It was not only the November sleet, setting up a forbidding curtain before the mountains, turning the roadways into slipperiness on which a car would swing around and crash into poles, that kept Doremus stubbornly at home that morning, sitting on his shoulder blades before the fireplace. It was the feeling that there was no point in going to the office; no chance even of a picturesque fight. But he was not contented before the fire. He could find no authentic news even in the papers from Boston or New York, in both of which the morning papers had been combined by the government into one sheet, rich in comic strips, in syndicated gossip from Hollywood, and, indeed, lacking only any news.
He cursed, threw down the New York Daily Corporate, and tried to read a new novel about a lady whose husband was indelicate in bed and who was too absorbed by the novels he wrote about lady novelists whose husbands were too absorbed by the novels they wrote about lady novelists to appreciate the fine sensibilities of lady novelists who wrote about gentleman novelists—Anyway, he chucked the book after the newspaper. The lady's woes didn't seem very important now, in a burning world.
He could hear Emma in the kitchen discussing with Mrs. Candy the best way of making a chicken pie. They talked without relief; really, they were not so much talking as thinking aloud. Doremus admitted that the nice making of a chicken pie was a thing of consequence, but the blur of voices irritated him. Then Sissy slammed into the room, and Sissy should an hour ago have been at high school, where she was a senior—to graduate next year and possibly go to some new and horrible provincial university.
"What ho! What are you doing home? Why aren't you in school?"
"Oh. That." She squatted on the padded fender seat, chin in hands, looking up at him, not seeing him. "I don't know 's I'll ever go there any more. You have to repeat a new oath every morning: 'I pledge myself to serve the Corporate State, the Chief, all Commissioners, the Mystic Wheel, and the troops of the Republic in every thought and deed.' Now I ask you! Is that tripe!"
"How you going to get into the university?"
"Huh! Smile at Prof Staubmeyer—if it doesn't gag me!"
"Oh, well—Well—" He could not think of anything meatier to say.
The doorbell, a shuffling in the hall as of snowy feet, and Julian Falck came sheepishly in.
Sissy snapped, "Well, I'll be—What are you doing home? Why aren't you in Amherst?"
"Oh. That." He squatted beside her. He absently held her hand, and she did not seem to notice it, either. "Amherst's got hers. Corpos closing it today. I got tipped off last Saturday and beat it. (They have a cute way of rounding up the students when they close a college and arresting a few of 'em, just to cheer up the profs.)" To Doremus: "Well, sir, I think you'll have to find a place for me on the Informer, wiping presses. Could you?"
"Afraid not, boy. Give anything if I could. But I'm a prisoner there. God! Just having to say that makes me appreciate what a rotten position I have!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I understand, of course. Well, I don't just know what I am going to do. Remember back in '33 and '34 and '35 how many good eggs there were—and some of them medics and law graduates and trained engineers and so on—that simply couldn't get a job? Well, it's worse now. I looked over Amherst, and had a try at Springfield, and I've been here in town two days—I'd hoped to have something before I saw you, Sis—why, I even asked Mrs. Pike if she didn't need somebody to wash dishes at the Tavern, but so far there isn't a thing. 'Young gentleman, two years in college, ninety-nine-point-three pure and thorough knowledge Thirty-nine Articles, able drive car, teach tennis and contract, amiable disposition, desires position—digging ditches.'"
"You will get something! I'll see you do, my poppet!" insisted Sissy. She was less modernistic and cold with Julian now than Doremus had thought her.
"Thanks, Sis, but honest to God—I hope I'm not whining, but looks like I'd either have to enlist in the lousy M.M.'s, or go to a labor camp. I can't stay home and sponge on Granddad. The poor old Reverend hasn't got enough to keep a pussycat in face powder."
"Lookit! Lookit!" Sissy clinched with Julian and bussed him, unabashed. "I've got an idea—a new stunt. You know, one of these 'New Careers for Youth' things. Listen! Last summer there was a friend of Lindy Pike's staying with her and she was an interior decorator from Buffalo, and she said they have a hell of a—"
"—time getting real, genuine, old hand-hewn beams that everybody wants so much now in these phony-Old-English suburban living rooms. Well, look! Round here there's ten million old barns with hand-adzed beams just falling down—farmers probably be glad to have you haul 'em off. I kind of thought about it for myself—being an architect, you know—and John Pollikop said he'd sell me a swell, dirty-looking old five-ton truck for four hundred bucks—in pre-inflation real money, I mean—and on time. Let's you and me try a load of assorted fancy beams."
"Swell!" said Julian.
"Well—" said Doremus.
"Come on!" Sissy leaped up. "Let's go ask Lindy what she thinks. She's the only one in this family that's got any business sense."
"I don't seem to hanker much after going out there in this weather—nasty roads," Doremus puffed.
"Nonsense, Doremus! With Julian driving? He's a poor speller and his back-hand is fierce, but as a driver, he's better than I am! Why, it's a pleasure to skid with him! Come on! Hey, Mother! We'll be back in nour or two."
If Emma ever got beyond her distant, "Why, I thought you were in school, already," none of the three musketeers heard it. They were bundling up and crawling out into the sleet.
Lorinda Pike was in the Tavern kitchen, in a calico print with rolled sleeves, dipping doughnuts into deep fat—a picture right out of the romantic days (which Buzz Windrip was trying to restore) when a female who had brought up eleven children and been midwife to dozens of cows was regarded as too fragile to vote. She was ruddy-faced from the stove, but she cocked a lively eye at them, and her greeting was "Have a doughnut? Good!" She led them from the kitchen with its attendant and eavesdropping horde of a Canuck kitchenmaid and two cats, and they sat in the beautiful butler's-pantry, with its shelved rows of Italian majolica plates and cups and saucers—entirely unsuitable to Vermont, attesting a certain artiness in Lorinda, yet by their cleanness and order revealing her as a sound worker. Sissy sketched her plan—behind the statistics there was an agreeable picture of herself and Julian, gipsies in khaki, on the seat of a gipsy truck, peddling silvery old pine rafters.
"Nope. Not a chance," said Lorinda regretfully. "The expensive suburban-villa business—oh, it isn't gone: there's a surprising number of middlemen and professional men who are doing quite well out of having their wealth taken away and distributed to the masses. But all the building is in the hands of contractors who are in politics—good old Windrip is so consistently American that he's kept up all our traditional graft, even if he has thrown out all our traditional independence. They wouldn't leave you one cent profit."
"She's probably right," said Doremus.
"Be the first time I ever was, then!" sniffed Lorinda. "Why, I was so simple that I thought women voters knew men too well to fall for noble words on the radio!"
They sat in the sedan, outside the Tavern; Julian and Sissy in front, Doremus in the back seat, dignified and miserable in mummy swathings.
"That's that," said Sissy. "Swell period for young dreamers the Dictator's brought in. You can march to military bands—or you can sit home—or you can go to prison. Primavera di Bellezza!"
"Yes… . Well, I'll find something to do… . Sissy, are you going to marry me—soon as I get a job?"
(It was incredible, thought Doremus, how these latter-day unsentimental sentimentalists could ignore him… . Like animals.)
"Before, if you want to. Though marriage seems to me absolute rot now, Julian. They can't go and let us see that every doggone one of our old institutions is a rotten fake, the way Church and State and everything has laid down to the Corpos, and still expect us to think they're so hot! But for unformed minds like your grandfather and Doremus, I suppose we'll have to pretend to believe that the preachers who stand for Big Chief Windrip are still so sanctified that they can sell God's license to love!"
"(Oh. I forgot you were there, Dad!) But anyway, we're not going to have any kids. Oh, I like children! I'd like to have a dozen of the little devils around. But if people have gone so soft and turned the world over to stuffed shirts and dictators, they needn't expect any decent woman to bring children into such an insane asylum! Why, the more you really do love children, the more you'll want 'em not to be born, now!"
Julian boasted, in a manner quite as lover-like and naïve as that of any suitor a hundred years ago, "Yes. But just the same, we'll be having children."
"Hell! I suppose so!" said the golden girl.
It was the unconsidered Doremus who found a job for Julian.
Old Dr. Marcus Olmsted was trying to steel himself to carry on the work of his sometime partner, Fowler Greenhill. He was not strong enough for much winter driving, and so hotly now did he hate the murderers of his friend that he would not take on any youngster who was in the M.M.'s or who had half acknowledged their authority by going to a labor camp. So Julian was chosen to drive him, night and day, and presently to help him by giving anesthetic, bandaging hurt legs; and the Julian who had within one week "decided that he wanted to be" an aviator, a music critic, an air-conditioning engineer, an archæologist excavating in Yucatan, was dead-set on medicine and replaced for Doremus his dead doctor son-in-law. And Doremus heard Julian and Sissy boasting and squabbling and squeaking in the half-lighted parlor and from them—from them and from David and Lorinda and Buck Titus—got resolution enough to go on in the Informer office without choking Staubmeyer to death.