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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 3. Incident Of The Gooseberry Bombs
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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 3. Incident Of The Gooseberry Bombs Post by :Aslan Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :1013

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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 3. Incident Of The Gooseberry Bombs

CHAPTER III. INCIDENT OF THE GOOSEBERRY BOMBS

The day of the great parade dawned dazzling and clear, with every promise of heat. From the first blue of morning, while the streets were still cool and marble front steps moist from housemaids' sluicings, crowds of Bishop Chuff's marchers came pouring into the city. At the prearranged mobilization points, where bands were stationed to keep the throngs amused until the immense procession could be ranged in line, the press was terrific. Every trolley, every suburban train, every jitney, was crammed with the pan-antis, clad in white, carrying the buttons, ribbons and banners that had been prepared for this great occasion. DOWN WITH GOOSEBERRIES, THE NEW MENACE! was the terrifying legend printed on these emblems.

The Boulevard had been roped off by the police by eight o'clock, and the pavements were swarming with citizens, many of whom had camped there all night in order to witness this tremendous spectacle. As the sun surged pitilessly higher, the temperature became painful. The asphalt streets grew soft under the twingeing feet of the Pan-Antis, and waves of heat radiation shimmered along the vista of the magnificent highway. To keep themselves cheerful the legions of Chuff sang their new Gooseberry Anthem, written by Miss Theodolinda Chuff (the Bishop's daughter) to the air of "Marching Through Georgia." The rousing strains rose in unison from thousands of earnest throats. The majesty of the song cannot be comprehended unless the reader will permit himself to hum to the familiar tune:--


Root up every gooseberry where Satan winks his eye--
We will make the sinful earth a credit by and by:
Europe may be stubborn, but we'll legislate her dry,
And then we'll tackle the planets.

Chorus:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We're anti-everything--
Hurrah! Hurrah! An end to joy we sing:
Come let's make life doleful and then death will lose its sting,
Happiness is only a habit!

Come then, all ye citizens, and join our stern Verein:
We're the ones that put the crimp in whiskey, beer and wine;
Booze is gone and soon we'll make tobacco fall in line,
And then we'll tackle the planets.

Chorus:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We're anti-everything--
Hurrah! Hurrah! An end to joy we sing:
Come let's make life doleful and then death will lose its sting,
Happiness is only a habit!

We'll abolish every fruit attempting to ferment--
We will alter Nature's laws and teach her to repent:
Let the fatal gooseberry proceed where cocktails went,
And then we'll tackle the planets.

Chorus as before.


From the beginning of the day, however, it became apparent that there was a concerted movement under way to heckle the Pan-Antis. As the Gooseberry Anthem came to an end a number of men were observed on the skyline of a tall building, wig-wagging with flags. All eyes were turned aloft, and much speculation ensued among the waiting thousands as to the meaning of the signals. Then a cry of anger burst from one of the section leaders, who was acquainted with the Morse code. The flags were spelling WHAT A DAY FOR A DRINK! All down the Boulevard the white and gold banners tossed in anger. To those above, the mass of agitated chuffs looked like a field of daisies in a wind.

Shortly afterward the familiar buzz of airplane motors was heard, and three silver-gray machines came coasting above the channel of the Boulevard. They flew low, and it was easy to read the initials C.P.H. painted on the nether surface of their wings. Over the front ranks of the parade (which was beginning to fall in line) they executed a series of fantastic twirls. Then, as though at a concerted signal, they dropped a cloud of paper slips which came eddying down through the sunlight. The chuffs scrambled for them, wondering. A sullen murmur rose when the messages were read. They ran thus:--


TO MAKE GOOSEBERRY WINE

(Paste This in Your Hat),

Ten quarts of gooseberries, thoroughly crushed;
Over these, five quarts of water are flushed.
Twice round the clock let the fluid remain,
Then through a sieve the blithe mixture you strain,
Adding some sugar (not less than ten pound)
And stirring it carefully, round and around.

To the pulp of the fruit that remains in the sieve
A gallon of pure filtered water you give:
This you let stand for a dozen of hours,
Then add to the other to strengthen its powers.
Shut up the whole for the space of a day
And it will ferment in a riotous way.

When you see by the froth that the fluid grows thicker
You, should skim it (with glee) for it's turning to liquor!
While it ferments, please continue to skim:
At the end, you may murmur the Bartender's Hymn.
This makes a booze that is potent enough--
Seal in a hogshead--and hide it from Chuff!

Corporation for the
Perpetuation of Happiness.


The Pan-Antis were still muttering furiously over this daring act of defiance when a shrill bugle-call pealed down the avenue. Bishop Chuff rode out into the middle of the street on his famous coal-black charger, John Barleycorn. There was a long hush. Then, with a wave of his hand, he gave the signal. One hundred bands burst into the somber and clanging strains of "The Face on the Bar-Room Floor." The great parade had begun.

From a house-top farther up the street Dunraven Bleak watched them come. He had taken Quimbleton's word seriously, and with his usual enterprise had rented a roof overlooking the Boulevard, on which several members of the Balloon staff were prepared to deal with any startling events that might occur. A battery of telephones had been installed on the house-top; Bleak himself sat with apparatus clamped to his head like an operator at central. Two reporters were busy with paper and pencil; the cartoonist sat on the cornice, with legs swinging above two hundred feet of space, sketching the prodigious scene. The young lady editor of the Woman's Page was there, with opera glasses, noting down the "among those present."

It was an awe-inspiring spectacle. Between sidewalks jammed with silent and morose citizens, the Pan-Antis passed like a conquering army. The terrible Bishop, the man who had put military discipline into the ranks of his mighty organization, rode his horse as the Kaiser would have liked to ride entering Paris. His small, bitter, fanatical face wore a deeply carved sneer. His great black beard flapped in the breeze, and he sang as he rode. Behind him came huge floats depicting in startling tableaux the hideous menace of the gooseberry. Bands blared and crashed. Then, rank on rank, as far as eye could see, followed the zealots in their garments of white. Each one, it was noticed, carried a neat knapsack. Huge tractors rumbled along, groaning beneath a tonnage of tracts which were shot into the watching crowd by pneumatic guns. Banners whipped and fluttered.

The sound of shrill chanting vibrated in the blazing air like a visible wave of power. These were conquerors of a nation, and they knew it. A former bartender, standing in the front of the crowd, caught Chuff's merciless gaze, wavered, and swooned. A retired distiller, sitting in the window of the Brass Rail Club, fell dead of apoplexy.

Bleak trembled with nervousness. Had Quimbleton hoaxed him? What could halt this mighty pageant now? He was about to telephone to his city editor to go ahead with the one o'clock edition as originally planned....

From the sky came a roar of engines that drowned for a moment the thundering echoes of the parade. The three gray planes, which had been circling far above, swooped down almost to a level with the tops of the buildings. One of these, a huge two-seated bomber, passed directly over Bleak's head. He craned upward, and caught a glimpse of what he thought at first was a white pennant trailing over the bulwark of the cockpit. A snowy shag of whiskers came tossing down through the air and fell in his lap. It was Quimbleton's beard, torn from its moorings by the tug of wind-pressure. Bleak thrust it quickly in his pocket. As the great plane passed over the head of the parade, flying dangerously low, every face save that of the iron-willed Bishop was turned upward. But even in their curiosity the rigid discipline of the Pan-Antis prevailed. Now they were singing, to the tune of "The Old Gray Mare."


Old John Barleycorn, he ain't what he used to be
AIN'T WHAT HE USED TO BE--
AIN'T WHAT HE USED TO BE!
Old John Barleycorn, he ain't what he used to be,
Many a year ago.


The great volume of gusty sound, hurled aloft by these thousands of sky-pointing mouths, created an air-pocket in which the bombing plane tilted dangerously. For a moment, Bleak, who was watching the plane, thought it was going to careen into a tail-spin and crash down fatally. Then he saw Quimbleton, still recognizable by an adhering shred of whisker, lean over the side of the fuselage.

A small dark object dropped through the air, fell with a loud POP on the street a few yards in front of the Bishop. A faint green vapor arose, misting for a moment the proud figures of Chuff and his horse. At the same instant the other two planes, throbbing down the line of the parade, discharged a rain of similar projectiles along the vacant strip of paving between the marching chuffs and the police-lined curb. An eddying emerald fume filled the street, drifting with the brisk air down through all the ranks of the procession. There were shouts and screams; the clanging bands squawked discordantly.

"Holy cat!" shouted the cartoonist--"Poison gas!"

"Nix!" said Bleak, revealing Quimbleton's secret in his excitement. "Gooseberry bombs. Every chuff that inhales it will be properly soused. Oh, boy, some story! Look at the Bish! He's got a snootful already--his face has turned black!"

"The whole crowd has turned black," said the cartoonist, almost falling off his perch in a frantic effort to see more clearly through the olive haze that filled the street.

It was true. Above the thousands of white figures, as they emerged from the intoxicating cloud-bank of gooseberry gas, grinned ghastly, inhuman, blackened faces, with staring goggle eyes. The Bishop was most frightful of all. His horse was prancing and swaying wildly, and the Bishop's transformed features were diabolic. His whole profile had altered, seemed black and shapeless as the face of a tadpole. The amazing truth burst upon Bleak. Chuff and his paraders were wearing gas-masks. These were what they had carried in their knapsacks. Indomitable Chuff, who had foreseen everything!

"Poor Quimbleton," said Bleak. "This will break his heart!"

"His neck too, I fancy," said one of the others, pointing to the sky, and indeed one of the three planes was seen falling tragically to earth behind the tower of the City Hall.

The cloud of gas was rapidly drifting off down the Boulevard, and through the exhilarating and delicious fog the Pan-Antis waved their defiant banners unscathed. The progress of the parade, however, was halted by the behavior of the Bishop's horse, for which no mask had been provided. The noble animal, under this sudden and extraordinary stimulus, was almost human in its actions. At first it stood, whinneying sharply, and pawing the air with one forefoot--as though feeling for the brass rail, as one of Bleak's companions said. It raised its head proudly, with open mouth and expanded nostrils. Then, dashing off across the broad street, it seemed eager to climb a lamp-post, and only the fierce restraint of the Bishop held it in. One of the chuffs (perhaps only lukewarm in loyalty), ran up and offered to give his mask to the horse, but was sternly motioned back to the ranks by the infuriated leader, who was wildly wrestling to gain control of the exuberant animal. At last the horse solved the problem by lying down in the street, on top of the Bishop, and going to sleep. An ambulance, marked Federal Home for Inebriates, Cana, N.J., dashed up with shrilling gong. This had been arranged by Quimbleton, who had wired a requisition for an ambulance to remove one intoxicated bishop. As the Bishop was quite in command of his faculties, the horse, after some delay, was hoisted into the ambulance instead. The Bishop was given a dusting, and the parade proceeded. The self-control of the police alone averted prolonged and frightful disorder, for when the conduct of the horse was observed thousands of spectators fought desperately to get through the ropes and out into the fumes that still lingered in wisps and whorls of green vapor. Others tore off their coats and attempted to bag a few cubic inches of the gas in these garments. But the police, with a devotion to duty that was beyond praise, kept the mob in check and themselves bore the brunt of the lingering acid. Only one man, who leaped from an office-window with an improvised parachute, really succeeded in getting into the middle of the Boulevard, and he refused to be ejected on the ground that he was chief of the street-cleaning department. This department, by the way, was given a remarkable illustration of the fine public spirit of the citizens, for by three o'clock in the afternoon two hundred thousand applications had been received from those eager to act as volunteer street-cleaners and help scour the Boulevard after the passage of the great parade.

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