“Within a year after the inauguration surprised scientists discovered that whips and handcuffs hurt just as sorely in the clear American air as in the miasmic fogs of Prussia.
All dictators followed the same routine of torture, as if they had all read the same manual of sadistic etiquette. And now, in the humorous, friendly, happy-go-lucky land of Mark Twain, Doremus saw the homicidal maniacs having just as good a time as they had had in central Europe.
Even loyal Corpos began to wonder why the armed forces, army and M.M.’s together, were being so increased. Was a frightened Windrip getting ready to defend himself against a rising of the whole nation? Did he plan to attack all of North and South America and make himself an emperor? Or both?”
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 propaganda throughout the country was not all to the New Underground; not even most of it; and though the pamphleteers for the N.U., at home and exiled abroad, included hundreds of the most capable professional journalists of America, they were cramped by a certain respect for facts which never enfeebled the press agents for Corpoism. And the Corpos had a notable staff. It included college presidents, some of the most renowned among the radio announcers who aforetime had crooned their affection for mouth washes and noninsomniac coffee, famous ex-war-correspondents, exgovernors, former vice-presidents of the American Federation of Labor, and no less an artist than the public relations counsel of a princely corporation of electrical goods manufacturers.
The newspapers everywhere might no longer be so wishily-washily liberal as to print the opinions of nonCorpos; they might give but little news from those old-fashioned and democratic countries, Great Britain, France, and the Scandinavian states; might indeed print almost no foreign news, except as regards the triumphs of Italy in giving Ethiopia good roads, trains on time, freedom from beggars and from men of honor, and all the other spiritual benefactions of Roman civilization.
But, on the other hand, never had newspapers shown so many comic strips, the most popular was a very funny one about a preposterous New Underground crank, who wore mortuary black with a high hat decorated with crépe and who was always being comically beaten up by M.M.’s. Never had there been, even in the days when Mr. Hearst was freeing Cuba, so many large red headlines. Never so many dramatic drawings of murders, the murderers were always notorious anti-Corpos. Never such a wealth of literature, worthy its twenty-four-hour immortality, as the articles proving, and proving by figures, that American wages were universally higher, commodities universally lower-priced, war budgets smaller but the army and its equipment much larger, than ever in history. Never such righteous polemics as the proofs that all nonCorpos were Communists.
Almost daily, Windrip, Sarason, Dr. Macgoblin, Secretary of War Luthorne, or Vice-President Perley Beecroft humbly addressed their Masters, the great General Public, on the radio, and congratulated them on making a new world by their example of American solidarity, marching shoulder to shoulder under the Grand Old Flag, comrades in the blessings of peace and comrades in the joys of war to come.
Much-heralded movies, subsidized by the government (and could there be any better proof of the attention paid by Dr. Macgoblin and the other Nazi leaders to the arts than the fact that movie actors who before the days of the Chief were receiving only fifteen hundred gold dollars a week were now getting five thousand?), showed the M.M.’s driving armored motors at eighty miles an hour, piloting a fleet of one thousand planes, and being very tender to a little girl with a kitten.
Everyone, including Doremus Jessup, had said in 1935, “If there ever is a Fascist dictatorship here, American humor and pioneer independence are so marked that it will be absolutely different from anything in Europe.”
For almost a year after Windrip came in, this seemed true. The Chief was photographed playing poker, in shirtsleeves and with a derby on the back of his head, with a newspaperman, a chauffeur, and a pair of rugged steelworkers. Dr. Macgoblin in person led an Elks’ brass band and dived in competition with the Atlantic City bathing beauties. It was reputably reported that M.M.’s apologized to political prisoners for having to arrest them, and that the prisoners joked amiably with the guards . . . at first.
All that was gone, within a year after the inauguration, and surprised scientists discovered that whips and handcuffs hurt just as sorely in the clear American air as in the miasmic fogs of Prussia.
Doremus, reading the authors he had concealed in the horsehair sofa, the gallant Communist, Karl Billinger, the gallant anti-Communist, Tchernavin, and the gallant neutral, Loran, began to see something like a biology of dictatorships, all dictatorships, The universal apprehension, the timorous denials of faith, the same methods of arrest, sudden pounding on the door late at night, the squad of police pushing in, the blows, the search, the obscene oaths at the frightened women, the third degree by young snipe of officials, the accompanying blows and then the formal beatings, when the prisoner is forced to count the strokes until he faints, the leprous beds and the sour stew, guards jokingly shooting round and round a prisoner who believes he is being executed, the waiting in solitude to know what will happen, till men go mad and hang themselves.
Thus had things gone in Germany, exactly thus in Soviet Russia, in Italy and Hungary and Poland, Spain and Cuba and Japan and China. Not very different had it been under the blessings of liberty and fraternity in the French Revolution. All dictators followed the same routine of torture, as if they had all read the same manual of sadistic etiquette. And now, in the humorous, friendly, happy-go-lucky land of Mark Twain, Doremus saw the homicidal maniacs having just as good a time as they had had in central Europe.
America followed, too, the same ingenious finances as Europe. Windrip had promised to make everybody richer, and had contrived to make everybody, except for a few hundred bankers and industrialists and soldiers, much poorer. He needed no higher mathematicians to produce his financial statements: any ordinary press agent could do them. To show a 100 per cent economy in military expenditures, while increasing the establishment 700 per cent, it had been necessary only to charge up all expenditures for the Minute Men to non-military departments, so that their training in the art of bayonet-sticking was debited to the Department of Education. To show an increase in average wages one did tricks with “categories of labor” and “required minimum wages,” and forgot to state how many workers ever did become entitled to the “minimum,” and how much was charged as wages, on the books, for food and shelter for the millions in the labor camps.
It all made dazzling reading. There had never been more elegant and romantic fiction.
Even loyal Corpos began to wonder why the armed forces, army and M.M.’s together, were being so increased. Was a frightened Windrip getting ready to defend himself against a rising of the whole nation? Did he plan to attack all of North and South America and make himself an emperor? Or both? In any case, the forces were so swollen that even with its despotic power of taxation, the Corpo government never had enough. They began to force exports, to practice the “dumping” of wheat, corn, timber, copper, oil, machinery.
They increased production, forced it by fines and threats, then stripped the farmer of all he had, for export at depreciated prices. But at home the prices were not depreciated but increased, so that the more we exported, the less the industrial worker in America had to eat. And really zealous County Commissioners took from the farmer (after the patriotic manner of many Mid-Western counties in 1918) even his seed grain, so that he could grow no more, and on the very acres where once he had raised superfluous wheat he now starved for bread. And while he was starving, the Commissioners continued to try to make him pay for the Corpo bonds which he had been made to buy on the instalment plan.
But still, when he did finally starve to death, none of these things worried him.
There were bread lines now in Fort Beulah, once or twice a week.
The hardest phenomenon of dictatorship for a Doremus to understand, even when he saw it daily in his own street, was the steady diminution of gayety among the people.
America, like England and Scotland, had never really been a gay nation. Rather it had been heavily and noisily jocular, with a substratum of worry and insecurity, in the image of its patron saint, Lincoln of the rollicking stories and the tragic heart. But at least there had been hearty greetings, man to man; there had been clamorous jazz for dancing, and the lively, slangy catcalls of young people, and the nervous blatting of tremendous traffic.
All that false cheerfulness lessened now, day by day.
The Corpos found nothing more convenient to milk than public pleasures. After the bread had molded, the circuses were closed. There were taxes or increased taxes on motorcars, movies, theaters, dances, and icecream sodas. There was a tax on playing a phonograph or radio in any restaurant. Lee Sarason, himself a bachelor, conceived of super-taxing bachelors and spinsters, and contrariwise of taxing all weddings at which more than five persons were present.
Even the most reckless youngsters went less and less to public entertainments, because no one not ostentatiously in uniform cared to be noticed, these days. It was impossible to sit in a public place without wondering which spies were watching you. So all the world stayed home, and jumped anxiously at every passing footstep, every telephone ring, every tap of an ivy sprig on the window.
The score of people definitely pledged to the New Underground were the only persons to whom Doremus dared talk about anything more incriminating than whether it was likely to rain, though he had been the friendliest gossip in town. Always it had taken ten minutes longer than was humanly possible for him to walk to the Informer office, because he stopped on every corner to ask after someone’s sick wife, politics, potato crop, opinions about Deism, or luck at fishing.
As he read of rebels against the régime who worked in Rome, in Berlin, he envied them. They had thousands of government agents, unknown by sight and thus the more dangerous, to watch them; but also they had thousands of comrades from whom to seek encouragement, exciting personal tattle, shop talk, and the assurance that they were not altogether idiotic to risk their lives for a mistress so ungrateful as Revolution. Those secret flats in great cities, perhaps some of them really were filled with the rosy glow they had in fiction. But the Fort Beulahs, anywhere in the world, were so isolated, the conspirators so uninspiringly familiar one to another, that only by inexplicable faith could one go on.
Now that Lorinda was gone, there certainly was nothing very diverting in sneaking round corners, trying to look like somebody else, merely to meet Buck and Dan Wilgus and that good woman, Sissy!
Buck and he and the rest, they were such amateurs. They needed the guidance of veteran agitators like Mr. Ailey and Mr. Bailey and Mr. Cailey.
Their feeble pamphlets, their smearily printed newspaper, seemed futile against the enormous blare of Corpo propaganda. It seemed worse than futile, it seemed insane, to risk martyrdom in a world where Fascists persecuted Communists, Communists persecuted Social-Democrats, Social-Democrats persecuted everybody who would stand for it; where “Aryans” who looked like Jews persecuted Jews who looked like Aryans and Jews persecuted their debtors; where every statesman and clergyman praised Peace and brightly asserted that the only way to get Peace was to get ready for War.
What conceivable reason could one have for seeking after righteousness in a world which so hated righteousness? Why do anything except eat and read and make love and provide for sleep that should be secure against disturbance by armed policemen?
He never did find any particularly good reason. He simply went on.
In June, when the Fort Beulah cell of the New Underground had been carrying on for some three months, Mr. Francis Tasbrough, the golden quarryman, called on his neighbor, Doremus.
“How are you, Frank?”
“Fine, Remus. How’s the old carping critic?”
“Fine, Frank. Still carping. Fine carping weather, at that. Have a cigar?”
“Thanks. Got a match? Thanks. Saw Sissy yesterday. She looks fine.”
“Yes, she’s fine. I saw Malcolm driving by yesterday. How did he like it in the Provincial University, at New York?”
“Oh, fine-fine. He says the athletics are grand. They’re getting Primo Camera over to coach in tennis next year, I think it’s Carnera, I think it’s tennis, but anyway, the athletics are fine there, Malcolm says. Say, uh, Remus, there’s something I been meaning to ask you. I, uh, The fact is, I want you to be sure and not repeat this to anybody. I know you can be trusted with a secret, even if you are a newspaperman, or used to be, I mean, but, The fact is (and this is inside stuff; official), there’s going to be some governmental promotions all along the line, this is confidential, and it comes to me straight from the Provincial Commissioner, Colonel Haik.
Luthorne is finished as Secretary of War, he’s a nice fellow, but he hasn’t got as much publicity for the Corpos out of his office as the Chief expected him to. Haik is to have his job, and also take over the position of High Marshal of the Minute Men from Lee Sarason, I suppose Sarason has too much to do. Well then, John Sullivan Reek is slated to be Provincial Commissioner; that leaves the office of District Commissioner for Vermont-New Hampshire empty, and I’m one of the people being seriously considered. I’ve done a lot of speaking for the Corpos, and I know Dewey Haik very well, I was able to advise him about erecting public buildings. Of course there’s none of the County Commissioners around here that measure up to a district commissioner ship, not even Dr. Staubmeyer, certainly not Shad Ledue. Now if you could see your way clear to throw in with me, your influence would help-”
“Good heavens, Frank, the worst thing you could have happen, if you want the job, is to have me favor you! The Corpos don’t like me. Oh, of course they know I’m loyal, not one of these dirty, sneaking anti-Corpos, but I never made enough noise in the paper to please ‘em.”
“That’s just it, Remus! I’ve got a really striking idea. Even if they don’t like you, the Corpos respect you, and they know how long you’ve been important in the State. We’d all be greatly pleased if you came out and joined us. Now just suppose you did so and let people know that it was my influence that converted you to Corpoism. That might give me quite a leg-up. And between old friends like us, Remus, I can tell you that this job of District Commissioner would be useful to me in the quarry business, aside from the social advantages. And if I got the position, I can promise you that I’d either get the lnformer taken away from Staubmeyer and that dirty little stinker, Itchitt, and given back to you to run absolutely as you pleased, providing, of course, you had the sense to keep from criticizing the Chief and the State. Or, if you’d rather, I think I could probably wangle a job for you as military judge (they don’t necessarily have to be lawyers) or maybe President Peaseley’s job as District Director of Education, you’d have a lot of fun out of that, awfully amusing the way all the teachers kiss the Director’s foot! Come on, old man! Think of all the fun we used to have in the old days! Come to your senses and face the inevitable and join us and fix up some good publicity for me. How about it, huh, huh?”
Doremus reflected that the worst trial of a revolutionary propagandist was not risking his life, but having to be civil to people like Future Commissioner Tasbrough.
He supposed that his voice was polite as he muttered, “Afraid I’m too old to try it, Frank,” but apparently Tasbrough was offended. He sprang up and tramped away grumbling, “Oh, very well then!”
“And I didn’t give him a chance to say anything about being realistic or breaking eggs to make an omelet,” regretted Doremus.
The next day Malcolm Tasbrough, meeting Sissy on the street, made his beefy most of cutting her. At the time the Jessups thought that was very amusing. They thought the occasion less amusing when Malcolm chased little David out of the Tasbrough apple orchard, which he had been wont to use as the Great Western Forest where at any time one was rather more than likely to meet Kit Carson, Robin Hood, and Colonel Lindbergh hunting together.
Having only Frank’s word for it, Doremus could do no more than hint in Vermont Vigilance that Colonel Dewey Haik was to be made Secretary of War, and give Haik’s actual military record, which included the facts that as a first lieutenant in France in 1918, he had been under fire for less than fifteen minutes, and that his one real triumph had been commanding state militia during a strike in Oregon, when eleven strikers had been shot down, five of them in the back.
Then Doremus forgot Tasbrough completely and happily.
But worse than having to be civil to the fatuous Mr. Tasbrough was keeping his mouth shut when, toward the end of June, a newspaperman at Battington, Vermont, was suddenly arrested as editor of Vermont Vigilance and author of all the pamphlets by Doremus and Lorinda. He went to concentration camp. Buck and Dan Wilgus and Sissy prevented Doremus from confessing, and from even going to call on the victim, and when, with Lorinda no longer there as confidante, Doremus tried to explain it all to Emma, she said, Wasn’t it lucky that the government had blamed somebody else!
Emma had worked out the theory that the N.U. activity was some sort of a naughty game which kept her boy, Doremus, busy after his retirement. He was mildly nagging the Corpos. She wasn’t sure that it was really nice to nag the legal authorities, but still, for a little fellow, her Doremus had always been surprisingly spunky, just like (she often confided to Sissy) a spunky little Scotch terrier she had owned when she was a girl, Mr. McNabbit its name had been, a little Scotch terrier, but my! so spunky he acted like he was a regular lion!
She was rather glad that Lorinda was gone, though she liked Lorinda and worried about how well she might do with a tea room in a new town, a town where she had never lived. But she just couldn’t help feeling (she confided not only to Sissy but to Mary and Buck) that Lorinda, with all her wild crazy ideas about women’s rights, and workmen being just as good as their employers, had a bad influence on Doremus’s tendency to show off and shock people. (She mildly wondered why Buck and Sissy snorted so. She hadn’t meant to say anything particularly funny!)
For too many years she had been used to Doremus’s irregular routine to have her sleep disturbed by his returning from Buck’s at the improper time to which she referred as “at all hours,” but she did wish he would be “more on time for his meals,” and she gave up the question of why, these days, he seemed to like to associate with Ordinary People like John Pollikop, Dan Wilgus, Daniel Babcock, and Pete Vutong, my! some people said Pete couldn’t even read and write, and Doremus so educated and all! Why didn’t he see more of lovely people like Frank Tasbrough and Professor Staubmeyer and Mr. R. C. Crowley and this new friend of his, the Hon. John Sullivan Reek?
Why couldn’t he keep out of politics? She’d always said they were no occupation for a gentleman!
Like David, now ten years old (and like twenty or thirty million other Americans, from one to a hundred, but all of the same mental age), Emma thought the marching M.M.‘s were a very fine show indeed, so much like movies of the Civil War, really quite educational; and while of course if Doremus didn’t care for President Windrip, she was opposed to him also, yet didn’t Mr. Windrip speak beautifully about pure language, church attendance, low taxation, and the American flag?
The realists, the makers of omelets, did climb, as Tasbrough had predicted. Colonel Dewey Haik, Commissioner of the Northeastern Province, became Secretary of War and High Marshal of M.M.’s, while the former secretary, Colonel Luthorne, retired to Kansas and the realestate business and was well spoken of by all business men for being thus willing to give up the grandeur of Washington for duty toward practical affairs and his family, who were throughout the press depicted as having frequently missed him. It was rumored in N.U. cells that Haik might go higher even than Secretary of War; that Windrip was worried by the forced growth of a certain effeminacy in Lee Sarason under the arc light of glory.
Francis Tasbrough was elevated to District Commissionership at Hanover. But Mr. Sullivan Reek did not in series go on to be Provincial Commissioner. It was said that he had too many friends among just the oldline politicians whose jobs the Corpos were so enthusiastically taking. No, the new Provincial Commissioner, Viceroy and general, was Military Judge Effingham Swan, the one man whom Mary Jessup Greenhill hated more than she did Shad Ledue.
Swan was a splendid commissioner. Within three days after taking office, he had John Sullivan Reek and seven assistant district commissioners arrested, tried, and imprisoned, all within twenty-four hours, and an eighty year old woman, mother of a New Underground agent but not otherwise accused of wickedness, penned in a concentration camp for the more desperate traitors. It was in a disused quarry which was always a foot deep in water. After he had sentenced her, Swan was said to have bowed to her most courteously.
The New Underground sent out warning, from headquarters in Montreal, for a general tightening up of precautions against being caught distributing propaganda. Agents were disappearing rather alarmingly.
Buck scoffed, but Doremus was nervous. He noticed that the same strange man, ostensibly a drummer, a large man with unpleasant eyes, had twice got into conversation with him in the Hotel Wessex lobby, and too obviously hinted that he was anti-Corpo and would love to have Doremus say something nasty about the Chief and the M.M.’s.
Doremus became cautious about going out to Buck’s. He parked his car in half-a-dozen different wood roads and crept afoot to the secret basement.
On the evening of the twenty-eighth of June, 1938, he had a notion that he was being followed, so closely did a car with red-tinted headlights, anxiously watched in his rear-view mirror, stick behind him as he took the Keezmet highway down to Buck’s. He turned up a side road, down another. The spy car followed. He stopped, in a driveway on the left-hand side of the road, and angrily stepped out, in time to see the other car pass, with a man who looked like Shad Ledue driving. He swung round then and, without concealment, bolted for Buck’s.
In the basement, Buck was contentedly tying up bundles of the Vigilance, while Father Perefixe, in his shirtsleeves, vest open and black dickey swinging beneath his reversed collar, sat at a plain pine table, writing a warning to New England Catholics that though the Corpos had, unlike the Nazis in Germany, been shrewd enough to flatter prelates, they had lowered the wages of French-Canadian Catholic mill hands and imprisoned their leaders just as severely as in the case of the avowedly wicked Protestants.
Perefixe smiled up at Doremus, stretched, lighted a pipe, and chuckled, “As a great ecclesiast, Doremus, is it your opinion that I shall be committing a venial or a mortal sin by publishing this little masterpiece, the work of my favorite author, without the Bishop’s imprimatur?”
“Stephen! Buck! I think they’re on to us! Maybe we’ve got to fold up already and get the press and type out of here!” He told of being shadowed. He telephoned to Julian, at M.M. headquarters, and (since there were too many French-Canadian inspectors about for him to dare to use his brand of French) he telephoned in the fine new German he had been learning by translation:
“Denks du ihr Freunds dere haben a ldee die letzt Tag von vot ve mach here?”
And the college-bred Julian had so much international culture as to be able to answer: “Ja, Ich mein ihr vos sachen morning free. Look owid!”
How could they move? Where?
Dan Wilgus arrived, in panic, an hour after. “Say! They’re watching us!” Doremus, Buck, and the priest gathered round the black viking of a man. “Just now when I came in I thought I heard something in the bushes, here in the yard, near the house, and before I thought, I flashed my torch on him, and by golly if it wasn’t Aras Dilley, and not in uniform, and you know how Aras loves his God, excuse me, Father, how he loves his uniform. He was disguised! Sure! In overalls! Looked like a jackass that’s gone under a clothes-line! Well, he’d been rubbering at the house. Course these curtains are drawn, but I don’t know what he saw and-”
The three large men looked to Doremus for orders. “We got to get all this stuff out of here! Quick! Take it and hide it in Truman Webb’s attic. Stephen: get John Pollikop and Mungo Kitterick and Pete Vutong on the phone, get ‘em here, quick, tell John to stop by and tell Julian to come as soon as he can. Dan: start dismantling the press. Buck: bundle up all the literature.” As he spoke, Doremus was wrapping type in scraps of newspaper. And at three next morning, before light, Pollikop was driving toward Truman Webb’s farmhouse with the entire equipment of the New Underground printing establishment, in Buck’s old farm truck, from which blatted, for the benefit of all ears that might be concerned, two frightened calves.
Next day Julian ventured to invite his superior officers, Shad Ledue and Emil Staubmeyer, to a poker session at Buck’s. They came, with alacrity. They found Buck, Doremus, Mungo Kitterick, and Doc Itchitt, the last an entirely innocent participant in certain deceptions.
They played in Buck’s parlor. But during the evening Buck announced that anyone wanting beer instead of whisky would find it in a tub of ice in the basement, and that anyone wishing to wash his hands would find two bathrooms upstairs.
Shad hastily went for beer. Doc Itchitt even more hastily went to wash his hands. Both of them were gone much longer than one would have expected.
When the party broke up and Buck and Doremus were alone, Buck shrieked with bucolic mirth: “I could scarcely keep a straight face when I heard good old Shad opening the cupboards and taking a fine long look see for pamphlets down in the basement. Well, Cap’n Jessup, that about ends their suspicion of this place as a den of traitors, I guess! God, but isn’t Shad dumb!”
This was at perhaps 3 AM. on the morning of June thirtieth.
Doremus stayed home, writing sedition, all the afternoon and evening of the thirtieth, hiding the sheets under pages of newspaper in the Franklin stove in his study, so that he could touch them off with a match in case of a raid, a trick he had learned from Karl Billinger’s anti Nazi Fatherland.
This new opus was devoted to murders ordered by Commissioner Effingham Swan.
On the first and second of July, when he sauntered uptown, he was rather noticeably encountered by the same weighty drummer who had picked him up in the Hotel Wessex lobby before, and who now insisted on their having a drink together. Doremus escaped, and was conscious that he was being followed by an unknown young man, flamboyant in an apricot colored polo shirt and gray bags, whom he recognized as having worn M.M. uniform at a parade in June. On July third, rather panicky, Doremus drove to Truman Webb’s, taking an hour of zigzagging to do it, and warned Truman not to permit any more printing till he should have a release.
When Doremus went home, Sissy lightly informed him that Shad had insisted she go out to an M.M. picnic with him on the next afternoon, the Fourth, and that, information or no, she had refused. She was afraid of him, surrounded by his ready playmates.
That night of the third, Doremus slept only in sick spasms. He was reasonlessly convinced that he would be arrested before dawn. The night was overcast and electric and uneasy. The crickets sounded as though they were piping under compulsion, in a rhythm of terror. He lay throbbing to their sound. He wanted to flee, but how and where, and how could he leave his threatened family? For the first time in years he wished that he were sleeping beside the unperturbable Emma, beside her small earthy hillock of body. He laughed at himself. What could Emma do to protect him against Minute Men? Just scream! And what then? But he, who always slept with his door shut, to protect his sacred aloneness, popped out of bed to open the door, that he might have the comfort of hearing her breathe, and the fiercer Mary stir in slumber, and Sissy’s occasional young whimper.
He was awakened before dawn by early firecrackers. He heard the tramping of feet. He lay taut. Then he awoke again, at seven-thirty, and was slightly angry that nothing happened.
The M.M.’s brought out their burnished helmets and all the rideable horses in the neighborhood, some of them known as most superior plow-horses, for the great celebration of the New Freedom on the morning of Fourth of July. There was no post of the American Legion in the jaunty parade. That organization had been completely suppressed, and a number of American Legion leaders had been shot. Others had tactfully taken posts in the MM. itself.
The troops, in hollow square, with the ordinary citizenry humbly jammed in behind them and the Jessup family rather hoity-toity on the outskirts, were addressed by Ex-Governor Isham Hubbard, a fine ruddy old rooster who could say “Cock-a-doodle-do” with more profundity than any fowl since AEsop. He announced that the Chief had extraordinary resemblances to Washington, Jefferson, and William B. McKinley, and to Napoleon on his better days.
The trumpets blew, the M.M.’s gallantly marched off nowhere in particular, and Doremus went home, feeling much better after his laugh. Following noon dinner, since it was raining, he proposed a game of contract to Emma, Mary, and Sissy, with Mrs. Candy as volunteer umpire. But the thunder of the hill country disquieted him. Whenever he was dummy, he ambled to a window. The rain ceased; the sun came out for a false, hesitating moment, and the wet grass looked unreal. Clouds with torn bottoms, like the hem of a ragged skirt, were driven down the valley, cutting off the bulk of Mount Faithful; the sun went out as in a mammoth catastrophe; and instantly the world was in unholy darkness, which poured into the room.
“Why, it’s quite dark, isn’t it! Sissy, turn on the lights,” said Emma.
The rain attacked again, in a crash, and to Doremus, looking out, the whole knowable world seemed washed out. Through the deluge he saw a huge car flash, the great wheels throwing up fountains. “Wonder what make of car that is? Must be a sixteen-cylinder Cadillac, I guess,” reflected Doremus. The car swerved into his own gateway, almost knocking down a gatepost, and stopped with a jar at his porch. From it leaped five Minute Men, black waterproof capes over their uniforms. Before he could quite get through the reflection that he recognized none of them, they were there in the room. The leader, an ensign (and most certainly Doremus did not recognize him) marched up to Doremus, looked at him casually, and struck him full in the face.
Except for the one light pink of the bayonet when he had been arrested before, except for an occasional toothache or headache, or a smart when he had banged a fingernail, Doremus Jessup had not for thirty years known authentic pain. It was as incredible as it was horrifying, this torture in his eyes and nose and crushed mouth. He stood bent, gasping, and the Ensign again smashed his face, and observed, “You are under arrest.”
Mary had launched herself on the Ensign, was hitting at him with a china ash tray. Two M.M.’s dragged her off, threw her on the couch, and one of them pinned her there. The other two guards were bulking over the paralyzed Emma, the galvanized Sissy.
Doremus vomited suddenly and collapsed, as though he were dead drunk.
He was conscious that the five M.M.’s were yanking the books from the shelves and hurling them on the floor, so that the covers split, and with their pistol butts smashing vases and lamp shades and small occasional tables. One of them tattooed a rough MM on the white paneling above the fireplace with shots from his automatic.
The Ensign said only, “Careful, Jim,” and kissed the hysterical Sissy.
Doremus struggled to get up. An M.M. kicked him in the elbow. It felt like death itself, and Doremus writhed on the floor. He heard them tramping upstairs. He remembered then that his manuscript about the murders by Provincial Commissioner Effingham Swan was hidden in the Franklin stove in his study.
The sound of their smashing of furniture in the bedrooms on the second floor was like that of a dozen woodchoppers gone mad.
In all his agony, Doremus struggled to get up, to set fire to the papers in the stove before they should be found. He tried to look at his women. He could make out Mary, tied to the couch. (When had that ever happened?) But his vision was too blurred, his mind too bruised, to see anything clearly. Staggering, sometimes creeping on his hands and knees, he did actually get past the men in the bedrooms and up the stairs to the third floor and his study.
He was in time to see the Ensign throwing his bestbeloved books and his letter files, accumulated these twenty years, out of the study window, to see him search the papers in the Franklin stove, look up with cheerful triumph and cackle, “Nice piece you’ve written here, I guess, Jessup. Commissioner Swan will love to see it!”
“I demand-see-Commissioner Ledue-Dist’ Commissioner Tasbrough-friends of mine,” stammered Doremus.
“Don’t know a thing about them. I’m running this show,” the Ensign chuckled, and slapped Doremus, not very painfully, merely with a shamefulness as great as Doremus’s when he realized that he had been so cowardly as to appeal to Shad and Francis. He did not open his mouth again, did not whimper nor even amuse the troopers by vainly appealing on behalf of the women, as he was hustled down two flights of stairs-they threw him down the lower flight and he landed on his raw shoulder -and out to the big car.
The M.M. driver, who had been waiting behind the wheel, already had the engine running. The car whined away, threatening every instant to skid. But the Doremus who had been queasy about skidding did not notice. What could he do about it, anyway? He was helpless between two troopers in the back seat, and his powerlessness to make the driver slow up seemed part of all his powerlessness before the dictator’s power . . . he who had always so taken it for granted that in his dignity and social security he was just slightly superior to laws and judges and policemen, to all the risks and pain of ordinary workers.
He was unloaded, like a balky mule, at the jail entrance of the courthouse. He resolved that when he was led before Shad he would so rebuke the scoundrel that he would not forget it. But Doremus was not taken into the courthouse. He was kicked toward a large, black-painted, unlettered truck by the entrance, literally kicked, while even in his bewildered anguish he speculated, “I wonder which is worse?, the physical pain of being kicked, or the mental humiliation of being turned into a slave? Hell! Don’t be sophistical! It’s the pain in the behind that hurts most!”
He was hiked up a stepladder into the back of the truck.
From the unlighted interior a moan, “My God, not you too, Dormouse!” It was the voice of Buck Titus, and with him as prisoners were Truman Webb and Dan Wilgus. Dan was in handcuffs, because he had fought so.
The four men were too sore to talk much as they felt the truck lurch away and they were thrown against one another. Once Doremus spoke truthfully, “I don’t know how to tell you how ghastly sorry I am to have got you into this!” and once he lied, when Buck groaned, “Did those . . . hurt the girls?”
They must have ridden for three hours. Doremus was in such a coma of suffering that even though his back winced as it bounced against the rough floor and his face was all one neuralgia, he drowsed and woke to terror, drowsed and woke, drowsed and woke to his own helpless wailing.
The truck stopped. The doors were opened on lights thick among white brick buildings. He hazily saw that they were on the one-time Dartmouth campus, headquarters now of the Corpo District Commissioner.
That commissioner was his old acquaintance Francis Tasbrough! He would be released! They would be freed, all four!
The incredulity of his humiliation cleared away. He came out of his sick fear like a shipwrecked man sighting an approaching boat.
But he did not see Tasbrough. The M.M.’s, silent save for mechanical cursing, drove him into a hallway, into a cell which had once been part of a sedate classroom, left him with a final clout on the head. He dropped on a wooden pallet with a straw pillow and was instantly asleep. He was too dazed, he who usually looked recordingly at places, to note then or afterward what his cell was like, except that it appeared to be filled with sulphuric fumes from a locomotive engine.
When he came to, his face seemed frozen stiff. His coat was torn, and foul with the smell of vomit. He felt degraded, as though he had done something shameful. His door was violently opened, a dirt-clotted bowl of feeble coffee, with a crust of bread faintly smeared with oleomargarine, was thrust at him, and after he had given them up, nauseated, he was marched out into the corridor, by two guards, just as he wanted to go to the toilet. Even that he could forget in the paralysis of fear. One guard seized him by the trim small beard and yanked it, laughing very much. “Always did want to see whether a billygoat whisker would pull out or not!” snickered the guard. While he was thus tormented, Doremus received a crack behind his ear from the other man, and a scolding command, “Come on, goat! Want us to milk you? You dirty little so-and-so! What you in for? You look like a little Kike tailor, you little –”
“Him?” the other scoffed. “Naw! He’s some kind of a half-eared hick newspaper editor, they’ll sure shoot him, sedition, but I hope they’ll beat hell out of him first for being such a bum editor.”
“Him? An editor? Say! Listen! I got a swell idea. Hey! Fellas!” Four or five other M.M.’s, half dressed, looked out from a room down the hall. “This here is a writing-fellow! I’m going to make him show us how he writes! Lookit!”
The guard dashed down the corridor to a door with the sign “Gents” hung out in front of it, came back with paper, not clean, threw it in front of Doremus, and yammered, “Come on, boss. Show us how you write your pieces! Come on, write us a piece, with your nose!” He was iron-strong. He pressed Doremus’s nose down against the filthy paper and held it there, while his mates giggled. They were interrupted by an officer, commanding, though leniently, “Come on, boys, cut out the monkeyshines and take this. . . to the bull pen. Trial this morning.”
Doremus was led to a dirty room in which half-a-dozen prisoners were waiting. One of them was Buck Titus. Over one eye Buck had a slatternly bandage which had so loosened as to show that his forehead was cut to the bone. Buck managed to wink jovially. Doremus tried, vainly, to keep from sobbing.
He waited an hour, standing, arms tight at his side, at the demands of an ugly-faced guard, snapping a dog whip with which he twice slashed Doremus when his hands fell lax.
Buck was led into the trial room just before him. The door was closed. Doremus heard Buck cry out terribly, as though he had been wounded to death. The cry faded into a choked gasping. When Buck was led out of the inner room, his face was as dirty and as pale as his bandage, over which blood was now creeping. The man at the door of the inner room jerked his thumb sharply at Doremus, and snarled, “You’re next!”
Now he would face Tasbrough!
But in the small room into which he had been taken, and he was confused, because somehow he had expected a large courtroom, there was only the Ensign who had arrested him yesterday, sitting at a table, running through papers, while a stolid M.M. stood on either side of him, rigid, hand on pistol holster.
The Ensign kept him waiting, then snapped with disheartening suddenness, “Your name!”
“You know it!”
The two guards beside Doremus each hit him.
“You’re a Communist!”
“No I’m not!”
“Twenty-five lashes, and the oil.”
Not believing, not understanding, Doremus was rushed across the room, into a cellar beyond. A long wooden table there was dark with dry blood, stank with dry blood. The guards seized Doremus, sharply jerked his head back, pried open his jaws, and poured in a quart of castor oil. They tore off his garments above the belt, flung them on the sticky floor. They threw him face downward on the long table and began to lash him with a one-piece steel fishing rod. Each stroke cut into the flesh of his back, and they beat him slowly, relishing it, to keep him from fainting too quickly. But he was unconscious when, to the guards’ great diversion, the castor oil took effect. Indeed he did not know it till he found himself limp on a messy piece of gunnysacking on the floor of his cell.
They awakened him twice during the night to demand, “You’re a Communist, heh? You better admit it! We’re going to beat the living tar out of you till you do!”
Though he was sicker than he had ever been in his life, yet he was also angrier; too angry to admit anything whatever, even to save his wrecked life. He simply snarled “No.” But on the third beating he savagely wondered if “No” was now a truthful answer. After each questioning he was pounded again with fists, but not lashed with the steel rod, because the headquarters doctor had forbidden it.
He was a sporty looking young doctor in plus-fours. He yawned at the guards, in the blood-reeking cellar, “Better cut out the lashes or this will pass out on you.” Doremus raised his head from the table to gasp, “You call yourself a doctor, and you associate with these murderers?”
“Oh, shut up, you little —! Dirty traitors like you deserve to be beaten to death, and maybe you will be, but I think the boys ought to save you for the trial!” The doctor showed his scientific mettle by twisting Doremus’s ear till it felt as though it were torn off, chuckled, “Go to it, boys,” and ambled away, ostentatiously humming.
For three nights he was questioned and lashed, once late at night, by guards who complained of the inhuman callousness of their officers in making them work so late. They amused themselves by using an old harness strap, with a buckle on it, to beat him.
He almost broke down when the examining Ensign declared that Buck Titus had confessed their illegal propaganda, and narrated so many details of the work that Doremus could almost have believed in the confession. He did not listen. He told himself, “No! Buck would die before he’d confess anything. It’s all Aras Dilley’s spying.”
The Ensign cooed, “Now if you’ll just have the sense to copy your friend Titus and tell us who’s in the conspiracy besides him and you and Wilgus and Webb, we’ll let you go. We know, all right oh, we know the whole plot!, but we just want to find out whether you’ve finally come to your senses and been converted, my little friend. Now who else was there? Just give us their names. We’ll let you go. Or would you like the castor oil and the whip again?”
Doremus did not answer. “Ten lashes,” said the Ensign.
He was chased out for half an hour’s walk on the campus every afternoon-probably because he would have preferred lying on his hard cot, trying to keep still enough so that his heart would stop its deathly hammering. Half a hundred prisoners marched there, round and round senselessly. He passed Buck Titus. To salute him would have meant a blow from the guards. They greeted each other with quick eyelids, and when he saw those untroubled spaniel eyes, Doremus knew that Buck had not squealed.
And in the exercise yard he saw Dan Wilgus, but Dan was not walking free; he was led out from the torture rooms by guards, and with his crushed nose, his flattened ear, he looked as though he had been pounded by a prizefighter. He seemed partly paralyzed. Doremus tried to get information about Dan from a guard in his cell corridor. The guard a handsome, clear-cheeked young man, noted in a valley of the White Mountains as a local beau, and very kind to his mother, laughed, “Oh, your friend Wilgus? That chump thinks he can lick his weight in Wildcats. I hear he always tries to soak the guards. They’ll take that out of him, all right!”
Doremus thought, that night, he could not be sure, but he thought he heard Dan wailing, half the night. Next morning he was told that Dan, who had always been so disgusted when he had had to set up the news of a weakling’s suicide, had hanged himself in his cell.
Then, unexpectedly, Doremus was taken into a room, this time reasonably large, a former English classroom turned into a court, for his trial.
But it was not District Commissioner Francis Tasbrough who was on the bench, nor any Military Judge, but no less a Protector of the People than the great new Provincial Commissioner, Effingham Swan.
Swan was looking at Doremus’s article about him as Doremus was led up to stand before the bench. He spoke, and this harsh, tired-looking man was no longer the airy Rhodes Scholar who had sported with Doremus once like a boy pulling the wings off flies.
“Jessup, do you plead guilty to seditious activities?”
“Why-“ Doremus looked helplessly about for something in the way of legal counsel.
“Commissioner Tasbrough!” called Swan.
So at last Doremus did see his boyhood playmate. Tasbrough did nothing so commendable as to avoid Doremus’s eyes. Indeed he looked at Doremus directly, and most affably, as he spoke his piece:
“Your Excellency, it gives me great pain to have to expose this man, Jessup, whom I have known all my life, and tried to help, but he always was a smart-Aleck, he was a laughing-stock in Fort Beulah for the way he tried to show off as a great political leader, and when the Chief was elected, he was angry because he didn’t get any political office, and he went about everywhere trying to disaffect people, I have heard him do so myself.”
“That’s enough. Thanks. County Commissioner Ledue . . . Captain Ledue, is it or is it not true that the man Jessup tried to persuade you to join a violent plot against my person?”
But Shad did not look at Doremus as he mumbled, “It’s true.”
Swan crackled, “Gentlemen, I think that that, plus the evidence contained in the prisoner’s own manuscript, which I hold here, is sufficient testimony. Prisoner, if it weren’t for your age and your damn silly senile weakness, I’d sentence you to a hundred lashes, as I do all the other Communists like you that threaten the Corporate State. As it is, I sentence you to be held in concentration camp, at the will of the Court, but with a minimum sentence of seventeen years.” Doremus calculated rapidly. He was sixty-two now. He would be seventy-nine then. He never would see freedom again. “And, in the power of issuing emergency decrees, conferred upon me as Provincial Commissioner, I also sentence you to death by shooting, but I suspend that sentence, though only until such time as you may be caught trying to escape! And I hope you’ll have just lots and lots of time in prison, Jessup, to think about how clever you were in this entrancing article you wrote about me! And to remember that any nasty cold morning they may take you out in the rain and shoot you.” He ended with a mild suggestion to the guards: “And twenty lashes!”
Two minutes later they had forced castor oil down him; he lay trying to bite at the stained wood of the whipping table; and he could hear the whish of the steel fishing rod as a guard playfully tried it out in the air before bringing it down across the crisscross wounds of his raw back.
To follow in part 11