The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

Download 4.62 Mb.
Size4.62 Mb.
1   ...   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   ...   44

the whole day. Might help some to make up for our trip. Fine fellow, Dr.

Joralemon was a prairie town of the size of Gopher Prairie.
Their motor was out of order, and there was no passenger-train at an

early hour. They went down by freight-train, after the weighty and

conversational business of leaving Hugh with Aunt Bessie. Carol was

exultant over this irregular jaunting. It was the first unusual thing,

except the glance of Bresnahan, that had happened since the weaning of

Hugh. They rode in the caboose, the small red cupola-topped car jerked

along at the end of the train. It was a roving shanty, the cabin of a

land schooner, with black oilcloth seats along the side, and for desk, a

pine board to be let down on hinges. Kennicott played seven-up with the

conductor and two brakemen. Carol liked the blue silk kerchiefs about

the brakemen's throats; she liked their welcome to her, and their air of

friendly independence. Since there were no sweating passengers crammed

in beside her, she reveled in the train's slowness. She was part of

these lakes and tawny wheat-fields. She liked the smell of hot earth and

clean grease; and the leisurely chug-a-chug, chug-a-chug of the trucks

was a song of contentment in the sun.

She pretended that she was going to the Rockies. When they reached

Joralemon she was radiant with holiday-making.

Her eagerness began to lessen the moment they stopped at a red frame

station exactly like the one they had just left at Gopher Prairie,

and Kennicott yawned, "Right on time. Just in time for dinner at the

Calibrees'. I 'phoned the doctor from G. P. that we'd be here. 'We'll

catch the freight that gets in before twelve,' I told him. He said

he'd meet us at the depot and take us right up to the house for dinner.

Calibree is a good man, and you'll find his wife is a mighty brainy

little woman, bright as a dollar. By golly, there he is."

Dr. Calibree was a squat, clean-shaven, conscientious-looking man of

forty. He was curiously like his own brown-painted motor car, with

eye-glasses for windshield. "Want you to meet my wife, doctor--Carrie,

make you 'quainted with Dr. Calibree," said Kennicott. Calibree bowed

quietly and shook her hand, but before he had finished shaking it he was

concentrating upon Kennicott with, "Nice to see you, doctor. Say, don't

let me forget to ask you about what you did in that exopthalmic goiter

case--that Bohemian woman at Wahkeenyan."

The two men, on the front seat of the car, chanted goiters and ignored

her. She did not know it. She was trying to feed her illusion of

adventure by staring at unfamiliar houses . . . drab cottages, artificial

stone bungalows, square painty stolidities with immaculate clapboards

and broad screened porches and tidy grass-plots.
Calibree handed her over to his wife, a thick woman who called

her "dearie," and asked if she was hot and, visibly searching for

conversation, produced, "Let's see, you and the doctor have a Little

One, haven't you?" At dinner Mrs. Calibree served the corned beef and

cabbage and looked steamy, looked like the steamy leaves of cabbage. The

men were oblivious of their wives as they gave the social passwords of

Main Street, the orthodox opinions on weather, crops, and motor cars,

then flung away restraint and gyrated in the debauch of shop-talk.

Stroking his chin, drawling in the ecstasy of being erudite, Kennicott

inquired, "Say, doctor, what success have you had with thyroid for

treatment of pains in the legs before child-birth?"
Carol did not resent their assumption that she was too ignorant to be

admitted to masculine mysteries. She was used to it. But the cabbage and

Mrs. Calibree's monotonous "I don't know what we're coming to with

all this difficulty getting hired girls" were gumming her eyes with

drowsiness. She sought to clear them by appealing to Calibree, in a

manner of exaggerated liveliness, "Doctor, have the medical societies

in Minnesota ever advocated legislation for help to nursing mothers?"
Calibree slowly revolved toward her. "Uh--I've never--uh--never looked

into it. I don't believe much in getting mixed up in politics." He

turned squarely from her and, peering earnestly at Kennicott, resumed,

"Doctor, what's been your experience with unilateral pyelonephritis?

Buckburn of Baltimore advocates decapsulation and nephrotomy, but seems

to me----"

Not till after two did they rise. In the lee of the stonily mature trio

Carol proceeded to the street fair which added mundane gaiety to the

annual rites of the United and Fraternal Order of Beavers. Beavers,

human Beavers, were everywhere: thirty-second degree Beavers in gray

sack suits and decent derbies, more flippant Beavers in crash summer

coats and straw hats, rustic Beavers in shirt sleeves and frayed

suspenders; but whatever his caste-symbols, every Beaver was

distinguished by an enormous shrimp-colored ribbon lettered in silver,

"Sir Knight and Brother, U. F. O. B., Annual State Convention." On the

motherly shirtwaist of each of their wives was a badge "Sir Knight's

Lady." The Duluth delegation had brought their famous Beaver amateur

band, in Zouave costumes of green velvet jacket, blue trousers, and

scarlet fez. The strange thing was that beneath their scarlet pride the

Zouaves' faces remained those of American business-men, pink, smooth,

eye-glassed; and as they stood playing in a circle, at the corner of

Main Street and Second, as they tootled on fifes or with swelling cheeks

blew into cornets, their eyes remained as owlish as though they were

sitting at desks under the sign "This Is My Busy Day."

Carol had supposed that the Beavers were average citizens organized for

the purposes of getting cheap life-insurance and playing poker at the

lodge-rooms every second Wednesday, but she saw a large poster which



U. F. O. B.

The greatest influence for good citizenship in the

country. The jolliest aggregation of red-blooded,

open-handed, hustle-em-up good fellows in the world.

Joralemon welcomes you to her hospitable city.

Kennicott read the poster and to Calibree admired, "Strong lodge, the

Beavers. Never joined. Don't know but what I will."

Calibree adumbrated, "They're a good bunch. Good strong lodge. See that

fellow there that's playing the snare drum? He's the smartest wholesale

grocer in Duluth, they say. Guess it would be worth joining. Oh say, are

you doing much insurance examining?"

They went on to the street fair.
Lining one block of Main Street were the "attractions"--two hot-dog

stands, a lemonade and pop-corn stand, a merry-go-round, and booths in

which balls might be thrown at rag dolls, if one wished to throw balls

at rag dolls. The dignified delegates were shy of the booths, but

country boys with brickred necks and pale-blue ties and bright-yellow

shoes, who had brought sweethearts into town in somewhat dusty and

listed Fords, were wolfing sandwiches, drinking strawberry pop out of

bottles, and riding the revolving crimson and gold horses. They shrieked

and giggled; peanut-roasters whistled; the merry-go-round pounded out

monotonous music; the barkers bawled, "Here's your chance--here's

your chance--come on here, boy--come on here--give that girl a good

time--give her a swell time--here's your chance to win a genuwine gold

watch for five cents, half a dime, the twentieth part of a dollah!"

The prairie sun jabbed the unshaded street with shafts that were like

poisonous thorns the tinny cornices above the brick stores were glaring;

the dull breeze scattered dust on sweaty Beavers who crawled along in

tight scorching new shoes, up two blocks and back, up two blocks and

back, wondering what to do next, working at having a good time.

Carol's head ached as she trailed behind the unsmiling Calibrees along

the block of booths. She chirruped at Kennicott, "Let's be wild! Let's

ride on the merry-go-round and grab a gold ring!"
Kennicott considered it, and mumbled to Calibree, "Think you folks would

like to stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"

Calibree considered it, and mumbled to his wife, "Think you'd like to

stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"

Mrs. Calibree smiled in a washed-out manner, and sighed, "Oh no, I don't

believe I care to much, but you folks go ahead and try it."

Calibree stated to Kennicott, "No, I don't believe we care to a whole

lot, but you folks go ahead and try it."

Kennicott summarized the whole case against wildness: "Let's try it some

other time, Carrie."

She gave it up. She looked at the town. She saw that in adventuring

from Main Street, Gopher Prairie, to Main Street, Joralemon, she had not

stirred. There were the same two-story brick groceries with lodge-signs

above the awnings; the same one-story wooden millinery shop; the same

fire-brick garages; the same prairie at the open end of the wide

street; the same people wondering whether the levity of eating a hot-dog

sandwich would break their taboos.
They reached Gopher Prairie at nine in the evening.
"You look kind of hot," said Kennicott.
"Joralemon is an enterprising town, don't you think so?" She broke. "No!

I think it's an ash-heap."

"Why, Carrie!"
He worried over it for a week. While he ground his plate with his knife

as he energetically pursued fragments of bacon, he peeped at her.


"CARRIE'S all right. She's finicky, but she'll get over it. But I wish

she'd hurry up about it! What she can't understand is that a fellow

practising medicine in a small town like this has got to cut out the

highbrow stuff, and not spend all his time going to concerts and

shining his shoes. (Not but what he might be just as good at all these

intellectual and art things as some other folks, if he had the time

for it!)" Dr. Will Kennicott was brooding in his office, during a free

moment toward the end of the summer afternoon. He hunched down in his

tilted desk-chair, undid a button of his shirt, glanced at the state

news in the back of the Journal of the American Medical Association,

dropped the magazine, leaned back with his right thumb hooked in the

arm-hole of his vest and his left thumb stroking the back of his hair.

"By golly, she's taking an awful big chance, though. You'd expect her

to learn by and by that I won't be a parlor lizard. She says we try

to 'make her over.' Well, she's always trying to make me over, from a

perfectly good M. D. into a damn poet with a socialist necktie! She'd

have a fit if she knew how many women would be willing to cuddle up to

Friend Will and comfort him, if he'd give 'em the chance! There's still

a few dames that think the old man isn't so darn unattractive! I'm

glad I've ducked all that woman-game since I've been married but----Be

switched if sometimes I don't feel tempted to shine up to some girl that

has sense enough to take life as it is; some frau that doesn't want to

talk Longfellow all the time, but just hold my hand and say, 'You look

all in, honey. Take it easy, and don't try to talk.'

"Carrie thinks she's such a whale at analyzing folks. Giving the town

the once-over. Telling us where we get off. Why, she'd simply turn up

her toes and croak if she found out how much she doesn't know about the

high old times a wise guy could have in this burg on the Q.T., if he

wasn't faithful to his wife. But I am. At that, no matter what faults

she's got, there's nobody here, no, nor in Minn'aplus either, that's as

nice-looking and square and bright as Carrie. She ought to of been an

artist or a writer or one of those things. But once she took a shot at

living here, she ought to stick by it. Pretty----Lord yes. But cold. She

simply doesn't know what passion is. She simply hasn't got an í-dea how

hard it is for a full-blooded man to go on pretending to be satisfied

with just being endured. It gets awful tiresome, having to feel like a

criminal just because I'm normal. She's getting so she doesn't even care

for my kissing her. Well----

"I guess I can weather it, same as I did earning my way through school

and getting started in practise. But I wonder how long I can stand being

an outsider in my own home?"
He sat up at the entrance of Mrs. Dave Dyer. She slumped into a chair

and gasped with the heat. He chuckled, "Well, well, Maud, this is fine.

Where's the subscription-list? What cause do I get robbed for, this

"I haven't any subscription-list, Will. I want to see you

"And you a Christian Scientist? Have you given that up? What next? New

Thought or Spiritualism?"

"No, I have not given it up!"
"Strikes me it's kind of a knock on the sisterhood, your coming to see a

"No, it isn't. It's just that my faith isn't strong enough yet. So there

now! And besides, you ARE kind of consoling, Will. I mean as a man, not

just as a doctor. You're so strong and placid."

He sat on the edge of his desk, coatless, his vest swinging open with

the thick gold line of his watch-chain across the gap, his hands in his

trousers pockets, his big arms bent and easy. As she purred he cocked

an interested eye. Maud Dyer was neurotic, religiocentric, faded; her

emotions were moist, and her figure was unsystematic--splendid thighs

and arms, with thick ankles, and a body that was bulgy in the wrong

places. But her milky skin was delicious, her eyes were alive, her

chestnut hair shone, and there was a tender slope from her ears to the

shadowy place below her jaw.
With unusual solicitude he uttered his stock phrase, "Well, what seems

to be the matter, Maud?"

"I've got such a backache all the time. I'm afraid the organic trouble

that you treated me for is coming back."

"Any definite signs of it?"
"N-no, but I think you'd better examine me."
"Nope. Don't believe it's necessary, Maud. To be honest, between old

friends, I think your troubles are mostly imaginary. I can't really

advise you to have an examination."
She flushed, looked out of the window. He was conscious that his voice

was not impersonal and even.

She turned quickly. "Will, you always say my troubles are imaginary. Why

can't you be scientific? I've been reading an article about these new

nerve-specialists, and they claim that lots of 'imaginary' ailments,

yes, and lots of real pain, too, are what they call psychoses, and they

order a change in a woman's way of living so she can get on a higher


"Wait! Wait! Whoa-up! Wait now! Don't mix up your Christian Science and

your psychology! They're two entirely different fads! You'll be mixing

in socialism next! You're as bad as Carrie, with your 'psychoses.'

Why, Good Lord, Maud, I could talk about neuroses and psychoses and

inhibitions and repressions and complexes just as well as any damn

specialist, if I got paid for it, if I was in the city and had the nerve

to charge the fees that those fellows do. If a specialist stung you for

a hundred-dollar consultation-fee and told you to go to New York to duck

Dave's nagging, you'd do it, to save the hundred dollars! But you know

me--I'm your neighbor--you see me mowing the lawn--you figure I'm just

a plug general practitioner. If I said, 'Go to New York,' Dave and you

would laugh your heads off and say, 'Look at the airs Will is putting

on. What does he think he is?'
"As a matter of fact, you're right. You have a perfectly well-developed

case of repression of sex instinct, and it raises the old Ned with your

body. What you need is to get away from Dave and travel, yes, and go to

every dog-gone kind of New Thought and Bahai and Swami and Hooptedoodle

meeting you can find. I know it, well 's you do. But how can I advise

it? Dave would be up here taking my hide off. I'm willing to be family

physician and priest and lawyer and plumber and wet-nurse, but I draw

the line at making Dave loosen up on money. Too hard a job in weather

like this! So, savvy, my dear? Believe it will rain if this heat


"But, Will, he'd never give it to me on my say-so. He'd never let me

go away. You know how Dave is: so jolly and liberal in society, and oh,

just LOVES to match quarters, and such a perfect sport if he loses! But

at home he pinches a nickel till the buffalo drips blood. I have to nag

him for every single dollar."
"Sure, I know, but it's your fight, honey. Keep after him. He'd simply

resent my butting in."

He crossed over and patted her shoulder. Outside the window, beyond the

fly-screen that was opaque with dust and cottonwood lint, Main Street

was hushed except for the impatient throb of a standing motor car. She

took his firm hand, pressed his knuckles against her cheek.

"O Will, Dave is so mean and little and noisy--the shrimp! You're

so calm. When he's cutting up at parties I see you standing back and

watching him--the way a mastiff watches a terrier."
He fought for professional dignity with, "Dave 's not a bad fellow."
Lingeringly she released his hand. "Will, drop round by the house this

evening and scold me. Make me be good and sensible. And I'm so lonely."

"If I did, Dave would be there, and we'd have to play cards. It's his

evening off from the store."

"No. The clerk just got called to Corinth--mother sick. Dave will be in

the store till midnight. Oh, come on over. There's some lovely beer on

the ice, and we can sit and talk and be all cool and lazy. That wouldn't

be wrong of us, WOULD it!"

"No, no, course it wouldn't be wrong. But still, oughtn't to----" He saw

Carol, slim black and ivory, cool, scornful of intrigue.

"All right. But I'll be so lonely."
Her throat seemed young, above her loose blouse of muslin and


"Tell you, Maud: I'll drop in just for a minute, if I happen to be

called down that way."

"If you'd like," demurely. "O Will, I just want comfort. I know you're

all married, and my, such a proud papa, and of course now----If I could

just sit near you in the dusk, and be quiet, and forget Dave! You WILL

"Sure I will!"

"I'll expect you. I'll be lonely if you don't come! Good-by."
He cursed himself: "Darned fool, what 'd I promise to go for? I'll

have to keep my promise, or she'll feel hurt. She's a good, decent,

affectionate girl, and Dave's a cheap skate, all right. She's got more

life to her than Carol has. All my fault, anyway. Why can't I be more

cagey, like Calibree and McGanum and the rest of the doctors? Oh, I

am, but Maud's such a demanding idiot. Deliberately bamboozling me into

going up there tonight. Matter of principle: ought not to let her get

away with it. I won't go. I'll call her up and tell her I won't go.

Me, with Carrie at home, finest little woman in the world, and a

messy-minded female like Maud Dyer--no, SIR! Though there's no need of

hurting her feelings. I may just drop in for a second, to tell her I

can't stay. All my fault anyway; ought never to have started in and

jollied Maud along in the old days. If it's my fault, I've got no right

to punish Maud. I could just drop in for a second and then pretend I

had a country call and beat it. Damn nuisance, though, having to fake up

excuses. Lord, why can't the women let you alone? Just because once or

twice, seven hundred million years ago, you were a poor fool, why can't

they let you forget it? Maud's own fault. I'll stay strictly away. Take

Carrie to the movies, and forget Maud. . . . But it would be kind of hot

at the movies tonight."

He fled from himself. He rammed on his hat, threw his coat over his arm,

banged the door, locked it, tramped downstairs. "I won't go!" he said

sturdily and, as he said it, he would have given a good deal to know

whether he was going.

He was refreshed, as always, by the familiar windows and faces. It

restored his soul to have Sam Clark trustingly bellow, "Better come down

to the lake this evening and have a swim, doc. Ain't you going to open

your cottage at all, this summer? By golly, we miss you." He noted the

progress on the new garage. He had triumphed in the laying of every

course of bricks; in them he had seen the growth of the town. His pride

was ushered back to its throne by the respectfulness of Oley Sundquist:

"Evenin', doc! The woman is a lot better. That was swell medicine you

gave her." He was calmed by the mechanicalness of the tasks at home:

burning the gray web of a tent-worm on the wild cherry tree, sealing

with gum a cut in the right front tire of the car, sprinkling the road

before the house. The hose was cool to his hands. As the bright arrows

fell with a faint puttering sound, a crescent of blackness was formed in

the gray dust.

Dave Dyer came along.
"Where going, Dave?"
"Down to the store. Just had supper."
"But Thursday 's your night off."
"Sure, but Pete went home. His mother 's supposed to be sick. Gosh,

these clerks you get nowadays--overpay 'em and then they won't work!"

"That's tough, Dave. You'll have to work clear up till twelve, then."
"Yup. Better drop in and have a cigar, if you're downtown.
"Well, I may, at that. May have to go down and see Mrs. Champ Perry.

She's ailing. So long, Dave."

Kennicott had not yet entered the house. He was conscious that Carol was

near him, that she was important, that he was afraid of her disapproval;

but he was content to be alone. When he had finished sprinkling he

strolled into the house, up to the baby's room, and cried to Hugh,

"Story-time for the old man, eh?"
Carol was in a low chair, framed and haloed by the window behind her,

an image in pale gold. The baby curled in her lap, his head on her arm,

listening with gravity while she sang from Gene Field:
'Tis little Luddy-Dud in the morning--

'Tis little Luddy-Dud at night:

And all day long

'Tis the same dear song

Of that growing, crowing, knowing little sprite.
Kennicott was enchanted.
"Maud Dyer? I should say not!"
When the current maid bawled up-stairs, "Supper on de table!" Kennicott

was upon his back, flapping his hands in the earnest effort to be a

seal, thrilled by the strength with which his son kicked him. He slipped

his arm about Carol's shoulder; he went down to supper rejoicing that he

was cleansed of perilous stuff. While Carol was putting the baby to

Share with your friends:
1   ...   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   ...   44

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page