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As far as this book is concerned, the public may Take It, or the public
may Let It Alone. But the authors feel it their duty to say that no
deductions as to their own private habits are to be made from the story
here offered. With its composition they have beguiled the moments of
the valley of the shadow.

Acknowledgement should be made to the Evening Public Ledger of
Philadelphia for permission to reprint the ditty included in Chapter VI.

The public will forgive this being only a brief preface, for at the
moment of writing the time is short. Wishing you a Merry Abstinence,
and looking forward to meeting you some day in Europe,


Philadelphia, Ten minutes before Midnight, June 30, 1919.






Dunraven Bleak, the managing editor of The Evening Balloon, sat at his
desk in the center of the local-room, under a furious cone of electric
light. It was six o'clock of a warm summer afternoon: he was filling
his pipe and turning over the pages of the Final edition of the paper,
which had just come up from the press-room. After the turmoil of the
day the room had quieted, most of the reporters had left, and the
shaded lamps shone upon empty tables and a floor strewn ankle-deep with
papers. Nearby sat the city editor, checking over the list of
assignments for the next morning. From an adjoining kennel issued
occasional deep groans and a strong whiff of savage shag tobacco, blown
outward by the droning gust of an electric fan. These proved that the
cartoonist (a man whose sprightly drawings were born to an obbligato of
vehement blasphemy) was at work within.

Mr. Bleak was just beginning to recuperate from the incessant vigilance
of the day's work. There was an unconscious pathos in his lean,
desiccated figure as he rose and crossed the room to the green glass
drinking-fountain. After the custom of experienced newspapermen, he
rapidly twirled a makeshift cup out of a sheet of copy paper. He poured
himself a draught of clear but rather tepid water, and drank it without
noticeable relish. His lifted head betrayed only the automatic
thankfulness of the domestic fowl. There had been a time when six
o'clock meant something better than a paper goblet of lukewarm

He sat down at his desk again. He had loaded his pipe sedulously with
an extra fine blend which he kept in his desk drawer for smoking during
rare moments of relaxation when he had leisure to savor it. As he
reached for a match he was meditating a genial remark to the city
editor, when he discovered that there was only one tandsticker in the
box. He struck it, and the blazing head flew off upon the cream-colored
thigh of his Palm Beach suit. His naturally placid temper, undermined
by thirty years of newspaper work and two years of prohibition, flamed
up also. With a loud scream of rage and a curse against Sweden, he
leaped to his feet and shook the glowing cinder from his person. Facing
him he found a stranger who had entered the room quietly and unobserved.

This was a huge man, clad in a sober uniform of gray cloth, with silver
buttons and silver braid. A Sam Browne belt of wide blue leather
marched across his extensive diagonal in a gentle curve. The band of
his vizored military cap showed the initials C.P.H. in silver
embroidery. His face, broad and clean-shaven, shone with a lustre which
was partly warmth and partly simple friendliness. Save for a certain
humility of bearing, he might have been taken for the liveried door-man
of a moving-picture theater or exclusive millinery shop.

In one hand he carried a very large black leather suit-case.

"Is this Mr. Bleak?" he asked politely.

"Yes," said the editor, in surprise. His secret surmise was that some
one had died and left him a legacy which would enable him to retire
from newspaper work. (This is the unacknowledged dream that haunts many
journalists.) Mr. Bleak was wondering whether this was the way in which
legacies were announced.

The man in the gray uniform set the bag down with great care on the
large flat desk. He drew out a key and unlocked it. Before opening it
he looked round the room. The city editor and three reporters were
watching curiously. A shy gayety twinkled in his clear blue eyes.

"Mr. Bleak," he said, "you and these other gentlemen present are men of
discretion - ?"

Bleak made a gesture of reassurance.

The other leaned over the suit-case and lifted the lid.

The bag was divided into several compartments. In one, the startled
editor beheld a nest of tall glasses; in another, a number of
interesting flasks lying in a porcelain container among chipped ice. In
the lid was an array of straws, napkins, a flat tray labeled CLOVES,
and a bunch of what looked uncommonly like mint leaves. Mr. Bleak did
not speak, but his pulse was disorderly.

The man in gray drew out five tumblers and placed them on the desk.
Rapidly several bottles caught the light: there was a gesture of
pouring, a clink of ice, and beneath the spellbound gaze of the
watchers the glasses fumed and bubbled with a volatile potion. A glass
mixing rod tinkled in the thin crystal shells, and the man of mystery
deftly thrust a clump of foliage into each. A well known fragrance
exhaled upon the tobacco-thickened air.

"Shades of the Grail!" cried Bleak. "Mint julep!"

The visitor bowed and pushed the glasses forward. "With the compliments
of the Corporation," he said.

The city editor sprang to his feet. Sagely cynical, he suspected a ruse.

"It's a plant!" he exclaimed. "Don't touch it! It's a trick on the part
of the Department of Justice, trying to get us into trouble."

Bleak gazed angrily at the stranger. If this was indeed a federal
stratagem, what an intolerably cruel one! In front of him the glasses
sparkled alluringly: a delicate mist gathered on their ice-chilled
curves: a pungent sweetness wavered in his nostrils.

"See here!" he blurted with shrill excitement. "Are you a damned
government agent? If so, take your poison and get out."

The tall stranger in his impressive uniform stood erect and unabashed.
With affectionate care he gave the tumblers a final musical stir.

"O ye of little faith!" he said calmly. The sadness of the
misunderstood idealist grieved his features. "Have you forgotten the
miracle of Cana?" From his pocket he took a card and laid it on the

Bleak seized it. It said:


1316 Caraway Street

Virgil Quimbleton, Associate Director

He stared at the pasteboard, stupefied, and handed it to the city

Meanwhile the three reporters had drawn near. Light-hearted and
irresponsible souls, unoppressed by the embittered suspicion of their
superiors, they nosed the floating aroma with candid hilarity.

"The breath of Eden!" said one.

"It's a warm evening," remarked another, with seeming irrelevance.

The face of Virgil Quimbleton, the man in gray, relaxed again at these
marks of honest appreciation. He waved an encouraging arm over the
crystals. "With the compliments of the Corporation," he repeated.

Bleak and the city editor looked again at the card, and at each other.
They scanned the face of their mysterious benefactor. Bleak's hand went
out to the nearest glass. He raised it to his lips. An almost-forgotten
formula recurred to him. "Down the rat-hole!" he cried, and tilted his
arm. The others followed suit, and the associate director watched them
with a glow of perfect altruism.

The glasses were still in air when the cartoonist emerged from his
room. "Holy cat!" he cried in amazement. "What's going on?" He seized
one of the empty vessels and sniffed it.

"Treason!" he exclaimed. "Who's been robbing the mint?"

"Maybe you can have one too," said Bleak, and turned to where
Quimbleton had been standing. But the mysterious visitor had leff the

"You're too late, Bill," said the city editor genially. "There was a
kind of Messiah here, but he's gone. Tough luck."

"Say, boss," suggested one of the reporters. "There's a story in this.
May I interview that guy?"

Bleak picked up the card and put it in his pocket. A heavenly warmth
pervaded his mental fabric. "A story?" he said. "Forget it! This is no
story. It's a legend of the dear dead past. I'll cover this assignment

He borrowed a match and lit his pipe. Then he put on his coat and hat
and left the office.

It was remarked by faithful readers of the Balloon that the next day's
cartoon was one of the least successful in the history of that
brilliant newspaper.



After telephoning to his wife that he would not be home for supper,
Bleak set out for Caraway Street. He was in that exuberant mood
discernible in commuters unexpectedly spending an evening in town.
Instead of hurrying out to the suburbs on the 6:17 train, to mow the
lawn and admire the fireflies, here he was watching the more dazzling
fireflies of the city - the electric signs which were already bulbed
wanly against the rich orange of the falling sun. He puffed his pipe
lustily and with a jaunty condescension watched the crowds thronging
the drugstores for their dram of ice-cream soda. In his bosom the
secret julep tingled radiantly. At that hour of the evening the shining
bustle of the central streets was drawing the life of the city to
itself. In the residential by-ways through which his route took him the
pavements were nearly deserted. A delicious sense of extravagant
adventure possessed him. As a newspaper man, he did not feel at all
sure that he was on the threshold of a printable "story"; but as a
connoisseur of juleps he felt that very possibly he was on the
threshold of another drink. Passing a line of billboards, he noticed a
brightly colored poster advertising a brand of collars. In sheer
light-heartedness he drew a soft pencil from his waistcoat and adorned
the comely young man on the collar poster with a heavy mustache.

Caraway Street, with which he had not previously been familiar, proved
to be a quaint little channel of old brick houses, leading into the
bonfire of the summer sunset. There was nothing to distinguish number
1316 from its neighbors. He rang the bell, and there ensued a rapid
clicking in the lock, indicating that the latch had been released by
some one within. He pushed the door open, and entered.

He had a curious sensation of having stepped into an old Flemish
painting. The hall in which he stood was cool and rather dark, though a
bright refraction of light tossed from some upper window upon a tall
mirror filled the shadow with broken spangles. Through an open doorway
at the rear was the green glimmer of a garden. In front of him was a
mahogany sideboard. On its polished top lay two books, a box of cigars,
and a cut glass decanter surrounded by several glasses. In the decanter
was a pale yellow fluid which held a beam of light. The house was
completely silent.

Somewhat abashed, he removed his hat and stood irresolute, expecting
some greeting. But nothing happened. On a rack against the wall he saw
a gray uniform coat like that which Mr. Quimbleton had worn in the
Balloon office, and a similar gray cap with the silver monogram. He
glanced at the books. One was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the other
was a Bible, open at the second chapter of John. He was looking
curiously at the decanter when a voice startled him.

"Dandelion wine!" it said. "Will you have a glass?"

He turned and saw an old gentleman with profuse white hair and beard
tottering into the hall.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Bleak," said the latter. "I was expecting you."

"You are very kind," said the editor. "I fear you have the advantage of
me - I was told that Walt Whitman died in 1892 - "

"Nonsense!" wheezed the other with a senile chuckle. He straightened,
ripped off his silver fringes, and appeared as the stalwart Quimbleton

"Forgive my precautions," he said. "I am surrounded by spies. I have to
be careful. Should some of my enemies learn that old Mr. Monkbones of
Caraway Street is the same as Virgil Quimbleton of the Happiness
Corporation, my life wouldn't be worth - well, a glass of gooseberry
brandy. Speaking of that, Have a little of the dandelion wine." He
pointed to the decanter.

Bleak poured himself a glass, and watched his host carefully resume the
hoary wig and whiskers. They passed into the garden, a quiet green
enclosure surrounded by brick walls and bright with hollyhocks and
other flowers. It was overlooked by a quaint jumble of rear gables,
tall chimneys and white-shuttered dormer windows.

"Do you play croquet?" asked Quimbleton, showing a neat pattern of
white hoops fixed in the shaven turf. "If so, we must have a game after
supper. It's very agreeable as a quiet relaxation."

Mr. Bleak was still trying to get his bearings. To see this robust
creature gravely counterfeiting the posture of extreme old age was
almost too much for his gravity. There was a bizarre absurdity in the
solemn way Quimbleton beamed out from his frosty and fraudulent
shrubbery. Something in the air of the garden, also, seemed to push
Bleak toward laughter. He had that sensation which we have all
experienced - an unaccountable desire to roar with mirth, for no very
definite cause. He bit his lip, and sought rigorously for decorum.

"Upon my soul," he said, "This is the most fragrant garden I ever
smelt. What is that delicious odor in the air, that faint perfume - ?"

"That subtle sweetness?" said Quimbleton, with unexpected drollery.

"Exactly," said Bleak. "That abounding and pervasive aroma - "

"That delicate bouquet - ?"

"Quite so, that breath of myrrh - "

"That balmy exhalation - ?"

Bleak wondered if this was a game. He tried valiantly to continue.
"Precisely," he said, "That quintessence of - "

He could coerce himself no longer, and burst into a yell of laughter.

"Hush!" said Quimbleton, nervously. "Some one may be watching us. But
the fragrance of the garden is something I am rather proud of. You see,
I water the flowers with champagne."

"With champagne!" echoed Bleak. "Good heavens, man, you'll get penal

"Nonsense!" said Quimbleton. "The Eighteenth Amendment says that
intoxicating liquors may not be manufactured, sold or transported FOR
BEVERAGE PURPOSES. Nothing is said about using them to irrigate the
garden. I have a friend who makes this champagne himself and gives me
some of it for my rose-beds. If you spray the flowers with it, and then
walk round and inhale them, you get quite a genial reaction. I do it
principally to annoy Bishop Chuff. You see, he lives next door."

"Bishop Chuff of the Pan-Antis?"

"Yes," said Quimbleton - "but don't shout! His garden adjoins this. He
has a periscope that overlooks my quarters. That's why I have to wear
this disguise in the garden. I think he's getting a bit suspicious. I
manage to cause him a good deal of suffering with the fizz fumes from
my garden. Jolly idea, isn't it?"

Bleak was aghast at the temerity of the man. Bishop Chuff, the
fanatical leader of the Anti-Everything League - jocosely known as the
Pan-Antis - was the most feared man in America. It was he whose untiring
organization had forced prohibition through the legislatures of forty
States - had closed the golf links on Sundays - had made it a misdemeanor
to be found laughing in public. And here was this daring Quimbleton,
living at the very sill of the lion's den.

"By means of my disguise," whispered Quimbleton, "I was able to make a
pleasant impression on the Bishop. One evening I went to call on him. I
took the precaution to eat a green persimmon beforehand, which
distorted my features into such a malignant contraction of pessimism
and misanthropy that I quite won his heart. He accepted an invitation
to play croquet with me. That afternoon I prepared the garden with a
deluge of champagne. The golden drops sparkled on every rose-petal: the
lawn was drenched with it. After playing one round the Bishop was
gloriously inflamed. He had to be carried home, roaring the most
unseemly ditties. Since then, as I say, he has grown (I fear) a trifle
suspicious. But let us have a bite of supper."

More than once, as they sat under a thickly leafy grape arbor in the
quiet green enclosure, Bleak had to pinch himself to confirm the
witness of his senses. A table was delicately spread with an agreeable
repast of cold salmon, asparagus salad, fruits, jellies, and whipped
creams. The flagon of dandelion vintage played its due part in the
repast, and Mr. Bleak began to entertain a new respect for this common
flower of which he had been unduly inappreciative. Although the trellis
screened them from observation, Quimbleton seemed ill at ease. He kept
an alert gaze roving about him, and spoke only in whispers. Once, when
a bird lighted in the foliage behind them, causing a sudden stir among
the leaves, his shaggy beard whirled round with every symptom of panic.
Little by little this apprehension began to infect the journalist also.
At first he had hardly restrained his mirth at the sight of this burly
athlete framed in the bush of Santa Claus. Now he began to wonder
whether his escapade had been consummated at too great a risk.

That old-fashioned quarter of the city was incredibly still. As the
light ebbed slowly, and broad blue shadows crept across the patch of
turf, they sat in a silence broken only by the wiry cheep of sparrows
and the distant moan of trolley cars. The arrows of the decumbent sun
gilded the ripening grapes above them. Suddenly there were two loud
bangs and a vicious whistle sang through the arbor. Broken twigs eddied
down upon the table cloth.

"Spotted mackerel!" cried Bleak. "Is some one shooting at us?"

Quimbleton reappeared presently from under the table. "All serene," he
said. "We're safe now. That was only Chuff. Every night about this time
he comes out on his back gallery and enjoys a little sharp-shooting.
He's a very good shot, and picks off the grapes that have ripened
during the day. There were only two that were really purple this
evening, so now we can go ahead. Unless he should send over a raiding
party, we're all right."

The editor solaced himself with another beaker of the dandelion wine
and they finished their meal in thoughtful silence.

"Mr. Bleak," said the other at last, "it was something more than mere
desire to give you a pleasant surprise that led me to your office this
afternoon. Have you leisure to listen? Good! Please try one of these
cigars. If, while I am talking, you should hear any one moving in the
garden, just tap quietly on the table. Tell me, have you, before
to-day, ever heard of the Corporation for the Perpetuation of

"Never," replied Bleak, kindling a magnifico of remarkably rich, mild

"That is as I expected," rejoined Quimbleton. "We have campaigned
incognito, partly by choice and partly (let me be candid) by necessity.
But the time is come when we shall have to appear in the open. The last
great struggle is on, and it can no longer be conducted in the dark. In
the course of my remarks I may be tempted to forget our present perils.
I beg of you, if you hear any sounds that seem suspicious, to notify me

"Pardon me," said Bleak, a little uneasily; "it was my intention to
catch the 9.30 train for Mandrake Park."

The fantastic cascade of false white hair wagged gravely in the dusk.

"My dear sir," said Quimbleton solemnly, "I fancy you are to be
gratified by a far higher destiny than catching the 9.30. Do me the
honor of filling your glass. But be careful not to clink the decanter
against the tumbler. There is every probability that vigilant ears are
on the alert."

There was a brief silence, and Bleak wondered (a trifle wildly) if he
were dreaming. The cigar on the opposite side of the little table
glowed rosily several times, and then Quimbleton's voice resumed, in a
deep undertone.

"It is necessary to tell you," he said, "that the Corporation was
founded a number of years ago, long before the events of the fatal year
1919 and the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The incident of
this afternoon may have caused you to think that what is vulgarly
called booze is the chief preoccupation of our society. That is not so.
We were organized at first simply to bring merriment and good cheer
into the lives of those who have found the vexations of modern life too
trying. In our early days we carried on an excellent (though
unsystematic) guerilla warfare against human suffering.

"In this (let me admit it frankly) we were to a great degree selfish.
As you are aware, the essence of humor is surprise: we found a
delicious humor in our campaign of surprising woebegone humanity in
moments of crisis. For instance, we used to picket the railway
terminals to console commuters who had just missed their trains. We
found it uproariously funny to approach a perspiring suburbanite, who
had missed the train (let us say) to Mandrake Park, and to press upon
him, with the compliments of the Corporation, some consolatory
souvenir - a box of cigars, perhaps, or a basket of rare fruit.
Housewives, groaning over their endless routine of bathing the baby,
ordering the meals, sweeping the floors and so on, would be amazed by
the sudden appearance of one of our deputies, in the service uniform of
gray and silver, equipped with vacuum cleaner and electric baby-washing
machine, to take over the domestic chores for one day. The troubles of
lovers were under our special care. We saw how much anguish is caused
by the passion of jealousy. Many an engaged damsel, tempted to mild
escapade in some perfumed conservatory, found her heart chilled by the
stern eye of a uniformed C.P.H. agent lurking behind a potted
hydrangea. We hired bands of urchins to make faces at evil old men who
plate-glass themselves in the windows of clubs. Many a husband,
wondering desperately which hat or which tie to select, has been
surprised by the appearance of one of our staff at his elbow, tactfully
pointing out which article would best harmonize with his complexion and
station in life. Ladies who insisted on overpowdering their noses were
quietly waylaid by one of our matrons, and the excess of rice-dust
removed. A whole shipload of people who persisted in eating onions were
gathered (without any publicity) into a concentration camp, and in
company with several popular comedians, deported to a coral atoll. I
could enumerate thousands of such instances. For several years we
worked in this unassuming way, trying to add to the sum of human

Quimbleton's white beard shone with a pinkish brightness as he inhaled
heavily on his cigar.

"Now, Mr. Bleak," he went on, "I come to you because we need your help.
We can no longer maintain a light-hearted sniping campaign on the
enemies of human happiness. This is a death struggle. You are aware
that Chuff and his legions are planning a tremendous parade for
to-morrow. You know that it will be the most startling demonstration of
its kind ever arranged. One hundred thousand pan-antis will parade on
the Boulevard, with a hundred brass bands, led by the Bishop himself on
his coal black horse. Do you know the purpose of the parade?"

"In a general way," said Bleak, "I suppose it is to give publicity to
the prohibition cause."

"They have kept their malign scheme entirely secret," said Quimbleton.
"You, as a newspaper man, should know it. Does the (so-called) cause of
prohibition require publicity? Nonsense! Prohibition is already in
effect. The purpose of the parade is to undermine the splendid work our
Corporation has been doing for the past two years. As soon as the fatal
amendment was passed we set to work to teach people how to brew
beverages of their own, in their own homes. As you know, very delicious

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Online LibraryChristopher MorleyIn the Sweet Dry and Dry → online text (page 1 of 7)