The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1944 Page 1 of 2

“Wonky Clocks”

Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow. Jim removed screws, large and small, and laid them across the table.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 19, 1944

“For instance,” said Jimmie Frise, “a man could mend umbrellas.”

“True, Jimmie,” I mused. “When I was a boy, I recollect the umbrella menders. There would be one come along our street at least once a month. They would have a half a dozen tattered old umbrellas under their arms, and a little bag of tools, like a doctor.”

“They would rap at each door,” went on Jim, “and say to the lady, with a lift of the hat, ‘Any umbrellas to mend, lady?'”

“Nowadays, I still see scissors grinders,” I confessed, “with a little treadle strapped on their backs, and ringing a hand bell through the streets.”

“They are foreigners now,” said Jim. “But when I was a boy, they used to be our fellow countrymen. And the children would come and gather round to see the blue sparks fly off the wheel, and to hear him sing. I knew one Irishman, young Irishman, with a bright face, and he loved sharpening scissors and knives. And he used to sing a tune in time with his foot pumping on the treadle. A quick tune.”

“I can’t understand any man nowadays,” I stated, “being out of work even though he can’t do war work. There are so many things a man can do. Things men used to do, that seem to be forgotten. Why, I remember the spectacle sellers. Don’t you remember the spectacle sellers? Nicely dressed young men who, when you opened the door, were standing there, with a bright smile, and a sort of suitcase strapped around their necks and spread open in front of them filled with spectacles of all sorts fastened to the tray. From door to door, these merchants went, fitting spectacles to all the housewives.”

“And,” cried Jimmie, “the packmen! With a big black oilcloth pack on their backs with a tray in their hands, containing everything the home required – needles, threads, buttons, tape, elastic, bobbins, wool of all shades, hooks and eyes, buckles.”

“I remember,” I admitted, “my dear old grandmother searching all over the house one time for a bodkin, and finally saying – ‘I wish the packman would come by.’ And then she stopped still and looked wistfully out of the window, and said, ‘Why, I haven’t seen a packman in thirty years.’ And that day she grew many years older.”

“The packmen,” said Jim. “Merchants, with their stores on their backs. Today, it a man comes to your door with needles, thread, shoe laces, all he has got is a little bit of stuff in his hands and he is so shabby and importunate, you know he is only begging. But packmen never begged. They were proud men. They were merchants. Merchants of a prouder and older order than these modern ones that sit in stores. They belonged to that ancient craft of merchants who travelled by camel train and little ship across all the earth, selling as they went.”

“And the clock menders,” I cried. “Where are the clock menders? Don’t you remember the men, mostly with gray beards, who called at each door, and asked ‘Any clocks to mend, lady?’ They had a little handbag full of tools. I can still remember how they would come in and take the clock apart on the dining-room table, and we were allowed to stand there, with our hands behind our backs, and watch him in silence. And these clock menders were silent men, who breathed heavily through their beards as they bent over the mysterious million wheels and springs on the dining-room table. We always used to give them a cup of tea when they were finished, and the clock’s fine gong was ringing through the house again.”

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

“Now there,” said Jim, emphatically, “is an idea.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“This city, this whole country,” declared Jim, “is full of wonky clocks that people want repaired because some lines of new ones are hard to get on account of the war. Why, I’ve got two big clocks right now in my house that don’t go and haven’t gone for years and years.”

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

“Isn’t that funny thing?” mused Jim. “I have, up in this minute, thought of those clocks just as ornaments. It is years since they went. I wonder why I haven’t done anything about them?”

“Because,” I stated, “the clock menders no longer call from door to door. Because you can’t think of anybody to come and take them away. Because they are too big and clumsy to take downtown yourself. I bet there is a million dollars’ worth of clock mending to be done right in this city.”

“I wonder,” thought Jimmie, “if it is because we have all grown lazy and indifferent? I wonder if, as the result of all the inventions of the past fifty years, life hasn’t become so soft, so easy, that the whole human species has grown lazy, careless, indifferent. Why wouldn’t I go to the trouble of taking a clock off the mantel, carry it out to my car in the morning and deliver it to a store downtown?”

“Nobody wants to do the little old-fashioned things any more,” Jim went on. “Even the piano tuners. Do you remember the piano tuners? You didn’t have to send for the piano tuner. He just turned up.”

“I remember, even,” I submitted, “a sort of general mender that used to come around about once a year. He had a wooden box on his back. He used to sit in the vestibule. He could resole shoes, mend leather gloves, sew up carpets that were torn, mend carpet sweepers, regild picture frames …”

“The country is full of work. And the grandest kind of work of all – working for one’s self,” said Jim.

“I guess the only kind of work anybody wants now,” I said, “is what somebody else tells them to do.”

“Well,” stated Jim, “one good thing has come out of this conversation. I’m going to get my clocks repaired.”

“The same here,” I said. “Only, it seems a shame that after all this talk about laziness and loss of enterprise, I have to confess that I am the great-grandson of a clockmaker.”

“Are you?” said Jim.

“Yes, my great-grandfather, born here in York, before it was Toronto, even, was Thomas Bradshaw McMurray, watchmaker, probably the first native born watchmaker in this city.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Maybe, some of these countless clocks that aren’t going all over Toronto were actually made by him.”

“Possibly,” I confessed. “But I inherit not the slightest aptitude with machinery of any kind.”

“You would hardly call a clock machinery,” pointed out Jim. “A clock is, after all, a very simple mechanism. It is, in fact, as simple as a child’s wind-up toy. It consists of a spring you wind up, a ratchet that holds the spring, and a series of geared wheels which relax the springs at a rate controlled by levers with tension on them. Really very simple.”

“Even so,” I confessed, “I have a horror of opening a clock. I must inherit some reaction from my great-grandfather. I shudder even when I take the back off my wrist watch. To look in and see all those tiny, delicate wheels and sprockets and springs breathing, as it were. Breathing and slowly ticking, ticking, like the beat of a heart. It gives me the creeps.”

“You surprise me,” said Jim. “All I see to clock mending, is, unscrew the works, take it all apart, laying each separate piece in a precise spot on the dining-room table, so that you will remember just when, rather than where, it goes back. Wipe everything with a rag dipped in gasoline or some such solvent. Reoil with great care, and very sparingly; and then reassemble. I should think it would be very simple.”

“Jim,” I cried. “Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “if we learn how to mend a clock, then anybody can learn. And we could then not only advocate clock mending as a trade to the unemployed, but we could actually, when some poor chap calls at our door with a packet of needles or soap. bring him in, teach him the trick of clock mending in an hour or two, and set him on his way a free man, man with a trade and calling.”

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

“How about the country?’ demanded Jim. “You pass all these little villages and cross roads in the country. There is no glazier there, but all the windows are mended. There is no clockmaker, no plumber, no tinsmith, no dentist, but all the country’s clocks are ticking in the kitchens, the pumps work, the roofs are tight … there must be men all over this country who do know about making things go.”

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

But Jim went back to work at his drawing board with a hard dry look in his eyes, and that night, when the telephone rang right after dinner, I knew it would be Jim. And it was. And he invited me to come over to his place to see him mend a clock. And of course, a man would be a pretty poor specimen that wouldn’t do that much for a friend.

The clock, which Jim had standing on the bare dining-room table, was a large greenish yellow marble clock with gold pillars at the corners and a gold ornament on top. It was a clock made after the shape of a post-office or the British royal exchange or maybe the Greek temple or something severe. Jim had the dining-room doors closed and locked.

“I have here,” he said, “the small screwdriver from the sewing machine, a large screw-driver, a thing to tap with, in case of rust, a rag moistened with gasoline and an oil can. The whole outfit wouldn’t cost a dollar.”

Jim removed the back of the clock with four deft twiddles of the screw-driver. He peered inside, studied, examined, lit matches and peeked; and finally undid a large screw which let him lift out the bowels of the whole clock. It was heavy, brassy and compact.

“I will start at this corner of the table,” explained Jimmie, “and work across the table diagonally that way. I will lay each thing I take out, in its proper order. Thus, when reassembling the clock, I will start at that far corner. And so, as simple as falling off a log, it will go together again.”

I said nothing. Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow.

Jim removed eleven screws, large and small, and laid them, in a sort of row, across the table. Then removed the whole disjointed carcass forward to the head of the row, and delicately pulling, lifting, twisting, he began to take the machinery apart. Each piece he laid separately in the row.

“See,” he said, breathing heavily, “how simple it will be?”

I just moaned.

He worked straight across the table and then made a wide turn and started back on a second row. Still the machine came apart. Still grew that incredible line of wheels, screws, levers, bolts. The spring came away, a thick, dreadful looking thing, coiled like a serpent. Jim studied it, looked through its coils.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Gummed with ancient oil. Glued, you might say. I will swish it in a bowl of gasoline.”

But on, on he went, finishing the second row and starting on a third. The face of the clock fell out. Jim picked it up and detached the hands.

“There,” he cried. “Was that difficult? Was that intricate?”

I stifled a groan.

With his gasoliney rag, Jim proceeded to wipe each part. He rubbed and scrubbed.

“Be careful,” I said hoarsely. “Don’t lean against the table. Don’t jiggle the least bit.”

“Imagine a man,” remarked Jim, “having a horror of clock insides!”

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

And then Jim, shifting the duster in his hands to get a fresh clean bit to use, flicked with the tail of the rag the middle row of parts. It was just the lightest possible flick. But my rivetted and fascinated gaze saw a small brass wheel and a very tiny steel pin about the size of a one-inch nail, scamper across the table, and I let out a yell.

“You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined it!” I shouted.

But Jim, bending down, picked up the wheel and the bolt and a sort of rocking beam sort of thing like on the top of an old-fashioned steamboat. It had a hole at each end.

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

“I remember where they go,” said Jim easily, and he bent over, studying the rows of parts, and looking for the space the parts belonged to. “Here, this is where the wheel was. Or was it the rod?”

“I’m going home,” I stated.

“Just a second,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s see. This flat thing was here. And this wheel was … there. Was it?”

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, “I remember this large sprocket was there. It must have moved, too. I’ll put it back there, and then this … Let’s see. This … Well, well, mmm, mmm, dear me.”

He straightened up. He stared narrowly at the rows of bits.

“Jim,” I said, taking his hand tenderly. “I’m off. Good-night.”

“Hold on, a jiffy,” said Jim, eagerly. “Now wait a minute.”

But he was frightened, and it showed. There was perspiration along the top of his forehead, too. I couldn’t leave the poor chap in such a plight. I hid my face in my hands and sat down.

“Mmm, mmm,” Jimmie kept saying, “Mmm, mmm.”

I heard little clicks. I heard snaps, clinks, snucks and taps. I heard things going together and things being grunted apart. I heard a loud tapping, and looked up to see Jim hammering a wheel on to an axle, using the butt end of a screw-driver.

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

“Well, anyway,” sighed Jim, holding small gear about the size of a dime, “I’ve found one thing I’ve been looking for for months. This gear will exactly fit my casting reel. The one with the black handles.”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t start trying tinker with your fishing reel.”

“It’s the very fit,” said Jim. “And now I know where I can get wheels and springs and anything like that.”

And he laid the clock on its back and rescrewed the face on it, and then laid it on its face and on its back door he just dumped, dumped all the works, packing them in and prying them in with the screw-driver and tamping them down with the butt of the screw-driver, and finally getting the back door closed and the little button turned.

“There,” he said. “Nobody will ever notice.”

“Let me see,” said Jim. “Where does this wheel go?”

Editor’s Note: Gasoline was also used as an all-purpose cleaner back in the old days.

This story is a repeat of “Mmmm, Mmmm!” which was published on February 29, 1936. The image from that story is at the end.

Sticky, Eh What!

The doors slid to and grasped the handle of the stick firmly. And the street-car started.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 30, 1944

Greg and Jim agree the auto and street car put the walking stick out of business, so they decide to revive the ancient and gentlemanly art of carrying a cane, but…

“Haw,” snorted Jimmie Frise, “a walking stick!”

“What about it?” I demanded indignantly.

“Have you sprained your ankle?” inquired Jim. “Or is it a bunion? Or have you just gone uppish?”

“Anything else to say?” I gritted.

“Or is it just old age?” concluded Jim.

“Do you know the difference between you and me, Jim?” I asked acidly. “If I feel like carrying a walking stick, I carry one. But even if you felt like carrying a stick, you wouldn’t for fear some silly yap like you would comment on it.”

“It looks conspicuous,” protested Jim. “Walking sticks have gone out of style long ago.”

“They’ll be coming back into style any day, Jim,” I suggested, “as soon as about 15,000 of the boys come back home who have leg wounds.”

“Aw, that’s different,” said Jimmie.

“I fail to see it,” I submitted. “If it is conspicuous to carry a stick, then we ought to cheer up the boys who have to carry them by a lot of us old fogeys carrying them, too. The boys won’t feel quite so conscious of their lameness if they see a lot of men carrying sticks.”

“I should say a stick was a badge of honor now,” put in Jim, “and only those entitled to it by wounds should be allowed by fashion to carry them.”

“I can’t understand how walking sticks ever went out of fashion,” I said. “I admit a very young man looks a little self-conscious carrying a cane. And maybe a man carrying a lunch pail and also a stick might look a little out of place. But it seems to me about half the men in the world would look a lot more comfortable if they were swinging a stick in their hands as they move about the streets.”

“The motor car killed canes,” said Jim. “Back in the days before street cars and motor cars it was all very well for men to use sticks. They were an actual help. When all the world walked, sticks were a real lift to a man’s legs.”

“What do you know about it?” I demanded. “You never carried a stick in your life.”

“I just sense it,” said Jim. “I can just imagine how a good stout stick in your hand would sort of inspire you to walk; it would sort of give you a swing and a lilt.”

“My boy,” I admitted, “your imagination does you credit. As an old stick swinger I can assure you that a stick gives you just that lilt and swing you imagine. And that is why I am an advocate of the return of the walking stick. I admit the street car and then the motor car put the cane out of business. But you will agree that it would be a good thing for all mankind if they would do more walking than they have done in the past 20 years or so. For the public health.”

“And you think walking sticks would inspire men to walk?” smiled Jim.

Precisely,” I asserted. “There is something familiar and cosy about a stick. Once you find a stick the right size and weight and shape, once you have felt the comfort and strength of a stick that has the right lilt and swing to it, you will find yourself, every now and then, with a hankering to just go for a walk somewhere.”

“H’m,” said Jim thoughtfully. “How do you mean the right size and shape?

A Stick to Fit

“Well,” I said, warming up. “you never see a man dawdling along when he carries a stick, do you? He is always striding out – that is, unless he is using it because he is hurt or lame. A stick gives you the impulse to stride and walk with pleasure.”

“But not any stick?” persisted Jim.

“Not at all,” I said. “A stick has to fit you the same as your collar or your boots. Anybody who has ever bought a stick at random – just walked into a store and picked one out, embarrassed and self-conscious, without giving the subject a little time and study, would naturally never fall in love with such a stick. It has to fit you.”

“How?” insisted Jim.

“First,” I stated, “it has to be just the length to reach to that round knob bone of your hip that you can feel jut out when you thrust your hip sideways a little. That is the exact height it should be, and you should have the stick shop cut it to that exact length.”

“What else?” inquired Jim, standing up and feeling the knob of his hip bone.

“Well, you don’t want too light a stick,” I pursued. “You want a stick with a little weight and balance to it. You can tell that best by just hefting it, in comparison with others. If you are the kind of man who is always fiddling with his hands, such as filling a pipe or putting his glasses on and off, you will want a curved handle, so you can hang the stick on your arm.”

“Don’t all canes have curved handles?” asked Jimmie.

“You’re thinking of umbrellas,” I said. “They always have to hang on your arm while you feel for car tickets and such. The best stick of all has a straight crook handle. A handle jutting out at right angles to the stick. That gives you exactly the right, comfortable, joyous grip to shove you along as you stride. Real connoisseurs of sticks spend years and years hunting the stick shops of the world for beautiful natural crooks – not artificially bent ones. Then there is the straight stick, with a knob on it, no curve or crook.”

“That wouldn’t be very comfortable,” surmised Jim.

“You’re wrong,” I informed him. “Soldiers prefer a good ash plant stick with a comfortable knob to all others. Half the time you don’t want to use the stick tapping on the ground. You like to swing along, holding the slick by the middle and using it as a sort of weight or pendulum to pace with. A knobbed stick is maybe the second best to a straight crook one.”

“You talk as if there was a science of sticks,” remarked Jimmie.

“There is,” I said. “Sticks have a history older than any other human implement. The first thing prehistoric man ever picked up was a stick. Long before he developed the idea of throwing things, man naturally picked up sticks to defend himself, to assault his game and to assist himself when he was tired or hurt. For ages sticks were associated with pilgrims. With all men who had to travel the weary world on foot. It is true that sticks became the fashion with gentlemen of leisure in the past century or so, but that was only when we got the law on gentlemen of leisure and forbade them to carry swords. Until the last 100 years or so, gentlemen were never very popular and they all felt uneasy when walking around on foot, unless armed with something to defend themselves against the vulgar masses.”

“Yah,” said Jim. “Socialism again.”

“Every sportsman should carry a walking stick,” I enumerated, “in between seasons, to keep his fly casting wrist limber, to exercise his shooting wrist or his golf wrist.”

“H’m,” mused Jimmie, looking at his wintry wrist.

“In fact,” I wound up, “a stick is the greatest invitation to a man to get up and do something there is. It is, you might say, an essential limb of the human body. Because all your ancestors, hundreds of them, straight back through the middle ages, back to the dark ages, right through to the cave man from whom you personally descended, used sticks as part of their daily life. I wouldn’t be surprised if men learned to walk upright, instead of on all fours, by reason of the instinctive and natural love of a man for a stick.”

“What about women?” countered Jim.

“Women just imitated men,” I explained.

This Motorized Age

“I’d never carry a stick,” declared Jim, sitting down again after having located his hip knob.

“You’ve probably given up walking anyway, Jim,” I suggested. “You’ve quit. You are baggage from now on. Your walking days are over.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Jim sharply.

“Yes,” I sighed. “After about 45 years of age a man’s dominant instinct is to avoid change. That is the heck of this motorized age. It accustoms a man to being baggage. That is all very well when a man is young and energetic. He will get out and play a little golf or something. But once he passes his naturally energetic years he comes under control of his basic instinct – which is to change nothing to go through the rest of his life by routine, by memory, by habit. So, in this motorized age, he becomes what? Just baggage!”

“He’s following nature, anyway,” declared Jim.

“Far from it,” I cried. “Up until just 100 years ago, the older a man got the harder he had to struggle to keep alive. The older a man got, the wiser, the shrewder he grew. That was why the world progressed. Old men could guide us. But ever since the industrial age began old men have been pensioned off and relegated to the corner. Result? All our old men are soft and ignorant. They have a mental age of about 40. All cunning. No wisdom. Hence the past century has been the most confused, bloodiest and most savage in human history.”

“Such bilge!” exploded Jimmie.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s your explanation of the Bloody Twentieth Century?”

“Well, it isn’t walking sticks,” crowed Jim,

“It might well be,” I replied. “It might indeed well be. If men would only return to walking sticks and go forth on their feet among their fellow men instead of whizzing past one another with steering wheels in their hands; if they would give up their awful isolationism of staying locked up in motor cars, locked up in offices, locked up in their homes beside their radios, cutting themselves off at every possible point from contact with their fellow-men, and get out with a stick and peregrinate around seeking the company of their fellow-men, looking at their fellow-men, talking with them and going on little pilgrimages with such fellow-pilgrims as they might find along the way – the world might be better.”

“I wouldn’t own a walking stick,” muttered Jim.

“I’ll buy you one,” I asserted. “I’ll go with you to one of the few shops where sticks can still be bought and get you a stick of exactly the right fit, the right heft, not a sissy polished walking stick such as men carry so awkwardly to church on Sundays, but a real, striding stick…”

“Not me,” laughed Jimmie scornfully.

But at noon I had no trouble guiding his steps free of the habitual course our short lunch hour stroll took us – that dreadful, same old stroll which hundreds of thousands of us take every day of our lives without realizing we are as helpless as squirrels in our cage – and got him off on a side street to a tiny shop I know which has a small but choice selection of real walkers’ sticks for sale.

Jim was quite interested in the limited display.

“Ah,” said the old stick man, “there is not many sticks being made nowadays. One of the biggest stick factories in Britain has just simply folded up, so changed is the fashion. Why, the gipsies in Britain and Ireland used to cut 1,000,000 sticks a year for the British home and export trade. In the Pyrenees they used to harvest tens of thousands of those beautiful light golden Pyrenees hazels. And from the East shiploads of whole-bark Malaccas used to be a great import business. Now all gone.”

But Jimmie was hefting a good plain curve handled oak with a faraway expression on his face. He tried it to his hip. It just fitted to the knob of his hip. He tapped it. Swung it a few times and tried a few paces. Then he lifted it by the middle and swung it. Finally tucked it under his arm jauntily.

He laughed a little awkwardly.

“Do you know,” he exclaimed, “it does have an old-fashioned feeling, somehow. A sort of … sort of …”

The old stick man smiled at me and I reached in my pocket for the two dollars.

“We’ll just take a turn around a couple of these less populated city blocks,” I said as we stepped out into the street. “A couple of gents out for an airing.”

We strode east on Adelaide to Jarvis and jogged down and along a couple of blocks of factory and warehouse areas. I showed Jim how to swing the stick in walking, the rhythm of the stick, that is, tap it down on the fall of the left foot, follow through, swing up and forward, then tap down again on the third fall of the left foot.

He dropped his cane a couple of times, due to its slippery newness, and at one crossing, as he stepped down off the curb the stick got in between his feet and threw him. Still another time, as he swung jauntily along, he gave the stick a particularly airy swing and hit a little boy on the head with it. The little boy’s mother was sweeping off the steps of a small frame cottage sandwiched in between two big factories. She was probably a descendant of a long line of proletariat who hated gentlemen with either swords or sticks, and when the little boy roared that the man had hit him with the stick she chased us half a block with the broom and caused quite number of heads to appear at factory and warehouse windows with her shouting. Just like the French Revolution.

“There you go,” said Jim bitterly as hastened around a corner and tried to resume the role of two gentlemen out for an airing. “The silly damn thing.”

And he tucked the stick under his arm, as though to hide it.

“Come on, come on,” I coaxed, swinging mine heartily. “Give it a chance. Wait till you feel the natural, old-fashioned lilt of it. You can’t expect to be a stick swinger in 10 minutes.”

“It doesn’t come natural to me,” complained Jimmie, tucking the stick still deeper up under his armpit and trying to hide its length with his sleeve.

Some Nasty Remarks

At one of the corners we passed, a group of the lads from a factory, all in their dirty overalls, were out taking a breath of air for the noontime recess, and as we approached one of them cheerily sang out –

“Ah, look at this, would you!”

And we strode by, pretending not to notice. But the gang gave us a pretty trades uniony sort of survey as we passed.

“Mm, mm, mm,” murmured one of them admiringly and fairly loudly.

As we got out of earshot Jimmie said:

“I’m going to chuck it into the first vacant lot we come to.”

“Nonsense, Jim,” I cried. “That is my gift to you. That cost two bucks.”

“Do you want it back?” he demanded, offering it to me.

“I’d look silly carrying two sticks,” I protested.

“I look silly carrying one,” retorted Jim.

We had now walked about nine or 10 blocks.

“We’ll take the street car back,” growled Jim.

Which we did. And Jim held his stick half under his coat as we boarded the car and fumbled for our tickets. I held my stick out boldly and dared any of the casual glances of the other passengers. After all, they’d glance at a briefcase or a bundle if you had one. There is a sort of natural automatic curiosity about most folk, thank goodness.

When we reached Bay St. I led for the door and, glancing back, saw that Jim had so completely concealed his stick that I couldn’t see it at all. I was looking forward, a little, to seeing Jim carry it into The Star building.

“Your stick?” I exclaimed, struck by a sudden suspicion.

“Oh,” said Jim guiltily, and went back three seats and picked it up where he had left it.

Jim shoved past me, the better to get the whole business over with. In doing so he bumped against a lady a little rudely, and I stood back elegantly to let her pass. As I stepped to the pavement I stuck my stick under my arm, to let this same lady have all the room she seemed to want.

At which instant the street car doors slid to and the rubber lips or edges of the door grasped the handle of my stick firmly. And the car started.

I need not describe what followed. No gentleman likes to be jostled about in public, especially by a street car. And especially a gentleman with a walking stick.

Suffice to say, the car took my stick, at a smart speed, right out of sight, solemnly projecting from the rubber-lipped doors.

And there was Jim with his stick on the curb awaiting me.

“Here,” he said, “take this one. You need a stick. “

“Not at all,” I said, thrusting it away. “It is too long. Much too long. Nothing looks worse than a man with a stick too long for him.”

“Take it,” hissed Jimmie, casting anxious glances at the windows of The Star building looming above us.

I walked away. Jimmie looked desperately around. There was a dilapidated motor car handy, nobody in it and its window open. Jim thrust the stick in and dusted off his hands.

“Somebody,” he said as he overtook me, “will be glad of it.”


Editor’s Note: Greg would be a life-long stick carrier (he picked up the habit in the First World War). He would later write that it came in handy for a short man like himself, for reaching.

Hands Off

November 25, 1944

A Floor Walker, or Store detective, was much more common in the past. They would walk around the store (usually big department stores) on the lookout for shoplifters.

Surrealism

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

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

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

“What are you now?” I inquired sweetly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, another war legacy,” I muttered.

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

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

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

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

The Split Infinitive

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

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

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

“To heck with surrealism,” I declared.

“It is the coming thing,” replied Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Phooey,” I argued.

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

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

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

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

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

“Split Infinitive,” I muttered.

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

“Sissy,” I submitted.

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

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

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

“Some painting,” I agreed.

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

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

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

An Incredible Canvas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a large easel stood “Split Infinitive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look out,” shouted Jim.

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

“Oh, good heavens,” moaned Jimmie.

Sense of the Imponderable

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

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

“Pssst,” I hissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in came Philip Phowler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I backed out.

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

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

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

Money Trouble

The storekeeper picked up the new twenty-dollar bill and examined it closely … In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold undisguised suspicion.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 16, 1944

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, “that makes us Canadians so desperately respectful of authority?”

“I don’t imagine,” I replied, “that we’re any more respectful of authority than other people. The English, for instance, or the Germans.”

“Ah,” argued Jimmie, “yes, but the Germans have to be respectful or have their fingers jammed in doors in internment camps. And as for the English, it’s only put on. Did you ever try to pull a little authority over an Englishman?”

“If I had the authority, I think the English would recognize it as readily as anybody else,” I informed him.

“If you were an Englishman and had the authority,” corrected Jim. “They have a sort of agreement among themselves, a working agreement. But you take Canada. Somebody up top says what’s what and we all submit. There are no outbreaks. It isn’t as if these authorities had any tough gendarmes or black shirt police to back them up. I’m beginning to think Canadians are the most docile people on earth.”

“Remember the Chinese,” I protested. “Or the Eskimos.”

“All I’m thinking of,” said Jim, “is that cop back there at that fork in the highway. The way he ran up alongside of us and arrogantly turned us into the side of the road with a flick of his head.”

“He was perfectly right,” I said, “you didn’t slow down at that fork. There was a sign distinctly saying ‘slow to 15 miles’.”

“I’ve passed that fork a hundred times,” said Jim, “and there never was a cop there before.”

“That isn’t the point,” I assured him. “The law is the law whether there are any cops looking or not.”

“I don’t mind how many laws we’ve got,” said Jim, “so long as I am not humiliated in the enforcement of them.”

“You’re not mad at the cop,” I jeered. “You’re only mad at yourself for being so humble.”

“I wasn’t humble,” stated Jim. “I was only sensible.”

“You squawk about Canadians being docile,” I laughed, “and if ever I saw a docile Canadian, it was you when that cop nodded you haughtily to the side of the road and then bawled the daylight out of you.”

“I stared him straight in the eye,” cried Jim.

“Yes,” I said, “with your eyes wide and alarmed and full of an expression of deepest respect and humility.”

“We’ll Have to Be Smart”

“Oh, I did not,” protested Jim heatedly. “I did nothing of the kind. And anyway, how could you see me when you were cringing down in your seat as if God had suddenly appeared at the car window.”

“You were servile,” I declared. “You even called him sir.”

“An old habit,” said Jim, “I contracted in the last war. It was his khaki uniform.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it does seem absurd to me the way we kowtow to a cop. The way they bawl us out, the tone they take, you would think they were magistrates instead of cops. I don’t think we should put up with it.”

“The next cop,” said Jim, “I’m going to put in his place, if he so much as uses a tone I don’t like. He’s an employee.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said, sitting up hopefully to watch for cops.

“There must be some guilty conscience in us, or something,” mused Jim. “We Canadians must be descendants of people who came to this country fleeing from the law. All servility is based on fear. We must have some inherited fear of cops.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said guardedly (because after all what do we really know about our great-great-grandfathers?).

“I wish,” sighed Jim, “I had inherited something else from my ancestors than a guilty conscience. Craftiness, for example. I had a great-uncle Zebulon who was the craftiest man in seven townships. If I was crafty, I’d know what luck we were going to have tonight in finding the best place to go fishing.”

“It won’t be hard to find out,” I said. “A few discreet inquiries around the village.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “there are only nine houses, one general store and a gasoline pump in this village. Every man in the place is a musky fisherman. Dyed in the wool. The muskies at this time of year have left the weed beds and the deeps and have come in shore, along by the rocks and boulders. They are easier to catch and fight harder than at any other time of year. It is the peak, the glorious climax of the fishing season. These villagers look upon this season of the year as their share of the fishing. All summer long even in wartime they have been working madly for the benefit of vacationists who were getting all the fishing. Now the vacationists are gone, and it’s the villagers turn. They will resent us even arriving.”

“We’ll worm it out of them,” I assured him.

“We’ll have to be pretty smart,” said Jim.

“We can watch where they fish,” I reminded him.

“Yes, and waste half the morning trying to locate them,” argued Jim. “They’ll all be out before daybreak.”

“Jim,” I said, “you’ve got a poor opinion of country people. All we need to do is the old trick. Buy a few things at the general store, ask a few questions. Buy some gasoline, ask a few questions. Rent a boat, ask a few questions. Put two and two together, and there we are.”

Full of Great Quietness

We floated deeper into the musky country where civilization and the rocks were coming to grips. The farms grew fewer and more curiously laid out in fields bordered with shoals of primitive rock. We saw the first maples, gone gold and red. The villagers are right. This is the best time of year to go fishing.

The villages began to be farther apart. We left cement for gravel and gravel for sand, and finally entered a lovely narrow road winding amidst rocks and tall hardwood forests which we knew, according to our written directions, was the road that led to our happy destination where, along the rocky shores of a twisted and many-bayed lake, the big muskies, sick of the rotting weed beds, lay in the pure shallow shore water, waiting for something to wiggle past them, such as a well-cast lure.

And towards evening, we came to the village, full of a great quietness amidst all the equipment it had for summer, its park, the brightness, its shuttered outlying cottages. We cruised slowly down its one street, planning our campaign of reconnaissance.

“The general store, first,” I suggested.

And in front of the general store we drew up. It was the regular general store, with its ceiling covered with galvanized pails, bundles of hats, baled socks, boots. One side groceries. Other side, drygoods. Back, hardware.

Three or four men lingered leaning on counters as if expecting nothing to happen anyway.

“Good evening,” we said cheerily, in that easy city fashion. Our entry seemed to break a spell that had been holding the general store in thrall.

Everybody muttered except the storekeeper, an elderly gray moustached man who eyed us over his spectacles and said nothing. He went ahead quietly parcelling something out of sight.

Jim and I wandered slowly down the store, looking at the merchandise to see what we could reasonably buy as an excuse for visiting the store. Something inexpensive but useful.

“I think I’ll get a pair of overalls,” I said quietly, whispering through my nose.

“Nice bandanas,” murmured Jim. “How about a couple of bandanas each? Handy fishing.”

“You get the bandanas,” I muttered, “and I’ll take a hank of that clothes line. Good stuff to have in our kit for an anchor.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim, “and two or three cans of tomatoes. I don’t like drinking this weedy water; and canned tomatoes are swell.”

“O.K.” I muttered, as we turned and proceeded to the front of the store where everybody was covertly taking us in out of the corners of their eyes.

The storekeeper finally finished whatever he was doing and came and stood facing us, planting both palms on the counter.

“Good-evening,” said Jim, amiably. “How much are those bandanas?”

“Two for a quarter,” said he, handing down a sheaf of them.

We examined them carefully.

“Two of them,” said Jim pleasantly.

“How much is that clothesline?” I inquired with a winning smile.

The storekeeper looked at me expressionlessly and said: “Thirty cents.”

“I’ll love one,” I informed him enthusiastically.

But it seemed very difficult to rouse any response. Jim strolled back eyeing the shelves speculatively, and I followed.

“What did I tell you?” Jim murmured. “We’re suspected.”

“Ask about the fishing anyway,” I whispered.

“Not now,” said Jim shortly. “Hostile.”

Our murmured conversation was not lost upon the silent company in the store. The merchant was tying up our small purchases in paper.

“Three cans of tomatoes,” said Jim. “About a pound of cheese and a box of soda biscuits.”

A Faint, Cold Smile

The storekeeper slowly gathered these items and set them on the counter. He seemed to be waiting. So did all the others. A curious electrical feeling was in the dim air of this store.

“That will be all,” said Jim, reaching into his pocket.

“Here,” I said, “you bought the gasoline. I’ll attend to this.”

“No,” said Jim, “I want this changed.”

And he laid a crisp new $20 bill on the counter.

The storekeeper’s hands paused in the act of spreading a piece of wrapping paper. He stared at the bill. He picked it up gingerly and examined it closely. He held at up to the light. “I can’t change this,” he said.

“Can you get it changed handy?” asked Jim.

The storekeeper looked long and steadily at Jim. Then he shifted his gaze to me. There seemed to be a faint cold smile in his eyes.

“No,” he said.

“Can any of you gentlemen?” said Jim, turning to the others standing back in the store.

They stirred and looked away and shook their heads.

“Here,” I said diving into my pocket. But I had only 17 cents and a $10 bill, the expenses of the fishing trip, plus any sudden emergencies.

“Can you change the ten?” I said, tossing down the nice new Bank of Canada dix.

The storekeeper reached out cautiously and picked it up and examined it closely. He shot a quick look around at the men standing behind us.

“No,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Well, heh, heh,” I said, “I’ve only got 17 cents. How much have you got, Jim?”

“Just a dime,” said Jim.

“You can take two cans of tomatoes,” said the storekeeper, “or the two bandanas. Or the rope and one can of tomatoes. Or…”

“Maybe the gas-pump man can change it,” suggested Jimmie.

“Do You Mean to Insinuate?”

All eyes turned to one of the men standing back of us. He, it seems, was the service-station man.

“Sorry,” he said. “All I got is tens myself.”

In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold, undisguised suspicion.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “do you mean this money is no good?”

I picked up my 10 and examined it closely.

“It may be all right,” said the garage man, he was a heavy set and sulky type, “but there has been some phoney money spread around this country lately.”

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded of the public at large, “that we are trying to pass bogus money? Are you accusing us at being criminals?”

Nobody replied, but the storekeeper turned his back and began replacing on the shelves the articles we had almost bought.

Jim and I looked anxiously around at the faces. They were mostly averted, and there was no friendliness on any of them.

“Could you tell us,” asked Jim, “If there is a boarding house in the village open or anywhere we can put up for a couple of nights?”

Everybody looked at us.

“We’re here for a couple of days’ fishing,” I put in.

“Fishing?” said the sulky garage man. “Well, my mother takes in a couple now and then.”

“Mrs. Tom is still open, I believe,” said the storekeeper.

His and everybody else’s face had come to life.

“I’ll slip over and see what mother says,” said the garage man, buttoning his windbreaker in a business-like way.

“Muskies you’re after, eh?” said the storekeeper, breaking into a friendly grin.

“Yes,” we said, “but er … ah…”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the storekeeper. “If you want that stuff I can change your 20 easy enough.”

“How’s this?” demanded Jim. “A minute ago…”

“Sure, sure,” soothed the storekeeper. “But you acted so suspicious when you came in.”

“Suspicious?” I asked.

“Guilty as anything, the both of you,” laughed the storekeeper, starting to hand down the tomatoes and bandanas again “Didn’t they gents?”

Everybody smiled and nodded.

“I couldn’t figure out,” said the storekeeper, whose name proved to be McAndrews, and can he ever catch muskies? – “until you laid down that new 20, and naturally I thought there was something funny about it.”

“Well,” said Jim, “if we looked guilty it was only because our real purpose coming in here was to get some tips on where to go fishing tomorrow, but we were going to buy some odds and ends and ask you casually …”

“Ah,” said Mr. McAndrews, “a guilty conscience always shows.”

“All right,” said Jim, “here’s a straightforward question.”

And we got a straightforward answer, and five muskies, and we know the first name of the whole 14 men in the village and we hope to leave a lot of tens and twenties there in the future.


Editor’s Note: $20 in 1944 would be $301 in 2020, so 10s and 20s were quite valuable back then.

Spooks?

“Do you believe,” asked Jimmie Frise, in ghosts?”

“Certainly,” I said. “Who doesn’t?”

“I don’t,” said Jim. “And millions more besides me.”

“I don’t mean with your daylight brains,” I explained. “I myself, right now, in broad daylight, in this office, don’t believe in ghosts as I believe in birds or airplanes. But I bet your body and your night brain, your secret, real brain, believe in ghosts.”

“What are you talking about?” laughed Jim.

“Haven’t you ever,” I demanded, “felt spooky at night? Haven’t you ever felt all creepy on your skin? Your hair sort of prickles? And you have a perfect horror that there is something in the dark, something creeping toward you or past you?”

“Of course,” admitted Jim. “I suppose everybody has felt that way when their nerves were tired.”

“Nerves,” I scoffed. “A nerve, my dear Frise, is just an organ. A physical organ like your finger, for feeling things with. Nerves don’t feel imaginary things. They can’t. That isn’t their function.”

“Do you mean?” gasped Jim.

“I mean,” I said, that when you feel creepy, crawly and horror-struck like that, you are really in the presence of a ghost.”

“Haw,” laughed Jim, but looking rather eagerly out the window at the bright sunshine. “Haw, Haw!”

“Don’t haw,” I assured him. “I am one who believes my senses. I don’t believe what my poor little shallow daylight brain tries to teach me, for its own comfort and ease. I believe my whole me.”

“Your whole what?” asked Jim, anxiously.

“My whole me,” I repeated. “There is a lot of me besides what I know or am conscious of. There is a lot to you that you are utterly unaware of. The professors say that our conscious mind is like the varnish on a chest of drawers. A thin, pathetic little coating. The real us is a chest of drawers, deep-filled drawers, some of them maybe secret drawers and locked forever. Drawers filled with ages and ages of the past, of our ancestors back millions of years, and all they loved and feared and hated.”

“Tch, tch,” said Jimmie.

“How else,” I asked, “can you explain all our differences, that you can draw and I can sing; and I love birds and you love horses? What makes me so Grit and you so Tory? Why do I talk a lot and you sit smiling a lot?”

“This has nothing to do with ghosts,” interrupted Jim.

“It has everything to do with ghosts,” I assured him. “Because we are scared of ghosts – and rightly so – our little hand-made brains, our little shallow daylight minds, have tried, for ages, to prove there are no ghosts. No spirits. No anything that will frighten us. It is the job of our daylight brains to try and wiggle us out of anything unpleasant or disturbing.”

Our Usses Know

“Pure theory,” said Jim.

“All right,” I said, “what is your theory, then, about you and everybody else in the world feeling creepy at times? Is there anybody in the whole wide world who hasn’t felt leery and crawly one time or another? Especially at times when ghosts might be expected to be around, such as to haunted houses, on windy and wild nights, or on dreary. and deserted moors? What’s your theory there?”

“Imagination,” said Jim. “Just imagination.”

“Imagination of what?” I asked

“Just imagination,” repeated Jim. “Imagination of nothing.”

“Don’t be silly,” I cried. In 1,000,000 years of there being nothing, we would have long ago got rid of it. Imagination is only seeing with the mind. Our deeper minds, our deep and subconscious minds, know there are ghosts. Our poor little superficial minds fight like fury to pretend there aren’t any. But every once in a while, we get that feeling. It is our true usses seeing, or feeling. Our true usses.”

“Your whole me, and our true usses,” mocked Jimmie. “A lot of new words coming along?”

“When you deal with the unknown,” I pointed out, you have to invent new words.”

“Did you ever see a ghost?” asked Jim. “I mean really see?”

“Yes, lots of times,” I assured him. “And I’ve been a ghost, too.”

“Been a ghost?” shouted Jim.

“Sure,” I said. “In the Battle of Vimy, a ghost came to me the second night, when I was lying in a shell hole down the front face of the Ridge, and told me not to fear, because I would go home to Toronto and use the front door key of my father’s house that I still kept in my pocket. Even in the trenches.”

“What did it look like?” asked Jim.

“It looked like a lady,” I said.

“What kind of a lady?” demanded Jim.

“I wouldn’t care to say, but she was very beautiful,” I assured him. “She knelt right down beside me in the shell hole. If I had asked her, she would have turned me back into a baby again and lifted me up in her arms.”

“What about you being a ghost?” demanded Jim, thinly.

“That was in Houdain,” I said. “France is full of ghosts, it is so old. One terrible rainy night in February, 1918, I was walking down that long, sloping street of Houdain, with the tall houses rising sheer from the cobbled pavement, and no sidewalk. All the troops were in billet and only the provost-sergeant and his picket were abroad. It was my last duty before going to bed myself, to see the provost and his picket and tell them where they could find me in case of need.”

“So?” asked Jim.

“There I was,” I said, “in my trench coat, swinging my cane down the street in the lashing sleet and rain, all alone. When suddenly, for an instant, as if my heart stood still, I felt wet long curls blowing against my face. I felt great wide-topped leather boots around my own knees, and out from beside me hung heavily a long sheathed rapier in a leather scabbard.”

“Imagination,” said Jim.

“Or,” I said, “since my ancestors were mercenary soldiers in the old wars, coming out of Ireland and Scotland to fight for any king that had the money, I think the ghost of one of them knew me as I walked that lonely street, down which he, too, had walked in his time. And that for that one blazing, credible instant, he had entered me. Entered me through those same channels down which he had given me the color of his eyes, the roughness of his hair, his way of loving and his way of singing. Through those same mystic channels that he had come down in flesh to me, he came in spirit.”

“Gosh,” said Jimmie. Such thoughts!”

“If this life,” I assured him, “had only in it what we can see, it wouldn’t be worth bothering with for five minutes.”

“You mean you like ghosts?” begged Jim.

“Sure,” I said. “Any I’ve seen were all right. I have the feeling they’d like to be friends.”

“Do you believe in haunted houses?” asked Jim

“Yes, and I believe any house is a haunted house, if you try to believe it,” I explained. “This office is likely haunted.”

“Like to see a Ghost?”

Jimmie smiled around the office, looking at its bright walls, its cheery sunlit gleam.

“I bet,” said Jim, “you couldn’t show me a ghost in any house. Even an old tumbledown empty house out in the middle of a deserted field in the middle of the night.”

“Would you really like to see a ghost?” I asked earnestly.

“I sure would,” scoffed Jim.

“Of course,” I informed him, “If you try not to see one, it is going to be hard to show you one. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Haw, haw,” said Jim.

“I’ll do what I can,” I said. “I’m what they call a sensitive. I can usually feel where ghosts are likely to be. Often, when I’m driving through the country, I can feel where a ghost is in the old houses along the way. I’ll go and see where there is an easy ghost nearby.”

“An easy ghost?” asked Jim.

“Yes, one that shows itself without much shyness,” I pointed out. “You see, the reception ghosts generally get makes them kind of shy. But there are some tougher than others. Some old ghosts.”

“Take your time,” laughed Jim.

A few miles from the city there is a dear old tumbledown and long-abandoned farm that has been the apple of my eye for 20 years. I would love to own it and restore its battered old frame house and clean out the deserted well, with its splendid stonework untouched by the passing years. I recalled that on the near side of the front lot, as you came in from the road, there were three rough old tombstones, home-made, that commemorate the last resting place of some of the pioneers who first staked the land. I figured this would be a good place for ghost-calling for Jimmie.

An Attack of Chills

It was three nights, however, until there came a real nasty night with a howling wind, and shutters going bang, windows rattling and things going bump in the night.

“Jimmie,” I said, over the telephone, “put on your warm hunting togs. It will be a cold job.”

“Why not pick a decent night?” asked Jim. “I hate going out on a night like this, even to the movies.”

“Ghosts are often bewildered by high winds,” I explained. “They come easier on nights like this.”

“Er …” said Jim.

“I’ll be over for you in 10 minutes,” I warned.

I picked Jim up and we drove into the wild wind and the drizzle. Jimmie was gay. He wanted to talk about ghosts. He laughed loud and clear. But I sat silent. And after 10 minutes, I asked him to please be silent, as you could not expect to be in the mood if you acted like a couple of truck drivers.

So Jim grew silent and leaned forward and watched the road in the car lights as we left the highway and took a lonely country road rutted with mud and patches of dirty snow.

In silence, we came to the lane with its aged and rotting fences leading up to the ruined farm. Here I stopped and got out. And turned off the lights.

“How far is it?” asked Jim, getting out slowly.

“Only a little way.” I assured him, in a low voice. “About a quarter of a mile.”

“It’s an abandoned farm, is it?” asked Jim, slowly shutting the car door. “You’re sure you can find it in the dark?”

“I have a flashlight in case of emergency,” I whispered.

“What are you whispering for yet?” asked Jim, irritated.

“We don’t want to scare them all away by loud shouting,” I whispered.

I led. Jim coughed loudly and followed. At the place where the three old home-made tombstones are, I stopped reverently, and turned on the flashlight to show them to Jimmie. He coughed loudly again.

“Don’t cough,” I warned him in a hushed voice.

Then past bare hawthorn bushes that hissed and sighed in the wind, and tall bare mullein stalks that bowed and rattled, we marched in the wild night. The bare elms waved their arms and the wind moaned through them.

Jimmie took my arm.

“Tough going,” he said pleasantly and hoarsely.

“Shhhh,” I said.

We came to the ruins huddled in the dark. The old frame house was all that was really left, its veranda sagging drunkenly, and little root houses and cellars making deep shadows in the night. But over the old stone wall a gallows of tall timbers rose, on which the pioneers had a pulley for hauling water. The gallows starked against the wild night sky.

I took Jim’s arm to lead him, and he was shivering violently.

“Cold?” I whispered.

“Yes,” he replied. “This is silly.”

“Are you really cold?” I asked in a guarded voice. “Where do you feel the chills? Are they in your spine or not? Do you feel chilliest up along the back of your hair?”

“What are you getting at?” hissed Jim halting.

“It will help me,” I said gently, “if you will tell me just what kind of chills you have got? Are they ordinary, plain cold chills, or are they the other kind?”

“What other kind?” snarled Jim.

“What I mean,” I whispered, “is, are they chills, from the cold or from a psychic presence? The way you act, I would say there is Something-very-near.”

“Nnnnkkk,” said Jim.

“Do your fingers twitch?” I whispered. “Is your hair prickling? Is your heart beating faster than usual?”

“Did You See It?”

“I’m getting out of here,” said Jim, pulling away.

I held him. I led him toward the dreary ruin, with its walls sagging all awry.

With a quick flirt of my flashlight, I picked the way inside the open doorway. The roof was partly gone, and the inside was drifted with snow and frozen mud. I picked a bare beam and we sat down on it.

“Ssshhh,” I hissed minutely, when Jim leaned over to speak to me.

We sat.

The wind outside rushed by. Some loose thing on the aged walls faintly rubbed and rattled. Jim put his mouth to my ear.

“I’m freezing,” he said. “Let’s go. We’re fools.”

I set my mouth to his ear.

“Give it,” I said, “10 minutes.”

We sat. Far off a hound bayed. Through the rush and sigh of the wind, a dozen other dogs answered dismally. The loose thing, whatever it was, rattled louder. Something fluttered. Something went thud.

We sat very, very still.

Then I snatched Jim’s wrist.

I felt him half rise and freeze.

“By the door,” I said, my face against his cold ear. “By–the–door.”

Jim started to shiver like a dog on a porch.

“By–the–door,” I whispered, low and slow. See it. The lower–left-hand–corner.”

Silence.

“It’s–coming–in,” I murmured, “The left side.”

Jim leaped up with a frightful yell.

I shot the flashlight to show him his footing. But he just went through that ruined door with one gigantic leap.

By the time I got to my feet and out the door, Jim was vanishing down the muddy lane, his arms and legs flailing in his ecstasy of departure.

“Jimmie,” I bellowed.

But he never paused. He went down that witchthorn lane and past those gaunt elms waving in the night, and I after him. I got to the car and he was not there. I stood and shouted and roared, but he did not answer. I grew nervous and turned on lights. Still no Jimmie. I drove, as a matter of fact, a half mile down the road before I overtook him, and he walking like a champion, straight and strong, for Toronto.

He got in. He fell in his corner. He heaved a great sigh.

“Well,” I said, “did you see it?”

He just raised both hands and let them fall again.

“What did it look like?” I asked eagerly.

“Didn’t you see it?” said Jim weakly.

“No,” I said, “But I’m glad you did. It proves what I’ve been telling you, don’t it? Just because I couldn’t see it shows you how difficult …”

But it took us the rest of the night to go and get farmers with teams to come and pull my car out of the muddy ditch.


Editor’s Notes: Houdain is a town in France near the battlefields of World War One.

A provost sergeant is a non-commissioned officer associated with military police.

Pre-War Stock

February 19, 1944

Silk was no longer available during World War Two for ladies stockings, as it was needed for war production (for things like parachutes). Nylon had not been invented yet, so the discovery of silk stockings in a store in 1944 could have caused a riot like this.

Honesty Pays

By Greg Clark, January 22, 1944

“Be honest,” said Jimmie Frise.

“I flatter myself,” I said, “I am honest.”

“Honesty,” said Jimmie, “is a curious thing. If you were absolutely honest, you would be clubbed to death by an infuriated mob before you had been honest for three hours.”

“Honesty,” I agreed, “must be tempered by common sense. For example, if you were honest, you would tell your friends the truth. You would tell them that never, by any stretch of the Imagination, will they ever be good singers. Yet if you told them that, it would be wicked and cruel.”

“How come?” demanded Jim. “It would save them a lot of grief. And a lot of trouble. It would spare them years of struggle, trying to be good singers. It would put an end to a lot of suffering on the part of people who have to listen to them trying to sing.”

“Yes, but,” I said, “there are really so few things to do in this life. You think at first there are a lot of things to do. But after a while, you discover life has only two or three things to do. And one of them might be singing. Or so you think.”

“That’s what makes life tough,” agreed Jim.

“So, if a man thinks he can sing,” I pursued, and he starts singing, wouldn’t it be wicked, cruel and terrible to deprive him of that belief? He thinks he can sing. It sounds beautiful to him, as he lets his voice blow through his throat. It has a nice, strong feeling. It fills him with a sense of power, of beauty.”

“Yet,” said Jim, “he might be inflicting suffering on five, ten, or even two hundred people, if for example, he were singing in a church choir.”

“Quite so,” I said, “but it is easier to bear the defects of others than to know your own defects.”

“That’s quite a wise saying,” admired Jimmie.

“It’s an honest saying,” I said. “It is more honest than telling a guy he can’t sing.”

“Then we should go about lying,” said Jim. “Lying to our friends by not telling them. Swallowing the truth is the same as lying.”

“Then believe me, we are all liars,” I said. “Or should be.”

“Don’t you think the world would be improved,” asked Jim, “if, instead of kidding one another, we all told the facts and got down to brass tacks? If we all knew our faults, wouldn’t the world be a happier place to live in, a more sensible and practical and business-like place to live in?”

“We would all be dead,” I replied. “There would be no object in living if we had not our dreams and our hopes and our false expectations.

You certainly make a virtue out of dishonesty,” admitted Jim.

“The best thing to do is not think about honesty at all,” I pointed out. “Just take life as It comes and help your brother.”

“It’s a good philosophy,” concluded Jim.

Stick Together

This conversation took place in Jim’s car as we drove to what they call the Annex, which is a district of Toronto north of the parliament buildings, a district where nearly everybody in Toronto was born but from which nearly everybody that was born there has moved away. It is filled with happy grandfathers and grandmothers; thousands of civil servants and university students dwell in it; it has a comfortable air but hardly any side drives. More bachelors and old maids reside in the Annex than in any other concentrated neighborhood of the city, with the result that the lights are out in the Annex earlier at night than in most neighborhoods. Panhandlers do not think very highly of the Annex because bachelors are always saving for their lonely old age.

But Jim knew some people who lived in one of the handsome apartment houses of the Annex. They had an uncle die who had been a great sportsman. He had left behind him great piles of fishing tackle and guns and mackinaw clothes and expensive hunting boots from Scotland. And we were on our way to buy some of the tackle for the benefit of the heirs. At least, that it what you say to your wife. Ah, we sportsmen are so devoted to one another!

“Despite our honesty,” said Jim, as we drove up in front of the beetling apartment house, I wouldn’t put it past us to control our expressions very carefully in case there are a couple of Cellini rods in this collection of junk we are going to see. I could do with a four-ounce Cellini.”

“The only thing to do,” I said, “is to bid one against the other. If there is a rod I want, I’ll say right out how much I’ll give for it. Then you say how much you’ll give. It will be a sort of private auction.”

“You’d never make a business man,” sighed Jim. And we walked up to the apartment house entrance.

Apartment houses always embarrass me. The embarrassment I feel on entering any strange house is multiplied exactly by the number of families living in the apartment. If there are forty apartments in the place, I am forty times as embarrassed. And further more there is, in a few of the better-class apartments, a sort of commissionaire standing in uniform in the front hall. Almost Invariably he is a veteran not of the Canadian but of the imperial army, and he has a high and snooty look.

There was such a one as we entered the foyer of this magnificent apartment house. He had a small red moustache and small bright brown eyes. He eyed us grimly.

Mr. Grimbleberry’s apartment?” asked Jim sweetly.

“Third floor, number thirty-four,” said the imperial, haughtily.

We went up the self-serve lift. It was an upholstered, creepy lift, like a coffin going heavenward.

On the third floor we got off and started to look for apartment thirty-four. Soft plush carpet, soft lights, soft music and soft odors of food lingered in the long corridors.

We went down the corridor and turned to the left, where we met a large, extra-stout gentleman in a derby hat coming to meet us.

“Ah,” cried the gentleman in the derby delightedly. “By Jove, you’re just the men I’m looking for! I’ve done a very silly thing.”

We paused politely. He was well dressed, obviously one of the better-class tenants of the high-class apartment.

“I’ve done an absurd thing,” he giggled, shamefacedly. “I’ve just snapped the door shut and left my key on the inside!”

The sergeant-major downstairs will fix it for you,” I suggested.

“Nonsense! That man!” giggled the gentleman in the derby. “He would merely start in motion an act of parliament to have the caretaker appoint somebody in the course of the coming week to make an adjustment of the matter. Look here, chaps, I want your help. I forgot an important matter, my wife’s wrap. I’m just rushing to meet her at a party. Do help me!”

“Certainly,” we both said. “How?”

“Through the transom,” he said. “The transom is slightly ajar.”

We walked along the corridor until we came to apartment number thirty-eight. It had, in fact, a transom. The transom was ajar.

“Better still!” cried the derby one. “I’m so big. You are just the size to go through a transom, by jove! Would you mind, I say?”

He was patting me on both lapels.

“I’m still athletic,” I agreed, taking off my overcoat and handing it to him.

Jim and the derby joined hands and I stepped on their palms and was hoisted aloft.

“You’ll see a sort of cotter pin,” said the derby-hatted one softly. “Just give it a smart pull. Then the transom will drop open. Don’t bang it. The people on this floor are very fussy about a little racket. Mostly old women.”

I drew a cotter pin holding the transom rod to the frame. The transom dropped and I caught it and let it softly down. With a few struggles and a wiggle or two, I got through, dropped to the floor and opened the door.

“There’s no key,” I pointed out. “It was just locked. The catch had sprung.”

“Good heavens, where’s my key, then?” cried the gentleman in the derby hat. “However, I won’t detain you. Would you care for a drop of something, raspberry vinegar or ginger cordial?”

“No, thanks,” said Jim. “We’ve an appointment.”

“Well, cheerio and thanks a lot,” said the gentleman in the derby.

So we went and found apartment number thirty-four and the Grimbleberrys were in, and they laid out the piles of their late Uncle Billie’s sporting gear. He had three Cellini rods, all about four ounces. Jim and I paid no attention to them. We just picked them up and laid them aside, as it to see more interesting exhibits. There were fly books crammed with fresh and untouched dozens of flies and boxes loaded with dry flies. There were precious fly lines rolled carefully on storage spools of cork. There were English reels with agate line guides. There were Scotch waders and brogues of leather. Baskets and rod carrying boxes of Spanish walnut with brass fittings and locks. There were English guns in leather cases. There were Harris tweed fishing coats with immense pockets that were just made to order for Jimmie. Nets, gaffs, fly oiling bottles and silver-cased pads of amadou for drying the fly. Pigskin valises and canvas kit bags of the wide-mouth English pattern, trimmed with genuine leather.

In fact, it was a sensation.

“Is That a Fair Price?”

We pawed casually amongst it all. I could feel Jimmie trembling every time he leaned against the table. I coughed loudly, and complained about a raw throat.

“Errumph,” said Jim. “Now one thing you have got to bear in mind, Grimbleberry,” said he, “there are plenty of rogues around who wouldn’t give you a fraction of the value of these things.”

“I’m sure there are,” said Mr. Grimbleberry.

“I’m sorry there isn’t much here that interests us,” I added. “We have so much stuff now our wives think we have gone crazy. In fact, I have to smuggle anything I buy into my own house.”

“Ha, ha,” we all laughed, including Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry.

“There are a few little items here,” I admitted, “that I think I could pick up, things I’ve worn out, and so on. But the great majority of the things are second-hand, of course, you see?”

“I wouldn’t mind one of these rods,” said Jim with a faint quaver in his voice.

“Oh?” I said, surprised. “I wonder what condition they are in? How long did your uncle have them?”

“I couldn’t say,” said Grimbleberry. “You see, I don’t fish, none of the family does. It’s just so much junk to us. I was hoping you chaps would take the whole shebang. Give us a lump sum for the whole works. That’s what I was hoping.”

“”Mmmmm,” said Jim and I together, like a duet.

I jointed up one of the Cellinis. It was like a living thing. It was like a jewel, like Aaron’s rod, pulsing with sensate life, a gorgeous, vital, leaping creation of bamboo yet weighing only four ounces for all its nine feet of length. It was worth every cent of the seventy-five dollars Uncle Billie, now with God, had paid for it new.

“Mmmmmm, not bad, Jim,” I said. “Feel that. Isn’t it a bit loggy to you?”

“Mmmmmm,” said Jim. He had actually to wrestle his gaze loose from that rod. He laid it aside doubtfully.

“How about twenty dollars for the lot?” asked Mr. Grimbleberry. “Is that a fair price? Ten dollars from each of you.”

I didn’t breathe. Jim cleared his throat.

“Or fifteen?” asked Grimbleberry. “I don’t want to impose on the fact that I know you two gentlemen.”

What was worrying me was how Jim and I were going to divide the loot. Who was to get the odd Cellini, for there were three. And who the pigskin bag? And that solid copper dry fly box?

At that terrific moment, there came sounds from the corridor outside the apartment. Excited voices and thudding feet. Grimbleberry hastened to his door, saying “There’s been a pants burglar working this neighborhood.”

Grimbleberry opened the door and a buzz of excited voices rose from the outer hall. Above all rose the irate and commanding voice of an imperial. He was saying:

“Two of them, a small one in a bright brown coat and a tall one. I spotted them the instant they came in.”

Jim strode to the door. “Are you looking for us, sir?” he demanded sharply.

The commissionaire from downstairs came and stared dubiously at Jim and me.

“These are guests of mine,” said Grimbleberry. “They have been here at least half an hour.”

“Beg pardon, sir,” said the commissionaire stiffly.

He told how the Bunthorpes in apartment thirty-eight had come in and found their place ransacked, their transom open and valuables stolen.

“It was a small man done it,” stated the commissionaire shrewdly. The only stranger I’ve seen here tonight was a big stout man in a derby hat, and carrying a club bag. But he couldn’t have got in through no transom, no, sir. Not him.”

He went away to pursue his criminal investigations.

We went back to the Grimbleberry’s dining room table were Uncle Billie’s collection of a lifetime – and a connoisseur – was spread out.

“Mr. Grimbleberry,” I said, stoutly, this stuff is worth more than twenty dollars.”

“In fact,” said Jimmie, “just one of these rods alone is worth a great deal more than twenty dollars.”

Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry looked at us with open mouths.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” I put in.

“That pair of waders with brogues is practically new,” said Jim, “and they sell, new for about forty dollars.”

“Good grief,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry casting a look around her apartment at the curtains and the rug with an appraising eye.

“One has to be honest,” said Jimmie. “Especially as, in this world, you are so often dishonest without knowing it. So I suggest this. I suggest you have a clerk from a fishing tackle store some night come up and set a fair valuation on all this stuff.”

“A great idea,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry.

“On an off night, have him come up,” I added, “and he can list all this stuff and put a fair second-hand value on everything.”

“And then we’ll come up again and bring some of our friends,” said Jim, and we can have a sale, eh?”

“Beautiful,” cried Mrs. Grimbleberry. “How much do you think it might come to?”

“Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea, I said.

“One hundred? Two hundred?” asked Mrs. Grimbleberry eagerly, and I saw Mr. Grimbleberry suddenly give her a sharp look.

“It wouldn’t be wise to say.” I suggested. “But it would bring you more than you’d get from a casual sale.”

So Jim and I left them and went down and as we passed through the foyer, the commissionaire saluted us respectfully.

“Ah,” said Jim, as we got into the car, “it pays to be honest.”

“Especially,” I agreed, “when it is within your power.”


Editor’s Notes: A Transom is a window that exists over a door frame. It was not uncommon for these to open on the horizontal in offices or homes.

Amadou patch is primarily composed of a mushroom, and its purpose is to squeeze a wet fishing fly between the two pads which sucks the water out, restoring its ability to float.

“Pants Burglar” was literally someone who stole pants. I guess the object was to also get money or a wallet that might be left in them, but there are historical newspaper references to people who just stole pants. It was a term used primarily in the early 20th century.

Right, to the Ounce

October 28, 1944

During wartime, shipping packages overseas required a lot of lead time as indicated in the notice in the post office, and had strict weight limits. During World War Two, it was often indicated that the character “Pig-Skin” Peters was in the armed forces.

Slumber-Fest

By Greg Clark, June 24, 1944

“You look,” said Jimmie Frise, “a little down this morning.”

“I am,” I confessed. “It’s my snore.”

“Ah, your family is evicting you?”

“No,” I said. “More humiliating than that. I was visiting my brother’s cottage and there was a family party and they carried me out and left me on the rocks all night.”

“Didn’t they even offer you a tent?” asked Jim.

“Offer me?” I explained bitterly. “They carried me out in my sleep. And when I woke up in the morning, there I was out on the rocks and all of them sitting sneering at me on the veranda.”

“You didn’t wake up?”

“How could I?” I demanded, “I was busy sleeping.”

“You must sleep well,” opined Jim.

“I do sleep well. I sleep the sleep of the just. When I go to sleep, I go to sleep with gusto. I have been timed by interested people who have clocked me from the time I lay down to the time I emitted my first experimental snore, and it has been as little as 37 seconds.”

“Merciful me,” ejaculated Jimmie.

“When I sleep,” I explained, “I go deep. I am none of these skittery sleepers who play about the surface of sleep like swimmers disporting themselves in the water. No, I go to sleep the way the bear hibernates. I plunge at once far down, down deep into the shadowy depths of slumber. No dreams can find me. There I hide, in sombre and lovely caverns of sleep until I am through sleeping. Nothing can wake me. And when I am through sleeping I wake up just like that. Wide awake. Fully rested. The way Nature intended us to sleep and to wake.”

“But you snore, hey?” asked Jim.

“Yes, I snore. I am sorry to snore, but here you are. They tell me I have one of the most dreadful snores ever heard.”

“Mine’s pretty bad,” said Jim.

“Mine, I declared, “is not a snore. It is 15 or 20 kinds of snores. Many a time my wife has got up and come all the way down to the back of the house where I sleep to turn on the light and look to see who else I have got in bed with me because she swore I was doing two snores at the same time.”

“That’s bad all right,” admitted Jim. “But have you got resonance? I have resonance. They say I often make the window panes rattle with mine. My family often comes in and wedges little bits of paper in the windows to prevent them rattling.”

“Jim,” I said impatiently, “maybe you have a pretty bad average snore. But I want to tell you about something that is likely going to cause me trouble, maybe tragedy. You can’t have your friends carrying you out on to the rocks the way they did with me and not suffer sooner or later. I have often wondered why my friends never ask me twice on fishing trips and week-end parties. But now I know it is my snore. And what medicine or soap can you use for snores?”

“Try sleeping on your other side,” suggested Jim.

“Jim, I have tried, with the help of all my family, all my friends and enemies, to sleep on both sides, my back, my stomach, but it makes no difference. I have even used those big safety pins – you know the kind – to pin myself down on one side. But when I woke in the morning, somebody had unpinned me and propped me on the other side with large books behind me so I couldn’t move. But all to no avail.”

It’s Deeper Than Adenoids

“Perhaps surgery would help,” said Jim. “Maybe your adenoids need trimming.”

“My snore,” I stated with pride, “is deeper than adenoids. I have what you call an abdominal or diaphragmatic snore. I snore from my pelvis, like opera singers. I’ll tell you what they tell me. They tell me I lie down and in about one-half to one minute emit my first soft little snore. It is just a murmur, taken on the inward breath. In about 10 or 15 snores, these little murmurs have risen to a sound like a car going up hill in low gear. Terrible, roaring, ripping sounds which conclude the first movement, so to speak, in a final snort like a salesman ripping a sheet of linen.”

“Ah,” said Jim, “I have heard you do that. It has actually wakened me.”

“That terrible rip,” I went on, “does not strangle me to death, unfortunately, as all my friends hope; but it inaugurates the second series. That wild snort seems to shake loose some new equipment in my wind-pipes and I start thereupon snoring not only on the in-breath but on the out-breath too. By now I am going good. I snore in the key of F on the in-stroke and in the key of B on the out-stroke. At the same time, while I am making these dreadful sounds through my nose, I am also saying ‘pooh’ on each out-breath with my mouth. It goes Aaaaaaash – Snaaarrrchh – Pooh! Like that.”

“Personally,” said Jim, “I am sorry I have always slept so soundly on any trips I’ve been with you that I missed all this. All I can say is I have been wakened by a kind of tearing sound you make.”

“Oh, I’ve heard you snore,” I pointed out. “Not at night, of course, but when I have come in from fishing in the afternoon and found you asleep on the cot. Yours is just a nice, low, buzzing sound, very soothing in fact.”

“Look here,” said Jim testily, “you can’t compare a common little afternoon snore with a two o’clock in the morning job. I want to inform you, my boy, that I’ve been sitting here listening to you bragging and I’ve just been amused, that’s all. Just amused. I have a snore that has resonance. It is none of these little bewildered snores that doesn’t know which way to turn, It’s a snore like a bugle. One clear call for me. One time down on Lake Scugog, all the shipping was tied up one whole night off shore because my snore was mistaken for the fog horn.”

“Oh, Jimmie,” I scoffed.

“I know the kind of snorer you are,” said Jim. “One of those nervous snorers who can’t make up his mind. You try this and you try that. You are an experimental snorer. You never seem satisfied for more than about 15 snores. Then you’ve got to change your tune. You sort of seem always feeling your way through the night, as if you couldn’t figure out which direction to take. But me: I lie right down to business. I hit my pitch and go to it. And I go to it as straight as an arrow. My snores ring through the night, one after the other, like projectiles fired from a gun. I never alter, never change. I just lie there with my mouth open, my nose pointed like a long range gun straight in the air and I let her go. Baritone, rich, tonal, true, unvarying. That’s snoring.”

“Jimmie,” I said, after a pause, “we’ve been friends a long time, but I can’t have you talking this way about my snores. Why, you’ve never even heard them.”

“Neither have you,” sneered Jim.

“Then,” I sneered back, “why beat about the bush? Why not let us demonstrate to one another? We’ll take a night off, and I’ll sit up while you snore. Then after, say, one hour, I’ll wake you up and you sit and listen to me. Then you’ll know what you are talking about. I want you to realize that I am losing my friends, my family is acting queerly, there are places I long to go where I am never invited; in short, my life is in danger of being blighted, by my snore.”

“Neighbors,” said Jim coolly, “have moved away from next door to us, all because, in the summer, they could not stand my trombone solo.”

“One time,” I countered, “the railroad had to attach an extra sleeping car to a train at Orillia all because the other occupants of berths in the car I was in couldn’t stand me. So rather than insult a customer, the railway simply put on a new coach, shifted them all into it, and left me to myself.”

“Huh,” said Jim. “That’s nothing. In my bedroom, we have to change the electric light bulbs once a week. That’s all on account of the vibration. That’s resonance.”

“Jim,” I repeated “let’s get down to facts. You’ve touched me on a tender spot. My snore is one of the larger facts of my life. I challenge you to a snoring match. You can take the first hour or the second, just whichever you wish. And if you can look me in the face again after hearing me snore, then I’ll give in. But I warn you. You will probably send for a doctor. You’ll think I am having some sort of a seizure.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” said Jim.

So we arranged the matter by telling our families that we were called out of town on a big story and we rented a room at a well-known Toronto hotel and staged our snoring match. We tossed for first bout, and I won. Jim, coldly smiling, sat himself comfortably in the easy chair with which all hotels are provided, and set his watch beside him on the little table. I arranged myself comfortably on the bed, and loosened my collar and tie.

“After it is over,” I said drowsily, because I do not get in a horizontal position without at once hearing the sweet call of Morpheus, “we’ll slip out and have a snack at a restaurant handy, just to celebrate. Boy, I’ve got you.”

“Hop to it, son,” replied Jim skeptically.

“Loveliest of All”

I do not recall falling asleep. It is hard to describe the sensation of falling asleep, as it is hard to describe the taste of celery. Yet both are beautiful. It is, to me, like going away. It is like suddenly being free. All the silly world, in a swift instant, seems to dissolve and grow vague and dim. My waking mind seems to struggle, like a swimmer, against being drowned in the lovely soft depths. But suddenly, it surrenders. I think I always slip away with a smile. If I do not, I know I wish I did. For of all the lovely feelings of which this life is capable, the ineffable gentleness of sleep, the freedom, the tenderness seem to me the loveliest of all.

I had my clothes on when I fell asleep, so as to be ready to sit up for my turn checking Jim. I was to sleep one hour and then Jim would sleep one hour. He had the best of it, because the later the night the richer the snore.

It was broad daylight when I woke. I woke, as usual, wide awake, like a swimmer coming up from a dive. The sun was streaming into the room. There, slouched in his chair, sagged Jimmie, his mouth open, his hands clasped comfortable before him, his long legs stretched out.

And from his organs, oral and nasal, there arose a gentle sound, a sound like a sawmill in the far distance on a drowsy summer afternoon. It wasn’t a snore at all. It was just a saint rasp of wind across his teeth.

I leaped out of bed. I shook him violently.

“Who, wha, whuh,” he gasped, struggling to his feet.

“So?” I sneered, “My handsome timer! You couldn’t even take it for an hour.”

“Wh,” said Jim, stretching and yawning. “Huh, whuh, waaaaw!”

“What did it sound like?” I demanded, “Don’t try to kid me that it put you to sleep. My snore is guaranteed to keep whole carloads awake. What did you do? Suffer four hours and finally fall asleep in sheer exhaustion?”

“Boy, said Jim, “I don’t recollect hearing you snore even once. I felt a little drowsy. And seeing you asleep there, I just closed my eyes for a minute–“

So we put on our coats and vests and went to breakfast.

“Honest,” said Jim, over his coffee cup, “I didn’t hear you make a sound. That is, except a few sort of preliminary little buzzes, as if you were feeling for the right note.”

“Jim, you must be as sudden a sleeper as I and a deep one, too, or I would have waked you.”

“There ought to be some way we could solve this,” said Jim. “Isn’t there some kind of a phonograph that both records records and plays them?”

“There’s an idea,” I agreed. “Yet if you can’t stay awake long enough to listen to me for a minute, how could you stay awake long enough to operate a phonograph?”

“Just having the phonograph to attend to,” said Jim, “would keep me awake. The only time I fall asleep is when I have nothing to do.”

So Jim telephoned one of his Russian pool friends who is in the music business and he found he could borrow one of these two-way phonographs with the greatest of pleasure.

“I’ll be glad to have these records,” said I, “just for my children and my grandchildren. Stories are likely to survive about my snore and I want proof to exist.”

“I can see your grandchildren,” said Jim “assembled around the phonograph, long after you are gone, having a reunion. He was a great old guy, they will say. Did you ever hear of his snore? They don’t have snores like this nowadays.”

“I think I’ll leave half a dozen records,” I thought, “to be handed down from generation to generation. I will make a speech. Then I’ll sing them a song, an old war son like ‘Keep Your Head Down, Ally-man.’ Then another record will be of me talking to our dog, Dolly, when she won’t eat her supper. And then this one of my snore. They would have, a century from now, a fine record of their old great-grandfather and it would be a lesson to them.”

“Tonight’s the night,” said Jim.

And in the same hotel room, we had the gramophone delivered. We bought 10 blank records, planning to make five records of each of us, and the best one to be selected, and then we would select a mutually agreeable committee of judges to choose the winner.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” said Jim. “Is it too early to put on the race?”

“I’m ready, any time, any place,” I retorted.

So I took first place again, and we rigged up the gramophone, saw how it worked; Jim took his place in the chair to operate the machine. It ran very quietly, just a soft purring sound.

“Let her go,” said Jim.

So I let her go. I shut my eyes. I felt myself slipping, sliding, drifting. I was away.

I was to perform five records, which counting time changing the machine, we figured might be an hour and a half.

Machine Stood Silent

It was, however, again broad daylight when I woke. The sun again was streaming in the window. The busy sounds of a hotel were already rising around us. And there, in his chair, was Jimmie again, slouched back, emitting the same soft purring sound as formerly. And there stood the machine, silent, beside him.

“Jim,” I snarled.

“Uh, whuh, waaaw,” said Jim, pulling himself back to life.

He saw me glaring at him from the bed. He leaped up and looked bewilderingly at the machine, at the daylight window.

“Well, merciful me,” he said, scratching his head, “It must have been your soft snores and this purring thing!”

“Play the record, anyway,” I said, “and see how much you’ve got.”

I sat up. Jim readjusted the gramophone.

“I had it started,” he said. “I know I got some of it.”

The gramophone began. It purred. Faintly, a soft snore sounded, I smiled proudly, Jim listened with a superior grin. The snores grew. They began coming out of that gramophone with a sound like Paul Robeson’s voice.

“What about that, boy?” I yelled at Jim. Jim’s face was not so amused now.

The sounds increased, the loudspeaker the gramophone began to crackle and sputter.

“Wait for the big rip,” I called, loudly to Jim above the program.

The big rip came. Then, suddenly, a new sound broke into the symphony. Across my strangled music came a slow, steady, long drawn sound like a hound baying. Then it rose in quality and power until it sounded like a trumpet calling the cavalry to charge. The combined sound of the first performance and of the second was almost more than the phonograph could take. Its machinery crackled and blasted. But Jim and I were sitting there, looking at each other with proud and horrified gaze when suddenly still another sound broke into the record. It was a strange voice.

“Throw the buzzards out,” said this deep bass voice.

“Oh, we couldn’t do that, sir,” said another higher voice, right out of the gramophone “The customer is always right in the hotel business, you know.”

“Shut the transom,” came the bass voice above the tumult of the shores, “and close their window.”

“Yes, sir, yes, sir,” said the higher voice anxiously.

We heard a couple of loud bangs.

“Throw the quilts over their ruddy heads,” said the bass voice.

“I’ll change your room, sir,” said the other voice.

Then we heard a door shut.

The strangled sound and the high long-drawn trombone notes went loudly and clear on, until, with a sudden cluck, the record ended and the machine stopped.

“Jim,” I said, stepping forward, and holding out my hand.

“My dear fellow,” said Jim, proudly, shaking my hand.

It was a draw.


Editor’s Notes: This story is probably accurate. Greg has been noted in his biography as a champion snorer. As noted, his wife discovered early in their marriage that she would have to sleep in another room. He also had the advantage of being deaf in one ear because of his injury in World War One. He could then rest his good ear in the pillow, blocking out all sound, and sleep anywhere. This is recounted in some of his later solo stories, especially when he was a war correspondent around the time this story was written.

Russian Pool is a type of billiards game. Jim was known as an avid billiards player.

I could not find the song he mentioned, but it might be “Keep Your Head Down, Fritzie Boy”.

Paul Robeson was a well known singer and actor with a deep baritone voice.

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