Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 28

December 5, 1941, was a good normal day in the career of Dr. Gideon Planish, Directive Secretary of the DDD— the Dynamos of Democratic Direction.

He had returned late the evening before from a routine visit to Washington, where he had appeared as an expert on Eskimos before a Congressional committee.

He arose at eight o’clock, a pleasant, cherubic sight, with his gray short beard jutting out over his cherry-and-blue striped pajama jacket. He was fifty years old now, and his life of clean habits and thought, plus two hours a week in Pete Garfunkle’s Gymnasium, had made him so sturdy a figure that it was evident that we shall be able to count on him for another twenty-five years of scholarship, philanthropy and political influence; and that, if we have any luck at all, he will still be molding public opinion for us in 1965.

He looked fondly at his wife, who was still asleep, her smooth face that of a plump and cheerful baby. He remembered that, for over a year now, they had not had so much as one word of quarreling, not even on the night when she had drunk three mint juleps with their friend George Riot, now worthily enthroned as president of Bonnibel College for Women, Indiana.

He looked fondly about their bedroom, on Charles Street, in the Greenwich Village section of New York. Peony had recently redecorated it with Swedish furniture. The refurnishing cost a little more than they had expected, but it was almost paid for, now, and they had, in solid cash, $172.37, to say nothing of seven shares of stock in the Artaxerxes Antimony Mine.

He could not quite live on his salary, but he was sure that, in 1942, he would be able to earn an extra $2,500 by lecturing.

The morning was chilly, but he took a shower with almost no shudders. In the past ten years, he had got as used to a daily bath as Winifred Homeward.

He hastily, for he was a man of affairs with an ignorant world awaiting his guidance, put on the short athletic underwear, pale blue, which, Peony often declared, “made him look as oomphy as the Great God Pan,” and his newly tailored suit of pale-brown cheviot.

He bounced downstairs for breakfast of oatmeal and bacon and eggs and toast and four cups of coffee, with his daughter Carrie, aged almost twenty.

He supposed that he loved Carrie, and very much; he knew that he was irritably puzzled by her and by “whatever it is that she thinks she’s up to.”

She was a pert and pretty figure, in sweater and tweed skirt, but she did not seem to him richly and truly feminine, like her mother. And though her “Good morning, Daddy” was amiable enough, they didn’t seem to have any of their good old-time intimate talks, such as those (he was sure he remembered them) in which she had told him that he was ever so much brainier than his bosses, Sanderson–Smith and Wheyfish. She never mentioned Colonel Marduc except when she snapped, “Do we have to take much time in defining a vestigial nineteenth-century stuffed shirt?”

(All out of books!)

She was a Junior in Hunter College, and devoted to such unglamorous subjects as physics, mechanical drawing and ethnology. She did not seem to be even normally soft toward any of the horde of boys who hung about her and about the house. The Doctor was fairly sure that he would not like to hear that she had been seduced, but he was just as uncomfortable in feeling that his own daughter was so superior to males like himself and to the entire idea of seduction.

Some of her boys were Wolves and Hell–Raisers, some were skinny and spectacled and superior, but none of them seemed to do anything but listen to the phonograph with Carrie, and talk with her about persons of whom the Doctor had never heard: Orson Welles, Bartok, Hindemith, Georg Grosz, Erskine Caldwell, Shostakovich. Some of the boys got mildly tight, as a young man should, but some of them were actually teetotalers — and, more embarrassing, so was Carrie.

He fretted that he certainly didn’t want her to get soused, but still, it was disagreeable to have her look that way at Peony and him when they rejoiced in their evening cocktails and recalled the Good New Ones they had heard during the day. It was exasperating to have her, though ordinarily a civil young woman, calmly state that they were old-fashioned survivals of a Flaming Youth era that to her was as antiquated and ridiculous as the Dutch Tulip Craze or Mr. Gladstone.

He had given up trying to be helpful to her young men by giving them valuable inside information regarding the International Situation of 1941 and the secret plans of fallen France. All of them, skinny and intellectual or stout and bawdy, expected to go to war some day as fighting soldiers, with no fuss about it; they disliked Hitlerism, and talked expertly about Spitfires and Stukas. Yet when he, the secretary of the DDD, tried to inspire them with his best explanations of what Winston Churchill was going to do year after next, they just didn’t seem to listen, although paying audiences of the most expensively dressed women applauded him on an average of twice a week for bestowing exactly this same revelation.

“Sometimes,” the Directive Secretary sighed, “I wish I were a plain college teacher again, instead of a leader of democratic thought.”

This morning, he read the war headlines to Carrie, who had read them herself half an hour before, until Peony appeared, adorable and soft in a lace-trimmed peachblow negligee, gurgling, “Everybody here? I can’t seem to get up mornings, any more. But, oh boy, did I dance with Hal Homeward and Sherry Belden last night, while you were gadding off to Washington! What, no strawberries?”

He rode to within a block of his office by subway, wishing that he could afford a limousine instead of having to be elbowed by these gum-chewing clerks. But he was restored to dignity as he walked up to the building of the Dynamos of Democratic Direction, which occupied all of a handsome old brownstone house in the Thirties.

The Blessed to Give Brotherhood headquarters had been like a warehouse, heaped everywhere with piles of pamphlets; the Heskett Foundation gloomy, the Every Man Fraternity and the Gishorn hideout like minute cells in a steel beehive. But the DDD offices were as proud and gay as that aristocratic scholar Dr. Planish himself.

Like a refined sultan entering his harem, he was greeted in the hall by the receptionist, Mrs. Ethel Hennessee, a flat lady with harlequin spectacles. Her desk was at the foot of the stairs, and it was her job to make inquiring visitors warmly unwelcome. The DDD did not want to see new faces unless the faces were backed by checks or by charters for new local Powerhouses. Particularly it did not want to see the cranks who brought in bulky schemes to save humanity by having the Government give $27.87 1/2 to every person over forty-five at eleven o’clock each Thursday morning.

On this ground floor were the Lounge, and the Council Room and Library, once the drawing-room and the dining-room of the old house. In the Library were oil portraits of Colonel Marduc and Governor Blizzard, and also several books.

The basement, aside from the furnace room, was given over to the women employees and women friends of the DDD. It had the odor of a stenographers’ school with a tea-room and a hairdresser’s down the hall. It was cluttered — no man entered here to enforce domestic order — with folding umbrellas, flowery gingham overalls, coffee machines, teapots and lipsticks.

Indeed the whole building was feminized. There were two and a half men in the place against fifty women.

Besides the Doctor, they kept a man named Carlyle Vesper, a thin and shabby and frightened clerk who was supposed to be office manager — he counted for half a man; Julius Magoon, the press agent, an enterprising wolf who was there only half the time; Dr. Tetley, the pale doer of Research; and Fritz Hendel, the Investigator — his job was to wriggle his way into secret seditious meetings, addressed by loud-mouthed Nazis on street corners in Yorkville and rarely attended by more than a dozen policemen, and come back with a report that he suspected the speakers of a tinge of anti-Semitism. Tetley and he were about the place not more than a quarter of the time. Average total male presence: two and a half.

Hovering about them, flattering them, listening to their jokes, filling their water carafes, taking down their letters, mothering them but wistfully hoping to be fathered by them, were the cloud of women: Mrs. Hennessee, the receptionist; Bonnie Popick, Dr. Planish’s fat and adoring private secretary, who resembled a tawny Peony; and undistinguishable young ladies named Flaude Stansbury, Sue Maple and Adelle Klein, who were permanently employed at typing, filing letters, folding DDD circulars and thrusting them into envelopes, running the telephone switchboard and taking down numbers and handing on falsifications for Mrs. Hennessee when she was out at lunch, worshipping the Doctor, pitying Mr. Vesper, avoiding the fingers of Mr. Magoon, and going home to boast that they had seen Colonel Marduc or Governor Blizzard or Mrs. Winifred Homeward face to face.

They were about Dr. Planish all day, like a flutter of pigeons, and they never gave him reason to doubt that he was the wisest and pleasantest servant of humanity since Haroun-al-Rashid. And all evening, Peony and the billowingly female cook were about him, too, and the only louse among the pillows was Carrie.

Besides this permanent staff there were, addressing envelopes and inserting circulars, anywhere from six to sixty unpaid volunteer women workers — all prosperous women, for Dr. Planish just couldn’t be bothered with poor ones. They came here with a shaky planless desire to do something for the world, and they were put to work, not because they were as good as girls hired by the week, but because if they worked here long enough and felt themselves part of the crusade, from 37 to 54% of them (figures by Dr. Tetley of the DDD) could be counted on to come through with cash contributions. So everyone was nice and helpful to them, very nice indeed.

As happily as a surgeon inspecting his hospital, Dr. Planish went up to the third floor, where, in a vast loft, worked all the women except Miss Popick and Mrs. Hennessee, where Magoon and Tetley and Hendel had their small disordered desks, and where Carlyle Vesper ineffectually watched the workers from a den seven feet square.

The Doctor was full of abounding joy and kindness. “Good morning, good morning, my dears!” he shouted; and even to poor Vesper, who bored him, he threw a forgiving, “Splendid day for December, Carlyle.”

Then he was free to go and sit in his fine Georgian office and be an Executive, while Bonnie Popick (of whom Mrs. Hennessee was agonizingly jealous) indicated that her day, her dawn, her golden sun had started — and please, would Dr. Planish try and get off that letter to the I.G.T.R.L. — he’d promised it yesterday — oh, she hated to bother him about it!

His office was a square, ruddy room, with a solid mahogany desk, a silver-framed picture of Peony, solid mahogany chairs, a portly fireplace, a case filled with autographed books about Conditions and Situations, and the Special File.

The whole building was banked with files of correspondence and of contributors’ names, but the Special File contained only the names of philanthrobbers who might be good for a thousand a year or more, and all the cards had annotations by the Doctor himself: “pers letter — flatter on stamp collectn,” and “gilded crook, likes to be taken for gent,” and “honest, intel, don’t send any bunk.”

Before he settled down to his correspondence, the Doctor went to his private washroom for his regular morning session of quiet thinking.

He was glad that their office was so stately, but it was stimulating to see through the tiny hexagons of the washroom’s wire-glass windows the strength and clashing angles of the new functional business buildings across the court: raw yellow brick walls, high-perched water tanks, roofs stepped back like ledges in an open-pit mine, fireproof windows with steel mullions. They were as harsh as factories, and as honest.

Dr. Planish felt that they represented modern power and speed, and from that thought it was easy to glide into a feeling that he had built them. He heard some unknown speaker, perhaps the suave Professor Campion, intoning:

“My high privilege to introduce Dr. Planish, than whom no man of his generation has more influenced not only political philosophy but the rebuilding of his native city, New York, from one of whose finest old Knickerbocker families he comes. Whether in such gracious palaces as that in which are housed the thousands of employees of the DDD, or in the streamlined efficiency of what is now universally known as the Planish or neo-Frank–Lloyd-Wright type of architecture —”

The Doctor happily finished his dream and returned to work and to the ministrations of Bonnie Popick, an active lady of twenty-eight who so appreciated his humor that sometimes she laughed when he hadn’t meant to be funny. As he re-entered his office, she was brushing his hat and overcoat; then she adjusted the slanted glass ventilation-shield at the bottom of the farther window.

She snickered, “Our friend Mrs. Hennessee claims she’s got a cold this morning.”

In office ritual this meant, “I love you much more than that flat-chested old cat does, though I’d be ashamed to be jealous, as she is — always pretending to feel ill, just to draw your attention. And I know that you’re true to your stupid pigeon of a wife — men are such fools — but all day I’m closer to you than your wife or anybody else — especially that damn Hennessee woman!”

He read the mail that she had opened and arranged in a pile on his desk. He loved reading mail; it made him feel important to be denounced in the same batch as an English Tory, as a Russian Communist, as a Midwestern provincial; to be asked his opinions; to be invited to address clubs and colleges.

He dictated the answers as rapidly as a windmill. Only one letter bothered him: that from Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis, the unpaid local director of the DDD Powerhouse.

Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis was nobody and everybody. Sometimes Dr. Planish remembered him as a lawyer, sometimes as a newspaperman, sometimes as a farmer, sometimes as a small merchant, sometimes as a labor-union secretary, sometimes as a millionaire lumberman. He accepted intellectual manna from the professional manna-handlers, but he could never be depended upon. At any moment he was likely to complain that the manna had too much soda in it.

Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis wrote now: “I don’t like the way our local Powerhouse of the DDD is going. We are supposed to be still in existence, and I notice in your bulletins that you say we are ‘thriving and doing a fine work in acquainting the Scandinavian citizens with the ideals of Americanism.’

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to get the committee together for a month now, and all our English for Foreigners and history classes, etc., etc., are just on paper, and anyway, I don’t feel there is anything we can tell the Swedes & Norwegians & Danes about Democracy.

“I first joined the DDD because I had an uncomfortable feeling that in these days a fellow ought to do something more than just make a living. I’ll admit I was a goat. I was impressed by all the titles and degrees that you fellows on the National Board have. But now I’m wondering.

“I guess maybe it would be pretty bad to never talk about Public Affairs, but I’m wondering if it isn’t just as bad to make out that they are a special mystery that only the DDD can understand.

“A lot of this inside information that you send us and that we’re supposed to hand on to the peasantry is pretty mildewed now. The ox-teams got across the Alleghenies with the news quite some time ago. You keep telling us that Zeke Bittery is a Fascist. Out here, we’ve known for twenty years that Zeke is nothing but a crackpot evangelist who would undercut Judas by eight pieces of silver. Why don’t you give us something new? For instance. Are there any Fascists that contribute to the DDD so as to look patriotic?

“I’m bothered about all this chatter. Ever since Voltaire, and especially since old Marx, there’s been such a clamor of authoritative voices. There’s so many new branches of knowledge, from psychiatry to conchology, from wine vintages to aviation records, that any sensitive man keeps feeling guilty about his ignorance, no matter how hard he reads, and so he turns for clarification to the fellows that set up as authorities.

“Well, they better be good, or they’re going to do a pretty terrible thing to the Common Man (like me). They’re going to make him get disgusted with ALL authority, and turn to the comic strips or to anarchy.”

Dr. Planish grunted to Bonnie Popick, “Regular crank. Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis? Yes, I remember his name now. He’s always kicking about something he doesn’t understand. Take this answer.”

He wrote to Mr. Johnson that it had been a rare privilege to peruse his profound analysis of the present Confusion of Tongues, and might he please read his letter to the Board of Directors, and he was sure that so bright a man as Mr. Johnson would soon have the Minneapolis Powerhouse hitting on all eight again.

He was, actually, somewhat more disturbed by the letter than he admitted.

His circular letters asserted the busy existence of ninety-seven Powerhouses, as a reason for sending in larger and quicker donations. Actually, only sixteen of them were visibly operating, and if that fact got out, susceptible Generous Givers might think the DDD was a zombie organization, and quit giving.

But he did not let the recollection worry him long. After all, could a man be a leader of public thought if he was going to be disturbed by all the Mr. Johnsons of all the Minneapolises that, so many miles from the Directive Secretary of the Dynamos of Democratic Direction, were deep in provincial darkness?

“I’d like to see some of these fellows try to do my job!” he said to Bonnie Popick, and looked at her as always for applause.

In his mail there was one most gratifying letter, from the Reverend Dr. Elmer Gantry, chairman of the DDD Insignia Committee.

Though he was a particularly stately man of God, who could use seven-syllable words just as easily as he could say Hell, Dr. Gantry was also an efficient man of affairs. With the consent of Colonel Marduc — since it did advertise the DDD, and cost him nothing — Dr. Gantry and Dr. Planish were permitted to control the sale of DDD buttons as a private venture. In the past six months, Dr. Planish had made enough out of this philanthropic enterprise to pay Peony’s lingerie and shoe bills, and Dr. Gantry to engage, as an aide in his pious work, a new secretary who was an M.A. and very beautiful.

They had hired one of the most artistic button-designers to devise a DDD badge which, worn on the lapel, somehow gave the beholder an impression that the wearer had been an officer in World War I.

To list the telephone calls which incessantly disturbed the Doctor’s high literary mood would be merely to give a depressing view of human selfishness. To consider how many persons wanted him to make speeches, without fee, how many rival dealers in oratory wanted to borrow from his stock of ideas about Abraham Lincoln, would be merely painful. But these annoyances he at last forgot in the pure ecstasy of composition.

Once a week he wrote a long Letter to the Editor, which he sent to one of the New York newspapers and to a dozen strategically placed papers outside the True Jerusalem. Often they were printed, too, and even the expert Colonel Marduc admitted that they were good advertising. Leaning back, scratching his beard, his eyes closed in ethereal bliss, he dictated to Bonnie:

The Editor.

Sir:

It was Thucydides who said to the Athenian people that, quote, In union there is not merely strength but a joy known ill to the striving hermit, unquote — no, wait, some bastard might know Greek, I think I better make up a name for whoever was supposed to have said that, make it — uh, let’s see — make it Heresophos — H-E-R-E-S-O-P-H-O-S— I hope that sounds Greek. Put his name in, and then continue after the quote:

I have the honor of being a member of an organization called Dynamos of Democratic Direction, and in these days it has been a privilege to see how citizens of every shade of opinion have found inspiration in-

He went on until the bells of St. Timothy the Good struck twelve o’clock.

He reached the anteroom to the Gold Ballroom of the Grand Hosannah Hotel at 12:32, and was photographed with the officers of the Riverdale Ladies’ Sociological Study Club; he lunched with the club till two; then, to that sea of upturned minks and Tecla pearls, he talked for twenty-five minutes about “Politics Needs Your Help.” He told them just what changes in the daily life of Paris had been made by the German occupation, and if he did not tell them that he had never been in Paris, neither did he say that he had.

He met Winifred Homeward in the Baboon Bar of the Hosannah, and they had a quick one and went together to a committee meeting of the new Call to Arms League, organized by Milo Samphire to advocate America’s entering the war against the dictators.

Samphire and his organization happened to be entirely honest. Winifred and the Doctor were not very welcome there, but with smiles like the sun on an icy tree, they pretended to be, and rather nervously they made notes for Colonel Marduc.

The Colonel had been fidgety about Milo Samphire’s demand that the American dislike for Fascism extend to war. Indeed, for a time, the Colonel had nearly slipped into the Isolationist faction. Secretly, he rather liked the way of Hitler and Mussolini in dealing briefly with anyone who opposed the Rule of the Strongest — the Colonel considering himself quite a good candidate for the Strongest in America. He had even spoken a few non-committal words at a Defense First anti-war meeting, a few months ago.

But when he saw the newspaper editorials about the meeting, he publicly explained that he hadn’t said what he meant and, most decidedly, he hadn’t meant what he said. He called up Dr. Planish and told him that from that moment on, the DDD would have nothing to do with the Isolationists.

The Doctor was relieved; but Milo Samphire did not seem to care what either Colonel Marduc or Dr. Planish thought, and as America tramped on to war, the Doctor felt a little scared and lonely. He did so much want to be a good man!

He rode the subway down to Pine Street, called on Walter Gilroy, looked tearful, and got a check for four hundred dollars.

He went back to the DDD office, signed his mail, and endured a little quiet torture with callers who were blessed with wealth but cursed with ideas.

At six, he was in a studio of the Brontosaurus Broadcasting Company, introducing Senator Bultitude on the radio. The time was bought and paid for by “a committee of Republican citizens.” Oh, blessed age when Time can be bought and sold instead of being grudgingly bestowed by God; when the very aged, if they be also very rich, can buy Time on and on through eternity.

In swap for the Doctor’s spirited introduction, the Senator mentioned the DDD— favorably.

At 6:20, the Doctor had another quick one, with the Senator, and at 6:40 still another, with Peony, at home.

Peony put on a new frock while he became beautiful in tails and white tie. They dined at a cafeteria, and Peony, in a crimson velvet evening cape and red roses in her hair, carried a tray with scrambled eggs, coffee, a chocolate eclair, a mocha layer cake and caramel ice cream.

At 8:15 they entered the Artists’ Dressing Room of Village Green Hall, and embraced their friend George Riot, president of Bonnibel College for Women. At 8:24, Dr. Planish and President Riot began, before another set of furs and pearls and boiled eggs, a debate on “Resolved: in case of war, women should bear arms.”

Dr. Planish took the affirmative, and many of the furs present believed that he was in earnest.

He spoke movingly of his wife and his learned daughter. Were those women, whose intelligence and energy alone had enabled him to do his modest work in Education for Democracy — were they mere toys to fondle in his idle hours, mere bric-a-brac to be laid aside if war should ever come? Were they? Never! He hoped and believed that it would never be necessary for them to be fighters, not so long as he himself could strike a blow. But should the occasion ever arise, he would be the first to applaud their putting on khaki and shouldering a gun.

President Riot said, at length, that Dr. Planish was a deep thinker, but all off on today’s deep thought.

At 9:29, President Riot and the Planishes had a quick one at the Fanfare Folly Bar, and at 9:41 they sat down at the speakers’ table at the dinner, in the Belle Poule Restaurant, of the Movement to Restore Christianity and Regular Church Attendance in Manhattan, just as Winifred Marduc Homeward arose and began defying the microphone.

Religion, said Winifred, would be restored only when True Democracy was instituted. Her father and she wished that there was some way of making every woman, man and child realize what Democracy was; that it opposed all pressure groups and held that the rights of man and woman, rich and poor, were equal; that all honest labor, whether of the editor or the furnace man, the poet or banker or harvest-hand, was equally noble.

She didn’t exactly say it, but she implied that if the poets, bankers and/or harvest-hands did not listen constantly to her and to her father, then civilization would smash.

Outside the Belle Poule Restaurant, which is expensive, Winifred’s waiting chauffeur was talking with the doorman and a taxi-driver.

“What’s this Democracy they’re talking about? I don’t mean the Democrat Party. It’s some kind of theory,” puzzled her chauffeur. “Me, I’d think Democracy meant you don’t figure how good a guy a fellow is by how much money he’s got or how much he shoots off his mouth. But if Windy Winnie is all for it, then it must mean something different.”

The taxi-driver grumbled, “I guess it means rich guys ought to be polite to poor guys. And am I for it! Say, I wish you could hear the lip I have to take off my customers. ‘Driver, I want you to go slow.’ ‘Driver, did you ever drive a cab before?’ ‘Driver, are you sure you know where the Grand Central is?’ God! One after another.”

“Troubles YOU got!” said Winifred’s chauffeur. “You get rid of YOUR headaches after a few blocks. You should drive private, where that hyena can not only bawl hell out of you for what she thinks is the wrong turning, but remember all the dumb plays she thinks you made yesterday and the day before, clear back to the Civil War. And does she bring ’em up? I’ll say she does! And she’s the one that’s always yapping about this Democracy on the radio — so I hear — I wouldn’t listen to it, not if you was to pay me for it.”

The doorman, a monument in blue and silver, returned from bowing in a couple who made a point of entering the Belle Poule as though it were a soup kitchen, and snorted, “This Democracy is all nonsense. If you guys could work your way up to where you put on a uniform, like I do, instead of a chauffeur’s suit, you wouldn’t worry. These rich slobs are all right. See the tip I just got? Democracy! Think I’m no better than my brother Jake, that’s still on a potato patch in Maine? And think Jake’s no better than some hobo that comes asking for a hand-out? No, sir! This Democracy just can’t work out.”

Mrs. Homeward’s chauffeur argued, “It’s got to work, or we’ll go bust, like Europe. Say! How the hell come we ever let porch-climbers like Mrs. Homeward and her dad — and their toadies, like you, Doorman — get control of this country?”

“I bet you wouldn’t be very popular with your boss if she knew what you think of her!”

“I bet nobody wouldn’t be very popular with their boss if he knew what they think!”

The chauffeur climbed into the Homeward car and went sulkily to sleep, just as Winifred Homeward was cascading, “It has always been my pride that the humblest truck-driver is just as free and easy with me, yes, and with that inspired sociologist, my father, as he is with any of his other pals!”

After the Movement dinner, the Planishes had the privilege of being taken, with the Marducs and the Homewards, to the flat of Governor Blizzard.

The Doctor rode with Winifred. She pointed to her chauffeur’s back, and whispered — she thought she was whispering —“But look at my driver — the stupidest, stolidest man living. How can you persuade people like him to listen to the Voice of Democracy? He never thinks of anything but driving. I’m sure he’s never even looked at me. He doesn’t know whether I’m dull or clever. I don’t believe he even knows whether I’m beautiful!”

In the other car, Peony patted the hands of Tom Blizzard, Charley Marduc and Hal Homeward, in turn, and told them that they looked tired but handsome after their gigantic labors, told them that she was so proud of knowing them.

All three of them smiled like appeased tom-cats.

The Governor’s bachelor living-room was forty feet long, with a bar at each end and a fireplace on each side.

Dr. Planish interested them all by saying that either the Colonel or the Governor would be a much better President than Mr. Roosevelt. Winifred told them, but she had heard it confidentially and they must not repeat it, that a correspondent who had had a cocktail with a French diplomat, who had had a cup of tisane with Marshal Petain, had said that France would rise up against Germany before the end of January, 1942.

So the Planishes were in bed by 2 A.M.

So Peony yawned, “What a wonderful evening.”

Dr. Planish was awakened by her sighing, “Do you know what that dress Winifred had on tonight probably cost?”

“R?”

“Probably three hundred and fifty dollars. And me paying $39.95 top!”

The ghastly thought awakened him fully, and he fretted, “This New York is an expensive town. I went in today to buy a necktie in a place on Fifth Avenue — I’d planned to spread myself; maybe pay two and a half. The clerk shows me a nice little number for five dollars, and when I asked for something cheaper, he shows a throw-away, at three dollars, and sneers at me. Jesus! I paid my three bucks, and sneaked out of there feeling as if I’d been caught picking up a cigar butt. For a necktie!”

“I know. To think that you make — I suppose this year it’ll be about eight thousand, with salary and lectures and everything?”

“About.”

“And yet we’re poor people. Why is it? You’re just as bright as Colonel Marduc, aren’t you?”

“I’m not as much of a crook. I really do think it’s worth while knocking out Hitler and Company for keeps, and I really do believe that people can live more co-operatively. And yet I do nothing but promote that double-crossing Marduc!”

“I won’t have you say things like that! All the good you do, and the lovely ideas you put out about — well, about Democracy and so on. But to think of your making half again as much as President Bull at Kinnikinick, and yet we often have to eat at cafeterias!”

“Peony!”

“Uh-huh?”

“Do you sometimes think maybe you’d like to go back — go to some smaller town, or get into some good small religious organization, where we wouldn’t have to train with millionaires like Marduc? I’ll bet he pays NINE dollars for a necktie!”

“No, no, never! Don’t you ever let yourself get to thinking like that! That’s how people degenerate — like in that play, White Cargo. You wouldn’t expect me to associate with a lot of farmers, would you, not after all my years of struggle?”

“No, I guess not.”

“There! You see?”

On Saturday morning, December 6, 1941, Dr. Planish flew with President George Riot out to Bonnibel College for Women. It might have been an extravagant journey, but the college paid his expenses, and he also charged them in full to Travel on his DDD account.

At one, there was a “banquet” at Bonnibel, with exactly the same committeewomen, flashlight photographs, handshakes, and ambitious high-school girl reporters, whose notion of interviewing him was to ask him how they could get New York newspaper jobs immediately, the same cold hot chicken and hot three-colored ice cream, that he had encountered at seven dinners in the past nineteen days. The only difference was that the girls’ heads were a brighter vista than the dress-coats and sagging evening frocks he had seen at the others.

At 3 P.M., in the ceremony of Winter Convocation, he received from President Riot the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. He now had almost as many stuffed heads and horns as Colonel Marduc: two LL.D.‘s, three Litt.D.‘s, one D.H., and even one real degree, a Ph.D. Thus invested, he had in his veins a different and more royal blood — maybe Type 5.

At 7:30 that evening, George Riot and he publicly repeated their debate of the evening before: “Resolved: in case of war, women should bear arms.” But George had suggested that they change sides; it would be safer for him to tell his girl students, the darlings, that they might bear all the arms they wanted to.

That seemed a practical notion to Dr. Planish, since the newspapers had not reported their previous debate, so now he wailed:

“And so, as I say, of the equality of women and men, there is no longer any doubt, and no one, not a besotted fool, would any longer even in a spirit of mockery even so much as hint that it has not been a sovereign and healing blessing to have given, if indeed ‘given’ is the word, the vote to women, whether as a practical measure or as a symbol of that admitted equality, but still, nevertheless, gladly admitting all that, the question of whether their fine and delicate talents, so superior to men’s in many tasks and, I haven’t the slightest doubt, at the very least counterbalancing the larger gross muscular power of the male that, perhaps, is more suitable for certain other labors, should, I say, just for the interest of experimentation, be wasted in the more brutal tasks of actual soldiering — oh, my young friends, your great president, and, I am honored to say, my close and long-honored friend, Dr. Riot, may wish to play with this idea, as perhaps befits that sinuous intellect of his, but as for myself, I am a practical man of affairs, not unversed in military lore and training, and I tell you that for a woman, young or old, to be, even if she wished to, permitted to bear arms in the heat and toil of actual conflict, that, my young friends, and I implore you to put away all the vanities of sex antagonism, natural though these may be in view of the long and arduous and indeed properly prideful and in some sense, no doubt, belligerent struggle that women have had in conquering blind antagonism, witless prejudice, and the immobility of mere custom and habit and the cultural pattern of other civilizations that, though, to the unobservant, though possibly esthetic, eye, they may have seemed of the richest texture yet actually, in construction, they served but ill those basic necessities of the advance of human culture, among which the true and equal co-operation of men and women in all their relationships, whether of romance, war or the home is not the least, and yet the very historic force and intensity of that antagonism must, in the nature of the case, be a factor clouding the complete lucidity and severe brevity with which it is, I need scarcely tell you, necessary to consider a problem so complicated and far-flung —”

He caught a train at Indianapolis at 10:50; he flew from Buffalo to New York; he was home for breakfast on Sunday — Sunday, December 7, 1941.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/gideon/chapter28.html

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