It Can't Happen Here

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 23

Doremus was nervous. The Minute Men had come, not with Shad but with Emil and a strange battalion-leader from Hanover, to examine the private letters in his study. They were polite enough, but alarmingly thorough. Then he knew, from the disorder in his desk at the Informer, that someone had gone over his papers there. Emil avoided him at the office. Doremus was called to Shad's office and gruffly questioned about correspondence which some denouncer had reported his having with the agents of Walt Trowbridge.

So Doremus was nervous. So Doremus was certain that his time for going to concentration camp was coming. He glanced back at every stranger who seemed to be following him on the street. The fruitman, Tony Mogliani, flowery advocate of Windrip, of Mussolini, and of tobacco quid as a cure for cuts and burns, asked him too many questions about his plans for the time when he should "get through on the paper"; and once a tramp tried to quiz Mrs. Candy, meantime peering at the pantry shelves, perhaps to see if there was any sign of their being understocked, as if for closing the house and fleeing… . But perhaps the tramp really was a tramp.

In the office, in mid-afternoon, Doremus had a telephone call from that scholar-farmer, Buck Titus:

"Going to be home this evening, about nine? Good! Got to see you. Important! Say, see if you can have all your family and Linda Pike and young Falck there, too, will you? Got an idea. Important!"

As important ideas, just now, usually concerned being imprisoned, Doremus and his women waited jumpily. Lorinda came in twittering, for the sight of Emma always did make her twitter a little, and in Lorinda there was no relief. Julian came in shyly, and there was no relief in Julian. Mrs. Candy brought in unsolicited tea with a dash of rum, and in her was some relief, but it was all a dullness of fidgety waiting till Buck slammed in, ten minutes late and very snowy.

"Sorkeepwaiting but I've been telephoning. Here's some news you won't have even in the office yet, Dormouse. The forest fire's getting nearer. This afternoon they arrested the editor of the Rutland Herald—no charge laid against him yet—no publicity—I got it from a commission merchant I deal with in Rutland. You're next, Doremus. I reckon they've just been laying off you till Staubmeyer picked your brains. Or maybe Ledue has some nice idea about torturing you by keeping you waiting. Anyway, you've got to get out. And tomorrow! To Canada! To stay! By automobile. No can do by plane any more—Canadian government's stopped that. You and Emma and Mary and Dave and Sis and the whole damn shooting-match—and maybe Foolish and Mrs. Candy and the canary!"

"Couldn't possibly! Take me weeks to realize on what investments I've got. Guess I could raise twenty thousand, but it'd take weeks."

"Sign 'em over to me, if you trust me—and you better! I can cash in everything better than you can—stand in with the Corpos better—been selling 'em horses and they think I'm the kind of loud-mouthed walking gent that will join 'em! I've got fifteen hundred Canadian dollars for you right here in my pocket, for a starter."

"We'd never get across the border. The M.M.'s are watching every inch, just looking for suspects like me."

"I've got a Canadian driver's license, and Canadian registration plates ready to put on my car—we'll take mine—less suspicious. I can look like a real farmer—that's because I am one, I guess—I'm going to drive you all, by the way. I got the plates smuggled in underneath the bottles in a case of ale! So we're all set, and we'll start tomorrow night, if the weather isn't too clear—hope there'll be snow."

"But Buck! Good Lord! I'm not going to flee. I'm not guilty of anything. I haven't anything to flee for!"

"Just your life, my boy, just your life!"

"I'm not afraid of 'em."

"Oh yes you are!"

"Oh—well—if you look at it that way, probably I am! But I'm not going to let a bunch of lunatics and gunmen drive me out of the country that I and my ancestors made!"

Emma choked with the effort to think of something convincing; Mary seemed without tears to be weeping; Sissy squeaked; Julian and Lorinda started to speak and interrupted each other; and it was the uninvited Mrs. Candy who, from the doorway, led off: "Now isn't that like a man! Stubborn as mules. All of 'em. Every one. And show-offs, the whole lot of 'em. Course you just wouldn't stop and think how your womenfolks will feel if you get took off and shot! You just stand in front of the locomotive and claim that because you were on the section gang that built the track, you got more right there than the engine has, and then when it's gone over you and gone away, you expect us all to think what a hero you were! Well, maybe some call it being a hero, but—"

"Well, confound it all, all of you picking on me and trying to get me all mixed up and not carry out my duty to the State as I see it—"

"You're over sixty, Doremus. Maybe a lot of us can do our duty better now from Canada than we can here—like Walt Trowbridge," besought Lorinda. Emma looked at her friend Lorinda with no particular affection.

"But to let the Corpos steal the country and nobody protest! No!"

"That's the kind of argument that sent a few million out to die, to make the world safe for democracy and a cinch for Fascism!" scoffed Buck.

"Dad! Come with us. Because we can't go without you. And I'm getting scared here." Sissy sounded scared, too; Sissy the unconquerable. "This afternoon Shad stopped me on the street and wanted me to go out with him. He tickled my chin, the little darling! But honestly, the way he smirked, as if he was so sure of me—I got scared!"

"I'll get a shotgun and—" "Why, I'll kill the dirty—" "Wait'll I get my hands on—" cried Doremus, Julian, and Buck, all together, and glared at one another, then looked sheepish as Foolish barked at the racket, and Mrs. Candy, leaning like a frozen codfish against the door jamb, snorted, "Some more locomotive-batters!"

Doremus laughed. For one only time in his life he showed genius, for he consented: "All right. We'll go. But just imagine that I'm a man of strong will power and I'm taking all night to be convinced. We'll start tomorrow night." What he did not say was that he planned, the moment he had his family safe in Canada, with money in the bank and perhaps a job to amuse Sissy, to run away from them and come back to his proper fight. He would at least kill Shad before he got killed himself.

 

 

It was only a week before Christmas, a holiday always greeted with good cheer and quantities of colored ribbons in the Jessup household; and that wild day of preparing for flight had a queer Christmas joyfulness. To dodge suspicion, Doremus spent most of the time at the office, and a hundred times it seemed that Staubmeyer was glancing at him with just the ruler-threatening hidden ire he had used on whisperers and like young criminals in school. But he took off two hours at lunch time, and he went home early in the afternoon, and his long depression was gone in the prospect of Canada and freedom, in an excited inspection of clothes that was like preparation for a fishing trip. They worked upstairs, behind drawn blinds, feeling like spies in an E. Phillips Oppenheim story, beleagured in the dark and stone-floored ducal bedroom of an ancient inn just beyond Grasse. Downstairs, Mrs. Candy was pretentiously busy looking normal—after their flight, she and the canary were to remain and she was to be surprised when the M.M.'s reported that the Jessups seemed to have escaped.

Doremus had drawn five hundred from each of the local banks, late that afternoon, telling them that he was thinking of taking an option on an apple orchard. He was too well-trained a domestic animal to be raucously amused, but he could not help observing that while he himself was taking on the flight to Egypt only all the money he could get hold of, plus cigarettes, six handkerchiefs, two extra pairs of socks, a comb, a toothbrush, and the first volume of Spengler's Decline of the West—decidedly it was not his favorite book, but one he had been trying to make himself read for years, on train journeys—while, in fact, he took nothing that he could not stuff into his overcoat pockets, Sissy apparently had need of all her newest lingerie and of a large framed picture of Julian, Emma of a kodak album showing the three children from the ages of one to twenty, David of his new model aeroplane, and Mary of her still, dark hatred that was heavier to carry than many chests.

 

 

Julian and Lorinda were there to help them; Julian off in corners with Sissy.

With Lorinda, Doremus had but one free moment … in the old-fashioned guest-bathroom.

"Linda. Oh, Lord!"

"We'll come through! In Canada you'll have time to catch your breath. Join Trowbridge!"

"Yes, but to leave you—I'd hoped somehow, by some miracle, you and I could have maybe a month together, say in Monterey or Venice or the Yellowstone. I hate it when life doesn't seem to stick together and get somewhere and have some plan and meaning."

"It's had meaning! No dictator can completely smother us now! Come!"

"Good-bye, my Linda!"

Not even now did he alarm her by confessing that he planned to come back, into danger.

Embracing beside an aged tin-lined bathtub with woodwork painted a dreary brown, in a room which smelled slightly of gas from an old hot-water heater—embracing in sunset-colored mist upon a mountain top.

 

 

Darkness, edged wind, wickedly deliberate snow, and in it Buck Titus boisterously cheerful in his veteran Nash, looking as farmer-like as he could, in sealskin cap with rubbed bare patches and an atrocious dogskin overcoat. Doremus thought of him again as a Captain Charles King cavalryman chasing the Sioux across blizzard-blinded prairies.

They packed alarmingly into the car; Mary beside Buck, the driver; in the back, Doremus between Emma and Sissy; on the floor, David and Foolish and the toy aeroplane indistinguishably curled up together beneath a robe. Trunk rack and front fenders were heaped with tarpaulin-covered suitcases.

"Lord, I wish I were going!" moaned Julian. "Look! Sis! Grand spy-story idea! But I mean seriously: Send souvenir postcards to my granddad—views of churches and so on—just sign 'em 'Jane'—and whatever you say about the church, I'll know you really mean it about you and—Oh, damn all mystery! I want you, Sissy!"

Mrs. Candy whisked a bundle in among the already intolerable mess of baggage which promised to descend on Doremus's knees and David's head, and she snapped, "Well, if you folks must go flyin' around the country—It's a cocoanut layer cake." Savagely: "Soon's you get around the corner, throw the fool thing in the ditch if you want to!" She fled sobbing into the kitchen, where Lorinda stood in the lighted doorway, silent, her trembling hands out to them.

 

 

The car was already lurching in the snow before they had sneaked through Fort Beulah by shadowy back-streets and started streaking northward.

Sissy sang out cheerily, "Well, Christmas in Canada! Skittles and beer and lots of holly!"

"Oh, do they have Santa Claus in Canada?" came David's voice, wondering, childish, slightly muffled by lap robe and the furry ears of Foolish.

"Of course they do, dearie!" Emma reassured him and, to the grown-ups, "Now wasn't that the cutest thing!"

To Doremus, Sissy whispered, "Darn well ought to be cute. Took me ten minutes to teach him to say it, this afternoon! Hold my hand. I hope Buck knows how to drive!"

 

 

Buck Titus knew every back-road from Fort Beulah to the border, preferably in filthy weather, like tonight. Beyond Trianon he pulled the car up deep-rutted roads, on which you would have to back if you were to pass anyone. Up grades on which the car knocked and panted, into lonely hills, by a zigzag of roads, they jerked toward Canada. Wet snow sheathed the windshield, then froze, and Buck had to drive with his head thrust out through the open window, and the blast came in and circled round their stiff necks.

Doremus could see nothing save the back of Buck's twisted, taut neck, and the icy windshield, most of the time. Just now and then a light far below the level of the road indicated that they were sliding along a shelf road, and if they skidded off, they would keep going a hundred feet, two hundred feet, downward—probably turning over and over. Once they did skid, and while they panted in an eternity of four seconds, Buck yanked the car up a bank beside the road, down to the left again, and finally straight—speeding on as if nothing had happened, while Doremus felt feeble in the knees.

For a long while he kept going rigid with fear, but he sank into misery, too cold and deaf to feel anything except a slow desire to vomit as the car lurched. Probably he slept—at least, he awakened, and awakened to a sensation of pushing the car anxiously up hill, as she bucked and stuttered in the effort to make a slippery rise. Suppose the engine died—suppose the brakes would not hold and they slid back downhill, reeling, bursting off the road and down—A great many suppositions tortured him, hour by hour.

Then he tried being awake and bright and helpful. He noticed that the ice-lined windshield, illuminated from the light on the snow ahead, was a sheet of diamonds. He noticed it, but he couldn't get himself to think much of diamonds, even in sheets.

He tried conversation.

"Cheer up. Breakfast at dawn—across the border!" he tried on Sissy.

"Breakfast!" she said bitterly.

And they crunched on, in that moving coffin with only the sheet of diamonds and Buck's silhouette alive in all the world.

After unnumbered hours the car reared and tumbled and reared again. The motor raced; its sound rose to an intolerable roaring; yet the car seemed not to be moving. The motor stopped abruptly. Buck cursed, popped his head back into the car like a turtle, and the starter ground long and whiningly. The motor again roared, again stopped. They could hear stiff branches rattling, hear Foolish moaning in sleep. The car was a storm-menaced cabin in the wilderness. The silence seemed waiting, as they were waiting.

"Strouble?" said Doremus.

"Stuck. No traction. Hit a drift of wet snow—drainage from a busted culvert, I sh' think. Hell! Have to get out and take a look."

Outside the car, as Doremus crept down from the slippery running-board, it was cold in a vicious wind. He was so stiff he could scarcely stand.

As people do, feeling important and advisory, Doremus looked at the drift with an electric torch, and Sissy looked at the drift with the torch, and Buck impatiently took the torch away from them and looked twice.

"Get some—" and "Brush would help," said Sissy and Buck together, while Doremus rubbed his chilly ears.

They three trotted back and forth with fragments of brush, laying it in front of the wheels, while Mary politely asked from within, "Can I help?" and no one seemed particularly to have answered her.

The headlights picked out an abandoned shack beside the road; an unpainted gray pine cabin with broken window glass and no door. Emma, sighing her way out of the car and stepping through the lumpy snow as delicately as a pacer at a horse show, said humbly, "That little house there—maybe I could go in and make some hot coffee on the alcohol stove—didn't have room for a thermos. Hot coffee, Dormouse?"

To Doremus she sounded, just now, not at all like a wife, but as sensible as Mrs. Candy.

When the car did kick its way up on the pathway of twigs and stand panting safely beyond the drift, they had, in the sheltered shack, coffee with slabs of Mrs. Candy's voluptuous cocoanut cake. Doremus pondered, "This is a nice place. I like this place. It doesn't bounce or skid. I don't want to leave this place."

He did. The secure immobility of the shack was behind them, dark miles behind, and they were again pitching and rolling and being sick and inescapably chilly. David was alternately crying and going back to sleep. Foolish woke up to cough inquiringly and returned to his dream of rabbiting. And Doremus was sleeping, his head swaying like a masthead in long rollers, his shoulder against Emma's, his hand warm about Sissy's, and his soul in nameless bliss.

 

 

He roused to a half-dawn filmy with snow. The car was standing in what seemed to be a crossroads hamlet, and Buck was examining a map by the light of the electric torch.

"Got anywhere yet?" Doremus whispered.

"Just a few miles to the border."

"Anybody stopped us?"

"Nope. Oh, we'll make it, all right, o' man."

Out of East Berkshire, Buck took not the main road to the border but an old wood lane so little used that the ruts were twin snakes. Though Doremus said nothing, the others felt his intensity, his anxiety that was like listening for an enemy in the dark. David sat up, the blue motor robe about him. Foolish started, snorted, looked offended but, catching the spirit of the moment, comfortingly laid a paw on Doremus's knee and insisted on shaking hands, over and over, as gravely as a Venetian senator or an undertaker.

They dropped into the dimness of a tree-walled hollow. A searchlight darted, and rested hotly on them, so dazzling them that Buck almost ran off the road.

"Confound it," he said gently. No one else said anything.

He crawled up to the light, which was mounted on a platform in front of a small shelter hut. Two Minute Men stood out in the road, dripping with radiance from the car. They were young and rural, but they had efficient repeating rifles.

"Where you headed for?" demanded the elder, good-naturedly enough.

"Montreal, where we live." Buck showed his Canadian license… . Gasoline motor and electric light, yet Doremus saw the frontier guard as a sentry in 1864, studying a pass by lantern light, beside a farm wagon in which hid General Joe Johnston's spies disguised as plantation hands.

"I guess it's all right. Seems in order. But we've had some trouble with refugees. You'll have to wait till the Battalion-Leader comes—maybe 'long about noon."

"But good Lord, Inspector, we can't do that! My mother's awful sick, in Montreal."

"Yuh, I've heard that one before! And maybe it's true, this time. But afraid you'll have to wait for the Bat. You folks can come in and set by the fire, if you want to."

"But we've got to—"

"You heard what I said!" The M.M.'s were fingering their rifles.

"All right. But tell you what we'll do. We'll go back to East Berkshire and get some breakfast and a wash and come back here. Noon, you said?"

"Okay! And say, Brother, it does seem kind of funny, your taking this back road, when there's a first-rate highway. S' long. Be good… . Just don't try it again! The Bat might be here next time—and he ain't a farmer like you or me!"

The refugees, as they drove away, had an uncomfortable feeling that the guards were laughing at them.

Three border posts they tried, and at three posts they were turned back.

"Well?" said Buck.

"Yes. I guess so. Back home. My turn to drive," said Doremus wearily.

The humiliation of retreat was the worse in that none of the guards had troubled to do more than laugh at them. They were trapped too tightly for the trappers to worry. Doremus's only clear emotion as, tails between their legs, they back-tracked to Shad Ledue's sneer and to Mrs. Candy's "Well, I never!" was regret that he had not shot one guard, at least, and he raged:

"Now I know why men like John Brown became crazy killers!"

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.