A crowd suggested one thing to Peter. For seven years of his young life he had been assistant to Pericles Priam, and had traveled over America selling Priam’s Peerless Pain Paralyzer; they had ridden in an automobile, and wherever there was a fair or a convention or an excursion or a picnic, they were on hand, and Pericles Priam would stop at a place where the crowds were thickest, and ring a dinner bell, and deliver his super-eloquent message to humanity—the elixir of life revealed, suffering banished from the earth, and all inconveniences of this mortal state brought to an end for one dollar per bottle of fifteen per cent opium. It had been Peter’s job to handle the bottles and take in the coin; and so now, when he saw the crowd, he looked about him eagerly. Perhaps there might be here some vender of corn-plasters or ink-stain removers, or some three card monte man to whom Peter could attach himself for the price of a sandwich.
Peter wormed his way thru the crowd for two or three blocks, but saw nothing more promising than venders of American flags on little sticks, and of patriotic buttons with “Wake up America!” But then, on the other side of the street at one of the crossings Peter saw a man standing on a truck making a speech, and he dug his way thru the crowd, elbowing, sliding this way and that, begging everybody’s pardon—until at last he was out of the crowd, and standing in the open way which had been cleared for the procession, a seemingly endless road lined with solid walls of human beings, with blue-uniformed policemen holding them back. Peter started to run across—and at that same instant came the end of the world.
One who seeks to tell about events in words comes occasionally upon a fundamental difficulty. An event of colossal and overwhelming significance may happen all at once, but the words which describe it have to come one by one in a long chain. The event may reveal itself without a moment’s warning; but if one is to give a sense of it in words, one must prepare for it, build up to it, awaken anticipation, establish a climax. If the description of this event which fate sprung upon Peter Gudge as he was crossing the street were limited to the one word “Bang” in letters a couple of inches high across the page, the impression would hardly be adequate.