IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE
In the little towns, ah, there is the abiding peace that I love, and that can never be disturbed by even the noisiest Smart Alecks from these haughty megalopolises like Washington, New York, & etc.
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Doremus’s policy of “wait and see,” like most Fabian policies, had grown shaky. It seemed particularly shaky in June, 1937, when he drove to North Beulah for the fortieth graduation anniversary of his class in Isaiah College.
As the custom was, the returned alumni wore comic costumes. His class had sailor suits, but they walked about, bald-headed and lugubrious, in these well-meant garments of joy, and there was a look of instability even in the eyes of the three members who were ardent Corpos (being local Corpo commissioners).
After the first hour Doremus saw little of his classmates. He had looked up his familiar correspondent, Victor Loveland, teacher in the classical department who, a year ago, had informed him of President Owen J. Peaseley’s ban on criticism of military training.
At its best, Loveland’s jerry-built imitation of an Anne Hathaway cottage had been no palace—Isaiah assistant professors did not customarily rent palaces. Now, with the pretentiously smart living room heaped with burlap-covered chairs and rolled rugs and boxes of books, it looked like a junkshop. Amid the wreckage sat Loveland, his wife, his three children, and one Dr. Arnold King, experimenter in chemistry.
“What’s all this?” said Doremus.
“I’ve been fired. As too ‘radical,’” growled Loveland.
“Yes! And his most vicious attack has been on Glicknow’s treatment of the use of the aorist in Hesiod!” wailed his wife.
“Well, I deserve it—for not having been vicious about anything since A.D. 300! Only thing I’m ashamed of is that they’re not firing me for having taught my students that the Corpos have taken most of their ideas from Tiberius, or maybe for having decently tried to assassinate District Commissioner Reek!” said Loveland.
“Where you going?” inquired Doremus.
“That’s just it! We don’t know! Oh, first to my dad’s house— which is a six-room packing-box in Burlington—Dad’s got diabetes. But teaching—President Peaseley kept putting off signing my new contract and just informed me ten days ago that I’m through—much too late to get a job for next year. Myself, I don’t care a damn! Really I don’t! I’m glad to have been made to admit that as a college prof I haven’t been, as I so liked to convince myself, any Erasmus Junior, inspiring noble young souls to dream of chaste classic beauty—save the mark!—but just a plain hired man, another counter-jumper in the Marked-down Classics Goods Department, with students for bored customers, and as subject to being hired and fired as any janitor. Do you remember that in Imperial Rome, the teachers, even the tutors of the nobility, were slaves—allowed a lot of leeway, I suppose, in their theories about the anthropology of Crete, but just as likely to be strangled as the other slaves! I’m not kicking—”
Dr. King, the chemist, interrupted with a whoop: “Sure you’re kicking! Why the hell not? With three kids? Why NOT kick! Now me, I’m lucky! I’m half Jew—one of these sneaking, cunning Jews that Buzz Windrip and his boyfriend Hitler tell you about; so cunning I suspected what was going on months ago and so—I’ve also just been fired, Mr. Jessup—I arranged for a job with the Universal Electric Corporation. . . . They don’t mind Jews there, as long as they sing at their work and find boondoggles worth a million a year to the company—at thirty-five hundred a year salary! A fond farewell to all my grubby studes! Though—” and Doremus thought he was, at heart, sadder than Loveland—“I do kind of hate to give up my research. Oh, hell with ’em!”
The version of Owen J. Peaseley, M.A. (Oberlin), LL.D. (Conn. State), president of Isaiah College, was quite different.
“Why no, Mr. Jessup! We believe absolutely in freedom of speech and thought, here at old Isaiah. The fact is that we are letting Loveland go only because the Classics Department is overstaffed—so little demand for Greek and Sanskrit and so on, you know, with all this modern interest in quantitative bio-physics and aeroplane-repairing and so on. But as to Dr. King—um—I’m afraid we did a little feel that he was riding for a fall, boasting about being a Jew and all, you know, and—But can’t we talk of pleasanter subjects? You have probably learned that Secretary of Culture Macgoblin has now completed his plan for the appointment of a director of education in each province and district?—and that Professor Almeric Trout of Aumbry University is slated for Director in our Northeastern Province? Well, I have something very gratifying to add. Dr. Trout—and what a profound scholar, what an eloquent orator he is!—did you know that in Teutonic ‘Almeric’ means ‘noble prince’?—and he’s been so kind as to designate me as Director of Education for the Vermont–New Hampshire District! Isn’t that thrilling! I wanted you to be one of the first to hear it, Mr. Jessup, because of course one of the chief jobs of the Director will be to work with and through the newspaper editors in the great task of spreading correct Corporate ideals and combating false theories—yes, oh yes.”
It seemed as though a large number of people were zealous to work with and through the editors these days, thought Doremus.
He noticed that President Peaseley resembled a dummy made of faded gray flannel of a quality intended for petticoats in an orphan asylum.
The Minute Men’s organization was less favored in the staid villages than in the industrial centers, but all through the summer it was known that a company of M.M.‘s had been formed in Fort Beulah and were drilling in the Armory under National Guard officers and County Commissioner Ledue, who was seen sitting up nights in his luxurious new room in Mrs. Ingot’s boarding-house, reading a manual of arms. But Doremus declined to go look at them, and when his rustic but ambitious reporter, “Doc” (otherwise Otis) Itchitt, came in throbbing about the M.M.‘s and wanted to run an illustrated account in the Saturday Informer, Doremus sniffed.
It was not till their first public parade, in August, that Doremus saw them, and not gladly.
The whole countryside had turned out; he could hear them laughing and shuffling beneath his office window; but he stubbornly stuck to editing an article on fertilizers for cherry orchards. (And he loved parades, childishly!) Not even the sound of a band pounding out “Boola, Boola” drew him to the window. Then he was plucked up by Dan Wilgus, the veteran job compositor and head of the Informer chapel, a man tall as a house and possessed of such a sweeping black mustache as had not otherwise been seen since the passing of the old-time bartender. “You got to take a look, Boss; great show!” implored Dan.
Through the Chester–Arthur, red-brick prissiness of President Street, Doremus saw marching a surprisingly well-drilled company of young men in the uniforms of Civil War cavalrymen, and just as they were opposite the Informer office, the town band rollicked into “Marching through Georgia.” The young men smiled, they stepped more quickly, and held up their banner with the steering wheel and M.M. upon it.
When he was ten, Doremus had seen in this self-same street a Memorial Day parade of the G.A.R. The veterans were an average of under fifty then, and some of them only thirty-five; they had swung ahead lightly and gayly—and to the tune of “Marching through Georgia.” So now in 1937 he was looking down again on the veterans of Gettysburg and Missionary Ridge. Oh—he could see them all— Uncle Tom Veeder, who had made him the willow whistles; old Mr. Crowley with his cornflower eyes; Jack Greenhill who played leapfrog with the kids and who was to die in Ethan Creek—They found him with thick hair dripping. Doremus thrilled to the M.M. flags, the music, the valiant young men, even while he hated all they marched for, and hated the Shad Ledue whom he incredulously recognized in the brawny horseman at the head of the procession.
He understood now why the young men marched to war. But “Oh yeh— you THINK so!” he could hear Shad sneering through the music.
The unwieldy humor characteristic of American politicians persisted even through the eruption. Doremus read about and sardonically “played up” in the Informer a minstrel show given at the National Convention of Boosters’ Clubs at Atlantic City, late in August. As end-men and interlocutor appeared no less distinguished persons than Secretary of the Treasury Webster R. Skittle, Secretary of War Luthorne, and Secretary of Education and Public Relations, Dr. Macgoblin. It was good, old-time Elks Club humor, uncorroded by any of the notions of dignity and of international obligations which, despite his great services, that queer stick Lee Sarason was suspected of trying to introduce. Why (marveled the Boosters) the Big Boys were so democratic that they even kidded themselves and the Corpos, that’s how unassuming they were!
“Who was this lady I seen you going down the street with?” demanded the plump Mr. Secretary Skittle (disguised as a colored wench in polka-dotted cotton) of Mr. Secretary Luthorne (in black-face and large red gloves).
“That wasn’t no lady, that was Walt Trowbridge’s paper.”
“Ah don’t think Ah cognosticates youse, Mist’ Bones.”
“Why—you know—‘A Nance for Plutocracy.’”
Clean fun, not too confusingly subtle, drawing the people (several millions listened on the radio to the Boosters’ Club show) closer to their great-hearted masters.
But the high point of the show was Dr. Macgoblin’s daring to tease his own faction by singing:
It seemed to Doremus that he was hearing a great deal about the Secretary of Education. Then, in late September, he heard something not quite pleasant about Dr. Macgoblin. The story, as he got it, ran thus:
Hector Macgoblin, that great surgeon-boxer-poet-sailor, had always contrived to have plenty of enemies, but after the beginning of his investigation of schools, to purge them of any teachers he did not happen to like, he made so unusually many that he was accompanied by bodyguards. At this time in September, he was in New York, finding quantities of “subversive elements” in Columbia University— against the protests of President Nicholas Murray Butler, who insisted that he had already cleaned out all willful and dangerous thinkers, especially the pacifists in the medical school—and Macgoblin’s bodyguards were two former instructors in philosophy who in their respective universities had been admired even by their deans for everything except the fact that they would get drunk and quarrelsome. One of them, in that state, always took off one shoe and hit people over the head with the heel, if they argued in defense of Jung.
With these two in uniforms as M.M. battalion leaders—his own was that of a brigadier—after a day usefully spent in kicking out of Columbia all teachers who had voted for Trowbridge, Dr. Macgoblin started off with his brace of bodyguards to try out a wager that he could take a drink at every bar on Fifty-second Street and still not pass out.
He had done well when, at ten-thirty, being then affectionate and philanthropic, he decided that it would be a splendid idea to telephone his revered former teacher in Leland Stanford, the biologist Dr. Willy Schmidt, once of Vienna, now in Rockefeller Institute. Macgoblin was indignant when someone at Dr. Schmidt’s apartment informed him that the doctor was out. Furiously: “Out? Out? What d’you mean he’s out? Old goat like that got no right to be out! At midnight! Where is he? This is the Police Department speaking! Where is he?”
Dr. Schmidt was spending the evening with that gentle scholar, Rabbi Dr. Vincent de Verez.
Macgoblin and his learned gorillas went to call on De Verez. On the way nothing of note happened except that when Macgoblin discussed the fare with the taxi-driver, he felt impelled to knock him out. The three, and they were in the happiest, most boyish of spirits, burst joyfully into Dr. de Verez’s primeval house in the Sixties. The entrance hall was shabby enough, with a humble show of the good rabbi’s umbrellas and storm rubbers, and had the invaders seen the bedrooms they would have found them Trappist cells. But the long living room, front— and back-parlor thrown together, was half museum, half lounge. Just because he himself liked such things and resented a stranger’s possessing them, Macgoblin looked sniffily at a Beluchi prayer rug, a Jacobean court cupboard, a small case of incunabula and of Arabic manuscripts in silver upon scarlet parchment.
“Swell joint! Hello, Doc! How’s the Dutchman? How’s the antibody research going? These are Doc Nemo and Doc, uh, Doc Whoozis, the famous glue lifters. Great frenzh mine. Introduce us to your Jew friend.”
Now it is more than possible that Rabbi de Verez had never heard of Secretary of Education Macgoblin.
The houseman who had let in the intruders and who nervously hovered at the living-room door—he is the sole authority for most of the story—said that Macgoblin staggered, slid on a rug, almost fell, then giggled foolishly as he sat down, waving his plug-ugly friends to chairs and demanding, “Hey, Rabbi, how about some whisky? Lil Scotch and soda. I know you Geonim never lap up anything but snow-cooled nectar handed out by a maiden with a dulcimer, singing of Mount Abora, or maybe just a little shot of Christian children’s sacrificial blood—ha, ha, just a joke, Rabbi; I know these ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ are all the bunk, but awful handy in propaganda, just the same and—But I mean, for plain Goyim like us, a little real hootch! HEAR ME?”
Dr. Schmidt started to protest. The Rabbi, who had been carding his white beard, silenced him and, with a wave of his fragile old hand, signaled the waiting houseman, who reluctantly brought in whisky and siphons.
The three coordinators of culture almost filled their glasses before they poured in the soda.
“Look here, De Verez, why don’t you kikes take a tumble to yourselves and get out, beat it, exeunt bearing corpses, and start a real Zion, say in South America?”
The Rabbi looked bewildered at the attack. Dr. Schmidt snorted, “Dr. Macgoblin—once a promising pupil of mine—is Secretary of Education and a lot of t’ings—I don’t know vot!—at Washington. Corpo!”
“Oh!” The Rabbi sighed. “I have heard of that cult, but my people have learned to ignore persecution. We have been so impudent as to adopt the tactics of your Early Christian Martyrs! Even if we were invited to your Corporate feast—which, I understand, we most warmly are not!—I am afraid we should not be able to attend. You see, we believe in only one Dictator, God, and I am afraid we cannot see Mr. Windrip as a rival to Jehovah!”
“Aah, that’s all baloney!” murmured one of the learned gunmen, and Macgoblin shouted, “Oh, can the two-dollar words! There’s just one thing where we agree with the dirty, Kike-loving Communists—that’s in chucking the whole bunch of divinities, Jehovah and all the rest of ’em, that’ve been on relief so long!”
The Rabbi was unable even to answer, but little Dr. Schmidt (he had a doughnut mustache, a beer belly, and black button boots with soles half-an-inch thick) said, “Macgoblin, I suppose I may talk frank wit’ an old student, there not being any reporters or loutspeakers arount. Do you know why you are drinking like a pig? Because you are ashamt! Ashamt that you, once a promising researcher, should have solt out to freebooters with brains like decayed liver and—”
“That’ll do from you, Prof!”
“Say, we oughtta tie those seditious sons of hounds up and beat the daylight out of ’em!” whimpered one of the watchdogs.
Macgoblin shrieked, “You highbrows—you stinking intellectuals! You, you Kike, with your lush-luzurious library, while Common People been starving—would be now if the Chief hadn’t saved ’em! Your c’lection books—stolen from the pennies of your poor, dumb, foot-kissing congregation of pushcart peddlers!”
The Rabbi sat bespelled, fingering his beard, but Dr. Schmidt leaped up, crying, “You three scoundrels were not invited here! You pushed your way in! Get out! Go! Get out!”
One of the accompanying dogs demanded of Macgoblin, “Going to stand for these two Yiddles insulting us—insulting the whole by God Corpo state and the M.M. uniform? Kill ’em!”
Now, to his already abundant priming, Macgoblin had added two huge whiskies since he had come. He yanked out his automatic pistol, fired twice. Dr. Schmidt toppled. Rabbi De Verez slid down in his chair, his temple throbbing out blood. The houseman trembled at the door, and one of the guards shot at him, then chased him down the street, firing, and whooping with the humor of the joke. This learned guard was killed instantly, at a street crossing, by a traffic policeman.
Macgoblin and the other guard were arrested and brought before the Commissioner of the Metropolitan District, the great Corpo viceroy, whose power was that of three or four state governors put together.
Dr. de Verez, though he was not yet dead, was too sunken to testify. But the Commissioner thought that in a case so closely touching the federal government, it would not be seemly to postpone the trial.
Against the terrified evidence of the Rabbi’s Russian–Polish houseman were the earnest (and by now sober) accounts of the federal Secretary of Education, and of his surviving aide, formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy in Pelouse University. It was proven that not only De Verez but also Dr. Schmidt was a Jew— which, incidentally, he 100 per cent was not. It was almost proven that this sinister pair had been coaxing innocent Corpos into De Verez’s house and performing upon them what a scared little Jewish stool pigeon called “ritual murders.” Macgoblin and friend were acquitted on grounds of self-defense and handsomely complimented by the Commissioner—and later in telegrams from President Windrip and Secretary of State Sarason—for having defended the Commonwealth against human vampires and one of the most horrifying plots known in history.
The policeman who had shot the other guard wasn’t, so scrupulous was Corpo justice, heavily punished—merely sent out to a dreary beat in the Bronx. So everybody was happy.
But Doremus Jessup, on receiving a letter from a New York reporter who had talked privately with the surviving guard, was not so happy. He was not in a very gracious temper, anyway. County Commissioner Shad Ledue, on grounds of humanitarianism, had made him discharge his delivery boys and employ M.M.‘s to distribute (or cheerfully chuck into the river) the Informer.
“Last straw—plenty last,” he raged.
He had read about Rabbi de Verez and seen pictures of him. He had once heard Dr. Willy Schmidt speak, when the State Medical Association had met at Fort Beulah, and afterward had sat near him at dinner. If they were murderous Jews, then he was a murderous Jew too, he swore, and it was time to do something for His Own People.
That evening—it was late in September, 1937—he did not go home to dinner at all but, with a paper container of coffee and a slab of pie untouched before him, he stooped at his desk in the Informer office, writing an editorial which, when he had finished it, he marked: “Must. 12-pt bold face—box top front p.”
The beginning of the editorial, to appear the following morning was:
Believing that the inefficiency and crimes of the Corpo administration were due to the difficulties attending a new form of government, we have waited patiently for their end. We apologize to our readers for that patience.
It is easy to see now, in the revolting crime of a drunken cabinet member against two innocent and valuable old men like Dr. Schmidt and the Rev. Dr. de Verez, that we may expect nothing but murderous extirpation of all honest opponents of the tyranny of Windrip and his Corpo gang.
Not that all of them are as vicious as Macgoblin. Some are merely incompetent—like our friends Ledue, Reek, and Haik. But their ludicrous incapability permits the homicidal cruelty of their chieftains to go on without check.
Buzzard Windrip, the “Chief,” and his pirate gang—
A smallish, neat, gray-bearded man, furiously rattling an aged typewriter, typing with his two forefingers.
Dan Wilgus, head of the composing room, looked and barked like an old sergeant and, like an old sergeant, was only theoretically meek to his superior officer. He was shaking when he brought in this copy and, almost rubbing Doremus’s nose in it, protested, “Say, boss, you don’t honest t’ God think we’re going to set this up, do you?”
“I certainly do!”
“Well, I don’t! Rattlesnake poison! It’s all right YOUR getting thrown in the hoosegow and probably shot at dawn, if you like that kind of sport, but we’ve held a meeting of the chapel, and we all say, damned if we’ll risk our necks too!”
“All right, you yellow pup! All right, Dan, I’ll set it myself!”
“Aw, don’t! Gosh, I don’t want to have to go to your funeral after the M.M.‘s get through with you, and say, ‘Don’t he look unnatural!’”
“After working for me for twenty years, Dan! Traitor!”
“Look here! I’m no Enoch Arden or—oh, what the hell was his name?—Ethan Frome or Benedict Arnold or whatever it was!—and more ‘n once I’ve licked some galoot that was standing around a saloon telling the world you were the lousiest highbrow editor in Vermont, and at that, I guess maybe he was telling the truth, but same time—” Dan’s effort to be humorous and coaxing broke, and he wailed, “God, boss, please don’t!”
“I know, Dan. Prob’ly our friend Shad Ledue will be annoyed. But I can’t go on standing things like slaughtering old De Verez any more and—Here! Gimme that copy!”
While compositors, pressmen, and the young devil stood alternately fretting and snickering at his clumsiness, Doremus ranged up before a type case, in his left hand the first composing-stick he had held in ten years, and looked doubtfully at the case. It was like a labyrinth to him. “Forgot how it’s arranged. Can’t find anything except the e-box!” he complained.
“Hell! I’ll do it! All you pussyfooters get the hell out of this! You don’t know one doggone thing about who set this up!” Dan Wilgus roared, and the other printers vanished!—as far as the toilet door.
In the editorial office, Doremus showed proofs of his indiscretion to Doc Itchitt, that enterprising though awkward reporter, and to Julian Falck, who was off now to Amherst but who had been working for the Informer all summer, combining unprintable articles on Adam Smith with extremely printable accounts of golf and dances at the country club.
“Gee, I hope you will have the nerve to go on and print it—and same time, I hope you don’t! They’ll get you!” worried Julian.
“Naw! Gwan and print it! They won’t dare to do a thing! They may get funny in New York and Washington, but you’re too strong in the Beulah Valley for Ledue and Staubmeyer to dare lift a hand!” brayed Doc Itchitt, while Doremus considered, “I wonder if this smart young journalistic Judas wouldn’t like to see me in trouble and get hold of the Informer and turn it Corpo?”
He did not stay at the office till the paper with his editorial had gone to press. He went home early, and showed the proof to Emma and Sissy. While they were reading it, with yelps of disapproval, Julian Falck slipped in.
Emma protested, “Oh, you can’t—you mustn’t do it! What will become of us all? Honestly, Dormouse, I’m not scared for myself, but what would I do if they beat you or put you in prison or something? It would just break my heart to think of you in a cell! And without any clean underclothes! It isn’t too late to stop it, is it?”
“No. As a matter of fact the paper doesn’t go to bed till eleven. . . . Sissy, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think! Oh damn!”
“Why Sis-sy,” from Emma, quite mechanically.
“It used to be, you did what was right and got a nice stick of candy for it,” said Sissy. “Now, it seems as if whatever’s right is wrong. Julian—funny-face—what do you think of Pop’s kicking Shad in his sweet hairy ears?”
Julian blurted, “I think it’d be fierce if somebody didn’t try to stop these fellows. I wish I could do it. But how could I?”
“You’ve probably answered the whole business,” said Doremus. “If a man is going to assume the right to tell several thousand readers what’s what—most agreeable, hitherto—he’s got a kind of you might say priestly obligation to tell the truth. ‘O cursed spite.’ Well! I think I’ll drop into the office again. Home about midnight. Don’t sit up, anybody—and Sissy, and you, Julian, that particularly goes for you two night prowlers! As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord—and in Vermont, that means going to bed.”
“And alone!” murmured Sissy.
As Doremus trotted out, Foolish, who had sat adoring him, jumped up, hoping for a run.
Somehow, more than all of Emma’s imploring, the dog’s familiar devotion made Doremus feel what it might be to go to prison.
He had lied. He did not return to the office. He drove up the valley to the Tavern and to Lorinda Pike.
But on the way he stopped in at the home of his son-inlaw, bustling young Dr. Fowler Greenhill; not to show him the proof but to have—perhaps in prison?—another memory of the domestic life in which he had been rich. He stepped quietly into the front hall of the Greenhill house—a jaunty imitation of Mount Vernon; very prosperous and secure, gay with the brass-knobbed walnut furniture and painted Russian boxes which Mary Greenhill affected. Doremus could hear David (but surely it was past his bedtime?—what time DID nine-year-old kids go to bed these degenerate days?) excitedly chattering with his father, and his father’s partner, old Dr. Marcus Olmsted, who was almost retired but who kept up the obstetrics and eye-and-ear work for the firm.
Doremus peeped into the living room, with its bright curtains of yellow linen. David’s mother was writing letters, a crisp, fashionable figure at a maple desk complete with yellow quill pen, engraved notepaper, and silver-backed blotter. Fowler and David were lounging on the two wide arms of Dr. Olmsted’s chair.
“So you don’t think you’ll be a doctor, like your dad and me?” Dr. Olmsted was quizzing.
David’s soft hair fluttered as he bobbed his head in the agitation of being taken seriously by grown-ups.
“Oh—oh—oh yes, I would like to. Oh, I think it’d be slick to be a doctor. But I want to be a newspaper, like Granddad. That’d be a wow! You said it!”
(“Da-vid! Where you ever pick up such language!”)
“You see, Uncle–Doctor, a doctor, oh gee, he has to stay up all night, but an editor, he just sits in his office and takes it easy and never has to worry about nothing!”
That moment, Fowler Greenhill saw his father-inlaw making monkey faces at him from the door and admonished David, “Now, not always! Editors have to work pretty hard sometimes—just think of when there’s train wrecks and floods and everything! I’ll tell you. Did you know I have magic power?”
“What’s ‘magic power,’ Daddy?”
“I’ll show you. I’ll summon your granddad here from misty deeps—”
(“But will he come?” grunted Dr. Olmsted.)
“—and have him tell you all the troubles an editor has. Just make him come flying through the air!”
“Aw, gee, you couldn’t do THAT, Dad!”
“Oh, can’t I!” Fowler stood solemnly, the overhead lights making soft his harsh red hair, and he windmilled his arms, hooting, “Presto—vesto—adsit—Granddad Jes-sup—voilà!”
And there, coming through the doorway, sure enough WAS Granddad Jessup!
Doremus remained only ten minutes, saying to himself, “Anyway, nothing bad can happen here, in this solid household.” When Fowler saw him to the door, Doremus sighed to him, “Wish Davy were right— just had to sit in the office and not worry. But I suppose some day I’ll have a run-in with the Corpos.”
“I hope not. Nasty bunch. What do you think, Dad? That swine Shad Ledue told me yesterday they wanted me to join the M.M.‘s as medical officer. Fat chance! I told him so.”
“Watch out for Shad, Fowler. He’s vindictive. Made us rewire our whole building.”
“I’m not scared of Captain General Ledue or fifty like him! Hope he calls me in for a bellyache some day! I’ll give him a good sedative—potassium of cyanide. Maybe I’ll some day have the pleasure of seeing that gent in his coffin. That’s the advantage the doctor has, you know! G’-night, Dad! Sleep tight!”
A good many tourists were still coming up from New York to view the colored autumn of Vermont, and when Doremus arrived at the Beulah Valley Tavern he had irritably to wait while Lorinda dug out extra towels and looked up tram schedules and was polite to old ladies who complained that there was too much—or not enough—sound from the Beulah River Falls at night. He could not talk to her apart until after ten. There was, meanwhile, a curious exalted luxury in watching each lost minute threaten him with the approach of the final press time, as he sat in the tea room, imperturbably scratching through the leaves of the latest Fortune.
Lorinda led him, at ten-fifteen, into her little office—just a roll-top desk, a desk chair, one straight chair, and a table piled with heaps of defunct hotel-magazines. It was spinsterishly neat yet smelled still of the cigar smoke and old letter files of proprietors long since gone.
“Let’s hurry, Dor. I’m having a little dust-up with that snipe Nipper.” She plumped down at the desk.
“Linda, read this proof. For tomorrow’s paper. . . . No. Wait. Stand up.”
He himself took the desk chair and pulled her down on his knees. “Oh, YOU!” she snorted, but she nuzzled her cheek against his shoulder and murmured contentedly.
“Read this, Linda. For tomorrow’s paper. I think I’m going to publish it, all right—got to decide finally before eleven—but ought I to? I was sure when I left the office, but Emma was scared—”
“Oh, EMMA! Sit still. Let me see it.” She read quickly. She always did. At the end she said emotionlessly, “Yes. You must run it. Doremus! They’ve actually come to us here—the Corpos—it’s like reading about typhus in China and suddenly finding it in your own house!”
She rubbed his shoulder with her cheek again, and raged, “Think of it! That Shad Ledue—and I taught him for a year in district school, though I was only two years older than he was—and what a nasty bully he was, too! He came to me a few days ago, and he had the nerve to propose that if I would give lower rates to the M.M.‘s—he sort of hinted it would be nice of me to serve M.M. officers free—they would close their eyes to my selling liquor here, without a license or anything! Why, he had the inconceivable nerve to tell me, and CONDESCENDINGLY! my dear—that he and his fine friends would be willing to hang out here a lot! Even Staubmeyer—oh, our ‘professor’ is blossoming out as quite a sporting character! And when I chased Ledue out, with a flea in his ear—Well, just this morning I got a notice that I have to appear in the county court tomorrow—some complaint from my endearing partner, Mr. Nipper—seems he isn’t satisfied with the division of our work here—and honestly, my darling, he never does one blame thing but sit around and bore my best customers to death by telling what a swell hotel he used to have in Florida. And Nipper has taken his things out of here and moved into town. I’m afraid I’ll have an unpleasant time, trying to keep from telling him what I think of him, in court.”
“Good Lord! Look, sweet, have you got a lawyer for it?”
“Lawyer? Heavens no! Just a misunderstanding—on little Nipper’s part.”
“You’d better. The Corpos are using the courts for all sorts of graft and for accusations of sedition. Get Mungo Kitterick, my lawyer.”
“He’s dumb. Ice water in his veins.”
“I know, but he’s a tidier-up, like so many lawyers. Likes to see everything all neat in pigeonholes. He may not care a damn for justice, but he’ll be awfully pained by any irregularities. Please get him, Lindy, because they’ve got Effingham Swan presiding at court tomorrow.”
“Swan—the Military Judge for District Three—that’s a new Corpo office. Kind of circuit judge with court-martial powers. This Effingham Swan—I had Doc Itchitt interview him today, when he arrived—he’s the perfect gentleman-Fascist—Oswald Mosley style. Good family—whatever that means. Harvard graduate. Columbia Law School, year at Oxford. But went into finance in Boston. Investment banker. Major or something during the war. Plays polo and sailed in a yacht race to Bermuda. Itchitt says he’s a big brute, with manners smoother than a butterscotch sundae and more language than a bishop.”
“But I’ll be glad to have a GENTLEMAN to explain things to, instead of Shad.”
“A gentleman’s blackjack hurts just as much as a mucker’s!”
“Oh, YOU!” with irritated tenderness, running her forefinger along the line of his jaw.
Outside, a footstep.
She sprang up, sat down primly in the straight chair. The footsteps went by. She mused:
“All this trouble and the Corpos—They’re going to do something to you and me. We’ll become so roused up that—either we’ll be desperate and really cling to each other and everybody else in the world can go to the devil or, what I’m afraid is more likely, we’ll get so deep into rebellion against Windrip, we’ll feel so terribly that we’re standing for something, that we’ll want to give up everything else for it, even give up you and me. So that no one can ever find out and criticize. We’ll have to be beyond criticism.”
“No! I won’t listen. We will fight, but how can we ever get so involved—detached people like us—”
“You ARE going to publish that editorial tomorrow?”
“It’s not too late to kill it?”
He looked at the clock over her desk—so ludicrously like a grade-school clock that it ought to have been flanked with portraits of George and Martha. “Well, yes, it is too late—almost eleven. Couldn’t get to the office till ‘way past.”
“You’re sure you won’t worry about it when you go to bed tonight? Dear, I so don’t want you to worry! You’re sure you don’t want to telephone and kill the editorial?”
“I’m glad! Me, I’d rather be shot than go sneaking around, crippled with fear. Bless you!”
She kissed him and hurried off to another hour or two of work, while he drove home, whistling vaingloriously.
But he did not sleep well, in his big black-walnut bed. He startled to the night noises of an old frame house—the easing walls, the step of bodiless assassins creeping across the wooden floors all night long.