Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 12

Mr. A. J. Joslin had been a country school teacher, a country banker, a country editor. He now owned an excellent printing plant in Des Moines, and he was publishing a bi-monthly magazine called Rural Adult Education, which had a reputation that extended into Saskatchewan but a circulation that didn’t reach much beyond Osceola.

Mr. Joslin had twice heard the inspirational service furnished by Dean Planish, and during January, 1927, he wrote begging the Dean for a few articles. He would pay two cents a word. The suggestion came just when the Dean and Peony were looking over the Christmas bills. It was Peony who had had the courage to add them up, and she was grunting, “Believe it or not — I guess it’s witchcraft — we seem to be seven hundred dollars in debt.”

They looked at Mr. Joslin’s letter, they looked at each other, and Peony took him by the lapel, led him to the corner of the living-room which they called his “study,” pointed to his portable typewriter, and went out to mix him a drink — and to telephone to the furniture dealer that he could send up that leather floor-cushion after all.

Within three hours, the Dean had written an article on the consolidated country high school as a means of preparation for college. Mr. Joslin accepted it and sent a check for $52.60; the Dean made the check over to Peony; and she went out and bought an imitation French imitation porcelain mantel clock. Two weeks later, he wrote some spirited advice to college girls about teaching district school; he received $63.44, and Peony paid a dry-cleaning bill and bought a lovely thing in the way of a picture map of Iowa, depicting Jack of the Beanstalk climbing a forty-foot stalk of corn, and Neptune and attendant dolphins frisking in the Des Moines River.

The Dean was cheered thus into doing a rather larger essay on the important books of the day (for his material he had to read clear through the advertisements in a New York Sunday Herald–Times) and on the use of college libraries by rural communities. This check, for $93.88, Peony banked, unlooted. They both felt wonderful over the way in which they were tackling their debts, and in this mood the Dean dashed off a fantasy on farm boys earning their way through college.

This check was for only $25.94. Peony took it and went out and ordered a new motor car, a Buick, and paid down part of the price, and this time, when she added up their debts, they came to $1,687.79.

“I just don’t know how it happened!” she wailed.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to stop buying things — for a little while, I mean,” fretted the Dean.

“Oh, lover, don’t be cross and beat me!”

“No, I won’t do that. But we both got to restrain ourselves.”

“And just when I’ve gone and written a letter ordering that English picnic basket with the silver fittings. I suppose I can tear up the letter.”

“No, no, sweetie, don’t do that. It would go so beautifully with the new automobile. But after that, we simply got to do without things.”

“Gideon! Why don’t you write an article for Rural Adult about how folks can economize on the farm?”

“I’ve never hardly been on a farm. . . . But I’ll write it.”

“Oh, goody! That solves everything! And it was my idea, wasn’t it!”

Before the end of March, when the faculty appointments for the next school year in Kinnikinick were made definite, Mr. A. J. Joslin wrote to the Dean that he was discharging the editor of Rural Adult, who was a very poor public speaker, and would the Dean like to give up his present job and take the editorship? The emolument (a word used among the loftier teachers and the more amateur editors, and meaning “wages,” just as the wages of lecturers are called the “honorarium”) would be $4,200 a year.

As dean, he had been receiving $3,800 a year and, despite a five-hundred-dollar check — and an irritated letter — from his father-in law, he now seemed to be $1,200 in debt. He fluttered home to Peony; they talked for half an hour; the Dean accepted the editorship by long-distance telephone; then ceremoniously called upon President Bull, to ask whether he ought to accept the editorship.

The locks of T. Austin Bull were still theatrically curly, but they were gray; and, with executive scheming, his face had grown more folded. “Poor old devil, he must be over fifty now,” thought the Dean. Feeling tolerant of this hedge schoolmaster who would never get invited to go and be a big man in Des Moines, the Dean finished his speech: “Of course it’s a great honor to be offered the editorship, and I’m not sure but that I can do even more good there than I can here — reaching thousands with the message of education, instead of just a few hundred. But I always feel that a man’s first duty is to be loyal, and if you can persuade the college Board of Trustees to raise my stipend from thirty-eight hundred to forty-five hundred a year, I’ll see if I can’t stay with you.”

The President was a little abrupt:

“Dean, I’m glad you came in. I’d been thinking of asking you to drop in before we confirm the next year’s appointments. And the fact is, I think you better take this editorship.”

“Eh?”

“The fact is, I’m afraid you’ve outlived your usefulness as an educator.”

“Eh?”

“You’re a good speaker, and you’re popular with the students, and you’ve started some interesting novelties — the course in Russian and the Music Guild and the abolition of hazing. But you’ve seen the Russian and the Guild fade and die, and you haven’t done a thing about it. You’re not really an executive — you’re a promoter — and the activities that you promote aren’t very sound. You just dream ’em and let ’em float off in smoke. And you’ve been increasingly neglectful of plodding day-by-day details. You haven’t even been here very much. So I guess both sides are perfectly satisfied, and we can say farewell with the best of good feelings.”

President Bull arose and stuck out his manicured hand, with his popular actor’s smile, his smile of a popular ex-clergyman, but the Dean, that trained practitioner of scholarly good-fellowship, could not smile in answer.

Peony said, “I knew it all along. It’s because he’s been jealous of your speeches, and wanted all those lil fifties and twenty-fiveses for himself. I’m glad we’re going, and I hope we never see this dump again. I hate Bull and Mrs. Bull and Teckla and her stuffy father and everybody except Edie Minton — she never liked me and never pretended to. On avong! Lez go!”

So Gideon Planish firmly set his plump foot upon the upward path that would lead through the miasma of lecturing and the bleak wind of editing to the glory of cloud-cuckoo-land, yes, even unto the world of committees and conferences and organizations and leagues, of implementing ideals and crystallizing public opinion and molding public opinion and producing informed public opinion and finding the greatest common denominator in all shades of opinion —

Of grass roots and liberal thinking and blue prints for democracy and the system of free enterprise and far-flung armies and far-flung empires and far-flung money-raising campaigns, together with far-flung night-letter-telegrams about the imminence of the crisis and far-flung petitions to Congress about the state of politics in Chile or Iran, and ideologies and ideological warfare and in general the use of the word “ideology” as meaning everything except Far–Flung and Coca–Cola, and the longing to serve and the need of discussion and constitutional measures and challenges and rallying-points and crises, lots of crises, practically daily crises, and basic appeals and spiritual ideals and the protection of the home, and directives, and the sickness in our civilization —

Of firm beliefs and doing the job without further discussion and outstanding events and outstanding personalities and the logic of events and catching history at the tide, high tide or low tide or neap tide, and resisting pressure groups and also the formation of pressure groups to exert influence, and upholding morals and reaffirming principles and agreeing in principle and getting the average voter’s reactions, and educational campaigns —

Of prospectuses and money-raising letters and three-color-job circulars that were folded in a funny way and if you opened the little pasteboard door you would find out what the message was, and testimonial dinners and organizational dinners and round tables and speakers’ tables up on daises and microphones and P.A. systems and lousy acoustics and dead spots in the hall —

Of constructive philanthropy and the appeal to the heart and the privilege of giving and the spiritual values inherent in giving and the pressing necessity of giving at once and the higher levels of giving and planned giving and systematic giving and the allocation of gifts and subscription cards, sign on the second line, and generous responses and unparalleled responses to this appeal and the joy of giving and the duty of giving and giving till it hurts the giver and non-giving till it hurts the hired hands at the organization —

And Conditions and Situations, Conditions and Situations in the Chancelleries of Mitteleuropa, Conditions and Situations in Washington and the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O., and inside information and the low-down — always the low-down on Conditions and Situations, to be discussed by little groups of authorities on foreign affairs, from 8 P.M. till 1:30 A.M., Conditions and Situations discussed over and over and over and over and —

Of organizators and philanthrobbers and propheteers and directors and executive secretaries and executive directors and managing directors and the honorary chairmen and the sponsors and the trustees and the board of advisers and national headquarters and Chicago headquarters and local units and appeals to the press to give publicity to the unexampled needs of this great cause and you ought to be able to get this picture of Miss Viv de Vere, in bathing suit and holding a coin box, into the rotogravure sections and maybe get five minutes on Station WSOB and photographs and Dr. Geschwighorst addressing the students’ forums or fora at all the far-flung colleges on imperative giving and Conditions and Situations —

Up into this earthly paradise was trudging a new Intellectual Leader whose fresh and eager voice would inspire the philanthrobbers to give till it hurt them, but enable him to provide his wife Peony with sandal shoes and symphony season-tickets and five-pound boxes of Fanny Farmer candy and his undiminishing love.

Though he had lost the Christian name Dean, still he was Dr. Planish, always Dr. Planish — that was his first name: Dr., and as such, along with every Colonel, every Reverend Doctor, every M.D., every Monsignor, every Rabbi, every Herr Geheimrat, every Judge, every Lord, every Governor, he was so highly exalted that he was not merely a man, but a title.

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