The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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but one thing you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a

Hohenzollern empire for the next forty years. At that, I don't know as

it's so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand on a lot

of these red agitators who'd be worse than a king if they could get

control."


"I'm terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew the Czar in

Russia," suggested Carol. She had finally been conquered by the man's

wizard knowledge of affairs.
Kennicott apologized for her: "Carrie's nuts about this Russian

revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?"


"There is not!" Bresnahan said flatly. "I can speak by the book there.

Carol, honey, I'm surprised to find you talking like a New York Russian

Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I can tell you, only you don't need to

let every one in on it, this is confidential, I got it from a man who's

close to the State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will

be back in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about his

retiring and about his being killed, but I know he's got a big army back

of him, and he'll show these damn agitators, lazy beggars hunting for

a soft berth bossing the poor goats that fall for 'em, he'll show 'em

where they get off!"


Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back, but she said

nothing. The others had looked vacant at the mention of a country so far

away as Russia. Now they edged in and asked Bresnahan what he thought

about the Packard car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative

merits of young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question

of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn't it true that

American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?
They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every point.
As she heard Bresnahan announce, "We're perfectly willing to talk to

any committee the men may choose, but we're not going to stand for some

outside agitator butting in and telling us how we're going to run our

plant!" Carol remembered that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New

Ideas) had said the same thing in the same words.
While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long and immensely

detailed story of the crushing things he had said to a Pullman porter,

named George, Bresnahan hugged his knees and rocked and watched Carol.

She wondered if he did not understand the laboriousness of the smile

with which she listened to Kennicott's account of the "good one he had

on Carrie," that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale of how she

had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was "all het up pounding the

box"--which may be translated as "eagerly playing the piano." She was

certain that Bresnahan saw through her when she pretended not to hear

Kennicott's invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the

comments he might make; she was irritated by her fear.
She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through Gopher

Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in Bresnahan's kudos

as people waved, and Juanita Haydock leaned from a window. She said to

herself, "As though I cared whether I'm seen with this fat phonograph!"

and simultaneously, "Everybody has noticed how much Will and I are

playing with Mr. Bresnahan."


The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory for

names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had given

a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a hundred to the

Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister, for Americanization work.


At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:
"Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow Bjornstam that

always is shooting off his mouth. He's supposed to of settled down since

he got married, but Lord, those fellows that think they know it all,

they never change. Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him,

all right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer's, and

he said, he said to Perce, 'I've always wanted to look at a man that was

so useful that folks would pay him a million dollars for existing,' and

Perce gave him the once-over and come right back, 'Have, eh?' he says.

'Well,' he says, 'I've been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors

that I could pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?' Ha,

ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for once he didn't

have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh, and tell what a rotten

town this is, and Perce come right back at him, 'If you don't like this

country, you better get out of it and go back to Germany, where you

belong!' Say, maybe us fellows didn't give Bjornstam the horse-laugh

though! Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!"

V

Bresnahan had borrowed Jackson Elder's motor; he stopped at the



Kennicotts'; he bawled at Carol, rocking with Hugh on the porch, "Better

come for a ride."


She wanted to snub him. "Thanks so much, but I'm being maternal."
"Bring him along! Bring him along!" Bresnahan was out of the seat,

stalking up the sidewalk, and the rest of her protests and dignities

were feeble.
She did not bring Hugh along.
Bresnahan was silent for a mile, in words, But he looked at her as

though he meant her to know that he understood everything she thought.


She observed how deep was his chest.
"Lovely fields over there," he said.
"You really like them? There's no profit in them."
He chuckled. "Sister, you can't get away with it. I'm onto you. You

consider me a big bluff. Well, maybe I am. But so are you, my dear--and

pretty enough so that I'd try to make love to you, if I weren't afraid

you'd slap me."


"Mr. Bresnahan, do you talk that way to your wife's friends? And do you

call them 'sister'?"


"As a matter of fact, I do! And I make 'em like it. Score two!" But his

chuckle was not so rotund, and he was very attentive to the ammeter.


In a moment he was cautiously attacking: "That's a wonderful boy, Will

Kennicott. Great work these country practitioners are doing. The other

day, in Washington, I was talking to a big scientific shark, a professor

in Johns Hopkins medical school, and he was saying that no one has ever

sufficiently appreciated the general practitioner and the sympathy

and help he gives folks. These crack specialists, the young scientific

fellows, they're so cocksure and so wrapped up in their laboratories

that they miss the human element. Except in the case of a few freak

diseases that no respectable human being would waste his time having,

it's the old doc that keeps a community well, mind and body. And

strikes me that Will is one of the steadiest and clearest-headed counter

practitioners I've ever met. Eh?"


"I'm sure he is. He's a servant of reality."
"Come again? Um. Yes. All of that, whatever that is. . . . Say, child,

you don't care a whole lot for Gopher Prairie, if I'm not mistaken."


"Nope."
"There's where you're missing a big chance. There's nothing to these

cities. Believe me, I KNOW! This is a good town, as they go. You're

lucky to be here. I wish I could shy on!"
"Very well, why don't you?"
"Huh? Why--Lord--can't get away fr----"
"You don't have to stay. I do! So I want to change it. Do you know that

men like you, prominent men, do quite a reasonable amount of harm by

insisting that your native towns and native states are perfect? It's

you who encourage the denizens not to change. They quote you, and go on

believing that they live in paradise, and----" She clenched her fist.

"The incredible dullness of it!"


"Suppose you were right. Even so, don't you think you waste a lot of

thundering on one poor scared little town? Kind of mean!"


"I tell you it's dull. DULL!"
"The folks don't find it dull. These couples like the Haydocks have a

high old time; dances and cards----"


"They don't. They're bored. Almost every one here is. Vacuousness and

bad manners and spiteful gossip--that's what I hate."


"Those things--course they're here. So are they in Boston! And every

place else! Why, the faults you find in this town are simply human

nature, and never will be changed."
"Perhaps. But in a Boston all the good Carols (I'll admit I have no

faults) can find one another and play. But here--I'm alone, in a stale

pool--except as it's stirred by the great Mr. Bresnahan!"
"My Lord, to hear you tell it, a fellow 'd think that all the denizens,

as you impolitely call 'em, are so confoundedly unhappy that it's a

wonder they don't all up and commit suicide. But they seem to struggle

along somehow!"


"They don't know what they miss. And anybody can endure anything. Look

at men in mines and in prisons."


He drew up on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie. He glanced across

the reeds reflected on the water, the quiver of wavelets like crumpled

tinfoil, the distant shores patched with dark woods, silvery oats and

deep yellow wheat. He patted her hand. "Sis----Carol, you're a darling

girl, but you're difficult. Know what I think?"
"Yes."
"Humph. Maybe you do, but----My humble (not too humble!) opinion is that

you like to be different. You like to think you're peculiar. Why, if you

knew how many tens of thousands of women, especially in New York, say

just what you do, you'd lose all the fun of thinking you're a lone

genius and you'd be on the band-wagon whooping it up for Gopher Prairie

and a good decent family life. There's always about a million young

women just out of college who want to teach their grandmothers how to

suck eggs."


"How proud you are of that homely rustic metaphor! You use it at

'banquets' and directors' meetings, and boast of your climb from a

humble homestead."
"Huh! You may have my number. I'm not telling. But look here: You're

so prejudiced against Gopher Prairie that you overshoot the mark;

you antagonize those who might be inclined to agree with you in some

particulars but----Great guns, the town can't be all wrong!"


"No, it isn't. But it could be. Let me tell you a fable. Imagine a

cavewoman complaining to her mate. She doesn't like one single thing;

she hates the damp cave, the rats running over her bare legs, the stiff

skin garments, the eating of half-raw meat, her husband's bushy face,

the constant battles, and the worship of the spirits who will hoodoo her

unless she gives the priests her best claw necklace. Her man protests,

'But it can't all be wrong!' and he thinks he has reduced her to

absurdity. Now you assume that a world which produces a Percy Bresnahan

and a Velvet Motor Company must be civilized. It is? Aren't we only

about half-way along in barbarism? I suggest Mrs. Bogart as a test. And

we'll continue in barbarism just as long as people as nearly intelligent

as you continue to defend things as they are because they are."


"You're a fair spieler, child. But, by golly, I'd like to see you try

to design a new manifold, or run a factory and keep a lot of your fellow

reds from Czech-slovenski-magyar-godknowswheria on the job! You'd drop

your theories so darn quick! I'm not any defender of things as they are.

Sure. They're rotten. Only I'm sensible."
He preached his gospel: love of outdoors, Playing the Game, loyalty

to friends. She had the neophyte's shock of discovery that, outside

of tracts, conservatives do not tremble and find no answer when

an iconoclast turns on them, but retort with agility and confusing

statistics.
He was so much the man, the worker, the friend, that she liked him when

she most tried to stand out against him; he was so much the successful

executive that she did not want him to despise her. His manner of

sneering at what he called "parlor socialists" (though the phrase was

not overwhelmingly new) had a power which made her wish to placate his

company of well-fed, speed-loving administrators. When he demanded,

"Would you like to associate with nothing but a lot of turkey-necked,

horn-spectacled nuts that have adenoids and need a hair-cut, and that

spend all their time kicking about 'conditions' and never do a lick of

work?" she said, "No, but just the same----" When he asserted, "Even

if your cavewoman was right in knocking the whole works, I bet some

red-blooded Regular Fellow, some real He-man, found her a nice dry cave,

and not any whining criticizing radical," she wriggled her head feebly,

between a nod and a shake.


His large hands, sensual lips, easy voice supported his self-confidence.

He made her feel young and soft--as Kennicott had once made her feel.

She had nothing to say when he bent his powerful head and experimented,

"My dear, I'm sorry I'm going away from this town. You'd be a darling

child to play with. You ARE pretty! Some day in Boston I'll show you how

we buy a lunch. Well, hang it, got to be starting back."


The only answer to his gospel of beef which she could find, when she was

home, was a wail of "But just the same----"


She did not see him again before he departed for Washington.
His eyes remained. His glances at her lips and hair and shoulders had

revealed to her that she was not a wife-and-mother alone, but a girl;

that there still were men in the world, as there had been in college

days.
That admiration led her to study Kennicott, to tear at the shroud of

intimacy, to perceive the strangeness of the most familiar.

CHAPTER XXIV


I
ALL that midsummer month Carol was sensitive to Kennicott. She recalled

a hundred grotesqueries: her comic dismay at his having chewed tobacco,

the evening when she had tried to read poetry to him; matters which had

seemed to vanish with no trace or sequence. Always she repeated that

he had been heroically patient in his desire to join the army. She made

much of her consoling affection for him in little things. She liked the

homeliness of his tinkering about the house; his strength and handiness

as he tightened the hinges of a shutter; his boyishness when he ran

to her to be comforted because he had found rust in the barrel of his

pump-gun. But at the highest he was to her another Hugh, without the

glamor of Hugh's unknown future.
There was, late in June, a day of heat-lightning.
Because of the work imposed by the absence of the other doctors the

Kennicotts had not moved to the lake cottage but remained in town, dusty

and irritable. In the afternoon, when she went to Oleson & McGuire's

(formerly Dahl & Oleson's), Carol was vexed by the assumption of

the youthful clerk, recently come from the farm, that he had to be

neighborly and rude. He was no more brusquely familiar than a dozen

other clerks of the town, but her nerves were heat-scorched.
When she asked for codfish, for supper, he grunted, "What d'you want

that darned old dry stuff for?"


"I like it!"
"Punk! Guess the doc can afford something better than that. Try some of

the new wienies we got in. Swell. The Haydocks use 'em."


She exploded. "My dear young man, it is not your duty to instruct me in

housekeeping, and it doesn't particularly concern me what the Haydocks

condescend to approve!"
He was hurt. He hastily wrapped up the leprous fragment of fish; he

gaped as she trailed out. She lamented, "I shouldn't have spoken so. He

didn't mean anything. He doesn't know when he is being rude."
Her repentance was not proof against Uncle Whittier when she stopped in

at his grocery for salt and a package of safety matches. Uncle Whittier,

in a shirt collarless and soaked with sweat in a brown streak down his

back, was whining at a clerk, "Come on now, get a hustle on and lug

that pound cake up to Mis' Cass's. Some folks in this town think a

storekeeper ain't got nothing to do but chase out 'phone-orders. . . .

Hello, Carrie. That dress you got on looks kind of low in the neck to

me. May be decent and modest--I suppose I'm old-fashioned--but I never

thought much of showing the whole town a woman's bust! Hee, hee, hee!

. . . Afternoon, Mrs. Hicks. Sage? Just out of it. Lemme sell you some

other spices. Heh?" Uncle Whittier was nasally indignant "CERTAINLY! Got

PLENTY other spices jus' good as sage for any purp'se whatever! What's

the matter with--well, with allspice?" When Mrs. Hicks had gone, he

raged, "Some folks don't know what they want!"


"Sweating sanctimonious bully--my husband's uncle!" thought Carol.
She crept into Dave Dyer's. Dave held up his arms with, "Don't shoot!

I surrender!" She smiled, but it occurred to her that for nearly five

years Dave had kept up this game of pretending that she threatened his

life.
As she went dragging through the prickly-hot street she reflected that a

citizen of Gopher Prairie does not have jests--he has a jest. Every

cold morning for five winters Lyman Cass had remarked, "Fair to middlin'

chilly--get worse before it gets better." Fifty times had Ezra Stowbody

informed the public that Carol had once asked, "Shall I indorse this

check on the back?" Fifty times had Sam Clark called to her, "Where'd

you steal that hat?" Fifty times had the mention of Barney Cahoon,

the town drayman, like a nickel in a slot produced from Kennicott the

apocryphal story of Barney's directing a minister, "Come down to the

depot and get your case of religious books--they're leaking!"
She came home by the unvarying route. She knew every house-front, every

street-crossing, every billboard, every tree, every dog. She knew every

blackened banana-skin and empty cigarette-box in the gutters. She knew

every greeting. When Jim Howland stopped and gaped at her there was

no possibility that he was about to confide anything but his grudging,

"Well, haryuh t'day?"


All her future life, this same red-labeled bread-crate in front of the

bakery, this same thimble-shaped crack in the sidewalk a quarter of a

block beyond Stowbody's granite hitching-post----
She silently handed her purchases to the silent Oscarina. She sat on the

porch, rocking, fanning, twitchy with Hugh's whining.


Kennicott came home, grumbled, "What the devil is the kid yapping

about?"
"I guess you can stand it ten minutes if I can stand it all day!"


He came to supper in his shirt sleeves, his vest partly open, revealing

discolored suspenders.


"Why don't you put on your nice Palm Beach suit, and take off that

hideous vest?" she complained.


"Too much trouble. Too hot to go up-stairs."
She realized that for perhaps a year she had not definitely looked

at her husband. She regarded his table-manners. He violently chased

fragments of fish about his plate with a knife and licked the knife

after gobbling them. She was slightly sick. She asserted, "I'm

ridiculous. What do these things matter! Don't be so simple!" But she

knew that to her they did matter, these solecisms and mixed tenses of

the table.
She realized that they found little to say; that, incredibly, they were

like the talked-out couples whom she had pitied at restaurants.


Bresnahan would have spouted in a lively, exciting, unreliable manner.
She realized that Kennicott's clothes were seldom pressed. His coat was

wrinkled; his trousers would flap at the knees when he arose. His shoes

were unblacked, and they were of an elderly shapelessness. He refused

to wear soft hats; cleaved to a hard derby, as a symbol of virility and

prosperity; and sometimes he forgot to take it off in the house. She

peeped at his cuffs. They were frayed in prickles of starched linen.

She had turned them once; she clipped them every week; but when she had

begged him to throw the shirt away, last Sunday morning at the crisis

of the weekly bath, he had uneasily protested, "Oh, it'll wear quite a

while yet."


He was shaved (by himself or more socially by Del Snafflin) only three

times a week. This morning had not been one of the three times.


Yet he was vain of his new turn-down collars and sleek ties; he often

spoke of the "sloppy dressing" of Dr. McGanum; and he laughed at old men

who wore detachable cuffs or Gladstone collars.
Carol did not care much for the creamed codfish that evening.
She noted that his nails were jagged and ill-shaped from his habit of

cutting them with a pocket-knife and despising a nail-file as effeminate

and urban. That they were invariably clean, that his were the scoured

fingers of the surgeon, made his stubborn untidiness the more jarring.

They were wise hands, kind hands, but they were not the hands of love.
She remembered him in the days of courtship. He had tried to please her,

then, had touched her by sheepishly wearing a colored band on his straw

hat. Was it possible that those days of fumbling for each other were

gone so completely? He had read books, to impress her; had said (she

recalled it ironically) that she was to point out his every fault; had

insisted once, as they sat in the secret place beneath the walls of Fort

Snelling----
She shut the door on her thoughts. That was sacred ground. But it WAS a

shame that----


She nervously pushed away her cake and stewed apricots.
After supper, when they had been driven in from the porch by mosquitos,

when Kennicott had for the two-hundredth time in five years commented,

"We must have a new screen on the porch--lets all the bugs in," they sat

reading, and she noted, and detested herself for noting, and noted again

his habitual awkwardness. He slumped down in one chair, his legs up on

another, and he explored the recesses of his left ear with the end of

his little finger--she could hear the faint smack--he kept it up--he

kept it up----


He blurted, "Oh. Forgot tell you. Some of the fellows coming in to play

poker this evening. Suppose we could have some crackers and cheese and

beer?"
She nodded.
"He might have mentioned it before. Oh well, it's his house."
The poker-party straggled in: Sam Clark, Jack Elder, Dave Dyer, Jim

Howland. To her they mechanically said, "'Devenin'," but to Kennicott,

in a heroic male manner, "Well, well, shall we start playing? Got a

hunch I'm going to lick somebody real bad." No one suggested that she

join them. She told herself that it was her own fault, because she was

not more friendly; but she remembered that they never asked Mrs. Sam

Clark to play.
Bresnahan would have asked her.
She sat in the living-room, glancing across the hall at the men as they

humped over the dining table.


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