It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 31

As the open prison van approached the concentration camp at Trianon, the last light of afternoon caressed the thick birch and maples and poplars up the pyramid of Mount Faithful. But the grayness swiftly climbed the slope, and all the valley was left in cold shadow. In his seat the sick Doremus drooped again in listlessness.

 

 

The prim Georgian buildings of the girls' school which had been turned into a concentration camp at Trianon, nine miles north of Fort Beulah, had been worse used than Dartmouth, where whole buildings were reserved for the luxuries of the Corpos and their female cousins, all very snotty and parvenu. The Trianon school seemed to have been gouged by a flood. Marble doorsteps had been taken away. (One of them now graced the residence of the wife of the Superintendent, Mrs. Cowlick, a woman fat, irate, jeweled, religious, and given to announcing that all opponents of the Chief were Communists and ought to be shot offhand.) Windows were smashed. "Hurrah for the Chief" had been chalked on brick walls and other chalked words, each of four letters, had been rubbed out, not very thoroughly. The lawns and hollyhock beds were a mess of weeds.

The buildings stood on three sides of a square; the fourth side and the gaps between buildings were closed with unpainted pine fences topped with strands of barbed wire.

Every room except the office of Captain Cowlick, the Superintendent (he was as near nothing at all as any man can be who has attained to such honors as being a captain in the Quartermaster Corps and the head of a prison) was smeared with filth. His office was merely dreary, and scented with whisky, not, like the other rooms, with ammonia.

Cowlick was not too ill-natured. He wished that the camp guards, all M.M.'s, would not treat the prisoners viciously, except when they tried to escape. But he was a mild man; much too mild to hurt the feelings of the M.M.'s and perhaps set up inhibitions in their psyches by interfering with their methods of discipline. The poor fellows probably meant well when they lashed noisy inmates for insisting they had committed no crime. And the good Cowlick saved Doremus's life for a while; let him lie for a month in the stuffy hospital and have actual beef in his daily beef stew. The prison doctor, a decayed old drunkard who had had his medical training in the late 'eighties and who had been somewhat close to trouble in civil life for having performed too many abortions, was also good-natured enough, when sober, and at last he permitted Doremus to have Dr. Marcus Olmsted in from Fort Beulah, and for the first time in four weeks Doremus had news, any news whatsoever, of the world beyond prison.

Where in normal life it would have been agony to wait for one hour to know what might be happening to his friends, his family, now for one month he had not known whether they were alive or dead.

Dr. Olmsted—as guilty as Doremus himself of what the Corpos called treason—dared speak to him only a moment, because the prison doctor stayed in the hospital ward all the while, drooling over whip-scarred patients and daubing iodine more or less near their wounds. Olmsted sat on the edge of his cot, with its foul blankets, unwashed for months, and muttered rapidly:

"Quick! Listen! Don't talk! Mrs. Jessup and your two girls are all right—they're scared, but no signs of their being arrested. Hear Lorinda Pike is all right. Your grandson, David, looks fine—though I'm afraid he'll grow up a Corpo, like all the youngsters. Buck Titus is alive—at another concentration camp—the one near Woodstock. Our N.U. cell at Fort Beulah is doing what it can—no publishing, but we forward information—get a lot from Julian Falck—great joke: he's been promoted, M.M. Squad-Leader now! Mary and Sissy and Father Perefixe keep distributing pamphlets from Boston; they help the Quinn boy (my driver) and me to forward refugees to Canada… . Yes, we carry on… . About like an oxygen tent for a patient that's dying of pneumonia! … It hurts to see you looking like a ghost, Doremus. But you'll pull through. You've got pretty good nerves for a little cuss! That aged-in-the-keg prison doctor is looking this way. Bye!"

 

 

He was not permitted to see Dr. Olmsted again, but it was probably Olmsted's influence that got him, when he was dismissed from the hospital, still shaky but well enough to stumble about, a vastly desirable job as sweeper of cells and corridors, cleaner of lavatories and scrubber of toilets, instead of working in the woods gang, up Mount Faithful, where old men who sank under the weight of logs were said to be hammered to death by guards under the sadistic Ensign Stoyt, when Captain Cowlick wasn't looking. It was better, too, than the undesirable idleness of being disciplined in the "dog house" where you lay naked, in darkness, and where "bad cases" were reformed by being kept awake for forty-eight or even ninety-six hours. Doremus was a conscientious toilet-cleaner. He didn't like the work very much, but he had pride in being able to scrub as skillfully as any professional pearl-diver in a Greek lunch room, and satisfaction in lessening a little the wretchedness of his imprisoned comrades by giving them clean floors.

For, he told himself, they were his comrades. He saw that he, who had thought of himself as a capitalist because he could hire and fire, and because theoretically he "owned his business," had been as helpless as the most itinerant janitor, once it seemed worth while to the Big Business which Corpoism represented to get rid of him. Yet he still told himself stoutly that he did not believe in a dictatorship of the proletariat any more than he believed in a dictatorship of the bankers and utility-owners; he still insisted that any doctor or preacher, though economically he might be as insecure as the humblest of his flock, who did not feel that he was a little better than they, and privileged to enjoy working a little harder, was a rotten doctor or a preacher without grace. He felt that he himself had been a better and more honorable reporter than Doc Itchitt, and a thundering sight better student of politics than most of his shopkeeper and farmer and factory-worker readers.

Yet bourgeois pride was so gone out of him that he was flattered, a little thrilled, when he was universally called "Doremus" and not "Mr. Jessup" by farmer and workman and truck-driver and plain hobo; when they thought enough of his courage under beating and his good-temper under being crowded with others in a narrow cell to regard him as almost as good as their own virile selves.

Karl Pascal mocked him. "I told you so, Doremus! You'll be a Communist yet!"

"Yes, maybe I will, Karl—after you Communists kick out all your false prophets and bellyachers and power drunkards, and all your press-agents for the Moscow subway."

"Well, all right, why don't you join Max Eastman? I hear he's escaped to Mexico and has a whole big pure Trotzkyite Communist party of seventeen members there!"

"Seventeen? Too many. What I want is mass action by just one member, alone on a hilltop. I'm a great optimist, Karl. I still hope America may some day rise to the standards of Kit Carson!"

 

 

As sweeper and scrubber, Doremus had unusual chances for gossip with other prisoners. He chuckled when he thought of how many of his fellow criminals were acquaintances: Karl Pascal, Henry Veeder, his own cousin, Louis Rotenstern, who looked now like a corpse, unforgettingly wounded in his old pride of having become a "real American," Clif Little, the jeweler, who was dying of consumption, Ben Tripper, who had been the jolliest workman in Medary Cole's gristmill, Professor Victor Loveland, of the defunct Isaiah College, and Raymond Pridewell, that old Tory who was still so contemptuous of flattery, so clean amid dirt, so hawk-eyed, that the guards were uncomfortable when they beat him… . Pascal, the Communist, Pridewell, the squirearchy Republican, and Henry Veeder, who had never cared a hang about politics, and who had recovered from the first shocks of imprisonment, these three had become intimates, because they had more arrogance of utter courage than anyone else in the prison.

 

 

For home Doremus shared with five other men a cell twelve feet by ten and eight feet high, which a finishing-school girl had once considered outrageously confined for one lone young woman. Here they slept, in two tiers of three bunks each; here they ate, washed, played cards, read, and enjoyed the leisurely contemplation which, as Captain Cowlick preached to them every Sunday morning, was to reform their black souls and turn them into loyal Corpos.

None of them, certainly not Doremus, complained much. They got used to sleeping in a jelly of tobacco smoke and human stench, to eating stews that always left them nervously hungry, to having no more dignity or freedom than monkeys in a cage, as a man gets used to the indignity of having to endure cancer. Only it left in them a murderous hatred of their oppressors so that they, men of peace all of them, would gladly have hanged every Corpo, mild or vicious. Doremus understood John Brown much better.

His cell mates were Karl Pascal, Henry Veeder, and three men whom he had not known: a Boston architect, a farm hand, and a dope fiend who had once kept questionable restaurants. They had good talk—especially from the dope fiend, who placidly defended crime in a world where the only real crime had been poverty.

 

 

The worst torture to Doremus, aside from the agony of actual floggings, was the waiting.

The Waiting. It became a distinct, tangible thing, as individual and real as Bread or Water. How long would he be in? How long would he be in? Night and day, asleep and waking, he worried it, and by his bunk saw waiting the figure of Waiting, a gray, foul ghost.

It was like waiting in a filthy station for a late train, not for hours but for months.

Would Swan amuse himself by having Doremus taken out and shot? He could not care much, now; he could not picture it, any more than he could picture kissing Lorinda, walking through the woods with Buck, playing with David and Foolish, or anything less sensual than the ever derisive visions of roast beef with gravy, of a hot bath, last and richest of luxuries where their only way of washing, except for a fortnightly shower, was with a dirty shirt dipped in the one basin of cold water for six men.

Besides Waiting, one other ghost hung about them—the notion of Escaping. It was of that (far more than of the beastliness and idiocy of the Corpos) that they whispered in the cell at night. When to escape. How to escape. To sneak off through the bushes when they were out with the woods gang? By some magic to cut through the bars on their cell window and drop out and blessedly not be seen by the patrols? To manage to hang on underneath one of the prison trucks and be driven away? (A childish fantasy!) They longed for escape as hysterically and as often as a politician longs for votes. But they had to discuss it cautiously, for there were stool pigeons all over the prison.

This was hard for Doremus to believe. He could not understand a man's betraying his companions, and he did not believe it till, two months after Doremus had gone to concentration camp, Clifford Little betrayed to the guards Henry Veeder's plan to escape in a hay wagon. Henry was properly dealt with. Little was released. And Doremus, it may be, suffered over it nearly as much as either of them, sturdily though he tried to argue that Little had tuberculosis and that the often beatings had bled out his soul.

 

 

Each prisoner was permitted one visitor a fortnight and, in sequence, Doremus saw Emma, Mary, Sissy, David. But always an M.M. was standing two feet away, listening, and Doremus had from them nothing more than a fluttering, "We're all fine—we hear Buck is all right—we hear Lorinda is doing fine in her new tea room—Philip writes he is all right." And once came Philip himself, his pompous son, more pompous than ever now as a Corpo judge, and very hurt about his father's insane radicalism—considerably more hurt when Doremus tartly observed that he would much rather have had the dog Foolish for visitor.

And there were letters—all censored—worse than useless to a man who had been so glad to hear the living voices of his friends.

In the long run, these frustrate visits, these empty letters, made his waiting the more dismal, because they suggested that perhaps he was wrong in his nightly visions; perhaps the world outside was not so loving and eager and adventurous as he remembered it, but only dreary as his cell.

 

 

He had little known Karl Pascal, yet now the argumentative Marxian was his nearest friend, his one amusing consolation. Karl could and did prove that the trouble with leaky valves, sour cow pastures, the teaching of calculus, and all novels was their failure to be guided by the writings of Lenin.

In his new friendship, Doremus was old-maidishly agitated lest Karl be taken out and shot, the recognition usually given to Communists. He discovered that he need not worry. Karl had been in jail before. He was the trained agitator for whom Doremus had longed in New Underground days. He had ferreted out so many scandals about the financial and sexual shenanigans of every one of the guards that they were afraid that even while he was being shot, he might tattle to the firing-squad. They were much more anxious for his good opinion than for that of Captain Cowlick, and they timidly brought him little presents of chewing tobacco and Canadian newspapers, as though they were schoolchildren honeying up to teacher.

When Aras Dilley was transferred from night patrols in Fort Beulah to the position of guard at Trianon—a reward for having given to Shad Ledue certain information about R. C. Crowley which cost that banker hundreds of dollars—Aras, that slinker, that able snooper, jumped at the sight of Karl and began to look pious and kind. He had known Karl before!

 

 

Despite the presence of Stoyt, Ensign of guards, an ex-cashier who had once enjoyed shooting dogs and who now, in the blessed escape of Corpoism, enjoyed lashing human beings, the camp at Trianon was not so cruel as the district prison at Hanover. But from the dirty window of his cell Doremus saw horrors enough.

One mid-morning, a radiant September morning with the air already savoring the peace of autumn, he saw the firing-squad marching out his cousin, Henry Veeder, who had recently tried to escape. Henry had been a granite monolith of a man. He had walked like a soldier. He had, in his cell, been proud of shaving every morning, as once he had done, with a tin basin of water heated on the stove, in the kitchen of his old white house up on Mount Terror. Now he stooped, and toward death he walked with dragging feet. His face of a Roman senator was smeared from the cow dung into which they had flung him for his last slumber.

As they tramped out through the quadrangle gate, Ensign Stoyt, commanding the squad, halted Henry, laughed at him, and calmly kicked him in the groin.

They lifted him up. Three minutes later Doremus heard a ripple of shots. Three minutes after that the squad came back bearing on an old door a twisted clay figure with vacant open eyes. Then Doremus cried aloud. As the bearers slanted the stretcher, the figure rolled to the ground.

But one thing worse he was to see through the accursed window. The guards drove in, as new prisoners, Julian Falck, in torn uniform, and Julian's grandfather, so fragile, so silvery, so bewildered and terrified in his muddied clericals.

He saw them kicked across the quadrangle into a building once devoted to instruction in dancing and the more delicate airs for the piano; devoted now to the torture room and the solitary cells.

Not for two weeks, two weeks of waiting that was like ceaseless ache, did he have a chance, at exercise hour, to speak for a moment to Julian, who muttered, "They caught me writing some inside dope about M.M. graft. It was to have gone to Sissy. Thank God, nothing on it to show who it was for!" Julian had passed on. But Doremus had had time to see that his eyes were hopeless, and that his neat, smallish, clerical face was blue-black with bruises.

The administration (or so Doremus guessed) decided that Julian, the first spy among the M.M.'s who had been caught in the Fort Beulah region, was too good a subject of sport to be wastefully shot at once. He should be kept for an example. Often Doremus saw the guards kick him across the quadrangle to the whipping room and imagined that he could hear Julian's shrieks afterward. He wasn't even kept in a punishment cell, but in an open barred den on an ordinary corridor, so that passing inmates could peep in and see him, welts across his naked back, huddled on the floor, whimpering like a beaten dog.

And Doremus had sight of Julian's grandfather sneaking across the quadrangle, stealing a soggy hunk of bread from a garbage can, and fiercely chewing at it.

All through September Doremus worried lest Sissy, with Julian now gone from Fort Beulah, be raped by Shad Ledue… . Shad would leer the while, and gloat over his ascent from hired man to irresistible master.

 

 

Despite his anguish over the Falcks and Henry Veeder and every uncouthest comrade in prison, Doremus was almost recovered from his beatings by late September. He began delightedly to believe that he would live for another ten years; was slightly ashamed of his delight, in the presence of so much agony, but he felt like a young man and—And straightway Ensign Stoyt was there (two or three o'clock at night it must have been), yanking Doremus out of his bunk, pulling him to his feet, knocking him down again with so violent a crack in his mouth that Doremus instantly sank again into all his trembling fear, all his inhuman groveling.

He was dragged into Captain Cowlick's office.

The Captain was courtly:

"Mr. Jessup, we have information that you were connected with Squad-Leader Julian Falck's treachery. He has, uh, well, to be frank, he's broken down and confessed. Now you yourself are in no danger, no danger whatever, of further punishment, if you will just help us. But we really must make a warning of young Mr. Falck, and so if you will tell us all you know about the boy's shocking infidelity to the colors, we shall hold it in your favor. How would you like to have a nice bedroom to sleep in, all by yourself?"

A quarter hour later Doremus was still swearing that he knew nothing whatever of any "subversive activities" on the part of Julian.

Captain Cowlick said, rather testily, "Well, since you refuse to respond to our generosity, I must leave you to Ensign Stoyt, I'm afraid… . Be gentle with him, Ensign."

"Yessr," said the Ensign.

The Captain wearily trotted out of the room and Stoyt did indeed speak with gentleness, which was a surprise to Doremus, because in the room were two of the guards to whom Stoyt liked to show off:

"Jessup, you're a man of intelligence. No use your trying to protect this boy, Falck, because we've got enough on him to execute him anyway. So it won't be hurting him any if you give us a few more details about his treason. And you'll be doing yourself a good turn."

Doremus said nothing.

"Going to talk?"

Doremus shook his head.

"All right, then… . Tillett!"

"Yessr."

"Bring in the guy that squealed on Jessup!"

Doremus expected the guard to fetch Julian, but it was Julian's grandfather who wavered into the room. In the camp quadrangle Doremus had often seen him trying to preserve the dignity of his frock coat by rubbing at the spots with a wet rag, but in the cells there were no hooks for clothes, and the priestly garment—Mr. Falck was a poor man and it had not been very expensive at best—was grotesquely wrinkled now. He was blinking with sleepiness, and his silver hair was a hurrah's nest.

Stoyt (he was thirty or so) said cheerfully to the two elders, "Well, now, you boys better stop being naughty and try to get some sense into your mildewed old brains, and then we can all have some decent sleep. Why don't you two try to be honest, now that you've each confessed that the other was a traitor?"

"What?" marveled Doremus.

"Sure! Old Falck here says you carried his grandson's pieces to the Vermont Vigilance. Come on, now, if you'll tell us who published that rag—"

"I have confessed nothing. I have nothing to confess," said Mr. Falck.

Stoyt screamed, "Will you shut up? You old hypocrite!" Stoyt knocked him to the floor, and as Mr. Falck weaved dizzily on hands and knees, kicked him in the side with a heavy boot. The other two guards were holding back the sputtering Doremus. Stoyt jeered at Mr. Falck, "Well, you old bastard, you're on your knees, so let's hear you pray!"

"I shall!"

In agony Mr. Falck raised his head, dust-smeared from the floor, straightened his shoulders, held up trembling hands, and with such sweetness in his voice as Doremus had once heard in it when men were human, he cried, "Father, Thou hast forgiven so long! Forgive them not but curse them, for they know what they do!" He tumbled forward, and Doremus knew that he would never hear that voice again.

 

 

In La Voix littéraire of Paris, the celebrated and genial professor of belles-lettres, Guillaume Semit, wrote with his accustomed sympathy:

 

I do not pretend to any knowledge of politics, and probably what I saw on my fourth journey to the States United this summer of 1938 was mostly on the surface and cannot be considered a profound analysis of the effects of Corpoism, but I assure you that I have never before seen that nation so great, our young and gigantic cousin in the West, in such bounding health and good spirits. I leave it to my economic confrères to explain such dull phenomena as wage-scales, and tell only what I saw, which is that the innumerable parades and vast athletic conferences of the Minute Men and the lads and lassies of the Corpo Youth Movement exhibited such rosy, contented faces, such undeviating enthusiasm for their hero, the Chief, M. Windrip, that involuntarily I exclaimed, "Here is a whole nation dipped in the River of Youth."

Everywhere in the country was such feverish rebuilding of public edifices and apartment houses for the poor as has never hitherto been known. In Washington, my old colleague, M. le Secretary Macgoblin, was so good as to cry, in that virile yet cultivated manner of his which is so well known, "Our enemies maintain that our labor camps are virtual slavery. Come, my old one! You shall see for yourself." He conducted me by one of the marvelously speedy American automobiles to such a camp, near Washington, and having the workers assembled, he put to them frankly: "Are you low in the heart?" As one man they chorused, "No," with a spirit like our own brave soldiers on the ramparts of Verdun.

During the full hour we spent there, I was permitted to roam at will, asking such questions as I cared to, through the offices of the interpreter kindly furnished by His Excellency, M. le Dr. Macgoblin, and every worker whom I thus approached assured me that never has he been so well fed, so tenderly treated, and so assisted to find an almost poetic interest in his chosen work as in this labor camp—this scientific cooperation for the well-being of all.

With a certain temerity I ventured to demand of M. Macgoblin what truth was there in the reports so shamefully circulated (especially, alas, in our beloved France) that in the concentration camps the opponents of Corpoism are ill fed and harshly treated. M. Macgoblin explained to me that there are no such things as "concentration camps," if that term is to carry any penological significance. They are, actually, schools, in which adults who have unfortunately been misled by the glib prophets of that milk-and-water religion, "Liberalism," are reconditioned to comprehend the new day of authoritative economic control. In such camps, he assured me, there are actually no guards, but only patient teachers, and men who were once utterly uncomprehending of Corpoism, and therefore opposed to it, are now daily going forth as the most enthusiastic disciples of the Chief.

Alas that France and Great Britain should still be thrashing about in the slough of Parliamentarianism and so-called Democracy, daily sinking deeper into debt and paralysis of industry, because of the cowardice and traditionalism of our Liberal leaders, feeble and outmoded men who are afraid to plump for either Fascism or Communism; who dare not—or who are too power hungry—to cast off outmoded techniques, like the Germans, Americans, Italians, Turks, and other really courageous peoples, and place the sane and scientific control of the all-powerful Totalitarian State in the hands of Men of Resolution!

 

In October, John Pollikop, arrested on suspicion of having just possibly helped a refugee to escape, arrived in the Trianon camp, and the first words between him and his friend Karl Pascal were no inquiries about health, but a derisive interchange, as though they were continuing a conversation broken only half an hour before:

"Well, you old Bolshevik, I told you so! If you Communists had joined with me and Norman Thomas to back Frank Roosevelt, we wouldn't be here now!"

"Rats! Why, it's Thomas and Roosevelt that started Fascism! I ask you! Now shut up, John, and listen: What was the New Deal but pure Fascism? Whadthey do to the worker? Look here! No, wait now, listen—"

Doremus felt at home again, and comforted—though he did also feel that Foolish probably had more constructive economic wisdom than John Pollikop, Karl Pascal, Herbert Hoover, Buzz Windrip, Lee Sarason, and himself put together; or if not, Foolish had the sense to conceal his lack of wisdom by pretending that he could not speak English.

 

 

Shad Ledue, back in his hotel suite, reflected that he was getting a dirty deal. He had been responsible for sending more traitors to concentration camps than any other county commissioner in the province, yet he had not been promoted.

It was late; he was just back from a dinner given by Francis Tasbrough in honor of Provincial Commissioner Swan and a board consisting of Judge Philip Jessup, Director of Education Owen J. Peaseley, and Brigadier Kippersly, who were investigating the ability of Vermont to pay more taxes.

Shad felt discontented. All those damned snobs trying to show off! Talking at dinner about this bum show in New York—this first Corpo revue, Callin' Stalin, written by Lee Sarason and Hector Macgoblin. How those nuts had put on the agony about "Corpo art," and "drama freed from Jewish suggestiveness" and "the pure line of Anglo-Saxon sculpture" and even, by God, about "Corporate physics"! Simply trying to show off! And they had paid no attention to Shad when he had told his funny story about the stuck-up preacher in Fort Beulah, one Falck, who had been so jealous because the M.M.'s drilled on Sunday morning instead of going to his gospel shop that he had tried to get his grandson to make up lies about the M.M.'s, and whom Shad had amusingly arrested right in his own church! Not paid one bit of attention to him, even though he had carefully read all through the Chief's Zero Hour so he could quote it, and though he had been careful to be refined in his table manners and to stick out his little finger when he drank from a glass.

He was lonely.

The fellows he had once best known, in pool room and barber shop, seemed frightened of him, now, and the dirty snobs like Tasbrough still ignored him.

He was lonely for Sissy Jessup.

Since her dad had been sent to Trianon, Shad didn't seem able to get her to come around to his rooms, even though he was the County Commissioner and she was nothing now but the busted daughter of a criminal.

And he was crazy about her. Why, he'd be almost willing to marry her, if he couldn't get her any other way! But when he had hinted as much—or almost as much—she had just laughed at him, the dirty little snob!

He had thought, when he was a hired man, that there was a lot more fun in being rich and famous. He didn't feel one bit different than he had then! Funny!

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