The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Disturbers of the Peace

By Greg Clark, November 29, 1947

“Just listen,” chuckled Jimmie Frise, “to that!”

In the quiet of the night, though all our doors and windows were shut, I could hear the faint sounds of singing. Hilarious singing.

“What time is it?” I demanded.

“Eleven ten,” replied Jim, consulting his watch.

“Isn’t it a little late,” I suggested, “for that kind of disturbance? In this neighborhood, I mean?”

“Aw,” protested Jim, scornfully, “I’d like to hear a little whoopee around here once in a while. I guess it’s those new people who moved in across the street last month. Nice-looking people.”

“Well, it’s obvious,” I submitted, “that they are not aware of the character and traditions of this neighborhood.”

“The character and traditions of this neighborhood,” laughed Jim bitterly, “are those of a cemetery. Do you know, now that I come to think of it, this is the first time, the very first time, I remember ever hearing anybody singing in this street?”

“It’s a decent, respectable district, Jim,” I reminded him.

“Even on Christmas, even on New Year’s,” ruminated Jim, startled, “I don’t ever recall hearing any sounds of revelry.”

“There are places for revelry,” I informed him,”other than in quiet residential streets. I bet all your neighbors are fuming.”

“It’ll do them good,” gloated Jim quietly, as he rose and went to the front window.

He opened the sash a little into the chilly night.

And from across the street, only moderately muffled by walls and doors, came the strains of “My Wild Irish Rose.” They were mostly men’s voices, with that curious shouting quality which men put into that particular song. On the word “wild,” they seem to open their mouths wide and use their lungs for bellows. “That’s bibulous singing, Jim,” I stated analytically. “That’s singing inspired by something more than the mere love of song.”

“Ssshhh!” ordered Jim, leaning down to the draught from the window to take in the full tone of the rowdy music from over the way.

At the long-drawn concluding harmonious “roooooosse!” there was a loud burst of cheers and jeers and much laughter. And apparently demands for more. Because immediately the sound of a piano struggled up through the din; and it was “Sweet Adeline.”

“Oh, boy!” applauded Jimmie.

“Jim, you might say,” I announced, returning to my chair, “you might say this little disturbance over the way marks the end of an epoch, the conclusion of an era. Oh, not an important epoch, maybe, from the point of view of the world or of human affairs on a large scale…”

“Let’s listen,” pleaded Jim, from the window.

“Aw, come and sit down,” I insisted. “You’ll be hearing plenty of that before the night’s out. They’re just warming up.”

Jim reluctantly closed the window and came and sat down.

“This,” I enunciated, “is the end of an era. For this street, for this little neighborhood, for the 10 or 20 families that have lived so long and so comfortably in these quiet homes, this is the tragic symbol of the close of an epoch.”

“I prefer,” said Jim, “to think of the birth of an epoch rather than the death. I like to look on this as the dawn of an era.”

“When changes come,” I asserted, “it is rather the death of an era.”

“When changes come,” countered Jim firmly, “it is the dawn of an era. These people around here have been in possession long enough. They’ve been in possession of quiet and what they call peace. They’ve had everything their own way for as long as I can remember.

The children have all grown up. Any new neighbors that have moved in have been exactly of the type as all the rest. There hasn’t been a disturbance of any kind in 20 years.”

“That,” I assured, “is as it should be. A neighborhood should have its distinctive character. Now, there are any number of neighborhoods in the city where the rumpus across the street would never be noticed. It would be the normal thing. Why, then, do people like these across the road not move into a neighborhood full of their own kind? Why do they have to invade a decent, quiet district like this, where they’ll never be happy, nor allow others to be happy?”

“It’s the housing shortage,” explained Jim. “A housing shortage is a great thing, from the point of view of social science. It forces people to invade various restricted areas. For instance, a housing shortage sent great numbers of very decent people to live in poor districts where they never would abide in normal times. That’s a good thing. The lump is leavened. It all forces new and energetic characters into stodgy and mouldy areas like this.”

A sudden burst of muffled song rose so loud that it interrupted Jimmie in the midst.

He leaped up with alacrity and looked out the window.

“Ah,” he cried, “the air’s getting stuffy. They opened the front door and the windows.”

It was “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” they were singing now. And they were putting the usual emphasis on the “Hail.”

“Mm, mm, mm!” I groaned, as I got up to look. “That will finish it!”

Cars were parked closely on both sides of the street and there must have been 30 people in the house across the way.

“Let’s go on the verandah a minute,” said Jim enthusiastically.

We went and stood with our hats on, on Jim’s dark verandah and listened to the racket emerging into the frosty night.

When our eyes became accustomed to the dark, we noticed a movement on a verandah a couple of doors south of the party house; and there was old Mrs. Privet, with her shawl around her shoulders, staring and listening, too.

Mrs. Privet is probably the oldest inhabitant of our neighborhood and has always taken a very lively interest in the preservation of its character. When the children of the street were young, she took a personal interest in the behavior of them all. If you planted salvia along the front of the house, she would come over and suggest petunias, which were not so garish.

“She’s signalling!” I hissed to Jimmie. And then we heard Mrs. Privet’s sharp raspy voice, “Is that you, Mr. Frise?”

“Aw, heck!” growled Jim; and we slowly strolled down the walk and across the pavement amid the parked cars.

Mrs. Privet was practically in tears.

“This,” she said in a cracked, dramatic voice, “is impossible! I suspected those people the minute I saw them moving in. One look at their furniture, and I knew – I knew – what would happen!”

“It’s probably,” suggested Jim kindly, “just a house warming. They’ve only been in a few weeks.”

With a sudden explosion of sound, the house up the street fairly bulged with “Down By the Old Mill Stream.”

“Will you call the police, Mr. Frise,” inquired Mrs. Privet in a rasping voice, “or shall I?”

“Oh, no, no, no!” begged Jim. “Mrs. Privet, that would be unpardonable. These people would never forgive it. Let’s just forget it, and then, by friendship and example and so forth…”

“I know human nature a lot better than you do, Mr. Frise,” declared Mrs. Privet harshly. “I’ve lived a lot longer. People like these will ruin the whole neighborhood. They will attract their like. Inside of two years goodness knows who will be moving in here! Our property will start to go down in value. No, Mr. Frise, if you won’t call the police, I shall. These people are disturbing the peace!”

“Mrs. Privet,” said Jim earnestly, “give them a chance. Let me go and call at the door. I’ll tell them there is a sick person a few doors away, and would they please pipe down a little…”

“No use, no use!” declared Mrs. Privet shrilly. “The only thing that has any influence on people who will carry on in that fashion is the police. It’s the only thing they understand. They’re probably used to it.”

“Mrs. Privet, as a special favor,” begged Jim, “to an old neighbor, allow me to try my method. These may be very, very decent people, whose ways are perhaps a little different from ours.”

“Try if you must,” said Mrs. Privet sharply. “But I don’t intend to put up with things like this in a neighborhood in which I have lived 40 years.”

So, to the music of “There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding,” Jimmie and I walked the two doors up and onto the side walk of the house where the fun was in progress. The front door was wide open, as were most of the brightly lighted windows. And from them fairly gushed the warm and scented air of humanity having itself a time.

A din of sound of men and women laughing, talking and singing all at the same time burst out at us as we mounted the steps. Jim waited a moment and then mashed the bell.

“The bell! The door!” several voices, both male and female, yelled above the ruckus. “Hey, Bill, the bell!”

And around the hall door charged Bill, the new neighbor, a big, hearty of about 40, of the… uh… salesman type.

“Hi, who’s this!” he bellowed, as he bounded out to meet us, hand extended. “Come on in!”

Jim had automatically extended his hand to meet Bill’s. And the man hauled mightily, half-dragging Jim through the door.

“Welcome,” yelled Bill hoarsely. “Who is it? You, Sam?”

Jim’s holding back caused Bill to relax and he stepped out to us.

“Who is it? What’s up?” he inquired.

“Look,” said Jim quietly. “You’ll excuse us, won’t you? But we’re a couple of your neighbors…”

“Aw, come on in!” bellowed Bill in a stentorian voice. And because he was much bigger and younger than either of us, and since he had a strong pinching, rough hold on both our arms, he yanked us unceremoniously through the door and into the hallway before we knew what had happened.

“Hey everybody!” roared Bill, sliding us on the hardwood floor into the view of the assembled gathering. “A couple of our good neighbors! Give the boys a welcome! They’ve come to our house warming…whaddaya know!”

And in an instant our hats were snatched away and jovial arms were flung around our shoulders and we were propelled into the midst. At the piano, “My Wild Irish Rose” was once again rising like a gale.

I caught Jim’s eye but he made a warning signal. He fought his way over to me and said quietly:

“I’ll get him aside in a minute.”

But it was maybe 15 minutes later that a sudden silence fell, as sharp as a thunderclap, over the whole place.

In the hallway stood two policemen.

“There’s complaints,” said the front cop, “from the neighborhood that you are disturbing the peace. Can you make it a little less noisy?”

Bill shoved his way powerfully through the guests.

“Look, boys,” he said, very friendly. “It isn’t us. It’s these two characters that just gate-crashed our little party. They came in here and began kicking up no end of a row.”

“Which two?” inquired the cop with bright eyes.

The other guests fell away from us.

The cop signalled with his thumb.

“Don’t you know these two?” the cop asked Bill.

“Never saw them,” declared Bill indignantly, “in my life before!”

The cops took us by the slack of the coat collars and propelled us out the door and down the steps.

“Git!” commanded the cops.

“Look, officer…” I began hotly.

“If we see you,” warned the cop, getting into the scout car, “in this neighborhood the next time around. we’ll run you in. See? Now git!”

We got.

It Isn’t the Restaurant

By Greg Clark, November 28, 1931

“Where do we eat?” demanded the mighty Griffin, shoving back his typewriter.

“What’s it matter?” I asked. “Let’s eat.”

“It does matter,” declared Frederick. “I am tired unto death of eating in any old restaurant. We go to the same old places day after day, eat the same old food. Look at the same old hash slingers. See the same stupid people around us, gobbling, guzzling, snorting, slurping their food.”

“You are a little off color to-day, Frederick,” said I.

“I never felt better in my life. This rebellion has slowly been coming to the boil in me for years. I’m going to find a place to eat where I will enjoy not only the eating but the surroundings.”

“I can take you,” I said, “to the quaintest little place …”

“Arrrh!” roared the Griffin. “I know what you mean. Ye Olde Boote! Ye Little Greene Puppe! Ye Trype and Yunions! Not for me. With their wall paper peeling, their funny china and Chinese brass hung around the walls and teetering on frail furniture. I may be an Anglican, but not the tea-room breed of Anglican, thank you.”

By this time we had our coats on.

“How about a hotel?” I asked.

“Arrrr!” roared Griff. “Business men’s luncheon, one dollar! And get what’s left of the stuff they prepared for the Rotary Club, or something.”

“Let’s go up to the Athenian Room, then, at the big store.”

“Nnnnn!” moaned Griffin, in intense agony. “And have to sit in bright daylight surrounded by thousands and thousands of young executives talking big.”

“Well, where the heck do we eat, then?” I inquired.

“And some of them have their wives with them!” cried the Griffin, passionately. “The wives of promising young executives! The alert way they sit, looking around! They make their husbands, those wives. Il it weren’t for them …”

“It isn’t the restaurants, then,” said I, as we reached the pavement on King St. “It’s the people.”

“I saw a man,” said Griffin, “just yesterday, in one of the finest restaurants in Toronto, two tables from me, deliberately take his fork, like this, see, and lift the top lid of his pie and peek underneath at the filling. It was apple pie. I don’t know for sure, but I think I saw him lean down and sniff at it. Just two tables from me,” shouted Griffin, so that people on King St. paused and turned to look at us.

“But you shouldn’t look around when you are eating,” I admonished him. “Just keep your eyes cast down and devote yourself to your food.”

A Sort of Progressive Lunch

Griffin stopped me and seized me by the arm.

“Listen!” he cried harshly. “I can’t! I can’t keep my eyes down! I’ve GOT to look around. And it’s terrible. Every day it is getting worse. Even out of the corner of my eye, I can see somebody doing something unspeakable. Do you know what I saw the day before yesterday?”

“What?”

“I saw a woman pick up her knife, fork and spoon and wipe them with her serviette.”

“Well?” said I. “Do you expect etiquette in a quick lunch?”

“It isn’t etiquette,” said Griffin. “Here was this woman suggesting that the spoons needed wiping, and I was half through my meal and it was too late to wipe mine.”

We proceeded along King street.

“Let’s make a game of it,” I suggested. “We will make a round of the restaurants. And whenever we see anything that offends us either in the manners of the customers, the food, the decorations or the help, we will get up and leave.”

“How much will it cost us?” asked Griffin.

“We won’t pay,” said I. “We’ll speak to the manager in each place and tell him we are couple of high-strung newspaper men and if his place offends us in any way, we are going to leave. We’ll pay for what we have eaten.”

“A sort of progressive lunch.”

“Exactly,” said I.

“And is a restaurant manager responsible for the manners of his guests?” asked Griffin.

“Well, anyway, we can play on the manager’s pride,” said I. “He likes to think the best people in town eat in his place.”

Griffin’s face lighted up.

“The search for the perfect eating place!” he cried, lengthening out his stride.

“Here,” said I. “This is the first place.”

And we turned into a fine big restaurant filled with the sounds and smells of noon.

“Sir,” said I to the manager, standing beside the cash girl. “We are a couple of high-strung, high-pressure newspaper men, and we are seeking the perfect place to eat.”

“You’re here,” said the manager, smiling proudly.

“Yes,” said I, while Griffin lowered at him, suspiciously. “But we wanted it understood, before we eat, that if anything offends us, either in the food, the waitresses, the decorations or the customers, we are not going to finish. We are going to get right up and walk out.”

The manager was unimpressed.

“You will find everything o.k. here,” said he. “Just find a table.”

As we hung up our coats, Griff said: “To begin with, I don’t like that manager.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“He thinks this place is perfect.”

We sat down. Opposite us sat a dark, bald-headed gentleman with serious ingrown countenance and downcast eyes.

The waitress, just as we sat down, placed before this gentleman a large plate filled with a mass of dark brown meat, about a pint of gravy and pale vegetables glowing dimly within its depths,

Seeing a Man Swallow Himself

Griffin nudged me sharply.

The dark, bald-headed man reached to the middle of the table. He took a firm grasp of the catsup bottle. With a far-away look in his eyes, he slowly removed the stopper of the bottle, up-ended it and splattered about a cupful of red catsup all over the goulash on his plate.

“Come on!” rasped Griffin, seizing me by the collar. “Git!”

We stalked past the manager.

“What’s the trouble, gents?” he cried in consternation.

“I’ll tell you,” said Griffin. “You cater to the catsup soppers! That’s what you do!”

And we strode out into the ungravied atmosphere of Yonge street.

“All right,” said Frederick, grimly. “Number one. Go ahead. Where’s number two?”

I led him into a cafeteria.

We took our trays and edged along.

Griff had a piece of pie and his bread and butter selected when suddenly he froze.

“Turn around!” he hissed. “Back out. Drop your tray!”

And before I knew it, he had bundled me out to the street.

“What did you see!” I gasped.

“I saw,” said Griffin, “an old guy with a long moustache. And on his plate was one of those great big mixed-up salads of stringy cabbage and floppy tomatoes and boughs of watercress.”

“What of it?” I demanded.

“Did you ever see a man with a droopy moustache eating one of these droopy salads?” asked Griff. “Half the time he is chewing his moustache and doesn’t know it. And even if he isn’t, I imagine he is. I have a horror of seeing a man swallow himself and turn inside out.”

“Yes, but maybe he wouldn’t sit where we could see him,” I pointed out.

“Life isn’t like that,” said Frederick calmly. “He would sit at the same table with us.”

So we went on our quest.

“Try one of these stool and counter affairs?” I inquired.

“Scientific investigators like us,” said Griff, “never neglect anything.”

So we went into one of those.

We had to stand for a minute or two behind the long row of stools waiting for a vacancy. Griffin surveyed the rank of bobbing and ducking heads. But any sounds of speedy feeding were drowned by a cheery clatter of dishes interspersed with loud shouts by the cowboys acting as waiters.

We got a stool each.

The cowboy on our part of the ranch reached forward with a large loose wet rag and made a grand flourish as he wiped the marble counter.

“Hawdie, boys!” said the cowboy to us.

“Hawdie, yourself!” said Frederick fiercely, and sprang from his stool. “Come on, Greg, and let us get the heck out of this wild west show!”

Up Yonge street we walked in silence. The silence was all mine.

We were passing restaurant after restaurant, tea room after tea room, until I felt Toronto had nothing but eating places in it. But Griffin had his head up and nostrils distended in that wild horse way, so I waited until we got to Queen street.

“What do you say,” I began – because Griffin was glaring at the policeman on traffic duty and I knew he had another red rag to distract his attention. “What do you say if we try one of these Chinese restaurants. They say they’re good.”

“No,” said Griffin.

Eggs a la Haileybury Fire

We got to Shuter street.

“Did you ever try one of these lovely white restaurants where it makes you feel clean even to go inside it?”

“And the bird next to you talks in loud voice for the benefit of everybody four tables around.”

“Not always …”

“Or,” stated Frederick in an emphatic Irish voice, “you get into one of those clubby groups, where they holler to each other, and come and stand talking to one another about business.”

“I know, but …”

“I’m getting hungry,” declared Frederick.

We passed Dundas street. We passed Eaton’s new store. We got up into the motor sales region and the antique furniture belt. We passed Bloor street.

“Gosh, Griff, I’m hungry. What time is it?”

“One-thirty,” said Griff, darkly.

Past gorgeous, glowing fruit stores, past a brewery warehouse, up Yonge street we strode, and came to St. Clair.

“A lot of swell eating places right around here,” said I, slowing down.

“School teachers,” said Griffin. “Musicians, people with long hair, childless housewives saving themselves the trouble of getting lunch, maybe some radio artists from CFCA. Artists wave their hands and upset things. They paw each other and talk with their faces right in the other fellow’s face.”

“Frederick, I’m starving.”

“All right, where do we eat, then?” roared Griffin.

“Any place,” said I, weakly.

“It’s four blocks to my house,” said Griffin. “Let’s go home.”

But the family were all out except the dog.

“I’ll cook you something,” said Griffin. “I know about eggs and things.”

We put on aprons. We started the stove. Griff broke three of the four eggs he dropped in the pan.

“Omelette,” said Frederick, stirring the eggs up.”

“Scrambled eggs,” said I.

But something was wrong. The eggs got brown instead of yellow.

We sat down in the kitchen.

“They taste funny,” said Griffin. “Just a minute.”

He produced a bottle of catsup. “Slather some of that over them,” said he.

I slathered.

We had bread and butter, scrambled eggs a la Haileybury fire, coffee that would make your toes open and shut, Griff upset the sugar bowl, I upset the milk bottle, we forgot to turn the stove off and the pan burned and made a terrible smell, and it was a quarter to three when we got back to the office.

Frederick threw off his coat and sat down to his typewriter with a tremendous bang.

All the editors looked up.

“Gentlemen,” said Griffin grandly, “I am about to write some sort of a masterpiece. For I have just been cured of a point of view. For one whole year, I will be able, now, to eat my lunch anywhere, with pleasure.”

So, while he writing his story, I have written this.


Editor’s Notes: This is a sort of proto Greg-Jim story from the early 1930s illustrated by Jim, but with fellow reporter Fred Griffin accompanying Greg.

The Haileybury fire was a huge news story in Toronto from 1922, which Greg was sent to cover.

Pay Night!

November 27, 1943

In this war-time comic, Eli Doolittle (the laziest man in town) is actually doing some work, because his wife Ruby is off doing war-work.

In the Ring!

By Greg Clark, November 24, 1945

“I’ve got two ducats,” announced Jimmie Frise, “to the wrestling match.”

“Ducats?” I inquired.

“Free tickets,” explained Jim. “Dead heads. Passes.”

“Jim,” I enunciated, “I have made it a lifelong principle never to accept free tickets to anything. They are free for either of two reasons. Either they are trying to pad the house, because they can’t attract a paying crowd, or else they are trying to interest you in the show for ulterior purposes.”

“Does it occur to you,” demanded Jim bitterly, that there may be good guys in the world who are just good guys? Is it possible for your small suspicious brain to conceive that maybe somebody just wanted to do a friendly thing?”

“Who gave you the tickets?” I asked.

“Bill Tooke,” replied Jim.

“Aaaaah,” I leered. “The promoter of the wrestling bouts!

“Bill has been a friend of mine for years,” cried Jimmie indignantly. “I’ve known him long before he ever was a promoter. He and I have played hundreds of games of snooker pool together. What is there more natural than that Bill should drop in and hand me a couple of ducats to the bouts? Haven’t I sent him a platterful of trout in the spring? Haven’t I given him the odd bass…?”

“I wouldn’t object,” I replied, “to a fight promoter sending you the hind leg of a moose in return for a platterful of trout. But it looks fishy to me when he drops in and hands you a couple of tickets to a wrestling bout he’s interested in.”

“And what,” gritted Jim, “do you suspect he has in mind?”

“He has in mind,” I informed him, “that you will persuade me to come to the wrestling bout with you, and we’ll do a story on it.”

“Did I,” shouted Jim, “invite you to come with me? I had no earthly intention of inviting you to come with me! I merely announced that I had a couple of ducats to the wrestling match, if I remember right.”

“Your intention,” I asserted, “was to interest me.”

“I hadn’t the least intention of asking you to come with me,” declared Jim hotly. “I know your attitude towards wrestling. I know your attitude towards all manly sports. Do you think I want to spend a whole evening beside you, listening to you sneering at the contenders, at the referee, at the very crowd around you?”

“Backside sports!” I sneered obligingly. “Five thousand sportsmen sitting on their backsides watching two fake sports fighting in a ring for money!”

“See what I mean?” muttered Jim to the office walls.

“Rugby,” I scoffed. “Fifteen thousand sportsmen and sportswomen sitting muffled in rugs athletically watching 15 guys rolling in the mud!”

“Aw, go ahead,” groaned Jim, starting to work furiously at his drawing board.

“Racing!” I pursued caustically. “Twenty thousand sportsmen clutching gambling tickets in their sweaty fists, watching eight little sportsmen on horses racing around a circle.”

“Okay, okay,” breathed Jim deeply.

Life’s Contests

“The only sport in the world,” I stated, “is that in which people participate. Fishing, shooting, tennis, golf – they’re sport. But all these so-called sports events, which consist of 10 guys doing something and 10,000 guys sitting watching them, are the reverse of sport. They’re evil. They’re destructive. When the great Roman Empire first began to totter, they built their first arena.”

“What bunk!” protested Jim. “Can you imagine a rugby team going out and playing another rugby team without an audience, just for the sheer sport of it?”

“If they did, they would really be sportsmen,” I pointed out, “and not young gentlemen exerting themselves for gain.”

“Gain!” Jim yelled in fury. “Do you mean to insinuate …”

“To stand forth,” I cut in, “before all his fellow students as an outstanding rugby player is a form of gain to a young man going to Varsity.”

“Well, the whole of life then,” insisted Jim, “is a form of gain. Everybody tries to stand forth. The housewife tries to cook well, in order to stand forth as a good housewife. The good mechanic tries to excel at his machine, not merely to male wages, but to stand forth among his fellow workers as an outstanding man. You think you’re so smart! All you’ve done is bring to light the true character of sport. Sport in its widest and best sense is the contending between men to show who is the better and the best man. Or the best team of men.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” was all I could think of.

“From babyhood,” pursued Jim hotly, “right through life to the grave, the best feature of the struggle of life is the contending to bring out the best in us. What do they have baby shows for? To give people, at the very beginning, a chance to show that they are the best.

Why do young expectant mothers knit, knit, knit? Is it only to prepare warm clothes? Not if you look at what they are knitting. It is to get ready to try and show the prettiest baby on the whole street. Why do they have reports cards in school? To show who’s the smartest. If life was without these contests, if life consisted of nothing more than a dull routine in which nobody was expected to try and get ahead of the other fellow, how long do you think it would be before the world would slip back into the native thatched villages from which we have risen?”

“We’re already half way back to the native thatched village,” I retorted, “when 15,000 of us are content to sit back in easy chairs and watch two gross, bulging gladiators from the caveman age squash each other to death.”

“It’s all part of the competitive system,” explained Jim. “I admit it isn’t the best form of sport.”

“You’d rather go fishing?” I taunted.

“Certainly,” replied Jim. “But don’t put any sanctimonious airs on about fishing. You talk very unctuously about going fishing in order to enjoy nature. You are always sounding off about the non-competitive character of fishing. It is for itself alone that you go fishing. But I never saw anybody come so pompously up the village road as you do when you are carrying a creel full of trout. And I must say I know nobody who has had his picture taken oftener holding up a big pike or a big bass …”

“Now just a minute,” I protested.

“I have often noticed,” went on Jim strongly, “that guys who aren’t much good at competitive games are always ardent followers of sports in which they can take their wives or young sons with them, such as fishing”

“Now, look here,” I insisted.

“In fishing,” proceeded Jimmie, “there is no referee. In shooting, there is no umpire. That kind of sport appeals strongly to a man who is trying to excel but who prefers to excel in his own opinion rather than under the scrutiny of his fellow men. If he uses worms, nobody is looking, and he invariably has a trout fly on his line by the time he emerges from the stream to meet his fellow sportsmen. If he shoots a partridge sitting on the ground, who is to see him? It was always ‘racing across, at 40 yards, on the wing,’ by the time he meets up with his fellow hunters …”

“Speak for yourself,” I said bitterly.

“In all men,” rounded off Jim, “there is a desire to excel at something. When the time comes in a man’s life that he realizes he can no longer excel anybody – that is the tragic hour. Life itself, business, industry, the home, the school, the church, all our institutions are based on that desire to excel that is the very spark of our existence. And sport is that spark applied for fun, for relaxation, for leisure. It is the one field in which we can watch others excel without personal pain.”

“It’s sadistic,” I submitted. “We like to see others suffer.”

Jim hit the drawing board a violent bang.

“Okay,” he shouted. “DON’T come to the wrestling!”

But I did.

After all, there is much to be said for Jim’s point of view. If thousands and tens of thousands of people, young and old, go to hockey games and race-tracks and prize-fights and other activities in which a tiny fraction of one per cent of those gathered does anything more than sit and yell, there must be something in it. A man of my age can’t be right all the time. It would be bad for him. So I went.

It was worse than I thought. In the nasty wet November night, we parked our car and walked with a throng into a cold, large, damp arena already blue with fog of cigar and cigarette smoke. We were a little late getting there, Jim being always late, and the first bout was already under way, so that the shadowy arena was full of the deep wolf-like baying of humanity calling for a kill. We were shown to our seats, which were hard benches. If I ever take a free seat, I like it padded.

Not only were the benches hard, but the people sitting in the gloom all around me impressed me as a very hard lot, too. The only lights were the spotlights centered on the ring where the wrestlers were lying down together in the most grotesque attitude. In the dim reflected light, swirling with smoke, I took time to glance around at my fellow sportsmen.

Now, I do not mean to insinuate that these were underworld types. In fact, I was astonished to see, sitting four places to my right, an old and respected friend of mine who is sidesman in a church and a great leader in the social life of Toronto. But in this dim and smoky setting a strange change had come over him. He was smoking a cigar and was leaning forward with an expression of fury on his face.

Amid the baying. I heard him distinctly yell: “Break his neck! Twist his head off!”

I sat up as high as I could and looked at the ring. Just in time, too. In the livid glare, I saw the two contenders, heavy, gross men, stager heavily to their feet, back up and then charge each other like bulls. You could positively feel the collision of them. It thudded on the thick air. One got a strangle-hold on the other, walked him slowly, terribly backwards and bending him back, started to saw his victim’s neck in short, savage strokes, along the ropes of the ring… The arena went mad. But instead of them charging the ring and putting an end to this monstrous thing, they were standing on their benches, cheering!

“Fake!”

It was all over. The cheering died. I stood I on my bench. I supposed the victim was dead, his head rolling on the mat. But in a moment, as the roars died away and everybody turned their attention from the ring to one another, I saw the two contenders jump down and walk up the aisle past us. The man who had had his head sawed off was grinning and waving to friends in the audience.

“Fake!” I yelled shrilly.

Jim pulled me down by my coat.

But my yell had attracted notice, and my friend the sidesman and social worker leaned over and shook hands with me.

“Well, heh, heh,” he cried above the din. “I’d never expect to see you here! I thought you’d be away deer hunting…”

“It’s over,” I said.

“Have a cigar,” he cried, holding out a fat one.

Now, I never smoke cigars. But there was something in the air, something in the shrewd, excited faces around me that upset my normal attitudes. I took the cigar.

There is something also about a cigar that is very disturbing. Grip a cigar in the corner of your mouth, and it gives you a very curious feeling. A feeling of importance of mastery. Jutting out of your jaw, its rich aroma bathing your face, a cigar does something to your ego. It fortifies it. Take a modest, self-conscious little man and put a big cigar in his teeth, and he begins to swell.

And by the time the cigar has burned down to a butt, and the butt is firmly clenched in the side molars, jutting rakishly out of the corner of his mouth, a man has masculine feeling impossible to inspire with a cigarette or even a big pipe.

I lighted up the cigar during the intermission between bouts. The next item on the card was between a pair of local palookas of some fame, but a long way off from being headliners. After sizing them up through my cigar smoke, I selected the one in blue trunks for my money. And he received the benefit of my voice for about 15 minutes of agony, during which his opponent, a vicious type if ever I saw one, bent him, corkscrewed him, butted him, gave him the elbow in the wind pipe and one thing and another, until he lay limp and beaten.

It was in the intermission after this bout, by which time my cigar was a butt and I had it clamped in masterly fashion in my left molars, that Bill Tooke the promoter, passing up the aisle to get the headliners, spotted Jimmie.

“Hi, Jim,” he yelled. “What are you doing back here? I’ve got seats up front for you. HEL-lo, Mr. Clark! How are you enjoying it?”

“So-so,” I said between clenched teeth and the cigar butt. “So-so.”

“Aw, come up front,” pleaded Bill. “You’ll enjoy it better.”

And under his personal ushering, Jim and I went to the front where the seats were the sort you should give away free. Good comfortable ones.

By now, the chill had been driven out of the arena by the heat of the crowd, and we took off our coats and relaxed. Past my cigar butt, I nodded in that casual sporty fashion, to several prominent people lounging around the ringside. I jutted my jaw out und gazed up at the ring as if wrestling bouts were just a dab of salted almonds to an old sportsman like me.

When the two behemoths for the headline bout came swaying and thudding down the aisle to the ring, I nearly swallowed my cigar butt. The last of such men, I had always thought, had been painted on the walls of caves 10,000 years ago. Only in cartoons, I imagined, could such human mammoths be conjured up. They were hot merely colossal. They were prehistoric. Their arms were bigger than my legs. Their torsos were as wide as my torso, from Adam’s apple to the seat of my pants, turned sideways. They were hairy, their chins were granite blue, their heads were mere knobs and their eyes were sunken in the bone that you could not see them. They moved slowly, ponderously. To the rising storm of cheers and boos, they grinned, and their grin would chill your blood.

They hoisted themselves up over the ropes with all the grace of steam shovels hoisting two tons of rock out of a hole. Under the garish lights, they turned and stared contemptuously out over the throngs, now hysterical with roars and yells. The worst looking of the two threw off his bath robe and came over and leaned on the ropes right above us. He stared down gloomily and bared his teeth at us in a prehistoric snarl.

Gripping the cigar butt firmly, I bared my teeth back at him in a snarl and felt butterflies flying around in my stomach.

“Quite a boy,” said Jim.

“Glrp,” I replied, biting hard.

“My money on him,” said Jim.

“Was he looking at me,” I asked, “or at you?”

“He was just looking around,” explained Jim easily. “They always do that.”

The announcer stood forth and bellowed the formal chant, e-nouncing Bolo the Executioner in this corner; and in that corner, Przffst, the Head Hunter, champion of the World.

Przffst, the Head Hunter, was the big gorilla that had snarled at me.

I threw my cigar butt away.

The two stood up and acknowledged the formless roar of cheers and boos and a sort of frenzy settled over the vast arena, the way the sound of machines fills a factory when the power is turned on.

The referee skedaddled back into a corner. The two human rhinoceri pulled their heads in like turtles and bent their arms wide from their sides and began circling. There was no dancing or prancing, as in boxing. It was more like two Mark VI tanks preparing to kiss each other. Quite softly, they clutched. The crowd went berserk.

Up went Przffst, the Head Hunter, as though he were light as a feather, as though he were made of celluloid, hollow. Bolo the Executioner had lifted him as a child might be lifted, made three slow rotations of himself and his awful burden held high over head, and then, bracing himself so that his fat body seemed suddenly to corrugate from neck to knee with a thousand cords of muscle, hurled the Head Hunter to the mat with a thud that made my chair jump.

I went mad.

“Kill him, kill him,” I screeched above the tornado, trying to pierce my lone voice like a knitting needle into the ears of Bolo the Executioner. “The big stuffed sofa! Jump on him. Break all his four legs. He’s full of horse hair … he’s stuffed …”

“Don’t Get Excited”

But before Bolo could land – though he jumped into the air, folded his knees and tried to land with his 300 pounds on Przffst’s stomach, knees first – Przffst, with an incredible agility, rolled and bounded to his feet, crouching.

In the fraction of an instant’s silence that befell, my voice jabbed: “The Head Hunter! He needs a head!”

And as he closed with Bolo, his head appeared over Bolo’s shoulder, as though he had his teeth buried in it. And though his eyes wore sunk about an inch into his cheek bones, I swear they were looking straight at me.

They twisted and fell and rose and fell, all in one massive ball of about half a ton of human flesh while I kept silence. Then Bolo, by some means invisible to my eye, though the crowd must have seen it for they roared, got a foothold on Przffst; and his mouth as wide as a lard pail in agony. Przffst threw up his arms and went face down on to the mat, his giant frame shuddering like that of a hippopotamus pierced by Zulu spears.

“Kill him,” I roared, jumping up, “break his leg off, the big mattress! He’s stuffed! He’s full of hay …”

“Don’t get excited,” said Jim, pulling my arm. “It’s only starting. They’re just warming up …”

For in truth, the hateful Head Hunter, despite his agony, got some kind of a foul hold on Bolo, that splendid specimen, that friend of man, that St. George, that killer of dragons; and over went Bolo in one vast shudder of agony, letting go Przffst’s foot. And Przffst was on top of Bolo, smashing his face on the mat, thump, thump, thump. I could feel my chair jolting.

On and on it went, under these vicious lights. On and on went the tornado of sound. Time and again, Bolo, whose unpleasant features slowly evaporated every time he got the splits on Przffst or sawed his neck on the ropes, almost had the world champion killed. But always that dreadful monster, appearing more dreadful each time, by some fiendish and foul trick, broke the magnificent Bolo’s grip and sent him shuddering to the floor.

And each time the Head Hunter nearly died of strangulation, my plaudits for Bolo rang and pierced the typhoon. Turtle head, upholstered hogshead, stuffed dummy, gorilla, I called him. But Jim shouted cheerfully to take it easy. “They can’t hear you,” he said.

So phony, fake, fraud, I called him, humbug, lead-swinger, forger, window-dresser, gold-bricker, dope, mudcat, slug.

I looked around. How I would like another cigar!

And then it ended, I didn’t see it actually. All that happened was that Bolo the Executioner was on his broad back. And the Head Hunter was tossing his dressing-gown on lightly and vaulting over the ropes like ballet dancer.

He wore that terrible grin. He paused and looked down at me. I had no cigar butt.

“Hey,” he snarled, “cut me off at de knees and call me Shorty.”

He reached down lightly.

“Git up in dere wit your friend,” he chuckled. And he tossed me up there.

When Jimmie and Bill Tooke got me back down in my chair, Jimmie said: “He couldn’t have heard you.”

And Bill Tooke said: “I wouldn’t have had this happen for worlds. He didn’t know who you were.”

“But he knew what I was,” I said, before I thought.

Fightin’ Irish

November 22, 1930

This illustration is from an article about “King” Clancy by Greg. He was a famous hockey player (and later coach). The article was published shortly after he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in October 1930 from the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, the microfilm copy of this story is of poor quality, so the article cannot be replicated here.

Juniper Junction – 11/19/47

November 19, 1947

Stamped Out

By Greg Clark, November 20, 1937

“Since when,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you been a stamp collector?”

“I’m not a stamp collector,” I denied indignantly. “This old stamp album I found in a trunk left with our family about forty years ago by an uncle.”

“It might be very valuable,” said Jim.

“You’re telling ‘me?” I snorted, thumbing through the yellowish pages thickly scabbed with aged stamps. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with my cousins for years to take the old trunk off our hands. I just heard the last of them had died up in Saskatchewan, so I decided to chuck the old trunk out. This was in it.”

“Maybe there’s a good fifty bucks in it,” said Jim, “to pay you for …”

“Fifty bucks,” I scoffed. “Jim, there are old stamps that sell as high as $14,000.”

“What?” said Jim

“Listen, my boy,” I said, as I studied eagerly the rows and rows of faded stamps all so neatly stuck in the album, “kings and queens collect stamps. Millionaires collect stamps the way other millionaires collect Rembrandts or Ming china. A thousand dollars is nothing for a rare old stamp dating back a hundred years, or, better, a stamp of a very small issue that was discontinued for some reason.”

“Your uncle,” said Jim, “wouldn’t have left that album lying for years in an old trunk, if there was any value like that in them.”

“He left it with us forty years ago,” said I, “and I bet he collected them when he was a young man. Look at the writing. That’s a young man’s writing. Maybe this album is sixty or seventy years old.”

“By golly,” breathed Jim.

“Everybody, Jim,” I declared, “is entitled to a little luck, once in his life. Some people get their luck by stumbling on a gold mine. Or some old relative leaves them a windfall, ten times bigger than they ever thought the relative was capable of. This old stamp album may be my luck, at last.”

“A reward, kind of,” said Jimmie, “for all the years you have patiently kept that trunk up in your attic.”

“Exactly,” I said piously, though there were plenty of times the old trunk got kicked around pretty badly, and old Uncle Seth had been called some fancy names.

“How are you going to get the album appraised?” asked Jim.

“That’s what I want to talk over with you,” I stated. There are catalogues that list all the stamps in the world, giving their value. I telephoned two or three stamp dealers and asked about those catalogues, and they all say the same thing. They say that the value of stamps has altered a great deal during recent years, owing to the depression and so forth, and if I will just bring the old album in, they can give me some idea of its value.”

“Oh, yeah?” scorned Jim. “Don’t let anybody pull that stuff on you. If you’ve got something valuable there, don’t let any dealer get his mitts on it.”

“Trust me,” I gloated. “I just laughed at them when they suggested the idea. No, sir, we’ve got to hunt around and get hold of one of those big catalogues and price lists. Or maybe if we make a list of the stamps in here and send it around to a dozen or so dealers.”

Getting Suspicious

“Telling each one,” warned Jim, “that we have sent the same list to other dealers.”

“That’s it,” I cried. “And then we’ll start them bidding.”

“Look here,” said Jim, “I know a dear old fellow; he used to be a postman. He’s one of the greatest stamp collectors in Canada. “If I can locate him, we could go and see him.”

“How could we trust him,” I demanded, “when it comes to a matter of thousands of dollars? Maybe $20,000.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “this old chap is as honest as the day. He hasn’t a cent in the world anyway. This is what we’ll do. We’ll offer to pay him a commission of five per cent for the proper valuation of this album if it is sold for what he appraises it at.”

“Not a bad idea,” I said, closing the album and taking a good tight hold on it. “But I have the queer sort of feeling about stamp collectors, as if it were a secret society.”

“How do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I don’t know,” I said, “On the face of it, it seems so silly, collecting old postage stamps. What’s there in it? It looks to me like one of those mysterious businesses that appear so silly on the outside, yet is full of secrets and mystery inside. Maybe this old postman of yours belongs to some kind of international organization and would value the album at a mere $500 and then split ten thousand with somebody else in the ring who buys it.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you’re getting suspicious like everybody else that gets his hands on a good thing.”

“Jim,” I said, “when you get your hands on something worth maybe $25,000, you’ve got to be suspicious. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head.”

So Jim did some telephoning and found that his old postman friend would probably be home around 8 p.m. He lived in a room on the third floor over one of those downtown blocks of stores on Queen street.

“I’ll pick you up after supper,” I said.

After supper, we drove downtown and parked the car near the Queen street number and located the place. It was one of those old blocks of stores, with intermediate doors leading up flights of stairs to apartments on the second and third floors.

Third floor we climbed, up dark, steep stairs, passing halls and doors where there were sounds of domestic activity and radios. At the top were two doors, one marked Beautician, and the other blank.

It was a massive door. They built doors in the eighties.

“This will be it,” said Jim, rapping.

Instead of the door opening, one panel in the upper half slid along sideways and a dim face appeared.

“Hello,” said Jim, a little startled.

“What do you want?” asked the face, just a faint blur in the open panel

“We’ve come to do a little business,” said Jim, pleasantly.

“Who sent you?” demanded the low voice.

“It was our own idea,” laughed Jim, as if this, were a game.

The panel slid shut. We waited. In a moment, it slid open again and we could make out two dim blurs in the darkness.

“Well?” said Jim.

“They look,” said a thinner voice than the first one we had heard, “like the type of guys we’ve been trying to get. Let ’em in.”

Something clunked. The door swung open, and we entered a dimly lit hallway, in which there was now only one man, a particularly heavy built individual who looked like a retired policeman.

“Hang your coats and hats here,” said this gentleman, gruffly. I felt his hand slide quickly down my back and up my left side, as he pretended to take my coat off. I clutched my parcelled stamp album tightly.

“What’s that?” demanded the stranger, brusquely.

“A stamp album,” I stated. “An old stamp album. That’s what we’ve come to see about.”

“To see about!” said the big fellow. “Oh, I see. Luck, huh?”

“It sure is luck,” I began, intending to start business without delay.

“Trot along in, then,” said the big fellow, “if the boss says you’re in, you’re in, cockeyed or not.”

He waved us along the hallway.

We opened the door. Instead of one man, there were thirty in the big room. Some were sitting at small side tables. Some were sitting on high benches around the side, like shoeshine parlor benches. And in the middle of the room was a big pool table, sort of, only it was not pool they were playing.

At one end of the table, a man in shirt sleeves was standing with a long hooked stick in his hand. Behind and above him, on a chair six feet high, like a chair on a ladder, was another man, sitting watching the table the way a cat watches a goldfish in its bowl.

A man at the side of the table was rolling big dice.

It was all quiet, smoky, muttery and hushed. As we entered, hardly anybody looked up. One man, who turned out to be the boss walked over and said quietly:

“Make yourselves at home. Buy your chips from the croupier. He cashes.”

“Chips?” said I, but Jim gave my sleeve a little jerk. We strolled over and looked between shoulders at the big table. It was not a billiard table at all. At one end, down by the man with the stick, there was a thick line painted across the green baize. Out in the middle were all kinds of squares, numbered. On the line and behind it were colored chips. In the squares were a lot of other chips.

A regular babble of talk was going on, and they were talking about the “hard eight and the “hard six.” At the far end, the man with the stick was repeating monotonously, “when you crap you double, when you crap you double,” and in return for cash money, he shoved out small piles of chips to the men standing around the table, yet never ceased his monotone, “crap you double.”

At the sides, where the men were putting their chips in the little squares, the battle ceased, and the man with the crooked stick put the dice in a leather tube, about the size of a condensed soup can. He handed it to one of the men on the side. He held it up, turned it around three times, shifted it to his other hand and rolled the dice out on the green baize.

There was an outburst, like “they’re off” when the horses start at the races. Chips went all directions and money was waved, and the man with the crooked stick raked in the dice and shoved chips this way and that. The man on the high chair never even blinked. He just sat up there, staring expressionlessly at the table.

“Jim,” I muttered, “how about my stamps?”

“All right, all right,” hissed Jim. “Wait a minute.”

“Well, what is this?” I insisted.

“Talk about luck,” said Jim, backing me out a little from the crowd. “that old stamp album of yours has led us right into a swell big crap game. One we couldn’t get into, maybe, except by accident, in a thousand years.”

“What of it?” I started.

“Luck,” whispered Jim fiercely. “Luck. Don’t you believe in hunches?”

“No gambling,” I declared firmly. “Not me.”

“How much have you got on you?” demanded Jim, feeling in his own pocket. I had $2.12. Between us, we had $7.40. Jim took my two and went around the end to the man with the stick. He returned with seven white chips.

“A dollar apiece?” I protested.

“Listen,” said Jim. “we’re in luck. The air is full of hunches. Watch me.”

He found an open spot at the table and I wedged in alongside. Jim put two of our white chips on the square marked 8 and two behind the long white line. We waited while the babble subsided, a tall elderly man threw the dice, and out came a nine. There was the outburst, and the swift moving of chips in all directions. Ours were lost in the scramble.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Just a minute,” said Jim, tossing three chips down in the squares, in various numbers.

The tall, thin man rolled again. Another nine.

There was wild, smothered hubbub and our three chips were swept away by strange hands that, as far as I could see, had nothing to do with it. But Jim just looked and said nothing.

“Now what?” I demanded.

Jim backed me out again.

“Let’s see that stamp album,” said he.

“What for?” I cried so sharply that the boss walked quickly over.

“What is it, gents?” he asked.

“Is there anybody around here,” said Jim. “knows the value of old postage stamps? Any stamp collector?”

“Ham up there,” said the boss, “he’s a regular fiend after stamps.”

“Jim.” I said, “be careful.”

We walked around and spoke up to the man on the high stool. As if waking from a trance, Ham looked down and listened while Jim explained about the stamp album. Ham reached down for it and looked through it casually

“Ten bucks?” he said.

“What?” I cried. “It’s worth hundreds.”

“Says you,” said Ham, handing it negligently down to me.

“Maybe thousands,” I repeated heatedly.

Ham’s eyes were fixed glassily on the table again.

“Look,” Jim said, “gamblers are the most honest men in the world. You’ve heard that all your life, haven’t you?”

“Ten bucks,” I said contemptuously, tying the string back on it.

“Look,” pleaded Jim, holding my lapel, “everything is luck. isn’t it? How do we know this dizzy old album …”

“Jimmie,” I warned, clutching the book.

“A bad beginning,” said Jim, “means a good end. If I get ten bucks, I’ll probably be able to clean up $500 here in half an hour. I’ll split.”

“Split!” I snorted.

“Two-fifty in the hand is worth ten thousand in a bushy old album,” begged Jim. “Listen, this is a straight hunch. Why should we stumble in here, with that old book, unless …?”

I handed Jim the album, slowly, painfully. He handed it up to Ham and Ham, never shifting his eyes from the table, handed down a ten.

Jim went and waited at the table until the dice came to him. He put ten white chips on the line, with a regular slap.

He rolled. It was a six.

After the hubbub, they gave the dice back to Jim. He held the tube up and passed it slowly from his right hand to his left.

He rolled.

Seven.

In the hubbub, our troubles seemed to be as nothing. We withdrew to a corner, and the boss came hurrying over.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he cried, “not so loud. No fighting in here, if you please.”

“We’re ruined,” I informed him loudly.

“Ham will always advance you taxi fare home,” said the boss, gently.

“We’ve got our own car, thanks,” I declared.

Which was all.

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Talk About Luck” in 1943 (illustration here).

December 11, 1943

Editor’s Notes: Jim was always portrayed as the one more comfortable gambling, where Greg would be seen as more prudish.

Baize is the material used for billiards tables and casino games.

Buffalo Votes Without Ballots – Machines Do It All

November 15, 1924

This story (by Fred Griffin) was illustrated by Jim, which was about new voting machines in the United States Presidential Election of 1924. The article noted differences between Canadian and American elections, including American special polling booths, no canvassers allowed within 100 feet, automatic vote counting with machines, and open betting on the results. The illustration mentions some of the candidates running, including
Robert La Follette for the Progressive Party, and New York State Governor candidates Al Smith and Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

Unrelated to the article, but on the same page, was a notice that this particular issue of the Toronto Star Weekly would be delivered to subscribers of the Toronto Sunday World, which had just shut down.

What! – No Lighter?

November 9, 1935

For Remembrance

By Greg Clark, November 9, 1935

“Seventeen years,” mused Jimmie Frise, “since the Armistice. Mm-mm!”

“It’s so far away,” I said, “it seems like a story I read in a book.”

“I’ve been reading this ‘Paths of Glory’,” said Jim, “and It seems far realer in that book than in my memory.”

“But you’ve got that finger to remind you,” I pointed out, indicating Jim’s left hand, where one of the digits is missing. “I haven’t even got a pock mark.”

“You haven’t got any marks outside,” agreed Jim. “But I often see signs of severe internal head injuries in you.”

“How did you lose that finger, Jim?” I asked.

“It’s a silly story,” said Jim. “Like picking up a book and opening it in the middle and reading a couple of pages. It seems so detached. I was walking up a steep hill in the dark. There was a kind of track in the mud like cows make in a field. I was coming up the track. I had two mules, leading them, a bridle in each hand. I was coming up the hill, they called it Vimy Ridge, from the battery, where I had just delivered two mule loads of shells. I guess it was about 9 p.m.”

“Raining?” I asked.

“Slushy,” said Jim. “Mules are funny. They love to be coaxed. I was coaxing them. You know? You know the way an artillery driver coaxes?”

“Sure, sure,” I admitted

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Jim. “I guess it was because I was coaxing rather loudly. And the mules’ feet were making sucking, squashy sounds in the mud, and anyway, down in the flat valley where I was coming from, a lot of doors were slamming… All of a sudden, I am surrounded by a terribly bright light. A bright light with rainbow edges all around it. A terrible large round light. I didn’t hear anything. All I saw was the stunning light. My head seemed to be buried in an immense feather mattress. I felt myself fading, dreamy, dreamy, dreamy.”

“No pain?” I asked.

“No pain,” said Jim. “Anyway, when I woke up, I was lying face down, head down hill, in the mud and slush. It was still dark, and the doors were slamming, slamming, down in the flat plain. So I knelt up. In my right hand I still had a bridle. But all that was attached to the bridle was a mule’s head. I then, very methodically, thought of my left hand. It hurt. I didn’t have any bridle in it. I held it up. Down in the valley, a gun flashed briefly, but in the burp of light, I saw my hand was shiny, and one finger was gone. Wherever that off mule is, my finger is.”

“So then?” I argued

“So then I got up and floundered up the hill,” said Jim, “and it was dark and slushy and muddy and I fell into shell holes and got tangled in barbed wire, and the more lost I got, the more lost I got, if you understand me?”

“I can well imagine,” I agreed, “an artillery man off the beaten track.”

Couldn’t See It Coming

“Anyway, I got to a dressing station, and the war was over,” said Jim. “How about you?”

“As a matter of fact,” I stated, “I shed blood, but not from a wound. It was from a bloody nose.”

“That’s unique,” said Jim.

“It was at Vimy, too,” I said. “A few minutes after 7 o’clock in the morning of the first day on Vimy. A major of my regiment came up and said there was a gap on our left, and the Germans were coming up a deep trench called Artillery Way, up the side of the Ridge. So he told me to take a party of men and go down and bomb out the trench.”

“There was something so romantic about the infantry,” said Jim.

“Yeah,” I said. “So I went and got my sergeant – his name was Charlie Windsor – and explained what the major said, and asked him who I should take with me. ‘Me and five others,’ said Windsor. So we each filled up with Mills bombs and ran across a kind of vacant lot and got into Artillery Way. The Germans threw their stick bombs up at us. But we were throwing down-hill, so we did better. And we pushed them down half way. Then I decided we were getting too far away from Canada, so we had better pull in a block in the trench. A block means putting a sort of dam in the trench, earth. wire, junk. Something the Germans couldn’t get past. Once we put a block in, you see, we could back up a bit and fling bombs down at it all day.”

“So you put in a block?” said Jim.

“And while the boys were pulling in the block,” I said, “I decided to take a quick peep down hill, in case any Germans might have crawled out of the trench to come sneaking up on us from the sides. So I kicked a little foot-hold in the earth of the trench wall and hoisted myself up. I popped my head over. And to my astonishment, there, not 20 yards away, at the next zig of the zigzag trench, was the head of a German wearing a coal scuttle helmet, grinning at me. He was a pleasant-faced chap. Blond. Blue eyes, wide open in an expression of surprise. So I grinned back at him.”

“A sort of armistice between you,” said Jim.

“Not exactly,” I explained. “My steel helmet I always wore well down over my eyes. Like a big peak on a cap. Unknown to me this German had been looking over the trench, all ready to fling one of those little black egg bombs they carried. And just as he was going to throw, he saw my helmet start up over the edge. So he let go.”

“And you didn’t see it?” gurgled Jim.

“It was up in the air, coming in a nice big lob,” I elucidated, “but on account of the rim of my helmet. I couldn’t see it. That was why the German was smiling so delightedly.”

“What did you do?”

“I sort of waved at him, you know?” I explained. “Gave him a kind of top-of-the-morning flick of my hand to my helmet, and just as I did that, the egg bomb landed in the soft earth out of the trench, about a yard from my nose, and went off the instant it struck.”

“Your head was blown off,” gasped Jim.

Everything Seemed Accidental

“Fortunately,” I said, “those German egg bombs weren’t very well made. They had a sort of ring or belt of corrugations around their middle, and often they just split in half at that ring. This one split in half. There was an awful concussion. My helmet was violently lifted by the blast from my head. The chin strap, which was resting right on the point of my chin, caught on my nose as it went up, and it was like being kicked on the nose by a boot. As I fell from the side of the trench into the arms of Charlie Windsor, I automatically flung my hands to my face. The blood which was spurting from my nose I smeared with my palms all over my face. By the time Charlie Windsor got his eye on me, I was just a smear. ‘Back up, Boys,’ he commanded the men, ‘Clarkie has had his blankety blank head blew off.’ So they carried me up the trench and I let them carry me nearly to the top before I allowed myself to come to. They set me down, the most amazed bunch of men you ever saw I wiped the blood off my face and took out my hankie to dabble my nose. And then they all started to laugh. They laughed for two years. They are laughing yet. Every time I see any of the three that are left out of that six, they always start to laugh, and rub the back of their hands across their noses.”

“So what did you do?” asked Jim.

“Well, we went back down and threw some more bombs, and finished pulling in the block.” I explained, “and then the major sent word down to me to come on up and take command of my company because now I was the only officer left. So I hurried back up and found the major and started talking to him as an equal. You know the way? Sort of ‘now, my dear chap, what do you think we ought to do about our flanks?’ That sort of thing. But as my nose was still bleeding, all day, I guess I didn’t really look like a company commander. Anyway, they sent up a fresh officer to take command, and by the time my nose quit bleeding, I was just a lieutenant again.”

“Queer,” said Jim, “how everything that happened in the war was sort of accidental. The war was so terribly on purpose. Yet everything that happened seemed accidental.”

“That’s it,” I cried. “The war was so big, and we were so terribly small. And whenever anything happened to us, we thought it must have been just pure chance, because surely the war couldn’t be specially aware of us, as individuals.”

“I guess life itself is like that,” said Jim.

“Some day,” I said, “we will get on top of war and on top of life. And life won’t be allowed to destroy us and grind us down.”

“Life is pretty good,” said Jim. “That is why we are all so anxious to keep it. But I guess we look at life optimistically, the same way we remember the funny things in war. You never hear us old soldiers telling sad stories.”

“There was so much sadness,” I explained, “we don’t have to remember it, maybe.”

“Tell me a sad war story,” suggested Jim.

“I can tell you one,” I started, “about the very same day I got the bloody nose. That first day at Vimy. Along about sunset, I began to think of the dead. They were lying about, the way we had to place them, with rubber capes over them. It had started to snow, but along the western horizon, away back over Mount St. Eloi and Villers au Bois, far back westward over where Canada lay, and all heart’s desire, there was a narrow magenta strip of red sky. I was standing in our newly dug trench, looking back at the sunset through the queer grotesque and shattered arms of the apple trees had been the orchard of La Folie Farm. And there I saw a curious figure. It was our new chaplain, Padre Davis, whom I had not yet met, and he was kneeling in the mud with his helmet off. Reading from a little book.”

It’s the Littleness That Hurts

“Burial,” said Jim.

“On the field of battle,” I said, proudly. “He was a great padre. He would not leave the boys out for even one night. So I got Charlie Windsor, and he got two men with shovels, and we crept out into the battered orchard and dug a big grave. We had seven men to bury, out of our little platoon. And while they were carrying the boys to be best spot I could find, under the last mangled of the apple trees that one day, I thought, might leaf and bloom again, I went and told the padre, but he said it would be long hours before he could get to me, because he had so many right there where he was. ‘Bury them,’ he said, ‘and if you like, say the Lord’s Prayer over them. That is your privilege. An officer may bury his men. And then, in the morning, as soon as it grows light, I will come and we will hold the service over them.’

“He was so gentle, standing there in the slow falling snow, his head bare, the odd shell moaning over, darkness grimly dropping down. So I went back, and the boys had been placed in the grave. The two chaps with the shovels were standing by, like in the picture called The Angelus. Windsor said I had to get down in the grave and take the personal effects and pay books off the boys, but I asked him to do it, because he was a much older soldier than I, though younger in years. But he had been in three battles.

“I could barely see his face when he got out and handed me the seven handkerchiefs tied up into little bundles.

“‘Now men,’ I said, ‘I will say the Lord’s Prayer, before you cover the grave.’

“And we all took off our helmets and bowed our heads and then I started to remember the Lord’s Prayer.

“It seemed so far away. The Lord’s Prayer, I said, to myself. And my mind started wandering down all the long, empty alleys of my mind, away, away, down lonely empty forgotten alleys, where there was nobody any more, but like a vacant house that had not been lived in for many a year. And I could see my mind, shaped something like me, but more like a boy, a boy that grew smaller all the time it wandered back down those gray forgotten corridors, and it could not find the Lord’s Prayer anywhere. I could feel the men standing there across the grave, waiting, and one of them coughed briefly.

“But all of a sudden. I found it. The Lord’s Prayer, why, of course. “So I started:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep;

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.’

“‘God bless father and moth ..’

“And then I stopped, because I knew it was wrong. I felt a terrible lost sensation. I looked fearfully at Windsor and he was grinning a twisted grin at me in the gloom, but tears were flowing down his cheeks. So I said ‘God bless these seven men.'”

Jim pulled his feet down off his desk and went and looked out the window.

“Well,” I said, “that’s sad, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” whispered Jimmie. “That’s sad.”

So a little later, Jimmie said:

“The way the world is now, and Armistice Day being so near, let’s write that story.”

So we did. Because after all, it isn’t the bigness of war that hurts, it’s the littleness.


Editor’s Notes: Greg and Jim produced many Remembrance stories about their time in World War One over the years, and is often the case, unlike with other stories, the reader can expect this one to be 100% true. Greg also revisited the burial story in a future article many years later.

Vimy Ridge was an important battle for Canadian troops they both participated in.

A Mills bomb was a British hand grenade, and the German Model 17 was the “Egg Grenade”.

Mont-Saint-Éloi and Villers-au-Bois were areas of France familiar to Canadian soldiers in World War One.

The Angelus is a painting by Jean-François Millet, completed between 1857 and 1859.

The Lord’s Prayer is the most common Christian Prayer, but Greg confused it with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a common children’s prayer to say before bedtime.

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