Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 10

1

As he tramped back to Babylon that evening, Elmer did not enjoy his deliverance so much as he had expected. But he worked manfully at recalling Lulu’s repetitious chatter, her humorless ignorance, her pawing, her unambitious rusticity, and all that he had escaped.

. . . To have her around — gumming his life — never could jolly the congregation and help him — and suppose he were in a big town with a swell church — Gee! Maybe he wasn’t glad to be out of it! Besides! Really better for her. She and Floyd much better suited . . .

He knew that Dean Trosper’s one sin was reading till late, and he came bursting into the dean’s house at the scandalous hour of eleven. In the last mile he had heroically put by his exhilaration; he had thrown himself into the state of a betrayed and desolate young man so successfully that he had made himself believe it.

“Oh, how wise you were about women, Dean!” he lamented. “A terrible thing has happened! Her father and I have just found my girl in the arms of another man — a regular roué down there. I can never go back, not even for Easter service. And her father agrees with me. . . . You can ask him!”

“Well, I am most awfully sorry to hear this, Brother Gantry. I didn’t know you could feel so deeply. Shall we kneel in prayer, and ask the Lord to comfort you? I’ll send Brother Shallard down there for the Easter service — he knows the field.”

On his knees, Elmer told the Lord that he had been dealt with as no man before or since. The dean approved his agonies very much.

“There, there, my boy. The Lord will lighten your burden in his own good time. Perhaps this will be a blessing in disguise — you’re lucky to get rid of such a woman, and this will give you that humility, that deeper thirsting after righteousness, which I’ve always felt you lacked, despite your splendid pulpit voice. Now I’ve got something to take your mind off your sorrows. There’s quite a nice little chapel on the edge of Monarch where they’re lacking an incumbent. I’d intended to send Brother Hudkins — you know him; he’s that old retired preacher that lives out by the brick-yard — comes into classes now and then — I’d intended to send him down for the Easter service. But I’ll send you instead, and in fact, if you see the committee, I imagine you can fix it to have this as a regular charge, at least till graduation. They pay fifteen a Sunday and your fare. And being there in a city like Monarch, you can go to the ministerial association and so on — stay over till Monday noon every week — and make fine contacts, and maybe you’ll be in line for assistant in one of the big churches next summer. There’s a morning train to Monarch — 10:21, isn’t it? You take that train tomorrow morning, and go look up a lawyer named Eversley. He’s got an office — where’s his letter? — his office is in the Royal Trust Company Building. He’s a deacon. I’ll wire him to be there tomorrow afternoon, or anyway leave word, and you can make your own arrangements. The Flowerdale Baptist Church, that’s the name, and it’s a real nice little modern plant, with lovely folks. Now you go to your room and pray, and I’m sure you’ll feel better.”

2

It was an hilarious Elmer Gantry who took the 10:21 train to Monarch, a city of perhaps three hundred thousand. He sat in the day-coach planning his Easter discourse. Jiminy! His first sermon in a real city! Might lead to anything. Better give ’em something red-hot and startling. Let’s see: He’d get away from this Christ is Risen stuff — mention it of course, just bring it in, but have some other theme. Let’s see: Faith. Hope. Repentance — no, better go slow on that repentance idea; this Deacon Eversley, the lawyer, might be pretty well-to-do and get sore if you suggested he had anything to repent of. Let’s see: Courage. Chastity. Love — that was it — love!

And he was making notes rapidly, right out of his own head, on the back of an envelope:

Love:
a rainbow
AM & PM star
from cradle to tomb
inspires art etc. music voice of love
slam atheists etc. who not appreciate love

“Guess you must be a newspaperman, Brother,” a voice assailed him.

Elmer looked at his seatmate, a little man with a whisky nose and asterisks of laughter-wrinkles round his eyes, a rather sportingly dressed little man with the red tie which in 1906 was still thought rather the thing for socialists and drinkers.

He could have a good time with such a little man, Elmer considered. A drummer. Would it be more fun to be natural with him, or to ask him if he was saved, and watch him squirm? Hell, he’d have enough holy business in Monarch. So he turned on his best good-fellow smile, and answered:

“Well, not exactly. Pretty warm for so early, eh?”

“Yuh, it certainly is. Been in Babylon long?”

“No, not very long.”

“Fine town. Lots of business.”

“You betcha. And some nice little dames there, too.”

The little man snickered. “There are, eh? Well, say, you better give me some addresses. I make that town once a month and, by golly, I ain’t picked me out a skirt yet. But it’s a good town. Lots of money there.”

“Yes-sir, that’s a fact. Good hustling town. Quick turnover there all right. Lots of money in Babylon.”

“Though they do tell me,” said the little man, “there’s one of these preacher-factories there.”

“Is that a fact!”

“Yump. Say, Brother, this’ll make you laugh. Juh know what I thought when I seen you first — wearing that black suit and writing things down? I thought maybe you was a preacher yourself!”

“Well —”

God, he couldn’t stand it! Having to be so righteous every Sunday at Schoenheim — Deacon Bains everlastingly asking these fool questions about predestination or some doggone thing. Cer’nly had a vacation coming! And a sport like this fellow, he’d look down on you if you said you were a preacher.

The train was noisy. If any neighboring cock crowed three times, Elmer did not hear it as he rumbled:

“Well, for the love of Mike! Though —” In his most austere manner: “This black suit happens to be mourning for one very dear to me.”

“Oh, say, Brother, now you gotta excuse me! I’m always shooting my mouth off!”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“Well, let’s shake, and I’ll know you don’t hold it against me.”

“You bet.”

From the little man came an odor of whisky which stirred Elmer powerfully. So long since he’d had a drink! Nothing for two months except a few nips of hard cider which Lulu had dutifully stolen for him from her father’s cask.

“Well, what is your line, Brother?” said the little man.

“I’m in the shoe game.”

“Well, that’s a fine game. Yes-sir, people do have to have shoes, no matter if they’re hard up or not. My name’s Ad Locust — Jesus, think of it, the folks named me Adney — can you beat that — ain’t that one hell of a name for a fellow that likes to get out with the boys and have a good time! But you can just call me Ad. I’m traveling for the Pequot Farm Implement Company. Great organization! Great bunch! Yes-sir, they’re great folks to work for, and hit it up, say! the sales-manager can drink more good liquor than any fellow that’s working for him, and, believe me, there’s some of us that ain’t so slow ourselves! Yes-sir, this fool idea that a lot of those fly-by-night firms are hollering about now, in the long run you don’t get no more by drinking with the dealers — All damn’ foolishness. They say this fellow Ford that makes these automobiles talks that way. Well, you mark my words: By 1910 he’ll be out of business, that’s what’ll happen to him; you mark my words! Yes-sir, they’re a great concern, the Pequot bunch. Matter of fact, we’re holding a sales-conference in Monarch next week.”

“Is that a fact!”

“Yes-sir, by golly, that’s what we’re doing. You know — read papers about how to get money out of a machinery dealer when he ain’t got any money. Heh! Hell of a lot of attention most of us boys’ll pay to that junk! We’re going to have a good time and get in a little good earnest drinking, and you bet the sales-manager will be right there with us! Say, Brother — I didn’t quite catch the name —”

“Elmer Gantry is my name. Mightly glad to meet you.”

“Mighty glad to know you, Elmer. Say, Elmer, I’ve got some of the best Bourbon you or anybody else ever laid your face to right here in my hip pocket. I suppose you being in a highbrow business like the shoe business, you’d just about faint if I was to offer you a little something to cure that cough!”

“I guess I would, all right; yes-sir, I’d just about faint.”

“Well, you’re a pretty big fellow, and you ought to try to control yourself.”

“I’ll do my best, Ad, if you’ll hold my hand.”

“You betcha I will.” Ad brought out from his permanently sagging pocket a pint of Green River, and they drank together, reverently.

“Say, jever hear the toast about the sailor?” inquired Elmer. He felt very happy, at home with the loved ones after long and desolate wanderings.

“Dunno’s I ever did. Shoot!”

“Here’s to the lass in every port,

And here’s to the port-wine in every lass,

But those tall thoughts don’t matter, sport,

For God’s sake, waiter, fill my glass!”

The little man wriggled. “Well, sir, I never did hear that one! Say, that’s a knock-out! By golly, that certainly is a knockout! Say, Elm, whacha doing in Monarch? Wancha meet some of the boys. The Pequot conference don’t really start till Monday, but some of us boys thought we’d kind of get together today and hold a little service of prayer and fasting before the rest of the galoots assemble. Like you to meet ’em. Best bunch of sports YOU ever saw, lemme tell you that! I’d like for you to meet ’em. And I’d like ’em to hear that toast. ‘Here’s to the port-wine in every lass.’ That’s pretty cute, all right! Whacha doing in Monarch? Can’t you come around to the Ishawonga Hotel and meet some of the boys when we get in?”

Mr. Ad Locust was not drunk; not exactly drunk; but he had earnestly applied himself to the Bourbon and he was in a state of superb philanthropy. Elmer had taken enough to feel reasonable. He was hungry, too, not only for alcohol but for unsanctimonious companionship.

“I’ll tell you, Ad,” he said. “Nothing I’d like better, but I’ve got to meet a guy — important dealer — this afternoon, and he’s dead against all drinking. Fact — I certainly do appreciate your booze, but don’t know’s I ought to have taken a single drop.”

“Oh, hell, Elm, I’ve got some throat pastilles that are absolutely guaranteed to knock out the smell — absolutely. One lil drink wouldn’t do us any harm. Certainly would like to have the boys hear that toast of yours!”

“Well, I’ll sneak in for a second, and maybe I can foregather with you for a while late Sunday evening or Monday morning, but —”

“Aw, you ain’t going to let me down, Elm?”

“Well, I’ll telephone this guy, and fix it so’s I don’t have to see him till long ‘bout three o’clock.”

“That’s great!”

3

From the Ishawonga Hotel, at noon, Elmer telephoned to the office of Mr. Eversley, the brightest light of the Flowerdale Baptist Church. There was no answer.

“Everybody in his office out to dinner. Well, I’ve done all I can till this afternoon,” Elmer reflected virtuously, and joined the Pequot crusaders in the Ishawonga bar. . . . Eleven men in a booth for eight. Every one talking at once. Every one shouting, “Say, waiter, you ask that damn’ bartender if he’s MAKING the booze!”

Within seventeen minutes Elmer was calling all of the eleven by their first names — frequently by the wrong first names — and he contributed to their literary lore by thrice reciting his toast and by telling the best stories he knew. They liked him. In his joy of release from piety and the threat of life with Lulu he flowered into vigor. Six several times the Pequot salesmen said one to another, “Now there’s a fellow we ought to have with us in the firm,” and the others nodded.

He was inspired to give a burlesque sermon.

“I’ve got a great joke on Ad!” he thundered. “Know what he thought I was first? A preacher!”

“Say, that’s a good one!” they cackled.

“Well, at that, he ain’t so far off. When I was a kid, I did think some about being a preacher. Well, say now, listen, and see if I wouldn’t ‘ve made a swell preacher!”

While they gaped and giggled and admired, he rose solemnly, looked at them solemnly, and boomed:

“Brethren and Sistern, in the hustle and bustle of daily life you guys certainly do forget the higher and finer things. In what, in all the higher and finer things, in what and by what are we ruled excepting by Love? What is Love?”

“You stick around tonight and I’ll show you!” shrieked Ad Locust.

“Shut up now, Ad! Honest — listen. See if I couldn’t ‘ve been a preacher — a knock-out — bet I could handle a big crowd well’s any of ’em. Listen. . . . What is Love? What is the divine Love? It is the rainbow, repainting with its spangled colors those dreary wastes where of late the terrible tempest has wreaked its utmost fury — the rainbow with its tender promise of surcease from the toils and travails and terrors of the awful storm! What is Love — the divine Love, I mean, not the carnal but the divine Love, as exemplified in the church? What is —”

“Say!” protested the most profane of the eleven, “I don’t think you ought to make fun of the church. I never go to church myself, but maybe I’d be a better fella if I did, and I certainly do respect folks that go to church, and I send my kids to Sunday School. You God damn betcha!”

“Hell, I ain’t making fun of the church!” protested Elmer.

“Hell, he ain’t making fun of the church. Just kidding the preachers,” asserted Ad Locust. “Preachers are just ordinary guys like the rest of us.”

“Sure; preachers can cuss and make love just like anybody else. I know! What they get away with, pretending to be different,” said Elmer lugubriously, “would make you gentlemen tired if you knew.”

“Well, I don’t think you had ought to make fun of the church.”

“Hell, he ain’t making fun of the church.”

“Sure, I ain’t making fun of the church. But lemme finish my sermon.”

“Sure, let him finish his sermon.”

“Where was I? . . . What is Love? It is the evening and the morning star — those vast luminaries that as they ride the purple abysms of the vasty firmament vouchsafe in their golden splendor, the promise of higher and better things that — that — Well, say, you wise guys, would I make a great preacher or wouldn’t I?”

The applause was such that the bartender came and looked at them funereally; and Elmer had to drink with each of them.

But he was out of practise. And he had had no lunch.

He turned veal-white; sweat stood on his forehead and in a double line of drops along his upper lip, while his eyes were suddenly vacant.

Ad Locust squealed, “Say, look out! Elm’s passing out!”

They got him up to Ad’s room, one man supporting him on either side and one pushing behind, just before he dropped insensible, and all that afternoon, when he should have met the Flowerdale Baptist committee, he snored on Ad’s bed, dressed save for his shoes and coat. He came to at six, with Ad bending over him, solicitous.

“God I feel awful!” Elmer groaned.

“Here. What you need’s a drink.”

“Oh, Lord, I mustn’t take any more,” said Elmer, taking it. His hand trembled so that Ad had to hold the glass to his mouth. He was conscious that he must call up Deacon Eversley at once. Two drinks later he felt better, and his hand was steady. The Pequot bunch began to come in, with a view to dinner. He postponed his telephone call to Eversley till after dinner; he kept postponing it; and he found himself, at ten on Easter morning, with a perfectly strange young woman in a perfectly strange flat, and heard Ad Locust, in the next room, singing “How Dry I Am.”

Elmer did a good deal of repenting and groaning before his first drink of the morning, after which he comforted himself, “Golly, I never will get to that church now. Well, I’ll tell the committee I was taken sick. Hey, Ad! How’d we ever get here? Can we get any breakfast in this dump?”

He had two bottles of beer, spoke graciously to the young lady in the kimono and red slippers, and felt himself altogether a fine fellow. With Ad and such of the eleven as were still alive, and a scattering of shrieking young ladies, he drove out to a dance-hall on the lake, Easter Sunday afternoon, and they returned to Monarch for lobster and jocundity.

“But this ends it. Tomorrow morning I’ll get busy and see Eversley and fix things up,” Elmer vowed.

4

In that era long-distance telephoning was an uncommon event, but Eversley, deacon and lawyer, was a bustler. When the new preacher had not appeared by six on Saturday afternoon, Eversley telephoned to Babylon, waited while Dean Trosper was fetched to the Babylon central, and spoke with considerable irritation about the absence of the ecclesiastical hired hand.

“I’ll send you Brother Hudkins — a very fine preacher, living here now, retired. He’ll take the midnight train,” said Dean Trosper.

To the Mr. Hudkins the dean said, “And look around and see if you can find anything of Brother Gantry. I’m worried about him. The poor boy was simply in agony over a most unfortunate private matter . . . apparently.”

Now Mr. Hudkins had for several years conducted a mission on South Clark Street in Chicago, and he knew a good many unholy things. He had seen Elmer Gantry in classes at Mizpah. When he had finished Easter morning services in Monarch, he not only went to the police and to the hospitals but began a round of the hotels, restaurants, and bars. Thus it came to pass that while Elmer was merrily washing lobster down with California claret, stopping now and then to kiss the blonde beside him and (by request) to repeat his toast, that evening, he was being observed from the café door by the Reverend Mr. Hudkins in the enjoyable rô1e of avenging angel.

5

When Elmer telephoned Eversley, Monday morning, to explain his sickness, the deacon snapped, “All right. Got somebody else.”

“But, well, say, Dean Trosper thought you and the committee might like to talk over a semi-permanent arrangement —”

“Nope, nope, nope.”

Returned to Babylon, Elmer went at once to the office of the dean.

One look at his expression was enough.

The dean concluded two minutes of the most fluent descriptions with:

“— the faculty committee met this morning, and you are fired from Mizpah. Of course you remain an ordained Baptist minister. I could get your home association to cancel your credentials, but it would grieve them to know what sort of a lying monster they sponsored. Also, I don’t want Mizpah mixed up in such a scandal. But if I ever hear of you in any Baptist pulpit, I’ll expose you. Now I don’t suppose you’re bright enough to become a saloon-keeper, but you ought to make a pretty good bartender. I’ll leave your punishment to your midnight thoughts.”

Elmer whined, “You hadn’t ought — you ought not to talk to me like that! Doesn’t it say in the Bible you ought to forgive seventy times seven —”

“This is eighty times seven. Get out!”

So the Reverend Mr. Gantry surprisingly ceased to be, for practical purposes, a Reverend at all.

He thought of fleeing to his mother, but he was ashamed; of fleeing to Lulu, but he did not dare.

He heard that Eddie Fislinger had been yanked to Schoenheim to marry Lulu and Floyd Naylor . . . a lonely grim affair by lamplight.

“They might have AST me, anyway,” grumbled Elmer, as he packed.

He went back to Monarch and the friendliness of Ad Locust. He confessed that he had been a minister, and was forgiven. By Friday that week Elmer had become a traveling salesman for the Pequot Farm Implement Company.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38