The End of Melancholia
It was again time to visit Brock Morison's class. The general discontent in beginning logic had been defused, largely with Sarah's help, to the point where the students weren't particularly angry or agitated. Indeed, with the early spring weather, no one seemed to want to fight about anything. As Jones slid into Brock's classroom, he was expecting less excitement than the last time. Even so, Tensy had refused to accompany him. She turned out to be right. Jones was about half-way to the back row and his chosen post of anonymity when Brock fairly shouted at him,
"Dr. Jones, I know it's spring, but look at the dresses these women are wearing! I can see under their skirts, and some of them don't have much underwear. Have they no shame?"
Fortunately, laughter broke out. The class was obviously used to Brock by this time. Jones kept moving, and pretended to be saying something in reply. The class then settled down. Brock was teaching things that he understood, and the atmosphere became decidedly sleepy. At the end, Brock, in a little knot of students, asked Jones loudly how he had done. Jones replied,
"It was a little slow at first, but then things picked up."
The students liked that, and they seemed to genuinely like Brock. Jones didn't exactly understand, but didn't try to. When he got back to his office, there was a note from Dean Loomis. It said only that another situation had arisen that could cause some embarrassment. There seemed to be no end of things that could cause embarrassment. He immediately went downstairs and found the dean in. Jones was greeted as cordially as usual, but Loomis handed him a sheet of paper and said,
"This piece would have appeared in the newspaper today if we hadn't intercepted it."
"It has just come to this reporter's attention that there is in the University of Cincinnati a group of subversive radicals who break into a university building on Sundays to hold secret cabals. The group is led by Frederick Starcher, an avowed communist who advocates free love as well as the confiscation of private property. It also includes a young woman who, for a price, arranges sexual trysts atop McMicken Hall. Surely, this shocking development demands an immediate response by the university authorities."
Jones hardly managed an intelligible response, and Loomis remarked easily,
"I wonder if he has the Melancholy Boys in mind."
"I'm sure he must. Starcher is a member of the group, but hardly its leader. In fact, there isn't any leader."
"I know. This group of yours has some of the best and smartest young people in the university. We would have given you a key, but we thought you enjoyed climbing in the window."
"Yes. I have a key, but we still climb in. And Sarah has never been a member of the group."
"We'll come to her. Starcher's a graduate student in political science, and he must have sounded off to this reporter."
Fred Starcher was the little round guy who had to be hauled through the window, and who was the only real ideological leftist in the group. Jones replied,
"He'll sound off to almost anyone. He's awfully loud, and he isn't my favorite person. But he's fairly knowledgeable, and everyone tolerates him with certain reservations."
"What kind of reservations."
"He loses objectivity in any discussion which touches on politics. He may even think that Stalin is a nice man."
"I see. So this reporter has hit on someone who could fuel the anti-communist hysteria of the moment and embarrass all of us."
"I'm afraid so."
"Well, that's one thing. And, now, Sarah Swift again. What on earth are we going to do about her?"
"I doubt that she's ever arranged sex for a price. But, of course, she's very active. She and her friends are having sex all over the place."
"Even in McMicken Hall?"
"There's a rumor that she's arranged a little room up in the attic. I guess I should say that I've never had sex with her, or any of her friends."
"You don't need to say that, Jones. You're far too sensible."
"I should have been sensible enough to make Sarah stop. Or tell you."
"No. I'm regarded as having spies, but I really don't want people to come to me with every rumor. You might have told Stan, though."
"Yes, I should have."
"Of course, he may already know."
"Well, Sarah doesn't try to hide anything, but I doubt that Stan knows about the little place in the attic."
"Anyhow, it's time to plan something. If it gets in the paper, it'll get to Washington, where it might cause you some serious trouble. Rumors are like that. They may be refuted, but they're never forgotten. They hang over people like a cloud. And that's even if there aren't professional anti- communists fanning them."
"I might well lose my security clearance."
"There are a couple of things working in our favor. This particular reporter is already known as a loose cannon, and that's why the editor picked this piece out before it was printed. The Cincinnati establishment includes the newspaper publishers, and it's very cohesive. Things that don't reflect well on the city or university don't appear in the papers. The president of the university and I can tell them that there's no fire and very little smoke in this case. Then, if we agree to do something about the smoke, they'll permanently bury this piece."
"We may be on the right track with Sarah. We've known all along how unstable she is, and Tensy was concerned about her reaction when Roger dropped her. So, mainly to get Sarah out of the way, Reggie is hiring her for quite a nice position in one of his companies. Probably in New York."
"Every dean in every college should have people like the Blakey-Fentons. In view of this new twist, I wonder if she could take up this new position immediately."
"I'm sure that can be arranged."
"Thank you, Jones. In the meantime, I'll send a task force of janitors to clear out the attic."
"They might gossip. I can get a couple of my assistants to help and do it myself."
"I don't want you associated with this in any way. There's a big strong man who sweeps floors. He's somewhat retarded, and he won't think there's anything unusual about this. I'll get him."
"Well, that solves some problems. I'm afraid some others may remain.
But I'll keep you informed."
Dean Loomis sometimes met his wife for mid-afternoon snacks in a little restaurant frequented by salesmen, minor city officials sneaking off from work, and couples conducting illicit affairs. The food wasn't terribly good, but they enjoyed the conspiratorial atmosphere.
The restaurant was dark and mostly empty when Mrs. Loomis, already seated, greeted her husband,
"You look as if you're having a wonderful day, Sim."
Seating himself on the black leather in the corner booth, he replied,
"We've got a new scandal, Janey."
After reading the suppressed article, she responded,
"My God, Sim. You could be accused of allowing a communist whore house in McMicken Hall."
"Oh, it won't come to that. But it all comes closer to Jones than I'd like. He's one of the Melancholy Boys."
"And what about the sex? He surely has strong appetites."
"There are rumors about him and Tensy Blakey-Fenton, but, of course, Reggie wouldn't care."
"Reggie probably wants to go to bed with Jones himself."
"Now, Janey, the English are our gallant allies. We look the other way when they bugger their batmen. But I doubt that Reggie is so inclined."
"Well, okay. I always wonder about Englishmen."
"There are also rumors about Jones and Octavia Ennis."
"That's a natural combination. I don't know how any man resists her."
"Most don't. And, of course, Roger isn't in a position to object. But it is said that they've decided to love only one another."
"I can imagine how long that will last!"
"Perhaps a month or two."
"So Jones specializes in women with willing husbands."
"So it seems."
"Anyhow, how are you going to contain this scandal?"
"I've already had a talk with Mr. Starcher. He's a leftist, but is fairly reasonable. He was appalled by the article, and said that he's a socialist with no attraction to Stalinism."
"Of course, he'd be bound to say that to you."
"Sure. But I then remarked on the ill-wisdom of doing anything to inflame these people further. The combination of communism and free love might as well be calculated to touch off an extreme reaction in Cincinnati."
"Is he another of our sex enthusiasts?"
"No, he's an ugly dumpy little guy. Probably never had a girl friend."
"How altruistic of him to be for free love! That'll only benefit other people."
"Unfortunately, he's got that weird communist reverse strategy. He thinks that, if you inflame reactionary conservatives, you get them out in the open, at which point the mass of the people will reject them."
"That's really stupid."
"I know. I got rather hard with him at that point. He's agreed, in any further conversations with anyone, members of the press or not, to say clearly that he's not the leader of the group. He's also to add that no one else in the group agrees with him. He wasn't happy about that, but I let him know that I could take action against him for mis- representing the views of other people."
"Do any of the other Melancholy Boys agree with him?"
"Jones says not. Starcher's okay on certain subjects, but the others roll their eyes when he talks about communism. I wouldn't be surprised if there are others who have some leftish inclinations, but nothing to cause us problems."
"How about my little favorite, Sarah Swift?"
"You're the only dean's wife in the world who invites girls like that to tea."
"But she has tons of charm, and I enjoy all that effervescence."
"She sleeps with practically everyone, maybe even the garbagemen."
"That's another consequence of her spontaneity. And a democratic absence of discrimination."
The dean laughed and explained the measures being taken. Mrs. Loomis responded,
"So she's landing on her feet. Good!"
"Yes. I have nothing against her, and she's very pretty. But there's something more important that I'm wondering about. The FBI."
"You aren't going to call them in on this, are you?"
"Not in an official way. But I've gotten to know Jack Harris, one of the special agents, pretty well. Every time he has to do a background check on someone at the university, he stops in to see me."
"I thought they moved FBI agents around so that they wouldn't get cozy with the local people."
"They're supposed to, but they've left Jack here for years. He may be a little too relaxed for FBI tastes, and they've probably got him in what they regard as a dead end position. But I could call him and explain the situation. We've got one genuine communist, Starcher, but he doesn't do anything illegal. Everyone else is completely clean."
"In particular, Jones?"
"I'll only say that some members of the group are doing important defense work, and musn't be compromised. I'm pretty sure that Jack will understand. Then, if rumors get out of hand, we can say that the FBI has already been informed, and has found no problem."
"Will they question Starcher?"
"They may. If you go around declaring yourself a communist, you have to expect that."
"That's a tricky one, Sim."
"Yes, but it's a tricky situation. The best thing is that Jack has a good sense of humor, and a sense of proportion. He's dismissed any number of youthful indiscretions in the past. A night in jail for disorderly behavior, that sort of thing."
"That isn't ideological. He might still be irrational about communists under the bed."
"No. He isn't like that. In fact, he's told me a number of interesting things about J. Edgar Hoover."
"It does sound as if you can trust him."
"He'll write his report about certain allegations that have been made by an irresponsible newspaper reporter, and it'll be kept there in the file."
"What are you going to do about the reporter and his story?"
"That was easy. I talked with the newspaper publisher. The reporter
isn't being fired. You don't have much control over a man you've fired.
But he's to shut up and sign a statement disowning everything he's
said. He's then being told that, if there's further trouble, he'll be
fired and given bad recommendations. That'll do it."
When the Melancholy Boys next met, Jones used his key to let everyone into the building. The atmosphere wasn't the same, but that was nothing to what happened next. Fred Starcher began a diatribe against the university, Dean Loomis, the political science department, the FBI, and the United States government in general. It was very loud and full of wild allegations. He then claimed that the checks he wrote were being bounced on specific instructions to the bank from the president of the university. At that, everyone began laughing. Fred had a problem with checks, often calling the bank and demanding that they honor certain ones before bouncing others. Then, when the manager of the student union refused to cash one of his checks, Fred asked him if the building had a special back door for minority persons.
Leo finally intervened in order to discover what had happened. Fred had, indeed, been interviewed by Dean Loomis and the FBI. It was established that Loomis had demanded that he not represent the views of others. Fred then added, in a wronged tone,
"How could I do that? Everyone here agrees with me."
That brought a silence. No one seemed to have any idea what to say. Finally, Leo said,
"I guess it's time to go to lunch."
They left the building in twos and threes, and Leo said to Jones,
"I guess that's the end of the Melancholy Boys. Fred may be right about some things, but no one wants him to be our spokesman."
"I'm glad he isn't involved in our journals."
"I may have to tone mine down. It sounds as if the FBI will be reading it, and we won't be able to say wild and crazy things just for the fun of it."
"You can get away with so much if you manage to sound like a fairly reasonable person."
"Yeah. Fred just doesn't realize what he sounds like."