The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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like hell. I vish you come."
"Well, all right, but you call me earlier, next time. Look here, Barney,

you better install a 'phone--telephone haben. Some of you Dutchmen will

be dying one of these days before you can fetch the doctor."
The door closing. Barney's wagon--the wheels silent in the snow, but the

wagon-body rattling. Kennicott clicking the receiver-hook to rouse the

night telephone-operator, giving a number, waiting, cursing mildly,

waiting again, and at last growling, "Hello, Gus, this is the doctor.

Say, uh, send me up a team. Guess snow's too thick for a machine. Going

eight miles south. All right. Huh? The hell I will! Don't you go back

to sleep. Huh? Well, that's all right now, you didn't wait so very darn

long. All right, Gus; shoot her along. By!"


His step on the stairs; his quiet moving about the frigid room while he

dressed; his abstracted and meaningless cough. She was supposed to be

asleep; she was too exquisitely drowsy to break the charm by speaking.

On a slip of paper laid on the bureau--she could hear the pencil

grinding against the marble slab--he wrote his destination. He went out,

hungry, chilly, unprotesting; and she, before she fell asleep again,

loved him for his sturdiness, and saw the drama of his riding by night

to the frightened household on the distant farm; pictured children

standing at a window, waiting for him. He suddenly had in her eyes the

heroism of a wireless operator on a ship in a collision; of an explorer,

fever-clawed, deserted by his bearers, but going on--jungle--going----
At six, when the light faltered in as through ground glass and bleakly

identified the chairs as gray rectangles, she heard his step on the

porch; heard him at the furnace: the rattle of shaking the grate, the

slow grinding removal of ashes, the shovel thrust into the coal-bin,

the abrupt clatter of the coal as it flew into the fire-box, the fussy

regulation of drafts--the daily sounds of a Gopher Prairie life, now

first appealing to her as something brave and enduring, many-colored

and free. She visioned the fire-box: flames turned to lemon and metallic

gold as the coal-dust sifted over them; thin twisty flutters of purple,

ghost flames which gave no light, slipping up between the dark banked

coals.
It was luxurious in bed, and the house would be warm for her when

she rose, she reflected. What a worthless cat she was! What were her

aspirations beside his capability?
She awoke again as he dropped into bed.
"Seems just a few minutes ago that you started out!"
"I've been away four hours. I've operated a woman for appendicitis, in

a Dutch kitchen. Came awful close to losing her, too, but I pulled her

through all right. Close squeak. Barney says he shot ten rabbits last

Sunday."
He was instantly asleep--one hour of rest before he had to be up and

ready for the farmers who came in early. She marveled that in what was

to her but a night-blurred moment, he should have been in a distant

place, have taken charge of a strange house, have slashed a woman, saved

a life.
What wonder he detested the lazy Westlake and McGanum! How could the

easy Guy Pollock understand this skill and endurance?
Then Kennicott was grumbling, "Seven-fifteen! Aren't you ever going

to get up for breakfast?" and he was not a hero-scientist but a rather

irritable and commonplace man who needed a shave. They had coffee,

griddle-cakes, and sausages, and talked about Mrs. McGanum's atrocious

alligator-hide belt. Night witchery and morning disillusion were alike

forgotten in the march of realities and days.

II
Familiar to the doctor's wife was the man with an injured leg, driven in

from the country on a Sunday afternoon and brought to the house. He

sat in a rocker in the back of a lumber-wagon, his face pale from the

anguish of the jolting. His leg was thrust out before him, resting on

a starch-box and covered with a leather-bound horse-blanket. His drab

courageous wife drove the wagon, and she helped Kennicott support him as

he hobbled up the steps, into the house.
"Fellow cut his leg with an ax--pretty bad gash--Halvor Nelson, nine

miles out," Kennicott observed.


Carol fluttered at the back of the room, childishly excited when she was

sent to fetch towels and a basin of water. Kennicott lifted the farmer

into a chair and chuckled, "There we are, Halvor! We'll have you out

fixing fences and drinking aquavit in a month." The farmwife sat on

the couch, expressionless, bulky in a man's dogskin coat and unplumbed

layers of jackets. The flowery silk handkerchief which she had worn over

her head now hung about her seamed neck. Her white wool gloves lay in

her lap.
Kennicott drew from the injured leg the thick red "German sock," the

innumerous other socks of gray and white wool, then the spiral bandage.

The leg was of an unwholesome dead white, with the black hairs feeble

and thin and flattened, and the scar a puckered line of crimson. Surely,

Carol shuddered, this was not human flesh, the rosy shining tissue of

the amorous poets.
Kennicott examined the scar, smiled at Halvor and his wife, chanted,

"Fine, b' gosh! Couldn't be better!"


The Nelsons looked deprecating. The farmer nodded a cue to his wife and

she mourned:


"Vell, how much ve going to owe you, doctor?"
"I guess it'll be----Let's see: one drive out and two calls. I guess

it'll be about eleven dollars in all, Lena."


"I dunno ve can pay you yoost a little w'ile, doctor."
Kennicott lumbered over to her, patted her shoulder, roared, "Why, Lord

love you, sister, I won't worry if I never get it! You pay me next fall,

when you get your crop. . . . Carrie! Suppose you or Bea could shake up

a cup of coffee and some cold lamb for the Nelsons? They got a long cold

drive ahead."

III


He had been gone since morning; her eyes ached with reading; Vida

Sherwin could not come to tea. She wandered through the house, empty as

the bleary street without. The problem of "Will the doctor be home in

time for supper, or shall I sit down without him?" was important in

the household. Six was the rigid, the canonical supper-hour, but at

half-past six he had not come. Much speculation with Bea: Had the

obstetrical case taken longer than he had expected? Had he been called

somewhere else? Was the snow much heavier out in the country, so that he

should have taken a buggy, or even a cutter, instead of the car? Here in

town it had melted a lot, but still----


A honking, a shout, the motor engine raced before it was shut off.
She hurried to the window. The car was a monster at rest after furious

adventures. The headlights blazed on the clots of ice in the road so

that the tiniest lumps gave mountainous shadows, and the taillight cast

a circle of ruby on the snow behind. Kennicott was opening the door,

crying, "Here we are, old girl! Got stuck couple times, but we made it,

by golly, we made it, and here we be! Come on! Food! Eatin's!"


She rushed to him, patted his fur coat, the long hairs smooth but chilly

to her fingers. She joyously summoned Bea, "All right! He's here! We'll

sit right down!"

IV

There were, to inform the doctor's wife of his successes no clapping



audiences nor book-reviews nor honorary degrees. But there was a

letter written by a German farmer recently moved from Minnesota to

Saskatchewan:

Dear sor, as you haf bin treading mee for a fue Weaks dis Somer and

seen wat is rong wit mee so in Regarding to dat i wont to tank you. the

Doctor heir say wat shot bee rong wit mee and day give mee som Madsin

but it diten halp mee like wat you dit. Now day glaim dat i Woten Neet

aney Madsin ad all wat you tink?


Well i haven ben tacking aney ting for about one & 1/2 Mont but i dont

get better so i like to heir Wat you tink about it i feel like dis

Disconfebil feeling around the Stomac after eating and dat Pain around

Heard and down the arm and about 3 to 3 1/2 Hour after Eating i feel

weeak like and dissy and a dull Hadig. Now you gust lett mee know Wat

you tink about mee, i do Wat you say.

V

She encountered Guy Pollock at the drug store. He looked at her as



though he had a right to; he spoke softly. "I haven't see you, the last

few days."


"No. I've been out in the country with Will several times. He's so----Do

you know that people like you and me can never understand people like

him? We're a pair of hypercritical loafers, you and I, while he quietly

goes and does things."


She nodded and smiled and was very busy about purchasing boric acid. He

stared after her, and slipped away.


When she found that he was gone she was slightly disconcerted.

VI

She could--at times--agree with Kennicott that the shaving-and-corsets



familiarity of married life was not dreary vulgarity but a wholesome

frankness; that artificial reticences might merely be irritating. She

was not much disturbed when for hours he sat about the living-room in

his honest socks. But she would not listen to his theory that "all this

romance stuff is simply moonshine--elegant when you're courting, but no

use busting yourself keeping it up all your life."


She thought of surprises, games, to vary the days. She knitted an

astounding purple scarf, which she hid under his supper plate. (When

he discovered it he looked embarrassed, and gasped, "Is today an

anniversary or something? Gosh, I'd forgotten it!")


Once she filled a thermos bottle with hot coffee a corn-flakes box with

cookies just baked by Bea, and bustled to his office at three in the

afternoon. She hid her bundles in the hall and peeped in.
The office was shabby. Kennicott had inherited it from a medical

predecessor, and changed it only by adding a white enameled

operating-table, a sterilizer, a Roentgen-ray apparatus, and a small

portable typewriter. It was a suite of two rooms: a waiting-room with

straight chairs, shaky pine table, and those coverless and unknown

magazines which are found only in the offices of dentists and

doctors. The room beyond, looking on Main Street, was business-office,

consulting-room, operating-room, and, in an alcove, bacteriological

and chemical laboratory. The wooden floors of both rooms were bare; the

furniture was brown and scaly.


Waiting for the doctor were two women, as still as though they were

paralyzed, and a man in a railroad brakeman's uniform, holding his

bandaged right hand with his tanned left. They stared at Carol. She sat

modestly in a stiff chair, feeling frivolous and out of place.


Kennicott appeared at the inner door, ushering out a bleached man with

a trickle of wan beard, and consoling him, "All right, Dad. Be careful

about the sugar, and mind the diet I gave you. Gut the prescription

filled, and come in and see me next week. Say, uh, better, uh, better

not drink too much beer. All right, Dad."
His voice was artificially hearty. He looked absently at Carol. He was

a medical machine now, not a domestic machine. "What is it, Carrie?" he

droned.
"No hurry. Just wanted to say hello."
"Well----"
Self-pity because he did not divine that this was a surprise party

rendered her sad and interesting to herself, and she had the pleasure of

the martyrs in saying bravely to him, "It's nothing special. If you're

busy long I'll trot home."


While she waited she ceased to pity and began to mock herself. For the

first time she observed the waiting-room. Oh yes, the doctor's family

had to have obi panels and a wide couch and an electric percolator, but

any hole was good enough for sick tired common people who were nothing

but the one means and excuse for the doctor's existing! No. She couldn't

blame Kennicott. He was satisfied by the shabby chairs. He put up with

them as his patients did. It was her neglected province--she who had

been going about talking of rebuilding the whole town!


When the patients were gone she brought in her bundles.
"What's those?" wondered Kennicott.
"Turn your back! Look out of the window!"
He obeyed--not very much bored. When she cried "Now!" a feast of cookies

and small hard candies and hot coffee was spread on the roll-top desk in

the inner room.
His broad face lightened. "That's a new one on me! Never was more

surprised in my life! And, by golly, I believe I am hungry. Say, this is

fine."
When the first exhilaration of the surprise had declined she demanded,

"Will! I'm going to refurnish your waiting-room!"


"What's the matter with it? It's all right."
"It is not! It's hideous. We can afford to give your patients a better

place. And it would be good business." She felt tremendously politic.


"Rats! I don't worry about the business. You look here now: As I told

you----Just because I like to tuck a few dollars away, I'll be switched

if I'll stand for your thinking I'm nothing but a dollar-chasing----"
"Stop it! Quick! I'm not hurting your feelings! I'm not criticizing! I'm

the adoring least one of thy harem. I just mean----"


Two days later, with pictures, wicker chairs, a rug, she had made the

waiting-room habitable; and Kennicott admitted, "Does look a lot better.

Never thought much about it. Guess I need being bullied."
She was convinced that she was gloriously content in her career as

doctor's-wife.

VII

She tried to free herself from the speculation and disillusionment which



had been twitching at her; sought to dismiss all the opinionation of an

insurgent era. She wanted to shine upon the veal-faced bristly-bearded

Lyman Cass as much as upon Miles Bjornstam or Guy Pollock. She gave a

reception for the Thanatopsis Club. But her real acquiring of merit

was in calling upon that Mrs. Bogart whose gossipy good opinion was so

valuable to a doctor.


Though the Bogart house was next door she had entered it but three

times. Now she put on her new moleskin cap, which made her face small

and innocent, she rubbed off the traces of a lip-stick--and fled across

the alley before her admirable resolution should sneak away.


The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation to their

years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow Bogart was twenty years

old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops, and the smell of mummy-dust.

Its neatness rebuked the street. The two stones by the path were painted

yellow; the outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice

that it was not concealed at all; the last iron dog remaining in Gopher

Prairie stood among whitewashed conch-shells upon the lawn. The hallway

was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen was an exercise in mathematics,

with problems worked out in equidistant chairs.
The parlor was kept for visitors. Carol suggested, "Let's sit in the

kitchen. Please don't trouble to light the parlor stove."


"No trouble at all! My gracious, and you coming so seldom and all, and

the kitchen is a perfect sight, I try to keep it clean, but Cy will

track mud all over it, I've spoken to him about it a hundred times if

I've spoken once, no, you sit right there, dearie, and I'll make a fire,

no trouble at all, practically no trouble at all."
Mrs. Bogart groaned, rubbed her joints, and repeatedly dusted her hands

while she made the fire, and when Carol tried to help she lamented,

"Oh, it doesn't matter; guess I ain't good for much but toil and workin'

anyway; seems as though that's what a lot of folks think."


The parlor was distinguished by an expanse of rag carpet from which, as

they entered, Mrs. Bogart hastily picked one sad dead fly. In the center

of the carpet was a rug depicting a red Newfoundland dog, reclining in a

green and yellow daisy field and labeled "Our Friend." The parlor organ,

tall and thin, was adorned with a mirror partly circular, partly square,

and partly diamond-shaped, and with brackets holding a pot of geraniums,

a mouth-organ, and a copy of "The Oldtime Hymnal." On the center

table was a Sears-Roebuck mail-order catalogue, a silver frame with

photographs of the Baptist Church and of an elderly clergyman, and

an aluminum tray containing a rattlesnake's rattle and a broken

spectacle-lens.
Mrs. Bogart spoke of the eloquence of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel,

the coldness of cold days, the price of poplar wood, Dave Dyer's new

hair-cut, and Cy Bogart's essential piety. "As I said to his Sunday

School teacher, Cy may be a little wild, but that's because he's got so

much better brains than a lot of these boys, and this farmer that claims

he caught Cy stealing 'beggies, is a liar, and I ought to have the law

on him."
Mrs. Bogart went thoroughly into the rumor that the girl waiter at

Billy's Lunch was not all she might be--or, rather, was quite all she

might be.
"My lands, what can you expect when everybody knows what her mother was?

And if these traveling salesmen would let her alone she would be all

right, though I certainly don't believe she ought to be allowed to think

she can pull the wool over our eyes. The sooner she's sent to the

school for incorrigible girls down at Sauk Centre, the better for all

and----Won't you just have a cup of coffee, Carol dearie, I'm sure you

won't mind old Aunty Bogart calling you by your first name when you

think how long I've known Will, and I was such a friend of his dear

lovely mother when she lived here and--was that fur cap expensive?

But----Don't you think it's awful, the way folks talk in this town?"


Mrs. Bogart hitched her chair nearer. Her large face, with its

disturbing collection of moles and lone black hairs, wrinkled

cunningly. She showed her decayed teeth in a reproving smile, and in the

confidential voice of one who scents stale bedroom scandal she breathed:


"I just don't see how folks can talk and act like they do. You don't

know the things that go on under cover. This town--why it's only the

religious training I've given Cy that's kept him so innocent of--things.

Just the other day----I never pay no attention to stories, but I heard

it mighty good and straight that Harry Haydock is carrying on with a

girl that clerks in a store down in Minneapolis, and poor Juanita

not knowing anything about it--though maybe it's the judgment of

God, because before she married Harry she acted up with more than one

boy----Well, I don't like to say it, and maybe I ain't up-to-date, like

Cy says, but I always believed a lady shouldn't even give names to all

sorts of dreadful things, but just the same I know there was at least

one case where Juanita and a boy--well, they were just dreadful.

And--and----Then there's that Ole Jenson the grocer, that thinks he's so

plaguey smart, and I know he made up to a farmer's wife and----And this

awful man Bjornstam that does chores, and Nat Hicks and----"
There was, it seemed, no person in town who was not living a life of

shame except Mrs. Bogart, and naturally she resented it.


She knew. She had always happened to be there. Once, she whispered, she

was going by when an indiscreet window-shade had been left up a couple

of inches. Once she had noticed a man and woman holding hands, and right

at a Methodist sociable!


"Another thing----Heaven knows I never want to start trouble, but I

can't help what I see from my back steps, and I notice your hired girl

Bea carrying on with the grocery boys and all----"
"Mrs. Bogart! I'd trust Bea as I would myself!"
"Oh, dearie, you don't understand me! I'm sure she's a good girl. I mean

she's green, and I hope that none of these horrid young men that there

are around town will get her into trouble! It's their parents' fault,

letting them run wild and hear evil things. If I had my way there

wouldn't be none of them, not boys nor girls neither, allowed to know

anything about--about things till they was married. It's terrible the

bald way that some folks talk. It just shows and gives away what awful

thoughts they got inside them, and there's nothing can cure them except

coming right to God and kneeling down like I do at prayer-meeting every

Wednesday evening, and saying, 'O God, I would be a miserable sinner

except for thy grace.'
"I'd make every last one of these brats go to Sunday School and learn

to think about nice things 'stead of about cigarettes and goings-on--and

these dances they have at the lodges are the worst thing that ever

happened to this town, lot of young men squeezing girls and finding

out----Oh, it's dreadful. I've told the mayor he ought to put a stop

to them and----There was one boy in this town, I don't want to be

suspicious or uncharitable but----"
It was half an hour before Carol escaped.
She stopped on her own porch and thought viciously:
"If that woman is on the side of the angels, then I have no choice; I

must be on the side of the devil. But--isn't she like me? She too wants

to 'reform the town'! She too criticizes everybody! She too thinks the

men are vulgar and limited! AM I LIKE HER? This is ghastly!"


That evening she did not merely consent to play cribbage with Kennicott;

she urged him to play; and she worked up a hectic interest in land-deals

and Sam Clark.

VIII


In courtship days Kennicott had shown her a photograph of Nels

Erdstrom's baby and log cabin, but she had never seen the Erdstroms.

They had become merely "patients of the doctor." Kennicott telephoned

her on a mid-December afternoon, "Want to throw your coat on and drive

out to Erdstrom's with me? Fairly warm. Nels got the jaundice."
"Oh yes!" She hastened to put on woolen stockings, high boots, sweater,

muffler, cap, mittens.


The snow was too thick and the ruts frozen too hard for the motor. They

drove out in a clumsy high carriage. Tucked over them was a blue woolen

cover, prickly to her wrists, and outside of it a buffalo robe, humble

and moth-eaten now, used ever since the bison herds had streaked the

prairie a few miles to the west.
The scattered houses between which they passed in town were small and

desolate in contrast to the expanse of huge snowy yards and wide

street. They crossed the railroad tracks, and instantly were in the farm

country. The big piebald horses snorted clouds of steam, and started to

trot. The carriage squeaked in rhythm. Kennicott drove with clucks of

"There boy, take it easy!" He was thinking. He paid no attention to

Carol. Yet it was he who commented, "Pretty nice, over there," as they

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