The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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remembered her desire to recreate villages. She decided that she would

give up library work and, by a miracle whose nature was not very clearly

revealed to her, turn a prairie town into Georgian houses and Japanese

bungalows.
The next day in library class she had to read a theme on the use of the

Cumulative Index, and she was taken so seriously in the discussion that

she put off her career of town-planning--and in the autumn she was in

the public library of St. Paul.


VII


Carol was not unhappy and she was not exhilarated, in the St. Paul

Library. She slowly confessed that she was not visibly affecting lives.

She did, at first, put into her contact with the patrons a willingness

which should have moved worlds. But so few of these stolid worlds wanted

to be moved. When she was in charge of the magazine room the readers did

not ask for suggestions about elevated essays. They grunted, "Wanta find

the Leather Goods Gazette for last February." When she was giving

out books the principal query was, "Can you tell me of a good, light,

exciting love story to read? My husband's going away for a week."
She was fond of the other librarians; proud of their aspirations. And by

the chance of propinquity she read scores of books unnatural to her gay

white littleness: volumes of anthropology with ditches of foot-notes

filled with heaps of small dusty type, Parisian imagistes, Hindu recipes

for curry, voyages to the Solomon Isles, theosophy with modern American

improvements, treatises upon success in the real-estate business. She

took walks, and was sensible about shoes and diet. And never did she

feel that she was living.


She went to dances and suppers at the houses of college acquaintances.

Sometimes she one-stepped demurely; sometimes, in dread of life's

slipping past, she turned into a bacchanal, her tender eyes excited, her

throat tense, as she slid down the room.


During her three years of library work several men showed diligent

interest in her--the treasurer of a fur-manufacturing firm, a teacher, a

newspaper reporter, and a petty railroad official. None of them made her

more than pause in thought. For months no male emerged from the mass.

Then, at the Marburys', she met Dr. Will Kennicott.

CHAPTER II


IT was a frail and blue and lonely Carol who trotted to the flat of the

Johnson Marburys for Sunday evening supper. Mrs. Marbury was a neighbor

and friend of Carol's sister; Mr. Marbury a traveling representative of

an insurance company. They made a specialty of sandwich-salad-coffee

lap suppers, and they regarded Carol as their literary and artistic

representative. She was the one who could be depended upon to appreciate

the Caruso phonograph record, and the Chinese lantern which Mr. Marbury

had brought back as his present from San Francisco. Carol found the

Marburys admiring and therefore admirable.
This September Sunday evening she wore a net frock with a pale pink

lining. A nap had soothed away the faint lines of tiredness beside her

eyes. She was young, naive, stimulated by the coolness. She flung

her coat at the chair in the hall of the flat, and exploded into

the green-plush living-room. The familiar group were trying to be

conversational. She saw Mr. Marbury, a woman teacher of gymnastics in

a high school, a chief clerk from the Great Northern Railway offices,

a young lawyer. But there was also a stranger, a thick tall man of

thirty-six or -seven, with stolid brown hair, lips used to giving

orders, eyes which followed everything good-naturedly, and clothes which

you could never quite remember.
Mr. Marbury boomed, "Carol, come over here and meet Doc Kennicott--Dr.

Will Kennicott of Gopher Prairie. He does all our insurance-examining up

in that neck of the woods, and they do say he's some doctor!"
As she edged toward the stranger and murmured nothing in particular,

Carol remembered that Gopher Prairie was a Minnesota wheat-prairie town

of something over three thousand people.
"Pleased to meet you," stated Dr. Kennicott. His hand was strong; the

palm soft, but the back weathered, showing golden hairs against firm red

skin.
He looked at her as though she was an agreeable discovery. She tugged

her hand free and fluttered, "I must go out to the kitchen and help Mrs.

Marbury." She did not speak to him again till, after she had heated

the rolls and passed the paper napkins, Mr. Marbury captured her with

a loud, "Oh, quit fussing now. Come over here and sit down and tell

us how's tricks." He herded her to a sofa with Dr. Kennicott, who was

rather vague about the eyes, rather drooping of bulky shoulder, as

though he was wondering what he was expected to do next. As their host

left them, Kennicott awoke:
"Marbury tells me you're a high mogul in the public library. I was

surprised. Didn't hardly think you were old enough. I thought you were a

girl, still in college maybe."
"Oh, I'm dreadfully old. I expect to take to a lip-stick, and to find a

gray hair any morning now."


"Huh! You must be frightfully old--prob'ly too old to be my

granddaughter, I guess!"


Thus in the Vale of Arcady nymph and satyr beguiled the hours; precisely

thus, and not in honeyed pentameters, discoursed Elaine and the worn Sir

Launcelot in the pleached alley.
"How do you like your work?" asked the doctor.
"It's pleasant, but sometimes I feel shut off from things--the steel

stacks, and the everlasting cards smeared all over with red rubber

stamps."
"Don't you get sick of the city?"
"St. Paul? Why, don't you like it? I don't know of any lovelier view

than when you stand on Summit Avenue and look across Lower Town to the

Mississippi cliffs and the upland farms beyond."
"I know but----Of course I've spent nine years around the Twin

Cities--took my B.A. and M.D. over at the U., and had my internship in a

hospital in Minneapolis, but still, oh well, you don't get to know folks

here, way you do up home. I feel I've got something to say about running

Gopher Prairie, but you take it in a big city of two-three hundred

thousand, and I'm just one flea on the dog's back. And then I like

country driving, and the hunting in the fall. Do you know Gopher Prairie

at all?"
"No, but I hear it's a very nice town."


"Nice? Say honestly----Of course I may be prejudiced, but I've seen an

awful lot of towns--one time I went to Atlantic City for the American

Medical Association meeting, and I spent practically a week in New York!

But I never saw a town that had such up-and-coming people as Gopher

Prairie. Bresnahan--you know--the famous auto manufacturer--he comes

from Gopher Prairie. Born and brought up there! And it's a darn pretty

town. Lots of fine maples and box-elders, and there's two of the

dandiest lakes you ever saw, right near town! And we've got seven miles

of cement walks already, and building more every day! Course a lot of

these towns still put up with plank walks, but not for us, you bet!"


"Really?"
(Why was she thinking of Stewart Snyder?)
"Gopher Prairie is going to have a great future. Some of the best dairy

and wheat land in the state right near there--some of it selling right

now at one-fifty an acre, and I bet it will go up to two and a quarter

in ten years!"


"Is----Do you like your profession?"
"Nothing like it. Keeps you out, and yet you have a chance to loaf in

the office for a change."


"I don't mean that way. I mean--it's such an opportunity for sympathy."
Dr. Kennicott launched into a heavy, "Oh, these Dutch farmers don't want

sympathy. All they need is a bath and a good dose of salts."


Carol must have flinched, for instantly he was urging, "What I mean

is--I don't want you to think I'm one of these old salts-and-quinine

peddlers, but I mean: so many of my patients are husky farmers that I

suppose I get kind of case-hardened."


"It seems to me that a doctor could transform a whole community, if he

wanted to--if he saw it. He's usually the only man in the neighborhood

who has any scientific training, isn't he?"
"Yes, that's so, but I guess most of us get rusty. We land in a rut of

obstetrics and typhoid and busted legs. What we need is women like you

to jump on us. It'd be you that would transform the town."
"No, I couldn't. Too flighty. I did used to think about doing just that,

curiously enough, but I seem to have drifted away from the idea. Oh, I'm

a fine one to be lecturing you!"
"No! You're just the one. You have ideas without having lost feminine

charm. Say! Don't you think there's a lot of these women that go out for

all these movements and so on that sacrifice----"
After his remarks upon suffrage he abruptly questioned her about

herself. His kindliness and the firmness of his personality enveloped

her and she accepted him as one who had a right to know what she

thought and wore and ate and read. He was positive. He had grown from a

sketched-in stranger to a friend, whose gossip was important news. She

noticed the healthy solidity of his chest. His nose, which had seemed

irregular and large, was suddenly virile.
She was jarred out of this serious sweetness when Marbury bounced over

to them and with horrible publicity yammered, "Say, what do you two

think you're doing? Telling fortunes or making love? Let me warn you

that the doc is a frisky bacheldore, Carol. Come on now, folks, shake a

leg. Let's have some stunts or a dance or something."
She did not have another word with Dr. Kennicott until their parting:
"Been a great pleasure to meet you, Miss Milford. May I see you some

time when I come down again? I'm here quite often--taking patients to

hospitals for majors, and so on."
"Why----"
"What's your address?"
"You can ask Mr. Marbury next time you come down--if you really want to

know!"
"Want to know? Say, you wait!"


II

Of the love-making of Carol and Will Kennicott there is nothing to be



told which may not be heard on every summer evening, on every shadowy

block.
They were biology and mystery; their speech was slang phrases and flares

of poetry; their silences were contentment, or shaky crises when his arm

took her shoulder. All the beauty of youth, first discovered when it

is passing--and all the commonplaceness of a well-to-do unmarried man

encountering a pretty girl at the time when she is slightly weary of her

employment and sees no glory ahead nor any man she is glad to serve.
They liked each other honestly--they were both honest. She was

disappointed by his devotion to making money, but she was sure that

he did not lie to patients, and that he did keep up with the medical

magazines. What aroused her to something more than liking was his

boyishness when they went tramping.
They walked from St. Paul down the river to Mendota, Kennicott more

elastic-seeming in a cap and a soft crepe shirt, Carol youthful in a

tam-o'-shanter of mole velvet, a blue serge suit with an absurdly and

agreeably broad turn-down linen collar, and frivolous ankles above

athletic shoes. The High Bridge crosses the Mississippi, mounting from

low banks to a palisade of cliffs. Far down beneath it on the St. Paul

side, upon mud flats, is a wild settlement of chicken-infested gardens

and shanties patched together from discarded sign-boards, sheets of

corrugated iron, and planks fished out of the river. Carol leaned

over the rail of the bridge to look down at this Yang-tse village;

in delicious imaginary fear she shrieked that she was dizzy with the

height; and it was an extremely human satisfaction to have a strong male

snatch her back to safety, instead of having a logical woman teacher or

librarian sniff, "Well, if you're scared, why don't you get away from

the rail, then?"
From the cliffs across the river Carol and Kennicott looked back at St.

Paul on its hills; an imperial sweep from the dome of the cathedral to

the dome of the state capitol.
The river road led past rocky field slopes, deep glens, woods flamboyant

now with September, to Mendota, white walls and a spire among trees

beneath a hill, old-world in its placid ease. And for this fresh land,

the place is ancient. Here is the bold stone house which General Sibley,

the king of fur-traders, built in 1835, with plaster of river mud, and

ropes of twisted grass for laths. It has an air of centuries. In its

solid rooms Carol and Kennicott found prints from other days which the

house had seen--tail-coats of robin's-egg blue, clumsy Red River carts

laden with luxurious furs, whiskered Union soldiers in slant forage caps

and rattling sabers.


It suggested to them a common American past, and it was memorable

because they had discovered it together. They talked more trustingly,

more personally, as they trudged on. They crossed the Minnesota River in

a rowboat ferry. They climbed the hill to the round stone tower of Fort

Snelling. They saw the junction of the Mississippi and the Minnesota,

and recalled the men who had come here eighty years ago--Maine

lumbermen, York traders, soldiers from the Maryland hills.
"It's a good country, and I'm proud of it. Let's make it all that those

old boys dreamed about," the unsentimental Kennicott was moved to vow.


"Let's!"
"Come on. Come to Gopher Prairie. Show us. Make the town--well--make

it artistic. It's mighty pretty, but I'll admit we aren't any too darn

artistic. Probably the lumber-yard isn't as scrumptious as all these

Greek temples. But go to it! Make us change!"


"I would like to. Some day!"
"Now! You'd love Gopher Prairie. We've been doing a lot with lawns

and gardening the past few years, and it's so homey--the big trees

and----And the best people on earth. And keen. I bet Luke Dawson----"
Carol but half listened to the names. She could not fancy their ever

becoming important to her.


"I bet Luke Dawson has got more money than most of the swells on Summit

Avenue; and Miss Sherwin in the high school is a regular wonder--reads

Latin like I do English; and Sam Clark, the hardware man, he's a

corker--not a better man in the state to go hunting with; and if

you want culture, besides Vida Sherwin there's Reverend Warren, the

Congregational preacher, and Professor Mott, the superintendent of

schools, and Guy Pollock, the lawyer--they say he writes regular poetry

and--and Raymie Wutherspoon, he's not such an awful boob when you get to

KNOW him, and he sings swell. And----And there's plenty of others. Lym

Cass. Only of course none of them have your finesse, you might call it.

But they don't make 'em any more appreciative and so on. Come on! We're

ready for you to boss us!"


They sat on the bank below the parapet of the old fort, hidden from

observation. He circled her shoulder with his arm. Relaxed after the

walk, a chill nipping her throat, conscious of his warmth and power, she

leaned gratefully against him.


"You know I'm in love with you, Carol!"
She did not answer, but she touched the back of his hand with an

exploring finger.


"You say I'm so darn materialistic. How can I help it, unless I have you

to stir me up?"


She did not answer. She could not think.
"You say a doctor could cure a town the way he does a person. Well, you

cure the town of whatever ails it, if anything does, and I'll be your

surgical kit."
She did not follow his words, only the burring resoluteness of them.
She was shocked, thrilled, as he kissed her cheek and cried, "There's

no use saying things and saying things and saying things. Don't my arms

talk to you--now?"
"Oh, please, please!" She wondered if she ought to be angry, but it was

a drifting thought, and she discovered that she was crying.


Then they were sitting six inches apart, pretending that they had never

been nearer, while she tried to be impersonal:


"I would like to--would like to see Gopher Prairie."
"Trust me! Here she is! Brought some snapshots down to show you."
Her cheek near his sleeve, she studied a dozen village pictures. They

were streaky; she saw only trees, shrubbery, a porch indistinct in leafy

shadows. But she exclaimed over the lakes: dark water reflecting wooded

bluffs, a flight of ducks, a fisherman in shirt sleeves and a wide straw

hat, holding up a string of croppies. One winter picture of the edge of

Plover Lake had the air of an etching: lustrous slide of ice, snow in

the crevices of a boggy bank, the mound of a muskrat house, reeds in

thin black lines, arches of frosty grasses. It was an impression of cool

clear vigor.
"How'd it be to skate there for a couple of hours, or go zinging along

on a fast ice-boat, and skip back home for coffee and some hot wienies?"

he demanded.
"It might be--fun."
"But here's the picture. Here's where you come in."
A photograph of a forest clearing: pathetic new furrows straggling among

stumps, a clumsy log cabin chinked with mud and roofed with hay.

In front of it a sagging woman with tight-drawn hair, and a baby

bedraggled, smeary, glorious-eyed.


"Those are the kind of folks I practise among, good share of the time.

Nels Erdstrom, fine clean young Svenska. He'll have a corking farm in

ten years, but now----I operated his wife on a kitchen table, with my

driver giving the anesthetic. Look at that scared baby! Needs some woman

with hands like yours. Waiting for you! Just look at that baby's eyes,

look how he's begging----"


"Don't! They hurt me. Oh, it would be sweet to help him--so sweet."
As his arms moved toward her she answered all her doubts with "Sweet, so

sweet."

CHAPTER III
UNDER the rolling clouds of the prairie a moving mass of steel. An

irritable clank and rattle beneath a prolonged roar. The sharp scent of

oranges cutting the soggy smell of unbathed people and ancient baggage.
Towns as planless as a scattering of pasteboard boxes on an attic floor.

The stretch of faded gold stubble broken only by clumps of willows

encircling white houses and red barns.
No. 7, the way train, grumbling through Minnesota, imperceptibly

climbing the giant tableland that slopes in a thousand-mile rise from

hot Mississippi bottoms to the Rockies.
It is September, hot, very dusty.
There is no smug Pullman attached to the train, and the day coaches of

the East are replaced by free chair cars, with each seat cut into two

adjustable plush chairs, the head-rests covered with doubtful linen

towels. Halfway down the car is a semi-partition of carved oak columns,

but the aisle is of bare, splintery, grease-blackened wood. There is no

porter, no pillows, no provision for beds, but all today and all tonight

they will ride in this long steel box-farmers with perpetually tired

wives and children who seem all to be of the same age; workmen going to

new jobs; traveling salesmen with derbies and freshly shined shoes.
They are parched and cramped, the lines of their hands filled with

grime; they go to sleep curled in distorted attitudes, heads against the

window-panes or propped on rolled coats on seat-arms, and legs thrust

into the aisle. They do not read; apparently they do not think. They

wait. An early-wrinkled, young-old mother, moving as though her joints

were dry, opens a suit-case in which are seen creased blouses, a pair

of slippers worn through at the toes, a bottle of patent medicine, a tin

cup, a paper-covered book about dreams which the news-butcher has coaxed

her into buying. She brings out a graham cracker which she feeds to a

baby lying flat on a seat and wailing hopelessly. Most of the crumbs

drop on the red plush of the seat, and the woman sighs and tries to

brush them away, but they leap up impishly and fall back on the plush.


A soiled man and woman munch sandwiches and throw the crusts on the

floor. A large brick-colored Norwegian takes off his shoes, grunts in

relief, and props his feet in their thick gray socks against the seat in

front of him.


An old woman whose toothless mouth shuts like a mud-turtle's, and whose

hair is not so much white as yellow like moldy linen, with bands of pink

skull apparent between the tresses, anxiously lifts her bag, opens it,

peers in, closes it, puts it under the seat, and hastily picks it up and

opens it and hides it all over again. The bag is full of treasures and

of memories: a leather buckle, an ancient band-concert program,

scraps of ribbon, lace, satin. In the aisle beside her is an extremely

indignant parrakeet in a cage.


Two facing seats, overflowing with a Slovene iron-miner's family,

are littered with shoes, dolls, whisky bottles, bundles wrapped in

newspapers, a sewing bag. The oldest boy takes a mouth-organ out of his

coat pocket, wipes the tobacco crumbs off, and plays "Marching through

Georgia" till every head in the car begins to ache.
The news-butcher comes through selling chocolate bars and lemon drops.

A girl-child ceaselessly trots down to the water-cooler and back to her

seat. The stiff paper envelope which she uses for cup drips in the aisle

as she goes, and on each trip she stumbles over the feet of a carpenter,

who grunts, "Ouch! Look out!"
The dust-caked doors are open, and from the smoking-car drifts back a

visible blue line of stinging tobacco smoke, and with it a crackle of

laughter over the story which the young man in the bright blue suit and

lavender tie and light yellow shoes has just told to the squat man in

garage overalls.
The smell grows constantly thicker, more stale.

II

To each of the passengers his seat was his temporary home, and most of



the passengers were slatternly housekeepers. But one seat looked clean

and deceptively cool. In it were an obviously prosperous man and a

black-haired, fine-skinned girl whose pumps rested on an immaculate

horsehide bag.


They were Dr. Will Kennicott and his bride, Carol.
They had been married at the end of a year of conversational courtship,

and they were on their way to Gopher Prairie after a wedding journey in

the Colorado mountains.
The hordes of the way-train were not altogether new to Carol. She had

seen them on trips from St. Paul to Chicago. But now that they had

become her own people, to bathe and encourage and adorn, she had an

acute and uncomfortable interest in them. They distressed her. They

were so stolid. She had always maintained that there is no American

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