Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 11

The Boardman Box Factory was afire. All South Zenith was agitated by the glare on the low-hung clouds, the smell of scorched timber, the infernal bells of charging fire-apparatus. Miles of small wooden houses west of the factory were threatened, and shawled women, tousled men in trousers over nightshirts, tumbled out of bed and came running with a thick mutter of footsteps in the night-chilled streets.

With professional calmness, firemen in helmets were stoking the dripping engines. Policemen tramped in front of the press of people, swinging their clubs, shouting, “Get back there, you!” The fire-line was sacred. Only the factory-owner and the reporters were admitted. A crazy-eyed factory-hand was stopped by a police sergeant.

“My tools are in there!” he shrieked.

“That don’t make no never-minds,” bawled the strutting sergeant. “NOBODY can’t get through here!”

But one got through. They heard the blang-blang-blang of a racing ambulance, incessant, furious, defiant. Without orders, the crowd opened, and through them, almost grazing them, slid the huge gray car. At the back, haughty in white uniform, nonchalant on a narrow seat, was The Doctor — Martin Arrowsmith.

The crowd admired him, the policemen sprang to receive him.

“Where’s the fireman got hurt?” he snapped.

“Over in that shed,” cried the police sergeant, running beside the ambulance.

“Drive over closer. Nev’ mind the smoke!” Martin barked at the driver.

A lieutenant of firemen led him to a pile of sawdust on which was huddled an unconscious youngster, his face bloodless and clammy.

“He got a bad dose of smoke from the green lumber and keeled over. Fine kid. Is he a goner?” the lieutenant begged.

Martin knelt by the man, felt his pulse, listened to his breathing. Brusquely opening a black bag, he gave him a hypodermic of strychnin and held a vial of ammonia to his nose. “He’ll come around. Here, you two, getum into the ambulance — hustle!”

The police sergeant and the newest probationer patrolman sprang together, and together they mumbled, “All right, Doc.”

To Martin came the chief reporter of the Advocate–Times. In years he was only twenty-nine, but he was the oldest and perhaps the most cynical man in the world. He had interviewed senators; he had discovered graft in charity societies and even in prize-fights. There were fine wrinkles beside his eyes, he rolled Bull Durham cigarettes constantly, and his opinion of man’s honor and woman’s virtue was but low. Yet to Martin, or at least to The Doctor, he was polite.

“Will he pull through, Doc?” he twanged.

“Sure, I think so. Suffocation. Heart’s still going.”

Martin yelped the last words from the step at the back of the ambulance as it went bumping and rocking through the factory yard, through the bitter smoke, toward the shrinking crowd. He owned and commanded the city, he and the driver. They ignored traffic regulations, they disdained the people, returning from theaters and movies, who dotted the streets which unrolled before the flying gray hood. Let ’em get out of the way! The traffic officer at Chickasaw and Twentieth heard them coming, speeding like the Midnight Express — urrrrrr — blang-blang-blang-blang — and cleared the noisy corner. People were jammed against the curb, threatened by rearing horses and backing motors, and past them hurled the ambulance, blang-blang-blang-blang, with The Doctor holding a strap and swinging easily on his perilous seat.

At the hospital, the hall-man cried, “Shooting case in the Arbor, Doc.”

“All right. Wait’ll I sneak in a drink,” said Martin placidly. On the way to his room he passed the open door of the hospital laboratory, with its hacked bench, its lifeless rows of flasks and test-tubes.

“Huh! That stuff! Poking ‘round labs! This is real sure-enough life,” he exulted, and he did not permit himself to see the vision of Max Gottlieb waiting there, so gaunt, so tired, so patient.

ii

The six interns in Zenith General, including Martin and Angus Duer, lived in a long dark room with six camp beds, and six bureaus fantastic with photographs and ties and undarned socks. They spent hours sitting on their beds, arguing surgery versus internal medicine, planning the dinners which they hoped to enjoy on their nights off, and explaining to Martin, as the only married man, the virtues of the various nurses with whom, one by one, they fell in love.

Martin found the hospital routine slightly dull. Though he developed the Intern’s Walk, that quick corridor step with the stethoscope conspicuous in the pocket, he did not, he could not, develop the bedside manner. He was sorry for the bruised, yellowed, suffering patients, always changing as to individuals and never changing as a mass of drab pain, but when he had thrice dressed a wound, he had had enough; he wanted to go on to new experiences. Yet the ambulance work outside the hospital was endlessly stimulating to his pride.

The Doctor, and The Doctor alone, was safe by night in the slum called “the Arbor.” His black bag was a pass. Policemen saluted him, prostitutes bowed to him without mockery, saloon-keepers called out, “Evenin’, Doc,” and hold-up men stood back in doorways to let him pass. Martin had power, the first obvious power in his life. And he was led into incessant adventure.

He took a bank-president out of a dive; he helped the family conceal the disgrace; he irritably refused their bribe; and afterward, when he thought of how he might have dined with Leora, he was sorry he had refused it. He broke into hotel-rooms reeking with gas and revived would-be suicides. He drank Trinidad rum with a Congressman who advocated prohibition. He attended a policeman assaulted by strikers, and a striker assaulted by policemen. He assisted at an emergency abdominal operation at three o’clock in the morning. The operating-room — white tile walls and white tile floor and glittering frosted-glass skylight — seemed lined with fire-lit ice, and the large incandescents glared on the glass instrument cases, the cruel little knives. The surgeon, in long white gown, white turban, and pale orange rubber gloves, made his swift incision in the square of yellowish flesh exposed between towels, cutting deep into layers of fat, and Martin looked on unmoved as the first blood menacingly followed the cut. And a month after, during the Chaloosa River flood, he worked for seventy-six hours, with half-hours of sleep in the ambulance or on a police-station table.

He landed from a boat at what had been the second story of a tenement and delivered a baby on the top floor; he bound up heads and arms for a line of men; but what gave him glory was the perfectly foolhardy feat of swimming the flood to save five children marooned and terrified on a bobbing church pew. The newspapers gave him large headlines, and when he had returned to kiss Leora and sleep twelve hours, he lay and thought about research with salty self-defensive scorn.

“Gottlieb, the poor old impractical fusser! I’d like to see him swim that current!” jeered Dr. Arrowsmith to Martin.

But on night duty, alone, he had to face the self he had been afraid to uncover, and he was homesick for the laboratory, for the thrill of uncharted discoveries, the quest below the surface and beyond the moment, the search for fundamental laws which the scientist (however blasphemously and colloquially he may describe it) exalts above temporary healing as the religious exalts the nature and terrible glory of God above pleasant daily virtues. With this sadness there was envy that he should be left out of things, that others should go ahead of him, ever surer in technique, more widely aware of the phenomena of biological chemistry, more deeply daring to explain laws at which the pioneers had but fumbled and hinted.

In his second year of internship, when the thrills of fires and floods and murder became as obvious a routine as bookkeeping, when he had seen the strangely few ways in which mankind can contrive to injure themselves and slaughter one another, when it was merely wearing to have to live up to the pretentiousness of being The Doctor, Martin tried to satisfy and perhaps kill his guilty scientific lust by voluntary scrabbling about the hospital laboratory, correlating the blood counts in pernicious anemia. His trifling with the drug of research was risky. Amid the bustle of operations he began to picture the rapt quietude of the laboratory. “I better cut this out,” he said to Leora, “if I’m going to settle down in Wheatsylvania and tend to business and make a living — and I by golly am!”

Dean Silva often came to the hospital on consultations. He passed through the lobby one evening when Leora, returned from the office where she was a stenographer, was meeting Martin for dinner. Martin introduced them, and the little man held her hand, purred at her, and squeaked, “Will you children give me the pleasure of taking you to dinner? My wife has deserted me. I am a lone and misanthropic man.”

He trotted between them, round and happy. Martin and he were not student and teacher, but two doctors together, for Dean Silva was one pedagogue who could still be interested in a man who no longer sat at his feet. He led the two starvelings to a chop-house and in a settle-walled booth he craftily stuffed them with roast goose and mugs of ale.

He concentrated on Leora, but his talk was of Martin:

“Your husband must be an Artist Healer, not a picker of trifles like these laboratory men.”

“But Gottlieb’s no picker of trifles,” insisted Martin.

“No-o. But with him — It’s a difference of one’s gods. Gottlieb’s gods are the cynics, the destroyers — crapehangers the vulgar call ’em: Diderot and Voltaire and Elser; great men, wonder-workers, yet men that had more fun destroying other people’s theories than creating their own. But my gods now, they’re the men who took the discoveries of Gottlieb’s gods and turned them to the use of human beings — made them come alive!

“All credit to the men who invented paint and canvas, but there’s more credit, eh? to the Raphaels and Holbeins who used those discoveries! Laennec and Osler, those are the men! It’s all very fine, this business of pure research: seeking the truth, unhampered by commercialism or fame-chasing. Getting to the bottom. Ignoring consequences and practical uses. But do you realize if you carry that idea far enough, a man could justify himself for doing nothing but count the cobblestones on Warehouse Avenue — yes and justify himself for torturing people just to see how they screamed — and then sneer at a man who was making millions of people well and happy!

“No, no! Mrs. Arrowsmith, this lad Martin is a passionate fellow, not a drudge. He must be passionate on behalf of mankind. He’s chosen the highest calling in the world, but he’s a feckless, experimental devil. You must keep him at it, my dear, and not let the world lose the benefit of his passion.”

After this solemnity Dad Silva took them to a musical comedy and sat between them, patting Martin’s shoulder, patting Leora’s arm, choking with delight when the comedian stepped into the pail of whitewash. In midnight volubility Martin and Leora sputtered their affection for him, and saw their Wheatsylvania venture as glory and salvation.

But a few days before the end of Martin’s internship and their migration to North Dakota, they met Max Gottlieb on the street.

Martin had not seen him for more than a year; Leora never. He looked worried and ill. While Martin was agonizing as to whether to pass with a bow, Gottlieb stopped.

“How is everything, Martin?” he said cordially. But his eyes said, “Why have you never come back to me?”

The boy stammered something, nothing, and when Gottlieb had gone by, stooped and moving as in pain, he longed to run after him.

Leora was demanding, “Is that the Professor Gottlieb you’re always talking about?”

“Yes. Say! How does he strike you?”

“I don’t — Sandy, he’s the greatest man I’ve ever seen! I don’t know how I know, but he is! Dr. Silva is a darling, but that was a GREAT man! I wish — I wish we were going to see him again. There’s the first man I ever laid eyes on that I’d leave you for, if he wanted me. He’s so — oh, he’s like a sword — no, he’s like a brain walking. Oh, Sandy, he looked so wretched. I wanted to cry. I’d black his shoes!”

“God! So would I!”

But in the bustle of leaving Zenith, the excitement of the journey to Wheatsylvania, the scramble of his state examinations, the dignity of being a Practicing Physician, he forgot Gottlieb, and on that Dakota prairie radiant in early June, with meadow larks on every fence post, he began his work.

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