The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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To Arms, to Arms!

“Listen, you two,” said the farmer. “I don’t want you to touch my starlings!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 17, 1934.

“Twenty thousand starlings,” said Jimmie Frise, “were bumped off last week by the farmers down along Lake Erie.”

“Little,” I said, “did those first sixty starlings that were released in Central Park, New York, thirty years ago, dream of the fate their children’s children would meet.1

“It was a ghastly mistake,” said Jim, “importing those European starlings to America. Why, you have no idea how they have multiplied. The sky down in Essex and Kent is black with them, Millions of them. They have spread all over America. They have established themselves permanently in the warm southern states, and yet they are reported up at Fort Churchill, on the edge of the Arctic.”

“What is the good of shooting 20,000 of them?” I asked.

“Well, when men decide a thing is bad, they like to do something about it,” explained Jimmie. “It makes them feel better to have killed 20,000.”

“But in the meantime, what are we going to do about it?” I asked.

“Nobody knows,” admitted Jim. “Whole cities, like Washington, are being conquered by the starlings. Park trees fifty years old are being sacrificed to try and drive the starlings away. Stately towers and belfries are being grotesquely boarded up in the hope that this inhospitable hint will be taken by the starlings and they will get out. But they don’t. It begins to look as if the starlings will alter the architecture of America.”

“It makes me feel very helpless,” I admitted.

“If I weren’t a hard-headed and clear-thinking twentieth century man,” said Jim, “I would almost imagine that this plague of starlings was nature’s revenge on us for destroying the passenger pigeon. It was just about the time the last passenger pigeon was slaughtered that the starlings were set loose in Central Park. Ironic, isn’t it?”

“Jimmie,” I declared. “I am a mystic. I believe in things like that. While we go blindly along imagining we can conquer the world by good business practices, while we march stupidly from one human disaster to another, each year getting more thoughtful, each year becoming more sure of our great human powers, nature keeps laughingly tossing us hints like these starlings. We strain our brains over economics. And nature plays her jokes.”

“Nature has no mind,” said Jim.

“No,” I countered. “But nature has a heart. In all our splendor and glory, we men conquer the earth and incidentally exterminate the passenger pigeon. Having conquered the earth, here comes the starling, just to see how much we have conquered.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “that for all the sob stories you hear about the passenger pigeon, it, too, was an enemy of man. Why, a flock of pigeons, big enough to cloud the sun, would drop down in a pioneer’s little clearing, into a field of peas. And in a few minutes, before the pioneer could wake up to the disaster, there wasn’t a pea left.”

“Well,” I said, “we got rid of the pigeon. We’ve got the peas. What good are they? We can’t sell them.”

“H’m,” admitted Jim.

“And now the starling has come,” I said, “in ever-thriving millions, to destroy us!”

“Then,” cried Jimmie, “what are we going to do? Submit to our destruction? A fine patriot you are. Why, to arms, to arms, and join the patriots of the Lake Erie shore!”

“It is a war,” I agreed.

“You bet it is a war,” cried Jimmie. “It will make commonplace human wars like the last one, or the next one, seem like sport. Why, the starlings could starve us in one year. They could become so numerous, they would eat all our grain, our grass, starve our cattle. All the ships on the sea couldn’t bring enough food, fast enough, to keep us from starving. The starlings would consume the food of our live stock and poultry. Exterminate our grain. Gobble up our vegetables and fruits. And what an awful spectacle it would be. All of a sudden, us lovely civilized people murdering one another for a scrap of food. Bank presidents eating their old shoes. Movie actresses gnawing old bones. It’s a terrible thought. We ought to get busy and arm against the foe.”

“And all the while,” I gasped, “the sky about us black with the rustling wings of millions of birds, like demons sent to humble and destroy us. What a revenge!”

“What a revenge nature can take on us, any time,” said Jim, “for our sins against her!”

“Jim,” I said, “do you think we could rouse the people to their danger? If we could get everybody in the world to take a gun and shoot starlings…”

“If we could send our militia, armed with shotguns, out into the forests and the deserts,” added Jimmie.

“And Arctic expeditions all across the vast spaces of the north,” I said, “to pursue the deadly starling to its last lair!”

“Yet,” said Jim sadly, “if we missed only two of them, if we overlooked just one pair, then in thirty years we would have the same old menace again!”

“That’s the trouble with nature,” I said. “It is so healthy.”

“We ought,” put in Jim, “to do something about it, however. It is our function as investigators of public matters, to go and shoot a few of them.”

“I am certainly with you,” I agreed.

Defending the Human Race

So instead of going rabbit shooting, the rabbit being another, menace that Jim and I have been keeping down for years past, we spent last week-end, armed with scatter-guns and small shot, out in the defence of the human race from extermination through starvation.

We drove west, the starling menace being greater the farther west you go. We drove out the Dundas highway and then went north, zig-zagging west and north, all the while scanning the sky for the black legions of the foe.

“If we see any on the ground, or sitting on a fence.” I asked, “should we shoot them? Or only take them on the wing?”

“Only on the wing,” cried Jim, emphatically. “Remember, we are sportsmen, even though we are on the verge of extermination!”

We passed Milton, and its cleft mountains. We got up into a very pretty country of farms and swamps. Two or three times. we stopped the car violently to leap out and take aim. But the little birds we had spotted in the evergreens were only goldfinches and siskins and other tiny songbirds.

We saw one crow below Guelph, but it was too smart. The moment we started to slow the car, it bounced into the air and went away with one sarcastic croak.

Turning south, we passed wide of the cities of Kitchener so as to get southward toward that infested sea of Erie. We saw several small drab birds flitting over the snow from the fences and weedy ditches where they had been creeping, like beggars sniping butts along the roadsides of the city.

“When we come on them,” said Jimmie, while the long snowy miles ticked by us, “by all accounts there will be immense flocks of them. You will have to be ready, and load and reload like lightning, firing into the mass of them as they fly over.”

“I’m ready,” I said, setting the shotgun shells in between the fingers of my left hand, where they were held as in a holder for instant action.

“Hssst!” warned Jim. “A bird!”

He slowed the car. Ahead, on a rail fence, sat a dark bird, nearly as big as a robin. It had a long pale beak and a short tail.

“A starling,” I hissed.

“We’ll slow down,” whispered Jimmie, “and both get out together. Then when it flies, we will both shoot, both barrels. A broadside!”

We slowed. The bird was a good forty yards away, sitting serenely on the fence, all unaware of our approach, it seemed, and unafraid.

We got out.

“Quietly,” whispered Jim, “let’s walk closer. We mustn’t miss! When I raise my gun, it will be the signal to fire.”

Down the rutted country sideroad, with nary a farm or a house or a barn to be seen. but only the heaving hills and the little copses in the fence corners, and the gray winter sky overhead, we crept pace by pace, toward this mortal enemy of human kind.

Our hearts were beating high. This was the mystical moment. The first shot. It would ring around the earth. This was another Sarajevo2. What prince of the enemy was this, sitting on the rail fence!

We paced, cautiously, nearer and nearer, the guns poised. Double barrel guns. Loaded with number seven shot. To scatter and wipe out the black demon.

Then we heard a soft sound.

The stupid enemy was singing!

Squatted there, on the fence rail, its head lifted a little like the head of a mother crooning to her baby in a rocking chair, half asleep in the gray winter light, the starling was softly and aimlessly warbling.

We stopped. We lowered our muzzles.

Squeak, warble, hiss, flute, flute, flute, went the starling. Jim took another step forward and I followed. Pace by pace, we advanced. We were within twenty yards, eighteen, sixteen.

Squeak, flute, flute, warble, hiss, tinkle, squeak, softly sang the starling.

Fourteen, twelve yards.

And now we could see that the starling was not a black bird. He was in masquerade costume. A harlequin, decked out in a suit of golden chain mail, overlaid on soft brown-black velvet!

An unreal, a strange, a beautiful creature, with a pale large bill tremulous as he sang in a guttural low voice a sort of Wagnerian song. The only song in all the white, gray, bitter world!

The song of an exile. A sad, small song.

In the winter stillness, we stood listening, with reverently lowered gun muzzles, until the starling got tired of his song and fluttered his feathers out and stood up, as a dreamer wakes. He turned his head and saw us. And without haste, he took wing and flew away across the frozen fields.

“Well, well,” said Jim.

“I hadn’t the heart,” I admitted. “It seemed so lone.”

“The only way you can work up any passion about starlings,” said Jim, “is when you get them in masses, in hundreds, thousands.”

“Yet each one of them is a little harlequin in gold and black, like that one,” I pointed out.

“In war,” said Jim, “you can’t stop to consider your enemy as individuals. You musn’t picture them as nice young men.”

We got in the car and drove down at couple of lots. In an orchard, as we drew near, we saw twenty birds in the apple trees.

“Hsst!” I hissed. “An outpost! Twenty of the enemy in those apple trees.”

Two Opinions About Everything

He stopped the car. We got out with guns alert and crept down the road. We deployed. Jim took the right and I the left.

“Bang,” went Jim’s gun into the orchard.

“Bang, bang,” went my gun, scoring two misses.

“Hoy!” roared a voice.

The trouble with farmers in winter is they look so much like a plowed field.

This farmer was carrying an armful of wood across the field just back of the orchard. He dropped the wood and came, on bent legs, bounding through the orchard.

“What the Sam Hill!” he shouted, feeling his face with a large hand.

It was useless to run. He would have got our license number anyway.

He halted inside the orchard fence and glared at us.

“We were shooting starlings, sir,” I said.

“You were shooting me, you mean!” yelled the farmer, though he was only twelve feet away.

“Pardon, sir,” said Jim. “We are two public-spirited citizens out helping the great crusade against the starling. You ought to thank us for coming to help you keep down the menace that threatens not only your crops, your stock but your own very life!”

The farmer studied us for a minute.

“City fellows, I suppose,” he said, quietly. “Full of linseed and beans as usual. Listen, you two. I don’t want you to touch my starlings!”

“Why, they are destroyers of –” began Jim.

“I been watching them all fall and winter,” said the farmer. “They have been eating cocoons and grubs out of the bark of my apple trees. They have been eating pounds and pounds of weed seeds. What else would they be staying around here for all winter? There’s no other food but weeds, bugs and waste.”

“They ruin cherries,” said Jim.

“I have no cherries,” retorted the farmer.

“They will destroy a field of peas.”

“I have no peas,” said the farmer.

“The farmers of Essex and Kent slaughtered 20,000 of them,” said Jim.

“All right, this isn’t Essex and Kent,” said the farmer. “Look, I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take your names and addresses. And if ever the starlings get so bad they are digging up my potatoes, or attacking my heifers, I’ll send for you to save me.”

“Good-day, sir,” we said, retreating back up the road to our car.

“You see,” said Jim. “There are two opinions about everything, even about extermination.”

We turned the car and went back the road we had come. And it so happened that when we came to the place where we had tried to shoot the starling on the rail fence, there it was again, huddled down in the fading afternoon.

So we got out of the car and crept up close and listened to it sing until it got up and flew away to its bed, probably some maple tree it calls its old Canadian home.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. ↩︎
  2. Reference to the start of World War 1 and the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. ↩︎

The Friends of Yesterday

“We carried it the whole three-quarters of a mile with the three of them following very jolly on behind.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 31, 1942.

“What gripes me,” announced Jimmie Frise sadly, “is what war does to friendships.”

“There is no brotherhood,” I informed him, “like the brotherhood of arms. I have sometimes thought that there is no human relationship deeper, dearer, more passionate than the comradeship of men who have passed through battle together.”

“Yet,” sighed Jimmie, “where are our blood brothers of the last old war? I remember swearing eternal friendship with comrades of mine. Yet inside six months or a year at most after the war, we had forgotten about each other. We were embarrassed when we met. Inside of three years, we were avoiding each other…”

“I remember,” I confessed miserably. “I went through the same experience. Don’t remind me.”

“After six months of front line experience,” went on Jim, “you know the difference between men and mice. You gravitate together, according to your quality. The brave guys gang together. The tough guys chum up. The medium brave guys segregate themselves into little groups. The lazy and the crafty, the lead-swingers and the bums, cast off by all the other groups, are forced into each other’s company.”

“That’s it exactly,” I recollected.

“Ordinary peacetime life,” continued Jimmie, “does not offer the same chance to weigh and measure your friendships. But in war, you see a man for what he is, morning, noon and night. He can’t pretend to be better than he is for long. The truth comes out. I think there is no greater time in a man’s life to choose his friends than in war.”

“Then why,” I demanded, “have we all drifted away from our war-made friends?”

“I remember in Hersin-Coupigny,” related Jimmie, “five of us who had served together a long time formed a sort of little lodge or secret society of our own. We lived in at billet in Hersin-Coupigny. We had it all worked out. We made complete plans for our lives when the war was over. The main feature of the plan was that we were going to stick together after the war, come hell or high water.”

“I suppose half of them were casualties?” I submitted.

“No, I was the only casualty,” said Jim, “and all I lost was a finger. We five never got together again. We’ve met, one by one, across the past 25 years. But we don’t ever refer to the plan of Hersin-Coupigny. Yet I never in my life made a more earnest and sincere vow than we made in that old chalk barn in France, a quarter of a century ago.”

“Of course, those were hard years, right after the war, Jim,” I reminded him. “We had to scramble like hogs to get jobs and get back into the swim of peacetime life.”

“If we had stuck together,” declared Jim, “we soldiers, maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard for us. But we threw off our uniforms, turned our backs on one another, and started burrowing, each his little burrow.”

“And of course,” I recollected, “the political parties of those days had no intention of letting us old soldiers form a soldier party. They both saw to that. Every time a veterans’ organization got going successfully, the politicians would finance a rival veterans’ organization with smart politicians guiding them. And so we were bust up into fragments, easily handled. Divide and rule is the ancient prescription. It worked on us old soldiers.”

“Still, that doesn’t explain,” insisted Jim, “how all our old war friendships were abandoned.”

We sat thinking about it for a while, with guilty hearts. And at length I offered this suggestion:

“Maybe friendship, the real, deep friendship such as the comradeship of war inspires, requires hardship, struggle and danger to keep it aflame. War is so stark and simple and honest. Peace is so filled with pretense and compromise, bluff and fakery. To live honestly as a civilian is ten times harder than to live as a good soldier. Maybe when we got back to the creeping, crawling ways of civil life, we were ashamed to look our wartime friends in the eye.”

“Maybe that’s it,” muttered Jim.

“How did we get on this melancholy subject?” I demanded.

“Oh, I was just thinking,” said Jimmie, “how war busts up friendships. For the past 20 years, we have been patiently sorting over our acquaintances, gathering together a little gang of those we are entitled to describe as our friends. It isn’t easy to gather together six or eight men who are all equally willing to go places and do things together; such as deer hunting.”

“Ah, deer hunting,” I said. “No thanks. Not for me. Not after last year.”

“Well, that’s what I mean,” declared Jimmie. “Up until 1939, we had, for 10 long years, the best, most congenial hunting party in Canada. No eight guys anywhere in the country were as harmoniously blended into a unit as we were. Then what happens? Jake and Lou are whisked off to war jobs in Ottawa.”

“Joe and Andy went into the army,” I added.

“Pete had to go back to the United States,” completed Jim, “and Sam wouldn’t go deer hunting because his son was in the air force and he thought it would be unpatriotic of him.”

“And there we were,” I rounded up, “you and me.”

Arguing About Shooting

“So we went. November, 1939,” said Jimmie, “and what happened? We found out that two men can’t hunt deer.”

“They certainly can’t,” I agreed. “Not you and me, anyway. We never even saw a deer, did we?”

“Not one,” said Jim. “Then, in 1940, after you got home from Dunkirk, we rigged up a dandy party. Jake and Lou both promised to take a week off their war duties at Ottawa. Pete promised to come up from Chicago. And at the last minute, they all reneged.”

“So we didn’t go at all,” I recounted. “That was 1940.”

“Last year,” began Jimmie.

“Ugh!” I said and shuddered.

We sat, with cold smiles, remembering last year’s deer hunting party.

“I never,” declared Jim, “in my life, saw three such heartless, selfish, cold-blooded guys all in one group.”

“They played us for suckers, all right,” I admitted.

“How did we ever get tangled up with them?” demanded Jim. “How did it start?”

“It started, you remember,” I said, “at lunch that day. The three of them were sitting at the next table to us. I’d often seen them around the downtown district, and at lunch and in elevators. In fact, I was on nodding terms with Jackson long before that day.”

“And I knew Buddy and Jones,” admitted Jim, “by sight anyway.”

“Well, you remember,” I exclaimed. “They were talking about whether a .30-30 was accurate at 500 yards. Jackson was blowing away about having shot lots of deer at 500 yards…”

“Ah, yes,” recollected Jim. “And you leaned over to their table and said that at only 300 yards, a .30-30 had a midway trajectory of 12 feet. And that at 500 yards, it probably had a mid-range rise of nearly 30 feet.”

“And what did our pompous friend Jackson say?” I inquired.

“He said,” laughed Jimmie uproariously, “that he always allowed for that.”

“Then,” I recalled, “we got into an argument. I asked him if in these 500-yard shots of his, the deer was standing still or running. And he said running.”

“Then you said,” remembered Jim, “with the mid-range trajectory of about 30 feet, how many yards ahead of the running deer did he shoot? And besides, how did he know which way the deer was going to jump?”

“Oh, boy,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes. “That was some argument.”

“It was the first of hundreds!” said Jimmie. “I don’t know which was the hardest part of last year’s hunt; washing the dishes when it was Jackson’s or Jones’ or Buddy’s turn; or listening to you and Jackson arguing.”

“Well, there was nothing else to do,” I protested. “Was I to sit there silent and listen to that big blowhard?”

“It would have been better,” sighed Jim.

“It shows you how easily you can get into trouble,” I mused. “There we were having lunch. We had no intention of going deer hunting last year. It was only eight or 10 days to the opening. Then, overhearing that big fat slob’s ridiculous chatter, I lean over and make a casual remark. And inside of 15 minutes, we are invited to join their hunting party.”

“And,” said Jimmie bitterly, “what’s worse, we went.”

“It was awful from the start,” I recalled. “Do you remember the night up at Jackson’s house, planning the grub list?”

“That was bad,” agreed Jim, “but how about the trip on the train?”

“The hike into the cabin was worse,” I submitted. “I can see Jones still, carrying that one little carton. I tried a dozen times to pick it up, whenever we rested along the trail, just to see if it was heavy. I never did get my hands on it until we reached the cabin. And then we found it was nothing but a carton of soda biscuits.”

“Buddy,” said Jim, “with his sprained ankle!”

“Ah, yes, sprained at the station,” I remembered. “And he could barely hobble when we started down the trail. So he didn’t have to carry anything. And next morning, he insisted on going away over to the Cedar Narrows, two miles away, the best runway of all. And he walked like an athlete!”

“They sure made pack mules of us, that trip,” confessed Jim.

“Pack mules!” I said. “Did either of us get a shot, did we get one shot, at a deer between us, in the whole week? Who cooked the meals? How many meals did Jackson cook? How many times did Buddy wash or dry the dishes? And did Jones do a single chore the whole week?”

“Every time it was his turn,” recalled Jim, “he had palpitation of the heart. And Jackson was in with him on it, because it was always Jackson who rushed him off to bed and fed him pills. They just took us for a ride, that’s all.”

“It’s hard to say which I disliked the most of the three,” I pondered. “Jackson, with his pompous airs of captain of the hunt. Buddy with his tricks for getting out of chores, like dishwashing. Do you remember, the minute the meals were over, how he’d go out and stand by the wood pile with his shotgun, watching for ducks flying over?”

“Jones was the worst,” insisted Jimmie. “Him and his palpitations! That doe he shot, I bet he chased it two miles over hill and dale, through muskeg and tag alders. And when we caught up to him, he was as fresh as a daisy. Yet, when somebody had to bring in an armful of wood, he had heart murmurs and palpitations.”

“I can hear Jackson’s voice, yet.” I grated. “First thing in the morning, he lying, there in his sleeping bag roaring at us to get up. And the last thing at night, as you or I sometimes fixed the stove and turned out the lamps, Jackson sleepily droning from his snug bed the instructions for the morrow.”

“You would think one of them,” declared Jim, “would have been a little thoughtful of the visitors.”

“The first thing Jackson said,” I reminded him, “when we arrived in the cabin was- ‘now this is a hunting party, boys, and we all have to pull our weight’.”

“Whereupon,” said Jim, “they put the harness on us.”

“Why didn’t we rebel?” I demanded. “We knew what kind of birds they were, before the first day was over.”

“Well,” explained Jim, “for the first two or three days, we were sort of strangers in camp. The next couple of days, we were so mad about it, it was funny; and we just kept on to see how much they would let us do. Then, the last couple of days, we had more or less given up hope, and we just carried on…”

“We were guides, that’s what we were,” I asserted. “Two guides, without pay. Will you ever forget carrying out Jackson’s big buck?”

“I won’t ever forget it,” said Jim, “but I still don’t understand it. Not one of them laid a hand on it.”

“I gutted it,” I reminded him. “You went and cut the pole to carry it. We both tied it on to the pole.”

“Then,” said Jim, “we hoisted it up and carried it. Carried it the whole three-quarters of a mile to the river.”

“With the three of them following very jolly on behind, carrying our rifles,” I gritted bitterly.

“Well, on a hunting party,” sighed Jimmie, “some of us aren’t happy unless we are suffering.”

“Maybe that’s it.” I said. “But it certainly goes down in our history as the worst hunting trip we have ever been on, and the queerest trio of cold-blooded, lazy loafers we have ever encountered.”

“How sweet, though,” smiled Jim, “they make the memory of dear old Jake and Lou, and Pete and Joe and Andy…”

“Ah, what a gang!” I agreed. “The hunting trips we’ve had. I wonder if they’re thinking about us now, too, with the opening of the season only a couple of days off?”

“I’ll bet they are,” said Jim. “Especially Joe and Andy, over there in England somewhere…”

The phone rang and Jimmie reached for it.

“Who?” he said, eyebrows up. “Oh, hello, there, how are you? Glad to hear your wheezy old voice.”

Jim winked at me violently.

“You don’t say? When? Saturday, eh? Who else is going?”

Jimmie hunched up his shoulders and rolled his eyes at me in glee.

“Just Buddy and Jones and you, eh?” said Jim into the phone, “Are you going to the same camp?”

He reached out with his foot and kicked me, winking furiously at the telephone mouth piece.

“Well, well, well, we were just talking about you, Jackson. Sure, he’s right here.”

“No, no,” I growled. “I don’t want to speak to the…”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Jimmie. “We had no plans made for this year. Our party is still all scattered to the four winds. I think we’ll wait till the war ends, and then we’ll have a grand reunion…”

Jimmie sat listening to a long harangue from Jackson. I could hear the mutter of his voice. My hair bristled at the mere sound.

“That’s a fact,” said Jim. “Mmm-hmmm. That’s a fact. Well, I hardly think we could I make it on this short notice. If you had called us a week ago…”

“Jim,” I hissed. “Hang up on him!”

“That’s a fact,” said Jim in the phone. “That’s so. Mmm-hmmm. A cook, eh? How many? Three guides, eh? Well, that would be a lot handier than last year, doing all our own work.”

I listened intently.

“Yes, you’re right,” said Jim. “It was sort of catch-as-catch can. Yes, that’s a good idea. Draw for runways each morning. Sure, that would give everybody an even break. Sure, sure; I realize that. You wanted us to get the hang of the country before putting us on the best runways.”

I waved my hands in front of Jim’s face, but he shut his eyes and went right on listening.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’ll talk over with him and if he feels the way I do, I’ll call you back at supper time tonight. That will give plenty of time to get the extra provisions…”

Jimmie hung up and looked at me with glittering eyes.

“Listen,” he said. “In this world, you have to take such friends as you can find.”

Anyway, excuse us now. We have to and try and locate some ammunition in the shops. And this year it is awfully hard to find.

One to Get Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Army Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I followed him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Matter of Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Granted,” said Jim.

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

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

“Precisely,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

After climbing the fence I turned and watched Jim.

“Put your gun through first,” I warned.

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s Try It My Way”

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

“Mmmffff,” muttered Jim.

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

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

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

“Let’s get going,” muttered Jim.

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

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

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

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

“Git him,” bellowed Jimmie on the fence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Jackrabbits in Ontario are actually introduced European hares.

Candid Camera

The bull kept running around the tree after me, while Jim kept screaming, “Farther out, farther out. I can’t get you in focus.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 27, 1937.

“I’m through,” said Jimmie Frise, “with killing.”

“Why, you haven’t killed much,” I assured him, “especially this past year.”

“That’s what I mean,” explained Jim. “I’m through with it. I can’t see wasting time and money chasing after fish and game just for the fresh air of it.”

“That’s the best part of outdoor sport,” I protested. “The outdoors of it.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “it costs me five cents every time I shoot my shotgun. It costs me twelve cents every time I shoot my rifle. That’s the cost of the shells alone. The cost of the guns, the cost of all my expensive fishing tackle that I have waved in vain over the waters of Ontario this past year, is the capital expenditure.”

“But your profits,” I said, “are good health, a happy frame of mind and so forth. Intangible assets, if you like, but mighty real.”

“Happy frame of mind?” cried Jim. “Do you call it a happy frame of mind if you sit here looking back over a year with no trout, no muskies, no duck and no deer?”

“But the fun?” I reminded him.

“The best fun,” stated Jim, “is coming home, after a happy trip in the woods, with a basket of fish, a bag of ducks, or a deer lashed on your car fender.”

“This was just a bad year,” I comforted him. “You’ve had your share, in former years.”

“Have I?” questioned Jim. “I was just thinking. Thinking of all the shells I’ve fired, all the guns I’ve owned, all the fishing rods and big cases of tackle that have come and gone in my life. And all the miles I’ve walked, and rowed, and driven, and all the hours spent in hard, rough work. And yet the kill is mighty slim, as my memory holds it. A good muskie, once or twice. Three or four good bags of ducks. Maybe one deer, really killed without help from others.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that is the experience of the average sportsman. People imagine, when they see hundreds and hundreds of us going forth with guns, that there is to be a dreadful slaughter of wild life. But the fact of the matter is, nine out of ten who pretend to be killers are anything but killers. If their kill was to be measured against their tackle, their outfit, their energy and the time they spend at it, even they would have to laugh.”

“Still,” said Jimmie, “what right have a few of us, a little percentage of the population, to assume we have the right to kill game?”

“Hmmmm,” I mused, “you have been converted, haven’t you?”

“I mean it,” declared Jim. “Why should a little handful of gunners be allowed to go forth into the public domain to kill birds and animals that belong to all? There are plenty of people who love as much to see a deer as we love to kill one. Maybe more. Maybe twice or three times as many.”

“Sssshhh,” I said, “Jim, this is heresy.”

Reformed Hunters

“I Don’t care,” insisted Jim. “Now that I find I can’t kill anything anyway, I am beginning to doubt the right to kill of those who can kill.”

“That’s perfectly human of you,” I agreed. “That’s the proper way to feel about it.”

“What I mean,” said Jim, “why haven’t you and I taken up camera hunting years ago? Imagine some of the swell shots we could have had with cameras, and be able to have, instead of a few horns hung up on the wall, beautiful enlargements of pictures of wild game, deer, moose and even bears, to adorn our homes and stand as a lasting record of our skill as hunters?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess cameras don’t go bang.”

“When I think of it,” said Jim, moodily. “That time I was standing at the beaver dam and that glorious buck came by me within twelve feet.”

“You missed it with your gun,” I reminded him. “Probably you would have missed it with your camera.”

“I could have made three or four pictures of him,” declared Jim. “Imagine. I heard a twig crack in the thicket. Then a full five minutes elapsed. Nothing stirred. As it was, I was standing there, with my rifle ready, slowly starting to shake and tremble with buck fever. Then, with a bound, he came out, his head laid back, his great antlers glittering in the sun, to pass so close to me I was actually frozen, with astonishment. In that five minutes, I could have got my camera set, my time set, my focus fixed. And the way he leaped out and halted and stood glaring at me not twenty feet off, with one of these new fast cameras, I could have had a picture that would have been one of my proudest possessions.”

“Or imagine, “I contributed, “hunting birds with a camera. That would be my line.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “how about selling our guns and buying cameras, these new candid cameras?”

“We could have fun,” I admitted. “Until about next summer, when we’d begin to hanker for our guns again. It’s a hobby that seems to last only for about three or four rolls of film.”

“Ah, but with us,” argued Jim, “reformed hunters. It would be like reformed drunks eating apples. Without our guns, we’d have to do something.”

So, at lunch hour, we strolled around to a camera store and sized the situation up. There were certainly a lot of new kinds of cameras since we had last pulled a bellows. There were handy little outfits, with interchangeable lenses running into three figures. There were cameras not much bigger than a package of cigarettes, with a film about the size of a thimble, with which, as the salesman explained to us, you could take a picture even of a detective and he would never know it. Palmed photography, as it were. There were about 40 different kinds of film for about 90 different kinds of cameras.

“When I was last in a camera store,” I told the clerk, “there were about seven different kinds of cameras and only one kind of film for each. The cameras were all standing open inside glass showcases, and it reminded me of an undertaker’s. The nearest thing to an undertaker’s was the camera store. Now look at you.”

To Set an Objective

And it certainly was a scene of glitter and color, cameras in green and pink and yellow, and everything very jazzy and chromium-plated.

So he showed us one of the newest candid cameras. He talked about “shiners” and light meters, and it seemed more like University mathematics than just up and banging a camera, the way I recalled it. The prices staggered us.

We asked him if he took anything in exchange, like guns or anything, and he said no.

So we went a little farther up the street to a gun shop and made some casual inquiries as to the turn-in value of sundry guns, rifles, micrometer sights, gun cases and what not.

“Well,” said the gun clerk, there isn’t much call for that old-fashioned equipment, but we could allow you perhaps $15 or $20 for it if you are buying a new outfit.”

Back at the office, we decided to use what cameras we had and perhaps borrow one, if we knew anybody that had got tired of theirs. But it seems the best way to remind anybody that they have an expensive camera which they ought to use oftener is to ask to borrow it.

“What have you in mind?” I asked Jim.

“It’s a poor time of year to start,” said he, “but at least we can go out into the country and look around for what we can see. We ought to set an objective, the same as hunting with guns. For instance, we might go out this week end to hunt jack rabbits.”

“There’s an idea,” I agreed. “But how could we get near enough a jack rabbit to take his picture? It would just be a speck.”

“Use this new modern film that guy was telling us about,” said Jim, “and enlarged, that speck will prove to be a jack rabbit, clear as crystal, in full flight.”

“But they get up so quick,” I pointed out.

“Don’t you see,” cried Jim, “what a sport this can be? You know how it is hunting jack rabbits with a gun. Walking across stubble fields, along snake fences, and not a sign of anything. You are going along very careless. You would say that no living creature, not even a mouse, could hide in that bare stubble. And then, all of a sudden, with a soundless bound, a great big jack rabbit, as big as a calf, leaps up not twenty feet from you and starts away with fifteen foot hops.”

“How would we ever have time to focus?” I demanded.

“We would have our cameras set,” explained Jim, “the same as we have our guns loaded and cocked. We would just have to up and bang, the same as with our guns.”

“Well, we can try,” I submitted.

“And once we get good,” said Jim, “we can plan trips for deer, moose, bears, ducks. I can just see me in a blind, shooting pictures of flocks of ducks storming into my decoys.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and wishing you had a gun, and throwing your camera into the drink in rage.”

“Not if I get some swell pictures that I can keep for years and show for my trouble.”

“Your walls,” I stated, “will hold just so many enlargements. Photograph albums grow fat and shabby. But you can eat ducks forever and ever.”

Across the Stubble

However, we went out Saturday. Jim had got from some camera fiend a little book that had tables and scales in it, showing exactly how much time to allow for certain lights. And he had got for a dollar a tiny gadget that you looked through. I had numbers in it, which you could faintly see. Depending on the light, the faintest number you could see was the one to work to, in the printed tables. It was a little complicated. It was like reading railway time tables, only the signs were different. We spent about an hour or so, after we had parked our car down a promising looking side-road, trying to figure out the light tables. So we gave it up and decided to take everything the old way. 25th of a second, distance inf. and the little hole open as wide as it would go.

“That has taken millions of good pictures,” said Jim. “It will do for us.”

So, with cameras held open and ready, we started across the wintry stubble fields, heading for a distant clump of dark cedars that suggested a brook.

“Where there are brooks,” said Jim, “there is game.”

Walking slowly and alert, we quartered the first two fields very thoroughly. It was a cold day, and it got pretty cold, even with gloves on, holding a hard chilly camera in a position of readiness. So we rigged up straps and handkerchiefs to hang the cameras around our necks.

Some little gray birds got up and cheeped and flew away, and by the time I had decided whether or not to try a shot at them, they were so far off that they do not show on the negative at all, just a thin edge of land and a lot of sky.

“Don’t shoot at everything,” protested Jim.

“It was just a practice shot,” I explained.

We found another field, full of dead weeds, burrs, stickers, prongs and sheep-snatchers, which we waded through very stealthily without raising so much as a small bird. So at the end of it, I snapped a candid camera shot of Jimmie bent down picking burrs off himself, and he shot one of me climbing a fence.

“Those will be the kind of thing,” said Jim, “informal, unposed stuff, our descendants will be interested in.”

“Except that I got you from the back,” I corrected, “and it might be anybody.”

The next field led down to the cedar clump and there was a little frozen brook running in it, ice and tiny falls making some pretty closeups, which I took and then Jim reminded me that I was set at infinity. So I finished up the roll, pacing the distances.

“Nice little shots,” agreed Jim, “of icicles and stuff. Very interesting. A good big fat album of that kind of thing certainly ought to amuse your guests whenever they call around.”

“All right,” I declared. “What have you got?”

“The thing about camera hunting,” said Jim. “Is the same as shooting. Wait till something turns up. Don’t bang your gun just for the fun of hearing it go off.”

As we climbed out of the valley of cedars, we saw a farm in the near distance.

“Good,” said Jum, “at least we can get some shots at cattle and pigs and barnyard stuff. There is a lot of humor and human interest in really characteristic shots of everyday beasts. We can stir ’em up and get them to show a little action.”

“You tickle a pig,” I said, “and I’ll get a picture of it.”

We walked across the fields to the farm, and as we drew near, we saw a little cluster of cows gathered in a fence corner, numbly feeding on a pile of hay. The farmer had let them out for a little fresh air which does not come often to cows in winter.

They looked up at us as we drew quietly near.

“Just that look of dumb curiosity,” said Jim, “would make a nice picture if we could get a close-up.”

“Cows won’t hurt you,” I assured him.

Taking our cameras in our hands and setting them, we began to stalk the cows, watching down in our finders to get the distance right.

I was looking down in the finder, preparing to say moo or otherwise attract their attention, when I heard a kind of a loud snort, and Jim’s feet pounding heavily on the frozen earth.

I looked up just in time to see that one of the cows was a bull, a large bull with that lithe humped look some bulls have, and, as he slowly curled around and advanced, I caught a glimpse of Jim’s vanishing back.

Instead of taking the fence which was quite handy, I too turned, and saw that Jim had reached a small tree and was already winging himself up into the branches. By the time I got to the tree, I discovered the lowest branch was too high for my reach, and the bull, without any excitement at all, was right behind me.

“Keep running around the tree,” shouted Jimmie from aloft.

Which I did, and the bull kept coming around after me, while above Jim kept screaming:

“Farther out, farther out, I can’t get you in focus!”

But I didn’t get farther out. And Jim, leaning down aiming his camera kept screaming orders at me and clicking his camera, until the farmer arrived and, with a fork, prodded the bull away.

“I never saw,” declared Jim, coming angrily down out of the tree, “less co-operation in my life. The most wonderful candid camera shot in the world, it would have been the sensation of camera shows all over the earth, and you wouldn’t even get in focus.”

I am happy to say that none of Jim’s shots turned out, as he had his finger over the lens hole in all of them.


Editor’s Note: Remember that all camera settings at the time were manual, and that they would not know how the pictures turned out until they were developed.

Don’t Shoot!

“It’s me,” I screeched, as Jimmie took aim. “And the rug! Don’t shoot!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 27, 1934.

“These bear rugs,” said Jimmie Frise, “make this open job of yours a very nice little car.”

“Yes,” I admitted. “Considering it is four years old. But an open car is the only car for a sportsman.”

We were headed out for the country on a rabbit hunt. Our friend Eddie, who owns hounds, was to meet us at one of those big swamps beyond Fergus.

“A sportsman,” opined Jimmie, “has a pretty comfortable life, take it all around.”

“Yet it has its dangers,” I pointed out. “To the casual spectator, seeing us bowling along comfortably smothered in fur rugs, and in our snappy mackinaw clothes, it might look like a life of ease. But consider the hard work we do, the tramping for miles across fields, the struggling through dangerous swamps, and then the guns. Don’t forget the guns. The dangers of carrying firearms and shooting them off, that’s the peril.”

“Sport is not sport,” said Jim, “if it has no element of danger or risk in it.”

“Is golf sport?” I asked.

“Well, you might get hit by a golf ball.”

“Sport,” I said, “in its truest sense, is doomed. You can’t shoot live pigeons any more. As a little boy, I recall attending live bird shoots and seeing my uncle bang down a hundred pigeons without a miss as they were released from a trap. We can’t enjoy that any more. Little by little, all the sturdier forms of sport are being slowly strangled. When I first went deer hunting, we could kill two deer each, and we had a month open season. Now we have twelve days to kill one, and we aren’t allowed to use hounds to chase them to us.”

“The world is getting more humane,” said Jim.

“But all the time it is becoming more humane toward wild animals,” I protested, “the more cruel the world is becoming toward men. More human beings have been shot, murdered, mangled, tortured and gassed in the past twenty-five years of the reform of sport than in the previous thousand years of stag hunting, bull baiting and cock fighting. It looks to me as if man, being denied the outlet of killing animals and birds, has turned his attention to his own species.”

“You’re a swell theorist,” admitted Jimmie.

“A man is entitled to a little danger, a little violence,” I continued. “You can’t suppress it. You can’t cut it out of him with a surgical instrument. Sooner or later, we are going to have to go back over the past five hundred years of reform and do it all over again by taking into account the true character of human nature.”

“Well,” said Jimmie, “we still have a little rabbit hunting left.”

“Sure, but now you can only get a gun license from September 1 to April 30,” I corrected. “And every year the farmers are putting more restrictions on us. You wait. Inside of a few years, we won’t be even allowed to hunt rabbits.”

Just a Few Sports Left

“We will still be able to play golf, tennis, bowls,” said Jim.

“We will still be able to play these games that meet with the approval of the reformers who rule us. People,” I said, driving more rapidly, “who have no hunger, no urge, no fire, no blood in themselves, and who go about enviously depriving their healthier and more natural fellows of a little action, a little excitement.”

“Rabbit hunting,” said Jim, “sometimes has a lot of excitement in it. I love the music of the hounds, the sight of them, all brightly colored, coming streaming through the woods or across the fields. The shooting of the rabbit is only an incident in the whole adventure. It’s the chase that counts.”

“I feel ashamed, every time I go rabbit hunting,” said l. “When I think of my ancestors hunting stags and wild boars, bears and wolves.”

“Did you get these bears?” asked Jimmie, fondling the glossy furs we were cuddled in.

“No,” I admitted. “One was sent to me by a friend in the bush. The bear got its head stuck in an empty jam pail out on the garbage dump, so my friend had to put it out of its misery. The other one I bought from a gentleman who peddled it around the office.”

“Very romantic, both of them,” agreed Jim.

“They make a snug article to go rabbit hunting in,” said I.

“They give you a sense of adventure anyway,” agreed Jim, settling back and inhaling the chill October air as we skimmed northwestward toward our tryst with Eddie and his pack of rabbit hounds.

We took turns in driving, and Jim had the last lap that bore us through Fergus and out some lonely autumn roads to a region of far-flung black swamps, where the bright swamp hare was numerous in his coat now changing from brown to snow white.

We met Eddie at the prearranged crossroads. He had a small truck, the back of which is for holding the hounds. He led us down some narrow swampy roads, turning right, and then left, as he penetrated deeper and deeper into the gloomy depths of cedar and spruce. The swamp was very wet, the road treacherous, but at the end of twenty minutes we came out on a stoney pasture, lonely and bleak in the gray weather, and all we could see on all sides were vast areas of silent brooding swamp.

The hounds were crazy to be let loose. Six of them, they raced about, excited and whining, watching us set up our guns and donning our hunting coats. Then they began sniffing about the edges of the pasture, and before we had got the cars half parked in the pasture, one of them, Dainty, let loose a deep belling song and all of the six fled into the swamp with a music that has been thrilling the heart of men for thousands and thousands of years.

“Let’s get going,” spluttered Eddie. “You take the right side of the swamp, Jim, and you head straight in there. You’ll come to a ridge, about two hundred yards in. Stay there. That’s where most of the rabbits cross.”

Jim went one way. Eddie the other, vanishing into the dark impenetrable cedars, so I set a true course and followed Eddie’s directions. I found the ridge, a stoney mound, and there I took my stand, while far off the hounds made music.

It is lovely being alone in a swamp. The mystic silence, broken only by the tiny chirp of little autumn birds or the startled scurry of a squirrel. The sweet aromatic smell of the cedars and balsams. I picked a good spot from which I could watch in all directions, and then, gun ready across my arm, I waited for the hounds to bring the hare across my path.

But the hounds went farther and farther, until I could barely hear them, even in the silence. Now and again I would hear them coming nearer and I would get set and half raise my gun and aim it at imaginary rabbits, just to get my eye lined up. But then the music would grow faint again.

Bang! Far away, a shot. For fifteen minutes I listened intently before I heard the hounds again. This time they started less than a farm’s width away, and around in a great circle they went in the other direction. I heard them grow faint and near, near and faint, and then – Bang, bang! – two more shots, followed by silence.

I yelled.

“Jimmmiiieeeee!”

But only silence answered my cry. It was chilly, so I walked up and down the ridge. I sat down and waited. A wind had risen. No hounds, no shots disturbed the great stillness of the wind through the cedar tops.

“Hang it,” I said, “is this hunting?”

So I decided to go for a little walk through the swamp and see if I could kick out a rabbit for myself, without the aid of hounds.

It is easy to go wrong in a swamp. The farther I went, the worse the swamp got. I came to a dense thicket of alders and small willows, and when I tried to go back out of it the worse it got. I came to a little stream flowing through the swamp, and I followed it for ten minutes looking for a suitable log to cross it. By the time I found the log I could see the stoney meadow through the cedars, the meadow where our cars were parked.

Some people can pop across a log as easy as walking along a pavement. I nearly always slip off. This time I slipped off and fell into the small creek. The creek was not deep, but one loses one’s balance and falls. I fell lengthwise in the chill little brook and before I could regain my feet I was thoroughly soaked from head to foot.

It was not three minutes out to the meadow and the car, but I was chattering with cold when I reached it. I removed my clothes in a twinkling and threw the bear robes about me. Then I reached for my car keys.

Jimmie had them. When he got out of the car he had just popped them in his pocket.

You can’t dry yourself on a bearskin lap robe. There was nothing else in either car. And I couldn’t start the car, to drive out to the last farmhouse we had passed to ask them to dry my garments at the stove.

“Boy,” I said, “you’ll catch pneumonia!”

I huddled under the bearskins, but they are stiff things that don’t lend themselves to tucking in. Gaps are always left for wind to blow up.

I tooted the car horn, long and loud.

No answer. No hounds. No shots.

I fired two shots rapid, a signal of distress if ever there was one.

A Grand Target

A blue jay laughed from a hidden tree. Far away in the direction Jimmie had taken I heard the sound of an axe chopping.

“Jimmm-eeeee, hoy!” I yelled.

But the distant axe went on chopping, so I figured there was a farm at the other side of the swamp and likely Jimmie would be there conversing with the farmer or even drinking cider in the farmhouse around the kitchen stove with the folks.

I spread my garments over the hood of the car and wrapped the largest rug around me. I pulled on my soggy hunting boots and started in through the belt of swamp in the direction of the axe. It would at least keep me from dying of goose-flesh.

As I pushed through the swamp I decided to keep up a regular call:

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I repeated at every step.

The swamp was deeper and wetter the way Jimmie had taken. I crossed two creeks and each time I saw a clearer place ahead, I found on arriving at it, it was only a patch of impenetrable alders.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I repeated loudly, as I came from under each cedar tree.

Every fifty yards I paused to halloo for Jim. But the silence was profound, the day was grayer and the air more chill.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I called, with monotonous regularity.

Suddenly behind me I heard a terrible sound.

It was the sharp, startled bellow and bay of a hound.

Before I could turn to look I heard other hounds join in the chorus, and in an instant I knew I was the prey of the whole pack of Eddie’s hounds. There is something panic-striking about a pack of hounds on your trail. I should have simply dropped the bear rug and stood forth, in my human mastery, before the surprised hounds. But I did what rabbits do, and foxes, what Liza did with Little Eva in her clasp as she crossed the ice – I turned and ran like a rabbit.

It was all a matter of a few seconds. I could hear the hounds coming, the full terrible chorus of them, high ones and low ones, belling and baleful, a swift, inescapable choir of wild savage voices, frantic with excitement, and I did some leaps that would have credited an Olympic athlete.

Then came the shot.

Just a terrific bang amidst the cedars, and at its call I fell down. In another instant the hounds were on top of me, tearing at the rug I clutched about my shoulders.

“Help, help!” I yelled in muffled tones.

“Hold still,” came Jimmie’s breathless voice, “until I get him in the head!”

“It’s me,” I screeched. “And the rug! Don’t shoot!”

So Jim ran up and kicked the hounds off and raised me to my feet.

“Thank goodness,” I gasped, “you are a punk shot!”

We wrapped the rug around me and led the way out while the hounds and I slunk in confusion behind him. We drove out to the farmhouse and sat around the kitchen while my clothes were dried.

“You see,” said Jim, “there’s excitement even in rabbit hunting. I should say we have all the thrill in rabbit hunting any man would want.”

“Quite,” said I.


Editor’s Notes: Mackinaw coats were standard for hunting back then.

Bull-baiting was a blood “sport” where a dog would fight with a bull. Dogs were bred specifically for this, and that is where bulldogs come from. Bull-baiting was made illegal in the 19th century. Cock fighting (between roosters) was also illegal, but continued for some time anyway.

Liza was a character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin who escaped slavery with her son by running across the not quite frozen Ohio River. It was based on a true story. I’m not sure why Greg says Eva is Liza’s daughter, Eva was a different character in the book. Many of the plays and stage productions bastardized the original book, so his memory could be based on anything.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

Moo to You!

I lowed loudly into the moose horn. Rifle up, Jimmie wheeled as a form appeared suddenly in the bushes.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 24, 1936.

“Speaking of moose,” said Jimmie Frise, which we weren’t, “I would like to bag a couple of those noble beasts before my hunting days are over.”

“They tell me,” I said, “that no form of sport has as little justification as moose hunting. You find the huge brutes far from any road or railway. They weigh from 700 to 1,200 pounds, like a horse. It is impossible for the hunter to carry the animal with him. So he cuts off the horns and one or maybe two of the hams, and leaves the rest of it to rot in the swamp.”

“Well,” said Jim, “the whole animal finally rots in the swamp anyway. So what’s the difference?”

“A lot of difference,” I declared. “In the meantime, it lived. Isn’t that a difference?”

“I’m not so sure,” said Jim. “I often look at an animal and sometimes at humans and wonder if it makes any difference, even to them, whether they live or not. What I mean, is life itself interesting to them? Now you take a moose. It is born to trouble. All summer long, from the time it is born, the flies plague it. It nearly goes crazy with flies. It spends a frantic summer, hiding in the swamp and wading in the lakes and then comes winter, and the poor thing, with its long ungainly legs, is forced to plunge and stumble about in the deep snow, with the temperature at forty below. Can you say, offhand, whether life is interesting to it under those conditions? Is lite even worth while?”

“We’re not moose,” I defended. “We have no right to say. Maybe a moose finds it all very agreeable.”

“You are assuming,” said Jim, “that a moose wishes to be born. But it may be nature just forced that poor moose to exist. As if nature were some sort of a willful bully, who said, here you, exist. And then turned loose, to suffer and plunge and stagger about, a creature as ungainly and ugly and awkward as a moose.”

“I still think,” I declared, “that because moose exist, they must find pleasure in existing.”

“Yours is a cock-eyed philosophy,” said Jimmie. “A pollyanna philosophy. All’s right with the world. Personally, I don’t think it matters one way or another to a moose whether it gets shot by a hunter or pulled down in its infancy by a wolf or bear, or whether it lives on year after year, eating birch twigs and wandering about a lot of fly-infested swamps and bitter wintry glens, until, aged and infirm, helpless and starving, it finally lies down and dies, haying accomplished nothing.”

“A lot of human beings,” I agreed, “live the same story.”

“Don’t you think,” demanded Jim, “that a moose’s highest destiny is to be hunted by a man, trailed and pursued and finally outwitted, to fall quickly and mercifully to a hunter’s bullet, and then be consecrated by having its head mounted, with its horns, of which it was so proud, ornamenting, for years, the hall of some fine house, to be admired and respected by scores, by hundreds of men?”

“We don’t know our own destiny,” I said. “How can we figure out a moose’s?”

Just Like a Crooner

“That’s a far nobler destiny,” stated Jim, “than in old age falling down in a swamp and being unable to get up, and taking a week to pass away. And then porcupines come and gnaw its antlers.”

“On the Vimy Pilgrimage,” I said, “I met a New Brunswick guide who taught me how to call moose.”

“Really,” cried Jimmie.

“We had no birch bark,” I explained; “however, the guide – his name was McWhirlpool, or some such Scottish name – got some cardboard off a carton and made a moose caller out of it. It’s a little megaphone. We sat out on the boat deck, calling. The ship’s officers just thought it was somebody being specially seasick.”

“How does it go?” asked Jim.

So I made a megaphone out of some of Jim’s drawing paper and proceeded to demonstrate the art which had been transmitted to me in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

“You call moose,” I explained to Jim, “by imitating the seductive and plaintive sounds of a cow moose. In the very early morning or late evening, you hide yourself in the bushes near some spot where you have seen the footprints of a bull, and commence calling. In case there is a bull quite near, you begin by making soft calls, kneeling down like this and placing the mouth of the horn close to the ground.”

I knelt down and began. The New Brunswick guide had practically given me a diploma for moose calling, because we rehearsed every morning on deck for eight days from Montreal to Le Havre.

Beginning on a high whining note, and muffling it by putting the mouth of the megaphone close to the floor, I let it go, like this “Ooooo-wauuugh”. The ooooo very high and whiney, the waugh falling abruptly to a guttural cough.

“That ought to call something,” said Jim, very impressed.

“You don’t call too often,” I explained. “In case there is a bull handy, you wait fifteen minutes or more after the first call. And listen. The call of a bull is very brief and gruff. It is a sort of choff. A sound, almost, like a distant axe chopping, once. But if you get no reply to your first call, you try again, still leaving the horn pointing down and fairly close to the ground, so as to muffle the sound. You make a little longer, this time. Like this: Oooo-waaaauugh-augh-augh. Oooo-eeeeee.”

“That was a beauty,” admitted Jim, getting up and closing the office windows, in case.

“It is a sound, McWhirlpool told me,” I said, “something like a bugle, something like a fire siren and something like the heaves.”

“You’ve got it to perfection,” agreed Jim. “Then what happens?”

“You listen again for a good fifteen minutes,” I explained. “In the foggy dawn or the increasing dark, it is a chilly and eerie business. You listen for the distant choff of bull. Or the crackling of the bushes as the monster comes to the call. If still nothing answers, you make another call. This time you start with the megaphone pointed to the earth and then slowly as you make the call, you go through contortions, twisting your body around until, at the conclusion of the call, the megaphone is pointing straight to the sky.”

“Just like a crooner,” said Jim, “in a snappy modern orchestra singing a blues number.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “And McWhirlpool always made the most agonized faces as he called. Again you listen. If you hear the bull answer, or if you hear any sounds in the bushes, you wait. If the bull is suspicious, you can do two things. You can emit a couple of low moans through the horn, muffled, of course. Or even better, you can thrash around in the bushes yourself. Snapping twigs, to pretend there is another bull answering the call. That brings him. He can’t bear the idea of somebody beating him. So with a loud choff and a terrific cracking of bushes, the bull charges into the open. And bang, you’ve got him.”

“Or else you haven’t got him,” said Jim, “and then what?”

“McWhirlpool always said, you’ve got him,” I replied.

“It certainly sounds exciting,” cried Jim. “Compared with ordinary hunting, where you just see a deer and up and crack him down, this moose-calling has everything – mystery, drama, suspense, action.”

“Unfortunately,” I pointed out, “moose are vanishing from everywhere but where the rich and free can go. North of the transcontinental. Over the height of land. In Alaska. There used to be moose right around Peterboro.”

“I’ll tell you something in confidence,” said Jim. “There are still a few moose in Algonquin Park, and occasionally they stray out. This summer, there were moose in around some lakes I fished in Muskoka.”

“No,” said I.

“Yes,” said Jim. “The settlers were all excited. Two of the children on the way to school saw a cow and calf on the road. One evening, the settler where I stayed saw a huge bull wading among the lily pads across a little lake.”

“Ah,” I said, “they’ll all be gone by now. Those settlers.”

“I’ll find out,” said Jim. “The hardware man in Huntsville can drive out in half an hour. I’ll telephone him to-night. If the moose are still there, we’ll go up over a week-end and call them.”

“We can’t shoot them yet,” I reminded Jim.

“We will just call them, for experience,” said Jim, “and the thrill of it and to prove they are there. And if we take a rifle along, it will only be for the protection of life and property.”

Thus, when Jimmie telephoned me at midnight to say the moose were still hanging around the little lost trout lakes a few miles north and east of Huntsville, and it was only a five-hour drive at the most, plans were completed forthwith for the week-end. Jim would take his thirty-thirty and a camera. I would take my 7-millimetre carbine, my binoculars and a knife to cut myself a proper moose call of birch bark.

“There’ll be a story in it,” cried Jim. “A front page story.”

All the Wild World Watching

And Saturday found us steaming at daybreak up Yonge St., and by midmorning amidst all the autumn splendors of Muskoka; and before noon, passing out a rocky and rutted settler’s road to a lonely and miserable cabin on a lake where a tall and amiable settler, his wife and five children, all assured us the moose were still very much in evidence.

“You really did see a bull moose across a lake, this summer, didn’t you?” I checked up.

“Well, it certainly looked like it,” said the settler.

“And the children, I hear, saw a moose cow and call on the road?” I double checked.

“The very day after I saw the bull,” said the settler, “Reenie here and little Wilbert came rushing home from school with the news.”

Jim said he preferred to go out with me alone because of a bad attack of bronchitis the settler had that caused him to bark a great deal. The settler rented us his canoe and gave us directions for going up the lake to a creek and following the creek through three other lakes until we reached a country of spruce swamps and rocky ridges, which was the likeliest country to find moose. I cut a bark horn 15 inches long and four inches at the exit. And two hours before dark, Jimmie and I, moving with all the caution that McWhirlpool had advised, hid our canoe in the brush and took up our stand on the edge of a little lake margined with beaver meadow and surrounded with dark and forbidding spruce.

Just the act of moving stealthily induces a curious excitement. Jim and I were shaky and our voices, though whispered, were unsteady as we set the stage for action. I took post back of a log and Jim stood back of me, with his rifle ready, in case. Because everybody knows a bull moose, especially when excited, is liable to be an ugly customer. My own rifle I rested handy.

The sky was fading to a lovely color. The mysterious still little lake reflected the menacing darkness of the spruce. A sense of all the wild world watching made us shiver.

“Begin,” whispered Jim.

Setting the horn’s mouth close to the rock, I let go the first anguished cry.

“Eeeee-oooooo-waaaauuugh!”

Though I uttered it easily, that weird call echoed and rang and vanished across the quiet evening, and even the spruces seemed to stand stock still with astonishment.

Jim and I stared fixedly at the surrounding wilderness. Not a sound. Not even a dry leaf rattled. Not even a chickadee called.

Ten minutes passed, by the watch.

“Let her go again,” whispered Jim, turning to stand back to back with me, so as to guard all fronts.

“Oooooo – waaaaugh – augh – augh – mmmmmmmm!” I wailed through the trumpet, ending in a long drawn moan.

Again we sat immobile, our skins prickling, while the unearthly call rang across the lonely silence and vanished away in the distance.

“Psst,” said Jim, backing up against me.

Unquestionably, something on the far side of the little lake was moving in the brush. Without a shadow of doubt, something was now crashing amidst the spruce. Jim wheeled to face the same way as me, and I heard the snick of his rifle hammer as he cocked it to fire.

Silence. Silence vast and mysterious and throbbing.

“Gi-ive,” whispered Jim, “the little moans.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I lowed in the horn. “Arnnhh, unngh, mmmmmmm.”

Instantly, the distant crashing across the lake was renewed. We could hear the monster coming around the left side. Through spruce and alder and underbrush, something was coming, at an anxious, eager pace. We could hear its antlers crashing on the trees, hear the plunging of its great body.

“Don’t shoot,” I hissed, “unless it charges.”

“Take my camera,” whispered Jim hoarsely. “Get it ready.”

“Light too poor,” I answered, resting my rifle handy.

The thrashing suddenly ceased, forty yards away amidst the dense spruce. Ceased, and left us with hearts thudding in our ears and our eyes bulging with strain. I looked at Jim. He nodded.

In a confidential and almost whispered tone, I let go a low, enticing moan.

But the great bull did not come charging into the open. Instead, as we stood there rooted to the rock, we heard the unmistakable tiny sounds of something walking with stealth, with cunning, with caution known only to the wild, and coming, through the colored dusk, towards us.

A deep exhaled breath suddenly blew right at our backs. Jim wheeled, rifle up. I, after waiting a dignified instant to feel the hoist of giant antlers on my back, wheeled too.

A cow, a plain common barnyard cow, with eager and delighted expression on her countenance, was thrusting her head through the brush.

Jim laughed first. I joined later. Because the music of human laughter was a sweet and pleasing sound amidst that dark land. The cow followed us and saw us off in our canoe, mooing to us in the gathering dark as we headed south.

And the settler said it probably was his heifer that had wandered away last August in the hot spell, and he thanked us very cordially for locating it for him, which he would go and get at the earliest opportunity, maybe next week some time, if he got the chance, because he had so much wood to get in before the snow.


Editor’s Notes: The Vimy Pilgrimage was the trip made by thousands of Canadians to France in 1936 for the dedication of the Vimy Memorial. This happened for Greg and Jim that same year in the spring.

A thirty-thirty is a .30-30 Winchester rifle.

What is Civilian Morale?

Wipers had one of the decoys … we immediately shoved the punt out and went for him. He all but upset us as Jimmie heaved his wet and heavy bulk in over the side.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 17, 1942.

“The way I look at it,” propounded Jimmie Frise, “the meat shortage justifies us going duck shooting.”

“All over this country,” I responded, “people just like us are still able to find excellent excuses for doing what they like to do as usual.”

“What would be gained, to the war effort of Canada,” demanded Jim, “if we did not go duck shooting for one day?”

“I can’t put my answer into practical words, Jim,” I admitted, “but there is an answer and it isn’t practical. It is spiritual. It is mystical.”

“Mystical fiddlesticks,” scoffed Jim. “One day out of three long months of the duck season. September, October, November. One day.”

“It is the religion of it,” I fumbled, trying to find the right answer. “Our religion now should be the war. Not ducks. Not relaxation. Not civilian morale. Not anything but war, in our hearts, in our heads, day, night, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thur…”

“Look,” said Jim, picking up a pencil and making notes on a piece of paper to show how practical the whole question was, “we leave here by train – no gas wanted – at 8 pm. We are at Trenton three hours later. We are at Washabong Lake 40 minutes later, in Terry’s cabin. Up at 4.30 a.m., and out on the duck marsh until 10 a.m. We each have 10 ducks. Big northern blacks. Fat bluebills. Maybe a couple of red heads. Maybe even a mallard or a canvasback. Big, juicy, rich ducks, all added to the sum total of the country’s food supply. Ducks which we interrupted in their flight to the United States, where they would be added to the food supply of that nation. And don’t forget the foreign exchange involved. Add 10 per cent to the value of those ducks the minute they fall in the drink. They were U.S.-bound ducks until you shot them.”

“Ten ducks each, Jim,” I interrupted, “is wishful thinking.”

“Those ducks, at four pounds each,” went on Jimmie, still adding up figures on the paper, like an accountant, “make 80 pounds of highest grade provender contributed to the food supply of the nation at war. While we eat those ducks we are sparing the country’s ration of beef, lamb and other food materials. And all at the cost of one morning which we would otherwise have spent sitting at our desks trying to think up stories to write or cartoons to draw.”

“We Must Catch Fire”

“It sounds practical, Jim,” I sighed, “but it isn’t. There is something involved here, something mysterious, spiritual…”

“Don’t pull that mystical stuff on me,” warned Jimmie. “Never in our history has it been more necessary to be practical, to be icy cold practical…”

“We’ve been practical,” I cut in, “ever since September 1st, 1939. Now it is necessary for us to be infinitely more than practical. Now we must be spiritual. Now we must catch fire, as the Germans, Japs and Russians are on fire. Practical considerations – which have governed us all from start to finish so far -must go by the board. What is practical, what is reasonable, what is possible must be flung to the winds. The practical men who have been in charge of things for three years, the leaders, directors, managers generals, colonels, must be got rid of at once. And the crazy men, the fiery men, the impractical and visionary and mad men who carry fire in their very hands and who can set us afire and know what to do with fire when they set it – these must come to rescue us from the practical.”

“Sheer dither,” said Jim balling up the paper and throwing it away.

“Well, Jim,” I sighed, “I’ve been all over the world in this war. I saw the highly practical Frenchmen being blown like autumn leaves before a tornado of mad dreamers in steel tanks. There were a thousand practical ways of halting those insane men in the tanks, but with the infernal imagination of the mad the tanks always came round from an impractical direction. I’ve just now come home from flying 2,000 miles up the Pacific coast to Alaska, and I’ve visited dozens of stations where our young men, in the uniforms that attest to their vision, wait with strange expressions in their eyes for the slow feet of the practical to catch up to them and set them free upon their inspired mission. Love is not practical. Hate is not practical. None of the greatest deeds in human history has been practical. As a man falls in love, so must we now go to war.”

“Puh,” said Jimmie impolitely. “What has that got to do with a couple of middle-aged ginks like us taking a morning off to shoot a few ducks?”

“We should be afraid to go duck shooting,” I said darkly.

But shortly after supper Jimmie walked around the corner to my house with a large hay-colored dog.

“This is Tod Brown’s Chesapeake Bay retriever,” he said. “By the name of Ypres, pronounced Wipers.”

He was a terrific-looking dog. He had baleful yellow eyes and when he glared at you he held his breath an instant, as if deciding whether to attack you or not. It was a relief to see him start breathing again and let his tongue out.

“Mild as a lamb,” said Jim, snapping his fingers and caressing the beast when it ran to him. “See, here. Look at this Chesapeake coat. Dense, wiry yet soft. Like a duck’s coat. He can enter the iciest water without suffering. The Chesapeake is the most famous of all duck retrievers, strong, vigorous, intelligent. Tod Brown says Wipers is trained to a hair. He has retrieved hundreds of ducks for Tod in the three years he’s had him.”

Wipers the Retriever

“What are you doing with him?” I inquired coldly.

“I’ve decided,” said Jim, “to respect your principles as you respect mine. I am leaving on the 8 o’clock train for Trenton. And I am taking Wipers here as my companion instead.”

“I hope you have a good time,” I said grimly.

“I will,” said Jim heartily. “I’ve never yet had a real good shoot with a retriever to do all the dirty work. None of this weary business of having to shove the punt out of the duck blind every time you knock a duck down. No time wasted rowing in the cold and ice after a dead duck. The minute the bird hits the water, out goes Wipers here, overboard, swims unerringly to the duck, brings it back, shakes himself politely outside the blind and then comes back in to lie at your feet, alert and watchful, to leap again the minute a duck hits the water. Tod says the dog is practically human.”

I looked at Wipers and he certainly didn’t look human. He looked more like a grizzly bear. He was fat. His yellow eyes had an alert expression in them all right. But I didn’t like the look in them whenever our eyes met, for invariably he shut his mouth, held his breath and glared at me, as though still undecided…

It took me only a few minutes to pack my old clothes, gun and shells and make the necessary arrangements with the family. A newspaperman’s family is trained to unforeseen circumstances.

We arrived at Trenton on schedule, where Terry met us, and we got Wipers out of the baggage car and piled into Terry’s station wagon for the short run to Wishabong Lake, where Terry’s cabin nestles almost amid the bulrushes of the finest duck shooting in the country. Being hardened duck shooters, we wasted no time sitting around talking at the cabin, but headed straight to bed, for the few hours until Terry would wake us by personally pulling us out of bed at 4.30 a.m.

Wipers had been permitted to sleep in the kitchen. And even the preparations for breakfast had not waked him by the time I reached the kitchen. Even the cheering sounds of plates and forks rattling as we hastily ate the eggs and fried oatmeal porridge which is Terry’s established duck breakfast failed to disturb the big brute lying on a hooked rug back of the stove.

In fact when we were all ready to go, at a minute before 5 a.m., Jimmie had to practically lift the dog to its feet.

“Maybe he’s sick?” I suggested.

But there was no sign of illness in him, only a sort of burly reluctance as we opened the kitchen door and urged him to accompany us out into the black and windy night.

“Come on, you sap,” commanded Jimmie, shoving Wipers out the door with his knees. “Duck shooting! See? Quack, quack!”

As we walked down the path to the punts Wipers quietly eluded us in the dark and Jim had to go back and get a string on him.

“Some swell retriever,” I offered.

“This is his first trip this season,” said Jim, hauling the brute along; “maybe he has to get freshened up each year. Tod said he was raring to go.”

“Some raring,” I submitted, as we chose our punt and shoved it frostily into the dark water.

Terry had prepared our favorite blind for us, on a point where the ducks pass in droves at the first glimmer of dawn. While Jim held Wipers in the stern, I rowed out to the blind, where we drew the punt safely in on the mud and rushes and got ourselves settled on the boxes so that we could watch out over the blind for the passing ducks. A friend of Terry’s was to be in a blind opposite us, and Terry had arranged that the other fellow’s decoys would do for both of us, since the channel between the points did not allow of two sets. Anyway, it was more like pass shooting than shooting over decoys at this favorite point.

Wipers would not come into the blind. He insisted on standing in the stern of the punt, where he sniffed back towards the cabin and uttered loud, dismal whines.

“Shut up,” hissed Jim.

“Wurrrow,” said Wipers. “Yaw wooooo!”

I heaved a clod of mud at him. And even in the dark I could see his head turn sharply, his yellow eyes glare balefully at me while he shut his mouth and held his breath.

“I don’t care for that dog,” I told Jim confidentially.

In another five minutes we would be able to see the decoys bobbing quietly out in the gloom. And still the silly dog kept up his restless moaning and whining, his toenails scratching about in the punt.

“Aw, get him under control,” I demanded.

So Jimmie got in the punt and sat with Wipers, who still struggled restlessly, scratching and muttering, even though Jimmie was petting him.

“Bang!” went the gun of the shooter opposite. “Bang.”

In the Stranger’s Set

Vaguely I could see a flock of eight or 10 ducks wheeling or flaring in the faint light. But I didn’t get the gun on them.

But Wipers was all alert. He stood crossways now, his big head lifted as he stared intently across at the other gunner.

With a sudden leap, he hit the water.

“Whee!” cried Jim. “How’s that? Isn’t that the stuff? Look at him go.”

The rapidly increasing light showed Wipers’ head thrusting mightily through the water in the direction of the other hunter.

“Hey,” called Jim, “my retriever is on his way over for your duck. Don’t shoot him.”

“Okay,” muffled the stranger.

Wipers swam in among the decoys and presently turned and started plodding back.

He seemed to be having trouble.

“It’s a wounded duck,” explained Jim. “He can’t get a proper grip.”

Wipers would take a few strokes and then have to wheel around and take a new hold on the duck.

“See?” said Jimmie gleefully. “Now if we hadn’t had a retriever that wounded duck would never have been got. It would have hidden in the rushes and died a struggling death, wasted …”

Wipers struggled on, with numerous halts and turns. And at last, by which time it was good and light enough to see, he came near enough for us to behold what he had.

He had one of the decoys.

We immediately shoved the punt out and went for him. He all but upset us as Jimmie heaved his wet and heavy bulk in over the side.

“Reset the decoy,” I growled. “The best part of the flight is over. The cream.”

So we went on and reset the decoy in the stranger’s set.

“That’s quite a dog you got there,” called he.

At the sound of the stranger’s voice, Wipers rose up and stared with that same baleful glare. And before either of us could make a grab over the side he went, swimming strongly towards the stranger’s hide.

I was in the act of untangling the sinker and lowering it so as to set the decoy in its proper relation to the others. So that only by a miracle was the punt saved from upsetting entirely. As it was, we shipped several pailfuls of icy water which caught me in a sitting position.

“Some dog,” repeated the stranger from his hide. “Here, get the hell out of this!”

But Wipers was with him and seemed to be making friends.

“Come and get this bloody dog,” commanded the stranger.

Which we did anyway. Because I was thoroughly wet and Jim had scooped water in his boots. So we got Wipers and rowed back to Terry’s wharf and went and changed our clothes and sat around the fire to warm our chilled bones. Wipers, with a sigh of content relaxed on the hooked rug again.

And I got a pencil and a piece of paper

“Let’s see,” I began, “10 ducks each, that’s 20; at four pounds apiece…”

But Jimmie didn’t see the joke. And anyway, Terry had got the morning newscast which opened with the cheering information that the Russians were still putting up a glorious and savage resistance.


Editor’s Notes: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large-sized breed of dog belonging to the retriever, gundog, and sporting breed groups, similar in appearance to the Labrador Retriever, but with a wavy coat.

Ypres is a Belgian town that was central in several battles in World War 1. British troops called it Wipers.

The Golden Way

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

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

“The injustice of it!” stormed Jimmie Frise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then his rich uncle died,” growled Jim.

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

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

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

Curious Coincidence

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

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

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

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

“He woke up at last,” sighed Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s my idea, too,” agreed Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He would,” I said bitterly.

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

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

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

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

“Aw, no!” I groaned.

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

A Brain Wave

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

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

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

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

“The poacher?” inquired Jim.

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

“Enticed?” queried Jim eagerly.

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

“So?” urged Jim.

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

“Aha!” cried Jim.

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

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

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

“Aaaaah!” breathed Jimmie ecstatically.

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

Jim rubbed his hands with glee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmmmmmm….” I demurred.

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

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

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

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

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

Grain Grower in Action

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

The price was very steep. He demanded $10!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… uh … we … uh…”

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

“We … uh…I… ahh…”

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

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


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

Lumbago is the general term referring to low back pain.

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

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

Skunked Again

“Oooofff,” we both said as the car door opened. Mr. Jackson was sitting, feet up, with Lightning beside him and the skunk wrapped in a red handkerchief on the seat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 11, 1937.

“What I like about the country,” declared Jimmie Frise, “is the people.”

“All the scallywags,” I explained, “have been chased out of the country and have gone and hidden in the cities.”

“Well,” said Jim, “that may be a little broad. But it covers the situation. For instance, a young man grows up on the farm and turns out to be a little too bright for the country.”

“It’s the same thing,” I defined. “What does too bright usually mean?”

“Thousands of the finest people in cities,” stated Jim, “have come from the farms.”

“And thousands of the cities’ worst rascals, too,” I insisted. “Let’s be fair.”

“At any rate,” argued Jim, as we drove eagerly out into the wintry farm country, “we are agreed on one thing – there is a process of selection going on, as between city and country, that is leaving a mighty decent lot of pleasant, gentle people in the country. They are not the ambitious type. Not the grasping and grafting type.”

“Gumption is the word,” I interrupted. “If anybody has any gumption, they pack up and go to the city. And gumption covers a multitude of qualities, from the kind a young fellow has who becomes one of our greatest surgeons or ministers, to the kind of fellow who wants to skin widows and orphans alive.”

“Well,” explained Jim, “a man couldn’t become a great surgeon living on a lonely farm. You’ve got to give a man a terrible lot of sick and diseased people, before he can become a great physician. And as for widows and orphans, they are few and far between in the country, with plenty of people watching them all the time. A fellow couldn’t work up a real business skinning widows and orphans out here.”

“It’s curious,” I remarked, that there is really no counter-flow of people from the cities.”

“It’s on account of the plumbing, pure and simple,” said Jim. “Once accustom people to hot and cold water and indoor plumbing generally, and you can never get them back to the outside pump. There are in cities, tens of thousands, yes, perhaps millions of people who are living in misery and degradation, jobless, homeless, who would be happy as kings living on farms, working the slow, patient life, amidst the cattle and the land. But they prefer to live in degradation, with hot and cold laid on, rather than risk having to dig a path in the snow.”

“Some day,” I predicted, “cities will have walls again. So many are becoming dependent in cities, that taxes will presently be unable to bear the strain. Then the cities will build walls around themselves. And to get inside, you’ll have to have a passport, identifying you either as a citizen or as a business man on business bent. For every country man wanting to move in, arrangements will have to be made for a city man to move out. Suppose a bright young man on the farm has the makings of a distinguished banker. Before he can get into a city he will have to arrange with his parents or relatives or the county council to accept a young city man to come and live in the country.”

Looking for Jack-rabbits

“It sounds Chinese,” said Jim.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” I admitted. “The Chinese figured these things out thousands of years ago. Then they let the white men in, and now look at China. There is something essentially silly about white men, don’t you think?”

“I often get that notion,” agreed Jim, “hearing them talk.”

“Sooner or later,” I declared, “the country has got to cease producing bright young men.”

“Of course,” suggested Jim. “we’re forgetting that there is a certain flow of city men back into the country. I mean the retired bankers and big shots who buy swell big farms.”

“A lovely trade that is,” I agreed. “Imagine a pleasant comfortable township having a big shot suddenly come and buy 400 acres. A big shot used to having his own way and wangling everything he wanted by the methods familiar to all big shots.”

“Well,” said Jim, “the reeve and council and the various committees and the church wardens and managers, in that case, will appreciate the feelings of city men when some son of the soil rises in their midst and becomes general manager.”

“Fortunately,” I pointed out, these city big shots only come out to the country in their old age. It isn’t for long. Their children never dream of keeping the farm on. It comes back, after a little while, into the kindly arms of the country once more.”

“At a nice bargain,” said Jim.

“Where,” I inquired, looking out over the wintry fields heaving away to the frosty skyline, “were you figuring we’d start looking for jack-rabbits?”

“It’s only three or four concessions up,” said Jim. giving the car the gas. “I was talking to some kids that were on their way home from school, and they said nobody ever hunts around here. And I saw three jack-rabbits in about one mile.”

So we sat and watched the country wheel by, the huddled little farm homes, lost amidst the wide barren fields which, in summer, they seem to dominate. How curious it is that in summer a farmhouse seems to own its landscape. And in winter, the same farmhouse seems to own nothing.

As we rolled, we kept a wary eye for the big brown hares which in Ontario go by the mistaken name of jack-rabbits. They are the true European hare, a great big foreign hare that stays brown all year round, and goes to 12 and 15 pounds in weight commonly, and three or four pounds greater than that on occasion. It was introduced, as far as anybody can discover, during the war, when a breeder of them, down near Brantford, had a large pen of them washed away in a flood. From that 50 or so hares, they have multiplied to hundreds of thousands and have spread all over central Ontario and provide game for hunters by the tens of thousands. There are 80,000 gun licenses sold in Ontario, and about 50,000 of that number generally point at a jack-rabbit, so called, at least a few times in November and December. Jim’s and mine are two of them.

“This,” said Jim, as we came over a rise, “looks like the spot.”

Fence-Climbing and Clod-Hopping

Fields of stubble, fields of plow and green patches of winter wheat lifting away for rolling miles looked like the terrain favored by the big jacks. We saw some patches where the hares had scratched the frosty earth around the winter wheat. Parking the car on the ditch shoulder, we dismounted, set up guns and started for the pleasant game of fence-climbing and clod-hopping which is jack hunting. Separating the width of a field, and moving slowly and watchfully for the sudden springing and skedaddling big hares, we did four fences when we spied, coming towards us, a burly big figure of a man with a gun over his arm and a hound running forlornly beside him. Jim crossed the field to me.

“Here’s somebody,” said Jim, “can tell us where the jacks are. Whenever you see a man with a hound in the country, you know he isn’t feeding a hound for nothing. A hound is a one-purpose dog. It can’t fetch cattle. It won’t guard the house, being away hunting most of the time. See a hound, in the country, and you’ve got a man with an eye to rabbits, foxes, and coons.”

We went forward and met the stranger.

“Howdy,” he called cheerfully. “A nice day for scent, and not a rabbit in the county.”

We all leaned our guns up against the fence in the approved country fashion and prepared for a little conversation.

“I came past here a month ago,” said Jim, “and saw three jacks in the fields just as I passed by. I thought this particular stretch would be crawling with them.”

“Them three,” said the stranger, “must have been the three I got at the start of the season, me and Lightning here. If there is a rabbit in the township, Lightning will find him and tell the whole world, day and night, day after day until somebody comes and shoots it to keep him quiet. All I do is keep coming out to shut Lightning up. The township protests about him all the time, so I got to keep coming out and shoot rabbits.”

“They must be kind of scarce around here, then?” Jim asked.

“A rabbit,” said the stranger, whose name was Mr. Jackson, “is very ill-informed to come into this township. But I know a spot about seven miles north of here. Man, oh man.”

“Seven miles is nothing,” said Jim. “In a car.”

“Ah, yes,” said Mr. Jackson, sadly, “but a car is exactly what I haven’t got. Perhaps it’s a blessing or there wouldn’t be any game in the whole county.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “we’d be only too delighted to have somebody show us where the shooting is, if you can spare the time. Our car is only out at the road there.”

“Time?” said Mr. Jackson. “What is time?”

“Let’s go,” said Jim and I together.

And with guns and hound eagerly sensing sport, we walked rapidly back out the road and got in the car. Mr. Jackson easing himself luxuriously in the back seat with Lightning.

“Straight ahead, until I tell you the turn,” said Mr. Jackson.

It was a trifle more than seven miles, as a matter of fact. But country people have only a vague idea of distance. It was thirteen miles, and about eleven of it over pretty tough side roads that got wilder and more rocky and cedar swampy with every mile.

“This looks more like snowshoe rabbit country than jacks,” said Jim, as we cautiously negotiated one of the several narrow steep inclines on a road that got swampier and more cedary.

“Them jacks,” said Mr. Jackson, “are everywhere.”

And guiding us left and right and north and west, we came at last to our destination, which was an abandoned farm with cedar swamps encroaching close about its crooked fields, an orchard lifting forsaken arms, and the rest of it scattered patches of brush stealing back, the advance guard of the eternal and ever-conquering wilderness that will haunt mankind to the utter end.

“Where do we hunt here?” I inquired a little doubtfully, for I like my jacks jumping neat out of stubble, at about 20 yards.

“I tell you, boys,” said Mr. Jackson eagerly. “I’ll just head into that cedar swamp with Lightning and you two spread out and scuffle them meadows good. It’s full of jacks. One day last winter, I got ten jacks in an afternoon, right here. Between here and the next cross roads.”

“Won’t you come with us?” Jim inquired. “There’ll be no shooting down there unless it’s white snowshoe rabbits.”

“No, no,” insisted Mr. Jackson. “It’s jacks you’re after. Go get ’em. Lightning and I will amuse ourselves down there. I’m not as handy on my legs as I used to be.”

So Jim and I scuffled off into the fields, and scuffle it was. Weeds and burrs, thickets of alder and willow, swampy patches rough and frozen into nasty nubbles, and not a sign of a jack by the time we got to the farthest end of the clearing and came to a bush.

In all the hundred acres, no life stirred, no chickadee, no squirrel. In these old abandoned farms there is a hush that both scares and heals. Jimmie and I stood by the remains of the rail fence, now fallen and already returning to the reaching earth, and harked. Men had come here, and destroyed the hard covering that had succeeded in taking hold on this thin soil, over these rocks. But none of man’s delicate creations had roots enough to take hold in their turn. Now, after many years, the harsh advance agents of nature, the weeds, the briars, the willows, were slowly getting their grip into it again. The men and women who had come here lived in hope and pride. They left only a scar. And even the little winter birds could find nothing to eat in it.

“It’s kind of eerie,” murmured Jim.

“All the big companies,” I replied bravely, to scare away the ghosts, “all the big corporations, all the great churches, halls, all the long handsome streets, will be like this some day.”

“This time of year,” said Jim, “it gets gray and gloomy early in the afternoon.”

“Little or big,” I declared, “it all works out the same in the end. Men come in, so proud and loaded with seed…”

“We’ll head up the road,” said Jim. “There will be more farms beyond.”

We heard Lightning suddenly begin baying, and almost immediately the sound of shot.

“The old boy,” said Jim, “is getting swamp hare. What do you say we go back and have a day at the white bunnies?”

“Aw,” I said, “my children won’t speak to me for several days after I bring home a white hare. Let’s go after the big boys.”

And we had got half a mile up the road, seeing nothing but rough clearings and no open fields in sight, when we heard a car horn blowing steadily, in long signals.

“That sounds like my horn,” said Jim.

“Maybe the old boy has struck good hunting,” I said. “Let’s go back.”

So we retraced our steps down the rutted frozen swamp road and came to the car, where Mr. Jackson was sitting, feet up, and pipe going with Lightning in beside him.

“Mmmfff, mfff, mfff,” said Jim, as we neared the car.

“Ooooffff,” we both said, as the car door opened.

Couldn’t Breathe in a City

“Got him,” said Mr. Jackson, comfortably, patting an old red handkerchief on the seat beside him. “Lightning and me.”.

“So it seems,” said Jim, standing back. “A skunk?”

“We first spotted him,” said Mr. Jackson, excitedly, “three weeks ago, in this very swamp. But he got into a stone pile. Neither of us has had our proper rest since, worrying about this skunk. One dollar that skin’s worth.”

Mr. Jackson patted the red handkerchief, which bundled something flabby and terrible within.

“One dollar,” said Jim breathing out.

“Common skins,” said Mr. Jackson, “are worth 60 cents. But this here one, it’s the biggest I see in years, and beautifully marked. Wait till I show you.”

“No, no,” cried Jim. “Let it lay.”

Jim looked at me and I at Jim, in one of those instantaneous glances that make plans and settle questions without a word being said. We got in. We drove Mr. Jackson home, back all the winding, steep back roads, while he sat comfortably in rear, chatting pleasantly, and fondling Lightning who whoofed deliciously from time to time.

“Tell me, Mr. Jackson,” I inquired in the midst of his reminiscences, “are you a native of this part of the province?”

“No, sir,” said Mr. Jackson sitting forward happily. “I’m not. You wouldn’t take me for a city-bred man, now, would you?”

“There is something about you…” I said, turning to look at him and also to lean a little farther away.

“Well, sir,” said he, expansively. “I was born and raised in the city but I couldn’t stick it. I can’t go cities or towns. I feel as if I couldn’t breathe in a city. So I up and left it, as a young man. I shook the dust of cities off my feet as soon as I was old enough to be my own boss.”

We drove Mr. Jackson right to his door, and a little old shanty it was.

“Not much to look at,” he said heartily, as he and Lightning got out with their package. “But it’s all I ask.”

He thanked us profusely, regretting we had seen no jacks, on such a lucky day, at that.

“And by the way,” he said, as he slammed the door and stepped up to shake hands through the front windows, “if you notice any little smell of skunk in the car, though I don’t notice it myself, just use vinegar. A quart of raw vinegar, slosh it around. It’ll kill the slightest trace of it.”

“Thank YOU,” we assured him.

“Thank YOU,” he corrected, as we geared away.

“It’s getting a little late,” I informed Jim.

“Well,” said Jim, “we always seem to get something when we go hunting.”

“Let’s stop,” I suggested, “at the next corner and get a quart of vinegar.”


Editor’s Note: A clod-hopper, originally meant someone who walks over ploughed land. Later it took on the meaning of a country bumpkin, or the heavy boots worn by a country labourer.

This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

Iced Duck

We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy… Jim’s teeth were chattering and I was cold beyond all shivering.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 5, 1938.

“I’m open,” said Jimmie Frise, “this week-end for a final go at the ducks.”

“Take some of your thicker-skinned friends,” I replied.

“I can’t get over your indifference to duck shooting,” said Jim. “It is, in the opinion of the greatest sportsmen in the world, the cream of all outdoor sports.”

“Duck shooting,” I informed him, “is sheer bravado. Only men who get a kick out of showing how tough they are go duck shooting.”

“Isn’t it funny,” mused Jim, “how a man can outfit himself with opinions in defence of his own ignorance?”

“Duck shooting,” I went on, “is the last survival of the hair shirt instinct in humanity. In past ages men wore hair shirts to show what they thought was their piety. It was only the desire to show how tough they were. Duck shooting is the same. You love to suffer, in order to demonstrate the vigor of your character.”

“Can’t you grasp,” pleaded Jim, “the delight there is in doing something entirely different from your normal life? Can’t you imagine any joy in entering a world as strange and different from the everyday world as it is possible to enter?”

“I don’t like being cold,” I stated. “I don’t like being wet or sleety. I don’t like to have to sit like a frozen dummy for hours on end in an icy bog, with a wind whistling amongst rushes.”

“The first delight of duck shooting,” interrupted Jimmie, “is the getting up at 4.30 a.m. You think of it with horror. As a matter of fact, it is the strangest and most delightful sensation imaginable. Your whole being is astonished. Your body, your mind, your secret spirit, tingles with a queer, a fascinating, joy, just to be up in this mysterious and unearthly hour.”

“Maybe my nervous system,” I suggested, “is too close to the surface of me.”

“Then,” went on Jim, “the going out, after good hot breakfast, into the stormy night, the chill, the stars, the wind. The walking and the rowing out to the duck blinds. The setting out of the decoys, in the darkness and the little waves, seems to wake in your deep heart some age old cunning, and it gives you the same lovely tingle as hearing, softly, the tune your mother used to sing to you when you were in her arms, a child.”

“What a queer comparison to make,” I protested.

“It’s true enough,” declared Jim. “Most of the deepest feelings in us are queer. And rightly so, because all our deepest feelings are the ones that have survived from time immemorial in us, handed down to us from our fathers, generation after generation across uncounted ages. Yet in the past few hundred years we have been trying to squelch these ancient things in us in order to be, as they say, civilized. So what we say and do and think, as civilized beings, seems plain and open. But whenever the deep, ancient things in us stir we find them strange.”

“We’ll be a better race,” I stated, “when we have succeeded in squelching those ancient things entirely. The day will come when nobody will go duck shooting, partly because it is idle to kill wild ducks when it is so easy to kill tame ducks. And partly because it is silly to go out and expose yourself to cold and discomfort and possible danger of pneumonia.”

Two Philosophies of Life

“I see,” retorted Jim. “So you’re one of the new pacifists. It is not because war Is evil that you would put an end to war. But because it is silly and expensive and uncomfortable.”

“Precisely,” I cried.

“Then in time to come,” suggested Jim, “there will be no more fishing, eh? Or golf or any amusements except the indoor amusements?”

“Even the indoor amusements,” I informed him, “will have to be pretty intelligent to get by. Playing bridge will prove to be silly, sitting up stiff in an uncomfortable chair, having to keep your mind alert…it won’t go. Mankind is moving definitely towards the understanding, of life that they arrived at centuries ago in India and China. And that is, that life, at its perfection, is simply sitting perfectly still, doing nothing, feeling nothing.”

“How about the Germans?” demanded Jim. “They don’t believe in any such perfection. All the trouble the Germans have been to the rest of the world in the last 50 years is because they believe so utterly in action, in discipline, in suffering, in exposing themselves to hardship, in living and dying dangerously.”

“Sparta,” I replied, “believed that, too. But what is Sparta? Just a word. A printed word. Nothing else of it remains. No statuary or vases, no literature, no philosophy or laws. Sparta terrified the whole Greek world in its time. But it was the rest of Greece, the terrified part, that handed down to us anything that we value of Greek civilization.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “this is all recent stuff, this Greek and Roman business. Just the other day. What I am talking about is the stuff that is in human nature for the past fifty million years. Because the Greeks or the Romans had certain experiences are we to be guided by them? Because they succeeded or failed. just within the past couple of thousand years, are we going to base our whole system of life on their experience?”

“What other experience is recorded?” I demanded indignantly.

“Recorded?” cried Jim. “You mean on paper? My dear boy, that counts out all the most valuable experience of all, because writing is only a recent invention. How about the records of human experience written in our very souls? In our minds and hearts and instincts. That’s where you want to look for records.”

“You,” I exclaimed, “are striking at the roots of civilization. Our entire world depends upon the written experience of humanity.”

“Therefore,” triumphed Jim, “if, in the past couple of thousand years, everything mankind has done has been in error, your whole world is founded on error.”

“But error couldn’t survive for two thousand years,” I protested.

“Oh, couldn’t it?” inquired Jim, sweetly. “Then how long do you say error can survive? Take a look around you at the world, before you answer.”

“Look,” I said, irritated, “what has this got to do with duck shooting?”

“Everything,” said Jim. “Because you can choose between two philosophies of life. You can either sit at home this week-end, doing nothing, feeling nothing, sagged in a chair like Buddha himself, believing in your numbed and all but lifeless mind that you are at that moment achieving the perfection of life. Or else you can come duck shooting with me, and feel cold and wind, and be aware of your skin and your eyes and your ears; filled with mystery of time and space, of stars and shadows and, as dawn begins to break, of swift flying little squads of wild ducks, swishing past, while you sit, controlling even your cold shudders, motionless as a stump, and the squad of ducks, seeing your decoys dim in the reeds, bank and turn and wheel and come, wings set and rigid, coasting down into range of your gun.”

Swell Day for Ducks

“You make a very unfair comparison,” I declared. “If I stay home, there are a hundred little things I can do. I can paste all this past summer’s fishing snapshots in my album. I can rearrange my book shelves, and index the latest acquisitions to my collection of early Canadian and American angling literature.”

“Very worthy, very worthy,” agreed Jim. “Pottering about with a paste pot, sighing over yesterday, thumbing through old withered pages of books written by men who were men of action, who, a hundred years ago, fished all our noblest waters when they were wild, and shot ducks and passenger pigeons and wild turkeys…. You think you are civilized. You are only debilitated, like our lakes and woods.”

“I like comfort,” I stated. “And so did cave men. I’m the natural man, not you.”

“You’re just getting a little feeble,” retorted Jim.

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded, that I couldn’t sit out in a bog as easy as you? Do you suggest that you are more fit to stand a little wind and weather…”

Well, you know how it goes? Somebody is always trapping us by the old personality method. At any rate, with a gun borrowed from my brother, and in hip rubber boots borrowed from the garage man, and in woollen shirts and leather vests and canvas hunting coats and great clumsy slicker borrowed from my son, I waited in the cold rain for Jim to hack into my side drive to pick up my dunnage bags and valises full of spare woollens, and shell boxes and all the equipment a normal man can think of taking with him at this time of year on a most unnatural undertaking. Including a hot water bottle.

“A swell day for ducks,” gloated Jim, shoving open the car door heartily.

“And for the flu,” I agreed. “It smells as if it were going to snow.”

Thus, for a period of three hours, along deserted highways amid a forsaken world, we drove, the rain flooding and volleying eternally, and the short afternoon waning to an unpleasant and mischievous darkness, out of which raced glaring lights of unhappy vehicles, and the dim, unfriendly lights of towns and villages wrapped in November gloom.

Jim professed to love it all, the feeling of strong and virile isolation from a timid and withdrawn world. He talked about the arts of wing shooting, of leading a duck so many feet per yard of distance per angle of flight. He raved about the flavor of wild duck, believing that a split teal, broiled in a wire broiler over charcoal, cooked merely to a perfection that still permitted the juices to run, and served with boiled wild rice, boiled celery served only with butter, and hot dry toast, to be the supremest wild flavor the human palate could appreciate.

We came at length, at what seemed midnight but was merely 8 p.m., to a village at which we turned east and took a rain-sodden country road. This we followed with caution for six miles to a farmhouse where everybody had gone to bed but a jovial elderly man, our host, who fed us rather sketchily on some overdone cold meat of some description, a lot of big loose bread, butter so salty it stung and hard stewed crab-apples in pink sweet water.

Jim and Jake talked loudly of the morrow, and the wind increased and the rain quit, and when we stepped out before going up to bed, the air had got so cold it pinched our cheeks.

“Will they ever be flying in the morning?” cried Jim mightily.

“Will they ever,” agreed Jake, heartily.

And he led us up a creaky stairs to a gloomy slope-ceilinged room with two unmatched beds between barren walls. So damply, strangely, uneasily into bed and the lamp blown.

But almost immediately, the lamp was relit, and there, shadowed monstrously on the walls, was Jake, whispering us that he had the kettle on, and we dressed. In damp wool, in scrapy, frigid canvas, we dressed, and, rubber boots clumping and flapping, we went down to a breakfast of coffee-colored tea, thick, dry-fried bacon, two eggs fried stiff and turned over, thoroughly saturated with bacon grease. Then, wiping mouths hastily, off into the night, at 18 minutes to 5.

Jake showed us the boat and shoved us off from shore, with a husky but hearty good-by, good luck. We had to tramp away a thin shell of ice that held the boat to the frozen mud shore.

“She’s freezing,” I shivered.

“The wind will get up before daylight,” shuddered Jim.

With frequent peerings and bendings low, Jim steered a zig-zag course across the sullen water, and we came at last to a sort of promontory of swamp and bulrushes jutting out.

“Drop out the decoys,” muttered Jim.

I fumbled amidst the potato sacks full of damp decoys, unwound the stiff cord, and dropped them overboard at Jim’s direction. Twenty. “Bluebills, all,” said Jim. “But whistlers will come into them.”

Then with a powerful drive of oars, Jim thrust the punt into the point of bulrushes, ice crunching sharply and startlingly under the bow.

Waiting for the Sunrise

“Lovely,” I murmured. “Do we sit on the ice?”

“We sit in the boat,” said Jim, and with the oar, he cracked the thin ice ahead and handed the punt inward with grips of the tall bulrushes. When we had battled our way six feet in, Jim began cutting bulrushes and sticking them upright along the gunwales of the punt.

“Now,” said Jim, “for daylight. We’re at exactly the right time.”

Dawn is praised by poets. But poets are seldom out in November. Through the spaces in the rushes, we gazed out at blackness. The wind had fallen completely. But it was bitter cold.

“Don’t stamp your feet,” hissed Jim. “Squeeze them with your hand.”

And a little later:

“Don’t cough.”

And, just as a faint and sickly pallor became visible on the sky, he said: “Now you have to sit really still.”

I could barely see the decoys, immobile in the glassy water, a few yards out from the rushes. Far off, a gun barked, again and again. Quite close, two guns banged the sun and frigid air. We strained our eyes out into the sky above our decoys. But nothing passed.

It seemed hours for the dawn to break through. The sky was leaden. The air was icy. Not a breath moved the driest rush tip.

“She sure is cold,” whispered Jim.

“Ssssshhh,” I warned fiercely, massaging my feet through the rubber boots.

Seven o’clock came and went. Daylight, ghostly and wan, came. Our decoys lay inert and motionless on the queerly still water, but now we had to keep low, for fear of being seen.

“On a day like this,” whispered Jim, “they may fly a little late….”

“Whisht,” I warned, both hands inside my innermost garment.

Eight o’clock, like an invalid in a chair, rolled slowly in. Passed, and at 8.30, Jim stirred noisily.

“Well,” he said in a profane voice amid the silence, “I guess there’s no use sitting here any longer. We’ll pray for wind tonight, for the evening shoot.”

We stood up in the punt, and she did not wobble.

“Ho, ho,” said Jim, rocking the boat. But she did not rock.

“Frozen in,” I suggested,

So with the oars, we cracked the thin shell of ice around the punt, and, with Jim in the bow like George Washington, we broke a narrow passage out of the rushes. For 20 feet out, a lovely thin sheet of ice had frozen in the three hours of dawn.

Our decoys were fast in it. We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy, Jim making the passage. I picking up the wooden beasts and winding the stiffening cord around them, after chipping off the fringe of ice.

Jim’s teeth were chattering and I had reached the stage of cold that is beyond all shivering.

“I think,” I said, carefully, “that my circulation has stopped.”

“We’ll be back in by the fire in 15 minutes,” clicked Jimmie.

So like two Buddhas, we sat by the fire until 4 p.m., and then, no wind having risen and the sheet ice being 40 feet out from the muddy shore, we packed up roughly, and in the dark, drove home slowly, on a slippery pavement.


Editor’s Note: This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

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