(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)
CITY OF MASTERLESS MEN
Shortly before quitting time at the Office Peter had a visitor. He did not carry a brief case so he could not be an attorney, and he did not look like an insurance agent -- he was a skinny young man with thin wrists and long hands and he had on a loose-fitting brown suit which needed pressing. The clerk of the division introduced him as Mr. Fuller.
As Peter got a chair and placed it beside his desk for the visitor he decided he must be an inventor, seeking information or dissatisfied with the way his attorney was handling his case. They came in now and then -- everything must be explained to them at great length and the interview would probably last long after closing. But he soon learned differently. The man sat down and glanced quickly around the room -- no one was close by so he placed his arm on the desk and leaned forward and said meaningly in a low voice, "Jack Terry wrote me to contact you."
"Jack Terry?" said Peter. Then he remembered. Jack Terry was editor of a left-wing publication to which he had sent his "Lucky to Have a Job" manuscript.
"Yes," said. Fuller, "He was impressed by something you wrote and sent in. Said it exemplified the vague unrest of the middle classes."
"Glad he liked it," said Peter.
"I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes," said Fuller, he glanced around the room again, then added, "Soon as thru work, we can go somewhere and have a cup of coffee and talk."
Then the bell rang they walked out to the elevator together in silence. Peter wanted to ask questions but did not know where to begin, so they went downstairs and crossed Pennsylvania avenue in silence. Finally when they were seated in a booth in a lunch room Fuller said, "The need today is for political education of the broad masses of Government workers." He had his hat on -- it was a flabby felt hat and made him look like an old-fashioned revolutionist, especially since he had a pasty complexion and tightly drawn skin, as if he had been hiding out in dark cellars from the Czar's police. He made sharp nervous movements when he talked.
"Guess so," said Peter.
"Do you read the New Masses?"
"No," said Peter, positively.
"Why don't you?"
"It isn't interesting. Too shrill and one-sided, and it's badly written -- full of repetitious hackneyed phrases. Can't really learn anything from it."
Fuller waved his hand in a jerky manner, "You can't learn anything from the capitalist press."
"Can if you read between the lines."
The other snorted in disgust, "The press is an instrument of the bourgeoisie and its highest function is to confuse and mislead the workers. Ever attend meetings and demonstrations here in town?"
"I've been to several of them."
"Do you belong to any mass organization such as the Friends of the Soviet Union?"
Peter shrugged, "I guess I'm just not a jiner."
"The middle class is slow to realize the need for organization and mass action," said Fuller. Peter wanted to tell him to stop calling him middle-class but didn't, and he went on in a positive manner, "Our Government workers' unions need to be put into motion. A strong rank and file movement would force the bureaucrats into taking action. The pay cuts and furloughs are part of a conspiracy to shift the burden of the capitalist crisis onto the shoulders of the working class."
When they left the lunch room Peter had agreed to attend a discussion group in someone's apartment that evening. He did not know what he was getting into but wanted to find out, and he also was curious to learn whether Fuller's friends were like Fuller.
He went home to dinner and called Ellen. They had planned to go to a Lunt-Fontaine movie that evening with Bee and Root but Fuller bad said the discussion group would be over about nine thirty and he considered they could still make the late show. She acted somewhat confused when he told her and he tried to explain but he really did not know much about where be was going himself.
When he arrived at the designated address there were four men there, including Fuller. None of the others was like Fuller. One was named Meyer, he was staunchly built with sandy hair and had a metallic New York way of talking. Another was an innocuous little man from the Department of Agriculture named MacMillan. The last was tall and smooth and slightly older than the others, his name was Gold and he turned out to be a professor of Logic at American University and he did most of the talking and appeared to be informally leading the proceedings.
When they were settled comfortably on chairs or on the couch of the living room of the small apartment Gold said that before beginning the discussion it must be understood that, whatever point was brought up, they must all come to the same decision and agree with that decision before going on to the next point. He asked them in turn if they agreed to this and they all assented. Later Peter learned this was his first inculcation of Party discipline.
They began by discussing unemployment. Gold brought out that the Labor Research Association had made a careful survey and come to the conclusion that approximately seventeen million were unemployed. Of those still employed, wage cuts and part-time employment had drastically reduced their standard of living. In fact it was estimated that average annual wages were approximately half what they had been before the depression. At the same time, while farm prices had dropped proportionally, and wholesale prices had dropped some, retail prices had dropped very little. This was due to the monopolistic price-fixing practices of the large corporations and demonstrated how the bourgeoisie was shifting the entire burden of the crisis of capitalism to the shoulders of the working class. No one disputed these facts -- they were merely the essence of what had been in the papers for three years.
While all this was going on, Gold asked, what had the trade union bureaucracy been doing? In November, 1929, at the very beginning of the depression, the leaders of the A.F.L. and the Railroad Brotherhoods met at the White House with Hoover and pledged not to strike or seek wage increases during the crisis. In return a group of industrialists said they would not reduce wages, but wages had been cut on every hand However, A.F.L. officialdom had not only failed to initiate strikes for better treatment but had taken measures to discourage and smash them whenever they were undertaken independently.
They had seen an instance of this in the attitude of the top leadership of the American Federation of Government Employes toward the recent cuts and payless furloughs. Everyone knew about that.
In some instances, however, workers had materially alleviated their condition by organization and mass action, notably thru the Unemployed Councils and the Trade Union Unity League. The powerful nation-wide demonstrations on March 6, 1930, which were met with police violence, sluggings and jailings everywhere, caused local authorities to increase relief to the unemployed almost immediately. There were, further, the Hunger Marches, which incidentally inspired the much larger Bonus March. Altho the latter was not under the unified, enlightened leadership of the Hunger Marches, it was a spectacular demonstration nevertheless. It is true that none of these movements attained their stated demands, but they served to focus nationwide attention on the big problem, unemployment.
Roosevelt, the clever bourgeois politician, had inaugurated a new era in the policy of the ruling class with his demagogic gospel of the "forgotten man." He campaigned in favor of a "greater assurance of security" stating that "economy should not be practiced at the expense of starving people." His landslide election was the result of these statements and also a popular protest against the ruthless do-nothing policies of Hoover.
Accordingly, they could expect some kind of Federal dole, relief measures, a gesture towards unemployment insurance, etc. from the coming Roosevelt Administration, but they could not cure the fundamental trouble. There was an army of permanent unemployed which would not be removed by an increase in production. Owing to technicalogical improvements plus the speedup, fewer workers can now produce more goods, and the rationalization of production -- the swallowing up of smaller plants by the large corporations -- further restricts the opportunities for labor to earn a livelihood. In fact, it had become evident to all except the most stupid of the ruling class that some form of charity substandard assistance must be given to a large portion of the workers in order to avoid widespread violence and disorder.
Gold went on that the depression was due to a number of causes -- fundamental contradictions of capitalism -- that they might have time to take up at some other meeting. It was to be noted that the crisis was unavoidable under the capitalist system, that it was unprecedented in its magnitude, and that it extended thruout every nook and cranny of the capitalist world. Furthermore, the historical way out for the bourgeoisie was thru the path of imperialist war, for a redivision of the earth's surface among the great powers.
"Now," Gold went on. "Let us see how a nation living under a socialist system has fared during this period. In the Soviet Union, between 1928 and the present, unemployment has not only been totally eliminated but the number of wage workers has increased from 11,559,000 to 22,804,300 or nearly doubled. During the same period the national payroll has quadrupled. In other words, individual wages have risen 100%. That, at a time when the standard of living of the masses in the capitalist countries is sinking lower and lower."
However, there was no reason for anyone to jump to the conclusion that the answer was to immediately set up a soviet state in America. That would be getting ahead of the game. The present aim of every worker, white-collar workers included, should be to alleviate the condition of his own group by organization and mass protest. For instance, the Government pay cuts should be fought tooth and nail by the Government unions, in spite of the disruptive policies of the bureaucrats who head these unions.
Also they should join the struggle for adequate unemployment and social insurance for the broad masses of unemployed, including professional workers and dispossessed small farmers.
Moreover, they should achieve the support of oppressed racial groups, particularly the Negroes. This was exemplified by the movement to free the Scottsboro boys.
Peter did not agree with this, and said the Scottsboro case was not much of a case.
"Do you think they are guilty?" asked. Gold.
"I don't know," said Peter, "It's not extremely important when you come right down to it."
"Do you think they had a fair trial?"
"I'm. sure they did not. I read a review of that case, and those boys were railroaded. The defense wasn't trying,"
"What is your objection, then?"
"I have several. To begin with it's not a clear-cut issue. They may have raped those girls, in which case the agitation ought to be for a commutation of sentence. If I were judge I'd. give 'em thirty days and let it go at that.
"In the second place, the alleged crime is not a good one to approach the public on. You may say you're taking up for Negroes treated unjustly, but the Southern masses will be told only that you're taking up for rapists, and too many are dumb enough to consider only that aspect of it."
"We have already gained wide publicity and support on this case," said Fuller.
"Yes," said Peter. "That brings me to my third point. You'll get publicity from such sheets as the New York Mirror because it's sensational, and you'll get support from lots of middle-class New Yorkers and Bostonians because it happened in the South. They'll support you on a basis of sectionalism -- Yankee snobbery toward the backward South, that's all. They won't pay any attention to the more important aspects that you are trying to prove.
"Now, last year there was a colored man in Atlanta that was sentenced to death, or maybe it was life imprisonment, for possessing revolutionary literature. That's the kind of case that should be pushed. You won't get so much support from the Mirror and the well-off Yankee snobs on it, either."
"You mean the Herndon case," said Gold. "Don't worry, it will be pushed. Just give it time to develop. But you agree that the Scottsboro boys should be freed?"
"Or else let off with. thirty-day sentences," said Peter.
"Very well, we'll go on."
He went on, explaining how everyone should join a union and help set up a rank-and-file committee to force the leadership into taking a stand against pay cuts and layoffs and for adequate unemployment insurance. They discussed certain union officials and certain locals -- whether or not the membership was militant. Peter was interested but did not have much to say because he had paid very little attention to Government unions. When they finally broke up it was almost midnight.
Then he remembered his date with Ellen.
He went into a phone booth at the first drug store he found open and dialed her number. It rang and rang and finally she answered -- she did not sound sleepy, as if he had woke her up, she sounded very cold and distant. He had never heard her voice that way before.
He started in, "I'm awful sorry -- " but she cut him off.
"Oh, don't bother to apologize." The coldness cracked slightly on this and gave way to anger but when she went on it was all coldness. "I didn't want to see that movie anyway. Root and Bee and I spent an enjoyable evening drinking and playing three handed bridge. Did you have a good time at -- wherever you were?"
"Yes, and that's what I want to tell you about -- "
"Never mind. I'm sorry to cut you off but it's late and I really must get to bed."
"I'll see you tomorrow night?" He hadn't meant to say it as a. question but the question note slipped in. in spite of him,
"Very sorry, but I have made other plans for tomorrow night."
"You can't do that. I'll see you tomorrow flight," he said it without the question this time.
"So I can't do that. You can't do to me what you did tonight, either."
"I realize it was wrong and I want to explain about it,"
"Oh, explanations. The fact remains that you did do it."
"Yes, but I think you'll understand when you learn all the details. You'll see me tomorrow."
"No. I wont. I shouldn't, but -- all right. Goodnight."
When Peter left the booth he was in a cold sweat. She certainly had him scared there for a while, and he did not feel any too good even now. He had never known her to act that way toward him before, and she'd had plenty of opportunity to. For instance, there was that time he had kept her waiting three hours while he stayed at Jimmy's to catch the last race at Detroit, and there was the time he completely stood her up when an attorney took him out after work and they went to Maryland and got drunk and he had to call her up from a road house. She had not even been seriously mad on those occasions.
He started his car and turned toward home. Probable explanation was that those things were something she understood. It is part of the Southern gal approach to be tolerant of drinking and gambling in men, but this was something she never had encountered. He would have to explain it to her. Get her drawn into the struggle, as Fuller would say. It should not be difficult -- they talked about economic conditions lots of times and she agreed that capitalism was outmoded and would have to be replaced by some form of collectivism and that it probably could not be done without a fight. Furthermore she agreed that ninety-nine percent of the unemployed were potential producers and society owed them a chance to make a living, and that only white trash and politicians thought that negroes were inherently inferior -- what inferiority they had was the result of conditions imposed upon them -- and there were some intelligent Southerners who wanted to correct this situation altho entirely too many were intelligent on every subject but this one. They had never talked of doing anything about conditions but if the opportunity presented itself he was sure she would want him to do something and would do something herself.
Just the same he was not going to have her turning any more of that coldness on him. They'd had their quarrels but this was different. It was too nerve-wracking when he did not have any tangible hold on her. There was one good way to fix that and that was to marry her. Just as soon as it could be arranged, finances notwithstanding and in spite of that regulation that said married people can't both work for the Government. Hell with details -- he'd have her to come home to and to sleep with every night and they'd handle the details as they came up,
He parked in front of his house and let himself in. Jane and Hilda were up, they were sitting in the living room with Sartain, Peyton and Collins. As Peter entered he heard Collins saying, "Yeah. We hung the Mason-Dixon line around your neck once and we can do it again,"
"Hey, Peter," said Hilda. "They're saying we're Northerners because we were born in the District."
"What boots it?" said Peter.
"That's what I say," said Collins. "The Civil War is over, and we won it."
"To me it makes a lot of difference," said Sartain.
"But," said Hilda, "The fact remains that we're Southern by blood. Our grandfather was the most prominent lawyer in New Orleans before the war."
"Don't forget how he left New Or1eans,' said Peter, "He was run out, literally and physically, for making speeches in favor of Abolition."
"Ray." said Ed Collins.
"That's astonishing," said Sartain.
"It's not," said Peter. "Thomas Jefferson was a Southerner, and he made some statement to the effect that he trembled for his countrymen when he reflected that God was just. Plenty of leading Southerners were against slavery, thirty or forty years before the war. Later on, as things got hot, most of 'em shut up."
"Except your granddady," said Collins. "He showed some sense,"
"Hell he did," said Peter. "He couldn't stand the Black Republicans, either, so he couldn't be a carpetbagger. He was for the South but against slavery -- in other words be was against the system upon which the South was built. Which is a hell of a position and I can see his point.
"I'm opposed to both sides of this argument. Anybody understand what I'm talking about?"
"No," said Hilda.
"Sounds as if you're saying a pox on both your houses," said Jane.
Peter stood up and said, "Let it go at that. Who cares. I think I'll take a walk up Mass Avenue as far as the British Embassy."
"Try to avoid causing any international complications," said Peyton.
Massachusetts Avenue was deserted. He walked past the large darkened residences, ornate as Cecil B. DeMille sets, until he got to Sheridan Circle. He cut across the circle, passed under the general clinging on a rampant horse, and he was walking between elaborate embassies and legations with broad driveways and elaborate ironwork. The British Embassy was about a mile up the hill and he thought a brisk walk up there and back would make him feel better.
A 2 WEEK HOLIDAY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE STATE OF WISCCONCYN
OXFORD-- AMID STENCH B0MBS AND TUMULTUOUS SNORTS OF CONTEMTUOUS UNDERGRADUATES THE OXFORD UNION TODAY REJECTED BY 750 TO 138 A MOTION TO EXPUNGE FROM ITS RECORDS ITS PREVIOUS MOTION; THAT THIS HOUSE WILL IN NO CIRCUMSTANCES FIGHT FOR ITS KING AND COUNTRY.
GOVERNOR BLOOD OF UTAH PROCLIAMED A 4 DAY LEGAL HOLIDAY SAYING AN EXTRAORDINARY CONDITION EXISTS THRUOUT THE NATION JUSTIFYING SUCH A MOVE
AN OFFICIAL SPOKESMAN FOR CHANCELOR ADOLPH HITLER'S NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY IN GERMANY SAID RUMORS 0F AN IMPENDING POGROM WERE COMPLETELY GROUNDLESS
WASHINGTON-- NUMEROUS INNAUGRUAL VISITORS ARE STRANDED HERE BECAUSE OWING TO CONDITIONS PREVAILING THRUOUT THE COUNTRY HOTELS WILL CASH NO CHECKS. WESTERN UNION WILL CASH NO DRAFT FOR MORE THAN $25
AUSTIN TEXAS -- 3 BANKS OPENED FOR RESTRICTED BUSINESS WITH WITHDRAWALS LIMITED TO $l%XXX $l5
REPRESENTATIVE RAINEY, OF ILLINOIS, SPEAKER OF THE NEXT HOUSE, SAID PRESIDENT-ELECT ROOSEVELT -PROBABLY WILL CALL A SPECIAL SESSION OF THE NEW CONGRESS MARCH 13 BUT IT PROBABLY WILL COME BEFORE THAT--
CHINCHOW -- MILITARY AND PRESS DISPATCHES FROM JAPANESE HEADQUARTERS TODAY BROUGHT A PICTURE OF UTTER COLLAPSE OF WHAT IS LEFT OF CHINA'S HOLD ON JEHOL
W.J. BARNET, COMISSIONER OF BANKS IN OKLAHOMA, SAID DEPOSITORS IN MORE THAN 450 STATE BANKS WOULD BE ABLE TO OBTAIN A SMALL PERCENT OF THEIR MONEY BY MONDAY
A SQUAD OF DETROIT PATROLMEN, CALLED TO QUELL AN UPRISING OF MORE THAN 150 PICKETS AT THE PLANT OF THE BRIGGS MANUFACTURING CO, TODAY THREW 50 TEAR GAS BOMBS BEFORE THEY REPORTED THE CROWD FINALLY SUBDUED.
AFTER A CONFERENCE WITH INDUSTRIAL LEADERS PRESIDENT HOOVER TODAY AUTHORIZED A. CONTRADICTION OF REPORTS THAT HE INTENDED TO ISSUE A STATEMENT RELATIVE TO BANKING AND BUSINESS CONDITIONS BEFORE NIGHTFALL
GOVERNOR FERGERSON 0F TEXA& PROCLAIMED A 5 DAY BANK HOLIDAY AND FINANCIAL MORATORIUM SAYING DISTURBED CONDITIONS IN OTHER STATES WEREXXX WERE RESPONSIBLE
BERLIN---- DESICION WAS MADE BY THE CABINET TO HOLD THE FIRST SESSION OF THE REICHSTAG OVER THE TOMB OF FREDERICK THE GREAT IN POTTSDAM GARRISON CHURCH MARCH 4. GERMANY'S 6TH MAJOR ELECTION IN A YEAR WILL BE HELD TOMORROW, WITH PRO-HITLER APPEALS AND DEMONSTRATIONS MONOPOLISING THE CAMPAIGN WINDUP. IRON DECREES SHUT OFF ELECTIONEERING BY THE TWO MAIN OPPOSITION PART IES, SOCIALIST AND COMMUNIST.
WASHINGTON -- RESEMBLING A PARADE RIVALING THE INNAUGURAL PARADE WAS THE ARRIVAL OF GOVERNOR EUGENE TALMADGE OF GEORGIA AND HIS UNIFORMED COLONELS AT THE UNION STATION EARLY TODAY. THE GOVERNOR AND HIS PARTY HAD RESERVED ACCOMODATIONS AT THE RALEIGH HOTEL
GOVERNOR LEHMAN OF NEW YORK AT 4 A.M. TODAY IMPOSED A BANK HOLIDAY IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK. HE SAID THE HOLIDAY WAS LIKELY TO BE NATIONAL. HE SAID THE UNTHINKING ATTEMPT OF THE PUBLIC TO WITHDRAW FORTY BILLION DOLLARS WAS RESPONSIBLE
MRS. FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT EARLY THIS MORNING IN WASIIIITGTON PAID A VISIT TO THE WELL-KNOWN SAINT-GAUDENS STATUE POPULARLY KNOWN AS -GRIEF-
Company D, of the 20th Regiment U.S. Marines, was ordered to fall in. The Captain dressed the line, ordered At Ease and said, "Looks like we'll get started in a minute ,fellows. Remember now, get a good line when we execute left turn onto the Avenue off Fifteenth and hold it. Especially past that reviewing stand Let's see how good an appearance we can make." The Skipper was a mail clerk in Peter Mann's office in civilian life; here Peter held a pivot in the second squad.
"Rest," ordered the Skipper. They stomped restlessly and swore because they had been waiting a long time. The man next to Peter said, "My God, let's inaugurate that man and get it over with." Someone else said, "Take it easy. He's never been inaugurated. before." "Probably never will be again for that matter," said the first. "Look at the start he's got." "Maybe no one else will, either," said. Peter. "That's right," said someone. "Things are in a mess."
"Ten--shun. Forward--herk." They were at last under way. They marched down the side street and made a passable right turn onto the Avenue, then had to mark time. Peter looked at the spectators who lined the street on both sides, crowded against the wire ropes. For the most part they looked. countryfied, with blank, suntanned faces. He remembered the jalopies with Maryland and Virginia licenses he had seen looking for parking space on the side street and decided that this must be the hick section down here. It was evident that banks meant nothing to them, or if they did there was nothing in this newest development that was any worse than what they had been thru. Maybe he could get a line on public reaction further up the Avenue.
For the last few days he had. been visualizing a large map of the United States, covering about an acre in area, and studded thruout with miniature bank buildings. They were distributed like population dots -- larger and more crowded together in New York and other Eastern cities and smaller and more strung out toward the West and South, sparse in the prairies and cotton belt and crowded together again around places like Chicago, New Orleans and Frisco. and the banks were blowing up -- not all, but here and there and sometimes several at once. They exploded like firecrackers of varied sizes -- some made a small bop and others a loud, bang, they detonated each other and set up twisting trains of explosions running across state lines and along valleys and river beds. The tempo of the explosions was increasing rapidly, now they were coming with gattling-like frequency and working up to a crescendo and here and there an entire area would blow up at once -- there had been Kentucky a few days ago and just recently the banks of the entire state of Michigan had blown up with a reverberating BOOM. Each of these banks meant money, meant groceries, rent and laundry to a few thousand Americans -- work, save, invest, self-respect, property, standing in the community, faith in America -- now these explosions were sweeping the country like a prairie fire wiping out the promised reward for thrift and self-denial and making a gyp game of the fundamental precepts of our civilization. It was by no means what the Party would call a revolutionary situation, but there should be some public reaction, and he had thought he might be able to see it in the several thousand people who would be lined up along the Avenue today.
At the command of the Skipper they moved forward and the right guide said, "Watch the line." They went past Fourth Street and the place where the Bonus riot had been -- the building had been razed and spectators were standing on the piles of material as the Bonus Marchers had stood watching the cavalry. They were still blank-faced and rustic. A few blocks on the crowd became less hickish, they were passing automobile sales buildings with tiered rows of seats in upper-story windows. The people seemed to be all middle-aged government clerks whose clothes were of uniform drabness and whose faces showed the same middleclass deadness they showed on Street cars every morning. The band gave the drum signal and broke into "Semper Fidelis" which was one of the things they knew how to play well.
By the time the tune was finished they were passing the Star building. More crowded windows. The clothing now was just as mediocre but not quite so drab and the faces still middleclass, but not quite such dull and hopeless middleclass, and a certain amount of active worryment mixed in. Maybe these people paid more attention to banks, maybe it was just his imagination that they looked worried.
They were coming to the turn by the Treasury building, and now there was no more mark time or half-step, they were swinging along at regulation cadence, had to pay attention to the line. They did a right turn and then they were marching up Fifteenth Street between wooden grandstands on the Treasury side and restaurants and business buildings on the other. Windows crowded, still predominately middleclass and impassive but a little more spark to them here and he thought he could detect some concern and resentment on some faces. On the sidewalk the crowd was deeper and more crowding. They reached the large intersection at Fifteenth and the Avenue and executed a left turn, and as far as Peter could see they did it like West Pointers.
From there the Avenue ran straight between two large wooden grandstands with the reviewing stand in full view ahead. The stands were packed and it was like the stretch at Belmont but it was decked with criss-cross streamers and flags overhead. They had to watch the line, but Peter stole a glance or two at the people in the front rows of the stands and their clothes were of more variety and better quality and it seemed to him that their faces here and there showed a sort of repressed anxiety and bewildered fear. The band burst into The halls of Montezuma and they tightened their holds on their gun butts and stiffened their backbones as they swung down the street to the reviewing stand
"Eyes -- left." Peter stared thru the glass in the front of the reviewing stand and saw, under a top hat, the lined and worried face of the new President, deathly pale, looking preoccupiedly down and to one side. He was hanging on the arm of the bright-looking military aide. The line was excellent, but it was evident the President did not notice it, in fact he was not even watching the parade. Perhaps he was seeing an acre-wide map covered with those little banks and hearing the gattling-like racket as, thruout the length and breadth of the land, epidemics of explosions ran and twisted and turned and spread like a prairie fire.
When Peter got home Peyton and Ed Collins were there, as usual, They were sitting in the living room, talking to Jane. Peyton said, "Well, well, if it isn't Jack Dalton, of the United States Marines."
"The same, sir," said Peter. "Heard the latest about banks?"
"No," said Jane. "Nor the next to latest."
"Roosevelt's going to close all of 'em."
Peyton shrugged and stared blankly at the wall as he had a tendency to do whenever the conversation got off on a subject that did not interest him. Collins whistled impressively and Jane lit a cigarette and said that was interesting, but what did it amount to?
"Hasn't Mother got her money in a bank?"
"Well, Peter, I hardly think it would be likely she'd keep it under her pillow. And do you know what she asked Mr. Lodge in the ladies department down there? She said to please tell her if it was going to close because she wanted to take some money out if it was."
"What did he say?"
"He drew himself up and said, 'Madam, the Savings and Trust Company has never closed its doors since it was established in 1848.' I think Mr. Lodge is priceless."
"Yeah," said. Peter. "I'm going to change my clothes. Put on my cits."
"Oh don't take that splendid uniform off."
Peyton roused himself and turned to her and said, "On his deathbed he will ask to have it brought to him and he'll say how deeply he regrets -- "
"You go to hell," said Peter, and he went upstairs.
When he came down Collins was standing up, ready to leave, and Peter offered him a lift. Whatever happened to the financial structure of the country, there was something he wanted to say to Ed.
When they were seated in his car he started right in, "Ed, I want you to come down to St. Matthews rectory and act as my best man."
"Well, by god. Congratulations. I think you're doing all right by yourself. You may show bad taste in liquor, but your taste in women is jam up.
"and, I like the way you're getting married by a priest, too. You'll come back to the Church, eventually."
"That's not the point. I'm doing it that way to please the old folks,"
"But there's more to it than that, don't tell me."
"Sure there is. You have an infinite variety to choose from, and whatever you choose it's all tied up with some kind of religion that you don't believe in, and if you just go to a j. p. it's all tied up with bourgeois civil law and property rights so what the hell? Might as well patronize an institution that you've bad previous dealings with."
"Best institution in the world," said Ed.
They were going down Connecticut Avenue and had reached Dupont Circle. The steady flow of outgoing traffic had jammed all intersections -- it was a varied mixture of expensive cars and jalopies, and there was blowing of horns and police whistles. Peter managed to make a turn into Q Street and avoid trouble. Collins asked, "Going on a honeymoon trip?"
"Not now. We're both short of leave. Maybe next summer we'll go see her folks for a week or so."
"Attaboy. Doing things right."
"Might as well comply with the customary formalities."
They had to stop for more traffic at Sixteenth Street and Ed said, "Guess you'll settle down now. Leave horses alone, and go on the wagon, and stop staying out all night with your radical friends."
"Your duties don't include reforming the groom," said Peter. "And listen, make an effort and keep this under your hat until it's over. I don't want people picking on me and giving advice and telling me to wait till I've got more money and so forth."
Collins answered by giving his "in the bag" gesture. They had come to Thirteenth Street and had to stop while a long column of Negro troops went by.
Ed watched the troops a while and then said, "I wish you luck, but I think you've picked a very unsettled time to get hitched."
"Hell yes," said Peter enthusiastically. The Negro militia were swinging jauntily up Thirteenth Street while people watched from the sidewalk and he had just concluded the last job of arranging he had to do in order to marry Ellen.
Meanwhile the smoke was billowing and the reverberations of the explosions were still echoing over that acre-wide map, the pale man in the top hat was on the spot and the economic wheels were stalled. Let's go, Ellen. You and I and it. It's the end and/or the beginning, the death-throes and/or the birth-pangs.
Or home, to Introduction