Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 13

No one in the medical world had ever damned more heartily than Gottlieb the commercialism of certain large pharmaceutical firms, particularly Dawson T. Hunziker & Co., Inc., of Pittsburgh. The Hunziker Company was an old and ethical house which dealt only with reputable doctors — or practically only with reputable doctors. It furnished excellent antitoxins for diphtheria and tetanus, as well as the purest of official preparations, with the plainest and most official-looking labels on the swaggeringly modest brown bottles. Gottlieb had asserted that they produced doubtful vaccines, yet he returned from Chicago to write to Dawson Hunziker that he was no longer interested in teaching, and he would be willing to work for them on half time if he might use their laboratories, on possibly important research, for the rest of the day.

When the letter had gone he sat mumbling. He was certainly not altogether sane. “Education! Biggest gymnasium in the world! Incapable of responsibility. Teaching I can do no more. But Hunziker will laugh at me. I haf told the truth about him and I shall haf to — Dear Gott, what shall I do?”

Into this still frenzy, while his frightened daughters peered at him from doorways, hope glided.

The telephone rang. He did not answer it. On the third irascible burring he took up the receiver and grumbled, “Yes, yes, vot iss it?”

A twanging nonchalant voice: “This M. C. Gottlieb?”

“This is Dr. Gottlieb!”

“Well, I guess you’re the party. Hola wire. Long distance wants yuh.”

Then, “Professor Gottlieb? This is Dawson Hunziker speaking. From Pittsburgh. My dear fellow, we should be delighted to have you join our staff.”

“I— But —”

“I believe you have criticized the pharmaceutical houses — oh, we read the newspaper clippings very efficiently! — but we feel that when you come to us and understand the Spirit of the Old Firm better, you’ll be enthusiastic. I hope, by the way, I’m not interrupting something.”

Thus, over certain hundreds of miles, from the gold and blue drawing-room of his Sewickley home, Hunziker spoke to Max Gottlieb sitting in his patched easy chair, and Gottlieb grated with a forlorn effort at dignity:

“No, it iss all right.”

“Well — we shall be glad to offer you five thousand dollars a year, for a starter, and we shan’t worry about the half-time arrangement. We’ll give you all the space and technicians and material you need, and you just go ahead and ignore us, and work out whatever seems important to you. Our only request is that if you do find any serums which are of real value to the world, we shall have the privilege of manufacturing them, and if we lose money on ’em, it doesn’t matter. We like to make money, if we can do it honestly, but our chief purpose is to serve mankind. Of course if the serums pay, we shall be only too delighted to give you a generous commission. Now about practical details —”

ii

Gottlieb, the placidly virulent hater of religious rites, had a religious-seeming custom.

Often he knelt by his bed and let his mind run free. It was very much like prayer, though certainly there was no formal invocation, no consciousness of a Supreme Being — other than Max Gottlieb. This night, as he knelt, with the wrinkles softening in his drawn face, he meditated, “I was asinine that I should ever scold the commercialists! This salesman fellow, he has his feet on the ground. How much more aut’entic the worst counter-jumper than frightened professors! Fine dieners! Freedom! No teaching of imbeciles! Du Heiliger!”

But he had no contract with Dawson Hunziker.

In the medical periodicals the Dawson Hunziker Company published full-page advertisements, most starchy and refined in type, announcing that Professor Max Gottlieb, perhaps the most distinguished immunologist in the world, had joined their staff.

In his Chicago clinic, one Dr. Rouncefield chuckled, “That’s what becomes of these super-highbrows. Pardon me if I seem to grin.”

In the laboratories of Ehrlich and Roux, Bordet and Sir David Bruce, sorrowing men wailed, “How could old Max have gone over to that damned pill-peddler? Why didn’t he come to us? Oh, well, if he didn’t want to — Voila! He is dead.”

In the village of Wheatsylvania, in North Dakota, a young doctor protested to his wife, “Of all the people in the world! I wouldn’t have believed it! Max Gottlieb falling for those crooks!”

“I don’t care!” said his wife. “If he’s gone into business he had some good reason for it. I told you, I’d leave you for —”

“Oh, well,” sighingly, “give and forgive. I learned a lot from Gottlieb and I’m grateful for — God, Leora, I wish HE hadn’t gone wrong!”

And Max Gottlieb, with his three young and a pale, slow-moving wife, was arriving at the station in Pittsburgh, tugging a shabby wicker bag, an immigrant bundle, and a Bond Street dressing-case. From the train he had stared up at the valiant cliffs, down to the smoke-tinged splendor of the river, and his heart was young. Here was fiery enterprise, not the flat land and flat minds of Winnemac. At the station-entrance every dingy taxicab seemed radiant to him, and he marched forth a conqueror.

iii

In the Dawson Hunziker building, Gottlieb found such laboratories as he had never planned, and instead of student assistants he had an expert who himself had taught bacteriology, as well as three swift technicians, one of them German-trained. He was received with acclaim in the private office of Hunziker, which was remarkably like a minor cathedral. Hunziker was bald and business-like as to skull but tortoise-spectacled and sentimental of eye. He stood up at his Jacobean desk, gave Gottlieb a Havana cigar, and told him that they had awaited him pantingly.

In the enormous staff dining-room Gottlieb found scores of competent young chemists and biologists who treated him with reverence. He liked them. If they talked too much of money — of how much this new tincture of cinchona ought to sell, and how soon their salaries would be increased — yet they were free of the careful pomposities of college instructors. As a youngster, the cap-tilted young Max had been a laughing man, and now in gusty arguments his laughter came back.

His wife seemed better; his daughter Miriam found an excellent piano teacher; the boy Robert entered college that autumn; they had a spacious though decrepit house; the relief from the droning and the annually repeated, inevitable routine of the classroom was exhilarating; and Gottlieb had never in his life worked so well. He was unconscious of everything outside of his laboratory and a few theaters and concert-halls.

Six months passed before he realized that the young technical experts resented what he considered his jolly thrusts at their commercialism. They were tired of his mathematical enthusiasms and some of them viewed him as an old bore, muttered of him as a Jew. He was hurt, for he liked to be merry with fellow workers. He began to ask questions and to explore the Hunziker building. He had seen nothing of it save his laboratory, a corridor or two, the dining-room, and Hunziker’s office.

However abstracted and impractical, Gottlieb would have made an excellent Sherlock Holmes — if anybody who would have made an excellent Sherlock Holmes would have been willing to be a detective. His mind burned through appearances to actuality. He discovered now that the Dawson Hunziker Company was quite all he had asserted in earlier days. They did make excellent antitoxins and ethical preparations, but they were also producing a new “cancer remedy” manufactured from the orchid, pontifically recommended and possessing all the value of mud. And to various billboard-advertising beauty companies they sold millions of bottles of a complexion-cream guaranteed to turn a Canadian Indian guide as lily-fair as the angels. This treasure cost six cents a bottle to make and a dollar over the counter, and the name of Dawson Hunziker was never connected with it.

It was at this time that Gottlieb succeeded in his masterwork after twenty years of seeking. He produced antitoxin in the test-tube, which meant that it would be possible to immunize against certain diseases without tediously making sera by the inoculation of animals. It was a revolution, the revolution, in immunology . . . if he was right.

He revealed it at a dinner for which Hunziker had captured a general, a college president, and a pioneer aviator. It was an expansive dinner, with admirable hock, the first decent German wine Gottlieb had drunk in years. He twirled the slender green glass affectionately; he came out of his dreams and became excited, gay, demanding. They applauded him, and for an hour he was a Great Scientist. Of them all, Hunziker was most generous in his praise. Gottlieb wondered if someone had not tricked this good bald man into intrigues with the beautifiers.

Hunziker summoned him to the office next day. Hunziker did his summoning very well indeed (unless it happened to be merely a stenographer). He sent a glossy morning-coated male secretary, who presented Mr. Hunziker’s compliments to the much less glossy Dr. Gottlieb, and hinted with the delicacy of a lilac bud that if it was quite altogether convenient, if it would not in the least interfere with Dr. Gottlieb’s experiments, Mr. Hunziker would be flattered to see him in the office at a quarter after three.

When Gottlieb rambled in, Hunziker motioned the secretary out of existence and drew up a tall Spanish chair.

“I lay awake half the night thinking about your discovery, Dr. Gottlieb. I’ve been talking to the technical director and sales-manager and we feel it’s the time to strike. We’ll patent your method of synthesizing antibodies and immediately put them on the market in large quantities, with a great big advertising campaign — you know — not circus it, of course — strictly high-class ethical advertising. We’ll start with anti-diphtheria serum. By the way, when you receive your next check you’ll find we’ve raised your honorarium to seven thousand a year.” Hunziker was a large purring pussy now, and Gottlieb death-still. “Need I say, my dear fellow, that if there’s the demand I anticipate, you will have exceedingly large commissions coming!”

Hunziker leaned back with a manner of “How’s that for glory, my boy?”

Gottlieb spoke nervously: “I do not approve of patenting serological processes. They should be open to all laboratories. And I am strongly against premature production or even announcement. I think I am right, but I must check my technique, perhaps improve it — be SURE. Then, I should think there should be no objection to market production, but in ve-ry small quantities and in fair competition with others, not under patents, as if this was a dinglebat toy for the Christmas tradings!”

“My dear fellow, I quite sympathize. Personally I should like nothing so much as to spend my whole life in just producing one priceless scientific discovery, without consideration of mere profit. But we have our duty toward the stockholders of the Dawson Hunziker Company to make money for them. Do you realize that they have — and many of them are poor widows and orphans — invested their Little All in our stock, and that we must keep faith? I am helpless; I am but their Humble Servant. And on the other side: I think we’ve treated you rather well, Dr. Gottlieb, and we’ve given you complete freedom. And we intend to go on treating you well! Why, man, you’ll be rich; you’ll be one of us! I don’t like to make any demands, but on this point it’s my duty to insist, and I shall expect you at the earliest possible moment to start manufacturing —”

Gottlieb was sixty-two. The defeat at Winnemac had done something to his courage. . . . And he had no contract with Hunziker.

He protested shakily, but as he crawled back to his laboratory it seemed impossible for him to leave this sanctuary and face the murderous brawling world, and quite as impossible to tolerate a cheapened and ineffective imitation of his antitoxin. He began, that hour, a sordid strategy which his old proud self would have called inconceivable; he began to equivocate, to put off announcement and production till he should have “cleared up a few points,” while week on week Hunziker became more threatening. Meantime he prepared for disaster. He moved his family to a smaller house, and gave up every luxury, even smoking.

Among his economies was the reduction of his son’s allowance.

Robert was a square-rigged, swart, tempestuous boy, arrogant where there seemed to be no reason for arrogance, longed for by the anemic, milky sort of girls, yet ever supercilious to them. While his father was alternately proud and amiably sardonic about his own Jewish blood, the boy conveyed to his classmates in college that he was from pure and probably noble German stock. He was welcomed, or half welcomed, in a motoring, poker-playing, country-club set, and he had to have more money. Gottlieb missed twenty dollars from his desk. He who ridiculed conventional honor had the honor, as he had the pride, of a savage old squire. A new misery stained his incessant bitterness at having to deceive Hunziker. He faced Robert with, “My boy, did you take the money from my desk?”

Few youngsters could have faced that jut of his hawk nose, the red-veined rage of his sunken eyes. Robert spluttered, then shouted:

“Yes, I did! And I’ve got to have some more! I’ve got to get some clothes and stuff. It’s your fault. You bring me up to train with a lot of fellows that have all the cash in the world, and then you expect me to dress like a hobo!”

“Stealing —”

“Rats! What’s stealing! You’re always making fun of these preachers that talk about Sin and Truth and Honesty and all those words that’ve been used so much they don’t mean a darn’ thing and — I don’t care! Daws Hunziker, the old man’s son, he told me his dad said you could be a millionaire, and then you keep us strapped like this, and Mom sick — Let me tell you, back in Mohalis Mom used to slip me a couple of dollars almost every week and — I’m tired of it! If you’re going to keep me in rags, I’m going to cut out college!”

Gottlieb stormed, but there was no force in it. He did not know, all the next fortnight, what his son was going to do, what himself was going to do.

Then, so quietly that not till they had returned from the cemetery did they realize her passing, his wife died, and the next week his oldest daughter ran off with a worthless laughing fellow who lived by gambling.

Gottlieb sat alone. Over and over he read the Book of Job. “Truly the Lord hath smitten me and my house,” he whispered. When Robert came in, mumbling that he would be good, the old man lifted to him a blind face, unhearing. But as he repeated the fables of his fathers it did not occur to him to believe them, or to stoop in fear before their God of Wrath — or to gain ease by permitting Hunziker to defile his discovery.

He arose, in time, and went silently to his laboratory. His experiments were as careful as ever, and his assistants saw no change save that he did not lunch in hall. He walked blocks away, to a vile restaurant at which he could save thirty cents a day.

iv

Out of the dimness which obscured the people about him, Miriam emerged.

She was eighteen, the youngest of his brood, squat, and in no way comely save for her tender mouth. She had always been proud of her father, understanding the mysterious and unreasoning compulsions of his science, but she had been in awe till now, when he walked heavily and spoke rarely. She dropped her piano lessons, discharged the maid, studied the cook-book, and prepared for him the fat crisp dishes that he loved. Her regret was that she had never learned German, for he dropped now and then into the speech of his boyhood.

He eyed her, and at length: “So! One is with me. Could you endure the poverty if I went away — to teach chemistry in a high school!”

“Yes. Of course. Maybe I could play the piano in a movie theater.”

He might not have done it without her loyalty, but when Dawson Hunziker next paraded into the laboratory, demanding, “Now look here. We’ve fussed long enough. We got to put your stuff on the market,” then Gottlieb answered, “No. If you wait till I have done all I can — maybe one year, probably three — you shall have it. But not till I am sure. No.”

Hunziker went off huffily, and Gottlieb prepared for sentence.

Then the card of Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs, Director of the McGurk Institute of Biology, of New York, was brought to him.

Gottlieb knew of Tubbs. He had never visited McGurk but he considered it, next to Rockefeller and McCormick, the soundest and freest organization for pure scientific research in the country, and if he had pictured a Heavenly laboratory in which good scientists might spend eternity in happy and thoroughly impractical research, he would have devised it in the likeness of McGurk. He was mildly pleased that its director should have called on him.

Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs was tremendously whiskered on all visible spots save his nose and temples and the palms of his hands, short but passionately whiskered, like a Scotch terrier. Yet they were not comic whiskers; they were the whiskers of dignity; and his eyes were serious, his step an earnest trot, his voice a piping solemnity.

“Dr. Gottlieb, this is a great pleasure. I have heard your papers at the Academy of Sciences but, to my own loss, I have hitherto failed to have an introduction to you.”

Gottlieb tried not to sound embarrassed.

Tubbs looked at the assistants; like a plotter in a political play, and hinted, “May we have a talk —”

Gottlieb led him to his office, overlooking a vast bustle of side-tracks, of curving rails and brown freight-cars, and Tubbs urged:

“It has come to our attention, by a curious chance, that you are on the eve of your most significant discovery. We all wondered, when you left academic work, at your decision to enter the commercial field. We wished that you had cared to come to us.”

“You would have taken me in? I needn’t at all have come here?”

“Naturally! Now from what we hear, you are not giving your attention to the commercial side of things, and that tempts us to wonder whether you could be persuaded to join us at McGurk. So I just sprang on a train and ran down here. We should be delighted to have you become a member of the institute, and chief of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. Mr. McGurk and I desire nothing but the advancement of science. You would, of course, have absolute freedom as to what researches you thought it best to pursue, and I think we could provide as good assistance and material as would be obtainable anywhere in the world. In regard to salary — permit me to be business-like and perhaps blunt, as my train leaves in one hour — I don’t suppose we could equal the doubtless large emolument which the Hunziker people are able to pay you, but we can go to ten thousand dollars a year —”

“Oh, my God, do not talk of the money! I shall be wit’ you in New York one week from today. You see,” said Gottlieb, “I haf no contract here!”

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