Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 24

It cannot be said that Martin showed any large ability for organization, but under him the Department of Public Health changed completely. He chose as his assistant Dr. Rufus Ockford, a lively youngster recommended by Dean Silva of Winnemac. The routine work, examination of babies, quarantines, anti-tuberculosis placarding, went on as before.

Inspection of plumbing and food was perhaps more thorough, because Martin lacked Pickerbaugh’s buoyant faith in the lay inspectors, and one of them he replaced, to the considerable displeasure of the colony of Germans in the Homedale district. Also he gave thought to the killing of rats and fleas, and he regarded the vital statistics as something more than a recording of births and deaths. He had notions about their value which were most amusing to the health department clerk. He wanted a record of the effect of race, occupation, and a dozen other factors upon the disease rate.

The chief difference was that Martin and Rufus Ockford found themselves with plenty of leisure. Martin estimated that Pickerbaugh must have used half his time in being inspirational and eloquent.

He made his first mistake in assigning Ockford to spend part of the week in the free city clinic, in addition to the two half-time physicians. There was fury in the Evangeline County Medical Society. At a restaurant, Irving Watters came over to Martin’s table.

“I hear you’ve increased the clinic staff,” said Dr. Watters.

“Yuh.”

“Thinking of increasing it still more?”

“Might be a good idea.”

“Now you see here, Mart. As you know, Mrs. Watters and I have done everything in our power to make you and Leora welcome. Glad to do anything I can for a fellow alumnus of old Winnemac. But at the same time, there are limits, you know! Not that I’ve got any objection to your providing free clinical facilities. Don’t know but what it’s a good thing to treat the damn’, lazy, lousy pauper-class free, and keep the D.B.‘s off the books of the regular physicians. But same TIME, when you begin to make a practice of encouraging a lot of folks, that can afford to pay, to go and get free treatment, and practically you attack the integrity of the physicians of this city, that have been giving God knows how much of their time to charity —”

Martin answered neither wisely nor competently: “Irve, sweetheart, you can go straight to hell!”

After that hour, when they met there was nothing said between them.

Without disturbing his routine work, he found himself able to sink blissfully into the laboratory. At first he merely tinkered, but suddenly he was in full cry, oblivious of everything save his experiment.

He was playing with cultures isolated from various dairies and various people, thinking mostly of Klopchuk and streptococcus. Accidentally he discovered the lavish production of hemolysin in sheep’s blood as compared with the blood of other animals. Why should streptococcus dissolve the red blood corpuscles of sheep more easily than those of rabbits?

It is true that a busy health-department bacteriologist has no right to waste the public time in being curious, but the irresponsible sniffing beagle in Martin drove out the faithful routineer.

He neglected the examination of an ominously increasing number of tubercular sputums; he set out to answer the question of the hemolysin. He wanted the streptococcus to produce its blood-destroying poison in twenty-four-hour cultures.

He beautifully and excitedly failed, and sat for hours meditating. He tried a six-hour culture. He mixed the supernatant fluid from a centrifugated culture with a suspension of red blood corpuscles and placed it in the incubator. When he returned, two hours later, the blood cells were dissolved.

He telephoned to Leora: “Lee! Got something! C’n you pack up sandwich and come down here f’r evening?”

“Sure,” said Leora.

When she appeared he explained to her that his discovery was accidental, that most scientific discoveries were accidental, and that no investigator, however great, could do anything more than see the value of his chance results.

He sounded mature and rather angry.

Leora sat in the corner, scratching her chin, reading a medical journal. From time to time she reheated coffee, over a doubtful Bunsen flame. When the office staff arrived in the morning they found something that had but rarely occurred during the regime of Almus Pickerbaugh: the Director of the Department was transplanting cultures, and on a long table was his wife, asleep.

Martin blared at Dr. Ockford, “Get t’hell out of this, Rufus, and take charge of the department for today — I’m out — I’m dead — and oh, say, get Leora home and fry her a couple o’ eggs, and you might bring me a Denver sandwich from the Sunset Trail Lunch, will you?”

“You bet, chief,” said Ockford.

Martin repeated his experiment, testing the cultures for hemolysin after two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, and eighteen hours of incubation. He discovered that the maximum production of hemolysin occurred between four and ten hours. He began to work out the formula of production — and he was desolate. He fumed, raged, sweated. He found that his mathematics was childish, and all his science rusty. He pottered with chemistry, he ached over his mathematics, and slowly he began to assemble his results. He believed that he might have a paper for the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Now Almus Pickerbaugh had published scientific papers — often. He had published them in the Midwest Medical Quarterly, of which he was one of fourteen editors. He had discovered the germ of epilepsy and the germ of cancer — two entirely different germs of cancer. Usually it took him a fortnight to make the discovery, write the report, and have it accepted. Martin lacked this admirable facility.

He experimented, he re-experimented, he cursed, he kept Leora out of bed, he taught her to make media, and was ill-pleased by her opinions on agar. He was violent to the stenographer; not once could the pastor of the Jonathan Edwards Congregational Church get him to address the Bible Class; and still for months his paper was not complete.

The first to protest was His Honor the Mayor. Returning from an extremely agreeable game of chemin de fer with F. X. Jordan, taking a short cut through the alley behind the City Hall, Mayor Pugh saw Martin at two in the morning drearily putting test-tubes in the incubator, while Leora sat in a corner smoking. Next day he summoned Martin, and protested.

“Doc, I don’t want to butt in on your department — my specialty is never butting in-but it certainly strikes me that after being trained by a seventy-horse-power booster like Pickerbaugh, you ought to know that it’s all damn’ foolishness to spend so much time in the laboratory, when you can hire an A1 laboratory fellow for thirty bucks a week. What you ought to be doing is jollying along these sobs that are always panning the administration. Get out and talk to the churches and clubs, and help me put across the ideas that we stand for.”

“Maybe he’s right,” Martin considered. “I’m a rotten bacteriologist. Probably I never will get this experiment together. My job here is to keep tobacco-chewers from spitting. Have I the right to waste the tax-payers’ money on anything else?”

But that week he read, as an announcement issued by the McGurk Institute of Biology of New York, that Dr. Max Gottlieb had synthesized antibodies in vitro.

He pictured the saturnine Gottlieb not at all enjoying the triumph but, with locked door, abusing the papers for their exaggerative reports of his work; and as the picture became sharp Martin was like a subaltern stationed in a desert isle when he learns that his old regiment is going off to an agreeable Border war.

Then the McCandless fury broke.

ii

Mrs. McCandless had once been a “hired girl”; then nurse, then confidante, then wife to the invalid Mr. McCandless, wholesale grocer and owner of real estate. When he died she inherited everything. There was a suit, of course, but she had an excellent lawyer.

She was a grim, graceless, shady, mean woman, yet a nymphomaniac. She was not invited into Nautilus society, but in her unaired parlor, on the mildewed couch, she entertained seedy, belching, oldish married men, a young policeman to whom she often lent money, and the contractor-politician, F. X. Jordan.

She owned, in Swede Hollow, the filthiest block of tenements in Nautilus. Martin had made a tuberculosis map of these tenements, and in conferences with Dr. Ockford and Leora he denounced them as murder-holes. He wanted to destroy them, but the police power of the Director of Public Health was vague. Pickerbaugh had enjoyed the possession of large power only because he never used it.

Martin sought a court decision for the demolition of the McCandless tenements. Her lawyer was also the lawyer of F. X. Jordan, and the most eloquent witness against Martin was Dr. Irving Watters. But it chanced, because of the absence of the proper judge, that the case came before an ignorant and honest person who quashed the injunction secured by Mrs. McCandless’s lawyer and instructed the Department of Public Health that it might use such methods as the city ordinances provided for emergencies.

That evening Martin grumbled to young Ockford, “You don’t suppose for a moment, do you, Rufus, that McCandless and Jordan won’t appeal the case? Let’s get rid of the tenements while it’s comparatively legal, heh?”

“You bet, chief,” said Ockford, and, “Say, let’s go out to Oregon and start practice when we get kicked out. Well, we can depend on our sanitary inspector, anyway. Jordan seduced his sister, here ‘bout six years back.”

At dawn a gang headed by Martin and Ockford, in blue overalls, joyful and rowdyish, invaded the McCandless tenements, drove the tenants into the street, and began to tear down the flimsy buildings. At noon, when lawyers appeared and the tenants were in new flats commandeered by Martin, the wreckers set fire to the lower stories, and in half an hour the buildings had been annihilated.

F. X. Jordan came to the scene after lunch. A filthy Martin and a dusty Ockford were drinking coffee brought by Leora.

“Well, boys,” said Jordan, “you’ve put it all over us. Only if you ever pull this kind of stunt again, use dynamite and save a lot of time. You know, I like you boys — I’m sorry for what I’ve got to do to you. But may the saints help you, because it’s just a question of time when I learn you not to monkey with the buzz-saw.”

iii

Clay Tredgold admired their amateur arson and rejoiced, “Fine! I’m going to back you up in everything the D.P.H. does.”

Martin was not too pleased by the promise, for Tredgold’s set were somewhat exigent. They had decided that Martin and Leora were free spirits like themselves, and amusing, but they had also decided, long before the Arrowsmiths had by coming to Nautilus entered into authentic existence, that the Group had a monopoly of all Freedom and Amusingness, and they expected the Arrowsmiths to appear for cocktails and poker every Saturday and Sunday evening. They could not understand why Martin should desire to spend his time in a laboratory, drudging over something called “streptolysin,” which had nothing to do with cocktails, motors, steel windmills, or insurance.

On an evening perhaps a fortnight after the destruction of the McCandless tenements, Martin was working late in the laboratory. He wasn’t even doing experiments which might have diverted the Group — causing bacterial colonies to cloud liquids, or making things change color. He was merely sitting at a table, looking at logarithmic tables. Leora was not there, and he was mumbling, “Confound her, why did she have to go and be sick today?”

Tredgold and Schlemihl and their wives were bound for the Old Farmhouse Inn. They had telephoned to Martin’s flat and learned where he was. From the alley behind City Hall they could peer in and see him, dreary and deserted.

“We’ll take the old boy out and brighten him up. First, let’s rush home and shake up a few cocktails and bring ’em down to surprise him,” was Tredgold’s inspiration.

Tredgold came into the laboratory, a half-hour later, with much clamor.

“This is a nice way to put in a moonlit spring evening, young Narrowsmith! Come on, we’ll all go out and dance a little. Grab your hat.”

“Gosh, Clay, I’d like to, but honestly I can’t. I’ve got to work; simply got to.”

“Rats! Don’t be silly. You’ve been working too hard. Here — look what Father’s brought. Be reasonable. Get outside of a nice long cocktail and you’ll have a new light on things.”

Martin was reasonable up to that point, but he did not have a new light. Tredgold would not take No. Martin continued to refuse, affectionately, then a bit tartly. Outside, Schlemihl pressed down the button of the motor horn and held it, producing a demanding, infuriating yawp which made Martin cry, “For God’s sake go out and make ’em quit that, will you, and let me alone! I’ve got to work, I told you!”

Tredgold stared a moment. “I certainly shall! I’m not accustomed to force my attentions on people. Pardon me for disturbing you!”

By the time Martin sulkily felt that he must apologize, the car was gone. Next day and all the week, he waited for Tredgold to telephone, and Tredgold waited for him to telephone, and they fell into a circle of dislike. Leora and Clara Tredgold saw each other once or twice, but they were uncomfortable, and a fortnight later, when the most prominent physician in town dined with the Tredgolds and attacked Martin as a bumptious and narrow-visioned young man, both the Tredgolds listened and agreed.

Opposition to Martin developed all at once.

Various physicians were against him, not only because of the enlarged clinics, but because he rarely asked their help and never their advice. Mayor Pugh considered him tactless. Klopchuk and F. X. Jordan were assailing him as crooked. The reporters disliked him for his secrecy and occasional brusqueness. And the Group had ceased to defend him. Of all these forces Martin was more or less aware, and behind them he fancied that doubtful business men, sellers of impure ice-cream and milk, owners of unsanitary shops and dirty tenements, men who had always hated Pickerbaugh but who had feared to attack him because of his popularity, were gathering to destroy the entire Department of Public Health. . . . He appreciated Pickerbaugh in those days, and loved soldier-wise the Department.

There came from Mayor Pugh a hint that he would save trouble by resigning. He would not resign. Neither would he go to the citizens begging for support. He did his work, and leaned on Leora’s assurance, and tried to ignore his detractors. He could not.

News-items and three-line editorial squibs dug at his tyranny, his ignorance, his callowness. An old women died after treatment at the clinic, and the coroner hinted that it had been the fault of “our almighty health-officer’s pet cub assistant.” Somewhere arose the name “the Schoolboy Czar” for Martin, and it stuck.

In the gossip at luncheon clubs, in discussions at the Parents’ and Teachers’ Association, in one frank signed protest sent to the Mayor, Martin was blamed for too strict an inspection of milk, for insufficiently strict inspection of milk; for permitting garbage to lie untouched, for persecuting the overworked garbage collectors; and when a case of small-pox appeared in the Bohemian section, there was an opinion that Martin had gone out personally and started it.

However vague the citizens were as to the nature of his wickedness, once they lost faith in him they lost it completely and with joy, and they welcomed an apparently spontaneously generated rumor that he had betrayed his benefactor, their beloved Dr. Pickerbaugh, by seducing Orchid.

At this interesting touch of immorality, he had all the fashionable churches against him. The pastor of the Jonathan Edwards Church touched up a sermon about Sin in High Places by a reference to “one who, while like a Czar he pretends to be safeguarding the city from entirely imaginary dangers, yet winks at the secret vice rampant in hidden places; who allies himself with the forces of graft and evil and the thugs who batten on honest but deluded Labor; one who cannot arise, a manly man among men, and say, ‘I have a clean heart and clean hands.’”

It is true that some of the delighted congregation thought that this referred to Mayor Pugh, and others applied it to F. X. Jordan, but wise citizens saw that it was a courageous attack on that monster of treacherous lewdness, Dr. Arrowsmith.

In all the city there were exactly two ministers who defended him: Father Costello of the Irish Catholic Church and Rabbi Rovine. They were, it happened, very good friends, and not at all friendly with the pastor of the Jonathan Edwards Church. They bullied their congregations; each of them asserted, “People come sneaking around with criticisms of our new Director of Health. If you want to make charges, make them openly. I will not listen to cowardly hints. And let me tell you that this city is lucky in having for health-officer a man who is honest and who actually knows something!”

But their congregations were poor.

Martin realized that he was lost. He tried to analyze his unpopularity.

“It isn’t just Jordan’s plotting and Tredgold’s grousing and Pugh’s weak spine. It’s my own fault. I can’t go out and soft-soap the people and get their permission to help keep them well. And I won’t tell them what a hell of an important thing my work is — that I’m the one thing that saves the whole lot of ’em from dying immediately. Apparently an official in a democratic state has to do those things. Well, I don’t! But I’ve got to think up something or they’ll emasculate the whole Department.”

One inspiration he did have. If Pickerbaugh were here, he could crush, or lovingly smother, the opposition. He remembered Pickerbaugh’s farewell: “Now, my boy, even if I’m way off there in Washington, this Work will be as close to my heart as it ever was, and if you should really need me, you just send for me and I’ll drop everything and come.”

Martin wrote hinting that he was much needed.

Pickerbaugh replied by return mail — good old Pickerbaugh! — but the reply was, “I cannot tell you how grieved I am that I cannot for the moment possibly get away from Washington but am sure that in your earnestness you exaggerate strength of opposition, write me freely, at any time.”

“That’s my last shot,” Martin said to Leora. “I’m done. Mayor Pugh will fire me, just as soon as he comes back from his fishing trip. I’m a failure again, darling.”

“You’re not a failure, and you must eat some of this nice steak, and what shall we do now — time for us to be moving on, anyway — I hate staying in one place,” said Leora.

“I don’t know what we’ll do. Maybe I could get a job at Hunziker’s. Or go back to Dakota and try to work up a practice. What I’d like is to become a farmer and get me a big shot-gun and drive every earnest Christian citizen off the place. But meantime I’m going to stick here. I might win yet — with just a couple of miracles and a divine intervention. Oh, God, I am so tired! Are you coming back to the lab with me this evening? Honest, I’ll quit early — before eleven, maybe.”

He had completed his paper on the streptolysin research, and he took a day off to go to Chicago and talk it over with an editor of the Journal of Infectious Diseases. As he left Nautilus he was confused. He had caught himself rejoicing that he was free of Wheatsylvania and bound for great Nautilus. Time bent back, progress was annihilated, and he was mazed with futility.

The editor praised his paper, accepted it, and suggested only one change. Martin had to wait for his train. He remembered that Angus Duer was in Chicago, with the Rouncefield Clinic — a private organization of medical specialists, sharing costs and profits.

The clinic occupied fourteen rooms in a twenty-story building constructed (or so Martin certainly remembered it) of marble, gold, and rubies. The clinic reception-room, focused on a vast stone fireplace, was like the drawing-room of an oil magnate, but it was not a place of leisure. The young woman at the door demanded Martin’s symptoms and address. A page in buttons sped with his name to a nurse, who flew to the inner offices. Before Angus appeared, Martin had to wait a quarter-hour in a smaller, richer, still more abashing reception-room. By this time he was so awed that he would have permitted the clinic surgeons to operate on him for any ill which at the moment they happened to fancy.

In medical school and Zenith General Hospital, Angus Duer had been efficient enough, but now he was ten times as self-assured. He was cordial; he invited Martin to step out for a dish of tea as though he almost meant it; but beside him Martin felt young, rustic, inept.

Angus won him by pondering, “Irving Watters? He was Digam? I’m not sure I remember him. Oh, yes — he was one of these boneheads that are the curse of every profession.”

When Martin had sketched his conflict at Nautilus, Angus suggested, “You better come join us here at Rouncefield, as pathologist. Our pathologist is leaving in a few weeks. You could do the job, all right. You’re getting thirty-five hundred a year now? Well, I think I could get you forty-five hundred, as a starter, and some day you’d become a regular member of the clinic and get in on all the profits. Let me know if you want it. Rouncefield told me to dig up a man.”

With this resource and with an affection for Angus, Martin returned to Nautilus and open war. When Mayor Pugh returned he did not discharge Martin, but he appointed over him, as full director, Pickerbaugh’s friend, Dr. Bissex, the football coach and health director of Mugford College.

Dr. Bissex first discharged Rufus Ockford, which took five minutes, went out and addressed a Y.M.C.A. meeting, then bustled in and invited Martin to resign.

“I will like hell!” said Martin. “Come on, be honest, Bissex. If you want to fire me, do it, but let’s have things straight. I won’t resign, and if you do fire me I think I’ll take it to the courts, and maybe I can turn enough light on you and His Honor and Frank Jordan to keep you from taking all the guts out of the work here.”

“Why, Doctor, what a way to talk! Certainly I won’t fire you,” said Bissex, in the manner of one who has talked to difficult students and to lazy football teams. “Stay with us as long as you like. Only, in the interests of economy, I reduce your salary to eight hundred dollars a year!”

“All right, reduce and be damned,” said Martin.

It sounded particularly fine and original when he said it, but less so when Leora and he found that, with their rent fixed by their lease, they could not by whatever mean economies live on less than a thousand a year.

Now that he was free from responsibility he began to form his own faction, to save the Department. He gathered Rabbi Rovine, Father Costello, Ockford, who was going to remain in town and practice, the secretary of the Labor Council, a banker who regarded Tredgold as “fast,” and that excellent fellow the dentist of the school clinic.

“With people like that behind me, I can do something,” he gloated to Leora. “I’m going to stick by it. I’m not going to have the D.P.H. turned into a Y.M.C.A. Bissex has all of Pickerbaugh’s mush without his honesty and vigor. I can beat him! I’m not much of an executive, but I was beginning to visualize a D.P.H. that would be solid and not gaseous — that would save kids and prevent epidemics. I won’t give it up. You watch me!”

His committee made representations to the Commercial Club, and for a time they were certain that the chief reporter of the Frontiersman was going to support them, “as soon as he could get his editor over being scared of a row.” But Martin’s belligerency was weakened by shame, for he never had enough money to meet his bills, and he was not used to dodging irate grocers, receiving dunning letters, standing at the door arguing with impertinent bill-collectors. He, who had been a city dignitary a few days before, had to endure, “Come on now, you pay up, you dead beat, or I’ll get a cop!” When the shame had grown to terror, Dr. Bissex suddenly reduced his salary another two hundred dollars.

Martin stormed into the mayor’s office to have it out, and found F. X. Jordan sitting with Pugh. It was evident that they both knew of the second reduction and considered it an excellent joke.

He reassembled his committee. “I’m going to take this into the courts,” he raged.

“Fine,” said Father Costello; and Rabbi Rovine: “Jenkins, that radical lawyer, would handle the case free.”

The wise banker observed, “You haven’t got anything to take into the courts till they discharge you without cause. Bissex has a legal right to reduce your salary all he wants to. The city regulations don’t fix the salary of anybody except the Director and the inspectors. You haven’t a thing to say.”

With a melodramatic flourish Martin protested, “And I suppose I haven’t a thing to say if they wreck the Department!”

“Not a thing, if the city doesn’t care.”

“Well, I care! I’ll starve before I’ll resign!”

“You’ll starve if you don’t resign, and your wife, too. Now here’s my plan,” said the banker. “You go into private practice here — I’ll finance your getting an office and so on — and when the time comes, maybe in five or ten years from now, we’ll all get together again and have you put in as full Director.”

“Ten years of waiting — in NAUTILUS? Nope. I’m licked. I’m a complete failure — at thirty-two! I’ll resign. I’ll wander on,” said Martin.

“I know I’m going to love Chicago,” said Leora.

iv

He wrote to Angus Duer. He was appointed pathologist in the Rouncefield Clinic. But, Angus wrote, “they could not at the moment see their way clear to pay him forty-five hundred a year, though they were glad to go to twenty-five hundred.”

Martin accepted.

v

When the Nautilus papers announced that Martin had resigned, the good citizens chuckled, “Resigned? He got kicked out, that’s what happened.” One of the papers had an innocent squib:

Probably a certain amount of hypocrisy is inevitable in us sinful human critters, but when a public official tries to pose as a saint while indulging in every vice, and tries to cover up his gross ignorance and incompetence by pulling political wires, and makes a holy show of himself by not even doing a first-class job of wire-pulling, then even the cussedest of us old scoundrels begins to holler for the meat-ax.

Pickerbaugh wrote to Martin from Washington:

I greatly regret to hear that you have resigned your post. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am, after all the pains I took in breaking you in and making you acquainted with my ideals. Bissex informs me that, because of crisis in city finances, he had to reduce your salary temporarily. Well personally I would rather work for the D.P.H. for nothing a year and earn my keep by being a night watchman than give up the fight for everything that is decent and constructive. I am sorry. I had a great liking for you, and your defection, your going back to private practice merely for commercial gain, your selling out for what I presume is a very high emolument, is one of the very greatest blows I have recently had to sustain.

vi

As they rode up to Chicago Martin thought aloud:

“I never knew I could be so badly licked. I never want to see a laboratory or a public health office again. I’m done with everything but making money.

“I suppose this Rouncefield Clinic is probably nothing but a gilded boob-trap — scare the poor millionaire into having all the fancy kinds of examinations and treatments the traffic will bear. I hope it is! I expect to be a commercial-group doctor the rest of my life. I hope I have the sense to be!

“All wise men are bandits. They’re loyal to their friends, but they despise the rest. Why not, when the mass of people despise them if they AREN’T bandits? Angus Duer had the sense to see this from the beginning, way back in medic school. He’s probably a perfect technician as a surgeon, but he knows you get only what you grab. Think of the years it’s taken me to learn what he savvied all the time!

“Know what I’ll do? I’ll stick to the Rouncefield Clinic till I’m making maybe thirty thousand a year, and then I’ll get Ockford and start my own clinic, with myself as internist and head of the whole shooting-match, and collect every cent I can.

“All right, if what people want is a little healing and a lot of tapestry, they shall have it — and pay for it.

“I never thought I could be such a failure — to become a commercialist and not want to be anything else. And I don’t want to be anything else, believe me! I’m through!”

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