Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 30

For a year broken only by Terry Wickett’s return after the Armistice, and by the mockeries of that rowdy intelligence, Martin was in a grind of drudgery. Week on week he toiled at complicated phage experiments. His work — his hands, his technique — became more adept, and his days more steady, less fretful.

He returned to his evening studying. He went from mathematics into physical chemistry; began to understand the mass action law; became as sarcastic as Terry about what he called the “bedside manner” of Tubbs and Holabird; read much French and German; went canoeing on the Hudson on Sunday afternoons; and had a bawdy party with Leora and Terry to celebrate the day when the Institute was purified by the sale of Holabird’s pride, Gladys the Centrifuge.

He suspected that Dr. Tubbs, now magnificent with the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, had retained him in the Institute only because of Gottlieb’s intervention. But it may be that Tubbs and Holabird hoped he would again blunder into publicity-bringing miracles, for they were both polite to him at lunch — polite and wistfully rebuking, and full of meaty remarks about publishing one’s discoveries early instead of dawdling.

It was more than a year after Martin’s anticipation by D’Herelle when Tubbs appeared in the laboratory with suggestions:

“I’ve been thinking, Arrowsmith,” said Tubbs.

He looked it.

“D’Herelle’s discovery hasn’t aroused the popular interest I thought it would. If he’d only been here with us, I’d have seen to it that he got the proper attention. Practically no newspaper comment at all. Perhaps we can still do something. As I understand it, you’ve been going along with what Dr. Gottlieb would call ‘fundamental research.’ I think it may now be time for you to use phage in practical healing. I want you to experiment with phage in pneumonia, plague, perhaps typhoid, and when your experiments get going, make some practical tests in collaboration with the hospitals. Enough of all this mere frittering and vanity. Let’s really CURE somebody!”

Martin was not free from a fear of dismissal if he refused to obey. And he was touched as Tubbs went on:

“Arrowsmith, I suspect you sometimes feel I lack a sense of scientific precision when I insist on practical results. I— Somehow I don’t see the really noble and transforming results coming out of this Institute that we ought to be getting, with our facilities. I’d like to do something big, my boy, something fine for poor humanity, before I pass on. Can’t you give it to me? Go cure the plague!”

For once Tubbs was a tired smile and not an earnestness of whiskers.

That day, concealing from Gottlieb his abandonment of the quest for the fundamental nature of phage, Martin set about fighting pneumonia, before attacking the Black Death. And when Gottiieb learned of it, he was absorbed in certain troubles of his own.

Martin cured rabbits of pleuro-pneumonia by the injection of phage, and by feeding them with it he prevented the spread of pneumonia. He found that phage-produced immunity could be as infectious as a disease.

He was pleased with himself, and expected pleasure from Tubbs, but for weeks Tubbs did not heed him. He was off on a new enthusiasm, the most virulent of his whole life: he was organizing the League of Cultural Agencies.

He was going to standardize and co-ordinate all mental activities in America, by the creation of a bureau which should direct and pat and gently rebuke and generally encourage chemistry and batik-making, poetry and Arctic exploration, animal husbandry and Bible study, Negro spirituals and business-letter writing. He was suddenly in conference with conductors of symphony orchestras, directors of art-schools, owners of itinerant Chautauquas, liberal governors, ex-clergymen who wrote tasty philosophy for newspaper syndicates, in fact all the proprietors of American intellectuality — particularly including a millionaire named Minnigen who had recently been elevating the artistic standards of the motion pictures.

Tubbs was all over the Institute inviting the researchers to join him in the League of Cultural Agencies with its fascinating committee-meetings and dinners. Most of them grunted, “The Old Man is erupting again,” and forgot him, but one ex-major went out every evening to confer with serious ladies who wore distinguished frocks, who sobbed over “the loss of spiritual and intellectual horse-power through lack of co-ordination,” and who went home in limousines.

There were rumors. Dr. Billy Smith whispered that he had gone in to see Tubbs and heard McGurk shouting at him, “Your job is to run this shop and not work for that land-stealing, four-flushing, play-producing son of evil, Pete Minnigen!”

The morning after, when Martin ambled to his laboratory, he discovered a gasping, a muttering, a shaking in the corridors, and incredulously he heard:

“Tubbs has resigned!”

“No!”

“They say he’s gone to his League of Cultural Agencies. This fellow Minnigen has given the League a scad of money, and Tubbs is to get twice the salary he had here!”

ii

Instantly, for all but the zealots like Gottlieb, Terry, Martin, and the bio-physics assistant, research was halted. There was a surging of factions, a benevolent and winning buzz of scientists who desired to be the new Director of the Institute.

Rippleton Holabird, Yeo the carpenter-like biologist, Gillingham the joky chief in bio-physics, Aaron Sholtheis the neat Russian Jewish High Church Episcopalian, all of them went about with expressions of modest willingness. They were affectionate with everybody they met in the corridors, however violent they were in private discussions. Added to them were no few outsiders, professors and researchers in other institutes, who found it necessary to come and confer about rather undefined matters with Ross McGurk.

Terry remarked to Martin, “Probably Pearl Robbins and your garcon are pitching horseshoes for the Directorship. My garcon ain’t — the only reason, though, is because I’ve just murdered him. At that, I think Pearl would be the best choice. She’s been Tubbs’s secretary so long that she’s learned all his ignorance about scientific technique.”

Rippleton Holabird was the most unctuous of the office seekers, and the most hungry. The war over, he missed his uniform and his authority. He urged Martin:

“You know how I’ve always believed in your genius, Martin, and I know how dear old Gottlieb believes in you. If you would get Gottlieb to back me, to talk to McGurk — Of course in taking the Directorship I would be making a sacrifice, because I’d have to give up my research, but I’d be willing because I feel, really, that somebody with a Tradition ought to carry on the control. Tubbs is backing me, and if Gottlieb did — I’d see that it was to Gottlieb’s advantage. I’d give him a lot more floor-space!”

Through the Institute it was vaguely known that Capitola was advocating the election of Holabird as “the only scientist here who is also a gentleman.” She was seen sailing down corridors, a frigate, with Holabird a sloop in her wake.

But while Holabird beamed, Nicholas Yeo looked secret and satisfied.

The whole Institute fluttered on the afternoon when the Board of Trustees met in the Hall, for the election of a Director. They were turned from investigators into boarding-school girls. The Board debated, or did something annoying, for draining hours.

At four, Terry Wickett hastened to Martin with, “Say, Slim, I’ve got a straight tip that They’ve elected Silva, dean of the Winnemac medical school. That’s your shop, isn’t it? Wha’s like?”

“He’s a fine old — No! He and Gottlieb hate each other. Lord! Gottlieb’ll resign, and I’ll have to get out. Just when my work’s going nice!”

At five, past doors made of attentive eyes, the Board of Trustees marched to the laboratory of Max Gottlieb.

Holabird was heard saying bravely, “Of course with me, I wouldn’t give my research up for any administrative job.” And Pearl Robbins informed Terry, “Yes, it’s true — Mr. McGurk himself just told me — the Board has elected Dr. Gottlieb the new Director.”

“Then they’re fools,” said Terry. “He’ll refuse it, with wilence. ‘Dot dey should ask me to go monkey-skipping mit committee meetings!’ Fat chance!”

When the Board had gone, Martin and Terry flooded into Gottlieb’s laboratory and found the old man standing by his bench, more erect than they had seen him for years.

“Is it true — they want you to be Director?” panted Martin.

“Yes, they have asked me.”

“But you’ll refuse? You won’t let ’em gum up your work!”

“Vell. . . . I said my real work must go on. They consent I should appoint an Assistant Director to do the detail. You see — Of course nothing must interfere with my immunology, but dis gives me the chance to do big t’ings and make a free scientific institute for all you boys. And those fools at Winnemac that laughed at my idea of a real medical school, now maybe they will see — Do you know who was my rival for Director — do you know who it was, Martin? It was that man Silva! Ha!”

In the corridor Terry groaned, “Requiescat in pace.”

iii

To the dinner in Gottlieb’s honor (the only dinner that ever was given in Gottlieb’s honor) there came not only the men of impressive but easy affairs who attend all dinners of honor, but the few scientists whom Gottlieb admired.

He appeared late, rather shaky, escorted by Martin. When he reached the speakers’ table, the guests rose to him, shouting. He peered at them, he tried to speak, he held out his long arms as if to take them all in, and sank down sobbing.

There were cables from Europe; ardent letters from Tubbs and Dean Silva bewailing their inability to be present; telegrams from college presidents; and all of these were read to admiring applause.

But Capitola murmured, “Just the same, we shall miss dear Dr. Tubbs. He was so forward-looking. Don’t play with your fork, Ross.”

So Max Gottlieb took charge of the McGurk Institute of Biology, and in a month that Institute became a shambles.

iv

Gottlieb planned to give only an hour a day to business. As Assistant Director he appointed Dr. Aaron Sholtheis, the epidemiologist, the Yonkers churchman and dahlia-fancier. Gottlieb explained to Martin that, though of course Sholtheis was a fool, yet he was the only man in sight who combined at least a little scientific ability with a willingness to endure the routine and pomposity and compromises of executive work.

By continuing his ancient sneers at all bustling managers, Gottlieb obviously felt that he excused himself for having become a manager.

He could not confine his official work to an hour a day. There were too many conferences, too many distinguished callers, too many papers which needed his signature. He was dragged into dinner-parties; and the long, vague, palavering luncheons to which a Director has to go, and the telephoning to straighten out the dates of these tortures, took nervous hours. Each day his executive duties crawled into two hours or three or four, and he raged, he became muddled by complications of personnel and economy, he was ever more autocratic, more testy; and the loving colleagues of the Institute, who had been soothed or bullied into surface peace by Tubbs, now jangled openly.

While he was supposed to radiate benevolence from the office recently occupied by Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs, Gottlieb clung to his own laboratory and to his narrow office as a cat clings to its cushion under a table. Once or twice he tried to sit and look impressive in the office of the Director, but fled from that large clean vacuity and from Miss Robbins’s snapping typewriter to his own den that smelled not of forward-looking virtue but only of cigarettes and old papers.

To McGurk, as to every scientific institution, came hundreds of farmers and practical nurses and suburban butchers who had paid large fares from Oklahoma or Oregon to get recognition for the unquestionable cures which they had discovered: oil of Mississippi catfish which saved every case of tuberculosis, arsenic pastes guaranteed to cure all cancers. They came with letters and photographs amid the frayed clean linen in their shabby suit-cases — at any opportunity they would stoop over their bags and hopefully bring out testimonials from their Pastors; they begged for a chance to heal humanity, and for themselves only enough money to send The Girl to musical conservatory. So certain, so black-crapely beseeching were they that no reception-clerk could be trained to keep them all out.

Gottlieb found them seeping into his office. He was sorry for them. They did take his working hours, they did scratch his belief that he was hard-hearted, but they implored him with such wretched timorousness that he could not get rid of them without making promises, and admitting afterward that to have been more cruel would have been less cruel.

It was the Important People to whom he was rude.

The Directorship devoured enough time and peace to prevent Gottlieb from going on with the ever more recondite problems of his inquiry into the nature of specificity, and his inquiry prevented him from giving enough attention to the Institute to keep it from falling to pieces. He depended on Sholtheis, passed decisions on to him, but Sholtheis, since in any case Gottlieb would get all the credit for a successful Directorship, kept up his own scientific work and passed the decisions to Miss Pearl Robbins, so that the actual Director was the handsome and jealous Pearl.

There was no craftier or crookeder Director in the habitable world. Pearl enjoyed it. She so warmly and modestly assured Ross McGurk of the merits of Gottlieb and of her timorous devotion to him, she so purred to the flattery of Rippleton Holabird, she so blandly answered the hoarse hostility of Terry Wickett by keeping him from getting materials for his work, that the Institute reeled with intrigue.

Yeo was not speaking to Sholtheis. Terry threatened Holabird to “paste him one.” Gottlieb constantly asked Martin for advice, and never took it. Joust, the vulgar but competent bio-physicist, lacking the affection which kept Martin and Terry from reproaching the old man, told Gottlieb that he was a “rotten Director and ought to quit,” and was straightway discharged and replaced by a muffin.

Max Gottlieb had ever discoursed to Martin of “the jests of the gods.” Among these jests Martin had never beheld one so pungent as this whereby the pretentiousness and fussy unimaginativeness which he had detested in Tubbs should have made him a good manager, while the genius of Gottlieb should have made him a feeble tyrant; the jest that the one thing worse than a too managed and standardized institution should be one that was not managed and standardized at all. He would once have denied it with violence, but nightly now he prayed for Tubbs’s return.

If the business of the Institute was not more complicated thereby, certainly its placidity was the more disturbed by the appearance of Gustaf Sondelius, who had just returned from a study of sleeping sickness in Africa and who noisily took one of the guest laboratories.

Gustaf Sondelius, the soldier of preventive medicine whose lecture had sent Martin from Wheatsylvania to Nautilus, had remained in his gallery of heroes as possessing a little of Gottlieb’s perception, something of Dad Silva’s steady kindliness, something of Terry’s tough honesty though none of his scorn of amenities, and with these a spicy, dripping richness altogether his own. It is true that Sondelius did not remember Martin. Since their evening in Minneapolis he had drunk and debated and flamboyantly ridden to obscure but vinuous destinations with too many people. But he was made to remember, and in a week Sondelius and Terry and Martin were to be seen tramping and dining, or full of topics and gin at Martin’s flat.

Sondelius’s wild flaxen hair was almost gray, but he had the same bull shoulders, the same wide brow, and the same tornado of plans to make the world aseptic, without neglecting to enjoy a few of the septic things before they should pass away.

His purpose was, after finishing his sleeping sickness report, to found a school of tropical medicine in New York.

He besieged McGurk and the wealthy Mr. Minnigen who was Tubbs’s new patron, and in and out of season he besieged Gottlieb.

He adored Gottlieb and made noises about it. Gottlieb admired his courage and his hatred of commercialism, but his presence Gottlieb could not endure. He was flustered by Sondelius’s hilarity, his compliments, his bounding optimism, his inaccuracy, his boasting, his oppressive bigness. It may be that Gottlieb resented the fact that though Sondelius was only eleven years younger — fifty-eight to Gottlieb’s sixty-nine — he seemed thirty years younger, half a century gayer.

When Sondelius perceived this grudgingness he tried to overcome it by being more noisy and complimentary and enthusiastic than ever. On Gottlieb’s birthday he gave him a shocking smoking-jacket of cherry and mauve velvet, and when he called at Gottlieb’s flat, which was often, Gottlieb had to put on the ghastly thing and sit humming while Sondelius assaulted him with roaring condemnations of mediocre soup and mediocre musicians. . . . That Sondelius gave up surprisingly decorative dinner-parties for these calls, Gottlieb never knew.

Martin turned to Sondelius for courage as he turned to Terry for concentration. Courage and concentration were needed, in these days of an Institute gone insane, if a man was to do his work.

And Martin was doing it.

v

After a consultation with Gottlieb and a worried conference with Leora about the danger of handling the germs, he had gone on to bubonic plague, to the possibilities of preventing it and curing it with phage.

To have heard him asking Sondelius about his experience in plague epidemics, one would have believed that Martin found the Black Death delightful. To have beheld him infecting lean snaky rats with the horror, all the while clucking to them and calling them pet names, one would have known him mad.

He found that rats fed with phage failed to come down with plague; that after phage-feeding, Bacillus pestis disappeared from carrier rats which, without themselves being killed thereby, harbored and spread chronic plague; and that, finally, he could cure the disease. He was as absorbed and happy and nervous as in the first days of the X Principle. He worked all night. . . . At the microscope, under a lone light, fishing out with a glass pipette drawn fine as a hair one single plague bacillus.

To protect himself from infection by the rat-fleas he wore, while he worked with the animals, rubber gloves, high leather boots, straps about his sleeves. These precautions thrilled him, and to the others at McGurk they had something of the esoteric magic of the alchemists. He became a bit of a hero and a good deal of a butt. No more than hearty business men in offices or fussy old men in villages are researchers free from the tedious vice of jovial commenting. The chemists and biologists called him “The Pest,” refused to come to his room, and pretended to avoid him in the corridors.

As he went fluently on from experiment to experiment, as the drama of science obsessed him, he thought very well of himself and found himself taken seriously by the others. He Published one cautious paper on phage in plague, which was mentioned in numerous scientific journals. Even the harassed Gottlieb was commendatory, though he could give but little attention and no help. But Terry Wickett remained altogether cool. He showed for Martin’s somewhat brilliant work only enough enthusiasm to indicate that he was not jealous; he kept poking in to ask whether, with his new experimentation, Martin was continuing his quest for the fundamental nature of all phage, and his study of physical chemistry.

Then Martin had such an assistant as has rarely been known, and that assistant was Gustaf Sondelius.

Sondelius was discouraged regarding his school of tropical medicine. He was looking for new trouble. He had been through several epidemics, and he viewed plague with affectionate hatred. When he understood Martin’s work he gloated, “Hey, Yesus! Maybe you got the t’ing that will be better than Yersin or Haffkine or anybody! Maybe you cure all the world of plague — the poor devils in India — millions of them. Let me in!”

He became Martin’s collaborator; unpaid, tireless, not very skillful, valuable in his buoyancy. As well as Martin he loved irregularity; by principle he never had his meals at the same hours two days in succession, and by choice he worked all night and made poetry, rather bad poetry, at dawn.

Martin had always been the lone prowler. Possibly the thing he most liked in Leora was her singular ability to be cheerfully non-existent even when she was present. At first he was annoyed by Sondelius’s disturbing presence, however interesting he found his fervors about plague-bearing rats (whom Sondelius hated not at all but whom, with loving zeal, he had slaughtered by the million, with a romantic absorption in traps and poison gas). But the Sondelius who was raucous in conversation could be almost silent at work. He knew exactly how to hold the animals while Martin did intrapleural injections; he made cultures of Bacillus pestis; when Martin’s technician had gone home at but a little after midnight (the garcon liked Martin and thought well enough of science, but he was prejudiced in favor of six hours’ daily sleep and sometimes seeing his wife and children in Harlem), then Sondelius cheerfully sterilized glassware and needles, and lumbered up to the animal house to bring down victims.

The change whereby Sondelius was turned from Martin’s master to his slave was so unconscious, and Sondelius, for all his Pickerbaughian love of sensationalism, cared so little about mastery or credit, that neither of them considered that there had been a change. They borrowed cigarettes from each other; they went out at the most improbable hours to have flap-jacks and coffee at an all-night lunch; and together they candled test-tubes charged with death.

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