Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 24-27

He examined Bea and Olaf. He shook his head. "Yes. Looks to me like typhoid."

"Golly, I've seen typhoid in lumber-camps," groaned Miles, all the strength dripping out of him. "Have they got it very bad?"

"Oh, we'll take good care of them," said Kennicott, and for the first time in their acquaintance he smiled on Miles and clapped his shoulder.

"Won't you need a nurse?" demanded Carol.

"Why — — " To Miles, Kennicott hinted, "Couldn't you get Bea's cousin, Tina?"

"She's down at the old folks', in the country."

"Then let me do it!" Carol insisted. "They need some one to cook for them, and isn't it good to give them sponge baths, in typhoid?"

"Yes. All right." Kennicott was automatic; he was the official, the physician. "I guess probably it would be hard to get a nurse here in town just now. Mrs. Stiver is busy with an obstetrical case, and that town nurse of yours is off on vacation, ain't she? All right, Bjornstam can spell you at night."

All week, from eight each morning till midnight, Carol fed them, bathed them, smoothed sheets, took temperatures. Miles refused to let her cook. Terrified, pallid, noiseless in stocking feet, he did the kitchen work and the sweeping, his big red hands awkwardly careful. Kennicott came in three times a day, unchangingly tender and hopeful in the sick-room, evenly polite to Miles.

Carol understood how great was her love for her friends. It bore her through; it made her arm steady and tireless to bathe them. What exhausted her was the sight of Bea and Olaf turned into flaccid invalids, uncomfortably flushed after taking food, begging for the healing of sleep at night.

During the second week Olaf's powerful legs were flabby. Spots of a viciously delicate pink came out on his chest and back. His cheeks sank. He looked frightened. His tongue was brown and revolting. His confident voice dwindled to a bewildered murmur, ceaseless and racking.

Bea had stayed on her feet too long at the beginning. The moment Kennicott had ordered her to bed she had begun to collapse. One early evening she startled them by screaming, in an intense abdominal pain, and within half an hour she was in a delirium. Till dawn Carol was with her, and not all of Bea's groping through the blackness of half-delirious pain was so pitiful to Carol as the way in which Miles silently peered into the room from the top of the narrow stairs. Carol slept three hours next morning, and ran back. Bea was altogether delirious but she muttered nothing save, "Olaf — ve have such a good time — — "

At ten, while Carol was preparing an ice-bag in the kitchen, Miles answered a knock. At the front door she saw Vida Sherwin, Maud Dyer, and Mrs. Zitterel, wife of the Baptist pastor. They were carrying grapes, and women's-magazines, magazines with high-colored pictures and optimistic fiction.

"We just heard your wife was sick. We've come to see if there isn't something we can do," chirruped Vida.

Miles looked steadily at the three women. "You're too late. You can't do nothing now. Bea's always kind of hoped that you folks would come see her. She wanted to have a chance and be friends. She used to sit waiting for somebody to knock. I've seen her sitting here, waiting. Now — — Oh, you ain't worth God-damning." He shut the door.

All day Carol watched Olaf's strength oozing. He was emaciated. His ribs were grim clear lines, his skin was clammy, his pulse was feeble but terrifyingly rapid. It beat — beat — beat in a drum-roll of death. Late that afternoon he sobbed, and died.

Bea did not know it. She was delirious. Next morning, when she went, she did not know that Olaf would no longer swing his lath sword on the door-step, no longer rule his subjects of the cattle-yard; that Miles's son would not go East to college.

Miles, Carol, Kennicott were silent. They washed the bodies together, their eyes veiled.

"Go home now and sleep. You're pretty tired. I can't ever pay you back for what you done," Miles whispered to Carol.

"Yes. But I'll be back here tomorrow. Go with you to the funeral," she said laboriously.

When the time for the funeral came, Carol was in bed, collapsed. She assumed that neighbors would go. They had not told her that word of Miles's rebuff to Vida had spread through town, a cyclonic fury.

It was only by chance that, leaning on her elbow in bed, she glanced through the window and saw the funeral of Bea and Olaf. There was no music, no carriages. There was only Miles Bjornstam, in his black wedding-suit, walking quite alone, head down, behind the shabby hearse that bore the bodies of his wife and baby.

An hour after, Hugh came into her room crying, and when she said as cheerily as she could, "What is it, dear?" he besought, "Mummy, I want to go play with Olaf."

That afternoon Juanita Haydock dropped in to brighten Carol. She said, "Too bad about this Bea that was your hired girl. But I don't waste any sympathy on that man of hers. Everybody says he drank too much, and treated his family awful, and that's how they got sick."

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