The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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her first party, the housewarming. She made lists on every envelope

and laundry-slip in her desk. She sent orders to Minneapolis "fancy

grocers." She pinned patterns and sewed. She was irritated when

Kennicott was jocular about "these frightful big doings that are going

on." She regarded the affair as an attack on Gopher Prairie's timidity

in pleasure. "I'll make 'em lively, if nothing else. I'll make 'em stop

regarding parties as committee-meetings."


Kennicott usually considered himself the master of the house. At his

desire, she went hunting, which was his symbol of happiness, and she

ordered porridge for breakfast, which was his symbol of morality. But

when he came home on the afternoon before the housewarming he found

himself a slave, an intruder, a blunderer. Carol wailed, "Fix the

furnace so you won't have to touch it after supper. And for heaven's

sake take that horrible old door-mat off the porch. And put on your nice

brown and white shirt. Why did you come home so late? Would you mind

hurrying? Here it is almost suppertime, and those fiends are just as

likely as not to come at seven instead of eight. PLEASE hurry!"


She was as unreasonable as an amateur leading woman on a first night,

and he was reduced to humility. When she came down to supper, when she

stood in the doorway, he gasped. She was in a silver sheath, the calyx

of a lily, her piled hair like black glass; she had the fragility and

costliness of a Viennese goblet; and her eyes were intense. He was

stirred to rise from the table and to hold the chair for her; and all

through supper he ate his bread dry because he felt that she would think

him common if he said "Will you hand me the butter?"


IV

She had reached the calmness of not caring whether her guests liked



the party or not, and a state of satisfied suspense in regard to Bea's

technique in serving, before Kennicott cried from the bay-window in

the living-room, "Here comes somebody!" and Mr. and Mrs. Luke Dawson

faltered in, at a quarter to eight. Then in a shy avalanche arrived

the entire aristocracy of Gopher Prairie: all persons engaged in a

profession, or earning more than twenty-five hundred dollars a year, or

possessed of grandparents born in America.
Even while they were removing their overshoes they were peeping at the

new decorations. Carol saw Dave Dyer secretively turn over the gold

pillows to find a price-tag, and heard Mr. Julius Flickerbaugh, the

attorney, gasp, "Well, I'll be switched," as he viewed the vermilion

print hanging against the Japanese obi. She was amused. But her high

spirits slackened as she beheld them form in dress parade, in a long,

silent, uneasy circle clear round the living-room. She felt that she had

been magically whisked back to her first party, at Sam Clark's.


"Have I got to lift them, like so many pigs of iron? I don't know that I

can make them happy, but I'll make them hectic."


A silver flame in the darkling circle, she whirled around, drew them

with her smile, and sang, "I want my party to be noisy and undignified!

This is the christening of my house, and I want you to help me have a

bad influence on it, so that it will be a giddy house. For me, won't you

all join in an old-fashioned square dance? And Mr. Dyer will call."
She had a record on the phonograph; Dave Dyer was capering in the center

of the floor, loose-jointed, lean, small, rusty headed, pointed of nose,

clapping his hands and shouting, "Swing y' pardners--alamun lef!"
Even the millionaire Dawsons and Ezra Stowbody and "Professor" George

Edwin Mott danced, looking only slightly foolish; and by rushing about

the room and being coy and coaxing to all persons over forty-five, Carol

got them into a waltz and a Virginia Reel. But when she left them to

disenjoy themselves in their own way Harry Haydock put a one-step record

on the phonograph, the younger people took the floor, and all the elders

sneaked back to their chairs, with crystallized smiles which meant,

"Don't believe I'll try this one myself, but I do enjoy watching the

youngsters dance."
Half of them were silent; half resumed the discussions of that afternoon

in the store. Ezra Stowbody hunted for something to say, hid a yawn, and

offered to Lyman Cass, the owner of the flour-mill, "How d' you folks

like the new furnace, Lym? Huh? So."


"Oh, let them alone. Don't pester them. They must like it, or they

wouldn't do it." Carol warned herself. But they gazed at her so

expectantly when she flickered past that she was reconvinced that in

their debauches of respectability they had lost the power of play as

well as the power of impersonal thought. Even the dancers were gradually

crushed by the invisible force of fifty perfectly pure and well-behaved

and negative minds; and they sat down, two by two. In twenty minutes the

party was again elevated to the decorum of a prayer-meeting.


"We're going to do something exciting," Carol exclaimed to her new

confidante, Vida Sherwin. She saw that in the growing quiet her voice

had carried across the room. Nat Hicks, Ella Stowbody, and Dave Dyer

were abstracted, fingers and lips slightly moving. She knew with a

cold certainty that Dave was rehearsing his "stunt" about the Norwegian

catching the hen, Ella running over the first lines of "An Old

Sweetheart of Mine," and Nat thinking of his popular parody on Mark

Antony's oration.


"But I will not have anybody use the word 'stunt' in my house," she

whispered to Miss Sherwin.


"That's good. I tell you: why not have Raymond Wutherspoon sing?"
"Raymie? Why, my dear, he's the most sentimental yearner in town!"
"See here, child! Your opinions on house-decorating are sound, but your

opinions of people are rotten! Raymie does wag his tail. But the poor

dear----Longing for what he calls 'self-expression' and no training in

anything except selling shoes. But he can sing. And some day when

he gets away from Harry Haydock's patronage and ridicule, he'll do

something fine."


Carol apologized for her superciliousness. She urged Raymie, and warned

the planners of "stunts," "We all want you to sing, Mr. Wutherspoon.

You're the only famous actor I'm going to let appear on the stage

tonight."


While Raymie blushed and admitted, "Oh, they don't want to hear me," he

was clearing his throat, pulling his clean handkerchief farther out of

his breast pocket, and thrusting his fingers between the buttons of his

vest.
In her affection for Raymie's defender, in her desire to "discover

artistic talent," Carol prepared to be delighted by the recital.
Raymie sang "Fly as a Bird," "Thou Art My Dove," and "When the Little

Swallow Leaves Its Tiny Nest," all in a reasonably bad offertory tenor.


Carol was shuddering with the vicarious shame which sensitive people

feel when they listen to an "elocutionist" being humorous, or to a

precocious child publicly doing badly what no child should do at all.

She wanted to laugh at the gratified importance in Raymie's half-shut

eyes; she wanted to weep over the meek ambitiousness which clouded like

an aura his pale face, flap ears, and sandy pompadour. She tried to look

admiring, for the benefit of Miss Sherwin, that trusting admirer of all

that was or conceivably could be the good, the true, and the beautiful.


At the end of the third ornithological lyric Miss Sherwin roused from

her attitude of inspired vision and breathed to Carol, "My! That was

sweet! Of course Raymond hasn't an unusually good voice, but don't you

think he puts such a lot of feeling into it?"


Carol lied blackly and magnificently, but without originality: "Oh yes,

I do think he has so much FEELING!"


She saw that after the strain of listening in a cultured manner the

audience had collapsed; had given up their last hope of being amused.

She cried, "Now we're going to play an idiotic game which I learned in

Chicago. You will have to take off your shoes, for a starter! After that

you will probably break your knees and shoulder-blades."
Much attention and incredulity. A few eyebrows indicating a verdict that

Doc Kennicott's bride was noisy and improper.


"I shall choose the most vicious, like Juanita Haydock and myself, as

the shepherds. The rest of you are wolves. Your shoes are the sheep.

The wolves go out into the hall. The shepherds scatter the sheep through

this room, then turn off all the lights, and the wolves crawl in from

the hall and in the darkness they try to get the shoes away from

the shepherds--who are permitted to do anything except bite and use

black-jacks. The wolves chuck the captured shoes out into the hall. No

one excused! Come on! Shoes off!"


Every one looked at every one else and waited for every one else to

begin.
Carol kicked off her silver slippers, and ignored the universal glance

at her arches. The embarrassed but loyal Vida Sherwin unbuttoned her

high black shoes. Ezra Stowbody cackled, "Well, you're a terror to old

folks. You're like the gals I used to go horseback-riding with, back in

the sixties. Ain't much accustomed to attending parties barefoot,

but here goes!" With a whoop and a gallant jerk Ezra snatched off his

elastic-sided Congress shoes.


The others giggled and followed.
When the sheep had been penned up, in the darkness the timorous wolves

crept into the living-room, squealing, halting, thrown out of their

habit of stolidity by the strangeness of advancing through nothingness

toward a waiting foe, a mysterious foe which expanded and grew more

menacing. The wolves peered to make out landmarks, they touched gliding

arms which did not seem to be attached to a body, they quivered with a

rapture of fear. Reality had vanished. A yelping squabble suddenly rose,

then Juanita Haydock's high titter, and Guy Pollock's astonished, "Ouch!

Quit! You're scalping me!"
Mrs. Luke Dawson galloped backward on stiff hands and knees into the

safety of the lighted hallway, moaning, "I declare, I nev' was so

upset in my life!" But the propriety was shaken out of her, and she

delightedly continued to ejaculate "Nev' in my LIFE" as she saw the

living-room door opened by invisible hands and shoes hurling through it,

as she heard from the darkness beyond the door a squawling, a bumping,

a resolute "Here's a lot of shoes. Come on, you wolves. Ow! Y' would,

would you!"


When Carol abruptly turned on the lights in the embattled living-room,

half of the company were sitting back against the walls, where they had

craftily remained throughout the engagement, but in the middle of the

floor Kennicott was wrestling with Harry Haydock--their collars torn

off, their hair in their eyes; and the owlish Mr. Julius Flickerbaugh

was retreating from Juanita Haydock, and gulping with unaccustomed

laughter. Guy Pollock's discreet brown scarf hung down his back. Young

Rita Simons's net blouse had lost two buttons, and betrayed more of her

delicious plump shoulder than was regarded as pure in Gopher Prairie.

Whether by shock, disgust, joy of combat, or physical activity, all the

party were freed from their years of social decorum. George Edwin Mott

giggled; Luke Dawson twisted his beard; Mrs. Clark insisted, "I did too,

Sam--I got a shoe--I never knew I could fight so terrible!"
Carol was certain that she was a great reformer.
She mercifully had combs, mirrors, brushes, needle and thread ready. She

permitted them to restore the divine decency of buttons.


The grinning Bea brought down-stairs a pile of soft thick sheets of

paper with designs of lotos blossoms, dragons, apes, in cobalt and

crimson and gray, and patterns of purple birds flying among sea-green

trees in the valleys of Nowhere.


"These," Carol announced, "are real Chinese masquerade costumes. I got

them from an importing shop in Minneapolis. You are to put them on over

your clothes, and please forget that you are Minnesotans, and turn into

mandarins and coolies and--and samurai (isn't it?), and anything else

you can think of."
While they were shyly rustling the paper costumes she disappeared. Ten

minutes after she gazed down from the stairs upon grotesquely ruddy

Yankee heads above Oriental robes, and cried to them, "The Princess

Winky Poo salutes her court!"


As they looked up she caught their suspense of admiration. They saw an

airy figure in trousers and coat of green brocade edged with gold; a

high gold collar under a proud chin; black hair pierced with jade pins;

a languid peacock fan in an out-stretched hand; eyes uplifted to a

vision of pagoda towers. When she dropped her pose and smiled down

she discovered Kennicott apoplectic with domestic pride--and gray Guy

Pollock staring beseechingly. For a second she saw nothing in all the

pink and brown mass of their faces save the hunger of the two men.


She shook off the spell and ran down. "We're going to have a real

Chinese concert. Messrs. Pollock, Kennicott, and, well, Stowbody are

drummers; the rest of us sing and play the fife."
The fifes were combs with tissue paper; the drums were tabourets and the

sewing-table. Loren Wheeler, editor of the Dauntless, led the orchestra,

with a ruler and a totally inaccurate sense of rhythm. The music was a

reminiscence of tom-toms heard at circus fortune-telling tents or at

the Minnesota State Fair, but the whole company pounded and puffed and

whined in a sing-song, and looked rapturous.


Before they were quite tired of the concert Carol led them in a dancing

procession to the dining-room, to blue bowls of chow mein, with Lichee

nuts and ginger preserved in syrup.
None of them save that city-rounder Harry Haydock had heard of any

Chinese dish except chop sooey. With agreeable doubt they ventured

through the bamboo shoots into the golden fried noodles of the chow

mein; and Dave Dyer did a not very humorous Chinese dance with Nat

Hicks; and there was hubbub and contentment.
Carol relaxed, and found that she was shockingly tired. She had carried

them on her thin shoulders. She could not keep it up. She longed for

her father, that artist at creating hysterical parties. She thought of

smoking a cigarette, to shock them, and dismissed the obscene thought

before it was quite formed. She wondered whether they could for five

minutes be coaxed to talk about something besides the winter top

of Knute Stamquist's Ford, and what Al Tingley had said about his

mother-in-law. She sighed, "Oh, let 'em alone. I've done enough." She

crossed her trousered legs, and snuggled luxuriously above her saucer

of ginger; she caught Pollock's congratulatory still smile, and thought

well of herself for having thrown a rose light on the pallid lawyer;

repented the heretical supposition that any male save her husband

existed; jumped up to find Kennicott and whisper, "Happy, my lord? . . .

No, it didn't cost much!"


"Best party this town ever saw. Only----Don't cross your legs in that

costume. Shows your knees too plain."


She was vexed. She resented his clumsiness. She returned to Guy Pollock

and talked of Chinese religions--not that she knew anything whatever

about Chinese religions, but he had read a book on the subject as, on

lonely evenings in his office, he had read at least one book on every

subject in the world. Guy's thin maturity was changing in her vision

to flushed youth and they were roaming an island in the yellow sea of

chatter when she realized that the guests were beginning that cough

which indicated, in the universal instinctive language, that they

desired to go home and go to bed.
While they asserted that it had been "the nicest party they'd ever

seen--my! so clever and original," she smiled tremendously, shook hands,

and cried many suitable things regarding children, and being sure to

wrap up warmly, and Raymie's singing and Juanita Haydock's prowess at

games. Then she turned wearily to Kennicott in a house filled with quiet

and crumbs and shreds of Chinese costumes.


He was gurgling, "I tell you, Carrie, you certainly are a wonder, and

guess you're right about waking folks up. Now you've showed 'em how,

they won't go on having the same old kind of parties and stunts and

everything. Here! Don't touch a thing! Done enough. Pop up to bed, and

I'll clear up."
His wise surgeon's-hands stroked her shoulder, and her irritation at his

clumsiness was lost in his strength.


V
From the Weekly Dauntless:

One of the most delightful social events of recent months was held

Wednesday evening in the housewarming of Dr. and Mrs. Kennicott, who

have completely redecorated their charming home on Poplar Street, and

is now extremely nifty in modern color scheme. The doctor and his bride

were at home to their numerous friends and a number of novelties in

diversions were held, including a Chinese orchestra in original and

genuine Oriental costumes, of which Ye Editor was leader. Dainty

refreshments were served in true Oriental style, and one and all voted a

delightful time.

VI

The week after, the Chet Dashaways gave a party. The circle of mourners



kept its place all evening, and Dave Dyer did the "stunt" of the

Norwegian and the hen.


CHAPTER VII


I
GOPHER PRAIRIE was digging in for the winter. Through late November and

all December it snowed daily; the thermometer was at zero and might

drop to twenty below, or thirty. Winter is not a season in the North

Middlewest; it is an industry. Storm sheds were erected at every door.

In every block the householders, Sam Clark, the wealthy Mr. Dawson, all

save asthmatic Ezra Stowbody who extravagantly hired a boy, were seen

perilously staggering up ladders, carrying storm windows and screwing

them to second-story jambs. While Kennicott put up his windows Carol

danced inside the bedrooms and begged him not to swallow the screws,

which he held in his mouth like an extraordinary set of external false

teeth.
The universal sign of winter was the town handyman--Miles Bjornstam, a

tall, thick, red-mustached bachelor, opinionated atheist, general-store

arguer, cynical Santa Claus. Children loved him, and he sneaked

away from work to tell them improbable stories of sea-faring and

horse-trading and bears. The children's parents either laughed at him

or hated him. He was the one democrat in town. He called both Lyman Cass

the miller and the Finn homesteader from Lost Lake by their first names.

He was known as "The Red Swede," and considered slightly insane.


Bjornstam could do anything with his hands--solder a pan, weld an

automobile spring, soothe a frightened filly, tinker a clock, carve a

Gloucester schooner which magically went into a bottle. Now, for a week,

he was commissioner general of Gopher Prairie. He was the only person

besides the repairman at Sam Clark's who understood plumbing. Everybody

begged him to look over the furnace and the water-pipes. He rushed

from house to house till after bedtime--ten o'clock. Icicles from burst

water-pipes hung along the skirt of his brown dog-skin overcoat; his

plush cap, which he never took off in the house, was a pulp of ice and

coal-dust; his red hands were cracked to rawness; he chewed the stub of

a cigar.
But he was courtly to Carol. He stooped to examine the furnace flues; he

straightened, glanced down at her, and hemmed, "Got to fix your furnace,

no matter what else I do."
The poorer houses of Gopher Prairie, where the services of Miles

Bjornstam were a luxury--which included the shanty of Miles

Bjornstam--were banked to the lower windows with earth and manure. Along

the railroad the sections of snow fence, which had been stacked all

summer in romantic wooden tents occupied by roving small boys, were set

up to prevent drifts from covering the track.


The farmers came into town in home-made sleighs, with bed-quilts and hay

piled in the rough boxes.


Fur coats, fur caps, fur mittens, overshoes buckling almost to the

knees, gray knitted scarfs ten feet long, thick woolen socks, canvas

jackets lined with fluffy yellow wool like the plumage of ducklings,

moccasins, red flannel wristlets for the blazing chapped wrists

of boys--these protections against winter were busily dug out of

moth-ball-sprinkled drawers and tar-bags in closets, and all over town

small boys were squealing, "Oh, there's my mittens!" or "Look at my

shoe-packs!" There is so sharp a division between the panting summer and

the stinging winter of the Northern plains that they rediscovered with

surprise and a feeling of heroism this armor of an Artic explorer.


Winter garments surpassed even personal gossip as the topic at parties.

It was good form to ask, "Put on your heavies yet?" There were as many

distinctions in wraps as in motor cars. The lesser sort appeared in

yellow and black dogskin coats, but Kennicott was lordly in a long

raccoon ulster and a new seal cap. When the snow was too deep for his

motor he went off on country calls in a shiny, floral, steel-tipped

cutter, only his ruddy nose and his cigar emerging from the fur.
Carol herself stirred Main Street by a loose coat of nutria. Her

finger-tips loved the silken fur.


Her liveliest activity now was organizing outdoor sports in the

motor-paralyzed town.


The automobile and bridge-whist had not only made more evident the

social divisions in Gopher Prairie but they had also enfeebled the

love of activity. It was so rich-looking to sit and drive--and so easy.

Skiing and sliding were "stupid" and "old-fashioned." In fact, the

village longed for the elegance of city recreations almost as much as

the cities longed for village sports; and Gopher Prairie took as

much pride in neglecting coasting as St. Paul--or New York--in going

coasting. Carol did inspire a successful skating-party in mid-November.

Plover Lake glistened in clear sweeps of gray-green ice, ringing to the

skates. On shore the ice-tipped reeds clattered in the wind, and oak

twigs with stubborn last leaves hung against a milky sky. Harry Haydock

did figure-eights, and Carol was certain that she had found the perfect

life. But when snow had ended the skating and she tried to get up a

moonlight sliding party, the matrons hesitated to stir away from their

radiators and their daily bridge-whist imitations of the city. She had

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