The dean of Kinnikinick College, Dean Gideon Planish — he was a new dean; in the fall of 1926, he had been so exalted for only a year — had almost finished the annual plague of straightening out undergraduate schedules. He was looking amiably at a thin girl with curly hair and troubled eyes, and he was chuckling.
“This won’t do, Miss Janes. Your schedule is badly unbalanced. Three courses in literature! I never heard of such a thing! ‘Advanced English Poetry’ and ‘The History of the Novel’ and ‘Chaucer and Spenser.’ What do you plan to do? Teach?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What, then? Newspaper work? Write yarns?”
“I’m engaged to be married after I graduate.”
“Then, good Lord, what do you want to take all this books-and-reading for? They’re no good for running a household. What is the idea, anyway?”
“I don’t think I have any. I just like to read.”
“Well, I don’t suppose there’s any real objection to your taking a lot of literature and stuff if you ENJOY it!”
As she went out and left him in peace, in his handsome new office with its partitions of oak and clouded glass, its portraits of Professor Edward Lee Thorndike and President Coolidge, he congratulated himself on having been so generous and so suave with her. Yet, even after his summer vacation on Gull Lake, he was a little tired of this unending persecution by smart-aleck students who acted as if they knew more than he did.
Dean Gideon Planish thought pretty well of literature. He was an expert in all its branches, and though he preferred the bright hard rocks of Oratory in the literary landscape, he could pinch-hit any time for the regular instructors in metaphysical poetry or commercial correspondence or the rules of play-construction, and he had a fascinating theory that Shakespeare was written by Queen Elizabeth. He knew all about teaching literature in both of its aspects — as an incentive to morality and as an aid to earning a living. He had figures to prove that he could increase the vocabularies of freshmen 39.73% in nine months.
But, as he told the Kinnikinick Rotary Club, the teaching of literature must be as manly and practical as the teaching of physics or football. He had mastered that doctrine even as far back as 1918 when, after his three months’ service in an army camp in Illinois, he had started teaching, with his caste-mark of Ph.D. freshly painted on his forehead. At that time there was a universal expectation that literature would modestly take its place, along with advertising and preaching the Gospel, as a glad assistant to the expansion of American prosperity.
But now, in 1926, even after more than six years of the National Prohibition which ought to have produced universal efficiency and patriotism, there were everywhere hints of subversive ideas, probably introduced into America by such Bolsheviks as Emma Goldman, H. L. Mencken and Clarence Darrow, who, a year ago, had practically murdered the Dean’s hero, William Jennings Bryan. And unless literature set its face like a flint against all such feeble-minded infidelity, he, for one, would actually prefer th’ unlettered hind (or farmer), said Dean Planish.
As dean and as the readiest speaker in Kinnikinick, he had constantly to enlighten the public on such problems as the recent Women’s Suffrage Amendment, the Sacco–Vanzetti trial, the progress of the Weimar Republic, the heroic heart of the martyred president, Mr. Harding, the Florida Land Boom (in which the Dean had lost a hundred dollars that he badly needed for payments on Peony’s new piano), the pedagogical significance of the fact that Bryn Mawr was permitting students to smoke within the college, and, always, the crisis of Flaming Youth: gin flasks and giggling from automobiles parked in darkness and such dancing as had not been seen since the Serpent and Mother Eve.
Dean Planish was, as his proprietor, President Bull, frequently told the press, a philosopher and a leader of humanitarianism. The Dean said right out that regrettable though the Flaming and the Petting and the Bootlegging were, there was less danger in yielding to them than in talking about them or in writing about them. He hated to encounter students who jeered at all that was sturdy and helpful in literature, and called their cultural murders “experiments.” He sometimes said that he would rather see his daughter lying dead at his feet than reading callous innovators like Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson, and as his daughter was only three years old now, it may be seen that he felt pretty strongly on the subject.
He smiled to himself at his desk. Yes, he could fairly be called “the fighting philosopher.” But what was he doing here in Kinnikinick, wasting his time listening over and over to the same dreary bleatings from successive flocks of students, when he ought to be out in the world, battling for civic righteousness? That’s what his wife Peony kept asking, and, reflected the Dean, she was dead right.
He was interrupted then by one of the Flaming Youth in person. As she slammed in, she might have been a particularly skinny boy; she might have been a plucked chicken wrapped in a dish-towel; she might have been almost anything except a flame. Her hair was clipped short, her sleeves were short, her bosom was at once exposed and non-existent, and her rolled stockings advertised her knees, which could have done with a little washing. She was both an invitation and a denial. She was a college senior in grade, a babe in intellect and a Hecate in guile.
When he had been a mere young instructor, the Dean might have been aroused, but Peony took care of all that now, and Peony was not skinny. He merely growled, “What do you want, Gwynn?”
She grinned in an excess of dry youthfulness.
“What have you been up to, young woman? Drinking too much? Roadhouse?”
She giggled, and made the preposterous remark, “I think you’re gorgeous!”
“Young woman, is that any way to talk to the dean?”
“Oh, I knew you years before you were a dean!”
“You did not! Only two years before. And even in that brief period, you’ve been the cause of the gray hairs in my beard.”
“There isn’t a gray hair in it. It’s just as brown as ever. I think it’s gorgeous!”
“You have five other adjectives that you haven’t used yet: dandy, slick, swell, cute and lousy. You aren’t losing any of ’em, are you? Gwynn, seriously, we’re old friends, and I hate to see you graduate from this institution next spring with only a hundred and seven words in your vocabulary. Can’t you make it a hundred and ten?”
He reflected how different, under his influence, Peony had become from this brat. Why, Peony must have a hundred and twenty words.
“Honestly, Dean, I didn’t get sent in to get hell. I want to change my course. I want to major in art and architecture and geography, this year, and cut out the physical training and Platonaristotle.”
“You know that Chinese boy in my class — Li?”
“Well, him and me — he and me — you know what I mean — we were at the same lake this summer. Li says China and India are going to have a big renaissance — that’s what he calls it — and I thought I’d like to go out to Asia and be an architect.”
“You mean as a sort of Christian missionary? Teach the little Oriental brother?”
“Oh, no. According to what he says, when China and India join up, they’ll be teaching us. They’re the oldest and the smartest nations in the world, Li says, and they’ve decided to chase out all the carpet-baggers, and I’d be lucky if I was allowed there. What do you think, Dean?”
“What do I think? I’ll tell you what I think! I think that I can stand it when you Lost Generation jazz-babies, you unspeakable drug-store cowboys and hot mamas, act like tarts and bootleggers. I have the faith to believe that by the end of these barbaric 1920’s, you will all have come to your senses. That is, if — IF, I say — you retain your essential philosophy.
“And part of that philosophy is that the white races, America and Britain and France and Spain and Italy — yes, and Germany, now that the Germans have seen their folly and given up warfare as an instrument of progress — that we of the superior race are, by some compulsion whose divine origin and sanction must remain a mystery to us, destined to rule, tenderly but firmly, all the yellow, brown and black hordes, and that they can never be anything but clever children — especially including your slick friend, Mr. Li — who imitate our civilization to perfection but —
“No, you can’t take architecture! And I want to see you behave yourself this year, Gwynn, or even though we are old friends, I’ll bounce you right out on your ear, and as I told you, I want to see if you can’t develop some elegance in speaking and the normal vocabulary of a six-year-old child and — and you know damn well that as dean I’m not too hard on a little drinking or petting, and I trust I’m a Modern Thinker and a Consistent Liberal, and I think you must admit I’m up to date if not a little ahead of it, but when it comes to a point of degeneracy where you consider subject peoples, whose brain sutures close up quicker than ours do, as just as good as we are, and you’re willing to see the whole destined world-structure bust up in-NO!”
So at last the Dean could scamper home to his sympathetic wife.
The Planishes’ rented house was the first of the charming small white houses, cheerful and clean and realistic, with wide clapboards and built-in garage and automatic oil heat, that had been erected in Kinnikinick. Later, they were to brighten the whole Middlewest.
The weary Dean came up to it, admiring the small sleek lawn — mowed by Peony before breakfast; inspired by the crazy-pattern of the walk — the stones had been picked out by Peony; impressed by the white-painted solid oak door — Peony had repainted it after the workmen had made a botch. He edged the door open and remarked, “Oo-hoo!”
His wife answered, “Oo-hoo!”
“How’s the baby?”
“Oh, she’s just dandy — she’s swell — she’s just slick — she’s so cute. Want to see her? But first —”
Peony led him by hand through the small living-room. She stopped in front of their major treasure, the Chinese Chippendale cabinet, a splendor of gold and scarlet and carved mandarins, which they had bought in Chicago on their honeymoon, and which had cost approximately ten times what they could afford. As always, she breathed, “Isn’t it slick! It’s the swellest cabinet I ever saw!” and as always, he agreed, “Certainly is; it lights up the room like a house afire.”
She led him on into their bedroom, with its wallpaper of silver sailboats on a green sea, and its twin beds, of which one was more hollowed than the other. She led him to the farthest corner, as though it were a secret niche, and kissed him convulsively. There was in their young and parochial love something dark and hidden and fierce, dissolving him to water.
She led him to the second bedroom. It had been planned as a guest-room — here, Father and Mother Jackson would often be staying. But Father and Mother Jackson had, after a surprisingly short period, been compelled to stay at the Kinnikinick Inn, for this had become the place sacred to the baby.
At the age of three, Carrie Planish was cheerful and active, a genuine grocers’-calendar baby, of whom it could be said, of whom it frequently was said, “I declare, that baby’s got the sunniest disposition I ever saw in all my born days.”
Carrie was likely to be darker than either of her parents, and more slender.
She rose from her business interests — nine leaden soldiers, a decayed doll, and a water-color portrait of the family cat — she sprinted across the floor and yelled, “Daddy!”
“That’s a darn smart baby, Carrie is,” the Dean said, as they returned to the living-room. “She’ll be a dean of women, some day.”
“She will like hell! She’ll be a contented wife and mother. Like me.”
“What’s the plans for supper? You didn’t tell me to bring anything home.”
“Nope. It’s the hired girl’s night out, and we’re going batting. I’ve got Mrs. Hilp coming, to take care of Baby. We’re going to drive down to Mabel Grove and eat at the Appleton House.”
“That’s swell — fine and dandy,” said the purist.
Their car was a powerful new Maxwell, with a maximum speed of not much less than forty-eight miles an hour. The Dean was behind on his payments on the car, but only a month or two.
They swung south into the rolling cornland.
It was the Dean’s happy belief that, despite his own eloquence, force and tact, it was really Peony who had made him dean, with a salary of two hundred dollars a year more than a full professor’s, with more control over the students, and with less necessity of pretending that he had read the latest works of Mrs. Wharton and Miss Cather and this new fellow, Hemingway.
Following their marriage, Peony had called on Teckla Schaum and after being snubbed more than usual, had become Teckla’s closest friend, and been asked to dine with Teckla’s father. She had also, entirely against the college etiquette of waiting for the president’s wife to call first, popped in on Mrs. Bull and, after being kissed and petted more than usual, had become Mrs. Bull’s closest friend. She had then called on Dr. Edith Minton and, after meeting a blankness which she could never quite understand, had become Dr. Minton’s one frank enemy, and as nobody liked Dr. Minton very much, that attitude on the part of Young Mrs. Professor Planish was considered pretty deep.
Peony had urged her husband to offer himself to President Bull for every style of committee work, and within a year it was expected that whenever a Visiting Celebrity was to be introduced in Assembly, or a program made for combining the organic chemistry and salad-making courses, it would be Professor Planish who would take on the ordeal. When the old dean died, in harness though also in liquor, the choice of Planish for the deanship was inescapable, and his child-wife considered not unworthy of the purple.
She was an earnest young matron as they drove into the county seat, Mabel Grove (pop., 11,569). One who knew her high position would have supposed that she was thinking of racial problems or social hygiene, but she was saying to the Dean:
“I think we can sneak in a glass of beer at the Appleton House without getting caught. But first I got something to show you: the most fool extravagance you ever heard of, and God knows how I want it! Do I get it, Gideon?”
“What are you asking ME for?” he said fondly.
She bade him stop at an old brown house with the modest sign, “T Shop & Antiques.” She looked nervous as they went up the walk; she yanked the door open as if to get it over; she pointed at an object, and tightly held his arm. The object was a huge Chinese rug, blue as a June lake, with a border of dragons and fuzzy-headed lions, saffron and sage-green and yellow.
“Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you ever saw?” gurgled Peony.
“That’ll be something for us to have when you’re Senator from Iowa.”
“Sweetie, I guess maybe we better wait till I AM Senator.”
“It’s a thousand years old — well, a hundred years old, I guess — and it used to cost fifteen hundred dollars, but we can get it for three hundred.”
“Sweetie, I swear to God we haven’t got three hundred dollars in the world, and we must be over two hundred in debt — I don’t really know — I kind of hate to add up the bills.”
“But you can get it for twenty-five dollars down, and it’s worth five hundred. The woman here told me so! That rug — it’s got class! Don’t you want it?”
“Oh, yes, I like it fine, but it’s utterly impossible —”
They drove up to the Appleton House for dinner with the Chinese rug in the back of the car.
In celebration they drank not beer but old-fashioned cocktails, and at dinner, looking in a pleased way at all the luxuries, pickled melon rind and ripe olives and nut bread, everything that spelled richness and worldliness and delicacy of taste, Peony said, “Don’t forget Dad is a crank about debts. We can count on him to pay up to a thousand, if we get sunk badly enough, and by the time that’s all dished out, maybe you’ll be earning more dough. Oh, and I got another surprise, just as big as the Chinese rug, bless its blue soul!”
The Dean squeaked, in terror, “I hope it won’t cost another three hundred!”
“It won’t set you back a cent, my boy. Honest it won’t. I know how you feel. I hate to spend money, and I hate to be in debt — I just hate it. It’s simply that I like to HAVE things, don’t you see?”
“Yes,” said the Dean, and “Well —”
They both looked relieved.
“Here’s the new stunt, Gideon. We’ve been talking so much about your getting on and taking your proper place in the world, and now it’s time to really start doing something. The chairman of the County Censorship Board has just resigned, and they’re looking for a new one. And has that board got power! I don’t suppose it has any legal position at all, but every movie house and library board in the county listens to it. So tonight we’re going to call on Mrs. William Basswood, and then watch my little man become chairman of the board!”
“Mrs. William —?”
“She’s the widow of a dental supply house — lives here in Mabel Grove. Looks just like a sweet little ivory statue, but is she hell on wheels! She’s so doggone moral she thinks pussy cats ought to wear step-ins. You be good now. Try to look like the Y.M.C.A. was named after you.”
Mabel Grove had, as happens in the Middlewest, leaped from crossroad hamlet to small city without ever having had the leisure to stop and be merely a pleasant village. It had concrete paving, a seven-story office-building belonging to a bank, and a dozen rather squashed apartment houses. By 1940 it would also have a radio station, a chromium cocktail bar, a public swimming pool, and a much-mentioned unmentionable scandal about a male high-school teacher. It showed that in eighty years the prairies can go as far as Europe in eight hundred.
By nature Mrs. Basswood should have lived in a lilac-shaded cottage, but she was found in a compressed flat with an electric log, and portraits of Mary Baker Eddy, Tennessee Claflin and Mrs. Hetty Green. She had a radio, which was pretty modern in 1926, but her torso, covered with jet to take away the curse of sex, still creaked in the old-fashioned way.
“Oh, I think it’s wonderful that you’re interested in our little fight for godliness, Dr. Planish, and your dear wife, and you must meet Mr. Pederson, the Reverend Chauncey Pederson of the Lutheran Church, but it’s affiliated with the English Lutherans now, I mean it doesn’t call itself a Norwegian Church any more — I mean, of course, the Norwegians are a fine, upstanding, God-fearing people but — and — oh yes, I’ll telephone Mr. Pederson right now.”
This was Mrs. Basswood speaking. She continued speaking as they awaited the Reverend. She always continued speaking.
Mr. Pederson was a wide, middle-sized man, weighing about 190 in his stocking feet, and he seemed to be entirely free of vice and practically free of everything else. He privately grew sugar corn and asparagus, but he was without guile. He welcomed the Dean to their censorship board; he explained that the Dean’s name was supposed to be voted upon by the other members of the board, but as those two dogs weren’t even very good Protestants, the Dean could consider himself elected right now; in fact — and here Mrs. Basswood and he exchanged some small language of nods and winks and pious smiling — he might almost say that Dean Planish was already chairman of the board!
“I know he’ll be proud to help you and the cause of Purity, though he is so dreadfully busy and so much in demand for meetings everywhere, but I’m sure he’ll accept!” cried Peony, before Mrs. Basswood should hesitate, or the Dean put his foot in it.
Mr. Pederson shouted, “That’s fine! That’s, if I may say so, dandy. I want to tell you, Dean, we’re all of us mighty proud to associate with a man of your scholarly attainments and vast reputation. Now, Dean, I want to ask you a question. Don’t you feel, as Mrs. Basswood and I do, that there is no force or factor which is a stronger factor in producing the dreadful vice that we see rampant about us at this moment, a condition that would bring a blush of shame to the cheek of Nero or any of those notorious high-rollers of history, with King Alcohol ruling his rowdy crew on all sides of us now, and women, even young women, pursuing the males” (here Peony looked pious) “and doing things and acts that I could not describe in the presence of ladies, and don’t you think that there is no factor that more grievously tends to produce these awful conditions than the so-called popular and best-selling novels, with their shameless word-painting of naked women” (he smacked his lips, Mrs. Basswood looked hungry, and the Dean blushed, while only Peony remained innocent) “and the at once bold justification, in these novels, of the lowest vice, and malicious sneering at the dauntless defenders of purity in the church and home? Scandalous!”
The Dean said he thought there was a lot to that.
Before the first meeting of the censorship board with the Dean in the chair, Peony prompted him, “I’ve got something for you to go after — novel published a couple of years ago — The Tattooed Countess, by Carl Van Vechten. Why don’t you get busy and censor hell out of it?”
“You can’t! I understand Mr. Van Vechten was born here in Iowa. He’s a Native Son!” The Dean referred to Native Son as though it had a close relationship to the Nativity.
“That’s why I picked it. All the guys in the State that knew-him-when, or claim they knew-him-when, will be jealous of him because he went off to New York.”
“But is it immoral enough to get folks interested?”
“I haven’t read it. I tell you, with all I got to do, I just don’t seem to have time to read novels. But I hear there’s a woman and a young fellow interested in each other in the book, without being married! And it’s all laid in Iowa — the setting, I mean.”
“And then it’s kind of highbrow and kind of humorous, and that makes immorality a lot worse.”
“We’ll see what we can do to it.”
The rest of the committee, when the meeting was held at Mabel Grove, were pleased to censor a refugee Iowan, and they set forth with verbal flaming torches to drive the Tattooed Countess clean out of Garfield County. But in the entire county, though in cities like Dubuque and Des Moines it was rumored to be plentiful, they could discover the book only in the homes of a newspaper owner, a doctor, two lawyers and seven clergymen. There were listed in the county five book shops, of which three actually sold books, at Christmastime, but none of these had a copy.
Peony was not satisfied. “There MUST be some on sale. This is a bright, educated county — Yankees and Scandinavians. There must be some people here who’re cultured enough to read immoral books.” Ranging by automobile, she went into every stand that sold magazines or toys, and right there in Mabel Grove, not ten blocks from the grotto of Mrs. William Basswood, she found two copies of The Tattooed Countess on sale in the cigar store of one Mr. Rood.
The five members of the censorship board, attended by two admiring wives, waited upon Mr. Rood in his shop.
He looked thin, amiable and dangerous. No, he hadn’t read The Countess. In fact, he never read anything but Chic Sales and sometimes Louisa May Alcott. No, he didn’t know how he happened to have two copies of The Countess; they probably came in with a job-lot of magazines, book-ends and Easter cards. No — truly no — he wouldn’t promise not to sell The Countess. He was running his business to suit himself, not a bunch of bottle-nosed preachers and — he looked at Peony — dumb bunnies. All right, why DIDN’T they arrest him? There was just as much dividends in going to jail as in running a cigar-store.
The Dean remarked, “We’ll see about this!” and with all the dignity of his short beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses, he led his crusaders out of the den of vice.
On suggestion of the Reverend Mr. Pederson, they consulted Mr. Bill Peniston, chairman of the commissioners of Garfield County.
Mr. Peniston reported, “You got no legal right to do anything, but I don’t see why us Republicans shouldn’t have a fit of morality once in a while, as well as the Democrats. I’ll get the Mabel Grove police to let you hold a meeting in Hawkeye Park, and you can lambast Brother Rood to a fare-you-well. Say, tell me, Dean: Is this Tattooed Countess pretty hot stuff? I must get me a copy before Rood sells out.”
“I haven’t had time to read it — I mean, read it all, yet,” the Dean explained.
Dean Planish was a dignified man, an educator and a student of statesmanship. It would be very fine indeed to address a teeming throng, provided it teemed in a regularly rented hall, with the sanctities of a Bible, a flag, ice water and cane-seated chairs. But to stand in a park, bawling like a street evangelist — he confessed to Peony that he was “scared stiff.”
“But sweet Gideon, the newspapers expect you! There’ll be reporters from Kinnikinick and Mabel Grove and maybe even from Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.”
“No foolin’?” marveled the Dean, in a delicious commingling of pride and terror.
“I’m practically sure of it.”
Peony might well be practically sure of it. She had telephoned to the newspapers herself.
“But do you think President Bull and the trustees will like these monkeyshines?”
“They’re sure to think it’s a fine campaign.”
Again she had reason, for she had told these dignitaries that Kinnikinick needed a little hot moral publicity, and they had sighed, “Well, mebby so.”
When the five censors appeared on the bandstand in Hawkeye Park, not more than fifty persons had gathered to listen, and most of them muttered, “What are they? Mormons or Seventh Day Advents?”
In a hasty prologue lasting seventeen minutes, the Reverend Mr. Pederson introduced Dean Planish.
The Dean was in a deplorable state. It seemed to him that all of the twenty-three auditors who were still remaining were snickering.
“My — my friends,” he groaned, and somebody down there laughed. He struggled, he tried to think of something better, and came out with a thunderous “My FRIENDS!”
But Peony was looking up at him with eyes that promised that if he walloped them good, she would be very sweet to him tonight. Without effort or any apparent control of it, he heard his voice suddenly start flowing, strong and steady, full of morality and adjectives and grammar. Five minutes later he was trumpeting:
“If you will permit a teacher to use such a phrase, maybe we better quit kidding ourselves into the belief that it’s Wall Street and Paris and Hollywood that start all this vice. Here’s an Ioway boy, Carl Van Vechten, and here’s Al Rood, a neighbor whom you all know, conniving to flood us with a masterpiece of such insinuation, immorality and wicked brilliance that we are all tempted to thoughts entirely different from those proper to the Middlewest. And what are we going to do about them?”
He never did answer his question, but wound up with Martha Washington and the Coast of Maine.
Afterward, Bill Peniston shook his hand, and exclaimed, “First-rate spiel, Doc. You ought to think about getting into politics. Come see me about it.”
As they left Hawkeye Park, the Dean sighed, “Poor Rood! I’m sure he’s not a bad fellow at heart. It’s kind of a shame to ruin his business.”
As he was driving past Rood’s Cigar Store, he stopped. Standing on a box in front of the shop was Mr. Rood, a pile of a hundred books on a box beside him, and he was shouting, “Step right up, folks, and get your copy of The Tattooed Countess — all about the French countess and the sheik, in the Arabian desert — wild doings by moonlight on the banks of the Congo — the book that’s being advertised right now by the president of Kinnikinick College, at the meeting in the park, as the hottest yarn since the Song of Solomon.”
They were buying.
Peony urged, “Oh, Gideon, I want to get a couple of copies. President Bull said he’d love to read it, and I think I might send one to Daddy for his birthday.”
Like mightier men before him, actors and murderers and generals and pugilists, the Dean nervously prepared for the worst and had the shock of not having any worst or best. The State newspapers mentioned the crusade, variously giving the title of the book as At Tattoo, The Tattooed Count, and The Stewed Countess, and the author’s name as Carl Van Doren, Marie Van Vorst, Hendrik Van Loon and Upton Sinclair, but reporting nothing more sensational about Dean Planish than that he “also spoke.”
The Des Moines Register did have a small editorial, suggesting that if the Dean had stayed home, he might have learned that on the same evening certain of his own students had broken nine street lamps, and placed a goat in the office of the Professor of Biblical Literature. This editorial was mailed to the Dean by twenty-seven old friends, most of whom he had not seen since graduation from college. But with this orgy of friendliness, the incident dropped.
Bright balm descended upon him, then, in a letter from the Governor of a neighboring State. His Excellency stated that he was always glad when any of the teachers in institutions of higher learning showed that they could leave the cloistered life and bring the benefit of their learning to the Man in the Street. Dean Planish galloped over to show this wreath to President Bull, who said, “Now that’s fine — that makes me feel better about the whole business.” He galloped home to show it to Peony, who said, “Oh, slick! Tell the Gov we’ll call on him and Mrs. Gov some day and look over his mansion and see which bedroom we’ll give Carrie when we move in there.”
“Meaning I’m going to be the governor of some state?”
“I don’t know about that, but meaning I’m going to be the governor’s wife of some state — Aw, the poor little man, I didn’t mean it. He SHALL be a gov!”
Bill Peniston came over to the Planishes’ for dinner, and Bill Peniston said:
“Dean, if you want to get in on politics, you better get acquainted with the voters. You might have a chance at a seat in the Iowa House, two years from now. We’re going to have a Republican County Harvest–Home Festival at the armory at Mabel, next Friday evening. You and your girl come — bring some pickles and a banana layer-cake — I’ll introduce you to everybody that counts.”
The Dean told Peony afterward that they might just as well go down now and reserve their compartment to Washington. Peony said no, better make it a drawing-room — it only cost a little more, and after all, they’d have Carrie along, wouldn’t they?
He gloated, “You watch me be chummy with the Garfield County peasantry, next Friday. I’ll kiss all the babies, in Swede, Plattdeutsch and Czech, and I’ll admire all the old ladies’ elderberry wine receipts, and listen to every old hound that wants to tell me about whitewashing his corn-crib. Seriously, they’ll be lucky to have a man with my knowledge and experience in their political horse-trading. Come kiss Senator Planish, sweetie.”
For reasons unknown, the baby Carrie started yelling in the next room.
The National Guard Armory was decorated, as the derivatively urban Planishes had expected, with strings of pumpkins, garlands of summer squash, gonfalons of sumac, and a mural made of kernels of corn, yellow, red and purple, depicting Indians on horseback. The long pine tables were, as in the Dean’s evangelical boyhood, brave with seven kinds of pie, nine kinds of cake and three kinds of meat loaf. The Planishes were a little disappointed that the farmers were so well dressed, in mail-order blue suits and brown silk dresses, but their necks were as brown as cigars, creased like eroded hills, and the Dean felt superior again.
Bill Peniston did not, as expected, have them shake hundreds of hands and be delightfully sympathetic about babies. He said, “I’m going to have you two set with the county committee, and you can size ’em up — and vice versa.” The Planishes were mandated to a table with a dozen people who were uncomfortably lacking in awe: a doctor, a superintendent of schools, a lady milliner, an auctioneer who was a state representative, and a stock farmer who was a state senator.
The Dean tried to think of a Message to hand out, but what could you talk about to such a calm-eyed jury as this? Certainly not about paragraph formation, and probably not even Flaming Youth. While he was trying to tack together something in regard to the recently martyred William Jennings Bryan, he listened to these backfield politicians.
They talked of taxes. Dean Planish hadn’t known there were so many kinds of taxes: federal and state and county and city, road and improvement and amusement, licenses to sell tobacco and to sell pop. They talked of the congressional candidates for this fall, and they talked of caucuses. The Dean had always assumed that he knew what a caucus was, just as he assumed that he knew what an aardvark was, but suddenly he wasn’t sure that he knew how either of them looked.
They talked of road commissioners and warehouse commissioners and the state railway board, all mysteries to the Dean. They even talked, and approvingly, of young Henry Agard Wallace, editor of Wallaces’ Farmer.
“You seem to think well of him,” suggested the Dean.
“Sure we do!” said the state senator.
“But I thought he was friendly with the Democrats.”
“Well, I’ll tell you: way we feel, an Iowa Republican is smarter than an Iowa Democrat, but an Iowa Democrat is smarter than an Illinois Republican.”
“Oh, I see,” said Dean Planish.
As they drove back to Kinnikinick, the Dean was forceful.
“It’s too late for me to get started in politics. Those party leaders — they kept talking about some fellow here in the county named George, like he runs everything, and I didn’t even dare ask what George’s last name is. George Washington, probably.”
“I thought he was dead,” said Peony.
“And that’s just typical. There’s too much I don’t understand. Caucuses. Now why caucuses? Who starts caucuses? Who does what to who? DAMN caucuses! I’m too old to start in acting like I knew all about caucuses. It’s a shame, too, because — Did I ever tell you how Senator Kurtshaw begged me to join him in the party, when I was in college?”
“Yes — well — no. I could be a governor. Those fellows don’t have to know anything; they got guys they can ask. But to be a local politician in Garfield County, you got to know too many mere FACTS. Darn it, I suppose I’ll go on the rest of my life, telling a lot of college children that we don’t hold classes just to be mean. It’s a shame, too. When I think of what I could bring to politics — freedom and democracy and normalcy! High strategy; not a lot of bayonet practice. Warehouse commissions! Huh!”
“Gideon, sweetie, you shall have your lil ole high strategy!’’
“Whom do you think you are? George?”
“We’ll find out how you can get one of the big political appointments — not these snide elective jobs. You’d make a wonderful Secretary of the Treasury — you’re so cute the way you add up my bills and almost always get the same total. Or Governor General of the Philippines. Gee, I’d love to live in the Governor General’s palace — all palms and parrots and parades!”
“Wouldn’t mind that myself,” said the Dean, gratefully.
The Dean discovered that his career as dean was interfered with by his business as dean. He was tired of having a new crew of freshmen bring up a lot of silly questions every year that he had settled for all time a year ago. But his position did enable him to do one or two things that were lovely with careerism.
Peony, who played at Chopin perhaps twice a month, had revealed to him a thing called Music. He saw that this fad promised to go a long way in America, and therefore needed to be organized, and he burstingly called a meeting and created the Kinnikinick Music Guild.
Its members were to compose symphonies and mammy songs, to found an orchestra, and to tour around advertising the college. He was proud of the Guild, and he continued to be so for weeks after it had, without his knowing, broken up in a riot about whether an accordion-player could have as pure a talent as a violinist.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57