Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 22

This summer Pickerbaugh had shouted and hand-shaken his way through a brief Chautauqua tour in Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. Martin realized that though he seemed, in contrast to Gustaf Sondelius, an unfortunately articulate and generous lout, he was destined to be ten times better known in America than Sondelius could ever be, a thousand times better known than Max Gottlieb.

He was a correspondent of many of the nickel-plated Great Men whose pictures and sonorous aphorisms appeared in the magazines: the advertising men who wrote little books about Pep and Optimism, the editor of the magazine which told clerks how to become Goethes and Stonewall Jacksons by studying correspondence-courses and never touching the manhood-rotting beer, and the cornfield sage who was equally an authority on finance, peace, biology, editing, Peruvian ethnology, and making oratory pay. These intellectual rulers recognized Pickerbaugh as one of them; they wrote quippish letters to him: and when he answered he signed himself “Pick,” in red pencil.

The Onward March Magazine, which specialized in biographies of Men Who Have Made Good, had an account of Pickerbaugh among its sketches of the pastor who built his own, beautiful Neo–Gothic church out of tin cans, the lady who had in seven years kept 2,698 factory-girls from leading lives of shame, and the Oregon cobbler who had taught himself to read Sanskrit, Finnish, and Esperanto.

“Meet Ol’ Doe Almus Pickerbaugh, a he-man whom Chum Frink has hailed as ‘the two-fisted, fighting poet doc,’ a scientist who puts his remarkable discoveries right over third base, yet who, as a reg’lar old-fashioned Sunday-school superintendent, rebukes the atheistic so-called scientists that are menacing the foundations of our religion and liberties by their smart-aleck cracks at everything that is noble and improving,” chanted the chronicler.

Martin was reading this article, trying to realize that it was actually exposed in a fabulous New York magazine, with a million circulation, when Pickerbaugh summoned him.

“Marty” he said, “do you feel competent to run this Department?”

“Why, uh —”

“Do you think you can buck the Interests and keep a clean city all by yourself?”

“Why, uh —”

“Because it looks as if I were going to Washington, as the next congressman from this district!”

“Really?”

“Looks that way. Boy, I’m going to take to the whole nation the Message I’ve tried to ram home here!”

Martin got out quite a good “I congratulate you.” He was so astonished that it sounded fervent. He still had a fragment of his boyhood belief that congressmen were persons of intelligence and importance.

“I’ve just been in conference with some of the leading Republicans of the district. Great surprise to me. Ha, ha, ha! Maybe they picked me because they haven’t anybody else to run this year. Ha, ha, ha!”

Martin also laughed. Pickerbaugh looked as though that was not exactly the right response, but he recovered and caroled on:

“I said to them, ‘Gentlemen, I must warn you that I am not sure I possess the rare qualifications needful in a man who shall have the high privilege of laying down, at Washington, the rules and regulations for the guidance, in every walk of life, of this great nation of a hundred million people. However, gentlemen,’ I said, ‘the impulse that prompts me to consider, in all modesty, your unexpected and probably undeserved honor is the fact that it seems to me that what Congress needs is more forward-looking scientists to plan and more genu-ine trained business men to execute the improvements demanded by our evolving commonwealth, and also the possibility of persuading the Boys there at Washington of the pre-eminent and crying need of a Secretary of Health who shall completely control —’”

But no matter what Martin thought about it, the Republicans really did nominate Pickerbaugh for Congress.

ii

While Pickerbaugh went out campaigning, Martin was in charge of the Department, and he began his reign by getting himself denounced as a tyrant and a radical.

There was no more sanitary and efficient dairy in Iowa than that of old Klopchuk, on the outskirts of Nautilus. It was tiled and drained and excellently lighted; the milking machines were perfect; the bottles were super-boiled; and Klopchuk welcomed inspectors and the tuberculin test. He had fought the dairy-men’s union and kept his dairy open-shop by paying more than the union scale. Once, when Martin attended a meeting of the Nautilus Central Labor Council as Pickerbaugh’s representative, the secretary of the council confessed that there was no plant which they would so like to unionize and which they were so unlikely to unionize as Klopchuk’s Dairy.

Now Martin’s labor sympathies were small. Like most laboratory men, he believed that the reason why workmen found less joy in sewing vests or in pulling a lever than he did in a long research was because they were an inferior race, born lazy and wicked. The complaint of the unions was the one thing to convince him that at last he had found perfection.

Often he stopped at Klopchuk’s merely for the satisfaction of it. He noted but one thing which disturbed him: a milker had a persistent sore throat. He examined the man, made cultures, and found hemolytic streptococcus. In a panic he hurried back to the dairy, and after cultures he discovered that there was streptococcus in the udders of three cows.

When Pickerbaugh had saved the health of the nation through all the smaller towns in the congressional district and had returned to Nautilus, Martin insisted on the quarantine of the infected milker and the closing of the Klopchuk Dairy till no more infection should be found.

“Nonsense! Why, that’s the cleanest place in the city,” Pickerbaugh scoffed. “Why borrow trouble? There’s no sign of an epidemic of strep.”

“There darn’ well will be! Three cows infected. Look at what’s happened in Boston and Baltimore, here recently. I’ve asked Klopchuk to come in and talk it over.”

“Well, you know how busy I am, but —”

Klopchuk appeared at eleven, and to Klopchuk the affair was tragic. Born in a gutter in Poland, starving in New York, working twenty hours a day in Vermont, in Ohio, in Iowa, he had made this beautiful thing, his dairy.

Seamed, drooping, twirling his hat, almost in tears, he protested, “Dr. Pickerbaugh, I do everything the doctors say is necessary. I know dairies! Now comes this young man and he says because one of my men has a cold, I kill little children with diseased milk! I tell you, this is my life, and I would sooner hang myself than send out one drop of bad milk. The young man has some wicked reason. I have asked questions. I find he is a great friend from the Central Labor Council. Why, he go to their meetings! And they want to break me!”

To Martin the trembling old man was pitiful, but he had never before been accused of treachery. He said grimly:

“You can take up the personal charges against me later, Dr. Pickerbaugh. Meantime I suggest you have in some expert to test my results; say Long of Chicago or Brent of Minneapolis or somebody.”

“I— I— I—” The Kipling and Billy Sunday of health looked as distressed as Klopchuk. “I’m sure our friend here doesn’t really mean to make charges against you, Mart. He’s overwrought, naturally. Can’t we just treat the fellow that has the strep infection and not make everybody uncomfortable?”

“All right, if you want a bad epidemic here, toward the end of your campaign!”

“You know cussed well I’d do anything to avoid — Though I want you to distinctly understand it has nothing to do with my campaign for Congress! It’s simply that I owe my city the most scrupulous performance of duty in safeguarding it against disease, and the most fearless enforcement —”

At the end of his oratory Pickerbaugh telegraphed to Dr. J. C. Long, the Chicago bacteriologist.

Dr. Long looked as though he had made the train journey in an ice-box. Martin had never seen a man so free from the poetry and flowing philanthropy of Almus Pickerbaugh. He was slim, precise, lipless, lapless, and eye-glassed, and his hair was parted in the middle. He coolly listened to Martin, coldly listened to Pickerbaugh, icily heard Klopchuk, made his inspection, and reported, “Dr. Arrowsmith seems to know his business perfectly, there is certainly a danger here, I advise closing the dairy, my fee is one hundred dollars, thank you no I shall not stay to dinner I must catch the evening train.”

Martin went home to Leora snarling, “That man was just as lovable as a cucumber salad, but my God, Lee, with his freedom from bunk he’s made me wild to get back to research; away from all these humanitarians that are so busy hollering about loving the dear people that they let the people die! I hated him, but — Wonder what Max Gottlieb’s doing this evening? The old German crank! I’ll bet — I’ll bet he’s talking music or something with some terrible highbrow bunch. Wouldn’t you like to see the old coot again? You know, just couple minutes. D’I ever tell you about the time I made the dandy stain of the trypanosomes — Oh, did I?”

He assumed that with the temporary closing of the dairy the matter was ended. He did not understand how hurt was Klopchuk. He knew that Irving Watters, Klopchuk’s physician, was unpleasant when they met, grumbling, “What’s the use going on being an alarmist, Mart?” But he did not know how many persons in Nautilus had been trustily informed that this fellow Arrowsmith was in the pay of labor-union thugs.

iii

Two months before, when Martin had been making his annual inspection of factories, he had encountered Clay Tredgold, the president (by inheritance) of the Steel Windmill Company. He had heard that Tredgold, an elaborate but easy-spoken man of forty-five, moved as one clad in purple on the loftiest planes of Nautilus society. After the inspection Tredgold urged, “Sit down, Doctor; have a cigar and tell me all about sanitation.”

Martin was wary. There was in Tredgold’s affable eye a sardonic flicker.

“What d’you want to know about sanitation?”

“Oh, all about it.”

“The only thing I know is that your men must like you. Of course you haven’t enough wash-bowls in that second-floor toilet room, and the whole lot of ’em swore you were putting in others immediately. If they like you enough to lie against their own interests, you must be a good boss, and I think I’ll let you get away with it — till my next inspection! Well, got to hustle.”

Tredgold beamed on him. “My dear man, I’ve been pulling that dodge on Pickerbaugh for three years. I’m glad to have seen you. And I think I really may put in some more bowls — just before your next inspection. Good-by!”

After the Klopchuk affair, Martin and Leora encountered Clay Tredgold and that gorgeous slim woman, his wife, in front of a motion-picture theater.

“Give you a lift, Doctor?” cried Tredgold.

On the way he suggested, “I don’t know whether you’re dry, like Pickerbaugh, but if you’d like I’ll run you out to the house and present you with the noblest cocktail conceived since Evangeline County went dry. Does it sound reasonable?”

“I haven’t heard anything so reasonable for years,” said Martin.

The Tredgold house was on the highest knoll (fully twenty feet above the general level of the plain) in Ashford Grove, which is the Back Bay of Nautilus. It was a Colonial structure, with a sun-parlor, a white-paneled hall, and a blue and silver drawing-room. Martin tried to look casual as they were wafted in on Mrs. Tredgold’s chatter, but it was the handsomest house he had ever entered.

While Leora sat on the edge of her chair in the manner of one likely to be sent home, and Mrs. Tredgold sat forward like a hostess, Tredgold flourished the cocktail-shaker and performed courtesies:

“How long you been here now, Doctor?”

“Almost a year.”

“Try that. Look here, it strikes me you’re kind of different from Salvation Pickerbaugh.”

Martin felt that he ought to praise his chief but, to Leora’s gratified amazement, he sprang up and ranted in something like Pickerbaugh’s best manner:

“Gentlemen of the Steel Windmill Industries, than which there is no other that has so largely contributed to the prosperity of our commonwealth, while I realize that you are getting away with every infraction of the health laws that the inspector doesn’t catch you at, yet I desire to pay a tribute to your high respect for sanitation, patriotism, and cocktails, and if I only had an assistant more earnest than young Arrowsmith, I should, with your permission, become President of the United States.”

Tredgold clapped. Mrs. Tredgold asserted, “If that isn’t exactly like Dr. Pickerbaugh!” Leora looked proud, and so did her husband.

“I’m so glad you’re free from this socialistic clap-trap of Pickerbaugh’s,” said Tredgold.

The assumption roused something sturdy and defensive in Martin:

“Oh, I don’t care a hang how socialistic he is — whatever that means. Don’t know anything about socialism. But since I’ve gone and given an imitation of him — I suppose it was probably disloyal — I must say I’m not very fond of oratory that’s so full of energy it hasn’t any room for facts. But mind you, Tredgold, it’s partly the fault of people like your Manufacturers’ Association. You encourage him to rant. I’m a laboratory man — or rather, I sometimes wish I were. I like to deal with exact figures.”

“So do I. I was keen on mathematics in Williams,” said Tredgold.

Instantly Martin and he were off on education, damning the universities for turning out graduates like sausages. Martin found himself becoming confidential about “variables,” and Tredgold proclaimed that he had not wanted to take up the ancestral factory, but to specialize in astronomy.

Leora was confessing to the friendly Mrs. Tredgold how cautiously the wife of an assistant director has to economize and with that caressing voice of hers Mrs. Tredgold comforted, “I know. I was horribly hard-up after Dad died. Have you tried the little Swedish dressmaker on Crimmins Street, two doors from the Catholic church? She’s awfully clever, and so cheap.”

Martin had found, for the first time since marriage, a house in which he was altogether happy; Leora had found, in a woman with the easy smartness which she had always feared and hated, the first woman to whom she could talk of God and the price of toweling. They came out from themselves and were not laughed at.

It was at midnight, when the charms of bacteriology and toweling were becoming pallid, that outside the house sounded a whooping, wheezing motor horn, and in lumbered a ruddy fat man who was introduced as Mr. Schlemihl, president of the Cornbelt Insurance Company of Nautilus.

Even more than Clay Tredgold was he a leader of the Ashford Grove aristocracy, but, while he stood like an invading barbarian in the blue and silver room, Schlemihl was cordial:

“Glad meet yuh, Doctor. Well, say, Clay, I’m tickled to death you’ve found another highbrow to gas with. Me, Arrowsmith, I’m simply a poor old insurance salesman. Clay is always telling me what an illiterate boob I am. Look here, Clay darling, do I get a cocktail or don’t I? I seen your lights! I seen you in here telling what a smart guy you are! Come on! MIX!”

Tredgold mixed, extensively. Before he had finished, young Monte Mugford, great-grandson of the sainted but side-whiskered Nathaniel Mugford who had founded Mugford College, also came in, uninvited. He wondered at the presence of Martin, found him human, told him he was human, and did his rather competent best to catch up on the cocktails.

Thus it happened that at three in the morning Martin was singing to a commendatory audience the ballad he had learned from Gustaf Sondelius:

She’d a dark and a roving eye, And her hair hung down in ringlets, A nice girl, a decent girl, But one of the rakish kind.

At four, the Arrowsmiths had been accepted by the most desperately Smart Set of Nautilus, and at four-thirty they were driven home, at a speed neither legal nor kind, by Clay Tredgold.

iv

There was in Nautilus a country club which was the axis of what they called Society, but there was also a tribe of perhaps twelve families in the Ashford Grove section who, though they went to the country club for golf, condescended to other golfers, kept to themselves, and considered themselves as belonging more to Chicago than to Nautilus. They took turns in entertaining one another. They assumed that they were all welcome at any party given by any of them, and to none of their parties was anyone outside the Group invited except migrants from larger cities and occasional free lances like Martin. They were a tight little garrison in a heathen town.

The members of the Group were very rich, and one of them, Montgomery Mugford, knew something about his great-grandfather. They lived in Tudor manor houses and Italian villas so new that the scarred lawns had only begun to grow. They had large cars and larger cellars, though the cellars contained nothing but gin, whisky, vermouth, and a few sacred bottles of rather sweet champagne. Everyone in the Group was familiar with New York — they stayed at the St. Regis or the Plaza and went about buying clothes and discovering small smart restaurants — and five of the twelve couples had been in Europe; had spent a week in Paris, intending to go to art galleries and actually going to the more expensive fool-traps of Montmartre.

In the Group Martin and Leora found themselves welcomed as poor relations. They were invited to choric dinners, to Sunday lunches at the country club. Whatever the event, it always ended in rapidly motoring somewhere, having a number of drinks, and insisting that Martin again “give that imitation of Doc Pickerbaugh.”

Besides motoring, drinking, and dancing to the Victrola, the chief diversion of the Group was cards. Curiously, in this completely unmoral set, there were no flirtations; they talked with considerable freedom about “sex,” but they all seemed monogamic, all happily married or afraid to appear unhappily married. But when Martin knew them better he heard murmurs of husbands having “times” in Chicago, of wives picking up young men in New York hotels, and he scented furious restlessness beneath their superior sexual calm.

It is not known whether Martin ever completely accepted as a gentleman-scholar the Clay Tredgold who was devoted to everything about astronomy except studying it, or Monte Mugford as the highly descended aristocrat, but he did admire the Group’s motor cars, shower baths, Fifth Avenue frocks, tweed plus-fours, and houses somewhat impersonally decorated by daffodillic young men from Chicago. He discovered sauces and old silver. He began to consider Leora’s clothes not merely as convenient coverings, but as a possible expression of charm, and irritably he realized how careless she was.

In Nautilus, alone, rarely saying much about herself, Leora had developed an intense mute little life of her own. She belonged to a bridge club, and she went solemnly by herself to the movies, but her ambition was to know France and it engrossed her. It was an old desire, mysterious in source and long held secret, but suddenly she was sighing:

“Sandy, the one thing I want to do, maybe ten years from now, is to see Touraine and Normandy and Carcassonne. Could we, do you think?”

Rarely had Leora asked for anything. He was touched and puzzled as he watched her reading books on Brittany, as he caught her, over a highly simplified French grammar, breathing “J’ay — j’aye — damn it, whatever it is!”

He crowed, “Lee, dear if you want to go to France — Listen! Some day we’ll shoot over there with a couple of knapsacks on our backs, and we’ll see that ole country from end to end!”

Gratefully yet doubtfully: “You know if you got bored, Sandy, you could go see the work at the Pasteur Institute. Oh, I would like to tramp, just once, between high plastered walls, and come to a foolish little cafe and watch the men with funny red sashes and floppy blue pants go by. Really, do you think maybe we could?”

Leora was strangely popular in the Ashford Grove Group, though she possessed nothing of what Martin called their “elegance.” She always had at least one button missing. Mrs. Tredgold, best natured as she was least pious of women, adopted her complete.

Nautilus had always doubted Clara Tredgold. Mrs. Almus Pickerbaugh said that she “took no part in any movement for the betterment of the city.” For years she had seemed content to grow her roses, to make her startling hats, to almond-cream her lovely hands, and listen to her husband’s improper stories — and for years she had been a lonely woman. In Leora she perceived an interested casualness equal to her own. The two women spent afternoons sitting on the sun-porch, reading, doing their nails, smoking cigarettes, saying nothing, trusting each other.

With the other women of the Group Leora was never so intimate as with Clara Tredgold, but they liked her, the more because she was a heretic whose vices, her smoking, her indolence, her relish of competent profanity, disturbed Mrs. Pickerbaugh and Mrs. Irving Watters. The Group rather approved all unconventionalities — except such economic unconventionalities as threatened their easy wealth. Leora had tea, or a cocktail, alone with nervous young Mrs. Monte Mugford, who had been the lightest-footed debutante in Des Moines four years before and who hated now the coming of her second baby; and it was to Leora that Mrs. Schlemihl, though publicly she was rompish and serene with her porker of a husband, burst out, “If that man would only quit pawing me — reaching for me — slobbering on me! I hate it here! I WILL have my winter in New York — alone!”

The childish Martin Arrowsmith, so unworthy of Leora’s old quiet wisdoms, was not content with her acceptance by the Group. When she appeared with a hook unfastened or her hair like a crow’s nest, he worried, and said things about her “sloppiness” which he later regretted.

“Why can’t you take a little time to make yourself attractive? God knows you haven’t anything else to do! Great Jehoshaphat, can’t you even sew on buttons?”

But Clara Tredgold laughed, “Leora, I do think you have the sweetest back, but do you mind if I pin you up before the others come?”

It happened after a party which lasted till two, when Mrs. Schlemihl had worn the new frock from Lucile’s and Jack Brundidge (by day vice-president and sales-manager of the Maize Mealies Company) had danced what he belligerently asserted to be a Finnish polka, that when Martin and Leora were driving home in a borrowed Health Department car he snarled, “Lee, why can’t you ever take any trouble with what you wear? Here this morning — or yesterday morning — you were going to mend that blue dress, and as far as I can figure out you haven’t done a darn’ thing the whole day but sit around and read, and then you come out with that ratty embroidery —”

“Will you stop the car!” she cried.

He stopped it, astonished. The headlights made ridiculously important a barbed-wire fence, a litter of milkweeds, a bleak reach of gravel road.

She demanded, “Do you want me to become a harem beauty? I could. I could be a floosey. But I’ve never taken the trouble. Oh, Sandy, I won’t go on fighting with you. Either I’m the foolish sloppy wife that I am, or I’m nothing. What do you want? Do you want a real princess like Clara Tredgold, or do you want me, that don’t care a hang where we go or what we do as long as we stand by each other? You do such a lot of worrying. I’m tired of it. Come on now. What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything but you. But can’t you understand — I’m not just a climber — I want us both to be equal to anything we run into. I certainly don’t see why we should be inferior to this bunch, in ANYTHING. Darling, except for Clara, maybe, they’re nothing but rich bookkeepers! But we’re real soldiers of fortune. Your France that you love so much — some day we’ll go there, and the French President will be at the N.P. depot to meet us! Why should we let anybody do anything better than we can? Technique!”

They talked for an hour in that drab place, between the poisonous lines of barbed wire.

Next day, when Orchid came into his laboratory and begged, with the wistfulness of youth, “Oh, Dr. Martin, aren’t you ever coming to the house again?” he kissed her so briskly, so cheerfully, that even a flapper could perceive that she was unimportant.

v

Martin realized that he was likely to be the next Director of the Department. Pickerbaugh had told him, “Your work is very satisfactory. There’s only one thing you lack, my boy: enthusiasm for getting together with folks and giving a long pull and a strong pull, all together. But perhaps that’ll come to you when you have more responsibility.”

Martin sought to acquire a delight in giving long strong pulls all together, but he felt like a man who has been dragooned into wearing yellow tights at a civic pageant.

“Gosh, I may be up against it when I become Director,” he fretted. “I wonder if there’s people who become what’s called ‘successful’ and then hate it? Well, anyway, I’ll start a decent system of vital statistics in the department before they get me. I won’t lay down! I’ll fight! I’ll make myself succeed!”

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