The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1939 Page 1 of 2

Surprise Party

“Good heavens,” gasped Laura … “What are you doing here?”

Greg and Jim welcome a long-lost friend by staging a surprise party – but it’s as much of a surprise to them as it is to their friend

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 25, 1939

“We’re invited to a surprise party,” announced Jimmie Frise.

“At our age?” I protested.

“It’s time we started taking back from the young people,” declared Jim, “some of the things we’ve handed over to them.”

“Surprise parties., I demurred, “never did appeal to me. Even in short pants.”

“We’ve handed over everything to the kids,” pursued Jim. “We have handed over authority to them. They boss us now. We’ve given them our cars. We’ve admitted them to knowledge, so that the average kid of 15 knows more than his father.”

“Let them keep the surprise parties,” I pleaded, “and we’ll take back our cars.”

“At 10 years of age,” went on Jim relentlessly, “we teach them in school the art of debate. So they can come home and confound us.”

“Surprise parties,” I insisted, “never surprise.”

“Since I was a boy,” propounded Jimmie, “a great revolution has occurred. We have handed over the world to childhood. It’s time we cut out this sentimental nonsense and started to take back a little of life for ourselves. Let’s start putting the kids in their place.”

“By going to surprise parties?” I scoffed.

“Let’s start stealing back,” said Jim. “some of the fun that formerly belonged to children. Let’s start by stealing their parties.”

“Huh, huh,” I laughed, “and play post-office?”

“The party we’re invited to,” informed Jim, “is at Bill McDoodle’s.”

“Bill McDoodle’s,” I cried. “That big shot? Why, we haven’t hardly seen Bill in 15 years.”

“He used to be our pal,” said Jim.

“Yeah,” I muttered, “until he started up in the world. Until he became a big executive with a capital B.”

“Aw, well, for old-time’s sake,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I stated, “the last 10 times I’ve seen Bill McDoodle, he hasn’t known me. He looks at me with an expression of faint recollection and then decides he must have been mistaken – it wasn’t me after all.”

“Big business makes men that way,” explained Jim.

“Big business my ear,” I cried. “He used to be just one of our gang. Then he got that vice-president job out of a blue sky. We were as pleased as he was. Don’t you remember?”

“We staged a celebration for him,” remembered Jimmie.

“And he didn’t come,” I recalled. “Inside of a year, if we ever ran into him anywhere, he was good-humoredly condescending, and chuckled over the old days. The old days, as if he had outgrown all that.”

“Well, now he wants to recapture the old days,” pleaded Jim.

“Let him chase them,” I asserted. “They’re hard to catch.”

“Listen,” wheedled Jim, “it’s his wife invited us. You remember her? A mighty fine girl.”

“Sure, I remember her,” I agreed. “Many’s the time I’ve lent her my coat. Yet one year after they’d gone up in the world, I spoke to her in the lobby of a theatre, all dolled up in an opera cloak, and she looked right past me.”

A Pathetic Figure

“Look,” said Jim. “I told her we’d come to her party. She actually begged us to come.”

“I wonder if Bill’s had a come-down?” I mused wickedly.

“It isn’t that,” explained Jim. “She told me just how it was. They’ve had their fill of society. Nothing gives them any pleasure any more. Bill is unhappy all day long and all night. He just sits, moody and glum. Business doesn’t interest him. The clubs he belongs to sour him. His wife caught him last week up in the attic, looking at his old abandoned fishing tackle and guns, and he was sitting with his hip rubber boots on, up in the attic, his head buried in his hands.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” I laughed sympathetically.

“So she’s decided to give him a big surprise,” went on Jim. “She is going to stage a surprise party, and invite about 30 of the old friends they had, 20 years ago. Friends of their youth. Not a single person they have met in the last 10 years, she said.”

“Jim” I declared, “I don’t see why we should accommodate them in this whim. Friends are too precious a possession to cast away. We’ve remained friends across all the years, with Bumpy and Vic and Skipper and all the lads. Some of us have got rich and some of us poor, but we’ve weathered all the years. We’ve retained something lovely and precious. Why should we let these people horn in on it?”

“Friendship,” said Jim, “ought to be great enough to lift across a gap of years. They used to be our friends. In folly, they cast it away. Now they ask us to take them back. If our capacity for friendship is big enough, we’ll take them back.”

“The capacity for friendship, Jim,” I informed him, “decreases with the years. When I was a boy, all boys were my friends. When I was a young man, I found I was narrowing down the field. By the time I was 30, I had pruned down my friends to a rough dozen, and I was beginning to be doubtful of some of them. I figure a man of 60 is lucky to have one friend.”

“The party,” said Jim, “is to be a surprise party and a hard times party.”

“Good grief,” I exclaimed. “They’ll play post-office for sure.”

“We can dress up in old rags and goofy hats,” enthused Jim, and it won’t be for our prosperous exterior that Bill will welcome us to his swell big house.”

“He’s got quite a house, I hear,” I admitted.

“It’s a mansion, assured Jim. “It must have cost him $50,000 and they say he gave an interior decorator $10,000 to furnish it.”

“Yet he sits in the attic,” I accused, “with his head in his hands.”

“That’s what comes,” pointed out Jim, “of letting somebody else plan your home. The home a man loves is the home he has assembled piece by piece, item by item, picture by picture. You are never lonely in a home that you have built little by little, because wherever your eye rests, you see something of yesterday. And yesterday is all that appeals to a man after he reaches the age when tomorrow makes him afraid.”

“You’re trying to make him out quite a pathetic figure,” I said.

“He is a pathetic figure,” said Jim. “And even if it is only for the mean satisfaction of showing him how happy and carefree you are, how full of friends and life, you ought to come to the party.”

“When is it?” I inquired.

“Thursday night,” said Jim.

“Thursday’s a big night on the air,” I pointed out. “I like to sit at home Thursdays.”

“If the party bores you,” said Jim, “I know you well enough to know that you’ll go and turn the radio on and sit there like a bump on a log.”

“It isn’t my manners that have kept me my friends,” I agreed heartily.

“Can I count on you?” asked Jim eagerly.

“Okay,” I said, “I like to get inside a rich man’s house now and then just for a quiet smile.”

So we spent a while planning our hard times costumes. It is a little difficult in these days to get together a real hard times outfit. Your wife has given everything away. But I remembered a straw hat that hung on a nail in the cellar, and Jim recalled a derby, greenish with age, that some previous owner of his house had left on the fruit shelves. If I wasn’t mistaken, my mother-in-law had kept an old cutaway coat, vintage of about 1890, which was a relic of far-off romance, which she trotted out on festive occasions along with a great gray lustre ball gown of hers, trimmed with black velvet. I figured I could borrow the cutaway, and enhance it with a frayed shirt. Jim had a pair of faded overalls in the back of his car which he used for duck hunting.

“We’ll manage,” he assured me.

And when Thursday came, we managed all right. In the straw hat and greenish old cutaway, and a pair of antique tan boots we found in a trunk, I cut a peculiarly disgusting figure. And Jim, in the derby, and overalls and a bedraggled old sweater coat he borrowed from the furnace man, looked like something fallen off a freight train.

“There,” shouted Jim, when I called for him, “doesn’t that take you back 30 years?”

“I was just thinking we looked pretty average,” I said, “considering the times.”

So we drove from the modest neighborhood where we live up, up, into an ever more refined region, where the corner drugstores got farther and father apart and presently there were no more stores at all, but just dark and gloomy houses. By a lot of peering, we finally located Bill’s street and eventually his house, set back from the neighbors. We looked at our watch.

“Right on the nose,” said Jim, parking. “Nine p.m.”

The house seemed quiet. There were a few other cars parked about.

“Let’s wait for the gang,” I suggested.

“No, Laura said she’d meet us and steer us into a downstairs room,” said Jim. “Come on.”

We walked respectfully up the handsome steps and rang the bell. A uniformed maid opened.

“What is it?” she asked sharply.

“We have an appointment with Mrs. McDoodle,” said Jim, stepping in.

The maid looked us over shrewdly and pointed to an oak bench in the hall. She flounced her skirts at us and went upstairs. The house was deathly silent. Footsteps pattered above and then down the grand staircase came Laura.

“Good heavens!” she gasped, halting and throwing her hand to her mouth.

“What?” said Jim and I, rising smartly to our feet.

“What are you doing here?” hissed Laura, leaping down the stairs and glaring at us fiercely.

“The party?” smiled Jim thinly.

“The party’s tomorrow night,” hissed Laura, starting to shove us towards the door, the little maid standing bravely behind her.

“I thought you said Thursday night,” said Jim, all muddled and trying to recover us both.

“I said Friday night,” cried Laura, brokenly. “Now you’ll ruin it all.”

“Sssshhh,” said Jim.

For heavy footsteps came from above.

“What is it?” called down Bill in a melancholy voice.

“Nothing, dear, nothing,” said Laura, wildly jockeying us to the door.

But down the stairs came Bill and saw his wife trying to shoo two tramps out the door.

“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted Bill, hurrying.

“Oh,” moaned Laura.

“Why,” gasped Bill, when he recognized us. “Why … Laura … these are old friends. Why,

it’s Jim. And Greg. Why …”

And he came and took our arms and looked with horror-stricken eyes into our faces and down at our clothes.

Behind him danced Laura, her finger on her lips, signalling us frantically.

“Why, boys,” said Bill, with a husky voice. “Why, my dear boys.”

And gripping our elbows fiercely, he steered us back through the handsome hall and into a little den, all lined with leather and books. He shoved us in, shut the door on poor Laura who was dancing desperately behind us.

“Laura,” said Bill, a little sharply, “if you don’t mind. I’ll just see the boys alone.”

He shut the door gently on her.

He shoved chairs out for us, with pathetic eagerness. He tried his hardest not to look at us, but we could see his shocked glance furtively taking in our ragged clothes, our shapeless boots, the silly hats we carried.

“Cigars,” he said hoarsely, with trembling hands reaching for a walnut box. “Cigars, boys …”

Suddenly he halted. Pulled himself up. Tightened his jaws and then stared us square in the face.

“Bill,” began Jim, slightly hysterical.

“Boys,” cried Bill, holding his hand up commandingly. “This is very, very strange thing, I’ve been thinking of you fellows for weeks. I tell you it’s an answer to my prayers to see you here.”

“Bill …” I began, trying not to snort with laughter.

“Please,” begged Bill, brokenly, “please, let me have my say. It’s a pitiful thing, but let me say it. Boys, for years I’ve been lonelier than in hell. For months I have been wondering what was the matter with me, life had gone sour. For weeks, I have been actually thinking of you two, and Vic and Bump and Skipper and all. I’ve been praying, do you hear … praying that I could find some decent way of discovering the friends I used to have … before I… before…”

He looked at us and we at him, and of all the dreadful sights in the world, if there weren’t tears tumbling down Bill’s face.

“I didn’t know,” he said, in his nose. “I didn’t know, God be my witness, that you had come on tough times. God be my witness. Nobody ever told me. You’d think somebody would have told me. But why should anybody tell me? And Laura trying to shove you out of my house.”

He glared at us through his tears.

“Boys,” he said, “anything I’ve got is yours. You can have anything in the world you want of me. Why didn’t you come to me sooner? I’ve been so damn lonely. So damn lonely.”

And Bill suddenly leaped forward and grabbed for our hands, and began, for the first time, boldly to look close at our faded rags, our cheap and ragged shirts, at Jim’s horrible soggy sweater coat.

“But, Bill,” said Jim, after several twists of his neck to find his voice, “Bill, it’s all right. We don’t want anything. We just came to call on you.”

“It’s a miracle,” said Bill passionately. “A miracle.”

But Laura had been listening at the keyhole, the way those rich women do; and she pushed the door open and looked with a white face at Bill and us; and then she said: “Jim, what did I tell you?”

So we all had to sit down quietly while Laura and Jimmie and I patiently explained to Bill all about the surprise party and how we, as usual, had got the dates mixed. And how, therefore, Bill had been trapped into revealing something more surprising than any surprise party.

And we stayed until 1 o’clock Friday morning, and Friday night, when the whole 30 of us came, was it ever a surprise party, to them and to Bill and to us and all the old friends who meet sooner or later.

Editor’s Notes: Post office is a kissing party game played at parties between boys and girls. These sort of party games seemed much more common in the first half of the 20th century.

A “Hard Times” party was like a costume party where people wore worn out or ragged clothes, rather than their best outfits. Sometimes they may be used as fundraisers, with the idea that rather than spend money on a fancy gown, the money would then be used to collect for a charity. Since this took place during the end of the Great Depression, Greg remarked that they look average “considering the times”. It would also not be far fetched for Bill to really think that they had become poor.

$50,000 in 1939 is $914,000 in 2021, which won’t buy you a mansion in Toronto today. You’d only get a condo or a small home in serious need of repair.

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

Cricket on the Hearth

Once more we listened, and, faint and gentle, the cricket began its nervous little harping. “I’ll get him,” said Jim.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 4, 1939

“Of all the nuisances,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “there’s a cricket in our living room.”

“Lucky man,” I assured him.

“Lucky heck,” retorted Jim, “have you ever had a cricket in your house?”

“Plenty of times,” I informed him, “and many’s the time I have found a cricket in the garden and carried it into the house in the hope that it would take up residence in the fireplace. A cricket is the luckiest thing a house can have. Luckier than horse-shoes, luckier than a little dark man being the first to cross your doorstep on New Year’s Day.”

“Aside from all that baloney,” said Jim, “how do you get rid of a cricket? You know all about insects and things.”

“Baloney?” I exclaimed. “Jim, I assure you, it is no baloney. A cricket in the house is a very lucky thing. I know dozens of cases where people killed the cricket in their home and the worst kind of bad luck followed.”

“Don’t be an ass,” laughed Jim. “I know you entertain a lot of quaint little superstitions, but this is no joke, this cricket. It has become a major nuisance. It interrupts the radio.”

“Come, come, Jim,” I protested. “A little wee cricket, interrupting the radio?”

“He’s somewhere around the fireplace, see?” explained Jim. “He only emits a few little lazy chirrups during the day, but when the family is all gathered in at supper time, then he tunes up. Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, he goes, as loud as if he were a member of the family.”

“As, indeed he is; fortunately for you,” I assured.

“He seems to warm up around supper time,” went on Jim, “and by the time supper’s over and we are gathered in the living room, and the radio is turned on, he really gets going. You can actually hear him, believe it or not, above the din of Jack Benny’s program.”

“Oh, nonsense,” I said.

“He is the loudest cricket I ever heard,” declared Jim. “In the loveliest, smoothest dance music, you can hear him, chirrup, chirrup, upsetting the time, spoiling the melody. He has no sense of music at all. No sense of rhythm. He seems to feel he has got to compete with the radio, so he saws away, with incredible power; the louder the radio, the louder he works. Last Sunday he drowned out a Wagner prelude.”

“Jim, you’re exaggerating,” I smiled. “You often have to hold your breath to hear a cricket on the hearth.”

“Not this fellow,” disagreed Jim. “He must have got into some place where there are special acoustic properties. He must have a sounding board behind him. He’s awful. The kids have hunted for him, they’ve ransacked the fireplace, the floor board, pulled out the grates and the dampers, but they can’t get him.”

“It’s lucky they didn’t,” I submitted.

“Don’t be silly,” groaned Jim. “I tell you, I’ve got to get that bug out of my house, and I thought you’d know some tricks.”

It Brings Us Luck

“Jim,” I stated firmly, “I am just as serious about that cricket as you are. You’re one of these modern persons, realists to the marrow, who believe nothing strange or mysterious or superstitious. You believe only what can be seen, felt, or proven with instruments. I tell you, you leave that cricket alone.”

Jim just smiled the smile we use for children, dogs and very old people.

“Tell me,” he said sweetly, “what relation can a cricket have with luck or with anything else? How can a cricket, a little shiny black bug, have any connection with whatever befalls, good or bad, in my house?”

“I don’t know, Jim,” I confessed. “If I did know, I could start a new religion that would sweep the whole world like a storm. But all I do know, there are great powers and forces of evil and of good in this world, which we are ignoring, because we have sold out body and soul to the machines, the chemists, the scientists and the realists. It is impossible, any longer, to believe that a cricket on the hearth brings luck, because we know so much about entomology, the science of bugs, and because we cannot prove that luck exists by either chemistry or physics.”

“The entomologists,” said Jim, “know all there is to know about crickets.”

“Except one thing,” I pointed out. “And that is, how they bring luck to a house.”

“What rubbish,” laughed Jim.

“All right,” I cried, “how about this? Albert Einstein invented the relativity theory and succeeded in measuring the universe. Previous to him, men had measured the distance to the farthest star. But it took Einstein to measure the universe. Only a hundred men in the world can comprehend Einstein’s method of measuring the universe. But they all these greatest brains in the world, agree that Einstein is right. Yet Albert Einstein, the man who measured the universe, dare not go home to his native land.”

“Why not?” cried Jim.

“Because,” I said softly, “he is a Jew.”

“Aaaaah,” said Jim.

“We know more,” I declared, “about the universe and the world and of every living thing in it ever was known or ever was dreamed could be known. Yet never in all the history of the world have men been so homeless in the earth, nor more frightened of it, nor less secure in it. Never.”

“What has that got to do with silly superstitions about bugs?” demanded Jimmie.

“I don’t know,” I submitted. “Except only this. That maybe one of the forms of the grace of God in our hearts is that we believe a cricket on the hearth brings us luck. A cricket irritates us. It is only a little, noisy bug. It sings all day, and sings all night, and may not seem altogether sanitary to have in our house. But don’t you see, if there is a sort of gentleness and bigness in our hearts, if we have room in our hearts for little nuisances and noises, if we have tolerance, even of bugs, then we are likely to be the kind of person and the kind of house, on to which those blessings pour, not from without, but from within our own selves.”

“I get you,” said Jim.

“In some countries,” I furthered, “they are throwing out the Jews. In your house, you want to exile a little cricket that sings to you all the day long. If you sell out to reality entirely, if you are the kind of cold-blooded realist who has no patience with crickets on the hearth, then you are going to be the kind of person who has no patience with anything, and your life will grow narrower and narrower, with your patience and one thing after another will be thrown out of your life because it is not efficient or not agreeable, or not scientifically correct, until, at the end, you will be as cold as a machine and there you will sit, your heart clanking, your mind humming, perfected, consummated, rationalized, 100 per cent. And dead as a door nail.”

Ventriloquial Insect

“I still think,” said Jim, after a pause, “that you can be a human being and not have bugs in the house.”

So I just sighed, and let it go.

“This cricket,” said Jim, “is the eeriest thing. You squat down on the floor, by the fireplace, and listen intently. The noise is loud and ringing. You listen and decide that it is over in the right hand corner. So you softly creep over there, and then, instead of being in the right hand corner, it sounds to be over in the left hand corner.”

“One of the interesting things about crickets,” I admitted, “is their ventriloquial effect of their music.”

“Honestly,” said Jim, “I’ve spent three evenings squatting at that fireplace, in addition to all the work the kids have done, trying even to locate the beast. But by the time I’ve got through, it has got me into a sort of daze. Actually dizzy, trying to locate the place the sound comes from.”

“You should use your ears,” I explained, “the way I do when my hounds are running. You’ve seen me cock my head sideways?”

“That’s what I was coming to,” admitted Jim. “It was your ear I was hoping to enlist to help me locate it. I’ve watched you harking to hounds and marvelled at the sense of direction you have.”

“It’s not sense of direction, Jim,” I explained. “It’s just the way you turn your head. Your ears stick out and catch distant sounds at a certain angle. Your ear-flaps act as sound catchers. Turn the hole of your ear towards the sound and you don’t hear it half so well as you do setting your ear-flaps out, at an angle, to catch the vibrations of distant sound. That’s the way I listen to hounds.”

“How do you spot the right direction, then?” demanded Jim.

“By experience,” I explained. “I know, from long experience. just what angle, from my head, the sound is exactly coming. So you’ve seen me harking to hounds, two miles off with my face looking in one direction, yet I go another direction, at a certain exact angle, to find the hounds.”

“I’ve seen that, plenty of times,” admitted Jim. “I thought it was a gift.”

“Not at all,” I stated. “Just science. Angles and vibrations. Pure physics, that’s all.”

“I thought it was I who was the realist,” smiled Jim.

“Science has its place,” I informed him, “even in such idle ways of wasting one’s life as hunting hounds. The main thing is, hunt hounds.”

“Or crickets,” said Jim.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” I offered. “I’ll lend you my ears, if you will promise not to kill the cricket.”

“It will be better to kill it,” said Jim, “than to turn it out into the cold wintry world.”

“Give it to me,” I offered, and I’ll take it to my house and give it a home. You never can have too much luck, even if luck doesn’t exist.”

“Okay,” laughed Jim. “You come and help me catch the cricket and you can have it.”

So after supper, I walked around to Jim’s and the children were all going to the movie and there were no good programs on the radio, and a quiet evening promised.

The cricket was a dandy. I have never heard a better one. He was loud, for a fact. A big bull cricket, he must be. His chirrup was sharp and keen, with a powerful echoing sound in it.

One of those off-night programs was on, in which a dance orchestra dispensed very loud and rousing music to offset the fact that the announcer was a very long-winded man with an infernally repeated announcement to make. Yet all through the dance numbers, the cricket sawed and ripped away, increasing his tone with every burst of trombones and relaxing his tone when the fiddles played.

“Jim,” I stated emphatically, “I wouldn’t disturb that cricket for the world. It would be most unfriendly of me to rob you of that harbinger.”

“Where is he?” asked Jim, turning off the radio. “Where do you figure he is?”

I hunkered down by the fireplace and listened. I cocked my head this way and that, letting my ear-flaps catch the vibration. I shifted my position variously, so as to get various bearings on the sound.

“Jim,” I said, “he’s behind that very brick.”

An Astonishing Hunt

“Listen,” I said, and I tapped gently on the brick behind which I knew the little fellow hid.

And instantly he stopped singing, right in the middle of a chirrup.

“Good for you,” shouted Jim, rushing from the room. He came back in a moment with a hammer and a little cold chisel.

“Jim,” I warned him, earnestly. “I think you are a great fool to disturb this fellow.”

“You said you’d take him,” said Jim. “So here he comes.”

Without ado, Jim knelt down and starting chipping the mortar around the brick. It was one of the inner bricks of the hearth, and would not show much defacement. Jim chipped and chipped, with careful blows of the hammer, while I watched, thinking of the little dark terror of the cricket within, and how he must be wondering what all this fury was about.

With only a slight break off one corner of the brick, Jim got it loose and lifted it out. Craftily.

We peered down into a dark hole.

“See?” I cried. “You’ll never get him. He has a whole cavern to hide in.”

“Let’s listen,” said Jim, resting his hammer.

So we sat and listened and after about a minute, such is the good cheer of all crickets, the little fellow started again, very faint and not nearly so resounding, now that we had punctured a hole in his sounding board.

“He’s up here,” I laughed, pointing to a brick at least six rows up the side of the fireplace wall, inside.

“Okay,” said Jim sharply. “I’ll get him.”

And despite my remonstrances, Jim set to work to remove that brick, while I went and sat in the easy chair, helping the cricket to think of a new place to hide.

The brick came out, and another with it that was apparently loose.

“Jim,” I pleaded, “you’re getting covered with soot. And you’ll weaken the whole fireplace. That cricket is nowhere near that hole now.”

“We’ll listen,” declared Jim.

So once more we listened, and faint and gentle, as if in reproof, the cricket began its nervous little harping.

“Aaaaah,” cried Jim, fiercely, starting to hammer and bang at another brick two feet to the right of the last one, and half a foot higher.

“Be careful,” I warned him. “One of the conditions was that I would get him uninjured.”

“I’ll not injure him,” said Jim, darkly, hitting harder with the hammer.

“Jim,” I commanded, “let me coax him out with a bit of lettuce.”

The brick Jim was working on came out very unexpectedly.

Jim made a furious crack at something with his hammer.

“I saw him,” he shouted. “I nearly got him that time.”

“Be careful.” I bellowed, as Jim made another furious smack at the new hole he had made.

But it was no use. For with poor Jimmie leaning well into the fireplace, the whole back wall and part of one side collapsed, all over his head and shoulders, pinning him firmly so that I had to lift bricks off him and release his head where it was jammed against the front.

A cloud of soot eddied around us, and Jim was black as the ace of spades when he emerged.

But his eyes were round and white with astonishment as he sat back and surveyed the ruin.

“Sooo,” I said long and slow.

And Jim gave a nervous little snicker.

“Did you hit him?” I demanded.

“No, breathed Jim, “thank goodness.”

So we piled things up and cleaned things off the best we could before the family came home and long before we were finished, the cricket was chirruping loud and happily in another wall of the hearth.

Editor’s Notes: The title of this story comes from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth. Crickets were considered lucky in Europe and Asia, and I would not be surprised if this bit of superstition came to Greg from his Grandma Grieg.

Jack Benny was a famous comedian, whose radio program was one of the most popular when is was on from 1932-1955.

Aw, Rats

Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness. “You’ve got to be ready for fast work,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come in a bunch.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 2, 1939

“What,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “do you know about rats?”

“Rats,” I informed him, “are my meat. What I don’t know about rats isn’t in the encyclopaedia. I have killed thousands of rats. Black rats, gray rats, brown rats, fat rats. In the army they called me the Pie-Eyed Piper.”

“There are rats,” stated Jim, “under my garage. They’ve tunnelled down under the concrete floor. You can see the two entrances. From this dugout they come at night and forage in the garbage cans of the neighborhood. Members of the family coming home at night see them scuttling. They are huge.”

“It will be no trick to get rid of them,” I assured Jim. “You can use traps, poison, fumigation or a ferret. Maybe a ferret would be the best fun.”

“I was thinking of sitting up some night,” said Jim, “with a pleasant companion, both of us armed with .22 rifles. I thought we might spend a very amusing evening popping off rats.”

“It would bring back the old days,” I admitted fondly. “Many’s the long night, in the war, I have whiled away potting rats with my revolver. I often thought that officers carried revolvers for no other purpose but rat shooting.”

“Gosh,” mused Jim, “did you ever see so many rats as we had in France, especially around the Vimy sector?”

“There were millions,” I agreed. “Great big scaly-tailed brutes as big as tomcats.”

“You might say,” said Jim, “that after dark you could look in any direction, at any spot on the ground, and within one minute a rat was sure to cross that spot.”

“They got so plentiful,” I submitted, “and so bold, that they no longer confined their activities to the night. They moved freely about all over the place in broad daylight.”

“And why not?” said Jim. “Nobody disturbed them. They had that vast silent world to themselves, especially by day. No human stirred. No man showed a head. It was at night that rats had to take care. At night we humans were abroad. We shared the night with the rats.”

“As soon as night fell, in the trenches,” I told, “and all the sentries were posted and all the working parties detailed, an officer had little to do but walk up and down and see that all was well. So presently he would pick a suitable spot, a bit of trench or a sap preferably near an old ruined house or barn. And there, sitting on the fire-step of the trench, he would unlimber his revolver and wait.”

“So that,” cried Jimmie, “was what all the shooting was about? We artillery used to sit away back with our guns, wondering what you gallant infantrymen were doing all the popping at.”

“Mostly it was rats,” I admitted. “I used to sit in the dark, motionless. In a few minutes, along the trench, on the parapet or from a rat hole in the wall of the trench, out would come a rat, secret, silent, sliding his head down, his back arched, seeking, sniffing. Quietly, the revolver comes up. Bang.”

“You must have made an awful mess of them with that army gat,” said Jim.

“If we hit them,” I provided. “The best way of hitting a rat was known as fishing for rats. It was mostly done in old dugouts that were rat infested. When it became so bad that the boys could not sleep owing to the rats running over them and fighting and squeaking all over the place, the boys would declare a fishing trip. All the men in the dugout would leave their snug beds on the damp cold planks of the dugout floor and go and sit on the stairways of the entrances. Then the expert would extinguish all the candles stuck along the plank walls and sit on the floor. Extending his legs, he would rest his rifle on his legs, the muzzle resting between the toes of his boots. Out from the end extended the bayonet; and on the end of the bayonet a piece of cheese would be impaled. There in the dark the fisherman sat, finger on trigger. When he felt a nibble on the cheese he fired. Seven times out of ten he blew the rat against the far wall of the dugout.”

“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.

“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.

“You wouldn’t get many that way,” said Jim.

A Major Problem

“The rats were so plentiful and so greedy,” I assured him, “that no sooner was one rat blown to pieces and the candles doused and the fisherman in position again before the rats, with a secret, soft, scuffling sound and squeaks and scutters, would be coming from their holes again amidst the planks of the dugout walls and ceilings, snuffling for that cheese. I have seen Corporal Cutsey Smith, now with God, get one dozen rats in one hour by this method.”

“But it was a hopeless business,” submitted Jim.

“It was,” I agreed. “And I have often wondered since how France and Belgium got rid of all those countless rats after the war. It must have been one of the major post-war problems.”

“When I close my eyes and try to recall what dugouts were like,” said Jim, “I can smell the queer sour smell of them, and the smell of coke gas and wood smoke. I can see again the dimness, the quietness, the men lying in their matted gray blankets and greatcoats on the muddy plank floors, see the two or three sitting up awake, in dim candlelight, writing letters; but most of all I can feel the silence, amidst which, ever and always, goes on the quiet scuffling and scratching of the rats behind the plank walls and ceilings, a sound that went on day and night.”

“I woke up one night,” I said, “with two rats fighting furiously on my chest.”

“I have had a rat,” countered Jim, “exploring in the dark come to me, lying on the ground, and place his two hands on the bridge of my nose to look over.”

“Ugh,” I surrendered. “What puzzles me is, if men hate rats so badly, how is it we haven’t exterminated them ages ago, like all the other animals we hated and killed off?”

“I figure,” said Jim, “there is a family of six rats under my garage.”

“Right,” I agreed. “The problem is, how can we deal with the present situation. I suggest poison.”

“Too many dogs in the neighborhood,” said Jimmie. “I would sooner put up with rats than poison a dog.”

“We can pump gas down the hole,” I suggested. “Put a tube from the exhaust pipe of your car and carbon monoxide them.”

Plan of Battle

“Wouldn’t you kind of like to sit up tonight, with .22 rifles, and do a little shooting?” wheedled Jim.

“It’s too risky,” I declared. “And too cold.”

“Very well, a ferret then,” said Jim. “Let’s get some fun out of this. I don’t like the idea of putting poison or fumes down the hole and letting them quietly die down under the concrete floor of the garage. They might smell. I’d like to get a whack at them. And a ferret would chase them out and we could stand at the hole with clubs.”

“Where would we get a ferret?” I demanded. “And besides, we’d have to have somebody handle the ferret. I don’t want to be partly responsible for a ferret getting loose in our neighborhood.”

“Well, I’ve got some rats,” said Jim, with pride, “and I want to find some sporty way of dealing with them.”

“I tell you,” I cried, “we’ll drown them out. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Of course, drown them out. How many holes have they got?”

“Two,” said Jim. “One under the corner of the garage and another at the back. We can block one hole up and turn the hose into the other and they’ve got to come out.”

“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ve often drowned rats out. They hate water.”

And we went home a little early so as to deal with the rats before darkness came to their aid. Jimmie got his son’s baseball bat and we brought the hose up from the cellar, where it had been stored for the winter. We turned on the water at the outside tap that had been turned off for fear of frost, and we proceeded to study the terrain.

Just under the south corner of the garage a hole about the size of a milk bottle led downward steeply. At the back of the garage a much smaller hole served as an emergency exit. Trust a rat for emergencies.

“It looks as if a whole army of rats used this front entrance,” I said, as we examined the larger hole. “They probably hold meetings here. Maybe this is a public hall.”

“They’ve got a great cave under there,” said Jim. “I bet it’s tunnelled into a regular apartment. An apartment with a concrete roof. The floor of the garage gives them an ideal bombproof shelter.”

So we took sticks and gravel and cinders and filled up the smaller emergency exit at the back. We shoved all the stuff deep down, packing it in, so as to prevent any possibility of the rats digging out by that route.

Then we turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness.

“You’ve got to be ready for fast work, Jim,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come all in a bunch.”

“Don’t fret,” said Jim, “I can hit with this bat faster than they can fight their way past that stream.”

And indeed it was a dandy stream, because in winter the water pressure is good. No other hose owners are watering any lawns. A powerful jet of water bored into the hole and we could hear it gurgling and swishing deep in the dark cavern of the rats.

“They may come any minute,” I warned. And Jimmie stood poised and tense.

“What do you suppose is going on down there?” I chuckled, as the water gushed. “I bet there’s a commotion.”

“They were likely asleep,” said Jim, “and about now they are getting anxious. This is no ordinary rainstorm.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” I laughed, and squatted down to aim the icy water deeper and more vicious.

“They probably have galleries and upper levels,” said Jim, “into which they are already fighting their way. How long do you suppose it will take to flood ’em?”

“Well, there’s probably quite a large space,” I submitted, “counting all the rooms and galleries. It may take several minutes. The earth is soft under there and will naturally soak up quite a lot of water.”

“It’s sand under there,” said Jim. “It sure will soak it up. This may take half an hour or more.”

“Relax,” I said, seeing Jim still poised with the bat. “Take a look around the back at that escape hole and see there is no sign of anything being tampered with.”

Jim skipped around to the back and returned eagerly to report that the hole was thoroughly stopped.

Still the water from the hose hissed and bored into the hole, which consumed it without any sign of filling. No sound of gurgling came from below any more though I put my ear down.

Jim made several trips around to the rear to see that the exit was properly secure. It was chilly work holding the hose, and when I suggested Jimmie take a turn at running the water in, he said I would be too cramped to do a proper job of execution in case the rats came out.

“Look What You Did!”

And suddenly there was a most extraordinary result. With a loud crash, something inside the garage fell. We could hear the car inside bump heavily against the front doors of the garage, and bulge them outward.

“The floor,” bellowed Jimmie, “the cement floor, you sap!”

I ceased firing with the hose and ran around to the front of the garage with Jimmie. Very carefully, Jim unlatched the bulging doors, and when he opened them, there was his car sunk down on its left rear wheel, its front end high in the air, one-half of the cement floor of the garage having collapsed into a huge dark hole in the ground.

“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.

“The rats did it, not me,” I retorted hotly.

“That water ate away the sand,” accused Jim.

“The rats had dug the hole,” I countered. “The whole foundation of your garage was honeycombed with rat tunnels.”

“It would have held forever, if you hadn’t bored in there with that hose,” concluded Jim. “You and your drowning out methods.”

It was a mess, all right. The car was tipped down at least three feet on its rear end, and securely wedged into the hole.

“Did you see any rats?” I inquired, incidentally.

“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.

“Well,” I assured, “I bet you’re rid of them. That’s what I undertook to do, at your own request – rid you of the rats.”

“A fine mess,” said Jim.

“Now you can put a proper foundation under your garage,” I pointed out, “and never be troubled with rats again.”

“Any child would have known,” muttered Jim, “that you can’t run a hose for 20 minutes into sand…”

“Look, Jim,” I interrupted, “did you or did you not wish to be rid of the rats? Well, you’re rid of them.”

So Jim phoned for the garage man come with his derrick and hoist out the car. And the garage man’s brother-in-law was the cement business; and before supper, whole situation was well in hand.

And Jimmie is rid of rats.

We turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with a baseball bat in readiness.

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 20, 1943, under the title “Rat Catchers“. The illustration for that story appears at the end, and you can see that the microfilmed copy was very poor. There was no difference in the story, except that references to the war were changed to the “old war”.

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

H.M.S. Noazark

September 23, 1939

The Noazark has been painted with dazzle camouflage, which was used extensively in World War I. Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed, and heading. It’s effectiveness was unknown. Many people (presumably, Jim included) thought early on in the Second World War that is would be similar to the First. Dazzle was rarely used in the Second World War as radar largely made it useless.

A Ferry Tale

July 29, 1939

A “sock dollager” is slang for a something great or large. In this case, it is in reference to the size of the fish.

Hot Dogs

By Greg Clark, July 22, 1939.

“It’s little wonder,” declared Jimmie Frise, “that our generation is dying off in middle age.”

“Referring?” I inquired.

“Referring to you,” said Jim. “You’ve had the jitters now for three solid hours. Why don’t you relax?”

“Relax?” I cried. “Relax?” How can I relax when you said you’d be ready to leave at 12 noon. And now It is precisely 3.15 p.m.?”

“I have my work to do,” said Jim with dignity.

“You said you’d have it all finished last night,” I complained. “You said there would be nothing for you to do this morning but clean off your desk.”

“I miscalculated the job,” said Jim. “Anyway, what’s the difference? If we lose three hours on this end of the trip, let’s take three hours at the far end of it. Why this slavish devotion to plan?”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” I moaned.

“That’s what’s killing off the human race,” said Jim, working away industriously at his drawing board at a cartoon that should have been in last Tuesday. “Trying to be machines. Trying to work with the precision of a machine. Trying to make and keep schedules for everything. It’s unnatural. It’s killing us off.”

“You should live to a ripe old age,” I submitted.

“Now, look,” said Jim kindly. “Explain to me. What are you all in a lather about? Why are you acting slightly demented just because I am a couple of hours later than I expected to be?”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “we make arrangements to spend the week-end at Pat’s cabin. It’s 150 miles. We agree to leave at 12 noon sharp, so as to get there early enough to have part of the late afternoon and all evening. If we had got away on time, we would have been at the cabin by now. But where are we? Here. In Toronto. In your office. On a Saturday afternoon, in a deserted city. And you ask me, what am I fretting about?”

“But look,” said Jim calmly. “What real difference does it make? Next October, what difference will it make if we don’t go at all? Why get all in a foam over the fact that some trifling detail of a week-end trip away back here in midsummer was a little muddled? I can’t see it. Honestly I can’t. In a few hours today is yesterday. Next fall this hour is so far buried in the past you won’t even recall it. Then why in heaven’s name give this hour such tremendous importance?”

“Jim,” I began indignantly; but what could anybody say in reply to such outrageous thinking?

“The trouble with our generation,” went on Jim, “is it has no sense of the past or the future. It is aware only of the present. Nothing matters but now.”

“But, good heavens,” I argued.

“It’s machines that are to blame,” sighed Jim. “We invented machines about a hundred years ago. Now, instead of trying to be worthy of being God’s image, we are trying to make ourselves into the image of the new god, the machine.”

“That’s not bad, Jim,” I admired.

A Silly Human Mistake

“Human nature never was and never will be capable,” stated Jim in a platform manner, “of precision. There have been a lot of silly mistakes in human history. Men have tried to be a lot of things different from what they are. They have always paid for it. But the attempt to convert men into machines is the silliest and stupidest mistake of all. And we’ll pay for it heaviest. In fact, we are paying for it now. Paying for it in confusion and fear and anxiety and insecurity. Paying in world-wide bewilderment.”

“A man should still be capable of being on time,” I contributed.

“Absolutely not,” said Jim. “A man who presumes to be always on time is guilty of blasphemy. Not against God, but against human nature.”

“You can always think up remarkable excuses,” I said.

“Leave a man a man,” said Jim, “and he lasts 70, 80 years, hearty and happy. Try to make him a machine, and he wears out like a machine. Why is it, may I ask, that despite all the wonderful advances in medical science, the almost unbelievable surgical discoveries, the actually spooky revelations regarding glands, why is it that despite all this and all the improvements in every department of living, men do not only not live longer but live less long than they used to?”

“I admit we live shorter,” I said, “but we live better and more fully.”

“Puh,” said Jim. “Our whole social philosophy today is the philosophy of the libertine. Never mind tomorrow. Just live for today.”

“Life is ten times more interesting than it was in the Middle Ages,” I declared.

“Ask somebody who lived in the Middle Ages,” suggested Jim. “Life, my friend, is life. In proportion, life is just as dear to a bug as it is to a man. When you have it, it is all. When you lose it, you lose all. When you step on a bug, you have ended something that was, in its proportion, mysterious, beautiful, and never to be restored. You think nothing of stepping on a bug. But now, you are growing careless with your own life. You think only of now. You do not pause to look back over the past and remember all that was best in it. If you did, you would act in the present in such a way as to preserve in the future the most and the best of what you had in the past.”

“Hurry up with that cartoon,” I muttered.

“By George,” said Jim, “I just remember I haven’t had any lunch.”

“Let’s call the trip off,” I suggested bitterly. “I’ll go and ‘phone the village store to send a message in to Pat that we’ll be up some other time.”

“Five minutes, and I’m done,” said Jim. “And I can grab a sandwich or a chocolate bar in passing somewhere.”

“You’d better have some lunch,” I said reluctantly, “if you want to live to a ripe old age.”

But Jim set to and scratched the final pen strokes on his cartoon, studied the finished product wryly, rolled it up for the engravers, and we dashed for the corridor.

The lunch counter we usually snack at was closed. The downtown streets deserted except for a few underprivileged citizens in their best clothes slowly strolling in the desert of blank shop windows and pavement. So willy-nilly we hastened around to the parking lot, where our car stood all alone.

And in 15 minutes we had left the city behind and joined the ragged procession of the belated for the north.

“As a matter of fact,” pointed out Jimmie, “it is a lot pleasanter being late than getting caught up in the traffic fury of the early birds. The guys who are all trying to be first.”

And it was. Now and then a furious individual, all cramped up to his steering wheel, passed us madly. But most of us late-goers seemed to be a reconciled lot. A sense of our lateness imbued us. We just plodded along.

“Hot dogs, three hundred yards ahead,” sang out Jimmie, reading a sign.

“Okay, if you must,” I sighed, slackening for a gasoline station on the right hand side ahead. “I could do with one myself. If they’re any good.”

“Hot dogs are always good,” said Jim. “The mustard kills any bacilli, if any.”

“Ugh,” I stated.

When we ran off on to the gravel of the gas station we saw a little booth to one side labelled hot dogs. As we got out, a man came hurrying from inside the gas station, his hands and arms all smeared black with oil.

“Is it hot dogs, gents?” he asked anxiously. “I’m sorry. My wife has just run up to the village …”

“We’ll get to Pat’s some day next week,” I offered Jim.

“I’m right in the middle of a generator job,” said the service man, apologetically. “But if you like, help yourselves and leave the money in the cigar box behind.”

“Can we go right in?” exclaimed Jim, very pleased.

“The wieners are on a little gasoline heater,” said the garage man, pushing the side door of the booth open with his elbow, “and the buns are in that box there.”

“Okay,” cried Jim, heartily. “Go about your business, mister, and we’ll help ourselves.”

“You don’t mind?” smiled the garage man.

“This is swell,” assured Jim. “Self-serve hot dogs. The idea ought to go big.”

It was cosy in the booth. An old automobile sent served as a lazy bench. On a tiny gas burner a saucepan simmered, with three wieners in it, all plump and suntanned. I opened a large tin biscuit box, in which reposed dozens of hot dog buns.

“Nice and fresh,” I announced, pinching them.

“Okay, two up,” cried Jim.

Two Good Samaritans

And I slit the buns with the large knife lying on the shelf; Jim lifted the wieners and let them drip, laid them restfully in the buns. From the big jar of bright yellow mustard we ladled out the condiment in lush blobs.

“Yummmm,” said Jim, biting his.

And as we ate, conscious of the pleasantly sharp mustard, the soft bun and the gently bursting sausage between our teeth, another car whirled into the gas station yard and ran up in front of us.

“Five,” yelled the genial gentleman at the wheel. “Five fat ones and make it snappy, boys.”

The garage man came rushing out, all greasy and embarrassed.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said to the new arrivals. “My wife has had to run uptown. These gentlemen are just helping themselves…”

“Okay, brother,” Jim interrupted, “If you’ll appoint us your wife’s deputies we’ll gladly serve these folks.”

“That’s the spirit,” joined in the stranger.

“It’ll just be a minute,” said Jim, turning up the gas flame to make the water bubble. “I have to heat the weenies.”

In a basin on the lower back shelf lay a couple of dozen wieners, and from the pile Jim took six and popped them into the saucepan.

I dug out five buns and expertly slit them open.

“Gentlemen,” said the stranger, leaning outside on the counter, “I envy you. Gosh, how I envy you. Taking time off to do a decent little job like this for that garage man. And for me and my family. And for yourselves.”

“It’s a pleasure,” said Jim, standing back in the expert chef manner and shaking the saucepan on the flame.

“Now, you take me,” said the stranger. Those women in the car have been yelling at me for the past five hours to hurry, hurry, hurry. We’re late. It will be dark before we get to the cottage. The kids will be tired and cranky. It’s been an awful day. And here I stand, looking at two people who have all the time in the world to be a couple of good Samaritans along the highway.”

Jim stepped on my foot.

“Gosh, gentlemen,” said the stranger, “you’ve got the right slant on life.”

“Okay, brother,” said Jim, lifting the pan and seizing the fork to spike out the fatly gleaming sausages.

And with me holding the buns and the stranger ladling out the mustard, we did very expert job. And 50 cents went plunk very loud into the cigar box.

“There,” murmured Jim, as the stranger distributed the hot dogs, “that’s your answer. What could have happened to us up at Pat’s half as amusing as what has happened the past 10 minutes?”.

“Here’s some more,” I retorted, as another car, with four young people in it, whirled dustily on to our gravel.

“Okay,” said Jim, grabbing another handful of wieners from the basin and dumping them into the saucepan.

Nobody Complained

So I dived for the buns and slit them, and when the garage man came and grinned anxiously out the door of the gas station at us Jim yelled:

“We’ll carry on until your wife gets back!”

“She’ll be back any minute,” sang back the gas man. “She don’t like to miss any dimes.”

So we fed the four youngsters and before their hot dogs were assembled another car with two arrived; and a moment later a car with five; and by the time all these were served there were only three wieners left in the basin.

“Do we want another?” inquired Jim. “Before they all go?”

But before we could decide a final car hove in, with three customers. And the sausages now were all gone. We kept the pan stewing, the buns splitting and mustard flying, and when the last were served we hastily lifted the hooks and lowered the front of the booth as a sign that the hot dogs were run out.

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s eighteen hot dogs and $1.80 in the cigar box that wouldn’t have been there.”

“And we’re a good half hour later than we would have been,” I reminded.

And at that moment a car drew in and lady got out with a parcel. It was the garage man’s wife, sure enough, and he came out and explained to her what a fine job we had been doing for her. Which we blushingly took.

“Why, that’s lovely,” said she, coming in the booth and looking around, “but where did you get the wieners?”

“In the basin,” said Jim.

“Oh, mercy,” said the lady.

“Why, wha…” said Jimmie and I.

“Why, those,” cried the lady, “those were as stale as anything. I threw them out. I was up to the village for a new supply.”

A mucky kind of silence occurred.

“Were they bad?” I inquired hollowly.

“Not bad,” said the lady, “but stale. I wouldn’t have served them.”

“Nobody complained,” stated Jim. “Every body ate them very heartily.”

“Well, I suppose men feel differently,” murmured the lady, looking into the cigar box and ticking over the money with her finger tip.

“Anyway,” pursued Jim, “all hot dogs are good. The mustard fixes them.”

“And besides,” I added, “the human race is getting tougher all the time.”

Upon which, I stepped on Jim’s foot, and we shook hands and drove off and watched all the way along the highway for miles, but saw nobody dead.

Editor’s Note: Jim could be slow with his work, resulting in time where the presses had to be held up until he finished.

Always Too Late

By Greg Clark, February 25, 1939

“I’d be willing to bet,” stated Jimmie Frise, “that in 25 years the whole world will be Nazi.”

“Never,” I declared.

“By Nazi,” said Jim, “I mean Fascist or Communist or some kind of gang control, like Nazi.”

“Never,” I repeated stoutly.

“Yes, sir,” insisted Jim, “the whole shooting match is moving that way. Slow but sure. You can actually see the trend now, the way you can see autumn coming.”

“I would rather see spring coming.” I put in.

“Well, it’s autumn we’re looking at, all over the world now,” said Jim. “For a hundred years we have had summer. Now comes the autumn of the world. Soon all the trees of a shady and comfortable life will be bare. Soon the fields of human endeavor will be bleak and gray. And all mankind will muffle up and hide away in their lonely shuttered houses against the winter of a stormy world.”

“You talk as if history went in seasons,” I protested.

“So it does,” said Jim.

“We’d never submit to any gang control.” I stated. “Not us. We’ve tasted freedom. We’ll never let go of it.”

“We’ve sold our freedom,” said Jim gently, “for something more comfortable. We sold our freedom for efficiency. We have gradually submitted to efficiency in all things. Electric light is more efficient than candles. Street cars are a more efficient way of going to work than walking, Shoe factories are a more efficient way of making shoes than cobbling.”

“Now, now,” I cut in; “all you want to do is kick against progress.”

“Not me,” disagreed Jim. “All I want to do is show you what progress is. And where it goes. You admit that the biggest effort of the past hundred years has certainly been in making the means of life more efficient in all things.”

“I sure do,” I agreed.

“Okay.” said Jim. “Then the best way to run a country is the best way to run a factory – hand it over to one man or a gang of men, called a board of directors, and let them run it with what they deem to be the maximum of efficiency.”

“Huh, for themselves,” I scoffed.

“Ah, no,” said Jim. “You can’t find a board of directors in the whole of North America, in the whole world, who will admit they are running their company in their own interests.”

“Sure they won’t,” I agreed.

“They are running it,” said Jim, “in the interests of the industry, of the public welfare.”

“Well, the public isn’t faring very well in most parts of the world,” I pointed out.

Life Can Never Be Easy

“It’s their own fault,” declared Jim. “They wanted life to be easy. And life can never be easy. If it comes easy one way, it becomes uneasy some other way. That is all history is – the story of men’s trading one thing for another thing, always in the hope of getting something for nothing.”

“Such as?” I challenged.

“Such as,” said Jim, “this: We grew our cattle and rendered our tallow and molded our candles and so had light. But that was uncomfortable and hard, so we traded that for a corporation that gave us electric light at the touch of a button. But now, when we lose our job because the factory we work for is run by a stupid or ruthless board of directors and we can’t pay our electric light bill, the power is turned off on us, and there we are, in darkness. A more terrible darkness than ordinary darkness because now we have forgotten how to grow cattle and render tallow and mold candles. That is a terrifying darkness. A much more terrifying darkness than any our ancestors knew, however poor and humble they were.”

“Pooh, Jimmie,” I protested; “those ancestors, living in hovels, were at the mercy of any roving robber baron that passed by their shack.”

“Today, how different?” said Jim; only he asked it as a question and raised his eyebrows and looked at me with a mocking expression.

“Well, anyway,” I retorted, even if we have robber barons among us today it is better than being bullied by a dictator and his gang.”

“Don’t be too sure,” said Jim. “Inefficient bullies surely can’t be as good as efficient bullies. Not if there is any virtue in efficiency.”

“You hate efficiency,” I sneered.

“I think it is overrated,” admitted Jim. “I’ve seen it destroy a great deal of human joy and happiness.”

“It made things cheaper,” I pointed out.

“But threw a lot of men out of jobs,” countered Jim.

“It organized a disorganized world,” I declared.

“Ready to the hand.” retorted Jim, “of the ultimate efficiency expert, the dictator.”

“Jim,” I admitted, “I begin to see what you’re driving at. It isn’t that the dictators have taken possession of men. It is only that men have cheerfully handed themselves over to dictators.”

“Now you’ve got it,” said Jim. “The last of all to submit to efficiency were the farmers. But the minute farmers began to organize into co-operatives and take on efficiency machines in trade for greater ease and security, they started to form battalions for some dictator – of their own choosing.”

“Then the only free man now,” I cried, “is the most backward man: the hillbilly, the tramp, the savage.”

“Everybody else,” decreed Jim, “is tossing his freedom away, lining up behind the glamorous banners of efficiency and preparing to march at the command of a dictator.”

“To heck with it,” I said.

“Too late,” said Jim.

“It is never too late,” I cried.

“It is always too late,” sighed Jim. “Look at history.”

“Jim,” I shouted, “we’re newspapermen. Let’s get going. Let us rouse the public. Let us write articles. Let us hold public meetings. Let us stage radio programs. Let us take up the fiery cross of freedom and warn the people of this country where we are headed.”

“They’d never listen,” said Jim.

“Let Us Fight Efficiency”

“Sure, they’ll listen,” I cried. “We’ll make them listen. We’ll stage a revival. We’ll employ the smartest talent. We’ll adopt the most modern and up-to-date methods of propaganda. I don’t mean any countrified little outburst. I mean, take the country by storm. Set it on fire.”

“We’ll be efficient,” said Jim slyly. “We’ll be a couple of dictators in no time.”

“There you go,” I said bitterly; “being cynical about the most sacred things of all, human freedom.”

“No,” said Jim, “I was just agreeing with you. Let us put on a whale of an efficient assault against efficiency.”

“I don’t believe you mean it,” I said cautiously.

“You’re right; I don’t,” said Jim. “Some things are deeper than words or even ideas. And biological trend is one of them. Purely biologically mankind has chosen to be more comfortable by means of efficiency. Efficiency is not a natural thing in men. By nature they are inefficient, happy-go-lucky, decent, amiable, hoping for the best. To adopt efficiency, mankind has to change its nature. One of the changes it has to make is to give up its sense of freedom in being happy-go-lucky, amiable, decent and hoping for the best. In all things, for generations past, we have chosen efficiency. Okay. It is almost complete. In 25 years we will have realized our dreams. We will be efficient. It will not be men who will be our despots. It will be the despot, efficiency.”

“Then,” I cried, “let us fight efficiency.”

“How?” laughed Jim.

“By turning back,” I pleaded eagerly. “By reviving the means of freedom, by refusing to buy factory-made goods.”

“Ha,” said Jim, “a sort of William Morris or Elbert Hubbard revival of the homely arts and crafts.”

“Let us encourage our wives and daughters to knit and weave,” I explained. “Our sons to take up metal hammering and wood working. Let us start a back-to-the-land movement, not amongst the unemployed, but amongst the rich and influential and well-to-do.”

“They’d love it,” agreed Jim.

“It’s the well-to-do we’ve got to rouse,” I cried. “If we show them where they are leading us and themselves they’ll draw back.”

“Most well-to-do people are dictators already in their own sphere,” said Jim.

“But they wouldn’t like to be under a Hitler,” I triumphed.

“They’ll have to like it,” smiled Jim, “because they themselves have proven – in their own field – that authority is efficiency and efficiency is success.”

“Which do we want most,” I demanded, “success or happiness?”

“Now you’ve divided mankind into the four classes,” said Jim. “Those who want happiness, those who want success, those who want both, and those who will sacrifice either for the other. There you’ve got them all.”

“Do you mean to say there are people who want only success?” I asked.

“The business and professional world is full of them,” replied Jim.

“And people who want only happiness?”

“The trades and labor world is full of them,” said Jim. “And the loan shark offices are packed with the people who want both. And the quiet places of the earth, the gentle farms, the little cottages on the edges of villages, are filled with people who have surrendered success for happiness; and the lobbies of hotels and the night clubs and the office lights burning high and late into the night, and all the other lonely places of the earth are filled with those who choose success at the price of happiness.”

“I hate the look of the future,” I muttered.

“There is nothing you can do about the future any more than you can do anything about the past,” said Jim. “It’s all buried deep in the nature of men.”

“Then,” I declared, leaping to my feet, “let’s do something about the nature of men.”

“What do you think,” demanded Jimmie, “the churches have been doing for a thousand years; and schools and ten thousand writers and philosophers and reformers and statesmen?”

I slapped my leg emphatically.

“But we’ve never been in such peril before,” I cried.

“We’ve always been in peril,” replied Jim, “hence churches, teachers, philosophers and statesmen.”

“Let’s take up the torch,” I pleaded.

Beclouding the Issue

And at that instant I smelled a curious smell.

“Phew,” I interrupted. “What’s that smell?”

Jim sat forward.

“H’m,” he said, “it smells like sulphur …”

“Ouch,” I yelled, leaping violently backwards.

My leg was stinging with a sharp bee-like sting, right on the thigh. I reached into my pocket. My fingers stung as if from fire.

“Your pants are afire,” commented Jim, pointing.

A faint cloud of smoke was emerging from my mid region.

“Jimmie,” I shouted, reaching frantically into my pants pocket and attempting to pull the pocket inside out.

“Matches on fire in your pocket,” said Jim, rising to his feet.

“Hyah,” I gasped, scrabbling with one hand to draw out the pocket and with the other holding the front of my pant leg free of my leg.

“You shouldn’t use old-fashioned matches …” commented Jim.

“Help me,” I bellowed, starting to skip around, because the fire was now beginning to scorch my tender leg. “Help.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “take your pants off.”

For now an evil-smelling cloud of smoke of scorched cloth and smothering matches was billowing from my pants and I was indeed in peril.

I tore my coat off faster than ever I removed it in all my life, Jim whipped my plaid pullover of me and in a thrice I had slipped my pants down, to reveal a completely charred pocket and a large hole, smoldering at the edges, in both my tweed trousers and my underwear. And on my leg a nasty red spot.

I beat the smoldering cloth out.

“What a silly thing…” I gasped.

“You shouldn’t carry those dangerous old-fashioned matches,” declared Jim firmly.

“They’re the only kind I like,” I stated indignantly. “Those safety ones just go fffff.”

“Then,” insisted Jim, “you shouldn’t slap your leg the way you do. Don’t be so vehement if you’re going to carry dynamite in your pants pocket.”

“I’ll slap my leg if I like,” I retorted, more in indignation than anything, because no man likes to be standing with his pants half off and his clothes on fire and listen to somebody lecturing him.

“Sure, sure,” said Jim bitterly. “And you’re the guy that wants to change human nature and set the world on fire for freedom and you can’t even keep your pants from catching fire.”

“Okay, okay.” I said, “but what do I do now? I can’t go around with a hole in the leg of my pants.”

“There’s a cleaning place across the road,” said Jim, “where they mend all kinds of burns and things.”

“I can’t go over and sit there with my pants off,” I informed him angrily.

“Okay, okay,” said Jim. “Take them off and I’ll take them over and have them patched up somehow and wait for them.”

“Suppose somebody comes in?” I asked.

“Lock the door,” said Jim, “and when I come back I’ll rap three short, quick raps so you’ll know it is me.”

So Jim took my pants and I locked the door, and just to be doubly sure I put my overcoat on and sat at my desk with my legs under it, and tried to think about the way the world is going. But by the time Jimmie got back I hadn’t thought up a single thing. Which goes to show that without his pants a man isn’t much of a thinker.

Editor’s Notes: William Morris and Elbert Hubbard were members of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century which advocated traditional craftsmanship.

A Pre-Christmas Peek


By Greg Clark, September 16, 1939

“You poor guy,” cried Jimmie Frise, “now what’s happened?”

“It’s the hay fever,” I replied sullenly.

“You look as though you’d been crying for a week,” said Jim.

I’ve been crying,” I informed him, “for nearly thirty years.”

Why don’t you do something for it?” demanded Jim. “You’ve no right to be going around in that condition, distressing all your friends. I bet even strangers shudder at the sight of you.”

“I don’t expect any sympathy,” I stated coldly.

“At first sight,” remarked Jim, scrutinizing my swollen and inflamed countenance “you would think you were agonized with grief.”

“I am,” I admitted.

“On second sight,” continued Jim, “you look like an alcohol-drinking hobo that had got dressed up in good clothes.

“I know what I look like,” I informed him bitterly. “If you don’t like the look of me, look some place else.”

“Why don’t you take some of the cures?” demanded Jim. “There are pills that are very helpful. And at any hospital they will test you out with forty or fifty vaccines and find what it is you are allergic to.”

“Yes, and make forty or fifty holes in my arms,” I retorted. “I know hay fever victims that have had over two hundred incisions. They have the tattoo marks of our affliction all over both arms, both legs and a new geometrical pattern started on their chests.

“And not cured yet?” inquired Jim.

“There is no limit,” I explained to the number of things a man might be allergic to. The ordinary things are pollen, dust, fur and things like that. But after a man had allowed himself to be cut to pieces and all the outrageous particles from horse dandruff to asbestos rubbed into his hide, he might die of acute asthma and find, in the great Beyond, where all things are made known, that what he suffered from was pork chops.”

“Yet,” argued Jim, “you might find your enemy on the fifth incision. And wouldn’t that be worth it?”

“I think everybody ought to have some sort of affliction,” I declared. “It makes us more kindly disposed towards our fellowmen. An annual affliction, like hay fever, is better than a case of appendicitis, because as the years go by you not only get over thinking about your appendix; you even stop talking about it. Whereas, hay fever is recurrent. It comes back every year, and every year it grows worse. It is not a fatal malady, but it is as miserable as any affliction you can imagine. Lots of us wish it were fatal.”

“Come, Come”, Laughs Jim

“Oh, come, come,” laughed Jimmie.

“Hay fever looks funny,” I admitted. “But it is far from funny. It isn’t an ache and it isn’t a pain. It isn’t a tickle and it isn’t an itch. But it is all those things combined into one complete agony.”

“Why don’t you do something about it, then?” asked Jim. “Why don’t you go away for a couple of weeks’ holidays?”

“Who wants to take holidays in September,” I demanded, “when all the resorts are deserted? Who wants to go up to a summer cottage in mid-September and see nothing but boarded-up and shuttered cottages staring deadly all around? A man who reaches my age wants a little human companionship.”

“There are plenty of little hotels run exclusively for hay fever sufferers,” said Jim. “Mighty cosy little places, too, and you would be amongst the company of your fellow victims. There would be a fellowship amongst you that would be a damn sight more amiable than the fellowship of a summer hotel.”

“I don’t fancy hospitals,” I stated, “or convalescent homes.”

“These aren’t hospitals,” cried Jim. “I know one little spot I ran into two years ago when I was lunge fishing. It’s the smartest little modern hotel you’d ever want to see. And it is packed full of hay fever victims right through to October. They have grand fishing, and September is the loveliest month of all, if we only realized it. The trees turning and fine winds and sunny days.”

“I’ve had my holidays,” I advised.

“But if you spoke to the editor,” cried Jim, “do you think he would want you to suffer like this? You could do your writing up at the hotel and mail it down.”

“It would just look like so much graft,” I protested. “Editors are hardened to hangings and murders and things. What do they care for hay fever?”

“I was thinking,” explained Jim, that if I were to sell the editor a real bad case of hay fever for you he might suggest that I go with you and do my drawing up there, too. We have to be together.”

Ah, He Knows ‘Em

“Pooh,” I said. “I know editors.”

“Anyway,” went on Jim with mounting excitement, “you couldn’t drive yourself, the condition you’re in. Somebody would have to take you. Just for a few days. Just for a week or so.”

“Pipe dreams, Jim,” I assured him, trying to get my typewriter clicking.

“And if a traffic cop were to see you driving,” said Jim, “with a boiled face and bleary eyes like yours, he’d pinch you for drunken driving and there would be a scandal.”

“Just let me be, Jim,” I requested wearily. “It lasts about another week. Then I’ll be okay.”

“You have no objections,” inquired Jim, “if I try a little sales talk on the editor?”

“Hm, hm,” I said, starting my typewriter clicking.

And a few minutes later, Jim having left the room, the editor strolled in to talk over a story about Hollywood with me, wondering if I would like to go down and skyhoot around with all the movie stars for a while. And all the time he sat on my desk he kept staring intently at me.

“Hay fever?” he inquired at last.

“Mfff,” said I, having known this editor since we were boys together.

And he walked out, and a few minutes later Jim walked in with a note to me from the editor.

“I think,” said the editor’s note, “you had better slip away for a few days to some hay fever resort. You can write your copy there and mail it. I think Jim might accompany you and take his drawing board with him. I do not think it is in the best interests of the office that strangers should see you hanging about in your present condition They would misunderstand and possibly get a wrong impression as to the principles this newspaper stands for.”

“Wheeeee,” yelled Jimmie.

“How did you manage it?” I cried, leaping up and joining hands for a little ring-around-a-rosey with Jim.

“I told him I had overheard a conversation in the elevator,” said Jim “between two ladies who said they wondered at The Star Weekly employing such dissipated-looking scoundrels. They meant you.”

“I don’t approve of the means,” I stated, “but the end is okay.”

They Get Away

And after cleaning up the odds and ends that infringe on all unexpected holidays, Jim and I got away the following noon and had not gone fifty miles through the fine breezy September countryside before I felt my head clearing, my eyes losing their itch: and Jim, looking at me, said that he could already see traces of my normal self appearing out from amidst the blotches and blobs.

September is a fine month. May has a quality of delight in it, after the long winter. But September is like a man of forty compared with the childish tantrums of April and the sulky fulness of July. September is the year in its maturity.

“Hoy,” I hailed the wide fields, the coloring trees. “Wheeee.”

“Whatever it is gives you hay fever,” said Jim, “it is in the city. It certainly isn’t in the country. You’re like a new man already.”

And over country highways with hardly any traffic we lifted and dipped and soared and came at last to the lake country and the gravel roads that led us just before supper time to the little hotel devoted to the victims of allergy.

It was, as Jim had promised, a dandy little hotel. Set in a grove of pines, on a hill, and well built and rugged, with fireplaces everywhere, and stuffed fish and paintings of sportsmen and big game animals. A decidedly pretty waitress showed us to the registration desk where a large lady welcomed us and gave us our rooms.

“My husband,” she said, introducing a large, shy gentleman who ambled up. “He was a terrible sufferer. So I made him give up the brokerage business and we just came out here and launched this sanctuary.”

“You’ve got a lovely little place,” I agreed. “Are there many muskies caught this season?”

“This hotel,” said the lady, ignoring my piscatorial query, “this hotel has never been desecrated with a sneeze. Oh, Mrs. McKay …”

Another elderly lady bounced over and we were introduced.

“Mrs. McKay is a tragic sufferer,” assured the hostess. “She’s one of our charter members. Been coming here for twenty years… Oh, Mr. McWhirtle …”

Not a Sneeze in Roomful

And a gentleman passing was haled over and introduced. Apparently, at hay fever resorts, one meets everyone. It’s a club.

“Any fishing, Mr. McWhirtle?” Jim enquired heartily.

“I don’t fish,” said Mr. McWhirtle. “I am happy just breathing.”

And he took a deep breath to show us. He swelled all up.

Before we got out of the lobby, we met six other people, Mr. and Mrs. Macdonald, Miss Andrews, Dr. and Mrs. McSlockery and a widow, Mrs. McDrummle …

“I notice,” I said “that you are all Scottish?”

“That’s a fact,” agreed Dr. McSlockery heartily. “I wonder if the Scotch aren’t a little more subject to hay fever…”

“Dinner, gentlemen,” said the hostess, “will be in twenty minutes.”

So the merry little gathering in the lobby broke up and through upstairs halls faintly smelling of the happy odor of log fires, two pretty maids escorted Jim and me to our rooms and laid out our bags and brought us jugs of steaming water.

“Some place,” I assured Jim when we visited each other.

“We’ll be very cosy here for a week,” gloated Jim. “I’ll set my drawing board right here by this north window.”

“In honor of all those Scotchmen,” I said, “I’m glad I brought this Scotch tweed.”

“Wear it to dinner,” said Jim. “It makes you look distinguished.”

So when the mellow dinner bell rang, we descended the stairs with the excitement that comes in strange houses, and we paraded into the dining-room where all the guests were eagerly seated and the menu cards being inspected hungrily.

“This September air sharpens the appetite,” said the proprietor very friendly as we passed him to our table, next.

The dining-room faced south and the hot evening sun had made the room warm. Behind me an electric fan hummed happily. We all glanced around at one another in the friendliest fashion.

“Aaaachooow!” sneezed the waitress standing nearest us.

I thought the hostess, who was at the next table, would fall off her chair.

“Gertie!” she gasped. “Gertie.”

But Gertie laid her head back and go another.

The room seemed to freeze. No wolf howl ever created a more deathly silence in the sheep-fold than did Gertie’s outrageous sneeze.

“Waaa,” began Jimmie, unexpectedly, “chooo.”

The proprietor, turning to look in consternation, suddenly coiled up his nose, writhed his lips in agony and let go a terrific cross between a sneeze and a cough.

And before you could say Mackenzie King, the whole room was in an uproar of sneezing. Little sneezes, like a cat, big sneezes, like a horse, ladies, gents, waitresses, all paralyzed in the most extraordinary fit of sneezing gasping, coughing, choking.

And the glory of it was, I felt not the slightest tickle.

One by one, couple by couple, the guests rose and staggered from the room, holding their serviettes to their faces. I could see the tragic telltale signs, the running eye, the flushed brow and that expression of dumb despair known only to the allergic.

Everybody fled but Jim and me, and when the second waitress ran out the kitchen swing door, even Jim, reaching his tenth whopper, stood up and walked unsteadily to join the others in the lobby and on the cool veranda. I was left alone, clear-headed, dry-eyed, to sit and listen to the hubbub of sneezes, and babbled conversation sharp with a note of consternation in it.

Then I got up, having satisfactorily demonstrated my superior resistance, and walked out to the lobby.

Mrs. McSlockery was standing in the door leading to the veranda. She was breathing deep, wiping her eyes, and had apparently got herself under control.

“What an extraordinary…” I began amiably to the lady.

“Aaaaa,” she sighed, “whooop …”

I backed away from her.

“It’s Hib, Hib”, She Shouts

“It’s hib, it’s hib,” shouted Mrs. McSlockery wildly; and when I turned, she was pointing a frenzied finger at me.

“It’s hib, the biddit he cabe dear, I wet off agaid,” she cried furiously.

Dr. McSlockery approached me menacingly and withdrew his serviette from his blotched face long enough to take a quick sniff in my direction.

“It’s his coat,” shouted the doctor. “It’s full of heather! It’s heather pollen! Get him out of here. Get him out of here.”

I will draw a veil over the next seven minutes. I have never left a hotel so hurriedly. Not even in Flanders. The proprietress practically gave Jim and me the bum’s rush. We were bundled out. Weeping maids no longer pretty, dashed up and slammed our bags shut and yanked them downstairs hiding their faces from us in their aprons. The guests gathered out on the screened veranda and stood stonily and did not even wave good-by.

“I can leave my coat hanging out in the ice house,” I shouted, before I shut the car door. No answer came from the veranda and its dark huddle of figures. “I can parcel it up and mail it back home.”

No reply.

“Oh, well,” said Jim, “you can’t blame them, exactly. You should understand their feelings.”

“The coat doesn’t affect me,” I retorted.

“You’re not Scotch,” said Jim. “Heather pollen never drove your ancestors from their native glens.”

So we drove out to the nearest village and got the address of the next best hay fever resort and went there. I left the coat in my bag and wore pullovers instead. But it wasn’t one, two, three with the other hotel. Jim went home Wednesday and I’m bringing this home tonight.

Royal Decorations

By Greg Clark, May 13, 1939

Greg and Jim discover it’s often more than the house that gets painted when amateurs try the job

“Do you realize,” demanded Jimmie Frise, “that you can’t get a painter for love or money in this city.”

“You’ve left it too late,” I stated.

“Well,” protested Jim, “there was so much uncertainty. Some of the best guessers of my acquaintance were willing to bet a hundred to one their majesties wouldn’t be coming to Canada.”

“There was your chance,” I pointed out, “to get your house painted for nothing.”

“The main thing is,” said Jim, “How am I going to get it painted now?”

“The royal procession doesn’t come anywhere near your street,” I suggested.

“What has that to do with it?” demanded Jim indignantly.

“Well, after all,” I said, “if you were on the royal route, I could understand your anxiety. But away down a back street …”

“All my neighbors,” said Jim, “have redecorated their places, they’ve painted up and they’ve got their flower beds abloom and I saw one fellow across the street nailing those flag-staff holders on every window sill. I bet he hangs out 20 flags.”

“So it’s to keep up with the Joneses that you want to fix up your house?” I taunted.

“I’m just as loyal as anybody in this country,” declared Jim hotly.

“But you’re just a little procrastinating,” I submitted.

“I bet there are tens of thousands of Canadians in the same pickle I’m in,” complained Jim. “How about you? What have you done with your house?”

“I put it up to the landlord,” I explained sweetly. “I suggested that it was hardly patriotic of him to allow a loyal and true blue Britisher like me, a major on the reserve, all battle-scarred and full of army phrases, to live in a house not all dolled up for the royal visit. So he turned loose a gang of painters and it was all I could do to prevent them painting the house red, white and blue.”

“You people who rent have all the luck,” muttered Jim.

“But we have nothing to leave our widows,” I offered.

“The rest of us,” growled Jim, “leave mortgages to ours.”

“You could solve the problem,” I suggested a little uneasily, for I could already sense a purpose in Jim’s conversation, “with bunting.”

“A little rain,” countered Jim, “and where’s your bunting?”

“Put it up at the last minutes,” I offered. “Drapes over your porch and festoons above the windows.”

“It isn’t good enough,” declared Jim. “It would look tawdry in my street. One of my neighbors showed me a great big silk Union Jack he has bought. Bigger than a table cloth. It cost $40.”

Dizzy on Ladders

“Why don’t you go down to one of the government employment offices,” I asked, “and get a couple of men and turn them loose? Painting isn’t so mysterious a business.”

“Oh, isn’t it?” lured Jimmie.

“Pshaw, no,” I said, foolishly, “I’ve done painting as good as any professional. I painted our kitchen less than two months ago. And you saw the job I did on the annex up at our cottage?”

“Amateur jobs are all very well,” said Jim, cautiously, “in kitchens and on summer cottages, but you can’t do the front of a house. That takes professionals.”

“Get away with you,” I cried. “All it takes is patience and care. The difference between a professional house painter and you or me is simply that we are in a hurry, whereas the professional house painter does it for a living and therefore takes his time.”

“You mean,” inquired Jim, “that if you and I undertook to paint the front of my house, all we’d have to do is take our time and be careful and we could do it as well as a pro?”

Too late, I realized where I stood.

“Personally,” I said firmly. “I think you would be better advised to buy bunting. The bunting would cost you less than the paint. Why, for the cost of the paint, you could cover your house with bunting and get a big silk Union Jack besides.”

“My house needs a coat of paint anyway,” mused Jim.

“The great trouble with amateur painters,” I pointed out, “is, the average man gets dizzy on ladders. Now you take me, for instance. I daren’t climb a ladder. If I go up a ladder, I get so dizzy I have to hang on with both hands.”

“You could do the lower bits,” said Jim. “The window sills, doorways and things like that. I never get dizzy.”

“When I say the average man can do a job of painting as good as a professional,” I explained, “I should add that there are exceptions. Some people just have no knack for painting. You, no doubt, could do a perfect job. After all, you are an artist. And what’s the difference between painting a picture and painting a house? But I lack the delicate touch.”

“I’ve seen your kitchen,” said Jim. “I think it is a very creditable job.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but I always say, one job, one man. You’ve got to get the paint on even. It wouldn’t look right, with part of the house done with your delicacy, your artistic touch; and the rest of it daubed on by me.”

“You mean,” said Jim, bitterly, “that you are trying to get out of lending me a hand with a little painting job. You mean, you begrudge me a couple of afternoons and evenings of your time and help.”

“What Have You Contributed?”

“That’s a fine accusation to make,” I cried, “after all the things I’ve helped you with, from sooty chimneys to making rockeries in your garden.”

“You were a big help there,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, “I hate painting.”

“All I really need you for,” said Jim, “is to hold the ladder and now and again stand back and tell me if I’m getting it on even.”

“Painting isn’t like that,” I insisted. “You can’t stand around when anybody is painting. Before you know it, you’ve got a brush in your hand.”

“You won’t even hold the ladder?” demanded Jim darkly.

“This is the worst season of the year for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “The trout season and the royal visit and my work is behind and one thing and another.”

“Well, I never would have believed it,” said Jim sadly. “It just goes to show the depth of your loyalty. What have you personally contributed to the royal visit? You call upon your landlord to decorate your house. You telephone for a little bunting and your wife puts it up. I should think you would welcome a chance to do something personal, to put some personal effort, however small, into expressing your loyalty. It’s easy enough to get somebody else to do the work. You’re like those patriots during the war who bought Victory bonds as their contributions to the great fight.”

“I didn’t buy any Victory bonds,” I assured him hotly. “I would like to remind you I was in the infantry and not the artillery.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that the artillery …” began Jim, and then thought better of it.

“You can’t measure loyalty,” I stated, “with bunting, flags and fresh paint.”

“No,” said Jim, “but you can measure loyalty by the willingness of a man to put himself out a little to celebrate momentous occasions.”

“It’s your house that needs painting,” I remarked.

“Okay, okay,” said Jim. “Okay. I hate to think what will happen to this country in the next war. The old spirit is gone.”

“What spirit is gone?” I demanded.

“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when you saw one of your comrades in a jam, did you stop to figure it was his own fault and leave him to his fate, off on some exposed flank? No, sir. Without even pausing to think, you went like a wildcat to his aid.”

“He wasn’t painting any houses,” I snorted.

“Okay, okay, okay,” said Jim, conclusively.

“When were you figuring on doing the job?” I inquired.

“I’ve got the paint,” said Jim. “In fact, I’ve had it two weeks, trying to get a painter.”

“This is our night out, at home,” I submitted. “If I can get my wife to go to a movie with the kids I’ll drop around.”

“It’s more for company than anything,” said Jim kindly. “And you could hold the ladder and that sort of thing. I simply can’t tackle the job single-handed. You never saw painters working solo.”

“Okay, okay,” I said kindly, too.

So I put on some old clothes and after supper walked around to Jim’s. He was already on the job. He had a ladder up against the front and pails of paint set on the ground, one of which he was busily stirring when I arrived.

“Aha, gaudy, eh?” I remarked. For the pots of paint were red, blue and yellow.

“Well, I figure it this way,” said Jim, straightening up. “Paint is the salvation of a good house. I’m going to doll it up in royal colors and make a real celebration of it. Even if I don’t do a very slick job, the paint will be thoroughly plastered on. Then, in a few weeks, I can get some painter to put a second coat on, in conventional colors. All neat and tidy.”

“That’s an idea,” I concurred. “And you’ll certainly knock the hat off everybody else on the street.”

“I don’t think loyalty should be cautious,” declared Jim.

“Or finicky,” I agreed, stirring the red pot.

“The window sills,” said Jim, “light red with a blue line for trim. The door pillars yellow.”

“I’ve always maintained,” I agreed, “that we in Ontario are far too timid in the painting of our homes. You take some of those little towns and villages in Quebec.”

“I have them in mind,” said Jim. “Now if you’ll hold the ladder, I’ll start on that first window.”

“It’s a bit creaky,” I said, gripping the ladder, which looked as if it had been in the cellar for the past 10 years.

“Don’t worry,” said Jim, starting up it with a courage that I envied.

“Careful,” I called up, “not to spill any paint on the bricks. If you get a speck of paint on the bricks you’ll never get it off.”

“Just hold the ladder,” suggested Jim.

So I held the ladder and watched Jim brace himself with all the insouciance of a sailor.

“One little splash of paint on bricks,” I offered, so as to put his mind at ease, “and the more you try to get it off, the wider it smears. It makes an awful mess.”

“Just hold the ladder,” explained Jim.

“It’s the porousness of the bricks” I concluded. “The oil in the paint and the porousness of the bricks.”

“Hold it steady,” admonished Jim.

There really isn’t much to holding a ladder. In fact, all there is to it is just leaning against it and holding it. If you look up. you can’t see anything except the feet of the man above. And there is the feeling you are going to get a squirt of paint in the eye.

“The best painters,” I commented, don’t fill their brush very full. They just half dip it and then press it out against the inside of the pail…”

“When you talk,” said Jim, “it makes the ladder vibrate.”

“Sorry,” I said.

So Small a Thing

In fact, holding a ladder is about the least loyal thing I can imagine. It is so small a thing it is almost disloyal. I began casting my eye around the lower woodwork, the window sills and the door pillars. There was an extra brush lying by the paint pails, but it was old and stiff with gray paint.

“How about me,” I asked, “getting some turpentine and working up this extra brush? It wouldn’t take long to soften it.”

“We can do that after dark,” said Jim. “If you’ll just hold the ladder steady. It feels kind of creaky. It’s been dried out, all those years in the cellar. Just hold it firm.”

Rusty, Jim’s aged and slightly feeble-minded water spaniel, was snuffing about. His nose was buried in the new grass, and he was snuffing in deep, brief snorts.

“Gittim, Rusty.” I said, it being kind of dull just holding ladders.

“Oomph,” said Rusty, wagging his rear half.

“Atta boy, gittim,” I commended.

Rusty continued to follow his mysterious trail, stopping and snorting at the ground and then hurrying a couple of steps.

“Sickim,” I said, with no ill-intent.

“Owfff,” barked Rusty, and he dashed into the side drive.

“Hold steady,” said Jim above. “This rung I’m on just gave a kind of a crack.”

“Step down to the next rung,” I warned.

Down the side drive came a sudden loud baying and out on to the lawn came the cat that lives next door. After her came Rusty, in full cry.

“Pssst,” I warned, as the cat wheeled and dashed along the front of the house straight for me.

The cat went back of my legs. Rusty was too fat and tried to go in front. He bunted my knees and I made a grab for a firmer hold of the ladder. From aloft came a splintering sound.

“Whauppp,” roared Jim.

And down came he and his paint and the cans at my feet rolled various ways and a huge splash gulped and rolled down the bricks and there we sat in a royal puddle.

“God save the King!” I said.

“Now see what you’ve done,” said Jim grimly.

“It was that fool Rusty,” I protested.

“It was that damn cat next door,” declared Jim.

And we rose cautiously to our feet and stood legs ajar, regarding the horrible big smear on the brick wall.

“I warned you,” I said, “about getting any paint on the …”

“I think,” said Jim, “I’ll adopt bunting after all.”

Editor’s Notes: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada in 1939, the first time reigning monarchs came. It was a very big deal, since it was also on the eve of World War Two.

Greg mentions in the story that he was a renter. In fact, he never owned a house in his life, and always remained a renter.

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