The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

Download 4.62 Mb.
Size4.62 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   44

a tan person with a wide mouth. "Oh, I know! He's the furniture-store

man!" She was much pleased with herself.
"Yump, and he's the undertaker. You'll like him. Come shake hands with

"Oh no, no! He doesn't--he doesn't do the embalming and all

that--himself? I couldn't shake hands with an undertaker!"
"Why not? You'd be proud to shake hands with a great surgeon, just after

he'd been carving up people's bellies."

She sought to regain her afternoon's calm of maturity. "Yes. You're

right. I want--oh, my dear, do you know how much I want to like the

people you like? I want to see people as they are."
"Well, don't forget to see people as other folks see them as they are!

They have the stuff. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?

Born and brought up here!"
"Yes--you know--president of the Velvet Motor Company of Boston,

Mass.--make the Velvet Twelve--biggest automobile factory in New

"I think I've heard of him."
"Sure you have. Why, he's a millionaire several times over! Well, Perce

comes back here for the black-bass fishing almost every summer, and he

says if he could get away from business, he'd rather live here than

in Boston or New York or any of those places. HE doesn't mind Chet's

"Please! I'll--I'll like everybody! I'll be the community sunbeam!"
He led her to the Dawsons.
Luke Dawson, lender of money on mortgages, owner of Northern cut-over

land, was a hesitant man in unpressed soft gray clothes, with bulging

eyes in a milky face. His wife had bleached cheeks, bleached hair,

bleached voice, and a bleached manner. She wore her expensive green

frock, with its passementeried bosom, bead tassels, and gaps between the

buttons down the back, as though she had bought it second-hand and was

afraid of meeting the former owner. They were shy. It was "Professor"

George Edwin Mott, superintendent of schools, a Chinese mandarin turned

brown, who held Carol's hand and made her welcome.
When the Dawsons and Mr. Mott had stated that they were "pleased to meet

her," there seemed to be nothing else to say, but the conversation went

on automatically.
"Do you like Gopher Prairie?" whimpered Mrs. Dawson.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to be ever so happy."
"There's so many nice people." Mrs. Dawson looked to Mr. Mott for social

and intellectual aid. He lectured:

"There's a fine class of people. I don't like some of these retired

farmers who come here to spend their last days--especially the Germans.

They hate to pay school-taxes. They hate to spend a cent. But the rest

are a fine class of people. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from

here? Used to go to school right at the old building!"
"I heard he did."
"Yes. He's a prince. He and I went fishing together, last time he was

The Dawsons and Mr. Mott teetered upon weary feet, and smiled at Carol

with crystallized expressions. She went on:
"Tell me, Mr. Mott: Have you ever tried any experiments with any of the

new educational systems? The modern kindergarten methods or the Gary

"Oh. Those. Most of these would-be reformers are simply

notoriety-seekers. I believe in manual training, but Latin and

mathematics always will be the backbone of sound Americanism, no matter

what these faddists advocate--heaven knows what they do want--knitting,

I suppose, and classes in wiggling the ears!"
The Dawsons smiled their appreciation of listening to a savant. Carol

waited till Kennicott should rescue her. The rest of the party waited

for the miracle of being amused.
Harry and Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons and Dr. Terry Gould--the young

smart set of Gopher Prairie. She was led to them. Juanita Haydock flung

at her in a high, cackling, friendly voice:
"Well, this is SO nice to have you here. We'll have some good

parties--dances and everything. You'll have to join the Jolly Seventeen.

We play bridge and we have a supper once a month. You play, of course?"
"N-no, I don't."
"Really? In St. Paul?"
"I've always been such a book-worm."
"We'll have to teach you. Bridge is half the fun of life." Juanita had

become patronizing, and she glanced disrespectfully at Carol's golden

sash, which she had previously admired.
Harry Haydock said politely, "How do you think you're going to like the

old burg?"

"I'm sure I shall like it tremendously."
"Best people on earth here. Great hustlers, too. Course I've had lots

of chances to go live in Minneapolis, but we like it here. Real he-town.

Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?"
Carol perceived that she had been weakened in the biological struggle

by disclosing her lack of bridge. Roused to nervous desire to regain

her position she turned on Dr. Terry Gould, the young and pool-playing

competitor of her husband. Her eyes coquetted with him while she gushed:

"I'll learn bridge. But what I really love most is the outdoors. Can't

we all get up a boating party, and fish, or whatever you do, and have a

picnic supper afterwards?"
"Now you're talking!" Dr. Gould affirmed. He looked rather too obviously

at the cream-smooth slope of her shoulder. "Like fishing? Fishing is my

middle name. I'll teach you bridge. Like cards at all?"
"I used to be rather good at bezique."
She knew that bezique was a game of cards--or a game of something else.

Roulette, possibly. But her lie was a triumph. Juanita's handsome,

high-colored, horsey face showed doubt. Harry stroked his nose and said

humbly, "Bezique? Used to be great gambling game, wasn't it?"

While others drifted to her group, Carol snatched up the conversation.

She laughed and was frivolous and rather brittle. She could not

distinguish their eyes. They were a blurry theater-audience before which

she self-consciously enacted the comedy of being the Clever Little Bride

of Doc Kennicott:
"These-here celebrated Open Spaces, that's what I'm going out for. I'll

never read anything but the sporting-page again. Will converted me on

our Colorado trip. There were so many mousey tourists who were afraid

to get out of the motor 'bus that I decided to be Annie Oakley, the Wild

Western Wampire, and I bought oh! a vociferous skirt which revealed

my perfectly nice ankles to the Presbyterian glare of all the Ioway

schoolma'ams, and I leaped from peak to peak like the nimble chamoys,

and----You may think that Herr Doctor Kennicott is a Nimrod, but you

ought to have seen me daring him to strip to his B. V. D.'s and go

swimming in an icy mountain brook."

She knew that they were thinking of becoming shocked, but Juanita

Haydock was admiring, at least. She swaggered on:

"I'm sure I'm going to ruin Will as a respectable practitioner----Is he

a good doctor, Dr. Gould?"

Kennicott's rival gasped at this insult to professional ethics, and he

took an appreciable second before he recovered his social manner.

"I'll tell you, Mrs. Kennicott." He smiled at Kennicott, to imply that

whatever he might say in the stress of being witty was not to count

against him in the commercio-medical warfare. "There's some people

in town that say the doc is a fair to middlin' diagnostician and

prescription-writer, but let me whisper this to you--but for heaven's

sake don't tell him I said so--don't you ever go to him for anything

more serious than a pendectomy of the left ear or a strabismus of the


No one save Kennicott knew exactly what this meant, but they laughed,

and Sam Clark's party assumed a glittering lemon-yellow color of brocade

panels and champagne and tulle and crystal chandeliers and sporting

duchesses. Carol saw that George Edwin Mott and the blanched Mr. and

Mrs. Dawson were not yet hypnotized. They looked as though they wondered

whether they ought to look as though they disapproved. She concentrated

on them:
"But I know whom I wouldn't have dared to go to Colorado with! Mr.

Dawson there! I'm sure he's a regular heart-breaker. When we were

introduced he held my hand and squeezed it frightfully."
"Haw! Haw! Haw!" The entire company applauded. Mr. Dawson was beatified.

He had been called many things--loan-shark, skinflint, tightwad,

pussyfoot--but he had never before been called a flirt.
"He is wicked, isn't he, Mrs. Dawson? Don't you have to lock him up?"
"Oh no, but maybe I better," attempted Mrs. Dawson, a tint on her pallid

For fifteen minutes Carol kept it up. She asserted that she was going

to stage a musical comedy, that she preferred cafe parfait to beefsteak,

that she hoped Dr. Kennicott would never lose his ability to make love

to charming women, and that she had a pair of gold stockings. They gaped

for more. But she could not keep it up. She retired to a chair behind

Sam Clark's bulk. The smile-wrinkles solemnly flattened out in the faces

of all the other collaborators in having a party, and again they stood

about hoping but not expecting to be amused.
Carol listened. She discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher

Prairie. Even at this affair, which brought out the young smart set,

the hunting squire set, the respectable intellectual set, and the solid

financial set, they sat up with gaiety as with a corpse.

Juanita Haydock talked a good deal in her rattling voice but it was

invariably of personalities: the rumor that Raymie Wutherspoon was going

to send for a pair of patent leather shoes with gray buttoned tops; the

rheumatism of Champ Perry; the state of Guy Pollock's grippe; and the

dementia of Jim Howland in painting his fence salmon-pink.
Sam Clark had been talking to Carol about motor cars, but he felt

his duties as host. While he droned, his brows popped up and down. He

interrupted himself, "Must stir 'em up." He worried at his wife, "Don't

you think I better stir 'em up?" He shouldered into the center of the

room, and cried:
"Let's have some stunts, folks."
"Yes, let's!" shrieked Juanita Haydock.
"Say, Dave, give us that stunt about the Norwegian catching a hen."
"You bet; that's a slick stunt; do that, Dave!" cheered Chet Dashaway.
Mr. Dave Dyer obliged.
All the guests moved their lips in anticipation of being called on for

their own stunts.

"Ella, come on and recite 'Old Sweetheart of Mine,' for us," demanded

Miss Ella Stowbody, the spinster daughter of the Ionic bank, scratched

her dry palms and blushed. "Oh, you don't want to hear that old thing

"Sure we do! You bet!" asserted Sam.

"My voice is in terrible shape tonight."
"Tut! Come on!"
Sam loudly explained to Carol, "Ella is our shark at elocuting. She's

had professional training. She studied singing and oratory and dramatic

art and shorthand for a year, in Milwaukee."
Miss Stowbody was reciting. As encore to "An Old Sweetheart of Mine,"

she gave a peculiarly optimistic poem regarding the value of smiles.

There were four other stunts: one Jewish, one Irish, one juvenile, and

Nat Hicks's parody of Mark Antony's funeral oration.

During the winter Carol was to hear Dave Dyer's hen-catching

impersonation seven times, "An Old Sweetheart of Mine" nine times, the

Jewish story and the funeral oration twice; but now she was ardent

and, because she did so want to be happy and simple-hearted, she was as

disappointed as the others when the stunts were finished, and the party

instantly sank back into coma.

They gave up trying to be festive; they began to talk naturally, as they

did at their shops and homes.

The men and women divided, as they had been tending to do all evening.

Carol was deserted by the men, left to a group of matrons who steadily

pattered of children, sickness, and cooks--their own shop-talk. She was

piqued. She remembered visions of herself as a smart married woman in

a drawing-room, fencing with clever men. Her dejection was relieved by

speculation as to what the men were discussing, in the corner between

the piano and the phonograph. Did they rise from these housewifely

personalities to a larger world of abstractions and affairs?

She made her best curtsy to Mrs. Dawson; she twittered, "I won't have my

husband leaving me so soon! I'm going over and pull the wretch's

ears." She rose with a jeune fille bow. She was self-absorbed and

self-approving because she had attained that quality of sentimentality.

She proudly dipped across the room and, to the interest and commendation

of all beholders, sat on the arm of Kennicott's chair.

He was gossiping with Sam Clark, Luke Dawson, Jackson Elder of the

planing-mill, Chet Dashaway, Dave Dyer, Harry Haydock, and Ezra

Stowbody, president of the Ionic bank.
Ezra Stowbody was a troglodyte. He had come to Gopher Prairie in 1865.

He was a distinguished bird of prey--swooping thin nose, turtle mouth,

thick brows, port-wine cheeks, floss of white hair, contemptuous eyes.

He was not happy in the social changes of thirty years. Three decades

ago, Dr. Westlake, Julius Flickerbaugh the lawyer, Merriman Peedy the

Congregational pastor and himself had been the arbiters. That was as

it should be; the fine arts--medicine, law, religion, and

finance--recognized as aristocratic; four Yankees democratically

chatting with but ruling the Ohioans and Illini and Swedes and Germans

who had ventured to follow them. But Westlake was old, almost retired;

Julius Flickerbaugh had lost much of his practice to livelier attorneys;

Reverend (not The Reverend) Peedy was dead; and nobody was impressed in

this rotten age of automobiles by the "spanking grays" which Ezra still

drove. The town was as heterogeneous as Chicago. Norwegians and Germans

owned stores. The social leaders were common merchants. Selling nails

was considered as sacred as banking. These upstarts--the Clarks, the

Haydocks--had no dignity. They were sound and conservative in politics,

but they talked about motor cars and pump-guns and heaven only knew

what new-fangled fads. Mr. Stowbody felt out of place with them. But

his brick house with the mansard roof was still the largest residence in

town, and he held his position as squire by occasionally appearing among

the younger men and reminding them by a wintry eye that without the

banker none of them could carry on their vulgar businesses.
As Carol defied decency by sitting down with the men, Mr. Stowbody was

piping to Mr. Dawson, "Say, Luke, when was't Biggins first settled in

Winnebago Township? Wa'n't it in 1879?"
"Why no 'twa'n't!" Mr. Dawson was indignant. "He come out from Vermont

in 1867--no, wait, in 1868, it must have been--and took a claim on the

Rum River, quite a ways above Anoka."
"He did not!" roared Mr. Stowbody. "He settled first in Blue Earth

County, him and his father!"

("What's the point at issue?") Carol whispered to Kennicott.
("Whether this old duck Biggins had an English setter or a Llewellyn.

They've been arguing it all evening!")

Dave Dyer interrupted to give tidings, "D' tell you that Clara Biggins

was in town couple days ago? She bought a hot-water bottle--expensive

one, too--two dollars and thirty cents!"
"Yaaaaaah!" snarled Mr. Stowbody. "Course. She's just like her grandad

was. Never save a cent. Two dollars and twenty--thirty, was it?--two

dollars and thirty cents for a hot-water bottle! Brick wrapped up in a

flannel petticoat just as good, anyway!"

"How's Ella's tonsils, Mr. Stowbody?" yawned Chet Dashaway.
While Mr. Stowbody gave a somatic and psychic study of them, Carol

reflected, "Are they really so terribly interested in Ella's tonsils,

or even in Ella's esophagus? I wonder if I could get them away from

personalities? Let's risk damnation and try."

"There hasn't been much labor trouble around here, has there, Mr.

Stowbody?" she asked innocently.

"No, ma'am, thank God, we've been free from that, except maybe with

hired girls and farm-hands. Trouble enough with these foreign farmers;

if you don't watch these Swedes they turn socialist or populist or some

fool thing on you in a minute. Of course, if they have loans you can

make 'em listen to reason. I just have 'em come into the bank for a

talk, and tell 'em a few things. I don't mind their being democrats,

so much, but I won't stand having socialists around. But thank God, we

ain't got the labor trouble they have in these cities. Even Jack Elder

here gets along pretty well, in the planing-mill, don't you, Jack?"
"Yep. Sure. Don't need so many skilled workmen in my place, and it's

a lot of these cranky, wage-hogging, half-baked skilled mechanics that

start trouble--reading a lot of this anarchist literature and union

papers and all."

"Do you approve of union labor?" Carol inquired of Mr. Elder.
"Me? I should say not! It's like this: I don't mind dealing with my men

if they think they've got any grievances--though Lord knows what's come

over workmen, nowadays--don't appreciate a good job. But still, if they

come to me honestly, as man to man, I'll talk things over with them. But

I'm not going to have any outsider, any of these walking delegates, or

whatever fancy names they call themselves now--bunch of rich grafters,

living on the ignorant workmen! Not going to have any of those fellows

butting in and telling ME how to run MY business!"

Mr. Elder was growing more excited, more belligerent and patriotic. "I

stand for freedom and constitutional rights. If any man don't like my

shop, he can get up and git. Same way, if I don't like him, he gits.

And that's all there is to it. I simply can't understand all these

complications and hoop-te-doodles and government reports and wage-scales

and God knows what all that these fellows are balling up the labor

situation with, when it's all perfectly simple. They like what I pay

'em, or they get out. That's all there is to it!"

"What do you think of profit-sharing?" Carol ventured.
Mr. Elder thundered his answer, while the others nodded, solemnly and

in tune, like a shop-window of flexible toys, comic mandarins and judges

and ducks and clowns, set quivering by a breeze from the open door:
"All this profit-sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age

pension is simply poppycock. Enfeebles a workman's independence--and

wastes a lot of honest profit. The half-baked thinker that isn't dry

behind the ears yet, and these suffragettes and God knows what all

buttinskis there are that are trying to tell a business man how to run

his business, and some of these college professors are just about as

bad, the whole kit and bilin' of 'em are nothing in God's world but

socialism in disguise! And it's my bounden duty as a producer to resist

every attack on the integrity of American industry to the last ditch.


Mr. Elder wiped his brow.
Dave Dyer added, "Sure! You bet! What they ought to do is simply to

hang every one of these agitators, and that would settle the whole thing

right off. Don't you think so, doc?"
"You bet," agreed Kennicott.
The conversation was at last relieved of the plague of Carol's

intrusions and they settled down to the question of whether the justice

of the peace had sent that hobo drunk to jail for ten days or twelve.

It was a matter not readily determined. Then Dave Dyer communicated his

carefree adventures on the gipsy trail:
"Yep. I get good time out of the flivver. 'Bout a week ago I motored

down to New Wurttemberg. That's forty-three----No, let's see: It's

seventeen miles to Belldale, and 'bout six and three-quarters, call it

seven, to Torgenquist, and it's a good nineteen miles from there to New

Wurttemberg--seventeen and seven and nineteen, that makes, uh, let me

see: seventeen and seven 's twenty-four, plus nineteen, well say plus

twenty, that makes forty-four, well anyway, say about forty-three

or -four miles from here to New Wurttemberg. We got started about

seven-fifteen, prob'ly seven-twenty, because I had to stop and fill the

radiator, and we ran along, just keeping up a good steady gait----"

Mr. Dyer did finally, for reasons and purposes admitted and justified,

attain to New Wurttemberg.

Once--only once--the presence of the alien Carol was recognized. Chet

Dashaway leaned over and said asthmatically, "Say, uh, have you been

reading this serial 'Two Out' in Tingling Tales? Corking yarn! Gosh, the

fellow that wrote it certainly can sling baseball slang!"

The others tried to look literary. Harry Haydock offered, "Juanita is

a great hand for reading high-class stuff, like 'Mid the Magnolias' by

this Sara Hetwiggin Butts, and 'Riders of Ranch Reckless.' Books. But

me," he glanced about importantly, as one convinced that no other hero

had ever been in so strange a plight, "I'm so darn busy I don't have

much time to read."

"I never read anything I can't check against," said Sam Clark.
Thus ended the literary portion of the conversation, and for seven

minutes Jackson Elder outlined reasons for believing that the

pike-fishing was better on the west shore of Lake Minniemashie than on

the east--though it was indeed quite true that on the east shore Nat

Hicks had caught a pike altogether admirable.
The talk went on. It did go on! Their voices were monotonous,

thick, emphatic. They were harshly pompous, like men in the

smoking-compartments of Pullman cars. They did not bore Carol. They

frightened her. She panted, "They will be cordial to me, because my man

belongs to their tribe. God help me if I were an outsider!"
Smiling as changelessly as an ivory figurine she sat quiescent, avoiding

thought, glancing about the living-room and hall, noting their betrayal

of unimaginative commercial prosperity. Kennicott said, "Dandy interior,

eh? My idea of how a place ought to be furnished. Modern." She looked

polite, and observed the oiled floors, hard-wood staircase, unused

fireplace with tiles which resembled brown linoleum, cut-glass vases

standing upon doilies, and the barred, shut, forbidding unit bookcases

that were half filled with swashbuckler novels and unread-looking sets

of Dickens, Kipling, O. Henry, and Elbert Hubbard.
She perceived that even personalities were failing to hold the party.

The room filled with hesitancy as with a fog. People cleared their

throats, tried to choke down yawns. The men shot their cuffs and the

women stuck their combs more firmly into their back hair.

Then a rattle, a daring hope in every eye, the swinging of a door, the

smell of strong coffee, Dave Dyer's mewing voice in a triumphant, "The

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   44

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page