The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1939 Page 1 of 3

Life is Peril

“Urk!” I said half rising. Jim rose and ran around to hit me a terrific thump on the back.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 18, 1939.

“World peace be jiggered,” declared Jimmie Frise. “What I’m interested in is a little personal peace.”

“If we had peace amongst the nations,” I pointed out, “there would be little to worry us.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” retorted Jim. “This world uneasiness isn’t at the top. It starts at the bottom. Men are uneasy. Men have made their lives uneasy, troubled, anxious, restless. There is no peace in the home, in the shop, factory or office. There is. no peace in daily life for any man, woman or child anywhere. And naturally, there being no peace in the nation, there can be no peace among nations.”

“Professor Frise,” I jeered.

“Okay,” said Jimmie. “Suppose absolute and perfect peace were declared amongst the nations, would that make us peaceful? Would it stop the telephone ringing? Would it decide who is going to use my car – me or my children? Would it mean I wouldn’t have to get up at 7.45 a.m.?”

“Those are trifles,” I protested.

“Trifles?” cried Jim. “If we had world peace would that mean I didn’t have to do a cartoon every week, rain or shine, winter or summer?”

“Ah, you’ll get that kind of peace soon enough,” I pointed out.

“It makes me sick,” declared Jim, “to read and listen day and night to this talk about peace amongst nations when every day we are bending every human effort to making our lives less peaceful. Inventing new and faster and more furious ways of doing everything we have to do. Inventing new ways of disturbing the home. Inventing new interests to eat up every spare hour of our lives. Like cars and radio and movies.”

“Why don’t you retire to the country,” I suggested, “and buy a buggy?”

“We buy a car,” ignored Jim. “In about a year, the same make of car we’ve got is brought out far snappier looking, far more powerful, far faster. Every time we go out in the streets, we are made uneasy and restless because newer and faster cars whip past us and around us, making us conscious of our old bus, waking in us the restless thought that pretty soon we’ll have to buy a new one.”

“It would be the same,” I explained, “if you owned a horse and buggy. Somebody would pass you on the road and you’d be trading your horse by nightfall.”

“The first radio I had,” said Jim, “was a crystal set1 with earphones. It was perfectly good. If I had it now, I would be hearing the programs just as good as I do now.”

“Oh, hardly,” I protested.

“I mean, as far as actually hearing the programs,” said Jim, “I would get them all. And what’s more, with the earphones on, I couldn’t hear all the distractions you have to put up with now, people talking and interrupting and doorbells ringing and everything. I loved that old crystal set. When you put the earphones on, you were shut up with the program as though you were in a little cell.”

“You can still buy those old-fashioned sets,” I pointed out.

No Peace For Anybody

“But no,” continued Jim. “We have to buy new models every couple of years. Bigger, louder, farther reaching, so that you seem actually to have orchestras in your house, and Mr. Chamberlain2 comes from England to speak to you in your living room.”

“I’d hate to have to give up my radio,” I assured him.

“Movies,” went on Jim. “Every so often. I say to myself, after a night at the movies, ‘well, I’ve seen all the movies I ever need to see. I’ve seen them all.’ Then along comes talkies. Then technicolor3. Then ‘Snow White’4. Then some super-mammoth feature picture that seems to make everybody goggle-eyed and breathless, and you are prodded into going again. So it goes. peace. No rest. Always change. Always something new and startling to keep you on the go.”

“That’s life, Jim,” I insisted.

“But don’t you see,” cried Jim, “there is no peace? No matter how poor and humble we are, there is always something new, demanding that we labor and struggle to make the money and find the time to partake of it. If we don’t, we feel we are neglecting ourselves, we feel out of it, we feel injured, we are uneasy, disappointed, restless.”

“The spur of life,” I assured.

“Then how can nations, made up of people like that, restless, ambitious, greedy, struggling,” demanded Jim, “ever be at peace with one another?”

“Do you mean,” I exclaimed, “that we should stop trying for world peace?”

“I mean,” stated Jim hotly, “if you want peace among nations, you’ve first got to make men’s lives more peaceful.”

“But you can’t stop the vast struggle of progress,” I explained. “It is a march. A mighty onward thrusting of human energy.”

“Okay, then,” said Jim. “You can’t have world peace. My desire and determination to own a new car, multiplied by millions, becomes the desire and determination of nations. Remove my desire for a new car, and you can have world peace. Make me impervious to the appeal of the latest and most colossal mammoth movie production, and you can have world peace. Cut out my passion for super radio programs or feature news broadcasts from Rome or London, make me indifferent to all these things, and you can then expect world peace.”

“Jim,” I protested, “your life is happier and easier and more interesting than the life of any of your ancestors, from your father and grandfather back through thousands of years. You are right now the flower, the bloom, of countless struggling ages of human progress.”

“Some bloom,” muttered Jim. “The jitter-flower. A new hardy annual, beautiful in herbaceous borders. Plant in soft warm soil.”

“Think,” I impressed, “think where your ancestors walked, you ride. Your grandfather had to walk 10 miles with a bag of flour on his back through the pioneer forest road. You roll over and reach for the telephone.”

“What would I want with a bag of flour?” scoffed Jim.

“No,” I said, “where your grandfather walked 10 miles with a bag of flour, through mosquito-infested forest trails to his little cabin, you telephone for a caramel custard pie.”

Uneasiness of Progress

“Don’t try to compare my life,” challenged Jim, “with my grandfather’s. He had peace and little else. I have everything, but no peace. He had to clear the land, but all around him was peace. This land was his. Hour by hour, day by day. season by season, he worked with patience and peace, knowing that what he planted he would reap, that all things in his life were measured, evenly and honestly in relation to his work. The better he worked, the more he earned. Above all things in his life, he treasured peace. Peace of mind, peace of heart and peace of body. He worked when he liked and quit when he liked, knowing just when to quit, peace being the price. He was not anxious. He knew how many mouths he had to feed, how many bodies to clothe, and in the spring he knew just how hard he had to work to win the peaceful heart before winter came again.”

“You can do that now,” I pointed out.

“Unless,” accused Jim, “the company you work for folds up because some other company comes along with a newer and better product. Or unless a depression sets in, and they shorten the payroll. Or unless any of the other desperate circumstances of modern life cuts you off without a day’s notice.”

“We may have had to sacrifice a little peace,” I confessed, “but we have gained countless wonders and joys.”

“Okay, then,” said Jim, “stop hollering for peace.”

“Who’s hollering for peace?” I demanded.

“The whole world,” said Jim.

“It’s you that is hollering for peace,” I informed him. “You started this, groaning and moaning for a little personal peace.”

“They say history repeats itself,” mollified Jim. “Maybe all the great civilizations of the past went through what we are going through. Maybe Egypt and Babylon and Greece and Rome went through all this sacrifice of peace to the uneasiness of progress. I often wondered why they always went smash, in the end. I often wondered why one of those great civilizations didn’t survive until today. Why didn’t the Roman Empire survive until now? It had everything: laws, science, culture, civilization. In fact, they handed us our civilization almost intact. Our roads, architecture, plumbing, laws, philosophy. We haven’t added much to what Rome gave us. But Rome went smash. Do you know why?”

“Because some greater power rose against it,” I suggested.

“Never,” said Jim. “A lot of heathens with lice in their hair, a lot of swarming uncivilized hillbillies, who plunged the world into centuries of uncivilized darkness, destroyed the Roman Empire. And I’ll tell you why. Because the Roman Empire wanted to be destroyed. It was too much trouble. There was no peace. The Roman Empire was sick unto death of itself. It wanted peace. It wanted to sag back on to the pleasant earth, amid vines and orchards and fields. It wasn’t overthrown at all. It threw itself away.”

“A lot you know about history,” I scoffed.

“History is in the hearts of men,” said Jim, “not in books. We used to look upon the Italians as a secondary race. We used to look down upon them, as they dwelt in their peasant villages on hillsides, with their wine and olives, and their music and simplicity, and their dwelling in ancient ruined towns; we felt sorry for them. We shouldn’t have felt sorry for them. They were happy. They had won peace. And now the poor devils are caught up again in the fury of progress. I wonder how many centuries it will be before they recapture peace again?”

“Let’s Eat a Symbolic Meal”

“You’re homesick,” I accused. “Homesick for the farm of your boyhood. It’s the approach of spring.”

“Thank goodness,” sighed Jim, “it is lunch time. Thank goodness, a few simple joys remain, like eating and sleeping. Despite everything civilization can do, it can’t civilize a boiled potato.”

“Or a baked one,” I submitted,

“Boiled or baked,” said Jim, “a potato is a peaceful, a beautiful and eternal thing. And a simple slice of rare beef.”

“Or,” I suggested, “a nice bit of broiled fish. Lake trout, for example. A piece near the tail end, where there are no bones.”

“Eating and sleeping,” gloated Jim, “they are the peaceful things that can’t be tampered with. All other aspects of life have been changed, altered, improved. They do their best to doo-dad up our food; but we come back, even in great cities, to simple foods, the eternal verities like steak and onions, corn beef and cabbage, bread, ham and eggs. Aaaaaah.”

“And sleep,” I agreed. “They invent marvellous mattresses, light and wonderful bedclothes. Air-conditioned bedrooms. But the minute I close my eyes, I am gloriously and insolently unaware of all progress.”

“I’m famished,” said Jim, getting, up and reaching for his coat.

“Let’s,” I suggested, “let’s eat a symbolic meal. An old-fashioned meal in honor of our forefathers who had peace.”

“Pork and beans,” offered Jim.

“Pawff,” I scoffed, “too modern. Let’s go away back. To primitive man. The most peaceful of all.”

“Ham and eggs,” said Jim.

“Invented by the Greeks,” I rejected.

“Beef.” said Jim.

“Ages before man had become civilized enough to be able to kill a cow,” I demurred, “he could catch fish. With nets woven of bark and roots, men caught fish. Let’s eat fish.”

“Why not go right back,” protested Jim, “and eats meal of nuts, green lettuce and radishes, to symbolize the herbs and roots he subsisted on.”

“I’d still go for a bit of fish,” I urged. “A nice bit of lake trout preferred, broiled. The tail end.”

“With boiled potatoes, well soaked in melted butter,” added Jim.

“They didn’t have potatoes until quite recently,” I pointed out. “Queen Elizabeth’s time, to be exact. But the potato can symbolize the roots our ancestors dug out of the earth.”

“What the dickens did they eat, away back before civilization?” demanded Jim, as we went out to the elevator.

“Heaven knows,” I admitted. “I’ve often wondered. I guess life was a pretty dreadful business, away back before men discovered what things to grow and how to grow them. Nuts and roots, and such little animals like frogs and things that were easily caught. I wonder who first thought of saving up nuts and roots to tide him over the winter? I wonder how they got through the winters?”

Living Dangerously

“I guess there wasn’t much peace to life in those far-off times,” confessed Jimmie.

“Probably there never was much peace at any time,” I concluded.

And we went down into the basement to the rich and odorous mood of the restaurant where we sidled, along the counter, picking our food with historic eyes. I took whole wheat bread in honor of my ancestors of about the time of Richard Coeur de Lion, and some radishes and lettuce in honor of those of my ancestors that escaped the Ice Age. And a lovely bit of grilled lake trout; the tail being gone, I had to take a cut from the middle. And a boiled potato, well slathered with melted butter, in honor of such of my ancestors as were around Omagh, in Tyrone county, the time Sir Walter Raleigh let loose that famous fungus, the potato, upon Ireland. And so we struggled for a table, shoving and shouldering our fellow moderns aside in the battle; getting, in fact, a nice little table to ourselves, with a pleasant profile view of several young lady stenographers very chatty and gay over their heaped platters of mulligan5 or sizzling steaks, despite the fact that there is no peace in the world. Pretty stenographers at a pleasant distance are like a dash of spice to a good luncheon.

Jim took fish also, and we set to, bending to savor the curious and attractive odor of sharply seared lake trout.

“Mmmmmmm,” said Jim. tucking a nice solid hunk of potato in back of a crumbling forkful of grilled trout.

“Here’s to my hairy ancestors,” I saluted, raising a forkload of trout. “To the first of them that ever caught a fish.”

I slid the tasty gobbet over my waiting teeth.

“Drat,” I said.

“Bone?” mumbled Jim, solicitous.

“Mmmmm,” I agreed, cautiously feeling about with my tongue and teeth for the bone. I got it. I delicately and as surreptitiously as possible removed the bone and then spent the usual helpless moment trying to detach it from my finger and make it lie down on the plate. I swallowed.

“Urk,” I said. “Hawwwwch. Kchah. Hyaaawch.”

My eyes began to bulge. I half rose, signalling frantically to Jim. Jim rose and ran around to hit me a terrific thump on the back.

The manager and three waitresses came running. All the pretty stenographers rushed to our aid. Jim kept thumping and I kept dying a violent death. My eardrums rang. My blood pressure rose to the bursting point. I could no longer see out of my bulging eyeballs.

Jim bent me back and opened my mouth. One of the stenographers, peering deep within, reached down with her long, scarlet, pointed fingernails and captured the fish bone.

“Hah.” she triumphed, holding the little bone aloft for all to see.

And in a few moments, except for charitable smiles from all sides, and the manager hovering tenderly near in case of further difficulties, we finished our luncheon.

“Life,” explained Jimmie, “is always perilous.”

“I can’t understand,” I agreed, “how the human race has survived till now.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. crystal radio receiver, also called a crystal set, is a simple radio receiver, popular in the early days of radio. It uses only the power of the received radio signal to produce sound, needing no external power. ↩︎
  2. Neville Chamberlain was British Prime Minister at the time. ↩︎
  3. Technicolor is a series of advances in colour film that was evolving at the time. ↩︎
  4. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released 2 years earlier. ↩︎
  5. Mulligan Stew is a term used for a stew made of whatever ingredients are around, as referred to by hobos. ↩︎


The young woman slid over our way. “Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 28, 1939.

“How’d you like to go,” asked Jimmie Frise, “on one of these ski excursions they’re running?1

“Heh, heh, heh,” I replied.

“They’re no end of fun,” declared Jim. “Whole trainloads of merry skiers, heading for the snow.”

“If the snow won’t come to the skiers,” I said, “the skiers go to the snow.”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “They are running ski trains out from Boston, New York, Chicago, all over the country. When there are thousands of city-penned people just dying to romp in the snow; and hills full of snow only 50 miles away, what’s the answer?”

“Read a book,” I replied. “Light the grate fire, pull up a deep chair and snuggle down to a good book.”

“Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been your answer,” sneered Jim.

“Oh, yes, it would,” I retorted. “Ten years ago, I preferred a deep chair to a snowbank even more than I do now. I have always maintained that winter was the season of hibernation. Nature does not intend us to go out romping in the snow. Why does she put the bear to sleep in his den, all winter; and the groundhog and all the rest of them? Why does she pack off all the birds to the south? Because the winter is fit for neither man nor beast. Because winter is no time for anybody or anything to be out. And we should take a tip from nature and stay in our dens as much as possible during the winter.”

“It’s just your age,” said Jim. “If a bear had heavy woollen underwear and a leather coat and fur-lined boots, he wouldn’t den up for the winter.”

“Physical comfort is the first law of happiness,” I decreed. “A man can have all other troubles, but if he is physically comfortable, dry, warm and at ease, he can withstand poverty, grief, fear, everything. What makes poverty unbearable is that it is so uncomfortable.”

“If you were younger,” prodded Jim, “you wouldn’t be so stuck on comfort. Young people get an actual thrill out of discomfort.”

“They can have it,” I assured him.

“One of the lovely things about youth,” went on Jim, “is that it has the stamina and resistance to deliberately submit itself to discomfort, in order to enjoy comfort all the more. They go out and ski in the cold and bitter weather, under a bleak sun, knowing that presently, after so many hours, they will be going back to a nice warm fireside. And oh, how much lovelier a fireside is, when it is contrasted with exposure and chilblains2.”

“I admit that,” I admitted.

“You take an aging and lazy person like yourself,” said Jim, “who never sticks his nose out of doors in winter unless he has to: think of how little real enjoyment he must get out of a fine log fire.”

“What do you mean,” I asked, “by aging and lazy? Whom are you referring to?”

“You,” said Jim.

Glands Must Be Applauded

“Jim,” I informed him, “I resent that. I am not aging. I am younger than you. I am in the very prime of my life.”

“You are in,” said Jim, “what are called the middle 40’s. That means you’re past 45,”

“At that age,” I declared, “a man is just ripe. Just seasoned. Just perfect.”

“Unless, of course,” submitted Jim, “he folds up and quits. Unless he abandons all forms of action in favor of comfort and rest.”

“No man is more active than I am in the spring, summer and fall,” I advised. “Fishing and shooting. But winter just doesn’t appeal to me.”

“It’s the thin end of the wedge,” said Jim. “It’s the beginning of the end. You surrender to comfort and inaction in winter a couple of years more, and then you’ll reach the stage where you put off the trout fishing until the end of May, rather than the wet and cold beginning of May. Then you’ll find it a little easier to sit on the cottage veranda during the hot weather than get out and row a boat…”

Jim could tell by my expression that he was hitting pretty close to the mark. As a matter of fact, I have been postponing the trout season a couple of weeks, and I did sit on the cottage veranda quite a bit last summer. In fact, I lay on a couch on the veranda. In short, I slept a good many afternoons…

“It’s insidious,” explained Jim. “There is no year of a man’s life at which you can say he is starting to grow old. There is no dividing line. You see lots of men who are old at 30. They’ve given in. They have surrendered to a routine of life that gives them the maximum of comfort. Poor, solemn, habited men, who go through life according to a dreadful routine. The streets are full of them, solemn young men, old at 30. But thank heavens you see other men who are not old at 70, who take life on the wing, who never submit to routine, who find zest and pleasure in every hour of every day, who never go to bed at the same hour, never do the same things twice, are full of zip and ginger and answer every beckoning call of life.”

“It’s their glands,” I suggested. “Healthy glands.”

“Glands have to be encouraged,” cried Jim. “But if you just ignore a gland, if you act as if it wasn’t there, what would you do if you were a gland? Why, you’d go to sleep too. You’d relax and pretty soon you would be dormant. Glands have to be encouraged and applauded. You have to take them for a ride every now and then. You have to go out in the cold and snow and test your glands, see how they can support you, for it isn’t your lungs and heart alone that keep you going under strain, but all the little glands strung through your system like the lights on a Christmas tree, the pituitary, the endocrines, they are the little batteries and generators distributed all through your system, and they are the power plant of all your energy.”

“I’ve tested mine,” I submitted. “They’re working. But they don’t crave to be chilled and exhausted.”

“No gland,” stated Jim, “gets any satisfaction out of lying dormant. The only thing at gland can do is work. One of these winters, my boy, you are going to hug a warm hearthstone once too often, and your glands are going to sleep and you won’t be able to wake them. up. When spring comes, they’ll be drowsy. That will be the end.”

Life Is Like Fire

“Drowsy, eh?” I muttered, remembering last summer on the cottage veranda.

“Life is like fire,” concluded Jim. “You’ve got to keep it stoked.”

“What is this excursion you were talking about?” I inquired.

“There is one every week-end,” said Jim, eagerly. “The train runs wherever the snow is. Sometimes the ski train goes up Owen Sound way or over the Caledon hills. Another time, it may go out Peterboro way. All you do is buy your ticket for the ski train, which leaves at 8 a.m. and you get aboard, and go where it goes. It has diners on it, for those who don’t carry their lunches. It waits on a siding all day, amidst the snow, and at dark. it leaves for home again, after suitable tootings of the whistle to warn all the passengers of the time.”

“My, that sounds good,” I agreed. “Have they a parlor car on too, in case a fellow gets tired of skiing and just wants to sit in a parlor car seat and read a book or look out the window?”

“I suppose that could be arranged,” said Jim.

But it was not arranged. For when, in the bitter week-end morning we arrived at the station and got aboard the ski train along with a hastening throng of other gaily clad ski-bearers, there was no parlor car, nor was there any diner. There were just half a dozen hissing and steaming day coaches of the plainest and most old-fashioned degree, best suited to carrying a crowd of noisy and joyous people, with their skis, poles, haversacks, massive boots, fogging cigarettes and an overwhelming air of hilarity.

Everybody handed up their skis and poles to the baggage car boys as they passed along the platform. Everybody swarmed into the steaming coaches, fighting past other skiers who were trying to keep places for belated friends, for whom they peered and watched. from the car doors.

There were very few young people and no elderly people. The entire passenger list seemed to consist of people at that age which is most oppressive both to the young and the elderly – 28 to 35. People of this age are curiously depressing. They have the energy of youth plus the wisdom and authority of years. They are doubly fortified. They are noisy, because they are young. But you can’t frown them down, because they are mature. Unlike 20-year-olds, they have no respect whatever for gentlemen in their middle 40’s. In fact, I think the great majority of skiers are 31 years old.

At the second to last coach in the train, Jim and I managed to slip on board past a crowd of place-guarders, by the simple pretext of joining on to the tail of a throng of five for whom the door was being held. Other place-keepers were all ready to jump into position and crowd the door, but we laughed and pretended to be part of the successful crowd and so got inside the coach and by a little finagling, got a seat together. The young fellow who had the double seat turned back, with his feet on it, succumbed to my stony stare and question. “Is this seat taken?”

He was only about 25. So very grudgingly, he gave up the spare seat, hoisted all his haversacks to another place, and Jim and I turned the back over and disposed ourselves very happily in the hot and smoke-filled coach.

Joyous Trainload

It was, after all, a joyous trainload. Their colored scarves and jackets, their sturdy air, their heavy boots giving them a sort of massive and hearty quality. They made a din. In groups and couples, men and women, they shouted greetings and laughed uproariously, as 30-year-olds laugh. In belated squads, they came and pushed and shoved through the coaches, looking for seats. And by the time the train, with a reluctant grunt, got under way, I was glad I had come.

The day was gray and wintry, with promise of a blizzard, and in no time the windows we so steamed and frosted you could not see out. So we just sat and observed the motley throng catching eyes and pleasant glances every now and then, with people strange and interesting and sometimes beautiful. The ski train giddley-bumped out into the country, northerly taking the Owen Sound line for luck, because they said there were big snow hills north of the Caledon mountains.

“Normally,” I said to Jim, “people of this age do not appeal to me. I avoid them. But they seem a very hearty crowd, after all.”

“What age do you mean?” inquired Jim.

“Thirty-one,” I explained. “They’re all 31.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim, staring round at them.

And after a long time, with several wheezing stops on sidings to let freight trains crawl by, we arrived at a siding in the hills where the train stopped with several merry hoots its whistle, and everybody piled out.

The train did not wait, however, on the siding, but after discharging a great stack of skis, went on its way, the brakeman telling us that it would be back for us at 6 p.m.

In no time at all, the pile of skis was demolished and skiers with their haversacks and poles were threading away in all directions over the fields, up and down a country road that crossed near by, while others proceeded to make little bonfires to prepare tea for lunch, because it was only an hour until noon. Jim and I elected to have a fire out of deference to my devotion to the beautiful element, not to mention our mutual devotion to a pail of good boiled tea. We had cheese and onion sandwiches and leberwurst3 sandwiches, some cold fried bacon and some cakes. And under a gray and muttering sky, we lunched and chose for our direction the way that fewest people had taken. Because Jim and I are what you might call chatty skiers. We just like to slither about.

A Hard Pail of Tea

We slithered across a field to a dark wood. Around the end of the dark wood, we saw a vista of rolling fields and lonely farm houses, and all the fences drifted deep. In no time at all, we had slithered a mile or two, until the dark wood was far behind us, and other dark woods beckoned us on. We rounded a couple of them, and swung northerly to where numerous dark moving dots on the horizon proclaimed some sort of rallying point. And after another pleasant hour of slithering and stopping to observe the view until our perspiration would begin to congeal into ice, we came to the rallying point, which was a long tricky hill, with humps on it, down which 30 or 40 skiers were trying their skill sliding between ski poles set up as markers.

Women and men both were furiously toiling up this hill and abandonedly hissing down it, swerving and swooping amidst the sticks. We joined the watchers at the top, but this was an aspect of skiing neither Jimmie nor I go in for. We haven’t got much swerve in us, to be exact. Up the hill, toiling and flushed and handsome, they came, and after a quick breather, down they would go, like children. Little fires burned. Tea pails bubbled. We decided to light a little fire of our own, for warmth, because just standing watching is cold skiing.

One particularly pretty young woman whom we had observed go down the hill twice with special grace and who now arrived at the top for another go, got her eye on us. She bared lovely advertisement-style teeth at us. She even waved a mitted hand.

“Do we know her, Jim?” I inquired eagerly.

“I don’t recall her,” said Jim.

She slid over our way.

“Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

“No,” I answered, “we’re just going to light a little fire. We’ve taken a long tour around, so we’re going to rest for a while.”

“Would you mind,” asked the beautiful young woman, she would be about 28, maybe, “putting our tea pail or your fire?”

“Not in the least,” I cried.

“Hurray,” cried the young woman, gliding smartly over to a group of men and women on the crest; “get the sack, Ted, and get our tea pail out. Grandpappy is going to boil our tea pail for us.”

So we boiled their tea pail for them, which was one of the hardest pails of tea I ever boiled in my life, and we gave it to them and they sat at another fire and then we skied back across the rolling fields to the dark wood and around it and so back to the siding where we built another and a bigger fire and sat by it, thinking, until the welcome train came in the darkness and we were two of the first aboard.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Ski or Snow trains were common in the 1930s as a Depression era way of boosting train travel. ↩︎
  2. Chilblains is a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It’s caused by exposure to damp air that’s cold but not freezing. ↩︎
  3. Leberwurst is another name for liverwurst. ↩︎

War Nerves

Without warning a terrific loud bang exploded right behind our heels…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 14, 1939.

“This war,” said Jimmie Frise, “is still the Great War. Don’t forget it was just an armistice we signed, 21 years ago.”

“I suppose,” I admitted, “that a hundred years from now, historians will really look upon this whole period, from 1914 to goodness knows when, as one long conflict.”

“We signed the armistice,” said Jim, “so as to allow us all to grow a fresh crop of men. Twenty-one years are up. The new crop of men is ready.”

“In some respects,” I stated, “they are a better crop than we were. And in other respects, they’re not as good a crop as we were.”

“In all respects,” declared Jim firmly, “the young men of today are a better crop than we were. My dear sir, don’t you realize that this generation today is a war-born, war-prepared, war-conscious generation?”

“Not one in 10,000 of them has played soldier in the militia, these past few years,” I protested.

“You’ve got it wrong,” insisted Jimmie. “Our boyhood was passed in the golden glow of the dying Victorian age. We played Indian or cowboy, for a little romantic release. But our true interests, even as little kids, were saturated with the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian era; we were little business men, little lounge lizards, little athletes and aesthetes. When war came, it came as a profound surprise. All we had to go on was the Boer war and the Russo-Japanese war. To us, war was an adventure, a romance. We thought in terms of masses of men marching: and then charging; and battles won. We had no sense of bitter sacrifice, personal, fatal.”

“There were casualty lists a foot long in the papers when I enlisted,” I informed him.

“But those lists,” pointed out Jim, “were not reinforced with all the power of press and radio and movies. You had not been going to movies ever since your childhood seeing pictures that realistically portrayed war with death in the air, and hell on earth, and men thrown, away as weeds are cut. This generation, my boy, has been steeped, body and soul, in war.”

“We were pretty good,” I reminded him.

Remote Control Justice

“We weren’t good enough,” retorted Jim. “If we had been, this outbreak would never have occurred. We all got tired, all sides, and seized the first opportunity to end it. We should have marched into Germany. into every city, town and village. All the farmers should have seen us passing by, in our terrible might. Without harming a hair of their heads, we should have passed before them, our guns, our machines, our men, like dark angels of justice, moving harmlessly among them, an unforgettable lesson. But instead, from afar, we wrought justice, taxed and fined, took their goods, punished them, by mail order. From afar, we meted justice, and at home, their own old soldiers proceeded to do what all the defeated do; they put on bitter airs, passed the buck, explained, wept and were figures of grim sympathy among the old and the young in the towns and the villages. Instead of leaving colored troops1 and missions of staff officers among them, we should have left teachers.”

“Teachers?” I protested.

“Yes, teachers, who would answer their questions about us, and give lectures on what we thought and believed,” explained Jim. “And from them, we would have brought teachers to explain to us what the Germans thought and believed. But instead, we all retired to our own towns and villages, and hated each other by remote control.”

“Our hate faded, about 1925,” I agreed. “But theirs took root.”

“The one thing that makes me confident,” said Jim, “is that the Germans have been taught to love war, while our new generation has been taught to hate war. I think men who hate war will always fight harder and longer than men who have been taught to love it, and sooner or later are disillusioned.”

“That was true in our war,” I agreed. “I never saw a Canadian or a Britisher weeping, but I saw lots of German soldiers weeping and carrying on.”

“They’re an emotional race,” explained Jim. “We imagine them a stolid and phlegmatic people. But they are nothing of the kind. They are intensely emotional, and only emotional people would think that by putting on a fierce air, they could scare others. That is the way a child thinks, until he grows up and his emotions come under control.”

The Men in Charge

“I know a lot of Canadians of German descent,” I submitted. “And they’re not in the least like the Germans that we know through history, past and present.”

“Why do you suppose,” asked Jim, “that the grandparents and great-grandparents of these Canadian Germans came to this country? To escape from the rest of the Germans, most likely. They were unhappy, they did not fit into the German scheme of things. Men don’t come to a new and hard country, and a foreign country at that, without very good and very deep reasons.”

“Well,” I sighed, “I wish we had done something a little more permanent while we were at it.”

“You and I weren’t to blame anyway,” said Jim.

“Then who was?” I inquired bitterly.

“The men in charge of us,” said Jim.

“And who put them in charge of us?” I retorted.

“They just took charge,” explained Jim. “That’s always the way. We talk about placing men in charge. It’s not that way at all. The ones in charge just step up and take charge.”

“They’re chosen,” I corrected.

“Listen,” pleaded Jimmie, “how does a guy get to be the manager of a business? Is he elected? No chance. He works up to it. He schemes and he contrives, he works, he plans, he sacrifices and plots. And every chance he gets, he takes charge. And when his big chance comes, he is all ready. He just takes charge.”

“It sure was like that in our old army,” I admitted, “that is, after we got to the front. Once we got into action, all the officers and sergeants that weren’t equal to the real job soon shook loose. I suppose it’s the same in business and politics and soldiering. In a jam, the real men shove naturally to the front.”

“Let’s go home,” said Jim, “along the Lake Shore and on the way, we’ll stop at the armories and watch these new-fangled mechanized soldiers.”

“To tell you the truth, Jim,” I stated, “I can’t see the slightest difference between these new soldiers and what we were in our time. Every time I get near enough to a platoon of them. I can almost imagine it’s my old platoon, and I want to step out and take charge of them.”

“They’re far different,” said Jim. “They’re a new breed.”

“They’re making a sad mistake,” I differed, “not including a lot of us old soldiers in their ranks, to steady them.”

“We could never keep up with them,” said Jim. “We’d be a drag.”

“Haw,” I laughed, “just wait until the first big shell comes whooping in. A five-nine or an eight-inch. Or one of those drum-busting big trench mortar pigs.”

Left Countrified Town

“They no doubt scared you,” said Jim, “but they won’t have much effect on these kids. Don’t forget, when you went to war to face five-nines, you came fresh from a peaceful, quiet, almost countrified town called Toronto.”

“Countrified?” I demanded.

“About the only motor car in Toronto,” said Jim, “was Sir John Eaton’s2. The street cars were run by a guy in the front with a big brass handle he wound up, while he banged his bell with his foot, the car raging along at all of 18 miles an hour. About the only time you had to move at anything faster than a crawl was to step out of the way of the butcher cart. All the rest of the wagons went at a walk.”

“Wagons,” I snorted.

“Have you completely forgotten your generation?” demanded Jim. “Don’t you recall that one of the most exciting things of your young manhood was to go down to the old Union Station and see a train come in? There was no stress or strain in the world you left to go to war. The street cars rocked and bumped and dawdled along the streets. Cars were few and far between, and an airplane was like television. Lou Marsh created a tremendous sensation, at the outbreak of the war, by going for a ride in an airplane and reporting it for The Star.”

“You exaggerate,” I submitted. “Life was lively enough in those days.”

“From a quiet, unruffled world,” said Jim, “you, the heir of languid centuries of slow progress, went to a war that grew into an inferno of noise, explosion, traffic on the ground and in the air, of speed, of wireless, of fury and strain. But these new lads of the army are entering war from a world that is already a riot. In fact, many of the young soldiers are already bored with the country peace and quiet of army life.”

“I bet they will duck just as quick when a shell comes over,” I sneered.

“They’ll duck quicker,” said Jim. “That’s the point. They are used to the fury of modern civilization, as we speeded it up in the war. They have been born and raised amid the stress and strain of modern traffic, of cars, radio, planes, racket, rumpus and panjandrum. Their nerves are attuned to war. We were a jumpy, startled generation, because we left a quiet, peaceful world. These boys leave a madhouse world to enter into the order and law of modern warfare.”

A Generation of Action

“I held the championship of the Eighth Brigade,” I stated, “for being able to jump higher, dive deeper and lie flatter than any other officer in the brigade.”

“These boys won’t have to do any jumping.” said Jim. “They’ll lean to one side, as cool and easy as they cross street traffic today. That is why they don’t want any mid-Victorians running amok in their ranks nowadays.”

“They’re just like us,” I grumbled. “I can’t see the slightest difference between them and the old platoons I used to know. They look the same. They stand the same. They have all the little old tricks. Every guy that used to be there is there still. The one who traded his rum for cheese. The one who was always tying his puttee when he should have been going over the top. The one who always wanted to be paraded to the officer. The one who could have been an officer if he wanted to. The one who joined the army to play cards.”

“We’ll see,” said Jim, as we got into the car and headed through downtown streets and steered for the Lake Shore.

Out at the armories, the fading lawns were crowded with drilling troops. Some were clustered around machine-guns, taking lessons. Others were playing soccer, others lying prone practising the sighting of rifles. But always, some were drilling.

“And look you, Jim,” I exclaimed. “The same as ever, old drill sergeant in front of young soldiers. It never changes.”

“And as usual,” remarked Jim, “the old soldier looks us if he didn’t belong….”

“Why, listen, Jim,” I cried, “he even sounds the very same.”

The sergeant was “hup, hup-hupping,” as the boys wheeled and turned and marked time. His voice had the same old authority, the same sharp bite to it.

“Caesar had drill sergeants, Jim,” I said as we got out of the car and strolled along the pavement for a closer look. “Caesar’s men looked exactly the same as those men. It never changes, because men never change.”

“Young men never change,” sighed Jim, “until they start to get a little old.”

“I bet in six weeks,” I declared, “we could be just as good as that old drill sergeant.”

Without a warning, a terrific loud bang exploded right behind our heels. It was probably the nature of our conversation that really upset us, not the bang. For it was only a tire on an old truck that had been delivering packages at the armories. But the effect of so untimely an explosion, and so nearly under our feet, made Jimmie leap about a foot in the air and I very nearly lost my balance entirely, owing to leaping both upward and forward. My old infantry muscles and nerves naturally looked for a shell hole.

The squad of lads that was nearest us laughed outright. But the grim old drill sergeant, who had done a bit of a jump himself, turned on them and roared and bellowed and had them at the double.

We covered our confusion by helping the driver of the truck, himself an old soldier, to unfasten the rusted spare tire off the back of his jalopy, and while we were at it, the drill sergeant strolled over the lawn toward us.

“Old soldiers?” he inquired confidentially.

“Yes,” we admitted, variously confiding the names of our old units.

“I noticed you,” he said, “when that tire went off.”

“We were just talking about shells when it happened,” apologized Jim. “We kind of had shells on the brain at the moment.”

“Did you… ah… notice me?” asked the sergeant.

“We were too busy,” I explained.

“I was just wondering,” said the old sergeant, “if I jumped too. I just wanted to know if those young squirts were laughing at you two birds or at me.”

“When I looked,” I admitted, “you seemed to be quite calm.”

“I just went kind of numb,” said the old sergeant. “I don’t remember what happened there for a minute. When you put the uniform on again, after all these years, a loud bang is very upsetting.”

“I don’t believe you turned a hair,” said Jim stoutly.

“I hope I didn’t,” said the old sergeant. “It means a lot whether those young kids were laughing at me or not. The young devils.”

“Are they hard to handle?” I inquired.

“They have no nerves at all,” groaned the drill sergeant. “The worse I roar, the cooler they get. Back when I was a drill sergeant in the old war, all I had to do was let ‘er out a little, and boy, they wilted. These kids are sound proof.”

“They look good,” agreed Jim.

“They haven’t any nerves,” sighed the drill sergeant. “They don’t know what a drill sergeant is. They’re as cold as ice. They’re all business. They do exactly what you tell them, faster than you can think up what to tell them to do next. They’re getting on my nerves.”

“It’s a new generation,” suggested Jim.

“It’s a mechanized army,” said the old sergeant, looking furtively over his shoulder at the squad which stood silently waiting, almost eagerly waiting, for him to return. “Even the men are mechanized.”

So with further assurances that he stood like a rock, and looked ten years younger than his age, and that all we old soldiers envied him, the drill sergeant turned and marched stiffly back onto the lawn and began barking fiercely again. And the young men, like joyous panthers, leaped into their drill.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Jim’s reference to “colored troops” was related to the Occupation of the Rhineland after World War One. That France used some “non-white” French colonial soldiers in the occupation was considered disgraceful by some. ↩︎
  2. Sir John Eaton was the youngest son of department store magnate Timothy Eaton. ↩︎


“Take a sniff of that,” said Jim. “Pfui,” I gasped. “What is it? I’ve smelled that before.”

Greg and Jim are convinced they really had something until they picked the wrong bottle

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 22, 1939.

“Don’t forget.” warned Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to invent a real good fly dope this spring.”

“You said it,” I agreed. “Will you ever forget the black flies up on the Mattawa?”

“Huh,” said Jim, “black flies. It’s those infernal mosquitoes I hate.”

“No, black flies are worse,” I insisted. “A mosquito is a gentle and effeminate creature, who sticks its long bill into you and sucks your blood and ends up by sucking back all his poison. But a black fly is a butcher. He’s a gouger.”

“I hate mosquitoes,” declared Jim, “I hate everything about them. Their shape, skinny and trailing. Their sound, thin and penetrating and insistent. A black fly is a gentleman. A pugilist. He steps right in and gives you a bite.”

“Why,” I protested, “the dirty little sneaks will crawl up your pant leg, down your collar, up your sleeve. Why, black flies are about as much a gentleman as a burglar. I’ve come in from fishing and found my whole body bathed in blood from bites they took all unknown to me. A mosquito is a real sport. He warns you with his music. Then, if you don’t take alarm, he warns you with a sharp little sting the minute he punctures you.”

“Music,” sneered Jim. “You call that music, that mean, high, infinitesimal scream; you call that music? I tell you, one mosquito, one solitary mosquito, in a room at night has more than once almost driven me insane.”

“You’re fragile,” I assured him. “You’re high-strung. The best way to treat a mosquito that gets into your room is make a game of it with him. Treat a sportsman like a sportsman.”

“Ignore him, huh?” scoffed Jim. “Let him sting you, and, just lie there until he’s full, and then he’ll fly off, loaded, and take his sting with him. I’ve heard that tale before.”

“No, make a game of it,” I insisted. “I always take a flashlight to bed with me in the early summer, and when I hear a mosquito, I don’t waste time making wild swipes through the dark, or waiting until he lights and then trying to smack him. The minute I hear him, I quietly reach out for my flashlight and suddenly point the beam at the sound. Then I chase him.”

“Get out of bed,” cried Jim, “and go stumbling around chasing a mosquito? I see myself.”

“Well,” I pointed out, “it’s the surest way. I used to be nervous of mosquitoes myself. But I decided the best way to solve the problem was to face it like a man.”

“Armed with a searchlight,” said Jim.

“No,” I said, “there’s no doubt about it, a mosquito is a very superior person to a black fly. Black flies give no warning. They fly almost invisibly. In fact, I believe they know enough to approach you from behind. They have no sound. You can’t feel their feet on your neck, as they run. And they can run like lightning. And they even know enough to crawl down your collar or up your pantleg. That lets them out. They’re criminal. They show all the criminal traits.”

A Chance For a Fortune

“You remember that fly dope you had last year?” said Jim, darkly. “The one you raved about so, before we went north.”

“Aw, well,” I submitted, “science never does anything in a day. It experiments.”

“Experiment,” said Jim. “I’ll say that was an experiment. It was pie a la mode to those flies and mosquitoes.”

“It kept the black flies off,” I reminded him.

“For the first few minutes,” said Jim. “And then it egged them on like bacon frying. No, my boy. I’m taking nobody’s advice in the fly dope question. This very month, before the season opens, I’m going to invent me a fly dope that will really dope them. I want a fly dope that will not only keep the flies off me, but out of the whole township. I want a fly dope that will stop the birds from singing, and when I walk by, all the little buds on the trees will shrivel.”

“And your skin?” I queried.

“What did your dope do to our skins last year?” cried Jim. “It peeled us as if we’d been boiled.”

“Ah, I should have left out the carbolic acid,” I admitted. “But trial and error, you know?”

“What was in that stuff you had last year?” demanded Jim.

“Well,” I enumerated, “there was oil of pine tar, oil of citronella, oil of pennyroyal, camphor, eucalyptus, oil of cedar, lavender, castor oil, carbolic acid, mange cure, a dash of turpentine and a squirt of pain killer.”

“And it didn’t work?” Jim was amazed. “If all those things won’t keep flies off, what will?”

“Well, you see, the principle of the thing,” I explained. “I had lots of good ingredients in there, but the ones that evaporate, like citronella, camphor and so forth, just whiffed the good stuff off. Especially if we got hot and perspired.”

“What we’ve got to do,” stated Jim, “is invent a fly dope that not only stinks but sticks.”

“You’ve got it,” I admired. “Sticks but stinks is a good slogan for it. Maybe we could patent it. Maybe we could make a little money out of a real fly dope.”

“That’s the way some of our greatest fortunes were founded,” agreed Jim. “Some- body invented a little pill, and suddenly they were millionaires, and even knights.”

“With the King coming, and everything.” I mused. “Now, there’s an idea.”

“Look,” said Jim. “We’re just a couple of poor newspapermen, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t stumble on some little idea, some gadget, something everybody must have. We look forward to a long and ever wearier life writing and drawing and little by little nobody laughing at our jokes any more. And all we’ve got to do is think up some simple problem like this fly dope and we’re all set. Millions in it. Thousands, anyway.”

“Jim,” I said respectfully, “I think you’ve got something. Do you realize how many people there are in this country who would give anything for a good reliable fly dope? Think of the summer resorts, the cottagers, and the guides and lumberjacks.”

“Lumberjacks,” cut in Jim, “just rub a hunk of fat bacon rind all over their faces and hands.”

To Do Some Experimenting

“I mean something,” I cried, “that you could put on a little baby. Something a beautiful girl could put on her face. Think of the fortunes that must have been made this last two or three years in suntan oil.”

“No pretty girl,” agreed Jim, “wants to look all warty with mosquito bites.”

“Okay,” I snapped, “let’s get going. Let’s start running down the ingredients one by one that are known to be repulsive to mosquitoes and flies.”

“Citronella,” started Jim.

“Too volatile,” I said. “It evaporates in a few minutes.”

“Citronella in olive oil,” said Jim.

“Too greasy,” I submitted, “When you’d perspire you’d smell like a salad even to yourself. You wouldn’t be able to hold anything in your hand. You’d be slippery.”

“Pine tar,” said Jim, writing each of these things down.

“It’s too black,” I countered. “Ladies hate it. It stings sensitive hides and you can’t get the smell of it out of your hair for about three weeks after you come home from the bush.”

“All right,” said Jim, “what have you to offer?”

“Well, there’s oil of cedar,” I submitted.

“Poisonous,” said Jim, “and burns.”

“Flea powder,” I offered.

“Be useful,” begged Jim. “Think. We won’t ever make any fortunes this way.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I declared. “It isn’t by thinking that you get rich. If everybody that sat down to think things out got rich, there wouldn’t be any poor people in the world. It’s by accident the great discoveries are made.”

“So you’re sitting here waiting for an accident?” inquired Jim.

“I mean,” I said, “don’t let us just say what we think is sensible. That flea powder idea of mine was a good one. How do we know that if you dissolved flea powder in coal oil or something, it wouldn’t make the greatest fly dope the world will ever see? If we just sit here thinking of the obvious things, we’ll never get anywhere. It’s the adventurous minds get the prizes.”

“Okay,” agreed Jim bitterly. “Shoe polish. Soap chips. Goose grease. Boy, I can hear those mosquitoes singing already. I wish we could get some place. What’s in these patent fly dopes you buy?”

“Oh, citronella, lavender and things like that,” I said. “But they’re mostly the same. If you put enough on, like a thick coat of butter, you can keep the flies off because flies haven’t got any butter knives, but that’s about the size of it.”

Jim sat pondering, now and again glancing furtively up in the air around his head, so nervous had he got himself with thinking about mosquitoes.

“I tell you,” he said finally. “The sensible thing to do would be to do some experimenting. Let’s get a bunch of these things and make some combinations and see what we get.”

“At your house?” I queried.

“How about yours?” suggested Jim. “We kind of wrecked my house last week.”

“Well, Jim,” I said, “there’s a little difficulty there. You see, I made up that fly dope I had last year in my kitchen, and I had to promise never to do it again. I mean, it’s an understanding, see? A fixed agreement.”

“Do you think there might be any druggist that would let us tinker around in back of their shop?” mused Jim.

“No, those kind of drug stores,” I pointed out, “are one with Nineveh and Tyre. The modern drug store is the kind full of everything but drugs and a smart uniformed man comes charging out from the back the minute you half open the door. I know the kind of drug store you mean – a kind of dim, sleepy place, where the owner comes out from behind after you have coughed three times, and then spends five minutes pulling out drawers until he finds what you want.”

“The kind of drug store I mean,” said Jim, “had a big transparent green jar in one window and a big red one in the other, with lights behind them.”

“That’s the kind of place to invent a fly dope,” I admitted.

“Why, shoot,” shouted Jimmie, leaping up, “my cousin Fred. My forty-second cousin Fred. He’s a druggist.”

“What kind of a druggist?” I asked.

“The old-fashioned kind,” cried Jim, excitedly. “Why, he’s had a drug store out in the suburbs for the past 30 years. And it’s exactly the kind of a place we’ve been talking about; in fact, it’s the one that was in my mind’s eye all the time. Why, shoot….”

And in no time at all, Jimmie had his cousin Fred on the phone, and it was no trick at all to explain what we wanted to do, and all was arranged for us to go out in the evening after supper and make ourselves at home.

Fred was a shy smiling and slow-speaking fellow with a bushy head of hair and a kind of far-away look about him. As you talked to him, he kept looking absently out the window. His drug store was sure enough a relic of the past. The windows were largely filled with huge cardboard placards supplied free by patent medicine companies. The brown shelves were filled with hundreds of bottles of extinct medicines in faded paper wrappers. No spring hats, no bathing caps, umbrellas, patent bottles, alarm clocks or other modern equipment of the notions counter of a drug store were to be seen. He had a little damp-looking stationery, a jar or two of colored candy drops, but other than that, nothing but drugs.

“I think I see what you’re after,” he said, when Jim and I had detailed our ideas of a fly dope. “You want something insect repellent but emollient.”

“Whatever you say, Fred,” Jim agreed eagerly.

“Well, come on in to the back,” invited Fred, and he led us into the holy of holies, that secret small place which remains today one of the few mysteries of modern life.

“I’ll set you down all the insecticides and repellents I can think of,” said Fred, “and some emollients or soothing agents, and then just help yourselves. Light up that little gas burner there, Jim, and use those little pots and things all you like.”

Fred was a slow, kindly man – far from the madding rush of modern pharmacy.

So Jim and I took off our coats and rolled up our sleeves to feel a little more pharmaceutical and proceeded to examine and sniff the various bottles Fred had set down on the old stained desk.

There were powders and liquors and oils; there were greases and pastes and salves. Every few minutes, Fred would stroll back from the fore part of the store and watch us gently. Occasionally he would bring us something else he had thought of.

“The way we go about it is,” said Jim, “we’ll melt up various combinations and number them, the way the research men do. No. 1, No. 2, and so forth. Frise and Clark’s No. 23 may some day be on everybody’s lips.”

“Let’s start at 100,” I submitted. “It sounds a little more scientific.”

So we started at 100, and Jim poured some oil of lanolin in the heating saucepan, and to it added a small quantity of citronella, a pinch of camphor and a dash of something that sounded like squills but probably wasn’t. This we poured into a small bottle and labelled No. 101.

Next was a combination of lavender, essence of cedar, creosote and olive oil.

“Boys,” said Fred, interrupting. “I’ve got to run this message up the street. Would you tell anybody that comes in I’ll be right back?”

“Sure, I’ll wait on them,” I offered.

“No, no,” blushed Fred, awkwardly, “you can’t wait on them. It’s against the law.”

“We’ll stall anybody that comes,” I assured him.

Jim had a third concoction on the little gas burner. It was Frise and Clark No. 103. As it simmered and Jim put a pinch of this and a sniff of that in, he eyed the wall above him, looking at all the big fat dusty bottles with their mysterious algebra on them.

“I wish,” he said, “I had some nice, limpid, delicate stuff to put in this one. It’s a little too greasy.”

He reached up and lifted a few of the bottles, holding them to the light and shaking them.

“Ah,” he breathed, “here’s one. Look at that sparkle.”

He lifted it down and pulled the glass stopper. He sniffed it, jerking his head back violently.

“Oh, boy,” he gasped, “take a sniff of that.”

“Pfui,” I said. “What is it? I’ve smelled that before.”

“Would it be ammonia?” asked Jim, cautiously lifting the topper and taking another cautious sniff.

“Or some kind of methylated spirits?” I suggested.

“It’s the very thing,” said Jim, “for this mixture. It’ll sure lighten it up.”

“And will it ever knock the black flies dizzy,” I cried, as Jim poured a small libation of it into a sort of little gravy boat thing to transfer it into the saucepan.

“Quick,” I said, “that stuff is rank.”

“Okay,” said Jim, bending and pouring it into the saucepan.

“Jim, hurry,” I commanded. “That stuff will stink out the store.”

“Awwwwwggghhh,” garbled Jimmie in a weak and trailing voice and, to my horror, slowly slid down the edge of the desk and on to the floor.

“Jim,” I shouted.

I picked up the gravy boat, which had spilled some of its contents over Jimmie’s shirtfront, and when I stooped to get my arms around Jim’s shoulders to prop him up, I felt very dizzy and then weak, and then, my nose falling gently on Jim’s shirt front, I passed away gently and swimmily.

It was Fred’s voice.

“Okay,” he was saying, amongst the buzzes and ringing and thumping and humming. “Okay, okay, okay, now, okay.”

We had been hauled out along the linoleum floor to the front of the store and the door was open and two ladies were looking at us darkly.

“What was it?” I inquired, seeing Jim looking at me groggily.

“Just chloroform,” said Fred easily, “just chloroform.”

Editor’s Notes: Fly dope is a term for insect repellant.

Greg mentions the visit by the King and Queen to Canada, that was coming up from May 17 to June 15, 1939.

“Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!” is from the poem “Recessional”, by Rudyard Kipling. They are mentioned in the Bible as the capitals of empires that no longer exist, so it means “no longer exists”.

~ and Costs!

April 8, 1939.

Assemble Ere Dawn for Pope’s Coronation

March 11, 1939

Thousands to Stand in Queues for Hours Ere Ceremony Begins

Greg Clark Will Fight His Way to St. Peter’s at 5.30 a.m.


By Gregory Clark

Rome, March 11 – My ticket for the papal coronation tomorrow is green, and larger than a sheet of note paper. On its four sides are details of the routes by which I must fight my way into St. Peter’s. I approach St. Peter’s square by the Street of the Sacristy and enter St. Peter’s through the door of St. Simon. I am lucky enough to have a bench in the tribune.

Father Edward Crossland of Barrie is calling for me at 5.30 a.m. and even so, we are afraid we will have to use hockey finals tactics to wedge our way into our places, tickets or no tickets, because at noon we overheard a group of very elegant English people in the hotel lobby, agreeing to meet at 3 a.m. And if 50 English aristocrats are planning to start at 3 for the procession that begins at 8.30 a.m. and does not get really going until 10 and does not finish until 1 p.m., how about the hosts of pilgrims who are hording in from every quarter all day.

The big fashionable hotel I am at is jammed to the doors. A party of Germans, men, women and children, who wired for their accommodation three weeks ago, arrived today, 35 of them, and got their rooms, while in the lobby, Italian nobles from up-country fumed and fretted because there was no room for them. Every hotel, every private house with a room to spare, and all the villages out around Rome like Frascati and Osita are jammed with pilgrims of all nations, intent upon seeing that three-tiered golden crown go up on the head of Pius XII tomorrow on the balcony of St. Peter’s.

My seat in the tribune is one of the choicest in the church, thanks to Catholic friends in Canada who gave me letters to these genial Canadian and English priests in Rome. It is in full view of the papal altar. Father Crossland will be beside me to explain to me the liturgy of the whole ceremony, the procession of which starts at 8.30 and the liturgy of which lasts almost three hours. The minute it ends, I have to fight my way somehow through the throngs… expected to amount to somewhere short of half a million now, and well over a third of a million… who will be packed in and about St. Peter’s, and make my way to where I can sit down and prepare my broadcast for Sunday evening.

Many of my Catholic friends in Canada have asked and written to me to bring them home, sacred mementoes of Rome. At the final stage of the pontifical mass tomorrow the pope will bless the multitude and I have arranged with Father Crossland to have cupped in his hands at the moment, a number of silver medals, rosaries and some missals. These articles will, thereby, receive in this great church at that historic moment, the blessing of the pope.

The broadcasting station of 2RO in Rome from which I will give a description of the ceremony in St. Peter’s is a magnificent building, about a quarter of a mile from St. Peter’s. It is not so enormous a building as that which houses Radio City in New York but what New York wins in height Rome wins in marble of red and rose and green. The headquarters of Rome’s broadcasting is a veritable palace. I was a little intimidated at the thought of talking from Rome to Toronto. Dr. Bell, the director of 2RO, speaks English perfectly. He showed me where to come after the coronation, introduced me to the engineers, gave me easy directions as to time and place.

To speak to you from Rome, my dear friends, is almost easier than speaking to you from CBL up, on Davenport Rd. The reason I say easier, is that the colored marble, the giant murals and the generally elegant surroundings at 2RO, deprive you of self-conceit and send you to the microphone in in all humility.

Tune in On CBL Sunday

Spanning oceans and continents in one brief moment, Gregory Clark’s voice will bring to Canadian radio listeners Sunday night a vivid word picture from Rome of the crowning of a new pope. This will be The Star staff writer’s second message to North America from Rome. He will speak from the studios of 2RO, one of the most powerful radio stations in Europe, and his words will be picked out of the air at Ottawa by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s shortwave station. Greg Clark’s talk will commence at 9.30 p.m. and will be carried in Toronto over stations CBL and CBY.

Mr. Clark will be among the lucky few to view the actual ceremonies in St. Peter’s, in the Vatican, when Pope Pius is crowned head of 400,000,000 Roman Catholics. Later he will mingle with the excited, milling thousands in St. Peter’s Square as they strive to catch glimpse of the new pontiff.

Then Mr. Clark will hurry to the studios of the Italian government to paint a grand word tapestry for his listeners “back home”. The description will be carried over the coast-to-coast network of the C.B.C. Be sure to listen. The time will be 9.30 p.m. Sunday.

Editor’s Notes: It likely cost the Star a lot to send Greg to cover the coronation of Pope Pius XII, so they sure were going to promote it out the wazoo. You have to remember that this is in early 1939, when international tension is sky high. Everyone was gearing up for war, Franco had just won the Spanish Civil War, Czechoslovakia is days away from being dissolved by Nazi Germany, and amidst all of this, Greg is traveling to Fascist Italy for this story.

The use of the word “ere” twice in the headlines for this story are trying to make is sound fancy? It means “early” and very archaic.

CBL was/is the main CBC station in Toronto. I’m not sure what CBY was. It was a radio station in Newfoundland, but since it only started in 1943, it does not seem to be the same.

I tried to find a photo of the broadcasting station of 2RO in Rome since it sounds impressive, but could not find anything in English.

The White Hand

…So gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended

By Gregory Clark, December 23, 1939.

It is a perilous business for three wise men to get together Christmas Eve. Curious things are likely to happen, or so goes a very old legend.

Of course, in war time, strangeness is everywhere. It is as if we swallow our tears and they intoxicate us. In this tale, which most soldiers have heard in one form or another, the three wise men were in a concrete machine-gun pillbox. It was just east of the village of Feuchy, where there was a chapel dating back so far, that some of the stones were said to be 10th century. And that is half way back, isn’t it?

Whether some of those old stones were used in the construction of the concrete pillbox is not mentioned in the story. But the suggestion is offered now. If anything can carry the touch of bygone things, it is a stone.

Brown, the lance-jack on the Lewis gun, was the first wise man. He was, he asserted, the most expert chicken thief in Frontenac county. Abell, the Number One on the gun, was wise in a chuckling, slant-gazing fashion. But MacPhedran laid claim to no wisdom, and therefore was the wisest of them all.

“Well,” said the lance-jack, very authority, “it’s Christmas Eve.”

And he twitched the rubber sheet aside from the concrete doorway and glanced out as if to prove it.

“Modern war,” said Abell. “And they can’t even get the rations up. Did you see the sergeant?”

“The sergeant,” said L.-Cpl. Brown, “was very sympathetic. He said nobody had no rations. And if we preferred to come back into the ditch, he would gladly give our pillbox to three other guys.”

“We’re really cut off, aren’t we?” said MacPhedran.

“Everybody’s cut off,” said the L.-Cpl.

“Well, boys,” said Abell, “I’ve got a little surprise for you, if you can take it. You know that busted estaminet back here, at the corners? Where we had the gun yesterday? Well, sir, I found three bottles of vin blink in there.”

“Where are they?” hissed L.-Cpl. Brown.

“They’re still there, sweetie,” said Abell. “I shifted some of them blocks of chalk and in a cubby hole, there they was – three bottles, vin blink, shiny and yellow.”

“Why didn’t …” began the L.-Cpl. hotly.

“With a thousand guys looking?” said Abell. “Mind the house, and I’ll sneak back for them now.”

“Just a minute,” said the L.-Cpl. “Before you go, I might as well come clean. So you’ll take care and not get sniped off by some of our own gang. Look.”

Reaching into his packsack in the corner, the L.-Cpl. dug deep into the tangled depths and slowly drew out a package, a slightly bloody package wrapped in the French edition of the Daily Mail.

“A rabbit,” said Abell.

“A chicken,” sighed the L.-Cpl. softly. “It’s cackling kept me awake. I can hear a chicken cackle for two miles. So I just quietly….”

A Very Curious Face

“I could kick in my iron ration biscuits,” said MacPhedran rather timidly.

“As your superior officer,” stated the lance-corporal sternly, “I forbid you to employ your iron rations at this time.”

“There’s a fellow in B company owes me half a loaf of bread,” said MacPhedran.

“You eat on us tonight, Mac,” advised the L.-Cpl., rather magnificently. “It’s Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner combined. There always has to be a guest.”

“I’ll get some bread,” muttered MacPhedran earnestly.

By which time Abell was leaving and the L.-Cpl. ordered him to be careful and not to be long. You might wonder how these men could come and go. Well – armies dissolve at last into their least common denominator, which is the section. Once war really starts, generals hand over the command to the lance-corporals in charge of the sections of six men. These three were all that were left of a Lewis gun section. Ahead of them a front line company hid in battered trenches. Behind them, a support company had dug itself shelters of earth and planks from the vestiges of villages. Between the two lines, these three were stationed in the recently captured Germen concrete box. In 10 seconds, they could be outside, aiming their little chattering gun. So that was their job. In time of need, to leap outside and aim their gun.

Abell was gone less than 15 minutes. When he returned, he bore a heavy sandbag in which reposed three bottles of vin blink. Out into the candle light he drew their glossy greenish yellow forms, with the gestures of a magician.

Already the pillbox was rich with the odor of chicken. On the brazier, the L.-Cpl. had started to fry the skilfully dismembered chicken in fat army bacon. When Abell sat down, MacPhedran quietly departed and in five minutes was back through the concrete door, half a loaf of army bread in his fist.

“How did you do it?” cried the L.-Cpl.

“A fellow in B company owed it to me,” said MacPhedran simply.

“Will miracles never cease?” said the L.-Cpl., busy with his pan.

And at that moment, they heard someone’s step outside and the rubber sheet across the entrance was drawn aside. This was no hour for visitors. Especially hungry sergeants.

“Could you direct me to Feuchy-Chapelle?” asked a quiet voice.

“Feuchy-Chapelle?” said the L.-Cpl., who loved pronouncing French names. “Why, it’s just about 400 yards straight west. If you wait a minute until Fritzie fires a star shell, you can see the ruins….”

The rubber sheet was drawn further aside and a face looked in. Under the steel helmet, it was a very curious face to see in France. It was so different.

“Come in,” said MacPhedran.

The stranger entered and stood with his back to the entrance, smiling at the scene before him. Even the L.-Cpl. was in doubt as to whether the stranger was an officer or not. He wore a private’s coat, but lots of officers did in the line. He had no rank badges, but his air was more … more delicate, somehow, than a private’s.

“Feasting?” said the stranger.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” explained the L.-Cpl. “No rations came up. But we’re all wise guys. Even MacPhedran there was able to scrounge a half a loaf of bread. How about a touch of vin blink?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger.

“Vin blink!” cried the L-Cpl. “Aw, come on. Imagine Christmas Eve and Abell here finds three bottles hidden in an old estaminet back on the pave. Just a touch?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger. “I won’t have anything. It’s enough just to see the feast.”

“Have some chicken, it’s done in five minutes,” said Abell.

“Nothing, thanks,” said the stranger. “I have eaten and have drunk.”

In a Star Shell’s Light

MacPhedran was kneeling at the box cutting the bread with his clasp knife. When the stranger turned to smile at him in turn, Mac held up the bread. And the stranger shook his head.

“What’s your outfit?” asked the L.-Cpl.

“It’s a long way from here,” said the stranger.

“Engineers?” asked the L.-Cpl., sizing up the stranger, looking at his clean hands, his thin, untanned face.

“It is associated with the chaplain services,” said the stranger kindly.

“Ah,” said the L.-Cpl., setting the vin blink bottle back with its fellows in the shadows.

The chicken was hissing in the pan, Mac had the punk nearly all cut into six thick slabs, Abell was toying with the corkscrew of his army knife. Outside, in the night, far-off mutters of machine-guns and lonely moans of high shells quilted in all the silences.

“Sure you won’t join us?” said the L.-Cpl. conclusively.

“No thanks,” assured the stranger. “It was good to see you, though. Good luck.”

“Feuchy-Chapelle is about 400 yards straight that way,” said the L-Cpl., indicating with his knife.

Mac had not moved. With motionless face, fixed eyes, his lips open, he stared at the stranger, the bread held lifted in his hand.

“Good night,” said the stranger, thrusting aside the rubber sheet and bending out through the concrete. He paused an instant, his white hand holding back the sheet. “Ah,” came his voice, quietly, out there in the night, “a star shell.”

In the opening past the rubber sheet, the three wise men saw the pallid light of the star shell lobbing and fading.

“Did you see the ruins?” demanded the L.-Cpl.

“Yes,” said the stranger; and so slow and deep was that one word, and so gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended.

It was MacPhedran spoke first, and he still held the bread out, as in the act of giving.

“Did you,” he said unsteadily, “notice his hands?”

“They were white,” muttered the L.-Cpl.

“They had a round scar in the back of each,” whispered MacPhedran.

“And when he shoved his helmet back,” said Abell, “there was a ring of white scars around his head…”

So all three rose to their feet, set down the pans and the bread and knives, and followed the L.-Cpl. out through the concrete entrance and stood in the night, watching off west and south to see any figure creeping amid the ruins towards Feuchy-Chapelle. But all they could see was the night and the stars, and hear the mutter of far-off machine guns and the lonely murmur of high shells going far back.

And when a star shell popped from the German trenches, to hang magically in sky for an instant, MacPhedran said, “God help us,” and they bent and crawled back into the pillbox and ate their Christmas supper without any conversation, but looking long and strangely into one another’s eyes.

Editor’s Notes: The Canadian Armed Forces abolished the rank of lance corporal on their creation as a unified force in 1968. It is the equivalent of a master corporal.

An estaminet is a small café in France that sells alcoholic drinks.

“Vin blink” is probably a corruption of “Vin blanc”, white wine.

A star shell is a shell that on bursting releases a shower of brilliant stars and is used for signaling.


“Don’t waste time on blather,” said the policeman. “Put on some speed.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 18, 1939.

“You can scare a man into generosity,” said Jim, and a policeman proved his point

“The most wonderful thing about human nature,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way we all fall in line as soon as war is declared.”

“It wouldn’t be healthy to do anything else,” I pointed out.

“Now, don’t be cynical,” cautioned Jim. “In times like these, you should look for the best in human nature.”

“I think human nature never changes, Jim,” I submitted. “I think that those of us who are noble will act no more nobly now than we have always acted, and that those of us who are mean will act meanly now, as usual.”

“War brings the best out of us,” declared Jimmie firmly.

“And the best that some of us have got isn’t much.” I reminded. “You can’t change a greedy man into a generous man merely by asking him to be generous.”

“But we can scare him into generosity,” stated Jim hotly.

“That’s what I say,” I repeated. “It wouldn’t be healthy not to fall in line, in time of war. You have to pretend to be noble and generous and patriotic. But you would be surprised if you could read the hearts all around you, and see how men are plotting to get contracts, and scheming to get jobs and commissions in the army, not out of any desire to serve, but only because it is their nature, and their lifelong habit, to get as much as they can.”

“Most of us aren’t like that,” asserted Jim.

“Quite right,” I agreed. “Most of us are the way we are, just plain, patient people, without any startling talent, without any special ambition or drive. We have our joys and our sorrows. We love much more than we hate. We can rise to great heights of faith and patriotism, and we really give much more than we ever get.”

“That’s true,” said Jim. “One of the truest things you ever said. The vast majority of people really give far more than they get.”

“But when you admit that the majority of people are gentle and generous and friendly,” I persisted, “you must also admit that there is a percentage of them that are mean and greedy and crafty. They’re still here. Even with the war on, they’re still with us, and all the war in the world wouldn’t make them any different. So you see, war doesn’t actually affect human nature at all. All it does is emphasize the fact that the majority of mankind is fairly noble. Because the ignoble ones have, for safety’s sake, camouflaged their true character.”

Making Money By Accident

“That’s an awful view to take,” sighed Jim.

“Aw, Jim, think,” I protested. “Think of any mean, crafty, greedy guy you know. Think of him now. With the war on. In what way is he any different? Do you imagine for a minute that he has given up scheming and conniving? Do you think that now, having never done a generous or unselfish thing in all his life, he is suddenly going to offer himself up as a sacrifice?”

“I think war,” said Jim, “gives men the one great chance of their lives to make amends for a mean life.”

“It does,” I agreed, “but who takes that chance?”

“There were lots of bad actors in our war,” said Jim. “I can recall men who were regular ne’er-do-wells before the war who were heroes in the war.”

“It is not the ne’er-do-wells I am thinking of,” I submitted. “It is the always-do-wells. The guys who go through life, eternally alert, eternally alive to every chance, crafty, grasping, clever, selfish to the very core, who give only to get back treble, who are kind only when it pays. Those are the birds we’ve got to watch now. In the last war, they made millions. Somehow, we must see that they make not a cent this time.”

“How can we prevent it?” demanded Jim.

“By not assuming, as you did,” I stated, “that war changes the character of men; that in war, we all fall in line. Let us bear in mind every hour of the day that human nature does not change, and that those among us who have prospered by greed and cunning and hardness are not going to act any differently now.”

There are lots of prosperous men,” countered Jim, “who are not greedy and crafty.”

“If you are referring to you and me,” I said, “okay. Present company always excepted.”

“You’re a terrible cynic,” said Jimmie.

“No, sir,” I said. “I’m a poet. A dreamer. And when the war’s over, I am going to run for parliament and be prime minister. And the first thing I am going to do is seize all the banks and go through the ledgers. And every man who has made any money during the war, I am going to have a bronze statue made of him, a fine, lifelike image. In every city and town, all across the country, wherever these men live, these huge bronze statues will be set up. In big cities, dozens of them in a row. Their names will be inscribed in large, imperishable letters. And above them will be the legend, ‘They made money in the war.’ And on the first day of spring there will be a great public holiday and the school children will march through the streets of all the cities and towns, and gather at these mighty rows of brazen statues, and the little children will hurl mud at them and laugh and jeer at them. In this way, we shall learn more about war than if we had the little children lay wreaths upon the memorials of those of us who die in war.”

“Don’t you realize,” demanded Jimmie, “that some people can’t help making money?”

“By accident, sort of?” I queried. “Against their will, almost?”

“Aw,” cried Jim, “you’re unreasonable.”

“No,” I agreed, “all I say is, if one Canadian dies in this war, then everybody who makes money out of the war is taking money with a curse on it. Whether it be the red juice out of a big contract, or merely the greasy fat wages of munitions, that money will have a curse on it, and anybody who believes otherwise is just childish.”

“It’s you who are childish,” said Jim.

“All right, then, Man,” I submitted. “Go ahead and bury yourself still deeper under the curses of all the ages.”

“Then you’re another of these anti-war agitators,” accused Jim.

“On the contrary,” I stated. “I have never been in a war I liked better than this one. It is exactly the kind of a war all wars should be – a war in defence of those who cannot make war for themselves. All I say is, anybody who makes money out of war is an enemy, a rogue and a fool. Because every cent he makes is poison.”

“Suppose,” said Jimmie, “I had a million dollars right now …”

“Jim,” I interrupted him, “you’ve hit the nail right on the head. All you’ve got, you see, is your life.”

“Follow That Car”

Which was so subtle a remark that Jimmie sat perfectly silent beside me as I drove the car cautiously through the streets on our way home and I amused myself by thinking that if I had a million dollars right now I would give at least half of it away to honest patriotic enterprises, which would still leave me half a million dollars for myself.

And all of a sudden, right in front of me, a policeman leaped excitedly on to the roadway and held up his hand imperiously.

I jammed on the brake and pulled up the hand brake too.

“Quick,” commanded the cop, tucking his notebook into his coat tails, “see that black car just disappearing … there … turned north. Follow it!”

I shifted gears, slammed on the gas and the cop hung perilously with his arm in the window, standing on the running board.

“Gee,” said Jim, “maybe it’s a hold-up.”

But when you are suddenly commandeered by the law you do not waste time thinking. It is like war being declared. You just put on the gas and do what you’re told. I raced the old bus, paying no attention to the rules of traffic, whirling out past the middle of the road when I required, and tooting my horn haughtily at all the world to make way for me. It is not often a motorist gets a cop riding on his running board.

At the turn, I swung up the residential street, to see, now far ahead, the suspect black car, putting the distance between us.

“Give it to ‘er,” shouted the cop, outside.

So I gave it to ‘er, and we whirled furiously up the residential street, my horn warning children and bakers’ wagons and boys on bikes to stand aside.

“Watch ‘im,” shouted the cop.

And I saw the fleeing criminal turn to the right along a main traffic street.

“After him, after him,” shouted the cop outside. “Put some pep into it, buddy.”

Which I did, and Jimmie crouched lower and lower, making indrawn hisses with his teeth, and holding his hat on.

“Don’t wreck the car,” Jim muttered. “Suppose those guys are armed. Suppose they take a pot at us.”

“Don’t talk,” I growled. “I’m busy.”

“Don’t get too close,” insisted Jim. “Just keep them in sight. Then maybe he’ll jump off at a stop light and overtake them on foot.”

“Jim,” I said, very shocked.

“Hey,” commanded the policeman, “don’t waste time in blather. Put on some speed.”

So I put on another rush of speed, and in a long stretch of three blocks with hardly any traffic I gained almost a block on the fugitives from justice. It was some relief to me, the mere thrill of driving. It was some thrill for the cop, overtaking fugitives from justice. But to Jimmie it was merely trying to sit with a policeman’s elbow in his face, and feeling the lurch and swoop of a car that ordinarily jogs along very undistinguished, in the hurly-burly of traffic.

“We pay taxes,” said Jim, in a very mild, complaining voice, “and the police have all the cars they need. I don’t see why citizens have to…”

Whooop,” roared the cop.

And I saw, just in time, a car driven by a lady start backing out of a driveway. I swept the car around it in a breath-taking curve.

“Okay,” yelled the policeman, “now we’re gaining.”

And indeed we were. Only a block separated us from our quarry. The cop was shifting his position, as though getting ready to reach for his six-shooter, or to spring upon the pirate craft as I drew abreast.

“The shooting may start any minute,” said Jim, with a dry tongue.

“I’ll start swerving,” I gasped, “as soon as we get near. They can’t hit us if I’m swerving.”

“Don’t swerve any more than you’ve been doing,” said Jim. “I’d prefer a bullet to a lamp post.”

“One more burst,” shouted the cop.

I tramped the pedal right down to the floor boards. The old car, smelling of hot paint and scorched rubber and a kind of boiled oil, rose to the occasion and with a wild, final spurt, drew up almost on the tail of the fleeing car. Then I set my teeth, and, as we started to pass, I ran so close alongside I feared the policeman would be wiped off the running board.

The fugitive, instantly I drew abreast, slammed on his brakes. So did I. I cornered him. Driving cheek by jowl, inch for inch, slackening exactly as he slackened, I bore him into the curb.

In the other car, at the wheel, sat a policeman.

Our policeman was talking to him, through the window. He stepped from my running board to the other’s, and signalled me to draw in behind.

“I’m sorry,” said our policeman, coming around to my window. “It was a mistake in car numbers. I saw this car go whizzing by and I only caught a glimpse but it was almost the identical number of a stolen car we were looking for. Just a 2 and a 7 different.”

“Well,” I gusted, “well, well, well.”

“Thanks,” said the policeman. “You did a swell job. Thanks a lot.”

And he waved a cordial hand and dismissed us. He walked around the other car and got in the far door beside his colleague.

They drove off.

“Jim,” I hissed, “did you ever see such a sell!”

“Now, now,” cautioned Jim, “you’ve no right to think that.”

“That cop,” I declared hotly, “saw a friend go by and he just wanted to catch him. Maybe they were both going home, off duty.”

“Now, now,” admonished Jim. “It was just a coincidence. I have every sympathy with policemen who have to keep a whole raft of stolen car numbers in their head…”

“Don’t tell me,” I scoffed. “I tell you, we were commandeered. That bird just wanted to catch his chum. Maybe he just wanted to tell him a story. Maybe they’re both committee members for the Policemen’s Ball.”

“You have no right,” insisted Jim, “to suspect the police. I tell you, when our cop saw that car go whizzing by he had every reason to pursue it. What difference does it make that another policeman was in it?”

“Well, you’ll admit it was a let-down,” I complained. “After all that furious driving, not to have even a little excitement, no shooting, not even a scramble or a fight.”

“I was mighty glad,” declared Jim, “to see it was another policeman. Anyway, what business is it of yours who was in the other car. The law is the law. When the law wants your car, it takes it.”

“Still, it was a pretty tame ending to what might have been something to talk about,” I asserted.

“Well,” said Jim, as I let in the clutch to continue our humdrum way, “it was on way home. We’ll be home quicker than ordinarily.”

So we started to talk about profiteers again.

The cop hung perilously with his arm in the window, standing on the running-board. (October 23, 1943)

Editor’s Notes: There was a lot of anger over war profiteers after the first World War, so it would be a concern again at the very beginning of the next war.

Baker’s wagons were horse drawn delivery vehicles for bakeries. Now, he might have been referring to a delivery truck and just called it that, but some horse drawn delivery services still existed in the 1930s.

This story was repeated on October 23, 1943 as “Profiteers”.

The Quiet Country

“I got back into bed with the fly swatter and listened to Jim’s beautiful snores and all the ancient din of the farm.”

Two philosophers are now certain of their theory “the greater civilization becomes, the noisier it gets”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 29, 1939.

“I’m getting jumpy,” announced Jimmie Frise, “with all the racket that’s going on.”

“Summer is a noisy time,” I submitted.

“Just listen to it,” sighed Jim. “That dull roar of traffic. Street cars, motor cars, horses, wheels, horns tooting, bells ringing, engines grinding in gear, trucks rumbling, exhausts coughing.”

“And that hissing sound?” I mentioned.

“That’s a steam shovel a couple of blocks away,” said Jim. “I traced it down at noon. You should see the great noisy thing, grabbing a ton of rocks and junk at a grab and slamming it into a truck.”

“Those are rivetting hammers,” I interrupted, as a far insistent rat-rat shrilled above the dull thunder of universal sound.

“Doors slamming,” intoned Jim, “windows banging, boxes falling, things being chucked about, men with shovels scraping them on the pavement, boys whistling, men shouting, people gabbling, feet tapping, machines making 700 different kinds of screeches, hums, clicks, toots, bangs, thuds.”

He buried his head in his hands.

“Maybe you should take a couple of brown pills,” I suggested gently. “When you’re well, you don’t notice the noise of modern life.”

“You’re wrong,” said Jim. “I never was better in my life than I am right now. It is when you are perfectly well and healthy that you resent the unnatural racket of modern society. When you are ill, full of bad food, not getting your regular sleep, your nerves on edge from driving too much in your car, listening too much on the radio and going to too many movies, you are in tune with modern civilization and you never notice its evils. Like noise.”

“Puh,” I retorted.

“Mark my words,” said Jim strongly, “we’re heading for disaster. And it isn’t political either. We’re doing everything nature does not want us to do. We’re organizing. Nature hates organization.”

“Look at bees,” I countered. “Is there anything in human affairs as well organized as a hive of bees?”

“Okay, then,” said Jim bitterly, “we’re headed back to the bee-hive. Nature made us strange and strong, with brains and adventure in us, and gave us the chance to be as free as lions. But we decided to organize instead. And in about 100 years, we will be bees instead of lions.”

“Lions are nearly extinct,” I pointed out. “What is left of them are either in zoos or slinking in the desert, avoiding big game hunters.”

“And where are bees?” inquired Jim sweetly. “In hives, being robbed and smoked and dinned with tin pans. I would rather be a lion, slinking in the desert, than the head bee in the hives of the best honey producer in the buckwheat belt.”

Noise Will Drive Us Nuts

“Man is a swell creature,” I agreed. “He has conquered everything. What he can’t enslave or use, he kills. If he can’t eat it or harness it, he shoots it for sport.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “and in the case of song birds, wild song birds, no matter how beautiful they were, nor how sweet to hear, they were slowly being obliterated until somebody discovered that they were valuable to the farmer for eating injurious insects and weed seeds. All their beauty availed them nothing. But the minute they had a commercial value to man, they were saved.”

“We’re a pretty swell species,” I admitted.

“I have a feeling,” said Jim, “that we’ve been so cruel and ruthless in the five or ten thousand years we have got organized and conquered the whole world, that some special fate is being planned for us.”

“We’ve certainly wiped everything else off the earth,” I confessed. “Animal, vegetable. We just took the whole show and made it ours, as if we were the only thing that counted.”

“And the point is,” said Jim, “nature doesn’t care any more for a man than she does for a bug. Some day, somehow, nature will correct the balance.”

“Some big plague will take us,” I suggested.

“Science has pretty well mastered plagues,” said Jim. “I think it will be a more humorous finish than that. I think the just and reason able end of us will be the result of our own actions. For instance, we’re getting noisier and noisier. The greater civilization becomes, the noisier it gets. We’ll finally drive ourselves nuts with noise.”

“Won’t we grow immune to noise?” I cautioned.

“In 100 years,” said Jim, “we will have organized everything. The human race will be like a hive of bees. All our individuality will be gone. We will be helpless items in a giant whole. Each of us will know only the one thing, the turning of a nut, the tending of a machine, the turning on and off of a switch. We will all be living robots. Safe and secure, all our political troubles ended, all our social problems solved, no more crime, no more poverty, like bees we will hum at our work, each of us trained to do our little job expertly, each of us trained to use our leisure for our own best interests and the good of the whole. Meanwhile, we will have got noisier and noisier. You can’t organize anything without noise. The greater the organization, the more stupendous the sound. All of a sudden, a giant jitters will smite the human race. All of a sudden, a sort of overwhelming lunacy will sweep like a storm across the world. Screaming and running and hiding and burying our heads, we will leave all our precious tasks, to escape from the awful jitters of noise. And before we can get organized again, in the silence that will fall, we will all have starved to death, died of thirst, of exposure. Because being units of a vast organization, we will be helpless to survive without the organization.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said devoutly.

“I can see my great-grandchild,” mused Jim, “gnawing at a steel gear.”

“I don’t suppose,” I supposed, “that we could start some anti-noise campaign?”

“There have been several,” said Jim, “and they didn’t get anywhere. All they did was add a little more racket to the rumpus. No. It isn’t industry we have to change. It is the human heart. We must try to persuade humanity that it isn’t science they want, but nature. The human heart must desire differently.”

“But maybe,” I suggested, “this desire in the human heart for bigger and greater splendors of science and industry is only a sort of lunacy that nature has planted in us to avenge the buffalo and the tigers and the forests and the bees and the hens and cattle and all the things we have enslaved or destroyed?”

“Ah,” said Jim darkly. “Aaaahaaaa.”

“Up till this minute,” I professed, “the noise didn’t seem to worry me. But since you have been talking. I’ve suddenly become conscious of the racket. Isn’t it terrible?”

We sat in Jim’s high studio on the top of The Star building and listened. The summer afternoon heaved and groaned with a vast sound. Sounds near, sounds far. Traffic ebbing, flowing, cars, wheels, horns and blasts. A hundred factories around gave out their varied roars, buzzes, clacks. From distant works of majesty and power came the sound of steam shovels, rivetters, giant hammers, great drills.

“I’ve got to get away,” shouted Jim loudly, as if to make me hear above the tumult. “If only for a day or two, I tell you I’ve got to get away.”

He leaped up excitedly and began throwing the papers on his desk about violently, stuffing them in drawers. He grabbed his coat and vest and hat.

“Where are you going?” I demanded.

“My Uncle Abe,” said Jim, “has a farm. I spent my boyhood holidays there. It was so quiet. I used to think I’d scream when I was a kid. Silent as death. The trees never rustle. No wind stirs the pond beyond the barnyard. Only the faint lowing of cows, the soft patter of rain …”

“Jim,” I butted in, “let’s go. We owe ourselves a couple of days’ rest. Will your Uncle Abe have room for me too? Just for a couple of days?”

And like fugitives, we fled from the city of dreadful sound, driving like refugees to our homes to pick up pyjamas and fishing rods – there being bass, Jim said, in the pond beyond the farm yard – and out into the peaceful country.

“Of course,” said Jim, as we drove madly along the crowded highway, “you can’t get any impression of peace from the country, just driving through it, because the noise of the car and the rush and hoot of cars passing us, and the necessary strain and tension of driving in traffic …”

Down a darkening side road we drove, and the lights were lit in Uncle Abe’s farm house when we turned in the gate.

In fact, electric lights. And they were burning brightly not only in the house, upstairs and down, but out in the barnyard and at the side door and a specially livid light was burning part way up the lane to light the scene for at least 20 motor cars.

“What’s going on here?” demanded Jim sternly.

But when we found a little place to park and turned off our engine, we could hear music loudly braying.

“A dance,” gasped Jim. “Good grief.”

Uncle Abe was at the door, welcoming the guests. He welcomed us joyously.

“My gosh, Jimmie,” he bellowed. “I’m glad you come. This’ll make up for those awful quiet days you used to bellyache about when you was a kid.”

“What is it?” asked Jim.

“The youngsters are putting on a dance,” said Uncle Abe. “They give a dance each week at the different homes. Hear that band?”

We heard it all right.

“All local boys,” cried Uncle Abe. “The best dance band in seven counties.”

Uncle Abe showed us up to our room and we met Aunt Emily and the kids, and were introduced to the company so far assembled, about 30 in number, more to follow. Jim and I got chairs and sat in the parlor to watch.

Countrymen have better wind than city musicians. They can go seven days without coming up for breath.

After an hour, Jim whispered: “Let’s go out and walk around a bit.”

And we sought the peace of night. But half way between the house and the pond beyond the barnyard, the roar of the bullfrogs collided with the fading boompah on the band. The crickets shrilled, the mosquitoes nagged around our heads, and a whip-poorwill came and yelled from a tree beside the road.

“What time is it?” gritted Jim.

“It’s just 11,” I said.

So we walked up the road a way, but after having to leap the ditch several times in the blinding glare of headlights of cars careering madly along the narrow gravel, we decided to go back and make the best of it.

We went back with clamped teeth and watched and listened, and the young people, full of abiding fire, danced to the rumpus of the seven-man band, and sandwiches were passed and it was a quarter to two before Jim and I went up to bed and the last of the cars roared and backed and twisted out of the barnyard.

“I doubt if I can ever get to sleep,” said Jim gauntly.

But in five minutes, Jim’s snores were harmonizing with the ever increasing band concert of the bullfrogs. One measly mosquito with a baby voice, far worse than six, came and fidgetted around my head, teasing me awake every time I nearly dropped off. I jabbed Jim to stop his snores, only to have him start again just as I thought I had disposed of the mosquito.

Dawn Comes Like Thunder

Then, all of a sudden, a rooster crowed.

“Jim,” I hissed. “Jim.”

“Whaaa,” said Jim.

“Listen to that.”

The rooster crowed and Jim snuggled back to sleep as though he had heard a command.

Seven times the rooster crowed, and then, like a bugle, a cow bellowed.

I sat up. It was still pitch dark. I tiptoed to the window. A sickly pallor lay in the east.

“Jim,” I said, shaking him. “Wake up.”

He sat up.

“Listen,” I hissed.

The rooster crowed. The cow bellowed. A door slammed. Feet crunched on the gravel. A herd of pigs suddenly began to scream.

A horse kicked the barn well enough to knock it down and a pump handle began to thud and squeak.

With a blissful sigh, Jimmie rolled back and in an instant was asleep.

Daylight came like a fire horse. With every degree of daylight, the thunderous racket of the barnyard increased. Fifteen cows began bawling and five horses joined the choir with whinnies. The pigs seemed to go mad and begin murdering each other. Three roosters, a hoarse one, a short one and a long drawn one, went into competition, and a sort of din arose of hens, ducks and the silly yodelling of geese. Right under our window, the awful roar of an engine began, backfiring, spluttering, banging, slackening and accelerating by turn. I leaped out of bed.

Under the window, the hired man was working on the tractor. He twiddled and tinkered at the engine, the sounds rending the morning, the tractor shivering in fury. Suddenly it died.

“Hello,” I called down.

“Hello, there,” said the hired man looking up.

“Doing a bit of mending?” I inquired pleasantly.

“She’s been acting up lately,” said the hired man. “I thought I’d tune her up.”

“You weren’t at the dance last night?” I queried.

“Not me,” said the hired man. “I like my sleep.”

“Uhuh?” I said.

And he cranked her and started the terrible roar again.

So I got back into bed with the fly swatter and listened to Jim’s boastful snores, and to the cows and the pigs and the roosters and all the ancient din of the farm until a quarter to seven, at which time I kicked Jimmie awake, packed my pyjamas, and after a hasty breakfast got Jim to drive me down to the highway to catch the 8.30 bus back to the decay of civilization.

Editor’s Notes: I’m not sure what he meant by “brown pills”. There is reference that it could be heroin, but from what I can tell, though it could still be obtained legally in Canada until 1955, it was still tightly controlled. The drug scares of the first decades of the 20th century restricted many drugs, but perhaps people of Greg and Jim’s age still used the term for other medicine?

To older readers, a steam shovel, might be recognized as a generic term for an excavator, but at this time it was really powered by a steam engine. Actual steam powered machines were being replaced by diesel ones by the time this story was written.

Greg seems a little surprised by the electric lights at the farm? Maybe just because it was late, but maybe because rural electrification was slow in Canada? Household electrification came late to rural Canada. In the census year of 1951, when almost all urban homes in Canada had electricity, a third of rural households were still without electric lighting, and three out of four were cooking over a wood-and-coal range. In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the country’s ten provincial governments subsidised and otherwise supported rural electrification for the first time, and by the 1970s almost all rural households had electricity and running water.

Who’s Next?

April 22, 1939

This comic was published before World War 2 began in Europe.

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