The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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between patches of decayed snow on the lawns. The vacant lots were

full of tall dead weeds. Stripped of summer leaves the houses were

hopeless--temporary shelters.


Kennicott chuckled, "By golly, look down there! Jack Elder must have

painted his garage. And look! Martin Mahoney has put up a new fence

around his chicken yard. Say, that's a good fence, eh? Chicken-tight

and dog-tight. That's certainly a dandy fence. Wonder how much it cost a

yard? Yes, sir, they been building right along, even in winter. Got more

enterprise than these Californians. Pretty good to be home, eh?"


She noted that all winter long the citizens had been throwing garbage

into their back yards, to be cleaned up in spring. The recent thaw had

disclosed heaps of ashes, dog-bones, torn bedding, clotted paint-cans,

all half covered by the icy pools which filled the hollows of the yards.

The refuse had stained the water to vile colors of waste: thin red, sour

yellow, streaky brown.


Kennicott chuckled, "Look over there on Main Street! They got the

feed store all fixed up, and a new sign on it, black and gold. That'll

improve the appearance of the block a lot."
She noted that the few people whom they passed wore their raggedest

coats for the evil day. They were scarecrows in a shanty town. . . . "To

think," she marveled, "of coming two thousand miles, past mountains

and cities, to get off here, and to plan to stay here! What conceivable

reason for choosing this particular place?"
She noted a figure in a rusty coat and a cloth cap.
Kennicott chuckled, "Look who's coming! It's Sam Clark! Gosh, all rigged

out for the weather."


The two men shook hands a dozen times and, in the Western fashion,

bumbled, "Well, well, well, well, you old hell-hound, you old devil,

how are you, anyway? You old horse-thief, maybe it ain't good to see

you again!" While Sam nodded at her over Kennicott's shoulder, she was

embarrassed.
"Perhaps I should never have gone away. I'm out of practise in lying. I

wish they would get it over! Just a block more and--my baby!"


They were home. She brushed past the welcoming Aunt Bessie and knelt

by Hugh. As he stammered, "O mummy, mummy, don't go away! Stay with me,

mummy!" she cried, "No, I'll never leave you again!"
He volunteered, "That's daddy."
"By golly, he knows us just as if we'd never been away!" said Kennicott.

"You don't find any of these California kids as bright as he is, at his

age!"
When the trunk came they piled about Hugh the bewhiskered little wooden

men fitting one inside another, the miniature junk, and the Oriental

drum, from San Francisco Chinatown; the blocks carved by the old

Frenchman in San Diego; the lariat from San Antonio.


"Will you forgive mummy for going away? Will you?" she whispered.
Absorbed in Hugh, asking a hundred questions about him--had he had any

colds? did he still dawdle over his oatmeal? what about unfortunate

morning incidents? she viewed Aunt Bessie only as a source of

information, and was able to ignore her hint, pointed by a coyly shaken

finger, "Now that you've had such a fine long trip and spent so much

money and all, I hope you're going to settle down and be satisfied and

not----"
"Does he like carrots yet?" replied Carol.
She was cheerful as the snow began to conceal the slatternly yards. She

assured herself that the streets of New York and Chicago were as ugly as

Gopher Prairie in such weather; she dismissed the thought, "But they

do have charming interiors for refuge." She sang as she energetically

looked over Hugh's clothes.
The afternoon grew old and dark. Aunt Bessie went home. Carol took the

baby into her own room. The maid came in complaining, "I can't get no

extra milk to make chipped beef for supper." Hugh was sleepy, and he had

been spoiled by Aunt Bessie. Even to a returned mother, his whining and

his trick of seven times snatching her silver brush were fatiguing. As a

background, behind the noises of Hugh and the kitchen, the house reeked

with a colorless stillness.
From the window she heard Kennicott greeting the Widow Bogart as he had

always done, always, every snowy evening: "Guess this 'll keep up all

night." She waited. There they were, the furnace sounds, unalterable,

eternal: removing ashes, shoveling coal.


Yes. She was back home! Nothing had changed. She had never been away.

California? Had she seen it? Had she for one minute left this scraping

sound of the small shovel in the ash-pit of the furnace? But Kennicott

preposterously supposed that she had. Never had she been quite so far

from going away as now when he believed she had just come back. She

felt oozing through the walls the spirit of small houses and righteous

people. At that instant she knew that in running away she had merely

hidden her doubts behind the officious stir of travel.


"Dear God, don't let me begin agonizing again!" she sobbed. Hugh wept

with her.


"Wait for mummy a second!" She hastened down to the cellar, to

Kennicott.


He was standing before the furnace. However inadequate the rest of the

house, he had seen to it that the fundamental cellar should be large

and clean, the square pillars whitewashed, and the bins for coal and

potatoes and trunks convenient. A glow from the drafts fell on the

smooth gray cement floor at his feet. He was whistling tenderly, staring

at the furnace with eyes which saw the black-domed monster as a symbol

of home and of the beloved routine to which he had returned--his

gipsying decently accomplished, his duty of viewing "sights" and

"curios" performed with thoroughness. Unconscious of her, he stooped

and peered in at the blue flames among the coals. He closed the door

briskly, and made a whirling gesture with his right hand, out of pure

bliss.
He saw her. "Why, hello, old lady! Pretty darn good to be back, eh?"


"Yes," she lied, while she quaked, "Not now. I can't face the job of

explaining now. He's been so good. He trusts me. And I'm going to break

his heart!"
She smiled at him. She tidied his sacred cellar by throwing an empty

bluing bottle into the trash bin. She mourned, "It's only the baby that

holds me. If Hugh died----" She fled upstairs in panic and made sure

that nothing had happened to Hugh in these four minutes.


She saw a pencil-mark on a window-sill. She had made it on a September

day when she had been planning a picnic for Fern Mullins and Erik. Fern

and she had been hysterical with nonsense, had invented mad parties for

all the coming winter. She glanced across the alley at the room which

Fern had occupied. A rag of a gray curtain masked the still window.
She tried to think of some one to whom she wanted to telephone. There

was no one.


The Sam Clarks called that evening and encouraged her to describe the

missions. A dozen times they told her how glad they were to have her

back.
"It is good to be wanted," she thought. "It will drug me. But----Oh, is

all life, always, an unresolved But?"


CHAPTER XXXV


SHE tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms. She

fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh.

She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that

though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and

wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier

in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off

babies' hands.
Carol was volunteer nurse when Mrs. Champ Perry suddenly died of

pneumonia.


In her funeral procession were the eleven people left out of the Grand

Army and the Territorial Pioneers, old men and women, very old and weak,

who a few decades ago had been boys and girls of the frontier, riding

broncos through the rank windy grass of this prairie. They hobbled

behind a band made up of business men and high-school boys, who

straggled along without uniforms or ranks or leader, trying to play

Chopin's Funeral March--a shabby group of neighbors with grave eyes,

stumbling through the slush under a solemnity of faltering music.


Champ was broken. His rheumatism was worse. The rooms over the store

were silent. He could not do his work as buyer at the elevator. Farmers

coming in with sled-loads of wheat complained that Champ could not read

the scale, that he seemed always to be watching some one back in the

darkness of the bins. He was seen slipping through alleys, talking to

himself, trying to avoid observation, creeping at last to the cemetery.

Once Carol followed him and found the coarse, tobacco-stained,

unimaginative old man lying on the snow of the grave, his thick arms

spread out across the raw mound as if to protect her from the cold, her

whom he had carefully covered up every night for sixty years, who was

alone there now, uncared for.
The elevator company, Ezra Stowbody president, let him go. The company,

Ezra explained to Carol, had no funds for giving pensions.


She tried to have him appointed to the postmastership, which, since all

the work was done by assistants, was the one sinecure in town, the one

reward for political purity. But it proved that Mr. Bert Tybee, the

former bartender, desired the postmastership.


At her solicitation Lyman Cass gave Champ a warm berth as night

watchman. Small boys played a good many tricks on Champ when he fell

asleep at the mill.

II

She had vicarious happiness in the return of Major Raymond Wutherspoon.



He was well, but still weak from having been gassed; he had been

discharged and he came home as the first of the war veterans. It was

rumored that he surprised Vida by coming unannounced, that Vida fainted

when she saw him, and for a night and day would not share him with the

town. When Carol saw them Vida was hazy about everything except Raymie,

and never went so far from him that she could not slip her hand under

his. Without understanding why Carol was troubled by this intensity. And

Raymie--surely this was not Raymie, but a sterner brother of his, this

man with the tight blouse, the shoulder emblems, the trim legs in boots.

His face seemed different, his lips more tight. He was not Raymie; he

was Major Wutherspoon; and Kennicott and Carol were grateful when he

divulged that Paris wasn't half as pretty as Minneapolis, that all of

the American soldiers had been distinguished by their morality when on

leave. Kennicott was respectful as he inquired whether the Germans had

good aeroplanes, and what a salient was, and a cootie, and Going West.
In a week Major Wutherspoon was made full manager of the Bon Ton. Harry

Haydock was going to devote himself to the half-dozen branch stores

which he was establishing at crossroads hamlets. Harry would be the

town's rich man in the coming generation, and Major Wutherspoon would

rise with him, and Vida was jubilant, though she was regretful at having

to give up most of her Red Cross work. Ray still needed nursing, she

explained.
When Carol saw him with his uniform off, in a pepper-and salt suit and

a new gray felt hat, she was disappointed. He was not Major Wutherspoon;

he was Raymie.
For a month small boys followed him down the street, and everybody

called him Major, but that was presently shortened to Maje, and the

small boys did not look up from their marbles as he went by.

III


The town was booming, as a result of the war price of wheat.
The wheat money did not remain in the pockets of the farmers; the towns

existed to take care of all that. Iowa farmers were selling their land

at four hundred dollars an acre and coming into Minnesota. But whoever

bought or sold or mortgaged, the townsmen invited themselves to the

feast--millers, real-estate men, lawyers, merchants, and Dr. Will

Kennicott. They bought land at a hundred and fifty, sold it next day at

a hundred and seventy, and bought again. In three months Kennicott made

seven thousand dollars, which was rather more than four times as much as

society paid him for healing the sick.
In early summer began a "campaign of boosting." The Commercial Club

decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a wheat-center but also the

perfect site for factories, summer cottages, and state institutions. In

charge of the campaign was Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to

town to speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He liked

to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy, humorous man,

with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large red hands, and brilliant

clothes. He was attentive to all women. He was the first man in town who

had not been sensitive enough to feel Carol's aloofness. He put his arm

about her shoulder while he condescended to Kennicott, "Nice lil wifey,

I'll say, doc," and when she answered, not warmly, "Thank you very much

for the imprimatur," he blew on her neck, and did not know that he had

been insulted.
He was a layer-on of hands. He never came to the house without trying to

paw her. He touched her arm, let his fist brush her side. She hated the

man, and she was afraid of him. She wondered if he had heard of Erik,

and was taking advantage. She spoke ill of him at home and in public

places, but Kennicott and the other powers insisted, "Maybe he is

kind of a roughneck, but you got to hand it to him; he's got more

git-up-and-git than any fellow that ever hit this burg. And he's pretty

cute, too. Hear what he said to old Ezra? Chucked him in the ribs and

said, 'Say, boy, what do you want to go to Denver for? Wait 'll I get

time and I'll move the mountains here. Any mountain will be tickled to

death to locate here once we get the White Way in!'"
The town welcomed Mr. Blausser as fully as Carol snubbed him. He was the

guest of honor at the Commercial Club Banquet at the Minniemashie House,

an occasion for menus printed in gold (but injudiciously proof-read),

for free cigars, soft damp slabs of Lake Superior whitefish served as

fillet of sole, drenched cigar-ashes gradually filling the saucers

of coffee cups, and oratorical references to Pep, Punch, Go, Vigor,

Enterprise, Red Blood, He-Men, Fair Women, God's Country, James J.

Hill, the Blue Sky, the Green Fields, the Bountiful Harvest, Increasing

Population, Fair Return on Investments, Alien Agitators Who Threaten

the Security of Our Institutions, the Hearthstone the Foundation of

the State, Senator Knute Nelson, One Hundred Per Cent. Americanism, and

Pointing with Pride.


Harry Haydock, as chairman, introduced Honest Jim Blausser. "And I

am proud to say, my fellow citizens, that in his brief stay here

Mr. Blausser has become my warm personal friend as well as my fellow

booster, and I advise you all to very carefully attend to the hints of a

man who knows how to achieve."
Mr. Blausser reared up like an elephant with a camel's neck--red faced,

red eyed, heavy fisted, slightly belching--a born leader, divinely

intended to be a congressman but deflected to the more lucrative honors

of real-estate. He smiled on his warm personal friends and fellow

boosters, and boomed:
"I certainly was astonished in the streets of our lovely little

city, the other day. I met the meanest kind of critter that God ever

made--meaner than the horned toad or the Texas lallapaluza! (Laughter.)

And do you know what the animile was? He was a knocker! (Laughter and

applause.)
"I want to tell you good people, and it's just as sure as God made

little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American commonwealth

from the pikers and tin-horns in other countries is our Punch. You take

a genuwine, honest-to-God homo Americanibus and there ain't anything

he's afraid to tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He'll put

her across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me, I'm

mighty good and sorry for the boob that's so unlucky as to get in his

way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where he was at when Old

Mr. Cyclone hit town! (Laughter.)
"Now, frien's, there's some folks so yellow and small and so few in the

pod that they go to work and claim that those of us that have the big

vision are off our trolleys. They say we can't make Gopher Prairie, God

bless her! just as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. But lemme

tell you right here and now that there ain't a town under the blue

canopy of heaven that's got a better chance to take a running jump and

go scooting right up into the two-hundred-thousand class than little

old G. P.! And if there's anybody that's got such cold kismets that he's

afraid to tag after Jim Blausser on the Big Going Up, then we don't want

him here! Way I figger it, you folks are just patriotic enough so that

you ain't going to stand for any guy sneering and knocking his own town,

no matter how much of a smart Aleck he is--and just on the side I want

to add that this Farmers' Nonpartisan League and the whole bunch of

socialists are right in the same category, or, as the fellow says,

in the same scategory, meaning This Way Out, Exit, Beat It While the

Going's Good, This Means You, for all knockers of prosperity and the

rights of property!
"Fellow citizens, there's a lot of folks, even right here in this fair

state, fairest and richest of all the glorious union, that stand up on

their hind legs and claim that the East and Europe put it all over

the golden Northwestland. Now let me nail that lie right here and now.

'Ah-ha,' says they, 'so Jim Blausser is claiming that Gopher Prairie is

as good a place to live in as London and Rome and--and all the rest of

the Big Burgs, is he? How does the poor fish know?' says they. Well I'll

tell you how I know! I've seen 'em! I've done Europe from soup to nuts!

They can't spring that stuff on Jim Blausser and get away with it! And

let me tell you that the only live thing in Europe is our boys that are

fighting there now! London--I spent three days, sixteen straight hours a

day, giving London the once-over, and let me tell you that it's nothing

but a bunch of fog and out-of-date buildings that no live American burg

would stand for one minute. You may not believe it, but there ain't one

first-class skyscraper in the whole works. And the same thing goes for

that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob

from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling and trying to

get your goat, you tell him that no two-fisted enterprising Westerner

would have New York for a gift!
"Now the point of this is: I'm not only insisting that Gopher Prairie

is going to be Minnesota's pride, the brightest ray in the glory of the

North Star State, but also and furthermore that it is right now, and

still more shall be, as good a place to live in, and love in, and bring

up the Little Ones in, and it's got as much refinement and culture, as

any burg on the whole bloomin' expanse of God's Green Footstool, and

that goes, get me, that goes!"
Half an hour later Chairman Haydock moved a vote of thanks to Mr.

Blausser.


The boosters' campaign was on.
The town sought that efficient and modern variety of fame which is known

as "publicity." The band was reorganized, and provided by the Commercial

Club with uniforms of purple and gold. The amateur baseball-team hired a

semi-professional pitcher from Des Moines, and made a schedule of games

with every town for fifty miles about. The citizens accompanied it as

"rooters," in a special car, with banners lettered "Watch Gopher Prairie

Grow," and with the band playing "Smile, Smile, Smile." Whether the

team won or lost the Dauntless loyally shrieked, "Boost, Boys, and

Boost Together--Put Gopher Prairie on the Map--Brilliant Record of Our

Matchless Team."


Then, glory of glories, the town put in a White Way. White Ways were in

fashion in the Middlewest. They were composed of ornamented posts with

clusters of high-powered electric lights along two or three blocks on

Main Street. The Dauntless confessed: "White Way Is Installed--Town

Lit Up Like Broadway--Speech by Hon. James Blausser--Come On You Twin

Cities--Our Hat Is In the Ring."


The Commercial Club issued a booklet prepared by a great and expensive

literary person from a Minneapolis advertising agency, a red-headed

young man who smoked cigarettes in a long amber holder. Carol read the

booklet with a certain wonder. She learned that Plover and Minniemashie

Lakes were world-famed for their beauteous wooded shores and gamey pike

and bass not to be equalled elsewhere in the entire country; that

the residences of Gopher Prairie were models of dignity, comfort, and

culture, with lawns and gardens known far and wide; that the Gopher

Prairie schools and public library, in its neat and commodious building,

were celebrated throughout the state; that the Gopher Prairie mills

made the best flour in the country; that the surrounding farm lands were

renowned, where'er men ate bread and butter, for their incomparable No. 1

Hard Wheat and Holstein-Friesian cattle; and that the stores in

Gopher Prairie compared favorably with Minneapolis and Chicago in their

abundance of luxuries and necessities and the ever-courteous attention

of the skilled clerks. She learned, in brief, that this was the one

Logical Location for factories and wholesale houses.
"THERE'S where I want to go; to that model town Gopher Prairie," said

Carol.
Kennicott was triumphant when the Commercial Club did capture one small

shy factory which planned to make wooden automobile-wheels, but

when Carol saw the promoter she could not feel that his coming much

mattered--and a year after, when he failed, she could not be very

sorrowful.


Retired farmers were moving into town. The price of lots had increased

a third. But Carol could discover no more pictures nor interesting food

nor gracious voices nor amusing conversation nor questing minds. She

could, she asserted, endure a shabby but modest town; the town shabby

and egomaniac she could not endure. She could nurse Champ Perry,

and warm to the neighborliness of Sam Clark, but she could not sit

applauding Honest Jim Blausser. Kennicott had begged her, in courtship

days, to convert the town to beauty. If it was now as beautiful as Mr.

Blausser and the Dauntless said, then her work was over, and she could

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