All the King's Men portrays the dramatic political ascent and governorship of Willie Stark, a driven, cynical populist in the American South during the 1930s. The novel is narrated by Jack Burden, a 15 страница

And she lifted her face up, high, almost thrusting it at me, as though she were showing me something I ought damned well to be proud to look at.

"He'll always come back," she asserted grimly.

And she was right. He always came back. The world was full of sluts on skates, even if some of them weren't on skates. Some of them wore grass skirts and some of them pounded typewriters and some of them checked hats and some of them were married to legislators, but he always came back. Not necessarily to be greeted with open arms and a tender smile, however. Sometimes it was a cold silence like the artic night. Sometimes it was delirium for every seismograph on the continent. Sometimes it was a single well-chosen epithet. For instance, the time the Boss and I had to do a little trip up to the north of the state. The afternoon we got back we walked into the Capitol and there, in the stately lobby, under the great bronze dome, was Sadie. We approached her. She waited until we had arrived, then said, without preliminary, quite simply, "You bastard."

"Gee, Sadie," the Boss said, and grinned his grin of the wayward attractive boy, "you don't even wait to find out anything."

"You just can't keep buttoned up, you bastard," she said, still simply, and walked away.

"Gee," the Boss said ruefully to me, "I didn't do a thing this trip, and look what happens."

What did Lucy Stark know? I don't know. As far as you could tell, she didn't know anything. Even when she told the Boss she was going to pack her bag, it was, so he said, because he hadn't thrown Byram B. White to the wolves.

But she didn't pack the bag, even then.

She didn't pack it because she was too honorable, or too generous, or too something, to hit when she thought he was down. Or about to go down. She wasn't going to add the weight of her thumb to what closely resembled a tidy package of disaster lying on the scales with the blood seeping through the brown paper. For the impeachment of Byram B. White had become a minor issue. They had uncorked the real stuff: the impeachment of Willie Stark.

I don't know whether or not they had planned it that way. Or whether they were forced into it before they planned when they figured the Boss was turning on too much heat and it was their only chance to get back on the offensive. Or whether they figured that the Lord had delivered the enemy into their hands, that they could get him dead to rights on the business of attempting to corrupt, coerce, and blackmail the Legislature, in addition to the other little charges of malfeasance and nonfeasance. Maybe they had some heroes lined up from among the ranks to testify that they had had the heat put on them. It would have taken a hero, too (or sound inducements), for nobody but a half-wit would have believed, in the light of the record, that the Boss was bluffing. But apparently they figured they had found, or bought, some heroes.

Anyway, they tried it, and for a brief interval life was a blur for speed. I gravely doubt that the Boss did any sleeping for two weeks. That is, bed sleeping. No doubt, he snatched something in the back of automobiles roaring down highways at night, or in a chair between the time one fellow went out of the door and the next came in. He roared across the state at eighty miles an hour, the horn screaming, from town to town, crossroads to crossroads, five, or six, or seven, or eight speaking in a day. He would come out on the platform, almost slouching out, lounging out, as though all the time in the world were before him and all the time were his. He would begin, easy, "Folks, there's going to be a leetle mite of trouble back in town. Between me and that Legislature-ful of hyena-headed, feist-faced, belly-dragging sons of slack-gutted she-wolves. If you know what I mean. Well, I been looking at them and their kind so long, I just figures I'd take me a little trip and see what human folks looked like in the face before I clean forgot. Well, you all look human. More or less. And sensible. In spite of what they are saying in that Legislature and getting paid five dollars a day of your tax money for saying it. They're saying you didn't have bat sense or goose gumption when you cast your sacred ballot to elect me Governor of this state. Maybe you didn't have bat sense. Don't ask me, I'm prejudiced. But–" and now he wouldn't be lounging with his head cocked a little on one side in that easy sizing-up way, looking out from under the eyelids that drooped a little, for now he'd thrust, all at one, the heavy head forward, and the eyes, red from sleepless ness, would bulge–"I'll ask you a question. And I want an answer. I want an answer before God and under the awful hand of the Most High. Answer me: Have I disappointed you? Have I? Then, leaning sharply, he would lift his right hand while the question still ringing in the air, and say, "Stop! Don't answer until you look into the depth of your heart to see the truth. For there is where truth is. Not in a book. Not in a lawyer's book. Not on any scrap of paper. In your heart." Then, in a long pause, he would swing his gaze slowly over the crowd of faces. The, "Answer me!"

I would wait for a roar. You can't help it. I knew it would come, but I would wait for it, and every time it would seem intolerably long before it came. It was like a deep dive. You start up toward the light but you know you can't breathe yet, not yet, and all you are aware of is the blood beating in your own head in the intolerable timelessness. Then the roar would come and I would feel the way you do when you pop out of the water from a deep dive and the air bursts out of your lungs and everything reels in the light. There is nothing like the roar of as crowd when it swells up, all of a sudden at the same time, out of the thing is in every an in the crowd but is not himself. The roar would swell and rise and fall and swell again, with the Boss standing with his right arm raised straight to Heaven and his red eyes bulging.

And when the roar fell away, he said, with his arm up, "I have looked in your faces!"

And they would yell.

And he said, "O Lord, and I have seen a sign!"

And they would yell again.

And he said, "I have seen dew on the fleece and the ground dry!"

Then the yell.

Then, "I have seen blood on the moon!" Then, "Buckets of blood, and boy! I know whose blood it will be." Then, leaning forward, grabbing out with his right hand as tough to seize something in the air before him, "Gimme that meat ax!"

It was always that way, or like that. And charging across the state with the horns screaming and blatting, and Sugar-Boy shaving the gasoline truck on the highway and the spit flaying from his mouth while the lips worked soundlessly and words piled up inside him before he could get them out, "The b-b-b-bas-tud!" And the Boss standing up on something with his arm against the sky (it might be raining, it might be bright sun, it might be night and the red light from sizzling gasoline flares set on the porch of a country store), and the crowd yelling. And me so light-headed from no sleep that my head felt big as the sky and when I walked I seemed to be tiptoeing on clouds of cotton batting.

All of that.

But this too: the Boss sitting in the Cadillac, all lights off, in the side street by a house, the time long past midnight. Or in the country, by a gate. The Boss leaning to a man, Sugar-Boy or one of Sugar-Boy's pals, Heavy Harris or Al Perkins, saying low and fast, "Tell him to come out. I know he's there. Tell him better come out and talk to me. If he won't come, just say you're a friend of Ella Lou. That'll bring him." Or, "Ask him if he ever heard of Slick Wilson." Or something of the kind. And then there would be a man standing there with pajama tops stuck in pants, shivering, with face white in the darkness.

And this: the Boss sitting in a room full of smoke, a pot of coffee on the floor, or a bottle, saying, "Bring the bastard in. Bring him in."

And when they had brought the bastard in, the Boss would look him over slow, from head to foot, and then he would say, "This is your last chance." He would say that slow and easy. Then he would lean suddenly forward, at the man, and say, not slow and easy now, "God damn you, do you know what I can do to you?"

And he could do it, too. For he had the goods.

On the afternoon of the fourth of April, 1933, the streets leading to the Capitol were full of people, and they weren't the kind of people you usually saw on those streets. Not in those numbers, anyway. The _Chronicle__ that night referred to the rumor of a march on the Capitol, but affirmed that justice would not be intimidated. Before noon of the fifth of April there were a lot more wool-hats and red-necks and Mother Hubbards and crepe-de-Chine dresses with red-clay dust about the uneven bottom hem, and a lot of clothes and faces which weren't cocklebur and crossroads, but county-seat and filling-station. The crowd moved up toward the Capitol, not singing or yelling, and spread out over the big lawn where the statues were.

Men with tripods and cameras were scurrying about on the edges of the crowd, setting up their rigs on the Capitol steps, climbing on the bases of the frock-coated statues to get shots. Here and there around the edge of the crowd you could see the blue coat of a mounted cop up above the crowd, and in the open space of lawn between the crowd and the Capitol there were more cops, just standing, and a few highway patrolmen, very slick and businesslike in their bright-green uniforms and black boots and black Sam Browne belts and dangling holsters.

The crowd began chanting, "Willie, Willie, Willie–We want Willie!"

I looked out of a window on the second floor and saw it. I wondered if the sound carried into the Chamber of Representatives, where they were yammering and arguing and orating. Outside it was very simple, out there on the lawn, under the bright spring sky. No arguing. Very simple. We want Willie–Willie, Willie, Willie!" In a long rhythm, with a hoarse undertone, like surf.

Then I saw a big black car pull slowly into the drive before the Capitol, and stop. A man got out, waved his hand to the cops, and walked to the bandstand there on the edge of the lawn. It was a fat man. Tiny Duffy.

Then he was speaking to the crowd. I could not hear his words, but I knew what he was saying. He was saying that Willie Stark asked them to go peaceably into the city, to wait until dark, to be back on the lawn before the Capitol by eight o'clock, when he would have something to tell them.

I knew what he would tell them. I knew that he would stand up before them and say that he was still Governor of the state.

I knew that, because early the previous evening, around seven-thirty, he had called me in and given me a big brown manila envelope. "Lowdan is down at the Haskell Hotel," he said. "I know he's in his room now. Go down there and let him take a peep at that but don't let him get his hands on it and tell him to call his dogs off. Not that it matters whether he does or not, for they've changed their minds." (Lowdan was the kingpin of the MacMurfee boys in the House.)

I had gone down to the Haskell and to Mr. Lowdan's room without sending my name. I knocked on the door, and when I heard the voice, said, "Message." He opened the door, a big jovial-looking man with a fine manner, in a flowered dressing gown. He didn't recognize me at first, just seeing a big brown envelope and some sort of face above it. But I withdrew the brown envelope and some sort of face above it. But I withdrew the brown envelope just as his hand reached for it, and stepped over the sill. Then he must have looked at the face. "Why, Howdy-do, Mr. Burden," he said, "they say you've been right busy lately."

"Loafing," I said, "just plain loafing. And I was just loafing by and thought I'd stop and show you something a fellow gave me." I took the long sheet out of the envelope, and held it up for him to look at. "No, don't touch, burn-y, burn-y," I said.

He didn't touch but he looked hard. I saw his Adam's apple jerk a couple of times; then he removed his cigar from his mouth (a good cigar, two-bit at least, by the smell) and said, "Fake."

"The signatures are supposed to be genuine," I said, "but if you aren't sure you might ring up one of your boys whose name you see on here and ask him man to man."

He pondered that thought a moment, and the Adam's apple worked again, harder now, but he was taking it like a soldier. Or he still thought it was a fake. Then he said, "I'll call your bluff on that," and walked over to the telephone.

Waiting for his number, he looked up and said, "Have a seat, won't you?"

"No, thanks," I said, for I didn't regard the event as social.

Then he had the number.

"Monty," he said into the telephone, "I've got a statement here to the effect that the undersigned hold that the impeachment proceedings are unjustified and will vote against them despite all pressure. That's what it says–'all pressure.' Your name's on the list. How about it?"

There was a long wait, then Mr. Lowdan said, "For God's sake, quit mumbling and blubbering and speak up!"

There was another wait, then Mr. Lowdan yelled, "You– you–" But words failed him, and he slammed the telephone to the cradle, and swung the big, recently jovial-looking face toward me. He was making a gasping motion with his mouth, but no sound.

"Well," I said, "you want to try another one?"

"It's blackmail," he said, very quietly, but huskily as though he didn't have the breath to spare. Then, seeming to get a little more breath, "It's blackmail. It's coercion. Bribery, it's bribery. I tell you, you've blackmailed and bribed those men and I–"

"I don't know why anybody signed this statement," I said, "but if what you charge should happen to be true then the moral strikes me as this: MacMurfee ought not to elect legislators who can be bribed or who have done things they can get blackmailed for."

"MacMurfee–" he began, the fell into a deep silence, his flowered bulk brooding over the telephone stand. He'd have his own troubles with Mr. MacMurfee, no doubt.

"A small detail," I said, "but it would probably be less embarrassing to you, and especially to the signers of this document, if the impeachment proceedings were killed before coming to a vote. You might try to see about getting that done by late tomorrow. That should give you time to make your arrangements, and to figure out as graceful a way as possible. Of course, it would be more effective politically for the Governor to let the matter come to a vote, but he is willing to let you do it the easy way, particularly since there's a good deal of unrest in the city about the matter."

He wasn't paying any attention to me, as far as I could tell. I went to the door, opened it, and looked back. "Ultimately," I said, "it is immaterial to the Governor how you manage the matter."

Then I closed the door and went down the hall.

That had been the night of the fourth of April. I was almost sorry, the next day as I looked out the high window at the mass of people filling the streets and the wide sweep of lawn beyond the statues in front of the Capitol, that I knew what I knew. If I hadn't known, I could have stood there in the full excitement of the possibilities of the moment. But I knew how the play would come out. This was like a dress rehearsal after the show has closed down. I stood there and felt like God-Almighty brooding on History.

Which must be a dull business for God-Almighty, Who knows how it is gone to come out. Who knew, in fact, how it was going to come out even before He knew there was going to be any History. Which is complete nonsense, for that involved Time and He is out of Time, for God is Fullness of Being, and in Him the End is the Beginning. Which is what you can read in the little tracts written and handed out on the streets corners by the fat, grubby, dandruff-sprinkled old man, with the metal-rimmed spectacles, who used to be the Scholarly Attorney and who married the girl with the gold braids and the clear, famished-looking cheeks, up in Arkansas. But those tracts he wrote were crazy, I thought back then. I thought God cannot be Fullness of being. For Life is Motion.

(I use the capital letters as the old man did in the tracts. I had sat across the table from him, with the foul unwashed dishes on one end of it and the papers and books piled on the other end, in the room over across the railroad tracks, and he had talked and I had heard the capital letters in his voice. He had said, "God is Fullness of Being." And I had said, "You've got the wrong end of the stick. For Life is Motion. For–"

(For Life is Motion toward Knowledge. If God is Complete Knowledge then He is Complete Non-Motion, which is Non-Life, which is death. Therefore, if there is such a God of Fullness of being, we worship Death, the Father. That was what I said to the old man, who had looked at me across the papers and fouled dishes, and his red-streaked eyes had blinked above the metal-rimmed spectacles, which had hung down on the end of his nose. He had shaken his head and a flake or two of dandruff had sifted down from the spare white hair ends which fringed the skull within which the words had been taking shape from the electric twitches in the tangled and spongy and blood-soaked darkness. He had said then, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." And I had said, "You've got the wrong end of the stick."

(For Life is a fire burning along a piece of string–or is it a fuse to a power keg which we call God?–and the string is what we don't know, our Ignorance, and the trail of ash, which, if a gust of wind does not come, keeps the structure of the string, is History, man's Knowledge, but it is dead, and when the fire has burned up all the string, then man's Knowledge will be equal to God's Knowledge and there won't be any fire, which is Life. Or if the string leads to a power keg, then there will be a terrific blast of fire, and even the trail of ash will be blown completely away. So I had said to the old man.

(But he had replied, "You think in Finite terms." And I had said, "I'm not thinking at all, I'm just drawing a picture." He had said, "Ha!" The way I remembered he had done a long time back when he played chess with Judge Irwin in the long room in the white house toward the sea. I had said, "I'll draw you another picture. It is a picture of a man trying to paint a picture of a sunset. But before he can dip his brush the color always changes and the shape. Let us give a name to the picture which is trying to paint: Knowledge. Therefore if the object which a man looks at changes constantly so that Knowledge of it is constantly untrue and is therefore Non-Knowledge, the Eternal Motion is possible. And Eternal Life. Therefore we can believe in Eternal Life only if we deny God, Who is Complete Knowledge."

(The old man had said, "I will pray for your soul.")

But even if I didn't believe in the old man's God, that morning as I stood at the window of the Capitol and looked down on the crowd, I felt like God, because I had the knowledge of what was to come. I felt like God brooding on History, for as I stood there I could see a little chunk of History right there in front. There were the bronze statues on their pedestals, on the lawn, in frock coats, with the right hand inserted under the coat, just over the heart, in military uniforms with a hand on the sword hilt, even one in buckskin with the right hand grasping a barrel of grounded long rifle. They were already History, and the grass around their pedestals was shaved close and the flowers were planted in stars and circles and crescents. Then over beyond the statues, there were the people who weren't History yet. Not quite. But to me they looked like History, because I knew the end of the event of which they were part. Or thought I knew the end.

I knew, too, how the newspapers would regard that crowd of people, as soon as they knew the end of the event. They would regard that crowd as cause, "A shameful display of cowardice on the part of the Legislature …" You could look at the crowd out there and hear that undertone in its cry, hoarse like surf, and think that the crowd there could cause the event. But no, it could be said, Willie Stark caused the event by corrupting and blackmailing the Legislature. But no, in turn it could be replied that Willie Stark merely gave the Legislature the opportunity to behave in the way appropriate to its nature and that MacMurfee, who sponsored the election of those men, thinking to use their fear and greed for his own ends, was truly responsible. But no, to that it could be replied that the responsibility belonged, after all, to that crowd of people, indirectly in so far as it had, despite MacMurfee, elected Willie Stark. But why had they elected Willie Stark? Because of a complex of forces which had made them what they were, or because Willie Stark could lean toward them with bulging eyes and right arm raised to Heaven?

One thing was certain: The sound of that chant hoarsely rising and falling was to be the cause of nothing, nothing at all. I stood in the window of the Capitol and hugged that knowledge like a precious and thorny secret, and did not think anything.

I watched the fat man get out of the black limousine and mount the bandstand. I saw the crowd shift and curdle and thin and dissolve. I looked across beyond the now lonely and occupationless policemen, beyond the statues–frock coats, uniforms, buckskin–to the great lawn, which was empty and bright in the spring sunshine. I spewed out the last smoke from my cigarette and flicked the butt out the open window and watched it spin over and over to the stone steps far below.

Willie Stark was to stand on those steps at eight o'clock that night, in a flood of light, looking small at the top of the great steps with the mountainous heave of the building behind him.

That night the people pressed up to the very steps, filling all the shadow beyond the sharply defined area of light. (Lighting apparatus had been mounted on the pedestals of two statues, one buckskin, one frock coat.) They called and chanted, "Willie–Willie–Willie," pressing at the cordon of police at the foot of the steps. Then, after a while, out of the tall doorway of the Capitol, he appeared. Then, as he stood there, blinking in the light, the words of the chant disappeared, and there was a moment of stillness, and then there was only the roar. It seemed a long time before he lifted his hand to stop it. Then the roar seemed to die away, slowly, under the downward pressure of his hand.

I stood in the crowd with Adam Stanton and Anne Stanton and watched him come out on the steps of the Capitol. When it was over–when he had said what he had to say to the crowd and had gone back inside leaving the new, unchecked roar of voices behind him–I told Anne and Adam good night and went to meet the Boss.

I rode with him back to the Mansion. He hadn't said a word when I joined him at the car. Sugar-Boy worked through the back streets, while behind us we could still hear the roaring and shouting and the protracted blatting of automobile horns. Then Sugar-Boy shook himself free into a quiet little street where the houses sat back from the pavement, lights on inside them now and people in the lighted rooms, and where the budding boughs interlaced above us. At the corners where the street lamps were you could catch the hint of actual green on the boughs. Sugar-Boy drove up to the rear entrance of the Mansion. The Boss got out and went into the door. I followed him. He walked down the back hall, where we met nobody, and then into the big hall. He paced right across the hall, under the chandeliers and mirrors, past the sweep of the stairway, looked into the drawing room, crossed the hall again to look into the back sitting room, then again to look into the library. I caught on, and quit following him. I just stood in the middle of the big hall and waited. He hadn't said he wanted me, but he hadn't said he didn't. In fact he hadn't said anything. Not a word.

When he turned from the library into the hall again, a white-coated Negro boy came out of the dining room. "Boy," the Boss asked, "you seen Mrs. Stark?"


"Where, dammit?" the Boss snapped. "You think I'm asking for my health?"

"Naw, suh, I didn't think nuthin, I–"

"Where?" the Boss demanded in a tone to set the chandelier tingling.

After the first paralysis, the lips began to work in the black face. In the beginning without effect. Then a sound was detectable. "Upstairs–she done gone upstairs–I reckin she done gone to bed–she–"

The Boss had headed up the stairs.

He came back almost immediately, walked past me without a word, and back to the library. I trailed along. He flung himself down on the big leather couch, heaved his feet off the floor to the leather, and said, "Shut the God-damned door."

I shut the door, he leaned back on the cushions, at about a thirty-degree angle from horizontal, and glumly studied his knuckles. "You would have thought she might wait up for me tonight," he said finally, still studying the knuckles. Then, looking at me, "She's gone to bed. Gone to bed and locked her door. Said she had a headache. I go upstairs and there id Tom sitting in the room across from her room doing his schoolwork. Before I lay hand to the knob of her door, he comes out and says, 'She don't want to be bothered.' Like I was a delivery boy. 'I'm not going to bother her,' I said to him, 'I'm just going to tell her what happened.' He looked at me and said, 'She's got a headache, and she don't want to be bothered.' " He hesitated, looked at the knuckles again, then back to me, and said with a hint of defensiveness in his tone, "All I was going to do was tell her how it came out tonight."

"She wanted you to throw Byram to the wolves," I said. "Did she want you to throw yourself to the wolves?"

"I don't know what the hell she wants," he said. "I don't know what the hell any of 'em want. A man can't tell. But you can tell this, if any man tried to run things the way they want him to half the time, he'd end up sleeping on the bare ground. And how would she like that?"

"I imagine Lucy could take it," I said.

"Lucy–" he said, and looked sort of surprised, as though I had introduced a new topic in the conversation. Then I recollected that Lucy's name hadn't been mentioned. Sure, he had been talking about Lucy Stark, he knew that and I knew that. But as soon as the name _Lucy__ was mentioned, to take the place of that _she__, somehow it was different. It was as though she had walked into the room, and looked at us.

"Lucy–" he repeated. Then, "All right–Lucy. She could take it. Lucy could sleep on the bare ground, and eat red beans, but it wouldn't change the world a damned bit. But can Lucy understand that? No, Lucy cannot." He was, apparently, taking a relish in using the name now, in saying _Lucy__ instead of _She__, as though he proved something about something, or about her, or about himself, by saying it, by being able to say it. "Lucy," he was saying, "she could sleep on the bare ground. And that's exactly what she's going to raise Tom to do, too, if she has her way. She'd have him so the six-year kids will be plugging him with nigger-shooters, and then no bothering to run. He's a good stout boy–plays a good game of football, bet he makes the team when he gets to college–but she's going to ruin him. Make him a sissy. Looks like I say a word to the boy and you can just see her face freeze. I called up here tonight to get Tom to come down and see the crowd. Was going to send Sugar-Boy to get him because I wasn't going to have time to get home. But would she let him go? No, sir. Said he had to stay home and study. Study," he said. Then, "Didn't want him down there, that was it. Me and the crowd."

"Take it easy," I said. "That's the way all women treat their kids. Besides, you got to be a big-shot by hitting your books."

"He's smart, smart enough without being a sissy," he said. "He makes good grades in school, and, by God, he better. Sure, I want him to study. And he better, but what I don't get is–"

There was a racket out in the hall, voice, then a knock at the door.

"See who it is," the Boss said.

I opened the door and in stormed the familiar faces, somewhat flushed, Tiny Duffy's in the lead. They ringed round the Boss and wheezed and shoved and chortled. "We fixed 'em!–We damned well fixed 'em!–You're telling it, we stopped that clock!–It'll be a long time till next time!" While the Boss lay back on the cushions at his thirty-degree angle, with his feet propped on the leather, and his eyes flickering around from face to face, under the half-lowered lids, you got the notion he was spying through a peephole. He hadn't said a word.

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