Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 10

Dean Silva’s secretary looked up delightedly, she hearkened with anticipation. But Martin said meekly, “Please, could I see the dean?” and meekly he waited, in the row of oak chairs beneath the Dawson Hunziker pharmaceutical calendar.

When he had gone solemnly through the ground-glass door to the dean’s office, he found Dr. Silva glowering. Seated, the little man seemed large, so domed was his head, so full his rounding mustache.

“Well, sir!”

Martin pleaded, “I’d like to come back, if you’ll let me. Honest, I do apologize to you, and I’ll go to Dr. Gottlieb and apologize — though honest, I can’t lay down on Clif Clawson —”

Dr. Silva bounced up from his chair, bristling. Martin braced himself. Wasn’t he welcome? Had he no home, anywhere? He could not fight. He had no more courage. He was so tired after the drab journey, after restraining himself from flaring out at the Tozers. He was so tired! He looked wistfully at the dean.

The little man chuckled, “Never mind, boy. It’s all right! We’re glad you’re back. Bother the apologies! I just wanted you to do whatever’d buck you up. It’s good to have you back! I believed in you, and then I thought perhaps we’d lost you. Clumsy old man!”

Martin was sobbing, too weak for restraint, too lonely and too weak, and Dr. Silva soothed, “Let’s just go over everything and find out where the trouble was. What can I do? Understand, Martin, the thing I want most in life is to help give the world as many good physicians, great healers, as I can. What started your nervousness? Where have you been?”

When Martin came to Leora and his marriage, Silva purred, “I’m delighted! She sounds like a splendid girl. Well, we must try and get you into Zenith General for your internship, a year from now, and make you able to support her properly.”

Martin remembered how often, how astringently, Gottlieb had sneered at “dese merry vedding or jail bells.” He went away Silva’s disciple; he went away to study furiously; and the brilliant insanity of Max Gottlieb’s genius vanished from his faith.

ii

Leora wrote that she had been dropped from the school of nursing for over-absence and for being married. She suspected that it was her father who had informed the hospital authorities. Then, it appeared, she had secretly sent for a shorthand book and, on pretense of helping Bert, she was using the typewriter in the bank, hoping that by next autumn she could join Martin and earn her own living as a stenographer.

Once he offered to give up medicine, to take what work he could find and send for her. She refused.

Though in his service to Leora and to the new god, Dean Silva, he had become austere, denying himself whisky, learning page on page of medicine with a frozen fury, he was always in a vacuum of desire for her, and always he ran the last block to his boarding-house, looking for a letter from her. Suddenly he had a plan. He had tasted shame — this one last shame would not matter. He would flee to her in Easter vacation; he would compel Tozer to support her while she studied stenography in Zenith; he would have her near him through the last year. He paid Clif the borrowed hundred, when the bi-monthly check came from Elk Mills, and calculated his finances to the penny. By not buying the suit he distressingly needed, he could manage it. Then for a month and more he had but two meals a day, and of those meals one was bread and butter and coffee. He washed his own linen in the bath-tub and, except for occasional fiercely delightful yieldings, he did not smoke.

His return to Wheatsylvania was like his first flight, except that he talked less with fellow tramps, and all the way, between uneasy naps in the red-plush seats of coaches, he studied the bulky books of gynecology and internal medicine. He had written certain instructions to Leora. He met her on the edge of Wheatsylvania and they had a moment’s talk, a resolute kiss.

News spreads not slowly in Wheatsylvania. There is a certain interest in other people’s affairs, and the eyes of citizens of whose existence Martin did not know had followed him from his arrival. When the culprits reached the bone-littered castle of the Tozer ogres, Leora’s father and brother were already there, and raging. Old Andrew Jackson cried out upon them. He said that conceivably it may not have been insane in Martin to have “run away from school once, but to go and sneak back this second time was absolutely plumb crazy.” Through his tirade, Martin and Leora smiled confidently.

From Bert, “By God, sir, this is too much!” Bert had been reading fiction. “I object to the use of profanity, but when you come and annoy My Sister a second time, all I can say is, by God, sir, this is too blame much!”

Martin looked meditatively out of the widow. He noticed three people strolling the muddy street. They all viewed the Tozer house with hopeful interest. Then he spoke steadily:

“Mr. Tozer, I’ve been working hard. Everything has gone fine. But I’ve decided I don’t care to live without my wife. I’ve come to take her back. Legally, you can’t prevent me. I’ll admit, without any argument, I can’t support her yet, if I stay in the University. She’s going to study stenography. She’ll be supporting herself in a few months, and meanwhile I expect you to be decent enough to send her money.”

“This IS too much,” said Tozer, and Bert carried it on: “Fellow not only practically ruins a girl but comes and demands that we support her for him!”

“All right. Just as you want. In the long run it’ll be better for her and for me and for you if I finish medic school and have my profession, but if you won’t take care of her, I’ll chuck school, I’ll go to work. Oh, I’ll support her, all right! Only you’ll never see her again. If you go on being idiots, she and I will leave here on the night train for the Coast, and that’ll be the end.” For the first time in his centuries of debate with the Tozers, he was melodramatic. He shook his fist under Bert’s nose. “And if you try to prevent our going, God help you! And the way this town will laugh at you! . . . How about it, Leora? Are you ready to go away with me — forever?”

“Yes,” she said.

They discussed it, greatly. Tozer and Bert struck attitudes of defense. They couldn’t, they said, be bullied by anybody. Also, Martin was an Adventurer, and how did Leora know he wasn’t planning to live on the money they sent her? In the end they crawled. They decided that this new, mature Martin, this new, hard-eyed Leora were ready to throw away everything for each other.

Mr. Tozer whined a good deal, and promised to send her seventy dollars a month till she should be prepared for office-work.

At the Wheatsylvania station, looking from the train window, Martin realized that this anxious-eyed, lip-puckering Andrew Jackson Tozer did love his daughter, did mourn her going.

iii

He found for Leora a room on the frayed northern edge of Zenith, miles nearer Mohalis and the University than her hospital had been; a square white and blue room, with blotchy but shoulder-wise chairs. It looked out on breezy, stubbly waste land reaching to distant glittering railroad tracks. The landlady was a round German woman with an eye for romance. It is doubtful if she ever believed that they were married. She was a good woman.

Leora’s trunk had come. Her stenography books were primly set out on her little table and her pink felt slippers were arranged beneath the white iron bed. Martin stood with her at the window, mad with the pride of proprietorship. Suddenly he was so weak, so tired, that the mysterious cement which holds cell to cell seemed dissolved, and he felt that he was collapsing. But with knees rigidly straightening, his head back, his lips tight across his teeth, he caught himself, and cried, “Our first home!”

That he should be with her, quiet, none disturbing, was intoxication.

The commonplace room shone with peculiar light; the vigorous weeds and rough grass of the waste land were radiant under the April sun, and sparrows were cheeping.

“Yes,” said Leora, with voice, then hungry lips.

iv

Leora attended the Zenith University of Business Administration and Finance, which title indicated that it was a large and quite reasonably bad school for stenographers, bookkeepers, and such sons of Zenith brewers and politicians as were unable to enter even state universities. She trotted daily to the car-line, a neat, childish figure with note-books and sharpened pencils, to vanish in the horde of students. It was six months before she had learned enough stenography to obtain a place in an insurance office.

Till Martin graduated they kept that room, their home, ever dearer. No one was so domestic as these birds of passage. At least two evenings a week Martin dashed in from Mohalis and studied there. She had a genius for keeping out of his way, for not demanding to be noticed, so that, while he plunged into his books as he never had done in Clif’s rustling, grunting, expectorating company, he had ever the warm, half-conscious feeling of her presence. Sometimes, at midnight, just as he began to realize that he was hungry, he would find that a plate of sandwiches had by silent magic appeared at his elbow. He was none the less affectionate because he did not comment. She made him secure. She shut out the world that had pounded at him.

On their walks, at dinner, in the dissolute and deliciously wasteful quarter-hour when they sat on the edge of the bed with comforters wrapped about them and smoked an inexcusable cigarette before breakfast, he explained his work to her, and when her own studying was done, she tried to read whichever of his books was not in use. Knowing nothing, never learning much, of the actual details of medicine, yet she understood — better it may be than Angus Duer — his philosophy and the basis of his work. If he had given up Gottlieb-worship and his yearning for the laboratory as for a sanctuary, if he had resolved to be a practical and wealth-mastering doctor, yet something of Gottlieb’s spirit remained. He wanted to look behind details and impressive-sounding lists of technical terms for the causes of things, for general rules which might reduce the chaos of dissimilar and contradictory symptoms to the orderliness of chemistry.

Saturday evening they went solemnly to the motion pictures — one-and two-reel films with Cowboy Billy Anderson and a girl later to be famous as Mary Pickford — and solemnly they discussed the non-existent plots as they returned, unconscious of other people on the streets; but when they walked into the country on a Sunday (with four sandwiches and a bottle of ginger ale in his threadbare pockets), he chased her up-hill and down-gully, and they lost their solemnity in joyous childishness. He intended, when he came to her room in the evening, to catch the owl-car to Mohalis and be near his work when he woke in the morning. He was resolute about it, always, and she admired his efficiency, but he never caught the car. The crew of the six o’clock morning interurban became used to a pale, quick-moving young man who sat hunched in a back seat, devouring large red books, absently gnawing a rather dreadful doughnut. But in this young man there was none of the heaviness of workers dragged out of bed at dawn for another gray and futile day of labor. He appeared curiously determined, curiously content.

It was all so much easier, now that he was partly freed from the tyrannical honesty of Gottliebism, from the unswerving quest for causes which, as it drove through layer below layer, seemed ever farther from the bottommost principles, from the intolerable strain of learning day by day how much he did not know. It warmed him to escape from Gottlieb’s ice-box into Dean Silva’s neighborly world.

Now and then he saw Gottlieb on the campus. They bowed in embarrassment and passed in haste.

v

There seemed to be no division between his Junior and Senior years. Because of the time he had lost, he had to remain in Mohalis all summer. The year and a half from his marriage to his graduation was one whirling bewilderment, without seasons or dates.

When he had, as they put it, “cut out his nonsense and buckled down to work,” he had won the admiration of Dr. Silva and all the Good Students, especially Angus Duer and the Reverend Ira Hinkley. Martin had always announced that he did not care for their approbation, for the applause of commonplace drudges, but now that he had it, he prized it. However much he scoffed, he was gratified when he was treated as a peer by Angus, who spent the summer as extern in the Zenith General Hospital, and who already had the unapproachable dignity of a successful young surgeon.

Through that hot summer Martin and Leora labored, panting, and when they sat in her room, over their books and a stout pot of beer, neither their costumes nor their language had the decorum which one ought to expect from a romantic pair devoted to science and high endeavor. They were not very modest. Leora came to use, in her casual way, such words, such ancient Anglo–Saxon monosyllables, as would have dismayed Angus or Bert Tozer. On their evenings off they went economically to an imitation Coney Island beside a scummy and stinking lake, and with grave pleasure they ate Hot Dogs, painstakingly they rode the scenic railway.

Their chief appetizer was Clif Clawson. Clif was never willingly alone or silent except when he was asleep. It is probable that his success in motor-salesmanship came entirely from his fondness for the enormous amounts of bright conversation which seem necessary in that occupation. How much of his attention to Martin and Leora was friendliness and how much of it was due to his fear of being alone cannot be determined, but certainly he entertained them and drew them out of themselves, and never seemed offended by the surly unwillingness with which Martin was sometimes guilty of greeting him.

He would come roaring up to the house in a motor, the muffler always cut out. He would shout at their window, “Come on, you guys! Come out of it! Shake a leg! Lez have a little drive and get cooled off, and then I’ll buy you a feed.”

That Martin had to work, Clif never comprehended. There was small excuse for Martin’s occasional brutality in showing his annoyance but, now that he was fulfilled in Leora and quite thoroughly and selfishly careless as to what hungry need others might have of himself, now that he was in a rut of industry and satisfied companionship, he was bored by Clif’s unchanging flood of heavy humor. It was Leora who was courteous. She had heard rather too often the seven jokes which, under varying guises, made up all of Clif’s humor and philosophy, but she could sit for hours looking amiable while Clif told how clever he was at selling, and she sturdily reminded Martin that they would never have a friend more loyal or generous.

But Clif went to New York, to a new motor agency, and Martin and Leora were more completely and happily dependent on each other than ever before.

Their last agitation was removed by the complacence of Mr. Tozer. He was cordial now in all his letters, however much he irritated them by the parental advice with which he penalized them for every check he sent.

vi

None of the hectic activities of Senior year — neurology and pediatrics, practical work in obstetrics, taking of case-histories in the hospitals, attendance on operations, dressing wounds, learning not to look embarrassed when charity patients called one “Doctor”— was quite so important as the discussion of “What shall we do after graduation?”

Is it necessary to be an intern for more than a year? Shall we remain general practitioners all our lives, or work toward becoming specialists? Which specialties are the best — that is, the best paid? Shall we settle in the country or in the city? How about going West? What about the army medical corps; salutes, riding-boots, pretty women, travel?

This discussion they harried in the corridors of Main Medical, at the hospital, at lunch-rooms; and when Martin came home to Leora he went through it all again, very learnedly, very explanatorily. Almost every evening he “reached a decision” which was undecided again by morning.

Once when Dr. Loizeau, professor of surgery, had operated before a clinic which included several renowned visiting doctors — the small white figure of the surgeon below them, slashing between life and death, dramatic as a great actor taking his curtain-call — Martin came away certain that he was for surgery. He agreed then with Angus Duer, who had just won the Hugh Loizeau Medal in Experimental Surgery, that the operator was the lion, the eagle, the soldier among doctors. Angus was one of the few who knew without wavering precisely what he was going to do: after his internship he was to join the celebrated Chicago clinic headed by Dr. Rouncefield, the eminent abdominal surgeon. He would, he said briefly, be making twenty thousand a year as a surgeon within five years.

Martin explained it all to Leora. Surgery. Drama. Fearless nerves. Adoring assistants. Save lives. Science in devising new techniques. Make money — not be commercial, of course, but provide Leora with comforts. To Europe — they two together — gray London. Viennese cafes. Leora was useful to him during his oration. She blandly agreed; and the next evening, when he sought to prove that surgery was all rot and most surgeons merely good carpenters, she agreed more amiably than ever.

Next to Angus, and the future medical missionary, Ira Hinkley, Fatty Pfaff was the first to discover what his future was. He was going to be an obstetrician — or, as the medical students called it technically, a “baby-snatcher.” Fatty had the soul of a midwife; he sympathized with women in their gasping agony, sympathized honestly and almost tearfully, and he was magnificent at sitting still and drinking tea and waiting. During his first obstetrical case, when the student with him was merely nervous as they fidgeted by the bed in the hard desolation of the hospital room, Fatty was terrified, and he longed as he had never longed for anything in his flabby yet wistful life to comfort this gray-faced, straining, unknown woman, to take her pains on himself.

While the others drifted, often by chance, often through relatives, into their various classes, Martin remained doubtful. He admired Dean Silva’s insistence on the physician’s immediate service to mankind, but he could not forget the cool ascetic hours in the laboratory. Toward the end of Senior year, decision became necessary, and he was moved by a speech in which Dean Silva condemned too much specialization and pictured the fine old country doctor, priest and father of his people, sane under open skies, serene in self-conquest. On top of this came urgent letters from Mr. Tozer, begging Martin to settle in Wheatsylvania.

Tozer loved his daughter, apparently, and more or less liked Martin, and he wanted them near him. Wheatsylvania was a “good location,” he said: solid Scandinavian and Dutch and German and Bohemian farmers who paid their bills. The nearest doctor was Hesselink, at Groningen, nine and a half miles away, and Hesselink had more than he could do. If they would come, he would help Martin buy his equipment: he would even send him a check now and then during his two-year hospital internship. Martin’s capital was practically gone. Angus Duer and he had received appointments to Zenith General Hospital, where he would have an incomparable training, but Zenith General gave its interns, for the first year, nothing but board and room, and he had feared that he could not take the appointment. Tozer’s offer excited him. All night Leora and he sat up working themselves into enthusiasm about the freedom of the West, about the kind hearts and friendly hands of the pioneers, about the heroism and usefulness of country doctors, and this time they reached a decision which remained decided.

They would settle in Wheatsylvania.

If he ached a little for research and Gottlieb’s divine curiosity — well, he would be such a country doctor as Robert Koch! He would not degenerate into a bridge-playing, duck-hunting drone. He would have a small laboratory of his own. So he came to the end of the year and graduated, looking rather flustered in his cap and gown. Angus stood first and Martin seventh in the class. He said good-by, with lamentations and considerable beer; he found a room for Leora nearer to the hospital; and he emerged as Martin L. Arrowsmith, M.D., house physician in the Zenith General Hospital.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38