The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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to nag them. They scooted down a long hill on a bob-sled, they upset

and got snow down their necks they shrieked that they would do it again

immediately--and they did not do it again at all.


She badgered another group into going skiing. They shouted and threw

snowballs, and informed her that it was SUCH fun, and they'd have

another skiing expedition right away, and they jollily returned home and

never thereafter left their manuals of bridge.


Carol was discouraged. She was grateful when Kennicott invited her to

go rabbit-hunting in the woods. She waded down stilly cloisters

between burnt stump and icy oak, through drifts marked with a million

hieroglyphics of rabbit and mouse and bird. She squealed as he leaped

on a pile of brush and fired at the rabbit which ran out. He belonged

there, masculine in reefer and sweater and high-laced boots. That night

she ate prodigiously of steak and fried potatoes; she produced electric

sparks by touching his ear with her finger-tip; she slept twelve hours;

and awoke to think how glorious was this brave land.
She rose to a radiance of sun on snow. Snug in her furs she

trotted up-town. Frosted shingles smoked against a sky colored like

flax-blossoms, sleigh-bells clinked, shouts of greeting were loud in the

thin bright air, and everywhere was a rhythmic sound of wood-sawing. It

was Saturday, and the neighbors' sons were getting up the winter fuel.

Behind walls of corded wood in back yards their sawbucks stood in

depressions scattered with canary-yellow flakes of sawdust. The frames

of their buck-saws were cherry-red, the blades blued steel, and the

fresh cut ends of the sticks--poplar, maple, iron-wood, birch--were

marked with engraved rings of growth. The boys wore shoe-packs, blue

flannel shirts with enormous pearl buttons, and mackinaws of crimson,

lemon yellow, and foxy brown.


Carol cried "Fine day!" to the boys; she came in a glow to Howland &

Gould's grocery, her collar white with frost from her breath; she bought

a can of tomatoes as though it were Orient fruit; and returned home

planning to surprise Kennicott with an omelet creole for dinner.


So brilliant was the snow-glare that when she entered the house she

saw the door-knobs, the newspaper on the table, every white surface as

dazzling mauve, and her head was dizzy in the pyrotechnic dimness. When

her eyes had recovered she felt expanded, drunk with health, mistress of

life. The world was so luminous that she sat down at her rickety little

desk in the living-room to make a poem. (She got no farther than "The

sky is bright, the sun is warm, there ne'er will be another storm.")
In the mid-afternoon of this same day Kennicott was called into the

country. It was Bea's evening out--her evening for the Lutheran Dance.

Carol was alone from three till midnight. She wearied of reading pure

love stories in the magazines and sat by a radiator, beginning to brood.


Thus she chanced to discover that she had nothing to do.

II

She had, she meditated, passed through the novelty of seeing the



town and meeting people, of skating and sliding and hunting. Bea was

competent; there was no household labor except sewing and darning

and gossipy assistance to Bea in bed-making. She couldn't satisfy her

ingenuity in planning meals. At Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market you didn't

give orders--you wofully inquired whether there was anything today

besides steak and pork and ham. The cuts of beef were not cuts. They

were hacks. Lamb chops were as exotic as sharks' fins. The meat-dealers

shipped their best to the city, with its higher prices.


In all the shops there was the same lack of choice. She could not find

a glass-headed picture-nail in town; she did not hunt for the sort of

veiling she wanted--she took what she could get; and only at Howland &

Gould's was there such a luxury as canned asparagus. Routine care was

all she could devote to the house. Only by such fussing as the Widow

Bogart's could she make it fill her time.


She could not have outside employment. To the village doctor's wife it

was taboo.


She was a woman with a working brain and no work.
There were only three things which she could do: Have children; start

her career of reforming; or become so definitely a part of the town that

she would be fulfilled by the activities of church and study-club and

bridge-parties.


Children, yes, she wanted them, but----She was not quite ready. She had

been embarrassed by Kennicott's frankness, but she agreed with him

that in the insane condition of civilization, which made the rearing

of citizens more costly and perilous than any other crime, it was

inadvisable to have children till he had made more money. She was

sorry----Perhaps he had made all the mystery of love a mechanical

cautiousness but----She fled from the thought with a dubious, "Some

day."
Her "reforms," her impulses toward beauty in raw Main Street, they had

become indistinct. But she would set them going now. She would! She

swore it with soft fist beating the edges of the radiator. And at the

end of all her vows she had no notion as to when and where the crusade

was to begin.


Become an authentic part of the town? She began to think with unpleasant

lucidity. She reflected that she did not know whether the people liked

her. She had gone to the women at afternoon-coffees, to the merchants

in their stores, with so many outpouring comments and whimsies that

she hadn't given them a chance to betray their opinions of her. The men

smiled--but did they like her? She was lively among the women--but

was she one of them? She could not recall many times when she had been

admitted to the whispering of scandal which is the secret chamber of

Gopher Prairie conversation.
She was poisoned with doubt, as she drooped up to bed.
Next day, through her shopping, her mind sat back and observed. Dave

Dyer and Sam Clark were as cordial as she had been fancying; but wasn't

there an impersonal abruptness in the "H' are yuh?" of Chet Dashaway?

Howland the grocer was curt. Was that merely his usual manner?


"It's infuriating to have to pay attention to what people think. In

St. Paul I didn't care. But here I'm spied on. They're watching

me. I mustn't let it make me self-conscious," she coaxed

herself--overstimulated by the drug of thought, and offensively on the

defensive.

III


A thaw which stripped the snow from the sidewalks; a ringing iron night

when the lakes could be heard booming; a clear roistering morning. In

tam o'shanter and tweed skirt Carol felt herself a college junior going

out to play hockey. She wanted to whoop, her legs ached to run. On the

way home from shopping she yielded, as a pup would have yielded. She

galloped down a block and as she jumped from a curb across a welter of

slush, she gave a student "Yippee!"
She saw that in a window three old women were gasping. Their triple

glare was paralyzing. Across the street, at another window, the curtain

had secretively moved. She stopped, walked on sedately, changed from the

girl Carol into Mrs. Dr. Kennicott.


She never again felt quite young enough and defiant enough and free

enough to run and halloo in the public streets; and it was as a Nice

Married Woman that she attended the next weekly bridge of the Jolly

Seventeen.


IV

The Jolly Seventeen (the membership of which ranged from fourteen to



twenty-six) was the social cornice of Gopher Prairie. It was the country

club, the diplomatic set, the St. Cecilia, the Ritz oval room, the Club

de Vingt. To belong to it was to be "in." Though its membership partly

coincided with that of the Thanatopsis study club, the Jolly Seventeen

as a separate entity guffawed at the Thanatopsis, and considered it

middle-class and even "highbrow."


Most of the Jolly Seventeen were young married women, with their

husbands as associate members. Once a week they had a women's

afternoon-bridge; once a month the husbands joined them for supper and

evening-bridge; twice a year they had dances at I. O. O. F. Hall. Then

the town exploded. Only at the annual balls of the Firemen and of the

Eastern Star was there such prodigality of chiffon scarfs and tangoing

and heart-burnings, and these rival institutions were not select--hired

girls attended the Firemen's Ball, with section-hands and laborers. Ella

Stowbody had once gone to a Jolly Seventeen Soiree in the village hack,

hitherto confined to chief mourners at funerals; and Harry Haydock and

Dr. Terry Gould always appeared in the town's only specimens of evening

clothes.
The afternoon-bridge of the Jolly Seventeen which followed Carol's

lonely doubting was held at Juanita Haydock's new concrete bungalow,

with its door of polished oak and beveled plate-glass, jar of ferns in

the plastered hall, and in the living-room, a fumed oak Morris chair,

sixteen color-prints, and a square varnished table with a mat made of

cigar-ribbons on which was one Illustrated Gift Edition and one pack of

cards in a burnt-leather case.


Carol stepped into a sirocco of furnace heat. They were already playing.

Despite her flabby resolves she had not yet learned bridge. She was

winningly apologetic about it to Juanita, and ashamed that she should

have to go on being apologetic.


Mrs. Dave Dyer, a sallow woman with a thin prettiness devoted to

experiments in religious cults, illnesses, and scandal-bearing, shook

her finger at Carol and trilled, "You're a naughty one! I don't believe

you appreciate the honor, when you got into the Jolly Seventeen so

easy!"
Mrs. Chet Dashaway nudged her neighbor at the second table. But Carol

kept up the appealing bridal manner so far as possible. She twittered,

"You're perfectly right. I'm a lazy thing. I'll make Will start teaching

me this very evening." Her supplication had all the sound of birdies

in the nest, and Easter church-bells, and frosted Christmas cards.

Internally she snarled, "That ought to be saccharine enough." She sat in

the smallest rocking-chair, a model of Victorian modesty. But she saw or

she imagined that the women who had gurgled at her so welcomingly when

she had first come to Gopher Prairie were nodding at her brusquely.
During the pause after the first game she petitioned Mrs. Jackson Elder,

"Don't you think we ought to get up another bob-sled party soon?"


"It's so cold when you get dumped in the snow," said Mrs. Elder,

indifferently.


"I hate snow down my neck," volunteered Mrs. Dave Dyer, with an

unpleasant look at Carol and, turning her back, she bubbled at Rita

Simons, "Dearie, won't you run in this evening? I've got the loveliest

new Butterick pattern I want to show you."


Carol crept back to her chair. In the fervor of discussing the game they

ignored her. She was not used to being a wallflower. She struggled to

keep from oversensitiveness, from becoming unpopular by the sure method

of believing that she was unpopular; but she hadn't much reserve of

patience, and at the end of the second game, when Ella Stowbody sniffily

asked her, "Are you going to send to Minneapolis for your dress for

the next soiree--heard you were," Carol said "Don't know yet" with

unnecessary sharpness.


She was relieved by the admiration with which the jeune fille Rita

Simons looked at the steel buckles on her pumps; but she resented Mrs.

Howland's tart demand, "Don't you find that new couch of yours is too

broad to be practical?" She nodded, then shook her head, and touchily

left Mrs. Howland to get out of it any meaning she desired. Immediately

she wanted to make peace. She was close to simpering in the sweetness

with which she addressed Mrs Howland: "I think that is the prettiest

display of beef-tea your husband has in his store."


"Oh yes, Gopher Prairie isn't so much behind the times," gibed Mrs.

Howland. Some one giggled.


Their rebuffs made her haughty; her haughtiness irritated them to

franker rebuffs; they were working up to a state of painfully righteous

war when they were saved by the coming of food.
Though Juanita Haydock was highly advanced in the matters of

finger-bowls, doilies, and bath-mats, her "refreshments" were typical

of all the afternoon-coffees. Juanita's best friends, Mrs. Dyer and Mrs.

Dashaway, passed large dinner plates, each with a spoon, a fork, and a

coffee cup without saucer. They apologized and discussed the afternoon's

game as they passed through the thicket of women's feet. Then they

distributed hot buttered rolls, coffee poured from an enamel-ware pot,

stuffed olives, potato salad, and angel's-food cake. There was, even in

the most strictly conforming Gopher Prairie circles, a certain option

as to collations. The olives need not be stuffed. Doughnuts were in some

houses well thought of as a substitute for the hot buttered rolls.

But there was in all the town no heretic save Carol who omitted

angel's-food.
They ate enormously. Carol had a suspicion that the thriftier housewives

made the afternoon treat do for evening supper.


She tried to get back into the current. She edged over to Mrs. McGanum.

Chunky, amiable, young Mrs. McGanum with her breast and arms of a

milkmaid, and her loud delayed laugh which burst startlingly from

a sober face, was the daughter of old Dr. Westlake, and the wife of

Westlake's partner, Dr. McGanum. Kennicott asserted that Westlake and

McGanum and their contaminated families were tricky, but Carol had found

them gracious. She asked for friendliness by crying to Mrs. McGanum,

"How is the baby's throat now?" and she was attentive while Mrs. McGanum

rocked and knitted and placidly described symptoms.
Vida Sherwin came in after school, with Miss Ethel Villets, the

town librarian. Miss Sherwin's optimistic presence gave Carol more

confidence. She talked. She informed the circle "I drove almost down to

Wahkeenyan with Will, a few days ago. Isn't the country lovely! And I do

admire the Scandinavian farmers down there so: their big red barns and

silos and milking-machines and everything. Do you all know that lonely

Lutheran church, with the tin-covered spire, that stands out alone on

a hill? It's so bleak; somehow it seems so brave. I do think the

Scandinavians are the hardiest and best people----"
"Oh, do you THINK so?" protested Mrs. Jackson Elder. "My husband says

the Svenskas that work in the planing-mill are perfectly terrible--so

silent and cranky, and so selfish, the way they keep demanding raises.

If they had their way they'd simply ruin the business."


"Yes, and they're simply GHASTLY hired girls!" wailed Mrs. Dave Dyer.

"I swear, I work myself to skin and bone trying to please my hired

girls--when I can get them! I do everything in the world for them. They

can have their gentleman friends call on them in the kitchen any time,

and they get just the same to eat as we do, if there's, any left over,

and I practically never jump on them."


Juanita Haydock rattled, "They're ungrateful, all that class of people.

I do think the domestic problem is simply becoming awful. I don't know

what the country's coming to, with these Scandahoofian clodhoppers

demanding every cent you can save, and so ignorant and impertinent,

and on my word, demanding bath-tubs and everything--as if they weren't

mighty good and lucky at home if they got a bath in the wash-tub."


They were off, riding hard. Carol thought of Bea and waylaid them:
"But isn't it possibly the fault of the mistresses if the maids are

ungrateful? For generations we've given them the leavings of food, and

holes to live in. I don't want to boast, but I must say I don't have

much trouble with Bea. She's so friendly. The Scandinavians are sturdy

and honest----"
Mrs. Dave Dyer snapped, "Honest? Do you call it honest to hold us up for

every cent of pay they can get? I can't say that I've had any of them

steal anything (though you might call it stealing to eat so much that a

roast of beef hardly lasts three days), but just the same I don't intend

to let them think they can put anything over on ME! I always make them

pack and unpack their trunks down-stairs, right under my eyes, and then

I know they aren't being tempted to dishonesty by any slackness on MY

part!"
"How much do the maids get here?" Carol ventured.


Mrs. B. J. Gougerling, wife of the banker, stated in a shocked manner,

"Any place from three-fifty to five-fifty a week! I know positively that

Mrs. Clark, after swearing that she wouldn't weaken and encourage them

in their outrageous demands, went and paid five-fifty--think of it!

practically a dollar a day for unskilled work and, of course, her food

and room and a chance to do her own washing right in with the rest of

the wash. HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY, Mrs. KENNICOTT?"
"Yes! How much do you pay?" insisted half a dozen.
"W-why, I pay six a week," she feebly confessed.
They gasped. Juanita protested, "Don't you think it's hard on the rest

of us when you pay so much?" Juanita's demand was reinforced by the

universal glower.
Carol was angry. "I don't care! A maid has one of the hardest jobs on

earth. She works from ten to eighteen hours a day. She has to wash slimy

dishes and dirty clothes. She tends the children and runs to the door

with wet chapped hands and----"


Mrs. Dave Dyer broke into Carol's peroration with a furious, "That's all

very well, but believe me, I do those things myself when I'm without

a maid--and that's a good share of the time for a person that isn't

willing to yield and pay exorbitant wages!"


Carol was retorting, "But a maid does it for strangers, and all she gets

out of it is the pay----"


Their eyes were hostile. Four of them were talking at once. Vida

Sherwin's dictatorial voice cut through, took control of the revolution:


"Tut, tut, tut, tut! What angry passions--and what an idiotic

discussion! All of you getting too serious. Stop it! Carol Kennicott,

you're probably right, but you're too much ahead of the times. Juanita,

quit looking so belligerent. What is this, a card party or a hen fight?

Carol, you stop admiring yourself as the Joan of Arc of the hired girls,

or I'll spank you. You come over here and talk libraries with Ethel

Villets. Boooooo! If there's any more pecking, I'll take charge of the

hen roost myself!"


They all laughed artificially, and Carol obediently "talked libraries."
A small-town bungalow, the wives of a village doctor and a village

dry-goods merchant, a provincial teacher, a colloquial brawl over

paying a servant a dollar more a week. Yet this insignificance echoed

cellar-plots and cabinet meetings and labor conferences in Persia

and Prussia, Rome and Boston, and the orators who deemed themselves

international leaders were but the raised voices of a billion Juanitas

denouncing a million Carols, with a hundred thousand Vida Sherwins

trying to shoo away the storm.


Carol felt guilty. She devoted herself to admiring the spinsterish Miss

Villets--and immediately committed another offense against the laws of

decency.
"We haven't seen you at the library yet," Miss Villets reproved.
"I've wanted to run in so much but I've been getting settled and----I'll

probably come in so often you'll get tired of me! I hear you have such a

nice library."
"There are many who like it. We have two thousand more books than

Wakamin."


"Isn't that fine. I'm sure you are largely responsible. I've had some

experience, in St. Paul."


"So I have been informed. Not that I entirely approve of library methods

in these large cities. So careless, letting tramps and all sorts of

dirty persons practically sleep in the reading-rooms."
"I know, but the poor souls----Well, I'm sure you will agree with me in

one thing: The chief task of a librarian is to get people to read."


"You feel so? My feeling, Mrs. Kennicott, and I am merely quoting

the librarian of a very large college, is that the first duty of the

CONSCIENTIOUS librarian is to preserve the books."
"Oh!" Carol repented her "Oh." Miss Villets stiffened, and attacked:
"It may be all very well in cities, where they have unlimited funds, to

let nasty children ruin books and just deliberately tear them up, and

fresh young men take more books out than they are entitled to by the

regulations, but I'm never going to permit it in this library!"


"What if some children are destructive? They learn to read. Books are

cheaper than minds."


"Nothing is cheaper than the minds of some of these children that come

in and bother me simply because their mothers don't keep them home where

they belong. Some librarians may choose to be so wishy-washy and turn

their libraries into nursing-homes and kindergartens, but as long as I'm

in charge, the Gopher Prairie library is going to be quiet and decent,

and the books well kept!"


Carol saw that the others were listening, waiting for her to be

objectionable. She flinched before their dislike. She hastened to smile

in agreement with Miss Villets, to glance publicly at her wrist-watch,

to warble that it was "so late--have to hurry home--husband--such nice

party--maybe you were right about maids, prejudiced because Bea so

nice--such perfectly divine angel's-food, Mrs. Haydock must give me the

recipe--good-by, such happy party----"
She walked home. She reflected, "It was my fault. I was touchy. And I

opposed them so much. Only----I can't! I can't be one of them if I must

damn all the maids toiling in filthy kitchens, all the ragged hungry

children. And these women are to be my arbiters, the rest of my life!"


She ignored Bea's call from the kitchen; she ran up-stairs to the

unfrequented guest-room; she wept in terror, her body a pale arc as

she knelt beside a cumbrous black-walnut bed, beside a puffy mattress

covered with a red quilt, in a shuttered and airless room.


CHAPTER VIII

"DON'T I, in looking for things to do, show that I'm not attentive

enough to Will? Am I impressed enough by his work? I will be. Oh, I will

be. If I can't be one of the town, if I must be an outcast----"
When Kennicott came home she bustled, "Dear, you must tell me a lot more

about your cases. I want to know. I want to understand."


"Sure. You bet." And he went down to fix the furnace.
At supper she asked, "For instance, what did you do today?"
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