Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 33

1

When Mr. Mannie Silverhorn awoke at ten, with a head, he remembered that he had been talking, and with agitation he looked at the morning’s Advocate–Times. He was cheered to see that there was no trace of his indiscretion.

But the next morning Mr. Silverhorn and the Reverend Dr. Gantry at about the same moment noted on the front page of the Advocate–Times the photostat of a document in which Emmanuel Silverhorn, atty., asserted that unless Dr. Gantry settled out of court, he would be sued for alienation of affections by Mr. Oscar Dowler, of whose wife, Dowler maintained, Dr. Gantry had taken criminal advantage.

2

It was not so much the clamor of the Zenith reporters, tracking him from his own house to that of T. J. Rigg and out to the country — it was not so much the sketches of his career and hints of his uncovered wickedness in every Zenith paper, morning and evening — it was not so much the thought that he had lost the respect of his congregation. What appalled him was the fact that the Associated Press spread the story through the country, and that he had telegrams from Dr. Wilkie Bannister of the Yorkville Methodist Church and from the directors of the Napap to the effect: Is this story true? Until the matter is settled, of course we must delay action.

3

At the second conference with Mannie Silverhorn and Oscar Dowler, Hettie was present, along with Elmer and T. J. Rigg, who was peculiarly amiable.

They sat around Mannie’s office, still hearing Oscar’s opinion of Mannie’s indiscretion.

“Well, let’s get things settled,” twanged Rigg. “Are we ready to talk business?”

“I am,” snarled Oscar. “What about it? Got the ten thou.?”

Into Mannie’s office, pushing aside the agitated office-boy, came a large man with flat feet.

“Hello, Pete,” said Rigg affectionately.

“Hello, Pete,” said Mannie anxiously.

“Who the devil are you?” said Oscar Dowler.

“Oh — Oscar!” said Hettie.

“All ready, Pete?” said T. J. Rigg. “By the way, folks, this is Mr. Peter Reese of the Reese Detective Agency. You see, Hettie, I figured that if you pulled this, your past record must be interesting. Is it, Pete?”

“Oh, not especially; about average,” said Mr. Peter Reese. “Now, Hettie, why did you leave Seattle at midnight on January 12, 1920?”

“None of your business!” shrieked Hettie.

“Ain’t, eh? Well, it’s some of the business of Arthur L. F. Morrissey there. He’d like to hear from you,” said Mr. Reese, “and know your present address — and present name! Now, Hettie, what about the time you did time in New York for shop-lifting?”

“You go —”

“Oh, Hettie, don’t use bad language! Remember there’s a preacher present,” tittered Mr. Rigg. “Got enough?”

“Oh, I suppose so,” Hettie said wearily. (And for the moment Elmer loved her again, wanted to comfort her.) “Let’s bat it, Oscar.”

“No, you don’t — not till you sign this,” said Mr. Rigg. “If you do sign, you get two hundred bucks to get out of town on — which will be before tomorrow, or God help you! If you don’t sign, you go back to Seattle to stand trial.”

“All right,” Hettie said, and Mr. Rigg read his statement:

I hereby voluntarily swear that all charges against the Reverend Dr. Elmer Gantry made directly or by implication by myself and husband are false, wicked, and absolutely unfounded. I was employed by Dr. Gantry as his secretary. His relations to me were always those of a gentleman and a Christian pastor. I wickedly concealed from him the fact that I was married to a man with a criminal record.

The liquor interests, particularly certain distillers who wished to injure Dr. Gantry as one of the greatest foes of the booze traffic, came to me and paid me to attack the character of Dr. Gantry, and in a moment which I shall never cease to regret, I assented, and got my husband to help me by forging letters purporting to come from Dr. Gantry.

The reason why I am making this confession is this: I went to Dr. Gantry, told him what I was going to do, and demanded money, planning to double-cross my employers, the booze interests. Dr. Gantry said, “Sister, I am sorry you are going to do this wrong thing, not on my behalf, because it is a part of the Christian life to bear any crosses, but on behalf of your own soul. Do as seems best to you, Sister, but before you go further, will you kneel and pray with me?”

When I heard Dr. Gantry praying, I suddenly repented and went home and with my own hands typed this statement which I swear to be the absolute truth.

When Hettie had signed, and her husband had signed a corroboration, Mannie Silverhorn observed, “I think you’ve overdone it a little, T. J. Too good to be true. Still, I suppose your idea was that Hettie’s such a fool that she’d slop over in her confession.”

“That’s the idea, Mannie.”

“Well, maybe you’re right. Now if you’ll give me the two hundred bucks, I’ll see these birds are out of town tonight, and maybe I’ll give ’em some of the two hundred.”

“Maybe!” said Mr. Rigg.

“Maybe!” said Mr. Silverhorn.

“God!” cried Elmer Gantry, and suddenly he was disgracing himself with tears.

That was Saturday morning.

4

The afternoon papers had front-page stories reproducing Hettie’s confession, joyfully announcing Elmer’s innocence, recounting his labors for purity, and assaulting the booze interests which had bribed this poor, weak, silly girl to attack Elmer.

Before eight on Sunday morning, telegrams had come in from the Yorkville Methodist Church and the Napap, congratulating Elmer, asserting that they had never doubted his innocence, and offering him the pastorate of Yorkville and the executive secretaryship of the Napap.

5

When the papers had first made charges against Elmer, Cleo had said furiously, “Oh, what a wicked, wicked lie — darling, you know I’ll stand back of you!” but his mother had crackled, “Just how much of this is true, Elmy? I’m getting kind of sick and tired of your carryings on!”

Now, when he met them at Sunday breakfast, he held out the telegrams, and the two women elbowed each other to read them.

“Oh, my dear, I am so glad and proud!” cried Cleo; and Elmer’s mother — she was an old woman, and bent; very wretched she looked as she mumbled, “Oh, forgive me, my boy! I’ve been as wicked as that Dowler woman!”

6

But for all that, would his congregation believe him?

If they jeered when he faced them, he would be ruined, he would still lose the Yorkville pastorate and the Napap. Thus he fretted in the quarter-hour before morning service, pacing his study and noting through the window — for once, without satisfaction — that hundreds on hundreds were trying to get into the crammed auditorium.

His study was so quiet. How he missed Hettie’s presence!

He knelt. He did not so much pray as yearn inarticulately. But this came out clearly: “I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never look at a girl again. I’m going to be the head of all the moral agencies in the country — nothing can stop me, now I’ve got the Napap! — but I’m going to be all the things I want other folks to be! Never again!”

He stood at his study door, watching the robed choir filing out to the auditorium chanting. He realized how he had come to love the details of his church; how, if his people betrayed him now, he would miss it: the choir, the pulpit, the singing, the adoring faces.

It had come. He could not put it off. He had to face them.

Feebly the Reverend Dr. Gantry wavered through the door to the auditorium and exposed himself to twenty-five hundred question marks.

They rose and cheered — cheered — cheered. Theirs were the shining faces of friends.

Without planning it, Elmer knelt on the platform, holding his hands out to them, sobbing, and with him they all knelt and sobbed and prayed, while outside the locked glass door of the church, seeing the mob kneel within, hundreds knelt on the steps of the church, on the sidewalk, all down the block.

“Oh, my friends!” cried Elmer, “do you believe in my innocence, in the fiendishness of my accusers? Reassure me with a hallelujah!”

The church thundered with the triumphant hallelujah, and in a sacred silence Elmer prayed:

“O Lord, thou hast stooped from thy mighty throne and rescued thy servant from the assault of the mercenaries of Satan! Mostly we thank thee because thus we can go on doing thy work, and thine alone! Not less but more zealously shall we seek utter purity and the prayer-life, and rejoice in freedom from all temptations!”

He turned to include the choir, and for the first time he saw that there was a new singer, a girl with charming ankles and lively eyes, with whom he would certainly have to become well acquainted. But the thought was so swift that it did not interrupt the pæan of his prayer:

“Let me count this day, Lord, as the beginning of a new and more vigorous life, as the beginning of a crusade for complete morality and the domination of the Christian church through all the land. Dear Lord, thy work is but begun! We shall yet make these United States a moral nation!”

This web edition published by:

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University of Adelaide
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http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/elmer/chapter33.html

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