It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 24

He could not decide whether Emil Staubmeyer, and through him Shad Ledue, knew that he had tried to escape. Did Staubmeyer really look more knowing, or did he just imagine it? What the deuce had Emil meant when he said, "I hear the roads aren't so good up north—not so good!" Whether they knew or not, it was grinding that he should have to shiver lest an illiterate roustabout like Shad Ledue find out that he desired to go to Canada, while a ruler-slapper like Staubmeyer, a Squeers with certificates in "pedagogy," should now be able to cuff grown men instead of urchins and should be editor of the Informer! Doremus's Informer! Staubmeyer! That human blackboard!

Daily Doremus found it more cramping, more instantly stirring to fury, to write anything mentioning Windrip. His private office—the cheerfully rattling linotype room—the shouting pressroom with its smell of ink that to him hitherto had been like the smell of grease paint to an actor—they were hateful now, and choking. Not even Lorinda's faith, not even Sissy's jibes and Buck's stories, could rouse him to hope.

He rejoiced the more, therefore, when his son Philip telephoned him from Worcester: "Be home Sunday? Merilla's in New York, gadding, and I'm all alone here. Thought I'd just drive up for the day and see how things are in your neck of the woods."

"Come on! Splendid! So long since we've seen you. I'll have your mother start a pot of beans right away!"

Doremus was happy. Not for some time did his cursed two-way-mindedness come to weaken his joy, as he wondered whether it wasn't just a myth held over from boyhood that Philip really cared so much for Emma's beans and brown bread; and wondered just why it was that Up-to-Date Americans like Philip always used the long-distance telephone rather than undergo the dreadful toil of dictating a letter a day or two earlier. It didn't really seem so efficient, the old-fashioned village editor reflected, to spend seventy-five cents on a telephone call in order to save five cents' worth of time.

"Oh hush! Anyway, I'll be delighted to see the boy! I'll bet there isn't a smarter young lawyer in Worcester. There's one member of the family that's a real success!"



He was a little shocked when Philip came, like a one-man procession, into the living room, late on Saturday afternoon. He had been forgetting how bald this upstanding young advocate was growing even at thirty-four. And it seemed to him that Philip was a little heavy and senatorial in speech and a bit too cordial.

"By Jove, Dad, you don't know how good it is to be back in the old digs. Mother and the girls upstairs? By Jove, sir, that was a horrible business, the killing of poor Fowler. Horrible! I was simply horrified. There must have been a mistake somewhere, because Judge Swan has a wonderful reputation for scrupulousness."

"There was no mistake. Swan is a fiend. Literally!" Doremus sounded less paternal than when he had first bounded up to shake hands with the beloved prodigal.

"Really? We must talk it over. I'll see if there can't be a stricter investigation. Swan? Really! We'll certainly go into the whole business. But first I must just skip upstairs and give Mammy a good smack, and Mary and Little Sis."

And that was the last time that Philip mentioned Effingham Swan or any "stricter investigation" of the acts thereof. All afternoon he was relentlessly filial and fraternal, and he smiled like an automobile salesman when Sissy griped at him, "What's the idea of all the tender hand-dusting, Philco?"

Doremus and he were not alone till nearly midnight.

They sat upstairs in the sacred study. Philip lighted one of Doremus's excellent cigars as though he were a cinema actor playing the role of a man lighting an excellent cigar, and breathed amiably:

"Well, sir, this is an excellent cigar! It certainly is excellent!"

"Why not?"

"Oh, I just mean—I was just appreciating it—"

"What is it, Phil? There's something on your mind. Shoot! Not rowing with Merilla, are you?"

"Certainly not! Most certainly not! Oh, I don't approve of everything Merry does—she's a little extravagant—but she's got a heart of gold, and let me tell you, Pater, there isn't a young society woman in Worcester that makes a nicer impression on everybody, especially at nice dinner parties."

"Well then? Let's have it, Phil. Something serious?"

"Ye-es, I'm afraid there is. Look, Dad… . Oh, do sit down and be comfortable! … I've been awfully perturbed to hear that you've, uh, that you're in slightly bad odor with some of the authorities."

"You mean the Corpos?"

"Naturally! Who else?"

"Maybe I don't recognize 'em as authorities."

"Oh, listen, Pater, please don't joke tonight! I'm serious. As a matter fact, I hear you're more than just 'slightly' in wrong with them."

"And who may your informant be?"

"Oh, just letters—old school friends. Now you aren't really pro-Corpo, are you?"

"How did you ever guess?"

"Well, I've been—I didn't vote for Windrip, personally, but I begin to see where I was wrong. I can see now that he has not only great personal magnetism, but real constructive power—real sure-enough statesmanship. Some say it's Lee Sarason's doing, but don't you believe it for a minute. Look at all Buzz did back in his home state, before he ever teamed up with Sarason! And some say Windrip is crude. Well, so were Lincoln and Jackson. Now what I think of Windrip—"

"The only thing you ought to think of Windrip is that his gangsters murdered your fine brother-in-law! And plenty of other men just as good. Do you condone such murders?"

"No! Certainly not! How can you suggest such a thing, Dad! No one abhors violence more than I do. Still, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs—"

"Hell and damnation!"

"Why, Pater!"

"Don't call me 'Pater'! If I ever hear that 'can't make an omelet' phrase again, I'll start doing a little murder myself! It's used to justify every atrocity under every despotism, Fascist or Nazi or Communist or American labor war. Omelet! Eggs! By God, sir, men's souls and blood are not eggshells for tyrants to break!"

"Oh, sorry, sir. I guess maybe the phrase is a little shopworn! I just mean to say—I'm just trying to figure this situation out realistically!"

"'Realistically'! That's another buttered bun to excuse murder!"

"But honestly, you know—horrible things do happen, thanks to the imperfection of human nature, but you can forgive the means if the end is a rejuvenated nation that—"

"I can do nothing of the kind! I can never forgive evil and lying and cruel means, and still less can I forgive fanatics that use that for an excuse! If I may imitate Romain Rolland, a country that tolerates evil means—evil manners, standards of ethics—for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end. I'm just curious, but do you know how perfectly you're quoting every Bolshevik apologist that sneers at decency and kindness and truthfulness in daily dealings as 'bourgeois morality'? I hadn't understood that you'd gone quite so Marxo-materialistic!"

"I! Marxian! Good God!" Doremus was pleased to see that he had stirred his son out of his if-your-honor-please smugness. "Why, one of the things I most admire about the Corpos is that, as I know, absolutely—I have reliable information from Washington—they have saved us from a simply ghastly invasion by red agents of Moscow—Communists pretending to be decent labor-leaders!"

"Not really!" (Had the fool forgotten that his father was a newspaperman and not likely to be impressed by "reliable information from Washington"?)

"Really! And to be realistic—sorry, sir, if you don't like the word, but to be—to be—"

"In fact, to be realistic!"

"Well, yes, then!"

(Doremus recalled such tempers in Philip from years ago. Had he been wise, after all, to restrain himself from the domestic pleasure of licking the brat?)

"The whole point is that Windrip, or anyway the Corpos, are here to stay, Pater, and we've got to base our future actions not on some desired Utopia but on what we really and truly have. And think of what they've actually done! Just, for example, how they've removed the advertising billboards from the highways, and ended unemployment, and their simply stupendous feat in getting rid of all crime!"

"Good God!"

"Pardon me—what y' say, Dad?"

"Nothing! Nothing! Go on!"

"But I begin to see now that the Corpo gains haven't been just material but spiritual."


"Really! They've revitalized the whole country. Formerly we had gotten pretty sordid, just thinking about material possessions and comforts—about electric refrigeration and television and air-conditioning. Kind of lost the sturdiness that characterized our pioneer ancestors. Why, ever so many young men were refusing to take military drill, and the discipline and will power and good-fellowship that you only get from military training—Oh, pardon me! I forgot you were a pacifist."

Doremus grimly muttered, "Not any more!"

"Of course there must be any number of things we can't agree on, Dad. But after all, as a publicist you ought to listen to the Voice of Youth."

"You? Youth? You're not youth. You're two thousand years old, mentally. You date just about 100 B.C. in your fine new imperialistic theories!"

"No, but you must listen, Dad! Why do you suppose I came clear up here from Worcester just to see you?"

"God only knows!"

"I want to make myself clear. Before Windrip, we'd been lying down in America, while Europe was throwing off all her bonds—both monarchy and this antiquated parliamentary-democratic-liberal system that really means rule by professional politicians and by egotistic 'intellectuals.' We've got to catch up to Europe again—got to expand—it's the rule of life. A nation, like a man, has to go ahead or go backward. Always!"

"I know, Phil. I used to write that same thing in those same words, back before 1914!"

"Did you? Well, anyway—Got to expand! Why, what we ought to do is to grab all of Mexico, and maybe Central America, and a good big slice of China. Why, just on their own behalf we ought to do it, misgoverned the way they are! Maybe I'm wrong but—"


"—Windrip and Sarason and Dewey Haik and Macgoblin, all those fellows, they're big—they're making me stop and think! And now to come down to my errand here—"

"You think I ought to run the Informer according to Corpo theology!"

"Why—why yes! That was approximately what I was going to say. (I just don't see why you haven't been more reasonable about this whole thing—you with your quick mind!) After all, the time for selfish individualism is gone. We've got to have mass action. One for all and all for one—"

"Philip, would you mind telling me what the deuce you're really heading toward? Cut the cackle!"

"Well, since you insist—to 'cut the cackle,' as you call it—not very politely, seems to me, seeing I've taken the trouble to come clear up from Worcester!—I have reliable information that you're going to get into mighty serious trouble if you don't stop opposing—or at least markedly failing to support—the government."

"All right. What of it? It's my serious trouble!"

"That's just the point! It isn't! I do think that just for once in your life you might think of Mother and the girls, instead of always of your own selfish 'ideas' that you're so proud of! In a crisis like this, it just isn't funny any longer to pose as a quaint 'liberal.'"

Doremus's voice was like a firecracker. "Cut the cackle, I told you! What you after? What's the Corpo gang to you?"

"I have been approached in regard to the very high honor of an assistant military judgeship, but your attitude, as my father—"

"Philip, I think, I rather think, that I give you my parental curse not so much because you are a traitor as because you have become a stuffed shirt! Good-night."

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