Tag: 1945 Page 1 of 2
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 13, 1945
“Ducks,” insisted Jimmie Frise.
“Muskies,” I asserted emphatically. “This week-end is the last of the bass and musky fishing in Ontario. It closes the 14th.”
“Ducks,” repeated Jim doggedly. “This week-end is really the beginning of the duck season. They’ll be flying this weather.”
“Jim,” I presented earnestly, “the year 1945 is over this week-end as far as fishing is concerned. Gone forever, 1945! We’ve got the rest of October and November to shoot ducks. But this week-end will never come again.”
“Ducks,” said Jim.
“Have you no sentiment?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t you realize that there are just so many fishing seasons in any man’s life? When a season ends, it is like a chapter of life closed. We shall not pass this way again.”
“Ducks,” said Jim.
“Aw, ducks!” I scoffed. “The silly things. There you sit, shivering in a clump of dead grass, crouched down. Minutes pass. Half hours pass. Hours pass. Far off, on the horizon, flock after flock of ducks sweep away, like wisps of smoke in the distance. Then all of a sudden you hear a rushing, whistling sound of wings. You jerk awake. Over your head, go six ducks, skating through the air, slithering and sliding in fright at the sight of you quivering below. You yank your gun to your shoulder and blast off. One, two. And then you slowly lower your gun and watch the six ducks vanish in the distance.”
Instead of resenting my contemptuous description of duck shooting, Jim’s eyes gleamed with delight.
“Gosh,” he said, “it’s wonderful!”
“But you missed them,” I pointed out.
“That time, maybe,” said Jim. “But tell me how foolish it is to shoot at ducks coming in to decoys.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “There you crouch, in a clump of frosty bulrushes, on a damp box sogged into a quaking bog. A nasty east wind rattles the rushes around you and coils up the back of your clammy canvas coat. It spits rain a little.”
Jim’s face wore an ecstatic expression as he listened.
“As you peer amid the clattering rushes,” I continued, “you can see your decoys bobbing in the cold gray water, 15, 20 yards out from your hide. They are silly looking things, decoys. All facing the same way. All bobbing busily. You think they look like ducks. So do the ducks.”
Jim took a deep breath and clutched an imaginary gun to his stomach, as he crouched in his chair.
“For suddenly, far off,” I related, “your eye detects a flicker of movement in the gray, dismal light of dawn. Yes. Over on the far shore a flock of 15 blue-bills has curved away and is heading for you.”
“Fifteen!” whispered Jimmie, sliding the safety catch off the imaginary gun clasped to his bosom.
“They are fanned out,” I hissed, “in a wavering, shifting line of fast racing birds. They are going to pass a quarter of a mile to the south of your hide.”
“Aw,” regretted Jim, relaxing the gun.
“But, no!” I cried. They are wheeling! They’ve turned! They have spotted your decoys!”
Jim sank down deep in his chair, his eyes piercing the office wall.
“A mile a minute,” I grated in a low, dramatic tone, “that weaving, shifting line of blue-bills races towards you. They bunch! In the air, they seem to huddle as they flare up and wide, past you and your stupid decoys, bobbing busily on the water.”
Jim sat crouched in his chair, not turning his head, not daring to move.
“Up and wide, they flare,” I hissed, “and swing in an arc, still bunched. Then they begin to fan out. And as they fan out, they begin to drop. THEY ARE COMING IN!”
Jim’s knuckles turned white around the imaginary gun.
“They Taste Weedy”
“Lower, lower,” I muttered, “they are dropping, fanned out. They are 15 feet above the water. They are 10 feet above the water. They are floating in, on set wings, at silent, incredible speed. They are going to pass over your decoys about eight feet up, and land up-wind of them. Their wings are set, taut, curved, to brake them against the breeze…”
“BANG! BANG!” yelled Jim, leaping to his feet and taking aim with the imaginary gun pointed at the office wall.
And with a huge sigh, he fell back into his chair and said:
“How many did I get?”
“One,” I informed him, disgustedly.
“One?” protested Jim.
“As usual,” I advised him, “you fire into the bunch, instead of picking your birds and leading them. You got one. And it just happened to fly into your shot pattern.”
“I picked two drakes,” protested Jim hotly.
“You got one,” I informed him. “A hen.”
“Shucks,” said Jim disgustedly.
He stared into space until the imaginary scene I had built for him out of thin air had slowly faded.
“We’ll make it duck shooting this weekend,” he stated firmly.
“We’ll go fishing,” I retorted. “It is the grand finale, the finish, the glorious end of another fishing season gone into the dark limbo of the past.”
“Fishing,” asserted Jim, “is for May, June and part of July. By the middle of July, you are already sated with fishing. You are already sneaking up to the attic to fondle your guns.”
“There is no week in the whole year,” I countered, “to equal the second week of October for musky fishing. Maybe because it is the last, it is the loveliest. It is fraught with farewell and good-by. The shores are sentimental with autumn’s sweet, tragic colors. The sun is already paling. The wind of October is fitful.”
Jim began scanning the office wall for more blue-bills.
“In the water,” I pursued, “the weeds have died. And the muskies, who have hidden in the weed beds all summer, have fled the stinking water of the weed beds for the hard shores. The rocks.”
“In two and three feet of water,” I insinuated, “off these hard shores, amid the boulders, the crevices and along the sunken logs, the great muskies of autumn lie waiting and watching. For two reasons have they come into the shallows: to escape the stench of the decaying weed beds and to feed up against the winter on the little fishes and frogs and crawfish that dwell along the shore.”
“Slimy things,” yawned Jimmie.
“You drift in your skiff,” I wheedled, “along the shore, maybe 60 feet out. And you cast, cast, cast. Towards the shore. At every shadow of rock or crevice or log. You cast your plug and reel fast. Unlike in summer, you don’t have to reel slow and deep. You reel fast, your plug just skimming the surface. For when one of those fresh-water tigers sees your bait, he leaps on it like a famished tiger. He is in shallow water. He can’t go down. There is only one way for him to fight, when he feels the sting of your hooks. And that is up!”
“They taste weedy,” sneered Jim.
“Eight pounds. 10 pounds,” I exulted, “maybe 15 or 20 pounds of lithe, green, solid muscle. On the end of a fragile little casting rod. Twenty pounds of solid muscle, leaping, frantic, threshing, boiling in the water, in that cool October sunlight, against that lovely soft tragic shore …”
“I,” said Jim, getting up with finality, “am going duck shooting.”
“Very well,” I said bitterly. “I am going fishing.”
“After all these years,” said Jim, “you’d think a guy would get his full of a stupid sport like combing the water with a wooden plug.”
“After all these years,” I retorted, “you would think an old friend would not desert you on the last day of the fishing season of 1945.”
Jim stood looking out the window for a minute and then said:
“What we can do, we can go together to Blue’s Landing and you can fish and I can shoot. There is good musky fishing there. And the place whistles with ducks.”
So that was the solution. Blue’s Landing is an old favorite of mine for late season fishing. The old hotel is practically deserted by this time, save for a few lean and taciturn Yankees, who know about the mystery and glory of October musky fishing in the shallows, and come all the way from Memphis and Omaha to indulge in it here in the less popular resorts of Ontario. The Americans who come in summer are noisy and lively characters who fish hard and get a lot of sunburn. Those who come in October are silent, cold-eyed Yanks, with very old clothes and very costly fishing-tackle boxes and tailor-made split cane rods made in Bangor, Maine, and costing close to a hundred dollars.
They do not interfere with you, they eat by themselves, they do not crave any company, like their summer brethren. The autumn musky fishers from Mobile and St. Louis are prayerful men.
Voices in the Rushes
But when Jim and I drove in the dark into the hotel yard at Blue’s Landing, there were too many cars huddled in the October night. And inside, I could hear the whoopee of duck hunters.
When I pushed in the front door with my armful of rods and tackle boxes, half a dozen rosy gentlemen around the log fire, in loud hunting shirts, greeted me with stony stares.
When Mike, the hotel handyman, came out from the kitchen, I asked him if there were no gentlemen in the house this fall.
“Oh, yes,” said Mike. “But they’ve gone to bed.”
And he winked meaningly with a nod towards the living-room, where the duck hunters were greeting Jim heartily around the log fire.
“I’ll go to bed, too,” I said, “How’s fishing?”
“Mr. Vince got an 18-pounder this morning.”
So I went straight to bed, giving Mr. Vince’s room a friendly nod as I passed his door. Mr. Vince being an aged gentleman from Wheeling, West Virginia.
Jim came in after I was abed and tried to get me to come down and hear some of the stories that were going around the log fire. But I bade him good-night.
And very early in the morning, long before light, the old hotel was shaking and squeaking with the rising of the duck shooters and the musky fishers.
It was, in fact, a fact, I could hear no sound from Jim’s room and hoped I was ahead of him. But when I got down to the lamp-lit dining-room, there he was in his hunting shirt at the large table with the strangers of the night before. At separate tables, scattered around the room, were the musky fishers, singly, or two by two, but mostly singles. Mr. Vince was by himself. I. went and shook hands warmly and then went to a table of my own. That is the spirit of the autumn musky fisher.
Bacon and two eggs. Home-fried potatoes. Toast, coffee. And pumpkin pie. A good sound breakfast. Eaten rapidly. Because the duck hunters are already scraping their chairs away from the table and, with loud talk, scattering out into the hall to pick up guns and pull on waders and canvas coats.
As arranged with Mike the night before, I got the little red boat which Mike had hidden in the reeds some distance from the boathouse. Mr. Vince had his canoe and John Jacob, the Ojibway, for his guide, and they vanished away into the first mists of dawn. Outboard engines whined and roared as the duck hunters blasted off into the murk. In one of the outboard skiffs, I saw Jim perched up very chummy with a crew of his overnight buddies.
I waited until Mike brought the red skiff from hiding and shoved off to row the quarter-mile to McDuggan’s rocky shore across the bay. The mists of daybreak were still thick when, one by one, the outboard engines died in the distance. And a great silence fell over the world. The hunters were creeping into their hides. The musky fishermen were silently drifting along their favorite rides, flinging their lures towards the stilly shore.
There was just a tinkle of breeze. Little wavelets ruffled the water. I came to McDuggan’s shadowy shore, let my oars drag and began to cast. Not a sound broke the eerie silence. It was still too dark to see the best spots to hit with the lure. Suddenly, over my head, I heard a rushing sound which swelled into a squeaking whistle, and I could make out, for an instant, half a dozen torpedo-shapes hurtling through the air. Black duck, maybe, or mallards. They were heading straight up the shore, so I held my cast and listened. But no shots rang out.
“Heh, heh, heh,” I said to myself, and cast.
Slowly the dawn grew and I could make out the rocks and crevices of the shore. The wind drifted me at a pleasant pace. I did the full mile of rocky shore without a rise of any kind. But so great is the expectation, in musky fishing, that you don’t really need a fish.
There were tall bulrushes and reeds for the next mile of shore with all sorts of lily-pad beds.
“Hey,” came a muffled voice from the first clump of bulrushes, “buzz off!”
“That you, Jim?” I called back.
“Ssshhh!” came a sharp rejoinder. “Beat it.”
Instead, I cast deliberately at the lily pads. As reeled in, I could hear mutters and mumbles from the rushes. I drifted, with occasional pulls on the oars to keep me straight, along the reedy shore, while dawn grew into day. A lovely, chill, misty day, ideal for muskies.
A figure rose out of the rushes.
“Will you,” demanded a voice profanely, “get the heck out of here? There’s no fish along here. You’re chasing all the ducks away.”
“What ducks?” I demanded scornfully.
“You’ve scared off three flights already,” declared the figure in the rushes. “Now get the heck out of here before somebody accidentally shoots your tub full of Number Fives.”
“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I said, aiming a cast for the lily pads 10 feet from where he stood.
He sank out of sight with growls.
By now, it was quite light and I could see the hotel at the foot of the lake, as well as Mr. Vince’s canoe far up the opposite shore and a couple of other anglers’ skiffs at likely spots.
As I was watching Mr. Vince, I saw a flock of what appeared to be red heads come spanking out of his direction. They raced across the lake towards me. But seeing my boat, they hoicked up in a beautiful climb and turned towards the hotel end of the lake.
At the same time, I heard shouts, groans and imprecations from half a dozen places in the reeds.
There She Blows!
Then I heard Jim’s voice:
“Greg! Greg! A huge musky. Just rolled. Hey. Here!”
He was in a point of rushes a couple of hundred yards up.
I rowed smartly towards him. His decoys were spread amid the lily pads.
“Where?” I demanded, as the skiff coasted in.
“Right among my decoys,” hissed Jim urgently. “Cast. Cast.”
I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys.
“Go ahead, he was a 20-pounder, right under my nose,” urged Jimmie.
I cast and re-cast. There was no response.
“Come in,” urged Jim, “and pick me up and I’ll row you along here. He may be cruising up and down.”
“You stick to your ducks,” I said, suspiciously.
“Come on,” wheedled Jim. “A great big green monster …”
At which moment, from down the hotel end of the lake, a long line of speeding bluebills hove in sight, and I saw an expression of agony strike Jim’s face.
“Get out of here!” he roared. “Or come in here and hide that red tub!”
The flight swept far away to the other shore. Behind it came another and another.
“Get out of there, get out of those decoys!” bellowed Jim. “Or come in…”
“I knew what you were up to,” I retorted, as I snagged a lily pad from my weedless lure. “Trying to get me to let you get hold of this boat …”
“Will you come in and hide that boat?” demanded Jim menacingly.
“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I announced. The season is still open. This is a famous fishing lake. I don’t see …”
Far off, a couple of guns barked with that futile sound that means long shots and missed.
“Spoil sport!” yahed Jim.
“You’ve got all the rest of October and November to shoot,” I stated.
“Will you get out of my decoys?” demanded Jim.
At which moment, from the next point of rushes north, gun went off and a scatter of shot slashed the water about 10 feet outside my boat.
“Sorry,” a voice called, “My trigger caught in the rushes.”
And at the same instant, in the water where the shot had lashed, there was a sudden large boiling of the water, the immense dark green back of a musky arched up, a large reddish tail lifted and slapped the water.
“There!” yelled Jim.
I made a quick, backhand cast. My lure chucked into the boil before it had subsided. I felt the slow, savage tug of a big fish. I struck. The lake seemed to explode.
“Give him line! Let me in. Row with one hand. Hold him. Get me in that boat …”
It was Jim roaring from the weeds.
In musky fishing, once things start to happen, all is a dream.
Somehow, Jim got in the boat. Somehow, we fought the fish back through the decoys and the anchor strings and the lily pads and got into the clear. Seven times, the big fish cleared the water in arrowy, horizontal leaps 10 feet long. From the rushes came the yells and cries of advice that goes with a big fish.
And after horsing him up and down the shore for half an hour, we got him tired and hit him on the head with the numbing-stick and hoisted him aboard.
“The great thing about sport,” said Jim, as we shook hands, “is co-operation.”
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 11, 1945
“How queer,” said Jimmie Frise, “the city looks in summer.”
“You mean the streets like this?” I suggested, as we drove up our old familiar avenue. “Sort of slumbering.”
“I imagine,” mused Jim, “there isn’t another city in the world that has the percentage of summer absentees Toronto has. I bet there are more people in Toronto who have summer cottages than in any other big city on earth.”
“It’s because our lake country,” I submitted, “begins less than 50 miles from the city limits. Not many big cities have a Muskoka, Haliburton and Georgian Bay within a couple of hours’ drive.”
“Montreal?” queried Jim.
“In Montreal, I pointed out, “you see the summer cottages right in the suburbs. But per population, I don’t think Montreal uses her Laurentians to the extent Toronto uses Muskoka. For one thing, vast hunks of the Laurentians are leased out to comparatively small clubs of wealthy men. Some of the choicest lakes near Montreal are exclusive.”
“Just look at this street!” cried Jim. “Not a soul in sight. Not a dog, not a cat. Every house deserted. Look at the trees, all hanging heavy with summer. Look at the bushes and the flower beds. Untouched by human hands for weeks.”
“Let out a yell,” I suggested, “and see if a single curtain stirs.”
We drove in our side drive in the dusk. We were home for just overnight, to attend to a matter of urgent business. We were going straight back to the cottage in the morning, as soon as we had bought some potatoes.
“I’ll just run around to my place,” suggested Jim, “and see if everything is okay. Then I’ll come back and spend the night here, so we can get organized for the morning.”
“No use disturbing two houses for the one night,” I agreed. “Let’s leave it until morning, and we’ll call at your place in passing.”
“Okay,” concurred Jim, taking off his coat as we entered the house.
It had the close smell of the summer-deserted house. We went about opening windows and doors. We turned on the radio, tried the taps to see if civilization was still functioning. The cool air of early night blew through the house, freshening it.
We strolled out the kitchen door into the garden. In the gloom of final dusk, we could see the lawn grass thick and wild, and the flower borders tangled and strange with hundreds of blooms. The spare and trim and skimpy garden we had last seen in early July was now a regular jungle of lush growth.
“Jim,” I called, “come over and look at these zinnias!”
Nobody ever succeeds in planting zinnias far enough apart. In the optimism of June, when you buy the little boxes with the baby zinnia plants in them, they look so spindly and lonely, one by one, that you can’t resist the human temptation to plant them close together. Plant them as far apart as you should, and they look like little orphans.
But my zinnia bed was, even in the dusk, a riot of light and dark, of great flat heads of blossom standing above a solid mass of foliage.
We strolled along the borders, peering. The verbenas that had been straggly little wisps of plants were now sturdy clusters from which sprays of bloom lifted, to my lighted match, ping, blue, white and henna. In that false spring we had in April, I had taken a walking stick and poked a hundred little holes here and there all over the borders and dropped cheap nasturtium seeds in. Every inch of my garden that had not already been conquered by some mightier breed was solidly squatted upon by swarms of nasturtiums fairly squirting perfume into the night air. In one spot where I had never seen anything much grow before, a large bush loomed in the dark. My lighted match shower it to be a pom pom chrysanthemum.
“What Was That?”
“Why,” I cried delighted, “there used to be a scraggly little mum bush, here. This is a great year for flowers.”
“It ought to be,” said Jim gravely. “The way we have kicked this poor earth around the past six years I guess it just naturally feels like blooming again.”
“Remember how late the spring was?” I recollected. “It will likely be a wonderful year for autumn flowers.”
“Autumn flowers,” said Jim, “are all Toronto people ought to plant. The average home that can afford a reasonable garden can also afford a summer cottage. The family is all away for July and August. Therefore, Toronto should be famous for its autumn flowers. All our gardens should concentrate or things that bloom in September and October.”
“See that stuff there?” I pointed in the dark to large forests of tall shapes. “Sunflowers, golden glow and other bright gaudy yellow things for September.”
“It’s wonderful the way things have thrived, without watering,” admitted Jim.
“I bet the ground under those things is moist right now,” I said, pushing cautiously among the shadowy stalks and feeling down.
At which instant there was a sharp squeak, right under my hand. And some creature, somewhere in size between a chipmunk and a cocker spaniel, thrashed away up the garden amid the plants.
I leaped back with a yell.
“Hey,” I barked, “what the heck was that?”
“It sounded like a groundhog,” said Jim, tip-toeing up the lawn in the direction in which the animal had gone. “Psst! Scat!”
But whatever it was, it lay very doggo.
“Jim,” I exclaimed, “it was huge. It was as big as a collie.”
“Hardly,” said Jim. “It might have been a rat. Or it might have been a small groundhog.”
“It barked,” I declared.
“No, that was you that barked,” said Jim. “It gave a kind of squeak.”
“Or whistle,” I suggested. “I just about put my hand on it. I was going to feel the ground and I could feel the wind from it as it jumped.”
“Maybe it was a groundhog,” surmised Jim, “that has wandered in from the park. The park is only a few blocks away. And in a city as deserted as this, probably the groundhogs and other animals wander at will through the desolate streets.”
“Let’s get a flashlight,” I proposed, “and ferret it out. I don’t want any wild animals loose in this garden. Why, a groundhog could wreck the place in a week.”
We went and searched the house for a flashlight but without luck. All the torches had been taken to the cottage. We stood on the veranda and gazed up and down the street. Not a window showed a light. There was no flashlight to be borrowed from any neighbor. And the drug store closes at 9, bringing Toronto’s night life to an absolute stop.
“I tell you what we will do,” I suggested. “We’ll each get a clothes prop and poke around in the garden. If we give it a scare, maybe it will keep out for the rest of the summer. I’m worried about what it can do to those lovely plants.”
So we went back to the garden and I located the clothesline props in their usual corner by the garage. Armed with 10-foot poles, Jim and I went systematically around the garden, cautiously poking in among the shrubbery, the flower plots and the unseen tangles of sweet william, perennial phlox, ferns and salvia. In the spot where the mysterious marauder had vanished up the border, Jim thought he detected some movement. He gave a loud “boo” and made a menacing jab with his clothes prop. But it was a false alarm, and when he hauled the pole out, I could see something dangling from the crotch at the end. I struck a match. And it was almost an entire verbena plant Jim had torn loose. One of those rare henna-colored ones.
“Well, if you want me to help hunt…” retorted Jim to my groans.
“Let’s Set a Trap”
We went all over the garden without disturbing anything but a few small moths. And we caused a few crickets to cease their singing for a moment or two.
“It may have been a rabbit,” declared Jim.
“Rabbits don’t bark,” I said sharply.
“That thing did not bark,” said Jim firmly. “It squeaked.”
“Or sort of whistled,” I insisted.
“Okay, whistled,” resigned Jim. “But it certainly isn’t here any more.”
I stood in the dark, picturing my beautiful garden all eaten off to stubble by the time we got home from the cottage.
“I’ve got it!” I cried suddenly. “A trap. Let’s set a trap?”
“What kind of a trap?” demanded Jim.
“Down cellar,” I said, “I’ve got an old rat trap that we brought from a house we used to live in. It’s a sort of oversize mouse trap.”
“It wouldn’t hold a groundhog,” said Jim.
“But it would scare the bejeepers out of it,” I asserted.
“You don’t want some poor little animal,” accused Jim, “wandering around with a trap fastened to it. A trap should be used for vermin, like mice or rats. And it should kill instantly.”
“Wouldn’t a rat trap kill a groundhog instantly?” I demanded. After all, that was a pretty small animal…”
“I thought you said it was as big as a collie dog,” said Jim.
“First impressions are always hasty.” I excused, “especially in the dark.”
“Well, I don’t like the idea of setting traps at random,” declared Jim. “If you know what you’re after, okay. But to set a trap for an unknown animal is pretty risky.”
“No animal has any right,” I asserted, “in my flower beds. I have my gate locked, so no dogs can get in. I have spent quite a number of dollars on this garden. After all, this garden is my crop. It is my property. Even if it is only ornamental, it is still my property. And anything that damages it is liable to the consequences.”
“Let’s see the trap,” suggested Jimmie.
Which was only his excuse for getting back into the lighted kitchen and organizing a cup of tea. While the kettle boiled, I went down cellar and hunted up the trap. Incidentally, I explored the cellar and found a number of things that would be handy up at the cottage. A box of assorted nails, mostly second hand; a scythe that I had forgotten buying, 10 years back; a long iron bar that I had never seen before but which would certainly come in handy for something up at the cottage.
When I came clattering up the cellar stairs, Jim exclaimed:
“What in thunder is all this junk?”
And when I explained, he muttered:
“Some people should never go down cellar!”
I showed him the trap. Just an ordinary over-size mouse trap. He washed it under the tap and it came up as good as new.
“What will you bait it with?” he inquired.
“I don’t intend to bait it,” I said. “I’m just going to set it. And leave it concealed in among the likeliest looking things. I’ll wait until daylight to place it on a runway. All these groundhogs and things follow regular runways or paths. We’ll find them sure, in the morning.”
“Then,” reasoned Jim, “whatever it is we heard squeaking in the bushes will have to step, with its tiny foot, on this tiny little trigger…”
“Ah, no,” I explained. “That is where my humanitarian instincts come into play. I’ll set the trap and then rest a long stick over the trigger in such a way that whatever steps on or disturbs the long stick will set off the trap with a loud and terrifying smack. Listen …”
And I set the trap and then tapped it with a table knife. It sure made a terrifying sound. It made us both jump.
“The idea,” I pointed out, “is to scare the creature, not to kill it.”
“Ah, this is better,” agreed Jim, pouring the tea.
After we had finished the tea, we went back into the garden with the trap. From the lattice fence, I peeled off a slender strip about the size and thickness of a school ruler. Down among the mint and chives, my two favorite vegetables, I hid the trap, ready set, with the help of matches. Across the trigger, I tenderly laid the strip of wood.
“Now,” I explained, “whatever comes through the mint bed gets the fright of its life.”
Caught in the Mint
And feeling a lot happier about the autumn flowers, Jim and I went in and luxuriated in the unaccustomed pleasures of a hot shower, getting off us a lot of that scale that encrusts the human body after a few weeks in the pure air and cold water of the Ontario northland.
And with rooms flushed full of cool night air, we went to our beds with all the oohs and aaahs of summer cottagers returning from the hard mattresses of the vacation to the light, soft mattresses of the effete city.
It was bright gleaming morning when we were awakened.
I sat bolt upright.
Jim called from his room:
“What was that!”
“Something woke me!” I called back.
Then it came.
A loud shriek.
From my back garden.
I leaped to the window, and looked out. There, dancing in the flower border, was my next door neighbor, a charming lady, with my rat trap clinging to her finger. After a pause in which she stared in anger and astonishment at the outrage, she let out another shriek.
Down the stairs we raced in our pyjamas. Out the back door.
“My dear, my dear lady,” I gasped as I reached her and seized the trap.
“Did you set that?” she demanded angrily, snatching it away.
“Please, please,” I begged, “let me open it.”
Jim held it, while I pried its hungry snapper up.
The lady nursed her hand and studied me sternly.
“What was the idea,” she inquired, “of a trap in the mint?”
“Why, last night,” I babbled, “last night, when we got home … we heard a groundhog or something… last night, just after we got home … Say, I didn’t know you were home.”
“I got home at midnight,” said my neighbor. “And I didn’t know you were home!”
“But … but…” I fumbled.
“Your wife told me,” said the lady firmly, “to help myself to the mint any time I was down in the summer. I came down just to get some potatoes and some supplies, and I was leaving right away. Suddenly, I thought of the mint. And this …”
She held up her damaged fingers.
“Do you believe me,” I inquired earnestly, “when I tell you we heard some sort of animal in the shrubbery here… Jimmie, did we hear some sort of groundhog?”
Jimmie, in his pyjamas, solemnly bore me out.
“I don’t think,” said my neighbor, “that you deliberately set the trap for me. But it was me you got.”
So we picked her a nice big bouquet of mint, with some chives too, though they’re not at their best this late.
And I took the trap back down cellar and hid it up in the furnace pipes.
And Jim made another pot of tea.
Editor’s Note: “Down cellar” (meaning “in the basement”) is a regional phrase common to old Ontario. My grandparents said it all the time.
By Greg Clark, July 14, 1945
“How much hose, inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you got left?”
“By golly,” I said, “I’ve only got about 30 feet.”
“That’s about what I’ve got,” muttered Jim. “And even that leaks.”
“Mine,” I informed him, “spurts all over at the tap. It has two main flaws which shoot fine jets about 15 feet. And in between are sundry soft spots that dribble.”
Mine’s exactly the same,” said Jim. “What I was going to suggest, we ought to pool our hose. I’ll bring my section over and we’ll make a new splice and join them up together. It will make one good hose. Then, on alternate nights we’ll roll it up and take it to each other’s house.”
“A fine suggestion,” I commended. “Maybe out of the two 30-foot lengths we could get one decent hose of 50 feet. Which would just about reach the foot of my yard.”
“Same here,” said Jim. “At this moment some of the best flowers I’ve got are parching to death, 10 feet out of range of my hose.”
“Shouldn’t we have bought some of this ersatz hose?” I inquired. “This wartime composition rubber? I see lots of that hose for sale.”
“Not me,” declared Jim. “I’m waiting for the experiments to end before I invest in any wartime substitutes.”
“I’ve talked to some people,” I advised, “who say that these rubber substitute hoses are better than any rubber hose they ever owned.”
“Maybe so,” said Jim. “But if rubber heels and the rubber soles you get on sport shoes these days are any sample of what rubber substitute is, I don’t want any of it. Did you ever notice the black scars the kids’ shoes make on the hardwood floors?”
“So that’s what it is?” I cried. “I’ve been wondering what those black scratches were.”
“Every scar,” asserted Jim, “is a little bit of wear and tear on the rubber substitute in the shoes. At that rate, they can’t last any time. And I bet hoses and tires are the same.”
“But it stands to reason,” I countered, “that science would sooner or later find some substitute for rubber. The minute the motor car was invented and good roads began to branch out in all directions all over the world, we should have foreseen that mankind would not for long be dependent on the juice of a tree that would only grow in certain restricted climates.”
“It does seem silly,” agreed Jim. “The whole world, from the Arctic through the temperate zones to the tropics and on down through the south temperate zone into the Antarctic, hundreds of millions of people with millions of motor cars each with five tires, all dependent upon a few South Sea Islanders squeezing the sop out of some special trees.”
“It isn’t good enough,” I submitted. “Science just had to get busy, war or no war.”
“Yet,” pointed out Jim, “look how dependent the world still is for so many different things on some small section of the world. Tea, for example. And coffee. How is it the whole world has become so victimized by certain habits and customs? Russia drinks billions of gallons of tea every day. Look at Britain, soaking up tea in lakes and gulfs. Up in northern Canada trappers having to have their pail of tea breakfast, noon and supper. And coffee! Millions of Americans, millions of South Americans, Frenchmen huddled over their coffee cups all along those open-air cafes of the boulevards. Spaniards, Italians …”
Mystery of the Moose
“That’s a queer thing,” I admitted. “A little bush grows in China and India. A few famished Chinese soak the dried leaves in boiling water. They’ll soak anything in boiling water. Sharks’ fins, birds’ nests. So they soak dried leaves. Presently, the queer little habit had spread all over the earth, and hundreds of millions simply can’t do without it.”
“Science hasn’t done anything about that,” pointed out Jim. “Maybe they can find a substitute for rubber. But can they find a substitute for all the other odd things men squeeze out of trees or pluck off bushes in comparatively small areas of the earth’s surface?”
“Do you know, Jim,” I mused, “it seems to me mankind is the laziest animal of all. Admitted, a moose is lazy. All a moose had to do, 1,000 years ago, was keep on slowly feeding south, through continuous lily pad ponds and willow brush and all the other things he eats, in order to reach the southern states. And there, in lush comfort, with no severe winter, the moose tribe would have found heavenly habitat. But are there any moose in Louisiana or Georgia? No. They are found exclusively in the hardest, bitterest spruce tracts of the north, where winter comes like grim death and hangs on for six months out of the 12. Why didn’t the moose tribe feed steadily southward? Why were they so lazy as to stick up in the inhospitable Canadian north?”
“Hmmm,” said Jim.
“The same with so many other beasts,” I said. “But man, apparently so energetic, so discontented, so eternally in search of better and more comfortable regions in which to live, is so lazy that If some Chinese shows him how to soak dried leaves in boiling water, mankind thinks the Chinese have the only leaves that can be soaked. Why haven’t we experimented with our own leaves?”
“Maybe we have,” said Jim. “Maybe those of us that are still left are the ones that haven’t – experimented. I think it is safer to let the Chinese experiment with soaking dried leaves and the Turks experiment with roasted berries. Always let somebody else do the experimenting. If they find something good and it doesn’t kill them, okay. Let’s use it.”
“That’s the trouble with us,” I protested. “Is there a sillier spectacle on earth than the past 30 years, with millions of motor cars racing all over the world, in seven continents, surely the most energetic and hectic spectacle in all human history. Yet the whole vast pandemonium dependent on the juice of some trees growing in a couple of small tropic areas. Modern industry may be a marvel. Modern science may be a wonder. But they both ought to be ashamed of themselves, putting the whole traffic of humanity on a foundation of bug juice from some pagan island.”
A Question of Rubber
“The best principle to observe in modern business,” explained Jim, “is, if it works, leave it alone. The first use of rubber in connection with traffic was rubber tires for wealthy men’s buggies and dog carts. Then – came the bicycle. And before anybody had time to invent a synthetic substance for the millions of bicycles in the 90’s, the rubber importers, who had got busy to meet the buggy trade, were able to produce enough wild rubber to meet the first onset of the bicycle tire trade. Then, foreseeing the great days ahead when the whole world would travel on bicycles, the rubber planters began to create orchards of rubber trees. Nobody foresaw the motor car. But by the time the motor car dawned, the rubber growers had got far enough ahead with their dreams of a world entirely bicyclized to meet the first onset of the motor car.”
“And of course,” I put in, “the motor car would have been simply out of the question without rubber tires.”
“Correct,” agreed Jim. “So you see, the rubber growers and rubber importers in every case were far enough ahead to meet the demand. So science had no call to get busy and invent a substitute. Industry always leaves well enough alone. Business says, if it works don’t change it. And that is why, up until now, there has been no call to science to invent a substitute for rubber.”
“Have they really got it?” I questioned. “Don’t you think rubber, like tea or coffee, like leather for shoes and wool for clothes, is something natural-born and right and fitting? Even if they do work out a perfect substitute for rubber, won’t there always be a demand for genuine rubber tires? They’ve invented no end of substitutes for wool and cotton for clothes. They’ve got imitation leather of every description. But people still like wool clothes as the ancient Romans did, and cotton, as the ancient Egyptians did, thousands of years before Christ. And can you imagine the day ever coming when men will give up genuine leather shoes?”
“Rather than be ruined,” Jim submitted, “I imagine the rubber planters of the east will offer their rubber so dirt cheap that the rubber Importers and the rubber processors will see the chance to make a little dough; and the rubber industry will be revived. Then we’ll witness a great pitched battle between the synthetic rubber interests and the natural rubber interests. Cartels will be formed. Little gangs of British bankers and investors, desirous of cutting the throats of other British bankers and Investors, will gang up with little gangs of American bankers and investors desirous of cutting the throats of other American bankers and investors. That’s a cartel.”
“I thought a cartel,” I interrupted, “was where all the British bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats got together with all the American bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats, because it was agreed that the public was hardly worth all the throat cutting. So they ganged up and cut the public’s throat instead.”
“I guess that is a cartel,” amended Jim. “And it may well be that rather than stage a pitched battle over synthetic rubber versus natural rubber they will organize a gigantic world-wide stock company of all the natural rubber plantations. All the planters will be bought out. All the importers and processors will be bought out. And then they’ll sell the stock to the public.”
“That would be a good way to put an end to the natural rubber industry,” I agreed. “But in the meantime I sincerely hope they get through with their experiments on synthetic rubber before the tire rationing comes off. Don’t you think one of us ought to invest in one of these rubber substitute hoses?”
“Look,” said Jim. “There’s just this one summer left. Surely we can pool our hoses and get by for the next couple of months. Then, by next year, either real rubber will be back or else a first-class substitute will be available. I have the feeling that with the war still on the best substitutes are still going into war materials.”
“Okay,” I subsided. “You bring your hose over and we’ll see what we can salvage from the two.”
So Jim ran home in the car and rolled his hose and brought it over to my garden. Jim’s hose was already synthesized. Of the 35 feet he had serviceable, 20 was an old smooth-bore type of hose dating back to the year of his marriage, about 1918. And the rest was the ribbed type, part of an extension he had bought about 1926.
Mine was just the one brand. It was the old smooth-bore style and was the relic of the first and only hose I ever bought. It had three splices in it. The passing years had seen soft spots and bends and cracks appear. I cut the defective section of a foot or so out, and then rejoined the good bits with those metal tubes and rings that splice hose together.
Evening in the Garden
Jim’s had an old-fashioned bronze nozzle. Mine had a more modern nickel-plated nozzle, with a knurled section for easy turning. But the connections at both my nozzle and the tap ends were so defective that regular fountains played at both ends. I had to stand at arm’s length from my nozzle; and even so my feet got soaked.
“So we’ll use my terminal connections,” suggested Jim.
A couple of summer bachelors can spend no more profitable evening than pottering in their gardens with hoses and hoes. With a sharp knife I severed from my three-spliced hose both the nozzle and the tap connection. We attached Jim’s hose to the tap to locate the best spot in which to splice in my hose.
His tap connection was flawless. Not a drop oozed. His nozzle was pretty good, but it had only two kinds of spray – either a great heavy flood like hailstones beating the zinnias and phlox; or else a fine mist of spray that would take all night to dampen the pansies.
But it was the mid-section of Jim’s hose that really fell short. There were several soft spots, dozy, like punky wood. These allowed water to seep out. There were also several real cracks, from which spouts of water 10 feet high curved up in various directions when the tap was turned up full.
“Jim,” I said, “this looks to me like a deal you’re putting over on me. There isn’t a five-foot stretch of your hose that hasn’t got a leak in it.”
“Cut it in the middle,” urged Jim, “and we’ll splice your hose in. Maybe with a good 30-foot section in the middle, like that, the water will flow too fast through mine to leak.”
“Nonsense; the more the pressure, the greater the leak,” I stated. “I don’t think it’s worth while trying to splice yours. Wait minute.”
And I went along and counted seven leaks.
“Each of those leaks,” I pointed out, “would require at least six Inches of hose cut out. That reduces your hose by close to four feet. And seven splices would require seven splicers.”
“Oh, try it anyway,” cried Jim. “We’ve got two splicers. Hitch her up and see if we can get enough pressure at the nozzle to reach the back of your yard. If not, we will simply have to go and buy some substitute rubber hoses.”
So we squatted down and went to work on the splices. We cut Jim’s hose at the junction between the old smooth-bore and the later model ribbed hosing. Then we dragged mine up and spliced its 32 feet in between.
When we pounded the end of the ribbed iron splicer into Jim’s hose, the perished rubber split, and we had to keep on paring off an inch or two until we finally hit upon the idea of filing the splicer a little smoother.
We got it hitched at last and then Jim walked back to the tap and turned it on.
It was quite a performance. I was holding the nozzle. If I turned it to the coarse stream a wavering jet, about seven feet long, wobbled and splattered heavily on the turf, digging a hole. If I turned to the fine spray a round balloon appeared, about the size and shape of an umbrella, and most of it drifted back to me.
An Idea Dawns
But back down the hose there was a wonderful display. From Jim’s two sections seven different spurts rose and arched in various directions. From both splices angry little explosions hissed in all directions. And from my section, in the middle, one very fine spurt and two smaller ones divided the north and south about equally between them.
We stood and watched for a moment.
“Turn her off, turn her right off, at the nozzle!” cried Jim suddenly. “Turn the way for the fine spray until she goes tight off.”
I turned. And as I did so all the spurts and fizzles and splutters suddenly arched higher. And three new ones appeared.
Jim strode up to me.
“My boy,” he cried excitedly, “this has been staring mankind in the face for centuries. Ever since hoses were first invented, we’ve been enslaved by the one idea. The fire hose. The hose with one stream to be directed on one target. But a garden hose should have not one but 10 or 20 outlets.”
“Don’t you see?” he expanded, “Talk about substitute rubber and drinking tea and coffee! Why, it has taken the war to show us what a proper garden hose should be like. Instead of the human race having to stand on damp lawns, steering a silly hose yard by yard over the flower borders, we invent a modern hose, a hose with 10 or 15 little nozzles. And then, all we do is walk down and stretch the hose the length of the garden, turn her on, and then sit back in the garden chairs and watch the garden get watered properly, simultaneously and at our ease!”
“Jim, if we patent this!” I gloated expectantly.
I laid the nozzle end down, and we walked the length of the hose, inspecting the leaks. Those that were not quite big enough, I enlarged with my pen knife, until they threw a nice spurt about 10 feet.
“Cut new holes, at regular intervals,” suggested Jim.
And judiciously turning the tap on and off, we spaced our cuts at regular intervals, until we had a series of 19 jets that, with the evening breeze wavering them, covered the whole expanse of the garden.
“Think,” I said, as we sat back in the deck chairs and watched the play of the little fountains, “of the old-fashioned sprinklers. The kind you had to keep getting up every few minutes to walk over wet grass and get squirted yourself, shifting them from place to place.”
“All we have to do now,” added Jim, “when we’re through, is turn off the tap and haul the hose back in. Only our hands get wet.”
As we sat and gloated, my next door neighbor came out and looked over the fence.
“Some hose,” he remarked.
“There you see,” I informed him, “the birth of a great idea. It is going to be patented. Our fortunes are made. This is the Frise-Clark hose. Or the Frike hose. Or maybe the Clarf hose. History is being made before your eyes.”
“Didn’t you ever see a cloth hose?” inquired my neighbor.
“A what?” I inquired.
“A cloth hose that waters the ground all along its length?” he asked.
“I certainly didn’t,” I said. “But anyway, it doesn’t sprinkle.”
“Sprinkling is the worst feature of hoses,” said the neighbor. “If we could water our gardens without sprinkling the flowers and foliage, causing them to weaken and blight, but merely wetting the earth, we would have the ideal hose. And we’ve got it in the cloth hose.”
“Where did you ever see one?” I demanded.
“You could have seen one for the past three summers,” said the neighbor, “by just looking over the fence.”
Which we did. And there, draped along the flower borders and over the grass, was an earth-brown hose of cloth, originally white, he told us. And it was quietly leaking water onto the parched earth, leaving the flowers and foliage to the dew, but richly soaking the ground and the roots.
“I got it,” he explained, “rather than one of those substitute rubber things.”
Jim and I went back to our garden chairs.
“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I like the look of ours better.”
And we noticed, at the same time, that the spurts were not quite so high.
But when we counted them, instead of 19, there were already 22.
Editor’s Note: Rubber was rationed during World War Two. Innovations in the different types of synthetic rubber was stepped up to meet demand.
Here, Herman is giving up his haircut money to the Red Cross, and the volunteer is willing to give him one in return.
By Greg Clark, November 24, 1945
“I’ve got two ducats,” announced Jimmie Frise, “to the wrestling match.”
“Ducats?” I inquired.
“Free tickets,” explained Jim. “Dead heads. Passes.”
“Jim,” I enunciated, “I have made it a lifelong principle never to accept free tickets to anything. They are free for either of two reasons. Either they are trying to pad the house, because they can’t attract a paying crowd, or else they are trying to interest you in the show for ulterior purposes.”
“Does it occur to you,” demanded Jim bitterly, that there may be good guys in the world who are just good guys? Is it possible for your small suspicious brain to conceive that maybe somebody just wanted to do a friendly thing?”
“Who gave you the tickets?” I asked.
“Bill Tooke,” replied Jim.
“Aaaaah,” I leered. “The promoter of the wrestling bouts!
“Bill has been a friend of mine for years,” cried Jimmie indignantly. “I’ve known him long before he ever was a promoter. He and I have played hundreds of games of snooker pool together. What is there more natural than that Bill should drop in and hand me a couple of ducats to the bouts? Haven’t I sent him a platterful of trout in the spring? Haven’t I given him the odd bass…?”
“I wouldn’t object,” I replied, “to a fight promoter sending you the hind leg of a moose in return for a platterful of trout. But it looks fishy to me when he drops in and hands you a couple of tickets to a wrestling bout he’s interested in.”
“And what,” gritted Jim, “do you suspect he has in mind?”
“He has in mind,” I informed him, “that you will persuade me to come to the wrestling bout with you, and we’ll do a story on it.”
“Did I,” shouted Jim, “invite you to come with me? I had no earthly intention of inviting you to come with me! I merely announced that I had a couple of ducats to the wrestling match, if I remember right.”
“Your intention,” I asserted, “was to interest me.”
“I hadn’t the least intention of asking you to come with me,” declared Jim hotly. “I know your attitude towards wrestling. I know your attitude towards all manly sports. Do you think I want to spend a whole evening beside you, listening to you sneering at the contenders, at the referee, at the very crowd around you?”
“Backside sports!” I sneered obligingly. “Five thousand sportsmen sitting on their backsides watching two fake sports fighting in a ring for money!”
“See what I mean?” muttered Jim to the office walls.
“Rugby,” I scoffed. “Fifteen thousand sportsmen and sportswomen sitting muffled in rugs athletically watching 15 guys rolling in the mud!”
“Aw, go ahead,” groaned Jim, starting to work furiously at his drawing board.
“Racing!” I pursued caustically. “Twenty thousand sportsmen clutching gambling tickets in their sweaty fists, watching eight little sportsmen on horses racing around a circle.”
“Okay, okay,” breathed Jim deeply.
“The only sport in the world,” I stated, “is that in which people participate. Fishing, shooting, tennis, golf – they’re sport. But all these so-called sports events, which consist of 10 guys doing something and 10,000 guys sitting watching them, are the reverse of sport. They’re evil. They’re destructive. When the great Roman Empire first began to totter, they built their first arena.”
“What bunk!” protested Jim. “Can you imagine a rugby team going out and playing another rugby team without an audience, just for the sheer sport of it?”
“If they did, they would really be sportsmen,” I pointed out, “and not young gentlemen exerting themselves for gain.”
“Gain!” Jim yelled in fury. “Do you mean to insinuate …”
“To stand forth,” I cut in, “before all his fellow students as an outstanding rugby player is a form of gain to a young man going to Varsity.”
“Well, the whole of life then,” insisted Jim, “is a form of gain. Everybody tries to stand forth. The housewife tries to cook well, in order to stand forth as a good housewife. The good mechanic tries to excel at his machine, not merely to male wages, but to stand forth among his fellow workers as an outstanding man. You think you’re so smart! All you’ve done is bring to light the true character of sport. Sport in its widest and best sense is the contending between men to show who is the better and the best man. Or the best team of men.”
“Heh, heh, heh,” was all I could think of.
“From babyhood,” pursued Jim hotly, “right through life to the grave, the best feature of the struggle of life is the contending to bring out the best in us. What do they have baby shows for? To give people, at the very beginning, a chance to show that they are the best.
Why do young expectant mothers knit, knit, knit? Is it only to prepare warm clothes? Not if you look at what they are knitting. It is to get ready to try and show the prettiest baby on the whole street. Why do they have reports cards in school? To show who’s the smartest. If life was without these contests, if life consisted of nothing more than a dull routine in which nobody was expected to try and get ahead of the other fellow, how long do you think it would be before the world would slip back into the native thatched villages from which we have risen?”
“We’re already half way back to the native thatched village,” I retorted, “when 15,000 of us are content to sit back in easy chairs and watch two gross, bulging gladiators from the caveman age squash each other to death.”
“It’s all part of the competitive system,” explained Jim. “I admit it isn’t the best form of sport.”
“You’d rather go fishing?” I taunted.
“Certainly,” replied Jim. “But don’t put any sanctimonious airs on about fishing. You talk very unctuously about going fishing in order to enjoy nature. You are always sounding off about the non-competitive character of fishing. It is for itself alone that you go fishing. But I never saw anybody come so pompously up the village road as you do when you are carrying a creel full of trout. And I must say I know nobody who has had his picture taken oftener holding up a big pike or a big bass …”
“Now just a minute,” I protested.
“I have often noticed,” went on Jim strongly, “that guys who aren’t much good at competitive games are always ardent followers of sports in which they can take their wives or young sons with them, such as fishing”
“Now, look here,” I insisted.
“In fishing,” proceeded Jimmie, “there is no referee. In shooting, there is no umpire. That kind of sport appeals strongly to a man who is trying to excel but who prefers to excel in his own opinion rather than under the scrutiny of his fellow men. If he uses worms, nobody is looking, and he invariably has a trout fly on his line by the time he emerges from the stream to meet his fellow sportsmen. If he shoots a partridge sitting on the ground, who is to see him? It was always ‘racing across, at 40 yards, on the wing,’ by the time he meets up with his fellow hunters …”
“Speak for yourself,” I said bitterly.
“In all men,” rounded off Jim, “there is a desire to excel at something. When the time comes in a man’s life that he realizes he can no longer excel anybody – that is the tragic hour. Life itself, business, industry, the home, the school, the church, all our institutions are based on that desire to excel that is the very spark of our existence. And sport is that spark applied for fun, for relaxation, for leisure. It is the one field in which we can watch others excel without personal pain.”
“It’s sadistic,” I submitted. “We like to see others suffer.”
Jim hit the drawing board a violent bang.
“Okay,” he shouted. “DON’T come to the wrestling!”
But I did.
After all, there is much to be said for Jim’s point of view. If thousands and tens of thousands of people, young and old, go to hockey games and race-tracks and prize-fights and other activities in which a tiny fraction of one per cent of those gathered does anything more than sit and yell, there must be something in it. A man of my age can’t be right all the time. It would be bad for him. So I went.
It was worse than I thought. In the nasty wet November night, we parked our car and walked with a throng into a cold, large, damp arena already blue with fog of cigar and cigarette smoke. We were a little late getting there, Jim being always late, and the first bout was already under way, so that the shadowy arena was full of the deep wolf-like baying of humanity calling for a kill. We were shown to our seats, which were hard benches. If I ever take a free seat, I like it padded.
Not only were the benches hard, but the people sitting in the gloom all around me impressed me as a very hard lot, too. The only lights were the spotlights centered on the ring where the wrestlers were lying down together in the most grotesque attitude. In the dim reflected light, swirling with smoke, I took time to glance around at my fellow sportsmen.
Now, I do not mean to insinuate that these were underworld types. In fact, I was astonished to see, sitting four places to my right, an old and respected friend of mine who is sidesman in a church and a great leader in the social life of Toronto. But in this dim and smoky setting a strange change had come over him. He was smoking a cigar and was leaning forward with an expression of fury on his face.
Amid the baying. I heard him distinctly yell: “Break his neck! Twist his head off!”
I sat up as high as I could and looked at the ring. Just in time, too. In the livid glare, I saw the two contenders, heavy, gross men, stager heavily to their feet, back up and then charge each other like bulls. You could positively feel the collision of them. It thudded on the thick air. One got a strangle-hold on the other, walked him slowly, terribly backwards and bending him back, started to saw his victim’s neck in short, savage strokes, along the ropes of the ring… The arena went mad. But instead of them charging the ring and putting an end to this monstrous thing, they were standing on their benches, cheering!
It was all over. The cheering died. I stood I on my bench. I supposed the victim was dead, his head rolling on the mat. But in a moment, as the roars died away and everybody turned their attention from the ring to one another, I saw the two contenders jump down and walk up the aisle past us. The man who had had his head sawed off was grinning and waving to friends in the audience.
“Fake!” I yelled shrilly.
Jim pulled me down by my coat.
But my yell had attracted notice, and my friend the sidesman and social worker leaned over and shook hands with me.
“Well, heh, heh,” he cried above the din. “I’d never expect to see you here! I thought you’d be away deer hunting…”
“It’s over,” I said.
“Have a cigar,” he cried, holding out a fat one.
Now, I never smoke cigars. But there was something in the air, something in the shrewd, excited faces around me that upset my normal attitudes. I took the cigar.
There is something also about a cigar that is very disturbing. Grip a cigar in the corner of your mouth, and it gives you a very curious feeling. A feeling of importance of mastery. Jutting out of your jaw, its rich aroma bathing your face, a cigar does something to your ego. It fortifies it. Take a modest, self-conscious little man and put a big cigar in his teeth, and he begins to swell.
And by the time the cigar has burned down to a butt, and the butt is firmly clenched in the side molars, jutting rakishly out of the corner of his mouth, a man has masculine feeling impossible to inspire with a cigarette or even a big pipe.
I lighted up the cigar during the intermission between bouts. The next item on the card was between a pair of local palookas of some fame, but a long way off from being headliners. After sizing them up through my cigar smoke, I selected the one in blue trunks for my money. And he received the benefit of my voice for about 15 minutes of agony, during which his opponent, a vicious type if ever I saw one, bent him, corkscrewed him, butted him, gave him the elbow in the wind pipe and one thing and another, until he lay limp and beaten.
It was in the intermission after this bout, by which time my cigar was a butt and I had it clamped in masterly fashion in my left molars, that Bill Tooke the promoter, passing up the aisle to get the headliners, spotted Jimmie.
“Hi, Jim,” he yelled. “What are you doing back here? I’ve got seats up front for you. HEL-lo, Mr. Clark! How are you enjoying it?”
“So-so,” I said between clenched teeth and the cigar butt. “So-so.”
“Aw, come up front,” pleaded Bill. “You’ll enjoy it better.”
And under his personal ushering, Jim and I went to the front where the seats were the sort you should give away free. Good comfortable ones.
By now, the chill had been driven out of the arena by the heat of the crowd, and we took off our coats and relaxed. Past my cigar butt, I nodded in that casual sporty fashion, to several prominent people lounging around the ringside. I jutted my jaw out und gazed up at the ring as if wrestling bouts were just a dab of salted almonds to an old sportsman like me.
When the two behemoths for the headline bout came swaying and thudding down the aisle to the ring, I nearly swallowed my cigar butt. The last of such men, I had always thought, had been painted on the walls of caves 10,000 years ago. Only in cartoons, I imagined, could such human mammoths be conjured up. They were hot merely colossal. They were prehistoric. Their arms were bigger than my legs. Their torsos were as wide as my torso, from Adam’s apple to the seat of my pants, turned sideways. They were hairy, their chins were granite blue, their heads were mere knobs and their eyes were sunken in the bone that you could not see them. They moved slowly, ponderously. To the rising storm of cheers and boos, they grinned, and their grin would chill your blood.
They hoisted themselves up over the ropes with all the grace of steam shovels hoisting two tons of rock out of a hole. Under the garish lights, they turned and stared contemptuously out over the throngs, now hysterical with roars and yells. The worst looking of the two threw off his bath robe and came over and leaned on the ropes right above us. He stared down gloomily and bared his teeth at us in a prehistoric snarl.
Gripping the cigar butt firmly, I bared my teeth back at him in a snarl and felt butterflies flying around in my stomach.
“Quite a boy,” said Jim.
“Glrp,” I replied, biting hard.
“My money on him,” said Jim.
“Was he looking at me,” I asked, “or at you?”
“He was just looking around,” explained Jim easily. “They always do that.”
The announcer stood forth and bellowed the formal chant, e-nouncing Bolo the Executioner in this corner; and in that corner, Przffst, the Head Hunter, champion of the World.
Przffst, the Head Hunter, was the big gorilla that had snarled at me.
I threw my cigar butt away.
The two stood up and acknowledged the formless roar of cheers and boos and a sort of frenzy settled over the vast arena, the way the sound of machines fills a factory when the power is turned on.
The referee skedaddled back into a corner. The two human rhinoceri pulled their heads in like turtles and bent their arms wide from their sides and began circling. There was no dancing or prancing, as in boxing. It was more like two Mark VI tanks preparing to kiss each other. Quite softly, they clutched. The crowd went berserk.
Up went Przffst, the Head Hunter, as though he were light as a feather, as though he were made of celluloid, hollow. Bolo the Executioner had lifted him as a child might be lifted, made three slow rotations of himself and his awful burden held high over head, and then, bracing himself so that his fat body seemed suddenly to corrugate from neck to knee with a thousand cords of muscle, hurled the Head Hunter to the mat with a thud that made my chair jump.
I went mad.
“Kill him, kill him,” I screeched above the tornado, trying to pierce my lone voice like a knitting needle into the ears of Bolo the Executioner. “The big stuffed sofa! Jump on him. Break all his four legs. He’s full of horse hair … he’s stuffed …”
“Don’t Get Excited”
But before Bolo could land – though he jumped into the air, folded his knees and tried to land with his 300 pounds on Przffst’s stomach, knees first – Przffst, with an incredible agility, rolled and bounded to his feet, crouching.
In the fraction of an instant’s silence that befell, my voice jabbed: “The Head Hunter! He needs a head!”
And as he closed with Bolo, his head appeared over Bolo’s shoulder, as though he had his teeth buried in it. And though his eyes wore sunk about an inch into his cheek bones, I swear they were looking straight at me.
They twisted and fell and rose and fell, all in one massive ball of about half a ton of human flesh while I kept silence. Then Bolo, by some means invisible to my eye, though the crowd must have seen it for they roared, got a foothold on Przffst; and his mouth as wide as a lard pail in agony. Przffst threw up his arms and went face down on to the mat, his giant frame shuddering like that of a hippopotamus pierced by Zulu spears.
“Kill him,” I roared, jumping up, “break his leg off, the big mattress! He’s stuffed! He’s full of hay …”
“Don’t get excited,” said Jim, pulling my arm. “It’s only starting. They’re just warming up …”
For in truth, the hateful Head Hunter, despite his agony, got some kind of a foul hold on Bolo, that splendid specimen, that friend of man, that St. George, that killer of dragons; and over went Bolo in one vast shudder of agony, letting go Przffst’s foot. And Przffst was on top of Bolo, smashing his face on the mat, thump, thump, thump. I could feel my chair jolting.
On and on it went, under these vicious lights. On and on went the tornado of sound. Time and again, Bolo, whose unpleasant features slowly evaporated every time he got the splits on Przffst or sawed his neck on the ropes, almost had the world champion killed. But always that dreadful monster, appearing more dreadful each time, by some fiendish and foul trick, broke the magnificent Bolo’s grip and sent him shuddering to the floor.
And each time the Head Hunter nearly died of strangulation, my plaudits for Bolo rang and pierced the typhoon. Turtle head, upholstered hogshead, stuffed dummy, gorilla, I called him. But Jim shouted cheerfully to take it easy. “They can’t hear you,” he said.
So phony, fake, fraud, I called him, humbug, lead-swinger, forger, window-dresser, gold-bricker, dope, mudcat, slug.
I looked around. How I would like another cigar!
And then it ended, I didn’t see it actually. All that happened was that Bolo the Executioner was on his broad back. And the Head Hunter was tossing his dressing-gown on lightly and vaulting over the ropes like ballet dancer.
He wore that terrible grin. He paused and looked down at me. I had no cigar butt.
“Hey,” he snarled, “cut me off at de knees and call me Shorty.”
He reached down lightly.
“Git up in dere wit your friend,” he chuckled. And he tossed me up there.
When Jimmie and Bill Tooke got me back down in my chair, Jimmie said: “He couldn’t have heard you.”
And Bill Tooke said: “I wouldn’t have had this happen for worlds. He didn’t know who you were.”
“But he knew what I was,” I said, before I thought.
By Greg Clark, June 30, 1945
“Don’t forget,” reminded Jimmie Frise, “overalls.”
“I’ve got them down,” I replied, checking the list. “And how about nails. Three-inch nails?”
“Aw, there’s a whole pailful of nails underneath the cottage veranda,” said Jim.
“Those old rusty things?” I snorted.
“We don’t want to be too finicky about this job,” reasoned Jimmie. “First thing you know, we’ll be spending our whole holiday building that summer kitchen.”
“Look,” I asserted. “We’ve been planning this back kitchen on the cottage for nearly six years. We’ve had the lumber under the cottage for five years. It’ll be getting mouldy. We’ve drawn and redrawn the plans dozens of times. We’ve gone up to the cottage every year with the fullest intentions of getting to work and building the kitchen. But every time, we’ve put it off.”
“For good reason,” said Jim.
“Aw two days would do the job,” I insisted. “Yet we’re so excited when we arrive at the cottage, we’ve got to drag the skiff out of the boathouse and go fishing even before we get the screen doors on.”
“Well, you remember 1939,” reminded Jim. “We went up fully prepared to build the kitchen. But what happened? The first three days it rained steadily. Now, rain is no good for building. But it is swell for fishing.”
“Yes, and then it turned hot, you remember,” I recollected. “And it was no good for fishing. But too hot for building. So we just snoozed on the veranda. Before we realized it, our holiday was over. And no kitchen.”
“Nineteen-forty,” recalled Jim, “you were overseas.”
“That was your chance,” I inserted.
“I didn’t like to do it without you being there,” explained Jim. “After all, this is a joint effort, this kitchen.”
“I think we drew our first plans about 1936,” I said. “We bought the lumber in forty-one.”
“Well, you were overseas in forty-two, forty-three and forty-four,” counted Jim lamely. “I thought of starting it each year. But I didn’t like to take advantage of you.”
“Hm,” I sniffed. “I’d have been glad to come back and find it done. But this time, my boy, there will be no ifs or buts. We’re going to get that kitchen annex built. It is going to be first consideration. In fact, what do you say if we make a pact right now that we don’t even hitch up a fishing rod until the last nail had been driven and the last brushful of paint has been applied?”
“Do we have to paint it the first year?” protested Jim. “Isn’t it a bad policy to paint newly built wooden structures right away? Shouldn’t we let the wood set at least one year?”
“We paint it,” I informed him. “The paint is up there. In the boat-house.”
“I bet that paint has perished, after all these years,” said Jim.
“How about it? How about a pact?” I demanded. “Not one cast, not even a fishing rod rigged up, until the kitchen is done.”
“Suppose a great big lunker,” submitted Jimmie, “were to come and start jumping right off the end of the dock? Suppose we arrive in the middle of the swellest fishing weather we’ve ever seen in our lives? With a soft little fitful southwest wind, and overcast sky, kind of warm and humid…”
“Kitchen first,” I stated firmly.
“Well, I’ll trust to your common sense,” concluded Jim. “Or I should say, I’ll count on your weakness of character. Let’s agree to put the building job first. Priority Number One. And then see how strong we are at withstanding old and familiar temptations.”
“I’m determined,” I said, returning to the list. “Let’s see. Ten pounds of three-inch nails. A pound of assorted screws for making shelves, etc. A couple of new paint brushes. How about the saw?”
“The last time I saw it,” said Jim, “It was hanging on the usual nail in the boat-house.”
That Cottage Feeling
I gazed into space, picturing in my mind’s eye the old crowded boat-house with the skiff and the canoes turned upside down on the floor, the rough shelves sagging with old paint, cans, bottles, old rusty screen door springs. I could see the paddles hanging from their double nails. The oars laid across the rafters. The cartons full of badly neglected decoys. The canoe carriers on the wall and, hung from nails, the rusty old saw, the rake and sundry other tools.
How is it that a summer cottage seems so much dearer to our hearts than any city home? It may be that while we shift and change from house to house in the city, the summer cottage was the one we went to as children; that we grew up in as boys and young men; where we took our young sweethearts and did our courting. For a great many thousands of us, the summer cottage is more really our home than any other.
“What’s the matter?” inquired Jim, noting my expression.
“I was just thinking of the cottage, and the boat-house,” I said. “I go all weak inside when I think of them. Jim, it’s a queer thing, but I’ve been all over the world, visited every country in Europe, spent months on end in the great cities of the world, seen all the famous sights like the Bay of Naples, the Highlands of Scotland, the Alps and the Rockies. But I wouldn’t trade a little area of about four miles square, up on Georgian Bay, with that cottage in the middle of it, for all the rest of the earth put together.”
“That sentiment,” agreed Jim, “costs human nature billions of dollars every year. Rather than get up and go and conquer the world, people prefer to snuggle down in their own little old familiar spot.”
“Travelling is a great mistake, Jim,” I assured him. “Nobody should travel. It is the greatest disillusionment of all.”
“I’d love to travel,” said Jim. “To see the world.”
“The world as you imagine it,” I informed him, “is far more beautiful and wonderful than it really is. Wait till the boys get home from Italy. They’ll tell you. When you think of Rome, what do you imagine? You imagine what the poets and painters and great writers have done. You imagine a very ancient, historical city, filled with magnificent churches and buildings, with bridges heavy with story, glorious classic fountains hundreds of years old, made by the hands of artists whose names are remembered with the names of kings and heroes. Keats, Shelley, Browning – all our greatest poets lived in Italy and sang its beauty and its splendor. Keep that, Jimmie! Stay right here in Toronto and cling to the beauty those poets created for you. Because of all the dowdy, ramshackle, junky old cities on earth, Rome is the champion.”
“No!” cried Jim.
“It stinks,” I said, “It is huddled and muddled. In the same city block will be all that is left, a few jagged scraps of untidy wall, of some historic ancient building, along with enormous bright pink stucco apartment blocks in the latest Mussolini tradition.”
“But,” protested Jimmie, “I’ve seen photographs! Not just paintings. But photographs of Rome!”
And Texas, Too
“And to get that photograph,” I assured him, “the photographer working for the highly capitalized tourist industry, the railways of the world, the great shipping companies, had to crawl all over Rome to get that one decent shot. He had to scramble up over quaking roofs of smelly tenements, he had to wiggle and wangle and scheme and get ladders. He had to get that picture from just certain angle that would show none of the incongruities all around. That’s part of the disillusionment. Not only did the photographers take trick pictures that show only the one perfect angle of some noble building or ancient relic, but the painters and the poets all stood in a special spot in which to behold the beauty they have made imperishable. But when you go travelling, you have no time to climb tenement roofs or to get step-ladders or wait until a special sort of moonlight comes to soften and spiritualize the view. No. You go to see the Colosseum, and it looks like the back end of the Exhibition Grand Stand in Toronto. You seek out the palace of some ancient duke on one of the seven hills of Rome. You find the hill all right. It has a lot of those pines of Rome and plenty of those skinny black cypress trees that remind you of cemeteries. And there, half hidden amid the brush-wood of the noble garden, with a lot of rather weather-eaten statues standing stupidly about in frozen attitudes, is a house about the same as the house of any well-known biscuit manufacturer or cough syrup patentee up in Forest Hill Village here in Toronto.”
“Aw, no,” protested Jimmie.
“Italy!” I snorted. “It’s a fleabitten, shaggy, grisly gray country, about the same as Texas.”
“Texas!” cried Jimmie. “Why, what’s the matter with Texas? It’s one of the greatest states in the union and the biggest.”
“Texas,” I submitted, “is the biggest lot of nothing I’ve ever flown over. Parched, bitter, greenish gray, a sort of mouldy color. Mile upon mile, hundreds of miles, as far as the eye can reach, of moon-like desert, stuck with oil derricks, pocked with dry concrete cisterns, the poor Texans try to catch rainwater in, if ever it rains …”
“Say,” Interrupted Jim. “You’re attacking some of the most touted scenes on this earth.”
“And California!” I cried. “The droopiest, shoddiest, beaverboard civilization I’ve ever seen. Everything droops. The palms droop, the poor, stiff, enslaved palms that stand like pitiful servants just wherever some silly property owner wanted them – and no place else! The palms droop, the people droop. Their houses all look like temporary movie sets they built for one show, a long while ago. But they’re living in them yet. Shoddy, gimcrack, fake …”
“But how do you explain the worldwide reputation of California?” demanded Jim.
“The poor guys that found themselves stranded there,” I explained, “had to make up a lot of stuff to tell each other, in order to keep sane. They made up this imaginary stuff and finally began to believe it themselves. Then they started spreading it. It’s the same as with the poets and painters who wrote about Rome and the Alps and Paris – in the spring! They got stranded. And had to make some money to get back home. Or – they made it up to escape, in their own imaginations, from something pretty grim. Or – best of all, perhaps, they followed the old human custom of telling fabulous tales about some place they’d seen which the home folks had never seen. Everybody loves to impress the neighbors. The poet Browning, as you know, got in wrong at home in London. So he and his wife spent a lot of time in Italy, writing beautiful poems about Italy in order to make their friends and enemies back in poor old frowsy London feel sore …”
“Now, you’ll admit London…” began Jimmie, who has been there.
“Aw,” I scoffed, “what is Piccadilly Circus but a wide intersection with a bunch of retail stores around it? What has Piccadilly Circus got that Queen St. and University Ave. hasn’t got?”
“Well…” said Jimmie, scandalized.
“Three days in New York is enough for anybody,” I assured him. “Paris is just a lot of self-conscious wide streets full of foreigners who seem to all have their beady eyes on you. Algiers? About like Winnipeg with a Shriners’ convention on. Madrid…”
“What’s the matter with you?” cut in Jimmie hotly.
“I’m just thinking about Georgian Bay,” I confessed softly.
Well – we got the nails, the paint brushes, the screws and a lot of little odds and ends like coat hangers, shelf brackets and stuff. And the great day came. And we drove to Midland and got the livery launch that takes us 30 miles up the shore amid the myriad islands. And we hove in off the wider spaces of the open bay into the channels that led us through ever more familiar scenes until, rounding a lonely bend, there, snuggled down on its rocky promontory was our well beloved cottage.
Its screens were all on.
“Jim,” I cried, “who could have put up the screens?”
We stared. The cottage had a specially happy look.
“Why,” I exclaimed, “Jim, you old rascal, you’ve painted the steps!”
“Not me!” assured Jim, staring.
Something Had Happened
The livery launch wheeled wide to pass a shoal that stands in front of our landing. And as it did so, we caught a glimpse of the rear of the cottage.
It was decidedly unfamiliar.
The kitchen had been built!
There, where the back door had formerly opened out on to a flat bare rock, stood a fine lattice-sided kitchen, painted the very green we had always planned. It was exactly the kitchen we had sketched and planned and drawn amateur blueprints of for the past six years.
“Why, Jim,” I shouted above the engine, “you old scallywag! Letting me believe, all this time …”
“I swear,” declared Jimmie with astonished eyes, “I know nothing whatever about it…”
“The dock!” I yelled.
Instead of the old dock, high at one end from the passing of many a winter’s ice, was a level one, with a massive new pine log bolted across its fore edge.
In complete amazement, we drew in, tied the launch and while the driver unloaded our luggage, we hastened up the slope to see the marvel.
There was the kitchen, perfect in every detail. With shelves, exactly as we had sketched them. Painted our own shingle green. The lattice strips expertly laid on, to allow the breeze to blow through. A professional, a workmanlike job.
“Did you speak to anybody in Midland,” I inquired, “about going ahead with this… maybe …”
“To nobody!” assured Jim.
The woodpile was higher and straighter than I had ever seen it. It had one section of almost all birch wood. Then another section, beautifully piled, of nice shiny pine cut into neat little sticks. Kindling.
We unlocked the back door and went into the main kitchen. It was spotless. All the pots and pans were hung more neatly than we had ever left them.
We went into the living-room.
“The fireplace!” gasped Jim.
Our old fireplace, with a lot of the mortar gone from between the rocks, with a couple of the end stones, in fact, in danger of falling out, had been transfigured. It was re-mortared throughout, a fresh set of fine stones had been fitted along the top.
We stood speechless before our beloved fireplace, and gazed around the shining room.
“The note,” said Jim.
For from the mantel hung a large notice.
“The five undersigned are members of a bomber crew that had to bail out due to engine trouble on Feb. 23. We all landed in sight of your cottage and took the liberty of breaking in as it was extremely cold and we did not know where we were. We trust we have done you no injury. We are extremely grateful for all the things you left, the firewood in the fire, the canned food in the cupboard, the tea, sugar, and the big tin of flour. We caught some rabbits in the stamp and all in all were very comfortable for five weeks until discovered last night by a passing party of lumber scalers. To pay for the supplies, we have done a few odd jobs for you. We found several different sketches and plans of the summer kitchen, so combined the best features of all. We hope you like it. And we left a fire ready for you too in the fireplace.
Very gratefully yours…”
And then followed their five young names, each with his trade and calling: Student of architecture, carpenter’s apprentice, stone mason, investment broker and student of theology.
“Jim,” I said huskily, “what kind of an afternoon is it outside?”
“Soft,” said Jim, “a southwest breeze, kind of fitful, humid, and a little overcast!”