Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 7

The difference between Martin’s relations to Madeline and to Leora was the difference between a rousing duel and a serene comradeship. From their first evening, Leora and he depended on each other’s loyalty and liking, and certain things in his existence were settled forever. Yet his absorption in her was not stagnant. He was always making discoveries about the observations of life which she kept incubating in her secret little head while she made smoke rings with her cigarettes and smiled silently. He longed for the girl Leora; she stirred him, and with gay frank passion she answered him; but to another, sexless Leora he talked more honestly than to Gottlieb or his own worried self, while with her boyish nod or an occasional word she encouraged him to confidence in his evolving ambition and disdains.

ii

Digamma Pi fraternity was giving a dance. It was understood among the anxiously whispering medics that so cosmopolitan was the University of Winnemac becoming that they were expected to wear the symbols of respectability known as “dress-suits.” On the solitary and nervous occasion when Martin had worn evening clothes he had rented them from the Varsity Pantorium, but he must own them, now that he was going to introduce Leora to the world as his pride and flowering. Like two little old people, absorbed in each other and diffidently exploring new, unwelcoming streets of the city where their alienated children live, Martin and Leora edged into the garnished magnificence of Benson, Hanley and Koch’s, the loftiest department store in Zenith. She was intimidated by the luminous cases of mahogany and plate glass, by the opera hats and lustrous mufflers and creamy riding breeches. When he had tried on a dinner suit and come out for her approval, his long brown tie and soft-collared shirt somewhat rustic behind the low evening waistcoat, and when the clerk had gone to fetch collars, she wailed:

“Darn it, Sandy, you’re too grand for me. I just simply can’t get myself to fuss over my clothes, and here you’re going to go and look so spiffy I won’t have a chance with you.”

He almost kissed her.

The clerk, returning, warbled, “I think, Modom, you’ll find that your husband will look vurry nice indeed in these wing collars.”

Then, while the clerk sought ties, he did kiss her, and she sighed:

“Oh, gee, you’re one of these people that get ahead. I never thought I’d have to live up to a man with a dress-suit and a come-to-Heaven collar. Oh, well, I’ll tag!”

iii

For the Digamma Ball, the University Armory was extremely decorated. The brick walls were dizzy with bunting, spotty with paper chrysanthemums and plaster skulls and wooden scalpels ten feet long.

In six years at Mohalis, Martin had gone to less than a score of dances, though the refined titillations of communal embracing were the chief delight of the co-educational university. When he arrived at the Armory, with Leora timorously brave in a blue crepe de chine made in no recognized style, he did not care whether he had a single two-step, though he did achingly desire to have the men crowd in and ask Leora, admire her and make her welcome. Yet he was too proud to introduce her about, lest he seem to be begging his friends to dance with her. They stood alone, under the balcony, disconsolately facing the vastness of the floor, while beyond them flashed the current of dancers, beautiful, formidable, desirable. Leora and he had assured each other that, for a student affair, dinner jacket and black waistcoat would be the thing, as stated in the Benson, Hanley and Koch Chart of Correct Gents’ Wearing Apparel, but he grew miserable at the sight of voluptuous white waistcoats, and when that embryo famous surgeon, Angus Duer, came by, disdainful as a greyhound and pushing on white gloves (which are the whitest, the most superciliously white objects on earth), then Martin felt himself a hobbledehoy.

“Come on, WE’LL dance,” he said, as though it were a defiance to all Angus Duers.

He very much wanted to go home.

He did not enjoy the dance, though she waltzed easily and himself not too badly. He did not even enjoy having her in his arms. He could not believe that she was in his arms. As they revolved he saw Duer join a brilliance of pretty girls and distinguished-looking women about the great Dr. Silva, dean of the medical school. Angus seemed appallingly at home, and he waltzed off with the prettiest girl, sliding, swinging, deft. Martin tried to hate him as a fool, but he remembered that yesterday Angus had been elected to the honorary society of Sigma Xi.

Leora and he crept back to the exact spot beneath the balcony where they had stood before, to their den, their one safe refuge. While he tried to be nonchalant and talk up to his new clothes, he was cursing the men he saw go by laughing with girls, ignoring his Leora.

“Not many here yet,” he fussed. “Pretty soon they’ll all be coming, and then you’ll have lots of dances.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.”

(“God, won’t somebody come and ask the poor kid?”)

He fretted over his lack of popularity among the dancing-men of the medical school. He wished Clif Clawson were present — Clif liked any sort of assembly, but he could not afford dress-clothes. Then, rejoicing as at sight of the best-beloved, he saw Irving Watters, that paragon of professional normality, wandering toward them, but Watters passed by, merely nodding. Thrice Martin hoped and desponded, and now all his pride was gone. If Leora could be happy —

“I wouldn’t care a hoot if she fell for the gabbiest fusser in the whole U., and gave me the go-by all evening. Anything to let her have a good time! If I could coax Duer over — No, that’s one thing I couldn’t stand: crawling to that dirty snob — I will!”

Up ambled Fatty Pfaff, just arrived. Martin pounced on him lovingly. “H’lo, old Fat! You a stag tonight? Meet my friend Miss Tozer.”

Fatty’s bulbous eyes showed approval of Leora’s cheeks and amber hair. He heaved, “Pleasedmeetch — dance starting — have the honor?” in so flattering a manner that Martin could have kissed him.

That he himself stood alone through the dance did not occur to him. He leaned against a pillar and gloated. He felt gorgeously unselfish. . . . That various girl wallflowers were sitting near him, waiting to be asked, did not occur to him either.

He saw Fatty introduce Leora to a decorative pair of Digams, one of whom begged her for the next. Thereafter she had more invitations than she could take. Martin’s excitement cooled. It seemed to him that she clung too closely to her partners, that she followed their steps too eagerly. After the fifth dance he was agitated. “Course! SHE’S enjoying herself! Hasn’t got time to notice that I just stand here — yes, by thunder, and hold her scarf! Sure! Fine for her. Fact I might like a little dancing myself — And the way she grins and gawps at that fool Brindle Morgan, the — the — the damnedest — Oh, you and I are going to have a talk, young woman! And those hounds trying to pinch her off me — the one thing I’ve ever loved! Just because they dance better than I can, and spiel a lot of foolishness — And that damn’ orchestra playing that damn’ peppery music — And she falling for all their damn’ cheap compliments and — You and I are going to have one lovely little understanding!”

When she next returned to him, besieged by three capering medics, he muttered to her, “Oh, it doesn’t MATTER about ME!”

“Would you like this one? COURSE you shall have it!” She turned to him fully; she had none of Madeline’s sense of having to act for the benefit of observers. Through a strained eternity of waiting, while he glowered, she babbled of the floor, the size of the room, and her “dandy partners.” At the sound of the music he held out his arms.

“No,” she said. “I want to talk to you.” She led him to a corner and hurled at him, “Sandy, this is the last time I’m going to stand for your looking jealous. Oh, I know! See here! If we’re going to stick together — and we are! — I’m going to dance with just as many men as I want to, and I’m going to be just as foolish with ’em as I want to. Dinners and those things — I suppose I’ll always go on being a clam. Nothing to say. But I love dancing, and I’m going to do exactly what I want to, and if you had any sense whatever, you’d know I don’t care a hang for anybody but you. Yours! Absolute. No matter what fool things you do — and they’ll probably be a plenty. So when you go and get jealous on me again, you sneak off and get rid of it. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself!”

“I wasn’t jealous — Yes, I was. Oh, I can’t help it! I love you so much. I’d be one fine lover, now wouldn’t I, if I never got jealous!”

“All right. Only you’ve got to keep it under cover. Now we’ll finish the dance.”

He was her slave.

iv

It was regarded as immoral, at the University of Winnemac, to dance after midnight, and at that hour the guests crowded into the Imperial Cafeteria. Ordinarily it closed at eight, but tonight it kept open till one, and developed a spirit of almost lascivious mirth. Fatty Pfaff did a jig, another humorous student, with a napkin over his arm, pretended to be a waiter, and a girl (but she was much disapproved) smoked a cigarette.

At the door Clif Clawson was waiting for Martin and Leora. He was in his familiar shiny gray suit, with a blue flannel shirt.

Clif assumed that he was the authority to whom all of Martin’s friends must be brought for judgment. He had not met Leora. Martin had confessed his double engagement; he had explained that Leora was unquestionably the most gracious young woman on earth; but as he had previously used up all of his laudatory adjectives and all of Clif’s patience on the subject of Madeline, Clif failed to listen, and prepared to dislike Leora as another siren of morality.

He eyed her now with patronizing enmity. He croaked at Martin behind her back, “Good-looking kid, I will say that for her — what’s wrong with her?” When they had brought their own sandwiches and coffee and mosaic cake from the long counter, Clif rasped:

“Well, it’s grand of a couple of dress-suit swells like you to assassinate with me ‘mid the midmosts of sartorials and Sassiety. Gosh, it’s fierce I had to miss the select pleasures of an evening with Anxious Duer and associated highboys, and merely play a low game of poker — in which Father deftly removed the sum of six simolea, point ten, from the fore-gathered bums and yahoos. Well, Leory, I suppose you and Martykins here have now ratiocinated all these questions of polo and, uh, Monte Carlo and so on.”

She had an immense power of accepting people as they were. While Clif waited, leering, she placidly investigated the inside of a chicken sandwich and assented, “Um-huh.”

“Good boy! I thought you were going to pull that ‘If you are a roughneck, I don’t see why you think you’ve got to boast about it’ stuff that Mart springs on me!”

Clif turned into a jovial and (for him) unusually quiet companion. . . . Ex-farmhand, ex-book-agent, ex-mechanic, he had so little money yet so scratching a desire to be resplendent that he took refuge in pride in poverty, pride in being offensive. Now, when Leora seemed to look through his boasting, he liked her as quickly as had Martin, and they buzzed with gaiety. Martin was warmed to benevolence toward mankind, including Angus Duer, who was at the end of the room at a table with Dean Silva and his silvery women. Without plan, Martin sprang up, raced down the room. Holding out his hand he clamored:

“Angus, old man, want to congratulate you on getting Sigma Xi. That’s fine.”

Duer regarded the outstretched hand as though it was an instrument which he had seen before but whose use he could not quite remember. He picked it up and shook it tentatively. He did not turn his back; he was worse than rude — he looked patient.

“Well, good luck,” said Martin, chilled and shaky.

“Very good of you. Thanks.”

Martin returned to Leora and Clif, to tell them the incident as a cosmic tragedy. They agreed that Angus Duer was to be shot. In the midst of it Duer came past, trailing after Dean Silva’s party, and nodded to Martin, who glared back, feeling noble and mature.

At parting, Clif held Leora’s hand and urged, “Honey, I think a lot of Mart, and one time I was afraid the old kid was going to get tied up to — to parties that would turn him into a hand-shaker. I’m a hand-shaker myself. I know less about medicine than Prof Robertshaw. But this boob has some conscience to him, and I’m so darn’ glad he’s playing around with a girl that’s real folks and — Oh, listen at me fallin’ all over my clumsy feet! But I just mean I hope you won’t mind Uncle Clif saying he does by golly like you a lot!”

It was almost four when Martin returned from taking Leora home and sagged into bed. He could not sleep. The aloofness of Angus Duer racked him as an insult to himself, as somehow an implied insult to Leora, but his boyish rage had passed into a bleaker worry. Didn’t Duer, for all his snobbishness and shallowness, have something that he himself lacked? Didn’t Clif, with his puppy-dog humor, his speech of a vaudeville farmer, his suspicion of fine manners as posing, take life too easily? Didn’t Duer know how to control and drive his hard little mind? Wasn’t there a technique of manners as there was of experimentation. . . . Gottlieb’s fluent bench-technique versus the clumsy and podgy hands of Ira Hinkley. . . . Or was all this inquiry a treachery, a yielding to Duer’s own affected standard?

He was so tired that behind his closed eyelids were flashes of fire. His whirling mind flew over every sentence he had said or heard that night, till round his twisting body there was fevered shouting.

v

As he grumped across the medical campus next day, he came unexpectedly upon Angus and he was smitten with the guiltiness and embarrassment one has toward a person who has borrowed money and probably will not return it. Mechanically he began to blurt “Hello,” but he checked it in a croak, scowled, and stumbled on.

“Oh, Mart,” Angus called. He was dismayingly even. “Remember speaking to me last evening? It struck me when I was going out that you looked huffy. I was wondering if you thought I’d been rude. I’m sorry if you did. Fact is, I had a rotten headache. Look. I’ve got four tickets for ‘As It Listeth,’ in Zenith, next Friday evening — original New York cast! Like to see it? And I noticed you were with a peach, at the dance. Suppose she might like to go along with us, she and some friend of hers?”

“Why — gosh — I’ll ‘phone her — darn’ nice of you to ask us —”

It was not till melancholy dusk, when Leora had accepted and promised to bring with her a probationer-nurse named Nelly Byers, that Martin began to brood:

“Wonder if he did have a headache last night?

“Wonder if somebody GAVE him the tickets?

“Why didn’t he ask Dad Silva’s daughter to go with us? Does he think Leora is some tart I’ve picked up?

“Sure, he never really quarrels with anybody — wants to keep us all friendly, so we’ll send him surgical patients some day when we’re hick G. P.‘s and he’s a Great and Only.

“Why did I crawl down so meekly?

“I don’t care! If Leora enjoys it — Me personally, I don’t care two hoots for all this trotting around — Though of course it isn’t so bad to see pretty women in fine clothes, and be dressed as good as anybody — Oh, I don’t KNOW!”

vi

In the slightly Midwestern city of Zenith, the appearance of a play “with the original New York cast” was an event. (What Play it was did not much matter.) The Dodsworth Theatre was splendid with the aristocracy from the big houses on Royal Ridge. Leora and Nelly Byers admired the bloods — graduates of Yale and Harvard and Princeton, lawyers and bankers, motor-manufacturers and inheritors of real estate, virtuosi of golf, familiars of New York — who with their shrill and glistening women occupied the front rows. Miss Byers pointed out the Dodsworths, who were often mentioned in Town Topics.

Leora and Miss Byers bounced with admiration of the hero when he refused the governorship; Martin worried because the heroine was prettier than Leora; and Angus Duer (who gave an appearance of knowing all about plays without having seen more than half a dozen in his life) admitted that the set depicting “Jack Vanduzen’s Camp in the Adirondacks: Sunset, the Next Day” was really very nice.

Martin was in a mood of determined hospitality. He was going to give them supper and that was all there was to it. Miss Byers explained that they had to be in the hospital by a quarter after eleven, but Leora said lazily, “Oh, I don’t care. I’ll slip in through a window. If you’re there in the morning, the Old Cat can’t prove you got in late.” Shaking her head at this lying wickedness, Miss Byers fled to a trolley car, while Leora, Angus, and Martin strolled to Epstein’s Alt Nuremberg Cafe for beer and Swiss cheese sandwiches flavored by the sight of German drinking mottos and papier-mache armor.

Angus was studying Leora, looking from her to Martin, watching their glances of affection. That a keen young man should make a comrade of a girl who could not bring him social advancement, that such a thing as the boy and girl passion between Martin and Leora could exist, was probably inconceivable to him. He decided that she was conveniently frail. He gave Martin a refined version of a leer, and set himself to acquiring her for his own uses.

“I hope you enjoyed the play,” he condescended to her.

“Oh, yes —”

“Jove, I envy you two. Of course I understand why girls fall for Martin here, with his romantic eyes, but a grind like me, I have to go on working without a single person to give me sympathy. Oh, well, I deserve it for being shy of women.”

With unexpected defiance from Leora: “When anybody says that, it means they’re not shy, and they despise women.”

“Despise them? Why, child, honestly, I long to be a Don Juan. But I don’t know how. Won’t you give me a lesson?” Angus’s aridly correct voice had become lulling; he concentrated on Leora as he would have concentrated on dissecting a guinea pig. She smiled at Martin now and then to say, “Don’t be jealous, idiot. I’m magnificently uninterested in this conceited hypnotist.” But she was flustered by Angus’s sleek assurance, by his homage to her eyes and wit and reticence.

Martin twitched with jealousy. He blurted that they must be going — Leora really had to be back — The trolleys ran infrequently after midnight and they walked to the hospital through hollow and sounding streets. Angus and Leora kept up a high-strung chatter, while Martin stalked beside them, silent, sulky, proud of being sulky. Skittering through a garage alley they came out on the mass of Zenith General Hospital, a block long, five stories of bleak windows with infrequent dim blotches of light. No one was about. The first floor was but five feet from the ground, and they lifted Leora up to the limestone ledge of a half-open corridor window. She slid in, whispering, “G’ night! Thanks!”

Martin felt empty, dissatisfied. The night was full of a chill mournfulness. A light was suddenly flickering in a window above them, and there was a woman’s scream breaking down into moans. He felt the tragedy of parting — that in the briefness of life he should lose one moment of her living presence.

“I’m going in after her; see she gets there safe,” he said.

The frigid edge of the stone sill bit his hands, but he vaulted, thrust up his knee, crawled hastily through the window. Ahead of him, in the cork-floored hallway lit only by a tiny electric globe, Leora was tiptoeing toward a flight of stairs. He ran after her, on his toes. She squeaked as he caught her arm.

“We got to say good night better than that!” he grumbled. “With that damn’ Duer —”

“Ssssssh! They’d simply murder me if they caught you here. Do you want to get me fired?”

“Would you care, if it was because of me?”

“Yes — no — well — BUT they’d probably fire you from medic school, my lad. If —” His caressing hands could feel her shiver with anxiety. She peered along the corridor, and his quickened imagination created sneaking forms, eyes peering from doorways. She sighed, then, resolutely: “We can’t talk here. We’ll slip up to my room — roommate’s away for the week. Stand there, in the shadow. If nobody’s in sight upstairs, I’ll come back.”

He followed her to the floor above, to a white door, then breathlessly inside. As he closed the door he was touched by this cramped refuge, with its camp-beds and photographs from home and softly wrinkled linen. He clasped her, but with hand against his chest she forbade him, as she mourned:

“You were jealous again! How can you distrust me so? With that fool! Women not like him? They wouldn’t have a chance! Likes himself too well. And then you jealous!”

“I wasn’t — Yes, I was, but I don’t dare! To have to sit there and grin like a hyena, with him between us, when I wanted to talk to you, to kiss you! All right! Probably I’ll always be jealous. It’s you that have got to trust me. I’m not easy-going; never will be. Oh, trust me —”

Their profound and unresisted kiss was the more blind in memory of that barren hour with Angus. They forgot that the superintendent of nurses might dreadfully come bursting in; they forgot that Angus was waiting. “Oh, curse Angus — let him go home!” was Martin’s only reflection, as his eyes closed and his long loneliness vanished.

“Good night, dear love — my love forever,” he exulted.

In the still ghostliness of the hall, he laughed as he thought of how irritably Angus must have marched away. But from the window he discovered Angus huddled on the stone steps, asleep. As he touched the ground, he whistled, but stopped short. He saw bursting from the shadow a bulky man, vaguely in a porter’s uniform, who was shouting:

“I’ve caught yuh! Back you come into the hospital, and we’ll find out what you’ve been up to!”

They closed. Martin was wiry, but in the watchman’s clasp he was smothered. There was a reek of dirty overalls, of unbathed flesh. Martin kicked his shins, struck at his boulder of red cheek, tried to twist his arm. He broke loose, started to flee, and halted. The struggle, in its contrast to the aching sweetness of Leora, had infuriated him. He faced the watchman, raging.

From the awakened Angus, suddenly appearing beside him, there was a thin sound of disgust. “Oh, come ON! Let’s get out of this. Why do you dirty your hands on scum like him?”

The watchman bellowed, “Oh, I’m scum, am I? I’ll show you!”

He collared Angus and slapped him.

Under the sleepy street-lamp, Martin saw a man go mad. It was not the unfeeling Angus Duer who stared at the watchman; it was a killer, and his eyes were the terrible eyes of the killer, speaking to the least experienced a message of death. He gasped only, “He dared to touch me!” A pen-knife was somehow in his hands, he had leaped at the watchman, and he was busily and earnestly endeavoring to cut his throat.

As Martin tried to hold them he heard the agitated pounding of a policeman’s night stick on the pavement. Martin was slim but he had pitched hay and strung telephone wire. He hit the watchman, judiciously, beside the left ear, snatched Angus’s wrist, and dragged him away. They ran up an alley, across a courtyard. They came to a thoroughfare as an owl trolley glowed and rattled round the corner; they ran beside it, swung up on the steps, and were safe.

Angus stood on the back platform, sobbing. “My God, I wish I’d killed him! He laid his filthy hands on me! Martin! Hold me here on the car. I thought I’d got over that. Once when I was a kid I tried to kill a fellow — God, I wish I’d cut that filthy swine’s throat!”

As the trolley came into the center of the city, Martin coaxed, “There’s an all-night lunch up Oberlin Avenue where we can get some white mule. Come on. It’ll straighten you up.”

Angus was shaky and stumbling — Angus the punctilious. Martin led him into the lunch-room where, between catsup bottles, they had raw whisky in granite-like coffee cups. Angus leaned his head on his arm and sobbed, careless of stares, till he had drunk himself into obliteration, and Martin steered him home. Then to Martin, in his furnished room with Clif snoring, the evening became incredible and nothing more incredible than Angus Duer. “Well, he’ll be a good friend of mine now, for always. Fine!”

Next morning, in the hall of the Anatomy Building, he saw Angus and rushed toward him. Angus snapped; “You were frightfully stewed last night, Arrowsmith. If you can’t handle your liquor better than that, you better cut it out entirely.”

He walked on, clear-eyed, unruffled.

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