“The Horatio Alger tradition, from rags to Rockefellers, was clean gone out of the America it had dominated.”
It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis.
Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values.
After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a pIutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS.
The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.
“And when I get ready to retire I’m going to build me an up-to-date bungalow in some lovely resort, not in Como or any other of the proverbial Grecian isles you may be sure, but in somewheres like Florida, California, Santa Fe, & etc., and devote myself just to reading the classics, like Longfellow, James Whitcomb Riley, Lord Macaulay, Henry Van Dyke, Elbert Hubbard, Plato, Hiawatha: etc. Some of my friends laugh at me for it, but I have always cultivated a taste for the finest in literature. I got it from my Mother as I did everything that some people have been so good as to admire in me. “
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Certain though Doremus had been of Windrip’s election, the event was like the long dreaded passing of a friend.
“All right. Hell with this country, if it’s like that. All these years I’ve worked, and I never did want to be on all these committees and boards and charity drives!, and don’t they look silly now! What I always wanted to do was to sneak off to an ivory tower, or anyway, celluloid, imitation ivory, and read everything I’ve been too busy to read.”
Thus Doremus, in late November.
And he did actually attempt it, and for a few days reveled in it, avoiding everyone save his family and Lorinda, Buck Titus, and Father Perefixe. Mostly, though, he found that he did not relish the “classics” he had so far missed, but those familiar to his youth: Ivanhoe, Huckleberry Finn, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, L’Allegro, The Way of All Flesh (not quite so youthful, there), Moby Dick, The Earthly Paradise, St. Agnes’ Eve, The ldylls of the King, most of Swinburne, Pride and Prejudice, Religio Medici, Vanity Fair.
Probably he was not so very different from President Elect Windrip in his rather uncritical reverence toward any book he had heard of before he was thirty. . . . No American whose fathers have lived in the country for over two generations is so utterly different from any other American.
In one thing, Doremus’s literary escapism failed him thoroughly. He tried to relearn Latin, but he could not now, uncajoled by a master, believe that “Mensa, mensae, mensae, mensam, mensa”, all that idiotic A table, of a table, to a table, toward a table, at in by or on a table, could bear him again as once it had to the honeysweet tranquillity of Vergil and the Sabine Farm.
Then he saw that in everything his quest failed him.
The reading was good enough, toothsome, satisfying, except that he felt guilty at having sneaked away to an Ivory Tower at all. Too many years he had made a habit of social duty. He wanted to be “in” things, and he was daily more irritable as Windrip began, even before his inauguration, to dictate to the country.
Buzz’s party, with the desertions to the Jeffersonians, had less than a majority in Congress. “Inside dope” came to Doremus from Washington that Windrip was trying to buy, to flatter, to blackmail opposing Congressmen. A President-Elect has unhallowed power, if he so wishes, and Windrip, no doubt with promises of abnormal favors in the way of patronage, won over a few. Five Jeffersonian Congressmen had their elections challenged. One sensationally disappeared, and smoking after his galloping heels there was a devilish fume of embezzlements. And with each such triumph of Windrip, all the well meaning, cloistered Doremuses of the country were the more anxious.
All through the “Depression,” ever since 1929, Doremus had felt the insecurity, the confusion, the sense of futility in trying to do anything more permanent than shaving or eating breakfast, that was general to the country. He could no longer plan, for himself or for his dependants, as the citizens of this once unsettled country had planned since 1620.
Why, their whole lives had been predicated on the privilege of planning. Depressions had been only cyclic storms, certain to end in sunshine; Capitalism and parliamentary government were eternal, and eternally being improved by the honest votes of Good Citizens.
Doremus’s grandfather, Calvin, Civil War veteran and ill-paid, illiberal Congregational minister, had yet planned, “My son, Loren, shall have a theological education, and I think we shall be able to build a fine new house in fifteen or twenty years.” That had given him a reason for working, and a goal.
His father, Loren, had vowed, “Even if I have to economize on books a little, and perhaps give up this extravagance of eating meat four times a week, very bad for the digestion, anyway, my son, Doremus, shall have a college education, and when, as he desires, he becomes a publicist, I think perhaps I shall be able to help him for a year or two. And then I hope, oh, in a mere five or six years more, to buy that complete Dickens with all the illustrations, oh, an extravagance, but a thing to leave to my grandchildren to treasure forever!”
But Doremus Jessup could not plan, “I’ll have Sissy go to Smith before she studies architecture,” or “If Julian Falck and Sissy get married and stick here in the Fort, I’ll give ‘em the southwest lot and some day, maybe fifteen years from now, the whole place will be filled with nice kids again!” No. Fifteen years from now, he sighed, Sissy might be hustling hash for the sort of workers who called the waiter’s art “hustling hash”; and Julian might be in a concentration camp, Fascist or Communist!
The Horatio Alger tradition, from rags to Rockefellers, was clean gone out of the America it had dominated.
It seemed faintly silly to hope, to try to prophesy, to give up sleep on a good mattress for toil on a typewriter, and as for saving money, idiotic!
And for a newspaper editor, for one who must know, at least as well as the Encyclopaedia, everything about local and foreign history, geography, economics, politics, literature, and methods of playing football, it was maddening that it seemed impossible now to know anything surely.
“He don’t know what it’s all about” had in a year or two changed from a colloquial sneer to a sound general statement regarding almost any economist. Once, modestly enough, Doremus had assumed that he had a decent knowledge of finance, taxation, the gold standard, agricultural exports, and he had smilingly pontificated everywhere that Liberal Capitalism would pastorally lead into State Socialism, with governmental ownership of mines and railroads and water, power so settling all inequalities of income that every lion of a structural steel worker would be willing to lie down with any lamb of a contractor, and all the jails and tuberculosis sanatoria would be clean empty.
Now he knew that he knew nothing fundamental and, like a lone monk stricken with a conviction of sin, he mourned, “If I only knew more! . . . Yes, and if I could only remember statistics!”
The coming and the going of the NRA, the F.E.R.A., the P.W.A., and all the rest, had convinced Doremus that there were four sets of people who did not clearly understand anything whatever about how the government must be conducted: all the authorities in Washington; all of the citizenry who talked or wrote profusely about politics; the bewildered untouchables who said nothing; and Doremus Jessup.
“But,” said he, “now, after Buzz’s inauguration, everything is going to be completely simple and comprehensible again, the country is going to be run as his private domain!”
Julian Falck, now sophomore in Amherst, had come home for Christmas vacation, and he dropped in at the Informer office to beg from Doremus a ride home before dinner.
He called Doremus “sir” and did not seem to think he was a comic fossil. Doremus liked it.
On the way they stopped for gasoline at the garage of John Pollikop, the seething Social Democrat, and were waited upon by Karl Pascal, sometime donkey-engine-man at Tasbrough’s quarry, sometime strike leader, sometime political prisoner in the county jail on a thin charge of inciting to riot, and ever since then, a model of Communistic piety.
Pascal was a thin man, but sinewy; his gaunt and humorous face of a good mechanic was so grease-darkened that the skin above and below his eyes seemed white as a fish-belly, and, in turn, that pallid rim made his eyes, alert dark gipsy eyes, seem the larger. . . . A panther chained to a coal cart.
“Well, what you going to do after this election?” said Doremus. “Oh! That’s a fool question! I guess none of us chronic kickers want to say much about what we plan to do after January, when Buzz gets his hands on us. Lie low, eh?”
“I’m going to lie the lowest lie that I ever did. You bet! But maybe there’ll be a few Communist cells around here now, when Fascism begins to get into people’s hair.
“Never did have much success with my propaganda before, but now, you watch!” exulted Pascal.
“You don’t seem so depressed by the election,” marveled Doremus, while Julian offered, “No, you seem quite cheerful about it!”
“Depressed? Why good Lord, Mr. Jessup, I thought you knew your revolutionary tactics better than that, way you supported us in the quarry strike, even if you are the perfect type of small capitalist bourgeois! Depressed? Why, can’t you see, if the Communists had paid for it they couldn’t have had anything more elegant for our purposes than the election of a pro-plutocrat, itching militarist dictator like Buzz Windrip! Look! He’ll get everybody plenty dissatisfied. But they can’t do anything, barehanded against the armed troops. Then he’ll whoop it up for a war, and so millions of people will have arms and food rations in their hands, all ready for the revolution! Hurray for Buzz and John Prang the Baptist!”
“Karl, it’s funny about you. I honestly believe you believe in Communism!” marveled young Julian. “Don’t you?” “Why don’t you go and ask your friend Father Perefixe if he believes in the Virgin?”
“But you seem to like America, and you don’t seem so fanatical, Karl. I remember when l was a kid of about ten and you, I suppose you were about twenty-five or -six then, you used to slide with us and whoop like hell, and you made me a ski-stick.”
“Sure I like America. Came here when I was two years old, I was born in Germany, my folks weren’t Heinies, though, my dad was French and my mother a Hunkie from Serbia. (Guess that makes me a hundred per cent American, all right!) I think we’ve got the Old Country beat, lots of ways. Why, say, Julian, over there I’d have to call you ‘Mein Herr’ or ‘Your Excellency,’ or some fool thing, and you’d call me, ‘I say-uh, Pascal!’ and Mr. Jessup here, my Lord, he’d be ‘Commendatore’ or ‘Herr Doktor’! No, I like it here. There’s symptoms of possible future democracy. But, but, what burns me up, it isn’t that old soap-boxer’s chestnut about how one tenth of 1 per cent of the population at the top have an aggregate income equal to 42 per cent at the bottom. Figures like that are too astronomical. Don’t mean a thing in the world to a fellow with his eyes and nose down in a transmission box, fellow that doesn’t see the stars except after 9 PM. on odd Wednesdays. But what burns me up is the fact that even before this Depression, in what you folks called prosperous times, 7 per cent of all the families in the country earned $500 a year or less, remember, those weren’t the unemployed, on relief; those were the guys that had the honor of still doing honest labor.
“Five hundred dollars a year is ten dollars a week-and that means one dirty little room for a family of four people! It means $5.00 a week for all their food, eighteen cents per day per person for food, and even the lousiest prisons allow more than that. And the magnificent remainder of $2.50 a week, that means nine cents per day per person for clothes, insurance, carfares, doctors’ bills, dentists’ bills, and for God’s sake, amusements, and all the rest of the nine cents a day they can fritter away on their Fords and autogiros and, when they feel fagged, skipping across the pond on the Normandie! Seven per cent of all the fortunate American families where the old man has got a job!”
Julian was silent; then whispered, “You know, fellow gets discussing economics in college theoretically sympathetic, but to see your own kids living on eighteen cents a day for grub, guess that would make a man pretty extremist!”
Doremus fretted, “But what percentage of forced labor in your Russian lumber camps and Siberian prison mines are getting more than that?”
“Haaa! That’s all baloney! That’s the old standard comeback at every Communist, just like once, twenty years ago, the muttonheads used to think they’d crushed any Socialist when they snickered ‘If all the money was divided up, inside five years the hustlers would have all of it again.’ Prob’ly there’s some standard coup de grace like that in Russia, to crush anybody that defends America. Besides!” Karl Pascal glowed with nationalistic fervor. “We Americans aren’t like those dumb Russki peasants! We’ll do a whole lot better when we get Communism!”
And on that, his employer, the expansive John Pollikop, a woolly Scotch terrier of a man, returned to the garage. John was an excellent friend of Doremus; had, indeed, been his bootlegger all through Prohibition, personally running in his whisky from Canada. He had been known, even in that singularly scrupulous profession, as one of its most trustworthy practitioners. Now he flowered into mid-European dialectics: “Evenin’, Mist’ Jessup, evenin’, Julian! Karl fill up y’ tank for you? You want t’ watch that guy, he’s likely to hold out a gallon on you. He’s one of these crazy dogs of Communists, they all believe in Violence instead of Evolution and Legality. Them, why say, if they hadn’t been so crooked, if they’d joined me and Norman Thomas and the other intelligent Socialists in a United Front with Roosevelt and the Jeffersonians, why say, we’d of licked the pants off Buzzard Windrip! Windrip and his plans!” (“Buzzard” Windrip. That was good, Doremus reflected. He’d be able to use it in the Informer!)
Pascal protested, “Not that Buzzard’s personal plans and ambitions have got much to do with it. Altogether too easy to explain everything just blaming it on Windrip. Why don’t you read your Marx, John, instead of always gassing about him? Why, Windrip’s just something nasty that’s been vomited up. Plenty others still left fermenting in the stomach, quack economists with every sort of economic ptomain! No, Buzz isn’t important, it’s the sickness that made us throw him up that we’ve got to attend to, the sickness of more than 30 per cent permanently unemployed, and growing larger. Got to cure it!”
“Can you crazy Tovarishes cure it?” snapped Pollikop, and, “Do you think Communism will cure it?” skeptically wondered Doremus, and, more politely, “Do you really think Karl Marx had the dope?” worried Julian, all three at once.
“You bet your life we can!” said Pascal vaingloriously.
As Doremus, driving away, looked back at them, Pascal and Pollikop were removing a flat tyre together and quarreling bitterly, quite happily.
Doremus’s attic study had been to him a refuge from the tender solicitudes of Emma and Mrs. Candy and his daughters, and all the impulsive hand-shaking strangers who wanted the local editor to start off their campaigns for the sale of life insurance or gas-saving carburetors, for the Salvation Army or the Red Cross or the Orphans’ Home or the Anti-cancer Crusade, or the assorted magazines which would enable to go through college young men who at all cost should be kept out of college.
It was a refuge now from the considerably less tender solicitudes of supporters of the President-Elect. On the pretense of work, Doremus took to sneaking up there in mid-evening; and he sat not in an easy chair but stiffly, at his desk, making crosses and five-pointed stars and sixpointed stars and fancy delete signs on sheets of yellow copy paper, while he sorely meditated.
Thus, this evening, after the demands of Karl Pascal and John Pollikop:
“‘The Revolt against Civilization!’
“But there’s the worst trouble of this whole cursed business of analysis. When I get to defending Democracy against Communism and Fascism and what-not, I sound just like the Lothrop Stoddard, why, I sound almost like a Hearst editorial on how some college has got to kick out a Dangerous Red instructor in order to preserve our Democracy for the ideals of Jefferson and Washington! Yet somehow, singing the same words, I have a notion my tune is entirely different from Hearst’s. I don’t think we’ve done very well with all the plowland and forest and minerals and husky human stock we’ve had. What makes me sick about Hearst and the BAR. is that if they are against Communism, I have to be for it, and I don’t want to be!
“Wastage of resources, so they’re about gone, that’s been the American share in the revolt against Civilization. “We can go back to the Dark Ages! The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin! It would just take a few thousand big shells and gas bombs to wipe out all the eager young men, and all the libraries and historical archives and patent offices, all the laboratories and art galleries, all the castles and Periclean temples and Gothic cathedrals, all the cooperative stores and motor factories, every storehouse of learning. No inherent reason why Sissy’s grandchildren, if anybody’s grandchildren will survive at all, shouldn’t be living in caves and heaving rocks at catamounts.
“And what’s the solution of preventing this debacle? Plenty of ‘em! The Communists have a patent Solution they know will work. So have the Fascists, and the rigid American Constitutionalism, who call themselves advocates of Democracy, without any notion what the word ought to mean; and the Monarchists, who are certain that if we could just resurrect the Kaiser and the Czar and King Alfonso, everybody would be loyal and happy again, and the banks would simply force credit on small businessmen at 2 per cent. And all the preachers, they tell you that they alone have the inspired Solution.
“Well, gentlemen, I have listened to all your Solutions, and I now inform you that I, and I alone, except perhaps for Walt Trowbridge and the ghost of Pareto, have the perfect, the inevitable, the only Solution, and that is: There is no Solution! There will never be a state of society anything like perfect!
“There never will be a time when there won’t be a large proportion of people who feel poor no matter how much they have, and envy their neighbors who know how to wear cheap clothes showily, and envy neighbors who can dance or make love or digest better.”
Doremus suspected that, with the most scientific state, it would be impossible for iron deposits always to find themselves at exactly the rate decided upon two years before by the National Technocratic Minerals Commission, no matter how elevated and fraternal and Utopian the principles of the commissioners.
His Solution, Doremus pointed out, was the only one that did not flee before the thought that a thousand years from now human beings would probably continue to die of cancer and earthquake and such clownish mishaps as slipping in bathtubs. It presumed that mankind would continue to be burdened with eyes that grow weak, feet that grow tired, noses that itch, intestines vulnerable to bacilli, and generative organs that are nervous until the age of virtue and senility. It seemed to him unidealistically probable, for all the “contemporary furniture” of the 1930’s, that most people would continue, at least for a few hundred years, to sit in chairs, eat from dishes upon tables, read books, no matter how many cunning phonographic substitutes might be invented, wear shoes or sandals, sleep in beds, write with some sort of pens, and in general spend twenty or twenty-two hours a day much as they had spent them in 1930, in 1630. He suspected that tornadoes, floods, droughts, lightning, and mosquitoes would remain, along with the homicidal tendency known in the best of citizens when their sweethearts go dancing off with other men.
And, most fatally and abysmally, his Solution guessed that men of superior cunning, of slyer foxiness, whether they might be called Comrades, Brethren, Commissars, Kings, Patriots, Little Brothers of the Poor, or any other rosy name, would continue to have more influence than slower-witted men, however worthy.
All the warring Solutions, except his, Doremus chuckled, were ferociously propagated by the Fanatics, the “Nuts.”
He recalled an article in which Neil Carothers asserted that the “rabble-rousers” of America in the mid-‘thirties had a long and dishonorable ancestry of prophets who had felt called upon to stir up the masses to save the world, and save it in the prophets’ own way, and do it right now, and most violently: Peter the Hermit, the ragged, mad, and stinking monk who, to rescue the (unidentified) tomb of the Savior from undefined “outrages by the pagans,” led out on the Crusades some hundreds of thousands of European peasants, to die on the way of starvation, after burning, raping, and murdering fellow peasants in foreign villages all along the road.
There was John Ball who “in 1381 was a share-the-wealth advocate; he preached equality of wealth, the abolition of class distinctions, and what would now be called communism,” and whose follower, Wat Tyler, looted London, with the final gratifying result that afterward Labor was by the frightened government more oppressed than ever. And nearly three hundred years later, Cromwell’s methods of expounding the sweet winsomeness of Purity and Liberty were shooting, slashing, clubbing, starving, and burning people, and after him the workers paid for the spree of bloody righteousness with blood.
Brooding about it, fishing in the muddy slew of recollection which most Americans have in place of a clear pool of history, Doremus was able to add other names of wellmeaning rabel-rousers:
Murat and Danton and Robespierre, who helped shift the control of France from the moldy aristocrats to the stuffy, centime-pinching shopkeepers. Lenin and Trotzky who gave to the illiterate Russian peasants the privileges of punching a time clock and of being as learned, gay, and dignified as the factory hands in Detroit; and Lenin’s man, Borodin, who extended this boon to China. And that William Randolph Hearst who in 1898 was the Lenin of Cuba and switched the mastery of the golden isle from the cruel Spaniards to the peaceful, unarmed, brotherly loving Cuban politicians of today.
The American Moses, Dowie, and his theocracy at Zion City, Illinois, where the only results of the direct leadership of God, as directed and encouraged by Mr. Dowie and by his even more spirited successor, Mr. Volivawere that the holy denizens were deprived of oysters and cigarettes and cursing, and died without the aid of doctors instead of with it, and that the stretch of road through Zion City incessantly caused the breakage of springs on the cars of citizens from Evanston, Wilmette, and Winnetka, which may or not have been a desirable Good Deed.
Cecil Rhodes, his vision of making South Africa a British paradise, and the actuality of making it a graveyard for British soldiers.
All the Utopias, Brook Farm, Robert Owen’s sanctuary of chatter, Upton Sinclair’s Helicon Hall, and their regulation end in scandal, feuds, poverty, griminess, disillusion.
All the leaders of Prohibition, so certain that their cause was world regenerating, that for it they were willing to shoot down violators.
It seemed to Doremus that the only rabble-rouser to build permanently had been Brigham Young, with his bearded Mormon captains, who not only turned the Utah desert into an Eden but made it pay and kept it up.
Pondered Doremus: Blessed be they who are not Patriots and Idealists, and who do not feel they must dash right in and Do Something About It, something so immediately important that all doubters must be liquidated, tortured, slaughtered! Good old murder, that since the slaying of Abel by Cain has always been the new device by which all oligarchies and dictators have, for all future ages to come, removed opposition!
In this acid mood Doremus doubted the efficacy of all revolutions; dared even a little to doubt our two American revolutions, against England in 1776, and the Civil War.
For a New England editor to contemplate even the smallest criticism of these wars was what it would have been for a Southern Baptist fundamentalist preacher to question Immortality, the Inspiration of the Bible, and the ethical value of shouting Hallelujah. Yet had it, Doremus queried nervously, been necessary to have four years of inconceivably murderous Civil War, followed by twenty years of commercial oppression of the South, in order to preserve the Union, free the slaves, and establish the equality of Industry with Agriculture? Had it been just to the Negroes themselves to throw them so suddenly, with so little preparation, into full citizenship, that the Southern states, in what they considered selfdefense, disqualified them at the polls and lynched them and lashed them? Could they not, as Lincoln at first desired and planned, have been freed without the vote, then gradually and competently educated, under federal guardianship, so that by 1890 they might, without too much enmity, have been able to enter fully into all the activities of the land?
A generation and a half (Doremus meditated) of the sturdiest and most gallant killed or crippled in the Civil War or, perhaps worst of all, becoming garrulous professional heroes and satellites of the politicians who in return for their solid vote made all lazy jobs safe for the G.A.R. The most valorous, it was they who suffered the most, for while the John D. Rockefellers, the J. P. Morgans, the Vanderbilts, Astors, Goulds, and all their nimble financial comrades of the South, did not enlist, but stayed in the warm, dry counting-house, drawing the fortune of the country into their webs, it was Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Nathaniel Lyon, Pat Cleburne, and the knightly James B. McPherson who were killed . . . and with them Abraham Lincoln.
So, with the hundreds of thousands who should have been the progenitors of new American generations drained away, we could show the world, which from 1780 to 1860 had so admired men like Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, the Adamses, Webster, only such salvages as McKinley, Benjamin Harrison, William Jennings Bryan, Harding . . . and Senator Berzelius Windrip and his rivals.
Slavery had been a cancer, and in that day was known no remedy save bloody cutting. There had been no Xrays of wisdom and tolerance. Yet to sentimentalize this cutting, to justify and rejoice in it, was an altogether evil thing, a national superstition that was later to lead to other Unavoidable Wars, wars to free Cubans, to free Filipinos who didn’t want our brand of freedom, to End All Wars.
Let us, thought Doremus, not throb again to the bugles of the Civil War, nor find diverting the gallantry of Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys in burning the houses of lone women, nor particularly admire the calmness of General Lee as he watched thousands writhe in the mud.
He even wondered if, necessarily, it had been such a desirable thing for the Thirteen Colonies to have cut themselves off from Great Britain. Had the United States remained in the British Empire, possibly there would have evolved a confederation that could have enforced World Peace, instead of talking about it. Boys and girls from Western ranches and Southern plantations and Northern maple groves might have added Oxford and York Minster and Devonshire villages to their own domain. Englishmen, and even virtuous Englishwomen, might have learned that persons who lack the accent of a Kentish rectory or of a Yorkshire textile village may yet in many ways be literate; and that astonishing numbers of persons in the world cannot be persuaded that their chief aim in life ought to be to increase British exports on behalf of the stock-holdings of the Better Classes.
It is commonly asserted, Doremus remembered, that without complete political independence the United States could not have developed its own peculiar virtues. Yet it was not apparent to him that America was any more individual than Canada or Australia; that Pittsburgh and Kansas City were to be preferred before Montreal and Melbourne, Sydney and Vancouver.
No questioning of the eventual wisdom of the “radicals” who had first advocated these two American revolutions, Doremus warned himself, should be allowed to give any comfort to that eternal enemy: the conservative manipulators of privilege who damn as “dangerous agitators” any man who menaces their fortunes; who jump in their chairs at the sting of a gnat like Debs, and blandly swallow a camel like Windrip.
Between the rabel-rousers, chiefly to be detected by desire for their own personal power and notoriety, and the un-self-seeking fighters against tyranny, between William Walker or Danton, and John Howard or William Lloyd Garrison, Doremus saw, there was the difference between a noisy gang of thieves and an honest man noisily defending himself against thieves. He had been brought up to revere the Abolitionists: Lovejoy, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Harriet Beecher Stowe, though his father had considered John Brown insane and a menace, and had thrown sly mud at the marble statues of Henry Ward Beecher, the apostle in the fancy vest. And Doremus could not do otherwise than revere the Abolitionists now, though he wondered a little if Stephen Douglas and Thaddeus Stephens and Lincoln, more cautious and less romantic men, might not have done the job better.
“Is it just possible,” he sighed, “that the most vigorous and boldest idealists have been the worst enemies of human progress instead of its greatest creators? Possible that plain men with the humble trait of minding their own business will rank higher in the heavenly hierarchy than all the plumed souls who have shoved their way in among the masses and insisted on saving them?“
“I joined the Christian, or as some call it, the Campbellite Church as a mere boy, not yet dry behind the ears. But I wished then and I wish now that it were possible for me to belong to the whole glorious brotherhood; to be one in Communion at the same time with the brave Presbyterians that fight the pusillanimous, mendacious, destructive, tom-fool Higher Critics, so-called; and with the Methodists who so strongly oppose war yet in war-time can always be counted upon for Patriotism to the limit; and with the splendidly tolerant Baptists, the earnest Seventh-Day Adventists, and I guess I could even say a kind word for the Unitarians, as that great executive William Howard Taft belonged to them, also his wife.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip
Officially, Doremus belonged to the Universalist Church, his wife and children to the Episcopal, a natural American transition. He had been reared to admire Hosea Ballou, the Universalist St. Augustine who, from his tiny parsonage in Barnard, Vermont, had proclaimed his faith that even the wickedest would have, after earthly death, another chance of salvation. But now, Doremus could scarce enter the Fort Beulah Universalist Church. It had too many memories of his father, the pastor, and it was depressing to see how the old-time congregations, in which two hundred thick beards would wag in the grained pine benches every Sunday morning, and their womenfolks and children line up beside the patriarchs, had dwindled to aged widows and farmers and a few schoolteachers.
But in this time of seeking, Doremus did venture there. The church was a squat and gloomy building of granite, not particularly enlivened by the arches of colored slate above the windows, yet as a boy Doremus had thought it and its sawed-off tower the superior of Chartres. He had loved it as in Isaiah College he had loved the Library which, for all its appearance of being a crouching red brick toad, had meant to him freedom for spiritual discovery, still cavern of a reading room where for hours one could forget the world and never be nagged away to supper.
He found, on his one attendance at the Universalist church, a scattering of thirty disciples, being addressed by a “supply,” a theological student from Boston, monotonously shouting his well-meant, frightened, and slightly plagiaristic eloquence in regard to the sickness of Abijah, the son of Jeroboam. Doremus looked at the church walls, painted a hard and glistening green, unornamented, to avoid all the sinful trappings of papistry, while he listened to the preacher’s hesitant droning: “Now, uh, now what so many of us fail to realize is how, uh, how sin, how any sin that we, uh, we ourselves may commit, any sin reflects not on ourselves but on those that we, uh, that we hold near and dear-”
He would have given anything, Doremus yearned, for a sermon which, however irrational, would passionately lift him to renewed courage, which would bathe him in consolation these beleagured months. But with a shock of anger he saw that that was exactly what he had been condemning just a few days ago: the irrational dramatic power of the crusading leader, clerical or political.
Very well then, sadly. He’d just have to get along without the spiritual consolation of the church that he had known in college days.
No, first he’d try the ritual of his friend Mr. Falck, the Padre, Buck Titus sometimes called him.
In the cozy Anglicanism of St. Crispin’s P. E. Church, with its imitation English memorial brasses and imitation Celtic font and brass-eagle reading desk and dusty smelling maroon carpet, Doremus listened to Mr. Falck: “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness, and live; and hath given power and commandment to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absoiution and Remission of their sins-”
Doremus glanced at the placidly pious façade of his wife, Emma. The lovely, familiar old ritual seemed meaningless to him now, with no more pertinence to a life menaced by Buzz Windrip and his Minute Men, no more comfort for having lost his old deep pride in being an American, than a stage revival of an equally lovely and familiar Elizabethan play. He looked about nervously. However exalted Mr. Falck himself might be, most of the congregation were Yorkshire pudding. The Anglican Church was, to them, not the aspiring humility of Newman nor the humanity of Bishop Brown (both of whom left it!) but the sign and proof of prosperity, an ecclesiastical version of owning a twelve-cylinder Cadillac, or even more, of knowing that one’s grandfather owned his own surrey and a respectable old family horse.
The whole place smelled to Doremus of stale muffins. Mrs. R. C. Crowley was wearing white gloves and on her bust, for a Mrs. Crowley, even in 1936, did not yet have breasts, was a tight bouquet of tuberoses. Francis Tasbrough had a morning coat and striped trousers and on the lilac colored pew cushion beside him was (unique in Fort Beulah) a silk top-hat. And even the wife of Doremus’s bosom, or at least of his breakfast coffee, the good Emma, had a pedantic expression of superior goodness which irritated him.
“Whole outfit stifles me!” he snapped. “Rather be at a yelling, jumping Holy Roller orgy, no, that’s Buzz Windrip’s kind of jungle hysterics. I want a church, if there can possibly be one, that’s advanced beyond the jungle and beyond the chaplains of King Henry the Eighth. I know why, even though she’s painfully conscientious, Lorinda never goes to church.”
Lorinda Pike, on that sleety December afternoon, was darning a tea cloth in the lounge of her Beulah Valley Tavern, five miles up the river from the Fort. It wasn’t, of course, a tavern: it was a super-boarding-house as regards its twelve guest bedrooms, and a slightly too arty tearoom in its dining facilities. Despite his long affection for Lorinda, Doremus was always annoyed by the Singhalese brass finger bowls, the North Carolina table mats, and the Italian ash trays displayed for sale on wabbly card tables in the dining room. But he had to admit that the tea was excellent, the scones light, the Stilton sound, Lorinda’s private rum punches admirable, and that Lorinda herself was intelligent yet adorable, particularly when, as on this gray afternoon, she was bothered neither by other guests nor by the presence of that worm, her partner, Mr. Nipper, whose pleasing notion it was that because he had invested a few thousand in the Tavern he should have none of the work or responsibility and half the profits.
Doremus thrust his way in, patting off the snow, puffing to recover from the shakiness caused by skidding all the way from Fort Beulah. Lorinda nodded carelessly, dropped another stick on the fireplace, and went back to her darning with nothing more intimate than “Hullo. Nasty out.”
But as they sat on either side the hearth their eyes had no need of smiling for a bridge between them.
Lorinda reflected, “Well, my darling, it’s going to be pretty bad. I guess Windrip & Co. will put the woman’s struggle right back in the sixteen-hundreds, with Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomians.”
“Sure. Back to the kitchen.”
“Even if you haven’t got one!”
“Any worse than us men? Notice that Windrip never mentioned free speech and the freedom of the press in his articles of faith? Oh, he’d ‘ve come out for ‘em strong and hearty if he’d even thought of ‘em!”
“That’s so. Tea, darling?”
“No. Linda, damn it, I feel like taking the family and sneaking off to Canada before I get nabbed, right after Buzz’s inauguration.”
“No. You mustn’t. We’ve got to keep all the newspapermen that’ll go on fighting him, and not go sniffling up to the garbage pail. Besides! What would I do without you?” For the first time Lorinda sounded importunate.
“You’ll be a lot less suspect if I’m not around. But I guess you’re right. I can’t go till they put the skids under me. Then I’ll have to vanish. I’m too old to stand jail.”
“Not too old to make love, I hope! That would be hard on a girl!”
“Nobody ever is, except the kind that used to be too young to make love! Anyway, I’ll stay, for a while.”
He had, suddenly, from Lorinda, the resoluteness he had sought in church. He would go on trying to sweep back the ocean, just for his own satisfaction, it meant, however, that his hermitage in the Ivory Tower was closed with slightly ludicrous speed. But he felt strong again, and happy. His brooding was interrupted by Lorinda’s curt:
“How’s Emma taking the political situation?”
“Doesn’t know there is one! Hears me croaking, and she heard Walt Trowbridge’s warning on the radio, last evening, did you listen in?, and she says, ‘Oh my, how dreadful!’ and then forgets all about it and worries about the saucepan that got burnt! She’s lucky! Oh well, she probably calms me down and keeps me from becoming a complete neurote! Probably that’s why I’m so darned everlastingly fond of her. And yet I’m Chump enough to wish you and I were together, uh, recognizedly together, all the time, and could fight together to keep some little light burning in this coming new glacial epoch. I do. All the time. I think that, at this moment, all things considered, I should like to kiss you.”
“Is that so unusual a celebration?”
“Yes. Always. Always it’s the first time again! Look, Linda, do you ever stop to think how curious it is, that with, everything between us, like that night in the hotel at Montreal, we neither one of us seem to feel any guilt, any embarrassment, can sit and gossip like this?”
“No, dear. . . . Darling! . . . It doesn’t seem a bit curious. It was all so natural. So good!”
“And yet we’re reasonably responsible people-”
“Of course. That’s why nobody suspects us, not even Emma. Thank God she doesn’t, Doremus! I wouldn’t hurt her for anything, not even for your kind-hearted favors!”
“Oh, you might be suspected, all by yourself. It’s known that you sometimes drink likker and play poker and tell ‘hot ones.’ But who’d ever suspect that the local female crank, the suffragist, the pacifist, the anti-censorshipist, the friend of Jane Addams and Mother Bloor, could be a libertine! Highbrows! Bloodless reformers! Oh, and I’ve known so many women agitators, all dressed in Carrie Nation hatchets and modest sheets of statistics, that have been ten times as passionate, intolerably passionate, as any cream-faced plump little Kept Wife in chiffon step-ins!”
For a moment their embracing eyes were not merely friendly and accustomed and careless.
He fretted, “Oh I think of you all the time and want you and yet I think of Emma too, and I don’t even have the fine novelistic egotism of feeling guilty and intolerably caught in complexities. Yes, it does all seem so natural, Dear Linda!”
He stalked restlessly to the casement window, looking back at her every second step. It was dusk now, and the roads smoking. He stared out in attentively, then very attentively indeed.
“That’s curious. Curiouser and curiouser. Standing back behind that big bush, lilac bush I guess it is, across the road, there’s a fellow watching this place. I can see him in the headlights whenever a car comes along. And I think it’s my hired man, Oscar Ledue-Shad.” He started to draw the cheerful red-and-white curtains.
“No! No! Don’t draw them! He’ll get suspicious.”
“That’s right. Funny, his watching there, if it is him. He’s supposed to be at my house right now, looking after the furnace-winters, he only works for me couple of hours a day, works in the sash factory, rest of the time, but he ought to, a little light blackmail, I suppose. Well, he can publish everything he saw today, wherever he wants to!”
“Only what he saw today?”
“Anything! Any day! I’m awfully proud, old dish rag like me, twenty years older than you, to be your lover!”
And he was proud, yet all the while he was remembering the warning in red chalk that he had found on his front porch after the election. Before he had time to become very complicated about it, the door vociferously banged open, and his daughter, Sissy, sailed in.
“Wot-oh, wot-oh, wot-oh! Toodle-oo! Good-morning, Jeeves! Mawnin’, Miss Lindy. How’s all de folks on de ole plantation everywhere I roam? Hello, Dad. No, it isn’t cocktails, least, just one very small cocktail, it’s youthful spirits! My God, but it’s cold! Tea, Linda, my good woman, tea!”
They had tea. A thoroughly domestic circle. “Race you home, Dad,” said Sissy, when they were ready to go. “Yes-no-wait a second! Lorinda: lend me a flashlight.”
As he marched out of the door, marched belligerently across the road, in Doremus seethed all the agitated anger he had been concealing from Sissy. And part hidden behind bushes, leaning on his motorcycle, he did find Shad Ledue. Shad was startled; for once he looked less contemptuously masterful than a Fifth Avenue traffic policeman, as Doremus snapped, “What you doing there?” and he stumbled in answering: “Oh I just, something happened to my motor-bike.”
“So! You ought to be home tending the furnace, Shad.”
“Well, Iguess I got my machine fixed now. I’ll hike along.”
“No. My daughter is to drive me home, so you can put your motorcycle in the back of my car and drive it back.” (Somehow, he had to talk privately to Sissy, though he was not in the least certain what it was he had to say.)
“Her? Rats! Sissy can’t drive for sour apples! Crazy’s a loon!”
“Ledue! Miss Sissy is a highly competent driver. At least she satisfies me, and if you really feel she doesn’t quite satisfy your standard.” “Her driving don’t make a damn bit of difference to me one way or th’ other! G’-night.”
Recrossing the road, Doremus rebuked himself, “That was childish of me. Trying to talk to him like a gent! But how I would enjoy murdering him!”
He informed Sissy, at the door, “Shad happened to come along, motorcycle in bad shape, let him take my Chrysler, I’ll drive with you.”
“Fine! Only six boys have had their hair turn gray, driving with me, this week.”
“And I, I meant to say, I think I’d better do the driving. It’s pretty slippery tonight.”
“Wouldn’t that destroy you! Why, my dear idiot parent, I’m the best driver in-”
“You can’t drive for sour apples! Crazy, that’s all! Get in! I’m driving, d’you hear? Night, Lorinda.”
“All right, dearest Father,” said Sissy with an impishness which reduced his knees to feebleness.
He assured himself, though, that this flip manner of Sissy, characteristic of even the provincial boys and girls who had been nursed on gasoline, was only an imitation of the nicer New York harlots and would not last more than another year or two. Perhaps this rattle, tongued generation needed a Buzz Windrip Revolution and all its pain.
“Beautiful, I know it’s swell to drive carefully, but do you have to emulate the prudent snail?” said Sissy.
“Snails don’t skid.”
“No, they get run over. Rather skid!”
“So your father’s a fossil!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t-”
“Well, maybe he is, at that. There’s advantages. Anyway: I wonder if there isn’t a lot of bunk about Age being so cautious and conservative, and Youth always being so adventurous and bold and original? Look at the young Nazis and how they enjoy beating up the Communists. Look at almost any college class, the students disapproving of the instructor because he’s iconoclastic and ridicules the sacred home-town ideas. Just this afternoon, I was thinking, driving out here-”
“Listen, Dad, do you go to Lindy’s often?”
“Why, why, not especially. Why?”
“Why don’t you, what are you two so scared of? You two wild-haired reformers, you and Lindy belong together. Why don’t you, you know, kind of be lovers?”
“Good God Almighty! Cecilia! I’ve never heard a decent girl talk that way in all my life!”
“Tst! Tst! Haven’t you? Dear, dear! So sorry!”
“Well, my Lord. At least you’ve got to admit that it’s slightly unusual for an apparently loyal daughter to suggest her father’s deceiving her mother! Especially a fine lovely mother like yours!”
“Is it? Well, maybe. Unusual to suggest it, aloud. But I wonder if lots of young females don’t sometimes kind of think it, just the same, when they see the Venerable Parent going stale!”
“Hey, watch that telephone pole!”
“Hang it, I didn’t go anywheres near it! Now you look here, Sissy: you simply must not be so froward, or forward, whichever it is; I always get those two words balled up. This is serious business. I’ve never heard of such a preposterous suggestion as Linda, Lorinda and I being lovers. My dear child, you simply can’t be flip about such final things as that!”
“Oh, can’t I! Oh, sorry, Dad. I just mean, about Mother Emma. Course I wouldn’t have anybody hurt her, not even Lindy and you. But, why, bless you, venerable, she’d never even dream of such a thing. You could have your nice pie and she’d never miss one single slice. Mother’s mental grooves aren’t, uh, well, they aren’t so very sex-conditioned, if that’s how you say it, more sort of along the new-vacuum-cleaner complex, if you know what I mean, page Freud! Oh, she’s swell, but not so analytical and-”
“Are those your ethics, then?”
“Huh? Well for cat’s sake, why not? Have a swell time that’Il get you full of beans again and yet not hurt anybody’s feelings? Why, say, that’s the entire second chapter in my book on ethics!”
“Sissy! Have you, by any chance, any vaguest notion of what you’re talking about, or think you’re talking about? Of course, and perhaps we ought to be ashamed of our cowardly negligence, but I, and I don’t suppose your mother, have taught you so very much about ‘sex’ and-”
“Thank heaven! You spared me the dear little flower and its simply shocking affair with that tough tomcat of a tiger lily in the next bed, excuse me, I mean in the next plot. I’m so glad you did. Pete’s sake! I’d certainly hate to blush every time I looked at a garden!”
“Sissy! Child! Please! You mustn’t be so beastly cute! These are all weighty things-”
Penitently: “I know, Dad. I’m sorry. It’s just, if you only knew how wretched I feel when I see you so wretched and so quiet and everything. This horrible Windrip, League of Forgodsakers business has got you down, hasn’t it! If you’re going to fight ‘em, you’ve got to get some pep back into you, you’ve got to take off the lace mitts and put on the brass knuckles, and I got kind of a hunch Lorinda might do that for you, and only her. Heh! Her pretending to be so high-minded! (Remember that old wheeze Buck Titus used to love so, ‘If you’re saving the fallen women, save me one’? Oh, not so good. I guess we’ll take that line right out of the sketch!) But anyway, our Lindy has a pretty moist and hungry eye-”
“Impossible! Impossible! By the way, Sissy! What do you know about all of this? Are you a virgin?”
“Dad! Is that your idea of a question to, Oh, I guess I was asking for it. And the answer is: Yes. So far. But not promising one single thing about the future. Let me tell you right now, if conditions in this country do get as bad as you’ve been claiming they will, and Julian Falck is threatened with having to go to war or go to prison or some rotten thing like that, I’m most certainly not going to let any maidenly modesty interfere between me and him, and you might just as well be prepared for that!”
“It is Julian then, not Malcolm?”
“Oh, I think so. Malcolm gives me a pain in the neck. He’s getting all ready to take his proper place as a colonel or something with Windrip’s wooden soldiers. And I am so fond of Julian! Even if he is the doggonedest, most impractical soul, like his grandfather, or you! He’s a sweet thing. We sat up purring pretty nothings till about two, last night, I guess.”
“Sissy! But you haven’t, Oh, my little girl! Julian is probably decent enough, not a bad sort, but you, You haven’t let Julian take any familiarities with you?”
“Dear quaint old word! As if anything could be so awfully much more familiar than a good, capable, 10,000 h.p. kiss! But darling, just so you won’t worry, no. The few times, late nights, in our sitting room, when I’ve slept with Julian, well, we’ve slept!”
“I’m glad, but, Your apparent, probably only apparent, information on a variety of delicate subjects slightly embarrasses me.”
“Now you listen to me! And this is something you ought to be telling me, not me you, Mr. Jessup! Looks as if this country, and most of the world, I am being serious, now, Dad; plenty serious, God help us all!, it looks as if we’re headed right back into barbarism. It’s war! There’s not going to be much time for coyness and modesty, any more than there is for a base-hospital nurse when they bring in the wounded. Nice young ladies, they’re out! It’s Lorinda and me that you men are going to want to have around, isn’t it, isn’t it, now isn’t it?”
“Maybe-perhaps,” Doremus sighed, depressed at seeing a little more of his familiar world slide from under his feet as the flood rose.
They were coming into the Jessup driveway. Shad Ledue was just leaving the garage.
“Skip in the house, quick, will you!” said Doremus to his girl.
“Sure. But do be careful, hon!” She no longer sounded like his little daughter, to be protected, adorned with pale blue ribbons, slyly laughed at when she tried to show off in grown-up ways. She was suddenly a dependable comrade, like Lorinda.
Doremus slipped resolutely out of his car and said calmly:
“D’you take the car keys into the kitchen?”
“Huh? No. I guess I left ‘em in the car.”
“I’ve told you a hundred times they belong inside.”
“Yuh? Well, how’d you like Miss Cecilia’s driving? Have a good visit with old Mrs. Pike?”
He was derisive now, beyond concealment.
“Ledue, I rather think you’re fired, right now!”
“Well! Just feature that! O.K., Chief! I was just going to tell you that we’re forming a second chapter of the League of Forgotten Men in the Fort, and I’m to be the secretary. They don’t pay much, only about twice what you pay me, pretty tight-fisted but it’ll mean something in politics. Good-night!”
Afterward, Doremus was sorry to remember that, for all his longshoreman clumsiness, Shad had learned a precise script in his red Vermont schoolhouse, and enough mastery of figures so that probably he would be able to keep this rather bogus secretaryship. Too bad!
When, as League secretary, a fortnight later, Shad wrote to him demanding a donation of two hundred dollars to the League, and Doremus refused, the Informer began to lose circulation within twenty-four hours.
“Usually I’m pretty mild, in fact many of my friends are kind enough to call it ”Folksy,” when I’m writing or speechifying. My ambition is to ”live by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” But I hope that none of the gentlemen who have honored me with their enmity think for one single moment that when I run into a gross enough public evil or a persistent enough detractor, I can’t get up on my hind legs and make a sound like a two-tailed grizzly in April. So right at the start of this account of my ten-year fight with them, as private citizen, State Senator, and U.S. Senator, let me say that the Sangfrey River Light, Power, and Fuel Corporation ARE, and I invite a suit for libel, the meanest, lowest, cowardliest gang of yellow-livered, back-slapping, hypocritical gun-toters, bombthrowers, ballot-stealers, ledger-fakers, givers of bribes, suborners of perjury, scab-hirers, and general lowdown crooks, liars, and swindlers that ever tried to do an honest servant of the People out of an election, not but what I have always succeeded in licking them, so that my indignation at these homicidal kleptomaniacs is not personal but entirely on behalf of the general public.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip
On Wednesday, January 6, 1937, just a fortnight before his inauguration, President-Elect Windrip announced his appointments of cabinet members and of diplomats.
Secretary of State: his former secretary and pressagent, Lee Sarason, who also took the position of High Marshal, or Commander-in-Chief, of the Minute Men, which organization was to be established permanently, as an innocent marching club.
Secretary of the Treasury: one Webster R. Skittle, president of the prosperous Fur & Hide National Bank of St. Louis, Mr. Skittle had once been indicted on a charge of defrauding the government on his income tax, but he had been acquitted, more or less, and during the campaign, he was said to have taken a convincing way of showing his faith in Buzz Windrip as the Savior of the Forgotten Men.
Secretary of War: Colonel Osceola Luthorne, formerly editor of the Topeka (Kans.) Argus, and the Fancy Goods and Novelties Gazette; more recently high in real estate. His title came from his position on the honorary staff of the Governor of Tennessee. He had long been a friend and fellow campaigner of Windrip.
It was a universal regret that Bishop Paul Peter Prang should have refused the appointment as Secretary of War, with a letter in which he called Windrip “My dear Friend and Collaborator” and asserted that he had actually meant it when he had said he desired no office. Later, it was a similar regret when Father Coughlin refused the Ambassadorship to Mexico, with no letter at all but only a telegram cryptically stating, “Just six months too late.”
A new cabinet position, that of Secretary of Education and Public Relations, was created. Not for months would Congress investigate the legality of such a creation, but meantime the new post was brilliantly held by Hector Macgoblin, MD, Ph.D., Hon. Litt.D.
Senator Porkwood graced the position of Attorney General, and all the other offices were acceptably filled by men who, though they had roundly supported Windrip’s almost socialistic projects for the distribution of excessive fortunes, were yet known to be thoroughly sensible men, and no fanatics.
It was said, though Doremus Jessup could never prove it, that Windrip learned from Lee Sarason the Spanish custom of getting rid of embarrassing friends and enemies by appointing them to posts abroad, preferably quite far abroad. Anyway, as Ambassador to Brazil, Windrip appointed Herbert Hoover, who not very enthusiastically accepted; as Ambassador to Germany, Senator Borah; as Governor of the Philippines, Senator Robert La Follette, who refused; and as Ambassadors to the Court of St. James’s, France, and Russia, none other than Upton Sinclair, Milo Reno, and Senator Bilbo of Mississippi.
These three had a fine time. Mr. Sinclair pleased the British by taking so friendly an interest in their politics that he openly campaigned for the Independent Labor Party and issued a lively brochure called “I, Upton Sinclair, Prove That Prime Minister Walter Elliot, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and First Lord of the Admiralty Nancy Astor Are All Liars and Have Refused to Accept My Freely Offered Advice.” Mr. Sinclair also aroused considerable interest in British domestic circles by advocating an act of Parliament forbidding the wearing of evening clothes and all hunting of foxes except with shotguns; and on the occasion of his official reception at Buckingham Palace, he warmly invited King George and Queen Mary to come and live in California.
Mr. Milo Reno, insurance salesman and former president of the National Farm Holiday Association, whom all the French royalists compared to his great predecessor, Benjamin Franklin, for forthrightness, became the greatest social favorite in the international circles of Paris, the Basses-Pyrénées, and the Riviera, and was once photographed playing tennis at Antibes with the Due de Tropez, Lord Rothermere, and Dr. Rudolph Hess.
Senator Bilbo had, possibly, the best time of all.
Stalin asked his advice, as based on his ripe experience in the Gleichshaltung of Mississippi, about the cultural organization of the somewhat backward natives of Tadjikistan, and so valuable did it prove that Excellency Bilbo was invited to review the Moscow military celebration, the following November seventh, in the same stand with the very highest class of representatives of the classless state. It was a triumph for His Excellency. Generalissimo Voroshilov fainted after 200,000 Soviet troops, 7000 tanks, and 9000 aeroplanes had passed by; Stalin had to be carried home after reviewing 317,000; but Ambassador Bilbo was there in the stand when the very last of the 626,000 soldiers had gone by, all of them saluting him under the quite erroneous impression that he was the Chinese Ambassador; and he was still tirelessly returning their salutes, fourteen to the minute, and softly singing with them the “International.”
He was less of a hit later, however, when to the unsmiling Anglo-American Association of Exiles to Soviet Russia from Imperialism, he sang to the tune of the “international” what he regarded as amusing private words of his own:
”Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
From Russia make your getaway.
They all are rich in Bilbo’s nation. God bless the LI. 8. A.!”
Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch, after her spirited campaign for Mr. Windrip, was publicly angry that she was offered no position higher than a post in the customs office in Nome, Alaska, though this was offered to her very urgently indeed. She had demanded that there be created, especially for her, the cabinet position of Secretaryess of Domestic Science, Child Welfare, and AntiVice. She threatened to turn Jeffersonian, Republican, or Communistic, but in April she was heard of in Hollywood, writing the scenario for a giant picture to be called, They Did It in Greece.
As an insult and boy-from-home joke, the President Elect appointed Franklin D. Roosevelt minister to Liberia. Mr. Roosevelt’s opponents laughed very much, and opposition newspapers did cartoons of him sitting unhappily in a grass hut with a sign on which “NRA.” had been crossed out and “USA.” substituted. But Mr. Roosevelt declined with so amiable a smile that the joke seemed rather to have slipped.
The followers of President Windrip trumpeted that it was significant that he should be the first president inaugurated not on March fourth, but on January twentieth, according to the provision of the new Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution. It was a sign straight from Heaven (though, actually, Heaven had not been the author of the amendment, but Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska), and proved that Windrip was starting a new paradise on earth.
The inauguration was turbulent. President Roosevelt declined to be present, he politely suggested that he was about half ill unto death, but that same noon he was seen in a New York shop, buying books on gardening and looking abnormally cheerful.
More than a thousand reporters, photographers, and radio men covered the inauguration. Twenty-seven constituents of Senator Porkwood, of all sexes, had to sleep on the floor of the Senator’s office, and a hall-bedroom in the suburb of Bladensburg rented for thirty dollars for two nights. The presidents of Brazil, the Argentine, and Chile flew to the inauguration in a Pan-American aeroplane, and Japan sent seven hundred students on a special train from Seattle.
A motor company in Detroit had presented to Windrip a limousine with armor plate, bulletproof glass, a hidden nickel-steel safe for papers, a concealed private bar, and upholstery made from the Troissant tapestries of 1670. But Buzz chose to drive from his home to the Capitol in his old Hupmobile sedan, and his driver was a youngster from his home town whose notion of a uniform for state occasions was a blue-serge suit, red tie, and derby hat.
Windrip himself did wear a topper, but he saw to it that Lee Sarason saw to it that the one hundred and thirty million plain citizens learned, by radio, even while the inaugural parade was going on, that he had borrowed the topper for this one sole occasion from a New York Republican Representative who had ancestors.
But following Windrip was an un-Jacksonian escort of soldiers: the American Legion and, immensely grander than the others, the Minute Men, wearing trench helmets of polished silver and led by Colonel Dewey Haik in scarlet tunic and yellow riding-breeches and helmet with golden plumes.
Solemnly, for once looking a little awed, a little like a small-town boy on Broadway, Windrip took the oath, administered by the Chief Justice (who disliked him very much indeed) and, edging even closer to the microphone, squawked, “My fellow citizens, as the President of the United States of America, I want to inform you that the real New Deal has started right this minute, and we’re all going to enjoy the manifold liberties to which our history entitles us, and have a whale of a good time doing it! I thank you!”
That was his first act as President. His second was to take up residence in the White House, where he sat down in the East Room in his stocking feet and shouted at Lee Sarason, “This is what I’ve been planning to do now for six years! I bet this is what Lincoln used to do! Now let ‘em assassinate me!”
His third, in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, was to order that the Minute Men be recognized as an unpaid but official auxiliary of the Regular Army, subject only to their own officers, to Buzz, and to High Marshal Sarason; and that rifles, bayonets, automatic pistols, and machine guns be instantly issued to them by government arsenals. That was at 4 PM. Since 3 PM, all over the country, bands of M.M.’s had been sitting gloating over pistols and guns, twitching with desire to seize them.
Fourth coup was a special message, next morning, to Congress (in session since January fourth, the third having been a Sunday), demanding the instant passage of a bill embodying Point Fifteen of his election platform, that he should have complete control of legislation and execution, and the Supreme Court be rendered incapable of blocking anything that it might amuse him to do.
By Joint Resolution, with less than half an hour of debate, both houses of Congress rejected that demand before 3 PM, on January twenty-first. Before six, the President had proclaimed that a state of martial law existed during the “present crisis,” and more than a hundred Congressmen had been arrested by Minute Men, on direct orders from the President. The Congressmen who were hotheaded enough to resist were cynically charged with “inciting to riot”; they who went quietly were not charged at all. It was blandly explained to the agitated press by Lee Sarason that these latter quiet lads had been so threatened by “irresponsible and seditious elements” that they were merely being safeguarded. Sarason did not use the phrase “protective arrest,” which might have suggested things.
To the veteran reporters it was strange to see the titular Secretary of State, theoretically a person of such dignity and consequence that he could deal with the representatives of foreign powers, acting as press-agent and yes-man for even the President.
There were riots, instantly, all over Washington, all over America.
The recalcitrant Congressmen had been penned in the District Jail. Toward it, in the winter evening, marched a mob that was noisily mutinous toward the Windrip for whom so many of them had voted. Among the mob buzzed hundreds of Negroes, armed with knives and old pistols, for one of the kidnaped Congressmen was a Negro from Georgia, the first colored Georgian to hold high office since carpetbagger days.
Surrounding the jail, behind machine guns, the rebels found a few Regulars, many police, and a horde of Minute Men, but at these last they jeered, calling them “Minnie Mouses” and “tin soldiers” and “mama’s boys.” The M.M.’s looked nervously at their officers and at the Regulars who were making so professional a pretense of not being scared. The mob heaved bottles and dead fish. Half-a-dozen policemen with guns and night sticks, trying to push back the van of the mob, were buried under a human surf and came up grotesquely battered and ununiformed, those who ever did come up again. There were two shots; and one Minute Man slumped to the jail steps, another stood ludicrously holding a wrist that spurted blood.
The Minute Men, why, they said to themselves, they’d never meant to be soldiers anyway, just wanted to have some fun marching! They began to sneak into the edges of the mob, hiding their uniform caps. That instant, from a powerful loudspeaker in a lower window of the jail brayed the voice of President Berzelius Windrip:
“I am addressing my own boys, the Minute Men, everywhere in America! To you and you only I look for help to make America a proud, rich land again. You have been scorned. They thought you were the ‘lower classes.’ They wouldn’t give you jobs. They told you to sneak off like bums and get relief. They ordered you into lousy C.C.C. camps. They said you were no good, because you were poor. I tell you that you are, ever since yesterday noon, the highest lords of the land, the aristocracy, the makers of the new America of freedom and justice. Boys! I need you! Help me, help me to help you! Stand fast! Anybody tries to block you, give the swine the point of your bayonet!”
A machine-gunner M.M., who had listened reverently, let loose. The mob began to drop, and into the backs of the wounded as they went staggering away the MM. infantry, running, poked their bayonets. Such a juicy squash it made, and the fugitives looked so amazed, so funny, as they tumbled in grotesque heaps!
The M.M.’s hadn’t, in dreary hours of bayonet drill, known this would be such sport. They’d have more of it now, and hadn’t the President of the United States himself told each of them, personally, that he needed their aid?
When the remnants of Congress ventured to the Capitol, they found it seeded with M.M.’s, while a regiment of Regulars, under Major General Meinecke, paraded the grounds.
The Speaker of the House, and the Hon. Mr. Perley Beecroft, Vice-President of the United States and Presiding Officer of the Senate, had the power to declare that quorums were present. (If a lot of members chose to dally in the district jail, enjoying themselves instead of attending Congress, whose fault was that?) Both houses passed a resolution declaring Point Fifteen temporarily in effect, during the “crisis”, the legality of the passage was doubtful, but just who was to contest it, even though the members of the Supreme Court had not been placed under protective arrest . . . merely confined each to his own house by a squad of Minute Men!
Bishop Paul Peter Prang had (his friends said afterward) been dismayed by Windrip’s stroke of state. Surely, he complained, Mr. Windrip hadn’t quite remembered to include Christian Amity in the program he had taken from the League of Forgotten Men. Though Mr. Prang had contentedly given up broadcasting ever since the victory of Justice and Fraternity in the person of BerzeIius Windrip, he wanted to caution the public again, but when he telephoned to his familiar station, WLFM in Chicago, the manager informed him that “just temporarily, all access to the air was forbidden,” except as it was especially licensed by the offices of Lee Sarason. (Oh, that was only one of sixteen jobs that Lee and his six hundred new assistants had taken on in the past week.)
Rather timorously, Bishop Prang motored from his home in Persepolis, Indiana, to the Indianapolis airport and took a night plane for Washington, to reprove, perhaps even playfully to spank, his naughty disciple, Buzz.
He had little trouble in being admitted to see the President. In fact, he was, the press feverishly reported, at the White House for six hours, though whether he was with the President all that time they could not discover. At three in the afternoon Prang was seen to leave by a private entrance to the executive offices and take a taxi. They noted that he was pale and staggering.
In front of his hotel he was elbowed by a mob who in curiously unmenacing and mechanical tones yelped, “Lynch um-downutha enemies Windrip!” A dozen M.M.’s pierced the crowd and surrounded the Bishop. The Ensign commanding them bellowed to the crowd, so that all might hear, “You cowards leave the Bishop alone! Bishop, come with us, and we’ll see you’re safe!”
Millions heard on their radios that evening the official announcement that, to ward off mysterious plotters, probably Bolsheviks, Bishop Prang had been safely shielded in the district jail. And with it a personal statement from President Windrip that he was filled with joy at having been able to “rescue from the foul agitators my friend and mentor, Bishop P. P. Prang, than whom there is no man living who I so admire and respect.”
There was, as yet, no absolute censorship of the press; only a confused imprisonment of journalists who offended the government or local officers of the M.M.’s; and the papers chronically opposed to Windrip carried by no means flattering hints that Bishop Prang had rebuked the President and been plain jailed, with no nonsense about a “rescue.” These mutters reached Persepolis.
Not all the Persepolitans ached with love for the Bishop or considered him a modern St. Francis gathering up the little fowls of the fields in his handsome LaSalle car. There were neighbors who hinted that he was a windowpeeping snooper after bootleggers and obliging grass widows. But proud of him, their best advertisement, they certainly were, and the Persepolis Chamber of Commerce had caused to be erected at the Eastern gateway to Main Street the sign: “Home of Bishop Prang, Radio’s Greatest Star.”
So as one man Persepolis telegraphed to Washington, demanding Prang’s release, but a messenger in the Executive Offices who was a Persepolis boy (he was, it is true, a colored man, but suddenly he became a favorite son, lovingly remembered by old schoolmates) tipped off the Mayor that the telegrams were among the hundredweight of messages that were daily hauled away from the White House unanswered.
Then a quarter of the citizenry of Persepolis mounted a special train to “march” on Washington. It was one of those small incidents which the opposition press could use as a bomb under Windrip, and the train was accompanied by a score of high-ranking reporters from Chicago and, later, from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New York.
While the train was on its way, and it was curious what delays and sidetrackings it encountered, a company of Minute Men at Logansport, Indiana, rebelled against having to arrest a group of Catholic nuns who were accused of having taught treasonably. High Marshal Sarason felt that there must be a Lesson, early and impressive. A battalion of M.M.’s, sent from Chicago in fast trucks, arrested the mutinous company, and shot every third man.
When the Persepolitans reached Washington, they were tearfully informed, by a brigadier of M.M.’s who met them at the Union Station, that poor Bishop Prang had been so shocked by the treason of his fellow Indianans that he had gone melancholy mad and they had tragically been compelled to shut him up in St. Elizabeth’s government insane asylum.
No one willing to carry news about him ever saw Bishop Prang again.
The Brigadier brought greetings to the Persepolitans from the President himself, and an invitation to stay at the Willard, at government expense. Only a dozen accepted; the rest took the first train back, not amiably; and from then on there was one town in America in which no M.M. ever dared to appear in his ducky forage cap and dark-blue tunic.
The Chief of Staff of the Regular Army had been deposed; in his place was Major General Emmanuel Coon. Doremus and his like were disappointed by General Coon’s acceptance, for they had always been informed, even by the Nation, that Emmanuel Coon, though a professional army officer who did enjoy a fight, preferred that that fight be on the side of the Lord; that he was generous, literate, just, and a man of honor, and honor was the one quality that Buzz Windrip wasn’t even expected to understand. Rumor said that Coon (as “Nordic” a Kentuckian as ever existed, a descendant of men who had fought beside Kit Carson and Commodore Perry) was particularly impatient with the puerility of anti-Semitism, and that nothing so pleased him as, when he heard new acquaintances being superior about the Jews, to snarl, “Did you by any chance happen to notice that my name is Emmanuel Coon and that Coon might be a corruption of some name rather familiar on the East Side of New York?”
“Oh well, I suppose even General Coon feels, ‘Orders are Orders,” sighed Doremus.
President Windrip’s first extended proclamation to the country was a pretty piece of literature and of tenderness. He explained that powerful and secret enemies of American principles, one rather gathered that they were a combination of Wall Street and Soviet Russia, upon discovering, to their fury, that he, Berzelius, was going to be President, had planned their last charge. Everything would be tranquil in a few months, but meantime there was a Crisis, during which the country must “bear with him.”
He recalled the military dictatorship of Lincoln and Stanton during the Civil War, when civilian suspects were arrested without warrant. He hinted how delightful everything was going to be, right away now, just a moment, just a moment’s patience, when he had things in hand; and he wound up with a comparison of the Crisis to the urgency of a fireman rescuing a pretty girl from a “conflagration,” and carrying her down a ladder, for her own sake, whether she liked it or not, and no matter how appealingly she might kick her pretty ankles. The whole country laughed. “Great card, that Buzz, but mighty competent guy,” said the electorate. “I should worry whether Bish Prang or any other nut is in the boobyhatch, long as I get my five thousand bucks a year, like Windrip promised,” said Shad Ledue to Charley Betts, the furniture man.
It had all happened within the eight days following Windrip’s inauguration.
To follow in part 5