Monday, October 28, 2013

Thorne Smith: The Adventure Begins

"There was a tingling sensation in his veins. He felt as if something unusual were going to happen, that some remarkable adventure was already on its way to him. Ordinarily Mr Hawk, when thus assailed by this inexplicable exaltation of spirit, would have retired to his bed and endeavoured there to return to reason through the medium of some abstruse scientific treatise, but to-night he was in no mood to share his bed with a book.

"Across the dark tops of the trees a brute of a moon was casting bolts of golden gauze. An August night filled with haze and the scent of moistly breathing vegetation lay around him. Clouds scuttled across the sky and cavorted weirdly in a far-away wind only the lingering breath of which moved among the trees.

"In front of him stretched the country and the night. His eyes followed the familiar path that twisted up a grassy slope and dipped into a grove of trees only to appear again on the margin of a cornfield. That path had a fascination for Mr Hawk. He never grew tired of treading it—of thinking about it. To him it was like some huge serpent that never got anywhere but which in the fullness of time would move along to some dangerously enchanted place. Mr Hawk was one of those persons who retain a keen awareness of the impressions and sensations of early youth. He still remembered a patch of sun-baked mud that had exerted over him a spell of attraction far stronger than the gardens and orchards surrounding his home. He could still recall the cracks in its tawny surface and the smooth, hot feel of it against the soles of his bare feet. The acrid, febrile smell of the weeds that flourished round its margin frequently drifted back to him from the past. This path had something of the same influence on his imagination. A whisper seemed to be running down it now, summoning him out to the woods and fields where unknown but pleasant things were waiting.

"In obedience to some inner prompting he went back into the house. Unhesitatingly he descended to the cellar and returned presently with two bottles of Burgundy. For more than half a century these tubes of magic had lain under old dusty dimness dreaming of vineyards gratefully ripening beneath the far, fair skies of France.


"Crossing the back lawn he passed through the fragrance of an old-fashioned garden and, opening a small white gate set in a hedge of box bushes, set out along the path. He had no definite destination in mind. He had hardly anything at all in mind save a floating, hazy sensation of well-being, an intimate relationship with the night and the world around him. All he knew was that he was going to some place and drink a lot of wine and, perhaps, sing a little to himself and the trees, if he felt so inclined.

"On the summit of the hill he paused and looked back at his long rambling house sprawled peacefully out in sleep beneath the yellow flood of the moon. For a moment he stood silhouetted against the sky, a tall, lean figure of a man with two large bottles dangling at the ends of his arms—a rather enigmatic outline in the night. Then he dipped down into a grove of trees and became lost in the darkness piled up against their trunks. As he passed through the grove an expectant hush lay about him, a sort of breathless hesitation trembling on the verge of some strange revelation. But Mr Hawk did not linger in the grove. For some blind reason he continued along the path. It was as if a muted voice at the end of it were endeavouring to get his ear. Presently the trees were left behind and, coming out into the full flood of the moon, he followed the course of the path as it circled a vast cornfield, and then, as if suddenly changing its mind, took a short cut through it.

"Dark, keen-leafed stalks rose and rustled on either side of Mr Hawk. He caught the pungent scent of corn silk and absently decided that he was inordinately fond of corn—preferably on the cob. He came upon a scarecrow, and on a mound beside the scarecrow a little tattered man was sitting. And the little tattered man was crying bitterly, his tear-stained face raised to the distinguished figure flapping against the stars."

--from The Nightlife of the Gods, by Thorne Smith, 1931.

From author Thorne Smith, best remembered for his Topper books, came this tale of a scientist who discovers a ray that allows him to petrify anyone who annoys him. After turning most of his stuffy family to stone, he embarks on an adventure where he meets a leprechaun, falls in love with a Fury, and learns how to bring statues to life. After vivifying several old Greek gods from their figures in a museum, they go on a romp through Prohibition-era America that challenges all the "modern" attitudes of 1930's life. Made into a play and a film in 1935.

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