Read CHAPTER IX - THE TAKER-UP of Ma Pettengill, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

On a tired evening, in front of the Arrowhead’s open fire, I lived over for the hundredth time a great moment.  From the big pool under the falls four miles up the creek I had landed the Big Trout.  Others had failed in years past; I, too, had failed more than once.  But to-day!

At the hour of 9:46 A.M., to be exact, as one should in these matters, I had cast three times above the known lair of this fish.  Then I cast a fourth time, more from habit than hope; and the fight was on.  I put it here with the grim brevity of a communique.  Despite stout resistance, the objective was gained at 9:55 A.M.  And the Big Trout would weigh a good two and one half ­say three or three and one quarter ­pounds.  These are the bare facts.

Verily it was a moment to live over; and to myself now I was more discursive.  I vanquished the giant trout again and again, altering details of the contest at will ­as when I waded into icy water to the waist in a last moment of panic.  My calm review disclosed that this had been fanciful overcaution; but at the great crisis and for three minutes afterward I had gloried in the wetting.

Now again I three times idly flicked that corner of the pool with a synthetic moth.  Again for the fourth time I cast, more from habit than hope.  Then ensued that terrific rush from the pool’s lucent depths ­

“Yes, sir; you wouldn’t need no two guesses for what she’d wear at a grand costume ball of the Allied nations ­not if you knew her like I do.”  This was Ma Pettengill, who had stripped a Sunday paper from the great city to its society page.  She lifted this under the lamp and made strange but eloquent noises of derision: 

“You take Genevieve May now, of a morning, before that strong-arm Japanese maid has got her face rubbed down and calked with paints, oils, and putty, and you’d say to her, as a friend and well-wisher:  ’Now look here, old girl, you might get by at that costume ball as Stricken Serbia or Ravaged Belgium, but you better take a well-meant hint and everlastingly do not try to get over as La Belle France.  True, France has had a lot of things done to her,’ you’d say, ’and she may show a blemish here and there; but still, don’t try it unless you wish to start something with a now friendly ally ­even if it is in your own house.  That nation is already pushed to a desperate point, and any little thing might prove too much ­even if you are Mrs. Genevieve May Popper and have took up the war in a hearty girlish manner.’  Yes, sir!”

This, to be sure, was outrageous ­that I should hear myself addressing a strange lady in terms so gross.  Besides, I wished again to be present at the death of my favourite trout.  I affected not to have heard.  I affected to be thinking deeply.

It worked, measurably.  Once more I scanned the pool’s gleaming surface and felt the cold pricking of spray from the white water that tumbled from a cleft in the rocks above.  Once more I wondered if this, by chance, might prove a sad but glorious day for a long-elusive trout.  Once more I looked to the fly.  Once more I ­

“What I never been able to figger out ­how can a dame like that fool herself beyond a certain age?  Seams in her face!  And not a soul but would know she got her hair like the United States acquired Louisiana.  That lady’s power of belief is enormous.  And I bet she couldn’t put two and two together without making a total wreck of the problem.  Like fair time a year ago, when she was down to Red Gap taking up the war.  She comes along Fourth Street in her uniform one morning, fresh from the hands of this hired accomplice of hers, and meets Cousin Egbert Floud and me where we’d stopped to talk a minute.  She is bubbling with war activity as usual, but stopped and bubbled at us a bit ­kind of hale and girlish, you might say.  We passed the time of day; and, being that I’m a first-class society liar, I say how young and fresh she looks; and she gets the ball and bats it right back to Cousin Egbert.

“‘You’d never dream,’ says she, ’what my funny little mite of a Japanese maid calls me!  You’d really never guess!  She calls me Madam Peach Blossom!  Isn’t that perfectly absurd, Mr. Floud?’

“And poor Cousin Egbert, instead of giggling in a hearty manner and saying ’Oh, come now, Mrs. Popper!  What’s in the least absurd about that?’ ­like he was meant to and like any gentleman would of ­what does the poor silly do but blink at her a couple of times like an old barn owl that’s been startled and say ’Yes, ma’am!’ ­flat and cold, just like that!

“It almost made an awkward pause; but the lady pretended she had been saying something to me, so she couldn’t hear him.  That Cousin Egbert!  He certainly wouldn’t ever get very high in the diplomatic service of anybody’s country.

“And here’s this grand ball of the Allied nations in costume, give in Genevieve May’s palatial residence.  It must of throwed a new panic into Berlin when they got the news off the wire.  Matter of fact, I don’t see how them Germans held out long as they did, with Genevieve May Popper putting crimps into ’em with her tireless war activities.  That proves itself they’d been long preparing for the fray.  Of course, with Genevieve May and this here new city marshal, Fotch, the French got, it was only a question of time.  Genevieve is sure one born taker-up!  Now she’s made a complete circle of the useful arts and got round to dancing again.  Yes, sir!”

I affected to believe I was solitary in the room.  This time it did not work ­even measurably.  Almost at once came:  “I said she was the darndest woman in the world to take things up!” The tone compelled notice, so I said “Indeed!” and “You don’t say!” with a cautiously extended space between them, and tried to go on thinking.

Then I knew the woman’s full habit of speech was strong upon her and that one might no longer muse upon a caught trout ­even one to weigh well up toward four pounds.  So I remembered that I was supposed to be a gentleman.

“Go right ahead and talk,” I murmured.

“Sure!” said the lady, not murmuring.  “What in time did you think I was going to do?”

Yes, sir; I bet she’s the greatest taker-up ­bar none ­the war has yet produced.  She’s took up France the latest.  I understand they got a society of real workers somewhere that’s trying to house and feed and give medicine and crutches to them poor unfortunates that got in the way of the dear old Fatherland when it took the lid off its Culture and tried to make the world safe ­even for Germans; but I guess this here society gets things over to devastated France without much music or flourishes or uniforms that would interest Genevieve May.

But if that country is to be saved by costume balls of the Allied nations, with Genevieve May being La Belle France in a dress hardly long enough to show three colours, then it needn’t have another uneasy moment.  Genevieve stands ready to do all if she can wear a costume and dance the steps it cost her eight dollars a lesson to learn from one of these slim professionals that looks like a rich college boy.

It was this reckless dancing she’d took up when I first knew her, though she probably goes back far enough to of took up roller skating when that was sprung on an eager world; and I know she got herself talked about in 1892 for wearing bloomers on a bicycle.  But we wasn’t really acquainted till folks begun to act too familiar in public, and call it dancing, and pay eight dollars a lesson to learn something any of ’em that was healthy would of known by instinct at a proper time and place.  Having lots of money, Genevieve May travelled round to the big towns, learning new steps and always taking with her one of these eight-dollar boys, with his hair done like a seal, to make sure she’d learn every step she saw.

She was systematic, that woman.  If she was in Seattle and heard about a new step in San Francisco, she’d be on the train with her instructor in one hour and come back with the new step down pat.  She scandalized Red Gap the year she come to visit her married daughter, Lucille Stultz, by introducing many of these new grips and clinches; but of course that soon wore off.  Seems like we get used to anything in this world after it’s done by well-dressed people a few times.

Then, as I say, these kind-hearted, music-loving Germans, with their strong affection for home life and little ones, started in to shoot the rest of the world up to German standards, and they hadn’t burned more than a dozen towns in Belgium, after shooting the oldest and youngest and sexecuting the women ­I suppose sexecution is what you might call it ­before Genevieve took up the war herself.

Yes, sir ­took it right up; no sooner said than done with her.  It was really all over right then.  The Germans might just as well of begun four years ago to talk about the anarchistic blood-lust of Woodrow Wilson as to wait until they found out the Almighty knows other languages besides German.

I believe the Red Cross was the first handle by which Genevieve May took up the war.  But that costume is too cheap for one that feels she’s a born social leader if she could only get someone to follow.  She found that young chits of no real social standing, but with a pleasing exterior, could get into a Red Cross uniform costing about two-eighty-five and sell objects of luxury at a bazaar twice as fast as a mature woman of sterling character in the same simple garb.

So Genevieve May saw it had got to be something costing more money and beyond the reach of an element you wouldn’t care to entertain in your own drawing room.  And next thing I was up to Spokane, and here she is, dashing round the corridors of the hotel in a uniform that never cost a penny under two hundred and fifty, what with its being made by a swell tailor and having shiny boots with silver spurs and a natty tucked cap and a shiny belt that went round the waist and also up over one shoulder, with metal trimming, and so on.  She was awful busy, darting hither and yon at the lunch hour, looking prettily worried and like she would wish to avoid being so conspicuous, but was foiled by the stares of the crowd.

Something always seemed to be happening to make her stand out; like in the restaurant, where, no sooner did she pick out just the right table, after some hesitation, and get nicely seated, than she’d see someone across the room at a far table and have to run over and speak.  She spoke to parties at five distant tables that day, getting a scratchy lunch, I should say.  One of the tables was mine.  We wasn’t what you’d call close friends, but she cut a swath clean across a crowded dining room to tell me how well I was looking.

Of course I fell for the uniform and wanted to know what it meant.  Well, it meant that she was organizing a corps of girl ambulance drivers from the city’s beet families.  She was a major herself already, and was being saluted by he-officers.  She said it was a wonderful work, and how did I think she looked in this, because it was a time calling for everyone’s best, and what had I taken up for my bit?  I was only raising beef cattle, so I didn’t have any answer to that.  I felt quite shamed.  And Genevieve went back to her own table for another bite of food, bowing tolerantly to most of the people in the room.

I don’t know how far she ever got with this girl’s ambulance corps beyond her own uniform.  She certainly made an imposing ambulance driver herself on the streets of that town.  You’d see her big, shiny, light-blue limousine drive up, with two men on the seat and Genevieve, in uniform, would be helped out by one of ’em, and you knew right off you’d love to be a wounded soldier and be drove over shell-torn roads by her own hands.

Anyway, she got mad and left the ambulance service flat, getting into some sort of brawl with an adjutant general or something through wanting to take a mere detail out of his hands that he felt should stay right where it was, he being one of these offensive martinets and a stickler for red tape, and swollen with petty power.  So Genevieve May said.

So she looked round for another way to start a few home fires burning on the other side of the Rhine.  I forget what her next strategy was, but you know it was something cute and busy in a well-fitting uniform, and calculated to shorten the conflict if Germany found it out.  You know that much.

I remember at one time she was riding in parades when the boys would march down to the station to go off and settle things in their own crude way.  I lost track of what she was taking up for a while, but I know she kept on getting new uniforms till she must of had quite a time every morning deciding what she was going to be that day, like the father of the German Crown Prince.

Finally, last spring, it got to be the simple uniform of a waitress.  She had figgered out that all the girls then taking the places of men waiters would get called for nurses sooner or later; so why shouldn’t prominent society matrons like herself learn how to wait on table, so as to take the girl waiters’ places when they went across?  Not exactly that; they wouldn’t keep on lugging trays forever in this emergency ­only till they could teach new girls the trade, when some new ones come along to take the places of them that had met the call of duty.

So Genievieve agitated and wrote letters from the heart out to about two dozen society buds; and then she terrified the owner of the biggest hotel in her home town till he agreed to let ’em come and wait on table every day at lunch.

Genevieve May’s uniform of a poor working girl was a simple black dress, with white apron, cuffs, and cap, the whole, as was right, not costing over six or seven dollars, though her string of matched pearls that cost two hundred thousand sort of raised the average.  The other society buds was arrayed similar and looked like so many waitresses.  Not in a hotel, mebbe, but in one of these musical shows where no money has been spared.

The lady had a glorious two days ordering these girls round as head waiter and seeing that everybody got a good square look at her, and so on.  But the other girls got tired the second day.  It was jolly and all tips went to the Red Cross, and the tips was big; but it was just as hard work as if they had really been poor working girls, with not enough recreation about it.  So the third day they rebelled at the head waiter and made Genevieve herself jump in and carry out trays full of dishes that had served their purpose.

This annoyed Genevieve May very much.  It not only upset discipline but made the arms and back ache.  So she now went into the kitchen to show the cook how to cook in a more saving manner.  Her intentions were beautiful; but the head cook was a sensitive foreigner, and fifteen minutes after she went into his kitchen he had to be arrested for threatening to harm the well-known society matron with a common meat saw.

The new one they got in his place next day let her mess round all she wanted to, knowing his job depended on it, though it was told that he got a heartless devil-may-care look in his eyes the minute he saw her making a cheap fish sauce.  But he said nothing.

That hotel does a big business, but it fell off surprising the day after this, twenty-three people having been took bad with poison from something they’d et there at lunch.  True, none of these got as fur as the coroner, so it never was known exactly what they’d took in; but the thing made a lot of talk at stricken bedsides and Genevieve spent a dull day denying that her cooking had done this outrage.  Then, her dignity being much hurt, she wrote a letter to the papers saying this hotel man was giving his guests cheap canned goods that had done the trick.

Next morning this brought the hotel man and one of the best lawyers in the state of Washington up to the palatial Popper residence, making threats after they got in that no lady taking up war activities should be obliged to listen to.  She got rattled, I guess, or had been dreaming or something.  She told the hotel man and lawyer to Ssh!  Ssh! ­because that new cook had put ground glass in the lemon pie and she had a right to lull his suspicions with this letter to the papers, because she was connected with the Secret Service Department.  She would now go back to the hotel and detect this spy committing sabotage on the mashed potatoes, or something, and arrest him ­just like that!  I don’t know whatever put the idea into her head.  I believe she had tried to join the Secret Service Department till she found they didn’t have uniforms.

Anyway, this hotel man, like the cowardly dog he was, went straight off to some low sneak in the district attorney’s office; and he went like a snake in the grass and found out it wasn’t so; and a real officer come down on Genevieve May to know what she meant by impersonating a Secret Service agent.  This brutal thug talked in a cold but rough way, and I know perfectly well this minute that he wasn’t among those invited to the Popper costume ball of the Allied nations.  He threw a fine scare into Genevieve May.  For about a week she didn’t know but she’d be railroaded to Walla Walla.  She wore mere civilian creations and acted like a slacker.

But finally she saw the Government was going to live and let live; so she took up something new.  It was still On to Berlin! with Genevieve May.

She wasn’t quite up to pulling anything new in her home town; so she went into the outlying districts to teach her grandmother something.  I didn’t think up the term for it.  That was thought up by G.H.  Stultz who is her son-in-law and president of the Red Gap Canning Factory.  This here new war activity she’d took up consisted of going rough to different places and teaching housewives how to practice economy in putting up preserves, and so on.

It ain’t on record that she ever taught one single woman anything about economy, their hard-won knowledge beginning about where hers left off ­which wasn’t fur from where it started; but she did bring a lot of wholesome pleasure into their simple, hard-working lives.

In this new war activity it wasn’t so much how you canned a thing as what you canned.  Genevieve May showed ’em how to make mincemeat out of tomatoes and beets; how to make marmalade out of turnips and orange peel; how to make preserves out of apple peelings and carrots; and guava jelly out of mushmelon rinds, or some such thing.  She’d go into towns and rent a storeroom and put up her canning outfit, hiring a couple of the lower classes to do the actual work, and invite women to bring in their truck of this kind and learn regular old rock-bottom economy.  They’d come, with their stuff that should of been fattening shotes, and Genevieve May would lecture on how to can it.  It looked through the glass like sure-enough human food.

Then, after she’d got ’em all taught, she’d say wouldn’t it be nice of these ladies to let her sell all this canned stuff and give the proceeds to the different war charities!  And there wasn’t a woman that didn’t consent readily, having tasted it in the cooking.  Not a one of ’em wanted to take home these delicacies.  It was right noble or cautious, or something.  And after visiting six or eight of these communities Genevieve May had quite a stock of these magic delicacies on sale in different stores and was looking forward to putting the war firmly on its feet ­only she couldn’t get many reports of sales from this stock.

Then she got a dandy idea.  She would come to the Kulanche County Fair at Red Gap, assemble all her stock there, give one of these here demonstrations in economic canning, and auction off the whole lot with a glad hurrah.  She thought mebbe, with her influence, she might get Secretary Baker, or someone like that, to come out and do the auctioning ­all under the auspices of Mrs. Genevieve May Popper, whose tireless efforts had done so much to teach the dear old Fatherland its lesson, and so on.  She now had about three hundred jars and bottles of this stuff after her summer’s work, and it looked important.

I got down to the county fair myself last year, having some sure-fire blue-ribbon stock there, and it was then that I hear G.H.  Stultz talking about this here mother-in-law of his, he taking me aside at their home one night, so his wife, Lucille, wouldn’t hear.

“This respected lady is trying to teach her grandmother how to suck eggs ­no more, no less,” he says.  “Now she’s coming here to pull something off.  You watch her ­that’s all I ask.  Everything that woman touches goes funny.  Look how she poisoned those innocent people up at that hotel.  And I’ll bet this canned stuff she’s going to sell off will kill even mere tasters.  If she only hadn’t come to my town!  That woman don’t seem to realize that I’m cursed with a German name and have to be miles above suspicion.

“Suppose she sells off this stuff!  I give you my word she puts things in it that even a professional canning factory wouldn’t dare to.  And suppose it poisons off a lot of our best patriots!  Do you think a mob will be very long blaming me for a hand in it?  Why, it’ll have me, in no time at all, reaching my feet down for something solid that has been carefully removed.”

I tried to cheer the man up, but he was scared stiff.

“Mark my words,” he says.  “She’ll pull a bloomer!  If that woman could go into an innocent hotel kitchen, where every care is taken to keep things right, and poison off twenty-three people till they picked at the covers and had relatives wondering what might be in their safe-deposit boxes, think what she’d do in the great unsanitary outside, where she can use her imagination!

“There’s but one salvation for me; I must have trusted agents in the crowd when that stuff is auctioned off, and they got to collar every last bottle of it, no matter what the cost.  I have to lay down like a pup on the next bond drive, but this is my only hope.  For the Lord’s sake, don’t you go there and start bidding things up, no matter who she gets for auctioneer!  Don’t you bid ­even if Woodrow Wilson himself comes out.”

That’s the impression Genevieve May had made on her own daughter’s husband, who is a clear-seeing man and a good citizen.  And it looked like he must secretly buy up her output.  She not only come to town with her canning outfit and her summer’s stock of strange preserves, all beauteous in their jars, but she brought with her to auction off this stuff a regular French flying man with an honourable record.

She’d met this French officer in the city and entertained him at the palatial Popper home; and mebbe she’d hypnotized him.  He wasn’t in good shape, anyway.  First place, he’d been fighting in the air for three years and had been wounded in five places ­including the Balkans.  Then, like that wasn’t enough for one man, he’d been sent over here to teach our men to fly when they got a machine; and over here he’d fell out of a cloud one day when his brake or something went wrong, and this had give him a nice pleasant vacation on crutches.

Genevieve had fastened on him at a time when he probably hadn’t the steely resistance Frenchmen been showing on the West Front.  Or, being in a strange country, mebbe he didn’t know when politeness to Genevieve May Popper would become mere cowardice.  Anyway, he could talk English well enough; and Genevieve May brought him to town and made a big hit.

First thing she done was to set up her stock of canned goods in a section they give her in Horticultural Hall.  Them three hundred bottles took up a lot of room and showed up grand between the fancy-work section, consisting of embroideries, sofa cushions, and silk patch quilts, and the art section, consisting of hand paintings of interesting objects by bright pupils in the public school.  Then she put in her canning outfit, with a couple of hired natives to do the work while she lectured on the science of it and tried to get weak-minded patriots to taste things.

Genevieve May had a good time at these demonstrations, speaking in tones of oratory and persuasion and encouraging the tasters to take a chance.  She certainly had discovered some entirely new flavours that the best chemists hadn’t stumbled on.  She was proud of this, but a heap prouder of her French flying man.  When she wasn’t thinking up new infamies with rutabagas and watermelon rinds, she’d be showing him off to the fair crowds.  She give the impression when she paraded him that the French Army would of had few flyers if she hadn’t stepped into the breach.

And mebbe she wasn’t desperate with fear that some of the Red Gap society buds and matrons would want to stick in with nursing and attentions for the interesting invalid!  Nothing like that with Genevieve May!  She kept closer guard on that man than he would of got in the worst German prison camp.  About the only other person in town she’d trust him to was Cousin Egbert Floud.

Cousin Egbert liked the Frenchman a lot at first, and rode him round town to see the canning factory and the new waterworks and the Chamber of Commerce, and Price’s Addition to Red Gap, and so on.  Also, he’d drag him all over the fair grounds to look at prize bulls and windmills and patent silos.

Cousin Egbert had refused from the first to taste any of Genevieve May’s deviltry with the vegetable kingdom.  He swore he was on a diet and the doctor wouldn’t answer for his life if he even tasted anything outside.  He was telling me that last day of the fair that the woman ought to be arrested for carrying on so, Genevieve May being now busy with some highly artificial ketchup made of carrots, and something else unimportant, with pure vegetable dyes.

“Yes; and she just tried to hand me that same old stuff about what her Japanese maid calls her,” he says to me at this time.  “She says I could never guess what that funny little mite calls her.  And I says no, I never could of guessed it if she hadn’t already told me; but I says I know it is Madam Peach Blossom, and that Jap maid sure is one funny little mite, thinking up a thing like that, the Japanese being a serious race and not given to saying laughable things.”

That’s Cousin Egbert all over.  He ain’t a bit like one of them courters of the old French courts that you read about in the Famous Crimes of History.

“Madam Peach Blossom!” he says, snickering bitterly.  “Say, ain’t them Japs got a great sense of humour!  I bet what she meant was Madam Lemon Blossom!”

Anyway, Genevieve May trusted her flying man to this here brutal cynic when she wouldn’t of trusted him to any of the younger, dancing set.  And Cousin Egbert pretty near made him late for his great engagement to auction off the strange preserves.  It was on this third day of the fair, and Genevieve May was highly excited about it.

She had her stock set up in tiers against the wall and looking right imposing in the polished glass; and she had a box in front where the Frenchman would stand when he did the auctioning.

That hall was hot, let me tell you, with the high sun beating down on the thin boards.  I looked in a minute before the crowd come, and it looked like them preserves had sure had a second cooking, standing there day after day.

And this Cousin Egbert, when he should of been leading the Frenchman back to Horticultural Hall to the auction block, was dragging him elsewhere to see a highly exciting sight.  So he said.  He was innocent enough.  He wanted to give that Frenchman a good time, he told me afterward.  So he tells him something is going to take place over at the race track that will thrill him to the bone, and come on quick and hurry over!

The Frenchman is still using one crutch and the crowd is already surging in that direction; but after finding out it ain’t any more silos or windmills, he relies on Cousin Egbert that it really is exciting, and they manage to get through the crowd, though it was excited even now and stepped on him and pushed him a lot.

Still he was game, all right.  I’ve always said that.  He was about as excited as the crowd; and Cousin Egbert was, too, I guess, by the time they had pushed up to the railing.  I guess he was wondering what Wild Western kind of deviltry he was going to see now.  Cousin Egbert had told him it wasn’t a horse race; but he wouldn’t tell him what it was, wishing to keep it for a glad surprise when the Frenchman would see it with his own eyes.

“Just you wait one minute now!” says Cousin Egbert.  “You wait one minute and I bet you’ll be glad you got through that rough crowd with me.  You’d go through ten crowds like that, crutch or no crutch, to see what’s going to be here.”

The poor man was kind of used up, but he stands there waiting for the thrill, with Cousin Egbert beaming on him fondly, like a father that’s going in one minute to show the little tots what Santa Claus brought ’em on the tree.

Then the Frenchman hears a familiar roar and a airplane starts up from the lower end of the field inside the track.

“There!” says Cousin Egbert.  “Now I guess you’re glad you pushed in here, leg or no leg.  I knew it would be a dandy surprise for you.  Yes, sir; the committee got a regular airplane to give a thrilling flight right here in front of us.  You look up in the sky there and pretty soon you’ll see it just as plain, sailing round and round like some great bird; and they say this man flying it is going to loop the loop twice in succession.  Now I bet you’re glad you come!”

Cousin Egbert says right at this minute he begun to take a dislike to the Frenchman.  After he’d took all that trouble to get him there to see something exciting, the Frenchman just looked at him kind of sad for a long time, and then says he believes he’d rather go back some place where he can set down and rest his leg.

Cousin Egbert says he turned out to be like the Frenchmen you read about that is blase about everything in the world and kind of tired of life, not having the least bit of interest in whatever happens.  But, of course, he was polite to his guest and helped push a way back through the crowd, with the crowd more excited than ever by this time, because the flying machine was right up in the air, hundreds of feet off the ground.

“You’ll think I’m a liar,” he says to me; “but it’s the God’s truth this Frenchman just kept pushing through that crowd and didn’t even turn to look up in the air when this man was actually risking his life by looping the loop twice in succession.  He never turned his head the least bit.”

Cousin Egbert says, here he’d been up in one himself and knew what flying meant, but he probably wouldn’t of took the least notice if this dare-devil had been killed right there before thousands.

“I don’t understand it,” he says.  “It sure wouldn’t be the least use boosting for a brighter and busier Red Gap if everybody was as cold-blooded as the French.”  He was right grouchy about the French after this.

Anyway, he got his suffering man back to Horticultural Hall somewhat the worse for being stepped on by the crowd; in fact, the Frenchman is kind of all in when he gets to the auction block.  He sets right down on it looking white, and Genevieve May gets him a glass of water to revive him.  Pretty soon he says he’s nearly as well as ever, but that wasn’t much.

Now the patriots for the auction begun to throng in and Genevieve May is once more proud and fluttering.  She glances fondly at her noble array of jars, with these illegitimate preserves shining richly through, and she gets the Frenchman on his feet and onto the box; and the crowd cheers like mad and presses close.  I was standing close to G.H.  Stultz, and he whispers to me: 

“My Lord!  If there was only some means of getting that stock into the German commissary!  But I’m told they analyze everything.  Anyway, I got my bidders planted and I’ll have to buy up the stock if it breaks me.”

Then the Frenchman begun to talk in a very nice way.  He said a few words about his country ­how they had been fighting all these years, not knowing whether they could win or not, but meaning to fight till there wasn’t any fighters left; and how grateful France was for the timely aid of this great country and for the efforts of beautiful ladies like Madam Popper, and so on.

You bet no one laughed, even if he didn’t talk such very good English.  They didn’t even laugh when he said beautiful ladies like Madam Popper, though Cousin Egbert, somewhere off in the crowd, made an undignified sound which he pretended was coughing.

The Frenchman then said he would now ask for bids for these beautiful table delicacies, which were not only of rich food value but were more priceless than gold and jewels because of having been imprisoned in the crystal glass by the fair hands of the beautiful Madam Popper; and what was he offered for six bottles of this unspeakable jelly?

Of course G.H.  Stultz would of had ’em in no time if the panic hadn’t saved him.  Yes, sir; right then something terrible and unforeseen happened to cause a frightful panic.  About five of them jars of preserves blew up with loud reports.  Of course everyone’s first thought was that a German plot was on to lay Horticultural Hall in ruins with dynamite.  It sounded such.  No one thought it was merely these strange preserves that had been working overtime in that furnace.

Women screamed and strong men made a dash for the door over prostrate bodies.  And then a lot more explosions took place.  The firing became general, as the reports say.  Bottle after bottle shot its dread contents into the fray, and many feeble persons was tromped on by the mob.

It wasn’t any joke for a minute.  The big jars, mostly loaded with preserves, went off with heavy reports; then there was these smaller bottles, filled with artificial ketchup and corked.  They went off like a battery of light field guns, putting down a fierce barrage of ketchup on one and all.  It was a good demonstration of the real thing, all right.  I ain’t never needed any one since that to tell me what war is.

The crowd was two thirds out before any one realized just what kind of frightfulness was going on.  Then, amid shot and shell that would still fly from time to time, the bravest, that hadn’t been able to fight their way out, stood by and picked up the wounded under fire and helped brush their clothes off.  The groans of the sufferers mingled with the hiss of escaping ketchup.

Genevieve May was in hysterics from the minute the first high-powered gun was fired.  She kept screaming for everyone to keep cool.  And at last, when they got some kind of order, she went into a perfectly new fit because her Frenchman was missing.  She kept it up till they found the poor man.  He was found, without his crutch, at the far end of the hall, though no one has ever yet figgered how he could get there through the frenzied mob.  He was on a chair, weak and trembling, behind a fancy quilt made by Grandma Watkins, containing over ten thousand pieces of silk.  He was greenish yellow in colour and his heart had gone wrong.

That’ll show you this bombardment wasn’t any joke.  The poor man had been exhausted by Cousin Egbert’s well-meant efforts to show him something exciting, and he was now suffering from sure-enough shell shock, which he’d had before in more official circumstances.

He was a brave man; he’d fought like a tiger in the trenches, and had later been shot down out of the air four times, and was covered with wounds and medals and crosses; but this here enfilade at the fair hands of the beautiful Madam Popper, coming in his weak state, had darn near devastated what few nerves the war had left him.

It was a sad moment.  Genevieve May was again exploding, like her own handiwork, which wasn’t through itself yet by any means, because a solitary shot would come now and then, like the main enemy had retreated but was leaving rear guards and snipers.  Also, people that had had exhibits in the art section and the fancy-work section was now setting up yells of rage over their treasures that had been desecrated by the far-flung ketchup.

But tender hands was leading the stricken Frenchman back of the lines to a dressing station, and all was pretty near calm again, except for G.H.  Stultz, who was swearing ­or words to that effect.

It really took a good hour to restore perfect calm and figure up the losses.  They was severe.  Of course I don’t mean to say the whole three hundred bottles of this ammunition dump had exploded.  Some had been put up only a short while and hadn’t had time to go morbid; and even some of the old stuff had remained staunch.

The mincemeat shrapnel had proved fairly destructive, but the turnip marmalade didn’t seem to of developed much internal energy.  All of them jars of marmalade proved to be what they call “duds.”  But you bet enough had gone up to make a good battle sketch.  The ketchup, especial, was venomous.

I met G.H.  Stultz as I left the trenches.  He’d been caught in a machine-gun nest of ketchup and had only wiped about half of it off his face.  He looked like a contagious disease.

“Say, look here,” he says; “you can’t tell me there isn’t a Providence ever watching over this world to give some of us just what’s coming to us!” That was very silly, because I’d never told him anything of the sort.

Then I go out into No Man’s Land and meet Cousin Egbert by a lemonade stand.  He was one radiant being.  He asked me to have a glass of the beverage, and I done so; and while I was sipping it he says brightly: 

“Wasn’t that some gorgeous display of fireworks?  And wasn’t it fine to stand there and watch them bottles laugh their heads off at this food profiteer?”

I said he ought to be right sorry for her ­after all the work she’d done.

“Not me!” he says firmly.  “She never done any work in her life except to boost her own social celebrity.”

Then he took another gulp of his lemonade and says, very bitter: 

“Madam Peach Blossom!  I wonder what that funny little mite of hers will say when she sees her to-night?  Something laughable, I bet ­like it would be ’Madam Onion Blossom!’ ­or something comical, just to give her a good laugh after her hard day.”

Such is Cousin Egbert, and ever will be.  And Genevieve May, having took up things all round the circle, is now back to the dance.