Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 3

John A. Robertshaw, John Aldington Robertshaw, professor of physiology in the medical school, was rather deaf, and he was the only teacher in the University of Winnemac who still wore mutton-chop whiskers. He came from Back Bay; he was proud of it and let you know about it. With three other Brahmins he formed in Mohalis a Boston colony which stood for sturdy sweetness and decorously shaded light. On all occasions he remarked, “When I was studying with Ludwig in Germany —” He was too absorbed in his own correctness to heed individual students, and Clif Clawson and the other young men technically known as “hell-raisers” looked forward to his lectures on physiology.

They were held in an amphitheater whose seats curved so far around that the lecturer could not see both ends at once, and while Dr. Robertshaw, continuing to drone about blood circulation, was peering to the right to find out who was making that outrageous sound like a motor horn, far over on the left Clif Clawson would rise and imitate him, with sawing arm and stroking of imaginary whiskers. Once Clif produced the masterpiece of throwing a brick into the sink beside the platform, just when Dr. Robertshaw was working up to his annual climax about the effects of brass bands on the intensity of the knee-jerk.

Martin had been reading Max Gottlieb’s scientific papers — as much of them as he could read, with their morass of mathematical symbols — and from them he had a conviction that experiments should be something dealing with the foundations of life and death, with the nature of bacterial infection, with the chemistry of bodily reactions. When Robertshaw chirped about fussy little experiments, standard experiments, maiden-aunt experiments, Martin was restless. In college he had felt that prosody and Latin Composition were futile, and he had looked forward to the study of medicine as illumination. Now, in melancholy worry about his own unreasonableness, he found that he was developing the same contempt for Robertshaw’s rules of the thumb — and for most of the work in anatomy.

The professor of anatomy, Dr. Oliver O. Stout, was himself an anatomy, a dissection-chart, a thinly covered knot of nerves and blood vessels and bones. Stout had precise and enormous knowledge; in his dry voice he could repeat more facts about the left little toe than you would have thought anybody would care to learn regarding the left little toe.

No discussion at the Digamma Pi supper table was more violent than the incessant debate over the value to a doctor, a decent normal doctor who made a good living and did not worry about reading papers at medical associations, of remembering anatomical terms. But no matter what they thought, they all ground at learning the lists of names which enable a man to crawl through examinations and become an Educated Person, with a market value of five dollars an hour. Unknown sages had invented rimes which enabled them to memorize. At supper — the thirty piratical Digams sitting at a long and spotty table, devouring clam chowder and beans and codfish balls and banana layer-cake — the Freshmen earnestly repeated after a senior:

On old Olympus’ topmost top A fat-eared German viewed a hop.

Thus by association with the initial letters they mastered the twelve cranial nerves: olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, and the rest. To the Digams it was the world’s noblest poem, and they remembered it for years after they had become practicing physicians and altogether forgotten the names of the nerves themselves.

ii

In Dr. Stout’s anatomy lectures there were no disturbances, but in his dissecting-room were many pleasantries. The mildest of them was the insertion of a fire-cracker in the cadaver on which the two virginal and unhappy co-eds worked. The real excitement during Freshman year was the incident of Clif Clawson and the pancreas.

Clif had been elected class president, for the year, because he was so full of greetings. He never met a classmate in the hall of Main Medical without shouting, “How’s your vermiform appendix functioning this morning?” or “I bid thee a lofty greeting, old pediculosis.” With booming decorum he presided at class meetings (indignant meetings to denounce the proposal to let the “aggies” use the North Side Tennis Courts), but in private life he was less decorous.

The terrible thing happened when the Board of Regents were being shown through the campus. The Regents were the supreme rulers of the University; they were bankers and manufacturers and pastors of large churches; to them even the president was humble. Nothing gave them more interesting thrills than the dissecting-room of the medical school. The preachers spoke morally of the effect of alcohol on paupers, and the bankers of the disrespect for savings-accounts which is always to be seen in the kind of men who insist on becoming cadavers. In the midst of the tour, led by Dr. Stout and the umbrella-carrying secretary of the University, the plumpest and most educational of all the bankers stopped near Clif Clawson’s dissecting-table, with his derby hat reverently held behind him, and into that hat Clif dropped a pancreas.

Now a pancreas is a damp and disgusting thing to find in your new hat, and when the banker did so find one, he threw down the hat and said that the students of Winnemac had gone to the devil. Dr. Stout and the secretary comforted him; they cleaned the derby and assured him that vengeance should be done on the man who could put a pancreas in a banker’s hat.

Dr. Stout summoned Clif, as president of the Freshmen. Clif was pained. He assembled the class, he lamented that any Winnemac Man could place a pancreas in a banker’s hat, and he demanded that the criminal be manly enough to stand up and confess.

Unfortunately the Reverend Ira Hinkley, who sat between Martin and Angus Duer, had seen Clif drop the pancreas. He growled, “This is outrageous! I’m going to expose Clawson, even if he is a frat-brother of mine.”

Martin protested, “Cut it out. You don’t want to get him fired?”

“He ought to be!”

Angus Duer turned in his seat, looked at Ira, and suggested, “Will you kindly shut up?” and, as Ira subsided, Angus became to Martin more admirable and more hateful than ever.

iii

When he was depressed by a wonder as to why he was here, listening to a Professor Robertshaw, repeating verses about fat-eared Germans, learning the trade of medicine like Fatty Pfaff or Irving Watters, then Martin had relief in what he considered debauches. Actually they were extremely small debauches; they rarely went beyond too much lager in the adjacent city of Zenith, or the smiles of a factory girl parading the sordid back avenues, but to Martin, with his pride in taut strength, his joy in a clear brain, they afterward seemed tragic.

His safest companion was Clif Clawson. No matter how much bad beer he drank, Clif was never much more intoxicated than in his normal state. Martin sank or rose to Clif’s buoyancy, while Clif rose or sank to Martin’s speculativeness. As they sat in a back-room, at a table glistening with beer-glass rings, Clif shook his finger and babbled, “You’re only one ‘at gets me, Mart. You know with all the hell-raising, and all the talk about bein’ c’mmercial that I pull on these high boys like Ira Stinkley, I’m jus’ sick o’ c’mmercialism an’ bunk as you are.”

“Sure. You bet,” Martin agreed with alcoholic fondness. “You’re jus’ like me. My God, do you get it — dough-face like Irving Watters or heartless climber like Angus Duer, and then old Gottlieb! Ideal of research! Never bein’ content with what SEEMS true! Alone, not carin’ a damn, square-toed as a captain on the bridge, working all night, getting to the bottom of things!”

“Thash stuff. That’s my idee, too. Lez have ‘nother beer. Shake you for it!” observed Clif Clawson.

Zenith, with its saloons, was fifteen miles from Mohalis and the University of Winnemac; half an hour by the huge, roaring, steel interurban trolleys, and to Zenith the medical students went for their forays. To say that one had “gone into town last night” was a matter for winks and leers. But with Angus Duer, Martin discovered a new Zenith.

At supper Duer said abruptly, “Come into town with me and hear a concert.”

For all his fancied superiority to the class, Martin was illimitably ignorant of literature, of painting, of music. That the bloodless and acquisitive Angus Duer should waste time listening to fiddlers was astounding to him. He discovered that Duer had enthusiasm for two composers, called Bach and Beethoven, presumably Germans, and that he himself did not yet comprehend all the ways of the world. On the interurban, Duer’s gravity loosened, and he cried, “Boy, if I hadn’t been born to carve up innards, I’d have been a great musician! Tonight I’m going to lead you right into Heaven!”

Martin found himself in a confusion of little chairs and vast gilded arches, of polite but disapproving ladies with programs in their laps, unromantic musicians making unpleasant noises below and, at last, incomprehensible beauty, which made for him pictures of hills and deep forests, then suddenly became achingly long-winded. He exulted, “I’m going to have ’em all — the fame of Max Gottlieb — I mean his ability — and the lovely music and lovely women — Golly! I’m going to do big things. And see the world. . . . Will this piece never quit?”

iv

It was a week after the concert that he rediscovered Madeline Fox.

Madeline was a handsome, high-colored, high-spirited, opinionated girl whom Martin had known in college. She was staying on, ostensibly to take a graduate course in English, actually to avoid going back home. She considered herself a superb tennis player; she played it with energy and voluble swoopings and large lack of direction. She believed herself to be a connoisseur of literature; the fortunates to whom she gave her approval were Hardy, Meredith, Howells, and Thackeray, none of whom she had read for five years. She had often reproved Martin for his inappreciation of Howells, for wearing flannel shirts, and for his failure to hand her down from street-cars in the manner of a fiction hero. In college, they had gone to dances together, though as a dancer Martin was more spirited than accurate, and his partners sometimes had difficulty in deciding just what he was trying to dance. He liked Madeline’s tall comeliness and her vigor; he felt that with her energetic culture she was somehow “good for him.” During this year, he had scarcely seen her. He thought of her late in the evenings, and planned to telephone to her, and did not telephone. But as he became doubtful about medicine he longed for her sympathy, and on a Sunday afternoon of spring he took her for a walk along the Chaloosa River.

From the river bluffs the prairie stretches in exuberant rolling hills. In the long barley fields, the rough pastures, the stunted oaks and brilliant birches, there is the adventurousness of the frontier, and like young plainsmen they tramped the bluffs and told each other they were going to conquer the world.

He complained, “These damn’ medics —”

“Oh, Martin, do you think ‘damn’ is a nice word?” said Madeline.

He did think it was a very nice word indeed, and constantly useful to a busy worker, but her smile was desirable.

“Well — these darn’ studes, they aren’t trying to learn science; they’re simply learning a trade. They just want to get the knowledge that’ll enable them to cash in. They don’t talk about saving lives but about ‘losing cases’— losing dollars! And they wouldn’t even mind losing cases if it was a sensational operation that’d advertise ’em! They make me sick! How many of ’em do you find that’re interested in the work Ehrlich is doing in Germany — yes, or that Max Gottlieb is doing right here and now! Gottlieb’s just taken an awful fall out of Wright’s opsonin theory.”

“Has he, really?”

“HAS he! I should say he had! And do you get any of the medics stirred up about it? You do not! They say, ‘Oh, sure, science is all right in its way; helps a doc to treat his patients,’ and then they begin to argue about whether they can make more money if they locate in a big city or a town, and is it better for a young doc to play the good-fellow and lodge game, or join the church and look earnest. You ought to hear Irve Watters. He’s just got one idea: the fellow that gets ahead in medicine, is he the lad that knows his pathology? Oh, no; the bird that succeeds is the one that gets an office on a northeast corner, near a trolley car junction, with a ‘phone number that’ll be easy for patients to remember! Honest! He said so! I swear, when I graduate I believe I’ll be a ship’s doctor. You see the world that way, and at least you aren’t racing up and down the boat trying to drag patients away from some rival doc that has an office on another deck!”

“Yes, I know; it’s dreadful the way people don’t have ideals about their work. So many of the English grad students just want to make money teaching, instead of enjoying scholarship the way I do.”

It was disconcerting to Martin that she should seem to think that she was a superior person quite as much as himself, but he was even more disconcerted when she bubbled:

“At the same time, Martin, one does have to be practical, doesn’t one! Think how much more money — no, I mean how much more social position and power for doing good a successful doctor has than one of these scientists that just putter, and don’t know what’s going on in the world. Look at a surgeon like Dr. Loizeau, riding up to the hospital in a lovely car with a chauffeur in uniform, and all his patients simply worshiping him, and then your Max Gottlieb — somebody pointed him out to me the other day, and he had on a dreadful old suit, and I certainly thought he could stand a hair-cut.”

Martin turned on her with fury, statistics, vituperation, religious zeal, and confused metaphors. They sat on a crooked old-fashioned rail-fence where over the sun-soaked bright plantains the first insects of spring were humming. In the storm of his fanaticism she lost her airy Culture and squeaked, “Yes, I see now, I see,” without stating what it was she saw. “Oh, you do have a fine mind and such fine — such integrity.”

“Honest? Do you think I have?”

“Oh, indeed I do, and I’m sure you’re going to have a wonderful future. And I’m so glad you aren’t commercial, like the others. Don’t mind what they say!”

He noted that Madeline was not only a rare and understanding spirit but also an extraordinarily desirable woman — fresh color, tender eyes, adorable slope from shoulder to side. As they walked back, he perceived that she was incredibly the right mate for him. Under his training she would learn the distinction between vague “ideals” and the hard sureness of science. They paused on the bluff, looking down at the muddy Chaloosa, a springtime Western river wild with floating branches. He yearned for her; he regretted the casual affairs of a student and determined to be a pure and extremely industrious young man, to be, in fact, “worthy of her.”

“Oh, Madeline,” he mourned, “you’re so darn’ lovely!”

She glanced at him, timidly.

He caught her hand; in a desperate burst he tried to kiss her. It was very badly done. He managed only to kiss the point of her jaw, while she struggled and begged, “Oh, don’t!” They did not acknowledge, as they ambled back into Mohalis, that the incident had occurred, but there was softness in their voices and without impatience now she heard his denunciation of Professor Robertshaw as a phonograph, and he listened to her remarks on the shallowness and vulgarity of Dr. Norman Brumfit, that sprightly English instructor. At her boarding-house she sighed, “I wish I could ask you to come in, but it’s almost suppertime and — Will you call me up some day?”

“You bet I will!” said Martin, according to the rules for amorous discourse in the University of Winnemac.

He raced home in adoration. As he lay in his narrow upper bunk at midnight, he saw her eyes, now impertinent, now reproving, now warm with trust in him. “I love her! I LOVE her! I’ll ‘phone her — Wonder if I dare call her up as early as eight in the morning?”

But at eight he was too busy studying the lacrimal apparatus to think of ladies’ eyes. He saw Madeline only once, and in the publicity of her boarding-house porch, crowded with coeds, red cushions, and marshmallows, before he was hurled into hectic studying for the year’s final examinations.

v

At examination-time, Digamma Pi fraternity showed its value to urgent seekers after wisdom. Generations of Digams had collected test-papers and preserved them in the sacred Quiz Book; geniuses for detail had labored through the volume and marked with red pencil the problems most often set in the course of years. The Freshmen crouched in a ring about Ira Hinkley in the Digam living-room, while he read out the questions they were most likely to get. They writhed, clawed their hair, scratched their chins, bit their fingers, and beat their temples in the endeavor to give the right answer before Angus Duer should read it to them out of the textbook.

In the midst of their sufferings they had to labor with Fatty Pfaff.

Fatty had failed in the mid-year anatomical, and he had to pass a special quiz before he could take the finals. There was a certain fondness for him in Digamma Pi; Fatty was soft, Fatty was superstitious, Fatty was an imbecile, yet they had for him the annoyed affection they might have had for a second-hand motor or a muddy dog. All of them worked on him; they tried to lift him and thrust him through the examination as through a trap-door. They panted and grunted and moaned at the labor, and Fatty panted and moaned with them.

The night before his special examination they kept him at it till two, with wet towels, black coffee, prayer, and profanity. They repeated lists — lists — lists to him; they shook their fists in his mournful red round face and howled, “Damn you, WILL you remember that the bicuspid valve is the SAME as the mitral valve and NOT another one?” They ran about the room, holding up their hands and wailing, “Won’t he never remember nothing about nothing?” and charged back to purr with fictive calm, “Now no use getting fussed, Fatty. Take it easy. Just listen to this, quietly, will yuh, and try,” coaxingly, “do try to remember ONE thing, anyway!”

They led him carefully to bed. He was so filled with facts that the slightest jostling would have spilled them.

When he awoke at seven, with red eyes and trembling lips, he had forgotten everything he had learned.

“There’s nothing for it,” said the president of Digamma Pi. “He’s got to have a crib, and take his chance on getting caught with it. I thought so. I made one out for him yesterday. It’s a lulu. It’ll cover enough of the questions so he’ll get through.”

Even the Reverend Ira Hinkley, since he had witnessed the horrors of the midnight before, went his ways ignoring the crime. It was Fatty himself who protested: “Gee, I don’t like to cheat. I don’t think a fellow that can’t get through an examination had hardly ought to be allowed to practice medicine. That’s what my Dad said.”

They poured more coffee into him and (on the advice of Clif Clawson, who wasn’t exactly sure what the effect might be but who was willing to learn) they fed him a potassium bromide tablet. The president of Digamma, seizing Fatty with some firmness, growled, “I’m going to stick this crib in your pocket — look, here in your breast pocket, behind your handkerchief.”

“I won’t use it. I don’t care if I fail,” whimpered Fatty.

“That’s all right, but you keep it there. Maybe you can absorb a little information from it through your lungs, for God knows —” The president clenched his hair. His voice rose, and in it was all the tragedy of night watches and black draughts and hopeless retreats. “— God knows you can’t take it in through your head!”

They dusted Fatty, they stood him right side up, and pushed him through the door, on his way to Anatomy Building. They watched him go: a balloon on legs, a sausage in corduroy trousers.

“Is it possible he’s going to be honest?” marveled Clif Clawson.

“Well, if he is, we better go up and begin packing his trunk. And this ole frat’ll never have another goat like Fatty,” grieved the president.

They saw Fatty stop, remove his handkerchief, mournfully blow his nose — and discover a long thin slip of paper. They saw him frown at it, tap it on his knuckles, begin to read it, stuff it back into his pocket, and go on with a more resolute step.

They danced hand in hand about the living-room of the fraternity, piously assuring one another, “He’ll use it — it’s all right — he’ll get through or get hanged!”

He got through.

vi

Digamma Pi was more annoyed by Martin’s restless doubtings than by Fatty’s idiocy, Clif Clawson’s raucousness, Angus Duer’s rasping, or the Reverend Ira Hinkley’s nagging.

During the strain of study for examinations Martin was peculiarly vexing in regard to “laying in the best quality medical terms like the best quality sterilizers — not for use but to impress your patients.” As one, the Digams suggested, “Say, if you don’t like the way we study medicine, we’ll be tickled to death to take up a collection and send you back to Elk Mills, where you won’t be disturbed by all us lowbrows and commercialists. Look here! We don’t tell you how you ought to work. Where do you get the idea you got to tell us? Oh, turn it off, will you!”

Angus Duer observed, with sour sweetness, “We’ll admit we’re simply carpenters, and you’re a great investigator. But there’s several things you might turn to when you finish science. What do you know about architecture? How’s your French verbs? How many big novels have you ever read? Who’s the premier of Austro–Hungary?”

Martin struggled, “I don’t pretend to know anything — except I do know what a man like Max Gottlieb means. He’s got the right method, and all these other hams of profs, they’re simply witch doctors. You think Gottlieb isn’t religious, Hinkley. Why, his just being in a lab is a prayer. Don’t you idiots realize what it means to have a man like that here, making new concepts of life? Don’t you —”

Clif Clawson, with a chasm of yawning, speculated, “Praying in the lab! I’ll bet I get the pants took off me, when I take bacteriology, if Pa Gottlieb catches me praying during experiment hours!”

“Damn it, listen!” Martin wailed. “I tell you, you fellows are the kind that keep medicine nothing but guess-work diagnosis, and here you have a man —”

So they argued for hours, after their sweaty fact-grinding.

When the others had gone to bed, when the room was a muck-heap of flung clothing and weary young men snoring in iron bunks, Martin sat at the splintery long pine study-table, worrying. Angus Duer glided in, demanding, “Look here, old son. We’re all sick of your crabbing. If you think medicine is rot, the way we study it, and if you’re so confoundedly honest, why don’t you get out?”

He left Martin to agonize, “He’s right. I’ve got to shut up or get out. Do I really mean it? What DO I want? What AM I going to do?”

vii

Angus Duer’s studiousness and his reverence for correct manners were alike offended by Clif’s bawdy singing, Clif’s howling conversation, Clif’s fondness for dropping things in people’s soup, and Clif’s melancholy inability to keep his hands washed. For all his appearance of nerveless steadiness, during the tension of examination-time Duer was as nervous as Martin, and one evening at supper, when Clif was bellowing, Duer snapped, “Will you kindly not make so much racket?”

“I’ll make all the damn’ racket I damn’ please!” Clif asserted, and a feud was on.

Clif was so noisy thereafter that he almost became tired of his own noise. He was noisy in the living-room, he was noisy in the bath, and with some sacrifice he lay awake pretending to snore. If Duer was quiet and book-wrapped, he was not in the least timid; he faced Clif with the eye of a magistrate, and cowed him. Privily Clif complained to Martin, “Darn him, he acts like I was a worm. Either he or me has got to get out of Digam, that’s a cinch, and it won’t be me!”

He was ferocious and very noisy about it, and it was he who got out. He said that the Digams were a “bunch of bum sports; don’t even have a decent game of poker,” but he was fleeing from the hard eyes of Angus Duer. And Martin resigned from the fraternity with him, planned to room with him the coming autumn.

Clif’s blustering rubbed Martin as it did Duer. Clif had no reticences; when he was not telling slimy stories he was demanding, “How much chuh pay for those shoes — must think you’re a Vanderbilt!” or “D’I see you walking with that Madeline Fox femme — what chuh tryin’ to do?” But Martin was alienated from the civilized, industrious, nice young men of Digamma Pi, in whose faces he could already see prescriptions, glossy white sterilizers, smart enclosed motors, and glass office-signs in the best gilt lettering. He preferred a barbarian loneliness, for next year he would be working with Max Gottlieb, and he could not be bothered.

That summer he spent with a crew installing telephones in Montana.

He was a lineman in the wire-gang. It was his job to climb the poles, digging the spurs of his leg-irons into the soft and silvery pine, to carry up the wire, lash it to the glass insulators, then down and to another pole.

They made perhaps five miles a day; at night they drove into little rickety wooden towns. Their retiring was simple — they removed their shoes and rolled up in a horse-blanket. Martin wore overalls and a flannel shirt. He looked like a farm-hand. Climbing all day long, he breathed deep, his eyes cleared of worry, and one day he experienced a miracle.

He was atop a pole and suddenly, for no clear cause, his eyes opened and he saw; as though he had just awakened he saw that the prairie was vast, that the sun was kindly on rough pasture and ripening wheat, on the old horses, the easy, broad-beamed, friendly horses, and on his red-faced jocose companions; he saw that the meadow larks were jubilant, and blackbirds shining by little pools, and with the living sun all life was living. Suppose the Angus Duers and Irving Watterses were tight tradesmen. What of it? “I’m HERE!” he gloated.

The wire-gang were as healthy and as simple as the west wind; they had no pretentiousness; though they handled electrical equipment they did not, like medics, learn a confusion of scientific terms and pretend to the farmers that they were scientists. They laughed easily and were content to be themselves, and with them Martin was content to forget how noble he was. He had for them an affection such as he had for no one at the University save Max Gottlieb.

He carried in his bag one book, Gottlieb’s “Immunology.” He could often get through half a page of it before he bogged down in chemical formulae. Occasionally, on Sundays or rainy days, he tried to read it, and longed for the laboratory; occasionally he thought of Madeline Fox, and became certain that he was devastatingly lonely for her. But week slipped into careless and robust week, and when he awoke in a stable, smelling the sweet hay and the horses and the lark-ringing prairie that crept near to the heart of these shanty towns, he cared only for the day’s work, the day’s hiking, westward toward the sunset.

So they straggled through the Montana wheatland, whole duchies of wheat in one shining field, through the cattle-country and the sagebrush desert, and suddenly, staring at a persistent cloud, Martin realized that he beheld the mountains.

Then he was on a train; the wire-gang were already forgotten; and he was thinking only of Madeline Fox, Clif Clawson, Angus Duer, and Max Gottlieb.

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