Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 21-23

Hugh lay on his stomach, making an earnest business of sleeping. He burrowed his eyes in the dwarf blue pillow to escape the electric light, then sat up abruptly, small and frail in his woolly nightdrawers, his floss of brown hair wild, the pillow clutched to his breast. He wailed. He stared at the stranger, in a manner of patient dismissal. He explained confidentially to Carol, "Daddy wouldn't let it be morning yet. What does the pillow say?"

Bresnahan dropped his arm caressingly on Carol's shoulder; he pronounced, "My Lord, you're a lucky girl to have a fine young husk like that. I figure Will knew what he was doing when he persuaded you to take a chance on an old bum like him! They tell me you come from St. Paul. We're going to get you to come to Boston some day." He leaned over the bed. "Young man, you're the slickest sight I've seen this side of Boston. With your permission, may we present you with a slight token of our regard and appreciation of your long service?"

He held out a red rubber Pierrot. Hugh remarked, "Gimme it," hid it under the bedclothes, and stared at Bresnahan as though he had never seen the man before.

For once Carol permitted herself the spiritual luxury of not asking "Why, Hugh dear, what do you say when some one gives you a present?" The great man was apparently waiting. They stood in inane suspense till Bresnahan led them out, rumbling, "How about planning a fishing-trip, Will?"

He remained for half an hour. Always he told Carol what a charming person she was; always he looked at her knowingly.

"Yes. He probably would make a woman fall in love with him. But it wouldn't last a week. I'd get tired of his confounded buoyancy. His hypocrisy. He's a spiritual bully. He makes me rude to him in self-defense. Oh yes, he is glad to be here. He does like us. He's so good an actor that he convinces his own self. . . . I'd HATE him in Boston. He'd have all the obvious big-city things. Limousines. Discreet evening-clothes. Order a clever dinner at a smart restaurant. Drawing-room decorated by the best firm — but the pictures giving him away. I'd rather talk to Guy Pollock in his dusty office. . . . How I lie! His arm coaxed my shoulder and his eyes dared me not to admire him. I'd be afraid of him. I hate him! . . . Oh, the inconceivable egotistic imagination of women! All this stew of analysis about a man, a good, decent, friendly, efficient man, because he was kind to me, as Will's wife!"


The Kennicotts, the Elders, the Clarks, and Bresnahan went fishing at Red Squaw Lake. They drove forty miles to the lake in Elder's new Cadillac. There was much laughter and bustle at the start, much storing of lunch-baskets and jointed poles, much inquiry as to whether it would really bother Carol to sit with her feet up on a roll of shawls. When they were ready to go Mrs. Clark lamented, "Oh, Sam, I forgot my magazine," and Bresnahan bullied, "Come on now, if you women think you're going to be literary, you can't go with us tough guys!" Every one laughed a great deal, and as they drove on Mrs. Clark explained that though probably she would not have read it, still, she might have wanted to, while the other girls had a nap in the afternoon, and she was right in the middle of a serial — it was an awfully exciting story — it seems that this girl was a Turkish dancer (only she was really the daughter of an American lady and a Russian prince) and men kept running after her, just disgustingly, but she remained pure, and there was a scene — —

While the men floated on the lake, casting for black bass, the women prepared lunch and yawned. Carol was a little resentful of the manner in which the men assumed that they did not care to fish. "I don't want to go with them, but I would like the privilege of refusing."

The lunch was long and pleasant. It was a background for the talk of the great man come home, hints of cities and large imperative affairs and famous people, jocosely modest admissions that, yes, their friend Perce was doing about as well as most of these "Boston swells that think so much of themselves because they come from rich old families and went to college and everything. Believe me, it's us new business men that are running Beantown today, and not a lot of fussy old bucks snoozing in their clubs!"

Carol realized that he was not one of the sons of Gopher Prairie who, if they do not actually starve in the East, are invariably spoken of as "highly successful"; and she found behind his too incessant flattery a genuine affection for his mates. It was in the matter of the war that he most favored and thrilled them. Dropping his voice while they bent nearer (there was no one within two miles to overhear), he disclosed the fact that in both Boston and Washington he'd been getting a lot of inside stuff on the war — right straight from headquarters — he was in touch with some men — couldn't name them but they were darn high up in both the War and State Departments — and he would say — only for Pete's sake they mustn't breathe one word of this; it was strictly on the Q.T. and not generally known outside of Washington — but just between ourselves — and they could take this for gospel — Spain had finally decided to join the Entente allies in the Grand Scrap. Yes, sir, there'd be two million fully equipped Spanish soldiers fighting with us in France in one month now. Some surprise for Germany, all right!

"How about the prospects for revolution in Germany?" reverently asked Kennicott.

The authority grunted, "Nothing to it. The one thing you can bet on is that no matter what happens to the German people, win or lose, they'll stick by the Kaiser till hell freezes over. I got that absolutely straight, from a fellow who's on the inside of the inside in Washington. No, sir! I don't pretend to know much about international affairs but one thing you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a Hohenzollern empire for the next forty years. At that, I don't know as it's so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand on a lot of these red agitators who'd be worse than a king if they could get control."

"I'm terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew the Czar in Russia," suggested Carol. She had finally been conquered by the man's wizard knowledge of affairs.

Kennicott apologized for her: "Carrie's nuts about this Russian revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?"

"There is not!" Bresnahan said flatly. "I can speak by the book there. Carol, honey, I'm surprised to find you talking like a New York Russian Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I can tell you, only you don't need to let every one in on it, this is confidential, I got it from a man who's close to the State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will be back in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about his retiring and about his being killed, but I know he's got a big army back of him, and he'll show these damn agitators, lazy beggars hunting for a soft berth bossing the poor goats that fall for 'em, he'll show 'em where they get off!"

Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back, but she said nothing. The others had looked vacant at the mention of a country so far away as Russia. Now they edged in and asked Bresnahan what he thought about the Packard car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative merits of young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn't it true that American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?

They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every point.

As she heard Bresnahan announce, "We're perfectly willing to talk to any committee the men may choose, but we're not going to stand for some outside agitator butting in and telling us how we're going to run our plant!" Carol remembered that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New Ideas) had said the same thing in the same words.

While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long and immensely detailed story of the crushing things he had said to a Pullman porter, named George, Bresnahan hugged his knees and rocked and watched Carol. She wondered if he did not understand the laboriousness of the smile with which she listened to Kennicott's account of the "good one he had on Carrie," that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale of how she had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was "all het up pounding the box" — which may be translated as "eagerly playing the piano." She was certain that Bresnahan saw through her when she pretended not to hear Kennicott's invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the comments he might make; she was irritated by her fear.

She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through Gopher Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in Bresnahan's kudos as people waved, and Juanita Haydock leaned from a window. She said to herself, "As though I cared whether I'm seen with this fat phonograph!" and simultaneously, "Everybody has noticed how much Will and I are playing with Mr. Bresnahan."

The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory for names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had given a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a hundred to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister, for Americanization work.

At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:

"Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow Bjornstam that always is shooting off his mouth. He's supposed to of settled down since he got married, but Lord, those fellows that think they know it all, they never change. Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him, all right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer's, and he said, he said to Perce, 'I've always wanted to look at a man that was so useful that folks would pay him a million dollars for existing,' and Perce gave him the once-over and come right back, 'Have, eh?' he says. 'Well,' he says, 'I've been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors that I could pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?' Ha, ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for once he didn't have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh, and tell what a rotten town this is, and Perce come right back at him, 'If you don't like this country, you better get out of it and go back to Germany, where you belong!' Say, maybe us fellows didn't give Bjornstam the horse-laugh though! Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!"

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