Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 17

Dr. Coughlin of Leopolis had a red mustache, a large heartiness, and a Maxwell which, though it was three years old this May and deplorable as to varnish, he believed to be the superior in speed and beauty of any motor in Dakota.

He came home in high cheerfulness, rode the youngest of his three children pickaback, and remarked to his wife:

“Tessie, I got a swell idea.”

“Yes, and you got a swell breath, too. I wish you’d quit testing that old Spirits Frumentus bottle at the drug store!”

“‘At a girl! But honest, listen!”

“I will not!” She bussed him heartily. “Nothing doing about driving to Los Angeles this summer. Too far, with all the brats squalling.”

“Sure. All right. But I mean: Let’s pack up and light out and spend a week touring ‘round the state. Say tomorrow or next day. Got nothing to keep me now except that obstetrical case, and we’ll hand that over to Winter.”

“All right. We can try out the new thermos bottles!” Dr. Coughlin, his lady, and the children started at four in the morning. The car was at first too well arranged to be interesting, but after three days, as he approached you on the flat road that without an inch of curving was slashed for leagues through the grassy young wheat, you saw the doctor in his khaki suit, his horn-rimmed spectacles, and white linen boating hat; his wife in a green flannel blouse and a lace boudoir cap. The rest of the car was slightly confused. While you motored by you noticed a canvas Egyptian Water Bottle, mud on wheels and fenders, a spade, two older children leaning perilously out and making tongues at you, the baby’s diapers hanging on a line across the tonneau, a torn copy of Snappy Stories, seven lollypop sticks, a jack, a fish-rod, and a rolled tent.

Your last impression was of two large pennants labeled “Leopolis, N. D.,” and “Excuse Our Dust.”

The Coughlins had agreeable adventures. Once they were stuck in a mud-hole. To the shrieking admiration of the family, the doctor got them out by making a bridge of fence rails. Once the ignition ceased and, while they awaited a garageman summoned by telephone, they viewed a dairy farm with an electrical milking machine. All the way they were broadened by travel, and discovered the wonders of the great world: the movie theater at Roundup, which had for orchestra not only a hand-played piano but also a violin; the black fox farm at Melody; and the Severance water-tower, which was said to be the tallest in Central North Dakota.

Dr. Coughlin “dropped in to pass the time of day,” as he said, with all the doctors. At St. Luke he had an intimate friend in Dr. Tromp — at least they had met twice, at the annual meetings of the Pony River Valley Medical Association. When he told Tromp how bad they had found the hotels, Tromp looked uneasy and conscientious, and sighed, “If the wife could fix it up somehow, I’d like to invite you all to stay with us tonight.”

“Oh, don’t want to impose on you. Sure it wouldn’t be any trouble?” said Coughlin.

After Mrs. Tromp had recovered from her desire to call her husband aside and make unheard but vigorous observations, and after the oldest Tromp boy had learned that “it wasn’t nice for a little gentleman to kick his wee guests that came from so far, far away,” they were all very happy. Mrs. Coughlin and Mrs. Tromp bewailed the cost of laundry soap and butter, and exchanged recipes for pickled peaches, while the men, sitting on the edge of the porch, their knees crossed, eloquently waving their cigars, gave themselves up to the ecstasy of shop-talk:

“Say, Doctor, how do you find collections?”

(It was Coughlin speaking — or it might have been Tromp.)

“Well, they’re pretty good. These Germans pay up first rate. Never send ’em a bill, but when they’ve harvested they come in and say, ‘How much do I owe you, Doctor?’”

“Yuh, the Germans are pretty good pay.”

“Yump, they certainly are. Not many dead-beats among the Germans.”

“Yes, that’s a fact. Say, tell me, Doctor, what do you do with your jaundice cases?”

“Well, I’ll tell you, Doctor: if it’s a persistent case I usually give ammonium chlorid.”

“Do you? I’ve been giving ammonium chlorid but here the other day I see a communication in the Journal of the A.M.A. where a fellow was claiming it wasn’t any good.”

“Is that a fact! Well, well! I didn’t see that. Hum. Well. Say, Doctor, do you find you can do much with asthma?”

“Well now, Doctor, just in confidence, I’m going to tell you something that may strike you as funny, but I believe that foxes’ lungs are fine for asthma, and T.B. too. I told that to a Sioux City pulmonary specialist one time and he laughed at me — said it wasn’t scientific — and I said to him, ‘Hell!’ I said, ‘scientific!’ I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s the latest fad and wrinkle in science or not,’ I said, ‘but I get results, and that’s what I’m looking for ‘s results!’ I said. I tell you a plug G.P. may not have a lot of letters after his name, but he sees a slew of mysterious things that he can’t explain, and I swear I believe most of these damn’ alleged scientists could learn a whale of a lot from the plain country practitioners, let me tell you!”

“Yuh, that’s a fact. Personally I’d rather stay right here in the country and be able to do a little hunting and take it easy than be the classiest specialist in the cities. One time I kind of figured on becoming an X-ray specialist — place in New York where you can take the whole course in eight weeks — and maybe settling in Butte or Sioux Falls, but I figured that even if I got to making eight-ten thousand a year, ‘twouldn’t hardly mean more than three thousand does here and so — And a fellow has to consider his duty to his old patients.”

“That’s so. . . . Say, Doctor, say, what sort of fellow is McMinturn, down your way?”

“Well, I don’t like to knock any fellow practitioner, and I suppose he’s well intentioned, but just between you and me he does too confounded much guesswork. Now you take you and me, we apply SCIENCE to a case, instead of taking a chance and just relying on experience and going off half-cocked. But McMinturn, he doesn’t know enough. And SAY, that wife of his, she’s a caution — she’s got the meanest tongue in four counties, and the way she chases around drumming up business for Mac — Well, I suppose that’s their way of doing business.”

“Is old Winter keeping going?”

“Oh, yes, in a sort of way. You know how he is. Of course he’s about twenty years behind the times, but he’s a great hand-holder — keep some fool woman in bed six weeks longer than he needs to, and call around twice a day and chin with her — absolutely unnecessary.”

“I suppose you get your biggest competition from Silzer, Doctor?”

“Don’t you believe it, Doctor! He isn’t beginning to do the practice he lets on to. Trouble with Silzer is, he’s too brash — shoots off his mouth too much — likes to hear himself talk. Oh, say, by the way, have you run into this new fellow — will been located here about two years now — at Wheatsylvania — Arrowsmith?”

“No, but they say he’s a good bright young fellow.”

“Yes, they claim he’s a brainy man — very well-informed — and I hear his wife is a nice brainy little woman.”

“I hear Arrowsmith hits it up too much though — likes his booze awful’ well.”

“Yes, so they say. Shame, for a nice hustling young fellow. I like a nip myself, now and then, but a Drinking Man —! Suppose he’s drunk and gets called out on a case! And a fellow from down there was telling me Arrowsmith is great on books and study, but he’s a freethinker — never goes to church.”

“Is that a fact! Hm. Great mistake for any doctor to not identify himself with some good solid religious denomination, whether he believes the stuff or not. I tell you a priest or a preacher can send you an awful lot of business.”

“You bet he can! Well, this fellow said Arrowsmith was always arguing with the preachers — he told some Reverend that everybody ought to read this immunologist Max Gottlieb, and this Jacques Loeb — you know — the fellow that, well, I don’t recall just exactly what it was, but he claimed he could create living fishes out of chemicals.”

“Sure! There you got it! That’s the kind of delusions these laboratory fellows get unless they have some practical practice to keep ’em well balanced. Well, if Arrowsmith falls for that kind of fellow, no wonder people don’t trust him.”

“That’s so. Hm. Well, it’s too bad Arrowsmith goes drinking and helling around and neglecting his family and his patients. I can see his finish. Shame. Well — wonder what time o’ night it’s getting to be?”

ii

Bert Tozer wailed, “Mart, what you been doing to Dr. Coughlin of Leopolis? Fellow told me he was going around saying you were a booze-hoister and so on.”

“Did he? People do sort of keep an eye on one another around here, don’t they?”

“You bet your life they do, and that’s why I tell you you ought to cut out the poker and the booze. You don’t see ME needing any liquor, do you?”

Martin more desperately than ever felt the whole county watching him. He was not a praise-eater; he was not proud that he should feel misplaced; but however sturdily he struggled he saw himself outside the picture of Wheatsylvania and trudging years of country practice.

Suddenly, without planning it, forgetting in his admiration for Sondelius and the health war his pride of the laboratory, he was thrown into a research problem.

iii

There was blackleg among the cattle in Crynssen County. The state veterinarian had been called and Dawson Hunziker vaccine had been injected, but the disease spread. Martin heard the farmers wailing. He noted that the injected cattle showed no inflammation nor rise in temperature. He was roused by a suspicion that the Hunziker vaccine had insufficient living organisms, and he went yelping on the trail of his hypothesis.

He obtained (by misrepresentations) a supply of the vaccine and tested it in his stuffy closet of a laboratory. He had to work out his own device for growing anaerobic cultures, but he had been trained by the Gottlieb who remarked, “Any man dat iss unable to build a filter out of toot’-picks, if he has to, would maybe better buy his results along with his fine equipment.” Out of a large fruit-jar and a soldered pipe Martin made his apparatus.

When he was altogether sure that the vaccine did not contain living blackleg organisms, he was much more delighted than if he had found that good Mr. Dawson Hunziker was producing honest vaccine.

With no excuse and less encouragement he isolated blackleg organisms from sick cattle and prepared an attenuated vaccine of his own. It took much time. He did not neglect his patients but certainly he failed to appear in the stores, at the poker games. Leora and he dined on a sandwich every evening and hastened to the laboratory, to heat the cultures in the improvised water-bath, an ancient and leaky oatmeal-cooker with an alcohol lamp. The Martin who had been impatient of Hesselink was of endless patience as he watched his results. He whistled and hummed, and the hours from seven to midnight were a moment. Leora, frowning placidly, the tip of her tongue at the corner of her mouth, guarded the temperature like a good little watchdog.

After three efforts with two absurd failures, he had a vaccine which satisfied him, and he injected a stricken herd. The blackleg stopped, which was for Martin the end and the reward, and he turned his notes and supply of vaccine over to the state veterinarian. For others, it was not the end. The veterinarian of the county denounced him for intruding on their right to save or kill cattle; the physicians hinted, “That’s the kind of monkey-business that ruins the dignity of the profession. I tell you Arrowsmith’s a medical nihilist and a notoriety-seeker, that’s what he is. You mark my words, instead of his sticking to decent regular practice, you’ll be hearing of his opening a quack sanitarium, one of these days!”

He commented to Leora:

“Dignity, hell! If I had my way I’d be doing research — oh, not this cold detached stuff of Gottlieb but really practical work — and then I’d have some fellow like Sondelius take my results and jam ’em down people’s throats, and I’d make them and their cattle and their tabby-cats healthy whether they wanted to be or not, that’s what I’d do!”

In this mood he read in his Minneapolis paper, between a half column on the marriage of the light middleweight champion and three lines devoted to the lynching of an I.W.W. agitator, the announcement:

Gustave Sundelios, well-known authority on cholera prevention, will give an address on “Heroes of Health” at the University summer school next Friday evening.

He ran into the house gloating, “Lee! Sondelius going to lecture in Minneapolis. I’m going! Come on! We’ll hear him and have a bat and everything!”

“No, you run down by yourself. Be fine for you to get away from the town and the family and me for a while. I’ll go down with you in the fall. Honestly. If I’m not in the way, maybe you can manage to have a good long talk with Dr. Sondelius.”

“Fat chance! The big city physicians and the state health authorities will be standing around him ten deep. But I’m going.”

iv

The prairie was hot, the wheat rattled in a weary breeze, the day-coach was gritty with cinders. Martin was cramped by the hours of slow riding. He drowsed and smoked and meditated. “I’m going to forget medicine and everything else,” he vowed. “I’ll go up and talk to somebody in the smoker and tell him I’m a shoe-salesman.”

He did. Unfortunately his confidant happened to be a real shoe-salesman, with a large curiosity as to what firm Martin represented, and he returned to the day coach with a renewed sense of injury. When he reached Minneapolis, in mid-afternoon, he hastened to the University and besought a ticket to the Sondelius lecture before he had even found a hotel, though not before he had found the long glass of beer which he had been picturing for a hundred miles.

He had an informal but agreeable notion of spending his first evening of freedom in dissipation. Somewhere he would meet a company of worthies who would succor him with laughter and talk and many drinks — not too many drinks, of course — and motor very rapidly to Lake Minnetonka for a moonlight swim. He began his search for the brethren by having a cocktail at a hotel bar and dinner in a Hennepin Avenue restaurant. Nobody looked at him, nobody seemed to desire a companion. He was lonely for Leora, and all his state of grace, all his earnest and simple-hearted devotion to carousal, degenerated into sleepiness.

As he turned and turned in his hotel bed he lamented, “And probably the Sondelius lecture will be rotten. Probably he’s simply another Roscoe Geake.”

v

In the hot night desultory students wandered up to the door of the lecture-hall, scanned the modest Sondelius poster, and ambled away. Martin was half minded to desert with them, and he went in sulkily. The hall was a third full of summer students and teachers, and men who might have been doctors or school-principals. He sat at the back, fanning with his straw hat, disliking the man with side-whiskers who shared the row with him, disapproving of Gustaf Sondelius, and as to himself having no good opinions whatever.

Then the room was charged with vitality. Down the central aisle, ineffectively attended by a small fussy person, thundered a man with a smile, a broad brow, and a strawpile of curly flaxen hair — a Newfoundland dog of a man. Martin sat straight. He was strengthened to endure even the depressing man with side-whiskers as Sondelius launched out, in a musical bellow with Swedish pronunciation and Swedish singsong:

“The medical profession can have but one desire: to destroy the medical profession. As for the laymen, they can be sure of but one thing: nine-tenths of what they know about health is not so, and with the other tenth they do nothing. As Butler shows in ‘Erewhon’— the swine stole that idea from me, too, maybe thirty years before I ever got it — the only crime for w’ich we should hang people is having toobercoolosis.”

“Umph!” grunted the studious audience, doubtful whether it was fitting to be amused, offended, bored, or edified.

Sondelius was a roarer and a playboy, but he knew incantations. With him Martin watched the heroes of yellow fever, Reed, Agramonte, Carroll, and Lazear; with him he landed in a Mexican port stilled with the plague and famished beneath the virulent sun; with him rode up the mountain trails to a hill town rotted with typhus; with him, in crawling August, when babies were parched skeletons, fought an ice trust beneath the gilt and blunted sword of the law.

“That’s what I want to do! Not just tinker at a lot of worn-out bodies but make a new world!” Martin hungered. “Gosh, I’d follow him through fire! And the way he lays out the crapehangers that criticize public health results! If I could only manage to meet him and talk to him for a couple o’ minutes —”

He lingered after the lecture. A dozen people surrounded Sondelius on the platform; a few shook hands; a few asked questions; a doctor worried, “But how about the danger of free clinics and all those things drifting into socialism?” Martin stood back till Sondelius had been deserted. A janitor was closing the windows, very firmly and suggestively. Sondelius looked about, and Martin would have sworn that the Great Man was lonely. He shook hands with him, and quaked:

“Sir, if you aren’t due some place, I wonder if you’d like to come out and have a — a —”

Sondelius loomed over him in solar radiance and rumbled, “Have a drink? Well, I think maybe I would. How did the joke about the dog and his fleas go tonight? Do you think they liked it?”

“Oh, sure, you bet.”

The warrior who had been telling of feeding five thousand Tatars, of receiving a degree from a Chinese university and refusing a decoration from quite a good Balkan king, looked affectionately on his band of one disciple and demanded, “Was it all right — was it? Did they like it? So hot tonight, and I been lecturing nine time a week — Des Moines, Fort Dodge, LaCrosse, Elgin, Joliet [but he pronounced it Zho-lee-ay] and — I forget. Was it all right? Did they like it?”

“Simply corking! Oh, they just ate it up! Honestly, I’ve never enjoyed anything so much in my life!”

The prophet crowed, “Come! I buy a drink. As a hygienist, I war on alcohol. In excessive quantities it is almost as bad as coffee or even ice cream soda. But as one who is fond of talking, I find a nice long whisky and soda a great solvent of human idiocy. Is there a cool place with some Pilsener here in Detroit — no; where am I tonight? — Minneapolis?”

“I understand there’s a good beer-garden. And we can get the trolley right near here.”

Sondelius stared at him. “Oh, I have a taxi waiting.”

Martin was abashed by this luxury. In the taxi-cab he tried to think of the proper things to say to a celebrity.

“Tell me, Doctor, do they have city health boards in Europe?”

Sondelius ignored him. “Did you see that girl going by? What ankles! What shoulders! Is it good beer at the beer-garden? Have they any decent cognac? Do you know Courvoisier 1865 cognac? Oof! Lecturing! I swear I will give it up. And wearing dress clothes a night like this! You know, I mean all the crazy things I say in my lectures, but let us now forget being earnest, let us drink, let us sing ‘Der Graf von Luxemburg,’ let us detach exquisite girls from their escorts, let us discuss the joys of ‘Die Meistersinger,’ which only I appreciate!”

In the beer-garden the tremendous Sondelius discoursed of the Cosmos Club, Halle’s investigation of infant mortality, the suitability of combining benedictine and apple-jack, Biarritz, Lord Haldane, the Doane–Buckley method of milk examination, George Gissing, and homard thermidor. Martin looked for a connection between Sondelius and himself, as one does with the notorious or with people met abroad. He might have said, “I think I met a man who knows you,” or “I have had the pleasure of reading all your articles,” but he fished with “Did you ever run into the two big men in my medical school — Winnemac — Dean Silva and Max Gottlieb?”

“Silva? I don’t remember. But Gottlieb — you know him? Oh!” Sondelius waved his mighty arms. “The greatest! The spirit of science! I had the pleasure to talk with him at McGurk. He would not sit here bawling like me! He makes me like a circus clown! He takes all my statements about epidemiology and shows me I am a fool! Ho, ho, ho!” He beamed, and was off on a denunciation of high tariff.

Each topic had its suitable refreshment. Sondelius was a fantastic drinker, and zinc-lined. He mixed Pilsener, whisky, black coffee, and a liquid which the waiter asserted to be absinthe. “I should go to bed at midnight,” he lamented, “but it is a cardinal sin to interrupt good talk. Yoost tempt me a little! I am an easy one to be tempted! But I must have five hours’ sleep. Absolute! I lecture in-it’s some place in Iowa — tomorrow evening. Now that I am past fifty, I cannot get along with three hours as I used to, and yet I have found so many new things that I want to talk about.”

He was more eloquent than ever; then he was annoyed. A surly-looking man at the next table listened and peered, and laughed at them. Sondelius dropped from Haffkine’s cholera serum to an irate:

“If that fellow stares at me some more, I am going over and kill him! I am a peaceful man, now that I am not so young, but I do not like starers. I will go and argue with him. I will yoost hit him a little!”

While the waiters came rushing, Sondelius charged the man, threatened him with enormous fists, then stopped, shook hands repeatedly, and brought him back to Martin.

“This is a born countryman of mine, from Gottenborg. He is a carpenter. Sit down, Nilsson, sit down and have a drink. Herumph! VAI-ter!”

The carpenter was a socialist, a Swedish Seventh Day Adventist, a ferocious arguer, and fond of drinking aquavit. He denounced Sondelius as an aristocrat, he denounced Martin for his ignorance of economics, he denounced the waiter concerning the brandy; Sondelius and Martin and the waiter answered with vigor; and the conversation became admirable. Presently they were turned out of the beer-garden and the three of them crowded into the still waiting taxicab, which shook to their debating. Where they went, Martin could never trace. He may have dreamed the whole tale. Once they were apparently in a roadhouse on a long street which must have been University Avenue; once in a saloon on Washington Avenue South, where three tramps were sleeping at the end of the bar; once in the carpenter’s house, where an unexplained man made coffee for them.

Wherever they might be, they were at the same time in Moscow and Curacao and Murwillumbah. The carpenter created communistic states, while Sondelius, proclaiming that he did not care whether he worked under socialism or an emperor so long as he could bully people into being well, annihilated tuberculosis and by dawn had cancer fleeing.

They parted at four, tearfully swearing to meet again, in Minnesota or Stockholm, in Rio or on the southern seas, and Martin started for Wheatsylvania to put an end to all this nonsense of allowing people to be ill.

And the great god Sondelius had slain Dean Silva, as Silva had slain Gottlieb, Gottlieb had slain “Encore” Edwards the playful chemist, Edwards had slain Doc Vickerson, and Vickerson had slain the minister’s son who had a real trapeze in his barn.

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