Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 28-32

She hated him for his composure. He had ruined her defiance. She felt much less like Susan B. Anthony as she turned to her huddled followers.

Mrs. Dillon and Willis Woodford lost the toss. The others played out the game, slowly, painfully, stumbling on the rough earth, muffing the easiest shots, watched only by the small boy and his sniveling sister. Beyond the court stretched the eternal stubble-fields. The four marionettes, awkwardly going through exercises, insignificant in the hot sweep of contemptuous land, were not heroic; their voices did not ring out in the score, but sounded apologetic; and when the game was over they glanced about as though they were waiting to be laughed at.

They walked home. Carol took Erik's arm. Through her thin linen sleeve she could feel the crumply warmth of his familiar brown jersey coat. She observed that there were purple and red gold threads interwoven with the brown. She remembered the first time she had seen it.

Their talk was nothing but improvisations on the theme: "I never did like this Haydock. He just considers his own convenience." Ahead of them, the Dillons and Woodfords spoke of the weather and B. J. Gougerling's new bungalow. No one referred to their tennis tournament. At her gate Carol shook hands firmly with Erik and smiled at him.

Next morning, Sunday morning, when Carol was on the porch, the Haydocks drove up.

"We didn't mean to be rude to you, dearie!" implored Juanita. "I wouldn't have you think that for anything. We planned that Will and you should come down and have supper at our cottage."

"No. I'm sure you didn't mean to be." Carol was super-neighborly. "But I do think you ought to apologize to poor Erik Valborg. He was terribly hurt."

"Oh. Valborg. I don't care so much what he thinks," objected Harry. "He's nothing but a conceited buttinsky. Juanita and I kind of figured he was trying to run this tennis thing too darn much anyway."

"But you asked him to make arrangements."

"I know, but I don't like him. Good Lord, you couldn't hurt his feelings! He dresses up like a chorus man — and, by golly, he looks like one! — but he's nothing but a Swede farm boy, and these foreigners, they all got hides like a covey of rhinoceroses ."

"But he IS hurt!"

"Well — — I don't suppose I ought to have gone off half-cocked, and not jollied him along. I'll give him a cigar. He'll — — "

Juanita had been licking her lips and staring at Carol. She interrupted her husband, "Yes, I do think Harry ought to fix it up with him. You LIKE him, DON'T you, Carol??"

Over and through Carol ran a frightened cautiousness. "Like him? I haven't an i-dea. He seems to be a very decent young man. I just felt that when he'd worked so hard on the plans for the match, it was a shame not to be nice to him."

"Maybe there's something to that," mumbled Harry; then, at sight of Kennicott coming round the corner tugging the red garden hose by its brass nozzle, he roared in relief, "What d' you think you're trying to do, doc?"

While Kennicott explained in detail all that he thought he was trying to do, while he rubbed his chin and gravely stated, "Struck me the grass was looking kind of brown in patches — didn't know but what I'd give it a sprinkling," and while Harry agreed that this was an excellent idea, Juanita made friendly noises and, behind the gilt screen of an affectionate smile, watched Carol's face.

IV

She wanted to see Erik. She wanted some one to play with! There wasn't even so dignified and sound an excuse as having Kennicott's trousers pressed; when she inspected them, all three pairs looked discouragingly neat. She probably would not have ventured on it had she not spied Nat Hicks in the pool-parlor, being witty over bottle-pool. Erik was alone! She fluttered toward the tailor shop, dashed into its slovenly heat with the comic fastidiousness of a humming bird dipping into a dry tiger-lily. It was after she had entered that she found an excuse.

Erik was in the back room, cross-legged on a long table, sewing a vest. But he looked as though he were doing this eccentric thing to amuse himself.

"Hello. I wonder if you couldn't plan a sports-suit for me?" she said breathlessly.

He stared at her; he protested, "No, I won't! God! I'm not going to be a tailor with you!"

"Why, Erik!" she said, like a mildly shocked mother.

It occurred to her that she did not need a suit, and that the order might have been hard to explain to Kennicott.

He swung down from the table. "I want to show you something." He rummaged in the roll-top desk on which Nat Hicks kept bills, buttons, calendars, buckles, thread-channeled wax, shotgun shells, samples of brocade for "fancy vests," fishing-reels, pornographic post-cards, shreds of buckram lining. He pulled out a blurred sheet of Bristol board and anxiously gave it to her. It was a sketch for a frock. It was not well drawn; it was too finicking; the pillars in the background were grotesquely squat. But the frock had an original back, very low, with a central triangular section from the waist to a string of jet beads at the neck.

"It's stunning. But how it would shock Mrs. Clark!"

"Yes, wouldn't it!"

"You must let yourself go more when you're drawing."

"Don't know if I can. I've started kind of late. But listen! What do you think I've done this two weeks? I've read almost clear through a Latin grammar, and about twenty pages of Caesar."

"Splendid! You are lucky. You haven't a teacher to make you artificial."

"You're my teacher!"

There was a dangerous edge of personality to his voice. She was offended and agitated. She turned her shoulder on him, stared through the back window, studying this typical center of a typical Main Street block, a vista hidden from casual strollers. The backs of the chief establishments in town surrounded a quadrangle neglected, dirty, and incomparably dismal. From the front, Howland & Gould's grocery was smug enough, but attached to the rear was a lean-to of storm streaked pine lumber with a sanded tar roof — a staggering doubtful shed behind which was a heap of ashes, splintered packing-boxes, shreds of excelsior, crumpled straw-board, broken olive-bottles, rotten fruit, and utterly disintegrated vegetables: orange carrots turning black, and potatoes with ulcers. The rear of the Bon Ton Store was grim with blistered black-painted iron shutters, under them a pile of once glossy red shirt-boxes, now a pulp from recent rain.

As seen from Main Street, Oleson & McGuire's Meat Market had a sanitary and virtuous expression with its new tile counter, fresh sawdust on the floor, and a hanging veal cut in rosettes. But she now viewed a back room with a homemade refrigerator of yellow smeared with black grease. A man in an apron spotted with dry blood was hoisting out a hard slab of meat.

Behind Billy's Lunch, the cook, in an apron which must long ago have been white, smoked a pipe and spat at the pest of sticky flies. In the center of the block, by itself, was the stable for the three horses of the drayman, and beside it a pile of manure.

The rear of Ezra Stowbody's bank was whitewashed, and back of it was a concrete walk and a three-foot square of grass, but the window was barred, and behind the bars she saw Willis Woodford cramped over figures in pompous books. He raised his head, jerkily rubbed his eyes, and went back to the eternity of figures.

The backs of the other shops were an impressionistic picture of dirty grays, drained browns, writhing heaps of refuse.

"Mine is a back-yard romance — with a journeyman tailor!"

She was saved from self-pity as she began to think through Erik's mind. She turned to him with an indignant, "It's disgusting that this is all you have to look at."

He considered it. "Outside there? I don't notice much. I'm learning to look inside. Not awful easy!"

"Yes. . . . I must be hurrying."

As she walked home — without hurrying — she remembered her father saying to a serious ten-year-old Carol, "Lady, only a fool thinks he's superior to beautiful bindings, but only a double-distilled fool reads nothing but bindings."

She was startled by the return of her father, startled by a sudden conviction that in this flaxen boy she had found the gray reticent judge who was divine love, perfect under-standing. She debated it, furiously denied it, reaffirmed it, ridiculed it. Of one thing she was unhappily certain: there was nothing of the beloved father image in Will Kennicott.

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