This advertisement was unusual, as Jim rarely did any work outside of his comic and the Greg-Jim story after 1937, and is the latest example I know of.
Tag: 1947 Page 1 of 2
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, June 28, 1947
“Incidentally,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “are you color blind?”
“Certainly not,” I informed him.
“The reason I ask,” went on Jim, “is the way you dress.”
“What’s the matter,” I demanded, “with the way I dress? I’d rather dress with a little individuality than the way most men dress. In drab grays, blues, browns. Like inmates of an institution.”
“I’d rather look,” replied Jim, “like an inmate of an institution than like an escaped inmate of an institution.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked hotly.
“Weeeeelll, after all,” soothed Jimmie, “it pays to conform. After all, there are certain standards in this world. It’s a lot more comfortable to conform.”
“I’m comfortable enough,” I assured him.
“Just look at you!” scoffed Jim. “A rowdy tweed coat. A green shirt. Navy blue pants. And brown shoes.”
“Look:” I interrupted. “What difference does it make to anybody in the world how I dress? Actually, does it matter in the very slightest degree to a single living soul in this whole earth whether I dress this way or some other way?”
“There’s me,” suggested Jim. “The sight of you makes me uneasy.”
“How could it?” I protested.
“It’s this way,” explained Jim. “Society is an institution. An artificial institution. Society doesn’t come natural to man. Cattle and sheep live in herds. That’s society. But men are more like wolves or other predators. They live best in small packs. In the beginning, men did live in small packs. And the packs were continually fighting one another for trespassing on each other’s hunting preserves. So, after a long struggle, a system was worked out, called human society, in which an effort was made to persuade men to abandon their natural wolf pack way of life and adopt the social system of the herds of cattle and sheep.”
“Now, just a minute…!” I tried.
“What I’m getting at,” persisted Jimmie, “is that it is the duty of everybody in human society to try and conform to the herd. All sheep look alike. All cattle in a herd look alike. You can’t really tell one from another; unless, of course, you’re the owner of a small herd, and you know them Individually as Bessie, and Brownie and Bunty. I’m referring to great herds, like the human herd.”
“Now, hold on there!” I argued.
“To make human society work,” went on Jim, calmly, it is the duty of every one of us to fight back those individualistic impulses that throw back to the wolf in us. That is why clothes and fashions are so important. The highest type of social man is the man who looks most like all other men.”
“Some of the greatest men we’ve ever had,” I challenged, “like Winston Churchill, were famous for their funny-looking hats and conspicuous clothes!”
“Ah, the leaders, yes,” agreed Jim easily. “The herd bull is often a mighty and individualistic-looking creature. The ram that leads the flock is distinguished by huge and spectacular horns. I imagine the leaders of human society are entitled to the same distinctions. But I’m talking about the vast mass, the rank and file of human society. Its function – its DUTY – is to conform, to be uniform, to be standardized.”
“Are you talking socialism,” I demanded, “or Nazism?”
“The army,” concluded Jim, “is the highest expression of human society. There, the rank and file are dressed as like as pins, and trained, as far as possible, to act and think exactly alike. The generals, of course, are gaudy.”
“Jim,” I pleaded, “you don’t really believe all this, do you?”
“If it weren’t true,” retorted Jim, “then why do you see, in a big city like this, all the men breaking their necks to look all alike, to wear the same suits, coats, hats? Why do the great majority look askance at any man who dresses against the fashion? Like you?”
“Do people look askance at me?” I snorted.
“I’m looking at you askance,” confessed Jim, gently. “Ow! That shirt! Those pants! Those yellow boots!”
I looked down at myself and saw little to complain of. The coat is a favorite. It has great big bellows side pockets in which you can carry pipe, tobacco, all the letters you’ve got in the last few days, a notebook, a couple of small books like a bird guide or a fishing book, a small camera, a bottle of vitamin pills and any of the other things a man likes to have handy.
The navy blue pants, I admit, were not what I had intended to put on. But I picked them off the hook in the dark closet and had them on before I noticed they weren’t the gray flannels. But is a man to go around looking at his own pants all the time?
The green shirt? Well, it was the top shirt in the drawer.
And the yellow boots? Ah, now we’re on fighting ground. Boots are a man’s foundation. Comfortable, sturdy boots are the basis of a man. Rich or poor, look at a man’s boots, and you can tell his character at glance. I had my yellow boots on because they are the most comfortable.
Jim slowly surveyed me from head to foot, and shuddered.
“Ordinary consideration,” he said, “for your fellow-citizen should prevent you from a get-up like that.
Jim, never since the days of George IV.” I informed him, “has there been such color and freedom in men’s clothes as there is today. Sport coats, sport shirts, hand-painted neckties, pastel hats…”
“But they don’t clash!” cried Jim. “They blend, they co-ordinate.”
“Did you notice,” I asked bitterly, “in the papers a few weeks back all the excitement about Bobby Locke’s plus fours?”
“The golf champion?” said Jim.
“Yes, the South African,” I declared, “who came over here and grabbed off a lot of the big cash prizes in the golf tournaments. Now, what do you suppose was the biggest news about Locke? What do you imagine all the newspapers and the wire services featured about Bobby Locke? It was his plus fours. His big baggy pants. Why, even Time had a feature on them.”
“Well, they’re a little old fashioned,” pointed out Jim. “Back 20 years ago, plus fours were the standard golf costume. No gentleman felt himself properly dressed for a golf game unless he had on plus fours.”
“Plus fours,” I stated, “have nothing to do with golf, then or now. Plus fours were sanctified by the grouse shooters, deer stalkers and salmon fishers of Scotland ages before the golfers took them up. Plus fours are the finest sporting garments ever designed. There is more freedom in them than anything save the kilt. They’re roomy where room is needed, and leave your lower legs and ankles free of the flapping nuisance of trouser cuffs. And I have a pair.”
“Of plus fours?” exclaimed Jim. “I never saw you in them.”
“I wear them on special occasions,” I explained, cautiously.
“Such as going to the opera, I suppose,” scoffed Jim, “or to weddings!”
“They’re heavy Harris tweed,” I explained stiffly. “I got them in Scotland about 20 years ago.”
“Funny I never saw you in them,” muttered Jim.
“Well, there are too many burrs in this part of Canada,” I mentioned. “First time I wore them out rabbit hunting in the fall, I got into a burr patch and it kind of gummed me up. Took my entire family and me the whole evening to pick them free.”
“Still, there have been several funerals,” persisted Jim,” where I would have expected to see you in them…”
“Okay, Jim,” I submitted sadly. “You dress like a chartered accountant if you like. You go socialist if you like, and dress like a numb little robot. An I can say is, Bobby Locke wore plus fours and almost swept the golf world. I’m willing to bet he owed a lot to the plus fours on two accounts: first, because they gave his legs the fullest freedom possible; and second, the psychological effect of them on his opponents. They were a mental hazard. You see a man waddling around in plus fours, and you get an entirely erroneous idea of what he’s got underneath them.”
“Let’s see you in your plus fours, some time,” laughed Jimmie.
When I went home for supper, I went to the attic and opened up all the pillow cases full of old hunting clothes until I came to the plus fours, forgotten all these years. There were still some burrs in them.
I took them down and changed into them, and selected a windbreaker and a nice quiet sport shirt of one of the gloomier Scottish clans. I found the coarse woolen knee hose that go with the plus fours balled up in the pockets of the garment. My yellow shoes completed the ensemble.
And after dinner, I walked around the corner to Jim’s, finding him weeding the petunias. He sat back on his haunches and surveyed me.
“By George,” he breathed, “you look like something dug up out of the twenties! You look like a Scotch countryman out on the misty hills looking for a shilling a friend said he had lost. Did you come round the front way, or through the back lanes?”
“Does anything clash?” I inquired sharply. “Isn’t this shirt and windbreaker in conformity with the plus fours? The hose are a proper blend with the tweed…?”
“It’s not the blend I refer to this time,” said Jim, rising. “Let’s go indoors, eh?”
“Are you afraid of the neighbors?” I sneered.
“Well, after all,” said Jimmie, “it’s not the season for masquerade parties.”
I stood my ground.
“Jim,” I enunciated, “I’m going around to the corners to get some tobacco. Want to come?”
“Think of your wife and children,” suggested Jim.
“They don’t mind me,” I said.
“Wait till after dark,” urged Jim. “Come on in.”
“You’ve got a psychosis,” I charged. “You’ve gone socialist without knowing it. You may be a Tory in your surface mind but underneath, you’re licked, Jim. You are frightened. You conform. You want to hide in the herd – that herd of sheep you were talking about this afternoon.”
“You’ve got a good point there,” agreed Jim, “come on in and sit down and we’ll talk it over.”
“I’m going to walk around and get some tobacco,” I stated, starting for the front walk.
“If you were taller,” suggested Jim, “if you weren’t so wide … sort of … or if the plus fours weren’t QUITE so bloomy …”
“Even personal insults, eh?” I gritted.
“Oh, well…” sighed Jim, throwing down the trowel and dusting off his hands.
So we walked out to the pavement and turned south to go the three blocks to the shops.
It is easy to be nonchalant in plus fours. They afford great freedom to the nether limbs and also to the mind. They are airy, roomy, and from them arises a spirit of liberty that affects the whole being.
On the verandahs of the neighbors, as we passed, there were outbreaks of sudden short coughs; and also sudden silences. Whenever we met people walking, Jim stepped smartly ahead of me, as if to shield me from view. Normally, Jim is very respectful to the sensitiveness of a short man, who always hates to be stood in front of. But tonight, he was obviously in distress. A car full of young people honked their horn loudly as they passed, and cheers wafted from them. Another car, farther on, slammed on its brakes with a screech of tires, as it passed us.
Some small children, playing in the street, called to one another and formed a procession behind us, chanting some unintelligible nonsense, until Jimmie drove them away.
At the corners, where there were groups of people waiting for the bus and lingering in the store fronts, there were again those sudden silences as we passed along into the cigar store,
“See, Jim?” I explained. “Those abrupt silences are marks of respect. Everybody respects a person of obvious individuality.”
We got our tobacco and emerged into the evening.
“Let’s go round the other way,” suggested Jim. “Right around the block.”
“Okay.” I said.
Again, the silences on the verandahs. Again a couple of salutes from car horns and several cars slowed down for the view.
“What’s the hurry, Jim?” I remarked, for he was walking far faster than his usual gait.
A bunch of kids were playing soft ball on the pavement ahead. One of them got his eye on me at a little distance and yelled. They were all ganged up on the sidewalk for our passage. Their cries and exclamations grew louder,
“Hey, mister,” yelled one, “what have you got in there? Samples? Hey, give us some samples!”
Another made a snatch at my plus fours, as I passed. I thrust him firmly aside. They formed into a parade and followed, yelling variously.
“He’s got SOMETHING in there!” one screamed. “Biggest pockets I ever saw ….”
“Go away! Go away!” Jimmie and I both commanded.
But they followed; the procession grew; and a small wirehaired terrier, seeing the excitement, joined in, yapping perilously at my heels. People came forward on their verandahs, and out their side drives. A cocker spaniel, of gloomy mien, joined in and, with the terrier, started yapping very close to the lower extremities of the plus fours. I walked faster.
On a lawn ahead stood a large sheepdog. From behind the screen of hair over its eyes, it viewed the gathering procession with lifted head and the tension of alertness.
I walked faster.
“Not too fast!” hissed Jim, beside me. “It makes them waggle.”
The sheepdog bounded forward. It took up the head of the parade behind me. The smaller dogs went frantic. The sheep dog took a small, speculative nip at the Harris tweed.
I lengthened stride.
I started to run.
The sheepdog took a good wide grab.
And in a great confusion of small boys, dogs, parents and the owner of the sheepdog, I was wrested free by Jimmie, who escorted me rapidly the rest of the block to my own house.
In the long hall mirror, I examined myself over my shoulder.
“I’m TERRIBLY sorry it was a sheepdog,” consoled Jimmie.
Editor’s Note: As they mentioned, Bobby Locke was a South African golf champion, whose early career was interrupted by World War Two. He was invited to the USA by the golfer Sam Sneed in 1947.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, Janaury 11, 1947
“Well, of all the nerve!” murmured Jimmie Frise in my ear.
“Mmmm?” I inquired.
“Did you see that?” hissed Jim more sharply. “Did you see that guy calmly pick up my parcel?”
“Uh?” I said, removing my attention from the counter where Jim and I were inspecting fleece-lined gloves.
“My green parcel!” whispered Jim. “See? That big guy at the end of the counter….”
At the end of the counter, a big fellow was pausing casually to look at some merchandise. Along with another smaller parcel, he was carrying Jim’s green package containing a beautiful llama wool sport cap of the kind the Swiss hunters wear, a sort of round wool cap that can be pulled down around the neck and ears. Grand for rabbit hunting at this time of year.
“He was standing here beside us,” whispered Jim hurriedly. “I’d laid my parcel down. Just as he walked away, I noticed my parcel gone….”
“Go and ask him for it!” I commanded promptly. “Before he gets away.”
“Nix,” said Jim, “let’s follow the guy. Let’s watch him operate. It’ll be an education.”
“It’ll be a story,” I corrected. “Okay. Now don’t let him see we’re on to him.”
We went ahead examining gloves. Out of the corners of our eyes we watched the big guy stalling around. Obviously he was stalling. He was waiting to see if we would miss the green package and raise an outcry. In which case he could easily plead he had picked the parcel up with his other, by mistake.
“He’s waiting,” murmured Jim guardedly, “for a bunch of people to come by in the aisle and then he’ll just melt into the crowd.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “Don’t let’s lose him.”
“We can’t lose him,” said Jim. “Imagine a guy the size of that engaging in shoplifting! Why, he’s as conspicuous as a moose.”
“And intimidating,” I submitted. “Lots of people, even if they suspected him, would be a little leery of tackling a man that size.”
At which moment, just as we expected, a little crowd of people came down the wide aisle of the store. And as smooth as silk, the big fellow quietly swung in with them and started away.
“Heh, heh, heh,” I chuckled, as Jim and I, without hurry, calmly fell in pursuit.
“The nerve of him!” admired Jim. “Look, he doesn’t ever try to conceal the parcel. Look, he’s carrying it more conspicuously than the other.”
“Aplomb,” I said. “A shoplifter, or any other kind of crook for that matter, has to have aplomb.”
“What the heck is aplomb?’ inquired Jim.
We Study the Master
“It’s self-possession, sort of,” I explained, as we casually strolled along in the shopping crowd, our victim fair in view. “The word aplomb comes from the same root as plummet. It means perpendicular. Straight up and down. A hotel doorman has aplomb. A bishop has aplomb. This guy has aplomb. Look at the proud, self-possessed way he carries himself! A successful crook always has that air. An unsuccessful crook cringes, is bent over, looks anxious. You can see he is a crook. But this kind of smooth operator is always ready to carry off any accident with the greatest assurance. I bet he wiggles out of 100 per cent of the cases in which he is caught in the act.”
He had paused at the notions counter. He was slowly moving, a step at a time, along the counter, studying with rapt attention the cards of buttons, the cards of hooks and eyes, dome fasteners.
“See!” hissed Jimmie, as we too slowed along the opposite side of the aisle. “See that woman ahead of him? And that expensive-looking package she’s carrying? Well, wait till she lays it down!”
We watched covertly with bated breath.
“What art!” I breathed. “What technique! The guy is a master. He knows that in the notions counter women are always picking things up, and in order to pick things up, they’ve got to lay things down. How much do you bet he gets that expensive-looking package?”
“By the look of that package,” assessed Jim. “I figure she’s got a $15 bed-jacket. Or maybe one of those $20 cashmere cardigans …”
Slowly, the unsuspecting lady, with the parcel tucked under her arm, moved along the notions counter, peering at everything, the spools, the safety pins, the knitting needles. And slowly behind her, moving with the greatest indifference, lost in contemplation of the trivial things on the counter, drifted the big man.
She halted. The man halted. She picked up a large spool of colored elastic. She studied it intently. She made as if to take the package from under her arm. We stiffened.
But she suddenly changed her mind and tossed the elastic back and walked briskly on. The man followed. When the lady turned right at the end of the notions counter, the big fellow paused, and then turned left.
“He takes his time,” admired Jim, as we followed, at leisure. “No ordinary packages for him. He only chooses the best.”
“What a queer hobby!” I mused. “It’s sort of like gambling. He never knows what he’s getting until he gets home.”
We followed him up the main aisle, and then began a most fascinating chase. He went to the escalator and took it up. At a discreet distance, we followed.
“Do you think he’d recognize us following him?” I inquired.
“Not him,” said Jim. “He’s like a hound on the scent. He’s like a setter at point. Each job, once done, is forgotten in favor of a new victim…”
The Vulnerable Point
“But look here, Jim, how about your llama cap?” I demanded. “At what stage are you going to get that green parcel back? If by any chance he did see us, and recognize us as the two guys he stuck down there at the glove counter, he might make a sudden dive into an elevator or something … Or he might even chuck your green parcel out a window.”
“Hmmmm,” said Jim uneasily. “I don’t want to lose that $3 cap. Let’s keep a closer watch …”
So instead of following 30 feet behind, we moved up to about 15 feet.
He was marvellous. He got off the escalator at the third floor and wandered straight over to the ladies’ lingerie department. If there is any place the ladies lay their parcels down, it is in the lingerie department. No lady is ever satisfied merely to look at lingerie. She’s got to feel it, finger it, twiddle the silk between her fingers. And to do that, she’s got to put her parcels down on a counter.
“I wonder if he takes purses?” I suggested.
“I wouldn’t think so,” said Jim. “Purses are too easily identified, too immediately noticed if gone. Ladies don’t often lay down their purses, even when they set down all their packages. And besides, there is never very much in a woman’s purse. Maybe $3 or $4. No, it’s parcels this guy is after. They’re easily explained a mistake, madam, a mistake! I’m very sorry! With that aplomb …”
We followed the big fellow around the lingerie department. He was a superb actor. He paused here and there to examine various garments with that shy and slightly self-conscious air a man uses in the lingerie.
When the masterful salesladies of the lingerie department came and spoke to him, he just smiled, shook his head and wandered on.
Two or three times, we thought we were about to witness a snatch. Ladies did lay parcels down and wander a few feet away. The big guy DID pause, long enough to cast his practised eye over the packages. But apparently none of them were good enough to merit his attention.
“I guess an expert,” said Jim, “can tell at a glance what’s in a parcel.”
We followed him up to the fourth floor, then to the fifth. He went with unerring instinct to the departments where people set parcels down. The wool department. No lady can buy wool with other packages in her arms. She must feel the wool, fondle it.
The china department. Several people laid themselves open, became vulnerable here. To examine a tea cup or a cheese dish, you’ve got to lay your parcels down. The big fellow moved calmly about the china department, pausing here, pausing there; and we could see, in each instance, just which victim he was appraising.
In the china department, he startled us by actually buying something. He bought a green glass beer mug with a wooden handle.
“Hmmm,” said Jim, puzzled. “Do you suppose by any chance he has spotted us following him around? Do you think this little purchase is intended to throw us off the scent?”
“Jim,” I urged, as we retreated a little way in confusion, “let’s get it over with now. Either walk right up to him and demand the parcel back, or else get a floor-walker to act for us. The floor-walker can do it very nicely, no scene …”
“Are you afraid of that big lug?” Jim demanded meanly.
“Well, there’s no use getting punched on the nose,” I submitted.
One on Him!
“Listen, all we’ll do,” said Jim, covertly watching the rascal as he calmly awaited his parcel and change, “is walk up to him quietly and ask him what is in the green parcel. Tell him we saw him pick up our parcel and have followed him all over the store. That’ll frighten him. He’ll know we’re on to him. When we ask him what’s in the green parcel, of course he won’t know. Whatever he says, we’ll say it’s a llama wool cap. We’ll demand he open it, or we’ll call the store detectives…”
“Look!” I exclaimed. “I’ve got a better idea, Jim. Why not serve him his own trick? Why not US pinch your green parcel off HIM?”.
“Eh!” Jim checked.
“Let’s,” I said with increasing excitement, “beat him at his own game! Let’s tag on to him until he lays HIS parcels down and quietly snatch yours back.”
Jim looked speculatively over to where the big crook was standing with his back to us, awaiting his parcel. He had, for a fact, laid his other parcels down. Jim’s green one was on top.
“That,” chuckled Jim suddenly, “is an idea! Imagine his feelings when he finds the green parcel gone! He’ll be in a panic …”
At which moment, the salesgirl came back and gave him the beer mug which, after a moment, he stuffed into his overcoat pocket. Then he meandered over to the elevator and took it down to the main floor, us packed beside him in the car. It was breathtaking to be this close to the scoundrel. For there, just under my nose, and not a foot from Jim’s, was Jim’s green parcel brazenly exposed. Oh, it was exciting!
We let him off first. He led us to the perfume counter. He laid his two parcels down, green one on top. He spoke jokingly to a salesgirl, and she proceeded to let him sniff a variety of perfume bottles.
It was an odd sight. This big goof going through all the ecstasies, and refinements of selecting an itty-bitty bottle of perfume…
I cased the joint. Jim moved over to protect me from the off side. Just as the big guy flirtatiously closed his eyes in sniffing, I reached out smoothly and, all in one sweet swipe, picked the green package off the counter, moved on and handed the parcel to Jim. Without pause, we went straight out the main door and down Yonge St.
Our hearts were beating wildly. Our breath was coming fast. But it was with laughter we were bursting.
“What a joke!” bellowed Jim as we got out into the winter air. “Boy, I’d like to see that guy’s face right now…”
Who Robbed Who?
We went into a coffee shop for our 11 o’clock pot of tea and relaxed. Ah, it was delightful! There is nothing more enlivening to the humdrum life of modern society than a little excursion like this into the realm of the unusual, the bizarre…
I got my tea and sat back. From my coat pocket I took my own package and opened it to have a look at the muffler I had bought.
Jim, with doting fingers, undid his green parcel to try on the llama cap.
It WASN’T a llama cap!
It was a lady’s bright blue nightgown!
“Oh, my gosh…” gasped Jim, struggling to his feet. “Oh, OH, my gosh!”
We stood transfixed with horror.
“What do we do?” moaned Jim. “What do we DO!”
“The.. uh… who … aw …” I explained.
“Don’t you see!” wailed Jimmie. “We’ve ROBBED a guy, a poor, innocent big guy…”
“You saw him snatch the parcel … the green parcel…” I croaked.
Jim stood staring agonized into space.
“No,” he whispered. “No! Now that I come to think of it, I believe I left my green parcel on the fishing tackle counter, when we were talking to Jack Sutton …”
“You … you …” I accused.
So we left our tea and hastily wrapped the green package and ran back up the street to the big store.
We ran to the perfume counter. We hastily searched the aisles, but in the crowds we knew it was hopeless. We hastened to the tackle counter and, as soon as Jack Sutton saw us coming, he reached down under the counter and picked up a green parcel, which he waved reassuringly to Jim.
“Oh … oh … OH!” moaned Jim.
So this is what we did.
We went up to the lost and found office and turned the other green parcel over to the girl.
We said we had found it on Yonge St, and, on opening it, we had found the bill inside and knew it had come from this store.
“You are very kind,” the girl smiled, “and very HONEST.” (The capitals are mine.)
“Say, just for fun,” I said, “will you keep track of whoever calls for that parcel, if someone does I’d like to know what kind of person buys nightgowns that color?”
“Tee-hee-hee, I will,” assured the girl.
I telephoned the next day.
“It was a great big man,” the girl informed me. “He was a policeman on his day off. And he was so glad to get the parcel, because he was sure somebody had snatched it on him. Some shoplifter. And he said he was SO MAD…!”
Editor’s Note: This was the last Greg-Jim story published in the Toronto Star Weekly before they moved to the Montreal Standard. The microfilmed image is at the end, while the colour image is from an online auction.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 8, 1947
“It’s a brain wave!” shouted Jimmie Frise.
“Good planning,” I yelled back, “is the secret of everything!”
We were in the back of a rented truck which was joggling us terribly over the backwoods tote road that led into our log hunting cabin.
With our duffle bags, rifles and hunting gear, we were being bounced and thudded through the dusk on the last 10 minutes of the 15-mile journey from the ultimate village.
“Boy,” exulted Jim, “I bet this is going to be the best hunting trip of our entire lives. Something tells me.”
“Organization,” I bellowed, “pays off. When I think back over all the hunting trips we’ve been on, haphazard, unplanned, disorganized …”
“Of course,” interjected Jimmie, “part of the charm, the attraction, of outdoor sport, is its uncertainty. I don’t go for these highly organized hunting camps where the deer are practically tied up to trees by the guides, beforehand.”
“I was thinking of the cook,” I shouted. “The Chinese cook. Why didn’t we think of that years ago?”
“Ah, that,” cried Jim happily, “was good old Skipper’s idea.”
Skipper is the newly-elected captain of our small hunting party. For years, he has been the chief complainer about lack of organization in our annual excursion. And one of the first things he did, on taking over command of the party, was to engage Wang, a Chinese friend of his from a city restaurant where Skipper eats chicken chow mein.
Wang, with Skipper and the rest of our party, was already in at the hunting cabin. Jim and I had been detained to the last by Jimmie not having his cartoon done.
“When I think,” I joggled “of all the years we’ve gone into the bush with a dozen great big cartons of canned goods …”
“So we were all half sick, about the third day,” agreed Jim, “with greasy food.”
“Aw,” I reminded, “and think of the mess the cabin was always in! And the delay in getting going in the morning, because of having to get breakfast.”
“And all the quarreling and bickering,” said Jim, “as to whose turn it was to wash up dishes or get the dinner.”
“I don’t see how we put up with it,” I submitted. “Every hunting party should hire a cook. It’s a very small outlay, divided among six men. Yet, it makes all the difference. Wang will get up early and have breakfast on the table before daybreak, so we’re all out in the bush by the time we’re able to see.”
“And,” contributed Jim, “he’ll have our lunch sandwiches packed up for us to put in our pockets. And when we come in at the end of the day, think of finding a real meal all ready and steaming!
“Wow!” I yelled.
So we sat, balancing as best we could on the cartons and boxes of supplies which we were contributing. To be on the last leg of the November hunting trip journey is exhilarating. To those of us who are still uncivilized enough to respond to the autumnal desire to go forth and hunt, the smells of the wilderness, the chill of the frosty air, seem to waken very ancient memories that we have inherited. It may be November was the month when all our ancestors went forth to fill their caves with meat and furs against the oncoming winter. There is a sort of joyous desperation in the spirit of a man who goes hunting in the fall.
But added to this, to know that, for the first time, we were going on a properly organized hunting party with a cook, filled our cup to overflowing.
I leaned out the back of the truck to peer into the misty dusk and see how near we were to the cabin. Our cabin is on a small lake in a very remote and uninhabited neighborhood. We are 15 miles over a vicious rock and corduroy tote road from the nearest village. No other hunting camps are within six or seven miles of us, separated from us by impenetrable bogs and swamps.
And tomorrow, the season opened!
“I can see the cabin lights,” I shouted to Jimmie. “Across on the point.”
Jim came and leaned out too, sharing that indescribable tumult of feeling that rises in a man at the sight of his wilderness destination.
The rest of the gang had heard the sound of our truck and were all out with lanterns to give us a royal welcome. They had come in the night before so as to get the camp settled and to do a little spying out of the land in advance of opening day.
Old Skipper superintended the unloading of the supplies and duffle and he gave Elmer, the truck driver from the village, his last and final instructions.
“Now, remember, Elmer,” said Skipper in the lantern light,” you come in every third day. That’ll be Wednesday. Then Saturday. Unless, of course, there are any important messages for us, or emergencies.”
Elmer drove off into the night; and with our duffle, Jim and I staggered into the old familiar cabin.
Just the standard log hunting shack, it is, with sets of double bunks on either side of the single room. In the middle is a large plain plank table, with benches. At the end, a large old fashioned wood stove which serves to warm the cabin as well as cook the food.
But Jim and I both stood staring in the light of the bright gasoline lantern hanging from the ceiling. For the old familiar cabin wore a most unfamiliar air of tidiness and order.
The bunks were all neatly made up with their bedclothes. The plank table was covered with white oilcloth. The rusty old stove was black and gleaming. On the shelves, lined with newspapers, the canned goods and other supplies were set up in the attractive style of a groceteria.
Skipper stood beaming at our surprise.
“Well,” he demanded, “how does the old joint look now?”
“Why,” gasped Jimmie, “it doesn’t even smell! No mice! No squirrels …”
And from the other door of the cabin beyond the stove, appeared Wang, the author of all this miracle. He was a small, chunky Chinese in a white apron. We shook hands with him formally.
“Wang,” said Jim, “we should have met you 20 years ago.”
And Wang beamed too and proceeded immediately with his cooking.
As Jim and I tossed our gear on our bunks and got ourselves settled, Skipper and the rest of the boys told us how Wang had sent them all out for a walk while he scrubbed and disinfected, and made the beds and organized the layout of supplies and stowed everybody’s equipment neatly under the bunks or hung it on nails.
“You’d think,” said Skipper, “that Wang had been born in the wilds or spent his entire life in hunting camps, instead of being a city slicker.”
Wang waved his appreciation and grinned happily.
Dinner was just ready. It consisted of small lamb chops grilled over bright red birch coals, to bare which Wang had simply removed the front top of the stove. You never tasted such chops, even in the costly restaurants. There were boiled potatoes, peas, broccoli, a large bowl of salad, lemon pie and coffee.
Skipper sat at the head of the table in the captain’s chair and watched us with pride and satisfaction as we stowed away the delicious victuals, with glances at one another which revealed more than words could our delight with the whole situation. Wang stood, like an adjutant, behind Skipper’s chair, watchfully. It was certainly a far cry to the hunting parties of the past, when we had stumbled about a cluttered cabin and sat down to amateur meals dished out of cans.
“I would have you gentlemen know,” announced Skipper, “that out in the lean-to, at the back, where, by the way, Wang has made his bed, we have a front quarter and a hind quarter of lamb; a side of finest bacon; a roast of beef and fresh vegetables too numerous to mention. And it all costs a great deal less than the canned goods we would have brought otherwise.”
Wang cleared the dishes off without disturbing us in our places. He wiped and mopped the table deftly. And there we sat, ready for the evening’s planning of tomorrow’s strategy.
Skipper, as captain, had prepared some fresh maps of our hunting territory. In different colored pencil, he had sketched maps of each section of the country, showing all the favorite runways and all the familiar topographical features, so that as he laid each map out, we could follow his instructions almost as though we were on a high hill overlooking the actual locations.
“Planning,” announced Skipper, “is the essence of any enterprise. To go hunting and just wander about by random, as we have done for years past, isn’t fit to be dignified by the name of hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all chorused; and from the end of the cabin came the cheery clatter of Wang doing dishes.
“According to the barometer, which I brought with me,” announced Skipper, “tomorrow is going to be cold and wet. A lot of east wind and rain. Therefore, I suggest we do not hunt the usual first-day section, which is down in that swampy area near Loon Pond. It will be too wet, too exposed; and the deer won’t be wandering around in such weather. We will hunt instead up in the cedar and hardwood country around Job’s Hill, where the deer will be taking shelter, and where we won’t get so wet hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all agreed, and Skipper laid down before us the big red and green pencil map of Job’s Hill and proceeded to appoint each of us to our station.
In that delicious mood in which you climb into your berth on a train that is about to take you to New York or San Francisco, we all undressed and climbed into our bunks for a good night’s sleep to prepare us for the opening day’s hunting, Wang had finished in his chores and brought in armfuls of wood for the morning, wound his alarm clock and stood dutifully to the last to see if there were anything wanted of him.
“Good night, Wang,” called Skipper, as he turned off the gas lantern and slipped into his bunk.
We heard Wang retire to his bed in the lean-to and before the first faint snore from Jimmie disturbed me, I had slipped away into dreams.
What waked me, I could not at first determine. I glanced at the cabin window and saw the first faint gray of dawn. I could see Skipper, leaning out of his bunk, pumping furiously at the gasoline lantern. The back door of the cabin was open, and a chink of light indicated that Wang was already up and about.
I could hear Wang’s voice, low and tense.
He was saying:
“Come on! Get out! Hey! Come on! Get out!”
“Hullo …” I began heartily.
“Shut up!” hissed Skipper, down below me.
He scratched a match and set it to the lantern. It burped and glowed and suddenly filled the cabin with glaring light.
“What’s up …?” I murmured.
“Shh!” commanded Skipper sharply and started to swing his legs out for the floor.
At which moment we heard a loud thud from Wang’s lean-to; and a sudden wild yell.
Through the cabin door, from the lean-to, came a large skunk, with that hop-skip-jump and sideways gait of an indignant and outraged slunk. A skunk likes to move with dignity.
And in the doorway, his face contorted with rage, appeared Wang, brandishing a stick of stove wood over his head.
“No, no, nooooo!” roared Skipper, diving back under his bed covers.
It was too late anyway. The skunk had fired his first shot in the lean-to, at Wang. The cloud of incense rolled in on us.
“No cat,” yelled Wang, letting the billet of stove wood fly, “is going to eat my eggs!”
The stick hit the skunk and………well………
Well, well, well!
At the council of war, held outside in the dawn of the opening of the season, Skipper applied the talent for organization which he possesses. We had no tomato juice. All our juice was grapefruit and orange. We had one pint of vinegar. It would take, at the least, four gallons of vinegar or eight gallons of tomato juice to wash down the cabin.
“And all the fresh food in the lean-to,” I reminded.
It was 15 miles to the village.
So we drew lots and it was Ben Holt, our youngest member, who is only in his forties, who got the job of walking the 15 miles into the village for Elmer to come and take us all the heck out of here.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” said old Skipper sadly, “are easily skunked.”
Editor’s Notes: A Tote Road is a road for hauling supplies, especially into a lumber camp.
This story reads a lot like the Greg Clark stories from the 1950s, in that Skipper, their friend who shows up more in the 1940s, plays a major role.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 20, 1947
“Come on!” pleaded Jimmie Frise. “They’re fun!”
“Auction sales are a fraud,” I scoffed. “They’re a racket!”
Jim had slowed the car in front of an old house in the downtown district which had been converted into an auction sale headquarters. Over the lighted portico, a large canvas banner proclaimed “Auction now in progress.” And cars were parked densely all around, while a regular church congregation seemed to be pouring into the emporium.
“Come on,” egged Jim. “We’ve nothing better to do.”
“I haven’t seen ‘Great Expectations’ yet,” I complained. “We can find it at one of the neighborhood theatres.”
“Look,” said Jim, “movies are all the same. Once you’ve seen one movie, you’ve seen all movies. But an auction sale is a riot. You see human nature revealed there in the raw – not all taffied up by some movie director. If you want a good chuckle, go to an auction sale.”
“Jim, they’re just a racket!” I protested, as he started to manoeuvre for a parking space up the street. “And it’s just junk they sell.”
“Oh, don’t think I was suggesting we buy anything,” laughed Jim. “It’s just to see the show.”
“It’s always the same, Jim, I made my last bid. The same old crowd always attends these auction sales. The auction sale habit is like the bingo habit or the racetrack habit or any other rut certain people seem to get into. You see the same types at an auction sale just as you see the same types at a race track. There’s an auction sale type.”
“Exactly,” agreed Jim, turning off the ignition. “And it’s fun to see them in operation, just the same as it’s fun to watch a bingo crowd. First of all, there’s the regular dealers who are in attendance, the secondhand dealers and antique dealers. Attending auction sales is a part of their business. They pick up a few dollars worth of odds and ends, bric-a-bric, china, silver, to eke out their own stocks in their shops.”
“Then,” I pointed out, “there are those other semi-professionals – they don’t have stores. But it’s a sort of sideline or hobby with them. They attend auctions as regular as the second-hand dealers, to pick up odds and ends which they take home, and then either sell to their friends and neighbors, or else advertise them in the want ads of the daily newspapers, turning over a little profit.”
“There could be worse hobbies,” asserted Jim, as he wound up the car windows. “It doesn’t cost anything. There’s no admission charge to an auction sale. And after a little experience, I suppose a man can become real expert at picking up things he knows he can make two or three dollars on.”
“It’s these second-hand dealers,” I pointed out, “and these semi-professional picker-uppers who make it next to impossible for the ordinary guy, like you or me ever to get anything worth while at an auction, Jim. They don’t just walk into an auction and sit down, like us They go beforehand and size up the merchandise that’s going on the block. They spot all the articles of any value and wait for them to come up. They have made up their minds in advance how much they will go for it, and still leave them a margin of profit on the resale.”
“That’s when you see the fun start, at an auction,” agreed Jim, as we left the car and started down street towards the emporium. “When the dealers begin bidding against each other.”
“With the odd outsider, like us,” I recollected, “butting in and upsetting the apple cart.”
“A good auction sale,” explained Jim, “is one that has a few worthwhile articles salted in among the junk. Only the dealers and the professionals know the real stuff from the junk. But their bidding, on the real stuff excites the rest of the congregation to bid on the junk. And that’s where the gravy comes in. For the auctioneer.”
We went up the steps and into the spacious and cluttered rooms of the old mansion.
A smell of new carpets and old dust filled the air. From the big living room and dining room of the old house – which had been opened up into one large chamber for the auction hall – came the monotonous but incisive voice of the auctioneer, rising above a low babble. The sale was already under way.
But in the lofty and outer halls, numbers of people, the men hat in hand, were wandering around with that slightly absent air you observe on people in an art gallery. They were inspecting the great clutter of goods piled and stacked around awaiting their turn on the auction block.
There were great heaps of carpets and rugs all rolled up. There were articles of furniture, tables, nets of tables, lamps, with shades, chairs, sofas, chesterfields, beds, dressers. All were spotless and recently polished.
“Just look at the rugs and carpets,” said Jimmie “Where do all the rugs come from that are put on auction?”
“Culls, I suppose,” I suggested, “and seconds picked up from jobbers or from the manufacturers. Besides, probably any number of these auction addicts get into the habit of buying and trading back their rugs every little while. The home of an auction addict probably never does get set. It’s in an eternal state of flux. They keep on adding little bits here and little bits there – each new piece of furniture upsetting the design or color scheme; so they’ve got to sell things to restore the balance. Probably a real bad auction addict never keeps a rug more than three months. Turn it in and snap up a new one.”
We examined the furniture. None of it was anything we would ever want to own. It was either large and florid, or extra plain. A great many pieces seemed random bits that had got cut adrift from what once upon a time must have been suites. We also examined a find set of china that was really beautiful, except that a pale bilious green rim on each piece spoiled it completely.
“Now how the dickens,” demanded Jim, the artist, “could any designer ever ruin a lovely design by such a fool rim as that?”
“Probably something went wrong in the mixing of the colors and in the firing,” I suggested, “and as the result this set has been on the auction circuit for the past 20 years. If you owned a china factory, and something got spoiled like this, what would you do? Why, sell it to an auctioneer! It’s the last hope for things that go wrong.”
A rising babble and mutter in the big room made us stop and listen. The auctioneer’s voice took on a ringing tone, excited. And we could hear the rising clamor stabbed by voices making rapid bids as they were shooting their bids like arrows.
We hurried over to the auction room doorway and stretched our necks and tiptoed to see over the heads of the others suddenly attracted.
“Sixty!” shot the auctioneer, leaning tensely. “Do I hear sixty-five? Sixty-five, do I hear?”
“Sixty-two-fifty!” came a hoarse voice.
“Sixty-five!” snapped another voice.
There was a deadly stillness.
“Seventy? Do I hear seventy?” rasped the auctioneer. There was dead silence.
“What’s selling?” I whispered to a tall man in front of me.
“A pair of Dresden china figures,” be replied quietly. “The dealers are after them.”
“Going!” wheedled the auctioneer. “Going!”
And they went at seventy.
Half a dozen people got up to leave and Jimmie and I seized the chance to get seats.
“Maybe,” chuckled Jim, “we’ll see that set of bilious china go.”
We had arrived right in the middle of a list of china, glassware, ornaments and other crockery. The battle of the dealers for the Dresden figures had stirred the crowd to great excitement. Everybody was shifting in their chairs and chattering excitedly. The next item was a large red glass vase which the auctioneer described as reputed to be genuine Bohemian, though I’m sure I have seen any number of the same down in the basement china departments of the big stores. Large, dark and ruby red.
The bidding started at $1 and went in about five minutes to $10. One of the bidders was a young woman, sitting just in front of us, obviously a newlywed. For every bid she upped, her young husband turned a glowing face on her, as though he loved the sound of her voice. Several other women and a couple of men were on the tilt. The auctioneer seemed a bit startled at the bidding, because he went over and had another good look at the red monstrosity, as if to make sure he wasn’t making some sort of mistake. When he resumed, he let the bidding go to $11.50 and then knocked it down very suddenly to the young newlyweds.
“You’ll notice,” whispered Jim gleefully, “there were dealers in on the tilt.”
“How about those two men bidding?” I suggested.
“Probably a couple of the auctioneer’s shills,” said Jim, “spotted in the crowd to excite the bidding. The shills always look like dealers.”
Sure enough, the beautiful set of china with the bilious border was tenderly brought in by three or four auctioneer’s helpers and ceremoniously displayed to the audience. The auctioneer described it as genuine Milton, one of the famed English chinamakers, and for the past 20 years the prized and tenderly cared for treasures of one of the city’s most prominent families.
“What am I offered?” he demanded.
“A hundred!” called a man.
“A hundred and ten!” promptly came a woman.
“A hundred and twenty!” rung another man.
“A hundred and twenty!” took up the auctioneer enthusiastically. “Come now, ladies and gentlemen…”
A curious apathy stood like a fog curtain between the auctioneer and the audience, and almost abruptly, knocked it down to the man who had bid the $120.
“A shill!” whispered Jimmie.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, we saw the man who bid the $120 out in the hallway showing some rugs to a pair of women.
“What a racket!” chuckled Jimmie, as we watched a man bid down all contestants for a brass coal scuttle that went for $14. And six glass tumblers that went to a fat man for $7. And a large glass dome, such as you see sandwiches displayed under in railroad restaurant counters, for $4.
“What the dickens,” I muttered, “would anybody want a thing like that?”
“Maybe the guy owns a railroad restaurant lunch counter,” hazarded Jim.
I was busy watching the crowd bidding on the next thing trying to pick the shills from the genuine bidders, and the dealers from the semi-professionals, and the neophytes from the newlyweds, when I heard Jimmie suddenly sing out:
I turned sharply. Sure enough it was Jim! He was sitting slightly forward on the edge of his chair, his chin lifted, his face flushed and a queer look in his eye.
Somebody called “Four seventy-five!” and Jim, rising slightly, snapped “Five!
I raised myself to see what was going.
It was one of those huge china vases, three feet high, in bright Chinese red, green and gold, with a golden dragon writhing around it.
I hadn’t seen one in years. Back in my boyhood, my grandmother had one in the front hall to put umbrellas in.
“Six-twenty-five!” rang Jim’s voice, as I realized the bidding was cracking faster and faster.
“Jim!” I hissed, taking his sleeve.
“Seven!” yelped Jimmie, jerking his sleeve from my grasp.
I furtively stood up and took another look, to be sure. Yes, the auctioneer’s helper was lifting the huge vase with laborious effort, to show its great weight. I noticed, now, that the slender neck of the vase would not permit umbrellas to go in it. It must have been for something else my grandmother had the bulky thing standing in the front hall.
“Nine!” quivered Jimmie’s voice beside me.
“Reputed,” droned the auctioneer’s voice, “to be genuine Ming! Nine-fifty I am offered!”
“Ten!” I shouted unexpectedly.
“Ten-fifty!” barked Jim.
“Hey!” I hissed, leaning out to try and fix his attention. “What the Sam Hill do you want that great ugly thing for?”
“You keep out of this!” snarled Jim, a wild look in his eyes, and elbowing me away. “Eleven-twenty five!”
The bidding had swept past us.
“Twelve!” I shouted.
“Twelve-fifty croaked Jim, turning his shoulder to me.
Well, it went at $14.25, to Jim!
And 20 minutes later we were outside in the lobby, paying the $14.25 to the cashier, while the auctioneer’s helper stood by, holding the great vase in his arms.
We both felt curiously limp and bewildered, as though we had been smitten by a sudden fever, sort of instantaneous malaria. Our faces were flushed. I had to lend Jim my $4.60 to eke out the $14.25.
Neither of us wished to look at the vase, which the helper kept confronting us with.
“I’ll carry it out to your car?” he wheedled. “You’ve got a car?”
“We’ll carry it,” said Jim grimly, pocketing his receipt.
We picked it up. Jim the heavy butt end, I the slender neck. We walked sideways to the door.
On the verandah, just at the top of the concrete steps, Jim’s foot caught, and he slipped.
The priceless Ming vase crashed to splinters down the steps.
“Thank heavens!” I gasped.
“Gosh!” whuffed Jimmie, taking his handkerchief and mopping his brow, “the way that thing strikes you! I didn’t know I was bidding. I just heard my voice!”
“It’s all very confusing, Jim,” I consoled, patting his shoulder. “Will we get somebody to come and sweep up this?”
“No, no,” said Jim, heading down the driveway. “They’re used to it. They expect it.”
And as we melted into the shadows, we saw the auctioneer’s helper come out with a carton and a broom and hastily sweep up the remnants.
$14.50 in 1947 is equivalent to $195 in 2020.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, September 6, 1947
“There’s millions,” declared Jimmie Frise, “in mink!”
“I wouldn’t invest a cent,” I stated.
“This fellow I met,” went on Jim excitedly, “offers us what they call a trio – male and two females – for only $140!”
“Not a cent,” I repeated decisively.
“Look,” said Jim. “We go shares. Seventy dollars each. He keeps the mink on his ranch, see? All we do is invest our money. He needs the money for development of his ranch. He does all the work. Now, suppose our two females have five kits each…”
“Kits!” I checked.
“That’s what they call young mink,” explained Jim. “There’s 10 kits. And so it goes. Maybe two or three litters a year. They’re like rabbits. They multiply rapidly. Why, before the year is out, we’ve got maybe 30 or 40 mink to our credit.”
“If there’s millions in mink,” I demanded cunningly, “What does this guy want $140 for?”
“You don’t understand,” complained Jim. “It’s like the mining game. You’ve got to put money in for development. I just met this mink rancher on the road. He was thumbing a lift, and I happened to be lucky enough. to pick him up.”
“Lucky?” I scoffed.
“Yes, I consider myself lucky,” asserted Jim, “in having picked this guy up. He certainly opened my eyes.”
“What was he doing thumbing a lift,” I questioned sarcastically, “if he is in the big money?”
“That’s the point!” cried Jim. “Don’t you see? He’s just developing into the mink racket. Do you think, if he were an established mink rancher, he’d let a couple of outsiders like us into a partnership?”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” I grumbled.
“You’re like all the rest of mankind who miss the boat,” protested Jimmie. “The whole secret of success in life is speculation. Who makes the millions out of the gold mines of this country? The people who buy the stock AFTER the mine has proved good? No, sir! The people who make the millions are those who invested a little capital to develop the mine in the first place. The people with the courage to risk a little capital for the DEVELOPMENT of the mines. Those are the guys who own the two-tone convertible jobs.”
“Mink,” I stated, “are a fad.”
“A fad, my neck!” protested Jim. “Do you know how much they are paying for mink coats in New York and London right now? As high as $20,000!”
“That’s absurd,” I submitted.
“For blue mink coats,” said Jim. “Twenty, twenty-five thousand bucks!”
“Blue mink?” I requested.
“Yes, that’s the latest,” explained Jim. “The fine under-fur of the mink is a beautiful blue color. It gives the richest, most glorious lustre to the fur.”
“I’ve seen lots of mink,” I admitted, “but I never saw a blue one yet.”
“Well, up in the far north,” elaborated Jim, “the wild mink have this beautiful bluish under-fur. And on the world markets, mink pelts from the northern Quebec and James Bay district have always commanded the most fabulous prices. So, in recent years, the mink breeders have been specializing on this blue mink. Now, are you listening?”
“Go ahead,” I muttered.
“This fellow Middity I met, Hugh Middity, his name is,” said Jim dramatically, “is going to raise blue mink. And he’s letting us in, for only $140! Seventy bucks apiece!”
“Not for blue mink,” I asserted. “Nor for pink mink. Nor for any other kind of mink.”
“Aw, look,” pleaded Jim. “The world is hungry for mink. There isn’t a woman from the Atlantic to the Pacific who doesn’t covet a mink coat. So far, only the wealthiest and most pampered women – the movie stars, the wives of rich tycoons – have been able to afford mink. But there’s millions to be made …”
“Jim,” I assured, “when I was a boy, seal was the rage. No lady considered herself a lady until she owned a bob-tailed seal coat, with a frill around the bustle and large leg-of-mutton shoulders. So the fur trade produced millions of seal pelts and killed the fashion right off. The next thing I remember was Persian lamb. The next fashion was Hudson seal – which was muskrat clipped and dyed to look like seal. Next – mink!”
“But it will be years, years,” cried Jim, “before we satisfy the craving of the womanhood of America and Europe for mink coats!”
“I’ll tell you something, Jim,” I informed him. “Do you know that there are thousands of mink being bred right in the city limits of cities like Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg? Do you know that in back yards, all around the suburbs and actually inside the city limits, there are hundreds and hundreds of pens where little guys like store clerks and accountants and mechanics are raising mink for the market you are raving about? They have a long pen, about two feet square on the front, and about eight or 10 feet long, for each mink. A wire floor in each pen, and a little den of a sleeping box at the back…”
“Mink ranches are out in the quiet country,” interrupted Jimmie, “and the ranchers keep them solitary and free of worry from dogs barking or other disturbing noises.”
“Jim, I got it from a vet friend of mine,” I insisted, “who attends these city mink breeders. There are thousands of mink raised every year right in cities and the suburbs.”
“Well, what of it?” exclaimed Jim. “There’s a fortune in it! I’m not talking about guys raising half a dozen mink in a back yard. I’m talking about mink RANCH. We invest in a trio – one male and two females. At the end of the first year, we’ve got 30 or 40 mink. Forty mink! Do you know how much one blue mink – for breeding purposes – will sell for? TWO HUNDRED BUCKS!”
“For one mink,” I checked.
“For one mink,” assured Jim. “In fact, a good breeder blue male mink will sell as high as six hundred. Or even a thousand. It’s all luck. It’s like the gold mines. If you happen to develop a good blue strain, why there’s no limit to the money you can make. Look at what bulls sell for? You often see a bull selling for $15,000.”
“Yeah, a bull,” I admitted. “But a mink is a mighty small animal compared to a bull.”
“Greg,” said Jim, patiently, and a little sadly. “You don’t seem to understand how big money is made. You don’t get rich in this world by hard work. If hard work made a guy rich, there wouldn’t be a poor day laborer or a poor farmer or a poor mechanic in this world. No sir. The way you get rich is by shrewd and intelligent foresight. You look ahead and see what your fellow-man doesn’t see – yet! Now, any fool could look at the world today and see this mink coat racket and realize there’s millions in it. Every woman in the world – rich AND poor — wants a mink coat. Where are they going to come from?”
“Did you say this guy was breeding BLUE mink?” I inquired.
Now, during this debate, Jim was driving me 30 miles north of the city to meet the man he had picked up on the side road who had implanted in Jimmie this passion for mink.
“Two miles further,” said Jim, turning on to a gravel road.
And in no time, we drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house, set among fields of stones and underbrush, a picture of decay.
We got out and Jimmie walked to the gaping front kitchen door and rapped. No answer.
We walked over past the barn, where there was neither animal nor man.
But beyond the barn, on a sloping bare pasture field, we saw eight or nine small structures amid the weeds which, on closer examination, appeared to be cages or pens. And among them, a man was bending.
We walked over the hills and hailed him.
“Jim,” I muttered, as we drew nearer, “this is an awful shabby outfit. If there was any money in mink, wouldn’t this guy have things a little more presentable?”
“I tell you,” hissed Jimmie, “it’s like the mining game. If this guy didn’t need capital to get his ranch going, would be ever be fool enough to let strangers like us in on the ground floor? I tell you, it’s a lucky strike, a bonanza for us!”
When we came up to the pens, the rancher, Mr. Middity, came forward to welcome us. He was a small, dignified little man, either with a very weak beard or else in need of a shave for about three weeks. His features were close set and narrow, and his eyes deep in his head. When he spoke, his small mouth revealed sharp marrow teeth, and I thought he looked more like a mink than some of the animals he showed us in the pens.
“Ah, Mr. Clark,” he said in a cultivated tone much in contrast to his ragged and dilapidated appearance, “I’m a city man born and raised myself. But I saw the folly of the city some years ago, and have been in the mink game.
“How many mink have you?” I interrupted, starting along the pens.
“Easy, easy!” warned Mr. Middity. “Don’t startle them? As a matter of fact, you have caught me at a fortunate moment for you and an unfortunate moment for me. I am in the throes of transition. I have just sold out, lock, stock and barrel, all my standard bred minks and have preserved only a very choice selection of breeding stock. Blue, Mr. Clark! I am confident I have solved the mystery of breeding the true blue mink. Not the mutation. Not the albino. But the true blue!”
“How many mink have you?” I repeated.
“Er… seven,” said Mr. Middity. “Let me see? Yes, seven.”
I glanced along the pens and could only see three.
“When strangers come around,” explained Mr. Middity, “they are very shy. They retreat into the sleeping dens.”
Jim was creeping from pen to pen, lost in a sort of ecstasy, even when looking into an empty pen. The screen of the pens was rusty and patched.
“At this stage,” explained Mr. Middity, “I am looking for a little capital to develop the property. I have, as I said, satisfied myself that I have the secret of the true blue strain in mink. It is a secret I am not at liberty, of course, to reveal at this time. But in due time, to my partners …”
And he smiled very minkily, and waved his hand airily.
Jim was down on his hands and knees at one of the far pens, making a sound like “eeky-weeky” at a very pale brown mink that was peering sleepily out of its den at the back of the pen.
“My proposition,” said Mr. Middity in a loud voice so as to include Jim, “is that I sell you a trio of three – a male and two females -“
“I was telling my friend,” assured Jim, jumping up and joining us.
“It was sheer chance, our meeting,” smiled Mr. Middity. “I was heading into the village to discuss the matter with one of my friends, there, the storekeeper. And who should pick me up …?”
“Which three are you going to sell us?” I inquired.
“Would you rather I sold you three particular mink?” asked Mr. Middity. “Or would you not prefer just to have a three-mink share in the enterprise?”
“I’d rather have three particular mink,” I stated. “Then we could keep track of the litters.”
“Aw, yes,” agreed Jim. “I think we’d prefer to have three particular mink.”
“Very good,” said Mr. Middity. “How about these three on the far end? The farthest is a male, and the next two pens are females. How would they do?”
“Can we see them?” I asked.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Middity. “If they’re out. But you know how shy mink are.”
The pale brown one – the one Jimmie had been going “eeky-weeky” at – had retired back into his den box. The other two pens appeared empty.
“If we wait a minute or so, quietly …” suggested Mr. Middity.
So we stood very quiet, watching. But after a good five minutes, nothing stirred. No sign of any mink appeared, either in the end pen or in the two adjoining ones.
“Ah, well,” sighed Mr. Middity. “They’re all the same, anyway. Only the rarest and choicest specimens were kept when I sold out the surplus, The three on the end, then, the male and two females, will be yours.”
And we went back to the broken down farmhouse, where Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque for $140.
“I collect from you tonight,” Jim smiled at me.
Which he did.
That was Wednesday. This is Saturday. In this morning’s mail, Jim got the following letter from Mr. Middity:
“Dear Partners –
“In last night’s thunderstorm, a high wind blew the pens over, and your three mink escaped. I doubt if we can recover them. It’s the luck of the game. However, I have a beautiful azure blue female, a nice quiet animal that wouldn’t run away if she had the chance. I would be happy to let you have her for the sum of $200. Please let me know at once if this opportunity appeals to you, as it isn’t everybody I would take in on partnership.
“Your for bigger and better business,
Jim read the letter over the telephone to me.
“What do you think?” he asked enthusiastically.
“I think.” I replied, “it’s the same as gold mines.”
And I hung up.
Editor’s note: $140 in 1947 would be $1977 in 2020.
By Greg Clark, November 29, 1947
“Just listen,” chuckled Jimmie Frise, “to that!”
In the quiet of the night, though all our doors and windows were shut, I could hear the faint sounds of singing. Hilarious singing.
“What time is it?” I demanded.
“Eleven ten,” replied Jim, consulting his watch.
“Isn’t it a little late,” I suggested, “for that kind of disturbance? In this neighborhood, I mean?”
“Aw,” protested Jim, scornfully, “I’d like to hear a little whoopee around here once in a while. I guess it’s those new people who moved in across the street last month. Nice-looking people.”
“Well, it’s obvious,” I submitted, “that they are not aware of the character and traditions of this neighborhood.”
“The character and traditions of this neighborhood,” laughed Jim bitterly, “are those of a cemetery. Do you know, now that I come to think of it, this is the first time, the very first time, I remember ever hearing anybody singing in this street?”
“It’s a decent, respectable district, Jim,” I reminded him.
“Even on Christmas, even on New Year’s,” ruminated Jim, startled, “I don’t ever recall hearing any sounds of revelry.”
“There are places for revelry,” I informed him,”other than in quiet residential streets. I bet all your neighbors are fuming.”
“It’ll do them good,” gloated Jim quietly, as he rose and went to the front window.
He opened the sash a little into the chilly night.
And from across the street, only moderately muffled by walls and doors, came the strains of “My Wild Irish Rose.” They were mostly men’s voices, with that curious shouting quality which men put into that particular song. On the word “wild,” they seem to open their mouths wide and use their lungs for bellows. “That’s bibulous singing, Jim,” I stated analytically. “That’s singing inspired by something more than the mere love of song.”
“Ssshhh!” ordered Jim, leaning down to the draught from the window to take in the full tone of the rowdy music from over the way.
At the long-drawn concluding harmonious “roooooosse!” there was a loud burst of cheers and jeers and much laughter. And apparently demands for more. Because immediately the sound of a piano struggled up through the din; and it was “Sweet Adeline.”
“Oh, boy!” applauded Jimmie.
“Jim, you might say,” I announced, returning to my chair, “you might say this little disturbance over the way marks the end of an epoch, the conclusion of an era. Oh, not an important epoch, maybe, from the point of view of the world or of human affairs on a large scale…”
“Let’s listen,” pleaded Jim, from the window.
“Aw, come and sit down,” I insisted. “You’ll be hearing plenty of that before the night’s out. They’re just warming up.”
Jim reluctantly closed the window and came and sat down.
“This,” I enunciated, “is the end of an era. For this street, for this little neighborhood, for the 10 or 20 families that have lived so long and so comfortably in these quiet homes, this is the tragic symbol of the close of an epoch.”
“I prefer,” said Jim, “to think of the birth of an epoch rather than the death. I like to look on this as the dawn of an era.”
“When changes come,” I asserted, “it is rather the death of an era.”
“When changes come,” countered Jim firmly, “it is the dawn of an era. These people around here have been in possession long enough. They’ve been in possession of quiet and what they call peace. They’ve had everything their own way for as long as I can remember.
The children have all grown up. Any new neighbors that have moved in have been exactly of the type as all the rest. There hasn’t been a disturbance of any kind in 20 years.”
“That,” I assured, “is as it should be. A neighborhood should have its distinctive character. Now, there are any number of neighborhoods in the city where the rumpus across the street would never be noticed. It would be the normal thing. Why, then, do people like these across the road not move into a neighborhood full of their own kind? Why do they have to invade a decent, quiet district like this, where they’ll never be happy, nor allow others to be happy?”
“It’s the housing shortage,” explained Jim. “A housing shortage is a great thing, from the point of view of social science. It forces people to invade various restricted areas. For instance, a housing shortage sent great numbers of very decent people to live in poor districts where they never would abide in normal times. That’s a good thing. The lump is leavened. It all forces new and energetic characters into stodgy and mouldy areas like this.”
A sudden burst of muffled song rose so loud that it interrupted Jimmie in the midst.
He leaped up with alacrity and looked out the window.
“Ah,” he cried, “the air’s getting stuffy. They opened the front door and the windows.”
It was “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” they were singing now. And they were putting the usual emphasis on the “Hail.”
“Mm, mm, mm!” I groaned, as I got up to look. “That will finish it!”
Cars were parked closely on both sides of the street and there must have been 30 people in the house across the way.
“Let’s go on the verandah a minute,” said Jim enthusiastically.
We went and stood with our hats on, on Jim’s dark verandah and listened to the racket emerging into the frosty night.
When our eyes became accustomed to the dark, we noticed a movement on a verandah a couple of doors south of the party house; and there was old Mrs. Privet, with her shawl around her shoulders, staring and listening, too.
Mrs. Privet is probably the oldest inhabitant of our neighborhood and has always taken a very lively interest in the preservation of its character. When the children of the street were young, she took a personal interest in the behavior of them all. If you planted salvia along the front of the house, she would come over and suggest petunias, which were not so garish.
“She’s signalling!” I hissed to Jimmie. And then we heard Mrs. Privet’s sharp raspy voice, “Is that you, Mr. Frise?”
“Aw, heck!” growled Jim; and we slowly strolled down the walk and across the pavement amid the parked cars.
Mrs. Privet was practically in tears.
“This,” she said in a cracked, dramatic voice, “is impossible! I suspected those people the minute I saw them moving in. One look at their furniture, and I knew – I knew – what would happen!”
“It’s probably,” suggested Jim kindly, “just a house warming. They’ve only been in a few weeks.”
With a sudden explosion of sound, the house up the street fairly bulged with “Down By the Old Mill Stream.”
“Will you call the police, Mr. Frise,” inquired Mrs. Privet in a rasping voice, “or shall I?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” begged Jim. “Mrs. Privet, that would be unpardonable. These people would never forgive it. Let’s just forget it, and then, by friendship and example and so forth…”
“I know human nature a lot better than you do, Mr. Frise,” declared Mrs. Privet harshly. “I’ve lived a lot longer. People like these will ruin the whole neighborhood. They will attract their like. Inside of two years goodness knows who will be moving in here! Our property will start to go down in value. No, Mr. Frise, if you won’t call the police, I shall. These people are disturbing the peace!”
“Mrs. Privet,” said Jim earnestly, “give them a chance. Let me go and call at the door. I’ll tell them there is a sick person a few doors away, and would they please pipe down a little…”
“No use, no use!” declared Mrs. Privet shrilly. “The only thing that has any influence on people who will carry on in that fashion is the police. It’s the only thing they understand. They’re probably used to it.”
“Mrs. Privet, as a special favor,” begged Jim, “to an old neighbor, allow me to try my method. These may be very, very decent people, whose ways are perhaps a little different from ours.”
“Try if you must,” said Mrs. Privet sharply. “But I don’t intend to put up with things like this in a neighborhood in which I have lived 40 years.”
So, to the music of “There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding,” Jimmie and I walked the two doors up and onto the side walk of the house where the fun was in progress. The front door was wide open, as were most of the brightly lighted windows. And from them fairly gushed the warm and scented air of humanity having itself a time.
A din of sound of men and women laughing, talking and singing all at the same time burst out at us as we mounted the steps. Jim waited a moment and then mashed the bell.
“The bell! The door!” several voices, both male and female, yelled above the ruckus. “Hey, Bill, the bell!”
And around the hall door charged Bill, the new neighbor, a big, hearty of about 40, of the… uh… salesman type.
“Hi, who’s this!” he bellowed, as he bounded out to meet us, hand extended. “Come on in!”
Jim had automatically extended his hand to meet Bill’s. And the man hauled mightily, half-dragging Jim through the door.
“Welcome,” yelled Bill hoarsely. “Who is it? You, Sam?”
Jim’s holding back caused Bill to relax and he stepped out to us.
“Who is it? What’s up?” he inquired.
“Look,” said Jim quietly. “You’ll excuse us, won’t you? But we’re a couple of your neighbors…”
“Aw, come on in!” bellowed Bill in a stentorian voice. And because he was much bigger and younger than either of us, and since he had a strong pinching, rough hold on both our arms, he yanked us unceremoniously through the door and into the hallway before we knew what had happened.
“Hey everybody!” roared Bill, sliding us on the hardwood floor into the view of the assembled gathering. “A couple of our good neighbors! Give the boys a welcome! They’ve come to our house warming…whaddaya know!”
And in an instant our hats were snatched away and jovial arms were flung around our shoulders and we were propelled into the midst. At the piano, “My Wild Irish Rose” was once again rising like a gale.
I caught Jim’s eye but he made a warning signal. He fought his way over to me and said quietly:
“I’ll get him aside in a minute.”
But it was maybe 15 minutes later that a sudden silence fell, as sharp as a thunderclap, over the whole place.
In the hallway stood two policemen.
“There’s complaints,” said the front cop, “from the neighborhood that you are disturbing the peace. Can you make it a little less noisy?”
Bill shoved his way powerfully through the guests.
“Look, boys,” he said, very friendly. “It isn’t us. It’s these two characters that just gate-crashed our little party. They came in here and began kicking up no end of a row.”
“Which two?” inquired the cop with bright eyes.
The other guests fell away from us.
The cop signalled with his thumb.
“Don’t you know these two?” the cop asked Bill.
“Never saw them,” declared Bill indignantly, “in my life before!”
The cops took us by the slack of the coat collars and propelled us out the door and down the steps.
“Git!” commanded the cops.
“Look, officer…” I began hotly.
“If we see you,” warned the cop, getting into the scout car, “in this neighborhood the next time around. we’ll run you in. See? Now git!”