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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 9. The Election
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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 9. The Election Post by :1234Piano Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :2218

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In The Sweet Dry And Dry - Chapter 9. The Election

CHAPTER IX. THE ELECTION

In the days following Quimbleton's coup Chuff was in seclusion. It was rumored that he was ill; it was rumored that the sounds of breaking furniture had been heard by the neighbors on Caraway Street. But at any rate the Bishop lived up to his word. Orders over his signature went to Congress, and vast sums of money were appropriated immediately for

The establishment and maintenance of a national park with suitable buildings and appurtenances wherein might be maintained an elected individual in a state of freedom, with access to alcoholic beverages, in order that successive generations might view for themselves the devastating effects of alcohol upon the human system.

No political campaign was ever contested with more zeal and zest than that which led up to the election of the Perpetual Souse. Life had grown rather dreary under the innumerable prohibitions of the Chuff regime, and the citizens welcomed the excitement of the campaign as a notable diversion. Quimbleton appointed himself chairman of the committee to nominate Bleak, and the editor (acting under his friend's instructions) had hardly begun to deny vigorously that he had any intention of being a candidate before he found himself plunged into a bewildering vortex of meetings, speeches, and confessions of faith. Marching clubs, properly outfitted with two-quart silk tiles and frock coats, were spatting their way plumply down the Boulevard. Torchlight processions tinted the night; ward picnics strewed the shells of hard-boiled eggs on the lawns of suburban amusement parks, while Bleak, very ill at ease, was kissing adhesive babies and autographing tissue napkins and smiling horribly as he whirled about with the grandmothers in the agony of the carrousel. More than once, reeling with the endless circuit of a painted merry-go-round charger, the perplexed candidate became so confused that he kissed the paper napkin and autographed the baby.

He found Quimbleton a stern ringleader. Virgil was not satisfied with the old-fashioned method of stumping the country from the taff-rail of a Pullman car, and insisted on strapping Bleak into the cockpit of a biplane and flying him from city to city. They would land in some central square, and the candidate, deafened and half-frozen, would stammer a few halting remarks. He felt it rather keenly that Quimbleton looked down on his lack of oratorical gift, and it was a frequent humiliation that when words did not prosper on his tongue his impatient pilot would turn on the motors and zoom off into space in the very middle of a sentence.

Nevertheless, the campaign went famously. Bleak had one considerable advantage in being comparatively unknown. He had never permitted himself the luxury of making enemies: except for a few ex-reporters who had once worked on the Balloon he had not a foe in the world. Quimbleton had been eager to import a covey of gunmen from other cities, but when these arrived there was really nothing for them to do. They were glad to accept jobs from Bishop Chuff, and were well paid for waylaying and sniping the few grapes and apples that had escaped previous pogroms.

There was only one plank in Bleak's modest platform, but he walked it so happily that it began to look like a gangplank leading onto the Ship of State. He expressed his doctrine very agreeably in his speech accepting the party nomination; though credit should be given to Theodolinda, who had assisted him by a little private seance before he addressed the convention.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said (looking as he spoke at one of the handbills announcing his candidacy for the dignity of mouthpiece of the nation)--"I issue dodgers, but I never dodge the issue. I can Take It or Let It Alone, but frankly, I prefer to Take It. I hope I speak modestly: yet candor insists that both by past training and present inclination I feel myself fitted to deal with the problems of this exalted office. If elected to this high place of trust I shall regard myself solely as the servant of the public, solely as the representative of your sovereign will. As I raise the glass or peel the lemon, I shall not act in any individual capacity. My own good cheer (I beg you to believe) will be my last thought. I shall remember, in every gesture and every gulp, that my thirst is in reality the Thirst of a Nation, delegated to me by ballot; that my laughter and song (if things should go so far) are truly the mirth and music of a proud people expressing themselves through me. I shall be at all times accessible to my fellow-men, solicitous to hear their counsel and command. Believing (as I do) in moderation, yet I should not dream of permitting private sentiment to interfere with public interest when more violent measures should seem desirable.

"I like to think, my fellow-citizens, that you have conferred this nomination upon me not wholly at random. I like to think that I am only expressing your thought when I say that many drinkers have been the worst enemies of the cause we all hold dear. The alcoholshevik and the I.W.W.--the I Wallow in Wine faction--have done much to discredit the old bland Jeffersonian toper who carried tippling to the level of a fine art. I have no patience with the doctrine of complete immersion. Ever since I was first admitted to the bar I have deplored the conduct of those violent and vulgar revelers who have brought discredit upon the loveliest, most delicate art known to man. Now, at last, by supreme wisdom, drinking is to be elevated to the dignity of a career. I like to think that I express your sentiment when I say that drinking is too precious, too subtle, too fragile a function to be entrusted to the common crowd. Therefore I heartily applaud your admirable intention of entrusting it entirely to me, and look forward with profound satisfaction to the privilege of enshrining and perpetuating in my own person the genial traditions that have clustered round the institution of Liquor. If elected, I shall endeavor to carry on the fine old rituals and pass them down unimpaired to the next incumbent. I shall endeavor to make duty a pleasure, and pleasure a duty. I shall remind myself that I am only performing the service to humanity that each one of you would willingly render if you were in my place.

"My fellow-citizens, I thank you for your amiable confidence, and am happy to accept the nomination."

There were some who criticized this speech on the ground that it was too academic. It was remembered that Mr. Bleak had at one time been a school-teacher, and his opponents were quick to raise the cry "What can a schoolmaster know about liquor?" It was said that Mr. Bleak was too scholarly, too aloof, too cold-blooded: that his interest in booze was merely philosophical, that he would be incompetent to deal with the practical problems of actual drinking: that he would surround himself with drinks that would be mere puppets, subservient entirely to his own purposes. The adherents of Jerry Purplevein, the nominee of the other party, made haste to assert that Bleak was not a drinker at all but was a tool of the Chuff machine. Jerry was a former bartender who had been pining away in the ice-cream cone business. Huge banners appeared across the streets, showing highly colored pictures of Mr. Purplevein plying his original profession, with the legend:

RALLY ROUND THE FLAGON

VOTE FOR

PURPLEVEIN

THE PRACTICAL MAN


One of the exciting features of the campaign was the sudden appearance of a Woman's Party, which launched an ably-conducted boom for a Woman Souse and nominated Miss Cynthia Absinthe as its candidate. The idea of having a woman elected to this responsible office was disconcerting to many citizens, but Miss Absinthe's record (as outlined by her publicity headquarters) compelled respect. She was reputed to have been a passionate and tumultuous consumer of sloe gin, and thousands of women in white bartenders' coats marched with banners announcing:

ABSINTHE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER VOTE FOR CYNTHIA

and

OUR SLOGAN IS SLOE GIN


For a while there was quite a probability that the male vote would be so split by Bleak and Purplevein that Miss Absinthe would come in ahead. But at the height of the campaign she was found in a pharmacy drinking a maple nut foam. After this her cause declined rapidly, and even her most ardent partisans admitted that she would never be more than an Intermittent Souse.

Purplevein's followers, in their desperate efforts to discredit Bleak, overplayed their hand (as "practical politicians" always do). The sagacious Quimbleton outmaneuvered them at every turn. Moderate drinkers rallied round Bleak. Moreover, the Bleak party had an irresistible assistant in the person of Miss Chuff, who put her trances unreservedly at Dunraven's disposal. In this way Quimbleton was able to produce his candidate before a monster mass meeting at the Opera House in a state of becoming exhilaration. This forever put an end to the rumor that Bleak was not a practical man. Miss Chuff also campaigned strenuously among the women, where Purplevein (being a bachelor) was at a disadvantage. "Vote for Bleak," cried Miss Chuff--"He has a wife to help him." Purplevein's argument that the office of Perpetual Souse should be an entirely stag affair fell dead before Theodolinda's glowing description of the Hostess House which Mrs. Bleak would conduct next door to the little temple which was to be erected by the government for the successful candidate.

Despite the exhaustion of the campaign, Bleak stood it well. Quimbleton, knowing the disastrous effects of over-confidence, kept his man at fighting edge by a little judicious pessimism now and then, and rumors of the popularity of Purplevein among the hard drinkers. Day after day Quimbleton and Miss Chuff, after a little psychic communing, would prop the editor among cushions in the big gray limousine and spin him about the city and suburbs to bow, smile, say a few automatic words and pass on. Over the car floated a big banner with the words: Let Bleak Do Your Drinking For You: He Knows How. The unhappy Purplevein, who had to do his electioneering in a state of chill sobriety, was aghast to see the beaming and gently flushed face of his rival radiating cheer. At the eleventh hour he tried to change his tactics and plastered the billboards with immense posters:

BLEAK DOESN'T NEED THE JOB--HE'S SOUSED ALREADY

This line of argument might perhaps have been powerful if adopted earlier, but by that time the agreeable vision of Bleak's ascetic features wreathed in a faintly spiritual benignance was already firmly fixed in the public imagination. The little celluloid button showing his transfigured and endearing smile was worn on millions of lapels. As one walked down the street one met that little badge hundreds of times, and the mere repetition of the tenderly exhilarated face seemed to many a citizen a beautiful and significant thing. Men are altruistic at heart. They saw that Bleak would make of this high office a richly eloquent and appealing stewardship. They were reconciled to their own abstinence in the thought that the dreams and desires of their own hearts would be so nobly fulfilled by him. Alcohol was gone forever, and perhaps it was as well. They themselves were conscious of having abused its sacred powers. But now, in the person of this chosen representative, all that was lovely and laughable in the old customs would be consecrated and enshrined forever. Men who had known Bleak in the days of his employment on the Balloon recollected that even during the cares and efforts of his profession little incidents had occurred that might have shown (had they been shrewd enough to notice) how faithfully he was preparing himself for the great responsibility destiny held concealed.

The day of the election was declared a national festival. The Chuff government, a good deal startled by the universal seriousness and enthusiasm shown in the enrollment at the primaries, was disposed (in secret) to regard the office of Perpetual Souse as a helpful compromise on a vexed question. The war against Nature had been only partially successful: indeed the chuff chief-of-staff declared that Nature had not learned her lesson yet, and that some irreconcilable berries and fruits were still waging a guerilla fermentation, thus rupturing the armistice terms. The countryside had been ravaged, all the Chautauqua lecturers were hoarse, industry was at a standstill, misery and despair were widespread. Even the indomitable Chuff himself was a little nonplussed. Better (he thought) one man indubitably, decorously, publicly, and legally drunk, than millions of citizens privily attempting to cajole raisins and apples into illicit sprightliness.

The citizens went to the polls in a mood of exalted self-denial. They knew that they were voting away their own rights, but they also knew that their private ideals would be more than realized in the legalized frenzy of their representative. Bleak, appearing on the balcony of his hotel, smiled affectionately on the loyal faces that cheered him from below. He was deeply moved. To Quimbleton (who was supporting him from behind) he said: "Their generosity is wonderful. I shall try to be worthy of their confidence. I hope I may have strength to put into practice the frustrated desires of these noble people."

The result of the polling was to be announced by a searchlight from the City Hall. A white beam sweeping eastward would mean the election of Purplevein. A white beam sweeping westward would mean the triumph of Miss Absinthe. A steady red beam cast upward toward the zenith would indicate the victory of Bleak.

At ten o'clock that night a scream of cheers burst from millions of people packed along the city streets. A clear, glowing shaft of red light leaped upward into the sky. Dunraven Bleak had been elected Perpetual Souse.

Purplevein, who was rather a decent sort, hastened to Bleak's hotel to offer his congratulations. Bleak, who was sitting quietly with Mrs. Bleak, Quimbleton and Theodolinda, greeted him calmly. Poor Purplevein was very much broken up, and Quimbleton and Theodolinda, in the goodness of their hearts, arranged a quiet little seance for his benefit. They all sat their drinking psychic Three-Star in honor of the event. As Quimbleton said, helping Purplevein back to his motor--"Hitch your flagon to a Star."

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