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.