The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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eats!" They began to chatter. They had something to do. They could

escape from themselves. They fell upon the food--chicken sandwiches,

maple cake, drug-store ice cream. Even when the food was gone they

remained cheerful. They could go home, any time now, and go to bed!


They went, with a flutter of coats, chiffon scarfs, and good-bys.
Carol and Kennicott walked home.
"Did you like them?" he asked.
"They were terribly sweet to me."
"Uh, Carrie----You ought to be more careful about shocking folks.

Talking about gold stockings, and about showing your ankles to

schoolteachers and all!" More mildly: "You gave 'em a good time, but I'd

watch out for that, 'f I were you. Juanita Haydock is such a damn cat. I

wouldn't give her a chance to criticize me."
"My poor effort to lift up the party! Was I wrong to try to amuse them?"
"No! No! Honey, I didn't mean----You were the only up-and-coming person

in the bunch. I just mean----Don't get onto legs and all that immoral

stuff. Pretty conservative crowd."
She was silent, raw with the shameful thought that the attentive circle

might have been criticizing her, laughing at her.


"Don't, please don't worry!" he pleaded.
"Silence."
"Gosh; I'm sorry I spoke about it. I just meant----But they were crazy

about you. Sam said to me, 'That little lady of yours is the slickest

thing that ever came to this town,' he said; and Ma Dawson--I didn't

hardly know whether she'd like you or not, she's such a dried-up old

bird, but she said, 'Your bride is so quick and bright, I declare, she

just wakes me up.'"


Carol liked praise, the flavor and fatness of it, but she was so

energetically being sorry for herself that she could not taste this

commendation.
"Please! Come on! Cheer up!" His lips said it, his anxious shoulder said

it, his arm about her said it, as they halted on the obscure porch of

their house.
"Do you care if they think I'm flighty, Will?"
"Me? Why, I wouldn't care if the whole world thought you were this or

that or anything else. You're my--well, you're my soul!"


He was an undefined mass, as solid-seeming as rock. She found his

sleeve, pinched it, cried, "I'm glad! It's sweet to be wanted! You must

tolerate my frivolousness. You're all I have!"
He lifted her, carried her into the house, and with her arms about his

neck she forgot Main Street.


CHAPTER V


I

"WE'LL steal the whole day, and go hunting. I want you to see the

country round here," Kennicott announced at breakfast. "I'd take the

car--want you to see how swell she runs since I put in a new piston.

But we'll take a team, so we can get right out into the fields. Not many

prairie chickens left now, but we might just happen to run onto a small

covey."
He fussed over his hunting-kit. He pulled his hip boots out to full

length and examined them for holes. He feverishly counted his shotgun

shells, lecturing her on the qualities of smokeless powder. He drew the

new hammerless shotgun out of its heavy tan leather case and made her

peep through the barrels to see how dazzlingly free they were from rust.
The world of hunting and camping-outfits and fishing-tackle was

unfamiliar to her, and in Kennicott's interest she found something

creative and joyous. She examined the smooth stock, the carved hard

rubber butt of the gun. The shells, with their brass caps and sleek

green bodies and hieroglyphics on the wads, were cool and comfortably

heavy in her hands.


Kennicott wore a brown canvas hunting-coat with vast pockets lining

the inside, corduroy trousers which bulged at the wrinkles, peeled and

scarred shoes, a scarecrow felt hat. In this uniform he felt virile.

They clumped out to the livery buggy, they packed the kit and the box of

lunch into the back, crying to each other that it was a magnificent day.
Kennicott had borrowed Jackson Elder's red and white English setter, a

complacent dog with a waving tail of silver hair which flickered in the

sunshine. As they started, the dog yelped, and leaped at the horses'

heads, till Kennicott took him into the buggy, where he nuzzled Carol's

knees and leaned out to sneer at farm mongrels.
The grays clattered out on the hard dirt road with a pleasant song of

hoofs: "Ta ta ta rat! Ta ta ta rat!" It was early and fresh, the air

whistling, frost bright on the golden rod. As the sun warmed the world

of stubble into a welter of yellow they turned from the highroad,

through the bars of a farmer's gate, into a field, slowly bumping over

the uneven earth. In a hollow of the rolling prairie they lost sight

even of the country road. It was warm and placid. Locusts trilled among

the dry wheat-stalks, and brilliant little flies hurtled across the

buggy. A buzz of content filled the air. Crows loitered and gossiped in

the sky.
The dog had been let out and after a dance of excitement he settled down

to a steady quartering of the field, forth and back, forth and back, his

nose down.


"Pete Rustad owns this farm, and he told me he saw a small covey of

chickens in the west forty, last week. Maybe we'll get some sport after

all," Kennicott chuckled blissfully.
She watched the dog in suspense, breathing quickly every time he seemed

to halt. She had no desire to slaughter birds, but she did desire to

belong to Kennicott's world.
The dog stopped, on the point, a forepaw held up.
"By golly! He's hit a scent! Come on!" squealed Kennicott. He leaped

from the buggy, twisted the reins about the whip-socket, swung her out,

caught up his gun, slipped in two shells, stalked toward the rigid dog,

Carol pattering after him. The setter crawled ahead, his tail quivering,

his belly close to the stubble. Carol was nervous. She expected clouds

of large birds to fly up instantly. Her eyes were strained with staring.

But they followed the dog for a quarter of a mile, turning, doubling,

crossing two low hills, kicking through a swale of weeds, crawling

between the strands of a barbed-wire fence. The walking was hard on

her pavement-trained feet. The earth was lumpy, the stubble prickly and

lined with grass, thistles, abortive stumps of clover. She dragged and

floundered.


She heard Kennicott gasp, "Look!" Three gray birds were starting up

from the stubble. They were round, dumpy, like enormous bumble bees.

Kennicott was sighting, moving the barrel. She was agitated. Why didn't

he fire? The birds would be gone! Then a crash, another, and two birds

turned somersaults in the air, plumped down.
When he showed her the birds she had no sensation of blood. These heaps

of feathers were so soft and unbruised--there was about them no hint of

death. She watched her conquering man tuck them into his inside pocket,

and trudged with him back to the buggy.


They found no more prairie chickens that morning.
At noon they drove into her first farmyard, a private village, a white

house with no porches save a low and quite dirty stoop at the back,

a crimson barn with white trimmings, a glazed brick silo, an

ex-carriage-shed, now the garage of a Ford, an unpainted cow-stable, a

chicken-house, a pig-pen, a corn-crib, a granary, the galvanized-iron

skeleton tower of a wind-mill. The dooryard was of packed yellow clay,

treeless, barren of grass, littered with rusty plowshares and wheels

of discarded cultivators. Hardened trampled mud, like lava, filled the

pig-pen. The doors of the house were grime-rubbed, the corners and eaves

were rusted with rain, and the child who stared at them from the kitchen

window was smeary-faced. But beyond the barn was a clump of scarlet

geraniums; the prairie breeze was sunshine in motion; the flashing metal

blades of the windmill revolved with a lively hum; a horse neighed, a

rooster crowed, martins flew in and out of the cow-stable.


A small spare woman with flaxen hair trotted from the house. She was

twanging a Swedish patois--not in monotone, like English, but singing

it, with a lyrical whine:
"Pete he say you kom pretty soon hunting, doctor. My, dot's fine you

kom. Is dis de bride? Ohhhh! Ve yoost say las' night, ve hope maybe ve

see her som day. My, soch a pretty lady!" Mrs. Rustad was shining with

welcome. "Vell, vell! Ay hope you lak dis country! Von't you stay for

dinner, doctor?"
"No, but I wonder if you wouldn't like to give us a glass of milk?"

condescended Kennicott.


"Vell Ay should say Ay vill! You vait har a second and Ay run on de

milk-house!" She nervously hastened to a tiny red building beside the

windmill; she came back with a pitcher of milk from which Carol filled

the thermos bottle.


As they drove off Carol admired, "She's the dearest thing I ever saw.

And she adores you. You are the Lord of the Manor."


"Oh no," much pleased, "but still they do ask my advice about things.

Bully people, these Scandinavian farmers. And prosperous, too. Helga

Rustad, she's still scared of America, but her kids will be doctors and

lawyers and governors of the state and any darn thing they want to."


"I wonder----" Carol was plunged back into last night's Weltschmerz.

"I wonder if these farmers aren't bigger than we are? So simple and

hard-working. The town lives on them. We townies are parasites, and yet

we feel superior to them. Last night I heard Mr. Haydock talking about

'hicks.' Apparently he despises the farmers because they haven't reached

the social heights of selling thread and buttons."


"Parasites? Us? Where'd the farmers be without the town? Who lends them

money? Who--why, we supply them with everything!"


"Don't you find that some of the farmers think they pay too much for the

services of the towns?"


"Oh, of course there's a lot of cranks among the farmers same as there

are among any class. Listen to some of these kickers, a fellow'd

think that the farmers ought to run the state and the whole

shooting-match--probably if they had their way they'd fill up the

legislature with a lot of farmers in manure-covered boots--yes, and

they'd come tell me I was hired on a salary now, and couldn't fix my

fees! That'd be fine for you, wouldn't it!"
"But why shouldn't they?"
"Why? That bunch of----Telling ME----Oh, for heaven's sake, let's quit

arguing. All this discussing may be all right at a party but----Let's

forget it while we're hunting."
"I know. The Wonderlust--probably it's a worse affliction than the

Wanderlust. I just wonder----"


She told herself that she had everything in the world. And after each

self-rebuke she stumbled again on "I just wonder----"


They ate their sandwiches by a prairie slew: long grass reaching up out

of clear water, mossy bogs, red-winged black-birds, the scum a splash of

gold-green. Kennicott smoked a pipe while she leaned back in the buggy

and let her tired spirit be absorbed in the Nirvana of the incomparable

sky.
They lurched to the highroad and awoke from their sun-soaked drowse at

the sound of the clopping hoofs. They paused to look for partridges in a

rim of woods, little woods, very clean and shiny and gay, silver birches

and poplars with immaculate green trunks, encircling a lake of sandy

bottom, a splashing seclusion demure in the welter of hot prairie.
Kennicott brought down a fat red squirrel and at dusk he had a dramatic

shot at a flight of ducks whirling down from the upper air, skimming the

lake, instantly vanishing.
They drove home under the sunset. Mounds of straw, and wheat-stacks like

bee-hives, stood out in startling rose and gold, and the green-tufted

stubble glistened. As the vast girdle of crimson darkened, the fulfilled

land became autumnal in deep reds and browns. The black road before

the buggy turned to a faint lavender, then was blotted to uncertain

grayness. Cattle came in a long line up to the barred gates of the

farmyards, and over the resting land was a dark glow.
Carol had found the dignity and greatness which had failed her in Main

Street.

II

Till they had a maid they took noon dinner and six o'clock supper at



Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-house.
Mrs. Elisha Gurrey, relict of Deacon Gurrey the dealer in hay and grain,

was a pointed-nosed, simpering woman with iron-gray hair drawn so tight

that it resembled a soiled handkerchief covering her head. But she was

unexpectedly cheerful, and her dining-room, with its thin tablecloth on

a long pine table, had the decency of clean bareness.
In the line of unsmiling, methodically chewing guests, like horses at

a manger, Carol came to distinguish one countenance: the pale, long,

spectacled face and sandy pompadour hair of Mr. Raymond P. Wutherspoon,

known as "Raymie," professional bachelor, manager and one half the

sales-force in the shoe-department of the Bon Ton Store.
"You will enjoy Gopher Prairie very much, Mrs. Kennicott," petitioned

Raymie. His eyes were like those of a dog waiting to be let in out of

the cold. He passed the stewed apricots effusively. "There are a great

many bright cultured people here. Mrs. Wilks, the Christian Science

reader, is a very bright woman--though I am not a Scientist myself,

in fact I sing in the Episcopal choir. And Miss Sherwin of the high

school--she is such a pleasing, bright girl--I was fitting her to a pair

of tan gaiters yesterday, I declare, it really was a pleasure."


"Gimme the butter, Carrie," was Kennicott's comment. She defied him by

encouraging Raymie:


"Do you have amateur dramatics and so on here?"
"Oh yes! The town's just full of talent. The Knights of Pythias put on a

dandy minstrel show last year."


"It's nice you're so enthusiastic."
"Oh, do you really think so? Lots of folks jolly me for trying to get

up shows and so on. I tell them they have more artistic gifts than they

know. Just yesterday I was saying to Harry Haydock: if he would read

poetry, like Longfellow, or if he would join the band--I get so much

pleasure out of playing the cornet, and our band-leader, Del Snafflin,

is such a good musician, I often say he ought to give up his barbering

and become a professional musician, he could play the clarinet in

Minneapolis or New York or anywhere, but--but I couldn't get Harry to

see it at all and--I hear you and the doctor went out hunting yesterday.

Lovely country, isn't it. And did you make some calls? The mercantile

life isn't inspiring like medicine. It must be wonderful to see how

patients trust you, doctor."


"Huh. It's me that's got to do all the trusting. Be damn sight more

wonderful 'f they'd pay their bills," grumbled Kennicott and, to Carol,

he whispered something which sounded like "gentleman hen."
But Raymie's pale eyes were watering at her. She helped him with, "So

you like to read poetry?"


"Oh yes, so much--though to tell the truth, I don't get much time

for reading, we're always so busy at the store and----But we had the

dandiest professional reciter at the Pythian Sisters sociable last

winter."
Carol thought she heard a grunt from the traveling salesman at the end

of the table, and Kennicott's jerking elbow was a grunt embodied. She

persisted:


"Do you get to see many plays, Mr. Wutherspoon?"
He shone at her like a dim blue March moon, and sighed, "No, but I do

love the movies. I'm a real fan. One trouble with books is that they're

not so thoroughly safeguarded by intelligent censors as the movies are,

and when you drop into the library and take out a book you never know

what you're wasting your time on. What I like in books is a wholesome,

really improving story, and sometimes----Why, once I started a novel by

this fellow Balzac that you read about, and it told how a lady wasn't

living with her husband, I mean she wasn't his wife. It went into

details, disgustingly! And the English was real poor. I spoke to the

library about it, and they took it off the shelves. I'm not narrow,

but I must say I don't see any use in this deliberately dragging in

immorality! Life itself is so full of temptations that in literature one

wants only that which is pure and uplifting."
"What's the name of that Balzac yarn? Where can I get hold of it?"

giggled the traveling salesman.


Raymie ignored him. "But the movies, they are mostly clean, and their

humor----Don't you think that the most essential quality for a person to

have is a sense of humor?"
"I don't know. I really haven't much," said Carol.
He shook his finger at her. "Now, now, you're too modest. I'm sure we

can all see that you have a perfectly corking sense of humor. Besides,

Dr. Kennicott wouldn't marry a lady that didn't have. We all know how he

loves his fun!"


"You bet. I'm a jokey old bird. Come on, Carrie; let's beat it,"

remarked Kennicott.


Raymie implored, "And what is your chief artistic interest, Mrs.

Kennicott?"


"Oh----" Aware that the traveling salesman had murmured, "Dentistry,"

she desperately hazarded, "Architecture."


"That's a real nice art. I've always said--when Haydock & Simons were

finishing the new front on the Bon Ton building, the old man came to me,

you know, Harry's father, 'D. H.,' I always call him, and he asked me

how I liked it, and I said to him, 'Look here, D. H.,' I said--you see,

he was going to leave the front plain, and I said to him, 'It's all very

well to have modern lighting and a big display-space,' I said, 'but when

you get that in, you want to have some architecture, too,' I said, and

he laughed and said he guessed maybe I was right, and so he had 'em put

on a cornice."
"Tin!" observed the traveling salesman.
Raymie bared his teeth like a belligerent mouse. "Well, what if it is

tin? That's not my fault. I told D. H. to make it polished granite. You

make me tired!"
"Leave us go! Come on, Carrie, leave us go!" from Kennicott.
Raymie waylaid them in the hall and secretly informed Carol that she

musn't mind the traveling salesman's coarseness--he belonged to the

hwa pollwa.
Kennicott chuckled, "Well, child, how about it? Do you prefer an

artistic guy like Raymie to stupid boobs like Sam Clark and me?"


"My dear! Let's go home, and play pinochle, and laugh, and be foolish,

and slip up to bed, and sleep without dreaming. It's beautiful to be

just a solid citizeness!"

III
From the Gopher Prairie Weekly Dauntless:

One of the most charming affairs of the season was held Tuesday evening

at the handsome new residence of Sam and Mrs. Clark when many of our

most prominent citizens gathered to greet the lovely new bride of our

popular local physician, Dr. Will Kennicott. All present spoke of the

many charms of the bride, formerly Miss Carol Milford of St. Paul. Games

and stunts were the order of the day, with merry talk and conversation.

At a late hour dainty refreshments were served, and the party broke up

with many expressions of pleasure at the pleasant affair. Among those

present were Mesdames Kennicott, Elder----
* * * * *
Dr. Will Kennicott, for the past several years one of our most popular

and skilful physicians and surgeons, gave the town a delightful surprise

when he returned from an extended honeymoon tour in Colorado this week

with his charming bride, nee Miss Carol Milford of St. Paul, whose

family are socially prominent in Minneapolis and Mankato. Mrs. Kennicott

is a lady of manifold charms, not only of striking charm of appearance

but is also a distinguished graduate of a school in the East and has

for the past year been prominently connected in an important position

of responsibility with the St. Paul Public Library, in which city Dr.

"Will" had the good fortune to meet her. The city of Gopher Prairie

welcomes her to our midst and prophesies for her many happy years in

the energetic city of the twin lakes and the future. The Dr. and Mrs.

Kennicott will reside for the present at the Doctor's home on Poplar

Street which his charming mother has been keeping for him who has now

returned to her own home at Lac-qui-Meurt leaving a host of friends who

regret her absence and hope to see her soon with us again.


IV

She knew that if she was ever to effect any of the "reforms" which she



had pictured, she must have a starting-place. What confused her during

the three or four months after her marriage was not lack of perception

that she must be definite, but sheer careless happiness of her first

home.
In the pride of being a housewife she loved every detail--the brocade

armchair with the weak back, even the brass water-cock on the hot-water

reservoir, when she had become familiar with it by trying to scour it to

brilliance.
She found a maid--plump radiant Bea Sorenson from Scandia Crossing. Bea

was droll in her attempt to be at once a respectful servant and a bosom

friend. They laughed together over the fact that the stove did not draw,

over the slipperiness of fish in the pan.


Like a child playing Grandma in a trailing skirt, Carol paraded uptown

for her marketing, crying greetings to housewives along the way.

Everybody bowed to her, strangers and all, and made her feel that they

wanted her, that she belonged here. In city shops she was merely A

Customer--a hat, a voice to bore a harassed clerk. Here she was Mrs. Doc

Kennicott, and her preferences in grape-fruit and manners were known

and remembered and worth discussing . . . even if they weren't worth

fulfilling.


Shopping was a delight of brisk conferences. The very merchants whose

droning she found the dullest at the two or three parties which were

given to welcome her were the pleasantest confidants of all when they

had something to talk about--lemons or cotton voile or floor-oil.

With that skip-jack Dave Dyer, the druggist, she conducted a long

mock-quarrel. She pretended that he cheated her in the price of

magazines and candy; he pretended she was a detective from the Twin

Cities. He hid behind the prescription-counter, and when she stamped

her foot he came out wailing, "Honest, I haven't done nothing crooked

today--not yet."


She never recalled her first impression of Main Street; never

had precisely the same despair at its ugliness. By the end of two

shopping-tours everything had changed proportions. As she never entered

it, the Minniemashie House ceased to exist for her. Clark's Hardware

Store, Dyer's Drug Store, the groceries of Ole Jenson and Frederick

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