Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 37

Martin did not see Joyce Lanyon for weeks after his return to New York. Once she invited him to dinner, but he could not come, and he did not hear from her again.

His absorption in osmotic pressure determinations did not content him when he sat in his prim hotel room and was reduced from Dr. Arrowsmith to a man who had no one to talk to. He remembered how they had sat by the lagoon in the tepid twilight; he telephoned asking whether he might come in for tea.

He knew in an unformulated way that Joyce was rich, but after seeing her in gingham, cooking in the kitchen of St. Swithin’s almshouse, he did not grasp her position; and he was uncomfortable when, feeling dusty from the laboratory, he came to her great house and found her the soft-voiced mistress of many servants. Hers was a palace, and palaces, whether they are such very little ones as Joyce’s, with its eighteen rooms, or Buckingham or vast Fontainebleau, are all alike; they are choked with the superfluities of pride, they are so complete that one does not remember small endearing charms, they are indistinguishable in their common feeling of polite and uneasy grandeur, they are therefore altogether tedious.

But amid the pretentious splendor which Roger Lanyon had accumulated, Joyce was not tedious. It is to be suspected that she enjoyed showing Martin what she really was, by producing footmen and too many kinds of sandwiches, and by boasting, “Oh, I never do know what they’re going to give me for tea.”

But she had welcomed him, crying, “You look so much better. I’m frightfully glad. Are you still my brother? I was a good cook at the almshouse, wasn’t I!”

Had he been suave then and witty, she would not have been greatly interested. She knew too many men who were witty and well-bred, ivory smooth and competent to help her spend the four or five million dollars with which she was burdened. But Martin was at once a scholar who made osmotic pressure determinations almost interesting, a taut swift man whom she could fancy running or making love, and a lonely youngster who naively believed that here in her soft security she was still the girl who had sat with him by the lagoon, still the courageous woman who had come to him in a drunken room at Blackwater.

Joyce Lanyon knew how to make men talk. Thanks more to her than to his own articulateness, he made living the Institute, the members, their feuds, and the drama of coursing on the trail of a discovery.

Her easy life here had seemed tasteless after the risks of St. Hubert, and in his contempt for ease and rewards she found exhilaration.

He came now and then to tea, to dinner; he learned the ways of her house, her servants, the more nearly intelligent of her friends. He liked — and possibly he was liked by — some of them. With one friend of hers Martin had a state of undeclared war. This was Latham Ireland, an achingly well-dressed man of fifty, a competent lawyer who was fond of standing in front of fireplaces and being quietly clever. He fascinated Joyce by telling her that she was subtle, then telling her what she was being subtle about.

Martin hated him.

In midsummer Martin was invited for a week-end at Joyce’s vast blossom-hid country house at Greenwich. She was half apologetic for its luxury; he was altogether unhappy.

The strain of considering clothes; of galloping out to buy white trousers when he wanted to watch the test-tubes in the constant-temperature bath, of trying to look easy in the limousine which met him at the station, and of deciding which servants to tip and how much and when, was dismaying to a simple man. He felt rustic when, after he had blurted, “Just a minute til I go up and unpack my suit-case,” she said gently, “Oh, that will have been done for you.”

He discovered that a valet had laid out for him to put on, that first evening, all the small store of underclothes he had brought, and had squeezed out on his brush a ribbon of toothpaste.

He sat on the edge of his bed, groaning, “This is too rich for my blood!”

He hated and feared that valet, who kept stealing his clothes, putting them in places where they could not be found, then popping in menacingly when Martin was sneaking about the enormous room looking for them.

But his chief unhappiness was that there was nothing to do. He had no sport but tennis, at which he was too rusty to play with these chattering unidentified people who filled the house and, apparently with perfect willingness, worked at golf and bridge. He had met but few of the friends of whom they talked. They said, “You know dear old R. G.,” and he said, “Oh, YES,” but he never did know dear old R. G.

Joyce was as busily amiable as when they were alone at tea, and she found for him a weedy flapper whose tennis was worse than his own, but she had twenty guests — forty at Sunday lunch — and he gave up certain agreeable notions of walking with her in fresh lanes and, after excitedly saying this and that, perhaps kissing her. He had one moment with her. As he was going, she ordered, “Come here, Martin,” and led him apart.

“You haven’t really enjoyed it.”

“Why, sure, course I—”

“Of course you haven’t! And you despise us, rather, and perhaps you’re partly right. I do like pretty people and gracious manners and good games, but I suppose they seem piffling after nights in a laboratory.”

“No, I like ’em too. In a way. I like to look at beautiful women — at you! But — Oh, darn it, Joyce, I’m not up to it. I’ve always been poor and horribly busy. I haven’t learned your games.”

“But, Martin, you could, with the intensity you put into everything.”

“Even getting drunk in Blackwater!”

“And I hope in New York, too! Dear Roger, he did have such an innocent, satisfying time getting drunk at class-dinners! But I mean: if you went at it, you could play bridge and golf — and talking — better than any of them. If you only knew how frightfully recent most of the ducal class in America are! And Martin: wouldn’t it be good for you? Wouldn’t you work all the better if you got away from your logarithmic tables now and then? And are you going to admit there’s anything you can’t conquer?”

“No, I—”

“Will you come to dinner on Tuesday week, just us two, and we’ll fight it out?”

“Be glad to.”

For a number of hours, on the train to Terry Wickett’s vacation place in the Vermont hills, Martin was convinced that he loved Joyce Lanyon, and that he was going to attack the art of being amusing as he had attacked physical chemistry. Ardently, and quite humorlessly, as he sat stiffly in a stale Pullman chaircar with his feet up on his suit-case, he pictured himself wearing a club-tie (presumably first acquiring the tie and the club), playing golf in plus-fours, and being entertaining about dear old R. G. and incredibly witty about dear old Latham Ireland’s aged Rolls–Royce.

But these ambitions he forgot as he came to Terry’s proud proprietary shanty, by a lake among oaks and maples, and heard Terry’s real theories of the decomposition of quinine derivatives.

Being perhaps the least sentimental of human beings, Terry had named his place “Birdies’ Rest.” He owned five acres of woodland, two miles from a railroad station. His shanty was a two-room affair of logs, with bunks for beds and oilcloth for table-linen.

“Here’s the layout, Slim,” said Terry. “Some day I’m going to figure out a way of making a lab here pay, by manufacturing sera or something, and I’ll put up a couple more buildings on the flat by the lake, and have one absolutely independent place for science —- two hours a day on the commercial end, and say about six for sleeping and a couple for feeding and telling dirty stories. That leaves — two and six and two make ten, if I’m any authority on higher math — that leaves fourteen hours a day for research (except when you got something special on), with no Director and no Society patrons and no Trustees that you’ve got to satisfy by making fool reports. Of course there won’t be any scientific dinners with ladies in candy-box dresses, but I figure we’ll be able to afford plenty of salt pork and corncob pipes, and your bed will be made perfectly — if you make it yourself. Huh? Lez go and have a swim.”

Martin returned to New York with the not very compatible plans of being the best-dressed golfer in Greenwich and of cooking beef-stew with Terry at Birdies’ Rest.

But the first of these was the more novel to him.

ii

Joyce Lanyon was enjoying a conversion. Her St. Hubert experiences and her natural variability had caused her to be dissatisfied with Roger’s fast-motoring set.

She let the lady Maecenases of her acquaintance beguile her into several of their Causes, and she enjoyed them as she had enjoyed her active and entirely purposeless war work in 1917, for Joyce Lanyon was to some degree an Arranger, which was an epithet invented by Terry Wickett for Capitola McGurk.

An Arranger and even an Improver was Joyce, but she was not a Capitola; she neither waved a feathered fan and spoke spaciously, nor did she take out her sex-passion in talking. She was fine and occasionally gorgeous, with tiger in her, though she was as far from perfumed-boudoir and black-lingerie passion as she was from Capitola’s cooling staleness. Hers was sheer straight white silk and cherished skin.

Behind all her reasons for valuing Martin was the fact that the only time in her life when she had felt useful and independent was when she had been an almshouse cook.

She might have drifted on, in her world of drifters, but for the interposition of Latham Ireland, the lawyer-dilettante lover.

“Joy,” he observed, “there seems to be an astounding quantity of that Dr. Arrowsmith person about the place. As your benign uncle —”

“Latham, my sweet, I quite agree that Martin is too aggressive, thoroughly unlicked, very selfish, rather a prig, absolutely a pedant, and his shirts are atrocious. And I rather think I shall marry him. I almost think I love him!”

“Wouldn’t cyanide be a neater way of doing suicide?” said Latham Ireland.

iii

What Martin felt for Joyce was what any widowed man of thirty-eight would feel for a young and pretty and well-spoken woman who was attentive to his wisdom. As to her wealth, there was no problem at all. He was no poor man marrying money! Why, he was making ten thousand a year, which was eight thousand more than he needed to live on!

Occasionally he was suspicious of her dependence on luxury. With tremendous craft he demanded that instead of their dining in her Jacobean hall of state, she come with him on his own sort of party. She came, with enthusiasm. They went to abysmal Greenwich Village restaurants with candles, artistic waiters, and no food; or to Chinatown dives with food and nothing else. He even insisted on their taking the subway — though after dinner he usually forgot that he was being Spartan, and ordered a taxicab. She accepted it all without either wincing or too much gurgling.

She played tennis with him in the court on her roof; she taught him bridge, which, with his concentration and his memory, he soon played better than she and enjoyed astonishingly; she persuaded him that he had a leg and would look well in golf clothes.

He came to take her to dinner, on a serene autumn evening. He had a taxi waiting.

“Why don’t we stick to the subway?” she said.

They were standing on her doorstep, in a blankly expensive and quite unromantic street off Fifth Avenue.

“Oh, I hate the rotten subway as much as you do! Elbows in my stomach never did help me much to plan experiments. I expect when we’re married I’ll enjoy your limousine.”

“Is this a proposal? I’m not at all sure I’m going to marry you. Really, I’m NOT! You have no sense of ease!”

They were married the following January, in St. George’s Church, and Martin suffered almost as much over the flowers, the bishop, the relatives with high-pitched voices, and the top hat which Joyce had commanded, as he did over having Rippleton Holabird wring his hand with a look of, “At last, dear boy, you have come out of barbarism and become One of Us.”

Martin had asked Terry to be his best man. Terry had refused, and asserted that only with pain would he come to the wedding at all. The best man was Dr. William Smith, with his beard trimmed for the occasion, and distressing morning clothes and a topper which he had bought in London eleven years before, but both of them were safe in charge of a cousin of Joyce who was guaranteed to have extra handkerchiefs and to recognize the Wedding March. He had understood that Martin was Groton and Harvard, and when he discovered that he was Winnemac and nothing at all, he became suspicious.

In their stateroom on the steamer Joyce murmured, “Dear, you were brave! I didn’t know what a damn’ fool that cousin of mine was. Kiss me!”

Thenceforth . . . except for a dreadful second when Leora floated between them, eyes closed and hands crossed on her pale cold breast . . . they were happy and in each other found adventurous new ways.

iv

For three months they wandered in Europe.

On the first day Joyce had said, “Let’s have this beastly money thing over. I should think you are the least mercenary of men. I’ve put ten thousand dollars to your credit in London — oh, yes, and fifty thousand in New York — and if you’d like, when you have to do things for me, I’d be glad if you’d draw on it. No! Wait! Can’t you see how easy and decent I want to make it all? You won’t hurt me to save your own self-respect?”

v

They really had, it seemed, to stay with the Principessa del Oltraggio (formerly Miss Lucy Deemy Bessy of Dayton), Madame des Basses Loges (Miss Brown of San Francisco), and the Countess of Marazion (who had been Mrs. Arthur Snaipe of Albany, and several things before that), but Joyce did go with him to see the great laboratories in London, Paris, Copenhagen. She swelled to perceive how Nobel-prize winners received Her Husband, knew of him, desired to be violent with him about phage, and showed him their work of years. Some of them were hasty and graceless, she thought. Her Man was prettier than any of them, and if she would but be patient with him, she could make him master polo and clothes and conversation . . . but of course go on with his science . . . a pity he could not have a knighthood, like one or two of the British scientists they met. But even in America there were honorary degrees. . . .

While she discovered and digested Science, Martin discovered Women.

vi

Aware only of Madeline Fox and Orchid Pickerbaugh, who were Nice American Girls, of soon-forgotten ladies of the night, and of Leora, who, in her indolence, her indifference to decoration and good fame, was neither woman nor wife but only her own self, Martin knew nothing whatever about Women. He had expected Leora to wait for him, to obey his wishes, to understand without his saying them all the flattering things he had planned to say. He was spoiled, and Joyce was not timorous about telling him so.

It was not for her to sit beaming and wordless while he and his fellow-researchers arranged the world. With many jolts he perceived that even outside the bedroom he had to consider the fluctuations and variables of his wife, as A Woman, and sometimes as A Rich Woman.

It was confusing to find that where Leora had acidly claimed sex-loyalty but had hummingly not cared in what manner he might say Good Morning, Joyce was indifferent as to how many women he might have fondled (so long as he did not insult her by making love to them in her presence) but did require him to say Good Morning as though he meant it. It was confusing to find how starkly she discriminated between his caresses when he was absorbed in her and his hasty interest when he wanted to go to sleep. She could, she said, kill a man who considered her merely convenient furniture, and she uncomfortably emphasized the “kill.”

She expected him to remember her birthday, her taste in wine, her liking for flowers, and her objection to viewing the process of shaving. She wanted a room to herself; she insisted that he knock before entering; and she demanded that he admire her hats.

When he was so interested in the work at Pasteur Institute that he had a clerk telephone that he would not be able to meet her for dinner, she was tight-lipped with rage.

“Oh, you got to expect that,” he reflected, feeling that he was being tactful and patient and penetrating.

It annoyed him, sometimes, that she would never impulsively start off on a walk with him. No matter how brief the jaunt, she must first go to her room for white gloves — placidly stand there drawing them on. . . . And in London she made him buy spats . . . and even wear them.

Joyce was not only an Arranger — she was a Loyalist. Like most American cosmopolites she revered the English peerage, adopted all their standards and beliefs — or what she considered their standards and beliefs — and treasured her encounters with them. Three and a half years after the War of 1914–18, she still said that she loathed all Germans, and the one complete quarrel between her and Martin occurred when he desired to see the laboratories in Berlin and Vienna.

But for all their differences it was a romantic pilgrimage. They loved fearlessly; they tramped through the mountains and came back to revel in vast bathrooms and ingenious dinners; they idled before cafes, and save when he fell silent as he remembered how much Leora had wanted to sit before cafes in France, they showed each other all the eagernesses of their minds.

Europe, her Europe, which she had always known and loved, Joyce offered to him on generous hands, and he who had ever been sensitive to warm colors and fine gestures — when he was not frenzied with work — was grateful to her and boyish with wonder. He believed that he was learning to take life easily and beautifully; he criticized Terry Wickett (but only to himself) for provincialism; and so in a golden leisure they came back to America and prohibition and politicians charging to protect the Steel Trust from the communists, to conversation about bridge and motors and to osmotic pressure determinations.

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