Midmost of the black-soiled Iowa plain, watered only by a shallow and insignificant creek, the city of Nautilus bakes and rattles and glistens. For hundreds of miles the tall corn springs in a jungle of undeviating rows, and the stranger who sweatily trudges the corn-walled roads is lost and nervous with the sense of merciless growth.
Nautilus is to Zenith what Zenith is to Chicago.
With seventy thousand people, it is a smaller Zenith but no less brisk. There is one large hotel to compare with the dozen in Zenith, but that one is as busy and standardized and frenziedly modern as its owner can make it. The only authentic difference between Nautilus and Zenith is that in both cases all the streets look alike but in Nautilus they do not look alike for so many miles.
The difficulty in defining its quality is that no one has determined whether it is a very large village or a very small city. There are houses with chauffeurs and Bacardi cocktails, but on August evenings all save a few score burghers sit in their shirt-sleeves on front porches. Across from the ten-story office building, in which a little magazine of the New Prose is published by a young woman who for five months lived in the cafes of Montparnasse, is an old frame mansion comfortable with maples, and a line of Fords and lumber-wagons in which the overalled farmers have come to town.
Iowa has the richest land, the lowest illiteracy rate, the largest percentages of native-born whites and motor-car owners, and the most moral and forward-looking cities of all the States, and Nautilus is the most Iowan city in Iowa. One out of every three persons above the age of sixty has spent a winter in California, and among them are the champion horseshoe pitcher of Pasadena and the woman who presented the turkey which Miss Mary Pickford, the cinema princess, enjoyed at her Christmas dinner in 1912.
Nautilus is distinguished by large houses with large lawns and by an astounding quantity of garages and lofty church spires. The fat fields run up to the edge of the city, and the scattered factories, the innumerable railroad side-tracks, and the scraggly cottages for workmen are almost amid the corn. Nautilus manufactures steel windmills, agricultural implements, including the celebrated Daisy Manure Spreader, and such corn-products as Maize Mealies, the renowned breakfast-food. It makes brick, it sells groceries wholesale, and it is the headquarters of the Cornbelt Co-operative Insurance Company.
One of its smallest but oldest industries is Mugford Christian College, which has two hundred and seventeen students, and sixteen instructors, of whom eleven are ministers of the Church of Christ. The well-known Dr. Tom Bissex is football coach, health director, and professor of hygiene, chemistry, physics, French, and German. Its shorthand and piano departments are known far beyond the limits of Nautilus, and once, though that was some years ago, Mugford held the Grinnell College baseball team down to a score of eleven to five. It has never been disgraced by squabbles over teaching evolutionary biology — it never has thought of teaching biology at all.
Martin left Leora at the Sims House, the old-fashioned, second-best hotel in Nautilus, to report to Dr. Pickerbaugh, Director of the Department of Public Health.
The department was on an alley, in a semi-basement at the back of that large graystone fungus, the City Hall. When he entered the drab reception-office he was highly received by the stenographer and the two visiting nurses. Into the midst of their flutterings — “Did you have a good trip, Doctor? Dr. Pickerbaugh didn’t hardly expect you till tomorrow, Doctor. Is Mrs. Arrowsmith with you, Doctor?”— charged Pickerbaugh, thundering welcomes.
Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh was forty-eight. He was a graduate of Mugford College and of the Wassau Medical School. He looked somewhat like President Roosevelt, with the same squareness and the same bristly mustache, and he cultivated the resemblance. He was a man who never merely talked: he either bubbled or made orations.
He received Martin with four “Well’s,” which he gave after the manner of a college cheer; he showed him through the Department, led him into the Director’s private office, gave him a cigar, and burst the dam of manly silence:
“Doctor, I’m delighted to have a man with your scientific inclinations. Not that I should consider myself entirely without them. In fact I make it a regular practice to set aside a period for scientific research, without a certain amount of which even the most ardent crusade for health methods would scarcely make much headway.”
It sounded like the beginning of a long seminar. Martin settled in his chair. He was doubtful about his cigar, but he found that it helped him to look more interested.
“But with me, I admit, it’s a matter of temperament. I have often hoped that, without any desire whatever for mere personal aggrandizement, the powers above may yet grant me the genius to become at once the Roosevelt and the Longfellow of the great and universally growing movement for public health measures is your cigar too mild, Doctor? or perhaps it would be better to say the Kipling of public health rather than the Longfellow, because despite the beautiful passages and high moral atmosphere of the Sage of Cambridge, his poetry lacked the swing and punch of Kipling.
“I assume you agree with me, or you will when you have had an opportunity to see the effect our work has on the city, and the success we have in selling the idea of Better Health, that what the world needs is a really inspired, courageous, overtowering leader — say a Billy Sunday of the movement — a man who would know how to use sensationalism properly and wake the people out of their sloth. Sometimes the papers, and I can only say they flatter me when they compare me with Billy Sunday, the greatest of all evangelists and Christian preachers — sometimes they claim that I’m too sensational. Huh! If they only could understand it, trouble is I can’t be sensational enough! Still, I try, I try, and — Look here. Here’s a placard, it was painted by my daughter Orchid and the poetry is my own humble effort, and let me tell you it gets quoted around everywhere:
You can’t get health By a pussyfoot stealth, So let’s every health-booster Crow just like a rooster.
“Then there’s another — this is a minor thing; it doesn’t try to drive home general abstract principles, but it’d surprise you the effect it’s had on careless housewives, who of course don’t mean to neglect the health of their little ones and merely need instruction and a little pep put into them, and when they see a card like this, it makes ’em think:
Boil the milk bottles or by gum You better buy your ticket to Kingdom Come.
“I’ve gotten quite a lot of appreciation in my small way for some of these things that didn’t hardly take me five minutes to dash off. Some day when you get time, glance over this volume of clippings — just to show you, Doctor, what you can do if you go at the Movement in the up-to-date and scientific manner. This one, about the temperance meeting I addressed in Des Moines — say, I had that hall, and it was jam-pack-full, lifting right up on their feet when I proved by statistics that ninety-three per cent of all insanity is caused by booze! Then this — well, it hasn’t anything to do with health, directly, but it’ll just indicate the opportunity you’ll have here to get in touch with all the movements for civic weal.”
He held out a newspaper clipping in which, above a pen-and-ink caricature portraying him with large mustached head on a tiny body, was the headline:
DOC PICKERBAUGH BANNER BOOSTER OF EVANGELINE COUNTY LEADS BIG GO-TO-CHURCH DEMONSTRATION HERE
Pickerbaugh looked it over, reflecting, “That was a dandy meeting! We increased church attendance here seventeen per cent! Oh, Doctor, you went to Winnemac and had your internship in Zenith, didn’t you? Well, this might interest you then. It’s from the Zenith Advocate–Times, and it’s by Chum Frink, who, I think you’ll agree with me, ranks with Eddie Guest and Walt Mason as the greatest, as they certainly are the most popular, of all our poets, showing that you can bank every time on the literary taste of the American Public. Dear old Chum! That was when I was in Zenith to address the national convention of Congregational Sunday-schools, I happen to be a Congregationalist myself, on ‘The Morality of A1 Health.’ So Chum wrote this poem about me:”
Zenith welcomes with high hurraw A friend in Almus Pickerbaugh, The two-fisted fightin’ poet doc Who stands for health like Gibraltar’s rock. He’s jammed with figgers and facts and fun, The plucky old, lucky old son — of — a — gun!
For a moment the exuberant Dr. Pickerbaugh was shy.
“Maybe it’s kind of immodest in me to show that around. And when I read a poem with such originality and swing, when I find a genu-ine vest-pocket masterpiece like this, then I realize that I’m not a poet at all, no matter how much my jingles may serve to jazz up the Cause of Health. My brainchildren may teach sanitation and do their little part to save thousands of dear lives, but they aren’t literature, like what Chum Frink turns out. No, I guess I’m nothing but just a plain scientist in an office.
“Still you’ll readily see how one of these efforts of mine, just by having a good laugh and a punch and some melody in it, does gild the pill and make careless folks stop spitting on the sidewalks, and get out into God’s great outdoors and get their lungs packed full of ozone and lead a real hairy-chested he-life. In fact you might care to look over the first number of a little semi-yearly magazine I’m just starting — I know for a fact that a number of newspaper editors are going to quote from it and so carry on the good work as well as boost my circulation.”
He handed to Martin a pamphlet entitled Pickerbaugh Pickings.
In verse and aphorism, Pickings recommended good health, good roads, good business, and the single standard of morality. Dr. Pickerbaugh backed up his injunctions with statistics as impressive as those the Reverend Ira Hinkley had once used at Digamma Pi. Martin was edified by an item which showed that among all families divorced in Ontario, Tennessee, and Southern Wyoming in 1912, the appalling number of fifty-three per cent of the husbands drank at least one glass of whisky daily.
Before this warning had sunk in, Pickerbaugh snatched Pickings from him with a boyish, “Oh, you won’t want to read any more of my rot. You can look it over some future time. But this second volume of my clippings may perhaps interest you, just as a hint of what a fellow can do.”
While he considered the headlines in the scrapbook, Martin realized that Dr. Pickerbaugh was vastly better known than he had realized. He was exposed as the founder of the first Rotary Club in Iowa; superintendent of the Jonathan Edwards Congregational Sunday School of Nautilus; president of the Moccasin Ski and Hiking Club, of the West Side Bowling Club, and the 1912 Bull Moose and Roosevelt Club; organizer and cheerleader of a Joint Picnic of the Woodmen, Moose, Elks, Masons, Odd Fellows, Turnverein, Knights of Columbus, B’nai Brith, and the Y.M.C.A.; and winner of the prizes both for reciting the largest number of Biblical texts and for dancing the best Irish jig at the Harvest Moon Soiree of the Jonathan Edwards Bible Class for the Grown-ups.
Martin read of him as addressing the Century Club of Nautilus on “A Yankee Doctor’s Trip Through Old Europe,” and the Mugford College Alumni Association on “Wanted: A Man-sized Feetball Coach for Old Mugford.” But outside of Nautilus as well, there were loud alarums of his presence.
He had spoken at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce Weekly Luncheon on “More Health — More Bank Clearings.” He had edified the National Interurban Trolley Council, meeting at Wichita, on “Health Maxims for Trolley Folks.” Seven thousand, six hundred Detroit automobile mechanics had listened to his observations on “Health First, Safety Second, and Booze Nowhere A-tall.” And in a great convention at Waterloo he had helped organize the first regiment in Iowa of the Anti-rum Minute Men.
The articles and editorials regarding him, in newspapers, house organs, and one rubber-goods periodical, were accompanied by photographs of himself, his buxom wife, and his eight bounding daughters, depicted in Canadian winter costumes among snow and icicles, in modest but easy athletic costumes, playing tennis in the backyard, and in costumes of no known genus whatever, frying bacon against a background of Northern Minnesota pines.
Martin felt strongly that he would like to get away and recover.
He walked back to the Sims House. He realized that to a civilized man the fact that Pickerbaugh advocated any reform would be sufficient reason for ignoring it.
When he had gone thus far, Martin pulled himself up, cursed himself for what he esteemed his old sin of superiority to decent normal people. . . . Failure. Disloyalty. In medical school, in private practice, in his bullying health administration. Now again?
He urged, “This pep and heartiness stuff of Pickerbaugh’s is exactly the thing to get across to the majority of people the scientific discoveries of the Max Gottliebs. What do I care how much Pickerbaugh gases before conventions of Sunday School superintendents and other morons, as long as he lets me do my work in the lab and dairy inspection?”
He pumped up enthusiasm and came quite cheerfully and confidently into the shabby, high-ceilinged hotel bedroom where Leora sat in a rocker by the window.
“Well?” she said.
“It’s fine — gave me fine welcome. And they want us to come to dinner tomorrow evening.”
“What’s he like?”
“Oh, he’s awfully optimistic — he puts things over — he — Oh, Leora, am I going to be a sour, cranky, unpopular, rotten failure again?”
His head was buried in her lap and he clung to her affection, the one reality in a world of chattering ghosts.
When the maples fluttered beneath their window in the breeze that sprang up with the beginning of twilight, when the amiable citizens of Nautilus had driven home to supper in their shaky Fords, Leora had persuaded him that Pickerbaugh’s flamboyance would not interfere with his own work, that in any case they would not remain in Nautilus forever, that he was impatient, and that she loved him dearly. So they descended to supper, an old-fashioned Iowa supper with corn fritters and many little dishes which were of interest after the loving but misinformed cooking of Leora, and they went to the movies and held hands and were not ill content.
The next day Dr. Pickerbaugh was busier and less buoyant. He gave Martin a notion of the details of his work.
Martin had thought of himself, freed from tinkering over cut fingers and ear-aches, as spending ecstatic days in the laboratory, emerging only to battle with factory-owners who defied sanitation. But he found that it was impossible to define his work, except that he was to do a little of everything that Pickerbaugh, the press, or any stray citizen of Nautilus might think of.
He was to placate voluble voters who came in to complain of everything from the smell of sewer-gas to the midnight beer parties of neighbors; he was to dictate office correspondence to the touchy stenographer, who was not a Working Girl but a Nice Girl Who Was Working; to give publicity to the newspapers; to buy paper-clips and floor-wax and report-blanks at the lowest prices; to assist, in need, the two part-time physicians in the city clinic; to direct the nurses and the two sanitary inspectors; to scold the Garbage Removal Company; to arrest — or at least to jaw at — all public spitters; to leap into a Ford and rush out to tack placards on houses in which were infectious diseases; to keep a learned implacable eye on epidemics from Vladivostok to Patagonia, and to prevent (by methods not very clearly outlined) their coming in to slay the yeomanry and even halt the business activities of Nautilus.
But there was a little laboratory work: milk tests, Wassermanns for private physicians, the making of vaccines, cultures in suspected diphtheria.
“I get it,” said Leora, as they dressed for dinner at Pickerbaugh’s. “Your job will only take about twenty-eight hours a day, and the rest of the time you’re perfectly welcome to spend in research, unless somebody interrupts you.”
The home of Dr. and Mrs. Almus Pickerbaugh, on the steeple-prickly West Side, was a Real Old–Fashioned Home. It was a wooden house with towers, swings, hammocks, rather mussy shade trees, a rather mangy lawn, a rather damp arbor, and an old carriage-house with a line of steel spikes along the ridge pole. Over the front gate was the name: UNEEDAREST.
Martin and Leora came into a shambles of salutations and daughters. The eight girls, from pretty Orchid aged nineteen to the five-year-old twins, surged up in a tidal wave of friendly curiosity and tried to talk all at once.
Their hostess was a plump woman with an air of worried trustfulness. Her conviction that everything was all right was constantly struggling with her knowledge that a great many things seemed to be all wrong. She kissed Leora while Pickerbaugh was pump-handling Martin. Pickerbaugh had a way of pressing his thumb into the back of your hand which was extraordinarily cordial and painful.
He immediately drowned out even his daughters by an oration on the Home Nest:
“Here you’ve got an illustration of Health in the Home. Look at these great strapping girls, Arrowsmith! Never been sick a day in their lives — practically — and though Mother does have her sick-headaches, that’s to be attributed to the early neglect of her diet, because while her father, the old deacon — and a fine upstanding gentleman of the old school he was, too, if there ever was one, and a friend of Nathaniel Mugford, to whom more than any other we owe not only the foundation of Mugford College but also the tradition of integrity and industry which have produced our present prosperity — BUT he had no knowledge of diet or sanitation, and I’ve always thought —”
The daughters were introduced as Orchid, Verbena, Daisy, Jonquil, Hibisca, Narcissa, and the twins, Arbuta and Gladiola.
Mrs. Pickerbaugh sighed:
“I suppose it would be dreadfully conventional to call them My Jewels — I do so hate these conventional phrases that everybody uses, don’t you? — but that’s what they really are to their mother, and the Doctor and I have sometimes wished — Of course when we’d started giving them floral names we had to keep it up, but if we’d started with jewels, just think of all the darling names we might have used, like Agate and Cameo and Sardonyx and Beryl and Topaz and Opal and Esmeralda and Chrysoprase — it IS Chrysoprase, isn’t it, not Chrysalis? Oh, well, many people have congratulated us on their names as it is. You know the girls are getting quite famous — their pictures in so many papers, and we have a Pickerbaugh Ladies’ Baseball Team all our own — only the Doctor has to play on it now, because I’m beginning to get a little stout.”
Except by their ages, it was impossible to tell the daughters apart. They were all bouncing, all blond, all pretty, all eager, all musical, and not merely pure but clamorously clean-minded. They all belonged to the Congregational Sunday School, and to either the Y.W.C.A. or the Camp Fire Girls; they were all fond of picnicking; and they could all of them, except the five-year-old twins, quote practically without error the newest statistics showing the evils of alcohol.
“In fact,” said Dr. Pickerbaugh, “WE think they’re a very striking brood of chickabiddies.”
“They certainly are!” quivered Martin.
“But best of all, they are able to help me put over the doctrine of the Mens Sana in the Corpus Sano. Mrs. Pickerbaugh and I have trained them to sing together, both in the home and publicly, and as an organization we call them the Healthette Octette.”
“Really?” said Leora, when it was apparent that Martin had passed beyond speech.
“Yes, and before I get through with it I hope to popularize the name Healthette from end to end of this old nation, and you’re going to see bands of happy young women going around spreading their winged message into every dark corner. Healthette Bands! Beautiful and pure-minded and enthusiastic and good basket-ball players! I tell you, THEY’LL make the lazy and willful stir their stumps! They’ll shame the filthy livers and filthy talkers into decency! I’ve already worked out a poem-slogan for the Healthette Bands. Would you like to hear it?”
Winsome young womanhood wins with a smile Boozers, spitters, and gamblers from things that are vile. Our parents and teachers have explained the cause of life, So against the evil-minded we’ll also make strife. We’ll shame them, reclaim them, from bad habits, you bet! Better watch out, Mr. Loafer, I am a Healthette!
“But of course an even more important Cause is — and I was one of the first to advocate it — having a Secretary of Health and Eugenics in the cabinet at Washington —”
On the tide of this dissertation they were swept through a stupendous dinner. With a hearty “Nonsense, nonsense, man, of course you want a second helping — this is Hospitality Hall!” Pickerbaugh so stuffed Martin and Leora with roast duck, candied sweet potatoes, and mince pie that they became dangerously ill and sat glassy-eyed. But Pickerbaugh himself did not seem to be affected. While he carved and gobbled, he went on discoursing till the dining-room, with its old walnut buffet, its Hoffmann pictures of Christ, and its Remington pictures of cowpunchers, seemed to vanish, leaving him on a platform beside a pitcher of ice-water.
Not always was he merely fantastic. “Dr. Arrowsmith, I tell you we’re lucky men to be able to get a living out of doing our honest best to make the people in a he-town like this well and vital. I could be pulling down eight or ten thousand a year in private practice, and I’ve been told I could make more than that in the art of advertising, yet I’m glad, and my dear ones are glad with me, to take a salary of four thousand. Think of our having a job where we’ve got nothing to sell but honesty and decency and the brotherhood o’ man!”
Martin perceived that Pickerbaugh meant it, and the shame of the realization kept him from leaping up, seizing Leora, and catching the first freight train out of Nautilus.
After dinner the younger daughters desired to love Leora, in swarms. Martin had to take the twins on his knees and tell them a story. They were remarkably heavy twins, but no heavier than the labor of inventing a plot. Before they went to bed, the entire Healthette Octette sang the famous Health Hymn (written by Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh) which Martin was to hear on so many bright and active public occasions in Nautilus. It was set to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but as the twins’ voices were energetic and extraordinarily shrill, it had an effect all its own:
Oh, are you out for happiness or are you out for pelf? You owe it to the grand old flag to cultivate yourself, To train the mind, keep clean the streets, and ever guard your health.
Then we’ll all go marching on.
A healthy mind in A clean body, A healthy mind in A clean body, A healthy mind in A clean body, The slogan for one and all.
As a bedtime farewell, the twins then recited, as they had recently at the Congregational Festival, one of their father’s minor lyrics:
What does little birdie say On the sill at break o’ day? “Hurrah for health in Nautilus For Pa and Ma and all of us, Hurray, hurray, hurray!”
“There, my popsywopsies, up to bed we go!” said Mrs. Pickerbaugh. “Don’t you think, Mrs. Arrowsmith, they’re natural-born actresses? They’re not afraid of any audience, and the way they throw themselves into it — perhaps not Broadway, but the more refined theaters in New York would just love them, and maybe they’ve been sent to us to elevate the drama. Upsy go.”
During her absence the others gave a brief musical program.
Verbena, the second oldest, played Chaminade. (“Of course we all love music, and popularize it among the neighbors, but Verby is perhaps the only real musical genius in the family.”) But the unexpected feature was Orchid’s cornet solo.
Martin dared not look at Leora. It was not that he was sniffily superior to cornet solos, for in Elk Mills, Wheatsylvania, and surprisingly large portions of Zenith, cornet solos were done by the most virtuous females. But he felt that he had been in a madhouse for dozens of years.
“I’ve never been so drunk in my life. I wish I could get at a drink and sober up,” he agonized. He made hysterical and completely impractical plans for escape. Then Mrs. Pickerbaugh, returning from the still audible twins, sat down at the harp.
While she played, a faded woman and thickish, she fell into a great dreaming, and suddenly Martin had a picture of her as a gay, good, dove-like maiden who had admired the energetic young medical student, Almus Pickerbaugh. She must have been a veritable girl of the late eighties and the early nineties, the naive and idyllic age of Howells, when young men were pure, when they played croquet and sang Swanee River; a girl who sat on a front porch enchanted by the sweetness of lilacs, and hoped that when Almus and she were married they would have a nickel-plated baseburner stove and a son who would become a missionary or a millionaire.
For the first time that evening, Martin managed to put a respectable heartiness into his “Enjoyed that s’ much.” He felt victorious, and somewhat recovered from his weakness. But the evening’s orgy was only begun.
They played word-games, which Martin hated and Leora did very badly indeed. They acted charades, at which Pickerbaugh was tremendous. The sight of him on the floor in his wife’s fur coat, being a seal on an ice-floe, was incomparable. Then Martin, Orchid, and Hibisca (aged twelve) had to present a charade, and there were complications.
Orchid was as full of simple affections, of smilings and pattings and bouncings, as her younger sisters, but she was nineteen and not altogether a child. Doubtless she was as pure-minded and as devoted to Clean and Wholesome Novels as Dr. Pickerbaugh stated, and he stated it with frequency, but she was not unconscious of young men, even though they were married.
She planned to enact the word doleful, with a beggar asking a dole, and a corncrib full. As they skipped upstairs to dress, she hugged Martin’s arm, frisked beside him, and murmured, “Oh, Doctor, I’m so glad Daddy has you for assistant — somebody that’s young and good-looking. Oh, was that dreadful of me? But I mean: you look so athletic and everything, and the other assistant director — don’t tell Daddy I said so, but he was an old crank!”
He was conscious of brown eyes and unshadowed virginal lips. As Orchid put on her agreeably loose costume as a beggar, he was also conscious of ankles and young bosom. She smiled at him, as one who had long known him, and said loyally, “We’ll show ’em! I know you’re a dan-dy actor!”
When they bustled downstairs, as she did not take his arm, he took hers, and he pressed it slightly and felt alarmed and relinquished it with emphasis.
Since his marriage he had been so absorbed in Leora, as lover, as companion, as helper, that till this hour his most devastating adventure had been a glance at a pretty girl in a train. But the flushed young gaiety of Orchid disturbed him. He wanted to be rid of her, he hoped that he would not be altogether rid of her, and for the first time in years he was afraid of Leora’s eyes.
There were acrobatic feats later, and a considerable prominence of Orchid, who did not wear stays, who loved dancing, and who praised Martin’s feats in the game of “Follow the Leader.”
All the daughters save Orchid were sent to bed, and the rest of the fete consisted of what Pickerbaugh called “a little quiet scientific conversation by the fireside,” made up of his observations on good roads, rural sanitation, Ideals in politics, and methods of letter filing in health departments. Through this placid hour, or it may have been an hour and a half, Martin saw that Orchid was observing his hair, his jaw, his hands, and he had, and dismissed, and had again a thought about the innocent agreeableness of holding her small friendly paw.
He also saw that Leora was observing both of them, and he suffered a good deal, and had practically no benefit whatever from Pickerbaugh’s notes on the value of disinfectants. When Pickerbaugh predicted for Nautilus, in fifteen years, a health department thrice as large, with many full-time clinic and school physicians and possibly Martin as director (Pickerbaugh himself having gone off to mysterious and interesting activities in a Larger Field), Martin merely croaked, “Yes, that’d be — be fine,” while to himself he was explaining, “Damn that girl, I wish she wouldn’t shake herself at me.”
At half-past eight he had pictured his escape as life’s highest ecstasy; at twelve he took leave with nervous hesitation.
They walked to the hotel. Free from the sight of Orchid, brisk in the coolness, he forgot the chit and pawed again the problem of his work in Nautilus.
“Lord, I don’t know whether I can do it. To work under that gas-bag, with his fool pieces about boozers —”
“They weren’t so bad,” protested Leora.
“Bad? Why, he’s probably the worst poet that ever lived, and he certainly knows less about epidemiology than I thought any one man could ever learn, all by himself. But when it comes to this — what was it Clif Clawson used to call it? — by the way, wonder what’s ever become of Clif; haven’t heard from him for a couple o’ years — when it comes to this ‘overpowering Christian Domesticity’— Oh, let’s hunt for a blind-pig and sit around with the nice restful burglars.”
She insisted, “I thought his poems were kind of cute.”
“Cute! What a word!”
“It’s no worse than the cuss-words you’re always using! But the cornet yowling by that awful oldest daughter — Ugh!”
“Well, now she played darn’ well!”
“Martin, the cornet is the kind of instrument my brother would play. And you so superior about the doctor’s poetry and my saying ‘cute’! You’re just as much a backwoods hick as I am, and maybe more so!”
“Why, gee, Leora, I never knew you to get sore about nothing before! And can’t you understand how important — You see, a man like Pickerbaugh makes all public health work simply ridiculous by his circusing and his ignorance. If he said that fresh air was a good thing, instead of making me open my windows it’d make me or any other reasonable person close ’em. And to use the word ‘science’ in those flop-eared limericks or whatever you call ’em — it’s sacrilege!”
“Well, if you want to KNOW, Martin Arrowsmith, I’ll have no more of these high jinks with that Orchid girl! Practically hugging her when you came downstairs, and then mooning at her all evening! I don’t mind your cursing and being cranky and even getting drunk, in a reasonable sort of way, but ever since the lunch when you told me and that Fox woman, ‘I hope you girls won’t mind, but I just happen to remember that I’m engaged to both of you’— You’re mine, and I won’t have any trespassers. I’m a cavewoman, and you’d better learn it, and as for that Orchid, with her simper and her stroking your arm and her great big absurd feet — Orchid! She’s no orchid! She’s a bachelor’s button!”
“But, honest, I don’t even remember which of the eight she was.”
“Huh! Then you’ve been making love to all of ’em, that’s why. Drat her! Well, I’m not going to go on scrapping about it. I just wanted to warn you, that’s all.”
At the hotel, after giving up the attempt to find a short, jovial, convincing way of promising that he would never flirt with Orchid, he stammered, “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay down and walk a little more. I’ve got to figure this health department business out.”
He sat in the Sims House office — singularly dismal it was, after midnight, and singularly smelly.
“That fool Pickerbaugh! I wish I’d told him right out that we know hardly anything about the epidemiology of tuberculosis, for instance.
“Just the same, she’s a darling child. Orchid! She’s like an orchid — no, she’s too healthy. Be a great kid to go hunting with. Sweet. And she acted as if I were her own age, not an old doctor. I’ll be good, oh, I’ll be good, but — I’d like to kiss her once, GOOD! She likes me. Those darling lips, like — like rosebuds!
“Poor Leora. I nev’ was so astonished in my life. Jealous. Well, she’s got a right to be! No woman ever stood by a man like — Lee, sweet, can’t you see, idiot, if I skipped round the corner with seventeen billion Orchids, it’d be you I loved, and never anybody but you!
“I can’t go round singing Healthette Octette Pantalette stuff. Even if it did instruct people, which it don’t. Be almost better to let ’em die than have to live and listen to —
“Leora said I was a ‘backwoods hick.’ Let me tell you, young woman, as it happens I am a Bachelor of Arts, and you may recall the kind of books the ‘backwoods hick’ was reading to you last winter, and even Henry James and everybody and — Oh, she’s right. I am. I do know how to make pipets and agar, but — And yet some day I want to travel like Sondelius —
“Sondelius! God! If it were he I was working for, instead of Pickerbaugh, I’d slave for him —
“Or does he pull the bunk, too?
“Now that’s just what I mean. That kind of phrase. ‘Pull the bunk’! Horrible!
“Hell! I’ll use any kind of phrase I want to! I’m not one of your social climbers like Angus. The way Sondelius cusses, for instance, and yet he’s used to all those highbrows —
“And I’ll be so busy here in Nautilus that I won’t even be able to go on reading. Still — I don’t suppose they read much, but there must be quite a few of these rich men here that know about nice houses. Clothes. Theaters. That stuff.
He wandered to an all-night lunch-wagon, where he gloomily drank coffee. Beside him, seated at the long shelf which served as table, beneath the noble red-glass window with a portrait of George Washington, was a policeman who, as he gnawed a Hamburger sandwich, demanded:
“Say, ain’t you this new doctor that’s come to assist Pickerbaugh? Seen you at City Hall.”
“Yes. Say, uh, say, how does the city like Pickerbaugh? How do you like him? Tell me honestly, because I’m just starting in, and, uh — You get me.”
With his spoon held inside the cup by a brawny thumb, the policeman gulped his coffee and proclaimed, while the greasy friendly cook of the lunch-wagon nodded in agreement:
“Well, if you want the straight dope, he hollers a good deal, but he’s one awful brainy man. He certainly can sling the Queen’s English, and jever hear one of his poems? They’re darn’ bright. I’ll tell you: There’s some people say Pickerbaugh pulls the song and dance too much, but way I figure it, course maybe for you and me, Doctor, it’d be all right if he just looked after the milk and the garbage and the kids’ teeth. But there’s a lot of careless, ignorant, foreign slobs that need to be jollied into using their konks about these health biznai, so’s they won’t go getting sick with a lot of these infectious diseases and pass ’em on to the rest of us, and believe me, old Doc Pickerbaugh is the boy that gets the idea into their noodles!
“Yes, sir, he’s a great old coot — he ain’t a clam like some of these docs. Why, say, one day he showed up at the St. Patrick picnic, even if he is a dirty Protestant, and him and Father Costello chummed up like two old cronies, and darn’ if he didn’t wrestle a fellow half his age, and awful’ near throw him, yes, you bet he did, he certainly give that young fellow a run for his money all right! We fellows on the Force all like him, and we have to grin, the way he comes around and soft-soaps us into doing a lot of health work that by law we ain’t hardly supposed to do, you might say, instead of issuing a lot of fool orders. You bet. He’s a real guy.”
“I see,” said Martin, and as he returned to the hotel he meditated:
“But think of what Gottlieb would say about him.
“Damn Gottlieb! Damn everybody except Leora!
“I’m not going to fail here, way I did in Wheatsylvania.
“Some day Pickerbaugh will get a bigger job — Huh! He’s just the kind of jollying fourflusher that WOULD climb! But anyway, I’ll have my training then, and maybe I’ll make a real health department here.
“Orchid said we’d go skating this winter —
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57