The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1945 Page 1 of 3

On the Double

A man came suddenly out of a shop door, let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1945.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “if we only had a little money!”

“What could you buy?” I protested. “You can’t buy shotgun shells. You can’t even buy .22 ammunition. You can’t buy any sporting goods…”

“What I’d like,” confided Jimmie, “would be to be walking down the street and find a wallet with $2,7631 in it.”

“Why that amount?” I asked.

“Oh, I just thought of a number,” sighed Jim. “I’d be walking down the street and there would be the wallet, a fine, tan one.”

“It wouldn’t be in your possession long,” I assured him. “Your conscience would at least make you put a lost-and-found ad in the paper if there weren’t one looking for it already.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “but suppose some unknown man dropped it, some American visiting Toronto overnight, and on arriving back at his hotel, and finding his wallet gone, he would drop dead.”

“Ah,” I considered.

“Nobody would know he had lost it,” went on Jim, “I wouldn’t know who he was. It would just remain an unsolved mystery….”

“He would be sure to leave some letters or other identification papers in a wallet with all that dough in it,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but this is just supposing,” explained Jim. “And the kind of guy I mean would be some mysterious individual, some crook, maybe, over here on crooked business, without any identifications.”

“Okay,” I said decisively, “finding a sum as big as that, you would simply have to notify the police. They’d take charge of it.”

“Aw, heck,” growled Jimmie. “Can’t I even suppose?”

“Go ahead,” I agreed. “But my point is, what would you do with all that. How much was it?”

“Two thousand, nine hundred and thirty- six dollars,” said Jim.

“It’s getting bigger,” I remarked. “Call it, $3,000.

“Nobody ever finds money in round numbers like that,” complained Jim. “Leave it at $2,866.”

“Any amount you like,” I submitted. “In the first place, finding all that money would simply move you up into a higher income bracket. You would feel so good with all that cash you’d spend it. Then, along comes the income tax…”

“I wasn’t figuring,” interposed Jim mildly, “on mentioning it to the tax department. It would be just found money, see?”

“My dear man,” I cried, shocked, “you have to report every cent, whether found or not.”

“In that case,” said Jim, “I don’t want to find any money. But in the first place you said, what could I spend the money on. And in the next breath, you say I feel so good at finding all that cash, I spend it.”

“We’re Sitting Pretty”

“Oh, I suppose a man could spend $2,800 if he had it,” I admitted. “But it wouldn’t he spent on anything useful. There is nothing of any really fundamental value to be bought any more. You can’t buy guns. There isn’t a car to be bought. There isn’t a canoe, let alone boat. About all a man could do with any surplus money he might come by these days is pay off his debts.”

“With wages as high as they are these days,” surmised Jim, “and with all the money there is, in comparison with what little there is to buy, there must be mighty few debts left unpaid.”

“Don’t forget the soldiers,” I reminded him. “There are 500,000 Canadians overseas. They aren’t rolling up any bank account.”

“But they’re going to get from $1,000 to $2,000 each for their rehabilitation grant,” said Jim. “That ought to cover any debts their wives may have run up. No, I’ll bet you, there are fewer debts outstanding in Canada today than at any other time in her history.”

“Think of poor old Britain,” I said. “And poor old France, and Italy and Germany and Russia. Do you think it’s lucky for Canada to be so comfortable?”

“Aw, nothing can happen to Canada,” cheered Jim. “The only enemies we had were Germany and Japan. They could have attacked our shores. But now! We’re sitting pretty. And all our debts paid and bonds in the bank.”

“Which puts us,” I announced, “in the worst position we have ever been in in our history. Because the better off you are, the more enemies you have, the envious friends you have, let alone enemies. I tell you, it’s just about now we Canadians ought to get anxious.”

“Aw, what are you giving us?” cried Jim. “Who would be enemies with dear little old far-off Canada?”

“Far-off?” I snorted. “Boy, we’re in the middle! Square in the middle of the map. We’re half-way between China and Europe. We’re half-way between Russia and the United States. We’re half-way between practically every place in the world. We have been brought up on flat maps, that showed Canada stuck away off in the far left-hand top corner. It’s time we started looking at the round map and see just where this comfortable, debt-paid, hotsy-totsy little country of ours is.”

“You can’t scare me with maps,” said Jim.

“Maps are about all we should be scared of,” I replied. “It is certainly maps the 300,000,000 people of Europe are scared of, right now.”

“Well, who would want any part of Canada?” demanded Jim.

“They’re talking about spheres of influence these days, Jim,” I offered darkly. “Suppose Russia announced that Canada came within her sphere of influence, so as to protect Russia against attack by the United States?”

“What nonsense!” laughed Jim.

“Or better,” I suggested. “Suppose the United States said they had to have a chunk of Canada in order to erect defences against possible aggression from Russia? Or China?”

“You’re dreaming!” scoffed Jimmie.

“When we were small boys, Jim,” I recalled, “do you remember the old scares in the United States about the Yellow Peril? How wild-eyed Americans foretold the day when Japan would fight America, so as to get land in which to expand the Japanese people outside their terribly limited islands? The Yellow Peril was scoffed at by 99 per cent of the American people. Well…?”

“Hm,” said Jim.

“What was a wild-eyed dream, I concluded, “has come true. And all I say is, the more comfortable and secure and happy a people is in that comfort and security, the more they should realize they have enemies. Enemies unseen. Enemies undreamed of.”

“It won’t be in our time,” said Jim.

“No,” I agreed. “And there are a few thousand old Americans long in their graves, who laughed loudest at the Yellow Peril, whose grandsons lie newly buried in the soil of uncharted Pacific islands.”

A More Pleasant Thought

“Well, I wish I had stuck to that wallet I was going to find,” muttered Jim, “with $2,985 in it. That was more pleasant to think about.”

“Okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll play. What would you buy with it, first of all?”

“Well, let’s see?” said Jim, looking up at the ceiling.

Suddenly he let the chair legs down with bump.

“Hey, what time is it?” he exclaimed.

“Ten to five,” I informed him.

“By golly, come on,” he cried. “I’ve got to pick up the steak at the butcher’s for supper. I nearly forgot, and they’ll be closed.”

So we threw our coats on, raced out to Jim’s side drive and piled into the car.

“Plenty of time, plenty of time,” I soothed.

“He closes as near after five, that old Scotchman,” urged Jim, “as the store gets empty. Any time after five, and if there isn’t a customer in the shop, bang goes the door and down comes the blind.

“Good old Davie,” I said, as we backed out.

We reached the butcher shop in good time. There were still three or four customers in the shop but you could see old Davie hustling to get them dealt with, his eye on the door all the time.

Jim got the steak and we exchanged a few cracks with Davie about rabbit hunting and the fact that it is only 14 weeks and two days to the opening of the trout season on May 1.

“In fact,” said Davie, “tae pit it anither way, in 10 weeks, it’ll be only four weeks and twa days…”

At which moment another customer opened the butcher shop door and Davie waved us angrily out.

“Now see what ye’ve done!” he hissed.

When Jim and I walked out to the car, there was another car double-parked outside of us.

“Well, well,” said Jimmie. “What nice manners people have in this district!”

As a matter of fact, at this busy hour of the afternoon, there were three or four cars double-parked along the one block of little shops. Last-minute shoppers.

Jim walked out, opened the door of the car that had us blocked and tooted the horn long and loud.

“Maybe he’ll recognize his own horn,” said Jimmie.

A couple of long minutes went by and nobody appeared.

“What an outrage!” stamped Jimmie angrily. “Imagine anybody having the infernal nerve…”

At which moment a dear old lady, with some knitting in her hands, came toddling out from the sidewalk.

“I hope,” she said, “we are not impeding you.”

“Oh, not at all,” said Jimmie, cheerfully.

“My daughter has just stepped into one of these stores,” said the old lady, getting in the car. “I was just along looking to see what was keeping her but I couldn’t see her.”

“Aw, she’ll be along,” said Jim heartily.

Three cars ahead, a truck started to work itself out from the curb.

“Ma’am,” said Jimmie, to the old lady in the car, “would you mind if I just drove you ahead into that open space the truck is leaving? Could you keep your eye peeled for your daughter when she comes along?”

“Oh, by all means,” said the old lady. “That’s very good of you, I’m sure.”

So Jim got into the driver’s seat, the key being left in. And I got on the running board, just to make sure the old lady would feel easy about strangers.

But as Jim started the car, and just as the truck moved out of the space, another car, with a hustling lady at the wheel, came smartly from behind and, cut in front of Jimmie, stealing the place.

“Well,” laughed Jim, “we’ll just go ahead a bit….”

But ahead, there were no more spaces. In fact, it was a good 75 yards before we found an opening.

“Jim,” I suggested, “go right around the block. This lady’s daughter will never find her away down here. It’s an imposition on the lady to have her get back and watch…”

“Okay, okay,” said Jim, putting on speed.

So we went around the block.

And as we slowly moved around the corner. in front of the shops, not only was there no parking space, but a man coming suddenly out of a shop door let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

A Big Mistake

“Any relation of yours?” inquired Jimmie of the old lady.

“I’m sure I never saw the gentleman before,” said she, eyeing him shrewdly as we drove past. He started chasing us.

“What do you suppose is the idea?” demanded Jim.

And he was so busy figuring it out, that lost the one chance of a parking space that offered.

“Round the block again, Jim,” I counselled.

“You didn’t notice your daughter along there?” inquired Jim anxiously.

“I’m afraid I didn’t,” she said.

So we turned the corner and started around the block a second time. And then we heard the furious sound of a car horn right under our tail bumper.

Toot, toot, toot, went the horn furiously. And suddenly we felt a violent bump from its bumper.

“Hey, what’s this!” demanded Jimmie, hotly. And he slowed the car and stopped in the middle of the street.

The door of the car behind burst open and a lady came charging out.

“Mother, mother!” she cried breathlessly. “Where are these men taking you?”

And she tore the door open and seized the old lady by the arm protectively.

“Why, my dear,” said the old lady, looking around the car. “Isn’t this our car?”

“It isn’t, it isn’t!” cried the younger woman brokenly. “Oh, these brutes!”

“Calm yourself, darling,” soothed the old lady. “I must have got in this car by mistake and the two gentlemen were just going-“

The sound of heavy footfalls and loud breathing suddenly burst upon us from the other side.

And there, with two other men with him, one of them a truck driver armed with a large wrench, was the gentleman who had come out of the shop shouting at us.

“Aha,” he breathed furiously. “Caught in the act! Caught red handed! And with a pious old dame in it for camouflage, eh?”

“Come on,” said the truck driver loudly brandishing the wrench. “We’ve sent a call for the cops. Don’t try anything funny.”

“Oh, oooh,” wailed the younger woman the other door.

“Now, now, my dear,” cried the old lady, starting to get out.

“Stay where you are!” roared the truck driver, darting around the back of the car with the wrench.

“Don’t you dare, you brute,” screamed the young woman, taking up a defensive position in front of her poor old mother.

By which time, people were coming from all directions, and it was a mob scene, with us parked in the middle of the street.

Well, it took quite a lot of explaining. We told about the car double-parked outside ours. And how the old lady came along and got into the wrong double-parked car by mistake. And how, when we saw a space offering….

The truck driver said he would escort us back to the shop. And if our car was there, as we said, why, he would let us go.

But he followed behind us all the way, with the wrench.

“You see, Jim,” I explained, as we started back with the steak for Jim’s supper, “how easy a war starts? It is always somebody who thinks he is being wronged.”

“Two of them,” growled Jim.


Editor’s Note:

  1. $2,763 in 1945 would be $47,630 in 2023. ↩︎

Christmas Box

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse…. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 22, 1945.

“Watch that guy,” whispered Jimmie Frise.

I glanced around the street car and, observing Jim’s gaze, saw it fastened on a pleasant little elderly fellow opposite us

He had a cardboard box on his knees, which he held with both hands as if it contained the Holy Grail.

On his face was a sweet, faraway, tender look which he lifted above all the rest of us in the car, and his eyes twinkled and gleamed behind spectacles in an expression of intense anticipation.

“What about him?” I murmured to Jim.

“Watch,” said Jim quietly.

The car was fairly crowded but would be much more so at the next big transfer corner. I watched the little man.

He sat, lurching with the car, smiling to himself, a secret, proud smile. His eyes darted from side to side, unseeing, as he pictured something in his mind, something pretty nice.

Quietly, he bent down over the box on his knees. He seemed to be listening. His hands caressed the box.

Jim nudged me.

“So what?” I muttered to Jim.

“What do you suppose he’s got in that box?” demanded Jim softly. “Did you ever see so happy a man?”

“He’s been doing his Christmas shopping,” I suggested.

“Obviously,” agreed Jim, “but what has he got in that box?”

“Is this some new guessing game?” I inquired. “Riding in a street car and trying to guess what all the Christmas shoppers have got in their parcels?”

“He’s got half the people in the car watching him,” said Jim.

I glanced around. Sure enough, everybody who could see the little man appeared to be watching him.

Men with newspapers suspended before them were covertly observing him over the tops of their newspapers. Ladies, with that casual way they have, were fastening the little man with the corners of their eyes.

So I joined the party. I shifted my seat slightly to see around a man standing in the way.

With the fixed, faraway smile on his face, the little fellow let his gleaming eyes wander along the advertisement cards up along the car ceiling. Then, with a sudden recollection of his secret, he drew the box closer on his lap, bent slightly down, and shook the box ever so lightly.

Whatever response came from the box, the little man fairly glowed with joy. I glanced around, and saw that everyone watching him was nearly frantic with curiosity. They shifted their positions in an irritated fashion, and those immediately beside him leaned closer to him as if to try to overhear what he heard; or to peek.

“It wouldn’t be a pup?” I suggested to Jim.

“Box too small,” said Jim. “Might be a kitten.”

“He’d have air holes for a kitten,” I submitted. “Anyway, if it was a kitten, we could hear it meowing when the car stops.”

After a couple more blocks, the little man, cuddling the box close, leaned down and very cautiously raised one corner of the lid and peered within.

Then, lowering the lid, he lifted his radiant face in the same faraway expression and wrapped his hands around the box in a gesture of supreme possession.

Of All the Nerve!

“Darn it,” said Jimmie, “I wish we knew what was in there!”

“It’s none of our business, Jim.” I responded.

But the man sitting next to the little fellow couldn’t stand it any longer either. Leaning close, he spoke. The little man smiled happily at the questioner but did not open his lips. He just shook his head.

The baffled neighbor glanced around at the rest of us as much as to say, “Well, I did my best.”

Before we travelled another block, the little man, overcome with his own curiosity, bent down again, cautiously lifted another corner of the box lid and took a long, lingering peep in through the opening.

By this time, a regular fever of curiosity was in possession of the street car. Those standing began to shift down to the middle of the car in the hope of getting a closer look at the mystery. In fact, they shut off Jim’s and my vision of the little man, so we got up and gave our seats to a couple of ladies who moved down; and this enabled us to stand where we could keep the little man in view.

Oblivious to the excitement and curiosity he was inspiring, he let his absent gaze wander for an instant but immediately it returned to the box on his knees and he seemed to quiver with an inward delight.

“Why doesn’t somebody,” gritted Jim beside me “ask him straight out? A man shouldn’t be allowed to create all this curiosity.”

“It’s his business, Jim,” I asserted, leaning out so as not to lose sight of him. “Just look at this guy butting in in front of me. Of all the nerve!”

“Push him over,” ordered Jim.

I tapped the interloper on the shoulder.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but you pushed right in front of me.”

“It’s a crowded car,” replied the interloper.

“Yes, but you don’t have to jam right in front of me,” I insisted.

He reluctantly moved to one side, affording me a view under his elbow.

“Of all the vulgar curiosity,” I muttered to Jim. “Bulging in like that!”

“It’s the Christmas rush, you know,” reminded Jim. “Look! He’s peeping again!”

The little man was hunched down, lifting the box lid and taking another long, fascinated peep within the box.

The people beside him, behind him, in front of him, fairly coiled around in their desire to see what was in the box.

He restored the lid, patted the box tenderly and resumed his flushed and excited gazing at space.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” exclaimed Jim under his breath, “why doesn’t somebody do something about it? Just standing there!”

A lady standing over him hanging to at strap – I had seen her sitting farther down the car only a moment before – leaned down and spoke smilingly to the little man.

He smiled bashfully up at her and said:

“Four!”

The lady leaned down and said something more, but the little man simply shook his head, beamed and cuddled the box more closely.

“Four what?” Jim passed the question.

And from both directions, “Four what?” was eagerly passed to the lady who had done, the interrogation.

“He just said four,” the lady announced to us all generally. “He didn’t say four what.”

“Ask him four what?” called Jimmie.

“Ask him yourself,” retorted the lady, but not relinquishing her place directly over the little man.

“Maybe he’s hard of hearing,” suggested the gentleman who had crowded so vulgarly in front of me.

“Here,” said Jim, “let me in there! I’ll ask him.”

The car had stopped at the big transfer point and a heavy Christmas crowd was shoving from the front end. Jim got in next to the little man. Putting on his best salesman smile, Jim leaned down and said very distinctly:

“You’ve got a surprise there, eh?”

“Four,” replied, the little man gently beaming.

“Four what?” Jim said more loudly.

“Yes, SIR,” agreed the little man enthusiastically. “Beauties!”

The Christmas crowd was making it tough for Jim, shoving.

“I say,” cried Jim, leaning low, “what are they? Four WHAT?”

“Only two bits each,” replied the little man agreeably. “Two bits. It’s a bargain.”

“WHAT are they?” persisted Jim, though several newcomers had jammed their way this far down the car and weren’t aware of the mystery that had all the rest of us in its grip. They shoved Jim rather roughly.

“Don’t mention it,” replied the little man amiably. “It’s a pleasure, I’m sure.”

Jim was shoved three seats back.

And for about six blocks, I lost my view, and Jim, tall as he is, could not crane far enough to see the little man either.

But by the time enough people had got off the car to allow us to resume our vigil, even the newcomers had been caught in the spell, and very grudgingly indeed they made room for me to peer under their elbows, and for Jim to stand tip-toe to look over their shoulders.

But there, lost in his happy maze of anticipation, was our little friend in the very act of lifting the box lid again for another wonderful peep at whatever was inside.

Long and craftily he gazed into the open corner. And when he replaced the lid, it was a starry gaze he listed, to turn and look out the car window to see where he was.

“Has anybody found out what he’s got?” Jim inquired those who had been lucky enough to stand close for the past few blocks.

Everybody shook their heads and ventured various opinions.

“It’s something alive,” decreed a lady with her arms full of Christmas parcels.” I heard him sort of whistling at it.”

“A canary, I bet you,” suggested another.

“No, canaries come in small wooden cages when you buy them,” announced another.

“I don’t think it’s anything alive,” asserted a third. “I think it’s some kind of toy he’s taking home to his grandson. Maybe an airplane.”

The little man was entirely indifferent to all this conversation right in his face. His hands enfolded in the box lovingly and he smiled inscrutably and happily at the coat front of the gentleman leaning right over him.

“I don’t think anybody,” declared Jim warmly, “has any right to create all this disturbance. Especially at this season of the year.”

“I suppose,” I said bitterly, “we should pile on top of him and rip the cover off the box and satisfy our curiosity.”

“If he’d only keep still,” protested Jim, “and not keep peeping all the time! If he’d only not look so excited!”

“My dear Jim,” I scoffed, “has it come to this, in cities, that nobody can have any private thoughts any more? Must we all wear dead pans? Even at Christmas time, can’t a man look happy and eager? This gentleman is taking something home to his little grandson. He is very delighted with his purchase. Maybe it’s a doll…”

When the Lid Came Off

“He said there were four,” corrected Jim.

“Maybe it’s four dolls,” I suggested, “for his little granddaughter.”

“He said they were two bits each,” pointed out Jimmie. “You can’t get dolls for two bits.”

“Jim,” I announced, “I’m prepared to move back to the far end of the car and forget it. I never saw such an exhibition of nosey idle curiosity in my…”

But I was cut short, because the little man was again bending slowly over, and with a delicate finger lifting one corner of the box for another peek.

We all surged close. We shoved, elbowed and shouldered one another for a closer look.

He raised the corner of the box lid about a quarter of an inch and then, lifting the box, put his eye to the hole and seemed transfixed by what he beheld. His hands shook. He heaved a sigh. And then, lowering the box and replacing the lid, gazed ecstatically from face to face of us all glaring above him.

“CANARY?” suddenly yelled the lady with all the parcels.

“Pardon me!” cried the little man.” I didn’t think! Of course you may have my seat. I’m terribly sorry…I…”

And as he scrambled to his feet, the lid of the box popped off and slid to one side, out leaped four white mice so fast and so twinkling, they seemed to vanish like blobs of quicksilver.

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse. Ladies shrieked and men yelled encouragement at them. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder and powdered its nose. The lady, perfectly upright, fell perfectly horizontal, with three men easing her down. The little man had darted after his pets and on hands and knees shoved and dived amid the ankles of passengers all retreating in the two possible directions.

The car came to a stop. The doors slid open and there was a wild stampede for the exit, ladies fairly vaulting over the backs of those ahead, gasping and giving small squeaks or screams, while gentlemen soothed and shouted courage to them, at the same time assisting them out the car doors.

In a matter of 20 seconds, the car was empty, save for the little man and about five of the more valiant of the men, including Jim and me, who were forming ourselves into a posse to round up the mice.

“Shut the doors!” we commanded the motorman.

“What’s cookin’?” he called.

“White mice got loose,” shouted one of the posse.

“You’d think it was lions or tigers,” called the motorman.

“Hold everything, and they can get back on again,” commanded Jim.

“Who, the mice?” called the motorman.

“No, the passengers,” said Jim.

“To heck with that!” retorted the motorman, starting the car. “I’ve got a schedule to meet. If people want to get off my car, they can.”

So while the car made the next few blocks, the little man with his posse rounded up three of the four. Jim caught two in his hat. Another of the posse lapped his mitt over another. And after he had searched all over for the fourth, and had almost decided it had got off with the passengers, maybe in some lady’s hat, the motorman sang out:

“Aw, here’s the little darling up here! Right on my window sill.”

So the little man went up and snapped it into the cardboard box.

And we all shook hands with him, all flushed and beaming.

“It’ll be a great surprise,” he cried happily.

“It sure will,” we all agreed, slapping him on the back.

And we all got off at our corners.

The Station Bus!

December 15, 1945

The image above is from microfilm, while the one below is from a scan of the newsprint.

December 15, 1945

Counter Attack

I leaped from my stool and mounted the counter. I pinioned him with my eye and gave him a decisive swat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 1, 1945.

“Will I be glad,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “to have my family back.”

“House in a mess?” I inquired.

“Ah, yes, the usual,” heaved Jim sadly. “All the beds slept in, one after another. I sleep in my own bed until the bedclothes fall off. Then I move into the next room. And so on. I average about a week to a bed.”

“Dishes?” I inquired.

“Yes, the sink full,” said Jim. “And both sides of the sink piled up. And ants all over.”

“Ants?” I exclaimed.

“Nothing attracts ants like a summer bachelor,” announced Jim. “I can’t find out where they come in. But there are regular processions of them across the kitchen floor, up the legs of the sink, in and around -the dishes…”

“Aw, Jim,” I protested. “You ought to wash the dishes. The least a summer bachelor can do is wash dishes. He can let the beds go. He can let the dust accumulate and the vestibule fill up with old newspapers, handbills, dodgers and advertising literature. But he should wash the dishes.”

“I don’t see it that way,” mused Jim. “If a man is abandoned by his family, if they all go traipsing off to the summer resort and live the life of Riley, swimming, loafing, fishing and keeping cool, while the poor old breadwinner stews in the city, he shouldn’t be expected to keep house, too.”

“But for your comfort, Jim,” I insisted. “Think how smelly the house must become with all those neglected dishes in the sink.”

“A closed-up house,” declared Jim, “gets smelly anyway.”

“But those ants, Jim,” I pursued. “Nasty little insects.”

“Nasty?” cried Jim. “Ants? Never. They are the cleverest creatures in the world. Man is a filthy monster compared to an ant. An ant spends its entire life cleaning up. From the minute it is hatched from the egg, it begins a life of tidiness that makes the finest housewife in the world look frowsy by comparison. The whole be-all and end-all of ant society is cleaning up. They found their colonies for no other apparent reason or purpose but to rid up the world. Ages before ‘good housekeeping’ was thought of, the ant had dedicated its life to housecleaning the earth. Without ants, this earth would be a pesthouse of filth, muck, disease and death.”

“What do they find so interesting in your kitchen?” I inquired slyly.

“My dishes,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “They know I shouldn’t leave my unwashed dishes in the sink. But they don’t look on the moral aspect of it. They don’t fuss and fume about it being my duty to wash the dishes, or that it is none of their affair. The minute they detect, by their miraculous radar equipment that each ant carries, a situation requiring a cleaning-up job, they go to it. Locked doors, screens, bug-proof walls – nothing stops them. Through brick walls, past the most efficient locks and defences, the ants penetrate to their job.”

“I don’t like them in the house,” I submitted.

“If they come into your house,” declared Jim, “it is because you have left something around that should have been cleaned up.”

“Like a jar of raspberry jam,” I suggested bitterly.

“You shouldn’t leave a jar of jam where ants can get at it,” explained Jim, “for if you do, it is spoiling already. And anything spoiling is part of the ants’ job. There are two main sorts of ants. Sugar eaters and fat eaters. If you overlook one little spot of grease that gets on the floor, from spilt milk or a sputter from the bacon frying, the fat eaters will be in to tidy it up for you. If you leave anything sweet about, the ants will be along in no time to get it out of the way before it starts to spread decay.”

The Value of Humans

“How about termites,” I demanded, “and red ants? They eat wood. They’ll ruin a whole house if it’s made of timber.”

“Sure,” said Jim. “How is an ant to know that the dead wood he is eating into sawdust and returning to the earth is part of your house? All he knows is that dead wood must be chewed up to make way for new trees. If it weren’t for the ants, there would be no forests anywhere. The world would be a vast petrified forest, choked with dead trees that leave no room for fresh growth.”

“You make ants sound almost as important as human beings,” I countered.

“Human beings?” snorted Jim. “They’re the least important of all. They’re just parasites. They don’t contribute anything to the earth. They just damage it, alter it, use it, live off it and give nothing back. Take the human race off the face of the earth, and they I would never be missed. The forests would thrive as ever, the wild creatures would swarm as of old, the seas would heave as blue and lovely and teem with undisturbed fish. But take the ants off the face of the earth – and boy, inside of 50 years the earth would be ruined. Changed beyond recognition. Altered fundamentally and perhaps fatally for most of the living things on it now.”

“You’re pretty disrespectful of the human race,” I asserted.

“All right,” said Jim. “Tell me one particular in which the human race would be missed on this earth if, by some miracle, a plague were suddenly to wipe out every last living human being. Tell me one single thing for which they would be missed by the rest of the earth.”

I couldn’t think of one.

“The human race,” triumphed Jim, “is the most perfect parasite designed by nature. A tiger is far more useful. He kills off the weak and the sickly of the animal races he preys on. Mankind not only does not kill off the weak and sickly. He eats only the healthiest and strongest of the things he preys on. And on top of that, he actually tries to heal the sickly and feed up the weak to make them strong enough to eat.”

“Aw!” I protested.

“Mankind has worked up so high an opinion of itself,” said Jim, “that it is a wonder nature doesn’t take some steps to put us back into our proper perspective. We think we own the earth. Yet, as a matter of fact, we are the least essential creature of all, including ants.”

“Wait until your family comes home,” I muttered, “and finds the kitchen full of ants.”

“Aw, I’ll explain it to them,” said Jim easily. “I’ll deliver them a lecture on ants.”

“Why don’t you batch it like me in the summer?” I urged Jim. “I found out long ago that the best way to be a summer bachelor is never to eat a meal in the house. Take all your meals out. When the family goes away for the summer, empty the ice box, empty the cupboards. Don’t allow a shred of food to remain. It is the only solution. Then the only problem you have is bed-making.”

“Part of the joy of summer bachelorhood,” disagreed Jim, “is in having your meals when and where you like. You can whip up an omelette and eat it on the back steps. You can feast to your heart’s content on a quart of milk and a box of your favorite corn flakes while listening to the radio in the living room. Independence. That’s the watchword of the summer bachelor.”

“And ants,” I added. “And mouldy smells.”

“Look,” suggested Jim, “come up to my house for supper with me tonight. I’ll prepare you a treat. I’ll serve you omelette a la ciboulette.”

“What’s that?” I inquired.

“I learned to make it in the last war,” expanded Jim. “At a farmhouse in Picardy. Ciboulette is French for chives. You know: those little oniony, garlicky-flavored things you grow in the garden. You cut a few of the green shoots. Chop them up very fine. Then beat up an omelette and mix the chives in. Yum. Omelette a la ciboulette. It is a combination of flavor curiously perfect. Like bacon and eggs, liver and bacon or bread and butter,”

“It sounds good, Jim,” I confessed.

“Come on,” coaxed Jim. We’ll each eat an omelette a la ciboulette and drink a pint of ice cold milk.”

“Is this a scheme,” I inquired, “to get me up to your house so I will help you wash up a whole summer’s dishes?”

“I assure you. I’m not going to do the dishes,” asserted Jim. “It’s a matter of principle.”

So we went up to Jim’s for supper. The sink was piled so high with plates, cups, bowls, that the top layers were balanced and interlaced so as not to slide and bring the whole pyramid into collapse. Jim had been obliged lately to use all sorts of dishes not ordinarily employed for eating, such as cut glass celery dishes which indicated he had dined off sardines within recent nights, and a gravy boat had traces of shredded wheat in it.

On either side of the sink he had stacked the frying pans, saucepans and all the Frise utensils…

“Jim,” I complained, “don’t you even rinse out a frying pan?”

“And deprive it of its protective film of grease?” cried Jim. “Not on your life. I don’t want rusty frying pans.”

I shuffled through the five or six frying pans and saucepans. Some had traces of egg, some of bacon, and one was decidedly fishy.

“When did you have fish?” I asked grimly.

“Ah, let’s see,” figured Jim. “A week ago Friday, I picked up a swell salmon steak…”

“Summer bachelor!” I sneered. “Summer hobo.”

Jim proceeded to sort through the tangled paper bags, boxes and packets that he had accumulated on the kitchen table.

“Good,” he said. “Six eggs.”

“Which frying pan are you going to use for the omelets a la ciboulette?” I inquired.

Jim bent down and rummaged through the pots and pans cupboard under the gas stove.

“Here’s a couple of granite pie plates,” he announced eagerly. “They’ll do fine.”

I looked around at the scene of wreckage and disaster. The perfect summer bachelor.

“Jim,” I announced firmly. “I won’t eat any omelette a la ciboulette off a granite pie plate. The ghost of Savarin and all the great French chefs would haunt us. I won’t be party to adding even one pie plate to this scene of devastation. I am ashamed of you. I never in all my summer bachelor years saw such a…”

“Here,” cried Jim, “let’s scrape out one of these frying pans, then!”

But I was firm.

“If it wasn’t a matter of principle with me,” I said, “I’d insist on you cleaning up this mess and washing every dish and scraping and polishing every pot and pan. But for 30 years and more, I have made it a rule never to help a summer bachelor wash his dishes. It’s a matter of principle. I’m one of those easy-put-upon people. I’ve had dozens of invitations to help in summer bachelor dishwashing bees. But I have refused them all. On principle.”

“Principle,” murmured Jimmie, and we flocked up and walked the three blocks over to the shopping district where the all-night lunch emporium, “The Swank,” offers summer bachelors the best available.

Mike, the Balkan, who runs “The Swank,” welcomed us cheerily and suggested a tomato omelette. He had not heard of ciboulettes. He was fresh out of bacon, fresh out of liver, fresh out of meat in general. But the good old hen had, as ever, come to the rescue of perishing humanity.

“Give me a fly swatter, Mike,” I commanded.

The place was busy with flies.

“Mike,” I protested, “why don’t you do something about these flies? When I was a young guy, the best restaurants had lovely sticky spirals hanging from the ceiling, covered with dead flies. They had plates distributed around the counters with a sort of iodine colored pad, in water, with dead flies by the dozen floating around. A first class restaurant like “McConkey’s” or Thomas’ “Chop House” had festoons of beautiful pink crepe paper suspended from the ceiling to which the flies were attracted away from the customers’ food.”

“Flies,” said Mike, “in September, flies.”

“But they’re foul, Mike, they’re filthy,” I assured him, as I swatted about. “They carry disease.”

“Everything,” said Mike, as he proceeded to organize the tomato omelette, “carries disease. Chipped cups. Chipped soup plates. Waitresses. We got to have inspection all the time. Disease. How would you rather die? Disease? Or old age?”

I swatted three flies at one swat.

“You’re Hipped”

“Flies?” said Mike. “Every fly has got a number on him. If he has got your number, you get him. Maybe here in Mike’s swell place, ‘The Swank.’ Maybe when you are asleep in a street car. Maybe when you are eating in big downtown hotel where lights are so dim, you can’t see flies.”

“Look,” cut in Jimmie, “you’re hipped on insects. How do we know what good or what evil flies do? We have spent the past 50 years discovering what evils the flies do. Have we tried to find out what good they do? Maybe without the flies, the whole economy of nature would collapse. Maybe these flies you are so blithely swatting are the carriers of good sense, of moderation, of kindliness… of all the things the world has been lacking in the past 50 years.”

I looked at him.

“Jim,” I said, “I realize that a summer bachelor goes from bad to worse. I understand the slow decline in the morale and mental stamina of a man abandoned by his wife and children for a couple of brief months. You spent the earlier part of today defending the ant. But I refuse to listen to a defence of that foulest of all insects, the dirty, disease-carrying, house fly.”

One lit on my nose.

I wafted him off.

He flew to the ceiling.

And very nimble, I leaped from my stool and mounted the counter. I pinioned him with my eye and gave him a decisive swat.

But “The Swank’s” counters are not above suspicion. I leaned a little far in making the shot. My rubber heel touched a small area of counter that the grease-consuming ants had not got their radar on.

I crushed four cartons of eggs, $1.60. I barked my right shin and skinned my left elbow. I broke one cup and two saucers. I ruined the tomato omelette.

“It will cost you,” elucidated Jim, as we helped each other in all directions, “$1.60 for the eggs, maybe 50 cents for the crockery, 80 cents for the omelette, and to get your suit cleaned – with things the way they are in the cleaning and pressing business, it will be three weeks before you have the use of that suit again – at, say, $1.50.”

“Wipe my elbow, wipe my elbow,” I cut in.

“All told,” pursued Jim, “this comes to maybe five bucks. All because of the unthinking, uncontrolled prejudice inherited from past generations of high-handed conceited human ancestors…”

“Listen, Jim,” I hissed, “you’re just a typical summer bachelor You’d even defend mice!”

The mouse?” cried Jim, as he wiped egg off me. “Well, sir, if it wasn’t for the field mouse…”

But Mike came around from the counter with a dish cloth to wipe me off and he suggested that if we would go back to Jim’s garden and get a handful of ciboulettes – chives to you – he would be most interested in faking up an omelette a la ciboulette.

Which we did.


Editor’s Notes: The “life of Riley” means a luxurious or carefree existence.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was a French lawyer and politician, who, as the author of Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), became celebrated for his culinary reminiscences and reflections on the craft and science of cookery and the art of eating.

Pretty Budgie!

I had the cage open, and the budgie on my finger.
So I went to the roof, while Jim followed with the cage.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1945.

“Listen,” said Jimmie Frise over the telephone.

I listened.

“Hear that?” asked Jim excitedly.

“Hear what?” I demanded irritably.

“Aw, listen,” pleaded Jim.

I could hear Jim muttering. Then I heard some small squawks, like static on a radio with a loose tube.

“Did you get it?” cried Jim delightedly.

“It sounds as if you were twiddling with the mouthpiece,” I said.

“It said, ‘What’s cookin’?” declared Jim indignantly, “as clear as if it were a human being!”

“What did?” I inquired.

“The budgie,” replied Jim. “The neighbors left their budgie in my care and I am having more fun with it! Come on over.”

“What’s a budgie?” I snorted.

“A tiny little sort of parrot,” said Jim. “A love bird. It’s the prettiest little thing, and it talks. Talks like a streak.”

“Go ahead and talk with it,” I suggested. “I’m redding up my attic.”

“Aw, come on over,” protested Jim. “This is sensation. The thing actually talks.”

“So does a squeaky chair,” I retorted. “So does a new pair of cheap shoes.”

“Well, listen to this then,” commanded Jim. And I could hear him mawking and maudling the way aunties do with infants. There was a silence on the telephone and then came another sputter of static.

“Sktch-psst-ack-sktch-sktch!”

“Hear that?” yelled Jimmie.

“What did it say?” I asked politely.

“It said, ‘Come up and see me some time”,” shouted Jimmie enthusiastically. “Why, it was as clear as anything. The dear little thing!”

And I could hear him mawking again.

“Okay, I’ll come over,” I said, “if only to see you cuddling a bird.”

So I walked around to Jim’s. And found him in the living-room sitting in front of cage, cooing.

In the cage was the budgie, a small, solemn bird of a chalky green color, the color of billiard cue chalk. It sat vertically on its perch, bolt upright. It had a flat head and a small beak buried in its chin so that it appeared to be chinless. It was keeping up a small muttering sound and Jim was listening raptly. I walked up close and saw that the feathers of the bird were beautifully vermiculated or waved with color, and I thought what a perfect Blue Quill trout fly these feathers would make. A Blue Quill dry, size 16.

“Meet the nice gentleman,” cooed Jimmie.

“Scatch,” said the budgie. “Sktch-psst-ack-sktch!”

“Hear that?” cried Jimmie exultantly.

“It sounds as if it had a fish bone in its throat,” I suggested.

“Aw, what’s the matter with you?” snorted Jim. “It said ‘Pleased to meet you’ as clear as crystal.”

“Get it to say it again,” I proposed.

“Come on, Budgie,” cooed Jim. “Meet the nice gentleman, eh?”

“Scatch,” said the budgie

“There!” exclaimed Jim triumphantly. “What more do you want than that?”

“It said ‘Scatch’,” I protested.

“It said ‘Good-evening’,” declared Jim loudly, “as plain as I am saying it! Good- evening! Good-evening!”

“Scatch,” said the budgie. “Scatch.”

“There!” breathed Jim, looking at me with finality.

“Are You Serious?”

I looked at Jim. He was flushed. But otherwise he seemed his old self. I looked at the little bird. It was sitting bolt upright, looking excessively stupid for its size. Usually it takes a much larger bird to look so dumb.

“Jim,” I said quietly. “Tell me honestly. Can you hear that bird talking? I mean: can you make out words? Because all I can hear are sounds like a slate pencil on a slate. Or maybe like fitting a new tube in the radio.”

“Are you serious?” demanded Jimmie. “Do you mean to say you can’t make out what this bird is saying?”

“I certainly can’t,” I informed him firmly. “And what’s more, I don’t think you can.”

“This is the limit!’ said Jimmie, standing up abruptly. “I’ve heard of tone deaf people. And I’ve heard of all kinds of funny defects in people. But I can’t believe anybody in the world could fail to hear this budgie talking. Why, it is as clear and intelligible as a human being talking.”

“I’m not very good at parrots, Jim,” I apologized. “I’ve tried to hear parrots talking all my life. Everybody else can hear them. But to me, it just sounds like bird calls. If they say the parrot is saying ‘Pretty Polly’, it just sounds like ‘icky olly’ to me, and that’s a sound a parrot would make naturally.”

“Awff,” scoffed Jim, sitting down again and leaning to the cage.

“When they say the parrot is saying ‘hello’,” I continued, “it merely sounds like ‘awo’ to me. And from my knowledge of bird notes and bird songs, I’d say that cry is natural to a parrot. And no doubt the jungles resound all day with parrot calls that silly men, lonely in the jungle, imagine are human words the birds are trying to utter.”

“I suppose,” said Jim bitterly, “that you are going to try and argue that it is our own imagination that persuades us the birds are talking.”

“That’s precisely what I was working up to,” I admitted. “This whole parrot myth probably began ages and ages ago when some poor lonely cave man, lost in the jungle, let out a wild yell, a wild and unintelligible yell such as cave men would use in those days. And immediately, the jungle would be filled with the replies of parrots. Wild cries, equally unintelligible. And when the cave man got back home to his cave, he would tell his tribe, in whatever sign language the cave men used to help out the parrot-like sounds they used for speech, that he had been in a wild country full of birds that talked.”

“Pffff,” uttered Jim disgustedly.

“So began the myth of the talking bird,” I pursued. “And over the ages, supported by other experiences of lonely shipwrecked mariners and others who were only too eager to talk to birds or to anything, for that matter: the myth has grown. Until we find people today so carried away by their own imaginations that they think they can make out words when these birds emit normal squawks and yelps and whistles which are natural to them.”

“Hello, Budgie,” murmured Jim into the cage. “Hello, Budgie.”

“Prrrt,” said the budgie. “Uckle, uckle, uckle.”

Jim turned instantly and stared at me intently. “Didn’t you hear that?” he demanded tensely.

“Sure,” I said easily, “It said ‘Prrrt, uckle, uckle, uckle’.”

Jim shrugged his shoulders wearily and turned away.

“It said,” said Jim grimly, “‘What time do we eat?'”

It was my turn to grow anxious.

“Jim,” I declared. “You worry me. That darn bird merely made a few noises characteristic of it. It said ‘Prrrt, uckle, uckle, uckle’.”

“It said,” whirled Jim on me, “What time do we eat?’ as clearly as if you had said it!”

We glared at each other for a long moment.

“Jim,” I began cautiously, “this whole business illustrates, a human characteristic, a human weakness, which is one of the greatest problems on earth today. The problem of belief. I am almost prepared to believe, after this exhibition, that you can persuade human beings to believe anything.”

Jim just glared.

“There are hundreds of millions of people in this world,” I pursued, “all making parrot sounds. They learn parrot sounds in infancy to signify food, drink, warmth and such things as open the door, shut the door, and please pass the butter. Ninety-nine per cent. of all human sound being made all over the world at this minute – and what an awful din it must be! – is pure parrot talk. People making the noises they have learned and which they call speech.”

“You admit we understand each other,” muttered Jim. “You admit we hear each other’s words.”

The Human Jungle

“It is like the jungle,” I followed my fancy, “a vast human jungle filled with squawks, yelps, and all the other sounds of human speech, in English, German, Russian, Chinese, and the several hundred other series of parrot sounds which are organized into what we call languages. All over the world, the human jungle, hundreds of millions of people yelping at each other, in pairs, in groups, in congregations. And everybody looks intelligently at everybody else. They nod their heads in understanding. And they carry out the actions the sounds suggest. But, as I say, 99 per cent. of it is just yelping. It is not thinking. It is not really intelligent. It is like this bird saying ‘uckle, uckle, uckle,’ and you going straight to the kitchen to fetch it some seeds.”

“You’re balmy,” said Jim, turning back to the cage and starting to coo.

“It’s wholly a matter of imagination,” I said, “and a matter of us pretending we understand one another. But we don’t understand one another. Not really. We just sit in front of each other making sounds and pretending we find a meaning in what the other is saying.”

“Proving what?” demanded Jim, looking at the, budgie dearly.

“Proving that life is almost entirely a matter of our own separate imaginations,” I said.

Jim leaned forward murmuring to the vertical little bird which shuffled one way on the perch and then shuffled back, twittering and chuckling.

“What’s it telling you now?” I inquired sweetly.

“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “Some people just haven’t got the gift of understanding.”

“Icker, icker, prrt,” said the budgie.

Jim turned slowly and smiled an inscrutable smile at me.

“Icker,” said the budgie, “uckle, uckle, icker.”

“Don’t you get that?” hissed Jim tensely. I went over and leaned at the cage too. ‘Icker dooker wecker eeeker?” lisped the budgie, eying me slyly with a small round eye.

It winked.

It was pale and beautiful and vertical.

“Whecker, dooker eat?” the budgie lisped.

I looked at Jim with astonishment.

He nodded hopefully and delightedly at me.

I leaned closer and stared intently at the gaudy little bird.

“When do we eat?” said the little budgie clearly and distinctly. I leaped back.

“Why, Jim!” I gasped, “It said, ‘When do we eat?'”

“Exactly,” said Jim grandly. “So you got it at last?”

“Hey!” I said, leaning close again. “Let’s hear some more.”

Jimmie cooed and asked the little budgie if it was tired and wanted to go to beddy-bye.

We listened intently.

“What’s cookin’?” said the budgie. “When do we eat?”

“Aw, the poor little thing is hungry!” I cried, excitedly. “Where’s its feed?”

“I fed it an hour ago, the seed glass is still half full,” pointed out Jimmie.

“Huh, dry old seed!” I snorted, “It wants something special. It wants a beef steak or a banana or a tomato or something…”

“Now, now, just because it can talk,” laughed Jim, “you don’t want to imagine it is a human being.”

But in the kitchen, I got a quarter of tomato and brought it in as an offering to the new wonder. New wonder to me, anyway.

“I felt the same astonishment,” gloated Jim, “when I first heard it talking. The neighbors left it with me last night. They’re coming home tonight. They never told me it could talk. I suppose they just thought I’d know. Well, I was sitting reading here this afternoon. The budgie was twittering away and I was paying no attention. When, all of a sudden, I heard it say: ‘How’s about letting me out? How’s about something to eat, eh?”

“As clear as that?” I breathed.

“I nearly fell off the chair,” said Jim. “And I’ve been talking to him ever since.”

I poked the tomato in. The budgie pecked at it.

“Thanks a million,” he said.

“Hear that?” we both roared at each other.

“Uckle, uckle,” laughed the budgie. “Don’t get excited.”

“Look, Jim,” I said warmly. “Let’s let him out. He doesn’t belong in a cage. Let’s let him out with us in the room.”

“Wait till I see all windows are closed,” said Jim, hurrying out to the other rooms.

By the time he got back, I had the cage door open and the budgie on my finger. He waddled along it, inspecting me and saying “Thanks a million.”

Then he flew.

He flew into the hall.

He flew right up the stairs.

“Holy smoke!” yelled Jim. “All the upstairs windows are open!”

And as we ran from room to room upstairs, we knew that the budgie had got outside.

We ran outside. And there was budgie up on the roof, shuffling one way and then the other, muttering and chuckling ecstatically and turning his head from side to side as he surveyed the wide world which was still his cage, as it is for all of us.

“You shouldn’t have let him out,” grated Jim angrily.

“We’ll get him, we’ll get him,” I said breathlessly. “Where’s your ladder?”

“He’ll only fly to the next house,” groaned Jim miserably. “And by dark, he’ll be blocks away. Oh, why did I ever telephone you!”

“A talking bird like this,” I said hopelessly, “is probably worth a great deal of money.”

“They’ll never forgive me,” moaned Jim. “Oh, why do I undertake to do things for people!…”

So we rushed down cellar and got the ladder. And when we got up, the pretty budgie was still on the roof, shuffling along, to right and left, and turning his head to survey the world.

“My responsibility,” I said briskly, as we leaned the ladder up. “I let him out.”

So I went to the roof, while Jim followed with the cage.

Bird’s Owner Returns

Many neighbors by this time had come out of their houses and were watching from windows. They called all sorts of advice, and one lady said the bird was as good as gone, and we might as well not risk our lives crawling around roofs. She had lost eight or 10 budgies, and not one had ever been recovered.

I crept along the ridge. The budgie flew up to the chimney top. I straddled the ridge and edged to within almost grasping distance.

“Come now,” I said quietly. “Don’t be a fool. Listen to reason. I admit a cage is a pretty grim thing. But all life is a cage. We’re all in cages. Laws, rules, customs, every one is a bar to a cage. The cats will get you. You need special seed…”

“Beat it,” said the budgie. “Leave me be.”

And when I reached, he flew up and off to the next house top.

“See?” shrilled the lady who had lost eight or 10.

We were just setting the ladder up on the house next door when the neighbors who own the budgie drove up.

Jim ran to them in extreme distress.

“Your budgie!” he said brokenly, pointing up. “It got out.”

“Okay, that’s nothing,” said the neighbor. “Don’t get excited. He gets out all the time.”

“But how will we…?” puffed Jim.

“Take it easy,” said the neighbor. “Just set the cage in my back yard. On a chair. Here, let the take the cage.”

And he put the cage on a garden chair and gave a couple of sharp whistles.

“Okay, now let’s all go inside and act as if nothing was amiss,” he said. “Come in behind the screen door.”

He gave another couple of shrill whistles.

And to our astonishment, the budgie fluttered awkwardly down from the neighbor’s roof, landed on the cage, and using beak and claw, lowered itself into the cage.

The neighbor walked casually out and shut the cage door and brought it in the house.

“Aaaaah!” breathed Jim and I together.

“When we discovered how it could talk,” said Jim, “and we realized how valuable it must be, we were nearly crazy when it got loose.”

“Talk?” said the neighbor.

“Yes, when we heard it talking,” went on Jim, “we had no idea these birds had such an extraordinary gift….”

“It can’t talk,” said the neighbor, looking at Jim, amused.

“Can’t talk!” cried Jim. “You should hear it!”

“All that twittering and stuff?” said the owner. “Nonsense. If you’re sort of imaginative, you can kid yourself into thinking it talks.”

“How long have you had that bird?”, demanded Jim.

“Ever since it came out of the egg last year,” said the owner.

“And you don’t know it can talk?” cried Jimmie, astonished.

“I sure don’t,” said the owner, sticking his finger in the cage. The budgie jumped on it. and pretended to attack it fiercely, making affectionate little twitters at the same time.

“Let me show you whether it can talk or not,” asserted Jim hotly.

“Aw, no, not tonight,” said the neighbor. “Anyway, I’ve got a leaky tap that talks already. It keeps saying, ‘Muddle, muddle, toil and trouble. Say, how about you boys helping me mend that tap, right now?”


Editor’s Note: “Redding up” means cleaning up.

Finders, Keepers

I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 19, 1945.

“Nix,” hissed Jimmie Frise, “look at the dough!”

“Where, who, which?” I responded sharply, stung by Jimmie’s urgence.

And there, right under my feet, in the midst of the crowded street, lay a roll of bills.

I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was looking. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs, letting good money lie loose under their very noses.

I slipped the wad into my pocket and we sauntered on.

“Let’s go around the corner and count it,” said Jim eagerly.

“There was a ten on the outside,” I muttered.

“I saw it first,” said Jim.

“I picked it up,” I informed him.

“You’d have walked right over it, like everybody else,” declared Jim, “if I hadn’t called your attention to it”

“We’ll split,” I submitted.

“Let’s see how much there is,” ordered Jimmie, halting and standing so as to shield me from the public view while I counted.

There were $17. A ten, a five and two ones.

“A very nice little sum,” said Jim very pleased. “Pick up a little wad like this every day of your life, and you wouldn’t have to worry.”

“It comes to $8.50 apiece,” I figured.

“Just about the cost, the expenses of a week-end fishing trip,” suggested Jimmie. “Gasoline, hotel bill and meals.”

“I’ll change the ten,” I said, “and give you your half right now.”

“Just a minute,” paused Jim. “After all, somebody lost this dough. Maybe it was some poor working girl. Maybe this is her week’s wages. She might have to pay her room rent and all next week’s meals out of it.”

I examined the little wad closely.

“It doesn’t look to me like a poor person’s money,” I stated. “It hasn’t that carefully folded, cramped, gripped-sort-of-look money that has fallen from a poor person’s possession.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “It might be a blind news vendor’s money. Or even a soldier’s pay.”

I examined the roll again.

“It has a sort of loose, easy-come, easy-go sort of look,” I declared. “It looks as it might be a gambler’s money. Maybe a bet he had just collected from some other worthless character.”

“I say,” proposed Jim, “that we keep it intact for a couple of days and watch the lost and found column. If some needy person lost that money, he will be sure to put a lost ad in The Star, giving the exact amount and maybe even the exact denomination of the four bills.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “But don’t forget, the rule of life is, finders keepers.”

“I still think,” said Jim, “that you should only get about a quarter or a third of the $17. After all, you were walking right past it, even though you are much closer to the ground than I am. If finders keepers is the rule, then my claim is morally and legally far greater than yours. All you did was pick it up for me.”

“Jim,” I said, “if you want to quarrel over a measly $17, you are welcome to it. After all, if two old friends like us, out for our daily lunch hour promenade, have to bicker and quarrel…”

“I’m not quarrelling,” asserted Jim. “I merely pointed out that you actually had nothing to do with the finding of the money, except, being much nearer the ground than me, you stooped and picked it up for me. I should by rights claim the whole $17. It was like me saying, Greg, hand me that money down there, will you?”

“Very good,” I said grimly. “Here’s your $17. And welcome.”

“Aw, now,” said Jim. “Don’t get sore. Over a little chicken feed.”

“I’m not sore,” I assured him. “I merely remark that it is a little small of you to bring up the legal and moral aspects of the matter which should really be an amusing little incident of a noonday stroll. Two life-long friends. Between them, they pick up $17…”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “that you were actually stepping over it when I called your attention to it.”

“I would have noticed it the very next instant,” I informed him. “Things catch my eye when I am close. It stands to reason, I am a foot shorter than you, a foot closer to the ground…”

“Well,” said Jim, pocketing the money, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll keep the money, and after we have allowed a decent interval for a lost and found ad to appear in the paper, I’ll pay all the expenses of our next week-end out of it. How’s that?”

“I thought I might buy a few trout flies,” I stated stiffly. “After all, treasure trove like that should be used to buy something more in the nature of a souvenir of a lucky find, a remembrance, sort of.”

“We’ll decide after we see whether it is advertised for or not,” said Jim.

So we continued our noon-hour stroll, a little frosty.

How Human Nature Works

But as we came into the stretch of King St. leading back to the office, the habits of a lifetime got the better of us and we loosened up in normal discussion.

“In miniature, Jim,” I presented, “our little argument about this measly $17 is the dead ringer for the vast arguments that are starting to grow all over the world right at this minute. It shows how human nature operates when there is anything to gain in an argument.”

“We really have no right to the money at all,” agreed Jim. “We should hand it over to the police.”

“So long as there is anything to be gained,” I pursued, “even the best of friends can come into conflict. If the basis of all the post-war settlements could be that nobody, no nation, no individual or group of individuals can make a single cent, or gain a single concession, the peace could be organized as easy as rolling off a log. But that can never be.”

“Who really won the war?” exampled Jim. “Did Britain win it by standing fast when all the world was at Germany’s mercy in 1940? Or did Russia win it by defeating Germany’s assault in 1941? For certainly if Russia had folded up in the 60 days everybody, even we, predicted, the Germans would have had their enormous strength all free to lash at England. And that would have been the end. Or did the U.S. win it, by her enormous war production and her immense and gallant fighting forces?”

“Who found that $17?” I inquired. “You saw it first. I undoubtedly would have seen it an instant later. And I actually did the picking up. Britain, Russia and the U.S. all have reason to believe that without their effort, the war would have been lost. At least, there aren’t many Britishers you can make agree that Russia won the war. And there aren’t many Yanks you can persuade that Britain really made it possible for the war to be won.”

“If we hand that money over to the police,” said Jim, “Neither of us will care a hoot who found it. It is only if we keep it that we start to argue who has the greater moral or legal right to it.”

“Well, now, don’t be hasty,” I cautioned.

“I was just pointing out,” explained Jimmie, “that if we could work out some plan of world settlement that eliminated all material gain from the peace negotiations, nobody would care a hoot who had the biggest share in fighting the war. But while a year ago we were fighting to save our skins, now it appears that zones of influence have to be arranged among the winners. And a zone of influence is nothing more nor less than cash money picked up by the nations off the street. A zone of influence means markets in which to sell, markets in which to buy raw materials at a cheap price, without competition from other nations. It means areas in which the influential men of the controlling big nation can get good jobs for their sons. All cash. All dough. All money to be picked up off the street.”

“Surely world government isn’t so shoddy and mercenary as all that,” I protested.

“When you come to think of it,” asserted Jim, “what is government of a nation, really? It is operating the nation so as to make it possible for the largest number of people to make the most money. Nothing more, nothing less. You think of government as being the creating and enforcing of laws. What are most laws about? Property.”

“Hmmmm,” I muttered.

Business Is Business

“You think of government,” went on Jim, “as being the building and keeping open of roads and communications. Why? To enable people to carry on business. The life of a nation is trade. And the government of a nation is first, last and all the time concerned with trade and business. You can’t think of a single department of government, or a single function of government that doesn’t trace back to making business better for somebody.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I confessed.

“Therefore,” said Jim, “why fool ourselves in thinking that governments now wrestling with world settlement problems are going to forget their chief and natural function and deal with world problems not as business men but as starry eyed philosophers?”

“Why doesn’t somebody,” I demanded, “come out flat and say so? If one of the great leaders in the world would just take a chance on his political future and make a radio speech to the whole wide world stating that business is business and call a halt to all the high sounding humanitarian platitudes!”

“It would be impossible,” said Jim. “Millions of men have died in this war. They didn’t die for business. They died for ideals.”

“But the ideal,” I pointed out, “is merely a decent suit of clothes for the naked fact that at the bottom of everything – of government, of national life, of life itself – is trade and commerce. Men live by business, therefore they die by it. Work, labor, trade, commerce are the very foundation of all human life and all human activity. How do we then get life so balled up and tragically ripped and torn in the name of idealism?”

“Precisely the same,” replied Jim, “as two old friends can get quarrelling over $17 they pick up on the street.”

“Well, I wasn’t quarrelling,” I informed him. “It was you who was doing the quarrelling. You kept trying to chisel me out of any claim to the find.”

“I was not chiselling,” insisted Jim politely. “I was merely stating a fact. If you remember, we were walking along, and I suddenly saw the money, just as you were about to step right over it unseeing…”

“I tell you,” I cut in, “that I never would have stepped over it. I see everything around my feet. It stands to reason, I am a short man. Short men always see the ground more clearly than tall men…”

“I should say, on the contrary,” stated Jim, “that a short man has to look up most of the time. Has to keep his eyes above, in order not to get stepped on.”

“Oh, well, if you want to be insulting,” I gritted.

And we walked the balance of the block to The Star office in dignified silence.

We went up and hung up our coats and went to our desks and started to work. The boy delivered The Star about 3 o’clock, and though it was nearly 1 o’clock when we had found the $17, Jimmie opened up the paper at the want ads, and found the Lost, and Found column.

“Here it is!” he sang out. And read it.

LOST: Will the two curious-looking characters who were seen picking up $17, a ten, a five and two ones, on Bay St., about 1 o’clock today. kindly return to owner. E. T. Blumm, 90 King St., before they get into trouble?

“Well,” I said aghast, “of all the insolence! Curious looking characters!”

“We’d better get in touch with him right away,” said Jim hurriedly. “We can’t afford to get mixed up in any scandal.”

Jim telephoned the man. He said he had just stepped into a cigar store and dialled a number on the pay telephone when he saw us pick up the money. He felt in his pocket and realized it was his $17. At that instant, the party at the other end of the call – Mr. Blumm’s boss – answered.

By the time Blumm got out on the street, we had disappeared.

So Jim said he would mail it to him in at registered letter.

“No,” Mr. Blumm said, “I’ll come right over for it.” Which he did.

And a pretty tight-fisted individual he turned out to be.

He took the money, said “thanks” through his nose and acted very much as if he thought Jimmie and I had every intention of keeping his measly $17.


Editor’s Note: $17 in 1945 would be $290 in 2023.

Back to the Land

Jim was pumping the pump like mad, ladder was rushed against the farmhouse by the farmer and we were all fighting like heroes…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 3, 1945.

“Greg,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’d like you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gubbings.”

“J. B. Gubbings,” put in Mrs. Gubbings.

“J. B.,” went on Jimmie, “is an old friend of mine, manager of an insurance company that does business with me, and he’s going to buy a farm.”

“Great stuff!” I agreed heartily. “I’ve often thought…”

“It’s not for us,” put in Mrs. Gubbings. “It’s for our son.”

And the proud way she said it, I knew her son was overseas. Mothers have a way of speaking of their sons in the war that makes the air sort of turn gold even in a bare workroom like Jim’s and my office.

“They want me,” said Jim, “to drive out to see this farm they have in mind, and I thought…”

“Sure,” I said, “I’d love to go along.”

“I know Jim was born and raised on a farm,” explained Mr. Gubbings, “and I have been reading his Birdseye Center cartoon now for 20 years or more, and I kind of feel he knows a farm better than a farmer, somehow.”

“What we want,” declared Mrs. Gubbings, “is a farm for our boy. Not too big a farm. You know. And not too far from the city, so he can run in often to see us and to take in a show or a hockey game.”

“And so we can run out to see him,” added Mr. Gubbings.

“You see,” said Mrs. Gubbings, with smile at Jimmy to apologize for repeating what she had no doubt been already saying to him, “our boy enlisted straight out of school and he’s been in the army over four years now. He never liked school. He’ll never go back now. And he’s been living the life of a soldier in the open air all the time.”

“In tents and huts,” put in Mr. Gubbings, “and in slit trenches and open fields.”

“Finally,” continued Mrs. Gubbings with pride, “he was wounded in the terrible Leopold Canal battle and badly shaken up. I am sure his nerves will never be the same. And we just can’t see him coming back to the city and taking some nerve-trying job.”

“We figure,” said Mr. Gubbings, “on giving him the ideal life. After four terrible years, what he will want is peace and rest. The country owes it to him. We owe it to him. He is our only child. So we are going to buy him a farm.”

“But,” I suggested kindly, “does he know anything about farming? After all…”

“We’ve thought of that already,” assured Mrs. Gubbings. “He can go to the Guelph Agricultural college for a term or two, as soon as he’s settled down here back home. We’ve written to the college and got all the prospectuses and details. But we think there will be a big demand for farms the minute the boys start coming home, so we are going to nail ours right now, and we can rent it until our boy is ready to go on it.”

“I think you’ve worked out a wonderful scheme,” I congratulated them, “and don’t forget, the government will help your boy in buying and equipping and settling down on the farm.”

Jim’s Advice

“After all these years of violence and action,” said Mr. Gubbings, “the boys will never want to return to the fury and competition of cities and towns. Not for some time anyway. They’ll want peace and rest.”

“And where,” I agreed, “could you find that but in the sequestered happiness of some lovely little farm…”

“Harruummmfff,” said Jimmie Frise.

“Mmm?” we all said, turning to him; for he had been saying nothing.

“I just cleared my throat,” said, Jim startled. “How far is it out to this farm you have in mind?”

“If you were only free this afternoon,” cried Mrs. Gubbings, “we could go right now. Because it is only 30 miles east of the city. And a very good road all the way, even the six miles of side-road off the highway.

“We’re always free,” said Jim. “Whenever chance to go to the country offers, I lose my inspiration. And it’s best not to work as an artist without inspiration.”

“We’ll go, then?” exclaimed Mrs. Gubbings, leaping up.

“I don’t want to disturb you gentlemen at work,” interposed Mr. Gubbings, “but if you are free, I have my car in front of The Star building….

And in 10 minutes, we were down on the water front, headed east.

“Mrs. Gubbings,” I said, as we settled down for the happy run, “I hope all Canadian parents of young men overseas are giving as much thought to their problems as you are.”

“When I got his letters, after he was wounded,” said she, “it came to me in a flash. I could tell he was nerve-shattered. You can’t expect a young boy, fresh out of school, to go through the things he’s gone through, and not be in need of peace and quiet. How beautifully he wrote of the English countryside. And even the Normandy farms filled him with delight, he wrote so poetically about them. And when he reached Belgium… I wish I had his letters with me so I could read you his description of the Belgian farms and the lovely gardens of begonias, huge begonias, red, yellow, white…”

“They’ve been working for centuries, ever since the time of Julius Caesar, on those farms.”

“Harruummff,” said Jimmie, up front beside Mr. Gubbings who was driving.

“What’s that, Jim?” I inquired.

“Well, I don’t like to spoil this party,” announced Jim. “But you just said the Belgians have been working since Caesar’s time on those farms. One little thing I’d like to mention. I do hope it won’t throw cold water on your plans.”

“Go ahead, go ahead,” said Mr. Gubbings. “That’s why we came to you. We want sage advice.”

“Well, in the first place,” began Jimmie, “If it is peace and quiet you are looking for don’t look on a farm. I would say off-hand, that about the last refuge of violence and action left in the world today is the farm. Compared with a farm, a big steel works is a haven of peace and quiet, of nerve-soothing content and order.”

“Oh, Jim,” I laughed in protest.

“If you want to get a nerve-weary, exhausted young soldier a good restful job,” went on Jim, “get him on the police force and wangle a job on point duty at Queen and Yonge Sts. for him. But keep him away from farms until he’s all quieted down by two or three years in traffic.”

“Why, Mr. Frise!” gasped Mrs. Gubbings.

“The reason farm boys make such good soldiers,” stated Jim, “is because they find war so restful. They don’t have to get up, until 6 o’clock in the morning in the army.”

“Oh, Mr. Frise,” laughed Mrs. Gubbings, “you’re so humorous.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “even in the middle of battle, you always have a lot of other men around you to lend a hand with whatever you’ve got to do. But on the farm, you’re, on your own. In fact, you are alone. You are often terribly alone.”

“Mmm,” I reflected.

“In towns and cities,” said Jim, “which were invented by people who got tired or frightened of living on farms, whenever you run into any little difficulty, you just pick up the telephone and call the plumber or the electrician or the carpenter. But on the farm, when anything goes wrong, you have to do it yourself, whether it’s the pump or the stove or the binder. In fact, on the farm there are no arrangements whatever for having mechanics handy to, attend, you. And if you think you have ever seen a farmer towing a binder down the road behind his car to the nearest village, you are mistaken. He fixes it himself, right in the field where it broke, as a rule.”

“Ah, but modern farming,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “such as is taught at the Guelph Agricultural college….”

A Gloomy Picture

“In the city,” pursued Jim, “when you want anything from a bottle of iodine to a new nozzle for the hose, you walk a couple of blocks. In the country, when a couple of shingles blow off the roof of the barn, you can’t get somebody to fix it. You fix it yourself. And if you don’t, the next gale blows half your roof off. So you climb up that dizzy height…”

“Brrr,” said Mrs. Gubbings.

“In the city,” said Jimmie, “a thunderstorm is nothing. But in the country, it is a grim and real thing. Every crack of thunder, and you wonder which elm it might have struck, with half your cattle under it. Or was it the barn, with all the pigs and chickens in it, and all that is left of your hay and feed for the next three months?”

“What a gloomy picture you paint,” said Mr. Gubbings at the wheel.

“It is not gloomy,” declared Jim. “It’s exciting and dramatic and real. Life on the farm is eternally active, exciting, dramatic. From daybreak to dark and all through the night, not a moment but is filled with possibilities. The bull may break down the fence. The pigs may get into the turnips. Lightning may strike. A calf may be born or a colt. Fifteen pigs may be born. And you don’t call the vet – except in case of trouble. You attend to all these little things yourself. Or with your wife’s help.”

“Oh, my,” said Mrs. Gubbings weakly, looking out at the early March fields of the first farms we were passing on leaving the city limits. “They look so peaceful. And farmers have such quiet, slow ways, compared with the zest and zip of city people.”

“Ah, that’s not slow or quiet,” explained Jim. That’s watchful waiting that gives them that air. And they may be tired, too. Because you can’t live your life amidst the fury and excitement of a farm without paying for it. That zest and zip of city people is just the natural energy of a lot of people with nothing much to do and leading a peaceful, easy, ordered life.”

“Jim,” I accused, “you’re exaggerating!”

“Then, there are such things,” went on Jim, “as breaking the rope on the hay fork in the barn. If it’s a hip-roofed barn, that rope runs high along the plate, and you use it for hauling the hay up into the mow. If the pulley breaks, let us say, can you stop work and telephone to the plumber? No sir. You have to climb like a sailor of an old square-rigger up those dizzy heights and mend it yourself…”

“But couldn’t the hired man do that?” inquired Mrs. Gubbings shakily.

“I hardly think,” said Jim, “that a young fellow setting himself up on a farm could afford to have a hired man except at harvest maybe, or at seeding. Unless you were going to set your boy up as a gentleman farmer?”

“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Gubbings. “We thought of it as his life’s work. As an escape from…”

“Then,” assured Jim, “If he has got to make the farm pay, he’s got to waste no time on mending that rope. And he’s got to fix the shingles or lose his barn roof. And take care of the pigs and turnips. And if the pump freezes, he can’t afford to send for any waterworks department. And he has got to mend everything that breaks, or there is no profit in the crop the machine broke on. And he can’t come into the city if the cattle aren’t fed and watered. And to leave the chickens for a day untended, is to lose enough to cost all the profit he calculated at the start.”

“But perhaps,” suggested Mrs. Gubbings, “if he were to meet and marry some nice, strong girl who was born and raised on farm nearby…”

“Oh, oh,” protested Mr. Gubbings up front.

“Why do you think most farms have mortgages on them?” asked Jim. “It is because of unforeseen needs or accidents or else the slow falling behind in the struggle to make the farm pay a living wage.”

“Well, we’re well enough off,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “but not well enough off to maintain a farm the way rich people do, as a hobby.”

“The bravest,” declared Jim, “the most industrious people in the whole country are our farmers. The people most prepared to face action and excitement, and to face it alone and single-handed, are our farmers. It takes a man – and a woman! – to run a farm. Only the best of our men overseas will ever dare to face the fight of the farm when the war ends.”

Mr. Gubbings was sitting sort of wearily at the wheel. Mrs. Gubbings had sagged back into her corner of the car.

“Isn’t it terrible,” she said, “how little we know our own neighbors. Why, to me, the farm….”

We were turning off the highway into a side-road. The road was deeply scored with icy ruts. As we passed the first farm houses with their out-buildings, there was no suggestion of the violence that Jim had been recounting. They looked as if deserted, as if petrified with silence and inaction.

“They look so lonely,” said Mrs. Gubbings, shivering.

“They’re not lonely,” assured Jim. “That house is occupied by hard-working, strong, eager people looking for the spring. That barn fairly breathes with myriad life of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, nurtured over the winter with the feed grown for them on the slow yielding earth all around. Planned, schemed and daily carried out by industrious, patient and always prepared people living right there. Lonely? Never for an instant.”

An Exciting Time

“There’s our farm,” called out Mr. Gubbings, “the one with the smoke coming out the chimney.”

“We have been studying snapshots of it,” explained Mrs. Gubbings, fishing in her hand bag and handing me some snapshots.

“Yep, this is it,” I agreed.

As we pulled up at the entrance of the lane, the road grew particularly bad and there were terrific ruts in the lane.

“We’ll have to walk in to the house,” said Jim.

“I’ll just sit in the car,” said Mrs. Gubbings. “I don’t like those cows loose in the lane. I am afraid of cows. And besides, I’ll wait until you make sure it is the right place.”

“Oh, come along.” persuaded Mr. Gubbings.

“No, I’ll just sit here,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “and take in the view for a few minutes.”

As the engine was shut off, you could hear the cows bawling in the lane.

“Say,” cried Jim, “I don’t like the look of that chimney, the way it’s smoking!”

We stood watching. Out of the chimney, large gobs of black smoke burped. And suddenly a tongue of flame.

The farmhouse door opened and a lady ran out and stared up. Then out the door, the man came running.

“Come on,” shouted Jim. “It’s on fire.”

And we dashed down the lane and before we knew what was happening, we had pails in our hands, Jim was pumping the pump like mad, a ladder was rushed against the farmhouse by the farmer and we were all fighting like heroes, carrying, pumping, running, sloshing, slithering…

“The bull!” yelled the farmer from the roof.

A collie dog was yapping furiously at the heels of a large bull just curving out of the gate which we had left open in our haste.

Cows were bawling, from the barn came the squeal and roar and grunt of pigs, the fire crackled, the water hissed, the pump honked like a goose, and the bull pranced and danced around more like a toreador than a bull.

It was pretty exciting for a little while; pretty breathless too, for a lot of city softies.

But when the farmer got the chimney out, he thanked us mighty heartily for our help.

“If you hadn’t been passing,” he said – and Mr. Gubbings gave Jim and me an anxious wink – “if you hadn’t been passing by gosh, we might have had a nasty business on our hands.”

“You must come in and have a cup tea,” said the farmer’s wife, “even though the kitchen will be an awful mess, with all that water down the chimney…”

“I’ll just round up the bull,” said the farmer, “and you go on in.”

The bull had gone out the lane and down the road quite a piece. We chased all the cows out of the lane and got Mrs. Gubbings out of the car, with an escort of all three of us in to the house. The kitchen was, indeed, a mess. But we were shown into the living-room and in no time at all, the farmer’s wife, as if accustomed to fire-fighting at least once week, had tea and tea biscuits and maple syrup for us. The farmer, having put the bull away, came and joined us and we sat around as if nothing but politics was of any interest.

And Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Gubbings never even mentioned the subject of buying a farm.

Winks and a few muttered words of caution as we came down the lane with Mrs. Gubbings had fixed Jim and me on that score.

Any resemblance between Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Gubbings and about 50,000 parents of Canadian boys overseas is purely coincidental!

-J. F. and G. C.


Editor’s Notes: This is the first time I have ever seen a disclaimer about characters in any Greg-Jim story. It was prominently displayed in a box half-way through the story, and I reproduced it at the end. Maybe the story was seen as a genuine public service?

The colour image I have is poor with the white streak down the center.

The Guelph Agricultural College is now the Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph.

To explain the hay fork pulley system, you can watch this nice video that explains the process.

The Big Push

Wup she did come, and on to the street car tracks at the very moment a street car came clanging along.

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

“Let’s help the poor guy,” suggested Jimmie Frise.

“Him?” I demanded indignantly.

Jimmie took a look at the driver of the motor car that was struggling so hard to get out of the rut by the curb.

“Ah,” said Jimmie, turning to join me, and we continued our lunch time stroll through downtown Toronto.

“I wouldn’t help that guy,” I said bitterly, “if he were going down for the third and last time.”

“I didn’t notice who it was,” explained Jim. “I just noticed a car in difficulties and was going to give him a shove. But wouldn’t I have felt like a sap if I had gone ahead and given him a hand?”

“That guy,” I declared, “is the meanest buzzard I have ever met, in 50 years. This very morning, when we were waiting for the street car, what did he do?”

“We wouldn’t have accepted a lift, even if he had offered it,” cut in Jim.

“I don’t mean that,” I said. “I mean the splashing. He saw us standing there at the car stop. He deliberately speeded up his car, and equally deliberately steered his car towards us into that puddle, just to spray mud and filth all over us.”

Jimmie and I both looked down at our coats and brushed off imaginary relics of that humiliating drenching we had got this morning.

“We couldn’t prove he deliberately did it,” opined Jim “Maybe he just swerved.”

“Jim,” I reproached, “what nonsense. The man is a natural born skunk. We’ve known him for 10 years. In that time, our only dealings with him have been unfailingly to be skunked. Do you remember the outboard motor I bought from him? And have you forgotten the time he reported you to the Humane society for shooting pigeons?”

“And then,” recalled Jim, “do you remember how he got us to sign a petition which read that we wanted a red and green signal light at our main corner? And when the petition was all signed, he attached the signatures to another petition entirely.”

“Which recommended his appointment,” I cried, “as arbitrator in some tax squabble up in our ward. The man is a crook.”

“I’m glad I didn’t step up and help shove his car,” chuckled Jim. “What a fool I’d have felt.”

“And he,” I said, “would have been tickled to death to think we were such saps.”

A Pleasant Hour

We turned north on Bay St. As February begins to weaken towards March, Jimmie and I resume our noon time strolls, which are interrupted by the dead of winter, through the downtown streets. These lunch time promenades are the pleasantest part of the day. You can see your fellow citizens en masse, and in the open air. They look happy and pleasant, out of their formal business setting. A man who buries himself in his work, who deals all day long only with his fellow workers, who grabs his lunch and returns to his narrow task, loses his public sense. You would think that in great cities, where people are so congregated, men and women would constantly increase their fellow feeling and public sense. But such is not the case. The more people are congested, the less feeling they have for one another. The street cars are crowded so that the average human face, in a tram, wears an expression of fixed distaste. There is so little to go round, in cities, that all movies have line-ups, all stores are filled with jostlers, and life is a race in which everybody looks and acts the way certain of our barnyard friends do when the farmer yells “PEEG- peeg-peeg!”

But noon time is different. Some of the throngs are just going to lunch and have that happy expression of people with pleasantly empty stomachs. Others are just on their way back from lunch, and have that happy expression of people with pleasantly comfortable stomachs. And they are of all sorts, ages and sexes. Noon is the public hour.

“You know,” said Jimmie, as we strolled up Bay St., “I was just thinking. The pathos of this war. Here we are trying to plan peace and friendship amongst nations when, even in our little circle of acquaintance, there are people we hate and people who hate us. We try to scuttle them. They try to scuttle us.”

“We have to stick to broad principles,” I informed him.

“The only reason we have to stick to broad principles,” retorted Jim, “is because human affairs can’t be worked out in terms of reality, in terms of actual individuals. There’s that guy back there. He’s so mean, he deliberately and instinctively seized the chance to smear us with mud this morning. And we, deliberately and instinctively, seeing the poor guy stuck in a snow drift, pass him by.”

“And hope,” I added, “that everybody else will pass him by.”

“Maybe the poor guy,” said Jim, “has just got word that his wife is dying. Maybe he is frantically trying to get home.”

“More likely,” I suggested, “he has heard of some widow or orphan who has just fallen heir to $100 and he is rushing out to sell them some bum stock.”

“What I’m getting at,” said Jim, as we turned east on Adelaide St., “is how can we ever straighten out the world’s troubles, how can we ever build up friendship, respect and good faith between nations when each of the nations is filled with people trying to cut each other’s throats?”

“In the larger realm of nations,” I submitted, “the petty evils of the people are lost sight of.”

“I’m beginning to doubt that,” asserted Jimmie. “I’m beginning to think that if you put one bad egg in an omelet, the whole omelet is bad. I am starting to wonder if we haven’t got the wrong idea about human brotherhood. We talk about the brotherhood of man and, right away, our minds sail into wide spaces of heavenly blue from which we can survey the whole world. At the mere suggestion that the brotherhood of man should start with our two next door neighbors and extend up the street and across the road, house by house, we curl up into a crisp like bacon.”

“Well, does the brotherhood of man,” I demanded, “include that so-and-so back there trying to rock his car out of the rut?”

“Exactly,” said Jim.

“Eh!” I exclaimed.

“I say,” said Jim, “that no man should be allowed even to talk about the brotherhood of man until, in his own intimate and local circle, he has conquered all his dislikes, mastered all his hates and prejudices, and found understanding and explanation, in his own heart for every man and woman and child he knows personally. A man who has succeeded in doing that might then be permitted to think about – and even to talk about – the brotherhood of man. But it so happens that those who right now, all over the world, in all countries including our own, are busiest talking and planning for peace on earth and the brotherhood of nations are also those who have the greatest contempt for large numbers of their immediate fellow men.”

“You mean…?” I inquired.

“I mean partisans and politicians,” said Jimmie, “I mean big industrialists who hate, agitators and Socialists who hate exploiters.”

“Ah,” I interrupted, “but you can understand a true reformer hating powerful exploiters of the working class.”

A Changed Attitude

“I am not interested,” cut in Jim, “in the rights or wrongs. I am interested only in the fact that they hate. I am not interested in why they hate or dislike. All I say is, our own little city, our own little province, our own little nation, is filled with people at war with each other in mind, spirit and body. Every other country on earth is also filled with these warring individuals, families, communities, parties, sects, sections.”

“It’s part of the principle of free enterprise,” I offered, “of freedom itself. Only by force can you make all people act and think alike. And that’s dictatorship. And it always fails.”

“All I say,” persisted Jim, as we turned down Yonge St., to round the block, “is this: What a fat chance we have of making friendship between Canada and Russia, for instance, if we can’t help that poor slob shove his car out of the rut.”

“Now, now,” I cried suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you are weakening towards that poor toot.”

“Look,” said Jim, “we slathered a lot more slush over Russia, back in 1920 to 1940, than that guy sloshed over us this morning.”

“Not all of us,” I protested. “There was always a handful of friends of Russia in Canada, even in the worst days.”

“And they were called Reds by the rest of us,” said Jim. “We threw slush, we called names, we arrested people and sent them to jail on technicalities but really because they were working friends of Russia. Doubtless, Russia was no more friendly disposed towards us during all those years than we were towards them. I’d say our attitude towards that guy in the car stuck in the rut and his attitude towards us, right now, is about the same as the attitude of us towards Russia and Russia towards us, 10 years ago.”

“Probably right,” I admitted.

“Therefore,” wound up Jimmie, hurrying towards the corner of King St., where we would turn and come into the stretch where our mud-slinging friend was last seen wearing out his tires in the rut, “therefore, if we can give him a lift with his car, Russia and Canada can be friends. Am I right?”

“Jim,” I cried, “it’s on an entirely different plane. The one is individual. The other is impersonal. The one is personal, the other is abstract. I wouldn’t help that guy if he were….”

But even as we turned the corner, I could see that, though 10 minutes had passed, our friend was still stuck in the rut by the curb.

“And,” I announced triumphantly, “though a hundred people have passed by, not one has offered to lend him a hand. You can always trust human instincts. People know a skunk when they see one. The…”

“I am going to give him a push,” said Jimmie. “I am not going to give him a push because he is somebody in trouble. I am going to help him because I know who he is. I am going to get him out of his jam fully aware of all the dirty tricks he has played on me. But I am going to do it not for his sake, but for mine, I am going to see how big I am.”

“And I’ll stand back and snicker,” I taunted.

“No, sir,” said Jim. “If I am not big enough to lend a hand even to a stray dog. I am not big enough to lend a hand to my fellow man. If I can do this, then there is hope of peace between nations. If I can’t, there isn’t.”

“I wouldn’t humiliate myself,” I asserted.

Already we could hear the vain whining and snarling of the tires in the icy rut. Passers-by ahead of us turned their heads briefly and looked at the man in difficulty. But nobody paused in their stride.

“Retribution,” I said.

Giving a Hand

In the usual angry panic into which people fall as soon as their car sticks in the rut, our friend was rocking savagely forward and backward and getting no place. He was parked in between two other cars. He was so mean a type, he would not spend 20 cents to park in a parking lot. He would prefer to waste $10 worth of time running in and out of his office to re-park his car on the public streets to avoid summonses.

Jim stepped up and smiled in the car window.

“Stuck?” he inquired very friendly.

“Why, hello Jim!” cried the spotted leopard in sheep’s clothing.

“Can I give you a shove?” asked Jim pleasantly.

“Why, that’s swell,” said the graceless bounder, without even a blush.

“Hey,” called Jimmie to me, though I was deliberately standing well back against the shops. “Lend a hand, will you?”

“Why, hello Greg,” cried the dirty swab. “I haven’t seen you in months!”

I looked him in the eye. But he had practised looking innocent all his life.

“Say, fellows,” he cried heartily, “if you could just ease me out of the rut I’ll be ever so much obliged. I nearly had her a couple of times, but she slips back into the icy rut when I turn the front wheels out.”

“Have you any old rags in your car?” I inquired coldly. “Or a bucket of ashes?”

“Hardly,” laughed the slob. “Heh, heh, heh! You’re a great joker, Greg.”

“Hasn’t seen us for months,” I muttered to Jim, as I took hold of the front bumper and Jim got a grip of the rear curve of the body.

“Sssshhh,” murmured Jim, “don’t give him the satisfaction of seeing you are sore at him. Just act like a big guy being big.”

“Okay?” called the robber of widows and orphans out the window. “I’ll turn the wheels out and slowly give her the gun. You fellows shove, altogether. One, two, three!”

Wup, she came. Back into the rut. One, two, three, wup, she came, then back into the rut. We got her rocking. The engine roared, we shouted, one, two, three, wup!

And in the din of engine racing, wheels grinding and whining and all of us wupping, wup she did come, all of a sudden, and fair on to the street car tracks at the very moment a street car came clanging along.

There was a panic of bells, of grinding brakes, of engine and of loud yells.

And then the lovely solid sock of a street car squashing mud guards and dinging bumpers and splintering back windows of motor car. And above it the anguished bellowing of a stealer of candy from babies.

“My gosh!” gasped Jimmie, surveying the sudden ruin.

“Peace,” I enunciated. “It’s wonderful!”

“Why,” screeched a voice from within skew-gee motor car, “you dirty, clumsy double-crossers, you low, crooked, double-dyed…”

The end was, we all gave our names and addresses to the conductor, the policeman and the dirty swab -who didn’t seem to want them – as witnesses, chief of whom was a tall, well-dressed gentleman we had not noticed on the sidewalk who said, with authority:

“These two gentlemen very kindly, I thought, offered the driver a shove. They were behind. It behove the driver to watch out for traffic. It is entirely his fault.”

“Come on,” commanded the policeman, “get that crate off the right-of-way.”

And as we completed our lunch time promenade, full of philosophy and sage reflection, we saw our friend, the Russian… no, I mean the robber of widows and orphans, wobbling off in the distance, his fenders waving, his rear end stove in.

Microfilm copy

One to Get Ready

“Git him,” bellowed Jimmie on the fence. I threw the gun to my shoulder… instead of pushing the safety catch forward, I shoved the lever of the breech over with my thumb. The gun fell open. The two shells popped loudly out past my nose.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 6, 1945.

“Ah, that looks better,” approved Jimmie Frise.

“Do they still fit?” I inquired, looking down at my hunting togs. “It’s two years since I had them on.”

“They fit you a lot better than battle dress,” assured Jim. “Even as a war correspondent battle dress never really became you. It made you look dumpy. I mean, dumpier.”

“I nearly wore my battle dress today, Jim,” I informed him. “It would make an ideal hunting outfit.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Jimmie. “Just to try it out.”

“Well, while the boys are still wearing theirs at war,” I submitted, “I thought it just little unbecoming of me to wear mine out rabbit shooting. But by next fall, when the hunting season comes round again, I bet there will be tens of thousands of battle dress being worn in the bush in Canada.”

“Not deer hunting,” warned Jim. “A dangerous color to wear deer hunting.”

“Yes. But duck shooting,” I said, “and partridge and pheasant and rabbit shooting. And fishing in the cooler months.”

“I suppose thousands of boys,” mused Jimmie, as he drew his shotgun from its case, “all over Holland and Italy are dreaming of doing what we are doing this minute. Going hunting.”

“Tens of thousands,” I corrected. “On the other hand, maybe tens of thousands of them will never want to see a gun again as long as they live.”

“H’m,” said Jim. “I never thought of that.”

“Tens of thousands of soldiers overseas,” I pointed out, “were men who had never spent a day or a night in the open in their lives, and never wanted to. For one soldier who is an outdoors man, who really gets a kick out of tenting and camping and roughing it, there are perhaps 10 soldiers who never experienced any discomfort before they enlisted. I don’t mean well-to-do men, but just ordinary guys from city, town and village who spent as much of their lives in comfortable houses, comfortable offices, shops and work benches, comfortable motor cars or street cars, as they could possibly secure. They owned raincoats and winter coats, rubbers or goloshes, umbrellas, gloves, mitts and scarves. When it rained or was stormy, they stayed indoors. They hated mud, slush, and wet.”

“That’s the average man, all right,” admitted Jim.

The Army Way

“For five, four, three years now,” I went on, “tens and hundreds of thousands of Canadian men have been living all their lives, their days, hours, minutes, in discomfort, exposure, damp and cold. For the rest of their lives they are going to demand comfort.”

“The wives and sweethearts ought to get wise,” agreed Jimmie, “and start studying cook books and household hints.”

“I have heard soldiers in Italy and Normandy,” I submitted, “that if their wives ever invited them on a picnic again, for the rest of their lives, they’d sock them.”

“Maybe that’s just the reaction to the conditions they are living under now,” said Jim. “After all, once a man has learned to be fairly comfortable in the out-of-doors it’s a freedom he never forgets. The natural man is a lover of the outdoors.”

“If he were,” I retorted, “why has mankind been struggling so long and desperately to get indoors, to build cities, to improve in every tiny detail the comfort and ease of indoor life? I think the only reason some men pretend to love the outdoors, fishing, hunting, and so forth, is just to enjoy, in contrast, all the more the pleasures of indoors.”

“It’s too cold to stand here philosophizing,” stamped Jimmie, who had his pump-gun together and had shoved three shells into the magazine. Then he noisily yanked the fore-end of the gun and pumped the first shell into the chamber.

“Hey,” I said sharply, “is your safety on?”

“Of course it is,” said Jim indignantly. But on glancing down, he saw that the small red button by the trigger guard was showing. The gun was ready to fire.

“Jim,” I lectured, “there is one thing that I have learned from being a war correspondent with the army. And that is, care of arms and safety.”

“Heck,” said Jim. “I’d have noticed it in a minute.”

“Maybe one minute too late,” I counselled. “You might have tossed that gun across your elbow, a fold of canvas from your coat might have caught the trigger and, blooie, I would have been blown in two.”

“Well, for Pete’s sake,” snorted Jim, “I would have thought you would have been less of a squawker after being at the front, instead of worse. You come home from months of war and buzz bombs and all sorts of hazards. And how you start yelling about one measly old shotgun.”

“Another thing, Jim, just before we start,” I asserted. “One of the great things we have learned from this war is field craft and commando training. The secret of good hunting, whether it is men or rabbits you are after, is secrecy, silence and cunning. The way you worked that pump action and clattered the first shell into your gun was enough to scare all the rabbits in this township.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, starting off.

I followed him.

“There is nothing,” I stated, “like a good old-fashioned double-barrelled shotgun. From the point of view of safety and of noise….”

“Ah,” smiled Jimmie, slowing down and turning very friendly. “I forgot. You are still jealous of my pump gun. The last time we were out shooting together, two years back, you were talking exactly the same way. I should remember all your funny little ways….”

“I’m not jealous of any old gas pipe,” I retorted. “I was just pointing out that from the safety point of view a double-barrelled gun has all the merit. Every time you cock it, the safety goes on automatically. It is never ready to shoot, and never a danger to anybody, until you push the safety catch forward with your thumb, at the moment of firing.”

“What’s the difference?” demanded Jim, as we walked over the snowy hill. “My safety catch is a bright red button staring me in the face.”

“Not at all,” I said. “It is away down out of sight under the trigger guard. But in the second place. How about racket? I can load and unload my gun in perfect silence. Every time you load yours, it sounds like a freight elevator door slamming. It scares and warns all the game for half a mile. Especially on a clear crisp day like this.”

“Maybe you’d rather hunt by yourself,” suggested Jim. “Maybe if I go north up this fence and you go south and along the edge of that woodlot…?”

“Now, now, Jimmie,” I protested. “Our first hunt together. And you talk like that!”

“Well, if I can’t do anything right…,” muttered Jim.

A Matter of Safety

“I would think,” I submitted, “that seeing I am fresh home from overseas, you would be interested in some of the things I’ve learned, that’s all.”

“Okay,” agreed Jim. “I see your point. You lead. I’ll follow.”

“No, no, I don’t mean that,” I expostulated.

“You show me,” urged Jim. “You demonstrate safety and care of arms. And also field craft and commando tactics in hunting rabbits.”

“Aw, now, you don’t need to be sarcastic,” I pleaded.

“I’m not,” cried Jim. “I’m quite serious. I should have thought of it at first. Let’s see what new tricks you have learned from the army. I really mean it.”

“Well, the first thing,” I said, a little flattered, “is certainly field craft. Usually, we plow ahead, blundering this way and that across the fields. We cover a lot of ground. But we don’t see many rabbits. Field craft, such as the army teaches, is first to study the ground. We should take our time, examine the lay of the land ahead, figure where the rabbit would most likely be. And then, instead of charging full steam at that spot, we should sneak up on it as quietly as possible, as slowly as need be. Fifty per cent of all rabbits we ever see are already galloping away out of range because they heard or saw us approaching.”

“Granted,” said Jim.

“Safety,” I went further, “is an essential part of that same field craft. If we spend the time and patience in getting close to our quarry, there is no need to carry our guns loaded and ready to fire at an instant’s notice. In England, the true sportsman always breaks his gun, opens it at the breech and carries it so, with the breech open, so that there is not the slightest possibility of it going off.”,

“Hah,” interrupted Jim. “I see your scheme. You are going to suggest now that I don’t carry a shell in the chamber of my pump. You are going to say that if we get close enough to the rabbit, I have plenty of time to pump a shell in.”

“Precisely,” I said.

“And the clatter of me pumping a shell in,” cried Jim, “would scare the rabbit so bad he would put a spurt on so that I never could hit him.”

Jimmy and I were hunting the so-called “jack rabbit” of Ontario, which is nothing more or less than the European or English hare which has been introduced into Ontario and is spreading far and wide. A big, bold, brown hare that averages eight pounds and often goes to 15. And it can travel.

“Don’t let us waste time arguing,” I declared. “Let me demonstrate.”

So I walked in the lead, Jim following. We crossed a couple of barren snowy fields, towards where the tops of brush and small trees indicated a frozen creek bed or at least a gully. In such places the big jacks prefer to crouch in their “forms” in the snow, snug little cavities hollowed out just the size of the tenant, leaving his ears and eyes out to detect the approach of enemies.

As we came to each fence, I paused and opened the breech of my shotgun. This entails pushing over, with the right thumb, the small lever on the top of the breech, which lets the barrels open. You have to be smart, and hold the palm of one hand cupped over the opening barrels, or the ejector will pop the shells out and shoot them several feet away into the snow.

Jim watched this procedure with ill-concealed amusement. But too many men have been injured, often fatally, in the business of climbing a fence with a loaded gun. To show Jim the superiority of a double gun over a pump gun, I was able to climb the fence, holding my opened gun in one hand, and ready on the instant to snap the gun shut and fire, should any game appear.

After climbing the fence I turned and watched Jim.

“Put your gun through first,” I warned.

Jimmie slid his gun carefully through the fence and rested it against the fence post on my side. Then he climbed over.

“Ah,” I said. “You see? Your gun was out of reach for all of 10 seconds. Commando tactics would not agree with that.”

“I’ve got a shell in the chamber, and the safety’s on,” asserted Jim. “I don’t see why I can’t climb a fence with the gun in my hands.”

Very cautiously we approached the gully ahead. As we drew near enough to see the far bank of the gully, I paused and signalled Jim to pause, too. Stepping as carefully as possible so as not to make any sound in the snow, I crept ahead, slowly bringing more and more of the gully into view. I scanned it keenly. It was just an ordinary empty snow gully. There were no rabbits in it.

“Come on,” pleaded Jim. “Let’s get travelling. There are just so many jack rabbits in this township. And if we don’t kick one out pretty soon, it will be getting dark. I believe in covering ground.”

“Let’s Try It My Way”

“Let’s try it my way for once,” I said, with dignity.

“Mmmffff,” muttered Jim.

Assuming the lead again, I proceeded down the gully, crossing several fences. At each fence, I stopped, shoved the lever over, broke the gun at the breech, cupped the shells from being ejected, climbed the fence with open gun in hand, carefully scanned the country from the fence top, then on the far side quietly and carefully closed the breech of the gun.

Then I would turn and watch Jim slide his pump gun through the fence and rest it on the far side while he climbed over.

This became routine. We crossed 10 fields and 11 fences. At each fence, we went through the routine of safety. The farther we went, the slower and more cautiously we moved.

“Let’s get going,” muttered Jim.

“The farther we travel,” I whispered, “the better the law of averages is on our side. We’ll jump a jack any minute now.”

Ahead, the tops of brush and scrub trees indicated another sheltered gully. I signalled Jim to super caution. Stepping slowly and quietly, we drew across the snowy stubble to the depression.

A fence skirted its edge. After a long and commando-like survey, I moved down and crossed the fence. As usual, I broke the gun breech open and threw my leg over. Jim shoved his gun through and started to climb over. As I shut the breech, the little snick it gave was the final urge to a good fat jack who was snuggled in the snow not 30 feet from where I stood.

Up leaped the jack, his long ears laid back, and away he hared.

“Git him,” bellowed Jimmie on the fence.

I threw the gun to my shoulder. But force of habit, force of training, is too much for any man. On throwing the gun to my shoulder, instead of pushing the safety catch forward, I did what I had been doing over and over for the past hour or more.

I shoved the lever of the breech over with my thumb.

The gun fell open. The two shells popped loudly out past my nose and ear and fell in the snow some feet behind me.

By the time Jim had scrambled down off the fence and grabbed his pump gun, the jack was long out of sight up the shaggy gully.

So we stood there, while Jim laughed and leaned against the fence and while I pawed in the snow for my two shells. Shells are rationed.

“It goes to show,” sighed Jimmie, after he had got through his hysterics. “It goes to show that training is great stuff. But not if you are trained in the wrong thing to do.”

“Wait till the boys get home from overseas,” I muttered.

So we walked abreast for the rest of the short afternoon, each of us climbing fences the way we liked, and covering a lot of ground now that dusk was falling. But we saw no more jack rabbits. And at Jim’s suggestion, we stopped in at a farm house to see if the farmer, by any chance, was going anywhere in his car or a sleigh. If so, he could give us a lift down the road to our car, which was a good three miles back. And a cold night falling.

The farmer, as a matter of fact, was in for the night. But when I happened to notice on the wall of the kitchen a sort of plaque with the red patch of the First Division, the purple patch of the Fifth Division and the white and gold shield of the Eighth Army all prettily framed on the plaque, and asked the farmer if he had boys in Italy, and when he found out I was a war correspondent who had probably seen his boys in the Hasty Pees and in the Perth Regiment, why, we had to stay to supper.

And we had roast spareribs, beautifully done, and white turnips, the small sweet ones, smothered with fresh pepper, boiled potatoes and spareribs gravy, apple pie and mild Canadian cheese.

And about 10 p.m. the farmer drove us down to where our car was parked on the sideroad.

All of which goes to show you the kind of things you are likely to meet up with when the war is over and the boys come home.


Editor’s Notes: Battle dress was the standard field uniform of the Canadian army in World War 2.

Greg has a double-barreled gun, while Jim has a pump action gun.

British Commandos were newly created in World War 2 in 1942, and the word became popularized.

Jackrabbits in Ontario are actually introduced European hares.

The Golden Way

Jim jagged a small hole in the bag. A trickle of grain began to fall…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 6, 1945.

“The injustice of it!” stormed Jimmie Frise.

“Under our present system, Jim,” I soothed, “if a man wants to get rich in order to buy a farm where he can raise pheasants so as to have good shooting in the pheasant season ..”

“I don’t mind a man getting rich,” declaimed Jim, “in order to build a great house. Or to own a huge factory in which to exercise his authority and sense of power. I can’t even get excited at a man using his wealth to buy up streets of houses so he can live off the rents. I can look at the pictures in the fashion magazines of guys with big yachts, and never turn a hair. But the thought of this guy Baggs buying a farm and loading it with pheasants for his private shooting somehow gets my nanny.”

“It’s just jealousy, Jim,” I pointed out. “You’ve got all the house you need, so you’re not jealous of rich men’s houses. You’re too lazy to be jealous of a man owning a great big troublesome factory. You hate looking after money, so you feel no jealousy of a man owning a street full of houses. And as for yachts, you prefer a dinghy anyway. But you love pheasant shooting.”

“The thought of this guy,” gritted Jim, as he steered his car over the autumn-tinted back road leading to his Uncle Abe’s farm, “makes a Bolshevik out of me.”

“The difference between jealousy and a sense of justice,” I submitted, “is very hard to define. How many Bolsheviks are really inspired by a sense of justice and how many are actuated by good old plain jealousy is difficult to figure out. If the Bolsheviks knew how much you love a shotgun, I doubt if they’d let you join their party because of your feelings about Mr. Baggs and his farm full of pheasants.”

“I’d be a good recruit,” declared Jim grimly.

“Until the pheasant season is over,” I suggested.

“I’m for putting an end to all privileges,” announced Jim.

“Unless you can be privileged,” I retorted. “How often do we see the spectacle of a poor relation fighting bitterly in the courts for his share of a rich uncle’s estate. Justice and fair dealing is all he wants. Then, by some trick of the law, he suddenly gets in the lead and it looks as if he is going to get the major share of the loot. How suddenly he changes his tune! How quickly he adds a couple of new – and more expensive – lawyers to his case!”

“You’re talking about Baggs,” muttered Jim.

“That’s how he got his wealth,” I agreed. “He was just a shabby, poor man, hard working, embittered, sour. We both knew him in those days.”

“He didn’t even own a gun,” sneered Jim.

“He took no fun out of life at all,” I said. “At school, he worked like a fool, remember? He used to predict a bad end for us. Then, in later years, whenever we encountered him, Baggs could hardly conceal his jealousy of our happy-go-lucky way of life. He just acted contemptuous.”

“Then his rich uncle died,” growled Jim.

“And you remember the court case?” I gloated. “It was in all the papers.”

“How he fought for the minor heirs,” said Jim, “until all of a sudden, something turned up that made him look like a major heir.”

“A letter from his uncle,” I reminded. “And then he turned on the minor heirs and ended up with almost the entire estate.”

Curious Coincidence

“So he buys a farm,” said Jim, “right next to my Uncle Abe’s farm, of all places. Buys guns. Guns by the dozen. English guns, costing a thousand dollars for a matched pair. And outfits himself with shooting tweeds and plus fours.”

“And imports an English gamekeeper, to raise pheasants,” I included. “Who also teaches him to shoot.”

The guy who never owned a gun!” scoffed Jim.

“And who all through the years,” I agreed, “sneered at us for wasting our time in sport.”

“He woke up at last,” sighed Jim.

“I suppose,” I said, “that if Baggs had used his money to buy up apartment houses, you wouldn’t have minded. If he’d bought a yacht, or gone in for raising race-horses, you would never have turned a hair.”

“It’s the curious coincidence,” asserted Jimmie, “of his buying that particular farm, right adjoining Uncle Abe’s, that gets me. It was a worthless farm. In fact, it was hardly a farm at all. It was just 400 acres of waste land. I bet he didn’t pay much more than a thousand dollars for it.”

“It was ideal for his purpose,” I pointed out. “What pheasants we ever got around your Uncle Abe’s farm were generally got on that waste land adjoining.”

“Pheasants love creek beds and low marshy tangles,” explained Jim. “With that old farm and barns on the hill, and all that low lying ground full of scrub and wild berry bushes along the creek, he couldn’t have bought a better place for raising pheasants.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I consoled, “the overflow will come into your Uncle Abe’s farm.”

“Like heck!” cried Jim, as we crested the last rise before coming into view of Uncle Abe’s. “I telephoned him last night, and he said there wasn’t a pheasant on his place. He saw a few in the summer. But with the shooting season only a few weeks off, the birds began to disappear into the Baggs farm. And little wonder. Baggs feeds them lavishly. He grows grain only to feed his birds. He must have thousands of them.”

“When the shooting starts on the Baggs place,” I assured, “you can bet the birds will come flying out over Uncle Abe’s.”

“On the contrary,” said Jim, “Baggs never has more than three or four guests. I’ve seen them. Mean, sour-puss guys like himself. And on all the farms adjoining, including Uncle Abe’s, there will be maybe 40 or 50 guys shooting. Every pheasant in the township will fly straight into Baggs’ place and hide in the tangle.”

While Baggs’ English gamekeeper,” I recollected, “with half a dozen hired bullies, will patrol the borders of the estate.”

“Uncle Abe says he has already got great big keep-off signs every hundred feet all along the fences,” said Jim.

“I’m glad we’ve come up for the week-end, anyway, Jim,” I concluded, as we drove in Uncle Abe’s lane. “We can look the situation over and pick the likeliest spots to stand when the shooting begins. We ought to be able to get our bag limit the first day, anyway, from birds flying into the Baggs’ place.”

“That’s my idea, too,” agreed Jim.

Uncle Abe greeted us warmly. He had a recurrence of the lumbago and there were a few heavy chores around the farm that he wanted Jimmie and I to attend to, such as lifting a few bags in the barn and putting blocks under a broken binder wheel. Which chores Jimmie and I are always only too eager to attend to with the shooting season only a matter of weeks.

“I’ve had a very poor crop this year,” said Uncle Abe, as he got himself comfortable in the rocking chair in the kitchen. “I don’t know as I am going to be able to make ends meet this winter.”

This was his usual attitude. He had gone through life without ever tying even a granny knot in the ends.

After a little, Jimmie and I got around to Baggs.

“Baggs is a pretty good sort,” said Uncle Abe.

“We’ve known him since our school days,” I said coolly. “He may have improved.”

“I like to see a man improve, as the year go by,” philosophized Uncle Abe. “Too many of us deteriorate with time.”

He groaned with the lumbago and looked earnestly in the direction of the barn, where there were chores to be done.

“So you haven’t seen many pheasants around lately?” I asked cosily.

“When my tomatoes were ripening,” said Uncle Abe, “I seen hundreds of them. They almost ruined my tomato crop. They swarmed out of Baggs’ place every morning at daybreak and punctured thousands of tomatoes.”

“You should sue the guy,” cried Jim indignantly.

“Oh, I didn’t need to,” said Uncle Abe cheerfully. “I called Baggs and he came over and bought the tomato crop complete. Gave me a good price. And even so, I hear he made about $300 on the deal.”

“He would,” I said bitterly.

“Well, he took a lot of grief off my mind,” said Uncle Abe. “He gave me what I asked, which was more than I expected after I hired somebody to pick the tomatoes. My lumbago was coming on at the time….”

He groaned again, absently took a bank-book from his shirt pocket, stared at it a moment and put it back with a pat.

“But lately,” I pursued, “you haven’t seen many birds?”

“No, the past two weeks or three,” said Uncle Abe, “I haven’t seen more than a dozen, flying over the fences into Baggs’. He feeds them so. Around his barn, of an evening, you can see two or three hundred…”

“Aw, no!” I groaned.

“All in all, I bet he has a thousand birds in here,” said Uncle Abe. “An expensive hobby. He grows the finest grain for them. That Englishman he’s got working for him could win all the prizes in the fall fair, if he wanted to. But he just feeds it to the birds.”

A Brain Wave

“Jim,” I said excitedly, “how about us getting on with some of Uncle Abe’s heavy chores. I bet there are lots of things, Uncle Abe, you’d like us to …”

“Aw, what’s the hurry,” said Jim very astonished.

But I got Jim out to the barn as fast as I could.

“Jim,” I said exultantly when I got him out of hearing, “I’ve had a brain wave. When Uncle Abe told me about that prize grain, something stirred in my memory. It was a story I heard in my childhood about my great-great-grandfather, back in Ireland …”

“The poacher?” inquired Jim.

“The poacher,” I gloated. “The story was about how he enticed game birds off the property of the gentry.”

“Enticed?” queried Jim eagerly.

“This ancestor of mine, as I’ve often told you,” I recounted, “was a plain guy like us who didn’t think the gentry should have all the shooting. So he would go, just before the season opened, and buy a bag of grain from the landlord of the big estate.”

“So?” urged Jim.

“And as he went, like an honest peasant,” I gloated, “out the beck gate of the big house, he would slit a small hole in the bag. And as he walked home across the fields, carrying his homely burden, he left a little trail of grain behind him.”

“Aha!” cried Jim.

“Especially,” I hissed, “through and near the copses where the pheasants roosted. And he would lead the trail into a copse off the estate of the big house, some abandoned copse, where even the humblest peasant could shoot. And there he would distribute the balance of the grain lavishly among the bracken and the gorse.”

“What a mind!” admired Jim. “Your great-great-grandfather should have been a famous statesman or something.”

“He emigrated to Canada,” I explained. “Now all we’ve got to do is pay a social call on our old friend Baggs just before the season opens. And I will tell him I have a modest little place up near Lake Simcoe, where I grow choice grain as a hobby. Purely as a hobby. Just to win prizes. And Baggs, being Baggs, will promptly start bragging about his grain. And in the end, I’ll buy a bag from him, out of sheer admiration. And we’ll carry it home across the field, there, to Uncle Abe’s …”

“Aaaaah!” breathed Jimmie ecstatically.

And we’ll take it straight into the sugar bush,” I concluded. “There is a lot of thick cover there. Hazel bushes and that one little wet swampy patch. And there we’ll spread broad a lavish feast of grain. And the next day, when the shooting starts, we’ve got a little estate of our own…!”

Jim rubbed his hands with glee.

“We won’t let Uncle Abe in on it?” he inquired anxiously.

“No,” I considered, “because you know Uncle Abe. Last time we shot here, he had let nearly 30 people on the farm, at $5 a head.”

“It’s against the law,” said Jim hotly.

“Well, they all took a basket of tomatoes or some melons for their five dollars,” I reminded. “Your Uncle Abe is no slouch. The lumbago makes a man smart in the head.”

Jimmie walked around the end of the barn and looked across the fields to the Baggs farm perched on the hill. A formerly tumbled-down farm, which Baggs, in true city farmer style, had renovated into a very comfortable establishment. We could see the pheasants strutting in the distant barnyard and, as we watched, a couple of noble cock birds flew, like bronze meteors, across the horizon.

“The place is crawling with them,” I sighed.

“Look,” said Jim, with decision. “Why wait until the season is about to open? Why not let’s go up and buy a bag of grain right now and start accustoming the pheasants to the scheme? They’ll be less suspicious. Don’t forget. Pheasants are canny birds.”

“How could we buy two bags of grain from Baggs?” I scoffed. “He’d suspect. In fact, I’m a little afraid he might suspect us even as it is.”

“Let’s go and see the guy now,” insisted Jim. “And then, on the night before the season opens, we can take a bag of Uncle Abe’s grain and sneak up into Baggs’ place after dark…”

“I don’t like it,” I said. “Baggs is a pretty crafty customer.”

“Not as crafty as us,” gloated Jim. “Thanks to your ancestors.’

“Mmmmmmm….” I demurred.

But Jim led off. And I followed. And for the first time since our old school chum Baggs had fallen into his wealth, we went to pay him a visit.

As we came over the last field towards the Baggs barn, a kennel full of wild hounds made a terrific uproar and the English gamekeeper came out to meet us across the fence. “

“Mr. Baggs is not at home,” said the gamekeeper stiffly, after we had explained we were a couple of old school chums of his master.

So we started working on him, telling him what beautiful birds he had raised. And no gamekeeper can resist a little flattery. He took us in and showed us the big field full of pens where the pheasant chicks are raised in the spring. And we had to walk knee-deep, you might say, through perfectly tame birds all the way. Jim and I pretended to know nothing about them and expressed our wonderment that men could shoot such beautiful tame creatures.

“Ah, they’re wild enough, five minutes after the first gun on opening day,” said the gamekeeper.

Grain Grower in Action

Finally, I got my eye on the feeding troughs and the grain. And I went instantly into my pose, as a fancy grain grower. Purely as a hobby. Just to win prizes. The keeper was even further flattered by my excited admiration for the grain and readily agreed to my request that he sell me a bag of it for seed.

The price was very steep. He demanded $10!

“Why,” protested Jim, nearly spoiling the deal, “the best seed grain is only three-fifty…”

But I hushed him and between us we raised the $10 and I paid the keeper.

“We’ll just carry it across the field to Uncle Abe’s,” I explained, as the keeper started to lift the bag into a wheel-barrow.

So we shook hands, like true-hearted grain growers, and started off. It was a pretty heavy heft, two bushels of seed. But no burden is too heavy to conspirators borne aloft by their enterprise.

Jim watched over his shoulder; but the keeper had vanished into the barn. With his penknife, Jim jagged a small hole in the bag. A trickle of grain began to fall….

Over the fields we went, at a nice pace, adjusted exactly to the sort of trail you would follow if you were a pheasant. Over fences, around copses, through a couple of swampy places, we labored, our burden growing lighter all the time.

At especially “pheasanty” nooks, we changed over carrying and so left regular little puddles of grain to catch the notice of the birds. And on to Uncle Abe’s property we came, with only a stubble field between us and the sugar bush, which was to be our goal.

“We’ll scatter what’s left, maybe a third of the bag,” said Jim, “right around the sugar house. It’s very bushy there, and plenty of roosting places. They’ll be accustomed….”

Over the stubble and into the sugar bush we wove our path. Up to the sugar house where, with a triumphant sigh, we deposited the bag and began to scatter handfuls of seed amid the bracken and the hazel. And when we came round the end of the sugar house, with our hands heaped with grain, there, on the stoop of the open door, sat Baggs!

Smoking a pipe, in plus fours, with his walking stick against his knee. Baggs.

“Hell-LO!” he cried delightedly leaping up. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old school mates, Jimmie and Greg!”

We dropped the handfuls of grain down the back of our pant legs.

We shook hands enthusiastically, as only old school mates can.

“My keeper,” said Baggs, “told me a couple of characters had bought a bag of his precious seed and wandered off over the fields. An old trick, boys, but a good one.”

“I… uh … we … uh…”

“But why so early?” inquired Baggs anxiously. “You should have tried it the night before the season opens.”

“We … uh…I… ahh…”

“Boys,” said Baggs, enthusiastically, “I’ve known you all my life and I never thought you guys had it in you! I thought you were just a couple of dopes. Look: I’ve leased the shooting on Uncle Abe’s farm here for the season, on account of my hand-raised birds living on it. Nobody is going to shoot here. So how would you two like to join my party this season? Over at my place? Come the night before opening. I’ve got plenty of room to put you up…”

“Why … uh… I… we … uh…” we both cried heartily.


Editor’s Notes: Plus fours are breeches or trousers that extend four inches below the knee and were common for sportsmen at the time.

Lumbago is the general term referring to low back pain.

A granny knot is used to secure a rope around an object. Saying that someone had gone through life without ever tying even a granny knot in the ends, means that they are lazy.

A copse is a small group of trees. Bracken and gorse are low-lying bushes and scrub.

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