The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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peasantry, and she sought now to defend her faith by seeing imagination

and enterprise in the young Swedish farmers, and in a traveling man

working over his order-blanks. But the older people, Yankees as well

as Norwegians, Germans, Finns, Canucks, had settled into submission to

poverty. They were peasants, she groaned.


"Isn't there any way of waking them up? What would happen if they

understood scientific agriculture?" she begged of Kennicott, her hand

groping for his.
It had been a transforming honeymoon. She had been frightened to

discover how tumultuous a feeling could be roused in her. Will had been

lordly--stalwart, jolly, impressively competent in making camp, tender

and understanding through the hours when they had lain side by side in a

tent pitched among pines high up on a lonely mountain spur.
His hand swallowed hers as he started from thoughts of the practise to

which he was returning. "These people? Wake 'em up? What for? They're

happy."
"But they're so provincial. No, that isn't what I mean. They're--oh, so

sunk in the mud."


"Look here, Carrie. You want to get over your city idea that because a

man's pants aren't pressed, he's a fool. These farmers are mighty keen

and up-and-coming."
"I know! That's what hurts. Life seems so hard for them--these lonely

farms and this gritty train."


"Oh, they don't mind it. Besides, things are changing. The auto, the

telephone, rural free delivery; they're bringing the farmers in closer

touch with the town. Takes time, you know, to change a wilderness like

this was fifty years ago. But already, why, they can hop into the Ford

or the Overland and get in to the movies on Saturday evening quicker

than you could get down to 'em by trolley in St. Paul."


"But if it's these towns we've been passing that the farmers run to for

relief from their bleakness----Can't you understand? Just LOOK at them!"


Kennicott was amazed. Ever since childhood he had seen these towns from

trains on this same line. He grumbled, "Why, what's the matter with 'em?

Good hustling burgs. It would astonish you to know how much wheat and

rye and corn and potatoes they ship in a year."


"But they're so ugly."
"I'll admit they aren't comfy like Gopher Prairie. But give 'em time."
"What's the use of giving them time unless some one has desire and

training enough to plan them? Hundreds of factories trying to make

attractive motor cars, but these towns--left to chance. No! That can't

be true. It must have taken genius to make them so scrawny!"


"Oh, they're not so bad," was all he answered. He pretended that his

hand was the cat and hers the mouse. For the first time she tolerated

him rather than encouraged him. She was staring out at Schoenstrom, a

hamlet of perhaps a hundred and fifty inhabitants, at which the train

was stopping.
A bearded German and his pucker-mouthed wife tugged their enormous

imitation-leather satchel from under a seat and waddled out. The station

agent hoisted a dead calf aboard the baggage-car. There were no other

visible activities in Schoenstrom. In the quiet of the halt, Carol could

hear a horse kicking his stall, a carpenter shingling a roof.
The business-center of Schoenstrom took up one side of one block, facing

the railroad. It was a row of one-story shops covered with galvanized

iron, or with clapboards painted red and bilious yellow. The buildings

were as ill-assorted, as temporary-looking, as a mining-camp street in

the motion-pictures. The railroad station was a one-room frame box, a

mirey cattle-pen on one side and a crimson wheat-elevator on the other.

The elevator, with its cupola on the ridge of a shingled roof, resembled

a broad-shouldered man with a small, vicious, pointed head. The only

habitable structures to be seen were the florid red-brick Catholic

church and rectory at the end of Main Street.


Carol picked at Kennicott's sleeve. "You wouldn't call this a not-so-bad

town, would you?"


"These Dutch burgs ARE kind of slow. Still, at that----See that fellow

coming out of the general store there, getting into the big car? I met

him once. He owns about half the town, besides the store. Rauskukle, his

name is. He owns a lot of mortgages, and he gambles in farm-lands. Good

nut on him, that fellow. Why, they say he's worth three or four hundred

thousand dollars! Got a dandy great big yellow brick house with tiled

walks and a garden and everything, other end of town--can't see it from

here--I've gone past it when I've driven through here. Yes sir!"


"Then, if he has all that, there's no excuse whatever for this place!

If his three hundred thousand went back into the town, where it belongs,

they could burn up these shacks, and build a dream-village, a jewel! Why

do the farmers and the town-people let the Baron keep it?"


"I must say I don't quite get you sometimes, Carrie. Let him? They can't

help themselves! He's a dumm old Dutchman, and probably the priest can

twist him around his finger, but when it comes to picking good farming

land, he's a regular wiz!"


"I see. He's their symbol of beauty. The town erects him, instead of

erecting buildings."


"Honestly, don't know what you're driving at. You're kind of played out,

after this long trip. You'll feel better when you get home and have a

good bath, and put on the blue negligee. That's some vampire costume,

you witch!"


He squeezed her arm, looked at her knowingly.
They moved on from the desert stillness of the Schoenstrom station. The

train creaked, banged, swayed. The air was nauseatingly thick. Kennicott

turned her face from the window, rested her head on his shoulder. She

was coaxed from her unhappy mood. But she came out of it unwillingly,

and when Kennicott was satisfied that he had corrected all her worries

and had opened a magazine of saffron detective stories, she sat upright.


Here--she meditated--is the newest empire of the world; the Northern

Middlewest; a land of dairy herds and exquisite lakes, of new

automobiles and tar-paper shanties and silos like red towers, of clumsy

speech and a hope that is boundless. An empire which feeds a quarter of

the world--yet its work is merely begun. They are pioneers, these sweaty

wayfarers, for all their telephones and bank-accounts and automatic

pianos and co-operative leagues. And for all its fat richness, theirs is

a pioneer land. What is its future? she wondered. A future of cities

and factory smut where now are loping empty fields? Homes universal and

secure? Or placid chateaux ringed with sullen huts? Youth free to find

knowledge and laughter? Willingness to sift the sanctified lies? Or

creamy-skinned fat women, smeared with grease and chalk, gorgeous in the

skins of beasts and the bloody feathers of slain birds, playing bridge

with puffy pink-nailed jeweled fingers, women who after much expenditure

of labor and bad temper still grotesquely resemble their own flatulent

lap-dogs? The ancient stale inequalities, or something different in

history, unlike the tedious maturity of other empires? What future and

what hope?


Carol's head ached with the riddle.
She saw the prairie, flat in giant patches or rolling in long hummocks.

The width and bigness of it, which had expanded her spirit an hour ago,

began to frighten her. It spread out so; it went on so uncontrollably;

she could never know it. Kennicott was closeted in his detective story.

With the loneliness which comes most depressingly in the midst of many

people she tried to forget problems, to look at the prairie objectively.


The grass beside the railroad had been burnt over; it was a smudge

prickly with charred stalks of weeds. Beyond the undeviating barbed-wire

fences were clumps of golden rod. Only this thin hedge shut them off

from the plains-shorn wheat-lands of autumn, a hundred acres to a field,

prickly and gray near-by but in the blurred distance like tawny velvet

stretched over dipping hillocks. The long rows of wheat-shocks marched

like soldiers in worn yellow tabards. The newly plowed fields were

black banners fallen on the distant slope. It was a martial immensity,

vigorous, a little harsh, unsoftened by kindly gardens.
The expanse was relieved by clumps of oaks with patches of short wild

grass; and every mile or two was a chain of cobalt slews, with the

flicker of blackbirds' wings across them.
All this working land was turned into exuberance by the light. The

sunshine was dizzy on open stubble; shadows from immense cumulus clouds

were forever sliding across low mounds; and the sky was wider and

loftier and more resolutely blue than the sky of cities . . . she

declared.
"It's a glorious country; a land to be big in," she crooned.
Then Kennicott startled her by chuckling, "D' you realize the town after

the next is Gopher Prairie? Home!"


III


That one word--home--it terrified her. Had she really bound herself to

live, inescapably, in this town called Gopher Prairie? And this thick

man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger! She

turned in her seat, stared at him. Who was he? Why was he sitting with

her? He wasn't of her kind! His neck was heavy; his speech was heavy; he

was twelve or thirteen years older than she; and about him was none of

the magic of shared adventures and eagerness. She could not believe that

she had ever slept in his arms. That was one of the dreams which you had

but did not officially admit.
She told herself how good he was, how dependable and understanding. She

touched his ear, smoothed the plane of his solid jaw, and, turning away

again, concentrated upon liking his town. It wouldn't be like these

barren settlements. It couldn't be! Why, it had three thousand

population. That was a great many people. There would be six hundred

houses or more. And----The lakes near it would be so lovely. She'd seen

them in the photographs. They had looked charming . . . hadn't they?
As the train left Wahkeenyan she began nervously to watch for the

lakes--the entrance to all her future life. But when she discovered

them, to the left of the track, her only impression of them was that

they resembled the photographs.


A mile from Gopher Prairie the track mounts a curving low ridge, and she

could see the town as a whole. With a passionate jerk she pushed up the

window, looked out, the arched fingers of her left hand trembling on the

sill, her right hand at her breast.


And she saw that Gopher Prairie was merely an enlargement of all the

hamlets which they had been passing. Only to the eyes of a Kennicott was

it exceptional. The huddled low wooden houses broke the plains scarcely

more than would a hazel thicket. The fields swept up to it, past it.

It was unprotected and unprotecting; there was no dignity in it nor

any hope of greatness. Only the tall red grain-elevator and a few tinny

church-steeples rose from the mass. It was a frontier camp. It was not a

place to live in, not possibly, not conceivably.


The people--they'd be as drab as their houses, as flat as their fields.

She couldn't stay here. She would have to wrench loose from this man,

and flee.
She peeped at him. She was at once helpless before his mature fixity,

and touched by his excitement as he sent his magazine skittering along

the aisle, stooped for their bags, came up with flushed face, and

gloated, "Here we are!"


She smiled loyally, and looked away. The train was entering town. The

houses on the outskirts were dusky old red mansions with wooden frills,

or gaunt frame shelters like grocery boxes, or new bungalows with

concrete foundations imitating stone.


Now the train was passing the elevator, the grim storage-tanks for oil,

a creamery, a lumber-yard, a stock-yard muddy and trampled and stinking.

Now they were stopping at a squat red frame station, the platform

crowded with unshaven farmers and with loafers--unadventurous people

with dead eyes. She was here. She could not go on. It was the end--the

end of the world. She sat with closed eyes, longing to push past

Kennicott, hide somewhere in the train, flee on toward the Pacific.
Something large arose in her soul and commanded, "Stop it! Stop being a

whining baby!" She stood up quickly; she said, "Isn't it wonderful to be

here at last!"
He trusted her so. She would make herself like the place. And she was

going to do tremendous things----


She followed Kennicott and the bobbing ends of the two bags which

he carried. They were held back by the slow line of disembarking

passengers. She reminded herself that she was actually at the dramatic

moment of the bride's home-coming. She ought to feel exalted. She felt

nothing at all except irritation at their slow progress toward the door.
Kennicott stooped to peer through the windows. He shyly exulted:
"Look! Look! There's a bunch come down to welcome us! Sam Clark and the

missus and Dave Dyer and Jack Elder, and, yes sir, Harry Haydock and

Juanita, and a whole crowd! I guess they see us now. Yuh, yuh sure, they

see us! See 'em waving!"


She obediently bent her head to look out at them. She had hold of

herself. She was ready to love them. But she was embarrassed by the

heartiness of the cheering group. From the vestibule she waved to them,

but she clung a second to the sleeve of the brakeman who helped her down

before she had the courage to dive into the cataract of hand-shaking

people, people whom she could not tell apart. She had the impression

that all the men had coarse voices, large damp hands, tooth-brush

mustaches, bald spots, and Masonic watch-charms.


She knew that they were welcoming her. Their hands, their smiles, their

shouts, their affectionate eyes overcame her. She stammered, "Thank you,

oh, thank you!"
One of the men was clamoring at Kennicott, "I brought my machine down to

take you home, doc."


"Fine business, Sam!" cried Kennicott; and, to Carol, "Let's jump in.

That big Paige over there. Some boat, too, believe me! Sam can show

speed to any of these Marmons from Minneapolis!"
Only when she was in the motor car did she distinguish the three people

who were to accompany them. The owner, now at the wheel, was the essence

of decent self-satisfaction; a baldish, largish, level-eyed man, rugged

of neck but sleek and round of face--face like the back of a spoon bowl.

He was chuckling at her, "Have you got us all straight yet?"
"Course she has! Trust Carrie to get things straight and get 'em darn

quick! I bet she could tell you every date in history!" boasted her

husband.
But the man looked at her reassuringly and with a certainty that he

was a person whom she could trust she confessed, "As a matter of fact I

haven't got anybody straight."
"Course you haven't, child. Well, I'm Sam Clark, dealer in hardware,

sporting goods, cream separators, and almost any kind of heavy junk you

can think of. You can call me Sam--anyway, I'm going to call you Carrie,

seein' 's you've been and gone and married this poor fish of a bum medic

that we keep round here." Carol smiled lavishly, and wished that she

called people by their given names more easily. "The fat cranky lady

back there beside you, who is pretending that she can't hear me giving

her away, is Mrs. Sam'l Clark; and this hungry-looking squirt up here

beside me is Dave Dyer, who keeps his drug store running by not filling

your hubby's prescriptions right--fact you might say he's the guy that

put the 'shun' in 'prescription.' So! Well, leave us take the bonny

bride home. Say, doc, I'll sell you the Candersen place for three

thousand plunks. Better be thinking about building a new home for

Carrie. Prettiest Frau in G. P., if you asks me!"


Contentedly Sam Clark drove off, in the heavy traffic of three Fords and

the Minniemashie House Free 'Bus.


"I shall like Mr. Clark . . . I CAN'T call him 'Sam'! They're all so

friendly." She glanced at the houses; tried not to see what she saw;

gave way in: "Why do these stories lie so? They always make the bride's

home-coming a bower of roses. Complete trust in noble spouse. Lies about

marriage. I'm NOT changed. And this town--O my God! I can't go through

with it. This junk-heap!"


Her husband bent over her. "You look like you were in a brown study.

Scared? I don't expect you to think Gopher Prairie is a paradise, after

St. Paul. I don't expect you to be crazy about it, at first. But you'll

come to like it so much--life's so free here and best people on earth."


She whispered to him (while Mrs. Clark considerately turned away), "I

love you for understanding. I'm just--I'm beastly over-sensitive. Too

many books. It's my lack of shoulder-muscles and sense. Give me time,

dear."
"You bet! All the time you want!"


She laid the back of his hand against her cheek, snuggled near him. She

was ready for her new home.


Kennicott had told her that, with his widowed mother as housekeeper, he

had occupied an old house, "but nice and roomy, and well-heated, best

furnace I could find on the market." His mother had left Carol her love,

and gone back to Lac-qui-Meurt.


It would be wonderful, she exulted, not to have to live in Other

People's Houses, but to make her own shrine. She held his hand tightly

and stared ahead as the car swung round a corner and stopped in the

street before a prosaic frame house in a small parched lawn.


IV

A concrete sidewalk with a "parking" of grass and mud. A square smug



brown house, rather damp. A narrow concrete walk up to it. Sickly yellow

leaves in a windrow with dried wings of box-elder seeds and snags

of wool from the cotton-woods. A screened porch with pillars of thin

painted pine surmounted by scrolls and brackets and bumps of jigsawed

wood. No shrubbery to shut off the public gaze. A lugubrious bay-window

to the right of the porch. Window curtains of starched cheap lace

revealing a pink marble table with a conch shell and a Family Bible.
"You'll find it old-fashioned--what do you call it?--Mid-Victorian. I

left it as is, so you could make any changes you felt were necessary."

Kennicott sounded doubtful for the first time since he had come back to

his own.
"It's a real home!" She was moved by his humility. She gaily motioned

good-by to the Clarks. He unlocked the door--he was leaving the choice

of a maid to her, and there was no one in the house. She jiggled while

he turned the key, and scampered in. . . . It was next day before either

of them remembered that in their honeymoon camp they had planned that he

should carry her over the sill.
In hallway and front parlor she was conscious of dinginess and

lugubriousness and airlessness, but she insisted, "I'll make it all

jolly." As she followed Kennicott and the bags up to their bedroom she

quavered to herself the song of the fat little-gods of the hearth:


I have my own home,

To do what I please with,

To do what I please with,

My den for me and my mate and my cubs,

My own!
She was close in her husband's arms; she clung to him; whatever of

strangeness and slowness and insularity she might find in him, none of

that mattered so long as she could slip her hands beneath his coat, run

her fingers over the warm smoothness of the satin back of his waistcoat,

seem almost to creep into his body, find in him strength, find in the

courage and kindness of her man a shelter from the perplexing world.


"Sweet, so sweet," she whispered.

CHAPTER IV


I
"THE Clarks have invited some folks to their house to meet us, tonight,"

said Kennicott, as he unpacked his suit-case.


"Oh, that is nice of them!"
"You bet. I told you you'd like 'em. Squarest people on earth. Uh,

Carrie----Would you mind if I sneaked down to the office for an hour,

just to see how things are?"
"Why, no. Of course not. I know you're keen to get back to work."
"Sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit. Out of my way. Let me unpack."
But the advocate of freedom in marriage was as much disappointed as

a drooping bride at the alacrity with which he took that freedom and

escaped to the world of men's affairs. She gazed about their bedroom,

and its full dismalness crawled over her: the awkward knuckly L-shape

of it; the black walnut bed with apples and spotty pears carved on the

headboard; the imitation maple bureau, with pink-daubed scent-bottles

and a petticoated pin-cushion on a marble slab uncomfortably like a

gravestone; the plain pine washstand and the garlanded water-pitcher and

bowl. The scent was of horsehair and plush and Florida Water.
"How could people ever live with things like this?" she shuddered. She

saw the furniture as a circle of elderly judges, condemning her to death

by smothering. The tottering brocade chair squeaked, "Choke her--choke

her--smother her." The old linen smelled of the tomb. She was alone in

this house, this strange still house, among the shadows of dead thoughts

and haunting repressions. "I hate it! I hate it!" she panted. "Why did I

ever----"
She remembered that Kennicott's mother had brought these family

relics from the old home in Lac-qui-Meurt. "Stop it! They're perfectly

comfortable things. They're--comfortable. Besides----Oh, they're

horrible! We'll change them, right away."


Then, "But of course he HAS to see how things are at the office----"
She made a pretense of busying herself with unpacking. The chintz-lined,

silver-fitted bag which had seemed so desirable a luxury in St. Paul was

an extravagant vanity here. The daring black chemise of frail chiffon

and lace was a hussy at which the deep-bosomed bed stiffened in disgust,

and she hurled it into a bureau drawer, hid it beneath a sensible linen

blouse.
She gave up unpacking. She went to the window, with a purely literary

thought of village charm--hollyhocks and lanes and apple-cheeked

cottagers. What she saw was the side of the Seventh-Day Adventist

Church--a plain clapboard wall of a sour liver color; the ash-pile

back of the church; an unpainted stable; and an alley in which a Ford

delivery-wagon had been stranded. This was the terraced garden below her

boudoir; this was to be her scenery for----


"I mustn't! I mustn't! I'm nervous this afternoon. Am I sick? . . . Good

Lord, I hope it isn't that! Not now! How people lie! How these stories

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