Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 25

Then for a year with each day longer than a sleepless night, yet the whole year speeding without events or seasons or eagerness, Martin was a faithful mechanic in that most competent, most clean and brisk and visionless medical factory, the Rouncefield Clinic. He had nothing of which to complain. The clinic did, perhaps, give over-many roentgenological examinations to socially dislocated women who needed children and floor-scrubbing more than pretty little skiagraphs; they did, perhaps, view all tonsils with too sanguinary a gloom; but certainly no factory could have been better equipped or more gratifyingly expensive, and none could have routed its raw human material through so many processes so swiftly. The Martin Arrowsmith who had been supercilious toward Pickerbaugh and old Dr. Winters had for Rouncefield and Angus Duer and the other keen taut specialists of the clinic only the respect of the poor and uncertain for the rich and shrewd.

He admired Angus’s firmness of purpose and stability of habit.

Angus had a swim or a fencing lesson daily; he swam easily and fenced like a still-faced demon. He was in bed before eleven-thirty; he never took more than one drink a day; and he never read anything or said anything which would not contribute to his progress as a Brilliant Young Surgeon. His underlings knew that Dr. Duer would not fail to arrive precisely on time, precisely well dressed, absolutely sober, very cool, and appallingly unpleasant to any nurse who made a mistake or looked for a smile.

Martin would without fear have submitted to the gilded and ardent tonsil-snatcher of the clinic, would have submitted to Angus for abdominal surgery or to Rouncefield for any operation of the head or neck, providing he was himself quite sure the operation was necessary, but he was never able to rise to the clinic’s faith that any portions of the body without which people could conceivably get along should certainly be removed at once.

The real flaw in his year of Chicago was that through all his working day he did not live. With quick hands, and one-tenth of his brain, he made blood counts, did urinalyses and Wassermanns and infrequent necropsies, and all the while he was dead, in a white-tiled coffin. Amid the blattings of Pickerbaugh and the peepings of Wheatsylvania, he had lived, had fought his environment. Now there was nothing to fight.

After hours, he almost lived. Leora and he discovered the world of book-shops and print-shops and theaters and concerts. They read novels and history and travel; they talked, at dinners given by Rouncefield or Angus, to journalists, engineers, bankers, merchants. They saw a Russian play, and heard Mischa Elman, and read Gottlieb’s beloved Rabelais. Martin learned to flirt without childishness, and Leora went for the first time to a hair-dresser and to a manicure, and began her lessons in French. She had called Martin a “lie-hunter,” a “truth-seeker.” They decided now, talking it over in their tight little two-and-quarter room flat, that most people who call themselves “truth-seekers”— persons who scurry about chattering of Truth as though it were a tangible separable thing, like houses or salt or bread — did not so much desire to find Truth as to cure their mental itch. In novels, these truth-seekers quested the “secret of life” in laboratories which did not seem to be provided with Bunsen flames or reagents; or they went, at great expense and much discomfort from hot trains and undesirable snakes, to Himalayan monasteries, to learn from unaseptic sages that the Mind can do all sorts of edifying things if one will but spend thirty or forty years in eating rice and gazing on one’s navel.

To these high matters Martin responded, “Rot!” He insisted that there is no Truth but only many truths; that Truth is not a colored bird to be chased among the rocks and captured by its tail, but a skeptical attitude toward life. He insisted that no one could expect more than, by stubbornness or luck, to have the kind of work he enjoyed and an ability to become better acquainted with the facts of that work than the average job-holder.

His mechanistic philosophy did not persuade him that he was progressing adequately. When he tried to match himself with the experts of the clinic or with their professional friends, he was even more uncomfortable than he had been under the disconcerting scorn of Dr. Hesselink of Groningen. At clinic luncheons he met surgeons from London, New York, Boston; men with limousines and social positions and the offensive briskness of the man who has numerous engagements, or the yet more offensive quietness of the person who is amused by his inferiors; master technicians, readers of papers at medical congresses, executives and controllers, unafraid to operate before a hundred peering doctors, or to give well-bred and exceedingly final orders to subordinates; captain-generals of medicine, never doubting themselves, great priests and healers; men mature and wise and careful and blandly cordial.

In their winged presences, Max Gottlieb seemed an aged fusser, Gustaf Sondelius a mountebank, and the city of Nautilus unworthy of passionate warfare. As their suave courtesy smothered him, Martin felt like a footman.

In long hours of increasing frankness and lucidity he discussed with Leora the question of “What is this Martin Arrowsmith and whither is he going?” and he admitted that the sight of the Famous Surgeons disturbed his ancient faith that he was somehow a superior person. It was Leora who consoled him:

“I’ve got a lovely description for your dratted Famous Surgeons. You know how polite and important they are, and they smile so carefully? Well, don’t you remember you once said that Professor Gottlieb called all such people like that ‘men of measured merriment’?”

He caught up the phrase; they sang it together; and they made of it a beating impish song:

“Men of measured merriment! Men of measured merriment! Damn the great executives, the men of measured merriment, damn the men with careful smiles, damn the men that run the shops, oh, damn their measured merriment, the men with measured merriment, oh, damn their measured merriment, and DAMN their careful smiles!”

ii

While Martin developed in a jagged way from the boy of Wheatsylvania to mature man, his relations to Leora developed from loyal boy-and-girl adventurousness to lasting solidity. They had that understanding of each other known only to married people, a few married people, wherein for all their differences they were as much indissoluble parts of a whole as are the eye and hand. Their identification did not mean that they dwelt always in rosy bliss. Because he was so intimately fond of her and so sure of her, because anger and eager hot injustices are but ways of expressing trust, Martin was irritated by her and querulous with her as he would not have endured being with any other woman, any charming Orchid.

He stalked out now and then after a quarrel, disdaining to answer her, and for hours he left her alone, enjoying the knowledge that he was hurting her, that she was alone, waiting, perhaps weeping. Because he loved her and also was fond of her, he was annoyed when she was less sleek, less suave, than the women he encountered at Angus Duer’s.

Mrs. Rouncefield was a worthy old waddler — beside her, Leora was shining and exquisite. But Mrs. Duer was of amber and ice. She was a rich young woman, she dressed with distinction, she spoke with finishing-school mock-melodiousness, she was ambitious, and she was untroubled by the possession of a heart or a brain. She was, indeed, what Mrs. Irving Watters believed herself to be.

In the simple gorgeousness of the Nautilus smart set, Mrs. Clay Tredgold had petted Leora and laughed at her if she lacked a shoe-buckle or split an infinitive, but the gold-slippered Mrs. Duer was accustomed to sneer at carelessness with the most courteous and unresentable and unmistakable sneers.

As they returned by taxicab from the Duers’, Martin flared:

“Don’t you ever learn anything? I remember once in Nautilus we stopped on a country road and talked till — oh, darn’ near dawn, and you were going to be so energetic, but here we are again tonight, with just the same thing — Good God, couldn’t you even take the trouble to notice you had a spot of soot on your nose tonight? Mrs. Duer noticed it, all right! Why are you so sloppy? Why can’t you take a little care? And why can’t you make an effort, anyway, to have something to say? You just sit there at dinner — you just sit and look healthy! Don’t you want to help me? Mrs. Duer will probably help Angus to become president of the American Medical Association, in about twenty years, and by that time I suppose you’ll have me back in Dakota as assistant to Hesselink!”

Leora had been snuggling beside him in the unusual luxury of a taxicab. She sat straight now, and when she spoke she had lost the casual independence with which she usually regarded life:

“Dear, I’m awfully sorry. I went out this afternoon, I went out and had a facial massage, so as to look nice for you, and then I knew you like conversation, so I got my little book about modern painting that I bought and I studied it terribly hard, but tonight I just couldn’t seem to get the conversation around to modern painting —”

He was sobbing, with her head on his shoulder, “Oh, you poor, scared, bullied kid, trying to be grown-up with these dollar-chasers!”

iii

After the first daze of white tile and bustling cleverness at the Rouncefield Clinic, Martin had the desire to tie up a few loose knots of his streptolysin research.

When Angus Duer discovered it he hinted, “Look here, Martin, I’m glad you’re keeping on with your science, but if I were you I wouldn’t, I think, waste too much energy on mere curiosity. Dr. Rouncefield was speaking about it the other day. We’d be glad to have you do all the research you want, only we’d like it if you went at something practical. Take for instance: if you could make a tabulation of the blood-counts in a couple of hundred cases of appendicitis and publish it, that’d get somewhere, and you could sort of bring in a mention of the clinic, and we’d all receive a little credit — and incidentally maybe we could raise you to three thousand a year then.”

This generosity had the effect of extinguishing Martin’s desire to do any research whatever.

“Angus is right. What he means is: as a scientist I’m finished. I am. I’ll never try to do anything original again.”

It was at this time, when Martin had been with the clinic for a year, that his streptolysin paper was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. He gave reprints to Rouncefield and to Angus. They said extremely nice things which showed that they had not read the paper, and again they suggested his tabulating blood-counts.

He also sent a reprint to Max Gottlieb, at the McGurk Institute of Biology.

Gottlieb wrote to him, in that dead-black spider-web script:

Dear Martin:

I have read your paper with great pleasure. The curves of the relation of hemolysin production to age of culture are illuminating. I have spoken about you to Tubbs. When are you coming to us — to me? Yor laboratory and diener are waiting for you here. The last thing I want to be is a mystic, but I feel when I see your fine engraved letterhead of a clinic and a Rouncefield that you should be tired of trying to be a good citizen and ready to come back to work. We shall be glad, & Dr. Tubbs, if you can come.

Truly yours,

M. Gottlieb.

“I’m simply going to adore New York,” said Leora.

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