Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 6

The waiters at Nokomis Lodge, among the Ontario pines, were all of them university students. They were not supposed to appear at the Lodge dances — they merely appeared, and took the prettiest girls away from the elderly and denunciatory suitors in white flannels. They had to work but seven hours a day. The rest of the time they fished, swam, and tramped the shadowy trails, and Martin came back to Mohalis placid — and enormously in love with Madeline.

They had written to each other, politely, regretfully, and once a fortnight; then passionately and daily. For the summer she had been dragged to her home town, near the Ohio border of Winnemac, a town larger than Martin’s Elk Mills but more sun-baked, more barren with little factories. She sighed, in a huge loose script dashing all over the page:

Perhaps we shall never see each other again but I do want you to know how much I prize all the talks we had together about science & ideals & education, etc. — I certainly appreciate them here when I listen to these stick in the muds going on, oh, it is too dreadful, about their automobiles & how much they have to pay their maids and so on & so forth. You gave me so much but I did give you something didn’t I? I cant always be in the wrong can I?

“My dear, my little girl!” he lamented. “‘Can’t always be in the wrong’! You poor kid, you poor dear kid!”

By midsummer they were firmly re-engaged and, though he was slightly disturbed by the cashier, a young and giggling Wisconsin school-teacher with ankles, he so longed for Madeline that he lay awake thinking of giving up his job and fleeing to her caresses — lay awake for minutes at a time.

The returning train was torturingly slow, and he dismounted at Mohalis fevered with visions of her. Twenty minutes after, they were clinging together in the quiet of her living room. It is true that twenty minutes after that, she was sneering at Clif Clawson, at fishing, and at all school-teachers, but to his fury she yielded in tears.

ii

His Junior year was a whirlwind. To attend lectures on physical diagnosis, surgery, neurology, obstetrics, and gynecology in the morning, with hospital demonstrations in the afternoon; to supervise the making of media and the sterilization of glassware for Gottlieb; to instruct a new class in the use of the microscope and filter and autoclave; to read a page now and then of scientific German or French; to see Madeline constantly; to get through it all he drove himself to hysterical hurrying, and in the dizziest of it he began his first original research — his first lyric, his first ascent of unexplored mountains.

He had immunized rabbits to typhoid, and he believed that if he mixed serum taken from these immune animals with typhoid germs, the germs would die. Unfortunately — he felt — the germs grew joyfully. He was troubled; he was sure that his technique had been clumsy; he performed his experiment over and over, working till midnight, waking at dawn to ponder on his notes. (Though in letters to Madeline his writing was an inconsistent scrawl, in his laboratory notes it was precise.) When he was quite sure that Nature was persisting in doing something she ought not to, he went guiltily to Gottlieb, protesting, “The darn’ bugs ought to die in this immune serum, but they don’t. There’s something wrong with the theories.”

“Young man, do you set yourself up against science?” grated Gottlieb, flapping the papers on his desk. “Do you feel competent, huh, to attack the dogmas of immunology?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t help what the dogma is. Here’s my protocols. Honestly, I’ve gone over and over the stuff, and I get the same results, as you can see. I only know what I observe.”

Gottlieb beamed. “I give you, my boy, my episcopal blessings! That is the way! Observe what you observe, and if it does violence to all the nice correct views of science — out they go! I am very pleast, Martin. But now find out the Why, the underneath principle.”

Ordinarily, Gottlieb called him “Arrowsmith” or “You” or “Uh.” When he was furious he called him, or any other student, “Doctor.” It was only in high moments that he honored him with “Martin,” and the boy trotted off blissfully, to try to find (but never to succeed in finding) the Why that made everything so.

iii

Gottlieb had sent him into Zenith, to the huge Zenith General Hospital, to secure a strain of meningococcus from an interesting patient. The bored reception clerk — who was interested only in obtaining the names, business addresses, and religions of patients, and did not care who died or who spat on the beautiful blue and white linoleum or who went about collecting meningococci, so long as the addresses were properly entered — loftily told him to go up to Ward D. Through the long hallways, past numberless rooms from which peered yellow-faced old women sitting up in bed in linty nightgowns, Martin wandered, trying to look important, hoping to be taken for a doctor, and succeeding only in feeling extraordinarily embarrassed.

He passed several nurses rapidly, half nodding to them, in the manner (or what he conceived to be the manner) of a brilliant young surgeon who is about to operate. He was so absorbed in looking like a brilliant young surgeon that he was completely lost, and discovered himself in a wing filled with private suites. He was late. He had no more time to go on being impressive. Like all males, he hated to confess ignorance by asking directions, but grudgingly he stopped at the door of a bedroom in which a probationer nurse was scrubbing the floor.

She was a smallish and slender probationer, muffled in a harsh blue denim dress, an enormous white apron, and a turban bound about her head with an elastic — a uniform as grubby as her pail of scrub-water. She peered up with the alert impudence of a squirrel.

“Nurse,” he said, “I want to find Ward D.”

Lazily, “Do you?”

“I do! If I can interrupt your work —”

“Doesn’t matter. The damn’ superintendent of nurses put me at scrubbing, and we aren’t ever SUPPOSED to scrub floors, because she caught me smoking a cigarette. She’s an old terror. If she found a child like you wandering around here, she’d drag you out by the ear.”

“My DEAR young woman, it may interest you to know —”

“Oh! ‘My dear young woman, it may —’ Sounds exactly like our old prof, back home.”

Her indolent amusement, her manner of treating him as though they were a pair of children making tongues at each other in a railroad station, was infuriating to the earnest young assistant of Professor Gottlieb.

“I am Dr. Arrowsmith,” he snorted, “and I’ve been informed that even probationers learn that the first duty of a nurse is to stand when addressing doctors! I wish to find Ward D, to take a strain of — IT MAY INTEREST YOU TO KNOW! — a very dangerous microbe, and if you will kindly direct me —”

“Oh, gee, I’ve been getting fresh again. I don’t seem to get along with this military discipline. All right. I’ll stand up.” She did. Her every movement was swiftly smooth as the running of a cat. “You go back, turn right, then left. I’m sorry I was fresh. But if you saw some of the old muffs of doctors that a nurse has to be meek to — Honestly, Doctor — if you ARE a doctor —”

“I don’t see that I need to convince you!” he raged, as he stalked off. All the way to Ward D he was furious at her veiled derision. He was an eminent scientist, and it was outrageous that he should have to endure impudence from a probationer — a singularly vulgar probationer, a thin and slangy young woman apparently from the West. He repeated his rebuke: “I don’t see that I need to convince you.” He was proud of himself for having been lofty. He pictured himself telling Madeline about it, concluding, “I just said to her quietly, ‘My dear young woman, I don’t know that you are the person to whom I have to explain my mission here,’ I said, and she wilted.”

But her image had not wilted, when he had found the intern who was to help him and had taken the spinal fluid. She was before him, provocative, enduring. He had to see her again, and convince her — “Take a better man than she is, better man than I’ve ever met, to get away with being insulting to ME!” said the modest young scientist.

He had raced back to her room and they were staring at each other before it came to him that he had not worked out the crushing things he was going to say. She had risen from her scrubbing. She had taken off her turban, and her hair was silky and honey-colored, her eyes were blue, her face childish. There was nothing of the slavey in her. He could imagine her running down hillsides, shinning up a sack of straw.

“Oh,” she said gravely. “I didn’t mean to be rude then. I was just — Scrubbing makes me bad-tempered. I thought you were awfully nice, and I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but you did seem so young for a doctor.”

“I’m not. I’m a medic. I was showing off.”

“So was I!”

He felt an instant and complete comradeship with her, a relation free from the fencing and posing of his struggle with Madeline. He knew that this girl was of his own people. If she was vulgar, jocular, unreticent, she was also gallant, she was full of laughter at humbugs, she was capable of a loyalty too casual and natural to seem heroic. His voice was lively, though his words were only:

“Pretty hard, this training for nursing, I guess.”

“Not so awful, but it’s just as romantic as being a hired girl — that’s what we call ’em in Dakota.”

“Come from Dakota?”

“I come from the most enterprising town — three hundred and sixty-two inhabitants — in the entire state of North Dakota — Wheatsylvania. Are you in the U. medic school?”

To a passing nurse, the two youngsters would have seemed absorbed in hospital business. Martin stood at the door, she by her scrubbing pail. She had reassumed her turban; its bagginess obscured her bright hair.

“Yes, I’m a Junior medic in Mohalis. But — I don’t know. I’m not much of a medic. I like the lab side. I think I’ll be a bacteriologist, and raise Cain with some of the fool theories of immunology. And I don’t think much of the bedside manner.”

“I glad you don’t. You get it here. You ought to hear some of the docs that are the sweetest old pussies with their patients — the way they bawl out the nurses. But labs — they seem sort of real. I don’t suppose you can bluff a bacteria — what is it? — bacterium?”

“No, they’re — What do they call you?”

“Me? Oh, it’s an idiotic name — Leora Tozer.”

“What’s the matter with Leora? It’s fine.”

Sound of mating birds, sound of spring blossoms dropping in the tranquil air, the bark of sleepy dogs at midnight; who is to set them down and make them anything but hackneyed? And as natural, as conventional, as youthfully gauche, as eternally beautiful and authentic as those ancient sounds was the talk of Martin and Leora in that passionate half-hour when each found in the other a part of his own self, always vaguely missed, discovered now with astonished joy. They rattled like hero and heroine of a sticky tale, like sweat-shop operatives, like bouncing rustics, like prince and princess. Their words were silly and inconsequential, heard one by one, yet taken together they were as wise and important as the tides or the sounding wind.

He told her that he admired Max Gottlieb, that he had crossed her North Dakota on a train, and that he was an excellent hockey-player. She told him that she “adored” vaudeville, that her father, Andrew Jackson Tozer, was born in the East (by which she meant Illinois), and that she didn’t particularly care for nursing. She had no especial personal ambition; she had come here because she liked adventure. She hinted, with debonair regret, that she was not too popular with the superintendent of nurses; she meant to be good but somehow she was always dragged into rebellions connected with midnight fudge or elopements. There was nothing heroic in her story but from her placid way of telling it he had an impression of gay courage.

He interrupted with an urgent, “When can you get away from the hospital for dinner? Tonight?”

“Why —”

“Please!”

“All right.”

“When can I call for you?”

“Do you think I ought to — Well, seven.”

All the way back to Mohalis he alternately raged and rejoiced. He informed himself that he was a moron to make this long trip into Zenith twice in one day; he remembered that he was engaged to a girl called Madeline Fox; he worried the matter of unfaithfulness; he asserted that Leora Tozer was merely an imitation nurse who was as illiterate as a kitchen wench and as impertinent as a newsboy; he decided, several times he decided, to telephone her and free himself from the engagement.

He was at the hospital at a quarter to seven.

He had to wait for twenty minutes in a reception-room like that of an undertaker. He was in a panic. What was he doing here? She’d probably be agonizingly dull, through a whole long dinner. Would he even recognize her, in mufti? Then he leaped up. She was at the door. Her sulky blue uniform was gone; she was childishly slim and light in a princess frock that was a straight line from high collar and soft young breast to her feet. It seemed natural to tuck her hand under his arm as they left the hospital. She moved beside him with a little dancing step, shyer now than she had been in the dignity of her job but looking up at him with confidence.

“Glad I came?” he demanded.

She thought it over. She had a trick of gravely thinking over obvious questions; and gravely (but with the gravity of a child, not the ponderous gravity of a politician or an office-manager) she admitted, “Yes, I am glad. I was afraid you’d go and get sore at me because I was so fresh, and I wanted to apologize and — I liked your being so crazy about your bacteriology. I think I’m a little crazy, too. The interns here — they come bothering around a lot, but they’re so sort of — so sort of SOGGY, with their new stethoscopes and their brand-new dignity. Oh —” Most gravely of all: “Oh, gee, yes, I’m glad you came. . . . Am I an idiot to admit it?”

“You’re a darling to admit it.” He was a little dizzy with her. He pressed her hand with his arm.

“You won’t think I let every medic and doctor pick me up, will you?”

“Leora! And you don’t think I try and pick up every pretty girl I meet? I liked — I felt somehow we two could be chums. Can’t we? Can’t we?”

“I don’t know. We’ll see. Where are we going for dinner?”

“The Grand Hotel.”

“We are not! It’s terribly expensive. Unless you’re awfully rich. You aren’t, are you?”

“No, I’m not. Just enough money to get through medic school. But I want —”

“Let’s go to the Bijou. It’s a nice place, and it isn’t expensive.”

He remembered how often Madeline Fox had hinted that it would be a tasty thing to go to the Grand, Zenith’s most resplendent hotel, but that was the last time he thought of Madeline that evening. He was absorbed in Leora. He found in her a casualness, a lack of prejudice, a directness, surprising in the daughter of Andrew Jackson Tozer. She was feminine but undemanding; she was never Improving and rarely shocked; she was neither flirtatious nor cold. She was indeed the first girl to whom he had ever talked without self-consciousness. It is doubtful if Leora herself had a chance to say anything, for he poured out his every confidence as a disciple of Gottlieb. To Madeline, Gottlieb was a wicked old man who made fun of the sanctities of Marriage and Easter lilies, to Clif, he was a bore, but Leora glowed as Martin banged the table and quoted his idol: “Up to the present, even in the work of Ehrlich, most research has been largely a matter of trial and error, the empirical method, which is the opposite of the scientific method, by which one seeks to establish a general law governing a group of phenomena so that he may predict what will happen.”

He intoned it reverently, staring across the table at her, almost glaring at her. He insisted, “Do you see where he leaves all these detail-grubbing, machine-made researchers buzzing in the manure heap just as much as he does the commercial docs? Do you get him? Do you?”

“Yes, I think I do. Anyway, I get your enthusiasm for him. But please don’t bully me so!”

“Was I bullying? I didn’t mean to. Only, when I get to thinking about the way most of these damned profs don’t even know what he’s up to —”

Martin was off again, and if Leora did not altogether understand the relation of the synthesis of antibodies to the work of Arrhenius, yet she listened with comfortable pleasure in his zeal, with none of Madeline Fox’s gently corrective admonitions.

She had to warn him that she must be at the hospital by ten.

“I’ve talked too much! Lord, I hope I haven’t bored you,” he blurted.

“I loved it.”

“And I was so technical, and so noisy — Oh, I AM a chump!”

“I like having you trust me. I’m not ‘earnest,’ and I haven’t any brains whatever, but I do love it when my menfolks think I’m intelligent enough to hear what they really think and — Good night!”

They dined together twice in two weeks, and only twice in that time, though she telephoned to him, did Martin see his honest affianced, Madeline.

He came to know all of Leora’s background. Her bed-ridden grand-aunt in Zenith, who was her excuse for coming so far to take hospital training. The hamlet of Wheatsylvania, North Dakota; one street of shanties with the red grain-elevators at the end. Her father, Andrew Jackson Tozer, sometimes known as Jackass Tozer; owner of the bank, of the creamery, and an elevator, therefore the chief person in town; pious at Wednesday evening prayer-meeting, fussing over every penny he gave to Leora or her mother. Bert Tozer, her brother; squirrel teeth, a gold eye-glass chain over his ear, cashier and all the rest of the staff in the one-room bank owned by his father. The chicken salad and coffee suppers at the United Brethren Church; German Lutheran farmers singing ancient Teutonic hymns; the Hollanders, the Bohemians and Poles. And round about the village, the living wheat, arched above by tremendous clouds. He saw Leora, always an “odd child,” doing obediently enough the flat household tasks but keeping snug the belief that some day she would find a youngster with whom, in whatever danger or poverty, she would behold all the colored world.

It was at the end of her hesitating effort to make him see her childhood that he cried, “Darling, you don’t have to tell me about you. I’ve always known you. I’m not going to let you go, no matter what. You’re going to marry me —”

They said it with clasping hands, confessing eyes, in that blatant restaurant. Her first words were:

“I want to call you ‘Sandy.’ Why do I? I don’t know why. You’re as unsandy as can be, but somehow ‘Sandy’ means you to me and — Oh, my dear, I do like you!”

Martin went home engaged to two girls at once.

iv

He had promised to see Madeline the next morning.

By any canon of respectable behavior he should have felt like a low dog; he assured himself that he must feel like a low dog; but he could not bring it off. He thought of Madeline’s pathetic enthusiasms: her “Provencal pleasaunce” and the limp-leather volumes of poetry which she patted with fond finger-tips; of the tie she had bought for him, and her pride in his hair when he brushed it like the patent-leather heroes in magazine illustrations. He mourned that he had sinned against loyalty. But his agitation broke against the solidity of his union with Leora. Her companionship released his soul. Even when, as advocate for Madeline, he pleaded that Leora was a trivial young woman who probably chewed gum in private and certainly was careless about her nails in public, her commonness was dear to the commonness that was in himself, valid as ambition or reverence, an earthy base to her gaiety as it was to his nervous scientific curiosity.

He was absent-minded in the laboratory, that fatal next day. Gottlieb had twice to ask him whether he had prepared the new batch of medium, and Gottlieb was an autocrat, sterner with his favorites than with the ruck of students. He snarled, “Arrowsmith, you are a moon-calf! My God, am I to spend my life with Dummkopfe? I cannot be always alone, Martin! Are you going to fail me? Two, three days now you haf not been keen about work.”

Martin went off mumbling, “I love that man!” In his tangled mood he catalogued Madeline’s pretenses, her nagging, her selfishness, her fundamental ignorance. He worked himself up to a state of virtue in which it was agreeably clear to him that he must throw Madeline over, entirely as a rebuke. He went to her in the evening prepared to blaze out at her first complaining, to forgive her finally, but to break their engagement and make life resolutely simple again.

She did not complain.

She ran to him. “Dear, you’re so tired — your eyes look tired. Have you been working frightfully hard? I’ve been so sorry you couldn’t come ‘round, this week. Dear, you mustn’t kill yourself. Think of all the years you have ahead to do splendid things in. No, don’t talk. I want you to rest. Mother’s gone to the movies. Sit here. See, I’ll make you so comfy with these pillows. Just lean back — go to sleep if you want to — and I’ll read you ‘The Crock of Gold.’ You’ll love it.”

He was determined that he would not love it and, as he probably had no sense of humor whatever, it is doubtful whether he appreciated it, but its differentness aroused him. Though Madeline’s voice was shrill and cornfieldish after Leora’s lazy softness, she read so eagerly that he was sick ashamed of his intention to hurt her. He saw that it was she, with her pretenses, who was the child, and the detached and fearless Leora who was mature, mistress of a real world. The reproofs with which he had planned to crush her vanished.

Suddenly she was beside him, begging, “I’ve been so lonely for you, all week!”

So he was a traitor to both women, it was Leora who had intolerably roused him; it was really Leora whom he was caressing now; but it was Madeline who took his hunger to herself, and when she whimpered, “I’m so glad you’re glad to be here,” he could say nothing. He wanted to talk about Leora, to shout about Leora, to exult in her, his woman. He dragged out a few sound but unimpassioned flatteries; he observed that Madeline was a handsome young woman and a sound English scholar; and while she gaped with disappointment at his lukewarmness, he got himself away, at ten. He had finally succeeded very well indeed in feeling like a low dog.

He hastened to Clif Clawson.

He had told Clif nothing about Leora. He resented Clif’s probable scoffing. He thought well of himself for the calmness with which he came into their room. Clif was sitting on the small of his back, shoeless feet upon the study table, reading a Sherlock Holmes story which rested on the powerful volume of Osler’s Medicine which he considered himself to be reading.

“Clif! Want a drink. Tired. Let’s sneak down to Barney’s and see if we can rustle one.”

“Thou speakest as one having tongues and who putteth the speed behind the ole rhombencephalon comprising the cerebellum and the medulla oblongata.”

“Oh, cut out the Cuteness! I’m in a bad temper.”

“Ah, the laddie has been having a scrap with his chaste lil Madeline! Was she horrid to ickly Martykins? All right. I’ll quit. Come on. Yoicks for the drink.”

He told three new stories about Professor Robertshaw, all of them scurrilous and most of them untrue, on their way, and he almost coaxed Martin into cheerfulness. “Barney’s” was a poolroom, a tobacco shop and, since Mohalis was dry by local option, an admirable blind-pig. Clif and the hairy-handed Barney greeted each other in a high and worthy manner:

“The benisons of eventide to you, Barney. May your circulation proceed unchecked and particularly the dorsal carpal branch of the ulnar artery, in which connection, comrade, Prof. Dr. Col. Egbert Arrowsmith and I would fain trifle with another bottle of that renowned strawberry pop.”

“Gosh, Clif, you cer’nly got a swell line of jaw-music. If I ever need a’ arm amputated when you get to be a doc, I’ll come around and let you talk it off. Strawberry pop, gents?”

The front room of Barney’s was an impressionistic painting in which a pool-table, piles of cigarettes, chocolate bars, playing cards, and pink sporting papers were jumbled in chaos. The back room was simpler: cases of sweet and thinly flavored soda, a large ice-box, and two small tables with broken chairs. Barney poured, from a bottle plainly marked Ginger Ale, two glasses of powerful and appalling raw whiskey, and Clif and Martin took them to the table in the corner. The effect was swift. Martin’s confused sorrows turned to optimism. He told Clif that he was going to write a book exposing idealism, but what he meant was that he was going to do something clever about his dual engagement. He had it! He would invite Leora and Madeline to lunch together, tell them the truth, and see which of them loved him. He whooped, and had another whiskey; he told Clif that he was a fine fellow, and Barney that he was a public benefactor, and unsteadily he retired to the telephone, which was shut off from public hearing in a closet.

At the Zenith General Hospital he got the night superintendent, and the night Superintendent was a man frosty and suspicious. “This is no time to be calling up a probationer! Half-past eleven! Who are you, anyway?”

Martin checked the “I’ll damn’ soon tell you who I am!” which was his natural reaction, and explained that he was speaking for Leora’s invalid grand-aunt, that the poor old lady was very low, and if the night superintendent cared to take upon himself the murder of a blameless gentlewoman —

When Leora came to the telephone he said quickly, and soberly now, feeling as though he had come from the menace of thronging strangers into the security of her presence:

“Leora? Sandy. Meet me Grand lobby tomorrow, twelve-thirty. Must! Important! Fix ‘t somehow — your aunt’s sick.”

“All right, dear. G’ night,” was all she said.

It took him long minutes to get an answer from Madeline’s flat, then Mrs. Fox’s voice sounded, sleepily, quaveringly:

“Yes, yes?”

“‘S Martin.”

“Who is it? Who is it? What is it? Are you calling the Fox apartment?”

“Yes, yes! Mrs. Fox, it’s Martin Arrowsmith speaking.”

“Oh, oh, my dear! The ‘phone woke me out of a sound sleep, and I couldn’t make out what you were saying. I was so frightened. I thought maybe it was a telegram or something. I thought perhaps something had happened to Maddy’s brother. What is it, dear? Oh, I do hope nothing’s happened!”

Her confidence in him, the affection of this uprooted old woman bewildered in a strange land, overcame him; he lost all his whisky-colored feeling that he was a nimble fellow, and in a melancholy way, with all the weight of life again upon him, he sighed that no, nothing had happened, but he’d forgotten to tell Madeline something — so shor — so sorry call so late — could he speak Mad just minute —

Then Madeline was bubbling, “Why, Marty dear, what is it? I do hope nothing has happened! Why, dear, you just left here —”

“Listen, d-dear. Forgot to tell you. There’s a — there’s a great friend of mine in Zenith that I want you to meet —”

“Who is he?”

“You’ll see tomorrow. Listen, I want you come in and meet — come meet um at lunch. Going,” with ponderous jocularity, “going to blow you all to a swell feed at the Grand —”

“Oh, how nice!”

“— so I want you to meet me at the eleven-forty interurban, at College Square. Can you?”

Vaguely, “Oh, I’d love to but — I have an eleven o’clock, and I don’t like to cut it, and I promised May Harmon to go shopping with her — she’s looking for some kind of shoes that you can wear with her pink crepe de chine but that you can walk in-and we sort of thought maybe we might lunch at Ye Kollege Karavanserai — and I’d half planned to go to the movies with her or somebody, Mother says that new Alaska film is simply dandy, she saw it tonight, and I thought I might go see it before they take it off, though Heaven knows I ought to come right home and study and not go anywhere at all —”

“Now LISTEN! It’s important. Don’t you trust me? Will you come or not?”

“Why, of course I trust you, dear. All right, I’ll try to be there. The eleven-forty?”

“Yes.”

“At College Square? Or at Bluthman’s Book Shop?”

“AT COLLEGE SQUARE!”

Her gentle “I trust you” and her wambling “I’ll try to” were warring in his ears as he plunged out of the suffocating cell and returned to Clif.

“What’s the grief?” Clif wondered. “Wife passed away? Or did the Giants win in the ninth? Barney, our wandering-boy-tonight looks like a necropsy. Slip him another strawberry pop, quick. Say, Doctor, I think you better call a physician.”

“Oh, shut up,” was all Martin had to say, and that without conviction. Before telephoning he had been full of little brightnesses; he had praised Clif’s pool-playing and called Barney “old Cimex lectularius”; but now, while the affectionate Clif worked on him, he sat brooding save when he grumbled (with a return of self-satisfaction), “If you knew all the troubles I have — all the doggone mess a fellow can get into — YOU’D feel down in the mouth!”

Clif was alarmed. “Look here, old socks. If you’ve gotten in debt, I’ll raise the cash, somehow. If it’s — Been going a little too far with Madeline?”

“You make me sick! You’ve got a dirty mind. I’m not worthy to touch Madeline’s hand. I regard her with nothing but respect.”

“The hell you do! But never mind, if you say so. Gosh, wish there was SOMETHING I could do for you. Oh! Have ‘nother shot! Barney! Come a-runnin’!”

By several drinks Martin was warmed into a hazy carelessness, and Clif solicitously dragged him home after he had desired to fight three large academic sophomores. But in the morning he awoke with a crackling skull and a realization that he was going to face Leora and Madeline at lunch.

v

His half-hour journey with Madeline into Zenith seemed a visible and oppressing thing, like a tornado cloud. He had not merely to get through each minute as it came; the whole grim thirty minutes were present at the same time. While he was practicing the tactful observation he was going to present two minutes from now, he could still hear the clumsy thing he had said two minutes before. He fought to keep her attention from the “great friend of his” whom they were to meet. With fatuous beaming he described a night at Barney’s; without any success whatever he tried to be funny; and when Madeline lectured him on the evils of liquor and the evils of association with immoral persons, he was for once relieved. But he could not sidetrack her.

“Who is this man we’re going to see? What are you so mysterious about? Oh, Martin, is it a joke? Aren’t we going to meet anybody? Did you just want to run away from Mama for a while and we have a bat at the Grand together? Oh, what fun! I’ve always wanted to lunch at the Grand. Of course I do think it’s too sort of rococo, but still, it is impressive, and — Did I guess it, darling?”

“No, there’s someone — Oh, we’re going to meet somebody, all right!”

“Then why don’t you tell me who he is? Honestly, Mart, you make me impatient.”

“Well, I’ll tell you. It isn’t a Him; it’s a Her.”

“Oh!”

“It’s — You know my work takes me to the hospitals, and some of the nurses at Zenith General have been awfully helpful.” He was panting. His eyes ached. Since the torture of the coming lunch was inevitable, he wondered why he should go on trying to resist his punishment. “Especially there’s one nurse there who’s a wonder. She’s learned so much about the care of the sick, and she puts me onto a lot of good stunts, and she seems like a nice girl — Miss Tozer, her name is — I think her first name is Lee or something like that — and she’s so — her father is one of the big men in North Dakota — awfully rich — big banker — I guess she just took up nursing to do her share in the world’s work.” He had achieved Madeline’s own tone of poetic uplift. “I thought you two might like to know each other. You remember you were saying how few girls there are in Mohalis that really appreciate — appreciate ideals.”

“Ye-es.” Madeline gazed at something far away and, whatever it was, she did not like it. “I shall be ver’ pleased to meet her, of course. ANY friend of yours — Oh, Mart! I do hope you don’t flirt; I hope you don’t get too friendly with all these nurses. I don’t know anything about it, of course, but I keep hearing how some of these nurses are regular man-hunters.”

“Well, let me tell you right now, Leora isn’t!”

“No, I’m sure, but — Oh, Martykins, you won’t be silly and let these nurses just amuse themselves with you? I mean, for your own sake. They have such an advantage. Poor Madeline, she wouldn’t be allowed to go hanging around men’s rooms learning — things, and you think you’re so psychological, Mart, but honestly, any smart woman can twist you around her finger.”

“Well, I guess I can take care of myself!”

“Oh, I mean — I don’t mean — But I do hope this Tozer person — I’m sure I shall like her, if you do, but — I am your own true love, aren’t I, always!”

She, the proper, ignored the passengers as she clasped his hand. She sounded so frightened that his anger at her reflections on Leora turned into misery. Incidentally, her thumb was gouging painfully into the back of his hand. He tried to look tender as he protested, “Sure — sure — gosh, honest, Mad, look out. The old duffer across the aisle is staring at us.”

For whatever infidelities he might ever commit he was adequately punished before they had reached the Grand Hotel.

The Grand was, in 1907, the best hotel in Zenith. It was compared by traveling salesmen to the Parker House, the Palmer House, the West Hotel. It has been humbled since by the supercilious modesty of the vast Hotel Thornleigh; dirty now is its tessellated floor and all the wild gilt tarnished, and in its ponderous leather chairs are torn seams and stogie ashes and horse-dealers. But in its day it was the proudest inn between Chicago and Pittsburgh; an oriental palace, the entrance a score of brick Moorish arches, the lobby towering from a black and white marble floor, up past gilt iron balconies, to the green, pink, pearl, and amber skylight seven stories above.

They found Leora in the lobby, tiny on an enormous couch built round a pillar. She stared at Madeline, quiet, waiting. Martin perceived that Leora was unusually sloppy — his own word. It did not matter to him how clumsily her honey-colored hair was tucked under her black hat, a characterless little mushroom of a hat, but he did see and resent the contrast between her shirtwaist, with the third button missing, her checked skirt, her unfortunate bright brown bolero jacket, and Madeline’s sleekness of blue serge. The resentment was not toward Leora. Scanning them together (not haughtily, as the choosing and lofty male, but anxiously) he was more irritated than ever by Madeline. That she should be better dressed was an affront. His affection flew to guard Leora, to wrap and protect her.

And all the while he was bumbling:

“— thought you two girls ought to know each other — Miss Fox, want t’ make you ‘quainted with Miss Tozer — little celebration — lucky dog have two Queens of Sheba —”

And to himself, “Oh, hell!”

While they murmured nothing in particular to each other he herded them into the famous dining-room of the Grand. It was full of gilt chandeliers, red plush chairs, heavy silverware, and aged Negro retainers with gold and green waistcoats. Round the walls ran select views of Pompeii, Venice, Lake Como, and Versailles.

“Swell room!” chirped Leora.

Madeline had looked as though she intended to say the same thing in longer words, but she considered the frescoes all over again and explained, “Well, it’s very large —”

He was ordering, with agony. He had appropriated four dollars for the orgy, strictly including the tip, and his standard of good food was that he must spend every cent of the four dollars. While he wondered what “Puree St. Germain” could be, and the waiter hideously stood watching behind his shoulder, Madeline fell to. She chanted with horrifying politeness:

“Mr. Arrowsmith tells me you are a nurse, Miss — Tozer.”

“Yes, sort of.”

“Do you find it interesting?”

“Well — yes — yes, I think it’s interesting.”

“I suppose it must be wonderful to relieve suffering. Of course my work — I’m taking my Doctor of Philosophy degree in English —” She made it sound as though she were taking her earldom —“it’s rather dry and detached. I have to master the growth of the language and so on and so forth. With your practical training, I suppose you’d find that rather stupid.”

“Yes, it must be — no, it must be very interesting.”

“Do you come from Zenith, Miss — Tozer?”

“No, I come from — Just a little town. Well, hardly a town. . . . North Dakota.”

“Oh! North Dakota!”

“Yes. . . . Way West.”

“Oh, yes. . . . Are you staying East for some time?” It was precisely what a much-resented New York cousin had once said to Madeline.

“Well, I don’t — Yes, I guess I may be here quite some time.”

“Do you, uh, do you find you like it here?”

“Oh, yes, it’s pretty nice. These big cities — So much to see.”

“‘Big’? Well, I suppose it all depends on the point of view, DOESN’T it? I always think of New York as big but — Of course — Do you find the contrast to North Dakota interesting?”

“Well, of course it’s different.”

“Tell me what North Dakota’s like. I’ve always wondered about these Western states.” It was Madeline’s second plagiarism of her cousin. “What is the general impression it makes on you?”

“I don’t think I know just how you mean.”

“I mean what is the general effect? The — IMPRESSION.”

“Well, it’s got lots of wheat and lots of Swedes.”

“But I mean — I suppose you’re all terribly virile and energetic, compared with us Easterners.”

“I don’t — Well, yes, maybe.”

“Have you met lots of people in Zenith?”

“Not so AWFULLY many.”

“Oh, have you met Dr. Birchall, that operates in your hospital? He’s such a nice man, and not just a good surgeon but frightfully talented. He sings won-derfully, and he comes from the most frightfully nice family.”

“No, I don’t think I’ve met him yet,” Leora bleated.

“Oh, you must. And he plays the slickest — the most gorgeous game of tennis. He always goes to all these millionaire parties on Royal Ridge. Frightfully smart.”

Martin now first interrupted. “Smart? Him? He hasn’t got any brains whatever.”

“My dear child, I didn’t mean ‘smart’ in that sense!” He sat alone and helpless while she again turned on Leora and ever more brightly inquired whether Leora knew this son of a corporation lawyer and that famous debutante, this hatshop and that club. She spoke familiarly of what were known as the Leaders of Zenith Society, the personages who appeared daily in the society columns of the Advocate–Times, the Cowxes and Van Antrims and Dodsworths. Martin was astonished by the familiarity; he remembered that she had once gone to a charity ball in Zenith but he had not known that she was so intimate with the peerage. Certainly Leora had appallingly never heard of these great ones, nor even attended the concerts, the lectures, the recitals at which Madeline apparently spent all her glittering evenings.

Madeline shrugged a little, then, “Well — Of course with the fascinating doctors and everybody that you meet in the hospital, I suppose you’d find lectures frightfully tame. Well —” She dismissed Leora and looked patronizingly at Martin. “Are you planning some more work on the what-is-it with rabbits?”

He was grim. He could do it now, if he got it over quickly. “Madeline! Brought you two together because — Don’t know whether you cotton to each other or not, but I wish you could, because I’ve — I’m not making any excuses for myself. I couldn’t help it. I’m engaged to both of you, and I want to know —”

Madeline had sprung up. She had never looked quite so proud and fine. She stared at them, and walked away, wordless. She came back, she touched Leora’s shoulder, and quietly kissed her. “Dear, I’m sorry for you. You’ve got a job! You poor baby!” She strode away, her shoulders straight.

Hunched, frightened, Martin could not look at Leora.

He felt her hand on his. He looked up. She was smiling, easy, a little mocking. “Sandy, I warn you that I’m never going to give you up. I suppose you’re as bad as She says; I suppose I’m foolish — I’m a hussy. But you’re mine! I warn you it isn’t a bit of use your getting engaged to somebody else again. I’d tear her eyes out! Now don’t think so well of yourself! I guess you’re pretty selfish. But I don’t care. You’re mine!”

He said brokenly many things beautiful in their commonness.

She pondered, “I do feel we’re nearer together than you and Her. Perhaps you like me better because you can bully me — because I tag after you and She never would. And I know your work is more important to you than I am, maybe more important than you are. But I am stupid and ordinary and She isn’t. I simply admire you frightfully (Heaven knows why, but I do), while She has sense enough to make you admire Her and tag after Her.”

“No! I swear it isn’t because I can bully you, Leora — I swear it isn’t — I don’t think it is. Dearest, don’t DON’T think she’s brighter than you are. She’s glib but — Oh, let’s stop talking! I’ve found you! My life’s begun!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/arrowsmith/chapter6.html

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