Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 21-23

Chapter XXIII

I

WHEN America entered the Great European War, Vida sent Raymie off to an officers' training-camp — less than a year after her wedding. Raymie was diligent and rather strong. He came out a first lieutenant of infantry, and was one of the earliest sent abroad.

Carol grew definitely afraid of Vida as Vida transferred the passion which had been released in marriage to the cause of the war; as she lost all tolerance. When Carol was touched by the desire for heroism in Raymie and tried tactfully to express it, Vida made her feel like an impertinent child.

By enlistment and draft, the sons of Lyman Cass, Nat Hicks, Sam Clark joined the army. But most of the soldiers were the sons of German and Swedish farmers unknown to Carol. Dr. Terry Gould and Dr. McGanum became captains in the medical corps, and were stationed at camps in Iowa and Georgia. They were the only officers, besides Raymie, from the Gopher Prairie district. Kennicott wanted to go with them, but the several doctors of the town forgot medical rivalry and, meeting in council, decided that he would do better to wait and keep the town well till he should be needed. Kennicott was forty-two now; the only youngish doctor left in a radius of eighteen miles. Old Dr. Westlake, who loved comfort like a cat, protestingly rolled out at night for country calls, and hunted through his collar-box for his G. A. R. button.

Carol did not quite know what she thought about Kennicott's going. Certainly she was no Spartan wife. She knew that he wanted to go; she knew that this longing was always in him, behind his unchanged trudging and remarks about the weather. She felt for him an admiring affection — and she was sorry that she had nothing more than affection.

Cy Bogart was the spectacular warrior of the town. Cy was no longer the weedy boy who had sat in the loft speculating about Carol's egotism and the mysteries of generation. He was nineteen now, tall, broad, busy, the "town sport," famous for his ability to drink beer, to shake dice, to tell undesirable stories, and, from his post in front of Dyer's drug store, to embarrass the girls by "jollying" them as they passed. His face was at once peach-bloomed and pimply.

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn't get the Widow Bogart's permission to enlist, he'd run away and enlist without it. He shouted that he "hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he'd die happy." Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy named Adolph Pochbauer for being a "damn hyphenated German." . . . This was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to war.

II

Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find it. She saw the women who made bandages for the Red Cross giving up bridge, and laughing at having to do without sugar, but over the surgical-dressings they did not speak of God and the souls of men, but of Miles Bjornstam's impudence, of Terry Gould's scandalous carryings-on with a farmer's daughter four years ago, of cooking cabbage, and of altering blouses. Their references to the war touched atrocities only. She herself was punctual, and efficient at making dressings, but she could not, like Mrs. Lyman Cass and Mrs. Bogart, fill the dressings with hate for enemies.

When she protested to Vida, "The young do the work while these old ones sit around and interrupt us and gag with hate because they're too feeble to do anything but hate," then Vida turned on her:

"If you can't be reverent, at least don't be so pert and opinionated, now when men and women are dying. Some of us — we have given up so much, and we're glad to. At least we expect that you others sha'n't try to be witty at our expense."

There was weeping.

Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia; she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he croaked:

"How's tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they'll bring democracy — the democracy of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons — handed to them by their bosses. Now me, I'm wise. I'm so wise that I know I don't know anything about the war."

It was not a thought of the war that remained with her after Miles's declamation but a perception that she and Vida and all of the good-intentioners who wanted to "do something for the common people" were insignificant, because the "common people" were able to do things for themselves, and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the fact. The conception of millions of workmen like Miles taking control frightened her, and she scuttled rapidly away from the thought of a time when she might no longer retain the position of Lady Bountiful to the Bjornstams and Beas and Oscarinas whom she loved — and patronized.

III

It was in June, two months after America's entrance into the war, that the momentous event happened — the visit of the great Percy Bresnahan, the millionaire president of the Velvet Motor Car Company of Boston, the one native son who was always to be mentioned to strangers.

For two weeks there were rumors. Sam Clark cried to Kennicott, "Say, I hear Perce Bresnahan is coming! By golly it'll be great to see the old scout, eh?" Finally the Dauntless printed, on the front page with a No. 1 head, a letter from Bresnahan to Jackson Elder:

DEAR JACK:

Well, Jack, I find I can make it. I'm to go to Washington as a dollar a year man for the government, in the aviation motor section, and tell them how much I don't know about carburetors. But before I start in being a hero I want to shoot out and catch me a big black bass and cuss out you and Sam Clark and Harry Haydock and Will Kennicott and the rest of you pirates. I'll land in G. P. on June 7, on No. 7 from Mpls. Shake a day-day. Tell Bert Tybee to save me a glass of beer.

Sincerely yours,

Perce.

All members of the social, financial, scientific, literary, and sporting sets were at No. 7 to meet Bresnahan; Mrs. Lyman Cass was beside Del Snafflin the barber, and Juanita Haydock almost cordial to Miss Villets the librarian. Carol saw Bresnahan laughing down at them from the train vestibule — big, immaculate, overjawed, with the eye of an executive. In the voice of the professional Good Fellow he bellowed, "Howdy, folks!" As she was introduced to him (not he to her) Bresnahan looked into her eyes, and his hand-shake was warm, unhurried.

He declined the offers of motors; he walked off, his arm about the shoulder of Nat Hicks the sporting tailor, with the elegant Harry Haydock carrying one of his enormous pale leather bags, Del Snafflin the other, Jack Elder bearing an overcoat, and Julius Flickerbaugh the fishing-tackle. Carol noted that though Bresnahan wore spats and a stick, no small boy jeered. She decided, "I must have Will get a double-breasted blue coat and a wing collar and a dotted bow-tie like his."

That evening, when Kennicott was trimming the grass along the walk with sheep-shears, Bresnahan rolled up, alone. He was now in corduroy trousers, khaki shirt open at the throat, a white boating hat, and marvelous canvas-and-leather shoes "On the job there, old Will! Say, my Lord, this is living, to come back and get into a regular man-sized pair of pants. They can talk all they want to about the city, but my idea of a good time is to loaf around and see you boys and catch a gamey bass!"

He hustled up the walk and blared at Carol, "Where's that little fellow? I hear you've got one fine big he-boy that you're holding out on me!"

"He's gone to bed," rather briefly.

"I know. And rules are rules, these days. Kids get routed through the shop like a motor. But look here, sister; I'm one great hand at busting rules. Come on now, let Uncle Perce have a look at him. Please now, sister?"

He put his arm about her waist; it was a large, strong, sophisticated arm, and very agreeable; he grinned at her with a devastating knowingness, while Kennicott glowed inanely. She flushed; she was alarmed by the ease with which the big-city man invaded her guarded personality. She was glad, in retreat, to scamper ahead of the two men up-stairs to the hall-room in which Hugh slept. All the way Kennicott muttered, "Well, well, say, gee whittakers but it's good to have you back, certainly is good to see you!"

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As research for Carol's new Gopher Prairie Dramatic Association, she and her husband attend several plays in




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