admitted Jim.

“And here’s a trick,” laughed the doctor. “If anybody ever says you look bad, tell them right back that they look terrible.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Jimmie and I heartily, shaking the doctor’s hand muscularly and leaping into the car and driving back along the Lake Shore hell for leather.


Editor’s Notes: Sulphur and molasses made up a home remedy, also known as a “spring tonic” because of the laxative influence of sulfur.

Hell for leather” means “At full speed”.

Surrealism

The elderly gentleman and his daughter took a look at “Split Infinitive”. “He’s got it at last,” said he.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 22, 1938

“I think,” said Jimmie Frise disgustedly, “I’ll turn surrealist.”

“What are you now?” I inquired sweetly.

“I get so tired,” said Jim, “drawing this mug of yours every week. Sometimes I feel I can’t go on.”

“If you turned surrealist,” I asked, “how would you draw me?”

“Oh, boy,” mused Jim happily, “what wouldn’t I draw. Punkin on a boat. Ripe tomato singing. Pot full of spinach.”

“You could also,” I pointed out bitterly, “do some nice work on yourself in this cartoon. For instance, string bean partly sliced. The theorem of a pair of old scissors. Or nocturne in three pool cues.”

“You’ve got some nice surrealistic titles there,” stated Jim.

“Jim,” I asked, “what in the dickens is this surrealism? And by the way, is that the way you pronounce it?”

“Sur, meaning beyond,” explained Jim, “and realism. Beyond or above reality. That is what surrealism means.”

“It sure is beyond,” I confessed. “The pictures I saw at the Exhibition looked decidedly unreal. I mean, there were faint suggestions of hands, toe nails and things like that in them. But the rest of the picture was just a lot of formless shapes. Why do they put in suggestions of real things? Why not just paint a lot of different colored blobs?”

“Because,” explained Jim, “in all surrealism there is a faint suggestion of reality. Reality left behind. Reality only an echo, or perfume, a lingering, fragile, all-but-gone memory.”

“Come clean,” I coaxed. “Isn’t surrealism just nutty? Aren’t the people who paint these pictures just slightly touched? As well as those who see anything in them?”

“No,” said Jim, soberly. “I read in the catalogue of the Exhibition that surrealism was born of the disillusionment and despair that followed the war.”

“Ah, another war legacy,” I muttered.

“The way everything went cock-eyed after the war,” continued Jim, “affected even art. So the surrealists demand of art that it take into account not only the realities of what we see with the waking eye, but the fantastic and irrational things we meet in our dreams, in our subconscious selves, in those moments, of which there are many, when our minds and imaginations wander loose, detached from the actual world around us, dreaming and thinking idle, grotesque, often mischievous things.”

“We all have those moments,” I confessed. “To myself, I call that going slumming inside myself, and I try hard not to do it. I’ve got myself trained now to always take myself along as professional guide and bodyguard.”

“In order to cope with the eternal mystery of life,” said Jim, “we must know all about life. Art and literature have devoted themselves for countless ages only to the presentation of the better, the higher, the cleaner side of life. Hence we have no knowledge of life as it truly is. Not in other people, mind you; but in ourselves. To arrive at a true and just understanding of life, that eternal mystery, we must face life as it really is, and write about it and paint it and express it. Only when we have all of life before us, can we know about it. In the past, art and literature have merely put on a show, an unreal, pretty and entertaining show; yet on the basis of that show humanity has tried to arrive at a workable understanding of human nature. It can’t.”

“I never read these dirty modern books,” I declared firmly.

The Split Infinitive

“Then that is probably why you can’t ever,” replied Jim, “have any understanding of human nature. You admit that you occasionally, when you are not looking, slip away on a little slumming trip deep within your own nature.”

“Yes,” I retorted, “but I have learned how to take myself along as a guide. I don’t go as often as I used to.”

“You’re forty-five now,” smiled Jimmie.

“To heck with surrealism,” I declared.

“It is the coming thing,” replied Jim.

“It will die,” I claimed, “of malnutrition. Nobody will buy the silly pictures.”

“Thousands of people are buying them,” countered Jim. “Those pictures you saw in the Exhibition are the classics of the surrealistic school and are valued at huge prices by the museums that own them.”

“It’ll die,” I predicted. “A brief and passing fancy.”

“Why,” protested Jim, “I know an artist who is painting surrealist pictures and making money for the first time in his career. For 20 years, he has been painting landscapes and still life and he never sold $200 worth in a year. Yet in the past six months he has made over $1,000 painting surrealist subjects.”

“Let him make it as fast as he can,” I laughed, “for he’ll be back at the still life in another six months.”

“Don’t you ever believe it,” cried Jimmie. “This man has arrived. Inside of a year, the name of Philip Phowler will be known to the world.”

“Phooey,” I argued.

“Listen,” said Jim, “right now he is working on a commission. One of Toronto’s wealthiest old art collectors has commissioned Phowler to paint him a picture called ‘Split Infinitive’.”

“Split Infinitive,” I gasped. “What a beautiful subject for an artist to paint.”

“He’s getting $250 for it,” added Jim.

“Split Infinitive,” I scoffed. “What the dickens kind of a picture could anybody make out of that?”

“It is a tremendously interesting subject to paint,” declared Jimmie. “Absolutely fascinating to the artist and completely fascinating to the person who looks at it with understanding.”

“Split Infinitive,” I muttered.

“Don’t you see the possibilities,” cried Jimmie, “in surrealist technique? What is a split infinitive? It is an error in grammar. It gives away the character of those who use split infinitives, such as ‘to really go,’ instead of ‘really to go.’ It shows them up as incompletely educated persons. It shows them up as slipshod persons who lack the niceties of expression.”

“Sissy,” I submitted.

“Sissy, if you like,” said Jim. “But amongst a very large group of people, a split infinitive is as revealing as seeing a man eating peas with his knife.”

“Did you ever try eating peas with your knife?” I demanded. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to make peas stay on your knife.”

“In this painting of the ‘Split Infinitive’,” went on Jim, “the artist has to catch a suggestion of all the things associated with splitting infinitives. The senses of the superiority of those who know about the split infinitive. A sense of the type of people who do split them. A sense of shock and a sense of ignorance. Some feeling of the great mass of mankind, healthy, hearty and ignorant, who not only don’t know about split infinitives, but who simply couldn’t care about it, physiologically.”

“Some painting,” I agreed.

“The artist, in order to paint this picture,” went on Jim, “has to retreat within his own soul and ponder all the aspects of the split infinitive. The purely technical aspect, the split. The social aspects, that is, the division of human beings into classes, some who care and some who don’t. The aspect of wealth, made or inherited, so that those who inherit wealth and go to expensive schools, are in one class, and those who made wealth belong to another class and who only know about split infinitives by the expressions on the faces of their children. For instance, thousands of people who shudder at split infinitives are the children of people who made their fortunes in a foundry, and who only understand about splitting profits.”

“And how the heck,” I demanded, “could such a painting ever interest the beholder?”

“It all depends,” said Jimmie, “on the intelligence of the painter and the intelligence of the beholder. But that is true also of even the simplest painting. If a painter is not clever and the picture he paints is looked at by a stupid person, it amounts to no more than a surrealist picture.”

An Incredible Canvas

“I’d love to see this picture, ‘Split Infinitive’,” I admitted.

“Sure you can,” cried Jim. “We’ll slip over at noon. It’s not quite finished yet, but that will be all the more interesting. To see Phowler at work on it. He will explain each part.”

“That’s the trouble,” I claimed. “I don’t like pictures that have to be explained. I like a picture that steps right out at you.”

“You would soon get tired,” said Jim, “of mere decoration eternally.”

“In life at its best,” I countered, “the mind should be used as little as possible. And you know it.”

So we went across King St. at noon and upstairs in one of those ancient blocks of business properties dating to about 1860. And on the third floor we found Phowler’s studio, with a queer sign done on it with pieces of lath, blotting paper, a chicken feather and a little cheap paint brush.

“That design,” explained Jim, “spells Phowler, in surrealist terms.”

We rapped. There was no answer, though we could see cigarette smoke coming out the transom.

“Maybe surrealists,” I suggested, “are too far beyond reality to answer knocks.”

So we opened the door and walked in. Phowler was not to be seen. On a little table, made out of broom handles and ornamented with a fringe of curled pipe cleaners, a cigarette burned showing that Phowler was likely not far away.

The studio was an extraordinary mess. The windows were filthy. A big drape of raw burlap covered one wall. There were old boxes and junk of every description, old vinegar jars, a dilapidated baby carriage and an iron hitching post with a horse’s head design standing about; and the place was a complete litter of paper, dirty paint cloths, bits of canvas and pictures hung crooked, upside down and leaning against everything that was solid enough to stand.

“And it smells,” I commented, sotto voce.

On a large easel stood “Split Infinitive.”

It was an incredible canvas. There was a mottled magenta background or sky, across which flew curious geometric objects like pieces of a broken dish.

In the foreground, which was evenly divided between olive drab and peacock blue, were drawn a human hand, with two thumbs, fingers all extended; a lumberjack’s double bitted axe, blue and pink; a human nose, its nostrils curled up in terrible disdain; a can of worms, only the worms were drawn as tiny, elongated human beings, nude, all crawling and writhing, as if in agony.

“I suppose,” I supposed, after I got my voice, “that the box of worms is both the kind of people who split infinitives and the feelings of the better-class people who shudder at such vulgarity.”

“Do your own thinking and feeling,” said Jim. “It doesn’t help surrealism to talk out loud.”

So all to myself I supposed that the magenta sky with the pieces of china flying across it pictured the mental agony of people with finer sensibilities, when they read or hear a split infinitive. The horrible contrast of olive drab and peacock blue indicated the muddy nature of the masses and the blue blood of the classes.

“I don’t like this picture,” I stated emphatically, at the same time stepping backward.

Unknown to me, underneath all the rubbish with which the floor was covered, there was an electric light extension cord. My heel caught it. The cord was also passed under the legs of the easel. As I tripped, the easel received a violent jerk and with staggering suddenness, the easel threw itself sideways and the picture leaped into the air.

“Look out,” shouted Jim.

I made a tremendous leap to catch the picture, a sort of rugby tackle, but my snatch at the edge was miscalculated, owing to further entanglements in the electric light cord. Jim, in his effort to grab the picture, collided with me. I got a ghastly, sticky grip on some part of the picture and as I whirled to avoid it, the picture landed on the floor, butter side up, and I fell on top of it, gliding stickily and greasily across the upper half.

“Oh, good heavens,” moaned Jimmie.

Sense of the Imponderable

We picked up “Split Infinitive.” It was a most sickening sight. Where the seat of my pants had wiped across the upper half was just a smear of old paint and new paint, biliously stippled red and yellow. The broken objects were just dim outlines. Where my hands had clutched at the lower corner, another wavy smear existed, all but obliterating the human nose and part of the worm can.

“Oh, oh, oh,” groaned Jimmie, terrified.

“Pssst,” I hissed.

Footsteps were coming up the hollow echoing staircase of the old building.

Frozen with horror, we stood, staring at the ravished painting.

In the door stepped an elderly little gentleman with a beard, adjusting to his eyes a pair of heavy gold-rimmed glasses on a wide, black ribbon. Behind him came a young lady who turned out to be his daughter, for whom he was purchasing the painting. She was one of those intellectual and dowdy young ladies with her mouth open most of the time.

Without a word, they walked past us and took one look at “Split Infinitive.”

Then pandemonium broke loose. The old gentleman turned and grabbed his daughter ecstatically. They began doing a dance.

“He’s got it, he’s got it,” shrieked the old gentleman, almost insane with joy. “He’s got it at last.”

And they stopped only long enough to take another wild glance at the mutilated masterpiece before going into another barn dance.

“Oh,” cried the old gentleman breathlessly to us, his eyes glistening with joy. “I was so afraid he wasn’t going to get it. That sense of the vague, the imponderable, the unspeakable. I begged him the day before yesterday. I explained and argued. Yesterday, I threatened. I told him, unless you catch that sense of the obtuse, the incongruous, the capricious, I would cancel the commission.”

“But now, father!” cried the young lady. more bedraggled looking than ever.

“But now,” shouted the little gentleman “I shall double the price. Five hundred dollars.”

And lost in speechless admiration, the two clutched each other and stood, rapt, breathing heavily.

And in came Philip Phowler.

He crept in the door, all dirty smock and tousled hair.

When the other two saw him, they ran at him and embraced him. They shouted such words as grandiose, illusion, vibrancy.

I kept turning my back and getting nearer and nearer the wall for fear they should see the seat of my pants.

They drew Phowler around to where he could see the ruined painting.

He never even started. He never even gasped. He never so much as changed his facial expression.

And Jimmie and I excused ourselves, saying we would come back at a more auspicious time.

And I backed out.

“He’s got it, he’s got it,” shrieked the old gentleman, almost insane with joy.

Editor’s Notes: This story was reprinted on December 23, 1944 under the title “Finishing Touch”, with very few modifications. The drawing at the end was the one included in the 1944 version.

Eating peas with your knife was a common reference to someone who had no manners at the time. Details on why this is can be found here.

Here’s Boo Boo Again!

September 10, 1938

This is another illustration by Jim for a story by Merrill Denison after he moved to New York to work on Broadway, that features his dog Boo Boo.

The Complete Anglers

“His plug hit my hat, lifted it from my head and flung it 12 feet away.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 6, 1938

Anyway, it was Greg’s own fault. He should have helped Jimmy catch frogs

“Will you help me,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “catch frogs?”

“I will not,” I informed him emphatically.

“You’re a lot closer to the ground than I am,” complained Jim. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t help a friend catch a frog or two.”

“I object to it,” I stated, “on all grounds. I can’t think of even one reason why I should help you catch those poor little devils that after all look more like human beings than even monkeys do.”

“We could go fishing sooner,” proposed Jim. “That’s one good reason for helping me catch them. It takes me an hour to catch 10 frogs.”

“Why don’t you give up bait fishing,” I asked, “and take up casting artificial lures, like plugs or spoons? It’s far more effective and 10 times the fun.”

“I do cast,” protested Jimmie indignantly.

“Yah,” I said, “Side-swiping. You don’t call that casting.”

“I get the line out,” declared Jim.

“You side-swipe,” I informed him. “You side-swipe. You grab the rod and take a swing any old way and hope for the best. You endanger the lives of everybody around you, in boat or on wharf. And no man living, much less you, can tell where the bait is going.”

“I’ve caught plenty of fish casting,” stated Jim.

“If you,” I said, “can catch plenty of fish side-swiping and flummoxing the plug around, how many more fish could you catch if you would only make an honest effort to learn how to cast properly, over your head?”

“I like fishing with a frog,” pleaded Jimmie. “It’s the old-fashioned way. Bass love frogs. I hate to fool a bass with a hunk of painted wood.”

“You hypocrite,” I hissed.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I give him an even break. I toss him a frog. If he gets the frog off the hook, he at least has got something for his trouble. But what do you cast him? Just a hunk of painted wood or a little blade of brass or copper. And if he does succeed in taking that off you, what good is it to him?”

“You quibbler,” I grated.

“Fishing,” said Jim, “is like religion. If you don’t do it the way I do, you’re wrong. Why not let me fish my way and you fish your way and we’ll all have fun?”

“Fine,” I agreed. “But don’t expect me to go creeping and pouncing through the long grass, chasing poor little green frogs for you.”

“I only suggested that you help me, to save time,” said Jim. “And anyway, you’re good at catching frogs. Back in the old days, before you went high brow and started bait casting, you used to be able to catch more frogs than all the rest of us put together.”

“I have too many frogs on my conscience now,” I muttered. “I don’t want to add to the burden on my soul. Thousands of frogs. Baby frogs. I feel like King Herod.”

The Right Way Is So Easy

“Aw, a frog has no feelings,” said Jim. “Hardly any. Nature made frogs to feed herons, fish, snakes and people like that. If they were made for food, it stands to reason nature didn’t equip them with much feelings. The more rarely a creature is eaten, the higher are its sensibilities. That’s true, isn’t it?”

“It is true,” I admitted. “But I am not thinking so much of feelings as of life itself. Life is just as dear to that little frog as it is to us. We may have a little deeper feeling for life, but a frog is just as full of that feeling as we are, in proportion. I hate to take a frog’s life.”

“How about taking a fish’s life?” cried Jim.

“That’s different,” I guarded. “To take frog’s life in order to take a fish’s life, that seems to me doubly damned.”

“You have taken thousands of lives from fish,” said Jim. “Do you feel no compunction about that? Doesn’t it ever twinge your conscience?”

“Not in the least,” I defended. “In taking a fish’s life, I am relieving it from a very miserable, wet and slimy existence. Think of the life a fish must lead, forever down in that cold, dark chasm of the water. Beset by enemies of every kind, including his own kind. A fish lives in terror every hour of its life, from the minute it is hatched from the egg, a tiny helpless wriggler, until it ends at last the victim of my lure, deceitful, clever and skilled.”

“I imagine fish get used to living in the water,” said Jim. “Anybody can get used to his environment in time.”

“No, sir,” I said. “A frog, especially a bright green frog with gold markings on him lives a happy life in the shining grass alongside a lovely sandy beach. Amid sunlight and pretty flies iridescent in the sun, he dwells, and whenever he feels like it, he hops down and goes for a swim in the cool, lilied water. But a fish lives in shadow and gloom, in weeds and slime and cold. Beset with terrors, he slinks his way to maturity, and when he reaches maturity, what has he got? Does he escape from his lowly element? Like aquatic insects, does he emerge from the water, a slimy thing, and shed his skin, to become a light and airy dancer in the evening sunlight for a day? No. He grows old and scaly and scabby and mouldy and dies. Unless. …”

“Ah, unless,” said Jim.

“Unless I,” I said, “or some other humane soul comes along and rescues him from his unhappy lot.”

“With a painted plug,” said Jim.

“Or a good copper casting spoon,” I suggested, since I had decided to use a spoon fishing today.

“O.K.,” said Jim. “I’ll cast.”

“Not side-swiping?” I protested.

“You cast your way, I’ll cast my way,” said Jim.

“My dear boy,” I said, “it is so easy to learn to cast a plug overhead. The correct way. It is like throwing an apple off a pointed stick.”

“I never could get on to it,” said Jim.

“Look,” I said. “Rest your thumb firmly on the spooled line, see? That holds the plug dangling six inches from the tip of the rod. Point the rod in the direction you wish to cast. Then, with a short, smart upward movement, not forceful but swinging, cut an arc over your right shoulder, straight back to a little past the vertical.”

“I see it, so far,” agreed Jim. “Now what?”

“Not now what,” I protested vehemently. “It isn’t two motions. It is one continuous motion, back and forward.”

“That’s where I go wrong,” agreed Jim.

One Continuous Motion

“It is where nearly everybody goes wrong who can’t cast,” I informed him. “They make two distinct motions of the cast. They lay the rod back over their shoulder. They stop. Then they make a chuck forward. That isn’t it at all. It is one continuous motion, that throwing of the rod back and flinging it forward.”

“Let me see?” said Jim, taking my rod, with the spoon already on it for casting.

“You sort of bounce the plug forward,” I explained. “You use the spring of the rod. It is all very gentle and simple. No force. No chucking. You just swing the rod in an arc, over your shoulder, and instantly forward again, gently relaxing, but NOT releasing, the pressure of your thumb on the spooled line.”

“Ah, you don’t let go of the line?” cried Jim.

“Never,” I assured him. “That is what causes backlashes, or snarls. You just relax the pressure of your thumb enough to let the plug fly high and smooth through the air. You watch it sail out, feeling, gently, with your thumb the dwindling spool of line under it.”

“I think I’ve got it,” said Jim.

And standing forth and taking a deep breath, he swung the rod a few times back and forward and then, with a sudden effort, slashed forward with the rod. The spoon jerked wildly through the air for eight feet and then spanked ignominiously to earth. The reel was just a bird’s nest, just a great tumbled tangle of line.

“I must have let go my thumb,” muttered Jim.

“You didn’t,” I informed him. “You put enough energy into that forward cast to throw a cat over a barn. I tell you, make one continuous motion of the back and forward throw of the rod, and the plug bounces, without effort, really, straight and smooth through the air.”

“I’ll try again,” said Jim, picking at the backlash. He got it cleared up and rewound evenly on the spool. He tried a few more practice swings and then, the same as before, hurled all his muscles, from the balls of his feet to the back of his neck, into a violent forward shoot.

The spoon streaked forward in a blur of speed, curved back like a yo-yo ball, then dangled to a stop around the rod.

“Tch, tch,” I said. “You’ve done the same thing all over again!”

“Here,” rasped Jim. “Take your rod. I’ll do it my way. I can get it out as slick as syrup from a bottle my way. Your way is just fancy. Just a fishing refinement.”

“It is not a refinement,” I stated. “It is the only way to cast not only for the safety of others, but for accuracy. You don’t know where your lure is going if you chuck it sideways.”

“Fish are likely to be any place,” argued Jim. “Just as likely in the place my plug lands as in the place I try to land it.”

“We will go in separate boats,” I ordained.

“Let’s go together,” pleaded Jim. “so that I can watch you and perhaps profit by observation.”

“In that case,” I agreed. So we went together in the same punt, and proceeded with the pleasurable sport of bait casting. It is a comparatively new sport. It has the fascination of golf, in that there is the test of where you want them. But happily, unlike golf, you do not have to walk hopelessly after your shots, you merely reel them back into you, sitting. The art of bait casting from a multiplying reel and short rod was developed in Kentucky by the bass fishermen of the 90’s. At first, they cast their metal spoons, live minnows, frogs and other baits, weighting them to about three-quarters of an ounce, to make a nice weight to fling. About 1900, the wooden minnow or “plug” began to appear and today, there are hundreds of patterns, brilliantly painted creations, with three sets of treble gang hooks. They wobble in the water as they are being reeled in, and whether a fish takes them for food or merely out of curiosity, like the angler who bought them in the store, nobody knows, because I get most of my fish on the plugs that look the least like anything. The less it looks like something, the better it is.

I gave Jim the whole of the boat except the stern. I took the stern seat and huddled down in it, so that Jim, with his sideswiping, could have the whole world to himself.

“Now watch,” he said, rising to stand unsteadily in the punt.

And with a vicious looping side cut, he lashed his rod horizontally through the air, the plug flying savagely over the water to land, much to Jim’s astonishment, 30 feet to the left of where he intended it to go.

“Good,” he said. “That’s a better spot than the one I intended.”

And slowly he reeled the plug home, watching intently for the strike of the fish.

But no fish struck, as indeed, is usually the case, and rightly so. If fish came easy, who would fish except fish dealers? It is the casting that is the fun, saved from monotony now and then at long intervals by the sudden and wholly unexpected interruption of a fish. I suppose the average man casts 500 times for one fish landed. Perhaps a thousand.

Without ostentation, I did my overhead casting steadily and slowly and with intense pleasure. I laid my spoon precisely where I wanted it, or nearly so; along rock and ledge, stump and lily pad, as slick and trim as Ivanhoe ever laid his arrows, or nearly so. And with a whooshing sound and a fury of bodily effort, Jim swung and swiped and startled the great open spaces of water with the plunging arrival of his gaudy wooden plug. Once it snarled and the plug leaped back into the boat narrowly missing my leg.

“Let me out,” I said, “at the next point. I’ll be safer on land.”

But just then from a cottage veranda a young lad hailed us.

“There’s a nice bass hanging around our boat house,” he called. “See if you can catch it.”

And Jim, hastily reversing his stance, turned to face the boat house, side-swiped with power and his plug hit my hat and lifted it from my head and flung it 12 feet away in the water.

“Gee, I’m sorry,” said Jimmie.

“You’d be a funny one if you weren’t,” I said thinly.

“I never did that before,” said Jim, reeling my hat back into the boat.

“You never will again,” I informed him, “not the same person, anyway. Row ashore.”

“Listen, cast and get that bass,” begged Jim.

“Row ashore,” I commanded, in a Basil Rathbone sort of a voice.

So Jim rowed ashore, looking very flushed.

“Now, my friend,” I announced, as we stepped ashore, “take off one of your socks.”

“What for?” demanded Jim.

“For a frog bag,” I advised crisply.

So Jim removed one of his socks and we went frog hunting. It is not a knack. It is rather a comprehension. You see your little frog. You transfix it with a trance-like gaze. You stoop slowly to a squatting posture. All in the same lithe, effortless motion, your right arm is extended. It is a continuous motion. Your right hand reaches out in the air over the little creature, whose tiny intelligence seems to be paralyzed by the slow, rhythmic motions. In the same instant, your hand suddenly halts. The frog seems to tense. Then you dart your open hand straight down, not to where the frog was, but to where he is, in mid-air, about four inches straight ahead of where he was sitting when the manoeuvre began.

We got eight frogs between us. We returned to the boat and Jim rigged his rod with a sinker, to trail frogs over the side and I sat in reasonable security in the midst of the punt, casting.

And Jimmie caught one bass, four pike, one perch and nine rock bass with his frogs, and I got nothing with my spoon.

Which only goes to prove that it is every man to his own method.


Editor’s Notes: The colour illustration is from the cover of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979), where this story also appears. The scanned image from the microfilm at the end shows a bit more of the artwork. I’ve also started to make some format changes. I will no longer include scanned title in the stories, as it is redundant since the title appears at the top. I’m also transliterating the captions that appear with the images. The idea is to focus more on the art, and not the text. As such, I will also be crediting both Greg and Jim with the date of publication. I’m also going to add new tags for common themes.

Basil Rathbone was an actor, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes at the time.

Old Soldiers Never Die

By Greg Clark, July 30, 1938.

For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance

“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”

“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”

“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”

“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”

“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”

“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”

“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”

“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”

“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”

“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”

“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”

“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”

“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”

“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”

“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”

“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”

“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”

“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”

“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.

“Goats,” grated Billings.

“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”

“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”

“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”

“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”

“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.

Planning Revenge

“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”

“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”

“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.

And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.

“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”

“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”

“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”

“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.

And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.

Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.

Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.

They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.

They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.

“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”

“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.

“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.

“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”

“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.

As If Old Muscles Stirred

They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.

“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”

“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.

And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.

They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.

“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.

The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.

“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”

“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.

“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”

He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.

“Budd, sir,” said Budd.

“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.

They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.

“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”

He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….

The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.

“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”

They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.

“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:

“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”

There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.

“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”

“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.

The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”

And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.

“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”

Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.

“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.

In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.

“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”

One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.

“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”

They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.

They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.

Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.

“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”

He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.

Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.

“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”

“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”

And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:

“Let me give you a hand, major.”

And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:

“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”

And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.


Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.

Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.

An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.

The Afridi are a Pashtun tribe in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The old sergeant-major must have been in the army during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880)

The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 was a British two-seat biplane in the war. Heinies were a slang term for Germans.

Icy Cold!

July 23, 1938

Ginseng Hounds

By Greg Clark, June 18, 1938

“It’s too hot,” gasped Jimmie Frise, “for trout fishing and the bass season isn’t open.”

“The song birds,” I agreed, “are too busy hunting worms for their young, to sing decently.”

“All the best of the wild flowers,” added Jim, “are through blooming.”

“So what is there to do,” I sighed, “but put on cream flannels and go, like all the rest of the saps, and sit around on wharves and verandas, looking sporty?”

“Never,” gritted Jim.

“Never, too,” I coincided. “I sometimes think that our prejudice against golf is ill-advised, Jim.”

“A man has to have some prejudices,” pointed out Jimmie. “All my life, I have found it a little difficult to form a prejudice. No sooner did I form a good one than I met the guy, or did the thing, or in some way contacted my prejudice. And lo, it vanished.”

“If we played golf,” I said, as we sat on the edge of the trout stream in the shade of a cedar tree, “we could fill up all this part of the year very happily.”

“No, the trouble with golf is,” explained Jim, “that it steals away all a man’s other recreations. Golf is a thief. Golf is the only thing there is to do in early April, so a man goes forth to this earliest amusement. And before he knows where he is, he is committed to a dozen pleasant golf engagements with friends. By the time he should be going fishing or taking his children into the wilds to hear the first songbirds or to see the first wild flowers blooming, the golf season is in full swing, and the poor devil can’t disentangle himself from its insidious meshes.”

“It’s the easiest way, too,” I agreed. “Here is a man faced with a week-end. He can either go out fishing or tramping in the woods or visit the summer resort in advance of the season. Or else he can slip out to the golf links and play golf. Of all the choices, golf appears the cheapest and handiest.”

“Never let golf get us,” said Jim, devoutly, and we sat in silence in the fragrant cedar shade, while a catbird, its bill full of pale green worms, came secretly and looked at us, on its way to some hidden nest. In a moment, we heard it mew, and knew its young were fed.

“The great thing in life,” said Jim, “is not to get entangled. Don’t commit yourself to any belief or sect or sport or business. The essence of freedom is detachment.”

“Most people,” I disagreed, “are looking for an anchor. Most people love to be moored fast to the shore, instead of being adrift on the sea, calm or stormy.”

In Tune With Nature

“Which is better?” inquired Jim, bravely, since we were safe in the sweet safety of a pleasant woods. “Which is better? To be wrecked at sea? Or to sink at the wharf, a decayed and rotted old hulk that has never even crossed the bay?”

“For,” I added sententiously, “we all sink, in the end.”

“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I would rather be sitting right here, in this idle glade, with the limpid stream barren of trout and no cow bells, even, to be heard, and no sense of activity or industry or improvement, no birds calling that we can pretend we are studying, no flowers to make us imagine ourselves amateur botanists – just sitting here, in utter idleness.”

“Not even thinking,” I pointed out.

“I often think,” mused Jim, “that the Chinese are going to inherit the earth. They are the only race that seems in complete tune with nature. They have no great ambitions. They have only the ambitions that nature itself has, like these trees and that catbird and that stream. To live and grow and flow along. If storms come, fine. If the weather’s fine, fine. But all the powers of man, in the past centuries of trying, have never succeeded in making the weather fine, if the weather wants to storm.”

“But we’ve improved housing,” I protested proudly, “and invented raincoats and cars and trains to keep us dry on our way to work. You can’t say we haven’t done something to make our lives more comfortable than a catbird’s.”

“I was speaking,” said Jim, loftily, “in the allegorical sense. Unlike the Chinese, we have been trying for centuries to improve our physical life. With what result? That our world to-day is in greater confusion and terror and anxiety than ever before. It seems to be hovering eternally, day after day, year after year, on the brink of an immense precipice.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and where are the Chinese, may I ask?”

“Oh, they’re suffering a little storm, at the moment,” said Jim lightly. “But you know and I know and even the Japanese know, by now, that when the storm is spent, the Chinese will be there, as yesterday, today and forever, multiplying, living strangely and happily and slowly Inheriting the earth.”

“That gives me an idea,” I said. “Let’s hunt ginseng. Come on, let’s walk through the woods here and hunt ginseng?”

“You mean jinsin,”corrected Jim, not getting up.

“Ginseng is its proper spelling,” I informed him.

“Say, listen,” scoffed Jim, “don’t you try to tell me anything about jinsin. I was born on the farm. Lots of my neighbors grew big covered acres of jinsin. Why, every farm newspaper carried big advertisements about the fortunes that were to be made out of growing jinsin.”

“Wild ginseng,” I informed Jim, “is the only kind with magical properties.”

The Root of Life

“Listen,” laughed Jim, “I’ve seen all around our neighborhood, when I was a boy, big yards all roofed over with boards. There were posts stuck up every few feet, and the whole jinsin field roofed over with planks, with big cracks between, to let only a little sunlight in, just like in the deep forest where the jinsin grows.”

“Call it ginseng, Jim,” I insisted. “That’s the way it is spelled in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, although the Chinese call it Jen Sheng, the root of life.”

“All right,” said Jim. “if the Chinese call it Jen Sheng and the encyclopaedia calls it ginseng, then I’ll call it jinsin, which is what everybody called it up around my old home, and they grew it. So there.”

“Jen Sheng,” I said. “The root of life. The Chinese paid fabulous prices for the root of this wild plant. They paid as much as $3,000 for a forked root.”

“They paid what?” said Jim, sitting up and almost standing up.

“They paid,” I said, clearly, “as high as $3,000 for a good big forked root. Forked roots, which the Chinese thought looked like a man, have greater magical properties than plain roots. They restore youth. They lengthen life. They were the monkey glands of the Chinese, a thousand years ago.”

“Where did you get all this?” demanded Jim, actually rising.

“In the encyclopaedia,” I informed him. “Whenever I haven’t anything else to do and it’s raining. I go down and read the encyclopaedia. You’d be surprised at some of the things I’ve read.”

“But $3,000,” said Jim, grimly, gazing off into the leafy shadows of the woods around us.

“Ordinary ginseng,” I said, “sells at around $5 a pound for the roots. They’re sort of translucent, half-transparent, brittle. It takes years to grow a good root.”

“All the years,” muttered Jim, “that I lived right amongst all those fields full of jinsin.”

“Ah, but the cultivated stuff,” I explained, “doesn’t command the price of the wild root. The Chinese find a far greater power in the wild root.”

“Do you know what it looks like?” demanded Jim. “Would you know it if you saw it?”

“Jim,” I said stiffly, “perhaps you forget that I am something of a botanist.”

“Okay,” said Jim, throwing off his creel and other useless gear. “Let’s go look. What kind of ground does it grow on?”

So as we started to explore the woods, I explained to Jim in starts and fits of how ginseng grew in the deep woods, in shade and on high humus soil. I told him some of the legends of ginseng, and how the Chinese emperor, a thousand years ago, had to forbid the Chinese to search for it, because they were exterminating it from the whole of China, and it is a vast country. Ginseng hunters pushed back the borders of the Chinese empire. Into Manchuria and northern Siberia the ginseng hunters went, seeking the green treasure. I told him how it was discovered growing wild in America and how clever Americans began to cultivate it for the Chinese market. But how the Chinese were clever enough to know the cultivated from the wild root.

I explained that European doctors and pharmacologists had studied the root and found that it had no real virtues, but that it had a psychic value, since anything you believe in is as likely to help you as anything else. Far better than epsom salts, anyway.

And then we discovered, the ginseng. At least, I should say, I found it, because Jim’s boyhood memories were pretty vague. All he could recollect were shadowy green jungles under plank roofs which the local farmers guarded with violent jealousy.

“Are you sure this is it?” asked Jim.

“Am I sure?” I scorned. “I tell you this is the genuine article. Look. I’ll pull one up and show you the root.”

I pulled tenderly, digging around the root with my fingers, and drew up out of the earth a queer, transparent, brittle root, about two inches long. And it was forked!

“Forked!” cried Jim. “My gosh, man, maybe you’ve just yanked up $3,000 by the roots.”

He knelt and began digging furiously.

“Don’t waste time,” I explained, “taking the roots only. Take the whole plant and when we get an armful we can sit down and remove the roots.”

So did we ever dig? And did we ever get some forked roots, Jim getting one nearly four inches long? And did we ever have an armful each when a little dog suddenly appeared out of the underbrush and begin barking furiously at us?

And in a minute, did two little boys with fishing poles and freckles ever come out of the underbrush like groundhogs and stand staring speechless at us?

“Hey, mister,” said the forwardest little boy, “ain’t you scared?”

“Scared?” I inquired, from the kneeling position.

“Ain’t you scared of poison ivy?” asked the child.

Jim dropped his armload violently.

“This,” I said, leaping up, is not poison ivy, my son, this is ginseng.”

That ain’t ginseng,” said the little boy swallowing. “It’s plain poison ivy, mister. You’ll have spots all over you.”

“Poison ivy,” I stated firmly, has shiny leaves and the leaves have a reddish color at the base of the leaf.”

“Yeah, in the fall it has,” agreed the little boy, tenderly, “but when it’s young it hasn’t. You’ll have blisters everywhere, on your hands and arms and all over.”

“I thought it was poison ivy,” rasped Jim, his hands dangling far out for fear he would inadvertently touch his face. “I know ivy when I see it. That’s poison ivy.”

“Jim,” I said.

“Come on,” said Jim. “Let’s get to the nearest drug store, quick. We can bathe in soda or something.”

So without even thanking the little boys, we went plunging through the woods and got our tackle and hurried out the path to the car and, throwing everything in, started for town, the nearest town where there was a drug store being 11 miles.

The druggist was half asleep when we burst in but he came immediately to life when we explained that we had just submitted ourselves to serious infection from poison ivy.

“Look,” I said, pointing to my chest, where there was already a slight rash.

Too Far to Go Back

Jim examined his chest and neck, and there was not only a rash but some little red spots already showing.

“Gents,” said the druggist smartly, “step in to the back here; I’ve got a tub. I’ll fix up a bath of ferric chloride and stuff and we’ll see what can be done. But I’m afraid it’s too late to allay the infection if you actually touched the stuff.”

“Touched it?” groaned Jimmie.

And out in the back, while we peeled off to the waist, the druggist ran a tub of water in a wooden washtub and dumped ferric chloride and glycerine, and Jim and without ado plunged into the tub and slathered the stuff all over us. The druggist helped us, pouring additional little bottles of this and that into the tub as he recalled the various cures and antidotes to poison ivy. We sloshed and splashed and labored mightily, wasting no time for talk, until, as we had thoroughly saturated ourselves and had the water running down into our pants, the druggist inquired how we had got messed up with the poison ivy.

“It was ginseng we were looking for,” I explained humbly. “I thought I knew ginseng when I saw it. We picked armfuls of it.”

“There’s lots of ginseng through here,” admitted the druggist.

”Two kids came through the woods, with a little dog,” I elucidated, “or else we would have carried armfuls of the stuff up against our faces and everything.”

“Two little boys, with what color of a dog?” asked the druggist. “Whereabouts were you hunting?”

“Two concessions north and the sixth side road west,” I explained, also going into details as to the little dog and the little boys, gratefully.

“Were these kids,” asked the druggist, “freckled and did one of them do all the talking?”

“That’s them,” said Jim.

The druggist stepped forward and examined the rash on our chests and the red spots on Jimmie’s neck.

“That’s prickly heat,” he said, “and that’s mosquito bites. That’s from over-exertion in the heat.”

“Not poison ivy?” said Jim.

“No more poison ivy than I am,” said the druggist. “And that was ginseng you had. And those two kids are the biggest ginseng hounds in the whole county. And they interrupted you pulling up one of their favorite beds of it I suppose.”

“Nnnn, nnn, nnn,” said Jimmie and I.

But when we got dried up and everything, and paid the druggist for the bath, we decided it was too far to go back, and anyway the kids would be vanished by then, and besides, what could we do if we did find them?


Editor’s Notes: The “little storm” Jim mentions in the story is the Second Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937. It was the prelude to, and some say the real start of World War Two.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

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