The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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War in the Parlor

November 18, 1939

During the wars, soldiers on leave could be invited to people’s homes for a meal and entertainment. This illustration came with a story by Gwenyth Barrington, who recalled being a child in WW1 when soldiers would come to her home in groups of 6 to 10. In the article, she provides suggestions for “puzzle parties” that could be used for entertainment. The joke in the comic is that grown men would not like to play the children’s game “Button, button“, as suggested by the well meaning old ladies.

Kit Inspection

To my deep joy, Jimmie … let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way cowboy throws a lariat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 7, 1939.

“With a little walnut juice or something,” said Jimmie Frise, “I could dye my hair.”

“The trouble is,” I explained, they have our records at Ottawa. Every old soldier, 600,000 of us, is all docketed at Ottawa. You can’t fool them, unless, of course, you want to get in under an assumed name.”

“If this war continues,” said Jimmie, “we won’t have to worry. They’ll take all the old soldiers. And be mighty glad to have us.”

“I tell you what they ought to do,” I stated. They ought to recruit what the Germans called the Landwehr in the old war. All men over a certain age, who had no particular right to serve in the active battalions, were enlisted in reserve battalions of older men They did all kinds of secondary work like guard duty, digging trenches, laying wire entanglements, repairing roads, and everything like that.”

“Not for me,” declared Jimmie. “Just because I’m over age is no reason why they should work me to death.”

“Jim, you’re romantic,” I said. “It is just as honorable to die from a heart attack while carrying a heavy plank, 30 miles behind the battle lines, when you are in uniform, as to die in a battle raid.”

“And somebody has to carry the planks,” agreed Jim.

“The way I’d do it,” I enunciated, “if I were the minister of defence, I would enlist every man who wants to enlist, so long as he is fit. Young, old, weak, strong, keen, dull, gay, crabby, enlist them all into a sort of depot. A sort of recruiting pool. Then let the recruiting officers of the infantry come along, for example, and call a parade of the pool and ask for those who wanted to enter the infantry, please step forward.”

“Who’d have first choice of them?” inquired Jim. “I wouldn’t want the infantry to get all the best men. Don’t forget the artillery.”

“Oh, no,” I enlightened. “The boys in the pool would know that all branches would be coming for them, so those that wanted to get into the artillery or the engineers could hold back until the officer from those arms called for them. Now, when the infantry officer came, a lot of men would step forward who aren’t suited to infantry, too old, too fat, too tall.”

“Huh,” snorted Jimmie.

“Yes, too tall,” I insisted. “If I were minister of defence, the first call for the infantry would be for men between five feet and five feet three inches and weighing not more than 125 pounds.”

“Good grief,” laughed Jim. “The Guards.”

“Modern infantry,” I informed him, “travels in trucks. You can get far more small men in a truck than you can big ones. Small men can move over the ground far slicker than tall ones, and instead of having to dig six-foot trenches, you would only need five-foot trenches. In a trench 100 miles long, I bet that would save enough digging to fill up the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Tall men are a waste of time in the infantry.”

“I suppose you’d put all the big men in the artillery,” scoffed Jim.

“Certainly,” I agreed “Because when you run out of gasoline, somebody has to haul those guns around. And the more beef you’ve got in the artillery, the sooner you bombardiers are going to be helping us poor little infantry away out there in the blue.”

New Plan For Recruiting

“I want to inform you,” said Jim, “that we artillery men have the highest respect and admiration for the infantry. It’s a pity you infantry haven’t got more feeling for us gunners.”

“We have the highest respect for you,” I assured him, “when you take time to aim your guns.”

“Now, that’s too much…” cried Jim indignantly.

“What I was getting at,” I interrupted calmly, “is that when men are over age for the active service battalions or units enlisted, they would automatically be appointed to the reserve units of the army, all branches; reserve infantry reserve artillery, reserve engineers and everything. For instance, I’d be a major of a reserve battalion of infantry, and you’d be a gunner in a reserve battery of artillery.”

“Yeah,” said Jimmie. “And you’d be swelling around ordering a lot of poor old soaks to dig roads and pile lumber, while I’d find myself with a hose and a sponge cleaning the tractors of some battery of the active force, who are far too busy and valuable to do any rough jobs like car washing.”

“The point is,” I explained, “by this reserve system of recruiting we older men would be learning the organization and set-up of the new army, we would be in training all the time. So that when the time came and I had to take my battalion of old soldiers to fight, and you had to go with your comrades of the old artillery to man the decimated guns, we would at least know the ropes.”

“I can still remember every detail,” said Jim, “of my old training on the 18-pounders.”

“Yes, but by the time you would be called up,” I pointed out, “it wouldn’t be 18-pounders they would be using, but some new-fangled, quick-firing anti-tank gun or some electrically operated group of anti-aircraft quick-firers that shoot 40 rounds at one shot.”

“Let them get electricians, then,” retorted Jimmie. “If they think they’ve got a new war, they’re crazy. This war, once they’ve bust up all the new-fangled machines, will get right back to Julius Caesar the way the last one did.”

“I doubt it,” I informed him. “You’re like the old Boer War veterans that were with us in the last war. Remember how we used to get so bored with the old Boer War veterans?”

“I know,” agreed Jim, “but they thought war was a matter of riding hell for leather across the veldt and capturing kopjes.”

“Well, you’ll admit,” I pointed out, “that our war was quite a surprise to them. With our trench mortars and our 50-foot dugouts, and that good old trench routine, a civilization all its own. Like Venice.”

“You forget,” said Jim bitterly, “that I did not see much of trenches. I saw gun pits. Holes dug in the hard earth, in which to seat a gun. Holes dug in the earth to store the shells for the guns. I saw roads, not trenches. When I had to deliver a mule load of shells to my guns, there were no deep, safe communication trenches for me. No, sir, I had to ride my mules right up the dark, blasted, riven road.”

“That was 20 to 25 years ago, Jim,” I said. “And those Boer War veterans had their war only 13 years before ours. If the Boer War veterans looked a little corney to us, how do you suppose we look to these young soldiers of today?”

Old Tunics and Breeches

“You’re talking like an infantry man,” corrected Jim. “But to us gunners, war never changes. Weapons do. But not war. We still have to haul our guns into position. Then we have to protect them. And then we fire them. I could deliver shells to guns just as good as I ever did.”

“On mules?” I scoffed.

“Yes, on mules,” said Jim. “War never changes. Only the uniforms and the size and the shape of weapons.”

“Did Julius Caesar have airplanes?” I mocked.

“No, he had scouts on flying horses,” said Jim.

“And could they drop tons of bombs on towns?” I insisted.

“No, but they could kill defenceless people just as dead with swords and lances,” retorted Jim. “They could set fire to temples; and to plain people cowering on distant hillsides. What’s the difference whether a bombing plane or one of Julius Caesar’s horsemen set their village on fire?”

“You have very old-fashioned notions,” I remarked.

“You infantry people,” said Jimmie, “give me a laugh. You are always thinking up something new, but it never works. There you were in the last war, millions of you, solemnly marching in and out of trenches. And what did you do? Not a thing. Whenever anything happened, you fired off sky rockets to signal us gunners to cut loose, There you at, in your trenches, in deep caverns and holes, while we gunners, on both sides, plastered the stuffing out of you. But you were happy because you figured you had thought up something new.”

“Artillery,” I shouted, “is just an accessory, a side-arm, of the infantry. We use you. We tell you where we want to go and you blow open a path.”

“Gravel crushers,” said Jim.

“Horse polishers,” I sneered.

As became my rank and appointments, however antiquated, I felt that it was beneath me to bandy words with a mere gunner, another rank. So I got up and left the room.

When I got home, I went straight up to the attic and amidst the quiet and the rafter smell of the trunk room, I found an old brown bag and unfastened it.

It was like undoing a bundle of old letters. Twenty years is quite a long time for a cap to go unworn, and the wrinkles of 20 years in a tunic, however good the cloth, are deep wrinkles. Field boots that once upon a time were such a pride and glory that it was a question whether I was wearing the boots or the boots were wearing me, can wither up very hard and dry in 20 years.

I got them out and brushed them down with my hands and pulled at the wrinkles and creases. I tried the tunic on, and it would button, only in one button, the top. My Sam Browne belt had vanished, however I scrabbled through the old brown valise. And I suddenly remembered seeing, six or seven years ago, a dog harness my sons had built for Dollie, the cocker spaniel, to draw a sleigh. My Sam Browne.

The breeches were more of an abdominal supporter than a pair of pants, but I got them on. The field boots were agony. I dragged them back and forth over a rafter. I rubbed them and anointed them with oil. But you can’t bask in the soft air of peace for 20 years and expect old leather field boots to stay limber, up in hot attics.

But when I came downstairs, some shadow of the former man followed me. The cap had shrunk and perched a little unsteady. By carrying my stomach well in and one hand in my tunic pocket, very jaunty, I could pass a mirror sideways and not look too terrible. Of course, with the years comes charity, in relation to oneself.

A lane connects the back of Jim’s garden, four doors south, from mine. And down this lane, in the quiet of the supper hour, I walked smartly, meeting nobody. And when I rapped at Jim’s back door, Jim happily opened to me, a tea cup in his hand. He was having bachelor supper, the family being all out.

“Holy Moses,” he said.

“Jim,” I offered, snapping my salute and standing very stiff, “I don’t think two old friends should quarrel at a time like this, over old jealousies dating back to the old war. Twenty years ago.”

“Come in, come in,” cried Jim. “Where did you dig up all the souvenirs?”

“Excuse me, Jim,” I protested, “this is my old service kit. It fits me pretty good, don’t you think?”

“I wonder where my stuff is?” said Jim, eyeing me enviously.

“Other ranks were supposed to hand their kit in, on demobilization,” I recalled.

“And come home from the war naked?” said Jim. “I’ve got my stuff here somewhere.”

Kit Bag in the Attic

I followed Jimmie up dark attic steps, and into the trunk room. All attics are alike.

Jim explored around amidst trunks, bags, and, under a pair of oars and duck decoys and a pile of things that appear to be anything at all, he found his old artillery kit bag, inscribed J. L. Frise and his regimental number. In an old topped trunk of pre-war vintage, he unearthed another treasure trove of the wars. I counted five moths when he opened the bag and trunk.

“Hm,” said I. “A fine way to keep your kit.”

My boots were chafing terribly.

Jim removed his trousers and had put on the artillery breeks with their clumsy leg patches.

“They fit,” he said a little huskily.

“Now try on your riding boots,” I submitted.

“I wore puttees when I was demobilized,” said Jim, rummaging in the trunk and pulling out spurs, all rusted, shirts, leather goods.

“Here’s the puttees,” he gloated. They are just the way I took them off 20 years ago.”

I stood and watched with grim amusement. I always knew the artillery did not know how to wear puttees. They always put them on upside down. The started the winding at the knees and tied them down at the ankle, on some wild theory that they were better that way riding a horse, but who would ride a horse in puttees.

To my deep joy, Jimmie, after trying on the puttee this way and that with a growing sense of bewilderment, finally started rolling them at the ankle, the way, the infantry did, and instead of rolling it snugly against his leg on the way up, carefully judging the distance of each lap, he let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way a cow puncher throws a lariat.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said pleasantly.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, very flushed and studying the problem as from a far distance.

“Can’t even remember how to put on a puttee,” I said.

Jimmie straightened up and let the puttee fall on the floor.

“And you can’t even remember,” he said loudly, “how to button your tunic.”

“It isn’t my memory that is at fault,” I remarked bitterly.

“And your cap looks like a fungus,” said Jim, “and your pants don’t meet, and your boots look like an Eskimo’s mukluks.”

“Easy, Jim, easy,” I warned. “We won’t get anywhere criticizing our appearances.”

“And we won’t get anywhere,” remarked Jim, “making cracks about forgetting how to wrap puttees on.  Who the heck wears puttees anyway? Just a lot of mudhookers and infantry.”

“Pardon me, Jimmie,” I began.

“Puttees have been abandoned by the army, anyway,” cried Jim. “And infantry has been pretty near abandoned too. But the good old guns are bigger and better than ever.”

We eyed each other fiercely for a minute in the moth-filled attic room, and then he took off the artillery breeches and puttees and trousers and packed all the stuff back tenderly in the round-topped trunk and brown bag with the regimental number and we went downstairs and out the door and up the lane to my place. I changed back into Harris tweed and we listened to the radio news broadcast and thought of the young men that were out tonight doing all the old-fashioned jobs, the creeping and the crawling, the standing and watching, and the dim view of fat brown shells and the jerking of the yards of guns.


Editor’s Notes: This appeared shortly after the start of World War Two, and a lot of old WWI veterans were thinking on how they could help. Unfortunately, the right hand side of the microfilm was badly cut off, so some of the text had to be filled in with my best guess.

Walnut juice is a natural hair dye made from walnut shells, which is still popular today among those who want natural products.

Kopjes is a South African reference to small hills.

Breeks are trousers that stop below the knees. Puttees are bandages wrapped for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, and were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform from 1902 until 1938. The Sam Browne Belt is a belt supported by a strap over the shoulder.

Gravel crushers and mud hookers were slang terms to refer to the infantry (along with foot sloggers, gravel grinders and mud crushers, an insult that carried over from the cavalry, implying that the infantry just marched around). A horse polisher is an insult to refer to the cavalry, implying they just looked after horses, but it could also refer to the artillery of WW1, as Jim indicated that he spent a lot of time delivering shells (more likely by mule). A cow puncher is just a cowboy, someone who works on a ranch controlling cattle.

To Err is Human

“Hey,” cried Skipper from the back seat, “don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.” And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 10, 1939

“The trouble with going four in a car,” said Jimmie Frise,”is, you can’t hold conversation.”

“The more the better,” I differed.

“That’s a common mistake,” stated Jim. “The perfect setup for purposes of pleasant conversation is two people. Like man and wife, for example. Why did polygamy die out of the more civilized world? Because a man couldn’t carry on a decent conversation with five wives.”

“I don’t agree,” I declared. “When two people engage in conversation, it generally boils down to a one-sided conversation. You rarely find two people of equal wind.”

“Some people are natural born listeners,” pointed out Jim.

“I like about three or four people in a group,” I explained, “because then, if there is one windbag in the party, the three others can generally work up enough between them to sort of balance the windbag.”

“Then,” said Jim, “you will be happy today. Because Skipper and Vic will very nicely help me hold the balance against you.”

“I resent that, Jim,” I informed him.

“I always hate to get into a car with you and several people,” said Jim, “because the minute you see three people you think it is an audience and you begin making a speech.”

“Is this the spirit,” I demanded, “in which to start off on a nice trip to the country?”

“If there were only two of us in our car,” said Jim, “I could let you drive and then I could go to sleep. I’ve often worked that scheme.”

“I never knew you to be so unpleasant,” I protested. “What’s got into you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sighed Jim. “I just feel like having a fight with somebody.”

“Jim,” I consoled, “I often feel that way myself. Life gets humdrum, not from having to do the same things over and over forever and ever, but because it gets so eternally pleasant. Life gets pleasanter all the time. I don’t think human nature can stand it.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Look at all the inventions of the past 30 years. All to make life pleasant. The motor car, to take us quickly and pleasantly wherever we get the whim to go. The movies, to give us the pleasant thrill of romance for 35 cents. The radio, so that with a click of a button we can get any sort of entertainment we desire, from a symphony to an educational talk about how to kill potato bugs.”

“Life is getting too pleasant,” I concurred. “Why, even the poor can’t be poor any more. They are hounded and chased and given food and clothing and life made as pleasant as possible for them. Criminals can’t even find any real unpleasantness in life because they are making jails into educational institutions.”

“At the rate we are going,” decreed Jim, “there will be no escape from pleasantness except in our own natures. The more perfect the conditions of life are made, the worse our characters are going to become.”

“Nobody wants perfection,” I admitted.

“It is the struggle for perfection,” explained Jimmie, “that makes life interesting. To attain perfection must be a horrible thing.”

“We can always figure,” I reassured, “on things going wrong, however we perfect life and all its arrangements.”

“No,” said Jim. “the way we are heading now, life is going to be made perfect. For all. There will be no more poor, no more underprivileged, no more unhappy. The whole vast force of humanity is right now in the throes of a gigantic struggle toward perfection, Hitler going one way. We democracies the other. But back of it all, a countless army of scientists, thinkers, workers, politicians, all striving day and night to find some road to perfection for all mankind. It will be a technical perfection as well as a social perfection. We will have pleasant ways of going where we want to go as far ahead of the motor car and airplane as they are far ahead of our grandfather’s buggy. They will have pleasant ways of being entertained and amused as far ahead of movies and radio as they are ahead of the ham actor touring theatrical companies and elocutionists of our grandfather’s time.”

“But always something will go wrong,” I assured him.

“No, sir,” prophesied Jim. “As they have taken out the defects of the motor car, progressively, over the past 20 years, so will they take out the defects of the social system during the next hundred years.”

“What a smooth running world it will be,” I mused.

“And,” said Jim, “life being perfect, we will turn to our own natures for a little relief. We will turn into cantankerous, mischievous, troublesome and altogether miserable creatures, just for a little relief.”

“Just for an occasional surprise,” I agreed. “Because if we get things perfect in this life, we take out all the surprise. And what is life without its surprises?”

“You’re right,” said Jim. “Of all the deadly dull people to have to live with, the perfect characters are the worst.”

“They never surprise you,” I admitted, “even with their perfection.”

“I wish somebody would surprise me today,” sighed Jimmie, sinking back into his former gloom.

“Look here,” I suddenly thought, “we can surprise Skipper and Vic, even if I can’t surprise you. You know that speed cop on the highway between Orangeville and Shelburne?”

“Eddie?” said Jim. “What about him?”

“Look,” I chuckled, “we’ll have Skip and Vic in the back seat. Eddie usually takes his stand on that long hill about five miles north of Orangeville. When we see him ahead, you call out and warn me. Make sure the others hear you. Then I’ll say, ‘Aw to heck with speed cops. I’m not afraid of speed cops. And I’ll step on the gas and shoot her up from 50 to as high as she’ll go.”

“Swell,” laughed Jimmie, quite refreshed.

“And we’ll go by Eddie at 70 miles an hour,” I exulted, “and Skipper and Vic will think I’ve gone nuts.”

“This is a swell idea,” agreed Jim. “I wish it was on me you were playing the trick. I’d like somebody to give me a thrill.”

“Well, you can have the second-hand thrill,” I pointed out, “of imagining how Skip and Vic will feel.”

Something Up Your Sleeve

So when we came to the time to pick up Skipper and Vic it was with that good-humored feeling you have when you’ve got something up your sleeve. In fact, it was a very jolly party that sped in the late afternoon out of Toronto northerly and westerly to visit some friends in Owen Sound and have a little early morning trout fishing the next day.

“No hurry, no hurry,” shouted Skipper from the back seat. “This is swell. Let’s take it slow enough to see the scenery.”

Which you can see from an open car in a fashion unknown to those addicted to closed cars.

So I slowed down to a lazy 40 and under; and when we passed through Orangeville, I slowed her even more, so as to make the surprise all the more exciting.

“Speed cop ahead,” suddenly cried Jim.

And sure enough, half a mile ahead, Eddie’s motorcycle sparkled modestly in the shadows and there stood Eddie, watching the great sweep of hill before us.

“Speed cops don’t worry us,” said Skipper, from the back seat.

“Oh, don’t they?” I retorted a little indignantly.

And I started stepping on the gas.

“Hey, hey, hey,” warned Skip. “There is a cop there. I can see him.”

“Aw, who cares about speed cops,” I shouted over my shoulder. And put my foot right down on the floor boards and the old car picked up all she had and flew.

“Hey, hey,” cried Skipper, from the back seat. Don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.”

“I’ll make it 75 by the time we pass that guy,” I shouted, amidst the wind of our passage.

And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!

Jim was sitting beside me and behind sat Skipper and Vic almost out of sight so did they huddle. The fear of a speed cop is curiously ingrained into the human species. And it was with a feeling of having committed blasphemy that the two of them crouched as I drove the car at a mad pace past.

Eddie was magnificent. I cast him a sly smile over my shoulder so as to tip him off to chase us. And hidden behind his goggles, he put on an expression of outrage and indignation it is impossible to do justice to. Just as we are intimidated by the sight of a speed cop – other than a friend – is a speed cop astounded and hurt by indifference.

“Have You Gone Nuts?”

In the rear view mirror I watched, as I still tramped on the gas, and sure enough, with every indication of outrage, Eddie grabbed his cycle and with a run and a jump was after us.

“He’s after you; he’s after you,” wailed Skipper, looking back. “Slow up, slow up. Have you gone nuts?”

“Let him catch me,” I roared, holding the speed.

“The guy’s gone nuts,” shouted Vic, leaning forward to grab Jim’s shoulders and shake him. “Turn off the ignition!”

“Aw,” replied Jim loudly, “what we need is a little excitement. Let him go.”

“Excitement,” groaned Vic, relapsing back.

“Yes,” said Jim, turning around so he could see the rapid approach of Eddie on his motorcycle, but with an air of bravado also, “a little excitement. We’re sick of going through life with nothing happening.”

“Turn round, turn round,” hissed Skipper at Jim. “Let on you don’t see him.”

“Aw, I see him all right,” shouted Jim, half raising in his sent and looking over their heads back at Eddie, who was now within 30 feet of us and gaining fast however hard I tramped down the gas. In fact I had it on the floor boards.

I made plenty of room for Eddie by keeping well over to the side. I didn’t want any accidents to mar our little fun.

Eddie went by with a final wild rush. It was magnificent. He blew his horn as he flew by and veered in ahead of us, forcing me to slack speed. His arm flew out to signal us to stop. I slacked and drew into the shoulder of the road, and Eddie dismounted ahead of us.

“Aw, what’s the matter!” I roared hotly “We were only doing 50.”

Eddie swung off his cycle, turned, walked slowly back, lifted his goggles – and it wasn’t Eddie.

It wasn’t Eddie. It was a white-faced cop I had never seen before and hope never to see again. His eyes were blazing in his face. He stood and looked for a long steady minute at me, while I slowly shrank and shrank.

“First,” said this stranger, “permit me to smell your breath.”

I permitted him.

“Next,” he said, “permit me to behold your driving license.”

And he suited the action to the word by producing his own little notebook. I fumbled numbly through several pockets and finally found the little black case I always carry in the same pocket.

“Is there any explanation,” inquired the stranger frigidly, “for your actions in increasing your speed when you approached me and continuing to accelerate your speed though you had full knowledge that I was in pursuit of you?”

I tried to speak, but it just went gug.

“I think,” put in Skipper in a rather weak voice, “that he went a little nuts for a minute, officer. He’s had a lot of work lately, he’s overworked, he works night and day, he’s a tremendous worker, and maybe he just went a little nuts for a second.”

“Did you go nuts?” demanded the constable grimly.

“May I speak to you a minute privately, constable?” I inquired.

“Certainly,” said he. He sounded like a university graduate.

I crept out of the car, steadying my legs under me and grasping the fender for support. I walked up ahead of the car and the constable followed me. In a low voice, up beside his motorcycle, I explained to him how I knew Eddie so well and I just thought would have a little joke on my two friends the back seat who were very high strung, jittery fellows.

“Jittery, are they?” said the policeman.

So he gave me his arm and we returned to the car.

“I think one of you jittery gentlemen should take the wheel,” suggested the speed cop.

So Skipper did.


Editor’s Note: 35 cents for a movie ticket in 1939 would be about $6.50 in 2021.

Sport of Kings

Jim, with the quiet air of the sportsman, took Flying Beetle’s bridle….The photographers knelt and banged their cameras at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 27, 1939

“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” said Jimmie Frise, “Mr. Charlie Spavin.”

I shook hands with the gent, who rose jointedly from beside Jim’s drawing-board.

“Mr. Spavin,” said Jim amiably, to cover my frosty manner, which I could not conceal, “is a well-known sportsman.”

Mr. Spavin collapsed into the chair again. He was a very tall, loose-jointed person, extremely thin, with the look of a starved hound. His facial bones seemed to shine through his skin. His hair was frizzled and wispy. And his eyes, close-set like buttonholes on either side of a big, boney nose, were colorless.

“What sport do you follow?” I inquired, as I hung up my hat.

“The horses,” said Mr. Spavin in a voice such as an Egyptian mummy would use if he could speak.

“Mmmff,” said I, sitting down and immersing myself in the letters on my desk.

“You might be interested in Mr. Spavin’s proposition,” said Jim earnestly. “Charlie, tell Mr. Clark your idea.”

“It’s this way,” said Mr. Spavin huskily, despite me rattling the papers on my desk. “I’ve got the horse Flying Beetle, a nine-year-old maiden. She’s et me to the bone. I’ve owned her two years now. I’ve wasted every cent I own, lost my house, sold my car, all my furniture has been reclaimed, my radio was picked up only this morning, I’ve separated from my wife and borrowed myself off the track with all my friends and even borrowed 50 cents from the very last of my acquaintances, all on account of this here horse I own called Flying Beetle.”

“See?” said Jim. “You always claimed there wasn’t an honest horseman in the world. Mr. Spavin is one.”

“If I never told the truth before,” said Mr. Spavin, with an air of amazement, “I’m telling it now.”

“Tell Mr. Clark why,” prompted Jimmie.

“It’s this way,” said Mr. Spavin. “I claimed this horse two years ago for $200 when I was in the money. She’s a swell big filly. Light bay. Full of life. Raced all over America. Never won a race. Never even showed. Some of the best trainers in the world have had her. She does trials that make your hair stand on end. But in races she just lays back. She’s run sixth in over 75 per cent of her races.”

“Why don’t you get some bets she’ll run sixth?” interrupted Jimmie. “Maybe she’s a trick horse.”

“She’s a trick,” sighed Mr. Spavin. “But she’s got me ruined. And she’s the only horse I own. She’s my last possession on earth. I’ve fed her and pastured her; I’ve made a bum of myself paying her feed bills and stabling. I’ve shipped her all over the country and borrowed money from the jockeys to pay the jockey fee. And now here I am so broke I ain’t had any breakfast yet. There’s a race at four-forty this afternoon, and by all the hokey pokey I think this is the race she’ll win.”

Having a Horse Fit

“A nine-year maiden?” I inquired drily. “Haven’t you thought she’d win several times before this in the past few years?”

“Look,” said Mr. Spavin, sitting upright with an effort, “she never had a horse fit before.”

“A horse fit?” I exclaimed.

“You’ve heard of a cat fit, haven’t you?” said Mr. Spavin excitedly. “Well, a horse fit is something the same. It’s a sign of a great change in a horse. This morning, down at the track, when we took her out of the stable for her exercise, she was all of a tremble. She was sweating even before we got the boy up. She acted crazy. Her eyes glared, she breathed heavy, she seemed to be laboring under some deep emotion.”

“Maybe it’s just old age creeping over her,” I submitted.

“O.K.,” said Mr. Spavin shortly. “If you don’t believe in miracles.”

“I never saw a race-horse that wasn’t crazy,” I retorted.

“Look,” said Mr. Spavin. “We got the boy on her and she started to rear and buck and squeal. She suddenly started to run in little circles, and the boy couldn’t do nothing with her. She ran circles smaller and smaller and I knew she was having a horse fit. I yelled to the boy to jump. He did. And just in time, too. Because she suddenly whirled end for end, fell on the ground and lay there dying, as I thought, her eyes sticking out, breathing like the heaves and, all of a sudden, she grew quiet, got up, shook herself and walked quietly over to us and stood waiting for the boy to mount.”

“Doesn’t that sound curious?” interrupted Jim.

“It sounds a little veterinary to me,” I stated.

“Wait,” said Mr. Spavin tensely. “The boy mounted. She was as cool as a cucumber. She seemed to have grown bigger, stronger. She seemed to exude power. She was lithe.”

“Mmmm,” said I, interested.

“Like a panther,” said Mr. Spavin, “she went to the track. I was nearly nuts. I’d heard of these horse fits. I knew they came only once in a lifetime. But when a horse has a horse fit it is born again, you might say.”

“So?” I encouraged.

“She ran,” said Mr. Spavin in an awed voice, “a mile in one second less than the track record.”

“Whew,” I admitted,

“And she came off that track,” cried Mr. Spavin, “as quiet and easy as if she had cantered.”

“Mmm, mm.” I admired, though I know nothing of horses and care much less.

“And I think she’s going to start running,” said Mr. Spavin, “at last. I think she’s thrown off some trouble that’s been in her all her life. I think that horse fit has made her another horse. I think she’s going to be as good as she’s looked all these years. And, by the hokey old pokey, here I am without the price of the jockey fee.”

“And the purse,” said Jim, “is $500.”

Mr. Spavin collapsed back into the chair.

“Well, Mr. Spavin,” I stated, “only six weeks ago Mr. Frise swore off all horses for a period of two years.”

“Just betting,” put in Jim.

“Don’t quibble,” I said.

A Powerful Hunch

“I swore off betting,” said Jim. “But I didn’t swear off being interested in horses. Can’t I look at a horse’s picture in the paper? Can’t I sit and think about horses?”

“Think all you like,” I said, as one of the custodians of Jim’s mighty oath. “But don’t spend a dime on a horse.”

“Just listen to Charlie’s proposal,” said Jim quietly.

“My proposition is,” said Mr. Spavin, “if you will put up the 10 bucks for the jockey fee I’ll give you a half interest in the horse.”

“And a half interest in her feed bills, et cetera,” I smiled.

“This half interest,” said Mr. Spavin, “to take effect only if she wins today. If she wins you got a half interest in her. If she loses I just owe two more guys another 10 bucks.”

“I never heard of such a proposition,” I declared.

“It’s common enough in the sporting world,” said Mr. Spavin. “Isn’t it, Jimmie?”

“Look,” said Jim, “here the races have been on for weeks, and I haven’t even seen one and I haven’t wagered a cent. Along comes this chance in a million. If you come in for five bucks so will l.”

“You promised you wouldn’t make a bet,” I reminded him, “unless I bet, too.”

“That horse fit,” pleaded Jim, “is famous among horsemen. It’s as old as history. When a horse has a fit, strange and mighty things happen. I’ve got a powerful hunch.”

“You’ve had hunches all your life,” I recalled to him,

“Look,” said Jim. “You’re a sportsman. You fish and shoot. You are an outdoor sportsman. What a lovely day. Let’s go and kill something. But you’ve reached the time of life when more constructive sports should begin to interest you in place of killing things. How about interesting yourself in the breeding of horses, in the improvement of a noble creature, in the sport of kings?”

“I like shooting things,” I informed him; “not running them to death.”

“You’ve come to the end of fishing and shooting,” pleaded Jim. “What more is there for you to learn? Why not take up, for the remainder of your life, something that will give you as much pleasure learning all about it as learning about fishing and shooting has given you in the more active years of your life? Do you realize that by tonight you may be part owner of a thoroughbred?”

“For five dollars?” urged Mr. Spavin. “The cheapest I ever heard of, even in Kentucky.”

“If the horse wins,” said Jim, “you’re a horse owner. If it loses you aren’t stuck in for any bills and only out $5.”

“We put nothing on paper?” I demanded. “This is purely a gentleman’s agreement. If it wins, we’re in. If it loses, we’re out.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Spavin as if the deal were closed.

As in fact it was. Because lately I have been finding that to get any fishing I have to go farther and farther and all the time I am getting older and older; and I have been looking around for some solution of the problem that sooner or later confronts all who follow any sport other than stamp collecting and who do not die young.

“It’s a waste of money,” I said. But when Mr. Spavin left, all legs and arms, he had $5 each from Jim and me. And Jim and I went down to the sporting editor and borrowed a couple of members’ passes for the afternoon, it being one of those days the sporting editor has figured there will be no race, so he sends his third deputy assistant to cover the meet. And therefore all his friends’ passes are in his pocket.

“Jim,” I said, when we settled down to work, “there is something spooky about these horse fanciers. They have some kind of mesmerism. I never fell so easy in my life. Why, a campaigner for a new wing on a hospital couldn’t get $5 out of me as easy as that.”

“Deep in every man, even in you,” said Jim, “is a love of the horse.”

“I don’t think I’ll even go to the races,” I said bitterly.

“Aw, come,” said Jim, “if only to confirm your low opinion of race track enthusiasts.”

And it being a fine day, I went for that purpose. And I sat in the grand stand and didn’t even look at a program or pay any attention to the prices they put up. In fact, I didn’t even stand up when the races finished and didn’t even look at the silly little squads of horses bobbing around the track; but devoted my whole time to studying the people, the men and women who thronged about, their faces so set, their expressions so greedy, their eyes so narrow, all for the love of a horse. And when Jim came up the steps and said the 4.40 race was next, and wouldn’t I come down and at least see Flying Beetle in the paddock, I got up reluctantly.

In the paddock nine horses were getting ready for the parade, and I must say Flying Beetle was the best of them. But my chief interest was on the melancholy jockey who sat on top of her, by grace of $5 of my hard-earned money. I spent my time figuring which of his colors I preferred, the red or the yellow, for my dough.

They went out on the track. The bugle blew. The crowds swarmed down on the lawns and climbed eagerly into the stands. Jim led me along to a place near the winning post.

“I have a hunch,” he said, rather breathlessly.

There was the roar, “They’re off.” The crowd began, in that curious way, to stir and pop. It is like putting popcorn in the pan and slowly, little by little, the racket grows, until the whole pan is popped. With a wild yell the race ended, and Jimmie was hugging me and dragging me after him and yelling like a maniac, with people bumping into us and everybody gone nuts.

“She wins, she wins,” he explained to me, leaning down to scream in my face.

“She’ll pay nearly $200 for a $2 ticket,” shouted a stranger madly into Jim’s face.

“Jim, you didn’t bet?” I shouted.

“We split the purse,” cried Jim.

He had dragged me through the crowd to the paddock by the judges’ stand.

“Make way for the owners,” Jim roared, shouldering into the mob. And a lane opened amid aisles of respectful people and we got slaps on the back.

Mr. Spavin was not in the paddock and the jockey, very astonished, was sitting on Flying Beetle, while a steward held the horse’s head.

“We’re half owners,” Jim told the gateman, who opened the wicket and let us in.

“Hello,” said the steward, who knew Jimmie through long and mischievous years. “I didn’t know this was your horse? I thought Spavin had her.”

Jim, with the quiet air of the sportsman simply walked up and took Flying Beetle’s bridle and beckoned me to stand forth. The crowd cheered. The photographers knelt and banged their cameras at us. It was all very sudden and tumultuous and I was just realizing hazily that I was launched upon a new chapter of my life when Spavin came bursting through the wicket shouting–

“Get away from the head of that filly!”

I looked around, but there was nobody else but us.

He snatched the bridle and with his elbows bunted Jimmie to one side and me to the other. It was very humiliating.

“What are you lugs trying to pull?” Mr. Spavin demanded furiously.

“Well, we have a half interest, haven’t we?” I demanded, and Jim was trying to get hold of Spavin’s sleeve to catch his attention, but Spavin was striking a pose and having the photographers to do their stuff over again.

“How about the half interest, Charlie?” asked Jim.

“What are you bums trying to pull!” shouted Spavin hotly.

“You said…” I began.

“Do you want me to call the stewards and have you bounced by a cop?” hissed Spavin. “Get away. Let the photographers have a chance.”

“We’ve got…” said Jim.

“Look here,” roared Spavin, and already stewards and judges were coming down the ladder, “what are you bums up to? Have you got any papers? Have you got any I.O.U.’s? Have you got anything? Get out of here.”

“We’ve got a gentleman’s agreement,” I shouted.

“Who with?” shouted Spavin, giving me look so full of meaning that I realized it was no agreement at all.

“Besides,” said Jim, when we got out behind the grandstand where nobody could see us and we could recover from our confusion, “after all, why should we try to horn in, for a measly five bucks, on what must be the greatest moment in the life of Charlie Spavin?”

“The purse was $500,” I insisted.

“If I’d only had 10 bucks on that horse,” groaned Jim.

“There you go,” I scorned, “Why not insist on our rights? Let’s sue him for half the purse.”

“What a swell pair of sportsmen we’d be,” retorted Jim, “suing on the strength of $5 apiece.”

“A gentleman’s agreement,” I sneered. “No gentleman should ever mix up with horses.”

“No,” agreed Jim, “horses are for bums or millionaires. They can’t hurt either.”

So having no further interest in the meet, we went and got in the car and drove back down to lock the office.


Editor’s Note: $5 in 1939 would be $91 in 2021.

Mrs. I. Walton

As I stopped reverently to touch the fish in the basket, Mrs. Bushy gave another wild heave and derricked another trout out of the water.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 6, 1939

“Oh boy,” cried Jimmie Frise, gripping the steering wheel, “it looks like fish to me.”

“Slow down, slow down,” I pleaded. “Let’s look over the lay of the land as we go by.”

“Look at that open stretch,” breathed Jim. “Look at the log jams in the bends.”

As we bumped slowly along the countryside road, to our left spread out semi-wild meadows in which meandered a trout stream amidst cedar thickets, willow clumps and alder.

“To think,” exclaimed Jim. “that this stream has been here, less than 80 miles from Toronto, all these years and we never even heard of it.”

“Until Bill tipped us off,” I pointed out. “We must give Bill credit. He knows where the trout streams are.”

“I don’t see anybody else fishing it,” remarked Jim.

“Bill said that was the beauty of it.” I reminded him. “Hardly anybody knows about it.”

“The farm house,” said Jim, “ought to be just past this next bit of bush.”

So in expectant silence we joggled and thudded over the narrow rutted road until we came in sight of the farm house which Bill had foretold us, and where we would find the elderly couple who owned this farm and this stream and from whom, for the payment of one dollar each, we could obtain the privilege of fishing all day in as fine a stretch of trout stream as there is in Ontario.

The house had that white tidy look that farm houses have which are inhabited by elderly people whose children have all grown up and moved away, leaving the old folks to do all the pleasant things they have wanted to do all their lives. The fences repaired, the door yard tidy and trim, flower boxes on the window sills, ready for the petunias of June and an old stiff dog waddling off the side porch to bark huskily and rather foolishly at our approach. No wreckage about the place, such as young people leave; no chores left undone by young men wanting to go to town; none of the barrenness that comes to farm houses because of all the cares and all the jobs that call, indoors, outdoors, from the lowing barn and from the far acres.

“Jim,” I said, “I like the look of this place.”

And Jim steered in the short lane and drew up alongside the pump.

On the side porch were two old rocking chairs. From the glass in the door a woman’s face looked out in that curious fashion in which country people await your knock.

Jim and I got out in all our fishing togs, and advanced under the shrewd gaze of what appeared to be a motherly old lady with spectacles set half-way down her nose. And she was hurriedly tidying her hair.

She even let us rap on the door, and waited a decent interval before she opened; though she must have been standing three feet from it.

“Good-day, gentlemen,” said she. And we both fell in love with her, because of the way she looked over the top of her spectacles at us.

“Ma’am,” said Jimmie. “a friend of ours sent us here to ask if we might have the privilege of the day’s fishing on your trout stream.”

“Aw,” said the lady, whose name presently appeared to be Mrs. Bushy. but which we changed for her before the night had fallen, “Aw, now, boys. I hate to see you waste your time on our bit of water. In the olden days, we used to get great fishing here. But you know. Time and tide. Time and tide.”

“Oh, don’t you worry,” cried Jim. “from what we’ve heard, we’ll be satisfied. The charge, I understand, is a dollar?”

“My husband,” said Mrs. Bushy, “makes a rule to charge visitors a dollar each. It’s just to keep people off really. You’ll never get a dollar’s worth of trout out of that stream.”

“We’re only too glad to pay it,” I cut in, wanting the dear old lady to look at me over her spectacles, too.

“Boys,” said Mrs. Bushy, “my husband insists on a dollar, because if we let everybody on the stream, there are always some who leave gates open and break down fences and build bonfires and leave trash around. But I take it you come from Toronto?”

We admitted it, warily.

Two Nice Boys

“Then,” said Mrs. Bushy. “Why not go another 20 or 30 miles farther up, where there is some trout fishing? I just hate to take a dollar from two such nice boys. All the way from Toronto, why its nearly 80 miles. And for another 20 miles or so, you could really get some fishing.”

“Ma’am,” said Jim, “we’d have to go a lot farther than 20 miles to get good trout fishing. It just so happens, a friend told us about the sport he had here on your farm last year. Your farm is out of the way. It is off the beaten path. Sportsmen pass it by, in the lure of more distant pastures.”

“Boys,” interrupted Mrs. Bushy, “take my advice. Don’t waste your dollars.”

“The greatest fishing in the world,” I insisted, “is in the stream that is generally supposed to be fished out. The minute a trout stream gets the reputation of being fished out, the trout get a chance to grow in it.”

“Listen, boys,” said Mrs. Bushy. “I’ve lived here all my life. My father before me. We’ve fished that there stream for over 70 years. For the first few years, while we were clearing this land, that trout stream helped feed us.”

“It looks lovely,” I said.

“It is lovely,” said Mrs. Bushy. “Sit down, boys.”

And she indicated the two rockers, but Jim and I made her sit down in one and I took the other and Jim sat on the step.

“It does look lovely,” said Mrs. Bushy, “but of course there are no fish in it. Not many, anyway. Not worth a dollar.”

“We’d like to spend the day on it, nevertheless,” insisted Jimmie.

“When I was a little girl,” said Mrs. Bushy, “my father used to go out and catch a wash-boiler full of trout between here and that hill with the five elms on it. A wash boiler – full.”

“What would you do with them?” I asked cautiously

“We would have great feasts of them, breakfast, dinner and supper,” said Mrs. Bushy, with a faraway look over her spectacles. “We would send them to old people of the neighborhood, and sick people. And the minister. My father was given to fits and starts. He would fish all day from sunrise to sunset, and then never fish another worm for a year.”

“You like fishing?” asked Jim.

“In fits and starts,” said Mrs. Bushy. “I haven’t fished for years.”

“Have you ever made any great catches in your creek?” I inquired. “Any big fish?”

“I never could catch a wash-boiler full,” admitted Mrs. Bushy. “I’ve tried, but a couple of pails full is all I can remember. And never any big ones. My brother, when he was a boy, caught a fish of five pounds in that stream. At the log jam about half way to that hill, there, with the five elms.”

“Ma’am,” said Jim, and we both rose to our feet, “despite what you say, we’d like to fish your creek.”

“Aw, boys,” said Mrs. Bushy.

“You see,” explained Jim. “it isn’t trout a real fisherman is after. It’s the fishing. The day in the open. On the stream. The expectation. The quiet. The peace and mystery. The hope.”

“Hope is all you’ll get,” laughed Mrs. Bushy. Over the top of her spectacles very twinkley. “I do wish you boys would go where there is trout.”

“If you don’t want us on the …” I submitted.

“No, no,” cried the dear old lady leaping up. “My husband is away, but will be home before the day’s out, so I’ll simply have to abide by his rule. But I hate to take the dollar…”

But Jim and I had the dollar out of our pockets and handed them into her grudging soft hand, and she hid them behind her without looking at them as if they were shameful.

“Come back,” she said, “at noon, for lunch.”

“Please,” said Jim, “it is only two hours to noon, we’ll just be getting started. And besides we have sandwiches….”

“Aw, you fishermen,” said Mrs. Bushy.

“Well see you on our way out,” said Jim genially, “with a wash-boiler full of trout.”

“Stay for supper,” said Mrs. Bushy, taking her hand from behind her, and revealing the crumpled and shameful dollars.

“No, no,” we both cried. “We’ll be late coming off the stream….”

“You’ll be glad to quit before sundown,” assured Mrs. Bushy, firmly. “I’ll have something on the table for you here, whenever you come back.”

Boxes of Knick-knacks

So she stood and watched us unpack our gear, the rod cases, the fishing bags full of fly boxes and knick-knacks and shook her head when we pulled on our waders and set our rods up, and over the top of her spectacles looked taken aback at so much preparation for so little in store.

“My dear boys,” she said, when we were ready to haste down to the stream, “this is all so silly. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Wait until we come back,” we predicted confidently.

And down the lane and out over a lumpy meadow we strode as hard as we could and came to the stream. A hurrying, gurgling, brim full and crystal clear stream it was, rising out of some miracle of springs back in the stony hills. A stream where trout should be, time nor tide. A stream it would be a pleasure to fish, if only in memory of the trout that once must have inhabited it.

“You fish up,” said Jim, “and I’ll fish down, and then we’ll return and pass each other. Here’s your sandwiches. I’ll take mine. We won’t waste time in meeting for lunch.”

“Okay,” I agreed, already whisking my line out, and bowing low, laid the first fly on a particularly coiling bit of current, where a trout of 11 inches should be lurking.

With that fresh eagerness which, like the first plunge into water for a swimmer, is the best part of all, I fished up the stream, slowly, patiently; casting a hundred times over each likely pool and letting my flies dance down every ripple and swim past all logs and embedded stumps along the margins. But not a rise did I get not a single flash or wink under water of a bright slashing form of a trout. If there were trout in this stream, they were sulky indeed.

Slow Disillusionment

Almost half a mile of wandering stream did I follow, in all devotion and unfailing expectation, until I came to the fence that marked the end of the farm. In trout fishermen, disillusion is slow in coming. In no other sport does hope die so hard. But when it dies, it is apoplectic. It dies with a dunt. And when I reached the boundary fence, disillusion fell on me like a weight, and I climbed out and sat on the stream’s bank to smoke. And a brown thrasher, sensing my trouble, came and sang on a dead tree his song, repenting each warble and each sardonic chuckle once, as if to gloat on it; and I fell asleep a little, and woke and began fishing down stream. But in all the smooth pools and up against all the tangled and mysterious log jams, and in all the coiling currents. I raised nary a fish. In time I passed the farmhouse and entered on the stretch Jim had fished, and found cress beds and sat down and had my sandwiches with fresh cress for a salad to them. And fished on far down to where, with afternoon now well gone, I found Jim sitting at the foot of a tree looking very dejected.

“Well.” I said, climbing out to join him.

“How many?” said he dully.

“I haven’t even seen a fish,” I said. “Mrs. Bushy was an honest woman. When will ever learn to recognize truth when in stands shining before us?”

“I got two,” said Jim, turning out his basket where, in a mat of mushy grass, two measly little seven-inch trout lay stiff and stark.

“Well, thank goodness,” I said, “At least there are a few ghosts of trout left.”

And we sat so for an hour, smoking and comparing the flies we had used, Jim getting his two on a small black hackle; and I confessing to have tied on nine different patterns of fly in my effort to interest the fish.

“We may as well push off,” said Jim. “A day like this is not badly spent, though. I had a swell day’s practice.”

“In fact,” I agreed, “when you have to cast so hard for fish that won’t rise, you get a lot better practice than when the fish are rising.”

We hoisted our bags and rods and walked slowly along the banks, through the thickets and followed the stream, stopping to admire the finest lays and marvelling that such water held no trout.

As we came near the clearing that led out of the meadows to the farm, we heard a sound, and stopped to peer through the brush. Ahead of us someone was fishing.

We tiptoed. And in an open space, at the foot of a bank, stood Mrs. Bushy, armed with a pole cut from a birch sapling, dunking a great gob of worms which she threw with a splash into the open pool. She was standing out in full view on a log, and her white apron made a sign and a signal to all the trout in Christendom not to come near.

“The dear old soul,” I murmured to Jim as we stood watching with amusement the spectacle. “Imagine her trying to catch trout in that white apron flapping in the wind, and her standing out in full view on that log.”

“Never mind, she’s having fun,” said Jim.

And at that instant Mrs. Bushy leaned forward, allowed her line to sink deeper, with a look of great intensity on her, and then, with a wild heave, she hoisted the pole and flung high over her head and onto the sod far behind her a speckled trout of over one pound in weight.

“My gosh!” gasped Jim.

So we broke into a trot and burst out of the bushes, to startle Mrs. Bushy, who was bent over trying to pick up the flapping trout thus unceremoniously bashed on to dry land.

“Great! great!” we cried to her, dancing around.

And then we saw the basket. An ordinary fruit basket, in which lay, bright in death, nine beautiful trout, from a foot to 16 inches in length. The basket being almost full.

“Boys,” said Mrs. Bushy. “I just thought in case you didn’t have a catch, I would pick up a few for you.”

And she returned to the log, stepped out in full view, white apron and all, waved the pole terribly around, heaved the fat gob of worms with a terrific splash into the open pool, allowed it to drift down under the log jam and then, as I stooped reverently to touch the fish in the basket, gave another wild heave and derricked another pound and a half trout over her head, almost braining Jim with it as it hurtled through the air.

“There you are, boys,” sighed Mrs. Bushy happily. “Ten. That will be five each. Enough for a snack when you get home.”

And Jim and I went furiously to work, thinking the rise had begun; and we fished and we fished, with Mrs. Bushy following us and begging us to use her pole and worms until dusk came and not a fish did we get, and then we walked all three up to the house.

Mr. Bushy was home and had the dinner on. And we had one trout each, fried in butter; followed by cold roast beef and pickles and cabbage and old boiled potatoes, and plum pie and cheese and strong tea.

And we stayed until 10.30 o’clock, telling Mr. and Mrs. Bushy all about Izaak Walton and how he advocated all forms of fishing scorning none; and we gave Mrs. Bushy the new name of Mrs. Walton, Mrs. I. Walton and then we drove out the side road and home, with three fine speckled trout each in our baskets, not counting Jim’s two measlies.


Editor’s Notes: Izaak Walton wrote the The Compleat Angler in 1653, and is considered a classic amongst fishing enthusiasts.

A wash-boiler is a large galvanized metal (or copper) tub with a lid that would be used for laundry.

This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977) and the illustration was featured on the cover.

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.

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