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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 6. Departed Spirits
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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 6. Departed Spirits Post by :1234Piano Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :3300

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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 6. Departed Spirits


If Bishop Chuff desired to make people stop thinking about alcohol, his plan of seizing them and shutting them up in the grounds of the Federal Home at Cana was a quaint way of attaining this purpose. For all the victims, who had been suddenly arrested in the course of their daily concerns, accused (before a rum-head court martial) of harboring illicit alcoholic desires, and driven over to Cana in crowded motor-trucks, now had very little else to brood about. In the golden light and fragrance of a summer afternoon, here they were surrounded by all the apparatus to restrain alcoholic excess, and not even the slightest exhilaration of spirit to justify the depressing scene. It was annoying to see frequent notices such as: This Entrance for Brandy-Topers; or Vodka Patients in This Ward; or Inmates Must Not Bite Off the Door-Knobs. It seemed carrying a jest too far when these citizens, most of whom had not even smelt a drink in two years, found themselves billeted into padded cells and confronted by rows of strait-jackets. Moreover, the Home had lain unused for many months: it was dusty, dilapidated, and of a moldy savor. Some of the unwilling visitors, finding that the grounds included a strip of sandy beach, took their ordeal with reasonable philosophy. "Since we are to be slaves," they said, "at least let's have some serf bathing." And donning (with a shudder) the rather gruesome padded bathing suits they found in the lockers, they went off for a swim. Others, of a humorous turn, derived a certain rudimentary amusement in studying the garden marked Reserved for Patients with Insane Delusions, where they found a very excellent relief-model of the battleground of the Marne, laid out by a former inmate who had imagined himself to be General Joffre. But most of them stood about in groups, talking bitterly.

Quimbleton, therefore, found a receptive audience for his Spartacus scheme of organizing this band of downtrodden victims into a fighting force. He gathered them into the dining-hall of the Home and addressed them in spirited language.

"My friends" (he said), "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I feel it my duty to administer a few remarks on the subject of our present situation.

"And the first thought that comes to my mind, candidly, is this, that we must give Bishop Chuff credit for a quality we never imagined him to possess. That quality, gentlemen, is a sense of humor. I hear some dissent; and yet it seems to me to be somewhat humorous that this gathering, composed of men who were accustomed, in the good old days, to carry their liquor like gentlemen, should now, when they have been cold sober for two years, be incarcerated in this humiliating place, surrounded by the morbid relics of those weaker souls who found their grog too strong for them.

"I say therefore that we must give Bishop Chuff credit for a sense of humor. It makes him all the more deadly enemy. Yet I think we will have the laugh on him yet, in a manner I shall presently describe. For the Bishop has what may be denominated a single-tract mind. He undoubtedly imagines that we will submit tamely to this outrage. He has surrounded us with guards. He expects us to be meek. In my experience, the meek inherit the dearth. Let us not be meek!"

There was a shout of applause, and Quimbleton's salient of horse-hair beard waved triumphantly as he gathered strength. His burly figure in the lilac upholstering dominated the audience. He went on:

"And what is our crime? That we have nourished, in the privacy of our own intellects, treasonable thoughts or desires concerning alcohol! Gentlemen, it is the first principle of common law that a man cannot be indicted for thinking a crime. There must be some overt act, some evidence of illegal intention. Can a man be deprived of freedom for carrying concealed thoughts? If so, we might as well abolish the human mind itself. Which Bishop Chuff and his flunkeys would gladly do, I doubt not, for they themselves would lose nothing thereby."

Vigorous clapping greeted this sally.

"Now, gentlemen," cried Quimbleton, "though we follow a lost cause, and even though the gooseberry and the raisin and the apple be doomed, let us see it through with gallantry! The enemy has mobilized dreadful engines of war against us. Let us retort in kind. He has tanks in the field--let us retort with tankards. They tell me there is a warship in the offing, to shell us into submission. Very well: if he has gobs, let us retort with goblets. If he has deacons, let us parry him with decanters. Chuff has put us here under the pretext of being drunk. Very well: then let us BE drunk. Let us go down in our cups, not in our saucers. Where there's a swill, there's a way! Let us be sot in our ways," he added, sotto voce.

Terrific uproar followed this fine outburst. Quimbleton had to calm the frenzy by gesturing for silence.

"I hear some natural queries," he said. "Some one asks 'How?' To this I shall presently explain 'Here's how.' Bear with me a moment.

"My friends, it would be idle for us to attempt the great task before us relying merely on ourselves. In such great crises it is necessary to call upon a Higher Power for strength and succor. This is no mere brawl, no haphazard scuffle: it is the battle-ground--if I were jocosely minded I might say it is the bottle-ground--of a great principle. If, gentlemen, I wished to harrow your souls, I would ask you to hark back in memory to the fine old days when brave men and lovely women sat down at the same table with a glass of wine, or a mug of ale, and no one thought any the worse. I would ask you to remember the color of the wine in the goblet, how it caught the light, how merrily it twinkled with beaded bubbles winking at the brim, as some poet has observed. If I wanted to harrow you, gentlemen, I would recall to you little tables, little round tables, set out under the trees on the lawn of some country inn, where the enchanting music of harp and fiddle twangled on the summer air, where great bowls of punch chimed gently as the lumps of ice knocked on the thin crystal. The little tables were spread tinder the trees, and then, later on, perhaps, the customers were spread under the tables.--I would ask you to recall the manly seidel of dark beer as you knew it, the bitter chill of it as it went down, the simple felicity it induced in the care-burdened mind. I could quote to you poet after poet who has nourished his song upon honest malt liquor. I need only think of Mr. Masefield, who has put these manly words in the mouth of his pirate mate:

Oh some are fond of Spanish wine, and some are fond of French,
And some'll swallow tea and stuff fit only for a wench,
But I'm for right Jamaica till I roll beneath the bench!

Oh some are fond of fiddles and a song well sung,
And some are all for music for to lilt upon the tongue;
But mouths were made for tankards, and for sucking at the bung!"

This apparently artless oratory was beginning to have its effect. Loud huzzas filled the hall. These touching words had evoked wistful memories hidden deep in every heart. Old wounds were reopened and bled afresh.

Again Quimbleton had to call for silence.

"I will recite to you," he said, "a ditty that I have composed myself. It is called A Chanty of Departed Spirits."

In a voice tremulous with emotion he began:

The earth is grown puny and pallid,
The earth is grown gouty and gray,
For whiskey no longer is valid
And wine has been voted away--
As for beer, we no longer will swill it
In riotous rollicking spree;
The little hot dogs in the skillet
Will have to be sluiced down with tea.

O ales that were creamy like lather!
O beers that were foamy like suds!
O fizz that I loved like a father!
O fie on the drinks that are duds!
I sat by the doors that were slatted
And the stuff had a surf like the sea--
No vintage was anywhere vatted
Too strong for ventripotent me!

I wallowed in waves that were tidal,
But yet I was never unmoored;
And after the twentieth seidel
My syllables still were assured.
I never was forced to cut cable
And drift upon perilous shores,
To get home I was perfectly able,
Erect, or at least on all fours.

Although I was often some swiller,
I never was fuddled or blowsed;
My hand was still firm on the tiller,
No matter how deep I caroused;
But now they have put an embargo
On jazz-juice that tingles the spine,

We can't even cozen a cargo
Of harmless old gooseberry wine!

But no legislation can daunt us:
The drinks that we knew never die:
Their spirits will come back to haunt us
And whimper and hover near by.
The spookists insist that communion
Exists with the souls that we lose--
And so we may count on reunion
With all that's immortal of Booze.

Those spirits we loved have departed
To some psychical twentieth plane;
But still we will not be downhearted,
We'll soon greet our loved ones again--
To lighten our drouth and our tedium
Whenever our moments would sag,
We'll call in a spiritist medium
And go on a psychical jag!

As the frenzy of cheering died away, Quimbleton's face took on the glow of simple benignance that Bleak had first observed at the time of the julep incident in the Balloon office. The flush of a warm, impulsive idealism over-spread his genial features. It was the face of one who deeply loved his fellow-men.

"My friends," he said, "now I am able to say, in all sincerity, Here's How. I have great honor in presenting to you my betrothed fiancee, Miss Theodolinda Chuff. Do not be startled by the name, gentlemen. Miss Chuff, the daughter of our arch-enemy, is wholly in sympathy with us. She is the possessor (happily for us) of extraordinary psychic powers. I have persuaded her to demonstrate them for our benefit. If you will follow my instructions implicitly, you will have the good fortune of witnessing an alcoholic seance."

Miss Chuff, very pale, but obviously glad to put her spiritual gift at the disposal of her lover, was escorted to the platform by Bleak. The editor had been coached beforehand by Quimbleton as to the routine of the seance.

"The first requirement," said Quimbleton to the awe-struck gathering, "is to put yourselves in the proper frame of mind. For that purpose I will ask you all to stand up, placing one foot on the rung of a chair. Kindly imagine yourselves standing with one foot on a brass rail. You will then summon to mind, with all possible accuracy and vividness, the scenes of some bar-room which was once dear to you. I will also ask you to concentrate your mental faculties upon some beverage which was once your favorite. Please rehearse in imagination the entire ritual which was once so familiar, from the inquiring look of the bartender down to the final clang of the cash-register. A visualization of the old free lunch counter is also advisable. All these details will assist the medium to trance herself."

Bleak in the meantime had carried a small table on the platform, and placed an empty glass upon it. Miss Chuff sat down at this table, and gazed intently at the glass. Quimbleton produced a white apron from somewhere, and tied it round his burly form. With Bleak playing the role of customer he then went through a pantomime of serving imaginary drinks. His representation of the now vanished type of the bartender was so admirably realistic that it brought tears to the eyes of more than one in the gathering. The editor, with appropriate countenance and gesture, dramatized the motions of ordering, drinking, and paying for his invisible refreshment. His pantomime was also accurate and satisfying, evidently based upon seasoned experience. The argument as to who should pay, the gesture conveying the generous sentiment "This one's on me," the spinning of a coin on the bar, the raising of the elbow, the final toss that dispatched the fluid--all these were done to the life. The audience followed suit with a will. A whispering rustle ran through the dingy hall as each man murmured his favorite catchwords. "Give it a name," "Set 'em up again," "Here's luck," and such archaic phrases were faintly audible. Miss Chuff kept her gaze fastened on the empty tumbler.

Suddenly her rigid pose relaxed. She drooped forward in her chair, with her head sunk and hands limp. Tenderly and reverently Quimbleton bent over her. Then, his face shining with triumph, he spoke to the hushed watchers.

"She is in the trance," he said. "Gentlemen, her happy soul is in touch with the departed spirits. What'll you have? Don't all speak at once."

Fifty-nine, in hushed voices, petitioned for a Bronx. Quimbleton turned to the unconscious girl.

"Fifty-nine devotees," he said, "ask that the spirit of the Bronx cocktail vouchsafe his presence among us."

Miss Chuff's slender figure stiffened again. Her hand went out to the glass beside her, and raised it to her lips. Some of the more eagerly credulous afterwards asserted that they had seen a cloudy yellow liquid appear in the vessel, but it is not improbable that the wish was father to the vision. At any rate, the fifty-nine suppliants experienced at that instant a gush of sweet coolness down their throats, and the unmistakable subsequent tingle. They gazed at each other with a wild surmise.

"How about another?" said one in a thrilling whisper.

"Take your turn," said Quimbleton. "Who's next?"

One hundred and fifty-three nominated Scotch whiskey. The order was filled without a slip. Quimbleton's face beamed above his beard like a full-blown rose. "Magnificent!" he whispered to Bleak, both of them having partaken in the second round. "If this keeps on we'll have a charge of the tight brigade."

The next round was ninety-five Jack Rose cocktails, but the audience was beginning to get out of hand. Those who had not yet been served grew restive. They saw their companions with brightened eyes and beaming faces, comparing notes as to this delicious revival of old sensations. In the impatience of some and the jubilation of others, the psychic concentration flagged a little. Then, just as Quimbleton was about to ask for the fourth round, the unforgiveable happened. Some one at the back shouted, "A glass of buttermilk!"

Miss Chuff shuddered, quivered, and opened her eyes with a tragic gasp. She slipped from the chair, and fell exhausted to the floor. Bleak ran to pick her up. Quimbleton screamed out an oath.

"The spell is broken!" he roared. "There's a spy in the room!"

At that instant a battalion of armed chuffs burst into the hall. They carried a huge hose, and in ten seconds a six-inch stream of cold water was being poured upon the bewildered psychic tipplers. Quimbleton and Bleak, seizing the girl's helpless form, escaped by a door at the back of the platform.

"Heaven help us," cried Bleak, distraught. "What shall we do? This means the firing squad unless we can escape."

Theodolinda feebly opened her eyes.

"O horrible," she murmured. "The spirit of buttermilk--I saw him--he threatened me--"

"The horse!" cried Quimbleton, with fierce energy. "The Bishop's horse--in the stable!"

They ran wildly to the rear quarters of the Home, where they found the Bishop's famous charger whinneying in his stall. All three leaped upon his back. In the confusion, amid the screams of the tortured inmates and the cruel cries of the invading chuffs, they made good their escape.

Every one of the wretched inmates captured at the psychic carouse was immediately sentenced to six months' hard listening on the Chautauqua circuit. But even during this brutal punishment their memories returned with tenderest reminiscence to the experience of that afternoon. As one of them said, "it was a real treat." And although Quimbleton had plainly stated the relation in which he stood to Theodolinda Chuff, she had no less than two hundred and ten proposals of marriage, by mail, from those who had attended the seance.

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