Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 29

When the work on the X Principle had gone on for six weeks, the Institute staff suspected that something was occurring, and they hinted to Martin that he needed their several assistances. He avoided them. He did not desire to be caught in any of the log-rolling factions, though for Terry Wickett, still in France, and for Terry’s rough compulsion to honesty he was sometimes lonely.

How the Director first heard that Martin was finding gold is not known.

Dr. Tubbs was tired of being a Colonel — there were too many Generals in New York — and for two weeks he had not had an Idea which would revolutionize even a small part of the world. One morning he burst in, whiskers alive, and reproached Martin:

“What is this mysterious discovery you’re making, Arrowsmith? I’ve asked Dr. Gottlieb, but he evades me; he says you want to be sure, first. I must know about it, not only because I take a very friendly interest in your work but because I am, after all, your Director!”

Martin felt that his one ewe lamb was being snatched from him but he could see no way to refuse. He brought out his note-books and the agar slants with their dissolved patches of bacilli. Tubbs gasped, assaulted his whiskers, did a moment of impressive thinking, and clamored:

“Do you mean to say you think you’ve discovered an infectious disease of bacteria, and you haven’t told me about it? My dear boy, I don’t believe you quite realize that you may have hit on the supreme way to kill pathogenic bacteria. . . . And you didn’t tell me!”

“Well, sir, I wanted to make certain —”

“I admire your caution, but you must understand, Martin, that the basic aim of this Institution is the conquest of disease, not making pretty scientific notes! You MAY have hit on one of the discoveries of a generation; the sort of thing that Mr. McGurk and I are looking for. . . . If your results are confirmed. . . . I shall ask Dr. Gottlieb’s opinion.”

He shook Martin’s hand five or six times and bustled out. Next day he called Martin to his office, shook his hand some more, told Pearl Robbins that they were honored to know him, then led him to a mountain top and showed him all the kingdoms of the world:

“Martin, I have some plans for you. You have been working brilliantly, but without a complete vision of broader humanity. Now the Institute is organized on the most flexible lines. There are no set departments, but only units formed about exceptional men like our good friend Gottlieb. If any new man has the real right thing, we’ll provide him with every facility, instead of letting him merely plug along doing individual work. I have given your results the most careful consideration, Martin; I have talked them over with Dr. Gottlieb — though I must say he does not altogether share my enthusiasm about immediate practical results. And I have decided to submit to the Board of Trustees a plan for a Department of Microbic Pathology, with you as head! You will have an assistant — a real trained Ph.D. — and more room and technicians, and you will report to me directly, talk things over with me daily, instead of with Gottlieb. You will be relieved of all war work, by my order — though you can retain your uniform and everything. And your salary will be, I should think, if Mr. McGurk and the other Trustees confirm me, ten thousand a year instead of five.

“Yes, the best room for you would be that big one on the upper floor, to the right of the elevators. That’s vacant now. And your office across the hall.

“And all the assistance you require. Why, my boy, you won’t need to sit up nights using your hands in this wasteful way, but just think things out and take up possible extensions of the work-cover all the possible fields. We’ll extend this to everything! We’ll have scores of physicians in hospitals helping us and confirming our results and widening our efforts . . . . We might have a weekly council of all these doctors and assistants, with you and me jointly presiding. . . . If men like Koch and Pasteur had only had such a system, how much more SCOPE their work might have had! Efficient universal CO-OPERATION— that’s the thing in science today — the time of this silly, jealous, fumbling individual research has gone by.

“My boy, we may have found the real thing — another salvarsan! We’ll publish together! We’ll have the whole world talking! Why, I lay awake last night thinking of our magnificent opportunity! In a few months we may be curing not only staph infections but typhoid, dysentery! Martin, as your colleague, I do not for a moment wish to detract from the great credit which is yours, but I must say that if you had been more closely allied with Me you would have extended your work to practical proofs and results long before this.”

Martin wavered back to his room, dazzled by the view of a department of his own, assistants, a cheering world — and ten thousand a year. But his work seemed to have been taken from him, his own self had been taken from him; he was no longer to be Martin, and Gottlieb’s disciple, but a Man of Measured Merriment, Dr. Arrowsmith, Head of the Department of Microbic Pathology, who would wear severe collars and make addresses and never curse.

Doubts enfeebled him. Perhaps the X Principle would develop only in the test-tube; perhaps it had no large value for human healing. He wanted to know — to KNOW.

Then Rippleton Holabird burst in on him:

“Martin, my dear boy, the Director has just been telling me about your discovery and his splendid plans for you. I want to congratulate you with all my heart, and to welcome you as a fellow department-head — and you so young — only thirty-four, isn’t it? What a magnificent future! Think, Martin”— Major Holabird discarded his dignity, sat astride a chair —“think of all you have ahead! If this work really pans out, there’s no limit to the honors that’ll come to you, you lucky young dog! Acclaim by scientific societies, any professorship you might happen to want, prizes, the biggest men begging to consult you, a ripping place in society!

“Now listen, old boy: Perhaps you know how close I am to Dr. Tubbs, and I see no reason why you shouldn’t come in with us, and we three run things here to suit ourselves. Wasn’t it simply too decent of the Director to be so eager to recognize and help you in every way! So cordial — and so helpful. Now you really understand him. And the three of us — Some day we might be able to erect a superstructure of co-operative science which would control not only McGurk but every institute and every university scientific department in the country, and so produce really efficient research. When Dr. Tubbs retires, I have — I’m speaking with the most complete confidence — I have some reason to suppose that the Board of Trustees will consider me as his successor. Then, old boy, if this work succeeds, you and I can do things together!

“To be ever so frank, there are very few men in our world (think of poor old Yeo!) who combine presentable personalities with first-rate achievement, and if you’ll just get over some of your abruptness and your unwillingness to appreciate big executives and charming women (because, thank God, you do wear your clothes well — when you take the trouble!) why, you and I can become the dictators of science throughout the whole country!”

Martin did not think of an answer till Holabird had gone.

He perceived the horror of the shrieking bawdy thing called Success, with its demand that he give up quiet work and parade forth to be pawed by every blind devotee and mud-spattered by every blind enemy.

He fled to Gottlieb as to the wise and tender father, and begged to be saved from Success and Holabirds and A. DeWitt Tubbses and their hordes of address-making scientists, degree-hunting authors, pulpit orators, popular surgeons, valeted journalists, sentimental merchant princes, literary politicians, titled sportsmen, statesmenlike generals, interviewed senators, sententious bishops.

Gottlieb was worried:

“I knew Tubbs was up to something idealistic and nasty when he came purring to me, but I did not t’ink he would try to turn you into a megaphone all so soon in one day! I will gird up my loins and go oud to battle with the forces of publicity!”

He was defeated.

“I have let you alone, Dr. Gottlieb,” said Tubbs, “but, hang it, I am the Director! And I must say that, perhaps owing to my signal stupidity, I fail to see the horrors of enabling Arrowsmith to cure thousands of suffering persons and to become a man of weight and esteem!”

Gottlieb took it to Ross McGurk.

“Max, I love you like a brother, but Tubbs is the Director, and if he feels he needs this Arrowsmith (Is he the thin young fellow I see around your lab?) then I have no right to stop him. I’ve got to back him up the same as I would the master of one of our ships,” said McGurk.

Not till the Board of Trustees, which consisted of McGurk himself, the president of the University of Wilmington, and three professors of science in various universities, should meet and give approval, would Martin be a department-head. Meantime Tubbs demanded:

“Now, Martin, you must hasten and publish your results. Get right to it. In fact you should have done it before this. Throw your material together as rapidly as possible and send a note in to the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, to be published in their next proceedings.”

“But I’m not ready to publish! I want to have every loophole plugged up before I announce anything whatever!”

“Nonsense! That attitude is old-fashioned. This is no longer an age of parochialism but of competition, in art and science just as much as in commerce — co-operation with your own group, but with those outside it, competition to the death! Plug up the holes thoroughly, later, but we can’t have somebody else stealing a march on us. Remember you have your name to make. The way to make it is by working with me — toward the greatest good for the greatest number.”

As Martin began his paper, thinking of resigning but giving it up because Tubbs seemed to him at least better than the Pickerbaughs, he had a vision of a world of little scientists, each busy in a roofless cell. Perched on a cloud, watching them, was the divine Tubbs, a glory of whiskers, ready to blast any of the little men who stopped being earnest and wasted time on speculation about anything which he had not assigned to them. Back of their welter of coops, unseen by the tutelary Tubbs, the lean giant figure of Gottlieb stood sardonic on a stormy horizon.

Literary expression was not easy to Martin. He delayed with his paper, while Tubbs became irritable and whipped him on. The experiments had ceased; there were misery and pen-scratching and much tearing of manuscript paper in Martin’s particular roofless cell.

For once he had no refuge in Leora. She cried:

“Why not? Ten thousand a year would be awfully nice, Sandy. Gee! We’ve always been so poor, and you do like nice flats and things. And to boss your own department — And you could consult Dr. Gottlieb just the same. He’s a department-head, isn’t he, and yet he keeps independent of Dr. Tubbs. Oh, I’m for it!”

And slowly, under the considerable increase in respect given to him at Institute lunches, Martin himself was “for it.”

“We could get one of those new apartments on Park Avenue. Don’t suppose they cost more than three thousand a year,” he meditated. “Wouldn’t be so bad to be able to entertain people there. Not that I’d let it interfere with my work. . . . Kind of nice.”

It was still more kind of nice, however agonizing in the taking, to be recognized socially.

Capitola McGurk, who hitherto had not perceived him except as an object less interesting than Gladys the Centrifuge, telephoned: “ . . . Dr. Tubbs so enthusiastic and Ross and I are so pleased. Be delighted if Mrs. Arrowsmith and you could dine with us next Thursday at eight-thirty.”

Martin accepted the royal command.

It was his conviction that after glimpses of Angus Duer and Rippleton Holabird he had seen luxury, and understood smart dinner parties. Leora and he went without too much agitation to the house of Ross McGurk, in the East Seventies, near Fifth Avenue. The house did, from the street, seem to have an unusual quantity of graystone gargoyles and carven lintels and bronze grills, but it did not seem large.

Inside, the vaulted stone hallway opened up like a cathedral. They were embarrassed by the footmen, awed by the automatic elevator, oppressed by a hallway full of vellum folios and Italian chests and a drawing-room full of water-colors, and reduced to rusticity by Capitola’s queenly white satin and pearls.

There were eight or ten Persons of Importance, male and female, looking insignificant but bearing names as familiar as Ivory Soap.

Did one give his arm to some unknown lady and “take her in,” Martin wondered. He rejoiced to find that one merely straggled into the dining-room under McGurk’s amiable basso herding.

The dining-room was gorgeous and very hideous, in stamped leather and hysterias of gold, with collections of servants watching one’s use of asparagus forks. Martin was seated (it is doubtful if he ever knew that he was the guest of honor) between Capitola McGurk and a woman of whom he could learn only that she was the sister of a countess.

Capitola leaned toward him in her great white splendor.

“Now, Dr. Arrowsmith, just what is this you are discovering?”

“Why, it’s — uh — I’m trying to figure —”

“Dr. Tubbs tells us that you have found such wonderful new ways of controlling disease.” Her L’s were a melody of summer rivers, her R’s the trill of birds in the brake. “Oh, what — WHAT could be more beau-tiful than relieving this sad old world of its burden of illness! But just precisely what IS it that you’re doing?”

“Why, it’s awfully early to be sure but — You see, it’s like this. You take certain bugs like staph —”

“Oh, how interesting science is, but how frightfully difficult for simple people like me to grasp! But we’re all so humble. We’re just waiting for scientists like you to make the world secure for friendship —”

Then Capitola gave all her attention to her other man. Martin looked straight ahead and ate and suffered. The sister of the countess, a sallow and stringy woman, was glowing at him. He turned with unhappy meekness (noting that she had one more fork than he, and wondering where he had got lost).

She blared, “You are a scientist, I am told.”

“Ye-es.”

“The trouble with scientists is that they do not understand beauty. They are so cold.”

Rippleton Holabird would have made pretty mirth, but Martin could only quaver, “No, I don’t think that’s true,” and consider whether he dared drink another glass of champagne.

When they had been herded back to the drawing-room, after masculine but achingly elaborate passings of the port, Capitola swooped on him with white devouring wings:

“Dear Dr. Arrowsmith, I really didn’t get a chance at dinner to ask you just exactly WHAT you are doing. . . . Oh! Have you seen my dear little children at the Charles Street settlement? I’m sure ever so many of them will become the most fascinating scientists. You must come lecture to them.”

That night he fretted to Leora, “Going to be hard to keep up this twittering. But I suppose I’ve got to learn to enjoy it. Oh, well, think how nice it’ll be to give some dinners of our own, with real people, Gottlieb and everybody, when I’m a department-head.”

Next morning Gottlieb came slowly into Martin’s room. He stood by the window; he seemed to be avoiding Martin’s eyes. He sighed, “Something sort of bad — perhaps not altogether bad — has happened.”

“What is it, sir? Anything I can do?”

“It does not apply to me. To you.”

Irritably Martin thought, “Is he going into all this danger-of-rapid-success stuff again? I’m getting tired of it!”

Gottlieb ambled toward him. “It iss a pity, Martin, but you are not the discoverer of the X Principle.”

“Wh-what —”

“Someone else has done it.”

“They have not! I’ve searched all the literature, and except for Twort, not one person has even hinted at anticipating — Why, good Lord, Dr. Gottlieb, it would mean that all I’ve done, all these weeks, has just been waste, and I’m a fool —”

“Vell. Anyvay. D’Herelle of the Pasteur Institute has just now published in the Comptes Rendus, Academie des Sciences, a report — it is your X Principle, absolute. Only he calls it ‘bacteriophage.’ So.”

“Then I’m —”

In his mind Martin finished it, “Then I’m not going to be a department-head or famous or anything else. I’m back in the gutter.” All strength went out of him and all purpose, and the light of creation faded to dirty gray.

“Now of course,” said Gottlieb, “you could claim to be co-discoverer and spend the rest of your life fighting to get recognized. Or you could forget it, and write a nice letter congratulating D’Herelle, and go back to work.”

Martin mourned, “Oh, I’ll go back to work. Nothing else to do. I guess Tubbs’ll chuck the new department now. I’ll have time to really finish my research — maybe I’ve got some points that D’Herelle hasn’t hit on — and I’ll publish it to corroborate him. . . . Damn him! . . . Where is his report? . . . I suppose you’re glad that I’m saved from being a Holabird.”

“I ought to be. It is a sin against my religion that I am not. But I am getting old. And you are my friend. I am sorry you are not to have the fun of being pretentious and successful — for a while. . . . Martin, it iss nice that you will corroborate D’Herelle. That is science: to work and not to care — too much — if somebody else gets the credit. . . . Shall I tell Tubbs about D’Herelle’s priority, or will you?”

Gottlieb straggled away, looking back a little sadly.

Tubbs came in to wail, “If you had only published earlier, as I told you, Dr. Arrowsmith! You have really put me in a most embarrassing position before the Board of Trustees. Of course there can be no question now of a new department.”

“Yes,” said Martin vacantly.

He carefully filed away the beginnings of his paper and turned to his bench. He stared at a shining flask till it fascinated him like a crystal ball. He pondered:

“Wouldn’t have been so bad if Tubbs had let me alone. Damn these old men, damn these Men of Measured Merriment, these Important Men that come and offer you honors. Money. Decorations. Titles. Want to make you windy with authority. Honors! If you get ’em, you become pompous, and then when you’re used to ’em, if you lose ’em you feel foolish.

“So I’m not going to be rich. Leora, poor kid, she won’t have her new dresses and flat and everything. We — Won’t be so much fun in the lil old flat, now. Oh, quit whining!

“I wish Terry were here.

“I love that man Gottlieb. He might have gloated —

“Bacteriophage, the Frenchman calls it. Too long. Better just call it PHAGE. Even got to take his name for it, for my own X Principle! Well, I had a lot of fun, working all those nights. Working —”

He was coming out of his trance. He imagined the flask filled with staph-clouded broth. He plodded into Gottlieb’s office to secure the journal containing D’Herelle’s report, and read it minutely, enthusiastically.

“There’s a man, there’s a scientist!” he chuckled.

On his way home he was planning to experiment on the Shiga dysentery bacillus with phage (as henceforth he called the X Principle), planning to volley questions and criticisms at D’Herelle, hoping that Tubbs would not discharge him for a while, and expanding with relief that he would not have to do his absurd premature paper on phage, that he could be lewd and soft-collared and easy, not judicious and spied-on and weighty.

He grinned, “Gosh, I’ll bet Tubbs was disappointed! He’d figured on signing all my papers with me and getting the credit. Now for this Shiga experiment — Poor Lee, she’ll have to get used to my working nights, I guess.”

Leora kept to herself what she felt about it — or at least most of what she felt.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/arrowsmith/chapter29.html

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