Nautilus was one of the first communities in the country to develop the Weeks habit, now so richly grown that we have Correspondence School Week, Christian Science Week, Osteopathy Week, and Georgia Pine Week.
A Week is not merely a week.
If an aggressive, wide-awake, live-wire, and go-ahead church or chamber of commerce or charity desires to improve itself, which means to get more money, it calls in those few energetic spirits who run any city, and proclaims a Week. This consists of one month of committee meetings, a hundred columns of praise for the organization in the public prints, and finally a day or two on which athletic persons flatter inappreciative audiences in churches or cinema theaters, and the prettiest girls in town have the pleasure of being allowed to talk to male strangers on the street corners, apropos of giving them extremely undecorative tags in exchange for the smallest sums which those strangers think they must pay if they are to be considered gentlemen.
The only variation is the Weeks in which the object is not to acquire money immediately by the sale of tags but by general advertising to get more of it later.
Nautilus had held a Pep Week, during which a race of rapidly talking men, formerly book-agents but now called Efficiency Engineers, went about giving advice to shopkeepers on how to get money away from one another more rapidly, and Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh addressed a prayer-meeting on "The Pep of St. Paul, the First Booster." It had held a Glad-hand Week, when everybody was supposed to speak to at least three strangers daily, to the end that infuriated elderly traveling salesmen were back-slapped all day long by hearty and powerful unknown persons. There had also been an Old Home Week, a Write to Mother Week, a We Want Your Factory in Nautilus Week, an Eat More Corn Week, a Go to Church Week, a Salvation Army Week, and an Own Your Own Auto Week.
Perhaps the bonniest of all was Y. Week, to raise eighty thousand dollars for a new Y.M.C.A. building.
On the old building were electric signs, changed daily, announcing "You Must Come Across," "Young Man Come Along" and "Your Money Creates 'Appiness." Dr. Pickerbaugh made nineteen addresses in three days, comparing the Y.M.C.A. to the Crusaders, the Apostles, and the expeditions of Dr. Cook—who, he believed, really had discovered the North Pole. Orchid sold three hundred and nineteen Y. tags, seven of them to the same man, who afterward made improper remarks to her. She was rescued by a Y.M.C.A. secretary, who for a considerable time held her hand to calm her.
No organization could rival Almus Pickerbaugh in the invention of Weeks.
He started in January with a Better Babies Week, and a very good Week it was, but so hotly followed by Banish the Booze Week, Tougher Teeth Week, and Stop the Spitter Week that people who lacked his vigor were heard groaning, "My health is being ruined by all this fretting over health."
During Clean-up Week, Pickerbaugh spread abroad a new lyric of his own composition:
Germs come by stealth And ruin health, So listen, pard, Just drop a card To some man who'll clean up your yard And that will hit the old germs hard.
Swat the Fly Week brought him, besides the joy of giving prizes to the children who had slaughtered the most flies, the inspiration for two verses. Posters admonished:
Sell your hammer and buy a horn, But hang onto the old fly-swatter. If you don't want disease sneaking into the Home Then to kill the fly you gotter!
It chanced that the Fraternal Order of Eagles were holding a state convention at Burlington that week, and Pickerbaugh telegraphed to them:
Just mention fly-prevention At the good old Eagles' convention.
This was quoted in ninety-six newspapers, including one in Alaska, and waving the clippings Pickerbaugh explained to Martin, "Now you see the way a fellow can get the truth across, if he goes at it right."
Three Cigars a Day Week, which Pickerbaugh invented in midsummer, was not altogether successful, partly because an injudicious humorist on a local newspaper wanted to know whether Dr. Pickerbaugh really expected all babes in arms to smoke as many as three cigars a day, and partly because the cigar-manufacturers came around to the Department of Health with strong remarks about Common Sense. Nor was there thorough satisfaction in Can the Cat and Doctor the Dog Week.
With all his Weeks, Pickerbaugh had time to preside over the Program Committee of the State Convention of Health Officers and Agencies.
It was he who wrote the circular letter sent to all members:
Brother Males and Shemales: Are you coming to the Health Bee? It will be the livest Hop-to-it that this busy lil ole planet has ever see. And it's going to be Practical. We'll kiss out on all these glittering generalities and get messages from men as kin talk, so we can lug a think or two (2) home wid us. Luther Botts, the famous community-sing leader, will be there to put Wim an Wigor neverything into the program. John F. Zeisser, M.A., M.D., nail the rest of the alphabet (part your hair Jack and look cute, the ladies will love you) will unlimber a coupla key-notes. (On your tootsies, fellers, thar she blows!) From time to time, if the brakes hold, we will, or shall in the infinitive, hie oursellufs from wherein we are at to thither, and grab a lunch with Wild Wittles. Do it sound like a good show? It do! Barber, you're next. Let's have those cards saying you're coming.
This created much enthusiasm and merriment. Dr. Feesons of Clinton wrote to Pickerbaugh:
I figure it was largely due to your snappy come-on letter that we pulled such an attendance and with all modesty I think we may say it was the best health convention ever held in the world. I had to laugh at one old hen, Bostonian or somepun, who was howling that your letter was "undignified"! Can you beat it! I think people as hypercritical and lacking in humor as her should be treated with the dignified contempt they deserve, the damn fool!
Martin was enthusiastic during Better Babies Week. Leora and he weighed babies, examined them, made out diet charts, and in each child saw the baby they could never have. But when it came to More Babies Week, then he was argumentative. He believed, he said, in birth-control. Pickerbaugh answered with theology, violence, and the example of his own eight beauties.
Martin was equally unconvinced by Anti-Tuberculosis Week. He liked his windows open at night and he disliked men who spat tobacco juice on sidewalks, but he was jarred by hearing these certainly esthetic and possibly hygienic reforms proposed with holy frenzy and bogus statistics.
Any questioning of his fluent figures about tuberculosis, any hint that the cause of decline in the disease may have been natural growth of immunity and not the crusades against spitting and stale air, Pickerbaugh regarded as a criticism of his honesty in making such crusades. He had the personal touchiness of most propagandists; he believed that because he was sincere, therefore his opinions must always be correct. To demand that he be accurate in his statements, to quote Raymond Pearl's dictum: "As a matter of objective scientific fact, extremely little is known about why the mortality from tuberculosis has declined"—this was to be a scoundrel who really liked to befoul the pavements.
Martin was so alienated that he took an anti-social and probably vicious joy in discovering that though the death-rate in tuberculosis certainly had decreased during Pickerbaugh's administration in Nautilus, it had decreased at the same rate in most villages of the district, with no speeches about spitting, no Open Your Windows parades.
It was fortunate for Martin that Pickerbaugh did not expect him to take much share in his publicity campaigns, but rather to be his substitute in the office during them. They stirred in Martin the most furious and complicated thoughts that had ever afflicted him.
Whenever he hinted criticism, Pickerbaugh answered, "What if my statistics aren't always exact? W'hat if my advertising, my jollying of the public, does strike some folks as vulgar? It all does good; it's all on the right side. No matter what methods we use, if we can get people to have more fresh air and cleaner yards and less alcohol, we're justified."
To himself, a little surprised, Martin put it, "Yes, does it really matter? Does truth matter—clean, cold, unfriendly truth, Max Gottlieb's truth? Everybody says, 'Oh, you mustn't tamper with the truth,' and everybody is furious if you hint that they themselves are tampering with it. Does anything matter, except making love and sleeping and eating and being flattered?
"I think truth does matter to me, but if it does, isn't the desire for scientific precision simply my hobby, like another man's excitement about his golf? Anyway, I'm going to stick by Pickerbaugh."
To the defense of his chief he was the more impelled by the attitude of Irving Watters and such other physicians as attacked Pickerbaugh because they feared that he really would be successful, and reduce their earnings. But all the while Martin was weary of unchecked statistics.
He estimated that according to Pickerbaugh's figures on bad teeth, careless motoring, tuberculosis, and seven other afflictions alone, every person in the city had a one hundred and eighty per cent chance of dying before the age of sixteen and he could not startle with much alarm when Pickerbaugh shouted, "Do you realize that the number of people who died from yaws in Pickens County, Mississippi, last year alone, was twenty-nine and that they might all have been saved, yes, sir, saved, by a daily cold shower?"
For Pickerbaugh had the dreadful habit of cold showers, even in winter, though he might have known that nineteen men between the ages of seventeen and forty-two died of cold showers in twenty-two years in Milwaukee alone.
To Pickerbaugh the existence of "variables," a word which Martin now used as irritatingly as once he had used "control," was without significance. That health might be determined by temperature, heredity, profession, soil, natural immunity, or by anything save health-department campaigns for increased washing and morality, was to him inconceivable
"Variables! Huh!" Pickerbaugh snorted. "Why, every enlightened man in the public service knows enough about the causes of disease—matter now of acting on that knowledge."
When Martin sought to show that they certainly knew very little about the superiority of fresh air to warmth in schools, about the hygienic dangers of dirty streets about the real danger of alcohol, about the value of face-masks in influenza epidemics, about most of the things they tub-thumped in their campaigns, Pickerbaugh merely became angry, and Martin wanted to resign, and saw Irving Watters again, and returned to Pickerbaugh with new zeal, and was in general as agitated and wretched as a young revolutionist discovering the smugness of his leaders.
He came to question what Pickerbaugh called "the proven practical value" of his campaigns as much as the accuracy of Pickerbaugh's biology. He noted how bored were most of the newspapermen by being galvanized into a new saving of the world once a fortnight, and how incomparably bored was the Man in the Street when the nineteenth pretty girl in twenty days had surged up demanding that he buy a tag to support an association of which he had never heard.
But more dismaying was the slimy trail of the dollar which he beheld in Pickerbaugh's most ardent eloquence.
When Martin suggested that all milk should be pasteurized, that certain tenements known to be tuberculosis-breeders should be burnt down instead of being fumigated in a fiddling useless way, when he hinted that these attacks would save more lives than ten thousand sermons and ten years of parades by little girls carrying banners and being soaked by the rain, then Pickerbaugh worried, "No, no, Martin, don't think we could do that. Get so much opposition from the dairymen and the landlords. Can't accomplish anything in this work unless you keep from offending people."
When Pickerbaugh addressed a church or the home circle he spoke of "the value of health in making life more joyful," but when he addressed a business luncheon he changed it to "the value in good round dollars and cents of having workmen who are healthy and sober, and therefore able to work faster at the same wages." Parents' associations he enlightened upon "the saving in doctors' bills of treating the child before maladjustments go too far,' but to physicians he gave assurance that public health agitation would merely make the custom of going regularly to doctors more popular.
To Martin, he spoke of Pasteur, George Washington, Victor Vaughan, and Edison as his masters, but in asking the business men of Nautilus—the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the association of wholesalers—for their divine approval of more funds for his department, he made it clear that they were his masters and lords of all the land, and fatly, behind cigars, they accepted their kinghood.
Gradually Martin's contemplation moved beyond Almus Pickerbaugh to all leaders, of armies or empires, of universities or churches, and he saw that most of them were Pickerbaughs. He preached to himself, as Max Gottlieb had once preached to him, the loyalty of dissent, the faith of being very doubtful, the gospel of not bawling gospels, the wisdom of admitting the probable ignorance of one's self and of everybody else, and the energetic acceleration of a Movement for going very slow.
A hundred interruptions took Martin out of his laboratory. He was summoned into the reception-room of the department to explain to angry citizens why the garage next door to them should smell of gasoline; he went back to his cubbyhole to dictate letters to school-principals about dental clinics; he drove out to Swede Hollow to see what attention the food and dairy inspector had given to the slaughterhouses; he ordered a family in Shantytown quarantined; and escaped at last into the laboratory.
It was well lighted, convenient, well stocked. Martin had little time for anything but cultures, blood-tests, and Wassermanns for the private physicians of the city, but the work rested him, and now and then he struggled over a precipitation test which was going to replace Wassermanns and make him famous.
Pickerbaugh apparently believed that this research would take six weeks; Martin had hoped to do it in two years; and with the present interruptions it would require two hundred, by which time the Pickerbaughs would have eradicated syphilis and made the test useless.
To Martin's duties was added the entertainment of Leora in the strange city of Nautilus.
"Do you manage to keep busy all day?" he encouraged her, and, "Any place you'd like to go this evening?"
She looked at him suspiciously. She was as easily and automatically contented by herself as a pussy cat, and he had never before worried about her amusement.
The Pickerbaugh daughters were always popping into Martin's laboratory. The twins broke test-tubes, and made doll tents out of filter paper. Orchid lettered the special posters for her father's Weeks, and the laboratory, she said, was the quietest place in which to work. While Martin stood at his bench he was conscious of her, humming at a table in the corner. They talked, tremendously, and he listened with fatuous enthusiasm to opinions which, had Leora produced them, he would have greeted with "That's a damn' silly remark!"
He held a clear, claret-red tube of hemolyzed blood up to the light, thinking half of its color and half of Orchid's ankles as she bent over the table, absurdly patient with her paintbrushes, curling her legs in a fantastic knot.
Absurdly he asked her, "Look here, honey. Suppose you—suppose a kid like you were to fall in love with a married man. What d'you think she ought to do? Be nice to him? Or chuck him?"
"Oh, she ought to chuck him. No matter how much she suffered. Even if she liked him terribly. Because even if she liked him, she oughtn't to wrong his wife."
"But suppose the wife never knew, or maybe didn't care?" He had stopped his pretense of working; he was standing before her, arms akimbo, dark eyes demanding.
"Well, if she didn't know—But it isn't that. I believe marriages really and truly are made in Heaven, don't you? Some day Prince Charming will come, the perfect lover—" She was so young, her lips were so young, so very sweet! "—and of course I want to keep myself for him. It would spoil everything if I made light of love before my Hero came."
But her smile was caressing.
He pictured them thrown together in a lonely camp. He saw her parroted moralities forgotten. He went through a change as definite as religious conversion or the coming of insane frenzy in war; the change from shamed reluctance to be unfaithful to his wife, to a determination to take what he could get. He began to resent Leora's demand that she, who had eternally his deepest love, should also demand his every wandering fancy. And she did demand it. She rarely spoke of Orchid, but she could tell (or nervously he thought she could tell) when he had spent an afternoon with the child. Her mute examination of him made him feel illicit. He who had never been unctuous was profuse and hearty as he urged her, "Been home all day? Well, we'll just skip out after dinner and take in a movie. Or shall we call up somebody and go see 'em? Whatever you'd like."
He heard his voice being flowery, and he hated it and knew that Leora was not cajoled. Whenever he drifted into one of his meditations on the superiority of his brand of truth to Pickerbaugh's, he snarled, "You're a fine bird to think about truth, you liar!"
He paid, in fact, an enormous price for looking at Orchid's lips, and no amount of anxiety about the price kept him from looking at them.
In early summer, two months before the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, Leora went to Wheatsylvania for a fortnight with her family. Then she spoke:
"Sandy, I'm not going to ask you any questions when I come back, but I hope you won't look as foolish as you've been looking lately. I don't think that bachelor's button, that ragweed, that lady idiot of yours is worth our quarreling. Sandy darling, I do want you to be happy, but unless I up and die on you some day, I'm not going to be hung up like an old cap. I warn you. Now about ice. I've left an order for a hundred pounds a week, and if you want to get your own dinners sometimes—"
When she had gone, nothing immediately happened, though a good deal was always about to happen. Orchid had the flapper's curiosity as to what a man was likely to do, but she was satisfied by exceedingly small thrills.
Martin swore, that morning of June, that she was a fool and a flirt, and he "hadn't the slightest intention of going near her." No! He would call on Irving Watters in the evening, or read, or have a walk with the school-clinic dentist.
But at half-past eight he was loitering toward her house.
If the elder Pickerbaughs were there—Martin could hear himself saying, "Thought I'd just drop by, Doctor, and ask you what you thought about—" Hang it! Thought about what? Pickerbaugh never thought about anything.
On the low front steps he could see Orchid. Leaning over her was a boy of twenty, one Charley, a clerk.
"Hello, Father in?" he cried, with a carelessness on which he could but pride himself.
"I'm terribly sorry; he and Mama won't be back till eleven. Won't you sit down and cool off a little?"
"Well—" He did sit down, firmly, and tried to make youthful conversation, while Charley produced sentiments suitable, in Charley's opinion, to the aged Dr. Arrowsmith, and Orchid made little purry interested sounds, an art in which she was very intelligent.
"Been, uh, been seeing many of the baseball games?" said Martin.
"Oh, been getting in all I can," said Charley. "How's things going at City Hall? Been nailing a lot of cases of small-pox and winkulus pinkulus and all those fancy diseases?"
"Oh, keep busy," grunted old Dr. Arrowsmith.
He could think of nothing else. He listened while Charley and Orchid giggled cryptically about things which barred him out and made him feel a hundred years old: references to Mamie and Earl, and a violent "Yeh, that's all right, but any time you see me dancing with her you just tell me about it, will yuh!" At the corner, Verbena Pickerbaugh was yelping, and observing, "Now you quit!" to persons unknown.
"Hell! It isn't worth it! I'm going home," Martin sighed, but at the moment Charley screamed, "Well, ta, ta, be good; gotta toddle along."
He was left to Orchid and peace and a silence rather embarrassing.
"It's so nice to be with somebody that has brains and doesn't always try to flirt, like Charley," said Orchid.
He considered, "Splendid! She's going to be just a nice good girl. And I've come to my senses. We'll just have a little chat and I'll go home."
She seemed to have moved nearer. She whispered at him, "I was so lonely, especially with that horrid slangy boy, till I heard your step on the walk. I knew it the second I heard it."
He patted her hand. As his pats were becoming more ardent than might have been expected from the assistant and friend of her father, she withdrew her hand, clasped her knees, and began to chatter.
Always it had been so in the evenings when he had drifted to the porch and found her alone. She was ten times more incalculable than the most complex woman. He managed to feel guilty toward Leora without any of the reputed joys of being guilty.
While she talked he tried to discover whether she had any brains whatever. Apparently she did not have enough to attend a small Midwestern denominational college. Verbena was going to college this autumn, but Orchid, she explained, thought she "ought to stay home and help Mama take care of the chickabiddies."
"Meaning," Martin reflected, "that she can't even pass the Mugford entrance exams!" But his opinion of her intelligence was suddenly enlarged as she whimpered, "Poor little me, prob'ly I'll always stay here in Nautilus, while you—oh, with your knowledge and your frightfully strong will-power, I know you're going to conquer the world!"
"Nonsense, I'll never conquer any world, but I do hope to pull off a few good health measures. Honestly, Orchid honey, do you think I have much will-power?"
The full moon was spacious now behind the maples. The seedy Pickerbaugh domain was enchanted; the tangled grass was a garden of roses, the ragged grape-arbor a shrine to Diana, the old hammock turned to fringed cloth of silver, the bad-tempered and sputtering lawn-sprinkler a fountain, and over all the world was the proper witchery of moonstruck love. The little city, by day as noisy and busy as a pack of children, was stilled and forgotten. Rarely had Martin been inspired to perceive the magic of a perfect hour, so absorbed was he ever in irascible pondering, but now he was caught, and lifted in rapture.
He held Orchid's quiet hand—and was lonely for Leora.
The belligerent Martin who had carried off Leora had not thought about romance, because in his clumsy way he had been romantic. The Martin who, like a returned warrior scented and enfeebled, yearned toward a girl in the moonlight, now desirously lifted his face to romance and was altogether unromantic.
He felt the duty of making love. He drew her close, but when she sighed, "Oh, please don't," there was in him no ruthlessness and no conviction with which to go on. He considered the moonlight again, but also he considered being at the office early in the morning, and he wondered if he could without detection slip out his watch and see what time it was. He managed it. He stooped to kiss her good-night, and somehow didn't quite kiss her, and found himself walking home.
As he went, he was ruthless and convinced enough regarding himself. He had never, he raged, however stumbling he might have been, expected to find himself a little pilferer of love, a peeping, creeping area-sneak, and not even successful in his sneaking, less successful than the soda-clerks who swanked nightly with the virgins under the maples. He told himself that Orchid was a young woman of no great wisdom, a sigher and drawer-out of her M's and O's, but once he was in his lonely flat he longed for her, thought of miraculous and completely idiotic ways of luring her here tonight, and went to bed yearning, "Oh, Orchid—"
Perhaps he had paid too much attention to moonlight and soft summer, for quite suddenly, one day when Orchid came swarming all over the laboratory and perched on the bench with a whisk of stockings, he stalked to her, masterfully seized her wrists, and kissed her as she deserved to be kissed.
He immediately ceased to be masterful. He was frightened. He stared at her wanly. She stared back, shocked, eyes wide, lips uncertain.
"Oh!" she profoundly said.
Then, in a tone of immense interest and some satisfaction:
"Martin—oh—my dear—do you think you ought to have done that?"
He kissed her again. She yielded and for a moment there was nothing in the universe, neither he nor she, neither laboratory nor fathers nor wives nor traditions, but only the intensity of their being together.
Suddenly she babbled, "I know there's lots of conventional people that would say we'd done wrong, and perhaps I'd have thought so, one time, but—Oh, I'm terribly glad I'm liberal! Of course I wouldn't hurt dear Leora or do anything really wrong for the world, but isn't it wonderful that with so many bourgeois folks all around, we can rise above them and realize the call that strength makes to strength and—But I've simply got to be at the Y.W.C.A. meeting. There's a woman lawyer from New York that's going to tell us about the Modern Woman's Career."
When she had gone Martin viewed himself as a successful lover. "I've won her," he gloated...Probably never has gloating been so shakily and badly done.
That evening, when he was playing poker in his flat with Irving Watters, the school-clinic dentist, and a young doctor from the city clinic, the telephone bell summoned him to an excited but saccharine:
"This is Orchid. Are you glad I called up?"
"Oh, yes, yes, mighty glad you called up." He tried to make it at once amorously joyful, and impersonal enough to beguile the three coatless, beer-swizzling, grinning doctors.
"Are you doing anything this evening, Marty?"
"Just, uh, couple fellows here for a little game cards."
"Oh!" It was acute. "Oh, then you—I was such a baby to call you up, but Daddy is away and Verbena and everybody, and it was such a lovely evening, and I just thought—do you think I'm an awful little silly?"
"I'm so glad you don't. I'd hate it if I thought you thought I was just a silly to call you up. You don't, do you?"
"No—no—course not. Look, I've got to—"
"I know. I mustn't keep you. But I just wanted you to tell me whether you thought I was a silly to—"
"No! Honest! Really!"
Three fidgety minutes later, deplorably aware of masculine snickers from behind him, he escaped. The poker-players said all the things considered suitable in Nautilus: "Oh, you little Don Jewen!" and "Can you beat it—his wife only gone for a week!" and "Who is she, Doctor? Go on, you tightwad, bring her up here!" and "Say, I know who it is; it's that little milliner on Prairie Avenue."
Next noon she telephoned from a drug store that she had lain awake all night, and on profound contemplation decided that they "musn't ever do that sort of thing again"—and would he meet her at the corner of Crimmins Street and Missouri Avenue at eight, so that they might talk it all over?
In the afternoon she telephoned and changed the tryst to half-past eight.
At five she called up just to remind him—
In the laboratory that day Martin transplanted cultures no more. He was too confusedly human to be a satisfactory experimenter, too coldly thinking to be a satisfactory sinful male, and all the while he longed for the sure solace of Leora.
"I can go as far as I like with her tonight.
"But she's a brainless man-chaser.
"All the better. I'm tired of being a punk philosopher.
"I wonder if these other lucky lovers that you read about in all this fiction and poetry feel as glum as I do?
"I will not be middle-aged and cautious and monogamic and moral! It's against my religion. I demand the right to be free—
"Hell! These free souls that have to slave at being free are just as bad as their Methodist dads. I have enough sound natural immorality in me so I can afford to be moral. I want to keep my brain clear for work. I don't want it blurred by dutifully running around trying to kiss everybody I can.
"Orchid is too easy. I hate to give up the right of being a happy sinner, but my way was so straight, with just Leora and my work, and I'm not going to mess it. God help any man that likes his work and his wife! He's beaten from the beginning."
He met Orchid at eight-thirty, and the whole matter was unkind. He was equally distasteful of the gallant Martin of two days ago and the prosy cautious Martin of tonight. He went home desolately ascetic, and longed for Orchid all the night.
A week later Leora returned from Wheatsylvania.
He met her at the station.
"It's all right," he said. "I feel a hundred and seven years old. I'm a respectable, moral young man, and Lord how I'd hate it, if it wasn't for my precipitation test and you and—why do you always lose your trunk check? I suppose I am a bad example for others, giving up so easily. No, no, darling, can't you see, that's the transportation check the conductor gave you!"