The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Agnes, Where Art Thou Going?

By Greg Clark, December 31, 1932

Agnes Macphail is not pale. Her pictures somehow give the impression of a severe, pallid lady with horn rim spectacles, who might have a pointer in one hand and a stick of chalk in the other.

But the lady who sat feeing Tom Wilson, the camera man, and me in her little red brick house in Ceylon, Ont., bore no resemblance to her pictures. Her color is almost ruddy, her brows black and her eyes bright gray-blue.

They are notable eyes. You see them in Scottish faces. They are bold, fastening eyes; a cool look comes easily into them; they often flicker with irony. And as she sat in her own home facing us two newspapermen in search of a curious story it was not I she watched most narrowly; it was Tom, the camera man.

Because Agnes Macphail, M.P., hates cameras. They do her dirt.

The curious story we were after was this:

“We’re not going to talk politics, Miss Macphail. With a crash like the fruit shell giving way in the cellar you stepped back Into the front pages the other day. And now you are interesting to tens of thousands of people who never before gave you much more than a passing glance. They want to know about you.

“How do you get this way?” we asked. “How does country girl, born and raised in the real country, on a farm, far from cities, how does a little country girl come to be Canada’s first and only woman member of Parliament?

“What were the moves in your life, as if you were a billiard ball shot around the table, what were the things that you bumped against, one from the other, that directed your life so that here you are a kind of stormy petrel of politics, one of the few passionate personalities in public life today?”

“Do you mean when I joined the U. F. O.?” she asked, doubtfully.

“No, no, far before that! Have you any pictures of yourself as a kid? What kind of little girl were you? Were you a number one pupil, a bright, serious, little teacher’s pet? Did you shine in spelling matches and school debates?”

The ironic look came into Miss Macphail’s eyes. What dizzy kind of interview was this? She wanted to let loose on the aims and objects of the new Commonwealth party.

“Well,” said she, “I’ve got a poor memory. I never can remember people or events. Why do you want to know about those things?”

“Because, we said, “the most interesting thing about politicians is how they became politicians. Then you can understand their polities. One time I went down to Kemptville and traced back Howard Ferguson. I found he spent his childhood and youth in home filled with politics, politics for breakfast, speeches at lunch, political meetings for dinner. Every day, every day. Only a little boy in houseful of big politicians. But what you want to be when you are a little boy you often become, with vengeance, when you grow up. All right, Miss Macphail, how about you?”

And the answer is a romance.

The romance of a little girl of fourteen battling with sarcastic tongue and red-faced indignation against the superiority of the big city pupils of Owen Sound toward the little country boarders in their poor clothes and with their shy, awkward manners.

The romance of a young schoolma’am, crazy about dancing, so crazy she often, up at Black Horse, Bruce county, used to dance till daylight and then go straight to school to teach all day, filled with the wholesome ambition of a clannish countryside, to marry like her sisters and cousins, but who heard a call, a real call, one of those Presbyterian, Highland Scots, “second sight” calls…”

The Country Kids’ Champion

Agnes Macphail told us the story with not a little wonderment. She had never looked back over her life before. She thought things just came. But they didn’t.

If she had not gone certain places as a girl and a young woman, if she had not met certain people who said certain things, Agnes Macphail would be to-day a good farmer’s wife, competently running her household and, perhaps, as she humorously admitted, the affairs of a few of her neighbors.

But here are the things that happened.

First her blood. She is pure Scot. The Macphails and the Campbells were part of one of those Scottish bands who came to Ontario in the middle of the last century and settled some of the most desperate townships in the province. The Macphails and Campbells that united to create Agnes Macphail settled in Proton township. Proton is famous for its black swamps. It is in the core of that high country that looks down on all the rest of Ontario and in whose swamps rise six rivers, the Humber, Credit, Grand, Saugeen, Beaver, Nottawasaga.

Agnes Macphail put us in her little car and drove us out to look at the farm of her childhood and youth.

As we sped along the country roads, she explained that they had sold the farm after her father’s death because Agnes was already in public life. She pointed out the farms we passed, the Muirs, the Fletchers, all part of the clan.

We went into a sideroad and passed a farm where a group of men were standing under a shed. The men waved a full arm salute, like a railroader’s highball. It was a hail from the Muirs to the Macphails.

We came out on a hill and there below us spread the far flat fields to the edge of the distant black swamps of Proton, and in the midst, red brick farmhouse and barns. Nothing fancy or imposing, no trees about it, just a plain Ontario farm, on dark fields wrested from the swamps where six rivers rise.

When she was fourteen Agnes Macphail left this farm to go and board in Owen Sound in order to attend high school. A lot of Muirs and Fletchers and other children of the Scottish clan from Proton went with her.

They were poor. They wore plain clothes. Except amongst their own, they were shy and maybe a little awkward.

Now Agnes’ father was not only a farmer. Having a certain forcefulness of character, a shrewd tongue and willingness to talk, he had come forward in the community as an auctioneer at those sales of stock, implements and household goods which are a picturesque and vital part of country life.

Dougald Macphail was the local man to take charge of auction sales amongst those dour, speechless Scots of Proton. He was witty. He could be sarcastic.

“To tell you the truth,” said Agnes Macphail, “my father’s was the only tongue I have ever been afraid of in my life!”

Many a time had the little girl Agnes admired the power her red-moustached father had with his tongue. She saw the fear it bred. Like all the rest of us she imitated the qualities that most impressed her in her admired elders.

And this was the small fourteen-year-old who landed with a colony of other country children to attend high school in Owen Sound, to board from September to July.

Instantly the attitude of the big city pupils of Owen Sound toward the country kids maddened her. Their air of superiority, their good clothes, their snickers at the shyness and clumsiness in the classroom roused in her the sensitive pride of the Scot and loosened the satiric and bitter tongue of Dougald Macphail she had in her mouth. From the drop of the hat, at fourteen years of age, Agnes Macphail, the little country girl who didn’t believe anybody in the world was any better than the Muirs, the Fletchers and the Macphails, was using her wits and her waking dreams and schemes to champion her country friends against the city slickers. And there was a dramatic climax very shortly when Agnes had a public scene with the schoolmaster who was making fun of the shyness of another of the country girls.

“I haven’t remembered that for years!” exclaimed the member of parliament, as she flushed up with recollection of her school days.

Indignant About Life

“Well, we’re getting at it,” said we. “What did you dream about as a girl?”

Agnes Macphail went away on a journey of memory before our eyes. She spoke slowly and hesitantly.

“I was the oldest of the family. There were no boys. I had to be the boy. I brought home the cows across those fields. It was I that had to catch the horse and harness it. Maybe that has something to do with it. I remember now the book I read. The one book we all had. Sarah K. Bolton’s ‘Lives of Famous Men and Women’. I remember being so impatient with the famous women. The most a woman could do was have sons who would do great things like Lord Salisbury. Or have daughters that would have sons. I remember that now distinctly. I can remember going around those fields, bringing home the cows, and dreaming of doing something great. I suppose all girls dream like that.”

But those dreams were the start of that call, that strange elusive disturbance that would enter into her affairs every time Agnes Macphail appeared to be shaping her life toward the regular, routine life of a woman.

She got through high school to her junior matriculation in two years. So she was a smart pupil whether she admits it or not. She went to Stratford normal school and became a teacher. All this time she was a lively, free-wheeling girl, sharp witted and popular like her father Dougald, and full of affection for her own neighbors, like her mother, the Campbell.

Then at nineteen she got a school at Black Horse, as the village of Kinloss is called by all Bruce county folk.

She was three years there. It was there she used to dance till morning. It was there she lived with zest and might have married any sweetheart and settled down to the life thousands of country schoolma’ams are electing at this very moment.

But she lived at the house of Samuel Braden. And Sam Braden, the merchant, was another of those Scots, liberal, advanced, conversational far into the night, whom you meet in Bruce county.

“Aha,” we said to Miss Macphail, “he started you toward a public career!”

“No, but he kept alive the thoughts to which I was accustomed in my own home, and I remember in my early twenties having restless thoughts about life, of being still indignant about life, of feeling hot and cold over any injustice….”

At the Bible class at Black Horse they were studying the Book of Job. And after one rather enthusiastic go at that record of human woe the minister, Rev. Mr. Robinson, happened to remark to the young schoolma’am that she had very bright mind and ought to go to the university.

“I remember that remark,” says Miss Macphail. “Just a. passing remark, innocent and flattering. Everybody meets such things. That remark hit me very hard. It made me intensely proud. For the first time I began to think about doing something about the things that disturbed me.”

She was twenty-three. She had beaux. She was lively, full of life, into everything. And the Rev. Mr. Robinson, considering the Book of Job with the young ladies and gentlemen of Black Horse, thought she had a bright mind. With fresh attention she turned to conversations with Mr. Samuel Braden, who could oblige at a moment’s notice on any subject having to do with the emancipation of mankind.

And then Agnes Macphail was laid out with an illness and spent a whole year at home on the farm painfully recovering, and thinking about having a mind and wondering what she could do with it. Those were the pre-war days of farm distress, of emerging skyscrapers, the development of the motor car and the highway, before they had yet meant anything to the farmer. It was time to foment indignation in a young mind laid up at home.

This was doubtless the Y in the road of Agnes Macphail. Look at the pictures we have of the serious, clever-faced girl in the plain black blouse and the dark hair ribbons and spectacles. Look at the quaint and beautiful old pioneer stone cottage with Grandma Campbell, aged 92, standing sweetly before it. You can see the course the ship had to take, even if the ship couldn’t see it.

On recovering from her illness Agnes Macphail got a school out west, in Alberta, chiefly as a means of recovering her health. A poor prairie school at Oyen, Alberta, Agnes did not know she was just fifteen miles from Bob Gardiner, nor did she know who Bob Gardiner was. But the paths of these two, so strangely to cross politically in a few years, came within a twenty-minute ride across prairie trails…

Then full of health, but still without any sense of direction in regard to the impatient urge to get into action in some way, she came back east and took a school at Sharon in York county. Up Yonge street. A much better school than she had had. It might have been just so good a school that any country schoolma’am’s destiny might have been satisfied.

But without knowing it she was now in up to her waist in the hotbed of the U.F.O.

One day she saw in the Farmer’s Sun a letter signed by a schoolma’am saying that any school teacher that had to live at a farmer’s house was to be pitied.

The Touchstone of Her Life

With a cool joy and headful of withering phrases, Agnes Macphail sat down at her boarding house at Sharon and proceeded to write a letter to the editor that would scorch the presses. She did a little more than answer the other letter. She expressed several generalities in defence of farm life. She had no idea this letter was the touchstone of her life.

John C. Ross, the editor of the Farmer’s Sun, immediately wrote her and said he had read her letter with great interest, and the next time she was in Toronto he would be delighted to meet her.

Agnes Macphail kept that letter in her pocket and thought about it every day until she got away one Saturday and called on John C. Ross. She met Burnaby. She met several pioneers of the farmers’ movement.

It was all as if prearranged by fate. Nothing new or startling in the fact that within few weeks she was helping organize farmers’ clubs, speaking at farm women institute meetings, and when 1918 came along she WAS in the thick of the U.F. O. business and was electioneering in a fashion new to North York, a kind of electioneering for which she is since famous.

And then in 1921 she was elected herself.

That’s the story. Just the story of girl with a lot of strong Scot blood, inheriting a temper and gift of speech. She says herself that she would be a clever speaker if it weren’t that seriousness were always breaking in. And with that background and a series of events that shaped her, even as child, into the indignant champion of her own folk, and a series of meetings with people who had disturbing ideas that kept up the pressure on her power of indignation, she was swept, in current, past the rocks and anchorage of marriage and of settling down which would have clipped her neatly, as hundreds of other women must have been clipped, out of public life.

“Oh, I know,” said Agnes Macphail, as we sat in her little home in Ceylon, after we had been boring and probing back into the almost forgotten memories of her childhood and youth, “if I had lived hundred years ago I know exactly the kind of woman I would have been. I would have been one of those pioneer women, with a great big family and concerned about the affairs of nearly everybody in the township!

“And I know, too, that when I am sixty I shall probably look back at this life I have chosen and regret every bit of it, dust and ashes, because I will wish I had married and had children and been a happy country woman. Sure I will!”

She lives with her dear old mother, the Campbell. Her home is not the most pretentious one in Ceylon. It is just a pleasant little pale red brick house. They have a housekeeper. There is a pump at the backdoor. Mostly they eat in the kitchen. Seven men were coming in for a meeting of some farm group as soon as we got out. There was a package of steak, about five pounds of it, for dinner.

They would sit in the living room, where we had done the interviewing, a small, white room decorated in white, with photographs of Dougald Macphail, and mother, and the grandmothers on both sides, and sisters, with their babies.

“I wish the twins were here. I have three nieces, all seven,” said Agnes Macphail. “I’d love you to see me with them.”

A wistful touch, this member of parliament, stuffing back into a corrugated box the old photographs we had asked her to unearth for us in our examination as to how she got this way.

But anyway, you know now that there is a reason why she sits on Parliament Hill, and it has little to do with politics.


Editor’s Notes: This news article looks back at the early life of Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first female Member of Parliament, mid-way through her career.

The U.F.O. is the United Farmers of Ontario, a political party with power an influence in the 1910s and 1920s.

The new “Commonwealth” party mentioned is the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) which was founded at this time, and was the precursor of the current New Democratic Party of Canada.

Howard Ferguson was the Ontario Premier at the time of the article.

Sarah K. Bolton was an American author.

Bob (Robert) Gardiner was a fellow Member of Parliament for the United Farmers of Alberta. He was a member of the Ginger Group along with Agnes Macphail, a group of politicians who split from the Progressive Party to advocate for socialism under the leadership of J. S. Woodsworth, the future leader of the CCF.

The Boundary Line

December 28, 1929

Case of the Useless Dog

By Greg Clark, December 26, 1942

“Do you want my share,” inquired Jimmie Frise cautiously, “of the Duchess?”

“Jim,” I replied craftily, “I will very gladly surrender to you any claim I may have on the Duchess. Two men can’t successfully share a dog.”

“Look,” said Jim. “You take her. You’ve only got that one little house dog, Dolly. I’ve got old Rusty for a house dog, and now, on the very eve of Christmas, I learn I am to get a beagle pup for my Christmas present.”

“Unless you live in the country,” I ruled, “two dogs is too many. My family would never let me keep the Duchess in addition to Dolly.”

“A lovelier English setter never breathed than the Duchess,” said Jim. “Besides, being a lady, she would make a perfect companion for your Dolly, who is getting old.

“Jim,” I said, “we made a great mistake, right at the start, in trying to deceive our families about who owns the Duchess. We agreed to keep her, week about; I telling my family she was your dog; and you telling your family she was my dog; and all we were doing was helping the other fellow out for a few days, by keeping her. The Duchess has only been a guest in our houses, Jim. The minute I try to put over the fact that she is a member of the family, there will be a row.”

“My family adores her,” submitted Jim. “But she sheds her hair. It’s all over the carpets, the chesterfields.”

“My family,” I confessed, “envies you the ownership of the Duchess. But there is an awful difference between having a guest in the house and making a stranger a member of the family. It is the same problem, for example, as choosing a daughter-in-law. The boys bring some awfully cute kids to the house. But when I look at some of them as permanent fixtures… I dunno!”

“Look,” pleaded Jimmie. “I’m getting one of Andy’s new litter of beagles. I’ve wanted a beagle all my life. Old Rusty is getting on in years. He has never been worth his salt as an Irish water spaniel. He’s terrified of water. And every time he sees a duck, dead or alive, he goes and crawls under the back kitchen. But a beagle… there’s the dog for the city sportsman! You can hunt rabbits almost on the edge of the city limits.”

“Aw, Jim,” I protested. “Don’t you remember the way we talked before we bought the Duchess? Last September? The greatest dog in the world was an English setter.”

“Well,” explained Jim, “in September, the pheasant season and the partridge season was just ahead…”

“A couple of weeks of shooting,” I snorted. “Out of the whole year. And how many days did we get off to shoot? Two. Yet we spent five bucks each on the purchase of a setter. And she turned out to be a lemon. And now she is a burden not only on our hands but on our consciences.”

“I Couldn’t Shoot Her”

“Boy, was she ever a lemon,” mused Jimmie. “When we bought her, I thought I had never seen a more perfect bird dog. She certainly looked as if she had been trained.”

“But out in the field,” I remembered, “she was just about as useful as a dachshund.”

“What could you expect,” said Jim, “for 10 bucks? Imagine two guys like us thinking we could buy a bird dog for five bucks each!”

“Well, as the fellow said when he brought her around to your house,” I reminded him, “the war has depreciated the value of sporting dogs. Only a few old guys like us can do any shooting now, and mighty little at that.”

“What we should have done,” said Jim. “was rent the Duchess from him. We could have paid five bucks each for two weeks’ rent of her.”

“Okay, then,” I exclaimed “why not take her back to him and give her to him. That’s one way of getting rid of her.”

“I’ve thought of that already,” replied Jim. “I went to the address he signed on the receipt, and there is nobody of that name living there. They’ve never heard of the guy.”

“That’s odd,” I suggested. “But isn’t there somebody else we could give her to?”

“Who wants a bird dog at this season of the year?” demanded Jim. “And besides, all our friends know she is no good. We made the mistake of yelling about what a lemon the Duchess is. If we had kept our mouths shut, we might have sold the Duchess to some real dog lover for a little profit on our 10 bucks.”

“She’s a beautiful beast,” I pondered, “but she’s utterly useless. Did you ever see a setter act so crazy in the field?”

“I never did,” said Jim. “Instead of birds, she seemed to be hunting for people. When we let her out of the car, instead of dashing out to find a pheasant, she visited every other human being she saw, and left each one sadly, as if she were looking for her master. It took us all morning merely to round her up. That’s no way to waste your time on one of the few hunting days we have now.”

“I was tempted to shoot her,” I submitted. “A real dog fancier has no sentiment about him. If a dog won’t work, he shoots it. But I’m a sentimentalist. I couldn’t shoot the Duchess. I couldn’t even speak crossly to her. She’s a lady.”

“Lady is right,” said Jim. “My family is crazy about her. Whenever it is my week to keep her, the family all says: ‘Aw, dad, why don’t you buy her from Mr. Clark.’ Is my face red?”

“Well, if it weren’t for the fact that we have one dog already,” I mused.

“Well, I can’t keep her, either,” declared Jim firmly. “I have it on the best authority that I am getting a beagle pup, six weeks old, and that is going to be all the dog the family will go for around our house, along with old Rusty.”

“There is only one way,” I stated, “to get rid of a no-good bird dog. It is a method well known to all dog lovers.”

“And what’s that?” inquired Jim.

“You put an ad in the paper,” I elucidated, “like this:

Found – Beautiful English setter, female, white with blue and brown markings. Appears well trained. Owner can claim by paying for ad and small amount for keep.”

“Ah,” smiled Jimmie. “Small amount for keep.”

“About 10 bucks,” I suggested.

“Five bucks each,” mused Jimmie. “But who will claim her?”

“The first crook who reads the ad,” I cried triumphantly. “There are guys who love bird dogs and who at the same time are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. The minute one of them sees that ad, he will come rushing up here and take one look at the Duchess and rush up to her and fall on his knees and make an awful fuss over her. Of course the Duchess will respond. She’s a lady. And he will leap up and thank us a million. And 10 bucks to him will be a mere flea bite.”

“Owner Can Claim”

“Why should a crook pay 10 dollars for a bird dog at this season of the year,” demanded Jimmie, “when we couldn’t get an honest man to take her as a gift?

“It’s just the way of men,” I explained. “A man who is a little crooked will get more kick out of getting something by skullduggery than if he had the dog given to him.”

“We could try it,” muttered Jim.

“We’ll split the cost of the ad?” I suggested.

“You pay it,” said Jim, “and deduct my share from what the guy pays us.”

So it was with a good deal of pleasure I inserted an ad in the final edition of the paper so that Jim and I would both be home for the arrival of our victim.

“After all,” I said to Jim, “he will be getting a good dog. And the Duchess will be getting a good home, which is all we are worried about. We say she appears well trained. And the Duchess certainly does appear well trained.”

“Go ahead,” said Jim doubtfully.

I inserted the ad as outlined. “Found: Beautiful English setter, female, appears trained, white with brown and blue ticking, owner can claim after paying cost of ad and small expenses re keep.”

And Jim and I hurried home a little ahead of the 5 o’clock jam to wait. For, if my prescription for getting rid of a no-good bird dog was to work, the man who answered the ad would be up at the house hotfoot ahead of any possible competitors.

We had hardly got our coats off before there was a loud ring of the bell.

And the Duchess, who was reclining like a queen on the chesterfield, leaped up with a loud and joyous bark.

Jim opened the door to a heavy built and eager looking gentleman who, the minute he saw the Duchess let out a wild yell and the Duchess, like a lady swooning, fairly fell into his arms.

We urged the two of them to come in and shut the door.

“Daisy, Daisy,” crooned the stranger, tears flowing down his cheeks, and the Duchess blind with the light of love, emitted an endless series of little whimpers that was enough to make anybody weep.

“Where,” demanded the stranger, from his knees, “did you find her?”

“Er… aw … wuh…” said Jimmie.

The stranger rose to his feet and swelled himself up.

“Where,” he said slowly, “did you find her?”

Jimmie looked at me and I looked at Jimmie.

“Come, come,” said the stranger loudly. “I ask you, where did you find her? This is Daisy of Thermopylae, dual international champion, field and bench. She cost me $600. And she was stolen from my kennels on September 16.”

“Well, well, well,” I said, with profound interest.

Awkward Questions

“May I, inquire,” said the stranger, advancing on me and towering himself up, “where you found her? Your ad says you found her. Okay. Where did you find her?”

There was no use in trying to equivocate.

“Sir,” I said humbly, “we did not find her. We bought her, about September the 18th last for $10.”

The stranger staggered.

“For … 10 … dollars,” he whispered, reaching down and fondling the fine domed head of the Duchess, or Daisy.

Then he drew himself up again.

“You bought her, eh?” he gritted. “On the very eve of the bird season, she is stolen from my kennels. I have not only missed the pleasure of shooting over the finest bird dog that ever was sired, but I have missed two important shows and one field trial of the utmost importance, in the States. To me, the loss of Daisy of Thermopylae is a matter of dollars and cents. I have been robbed. Therefore, I propose to deal with the matter in forceful manner. I am going to hand you over to the police.”

“Hold on, there, mister,” interposed Jimmie who is bigger than I am, “just a minute. We bought that dog in good faith.”

“Who from?” inquired the stranger grimly.

“Aw,” said Jim, remembering that he had been unable to trace the man from whom we bought the dog.

“We have a receipt,” I cut in. “A signed receipt.”

“For $10,” sneered the stranger. “Show it to me.”

“As a matter of fact,” confessed Jim, “we went to find this man who gave us a receipt and there is no such man at the address.”

“A fine cock and bull story,” yelled the stranger. “You put an ad in the paper saying you found the dog. And when I claim my dog, you admit you bought her, away back in September, for $10. My fine friends, you can tell all this to the judge. Maybe he’ll listen. But I won’t.”

“Excuse me,” I put in. “Will you listen to a simple story of what has happened? All you’ve got to do is look at the Duchess  – or Daisy as you can call her – to see she has been well cared for. Have you to sense of gratitude for that? Suppose some cruel person had had her all this time…”

The stranger looked down at Daisy and immediately knelt down and petted her and felt her ribs and took her head in his hands and nuzzled at her in the curious love that men and dogs can share.

Crazy to Get Daisy

“And furthermore,” suddenly announced Jim, you haven’t satisfactorily identified her. How do we know you aren’t some faker, just making a fuss over the dog?

“I can produce a thousand witnesses,” declared the stranger, hotly, “to prove this is Daisy of Thermopylae.”

“Very good, produce them,” said Jim harshly.

“Look here, gentlemen,” said the stranger, changing his tone. “I’m so crazy to get Daisy back that I’ll forget all about the funny angles of the case if you’ll just let me quietly depart with her.”

“That’s better,” said Jim.

“On the other hand,” said the stranger, rising and buttoning his overcoat, “I do not feel under any obligation to pay you for Daisy’s keep nor even for the advertisement. You were harboring stolen property.”

“Not wittingly,” I put in.

“You did not know the vendor,” declared the stranger, “you bought the dog, at an absurd price – if you know anything about dogs – and you should at least have established the bona fides and title of ownership of this thief you bought her from.”

“All dog sellers look funny,” I submitted.

“Furthermore,” accused the stranger “when you tried to get in touch with that person later, you could not find him at the address he gave. Your suspicions should have been aroused at once.”

“I always thought there was something funny about the Duchess,” said Jimmie. “But the funniest thing about her is the way she behaves in the field. If she is a field champion then I’m a Mexican hairless.”

“Then I can produce documentary evidence,” smiled the stranger, “that you are a Mexican hairless. For this lady is one of the greatest bird dogs in the world.”

“She wouldn’t hunt for us,” I stated.

“Is it any wonder?” inquired the stranger, showing his teeth.

So we stood silently looking at each other while the Duchess tried to climb her lovely and lithe length into the stranger’s overcoat pocket, so desperate was she to be off and away with him, back to heaven somewhere.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” said the stranger at length. “I’ll pay the cost of the ad. But I’ll be hanged if I will pay you anything for her keep. That goes against the grain.”

“It has been a great pleasure and privilege,” said Jimmie, “to have had this lady as our guest for a few weeks.”

“Ah, then,” said the stranger, “I’ll pay $10 into any charity you gentlemen care to mention.”

“The Santa Claus Fund,” cried Jimmie and I both together.


Editor’s Note: The Santa Claus Fund is a charity that is run by the Toronto Star for children at Christmas. It still exists today.

Leading a Dog’s Life

December 31, 1937

This is an illustration by Jim for a Merrill Denison story. Jim used to regularly illustrate Merrill’s work when he was a regular writer for the Star Weekly. By the mid 1930s, he had moved to New York to write for plays, but would occasionally write another story for the Star Weekly, which usually starred his wife and dog.

The Old Home Town

December 24, 1937

This Is It!

By Greg Clark, December 21, 1946

“How,” demanded Jimmie Frise,”is your Christmas spirit?”

“As good as the next fellow’s,” I replied guardedly.

“I mean,” expanded Jim,” “have you got the true spirit of Christmas? Or are you just one of those people who go along on the Christmas bandwagon because they can’t escape?”

“Jim!” I expostulated very shocked. “You shouldn’t say things like that. To vast numbers of people, Christmas is the most holy day of the year.”

“It certainly doesn’t look like it,” declared Jim. “It’s far from holy for what looks to me like about 99 per cent of the population. It’s the business peak of the year. More cash registers clang during the four weeks before Christmas than during any other four-month period of the year. More people are exhausted as the result of sheer acquisitiveness on Christmas Eve than on any other day of the year.”

“I know, I know,” I protested. “Anybody can see that we have made a carnival out of Christmas instead of a holiday. Holiday means holy day. But how else would you celebrate Christmas?”

“Well, millions among us DO regard Christmas as the most sacred day of the year, and act accordingly,” said Jimmie. “But millions more of us can’t hear the church bells because of the racket the kids are making in the living-room or because of the hustle and bustle in the kitchen while the turkey cooks….”

“I think,” I submitted, “that the great majority of those of us who look upon Christmas as a carnival rather than a holy day still have a consciousness deep in our hearts as to what it is all about. All this giving of gifts. All this gathering of the family all this feasting and merrymaking.”

“I doubt it,” muttered Jim.

“Look here,” I demanded, “what are you getting at? What is all this leading up to?”

“Well,” said Jim, in that sweet humble air he adopts when he is about to take us both for a ride, “as a matter of fact, I was just wondering if the good old Christmas spirit had affected you to the point that you might be willing to make a small sacrifice…”

“Of time?” I queried. “Or money?”

“Neither, really.” Assured Jim. “One of my nephews from the country – just a kid, he is – got the bright idea this Christmas of making a little money by selling Christmas trees off the farm. They’ve got a big swamp full of spruce and balsam, you remember?”

“That’s a good swamp,” I agreed. “Full of rabbits.”

“So,” went on Jim, “he came up to the city and rented a vacant lot, he and a couple of chums. And they’ve cut about 300 dandy little Christmas trees, and have brought them up by truck to this vacant lot. And these past three days, they’ve been selling like hot cakes.”

“Good for them,” I applauded. “I like to see the farm boys exhibiting a little initiative.”

“A Swell Idea!”

“Now here’s the point,” pursued Jim. “They had no idea business would be so brisk. So they want to go back down to the farm tonight and spend tomorrow cutting another couple of hundred Christmas trees. And my nephew asked me if I would be kind enough to stand guard at their vacant lot tomorrow.”

“Why, Jim,” I admired, “what a swell idea!”

“All we’d have to do,” hurried Jim, watching me narrowly, “would be to get on the job good and early and…”

“How early?” I cut in.

“Oh, 8 or 8.30,” supposed Jim. “Maybe even later. Nobody goes out buying Christmas trees first thing in the morning.”

“How about during the night?” I demanded. “Don’t they have to leave somebody on guard during the night? Isn’t there some danger of kids coming around during the night and snitching a few trees?”

“Aw, we could stroll around a couple of times before bed time,” said Jim. “And anyway, there will be a cop on the beat.”

“Jim,” I submitted warmly, “there is something about Christmas trees that appeals to everybody no matter how cold-hearted he may be. I never pass one of those vacant lots crammed with little spruces and balsams, brightening the drab streets of the city with their unexpected little forests, that I don’t slow down and envy the guys who are living there, even for a few hours or a few days, amid the charm and mystery of the woods, there in the heart of the city.”

“It’s the Christmas spirit,” enthused Jim, obviously relieved at my reception of his idea.

“Has your nephew got one of those little shacks on the vacant lot?” I inquired. “You know, a little shelter to…”

“Not yet,” explained Jim. “They’ve got a good big brazier we can sit at. It won’t be cold. They’re going to bring planks for a little shack when they come back with more trees tomorrow night.”

“Aw, well, it’s just for the one day,” I reasoned. “Jim, I think it’s a sweet idea. I’ll be very glad to help out your young nephew. Is it the one we met last winter, rabbit hunting?”

“The same boy,” assured Jim.

“A fine kid,” I said heartily. “I’m glad to see he’s got some get-up-and-go to him. When do they leave for the farm?”

“They’ve left already,” announced Jim. “I just got a telephone call to say they were leaving and asking if we could go out right away.”

“Jim,” I cried, “let’s go!”

On the Job

Personally, I have always envied shopkeepers, especially hardware store keepers and drug store keepers. Those are happy men. There they stand amid their mysterious treasure all heaped about them. Mysterious drawers, secret bins; and all about them piled up and heaped high, the riches of their merchandise. I pity all those who have to stand behind counters and dish out groceries and drygoods. Everything they’ve got is out in the open. The customer can see for himself. But in a hardware store or a drug store, there is a sense of the unknown, the hidden. Every request from a customer is a challenge. And you can see in the eye of the hardware man, for instance, that gleam as his mind darts across the past, his memory exploring, as he accepts the challenge and goes to work to find the thing requested. I am sorry no hardware man or druggist has ever encountered an emergency that required my assistance. Christmas trees, of course, come in the category of groceries or drygoods.

Jimmie and I drove hotly for the residential shopping street where young Lisha, his nephew, had rented the vacant lot. And when we parked in front of it, our hearts rose.

There was still a goodly supply of Christmas trees on hand, though you could see that a large number had been sold. Already half a dozen customers were standing or moving amid the trees, examining them and looking about impatiently for somebody to serve them. In the midst stood a good big brazier newly heaped with coke and sticks, and radiating heat waves on the frosty air.

We hurried to the job.

Each tree had a small price tag tied to it. Some were a mere 75 cents, most of them a dollar, with here and there a particularly choice specimen at $1.50. After a hasty look around, I realized that Jim’s nephew, young Lisha, had inherited some of the artistic sense his uncle had. The $1.50 trees were pure Christmas card types.

“Madame?” I greeted the first lady, who had a couple of kids with her.

“How much is this tree?” she inquired sharply.

I examined the tag, which was in full view. “That’s $1.50,” I informed her.

“A dollar fifty,” she cried shrilly, “for a little old tree? Why, that’s an outrage. Anybody could go and out down a simple little tree.”

“But look, lady,” I explained sweetly, in the best merchandising tradition, it had to be cut. It had to be brought in a truck from the country. This vacant lot had to be rented…”

“Oh,” she said. “So you want to argue, do you? Well, there’s lots of other Christmas trees around this district…”

And she marched out of the lot, her two kids glaring back at me indignantly.

I saw the two ladies Jim had first approached just leaving him with their shoulders squared.

The next lady I approached had a tree in her possession. She was dragging it out toward the brazier with the air of someone who had found a bargain hidden away at the back.

“This one,” she stated firmly, “has no price tag. How much is it?”

I examined the tree. It was a little beauty. A close-packed, dense spruce, its branches standing out briskly in all directions, its top tapered and gay and light is a feather. Obviously a $1.50 type.

“That’s the $1.50 line, lady,” I announced.

“For a little bit of scrub like that!” she snapped. “Scrub that you could pick up along the roadside…”

“Sorry, madam,” I assured her. That’s a very exceptional Christmas tree…”

“It was a way in at the back, there,” she wheedled. “Among the 50-cent ones.”

I went back in among the trees. I looked on the ground. Sure enough, I found it. A price tag, folded up as though some bargain hunting woman had pinched it off the tree. I opened it. It was $1.50.

But maybe the wind blew it off. I shouldn’t be so suspicious.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I stood firm, “that’s our $1.50 line.”

“It’s an outrage,” she shrilled. “The government ought to forbid this racket. “It’s just a racket. A little bit of scrub like this, a dollar fifty!”

I said nothing. I looked over and saw Jim standing by the brazier warming his hands. His customers had departed.

“Look,” said the lady, changing her attitude.” Couldn’t you let me have this for a dollar? I’m just a poor widow. And my little children do so look forward to a Christmas tree…”

“Just the Salesman”

She didn’t look like a widow to me. She looked like a woman regularly accustomed to bulldozing and wheedling a man by turns.

“I’m just the salesman, lady,” I stated. “The price is a dollar fifty.”

“Do you deliver for that price?” she asked stiffly.

“No, ma’am,” I said. “F.O.B.”

“What does F.O.B. mean?” she snapped.

“It’s French for ‘you got to carry it,'” I explained.

“You keep it,” she said warningly, searching her purse. “My husband will call for it. after supper.”

She paid me the $1.50 and I wrote her name on a piece of paper and tied it prominently to the fine feathery tip of the tree.

Jim had dragged a box up to the brazier and was hunched over the fire.

“It’s a cold job, just standing around,” he sniffled.

“Make any sales?” I inquired.

“No, mine were all just shopping around,” he coughed.

The late afternoon sun had gone down behind the nearby buildings. The December wind eddied around us, wafting the scent of balsam and spruce and the fumes of the homegoing traffic to our crispy nostrils.

A few people paused in passing and looked in at our display, but thought better of it and hurried homeward.

“How late should we stay?” I inquired, from the lee side of the brazier.

“Well, I suppose,” huffed Jim, “we ought to stay until the stores close and the crowds go home.”

A man and wife turned purposefully into our lot, the lady leading.

As I was on my feet, I leaped to the sale.

“Aha, the old racket,” cried the husband jovially, full of the Santa Claus spirit. “How much are the trees? Thirty-five, fifty?”

“Are these all you’ve got?” asked the lady in a quiet, menacing voice.

“Just what you see,” I assured her politely.

“They look awfully skimpy to me,” she said, leaning back. “When I was a girl, Christmas trees were beautiful.”

“We have several varieties,” I explained, “spruce, balsam, but the spruce are the prettiest.”

She walked stiffly around. Her husband joined Jim at the brazier and they engaged in the hearty kind of conversation a city man uses on what he assumes to be a country man.

“This one,” I said, pulling a nice bunchy spruce out of the pile,” is the $1.50 line. These are special…”

“A dollar fifty!” laughed the lady lightly. “I should say it IS special! That’s nonsense. I wouldn’t pay more than 50 cents for any Christmas tree. Why it’s absurd, a dollar fifty … George!”

A Cold World

Her husband came over smartly.

“This man,” she said, “has the nerve to ask a dollar fifty for this Christmas tree. Speak to him.”

George drew himself up and frowned at me.

“A dollar fifty,” he began slowly and loudly.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t own the trees. I am just a salesman. There are plenty more Christmas trees up the street.”

“Tell him who you are, George!” commanded the lady in a low voice.

“I don’t care who you are,” I said loudly. “The price of this tree is a dollar-fifty.”

“That’s the tree I want,” said the lady loudly too. “Give him 50 cents for it, George, and take it.”

George looked critically at the tree.

“Mabel,” he said, “that isn’t a Christmas tree. That’s just a piece of hedge. I want a Christmas tree that sort of…”

“We’ve been over and over that,” cried the lady angrily, “every Christmas for years.”

“I want a Christmas tree,” shouted George, “that you can see through. I want a filmy, sketchy Christmas tree, not one of these thick, stuffed looking…”

“Take this one!” warned the lady in a deep throaty voice.

George looked desperately around and laid hold of one of our 50-cent line, a poor little wispy, droopy balsam.

That’s a Christmas tree!” he grated, shoving his jaw close to his wife’s face. “That’s what WE had for a Christmas tree in MY home…”

The lady grabbed a branch and tried to snatch the tree from him.

They pulled and yanked and yelled at each other.

The lady suddenly let go and ran, stumbling out of the lot, and with fast-tapping feet turned into the home-going crowd along the street.

“Will you take it, sir?” I inquired politely.

He stood for a moment, then flung the little tree away from him.

“Aw, the heck with it!” he barked and strode out.

Jim hadn’t moved from the brazier.

“Jim,” I said, “how long should we stay here?”

“It’s pretty cold,” suggested Jim.

“It’s a cold world,” I agreed.

So we banked ashes on the brazier and put it in a safe place and went home, trusting to the goodness of heart and the Christmas spirit in everybody not to molest young Lisha’s trees.

And after supper, we went and bribed the old boy who cuts our grass in summer to take on the job for the morrow.


Editor’s Notes: $1.50 in 1946 is about $21.25 in 2019.

F.O.B. is a term that basically means that the seller is not responsible for shipping.

The Sweetest Age

By Greg Clark, December 17, 1921

There is no more vain and no more popular argument in the world than at what age a baby is most sweet.

At lunch the other day, I happened to remark to George that in my opinion a baby three months old was without doubt the sweetest and quaintest creature in the universe.

“It’s astonished gaze,” I said, “It’s smile, it’s first silvery chuckle, it’s first difficult groping with its hands –“

“I disagree with you,” put in George. “To my mind, a baby is at its most delightful age at about fourteen months.”

That, of course, is precisely what George would say, for his little girl is exactly fourteen months old. As if I didn’t see through his absurd point of view, he went on:

“At fourteen months, they are intelligent beings, essaying their first little words, their first timid steps, discovering for the first time all the wonders of the world. I repeat, at fourteen months they are intelligent creatures, not mere little bundles of soft flesh, crying and kicking and oblivious to everything in the world except noisy rattles and gesticulating and diddering parents at their cribside.”

This, I might say, was a deliberate dig at me and my little boy, who, by the way, is exactly three months old, and the gentlest, cunningest – However!

George continued to shout in that manner about his little girl until everyone in the restaurant was staring at him. I never knew anyone who could blather so about a child as George can.

“Hold on, just a minute!” I exclaimed. “Give me a chance, won’t you? You’ve had fourteen months to rave about your child to me. Surely you can shut up for a minute and listen to me. As I was saying, a child of three months is not far short of fairyland. What I mean is, as a child grow older, it grows coarser, becomes, in fact, more human, and therefore more gross. Now, a baby of three months has that elfin air –“

“Look here!” shouted George, quite angrily. “What do you know about it. My baby was three months old, and six months old, and ten months old, and now It’s fourteen months old, so I know what I’m talking about.”

“I’ve seen other children,” I remarked.

“That’s not the same,” replied George.

“No,” I answered sweetly, “it is not.”

And we finished lunch without even talking about the new dominion cabinet. George and I have this kind of row about once a month.

It shows the futility of arguing about babies.

For instance, a young lady who has two very kindly asked me how our baby was.

“And is he smiling yet?” she said.

“Smiling!” I exclaimed. “My goodness, yes! He’s been smiling since he was three weeks old!”

“Oh, but not knowingly,” said she. “They don’t smile really until the seventh week.”

“Well, this boy of mine was smiling at three,” I declared.

“Of course,” she said, “a little pain or makes them appear to smile.”

Now, what could you say to that?

“He laughed out loud at three months,” was all I could think of to say at the moment. But it fell on deaf and unbelieving ears.

Our old family doctor has the misfortune to be a grandfather. His first grandchild is just about the age of our boy. And in his attitude towards our baby we can detect something just a little more than the professional manner.

“Oh, a fine boy, a fine boy!” he says, as our fellow, observing that it is the doctor, shows off his lung development in a few shouts.

“My little-grandson,” adds the doctor, “just laughs and gurgles all day long. I’ve seen countless babies in my day, but I never met so good natured a child as he.”

Of course, we discount his professional opinion to a proper degree.

“Well, now,” we all say at once, “this little fellow is so good we often wonder if it is right. We can’t imagine what has got into him just at the moment.”

“This grandson of mine,” continues the doctor in a loud, firm voice, “gains nine ounces a week.”

“Oh, surely that isn’t healthy,” exclaims my wife. “Ours gains five and a half, and that’s just about right.”

“Tut, tut,” says the family doctor. “The more the better.”

Doctors shouldn’t have grandchildren.

Our boy’s maternal grandma lives with us. She is a philosopher.

“The most beautiful age for a child,” she states, “is the age it is.”

“You will have a lot of fun with this fellow when he is creeping.”

“Not more than now,” I say.

“You will have great sport with him when he walks, and you can take him out to the parks.”

“Not more than when he is creeping,” I say.

“He will be great company when he is four or five.”

“Not more than when he first walks,” say I.

“But the greatest day of all,” says grandma, “will be the day he presents you with a little boy just such as he now is.”

And before such a mystery, at so marvelous thought, I am dumb.


A Pre-Christmas Peek

That’s Gratitude

By Greg Clark, December 12, 1936

“Let’s see,” said Jimmie Frise, “how long is it to Christmas?”

“Yes,” I said scornfully, “how long have we left to be hard boiled and grasping and normal and natural until the one brief day when we are filled with sweetness and light?”

“Oh, hold on,” protested Jimmie. “The spirit of Christmas is a little wider than that I can feel the Christmas spirit now. You begin to feel it even in November. And I am sure it sort of lingers through until about the second of January.”

“It seems dreadful to me,” I declared, “that we should segregate our better feelings into certain times and seasons. Patriotism on July first. The spiritual at Easter. Moving on May first. Marriages in June. Why should we concentrate all our tenderest sentiments at the one Christmas season?”

“Thank heavens,” said Jim. “there are seasons that inspire us. I begin to get the Christmas urge along about now. I find myself looking tenderly at my family. I note a certain generosity in my handouts to bums. A mysterious expectation begins to stir in me, as if something very beautiful and unexpected but highly deserved might happen to me.”

“Personally,” I stated, “I feel pretty normal until about five p.m. Christmas Eve. That is about the time the family expects me to carry the Christmas tree in from the back yard and make it stand up in the living room. I guess it must be the sentimental smell of the evergreens. But about five p.m. the Christmas spirit hits me with a bang.”

“How long does it last?” asked Jim.

“It’s almost unbearable by midnight Christmas Eve,” I admitted, “when I find myself sneaking in for the fourth or even the fifth time to peek at the kids asleep. It lasts all Christmas morning and right through Christmas dinner, which is about one o’clock noon. But by four p.m. Christmas Day I’m pretty well over it. I’m sound and sane again by, say, five p.m.”

“That’s twenty-four hours,” figured Jim.

“Yeah,” I said, “by five p.m. Christmas Day I’m my old practical self once more. I’m through with nonsense. I want all the colored paper picked up. I want the toys and presents carried to their proper rooms and put away. I want the electric trains and that sort of junk removed from the living room floor and taken to the attic where they belong for the remainder of their life. I want a little quiet and peace in the house and I send the neighbor kids home.”

“By five p.m.?” said Jim.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m pretty average.”

“It seems a pity,” sighed Jim, “that when we are aware of the Christmas spirit we don’t seize on it and hold it all the time. I mean, if we were ignorant of the possibilities of human nature it wouldn’t be so bad. But when we DO know about Christmas how is it we willingly surrender that knowledge? It’s like knowing about sunshine, like knowing about a day in early June, with the sun glowing like a dream and everything green and lovely and the last iris on the stems and the first roses blooming and then deliberately choosing to have a day in November.”

Aching To Do Good Deeds

“As regards the Christmas spirit,” I said, “human nature is sound. It knows there are days in June and also days in November.”

“Are we never to do anything,” cried Jimmie passionately, “about human nature?”

“You can’t change human nature,” I pointed out, “any more than you can change oak nature or horse nature.”

“We’ve done something with horse nature,” said Jim, “and I don’t doubt we could do things with oak nature if it was worth the trouble.”

“But human nature,” I explained, “is tougher. Nobody has ever done anything with human nature yet.”

“The Christmas spirit,” cried Jimmie, as we sailed along the gravel highway, “is on me. I feel like doing glad and kindly deeds. I am prepared to think you are a merry and artless little man. If I were to see some poor old man carrying a bundle along this cheerful country road I would be inclined to stop the car and give him a lift.”

“The bundle,” I said, “would probably contain something loose and smelly.”

“Or if,” cried Jimmie, “I were to see a farmer along here stumping or maybe lifting big stones on to a stoneboat I’d be inclined to stop and help him.”

“We’ve got a two-hour drive to Toronto,” I warned him.

“I need,” said Jim loudly, “to do a good deed. I feel I will have bad luck if I don’t do a good deed. Something dark will befall me if I fail to live up to this feeling in me.”

“The good deed you can do,” I informed him, “is attend to your driving and spare my nerves by not weaving all over this gravel. That would be a kindness.”

But Jimmie was turning his gaze eagerly from side to side, looking for something to vent his goodwill upon. In the broad farm country there was nothing to see.

“A fence I could mend,” he was muttering. “Anything at all. A kind deed, in the name of Christmas.”

Ahead a car was standing by the roadside and, as we drove near, Jim let out a shout of joy.

The hood of the car was lifted. And nobody was in sight.

“Here’s the answer to my prayer,” said Jimmie, stopping opposite the derelict and shutting off the engine.

“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “It’s four o’clock and we said we’d be home for dinner.”

“Some poor fellow,” cried Jimmie, switching off his overcoat and digging into the pocket of the car door for an old pair of cotton work gloves he always carries there, “some poor fellow has gone for help, and it’s three or four miles to the next village. When he gets back his car will be fixed.”

“Don’t be fool, Jim,” I protested. “Maybe he doesn’t want anybody tinkering with his engine.”

But Jimmie had walked back to the other car and started his inspection.

“O.K.,” he called “He’s left his key in it. Just as I expected. Some gentle, innocent fellow, with no knowledge of mechanics.”

I got out and joined him.

“We’ve no time to waste,” I declared.

“It won’t take me five minutes,” said Jim. “You know me, I’ve owned all the crocks that are made. What I don’t know about engines hasn’t been invented yet.”

“It may be some serious injury,” I warned him. “Like the rear end gone or something. You might only wreck it.”

The Role of Unknown Friend

Jim got in and stepped on the starter. The starter hummed and turned the engine over. But there was no responding ignition.

“There you are,” cried Jim gaily. “Ignition. Or dirty points. Or carburetor trouble. I’ll find it in two shakes.”

“I wish you’d leave it alone,” I insisted.

But as he went to work with his wrench, taking out plugs and examining them, and rapidly checking over the wiring, he told me:

“If he isn’t back by the time I’m done, I’ll fasten down the hood again and leave a note. ‘Fixed. With the compliments of an unknown friend.’ Can you imagine the feelings of the man?”

“Suppose,” I asked, “he has gone and got a garage man? Suppose they come away out here in a tow truck? What will the feelings of the garage man be?”

“This car,” said Jimmie, “bears every evidence of belonging to a poor man, a man who cannot afford to hire tow trucks. I think he is more likely in one of those farm houses ahead, asking some farmer to come back and help him.”

“Hurry up,” I urged him. “It’s four-fifteen.”

So Jim wrenched and examined. He tested all the plugs and all the wiring. He removed the carburetor, cleaned it and put it back. I sat in the car, and as each step in the overhaul was completed, Jimmie asked me to step on the starter and see if she responds. But she did not respond.

“I would also say,” said Jim, resting his back, that this car belonged to a careless, happy-go-lucky man. Probably a very lovable type of person. Everything is neglected. The plugs were filthy. The wiring is almost rotten.”

Carefully adjusting the mixture on the carburetor, he asked me to step on her again. I did so.

“Jim,” I cautioned him. “I think by the sound of it this battery is getting weak. We’d better not do much more stepping on it.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” he said, bending into the vitals again.

He checked the starter connections and the timing. He followed all through the battery connections and removed and cleaned the terminals, which were caked with green corrosion. I stepped on it, still it wouldn’t go.

“Jim, this battery is certainly getting weak,” I insisted, “Let’s get going. You’ve done enough. You’ve done your best.”

“My best, ha?” said Jim, now quite greasy and smudged. “You’ve not seen my best yet, my lad.”

“What are you going to do now?” I begged.

“It may be water in the cylinders,” said Jim, “or leaky gaskets, or it might be the valves so sticky they won’t let go. In any case, off comes the casing.”

“Aw,” I said, getting out and starting to walk up the road in the hope of seeing the owner coming in the distance. But nobody was coming. And no smoke came from any of the chimneys of the distant farms. And no birds or animals or dogs moved.

The Owner Appears

When I got back, Jim had the car practically disemboweled. With the casing removed the valves stuck up black and gummy and decayed-looking Jim was wiping them and feeling under them with a nail file.

“The gasket was entirely worn out and retted,” he said, “He’ll have to have a new gasket anyway.”

“How will he get it?” I inquired. “Walk back for it or will we run his messages?”

“He’ll probably have a garage man with him,” said Jim easily. “I hope he has. What time is it now?”

“Four-fifty,” I said quietly.

“Step on it again.” said Jim

I stepped on it. But nothing happened. The starter suddenly stuck.

“There,” I said, “the battery’s quit.”

“She’ll be all right in a minute or two,” said Jim. “Well, it isn’t the valves and tappets.”

With the big wrench, he began to work on the nuts of the cylinder head.

“Wait a minute, Jim.” I shouted. “That’s a major operation.”

“It will have to be done by somebody,” he replied, with Christian fervor. “And now that I’m at it…”

He bent and swung at the corroded nuts. One by one he loosened them, drawing out the long pins and bolts. One of the corner nuts would not budge. He left it to the last. Then he went back at it with determination. With a grunt, it broke off, level with the top.

“A fine condition to let a car into,” cried Jim, angrily. “Now she is in a mess.”

“Anyway,” I informed him, “here comes somebody.”

Up the road, in the distance, a figure approached. He was carrying, we saw as he neared, a gasoline can. When he saw us at his car, he began to hurry. He was a small man, dark, foreign-looking.

“Hello, vot’s diss?” he called as he hastened towards us.

“We were just seeing if we couldn’t make your engine go for you,” replied Jim, heartily.

“You couldn’t make it go widout gas,” said the gentleman, and then he saw his engine. “Oy, oy, oy, oy!”

“It must be,” said Jim, “water in the cylinders.”

“It’s gas it run out of,” cried the little man, wildly. “And now you got it in pieces.”

“It was in bad shape,” said Jim. “I cleaned up your plugs and points …”

“Bad shape?” wailed the little man. “Bad shape? It was a good car. All she needed is a little gas.”

“She was positively dangerous,” stated Jim, heatedly. “In a dreadful shape.”

No Sense of Gratitude

“Fix her together again,” commanded the little man with sudden angry dignity. “Fix her right away together again.”

He pointed dramatically at the ruin.

“Well,” said Jim.

He tried to screw the cylinder head on but the broken nut at the corner left slight gape that both Jim and I knew would be fatal.

He fastened the lid back over the tappets, but there was no gasket except a few rugged tags of rotted cork. And he knew that would be bad.

Meanwhile the owner poured his can of gasoline into the tank at the back.

“There,” said Jimmie, hopefully, “get in and start her up.”

The stranger got in and stepped on his starter. No response. He trumped and stamped.

“You killed my battery,” he accused angrily, “Crank her.”

He got the crank and handed it to Jimmie. Jim cranked and yanked and swung. No results. The little stranger was getting madder every moment. He rolled his eyes to heaven in helpless expostulation. Jim rested a moment and the stranger leaned out the window:

“What do you want to fiddle with my car anyhow?” he asked

“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “It was just an impulse to do a kindly act.”

“She was running beautiful,” wailed the stranger. “And how she won’t run at all. Crank her again.”

Jim cranked and I cranked, and we adjusted the carburetor and altered the mixture and choked and unchoked.

Suddenly the stranger got out.

“Look,” he said, “I’m a business man. I got business. I’m in a hurry. I tell you I’ll take your car and you take mine. When you got her going bring it here, and get your car back.”

“No you don’t,” said Jimmie.

“No I don’t?” shouted the little man furiously. “I leave my car and go to get some gas. I come back and two…”

“All right, all right,” said Jim. “We’ll drive you back into town and pay for the garage man to come out.”

“I got business,” said the stranger. “It’s me will drive you into town and you come back with the garage man…”

And that’s the way it was, Jimmie going in as a passenger in his own car and returning in half an hour, in the dark, with the tow truck. The garage man towed us in the stranger’s car to his repair shop, refastened the cylinder head, twiddled this and that and cranked her, and away she went. Four dollars.

It was seven p.m.

“Jim,” I said, as we drove carefully homeward in the rickety car, “the least you can do, the Christian thing, would be to have his battery recharged.”

“To heck with him,” said Jimmie “He has no sense of gratitude.”


Editor’s Notes: Some jurisdictions had traditional “moving days” in the past when leases would come due and many people would move. In New York City, it was May first. It was the same in Quebec, until moving day was moved to July first, in 1973. It still exists today.

Hurrying Up

By Greg Clark, December 12, 1925

How many years make a man?

The climb from four years to twenty is long. To a very little boy, when he first thinks of it, it wears the incomprehensibility of infinity.

He goes to bed at night four years, two months and two days old. He wakes the next morning, twelve hours older. It’s tedious.

“When do I get to be a man, dad?” he asks me.

“Well, it is quite a process. First you are a little boy, then you are a little bigger boy, then you are a little bigger, and so on. Presently you go to school…”

“But if I wear my cowboy hat,” he interrupts, “am I a man.”

“No. It is a matter of time, of days, months and years.”

“If I take my medicine, am I a man?”

“Oh, I see? Yes, son, there is more to being a man than years. I see your point.”

“Well, if I have my cowboy hat on and take my medicine, then I’m a man.”

“You’re getting hotter.”

“Anyway,” he says, pressing in earnestly, “if I fall and don’t cry, and I have my cowboy hat on and took my medicine before that, then I am a man?”

“You want to be a man? Don’t you?”

“Yes. Then I can be with you.”

It is statements like this that so often cause daddies to pick up their papers, inexplicably, and retreat to their dens. It seems as if you can’t show daddies your love.

I retreated. Still stinging from that little barb of love. I pretended to myself to be reading. Suddenly the silence downstairs was burst by a crash and a thump. I stepped to the stair-head. The boy, somewhat bent, was staring up with a rueful expression, his cowboy hat cocked over one eye.

“I fell off my bicycle,” he said in a small voice, “and I didn’t cry.”

“Good man!” I said, and returned to my paper.

A moment later, there was another crash and thud downstairs, followed by silence, then the voice, more confident, floated up:

“Dad, I fell off again and I didn’t cry!”

“Be careful, young fellow.”

Hardly had I found my place when there came up another crash, more terrifying than the last. I went to the stairs. He was coming up to me, hurriedly, and holding one knee.

“I fell off again,” he said, climbing, “and I hurt myself and I didn’t cry.”

“But what’s the idea?” I demanded.

“Daddie, you didn’t say ‘good man’.”

“Good man! But you mustn’t tumble about like that.”

He took my hand and followed me to the den, where he climbed aboard me in my chair.

There was almost a swagger in his manner now, his cowboy hat awry.

“If I fall and don’t cry,” he said. “I am a good man, aren’t I?”

“Indeed you are.”

“If I fall all the time and don’t cry, then I will hurry up, won’t I?”

“Hurry up?”

“Hurry up to get to be a man,” he said. “So I will fall a lot of times and soon I’ll be a man?”

We stared long at each other’s colored eyes, shiny eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered presently, “rub my poor knee.”


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