It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 32

Dr. Lionel Adams, B.A. of Yale, Ph.D. of Chicago, Negro, had been a journalist, American consul in Africa and, at the time of Berzelius Windrip's election, professor of anthropology in Howard University. As with all his colleagues, his professorship was taken over by a most worthy and needy white man, whose training in anthropology had been as photographer on one expedition to Yucatan. In the dissension between the Booker Washington school of Negroes who counseled patience in the new subjection of the Negroes to slavery, and the radicals who demanded that they join the Communists and struggle for the economic freedom of all, white or black, Professor Adams took the mild, Fabian former position.

He went over the country preaching to his people that they must be "realistic," and make what future they could; not in some Utopian fantasy but on the inescapable basis of the ban against them.

Near Burlington, Vermont, there is a small colony of Negroes, truck farmers, gardeners, houseworkers, mostly descended from slaves who, before the Civil War, escaped to Canada by the "Underground Railway" conducted by such zealots as Truman Webb's grandfather, but who sufficiently loved the land of their forcible adoption to return to America after the war. From the colony had gone to the great cities young colored people who (before the Corpo emancipation) had been nurses, doctors, merchants, officials.

This colony Professor Adams addressed, bidding the young colored rebels to seek improvement within their own souls rather than in mere social superiority.

As he was in person unknown to this Burlington colony, Captain Oscar Ledue, nicknamed "Shad," was summoned to censor the lecture. He sat hulked down in a chair at the back of the hall. Aside from addresses by M.M. officers, and moral inspiration by his teachers in grammar school, it was the first lecture he had ever heard in his life, and he didn't think much of it. He was irritated that this stuck-up nigger didn't spiel like the characters of Octavus Roy Cohen, one of Shad's favorite authors, but had the nerve to try to sling English just as good as Shad himself. It was more irritating that the loud-mouthed pup should look so much like a bronze statue, and finally, it was simply more than a guy could stand that the big bum should be wearing a Tuxedo!

So when Adams, as he called himself, claimed that there were good poets and teachers and even doctors and engineers among the niggers, which was plainly an effort to incite folks to rebellion against the government, Shad signaled his squad and arrested Adams in the midst of his lecture, addressing him, "You God-damn dirty, ignorant, stinking nigger! I'm going to shut your big mouth for you, for keeps!"

Dr. Adams was taken to the Trianon concentration camp. Ensign Stoyt thought it would be a good joke on those fresh beggars (almost Communists, you might say) Jessup and Pascal to lodge the nigger right in the same cell with them. But they actually seemed to like Adams; talked to him as though he were white and educated! So Stoyt placed him in a solitary cell, where he could think over his crime in having bitten the hand that had fed him.

 

 

The greatest single shock that ever came to the Trianon camp was in November, 1938, when there appeared among them, as the newest prisoner, Shad Ledue.

It was he who was responsible for nearly half of them being there.

The prisoners whispered that he had been arrested on charges by Francis Tasbrough; officially, for having grafted on shopkeepers; unofficially, for having failed to share enough of the graft with Tasbrough. But such cloudy causes were less discussed than the question of how they would murder Shad now they had him safe.

 

 

All Minute Men who were under discipline, except only such Reds as Julian Falck, were privileged prisoners in the concentration camps; they were safeguarded against the common, i.e., criminal, i.e., political inmates; and most of them, once reformed, were returned to the M.M. ranks, with a greatly improved knowledge of how to flog malcontents. Shad was housed by himself in a single cell like a not-too-bad hall-bedroom, and every evening he was permitted to spend two hours in the officers' mess room. The scum could not get at him, because his exercise hour was at a time different from theirs.

Doremus begged the plotters against Shad to restrain themselves.

"Good Lord, Doremus, do you mean that after the sure-enough battles we've gone through you're still a bourgeois pacifist—that you still believe in the sanctity of a lump of hog meat like Ledue?" demanded Karl Pascal.

"Well, yes, I do—a little. I know that Shad came from a family of twelve underfed brats up on Mount Terror. Not much chance. But more important than that, I don't believe in individual assassination as an effective means of fighting despotism. The blood of the tyrants is the seed of the massacre and—"

"Are you taking a cue from me and quoting sound doctrine when it's the time for a little liquidation?" said Karl. "This one tyrant's going to lose a lot of blood!"

The Pascal whom Doremus had considered as, at his most violent, only a gas bag, looked at him with a stare in which all friendliness was frozen. Karl demanded of his cell mates, a different set now than at Doremus's arrival, "Shall we get rid of this typhus germ, Ledue?"

John Pollikop, Truman Webb, the surgeon, the carpenter, each of them nodded, slowly, without feeling.

 

 

At exercise hour, the discipline of the men marching out to the quadrangle was broken when one prisoner stumbled, with a cry, knocked over another man, and loudly apologized—just at the barred entrance of Shad Ledue's cell. The accident made a knot collect before the cell. Doremus, on the edge of it, saw Shad looking out, his wide face blank with fear.

Someone, somehow, had lighted and thrown into Shad's cell a large wad of waste, soaked with gasoline. It caught the thin wallboard which divided Shad's cell from the next. The whole room looked presently like the fire box of a furnace. Shad was screaming, as he beat at his sleeves, his shoulders. Doremus remembered the scream of a horse clawed by wolves in the Far North.

When they got Shad out, he was dead. He had no face at all.

 

 

Captain Cowlick was deposed as superintendent of the camp, and vanished to the insignificance whence he had come. He was succeeded by Shad's friend, the belligerent Snake Tizra, now a battalion-leader. His first executive act was to have all the two hundred inmates drawn up in the quadrangle and to announce, "I'm not going to tell you guys anything about how I'm going to feed you or sleep you till I've finished putting the fear of God into every one of you murderers!"

There were offers of complete pardon for anyone who would betray the man who had thrown the burning waste into Shad's cell. It was followed by enthusiastic private offers from the prisoners that anyone who did thus tattle would not live to get out. So, as Doremus had guessed, they all suffered more than Shad's death had been worth—and to him, thinking of Sissy, thinking of Shad's testimony at Hanover, it had been worth a great deal; it had been very precious and lovely.

A court of special inquiry was convened, with Provincial Commissioner Effingham Swan himself presiding (he was very busy with all bad works; he used aeroplanes to be about them). Ten prisoners, one out of every twenty in the camp, were chosen by lot and shot summarily. Among them was Professor Victor Loveland, who, for all his rags and scars, was neatly academic to the last, with his eyeglasses and his slick tow-colored hair parted in the middle as he looked at the firing-squad.

Suspects like Julian Falck were beaten more often, kept longer in those cells in which one could not stand, sit, nor lie.

Then, for two weeks in December, all visitors and all letters were forbidden, and newly arrived prisoners were shut off by themselves; and the cell mates, like boys in a dormitory, would sit up till midnight in whispered discussion as to whether this was more vengeance by Snake Tizra, or whether something was happening in the World Outside that was too disturbing for the prisoners to know.

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