Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 5

Though bacteriology was all of Martin’s life now, it was the theory of the University that he was also studying pathology, hygiene, surgical anatomy, and enough other subjects to swamp a genius.

Clif Clawson and he lived in a large room with flowered wallpaper, piles of filthy clothes, iron beds, and cuspidors. They made their own breakfasts; they dined on hash at the Pilgrim Lunch Wagon or the Dew Drop Inn. Clif was occasionally irritating; he hated open windows; he talked of dirty socks; he sang “Some die of Diabetes” when Martin was studying; and he was altogether unable to say anything directly. He had to be humorous. He remarked, “Is it your combobulatory concept that we might now feed the old faces?” or “How about ingurgitating a few calories?” But he had for Martin a charm that could not be accounted for by cheerfulness, his shrewdness, his vague courage. The whole of Clif was more than the sum of his various parts.

In the joy of his laboratory work Martin thought rarely of his recent associates in Digamma Pi. He occasionally protested that the Reverend Ira Hinkley was a village policeman and Irving Watters a plumber, that Angus Duer would walk to success over his grandmother’s head, and that for an idiot like Fatty Pfaff to practice on helpless human beings was criminal, but mostly he ignored them and ceased to be a pest. And when he had passed his first triumphs in bacteriology and discovered how remarkably much he did not know, he was curiously humble.

If he was less annoying in regard to his classmates, he was more so in his classrooms. He had learned from Gottlieb the trick of using the word “control” in reference to the person or animal or chemical left untreated during an experiment, as a standard for comparison; and there is no trick more infuriating. When a physician boasted of his success with this drug or that electric cabinet, Gottlieb always snorted, “Where was your control? How many cases did you have under identical conditions, and how many of them did not get the treatment?” Now Martin began to mouth it — control, control, control, where’s your control? where’s your control? — till most of his fellows and a few of his instructors desired to lynch him.

He was particularly tedious in materia medica.

The professor of materia medica, Dr. Lloyd Davidson, would have been an illustrious shopkeeper. He was very popular. From him a future physician could learn that most important of all things: the proper drugs to give a patient, particularly when you cannot discover what is the matter with him. His classes listened with zeal, and memorized the sacred hundred and fifty favorite prescriptions. (He was proud that this was fifty more than his predecessor had required.)

But Martin was rebellious. He inquired, and publicly, “Dr. Davidson, how do they know ichthyol is good for erysipelas? Isn’t it just rotten fossil fish — isn’t it like the mummy-dust and puppy-ear stuff they used to give in the olden days?”

“How do they know? Why, my critical young friend, because thousands of physicians have used it for years and found their patients getting better, and that’s how they know!”

“But honest, Doctor, wouldn’t the patients maybe have gotten better anyway? Wasn’t it maybe a post hoc, propter hoc? Have they ever experimented on a whole slew of patients together, with controls?”

“Probably not — and until some genius like yourself, Arrowsmith, can herd together a few hundred people with exactly identical cases of erysipelas, it probably never will be tried! Meanwhile I trust that you other gentlemen, who perhaps lack Mr. Arrowsmith’s profound scientific attainments and the power to use such handy technical terms as ‘control,’ will, merely on my feeble advice, continue to use ichthyol!”

But Martin insisted, “Please, Dr. Davidson, what’s the use of getting all these prescriptions by heart, anyway? We’ll forget most of ’em, and besides, we can always look ’em up in the book.”

Davidson pressed his lips together, then:

“Arrowsmith, with a man of your age I hate to answer you as I would a three-year-old boy, but apparently I must. Therefore, you will learn the properties of drugs and the contents of prescriptions BECAUSE I TELL YOU TO! If I did not hesitate to waste the time of the other members of this class, I would try to convince you that my statements may be accepted, not on my humble authority, but because they are the conclusions of wise men — men wiser or certainly a little older than you, my friend — through many ages. But as I have no desire to indulge in fancy flights of rhetoric and eloquence, I shall merely say that you will accept, and you will study, and you will memorize, because I tell you to!”

Martin considered dropping his medical course and specializing in bacteriology. He tried to confide in Clif, but Clif had become impatient of his fretting, and he turned again to the energetic and willowy Madeline Fox.

ii

Madeline was at once sympathetic and sensible. Why not complete his medical course, then see what he wanted to do?

They tramped, they skated, they skied, they went to the University Dramatic Society play. Madeline’s widowed mother had come to live with her, and they had taken a top-floor flat in one of the tiny apartment-houses which were beginning to replace the expansive old wooden houses of Mohalis. The flat was full of literature and decoration: a bronze Buddha from Chicago, a rubbing of Shakespeare’s epitaph, a set of Anatole France in translation, a photograph of Cologne cathedral, a wicker tea-table with a samovar whose operation no one in the University understood, and a souvenir post-card album. Madeline’s mother was a Main Street dowager duchess. She was stately and white-haired but she attended the Methodist Church. In Mohalis she was flustered by the chatter of the students; she longed for her home-town, for the church sociables and the meetings of the women’s club — they were studying Education this year and she hated to lose all the information about university ways.

With a home and a chaperone, Madeline began to “entertain”: eight-o’clock parties with coffee, chocolate cake, chicken salad, and word-games. She invited Martin, but he was jealous of his evenings, beautiful evenings of research. The first affair to which she enticed him was her big New Year’s Party in January. They “did advertisements”— guessed at tableaux representing advertising pictures; they danced to the phonograph; and they had not merely a lap-supper but little tables excessively covered with doilies.

Martin was unaccustomed to such elegance. Though he had come in sulky unwillingness, he was impressed by the supper, by the frocks of the young women; he realized that his dancing was rusty, and he envied the senior who could do the new waltz called the “Boston.” There was no strength, no grace, no knowledge, that Martin Arrowsmith did not covet, when consciousness of it had pierced through the layers of his absorption. If he was but little greedy for possessions, he was hungry for every skill.

His reluctant wonder at the others was drowned in his admiration for Madeline. He had known her as a jacketed outdoor girl, but this was an exquisite indoor Madeline, slender in yellow silk. She seemed to him a miracle of tact and ease as she bullied her guests into an appearance of merriment. She had need of tact, for Dr. Norman Brumfit was there, and it was one of Dr. Brumfit’s evenings to be original and naughty. He pretended to kiss Madeline’s mother, which vastly discomforted the poor lady; he sang a strongly improper Negro song containing the word hell; he maintained to a group of women graduate students that George Sand’s affairs might perhaps be partially justified by their influence on men of talent; and when they looked shocked, he pranced a little, and his eyeglasses glittered.

Madeline took charge of him. She trilled, “Dr. Brumfit, you’re terribly learned and so on and so forth, and sometimes in English classes I’m simply scared to death of you, but other times you’re nothing but a bad small boy, and I won’t have you teasing the girls. You can help me bring in the sherbet, that’s what you can do.”

Martin adored her. He hated Brumfit for the privilege of disappearing with her into the closet-like kitchen of the flat. Madeline! She was the one person who understood him! Here, where everyone snatched at her and Dr. Brumfit beamed on her with almost matrimonial fondness, she was precious, she was something he must have.

On pretense of helping her set the tables, he had a moment with her, and whimpered, “Lord, you’re so lovely!”

“I’m glad you think I’m a wee bit nice.” She, the rose and the adored of all the world, gave him her favor.

“Can I come call on you tomorrow evening?’

“Well, I— Perhaps.”

iii

It cannot be said, in this biography of a young man who was in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back all his life and bogged himself in every obvious morass, that Martin’s intentions toward Madeline Fox were what is called “honorable.” He was not a Don Juan, but he was a poor medical student who would have to wait for years before he could make a living. Certainly he did not think of proposing marriage. He wanted — like most poor and ardent young men in such a case, he wanted all he could get.

As he raced toward her flat, he was expectant of adventure. He pictured her melting; he felt her hand glide down his cheek. He warned himself, “Don’t be a fool now! Probably nothing doing at all. Don’t go get all worked up and then be disappointed. She’ll probably cuss you out for something you did wrong at the party. She’ll probably be sleepy and wish you hadn’t come. Nothing!” But he did not for a second believe it.

He rang, he saw her opening the door, he followed her down the meager hall, longing to take her hand. He came into the over-bright living-room — and he found her mother, solid as a pyramid, permanent-looking as sunless winter.

But of course Mother would obligingly go, and leave him to conquest.

Mother did not.

In Mohalis, the suitable time for young men callers to depart is ten o’clock, but from eight till a quarter after eleven Martin did battle with Mrs. Fox; talked to her in two languages, an audible gossip and a mute but furious protest, while Madeline — she was present; she sat about and looked pretty. In an equally silent tongue Mrs. Fox answered him, till the room was thick with their antagonism, while they seemed to be discussing the weather, the University, and the trolley service into Zenith.

“Yes, of course, some day I guess they’ll have a car every twenty minutes,” he said weightily.

(“Darn her, why doesn’t she go to bed? Cheers! She’s doing up her knitting. Nope. Damn it! She’s taking another ball of wool.”)

“Oh, yes, I’m sure they’ll have to have better service,” said Mrs. Fox.

(“Young man, I don’t know much about you, but I don’t believe you’re the right kind of person for Madeline to go with. Anyway, it’s time you went home.”)

“Oh, yes, sure, you bet. Lot better service.”

(“I know I’m staying too long, and I know you know it, but I don’t care!”)

It seemed impossible that Mrs. Fox should endure his stolid persistence. He used thought-forms, will-power, and hypnotism, and when he rose, defeated, she was still there, extremely placid. They said good-by not too warmly. Madeline took him to the door; for an exhilarating half-minute he had her alone.

“I wanted so much — I wanted to talk to you!”

“I know. I’m sorry. Some time!” she muttered.

He kissed her. It was a tempestuous kiss, and very sweet.

iv

Fudge parties, skating parties, sleighing parties, a literary party with the guest of honor a lady journalist who did the social page for the Zenith Advocate–Times — Madeline leaped into an orgy of jocund but extraordinarily tiring entertainments, and Martin obediently and smolderingly followed her. She appeared to have trouble in getting enough men, and to the literary evening Martin dragged the enraged Clif Clawson. Clif grumbled, “This is the damnedest zoo of sparrows I ever did time in,” but he bore off treasure — he had heard Madeline call Martin by her favorite name of “Martykins.” That was very valuable. Clif called him Martykins. Clif told others to call him Martykins. Fatty Pfaff and Irving Watters called him Martykins. And when Martin wanted to go to sleep, Clif croaked:

“Yuh, you’ll probably marry her. She’s a dead shot. She can hit a smart young M.D. at ninety paces. Oh, you’ll have one fine young time going on with science after that skirt sets you at tonsil-snatching. . . . She’s one of these literary birds. She knows all about lite’ature except maybe how to read. . . . She’s not so bad-looking, now. She’ll get fat, like her Ma.”

Martin said that which was necessary, and he concluded, “She’s the only girl in the graduate school that’s got any pep. The others just sit around and talk, and she gets up the best parties —”

“Any kissing parties?”

“Now you look here! I’ll be getting sore, first thing you know! You and I are roughnecks, but Madeline Fox — she’s like Angus Duer, some ways. I realize all the stuff we’re missing: music and literature, yes, and decent clothes, too — no harm to dressing well —”

“That’s just what I was tellin’ you! She’ll have you all dolled up in a Prince Albert and a boiled shirt, diagnosing everything as rich-widowitis. How you can fall for that four-flushing dame — WHERE’S YOUR CONTROL?”

Clif’s opposition stirred him to consider Madeline not merely with a sly and avaricious interest but with a dramatic conviction that he longed to marry her.

v

Few women can for long periods keep from trying to Improve their men, and To Improve means to change a person from what he is, whatever that may be, into something else. Girls like Madeline Fox, artistic young women who do not work at it, cannot be restrained from Improving for more than a day at a time. The moment the urgent Martin showed that he was stirred by her graces, she went at his clothes — his corduroys and soft collars and eccentric old gray felt hat — at his vocabulary and his taste in fiction, with new and more patronizing vigor. Her sketchy way of saying, “Why, of course everybody knows that Emerson was the greatest thinker” irritated him the more in contrast to Gottlieb’s dark patience.

“Oh, let me alone!” he hurled at her. “You’re the nicest thing the Lord ever made, when you stick to things you know about, but when you spring your ideas on politics and chemotherapy — Darn it, quit bullying me! I guess you’re right about slang. I’ll cut out all this junk about ‘feeding your face’ and so on. But I will not put on a hard-boiled collar! I won’t!”

He might never have proposed to her but for the spring evening on the roof.

She used the flat roof of her apartment-house as a garden. She had set out one box of geraniums and a cast-iron bench like those once beheld in cemetery plots; she had hung up two Japanese lanterns — they were ragged and they hung crooked. She spoke with scorn of the other inhabitants of the apartment-house, who were “so prosaic, so conventional, that they never came up to this darling hidey-place.” She compared her refuge to the roof of a Moorish palace, to a Spanish patio, to a Japanese garden, to a “pleasaunce of old Provencal.” But to Martin it seemed a good deal like a plain roof. He was vaguely ready for a quarrel, that April evening when he called on Madeline and her mother sniffily told him that she was to be found on the roof.

“Damned Japanese lanterns. Rather look at liver-sections,” he grumbled, as he trudged up the curving stairs.

Madeline was sitting on the funereal iron bench, her chin in her hands. For once she did not greet him with flowery excitement but with a noncommittal “Hello.” She seemed spiritless. He felt guilty for his scoffing; he suddenly saw the pathos in her pretense that this stretch of tar-paper and slatted walks was a blazing garden. As he sat beside her he piped, “Say, that’s a dandy new strip of matting you’ve put down.”

“It is not! It’s mangy!” She turned toward him. She wailed, “Oh, Mart, I’m so sick of myself, tonight. I’m always trying to make people think I’m somebody. I’m not. I’m a bluff.”

“What is it, dear?”

“Oh, it’s lots. Dr. Brumfit, hang him — only he was right — he as good as told me that if I don’t work harder I’ll have to get out of the graduate school. I’m not doing a thing, he said, and if I don’t have my Ph.D., then I won’t be able to land a nice job teaching English in some swell school, and I’d better land one, too, because it doesn’t look to poor Madeline as if anybody was going to marry her.”

His arm about her, he blared, “I know exactly who —”

“No, I’m not fishing. I’m almost honest, tonight. I’m no good, Mart. I tell people how clever I am. And I don’t suppose they believe it. Probably they go off and laugh at me!”

“They do not! If they did — I’d like to see anybody that tried laughing —”

“It’s awfully sweet and dear of you, but I’m not worth it. The poetic Madeline. With her ree-fined vocabulary! I’m a — I’m a — Martin, I’m a tin-horn sport! I’m everything your friend Clif thinks I am. Oh, you needn’t tell me. I know what he thinks. And — I’ll have to go home with Mother, and I can’t stand it, dear, I can’t stand it! I won’t go back! That town! Never anything doing! The old tabbies, and the beastly old men, always telling the same old jokes. I won’t!”

Her head was in the hollow of his arm; she was weeping, hard; he was stroking her hair, not covetously now but tenderly, and he was whispering:

“Darling! I almost feel as if I dared to love you. You’re going to marry me and — Take me couple more years to finish my medical course and couple in hospital, then we’ll be married and — By thunder, with you helping me, I’m going to climb to the top! Be big surgeon! We’re going to have everything!”

“Dearest, do be wise. I don’t want to keep you from your scientific work —”

“Oh. Well. Well, I would like to keep up SOME research. But thunder, I’m not just a lab-cat. Battle o’ life. Smashing your way through. Competing with real men in real he-struggle. If I can’t do that and do some scientific work too, I’m no good. Course while I’m with Gottlieb, I want to take advantage of it, but afterwards — Oh, Madeline!”

Then was all reasoning lost in a blur of nearness to her.

vi

He dreaded the interview with Mrs. Fox; he was certain that she would demand, “Young man, how do you expect to support my Maddy? And you use bad language.” But she took his hand and mourned, “I hope you and my baby will be happy. She’s a dear good girl, even if she is a little flighty sometimes, and I know you’re nice and kind and hard-working. I shall pray you’ll be happy — oh, I’ll pray so hard! You young people don’t seem to think much of prayer, but if you knew how it helped me — Oh, I’ll petition for your sweet happiness!”

She was weeping; she kissed Martin’s forehead with the dry, soft, gentle kiss of an old woman, and he was near to weeping with her.

At parting Madeline whispered, “Boy, I don’t care a bit, myself, but Mother would love it if we went to church with her. Don’t you think you could, just once?”

The astounded world, the astounded and profane Clif Clawson, had the spectacle of Martin in shiny pressed clothes, a painful linen collar, and an arduously tied scarf, accompanying Mrs. Fox and the chastely chattering Madeline to the Mohalis Methodist Church, to hear the Reverend Dr. Myron Schwab discourse on “The One Way to Righteousness.”

They passed the Reverend Ira Hinkley, and Ira gloated with a holy gloating at Martin’s captivity.

vii

For all his devotion to Max Gottlieb’s pessimistic view of the human intellect, Martin had believed that there was such a thing as progress, that events meant something, that people could learn something, that if Madeline had once admitted she was an ordinary young woman who occasionally failed, then she was saved. He was bewildered when she began improving him more airily than ever. She complained of his vulgarity and what she asserted to be his slack ambition. “You think it’s terribly smart of you to feel superior. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just laziness. You like to day-dream around labs. Why should YOU be spared the work of memorizing your materia medica and so on and so forth? All the others have to do it. No, I won’t kiss you. I want you to grow up and listen to reason.”

In fury at her badgering, in desire for her lips and forgiving smile, he was whirled through to the end of the term.

A week before examinations, when he was trying to spend twenty-four hours a day in making love to her, twenty-four in grinding for examinations, and twenty-four in the bacteriological laboratory, he promised Clif that he would spend that summer vacation with him, working as a waiter in a Canadian hotel. He met Madeline in the evening, and with her walked through the cherry orchard on the Agricultural Experiment Station grounds.

“You know what I think of your horrid Clif Clawson,” she complained. “I don’t suppose you care to hear my opinion of him.”

“I’ve had your opinion, my beloved.” Martin sounded mature, and not too pleasant.

“Well, I can tell you right now you haven’t had my opinion of your being a waiter! For the life of me I can’t understand why you don’t get some gentlemanly job for vacation, instead of hustling dirty dishes. Why couldn’t you work on a newspaper, where you’d have to dress decently and meet nice people?”

“Sure. I might edit the paper. But since you say so, I won’t work at all this summer. Fool thing to do, anyway. I’ll go to Newport and play golf and wear a dress suit every night.”

“It wouldn’t hurt you any! I do respect honest labor. It’s like Burns says. But waiting on table! Oh, Mart, why are you so proud of being a roughneck? Do stop being smart, for a minute. Listen to the night. And smell the cherry blossoms. . . . Or maybe a great scientist like you, that’s so superior to ordinary people, is too good for cherry blossoms!”

“Well, except for the fact that every cherry blossom has been gone for weeks now, you’re dead right.”

“Oh, they have, have they! They may be faded but — Will you be so good as to tell me what that pale white mass is up there?”

“I will. It looks to me like a hired-man’s shirt.”

“Martin Arrowsmith, if you think for one moment that I’m ever going to marry a vulgar, crude, selfish, microbe-grubbing smart aleck —”

“And if you think I’m going to marry a dame that keeps nag-nag-naggin’ and jab-jab-jabbin’ at me all day long —”

They hurt each other; they had pleasure in it; and they parted forever, twice they parted forever, the second time very rudely, near a fraternity-house where students were singing heart-breaking summer songs to a banjo.

In ten days, without seeing her again, he was off with Clif to the North Woods, and in his sorrow of losing her, his longing for her soft flesh and for her willingness to listen to him, he was only a little excited that he should have led the class in bacteriology, and that Max Gottlieb should have appointed him undergraduate assistant for the coming year.

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