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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 4. The Great War Begins
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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 4. The Great War Begins Post by :Aslan Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :1338

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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 4. The Great War Begins

CHAPTER IV. THE GREAT WAR BEGINS

As the echoes of the parade died away, public excitement was roused to fever by the discovery that evening of an infernal machine in the City Hall. Leaning against one of the great marble pillars in the lobby of the building, a gleaming object (looking very much like a four-inch shrapnel shell) was found by a vigilant patrolman. To his horror he found it to be one of the much-dreaded thermos bottles. Experts from the Bureau of Rumbustibles were summoned, and the bomb was carefully analyzed. Much to the disappointment of the chief inspector, the devilish ingredients of the explosive had been spoiled by immersion in a pail of water, so his examination was purely theoretical; but it was plain that the leading component of this hellish mixture had been nothing less than gin, animated by a fuse of lemon-peel. If the cylinder had exploded, unquestionably every occupant of the City Hall would have been intoxicated.

The conduct of the municipal officials in this crisis was extremely courageous. No one knew whether other articles of this kind might not be concealed about the building, but the Mayor and councilmen refused to go home, and even assisted in the search for possible bombs. Secret service men were called from Washington, and went into consultation with Bishop Chuff. It was a night of uproar. A reign of terror was freely predicted, and many prominent citizens sat up until after midnight on the chance of discovering similar explosives concealed about their premises.

The morning papers rallied rapidly to the cause of threatened civilization. The Daily Circumspect declared, editorially:--

The alcoholsheviks have at last thrown down the gauntlet. The news that the ginarchists have placed a ginfernal machine in the very shrine of law and order is tantamount to a declaration of war upon sobriety as a whole. A canister of forbidden design, filled with the deadliest gingredients, was found in the corridor leading to the bureau of marriage licenses in the City Hall. There must have been something more than accident in its discovery just in this spot. Men of thoughtful temper will do well to heed the symbolism of this incident. Plainly not only the constitution of the United States is to be made a quaffing-stock, but the very sanctity of the marriage bond is assailed. To this form of terrorism there is but one answer.

In the meantime, Quimbleton had disappeared. The house on Caraway Street was broken into by the police, but except for the grape arbor and a great quantity of empty bottles in the cellar, no clue was found. Apparently, however, the vanished ginarchist (for so Chuff called him) had been writing poetry before his departure. The following rather inscrutable doggerel was found scrawled on a piece of paper:--


When Death doth reap
And Chuff is sickled,
He will not keep:
He was never pickled.

For Bishop Chuff
This is ill cheer:
That Time will force him
To the bier.

And when he stands
On his last legs
Then Death will drain him
To the dregs.

So when Chuff croaks
Bury him on a high hill--
For he's a hoax
Et praeterea nihil!


But Bishop Chuff was not the man to take these insults tamely. His first act was to call together the legislature of the State in special session, and the following act was rushed through:


AN ACT

Severing relations with Nature, and amending the principles and processes of the same in so far as they contravene the Constitution of the United States and the tenets of the Pan-Antis:

WHEREAS, in accordance with the Declaration of Gindependence, it may become necessary for a people to dissolve the alcoholic bands which have connected them with one another and to assume among the powers of the earth the sobriety to which the laws of pessimism entitle them, a decent disrespect to the opinions of drinkers requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to drouth.

WHEREAS we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created sober, and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, such as Life, Grievances, and the Pursuit of Other People's Happiness. Whenever any form of amusement becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the Pan-Antis to abolish it. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that beverages long established should not be abolished for light and transient causes. But when it is evident that Nature herself is in conspiracy against the Constitution of the United States, and that millions of so-called human beings have found in forbidden tipples a cause for mirth and merriment, it is time to call a halt to malt, and have no parley with barley.

WHEREAS it has frequently and regrettably been evidenced that Nature is a sot at heart, by reason of her deplorably lax morals. Painful as it is to make the admission, there are many of her apparently innocent fruits and plants that are susceptible, by the unlawful processes of fermentation and effervescence, of transformation into alcoholic liquid. Science tells us that this abominable form of activity to which Nature is privy is in reality a form of decomposition or putrefaction; but willful men will hardly be restrained by science in their illicit pursuit of frivolity.

WHEREAS Nature (hereinafter referred to as The Enemy) has been guilty of repeated ruptures of the Constitution of the United States, having permitted the juice of apples to ferment into cider, having encouraged seditious effervescence on the part of gooseberries, currants, raisins, grapes and similar conspirators; having fomented outrageous yeastiness in hops, malt, rye, barley and other grains and fodders,

THEREFORE be it enacted, and it hereby is, that all relations with the Enemy are hereby and henceforward suspended; and any citizen of the United States having commerce with Nature, or giving her aid and comfort or encouragement in her atrocious alcoholshevik designs on human dignity, be, and hereby is, guilty of treason and lese-sobriety.

BE IT ALSO enacted, and it hereby is, that the principle of fermentation is forbidden in the territory of the United States; and all plants, herbs, legumes, vegetables, fruits and foliage showing themselves capable of producing effervescent juices or liquids in which bubbles and gases rise to the top be, and hereby are, confiscated, eradicated and removed from the surface of the soil. And all the laws of Nature inconsistent with the principle of this Act be and hereby are repealed and rendered null and inconclusive.

IT IS HOPED that this suspension of relations with Nature will operate as a sharp rebuke, and bring her to reason. It is not the sense of this Act to withhold from the Enemy all hope of a future reconciliation, should she cast off the habits that have made her a menace. We have no quarrel with Nature as a whole. But there is a certain misguided clique, the dandelions and gooseberries and other irresponsible plants, which must be humiliated. We do not presume to suggest to Nature any alteration or modification of her necessary institutions. But who can claim that the principle of fermentation, which she has arrogated to herself, is necessary to her health and happiness? This Intolerable Thing, of which Nature has shown us the ugly mug, this menace of combined intrigue and force, must be crushed, with proud punctilio.

AND FOR THE strict enforcement of this Act, the Pan-Antis are authorized and empowered to organize expeditionary forces, by recruitment or (if necessary) by conscription and draft, to proceed into the territory of the enemy, lay waste and ravage all dandelions, gooseberries and other unlawful plants. Until this is accomplished Nature shall be and hereby is declared a barred zone, in which civilians and non-combatants pass at their own peril; and all citizens not serving with the expeditionary forces shall remain within city and village limits until the territory of Nature is made safe for sobriety.


This document, having been signed by the Governor, became law, and thousands of people who were about to leave town for their vacation were held up at the railway stations. Nature was declared under martial law. There were many who held that the Act, while admirable in principle, did not go far enough in practice. For instance, it was argued, the detestable principle of fermentation was due in great part to the influence of the sun upon vegetable matter; and it was suggested that this heavenly body should be abolished. Others, pointing out that this was a matter that would take some time, advanced the theory that large tracts of open country should be shielded from the sun's rays by vast tents or awnings. Bishop Chuff, with his customary perspicacity, made it plain that one of the chief causes of temptation was hot weather, which causes immoderate thirst. In order to lessen the amount of thirst in the population he suggested that it might be feasible to shift the axis of the earth, so that the climate of the United States would become perceptibly cooler and the torrid zone would be transferred to the area of the North Pole. This would have the supreme advantage of melting all the northern ice-cap and providing the temperate belts with a new supply of fresh water. It would be quite easy (the Bishop insisted) to tilt the earth on its axis if everything heavy on the surface of the United States were moved up to Hudson's Bay. Accordingly he began to make arrangements to have the complete files of the Congressional Record moved to the far north in endless freight trains.

Dunraven Bleak, a good deal exhausted by his efforts to keep all these matters carefully reported in the columns of the Evening Balloon, was ready to take his vacation. As a newspaper man he was able to get a passport to go into the country, on the pretext of observing the movements of the troops of the Pan-Antis, who were vigorously attacking the dandelion fields and gooseberry vineyards. He had already sent his wife and children down to the seashore, in the last refugee train which had left the city before Nature was declared outlaw.

It was a hot morning, and having wound up his work at the office he was sitting in a small lunchroom having a shrimp salad sandwich and a glass of milk. The street outside was thronged with great motor ambulances rumbling in from the suburbs, carrying the wilted remains of berries and fruits which had been dug up by the furious legions of Chuff. These were hastily transported to the municipal cannery where they were made into jams and preserves with all possible speed, before fermentation could set in. Bleak saw them pass with saddened eyes.

A beautiful gray motor car drew up at the curb, and honked vigorously. The proprietor of the lunchroom, thinking that possibly the chauffeur wanted some sandwiches, left the cash register and crossed the pavement eagerly. Every eye in the restaurant was turned upon the glittering limousine, whose panels of dove-throat gray shone with a steely lustre. In a moment the proprietor returned with a large basket and a small folded paper, looking puzzled. He glanced about the room, and approached Bleak.

"I guess you're the guy," he said, and handed the editor a note on which was scrawled in pencil

TO THE MAN WITH A PENETRATING GAZE WHO HAS JUST SPILLED SOME SHRIMP SALAD ON HIS PALM BEACH TROUSERS


Bleak, after removing the shrimp, opened the paper. Inside he read:


PLEASE BRING TWO DOZEN RYE-TONGUE SANDWICHES AND AS MUCH SHRIMP SALAD AS THE BASKET WILL HOLD. AM FAMISHED.

QUIMBLETON.


He looked at the restaurateur in surprise.

"The lady said you were to get the grub and put it in this basket," said the latter.

"The lady?" inquired Bleak.

"The dame in the car," said Isidor, owner of the Busy Wasp Lunchroom.

Bleak obeyed orders. He filled the basket with tongue sandwiches and a huge platter of shrimp salad, paid the check, and carried the burden to the door of the motor.

At the wheel sat a damsel of extraordinary beauty. The massive proportions of the enormous car only accentuated the perfection of her streamline figure. Her chassis was admirable; she was upholstered in a sports suit of fawn-colored whipcord; and her sherry-brown eyes were unmodified by any dimming devices. Before Bleak could say anything she cried eagerly, "Get in, Mr. Bleak! I've been looking for you everywhere. What a happy moment this is!"

Bleak handed in the basket. "Quimbleton--" he began.

"I know," she said. "I'm taking you to him. Poor fellow, he is in great peril. Get in, please."

By the time Bleak was in the seat beside her, the car was already in motion.

"You have your passport?" she said, steering through the tangled traffic.

"Yes," he said. He could not help stealing a sidelong glance at this bewitching creature. Her dainty and vivacious face, just now a trifle sunburnt, was fixed resolutely upon the vehicles ahead. On the rim of the big steering wheel her small gloved hands gave an impression of great capability. Bleak thought that her profile seemed oddly familiar.

"Haven't I seen you before?" he said.

"Very possibly. Your newspaper printed my picture the other day, with some rather uncomplimentary remarks."

Bleak was nonplussed.

"Very stupid of me," he said, "but I don't seem to recall--"

"I am Miss Chuff," she said calmly.

The editor's brain staggered.

"Miss Theodolinda Chuff?" he said, in amazement. He recalled some satirical editorials the Balloon had printed concerning the activities of the Chuffs, and wondered if he were being kidnaped for court-martial by the Pan-Antis. Evidently the use of Quimbleton's name had been a ruse.

"It was unfair of you to make use of Quimbleton's name to get me into your hands," he said angrily.

Miss Chuff turned a momentary gaze of amusement upon him, as they passed a large tractor drawing several truckloads of gooseberry plants.

"You don't understand," she said demurely. "You may remember that Mr. Quimbleton's card gave his name as associate director of the Happiness Corporation?"

"Yes," said Bleak.

"I am the Director," she said.

"YOU? But how can that be? Why, your father--"

"That's just why. Any one who had to live with Father would be sure to take the opposite side. He's a Pan-Anti. I'm a Pan-Pro. Those poems I have written for him were merely a form of camouflage. Besides, they were so absurd they were sure to do harm to the cause. That's why I wrote them. I'll explain it all to you a little later."

At this moment they were held up by an armed guard of chuffs, stationed at the city limits. These saluted respectfully on seeing the Bishop's daughter, but examined Bleak's passport with care. Then the car passed on into the suburbs.

As they neared the fields of actual battle, Bleak was able to see something of the embittered nature of the conflict. In the hot white sunlight of the summer morning platoons of Pan-Antis could be seen marching across the fields, going up from the rest centers to the firing line. In one place a shallow trench had been dug, from which the chuffs were firing upon a blackberry hedge at long range. One by one the unprincipled berries were being picked off by expert marksmen. The dusty highway was stained with ghastly rivulets and dribbles of scarlet juices. At a crossroads they came upon a group of chuffs who had shown themselves to be conscientious objectors: these were being escorted to an internment camp where they would be horribly punished by confinement to lecture rooms with Chautauqua lecturers. War is always cruel, and even non-combatants did not escape. In the heat of combat, the neutrality of an orchard of plum trees had been violated, and wagonloads of the innocent fruit were being carried away into slavery and worse than death. A young apple tree was standing in front of a firing squad, and Bleak closed his eyes rather than watch the tragic spectacle. The apples were all green, and too young to ferment, but the chuffs were ruthless once their passions were roused.

They passed through the battle zone, and into a strip of country where pine woods flourished on a sandy soil. The fragrant breath of sun-warmed balsam came down about them, and Miss Chuff let out the motor as though to escape from the scene of carnage they had just witnessed.

"Whither are we bound?" asked the editor, with pardonable curiosity, as their tires hummed over a smooth road.

"Cana, New Jersey," said Miss Chuff, "where poor Quimbleton is in hiding. He is in very sore straits. He narrowly escaped capture after the parade the other day. I managed to get him smuggled out of the city in the same ambulance that carried Father's horse. The horse was drunk and Quim was sober. Wasn't that an irony of fate? But I promised to tell you how I became associated with the Happiness Corporation."

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