The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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Ludelmeyer and Howland & Gould, the meat markets, the notions

shop--they expanded, and hid all other structures. When she entered Mr.

Ludelmeyer's store and he wheezed, "Goot mornin', Mrs. Kennicott. Vell,

dis iss a fine day," she did not notice the dustiness of the shelves

nor the stupidity of the girl clerk; and she did not remember the mute

colloquy with him on her first view of Main Street.
She could not find half the kinds of food she wanted, but that made

shopping more of an adventure. When she did contrive to get sweetbreads

at Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market the triumph was so vast that she buzzed

with excitement and admired the strong wise butcher, Mr. Dahl.


She appreciated the homely ease of village life. She liked the old men,

farmers, G.A.R. veterans, who when they gossiped sometimes squatted on

their heels on the sidewalk, like resting Indians, and reflectively spat

over the curb.


She found beauty in the children.
She had suspected that her married friends exaggerated their passion

for children. But in her work in the library, children had become

individuals to her, citizens of the State with their own rights and

their own senses of humor. In the library she had not had much time

to give them, but now she knew the luxury of stopping, gravely asking

Bessie Clark whether her doll had yet recovered from its rheumatism, and

agreeing with Oscar Martinsen that it would be Good Fun to go trapping

"mushrats."


She touched the thought, "It would be sweet to have a baby of my own. I

do want one. Tiny----No! Not yet! There's so much to do. And I'm still

tired from the job. It's in my bones."
She rested at home. She listened to the village noises common to all

the world, jungle or prairie; sounds simple and charged with magic--dogs

barking, chickens making a gurgling sound of content, children at play,

a man beating a rug, wind in the cottonwood trees, a locust fiddling,

a footstep on the walk, jaunty voices of Bea and a grocer's boy in the

kitchen, a clinking anvil, a piano--not too near.


Twice a week, at least, she drove into the country with Kennicott, to

hunt ducks in lakes enameled with sunset, or to call on patients who

looked up to her as the squire's lady and thanked her for toys and

magazines. Evenings she went with her husband to the motion pictures and

was boisterously greeted by every other couple; or, till it became too

cold, they sat on the porch, bawling to passers-by in motors, or to

neighbors who were raking the leaves. The dust became golden in the low

sun; the street was filled with the fragrance of burning leaves.


V

But she hazily wanted some one to whom she could say what she thought.


On a slow afternoon when she fidgeted over sewing and wished that the

telephone would ring, Bea announced Miss Vida Sherwin.


Despite Vida Sherwin's lively blue eyes, if you had looked at her in

detail you would have found her face slightly lined, and not so much

sallow as with the bloom rubbed off; you would have found her chest

flat, and her fingers rough from needle and chalk and penholder; her

blouses and plain cloth skirts undistinguished; and her hat worn too far

back, betraying a dry forehead. But you never did look at Vida Sherwin

in detail. You couldn't. Her electric activity veiled her. She was as

energetic as a chipmunk. Her fingers fluttered; her sympathy came out

in spurts; she sat on the edge of a chair in eagerness to be near her

auditor, to send her enthusiasms and optimism across.


She rushed into the room pouring out: "I'm afraid you'll think the

teachers have been shabby in not coming near you, but we wanted to

give you a chance to get settled. I am Vida Sherwin, and I try to teach

French and English and a few other things in the high school."


"I've been hoping to know the teachers. You see, I was a librarian----"
"Oh, you needn't tell me. I know all about you! Awful how much I

know--this gossipy village. We need you so much here. It's a dear loyal

town (and isn't loyalty the finest thing in the world!) but it's a

rough diamond, and we need you for the polishing, and we're ever so

humble----" She stopped for breath and finished her compliment with a

smile.
"If I COULD help you in any way----Would I be committing the

unpardonable sin if I whispered that I think Gopher Prairie is a tiny

bit ugly?"


"Of course it's ugly. Dreadfully! Though I'm probably the only person in

town to whom you could safely say that. (Except perhaps Guy Pollock

the lawyer--have you met him?--oh, you MUST!--he's simply a

darling--intelligence and culture and so gentle.) But I don't care so

much about the ugliness. That will change. It's the spirit that gives

me hope. It's sound. Wholesome. But afraid. It needs live creatures like

you to awaken it. I shall slave-drive you!"
"Splendid. What shall I do? I've been wondering if it would be possible

to have a good architect come here to lecture."


"Ye-es, but don't you think it would be better to work with existing

agencies? Perhaps it will sound slow to you, but I was thinking----It

would be lovely if we could get you to teach Sunday School."
Carol had the empty expression of one who finds that she has been

affectionately bowing to a complete stranger. "Oh yes. But I'm afraid I

wouldn't be much good at that. My religion is so foggy."
"I know. So is mine. I don't care a bit for dogma. Though I do stick

firmly to the belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man

and the leadership of Jesus. As you do, of course."
Carol looked respectable and thought about having tea.
"And that's all you need teach in Sunday School. It's the personal

influence. Then there's the library-board. You'd be so useful on that.

And of course there's our women's study club--the Thanatopsis Club."
"Are they doing anything? Or do they read papers made out of the

Encyclopedia?"


Miss Sherwin shrugged. "Perhaps. But still, they are so earnest. They

will respond to your fresher interest. And the Thanatopsis does do a

good social work--they've made the city plant ever so many trees, and

they run the rest-room for farmers' wives. And they do take such an

interest in refinement and culture. So--in fact, so very unique."
Carol was disappointed--by nothing very tangible. She said politely,

"I'll think them all over. I must have a while to look around first."


Miss Sherwin darted to her, smoothed her hair, peered at her. "Oh,

my dear, don't you suppose I know? These first tender days of

marriage--they're sacred to me. Home, and children that need you, and

depend on you to keep them alive, and turn to you with their wrinkly

little smiles. And the hearth and----" She hid her face from Carol as

she made an activity of patting the cushion of her chair, but she went

on with her former briskness:
"I mean, you must help us when you're ready. . . . I'm afraid you'll

think I'm conservative. I am! So much to conserve. All this treasure of

American ideals. Sturdiness and democracy and opportunity. Maybe not at

Palm Beach. But, thank heaven, we're free from such social distinctions

in Gopher Prairie. I have only one good quality--overwhelming belief in

the brains and hearts of our nation, our state, our town. It's so strong

that sometimes I do have a tiny effect on the haughty ten-thousandaires.

I shake 'em up and make 'em believe in ideals--yes, in themselves. But

I get into a rut of teaching. I need young critical things like you to

punch me up. Tell me, what are you reading?"


"I've been re-reading 'The Damnation of Theron Ware.' Do you know it?"
"Yes. It was clever. But hard. Man wanted to tear down, not build up.

Cynical. Oh, I do hope I'm not a sentimentalist. But I can't see any use

in this high-art stuff that doesn't encourage us day-laborers to plod

on."
Ensued a fifteen-minute argument about the oldest topic in the world:

It's art but is it pretty? Carol tried to be eloquent regarding honesty

of observation. Miss Sherwin stood out for sweetness and a cautious use

of the uncomfortable properties of light. At the end Carol cried:
"I don't care how much we disagree. It's a relief to have somebody

talk something besides crops. Let's make Gopher Prairie rock to its

foundations: let's have afternoon tea instead of afternoon coffee."
The delighted Bea helped her bring out the ancestral folding

sewing-table, whose yellow and black top was scarred with dotted lines

from a dressmaker's tracing-wheel, and to set it with an embroidered

lunch-cloth, and the mauve-glazed Japanese tea-set which she had brought

from St. Paul. Miss Sherwin confided her latest scheme--moral motion

pictures for country districts, with light from a portable dynamo

hitched to a Ford engine. Bea was twice called to fill the hot-water

pitcher and to make cinnamon toast.


When Kennicott came home at five he tried to be courtly, as befits the

husband of one who has afternoon tea. Carol suggested that Miss Sherwin

stay for supper, and that Kennicott invite Guy Pollock, the much-praised

lawyer, the poetic bachelor.


Yes, Pollock could come. Yes, he was over the grippe which had prevented

his going to Sam Clark's party.


Carol regretted her impulse. The man would be an opinionated politician,

heavily jocular about The Bride. But at the entrance of Guy Pollock she

discovered a personality. Pollock was a man of perhaps thirty-eight,

slender, still, deferential. His voice was low. "It was very good of you

to want me," he said, and he offered no humorous remarks, and did not

ask her if she didn't think Gopher Prairie was "the livest little burg

in the state."
She fancied that his even grayness might reveal a thousand tints of

lavender and blue and silver.


At supper he hinted his love for Sir Thomas Browne, Thoreau, Agnes

Repplier, Arthur Symons, Claude Washburn, Charles Flandrau. He presented

his idols diffidently, but he expanded in Carol's bookishness, in Miss

Sherwin's voluminous praise, in Kennicott's tolerance of any one who

amused his wife.
Carol wondered why Guy Pollock went on digging at routine law-cases;

why he remained in Gopher Prairie. She had no one whom she could ask.

Neither Kennicott nor Vida Sherwin would understand that there might be

reasons why a Pollock should not remain in Gopher Prairie. She enjoyed

the faint mystery. She felt triumphant and rather literary. She already

had a Group. It would be only a while now before she provided the town

with fanlights and a knowledge of Galsworthy. She was doing things! As

she served the emergency dessert of cocoanut and sliced oranges, she

cried to Pollock, "Don't you think we ought to get up a dramatic club?"

CHAPTER VI


I
WHEN the first dubious November snow had filtered down, shading with

white the bare clods in the plowed fields, when the first small fire

had been started in the furnace, which is the shrine of a Gopher Prairie

home, Carol began to make the house her own. She dismissed the parlor

furniture--the golden oak table with brass knobs, the moldy brocade

chairs, the picture of "The Doctor." She went to Minneapolis, to scamper

through department stores and small Tenth Street shops devoted to

ceramics and high thought. She had to ship her treasures, but she wanted

to bring them back in her arms.
Carpenters had torn out the partition between front parlor and back

parlor, thrown it into a long room on which she lavished yellow and

deep blue; a Japanese obi with an intricacy of gold thread on stiff

ultramarine tissue, which she hung as a panel against the maize wall; a

couch with pillows of sapphire velvet and gold bands; chairs which, in

Gopher Prairie, seemed flippant. She hid the sacred family phonograph in

the dining-room, and replaced its stand with a square cabinet on which

was a squat blue jar between yellow candles.


Kennicott decided against a fireplace. "We'll have a new house in a

couple of years, anyway."


She decorated only one room. The rest, Kennicott hinted, she'd better

leave till he "made a ten-strike."


The brown cube of a house stirred and awakened; it seemed to be in

motion; it welcomed her back from shopping; it lost its mildewed

repression.
The supreme verdict was Kennicott's "Well, by golly, I was afraid the

new junk wouldn't be so comfortable, but I must say this divan, or

whatever you call it, is a lot better than that bumpy old sofa we had,

and when I look around----Well, it's worth all it cost, I guess."


Every one in town took an interest in the refurnishing. The carpenters

and painters who did not actually assist crossed the lawn to peer

through the windows and exclaim, "Fine! Looks swell!" Dave Dyer at

the drug store, Harry Haydock and Raymie Wutherspoon at the Bon Ton,

repeated daily, "How's the good work coming? I hear the house is getting

to be real classy."


Even Mrs. Bogart.
Mrs. Bogart lived across the alley from the rear of Carol's house. She

was a widow, and a Prominent Baptist, and a Good Influence. She had so

painfully reared three sons to be Christian gentlemen that one of them

had become an Omaha bartender, one a professor of Greek, and one, Cyrus

N. Bogart, a boy of fourteen who was still at home, the most brazen

member of the toughest gang in Boytown.


Mrs. Bogart was not the acid type of Good Influence. She was the soft,

damp, fat, sighing, indigestive, clinging, melancholy, depressingly

hopeful kind. There are in every large chicken-yard a number of old and

indignant hens who resemble Mrs. Bogart, and when they are served at

Sunday noon dinner, as fricasseed chicken with thick dumplings, they

keep up the resemblance.


Carol had noted that Mrs. Bogart from her side window kept an eye upon

the house. The Kennicotts and Mrs. Bogart did not move in the same

sets--which meant precisely the same in Gopher Prairie as it did on

Fifth Avenue or in Mayfair. But the good widow came calling.


She wheezed in, sighed, gave Carol a pulpy hand, sighed, glanced sharply

at the revelation of ankles as Carol crossed her legs, sighed, inspected

the new blue chairs, smiled with a coy sighing sound, and gave voice:
"I've wanted to call on you so long, dearie, you know we're neighbors,

but I thought I'd wait till you got settled, you must run in and see me,

how much did that big chair cost?"
"Seventy-seven dollars!"
"Sev----Sakes alive! Well, I suppose it's all right for them that can

afford it, though I do sometimes think----Of course as our pastor said

once, at Baptist Church----By the way, we haven't seen you there yet,

and of course your husband was raised up a Baptist, and I do hope

he won't drift away from the fold, of course we all know there isn't

anything, not cleverness or gifts of gold or anything, that can make

up for humility and the inward grace and they can say what they want to

about the P. E. church, but of course there's no church that has more

history or has stayed by the true principles of Christianity better

than the Baptist Church and----In what church were you raised, Mrs.

Kennicott?"
"W-why, I went to Congregational, as a girl in Mankato, but my college

was Universalist."


"Well----But of course as the Bible says, is it the Bible, at least I

know I have heard it in church and everybody admits it, it's proper for

the little bride to take her husband's vessel of faith, so we all hope

we shall see you at the Baptist Church and----As I was saying, of course

I agree with Reverend Zitterel in thinking that the great trouble with

this nation today is lack of spiritual faith--so few going to church,

and people automobiling on Sunday and heaven knows what all. But still

I do think that one trouble is this terrible waste of money, people

feeling that they've got to have bath-tubs and telephones in their

houses----I heard you were selling the old furniture cheap."


"Yes!"
"Well--of course you know your own mind, but I can't help thinking, when

Will's ma was down here keeping house for him--SHE used to run in to SEE

me, real OFTEN!--it was good enough furniture for her. But there, there,

I mustn't croak, I just wanted to let you know that when you find you

can't depend on a lot of these gadding young folks like the Haydocks and

the Dyers--and heaven only knows how much money Juanita Haydock blows in

in a year--why then you may be glad to know that slow old Aunty Bogart

is always right there, and heaven knows----" A portentous sigh. "--I

HOPE you and your husband won't have any of the troubles, with sickness

and quarreling and wasting money and all that so many of these young

couples do have and----But I must be running along now, dearie. It's

been such a pleasure and----Just run in and see me any time. I hope Will

is well? I thought he looked a wee mite peaked."
It was twenty minutes later when Mrs. Bogart finally oozed out of the

front door. Carol ran back into the living-room and jerked open the

windows. "That woman has left damp finger-prints in the air," she said.

II

Carol was extravagant, but at least she did not try to clear herself of



blame by going about whimpering, "I know I'm terribly extravagant but I

don't seem to be able to help it."


Kennicott had never thought of giving her an allowance. His mother had

never had one! As a wage-earning spinster Carol had asserted to her

fellow librarians that when she was married, she was going to have an

allowance and be business-like and modern. But it was too much trouble

to explain to Kennicott's kindly stubbornness that she was a practical

housekeeper as well as a flighty playmate. She bought a budget-plan

account book and made her budgets as exact as budgets are likely to be

when they lack budgets.


For the first month it was a honeymoon jest to beg prettily, to confess,

"I haven't a cent in the house, dear," and to be told, "You're an

extravagant little rabbit." But the budget book made her realize how

inexact were her finances. She became self-conscious; occasionally she

was indignant that she should always have to petition him for the money

with which to buy his food. She caught herself criticizing his belief

that, since his joke about trying to keep her out of the poorhouse had

once been accepted as admirable humor, it should continue to be his

daily bon mot. It was a nuisance to have to run down the street after

him because she had forgotten to ask him for money at breakfast.


But she couldn't "hurt his feelings," she reflected. He liked the

lordliness of giving largess.


She tried to reduce the frequency of begging by opening accounts and

having the bills sent to him. She had found that staple groceries,

sugar, flour, could be most cheaply purchased at Axel Egge's rustic

general store. She said sweetly to Axel:


"I think I'd better open a charge account here."
"I don't do no business except for cash," grunted Axel.
She flared, "Do you know who I am?"
"Yuh, sure, I know. The doc is good for it. But that's yoost a rule I

made. I make low prices. I do business for cash."


She stared at his red impassive face, and her fingers had the

undignified desire to slap him, but her reason agreed with him. "You're

quite right. You shouldn't break your rule for me."
Her rage had not been lost. It had been transferred to her husband. She

wanted ten pounds of sugar in a hurry, but she had no money. She ran up

the stairs to Kennicott's office. On the door was a sign advertising a

headache cure and stating, "The doctor is out, back at----" Naturally,

the blank space was not filled out. She stamped her foot. She ran down

to the drug store--the doctor's club.


As she entered she heard Mrs. Dyer demanding, "Dave, I've got to have

some money."


Carol saw that her husband was there, and two other men, all listening

in amusement.


Dave Dyer snapped, "How much do you want? Dollar be enough?"
"No, it won't! I've got to get some underclothes for the kids."
"Why, good Lord, they got enough now to fill the closet so I couldn't

find my hunting boots, last time I wanted them."


"I don't care. They're all in rags. You got to give me ten dollars----"
Carol perceived that Mrs. Dyer was accustomed to this indignity. She

perceived that the men, particularly Dave, regarded it as an excellent

jest. She waited--she knew what would come--it did. Dave yelped,

"Where's that ten dollars I gave you last year?" and he looked to the

other men to laugh. They laughed.
Cold and still, Carol walked up to Kennicott and commanded, "I want to

see you upstairs."


"Why--something the matter?"
"Yes!"
He clumped after her, up the stairs, into his barren office. Before he

could get out a query she stated:


"Yesterday, in front of a saloon, I heard a German farm-wife beg her

husband for a quarter, to get a toy for the baby--and he refused. Just

now I've heard Mrs. Dyer going through the same humiliation. And I--I'm

in the same position! I have to beg you for money. Daily! I have just

been informed that I couldn't have any sugar because I hadn't the money

to pay for it!"


"Who said that? By God, I'll kill any----"
"Tut. It wasn't his fault. It was yours. And mine. I now humbly beg

you to give me the money with which to buy meals for you to eat. And

hereafter to remember it. The next time, I sha'n't beg. I shall simply

starve. Do you understand? I can't go on being a slave----"


Her defiance, her enjoyment of the role, ran out. She was sobbing

against his overcoat, "How can you shame me so?" and he was blubbering,

"Dog-gone it, I meant to give you some, and I forgot it. I swear I won't

again. By golly I won't!"


He pressed fifty dollars upon her, and after that he remembered to give

her money regularly . . . sometimes.


Daily she determined, "But I must have a stated amount--be

business-like. System. I must do something about it." And daily she

didn't do anything about it.

III


Mrs. Bogart had, by the simpering viciousness of her comments on the new

furniture, stirred Carol to economy. She spoke judiciously to Bea

about left-overs. She read the cookbook again and, like a child with

a picture-book, she studied the diagram of the beef which gallantly

continues to browse though it is divided into cuts.
But she was a deliberate and joyous spendthrift in her preparations for

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