The McGurk Building. A sheer wall, thirty blank stories of glass and limestone, down in the pinched triangle whence New York rules a quarter of the world.
Martin was not overwhelmed by his first hint of New York; after a year in the Chicago Loop, Manhattan seemed leisurely. But when from the elevated railroad he beheld the Woolworth Tower, he was exalted. To him architecture had never existed; buildings were larger or smaller bulks containing more or less interesting objects. His most impassioned architectural comment had been, “There’s a cute bungalow; be nice place to live.” Now he pondered, “Like to see that tower every day — clouds and storms behind it and everything — so sort of satisfying.”
He came along Cedar Street, among thunderous trucks portly with wares from all the world; came to the bronze doors of the McGurk Building and a corridor of intemperately colored terracotta, with murals of Andean Indians, pirates booming up the Spanish Main, guarded gold-trains, and the stout walls of Cartagena. At the Cedar Street end of the corridor, a private street, one block long, was the Bank of the Andes and Antilles (Ross McGurk, chairman of the board), in whose gold-crusted sanctity red-headed Yankee exporters drew drafts on Quito, and clerks hurled breathless Spanish at bulky women. A sign indicated, at the Liberty Street end, “Passenger Offices, McGurk Line, weekly sailings for the West Indies and South America.”
Born to the prairies, never far from the sight of the cornfields, Martin was conveyed to blazing lands and portentous enterprises.
One of the row of bronze-barred elevators was labeled “Express to McGurk Institute.” He entered it proudly, feeling himself already a part of the godly association. They rose swiftly, and he had but half-second glimpses of ground glass doors with the signs of mining companies, lumber companies, Central American railroad companies.
The McGurk Institute is probably the only organization for scientific research in the world which is housed in an office building. It has the twenty-ninth and thirtieth stories of the McGurk Building, and the roof is devoted to its animal house and to tiled walks along which (above a world of stenographers and bookkeepers and earnest gentlemen who desire to sell Better-bilt Garments to the golden dons of the Argentine) saunter rapt scientists dreaming of osmosis in Spirogyra.
Later, Martin was to note that the reception-room of the Institute was smaller, yet more forbiddingly polite, in its white paneling and Chippendale chairs, than the lobby of the Rouncefield Clinic, but now he was unconscious of the room, of the staccato girl attendant, of everything except that he was about to see Max Gottlieb, for the first time in five years.
At the door of the laboratory he stared hungrily.
Gottlieb was thin-cheeked and dark as ever, his hawk nose bony, his fierce eyes demanding, but his hair had gone gray, the flesh round his mouth was sunken, and Martin could have wept at the feebleness with which he rose. The old man peered down at him, his hand on Martin’s shoulder, but he said only:
“Ah! Dis is good. . . . Your laboratory is three doors down the hall. . . . But I object to one thing in the good paper you send me. You say, ‘The regularity of the rate at which the streptolysin disappears suggests that an equation may be found —’”
“But it can, sir!”
“Then why did you not make the equation?”
“Well — I don’t know. I wasn’t enough of a mathematician.”
“Then you should not have published till you knew your math!”
“I— Look, Dr. Gottlieb, do you really think I know enough to work here? I want terribly to succeed.”
“Succeed? I have heard that word. It is English? Oh, yes, it is a word that liddle schoolboys use at the University of Winnemac. It means passing examinations. But there are no examinations to pass here. . . . Martin, let us be clear. You know something of laboratory technique; you have heard about dese bacilli; you are not a good chemist, and mathematics — pfui! — most terrible! But you have curiosity and you are stubborn. You do not accept rules. Therefore I t’ink you will either make a very good scientist or a very bad one, and if you are bad enough, you will be popular with the rich ladies who rule this city, New York, and you can gif lectures for a living or even become, if you get to be plausible enough, a college president. So anyvay, it will be interesting.”
Half an hour later they were arguing ferociously, Martin asserting that the whole world ought to stop warring and trading and writing and get straightway into laboratories to observe new phenomena; Gottlieb insisting that there were already too many facile scientists, that the one thing necessary was the mathematical analysis (and often the destruction) of phenomena already observed.
It sounded bellicose, and all the while Martin was blissful with the certainty that he had come home.
The laboratory in which they talked (Gottlieb pacing the floor, his long arms fantastically knotted behind his thin back; Martin leaping on and off tall stools) was not in the least remarkable — a sink, a bench with racks of numbered test-tubes, a microscope, a few note-books and hydrogen-ion charts, a grotesque series of bottles connected by glass and rubber tubes on an ordinary kitchen table at the end of the room — yet now and then during his tirades Martin looked about reverently.
Gottlieb interrupted their debate: “What work do you want to do here?”
“Why, sir, I’d like to help you, if I can. I suppose you’re cleaning up some things on the synthesis of antibodies.”
“Yes, I t’ink I can bring immunity reactions under the mass action law. But you are not to help me. You are to do your own work. What do you want to do? This is not a clinic; wit’ patients going through so neat in a row!”
“I want to find a hemolysin for which there’s an antibody. There isn’t any for streptolysin. I’d like to work with staphylolysin. Would you mind?”
“I do not care what you do — if you just do not steal my staph cultures out of the ice-box, and if you will look mysterious all the time, so Dr. Tubbs, our Director, will t’ink you are up to something big. So! I haf only one suggestion: when you get stuck in a problem, I have a fine collection of detective stories in my office. But no. Should I be serious — this once, when you are just come?
“Perhaps I am a crank, Martin. There are many who hate me. There are plots against me — oh, you t’ink I imagine it, but you shall see! I make many mistakes. But one thing I keep always pure: the religion of a scientist.
“To be a scientist — it is not just a different job, so that a man should choose between being a scientist and being an explorer or a bond-salesman or a physician or a king or a farmer. It is a tangle of ver-y obscure emotions, like mysticism, or wanting to write poetry; it makes its victim all different from the good normal man. The normal man, he does not care much what he does except that he should eat and sleep and make love. But the scientist is intensely religious — he is so religious that he will not accept quarter-truths, because they are an insult to his faith.
“He wants that everything should be subject to inexorable laws. He is equal opposed to the capitalists who t’ink their silly money-grabbing is a system, and to liberals who t’ink man is not a fighting animal; he takes both the American booster and the European aristocrat, and he ignores all their blithering. Ignores it! All of it! He hates the preachers who talk their fables, but he iss not too kindly to the anthropologists and historians who can only make guesses, yet they have the nerf to call themselves scientists! Oh, yes, he is a man that all nice good-natured people should naturally hate!
“He speaks no meaner of the ridiculous faith-healers and chiropractors than he does of the doctors that want to snatch our science before it is tested and rush around hoping they heal people, and spoiling all the clues with their footsteps; and worse than the men like hogs, worse than the imbeciles who have not even heard of science, he hates pseudo-scientists, guess-scientists — like these psycho-analysts; and worse than those comic dream-scientists he hates the men that are allowed in a clean kingdom like biology but know only one text-book and how to lecture to nincompoops all so popular! He is the only real revolutionary, the authentic scientist, because he alone knows how liddle he knows.
“He must be heartless. He lives in a cold, clear light. Yet dis is a funny t’ing: really, in private, he is not cold nor heartless — so much less cold than the Professional Optimists. The world has always been ruled by the Philanthropists: by the doctors that want to use therapeutic methods they do not understand, by the soldiers that want something to defend their country against, by the preachers that yearn to make everybody listen to them, by the kind manufacturers that love their workers, by the eloquent statesmen and soft-hearted authors — and see once what a fine mess of hell they haf made of the world! Maybe now it is time for the scientist, who works and searches and never goes around howling how he loves everybody!
“But once again always remember that not all the men who work at science are scientists. So few! The rest — secretaries, press-agents, camp-followers! To be a scientist is like being a Goethe: it is born in you. Sometimes I t’ink you have a liddle of it born in you. If you haf, there is only one t’ing — no, there is two t’ings you must do: work twice as hard as you can, and keep people from using you. I will try to protect you from Success. It is all I can do. So. . . . I should wish, Martin, that you will be very happy here. May Koch bless you!”
Five rapt minutes Martin spent in the laboratory which was to be his — smallish but efficient, the bench exactly the right height, a proper sink with pedal taps. When he had closed the door and let his spirit flow out and fill that minute apartment with his own essence, he felt secure.
No Pickerbaugh or Rouncefield could burst in here and drag him away to be explanatory and plausible and public; he would be free to work, instead of being summoned to the package-wrapping and dictation of breezy letters which men call work.
He looked out of the broad window above his bench and saw that he did have the coveted Woolworth Tower, to keep and gloat on. Shut in to a joy of precision, he would nevertheless not be walled out from flowing life. He had, to the north, not the Woolworth Tower alone but the Singer Building, the arrogant magnificence of the City Investing Building. To the west, tall ships were riding, tugs were bustling, all the world went by. Below his cliff, the streets were feverish. Suddenly he loved humanity as he loved the decent, clean rows of test-tubes, and he prayed then the prayer of the scientist:
“God give me unclouded eyes and freedom from haste. God give me a quiet and relentless anger against all pretense and all pretentious work and all work left slack and unfinished. God give me a restlessness whereby I may neither sleep nor accept praise till my observed results equal my calculated results or in pious glee I discover and assault my error. God give me strength not to trust to God!”
He walked all the way up to their inconsiderable hotel in the Thirties, and all the way the crowds stared at him — this slim, pale, black-eyed, beaming young man who thrust among them, half-running, seeing nothing yet in a blur seeing everything: gallant buildings, filthy streets, relentless traffic, soldiers of fortune, fools, pretty women, frivolous shops, windy sky. His feet raced to the tune of “I’ve found my work, I’ve found my work, I’ve found my work!”
Leora was awaiting him — Leora whose fate it was ever to wait for him in creaky rocking-chairs in cheapish rooms. As he galloped in she smiled, and all her thin, sweet body was illumined. Before he spoke she cried:
“Oh, Sandy, I’m so glad!”
She interrupted his room-striding panegyrics on Max Gottlieb, on the McGurk Institute, on New York, on the charms of staphylolysin, by a meek “Dear, how much are they going to pay you?”
He stopped with a bump. “Gosh! I forgot to ask!”
“Now you look here! This isn’t a Rouncefield Clinic! I hate these buzzards that can’t see anything but making money —”
“I know, Sandy. Honestly, I don’t care. I was just wondering what kind of a flat we’ll be able to afford, so I can begin looking for it. Go on. Dr. Gottlieb said —”
It was three hours after, at eight, when they went to dinner.
The city of magic was to become to Martin neither a city nor any sort of magic but merely a route: their flat, the subway, the Institute, a favorite inexpensive restaurant, a few streets of laundries and delicatessens and movie theaters. But tonight it was a fog of wonder. They dined at the Brevoort, of which Gustaf Sondelius had told him. This was in 1916, before the country had become wholesome and sterile, and the Brevoort was a tumult of French uniforms, caviar, Louis, dangling neckties, Nuits St. Georges, illustrators, Grand Marnier, British Intelligence officers, brokers, conversation, and Martell, V.O.
“It’s a fine crazy bunch,” said Martin. “Do you realize we can stop being respectable now? Irving Watters isn’t watching us, or Angus! Would we be too insane if we had a bottle of champagne?”
He awoke next day to fret that there must be a trick somewhere, as there had been in Nautilus, in Chicago. But as he set to work he seemed to be in a perfect world. The Institute deftly provided all the material and facilities he could desire — animals, incubators, glassware, cultures, media — and he had a thoroughly trained technician —“garcon” they called him at the Institute. He really was let alone; he really was encouraged to do individual work; he really was associated with men who thought not in terms of poetic posters or of two-thousand-dollar operations but of colloids and sporulation and electrons, and of the laws and energies which governed them.
On his first day there came to greet him the head of the Department of Physiology, Dr. Rippleton Holabird.
Holabird seemed, though Martin had found his name starred in physiological journals, too young and too handsome to be the head of a department: a tall, slim, easy man with a trim mustache. Martin had been reared in the school of Clif Clawson; he had not realized, till he heard Dr. Holabird’s quick greeting, that a man’s voice may be charming without effeminacy.
Holabird guided him through the two floors of the Institute, and Martin beheld all the wonders of which he had ever dreamed. If it was not so large, McGurk ranked in equipment with Rockefeller, Pasteur, McCormick, Lister. Martin saw rooms for sterilizing glass and preparing media, for glass-blowing, for the polariscope and the spectroscope, and a steel-and-cement-walled combustion-chamber. He saw a museum of pathology and bacteriology to which he longed to add. There was a department of publications, whence were issued the Institute reports, and the American Journal of Geographic Pathology, edited by the Director, Dr. Tubbs; there was a room for photography, a glorious library, an aquarium for the Department of Marine Biology, and (Dr. Tubbs’s own idea) a row of laboratories which visiting foreign scientists were invited to use as their own. A Belgian biologist and a Portuguese bio-chemist were occupying guest laboratories now, and once, Martin thrilled to learn, Gustaf Sondelius had been here.
Then Martin saw the Berkeley–Saunders centrifuge.
The principle of the centrifuge is that of the cream-separator. It collects as sediment the solids scattered through a liquid, such as bacteria in a solution. Most centrifuges are hand — or water-power contrivances the size of a large cocktail-shaker, but this noble implement was four feet across, electrically driven, the central bowl enclosed in armor plate fastened with levers like a submarine hatch, the whole mounted on a cement pillar.
Holabird explained, “There’re only three of these in existence. They’re made by Berkeley–Saunders in England. You know the normal speed, even for a good centrifuge, is about four thousand revolutions a minute. This does twenty thousand a minute — fastest in the world. Eh?”
“Jove, they do give you the stuff to work with!” gloated Martin. (He really did, under Holabird’s handsome influence, say Jove, not Gosh.)
“Yes, McGurk and Tubbs are the most generous men in the scientific world. I think you’ll find it very pleasant to be here, Doctor.”
“I know I will — shall. And Jove, it’s awfully nice of you to take me around this way.”
“Can’t you see how much I’m enjoying my chance to display my knowledge? There’s no form of egotism so agreeable and so safe as being a cicerone. But we still have the real wonder of the Institute for to behold, Doctor. Down this way.”
The real wonder of the Institute had nothing visible to do with science. It was the Hall, in which lunched the staff, and in which occasional scientific dinners were given, with Mrs. McGurk as hostess. Martin gasped and his head went back as his glance ran from glistening floor to black and gold ceiling. The Hall rose the full height of the two floors of the Institute. Clinging to the soaring wall, above the dais on which lunched the Director and the seven heads of departments, was a carved musicians’-gallery. Against the oak paneling of the walls were portraits of the pontiffs of science, in crimson robes, with a vast mural by Maxfield Parrish, and above all was an electrolier of a hundred globes.
“Gosh — JOVE!” said Martin. “I never knew there was such a room!”
Holabird was generous. He did not smile. “Oh, perhaps it’s almost too gorgeous. It’s Capitola’s pet creation — Capitola is Mrs. Ross McGurk, wife of the founder; she’s really an awfully nice woman but she does love Movements and Associations. Terry Wickett, one of the chemists here, calls this ‘Bonanza Hall.’ Yet it does inspire you when you come in to lunch all tired and grubby. Now let’s go call on the Director. He told me to bring you in.”
After the Babylonian splendor of the Hall, Martin expected to find the office of Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs fashioned like a Roman bath, but it was, except for a laboratory bench at one end, the most rigidly business-like apartment he had ever seen.
Dr. Tubbs was an earnest man, whiskered like a terrier, very scholarly, and perhaps the most powerful American exponent of co-operation in science, but he was also a man of the world, fastidious of boots and waistcoats. He had graduated from Harvard, studied on the Continent, been professor of pathology in the University of Minnesota, president of Hartford University, minister to Venezuela, editor of the Weekly Statesman and president of the Sanity League, finally Director of McGurk.
He was a member both of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the Academy of Sciences. Bishops, generals, liberal rabbis, and musical bankers dined with him. He was one of the Distinguished Men to whom the newspapers turned for authoritative interviews on all subjects.
You realized before he had talked to you for ten minutes that here was one of the few leaders of mankind who could discourse on any branch of knowledge, yet could control practical affairs and drive stumbling mankind on to sane and reasonable ideals. Though a Max Gottlieb might in his research show a certain talent, yet his narrowness, his sour and antic humor, kept him from developing the broad view of education, politics, commerce, and all other noble matters which marked Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs.
But the Director was as cordial to the insignificant Martin Arrowsmith as though Martin were a visiting senator. He shook his hand warmly; he unbent in a smile; his baritone was mellow.
“Dr. Arrowsmith, I trust we shall do more than merely say you are welcome here; I trust we shall show you how welcome you are! Dr. Gottlieb tells me that you have a natural aptitude for cloistered investigation but that you have been looking over the fields of medical practice and public health before you settled down to the laboratory. I can’t tell you how wise I consider you to have made that broad preliminary survey. Too many would-be scientists lack the tutored vision which comes from coordinating all mental domains.”
Martin was dazed to discover that he had been making a broad survey.
“Now you’ll doubtless wish to take some time, perhaps a year or more, in getting into your stride, Dr. Arrowsmith. I shan’t ask you for any reports. So long as Dr. Gottlieb feels that you yourself are satisfied with your progress, I shall be content. Only if there is anything in which I can advise you, from a perhaps somewhat longer career in science, please believe that I shall be delighted to be of aid, and I am quite sure the same obtains with Dr. Holabird here, though he really ought to be jealous, because he is one of our youngest workers — in fact I call him my enfant terrible — but you, I believe, are only thirty-three, and you quite put the poor fellow’s nose out!”
Holabird merrily suggested, “Oh, no, Doctor, it’s been put out long ago. You forget Terry Wickett. He’s under forty.”
“Oh. HIM!” murmured Dr. Tubbs.
Martin had never heard a man disposed of so poisonously with such politeness. He saw that in Terry Wickett there might be a serpent even in this paradise.
“Now,” said Dr. Tubbs, “perhaps you might like to glance around my place here. I pride myself on keeping our card-indices and letter-files as unimaginatively as though I were an insurance agent. But there is a certain exotic touch in these charts.” He trotted across the room to show a nest of narrow drawers filled with scientific blue-prints.
Just what they were charts of, he did not say, nor did Martin ever learn.
He pointed to the bench at the end of the room, and laughingly admitted:
“You can see there what an inefficient fellow I really am. I keep asserting that I have given up all the idyllic delights of pathological research for the less fascinating but so very important and fatiguing cares of the directorship. Yet such is the weakness of genus homo that sometimes, when I ought to be attending to practical details, I become obsessed by some probably absurd pathological concept, and so ridiculous am I that I can’t wait to hasten down the hall to my regular laboratory — I must always have a bench at hand and an experiment going on. Oh, I’m afraid I’m not the moral man that I pose as being in public! Here I am married to executive procedure, and still I hanker for my first love, Milady Science!”
“I think it’s fine you still have an itch for it,” Martin ventured.
He was wondering just what experiments Dr. Tubbs had been doing lately. The bench seemed rather unused.
“And now, Doctor, I want you to meet the real Director of the Institute — my secretary, Miss Pearl Robbins.”
Martin had already noticed Miss Robbins. You could not help noticing Miss Robbins. She was thirty-five and stately, a creamy goddess. She rose to shake hands — a firm, competent grasp — and to cry in her glorious contralto, “Dr. Tubbs is so complimentary only because he knows that otherwise I wouldn’t give him his afternoon tea. We’ve heard so much about your cleverness from Dr. Gottlieb that I’m almost afraid to welcome you, Dr. Arrowsmith, but I do want to.”
Then, in a glow, Martin stood in his laboratory looking at the Woolworth Tower. He was dizzy with these wonders — his own wonders, now! In Rippleton Holabird, so gaily elegant yet so distinguished, he hoped to have a friend. He found Dr. Tubbs somewhat sentimental, but he was moved by his kindness and by Miss Robbins’s recognition. He was in a haze of future glory when his door was banged open by a hard-faced, red-headed, soft-shirted man of thirty-six or — eight.
“Arrowsmith?” the intruder growled. “My name is Wickett, Terry Wickett. I’m a chemist. I’m with Gottlieb. Well, I noticed the Holy Wren was showing you the menagerie.”
“Him. . . . Well, you must be more or less intelligent, if Pa Gottlieb let you in. How’s it starting? Which kind are you going to be? One of the polite birds that uses the Institute for social climbing and catches him a rich wife, or one of the roughnecks like me and Gottlieb?”
Terry Wickett’s croak was as irritating a sound as Martin had ever heard. He answered in a voice curiously like that of Rippleton Holabird:
“I don’t think you need to worry. I happen to be married already!”
“Oh, don’t let that fret you, Arrowsmith. Divorces are cheap, in this man’s town. Well, did the Holy Wren show you Gladys the Tart?”
“Gladys the Tart, or the Galloping Centrifuge.”
“Oh. You mean the Berkeley–Saunders?”
“I do, soul of my soul. Whajuh think of it?”
“It’s the finest centrifuge I’ve ever seen. Dr. Holabird said —”
“Hell, he ought to say something! He went and got old Tubbs to buy it. He just loves it, Holy Wren does.”
“Why not? It’s the fastest —”
“Sure. Speediest centrifuge in the whole Vereinigten, and made of the best toothpick steel. The only trouble is, it always blows out fuses, and it spatters the bugs so that you need a gas-mask if you’re going to use it. . . . And did you love dear old Tubbsy and the peerless Pearl?”
“Fine. Of course Tubbs is an illiterate jackass but still, at that, he hasn’t got persecution-mania, like Gottlieb.”
“Look here, Wickett — is it Dr. Wickett?”
“Uh-huh. . . . M.D., Ph.D., but a first-rate chemist just the same.”
“Well, Dr. Wickett, it seems to me a shame that a man of your talents should have to associate with idiots like Gottlieb and Tubbs and Holabird. I’ve just left a Chicago clinic where everybody is nice and sensible. I’d be glad to recommend you for a job there!”
“Wouldn’t be so bad. At least I’d avoid all the gassing at lunch in Bonanza Hall. Well, sorry I got your goat, Arrowsmith, but you look all right to me.”
Wickett grinned obscenely — red-headed, rough-faced, wiry — and snorted, “By the way, did Holabird tell you about being wounded in the first month of the war, when he was a field marshal or a hospital orderly or something in the British Army?”
“He did not! He didn’t mention the war!”
“He will! Well, Brer Arrowsmith, I look forward to many happy, happy years together, playing at the feet of Pa Gottlieb. So long. My lab is right next to yours.”
“Fool!” Martin decided, and, “Well, I can stand him as long as I can fall back on Gottlieb and Holabird. But — The conceited idiot! Gosh, so Holabird was in the war! Invalided out, I guess. I certainly got back at Wickett on that! ‘Did he tell you about his being a jolly old hero in the blinkin’ war?’ he said, and I came right back at him, ‘I’m sorry to displease you,’ I said, ‘but Dr. Holabird did not mention the war.’ The idiot! Well, I won’t let him worry me.”
And indeed, as Martin met the staff at lunch, Wickett was the only one whom he did not find courteous, however brief their greetings. He did not distinguish among them; for days most of the twenty researchers remained a blur. He confused Dr. Yeo, head of the Department of Biology, with the carpenter who had come to put up shelves.
The staff sat in Hall at two long tables, one on the dais, one below: tiny insect groups under the massy ceiling. They were not particularly noble of aspect, these possible Darwins and Huxleys and Pasteurs. None of them were wide-browed Platos. Except for Rippleton Holabird and Max Gottlieb and perhaps Martin himself, they looked like lunching grocers: brisk featureless young men; thick mustached elders; and wimpish little men with spectacles, men whose collars did not meet. But there was a steady calm about them; there was, Martin believed, no anxiety over money in their voices nor any restlessness of envy and scandalous gossip. They talked gravely or frivolously of their work, the one sort of work that, since it becomes part of the chain of discovered fact, is eternal, however forgotten the worker’s name.
As Martin listened to Terry Wickett (rude and slangy as ever, referring to himself as “the boy chemist,” speaking of “this gaudy Institute” and “our trusting new lil brother, Arrowsmith”) debating with a slight thin-bearded man — Dr. William T. Smith, assistant in bio-chemistry — the possibility of increasing the effects of all enzymes by doses of X-rays, as he heard one associate-member vituperate another for his notions of cell-chemistry and denounce Ehrlich as “the Edison of medical science,” Martin perceived new avenues of exciting research; he stood on a mountain, and unknown valleys, craggy tantalizing paths, were open to his feet.
Dr. and Mrs. Rippleton Holabird invited them to dinner, a week after their coming.
As Holabird’s tweeds made Clay Tredgold’s smartness seem hard and pretentious, so his dinner revealed Angus Duer’s affairs in Chicago as mechanical and joyless and a little anxious. Everyone whom Martin met at the Holabirds’ flat was a Somebody, though perhaps a minor Somebody: a goodish editor or a rising ethnologist; and all of them had Holabird’s graceful casualness.
The provincial Arrowsmiths arrived on time, therefore fifteen minutes early. Before the cocktails appeared, in old Venetian glass, Martin demanded, “Doctor, what problems are you getting after now in your physiology?”
Holabird was transformed into an ardent boy. With a deprecatory “Would you really like to hear about ’em — you needn’t be polite, you know!” he dashed into an exposition of his experiments, drawing sketches on the blank spaces in newspaper advertisements, on the back of a wedding invitation, on the flyleaf of a presentation novel, looking at Martin apologetically, learned yet gay.
“We’re working on the localization of brain functions. I think we’ve gone beyond Bolton and Flechsig. Oh, it’s jolly exciting, exploring the brain. Look here!”
His swift pencil was sketching the cerebrum; the brain lived and beat under his fingers.
He threw down the paper. “I say, it’s a shame to inflict my hobbies on you. Besides, the others are coming. Tell me, how is your work going? Are you comfortable at the Institute? Do you find you like people?”
“Everybody except — To be frank, I’m jarred by Wickett.”
Generously, “I know. His manner is slightly aggressive. But you mustn’t mind him; he’s really an extraordinarily gifted biochemist. He’s a bachelor — gives up everything for his work. And he doesn’t really mean half the rude things he says. He detests me, among others. Has he mentioned me?”
“Why, not especially —”
“I have a feeling he goes around saying that I talk about my experiences in the war, which really isn’t quite altogether true.”
“Yes,” in a burst, “he did say that.”
“I do rather wish he wouldn’t. So sorry to have offended him by going and getting wounded. I’ll remember and not do it again! Such a fuss for a war record as insignificant as mine! What happened was: when the war broke out in ‘14 I was in England, studying under Sherrington. I pretended to be a Canadian and joined up with the medical corps and got mine within three weeks and got hoofed out, and that was the end of my magnificent career! Here’s somebody arriving.”
His easy gallantry won Martin complete. Leora was equally captivated by Mrs. Holabird, and they went home from the dinner in new enchantment.
So began for them a white light of happiness. Martin was scarce more blissful in his undisturbed work than in his life outside the laboratory.
All the first week he forgot to ask what his salary was to be. Then it became a game to wait until the end of the month. Evenings, in little restaurants, Leora and he would speculate about it.
The Institute would surely not pay him less than the twenty-five hundred dollars a year he had received at the Rouncefield Clinic, but on evenings when he was tired it dropped to fifteen hundred, and one evening when they had Burgundy he raised it to thirty-five hundred.
When his first monthly check came, neat in a little sealed envelope, he dared not look at it. He took it home to Leora. In their hotel room they stared at the envelope as though it was likely to contain poison. Martin opened it shakily; he stared, and whispered, “Oh, those decent people! They’re paying me — this is for four hundred and twenty dollars — they’re paying me five thousand a year!”
Mrs. Holabird, a white kitten of a woman, helped Leora find a three-room flat with a spacious living-room, in an old house near Gramercy Park, and helped her furnish it with good bits, second-hand. When Martin was permitted to look he cried, “I hope we stay here for fifty years!”
This was the Grecian isle where they found peace. Presently they had friends: the Holabirds, Dr. Billy Smith — the thin-bearded bio-chemist, who had an intelligent taste in music and German beer — an anatomist whom Martin met at a Winnemac alumni dinner, and always Max Gottlieb.
Gottlieb had found his own serenity. In the Seventies he had a brown small flat, smelling of tobacco and leather books. His son Robert had graduated from City College and gone bustlingly into business. Miriam kept up her music while she guarded her father — a dumpling of a girl, holy fire behind the deceptive flesh. After an evening of Gottlieb’s acrid doubting, Martin was inspired to hasten to the laboratory and attempt a thousand new queries into the laws of micro-organisms, a task which usually began with blasphemously destroying all the work he had recently done.
Even Terry Wickett became more tolerable. Martin perceived that Wickett’s snarls were partly a Clif Clawson misconception of humor, but partly a resentment, as great as Gottlieb’s, of the morphological scientists who ticket things with the nicest little tickets, who name things and rename them and never analyze them. Wickett often worked all night; he was to be seen in shirt-sleeves, his sulky red hair rumpled, sitting with a stop-watch before a constant temperature bath for hours. Now and then it was a relief to have the surly intentness of Wickett instead of the elegance of Rippleton Holabird, which demanded from Martin so much painful elegance in turn, at a time when he was sunk beyond sounding in his experimentation.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57