The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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that want me to back you up, that demand things from me? They're all on

me, the whole town! I can feel their hot breaths on my neck! Aunt Bessie

and that horrible slavering old Uncle Whittier and Juanita and Mrs.

Westlake and Mrs. Bogart and all of them. And you welcome them, you

encourage them to drag me down into their cave! I won't stand it! Do you

hear? Now, right now, I'm done. And it's Erik who gives me the courage.

You say he just thinks about ruches (which do not usually go on skirts,

by the way!). I tell you he thinks about God, the God that Mrs. Bogart

covers up with greasy gingham wrappers! Erik will be a great man some

day, and if I could contribute one tiny bit to his success----"


"Wait, wait, wait now! Hold up! You're assuming that your Erik will make

good. As a matter of fact, at my age he'll be running a one-man tailor

shop in some burg about the size of Schoenstrom."
"He will not!"
"That's what he's headed for now all right, and he's twenty-five or -six

and----What's he done to make you think he'll ever be anything but a

pants-presser?"
"He has sensitiveness and talent----"
"Wait now! What has he actually done in the art line? Has he done one

first-class picture or--sketch, d' you call it? Or one poem, or played

the piano, or anything except gas about what he's going to do?"
She looked thoughtful.
"Then it's a hundred to one shot that he never will. Way I understand

it, even these fellows that do something pretty good at home and get to

go to art school, there ain't more than one out of ten of 'em, maybe one

out of a hundred, that ever get above grinding out a bum living--about

as artistic as plumbing. And when it comes down to this tailor, why,

can't you see--you that take on so about psychology--can't you see that

it's just by contrast with folks like Doc McGanum or Lym Cass that this

fellow seems artistic? Suppose you'd met up with him first in one of

these reg'lar New York studios! You wouldn't notice him any more 'n a

rabbit!"
She huddled over folded hands like a temple virgin shivering on her

knees before the thin warmth of a brazier. She could not answer.
Kennicott rose quickly, sat on the couch, took both her hands. "Suppose

he fails--as he will! Suppose he goes back to tailoring, and you're his

wife. Is that going to be this artistic life you've been thinking about?

He's in some bum shack, pressing pants all day, or stooped over sewing,

and having to be polite to any grouch that blows in and jams a dirty

stinking old suit in his face and says, 'Here you, fix this, and be

blame quick about it.' He won't even have enough savvy to get him a big

shop. He'll pike along doing his own work--unless you, his wife, go help

him, go help him in the shop, and stand over a table all day, pushing a

big heavy iron. Your complexion will look fine after about fifteen years

of baking that way, won't it! And you'll be humped over like an old

hag. And probably you'll live in one room back of the shop. And then

at night--oh, you'll have your artist--sure! He'll come in stinking

of gasoline, and cranky from hard work, and hinting around that if it

hadn't been for you, he'd of gone East and been a great artist. Sure!

And you'll be entertaining his relatives----Talk about Uncle Whit!

You'll be having some old Axel Axelberg coming in with manure on his

boots and sitting down to supper in his socks and yelling at you, 'Hurry

up now, you vimmin make me sick!' Yes, and you'll have a squalling brat

every year, tugging at you while you press clothes, and you won't love

'em like you do Hugh up-stairs, all downy and asleep----"
"Please! Not any more!"
Her face was on his knee.
He bent to kiss her neck. "I don't want to be unfair. I guess love is

a great thing, all right. But think it would stand much of that kind of

stuff? Oh, honey, am I so bad? Can't you like me at all? I've--I've been

so fond of you!"


She snatched up his hand, she kissed it. Presently she sobbed, "I won't

ever see him again. I can't, now. The hot living-room behind the tailor

shop----I don't love him enough for that. And you are----Even if I were

sure of him, sure he was the real thing, I don't think I could actually

leave you. This marriage, it weaves people together. It's not easy to

break, even when it ought to be broken."


"And do you want to break it?"
"No!"
He lifted her, carried her up-stairs, laid her on her bed, turned to the

door.
"Come kiss me," she whimpered.


He kissed her lightly and slipped away. For an hour she heard him moving

about his room, lighting a cigar, drumming with his knuckles on a chair.

She felt that he was a bulwark between her and the darkness that grew

thicker as the delayed storm came down in sleet.

II

He was cheery and more casual than ever at breakfast. All day she tried



to devise a way of giving Erik up. Telephone? The village central would

unquestionably "listen in." A letter? It might be found. Go to see

him? Impossible. That evening Kennicott gave her, without comment, an

envelope. The letter was signed "E. V."

I know I can't do anything but make trouble for you, I think. I am going

to Minneapolis tonight and from there as soon as I can either to New

York or Chicago. I will do as big things as I can. I--I can't write I

love you too much--God keep you.

Until she heard the whistle which told her that the Minneapolis train

was leaving town, she kept herself from thinking, from moving. Then it

was all over. She had no plan nor desire for anything.
When she caught Kennicott looking at her over his newspaper she fled

to his arms, thrusting the paper aside, and for the first time in years

they were lovers. But she knew that she still had no plan in life, save

always to go along the same streets, past the same people, to the same

shops.

III


A week after Erik's going the maid startled her by announcing, "There's

a Mr. Valborg down-stairs say he vant to see you."


She was conscious of the maid's interested stare, angry at this

shattering of the calm in which she had hidden. She crept down, peeped

into the living-room. It was not Erik Valborg who stood there; it was a

small, gray-bearded, yellow-faced man in mucky boots, canvas jacket, and

red mittens. He glowered at her with shrewd red eyes.
"You de doc's wife?"
"Yes."
"I'm Adolph Valborg, from up by Jefferson. I'm Erik's father."
"Oh!" He was a monkey-faced little man, and not gentle.
"What you done wit' my son?"
"I don't think I understand you."
"I t'ink you're going to understand before I get t'rough! Where is he?"
"Why, really----I presume that he's in Minneapolis."
"You presume!" He looked through her with a contemptuousness such as

she could not have imagined. Only an insane contortion of spelling could

portray his lyric whine, his mangled consonants. He clamored, "Presume!

Dot's a fine word! I don't want no fine words and I don't want no more

lies! I want to know what you KNOW!"
"See here, Mr. Valborg, you may stop this bullying right now. I'm not

one of your farmwomen. I don't know where your son is, and there's no

reason why I should know." Her defiance ran out in face of his immense

flaxen stolidity. He raised his fist, worked up his anger with the

gesture, and sneered:
"You dirty city women wit' your fine ways and fine dresses! A father

come here trying to save his boy from wickedness, and you call him a

bully! By God, I don't have to take nothin' off you nor your husband! I

ain't one of your hired men. For one time a woman like you is going to

hear de trut' about what you are, and no fine city words to it, needer."
"Really, Mr. Valborg----"
"What you done wit' him? Heh? I'll yoost tell you what you done! He was

a good boy, even if he was a damn fool. I want him back on de farm. He

don't make enough money tailoring. And I can't get me no hired man! I

want to take him back on de farm. And you butt in and fool wit' him and

make love wit' him, and get him to run away!"
"You are lying! It's not true that----It's not true, and if it were, you

would have no right to speak like this."


"Don't talk foolish. I know. Ain't I heard from a fellow dot live right

here in town how you been acting wit' de boy? I know what you done!

Walking wit' him in de country! Hiding in de woods wit' him! Yes and I

guess you talk about religion in de woods! Sure! Women like you--you're

worse dan street-walkers! Rich women like you, wit' fine husbands and

no decent work to do--and me, look at my hands, look how I work, look at

those hands! But you, oh God no, you mustn't work, you're too fine to

do decent work. You got to play wit' young fellows, younger as you are,

laughing and rolling around and acting like de animals! You let my son

alone, d' you hear?" He was shaking his fist in her face. She could

smell the manure and sweat. "It ain't no use talkin' to women like you.

Get no trut' out of you. But next time I go by your husband!"


He was marching into the hall. Carol flung herself on him, her clenching

hand on his hayseed-dusty shoulder. "You horrible old man, you've always

tried to turn Erik into a slave, to fatten your pocketbook! You've

sneered at him, and overworked him, and probably you've succeeded in

preventing his ever rising above your muck-heap! And now because you

can't drag him back, you come here to vent----Go tell my husband, go

tell him, and don't blame me when he kills you, when my husband kills

you--he will kill you----"


The man grunted, looked at her impassively, said one word, and walked

out.
She heard the word very plainly.


She did not quite reach the couch. Her knees gave way, she pitched

forward. She heard her mind saying, "You haven't fainted. This is

ridiculous. You're simply dramatizing yourself. Get up." But she could

not move. When Kennicott arrived she was lying on the couch. His step

quickened. "What's happened, Carrie? You haven't got a bit of blood in

your face."


She clutched his arm. "You've got to be sweet to me, and kind! I'm going

to California--mountains, sea. Please don't argue about it, because I'm

going."
Quietly, "All right. We'll go. You and I. Leave the kid here with Aunt

Bessie."
"Now!"


"Well yes, just as soon as we can get away. Now don't talk any more.

Just imagine you've already started." He smoothed her hair, and not till

after supper did he continue: "I meant it about California. But I think

we better wait three weeks or so, till I get hold of some young fellow

released from the medical corps to take my practice. And if people are

gossiping, you don't want to give them a chance by running away. Can you

stand it and face 'em for three weeks or so?"
"Yes," she said emptily.

IV

People covertly stared at her on the street. Aunt Bessie tried to



catechize her about Erik's disappearance, and it was Kennicott who

silenced the woman with a savage, "Say, are you hinting that Carrie had

anything to do with that fellow's beating it? Then let me tell you, and

you can go right out and tell the whole bloomin' town, that Carrie and

I took Val--took Erik riding, and he asked me about getting a better job

in Minneapolis, and I advised him to go to it. . . . Getting much sugar

in at the store now?"
Guy Pollock crossed the street to be pleasant apropos of California and

new novels. Vida Sherwin dragged her to the Jolly Seventeen. There, with

every one rigidly listening, Maud Dyer shot at Carol, "I hear Erik has

left town."


Carol was amiable. "Yes, so I hear. In fact, he called me up--told me he

had been offered a lovely job in the city. So sorry he's gone. He would

have been valuable if we'd tried to start the dramatic association

again. Still, I wouldn't be here for the association myself, because

Will is all in from work, and I'm thinking of taking him to California.

Juanita--you know the Coast so well--tell me: would you start in at Los

Angeles or San Francisco, and what are the best hotels?"
The Jolly Seventeen looked disappointed, but the Jolly Seventeen liked

to give advice, the Jolly Seventeen liked to mention the expensive

hotels at which they had stayed. (A meal counted as a stay.) Before they

could question her again Carol escorted in with drum and fife the topic

of Raymie Wutherspoon. Vida had news from her husband. He had been

gassed in the trenches, had been in a hospital for two weeks, had been

promoted to major, was learning French.
She left Hugh with Aunt Bessie.
But for Kennicott she would have taken him. She hoped that in some

miraculous way yet unrevealed she might find it possible to remain in

California. She did not want to see Gopher Prairie again.
The Smails were to occupy the Kennicott house, and quite the hardest

thing to endure in the month of waiting was the series of conferences

between Kennicott and Uncle Whittier in regard to heating the garage and

having the furnace flues cleaned.


Did Carol, Kennicott inquired, wish to stop in Minneapolis to buy new

clothes?
"No! I want to get as far away as I can as soon as I can. Let's wait

till Los Angeles."
"Sure, sure! Just as you like. Cheer up! We're going to have a large

wide time, and everything 'll be different when we come back."

VI

Dusk on a snowy December afternoon. The sleeper which would connect



at Kansas City with the California train rolled out of St. Paul with

a chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick as it crossed the other

tracks. It bumped through the factory belt, gained speed. Carol could

see nothing but gray fields, which had closed in on her all the way from

Gopher Prairie. Ahead was darkness.
"For an hour, in Minneapolis, I must have been near Erik. He's still

there, somewhere. He'll be gone when I come back. I'll never know where

he has gone."
As Kennicott switched on the seat-light she turned drearily to the

illustrations in a motion-picture magazine.


CHAPTER XXXIV


THEY journeyed for three and a half months. They saw the Grand Canyon,

the adobe walls of Sante Fe and, in a drive from El Paso into Mexico,

their first foreign land. They jogged from San Diego and La Jolla to Los

Angeles, Pasadena, Riverside, through towns with bell-towered missions

and orange-groves; they viewed Monterey and San Francisco and a forest

of sequoias. They bathed in the surf and climbed foothills and danced,

they saw a polo game and the making of motion-pictures, they sent one

hundred and seventeen souvenir post-cards to Gopher Prairie, and once,

on a dune by a foggy sea when she was walking alone, Carol found an

artist, and he looked up at her and said, "Too damned wet to paint; sit

down and talk," and so for ten minutes she lived in a romantic novel.
Her only struggle was in coaxing Kennicott not to spend all his time

with the tourists from the ten thousand other Gopher Prairies. In

winter, California is full of people from Iowa and Nebraska, Ohio and

Oklahoma, who, having traveled thousands of miles from their familiar

villages, hasten to secure an illusion of not having left them. They

hunt for people from their own states to stand between them and the

shame of naked mountains; they talk steadily, in Pullmans, on hotel

porches, at cafeterias and motion-picture shows, about the motors and

crops and county politics back home. Kennicott discussed land-prices

with them, he went into the merits of the several sorts of motor cars

with them, he was intimate with train porters, and he insisted on seeing

the Luke Dawsons at their flimsy bungalow in Pasadena, where Luke sat

and yearned to go back and make some more money. But Kennicott gave

promise of learning to play. He shouted in the pool at the Coronado, and

he spoke of (though he did nothing more radical than speak of) buying

evening-clothes. Carol was touched by his efforts to enjoy picture

galleries, and the dogged way in which he accumulated dates and

dimensions when they followed monkish guides through missions.


She felt strong. Whenever she was restless she dodged her thoughts by

the familiar vagabond fallacy of running away from them, of moving on

to a new place, and thus she persuaded herself that she was tranquil. In

March she willingly agreed with Kennicott that it was time to go home.

She was longing for Hugh.
They left Monterey on April first, on a day of high blue skies and

poppies and a summer sea.


As the train struck in among the hills she resolved, "I'm going to love

the fine Will Kennicott quality that there is in Gopher Prairie. The

nobility of good sense. It will be sweet to see Vida and Guy and the

Clarks. And I'm going to see my baby! All the words he'll be able to say

now! It's a new start. Everything will be different!"
Thus on April first, among dappled hills and the bronze of scrub oaks,

while Kennicott seesawed on his toes and chuckled, "Wonder what Hugh'll

say when he sees us?"
Three days later they reached Gopher Prairie in a sleet storm.

II

No one knew that they were coming; no one met them; and because of the



icy roads, the only conveyance at the station was the hotel 'bus, which

they missed while Kennicott was giving his trunk-check to the station

agent--the only person to welcome them. Carol waited for him in the

station, among huddled German women with shawls and umbrellas, and

ragged-bearded farmers in corduroy coats; peasants mute as oxen, in a

room thick with the steam of wet coats, the reek of the red-hot stove,

the stench of sawdust boxes which served as cuspidors. The afternoon

light was as reluctant as a winter dawn.


"This is a useful market-center, an interesting pioneer post, but it is

not a home for me," meditated the stranger Carol.


Kennicott suggested, "I'd 'phone for a flivver but it'd take quite a

while for it to get here. Let's walk."


They stepped uncomfortably from the safety of the plank platform and,

balancing on their toes, taking cautious strides, ventured along the

road. The sleety rain was turning to snow. The air was stealthily cold.

Beneath an inch of water was a layer of ice, so that as they wavered

with their suit-cases they slid and almost fell. The wet snow drenched

their gloves; the water underfoot splashed their itching ankles. They

scuffled inch by inch for three blocks. In front of Harry Haydock's

Kennicott sighed:


"We better stop in here and 'phone for a machine."
She followed him like a wet kitten.
The Haydocks saw them laboring up the slippery concrete walk, up the

perilous front steps, and came to the door chanting:


"Well, well, well, back again, eh? Say, this is fine! Have a fine trip?

My, you look like a rose, Carol. How did you like the coast, doc? Well,

well, well! Where-all did you go?"
But as Kennicott began to proclaim the list of places achieved, Harry

interrupted with an account of how much he himself had seen, two years

ago. When Kennicott boasted, "We went through the mission at Santa

Barbara," Harry broke in, "Yeh, that's an interesting old mission. Say,

I'll never forget that hotel there, doc. It was swell. Why, the rooms

were made just like these old monasteries. Juanita and I went from Santa

Barbara to San Luis Obispo. You folks go to San Luis Obispo?"
"No, but----"
"Well you ought to gone to San Luis Obispo. And then we went from there

to a ranch, least they called it a ranch----"


Kennicott got in only one considerable narrative, which began:
"Say, I never knew--did you, Harry?--that in the Chicago district the

Kutz Kar sells as well as the Overland? I never thought much of the

Kutz. But I met a gentleman on the train--it was when we were pulling

out of Albuquerque, and I was sitting on the back platform of the

observation car, and this man was next to me and he asked me for a

light, and we got to talking, and come to find out, he came from Aurora,

and when he found out I came from Minnesota he asked me if I knew Dr.

Clemworth of Red Wing, and of course, while I've never met him, I've

heard of Clemworth lots of times, and seems he's this man's brother!

Quite a coincidence! Well, we got to talking, and we called the

porter--that was a pretty good porter on that car--and we had a couple

bottles of ginger ale, and I happened to mention the Kutz Kar, and this

man--seems he's driven a lot of different kinds of cars--he's got

a Franklin now--and he said that he'd tried the Kutz and liked it

first-rate. Well, when we got into a station--I don't remember the name

of it--Carrie, what the deuce was the name of that first stop we made

the other side of Albuquerque?--well, anyway, I guess we must have

stopped there to take on water, and this man and I got out to stretch

our legs, and darned if there wasn't a Kutz drawn right up at the depot

platform, and he pointed out something I'd never noticed, and I was

glad to learn about it: seems that the gear lever in the Kutz is an inch

longer----"


Even this chronicle of voyages Harry interrupted, with remarks on the

advantages of the ball-gear-shift.


Kennicott gave up hope of adequate credit for being a traveled man, and

telephoned to a garage for a Ford taxicab, while Juanita kissed Carol

and made sure of being the first to tell the latest, which included

seven distinct and proven scandals about Mrs. Swiftwaite, and one

considerable doubt as to the chastity of Cy Bogart.
They saw the Ford sedan making its way over the water-lined ice, through

the snow-storm, like a tug-boat in a fog. The driver stopped at a

corner. The car skidded, it turned about with comic reluctance, crashed

into a tree, and stood tilted on a broken wheel.


The Kennicotts refused Harry Haydock's not too urgent offer to take them

home in his car "if I can manage to get it out of the garage--terrible

day--stayed home from the store--but if you say so, I'll take a shot at

it." Carol gurgled, "No, I think we'd better walk; probably make better

time, and I'm just crazy to see my baby." With their suit-cases they

waddled on. Their coats were soaked through.


Carol had forgotten her facile hopes. She looked about with impersonal

eyes. But Kennicott, through rain-blurred lashes, caught the glory that

was Back Home.
She noted bare tree-trunks, black branches, the spongy brown earth

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