Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 32


Two evenings after Elmer’s mother had almost alienated him, he settled down in his study at home to prepare three or four sermons, with a hope of being in bed by eleven. He was furious when the Lithuanian maid came in and said, “Somebody on the ‘phone, Doctor,” but when he heard Hettie the ragged edges went out of his voice.

“Elmer? Hettie calling.”

“Yes, yes, this is Dr. Gantry.”

“Oh, you are so sweet and funny and dignified! Is the Lettish pot-walloper listening?”


“Listen, dear. Will you do something for me?”

“You bet!”

“I’m so terribly lonely this evening. Is oo working hard?”

“I’ve got to get up some sermons.”

“Listen! Bring your little Bible dictionary along and come and work at my place, and let me smoke a cigarette and look at you. Wouldn’t you like to . . . dear . . . dearest?”

“You bet. Be right along.”

He explained to Cleo and his mother that he had to go and comfort an old lady in extremis, he accepted their congratulations on his martyrdom, and hastened out.


Elmer was sitting beside Hettie on the damask couch, under the standard lamp, stroking her hand and explaining how unjust his mother was, when the door of her suite opened gravely and a thin, twitching-faced, gimlet-eyed man walked in.

Hettie sprang up, stood with a hand on her frightened breast.

“What d’you want here?” roared Elmer, as he rose also.

“Hush!” Hettie begged him. “It’s my husband!”

“Your —” Elmer’s cry was the bleat of a bitten sheep. “Your — But you aren’t married!”

“I am, hang it! Oscar, you get out of here! How dare you intrude like this!”

Oscar walked slowly, appreciatively, into the zone of light.

“Well, I’ve caught you two with the goods!” he chuckled.

“What do you mean!” Hettie raged. “This is my boss, and he’s come here to talk over some work.”

“Yeh, I bet he has. . . . This afternoon I bribed my way in here, and I’ve got all his letters to you.”

“Oh, you haven’t!” Hettie dashed to her desk, stood in despair looking at an empty drawer.

Elmer bulked over Oscar. “I’ve had enough of this! You gimme those letters and you get out of here or I’ll throw you out!”

Oscar negligently produced an automatic. “Shut up,” he said, almost affectionately. “Now, Gantry, this ought to cost you about fifty thousand dollars, but I don’t suppose you can raise that much. But if I sue for alienation of Het’s affections, that’s the amount I’ll sue for. But if you want to settle out of court, in a nice gentlemanly manner without acting rough, I’ll let you off for ten thousand — and there won’t be the publicity — oh, maybe that publicity wouldn’t cook your reverend goose!”

“If you think you can blackmail me —”

“Think? Hell! I know I can! I’ll call on you in your church at noon tomorrow.”

“I won’t be there.”

“You better be! If you’re ready to compromise for ten thousand, all right; no feelings hurt. If not, I’ll have my lawyer (and he’s Mannie Silverhorn, the slickest shyster in town) file suit for alienation tomorrow afternoon — and make sure that the evening papers get out extras on it. By-by, Hettie. ‘By, Elmer darling. Whoa, Elmer! Naughty, naughty! You touch me and I’ll plug you! So long.”

Elmer gaped after the departing Oscar. He turned quickly and saw that Hettie was grinning.

She hastily pulled down her mouth.

“My God, I believe you’re in on this!” he cried.

“What of it, you big lummox! We’ve got the goods on you. Your letters will sound lovely in court! But don’t ever think for one moment that workers as good as Oscar and I were wasting our time on a tin-horn preacher without ten bucks in the bank! We were after William Dollinger Styles. But he isn’t a boob, like you; he turned me down when I went to lunch with him and tried to date him up. So, as we’d paid for this plant, we thought we might as well get our expenses and a little piece of change out of you, you short-weight, and by God we will! Now get out of here! I’m sick of hearing your blatting! No, I don’t think you better hit me. Oscar’ll be waiting outside the door. Sorry I won’t be able to be at the church tomorrow — don’t worry about my things or my salary — I got ’em this afternoon!”


At midnight, his mouth hanging open, Elmer was ringing at the house of T. J. Rigg. He rang and rang, desperately. No answer. He stood outside then and bawled “T. J.! T. J.!”

An upper window was opened, and an irritated voice, thick with sleepiness, protested, “Whadda yuh WANT!”

“Come down quick! It’s me — Elmer Gantry. I need you, bad!”

“All right. Be right down.”

A grotesque little figure in an old-fashioned nightshirt, puffing at a cigar, Rigg admitted him and led him to the library.

“T. J., they’ve got me!”

“Yuh? The bootleggers?”

“No. Hettie. You know my secretary?”

“Oh. Yuh. I see. Been pretty friendly with her?”

Elmer told everything.

“All right,” said Rigg. “I’ll be there at twelve to meet Oscar with you. We’ll stall for time, and I’ll do something. Don’t worry, Elmer. And look here. Elmer, don’t you think that even a preacher ought to TRY to go straight?”

“I’ve learned my lesson, T. J.! I swear this is the last time I’ll ever step out, even look at a girl. God, you’ve been a good friend to me, old man!”

“Well, I like anything I’m connected with to go straight. Pure egotism. You better have a drink. You need it!”

“No! I’m going to hold onto THAT vow, anyway! I guess it’s all I’ve got. Oh, my God! And just this evening I thought I was such a big important guy, that nobody could touch.”

“You might make a sermon out of it — and you probably will!”


The chastened and positively-for-the-last-time-reformed Elmer lasted for days. He was silent at the conference with Oscar Dowler, Oscar’s lawyer, Mannie Silverhorn, and T. J. Rigg in the church study next noon. Rigg and Silverhorn did the talking. (And Elmer was dismayed to see how friendly and jocose Rigg was with Silverhorn, of whom he had spoken in most unMethodist terms.)

“Yuh, you’ve got the goods on the Doctor,” said Rigg. “We admit it. And I agree that it’s worth ten thousand. But you’ve got to give us a week to raise the money.”

“All right, T. J. See you here a week from today?” said Mannie Silverhorn.

“No, better make it in your office. Too many snooping sisters around.”

“All right.”

Everybody shook hands profusely — except that Elmer did not shake hands with Oscar Dowler, who snickered, “Why, Elmer, and us so closely related, as it were!”

When they were gone, the broken Elmer whimpered, “But, T. J., I never in the world could raise ten thousand! Why, I haven’t saved a thousand!”

“Hell’s big bells, Elmer! You don’t suppose we’re going to pay ’em any ten thousand, do you? It may cost you fifteen hundred — which I’ll lend you — five hundred to sweeten Hettie, and maybe a thousand for detectives.”


“At a quarter to two this morning I was talking to Pete Reese of the Reese Detective Agency, telling him to get busy. We’ll know a lot about the Dowlers in a few days. So don’t worry.”


Elmer was sufficiently consoled not to agonize that week, yet not so consoled but that he became a humble and tender Christian. To the embarrassed astonishment of his children, he played with them every evening. To Cleo he was almost uxorious.

“Dearest,” he said, “I realize that I have — oh, it isn’t entirely my fault; I’ve been so absorbed in the Work: but the fact remains that I haven’t given you enough attention, and tomorrow evening I want you to go to a concert with me.”

“Oh, Elmer!” she rejoiced.

And he sent her flowers, once.

“You see!” his mother exulted. “I knew you and Cleo would be happier if I just pointed out a few things to you. After all, your old mother may be stupid and Main–Street, but there’s nobody like a mother to understand her own boy, and I knew that if I just spoke to you, even if you are a Doctor of Divinity, you’d see things different!”

“Yes, and it was your training that made me a Christian and a preacher. Oh, a man does owe so much to a pious mother!” said Elmer.


Mannie Silverhorn was one of the best ambulance-chasers in Zenith. A hundred times he had made the street-car company pay damages to people whom they had not damaged; a hundred times he had made motorists pay for injuring people whom they had not injured. But with all his talent, Mannie had one misfortune — he would get drunk.

Now, in general, when he was drunk Mannie was able to keep from talking about his legal cases, but this time he was drunk in the presence of Bill Kingdom, reporter for the Advocate–Times, and Mr. Kingdom was an even harder cross-examiner than Mr. Silverhorn.

Bill had been speaking without affection of Dr. Gantry when Mannie leered, “Say, jeeze, Bill, your Doc Gantry is going to get his! Oh, I got him where I want him! And maybe it won’t cost him some money to be so popular with the ladies!”

Bill looked rigorously uninterested. “Aw, what are you trying to pull, Mannie! Don’t be a fool! You haven’t got anything on Elmer, and you never will have. He’s too smart for you! You haven’t got enough brains to get that guy, Mannie!”

“Me? I haven’t got enough brains — Say, listen!”

Yes, Mannie was drunk. Even so, it was only after an hour of badgering Mannie about his inferiority to Elmer in trickiness, an hour of Bill’s harsh yet dulcet flattery, an hour of Bill’s rather novel willingness to buy drinks, that an infuriated Mannie shrieked, “All right, you get a stenographer that’s a notary public and I’ll dictate it!”

And at two in the morning, to an irritated but alert court reporter in his shambles of a hotel room, Mannie Silverhorn dictated and signed a statement that unless the Reverend Dr. Elmer Gantry settled out of court, he would be sued (Emmanuel Silverhorn attorney) for fifty thousand dollars for having, by inexcusable intimacy with her, alienated Hettie Dowler’s affections from her husband.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57