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A Gunpowder Tea-party







From: Doctor Jones' Picnic

Nothing could be completer nor daintier than the cabin and its
furnishings, divisions, and subdivisions. The rooms of necessity were
small, but sufficiently large for convenience and comfort. A choice
selection of best authors had been added by the Doctor. Mr. Will Marsh,
the architect, had not forgotten a painting, sketching, and
photographing outfit. Professor Fred Marsh had brought a good supply of
vocal and instrumental music, and a small aluminum organ of exquisite
tone and splendid volume. Professor Gray, as a matter of course, was
abundantly supplied with books, charts, instruments, etc. The ladies did
not forget to bring knitting, crochet, and sewing work with them. "For
we cannot be continually craning our necks out of our little nest,
sightseeing," said Mrs. Jones.

"And then I suppose that we shall be above the clouds a good share of
the time, with nothing but a fog bank to look at," added Mattie.

Dr. Jones carried a plentiful supply of drugs and instruments. "I have
not given up practice," said he. "There is no telling how many patients
I may encounter outside of our little crowd, before we return."

But we cannot stop to enumerate all the conveniences and appurtenances
of the wonderful sky-ship, now hastening toward its destination. More of
that later on.

Washington and its crowds of excited people were fast disappearing in
the distance. To say that no fear was experienced upon the part of any
of the company would not be strictly true. The ladies were pale and
silent, and stood with their arms about each other. Very little was said
by any one, for the sensation of skimming through the air at the rate of
more than twenty miles an hour at this elevation was too novel and
thrilling to admit of conversation. All experienced more or less of
vertigo and nausea, but the Doctor promptly controlled these
disagreeable symptoms with medicines from his case. All stood at their
post for something near an hour, Sing excepted. He was rattling about
among his pots, pans, and kettles as unconcernedly as if in the best
appointed kitchen in Washington. Finally a general conversation was
entered into as the first qualms of fear and sickness began to wear off.

"I am delighted with the performance of our ship," said Will. (We shall
take the liberty of using the given names of the two brothers hereafter,
Will and Fred.)

"Yes," returned the Doctor, "how easily and smoothly we are going. When
one looks inside, it is hard to realize that we are flying at the rate
of nearly thirty miles an hour through the air, three thousand feet
above the earth."

"And notice how steadily we are moving. Not a tremor nor movement of any
sort appreciable. How decidedly superior to car or steamboat traveling.
Here we have no jar, noise, nor dust," continued Will.

"Nor any kind of danger of shipwreck or collision," added Professor
Gray.

"Well, I'm sure that we are a peculiarly favored lot of travelers," said
Fred, turning to the organ and playing "Away with Melancholy," with
great spirit.

"How does the temperature in the globe keep up?" asked the Professor of
Will.

"I am astonished, Professor," he replied, "it has scarcely varied a
degree since starting, now two hours, and we are burning no fuel at all
at present."

"That is truly wonderful," answered the Professor. "At this rate we are
not likely to run out of fuel."

"No," said Will, "we are safe on that score."

The Doctor and Will now ascended to the observatory. Professor Gray and
Denison sat beside the ladies upon the balcony. Each was studying the
topography of the country with the aid of their field glasses.

"See the people everywhere and all waving their handkerchiefs at us,"
exclaimed Mattie.

"How distinctly we can see their white upturned faces, and how they do
shout," remarked Mrs. Jones.

"I can see photographers catching snap shots at us," said Denison.

"I dare say that the telegraph and telephone wires are being kept busy
over us," said Fred, who had just joined the group.

"Not a doubt of it," answered the Professor, "not only in America, but
all over Christendom."

Dr. Jones and Will now returned from their aerie, the observatory.

"Whew!" exclaimed the Doctor; "if that isn't exercise for you!"

"What is the temperature now?" asked the Professor.

"One hundred and thirty degrees," replied Will. "It has cooled off a few
degrees."

"Yes, we have descended to the twenty-five hundred foot level," remarked
the Professor, after consulting the barometer.

"She will skim along many hours before we need to fire up," returned
Will.

"And how is the view from the observatory?" inquired Denison of the
Doctor.

"That is the sight of a lifetime," cried Dr. Jones. "Language is utterly
inadequate to describe it. With the vast, unobstructed view on all
sides, far as the eye can reach, the great glistening rotund sides of
the globe rolling away from beneath your feet, giving one a sensation as
if about to slide off into the awful chasm below, I assure you that it
is something fearful. But I cast my eye up the shining mast and saw the
stars and stripes floating there so calmly and serenely, and I
remembered our glorious mission, and instantly I felt the Everlasting
Arms about me. I realized as never before in my life, the utter
littleness of man, and the almightiness of God. Here, floating thousands
of feet above the earth, we can rest just as implicitly on His promises
as we ever did in our lives."

These words were said by the Doctor with so much earnestness and
solemnity that a hush fell upon the company for a few moments. Then Mrs.
Jones sat at the organ and began singing in a low, sweet voice, Kelso
Carter's splendid hymn:

"Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let his praises ring;
Glory in the highest, I can shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God."

Every one of the seven were trained vocalists, and, very happily for the
pleasure of the company, the four parts were so nicely balanced that
their voices blended in sweetest harmony. The Doctor and Will and
Denison sang bass; Fred and Professor Gray tenor, Mattie alto, and Mrs.
Jones soprano. Mattie possessed an exceedingly rich contralto, while
Mrs. Jones' soprano was strong, sweet, and clear as a bird's. They all
joined in the chorus, and when the hymn was finished, Ah Sing, who stood
in the doorway with his white cap and apron on, encored loudly.

"Velly good. Me heap likee," was his verdict.

"It takes the 'Children of the Skies' to sing that hymn!" cried Denison.

"Hear! Hear!" said Mrs. Jones, clapping her hands. "Isn't that poetic
and appropriate? The Children of the Skies! That was an inspiration on
your part, Mr. Denison."

Several more pieces were sung, and the newness of their position began
to wear off toward evening. After this the rooms were assigned to each
by the Doctor, who was by common consent, recognized as captain of the
ship. Himself and wife occupied the largest of the sleeping apartments,
a beautiful bedroom, twelve feet square. How pure, sweet, and clean they
all were! The ceilings, walls, floors, and furniture, all of that
marvelous metal, aluminum. Rugs laid about as required were the only
covering upon the floors. At six o'clock, Sing announced dinner. As they
repaired to the dining-room and sat in the dainty aluminum chairs about
the aluminum table, set with a complete service of the same metal, they
could not repress their expressions of delight. They sat with bowed
heads while Dr. Jones invoked the Divine blessing upon the food of which
they were about to partake, and asked His special protection and care
during the unknown perils before them. As the meal progressed, they grew
quite talkative and merry.

"This is high living in more senses than one," remarked Fred as he
finished a plate of soup.

"Yes," returned Mrs. Jones, "we have picked up a jewel of a cook."

"How are you getting along, girls?" cried the genial Doctor, from the
lower end of the table where he sat carving the meat.

"Just splendidly, Doctor," replied Mattie, gaily. "Your picnic is
turning out to be a grander success than you ever could have dreamed
of."

"I don't know," he returned as his eye swept about the room and out of
the window. "I had my ideas up pretty high, but I must admit that this
rather exceeds my highest flights of imagination."

"My ideal of pleasure, so far as eating goes, used to be that of sitting
in a Pullman dining-car, flying at the rate of forty miles an hour or
more. I have spent an hour at such a table more than once, looking out
of the great windows as I ate, and thought I knew all about it. But ah!
I had never dined with the 'Children of the Skies,'" said Will.

And so they pleasantly chatted through the meal. Mrs. Jones, who sat at
the other end of the table, poured the tea.

"It may be imagination, but everything seems to taste better than common
aboard this ship," said Professor Gray. "Now, this tea is remarkably
fragrant and delicious. It is a beverage that I do not as a rule care
much for. What particular variety of tea is it?"

"It is the very best quality of Ceylon. I have forbidden the use of any
other kind by my patients. The Ceylon tea possesses little or no tannic
acid, and is not nearly so deleterious to weak stomachs as other
varieties. Speaking of teas, I suppose that you have all heard of one
brand of tea called 'Gunpowder.' I could tell you a very good story
about Gunpowder tea if you wish to hear it."

A general desire being expressed to hear it, the Doctor began:

"My maternal grandfather left New York state and moved to the vicinity
of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1830. Cleveland at that time was a small,
unimportant lakeport and my grandfather was offered his choice between a
tract of land upon what is now the most beautiful residence street in
the world, Euclid Avenue, and a piece at what was called Brighton,
several miles farther from town. It speaks but little for the old
gentleman's foresight, but he chose the latter, and so remained a
comparatively poor man all his life, instead of becoming a millionaire.
But, by dint of hard work, grandfather prospered as well as his
neighbors, and was content. In course of time, a hired man became a
necessary fixture upon the farm, and for many years Pete Wiggs, an
honest, hardworking German, was grandfather's right-hand man. But Pete,
jewel of a farmhand though he was, possessed one serious flaw: he
would have a periodical spree. But, so considerate was he, that he
always chose a time for his sprees when 'Dere really vos notting else to
do, Uncle Ezra,' as he assured my grandfather by way of extenuation. So
it became an understood arrangement that Pete was to be allowed, and
expected to have, a 'blowout' every spring and fall. One spring day, the
crops being all in, Pete began making arrangements for one of his
semi-annuals. 'Now, Pete,' said my grandmother, 'before you get drunk, I
want you to be sure and not forget to buy me a pound of the new tea I
have heard of. They call it 'Gunpowder tea.' Now attend to this for me
before you get to drinking.

'All right, Aunt Lois, so I vill,' replied Pete.

Four or five days later, Pete returned as usual, semi-intoxicated, and
looking very much the worse for wear.

'Give me dish, Aunt Loish, and I gif you dot Gunpowder dee. Paper proke
in mine bocket.'

So out of his coat pocket he began to fish great handfuls of tea leaves,
and a fine, black, granular substance. Grandmother looked at the strange
mixture critically, and concluded that the reason the tea was so called
was because part of it so much resembled gunpowder. So she thanked the
thoughtful Dutchman most kindly, and set it away carefully. A few
evenings later she invited a number of her neighbors, old cronies, to
drink Gunpowder tea with her. None of them had ever seen the new variety
of tea, and all were there, expecting a very great treat indeed.

It was soon poured out and upon the table. Grandmother noticed that its
color was black as ink, and she felt a thrill of anxiety run down her
spinal column as she poured it into the cups. Aunt Joanna, my
grandmother's sister, was the oracle of the settlement on social
matters, and by tacit consent, all awaited until she had first tasted
the new beverage. Each felt that a great event was at hand, and the fate
of Gunpowder tea was about to be settled, once and forever, in that
settlement. So Aunt Joanna, fully alive to a sense of her position and
responsibility, with great deliberation took a generous sip of the
candidate for social favor. Her eyes filled with tears; she coughed
furiously behind her handkerchief, and a spasm of disgust and nausea
went to her very toes. Then she sat straight, grim, and silent as
death. Each of the other old ladies went through about the same motions.
And now grandmother, who had been puttering about, waiting upon her
guests, noticed that something was wrong.

'Well, Joan, how do you like Gunpowder tea?'

'Taste it, Lois,' was all Aunt Joan would condescend to reply. She
complied, taking quite a generous swallow.

'Oh! my stars!' she fairly screamed, 'What horrible stuff is this?
Waugh!'

'Why, that is Gunpowder tea, Lois,' said Aunt Joan with grim sarcasm.
'Beautiful, isn't it?'

'There is some awful mistake about this,' said grandmother. 'I'll see
that drunken Pete about it.'

Pete was called in. Grandmother brought the box of tea out before him
and said: 'Pete, what is the matter with this tea? It has nearly
poisoned us all to death. What is this black stuff mixed up with the
tea?'

The Dutchman looked at it stupidly for a moment, then his mouth expanded
from ear to ear, and he roared with laughter. 'Dunder und blixen, Aunt
Loish, but dot vos a goot choke on you. Dot vos Gunpowder dee mitout any
mishtake,' and again he howled with laughter.

The long and short of the matter was, that Pete had bought a pound of
tea and a pound of gunpowder, and had put the two packages into the same
pocket before getting drunk. During his drunken brawling and fighting
the papers had become broken, with the result related."

The evening was balmy and beautiful, and they promenaded about the
balcony until the shades of night had set in. The twinkling lights of
the towns and farmhouses began to appear. They were passing over the
mountainous region of southeastern Pennsylvania, and the globe had
ascended to the four thousand foot level. The wind had shifted to nearly
due west.

"Where are we now, Doctor?" asked Mattie.

"We are crossing the southern portion of Pennsylvania. We are traveling
nearly due west. I shall seek a more northerly current to-morrow morning
if this wind does not become more favorable by that time."

They finally tired of walking and sat conversing until nearly ten
o'clock, when, by general consent, they retired, except Will, who
remained up to keep a lookout, and to watch the barometer and
thermometer.





Next: Relating How The Beautiful Picnic Progressed

Previous: Off On A Shoreless Sea



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