Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 36

It happened that Martin returned to New York, as he had come, on the St. Buryan. The ship was haunted with the phantoms of Leora dreaming, of Sondelius shouting on the bridge.

And on the St. Buryan was the country-club Miss Gwilliam who had offended Sondelius.

She had spent the winter importantly making notes on native music in Trinidad and Caracas; at least in planning to make notes. She saw Martin come aboard at Blackwater, and pertly noted the friends who saw him off — two Englishmen, one puffy, one rangy, and a dry-looking Scotsman.

“Your friends all seem to be British,” she enlightened him, when she had claimed him as an old friend.

“Yes.”

“You’ve spent the winter here.”

“Yes.”

“Hard luck to be caught by the quarantine. But I TOLD you you were silly to go ashore! You must have managed to pick up quite a little money practicing. But it must have been unpleasant, really.”

“Ye — es, I suppose it was.”

“I told you it would be! You ought to have come on to Trinidad. Such a fascinating island! And tell me, how is the Roughneck?”

“Who?”

“Oh, you know — that funny Swede that used to dance and everything.”

“He is dead.”

“Oh, I AM sorry. You know, no matter what the others said, I never thought he was so bad. I’m sure he had quite a nice cultured mind, when he wasn’t carousing around. Your wife isn’t with you, is she?”

“No — she isn’t with me. I must go down and unpack now.” Miss Gwilliam looked after him with an expression which said that the least people could do was to learn some manners.

ii

With the heat and the threat of hurricanes, there were few first-class passengers on the St. Buryan, and most of these did not count, because they were not jolly, decent Yankee tourists but merely South Americans. As tourists do when their minds have been broadened and enriched by travel, when they return to New Jersey or Wisconsin with the credit of having spent a whole six months in the West Indies and South America, the respectable remnant studied one another fastidiously, and noted the slim pale man who seemed so restless, who all day trudged round the deck, who after midnight was seen standing by himself at the rail.

“That guy looks awful’ restless to me!” said Mr. S. Sanborn Hibble of Detroit to the charming Mrs. Dawson of Memphis, and she answered, with the wit which made her so popular wherever she went, “Yes, don’t he. I reckon he must be in love!”

“Oh, I know him!” said Miss Gwilliam. “He and his wife were on the St. Buryan when I came down. She’s in New York now. He’s some kind of a doctor — not awful’ successful I don’t believe. Just between ourselves, I don’t think much of him or of her either. They sat and looked stupid all the way down.”

iii

Martin was itching to get his fingers on his test-tubes. He knew, as once he had guessed, that he hated administration and Large Affairs.

As he tramped the deck, his head cleared and he was himself. Angrily he pictured the critics who would soon be pecking at whatever final report he might make. For a time he hated the criticism of his fellow laboratory-grinds as he had hated their competition; he hated the need of forever looking over his shoulder at pursuers. But on a night when he stood at the rail for hours, he admitted that he was afraid of their criticism, and afraid because his experiment had so many loopholes. He hurled overboard all the polemics with which he had protected himself: “Men who never have had the experience of trying, in the midst of an epidemic, to remain calm and keep experimental conditions, do not realize in the security of their laboratories what one has to contend with.”

Constant criticism was good, if only it was not spiteful, jealous, petty —

No, even then it might be good! Some men had to be what easy-going workers called “spiteful.” To them the joyous spite of crushing the almost-good was more natural than creation. Why should a great house-wrecker, who could clear the cumbered ground, be set at trying to lay brick?

“All right!” he rejoiced. “Let ’em come! Maybe I’ll anticipate ’em and publish a roast of my own work. I have got something, from the St. Swithin test, even if I did let things slide for a while. I’ll take my tables to a biometrician. He may rip ’em up. Good! What’s left, I’ll publish.”

He went to bed feeling that he could face the eyes of Gottlieb and Terry, and for the first time in weeks he slept without terror.

iv

At the pier in Brooklyn, to the astonishment and slight indignation of Miss Gwilliam, Mr. S. Sanborn Hibble, and Mrs. Dawson, Martin was greeted by reporters who agreeably though vaguely desired to know what were these remarkable things he had been doing to some disease or other, in some island some place.

He was rescued from them by Rippleton Holabird, who burst through them with his hands out, crying, “Oh, my dear fellow! We know all that’s happened. We grieve for you so, and we’re so glad you were spared to come back to us.”

Whatever Martin might, under the shadow of Max Gottlieb, have said about Holabird, now he wrung his hands and muttered, “It’s good to be home.”

Holabird (he was wearing a blue shirt with a starched blue collar, like an actor) could not wait till Martin’s baggage had gone through the customs. He had to return to his duties as Acting Director of the Institute. He delayed only to hint that the Board of Trustees were going to make him full Director, and that certainly, my dear fellow, he would see that Martin had the credit and the reward he deserved.

When Holabird was gone, driving away in his neat coupe (he often explained that his wife and he could afford a chauffeur, but they preferred to spend the money on other things), Martin was conscious of Terry Wickett, leaning against a gnawed wooden pillar of the wharf-house, as though he had been there for hours.

Terry strolled up and snorted, “Hello, Slim. All O.K.? Lez shoot the stuff through the customs. Great pleasure to see the Director and you kissing.”

As they drove through the summer-walled streets of Brooklyn, Martin inquired, “How’s Holabird working out as Director? And how is Gottlieb?”

“Oh, the Holy Wren is no worse than Tubbs; he’s even politer and more ignorant. . . . Me, you watch me! One of these days I’m going off to the woods — got a shack in Vermont — going to work there without having to produce results for the Director! They’ve stuck me in the Department of Biochemistry. And Gottlieb —” Terry’s voice became anxious. “I guess he’s pretty shaky — They’ve pensioned him off. Now look, Slim: I hear you’re going to be a gilded department-head, and I’ll never be anything but an associate member. Are you going on with me, or are you going to be one of the Holy Wren’s pets — hero-scientist?”

“I’m with you, Terry, you old grouch.” Martin dropped the cynicism which had always seemed proper between him and Terry. “I haven’t got anybody else. Leora and Gustaf are gone and now maybe Gottlieb. You and I have got to stick together!”

“It’s a go!”

They shook hands, they coughed gruffly, and talked of straw hats.

v

When Martin entered the Institute, his colleagues galloped up to shake hands and to exclaim, and if their praise was flustering, there is no time at which one can stomach so much of it as at home-coming.

Sir Robert Fairlamb had written to the Institute a letter glorifying him. The letter arrived on the same boat with Martin, and next day Holabird gave it out to the press.

The reporters, who had been only a little interested at his landing, came around for interviews, and while Martin was sulky and jerky Holabird took them in hand, so that the papers were able to announce that America, which was always rescuing the world from something or other, had gone and done it again. It was spread in the prints that Dr. Martin Arrowsmith was not only a powerful witch-doctor and possibly something of a laboratory-hand, but also a ferocious rat-killer, village-burner, Special Board addresser, and snatcher from death. There was at the time, in certain places, a doubt as to how benevolent the United States had been to its Little Brothers — Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua — and the editors and politicians were grateful to Martin for this proof of their sacrifice and tender watchfulness.

He had letters from the Public Health service; from an enterprising Midwestern college which desired to make him a Doctor of Civil Law; from medical schools and societies which begged him to address them. Editorials on his work appeared in the medical journals and the newspapers; and Congressman Almus Pickerbaugh telegraphed him from Washington in what the Congressman may conceivably have regarded as verse: “They got to go some to get ahead of fellows that come from old Nautilus.” And he was again invited to dinner at the McGurks’, not by Capitola but by Ross McGurk, whose name had never had such a whitewashing.

He refused all invitations to speak, and the urgent organizations which had invited him responded with meekness that they understood how intimidatingly busy Dr. Arrowsmith was, and if he ever COULD find the time, they would be most highly honored —

Rippleton Holabird was elected full Director now, in succession to Gottlieb, and he sought to use Martin as the prize exhibit of the Institute. He brought all the visiting dignitaries, all the foreign Men of Measured Merriment, in to see him, and they looked pleased and tried to think up questions. Then Martin was made head of the new Department of Microbiology at twice his old salary.

He never did learn what was the difference between microbiology and bacteriology. But none of his glorification could he resist. He was still too dazed — he was more dazed when he had seen Max Gottlieb.

vi

The morning after his return he had telephoned to Gottlieb’s flat, had spoken to Miriam and received permission to call in the late afternoon.

All the way uptown he could hear Gottlieb saying, “You were my son! I gave you eferyt’ing I knew of truth and honor, and you haf betrayed me. Get out of my sight!”

Miriam met him in the hall, fretting, “I don’t know if I should have let you come at all, Doctor.”

“Why? Isn’t he well enough to see people?”

“It isn’t that. He doesn’t really seem ill, except that he’s feeble, but he doesn’t know anyone. The doctors say it’s senile dementia. His memory is gone. And he’s just suddenly forgotten all his English. He can only speak German, and I can’t speak it, hardly at all. If I’d only studied it, instead of music! But perhaps it may do him good to have you here. He was always so fond of you. You don’t know how he talked of you and the splendid experiment you’ve been doing in St. Hubert.”

“Well, I—” He could find nothing to say.

Miriam led him into a room whose walls were dark with books. Gottlieb was sunk in a worn chair, his thin hand lax on the arm.

“Doctor, it’s Arrowsmith, just got back!” Martin mumbled.

The old man looked as though he half understood; he peered at him, then shook his head and whimpered, “Versteh’ nicht.” His arrogant eyes were clouded with ungovernable slow tears.

Martin understood that never could he be punished now and cleansed. Gottlieb had sunk into his darkness still trusting him.

vii

Martin closed his flat — their flat — with a cold swift fury, lest he yield to his misery in finding among Leora’s possessions a thousand fragments which brought her back: the frock she had bought for Capitola McGurk’s dinner, a petrified chocolate she had hidden away to munch illegally by night, a memorandum, “Get almonds for Sandy.” He took a grimly impersonal room in a hotel, and sunk himself in work. There was nothing for him but work and the harsh friendship of Terry Wickett.

His first task was to check the statistics of his St. Swithin treatments and the new figures still coming in from Stokes. Some of them were shaky, some suggested that the value of phage certainly had been confirmed, but there was nothing final. He took his figures to Raymond Pearl the biometrician, who thought less of them than did Martin himself.

He had already made a report of his work to the Director and the Trustees of the Institute, with no conclusion except “the results await statistical analysis and should have this before they are published.” But Holabird had run wild, the newspapers had reported wonders, and in on Martin poured demands that he send out phage; inquiries as to whether he did not have a phage for tuberculosis, for syphilis; offers that he take charge of this epidemic and that.

Pearl had pointed out that his agreeable results in first phaging the whole of Carib village must be questioned, because it was possible that when he began, the curve of the disease had already passed its peak. With this and the other complications, viewing his hot work in St. Hubert as coldly as though it were the pretense of a man whom he had never seen, Martin decided that he had no adequate proof, and strode in to see the Director.

Holabird was gentle and pretty, but he sighed that if this conclusion were published, he would have to take back all the things he had said about the magnificence which, presumably, he had inspired his subordinate to accomplish. He was gentle and pretty, but firm; Martin was to suppress (Holabird did not say “suppress”— he said “leave to me for further consideration”) the real statistical results, and issue the report with an ambiguous summary.

Martin was furious, Holabird delicately relentless. Martin hastened to Terry, declaring that he would resign — would denounce — would expose — Yes! He would! He no longer had to support Leora. He’d work as a drug-clerk. He’d go back right now and tell the Holy Wren —

“Hey! Slim! Wait a minute! Hold your horses!” observed Terry. “Just get along with Holy for a while, and we’ll work out something we can do together and be independent. Meanwhile you have got your lab here, and you still have some physical chemistry to learn! And, uh — Slim, I haven’t said anything about your St. Hubert stuff, but you know and I know you bunged it up badly. Can you come into court with clean hands, if you’re going to indict the Holy One? Though I do agree that aside from being a dirty, lying, social-climbing, sneaking, power-grabbing hypocrite, he’s all right. Hold on. We’ll fix up something. Why, son, we’ve just been learning our science; we’re just beginning to work.”

Then Holabird published officially, under the Institute’s seal, Martin’s original report to the Trustees, with such quaint revisions as a change of “the results should have analysis” to “while statistical analysis would seem desirable, it is evident that this new treatment has accomplished all that had been hoped.”

Again Martin went mad, again Terry calmed him; and with a hard fury unlike his eagerness of the days when he had known that Leora was waiting for him he resumed his physical chemistry.

He learned the involved mysteries of freezing-point determinations, osmotic pressure determinations, and tried to apply Northrop’s generalizations on enzymes to the study of phage.

He became absorbed in mathematical laws which strangely predicted natural phenomena; his world was cold, exact, austerely materialistic, bitter to those who founded their logic on impressions. He was daily more scornful toward the counters of paving stones, the renamers of species, the compilers of irrelevant data. In his absorption the pleasant seasons passed unseen.

Once he raised his head in astonishment to perceive that it was spring; once Terry and he tramped two hundred miles through the Pennsylvania hills, by summer roads; but it seemed only a day later when it was Christmas, and Holabird was being ever so jolly and yuley about the Institute.

The absence of Gottlieb may have been good for Martin, since he no longer turned to the master for solutions in tough queries. When he took up diffusion problems, he began to develop his own apparatus, and whether it was from inborn ingenuity or merely from a fury of labor, he was so competent that he won from Terry the almost overwhelming praise: “Why, that’s not so darn’ bad, Slim!”

The sureness to which Max Gottlieb seems to have been born came to Martin slowly, after many stumblings, but it came. He desired a perfection of technique in the quest for absolute and provable fact; he desired as greatly as any Pater to “burn with a hard gem-like flame,” and he desired not to have ease and repute in the market-place, but rather to keep free of those follies, lest they confuse him and make him soft.

Holabird was as much bewildered as Tubbs would have been by the ramifications of Martin’s work. What did he think he was anyway — a bacteriologist or a bio-physicist? But Holabird was won by the scientific world’s reception of Martin’s first important paper, on the effect of X-rays, gamma rays, and beta rays on the anti-Shiga phage. It was praised in Paris and Brussels and Cambridge as much as in New York, for its insight and for “the clarity and to perhaps be unscientifically enthusiastic, the sheer delight and style of its presentation,” as Professor Berkeley Wurtz put it; which may be indicated by quoting the first paragraph of the paper:

In a preliminary publication, I have reported a marked qualitative destructive effect of the radiations from radium emanations on Bacteriophage-anti-Shiga. In the present paper it is shown that X-rays, gamma rays, and beta rays produce identical inactivating effects on this bacteriophage. Furthermore, a quantitative relation is demonstrated to exist between this inactivation and the radiations that produce it. The results obtained from this quantitative study permit the statement that the percentage of inactivation, as measured by determining the units of bacteriophage remaining after irradiation by gamma and beta rays of a suspension of fixed virulence, is a function of the two variables, nillicuries and hours. The following equation accounts quantitatively for the experimental results obtained:

                    u0
       lambda log e --
                    u
K = ---------------------
    E0(epsilon-lambda t1)


When Director Holabird saw the paper — Yeo was vicious enough to take it in and ask his opinion — he said, “Splendid, oh, I say, simply splendid! I’ve just had the chance to skim through it, old boy, but I shall certainly read it carefully, the first free moment I have.”

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