Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 14-16

He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling ceased. She was winning him. Then the telephone bell — two long rings, one short.

Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the transmitter, "Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom's place! Heh? Oh, you vant de doctor?"

Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:

"Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you want? Which Morgenroth's? Adolph's? All right. Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave, get Gus to harness up and take my surgical kit down there — and have him take some chloroform. I'll go straight down from here. May not get home tonight. You can get me at Adolph's. Huh? No, Carrie can give the anesthetic, I guess. G'-by. Huh? No; tell me about that tomorrow — too damn many people always listening in on this farmers' line."

He turned to Carol. "Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles southwest of town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed and a post caved in on him — smashed him up pretty bad — may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says. Afraid we'll have to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear down there with me — — "

"Please do. Don't mind me a bit."

"Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my driver do it."

"If you'll tell me how."

"All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these goats that are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope they heard me! Well. . . . Now, Bessie, don't you worry about Nels. He's getting along all right. Tomorrow you or one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription filled at Dyer's. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good-by. Hel-lo! Here's the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it ain't possible this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why, say, he's a great big strapping Svenska now — going to be bigger 'n his daddy!"

Kennicott's bluffness made the child squirm with a delight which Carol could not evoke. It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better, nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies.

The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world destroyed, they swayed on — toward nothing.

It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and she was asleep when they arrived.

Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph, but a low whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage. Adolph Morgenroth was lying on a couch in the rarely used dining-room. His heavy work-scarred wife was shaking her hands in anxiety.

Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent and startling. But he was casual. He greeted the man, "Well, well, Adolph, have to fix you up, eh?" Quietly, to the wife, "Hat die drug store my schwartze bag hier geschickt? So — schon. Wie viel Uhr ist 's? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns ein wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left — giebt 's noch Bier?"

He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves rolled up, he was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the sink, using the bar of yellow kitchen soap.

Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while she labored over the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef and cabbage, set on the kitchen table. The man in there was groaning. In her one glance she had seen that his blue flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown neck, the hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray hairs. He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the sheet was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.

But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she followed him. With surprising delicacy in his large fingers he unwrapped the towels and revealed an arm which, below the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw flesh. The man bellowed. The room grew thick about her; she was very seasick; she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea she heard Kennicott grumbling, "Afraid it will have to come off, Adolph. What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade? We'll fix it right up. Carrie! CAROL!"

She couldn't — she couldn't get up. Then she was up, her knees like water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a second, her eyes filmed, her ears full of roaring. She couldn't reach the dining-room. She was going to faint. Then she was in the dining-room, leaning against the wall, trying to smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides, while Kennicott mumbled, "Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me carry him in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove those two tables together, and put a blanket on them and a clean sheet."

It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them, to be exact in placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was able to look calmly in at her husband and the farmwife while they undressed the wailing man, got him into a clean nightgown, and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay out his instruments. She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet with no worry about it, her husband — HER HUSBAND — was going to perform a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which one read in stories about famous surgeons.

She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The man was in such a funk that he would not use his legs. He was heavy, and smelled of sweat and the stable. But she put her arm about his waist, her sleek head by his chest; she tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of Kennicott's cheerful noises.

When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric steel and cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, "Now you sit here at his head and keep the ether dripping — about this fast, see? I'll watch his breathing. Look who's here! Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn't got a better one! Class, eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won't hurt you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won't hurt a bit. Schweig' mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So! So! Bald geht's besser!"

As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the rhythm that Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband with the abandon of hero-worship.

He shook his head. "Bad light — bad light. Here, Mrs. Morgenroth, you stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier, und dieses — dieses lamp halten — so!"

By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The room was still. Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the seeping blood, the crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The ether fumes were sweet, choking. Her head seemed to be floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.

It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on the living bone that broke her, and she knew that she had been fighting off nausea, that she was beaten. She was lost in dizziness. She heard Kennicott's voice —

"Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay under now."

She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting circles; she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her chest, her head clearing. As she returned she caught the scene as a whole: the cavernous kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden patch by the wall, hams dangling from a beam, bats of light at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated by a small glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott bending over a body which was humped under a sheet — the surgeon, his bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale-yellow rubber gloves, loosening the tourniquet, his face without emotion save when he threw up his head and clucked at the farmwife, "Hold that light steady just a second more — noch blos esn wenig."

"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the culture!" she worshiped as she returned to her place.

After a time he snapped, "That's enough. Don't give him any more ether." He was concentrated on tying an artery. His gruffness seemed heroic to her.

As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, "Oh, you ARE wonderful!"

He was surprised. "Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had been like last week — — Get me some more water. Now last week I had a case with an ooze in the peritoneal cavity, and by golly if it wasn't a stomach ulcer that I hadn't suspected and — — There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let's turn in here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm coming."


They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them; in the morning they broke ice in the pitcher — the vast flowered and gilt pitcher.

Kennicott's storm had not come. When they set out it was hazy and growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity. Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of slate-edged blackness dominated the sky.

"Guess we're about in for a blizzard," speculated Kennicott "We can make Ben McGonegal's, anyway."

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