The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1943 Page 1 of 2

Room for Rent

By Greg Clark, June 5, 1943

“If you’ve nothing to do,” bitterly came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “walk down here and lend me a hand.”

“What’s gone wrong now?” I inquired.

“By a typographical error in the want ads,” said Jim, “my house is supposed to have a room for rent.”

“What can I do about that?” I asked. “I’m hoeing the potatoes right now.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ve warned you before. Leave those poor potatoes alone. They’ll never grow if you keep niggling at them. Come on down and help me sit on the front steps and steer the crowd to the right house.”

“Crowd?” I inquired.

“Ever since three o’clock,” declared Jim, “an endless procession of excited house hunters have been swarming up our walk. You never saw such a mob. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor. By the time I got home for supper, my family was exhausted answering the door bell. So I’ve taken over. I’m sitting on the front steps. Before they get out of their cars, I just yell at them that it’s a mistake. It isn’t Humbercrest. It’s Humbergarden avenue they’re looking for.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I said, “you don’t need me for that. I’ve got one row of potatoes hoed. I’m just starting …”

“Look, I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie. “I have hoed enough rows of potatoes in my life to reach from here to Duisburg. And I tell you that silly little patch of potatoes you have planted, about the size of a dinner table, will die of worry if you don’t leave it alone to grow …”

“I beg your pardon, Jim,” I informed him. “It is 18 by 11 feet. I expect two bags of potatoes …”

“I’m telling you,” stated Jim. “you want to come down here and see this phenomenon. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people trying to rent a room that doesn’t exist. I yell at them as they stop their cars out in front. I call to them as they start up the front walk on the run. Poor old ladies, utterly exhausted and perspiring. Young men newly married or just about to be married. Kids of 15. Old men of 90. All streaming down the street on a vain quest. And even when I warn them that there is a mistake and it’s Humbergarden, they keep coming right on up the walk. They won’t give in even when I explain that there is a mistake. They insist on seeing the room. So now I am simply yelling out that the room is rented. Even if there isn’t a room.”

“I’ll come down,” I said, “I’d like to see this.”

“You’re Holding Out!”

So I went and gave the potato patch a few farewell and loving pats with the hoe and then walked down to Jim’s.

As I hove in sight, I could see Jimmie sitting on his steps arguing with couple of ladies.

As I drew near, a car rushed up and drew to a stop with a man leaping out waving a newspaper.

“Hey,” he shouted, as he ran up the walk, “I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key!”

“Sorry,” said Jim, “the place you are looking for is on Humbergarden avenue. It’s a typographical error in the ad…”

“Come off that stuff,” said the man, placing himself in front of the two women who were also loath to depart. “Let’s see the room, mister. I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key, see?”

“Look, stated Jim angrily. “I tell you there is no room for rent here. It is a mistake in the paper, see? You’re wasting your time.”

“Seventy-five bucks for the key!” said the stranger insinuatingly. “Seventy-five. I like this district, see? I’ll pay a hundred bucks for the key. Come on, show us the room.”

“I tell you,” announced Jim, standing up and bristling, “there is no room for rent here. It is on another street, about a mile from here. It’s a mistake.”

“Aw, I know you guys,” the stronger snarled. “Holding out. I’m on to you. Holding out. How much do you want for the key? Name your price.”

“There is no room,” shouted Jim.

“Oh,” said the stranger. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

And he rushed down the walk and leaped into the car.

“Humbergarden, did you say?” he yelled. And away he raced.

“You’re quite sure, sir,” said one of the two ladies, softly, that there isn’t a room for rent here? You live here, do you? This is your residence?”

“Ladies,” said Jim, raising his hand in a kind of Nazi salute, “so help me, Hanna, there is no room for rent here.”

Sadly, reluctantly, the two ladies turned and walked away.

“Can you beat it?” Jim whispered jubilantly.

“What’s all that stuff about seventy-five bucks for the key?” I inquired.

“The law says you can’t raise the rent of a room from what it has been,” explained Jim. “So they try to get around that by offering a bonus, a cash bonus. They buy the key.”

“Aha,” I saw. “But isn’t that illegal?

“There are loopholes in most laws,” said Jim. “But the government is now plugging loopholes in wartime laws by sticking its finger not in the loophole but in the offender’s eye.”

Wham came another car to a violent stop and out jumped three men.

Up the walk they ran.

“Room for rent here?” panted the leader. “I’ll take it.”

“It’s gone,” said Jim.

“Who took it?” panted the leader. “What’s his name? Is he in? I want to speak to him.”

He started to push past Jim up the steps.

“Look,” said Jim, “it’s gone. The guy who took it wouldn’t let it go for anything.”

“Who are you?” demanded the leader darkly. “What business is it of yours?”

“If you want to know,” said Jim. “I’m the householder here.”

“Okay, then it’s none of your business,” said the stranger. “How do you know the guy doesn’t want to rent? I want to see the guy that rented it?”

He marched past Jim and rang the door bell.

“Look,” said Jim, “he’s not in.”

“What’s his name?” inquired the stranger.

“I don’t know his name,” stated Jim. “He just rented the place and said he would be back later.”

“Okay, Bill,” said the stranger to one of his friends. “You sit here while I go on around the other numbers. If the guy turns up, make him an offer. Any offer. But get the room!”

“Suppose,” said Jim. “I don’t want you for a tenant?”

“Oh, is that so?” sneered the stranger. “Since when are you offering a room for rent and then choosing who’ll take it?”

‘Well,” said Jim. “I can tell you one thing, I won’t have you for a tenant, at any price.”

“Aha,” cried the stranger, to his companions, “You hear that? The guy don’t even know he can’t raise the ceiling! Listen, mister, I get the room and I get it for the same rent you was charging before, see?”

Jim took a deep breath.

“Listen, you, mister,” he said. “There is no room for rent here. This is a private home. Due to a typographical error in the paper, a room for rent on Humbergarden avenue was mistakenly represented as my house. To save time explaining to a lot of lunkheads who wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them it was a mistake, I have merely been telling the stupidest ones that the room is gone.”

The stranger listened intently to Jim.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t believe you even rented the room. Come on, mister, show us up to the room.”

“Will you get out of here,” demanded Jim, or will I call the cops? One, two, three, four …”

“Oh, well, if you want to get tough,” said the stranger.

They went and sat in their car, discussing the matter for a moment.

“Humbergarden, did you say, mister?” called out the leader.

“That’s right,” said Jim.

It’s a Parade

But just as they were about to drive off, another car pulled up and two girls got out and hurried up. So the first car paused and waited to see whether the girls got any farther than they did.

Jim showed the girls the paper and explained the error. They accepted the facts at once and hurried back to their car. And the car with the three fatheads rushed off to beat them to the next stop.

“The world, Jim,” I submitted, “is coming to a pretty pass when a man can scarcely keep strangers from invading the sanctity of his home.”

“Look who’s next,” muttered Jim.

Up the walk came a short, thick-set woman of extremely foreign appearance.

“Room?” she demanded, holding up the newspaper.

“Gone,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“How much?” said the lady.

“Gone,” said Jim, emphatically. “Taken.”

“Aw,” said the woman bitterly. “I know. You don’t like foreigners. You don’t want me, eh? Well, I show you some day.”

And she turned and strode with excessive stiffness down the walk.

Two more cars pulled up and then drove on as soon as Jim called the news to them. Then came, on foot, slowly down the block, an elderly and charming lady.

“Pardon me,” she called from the street, “but is this the house that has the room for rent?”

Jimmie and I both hurried down to explain the situation to her. She was the sweetest old thing.

“Oh, dear,” she said wearily. “I have been to so many places today. When I turned down your lovely street, something told me I had come to the end of my search…”

“Come and rest on the veranda,” suggested Jimmie. “I’ll get a chair…”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said the old lady, pleasantly. “I must keep on. If I don’t get a place by tomorrow night, I will have no home at all.”

“But surely,” I suggested, “your family …?”

“My only son,” smiled the old lady, “a bachelor, not young either, has gone to war. He is in Halifax. On his way over. When he left, I gave up our apartment, thinking it was selfish for only one person to keep a big apartment of five rooms. I thought I could pick up a room, very easily…”

“My, this is bad,” said Jim. “Surely, your friends …?”

“I am afraid,” said the old lady sweetly, “we have been the kind of people who didn’t bother about making friends… I guess people should always go to church, shouldn’t they? But my son did not care for church. He preferred to take me into the country on Sundays. Dear, dear. Now he is gone to war. And I am so anxious to have a nice little place for him to come home to. I had the notion that if you let me have the one room, I could become friends with you, as time went on, and when he returns, you might let me have an adjoining room . . .?”

“But, I’m sorry,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, yes,” she sighed. “You have not even the one room. Of course. Well, gentlemen, I must keep on.”

And she walked slowly up the street, heading back for the bus stop.

“Hang it,” muttered Jim. “We can’t even offer her a lift in the car.”

A screech of tires rounding the corner drew our attention as we returned to Jim’s front steps. Two cars, one almost touching the tail of the other, raced down and drew up with a rush and a bump. And out leaped a man from each.

Neck and neck they raced up the walk.

“Hey,” began one.

“No, you don’t!” grunted the other, giving the first a shove.

And before another word was said, they were swinging.

Haymakers, clinches, short swings and jabs, they batted each other furiously and wordlessly. One tried to get his foot on the lower step of Jim’s veranda and the other grabbed him and dragged him down.

“Here,” I shouted, stepping in to part them.

“Look out,” warned Jim.

“Keep out of this, you little rat,” muttered one of the battlers, giving me the fairest punch so far in the fight – an elbow to the chin.

“Gentlemen,” chanted Jim, from the top step, “gentlemen, I don’t know what’s the matter, but if it is the room for rent you have come about, I want to tell you there is no room. Owing to a mistake…”

And while the two grunted and punched and swung and sweated, Jimmie slowly and loudly outlined the whole circumstances surrounding the typographical error.

Finally, in a clinch, the two exhausted fighters paused and looked up at Jim.

“What’s that you say?” panted one.

Good Luck Omen

So Jim repeated the whole speech. The two still clung firmly to each other until Jim had finished. Then they let go of each other and dusted themselves off and straightened their ties.

“I’m sorry, brother,” said the one who had clipped me on the pin.

“My own fault,” I assured him. “You should never try to stop a fight.

They glared at each other and then grinned sulkily.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie.

“Well, we apparently have the same list,” said one. “We’ve been running neck and neck for the past five places. I guess we got excited.”

They wiped their brows and necks with their hankies and turned slightly aside and each drew a list from his pocket and consulted it furtively.

“Look, boys,” said Jim, “just up the street, see, is that elderly woman. She’s on foot. She has been all over the city, at her age, trying to get a room. I tell you what. I’ll give good luck to whichever of you gets to her first and gives her a lift.”

“How do you mean?” muttered one.

“Well, getting a room is a case of luck, isn’t it?” said Jim. “And anybody that helps that old lady find a room first is going to have luck…”

The two turned. One leaped in his car and took a short turn into Jim’s side drive to get faced the other way.

But the other just backed. At about 40 miles an hour, he backed up the street and flung the car door open before a very astonished old lady.

And just as the other car came racing, with horn blowing, the old lady stepped into the first car, very gratefully.

“Okay,” said Jimmie, “wish them all luck.”

So we went in and got a large piece of cardboard and Jim lettered boldly on it –

“Sorry. Room rented.”

Which he put on the front steps.


Editor’s Notes: During World War Two, as housing construction was reduced considerably, and there was less construction in the Great Depression that preceded it. As demand increased because of War work, there was considerable housing shortages in major cities and other locations of wartime factories or activity. Renting rooms in private houses, and the creation of boarding houses was common. The story outlined above could have really happened given the situation.

There really is a Humbercrest Boulevard in Toronto near the Humber River, but no Humbergarden now. It may never have existed as I don’t see it on old maps in the area, and I could believe that an editor at the time insisting on a fake street to avoid the slight chance that someone took the story seriously and ended up looking for a room for rent. Many of the Greg-Jim stories implied that they lived near each other (at least a short walk away), and for a time, they really did. Greg lived on Baby Point Road in two different houses during this time. As mentioned in other stories, Greg was a renter while Jim was an owner, so it is possible Jim really lived on Humbercrest at the time of the story.

Off with the Frills!

April 24, 1943

Scrap metal drives continued throughout World War Two for military use.

Blackout

By Greg Clark, April 3, 1943

“Certainly we go sucker fishing,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Aw,” I begrudged, “what happens? We catch cold. We get wet. We strain our aging muscles. And, if we are lucky, we hoist out two, or maybe three, measly pink suckers.”

“Measly!” protested Jimmie indignantly. “Pink! I tell you, in the spring, just after the ice goes out, suckers are the most delicious fish you can eat.”

“Puh,” I said. “Bones, millions of Y-shaped bones to catch in your gullet.”

“A chicken has bones,” retorted Jim, “but you don’t get chicken bones stuck in your throat; why? Because you take care to eat the chicken in a gentlemanly fashion. You don’t wolf a chicken the way you do a fish. Eat fish as intelligently and genteelly as you eat a chicken, and there won’t be any bone problem.”

“Pooh,” I determined. “Suckers. The very name is nasty.”

“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when men were going around giving things names, they were just plain common men who named things in the beginning. And if a thing looked like a sucker, they called it a sucker. The scholars and gentlemen came along later and gave everything a much prettier name. But nobody uses those pretty names. They named the sucker Catostomus. Pretty, isn’t it? Catostomus. But we don’t call a sucker catostomus. We call it a sucker.”

“A catostomus by any other name,” I said, “would be as bony.”

“Listen,” protested Jimmie. “I tell you, in the early days, the settlers around here used to put down barrels full of suckers in brine for their spring and summer food, before the harvest gave them all the food they wanted in pork and eggs and vegetables. The spring of the year was a pretty hungry time of it, for the pioneers. This annual swarm of suckers up every creek and river was a godsend.”

“We do things better now,” I pointed out. “We maintain an all-year-round food supply. I can understand the early settlers doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine. But that is no reason why a couple of respectable and comfortable citizens like us have to go wading in the icy rivers.”

“Listen, Shorty,” uttered Jim grimly, “let was never get into the habit of thinking of ourselves as respectable and comfortable. Let us never forget the things our early settlers knew. Because there might come a day when a good many citizens, as respectable and comfortable as we, would go mighty hungry if they had forgotten what their grandfathers knew about sucker fishing.”

“Can you see our wives doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine?” I scoffed. “Why, the smell of fish in brine would cause the neighbors to telephone the health department.”

“Probably the pioneer home,” admitted Jim, “didn’t smell as sweet as the modern band-box we call home does. But the pioneer home was a lot more substantial than the band-boxes we dwell in today. All I say is, we ought to go sucker fishing this year, if only for sentiment’s sake.”

“I never feel very sentimental,” I submitted, “when a gulp of muddy ice water goes over the top of my hip waders.”

“By sentiment,” stated Jim, “I mean – here we are at war. Our food supply is becoming more and more rationed. A faint suspicion is dawning in all our minds that we really are at war. Isn’t it about time that those of us who can’t fight were planning to look out for ourselves? Suppose the government got really involved in the war, so that they had no more time to devote to rationing and controlling and petting the civilian populace. Suppose they had to give all their time and attention to war. Where would the mass of us get off then, my fine feathered friend?”

“We’d manage,” I assured him.

Courses In Woodcraft

At Cornell University, in the States, informed Jim, “and in Buffalo, at the Museum of Natural History, they are conducting public courses in woodcraft. Specialists, sportsmen, mining men and others who have lived part of their lives in the open, with nothing more than they could carry on their backs, are teaching classes of hundreds of city slickers how to live without cities, towns or even villages. How to carry a pack, how to make a camp out of brushwood, how to use an axe, how to cook, how to live off the country …”

“My dear man,” I snorted, “you don’t expect we’ll ever be refugees …!”

“The Russians never expected to be refugees,” said Jim. “The French never expected to be; and I bet there are millions of Frenchmen now who wish they had known how to camp out. It was because they were helpless denizens of cities and towns that they had to surrender when the Germans took their cities and towns. Free men should know how to be free, even in the wilderness.”

“Are you trying to scare me?” I inquired. “I was in France. I saw what happened. I didn’t leave France until the day France fell, mister.”

“Then,” declared Jim hotly, “you above all men should be going up and down the land, teaching people how to live in the bush, how to make a packsack, how to sleep dry in a brush lean-to in the rain …”

“Do you think the Germans,” I scoffed, “or the Japs, are going to attempt to conquer Canada?”

“If it was a question of trying to conquer us,” said Jim, “it wouldn’t be so bad. We know that is a big, tough job they could hardly tackle now.”

“Ah,” I said, resting easy.

“But,” said Jim, “the danger of their making an attack of desperation on us, a bad, violent, inspired raid on some part of North America, grows with every month that they realize they are in danger of losing.”

“But,” I cried, “to what purpose?”

“To grab a base,” said Jim, “to make a bridge-head, however temporary, from which they could bomb our great power plants, our industrial centres, our key factories, the nerve centres of our vast war production.”

“Oh, they couldn’t!” I declared.

“Just a minute,” stated Jim. “What has German aircraft production been doing, this past year, besides producing one new model of the Fokke-Wulfe? What have they been up to? They haven’t raided Britain much. They haven’t used much aircraft elsewhere. They quit trying to smother the Russians with aircraft over a year ago now. They have eased off on Malta. What are they up to?”

“Okay, what?” I demanded.

“Might they,” inquired Jim softly, “have been concentrating on the production of some novel, unforeseen giant new long-range troop carriers and long-range fighter-bombers? Something new-as new and surprising as the tank units they smashed France with?”

“H’m,” I muttered.

“If the Germans can build a 300-foot submarine,” went on Jim, “that can stay months at sea, thousands of miles from a base, they can easily build 600-foot submarines easily capable of each transporting a whole regiment of specialized and light armored troops to America.”

“Oh, yeah,” I cried. “To land where?”

“To land,” submitted Jim, “anywhere along hundreds and hundreds of miles of uninhabited Atlantic coastline, where German submarines, for over two years, have been coasting to our certain knowledge. Look: if we think nothing of landing army and navy reconnaissance officers along the coast of Norway and Africa, why do we imagine the Germans won’t do the same?”

“Do you mean to say,” I grumbled, “that there have been German soldiers ashore in Canada?”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “Then don’t forget the long range air transports full of paratroopers. Those Germans have had two winters of experience in Russia, of fighting in wild and rugged terrain. Who can tell what new and ingenious machines and devices they have thought up in Russia for use in the wildernesses of North America, from Baffin Land to Florida or Mexico?”

“You’re an alarmist,” I accused.

“Every living Canadian,” stated Jim, “man, woman and child, should have thought these things over months and months ago. It is our common duty to foresee every contingency.”

“Okay,” I said, “suppose they do make some foolhardy landing in the uninhabited wilderness?”

“They seize an airfield,” Jim said insidiously. “It isn’t to conquer America they have come. It is just, in desperation and fury at the way they are losing the war abroad, to come for a few fierce days and destroy and disrupt our war industry, to smash our great power centres, to wreck our nerve centres of war production, our essential factories, and to exploit the panic potential of Canada and the United States.”

“And then what?” I begged.

“And then start talking of a negotiated peace,” rounded up Jim.

“Why, it could happen!” I exclaimed.

“Anything can happen,” declared Jim, “once the Germans and Japs get really aware that they have lost the war. They will attempt anything. And do you think the big German industrialists, who have a lot to do with planning their war, like to sit home at night, in their deep dugouts, thinking of America and all its great cities and mighty industries, all undamaged …?”

“You make my flesh creep,” I stated.

“Good,” said Jim. “Your flesh creeps at the thought of a jugful of muddy ice water slopping over the tops of your hip waders, as you dipnet suckers out of the Humber. Your flesh creeps at the thought of the enemy doing what we might naturally expect them to do. Your flesh creeps easy, doesn’t it?”

“Jim,” I announced anxiously, “I’ll go sucker fishing with you. Not merely to catch suckers. Not merely to add even a few pounds to the food supply of the country, but for the sake of hardness, for the sake of doing something to remind me that I come of pioneer stock, and that like my ancestors before me I can be counted upon, in an emergency, to get tough again and tackle anything, in the wilderness, in the cold, in the discomfort …”

Jim, who has done a great deal more sucker fishing than I, was able to borrow a good big sound dip net. The Humber river runs through the suburbs of the city, and in past years, when we were younger and looking for idle amusement, we have often gone down to the river, in the first flush of spring, after the ice goes out, to dip a few suckers out and distribute them among any of our humbler friends who liked fish; even suckers.

Jim also decided that night was the best time to dip for suckers.

“When I was a kid, back in the country,” he said, “we never dreamed of going sucker fishing in daylight. The big swarms of suckers move upstream from the lake at night. When I was a kid, we used to make torches and stand in the riffles and shallows, and spear the suckers by the light of the torches with pitchforks. We’d get potato sacks full.”

“Besides,” I suggested, “if we light a good big bonfire, we can wade out of the water whenever we like and warm ourselves.”

“Let’s do this in the good old pioneer tradition,” agreed Jim. “We’ll go to that pool we used to fish in, you know the one …?”

So just before dark, we scrambled down the Humber banks, high banks they are and uninhabited, even in the outskirts of the city, and found a couple of lone sucker netters just packing up, at our favorite pool, to quit for the night. We did not advise them of our plans. They were city dwellers, who did not know that the best way to net suckers is by the light of a fire.

When all was quiet, save for the soft rush and chatter of the swollen river, in its full spring spate, Jim and I gathered driftwood and sticks for a rousing big fire.

Long Night Before Us

We got the fire going in a modest way, and enjoyed sitting beside it, in no hurry, since we had the long night before us. In the dancing rays of the fire, we sat with that happy feeling of campers, even though, a couple of hundred yards away, the great city roared about its nightly business.

Along about 9 p.m., we heaped the fire up big and hearty and got the net unrolled and strung on its hoop. And into the river we waded cautiously for our first dip.

Down we sank the net and waited. Up we hoisted. Down we pressed. Up we hoisted. But neither on the first nor the tenth nor the twentieth dip did we raise a sucker.

“Maybe,” said Jim, “the run starts a little later.”

And we waded ashore from time to time, to replenish the bonfire with fresh driftwood and stumps and logs. And a fine leaping fire we had; and the river sang its song into the night.

About 10 p.m., as we stood in the pool triumphantly hoisting out our very first sucker into the air, we heard shouts above the noise of the river and turned to see two men coming out of the brush beside our fire.

“Put this fire out,” shouted the foremost, “instantly!”

We waded in.

On their arms, the men were wearing air raid warden armbands.

“Come on, you,” cried the leader hotly. “Get this fire out!”

“What’s up?” inquired Jim, depositing our fish on the stones flopping.

“Surprise air raid warning,” said the warden crisply. “Come on now, make it snappy, get this fire out as fast as you know how.”

He and his partner were already hauling out the larger chunks and flinging them into the river.

“Jimmie,” I hissed, “maybe–!”

Embers Of Fire Gone

We exchanged a glance in the already dying light of our fire, and set to with a will to kicking and flinging the burning sticks into the darkening stream. With our hats, we dipped up water and poured it on the coals. In less than 30 seconds, our fire was all but out.

“It was only by chance,” said the warden, “that we happened along the crest, there, and saw the glow of the fire. A fine thing that would be, for our section, if this fire was reported. We’d look like fools. Why, you cast a glare all over the country. You could see the river, the banks, and even a faint outline of some of the houses above …”

“It’s dark enough now,” I said hollowly.

Because, with the glare of the fire still in our eyes, an excessive darkness engulfed us, there by the hissing and tumbling river.

With the last embers of the fire gone, we stood in complete and stony blackness.

Gone were the twinkling street lights from along the high banks. Gone, even, were the faint shadows and outlines of the steep cliffs and declivities of the Humber.

“We’ve got to get back up,” said the warden, “to our beat. Do you know the path up?”

“We’ve been here dozens of times,” assured Jim. “Just wait a few seconds until our eyes get used …”

We stood for a few minutes.

“Okay, come on,” said the warden impatiently. “Lead on.”

Jim, a shadowy and ghostly figure, the net over his shoulder, started into the brush.

I got right behind him. The wardens came on my heels. But it was dark, oh so dark. Jim stumbled and cussed. He announced he was leaving the net until morning, when he could return for it.

But with the street lights on the hills gone, with the bridge, a few hundred yards south, also gone, with its kindly lights, with the whole friendly familiar world suddenly blotted out, it was an eerie and alarming world we found ourselves in. Not a landmark remained.

We followed Jim a little way, with many a stumble. When outside the range of the river’s sound, we stood and listened. All was a ghastly silence. Not a car, not a street car, not a voice. Faintly now, we could make out the shape of the hills, but they looked strange. They did not seem at all familiar.

“I think it’s this way,” I suggested.

“Don’t be crazy; we bear right,” asserted Jim.

“We came down over that way,” said the wardens anxiously.

We stumbled on a few yards through brush, over stones, brambles scratched us. We reached the foot of a high bank. It was as steep as a wall.

We wandered along it, finally finding a slope we thought we could climb. But after a few tries, in which all four of us failed to get 10 feet up, and all of us very muddy and scratched, we gave up.

“You’ll hear about this,” warned the head warden angrily. “Taking us down here into this wilderness …”

But by heading southward, to where we knew the bridge was, and after much climbing over boulders and falling over sticks and thrusting through tangled brushwood, we saw, at last, ahead the unmistakable and dear outline of the bridge just as the silent heavens were filled with the baleful yell of the all-clear signal, and the kindly lights leaped on all over the world.

But it just goes to show you. Even right near home.


Editor’s Notes: Sucker fishing seemed to be a common practice in the spring in the country. Jim would often have it featured in Birdseye Center. A dip-net was a long pole with a net on one end that could be used as a lever to dip into the water and raise up with migrating suckers.

Jim referred to “modern” houses as band-boxes, a term used for very flimsy cardboard boxes, often for holding hats.

Focke-Wulf was the name of the German manufacturer of the most common German fighter plane, the Fw-190. It was only around this point, in early 1943, did allied countries feel more confident that the war would be won.

30 Below!

January 16, 1943

This comic endorsed aid for Russia (Soviet Union) during World War 2. It was near the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, a turning point in the war.

Pay Night!

November 27, 1943

In this war-time comic, Eli Doolittle (the laziest man in town) is actually doing some work, because his wife Ruby is off doing war-work.

Stamped Out

By Greg Clark, November 20, 1937

“Since when,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you been a stamp collector?”

“I’m not a stamp collector,” I denied indignantly. “This old stamp album I found in a trunk left with our family about forty years ago by an uncle.”

“It might be very valuable,” said Jim.

“You’re telling ‘me?” I snorted, thumbing through the yellowish pages thickly scabbed with aged stamps. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with my cousins for years to take the old trunk off our hands. I just heard the last of them had died up in Saskatchewan, so I decided to chuck the old trunk out. This was in it.”

“Maybe there’s a good fifty bucks in it,” said Jim, “to pay you for …”

“Fifty bucks,” I scoffed. “Jim, there are old stamps that sell as high as $14,000.”

“What?” said Jim

“Listen, my boy,” I said, as I studied eagerly the rows and rows of faded stamps all so neatly stuck in the album, “kings and queens collect stamps. Millionaires collect stamps the way other millionaires collect Rembrandts or Ming china. A thousand dollars is nothing for a rare old stamp dating back a hundred years, or, better, a stamp of a very small issue that was discontinued for some reason.”

“Your uncle,” said Jim, “wouldn’t have left that album lying for years in an old trunk, if there was any value like that in them.”

“He left it with us forty years ago,” said I, “and I bet he collected them when he was a young man. Look at the writing. That’s a young man’s writing. Maybe this album is sixty or seventy years old.”

“By golly,” breathed Jim.

“Everybody, Jim,” I declared, “is entitled to a little luck, once in his life. Some people get their luck by stumbling on a gold mine. Or some old relative leaves them a windfall, ten times bigger than they ever thought the relative was capable of. This old stamp album may be my luck, at last.”

“A reward, kind of,” said Jimmie, “for all the years you have patiently kept that trunk up in your attic.”

“Exactly,” I said piously, though there were plenty of times the old trunk got kicked around pretty badly, and old Uncle Seth had been called some fancy names.

“How are you going to get the album appraised?” asked Jim.

“That’s what I want to talk over with you,” I stated. There are catalogues that list all the stamps in the world, giving their value. I telephoned two or three stamp dealers and asked about those catalogues, and they all say the same thing. They say that the value of stamps has altered a great deal during recent years, owing to the depression and so forth, and if I will just bring the old album in, they can give me some idea of its value.”

“Oh, yeah?” scorned Jim. “Don’t let anybody pull that stuff on you. If you’ve got something valuable there, don’t let any dealer get his mitts on it.”

“Trust me,” I gloated. “I just laughed at them when they suggested the idea. No, sir, we’ve got to hunt around and get hold of one of those big catalogues and price lists. Or maybe if we make a list of the stamps in here and send it around to a dozen or so dealers.”

Getting Suspicious

“Telling each one,” warned Jim, “that we have sent the same list to other dealers.”

“That’s it,” I cried. “And then we’ll start them bidding.”

“Look here,” said Jim, “I know a dear old fellow; he used to be a postman. He’s one of the greatest stamp collectors in Canada. “If I can locate him, we could go and see him.”

“How could we trust him,” I demanded, “when it comes to a matter of thousands of dollars? Maybe $20,000.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “this old chap is as honest as the day. He hasn’t a cent in the world anyway. This is what we’ll do. We’ll offer to pay him a commission of five per cent for the proper valuation of this album if it is sold for what he appraises it at.”

“Not a bad idea,” I said, closing the album and taking a good tight hold on it. “But I have the queer sort of feeling about stamp collectors, as if it were a secret society.”

“How do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I don’t know,” I said, “On the face of it, it seems so silly, collecting old postage stamps. What’s there in it? It looks to me like one of those mysterious businesses that appear so silly on the outside, yet is full of secrets and mystery inside. Maybe this old postman of yours belongs to some kind of international organization and would value the album at a mere $500 and then split ten thousand with somebody else in the ring who buys it.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you’re getting suspicious like everybody else that gets his hands on a good thing.”

“Jim,” I said, “when you get your hands on something worth maybe $25,000, you’ve got to be suspicious. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head.”

So Jim did some telephoning and found that his old postman friend would probably be home around 8 p.m. He lived in a room on the third floor over one of those downtown blocks of stores on Queen street.

“I’ll pick you up after supper,” I said.

After supper, we drove downtown and parked the car near the Queen street number and located the place. It was one of those old blocks of stores, with intermediate doors leading up flights of stairs to apartments on the second and third floors.

Third floor we climbed, up dark, steep stairs, passing halls and doors where there were sounds of domestic activity and radios. At the top were two doors, one marked Beautician, and the other blank.

It was a massive door. They built doors in the eighties.

“This will be it,” said Jim, rapping.

Instead of the door opening, one panel in the upper half slid along sideways and a dim face appeared.

“Hello,” said Jim, a little startled.

“What do you want?” asked the face, just a faint blur in the open panel

“We’ve come to do a little business,” said Jim, pleasantly.

“Who sent you?” demanded the low voice.

“It was our own idea,” laughed Jim, as if this, were a game.

The panel slid shut. We waited. In a moment, it slid open again and we could make out two dim blurs in the darkness.

“Well?” said Jim.

“They look,” said a thinner voice than the first one we had heard, “like the type of guys we’ve been trying to get. Let ’em in.”

Something clunked. The door swung open, and we entered a dimly lit hallway, in which there was now only one man, a particularly heavy built individual who looked like a retired policeman.

“Hang your coats and hats here,” said this gentleman, gruffly. I felt his hand slide quickly down my back and up my left side, as he pretended to take my coat off. I clutched my parcelled stamp album tightly.

“What’s that?” demanded the stranger, brusquely.

“A stamp album,” I stated. “An old stamp album. That’s what we’ve come to see about.”

“To see about!” said the big fellow. “Oh, I see. Luck, huh?”

“It sure is luck,” I began, intending to start business without delay.

“Trot along in, then,” said the big fellow, “if the boss says you’re in, you’re in, cockeyed or not.”

He waved us along the hallway.

We opened the door. Instead of one man, there were thirty in the big room. Some were sitting at small side tables. Some were sitting on high benches around the side, like shoeshine parlor benches. And in the middle of the room was a big pool table, sort of, only it was not pool they were playing.

At one end of the table, a man in shirt sleeves was standing with a long hooked stick in his hand. Behind and above him, on a chair six feet high, like a chair on a ladder, was another man, sitting watching the table the way a cat watches a goldfish in its bowl.

A man at the side of the table was rolling big dice.

It was all quiet, smoky, muttery and hushed. As we entered, hardly anybody looked up. One man, who turned out to be the boss walked over and said quietly:

“Make yourselves at home. Buy your chips from the croupier. He cashes.”

“Chips?” said I, but Jim gave my sleeve a little jerk. We strolled over and looked between shoulders at the big table. It was not a billiard table at all. At one end, down by the man with the stick, there was a thick line painted across the green baize. Out in the middle were all kinds of squares, numbered. On the line and behind it were colored chips. In the squares were a lot of other chips.

A regular babble of talk was going on, and they were talking about the “hard eight and the “hard six.” At the far end, the man with the stick was repeating monotonously, “when you crap you double, when you crap you double,” and in return for cash money, he shoved out small piles of chips to the men standing around the table, yet never ceased his monotone, “crap you double.”

At the sides, where the men were putting their chips in the little squares, the battle ceased, and the man with the crooked stick put the dice in a leather tube, about the size of a condensed soup can. He handed it to one of the men on the side. He held it up, turned it around three times, shifted it to his other hand and rolled the dice out on the green baize.

There was an outburst, like “they’re off” when the horses start at the races. Chips went all directions and money was waved, and the man with the crooked stick raked in the dice and shoved chips this way and that. The man on the high chair never even blinked. He just sat up there, staring expressionlessly at the table.

“Jim,” I muttered, “how about my stamps?”

“All right, all right,” hissed Jim. “Wait a minute.”

“Well, what is this?” I insisted.

“Talk about luck,” said Jim, backing me out a little from the crowd. “that old stamp album of yours has led us right into a swell big crap game. One we couldn’t get into, maybe, except by accident, in a thousand years.”

“What of it?” I started.

“Luck,” whispered Jim fiercely. “Luck. Don’t you believe in hunches?”

“No gambling,” I declared firmly. “Not me.”

“How much have you got on you?” demanded Jim, feeling in his own pocket. I had $2.12. Between us, we had $7.40. Jim took my two and went around the end to the man with the stick. He returned with seven white chips.

“A dollar apiece?” I protested.

“Listen,” said Jim. “we’re in luck. The air is full of hunches. Watch me.”

He found an open spot at the table and I wedged in alongside. Jim put two of our white chips on the square marked 8 and two behind the long white line. We waited while the babble subsided, a tall elderly man threw the dice, and out came a nine. There was the outburst, and the swift moving of chips in all directions. Ours were lost in the scramble.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Just a minute,” said Jim, tossing three chips down in the squares, in various numbers.

The tall, thin man rolled again. Another nine.

There was wild, smothered hubbub and our three chips were swept away by strange hands that, as far as I could see, had nothing to do with it. But Jim just looked and said nothing.

“Now what?” I demanded.

Jim backed me out again.

“Let’s see that stamp album,” said he.

“What for?” I cried so sharply that the boss walked quickly over.

“What is it, gents?” he asked.

“Is there anybody around here,” said Jim. “knows the value of old postage stamps? Any stamp collector?”

“Ham up there,” said the boss, “he’s a regular fiend after stamps.”

“Jim.” I said, “be careful.”

We walked around and spoke up to the man on the high stool. As if waking from a trance, Ham looked down and listened while Jim explained about the stamp album. Ham reached down for it and looked through it casually

“Ten bucks?” he said.

“What?” I cried. “It’s worth hundreds.”

“Says you,” said Ham, handing it negligently down to me.

“Maybe thousands,” I repeated heatedly.

Ham’s eyes were fixed glassily on the table again.

“Look,” Jim said, “gamblers are the most honest men in the world. You’ve heard that all your life, haven’t you?”

“Ten bucks,” I said contemptuously, tying the string back on it.

“Look,” pleaded Jim, holding my lapel, “everything is luck. isn’t it? How do we know this dizzy old album …”

“Jimmie,” I warned, clutching the book.

“A bad beginning,” said Jim, “means a good end. If I get ten bucks, I’ll probably be able to clean up $500 here in half an hour. I’ll split.”

“Split!” I snorted.

“Two-fifty in the hand is worth ten thousand in a bushy old album,” begged Jim. “Listen, this is a straight hunch. Why should we stumble in here, with that old book, unless …?”

I handed Jim the album, slowly, painfully. He handed it up to Ham and Ham, never shifting his eyes from the table, handed down a ten.

Jim went and waited at the table until the dice came to him. He put ten white chips on the line, with a regular slap.

He rolled. It was a six.

After the hubbub, they gave the dice back to Jim. He held the tube up and passed it slowly from his right hand to his left.

He rolled.

Seven.

In the hubbub, our troubles seemed to be as nothing. We withdrew to a corner, and the boss came hurrying over.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he cried, “not so loud. No fighting in here, if you please.”

“We’re ruined,” I informed him loudly.

“Ham will always advance you taxi fare home,” said the boss, gently.

“We’ve got our own car, thanks,” I declared.

Which was all.

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Talk About Luck” in 1943 (illustration here).

December 11, 1943

Editor’s Notes: Jim was always portrayed as the one more comfortable gambling, where Greg would be seen as more prudish.

Baize is the material used for billiards tables and casino games.

Gummed Up

By Greg Clark, November 6, 1943 (and December 7, 1935)

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Leak Stoppers” in 1935 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics (though in this case there was little changed).

“You can buy a gun,” said Jimmie Frise, “what they call a caulking gun, and seam up all your windows and doors with it, using a kind of putty or cement.”

“I’ve seen them,” I said. “Like a grease gun.”

“Exactly,” said Jim. “A child can use them. You have no idea how many leaks there are around a modern house. Air leaks.”

“I’m beginning to feel them,” I agreed. “You would think we Canadians would have solved the question of housing a couple of generations ago. Yet the average Canadian home is stifling in summer and freezing in winter; that is, unless you keep a furnace going full blast from October to May.”

“Yes,” pursued Jim, “and what’s more, when you have the furnace going full blast, what are you doing? You are merely squirting 50 or 100 jets of hot air out of 50 or 100 leaks in your house. Through cracks and crevices. Through keyholes and under warped doors. Hot air squirting out of your house, and cold air shooting in. I’m going to get one of those caulking guns. How would you like to go halvers with me on one?”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“The best house for Canada,” said Jimmie, relaxing, “is a log house. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. Our first ancestors who came to this country were a lot more comfortable than we are. They picked a nice spot on the side of a hill for a cabin. A hill that would protect them from the cold northwesterlies.

They left a few tall maples and elms over it, to shelter it in the heat of summer. Out of cedar logs, they built their little cabin, and chinked the spaces between the logs with mud mixed with a little lime they burned themselves from limestone lying around.”

“I often wish I were my ancestor,” I mused.

“The roof,” said Jimmie, they made this way, they laid stout saplings close together, and over them laid what they called cedar splits, like big shingles. Sometimes if they could afford it, they laid couple of layers of heavy paper between the saplings and the shingles. One of my ancestors was called Proudy Frise, because he lined his roof with rawhide deerskins that he bought from the Indians. It was wonderful in the winter, but in the summer, it smelt kind of close.”

“He could stay outside most of the summer,” I pointed out.

“Once the snow fell on the cabin roof,” went on Jim, everything was hunkey-dooley.”

“The fireplace,” I carried on, “was built of stone, with the chimney.”

“As a matter of fact,” corrected Jim, “they built the stone fireplace and chimney first, and then added the cabin on to it. Here and there, throughout Canada, you will find a few weed-grown remnants of these pioneer chimneys and fireplaces. Every true Canadian should reverently lift his hat when he sees one of those small, unhonored ruins. Around those stones, the builders of empire have huddled in the long and bitter winters of their lives.”

“Babies, too,” I said.

“We Could Be Ancestors”

“Let us picture that little cabin,” paused Jimmie. “Never mind the cutting and the hauling of those cedar logs, the finding and hauling of the stones for the fireplace and chimney. They had no horses. Oxen were few and far between and very expensive. I think we may reasonably suppose that our fathers hauled the logs by hand, and carried the stones in their arms. I think I can see everybody in the family, lonely in that small stumpy clearing in the deep forest, hauling, hauling all day. The mother, leaving her baby, to help haul cedar logs. The little boys of 10 and 14, laboriously loosening and rolling stones towards that sacred muddy little spot where soon, before the chill of autumn grimmed to winter, there must rise the stone altar of home.”

“Jimmie,” I said, “you’re a preacher.”

“Day after day, they hauled and notched and piled and plastered with their rude cement,” said Jim. “Then they had to cut and pile firewood, long, ragged stacks of it. But at last, the rough little cabin was made, and the snow fell, and the soft white blanket warmed the little house. And inside, on a big hearth, a far bigger hearth than you will see anywhere today except at golf clubs, burned a bright fire.”

“One of my ancestors, called Great Grandpa Willie,” I interrupted, “had one of the biggest and best-drawing fireplaces in Markham township. They tell that when the fire was drawing good in it, the draught was so strong it sucked great big cordwood sticks up the chimney and threw them hundreds of feet away. In fact, they had to keep letting the fire go out because they couldn’t get any wood to stay on the fire long enough to burn.”

“The floor,” went on Jim, as if I hadn’t spoken, was generally just plain earth, worn hard and smooth by human feet. The beds were rough hewn bunks. A home-made table. The chairs, a couple of stools, and the rest just round pieces of logs set on end. On that bright fire they cooked their meals on spits and boiled their kettles on hobs. All winter long, they hugged the bright fire, never letting it go out night or day. And the only thing that happened was when daddy walked 14 miles through the deep snow to the nearest village, for a bag of flour, to bring back on home-made sled. And maybe a piece of pork he would get from the local missionary, or maybe from United Empire Loyalist, who might live in the village. That is unless your ancestor had been out with Mackenzie.”

“Mine were out with Mackenzie,” I stated proudly. “And they never wanted for a slab of salt pork or a bag of flour. The ones who were out with Mackenzie stuck together a lot longer than the ones who weren’t, let me tell you that. One winter’s night, nearly 30 years after the rebellion, an old man came to the back door of my great-uncle’s farm, and he said he wanted a meal and shelter for the night. The old man came into the kitchen where the candles were burning, and when he saw William Lyon Mackenzie’s picture on the wall, he snatched off his hat and stood in front of it, crying. So my great-uncle sent everybody to bed; and hour after hour the women and children could hear the two old men in the kitchen making speeches and singing, and reading all my great-uncle’s clippings of the sacred newspaper writings of William Lyon Mackenzie. And finally they went out into the winter night, both of them, about midnight or after, and from that hour, my great-uncle was never seen again.”

“Never seen?” asked Jim.

“Never seen again,” I stated. “He had got out his old high hat and his black coat with the silver buttons. His pike, which hung on the wall, a funny old weapon made of a broken scythe blade on a long ash handle, was gone. We say in the family that the old stranger who called at the door was Mackenzie himself or his ghost, and that he came and took great-uncle away with him. I tell you the rebels stuck together, at least in the country.”

“I wish I was my ancestor,” agreed Jim. “They had something to do. Something to fight. Something to believe in.”

“We could be ancestors, too,” I explained to Jim. “By going up north, around Cochrane or out to the far west. And build a little log cabin and go through all the very same things our ancestors did.”

“Yeah,” sneered Jim, “and the minute we began to fail, we’d go on relief.”

Everything Goes in Circles

“Our ancestors went on relief, too, don’t forget,” I stated. “All the Empire Loyalists got what was called ‘assistance’; that is, free seed and potatoes and all sorts of government grants of this and that. And even after the rebellion, the government wouldn’t see you starve. Anyway, your neighbors wouldn’t. And that’s much the same thing as it is now out on the frontiers, where we would go if we wanted to be ancestors, too.”

“Everything sort of goes round, doesn’t it?” muttered Jim. “The same thing happens over and over, only to different people. I guess we had our turn in our great-grandfathers.”

“We’re pretty comfortable,” I confessed. “Except for those leaks around the windows and doors. When do you expect to get the caulking gun?”

“I could get it Friday, and we can do the job Saturday.”

So Jim got the gun and three bags of the powder that you mix up in a pail to make the putty or gum used to fill the cracks.

It was a cold day. In fact, it was so cold I suggested we leave the job over until milder day. But Jim was indignant.

“In the first place,” he cried, “what would our ancestors think of us, passing up a job that takes half an hour out in a little cold? And in the second place, it is a cold, windy day like this we need to help find the leaks.”

We started at Jim’s. Under the downstairs living room windows was a leak that gave you a backache in 10 minutes if you sat in the chesterfield. It was a leak under the window frame and behind the big radiators that filled the front end of the room. So cold was the breeze that cut in across the radiators that it was still freezing after it had passed across practically red-hot radiators.

In a big wash boiler, with water we mixed the gray powder out of the paper bags.

“This stuff,” explained Jim, sniffing loudly, “is sort of like gum. It swells as it hardens. It hardens light and fluffy but strong as stone.”

“Like,” I said, “a sort of asphalt or concrete seidlitz powder.”

Jim and I went and studied the leak from the inside and then from the outside. His family were all away, or we would have had someone stand inside and call out to us where the leak still leaked. Jim did the gun work while I did the mixing and gun-filling. It was an even division of the job, and a cold job at that.

Inserting the flattened end of the gun into the crack below the stone window sill, Jim would press the gun handle and the putty would squeeze inside. Jim shoved and heaved and sniffled, and I crouched down out of the wind, just coughing

A Dreadful Sight

After four gun loads, Jim went inside and reported the cold leak as cold and leaky as ever.

“There must be a hole,” he said, “as big as a piano box inside that wall.”

So I mixed and puddled and Jimmie gunned and heaved, and that one leak took seven pails of putty.

“We ought to have some sort of automatic gun,” declared Jim, “that would connect to a hose. Then we could fill these holes in jig time.”

“My hands,” I said, “are numb.”

“I feel hot chills, confessed Jim. “I bet I am catching pneumonia.”

“Any number of our ancestors must have died of pneumonia,” I offered.

So we broke off, and drove over to the hardware store for another three bags of the gum.

“We’ll fill this leak,” said Jim, setting to, “if it takes all day and 50 bags. Just imagine the kind of man that would build a house with hole like that in it.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, we are filling up hollow wall right to the roof?”

“If we are,” said Jim, “We are. But I going to stop this leak.”

And grunting and sniffing, he leaned on the gun, and shot another two pailfuls of the gum into the chink below the window sill.

“Our ancestors, I coughed, “generally did their wall clinking in the summer.”

“Sniff,” said Jim, heaving hard.

“Our ancestors,” I further coughed, had enough sense to do their chinking from the inside, in winter.”

“There’s an idea,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s find the leaks inside and work from there!”

“For mercy’s sake,” I said, seizing the pail and one of the two remaining bags of powdered gum. “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”

So we hustled inside through the kitchen, and we paused in the kitchen with all our paraphernalia long enough to brew a pot of tea and drink it neat.

“To be an ancestor,” said Jim, much improved, “you had to have common sense. I bet the bones of amateur ancestors lie thick all over Canada. Men who didn’t use their brains. Men who couldn’t take it.”

“Let’s go find the leak from the inside,” I encouraged.

So we carried the gun and the pail and bags into the living-room.

A dreadful sight met our eyes.

Like candle drippings, like the winter icicles of Niagara Falls, huge stalactites and stalagmites of gray gum draped themselves up and over the big radiator of the living-room, sizzling and smoking. Out across the shining hardwood floor, a great gob of gum, like lava from Mount Vesuvius, bulged grotesquely, pushing a Persian rug ahead of it.

Halvers on the Gun

Jim said nothing. He just dropped the gun and stood loosely, bending at the knees, sort of.

“Jim,” I said, “quick, when are the folks coming home?”

“Ancestors,” said Jim, thickly, “where are you now?”

With garden spade and ice pick, with rags and trowel, we labored. The gum had apparantly been pushing through into the living-room as fast as we shoved it. It had filled the space behind the radiator and finally rose up and flowed over it, so that the radiator was all but engulfed. Where we lifted it, like a great gummy rug, off the hardwood floor, it peeled the beautiful satiny finish off the way a mud pack removes the ageing epidermis of a lady. It smelt rubbery and asphalty. The hot radiator stewed it. It stuck, as gum sticks to your heel. We had the job not quite finished when the family arrived and consigned Jim and me and all our apparatus to the cellar where Jim has a billiard room.

“Will I offer to re-polish the floor?” asked Jim, as we sat there.

“You can if you like,” I said. “If we do the same thing at my house, I’ll offer to re-polish my floor.”

“I see,” said Jim. “I see. You are leaving me?”

“Yes,” I said, “I am all chapped and raw. I feel a bad cold coming on. I have been doing foolish thing.”

“Helping a friend, scorned Jim.

“I have been doing a foolish thing,” I reiterated. “I forgot that my ancestors did all the suffering any family needs to do. They used up in their lives, a basic fund of energy, a sort of family supply of vigor, so that they had none to pass on to me. What they suffered, they suffered for me. And they no doubt were encouraged, as they toiled and suffered, by the thought that their descendants would not have to suffer as they were doing.”

“I bet they thought of no such thing,” said Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I coughed heavily, “there is no call for me to go on suffering when I can hire an ancestor just fresh out from Scotland who will gum up the leaks in my house for two dollars.”

“How about going halvers on the gun?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” I said: “I’ll give you the money the next time I have it.”

So I got up and hurried home and put my feet in mustard bath and put my grand-mother’s Paisley shawl – the one she got for a gift the night the fall of Sebastopol was celebrated in Toronto – round my shoulders and read an old book, a raggedy old book we have, called “The Life and Times of William Lyon Mackenzie.”

December 7, 1935

Editor’s Notes: This is yet another story in the theme of Greg and Jim trying to do some sort of household repair while the family is out, and making a mess of it.

William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, journalist, reformer, and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. He is consider a hero by many as the failed rebellion eventually led to more local control.

Seidlitz powders is a generic name for a laxative that required mixing of two ingredients.

The fall of Sebastopol was a battle during the Crimean War, which would have been celebrated in the British Empire.

Why Italy ‘Simply Crumbled’

By Greg Clark, October 23, 1943

By Special Cable to the Star Weekly From Somewhere in Italy

The first truck into a little Italian mountain village north of Potenza lurched around a corner and from the crowd of ragged villagers and half uniformed hungry Italian refugee soldiers came a hail.

“The Campbells are coming.”

On our truck sat perched Sergeant Jimmy Campbell with his Glengarry on his head instead of steel hat which Jimmy finds handier for his profession as movie cameraman of the Canadian film and photo section. The hail came from an Italian officer and Jimmy waved cordially at him. In the village the truck stopped and we hopped down to investigate this odd salutation

Lieut. Alex. Tarasca of the Italian army was the name of our greeter. He was a graduate of Columbia University in architecture in 1913 and had spent all his life practically in America. From him I got about a fair and lucid and cynical an account of what the past four years have meant for Italy as is possible in this bewildering and pitiful fiasco of the world’s most romantic nation.

Tarasca did not know Jimmy’s name was Campbell. He just saw the Glengarry and let go the first thing that came into his mind. When I tell you that Tarasca has contributed in his time verses that got into Franklin P. Adams’ column in the old days in the New York Herald and that he was a close chum of James Kevin McGuinnes, famous newspaper columnist of the New York Telegraph and later of Hollywood, you can guess what a treat it was to stand in front of the jaunty 30-year-old Italian lieutenant and hear from his lips the pure Doric of Fifth Avenue.

Tarasca was baby when his parents emigrated to America and he was educated in New York, attending Columbia for his degree in architecture. In 1915, due to a love affair which went haywire, Tarasca enlisted in New York in the Italian army and went to Italy, where he served throughout the last war with the Italian White Fusileers of the Queen’s Brigade and at the war’s end married an Italian girl from Bari, whom he brought home to America in 1924. She developed T.B. and he had to bring her back to a sunny country, and Tarasca has been here ever since. His wife died last year.

“Are you a Fascist?” I asked him.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I said I wasn’t,” said Tarasca. “Do you know what the initials P.N.F. stand for? They are everywhere in Italy. They are the initials and insignia of the Partito Nationale Fascists, the National Fascist Party. But there is a more popular and widespread meaning to them in Italy and there has been for the past 15 years at least. And that Per Necessita Famiglipe, which means for family necessity. You join the Fascist party in order that your family may eat.”

The Italian Excuse

“Surely it isn’t as cynical as that,” I protested. “We have had every proof for years past that the Italian people fairly gloated in fascism. Think of the newsreels of throngs listening to Mussolini.”

“Look,” said Tarasca, “how many Americans are Democrats or Republicans only for what they can get out of it in political jobs and petty favors? In your country how many are members of one party or the other because of what is in it for them?”

“A number, I imagine. Besides them are large numbers of people who really believe in some party policy or program.”

“Now suppose,” said Tarasca, “that due to some great depression or other crisis you had the situation that one of those parties was given such power that it presently abolished all other parties, got into the hands of your country’s gangster element, that all the crooked business promoters, all the cheap lawyers, all that great number of people in any country who have for years been lurking along the fringe of society disappointed, cynical, jealous and frustrated, were to get into positions of power in that one party government. That is what we have had in Italy.

“It is no apology,” said Tarasca. “When I got back from America in 1924, I had to find a job of some kind to support a sick wife. There was only one place to look for a job and that was at the headquarters for all jobs, the Fascist office. There has not been a day since I came back to Italy that I have not felt contempt for the whole show and felt sorry and ashamed for myself for not being able to do something about it. But taking it on a very much smaller plane I bet you there isn’t a business or an industry or an office in America where there isn’t the same feeling among the employees. The man who is perfectly content with his job or his circumstances is mighty rare. The man who is always beefing about his boss or his fellow employees is the natural man. But that man does not jeopardize his bread and butter by trying to buck the management. Not out loud anyway.

“That is the excuse I offer for myself, and imagine it is the situation of the vast majority of Italians. The proof is in the disasters that have fallen on our armies everywhere. The final proof is the way this whole nation simply crumbled when the armistice came. Sure there are still the gangsters, the crooks and profiteers who string along with the Germans for a little time. But we know them. And there is little else they can do. They cling to the Germans for protection. That is the fact.”

Tarasca was far from his own native town when we got him. He was an officer commanding an anti-aircraft platoon in our line of advance. When the armistice was signed six of his 30 men deserted at once. One by one the rest trickled off until the day we arrived in his station he had one man left. Tarasca himself had taken off his uniform, donned shabby clothes and lived in a refugee-crowded village, keeping out of the way of the Germans, retreating because the Germans, working on the theory that all Italian officers were Fascists, were disarming the troops and had been sending the officers to the rear behind the Germans where they hoped to use the officers to control the civilians and possibly to help form Italian Fascist units in that region still occupied by the Germans.

Fascism a Racket

Tarasca took me on foot into three small towns in this area which our patrols had just cleared of Germans. In each the story was the same. In each a little clique of Fascists, who had been in complete and ruthless control of the community, had packed up and fled northward back of the Germans. In each town a sort of stiff-legged hostile attitude existed between the majority of the people, mostly ragged and poor, and a small number of those not quite leading Fascists but who had been favored by or had favored the local Fascists. There was a good deal of worry over this spirit which might at any time flare up into local revolt among the Italians. Tarasca took me into the abandoned homes of the departed small town big shots which had been promptly invaded by the townsfolk and you could see at a glance just what hoarders, profiteers and gangsters they had been. At no time under fascism, said Tarasca, had it been anything but a racket in which the party leaders, whether in small towns of great cities, were despoilers of the community. And Italians, being by heredity the ancient victims of all manner of despoilers, they were easy pickings for the Fascists who in country regions at least were exactly that class Tarasca described – the crooked business men, the fox lawyers, the people who under normal lawful government were always on the outside.

Travelling with the advancing reconnaissance parties of the Canadians these first few weeks of the Italian campaign, I have passed through few large centres. Our journey has been fast and furious through mostly small villages and towns. But in Reggio, Potenza and Catanzara I talked briefly with scores of Italians of the professional and educated class, lawyers, engineers and school teachers, all of whom frankly confessed to having been members of the dissolved party, all of whom in less shrewd fashion confessed the realistic attitude of Tarasca and every one of whom expressed lively anxiety as they thought of how the poor multitude of Italy might rise in wrath against them, however decent their local reputation might have been.


Editor’s Note: This article was written while Greg was a war correspondent during World War Two during the Italian campaign. Mussolini was deposed on July 26, 1943 after the Allied invasion of Sicily. Italy signed an armistice on September 8, 1943, but the Germans occupied northern Italy and continued the fight to the end of the war.

Treasure Hunters

By Greg Clark, September 25, 1943

“You’re just in time,” cried Jimmie Frise, delightedly.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“There’s an old chap coming in,” hurried Jim, “an old sailor, who has got the most extraordinary story. About buried treasure.”

“Ho, ho, ho,” I scoffed.

“This,” cried Jim, “is the real thing. You’ll realize it the minute you see the old boy. He’s absolutely genuine.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” I said, settling down to my desk to earn my daily bread.

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’m no fool. I wouldn’t be taken in by any fake. I tell you, this old boy is the real stuff. And he’s got the most fascinating story I’ve ever listened to.”

“Was it gold coins,” I inquired sarcastically, “or just ordinary gold bricks?”

“I tell you,” declared Jim, that he held me absolutely spellbound for over an hour. He’s gone home to get some more documents, now that I’m interested. But I told him to hurry back because I wanted you to hear it from his own lips.”

“What kind of a man is he?” I asked.

“He’s an old sailor,” related Jim breathlessly. “He’s a big, stout, elderly fellow, with white hair and a big, round, ruddy face. His hands are all tattooed in red and blue, and you can fairly smell the salt off him.”

“I suppose,” I offered, “that he walks with rolling gait, like all sailors in stories?”

“Just you wait,” said Jim. “He isn’t the talkative plausible type at all. He’s a big, slow-speaking, bashful old man, who blushes and struggles with his words. He’s been trying to get up nerve enough to approach us ever since the summer, when he came to Toronto to visit his granddaughter.”

“And what’s he got?” I inquired

“He’s got,” said Jim, hastily collecting his thoughts, an ancient chart …”

“Phew,” I said. “It smells, Jim. It’s the old Spanish prisoner racket in a new guise.”

“Listen,” cried Jim hotly, “I saw this chart. It’s as old as the hills. It’s at least 200 years old.”

“Paper or parchment?” I demanded.

“Paper,” said Jim.

“And how it preserved?” I asked shrewdly.

“It’s pasted on leather,” explained Jim. “Old, old dried and withered leather of some kind …”

An Exciting Story

“How did he come by it?” I inquired.

“It was given to him by a native woman, down in the South Seas, when he was a young man,” related Jim, romantically. “This native girl loved him and gave him the chart, which she said was a secret possession of her family, handed down from her great-great-grandfather, a white man.”

“Probably a pirate,” I suggested.

“That’s what the old sailor thinks, too,” said Jim.

“Then why has he never done anything about it?” I submitted.

“That’s the exciting part of the whole thing,” cried Jim. “This is the part that makes me believe every word he says. And this is the story. When he left the South Seas, he left on a little trading schooner. He had the chart in his seaman’s box. He thought nothing of it. It was just a curio his girl had given him. He didn’t believe a word of the story she told about any buried treasure. On the trading schooner he came to blows with the master, and at the first port of call he quit the schooner and waited for a steamer. This was a tramp steamer engaged in some illegal traffic, and when they reached San Francisco the whole ship’s company, captain officers and crew, were all arrested, including this old boy – then a lad of about 25.”

“Go ahead,” I urged.

“He was in jail about a week,” went on Jim, “and when he got out and went back to the ship for his gear the ship’s cook, who had not been arrested, had gone through all the property of the crew, stealing anything of value that he found. And among the things he took from our friend’s sea chest was this old chart.”

“H’m,” said I.

“Fifteen years went by,” related Jimmie, “and our friend never even thought of the old chart. Never even thought of it. That’s how little he valued it. Then, in 1912 …”

Jim crouched down at his drawing-board and fixed me with a maritime eye.

“In 1912,” hissed Jim, “our friend, now an old sailor of 40 years of age, signed aboard a rich man’s yacht in New York. It was a pleasure cruise, going in search of buried treasure in the Caribbean.

“Ah,” I pleaded.

“And naturally among the crew and the members of the party,” said Jim, “the talk was all buried treasure. The yacht owner had dozens of books, pamphlets and old charts and old references and letters to all the buried treasure there ever were. And naturally our friend, in the course of talk as they cruised south, spoke up and told about the ancient yellow chart, backed with leather, that his girl had given him years before in the South Sea Islands.”

“So?” I begged.

“On this old chart,” whispered Jim mysteriously, as you will see in a few minutes, there is written, in ancient faded ink, the name Jos. Hawkins. When our friend described the chart and mentioned the name Jos. Hawkins, the yacht owner nearly went crazy with excitement. It appears he had records of the existence not only of that very chart, but of an enormous treasure, in gold, silver and jewels, buried on an island in the South Pacific.”

“What a coincidence,” I breathed.

“Naturally,” said Jim. “they quit their pleasure cruise and headed as fast as they knew how for San Francisco to try to pick up trace of that thieving ship’s cook or of the stolen chart.”

“When was this?” I asked.

“In 1912,” said Jim. “They went to San Francisco and with the help of the wealthy yacht owner they delved into the old records, they hunted through hundreds of sailors boarding-houses, for any trace of the cook. But never the slightest trace did they find. It was hopeless.”

“What happened?” I asked,

“Our friend,” said Jim, whose name is Smith, left the yacht’s crew and remained behind in San Francisco to continue the search. The yacht owner financed him for two years. He haunted the wharfs, searched the sailors’ hangouts. Then, in 1914, the wealthy yacht owner died. All alone, without any further means of support, Smith continued the search. He had to take jobs, and he went on short voyages, always returning to San Francisco. But about 1917 he finally gave up the search after five years. By now he was getting into his fifties. He went on a freighter to England and from there, during the hard years after the war, he took such jobs as he could get. But never did he forget the chart and that cook. He spent all his idle time searching sailor hangouts, searching second-hand shops, looking through the contents of sailors’ sea chests in second-hand stores. Then one day …”

“Please hurry,” I begged.

“One day in Rio de Janeiro,” said Jim, with a catch in his voice, “Smith walked into a little restaurant at the dockside, and there, at a table, was the cook!”

“What a moment!” I agreed.

“Smith was very clever,” said Jim. “He controlled himself. He simply sat down and shook hands with the thief and asked him what he had done with the chart which Smith said he valued as a gift from an old sweetheart. The cook said it had lain in the bottom of his chest for several years but that he had left the chest at a certain sailors’ boarding house in San Francisco. It was there yet, as far as he knew.”

“Not much chance,” I suggested. “After 20 years.”

“Yes,” said Jim, listening to hear if Smith’s footsteps were approaching. “Poor Smith. He had to make his way to San Francisco. It took him seven months. On account of the war merchant seamen can’t just go where they please. When he reached San Francisco he went at once to the boarding house. The house had changed hands several times. It took Smith a whole month to trace down the owner at the time the cook left the box. He lived in Chicago. Smith went to Chicago, riding freight trains. There he spent weeks tracing the old boarding house owner, who finally told him, at last, that he had sold the chest to a dealer in such junk.”

“What a treasure hunt itself,” I marvelled.

“Back to San Francisco went Smith, only this past summer,” said Jim. “He is, as you will see, an elderly man, though well preserved. In San Francisco he went straight to the junk dealer’s who, 10 years before, had bought a sea chest from a bankrupt boarding-house. Down cellar they went and searched amongst the gathering debris of the years. And there, in five minutes, they found the cook’s sea chest. Smith bought it for 50 cents.”

“Fifty cents?” I exclaimed.

“And down in the bottom,” exulted Jim, “was the chart, undamaged, exactly as Smith had last seen it.”

“What a remarkable thing,” I agreed.

How Lovely to Go Voyaging

“Smith,” continued Jim, “beat his way directly to New York, to try and dig up any connections with that yachting party of 1912. Any children or friends of the yacht owner. He couldn’t find any trace of them whatever. He used up all his money. He was absolutely checkmated. He was on the point of approaching some stranger and putting the proposition up to him, when he remembered his granddaughter here in Toronto. He decided, before taking any risks, to come and visit his granddaughter, whom he had never seen, and the only living soul left to him in the world. When you get old you turn back to your own.”

“So he came to Toronto?” I urged.

“He has been here a month,” said Jim. “He revealed his secret to the young woman. They talked the thing over from every angle. And finally the granddaughter suggested you and me. She reads our articles every week, and she just thought we were the adventurous type who might be interested. And she believes we are honest men. And discreet.”

“Jim,” I said shakily, “did Smith give you any idea of the size of the treasure?”

“He has no idea,” replied Jim. “All he knows is that it is in a most inaccessible region in the South Pacific, that it consists of a very great quantity of Spanish gold coins silver bars and jewels.”

“Did he not put a value on it?” I quivered

“He thinks he recollects hearing the yacht owner say,” said Jim, “that it amounted to $2,000,000.”

“Oh, my gosh,” I gasped.

“With the war on,” said Jim, “there isn’t much hope of getting near it.”

“Let’s cross our bridges when we come to them,” I counselled.

“It wouldn’t take a great deal,” said Jim, agitated. “Smith thinks $1,000 would make a start. We could let 10 friends in, for $100 apiece. And we could get leave of absence from the office for a few weeks.”

“I need a winter holiday,” I proclaimed.

“Smith should be back before this,” said Jim, looking at his watch. “He said he would be back right away. And that is two hours ago.”

Jim glared at a bit of paper on his drawing-board.

“Have you got his address?” I cried. “Let’s go at once and see if he’s all right. An elderly man. Maybe something has happened. And, anyway, imagine him carrying that precious chart around in his pocket. Why, Jim, he may have been waylaid…”

Jim reached for his hat.

“He lives,” said Jim, “with his granddaughter at a boarding-house on Jarvis. I’ll just leave a note for him to wait in case he comes while we’re gone.”

“We won’t be 15 minutes,” I pointed out.

With all speed we drove to the address on Jarvis street.

“Amongst sailors,” I pointed out, as we speeded, there are a lot of shady characters. Suppose somebody has caught on to the old man …”

Jim stepped on the gas.

“My interest in this,” I submitted, “is more to help the dear old fellow realize his dream than any hope of personal gain. Imagine all the years . . .”

At the Jarvis street address a thin woman in a wrapper answered the door. When we asked for Mr. Smith she opened the door agitatedly and said:

“Go right up.”

“Is everything all right?” I inquired.

“Certainly, certainly,” said the thin lady with increased agitation. “The first door on your left.”

We rapped. The door was instantly, opened by a very large man wearing his hat and coat.

“Step in,” he commanded.

Another large man was sitting on the bed.

“What’s your name, who are you and what do you want?” demanded this latter gentleman.

We explained we wanted Mr. Smith. We further explained that Mr. Smith had been going to call at our office re a little matter of business, but having failed to turn up we had called on him instead.

“Did you give him any money?” demanded one of the large gentlemen.

“No,” we said.

“All right, Bill,” said one to the other, “you go back with these birds to their office and I’ll wait here. But I don’t expect well see him.”

The larger gentleman ushered us out and downstairs and out into our car with us.

He’s called The Sailor,” explained the detective, for such he was. “He travels all over America with his so-called granddaughter, spilling this story about the buried treasure.”

“Good heavens,” we gasped.

“And it would astonish you,” said the cop, “how many people fall for it. Hundreds of dollars, some of them.”

“How silly of them,” I said, “to be taken in by such a tale.”

“The world’s full of them,” said Jimmie, contemptuously.


Editor’s Note: The Spanish Prisoner, would now be more notably known as the Nigerian Prince.

Painless Cure

By Greg Clark, August 14, 1943 (and August 15, 1936).

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Cure for Lumbago” in 1936 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics.

“My uncle,” said Jimmie Frise, “has got the lumbago.”

“They say it’s very painful,” I said, “if you really have it.”

“How do you mean?” asked Jim.

“Well, of course,” I explained, “lumbago is one of the swellest fake ailments in the world. It is one of those diseases that are hard to diagnose. A man can pretend he has lumbago periodically for 30 years and escape an awful lot of hard work. And nobody can catch him at it. Even doctors are fooled.”

“H’m,” said Jim.

“There is only one way to tell if a man really has lumbago,” I informed him. “A medical officer showed me, in the army. We had a dreadful outbreak of lumbago in our regiment one time. Somebody knew that lumbago was hard to diagnose. So he passed the word around among the real lead-swingers of the regiment, and we had as high as 30 very serious cases of it.

“The medical officer was nearly crazy. The only thing he could do for lumbago was excuse the lead-swingers all parades and working parties; and the whole 30 of them lay around the billets playing red dog and penny ante. Suddenly, he had an idea. He had all the lumbago cases paraded before him, one by one. As each man, with drawn face and cautious step, came in front of him, the medical officer dropped a sheet of paper and asked the sufferer to pick it up. Each sufferer, very suspicious, slowly and with agony bent over and picked up the paper; then quickly straightened.

“Now in lumbago, it doesn’t hurt to bend down. But it hurts like blazes to straighten up. The whole 30 all made the same mistake. So the M.O. gave each of them two number nines and a dose of castor oil and they were all on duty parade the next morning.”

“We ought to tip off everybody to this diagnosis,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t wonder if there were thousands of guys faking lumbago all over the country. Especially when there is any heavy lifting to do.”

“Oh, it’s useful for lots of other things.” I said. “It isn’t only hard work. I know plenty of men who suffer from lumbago terribly every Sunday morning, and it is worst just about time to dress for church. Others get a pang of it when their wife wants them to accompany them over to Sister Emily’s or some other such place where you sit around all evening listening to a lot of family complaints.”

“We’ll do a lot of good,” agreed Jim. “revealing this trick about bending down. In real lumbago it is easy to bend down and hard to straighten up. Fake lumbago, they bend down in agony and straighten up quickly. Is that it?”

Uncle Horace’s Attacks

“Then there is cupping,” I said, “You get a good thick glass, the kind peanut butter comes in. You set fire to a little bit of paper in the glass and then pop it against the small of the back of the sufferer. The instant you slap the cup against the hide, the lighted paper goes out. But a vacuum has already been created in the glass sufficient to suck up the flesh under the cup like half a golf ball. You go all over the lumbago area, overlapping each cupping until you have applied suction to the whole area. This is an old-fashioned cure and a dandy. Anybody can do it.”

“But what has it to do with fake lumbago?” asked Jim.

“Well,” I showed him, “all you have to do is be a little clumsy and let the burning paper fall on the small of his back. And he lets out a yell, leaps to his feet and all his lumbago vanishes without the need of any treatment.”

“My uncle,” said Jim, “is a very fine man. A pillar of the church. A county councillor. But he does get the lumbago around haying time. And harvest generally.”

“H’m,” said I.

“His wife, Aunt Minnie,” said Jim, “wrote and asked if I wanted any clover honey. In the same letter she mentioned Uncle Horace had the lumbago very bad. I don’t suggest there is any connection. But I’m awfully fond of clover honey. She’d give us each a couple of big pails of it if we went down.”

“We?” I said suspiciously.

“Anyway,” said Jim, as a patriotic duty we should give Uncle Horace a hand with his harvest, lumbago or no lumbago.”

“The only thing we might have to do,” said Jim, “would be to lend a hand for an afternoon with the barley, probably. Or maybe oats.”

“Agricultural labor,” I stated, is what drove my family into the city three generations ago.”

“I don’t suggest you do any work,” said Jim. “But it might be fun to try out these tests on Uncle Horace.”

“You don’t suspect a county councillor of deceit,” I demanded.

“The only fault I have to find with Uncle Horace,” replied Jim, “is a certain nighness. He’s a little nigh. He reverences a dollar bill with devotion that is touching.”

“I can think of worse ways of spending a summer afternoon,” I said, “than sitting under a shady elm on a farm with a pitcher of iced tea beside me, watching you forking sheaves on to a wagon. Count me in.”

Our arrival at Aunt Minnie’s was timed exactly right. Lunch was just ready when we drove up to the kitchen door. There was cold pickled ham and lettuce; potato salad with little green onions in it; hot biscuits and clover honey; hot tea or iced tea; and Aunt Minnie had a plate of mint sprays to crush around the lip of the iced tea glasses, which were the old-fashioned kind that hold a pint.

We went in and saw Uncle Horace laid out in his bed. He is a lean and weather-beaten gentleman. His hands crossed peacefully on his chest, are big, capable hands. But there was a look of patient suffering in his eyes.

Applying the Test

“Jim,” he said, “it was mighty kind of you to come down at a time like this. And bringing a friend, too.”

“Ah, Aunt Minnie knows the trick,” said Jim. “Clover honey.”

“What would you like me to tackle, Uncle Horace? The barley, is it?” asked Jim.

“Well, the way I look at it,” said Uncle Horace, pushing his moustache back as if he were going to address the county council, or close a deal, “a hired man costs so much. And a pail of clover honey is worth so much. It all works out even.” “you can’t get a man around these parts for love or honey, let alone money, and I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t shown up.”

“It’s a small field of barley,” said Uncle Horace. “By dark, you could mow the whole thing. Then I have your Cousin James and his family coming down for the week-end. They are hearty eaters, but I figure they can get the whole crop into the barn for me. It’s a wonderful thing, Mr. Clark, to have relatives like mine. Especially when I am such a martyr.”

Aunt Minnie showed us the wash bench, basin and soft water pail.

“What do you think?” murmured Jim.

“We’ll try him out, after lunch,” I replied guardedly. Both systems. I didn’t like the sound of that word martyr.”

And after a wonderful two-helpings lunch, with three of clover honey and six tea biscuits, we walked into Uncle Horace’s bedroom on the ground floor.

“We’ll just help you up,” I said, “to sit here at the window and see us off.”

I then dropped a dollar bill on the floor, folded up.

“Careful, lads,” said Uncle Horace, extending his long legs out of the bed and moving very, very cautiously. He had two or three twinges in the process of getting his back off the bed and his heels on the floor. But with Jim and me on either side, slowly taking the weight, he got into a standing position and gasped heavily.

“I can manage now,” he said. But I knew he had his eye on the dollar bill.

Jim stepped over to the chair at the window, and I moved back and shook the bed quilt aside.

And Uncle Horace, bending very quickly picked up the dollar; and then, with every symptom of intense agony, slowly and with fierce groans, straightened up

“Did either,” he gasped, his face white and his eyes bulging, “of you lose a certain sum of money?”

Jim and I felt in our pockets and shook our heads.

“Well,” said Uncle Horace, painfully hitching himself towards the chair, it must have fallen out of one of my pockets.” Though I can’t imagine me losing my faculties to that extent just yet.”

He eased himself into the chair. Jim and I saw him comfortable in front of the window, and left him.

“The real thing?” asked Jim as we went around toward the barn.

“He sure has the real thing,” I agreed. “”He bent down as quick as lightning. But he straightened with intense agony. I never saw a man suffer more for a dollar bill.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” mused Jim. “A dollar bill would make Uncle Horace forget anything. Suppose he grabbed for the dollar bill. And then remembered suddenly he had the lumbago and groaned coming up.”

“He’s a marvellous actor,” I said, “if he hasn’t got lumbago. I hadn’t the heart to suggest the cupping cure, after seeing his face.”

“Then,” said Jim, “it is an act of charity we are doing, helping him with his barley.”

Purely As An Observer

I know nothing about the agricultural life.

My ancestors before me must have exhausted themselves so completely trying to wrest a living out of the soil that they used up even the instincts which normally might have been passed on to me. So it was purely as an observer that I accompanied Jim into the stable, saw him lead out three fine heavy horses, their sides shining like fresh peeled chestnuts. …their bellies and limbs fat and full of flesh. Jim stood them in the shade and bridled and harnessed them. Drove them cleverly to the lane where the big binder was standing ready. Expertly backed them on to the trees and fastened the traces. Walking slowly around them to see where every collar and every strap lay not too loose and not too snug. Slipped his hand under the bands. Slapped and patted the friendly beasts.

“What gorgeous horses, Jim,” said, from the rail fence where I perched.

“Uncle Horace knows his horses,” agreed Jim.

“They’re like lambs,” I admired.

“They are bred to be like lambs,” said Jim. “Nowadays, there are really no bad horses any more. The first principle of breeding is to eliminate all vice. In the past 40 or 50 years Canadian farmers have been breeding to an ideal horse, so they choose only the horse free of vice to breed from. It is as if, in human breeding, we only allowed good-tempered and quiet people to have children.

“That would be a swell idea,” I said, “for some of us. But why did we have such wicked horses in the army?”

“Ah,” said Jim, “those were riding horses you mean? They breed riding horses for style and courage, not for gentleness.”

“I have never really got over my experience with horses in the army,” I told Jim, as I walked along beside him to the mower. “What horses did to me in the war I have never quite eliminated from my character. My self-esteem is only about half what it would be normally, if it hadn’t been for the way horses threw me and bucked me and stepped on me.”

“You’d be a tough egg, then,” said Jim, “if it hadn’t been for horses.”

I watched Jim mount the seat of the big binder. I walked along as the huge machine, its paddles thrown out of gear so they did not operate during the drive down the lane, clattered and banged and rattled. Jim was like a Roman charioteer, reining the three magnificent rippling horses. They bent into the harness so willingly. They plodded so knowingly down the lane. They wheeled, almost without any directions of Jim’s voice or reins, into the barley field through the gate.

“Yee,” called Jim, sitting proudly on the binder seat, lifting the reins high, and gazing with the pride of a landowner across the glistening harvest.

Behind, I walked in the fresh springing stubble of the barley. Ahead, the great paddles whirled and the sheaves rolled out. We came to the end of the first swath. Jim yeed the beautiful beasts around on a five-cent piece, as it were, their chins across the fence, making the turn.

“Stook it up,” Jim shouted gaily to me pointing back along the swath of the sheaves.

“I never stook barley,” I shouted back. “I promised my old great-grandfather.”

Jim whoaed the three-horse team. They seemed actually to smile with a kind of harvest joy, those horses.

“How would you like to drive?” asked Jim,

“Are you a mind reader?” I replied. “Jim, if I could drive those horses even for two or three turns of the field it would restore the self-esteem I lost in France 20 years ago.”

Jim swung down off the seat.

“These horses,” said Jim, “could mow this field without anybody driving them.”

“Upsadaisy,” I said, springing into the high seat.

“Just hold the reins,” said Jim, “and let them do it.”

“Yee,” I said, “giddap.”

And without even a lurch, the three beauties curved and rippled their magnificent rumps before me and their heads bobbed, their black manes rose and fell, their ears flopped and twitched and signalled, and beside me the great paddles whirled and the wheels bumped and the seat swayed on its soft springs; and I was, after four generations, a husbandman again, a reaper of harvests, a bringer-in of sheaves.

Barley Field Jigsawed

But I hardly had time to feel the full bloom of age-long and forgotten sentiments. Some day I would like to mow a field, just to see if my instincts are really dead. About one third down the field, when I was just beginning to feel that thrill of achievement which comes to us even when we first ride a bicycle, the team stepped, I am reliably informed by Mr. Frise, into a bees’ nest. The same curious creatures who topped off for us our delectable lunch also served as a cure for lumbago.

With a couple of snorts, the gentle but massive ton and a half of glossy horseflesh writhing and rippling before me, suddenly backed, swerved and reared.

“Whoa,” I roared, seeing Jim out of the corner of my eye bending over sheaves some distance back of us.

But even the best-bred horses do not go for bees. The next thing agricultural science should develop are stingless bees. Paddle wheel whirling madly, wheels bumping and clanking, bars jerking, seat leaping perilously, we tore down the field, curving this way and that; losing all sense of geometry, coming to a fence and turning only when we had to.

I could hear Jim shouting directions, but above the noise of the binder I could not hear whether he was saying to pull on the reins or let them use their own good sense. But since a few bees zoomed around me, I thought he was saying to let them run. Anyway, I do not believe it would be humane to force poor dumb animals to submit to bee stings. Frankly, we did four diagonal and otherwise various swaths with the binder before Uncle Horace leaped the fence and caught the off-horse by the head strap and brought us to a stop.

“Get off that,” he roared at me

I got off it, quite willingly.

He climbed without lumbago into the seat He stood up and surveyed the barley field, all jig-sawed. His beautiful horses were standing as quiet as lambs.

“I’m very sorry, sir,” I said.

“Stch, stch, giddap,” said Uncle Horace.

“It was a bees’ nest,” said Jim, who had arrived.

“Yee,” said Uncle Horace, leaning forward to grasp the reins better and straightening back without even a grimace.

So Jim and I went to the side of the field and watched him once around; and as he did not notice us when he went by, we proceeded back up to the house and sat in rocking-chairs with Aunt Minnie in the kitchen. And she made us iced tea again; and after due consideration we decided to leave before supper. Aunt Minnie gave us each not two but three pails of clover honey; and in deference to my feeling for her tea biscuits, she did me up a dozen in a bag to take home, too.


Editor’s Notes: Lumbago is lower back pain, and was a more common term in the past.

Red Dog is a gambling card game, Penny-ante refers to very low sum bets.

A Stook is a stack of grain to keep the grain off of the ground.

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