Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 40

Dr. and Mrs. Rippleton Holabird had invited only Joyce and Martin to dinner. Holabird was his most charming self. He admired Joyce’s pearls, and when the squabs had been served he turned on Martin with friendly intensity:

“Now will Joyce and you listen to me most particularly? Things are happening, Martin, and I want you — no, Science wants you! — to take your proper part in them. I needn’t, by the way, hint that this is absolutely confidential. Dr. Tubbs and his League of Cultural Agencies are beginning to accomplish marvels, and Colonel Minnigen has been extraordinarily liberal.

“They’ve gone at the League with exactly the sort of thoroughness and taking-it-slow that you and dear old Gottlieb have always insisted on. For four years now they’ve stuck to making plans. I happen to know that Dr. Tubbs and the council of the League have had the most wonderful conferences with college-presidents and editors and clubwomen and labor-leaders (the sound, sensible ones, of course) and efficiency-experts and the more advanced advertising-men and ministers, and all the other leaders of public thought.

“They’ve worked out elaborate charts classifying all intellectual occupations and interests, with the methods and materials and tools, and especially the goals — the aims, the ideals, the moral purposes — that are suited to each of them. Really tremendous! Why, a musician or an engineer, for example, could look at his chart and tell accurately whether he was progressing fast enough, at his age, and if not, just what his trouble was, and the remedy. With this basis, the League is ready to go to work and encourage all brain-workers to affiliate.

“McGurk Institute simply must get in on this co-ordination, which I regard as one of the greatest advances in thinking that has ever been made. We are at last going to make all the erstwhile chaotic spiritual activities of America really conform to the American ideal; we’re going to make them as practical and supreme as the manufacture of cash-registers! I have certain reasons for supposing I can bring Ross McGurk and Minnigen together, now that the McGurk and Minnigen lumber interests have stopped warring, and if so I shall probably quit the Institute and help Tubbs guide the League of Cultural Agencies. Then we’ll need a new Director of McGurk who will work with us and help bring Science out of the monastery to serve Mankind.”

By this time Martin understood everything about the League except what the League was trying to do.

Holabird went on:

“Now I know, Martin, that you’ve always rather sneered at Practicalness, but I have faith in you! I believe you’ve been too much under the influence of Wickett, and now that he’s gone and you’ve seen more of life and of Joyce’s set and mine, I believe I can coax you to take (oh! without in any way neglecting the severities of your lab work!) a broader view.

“I am authorized to appoint an Assistant Director, and I think I’m safe in saying he would succeed me as full Director. Sholtheis wants the place, and Dr. Smith and Yeo would leap at it, but I haven’t yet found any of them that are quite Our Own Sort, and I offer it to you! I daresay in a year or two, you will be Director of McGurk Institute!”

Holabird was uplifted, as one giving royal favor. Mrs. Holabird was intense, as one present on an historical occasion and Joyce was ecstatic over the honor to her Man.

Martin stammered, “W-why, I’ll have to think it over. Sort of unexpected —”

The rest of the evening Holabird so brimmingly enjoyed himself picturing an era in which Tubbs and Martin and he would rule, co-ordinate, standardize, and make useful the whole world of intelligence, from trousers-designing to poetry, that he did not resent Martin’s silence. At parting he chanted, “Talk it over with Joyce, and let me have your decision tomorrow. By the way, I think we’ll get rid of Pearl Robbins; she’s been useful but now she considers herself indispensable. But that’s a detail. . . . Oh, I do have faith in you, Martin, dear old boy! You’ve grown and calmed down, and you’ve widened your interests so much, this past year!”

In their car, in that moving curtained room under the crystal dome-light, Joyce beamed at him.

“Isn’t it too wonderful, Mart! And I do feel Rippleton can bring it off. Think of your being Director, head of that whole great Institute, when just a few years ago you were only a cub there! But haven’t I perhaps helped, just a little?”

Suddenly Martin hated the blue-and-gold velvet of the car, the cunningly hid gold box of cigarettes, all this soft and smothering prison. He wanted to be out beside the unseen chauffeur — His Own Sort! — facing the winter. He tried to look as though he were meditating, in an awed, appreciative manner, but he was merely being cowardly, reluctant to begin the slaughter. Slowly:

“Would you really like to see me Director?”

“Of course! All that — Oh, you know; I don’t just mean the prominence and respect, but the power to accomplish good.”

“Would you like to see me dictating letters, giving out interviews, buying linoleum, having lunch with distinguished fools, advising men about whose work I don’t know a blame’ thing?”

“Oh, don’t be so superior! Someone has to do these things. And that’d be only a small part of it. Think of the opportunity of encouraging some youngster who wanted a chance to do splendid science!”

“And give up my own chance?”

“Why need you? You’d be head of your own department just the same. And even if you did give up — You are so stubborn! It’s lack of imagination. You think that because you’ve started in on one tiny branch of mental activity, there’s nothing else in the world. It’s just as when I persuaded you that if you got out of your stinking laboratory once a week or so, and actually bent your powerful intellect to a game of golf, the world of science wouldn’t immediately stop! No imagination! You’re precisely like these business men you’re always cursing because they can’t see anything in life beyond their soap-factories or their banks!”

“And you really would have me give up my work —”

He saw that with all her eager complaisances she had never understood what he was up to, had not comprehended one word about the murderous effect of the directorship on Gottlieb.

He was silent again, and before they reached home she said only, “You know I’m the last person to speak of money, but really, it’s you who have so often brought up the matter of hating to be dependent on me, and you know as Director you would make so much more that — Forgive me!”

She fled before him into her palace, into the automatic elevator.

He plodded up the stairs, grumbling, “Yes, it is the first chance I’ve had to really contribute to the expenses here. Sure! Willing to take her money, but not to do anything in return, and then call it ‘devotion to science!’ Well, I’ve got to decide right now —”

He did not go through the turmoil of deciding; he leaped to decision without it. He marched into Joyce’s room, irritated by its snobbishness of discreet color. He was checked by the miserable way in which she sat brooding on the edge of her day couch, but he flung:

“I’m not going to do it, even if I have to leave the Institute — and Holabird will just about make me quit. I will not get buried in this pompous fakery of giving orders and —”

“Mart! Listen! Don’t you want your son to be proud of you?”

“Um. Well — NO, not if he’s to be proud of me for being a stuffed shirt, a sideshow barker —”

“Please don’t be vulgar.”

“Why not? Matter of fact, I haven’t been vulgar enough lately. What I ought to do is to go to Birdies’ Rest right now, and work with Terry.”

“I wish I had some way of showing you — Oh, for a ‘scientist’ you do have the most incredible blind-spots! I wish I could make you see just how weak and futile that is. The wilds! The simple life! The old argument. It’s just the absurd, cowardly sort of thing these tired highbrows do that sneak off to some Esoteric Colony and think they’re getting strength to conquer life, when they’re merely running away from it.”

“No. Terry has his place in the country only because he can live cheaper there. If we — if he could afford it, he’d probably be right here, in town, with garcons and everything, like McGurk, but with no Director Holabird, by God — and no Director Arrowsmith!”

“Merely a cursing, ill-bred, intensely selfish Director Terry Wickett!”

“Now, by God, let me tell you —”

“Martin, do you need to emphasize your arguments by a ‘by God’ in every sentence, or have you a few other expressions in your highly scientific vocabulary?”

“Well, I have enough vocabulary to express the idea that I’m thinking of joining Terry.”

“Look here, Mart. You feel so virtuous about wanting to go off and wear a flannel shirt and be peculiar and very, very pure. Suppose everybody argued that way. Suppose every father deserted his children whenever his nice little soul ached? Just what would become of the world? Suppose I were poor, and you left me, and I had to support John by taking in washing —”

“It’d probably be fine for you but fierce on the washing! No! I beg your pardon. That was an obvious answer. But — I imagine it’s just that argument that’s kept almost everybody, all these centuries, from being anything but a machine for digestion and propagation and obedience. The answer is that very few ever do, under any condition, willingly leave a soft bed for a shanty bunk in order to be pure, as you very properly call it, and those of us that are pioneers — Oh, this debate could go on forever! We could prove that I’m a hero or a fool or a deserter or anything you like, but the fact is I’ve suddenly seen I must go! I want my freedom to work, and I herewith quit whining about it and grab it. You’ve been generous to me. I’m grateful. But you’ve never been mine. Good-by.”

“Darling, darling — We’ll talk it over again in the morning, when you aren’t so excited. . . . And an hour ago I was so proud of you!”

“All right. Good-night.”

But before morning, taking two suit-cases and a bag of his roughest clothes, leaving for her a tender note which was the hardest thing he had ever written, kissing his son and muttering, “Come to me when you grow up, old man,” he went to a cheap side-street hotel. As he stretched on the rickety iron bed, he grieved for their love. Before noon he had gone to the Institute, resigned, taken certain of his own apparatus and notes and books and materials, refused to answer a telephone call from Joyce, and caught a train for Vermont.

Cramped on the red-plush seat of the day-coach (he who of late had ridden in silken private cars), he grinned with the joy of no longer having to toil at dinner-parties.

He drove up to Birdies’ Rest in a bob-sled. Terry was chopping wood, in a mess of chip-littered snow.

“Hello, Terry. Come for keeps.”

“Fine, Slim. Say, there’s a lot of dishes in the shack need washing.”

ii

He had become soft. To dress in the cold shanty and to wash in icy water was agony; to tramp for three hours through fluffy snow exhausted him. But the rapture of being allowed to work twenty-four hours a day without leaving an experiment at its juiciest moment to creep home for dinner, of plunging with Terry into arguments as cryptic as theology and furious as the indignation of a drunken man, carried him along, and he felt himself growing sinewy. Often he meditated on yielding to Joyce so far as to allow her to build a better laboratory for them, and more civilized quarters.

With only one servant, though, or two at the very most, and just a simple decent bathroom —

She had written, “You have been thoroughly beastly, and any attempt at reconciliation, if that is possible now, which I rather doubt, must come from you.”

He answered, describing the ringing winter woods and not mentioning the platform word Reconciliation.

iii

They wanted to study further the exact mechanism of the action of their quinine derivatives. This was difficult with the mice which Terry had contrived to use instead of monkeys, because of their size. Martin had brought with him strains of Bacillus lepisepticus, which causes a pleuro-pneumonia in rabbits, and their first labor was to discover whether their original compound was effective against this bacillus as well as against pneumococcus. Profanely they found that it was not; profanely and patiently they trudged into an infinitely complicated search for a compound that should be.

They earned their living by preparing sera which rather grudgingly they sold to physicians of whose honesty they were certain, abruptly refusing the popular drug-vendors. They thus received surprisingly large sums, and among all clever people it was believed that they were too coyly shrewd to be sincere.

Martin worried as much over what he considered his treachery to Clif Clawson as over his desertion of Joyce and John, but this worrying he did only when he could not sleep. Regularly, at three in the morning, he brought both Joyce and honest Clif to Birdies’ Rest; and regularly, at six, when he was frying bacon, he forgot them.

Terry the barbarian, once he was free of the tittering and success-pawing of Holabird, was an easy campmate. Upper berth or lower was the same to him, and till Martin was hardened to cold and fatigue, Terry did more than his share of wood-cutting and supply-toting, and with great melody and skill he washed their clothes.

He had the genius to see that they two alone, shut up together season on season, would quarrel. He planned with Martin that the laboratory scheme should be extended to include eight (but never more!) maverick and undomestic researchers like themselves, who should contribute to the expenses of the camp by manufacturing sera, but otherwise do their own independent work — whether it should be the structure of the atom, or a disproof of the results of Drs. Wickett and Arrowsmith. Two rebels, a chemist now caught in a drug-firm and a university professor, were coming next autumn.

“It’s kind of a mis’able return to monasteries,” grumbled Terry, “except that we’re not trying to solve anything for anybody but our own fool selves. Mind you! When this place becomes a shrine, and a lot of cranks begin to creep in here, then you and I got to beat it, Slim. We’ll move farther back in the woods, or if we feel too old for that, we’ll take another shot at professorships or Dawson Hunziker or even the Rev. Dr. Holabird.”

For the first time Martin’s work began definitely to draw ahead of Terry’s.

His mathematics and physical chemistry were now as sound as Terry’s, his indifference to publicity and to flowery hangings as great, his industry as fanatical, his ingenuity in devising new apparatus at least comparable, and his imagination far more swift. He had less ease but more passion. He hurled out hypotheses like sparks. He began, incredulously, to comprehend his freedom. He would yet determine the essential nature of phage; and as he became stronger and surer — and no doubt less human — he saw ahead of him innumerous inquiries into chemotherapy and immunity; enough adventures to keep him busy for decades.

It seemed to him that this was the first spring he had ever seen and tasted. He learned to dive into the lake, though the first plunge was an agony of fiery cold. They fished before breakfast, they supped at a table under the oaks, they tramped twenty miles on end, they had bluejays and squirrels for interested neighbors; and when they had worked all night, they came out to find serene dawn lifting across the sleeping lake.

Martin felt sun-soaked and deep of chest, and always he hummed.

And one day he peeped out, beneath his new horn-rimmed almost-middle-aged glasses, to see a gigantic motor crawling up their woods road. From the car, jolly and competent in tweeds, stepped Joyce.

He wanted to flee through the back door of the laboratory shanty. Reluctantly he edged out to meet her.

“It’s a sweet place, really!” she said, and amiably kissed him. “Let’s walk down by the lake.”

In a stilly place of ripples and birch boughs, he was moved to grip her shoulders.

She cried, “Darling, I HAVE missed you! You’re wrong about lots of things, but you’re right about this — you must work and not be disturbed by a lot of silly people. Do you like my tweeds? Don’t they look wildernessy? You see, I’ve come to stay! I’ll build a house near here; perhaps right across the lake. Yes. That will make a sweet place, over there on that sort of little plateau, if I can get the land — probably some horrid tight-fisted old farmer owns it. Can’t you just SEE it: a wide low house, with enormous verandas and red awnings —”

“And visitors coming?”

“I suppose so. Sometimes. Why?”

Desperately, “Joyce, I do love you. I want awfully, just now, to kiss you properly. But I will not have you bringing a lot of people — and there’d probably be a rotten noisy motor launch. Make our lab a joke. Roadhouse. New sensation. Why, Terry would go crazy! You ARE lovely! But you want a playmate, and I want to work. I’m afraid you can’t stay. No.”

“And our son is to be left without your care?”

“He — Would he have my care if I died? . . . He is a nice kid, too! I hope he won’t be a Rich Man! . . . Perhaps ten years from now he’ll come to me here.”

“And live like THIS?”

“Sure — unless I’m broke. Then he won’t live so well. We have meat practically every day now!”

“I see. And suppose your Terry Wickett should marry some waitress or some incredibly stupid rustic? From what you’ve told me, he rather fancies that sort of girl!”

“Well, either he and I would beat her, together, or it would be the one thing that could break me.”

“Martin, aren’t you perhaps a little insane?”

“Oh, absolutely! And how I enjoy it! Though you — You look here now, Joy! We’re insane but we’re not cranks! Yesterday an ‘esoteric healer’ came here because he thought this was a free colony, and Terry walked him twenty miles, and then I think he threw him in the lake. No. Gosh. Let me think.” He scratched his chin. “I don’t believe we’re insane. We’re farmers.”

“Martin, it’s too infinitely diverting to find you becoming a fanatic, and all the while trying to wriggle out of being a fanatic. You’ve left common sense. I AM common sense. I believe in bathing! Good-by!”

“Now you look here. By golly —”

She was gone, reasonable and triumphant.

As the chauffeur maneuvered among the stumps of the clearing, for a moment Joyce looked out from her car, and they stared at each other, through tears. They had never been so frank, so pitiful, as in this one unarmored look which recalled every jest, every tenderness, every twilight they had known together. But the car rolled on unhalted, and he remembered that he had been doing an experiment —

iv

On a certain evening of May, Congressman Almus Pickerbaugh was dining with the President of the United States.

“When the campaign is over, Doctor,” said the President, “I hope we shall see you a cabinet-member — the first Secretary of Health and Eugenics in the country!”

That evening, Dr. Rippleton Holabird was addressing a meeting of celebrated thinkers, assembled by the League of Cultural Agencies. Among the Men of Measured Merriment on the platform were Dr. Aaron Sholtheis, the new Director of McGurk Institute, and Dr. Angus Duer, head of the Duer Clinic and professor of surgery in Fort Dearborn Medical College.

Dr. Holabird’s epochal address was being broadcast by radio to a million ardently listening lovers of science.

That evening, Bert Tozer of Wheatsylvania, North Dakota, was attending mid-week prayer-meeting. His new Buick sedan awaited him outside, and with modest satisfaction he heard the minister gloat:

“The righteous, even the Children of Light, they shall be rewarded with a great reward and their feet shall walk in gladness, saith the Lord of Hosts; but the mockers, the Sons of Belial, they shall be slain betimes and cast down into darkness and failure, and in the busy marts shall they be forgot.”

That evening, Max Gottlieb sat unmoving and alone, in a dark small room above the banging city street. Only his eyes were alive.

That evening, the hot breeze languished along the palm-waving ridge where the ashes of Gustaf Sondelius were lost among cinders, and a depression in a garden marked the grave of Leora.

That evening, after an unusually gay dinner with Latham Ireland, Joyce admitted, “Yes, if I do divorce him, I may marry you. I know! He’s never going to see how egotistical it is to think he’s the only man living who’s always right!”

That evening, Martin Arrowsmith and Terry Wickett lolled in a clumsy boat, an extraordinarily uncomfortable boat, far out on the water.

“I feel as if I were really beginning to work now,” said Martin. “This new quinine stuff may prove pretty good. We’ll plug along on it for two or three years, and maybe we’ll get something permanent — and probably we’ll fail!”

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