The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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them in imaginary conversations with Kennicott, who grunted (she could

hear his voice), "They're simply a bunch of wild impractical theorists

sittin' round chewing the rag," and "I haven't got the time to chase

after a lot of these fool fads; I'm too busy putting aside a stake for

our old age."
Most of the men who came to the flat, whether they were army officers or

radicals who hated the army, had the easy gentleness, the acceptance

of women without embarrassed banter, for which she had longed in Gopher

Prairie. Yet they seemed to be as efficient as the Sam Clarks. She

concluded that it was because they were of secure reputation, not hemmed

in by the fire of provincial jealousies. Kennicott had asserted that the

villager's lack of courtesy is due to his poverty. "We're no millionaire

dudes," he boasted. Yet these army and navy men, these bureau experts,

and organizers of multitudinous leagues, were cheerful on three or four

thousand a year, while Kennicott had, outside of his land speculations,

six thousand or more, and Sam had eight.
Nor could she upon inquiry learn that many of this reckless race died in

the poorhouse. That institution is reserved for men like Kennicott who,

after devoting fifty years to "putting aside a stake," incontinently

invest the stake in spurious oil-stocks.

IV

She was encouraged to believe that she had not been abnormal in viewing



Gopher Prairie as unduly tedious and slatternly. She found the same

faith not only in girls escaped from domesticity but also in demure

old ladies who, tragically deprived of esteemed husbands and huge old

houses, yet managed to make a very comfortable thing of it by living in

small flats and having time to read.
But she also learned that by comparison Gopher Prairie was a model of

daring color, clever planning, and frenzied intellectuality. From her

teacher-housemate she had a sardonic description of a Middlewestern

railroad-division town, of the same size as Gopher Prairie but devoid

of lawns and trees, a town where the tracks sprawled along the

cinder-scabbed Main Street, and the railroad shops, dripping soot from

eaves and doorway, rolled out smoke in greasy coils.
Other towns she came to know by anecdote: a prairie village where the

wind blew all day long, and the mud was two feet thick in spring, and in

summer the flying sand scarred new-painted houses and dust covered

the few flowers set out in pots. New England mill-towns with the hands

living in rows of cottages like blocks of lava. A rich farming-center

in New Jersey, off the railroad, furiously pious, ruled by old men,

unbelievably ignorant old men, sitting about the grocery talking of

James G. Blaine. A Southern town, full of the magnolias and white

columns which Carol had accepted as proof of romance, but hating the

negroes, obsequious to the Old Families. A Western mining-settlement

like a tumor. A booming semi-city with parks and clever architects,

visited by famous pianists and unctuous lecturers, but irritable from a

struggle between union labor and the manufacturers' association, so

that in even the gayest of the new houses there was a ceaseless and

intimidating heresy-hunt.

V

The chart which plots Carol's progress is not easy to read. The lines



are broken and uncertain of direction; often instead of rising they sink

in wavering scrawls; and the colors are watery blue and pink and the dim

gray of rubbed pencil marks. A few lines are traceable.
Unhappy women are given to protecting their sensitiveness by cynical

gossip, by whining, by high-church and new-thought religions, or by

a fog of vagueness. Carol had hidden in none of these refuges from

reality, but she, who was tender and merry, had been made timorous by

Gopher Prairie. Even her flight had been but the temporary courage of

panic. The thing she gained in Washington was not information about

office-systems and labor unions but renewed courage, that amiable

contempt called poise. Her glimpse of tasks involving millions of people

and a score of nations reduced Main Street from bloated importance to

its actual pettiness. She could never again be quite so awed by the

power with which she herself had endowed the Vidas and Blaussers and

Bogarts.
From her work and from her association with women who had organized

suffrage associations in hostile cities, or had defended political

prisoners, she caught something of an impersonal attitude; saw that she

had been as touchily personal as Maud Dyer.
And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not individuals

but institutions are the enemies, and they most afflict the disciples

who the most generously serve them. They insinuate their tyranny under

a hundred guises and pompous names, such as Polite Society, the Family,

the Church, Sound Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White

Race; and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is unembittered

laughter.

CHAPTER XXXVIII


SHE had lived in Washington for a year. She was tired of the office.

It was tolerable, far more tolerable than housework, but it was not

adventurous.
She was having tea and cinnamon toast, alone at a small round table on

the balcony of Rauscher's Confiserie. Four debutantes clattered in. She

had felt young and dissipated, had thought rather well of her black and

leaf-green suit, but as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the

chin, seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigarettes with the correct

ennui and talking of "bedroom farces" and their desire to "run up to New

York and see something racy," she became old and rustic and plain, and

desirous of retreating from these hard brilliant children to a life

easier and more sympathetic. When they flickered out and one child gave

orders to a chauffeur, Carol was not a defiant philosopher but a faded

government clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.
She started dejectedly up Connecticut Avenue. She stopped, her heart

stopped. Coming toward her were Harry and Juanita Haydock. She ran to

them, she kissed Juanita, while Harry confided, "Hadn't expected to come

to Washington--had to go to New York for some buying--didn't have your

address along--just got in this morning--wondered how in the world we

could get hold of you."


She was definitely sorry to hear that they were to leave at nine that

evening, and she clung to them as long as she could. She took them to

St. Mark's for dinner. Stooped, her elbows on the table, she heard

with excitement that "Cy Bogart had the 'flu, but of course he was too

gol-darn mean to die of it."
"Will wrote me that Mr. Blausser has gone away. How did he get on?"
"Fine! Fine! Great loss to the town. There was a real public-spirited

fellow, all right!"


She discovered that she now had no opinions whatever about Mr. Blausser,

and she said sympathetically, "Will you keep up the town-boosting

campaign?"
Harry fumbled, "Well, we've dropped it just temporarily, but--sure you

bet! Say, did the doc write you about the luck B. J. Gougerling had

hunting ducks down in Texas?"
When the news had been told and their enthusiasm had slackened she

looked about and was proud to be able to point out a senator, to explain

the cleverness of the canopied garden. She fancied that a man with

dinner-coat and waxed mustache glanced superciliously at Harry's highly

form-fitting bright-brown suit and Juanita's tan silk frock, which was

doubtful at the seams. She glared back, defending her own, daring the

world not to appreciate them.
Then, waving to them, she lost them down the long train shed. She stood

reading the list of stations: Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Chicago. Beyond

Chicago----? She saw the lakes and stubble fields, heard the rhythm

of insects and the creak of a buggy, was greeted by Sam Clark's "Well,

well, how's the little lady?"
Nobody in Washington cared enough for her to fret about her sins as Sam

did.
But that night they had at the flat a man just back from Finland.

II

She was on the Powhatan roof with the captain. At a table, somewhat



vociferously buying improbable "soft drinks" for two fluffy girls, was a

man with a large familiar back.


"Oh! I think I know him," she murmured.
"Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan."
"Yes. You've met him? What sort of a man is he?"
"He's a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe that as a

salesman of motors he's a wonder. But he's a nuisance in the aeronautic

section. Tries so hard to be useful but he doesn't know anything--he

doesn't know anything. Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and

trying to be useful. Do you want to speak to him?"
"No--no--I don't think so."

III


She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly advertised

and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair-dressers, cheap perfume,

red-plush suites on the back streets of tenderloins, and complacent fat

women chewing gum. It pretended to deal with the life of studios. The

leading man did a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions

in pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had ringlets,

and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged photograph.
Carol prepared to leave.
On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor called Eric

Valour.
She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking straight out at

her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was Erik Valborg.
He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly. She

speculated, "I could have made so much of him----" She did not finish

her speculation.
She went home and read Kennicott's letters. They had seemed stiff and

undetailed, but now there strode from them a personality, a personality

unlike that of the languishing young man in the velvet jacket playing a

dummy piano in a canvas room.

IV

Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her



arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not

at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made

the decision himself.
She had leave from the office for two days.
She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his

heavy suit-case, and she was diffident--he was such a bulky person to

handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time,

"You're looking fine; how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well,

dear; how is everything?"
He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've made or your

friends or anything, but if you've got time for it, I'd like to chase

around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and

forget work for a while."


She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a

soft easy hat, a flippant tie.


"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they're the kind

you like."


They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but

he gave no sign of kissing her again.


As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new

tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on

his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into

Washington.


It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she

recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked

and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome,

as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and

at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the

catacombs to the senate restaurant.


She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which

his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down

at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever

touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.


"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn't you?"

she said.


It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to

be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.


He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were

excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida "made him tired

the way she always looked at the Maje," poor Chet Dashaway had been

killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like

him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's

dental tools.


She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of

Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner

his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into

nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such

as whether they still were married. But he did not ask questions, and

he said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed,

"Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these are

pretty good?"


He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country

about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he

had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of

his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good

before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing

the sun-speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie,

wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had

played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.


She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of

lenses and time-exposures.


Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but

an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She

could not endure it. She stammered:
"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't quite sure

where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't room to put you up at

the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don't you

think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?"


He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she

answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington.

But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating

anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about

it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have

been with her blandness he said readily:


"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about

grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way these taxi shuffers

skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going

up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends--must be fine

women--and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how

he breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?"

He patted her shoulder.
At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to

jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the

girl's story of the humors of a hunger-strike; he told the secretary

what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked

him--not as the husband of a friend but as a physician--whether there

was "anything to this inoculation for colds."


His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual

slang.
Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the

company.
"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for confidences.

They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to

agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling

forces, but swept on by them.


He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her

only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!


She took him to the obvious "sights"--the Treasury, the Monument, the

Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with

the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee

Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy

which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them

now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking

past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White

House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot at places like this. When I was

in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn't doing that

or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for

bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught early and

sent to concerts and all that----Would I have been what you call

intelligent?"
"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you're

the most thorough doctor----"


He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:
"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn't

you!"
"Yes, of course."


"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!"
"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks.

But please understand me! That doesn't mean that I withdraw all my

criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn't

any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie

oughtn't to have festivals and lamb chops."
Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."
"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with

anybody as perfect as I was."


He grinned. She liked his grin.

V

He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the



building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce,

Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager

down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks

of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches

at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District

of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.


She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and

Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against

rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered,

"I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an

old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have

Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you about

this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"

VI

They were at dinner.


He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today, I'd already made up

my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I'd fix

it the way you wanted it. I'm pretty practical about foundations and

radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot

about architecture."
"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't either!"
"Well--anyway--you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do

the rest, if you ever--I mean--if you ever want to."


Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."
"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love me. I'm not.

And I'm not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!"


She gaped.
"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself to see that

you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn't

say I'm crazy to have you. But I won't ask you. I just want you to know

how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one

I'm kind of scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming

back. Evenings----You know I didn't open the cottage down at the lake at

all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all the others laughing and

swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and

I--I couldn't get over the feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug

store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch

myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the

house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in. And sometimes

I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't wake up till after

midnight, and the house----Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just

want you to know how welcome you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not

asking you to."


"You're----It's awfully----"
"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always been absolutely,

uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you more than anything else in

the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd

get lonely and sore, and pike out and----Never intended----"


She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget it."
"But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything

wrong, you'd want him to tell you."


"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh, my dear, I

do know how generously you're trying to make me happy. The only thing

is----I can't think. I don't know what I think."
"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks

leave from your office. Weather's beginning to get chilly here. Let's

run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.
"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.
"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won't ask

anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I

never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and

lively feet to play with. So----Could you maybe run away and see the

South with me? If you wanted to, you could just--you could just pretend

you were my sister and----I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I'll get the

best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"

VII


It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery

and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.


When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she

cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I'm

tired of deciding and undeciding."
"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite

of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to come home. Not yet."


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