The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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Miles had sold his dairy. He had several thousand dollars. To Carol he

said good-by with a mumbled word, a harsh hand-shake, "Going to buy a

farm in northern Alberta--far off from folks as I can get." He turned

sharply away, but he did not walk with his former spring. His shoulders

seemed old.
It was said that before he went he cursed the town. There was talk

of arresting him, of riding him on a rail. It was rumored that at the

station old Champ Perry rebuked him, "You better not come back here.

We've got respect for your dead, but we haven't got any for a blasphemer

and a traitor that won't do anything for his country and only bought one

Liberty Bond."


Some of the people who had been at the station declared that Miles made

some dreadful seditious retort: something about loving German workmen

more than American bankers; but others asserted that he couldn't find

one word with which to answer the veteran; that he merely sneaked up on

the platform of the train. He must have felt guilty, everybody agreed,

for as the train left town, a farmer saw him standing in the vestibule

and looking out.
His house--with the addition which he had built four months ago--was

very near the track on which his train passed.


When Carol went there, for the last time, she found Olaf's chariot with

its red spool wheels standing in the sunny corner beside the stable. She

wondered if a quick eye could have noticed it from a train.
That day and that week she went reluctantly to Red Cross work; she

stitched and packed silently, while Vida read the war bulletins. And she

said nothing at all when Kennicott commented, "From what Champ says,

I guess Bjornstam was a bad egg, after all. In spite of Bea, don't

know but what the citizens' committee ought to have forced him to

be patriotic--let on like they could send him to jail if he didn't

volunteer and come through for bonds and the Y. M. C. A. They've worked

that stunt fine with all these German farmers."

II

She found no inspiration but she did find a dependable kindness in Mrs.



Westlake, and at last she yielded to the old woman's receptivity and had

relief in sobbing the story of Bea.


Guy Pollock she often met on the street, but he was merely a pleasant

voice which said things about Charles Lamb and sunsets.


Her most positive experience was the revelation of Mrs. Flickerbaugh,

the tall, thin, twitchy wife of the attorney. Carol encountered her at

the drug store.
"Walking?" snapped Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Why, yes."
"Humph. Guess you're the only female in this town that retains the use

of her legs. Come home and have a cup o' tea with me."


Because she had nothing else to do, Carol went. But she was

uncomfortable in the presence of the amused stares which Mrs.

Flickerbaugh's raiment drew. Today, in reeking early August, she wore a

man's cap, a skinny fur like a dead cat, a necklace of imitation pearls,

a scabrous satin blouse, and a thick cloth skirt hiked up in front.
"Come in. Sit down. Stick the baby in that rocker. Hope you don't mind

the house looking like a rat's nest. You don't like this town. Neither

do I," said Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Why----"
"Course you don't!"
"Well then, I don't! But I'm sure that some day I'll find some solution.

Probably I'm a hexagonal peg. Solution: find the hexagonal hole." Carol

was very brisk.
"How do you know you ever will find it?"
"There's Mrs. Westlake. She's naturally a big-city woman--she ought to

have a lovely old house in Philadelphia or Boston--but she escapes by

being absorbed in reading."
"You be satisfied to never do anything but read?"
"No, but Heavens, one can't go on hating a town always!"
"Why not? I can! I've hated it for thirty-two years. I'll die here--and

I'll hate it till I die. I ought to have been a business woman. I had

a good deal of talent for tending to figures. All gone now. Some folks

think I'm crazy. Guess I am. Sit and grouch. Go to church and sing

hymns. Folks think I'm religious. Tut! Trying to forget washing and

ironing and mending socks. Want an office of my own, and sell things.

Julius never hear of it. Too late."
Carol sat on the gritty couch, and sank into fear. Could this drabness

of life keep up forever, then? Would she some day so despise herself

and her neighbors that she too would walk Main Street an old skinny

eccentric woman in a mangy cat's-fur? As she crept home she felt that

the trap had finally closed. She went into the house, a frail small

woman, still winsome but hopeless of eye as she staggered with the

weight of the drowsy boy in her arms.
She sat alone on the porch, that evening. It seemed that Kennicott had

to make a professional call on Mrs. Dave Dyer.


Under the stilly boughs and the black gauze of dusk the street was

meshed in silence. There was but the hum of motor tires crunching the

road, the creak of a rocker on the Howlands' porch, the slap of a hand

attacking a mosquito, a heat-weary conversation starting and dying, the

precise rhythm of crickets, the thud of moths against the screen--sounds

that were a distilled silence. It was a street beyond the end of

the world, beyond the boundaries of hope. Though she should sit here

forever, no brave procession, no one who was interesting, would be

coming by. It was tediousness made tangible, a street builded of

lassitude and of futility.


Myrtle Cass appeared, with Cy Bogart. She giggled and bounced when Cy

tickled her ear in village love. They strolled with the half-dancing

gait of lovers, kicking their feet out sideways or shuffling a dragging

jig, and the concrete walk sounded to the broken two-four rhythm. Their

voices had a dusky turbulence. Suddenly, to the woman rocking on the

porch of the doctor's house, the night came alive, and she felt that

everywhere in the darkness panted an ardent quest which she was missing

as she sank back to wait for----There must be something.


CHAPTER XXVIII


IT WAS at a supper of the Jolly Seventeen in August that Carol heard of

"Elizabeth," from Mrs. Dave Dyer.


Carol was fond of Maud Dyer, because she had been particularly agreeable

lately; had obviously repented of the nervous distaste which she had

once shown. Maud patted her hand when they met, and asked about Hugh.
Kennicott said that he was "kind of sorry for the girl, some ways; she's

too darn emotional, but still, Dave is sort of mean to her." He was

polite to poor Maud when they all went down to the cottages for a swim.

Carol was proud of that sympathy in him, and now she took pains to sit

with their new friend.
Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, "Oh, have you folks heard about this young

fellow that's just come to town that the boys call 'Elizabeth'? He's

working in Nat Hicks's tailor shop. I bet he doesn't make eighteen a

week, but my! isn't he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and

oh, the lugs he puts on--belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin,

and socks to match his necktie, and honest--you won't believe this, but

I got it straight--this fellow, you know he's staying at Mrs. Gurrey's

punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought

to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that? And him

nothing but a Swede tailor--Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be

in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he's a smart needle-pusher,

at that) and he tries to let on that he's a regular city fellow. They

say he tries to make people think he's a poet--carries books around and

pretends to read 'em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he

was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like

flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a

regular United States Senator; and Myrtle--she's a devil, that girl,

ha! ha!--she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d'you

think he said? He said he didn't find any intellectual companionship

in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And

they say he's the most awful mollycoddle--looks just like a girl. The

boys call him 'Elizabeth,' and they stop him and ask about the books he

lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it

all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they're

kidding him. Oh, I think it's just TOO funny!"
The Jolly Seventeen laughed, and Carol laughed with them. Mrs. Jack

Elder added that this Erik Valborg had confided to Mrs. Gurrey that he

would "love to design clothes for women." Imagine! Mrs. Harvey Dillon

had had a glimpse of him, but honestly, she'd thought he was awfully

handsome. This was instantly controverted by Mrs. B. J. Gougerling, wife

of the banker. Mrs. Gougerling had had, she reported, a good look

at this Valborg fellow. She and B. J. had been motoring, and passed

"Elizabeth" out by McGruder's Bridge. He was wearing the awfullest

clothes, with the waist pinched in like a girl's. He was sitting on

a rock doing nothing, but when he heard the Gougerling car coming he

snatched a book out of his pocket, and as they went by he pretended to

be reading it, to show off. And he wasn't really good-looking--just kind

of soft, as B. J. had pointed out.
When the husbands came they joined in the expose. "My name is Elizabeth.

I'm the celebrated musical tailor. The skirts fall for me by the thou.

Do I get some more veal loaf?" merrily shrieked Dave Dyer. He had some

admirable stories about the tricks the town youngsters had played on

Valborg. They had dropped a decaying perch into his pocket. They had

pinned on his back a sign, "I'm the prize boob, kick me."


Glad of any laughter, Carol joined the frolic, and surprised them by

crying, "Dave, I do think you're the dearest thing since you got your

hair cut!" That was an excellent sally. Everybody applauded. Kennicott

looked proud.


She decided that sometime she really must go out of her way to pass

Hicks's shop and see this freak.

II

She was at Sunday morning service at the Baptist Church, in a solemn row



with her husband, Hugh, Uncle Whittier, Aunt Bessie.
Despite Aunt Bessie's nagging the Kennicotts rarely attended church. The

doctor asserted, "Sure, religion is a fine influence--got to have it to

keep the lower classes in order--fact, it's the only thing that appeals

to a lot of those fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property.

And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it

all out, and they knew more about it than we do." He believed in the

Christian religion, and never thought about it, he believed in the

church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of

faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she

lacked.
Carol herself was an uneasy and dodging agnostic.


When she ventured to Sunday School and heard the teachers droning that

the genealogy of Shamsherai was a valuable ethical problem for children

to think about; when she experimented with Wednesday prayer-meeting and

listened to store-keeping elders giving their unvarying weekly testimony

in primitive erotic symbols and such gory Chaldean phrases as "washed

in the blood of the lamb" and "a vengeful God"; when Mrs. Bogart boasted

that through his boyhood she had made Cy confess nightly upon the basis

of the Ten Commandments; then Carol was dismayed to find the Christian

religion, in America, in the twentieth century, as abnormal as

Zoroastrianism--without the splendor. But when she went to church

suppers and felt the friendliness, saw the gaiety with which the sisters

served cold ham and scalloped potatoes; when Mrs. Champ Perry cried to

her, on an afternoon call, "My dear, if you just knew how happy it makes

you to come into abiding grace," then Carol found the humanness behind

the sanguinary and alien theology. Always she perceived that the

churches--Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Catholic, all of

them--which had seemed so unimportant to the judge's home in her

childhood, so isolated from the city struggle in St. Paul, were

still, in Gopher Prairie, the strongest of the forces compelling

respectability.


This August Sunday she had been tempted by the announcement that the

Reverend Edmund Zitterel would preach on the topic "America, Face Your

Problems!" With the great war, workmen in every nation showing a desire

to control industries, Russia hinting a leftward revolution against

Kerensky, woman suffrage coming, there seemed to be plenty of problems

for the Reverend Mr. Zitterel to call on America to face. Carol gathered

her family and trotted off behind Uncle Whittier.
The congregation faced the heat with informality. Men with highly

plastered hair, so painfully shaved that their faces looked sore,

removed their coats, sighed, and unbuttoned two buttons of their

uncreased Sunday vests. Large-bosomed, white-bloused, hot-necked,

spectacled matrons--the Mothers in Israel, pioneers and friends of Mrs.

Champ Perry--waved their palm-leaf fans in a steady rhythm. Abashed boys

slunk into the rear pews and giggled, while milky little girls, up front

with their mothers, self-consciously kept from turning around.


The church was half barn and half Gopher Prairie parlor. The streaky

brown wallpaper was broken in its dismal sweep only by framed texts,

"Come unto Me" and "The Lord is My Shepherd," by a list of hymns, and by

a crimson and green diagram, staggeringly drawn upon hemp-colored paper,

indicating the alarming ease with which a young man may descend from

Palaces of Pleasure and the House of Pride to Eternal Damnation. But the

varnished oak pews and the new red carpet and the three large chairs on

the platform, behind the bare reading-stand, were all of a rocking-chair

comfort.
Carol was civic and neighborly and commendable today. She beamed and

bowed. She trolled out with the others the hymn:


How pleasant 'tis on Sabbath morn

To gather in the church

And there I'll have no carnal thoughts,

Nor sin shall me besmirch.


With a rustle of starched linen skirts and stiff shirt-fronts, the

congregation sat down, and gave heed to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel. The

priest was a thin, swart, intense young man with a bang. He wore a

black sack suit and a lilac tie. He smote the enormous Bible on the

reading-stand, vociferated, "Come, let us reason together," delivered a

prayer informing Almighty God of the news of the past week, and began to

reason.
It proved that the only problems which America had to face were

Mormonism and Prohibition:


"Don't let any of these self-conceited fellows that are always trying to

stir up trouble deceive you with the belief that there's anything to

all these smart-aleck movements to let the unions and the Farmers'

Nonpartisan League kill all our initiative and enterprise by fixing

wages and prices. There isn't any movement that amounts to a whoop

without it's got a moral background. And let me tell you that while

folks are fussing about what they call 'economics' and 'socialism'

and 'science' and a lot of things that are nothing in the world but a

disguise for atheism, the Old Satan is busy spreading his secret net

and tentacles out there in Utah, under his guise of Joe Smith or Brigham

Young or whoever their leaders happen to be today, it doesn't make any

difference, and they're making game of the Old Bible that has led this

American people through its manifold trials and tribulations to its firm

position as the fulfilment of the prophecies and the recognized leader

of all nations. 'Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies

the footstool of my feet,' said the Lord of Hosts, Acts II, the

thirty-fourth verse--and let me tell you right now, you got to get up a

good deal earlier in the morning than you get up even when you're going

fishing, if you want to be smarter than the Lord, who has shown us the

straight and narrow way, and he that passeth therefrom is in

eternal peril and, to return to this vital and terrible subject of

Mormonism--and as I say, it is terrible to realize how little attention

is given to this evil right here in our midst and on our very doorstep,

as it were--it's a shame and a disgrace that the Congress of these

United States spends all its time talking about inconsequential

financial matters that ought to be left to the Treasury Department, as I

understand it, instead of arising in their might and passing a law that

any one admitting he is a Mormon shall simply be deported and as it were

kicked out of this free country in which we haven't got any room for

polygamy and the tyrannies of Satan.


"And, to digress for a moment, especially as there are more of them in

this state than there are Mormons, though you never can tell what will

happen with this vain generation of young girls, that think more about

wearing silk stockings than about minding their mothers and learning to

bake a good loaf of bread, and many of them listening to these sneaking

Mormon missionaries--and I actually heard one of them talking right out

on a street-corner in Duluth, a few years ago, and the officers of the

law not protesting--but still, as they are a smaller but more immediate

problem, let me stop for just a moment to pay my respects to these

Seventh-Day Adventists. Not that they are immoral, I don't mean, but

when a body of men go on insisting that Saturday is the Sabbath, after

Christ himself has clearly indicated the new dispensation, then I think

the legislature ought to step in----"
At this point Carol awoke.
She got through three more minutes by studying the face of a girl in

the pew across: a sensitive unhappy girl whose longing poured out

with intimidating self-revelation as she worshiped Mr. Zitterel. Carol

wondered who the girl was. She had seen her at church suppers. She

considered how many of the three thousand people in the town she did not

know; to how many of them the Thanatopsis and the Jolly Seventeen were

icy social peaks; how many of them might be toiling through boredom

thicker than her own--with greater courage.


She examined her nails. She read two hymns. She got some satisfaction

out of rubbing an itching knuckle. She pillowed on her shoulder the head

of the baby who, after killing time in the same manner as his mother,

was so fortunate as to fall asleep. She read the introduction,

title-page, and acknowledgment of copyrights, in the hymnal. She tried

to evolve a philosophy which would explain why Kennicott could never

tie his scarf so that it would reach the top of the gap in his turn-down

collar.
There were no other diversions to be found in the pew. She glanced back

at the congregation. She thought that it would be amiable to bow to Mrs.

Champ Perry.


Her slow turning head stopped, galvanized.
Across the aisle, two rows back, was a strange young man who shone among

the cud-chewing citizens like a visitant from the sun-amber curls, low

forehead, fine nose, chin smooth but not raw from Sabbath shaving. His

lips startled her. The lips of men in Gopher Prairie are flat in the

face, straight and grudging. The stranger's mouth was arched, the upper

lip short. He wore a brown jersey coat, a delft-blue bow, a white silk

shirt, white flannel trousers. He suggested the ocean beach, a tennis

court, anything but the sun-blistered utility of Main Street.


A visitor from Minneapolis, here for business? No. He wasn't a business

man. He was a poet. Keats was in his face, and Shelley, and Arthur

Upson, whom she had once seen in Minneapolis. He was at once too

sensitive and too sophisticated to touch business as she knew it in

Gopher Prairie.
With restrained amusement he was analyzing the noisy Mr. Zitterel. Carol

was ashamed to have this spy from the Great World hear the pastor's

maundering. She felt responsible for the town. She resented his gaping

at their private rites. She flushed, turned away. But she continued to

feel his presence.
How could she meet him? She must! For an hour of talk. He was all that

she was hungry for. She could not let him get away without a word--and

she would have to. She pictured, and ridiculed, herself as walking up

to him and remarking, "I am sick with the Village Virus. Will you please

tell me what people are saying and playing in New York?" She pictured,

and groaned over, the expression of Kennicott if she should say,

"Why wouldn't it be reasonable for you, my soul, to ask that complete

stranger in the brown jersey coat to come to supper tonight?"


She brooded, not looking back. She warned herself that she was probably

exaggerating; that no young man could have all these exalted qualities.

Wasn't he too obviously smart, too glossy-new? Like a movie actor.

Probably he was a traveling salesman who sang tenor and fancied himself

in imitations of Newport clothes and spoke of "the swellest business

proposition that ever came down the pike." In a panic she peered at him.

No! This was no hustling salesman, this boy with the curving Grecian

lips and the serious eyes.


She rose after the service, carefully taking Kennicott's arm and smiling

at him in a mute assertion that she was devoted to him no matter what

happened. She followed the Mystery's soft brown jersey shoulders out of

the church.


Fatty Hicks, the shrill and puffy son of Nat, flapped his hand at the

beautiful stranger and jeered, "How's the kid? All dolled up like a

plush horse today, ain't we!"
Carol was exceeding sick. Her herald from the outside was Erik Valborg,

"Elizabeth." Apprentice tailor! Gasoline and hot goose! Mending dirty

jackets! Respectfully holding a tape-measure about a paunch!
And yet, she insisted, this boy was also himself.

III


They had Sunday dinner with the Smails, in a dining-room which centered

about a fruit and flower piece and a crayon-enlargement of Uncle

Whittier. Carol did not heed Aunt Bessie's fussing in regard to Mrs.

Robert B. Schminke's bead necklace and Whittier's error in putting on

the striped pants, day like this. She did not taste the shreds of roast

pork. She said vacuously:


"Uh--Will, I wonder if that young man in the white flannel trousers, at

church this morning, was this Valborg person that they're all talking

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