Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 14

SHE was marching home.

“No. I couldn’t fall in love with him. I like him, very much. But he’s too much of a recluse. Could I kiss him? No! No! Guy Pollock at twenty-six I could have kissed him then, maybe, even if I were married to some one else, and probably I’d have been glib in persuading myself that ‘it wasn’t really wrong.’

“The amazing thing is that I’m not more amazed at myself. I, the virtuous young matron. Am I to be trusted? If the Prince Charming came ——

“A Gopher Prairie housewife, married a year, and yearning for a ‘Prince Charming’ like a bachfisch of sixteen! They say that marriage is a magic change. But I’m not changed. But ——

“No! I wouldn’t want to fall in love, even if the Prince did come. I wouldn’t want to hurt Will. I am fond of Will. I am! He doesn’t stir me, not any longer. But I depend on him. He is home and children.

“I wonder when we will begin to have children? I do want them.

“I wonder whether I remembered to tell Bea to have hominy tomorrow, instead of oatmeal? She will have gone to bed by now. Perhaps I’ll be up early enough ——

“Ever so fond of Will. I wouldn’t hurt him, even if I had to lose the mad love. If the Prince came I’d look once at him, and run. Darn fast! Oh, Carol, you are not heroic nor fine. You are the immutable vulgar young female.

“But I’m not the faithless wife who enjoys confiding that she’s ‘misunderstood.’ Oh, I’m not, I’m not!

“Am I?

“At least I didn’t whisper to Guy about Will’s faults and his blindness to my remarkable soul. I didn’t! Matter of fact, Will probably understands me perfectly! If only — if he would just back me up in rousing the town.

“How many, how incredibly many wives there must be who tingle over the first Guy Pollock who smiles at them. No! I will not be one of that herd of yearners! The coy virgin brides. Yet probably if the Prince were young and dared to face life ——

“I’m not half as well oriented as that Mrs. Dillon. So obviously adoring her dentist! And seeing Guy only as an eccentric fogy.

“They weren’t silk, Mrs. Dillon’s stockings. They were lisle. Her legs are nice and slim. But no nicer than mine. I hate cotton tops on silk stockings. . . . Are my ankles getting fat? I will NOT have fat ankles!

“No. I am fond of Will. His work — one farmer he pulls through diphtheria is worth all my yammering for a castle in Spain. A castle with baths.

“This hat is so tight. I must stretch it. Guy liked it.

“There’s the house. I’m awfully chilly. Time to get out the fur coat. I wonder if I’ll ever have a beaver coat? Nutria is NOT the same thing! Beaver-glossy. Like to run my fingers over it. Guy’s mustache like beaver. How utterly absurd!

“I AM, I am fond of Will, and —— Can’t I ever find another word than ‘fond’?

“He’s home. He’ll think I was out late.

“Why can’t he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy Bogart and all the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor dear, he’s absent-minded about minute — minush — whatever the word is. He has so much worry and work, while I do nothing but jabber to Bea.

“I MUSTN’T forget the hominy ——”

She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the Journal of the American Medical Society.

“Hello! What time did you get back?” she cried.

“About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!” Good-natured yet not quite approving.

“Did it feel neglected?”

“Well, you didn’t remember to close the lower draft in the furnace.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. But I don’t often forget things like that, do I?”

She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his head to save his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and settled her in a position less cramping to his legs, and casually cleared his throat) he kissed her amiably, and remarked:

“Nope, I must say you’re fairly good about things like that. I wasn’t kicking. I just meant I wouldn’t want the fire to go out on us. Leave that draft open and the fire might burn up and go out on us. And the nights are beginning to get pretty cold again. Pretty cold on my drive. I put the side-curtains up, it was so chilly. But the generator is working all right now.”

“Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk.”

“Go walking?”

“I went up to see the Perrys.” By a definite act of will she added the truth: “They weren’t in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into his office.”

“Why, you haven’t been sitting and chinning with him till eleven o’clock?”

“Of course there were some other people there and —— Will! What do you think of Dr. Westlake?”

“Westlake? Why?”

“I noticed him on the street today.”

“Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth X-rayed, I’ll bet nine and a half cents he’d find an abscess there. ‘Rheumatism’ he calls it. Rheumatism, hell! He’s behind the times. Wonder he doesn’t bleed himself I Wellllllll ——” A profound and serious yawn. “I hate to break up the party, but it’s getting late, and a doctor never knows when he’ll get routed out before morning.” (She remembered that he had given this explanation, in these words, not less than thirty times in the year.) “I guess we better be trotting up to bed. I’ve wound the clock and looked at the furnace. Did you lock the front door when you came in?”

They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and twice tested the front door to make sure it was fast. While they talked they were preparing for bed. Carol still sought to maintain privacy by undressing behind the screen of the closet door. Kennicott was not so reticent. Tonight, as every night, she was irritated by having to push the old plush chair out of the way before she could open the closet door. Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten times an hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the room, and there was no place for it except in front of the closet.

She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was yawning, more portentously. The room smelled stale. She shrugged and became chatty:

“You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me — you’ve never summed him up: Is he really a good doctor?”

“Oh yes, he’s a wise old coot.”

(“There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my house!” she said triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)

She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on, “Dr. Westlake is so gentle and scholarly ——”

“Well, I don’t know as I’d say he was such a whale of a scholar. I’ve always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that. He likes to have people think he keeps up his French and Greek and Lord knows what all; and he’s always got an old Dago book lying around the sitting-room, but I’ve got a hunch he reads detective stories ‘bout like the rest of us. And I don’t know where he’d ever learn so dog- gone many languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume he went to Harvard or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I looked him up in the medical register, and he graduated from a hick college in Pennsylvania, ‘way back in 1861!”

“But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?”

“How do you mean ‘honest’? Depends on what you mean.”

“Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would you let me call him in?”

“Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn’t! No, SIR! I wouldn’t have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, his everlasting palavering and soft-soaping. He’s all right for an ordinary bellyache or holding some fool woman’s hand, but I wouldn’t call him in for an honest-to-God illness, not much I wouldn’t, NO— sir! You know I don’t do much back- biting, but same time —— I’ll tell you, Carrrie: I’ve never got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs. Jonderquist. Nothing the matter with her, what she really needed was a rest, but Westlake kept calling on her and calling on her for weeks, almost every day, and he sent her a good big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never did forgive him for that. Nice decent hard-working people like the Jonderquists!”

In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau engaged in the invariable rites of wishing that she had a real dressing-table with a triple mirror, of bending toward the streaky glass and raising her chin to inspect a pin-head mole on her throat, and finally of brushing her hair. In rhythm to the strokes she went on:

“But, Will, there isn’t any of what you might call financial rivalry between you and the partners — Westlake and McGanum — is there?”

He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a ludicrous kick of his heels as he tucked his legs under the blankets. He snorted, “Lord no! I never begrudge any man a nickel he can get away from me — fairly.”

“But is Westlake fair? Isn’t he sly?”

“Sly is the word. He’s a fox, that boy!”

She saw Guy Pollock’s grin in the mirror. She flushed.

Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:

“Yump. He’s smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett’ near as much as Westlake and McGanum both together, though I’ve never wanted to grab more than my just share. If anybody wants to go to the partners instead of to me, that’s his business. Though I must say it makes me tired when Westlake gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been coming to me for every toeache and headache and a lot of little things that just wasted my time, and then when his grandchild was here last summer and had summer-complaint, I suppose, or something like that, probably — you know, the time you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt — why, Westlake got hold of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think the kid had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum didn’t operate, and holler their heads off about the terrible adhesions they found, and what a regular Charley and Will Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let on that if they’d waited two hours more the kid would have developed peritonitis, and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice fat hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they’d have charged three hundred, if they hadn’t been afraid of me! I’m no hog, but I certainly do hate to give old Luke ten dollars’ worth of advice for a dollar and a half, and then see a hundred and fifty go glimmering. And if I can’t do a better ‘pendectomy than either Westlake or McGanum, I’ll eat my hat!”

As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy’s blazing grin. She experimented:

“But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but he’s got a certain amount of intuition, while McGanum goes into everything bull-headed, and butts his way through like a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients into having whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He’s just about on a par with this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs. Mattie Gooch.”

“Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though — they’re nice. They’ve been awfully cordial to me.”

“Well, no reason why they shouldn’t be, is there? Oh, they’re nice enough — though you can bet your bottom dollar they’re both plugging for their husbands all the time, trying to get the business. And I don’t know as I call it so damn cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her on the street and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she’s all right. It’s Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting around all the time. But I wouldn’t trust any Westlake out of the whole lot, and while Mrs. McGanum SEEMS square enough, you don’t never want to forget that she’s Westlake’s daughter. You bet!”

“What about Dr. Gould? Don’t you think he’s worse than either Westlake or McGanum? He’s so cheap — drinking, and playing pool, and always smoking cigars in such a cocky way ——”

“That’s all right now! Terry Gould is a good deal of a tin- horn sport, but he knows a lot about medicine, and don’t you forget it for one second!”

She stared down Guy’s grin, and asked more cheerfully, “Is he honest, too?”

“Ooooooooooo! Gosh I’m sleepy!” He burrowed beneath the bedclothes in a luxurious stretch, and came up like a diver, shaking his head, as he complained, “How’s that? Who? Terry Gould honest? Don’t start me laughing — I’m too nice and sleepy! I didn’t say he was honest. I said he had savvy enough to find the index in ‘Gray’s Anatomy,’ which is more than McGanum can do! But I didn’t say anything about his being honest. He isn’t. Terry is crooked as a dog’s hind leg. He’s done me more than one dirty trick. He told Mrs. Glorbach, seventeen miles out, that I wasn’t up-to-date in obstetrics. Fat lot of good it did him! She came right in and told me! And Terry’s lazy. He’d let a pneumonia patient choke rather than interrupt a poker game.”

“Oh no. I can’t believe ——”

“Well now, I’m telling you!”

“Does he play much poker? Dr. Dillon told me that Dr. Gould wanted him to play ——”

“Dillon told you what? Where’d you meet Dillon? He’s just come to town.”

“He and his wife were at Mr. Pollock’s tonight.”

“Say, uh, what’d you think of them? Didn’t Dillon strike you as pretty light-waisted?”

“Why no. He seemed intelligent. I’m sure he’s much more wide-awake than our dentist.”

“Well now, the old man is a good dentist. He knows his business. And Dillon —— I wouldn’t cuddle up to the Dillons too close, if I were you. All right for Pollock, and that’s none of our business, but we —— I think I’d just give the Dillons the glad hand and pass ’em up.”

“But why? He isn’t a rival.”

“That’s — all — right!” Kennicott was aggressively awake now. “He’ll work right in with Westlake and McGanum. Matter of fact, I suspect they were largely responsible for his locating here. They’ll be sending him patients, and he’ll send all that he can get hold of to them. I don’t trust anybody that’s too much hand-in-glove with Westlake. You give Dillon a shot at some fellow that’s just bought a farm here and drifts into town to get his teeth looked at, and after Dillon gets through with him, you’ll see him edging around to Westlake and McGanum, every time!”

Carol reached for her blouse, which hung on a chair by the bed. She draped it about her shoulders, and sat up studying Kennicott, her chin in her hands. In the gray light from the small electric bulb down the hall she could see that he was frowning.

“Will, this is — I must get this straight. Some one said to me the other day that in towns like this, even more than in cities, all the doctors hate each other, because of the money ——”

“Who said that?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll bet a hat it was your Vida Sherwin. She’s a brainy woman, but she’d be a damn sight brainier if she kept her mouth shut and didn’t let so much of her brains ooze out that way.”

“Will! O Will! That’s horrible! Aside from the vulgarity —— Some ways, Vida is my best friend. Even if she HAD said it. Which, as a matter of fact, she didn’t.” He reared up his thick shoulders, in absurd pink and green flannelette pajamas. He sat straight, and irritatingly snapped his fingers, and growled:

“Well, if she didn’t say it, let’s forget her. Doesn’t make any difference who said it, anyway. The point is that you believe it. God! To think you don’t understand me any better than that! Money!”

(“This is the first real quarrel we’ve ever had,” she was agonizing.)

He thrust out his long arm and snatched his wrinkly vest from a chair. He took out a cigar, a match. He tossed the vest on the floor. He lighted the cigar and puffed savagely. He broke up the match and snapped the fragments at the foot- board.

She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the foot- stone of the grave of love.

The room was drab-colored and ill-ventilated-Kennicott did not “believe in opening the windows so darn wide that you heat all outdoors.” The stale air seemed never to change. In the light from the hall they were two lumps of bedclothes with shoulders and tousled heads attached.

She begged, “I didn’t mean to wake you up, dear. And please don’t smoke. You’ve been smoking so much. Please go back to sleep. I’m sorry.”

“Being sorry ‘s all right, but I’m going to tell you one or two things. This falling for anybody’s say-so about medical jealousy and competition is simply part and parcel of your usual willingness to think the worst you possibly can of us poor dubs in Gopher Prairie. Trouble with women like you is, you always want to ARGUE. Can’t take things the way they are. Got to argue. Well, I’m not going to argue about this in any way, shape, manner, or form. Trouble with you is, you don’t make any effort to appreciate us. You’re so damned superior, and think the city is such a hell of a lot finer place, and you want us to do what YOU want, all the time ——”

“That’s not true! It’s I who make the effort. It’s they — it’s you — who stand back and criticize. I have to come over to the town’s opinion; I have to devote myself to their interests. They can’t even SEE my interests, to say nothing of adopting them. I get ever so excited about their old Lake Minniemashie and the cottages, but they simply guffaw (in that lovely friendly way you advertise so much) if I speak of wanting to see Taormina also.”

“Sure, Tormina, whatever that is — some nice expensive millionaire colony, I suppose. Sure; that’s the idea; champagne taste and beer income; and make sure that we never will have more than a beer income, too!”

“Are you by any chance implying that I am not economical?”

“Well, I hadn’t intended to, but since you bring it up yourself, I don’t mind saying the grocery bills are about twice what they ought to be.”

“Yes, they probably are. I’m not economical. I can’t be. Thanks to you!”

“Where d’ you get that ‘thanks to you’?”

“Please don’t be quite so colloquial — or shall I say VULGAR?”

“I’ll be as damn colloquial as I want to. How do you get that ‘thanks to you’? Here about a year ago you jump me for not remembering to give you money. Well, I’m reasonable. I didn’t blame you, and I SAID I was to blame. But have I ever forgotten it since — practically?”

“No. You haven’t — practically! But that isn’t it. I ought to have an allowance. I will, too! I must have an agreement for a regular stated amount, every month.”

“Fine idea! Of course a doctor gets a regular stated amount! Sure! A thousand one month — and lucky if he makes a hundred the next.”

“Very well then, a percentage. Or something else. No matter how much you vary, you can make a rough average for ——”

“But what’s the idea? What are you trying to get at? Mean to say I’m unreasonable? Think I’m so unreliable and tightwad that you’ve got to tie me down with a contract? By God, that hurts! I thought I’d been pretty generous and decent, and I took a lot of pleasure — thinks I, ‘she’ll be tickled when I hand her over this twenty’— or fifty, or whatever it was; and now seems you been wanting to make it a kind of alimony. Me, like a poor fool, thinking I was liberal all the while, and you ——”

“Please stop pitying yourself! You’re having a beautiful time feeling injured. I admit all you say. Certainly. You’ve given me money both freely and amiably. Quite as if I were your mistress!”

“Carrie!”

“I mean it! What was a magnificent spectacle of generosity to you was humiliation to me. You GAVE me money — gave it to your mistress, if she was complaisant, and then you ——”

“Carrie!”

“(Don’t interrupt me!)— then you felt you’d discharged all obligation. Well, hereafter I’ll refuse your money, as a gift. Either I’m your partner, in charge of the household department of our business, with a regular budget for it, or else I’m nothing. If I’m to be a mistress, I shall choose my lovers. Oh, I hate it — I hate it — this smirking and hoping for money — and then not even spending it on jewels as a mistress has a right to, but spending it on double-boilers and socks for you! Yes indeed! You’re generous! You give me a dollar, right out — the only proviso is that I must spend it on a tie for you! And you give it when and as you wish. How can I be anything but uneconomical?”

“Oh well, of course, looking at it that way ——”

“I can’t shop around, can’t buy in large quantities, have to stick to stores where I have a charge account, good deal of the time, can’t plan because I don’t know how much money I can depend on. That’s what I pay for your charming sentimentalities about giving so generously. You make me ——”

“Wait! Wait! You know you’re exaggerating. You never thought about that mistress stuff till just this minute! Matter of fact, you never have ‘smirked and hoped for money.’ But all the same, you may be right. You ought to run the household as a business. I’ll figure out a definite plan tomorrow, and hereafter you’ll be on a regular amount or percentage, with your own checking account.”

“Oh, that IS decent of you!” She turned toward him, trying to be affectionate. But his eyes were pink and unlovely in the flare of the match with which he lighted his dead and malodorous cigar. His head drooped, and a ridge of flesh scattered with pale small bristles bulged out under his chin.

She sat in abeyance till he croaked:

“No. ‘Tisn’t especially decent. It’s just fair. And God knows I want to be fair. But I expect others to be fair, too. And you’re so high and mighty about people. Take Sam Clark; best soul that ever lived, honest and loyal and a damn good fellow ——”

(“Yes, and a good shot at ducks, don’t forget that!”)

(“Well, and he is a good shot, too!) Sam drops around in the evening to sit and visit, and by golly just because he takes a dry smoke and rolls his cigar around in his mouth, and maybe spits a few times, you look at him as if he was a hog. Oh, you didn’t know I was onto you, and I certainly hope Sam hasn’t noticed it, but I never miss it.”

“I have felt that way. Spitting — ugh! But I’m sorry you caught my thoughts. I tried to be nice; I tried to hide them.”

“Maybe I catch a whole lot more than you think I do!”

“Yes, perhaps you do.”

“And d’ you know why Sam doesn’t light his cigar when he’s here?”

“Why?”

“He’s so darn afraid you’ll be offended if he smokes. You scare him. Every time he speaks of the weather you jump him because he ain’t talking about poetry or Gertie — Goethe? — or some other highbrow junk. You’ve got him so leery he scarcely dares to come here.”

“Oh, I AM sorry. (Though I’m sure it’s you who are exaggerating now.”)

“Well now, I don’t know as I am! And I can tell you one thing: if you keep on you’ll manage to drive away every friend I’ve got.”

“That would be horrible of me. You KNOW I don’t mean to Will, what is it about me that frightens Sam — if I do frighten him.”

“Oh, you do, all right! ‘Stead of putting his legs up on another chair, and unbuttoning his vest, and telling a good story or maybe kidding me about something, he sits on the edge of his chair and tries to make conversation about politics, and he doesn’t even cuss, and Sam’s never real comfortable unless he can cuss a little!”

“In other words, he isn’t comfortable unless he can behave like a peasant in a mud hut!”

“Now that’ll be about enough of that! You want to know how you scare him? First you deliberately fire some question at him that you know darn well he can’t answer — any fool could see you were experimenting with him — and then you shock him by talking of mistresses or something, like you were doing just now ——”

“Of course the pure Samuel never speaks of such erring ladies in his private conversations!”

“Not when there’s ladies around! You can bet your life on that!”

“So the impurity lies in failing to pretend that ——”

“Now we won’t go into all that — eugenics or whatever damn fad you choose to call it. As I say, first you shock him, and then you become so darn flighty that nobody can follow you. Either you want to dance, or you bang the piano, or else you get moody as the devil and don’t want to talk or anything else. If you must be temperamental, why can’t you be that way by yourself?”

“My dear man, there’s nothing I’d like better than to be by myself occasionally! To have a room of my own! I suppose you expect me to sit here and dream delicately and satisfy my ‘temperamentality’ while you wander in from the bathroom with lather all over your face, and shout, ‘Seen my brown pants?’ ”

“Huh!” He did not sound impressed. He made no answer. He turned out of bed, his feet making one solid thud on the floor. He marched from the room, a grotesque figure in baggy union-pajamas. She heard him drawing a drink of water at the bathroom tap. She was furious at the contemptuousness of his exit. She snuggled down in bed, and looked away from him as he returned. He ignored her. As he flumped into bed he yawned, and casually stated:

“Well, you’ll have plenty of privacy when we build a new house.

“When!”

“Oh, I’ll build it all right, don’t you fret! But of course I don’t expect any credit for it.”

Now it was she who grunted “Huh!” and ignored him, and felt independent and masterful as she shot up out of bed, turned her back on him, fished a lone and petrified chocolate out of her glove-box in the top right-hand drawer of the bureau, gnawed at it, found that it had cocoanut filling, said “Damn!” wished that she had not said it, so that she might be superior to his colloquialism, and hurled the chocolate into the wastebasket, where it made an evil and mocking clatter among the debris of torn linen collars and toothpaste box. Then, in great dignity and self-dramatization, she returned to bed.

All this time he had been talking on, embroidering his assertion that he “didn’t expect any credit.” She was reflecting that he was a rustic, that she hated him, that she had been insane to marry him, that she had married him only because she was tired of work, that she must get her long gloves cleaned, that she would never do anything more for him, and that she mustn’t forget his hominy for breakfast. She was roused to attention by his storming:

“I’m a fool to think about a new house. By the time I get it built you’ll probably have succeeded in your plan to get me completely in Dutch with every friend and every patient I’ve got.”

She sat up with a bounce. She said coldly, “Thank you very much for revealing your real opinion of me. If that’s the way you feel, if I’m such a hindrance to you, I can’t stay under this roof another minute. And I am perfectly well able to earn my own living. I will go at once, and you may get a divorce at your pleasure! What you want is a nice sweet cow of a woman who will enjoy having your dear friends talk about the weather and spit on the floor!”

“Tut! Don’t be a fool!”

“You will very soon find out whether I’m a fool or not! I mean it! Do you think I’d stay here one second after I found out that I was injuring you? At least I have enough sense of justice not to do that.”

“Please stop flying off at tangents, Carrie. This ——”

“Tangents? TANGENTS! Let me tell you ——”

“—— isn’t a theater-play; it’s a serious effort to have us get together on fundamentals. We’ve both been cranky, and said a lot of things we didn’t mean. I wish we were a couple o’ bloomin’ poets and just talked about roses and moonshine, but we’re human. All right. Let’s cut out jabbing at each other. Let’s admit we both do fool things. See here: You KNOW you feel superior to folks. You’re not as bad as I say, but you’re not as good as you say — not by a long shot! What’s the reason you’re so superior? Why can’t you take folks as they are?”

Her preparations for stalking out of the Doll’s House were not yet visible. She mused:

“I think perhaps it’s my childhood.” She halted. When she went on her voice had an artificial sound, her words the bookish quality of emotional meditation. “My father was the tenderest man in the world, but he did feel superior to ordinary people. Well, he was! And the Minnesota Valley —— I used to sit there on the cliffs above Mankato for hours at a time, my chin in my hand, looking way down the valley, wanting to write poems. The shiny tilted roofs below me, and the river, and beyond it the level fields in the mist, and the rim of palisades across —— It held my thoughts in. I LIVED, in the valley. But the prairie — all my thoughts go flying off into the big space. Do you think it might be that?”

“Um, well, maybe, but —— Carrie, you always talk so much about getting all you can out of life, and not letting the years slip by, and here you deliberately go and deprive yourself of a lot of real good home pleasure by not enjoying people unless they wear frock coats and trot out ——”

(“Morning clothes. Oh. Sorry. Didn’t mean t’ interrupt you.”)

“—— to a lot of tea-parties. Take Jack Elder. You think Jack hasn’t got any ideas about anything but manufacturing and the tariff on lumber. But do you know that Jack is nutty about music? He’ll put a grand-opera record on the phonograph and sit and listen to it and close his eyes —— Or you take Lym Cass. Ever realize what a well-informed man he is?”

“But IS he? Gopher Prairie calls anybody ‘well-informed’ who’s been through the State Capitol and heard about Gladstone.”

“Now I’m telling you! Lym reads a lot — solid stuff — history. Or take Mart Mahoney, the garageman. He’s got a lot of Perry prints of famous pictures in his office. Or old Bingham Playfair, that died here ‘bout a year ago — lived seven miles out. He was a captain in the Civil War, and knew General Sherman, and they say he was a miner in Nevada right alongside of Mark Twain. You’ll find these characters in all these small towns, and a pile of savvy in every single one of them, if you just dig for it.”

“I know. And I do love them. Especially people like Champ Perry. But I can’t be so very enthusiastic over the smug cits like Jack Elder.”

“Then I’m a smug cit, too, whatever that is.”

“No, you’re a scientist. Oh, I will try and get the music out of Mr. Elder. Only, why can’t he let it COME out, instead of being ashamed of it, and always talking about hunting dogs? But I will try. Is it all right now?”

“Sure. But there’s one other thing. You might give me some attention, too!”

“That’s unjust! You have everything I am!”

“No, I haven’t. You think you respect me — you always hand out some spiel about my being so ‘useful.’ But you never think of me as having ambitions, just as much as you haves ——”

“Perhaps not. I think of you as being perfectly satisfied.”

“Well, I’m not, not by a long shot! I don’t want to be a plug general practitioner all my life, like Westlake, and die in harness because I can’t get out of it, and have ’em say, ‘He was a good fellow, but he couldn’t save a cent.’ Not that I care a whoop what they say, after I’ve kicked in and can’t hear ’em, but I want to put enough money away so you and I can be independent some day, and not have to work unless I feel like it, and I want to have a good house — by golly, I’ll have as good a house as anybody in THIS town! — and if we want to travel and see your Tormina or whatever it is, why we can do it, with enough money in our jeans so we won’t have to take anything off anybody, or fret about our old age. You never worry about what might happen if we got sick and didn’t have a good fat wad salted away, do you!”

“I don’t suppose I do.”

“Well then, I have to do it for you. And if you think for one moment I want to be stuck in this burg all my life, and not have a chance to travel and see the different points of interest and all that, then you simply don’t get me. I want to have a squint at the world, much’s you do. Only, I’m practical about it. First place, I’m going to make the money — I’m investing in good safe farmlands. Do you understand why now?”

“Yes.”

“Will you try and see if you can’t think of me as something more than just a dollar-chasing roughneck?”

“Oh, my dear, I haven’t been just! I AM difficile. And I won’t call on the Dillons! And if Dr. Dillon is working for Westlake and McGanum, I hate him!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/main/chapter14.html

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