Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 23

It may have been a yearning to give one concentrated dose of inspiration so powerful that no citizen of Nautilus would ever again dare to be ill, or perhaps Dr. Pickerbaugh desired a little reasonable publicity for his congressional campaign, but certainly the Health Fair which the good man organized was overpowering.

He got an extra appropriation from the Board of Aldermen; he bullied all the churches and associations into co-operation; he made the newspapers promise to publish three columns of praise each day.

He rented the rather dilapidated wooden “tabernacle” in which the Reverend Mr. Billy Sunday, an evangelist, had recently wiped out all the sin in the community. He arranged for a number of novel features. The Boy Scouts were to give daily drills. There was a W.C.T.U. booth at which celebrated clergymen and other physiologists would demonstrate the evils of alcohol. In a bacteriology booth, the protesting Martin (in a dinky white coat) was to do jolly things with test-tubes. An anti-nicotine lady from Chicago offered to kill a mouse every half-hour by injecting ground-up cigarette paper into it. The Pickerbaugh twins, Arbuta and Gladiola, now aged six, were to show the public how to brush its teeth, and in fact they did, until a sixty-year-old farmer of whom they had lovingly inquired, “Do you brush your teeth daily?” made thunderous answer, “No, but I’m going to paddle your bottoms daily, and I’m going to start in right now.”

None of these novelties was so stirring as the Eugenic Family, who had volunteered to give, for a mere forty dollars a day, an example of the benefits of healthful practices.

They were father, mother, and five children, all so beautiful and powerful that they had recently been presenting refined acrobatic exhibitions on the Chautauqua Circuit. None of them smoked, drank, spit upon pavements, used foul language, or ate meat. Pickerbaugh assigned to them the chief booth on the platform once sacerdotally occupied by the Reverend Mr. Sunday.

There were routine exhibits: booths with charts and banners and leaflets. The Pickerbaugh Healthette Octette held song recitals, and daily there were lectures, most of them by Pickerbaugh or by his friend Dr. Bissex, football coach and professor of hygiene and most other subjects in Mugford College.

A dozen celebrities, including Gustaf Sondelius and the governor of the state, were invited to come and “give their messages,” but it happened, unfortunately, that none of them seemed able to get away that particular week.

The Health Fair opened with crowds and success. There was a slight misunderstanding the first day. The Master Bakers’ Association spoke strongly to Pickerbaugh about the sign “Too much pie makes pyorrhea” on the diet booth. But the thoughtless and prosperity-destroying sign was removed at once, and the Fair was thereafter advertised in every bakery in town.

The only unhappy participant, apparently, was Martin. Pickerbaugh had fitted up for him an exhibition laboratory which, except that it had no running water and except that the fire laws forbade his using any kind of a flame, was exactly like a real one. All day long he poured a solution of red ink from one test-tube into another, with his microscope carefully examined nothing at all, and answered the questions of persons who wished to know how you put bacterias to death once you had caught them swimming about.

Leora appeared as his assistant, very pretty and demure in a nurse’s costume, very exasperating as she chuckled at his low cursing. They found one friend, the fireman on duty, a splendid person with stories about pet cats in the fire-house and no tendency to ask questions in bacteriology. It was he who showed them how they could smoke in safety. Behind the Clean Up and Prevent Fires exhibit, consisting of a miniature Dirty House with red arrows to show where a fire might start and an extremely varnished Clean House, there was an alcove with a broken window which would carry off the smoke of their cigarettes. To this sanctuary Martin, Leora, and the bored fireman retired a dozen times a day, and thus wore through the week.

One other misfortune occurred. The detective sergeant coming in not to detect but to see the charming spectacle of the mouse dying in agony from cigarette paper, stopped before the booth of the Eugenic Family, scratched his head, hastened to the police station, and returned with certain pictures. He growled to Pickerbaugh:

“Hm. That Eugenic Family. Don’t smoke or booze or anything?”

“Absolutely! And look at their perfect health.”

“Hm. Better keep an eye on ’em. I won’t spoil your show, Doc — we fellows at City Hall had all ought to stick together. I won’t run ’em out of town till after the Fair. But they’re the Holton gang. The man and woman ain’t married, and only one of the kids is theirs. They’ve done time for selling licker to the Indians, but their specialty, before they went into education, used to be the badger game. I’ll detail a plain-clothes man to keep ’em straight. Fine show you got here, Doc. Ought to give this city a lasting lesson in the value of up-to-date health methods. Good luck! Say, have you picked your secretary yet, for when you get to Congress? I’ve got a nephew that’s a crackajack stenographer and a bright kid and knows how to keep his mouth shut about stuff that don’t concern him. I’ll send him around to have a talk with you. So long.”

But, except that once he caught the father of the Eugenic Family relieving the strain of being publicly healthy by taking a long, gurgling, ecstatic drink from a flask, Pickerbaugh found nothing wrong in their conduct, till Saturday. There was nothing wrong with anything, till then.

Never had a Fair been such a moral lesson, or secured so much publicity. Every newspaper in the congressional district gave columns to it, and all the accounts, even in the Democratic papers, mentioned Pickerbaugh’s campaign.

Then, on Saturday, the last day of the Fair, came tragedy.

There was terrific rain, the roof leaked without restraint, and the lady in charge of the Healthy Housing Booth, which also leaked, was taken home threatened with pneumonia. At noon, when the Eugenic Family were giving a demonstration of perfect vigor, their youngest blossom had an epileptic fit, and before the excitement was over, upon the Chicago anti-nicotine lady as she triumphantly assassinated a mouse charged an anti-vivisection lady, also from Chicago.

Round the two ladies and the unfortunate mouse gathered a crowd. The anti-vivisection lady called the anti-nicotine lady a murderer, a wretch, and an atheist, all of which the anti-nicotine lady endured, merely weeping a little and calling for the police. But when the anti-vivisection lady wound up, “And as for your pretensions to know anything about science, you’re no scientist at all!” then with a shriek the anti-nicotine lady leaped from her platform, dug her fingers into the anti-vivisection lady’s hair, and observed with distinctness, “I’ll show you whether I know anything about science!”

Pickerbaugh tried to separate them. Martin, standing happily with Leora and their friend the fireman on the edge, distinctly did not. Both ladies turned on Pickerbaugh and denounced him, and when they had been removed he was the center of a thousand chuckles, in decided danger of never going to Congress.

At two o’clock, when the rain had slackened, when the after-lunch crowd had come in and the story of the anti ladies was running strong, the fireman retired behind the Clean Up and Prevent Fires exhibit for his hourly smoke. He was a very sleepy and unhappy little fireman; he was thinking about the pleasant fire-house and the unending games of pinochle. He dropped the match, unextinguished on the back porch of the model Clean House. The Clean House had been so handsomely oiled that it was like kindling soaked in kerosene. It flared up, and instantly the huge and gloomy Tabernacle was hysterical with flames. The crowd rushed toward the exits.

Naturally, most of the original exits of the Tabernacle had been blocked by booths. There was a shrieking panic, and children were being trampled.

Almus Pickerbaugh was neither a coward nor slothful. Suddenly, coming from nowhere, he was marching through the Tabernacle at the head of his eight daughters, singing “Dixie,” his head up, his eyes terrible, his arms wide in pleading. The crowd weakly halted. With the voice of a clipper captain he unsnarled them and ushered them safely out, then charged back into the spouting flames.

The rain-soaked building had not caught. The fireman, with Martin and the head of the Eugenic Family, was beating the flames. Nothing was destroyed save the Clean House, and the crowd which had fled in agony came back in wonder. Their hero was Pickerbaugh.

Within two hours the Nautilus papers vomited specials which explained that not merely had Pickerbaugh organized the greatest lesson in health ever seen, but he had also, by his courage and his power to command, saved hundreds of people from being crushed, which latter was probably the only completely accurate thing that has been said about Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh in ten thousand columns of newspaper publicity.

Whether to see the Fair, Pickerbaugh, the delightful ravages of a disaster, or another fight between the anti ladies, half the city struggled into the Tabernacle that evening, and when Pickerbaugh took the platform for his closing lecture he was greeted with frenzy. Next day, when he galloped into the last week of his campaign, he was overlord of all the district.

ii

His opponent was a snuffy little lawyer whose strength lay in his training. He had been state senator, lieutenant governor, county judge. But the Democratic slogan, “Pickerbaugh the Pick-up Candidate,” was drowned in the admiration for the hero of the health fair. He dashed about in motors, proclaiming, “I am not running because I want office, but because I want the chance to take to the whole nation my ideals of health.” Everywhere was plastered:

For Congress PICKERBAUGH The two-fisted fighting poet doc

Just elect him for a term And all through the nation he’ll swat the germ.

Enormous meetings were held. Pickerbaugh was ample and vague about his Policies. Yes, he was opposed to our entering the European War, but he assured them, he certainly did assure them, that he was for using every power of our Government to end this terrible calamity. Yes, he was for high tariff, but it must be so adjusted that the farmers in his district could buy everything cheaply. Yes, he was for high wages for each and every workman, but he stood like a rock, like a boulder, like a moraine, for protecting the prosperity of all manufacturers, merchants, and real-estate owners.

While this larger campaign thundered, there was proceeding in Nautilus a smaller and much defter campaign, to re-elect as mayor one Mr. Pugh, Pickerbaugh’s loving chief. Mr. Pugh sat nicely at desks, and he was pleasant and promissory to everybody who came to see him; clergymen, gamblers, G.A.R. veterans, circus advance-agents, policemen, and ladies of reasonable virtue — everybody except perhaps socialist agitators, against whom he staunchly protected the embattled city. In his speeches Pickerbaugh commended Pugh for “that firm integrity and ready sympathy with which His Honor had backed up every movement for the public weal,” and when Pickerbaugh (quite honestly) begged, “Mr. Mayor, if I go to Congress you must appoint Arrowsmith in my place; he knows nothing about politics but he’s incorruptible,” then Pugh gave his promise, and amity abode in that land. . . . Nobody said anything at all about Mr. F. X. Jordan.

F. X. Jordan was a contractor with a generous interest in politics. Pickerbaugh called him a grafter, and the last time Pugh had been elected — it had been on a Reform Platform, though since that time the reform had been coaxed to behave itself and be practical — both Pugh and Pickerbaugh had denounced Jordan as a “malign force.” But so kindly was Mayor Pugh that in the present election he said nothing that could hurt Mr. Jordan’s feelings, and in return what could Mr. Jordan do but speak forgivingly about Mr. Pugh to the people in blind-pigs and houses of ill fame?

On the evening of the election, Martin and Leora were among the company awaiting the returns at the Pickerbaughs’. They were confident. Martin had never been roused by politics, but he was stirred now by Pickerbaugh’s twitchy pretense of indifference, by the telephoned report from the newspaper office, “Here’s Willow Grove township — Pickerbaugh leading, two to one!” by the crowds which went past the house howling, “Pickerbaugh, Pickerbaugh, Pickerbaugh!”

At eleven the victory was certain, and Martin, his bowels weak with unconfidence, realized that he was now Director of Public Health, with responsibility for seventy thousand lives.

He looked wistfully toward Leora and in her still smile found assurance.

Orchid had been airy and distant with Martin all evening, and dismayingly chatty and affectionate with Leora. Now she drew him into the back parlor and “So I’m going off to Washington — and you don’t care a bit!” she said, her eyes blurred and languorous and undefended. He held her, muttering, “You darling child, I can’t let you go!” As he walked home he thought less of being Director than of Orchid’s eyes.

In the morning he groaned, “Doesn’t anybody ever learn anything? Must I watch myself and still be a fool, all my life? Doesn’t any story ever end?”

He never saw her afterward, except on the platform of the train.

Leora surprisingly reflected, after the Pickerbaughs had gone, “Sandy dear, I know how you feel about losing your Orchid. It’s sort of Youth going. She really is a peach. Honestly, I can appreciate how you feel, and sympathize with you — I mean, of course, providin’ you aren’t ever going to see her again.”

iii

Over the Nautilus Cornfield’s announcement was the vigorous headline:

ALMUS PICKERBAUGH WINS First Scientist Ever Elected to Congress

Side-kick of Darwin and Pasteur Gives New Punch to Steering Ship of State

Pickerbaugh’s resignation was to take effect at once; he was, he explained, going to Washington before his term began, to study legislative methods and start his propaganda for the creation of a national Secretaryship of Health. There was a considerable struggle over the appointment of Martin in his stead. Klopchuk the dairyman was bitter; Irving Watters whispered to fellow doctors that Martin was likely to extend the socialistic free clinics; F. X. Jordan had a sensible young doctor as his own candidate. It was the Ashford Grove Group, Tredgold, Schlemihl, Monte Mugford, who brought it off.

Martin went to Tredgold worrying, “Do the people want me? Shall I fight Jordan or get out?”

Tredgold said balmily, “Fight? What about? I own a good share of the bank that’s lent various handy little sums to Mayor Pugh. You leave it to me.”

Next day Martin was appointed, but only as Acting Director, with a salary of thirty-five hundred instead of four thousand.

That he had been put in by what he would have called “crooked politics” did not occur to him.

Mayor Pugh called him in and chuckled:

“Doc, there’s been a certain amount of opposition to you, because you’re pretty young and not many folks know you. I haven’t any doubt I can give you the full appointment later — if we find you’re competent and popular. Meantime you better avoid doing anything brash. Just come and ask my advice. I know this town and the people that count better than you do.”

iv

The day of Pickerbaugh’s leaving for Washington was made a fiesta. At the Armory, from twelve to two, the Chamber of Commerce gave to everybody who came a lunch of hot wienies, doughnuts, and coffee, with chewing gum for the women and, for the men, Schweinhugel’s Little Dandy Nautilus-made Cheroots.

The train left at three-fifty-five. The station was, to the astonishment of innocent passengers gaping from the train windows, jammed with thousands.

By the rear platform, on a perilous packing box, Mayor Pugh held forth. The Nautilus Silver Cornet Band played three patriotic selections, then Pickerbaugh stood on the platform, his family about him. As he looked on the crowd, tears were in his eyes.

“For once,” he stammered, “I guess I can’t make a speech. D-darn it, I’m all choked up! I meant to orate a lot, but all I can say is — I love you all, I’m mighty grateful, I’ll represent you my level best, neighbors! God bless you!”

The train moved out, Pickerbaugh waving as long as he could see them.

And Martin to Leora, “Oh, he’s a fine old boy. He — No, I’m hanged if he is! The world’s always letting people get away with asininities because they’re kind-hearted. And here I’ve sat back like a coward, not saying a word, and watched ’em loose that wind-storm on the whole country. Oh, curse it, isn’t anything in the world simple? Well, let’s go to the office, and I’ll begin to do things conscientiously and all wrong.”

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