The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1944 Page 1 of 2

Hexed

There was no one in sight, but before our eyes, the sleigh moved uphill!

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 7, 1936.

“I’m hexed,” said Jimmie Frise.

“Which?” said I.

“Hexed,” repeated Jimmie. “It means bewitched. It is a word that comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch. It means somebody has put a hex on me.”

“Explain,” I invited.

“Well, now, this morning,” said Jim, nervously looking around the office, “just before daylight I was waked from a deep sleep by the telephone ringing loudly.”

“A nasty experience,” I admitted.

“I jumped out of bed,” said Jim, “half asleep. I had dropped my shoes beside the bed on retiring. As I leaped from bed I trod on one of my shoes. It rolled. I twisted my leg and fell in a loud heap all over the cold floor.”

“The telephone still ringing?” I inquired.

“Shrilly,” said Jim. “I scrambled to my feet, tried to get out the bedroom door to the hall and collided violently with a chair that someone had put there out of its place, fair in the middle of the room.”

“There is always a chair in a place like that,” I commented.

“Oh, no, there isn’t,” said Jim, again glancing cautiously around him. “So I picked myself up again, shoved the chair aside. And by this time I was angry. I knew the door was likely to be ajar. And I knew the chances were that I would bump into it. So, despite my hurry, and the fact that the telephone was still jangling fiercely…”

“Why didn’t you switch on the light?” I suggested.

“With the phone ringing, and the switch away across the room,” said Jim, angrily, “what else would I do but what I was doing? So I extended both my arms ahead of me. I felt my way towards the door. You have guessed it? Yes, the door was exactly between my extended arms, and I banged my nose and forehead savagely against the door edge.”

“Nothing more could happen,” I laughed heartily.

“Yes, it could,” said Jim. “For when I did reach the phone, whoever had wanted me was gone. All I heard was a buzz. I yelled hello, hello, and woke all my family up. They turned on lights and came and stood in the hall watching me.”

“Any more?” I inquired.

“Yes, plenty more,” said Jim, in a low voice. “As you know, Lillie has been very ill recently. I was afraid it was them trying to get me. So I dialed Lillie’s number. I heard the phone ringing and ringing. I waited, although I felt relieved that if nobody answered right away, it couldn’t have been Lillie’s folks trying to get us.”

Series of Comic Incidences

“So?” I encouraged, for Jim was growing more husky every second.

“So,” said Jim, with a long breath, “I heard the telephone lifted off the other end and a very sleepy voice said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Is that you, Fred?’ I asked. There was silence for a moment. ‘No,’ shouted the voice, this isn’t Fred!’ And banged the receiver up in my ear.”

“You tried again?” I begged.

“I certainly did,” said Jim, “because now I was anxious. So very carefully I dialed the number again. I heard it ring. To my great anxiety, it rang only four times before the receiver was snatched off and a voice like a mad bull yelled, ‘If it’s Fred you want, will you get the hell off my line!”

“That isn’t hexed,” I choked.

“So I looked up the number,” said Jim, “and dialed it right. And this time, Fred answered after about ten rings, and said no, he hadn’t been calling me and Lillie was fine, thanks.”

“So then,” I said, “your family was free to go back to bed again?”

“Not quite,” said Jim, grimly. “I started back to bed. There are three steps down in the hall between the front level and the back. I have taken those three steps thousands, yes, tens of thousands of times.”

“Don’t forget, you were a little upset,” I offered.

“I missed the lowest, or third, step,” said Jim, “came down heavily on the small rug, which skidded. And for the third time in five minutes landed like a thousand of brick on the floor of my own home.”

“Your family,” I supposed, “was rather tired of you by this time?”

“I lay there for quite a little while,” said Jim, “not swearing or anything, but just with a helpless sort of feeling, as if the inanimate world, the world of chairs, rugs, floors, telephones, were in active league against me. However, helpless and hopeless as I felt. I got up, carefully felt my way through the door, crept with outstretched arms towards my bed; and you can believe this or not, just as you please, but guess what?”

“What?” I asked.

“I again stepped on one of my shoes, it rolled the same as before, and with a final end utterly ridiculous collapse, I floundered right under my bed, and hurt my head on the floor.”

“Well, I’d say you were just a sound sleeper,” I submitted. “You don’t wake very easily. You were only half awake.”

“Awake,” hissed Jim. “Awake. I tell you, I was never more awake in my life. I was hexed, that’s what I was. Bewitched. Some queer, mischievous, wilful spirit, some sort of little goblin, or lesser devil, some evil spirit without any real power for evil, had me on the run.”

“A series of comic coincidences,” I laughed.

“I tell you,” said Jim, “the night is peopled with devils. Not big devils. Maybe the big devils are abroad, too, doing bigger and more evil things. But there are troops of lesser devils, like unseen monkeys, and they haunt the night, seeking out their victims and making them the butt of their jokes.”

“This is a fine build-up.” I declared, “to excuse your own clumsiness and stupidity.”

“I was hexed,” disagreed Jim. “And I assure you those simple Pennsylvania Dutch, in homely communion with the nature and the truth, knew what they were talking about when they worked out the theory of hexing.”

“Of course,” I submitted, “I am not one of those who scoff at all suggestion of the mystical and spiritualistic. But I think you are rather far-fetched in trying to blame your adventures early this morning on spirits.”

“Who else would I blame it on?” demanded Jim angrily. “Do you suppose it is just an ordinary thing for a man to be waked up in the middle of the night by a fake telephone call and then submitted to the most ridiculous persecution, all by accident?”

“I should say so,” I stated, judicially,

“Then,” sighed Jim, “you are a lot more old-fashioned than I thought. You belong to that cold and practical era that began with King George and ended with the big depression. You are a Georgian realist. You don’t believe in anything that can’t be bought or sold.”

“I have my ideals,” I stated.

“But you are most uncomfortable at the thought that there might be something beyond your control. Something you can’t bring to heel either with a machine, or law, or money.”

“It is a good, sound, sane material world,” I agreed.

But Jimmie got up from his chair, walked cautiously around his office, avoiding chairs, picking his feet up carefully and setting them down with equal care, and stood looking out over the city spread far below us.

“I think,” he said, “I will head for home early to-day. It isn’t a day I would want to be abroad after nightfall.”

“Poo-hoo,” I laughed.

When the garage telephoned me in mid-afternoon that my car would not be ready by supper time, I asked Jim if I could ride home with him. His eagerness was pitiable.

“I was thinking of inviting you to ride home with me,” he said. “Or else maybe I could ride home with you.”

“Tut, tut,” I said. “Jimmie, there are times when all of us are a little off our feed.”

But Jim just gave me a long look, as if he were trying to communicate something to me that words could not convey.

We knocked off at four and walked briskly down to Jim’s parking area and got into the big schooner which Jim drives. The day had darkened and nasty low-lying clouds promised snow or sleet.

“This is a night I’ll be settled down beside the grate fire,” said Jim, starting the engine. We drove out into Bay street and down to the water front. Dusty snow whirled off the barren fields, and we got into line with the early home-goers whose cars were already turning on their dim lights. “Brrrrrr!”

Not too fast, and letting scores of cars pass us. Jim drove westward, past the Prince’s Gate, curving out towards the sea wall where a gray lake heaved weirdly, and threw high sprays and spumes against the concrete. Down amidst the shuttered and abandoned amusement devices of Sunnyside we nosed, and a sense of desolation smote even me.

A Rather Eerie Spot

“What’s this ahead?” exclaimed Jim, sharply.

“An accident, it looks like,” I said, as we coasted into a thickening line of cars. “And a nasty one.”

Three cars were messed up in one of those skid confusions, and the highway rapidly filled with other cars coming both ways to effect a solid block in the traffic.

“Here,” said Jim, sharply, “we don’t want to get caught in any mix-up. I’ll drive up through High Park.”

So, looking out his rear window, Jim backed the old schooner to the turn up through High Park and in a moment we were free of the confusion, and turned up the westerly and little-used roadway through the park.

“If you are so leery,” I smiled, “I wouldn’t risk going through High Park on an evening like this.”

“Quickest way home,” said Jim briefly, stepping on the gas.

The road winds through the park. On either side, the gaunt trees stood with wide arms, as if lifting them in attitudes of horror. The curious gray light filled the hollows with rather sinister shadows. And then the tire gave out with a loud, shrill scream.

“Tire,” I said, as Jim collapsed on the steering wheel.

“Funny place for a tire to give out,” said Jim. “Why wouldn’t it give out on the highway?”

So I got out, and, while Jim scrabbled under the seat for tools, I casually pounded the spare.

“Jim,” I said, “your spare is flat, too.”

Jim came and stared at the spare.

“I had it filled yesterday,” he whispered.

“It’s flat now, look,” I demonstrated.

“I have no pump,” said Jim.

“Let’s wait for somebody to come by,” I said, “and get lift out to Bloor St. and send back a mechanic.”

“Wait nothing,” said Jim. “I’m going to do no waiting in this place.”

And indeed, when I came to look around, it was a rather eerie spot, the trees so curiously watchful, the small hills that completely shut us off seeming to raise their shoulders in a kind of glee. The wind made a hushing sound, and a tumble-weed suddenly started to roll along the side of the road so that Jim and I both made a grab for each other.

“If we aren’t going to wait,” I said, “what do you propose?”

“I propose,” said Jim, that we both start walking to Bloor St.”

And I saw him take a wrench and slip it up his coat sleeve. He locked the car. Away we started.

An Unnerving Sight

In the distance we could hear the hum and whir of traffic passing up the other park road, over a distant and concealing hill.

“Let’s walk over the hill and get a lift,” I said. “It’s quite a hike in this wind to Bloor St.”

“Okay,” said Jim, for the fields were more open than the road which skirted a valley filled with trees, bushes and shadows. “The sooner I get home the better.”

Half way across the field we came out on a little hillock and we both saw what we saw at the same instant.

It was a sleigh. A child’s sleigh. All alone in that vast expanse of white with no person, no object, no tree or bush or stump within sight, the little sleigh was slowly moving.

“Hhrrrmmmpphh,” I cleared my throat.

“So,” said Jim in a choked whisper. “So, we don’t get home!”

“It’s the wind, Jim,” I said comfortingly. “Some kid forgot his sleigh and the wind is blowing it.”

“The wind is against it,” whispered Jim.

“Hhhrrrruummpphh,” said I.

We watched the dreadful spectacle. A little sleigh, slowly, jerkily, but steadily crossing the white ground a few yards before us. Beckoning us. Stopping and starting and signalling us to follow. Follow it to some strange place, some nether world where the unseen creatures who were pulling it might have us at their mercy.

“Jim,” I said, “I apologize. I want to apologize right now before whatever happens, happens.”

“Hexed,” gasped Jim.

“I feel an awful desire,” I groaned, “to run and get on that sleigh and see where it would take me.”

“Just stand still,” sighed Jimmie, “as long as we can.”

The sweet sounds of Toronto traffic rattled and hummed over the hill only a little distance away. We could see, sense, feel the presence of the great city all around us. Yet here, in this desolate park, in a small gully, we stood and watched the ghostly sleigh with frozen stares.

It halted. It struggled.

On the far side of the hill appeared two small boys.

“Hey, mister,” they yelled across. “Loosen our sleigh when you come past.”

Jim and I raced to see who would loosen it first. We ran beside it as the little boys hauled it up to the top with the clothes line they were using.

“What’s the idea,” we demanded gaily when we reached the boys, “of hauling a sleigh on a rope that long?”

“It’s an idea,” said the larger small boy, “so we don’t have to drag it back up each time we go down. We slide down, see? Then we just walk up to the top and pick up the rope and we both pull. So it is nobody’s turn to drag it up, see?”

“A swell idea,” I enthused.

“On’y it didn’t work,” said the boy. “We were just dragging it home.”

“Let’s help,” said Jim and I.

So we set both small boys on their sleigh and hauled them up to Bloor St.

So we set both small boys on their sleigh and hauled them up to the road.

Editor’s Notes: Pennsylvania Dutch refers to the early German settlers of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. They referred to themselves as Deutsch (for “German”) later corrupted to “Dutch”.

Spumes are defined as froth or foam, especially found on waves.

This story was repeated on January 15, 1944 as “Bewitched”, where the second illustration comes from.

‘Taint All Hay

September 9, 1944

Vice Versa

The dentist started drilling. I let out an indignant nnnn or two but he went right ahead.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 4, 1937.

“Mmmmmm,” moaned Jimmie Frise, “have I got a toothache!”

“Poor chap,” I sympathized. “When are you going?”

“I’m waiting,” said Jim, “to see if it will go away. Often, if you just sit tight…”

“My dear man,” I protested. “Don’t be absurd. You might just as well wait for a broken ankle to go away. A toothache is a reality. A dreadful reality. The tooth enamel has decayed and exposed the nerve. Or maybe it’s an abscess at the root. Anyway you’ve got to get it fixed. And right away.”

“Lots of times,” said Jim, “I’ve had little twinges and they’ve gone away.”

“How ridiculous,” I cried. “Jim, have you no sense at all? Don’t you even read the advertisements? Those little twinges were warnings. Now you’re getting the works.”

“You’re telling me,” said Jim, with a gaunt look, placing his palm tenderly against his jaw.

“Clean your teeth twice a day,” I quoted. “See your dentist twice a year, whether you think you need it or not. But good heavens, man, when you have had twinges of toothache, don’t you realize…?”

“I hate dentists,” said Jim, intensely. “I hate them.”

“What nonsense,” I stated. “Do you hate doctors? Do you hate motor mechanics?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim, haggardly. “Dentists are different.”

“Poppycock,” I said. “You go into a garage and see your poor car all dismembered and lying around in horrible rusty gobs, greasy and repellent. There with its hind end all jacked up in the air on a pulley, stands your poor car, the companion of your joys and sorrows, and do you hate the guy that has done it? Even when he presents you with the bill, do you hate him?”

“That isn’t it,” said Jim hollowly, looking at space.

“A doctor hurts you a heck of a lot more than a dentist,” I pointed out. “He cuts right through your hide. He makes swipes with his knife that are sheer agony.”

“Yeah, but you don’t feel them,” said Jim. “You’re unconscious.”

“Dentists have anaesthetics,” I cried.

“Local anaesthetics,” said Jim. “They jab a needle into your gums.”

“You can take gas,” I reminded him. “You can take a local anaesthetic, and feel nothing until you wake up.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “But who would want to take a total anaesthetic for a mere toothache?”

I looked at him pityingly.

“What’s the use of arguing with a man like you?” I demanded. “You hate dentists, yet they can do more for you than any doctor living. They can whisk a tooth out, so you never feel it.”

“Until after,” said Jim.

“They can put you right under and do a week’s work on you,” I declared. “And you don’t know anything until it is over.”

“Yeah,” withered Jim, “until it’s over.”

Closely Allied to the Brain

“Anyway,” I said with finality, “you’ve got to go to a dentist. This tooth has been warning you. Like a baby, you have ignored the warnings. At last, it has collapsed. Now you’ve got to face the music. The nerve is exposed. Like a live wire, there it is, jumping and sizzling.”

“Throbbing,” said Jim, passionately.

“Exactly,” I said. “And now that you have delayed as long as possible, there is only one recourse. Who’s your dentist? I’ll make an appointment.”

I picked up the telephone.

“No, no,” begged Jim. “Wait a second. I think it is going away already.”

“Jim,” I said earnestly, “even if it does go away, don’t you understand that every twinge is a warning? This tooth is ill. It is slowly going to pieces.”

“What did our ancestors do,” demanded Jim, “before there were any dentists? They just grinned and bore it. And they were better men than us.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “don’t be silly. Our ancestors died at the age of 40. It was their teeth that killed them.”

“They were tough,” said Jim. “They could take it.”

“Look at the miracles,” I informed him, “that modern dentistry is performing. They are discovering new connections every day between the teeth and disease. You see one of your friends slowly growing thin and old. His eyes are dim. He is suffering from arthritis. He is slowly withering away. They pull a few teeth, and presto, he is born again. His teeth were slowly poisoning him.”

“I’ve heard all that,” said Jim. “But there’s nothing the matter with me. All I’ve got is a thumping toothache.”

“They’re finding more than that,” I persisted. “They’re discovering that teeth are responsible for thousand things besides physical disease. Teeth are responsible for bad temper, insomnia, indigestion, high blood pressure, overweight, thinness, baldness, failing eyesight, sinus trouble, antrum trouble.”

“Corns, warts and bunions,” said Jim.

“The teeth,” I informed him, “are in the head. The nerves of the teeth are closely allied to the brain. It is only a matter of a fraction of an inch from the tooth to the brain. They are beginning to believe that teeth are responsible for our mental quirks. They think criminal tendencies are due to defective teeth.”

“Now who’s been reading the advertisements?” jeered Jim.

“I tell you,” I announced, “they have pulled teeth out of habitual criminals and cured them. The poison from those teeth was responsible for the weakness, the instability, the mental and nervous disturbance that made criminals of the subject.”

“Maybe I’m a cartoonist,” said Jim, “because my teeth are defective? Maybe if you had your teeth pulled, you’d be an insurance agent?”

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I assured him. “Only a thin, fragile bit of bone separates the teeth from the brain. That nerve that is jumping in your jaw right now, is it any wonder you are suffering?”

“Mmmmmmmm,” said Jim, hissing cold air through his teeth and putting on an expression of agony.

Too Much Imagination

“Come,” I said, “what’s your dentist’s name? We’ll get this over with.

“If only they wouldn’t fiddle,” moaned Jimmie. “If they wouldn’t fiddle and poke around and pry. If only they didn’t have that drill.”

“They’ve got to prospect around,” l explained. They have to locate the source and nature of the trouble.”

“Why don’t they just yank it out?” asked Jim. “I think I’d be willing to have it yanked out.”

“Don’t be silly,” I laughed. “They know their jobs. Come, what’s his name?”

So Jim gave me the name of his dentist and I looked up the number in the book and Jim himself called him.

“I’d like you to have a look at my teeth,” said Jim, smiling easily into the telephone, “one of these days.”

“Here!” I commanded sharply.

“Haven’t you a spot about a week from now?” said Jim, quite cheerfully.

Apparently the dentist had not. Apparently, he was going on his holidays at this late season, he being a musky fisherman. So Jim had to take an immediate appointment.

“This afternoon,” said Jim, wanly, as he hung up the receiver. “At 4.”

“Good,” I said, “That’s the boy. I’ll go with you.”

“Come along,” said Jim hollowly. “See me suffer. Sit out in the office, reading last December’s magazines and hear me groan.”

But nothing could deter me from accompanying Jimmie to the dentist’s. I wouldn’t put it past him running his car into a hydrant half way to the dentist’s rather than face the music. He is a man of too much imagination. I made it my business to stay right with him for the balance of the morning, had lunch with him and then, with ever increasing vigilance, remained in sight of him as the afternoon drew on. At lunch, he barely ate anything, so severely did his toothache make him suffer. Beads of perspiration came out on his forehead and he kept issuing great sighs instead of groans.

But about 3 p.m. he began to brighten.

“Do you know,” he said,” the blame thing is weakening! Really weakening. I can hardly feel it, for minutes at a time.”

“Go on,” I scorned.” Don’t kid yourself.”

“It’s a fact,” he declared. “I honestly believe it was just another of those twinges…”

“Jim,” I said, “use your head.”

“That’s precisely what I am doing,” said he. “Why embarrass my dentist who is hurrying to clean up his business so as to get away on a holiday? Why start something that may take weeks to finish? If this twinge goes away, like the others did. I can telephone him and make an appointment for October, some time, when he’s back, and he can do a proper series of work on that tooth.”

“Jim,” I said, “I never heard such subterfuging. Anybody knows that a toothache seems better as soon as you reach the dentist’s office. This is just a case of your imagination getting the better of you.”

“I Gave You More Credit”

“I’ll give him a ring,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim,” I shouted. “I gave you more credit. This is childish. Your tooth is aching like sin. Get it fixed.”

Jim sat down again, his eyes turned aside as he listened for the toothache, as it were. A shadow of pain crossed his face.

“Very well,” he said, thinly. “We’ll go.”

And we went. I drove. We arrived promptly and without mishap at the dentist’s office at precisely 4 o’clock. There was one woman in the chair and three more waiting when we got up to his waiting room. It was 20 minutes to five by the time Jim’s turn came, and we read all the Geographic Magazines back as far as 1932 and Jim kept growing more and more cheerful as each of our predecessors was silently called into the inner studio. But at last Jim’s turn came, and the dentist, with a merry smile, beckoned him in. I walked in too, because in my heart, I knew perfectly well that old Jim was going to stage an alibi.

“Well,” laughed Jim heartily. “I’ve often heard about a toothache vanishing the minute you arrive at the dentist’s, but I never had it happen to me before.”

“Up here,” said the dentist tenderly, indicating the chair. “We’ll just have a look around.”

“I don’t even remember which side it was on,” said Jim, astonished at himself.

“We’ll just take a look,” soothed the dentist.

Jim straightened like a hero going to his execution, and sat up in the chair. The dentist tied on the bib and took the little mirror in hand and stood expectantly. Jim opened his mouth slightly.

The dentist peered and probed. He tapped around.

“Was it in this jaw?” he asked.

“Nnn, nnn,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“Upper jaw?” said the dentist.

“Nnnn, nnn, nnnn,” repeated Jim firmly.

The dentist got a little light and peered within the cavern. He probed and Jim sat like a rock. He had a kind of nut pick, with which he jabbed and scraped. Jim never uttered a sound, and the dentist frowning, sighed and grunted into Jim’s face.

“Well,” said the dentist, “I can’t see anything much wrong here. Was it on the left side or the right?”

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim, “I’m darned if I can recall. Maybe it was only a little neuralgia? Eh?”

“I see no signs of any cavities,” said the dentist. “As a matter of fact, your teeth are in pretty sound shape.”

Jim sat up eagerly.

“Wait a minute,” I said in a level voice. “Doctor, this man was in agony up to about an hour ago. It was his left jaw he had been holding all morning. A regular thumping toothache.”

“So You May Think”

The dentist was looking at me in a curious way. His eyes seemed narrowed right on to my mouth, as I spoke.

“Excuse me,” he said, suddenly stepping forward and taking my chin in his fingers. “Open. Open.”

“What is this?” I said, opening slightly.

“My dear sir,” said thee dentist anxiously “Step up here. Let me have a look at this.”

“What is it?” I said, standing firm.

“Caries. I’m afraid,” said the dentist, sadly. “Or perhaps trench mouth. Did you serve in the war?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Sit up here, please,” said he, as Jim slid off the chair. I climbed into the chair numbly.

“Open,” said the dentist, the nut pick poised.

“Mmmmm,” he said, peering inside “Mmmm, mmm, mmmm.”

“Nnnn, nnnnnn?” I asked.

“Your teeth are in wicked shape,” he said. “Wicked shape. Have you been attending to your dental responsibilities regularly?”

“I have had no trouble with my teeth,” I assured him, “for ten years. They’re perfect.”

“So you may think,” said the dentist gravely. “That is the worst of our profession. Unless you are driven here by the toothache, you imagine your teeth are in no need. I assure you, sir, that if you don’t have these attended to immediately, you will have no teeth in a year or so.”

“Nonsense,” I said, “I can crack hickory nuts with my teeth.”

“You will be toothless in two years,” retorted the dentist.

“I’ll have them looked at,” I said, starting to get up.

“Wait a minute,” cried Jim, seizing my elbows and pulling me back down in the chair. “I’m alarmed. Doctor, take a look. Give us a survey. It won’t take a second. Just tell him the extent of the damage.”

“I’ve got my own dentist,” I said firmly.

“I’m worried,” said Jim. “This is my partner. I’m entitled to know about this. Good heavens, anything might happen to him if he lets his teeth go. Let’s have an outline of the situation.”

The dentist pried. He scraped and cracked things loose. He jabbed down under the edges and pried up. While my eyes were closed in disgust, he got his drill, unseen by me, and began drilling. I let out an indignant nnnn or two, but he went right ahead, with Jim holding me firmly but kindly.

“There’s about ten hours’ work on them,” said the dentist, at last. “Ten hours good work.”

Jim released me.

“I’ll see my dentist at once,” I said, getting out of the chair with dignity.

“I’ll make a memorandum for him,” said the doctor, earnestly.

So I’ve got an appointment for next week.

The dentist pried, scraped and cracked things loose. I let out an indignant nnnn or two, with Jim holding me firmly but kindly. (September 11, 1943)
At last Jim’s turn came, and the dentist, with a merry smile, beckoned him in. (September 9, 1944)

Editor’s Notes: I’ve mentioned before that stories were sometimes repeated while Greg was off as a war correspondent during World War Two, but this one had the unusual distinction of being repeated twice, in 1943 with the same title Vice Versa, and again in 1944 as Open Your Mouth.

I had never heard of a nut pick, a sharp metal pick for digging the meat out of a nut, often sold in sets with nut crackers, but I guess they are not as common now.

“Caries” is just another term for cavities, and “trench mouth” is an infection that causes swelling and ulcers in the gums. The term comes from World War I, when this infection was common among soldiers.

Goosie, Goosie, Gander

“Hey,” came shrill voice … down the lane and out the gate came fierce little woman…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 7, 1937.

“What gets me,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way everybody is so sure they are right nowadays.”

“True,” I admitted.

“And so sure everybody else is wrong,” pursued Jim.

“Aye,” I confessed.

“We’re perfectly sure, for instance,” said Jim, “that our form of government is the only possible thing for self-respecting people. Germany is perfectly sure her system is the only possible. Italy the same. Russia, the same, breaking her neck not only to believe it herself but to teach the whole world to see the light.”

“We’ve done a little neck-breaking, in the past,” I pointed out.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Jim, “when we were the only nation showing others the glory of our particular kind of freedom. But nowadays, with every nation that isn’t defunct trying to stuff itself down the throat of all other nations, it’s getting a little tedious.”

“Tedious is the word,” I agreed.

“In former times,” said Jim, “we nations wed to fight over property. They’d quarrel over honor or something equally silly and practical. But now the nations are quarrelling over who’s got the best form of government. It’s childish.”

“You said it,” I assured him.

We were driving in the country and it is always best to agree with the man at the wheel. If you argue with him, he takes his eye off the road to turn and look at you.

“I blame education,” said Jim.

“The more you educate the people,” I said, “the more enlightened they become.”

“That was the theory,” declared Jimmie, “but it hasn’t panned out. It ought to be pretty evident now that you can’t change people’s ideas. They are born with their ideas, the same as they are born with their noses or the color of their hair.”

“Oh, come, come,” I said.

“All right,” cried Jim, “how do you explain the universal disagreement? For the past hundred years there has been an enormous and universal growth of education and enlightenment. Think of the vast expansion of publishing, until books and papers, billions in number, are like to bury mankind. Think of the movies and the radio in recent years, flooding the humblest places with facts and truth. Yet, instead of becoming gradually of one mind, we have never been of so many drastically different minds in human history. Not only donations disagree, but our provinces disagree, and we ourselves all disagree, until you can’t find two men in the whole world who think alike.”

“Ah,” I said, “education has set us free to think as we like.”

“No,” said Jim. “All education has done has been to give us self-confidence in our ignorance.”

“A fine opinion you have of yourself,” I suggested.

Nobody Changes His Mind

“Common sense and a casual glance at human history,” said Jim, “will show you that wise men are few and far between. Would there be one really wise man in every hundred men?”

“I hardly think so,” I admitted.

“Then,” said Jim, “ninety-nine of a hundred of us are ignorant.”

“Speak for yourself,” I stated.

“Yet,” said Jim, “education has taught us to read, write and talk. It has given us self-confidence. It has removed all doubt from our minds. However, as our beliefs and ideas are born in us, and can’t be changed any more than the shape of our noses, why, all we can do is give vent to these inherited notions.”

“I think for myself,” I declared.

“You think,” said Jim, “the way you were born to think. In former days, unless you had some special energy that made you stand out as a leader or thinker or firebrand, you kept silent. Your ignorance did not matter. But now, you need no special energy. You are forced to go to school, by law, until you are a competent blatherskite. If you are a little backward in expressing yourself, they put you in special classes, where your self-confidence is nourished by extra tuition. This has been going on now for about fifty years. The result is the universal cockeyed disagreement between nations, communities and finally individuals.”

“What do you suggest?” I inquired. “That we put an end to education?”

“I think everybody ought to be taught,” said Jim, “that they can’t help thinking what they think. It ought to be dinned into them, in the first book and the fourth book and in high school and at the university that the unfortunate notions they entertain cannot be altered by any process whatsoever, with this result, that we would all understand one another, at last.”

“It would fill us with contempt for one another,” I cried.

“And who else?” laughed Jim.

“Why, it’s an awful thought,” I protested.

“Think, now,” said Jim, “of all the people you have known, across the year, your family and friends, whom you have known since childhood, can you think of a single one, a single, solitary one of them who has ever really changed his mind?”

And across the years, I couldn’t. I marched them past my mind, one after another, my brothers – little fat boys and bold young soldiers and middle-aged business men; my friends – beloved chums, gay companions of my youth, comrades of my manhood, comfortable friends of my present life, and of them all, not one but was in the beginning what he is in the end; the same slants on life, the same ideas, notions, beliefs, subdued a little, maybe, or modified out of politeness of wisdom; but abandoned, never. Changed, never, thank God.

“Jim,” I said, “education is a good thing, even so. It points out to us a lot of things we wouldn’t perhaps have noticed in life, as we passed by.”

“Agreed,” said Jim, “but education is too proud. It ought to be humbler. It ought to wear the uniform of the spieler on a sightseeing bus. For that, in the end, is all it is.”

“A Nice Thing You’ve Done!”

We were driving through a very pleasant country full of ripening fields and bulging cattle and orchards already twinkling their fruit at us, and there was the first faint hint that in a few weeks the deep winds will be blowing all this away, all this green beauty that we think of as the permanence, and autumn, winter and spring only the impermanence.

Being in so pleasant a land to look upon, we were dawdling, so when a car with a voice like a ripsaw came from behind and, in a great swirl of gravel and dust, threw us to one side as it plunged past, our country humor was disturbed.

“The dang fool,” said Jim, recovering his control of the car, “where is he going at such a rate and what does it matter?”

Through the swirl of dust, we saw the stranger’s car lurch violently, swing to one side and then continue with increased fury, on its way.

And then just as we came to the place he had lurched, we saw a flock of geese scattering wildly up the ditches, and, on the side of the road a great fawn-colored gander, huge wings outspread, feebly flapping its last.

“Pull up, Jim,” I shouted. “A hit and run driver.”

Jim drew the car to a stop and we leaped out and ran back. The geese were making a great hissing and trumpeting, as they stood looking back at the great dead master. For now he flapped no more.

“What a magnificent bird,” I said, gazing down on him. “And Thanksgiving only a couple more fattening months away.”

“It must have been concussion,” said Jim, squatting down and touching the bird. “No signs of being smashed.”

“Hey,” came a shrill voice, and from a little farmhouse on the side, down the lane and out the gate came a fierce little woman.

“Let’s carry it into her,” said Jim.

So we picked the goose up by a leg each and started toward the house, like mourners.

But the little woman came, all hunched up with purpose, straight at us.

“Well,” she bit off, “a nice thing you’ve done.”

“Madam, we did…”

“That’s the prize gander,” stormed the little woman with a thin, penetrating voice, “at five fall fairs last year.”

“A car came past…” I began.

“And,” shouted the little woman huskily but raspingly, “it was going to bigger fairs this fall. That there gander…”

“We didn’t do it,” shouted Jim, unexpectedly.

“No, no, I suppose the gander hurled himself at your car,” screeched the little woman with a surprising reserve supply of voice. “I suppose you were travelling by at fifteen miles an hour when suddenly the gander just took a dislike to you and dashed his brain out against your car. I tell you, that gander was worth eight dollars if it was worth a cent. I been selling eggs sired by that gander for fifty cents apiece. Breeders from all over Ontario…”

“Madam,” I roared, still holding one of the feet of the poor gander. “I tell you we had nothing to do with it. We saw another…”

“Oho,” cackled the little woman with a break in her voice like those old stars of opera on the radio, “so I suppose it was some other car hit him and you just stopped to help the poor beast.”

“That’s it,” shouted Jim and I together.

“A likely story,” said the little woman witheringly. “A couple of gentlemen from the city passing along a country road see a gander brutally run over by another motorist and they stop to lend a friendly hand. Heh, heh, heh.”

“That’s precisely the case,” we both stated firmly.

The little woman was convulsed with mirth.

“You stand there,” she squealed, “trying to tell me that. We’ll see what the magistrate thinks.”

“Madam,” I announced loudly, “we are two humane men. When we saw the poor creature fluttering on the roadside, in the wake of a scoundrel who plunged by at fifty miles an hour…”

“I saw you,” hissed the little woman, crouching accusingly, “pick the bird up and start toward your car with it.”

“Madam,” we shouted, dropping the bird as if on a word of command.

When Education Doesn’t Help

“Oh, I’ve got your car number,” grated the little woman, and you’ll get a summons. And there’s been too much poultry killing in this county to suit the neighborhood. You’ll catch it.”

“We can prove we didn’t kill it,” I insisted.

“But you can’t prove,” cried the little woman triumphantly, “that when I came running out my door, you had stopped your car and picked the goose up.”

We stood gazing at one another heatedly. The poor beast lay at our feet in the dust.

“How much did you say the bird was worth?” demanded Jim.

“Eight dollars,” said the little woman firmly, “and I wouldn’t take a dollar less than four for him.”

Jim and I dug. Two dollars each.

“We keep the goose,” said Jim.

“If you want a run-over goose, you’re welcome,” said the little woman grimly.

She held the money in her hands, counting it two or three times. Jim and I picked the goose up by the feet and carried it, with dignity, to our car and laid it on the floor of the back.

“What’s the use,” demanded Jim, as he got behind the wheel, “of being humane? Why try to be decent? You’re always misunderstood.”

“Education wouldn’t help that situation we’ve just been through,” I sighed, as we got under way and bowled less observant through the country scene.

We heard a hard, thudding sound back of us. It was the gander.

“Jim,” I said sharply, “he’s come to.”

“Good,” said Jim, “we’ll sell him to some farmer down the road.”

Enormous flapping and scrambling sounds came from the back, then a fierce hiss, and my hat was kicked smartly over my eyes.

“Hey,” I ducked, “pull up the car.”

On the shoulder of the road, Jim and I leaped out, while the gander, fierce head erect, neck feathers swelling, hissed malevolently and flapped his immense wings helplessly around in the back of the open car.

“Open the door, let him out,” I ordered.

Jim opened the door and with a wild honk the gander leaped to the ditch and waddled furiously away toward the farm we could still see in the distance.

“Follow him,” I commanded. “Turn the car around and follow him.”

“To heck with him,” said Jim.

“He’s heading straight home,” I cried “Let’s get our money back.”

“To heck with him,” said Jim, but he got in and turned the car around and slowly and at a snail’s pace, we followed the silly bird back a mile. It waddled in the ditch and it took the fences; it paused and it sat down and rested; it turned its wicked eye on us if we got too close and simply stood its ground. I threw clods of sod at it to hurry it, and instead, it came back and attacked me, so losing twenty feet of good ground.

Finally, the weary and obese bird turned in its home lane, where with royal honks all its family welcomed it. We walked up to the farmhouse and rapped.

No answer. We went back to the barn and hallooed and howled and howled, but no sign of living person was to be seen. Across the fields, nobody moved.

“We’ll wait,” said I.

“So will she,” said Jim.

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I accused,” that gander was trained to play dead when cars go by. I wouldn’t wonder if she’s trained that bird to pretend to be hit…”

“What good does education do anybody?” said Jim, sadly.

“Well, I’ve got my own ideas,” I said.

“So has everybody,” sighed Jim, getting in the car and starting it. So I got in too and we went on our way.

“That’s the prize gander,” stormed the little woman with a thin penetrating voice.

Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on July 29, 1944 as “Getting Educated”. The bottom image is from that story.

The Canucks Beat Malaria

This is the female Anopheline mosquito, transmitter of the malaria germ. It takes on an average 12 to 20 days for the disease to develop in a human being after being bitten.
Three Canadian army nurses, above. At left is one way servicemen have devised to keep mosquitoes away.

By Gregory Clark in London, May 20, 1944

The First Canadian division shares with one famous British division, the Seventh Armored, the distinction of having the best malaria record of all the British forces engaged in operations last summer and fall. The Germans used the mosquito as one of their most potent weapons. In Sicily the reason for their vicious determination to hold us down in the Catania plain was to subject us to the bites of mosquitoes in that heavily infested malaria district. They tried again in Italy in two other areas famous for centuries as malaria plague spots. In the Volturno valley and the Foggia plain they blew dykes, created dams, did everything engineers could think of to flood the ground, not to impede our advance alone, but to multiply that most ancient of war weapons, the mosquito.

In Italy I met Lieut.-Col. Jameson Carr, the eminent British malariologist, who has in his lifetime travelled over 1,000,000 miles to every part of the world studying malaria. He completing a tour of the Sicilian and Italian battlefields before returning to make a report to the war office.

“The mosquito,” said Lieut-Col. Jameson Carr, “has been a major weapon of war from time immemorial. Possibly the mosquito is the most ancient war weapon in human history, outdating even the spear and bow and arrow. Possibly because the Canadians were ‘new boys’ in fighting in malaria regions they achieved their distinguished record of low malaria casualties.

“Being new to malaria,” said Jameson Carr, “and also being in a high state of training when they reached Sicily, the Canadian commanders and the Canadian rank and file apparently lived up very fully to the precautions. My Investigation shows they took their mepacrine in an efficient and systematic fashion which I think is the number one reason for the good record. I also find they kept up their precautions well into November and some units into December long after the average man would suppose the mosquito had gone for the season. At all events, they turned in a fine performance.”

Col. Milton Herbert Brown, O.B.E., deputy director of hygiene at Canadian military headquarters in London, well-known Toronto doctor, described to me the dramatic circumstances surrounding the Canadians’ training against malaria. A certain percentage of Canadian medical officers, of course, had been given some training. During the long years of training in Britain several dozens of Canadian army doctors had attended the school of tropical medicine in London. When the first division went into hiding last summer, prior to their secret departure for Sicily, the war office warned the Canadians they were going to enter a malarial zone. The Canadians asked for and got Capt. F. W. Bone, British army specialist in malaria, and in a very short period prior to departure and during the tense and exciting period of the great convoy by ship to Sicily, the Canadians were initiated into the mysteries of this potent war disease.

Lectured on Malaria

“Our Canadian specialist in fighting malaria,” said Col. Brown, “was Major Paul Scott of Picton, Ont., commanding number two field hygiene section. Every officer and every man was lectured and instructed in malaria. The use of mepacrine was explained and its issue was begun at the very outset, long before the Canadians landed, so that every man’s blood was saturated with it. Leaflets were published and senior officers were fully instructed. It was short notice, but I am very proud to know the results were so good.”

“What is there,” I asked Col. Brown, “about malaria that makes it so peculiarly deadly in the military sense? The rate is not high, is it?”

“No, the average lay-off with malaria might be as low as two weeks,” said Col. Brown. “What happens is this. A commander plans a battle. He gets up all his supplies. He places his artillery in position, gets up ammunition in plenty, prepares his supply dumps in the fullest degree. But he does not know that perhaps 15 or 30 per cent of his troops, including possibly some of his essential junior officers and non-coms, have been infected with malaria which is due to break out at the critical moment of his attack.

“It takes on the average 12 to 20 days for malaria to develop in the human after being bitten. Sometimes less, sometimes up to 30 days or more. But when a man comes down with malaria he is completely helpless from the military point of view. He has a high fever, is weak and wholly incompetent to fight or carry out his normal duties. True, he does not very often die, though it can be malignant. But he has to be evacuated. He is a casualty in the same sense as if he had been wounded by a shell.”

Lieut.-Col, Jameson Carr told me some extraordinary facts about malaria. It is carried by the female mosquito only, and she must bite somebody who already has malaria before she can transmit it to someone else she bites later. If we could ever cure everybody in the world of malaria, that would be the end of it.

You come down with a violent fever, sometimes fatal. It lasts a couple of weeks until you conquer it with quinine or mepacrine. But it lingers in you normally for about two to three years, breaking out every seven to nine months in another return. Any mosquito that bites you in that time may pick up a stray bug to ripen in her own tiny system and transfer to somebody else.

Jameson Carr told me he had known of malaria doing many other things besides giving a fever. It can attack internal organs and simulate many diseases. Unless he is suspicious of malaria, a doctor can diagnose it as anything from venereal diseases, pneumonia or bronchitis to mental disorder.

Mepacrine, the drug we took in such quantities against malaria, is a pill about the size of an aspirin. It is the most awful and wild livid yellow color you ever saw. It is so bitter it makes your eyeballs contract. You take four a week with sometimes a double at the end of the week. A few days after you start taking it you begin to notice the webbing between your fingers and the tips of your fingers are starting to turn yellow. Presently your face begins to show a queer ivory glow, despite your sun tan. Finally your friends call you “daffodil.”

The Germans are credited with the discovery of the drug, which they call atabrine. Before going to the Mediterranean we were all issued with mosquito net canopies for our beds, and tins of mosquito ointment to smear on ourselves. But of all precautions everybody seemed convinced mepacrine was the trick that did it. Fill your blood with this acrid bilious yellow and even a leech would fall dead off you.

In exploring the malaria story, I found these instances among hundreds to demonstrate what a tricky weapon it is. In equipping an air squadron with a new bombing device one pilot was selected for special training to carry out the necessary experiment. The day the experiment began this officer went down with malaria. In the same Foggia area one of the best fighter pilots got into a terrible jam in the air and made an incredibly bad landing. In hospital it was found he had been taken with malaria in the air, though he was 100 per cent fit when he took off.

On the Sangro an outstanding officer was selected for a particularly hazardous job. He was given 30 selected men. They went into training for the task on which a large operation depended. In their training they were in advertently exposed to mosquitoes. The officer and eight of the men went down with malaria on the eve of the show. Such instances can be multiplied endlessly in all armies and probably back to Hannibal’s time or Nebuchadnezzar’s. If you think about malaria, you begin to see that war consists of a vast number of things besides shooting.


Editor’s Note: Mepacrine was initially approved in the 1930s as an antimalarial drug. It was used extensively during the Second World War by Allied forces fighting in North Africa and the Far East to prevent malaria.

The Magic Touch

May 20, 1944

From 1922 to 1953 individual members of the public were required to pay for annual Private Receiving Station licences in order to legally receive broadcasting for their radios. It initially cost $1 and had to be renewed yearly. The licence fee eventually rose to $2.50 per year to provide revenue for both radio and television broadcasts by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, however, it was eliminated effective April 1, 1953.

“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.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén