The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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CHAPTER XXXVI
KENNICOTT was not so inhumanly patient that he could continue to forgive

Carol's heresies, to woo her as he had on the venture to California. She

tried to be inconspicuous, but she was betrayed by her failure to glow

over the boosting. Kennicott believed in it; demanded that she say

patriotic things about the White Way and the new factory. He snorted,

"By golly, I've done all I could, and now I expect you to play the game.

Here you been complaining for years about us being so poky, and now when

Blausser comes along and does stir up excitement and beautify the town

like you've always wanted somebody to, why, you say he's a roughneck,

and you won't jump on the band-wagon."


Once, when Kennicott announced at noon-dinner, "What do you know

about this! They say there's a chance we may get another

factory--cream-separator works!" he added, "You might try to look

interested, even if you ain't!" The baby was frightened by the Jovian

roar; ran wailing to hide his face in Carol's lap; and Kennicott had to

make himself humble and court both mother and child. The dim injustice

of not being understood even by his son left him irritable. He felt

injured.
An event which did not directly touch them brought down his wrath.


In the early autumn, news came from Wakamin that the sheriff had

forbidden an organizer for the National Nonpartisan League to speak

anywhere in the county. The organizer had defied the sheriff, and

announced that in a few days he would address a farmers' political

meeting. That night, the news ran, a mob of a hundred business men

led by the sheriff--the tame village street and the smug village faces

ruddled by the light of bobbing lanterns, the mob flowing between the

squatty rows of shops--had taken the organizer from his hotel, ridden

him on a fence-rail, put him on a freight train, and warned him not to

return.
The story was threshed out in Dave Dyer's drug store, with Sam Clark,

Kennicott, and Carol present.
"That's the way to treat those fellows--only they ought to have lynched

him!" declared Sam, and Kennicott and Dave Dyer joined in a proud "You

bet!"
Carol walked out hastily, Kennicott observing her.
Through supper-time she knew that he was bubbling and would soon boil

over. When the baby was abed, and they sat composedly in canvas chairs

on the porch, he experimented; "I had a hunch you thought Sam was kind

of hard on that fellow they kicked out of Wakamin."


"Wasn't Sam rather needlessly heroic?"
"All these organizers, yes, and a whole lot of the German and

Squarehead farmers themselves, they're seditious as the devil--disloyal,

non-patriotic, pro-German pacifists, that's what they are!"
"Did this organizer say anything pro-German?"
"Not on your life! They didn't give him a chance!" His laugh was stagey.
"So the whole thing was illegal--and led by the sheriff! Precisely how

do you expect these aliens to obey your law if the officer of the law

teaches them to break it? Is it a new kind of logic?"
"Maybe it wasn't exactly regular, but what's the odds? They knew this

fellow would try to stir up trouble. Whenever it comes right down to a

question of defending Americanism and our constitutional rights, it's

justifiable to set aside ordinary procedure."


"What editorial did he get that from?" she wondered, as she protested,

"See here, my beloved, why can't you Tories declare war honestly? You

don't oppose this organizer because you think he's seditious but

because you're afraid that the farmers he is organizing will deprive you

townsmen of the money you make out of mortgages and wheat and shops.

Of course, since we're at war with Germany, anything that any one of us

doesn't like is 'pro-German,' whether it's business competition or

bad music. If we were fighting England, you'd call the radicals

'pro-English.' When this war is over, I suppose you'll be calling them

'red anarchists.' What an eternal art it is--such a glittery delightful

art--finding hard names for our opponents! How we do sanctify our

efforts to keep them from getting the holy dollars we want for

ourselves! The churches have always done it, and the political

orators--and I suppose I do it when I call Mrs. Bogart a 'Puritan' and

Mr. Stowbody a 'capitalist.' But you business men are going to beat all

the rest of us at it, with your simple-hearted, energetic, pompous----"


She got so far only because Kennicott was slow in shaking off respect

for her. Now he bayed:


"That'll be about all from you! I've stood for your sneering at this

town, and saying how ugly and dull it is. I've stood for your refusing

to appreciate good fellows like Sam. I've even stood for your ridiculing

our Watch Gopher Prairie Grow campaign. But one thing I'm not going

to stand: I'm not going to stand my own wife being seditious. You can

camouflage all you want to, but you know darn well that these radicals,

as you call 'em, are opposed to the war, and let me tell you right here

and now, and you and all these long-haired men and short-haired women

can beef all you want to, but we're going to take these fellows, and if

they ain't patriotic, we're going to make them be patriotic. And--Lord

knows I never thought I'd have to say this to my own wife--but if you go

defending these fellows, then the same thing applies to you! Next thing,

I suppose you'll be yapping about free speech. Free speech! There's too

much free speech and free gas and free beer and free love and all the

rest of your damned mouthy freedom, and if I had my way I'd make you

folks live up to the established rules of decency even if I had to take

you----"
"Will!" She was not timorous now. "Am I pro-German if I fail to throb to

Honest Jim Blausser, too? Let's have my whole duty as a wife!"


He was grumbling, "The whole thing's right in line with the criticism

you've always been making. Might have known you'd oppose any decent

constructive work for the town or for----"
"You're right. All I've done has been in line. I don't belong to Gopher

Prairie. That isn't meant as a condemnation of Gopher Prairie, and it

may be a condemnation of me. All right! I don't care! I don't belong

here, and I'm going. I'm not asking permission any more. I'm simply

going."
He grunted. "Do you mind telling me, if it isn't too much trouble, how

long you're going for?"


"I don't know. Perhaps for a year. Perhaps for a lifetime."
"I see. Well, of course, I'll be tickled to death to sell out my

practise and go anywhere you say. Would you like to have me go with you

to Paris and study art, maybe, and wear velveteen pants and a woman's

bonnet, and live on spaghetti?"


"No, I think we can save you that trouble. You don't quite understand.

I am going--I really am--and alone! I've got to find out what my work

is----"
"Work? Work? Sure! That's the whole trouble with you! You haven't got

enough work to do. If you had five kids and no hired girl, and had to

help with the chores and separate the cream, like these farmers' wives,

then you wouldn't be so discontented."


"I know. That's what most men--and women--like you WOULD say. That's how

they would explain all I am and all I want. And I shouldn't argue with

them. These business men, from their crushing labors of sitting in an

office seven hours a day, would calmly recommend that I have a dozen

children. As it happens, I've done that sort of thing. There've been a

good many times when we hadn't a maid, and I did all the housework, and

cared for Hugh, and went to Red Cross, and did it all very efficiently.

I'm a good cook and a good sweeper, and you don't dare say I'm not!"


"N-no, you're----"
"But was I more happy when I was drudging? I was not. I was just

bedraggled and unhappy. It's work--but not my work. I could run

an office or a library, or nurse and teach children. But solitary

dish-washing isn't enough to satisfy me--or many other women. We're

going to chuck it. We're going to wash 'em by machinery, and come out

and play with you men in the offices and clubs and politics you've

cleverly kept for yourselves! Oh, we're hopeless, we dissatisfied women!

Then why do you want to have us about the place, to fret you? So it's

for your sake that I'm going!"
"Of course a little thing like Hugh makes no difference!"
"Yes, all the difference. That's why I'm going to take him with me."
"Suppose I refuse?"
"You won't!"
Forlornly, "Uh----Carrie, what the devil is it you want, anyway?"
"Oh, conversation! No, it's much more than that. I think it's a

greatness of life--a refusal to be content with even the healthiest

mud."
"Don't you know that nobody ever solved a problem by running away from

it?"
"Perhaps. Only I choose to make my own definition of 'running away' I

don't call----Do you realize how big a world there is beyond this Gopher

Prairie where you'd keep me all my life? It may be that some day I'll

come back, but not till I can bring something more than I have now. And

even if I am cowardly and run away--all right, call it cowardly, call me

anything you want to! I've been ruled too long by fear of being called

things. I'm going away to be quiet and think. I'm--I'm going! I have a

right to my own life."
"So have I to mine!"
"Well?"
"I have a right to my life--and you're it, you're my life! You've made

yourself so. I'm damned if I'll agree to all your freak notions, but I

will say I've got to depend on you. Never thought of that complication,

did you, in this 'off to Bohemia, and express yourself, and free love,

and live your own life' stuff!"
"You have a right to me if you can keep me. Can you?"
He moved uneasily.

II

For a month they discussed it. They hurt each other very much, and



sometimes they were close to weeping, and invariably he used banal

phrases about her duties and she used phrases quite as banal about

freedom, and through it all, her discovery that she really could get

away from Main Street was as sweet as the discovery of love. Kennicott

never consented definitely. At most he agreed to a public theory that

she was "going to take a short trip and see what the East was like in

wartime."
She set out for Washington in October--just before the war ended.
She had determined on Washington because it was less intimidating than

the obvious New York, because she hoped to find streets in which Hugh

could play, and because in the stress of war-work, with its demand for

thousands of temporary clerks, she could be initiated into the world of

offices.
Hugh was to go with her, despite the wails and rather extensive comments

of Aunt Bessie.


She wondered if she might not encounter Erik in the East but it was a

chance thought, soon forgotten.

III

The last thing she saw on the station platform was Kennicott, faithfully



waving his hand, his face so full of uncomprehending loneliness that he

could not smile but only twitch up his lips. She waved to him as long

as she could, and when he was lost she wanted to leap from the vestibule

and run back to him. She thought of a hundred tendernesses she had

neglected.
She had her freedom, and it was empty. The moment was not the highest

of her life, but the lowest and most desolate, which was altogether

excellent, for instead of slipping downward she began to climb.
She sighed, "I couldn't do this if it weren't for Will's kindness, his

giving me money." But a second after: "I wonder how many women would

always stay home if they had the money?"
Hugh complained, "Notice me, mummy!" He was beside her on the red plush

seat of the day-coach; a boy of three and a half. "I'm tired of playing

train. Let's play something else. Let's go see Auntie Bogart."
"Oh, NO! Do you really like Mrs. Bogart?"
"Yes. She gives me cookies and she tells me about the Dear Lord. You

never tell me about the Dear Lord. Why don't you tell me about the

Dear Lord? Auntie Bogart says I'm going to be a preacher. Can I be a

preacher? Can I preach about the Dear Lord?"


"Oh, please wait till my generation has stopped rebelling before yours

starts in!"


"What's a generation?"
"It's a ray in the illumination of the spirit."
"That's foolish." He was a serious and literal person, and rather

humorless. She kissed his frown, and marveled:


"I am running away from my husband, after liking a Swedish ne'er-do-well

and expressing immoral opinions, just as in a romantic story. And my own

son reproves me because I haven't given him religious instruction. But

the story doesn't go right. I'm neither groaning nor being dramatically

saved. I keep on running away, and I enjoy it. I'm mad with joy over it.

Gopher Prairie is lost back there in the dust and stubble, and I look

forward----"
She continued it to Hugh: "Darling, do you know what mother and you are

going to find beyond the blue horizon rim?"


"What?" flatly.
"We're going to find elephants with golden howdahs from which peep young

maharanees with necklaces of rubies, and a dawn sea colored like the

breast of a dove, and a white and green house filled with books and

silver tea-sets."


"And cookies?"
"Cookies? Oh, most decidedly cookies. We've had enough of bread and

porridge. We'd get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on

no cookies at all."
"That's foolish."
"It is, O male Kennicott!"
"Huh!" said Kennicott II, and went to sleep on her shoulder.

IV
The theory of the Dauntless regarding Carol's absence:


Mrs. Will Kennicott and son Hugh left on No. 24 on Saturday last for

a stay of some months in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Washington.

Mrs. Kennicott confided to _Ye Scribe_ that she will be connected with one

of the multifarious war activities now centering in the Nation's

Capital for a brief period before returning. Her countless friends who

appreciate her splendid labors with the local Red Cross realize how

valuable she will be to any war board with which she chooses to become

connected. Gopher Prairie thus adds another shining star to its service

flag and without wishing to knock any neighboring communities, we would

like to know any town of anywheres near our size in the state that has

such a sterling war record. Another reason why you'd better Watch Gopher

Prairie Grow.


* * *
Mr. and Mrs. David Dyer, Mrs. Dyer's sister, Mrs. Jennie Dayborn of

Jackrabbit, and Dr. Will Kennicott drove to Minniemashie on Tuesday for

a delightful picnic.

CHAPTER XXXVII


I
SHE found employment in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Though the

armistice with Germany was signed a few weeks after her coming to

Washington, the work of the bureau continued. She filed correspondence

all day; then she dictated answers to letters of inquiry. It was an

endurance of monotonous details, yet she asserted that she had found

"real work."


Disillusions she did have. She discovered that in the afternoon, office

routine stretches to the grave. She discovered that an office is as full

of cliques and scandals as a Gopher Prairie. She discovered that most

of the women in the government bureaus lived unhealthfully, dining

on snatches in their crammed apartments. But she also discovered that

business women may have friendships and enmities as frankly as men and

may revel in a bliss which no housewife attains--a free Sunday. It did

not appear that the Great World needed her inspiration, but she felt

that her letters, her contact with the anxieties of men and women all

over the country, were a part of vast affairs, not confined to Main

Street and a kitchen but linked with Paris, Bangkok, Madrid.
She perceived that she could do office work without losing any of the

putative feminine virtue of domesticity; that cooking and cleaning, when

divested of the fussing of an Aunt Bessie, take but a tenth of the time

which, in a Gopher Prairie, it is but decent to devote to them.


Not to have to apologize for her thoughts to the Jolly Seventeen, not to

have to report to Kennicott at the end of the day all that she had done

or might do, was a relief which made up for the office weariness. She

felt that she was no longer one-half of a marriage but the whole of a

human being.

II

Washington gave her all the graciousness in which she had had faith:



white columns seen across leafy parks, spacious avenues, twisty alleys.

Daily she passed a dark square house with a hint of magnolias and a

courtyard behind it, and a tall curtained second-story window through

which a woman was always peering. The woman was mystery, romance, a

story which told itself differently every day; now she was a murderess,

now the neglected wife of an ambassador. It was mystery which Carol had

most lacked in Gopher Prairie, where every house was open to view, where

every person was but too easy to meet, where there were no secret gates

opening upon moors over which one might walk by moss-deadened paths to

strange high adventures in an ancient garden.


As she flitted up Sixteenth Street after a Kreisler recital, given late

in the afternoon for the government clerks, as the lamps kindled in

spheres of soft fire, as the breeze flowed into the street, fresh

as prairie winds and kindlier, as she glanced up the elm alley of

Massachusetts Avenue, as she was rested by the integrity of the Scottish

Rite Temple, she loved the city as she loved no one save Hugh. She

encountered negro shanties turned into studios, with orange curtains and

pots of mignonette; marble houses on New Hampshire Avenue, with

butlers and limousines; and men who looked like fictional explorers and

aviators. Her days were swift, and she knew that in her folly of running

away she had found the courage to be wise.
She had a dispiriting first month of hunting lodgings in the crowded

city. She had to roost in a hall-room in a moldy mansion conducted by an

indignant decayed gentlewoman, and leave Hugh to the care of a doubtful

nurse. But later she made a home.

III

Her first acquaintances were the members of the Tincomb Methodist



Church, a vast red-brick tabernacle. Vida Sherwin had given her a letter

to an earnest woman with eye-glasses, plaid silk waist, and a belief in

Bible Classes, who introduced her to the Pastor and the Nicer Members

of Tincomb. Carol recognized in Washington as she had in California a

transplanted and guarded Main Street. Two-thirds of the church-members

had come from Gopher Prairies. The church was their society and

their standard; they went to Sunday service, Sunday School, Christian

Endeavor, missionary lectures, church suppers, precisely as they had at

home; they agreed that ambassadors and flippant newspapermen and infidel

scientists of the bureaus were equally wicked and to be avoided; and

by cleaving to Tincomb Church they kept their ideals from all

contamination.


They welcomed Carol, asked about her husband, gave her advice regarding

colic in babies, passed her the gingerbread and scalloped potatoes at

church suppers, and in general made her very unhappy and lonely, so

that she wondered if she might not enlist in the militant suffrage

organization and be allowed to go to jail.
Always she was to perceive in Washington (as doubtless she would have

perceived in New York or London) a thick streak of Main Street. The

cautious dullness of a Gopher Prairie appeared in boarding-houses where

ladylike bureau-clerks gossiped to polite young army officers about

the movies; a thousand Sam Clarks and a few Widow Bogarts were to be

identified in the Sunday motor procession, in theater parties, and

at the dinners of State Societies, to which the emigres from Texas or

Michigan surged that they might confirm themselves in the faith that

their several Gopher Prairies were notoriously "a whole lot peppier and

chummier than this stuck-up East."


But she found a Washington which did not cleave to Main Street.
Guy Pollock wrote to a cousin, a temporary army captain, a confiding and

buoyant lad who took Carol to tea-dances, and laughed, as she had always

wanted some one to laugh, about nothing in particular. The captain

introduced her to the secretary of a congressman, a cynical young widow

with many acquaintances in the navy. Through her Carol met commanders

and majors, newspapermen, chemists and geographers and fiscal experts

from the bureaus, and a teacher who was a familiar of the militant

suffrage headquarters. The teacher took her to headquarters. Carol never

became a prominent suffragist. Indeed her only recognized position was

as an able addresser of envelopes. But she was casually adopted by

this family of friendly women who, when they were not being mobbed or

arrested, took dancing lessons or went picnicking up the Chesapeake

Canal or talked about the politics of the American Federation of Labor.
With the congressman's secretary and the teacher Carol leased a small

flat. Here she found home, her own place and her own people. She had,

though it absorbed most of her salary, an excellent nurse for Hugh. She

herself put him to bed and played with him on holidays. There were

walks with him, there were motionless evenings of reading, but chiefly

Washington was associated with people, scores of them, sitting about the

flat, talking, talking, talking, not always wisely but always excitedly.

It was not at all the "artist's studio" of which, because of its

persistence in fiction, she had dreamed. Most of them were in offices

all day, and thought more in card-catalogues or statistics than in mass

and color. But they played, very simply, and they saw no reason why

anything which exists cannot also be acknowledged.


She was sometimes shocked quite as she had shocked Gopher Prairie by

these girls with their cigarettes and elfish knowledge. When they were

most eager about soviets or canoeing, she listened, longed to have

some special learning which would distinguish her, and sighed that her

adventure had come so late. Kennicott and Main Street had drained

her self-reliance; the presence of Hugh made her feel temporary. Some

day--oh, she'd have to take him back to open fields and the right to

climb about hay-lofts.


But the fact that she could never be eminent among these scoffing

enthusiasts did not keep her from being proud of them, from defending

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