The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1945 Page 1 of 2

Coupons Required

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 17, 1945.

“This is going to be a tremendous year,” said Jimmie Frise, “for maple syrup.”

“It’s going to be a tremendous year,” I remarked, “for various other reasons.”

“Aw, yes,” admitted Jim, “but once history is written what does it matter? Whereas, you can eat maple syrup.”

“What a horrible philosophy!” I protested.

“Now don’t get excited,” soothed Jimmie. “If war was as important as you like to think, why haven’t wars taught mankind anything in the past? Name one war that ever did mankind any good.”

“The Napoleonic war,” I announced. “It halted an earlier Hitler in his tracks.”

“It did nothing of the kind,” stated Jim. “It just delayed the revolution 100 years, until now.”

“What revolution?” I demanded indignantly.

“Why, the human revolution,” said Jim. “The revolution to set men free from monstrous masters. The revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man. It’s been going on for untold ages.”

“Puh!” I said.

“The French revolution,” explained Jim, “was one of the biggest explosions in that never-ending revolution. It shook all Europe. It shook the whole world. And so dangerous did it appear to all the kings and aristocracies of Europe that they felt if they didn’t destroy France immediately the thing might spread and put an end to all kings and all aristocracies. So they ganged up on France.”

“Aw,” I snorted, “you’re just trying to draw a parallel with the way the modern world ganged up on Russia. How did Napoleon come about, then?”

“Napoleon,” stated Jimmie, “didn’t come on the scene as emperor until the new-born republic of France was in danger from every side, and when all the diplomacy of Europe had brought about a league ready to destroy the subversive experiment of France.”

That ain’t the way I heered it,” I scoffed.

“Naturally,” agreed Jim. “All the kingdoms of Europe ganged up and destroyed Napoleon and France. They bottled the world up for another century. And, naturally, they wrote history the way they liked it.”

“Napoleon betrayed the revolution,” I recalled. “He made himself emperor.”

“Of the republic,” said Jim. “And he didn’t do that until the whole of royal and aristocratic Europe had furiously leagued themselves against revolutionary France. Then, to save his country, not the revolution, Napoleon took charge and made himself dictator – or emperor, in those days, because the common people could understand it easier.”

“And where did the great revolution get off?” I inquired mildly.

“Remember the Duke of Wellington?” inquired Jim. “He had quite a hand in destroying Napoleon and France. He went home a hero. He was an iron god to the British. They gave him £700,000 and made him prime minister.”

“A just reward,” I said.

Not Gold, But What?

“But you asked where the revolution got off,” inserted Jim sweetly. “Well, the revolution had got loose all over the world. And the Iron Duke got himself pelted with cabbages in the streets of London. The mob attacked his beautiful mansion, called Number One, London. He was kicked out of office. And the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. That is how you and I, my good man, got the vote!”

“Hmmmmm,” I mused.

“The revolution never stops,” said Jim. “Even in the Golden Ages, and there have been any number of Golden Ages in history, the revolution goes relentlessly on. It isn’t gold mankind wants.”

“I wish somebody,” I complained, “could find out what it is mankind wants. When are we ever going to settle down?”

“Not,” replied Jim, “until everybody in the world loses the notion that they are more worthy than others. It is self-esteem that wrecks each nation, each class, each era. So long as anybody on earth still thinks he deserves more than others, so long as he thinks he works harder, is cleverer, smarter, more industrious, more deserving – you are going to have war. And revolution.”

“Then,” I concluded, “we will never be free of war. Because there ARE people more worthy than others. And always will be.”

“But they shouldn’t collect their worth,” explained Jim, “in money or power. Can’t you imagine, a world in which the worthy people will be content with their worth?”

“In about 1,000 years,” I growled.

“Then wars will end,” decreed Jim, “in 1,000 years.”

“The world is too hard-boiled,” I enunciated, “to swallow that idealistic stuff. Even the labor unions are out for themselves.”

“That is what they have said about all revolutionaries since John the Baptist,” smiled Jimmie. “But whether a revolutionary knows what he is doing or not, he is doing good. Because at the end of all struggle to set one man free, all men will be free.”

“It doesn’t look like it in the world these days,” I submitted. “The whole world divided into half a dozen prison camps of violent opinion.”

“The fiercer the fight,” replied Jim, “the sooner the freedom. You don’t get freedom merely by sitting and thinking. If so, the ancient Greeks would have given freedom to the world four centuries before Christ. Because they stated it completely. There have been no additions.”

“What do you think we will have,” I speculated, “by the end of this wonderful year, 1945?”

“Two gallons of maple syrup,” said Jim. “Each.”

“Back there, eh?” I muttered bitterly.

“This is going to be one of the greatest maple syrup years,” said Jim, “in a long, long time. At least in these parts. Very little frost in the ground and deep snow. That’s the makings of a tremendous maple syrup crop.”

“A lot of good that will do us,” I assured him. “Coupons are required for maple syrup. Sugar coupons. Do you know how many coupons a gallon of maple syrup requires?”

“I’m saving coupons,” said Jim, “and all I want is two gallons. I am not going to use it right away. I am going to put it down in the fruit cellar until the fall.”

“Maple syrup,” I informed him, “is at its best in the early spring, fresh from the sap kettle.”

“Utterly wrong,” said Jim. “It is at its best in fall and winter. On a nasty, cold November day a plate of hot pancakes, slathered in butter and drowned in rich, pale, amber maple syrup. In February, when your spirit fails within you, a couple of crumpets, their holey texture saturated with maple syrup. Or a big hunk of sponge cake, in a fruit dish, sloshed in maple syrup.”

“I like a good gorge of maple syrup in April,” I confessed.

Essence of Spring

“Wasted,” asserted Jimmie. “Utterly wasted. Maple syrup is the essence of spring. It is the very distillation of spring. It has mighty powers. It has a flavor both wild and infinitely bland and tender. It is the very blood of the veins of our native land, Canada. It comes from our national tree. To a Canadian there should be something almost religious about maple syrup. Something festival.”

“That is how I gorge it in the spring,” I explained.

“Ah,” countered Jim, “but in the spring there are so many other forces to revive you – the smell of April earth, the coming warm winds, the green things shooting, the birds returning. I like to keep that vernal juice of April to help me in the darkness of December.”

“Only two gallons?” I inquired.

“Look,” said Jim, taking a letter from his pocket. “Here is a note from my Uncle Abe inquiring if you and I would care to come down and lend him a hand with the maple syrup.”

“We’d have to pony up the coupons,” I protested, “even if we helped make it.”

“My idea is this,” explained Jim. “We run down over the week-end and help Uncle Abe collect the sap. He can run the sap kettles, but it is collecting the sap that is hard for him with his lumbago at this time of year…”

“Yah, lumbago,” I interjected.

“Well, you can’t prove he hasn’t got it,” declared Jim.

“He always gets it,” I observed, “at haying and harvest or whenever there is any real work to do.”

“The point is,” said Jim, “we go down and help him make it. While there, we can gorge ourselves on it. Remember my aunt’s tea biscuits with maple syrup …?”

“Aaaahhhh,” I remembered

“We can get our two gallons for nothing, except the coupons,” went on Jim, “in payment for our work. But in addition, all through the summer and next fall, whenever we get a craving for a gorge of maple syrup, why, we are always welcome at Uncle Abe’s. They can’t refuse a feast of maple syrup when we helped make it. And you know how it is in the fall? When you get a craving for maple syrup it is worse than a drunk craving whiskey. Why, I remember…”

“Okay,” I said, “okay. Just one little thing. How many gas coupons have you got left?”

“Me?” said Jim. “Why, I figured we would go in your car. It’s lighter. And the way the roads will be right now I’d hate to take that old stoneboat of mine. We’d be mired before we ever got there.”

“Jimmie,” I announced quietly, “I have no more coupons. I used my last only Sunday.”

“Hmmmm,” said Jim, studying Uncle Abe’s note.

“Besides,” I suggested, “you’re wrong about a light car being any good in the mud. Your old schooner would bust through a mudhole like a tank. My little job would simply slither to a stop half way through…”

“I,” said Jim solemnly, “have only one coupon left. Three gallons.”

“Any in the tank?” I inquired.

“A little,” said Jim cautiously.

“Let’s go by train,” I offered.

“It’s six miles from the station to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “And he says here the road isn’t open yet. He can’t come for us.”

“We could hitch-hike,” I hoped.

“Nobody goes out Uncle Abe’s way,” said Jim. “Certainly nobody who would give us a lift.”

“If they knew we were going to his place, you mean?” I supposed. “Well, okay, let us call it off.”

Jim read the letter again. He licked his lips and made a smacking sound.

“It’s 29 miles out to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “Twenty miles to the gallon? That’s 60. And a bit in the tank? Say 70 miles of fuel?”

A Buck and a Kick

He folded Uncle Abe’s letter and put it in his pocket.

“I’m going,” he announced firmly. “I can think of no more fitting, no more patriotic, no more spiritual use to put our last gasoline coupon to than to drive out to Uncle Abe’s sugar bush to participate in the festival of the maple. The true Rite of Spring!”

He picked me up at 8 a.m. Saturday – our day off on The Star Weekly.

I looked at the gas gauge and it was very low, between empty and a quarter.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s run until she shows empty. And then load up with our last three gallons at the nearest pump.”

“I got the gas last night,” said Jim.

“Last night!” I cried, as we bowled along, “But she shows almost empty.”

“Aw, that gauge hasn’t worked for years,” said Jim.

“You didn’t do any driving last night?” I inquired anxiously.

“Just a couple of errands for the house,” said Jim. “Don’t worry. I know my own car.”

“How far did you …?” I began.

But Jimmie just speeded up suddenly which is his way of showing his temper. So I let it go.

The highway was fine, despite a little sleet. and when we got off on to the side roads they weren’t too bad. A few ruts. But none of the pitch-holes I had feared.

The whole world wore the look of the Ides of March, the wood lots had a kind of wet glow to them, and we knew the sap was ready to rise if not already rising. And Jim and I regaled each other as we tooled along with reminiscences of the various times we had eaten maple syrup over our long and hearty lives.

Only two miles or a little less to Uncle Abe’s, when the engine bucked.

It ran a few yards, then bucked again.

“Dirty spark plug,” exclaimed Jimmie eagerly.

It ran another few yards, then bucked three or four times, violently.

“Dirt in the fuel line,” said Jim, revving up the engine.

She sputtered and conked. Came on again, and conked again.

“Pull over to the side,” I commanded grimly.

“That timer reeds attending to,” said Jim, in a thin voice, getting out.

He put the ruler into the tank.

He held it up.

Dry.

“I certainly can’t understand,” began Jimmie.

But there it was. The last drop of the last pint of the last gallon of the 1944-45 issue of AA category coupons by the grace of the Oil Controller of Canada.

On a side road in the sleet, beside a rail fence, and far from home.

“I can borrow a couple of gallons from Uncle Abe,” said Jim blankly.

“You cannot!” I informed him sharply. “That is against the law.”

“But, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, “do abandon my car here …?”

“By law, you do,” I enunciated.

“Surely there is some provision…” wailed Jim. “We were bent on patriotic business… maple syrup, from Canada’s national tree…?”

So we walked to Uncle Abe’s. And he got the team out. And we walked back behind the team and towed the darn schooner all the way to Uncle Abe’s shed.

And there she stays until the first of April.

And we came home by train, talking about the Duke of Wellington in the smoker.

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

Editor’s Note: The Reform Act 1832 introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales.

Ration coupons were introduced in World War Two to ration scare resources.

The microfilm image is reproduced at the end.

For Social Reform

In no time at all, both Jimmie and I were bounced out of the door of the shop on to the street.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 24, 1945.

“Careful,” warned Jimmie Frise, “you’ll burst a blood vessel!”

“I’ve never been so mad in my life,” I gritted.

“Well, what do you expect,” Jim soothed, “trying to shop on Saturday afternoon?”

“I have as much right to shop on Saturday afternoon,” I enunciated, “as anybody else. Anyway, all I want is a bottle of olives. And by golly, I am going to get them!”

“Aw, we’ve been in three stores already,” said Jim, “and you’ve lost your temper and barged out of all three of them empty-handed.”

“Can you imagine,” I demanded bitterly, “such manners in a decent residential district like this? They are like a pack of wolves.”

“If you don’t step up and assert yourself,” declared Jim, “you can’t expect to be waited on. These little grocery store people can’t pay attention to everybody that comes in the store. They take it for granted that the customers will offer themselves in their proper order.”

“Like heck they do,” I cried. “The decent people stand and wait their turn. And while they’re standing waiting, in marches some big bulging dame or some lean rat of a man. And he sidles and sneaks his way through the rest of us and gets waited on ahead of eight, 10, 15 people!”

“That’s initiative,” explained Jimmie. “That’s enterprise.”

“So that’s what they mean,” I crowed, “when they say that we shouldn’t do anything to hamper initiative and private enterprise, eh? Well, I’m going to do something about hampering this kind of initiative. The worst type of people are the only people with enough gall to deliberately walk into a crowded little store and weasel their way in ahead of 10 honest citizens.”

“It’s the same in everything,” said Jim. “You can see it better in a little corner grocery store. But it’s the same all through life. The guy with the initiative is the one who crowds

“It’s the same in everything,” said Jim. “You can see it better in a little corner grocery store. But it’s the same all through life. The guy with the initiative is the one who crowds his way in ahead of everybody else.”

“But it doesn’t look as horrible in the business world as it looks out shopping on Saturday afternoon,” I protested. “In the larger world, it is admired and honored. A man with initiative and enterprise is held in esteem above all his fellow men.”

“But the same guy,” said Jim, “pushing in and buying a couple of heads of lettuce is a lousy so-and-so.”

“In that last store,” I recollected with sudden anger, “we came in and there were seven people ahead of us, weren’t there? The three helpers were waiting on three of them. While the rest of us are standing looking around at the groceries and figuring what we would buy, in comes that big, important looking dame.”

“She was well dressed,” said Jim.

“I bet she’s chairman of the ladies aid society,” I said. “Well, she did it very skillfully.”

“Just the way her husband does it, probably,” said Jim, “in whatever business he’s in.”

“She came in,” I recalled, “and stood at the back of us all, sizing up the layout. Then she moved over to one side and picked up a couple of things, rhubarb and a can of something. This brought her level with the front of the crowd. She kept watching out of the corner of her eye and sidled over to the counter. She gave the lady who was really next to be waited on a sort of quick appraising look, to see if she was likely to make a row. No. She was just a nice, decent soul. So the big dame takes the initiative. She holds out the can. The busy helper accepted it. And the job was done. From there on, cheerfully ignoring the angry glowers all around her, she gave the helper the rest of her order. With the utmost brass, she finished her order, paid her bill and sailed out with a haughty smile at the rest of us, as much as to say -‘business is business’!”

“Exactly the way her husband would,” explained Jimmie, “if anybody complained about the way he butted his way through a deal.”

Not Always the Rich

“One bottle of olives,” I said. “That’s all I want. Here on this lovely Saturday afternoon, we go for a walk in the shopping district, using a bottle of olives as our excuse. And what do we get? Apoplexy.”

“Well, I’d like to call your attention to one little fact,” said Jim. “You may have noticed that in the three stores where we have been gypped by butters-in, it was not always the best dressed or the most privileged-looking person who did the sneaking up. In fact, in the other cases, it was a rather ordinary looking individual. In the first store, it was that guy in the peak cap.”

“And in the other,” I admitted, “It was that thin, sour looking woman who certainly wasn’t a member of the upper classes of this district.”

“That’s a very important point to note,” went on Jim. “When we think of social reform and socialism, we always think of the rich, the big industrialists, the bankers and the moneyed classes.”

“That’s true,” I said a little startled.

“We imagine that if we can only dispossess the rich,” pursued Jimmie, “all will be hotsy-totsy. But there are many things besides greed that make a man rich. Some men get rich without any effort at all. They are born with a gift of some kind. You wouldn’t say Paul Robeson or Toscanini is greedy. Yet they are rich. Every time they use their natural gifts, money showers on them like rain.”

“But I bet Paul Robeson would still sing, and Toscanini would still create music,” I inserted, “even if they didn’t get paid. It isn’t that kind of gift the social reformers complain of. Who they are after are the guys who won’t do anything except at a colossal profit.”

“What I’m getting at,” said Jim, “is these people in the grocery stores. The quality of initiative and greed and disregard of other people’s rights, which you complain of is, in the business, professional and financial world, regarded as the highest quality of all. And is so rewarded.”

“Exactly,” I cried.

“No, you miss my point,” corrected Jim. “Give these men and women in shabby clothes who sneak ahead in the grocery store the managership of a business, and they would be big business successes. Take away from the big executive of business their money and position, and send them out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and they would push and sneak and scheme their way to the head of the line every time. What I am getting at is that there is a defect in human nature that has to be cured. And you’ve got to cure it among the common people just the same as in big business. You’ve got to beat it into the heads of the common people, the workers, the middle class, the professional class, everybody, that there is justice, just the same as you have to take away from the leaders of business and Industry that they can’t use their powers, against the common welfare.”

“But let’s start at the top,” I submitted.

“No,” said Jim, “let’s start at the bottom. We’ve been chasing the powerful now for centuries, limiting them, narrowing their sphere of influence, cutting down their powers. And all the time, we forget that there is an endless crop of greedy, pushing people down in the masses of us who, uncorrected, will push themselves into preferred positions the minute a gap occurs.”

“There aren’t many kings left on earth,” I agreed.

“But any awful lot of initiative,” smiled Jim, “and private enterprise.”

The People to Watch

“You can’t behead little guys in peak caps,” I pointed out, “the way you can a king.”

“And besides,” said Jim, “it isn’t the kings, like George of Greece and Peter of Yugoslavia we ought to keep our eyes on. It’s the people around them, who lose their jobs and privileges the minute the king goes. Those are the babies, we ought to watch. It’s the same in big business. It isn’t the head man who is the busiest trying to keep his position secure. It is all the gang around the head man, the vice-presidents, the managers, the superintendents and foremen, all the people with special jobs, who are most anxious that their boss doesn’t get curtailed any.”

“H’m,” I cogitated.

“After man has spent 20 years of his life,” Jim explained, “working day and night to get in right with the president of a firm, do you think he is going to join any socialistic movement that might change his boss on him? No fear. So when you think of social reform, don’t centre your thoughts on a few big shots in business and finance. Think about all the thousands of managers and department heads, foremen and privileged workers with secure jobs…”

“And their wives,” I added.

“And their grown sons and daughters,” said Jim, “all of whom are 100 per cent in favor of keeping things the way they are.”

“Or even the way they used to be,” I offered.

“It isn’t a king that loses a throne,” concluded Jim. “It’s hundreds of thousands of retainers, from the nobles down to the nobles’ butlers, who lose the throne.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m going to get a bottle of olives if it takes me the rest of the afternoon.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “telephone for them.”

“No, sir,” I asserted, “it’s a matter of principle. And if any of these kings in disguise, if any big bulging woman with the manners of a sow, or any chairman of the board dressed in a peak cap and shabby coat, tries to pull his initiative and private enterprise on me, there is going to be a scene.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “the crowd is bigger now than it was when we started. Leave it. Telephone for the olives.”

“Telephone be darned,” I said, setting my eye on a nice little combined fruit and grocery shop. It was sure to have olives. And besides, it was beautifully crowded for purposes of social reform.

“Come on,” I said.

“Aw,” said Jim, following.

The little shop was indeed crowded. Three rather rattled and disarrayed women were waiting on the customers. And the customers, instead of lining up from the door, which would be a good idea, were scattered all over the little store, studying the shelves, exploring the bins, stepping over crates and boxes on the floor – the usual Saturday afternoon shopping scene.

Jim and I took our stand in rear of the half dozen women and men ranged in front of the counter.

“Take careful note,” I murmured, “of these other people scattered around so we won’t make any mistake. They were in ahead of us, so we’ll see they get waited on before us.”

“Aw,” muttered Jim, “go and take a bottle of olives off the shelf, there, lay your money down and come on.”

“Not me,” I declared, turning to see someone just entering the door.

But she was not likely to prove anti-social. She was just a pleasant old lady who, with her arms full of Saturday parcels, took her place patiently behind us and gazed speculatively about the shop.

Two of the people ahead of us finished and paid and elbowed their way out. We moved up. One of the ladies out exploring the shelves found what she wanted and moved over towards us.

“Step right in here, lady,” I said. “You were ahead of us.”

“Oh, thank you,” said she, surprised.

The door opened, and three people came in. One of them took position behind us, in her proper spot, and the other two, a man and wife, began to wander around the shop, exploring. I kept one eye on them and one eye on the door.

“Seems very social,” murmured Jimmie.

“Watch those two,” I replied out of the corner of my mouth. “That woman looks like the kind who would pull a flanking movement.”

Another left the counter and went out, and another woman came from searching among the bins.

“Right in here ahead of us, madam,” I said. “You were ahead of us.”

“Thank you,” said she, also surprised.

And several of the crowd turned and had a look at me. I felt they were admiring my sense of order, my sense of social justice. I winked at Jim. The door opened again.

The Bum’s Rush

This time, it was a man. A dark, anxious looking man, who looked as if he might be a mechanic or a storekeeper by his clothes. He paused and looked around.

And then, to my astonishment, he started to push his way straight through us all for the counter.

It was the most brazen thing I had ever seen. He was not even crafty or stealthy about it. He just adopted a proprietorial air and started to tap people on the arm or shoulder and proceed to butt his way right to the front.

When he reached me, I was ready for him. My blood was boiling.

Seizing him by the shoulder of his coat, I snarled:

“No you don’t, my man!”

And I grabbed him firmly.

“Eh!” he said, startled.

It is curious how unconscious of their own acts these butters-in are.

“No you don’t,” I repeated loudly, the crowd drawing back.

And I started to shove the intruder back towards the door where he belonged.

“Hey,” shouted the intruder, struggling in my grip. But I shoved and Jimmie lent a hand.

Then pandemonium broke loose.

A lady with a bunch of rhubarb in her hand suddenly brought the rhubarb down, not on the intruder’s head, but on mine.

One of the men ahead of me at the counter took a quick look, dashed up and grabbed me by the collar – me! -and started giving me the bum’s rush. Women screamed. The store helpers screamed and came running armed with vegetables, crate openers and grapefruit.

In no time at all, both Jimmie and I were bounced out of the door of the shop on to the street while the dark man who had caused the trouble cupped his hands around his mouth and began to bellow, “Police, police!”

Jimmie and I picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and moved a couple of doors north to catch our breath again.

“You see,” said the lady who had hit me with the rhubarb not once but several times, and who followed us out, ready to do more, “the gentleman you were trying to prevent from coming in is the store owner. He was just out getting a hair cut.”

“Ah,” I cried, “then why didn’t he say so?”

“You didn’t give him a chance,” said the lady. “You just suddenly grabbed him and all thought – we’re all regular customers, you see – we all thought you were hold-up men.”

“But what I thought …” I said; and tried to explain to the lady about initiative and enterprise and bad manners low down in the social scale as well as up among the robber barons.

But she had shopping to do and wasn’t very interested.

“See?” said Jim, as we proceeded up the street. “There is one good rule to follow in life. Buy your olives and do your social reform – over the telephone.”

In no time at all, both Jimmie and I were bounced out of the door of the shop on to the street.

Editor’s Notes: This was still in the era of small grocery stores where the clerk might also get items for you as not everything would be self-serve.

Paul Robeson was a singer and activist. Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor.

King George II of Greece, and King Peter II of Yugoslavia were both kings who had to flee their countries during World War 2.

“The Bum’s Rush” was a slang term to mean forcible ejection or abrupt dismissal. The phrase came from throwing drunks or vagrants out of bars, on the assumption that they would not be able to pay.

Hail, Hail – !

November 10, 1945

Rattlesnake Roost

And out of the log came a magnificent specimen our little Massasauga, about 30 inches long.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 18, 1945.

“Haaaalp!”

It was Jimmie Frise’s voice coming from the back of the cottage.

“Halp!” he bellowed. “It’s a rattler! Come quick!”

The cottage thudded with footsteps flying from all directions.

By the time I got there, Jim was braced against a clothes prop, which he had wedged into a grassy crevice beside the wood pile.

“Got him, I think,” panted Jim. “Somebody get a paddle and poke in around the end of the clothes prop.”

Which I did. Cautiously, I poked and parted the grass. There was no warning buzz.

“You’ve missed him, Jim,” I announced. “There’s nothing at the end of the clothes prop.”

Jim carefully withdrew the prop. We all listened. There was no sound of any kind except Jim’s breathing.

“Are you sure it was a rattler?” I inquired. “Some of these rock grasshoppers make a…”

“Doggone!” cried Jim. “I saw him. I nearly stepped on him. He was about four feet long.”

“Rattlers don’t grow that long up here, Jim,” I submitted. “Thirty inches is a whopper. I bet it was a fox snake you saw.”

“Does a fox snake,” inquired Jim bitterly, “make a noise like a buzz saw?”

“No, and neither does a rattler,” I retorted. “It makes a dry, buzzing sound, a sharp, unmistakable buzzing, with a sort of dry leaf quality…”

“Aw, this was a rattler,” cried Jim. “Everybody stand back and watch your step. I was just going to pick an armful of wood for the stove and there he was a great big chocolate brown brute, crawling up that crevice. The minute he saw me, he sort of drew himself together and started to rattle. I’ve seen lots of them. I know a rattler when I see him.”

“A fox snake,” I stated, “has a trick of vibrating the tip of his tail in the hope that he’ll be mistaken for a rattler.”

“I tell you this was a rattler, and a big one,” asserted Jim angrily. “I know a fox snake. He’s slim and bright colored. This was a fat snake, dark chocolate brown…”

“Coffee-grounds color,” I suggested.

“Darker,” said Jim. “I grabbed the clothes prop and by the time I got back, he was just heading into the wood pile at that crevice. I thought I had him pinned.”

“If you’d pinned him,” I said, “We all could have heard him rattling even inside the house.”

“Okay, if he’s in the wood pile,” said Jim, rolling up his sleeves, “Let’s get him. We can rout him out.”

And Jim started poking the prop in amidst the piled wood.

We took up various vantage points while Jim poked and poked amongst the billets. After a few moments, I took the paddle and, standing well clear, jabbed and banged.

“If there was a rattler in there,” I ventured, “We’d have heard from him by now.”

“Well, there’s a rattler in there,” asserted Jim hotly.

Taking No Chances

We took a few more exploratory pokes. We stood back and listened. And then, to express my convictions, I stepped up and picked an armful of wood. Cautiously, I will admit. And picking each stick with my finger tips, as it were. And keeping myself on springs, ready to jump, if necessary.

Jim threw the clothes prop away petulantly.

“Okay,” he said. “If you want to be a fool.”

“Aw, Jim,” I said, “You exaggerate rattlers. Their bite isn’t much worse than a few bee stings.”

And I carried the armful of wood into the kitchen wood-box with that debonair quality which is, I suppose, the most irritating of all human poses. We regathered on the cottage veranda and I lit up my pipe and set myself for a lecture on the natural history of rattlers.

“This rattler we have up on the Georgian Bay,” I propounded, “is called the Massasauga by the scientists. It’s the same one that used to abound around the Niagara gorge and up in the Bruce peninsula. It’s nothing whatever like the big diamond back rattler of Texas and the southern states. That’s a huge snake, with enough venom to kill a man in a few minutes. But our little rattler is a lethargic, fat little reptile that ordinarily runs around 20 to 24 inches. A 30-incher is a whopper.”

“They’re mighty dangerous creatures,” declared Jim, rolling down his sleeves, and glancing sideways off the veranda towards the wood pile.

“Personally,” I said, “I’ve never known of anybody dying from the bite of one of our little Massasaugas…”

“Aw,” snorted Jim, angrily. “Our little Massasaugas!”

And he mimicked me rather wickedly, sort of blowing himself up.

“It stands to reason,” I continued. “Nature doesn’t overdo anything. This little snake eats mice and frogs as its largest prey. So nature equips it with enough venom to knock out these small creatures. If a larger creature gets bitten, all it does is swell up and get numb for a while.”

“I don’t like being numb,” muttered Jim, “Even for a couple of minutes.”

“When I was a young guy up here,” I pursued, “I saw an Indian girl who had been bitten on the thigh while kneeling in a blueberry patch, picking berries. She got a good fair puncture, by two fangs, right in the fat of the thigh. She was pretty sick. Her leg swelled. The poison seemed to have a nerve-shattering effect, either that or the thought of being bitten by the snake. For she was simply a quaking jelly of fright and nerve collapse.

“Boy, just the sight of a rattler gives me the quakes,” said Jim, getting up and standing at the far end of the veranda to look at the wood pile.

“It also affected her breathing, or her heart,” I continued. “Because she had difficulty breathing. And it ached terribly.”

“Well, did she die?” demanded Jim.

“No, we got her out to a doctor who had a cottage near here,” I said, “It was too late to open the wound to bleed. He gave her sedatives. And after a couple of days, the swelling went down. And she was okay.”

“I bet she never picked another berry,” muttered Jim.

Just Kicked Them Aside

“I saw her for years afterwards, I countered. “She was the best berry-picker of all the tribe. And as for rattlesnakes, she said she just kicked them aside whenever she encountered them. She said having a child was 10 times worse than a rattlesnake bite.”

“Do you know of any other cases?” asked Jim.

“I once interviewed a railroad man,” I said, “who was bitten on the wrist while picking berries along the tracks one day when the freight train was sided. He suffered agonizing pain, his arm swelled up like a stove pipe, he went through all the nerve agony and smothering feeling the Indian girl described.”

“Yet,” cried Jim, “you think it a small matter that there is a rattler in our wood pile right outside the door!”

“George Hebden Corsan,” I recounted, “the naturalist and health expert, was bitten by a copperhead down in the States when he was a young man. And he recovered. And he credits the snake venom with giving him the tremendous heart and wonderful stamina he has enjoyed all his life…”

To hear you talk,” declared Jim, “you’d think you would encourage rattlers around here.”

“Well, in a sense I do,” I pondered. “After all, we can’t let blind prejudice rule us. The rattler is the greatest mousetrap in the world. A rattler will hang around a mouse nest until he has trapped and eaten every mouse in the place. He is a lazy snake. He doesn’t have to hustle out of any enemy’s way. He just waddles through life heavy and fat, and lets go his warning whenever any danger threatens. He finds a good mouse territory and stays right there.”

“We have a plague of mice this year,” ruminated Jim.

“I’ve never seen so many mice around the cottage as this year,” I agreed. “Probably because we have killed all the rattlers within miles of us. We have upset nature’s balance. I bet that woodpile has a dozen mouse nests in it.”

“So we ought to encourage that big black rattler,” snorted Jimmie. “And put saucers of milk out for him at nights!”

“A rattler,” I said, “can do no harm unless you interfere with him. He minds his own business. Which is catching mice. He gives everybody fair warning. Not many other dangerous creatures do that. He is equipped with dangerous poison. So nature also equips him with a warning signal. It turns after due consideration, that the rattler is one of nature’s better ideas.”

“What a mind!” breathed Jimmie.

“We can have our choice,” I said “between a nice respectable rattler which does us no harm in the ordinary course. Or mice, which do nothing but harm in the ordinary course. Mice can ruin our cottage. They can get into the mattresses and the bedding. They can stink out the joint. They can do maybe a hundred or two hundred cash dollars’ worth of damage in one season. Yet, because of an ancient prejudice in the human mind, we persecute the creature whose business in life is to save us hundreds of dollars a year!”

“I never heard such reasoning,” bit Jim.

“It’s the same in human nature,” I pointed out. “There isn’t a successful business enterprise in the world that hasn’t at least one human rattlesnake in it. Nobody likes him. He is dangerous. One bite and you’re done. Yet he is so useful, crawling around the factory or the office, he keeps the mice down so wonderfully, that it would be crazy to get rid of him. In fact, the business would go to pot without him.”

“A horrible simile,” cut in Jim. “Human rattlesnakes.”

‘Yes,” I said, “and they’ve usually got a warning, too. They are people who give plenty of warning of the sting they carry. They go about cleaning up the vermin in the plant. Keeping down the mice nests and the pests that would soon eat up all the profits.”

“Horrible,” said Jim.

“We’ve got a great problem facing the world right now,” I pursued, “in the Nazis. You have to keep the balance of nature or suffer the consequences. You have to keep the balance of human nature the same way. There are certain people in the world who play the role of the rattler in human affairs. The Nazi is clearly marked, like the rattler. He gives loud warning. All the years before the outbreak of war, anybody who know rattlesnakes should have recognized the sounds coming out of Germany.”

“The rest of the world,” pointed out Jimmie, “did exactly with the Germans what you advocate we do with our woodpile. The rest of the world said, let’s encourage the Nazis to keep down the pests of the Communists.”

“Hmmm,” I said, finding myself out on a limb.

“The principle of keeping dangerous creatures in the hope that they will keep down troublesome creatures never did work.”

“What we think of as pests aren’t pests at all. They are creatures with the same right to life as our right. When we in our arrogance, set up a cottage in the wilderness, invading the natural territory of the mice, we are not content to set up proper defences of our property. For a few more dollars, we could build a mouse-tight cottage. But no. We set traps and spread poison and make war on these little people whose domain we have invaded. And we end up, finally, by taking the point of view that it is better to let rattlesnakes live to keep our property safe. The politicians of Britain, France, and America made that same mistake. They, too, arrived at the stage of encouraging rattlers rather than making their premises tight against their fancied pests.”

Jim had me.

“Well,” I said, “if it comes to that, how about the right to life of the rattler? You talk about our arrogance in setting up our cottages in the domain of the mice. How about setting up our cottages in the domain of the rattlers? Hadn’t we human beings better get right off the earth? We’re interfering with so much!”

“We’re the only creature in nature,” said Jimmie, “that can manufacture a trap or build a mouse-proof dwelling. I say we should rid the world of its rattlesnakes and other dangerous creatures, while at the same time organizing our own economy so as to interfere as little as possible with the non-dangerous creatures. For every rattlesnake we have to kill, let us invent some new measure for making the world safer for mice and all other fellow-creatures who do us no damage save dollar damage.”

“Fellow – creatures?” I sniffed.

“Sure,” said Jim. “We have to work out a philosophy of life. We haven’t got one yet. Every 20 or 30 years we go on a wild rampage against each other, slaughtering our fellow-humans, only because we have no philosophy about life as a whole. Our religion, our politics, our philosophy, take no account of any life but human life. All other life, animal and vegetable, is lawlessly sacrificed to our own ends. It is time some strong philosophic sect rose amongst us western races – we’re the really dangerous ones – which takes into account all life on earth, from the lowliest to the highest.”

“Buddhism?” I inquired.

“Let’s invent one suited to us,” Jim suggested.

“I could grow very fond of rattlers,” I mused. “When I was a boy up here, I used to collect them.”

“Collect them?” shuddered Jimmie.

Old Ananias Greg

“Used to go out in my canoe,” I explained, “at dusk, along the sandy and weedy beaches where the rattlers are hunting frogs. I had forked stick and a potato sack. I would push my canoe among the reeds and spat my paddle on the water. If there was a rattler on the beach, he would give a little startled buzz. Then I’d go in and tire him out with my forked stick. He’d strike and strike until he was exhausted. Then I’d pin his neck with my forked stick, pick him up and drop him in the sack.”

“And take him home and cook him, I suppose,” gaggled Jim.

“Naw, they’re nothing to be afraid of,” I assured him. “I’d keep them for a few days in a box, feed them frogs, and then send them to the Biological Station. The students loved them.”

“Pffff,” shivered Jimmie.

“Come on,” I said, rising. “Let’s go out to the wood pile and I’ll chase your fox snake out.”

“It was no fox snake,” said Jim.

We took the clothes prop and the paddle and poked and shoved and heaved the wood around. Not a sound.

“Jim,” I said, “If there was a rattler in that woodpile, we couldn’t have come within 10 feet of it without the gentleman giving us a warning.”

“It’s nice,” said Jim, “to have somebody right on the premises who knows so much about rattlers.”

“Go ahead,” I said, “Pick an armful of stove wood. I’ll take a load of these big chunks for the living-room stove. The nights are getting cool enough for a little fire.”

Jim hastily snatched up an armful of the stove wood and took it into the kitchen box to split for the kitchen stove. I poked and poked around for a particularly nice selection of these pieces and carried them into the living-room.

As I approached the stove, the armful got a little out of hand, as big armfuls do. And they started to slide.

“Look out!” screeched Jim.

“Let ’em go…” I began.

But an awful and age-old sound bit the silent peace of the living room. It was a sibilant, writhing, stinging sound. Not a buzz, not a dead leaf sound, but a very living sound, one of the oldest and most malignant sounds in all nature and from all time.

One of the billets I was carrying was a hollow oak log.

Thirty Inches of Snake

And out of the log, sliding and lashing and zinging its nine-jointed rattle in a fury of temper, came a magnificent specimen of our little Massasauga, about 30 inches long. And landed with a rich plop right on the living-room floor about a foot from my feet.

I dropped the whole armful on him.

I leaped back and snatched the nearest hunk and bashed it down.

“Easy, easy,” screeched Jim. “Don’t mash him on the good floor!”

But philosophy is a fragile thing. And what a man says or even what he believes, can hardly stand up to the test when it comes to his own living-room.

So I bashed several times more, all the while dancing on my toes like a hen on a hot griddle.

And Jim stood back in the corner roaring. With laughter.

And when I had done and the serpent was flattened all over the floor amid the cordwood, I felt very weak and took to trembling.

And Jimmie, emitting whoops of laughter and joy, took me and led me to the couch, where I lay down, very grateful.

“What a picture,” roared Jim; “what a picture you made, hopping around on tip-toe and at the same time trying to hit that poor little creature with a log of stove wood!”

“I don’t mind rattlers,” I explained weakly from the couch, “except in the house…”


Editor’s Notes: A clothes prop is a long wooden pole with a forked end, used to raise a line of washing to enable it to catch the breeze.

The Massasauga rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake, and is currently threatened, which means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

The Eastern fox snake is non-venomous, but is also threatened or endangered in areas of Ontario.

George Hebdon Corsan was known as the “The Nut Man of Islington”. In the 1920s he had a regular column in the Toronto Star called “Wild Life on the Humber”, and Greg knew him personally, and said he was “the only crank and fanatic I have ever known who has a sense of humour, delights in being a crank, rejoices in his fanaticism, and knows exactly what each and every person he meets thinks of him!”

Rations Up

June 23, 1945

A Heap of Trouble

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 14, 1945.

“Just look,” complained Jimmie Frise, “at that side drive!”

“Cement’s pretty well shot,” I admitted.

“Why, it hasn’t been down more than 10 to 12 years, cried Jim. “And look at it. It looks as if a V-bomb had hit it.”

“Well, it was pretty well shot last season,” I reminded him. And the year before that, if I remember right, you were complaining about it having gone to pieces.”

“Cement ought to last more than 10 years,” asserted Jim.

“Not if you let the frost get under it,” I assured him. “When you notice the first crack in your cement side drive you should have it patched right away. If not, then the frost heaves it and what you’ve got, after all, is a sort of V-bomb underneath.”

“It’s positively dangerous,” said Jimmie. “Last night I was backing the car out. The back wheel tilted one of those hunks of cement. Its jagged corner caught under the differential. If I hadn’t been quick I’d have torn the gizzard out of my car.”

“Well, you ought to have it relaid right away,” I agreed.

“Relaid?” snorted Jim. “And how would I have it relaid? I called up one of the concrete firms and they said I might have a chance about next August. Unless some priority job turned up. Then it might be never. In fact, they couldn’t give me a date.”

“Then the least you can do,” I submitted, is remove the worst of those big jagged chunks and put a few wheelbarrow loads of cinders down.”

“It burns me up,” grated Jim, “the way things go to pieces like this. What’s the world coming to? A concrete job like that should last a lifetime.”

“You’ve got the usual property complex, Jim,” I pointed out. “Nothing should last a lifetime. When you build a new house you should realize that it is going to be a race between you and the house to see which will be old and worn out first. In your youthful prime you are making money. So you do a little careful figuring and decide you will build a house. It costs you, say, $10,000. In 20 years it is old-fashioned, its plumbing is all corroded and crusted. So is yours. It is in a neighborhood no longer fashionable. A lot of strangers have moved in. It is worth about $5,000 now. And you’ve gone down in value, too.”

“In other countries,” declared Jim, “property doesn’t fall to pieces like this. In England, for instance. The stately homes of England. Why, some of those gracious old country houses of England are two and three centuries old.”

“Aha,” I cried. “The outer walls, maybe. The foundations and outer walls of the main section of the house. But if those stately homes of England haven’t been brought up to date with the past few years they are hardly fit to live in. Musty, smelly, fungussy old dumps. I’ve lived in dozens of them the past five years. And our boys have been billetted in them all over Britain. They’ll tell you what stately old homes they are.”

“That’s not my impression,” protested Jimmie.

Not the Original

“Look,” I said, “why were so many of those stately homes handed over to the troops as billets this past five years? Because either they were untenanted or the owners couldn’t afford, these past 10 or 15 hard-time years, to do the necessary repairs. Those old country houses have to be entirely renovated each new generation. The climate of England is easier on stone and brick than ours. They don’t have frost and fierce summer suns to contend with. So the outside shell survives century or two. Sometimes longer. But the inside has to be remodeled every few years. If it isn’t, then it is smelly and musty and fungussy and decayed. Don’t make the mistake that all those ancient buildings that are said to date back to Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second are just the way they were in those days. What they mean is, the building, whether a church or a mansion or a famous public edifice, has survived as an institution since the days of Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second. Generally, you will find the building was entirely reconstructed – in strict accordance with the original! – about 1830 or 1890.”

“Aw,” said Jim.

“I was billetted,” I informed him, “in several really old stately homes the past couple of years. And if they dated back any further than 1860 they stunk.”

“You have no soul,” said Jim. “You have no poetry in your make-up.”

“Property,” I assured him, “has to be kept up, whether it is St. Peter’s in Rome or the Buck of Dukingham’s old family estate or your side drive.”

“Why, I remember travelling through England, in the last war, and seeing those lovely old mansions nestled in their ancient beeches and oaks,” said Jim, tenderly.

“Those houses,” I assured him, “on closer inspection, would turn out to be exactly like the old mansions on Jarvis St. in Toronto, dating back to about 1880. The reason our old mansions in Toronto have fallen on evil times is that the district became unfashionable. The rich families moved out farther into the suburbs.”

“Or lost their money,” suggested Jim.

“Or had to divide it,” I submitted, “between too many children for any one of them to keep up the big family mansion. So the old mansions of Toronto are let go to decay. But in England, for obvious reasons, the rich men did not build their mansions in towns and cities. Before the industrial revolution, which was only 150 or so years ago, towns and cities were merely the congregating places of the poor, the landless and the hand-workers. Land was the only wealth. There were no factories. So the wealthy man lived right amid his wealth – his land.”

“No factories?” inquired Jim.

“No factories at all,” I assured him. “Well, maybe there would be a sail factory down near the docks. Or possibly some successful master mason would employ a lot of men in his stone yard, or a master shoemaker might employ 100 shoemakers under one roof. But since there was no power of any kind, except hand power, why, it was cheaper and more practical for the employer to let the workers work in their homes. Or hovels.”

“But the swells,” said Jim, “the really rich, were the land owners. And they lived on their estates. Distributed all over Britain.”

“That’s the picture,” I agreed. “And that’s how you have all those mansions scattered all over England. But now that land is no longer wealth, but a liability, except to the individual man who works it as a farmer, and since riches nowadays is in owning factories or being a broker or a business man in a city, why, property has changed its character, too. No more mansions.”

“Besides,” contributed Jim. “nobody stays home any more. It is just a place to sleep.”

“And keep your extra clothes,” I added. “And garage your car.”

“In which case,” stated Jimmie indignantly, “the modern side drive ought to be made of better concrete than this.”

Jim’s drive was, in fact, a mess. From away back by the garage right out to the street there was hardly a square yard of concrete that had not collapsed. There were large holes. There were patches of broken concrete with corners sticking up like the dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line. The past winter, while not noted for deep frost, had soaked an awful lot of snow into the ground. And that had finished what a few years’ frosts had started.

“Jim,” I suggested, “to lay a new drive here, with modern methods, should be a cinch. Even you and I could do it.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim.

“Nowadays,” I explained, “these ready’ mix concrete trucks, with their big drums revolving as they drive through the streets, would simply back into your side drive, dump a load of concrete all ready mixed. With a wheelbarrow and a couple of rakes we could spread it out. And presto!”

“Say,” said Jimmie.

A Matter of Initiative

“The modern citizen,” I asserted, “doesn’t need to be half as dependent as he thinks he is. We are all still muddling along in the age of the stately homes of England, when, as a matter of fact, if we took advantage of the modern inventions already in use all around us, we could be really mid-20th century.”

“I’ve got a wheelbarrow,” declared, Jim.

“And I’ll bring down a couple of rakes,” I offered. “And we could rig up a good big plank, with scantling uprights on it for handles. We could pat the stuff down with that. Make it smooth.”

“Say!” said Jimmie eagerly.

“The only thing I’m afraid of,” I remarked, “is that you might need a work priority to get a load of ready-mix concrete.”

But Jim went straight in and telephoned. And no priority was needed. It was a straight case of waiting until Wednesday, as the company’s mixing trucks were all on order up till then. Jim ordered one full load.

So we had Monday and Tuesday evenings to clear the side drive of all the wreckage. Most of the concrete was in chunks that required no extra breaking. A few larger pieces had to be hit a few whacks with the sledgehammer Jim borrowed from the service station up the street. And Jim did the sledge-hammer work while I, with the aid of a pair of ice-tongs, slid the chunks of concrete into the wheelbarrow laid on its side. It was not easy work. But neither was it any harder than the usual gardening projects the average man undertakes at this season of the year. I’ve built several rockeries, in the past 30 years, that cost me far more pain than this. In fact, Tuesday night, seeing us carting the broken concrete back into Jim’s yard, two of the neighbors got ideas and came and offered to cart off several barrow loads for rockeries in their back gardens. Thus, by dark Tuesday, we had all the concrete moved and the under bed of gravel and sand nicely raked.

The load was promised for 8.30 a.m. So Jimmie and I were on the job bright and early to peg down the narrow planks we were going to use as margins or containers of the concrete as we laid it.

We had barely started laying these plank edges when we heard a truck coming noisily and knew it was our big adventure.

“Where’ll you have it?” inquired the driver heartily.

“I think,” Jim suggested, “we ought to have him dump it right there at the street end of the drive, and we will start laying back in at the garage. It will mean more carting with the wheelbarrow. But we can see what we are doing better.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger. It went on and on as an imposing pile grew before our astonished eyes.

And away went the driver.

There, as simple as ordering a ton of coal or a load of manure, was the material for two simple citizens to toy with, saving scores of dollars in man-hours, giving healthful spring exercise and permitting free play to individual initiative, free enterprise and, above all, craftsmanship.

We stood and admired the pile. It was soggy. And it settled slightly. Even as we watched. And it certainly was big.

“There’s enough there,” declared Jim, “to lay a real, lifetime pavement.”

Well, first we had to lay and peg down the wooden planks for the edges of the new pavement, and that took an hour. And to get the planks to stand on their edges, it was necessary to dig slight trenches or troughs in which the planks could stand upright.

“How long,” inquired Jim, “do you suppose that stuff will stay soft?”

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “You know how long you have to keep off fresh cement. We’ve got all day.”

So we laid the planks steady and true and pegged them down. And while we were at it we laid all the planks for the whole job. A couple of hours.

“I don’t like that warm wind blowing,” said Jim, anxiously examining the free grayish-yellow heap at the mouth of his side drive.

“Come on, brother,” I said, picking up the shovel. “Now for the first barrow.”

Wet concrete weighs more than dry concrete. And dry concrete weighs plenty.

Jim started to shove the barrow up the drive. But its wheel sank deep in the gravel and sand.

“We’ll have to have a plank walk to run the barrow on,” said Jim hurriedly.

So we got in the car and drove over to the lumber yard, a few blocks east, and got five long, cheap planks. With these, carried home on the car top, we laid a path for the barrow. Another hour or so.

“Hey!” said Jim as he picked up the barrow. “This stuff is getting stiff!”

It was not quite as pulpy as I expected.

“Take it up to the garage,” I ordered, “and we’ll flatten her out.”

Jim shoved the barrow up the planks very wobbly and dumped it in front of the garage.

It fell out heavily, and a lot stuck to the bottom of the barrow. I scraped this out with the shovel, and we set to work hurriedly to spread the big blob out. It did not spread very willingly. It broke into cakes and the cakes spread rather granularly

“I don’t like this,” puffed Jim, slapping with the shovel.

“Get another barrow load, it’ll be wetter,” I commanded, and we’ll sort of blend it.”

Jim went down to the front of the drive and got another barrow load.

“It seems a little looser,” he panted, as he arrived. “But I don’t think we have much time to waste.”

A Horrible Sight

The fresh barrow load, while looser than the first, which had been standing all the time we were over at the lumber yard, did not blend very easily with the first load. In fact, the first square yard of concrete in front of the garage doors was rather a horrible sight.

We patted it with shovels. We got our plank with upright handles nailed on it, and spanked it. We smoothed it. We laid the plank down on the concrete and jumped up and down on it.

But it still looked warty.

“Pour water on the pile,” I suggested, a little excited.

But the first pailful seemed to just run off.

“Well, all right,” snapped Jim. “Don’t just stand there? Let’s get it spread first. Then we can smooth it later.”

“But that would only…” I began.

“Don’t argue!” shouted Jim, charging away with the wheelbarrow.

So we shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread and shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread. A side drive is a much larger area, in square yards, than you would think, backing a car out of it.

When we had got about 15 feet done out from the garage doors we knew we were beaten. If we delayed to flatten it, the outside of the main pile, down at the front end of the side drive, grew stiffer and more granular and harder to handle. I tried stirring it while Jim ran in and attempted to borrow a couple of men from the service station; from the grocer; the butcher and the drug store. He even telephoned some of our friends downtown at the office.

But my stirring was as useless as Jim’s telephone calls. It only let the air into the pile and dried it quicker.

“Good heavens,” gasped Jimmie, running out of the house. There will be that mountain of solid concrete blocking my drive…”

“Let’s spread it, any old way,” I replied.

So we worked like mad, trying to reduce the Vesuvius out by the sidewalk. In random humps, lumps, mounds, we laid the stuff another 15 feet down the drive,

But the sight of that awful pathway only caused us to abandon the main pile in desperate efforts to flatten down the work already done. We could reduce it in one spot, but the immediately adjoining square foot would resist, bulging up

So by the time the neighbors were arriving home for supper, half the pile stood a slowly congealing and immovable barricade while the other half was scattered in a ghastly, lumpy, misshapen roadway half-way down from the garage.

And Jim’s car inside.

Today, if you hear what sounds like machine-guns, it will be only the gang of concrete workers Jim got on compassionate grounds, breaking down the barricade and the abortive pavement.

They say they’ll have the driveway done before dark.


Editor’s Notes: V-bombs were German V-1 flying bombs, an early form of cruise missiles. They had short range so were used against Britain between June and October 1944. They were still used against the Allies until the end of the war, but with different targets like Antwerp.

Dragon’s teeth were a form of fortification to block access by tanks and other vehicles.

Greg was worried that they would need a “work priority” to get the concrete. This was still during World War Two, so all sorts of things were rationed, and if concrete was on the list, they would have to apply to the government in order to obtain some. When writing of his time billeted in English estates, he is referring to his time as a war correspondent.

Brr-r-rrr!

January 20, 1945

Some Punkin!

October 13, 1945

Non-Co-operation

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 13, 1945

“Ducks,” insisted Jimmie Frise.

“Muskies,” I asserted emphatically. “This week-end is the last of the bass and musky fishing in Ontario. It closes the 14th.”

“Ducks,” repeated Jim doggedly. “This week-end is really the beginning of the duck season. They’ll be flying this weather.”

“Jim,” I presented earnestly, “the year 1945 is over this week-end as far as fishing is concerned. Gone forever, 1945! We’ve got the rest of October and November to shoot ducks. But this week-end will never come again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Have you no sentiment?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t you realize that there are just so many fishing seasons in any man’s life? When a season ends, it is like a chapter of life closed. We shall not pass this way again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Aw, ducks!” I scoffed. “The silly things. There you sit, shivering in a clump of dead grass, crouched down. Minutes pass. Half hours pass. Hours pass. Far off, on the horizon, flock after flock of ducks sweep away, like wisps of smoke in the distance. Then all of a sudden you hear a rushing, whistling sound of wings. You jerk awake. Over your head, go six ducks, skating through the air, slithering and sliding in fright at the sight of you quivering below. You yank your gun to your shoulder and blast off. One, two. And then you slowly lower your gun and watch the six ducks vanish in the distance.”

Instead of resenting my contemptuous description of duck shooting, Jim’s eyes gleamed with delight.

“Gosh,” he said, “it’s wonderful!”

“But you missed them,” I pointed out.

“That time, maybe,” said Jim. “But tell me how foolish it is to shoot at ducks coming in to decoys.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “There you crouch, in a clump of frosty bulrushes, on a damp box sogged into a quaking bog. A nasty east wind rattles the rushes around you and coils up the back of your clammy canvas coat. It spits rain a little.”

Jim’s face wore an ecstatic expression as he listened.

“As you peer amid the clattering rushes,” I continued, “you can see your decoys bobbing in the cold gray water, 15, 20 yards out from your hide. They are silly looking things, decoys. All facing the same way. All bobbing busily. You think they look like ducks. So do the ducks.”

Jim took a deep breath and clutched an imaginary gun to his stomach, as he crouched in his chair.

“For suddenly, far off,” I related, “your eye detects a flicker of movement in the gray, dismal light of dawn. Yes. Over on the far shore a flock of 15 blue-bills has curved away and is heading for you.”

“Fifteen!” whispered Jimmie, sliding the safety catch off the imaginary gun clasped to his bosom.

“They are fanned out,” I hissed, “in a wavering, shifting line of fast racing birds. They are going to pass a quarter of a mile to the south of your hide.”

“Aw,” regretted Jim, relaxing the gun.

“But, no!” I cried. They are wheeling! They’ve turned! They have spotted your decoys!”

Jim sank down deep in his chair, his eyes piercing the office wall.

“A mile a minute,” I grated in a low, dramatic tone, “that weaving, shifting line of blue-bills races towards you. They bunch! In the air, they seem to huddle as they flare up and wide, past you and your stupid decoys, bobbing busily on the water.”

Jim sat crouched in his chair, not turning his head, not daring to move.

“Up and wide, they flare,” I hissed, “and swing in an arc, still bunched. Then they begin to fan out. And as they fan out, they begin to drop. THEY ARE COMING IN!”

Jim’s knuckles turned white around the imaginary gun.

“They Taste Weedy”

“Lower, lower,” I muttered, “they are dropping, fanned out. They are 15 feet above the water. They are 10 feet above the water. They are floating in, on set wings, at silent, incredible speed. They are going to pass over your decoys about eight feet up, and land up-wind of them. Their wings are set, taut, curved, to brake them against the breeze…”

“BANG! BANG!” yelled Jim, leaping to his feet and taking aim with the imaginary gun pointed at the office wall.

And with a huge sigh, he fell back into his chair and said:

“How many did I get?”

“One,” I informed him, disgustedly.

“One?” protested Jim.

“As usual,” I advised him, “you fire into the bunch, instead of picking your birds and leading them. You got one. And it just happened to fly into your shot pattern.”

“I picked two drakes,” protested Jim hotly.

“You got one,” I informed him. “A hen.”

“Shucks,” said Jim disgustedly.

He stared into space until the imaginary scene I had built for him out of thin air had slowly faded.

“We’ll make it duck shooting this weekend,” he stated firmly.

“We’ll go fishing,” I retorted. “It is the grand finale, the finish, the glorious end of another fishing season gone into the dark limbo of the past.”

“Fishing,” asserted Jim, “is for May, June and part of July. By the middle of July, you are already sated with fishing. You are already sneaking up to the attic to fondle your guns.”

“There is no week in the whole year,” I countered, “to equal the second week of October for musky fishing. Maybe because it is the last, it is the loveliest. It is fraught with farewell and good-by. The shores are sentimental with autumn’s sweet, tragic colors. The sun is already paling. The wind of October is fitful.”

Jim began scanning the office wall for more blue-bills.

“In the water,” I pursued, “the weeds have died. And the muskies, who have hidden in the weed beds all summer, have fled the stinking water of the weed beds for the hard shores. The rocks.”

Jim yawned.

“In two and three feet of water,” I insinuated, “off these hard shores, amid the boulders, the crevices and along the sunken logs, the great muskies of autumn lie waiting and watching. For two reasons have they come into the shallows: to escape the stench of the decaying weed beds and to feed up against the winter on the little fishes and frogs and crawfish that dwell along the shore.”

“Slimy things,” yawned Jimmie.

“You drift in your skiff,” I wheedled, “along the shore, maybe 60 feet out. And you cast, cast, cast. Towards the shore. At every shadow of rock or crevice or log. You cast your plug and reel fast. Unlike in summer, you don’t have to reel slow and deep. You reel fast, your plug just skimming the surface. For when one of those fresh-water tigers sees your bait, he leaps on it like a famished tiger. He is in shallow water. He can’t go down. There is only one way for him to fight, when he feels the sting of your hooks. And that is up!”

“They taste weedy,” sneered Jim.

“Eight pounds. 10 pounds,” I exulted, “maybe 15 or 20 pounds of lithe, green, solid muscle. On the end of a fragile little casting rod. Twenty pounds of solid muscle, leaping, frantic, threshing, boiling in the water, in that cool October sunlight, against that lovely soft tragic shore …”

“I,” said Jim, getting up with finality, “am going duck shooting.”

“Very well,” I said bitterly. “I am going fishing.”

“After all these years,” said Jim, “you’d think a guy would get his full of a stupid sport like combing the water with a wooden plug.”

“After all these years,” I retorted, “you would think an old friend would not desert you on the last day of the fishing season of 1945.”

Jim stood looking out the window for a minute and then said:

“What we can do, we can go together to Blue’s Landing and you can fish and I can shoot. There is good musky fishing there. And the place whistles with ducks.”

So that was the solution. Blue’s Landing is an old favorite of mine for late season fishing. The old hotel is practically deserted by this time, save for a few lean and taciturn Yankees, who know about the mystery and glory of October musky fishing in the shallows, and come all the way from Memphis and Omaha to indulge in it here in the less popular resorts of Ontario. The Americans who come in summer are noisy and lively characters who fish hard and get a lot of sunburn. Those who come in October are silent, cold-eyed Yanks, with very old clothes and very costly fishing-tackle boxes and tailor-made split cane rods made in Bangor, Maine, and costing close to a hundred dollars.

They do not interfere with you, they eat by themselves, they do not crave any company, like their summer brethren. The autumn musky fishers from Mobile and St. Louis are prayerful men.

Voices in the Rushes

But when Jim and I drove in the dark into the hotel yard at Blue’s Landing, there were too many cars huddled in the October night. And inside, I could hear the whoopee of duck hunters.

When I pushed in the front door with my armful of rods and tackle boxes, half a dozen rosy gentlemen around the log fire, in loud hunting shirts, greeted me with stony stares.

When Mike, the hotel handyman, came out from the kitchen, I asked him if there were no gentlemen in the house this fall.

“Oh, yes,” said Mike. “But they’ve gone to bed.”

And he winked meaningly with a nod towards the living-room, where the duck hunters were greeting Jim heartily around the log fire.

“I’ll go to bed, too,” I said, “How’s fishing?”

“Mr. Vince got an 18-pounder this morning.”

So I went straight to bed, giving Mr. Vince’s room a friendly nod as I passed his door. Mr. Vince being an aged gentleman from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Jim came in after I was abed and tried to get me to come down and hear some of the stories that were going around the log fire. But I bade him good-night.

And very early in the morning, long before light, the old hotel was shaking and squeaking with the rising of the duck shooters and the musky fishers.

It was, in fact, a fact, I could hear no sound from Jim’s room and hoped I was ahead of him. But when I got down to the lamp-lit dining-room, there he was in his hunting shirt at the large table with the strangers of the night before. At separate tables, scattered around the room, were the musky fishers, singly, or two by two, but mostly singles. Mr. Vince was by himself. I. went and shook hands warmly and then went to a table of my own. That is the spirit of the autumn musky fisher.

Bacon and two eggs. Home-fried potatoes. Toast, coffee. And pumpkin pie. A good sound breakfast. Eaten rapidly. Because the duck hunters are already scraping their chairs away from the table and, with loud talk, scattering out into the hall to pick up guns and pull on waders and canvas coats.

As arranged with Mike the night before, I got the little red boat which Mike had hidden in the reeds some distance from the boathouse. Mr. Vince had his canoe and John Jacob, the Ojibway, for his guide, and they vanished away into the first mists of dawn. Outboard engines whined and roared as the duck hunters blasted off into the murk. In one of the outboard skiffs, I saw Jim perched up very chummy with a crew of his overnight buddies.

I waited until Mike brought the red skiff from hiding and shoved off to row the quarter-mile to McDuggan’s rocky shore across the bay. The mists of daybreak were still thick when, one by one, the outboard engines died in the distance. And a great silence fell over the world. The hunters were creeping into their hides. The musky fishermen were silently drifting along their favorite rides, flinging their lures towards the stilly shore.

There was just a tinkle of breeze. Little wavelets ruffled the water. I came to McDuggan’s shadowy shore, let my oars drag and began to cast. Not a sound broke the eerie silence. It was still too dark to see the best spots to hit with the lure. Suddenly, over my head, I heard a rushing sound which swelled into a squeaking whistle, and I could make out, for an instant, half a dozen torpedo-shapes hurtling through the air. Black duck, maybe, or mallards. They were heading straight up the shore, so I held my cast and listened. But no shots rang out.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said to myself, and cast.

Slowly the dawn grew and I could make out the rocks and crevices of the shore. The wind drifted me at a pleasant pace. I did the full mile of rocky shore without a rise of any kind. But so great is the expectation, in musky fishing, that you don’t really need a fish.

There were tall bulrushes and reeds for the next mile of shore with all sorts of lily-pad beds.

“Hey,” came a muffled voice from the first clump of bulrushes, “buzz off!”

“That you, Jim?” I called back.

“Ssshhh!” came a sharp rejoinder. “Beat it.”

Instead, I cast deliberately at the lily pads. As reeled in, I could hear mutters and mumbles from the rushes. I drifted, with occasional pulls on the oars to keep me straight, along the reedy shore, while dawn grew into day. A lovely, chill, misty day, ideal for muskies.

A figure rose out of the rushes.

“Will you,” demanded a voice profanely, “get the heck out of here? There’s no fish along here. You’re chasing all the ducks away.”

“What ducks?” I demanded scornfully.

“You’ve scared off three flights already,” declared the figure in the rushes. “Now get the heck out of here before somebody accidentally shoots your tub full of Number Fives.”

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I said, aiming a cast for the lily pads 10 feet from where he stood.

He sank out of sight with growls.

By now, it was quite light and I could see the hotel at the foot of the lake, as well as Mr. Vince’s canoe far up the opposite shore and a couple of other anglers’ skiffs at likely spots.

As I was watching Mr. Vince, I saw a flock of what appeared to be red heads come spanking out of his direction. They raced across the lake towards me. But seeing my boat, they hoicked up in a beautiful climb and turned towards the hotel end of the lake.

At the same time, I heard shouts, groans and imprecations from half a dozen places in the reeds.

There She Blows!

Then I heard Jim’s voice:

“Greg! Greg! A huge musky. Just rolled. Hey. Here!”

He was in a point of rushes a couple of hundred yards up.

I rowed smartly towards him. His decoys were spread amid the lily pads.

“Where?” I demanded, as the skiff coasted in.

“Right among my decoys,” hissed Jim urgently. “Cast. Cast.”

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys.

“Go ahead, he was a 20-pounder, right under my nose,” urged Jimmie.

I cast and re-cast. There was no response.

“Come in,” urged Jim, “and pick me up and I’ll row you along here. He may be cruising up and down.”

“You stick to your ducks,” I said, suspiciously.

“Come on,” wheedled Jim. “A great big green monster …”

At which moment, from down the hotel end of the lake, a long line of speeding bluebills hove in sight, and I saw an expression of agony strike Jim’s face.

“Get out of here!” he roared. “Or come in here and hide that red tub!”

The flight swept far away to the other shore. Behind it came another and another.

“Get out of there, get out of those decoys!” bellowed Jim. “Or come in…”

“I knew what you were up to,” I retorted, as I snagged a lily pad from my weedless lure. “Trying to get me to let you get hold of this boat …”

“Will you come in and hide that boat?” demanded Jim menacingly.

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I announced. The season is still open. This is a famous fishing lake. I don’t see …”

Far off, a couple of guns barked with that futile sound that means long shots and missed.

“Spoil sport!” yahed Jim.

“You’ve got all the rest of October and November to shoot,” I stated.

“Will you get out of my decoys?” demanded Jim.

At which moment, from the next point of rushes north, gun went off and a scatter of shot slashed the water about 10 feet outside my boat.

“Sorry,” a voice called, “My trigger caught in the rushes.”

And at the same instant, in the water where the shot had lashed, there was a sudden large boiling of the water, the immense dark green back of a musky arched up, a large reddish tail lifted and slapped the water.

“There!” yelled Jim.

I made a quick, backhand cast. My lure chucked into the boil before it had subsided. I felt the slow, savage tug of a big fish. I struck. The lake seemed to explode.

“Give him line! Let me in. Row with one hand. Hold him. Get me in that boat …”

It was Jim roaring from the weeds.

In musky fishing, once things start to happen, all is a dream.

Somehow, Jim got in the boat. Somehow, we fought the fish back through the decoys and the anchor strings and the lily pads and got into the clear. Seven times, the big fish cleared the water in arrowy, horizontal leaps 10 feet long. From the rushes came the yells and cries of advice that goes with a big fish.

And after horsing him up and down the shore for half an hour, we got him tired and hit him on the head with the numbing-stick and hoisted him aboard.

“The great thing about sport,” said Jim, as we shook hands, “is co-operation.”

Backyard Trappers

There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, with my rat trap clinging to her finger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 11, 1945

“How queer,” said Jimmie Frise, “the city looks in summer.”

“You mean the streets like this?” I suggested, as we drove up our old familiar avenue. “Sort of slumbering.”

“I imagine,” mused Jim, “there isn’t another city in the world that has the percentage of summer absentees Toronto has. I bet there are more people in Toronto who have summer cottages than in any other big city on earth.”

“It’s because our lake country,” I submitted, “begins less than 50 miles from the city limits. Not many big cities have a Muskoka, Haliburton and Georgian Bay within a couple of hours’ drive.”

“Montreal?” queried Jim.

“In Montreal, I pointed out, “you see the summer cottages right in the suburbs. But per population, I don’t think Montreal uses her Laurentians to the extent Toronto uses Muskoka. For one thing, vast hunks of the Laurentians are leased out to comparatively small clubs of wealthy men. Some of the choicest lakes near Montreal are exclusive.”

“Just look at this street!” cried Jim. “Not a soul in sight. Not a dog, not a cat. Every house deserted. Look at the trees, all hanging heavy with summer. Look at the bushes and the flower beds. Untouched by human hands for weeks.”

“Let out a yell,” I suggested, “and see if a single curtain stirs.”

We drove in our side drive in the dusk. We were home for just overnight, to attend to a matter of urgent business. We were going straight back to the cottage in the morning, as soon as we had bought some potatoes.

“I’ll just run around to my place,” suggested Jim, “and see if everything is okay. Then I’ll come back and spend the night here, so we can get organized for the morning.”

“No use disturbing two houses for the one night,” I agreed. “Let’s leave it until morning, and we’ll call at your place in passing.”

“Okay,” concurred Jim, taking off his coat as we entered the house.

It had the close smell of the summer-deserted house. We went about opening windows and doors. We turned on the radio, tried the taps to see if civilization was still functioning. The cool air of early night blew through the house, freshening it.

We strolled out the kitchen door into the garden. In the gloom of final dusk, we could see the lawn grass thick and wild, and the flower borders tangled and strange with hundreds of blooms. The spare and trim and skimpy garden we had last seen in early July was now a regular jungle of lush growth.

“Jim,” I called, “come over and look at these zinnias!”

Nobody ever succeeds in planting zinnias far enough apart. In the optimism of June, when you buy the little boxes with the baby zinnia plants in them, they look so spindly and lonely, one by one, that you can’t resist the human temptation to plant them close together. Plant them as far apart as you should, and they look like little orphans.

But my zinnia bed was, even in the dusk, a riot of light and dark, of great flat heads of blossom standing above a solid mass of foliage.

We strolled along the borders, peering. The verbenas that had been straggly little wisps of plants were now sturdy clusters from which sprays of bloom lifted, to my lighted match, ping, blue, white and henna. In that false spring we had in April, I had taken a walking stick and poked a hundred little holes here and there all over the borders and dropped cheap nasturtium seeds in. Every inch of my garden that had not already been conquered by some mightier breed was solidly squatted upon by swarms of nasturtiums fairly squirting perfume into the night air. In one spot where I had never seen anything much grow before, a large bush loomed in the dark. My lighted match shower it to be a pom pom chrysanthemum.

“What Was That?”

“Why,” I cried delighted, “there used to be a scraggly little mum bush, here. This is a great year for flowers.”

“It ought to be,” said Jim gravely. “The way we have kicked this poor earth around the past six years I guess it just naturally feels like blooming again.”

“Remember how late the spring was?” I recollected. “It will likely be a wonderful year for autumn flowers.”

“Autumn flowers,” said Jim, “are all Toronto people ought to plant. The average home that can afford a reasonable garden can also afford a summer cottage. The family is all away for July and August. Therefore, Toronto should be famous for its autumn flowers. All our gardens should concentrate or things that bloom in September and October.”

“See that stuff there?” I pointed in the dark to large forests of tall shapes. “Sunflowers, golden glow and other bright gaudy yellow things for September.”

“It’s wonderful the way things have thrived, without watering,” admitted Jim.

“I bet the ground under those things is moist right now,” I said, pushing cautiously among the shadowy stalks and feeling down.

At which instant there was a sharp squeak, right under my hand. And some creature, somewhere in size between a chipmunk and a cocker spaniel, thrashed away up the garden amid the plants.

I leaped back with a yell.

“Hey,” I barked, “what the heck was that?”

“It sounded like a groundhog,” said Jim, tip-toeing up the lawn in the direction in which the animal had gone. “Psst! Scat!”

But whatever it was, it lay very doggo.

“Jim,” I exclaimed, “it was huge. It was as big as a collie.”

“Hardly,” said Jim. “It might have been a rat. Or it might have been a small groundhog.”

“It barked,” I declared.

“No, that was you that barked,” said Jim. “It gave a kind of squeak.”

“Or whistle,” I suggested. “I just about put my hand on it. I was going to feel the ground and I could feel the wind from it as it jumped.”

“Maybe it was a groundhog,” surmised Jim, “that has wandered in from the park. The park is only a few blocks away. And in a city as deserted as this, probably the groundhogs and other animals wander at will through the desolate streets.”

“Let’s get a flashlight,” I proposed, “and ferret it out. I don’t want any wild animals loose in this garden. Why, a groundhog could wreck the place in a week.”

We went and searched the house for a flashlight but without luck. All the torches had been taken to the cottage. We stood on the veranda and gazed up and down the street. Not a window showed a light. There was no flashlight to be borrowed from any neighbor. And the drug store closes at 9, bringing Toronto’s night life to an absolute stop.

“I tell you what we will do,” I suggested. “We’ll each get a clothes prop and poke around in the garden. If we give it a scare, maybe it will keep out for the rest of the summer. I’m worried about what it can do to those lovely plants.”

So we went back to the garden and I located the clothesline props in their usual corner by the garage. Armed with 10-foot poles, Jim and I went systematically around the garden, cautiously poking in among the shrubbery, the flower plots and the unseen tangles of sweet william, perennial phlox, ferns and salvia. In the spot where the mysterious marauder had vanished up the border, Jim thought he detected some movement. He gave a loud “boo” and made a menacing jab with his clothes prop. But it was a false alarm, and when he hauled the pole out, I could see something dangling from the crotch at the end. I struck a match. And it was almost an entire verbena plant Jim had torn loose. One of those rare henna-colored ones.

“Well, if you want me to help hunt…” retorted Jim to my groans.

“Let’s Set a Trap”

We went all over the garden without disturbing anything but a few small moths. And we caused a few crickets to cease their singing for a moment or two.

“It may have been a rabbit,” declared Jim.

“Rabbits don’t bark,” I said sharply.

“That thing did not bark,” said Jim firmly. “It squeaked.”

“Or sort of whistled,” I insisted.

“Okay, whistled,” resigned Jim. “But it certainly isn’t here any more.”

I stood in the dark, picturing my beautiful garden all eaten off to stubble by the time we got home from the cottage.

“I’ve got it!” I cried suddenly. “A trap. Let’s set a trap?”

“What kind of a trap?” demanded Jim.

“Down cellar,” I said, “I’ve got an old rat trap that we brought from a house we used to live in. It’s a sort of oversize mouse trap.”

“It wouldn’t hold a groundhog,” said Jim.

“But it would scare the bejeepers out of it,” I asserted.

“You don’t want some poor little animal,” accused Jim, “wandering around with a trap fastened to it. A trap should be used for vermin, like mice or rats. And it should kill instantly.”

“Wouldn’t a rat trap kill a groundhog instantly?” I demanded. After all, that was a pretty small animal…”

“I thought you said it was as big as a collie dog,” said Jim.

“First impressions are always hasty.” I excused, “especially in the dark.”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of setting traps at random,” declared Jim. “If you know what you’re after, okay. But to set a trap for an unknown animal is pretty risky.”

“No animal has any right,” I asserted, “in my flower beds. I have my gate locked, so no dogs can get in. I have spent quite a number of dollars on this garden. After all, this garden is my crop. It is my property. Even if it is only ornamental, it is still my property. And anything that damages it is liable to the consequences.”

“Let’s see the trap,” suggested Jimmie.

Which was only his excuse for getting back into the lighted kitchen and organizing a cup of tea. While the kettle boiled, I went down cellar and hunted up the trap. Incidentally, I explored the cellar and found a number of things that would be handy up at the cottage. A box of assorted nails, mostly second hand; a scythe that I had forgotten buying, 10 years back; a long iron bar that I had never seen before but which would certainly come in handy for something up at the cottage.

When I came clattering up the cellar stairs, Jim exclaimed:

“What in thunder is all this junk?”

And when I explained, he muttered:

“Some people should never go down cellar!”

I showed him the trap. Just an ordinary over-size mouse trap. He washed it under the tap and it came up as good as new.

“What will you bait it with?” he inquired.

“I don’t intend to bait it,” I said. “I’m just going to set it. And leave it concealed in among the likeliest looking things. I’ll wait until daylight to place it on a runway. All these groundhogs and things follow regular runways or paths. We’ll find them sure, in the morning.”

“Then,” reasoned Jim, “whatever it is we heard squeaking in the bushes will have to step, with its tiny foot, on this tiny little trigger…”

“Ah, no,” I explained. “That is where my humanitarian instincts come into play. I’ll set the trap and then rest a long stick over the trigger in such a way that whatever steps on or disturbs the long stick will set off the trap with a loud and terrifying smack. Listen …”

And I set the trap and then tapped it with a table knife. It sure made a terrifying sound. It made us both jump.

“The idea,” I pointed out, “is to scare the creature, not to kill it.”

“Ah, this is better,” agreed Jim, pouring the tea.

After we had finished the tea, we went back into the garden with the trap. From the lattice fence, I peeled off a slender strip about the size and thickness of a school ruler. Down among the mint and chives, my two favorite vegetables, I hid the trap, ready set, with the help of matches. Across the trigger, I tenderly laid the strip of wood.

“Now,” I explained, “whatever comes through the mint bed gets the fright of its life.”

Caught in the Mint

And feeling a lot happier about the autumn flowers, Jim and I went in and luxuriated in the unaccustomed pleasures of a hot shower, getting off us a lot of that scale that encrusts the human body after a few weeks in the pure air and cold water of the Ontario northland.

And with rooms flushed full of cool night air, we went to our beds with all the oohs and aaahs of summer cottagers returning from the hard mattresses of the vacation to the light, soft mattresses of the effete city.

It was bright gleaming morning when we were awakened.

I sat bolt upright.

Jim called from his room:

“What was that!”

“Something woke me!” I called back.

Then it came.

A loud shriek.

From my back garden.

I leaped to the window, and looked out. There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, a charming lady, with my rat trap clinging to her finger. After a pause in which she stared in anger and astonishment at the outrage, she let out another shriek.

Down the stairs we raced in our pyjamas. Out the back door.

“My dear, my dear lady,” I gasped as I reached her and seized the trap.

“Did you set that?” she demanded angrily, snatching it away.

“Please, please,” I begged, “let me open it.”

Jim held it, while I pried its hungry snapper up.

The lady nursed her hand and studied me sternly.

“What was the idea,” she inquired, “of a trap in the mint?”

“Why, last night,” I babbled, “last night, when we got home … we heard a groundhog or something… last night, just after we got home … Say, I didn’t know you were home.”

“I got home at midnight,” said my neighbor. “And I didn’t know you were home!”

“But … but…” I fumbled.

“Your wife told me,” said the lady firmly, “to help myself to the mint any time I was down in the summer. I came down just to get some potatoes and some supplies, and I was leaving right away. Suddenly, I thought of the mint. And this …”

She held up her damaged fingers.

“Do you believe me,” I inquired earnestly, “when I tell you we heard some sort of animal in the shrubbery here… Jimmie, did we hear some sort of groundhog?”

Jimmie, in his pyjamas, solemnly bore me out.

“I don’t think,” said my neighbor, “that you deliberately set the trap for me. But it was me you got.”

So we picked her a nice big bouquet of mint, with some chives too, though they’re not at their best this late.

And I took the trap back down cellar and hid it up in the furnace pipes.

And Jim made another pot of tea.


Editor’s Note: “Down cellar” (meaning “in the basement”) is a regional phrase common to old Ontario. My grandparents said it all the time.

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