IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE
I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne.
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
The June morning shone, the last petals of the wild-cherry blossoms lay dew-covered on the grass, robins were about their brisk business on the lawn. Doremus, by nature a late-lier and pilferer of naps after he had been called at eight, was stirred to spring up and stretch his arms out fully five or six times in Swedish exercises, in front of his window, looking out across the Beulah River Valley to dark masses of pine on the mountain slopes three miles away.
Doremus and Emma had had each their own bedroom, these fifteen years, not altogether to her pleasure. He asserted that he couldn’t share a bedroom with any person living, because he was a night-mutterer, and liked to make a really good, uprearing, pillow-slapping job of turning over in bed without feeling that he was disturbing someone.
It was Saturday, the day of the Prang revelation, but on this crystal morning, after days of rain, he did not think of Prang at all, but of the fact that Philip, his son, with wife, had popped up from Worcester for the week-end, and that the whole crew of them, along with Lorinda Pike and Buck Titus, were going to have a “real, old-fashioned, family picnic.”
They had all demanded it, even the fashionable Sissy, a woman who, at eighteen, had much concern with tennis-teas, golf, and mysterious, appallingly rapid motor trips with Malcolm Tasbrough (just graduating from high school), or with the Episcopal parson’s grandson, Julian Falck (freshman in Amherst). Doremus had scolded that he COULDN’T go to any blame picnic; it was his JOB, as editor, to stay home and listen to Bishop Prang’s broadcast at two; but they had laughed at him and rumpled his hair and miscalled him until he had promised. . . . They didn’t know it, but he had slyly borrowed a portable radio from his friend, the local R. C. priest, Father Stephen Perefixe, and he was going to hear Prang whether or no.
He was glad they were going to have Lorinda Pike—he was fond of that sardonic saint—and Buck Titus, who was perhaps his closest intimate.
James Buck Titus, who was fifty but looked thirty-eight, straight, broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, long-mustached, swarthy—Buck was the Dan’l Boone type of Old American, or, perhaps, an Indian-fighting cavalry captain, out of Charles King. He had graduated from Williams, with ten weeks in England and ten years in Montana, divided between cattle-raising, prospecting, and a horse-breeding ranch. His father, a richish railroad contractor, had left him the great farm near West Beulah, and Buck had come back home to grow apples, to breed Morgan stallions, and to read Voltaire, Anatole France, Nietzsche, and Dostoyefsky. He served in the war, as a private; detested his officers, refused a commission, and liked the Germans at Cologne. He was a useful polo player, but regarded riding to the hounds as childish. In politics, he did not so much yearn over the wrongs of Labor as feel scornful of the tight-fisted exploiters who denned in office and stinking factory. He was as near to the English country squire as one may find in America. He was a bachelor, with a big mid-Victorian house, well kept by a friendly Negro couple; a tidy place in which he sometimes entertained ladies who were not quite so tidy. He called himself an “agnostic” instead of an “atheist” only because he detested the street-bawling, tract-peddling evangelicism of the professional atheists. He was cynical, he rarely smiled, and he was unwaveringly loyal to all the Jessups. His coming to the picnic made Doremus as blithe as his grandson David.
“Perhaps, even under Fascism, the ‘Church clock will stand at ten to three, and there will be honey still for tea,’” Doremus hoped, as he put on his rather dandified country tweeds.
The only stain on the preparations for the picnic was the grouchiness of the hired man, Shad Ledue. When he was asked to turn the ice-cream freezer he growled, “Why the heck don’t you folks get an electric freezer? He grumbled, most audibly, at the weight of the picnic baskets, and when he was asked to clean up the basement during their absence, he retorted only with a glare of silent fury.
“You ought to get rid of that fellow, Ledue,” urged Doremus’s son Philip, the lawyer.
“Oh, I don’t know,” considered Doremus. “Probably just shiftlessness on my part. But I tell myself I’m doing a social experiment—trying to train him to be as gracious as the average Neanderthal man. Or perhaps I’m scared of him—he’s the kind of vindictive peasant that sets fire to barns. . . . Did you know that he actually reads, Phil?”
“Yep. Mostly movie magazines, with nekked ladies and Wild Western stories, but he also reads the papers. Told me he greatly admired Buzz Windrip; says Windrip will certainly be President, and then everybody—by which, I’m afraid, Shad means only himself—will have five thousand a year. Buzz certainly has a bunch of philanthropists for followers.”
“Now listen, Dad. You don’t understand Senator Windrip. Oh, he’s something of a demagogue—he shoots off his mouth a lot about how he’ll jack up the income tax and grab the banks, but he won’t— that’s just molasses for the cockroaches. What he will do, and maybe only he CAN do it, is to protect us from the murdering, thieving, lying Bolsheviks that would—why, they’d like to stick all of us that are going on this picnic, all the decent clean people that are accustomed to privacy, into hall bedrooms, and make us cook our cabbage soup on a Primus stuck on a bed! Yes, or maybe ‘liquidate’ us entirely! No sir, Berzelius Windrip is the fellow to balk the dirty sneaking Jew spies that pose as American Liberals!”
“The face is the face of my reasonably competent son, Philip, but the voice is the voice of the Jew-baiter, Julius Streicher,” sighed Doremus.
The picnic ground was among a Stonehenge of gray and lichen-painted rocks, fronting a birch grove high up on Mount Terror, on the upland farm of Doremus’s cousin, Henry Veeder, a solid, reticent Vermonter of the old days. They looked through a distant mountain gap to the faint mercury of Lake Champlain and, across it, the bulwark of the Adirondacks.
Davy Greenhill and his hero, Buck Titus, wrestled in the hardy pasture grass. Philip and Dr. Fowler Greenhill, Doremus’s son-inlaw (Phil plump and half bald at thirty-two; Fowler belligerently red-headed and red-mustached) argued about the merits of the autogiro. Doremus lay with his head against a rock, his cap over his eyes, gazing down into the paradise of Beulah Valley—he could not have sworn to it, but he rather thought he saw an angel floating in the radiant upper air above the valley. The women, Emma and Mary Greenhill, Sissy and Philip’s wife and Lorinda Pike, were setting out the picnic lunch—a pot of beans with crisp salt pork, fried chicken, potatoes warmed-over with croutons, tea biscuits, crab-apple jelly, salad, raisin pie—on a red-and-white tablecloth spread on a flat rock.
But for the parked motorcars, the scene might have been New England in 1885, and you could see the women in chip hats and tight-bodiced, high-necked frocks with bustles; the men in straw boaters with dangling ribbons and adorned with side-whiskers—Doremus’s beard not clipped, but flowing like a bridal veil. When Dr. Greenhill fetched down Cousin Henry Veeder, a bulky yet shy enough pre-Ford farmer in clean, faded overalls, then was Time again unbought, secure, serene.
And the conversation had a comfortable triviality, an affectionate Victorian dullness. However Doremus might fret about “conditions,” however skittishly Sissy might long for the presence of her beaux, Julian Falck and Malcolm Tasbrough, there was nothing modern and neurotic, nothing savoring of Freud, Adler, Marx, Bertrand Russell, or any other divinity of the 1930’s, when Mother Emma chattered to Mary and Merilla about her rose bushes that had “winter-killed,” and the new young maples that the field mice had gnawed, and the difficulty of getting Shad Ledue to bring in enough fireplace wood, and how Shad gorged pork chops and fried potatoes and pie at lunch, which he ate at the Jessups’.
And the View. The women talked about the View as honeymooners once talked at Niagara Falls.
David and Buck Titus were playing ship, now, on a rearing rock—it was the bridge, and David was Captain Popeye, with Buck his bosun; and even Dr. Greenhill, that impetuous crusader who was constantly infuriating the county board of health by reporting the slovenly state of the poor farm and the stench in the county jail, was lazy in the sun and with the greatest of concentration kept an unfortunate little ant running back and forth on a twig. His wife Mary—the golfer, the runner-up in state tennis tournaments, the giver of smart but not too bibulous cocktail parties at the country club, the wearer of smart brown tweeds with a green scarf—seemed to have dropped gracefully back into the domesticity of her mother, and to consider as a very weighty thing a recipe for celery-and-roquefort sandwiches on toasted soda crackers. She was the handsome Older Jessup Girl again, back in the white house with the mansard roof.
And Foolish, lying on his back with his four paws idiotically flopping, was the most pastorally old-fashioned of them all.
The only serious flare of conversation was when Buck Titus snarled to Doremus: “Certainly a lot of Messiahs pottin’ at you from the bushes these days—Buzz Windrip and Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin and Dr. Townsend (though he seems to have gone back to Nazareth) and Upton Sinclair and Rev. Frank Buchman and Bernarr Macfadden and Willum Randolph Hearst and Governor Talmadge and Floyd Olson and—Say, I swear the best Messiah in the whole show is this darky, Father Divine. He doesn’t just promise he’s going to feed the Under-privileged ten years from now—he hands out the fried drumsticks and gizzard right along with the Salvation. How about HIM for President?”
Out of nowhere appeared Julian Falck.
This young man, freshman in Amherst the past year, grandson of the Episcopal rector and living with the old man because his parents were dead, was in the eyes of Doremus the most nearly tolerable of Sissy’s suitors. He was Swede-blond and wiry, with a neat, small face and canny eyes. He called Doremus “sir,” and he had, unlike most of the radio-and-motor-hypnotized eighteen-year-olds in the Fort, read a book, and voluntarily—read Thomas Wolfe and William Rollins, John Strachey and Stuart Chase and Ortega. Whether Sissy preferred him to Malcolm Tasbrough, her father did not know. Malcolm was taller and thicker than Julian, and he drove his own streamline De Soto, while Julian could only borrow his grandfather’s shocking old flivver.
Sissy and Julian bickered amiably about Alice Aylot’s skill in backgammon, and Foolish scratched himself in the sun.
But Doremus was not being pastoral. He was being anxious and scientific. While the others jeered, “When does Dad take his audition?” and “What’s he learning to be—a crooner or a hockey-announcer?” Doremus was adjusting the doubtful portable radio. Once he thought he was going to be with them in the Home Sweet Home atmosphere, for he tuned in on a program of old songs, and all of them, including Cousin Henry Veeder, who had a hidden passion for fiddlers and barn dances and parlor organs, hummed “Gaily the Troubadour” and “Maid of Athens” and “Darling Nelly Gray.” But when the announcer informed them that these ditties were being sponsored by Toily Oily, the Natural Home Cathartic, and that they were being rendered by a sextette of young males horribly called “The Smoothies,” Doremus abruptly shut them off.
“Why, what’s the matter, Dad?” cried Sissy.
“‘Smoothies’! God! This country deserves what it’s going to get!” snapped Doremus. “Maybe we need a Buzz Windrip!”
The moment, then—it should have been announced by cathedral chimes—of the weekly address of Bishop Paul Peter Prang.
Coming from an airless closet, smelling of sacerdotal woolen union suits, in Persepolis, Indiana, it leapt to the farthest stars; it circled the world at 186,000 miles a second—a million miles while you stopped to scratch. It crashed into the cabin of a whaler on a dark polar sea; into an office, paneled with linen-fold oak looted from a Nottinghamshire castle, on the sixty-seventh story of a building on Wall Street; into the foreign office in Tokio; into the rocky hollow below the shining birches upon Mount Terror, in Vermont.
Bishop Prang spoke, as he usually did, with a grave kindliness, a virile resonance, which made his self, magically coming to them on the unseen aerial pathway, at once dominating and touched with charm; and whatever his purposes might be, his words were on the side of the Angels:
“My friends of the radio audience, I shall have but six more weekly petitions to make you before the national conventions, which will decide the fate of this distraught nation, and the time has come now to act—to act! Enough of words! Let me put together certain separated phrases out of the sixth chapter of Jeremiah, which seem to have been prophetically written for this hour of desperate crisis in America:
“‘Oh ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves together to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem. . . . Prepare ye war . . . arise and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out. Arise, and let us go by night and let us destroy her palaces. . . . I am full of the fury of the Lord; I am weary with holding it in; I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together; for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days. . . . I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of this land, saith the Lord. For from the least of them even unto the greatest, every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely . . . saying Peace, Peace, when there is no Peace!’
“So spake the Book, of old. . . . But it was spoken also to America, of 1936!
“There is no Peace! For more than a year now, the League of Forgotten Men has warned the politicians, the whole government, that we are sick unto death of being the Dispossessed—and that, at last, we are more than fifty million strong; no whimpering horde, but with the will, the voices, the VOTES to enforce our sovereignty! We have in no uncertain way informed every politician that we demand—that we DEMAND—certain measures, and that we will brook no delay. Again and again we have demanded that both the control of credit and the power to issue money be unqualifiedly taken away from the private banks; that the soldiers not only receive the bonus they with their blood and anguish so richly earned in ‘17 and ‘18, but that the amount agreed upon be now doubled; that all swollen incomes be severely limited and inheritances cut to such small sums as may support the heirs only in youth and in old age; that labor and farmers’ unions be not merely recognized as instruments for joint bargaining but be made, like the syndicates in Italy, official parts of the government, representing the toilers; and that International Jewish Finance and, equally, International Jewish Communism and Anarchism and Atheism be, with all the stern solemnity and rigid inflexibility this great nation can show, barred from all activity. Those of you who have listened to me before will understand that I—or rather that the League of Forgotten Men—has no quarrel with individual Jews; that we are proud to have Rabbis among our directors; but those subversive international organizations which, unfortunately, are so largely Jewish, must be driven with whips and scorpions from off the face of the earth.
“These demands we have made, and how long now, O Lord, how long, have the politicians and the smirking representatives of Big Business pretended to listen, to obey? ‘Yes—yes—my masters of the League of Forgotten Men—yes, we understand—just give us time!’
“There is no more time! Their time is over and all their unholy power!
“The conservative Senators—the United States Chamber of Commerce— the giant bankers—the monarchs of steel and motors and electricity and coal—the brokers and the holding-companies—they are all of them like the Bourbon kings, of whom it was said that ‘they forgot nothing and they learned nothing.’
“But they died upon the guillotine!
“Perhaps we can be more merciful to our Bourbons. Perhaps— PERHAPS—we can save them from the guillotine—the gallows—the swift firing-squad. Perhaps we shall, in our new régime, under our new Constitution, with our ‘New Deal’ that really WILL be a New Deal and not an arrogant experiment—perhaps we shall merely make these big bugs of finance and politics sit on hard chairs, in dingy offices, toiling unending hours with pen and typewriter as so many white-collar slaves for so many years have toiled for THEM!
“It is, as Senator Berzelius Windrip puts it, ‘the zero hour,’ now, this second. We have stopped bombarding the heedless ears of these false masters. We’re ‘going over the top.’ At last, after months and months of taking counsel together, the directors of the League of Forgotten Men, and I myself, announce that in the coming Democratic national convention we shall, without one smallest reservation—”
“Listen! Listen! History being made!” Doremus cried at his heedless family.
“—use the tremendous strength of the millions of League members to secure the Democratic presidential nomination for SENATOR— BERZELIUS—WINDRIP—which means, flatly, that he will be elected— and that we of the League shall elect him—as President of these United States!
“His program and that of the League do not in all details agree. But he has implicitly pledged himself to take our advice, and, at least until election, we shall back him, absolutely—with our money, with our loyalty, with our votes . . . with our prayers. And may the Lord guide him and us across the desert of iniquitous politics and swinishly grasping finance into the golden glory of the Promised Land! God bless you!”
Mrs. Jessup said cheerily, “Why, Dormouse, that bishop isn’t a Fascist at all—he’s a regular Red Radical. But does this announcement of his mean anything, really?”
Oh, well, Doremus reflected, he had lived with Emma for thirty-four years, and not oftener than once or twice a year had he wanted to murder her. Blandly he said, “Why, nothing much except that in a couple of years now, on the ground of protecting us, the Buzz Windrip dictatorship will be regimenting everything, from where we may pray to what detective stories we may read.”
“Sure he will! Sometimes I’m tempted to turn Communist! Funny—me with my fat-headed old Hudson–River-Valley Dutch ancestors!” marveled Julian Falck.
“Fine idea! Out of the frying pan of Windrip and Hitler into the fire of the New York Daily Worker and Stalin and automatics! And the Five–Year Plan—I suppose they’d tell me that it’s been decided by the Commissar that each of my mares is to bear six colts a year now!” snorted Buck Titus; while Dr. Fowler Greenhill jeered:
“Aw, shoot, Dad—and you too, Julian, you young paranoiac—you’re monomaniacs! Dictatorship? Better come into the office and let me examine your heads! Why, America’s the only free nation on earth. Besides! Country’s too big for a revolution. No, no! Couldn’t happen here!”