The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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approached an oak-grove where shifty winter sunlight quivered in the

hollow between two snow-drifts.
They drove from the natural prairie to a cleared district which twenty

years ago had been forest. The country seemed to stretch unchanging to

the North Pole: low hill, brush-scraggly bottom, reedy creek, muskrat

mound, fields with frozen brown clods thrust up through the snow.


Her ears and nose were pinched; her breath frosted her collar; her

fingers ached.


"Getting colder," she said.
"Yup."
That was all their conversation for three miles. Yet she was happy.
They reached Nels Erdstrom's at four, and with a throb she recognized

the courageous venture which had lured her to Gopher Prairie: the

cleared fields, furrows among stumps, a log cabin chinked with mud and

roofed with dry hay. But Nels had prospered. He used the log cabin as a

barn; and a new house reared up, a proud, unwise, Gopher Prairie

house, the more naked and ungraceful in its glossy white paint and pink

trimmings. Every tree had been cut down. The house was so unsheltered,

so battered by the wind, so bleakly thrust out into the harsh clearing,

that Carol shivered. But they were welcomed warmly enough in the

kitchen, with its crisp new plaster, its black and nickel range, its

cream separator in a corner.
Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there was a

phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the prairie farmer's

proofs of social progress, but she dropped down by the kitchen stove and

insisted, "Please don't mind me." When Mrs. Erdstrom had followed the

doctor out of the room Carol glanced in a friendly way at the grained

pine cupboard, the framed Lutheran Konfirmations Attest, the traces

of fried eggs and sausages on the dining table against the wall, and a

jewel among calendars, presenting not only a lithographic young woman

with cherry lips, and a Swedish advertisement of Axel Egge's grocery,

but also a thermometer and a match-holder.


She saw that a boy of four or five was staring at her from the hall,

a boy in gingham shirt and faded corduroy trousers, but large-eyed,

firm-mouthed, wide-browed. He vanished, then peeped in again, biting his

knuckles, turning his shoulder toward her in shyness.


Didn't she remember--what was it?--Kennicott sitting beside her at Fort

Snelling, urging, "See how scared that baby is. Needs some woman like

you."
Magic had fluttered about her then--magic of sunset and cool air and the

curiosity of lovers. She held out her hands as much to that sanctity as

to the boy.
He edged into the room, doubtfully sucking his thumb.
"Hello," she said. "What's your name?"
"Hee, hee, hee!"
"You're quite right. I agree with you. Silly people like me always ask

children their names."


"Hee, hee, hee!"
"Come here and I'll tell you the story of--well, I don't know what it

will be about, but it will have a slim heroine and a Prince Charming."


He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling ceased. She was

winning him. Then the telephone bell--two long rings, one short.


Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the transmitter,

"Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom's place! Heh? Oh, you vant de doctor?"


Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:
"Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you want? Which

Morgenroth's? Adolph's? All right. Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave,

get Gus to harness up and take my surgical kit down there--and have him

take some chloroform. I'll go straight down from here. May not get

home tonight. You can get me at Adolph's. Huh? No, Carrie can give the

anesthetic, I guess. G'-by. Huh? No; tell me about that tomorrow--too

damn many people always listening in on this farmers' line."
He turned to Carol. "Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles southwest of

town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed and a post caved in on

him--smashed him up pretty bad--may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says.

Afraid we'll have to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear

down there with me----"
"Please do. Don't mind me a bit."
"Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my driver do it."
"If you'll tell me how."
"All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these goats that

are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope they heard me! Well. . . .

Now, Bessie, don't you worry about Nels. He's getting along all right.

Tomorrow you or one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription

filled at Dyer's. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good-by.

Hel-lo! Here's the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it ain't possible

this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why, say, he's a great big

strapping Svenska now--going to be bigger 'n his daddy!"


Kennicott's bluffness made the child squirm with a delight which Carol

could not evoke. It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out

to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better,

nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies.


The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak

twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon

changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The

purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world

destroyed, they swayed on--toward nothing.
It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and she was asleep when

they arrived.


Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph, but a low

whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage. Adolph Morgenroth was

lying on a couch in the rarely used dining-room. His heavy work-scarred

wife was shaking her hands in anxiety.


Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent and startling.

But he was casual. He greeted the man, "Well, well, Adolph, have to fix

you up, eh?" Quietly, to the wife, "Hat die drug store my schwartze bag

hier geschickt? So--schon. Wie viel Uhr ist 's? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns

ein wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left--giebt 's

noch Bier?"


He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves rolled up, he

was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the sink, using the bar of

yellow kitchen soap.
Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while she labored over

the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef and cabbage, set on the

kitchen table. The man in there was groaning. In her one glance she

had seen that his blue flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown

neck, the hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray

hairs. He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the sheet

was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.
But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she followed him.

With surprising delicacy in his large fingers he unwrapped the towels

and revealed an arm which, below the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw

flesh. The man bellowed. The room grew thick about her; she was very

seasick; she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea

she heard Kennicott grumbling, "Afraid it will have to come off, Adolph.

What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade? We'll fix it right up. Carrie!

CAROL!"
She couldn't--she couldn't get up. Then she was up, her knees like

water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a second, her eyes filmed,

her ears full of roaring. She couldn't reach the dining-room. She was

going to faint. Then she was in the dining-room, leaning against the

wall, trying to smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides,

while Kennicott mumbled, "Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me carry him

in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove those two tables

together, and put a blanket on them and a clean sheet."
It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them, to be exact in

placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was able to look calmly in at

her husband and the farmwife while they undressed the wailing man, got

him into a clean nightgown, and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay

out his instruments. She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet

with no worry about it, her husband--HER HUSBAND--was going to perform

a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which one read in

stories about famous surgeons.


She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The man was in such a

funk that he would not use his legs. He was heavy, and smelled of sweat

and the stable. But she put her arm about his waist, her sleek head by

his chest; she tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of

Kennicott's cheerful noises.
When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric steel and

cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, "Now you sit here at his

head and keep the ether dripping--about this fast, see? I'll watch

his breathing. Look who's here! Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn't got a

better one! Class, eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won't

hurt you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won't hurt a bit.

Schweig' mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So! So! Bald geht's

besser!"
As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the rhythm that

Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband with the abandon of

hero-worship.


He shook his head. "Bad light--bad light. Here, Mrs. Morgenroth, you

stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier, und dieses--dieses lamp

halten--so!"
By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The room was still.

Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the seeping blood, the

crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The ether fumes were sweet, choking.

Her head seemed to be floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.


It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on the living

bone that broke her, and she knew that she had been fighting off nausea,

that she was beaten. She was lost in dizziness. She heard Kennicott's

voice--
"Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay under now."


She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting circles;

she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her chest, her head

clearing. As she returned she caught the scene as a whole: the cavernous

kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden patch by the wall, hams dangling from a

beam, bats of light at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated

by a small glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott

bending over a body which was humped under a sheet--the surgeon, his

bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale-yellow rubber gloves,

loosening the tourniquet, his face without emotion save when he threw

up his head and clucked at the farmwife, "Hold that light steady just a

second more--noch blos esn wenig."
"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and

birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental

lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the

culture!" she worshiped as she returned to her place.


After a time he snapped, "That's enough. Don't give him any more ether."

He was concentrated on tying an artery. His gruffness seemed heroic to

her.
As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, "Oh, you ARE wonderful!"
He was surprised. "Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had been like last

week----Get me some more water. Now last week I had a case with an ooze

in the peritoneal cavity, and by golly if it wasn't a stomach ulcer that

I hadn't suspected and----There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let's turn

in here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm coming."

IX

They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them; in the



morning they broke ice in the pitcher--the vast flowered and gilt

pitcher.
Kennicott's storm had not come. When they set out it was hazy and

growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud

in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual

haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of

old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity.

Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were

agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark

had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were

of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of

slate-edged blackness dominated the sky.
"Guess we're about in for a blizzard," speculated Kennicott "We can make

Ben McGonegal's, anyway."


"Blizzard? Really? Why----But still we used to think they were fun when

I was a girl. Daddy had to stay home from court, and we'd stand at the

window and watch the snow."
"Not much fun on the prairie. Get lost. Freeze to death. Take no

chances." He chirruped at the horses. They were flying now, the carriage

rocking on the hard ruts.
The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes. The horses

and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her face was wet; the

thin butt of the whip held a white ridge. The air became colder. The

snowflakes were harder; they shot in level lines, clawing at her face.


She could not see a hundred feet ahead.
Kennicott was stern. He bent forward, the reins firm in his coonskin

gauntlets. She was certain that he would get through. He always got

through things.
Save for his presence, the world and all normal living disappeared. They

were lost in the boiling snow. He leaned close to bawl, "Letting the

horses have their heads. They'll get us home."
With a terrifying bump they were off the road, slanting with two wheels

in the ditch, but instantly they were jerked back as the horses fled

on. She gasped. She tried to, and did not, feel brave as she pulled the

woolen robe up about her chin.


They were passing something like a dark wall on the right. "I know that

barn!" he yelped. He pulled at the reins. Peeping from the covers she

saw his teeth pinch his lower lip, saw him scowl as he slackened and

sawed and jerked sharply again at the racing horses.


They stopped.
"Farmhouse there. Put robe around you and come on," he cried.
It was like diving into icy water to climb out of the carriage, but

on the ground she smiled at him, her face little and childish and pink

above the buffalo robe over her shoulders. In a swirl of flakes which

scratched at their eyes like a maniac darkness, he unbuckled the

harness. He turned and plodded back, a ponderous furry figure, holding

the horses' bridles, Carol's hand dragging at his sleeve.


They came to the cloudy bulk of a barn whose outer wall was directly

upon the road. Feeling along it, he found a gate, led them into a yard,

into the barn. The interior was warm. It stunned them with its languid

quiet.
He carefully drove the horses into stalls.


Her toes were coals of pain. "Let's run for the house," she said.
"Can't. Not yet. Might never find it. Might get lost ten feet away from

it. Sit over in this stall, near the horses. We'll rush for the house

when the blizzard lifts."
"I'm so stiff! I can't walk!"
He carried her into the stall, stripped off her overshoes and boots,

stopping to blow on his purple fingers as he fumbled at her laces.

He rubbed her feet, and covered her with the buffalo robe and

horse-blankets from the pile on the feed-box. She was drowsy, hemmed in

by the storm. She sighed:
"You're so strong and yet so skilful and not afraid of blood or storm

or----"
"Used to it. Only thing that's bothered me was the chance the ether

fumes might explode, last night."
"I don't understand."
"Why, Dave, the darn fool, sent me ether, instead of chloroform like I

told him, and you know ether fumes are mighty inflammable, especially

with that lamp right by the table. But I had to operate, of

course--wound chuck-full of barnyard filth that way."


"You knew all the time that----Both you and I might have been blown up?

You knew it while you were operating?"


"Sure. Didn't you? Why, what's the matter?"

CHAPTER XVI


KENNICOTT was heavily pleased by her Christmas presents, and he gave her

a diamond bar-pin. But she could not persuade herself that he was much

interested in the rites of the morning, in the tree she had decorated,

the three stockings she had hung, the ribbons and gilt seals and hidden

messages. He said only:
"Nice way to fix things, all right. What do you say we go down to Jack

Elder's and have a game of five hundred this afternoon?"


She remembered her father's Christmas fantasies: the sacred old rag

doll at the top of the tree, the score of cheap presents, the punch and

carols, the roast chestnuts by the fire, and the gravity with which the

judge opened the children's scrawly notes and took cognizance of demands

for sled-rides, for opinions upon the existence of Santa Claus. She

remembered him reading out a long indictment of himself for being a

sentimentalist, against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota.

She remembered his thin legs twinkling before their sled----


She muttered unsteadily, "Must run up and put on my shoes--slippers so

cold." In the not very romantic solitude of the locked bathroom she sat

on the slippery edge of the tub and wept.

II

Kennicott had five hobbies: medicine, land-investment, Carol, motoring,



and hunting. It is not certain in what order he preferred them. Solid

though his enthusiasms were in the matter of medicine--his admiration

of this city surgeon, his condemnation of that for tricky ways of

persuading country practitioners to bring in surgical patients,

his indignation about fee-splitting, his pride in a new X-ray

apparatus--none of these beatified him as did motoring.


He nursed his two-year-old Buick even in winter, when it was stored in

the stable-garage behind the house. He filled the grease-cups, varnished

a fender, removed from beneath the back seat the debris of gloves,

copper washers, crumpled maps, dust, and greasy rags. Winter noons he

wandered out and stared owlishly at the car. He became excited over a

fabulous "trip we might take next summer." He galloped to the station,

brought home railway maps, and traced motor-routes from Gopher Prairie

to Winnipeg or Des Moines or Grand Marais, thinking aloud and expecting

her to be effusive about such academic questions as "Now I wonder if we

could stop at Baraboo and break the jump from La Crosse to Chicago?"


To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high-church cult,

with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings possessing the

sanctity of altar-vessels. His liturgy was composed of intoned and

metrical road-comments: "They say there's a pretty good hike from Duluth

to International Falls."
Hunting was equally a devotion, full of metaphysical concepts veiled

from Carol. All winter he read sporting-catalogues, and thought about

remarkable past shots: "'Member that time when I got two ducks on a

long chance, just at sunset?" At least once a month he drew his favorite

repeating shotgun, his "pump gun," from its wrapper of greased canton

flannel; he oiled the trigger, and spent silent ecstatic moments aiming

at the ceiling. Sunday mornings Carol heard him trudging up to the

attic and there, an hour later, she found him turning over boots, wooden

duck-decoys, lunch-boxes, or reflectively squinting at old shells,

rubbing their brass caps with his sleeve and shaking his head as he

thought about their uselessness.
He kept the loading-tools he had used as a boy: a capper for shot-gun

shells, a mold for lead bullets. When once, in a housewifely frenzy for

getting rid of things, she raged, "Why don't you give these away?" he

solemnly defended them, "Well, you can't tell; they might come in handy

some day."
She flushed. She wondered if he was thinking of the child they would

have when, as he put it, they were "sure they could afford one."


Mysteriously aching, nebulously sad, she slipped away, half-convinced

but only half-convinced that it was horrible and unnatural, this

postponement of release of mother-affection, this sacrifice to her

opinionation and to his cautious desire for prosperity.


"But it would be worse if he were like Sam Clark--insisted on having

children," she considered; then, "If Will were the Prince, wouldn't I

DEMAND his child?"
Kennicott's land-deals were both financial advancement and favorite

game. Driving through the country, he noticed which farms had good

crops; he heard the news about the restless farmer who was "thinking

about selling out here and pulling his freight for Alberta." He asked

the veterinarian about the value of different breeds of stock; he

inquired of Lyman Cass whether or not Einar Gyseldson really had had a

yield of forty bushels of wheat to the acre. He was always consulting

Julius Flickerbaugh, who handled more real estate than law, and more law

than justice. He studied township maps, and read notices of auctions.
Thus he was able to buy a quarter-section of land for one hundred and

fifty dollars an acre, and to sell it in a year or two, after installing

a cement floor in the barn and running water in the house, for one

hundred and eighty or even two hundred.


He spoke of these details to Sam Clark . . . rather often.
In all his games, cars and guns and land, he expected Carol to take an

interest. But he did not give her the facts which might have created

interest. He talked only of the obvious and tedious aspects; never of

his aspirations in finance, nor of the mechanical principles of motors.


This month of romance she was eager to understand his hobbies. She

shivered in the garage while he spent half an hour in deciding whether

to put alcohol or patent non-freezing liquid into the radiator, or to

drain out the water entirely. "Or no, then I wouldn't want to take

her out if it turned warm--still, of course, I could fill the

radiator again--wouldn't take so awful long--just take a few pails

of water--still, if it turned cold on me again before I drained

it----Course there's some people that put in kerosene, but they say it

rots the hose-connections and----Where did I put that lug-wrench?"
It was at this point that she gave up being a motorist and retired to

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