Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 34

To persuade the shopkeeping lords of St. Hubert to endure a test in which half of them might die, so that all plague might — perhaps — be ended forever, was impossible. Martin argued with Inchcape Jones, with Sondelius, but he had no favor, and he began to meditate a political campaign as he would have meditated an experiment.

He had seen the suffering of the plague and he had (though he still resisted) been tempted to forget experimentation, to give up the possible saving of millions for the immediate saving of thousands. Inchcape Jones, a little rested now under Sondelius’s padded bullying and able to slip into a sane routine, drove Martin to the village of Carib, which, because of its pest of infected ground squirrels, was proportionately worse smitten than Blackwater.

They sped out of the capital by white shell roads agonizing to the sun-poisoned eyes; they left the dusty shanties of suburban Yamtown for a land cool with bamboo groves and palmettoes, thick with sugar-cane. From a hilltop they swung down a curving road to a beach where the high surf boomed in limestone caves. It seemed impossible that this joyous shore could be threatened by plague, the slimy creature of dark alleys.

The motor cut through a singing trade wind which told of clean sails and disdainful men. They darted on where the foam feathers below Point Carib and where, round that lone royal palm on the headland, the bright wind hums. They slipped into a hot valley, and came to the village of Carib and to creeping horror.

The plague had been dismaying in Blackwater; in Carib it was the end of all things. The rat-fleas had found fat homes in the ground squirrels which burrowed in every garden about the village. In Blackwater there had from the first been isolation of the sick, but in Carib death was in every house, and the village was surrounded by soldier police, with bayonets, who let no one come or go save the doctors.

Martin was guided down the stinking street of cottages palm-thatched and walled with cow-dung plaster on bamboo laths, cottages shared by the roosters and the goats. He heard men shrieking in delirium; a dozen times he saw that face of terror — sunken bloody eyes, drawn face, open mouth — which marks the Black Death; and once he beheld an exquisite girl child in coma on the edge of death, her tongue black and round her the scent of the tomb.

They fled away, to Point Carib and the trade wind, and when Inchcape Jones demanded, “After that sort of thing, can you really talk of experimenting?” then Martin shook his head, while he tried to recall the vision of Gottlieb and all their little plans: “half to get the phage, half to be sternly deprived.”

It came to him that Gottlieb, in his secluded innocence, had not realized what it meant to gain leave to experiment amid the hysteria of an epidemic.

He went to the Ice House; he had a drink with a frightened clerk from Derbyshire; he regained the picture of Gottlieb’s sunken, demanding eyes; and he swore that he would not yield to a compassion which in the end would make all compassion futile.

Since Inchcape Jones could not understand the need of experimentation, he would call on the Governor, Colonel Sir Robert Fairlamb.

ii

Though Government House was officially the chief residence of St. Hubert, it was but a thatched bungalow a little larger than Martin’s own Penrith Lodge. When he saw it, Martin felt more easy, and he ambled up to the broad steps, at nine of the evening, as though he were dropping in to call on a neighbor in Wheatsylvania.

He was stopped by a Jamaican man-servant of appalling courtesy.

He snorted that he was Dr. Arrowsmith, head of the McGurk Commission, and he was sorry but he must see Sir Robert at once.

The servant was suggesting, in his blandest and most annoying manner, that really Dr. Uh would do better to see the Surgeon General, when a broad red face and a broad red voice projected themselves over the veranda railing, with a rumble of, “Send him up, Jackson, and don’t be a fool!”

Sir Robert and Lady Fairlamb were finishing dinner on the veranda, at a small round table littered with coffee and liqueurs and starred with candles. She was a slight, nervous insignificance; he was rather puffy, very flushed, undoubtedly courageous, and altogether dismayed; and at a time when no laundress dared go anywhere, his evening shirt was luminous.

Martin was in his now beloved linen suit, with a crumply soft shirt which Leora had been meanin’ to wash.

Martin explained what he wanted to do — what he must do, if the world was ever to get over the absurdity of having plague.

Sir Robert listened so agreeably that Martin thought he understood, but at the end he bellowed:

“Young man, if I were commanding a division at the front, with a dud show, an awful show, going on, and a War Office clerk asked me to risk the whole thing to try out some precious little invention of his own, can you imagine what I’d answer? There isn’t much I can do now — these doctor Johnnies have taken everything out of my hands — but as far as possible I shall certainly prevent you Yankee vivisectionists from coming in and using us as a lot of sanguinary — sorry, Evelyn — sanguinary corpses. Good night, sir!”

iii

Thanks to Sondelius’s crafty bullying, Martin was able to present his plan to a Special Board composed of the Governor, the temporarily suspended Board of Health, Inchcape Jones, several hearty members of the House of Assembly, and Sondelius himself, attending in the unofficial capacity which all over the world he had found useful for masking a cheerful tyranny. Sondelius even brought in the Negro doctor, Oliver Marchand, not on the ground that he was the most intelligent person on the island (which happened to be Sondelius’s reason) but because he “represented the plantation hands.”

Sondelius himself was as much opposed to Martin’s unemotional experiments as was Fairlamb; he believed that all experiments should be, by devices not entirely clear to him, carried on in the laboratory without disturbing the conduct of agreeable epidemics, but he could never resist a drama like the innocent meeting of the Special Board.

The meeting was set for a week ahead . . . with scores dying every day. While he waited for it Martin manufactured more phage and helped Sondelius murder rats, and Leora listened to the midnight debates of the two men and tried to make them acknowledge that it had been wise to let her come. Inchcape Jones offered to Martin the position of Government bacteriologist, but he refused lest he be sidetracked.

The Special Board met in Parliament House, all of them trying to look not like their simple and domestic selves but like judges. With them appeared such doctors of the island as could find the time.

While Leora listened from the back of the room, Martin addressed them, not unaware of the spectacle of little Mart Arrowsmith of Elk Mills taken seriously by the rulers of a tropic isle headed by a Sir Somebody. Beside him stood Max Gottlieb, and in Gottlieb’s power he reverently sought to explain that mankind has ever given up eventual greatness because some crisis, some war or election or loyalty to a Messiah which at the moment seemed weighty, has choked the patient search for truth. He sought to explain that he could — perhaps — save half of a given district, but that to test for all time the value of phage, the other half must be left without it . . . though, he craftily told them, in any case the luckless half would receive as much care as at present.

Most of the Board had heard that he possessed a magic cure for the plague which for unknown and probably discreditable reasons, he was withholding, and they were not going to have it withheld. There was a great deal of discussion rather unconnected with what he had said, and out of it came only the fact that everybody except Stokes and Oliver Marchand was against him; Kellett was angry with this American, Sir Robert Fairlamb was beefily disapproving, and Sondelius admitted that though Martin was quite a decent young man, he was a fanatic.

Into their argument plunged a fury in the person of Ira Hinkley, missionary of the Sanctification Brotherhood.

Martin had not seen him since the first morning in Blackwater. He gaped as he heard Ira pleading:

“Gentlemen, I know almost the whole bunch of you are Church of England, but I beg you to listen to me, not as a minister but as a qualified doctor of medicine. Oh, the wrath of God is upon you — But I mean: I was a classmate of Arrowsmith in the States. I’m onto him! He was such a failure that he was suspended from medical school. A scientist! And his boss, this fellow Gottlieb, he was fired from the University of Winnemac for incompetence! I know ’em! Liars and fools! Scorners of righteousness! Has anybody but Arrowsmith himself told you he’s a qualified scientist?”

The face of Sondelius changed from curiosity to stolid Scandinavian wrath. He arose and shouted:

“Sir Robert, this man is crazy! Dr. Gottlieb is one of the seven distinguished living scientists, and Dr. Arrowsmith is his representative! I announce my agreement with him, complete. As you must have seen from my work, I’m perfectly independent of him and entirely at your service, but I know his standing and I follow him, quite humbly.”

The Special Board coaxed Ira Hinkley out, for the meanest of reasons — in St. Hubert the whites do not greatly esteem the holy ecstasies of Negroes in the Sanctification Brotherhood chapels — but they voted only to “give the matter their consideration,” while still men died by the score each day, and in Manchuria as in St. Hubert they prayed for rest from the ancient clawing pain.

Outside, as the Special Board trudged away, Sondelius blared at Martin and the indignant Leora, “Yey, a fine fight!”

Martin answered, “Gustaf, you’ve joined me now. The first darn’ thing you do, you come have a shot of phage.”

“No. Slim, I said I will not have your phage till you give it to everybody. I mean it, no matter how much I make fools of your Board.”

As they stood before Parliament House, a small motor possessing everything but comfort and power staggered up to them, and from it vaulted a man lean as Gottlieb and English as Inchcape Jones.

“You Dr. Arrowsmith? My name is Twyford, Cecil Twyford of St. Swithin’s Parish. Tried to get here for the Special Board meeting, but my beastly foreman had to take the afternoon off and die of plague. Stokes has told me your plans. Quite right. All nonsense to go on having plague. Board refused? Sorry. Perhaps we can do something in St. Swithin’s. Goo’ day.”

All evening Martin and Sondelius were full of language. Martin went to bed longing for the regularity of working all night and foraging for cigarettes at dawn. He could not sleep, because an imaginary Ira Hinkley was always bursting in on him.

Four days later he heard that Ira was dead.

Till he had sunk in coma, Ira had nursed and blessed his people, the humble colored congregation in the hot tin chapel which he had now turned into a pest-house. He staggered from cot to cot, under the gospel texts he had lettered on the whitewashed wall, then he cried once, loudly, and dropped by the pine pulpit where he had joyed to preach.

iv

One chance Martin did have. In Carib, where every third man was down with plague and one doctor to attend them all, he now gave phage to the entire village; a long strain of injections, not improved by the knowledge that one jaunty flea from any patient might bring him the plague.

The tedium of dread was forgotten when he began to find and make precise notes of a slackening of the epidemic, which was occurring nowhere except here at Carib.

He came home raving to Leora, “I’ll show ’em! Now they’ll let me try test conditions, and then when the epidemic’s over we’ll hustle home. It’ll be lovely to be cold again! Wonder if Holabird and Sholtheis are any more friendly now? Be pretty good to see the little ole flat, eh?”

“Yes, won’t it!” said Leora. “I wish I’d thought to have the kitchen painted while we’re away. . . . I think I’ll put that blue chair in the bedroom.”

Though there was a decrease in the Plague at Carib, Sondelius was worried, because it was the worst center for infected ground squirrels on the island. He made decisions quickly. One evening he explained certain things to Inchcape Jones and Martin, rode down their doubts, and snorted:

“Only way to disinfect that place is to burn it — burn th’ whole thing. Have it done by morning, before anybody can stop us.”

With Martin as his lieutenant he marshaled his troop of rat-catchers — ruffians all of them, with high boots, tied jacket sleeves, and ebon visages of piracy. They stole food from shops, tents and blankets and camp-stoves from the Government military warehouse, and jammed their booty into motor trucks. The line of trucks roared down to Carib, the rat-catchers sitting atop, singing pious hymns.

They charged on the village, drove out the healthy, carried the sick on litters, settled them all in tents in a pasture up the valley, and after midnight they burned the town.

The troops ran among the huts, setting them alight with fantastic torches. The palm thatch sent up thick smoke, dead sluggish white with currents of ghastly black through which broke sudden flames. Against the glare the palmettoes were silhouetted. The solid-seeming huts were instantly changed into thin bamboo frameworks, thin lines of black slats, with the thatch falling in sparks. The flame lighted the whole valley; roused the terrified squawking birds, and turned the surf at Point Carib to bloody foam.

With such of the natives as had strength enough and sense enough, Sondelius’s troops made a ring about the burning village, shouting insanely as they clubbed the fleeing rats and ground squirrels. In the flare of devastation Sondelius was a fiend, smashing the bewildered rats with a club, shooting at them as they fled, and singing to himself all the while the obscene chantey of Bill the Sailor. But at dawn he was nursing the sick in the bright new canvas village, showing mammies how to use their camp-stoves, and in a benevolent way discussing methods of poisoning ground squirrels in their burrows.

Sondelius returned to Blackwater, but Martin remained in the tent village for two days, giving them the phage, making notes, directing the amateur nurses. He returned to Blackwater one mid-afternoon and sought the office of the Surgeon General, or what had been the office of the Surgeon General till Sondelius had come and taken it away from him.

Sondelius was there, at Inchcape Jones’s desk, but for once he was not busy. He was sunk in his chair, his eyes bloodshot.

“Yey! We had a fine time with the rats at Carib, eh? How is my new tent willage?” he chuckled, but his voice was weak, and as he rose he staggered.

“What is it? What is it?”

“I t’ink — It’s got me. Some flea got me. Yes,” in a shaky but extremely interested manner, “I was yoost thinking I will go and quarantine myself. I have fever all right, and adenitis. My strength — Huh! I am almost sixty, but the way I can lift weights that no sailor can touch — And I could fight five rounds! Oh, my God, Martin, I am so weak! Not scared! No!”

But for Martin’s arms he would have collapsed.

He refused to return to Penrith Lodge and Leora’s nursing. “I who have isolated so many — it is my turn,” he said.

Martin and Inchcape Jones found for Sondelius a meager clean cottage — the family had died there, all of them, but it had been fumigated. They procured a nurse and Martin himself attended the sick man, trying to remember that once he had been a doctor, who understood ice-bags and consolation. One thing was not to be had — mosquito netting — and only of this did Sondelius complain.

Martin bent over him, agonized to see how burning was his skin, how swollen his face and his tongue, how weak his voice as he babbled:

“Gottlieb is right about these jests of God. Yey! His best one is the tropics. God planned them so beautiful, flowers and sea and mountains. He made the fruit to grow so well that man need not work — and then He laughed, and stuck in volcanoes and snakes and damp heat and early senility and the plague and malaria. But the nastiest trick He ever played on man was inventing the flea.”

His bloated lips widened, from his hot throat oozed a feeble croaking, and Martin realized that he was trying to laugh.

He became delirious, but between spasms he muttered, with infinite pain, tears in his eyes at his own weakness:

“I want you to see how an agnostic can die!

“I am not afraid, but yoost once more I would like to see Stockholm, and Fifth Avenue on the day the first snow falls and Holy Week at Sevilla. And one good last drunk! I am very peaceful, Slim. It hurts some, but life was a good game. And — I am a pious agnostic. Oh, Martin, give my people the phage! Save all of them — God, I did not think they could hurt me so!”

His heart had failed. He was still on his low cot.

v

Martin had an unhappy pride that, with all his love for Gustaf Sondelius, he could still keep his head, still resist Inchcape Jones’s demand that he give the phage to everyone, still do what he had been sent to do.

“I’m not a sentimentalist; I’m a scientist!” he boasted.

They snarled at him in the streets now; small boys called him names and threw stones. They had heard that he was willfully withholding their salvation. The citizens came in Committees to beg him to heal their children, and he was so shaken that he had ever to keep before him the vision of Gottlieb.

The panic was increasing. They who had at first kept cool could not endure the strain of wakening at night to see upon their windows the glow of the pile of logs on Admiral Knob, the emergency crematory where Gustaf Sondelius and his curly gray mop had been shoveled into the fire along with a crippled Negro boy and a Hindu beggar.

Sir Robert Fairlamb was a blundering hero, exasperating the sick while he tried to nurse them; Stokes remained the Rock of Ages — he had only three hours’ sleep a night, but he never failed to take his accustomed fifteen minutes of exercise when he awoke; and Leora was busy in Penrith Lodge, helping Martin prepare phage.

It was the Surgeon General who went to pieces.

Robbed of his dependence on the despised Sondelius, sunk again in a mad planlessness, Inchcape Jones shrieked when he thought he was speaking low, and the cigarette which was ever in his thin hand shook so that the smoke quivered up in trembling spirals.

Making his tour, he came at night on a sloop by which a dozen Red Legs were escaping to Barbados, and suddenly he was among them, bribing them to take him along.

As the sloop stood out from Blackwater Harbor he stretched his arms toward his sisters and the peace of the Surrey hills, but as the few frightened lights of the town were lost, he realized that he was a coward and came up out of his madness, with his lean head high.

He demanded that they turn the sloop and take him back. They refused, howling at him, and locked him in the cabin. They were becalmed; it was two days before they reached Barbados, and by then the world would know that he had deserted.

Altogether expressionless, Inchcape Jones tramped from the sloop to a waterfront hotel in Barbados, and stood for a long time in a slatternly room smelling of slop-pails. He would never see his sisters and the cool hills. With the revolver which he had carried to drive terrified patients back into the isolation wards, with the revolver which he had carried at Arras, he killed himself.

vi

Thus Martin came to his experiment. Stokes was appointed Surgeon General, vice Inchcape Jones, and he made an illegal assignment of Martin to St. Swithin’s Parish, as medical officer with complete power. This, and the concurrence of Cecil Twyford, made his experiment possible.

He was invited to stay at Twyford’s. His only trouble was the guarding of Leora. He did not know what he would encounter in St. Swithin’s, while Penrith Lodge was as safe as any place on the island. When Leora insisted that, during his experiment, the cold thing which had stilled the laughter of Sondelius might come to him and he might need her, he tried to satisfy her by promising that if there was a place for her in St. Swithin’s, he would send for her.

Naturally, he was lying.

“Hard enough to see Gustaf go. By thunder she’s not going to run risks!” he vowed.

He left her, protected by the maids and the soldier butler, with Dr. Oliver Marchand to look in when he could.

vii

In St. Swithin’s Parish the cocoa and bamboo groves and sharp hills of southern St. Hubert gave way to unbroken cane-fields. Here Cecil Twyford, that lean abrupt man, ruled every acre and interpreted every law.

His place, Frangipani Court, was a refuge from the hot humming plain. The house was old and low, of thick stone and plaster walls; the paneled rooms were lined with the china, the portraits, and the swords of Twyfords for three hundred years; and between the wings was a walled garden dazzling with hibiscus.

Twyford led Martin through the low cool hall and introduced him to five great sons and to his mother, who, since his wife’s death, ten years ago, had been mistress of the house.

“Have tea?” said Twyford. “Our American guest will be down in a moment.”

He would not have thought of saying it, but he had sworn that since for generations Twyfords had drunk tea here at a seemly hour, no panic should prevent their going on drinking it at that hour.

When Martin came into the garden, when he saw the old silver on the wicker table and heard the quiet voices, the plague seemed conquered, and he realized that, four thousand miles southwest of the Lizard, he was in England.

They were seated, pleasant but not too comfortable, when the American guest came down and from the door stared at Martin as strangely as he stared in turn.

He beheld a woman who must be his sister. She was perhaps thirty to his thirty-seven, but in her slenderness, her paleness, her black brows and dusky hair, she was his twin; she was his self enchanted.

He could hear his voice croaking, “But you’re my sister!” and she opened her lips, yet neither of them spoke as they bowed at introduction. When she sat down, Martin had never been so conscious of a woman’s presence.

He learned, before evening, that she was Joyce Lanyon, widow of Roger Lanyon of New York. She had come to St. Hubert to see her plantations and had been trapped by the quarantine. He had tentatively heard of her dead husband as a young man of wealth and family; he seemed to remember having seen in Vanity Fair a picture of the Lanyons at Palm Beach.

She talked only of the weather, the flowers, but there was a rising gaiety in her which stirred even the dour Cecil Twyford. In the midst of her debonair insults to the hugest of the huge sons, Martin turned on her:

“You ARE my sister!”

“Obviously. Well, since you’re a scientist — Are you a good scientist?”

“Pretty good.”

“I’ve met your Mrs. McGurk. And Dr. Rippleton Holabird. Met ’em in Hessian Hook. You know it, don’t you?”

“No, I— Oh, I’ve heard of it.”

“You know. It’s that renovated old part of Brooklyn where writers and economists and all those people, some of them almost as good as the very best, consort with people who are almost as smart as the very smartest. You know. Where they dress for dinner but all of them have heard about James Joyce. Dr. Holabird is frightfully charming, don’t you think?”

“Why —”

“Tell me. I really mean it. Cecil has been explaining what you plan to do experimentally. Could I help you — nursing or cooking or something — or would I merely be in the way?”

“I don’t know yet. If I can use you, I’ll be unscrupulous enough!”

“Oh, don’t be earnest like Cecil here, and Dr. Stokes! They have no sense of play. Do you like that man Stokes? Cecil adores him, and I suppose he’s simply infested with virtues, but I find him so dry and thin and unappetizing. Don’t you think he might be a little gayer?”

Martin gave up all chance of knowing her as he hurled:

“Look here! You said you found Holabird ‘charming.’ It makes me tired to have you fall for his scientific tripe and not appreciate Stokes. Stokes is hard — thank God! — and probably he’s rude. Why not? He’s fighting a world that bellows for fake charm. No scientist can go through his grind and not come out more or less rude. And I tell you Stokes was born a researcher. I wish we had him at McGurk. Rude? Wish you could hear him being rude to me!”

Twyford looked doubtful, his mother looked delicately shocked, and the five sons beefily looked nothing at all, while Martin raged on, trying to convey his vision of the barbarian, the ascetic, the contemptuous acolyte of science. But Joyce Lanyon’s lovely eyes were kind, and when she spoke she had lost something of her too-cosmopolitan manner of a diner-out:

“Yes. I suppose it’s the difference between me, playing at being a planter, and Cecil.”

After dinner he walked with her in the garden and sought to defend himself against he was not quite sure what, till she hinted:

“My dear man, you’re so apologetic about never being apologetic! If you really must be my twin brother, do me the honor of telling me to go to the devil whenever you want to. I don’t mind. Now about your Gottlieb, who seems to be so much of an obsession with you —”

“Obsession! Rats! He —”

They parted an hour after.

Least of all things Martin desired such another peeping, puerile, irritable restlessness as he had shared with Orchid Pickerbaugh, but as he went to bed in a room with old prints and a four-poster, it was disturbing to know that somewhere near him was Joyce Lanyon.

He sat up, aghast with truth. Was he going to fall in love with this desirable and quite useless young woman? (How lovely her shoulders, above black satin at dinner! She had a genius of radiant flesh; it made that of most women, even the fragile Leora, seem coarse and thick. There was a rosy glow behind it, as from an inner light.)

Did he really want Leora here, with Joyce Lanyon in the house? (Dear Leora, who was the source of life! Was she now, off there in Penrith Lodge, missing him, lying awake for him?)

How could he, even in the crisis of an epidemic, invite the formal Twyfords to invite Leora? (How honest was he? That afternoon he had recognized the rigid though kindly code of the Twyfords, but could he not set it aside by being frankly an Outlander?)

Suddenly he was out of bed, kneeling, praying to Leora.

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