It Can't Happen Here: Chapter 6

6


I'd rather follow a wild-eyed anarchist like Em Goldman, if they'd bring more johnnycake and beans and spuds into the humble cabin of the Common Man, than a twenty-four-carat, college-graduate, ex-cabinet-member statesman that was just interested in our turning out more limousines. Call me a socialist or any blame thing you want to, as long as you grab hold of the other end of the cross-cut saw with me and help slash the big logs of Poverty and Intolerance to pieces.
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.

His family--at least his wife and the cook, Mrs. Candy, and Sissy and Mary, Mrs. Fowler Greenhill--believed that Doremus was of fickle health; that any cold would surely turn into pneumonia; that he must wear his rubbers, and eat his porridge, and smoke fewer cigarettes, and never "overdo." He raged at them; he knew that though he did get staggeringly tired after a crisis in the office, a night's sleep made him a little dynamo again, and he could "turn out copy" faster than his spryest young reporter.
He concealed his dissipations from them like any small boy from his elders; lied unscrupulously about how many cigarettes he smoked; kept concealed a flask of Bourbon from which he regularly had one nip, only one, before he padded to bed; and when he had promised to go to sleep early, he turned off his light till he was sure that Emma was slumbering, then turned it on and happily read till two, curled under the well-loved hand-woven blankets from a loom up on Mount Terror; his legs twitching like a dreaming setter's what time the Chief Inspector of the C.I.D., alone and unarmed, walked into the counterfeiters' hideout. And once a month or so he sneaked down to the kitchen at three in the morning and made himself coffee and washed up everything so that Emma and Mrs. Candy would never know. . . . He thought they never knew!
These small deceptions gave him the ripest satisfaction in a life otherwise devoted to public service, to trying to make Shad Ledue edge-up the flower beds, to feverishly writing editorials that would excite 3 per cent of his readers from breakfast time till noon and by 6 P.M. be eternally forgotten.
Sometimes when Emma came to loaf beside him in bed on a Sunday morning and put her comfortable arm about his thin shoulder-blades, she was sick with the realization that he was growing older and more frail. His shoulders, she thought, were pathetic as those of an anemic baby. . . . That sadness of hers Doremus never guessed.

Even just before the paper went to press, even when Shad Ledue took off two hours and charged an item of two dollars to have the lawnmower sharpened, instead of filing it himself, even when Sissy and her gang played the piano downstairs till two on nights when he did not want to lie awake, Doremus was never irritable--except, usually, between arising and the first life-saving cup of coffee.
The wise Emma was happy when he was snappish before breakfast. It meant that he was energetic and popping with satisfactory ideas.
After Bishop Prang had presented the crown to Senator Windrip, as the summer hobbled nervously toward the national political conventions, Emma was disturbed. For Doremus was silent before breakfast, and he had rheumy eyes, as though he was worried, as though he had slept badly. Never was he cranky. She missed hearing him croaking, "Isn't that confounded idiot, Mrs. Candy, ever going to bring in the coffee? I suppose she's sitting there reading her Testament! And will you be so kind as to tell me, my good woman, why Sissy never gets up for breakfast, even after the rare nights when she goes to bed at 1 A.M.? And--and will you look out at that walk! Covered with dead blossoms. That swine Shad hasn't swept it for a week. I swear, I am going to fire him, and right away, this morning!"
Emma would have been happy to hear these familiar animal sounds, and to cluck in answer, "Oh, why, that's terrible! I'll go tell Mrs. Candy to hustle in the coffee right away!"
But he sat unspeaking, pale, opening his Daily Informer as though he were afraid to see what news had come in since he had left the office at ten.

When Doremus, back in the 1920's, had advocated the recognition of Russia, Fort Beulah had fretted that he was turning out-and-out Communist.
He, who understood himself abnormally well, knew that far from being a left-wing radical, he was at most a mild, rather indolent and somewhat sentimental Liberal, who disliked pomposity, the heavy humor of public men, and the itch for notoriety which made popular preachers and eloquent educators and amateur play-producers and rich lady reformers and rich lady sportswomen and almost every brand of rich lady come preeningly in to see newspaper editors, with photographs under their arms, and on their faces the simper of fake humility. But for all cruelty and intolerance, and for the contempt of the fortunate for the unfortunate, he had not mere dislike but testy hatred.
He had alarmed all his fellow editors in northern New England by asserting the innocence of Tom Mooney, questioning the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti, condemning our intrusion in Haiti and Nicaragua, advocating an increased income tax, writing, in the 1932 campaign, a friendly account of the Socialist candidate, Norman Thomas (and afterwards, to tell the truth, voting for Franklin Roosevelt), and stirring up a little local and ineffective hell regarding the serfdom of the Southern sharecroppers and the California fruit-pickers. He even suggested editorially that when Russia had her factories and railroads and giant farms really going--say, in 1945--she might conceivably be the pleasantest country in the world for the (mythical!) Average Man. When he wrote that editorial, after a lunch at which he had been irritated by the smug croaking of Frank Tasbrough and R. C. Crowley, he really did get into trouble. He got named Bolshevik, and in two days his paper lost a hundred and fifty out of its five thousand circulation.
Yet he was as little of a Bolshevik as Herbert Hoover.
He was, and he knew it, a small-town bourgeois Intellectual. Russia forbade everything that made his toil worth enduring: privacy, the right to think and to criticize as he freakishly pleased. To have his mind policed by peasants in uniform--rather than that he would live in an Alaska cabin, with beans and a hundred books and a new pair of pants every three years.
Once, on a motor trip with Emma, he stopped in at a summer camp of Communists. Most of them were City College Jews or neat Bronx dentists, spectacled, and smooth-shaven except for foppish small mustaches. They were hot to welcome these New England peasants and to explain the Marxian gospel (on which, however, they furiously differed). Over macaroni and cheese in an unpainted dining shack, they longed for the black bread of Moscow. Later, Doremus chuckled to find how much they resembled the Y.M.C.A. campers twenty miles down the highway--equally Puritanical, hortatory, and futile, and equally given to silly games with rubber balls.
Once only had he been dangerously active. He had supported the strike for union recognition against the quarry company of Francis Tasbrough. Men whom Doremus had known for years, solid cits like Superintendent of Schools Emil Staubmeyer, and Charley Betts of the furniture store, had muttered about "riding him out of town on a rail." Tasbrough reviled him--even now, eight years later. After all this, the strike had been lost, and the strike-leader, an avowed Communist named Karl Pascal, had gone to prison for "inciting to violence." When Pascal, best of mechanics, came out, he went to work in a littered little Fort Beulah garage owned by a friendly, loquacious, belligerent Polish Socialist named John Pollikop.
All day long Pascal and Pollikop yelpingly raided each other's trenches in the battle between Social Democracy and Communism, and Doremus often dropped in to stir them up. That was hard for Tasbrough, Staubmeyer, Banker Crowley, and Lawyer Kitterick to bear.
If Doremus had not come from three generations of debt-paying Vermonters, he would by now have been a penniless wandering printer . . . and possibly less detached about the Sorrows of the Dispossessed.
The conservative Emma complained: "How you can tease people this way, pretending you really like greasy mechanics like this Pascal (and I suspect you even have a sneaking fondness for Shad Ledue!) when you could just associate with decent, prosperous people like Frank--it's beyond me! What they must think of you, sometimes! They don't understand that you're really not a Socialist one bit, but really a nice, kind-hearted, responsible man. Oh, I ought to smack you, Dormouse!"
Not that he liked being called "Dormouse." But then, no one did so except Emma and, in rare slips of the tongue, Buck Titus. So it was endurable.

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