The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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and prettier town, but that do belong to our life, that actually are

being done." Of the Thanatopsis Club she spoke; of the rest-room, the

fight against mosquitos, the campaign for more gardens and shade-trees

and sewers--matters not fantastic and nebulous and distant, but

immediate and sure.


Carol's answer was fantastic and nebulous enough:
"Yes. . . . Yes. . . . I know. They're good. But if I could put through

all those reforms at once, I'd still want startling, exotic things. Life

is comfortable and clean enough here already. And so secure. What it

needs is to be less secure, more eager. The civic improvements which

I'd like the Thanatopsis to advocate are Strindberg plays, and classic

dancers--exquisite legs beneath tulle--and (I can see him so clearly!)

a thick, black-bearded, cynical Frenchman who would sit about and drink

and sing opera and tell bawdy stories and laugh at our proprieties and

quote Rabelais and not be ashamed to kiss my hand!"
"Huh! Not sure about the rest of it but I guess that's what you and all

the other discontented young women really want: some stranger kissing

your hand!" At Carol's gasp, the old squirrel-like Vida darted out and

cried, "Oh, my dear, don't take that too seriously. I just meant----"


"I know. You just meant it. Go on. Be good for my soul. Isn't it funny:

here we all are--me trying to be good for Gopher Prairie's soul, and

Gopher Prairie trying to be good for my soul. What are my other sins?"
"Oh, there's plenty of them. Possibly some day we shall have your fat

cynical Frenchman (horrible, sneering, tobacco-stained object, ruining

his brains and his digestion with vile liquor!) but, thank heaven, for

a while we'll manage to keep busy with our lawns and pavements! You see,

these things really are coming! The Thanatopsis is getting somewhere.

And you----" Her tone italicized the words--"to my great disappointment,

are doing less, not more, than the people you laugh at! Sam Clark,

on the school-board, is working for better school ventilation. Ella

Stowbody (whose elocuting you always think is so absurd) has persuaded

the railroad to share the expense of a parked space at the station, to

do away with that vacant lot.
"You sneer so easily. I'm sorry, but I do think there's something

essentially cheap in your attitude. Especially about religion.


"If you must know, you're not a sound reformer at all. You're an

impossibilist. And you give up too easily. You gave up on the new

city hall, the anti-fly campaign, club papers, the library-board, the

dramatic association--just because we didn't graduate into Ibsen the

very first thing. You want perfection all at once. Do you know what the

finest thing you've done is--aside from bringing Hugh into the world?

It was the help you gave Dr. Will during baby-welfare week. You didn't

demand that each baby be a philosopher and artist before you weighed

him, as you do with the rest of us.
"And now I'm afraid perhaps I'll hurt you. We're going to have a new

schoolbuilding in this town--in just a few years--and we'll have it

without one bit of help or interest from you!
"Professor Mott and I and some others have been dinging away at the

moneyed men for years. We didn't call on you because you would never

stand the pound-pound-pounding year after year without one bit of

encouragement. And we've won! I've got the promise of everybody who

counts that just as soon as war-conditions permit, they'll vote the

bonds for the schoolhouse. And we'll have a wonderful building--lovely

brown brick, with big windows, and agricultural and manual-training

departments. When we get it, that'll be my answer to all your theories!"


"I'm glad. And I'm ashamed I haven't had any part in getting it.

But----Please don't think I'm unsympathetic if I ask one question: Will

the teachers in the hygienic new building go on informing the children

that Persia is a yellow spot on the map, and 'Caesar' the title of a

book of grammatical puzzles?"

VIII


Vida was indignant; Carol was apologetic; they talked for another hour,

the eternal Mary and Martha--an immoralist Mary and a reformist Martha.

It was Vida who conquered.
The fact that she had been left out of the campaign for the new

schoolbuilding disconcerted Carol. She laid her dreams of perfection

aside. When Vida asked her to take charge of a group of Camp Fire Girls,

she obeyed, and had definite pleasure out of the Indian dances and

ritual and costumes. She went more regularly to the Thanatopsis. With

Vida as lieutenant and unofficial commander she campaigned for a village

nurse to attend poor families, raised the fund herself, saw to it that

the nurse was young and strong and amiable and intelligent.


Yet all the while she beheld the burly cynical Frenchman and the

diaphanous dancers as clearly as the child sees its air-born playmates;

she relished the Camp Fire Girls not because, in Vida's words, "this

Scout training will help so much to make them Good Wives," but because

she hoped that the Sioux dances would bring subversive color into their

dinginess.


She helped Ella Stowbody to set out plants in the tiny triangular park

at the railroad station; she squatted in the dirt, with a small curved

trowel and the most decorous of gardening gauntlets; she talked to Ella

about the public-spiritedness of fuchsias and cannas; and she felt

that she was scrubbing a temple deserted by the gods and empty even of

incense and the sound of chanting. Passengers looking from trains saw

her as a village woman of fading prettiness, incorruptible virtue, and

no abnormalities; the baggageman heard her say, "Oh yes, I do think

it will be a good example for the children"; and all the while she saw

herself running garlanded through the streets of Babylon.


Planting led her to botanizing. She never got much farther than

recognizing the tiger lily and the wild rose, but she rediscovered

Hugh. "What does the buttercup say, mummy?" he cried, his hand full of

straggly grasses, his cheek gilded with pollen. She knelt to embrace

him; she affirmed that he made life more than full; she was altogether

reconciled . . . for an hour.


But she awoke at night to hovering death. She crept away from the hump

of bedding that was Kennicott; tiptoed into the bathroom and, by the

mirror in the door of the medicine-cabinet, examined her pallid face.
Wasn't she growing visibly older in ratio as Vida grew plumper and

younger? Wasn't her nose sharper? Wasn't her neck granulated? She

stared and choked. She was only thirty. But the five years since her

marriage--had they not gone by as hastily and stupidly as though she had

been under ether; would time not slink past till death? She pounded her

fist on the cool enameled rim of the bathtub and raged mutely against

the indifferent gods:
"I don't care! I won't endure it! They lie so--Vida and Will and Aunt

Bessie--they tell me I ought to be satisfied with Hugh and a good home

and planting seven nasturtiums in a station garden! I am I! When I die

the world will be annihilated, as far as I'm concerned. I am I! I'm not

content to leave the sea and the ivory towers to others. I want them for

me! Damn Vida! Damn all of them! Do they think they can make me believe

that a display of potatoes at Howland & Gould's is enough beauty and

strangeness?"


CHAPTER XXIII


I
WHEN America entered the Great European War, Vida sent Raymie off to an

officers' training-camp--less than a year after her wedding. Raymie was

diligent and rather strong. He came out a first lieutenant of infantry,

and was one of the earliest sent abroad.


Carol grew definitely afraid of Vida as Vida transferred the passion

which had been released in marriage to the cause of the war; as she

lost all tolerance. When Carol was touched by the desire for heroism

in Raymie and tried tactfully to express it, Vida made her feel like an

impertinent child.
By enlistment and draft, the sons of Lyman Cass, Nat Hicks, Sam Clark

joined the army. But most of the soldiers were the sons of German and

Swedish farmers unknown to Carol. Dr. Terry Gould and Dr. McGanum became

captains in the medical corps, and were stationed at camps in Iowa and

Georgia. They were the only officers, besides Raymie, from the Gopher

Prairie district. Kennicott wanted to go with them, but the several

doctors of the town forgot medical rivalry and, meeting in council,

decided that he would do better to wait and keep the town well till he

should be needed. Kennicott was forty-two now; the only youngish doctor

left in a radius of eighteen miles. Old Dr. Westlake, who loved comfort

like a cat, protestingly rolled out at night for country calls, and

hunted through his collar-box for his G. A. R. button.


Carol did not quite know what she thought about Kennicott's going.

Certainly she was no Spartan wife. She knew that he wanted to go; she

knew that this longing was always in him, behind his unchanged

trudging and remarks about the weather. She felt for him an admiring

affection--and she was sorry that she had nothing more than affection.
Cy Bogart was the spectacular warrior of the town. Cy was no longer the

weedy boy who had sat in the loft speculating about Carol's egotism and

the mysteries of generation. He was nineteen now, tall, broad, busy, the

"town sport," famous for his ability to drink beer, to shake dice, to

tell undesirable stories, and, from his post in front of Dyer's drug

store, to embarrass the girls by "jollying" them as they passed. His

face was at once peach-bloomed and pimply.
Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn't get the

Widow Bogart's permission to enlist, he'd run away and enlist without

it. He shouted that he "hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just

poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and

democracy, he'd die happy." Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy

named Adolph Pochbauer for being a "damn hyphenated German." . . . This

was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was

trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At

this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to

go to war.

II

Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change



in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to

national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find

it. She saw the women who made bandages for the Red Cross giving

up bridge, and laughing at having to do without sugar, but over the

surgical-dressings they did not speak of God and the souls of men, but

of Miles Bjornstam's impudence, of Terry Gould's scandalous carryings-on

with a farmer's daughter four years ago, of cooking cabbage, and of

altering blouses. Their references to the war touched atrocities only.

She herself was punctual, and efficient at making dressings, but she

could not, like Mrs. Lyman Cass and Mrs. Bogart, fill the dressings with

hate for enemies.
When she protested to Vida, "The young do the work while these old ones

sit around and interrupt us and gag with hate because they're too feeble

to do anything but hate," then Vida turned on her:
"If you can't be reverent, at least don't be so pert and opinionated,

now when men and women are dying. Some of us--we have given up so much,

and we're glad to. At least we expect that you others sha'n't try to be

witty at our expense."


There was weeping.
Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did

persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia;

she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and

she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he

croaked:
"How's tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have

you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they'll bring democracy--the democracy

of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen

have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons--handed to

them by their bosses. Now me, I'm wise. I'm so wise that I know I don't

know anything about the war."


It was not a thought of the war that remained with her after Miles's

declamation but a perception that she and Vida and all of the

good-intentioners who wanted to "do something for the common people"

were insignificant, because the "common people" were able to do things

for themselves, and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the

fact. The conception of millions of workmen like Miles taking control

frightened her, and she scuttled rapidly away from the thought of a time

when she might no longer retain the position of Lady Bountiful to the

Bjornstams and Beas and Oscarinas whom she loved--and patronized.

III


It was in June, two months after America's entrance into the war, that

the momentous event happened--the visit of the great Percy Bresnahan,

the millionaire president of the Velvet Motor Car Company of Boston, the

one native son who was always to be mentioned to strangers.


For two weeks there were rumors. Sam Clark cried to Kennicott, "Say, I

hear Perce Bresnahan is coming! By golly it'll be great to see the old

scout, eh?" Finally the Dauntless printed, on the front page with a No. 1

head, a letter from Bresnahan to Jackson Elder:


DEAR JACK:
Well, Jack, I find I can make it. I'm to go to Washington as a dollar

a year man for the government, in the aviation motor section, and tell

them how much I don't know about carburetors. But before I start in

being a hero I want to shoot out and catch me a big black bass and cuss

out you and Sam Clark and Harry Haydock and Will Kennicott and the rest

of you pirates. I'll land in G. P. on June 7, on No. 7 from Mpls. Shake

a day-day. Tell Bert Tybee to save me a glass of beer.
Sincerely yours,
Perce.

All members of the social, financial, scientific, literary, and sporting

sets were at No. 7 to meet Bresnahan; Mrs. Lyman Cass was beside Del

Snafflin the barber, and Juanita Haydock almost cordial to Miss Villets

the librarian. Carol saw Bresnahan laughing down at them from the train

vestibule--big, immaculate, overjawed, with the eye of an executive. In

the voice of the professional Good Fellow he bellowed, "Howdy, folks!"

As she was introduced to him (not he to her) Bresnahan looked into her

eyes, and his hand-shake was warm, unhurried.
He declined the offers of motors; he walked off, his arm about the

shoulder of Nat Hicks the sporting tailor, with the elegant Harry

Haydock carrying one of his enormous pale leather bags, Del Snafflin

the other, Jack Elder bearing an overcoat, and Julius Flickerbaugh

the fishing-tackle. Carol noted that though Bresnahan wore spats and

a stick, no small boy jeered. She decided, "I must have Will get a

double-breasted blue coat and a wing collar and a dotted bow-tie like

his."
That evening, when Kennicott was trimming the grass along the walk

with sheep-shears, Bresnahan rolled up, alone. He was now in corduroy

trousers, khaki shirt open at the throat, a white boating hat, and

marvelous canvas-and-leather shoes "On the job there, old Will! Say, my

Lord, this is living, to come back and get into a regular man-sized pair

of pants. They can talk all they want to about the city, but my idea of

a good time is to loaf around and see you boys and catch a gamey bass!"


He hustled up the walk and blared at Carol, "Where's that little fellow?

I hear you've got one fine big he-boy that you're holding out on me!"


"He's gone to bed," rather briefly.
"I know. And rules are rules, these days. Kids get routed through the

shop like a motor. But look here, sister; I'm one great hand at busting

rules. Come on now, let Uncle Perce have a look at him. Please now,

sister?"
He put his arm about her waist; it was a large, strong, sophisticated

arm, and very agreeable; he grinned at her with a devastating

knowingness, while Kennicott glowed inanely. She flushed; she was

alarmed by the ease with which the big-city man invaded her guarded

personality. She was glad, in retreat, to scamper ahead of the two men

up-stairs to the hall-room in which Hugh slept. All the way Kennicott

muttered, "Well, well, say, gee whittakers but it's good to have you

back, certainly is good to see you!"
Hugh lay on his stomach, making an earnest business of sleeping. He

burrowed his eyes in the dwarf blue pillow to escape the electric light,

then sat up abruptly, small and frail in his woolly nightdrawers, his

floss of brown hair wild, the pillow clutched to his breast. He

wailed. He stared at the stranger, in a manner of patient dismissal.

He explained confidentially to Carol, "Daddy wouldn't let it be morning

yet. What does the pillow say?"
Bresnahan dropped his arm caressingly on Carol's shoulder; he

pronounced, "My Lord, you're a lucky girl to have a fine young husk like

that. I figure Will knew what he was doing when he persuaded you to take

a chance on an old bum like him! They tell me you come from St. Paul.

We're going to get you to come to Boston some day." He leaned over

the bed. "Young man, you're the slickest sight I've seen this side of

Boston. With your permission, may we present you with a slight token of

our regard and appreciation of your long service?"


He held out a red rubber Pierrot. Hugh remarked, "Gimme it," hid it

under the bedclothes, and stared at Bresnahan as though he had never

seen the man before.
For once Carol permitted herself the spiritual luxury of not asking

"Why, Hugh dear, what do you say when some one gives you a present?"

The great man was apparently waiting. They stood in inane suspense till

Bresnahan led them out, rumbling, "How about planning a fishing-trip,

Will?"
He remained for half an hour. Always he told Carol what a charming

person she was; always he looked at her knowingly.


"Yes. He probably would make a woman fall in love with him. But it

wouldn't last a week. I'd get tired of his confounded buoyancy.

His hypocrisy. He's a spiritual bully. He makes me rude to him in

self-defense. Oh yes, he is glad to be here. He does like us. He's so

good an actor that he convinces his own self. . . . I'd HATE him in

Boston. He'd have all the obvious big-city things. Limousines.

Discreet evening-clothes. Order a clever dinner at a smart restaurant.

Drawing-room decorated by the best firm--but the pictures giving him

away. I'd rather talk to Guy Pollock in his dusty office. . . . How I

lie! His arm coaxed my shoulder and his eyes dared me not to admire him.

I'd be afraid of him. I hate him! . . . Oh, the inconceivable egotistic

imagination of women! All this stew of analysis about a man, a good,

decent, friendly, efficient man, because he was kind to me, as Will's

wife!"


IV

The Kennicotts, the Elders, the Clarks, and Bresnahan went fishing

at Red Squaw Lake. They drove forty miles to the lake in Elder's new

Cadillac. There was much laughter and bustle at the start, much storing

of lunch-baskets and jointed poles, much inquiry as to whether it would

really bother Carol to sit with her feet up on a roll of shawls.

When they were ready to go Mrs. Clark lamented, "Oh, Sam, I forgot

my magazine," and Bresnahan bullied, "Come on now, if you women think

you're going to be literary, you can't go with us tough guys!" Every

one laughed a great deal, and as they drove on Mrs. Clark explained that

though probably she would not have read it, still, she might have wanted

to, while the other girls had a nap in the afternoon, and she was right

in the middle of a serial--it was an awfully exciting story--it seems

that this girl was a Turkish dancer (only she was really the daughter of

an American lady and a Russian prince) and men kept running after her,

just disgustingly, but she remained pure, and there was a scene----


While the men floated on the lake, casting for black bass, the women

prepared lunch and yawned. Carol was a little resentful of the manner in

which the men assumed that they did not care to fish. "I don't want to

go with them, but I would like the privilege of refusing."


The lunch was long and pleasant. It was a background for the talk of the

great man come home, hints of cities and large imperative affairs and

famous people, jocosely modest admissions that, yes, their friend Perce

was doing about as well as most of these "Boston swells that think so

much of themselves because they come from rich old families and went to

college and everything. Believe me, it's us new business men that are

running Beantown today, and not a lot of fussy old bucks snoozing in

their clubs!"


Carol realized that he was not one of the sons of Gopher Prairie who,

if they do not actually starve in the East, are invariably spoken of as

"highly successful"; and she found behind his too incessant flattery a

genuine affection for his mates. It was in the matter of the war that

he most favored and thrilled them. Dropping his voice while they bent

nearer (there was no one within two miles to overhear), he disclosed

the fact that in both Boston and Washington he'd been getting a lot of

inside stuff on the war--right straight from headquarters--he was in

touch with some men--couldn't name them but they were darn high up in

both the War and State Departments--and he would say--only for Pete's

sake they mustn't breathe one word of this; it was strictly on the

Q.T. and not generally known outside of Washington--but just between

ourselves--and they could take this for gospel--Spain had finally

decided to join the Entente allies in the Grand Scrap. Yes, sir, there'd

be two million fully equipped Spanish soldiers fighting with us in

France in one month now. Some surprise for Germany, all right!


"How about the prospects for revolution in Germany?" reverently asked

Kennicott.


The authority grunted, "Nothing to it. The one thing you can bet on is

that no matter what happens to the German people, win or lose, they'll

stick by the Kaiser till hell freezes over. I got that absolutely

straight, from a fellow who's on the inside of the inside in Washington.

No, sir! I don't pretend to know much about international affairs

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