Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 27

The apartment of Colonel Charles B. Marduc, on Fifth Avenue beside Central Park, occupied one and a half floors of the building, and was served by its own elevator, with two shifts of elevator men especially trained not to mention the weather. It was famed throughout that whole world of Household Decoration and Country Life magazines, that little glazed empire, as showing the best taste in the country in having assembled the best examples of the worst Victorian furniture.

It displayed petunia-red satin sofas with frames of black walnut carved with grapes, rugs with hoydenish roses, a ruby and sapphire chandelier with electric candles, white satin draperies with rose-silk lambrequins, and a delicate old music-box cabinet containing cigars. It was so filled with reproductions of good needlepoint and good breeding that it would almost have fooled the connoisseurs.

Peony wandered blissfully, enjoying the bland flavor of wealth, and wondering whether she was expected to laugh or be awed at statuettes under glass and a tip-table painted with a Rhine castle seemingly constructed of taffy. The Doctor was too busy to notice, for besides the Marducs and the Homewards and Senator Felix Bultitude, here was the celebrated Mrs. Tucket, who had made a social career by being rude to everybody, and at last, here was Governor Thomas Blizzard himself, looking astonishingly like Governor Blizzard.

When you saw him, you knew that he was Somebody, though you were not sure whether he was a cultured ex-prizefighter or an athletic preacher. He had never been seen without his tie crooked. But he also was the first person to whom Dr. Planish had talked in days who smiled like a human being.

Though they came as strangers, the Planishes were immediately hoisted to eminence by the flattering screams of old friendship with which Senator Bultitude greeted them. He remembered that Dr. Planish must remember that once the Senator had been associated with H. Sanderson Sanderson–Smith in labor-scuttling, and he wanted all that brightly forgotten, for the Senator now called the labor unions by their first names. Some of his best friends were labor unions.

Dr. Planish believed that throughout dinner he would impressively be lecturing about organizations and their superiority to the Government at Washington. He sat down at table, he cleared his throat — and found that he was one second too late. Winifred Homeward had already started.

It was not that Winifred talked more than these celebrated men might have, for no one can talk more than one hundred per cent. But she could talk down talkers. She could put into her dinner offensives an assurance and a demand for attention that made forty minutes of her feel like the entire voyage of the Ark. She was so powerful that she could convince anyone at all of the exact opposite of whatever she maintained, including the man from whom she had lifted her ideas in the first place.

The moment now was some eight months after the Hitler–Chamberlain pact of Munich. Winifred held forth about Hitler’s nastiness so ferociously that she had the same effect upon all present that she had on Hatch Hewitt, and they became stubbornly certain that Hitler was a fine, fat, jolly, drinking fellow, who loved girls and sausages and beer and stories about pandas; as she talked on, they longed to sit with Hitler in a couple of rocking chairs on the front porch at good old Berchtesgaden, and talk about fishing. There might have been a dangerous crop of Fascists grown that evening, except that presently, still hurdling over all interruptions, Winifred stated violently that all American young people were slatternly and impertinent, so that a considerable degree of trust in Young America was instantly restored around the table.

She also had a few pronouncements to make upon the movies, the immorality of symphony music, the coal business and how to decorate a twenty-dollar-a-month flat. She had a remarkable number of opinions, and she thought highly of all of them.

Colonel Marduc did not say seventy words during dinner, but Dr. Planish saw that he was watching. After it, the Colonel muttered to him, “Planish, you seem to be a good listener. You’ll have to be, if we do start this new organization. Come see me tomorrow at three — sharp.”

Dr. Planish was there at ten minutes to three.

“We’ll have to take a few months formulating the thing,” said Colonel Marduc. “You’ll have to resign from the Blessed to Give comedy, and devote all your attention to our show. Five thousand a year for a start? More later?”

“Okay,” said Dr. Planish.

With these simple, brave words the new school of philosophy began.

There was a small commando squad of what were known in journalistic and welfare circles as “Marduc’s young men.” They were employed by his agency, but he frequently sent them off on detached duty all over the country, to raid or spy in every known political or ameliorative gathering. They numbered anywhere from four to ten at a time, and you could tell them apart only by the fact that some of them were graduates of Yale, some of Harvard or Princeton or Dartmouth or Williams, and some, for pioneer work in rough country, of the State universities.

All of them smoked pipes but preferred cigarettes; on week-ends, all of them wore tweed jackets with gray flannel bags and no hat; but in the New York office they appeared in modest and expensive gray or brown suits, with shirts and ties and handkerchiefs all in matching gray.

Each of them allowed himself daily exactly twenty-seven cigarettes — carried in a quiet silver case — with two highballs, two cocktails, three cups of coffee, one Bromo Seltzer, and fifteen minutes of sharp and detestable exercise. They averaged 1 1/2 spirited minutes of love per week, one rather unsatisfactory adultery per year, and one wife — always from a Good Family, usually a dark pretty girl whom you could never quite remember. They averaged 1 3/4 children, and if it was not true that all of Marduc’s young men had curly hair, still you thought they had, and they all read the Atlantic Monthly and the New Masses. They voted high-church Republican or middle-creek Socialist, or both, and all evening long, even when they were playing bridge, they listened to the radio and said how much they hated the radio.

They were all either born Congregationalists who had become Episcopalians, Episcopalians who had become atheists, or Christian Scientists who didn’t talk about it.

Of them all, none was more average than Sherry Belden.

He was Yale, class of 1928, both Phi Beta Kappa and Skull and Bones. He had been a college tennis champion and cheer-leader, and now, at thirty-two, he was still a college tennis champion and a cheer-leader. But he felt very radical because he was a close friend of a man who praised Gandhi — usually for the wrong things.

Sherry had modest manners and a straight nose; he lived in Port Washington, in a brand-new, half-timbered Elizabethan cottage; he had the largest electric ice box in his block, the largest stock of strange liquors, including Strega and arrack, and the largest library of communist propaganda, erotica, technocracy and Sir Walter Scott.

It was Sherry Belden whom Colonel Marduc detached from his fine job as an account executive to assist Dr. Planish.

He said, “At least, Planish, Sherry will keep Winifred off your neck. She’s very useful to any Cause if you just keep her gagged till you push her out onto the stage, or if you keep some well-bred eunuch like Sherry for her to talk to.”

Dr. Planish found Sherry as shining and nimble and useful as a new bicycle.

The Doctor’s farewell to his recent boss, the Hon. Mr. Ernest Wheyfish, was unexpected. He had pictured Soapy Ernest denouncing him as a traitor and sneak, but Ernest only caroled, “Going to be associated with Marduc, eh? I envy you. Now, Gid, you mustn’t forget the happy times we’ve had here together, shoulder to shoulder to put over the principle of Christian giving, just like a joyful old-time prayer meeting, and let’s see if we can’t go on working together. Fix me up a lunch with old Marduc. God bless you, my boy. I never did find a fellow that I liked to work with better, and I hope your contributions will come rolling in like salmon in spring.”

There was, at first, no need of general contributions. Colonel Marduc supported the preliminary survey, as it was technically called, and if he did not seem displeased by mysterious newspaper items mentioning him as a possible President, he never demanded them.

For months Dr. Planish held conferences with the leading thinkers and humanitarians and read their typed memos, which he called “highly suggestive,” even if each one did contradict all the others.

Sherry Belden took for him, at first, a three-room suite in a hotel, with a small but distinctive bar in a closet. Here he worked with Sherry, Colonel Marduc, Winifred, Major Homeward, Natalia Hochberg, Senator Bultitude, Governor Blizzard, Bishop Pindyck, Rabbi Lichtenselig, Ramona Tundra the actress, and, naturally, the Reverend Dr. Christian Stern.

But there were a number of new intimates; for example, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Nicodemus Lowell Fish. The Monsignor was one of the few Yankees who had ever become a Catholic dignitary, and it was his pride to be known as “the missionary to the intelligentsia.” He called a Negro doctor, a New Deal economist, and a sports columnist by their first names, and he went backstage at all play openings. It was obligatory upon all atheist intellectuals to say that Msgr. Fish was a better Protestant than they were.

He had personally converted seven reporters and a Baptist minister to Roman Catholicism, and it was reported that he was arguing with Charles Coughlin.

Also, he would not have known a real “intellectual” if he had ever met one, and he believed that Hilaire Belloc was a profound historian.

And there was Professor Topelius, born on the Baltic, who had a plan to bring eternal peace by having Europe conducted as one federal state, governed by a committee of Americans — and Professor Topelius. There was Dr. Waldemar Kautz, a play producer from Vienna, who hated America because he believed that the entire population ate lunch at drug-store counters. The poor man was dying slowly of longing for his Stammtisch and the waiter calling him “Herr Doktor” or, with any luck, “Herr Baron.”

There was Judge Vandewart, who was a tower of strength as a receiver for bankrupt utility companies. He liked to be chairman at all public dinners that had press tables.

Professor Campion, an almost new friend, was a surprising person to find in the Planish School of Economics, because Professor Campion actually knew something about economics, and was even licensed to teach it at a reputable school: Cornell University.

But Campion was a Signer.

Any group of rebels, Communist, Royalist, Argentine, Danish, S.P.C.A., Y.M.H.A., or O.G.P.U., who drew up a protest to be sent to the Congress or to a foreign ambassador, complaining because somebody was going to be shot at dawn, or wasn’t going to be shot at all, could count on Professor Campion to sign. He often signed nine protests between 1 A.M. and bedtime, and his chief reading matter, outside of the works of Plato, was his breakfast-table pile of four-page telegrams from propaganda organizations asking for his immediate shirt.

Then, there was Ed Unicorn, a crusader in search of a crusade.

Till a year ago, Ed had been a simple-hearted American reporter, roving about Europe and filing to his string of newspapers whatever his local interpreter (for Ed knew no known language) told him was to be found in the native press that day. He had not realized that he was a “foreign correspondent” and he had denied that he was a “journalist.” In bars in Budapest, Belgrade and Oslo, he was frequently heard to say, “I’m a plain newspaperman.”

But he had come home and had given a public lecture, a very successful one, full of anecdotes about fooling the censors and the customs inspectors, rambling but diverting, for Ed was an extremely good fellow. The lone lecture had led to a lecture tour, and the tour to a magazine article, and the article to a book, and the book to broadcasting, and the broadcasting to a wide public belief that Ed was the original discoverer of geography and of a mysterious practice called Foreign Affairs. Ed was prosperous now; he knew the slickest girls in the Stork Club, and on the Linguaphone he had learned one hundred and fourteen words of Spanish; but he had exhausted every single anecdote about his adventures, and he was wistfully hoping that Colonel Marduc or Dr. Planish would hand him out a new set of gospels to broadcast about.

A very different foreign correspondent was Milo Samphire, and Dr. Planish found Samphire much less cooperative than Ed Unicorn.

Samphire had been stationed abroad for fifteen years; he was really a scholar, and he had manners and a manner. Even English journalists had sometimes been willing to call him a journalist. When he wanted an interview with a prime minister, he did not make inquiries of the American consul, the American Express Company, the barman at the Grand Ritz–Crillon-Superb–Schwartz, or the oldest son at Thos. Cook & Sons. He just telephoned to the prime minister.

He had been ousted from both Germany and Italy, and he had come home not to broadcast and be recognized at the Twenty-one Club, but, quite honestly and fierily, to persuade America that it was in danger from the Fascist fever. He was a fanatic, he had a single-track mind, he was as handsome as a Confederate Spy in the movies, and to him, Mister Marduc was just another advertising man.

Yet the skilled and professionally forgiving Dr. Planish solicited his advice, in the hope of using him at public dinners.

A comfort to the Doctor, however, were the familiar philanthrobber team of Henry Caslon Kevern and Walter Gilroy.

To the eye, they were opposites. Kevern was old and dry and refined and of a renowned family. Contrary to normal American eugenics, he had a great-grandfather. He collected first editions of William Blake; and his investment banking was so aloof, so disdainful of anything less than a million dollars, that it seemed less like money-making than like a further collection of rare editions.

Gilroy was a Westerner, youngish and burly and loud and very pleasant, an owner of oil wells. But these two were alike in feeling guilty at having so much money. They did not do anything about it so obvious as raising the wages of their employees; that would have been a little sordid, and lacking in any feeling of a mystic rite of expiation.

Another new friend was General Gong, U.S.A. (ret.), who had recently bought a new world atlas (in two volumes) and a history of maneuvers in which he himself had participated but which he had entirely forgotten, and who was certain, poor man, that if America ever did get into war, he would be recalled to command these inexperienced cubs of fifty and fifty-five.

The one man whom Colonel Marduc went to solicit, instead of sending the Doctor or Sherry Belden, was Leopold Altzeit, the international banker.

Altzeit finance was so vast and esoteric that, beside it, Henry Kevern’s seemed like pawnbroking. He was tiny and frail and inconceivably old; in his private office, teak-paneled, there was only a desk, two chairs, a framed letter from Beethoven to Prince Lichnowsky, and an unquestioned Rembrandt.

Marduc did not need to tell him what Hitler was doing to the Jews. Altzeit’s chief operative in Germany had already risked his life to become one of Hitler’s staff.

Altzeit listened, still and impenetrable, then rang, and to an expressionless secretary, in a very little voice like a breeze among dry leaves in November, he whispered, “Lothar, will you please to bring me a check for ten thousand dollars made out to Mr. Charles B. Marduc, thank you.”

It was Leopold Altzeit’s third arrow that day at the Fascists. He did not think much of this bow, with the curious Oriental name of Marduc. But he would always go on shooting; he always had.

Between conferences, the Planishes proudly became intimates of Winifred Homeward and her little boy, the Major. Winifred lost so many friends, talked them to death so quickly or just forgot them into oblivion, that it was not hard for newcomers to step in and be friends — while it lasted.

Peony was a competent listener, and Winifred permitted her to come often to the red-brick Georgian chateau of the Homewards on East 68th Street, where Peony’s position presently came to resemble that of a highly paid companion and maid — except that she did not get the pay. For a while, she was perhaps Winifred’s only woman friend — Winifred complained that most women friends were selfish and jealous and were always interrupting her.

Peony was rapidly promoted, in this romantic chronicle of modern court life, from milkmaid to lady in waiting. She confided to the Doctor that she was at last enjoying to the full the social and intellectual advantages of New York, and, without paying one cent (except for taxi fare), she could always get a cup of tea (not very hot) at Winifred’s.

Dr. Planish saw the great lady informally, too. Once, after a tense conference on the wickedness of dictators, Winifred said gaily to him, “Oh, let’s go out and have a sandwich at a cafeteria. I love cafeterias! So jolly!”

In that vast white-tiled room shrieking with light, they took their trays and edged along the counter, inspecting cakes with marble icing, cakes crumbed with sugar, ingenious cakes like sections of a tree.

“Isn’t this amusing!” Winifred screamed, so that a policeman on the corner outside nervously grasped his club. “I love an adventure! And don’t you hate these people who come into a dump like this as though they were slumming? The whole pleasure of it is to feel that you’re not really any better than the Common People.”

Winifred set down her tray and looked at the tables about her. She sighed, “I must say, though, it worries me to think of loafers and lower-bracketeers like these actually having a vote, and deciding major issues. I keep trying to think of some way of combining absolute democracy — in which, of course, my father and I believe implicitly — with keeping the decision in really important national affairs in the hands of experts — like ourselves. I think I’ll make that my next editorial in Attention!.”

Pretty much everything was decided about the new organization except its name, and for what purpose it existed, if any.

Many suggested purposes were discussed in the months of conference. What were the purposes and the topics discussed may be ascertained by taking the following list of the words most frequently repeated during the meetings, and adding to them any nouns or verbs or flavoring that may suit the taste:

far-flung category
founding father keynote
global dynamic
hail with enthusiasm vital
decisive factor implant
outstanding event indoctrinate
immediate need activist
brook no opposition suggestion
grave responsibility solution
white light of criticism resolution
hot under the collar stimulus
hit the nail squarely on the head firm belief
get down to brass tacks turning-point
get over the message that net result
take with a grain of salt memorandum
take it on the chin drive
feet on the ground tentatively
lacking in solidarity morale
equal opportunity for all organizational
resist the pressure policy
put pressure on do the job
outcome of the crisis challenge
to quickly sum up commonwealth
in the final analysis committee
the sense of it is community
what I want to say is conference
the point I’m making is confidence
I want to say a word for congress
index of emotional state constitutional
democratically organized contributor
to implement the policy co-ordinate
reaffirming the principle crisis
keep away from political considerations the top men
sponsor
we surmise director
another angle trustee
not good enough discussion
we agree in principle research
basic principles broadcast
to get your reaction union
complexity of the modern world grass roots
sickness in our civilization desire to serve
along the lines of altruistic
break the bottlenecks make sacrifices for
influence public opinion willful minority
refer the report back to rallying point
left to the discretion of pressing problem
putting our shoulders to immediate problem
duly made and seconded face the problem
venture to predict solve the problem
bring up the point new set of problems
remarkable progress blue prints for
basic directive way of life
definite objective ideology
generosity in giving sense of security
neither the time nor the place to raise the issue courage to face it
I so move
one thousand dollars ten thousand dollars

Winifred Homeward proposed that there should be a Federal police force — with her husband as chief. Governor Blizzard proposed that a job be found for his cousin, Al Jones, a fine young fellow. But, as the godlike eye of Colonel Marduc perceived, eventually it was Dr. Planish who settled on the purposes and title for their new organization.

The title was “Dynamos of Democratic Direction,” though it was always known as the DDD. Winifred was to be the first president; Sherry Belden, treasurer; and the “directive secretary” was Gideon Planish, M.A., Ph.D.

The DDD was to have a chapter, called a “powerhouse,” in every community in America. Each of these was, under instruction from New York about the latest Conditions and Situations, to organize a Discussion Group, a Health Committee, a Gardening Unit, a History Class, an English Class for the Foreign-born, an Investigation Group to report on local Fascists, and a Committee to wangle free radio time. There was, of course, to be a national magazine, but it never did get started. The whole scheme, in fact — to supplant the Federal and State and Town Governments and the entire Christian Church by a new Soviet headed by Colonel Marduc — was beyond criticism, even carping criticism. Dr. Planish summed it up in a private memo to the Colonel: “All ordinary citizens, especially those west of Buffalo, need instruction and direction in becoming thoroughly democratic from trained thinkers like ourselves. When we have given our democracy to the entire nation, then America will enforce it on the rest of the world. That is our basic idea.”

The basic ideas behind this basic idea were that Dr. Planish was to have a secure hundred-dollar-a-week job, which would some day become a two-hundred-a-week job, and Tom Blizzard and old Charley Marduc were to enjoy being known as great statesmen, and Charley’s horsy-looking girl, Winifred, was to have an audience whenever she got hungry for one, and Peony and the United States of America were to enjoy one unending Christmas morning.

In the haven of the Dynamos of Democratic Direction, Dr. Planish passed three serene years, from late in 1938 until December 1941, while the rest of the world was not so serene.

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