“Windrip & Co. had, like Hitler and Mussolini, discovered that a modern state can, by the triple process of controlling every item in the press, breaking up at the start any association which might become dangerous, and keeping all the machine guns, artillery, armored automobiles, and aeroplanes in the hands of the government, dominate the complex contemporary population better than had ever been done in medieval days.
Albert Einstein, who had been exiled from Germany for his guilty devotion to mathematics, world Peace, and the violin, was now exiled from America for the same crimes.
A crowd of young men, not wearing any sort of uniforms, tore the clothes from a nun on the station plaza in Kansas City and chased her, smacking her with bare hands. The police stopped them after a while. There were no arrests.”
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.
The Informer composing room closed down at eleven in the evening, for the paper had to be distributed to villages forty miles away and did not issue a later city edition. Dan Wilgus, the foreman, remained after the others had gone, setting a Minute Man poster which announced that there would be a grand parade on March ninth, and incidentaIly that President Windrip was defying the world.
Dan stopped, looked sharply about, and tramped into the storeroom. In the light from a dusty electric bulb the place was like a tomb of dead news, with ancient red-and-black posters of Scotland county fairs and proofs of indecent limericks pasted on the walls. From a case of eight-point, once used for the setting of pamphlets but superseded by a monotype machine, Dan picked out bits of type from each of several compartments, wrapped them in scraps of print paper, and stored them in the pocket of his jacket. The raped type boxes looked only half filled, and to make up for it he did something that should have shocked any decent printer even if he were on strike. He filled them up with type not from another eight-point case, but with old ten-point.
Daniel, the large and hairy, thriftily pinching the tiny types, was absurd as an elephant playing at being a hen. He turned out the lights on the third floor and clumped downstairs. He glanced in at the editorial rooms. No one was there save Doc Itchitt, in a small circle of light that through the visor of his eye shade cast a green tint on his unwholesome face. He was correcting an article by the titular editor, Ensign Emil Staubmeyer, and he snickered as he carved it with a large black pencil. He raised his head, startled.
“Hello, Dan. Staying late?”
“Yuh. Just finished some job work. G’night,”
“Say, Dan, do you ever see old Jessup, these days?”
“Don’t know when I’ve seen him, Doc. Oh yes, I ran into him at the Rexall store, couple days ago.”
“Still as sour as ever about the regime?”
“Oh, he didn’t say anything. Darned old fool! Even if he don’t like all the brave boys in uniform, he ought to see the Chief is here for keeps, by golly!”
“Certainly ought to! And it’s a swell re’gime. Fellow can get ahead in newspaper work now, and not be held back by a bunch of snobs that think they’re so doggone educated just because they went to college!”
“That’s right. Well, hell with Jessup and all the old stiffs. G’night, Doc!”
Dan and Brother Itchitt unsmilingly gave the MM. salute, arms held out. Dan thumped down to the street and homeward. He stopped in front of Billy’s Bar, in the middle of a block, and put his foot up on the hub of a dirty old Ford, to tie his shoelace. As he tied it, after having untied it, he looked up and down the street, emptied the bundles in his pockets into a battered sap bucket on the front seat of the car, and majestically moved on.
Out of the bar came Pete Vutong, a French-Canadian farmer who lived up on Mount Terror. Pete was obviously drunk. He was singing the pre-historic ditty “Hi lee, hi low” in what he conceived to be German, viz.: “By unz gays immer, yuh longer yuh slimmer.” He was staggering so that he had to pull himself into the car, and he steered in fancy patterns till he had turned the corner. Then he was amazingly and suddenly sober; and amazing was the speed with which the Ford clattered out of town.
Pete Vutong wasn’t a very good Secret Agent. He was a little obvious. But then, Pete had been a spy for only one week.
In that week Dan Wilgus had four times dropped heavy packages into a sap bucket in the Ford.
Pete passed the gate to Buck Titus’s domain, slowed down, dropped the sap bucket into a ditch, and sped home.
Just at dawn, Buck Titus, out for a walk with his three Irish wolfhounds, kicked up the sap bucket and transferred the bundles to his own pocket.
And next afternoon Dan Wilgus, in the basement of Buck’s house, was setting up, in eight-point, a pamphlet entitled “How Many People Have the Corpos Murdered?” It was signed “Spartan,” and Spartan was one of several pen names of Mr. Doremus Jessup.
They were all, all the ringleaders of the local chapter of the New Underground, rather glad when once, on his way to Buck’s, Dan was searched by M.M.’s unfamiliar to him, and on him was found no printing, material, nor any documents more incriminating than cigarette papers.
The Corpos had made a regulation licensing all dealers in printing machinery and paper and compelling them to keep lists of purchasers, so that except by bootlegging it was impossible to get supplies for the issuance of treasonable literature. Dan Wilgus stole the type; Dan and Doremus and Julian and Buck together had stolen an entire old hand printing-press from the Informer basement; and the paper was smuggled from Canada by that veteran bootlegger, John Pollikop, who rejoiced at being back in the good old occupation of which repeal had robbed him.
It is doubtful whether Dan Wilgus would ever have joined anything so divorced as this from the time clock and the office cuspidors out of abstract indignation at Windrip or County Commissioner Ledue. He was moved to sedition partly by fondness for Doremus and partly by indignation at Doc Itchitt, who publicly rejoiced because all the printers’ unions had been sunk in the governmental confederations. Or perhaps because Doc jeered at him personally on the few occasions, not more than once or twice a week, when there was tobacco juice on his shirt front.
Dan grunted to Doremus, “All right, boss, I guess maybe I’ll come in with you. And say, when we get this man’s revolution going, let me drive the tumbril with Doc in it. Say, remember Tale of Two Cities? Good book. Say, how about getting out a humorous life of Windrip? You’d just have to tell the facts!”
Buck Titus, pleased as a boy invited to go camping, offered his secluded house and, in especial, its huge basement for the headquarters of the New Underground, and Buck, Dan, and Doremus made their most poisonous plots with the assistance of hot rum punches at Buck’s fireplace.
The Fort Beulah cell of the N.U., as it was composed in mid-March, a couple of weeks after Doremus had founded it, consisted of himself, his daughters, Buck, Dan, Lorinda, Julian Falck, Dr. Olmsted, John PolIikop, Father Perefixe (and he argued with the agnostic Dan, the atheist Pollikop, more than ever he had with Buck), Mrs. Henry Veeder, whose farmer husband was in Trianon Concentration Camp, Harry Kindermann, the dispossessed Jew, Mungo Kitterick, that most un-Jewish and un-Socialistic lawyer, Pete Vutong and Daniel Babcock, farmers, and some dozen others. The Reverend Mr. Falck, Emma Jessup, and Mrs. Candy, were more or less unconscious tools of the N.U. But whoever they were, of whatever faith or station, Doremus found in all of them the religious passion he had missed in the churches; and if altars, if windows of many-colored glass, had never been peculiarly holy objects to him, he understood them now as he gloated over such sacred trash as scarred type and a creaking hand press.
Once it was Mr. Dimick of Albany again; once, another insurance agent, who guffawed at the accidental luck of insuring Shad Ledue’s new Lincoln; once it was an Armenian peddling rugs; once, Mr. Samson of Burlington, looking for pine-slashing for paper pulp; but whoever it was, Doremus heard from the New Underground every week. He was busy as he had never been in newspaper days, and happy as on youth’s adventure in Boston.
Humming and most cheerful, he ran the small press, with the hearty bump-bump-bump of the foot treadle, admiring his own skill as he fed in the sheets. Lorinda learned from Dan Wilgus to set type, with more fervor than accuracy about ei and ie. Emma and Sissy and Mary folded news sheets and sewed up pamphlets by hand, all of them working in the high old brick-walled basement that smelled of sawdust and lime and decaying apples.
Aside from pamphlets by Spartan, and by Anthony B. Susan, who was Lorinda, except on Fridays, their chief illicit publication was Vermont Vigilance, a four-page weekly which usually had only two pages and, such was Doremus’s unfettered liveliness, came out about three times a week. It was filled with reports smuggled to them from other N.U. cells, and with reprints from Walt Trowbridge’s Lance for Democracy and from Canadian, British, Swedish, and French papers, whose correspondents in America got out, by long-distance telephone, news which Secretary of Education Macgoblin, head of the government press department, spent a good part of his time denying.
An English correspondent sent news of the murder of the president of the University of Southern Illinois, a man of seventy-two who was shot in the back “while trying to escape,” out of the country, by longdistance telephone to Mexico City, from which the story was relayed to London.
Doremus discovered that neither he nor any other small citizen had been hearing one hundredth of what was going on in America. Windrip & Co. had, like Hitler and Mussolini, discovered that a modern state can, by the triple process of controlling every item in the press, breaking up at the start any association which might become dangerous, and keeping all the machine guns, artillery, armored automobiles, and aeroplanes in the hands of the government, dominate the complex contemporary population better than had ever been done in medieval days, when rebellious peasantry were armed only with pitchforks and good-will, but the State was not armed much better.
Dreadful, incredible information came in to Doremus, until he saw that his own life, and Sissy’s and Lorinda’s and Buck’s, were unimportant accidents.
In North Dakota, two wouId-be leaders of the farmers were made to run in front of an M.M. automobile, through February drifts, till they dropped breathless, were beaten with a tire pump till they staggered on, fell again, then were shot in the head, their blood smearing the prairie snow.
President Windrip, who was apparently becoming considerably more jumpy than in his old, brazen days, saw two of his personal bodyguard snickering together in the anteroom of his office and, shrieking, snatching an automatic pistol from his desk, started shooting at them. He was a bad marksman. The suspects had to be finished off by the pistols of their fellow guards.
A crowd of young men, not wearing any sort of uniforms, tore the clothes from a nun on the station plaza in Kansas City and chased her, smacking her with bare hands. The police stopped them after a while. There were no arrests.
In Utah a non-Mormon County Commissioner staked out a Mormon elder on a bare rock where, since the altitude was high, the elder at once shivered and felt the glare rather bothersome to his eyes, since the Commissioner had thoughtfully cut off his eyelids first. The government press releases made much of the fact that the torturer was rebuked by the District Commissioner and removed from his post. It did not mention that he was reappointed in a county in Florida.
The heads of the reorganized Steel Cartel, a good many of whom had been officers of steel companies in the days before Windrip, entertained Secretary of Education Macgoblin and Secretary of War Luthorne with an aquatic festival in Pittsburgh. The dining room of a large hotel was turned into a tank of rose-scented water, and the celebrants floated in a gilded Roman barge. The waitresses were naked girls, who amusingly swam to the barge holding up trays and, more often, wine buckets.
Secretary of State Lee Sarason was arrested in the basement of a handsome boys’ club in Washington on unspecified charges by a policeman who apologized as soon as he recognized Sarason, and released him, and who that night was shot in his bed by a mysterious burglar.
Albert Einstein, who had been exiled from Germany for his guilty devotion to mathematics, world peace, and the violin, was now exiled from America for the same crimes.
Mrs. Leonard Nimmet, wife of a Congregational pastor in Lincoln, Nebraska, whose husband had been sent to concentration camp for a pacifist sermon, was shot through the door and killed when she refused to open to an M.M. raiding section looking for seditious literature.
In Rhode Island, the door of a small orthodox synagogue in a basement was locked from the outside after thin glass containers of carbon monoxide had been thrown in. The windows had been nailed shut, and anyway, the nineteen men in the congregation did not smell the gas until too late. They were all found slumped to the floor, beards sticking up. They were all over sixty.
Torn Krell, but his was a really nasty case, because he was actually caught with a copy of Lance for Democracy and credentials proving that he was a New Underground messenger, strange thing, too, because everybody had respected him as a good, decent, unimaginative baggageman at a village railroad depot in New Hampshire, was dropped down a well with five feet of water in it, a smooth-sided cement well, and just left there.
Ex-Supreme Court Justice Hoblin of Montana was yanked out of bed late at night and examined for sixty hours straight on a charge that he was in correspondence with Trowbridge. It was said that the chief examiner was a man whom, years before, Judge Hoblin had sentenced for robbery with assault.
In one day Doremus received reports that four, several literary or dramatic societies, Finnish, Chinese, Iowan, and one belonging to a mixed group of miners on the Mesaba Range, Minnesota, had been broken up, their officers beaten, their clubrooms smashed up, and their old pianos wrecked, on the charge that they possessed illegal arms, which, in each case, the members declared to be antiquated pistols used in theatricals. And in that week three people were arrested, in Alabama, Oklahoma, and New Jersey, for the possession of the following subversive books: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie (and fair enough too, because the sister-in-law of a county commissioner in Oklahoma was named Ackroyd); Waiting for Lefty, by Clifford Odets; and February Hill, by Victoria Lincoln.
“But plenty things like this happened before Buzz Windrip ever came in, Doremus,” insisted John Pollikop. (Never till they had met in the delightfully illegal basement had he called Doremus anything save “Mr. Jessup.”) “You never thought about them, because they was just routine news, to stick in your paper. Things like the sharecroppers and the Scottsboro boys and the plots of the California wholesalers against the agricultural union and dictatorship in Cuba and the way phony deputies in Kentucky shot striking miners. And believe me, Doremus, the same reactionary crowd that put over those crimes are just the big boys that are chummy with Windrip. And what scares me is that if Walt Trowbridge ever does raise a kinda uprising and kick Buzz out, the same vultures will get awful patriotic and democratic and parliamentarian along with Walt, and sit in on the spoils just the same.”
“So Karl Pascal did convert you to Communism before he got sent to Trianon,” jeered Doremus.
John Pollikop jumped four straight feet up in the air, or so it looked, and came down screaming, “Communism! Never get ‘em to make a United Front! W’y, that fellow Pascal-he was just a propagandist, and I tell you-I tell you-”
Doremus’s hardest job was the translation of items from the press in Germany, which was most favorable to the Corpos. Sweating, even in the March coolness in Buck’s high basement, Doremus leaned over a kitchen table, ruffling through a German-English lexicon, grunting, tapping his teeth with a pencil, scratching the top of his head, looking like a schoolboy with a little false gray beard, and wailing to Lorinda, “Now how in the heck would you translate ‘Er erhalt noch immer eine zweideutige Stellung den Juden gegenüber’?” She answered, “Why, darling, the only German I know is the phrase that Buck taught me for ‘God bless you’, ‘Verfluchter Schweinehund.”‘
He translated word for word, from the Volkischer Beobachter, and later turned into comprehensible English, this gratifying tribute to his Chief and Inspirer:
“America has a brilliant beginning begun. No one congratulates President Windrip with greater sincerity than we Germans. The tendency points as goal to the founding of a Folkish state. Unfortunately is the President not yet prepared with the liberal tradition to break. He holds still ever a two-meaning attitude the Jews visavis. We can but presume that logically this attitude change must as the movement forced is the complete consequences of its philosophy to draw. Ahasaver the Wandering Jew will always the enemy of a free self-conscious people be, and America will also learn that one even so much with Jewry compromise can as with the Bubonic plague.”
From the New Masses, still published surreptitiously by the Communists, at the risk of their lives, Doremus got many items about miners and factory workers who were near starvation and who were imprisoned if they so much as criticized a straw boss. . . . But most of the New Masses, with a pious smugness unshaken by anything that had happened since 1935, was given over to the latest news about Marx, and to vilifying all agents of the New Underground, including those who had been clubbed and jailed and killed, as “reactionary stool pigeons for Fascism,” and it was all nicely decorated with a Gropper cartoon showing Walt Trowbridge, in MM. uniform, kissing the foot of Windrip.
The news bulletins came to Doremus in a dozen insane ways, carried by messengers on the thinnest of flimsy tissue paper; mailed to Mrs. Henry Veeder and to Daniel Babcock between the pages of catalogues, by an N.O. operative who was a clerk in the mail-order house of Middlebury & Roe; shipped in cartons of toothpaste and cigarettes to Earl Tyson’s drugstore, one clerk there was an N.U. agent; dropped near Buck’s mansion by a tough looking and therefore innocent, looking driver of an interstate furniture-moving truck.
Come by so precariously, the news had none of the obviousness of his days in the office when, in one batch of AP. flimsies, were tidings of so many millions dead of starvation in China, so many statesmen assassinated in central Europe, so many new churches built by kind-hearted Mr. Andrew Mellon, that it was all routine. Now, he was like an eighteenth-century missionary in northern Canada, waiting for the news that would take all spring to travel from Bristol and down Hudson Bay, wondering every instant whether France had declared war, whether Her Majesty had safely given birth.
Doremus realized that he was hearing, all at once, of the battle of Waterloo, the Diaspora, the invention of the telegraph, the discovery of bacilli, and the Crusades, and if it took him ten days to get the news, it would take historians ten decades to appraise it. Would they not envy him, and consider that he had lived in the very crisis of history? Or would they just smile at the flag-waving children of the 1930’s playing at being national heroes? For he believed that these historians would be neither Communists nor Fascists nor bellicose American or English Nationalists but just the sort of smiling Liberals that the warring fanatics of today most cursed as weak waverers.
In all this secret tumult Doremus’s most arduous task was to avoid suspicions that might land him in concentration camp, and to give appearance of being just the harmless old loafer he veritably had been, three weeks ago. Befogged with sleep because he had worked all night at headquarters, he yawned all afternoon in the lobby of the Hotel Wessex and discussed fishing, the picture of a man too discouraged to be a menace.
He dropped now and then, on evenings when there was nothing to do at Buck’s and he could loaf in his study at home and shamefully let himself be quiet and civilized, into renewed longing for the Ivory Tower. Often, not because it was a great poem but because it was the first that, when he had been a boy, had definitely startled him by evoking beauty, he reread Tennyson’s “Arabian Nights”:
A realm of pleasance, many a mound
And many a shadow-chequered lawn
Full of the city’s stilly sound,
And deep myrrh-thickets blowing round
And stately cedar, tamarisks,
Thick rosaries of scented thorn,
Tall orient shrubs, and obelisks
Graven with emblems of the time,
In honor of the golden prime of good Haroun Alraschid.
Awhile then he could wander with Romeo and Jurgen, with Ivanhoe and Lord Peter Wimsey; the Piazza San Marco he saw, and immemorial towers of Bagdad that never were; with Don John of Austria he was going forth to war, and he took the golden road to Samarcand without a visa.
“But Dan Wilgus setting type on proclamations of rebellion, and Buck Titus distributing them at night on a motorcycle, may be as romantic as Xanadu . . . living in a blooming epic, right now, but no Homer come up from the city room yet to write it down!”
Whit Bibby was an ancient and wordless fishmonger, and as ancient appeared his horse, though it was by no means silent, but given to a variety of embarrassing noises. For twenty years his familiar wagon, like the smallest of cabooses, had conveyed mackerel and cod and lake trout and tinned oysters to all the farmsteads in the Beulah Valley. To have suspected Whit Bibby of seditious practices would have been as absurd as to have suspected the horse. Older men remembered that he had once been proud of his father, a captain in the Civil War, and afterward a very drunken failure at farming, but the young fry had forgotten that there ever had been a Civil War.
Unconcealed in the sunshine of the late-March afternoon that touched the worn and ashen snow, Whit jogged up to the farmhouse of Truman Webb. He had left ten orders of fish, just fish, at farms along the way, but at Webb’s he also left, not speaking of it, a bundle of pamphlets wrapped in very fishy newspaper.
By next morning these pamphlets had all been left in the post boxes of farmers beyond Keezmet, a dozen miles away.
Late the next night, Julian Falck drove Dr. Olmsted to the same Truman Webb’s. Now Mr. Webb had an ailing aunt. Up to a fortnight ago she had not needed the doctor often, but as all the countryside could, and decidedly did, learn from listening in on the rural party telephone line, the doctor had to come every three or four days now. “Well, Truman, how’s the old lady?” Dr. Olmsted called cheerily.
From the front stoop Webb answered softly, “Safe! Shoot! I’ve kept a good lookout.”
Julian rapidly slid out, opened the rumble seat of the doctor’s car, and there was the astonishing appearance from the rumble of a tall man in urban morning coat and striped trousers, a broad felt hat under his arm, rising, rubbing himself, groaning with the pain of stretching his cramped body. The doctor said:
“Truman, we’ve got a pretty important Eliza, with the bloodhounds right after him, tonight! Congressman Ingram-Comrade Webb.”
“Huh! Never thought I’d live to be called one of these ‘Comrades.’ But mighty pleased to see you, Congressman. We’ll put you across the border in Canada in two days, we’ve got some paths right through the woods along the border, and there’s some good hot beans waiting for you right now.”
The attic in which Mr. Ingram slept that night, an attic approached by a ladder concealed behind a pile of trunks, was the “underground station” which, in the 1850’s, when Truman’s grandfather was agent, had sheltered seventy-two various black slaves escaping to Canada, and on the wall above Ingram’s weary threatened head was still to be seen, written in charcoal long ago, “Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.”
It was a little after six in the evening, near Tasbrough & Scarlett’s quarries. John Pollikop, with his wrecker car, was towing Buck Titus, in his automobile. They stopped now and then, and John looked at the motor in Buck’s car very ostentatiously, in the sight of M.M. patrols, who ignored so obvious a companionship. They stopped once at the edge of Tasbrough’s deepest pit. Buck strolled about, yawning, while John did some more tinkering. “Right!” snapped Buck. Both of them leaped at the over-large toolbox in the back of John’s car, lifted out each an armful of copies of Vermont Vigilance and hurled them over the edge of the quarry. They scattered in the wind.
Many of them were gathered up and destroyed by Tasbrough’s foremen, next morning, but at least a hundred, in the pockets of quarrymen, were started on their journey through the world of Fort Beulah workmen.
Sissy came into the Jessup dining room wearily rubbing her forehead. “I’ve got the story, Dad. Sister Candy helped me. Now we’ll have something good to send on to other agents. Listen! I’ve been quite chummy with Shad. No! Don’t blow up! I know just how to yank his gun out of his holster if I should ever need to. And he got to boasting, and he told me Frank Tasbrough and Shad and Commissioner Reek were all in together on the racket, selling granite for public buildings, and he told me, you see, he was sort of boasting about how chummy he and Mr. Tasbrough have become, how Mr. Tasbrough keeps all the figures on the graft in a little red notebook in his desk, of course old Franky would never expect anybody to search the house of as loyal a Corpo as him! Well, you know Mrs. Candy’s cousin is working for the Tasbroughs for a while, and damn if-”
“-these two old gals didn’t pinch the lil red notebook this afternoon, and I photographed every page and had ‘em stick it back! And the only comment our Candy makes is, ‘That stove t’ the Tasbroughs’ don’t draw well. Couldn’t bake a decent cake in a stove like that!’“
Mary Greenhill, revenging the murdered Fowler, was the only one of the conspirators who seemed moved more by homicidal hate than by a certain incredulous feeling that it was all a good but slightly absurd game. But to her, hate and the determination to kill were tonic. She soared up from the shadowed pit of grief, and her eyes lighted, her voice had a trembling gayety. She threw away her weeds and came out in defiant colors, oh, they had to economize, these days, to put every available penny into the missionary fund of the New Underground, but Mary had become so fire-drawn that she could wear Sissy’s giddiest old frocks.
She had more daring than Julian, or even Buck, indeed led Buck into his riskiest expeditions.
In mid-afternoon, Buck and Mary, looking very matrimonial, domestically accompanied by David and the rather doubtful Foolish, ambled through the center of Burlington, where none of them were known, though a number of dogs, city slickers and probably con-dogs, insisted to the rustic and embarrassed Foolish that they had met him somewhere.
It was Buck who muttered “Right!” from time to time, when they were free from being observed, but it was Mary who calmly, a yard or two from M.M.’s or policemen, distributed crumpled-up copies of:
A Little Sunday-school Life of
JOHN SULLIVAN REEK
Second-class Political Crook, & Certain Entertaining Pictures of Col. Dewey Haik, Torturer.
These crumpled pamphlets she took from a specially made inside pocket of her mink coat; one reaching from shoulder to waist. It had been recommended by John Pollikop, whose helpful lady had aforetime used just such a pocket for illicit booze. The crumpling had been done carefully. Seen from two yards away, the pamphlets looked like any waste paper, but each was systematically so wadded up that the words, printed in bold red type, “Haik himself kicked an old man to death” caught the eye. And, lying in corner trash baskets, in innocent toy wagons before hardware stores, among oranges in a fruit store where they had gone to buy David a bar of chocolate, they caught some hundreds of eyes in Burlington that day.
On their way home, with David sitting in front beside Buck and Mary in the back, she cried, “That will stir ‘em up! But oh, when Daddy has finished his booklet on Swan-God!”
David peeped back at her. She sat with eyes closed, with hands clenched.
He whispered to Buck, “I wish Mother wouldn’t get so excited.”
“She’s the finest woman living, Dave.”
“I know it, but, She scares me so!”
One scheme Mary devised and carried out by herself. From the magazine counter in Tyson’s drugstore, she stole a dozen copies of the Readers’ Digest and a dozen larger magazines. When she returned them, they looked untouched, but each of the larger magazines contained a leaflet, “Get Ready to Join Walt Trowbridge,” and each Digest had become the cover for a pamphlet: “Lies of the Corpo Press.”
To serve as center of their plot, to be able to answer the telephone and receive fugitives and put off suspicious snoopers twenty-four hours a day, when Buck and the rest might be gone, Lorinda chucked her small remaining interest in the Beulah Valley Tavern and became Buck’s housekeeper, living in the place. There was scandal. But in a day when it was increasingly hard to get enough bread and meat, the town folk had little time to suck scandal like lollipops, and anyway, who could much suspect this nagging uplifter who so obviously preferred tuberculin tests to toying with Corydon in the glade? And as Doremus was always about, as sometimes he stayed overnight, for the first time these timid lovers had space for passion.
It had never been their loyalty to the good Emma, since she was too contented to be pitied, too sure of her necessary position in life to be jealous, so much as hatred of a shabby hole, and corner intrigue which had made their love cautious and grudging. Neither of them was so simple as to suppose that, even with quite decent people, love is always as monogamic as bread and butter, yet neither of them liked sneaking.
Her room at Buck’s, large and square and light, with old landscape paper showing an endlessness of little mandarins daintily stepping out of sedan chairs beside pools laced with willows, with a four-poster, a colonial highboy, and a crazy colored rag carpet, became in two days, so fast did one live now in time of revolution, the best loved home Doremus had ever known. As eagerly as a young bridegroom he popped into and out of her room, and he was not overly particular about the state of her toilet. And Buck knew all about it and just laughed.
Released now, Doremus saw her as physically more alluring. With parochial superiority, he had noted, during vacations on Cape Cod, how often the fluffy women of fashion when they stripped to bathing suits were skinny, to him unwomanly, with thin shoulder blades and with backbones as apparent as though they were chains fastened down their backs. They seemed passionate to him and a little devilish, with their thin restless legs and avid lips, but he chuckled as he considered that the Lorinda whose prim gray suits and blouses seemed so much more virginal than the gay, flaunting summer cottons of the Bright Young Things was softer of skin to the touch, much richer in the curve from shoulder to breast.
He rejoiced to know that she was always there in the house, that he could interrupt the high seriousness of a tract on bond issues to dash out to the kitchen and brazenly let his arm slide round her waist.
She, the theoretically independent feminist, became flatteringly demanding about every attention. Why hadn’t he brought her some candy from town? Wouid he mind awfully calling up Julian for her? Why hadn’t he remembered to bring her the book he had promised, well, would have promised if she had only remembered to ask him for it? He trotted on her errands, idiotically happy. Long ago Emma had reached the limit of her imagination in regard to demands. He was discovering that in love it is really more blessed to give than to receive, a proverb about which, as an employer and as a steady fellow whom forgotten classmates regularly tried to touch for loans, he had been very suspicious.
He lay beside her, in the wide four-poster, at dawn, March dawn with the elm branches outside the window ugly and writhing in the wind, but with the last coals still snapping in the fireplace, and he was utterly content. He glanced at Lorinda, who had on her sleeping face a frown that made her look not older but schoolgirlish, a schoolgirl who was frowning comically over some small woe, and who defiantly clutched her old-fashioned lacebordered pillow. He laughed. They were going to be so adventurous together! This little printing of pamphlets was only the beginning of their revolutionary activities. They would penetrate into press circles in Washington and get secret information (he was drowsily vague about what information they were going to get and how they would ever get it) which would explode the Corpo state.
And with the revolution over, they would go to Bermuda, to Martinique, lovers on purple peaks, by a purple sea, everything purple and grand. Or (and he sighed and became heroic as he exquisitely stretched and yawned in the wide warm bed) if they were defeated, if they were arrested and condemned by the M.M.’s, they would die together, sneering at the firing-squad, refusing to have their eyes bandaged, and their fame, like that of Servetus and Matteotti and Professor Ferrer and the Haymarket martyrs, would roll on forever, acclaimed by children waving little flags
“Gimme a cigarette, darling!”
Lorinda was regarding him with a beady and skeptical eye.
“You oughtn’t to smoke so much!”
“You oughtn’t to boss so much! Oh, my darling!”
She sat up, kissed his eyes and temples, and sturdily climbed out of bed, seeking her own cigarette.
“Doremus! It’s been marvelous to have this companionship with you. But-“ She looked a little timid, sitting cross-legged on the rattan-topped stool before the old mahogany dressing table, no silver or lace or crystal was there, but only plain wooden hairbrush and scant luxury of small drugstore bottles. “But darling, this cause, oh, curse that word ‘cause’, can’t I ever get free of it?, but anyway, this New Underground business seems to me so important, and I know you feel that way too, but I’ve noticed that since we’ve settled down together, two awful sentimentalists, you aren’t so excited about writing your nice venomous attacks, and I’m getting more cautious about going out distributing tracts. I have a foolish idea I have to save my life, for your sake. And I ought to be only thinking about saving my life for the revolution. Don’t you feel that way? Don’t you? Don’t you?”
Doremus swung his legs out of bed, also lighted an unhygienic cigarette, and said grumpily, “Oh, I suppose so! But-tracts! Your attitude is simply a hold-over of your religious training. That you have a duty toward the dull human race, which probably enjoys being bullied by Windrip and getting bread and circuses, except for the bread!”
“Of course it’s religious, a revolutionary loyalty! Why not? it’s one of the few real religious feelings. A rational, unsentimental Stalin is still kind of a priest. No wonder most preachers hate the Reds and preach against ‘em! They’re jealous of their religious power. But-Oh, we can’t unfold the world, this morning, even over breakfast coffee, Doremus! When Mr. Dimick came back here yesterday, he ordered me to Beecher Falls-you know, on the Canadian border-to take charge of the N.U. cell there, ostensibly to open up a tea room for this summer. So, hang it, I’ve got to leave you, and leave Buck and Sis, and go. Hang it!”
She would not look at him. She made much, too much, of grinding out her cigarette.
“You suggested this to Dimick! He never gave any orders till you suggested it!”
“Linda! Linda! Do you want to get away from me so much? You, my life!”
She came slowly to the bed, slowly sat down beside him. “Yes. Get away from you and get away from myself. The world’s in chains, and I can’t be free to love till I help tear them off.”
“It will never be out of chains!”
“Then I shall never be free to love! Oh, if we could only have run away together for one sweet year, when l was eighteen! Then I would have lived two whole lives. Well, nobody seems to be very lucky at turning the clock back, almost twenty-five years back, too. I’m afraid Now is a fact you can’t dodge. And I’ve been getting so, just this last two weeks, with April coming in, that I can’t think of anything but you. Kiss me. I’m going. Today.”
As usually happens in secret service, no one detail that Sissy ferreted out of Shad Ledue was drastically important to the N.U., but, like necessary bits of a picture puzzle, when added to other details picked up by Doremus and Buck and Mary and Father Perefixe, that trained extractor of confessions, they showed up the rather simple schemes of this gang of Corpo racketeers who were so touchingly accepted by the People as patriotic shepherds.
Sissy lounged with Julian on the porch, on a deceptively mild April day.
“Golly, like to take you off camping, couple months from now, Sis. Just the two of us. Canoe and sleep in a pup tent. Oh, Sis, do you have to have supper with Ledue and Staubmeyer tonight? I hate it. God, how I hate it! I warn you, I’ll kill Shad! I mean it!”
“Yes, I do have to, dear. I think I’ve got Shad crazy enough about me so that tonight, when he chases good old Emil, and whatever foul female Emil may bring, out of the place, I’ll get him to tell me something about who they’re planning to pinch next. I’m not scared of Shad, my Julian of jewelians.”
He did not smile. He said, with a gravity that had been unknown to the lively college youth, “Do you realize, with your kidding yourself about being able to handle Comrade Shad so well, that he’s husky as a gorilla and just about as primitive? One of these nights, God! think of it! maybe tonight!, he’ll go right off the deep end and grab you and, bing!”
She was as grave. “Julian, just what do you think could happen to me? The worst that could happen would be that I’d get raped.”
“Do you honestly suppose that since the New Civilization began, say in 1914, anyone believes that kind of thing is more serious than busting an ankle? ‘A fate worse than death’! What nasty old side-whiskered deacon ever invented that phrase? And how he must have rolled it on his chapped old lips! I can think of plenty worse fates, say, years of running an elevator. No-wait! I’m not really flippant. I haven’t any desire, beyond maybe a slight curiosity, to be raped, at least, not by Shad; he’s a little too strong on the Bodily Odor when he gets excited. (Oh God, darling, what a nasty swine that man is! I hate him fifty times as much as you do. Ugh!) But I’d be willing to have even that happen if I could save one decent person from his bloody blackjack. I’m not the playgirl of Pleasant Hill any more; I’m a frightened woman from Mount Terror!”
It seemed, the whole thing, rather unreal to Sissy; a burlesqued version of the old melodramas in which the City Villain tries to ruin Our Nell, apropos of a bottle of Champagne Wine. Shad, even in a belted tweed jacket, a kaleidoscopic Scotch sweater (from Minnesota), and white linen plus-fours, hadn’t the absent-minded seductiveness that becomes a City Slicker.
Ensign Emil Staubmeyer had showed up at Shad’s new private suite at the Star Hotel with a grass widow who betrayed her gold teeth and who had tried to repair the erosions in the fair field of her neck with overmuch topsoil of brick-tinted powder. She was pretty dreadful. She was harder to tolerate than the rumbling Shad, a man for whom the chaplain might even have been a little sorry, after he was safely hanged. The synthetic widow was always nudging herself at Emil and when, rather wearily, he obliged by poking her shoulder, she giggled, “Now you sssstop!”
Shad’s suite was clean, and had some air. Beyond that there was nothing much to say. The “parlor” was firmly furnished in oak chairs and settee with leather upholstery, and four pictures of marquises not doing anything interesting. The freshness of the linen spread on the brass bedstead in the other room fascinated Sissy uncomfortably.
Shad served them rye highballs with ginger ale from a quart bottle that had first been opened at least a day ago, sandwiches with chicken and ham that tasted of niter, and ice cream with six colors but only two flavors, both strawberry. Then he waited, not too patiently, looking as much like General Goring as possible, for Emil and his woman to get the devil out of here, and for Sissy to acknowledge his virile charms. He only grunted at Emil’s pedagogic little jokes, and the man of culture abruptly got up and removed his lady, whinnying in farewell, “Now, Captain, don’t you and your girl-friend do anything Papa wouldn’t do!”
“Come on now, baby-come over here and give us a kiss,” Shad roared, as he flopped into the corner of the leather settee.
“Now I don’t know whether I will or not!” It nauseated her a good deal, but she made herself as pertly provocative as she could. She minced to the settee, and sat just far enough from his hulking side for him to reach over and draw her toward him. She observed him cynically, recalling her experience with most of the Boys . . . though not with Julian . . . well, not so much with Julian. They always, all of them, went through the same procedure, heavily pretending that there was no system in their manual proposals; and to a girl of spirit, the chief diversion in the whole business was watching their smirking pride in their technique. The only variation, ever, was whether they started in at the top or the bottom.
Yes. She thought so. Shad, not being so delicately fanciful as, say, Malcolm Tasbrough, started with an apparently careless hand on her knee.
She shivered. His sinewy paw was to her like the slime and writhing of an eel. She moved away with a maidenly alarm which mocked the role of Mata Hari she had felt herself to be gracing.
“Like me?” he demanded.
“Oh, shucks! You think I’m still just a hired man! Even though I am a County Commissioner now! and a Battalion-Leader! and prob’ly pretty soon I’ll be a Commander!” He spoke the sacred names with awe. It was the twentieth time he had made the same plaint to her in the same words. “And you still think I ain’t good for anything except lugging in kindling!”
“Oh, Shad dear! Why, I always think of you as being just about my oldest playmate! The way I used to tag after you and ask you could I run the lawnmower! My! I always remember that!”
“Do you, honest?” He yearned at her like a lumpish farm dog.
“Of course! And honest, it makes me tired, your acting as if you were ashamed of having worked for us! Why, don’t you know that, when he was a boy, Daddy used to work as a farm hand, and split wood and tend lawn for the neighbors and all that, and he was awful glad to get the money?” She reflected that this thumping and entirely impromptu lie was beautiful. . . . That it happened not to be a lie, she did not know.
“That a fact? Well! Honest? Well! So the old man used to hustle the rake too! Never knew that! You know, he ain’t such a bad old coot, just awful stubborn.”
“You do like him, don’t you, Shad! Nobody knows how sweet he is, I mean, in these sort of complicated days, we’ve got to protect him against people that might not understand him, against outsiders, don’t you think so, Shad? You will protect him!”
“Well, I’ll do what I can,” said the Battalion-Leader with such fat complacency that Sissy almost slapped him. “That is, as long as he behaves himself, baby, and don’t get mixed up with any of these Red rebels . . . and as long as you feel like being nice to a fella!” He pulled her toward him as though he were hauling a bag of grain out of a wagon.
“Oh! Shad! You frighten me! Oh, you must be gentle! A big, strong man like you can afford to be gentle. It’s only the sissies that have to get rough. And you’re so strong!”
“Well, I guess I can still feed myself! Say, talking about sissies, what do you see in a light-waisted mollycoddle like Julian? You don’t really like him, do you?”
“Oh, you know how it is,” she said, trying without too much obviousness to ease her head away from his shoulder. “We’ve always been playmates, since we were kids.”
“Well, you just said I was, too!”
“Yes, that’s so.”
Now in her effort to give all the famous pleasures of seduction without taking any of the risk, the amateur secret-service operative, Sissy, had a slightly confused aim. She was going to get from Shad information valuable to the N.U. Rapidly rehearsing it in her imagination, the while she was supposed to be weakened by the charm of leaning against Shad’s meaty shoulder, she heard herself teasing him into giving her the name of some citizen whom the M.M.’s were about to arrest, slickly freeing herself from him, dashing out to find Julia, oh, hang it, why hadn’t she made an engagement with Julian for that night?, well, he’d either be at home or out driving Dr. Olmsted, Julian’s melodramatically dashing to the home of the destined victim and starting him for the Canadian border before dawn. . . . And it might be a good idea for the refugee to tack on his door a note dated two days ago, saying that he was off on a trip, so that Shad would never suspect her. . . . All this in a second of hectic story-telling, neatly illustrated in color by her fancy, while she pretended that she had to blow her nose and thus had an excuse to sit straight. Edging another inch or two away, she purred, “But of course it isn’t just physical strength, Shad. You have so much power politically. My! I imagine you could send almost anybody in Fort Beulah off to concentration camp, if you wanted to.”
“Well, I could put a few of ‘em away, if they got funny!”
“I’ll bet you could, and will, too! Who you going to arrest next, Shad?”
“Oh come on! Don’t be so tightwad with all your secrets!”
“What are you trying to do, baby? Pump me?”
“Why no, of course not, I just-”
“Sure! You’d like to get the poor old fathead going, and find out everything he knows, and that’s plenty, you can bet your sweet life on that! Nothing doing, baby.”
“Shad, I’d just, I’d just love to see an M.M. squad arresting somebody once. It must be dreadfully exciting!”
“Oh, it’s exciting enough, all right, all right! When the poor chumps try to resist, and you throw their radio out of the window! Or when the fellow’s wife gets fresh and shoots off her mouth too much, and so you just teach her a little lesson by letting her look on while you trip him up on the floor and beat him up, maybe that sounds a little rough, but you see, in the long run it’s the best thing you can do for these beggars, because it teaches ‘em to not get ugly.”
“But, you won’t think I’m horrid and unwomanly, will you?, but I would like to see you hauling out one of those people, just once. Come on, tell a fellow! Who are you going to arrest next?”
“Naughty, naughty! Mustn’t try to kid papa! No, the womanly thing for you to do is a little love-making! Aw come on, let’s have some fun, baby! You know you’re crazy about me!” Now he really seized her, his hand across her breasts. She struggled, thoroughly frightened, no longer cynical and sophisticated. She shrieked, “Oh don’tdon’t!” She wept, real tears, more from anger than from modesty. He loosened his grip a little, and she had the inspiration to sob, “Oh, Shad, if you really want me to love you, you must give me time! You wouldn’t want me to be a hussy that you could do anything you wanted to with, you, in your position? Oh, no, Shad, you couldn’t do that!”
“Well, maybe,” said he, with the smugness of a carp. She had sprung up, dabbling at her eyes, and through the doorway, in the bedroom, on a flat-topped desk, she saw a bunch of two or three Yale keys. Keys to his office, to secret cupboards and drawers with Corpo plans! Undoubtedly! Her imagination in one second pictured her making a rubbing of the keys, getting John Pollikop, that omnifarious mechanic, to file substitute keys, herself and Julian somehow or other sneaking into Corpo headquarters at night, perilously creeping past the guards, rifling Shad’s every dread file. She stammered, “Do you mind if I go in and wash my face? All teary-so silly! You don’t happen to have any face powder in your bathroom?”
“Say, what d’you think I am? A hick, or a monk, maybe? You bet your life I’ve got some face powder, right in the medicine cabinet, two kinds, how’s that for service? Ladies taken care of by the day or hour!”
It hurt, but she managed something like a giggle before she went in and shut the bedroom door, and locked it.
She tore across to the keys. She snatched up a pad of yellow scratch-paper and a pencil, and tried to make a rubbing of a key as once she had made rubbings of coins, for use in the small grocery shop of C. JESSUp & J. falck groSHERS. The pencil blur showed only the general outline of the key; the tiny notches which were the trick would not come clear. In panic, she experimented with a sheet of carbon paper, then toilet paper, dry and wet. She could not get a mold. She pressed the key into a prop hotel candle in a china stick by Shad’s bed. The candle was too hard. So was the bathroom soap. And Shad was now trying the knob of the door, remarking “Damn!” then bellowing, “Whayuh doin’ in there? Gone to sleep?”
“Be right out!” She replaced the keys, threw the yellow paper and the carbon paper out of the window, replaced the candle and soap, slapped her face with a dry towel, dashed on powder as though she were working against time at plastering a wall, and sauntered back into the parlor. Shad looked hopeful. In panic she saw that now, before he comfortably sat down to it and became passionate again, was her one time to escape. She snatched up hat and coat, said wistfully, “Another night, Shad you must let me go now, dear!” and fled before he could open his red muzzle.
Round the corner in the hotel corridor she found Julian.
He was standing taut, trying to look like a watchdog, his right hand in his coat pocket as though it was holding a revolver.
She hurled herself against his bosom and howled. “Good God! What did he do to you? I’ll go in and kill him!”
“Oh, I didn’t get seduced. It isn’t things like that that I’m bawling about! It’s because I’m such a simply terribly awful spy!”
But one thing came out of it.
Her courage nerved Julian to something he had longed for and feared: to join the M.M.’s, put on uniform, “work from within,” and supply Doremus with information.
“I can get Leo Quinn, you know?, Dad’s a conductor on the railroad?, used to play basketball in high school?, I can get him to drive Dr. Olmsted for me, and generally run errands for the N.U. He’s got grit, and he hates the Corpos. But look, Sissy, look, Mr. Jessup, in order to get the M.M.’s to trust me, I’ve got to pretend to have a fierce bust-up with you and all our friends. Look! Sissy and I will walk up Elm Street tomorrow evening, giving an imitation of estranged lovers. How ‘bout it, Sis?”
“Fine!” glowed that incorrigible actress.
She was to be, every evening at eleven, in a birch grove just up Pleasant Hill from the Jessups’, where they had played house as children. Because the road curved, the rendezvous could be entered from four or five directions. There he was to hand on to her his reports of MM. plans.
But when he first crept into the grove at night and she nervously turned her pocket torch on him, she shrieked at seeing him in MM. uniform, as an inspector. That blue tunic and slanting forage cap which, in the cinema and history books, had meant youth and hope, meant only death now. . . . She wondered if in 1864 it had not meant death more than moonlight and magnolias to most women. She sprang to him, holding him as if to protect him against his own uniform, and in the peril and uncertainty now of their love, Sissy began to grow up.
To follow in part 10