Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 20

Martin found in Dr. Pickerbaugh a generous chief. He was eager to have Martin invent and clamor about his own Causes and Movements. His scientific knowledge was rather thinner than that of the visiting nurses, but he had little jealousy, and he demanded of Martin only the belief that a rapid and noisy moving from place to place is the means (and possibly the end) of Progress.

In a two-family house on Social Hill, which is not a hill but a slight swelling in the plain, Martin and Leora found an upper floor. There was a simple pleasantness in these continuous lawns, these wide maple-shaded streets, and a joy in freedom from the peering whispers of Wheatsylvania.

Suddenly they were being courted by the Nice Society of Nautilus.

A few days after their arrival Martin was summoned to the telephone to hear a masculine voice rasping:

“Hello. Martin? I bet you can’t guess who this is!”

Martin, very busy, restrained his desire to observe, “You win — g’ by!” and he buzzed, with the cordiality suitable to a new Assistant Director:

“No, I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Well, make a guess.”

“Oh — Clif Clawson?”

“Nope. Say, I see you’re looking fine. Oh, I guess I’ve got you guessing this time! Go on! Have another try!”

The stenographer was waiting to take letters, and Martin had not yet learned to become impersonal and indifferent in her presence. He said with a perceptible tartness:

“Oh, I suppose it’s President Wilson. Look here —”

“Well, Mart, it’s Irve Watters! What do you know about that!”

Apparently the jester expected large gratification, but it took ten seconds for Martin to remember who Irving Watters might be. Then he had it: Watters, the appalling normal medical student whose faith in the good, the true, the profitable, had annoyed him at Digamma Pi. He made his response as hearty as he could:

“Well, well, what you doing here, Irve?”

“Why, I’m settled here. Been here ever since internship. And got a nice little practice, too. Look, Mart, Mrs. Watters and I want you and your wife — I believe you are married, aren’t you? — to come up to the house for dinner, tomorrow evening, and I’ll put you onto all the local slants.”

The dread of Watters’s patronage enabled Martin to lie vigorously:

“Awfully sorry — awfully sorry — got a date for tomorrow evening and the next evening.”

“Then come have lunch with me tomorrow at the Elks’ Club, and you and your wife take dinner with us Sunday noon.”

Hopelessly, “I don’t think I can make it for lunch but — Well, we’ll dine with you Sunday.”

It is one of the major tragedies that nothing is more discomforting than the hearty affection of the Old Friends who never were friends. Martin’s imaginative dismay at being caught here by Watters was not lessened when Leora and he reluctantly appeared on Sunday at one-thirty and were by a fury of Old Friendship dragged back into the days of Digamma Pi.

Watters’s house was new, and furnished in a highly built-in and leaded-glass manner. He had in three years of practice already become didactic and incredibly married; he had put on weight and infallibility; and he had learned many new things about which to be dull. Having been graduated a year earlier than Martin and having married an almost rich wife, he was kind and hospitable with an emphasis which aroused a desire to do homicide. His conversation was a series of maxims and admonitions:

“If you stay with the Department of Public Health for a couple of years and take care to meet the right people, you’ll be able to go into very lucrative practice here. It’s a fine town — prosperous — so few dead beats.

“You want to join the country club and take up golf. Best opportunity in the world to meet the substantial citizens. I’ve picked up more than one high-class patient there.

“Pickerbaugh is a good active man and a fine booster but he’s got a bad socialistic tendency. These clinics — outrageous — the people that go to them that can afford to pay! Pauperize people. Now this may startle you — oh, you had a lot of crank notions when you were in school, but you aren’t the only one that does some thinking for himself! — sometimes I believe it’d be better for the general health situation if there weren’t any public health departments at all, because they get a lot of people into the habit of going to free clinics instead of to private physicians, and cut down the earnings of the doctors and reduce their number, so there are less of us to keep a watchful eye on sickness.

“I guess by this time you’ve gotten over the funny ideas you used to have about being practical —‘commercialism’ you used to call it. You can see now that you’ve got to support your wife and family, and if you don’t, nobody else is going to.

“Any time you want a straight tip about people here, you just come to me. Pickerbaugh is a crank — he won’t give you the right dope — the people you want to tie up with are the good, solid, conservative, successful business men.”

Then Mrs. Watters had her turn. She was meaty with advice, being the daughter of a prosperous person, none other than Mr. S. A. Peaseley, the manufacturer of the Daisy Manure Spreader.

“You haven’t any children?” she sobbed at Leora. “Oh, you must! Irving and I have two, and you don’t know what an interest they are to us, and they keep us so young.”

Martin and Leora looked at each other pitifully.

After dinner, Irving insisted on their recalling the “good times we used to have together at the dear old U.” He took no denial. “You always want to make folks think you’re eccentric, Mart. You pretend you haven’t any college patriotism, but I know better — I know you’re showing off — you admire the old place and our profs just as much as anybody. Maybe I know you better than you do yourself! Come on, now; let’s give a long cheer and sing ‘Winnemac, Mother of Brawny Men.’”

And, “Don’t be silly; of course you’re going to sing,” said Mrs. Watters, as she marched to the piano, with which she dealt in a firm manner.

When they had politely labored through the fried chicken and brick ice cream, through the maxims, gurglings and memories, Martin and Leora went forth and spoke in tongues:

“Pickerbaugh must be a saint, if Watters roasts him. I begin to believe he has sense enough to come in when it rains.”

In their common misery they forgot that they had been agitated by a girl named Orchid.

ii

Between Pickerbaugh and Irving Watters, Martin was drafted into many of the associations, clubs, lodges, and “causes” with which Nautilus foamed; into the Chamber of Commerce, the Moccasin Ski and Hiking Club, the Elks’ Club, the Odd Fellows, and the Evangeline County Medical society. He resisted, but they said in a high hurt manner, “Why, my boy, if you’re going to be a public official, and if you have the slightest appreciation of their efforts to make you welcome here —”

Leora and he found themselves with so many invitations that they, who had deplored the dullness of Wheatsylvania, complained now that they could have no quiet evenings at home. But they fell into the habit of social ease, of dressing, of going places without nervous anticipation. They modernized their rustic dancing; they learned to play bridge, rather badly, and tennis rather well; and Martin, not by virtue and heroism but merely by habit, got out of the way of resenting the chirp of small talk.

Probably they were never recognized by their hostesses as pirates, but considered a Bright Young Couple who, since they were proteges of Pickerbaugh, must be earnest and forward-looking, and who, since they were patronized by Irving and Mrs. Watters, must be respectable.

Watters took them in hand and kept them there. He had so thick a rind that it was impossible for him to understand that Martin’s frequent refusals of his invitations could conceivably mean that he did not wish to come. He detected traces of heterodoxy in Martin, and with affection, diligence, and an extraordinarily heavy humor he devoted himself to the work of salvation. Frequently he sought to entertain other guests by urging, “Come on now, Mart, let’s hear some of those crazy ideas of yours!”

His friendly zeal was drab compared with that of his wife. Mrs. Watters had been reared by her father and by her husband to believe that she was the final fruit of the ages, and she set herself to correct the barbarism of the Arrowsmiths. She rebuked Martin’s damns, Leora’s smoking, and both their theories of bidding at bridge. But she never nagged. To have nagged would have been to admit that there were persons who did not acknowledge her sovereignty. She merely gave orders, brief, humorous, and introduced by a strident “Now don’t be silly,” and she expected that to settle the matter.

Martin groaned, “Oh, Lord, between Pickerbaugh and Irve, it’s easier to become a respectable member of society than to go on fighting.”

But Watters and Pickerbaugh were not so great a compulsion to respectability as the charms of finding himself listened to in Nautilus as he never had been in Wheatsylvania, and of finding himself admired by Orchid.

iii

He had been seeking a precipitation test for the diagnosis of syphilis which should be quicker and simpler than the Wassermann. His slackened fingers and rusty mind were becoming used to the laboratory and to passionate hypotheses when he was dragged away to help Pickerbaugh in securing publicity. He was coaxed into making his first speech: an address on “What the Laboratory Teaches about Epidemics” for the Sunday Afternoon Free Lecture Course of the Star of Hope Universalist Church.

He was flustered when he tried to prepare his notes, and on the morning of the affair he was chill as he remembered the dreadful thing he would do this day, but he was desperate with embarrassment when he came up to the Star of Hope Church.

People were crowding in; mature, responsible people. He quaked, “They’re coming to hear ME, and I haven’t got a darn’ thing to say to ’em!” It made him feel the more ridiculous that they who presumably wished to listen to him should not be aware of him, and that the usher, profusely shaking hands at the Byzantine portal, should bluster, “You’ll find plenty room right up the side aisles, young man.”

“I’m the speaker for the afternoon.”

“Oh, oh, yes, oh, yes, Doctor. Right round to the Bevis Street entrance, if you please, Doctor.”

In the parlors he was unctuously received by the pastor and a committee of three, wearing morning clothes and a manner of Christian intellectuality.

They held his hand in turn, they brought up rustling women to meet him, they stood about him in a polite and twittery circle, and dismayingly they expected him to say something intelligent. Then, suffering, ghastly frightened, dumb, he was led through an arched doorway into the auditorium. Millions of faces were staring at his apologetic insignificance — faces in the curving lines of pews, faces in the low balcony, eyes which followed him and doubted him and noted that his heels were run down.

The agony grew while he was prayed over and sung over.

The pastor and the lay chairman of the Lecture Course opened with suitable devotions. While Martin trembled and tried to look brazenly at the massed people who were looking at him, while he sat nude and exposed and unprotected on the high platform, the pastor made announcement of the Thursday Missionary Supper and the Little Lads’ Marching Club. They sang a brief cheerful hymn or two — Martin wondering whether to sit or stand — and the chairman prayed that “our friend who will address us today may have power to put his Message across.” Through the prayer Martin sat with his forehead in his hand, feeling foolish, and raving, “I guess this is the proper attitude — they’re all gawping at me — gosh, won’t he ever quit? — oh, damn it, now what was that point I was going to make about fumigation? — oh, Lord, he’s winding up and I’ve got to shoot!”

Somehow, he was standing by the reading-desk, holding it for support, and his voice seemed to be going on, producing reasonable words. The blur of faces cleared and he saw individuals. He picked out a keen old man and tried to make him laugh and marvel.

He found Leora, toward the back, nodding to him, reassuring him. He dared to look away from the path of faces directly in front of him. He glanced at the balcony —

The audience perceived a young man who was being earnest about sera and vaccines but, while his voice buzzed on, that churchly young man had noted two silken ankles distinguishing the front row of the balcony, had discovered that they belonged to Orchid Pickerbaugh and that she was flashing down admiration.

At the end Martin had the most enthusiastic applause ever known — all lecturers, after all lectures, are gratified by that kind of applause — and the chairman said the most flattering things ever uttered, and the audience went out with the most remarkable speed ever witnessed, and Martin discovered himself holding Orchid’s hand in the parlors while she warbled, in the most adorable voice ever heard, “Oh, Dr. Arrowsmith, you were just wonderful! Most of these lecturers are old stuffs, but you put it right over! I’m going to do a dash home and tell Dad. He’ll be so tickled!”

Not till then did he find that Leora had made her way to the parlors and was looking at them like a wife.

As they walked home Leora was eloquently silent.

“Well, did you like my spiel?” he said, after a suitable time of indignant waiting.

“Yes, it wasn’t bad. It must have been awfully hard to talk to all those stupid people.”

“Stupid? What d’you mean by ‘stupid’? They got me splendidly. They were fine.”

“Were they? Well anyway, thank Heaven, you won’t have to keep up this silly gassing. Pickerbaugh likes to hear himself talk too well to let you in on it very often.”

“I didn’t mind it. Fact, don’t know but what it’s a good thing to have to express myself publicly now and then. Makes you think more lucidly.”

“As for instance the nice, lovely, lucid politicians!”

“Now you look here, Lee! Of course we know your husband is a mutt, and no good outside the laboratory, but I do think you might PRETEND to be a little enthusiastic over the first address he’s ever made — the very first he’s ev-er tackled — when it went off so well.”

“Why, silly, I was enthusiastic. I applauded a lot. I thought you were terribly smart. It’s just — There’s other things I think you can do better. What shall we do tonight; have a cold snack at home or go to the cafeteria?”

Thus was he reduced from hero to husband, and he had all the pleasures of inappreciation.

He thought about his indignities the whole week, but with the coming of winter there was a fever of dully sprightly dinners and safely wild bridge and their first evening at home, their first opportunity for secure and comfortable quarreling, was on Friday. They sat down to what he announced as “getting back to some real reading, like physiology and a little of this fellow Arnold Bennett — nice quiet reading,” but which consisted of catching up on the news notes in the medical journals.

He was restless. He threw down his magazine. He demanded:

“What’re you going to wear at Pickerbaugh’s snow picnic tomorrow?”

“Oh, I haven’t — I’ll find something.”

“Lee, I want to ask you: Why the devil did you say I talked too much at Dr. Strafford’s last evening? I know I’ve got most of the faults going, but I didn’t know talking too much was one of ’em.”

“It hasn’t been, till now.”

“‘Till now’!”

“You look here, Sandy Arrowsmith! You’ve been pouting like a bad brat all week. What’s the matter with you?”

“Well, I— Gosh, it makes me tired! Here everybody is so enthusiastic about my Star of Hope spiel — that note in the Morning Frontiersman, and Pickerbaugh says Orchid said it was a corker — and you never so much as peep!”

“Didn’t I applaud? But — It’s just that I hope you aren’t going to keep up this drooling.”

“You do, do you! Well, let me tell you I AM going to keep it up! Not that I’m going to talk a lot of hot air. I gave ’em straight science, last Sunday, and they ate it up. I hadn’t realized it isn’t necessary to be mushy, to hold an audience. And the amount of good you can do! Why, I got across more Health Instruction and ideas about the value of the lab in that three-quarters of an hour than — I don’t care for being a big gun but it’s fine to have people where they have to listen to what you’ve got to say and can’t butt in, way they did in Wheatsylvania. You bet I’m going to keep up what you so politely call my damn’ fool drooling —”

“Sandy, it may be all right for some people, but not for you. I can’t tell you — that’s one reason I haven’t said more about your talk — I can’t tell you how astonished I am to hear you, who’re always sneering at what you call sentimentality, simply weeping over the Dear Little Tots!”

“I never said that — never used the phrase and you know it. And by God! YOU talk about sneering! Just let me tell you that the Public Health Movement, by correcting early faults in children, by looking after their eyes and tonsils and so on, can save millions of lives and make a future generation —”

“I know it! I love children much more than you do! But I mean all this ridiculous simpering —”

“Well, gosh, somebody has to do it. You can’t work with people till you educate ’em. There’s where old Pick, even if he is an imbecile, does such good work with his poems and all that stuff. Prob’ly be a good thing if I could write ’em — golly, wonder if I couldn’t learn to?”

“They’re horrible!”

“Now there’s a fine consistency for you! The other evening you called ’em ‘cute.’”

“I don’t have to be consistent. I’m a mere woman. You, Martin Arrowsmith, you’d be the first to tell me so. And for Dr. Pickerbaugh they’re all right, but not for you. You belong in a laboratory, finding out things, not advertising them. Do you remember once in Wheatsylvania for five minutes you almost thought of joining a church and being a Respectable Citizen? Are you going on for the rest of your life, stumbling into respectability and having to be dug out again? Will you never learn you’re a barbarian?”

“By God, I am! And — what was that other lovely thing you called me? — I’m also, soul of my soul, a damn’ backwoods hick! And a fine lot you help! When I want to settle down to a decent and useful life and not go ‘round antagonizing people, you, the one that ought to believe in me, you’re the first one to crab!”

“Maybe Orchid Pickerbaugh would help you better.”

“She probably would! Believe me, she’s a darling, and she did appreciate my spiel at the church, and if you think I’m going to sit up all night listening to you sneering at my work and my friends — I’m going to have a hot bath. Good NIGHT!”

In the bath he gasped that it was impossible he should have been quarreling with Leora. Why! She was the only person in the world, besides Gottlieb and Sondelius and Clif Clawson — by the way, where was Clif? still in New York? didn’t Clif owe him a letter? but anyway — He was a fool to have lost his temper, even if she was so stubborn that she wouldn’t adjust her opinions, couldn’t see that he had a gift for influencing people. Nobody would ever stand by him as she had, and he loved her —

He dried himself violently; he dashed in with repentances; they told each other that they were the most reasonable persons living; they kissed with eloquence; and then Leora reflected:

“Just the same, my lad, I’m not going to help you fool yourself. You’re not a booster. You’re a lie-hunter. Funny, you’d think to hear about these lie-hunters, like Professor Gottlieb and your old Voltaire, they couldn’t be fooled. But maybe they were like you: always trying to get away from the tiresome truth, always hoping to settle down and be rich, always selling their souls to the devil and then going and doublecrossing the poor devil. I think — I think —” She sat up in bed, holding her temples in the labor of articulation. “You’re different from Professor Gottlieb. He never makes mistakes or wastes time on —”

“He wasted time at Hunziker’s nostrum factory all right, and his title is ‘Doctor,’ not ‘Professor,’ if you MUST give him a —”

“If he went to Hunziker’s he had some good reason. He’s a genius; he couldn’t be wrong. Or could he, even he? But ANYWAY: you, Sandy, you have to stumble every so often; have to learn by making mistakes. I will say one thing: you learn from your crazy mistakes. But I get a little tired, sometimes, watching you rush up and put your neck in every noose — like being a blinking orator or yearning over your Orchid.”

“Well, by golly! After I come in here trying to make peace! It’s a good thing YOU never make any mistakes! But one perfect person in a household is enough!”

He banged into bed. Silence. Soft sounds of “Mart — SANDY!” He ignored her, proud that he could be hard with her, and so fell asleep. At breakfast, when he was ashamed and eager, she was curt.

“I don’t care to discuss it,” she said.

In that wry mood they went on Saturday afternoon to the Pickerbaughs’ snow picnic.

iv

Dr. Pickerbaugh owned a small log cabin in a scanty grove of oaks among the hillocks north of Nautilus. A dozen of them drove out in a bob-sled filled with straw and blue woolly robes. The sleigh bells were exciting and the children leaped out to run beside the sled.

The school physician, a bachelor, was attentive to Leora; twice he tucked her in, and that, for Nautilus, was almost compromising. In jealousy Martin turned openly and completely to Orchid.

He grew interested in her not for the sake of disciplining Leora but for her own rosy sweetness. She was wearing a tweed jacket, with a tam, a flamboyant scarf, and the first breeches any girl had dared to display in Nautilus. She patted Martin’s knee, and when they rode behind the sled on a perilous toboggan, she held his waist, resolutely.

She was calling him “Dr. Martin” now, and he had come to a warm “Orchid.”

At the cabin there was a clamor of disembarkation. Together Martin and Orchid carried in the hamper of food; together they slid down the hillocks on skiis. When their skiis were entangled, they rolled into a drift, and as she clung to him, unafraid and unembarrassed, it seemed to him that in the roughness of tweeds she was but the softer and more wonderful — eyes fearless, cheeks brilliant as she brushed the coating of wet snow from them, flying legs of a slim boy, shoulders adorable in their pretense of sturdy boyishness —

But “I’m a sentimental fool! Leora was right!” he snarled at himself. “I thought you had some originality! And poor little Orchid — she’d be shocked if she knew how sneak-minded you are!”

But poor little Orchid was coaxing, “Come on, Dr. Martin, let’s shoot off that high bluff. We’re the only ones that have any pep.”

“That’s because we’re the only young ones.”

“It’s because you’re so young. I’m dreadfully old. I just sit and moon when you rave about your epidemics and things.”

He saw that, with her infernal school physician, Leora was sliding on a distant slope. It may have been pique and it may have been relief that he was licensed to be alone with Orchid, but he ceased to speak to her as though she were a child and he a person laden with wisdom; ceased to speak to her as though he were looking over his shoulder. They raced to the high bluff. They skied down it and fell; they had one glorious swooping slide, and wrestled in the snow.

They returned to the cabin together, to find the others away. She stripped off her wet sweater and patted her soft blouse. They ferreted out a thermos of hot coffee, and he looked at her as though he was going to kiss her, and she looked back at him as though she did not mind. As they laid out the food they hummed with the intimacy of understanding, and when she trilled, “Now hurry up, lazy one, and put those cups on that horrid old table,” it was as one who was content to be with him forever.

They said nothing compromising, they did not hold hands, and as they rode home in the electric snow-flying darkness, though they sat shoulder by shoulder he did not put his arms about her except when the bob-sled slewed on sharp corners. If Martin was exalted with excitement, it was presumably caused by the wholesome exercises of the day. Nothing happened and nobody looked uneasy. At parting all their farewells were cheery and helpful.

And Leora made no comments, though for a day or two there was about her a chill air which the busy Martin did not investigate.

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