By ALLEN KIM LANG
Oh, leave it to the bureaucrats and
they'll figure out new ways to make
you buy more and more.... But
there was only one way the poor
consumer could rise up in his wrath.
"I've sweated for months over
the plans for this campaign,"
Captain Wesley Winfree told the
Major. "Just nod, sir; that's all
I ask; and I'll throw my forces
into the field."
"I admire your audacity, Winfree,"
Major Stanley Dampfer
said, "but don't you think we'd
be wise to consolidate our current
positions before launching a
Captain Winfree, straight
in his scarlet-trimmed winter
greens, tapped the toe of one
boot with his swagger-stick.
"With all respect, sir," he said,
"I feel that if we do no more
than hold the line, we're lending
moral comfort to the foes of
prosperity. Attack! That's my
battle-plan, sir. Attack! And attack
Major Dampfer, seated behind
Winfree's desk, stretched out his
legs and sighed. "You younger
officers, men who've never in
your lives tasted defeat, are an
inspiration and a trial to us old
field-graders," he said. "Captain,
a project that failed could
set your District back fifteen
"I realize that, sir," Winfree
said. "I'm placing my career in
the balance. If I attempt this,
and goof, ship me to the sticks,
Major. I'd rather spend the rest
of my BSG years as a corporal,
a simple Potlatch Observer in a
downstate village, than never to
have embarked on this campaign."
"Young Napoleon must have
been very like you, Winfree,"
Major Dampfer mused. "Very
well, lad. Brief me."
"Yes, sir!" Captain Winfree
marched over to the giant calendar
that covered one wall of
his office and tapped his stick
against the three dates circled in
red. "We've established this triangle
of strong-points," he said.
"We control the second Sunday
in May and the third Sunday in
June in addition to our first and
most vital holding, the twenty-fifth
of December. I regard these
three victories, sir, as only
beachheads, only the softening-up
phases of a still greater campaign.
We must press on toward
"How, Winfree?" Major
"By adding three hundred and
sixty-two days a year to our laurels,
sir," Winfree said, sweeping
his swagger-stick across the
face of the calendar. "My plan
is to make every consumer's
birthday a Gratuity Day for each
of his Nearest-and-Dearest."
Major Dampfer sat up
straight. "Captain," he said softly,
"this is Thinking Big. This
could lend billions a year to the
Gross National Product. It could
mean a major break-through on
the Prosperity front. Are you
really proposing that each consumer
be required to give birthday
presents to the same people,
and on the same scale, as he now
gives Xmas Gratuities?"
"Precisely, sir," Captain Winfree
said. "My staff has in the
files the birthdate of every consumer
in the District. Enforcement
of the new quotas I propose
will be no more difficult
than the old: the same scale of
fines for non-compliance, the
same terms of imprisonment for
repeated offenses will be imposed.
The dates-of-destruction to
be marked on Birthday Gratuities
will be set as the next Potlatch
Day, plus one year. Merchandise
will be marked with the
year-date precisely as is now
done for Xmas, Dad's Day, and
Mom's Day gifts. Birthday-cards
will be addressed and sent from
this office, just like Xmas cards."
Major Dampfer stood and
drew on his uniform gauntlets.
"May I assume that you've covered
the field public-relations-wise?"
"Yes, sir," Captain Winfree
said. "I've composed a slogan for
this year's drive in my District:
'Make the Magi Come the Year
'Round—Birthday Gratuities for
"It sings, Winfree," Major
Dampfer said. "I like it. Captain,
you have my nod. Carry on with
this program. If you win the battle
for this District, I'll get you a
desk in Washington and Divisional
Command; you'll help us
tailor your plan to fit the entire
"Thank you, sir," Winfree
said, grinning. "I won't disappoint
"You'd best not," the Major
said. He paused by the office
door. "Captain Winfree, the
word is on the grapevine that
you're planning to marry one of
the corporals in your office. That
"Yes, sir," Winfree said.
"Peggy and I have set the wedding
for twenty-three December,
the day before Potlatch. We'd be
delighted should your duties allow
you to attend, Major."
"I'll be there," Major Dampfer
promised. "And as a little gift
from the Bureau of Seasonal
Gratuities, Winfree, I order you
to move out on your new campaign
that same day: twenty-three
December." He raised a
gauntleted hand. "No, Captain!
Don't protest that you'll be needed
here. Your work is strategy,
not tactics. Your plans can be
implemented by your staff while
you're off on your honeymoon."
"Whatever you say, sir," Winfree
"I'd be further gratified," the
Major continued, "if you'd hold
the ceremony right here in your
Headquarters Building. We of
the BSG must establish some
traditions, Winfree; the other
Services have a century-and-a-half's
lead on us in that field. So,
if the lovely corporal approves,
we'll make yours a proper military
"All this is very good of you,
sir," Captain Winfree said. "I'm
certain Peggy will be pleased."
"Good!" Major Dampfer said.
"I'll handle all the details. Winfree,
you've got the quality we
used to know as Old-Fashioned
Intestinal Fortitude, back in the
day when a spade was called a
spade and no apologies about it.
We need more men like you in
the Bureau." He snapped a salute.
"Carry on, Captain; and
"A Very Happy Potlatch to
you, sir!" Winfree said, tossing
back the salute. "And a Merry
Captain Winfree walked to the
big window in the outer office to
watch Major Dampfer driven off
in his sergeant-chauffeured, scarlet-and-green
BSG Rolls limousine.
Then he about-faced without
warning to glare at his little
command, the eight non-coms,
the twenty-seven Other Ranks,
the four young lieutenants. They
all sat silent, watching him as
though waiting for confirmation
of an unpleasant rumor. Not a
file-cabinet stood open, not a
typewriter was moving. "Listen,
you people," Winfree growled,
pointing his swagger-stick like a
weapon, not sparing even Corporal
Peggy MacHenery his anger;
"We've got a Potlatch Day
coming up, the biggest ever.
Now get on the ball, dammit! I
don't want to see one of you
stopping for breath again till
Xmas Day." The lieutenants and
sergeants flushed; the girl privates
jumped their fingers onto
typewriter keys. "Corporal MacHenery,"
Winfree said, "bring
your notepad to my office."
Peggy MacHenery, Corporal,
Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities,
followed her commanding officer
and husband-designate into his
office. "Close the door, Corporal,"
Winfree said. Peggy did so, and
took her chair next to his desk,
the pad open on her knee and
her fountain pen at the ready.
"No dictation," Captain Winfree
said. "Please forgive me for taking
valuable official time for a
personal matter, Corporal; especially
after that little display of
tyranny I just put on out there.
Peggy, Major Dampfer has ordered
us to hold our wedding
here at District Headquarters.
He'll bring in a transport loaded
with BSG brass, fly in a band to
give us a send-off with pibrochs
and marches and double-flams;
and he'll probably set up an arch
of sabers for us to parade
through. Do you mind all this
very much, Peggy?"
She snapped her notepad shut.
"Daddy will be furious," she
"Your dad is already so worked
up about your marrying me,
a BSG-man, that a little extra
anger won't even show," Winfree
said. "I'm convinced that he's
teaching me fencing only in
hopes I'll have a fatal accident."
"Nonsense!" Peggy said. She
tossed her notebook on the desk
and stood to take Winfree's hand.
"Don't make Daddy out a monster,
Wes. About the other thing,
the military wedding, I don't
care. I'd marry you in a beer-barrel,
if you wanted it that
Captain Winfree took the
girl's free hand. "Peggy," he
said, "you're the greatest! Now
the good news. Major Dampfer
has approved my plans for instituting
Birthday Gratuity Quotas
in this District. Aren't you glad
"Glad?" Peggy demanded,
pulling away. "Wes, do you think
the consumers of this District
will put up with another invasion
of their pocketbooks, let alone
their private sentiments?"
"Peggy, if you're going to
gripe every time the Bureau
raises the quotas a notch," Winfree
said, "you don't belong in
that uniform you're wearing."
"Want me to take it off?"
Peggy challenged, reaching for
the top button of her blouse.
"No, dammit!" Winfree said.
"But if you're going to discuss
the propriety of every decision I
make, please have the grace to
wait till we're outside District
Headquarters to do it."
"Yes, sir; thank you, sir,"
Peggy said. She saluted. "Is
there anything more you want to
chew me out about, sir?"
Winfree saluted back, then
growled at himself for the reflex.
"Woman," he said, "once we're
married I want to see your request
for discharge lying here on
my desk. How the devil can an
officer run an organization when
one of the enlisted personnel, the
corporal he's in love with, persists
"I can't quit," Peggy said.
"We'll need my salary, Wes, if
only to pay off our BSG quotas.
What with buying Xmas presents,
gifts for Mom's Day and
Pop's Day, and sending Birthday
Gratuities to every name on our
lists, we'll be living on rice and
soybeans till you make Light
Colonel. Quit? Wes, if you expect
to eat regular after we're married,
you'd best put me in for
"Please, Peggy," Winfree asked.
"We'll discuss this all tonight,
off duty, if I survive your
father's swordplay. For now,
please let letters out to all District
wholesalers, telling them of
the Birthday Quotas and the new
dating procedures. Have one of
the lieutenants open the secret
files for you—it's all under 'Operation
Nativity.' You can get at
it right away."
"Very well, Captain, sir,"
Peggy said. "Happy Potlatch,
sir." She about-faced and marched
out, banging the office door
"Happy Potlatch be damned!"
Captain Winfree said, flinging
his swagger-stick toward the
The MacHenery home was all
gables and pinnacles and spooled
porch-pillars, very like an enormous
wedding-cake, every horizontal
surface now frosted with
a thin layer of snow. Captain
Winfree tugged off his gauntlets,
rang the bell, and stood straighter
than usual to withstand the
hostile inspection of Kevin MacHenery,
Mr. MacHenery opened the
door. Captain Winfree, although
retaining his smile of greeting,
groaned inwardly. MacHenery
was wearing his canvas fencing
outfit, flat-soled shoes, and carried
a foil in one hand. "My you
are a gorgeous sight, all Kelly-green
and scarlet piping, like a
tropical bird that's somehow
strayed into the snowfields,"
MacHenery said. "Do come in,
Captain, and warm your feathers."
"Thank you, sir," Winfree
said, brushing the snow from his
cap. He peeled off his overcoat
and hung it on the hall tree,
sticking his swagger-stick in one
of its pockets. "Peggy busy?" he
asked, hoping that her appearance
would preclude his being
given another unsolicited fencing-lesson.
"After having spent two hours
in the bathroom with a curry-comb
and a bottle of wave-set,"
MacHenery said, "my daughter
has finally got down to work in
the kitchen. We have time for an
engagement at steel in the parlor,
if you'd care to refine your
"Just as you say, sir," Winfree
"Your politeness offends me,
Wes," Kevin MacHenery complained,
handing him a foil and a
wire-mesh mask. "Slip off your
shoes. It's a terrible burden you
are laying on the shoulders of an
aging man, being so well-spoken
when he likes nothing more than
an argument. Now assume the
on guard position, Wesley."
Winfree obediently placed his
feet at right angles, raised his
foil, and "sat down," assuming
the bent-leg position and feeling
his leg-muscles, still sore from
his last session with MacHenery,
begin to complain. "You're holding
your foil like a flyswatter,"
MacHenery said. "Here, like
"None of that, Daddy," Peggy
said, appearing from the kitchen.
"I'll not have you two sitting
down to eat all sweaty and out of
breath, like last time Wes was
"She treats me like a backward
child," MacHenery said. He
took a bottle from a shelf and
poured generous dollops of
Scotch into two glasses, one of
which he handed to Winfree.
"Inasmuch as I disapprove of the
coming season," he said, "I'll
offer you no toast, Captain."
"You don't care even for
Xmas?" Winfree asked in a tone
of mild reproach.
"Ex-mas?" MacHenery demanded.
"What the devil is this
nor-fish-nor-fowl thing you call
Ex-mas? Some new festival, perhaps,
celebrated by carillons of
"Christmas, if you prefer,
sir," Winfree said. "We in the
Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities
get used to using the other name.
We use the word so much in
writing that cutting it from nine
letters to four saves some thirty
thousand dollars annually, in this
"That's grand," MacHenery
said. He sat down with his whiskey.
"We could drink to a Happy
Potlatch," Captain Winfree suggested.
"I'd sooner toast my imminent
death by tetanus," MacHenery
"I'd like to taste this stuff,"
Winfree said. "Let's compromise.
Can we drink to Peggy?"
"Accepted," MacHenery said,
raising his glass. "To my Peggy—our
Peggy." He gave the whiskey
the concentration it deserved.
Then, "You know, Wesley,"
he said, "if you weren't in the
BSG I could like you real well.
I'd rejoice at your becoming my
son-in-law. Too bad that you
wear the enemy uniform."
"The BSG is hardly an enemy,"
Winfree said. "It's been
an American institution for a
long time. This is excellent whiskey."
"We'll test a second sample, to
see whether its quality stands up
through the bottle," MacHenery
suggested. "For all we know,
they may be putting the best on
top." He poured them each another.
"Yes, Wesley, the Bureau
of Seasonal Gratuities has been
with the American consumer
quite a while. Twenty years it'll
be, come next Potlatch Day. You
were brought up in the foul tradition,
Wes. You don't know
what our country was like in the
good old days, when Christmas
was spelled with a C instead of
"I know that a paltry twenty
billion dollars a year were spent
on Xmas—sorry, sir—on Christmas
Gratuities, back before my
Bureau came on the scene to
triple that figure, to bring us all
"Your Bureau brought us the
stink of burning," MacHenery
said. "It brought us the Potlatch
"Yes, Potlatch!" Captain Winfree
said. "Potlatch Pyres
and Potlatch Day—childhood's
brightest memory. Ah, those
smells from the fire! The incense
of seared varnish; the piny
smoke from building-blocks tossed
into the flames; the thick wool
stinks of dated shirts and cowboy-suits,
tossed into the Potlatch Pyre. My
little brother, padded fat in his
snowsuit, toddling up to the fire
to toss in his dated sled, then
scampering back from the sparks
while Mom and Dad smiled at
him from the porch, cuddling hot
cups of holiday ponchero in their
"Seduction of the innocents,"
MacHenery said. "Training the
babes to be wastrels."
"We loved it," Winfree insisted.
"True, the little girls might
cry as they handed a dated doll
to the BSG-man; while he prepared
it for suttee with a wash
of gasoline and set it into the
fire; but little girls, as I suppose
you know, relish occasions for
weeping. They cheered up
mighty quick, believe me, when
the thermite grenades were set
off, filling the night air with the
electric smell of molten metal,
burning dated clocks and desk-lamps,
radios and humidors,
shoes and ships and carving-sets;
burning them down to smoke and
golden-glowing puddles under
the ashes of the Potlatch Pyre.
Then the fireworks, Mr. MacHenery.
The fireworks! The
BSG-man touching a flaming
torch to the fuses of the mortars;
a sizzle and a burst; the
Japanese star-shells splitting the
sky, splashing across the night's
ceiling, scattering from their
pods, blossoming into Queen
Anne's Lace in a dozen colors of
"Fire and destruction," MacHenery
said. "There's your holiday
for children—fire and destruction!"
"You missed it, sir," Winfree
said. "You don't understand.
Potlatch is a wonderful day for
children, a glorious introduction
to the science of economics. The
boys light Roman candles, shooting
crimson and orchid and
brass-flamed astonishers into the
clouds. A soft fog of snow makes
fuzzy smears of the pinwheels, of
the children racing, sparklers in
both hands, across the frozen
lawn. Dad lights the strings of
cannon-crackers—at our house
they used to dangle from a wire
strung across the porch, like
clusters of giant phlox—and they
convulse into life, jumping and
banging and scattering their red
skins onto the snow, filling the
air with the spice of gunpowder.
"The high-school kids come
home from their Potlatch Parties ..."
"Wreckage and mayhem,"
MacHenery grunted. "We used
to throw the same kind of parties
when I was a tad, but they were
against the law, back then. We
called 'em chicken-runs."
"But nowadays, sir, those Potlatch
Parties contribute to the
general prosperity," Winfree explained.
"Used-car lots used to
border all the downtown streets,
anchors on progress. Now those
dated cars are smashed, and used
for scrap. The high-school drivers
work off their aggressions
ramming them together. And
there's no mayhem, Mr. MacHenery;
the BSG-man assigned
to Potlatch Parties strap the
kids in safe and make sure their
crash-helmets fit tight. It's all
"Morally," MacHenery said,
"Potlatch Parties are still chicken-runs."
Peggy came back, as sleek and
crisp as though cooking were an
expensive sort of beauty treatment.
"Supper will be ready in
five minutes," she said. "If you
tigers will wash up ..."
"We'll drink up, first," her
father said. "This man of yours
has been feeding me BSG propaganda.
I'm not sure I have any
"What started you hating the
Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities,
Mr. MacHenery?" Winfree said.
MacHenery poured them each
a drink. "You ever read Suetonius,
Wes?" he asked.
"Yours is a generation of
monoglots," MacHenery sighed.
"It figures, though. There's no
profit in having today's youth
read the clinical record of another
civilization that died of
self-indulgence, that went roistering
to its doom in a carnival
"Doom?" Winfree asked.
"Doom richly deserved," MacHenery
said. "Old Suetonius describes,
for example, an instrument
that accompanied dinner-parties
during the reigns of the
last few Caesars. It was a device
that accomplished, two thousand
years ago, the function of our
proud Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities.
A feather, my boy. A simple
"I don't understand," Winfree
"I'd be hurt if you did, Captain,"
MacHenery said. "I've set
my mind on explaining the point.
Now you see, Wes, the late Caesars
were pretty good consumers
of everything but petroleum, we
having that edge on them. They
spread a mighty fine table. A
gourmet would bring to Rome
caviar from the Caucasus,
peaches from Majorca, and, for
all I know, kippers from Britain.
Picture it, Wesley: cherries
served in golden bowls, heaped
on the snow trotted down from
mountain-tops by marathons of
slaves. A dish called The Shield
of Minerva was one of their
greatest delights; this being an
Irish stew compounded of lamprey-milt,
and the tiny, tasty
brains of pheasants and peacocks;
eaten while viewing the
floor-show of strip-teasing Circassian
girls or—Galba's invention,
tight-rope. Grand, Wes. No meals
like that at the supermarket; no
shows like that even on the television."
"But the feather?" Winfree
"Ah, yes," MacHenery said.
"The moment our noble Roman
had eaten his fill he'd pick up the
feather next to his plate and, excusing
himself, adjourn to the
adjoining vomitorium. A few
tickles of the palate, and his first
meal would be only a lovely memory.
He'd saunter back to his
bench by the table again, ready
to set to with another helping
of Minerva's Shield."
"Disgusting," Winfree said.
"Yes, indeed," MacHenery
agreed, smiling and fitting his
fingertips together. "Now attend
my simile, Captain. Unlike those
feathered Romans of the Decadence,
we moderns settle for
one meal at a sitting, and let it
digest in peace. We have instead
our more sophisticated greeds,
whetted by subtle persuasions
and an assurance that it's really
quite moral to ransom our future
for today's gimmicks."
"Prosperity requires the cooperation
of every citizen," Captain
Winfree said, quoting an
early slogan of the BSG.
"Your artificial prosperity requires
us, the moment we're
sated with chrome chariots and
miracle-fiber dressing-gowns and
electronic magics, the minute our
children have toys enough to last
them through the age of franchise,
to take in hand the feather
forced upon us by regulation of
the Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities
and visit the parish Potlatch
Pyre, our modern vomitorium, to
spew up last year's dainties to
make belly-room for a new lot,"
"Daddy!" Peggy MacHenery
protested from the living-room
doorway. "What sort of table-talk
"Truth is the sweetest sauce,
Peggy," MacHenery said, getting
up from his chair. "What
delights have you cooked up for
"Your favorite dish, Daddy,"
Peggy said, grinning at him.
"Peacock brains on toast."
The next two weeks were too
busy for Captain Winfree to
partner Kevin MacHenery on the
fencing-mat. He was double-busy,
in fact; planning the biggest
Potlatch Day in twenty
years at the same time he started
the wheels of his project to make
birthdays Gratuity Days for
every consumer in his District.
The girls, assisted by two of
the male sergeants, had decorated
the District Headquarters till
it glittered like a child's dream
of the North Pole. Against one
wall they'd placed the Xmas tree,
its branches bearing dozens of
dancing elves, Japanese swordsmen,
marching squads of BSG-recruits,
all watch-work figures busy with
movement, flashing with microscopic
lights, humming little
melodies that matched their motions.
A giant replica of the
Bureau's cap-emblem—the Federal
eagle clutching between his
talons a banderole bearing the
motto, 'Tis More Blessed to Give
Than Receive—had been mounted
on the center wall, the place of
honor. Beneath the eagle stood a
bandstand draped in bunting,
ready to accommodate the Bureau
of Seasonal Gratuities
members of which were to fly in
from Washington to grace the
bridal day with epithalamiums
and martial song.
The big work, the eight-hours-a-day
work, was the preparation for
Potlatch Day, the festival that
meant to the BSG what April
Fifteenth means to the Internal
Revenue Service. Cases of fireworks
piled up in the brick warehouse
next door to Headquarters.
Sawdust-packed thermite grenades
were stacked right up to
the perforated pipes of the sprinkler
system. No Smoking sign
blossomed a hundred yards on
every side. The blacklists, naming
consumers who'd withheld
dated gifts from the Potlatch
Pyres of earlier years, were
brought up to date and distributed
to the Reserve BSG Officers
in each township of Winfree's
District. These holdouts, it was
safe to assume, would be under
surveillance on Potlatch Day.
Cold-eyed sergeants and lieutenants
would make note of the
material each of them consigned
to the flames, and would cross-check
their notes with Nearest-and-Dearest
lists to make sure
that all post-dated Mom's Day
and Dad's Day gratuities, all of
last Xmas's gifts, had been destroyed
as required by BSG ordinance.
Meanwhile letters piled into
Captain Winfree's office, thousands
of them each time the Post
Office truck stopped outside
Headquarters. Several of these
were penned in a brownish stuff
purported to be their authors'
lifeblood; and all voiced indignation
against Schedule 121B,
Table 12, which set minimum
levels of cost for the birthday
gratuities they'd have to give
each of the fifteen persons on
their Nearest-and-Dearest lists.
Hundreds of protests were printed
in the vox populi columns of
District newspapers, recommending
every printable form of violence
against agents of the Bureau.
BSG practice was to regard
with benign eye public outcry of
this sort. No consumer in Winfree's
District, immersed as he
was in the debate over Birthday
Gratuity Minima, could possibly
plead ignorance should he be apprehended
in violation of these
Finally, it was two days before
Xmas, Potlatch Day Minus
One. Phone-calls had rippled out
from District Headquarters, calling
all BSG Reservists to the
colors, assigning them to Potlatch
Duty in the townships or
patrol in the city; telling each
officer and non-com where and
when to submit his requisition
for pyrotechnical devices, gasoline,
thermite bombs, and pads of
BSG Form No. 217-C, "Incident
of Consumer Non-Compliance."
And the day was even more than
this. It was the day Captain
Wesley Winfree was to wed Corporal
Margaret MacHenery in
the sight of God, man, and the
glitteringest crowd of BSG brass
ever assembled outside Washington.
By noon the typewriters in
Headquarters were covered and
shoved with their desks behind
folding screens hung with pine-boughs.
Every wheel in the District
motor pool was on the highway
from the airport, shuttling
in the wedding-party. The bride,
closeted in an anteroom with a
gaggle of envious bachelor-girls,
was dressing herself in winter
greens, her chevrons brilliant
against her sleeves. Peggy had
pinned a tiny poinsettia to her
lapel; strictly against Regulations;
but who'd have the heart
to reprimand so lovely a bride?
The minister who was to perform
the wedding, a young captain-chaplain
of BSG, paced
amongst the hidden desks, memorizing
the greetings he'd composed
to precede the formal
words of wedding. The guests
came laughing through a corridor
of potted pines into the District
Headquarters, where they
were greeted by the BSG Band-and-Glee-Club's
rendition of the
Bureau's official anthem, "I'm
Dreaming of a White Potlatch."
As though it had been arranged
by Washington, snow had indeed
begun to fall; and the tiers of
overcoats racked in the outer
hall were beaded with melted
The groom, wearing his dress
greens—the winter uniform
worn with white shirt and a
scarlet bow-tie—was still trapped
behind his desk, hardly conscious
of the joyful noises from
beyond the door. "They haven't
shown?" he bellowed into the
telephone. "Don't fret your head
about it, Sergeant. Those Reservists
will damned well be on
duty tomorrow morning or we'll
have their cans in a courtroom
before dark." Slam! An anxious
girl Pfc tiptoed in. "Sir, a consumer's
delegation wishes to
speak with you about the new
"Tell them they're stuck with
it," Winfree snapped. "Hand
these around that delegation,
Soldier," he said, shoving a stack
of Schedules 1219B across his
desk toward the girl. "Tell that
bunch of complainers I'll keep
this District's economy healthy
if I have to jail every consumer
The phone rang again. "It's
me, Wes, Peggy."
"Darling, I'm busy," Winfree
"Didn't you write our wedding-date
on your appointment
list?" she asked. "It'll only take
"Don't marry anyone else,"
Winfree said. "I'll be right out."
He hung up the phone and stood
at the mirror in his closet to
check his uniform. Then he picked
up his silver-trimmed dress
swagger-stick and marched out
into the main office to meet the
chaplain, and his wife.
Major Stanley Dampfer, glorious
in his dress greens, a Sam
Bowie belt equating his belly and
supporting the side-arm holstered
by one big hip, slapped Winfree
on the back as he entered
the hall. "At ease!" the Major
shouted, then glanced contritely
toward the two BSG colonels
who'd been talking the loudest.
"Gentlemen, ladies: I want to
present the founder of this feast,
the brightest star in the Bureau's
firmament, the young
genius of Birthday Gratuity
Quotas. I refer, of course, to
Captain Wesley Winfree!"
[Applause, shouts, a few ribald
remarks from the officers
nearest the bar]
"I just want to tell you all,"
the Major went on, his arm
heavy across Winfree's unwilling
shoulders, "before I relinquish
this fine young officer to his new
commander, a corporal ..."
"... that here's a man who's
going places. Look well at Captain
Winfree's face, friends. You
will see it yet on the cover of
Time, above a pair of stars."
The Major freed Captain Winfree,
the guests settled down into
their folding-chairs, and the
chaplain opened his BSG Book
of Authorized Ceremonies. He
and the affianced couple stood
alone together in a moment of
silence. He opened the service.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered
together here ...
"... Margaret, wilt thou have
this Man to thy wedded husband
... so long as ye both shall live?
... by virtue of the authority
vested in me by the Corps of
Chaplains, Bureau of Seasonal
Gratuities, I pronounce that you
are Man and Wife. Amen, and
The first wedded kiss, and the
stag-line demanding its similar
perquisite. Kevin MacHenery
seized his son-in-law's right
hand. "I wish you both fifty
happy years, Wes," he said. "I
hope you'll see the light soon,
and spend most of those years in
decent mufti." Major Dampfer
shouldered Mr. MacHenery aside
to tug Winfree and his new wife
toward the mountain of gifts,
covered like a giant's corpse
with a sheet, standing by the
base of the Xmas tree. The
Major triumphantly pulled a ripcord,
and the sheet dropped
away. Beneath it were dozens of
boxes and bundles and bottles,
wrapped in scarlet and green
and silver and gold. "Open
them!" some guest prompted
from the end of the hall.
"Why open them?" Corporal
Mrs. Peggy Winfree asked.
"Anyone got a match? We'll have
our Potlatch Pyre right here and
now, burn them right off instead
of waiting a year."
"The lady jests," Major Dampfer
Corporal, aren't subject to Potlatching."
"Goody," Peggy said.
"I'll have some of the enlisted
guests carry these gratuities out
to your car," the Major said.
"You can unwrap them during
your honeymoon." He chuckled.
Towing his bride with his left
hand, accepting handshakes with
his right, Captain Winfree shouldered
his way through the mob
of brass and chevrons to the
door. His car, adorned with a
Just Married sign that completely
obscured the rear window,
trailing strings of shoes and
empty milk-tins, stood at the end
of a corridor formed by two face-to-face
ranks of BSG Officer-Candidates.
The OCS-men wore
dress greens and Academy helmets,
and about the waist of
each hung a saber. Consumers
stood gray and inconspicuous behind
the two rows of uniformed
men, silent, unsmiling, like onlookers
at an accident. Captain
Winfree looked over this civilian
crowd. Each person wore, pinned
to a lapel, perched in a hatbrim,
or worn like a corsage, a small
white feather. "We'd best hurry,
Peggy," he said, urging her toward
The Officer-Candidates, on a
signal from Major Dampfer,
snicked their ceremonial sabers
from their scabbards and presented
them, blade-tip to blade-tip,
as an archway. The BSG
and singing, "Potlatch Is Comin'
to Town," stood in the doorway.
Captain Winfree, clasping
Peggy's gloved hand tightly, led
her through the saber-roofed
aisleway as rapidly as he could.
"What's the rush, Wes?" she
asked. "We'll get married only
once, and I'd like to see the ceremony
well enough to be able to
describe it to our eventual children,
when they ask me what it
Winfree opened the door of
their car. "We'd better get out of
here," he said. "I smell a riot
brewing; and I don't want you to
have to describe that to our children."
Peggy scooted into the car just
as the District Headquarters
building burped out a giant bubble
of smoke. An arm reached
out to Winfree's lapel and tugged
him back from the car. "You're
going nowhere, buddy," a civilian
growled at him. The man,
Winfree saw, was wearing the
ubiquitous white feather in his
lapel. As Winfree shook himself
free from the civilian, the arch
of sabers above them collapsed.
The BSG-OCS-men were tossed
about in a mob of suddenly
screaming consumers, waving
their weapons as ineffectively as
brooms. Fragments were spun
off the whirl of people, bits of
BSG uniforms torn off their
wearers and tossed like confetti.
A huge pink figure, clad in one
trouser-leg and a pair of shorts,
smeared across the chest and
face with soot, dashed toward
Winfree, waving a .45 pistol.
"Stop this violence!" he screamed
at the consumers in his way,
leveling his pistol. "Maintain the
peace, dammit! or I'll shoot!"
"That idiot!" Winfree said.
He slammed the door of the car
to give Peggy a little protection,
then scooped up a handful of
snow from the gutter to pound
into a ball and toss like a grenade
at the back of Major Dampfer's
neck. The Major's boots
flew out from under him, and he
landed belly-down in the snow,
burying his pistol's muzzle. The
gun went off, flinging itself like
a rocket out of his hand. Winfree
snatched it up. "Blanks!" he
yelled, waving the .45. "He was
only going to shoot blanks."
Three more civilians, wearing
the white-feather symbol on
their overcoats, advanced toward
Winfree. Together, like partners
in a ballet, they bent to build
snowballs, then stood and let fly.
Winfree ducked, found one of
the dress sabers ignominiously
sheathed in snow, and drew it
out. He retreated toward the automobile,
the saber raised to
protect Peggy. "Stand back," he
shouted. "I don't want to bloody-up
this clean snow."
Another mitrailleusade of
snowballs connected, knocking off
Winfree's cap and sending a
shower of snow down his collar.
The Headquarters building was
burning so well that it served as
a warming bonfire to the tattered
BSG personnel. A squad of civilian
youngsters was chasing
Major Dampfer down the street,
pelting the huge target of his
backside with snowballs.
The BSG Band-and-Glee-Club,
covering their nakedness by pooling
their rags, were a musical
rabble. Kevin MacHenery, carrying
a saber captured from one of
the BSG-OCS-men, shouted to a
tuba-player, the bell of whose
horn had been dimpled by a
hard-cored snowball. "Play the
National Anthem," he yelled.
The player, chilly and terrified,
raised the mouthpiece of the
tuba to his lips and, looking fearfully
about like the target of a
game, puffed out the sonorous
opening notes. One by one the
other players, a flute behind an
elm tree, a trumpet hidden in the
back seat of a parked limousine,
a snow-damaged snare-drum,
joined in; gravitating towards
one another through the suddenly
quiet crowd. Winfree, like the
other men, civil and BSG, stood
at attention; but as he felt
Peggy's arm slip through his he
spoke out of the corner of his
mouth. "Get back to the car,
Peggy," he said. "Drive like hell
out of this chivaree. I'll meet you
at your dad's place. Now git!"
"You think maybe I had my
fingers crossed when I promised
to have and hold you?" she asked.
"You're my man, Wes. If you
get beat up, I want my eyes
blackened to match yours."
The anthem drew to a close
just as a new instrument, the
siren of a firetruck, joined in.
"Stop that truck!" one of the
insurgent consumers shouted.
"Don't let 'em touch our fire."
The mob went back into action
in two task-forces; one dedicated
to the extirpation of the BSG-men
currently available, the
other clustered around the firetruck,
thwarting the fire-fighters'
efforts to couple their hose to
the hydrant. One youngster,
wearing the black leather jacket
and crash-helmet of a Potlatch
Party, ran from the fireworks
warehouse with a thermite grenade.
Pulling the pin, he tossed
the sputtering bomb through a
window of the burning building.
"Stop him!" the white-helmeted
"Stop him, hell!" a consumer
replied. "Man, we got a rebellion
going. Don't you guys try to
throw cold water on it unless
you'd like to be squirted solid ice
with your own hose."
The fire-chief, his hands raised
in despair, turned to his colleagues.
"Stand by, boys," he
said. "Nothing we can do till the
cops get here to quell this
"Pretty, isn't it?" one of the
firemen remarked, dropping the
canvas hose. "We never get to see
a building burn all the way.
Think of all the papers in there,
file-cabinets full of government
regulations, lists of all our birthdays,
quota-forms; all curling up
and turning brown and reaching
the kindling point. Nice fire,
The fire-chief faced Headquarters,
a new look replacing his
anxiety. "It is kind of pretty,"
he admitted. He turned to the
consumer ringleader. "OK with
you if we throw a little water on
the fireworks warehouse?" he
"Sure," the man said. "We
don't want to blow up the old
home-town; we only want to put
the BSG out of business." His
band of consumers stepped back
from the yellow fireplug to let
the firemen hook up their hoses,
toggle on the pressure, and begin
playing water over the blank
face of the fireworks warehouse.
Captain Winfree was buried
in hard-fisted civilians, all seemingly
intent on erasing him as
the most familiar symbol of the
Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities.
Winfree bobbed to the surface
of the maelstrom for a moment,
waving his saber, and shouted,
"MacHenery! Get these jokers
off my back before I'm knee-deep
in cold meat." He thwacked another
of his assailants across the
pate with the flat of his blade.
MacHenery, using his saber
as a lever, pried himself a path
through the crowd. As he reached
Captain Winfree, he raised
his saber. The crowd about the
two men retreated. "These folks
have suffered a lot from you,
Captain," MacHenery said.
"Think maybe they're due to see
a little bloodshed?"
"OK by me," Winfree said,
panting, "if you don't mind shedding
it." He raised his saber in
salute—the only fencing-movement
he'd become proficient in—and
jumped into a crouch. MacHenery
closed, and the two
blades met in a clanging opening.
Peggy's father, for all his
handicap of twenty years, was a
fencer; Winfree, in his maiden
effort as a sabreur, used his
weapon like a club. He allemanded
about MacHenery, now and
then dashing in with clumsy deliveries
that were always met by
the older man's blade.
Those firemen not immediately
concerned with spraying the
warehouse wall mounted the
racks of their truck to watch
the duel. BSG-men and -women,
huddled close to the warmth of
the burning building, watched
unhappily as their champion was
forced to retreat before MacHenery's
technique. "He'll kill
him!" Peggy shouted. She was
restrained from trying to break
up the fight by two burly consumers.
Winfree, trying a gambit he'd
seen in one of MacHenery's
books but had never before attempted,
extended his saber and
flew forward toward MacHenery
in a flèche. MacHenery caught
Winfree's blade on his own and
tossed it aside. He brought back
his own weapon to sketch a line
down the Captain's right cheek.
The scratch was pink for a moment,
then it started to bleed
heavily. The crowd shouted encouragement,
groaned. "Keep cool, Wes," MacHenery
whispered to his opponent
as they dos-à-doed back into
position. "I have to make this
look fierce or they'll insist on
"Don't make it look too good,"
Winfree panted. "Cover yourself—I
might hurt you out of
sheer clumsiness." His chin and
throat were covered with blood,
now; blood enough to satisfy the
most indignant consumer. The
moment the measure was set
again, Winfree lunged, trying to
slip his blade beneath MacHenery's
guard to strike his arm.
His foible met the flash of the
other man's forte, and his blade
bounced aside like a sprung bow.
MacHenery slammed his saber
into Winfree's, spinning the
weapon out of his hand into the
crowd. He lunged then, delivering
his point against Winfree's
chest. Peggy, released from her
captors, burst from the crowd to
throw herself against her father.
"Stop it, Daddy!" she pleaded,
MacHenery raised his saber in
salute. "All right, Pocahontas,"
he said. "Take your John Smith
home and patch up that cut. It's
no worse than what he gets shaving."
He turned to the crowd, his
saber still raised in salute. "Potlatch
is over forever!" he
Urged by a delegation of
music-loving consumers, the tubist
raised his ravaged horn. The
other members of the BSG Band-and-Glee-Club
him, all ragged, some with one
eye closed by a purple fist-mark;
and they began, on the tubist's
signal, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."
The District Headquarters
building, gutted, was glowing
like an abandoned fireplace.
The firemen joined the singing
as they coiled their hoses. The
Potlatch Riot was over.
Winfree led his wife to their
car. The Just Married sign was
still in place, but the car's train
of shoes and milk-cans had been
ripped off to furnish ammunition
in the fight. "Let's go home,
Peggy," Winfree said. "I yearn
for a fireside and some privacy."
Kevin MacHenery spoke from
the back seat. "You deserve
them, Wes," he said.
"What are you doing here?"
Peggy demanded, twisting to
face her father. "After you cut
up my Wes you should be ashamed
to show us your face."
"I want to apologize for that
unfortunate necessity," MacHenery
said. "But if I hadn't
scratched him, Peggy-my-heart,
the mob might have done more
radical surgery. I saw one consumer
with a rope, trying different
"Apology accepted," Winfree
said. "Now, if you don't mind,
Mr. MacHenery, Peggy and I'd
like to be alone."
"Of course," MacHenery said.
"First, though, I'd like to present
you a decoration to commemorate
your part in this skirmish,
Wes." He took the little white
feather from his hatbrim and
attached it to Winfree's tattered,
"What's this for?" Winfree
"For services rendered the Rebellion,"
MacHenery said. "I've
often wondered why it's only the
Tom Paines and the Jeffersons
who get honored by successful
rebels. There's many a revolution,
Wesley, that would have
failed except for the dedicated
tyranny of the men it overthrew."
"I don't understand, Daddy,"
"Wes will probably explain to
you sometime how he brought
this all on himself," MacHenery
said, opening his door to get out.
"Now I expect you two have
other things to talk about. Thank
you, Captain Winfree, for playing
so excellent a George the
Third to our rebellion."
"Thank you, sir," Winfree
said, raising his hand in salute.
"I wish you a Merry, nine-letter
This etext was produced from Amazing Science Fiction Stories
September 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any
evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was