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"Civilization Smashes Up" from Saturday Review

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Review
Civilization Smashes Up
by Ellis Parker Butler

'Civilization smashes Up' by Ellis Parker Butler

Mrs. Bimmis looked up from the evening paper, her eyes big with horror, and gasped before she could speak.

"My goodness, Henry!" she exclaimed. "Did you read this? It is just terrible!"

"Another airplane smash-up?" asked Henry, not bothering to look up from the wood-pulp magazine he was reading. The name of the magazine was Sinful Stories. "They all smash up, soon or late. Keep off of them."

"Well, if it was only an airplane!" cried Mrs. Bimmis. "It's civilization that's going to smash up. Here's this literary author that just come over from England, Mr. G. P. Bellick, and he says civilization is on the verge of -- verge of --" and she looked at the paper again to make sure just what civilization was on the verge of. "On the verge of annihilation, Henry. Almost any day now civilization is going to end and Choss will rule."

"Who will?" asked Mr. Bimmis, reaching for the paper.

"It says here Choss," said Mrs. Bimmis, handing the paper to Mr. Bimmis. "I guess he's one of them China generals."

"Where does it say it?" Mr. Bimmis asked, and Mrs. Bimmis put her finger on the exact spot. "Ah!" said Mr. Bimmis; "'Chaos will rule.' That's Latin for like andarchy -- Latin or French or something. Like everybody is his own boss once more."

"Well, that wouldn't be so bad, Henry," said Mrs. Bimmis. "You always wanted to be your own boss."

"Yeah? But not when this here Chaos is ruling, like the paper says," said Mr. Bimmis. For a few minutes he was silent, reading what the distinguished foreign author had said. "Yeah," he said; "I been expecting something like that would happen, the way things have been going -- everybody on short time or laid off and all. It's going to be bad, I tell you."

"But -- but, Henry," asked Mrs. Bimmis with real concern, "it don't mean that all civilization is going to be stopped, does it?"

"You read it right here, didn't you?" demanded Mr. Bimmis. "Civilization is going to smash up, it says."

"But don't that mean Europe and China and Russia and all those places over there? Why, look at how they're putting up all these big skyscrapers over here, and that new face cream they just invented, and the new bus line. That don't look as if people thought civilization was going to end over here, Henry. It looks like civilization was going to go along all right over here, don't it?"

"That's all you know about it," said Henry. "You don't read the papers careful enough or you'd know better. That's why we kept out of the League of Nations, so we wouldn't be into it when it comes, but -- well, you take matches, f'r instance. We got to buy matches from the Checko-Polacks, or whatever they are, so say, maybe, we send the Checko-Polacks ten million dollars a year for matches. Well, anyway, look at China and Japan. Say we get into that fight. Well, what have all them foreign nations been doing all these years but invent a new poison gas, and you drop a can of it anywheres and the whole population is wiped out. London, say, and New York. Well, out goes your electric lights and meerauding bands go over the country and the farmers don't farm any more. You can't get no food because, say, them meerauding bandits shoot the train engineers and nobody don't know how to run trains."

"Why, Henry, that's terrible!" exclaimed Mrs. Bimmis.

"Sure! Ain't I just telling you? And it ain't only the literary authors say so, the political statesmen say the same thing. Everybody that comes over from Europe says so. Civilization is hanging by a string and anything can touch a match to it and blow it to nothing. Look at them Soviets, and the dole, and all. All ready to bust up any minute."

"But civilization, Henry! We've always had civilization," said Mrs. Bimmis, feeling as if an abyss had opened at her feet. "What will happen when there ain't any?"

Henry laughed bitterly.

"We all go back and be savages," he said, "like before there was any civilization. No automobiles, no iceboxes, no houses like we got now. No schools, no roads even, no gasoline. No newspapers. Yes, and no factories making clothes or anything. Savages, I tell you."

"But no houses? What would we live in, Henry?" Mrs. Bimmis asked.

"Caves," said Henry. "Caves, or maybe trees."

"Oh, I wouldn't like to live in a tree!" exclaimed Mrs. Bimmis. "I might fall out of a tree. I'd rather live in a cave. You could dig us a nice cave, Henry."

"Yeah; I guess so. I had a cave when I was a boy, and it wasn't so bad, except the smoke wouldn't go out of it. If all these folks got gassed to death there ought to be a lot of canned goods around for awhile anyways until I got so I could use a bow and arrow or something."

"What would we wear?" asked Mrs. Bimmis.

"Skins, like all the savages," said Mr. Bimmis, and Mrs. Bimmis put the tip of a forefinger against her cheek and thought this over.

"I don't think I'd like that," she said. "It sounds sort of bare and chilly. Unless it was chamois skins."

"Naw, not them kind of skins," Henry explained. "Skins with the hair on, like the Eskimos wear, or the other savages. Bear skins and wolf skins and like them."

"Oh! Furs!" said Mrs. Bimmis brightly. "Why didn't you say furs, Henry? Of course, we'd wear furs, wouldn't we? Ain't I the silly?" She was silent a minute and then she asked, "Is it liable to happen right away, Henry?"

"What?" asked Henry, who was back in Sinful Stories again.

"The end of civilization. Is it liable to happen right away?"

"Any day," said Henry. "You're liable to wake up any morning and read about it starting in the morning paper. That's how bad this here situation is."

"Then I wonder --" began Mrs. Bimmis, and hesitated.

"What do you wonder?" asked Mr. Bimmis.

"There won't be any more motor cars? Or any gasoline? Or any roads?" Mrs. Bimmis asked.

"Just trackless forests," agreed Mr. Bimmis. "Regular savage country, like in Africa and down there in Brazil and all."

"I was thinking about furs," said Mrs. Bimmis. "I haven't a fur to my name, Henry -- not even a boa. I was just wondering, Henry, if we hadn't better take the money we've been saving for a new car and get me some good furs while all these bargain sales are on. There's a coat in this morning's paper, at Grimback's, that's marked down to $189.99 that was $250. I only mean, Henry, that even if you're quick at learning to use a bow and arrow, you'd be busy quite awhile digging a cave for us, because anyway we'd want two rooms and a kitchenette, and you can always count on Grimback's furs being good. I could get the money out of the bank in the morning and go over to Grimback's before the assortment is all selected over --"

Mr. Bimmis cleared his throat. Like many of the adversity howlers he was, perhaps, inclined to speak more pessimistically than his actual belief justified. At heart, whatever the celebrated Mr. G. P. Bellick and others might say, he expected civilization to last quite a few months. He had set his heart on owning one of the snappy new six-cylinder Chermolin cars, his five-year-old Chermolin having become a practical wreck.

"Hello!" he said suddenly, picking up the evening newspaper. "I didn't notice this. They've got Bretta Barbo in Swanky Hearts at the Palazzo tonight."

"Henry, you don't mean it!" exclaimed Mrs. Bimmis, reaching for the paper. "Oh, I've wanted to see her in that ever since it was in New York!"

"If I can get the old bus started we can make the first show," said Mr. Bimmis, looking at his watch. "Hustle and get your hat on, lady. I'll go out and see if I can get some life in the bus."

"They say it's her best picture since Shameful Glory," said Mrs. Bimmis, but she was already on her way out of the room, and we should all be grateful to Mr. Bimmis for his happy thought, since it gave civilization a continued existence, if only a temporary one, which is more than the distinguished author, Mr. G. F. Bellick, would have granted it.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:20am USA Central
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