“For the first time in America, except during the Civil War and the World War, people were afraid to say whatever came to their tongues.
The kindhearted government was fed-up, and the country was informed that, from this day on, any person who by word or act sought to harm or discredit the State, would be executed or interned. Inasmuch as the prisons were already too full, both for these slanderous criminals and for the persons whom the kind-hearted State had to guard by “protective arrest,” there were immediately to be opened, all over the country, concentration camps.
All over the country, books that might threaten the Pax Romana of the Corporate State were gleefully being burned”
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.
It was not only the November sleet, setting up a forbidding curtain before the mountains, turning the roadways into slipperiness on which a car would swing around and crash into poles, that kept Doremus stubbornly at home that morning, sitting on his shoulder blades before the fireplace. It was the feeling that there was no point in going to the office; no chance even of a picturesque fight. But he was not contented before the fire. He could find no authentic news even in the papers from Boston or New York, in both of which the morning papers had been combined by the government into one sheet, rich in comic strips, in syndicated gossip from Hollywood, and, indeed, lacking only any news.
He cursed, threw down the New York Daily Corporate, and tried to read a new novel about a lady whose husband was indelicate in bed and who was too absorbed by the novels he wrote about lady novelists whose husbands were too absorbed by the novels they wrote about lady novelists to appreciate the fine sensibilities of lady novelists who wrote about gentleman novelists. Anyway, he chucked the book after the newspaper. The lady’s woes didn’t seem very important now, in a burning world.
He could hear Emma in the kitchen discussing with Mrs. Candy the best way of making a chicken pie. They talked without relief; really, they were not so much talking as thinking aloud. Doremus admitted that the nice making of a chicken pie was a thing of consequence, but the blur of voices irritated him. Then Sissy slammed into the room, and Sissy should an hour ago have been at high school, where she was a senior, to graduate next year and possibly go to some new and horrible provincial university.
“What ho! What are you doing home? Why aren’t you in school?”
“Oh. That.” She squatted on the padded fender seat, chin in hands, looking up at him, not seeing him. “I don’t know‘, I’ll ever go there any more. You have to repeat a new oath every morning: ‘I pledge myself to serve the Corporate State, the Chief, all Commissioners, the Mystic Wheel, and the troops of the Republic in every thought and deed.’ Now I ask you! Is that tripe!”
“How you going to get into the university?”
“Huh! Smile at Prof Staubmeyer, if it doesn’t gag me!”
“Oh, weII, Well-“ He could not think of anything meatier to say.
The doorbell, a shuffling in the hall as of snowy feet, and Julian Falck came sheepishly in. Sissy snapped,
“Well, I’ll be. What are you doing home? Why aren’t you in Amherst?”
“Oh. That.” He squatted beside her. He absently held her hand, and she did not seem to notice it, either.
“Amherst’s got hers. Corpos closing it today. I got tipped off last Saturday and beat it. (They have a cute way of rounding up the students when they close a college and arresting a few of ‘em, just to cheer up the profs.)” To Doremus: “Well, sir, I think you’ll have to find a place for me on the Informer, wiping presses. Could you?”
“Afraid not, boy. Give anything if I could. But I’m a prisoner there. God! Just having to say that makes me appreciate what a rotten position I have!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I understand, of course. Well, I don’t just know what I am going to do. Remember back in ‘33 and ‘34 and ‘35 how many good eggs there were and some of them medics and law graduates and trained engineers and so on, that simply couldn’t get a job?
Well, it’s worse now. I looked over Amherst, and had a try at Springfield, and I’ve been here in town two days. I’d hoped to have something before I saw you, Sis, why, I even asked Mrs. Pike if she didn’t need somebody to wash dishes at the Tavern, but so far there isn’t a thing. ‘Young gentleman, two years in college, ninety-nine-point-three pure and thorough knowledge, Thirty-nine Articles, able drive car, teach tennis and contract, amiable disposition, desires position-digging ditches.”
“You will get something! I’ll see you do, my poppet!” insisted Sissy. She was less modernistic and cold with Julian now than Doremus had thought her.
“Thanks, Sis, but honest to God, I hope I’m not whining, but looks like I’d either have to enlist in the lousy M.M.’s, or go to a labor camp. I can’t stay home and sponge on Granddad. The poor old Reverend hasn’t got enough to keep a pussycat in face powder.”
“Lookit! Lookit!” Sissy clinched with Julian and bussed him, unabashed. “I’ve got an idea, a new stunt. You know, one of these ‘New Careers for Youth’ things. Listen! Last summer there was a friend of Lindy Pike’s staying with her and she was an interior decorator from Buffalo, and she said they have a hell of a-”
“-time getting real, genuine, old hand-hewn beams that everybody wants so much now in these phony Old English suburban living rooms. Well, look! Round here there’s ten million old barns with hand-adzed beams just failing down, farmers probably be glad to have you haul ‘em off. I kind of thought about it for myself, being an architect, you know, and John Pollikop said he’d sell me a swell, dirty looking old five-ton truck for four hundred bucks-in pre-inflation real money, I mean, and on time. Let’s you and me try a load of assorted fancy beams.”
“Swell!” said Julian.
“Well-“ said Doremus.
“Come on!” Sissy leaped up. “Let’s go ask Lindy what she thinks. She’s the only one in this family that’s got any business sense.”
“I don’t seem to hanker much after going out there in this weather, nasty roads,” Doremus puffed.
“Nonsense, Doremus! With Julian driving? He’s a poor speller and his back-hand is fierce, but as a driver, he’s better than I am! Why, it’s a pleasure to skid with him! Come on! Hey, Mother! We’ll be back in hour or two.”
If Emma ever got beyond her distant, “Why, I thought you were in school, already,” none of the three musketeers heard it. They were bundling up and crawling out into the sleet.
Lorinda Pike was in the Tavern kitchen, in a calico print with rolled sleeves, dipping doughnuts into deep fata picture right out of the romantic days (which Buzz Windrip was trying to restore) when a female who had brought up eleven children and been midwife to dozens of cows was regarded as too fragile to vote. She was ruddy-faced from the stove, but she cocked a lively eye at them, and her greeting was “Have a doughnut? Good!” She led them from the kitchen with its attendant and eavesdropping horde of a Canuck kitchenmaid and two cats, and they sat in the beautiful butlers pantry, with its shelved rows of Italian majolica plates and cups and saucers, entirely unsuitable to Vermont, attesting a certain artiness in Lorinda, yet by their cleanness and order revealing her as a sound worker.
Sissy sketched her plan, behind the statistics there was an agreeable picture of herself and Julian, gipsies in khaki, on the seat of a gipsy truck, peddling silvery old pine rafters.
“Nope. Not a chance,” said Lorinda regretfully. “The expensive suburban villa business, oh, it isn’t gone: there’s a surprising number of middlemen and professional men who are doing quite well out of having their wealth taken away and distributed to the masses. But all the building is in the hands of contractors who are in politics, good old Windrip is so consistently American that he’s kept up all our traditional graft, even if he has thrown out all our traditional independence. They wouldn’t leave you one cent profit.”
“She’s probably right,” said Doremus.
“Be the first time I ever was, then!” sniffed Lorinda. “Why, I was so simple that I thought women voters knew men too well to fall for noble words on the radio!”
They sat in the sedan, outside the Tavern; Julian and Sissy in front, Doremus in the back seat, dignified and miserable in mummy swathings.
“That’s that,” said Sissy. “Swell period for young dreamers the Dictator’s brought in. You can march to military bands, or you can sit home, or you can go to prison. Primavera di Bellezza!”
“Yes. . . . Well, I’ll find something to do. . . . Sissy, are you going to marry me, soon as I get a job?”
(It was incredible, thought Doremus, how these latterday unsentimental sentimentalists could ignore him. . . . Like animals.)
“Before, if you want to. Though marriage seems to me absolute rot now, Julian. They can’t go and let us see that every doggone one of our old institutions is a rotten fake, the way Church and State and everything has laid down to the Corpos, and still expect us to think they’re so hot! But for unformed minds like your grandfather and Doremus, I suppose we’ll have to pretend to believe that the preachers who stand for Big Chief Windrip are still so sanctified that they can sell God’s license to love!”
“(Oh. I forgot you were there, Dad!) But anyway, we’re not going to have any kids. Oh, I like children! I’d like to have a dozen of the little devils around. But if people have gone so soft and turned the world over to stuffed shirts and dictators, they needn’t expect any decent woman to bring children into such an insane asylum! Why, the more you really do love children, the more you’ll want ‘em not to be born, now!”
Julian boasted, in a manner quite as lover-like and naive as that of any suitor a hundred years ago, “Yes. But just the same, we’ll be having children.”
“Hell! I suppose so!” said the golden girl.
It was the unconsidered Doremus who found a job for Julian.
Old Dr. Marcus Olmsted was trying to steel himself to carry on the work of his sometime partner, Fowler Greenhill. He was not strong enough for much winter driving, and so hotly now did he hate the murderers of his friend that he would not take on any youngster who was in the M.M.’s or who had half acknowledged their authority by going to a labor camp. So Julian was chosen to drive him, night and day, and presently to help him by giving anesthetic, bandaging hurt legs; and the Julian who had within one week “decided that he wanted to be” an aviator, a music critic, an air-conditioning engineer, an archaeologist excavating in Yucatan, was dead-set on medicine and replaced for Doremus his dead doctor son-in-law. And Doremus heard Julian and Sissy boasting and squabbling and squeaking in the haIf-lighted parlor and from them, from them and from David and Lorinda and Buck Titus, got resolution enough to go on in the Informer office without choking Staubmeyer to death.
December tenth was the birthday of Berzelius Windrip, though in his earlier days as a politician, before he fruitfully realized that lies sometimes get printed and unjustly remembered against you, he had been wont to tell the world that his birthday was on December twenty-fifth, like one whom he admitted to be an even greater leader, and to shout, with real tears in his eyes, that his complete name was Berzelius Noel Weinacht Windrip.
His birthday in 1937 he commemorated by the historical “Order of Regulation,” which stated that though the Corporate government had proved both its stability and its good-will, there were still certain stupid or vicious “elements” who, in their foul envy of Corpo success, wanted to destroy everything that was good. The kindhearted government was fed-up, and the country was informed that, from this day on, any person who by word or act sought to harm or discredit the State, would be executed or interned. Inasmuch as the prisons were already too full, both for these slanderous criminals and for the persons whom the kind-hearted State had to guard by “protective arrest,” there were immediately to be opened, all over the country, concentration camps.
Doremus guessed that the reason for the concentration camps was not only the provision of extra room for victims but, even more, the provision of places where the livelier young M.M.’s could amuse themselves without interference from old-time professional policemen and prison-keepers, most of whom regarded their charges not as enemies, to be tortured, but just as cattle, to be kept safely.
On the eleventh, a concentration camp was enthusiastically opened, with band music, paper flowers, and speeches by District Commissioner Reek and Shad Ledue, at Trianon, nine miles north of Fort Beulah, in what had been a modern experimental school for girls. (The girls and their teachers, no sound material for Corpoism anyway, were simply sent about their business.)
And on that day and every day afterward, Doremus got from journalist friends all over the country secret news of Corpo terrorism and of the first bloody rebellions against the Corpos.
In Arkansas, a group of ninety-six former sharecroppers, who had always bellyached about their misfortunes yet seemed not a bit happier in well-run, hygienic labor camps with free weekly band concerts, attacked the superintendent’s office at one camp and killed the superintendent and five assistants.
They were rounded up by an M.M. regiment from Little Rock, stood up in a winterragged cornfield, told to run, and shot in the back with machine guns as they comically staggered away.
In San Francisco, dock-workers tried to start an absolutely illegal strike, and their leaders, known to be Communists, were so treasonable in their speeches against the government that an M.M. commander had three of them tied up to a bale of rattan, which was soaked with oil and set afire. The Commander gave warning to all such malcontents by shooting off the criminals’ fingers and ears while they were burning, and so skilled a marksman was he, so much credit to the efficient MM. training, that he did not kill one single man while thus trimming them up. He afterward went in search of Tom Mooney (released by the Supreme Court of the United States, early in 1936), but that notorious anti-Corpo agitator had had the fear of God put into him properly, and had escaped on a schooner for Tahiti.
In Pawtucket, a man who ought to have been free from the rotten seditious notions of such so-called labor-leaders, in fact a man who was a fashionable dentist and director in a bank, absurdly resented the attentions which half-a-dozen uniformed M.M.’s, they were all on leave, and merely full of youthful spirits, anyway, bestowed upon his wife at a cafe’ and, in the confusion, shot and killed three of them. Ordinarily, since it was none of the public’s business anyway, the M.M.’s did not give out details of their disciplining of rebels, but in this case, where the fool of a dentist had shown himself to be a homicidal maniac, the local MM. commander permitted the papers to print the fact that the dentist had been given sixty-nine lashes with a flexible steel rod, then, when he came to, left to think over his murderous idiocy in a cell in which there was two feet of water in the bottom but, rather ironically, none to drink. Unfortunately, the fellow died before having the opportunity to seek religious consolation.
In Scranton, the Catholic pastor of a working-class church was kidnaped and beaten.
In central Kansas, a man named George W. Smith pointlessly gathered a couple of hundred farmers armed with shotguns and sporting rifles and an absurdly few automatic pistols, and led them in burning an M.M. barracks. M.M. tanks were called out, and the hick would be rebels were not, this time, used as warnings, but were overcome with mustard gas, then disposed of with hand grenades, which was an altogether intelligent move, since there was nothing of the scoundrels left for sentimental relatives to bury and make propaganda over.
But in New York City the case was the opposite, instead of being thus surprised, the M.M.’s rounded up all suspected Communists in the former boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, and all persons who were reported to have been seen consorting with such Communists, and interned the lot of them in the nineteen concentration camps on Long Island. . . . Most of them wailed that they were not Communists at all.
For the first time in America, except during the Civil War and the World War, people were afraid to say whatever came to their tongues.
On the streets, on trains, at theaters, men looked about to see who might be listening before they dared so much as say there was a drought in the West, for someone might suppose they were blaming the drought on the Chief! They were particularly skittish about waiters, who were supposed to listen from the ambush which every waiter carries about with him anyway, and to report to the M.M.’s. People who could not resist talking politics spoke of Windrip as “Colonel Robinson” or “Dr. Brown” and of Sarason as “Judge Jones” or “my cousin Kaspar,” and you would hear gossips hissing “Shhh!” at the seemingly innocent statement, “My cousin doesn’t seem to be as keen on playing bridge with the Doctor as he used to, I’II bet sometime they’ll quit playing.”
Every moment everyone felt fear, nameless and omnipresent. They were as jumpy as men in a plague district. Any sudden sound, any unexplained footstep, any unfamiliar script on an envelope, made them startle; and for months they never felt secure enough to let themselves go, in complete sleep. And with the coming of fear went out their pride.
Daily, common now as weather reports, were the rumors of people who had suddenly been carried off “under protective arrest,” and daily more of them were celebrities. At first the M.M.’s had, outside of the one stroke against Congress, dared to arrest only the unknown and defenseless. Now, incredulously, for these leaders had seemed invulnerable, above the ordinary law, you heard of judges, army officers, ex-state governors, bankers who had not played in with the Corpos, Jewish lawyers who had been ambassadors, being carted off to the common stink and mud of the cells.
To the journalist Doremus and his family it was not least interesting that among these imprisoned celebrities were so many journalists: Raymond Moley, Frank Simonds, Frank Kent, Heywood Broun, Mark Sullivan, Earl Browder, Franklin P. Adams, George Seldes, Frazier Hunt, Garet Garrett, Granville Hicks, Edwin James, Robert Morss Lovett, men who differed grotesquely except in their common dislike of being little disciples of Sarason and Macgoblin.
Few writers for Hearst were arrested, however.
The plague came nearer to Doremus when unrenowned editors in Lowell and Providence and Albany, who had done nothing more than fail to be enthusiastic about the Corpos, were taken away for “questioning,” and not released for weeks, months.
It came much nearer at the time of the book burning.
All over the country, books that might threaten the Pax Romana of the Corporate State were gleefully being burned by the more scholarly Minute Men.
This form of safeguarding the State, so modem that it had scarce been known prior to AD. 1300, was instituted by Secretary of Culture Macgoblin, but in each province the crusaders were allowed to have the fun of picking out their own paper-and-ink traitors. In the Northeastern Province, Judge Effingham Swan and Dr. Owen J. Peaseley were appointed censors by Commissioner Dewey Haik, and their index was lyrically praised all through the country.
For Swan saw that it was not such obvious anarchists and soreheads as Darrow, Steffens, Norman Thomas, who were the real danger; like rattlesnakes, their noisiness betrayed their venom. The real enemies were men whose sanctification by death had appallingly permitted them to sneak even into respectable school libraries, men so perverse that they had been traitors to the Corpo State years and years before there had been any Corpo State; and Swan (with Peaseley chirping agreement) barred from all sale or possession the books of Thoreau, Emerson, Whittier, Whitman, Mark Twain, Howells, and The New Freedom, by Woodrow Wilson, for though in later life Wilson became a sound manipulative politician, he had earlier been troubled with itching ideals.
It goes without saying that Swan denounced all such atheistic foreigners, dead or alive, as Wells, Marx, Shaw, the Mann brothers, Tolstoy, and P. G. Wodehouse with his unscrupulous propaganda against the aristocratic tradition. (Who could tell? Perhaps, some day, in a corporate empire, he might be Sir Effingham Swan, Bart.)
And in one item Swan showed blinding genius, he had the foresight to see the peril of that cynical volume, The Collected Sayings of Will Rogers.
Of the book burnings in Syracuse and Schenectady and Hartford, Doremus had heard, but they seemed improbable as ghost stories.
The Jessup family were at dinner, just after seven, when on the porch they heard the tramping they had half expected, altogether dreaded. Mrs. Candy, even the icicle, Mrs. Candy, held her breast in agitation before she stalked out to open the door. Even David sat at table, spoon suspended in air.
Shad’s voice, “In the name of the Chief!” Harsh feet in the hall, and Shad waddling into the dining room, cap on, hand on pistol, but grinning, and with leering geniality bawling, “H’ are yuh, folks! Search for bad books. Orders of the District Commissioner. Come on, Jessup!” He looked at the fireplace to which he had once brought so many armfuls of wood, and snickered.
“If you’ll just sit down in the other room-”
“I will like hell ‘just sit down in the other room’! We’re burning the books tonight! Snap to it, Jessup!” Shad looked at the exasperated Emma; he looked at Sissy; he winked with heavy deliberation and chuckled, “H’ are you, Mis’ Jessup. Hello, Sis. How’s the kid?”
But at Mary Greenhill he did not look, nor she at him.
In the hall, Doremus found Shad’s entourage, four sheepish M.M.’s and a more sheepish Emil Staubmeyer, who whimpered, “Just orders, you know, just orders.”
Doremus safely said nothing; led them up to his study. Now a week before he had removed every publication that any sane Corpo could consider radical: his Das Kapital and Veblen and all the Russian novels and even Sumner’s Folkways and Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents; Thoreau and the other hoary scoundrels banned by Swan; old files of the Nation and New Republic and such copies as he had been able to get of Walt Trowbridge’s Lance for Democracy; had removed them and hidden them inside an old horsehair sofa in the upper hall.
“I told you there was nothing,” said Staubmeyer, after the search. “Let’s go.”
Said Shad, “Huh! I know this house, Ensign. I used to work here, had the privilege of putting up those storm windows you can see there, and of getting bawled out right here in this room. You won’t remember those times, Doc, when I used to mow your lawn, too, and you used to be so snotty!” Staubmeyer blushed. “You bet. I know my way around, and there’s a lot of fool books downstairs in the sittin’ room.”
Indeed in that apartment variously called the drawing room, the living room, the sittin’ room, the Parlor and once, even, by a spinster who thought editors were romantic, the studio, there were two or three hundred volumes, mostly in “standard sets.” Shad glumly stared at them, the while he rubbed the faded Brussels carpet with his spurs. He was worried. He had to find something seditious!
He pointed at Doremus’s dearest treasure, the thirtyfour-volume extra-illustrated edition of Dickens which had been his father’s, and his father’s only insane extravagance. Shad demanded of Staubmeyer, “That guy Dickens, didn’t he do a lot of complaining about conditions, about schools and the police and everything?”
Staubmeyer protested, “Yes, but Shad, but, Captain Ledue, that was a hundred years ago-”
“Makes no difference. Dead skunk stinks worse ‘n a live one.”
Doremus cried, “Yes, but not for a hundred years! Besides-”
The M.M.’s, obeying Shad’s gesture, were already yanking the volumes of Dickens from the shelves, dropping them on the floor, covers cracking. Doremus seized an M.M.’s arm; from the door Sissy shrieked. Shad lumbered up to him, enormous red fist at Doremus’s nose, growling, “Want to get the daylights beaten out of you now . . . instead of later?”
Doremus and Sissy, side by side on a couch, watched the books thrown in a heap. He grasped her hand, muttering to her, “Hush-hush!” Oh, Sissy was a pretty girl, and young, but a pretty girl schoolteacher had been attacked, her clothes stripped off, and been left in the snow just south of town, two nights ago.
Doremus could not have stayed away from the book burning. It was like seeing for the last time the face of a dead friend.
Kindling, excelsior, and spruce logs had been heaped on the thin snow on the Green. (Tomorrow there would be a fine patch burned in the hundred-year-old sward.) Round the pyre danced M.M.’s schoolboys, students from the rather ratty business college on Elm Street, and unknown farm lads, seizing books from the pile guarded by the broadly cheerful Shad and skimming them into the flames. Doremus saw his Martin Chuzzlewit fly into air and land on the burning lid of an ancient commode. It lay there open to a Phiz drawing of Sairey Gamp, which withered instantly. As a small boy he had always laughed over that drawing.
He saw the old rector, Mr. Falck, squeezing his hands together. When Doremus touched his shoulder, Mr. Falck mourned, “They took away my Urn Burial, my Imitatio Christi. I don’t know why, I don’t know why! And they’re burning them there!”
Who owned them, Doremus did not know, nor why they had been seized, but he saw Alice in Wonderland and Omar Khayyém and Shelley and The Man Who Was Thursday and A Farewell to Arms all burning together, to the greater glory of the Dictator and the greater enlightenment of his people.
The fire was almost over when Karl Pascal pushed up to Shad Ledue and shouted, “I hear you stinkers, I’ve been out driving a guy, and I hear you raided my room and took off my books while I was away!”
“You bet we did, Comrade!”
“And you’re burning them, burning my-”
“Oh no, Comrade! Not burning ‘em. Worth too blame much, Comrade.” Shad laughed very much. “They’re at the police station. We’ve just been waiting for you. It was awful nice to find all your little Communist books. Here! Take him along!”
So Karl Pascal was the first prisoner to go from Fort Beulah to the Trianon Concentration Camp, no; that’s wrong; the second. The first, so inconspicuous that one almost forgets him, was an ordinary fellow, an electrician who had never so much as spoken of politics. Brayden, his name was. A Minute Man who stood well with Shad and Staubmeyer wanted Brayden’s job. Brayden went to concentration camp. Brayden was flogged when he declared, under Shad’s questioning, that he knew nothing about any plots against the Chief. Brayden died, alone in a dark cell, before January.
An English globe-trotter who gave up two weeks of December to a thorough study of “conditions” in America, wrote to his London paper, and later said on the wireless for the BBC: “After a thorough glance at AMERICA, I find that, far from there being any discontent with the Corpo administration among the people, they have never been so happy and so resolutely set on making a Brave New World. I asked a very prominent Hebrew banker about the assertions that his people were being oppressed, and he assured me, ‘When we hear about such silly rumors, we are highly amused.”
Doremus was nervous. The Minute Men had come, not with Shad but with Emil and a strange battalion leader from Hanover, to examine the private letters in his study. They were polite enough, but alarmingly thorough. Then he knew, from the disorder in his desk at the Informer, that someone had gone over his papers there. Emil avoided him at the office. Doremus was called to Shad’s office and gruffly questioned about correspondence which some denouncer had reported his having with the agents of Walt Trowbridge.
So Doremus was nervous. So Doremus was certain that his time for going to concentration camp was coming. He glanced back at every stranger who seemed to be following him on the street. The fruitman, Tony Mogliani, flowery advocate of Windrip, of Mussolini, and of tobacco quid as a cure for cuts and burns, asked him too many questions about his plans for the time when he should “get through on the paper”; and once a tramp tried to quiz Mrs. Candy, meantime peering at the pantry shelves, perhaps to see if there was any sign of their being understocked, as if for closing the house and fleeing. . . . But perhaps the tramp really was a tramp.
In the office, in mid-afternoon, Doremus had a telephone call from that scholar-farmer, Buck Titus:
“Going to be home this evening, about nine? Good! Got to see you. Important! Say, see if you can have all your family and Linda Pike and young Falck there, too, will you? Got an idea. Important!”
As important ideas, just now, usually concerned being imprisoned, Doremus and his women waited jumpily. Lorinda came in twittering, for the sight of Emma always did make her twitter a little, and in Lorinda there was no relief. Julian came in shyly, and there was no relief in Julian. Mrs. Candy brought in unsolicited tea with a dash of rum, and in her was some relief, but it was all a dullness of fidgety waiting till Buck slammed in, ten minutes late and very snowy.
“Sorkeepwaiting but I’ve been telephoning. Here’s some news you won’t have even in the office yet, Dormouse. The forest fire’s getting nearer. This afternoon they arrested the editor of the Rutland Herald, no charge laid against him yet, not publicity, I got it from a commission merchant I deal with in Rutland. You’re next, Doremus. I reckon they’ve just been laying off you till Staubmeyer picked your brains. Or maybe Ledue has some nice idea about torturing you by keeping you waiting. Anyway, you’ve got to get out. And tomorrow! To Canada! To stay! By automobile. No can do by plane any more, Canadian government’s stopped that. You and Emma and Mary and Dave and Sis and the whole damn shooting-match, and maybe Foolish and Mrs. Candy and the canary!”
“Couldn’t possibly! Take me weeks to realize on what investments I’ve got. Guess I could raise twenty thousand, but it’d take weeks.”
“Sign ‘em over to me, if you trust me-and you better! I can cash in everything better than you can, stand in with the Corpos better, been selling ‘em horses and they think I’m the kind of loud-mouthed walking gent that will join ‘em! I’ve got fifteen hundred Canadian dollars for you right here in my pocket, for a starter.”
“We’d never get across the border. The M.M.’s are watching every inch, just looking for suspects like me.”
“I’ve got a Canadian driver’s license, and Canadian registration plates ready to put on my car, we’ll take mine, less suspicious. I can look like a real farmer, that’s because I am one, I guess, I’m going to drive you all, by the way. I got the plates smuggled in underneath the bottles in a case of ale! So we’re all set, and we’ll start tomorrow night, if the weather isn’t too clear-hope there’ll be snow.”
“But Buck! Good Lord! I’m not going to flee. I’m not guilty of anything. I haven’t anything to flee for!”
“Just your life, my boy, just your life!”
“I’m not afraid of ‘em.”
“Oh yes you are!”
“Oh well, if you look at it that way, probably I am! But I’m not going to let a bunch of lunatics and gunmen drive me out of the country that I and my ancestors made!”
Emma choked with the effort to think of something convincing; Mary seemed without tears to be weeping; Sissy squeaked; Julian and Lorinda started to speak and interrupted each other; and it was the uninvited Mrs. Candy who, from the doorway, led off:
“Now isn’t that like a man! Stubborn as mules. All of ‘em. Every one. And show-offs, the whole lot of ‘em. Course you just wouldn’t stop and think how your womenfolks will feel if you get took off and shot! You just stand in front of the locomotive and claim that because you were on the section gang that built the track, you got more right there than the engine has, and then when it’s gone over you and gone away, you expect us all to think what a hero you were! Well, maybe some call it being a hero, but-”
“Well, confound it all, all of you picking on me and trying to get me all mixed up and not carry out my duty to the State as I see it-”
“You’re over sixty, Doremus. Maybe a lot of us can do our duty better now from Canada than we can here, like Walt Trowbridge,” besought Lorinda. Emma looked at her friend Lorinda with no particular affection.
“But to let the Corpos steal the country and nobody protest! No!”
“That’s the kind of argument that sent a few million out to die, to make the world safe for democracy and a cinch for Fascism!” scoffed Buck.
“Dad! Come with us. Because we can’t go without you. And I’m getting scared here.” Sissy sounded scared, too; Sissy the unconquerable. “This afternoon Shad stopped me on the street and wanted me to go out with him. He tickled my chin, the little darling! But honestly, the way he smirked, as if he was so sure of me, I got scared!”
“I’ll get a shotgun and-“ “Why, I’ll kill the dirty-“ “Wait’ll I get my hands on-“ cried Doremus, Julian, and Buck, all together, and glared at one another, then looked sheepish as Foolish barked at the racket, and Mrs. Candy, leaning like a frozen codfish against the door jamb, snorted, “Some more locomotive-batters!”
Doremus laughed. For one only time in his life he showed genius, for he consented: “All right. We’ll go. But just imagine that I’m a man of strong will power and I’m taking all night to be convinced. We’ll start tomorrow night.”
What he did not say was that he planned, the moment he had his family safe in Canada, with money in the bank and perhaps a job to amuse Sissy, to run away from them and come back to his proper fight. He would at least kill Shad before he got killed himself.
It was only a week before Christmas, a holiday always greeted with good cheer and quantities of colored ribbons in the Jessup household; and that wild day of preparing for flight had a queer Christmas joyfulness. To dodge suspicion, Doremus spent most of the time at the office, and a hundred times it seemed that Staubmeyer was glancing at him with just the ruler-threatening hidden ire he had used on whisperers and like young criminals in school.
But he took off two hours at lunch time, and he went home early in the afternoon, and his long depression was gone in the prospect of Canada and freedom, in an excited inspection of clothes that was like preparation for a fishing trip. They worked upstairs, behind drawn blinds, feeling like spies in an E. Phillips Oppenheim story, beleagured in the dark and stone-floored ducal bedroom of an ancient inn just beyond Grasse. Downstairs, Mrs. Candy was pretentiously busy looking normal, after their flight, she and the canary were to remain and she was to be surprised when the M.M.’s reported that the Jessups seemed to have escaped.
Doremus had drawn five hundred from each of the local banks, late that afternoon, telling them that he was thinking of taking an option on an apple orchard. He was too well-trained a domestic animal to be raucously amused, but he could not help observing that while he himself was taking on the flight to Egypt only all the money he could get hold of, plus cigarettes, six handkerchiefs, two extra pairs of socks, a comb, a toothbrush, and the first volume of Spengler’s Decline of the West, decidedly it was not his favorite book, but one he had been trying to make himself read for years, on train journeys, while, in fact, he took nothing that he could not stuff into his overcoat pockets, Sissy apparently had need of all her newest lingerie and of a large framed picture of Julian, Emma of a kodak album showing the three children from the ages of one to twenty, David of his new model aeroplane, and Mary of her still, dark hatred that was heavier to carry than many chests.
Julian and Lorinda were there to help them; Julian off in corners with Sissy. With Lorinda, Doremus had but one free moment . . . in the old-fashioned guest-bathroom. “Linda. Oh, Lord!”
“We’ll come through! In Canada you’ll have time to catch your breath. Join Trowbridge!”
“Yes, but to leave you, I’d hoped somehow, by some miracle, you and I could have maybe a month together, say in Monterey or Venice or the Yellowstone. I hate it when life doesn’t seem to stick together and get somewhere and have some plan and meaning.”
“It’s had meaning! No dictator can completely smother us now! Come!”
“Good-bye, my Linda!”
Not even now did he alarm her by confessing that he planned to come back, into danger.
Embracing beside an aged tin-lined bathtub with woodwork painted a dreary brown, in a room which smelled slightly of gas from an old hot water heater, embracing in sunset-colored, mist upon a mountain top.
Darkness, edged wind, wickedly deliberate snow, and in it Buck Titus boisterously cheerful in his veteran Nash, looking as farmer-like as he could, in sealskin cap with rubbed bare patches and an atrocious dogskin overcoat. Doremus thought of him again as a Captain Charles King cavalryman chasing the Sioux across blizzard-blinded prairies.
They packed alarmingly into the car; Mary beside Buck, the driver; in the back, Doremus between Emma and Sissy; on the floor, David and Foolish and the toy aeroplane indistinguishably curled up together beneath a robe. Trunk rack and front fenders were heaped with tarpaulin-covered suitcases.
“Lord, I wish I were going!” moaned Julian. “Look! Sis! Grand spy-story idea! But I mean seriously: Send souvenir postcards to my granddad, views of churches and so on, just sign ‘em ‘Jane’, and whatever you say about the church, I’ll know you really mean it about you and, Oh, damn all mystery! I want you, Sissy!”
Mrs. Candy whisked a bundle in among the already intolerable mess of baggage which promised to descend on Doremus’s knees and David’s head, and she snapped, “Well, if you folks must go flyin’ around the country, it’s a cocoanut layer cake.” Savagely: “Soon’s you get around the corner, throw the fool thing in the ditch if you want to!” She fled sobbing into the kitchen, where Lorinda stood in the lighted doorway, silent, her trembling hands out to them.
The car was already lurching in the snow before they had sneaked through Fort Beulah by shadowy backstreets and started streaking northward.
Sissy sang out cheerily, “Well, Christmas in Canada! Skittles and beer and lots of holly!”
“Oh, do they have Santa Claus in Canada?” came David’s voice, wondering, childish, slightly muffled by lap robe and the furry ears of Foolish.
“Of course they do, dearie!” Emma reassured him and, to the grown-ups, “Now wasn’t that the cutest thing!”
To Doremus, Sissy whispered, “Darn well ought to be cute. Took me ten minutes to teach him to say it, this afternoon! Hold my hand. I hope Buck knows how to drive!”
Buck Titus knew every back-road from Fort Beulah to the border, preferably in filthy weather, like tonight. Beyond Trianon he pulled the car up deep-rutted roads, on which you would have to back if you were to pass anyone. Up grades on which the car knocked and panted, into lonely hills, by a zigzag of roads, they jerked toward Canada. Wet snow sheathed the windshield, then froze, and Buck had to drive with his head thrust out through the open window, and the blast came in and circled round their stiff necks.
Doremus could see nothing save the back of Buck’s twisted, taut neck, and the icy windshield, most of the time. Just now and then a light far below the level of the road indicated that they were sliding along a shelf road, and if they skidded off, they would keep going a hundred feet, two hundred feet, downward, probably turning over and over. Once they did skid, and while they panted in an eternity of four seconds, Buck yanked the car up a bank beside the road, down to the left again, and finally straight, speeding on as if nothing had happened, while Doremus felt feeble in the knees.
For a long while he kept going rigid with fear, but he sank into misery, too cold and deaf to feel anything except a slow desire to vomit as the car lurched. Probably he slept, at least, he awakened, and awakened to a sensation of pushing the car anxiously up hill, as she bucked and stuttered in the effort to make a slippery rise. Suppose the engine died, suppose the brakes would not hold and they slid back downhill, reeling, bursting off the road and down. A great many suppositions tortured him, hour by hour.
Then he tried being awake and bright and helpful. He noticed that the ice-lined windshield, illuminated from the light on the snow ahead, was a sheet of diamonds. He noticed it, but he couldn’t get himself to think much of diamonds, even in sheets.
He tried conversation.
“Cheer up. Breakfast at dawn, across the border!” he tried on Sissy.
“Breakfast!” she said bitterly.
And they crunched on, in that moving coffin with only the sheet of diamonds and Buck’s silhouette alive in all the world.
After unnumbered hours the car reared and tumbled and reared again. The motor raced; its sound rose to an intolerable roaring; yet the car seemed not to be moving. The motor stopped abruptly. Buck cursed, popped his head back into the car like a turtle, and the starter ground long and whiningly. The motor again roared, again stopped. They could hear stiff branches rattling, hear Foolish moaning in sleep. The car was a storm-menaced cabin in the wilderness. The silence seemed waiting, as they were waiting.
“Strouble?” said Doremus.
“Stuck. No traction. Hit a drift of wet snow-drainage from a busted culvert, I sh’ think. Hell! Have to get out and take a look.”
Outside the car, as Doremus crept down from the slippery running-board, it was cold in a vicious wind. He was so stiff he could scarcely stand.
As people do, feeling important and advisory, Doremus looked at the drift with an electric torch, and Sissy looked at the drift with the torch, and Buck impatiently took the torch away from them and looked twice.
“Get some-“ and “Brush would help,” said Sissy and Buck together, while Doremus rubbed his chilly ears.
They three trotted back and forth with fragments of brush, laying it in front of the wheels, while Mary politely asked from within, “Can i help?” and no one seemed particularly to have answered her.
The headlights picked out an abandoned shack beside the road; an unpainted gray pine cabin with broken window glass and no door. Emma, sighing her way out of the car and stepping through the lumpy snow as delicately as a pacer at a horse show, said humbly, “That little house there, maybe I could go in and make some hot coffee on the alcohol stove-didn’t have room for a thermos. Hot coffee, Dormouse?”
To Doremus she sounded, just now, not at all like a wife, but as sensible as Mrs. Candy.
When the car did kick its way up on the pathway of twigs and stand panting safely beyond the drift, they had, in the sheltered shack, coffee with slabs of Mrs. Candy’s voluptuous cocoanut cake. Doremus pondered, “This is a nice place. I like this place. It doesn’t bounce or skid. I don’t want to leave this place.”
He did. The secure immobility of the shack was behind them, dark miles behind, and they were again pitching and rolling and being sick and inescapably chilly. David was alternately crying and going back to sleep. Foolish woke up to cough inquiringly and returned to his dream of rabbiting. And Doremus was sleeping, his head swaying like a masthead in long rollers, his shoulder against Emma’s, his hand warm about Sissy’s, and his soul in nameless bliss.
He roused to a half-dawn filmy with snow. The car was standing in what seemed to be a crossroads hamlet, and Buck was examining a map by the light of the electric torch.
“Got anywhere yet?” Doremus whispered.
“Just a few miles to the border.”
“Anybody stopped us?”
“Nope. Oh, we’ll make it, all right, O’ man.”
Out of East Berkshire, Buck took not the main road to the border but an old wood lane so little used that the ruts were twin snakes. Though Doremus said nothing, the others felt his intensity, his anxiety that was like listening for an enemy in the dark. David sat up, the blue motor robe about him. Foolish started, snorted, looked offended but, catching the spirit of the moment, comfortingly laid a paw on Doremus’s knee and insisted on shaking hands, over and over, as gravely as a Venetian senator or an undertaker.
They dropped into the dimness of a tree-walled hollow. A searchlight darted, and rested hotly on them, so dazzling them that Buck almost ran off the road.
“Confound it,” he said gently. No one else said anything. He crawled up to the light, which was mounted on a platform in front of a small shelter hut. Two Minute Men stood out in the road, dripping with radiance from the car. They were young and rural, but they had efficient repeating rifles.
“Where you headed for?” demanded the elder, good-naturedly enough.
“Montreal, where we live.” Buck showed his Canadian license. . . . Gasoline motor and electric light, yet Doremus saw the frontier guard as a sentry in 1864, studying a pass by lantern light, beside a farm wagon in which hid General Joe Johnston’s spies disguised as plantation hands.
“I guess it’s all right. Seems in order. But we’ve had some trouble with refugees. You’ll have to wait till the Battalion-Leader comes-maybe ‘long about noon.”
“But good Lord, Inspector, we can’t do that! My mother’s awful sick, in Montreal.”
“Yuh, I’ve heard that one before! And maybe it’s true, this time. But afraid you’ll have to wait for the Bat. You folks can come in and set by the fire, if you want to.”
“But we’ve got to-”
“You heard what I said!” The M.M.’s were fingering their rifles.
“All right. But tell you what we’ll do. We’ll go back to East Berkshire and get some breakfast and a wash and come back here. Noon, you said?”
“Okay! And say, Brother, it does seem kind of funny, your taking this back road, when there’s a first-rate highway. S’ long. Be good. . . . Just don’t try it again! The Bat might be here next time, and he ain’t a farmer like you or me!”
The refugees, as they drove away, had an uncomfortable feeling that the guards were laughing at them. Three border posts they tried, and at three posts they were turned back. “Well?” said Buck. “Yes. I guess so. Back home.
My turn to drive,” said Doremus wearily. The humiliation of retreat was the worse in that none of the guards had troubled to do more than laugh at them. They were trapped too tightly for the trappers to worry. Doremus’s only clear emotion as, tails between their legs, they back, tracked to Shad Ledue’s sneer and to Mrs. Candy’s “Well, I never!” was regret that he had not shot one guard, at least, and he raged: “Now I know why men like John Brown became crazy killers!”
To follow in part 8