Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 27

His work began fumblingly. There were days when, for all the joy of it, he dreaded lest Tubbs stride in and bellow, “What are you doing here? You’re the wrong Arrowsmith! Get out!”

He had isolated twenty strains of staphylococcus germs and he was testing them to discover which of them was most active in producing a hemolytic, a blood-disintegrating toxin, so that he might produce an antitoxin.

There were picturesque moments when, after centrifuging, the organisms lay in coiling cloudy masses at the bottoms of the tubes; or when the red corpuscles were completely dissolved and the opaque brick-red liquid turned to the color of pale wine. But most of the processes were incomparably tedious: removing samples of the culture every six hours, making salt suspensions of corpuscles in small tubes, recording the results.

He never knew they were tedious.

Tubbs came in now and then, found him busy, patted his shoulder, said something which sounded like French and might even have been French, and gave vague encouragement; while Gottlieb imperturbably told him to go ahead, and now and then stirred him by showing his own note-books (they were full of figures and abbreviations, stupid-seeming as invoices of calico) or by speaking of his own work, in a vocabulary as heathenish as Tibetan magic:

“Arrhenius and Madsen have made a contribution toward bringing immunity reactions under the mass action law, but I hope to show that antigen-antibody combinations occur in stoicheiometric proportions when certain variables are held constant.”

“Oh, yes, I see,” said Martin; and to himself: “Well, I darn near a quarter understand that! Oh, Lord, if they’ll only give me a little time and not send me back to tacking up diphtheria posters!”

When he had obtained a satisfactory toxin, Martin began his effort to find an antitoxin. He made vast experiments with no results. Sometimes he was certain that he had something, but when he rechecked his experiments he was bleakly certain that he hadn’t. Once he rushed into Gottlieb’s laboratory with the announcement of the antitoxin, whereupon with affection and several discomforting questions and the present of a box of real Egyptian cigarettes, Gottlieb showed him that he had not considered certain dilutions.

With all his amateurish fumbling, Martin had one characteristic without which there can be no science: a wide-ranging, sniffing, snuffling, undignified, unself-dramatizing curiosity, and it drove him on.

ii

While he puttered his insignificant way through the early years of the Great European War, the McGurk Institute had a lively existence under its placid surface.

Martin may not have learned much in the matter of antibodies but he did learn the secret of the Institute, and he saw that behind all its quiet industriousness was Capitola McGurk, the Great White Uplifter.

Capitola, Mrs. Ross McGurk, had been opposed to woman suffrage — until she learned that women were certain to get the vote — but she was a complete controller of virtuous affairs.

Ross McGurk had bought the Institute not only to glorify himself but to divert Capitola and keep her itching fingers out of his shipping and mining and lumber interests, which would not too well have borne the investigations of a Great White Uplifter.

Ross McGurk was at the time a man of fifty-four, second generation of California railroad men; a graduate of Yale; big, suave, dignified, cheerful, unscrupulous. Even in 1908, when he had founded the Institute, he had had too many houses, too many servants, too much food, and no children, because Capitola considered “that sort of thing detrimental to women with large responsibilities.” In the Institute he found each year more satisfaction, more excuse for having lived.

When Gottlieb arrived, McGurk went up to look him over. McGurk had bullied Dr. Tubbs now and then; Tubbs was compelled to scurry to his office as though he were a messenger boy; yet when he saw the saturnine eyes of Gottlieb, McGurk looked interested; and the two men, the bulky, clothes-conscious, powerful, reticent American and the cynical, simple, power-despising European, became friends. McGurk would slip away from a conference affecting the commerce of a whole West Indian island to sit on a high stool, silent, and watch Gottlieb work.

“Some day when I quit hustling and wake up, I’m going to become your garcon, Max,” said McGurk, and Gottlieb answered, “I don’t know — you haf imagination, Ross, but I t’ink you are too late to get a training in reality. Now if you do not mind eating at Childs’s, we will avoid your very expostulatory Regal Hall, and I shall invite you to lunch.”

But Capitola did not join their communion.

Gottlieb’s arrogance had returned, and with Capitola McGurk he needed it. She had such interesting little problems for her husband’s pensioners to attack. Once, in excitement, she visited Gottlieb’s laboratory to tell him that large numbers of persons die of cancer, and why didn’t he drop this anti-whatever-it-was and find a cure for cancer, which would be ever so nice for all of them.

But her real grievance arose when, after Rippleton Holabird had agreed to give midnight supper on the roof of the Institute to one of her most intellectual dinner-parties, she telephoned to Gottlieb, merely asking, “Would it be too much trouble for you to go down and open your lab, so we can all enjoy just a tiny peep at it?” and he answered:

“It would! Good night!”

Capitola protested to her husband. He listened — at least he seemed to listen — and remarked:

“Cap, I don’t mind your playing the fool with the footmen. They’ve got to stand it. But if you get funny with Max, I’ll simply shut up the whole Institute, and then you won’t have anything to talk about at the Colony Club. And it certainly does beat the deuce that a man worth thirty million dollars — at least a fellow that’s got that much — can’t find a clean pair of pajamas. No, I WON’T have a valet! Oh, please now, Capitola, please quit being high-minded and let me go to sleep, will you!”

But Capitola was uncontrollable, especially in the matter of the monthly dinners which she gave at the Institute.

iii

The first of the McGurk Scientific Dinners which Martin and Leora witnessed was a particularly important and explanatory dinner, because the guest of honor was Major–General Sir Isaac Mallard, the London surgeon, who was in America with a British War Mission. He had already beautifully let himself be shown through the Institute; he had been Sir Isaac’d by Dr. Tubbs and every researcher except Terry Wickett; he remembered meeting Rippleton Holabird in London, or said he remembered; and he admired Gladys the Centrifuge.

The dinner began with one misfortune in that Terry Wickett, who hitherto could be depended upon to stay decently away, now appeared, volunteering to the wife of an ex-ambassador, “I simply couldn’t duck this spread, with dear Sir Isaac coming. Say, if I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t hardly think my dress-suit was rented, would you! Have you noticed that Sir Isaac is getting so he doesn’t tear the carpet with his spurs any more? I wonder if he still kills all his mastoid patients?”

There was vast music, vaster food; there were uncomfortable scientists explaining to golden cooing ladies, in a few words, just what they were up to and what in the next twenty years they hoped to be up to; there were the cooing ladies themselves, observing in tones of pretty rebuke, “But I’m afraid you haven’t yet made it as clear as you might.” There were the cooing ladies’ husbands — college graduates, manipulators of oil stocks or of corporation law — who sat ready to give to anybody who desired it their opinion that while antitoxins might be racy, what we really needed was a good substitute for rubber.

There was Rippleton Holabird, being charming.

And in the pause of the music, there suddenly was Terry Wickett, saying to quite an important woman, one of Capitola’s most useful friends, “Yes, his name is spelled G-o-t-t-l-i-e-b but it’s pronounced Gottdamn.”

But such outsiders as Wickett and such silent riders as Martin and Leora and such totally absent members as Max Gottlieb were few, and the dinner waxed magnificently to a love-feast when Dr. Tubbs and Sir Isaac Mallard paid compliments to each other, to Capitola, to the sacred soil of France, to brave little Belgium, to American hospitality, to British love of privacy, and to the extremely interesting things a young man with a sense of co-operation might do in modern science.

The guests were conducted through the Institute. They inspected the marine biology aquarium, the pathological museum, and the animal house, at sight of which one sprightly lady demanded of Wickett, “Oh, the poor little guinea pigs and darling rabbicks! Now honestly, Doctor, don’t you think it would be ever so much nicer if you let them go free, and just worked with your test-tubes?”

A popular physician, whose practice was among rich women, none of them west of Fifth Avenue, said to the sprightly lady, “I think you’re absolutely right. I never have to kill any poor wee little beasties to get my knowledge!”

With astounding suddenness Wickett took his hat and went away.

The sprightly lady said, “You see, he didn’t dare stand up to a real argument. Oh, Dr. Arrowsmith, of course I know how wonderful Ross McGurk and Dr. Tubbs and all of you are, but I must say I’m disappointed in your laboratories. I’d expected there’d be such larky retorts and electric furnaces and everything but, honestly, I don’t see a single thing that’s interesting, and I do think all you clever people ought to do SOMETHING for us, now that you’ve coaxed us all the way down here. Can’t you or somebody create life out of turtle eggs, or whatever it is? Oh, please do! Pretty please! Or at least, do put on one of these cunnin’ dentist coats that you wear.”

Then Martin also went rapidly away, accompanied by a furious Leora, who in the taxicab announced that she had desired to taste the champagne-cup which she had observed on the buffet, and that her husband was little short of a fool.

iv

Thus, however satisfying his work, Martin began to wonder about the perfection of his sanctuary; to wonder why Gottlieb should be so insulting at lunch to neat Dr. Sholtheis, the industrious head of the Department of Epidemiology, and why Dr. Sholtheis should endure the insults; to wonder why Dr. Tubbs, when he wandered into one’s laboratory, should gurgle, “The one thing for you to keep in view in all your work is the ideal of co-operation”; to wonder why so ardent a physiologist as Rippleton Holabird should all day long be heard conferring with Tubbs instead of sweating at his bench.

Holabird had, five years before, done one bit of research which had taken his name into scientific journals throughout the world: he had studied the effect of the extirpation of the anterior lobes of a dog’s brain on its ability to find its way through the laboratory. Martin had read of that research before he had thought of going to McGurk; on his arrival he was thrilled to have it chronicled by the master himself; but when he had heard Holabird refer to it a dozen times he was considerably less thrilled, and he speculated whether all his life Holabird would go on being “the man — YOU remember — the chap that did the big stunt, whatever it was, with locomotion in dogs or something.”

Martin speculated still more as he perceived that all his colleagues were secretly grouped in factions.

Tubbs, Holabird, and perhaps Tubbs’s secretary, Pearl Robbins, were the ruling caste. It was murmured that Holabird hoped some day to be made Assistant Director, an office which was to be created for him. Gottlieb, Terry Wickett, and Dr. Nicholas Yeo, that long-mustached and rustic biologist whom Martin had first taken for a carpenter, formed an independent faction of their own, and however much he disliked the boisterous Wickett, Martin was dragged into it.

Dr. William Smith, with his little beard and a notion of mushrooms formed in Paris, kept to himself. Dr. Sholtheis, who had been born to a synagogue in Russia but who was now the most zealous high-church Episcopalian in Yonkers, was constantly in his polite small way trying to have his scientific work commended by Gottlieb. In the Department of Bio–Physics, the good-natured chief was reviled and envied by his own assistant. And in the whole Institute there was not one man who would, in all states of liquor, assert that the work of any other scientist anywhere was completely sound, or that there was a single one of his rivals who had not stolen ideas from him. No rocking-chair clique on a summer-hotel porch, no knot of actors, ever whispered more scandal or hinted more warmly of complete idiocy in their confreres than did these uplifted scientists.

But these discoveries Martin could shut out by closing his door, and he had that to do now which deafened him to the mutters of intrigue.

v

For once Gottlieb did not amble into his laboratory but curtly summoned him. In a corner of Gottlieb’s office, a den opening from his laboratory, was Terry Wickett, rolling a cigarette and looking sardonic.

Gottlieb observed, “Martin, I haf taken the privilege of talking you over with Terry, and we concluded that you haf done well enough now so it is time you stop puttering and go to work.”

“I thought I was working, sir!”

All the wide placidness of his halcyon days was gone; he saw himself driven back to Pickerbaughism.

Wickett intruded, “No, you haven’t. You’ve just been showing that you’re a bright boy who might work if he only knew something.”

While Martin turned on Wickett with a “Who the devil are you?” expression, Gottlieb went on:

“The fact is, Martin, you can do nothing till you know a little mathematics. If you are not going to be a cookbook bacteriologist, like most of them, you must be able to handle some of the fundamentals of science. All living things are physicochemical machines. Then how can you make progress if you do not know physical chemistry, and how can you know physical chemistry without much mathematics?”

“Yuh,” said Wickett, “you’re lawn-mowing and daisy-picking, not digging.”

Martin faced them. “But rats, Wickett, a man can’t know everything. I’m a bacteriologist, not a physicist. Strikes me a fellow ought to use his insight, not just a chest of tools, to make discoveries. A good sailor could find his way at sea even if he didn’t have instruments, and a whole Lusitania-ful of junk wouldn’t make a good sailor out of a dub. Man ought to develop his brain, not depend on tools.”

“Ye-uh, but if there were charts and quadrants in existence, a sailor that cruised off without ’em would be a chump!”

For half an hour Martin defended himself, not too politely, before the gem-like Gottlieb, the granite Wickett. All the while he knew that he was sickeningly ignorant.

They ceased to take interest. Gottlieb was looking at his notebooks, Wickett was clumping off to work. Martin glared at Gottlieb. The man meant so much that he could be furious with him as he would have been with Leora, with his own self.

“I’m sorry you think I don’t know anything,” he raged, and departed with the finest dramatic violence. He slammed into his own laboratory, felt freed, then wretched. Without volition, like a drunken man, he stormed to Wickett’s room, protesting, “I suppose you’re right. My physical chemistry is nix, and my math rotten. What am I going to do — what am I going to do?”

The embarrassed barbarian grumbled, “Well, for Pete’s sake, Slim, don’t worry. The old man and I were just egging you on. Fact is, he’s tickled to death about the careful way you’re starting in. About the math — probably you’re better off than the Holy Wren and Tubbs right now; you’ve forgotten all the math you ever knew, and they never knew any. Gosh all fishhooks! Science is supposed to mean Knowledge — from the Greek, a handsome language spoken by the good old booze-hoisting Hellenes — and the way most of the science boys resent having to stop writing little jeweled papers or giving teas and sweat at getting some knowledge certainly does make me a grand booster for the human race. My own math isn’t any too good, Slim, but if you’d like to have me come around evenings and tutor you — Free, I mean!”

Thus began the friendship between Martin and Terry Wickett; thus began a change in Martin’s life whereby he gave up three or four hours of wholesome sleep each night to grind over matters which everyone is assumed to know, and almost everyone does not know.

He took up algebra; found that he had forgotten most of it; cursed over the competition of the indefatigable A and the indolent B who walk from Y to Z; hired a Columbia tutor; and finished the subject, with a spurt of something like interest in regard to quadratic equations, in six weeks . . . while Leora listened, watched, waited, made sandwiches, and laughed at the tutor’s jokes.

By the end of his first nine months at McGurk, Martin had reviewed trigonometry and analytic geometry and he was finding differential calculus romantic. But he made the mistake of telling Terry Wickett how much he knew.

Terry croaked, “Don’t trust math too much, son,” and he so confused him with references to the thermo-dynamical derivation of the mass action law, and to the oxidation reduction potential, that he stumbled again into raging humility, again saw himself an impostor and a tenth-rater.

He read the classics of physical science: Copernicus and Galileo, Lavoisier, Newton, LaPlace, Descartes, Faraday. He became completely bogged in Newton’s “Fluxions”; he spoke of Newton to Tubbs and found that the illustrious Director knew nothing about him. He cheerfully mentioned this to Terry, and was shockingly cursed for his conceit as a “nouveau cultured,” as a “typical enthusiastic convert,” and so returned to the work whose end is satisfying because there is never an end.

His life did not seem edifying nor in any degree amusing. When Tubbs peeped into his laboratory he found a humorless young man going about his tests of hemolytic toxins with no apparent flair for the Real Big Thing in Science, which was co-operation and being efficient. Tubbs tried to set him straight with “Are you quite sure you’re following a regular demarked line in your work?”

It was Leora who bore the real tedium.

She sat quiet (a frail child, only up to one’s shoulder, not nine minutes older than at marriage, nine years before), or she napped inoffensively, in the long living-room of their flat, while he worked over his dreary digit-infested books till one, till two, and she politely awoke to let him worry at her, “But look here now, I’ve got to keep up my research at the same time. God, I am so tired!”

She dragged him away for an illegal five-day walk on Cape Cod, in March. He sat between the Twin Lights at Chatham, and fumed, “I’m going back and tell Terry and Gottlieb they can go to the devil with their crazy physical chemistry. I’ve had enough, now I’ve done math,” and she commented, “Yes, I certainly would — though isn’t it funny how Dr. Gottlieb always seems to be right?”

He was so absorbed in staphylolysin and in calculus that he did not realize the world was about to be made safe for democracy. He was a little dazed when America entered the war.

vi

Dr. Tubbs dashed to Washington to offer the services of the Institute to the War Department.

All the members of the staff, except Gottlieb and two others who declined to be so honored, were made officers and told to run out and buy nice uniforms.

Tubbs became a Colonel, Rippleton Holabird a Major, Martin and Wickett and Billy Smith were Captains. But the garcons had no military rank whatever, nor any military duties except the polishing of brown riding-boots and leather puttees, which the several warriors wore as pleased their fancies or their legs. And the most belligerent of all, Miss Pearl Robbins, she who at tea heroically slaughtered not only German men but all their women and viperine children, was wickedly unrecognized and had to make up a uniform for herself.

The only one of them who got nearer to the front than Liberty Street was Terry Wickett, who suddenly asked for leave, was transferred to the artillery, and sailed off to France.

He apologized to Martin: “I’m ashamed of chucking my work like this, and I certainly don’t want to kill Germans — I mean not any more’n I want to kill most people — but I never could resist getting into a big show. Say, Slim, keep an eye on Pa Gottlieb, will you? This has hit him bad. He’s got a bunch of nephews and so on in the German army, and the patriots like Big Foot Pearl will give an exhibit of idealism by persecuting him. So long, Slim, take care y’self.”

Martin had vaguely protested at being herded into the army. The war was to him chiefly another interruption to his work, like Pickerbaughism, like earning his living at Wheatsylvania. But when he had gone strutting forth in uniform, it was so enjoyable that for several weeks he was a standard patriot. He had never looked so well, so taut and erect, as in khaki. It was enchanting to be saluted by privates, quite as enchanting to return the salute in the dignified, patronizing, all-comrades-together splendor which Martin shared with the other doctors, professors, lawyers, brokers, authors, and former socialist intellectuals who were his fellow-officers.

But in a month the pleasures of being a hero became mechanical, and Martin longed for soft shirts, easy shoes, and clothes with reasonable pockets. His puttees were a nuisance to wear and an inferno to put on; his collar pinched his neck and jabbed his chin; and it was wearing on a man who sat up till three, on the perilous duty of studying calculus, to be snappy at every salute.

Under the martinet eye of Col. Director Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs he had to wear his uniform, at least recognizable portions of it, at the Institute, but by evening he slipped into the habit of sneaking into citizen clothes, and when he went with Leora to the movies he had an agreeable feeling of being Absent Without Leave, of risking at every street corner arrest by the Military Police and execution at dawn.

Unfortunately no M.P. ever looked at him. But one evening when in an estimable and innocent manner he was looking at the remains of a gunman who had just been murdered by another gunman, he realized that Major Rippleton Holabird was standing by, glaring. For once the Major was unpleasant:

“Captain, does it seem to you that this is quite playing the game, to wear mufti? We, unfortunately, with our scientific work, haven’t the privilege of joining the Boys who are up against the real thing, but we are under orders just as if we were in the trenches — where SOME of us would so much like to be again! Captain, I trust I shall never again see you breaking the order about being in uniform, or — uh —”

Martin blurted to Leora, later:

“I’m sick of hearing about his being wounded. Nothing that I can see to prevent his going back to the trenches. Wound’s all right now. I want to be patriotic, but my patriotism is chasing antitoxins, doing my job, not wearing a particular kind of pants and a particular set of ideas about the Germans. Mind you, I’m anti-German all right — I think they’re probably just as bad as we are. Oh, let’s go back and do some more calculus. . . . Darling, my working nights doesn’t bore you too much, does it?”

Leora had cunning. When she could not be enthusiastic, she could be unannoyingly silent.

At the Institute Martin perceived that he was not the only defender of his country who was not comfortable in the garb of heroes. The most dismal of the staff-members was Dr. Nicholas Yeo, the Yankee sandy-mustached head of the Department of Biology.

Yeo had put on Major’s uniform, but he never felt neighborly with it. (He knew he was a Major, because Col. Dr. Tubbs had told him he was, and he knew that this was a Major’s uniform because the clothing salesman said so.) He walked out of the McGurk Building in a melancholy, deprecatory way, with one breeches leg bulging over his riding-boots; and however piously he tried, he never remembered to button his blouse over the violet-flowered shirts which, he often confided, you could buy ever so cheap on Eighth Avenue.

But Major Dr. Yeo had one military triumph. He hoarsely explained to Martin, as they were marching to the completely militarized dining-hall:

“Say, Arrowsmith, do you ever get balled up about this saluting? Darn it, I never can figure out what all these insignia mean. One time I took a Salvation Army Lieutenant for a Y.M.C.A. General, or maybe he was a Portygee. But I’ve got the idea now!” Yeo laid his finger beside his large nose, and produced wisdom: “Whenever I see any fellow in uniform that looks older than I am, I salute him — my nephew, Ted, has drilled me so I salute swell now — and if he don’t salute back, well, Lord, I just think about my work and don’t fuss. If you look at it scientifically, this military life isn’t so awful’ hard after all!”

vii

Always, in Paris or in Bonn, Max Gottlieb had looked to America as a land which, in its freedom from Royalist tradition, in its contact with realities of cornfields and blizzards and town-meetings, had set its face against the puerile pride of war. He believed that he had ceased to be a German, now, and become a countryman of Lincoln.

The European War was the one thing, besides his discharge from Winnemac, which had ever broken his sardonic serenity. In the war he could see no splendor nor hope, but only crawling tragedy. He treasured his months of work and good talk in France, in England, in Italy; he loved his French and English and Italian friends as he loved his ancient Korpsbruder, and very well indeed beneath his mocking did he love the Germans with whom he had drudged and drunk.

His sister’s sons — on home-craving vacations he had seen them, in babyhood, in boyhood, in ruffling youngmanhood — went out with the Kaiser’s colors in 1914; one of them became an Oberst, much decorated, one existed insignificantly, and one was dead and stinking in ten days. This he sadly endured, as later he endured his son Robert’s going out as an American lieutenant, to fight his own cousins. What struck down this man to whom abstractions and scientific laws were more than kindly flesh was the mania of hate which overcame the unmilitaristic America to which he had emigrated in protest against Junkerdom.

Incredulously he perceived women asserting that all Germans were baby-killers, universities barring the language of Heine, orchestras outlawing the music of Beethoven, professors in uniform bellowing at clerks, and the clerks never protesting.

It is uncertain whether the real hurt was to his love for America or to his egotism, that he should have guessed so grotesquely; it is curious that he who had so denounced the machine-made education of the land should yet have been surprised when it turned blithely to the old, old, mechanical mockeries of war.

When the Institute sanctified the war, he found himself regarded not as the great and impersonal immunologist but as a suspect German Jew.

True, the Terry who went off to the artillery did not look upon him dourly, but Major Rippleton Holabird became erect and stiff when they passed in the corridor. When Gottlieb insisted to Tubbs at lunch, “I am villing to admit every virtue of the French — I am very fond of that so individual people — but on the theory of probabilities I suggest that there must be some good Germans out of sixty millions,” then Col. Dr. Tubbs commanded, “In this time of world tragedy, it does not seem to me particularly becoming to try to be flippant, Dr. Gottlieb!”

In shops and on the elevated train, little red-faced sweaty people when they heard his accent glared at him, and growled one to another, “There’s one of them damn’ barb’rous well-poisoning Huns!” and however contemptuous he might be, however much he strove for ignoring pride, their nibbling reduced him from arrogant scientist to an insecure, raw-nerved, shrinking old man.

And once a hostess who of old time had been proud to know him, a hostess whose maiden name was Straufnabel and who had married into the famous old Anglican family of Rosemont when Gottlieb bade her “Auf Wiedersehen” cried out upon him, “Dr. Gottlieb, I’m very sorry, but the use of that disgusting language is not permitted in this house!”

He had almost recovered from the anxieties of Winnemac and the Hunziker factory; he had begun to expand, to entertain people — scientists, musicians, talkers. Now he was thrust back into himself. With Terry gone, he trusted only Miriam and Martin and Ross McGurk; and his deep-set wrinkle-lidded eyes looked ever on sadness.

But he could still be tart. He suggested that Capitola ought to have in the window of her house a Service Flag with a star for every person at the Institute who had put on uniform.

She took it quite seriously, and did it.

viii

The military duties of the McGurk staff did not consist entirely in wearing uniforms, receiving salutes, and listening to Col. Dr. Tubbs’s luncheon lectures on “the part America will inevitably play in the reconstruction of a Democratic Europe.”

They prepared sera; the assistant in the Department of Bio–Physics was inventing electrified wire entanglements; Dr. Billy Smith, who six months before had been singing Studentenlieder at Luchow’s, was working on poison gas to be used against all singers of Lieder; and to Martin was assigned the manufacture of lipovaccine, a suspension of finely ground typhoid and paratyphoid organisms in oil. It was a greasy job, and dull. Martin was faithful enough about it, and gave to it almost every morning, but he blasphemed more than usual and he unholily welcomed scientific papers in which lipovaccines were condemned as inferior to ordinary salt solutions.

He was conscious of Gottlieb’s sorrowing and tried to comfort him.

It was Martin’s most pitiful fault that he was not very kind to shy people and lonely people and stupid old people; he was not cruel to them, he simply was unconscious of them or so impatient of their fumbling that he avoided them. Whenever Leora taxed him with it he grumbled:

“Well, but — I’m too much absorbed in my work, or in doping stuff out, to waste time on morons. And it’s a good thing. Most people above the grade of hog do so much chasing around after a lot of vague philanthropy that they never get anything done — and most of your confounded shy people get spiritually pauperized. Oh, it’s so much easier to be good-natured and purring and self-congratulatory and generally footless than it is to pound ahead and keep yourself strictly for your own work, the work that gets somewhere. Very few people have the courage to be decently selfish — not answer letters — and demand the right to work. If they had their way, these sentimentalists would’ve had a Newton — yes, or probably a Christ! — giving up everything they did for the world to address meetings and listen to the troubles of cranky old maids. Nothing takes so much courage as to keep hard and clear-headed.”

And he hadn’t even that courage.

When Leora had made complaint, he would be forcibly kind to all sorts of alarmed stray beggars for a day or two, then drift back into his absorption. There were but two people whose unhappiness could always pierce him: Leora and Gottlieb.

Though he was busier than he had known anyone could ever be, with lipovaccines in the morning, physical chemistry in the evening and, at all sorts of intense hours between, the continuation of his staphylolysin research, he gave what time he could to seeking out Gottlieb and warming his vanity by reverent listening.

Then his research wiped out everything else, made him forget Gottlieb and Leora and all his briskness about studying, made him turn his war work over to others, and confounded night and day in one insane flaming blur as he realized that he had something not unworthy of a Gottlieb, something at the mysterious source of life.

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