Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 38

Director Rippleton Holabird had also married money, and whenever his colleagues hinted that since his first ardent work in physiology he had done nothing but arrange a few nicely selected flowers on the tables hewn out by other men, it was a satisfaction to him to observe that these rotters came down to the Institute by subway, while he drove elegantly in his coupe. But now Arrowsmith, once the poorest of them all, came by limousine with a chauffeur who touched his hat, and Holabird’s coffee was salted.

There was a simplicity in Martin, but it cannot be said that he did not lick his lips when Holabird mooned at the chauffeur.

His triumph over Holabird was less than being able to entertain Angus Duer and his wife, on from Chicago; to introduce them to Director Holabird, to Salamon the king of surgeons, and to a medical baronet; and to have Angus gush, “Mart, do you mind my saying we’re all awfully proud of you? Rouncefield was speaking to me about it the other day. ‘It may be presumptuous,’ he said, ‘but I really feel that perhaps the training we tried to give Dr. Arrowsmith here in the Clinic did in some way contribute to his magnificent work in the West Indies and at McGurk.’ What a lovely woman your wife is, old man! Do you suppose she’d mind telling Mrs. Duer where she got that frock?”

Martin had heard about the superiority of poverty to luxury, but after the lunch-wagons of Mohalis, after twelve years of helping Leora check the laundry and worry about the price of steak, after a life of waiting in the slush for trolleys, it was not at all dismaying to have a valet who produced shirts automatically; not at all degrading to come to meals which were always interesting, and, in the discretion of his car, to lean an aching head against softness and think how clever he was.

“You see, by having other people do the vulgar things for you, it saves your own energy for the things that only you can do,” said Joyce.

Martin agreed, then drove to Westchester for a lesson in golf.

A week after their return from Europe, Joyce went with him to see Gottlieb. He fancied that Gottlieb came out of his brooding to smile on them.

“After all,” Martin considered, “the old man did like beautiful things. If he’d had the chance, he might’ve liked a big Establishment, too, maybe.”

Terry was surprisingly complaisant.

“I’ll tell you, Slim — if you want to know. Personally I’d hate to have to live up to servants. But I’m getting old and wise. I figure that different folks like different things, and awful’ few of ’em have the sense to come and ask me what they ought to like. But honest, Slim, I don’t think I’ll come to dinner. I’ve gone and bought a dress-suit — BOUGHT it! got it in my room — damn’ landlady keeps filling it with moth-balls — but I don’t think I could stand listening to Latham Ireland being clever.”

It was, however, Rippleton Holabird’s attitude which most concerned Martin, for Holabird did not let him forget that unless he desired to drift off and be merely a ghostly Rich Woman’s husband, he would do well to remember who was Director.

Along with the endearing manners which he preserved for Ross McGurk, Holabird had developed the remoteness, the inhuman quiet courtesy, of the Man of Affairs, and people who presumed on his old glad days he courteously put in their places. He saw the need of repressing insubordination, when Arrowsmith appeared in a limousine. He gave him one week after his return to enjoy the limousine, then blandly called on him in his laboratory.

“Martin,” he sighed, “I find that our friend Ross McGurk is just a bit dissatisfied with the practical results that are coming out of the Institute and, to convince him, I’m afraid I really must ask you to put less emphasis on bacteriophage for the moment and take up influenza. The Rockefeller Institute has the right idea. They’ve utilized their best minds, and spent money magnificently, on such problems as pneumonia, meningitis, cancer. They’ve already lessened the terrors of meningitis and pneumonia, and yellow fever is on the verge of complete abolition through Noguchi’s work, and I have no doubt their hospital, with its enormous resources and splendidly co-operating minds, will be the first to find something to alleviate diabetes. Now, I understand, they’re hot after the cause of influenza. They’re not going to permit another great epidemic of it. Well, dear chap, it’s up to us to beat them on the flu, and I’ve chosen you to represent us in the race.”

Martin was at the moment hovering over a method of reproducing phage on dead bacteria, but he could not refuse, he could not risk being discharged. He was too rich! Martin the renegade medical student could flounder off and be a soda-clerk, but if the husband of Joyce Lanyon should indulge in such insanity, he would be followed by reporters and photographed at the soda handles. Still less could he chance becoming merely her supported husband — a butler of the boudoir.

He assented, not very pleasantly.

He began to work on the cause of influenza with a half-heartedness almost magnificent. In the hospitals he secured cultures from cases which might be influenza and might be bad colds — no one was certain just what the influenza symptoms were; nothing was clean cut. He left most of the work to his assistants, occasionally giving them sardonic directions to “put on another hundred tubes of the A medium — hell, make it another thousand!” and when he found that they were doing as they pleased, he was not righteous nor rebuking. If he did not guiltily turn his hand from the plow it was only because he never touched the plow. Once his own small laboratory had been as fussily neat as a New Hampshire kitchen. Now the several rooms under his charge were a disgrace, with long racks of abandoned test-tubes, many half-filled with mold, none of them properly labeled.

Then he had his idea. He began firmly to believe that the Rockefeller investigators had found the cause of flu. He gushed in to Holabird and told him so. As for himself, he was going back to his search for the real nature of phage.

Holabird argued that Martin must be wrong. If Holabird wanted the McGurk Institute — and the Director of the McGurk Institute — to have the credit for capturing influenza, then it simply could not be possible that Rockefeller was ahead of them. He also said weighty things about phage. Its essential nature, he pointed out, was an academic question.

But Martin was by now too much of a scientific dialectician for Holabird, who gave up and retired to his den (or so Martin gloomily believed) to devise new ways of plaguing him. For a time Martin was again left free to wallow in work.

He found a means of reproducing phage on dead bacteria by a very complicated, very delicate use of partial oxygen-carbon dioxide tension — as exquisite as cameo-carving, as improbable as weighing the stars. His report stirred the laboratory world, and here and there (in Tokio, in Amsterdam, in Winnemac) enthusiasts believed he had proven that phage was a living organism; and other enthusiasts said, in esoteric language with mathematical formulae, that he was a liar and six kinds of a fool.

It was at this time, when he might have become a Great Man, that he pitched over most of his own work and some of the duties of being Joyce’s husband to follow Terry Wickett, which showed that he lacked common sense, because Terry was still an assistant while he himself was head of a department.

Terry had discovered that certain quinine derivatives when introduced into the animal body slowly decompose into products which are highly toxic to bacteria but only mildly toxic to the body. There was hinted here a whole new world of therapy. Terry explained it to Martin, and invited him to collaborate. Buoyant with great things they got leave from Holabird — and from Joyce — and though it was winter they went off to Birdies’ Rest, in the Vermont hills. While they snowshoed and shot rabbits, and all the long dark evenings while they lay on their bellies before the fire, they ranted and planned.

Martin had not been so long silk-wrapped that he could not enjoy gobbling salt pork after the northwest wind and the snow. It was not unpleasant to be free of thinking up new compliments for Joyce.

They had, they saw, to answer an interesting question: Do the quinine derivatives act by attaching themselves to the bacteria, or by changing the body fluids? It was a simple, clear, definite question which required for answer only the inmost knowledge of chemistry and biology, a few hundred animals on which to experiment, and perhaps ten or twenty or a million years of trying and failing.

They decided to work with the pneumococcus, and with the animal which should most nearly reproduce human pneumonia. This meant the monkey, and to murder monkeys is expensive and rather grim. Holabird, as Director, could supply them, but if they took him into confidence he would demand immediate results.

Terry meditated, “‘Member there was one of these Nobel-prize winners, Slim, one of these plumb fanatics that instead of blowing in the prize spent the whole thing on chimps and other apes, and he got together with another of those whiskery old birds, and they ducked up alleys and kept the anti-viv folks from prosecuting them, and settled the problem of the transfer of syphilis to lower animals? But we haven’t got any Nobel Prize, I grieve to tell you, and it doesn’t look to me —”

“Terry, I’ll do it, if necessary! I’ve never sponged on Joyce yet, but I will now, if the Holy Wren holds out on us.”

ii

They faced Holabird in his office, sulkily, rather childishly, and they demanded the expenditure of at least ten thousand dollars for monkeys. They wished to start a research which might take two years without apparent results — possibly without any results. Terry was to be transferred to Martin’s department as co-head, their combined salaries shared equally.

Then they prepared to fight.

Holabird stared, assembled his mustache, departed from his Diligent Director manner, and spoke:

“Wait a minute, if you don’t mind. As I gather it, you are explaining to me that occasionally it’s necessary to take some time to elaborate an experiment. I really must tell you that I was formerly a researcher in an Institute called McGurk, and learned several of these things all by myself! Hell, Terry, and you, Mart, don’t be so egotistic! You’re not the only scientists who like to work undisturbed! If you poor fish only knew how I long to get away from signing letters and get my fingers on a kymograph drum again! Those beautiful long hours of search for truth! And if you knew how I’ve fought the Trustees for the chance to keep you fellows free! All right. You shall have your monkeys. Fix up the joint department to suit yourselves. And work ahead as seems best. I doubt if in the whole scientific world there’s two people that can be trusted as much as you two surly birds!”

Holabird rose, straight and handsome and cordial, his hand out. They sheepishly shook it and sneaked away, Terry grumbling, “He’s spoiled my whole day! I haven’t got a single thing to kick about! Slim, where’s the catch? You can bet there is one — there always is!”

In a year of divine work, the catch did not appear. They had their monkeys, their laboratories and garcons, and their unbroken leisure; they began the most exciting work they had ever known, and decidedly the most nerve-jabbing. Monkeys are unreasonable animals; they delight in developing tuberculosis on no provocation whatever; in captivity they have a liking for epidemics; and they make scenes by cursing at their masters in seven dialects.

“They’re so up-and-coming,” sighed Terry. “I feel like lettin’ ’em go and retiring to Birdies’ Rest to grow potatoes. Why should we murder live-wires like them to save pasty-faced, big-bellied humans from pneumonia?”

Their first task was to determine with accuracy the tolerated dose of the quinine derivative, and to study its effects on the hearing and vision, and on the kidneys, as shown by endless determinations of blood sugar and blood urea. While Martin did the injections and observed the effect on the monkeys and lost himself in chemistry, Terry toiled (all night, all next day, then a drink and a frowsy nap and all night again) on new methods of synthesizing the quinine derivative.

This was the most difficult period of Martin’s life. To work, staggering sleepy, all night, to drowse on a bare table at dawn and to breakfast at a greasy lunch-counter, these were natural and amusing, but to explain to Joyce why he had missed her dinner to a lady sculptor and a lawyer whose grandfather had been a Confederate General, this was impossible. He won a brief tolerance by explaining that he really had longed to kiss her good-night, that he did appreciate the basket of sandwiches which she had sent, and that he was about to remove pneumonia from the human race, a statement which he healthily doubted.

But when he had missed four dinners in succession; when she had raged, “Can you imagine how awful it was for Mrs. Thorn to be short a man at the last moment?” when she had wailed, “I didn’t so much mind your rudeness on the other nights, but this evening, when I had nothing to do and sat home alone and waited for you”— then he writhed.

Martin and Terry began to produce pneumonia in their monkeys and to treat them, and they had success which caused them to waltz solemnly down the corridor. They could save the monkeys from pneumonia invariably, when the infection had gone but one day, and most of them on the second day and the third.

Their results were complicated by the fact that a certain number of monkeys recovered by themselves, and this they allowed for by simple-looking figures which took days of stiff, shoulder-aching sitting over papers . . . one wild-haired collarless man at a table, while the other walked among stinking cages of monkeys, clucking to them, calling them Bess and Rover, and grunting placidly, “Oh, you would bite me, would you, sweetheart!” and all the while, kindly but merciless as the gods, injecting them with the deadly pneumonia.

They came into a high upland where the air was thin with failures. They studied in the test-tube the break-down products of pneumococci — and failed. They constructed artificial body fluids (carefully, painfully, inadequately), they tried the effect of the derivative on germs in this artificial blood — and failed.

Then Holabird heard of their previous success, and came down on them with laurels and fury.

He understood, he said, that they had a cure for pneumonia. Very well! The Institute could do with the credit for curing that undesirable disease, and Terry and Martin would kindly publish their findings (mentioning McGurk) at once.

“We will not! Look here, Holabird!” snarled Terry, “I thought you were going to let us alone!”

“I have! Nearly a year! Till you should complete your research. And now you’ve completed it. It’s time to let the world know what you’re doing.”

“If I did, the world would know a doggone sight more’n I do! Nothing doing, Chief. Maybe we can publish, in a year from now.”

“You’ll publish now or —”

“All right, Holy. The blessed moment has arrived. I quit! And I’m so gentlemanly that I do it without telling you what I think of you!”

Thus was Terry Wickett discharged from McGurk. He patented the process of synthesizing his quinine derivative and retired to Birdies’ Rest, to build a laboratory out of his small savings and spend a life of independent research supported by a restricted sale of sera and of his drug.

For Terry, wifeless and valetless, this was easy enough, but for Martin it was not simple.

iii

Martin assumed that he would resign. He explained it to Joyce. How he was to combine a town house and a Greenwich castle with flannel-shirt collaboration at Birdies’ Rest he had not quite planned, but he was not going to be disloyal.

“Can you beat it! The Holy Wren fires Terry but doesn’t dare touch me! I waited simply because I wanted to watch Holabird figure out what I’d do. And now —”

He was elucidating it to her in their — in her — car, on the way home from a dinner at which he had been so gaily charming to an important dowager that Joyce had crooned, “What a fool Latham Ireland was to say he couldn’t be polite!”

“I’m free, by thunder at last I’m free, because I’ve worked up to something that’s worth being free for!” he exulted.

She laid her fine hand on his, and begged, “Wait! I want to think. Please! Do be quiet for a moment.”

Then: “Mart, if you went on working with Mr. Wickett, you’d have to be leaving me constantly.”

“Well —”

“I really don’t think that would be quite nice — I mean especially now, because I fancy I’m going to have a baby.”

He made a sound of surprise.

“Oh, I’m not going to do the weeping mother. And I don’t know whether I’m glad or furious, though I do believe I’d like to have one baby. But it does complicate things, you know. And personally, I should be sorry if you left the Institute, which gives you a solid position, for a hole-and-corner existence. Dear, I have been fairly nice, haven’t I? I really do like you, you know! I don’t want you to desert me, and you would if you went off to this horrid Vermont place.”

“Couldn’t we get a little house near there, and spend part of the year?”

“Pos-sibly. But we ought to wait till this beastly job of bearing a Dear Little One is over, then think about it.”

Martin did not resign from the Institute, and Joyce did not think about taking a house near Birdies’ Rest to the extent of doing it.

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