Rich old Mrs. Piggott had become bored with Every Man being a priest, and for two years now Dr. Planish had been with the Blessed to Give Brotherhood. His salary there had been reasonably adjusted at $4,800 a year.
He didn’t very much like his commander, Deacon Ernest Wheyfish, to whom Peony referred as “Soapy Ernie,” but with him the Doctor had taken profound graduate work in the professions of fund-raising and organization-executivity. He had learned that, against all the theories of the Reverend Dr. Christian Stern, the bounteous blessings of publicity had no value in collecting the temple money unless they were sharply followed up by solicitation.
As Deacon Wheyfish often said, “Don’t wait for the widow to bring in her mite. Get right after her at the wash-tub.”
This was not so merrily metaphorical as it sounded. The Deacon specialized on bequests from wealthy widows and, if he did not think the bequest was coming, in a dignified cat-burglar way he went right in to the deathbed and demanded it. . . . Did Mrs. Jones go off to Heaven without leaving a lot to the Brotherhood in her will, would she not look down o’er the golden bar and realize that solely as a result of her own carelessness there were evil and hunger in the world? And there was no excuse for her. Honorable Wheyfish had regular printed Forms of Bequest prepared for her use.
He once took Dr. Planish along when he prayed with an aged and affluent woman who, the Deacon calculated, was good for about one more week — just time to make a codicil to her will.
Embarrassed, a little itchy, Dr. Planish stood back in a corner of the stifling rich room while Deacon Wheyfish happily banged right down on his knees beside the bed, held the old woman’s dry skeleton hand, and whooped, “O Lord God, Thou knowest that our sister here has been a good woman. It is none of our business to inquire to what charities she has bequeathed such a share of her earthly store as Thou, who didst say ‘Give all thou hast to the poor’ would approve of, but Thou knowest that her saintly heart and searching mind will have picked out and appointed for the dispensation of that gift some person or organization who will not take anything for himself, and with the expert knowledge to disburse it where it will do the most good.”
When he had finished the prayer, the old lady asked timidly, “Could you tell me what is the surest way of making sure that my bequests will really accomplish what I want them to?”
“Well, I did have a date with an archbishop, but I am always at the service of suffering humanity,” granted the Deacon, briskly drawing a chair up to the bed and taking out of his pocket Blessed to Give Folder #8A3 — the engraved one.
Dr. Planish was just a little sick.
He reflected, “It’s great technique, and I certainly don’t look down on it, but I do wish I could be in some organization where the money rolled in just as fast but the aims were more refined.”
Ernest Wheyfish was the first organizator to go right after the large corporations, which, to save their corporate souls and keep down income taxes, were now sending checks to philanthropies. As he himself gaily said, “No one else put so much punch into selling the fat boys on the idea that we who tote the grievous load of raising funds should be taken just as seriously in the financial line as any other merchant.” So it came to pass that a corporation which employed two chemists, three industrial engineers, a Burmese explorer, an interpreter, and a press agent to reduce the cost of cable $00.0001 per yard, handed over large checks to Deacon Wheyfish for distribution as he pleased — merely with the prayer that this offering to the tribal priesthood might, by some pious magic, propitiate the dark diabolic powers of the New Deal and the Congress.
Wheyfish, a little later, was one of the first to note that when the Government permitted a fifteen per cent deduction from income taxes for charities, this really didn’t mean that the tax-payer COULD give away fifteen per cent, but that he HAD to give it, and that Ernest Wheyfish was practically the Government official put there to receive it. His new “literature,” prepared by Dr. Planish, was starred and shining with references to “15%— be generous without its costing anything,” and hinted that if you didn’t do this, the Government would merely take it in taxes anyway, and waste it on a lot of worthless loafers, so that a gift to Wheyfish was practically a social duty.
“Sometimes I wonder if I ought to write that stuff. It seems almost against true charitableness,” Dr. Planish fretted to Peony.
“You’re always so conscientious,” she admired.
“I know what I COULD do — make Vesper write that junk for me.”
“But would he? He’s such a sanctimonious crank.”
“He’ll damn well do what I tell him to, after the loyalty I’ve shown him — almost risking my own job, getting the Deacon to take him over from the Every Man at thirty a week. Oh, yes, I think Mr. Saintly J. Vesper is beginning to realize that in THIS world, one should be sanctified in purpose but practical in methods. Well, Mrs. Planish, and what would you say to a bottle of Rhine wine?”
“Why, I think I would say, ‘Thank you very much, Professor Planish, you sweet, saintly, and sanctified honeybee!’”
Wheyfish and Planish had the triumph of adding to their national board of directors no less a derivative power than Major Harold Homeward, the son-inlaw of Colonel Charles B. Marduc and legal husband of Marduc’s daughter, who was known to all Intellectuals as “Talking Winifred.”
Peony demanded of the Doctor, “I hear this Major Homeward that you’ve got hold of is a regular polo-hound. You got to buy him for me. You meet all these big-money boys, but what about me?”
“Dearie, some day you’ll be really meeting Colonel Marduc himself, right at his own home, maybe, if you’ll be patient and give me time.”
“Yes, that’d be wonderful, and I do believe you might pull it off.”
“I’m not going to work for Soapy Ernie in that factory forever. I want an organization of my own.”
“That’s the dope,” said Mrs. Planish.
“Somehow,” said Dr. Planish, “I have a hunch about Marduc.”
Colonel Charles B. Marduc was a military man as well as an advertising agent and an owner of magazines. He had been a fighting major in World War I, then a colonel in the New York National Guard. In 1937, he was fifty-five, and a fine, upstanding, silver-and-cherry buck, a biggish man, though with his ambitiousness you would have expected to find him a jittery terrier who went around barking “Notice me!”
He admired Napoleon and General Franco of Spain. Out of liquor, he talked about being liberal; but in it, he talked about being a Strong Man.
He was the legitimate son of an Upper New York State lawyer who became richly interested in manufacturing carpets and became a judge; he was graduated from Harvard, with no small fame for wenching and for remembering dates in history; he was a reporter, and then the owner of several small-town newspapers before he discovered the sociological principle, later worked out by professors in the Harvard School of Business Administration, that Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless. Thus it was really along the line of Social Service that his larger career began.
He was the president of Marduc, Syco & Sagg — formerly Marduc & Syco — who had been pioneers, more like military strategists, really, in both radio advertising and scientific research into retail markets — a Service given strictly free to customers. They had been the first to broadcast the song of the English skylark — sponsors, the King David Matzos Makers; and the first to let the radio world (far-flung) hear the cry of a just-born baby, in promotion of Vitaminized Vermont Flapjack Flour.
But the Colonel remained very Harvard through all of it, and at every annual football game, his Assyrian eyebrows came down on the quaking hosts of Bowdoin.
He was a publisher as well as an advertising man, and the chief owner of the Zinc Trades Monitor, the Housewife’s Monthly Budget, the Installment Plan Dealers’ Trade Tips, and of that popular journal Lowdown, which presented the confessions of highly seduced young women, as written by aged male hacks and illustrated with photographs of the most virtuous models in Manhattan.
He was also a vestryman of St. Cunegonde’s Protestant Episcopal Church, and for years he had longed and plotted to become President of the United States.
Illicit strangers were always running about with rumors that he wanted to be President, so naturally he denied the rumors with irritation: “These fellows apparently know more about my purposes than I do myself! Very kind of ’em to volunteer to represent me! But seriously, I’ve already got more than I can do, trying to grease the wheels of commerce. I tend strictly to my own business.”
He did, too, and also to the business of quite a number of other people.
He honestly felt that he had to become President, to save the country from sliding down through New Deal Socialism into anarchy. Once, at lunch, he firmly told his brilliant daughter, Winifred Marduc Homeward, “Without any special pleasure in it, I can see that I have the best mind in the country.” She, the dear loyal soul, agreed with him, and told the news to ever so many people.
There was only one thing that kept him from springing into a flaming sea of publicity, of dinners and tours and photographs and interviews, and thus swimming to the Presidency and saving democracy for the common people. That was the fact that he couldn’t endure the touch of the common people. He felt that they were all fools and all noisy and all smelly. It had kept him out of any race for the State Legislature, the national Congress.
He had a large fame, but it was subterranean. Everyone in the world of printing and cafes knew of him and of his desire to sacrifice himself as President; everyone in the organizational world thought of him as young lovers think of Helen. All executive secretaries tried to get him to “write a little piece — just something off-hand that you can dictate to your secretary in five minutes — for our monthly bulletin.” They coaxed him to preside at dinners and to stand at the microphone and say that agriculture is fine and brushing the teeth is fine, but most inspiring of all is the money-raising campaign of the Amalgamated Pan-national Interdenominational Committee for Study of and Union between the Kremlin and the Methodist Board of Public Morals.
One invitation out of one hundred Colonel Marduc accepted — preferably a dinner attended by the President’s wife, by the University of Michigan football coach or by Professor Einstein. But he escaped the photographs and the eye-searing flashlights in the anteroom before the dinners, the handshaking and the “I don’t know whether you’ll remember me but I met you” afterward, by actually eating comfortably at home or at the club, not showing up at the dinner till nine-fifteen, and leaving always as soon as he had done his act.
Among the thousands of professional advertising men in America, only a few hundred were popularly known as literary, emotional and visionary; only six as positively scientific; and of this latter class, Colonel Marduc was the leader.
He made round-voiced speeches before church conventions, college assemblies and sociological conferences, proving that modern advertising was the cheapest way of selling goods, that it was a gallery of cooing prose and lifting pictures, and that it, single-handed, had provided what he called “Mr. Average American” with the silver-plated automatic electric toaster, the recorded works of Friml and Johann Sebastian Bach, the juke-boxes, two-ton trucks, two-tone summer shoes, tooth-paste which eliminated all dentists, radios which enabled the listener to hear the same jazz from Schenectady and then from Siam, mouth-wash that was equally useful for sweetening the breath, removing dandruff and as a cocktail in Prohibition territory, and all the other miracles that had made Mr. Average American the happiest and prettiest human being that had ever existed.
These facts Colonel Marduc proved with graphs, statistics and fury, and he became so esteemed as a man of science that he received two Litt.D. degrees, one M.Sc., four LL.D.‘s, one L.H.D., and decorations from Germany, Italy and the D.A.R.
And yet his mistresses always said, sooner or later, that Colonel Marduc was not a man they cared to know.
These ladies were never Anglo–Saxon. The Colonel detested all American and English women, and his playmates were Italian, Greek, Russian–Jewish, French, or Chinese. They sharpened him up, and with them he could laugh — for a few weeks. His regular system for getting rid of them, as precise and tested as one of his firm’s marketing reports, always started with a sudden and justifiable quarrel, and rarely cost him much money.
His wife must still have been alive in 1937, but nobody could quite remember. She was important only as having contributed to the dynasty the Colonel’s daughter, Winifred, and she had been broken-hearted and sweetly mute for so long now that nobody noticed it any more.
But Winifred, Winifred Marduc Homeward, that was something else; that was a woman, THE woman, the American woman careerist, and it is a reasonable bet that in 1955 she will be dictator of the United States and China.
Winifred Homeward the Talking Woman.
She was an automatic, self-starting talker. Any throng of more than two persons constituted a lecture audience for her, and at sight of them she mounted an imaginary platform, pushed aside an imaginary glass of ice water, and started a fervent address full of imaginary information about Conditions and Situations that lasted till the audience had sneaked out — or a little longer.
She was something new in the history of women, and whether she stemmed from Queen Catherine, Florence Nightingale, Lucrezia Borgia, Frances Willard, Victoria Woodhull, Nancy Astor, Carrie Nation or Aimee Semple McPherson, the holy woman of Los Angeles, has not been determined.
Winifred was as handsome as a horse, a portly young presence with a voice that smothered you under a blanket of molasses and brimstone. She was just under thirty in 1937, but she had the wisdom of Astarte and the punch of Joe Louis, and her eyelids were a little weary.
For a couple of years now she had emulated her father in having a mistress, who in her case was her legal husband, Major Harold Homeward, who had got his title by being a first lieutenant in the paymaster corps in World War I. He was a handsome, high-colored man, a dancing man but a surprisingly good accountant, with an eye for interesting writing, and useful about the Marduc magazines. Even when he felt merely dutiful about it, he made love warmly, and Winifred used to come back from the office happily to the little man in the home.
They had no children.
Her one humility was toward her father, and it may have been due more to her demands than to his own that he was so often considered, in editorial offices and bars, as a possible President, who would look handsome at that starry and eagle-pinioned desk while Winifred merely ran the country.
She said, privately and publicly — though with her, the two states weren’t always to be distinguished — that her father had taught her how to think incisively and boldly, how to write simply and distinctively, and how, at all embarrassing moments of being caught mentally naked, to duck into the refuge of that fine old word “Honor.” With the Colonel himself, Honor was so developed that he wouldn’t permit Marduc, Syco & Sagg to handle any patent medicine, liquor or contraceptive advertisements, but cared for them through a separate firm with which his name wasn’t even connected.
When Winifred and the Colonel were together, she talked so much about his virtues that he had no chance to talk about them himself.
In all her dissertations occurred the face-saving phrases: “Oh, just a second. There’s one other thing I wanted to bring up. I do hope I’m not talking too much to-night. Just let me speak of this, and then I’ll shut up.”
She wouldn’t, though. Winifred Homeward the Talking Woman.
Besides being on the boards of twenty-seven different welfare organizations, serving as a Republican Committee-woman, and speaking publicly on an average of three times a week on all the Causes in which she believed — and they included every Cause that any active women’s-college graduate possibly could believe in, during the years 1930–1950 — Winifred Marduc Homeward was the editor of that feminist and liberal weekly Attention!, of which her father was the actual owner — or donor — and her husband the titular publisher.
The complicated and slightly hysterical ideology of Attention! may be formulated as a belief that the offices of President, editor of the New York Herald–Times, head of a united University of Columbia and California, and the official dismisser of all distasteful conclusions of the Gallup Poll, should be combined and held by a person whose description resembled that of Winifred Homeward.
Attention! had once been quoted in a sermon by the woman pastor of a Spiritualist Church in Oakland, California.
One other person besides the pastor quoted it, and that was Winifred, often and earnestly. It lacked nothing but circulation and the possibility of anyone’s ever reading through an entire paragraph.
It was referred to — when it WAS referred to — as a feminist publication, but it is not certain that Mrs. Homeward was a “feminist,” it was not certain that she liked women very much. She was more likely to be eloquent about males who praised her than about females who didn’t, and far more likely to be seen with them. And though Attention! had been published, and Colonel Marduc had been highly public, during the year 1936, when Franco’s revolution began in Spain and Zinovieff and Kameneff had been shot in Russia, neither Winifred nor the Colonel had taken a more belligerent stand on these matters than to say, with affecting earnestness, “One must not come to hasty conclusions on affairs so complicated and so uncandidly reported.”
That was the reigning family — Colonel Marduc and Winifred and their illegitimate offspring, Major Homeward — to whose golden company the Planishes had long aspired.
Major Homeward appeared at a meeting of the directors of the Blessed to Give Brotherhood, handsome, graceful, his mustache like a lithe new-born thing, and his eye moist but lively. Ernest Wheyfish recognized him as royalty, but it was Dr. Planish who thought of whispering, “Pretty dull. Let’s sneak out and have a quick one.” The Major’s eyes rounded like those of a cat beholding an injudicious robin; he seized the Doctor’s arm, and they crept out behind Wheyfish’s nervous eloquence.
They drank till seven. Dr. Planish privily telephoned to Peony, and brought a friendly Major home to dinner.
Now Peony was plump but biological. She had never stepped off Main Street, but her eyes could seduce even a traffic policeman, and to the Major she said, “This is so nice!” as competently as a woman press agent or an actress in her dressing-room. By ten o’clock the Major and the Doctor and Peony were such a trio of buddies that they telephoned, long-distance, to George Riot, and insisted on his flying down and joining them. (He didn’t.) Before the Major was got into a complete state of liquid happiness, however, Dr. Planish had planted the seed of a Message:
“I know Colonel Marduc is a figurehead on a lot of organizations, but he never really has anything to do with ’em — lets ’em use his name and sends ’em a small check, but he never knows what they’re up to. Well, if he really wants to be President of the United States —”
“He doesn’t — he doesn’t at all. I don’t know how that rumor started,” stated the Colonel’s very own son-inlaw. “He feels that he’s just a plain seismograph of public opinion. He has no political ambitions.”
“Well then, Secretary of State or Ambassador to England.”
“Maybe he might consider those.”
“He doesn’t realize how an uplift organization that he really worked closely with could hook his name up with all these idealistic movements that get the votes. If he’d pay some attention, and maybe some cash, to a crack executive —”
“No, no, no! Thanks, Peony — that’s plenty — whoa — that’s better,” observed the Major. “No, I’m afraid the Colonel wouldn’t be interested in your Blessed to Give bunch. He thinks that having me there on the board as his stooge is enough.”
“THAT? Oh, that damn racket! Of course not. I mean a more general idealistic association, more spiels about freedom and democracy. I’d like to talk to him, some time.”
The Doctor did not belabor his message further, and not till after many more drinks did he probe the Major about the Colonel’s mysterious relationship to Governor Thomas Blizzard.
(Peony was thinking how very pleasant and urbane and worth striving for this was: a parley in which the titles of Colonel and Major and Governor and Senator and Doctor and Professor and Haig & Haig were thrown about like beans.)
Tom Blizzard was one of the twenty men who, in 1937, had a chance to be Democratic nominee for President in 1944, possibly even in 1940.
In his own Midwestern State, he had been Speaker of the House and for two terms Governor, and the credulous readers of newspaper columns still believed that he spent nine-tenths of his time out in the little factory town of Waskeegan, and one-tenth in New York and Washington. It was actually the other way around. He kept up his millionaire manufacture of farm implements in Waskeegan, but most of the time he lived at his humble twelve-room log cabin on Park Avenue, in New York, and he knew every reporter, Communist editor, prize fighter, professor of economics and night-club bartender in town.
He was a large untidy man with a rolling and affable walk, a fetching youthful smile, and a core of hard shrewdness.
It was commonly reported that Governor Blizzard and Colonel Marduc had a political understanding, but which was to support which was not explained, nor, tonight, did Major Homeward explain it. Perhaps, concluded the Doctor, he didn’t know.
The party moved into the kitchen, as all really intimate parties must.
That kitchen on Charles Street had become a very fine kitchen. Peony had concentrated on the once drab and wormy room and made it a splendor of stenciled walls, cupboards with little red oilcloth frills and unbreakable plastic dishes of red and green. They sat about the green-topped kitchen table, drinking highballs, and it was the joy of Major Homeward, son of the smartest tailor in West Virginia, as it was of the Midwestern Planishes, to express their communal affection in the tender strains of “Mandy, Mandy, sweet as the sugar cane,” an American folk-song from the Deep South via Tin–Pan Alley.
During this recital, Carrie Planish, returning from some unexplained engagement, looked into the kitchen and sniffily withdrew.
Peony darted out after her, with “Come in and meet Major Homeward. Such a fine man, and important socially.”
“He looks to me like an old silly,” murmured Carrie.
“Old? He’s not as old as your father!”
“Honestly, Mother, I don’t want to be disagreeable, but he seems like an old tent-show actor.”
“He’s one of the very cleverest and most influential men in the whole world of welfare-promotion!”
“Honestly, Mother, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I like influential people or welfare OR promotion. I like sleeping better. Good night.”
Peony stood bitterly in the hall. What had come over this new generation? She wasn’t like that when SHE was sixteen! Why, she’d have been all eager and flattered if HER mother had invited her in to help impress an important guest! But Carrie —
Insisting on leaving a good private school, where she met the daughters of prominent people, for that horrible, big, overgrown public school, all full of Micks and Jews and Wops! And so impertinent! When Peony had sighed, “But, baby, after your father and I have scraped and saved to send you to a fashionable school like Miss Clink’s,” up and answering so pertly, “Then you ought to be glad, Mother; you’ll save money by my going to high school!” Trying to trap her own mother by saying things like that! And talking about biology and mechanical drawing and Ernest Hemingway and James Farrell and a lot of nonsense like that! And pretending to be so modest, and yet wearing those tight sweaters that showed everything —
Peony summed it all up, “I just can’t make out these jazz babies. You can’t get ’em to see the domestic point of view!” and she hastily rolled back into the kitchen and had a highball.
When, later, it seemed better for Dr. Planish to get the Major into a taxicab and accompany him safely as far as the Winifred Marduc Homeward residence on East 68th Street, Peony went along, and they sang quite a little more in the taxicab, and when the Major held her hand, she was proud to have such interest taken in her by one of those rare men who are liaison officers between rich society and the working intelligentsia — that combination that makes New York so fascinating and so very, very different from Kinnikinick, Iowa.
One of the most important activities of any liberal educational organization is an activity called Research.
Say, Research into the monkeyshines of the ex-Reverend Ezekiel Bittery.
You read forty or fifty complete biographies of him in the newspapers and then, under the name of your secretary, you send for Mr. Bittery’s own pamphlets and read everything all over again. Then you craftily send out spies, with funny hats and their coat-collars turned up, to listen to his public speeches. So, by Research, you discover that Brother Bittery is a flannel-mouthed rabble-rouser who used to be charged not only with stealing the contents of the church poor-box, but of taking the box itself home to keep radishes in, and who at present, if he isn’t on the pay-roll of all the Fascists, is a bad collector.
A couple of years later, a Congressional committee will summon a lot of witnesses to Washington and, after a lot of bullying and undercover work, will discover that Mr. Bittery used to be a hell-fire preacher and is now a hell-fire Fascist.
Two years after that, the more leftwing newspapers will send out all the Ph.D.‘s among its reporters, and discover that Mr. Bittery used to favor lynching agnostics and now favors lynching socialists.
And during all this time, the Reverend Ezekiel himself will, as publicly as possible, to as many persons as he can persuade to attend his meetings, have admitted, insisted, bellowed, that he has always been a Ku Kluxer and a Fascist, that he has always hated Jews, colleges and good manners, and that the only thing he has ever disliked about Hitler is that he once tried to paint barns instead of leaving the barns the way God made them.
That is Research.
It was familiar to Dr. Planish, and he now tried to turn its fair light upon a more hidden topic: the inner purposes of the Marduc–Blizzard junta. That is to say, he went so far in investigation as to get hold of Hatch Hewitt, the reporter, for a drink, and asked him some questions — an example of Research Method not uncommon among organizators.
“Yeah,” said Hatch — a man whom Dr. Planish fuzzily remembered having met some years ago. “Yeah, Tom Blizzard’s hat is in the ring for President — any ring. In fact, if a bunch of kids on Eighth Avenue are playing marbles, they better watch their chalk circle pretty carefully, because if they turn their backs on it for ten seconds, they’ll find his hat right in the center. He’s just as likely to have a love affair with the Lake Erie Professional Hockey Club or the Aroostook Potato Growers’ Association as with the St. John’s Sodality for the Study of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“He has the edge on Marduc, who’d like to do the same thing but he’s afraid of getting his hat dusty.
“And Winifred Marduc Homeward — oh, it isn’t that she’s always giving her own version of the Sermon on the Mount, but that she always carries her own portable Mount right with her and sets it up even at a cocktail party. She’s the first lady Messiah, and I’m afraid she’s going to get the entire Messiah industry in wrong. After her third scream of righteousness whenever she attacks Hitler, Winifred almost makes me tolerate Hitler, and I don’t like that. Her only trouble is that she read her Scriptures wrong. She thought they said ‘If women learn anything, let them tell their husbands at home. It is a shame for women not to speak in the church.’
“I can’t prove it, but I suspect that both her father and Governor Blizzard think that they’re using her as a guide to the Presidency, but that she’s using them, and when she decides which is the horsiest dark horse, she’ll cut the other one’s throat. Changed world, my boy. In the old days, you used to look for the femme only in love affairs; now, she’s the hidden clue in political affairs.
“But what are you doing with these people, Gid? I thought you’d settled down with honest bootleggers like Deacon Wheyfish. Don’t tell me you’ve gone over to the intellectual racket!”
Years of leadership and of oratory enabled Dr. Planish to throw everything into his annihilating retort:
“Honestly — you — make — me — tired!”
A week later, Dr. Planish was invited to accompany Major Homeward on a pilgrimage to the office of Colonel Marduc. (No Generals were involved as yet.)
The throne-room at Marduc, Syco & Sagg’s was the masterpiece of Bobbysmith, who advertised himself as “the Gertrude Stein of Interior Designing.” It was as plain and dignified as Rockefeller Center, but a little smaller. The only picture was a portrait of the Colonel, in which he resembled a full-blooded camel on a turquoise desert, and it hung against apricot walls, with fluorescent cornice-lighting. The curtains were ripples of champagne-colored silk, and the furniture was of polished white mahogany upholstered with coral leather. The ruddy marble fireplace was set in without a mantel, and by it was a case of books by Proust, Spengler and Zane Grey. On the plaza of the desk was one calla lily and a signed photograph of Lord Beaverbrook.
Colonel Marduc sat at the far end of the room and looked at you flatly as you made entrance, so that you already felt awkward before you had got within twenty feet of him. He had the trick from Mussolini, who had it from the Spanish Inquisition.
The conversation between the Colonel and Dr. Planish fell into that atmosphere of an Oriental court which always clung about the Marducs, even in a stratospheric advertising agency. The Doctor salaamed and said that he was honored; he said that of course the Colonel would never stoop to any political job, but if he desired to, he could be President of the United States by ten tomorrow morning.
He said that he himself was the humblest creature under Allah’s beneficent sun, that he loved his present (well-paid) job, and was aboundingly loyal to Wheyfish Pasha, but if either Colonel Marduc or God, preferably the former, decided to start a real organization, one that would take the weak little ideology of Democracy by the hand and guide it tenderly, then he hoped he might be around to give advice. He said that such an organization might, incidentally, get its founder known around as the chief subsidizer of all Justice and Freedom.
And he said that now, as never before, was the time, with the war going on between Japan and China and with Hitler smirking at Czechoslovakia.
“Not going to be any European war!” snarled the Colonel.
“But it’s possible.”
“If there were, America would never get into it. We’ll be so well prepared that we won’t have to.”
“But even in the matter of preparedness, we ought to have an association that would be the first big one that was keyed to war psychology,” argued the Doctor. “If we started out now, and had speakers and hand-outs every week interpreting the news, then we’d get to be considered the final authority, no matter which way the war-cat jumped — win, lose, draw or stay out.”
“Who do you think of as associated with us?”
“Well, your daughter, and Milo Samphire, the foreign correspondent —”
“Samphire? That fanatic? No! He’s pro-English, and what’s worse, he’s eloquent, and what’s still worse, he’s honest. He wouldn’t take my — suggestions,” the Colonel grumbled.
“Well, we could get Senator Bultitude, and Christian Stern, and Walter Gilroy — he hasn’t any ideas, but he has a kind of touching reverence for ’em — and maybe you could coax Governor Blizzard to come in. I wouldn’t expect to decide which of the Big Names we’d get. My job is to know the technique of putting over an organization — for anything, or against anything — provided it’s on the right side, I mean.”
“And which do you regard as the right side?”
“I think that in any controversy, your side would probably be the right side, Colonel.”
So he got the laugh that promised him spiritual victory and five thousand a year in salary.
“Are you doing anything for dinner next Thursday — you and your wife? Drop up to my place — eight o’clock, black tie.” The Colonel said it casually enough, but to Dr. Planish it was the visitation of the Magi.
It happened that the Doctor had invited Hatch Hewitt and his wife for dinner the coming Thursday, but he wasted no time on anything so petty, particularly as Hatch had picked up a scraggly and unlaudatory wife.
He went home to inform Peony, “We’re going to the Marducs’ for dinner,” in the tone of modest awe in which other men, in other places, have said, “I’m to receive a knighthood in the next Honors List,” or “I have just made my first million dollars,” or “I have at last devised a method of proving the existence of God by pure logic.”
Peony answered with a yell of joy.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57