The Curmudgeon


Monday, November 12, 2012

12 November 1918

Hooligan Motts had barely announced the time, "November the twelfth, nineteen eighteen. Nearly closing time," when a surging mass of joyous persons burst like a tidal wave through the door of the Gallows and Glockenspiel. Granny Forbus was brushed against several times, and once she was positively knocked. The middle-aged culprit, whose moustache seemed to be dragging him off-balance, apologised for his clumsiness and waved a newspaper at her, but Granny Forbus was not susceptible to newspapers, or to men, or to their moustaches. She had seen them all before, and knew their tricks.

At the bar Hooligan Motts was hard pressed, yanking the taps of Old Groveller's and Cropper Coaltar Misery and shoving the foaming pints at the frenzied, grabbing hands. Undoubtedly, by the law of averages, some would get what they asked for. Near the corner table where Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett were about their enigmatic business, a person sat down heavily and stared, gleaming slightly. "It's over at last," he said.

Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett looked up politely. The gleaming person gleamed a little more, then drained his Cropper Coaltar and waved his glass at them. "Don't you know?" the gleaming person cried. "Haven't you read the papers? Or are you sausage-eaters, the pair of you?"

But before Mr Blodgett, or possibly Mr Boggust, could discuss their dietary predilections, the gleaming person rose to his unsteady feet and made his way back to the bar, where several newspapers were in evidence among the grabbing hands and pointing fingers. "The war," they said. "The war to end war. It's over at last."
"What war's that, then?" asked Melon Head Myrtle, who was partial to a uniform here and there.
Incredulous eyeballs weaved and stared. "The war with Germany," said somebody. "There's an armistice. Hostilities over as of yesterday morning. Plucky little Belgium saved at last." Someone shook a newspaper under Melon Head Myrtle's nose, since it was obvious he could get away with it.
"That's nice," said Melon Head Myrtle. "Now you can build a country fit for heroes to live in, and squeeze Germany till the pips squeak."
"That's what we were thinking, more or less," said a plump young man with a red flower in his lapel.
"And be sure to keep on starving them until they surrender proper," said Melon Head Myrtle, whose acquaintance with uniforms here and there had resulted in one or two delusions of strategy.
"That's good thinking, that is," said the one with the moustache. He was propping up the gleaming one who looked slightly the worse for wear. "Can't let them get away with it, not after all we've been through. That isn't what our boys would want of us."

The plump young man leaned confidentially across the bar and breathed essence of Murgatroyd's on Hooligan Motts. "Are you by any chance," the young man said, "the landlord of these premises?"
"The landlord's away," said Hooligan Motts.
"Serving abroad?"
"Maybe, I suppose," said Hooligan Motts. "Hasn't caught up to us yet."
"Perhaps," said the young man, "perhaps that's the reason you haven't yet changed the name."
"The name?" asked Hooligan Motts.
"The name of this establishment," said the young man. "I wonder you've survived all this time, with a name like that. Now that we've got an armistice it may be all right, but you can't be too careful. Officially we're still at war."
"Still at war, that's right," said Melon Head Myrtle helpfully. "No stopping till they surrender proper. Starve them till they do, that's what I say. Starve them and bomb them good and peaceful."
"What I mean to say," the young man said, fingering the flower in his lapel, "is that you might want to consider dropping the glockenspiel."
"Dropping the glockenspiel?" said Hooligan Motts.
"Dropping it," said the young man. "It has, to be frank, some very unfortunate Teutonic connotations. Perhaps, for the time being, until the international situation has been rectified, something like the Hangman and Harpsichord might - "
"I don't think so," said Hooligan Motts.
"Well, at least change the word to something English, like xylophone," said the young man. "There's a war on, you know. People are angry."

Indeed, a smallish mob had already formed around the card-players' table, and several men were waving sticks in the air and giving vent to patriotic sentiments. One of them, who had a moustache like a standoff between two grubby Arctic chinchillas, tied a scarf around the end of his walking cane and, having doused it liberally with someone else's Cropper Coaltar, set it alight with his pipe. "Hang the Kaiser," he shouted, rushing for the door.
"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts diplomatically, as the crowd streamed out, yelling and repeatedly jogging the elbow of Granny Forbus.

The last to leave was the plump young man with the flower in his lapel. He tapped the side of his nose and threw a credit note on the bar. "Hangman and Harpsichord," he said. "Just think about it. Listen to the cadence."
He walked out, tipping his hat to Melon Head Myrtle.
The door closed behind him. "Peace at last," said Granny Forbus.


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