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The Ragged Stranger

(c. 1928)

by Charles MacArthur

Chapter VI.

Employing the columns of the Record, Benson immediately laid his advance barrage. It was a human interest story about Bunge and his giant police dog, Schnozzle. Two columns brimmed with insinuations that anyone so devoted to an animal couldn’t possibly be cruel to a fellow human, or mean in any way. An affecting photograph of Mr. Bunge in the act of kissing Schnozzle went with the story, together with a warm and spontaneous set of resolutions struck off by the Grand Avenue Business Men’s Association, a testimonial from the Mayor, and similar admiring memorials.

But all this was merely preparation for the main attack. In the middle of the night Coroner Hartmann secretly released the body of the Ragged Stranger, to the intense and unbelieving joy of First Search, who behaved as if an Albatross had been lopped from his neck. The toniest undertaker in town, foreseeing unlimited publicity, offered his services at next to nothing; and concealed the body in his establishment against its removal to Mr. Bunge’s saloon. For several reasons it was decided to hold the funeral services there. The saloon was a dramatic setting, to begin with; it was centrally located, assuring the attendance of the neighborhood; and finally, it identified Mr. Bunge as the benevolent author of the entire proceedings.

“Not so bad for business, either,” observed Mr. Bunge.

Naturally, when the Record made exclusive announcement of the funeral, there was a great hue and cry. The suddenly pious Journal persuaded the clergy to denounce the affair as sacrilege, and scalded Mr. Bunge for such a use of his saloon. Coached by Benson, Mr. Bunge suavely replied that the Nazarene was a friend to publicans and sinners; and several unconventional pastors, with a thirst for publicity, joined in this opinion. Views of the latter were exploited freely in the Record, with liberal quotations from the Bible in support of Mr. Bunge’s contention. It began to appear that only the tony shepherds of the community opposed the saloon keeper’s Samaritan scheme: and for most unworthy and snobbish motives, to boot.

Within two days the tide had turned. Bunge’s wife was forgotten. Of course, the Journal, like a blind and maddened boxer, jabbed futilely away on this topic, and the streets of Mr. Bunge’s district were never so littered with its libelous attacks. But in the face of his patent philanthropy and Christian charity, such sorties were regarded as spiteful and failing off their mark.

Of course, Bunge decently suspended business at the saloon pending the funeral services and went to considerable expense in the matter of decoration. Under the supervision of Ahrens & Son, the barroom became a veritable atoll of tropical bloom. Graceful palms swept over and entirely concealed the bar, itself. Jars of slightly used carnations, roses and sweet peas, filled the place with delicious scent. Numerous handsome wreaths and such-like floral conceits, bearing the compliments of the principal business men of the district, were ranged against the walls. To dispel possible gloom, the Ragged Stranger was shelved temporarily in the back room.

© 2003-04 The Estate of Charles G. MacArthur. All Rights Reserved.

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