Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 24

After Fran had cried, “Good night — such a happy evening — auf Wiedersehen!” to Minna von Escher, she was silent for a minute, and it was a minute of sixty-thousand seconds, each weighted with fury, like the minute of suspense before a thunder-shower, in a meadow land where the grass turns poison-green with fear. Sam waited, trying to think of something to think.

She spoke in the manner of a school-teacher who has endured too much but who is still trying to keep her temper:

“Sam, Heaven knows I don’t ask much of you in the way of social graces. But I do think I have a right to ask you not to be so selfish that you spoil not only all my pleasure but that of everybody else! I really don’t see why you should always and unfailingly demand that everybody do what YOU want!”

“I didn’t —”

“We were all perfectly happy, sitting there and talking so cheerfully. And I didn’t notice that you were being so neglected — certainly that dog-faced Von Escher woman was flattering you and your pioneer hardihood sickeningly enough, and you simply lapping it up! And it wasn’t even very late — I don’t suppose you’ll ever learn that Berlin and Paris are not exactly like Zenith, and that sometimes people do manage to keep awake here after ten o’clock! Count Obersdorf was telling me all about his family, and it was frightfully interesting, and suddenly you feel sleepy and — bang! The great Samuel Dodsworth is sleepy! The great industrial leader wants to go home! Everything must break up immediately! Nobody else must be considered! The great I Am has spoken!”

“Fran! I’m not going to lose my temper and let you enjoy a row tonight. . . . At least I hope not!”

“Go on! Lose it! It wouldn’t be such a novel and shocking sensation! I’m quite used to it!”

“You are like hell! You’ve never seen me lose it properly! The last fellow that did — Well, I paid the hospital bills!”

“Oh, the wonderful great hero that can knock people’s heads off! That has all the charming virtues of a drunken lumberjack! That —”

“This is a little beside the point, Fran. I wasn’t boasting — I was regretting. Listen, darling; now that you’ve blown off steam, can’t you be reasonable a little while?”

Thus they reached the Adlon, bowed to the doorman as though they were in the best of humor, crossed the marble lobby, a fine, substantial, dignified couple, went serenely up in the elevator, and fell to it again:

“Fran, we’ve got to come down to cases. We’ve been drifting, without any plans, and I wanted to talk plans. . . . Maybe you were right about tonight. I didn’t mean to sound grouchy when I suggested going home, and if I did, I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact, it was probably a good thing. I have a slight headache, from too much cigarette smoke in that tiny place — I do wish you wouldn’t always take your own cigars along and smoke them — it looks so pretentious. But let’s not talk plans tonight. Heavens, if you were in such a mad passion to get away and get to bed, it’s a little too much for you to want to stay up half the night talking about plans, when —”

“But I’m in a mood for it!”

“But I’m not! My dear man, is there any hurry?”

“But we’ll put it off, the way we’ve BEEN putting it off, if we wait till tomorrow.”

“Does it matter?”

“It certainly does! By God, I’m going to be a little stubborn myself, for once!”

“For once! Oh, Sam, as if you were ever anything else!”

“All right. Have it your way. If I’m always stubborn, you won’t be surprised —”

“AND— PLEASE— DON’T— SHOUT!”

“I am not shouting! Fran, please quit playing the cat-and-mouse with me. Look here. It’s getting to be time for us to go home, and I do like Von Obersdorf, but he’s the kind of fellow that’s always so surrounded with people that if we stay here we’ll find ourselves mixed up with a whole lot of folks, and we won’t get away for weeks.”

“What of it? Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t it worth while really knowing ONE European city? Not that Kurt has anything to do with it. It’s really my cousins, the Biedners.”

“But it is Kurt that counts! He’s a mighty nice kind chap, but he isn’t satisfied unless everybody is having a party all the time, unless he sees you every day, and especially as he’s sort of attracted to you —”

“Sam, are you hinting that he and I— Oh, this is too much! Just because I did like one man besides your high and mighty and sacred self, I can see that you’re going to have the pleasure forever more of throwing it up to me, and of hinting the most outrageous things if I so much as have a polite talk with a man!”

“FRAN, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP ACTING!”

“And for God’s sake stop cursing! Oh, I don’t know what’s gotten into you! A few years ago, even a few months ago, you would never have dreamed of talking to me the way you do. And every day you’re getting worse. You have no idea of the kind of language you use —”

“Stop acting! I know perfectly well that so far this Obersdorf fellow and you have been as innocent as babes. But I also know that you could get too fascinated by him —”

“Nonsense! All we have is the polite interest that any European gentleman and lady have in each other. It’s just exactly what I was saying tonight! The American male is totally unable to think of any woman as an agreeable teatime companion — if I hadn’t been too polite and wanted to protect you, I could have told them a lot more about American wives and husbands! You never think of any woman except as a potential mistress, or as too unattractive to interest you. Whereas Kurt —‘Innocent as babes!’ Why, of course we have been, and we’ll go on being so!”

“You sure will! And if only for the reason that I’m not going to have another Arnold Israel affair!”

She did not flare back as he expected. She stood fixed, looking at him reproachfully, tears coming. She was suddenly young and helpless and pitiful, and she spoke slowly:

“Oh, Sam, that wasn’t kind of you! I never remember things and throw them up at you, as you do with me. You never understood about Arnold. I didn’t defend myself when you were angry about him. But he was Romance — probably my last — and certainly my first! You were always so good; I’ve admired you and respected you; but you’ve always been so sound, so cautious, whereas with Arnold there was danger and excitement and madness and — Just for once in a whole lifetime, I let myself risk danger! And I found I had a talent for it, too! And then, for you, I gave it up; I obediently settled down to plodding around from hotel to hotel, wherever you wanted to go. Arnold kept writing me, and I scarcely ever answered him, and now, of course, I’ve lost him for ever — for your sake! And then you insult me about him! Oh, Sam, that WASN’T generous!”

She cried a little, sitting twisted in a big chair, her cheek against the back of it.

Sam felt that there was something wrong, something self-dramatizing, about her version, but his sulkiness at being beguiled was less than his fondness of her. He stroked her hair; he said, more tenderly and intimately than for a long while:

“I was beastly. Forgive me. And besides, of course I know your friendship for Kurt is something quite different.” He heard an inner, testy voice: “It isn’t, and you know it, fool!” But he went on urgently, drawing a small gilt chair, ridiculous beneath his bulk, to her side, and holding her hand as he talked:

“Fran, I want to go home and get to work. I’m naturally an active sort of fellow. I can’t stand this loafing any more. And I don’t want to manufacture cars. Maybe I half agree with you in what you said about industrialized America, tonight. What I want to do — Oh, I suppose there’d be a lot of industrialization to it; certainly have to use modern methods in production and sales and advertising if we’re going to meet competition. But there would be a kind of individual achievement, I’d hope, and a lasting — This is something I’ve been figuring on for nine-ten months now, but I haven’t said anything about it because I wanted to be sure. And for once, it would be something you could take part in-”

She sat up with a bounce, tears dried, and demanded, “Oh, SAY it! Don’t make a speech! Forgive me, darling, for being rude, but you DO take such a time —”

“Well, I want to have this clear, especially to myself. I never did pretend to be especially quick on the trigger!”

“As a matter of fact, you do think very quickly, once you have your facts, but you have a superstition — I fancy it started back in college, when you had to play up to Silent Hero role. You have some kind of a childish idea — oh, I know you so MUCH better than you do yourself! — you have an idea that it’s somehow ridiculous for so big and solid a man as you are to speak quickly, and you’ve always suffered from it —”

“We’re getting away from the point. Let me finish. As I say, this is a project that you could do as much with, and have as much fun with, as I could, and maybe more. Here’s the idea:”

And, rather lumberingly, much interrupted, he outlined his notion of a better Sans Souci Gardens.

He had scarcely finished when she volleyed, “Oh, it’s too utterly impossible!”

“Why?”

“You haven’t the taste for that sort of thing — domestic architecture and decoration and so on. Why, Sam, I bet you can’t tell me what the color of the last curtains we had in the drawing-room at home was!”

“They were — well, they were a kind — Now let’s see. They were pale red.”

“They were a sort of beige, with so little red in it that it didn’t matter. Dear, I do see the fun of a new venture like that, but for YOU—”

“Well, I personally attended to picking out the body colors and upholstery of the Revelation, the last five years, and I think it’s generally admitted that they were the swellest —”

“You didn’t, really. You depended on that awful lizzie, Willy Dutberry, that you had in the designing shop.”

“Well, anyway, I picked out Willy, didn’t I? And I had sense enough to follow his steer, didn’t I? — even if he did wear side-whiskers and a pink tie! And for my development, I’ll pick out — Hell, Fran, I do know how to pick men! I don’t pretend to know everything, even about autos. I don’t need to. But I can —”

“And another thing, Sam. I do love you for wanting to produce something individual and lasting. But an American garden suburb — Phooey! Nasty, jammed-together huddle of World’s Fair exhibition buildings, with pretentious street names —”

“Then make one that isn’t pretentious or jammed! People have to live somewhere! And I’d depend on you a lot for suggestions about good taste and all that —”

“It’s awfully flattering of you, my dear, but I certainly do not intend — or certainly not till I’m a lot older — I don’t intend to give all my days and nights to being sweet to a lot of horrible parvenus who want Touraine chateaux with Frigidaire furnishings and all at mail-order prices!”

They argued for an hour. Fran had recovered from her Duse role, and was alternately airy and pityingly maternal. Sam felt that he had somehow not made clear his plan, but she blocked his each new effort at being articulate, and they went to bed at three with nothing clear except that, while she might condescend to go home with him in a vague four or five or six months, she was not going to help him “build stone castles of cement, and brick manor houses of linoleum,” and that she was refraining entirely on account of her artistic ethics.

Remumbling the whole talk again as he lay awake, Sam could not get quite straight how it had happened that he had again failed to lure her home.

“And she says I’m a bully. Well, as a bully, I class about 1/2 h.p., 2 m.p.h.,” he sighed, as he fell asleep.

He dreamed that Fran had fallen from a cliff and lay dead below him, and that Minna von Escher had come to smirk temptingly at him. He awoke to revile himself, then to rejoice that it wasn’t so. In the dawn, he sat up in bed to look at Fran, and she was so childish, even her little nose hidden under the sheets, that he could think of no slogan of deliverance from her power.

Dining with Kurt — at Hiller’s, Borchardt’s, Peltzer’s, at the Bristol and Kaiserhof, at the simpler Siechen’s and Pschorrbrau. Dining at the Winter Garten, on the terrace, watching the vaudeville performance. Dining at outdoor places round about the Tiergarten, as the weather grew warmer and the beer more refreshing. A motor flight to the country house of a friend of Kurt, where all one glorious Sunday afternoon they loafed in the garden or bathed in the Havel.

But the point was that they were always with Kurt.

And Kurt, though he liked Sam, admired him, yet had conceived that Sam and Fran, like so many other American couples he had seen squabbling into and out of the Internation Tourist Agency, were on the point of breaking. And to him, the Viennese, accustomed to tempestuous strays from the bitter mountains and gray plains to Eastward and the North, this cool eager American woman was more exotic, more stimulating, than any Russian or Croatian or Zingara. . . . And she had a useful income of her own. . . . And there was, in all honor, no reason why he should not be there when the break-up came, nor why Fran should not have the privilege of buttressing the ancient house of Obersdorf.

At least, so Sam guessed at Kurt’s opinion, and he could not protest that the chart was altogether in error.

It was a slow task for Sam to admit that he, with the training of an executive and the body of a coal-heaver, could not bully or coax his slim wife into reasonableness when her romanticizing ran away with her and she disclosed a belief that she was so superior that he ought to accompany her wherever she cared to stroll, or to stand acquiescent while she beamed at Kurt.

It was impossible, but it was so.

Sam tried all the recognized methods of bullying her. Their naked and wretched squabble after Kurt’s party was repeated. He insisted that she was “coming home to America and coming right now!” But what was he to do when she reminded him that she had an income, and when she asserted (she really believed it) that she could always earn her own living?

What, still less, could he do when, after a night when he had lain awake ribbing up righteous anger, they awakened to a sparkling, growing day, and they walked along the Canal, lunched well, drove to the Wannsee and back, and watched sunset over the Tiergarten; when she stopped, twitched his sleeve, and said gravely, “Oh, Sam darling, will you let me thank you for all the lovely places you’ve taken me? I’m so heedless and silly that often I don’t speak of it, but all the while, inside of me, dear —”

Her eyes were wet.

“— I’m terribly grateful. Venice! Rome! Paris! And this quiet sunset. Thank you, dear. . . . And thank you for not being a Tartar husband — for understanding that I can be excited and friendly with nice little people like Kurt without being a hussy!”

Just what was he to do? Except perhaps to mutter, “Have I ever remembered to say I adore you?”

Nor could he turn on Kurt von Obersdorf, since Kurt was — after much doubting Sam believed it — quite as fond of him as of Fran; since Kurt seemed eager to bring them together again, whatever it might cost himself in a chance at Fran’s favors and fortune.

With the Dodsworths’ isolation in Berlin, Kurt’s ability to fall headlong in friendship, and Fran’s liking for the glories of a Count, however dimmed, they three became a family, and as one of the family Kurt sought to soothe them. He was curiously impartial; with all his emotionalism he was a fair umpire. When Fran snapped at her husband for his inability to learn any German beyond “Zweimal dunkles,” Kurt begged, “Oh, do not speak so crossly — that is not nize,” and when Sam growled that he’d be damned if he’d sit till two A.M. watching her dance, Kurt would represent, “But you ought to be happy to see her so happy! Forgive me! But she is so lovely when she is happy! And she is fragile. She is easily broken by things and moods that we do not mind.”

Kurt said — he really seemed to mean — that he too was lonely in Berlin, and though he very much did not want to intrude, he would be glad if he might play about with the Dodsworths every day that they remained. . . . And whatever his comparative poverty might be, he always paid his share of the bills.

“Be so much easier too if he weren’t so damn’ fair and square!” Sam sighed.

He had no proof, no proof whatever, that there was between Kurt and Fran anything more than this family affection.

Once or twice, as when the Berlin agent for the Revelation car looked Sam up and took him to a luncheon of the American Club, Kurt and Fran slipped away by themselves. He spent a conversational evening in the Adlon Bar while they went learnedly to the opera. After these outings, Fran looked rosy and content.

In London, thanks to the attentions of Mr. A. B. Hurd, Sam had retained something of a position as an industrialist. Since then, progressively, he had become merely the Husband of the Charming Mrs. Dodsworth. He saw it, though he could not see precisely how it had happened. In Berlin, he felt that no one considered him as anything save her attendant — even after the unfortunate incident of Herr Dr. Johann Josef Blumenbach.

Herr Blumenbach’s card was brought up to Sam as he was about to change for dinner. “Don’t know who he is. Still, name does sound kind of familiar. Probably some friend of HERS,” Sam decided, and grumbled to the page, “Let him come up.”

When he informed Fran, who was sewing a snap on an evening frock in her bedroom, she protested that she knew no Blumenbachs. She followed him to their sitting-room, and sniffed. A square, bullet-headed, bristle-headed, swollen-nosed man was Herr Dr. Johann Josef Blumenbach, with ancient and absurd spats.

“Excuse me that I call on you, Herr Dodtswort’,” he sputtered, “and please to excuse my English, it is I guess owful bad English that I speak. But I have some liddle interest in a motor factory and from the motor magazines, besides my cousin lives in America, in St. Louis, I know moch about your development of the streamline in owtomobeelz. I vould be very pleast if Frau Dodtswort’ and you would care to look over our factory.”

Very suavely Fran eliminated Herr Blumenbach with, “That’s very kind of you, Herr Uh, but we’re leaving in just a couple of days, and I’m afraid we’re going to be FRIGHTFULLY busy. You will excuse us, I’m sure.”

He looked at her with a most active dislike; he snorted, “Oh, t’ank you very moch,” and disappeared with quite ludicrous haste.

“His nerve! Probably hoped to get money out of you for some horrible gamble,” she said placidly as Sam trailed her back to the significant business of sewing on the snap. “HORRID man! And YOU’D have taken an hour to get rid of him!”

When Kurt inevitably came in to pick them up for dinner, Sam inquired, “Ever hear of a man named Blumenback, Johann Blumenback or some such a name — something to do with motors?”

“But of course!” said Kurt.

“Horrid man,” offered Fran.

“Oh no-o-o! He iss a very fine man. Very public spirited. And he is one of the two or three big men in the motor industry in Germany. He controls the Mars company — I suppose the Mars is the finest motor in Europe —”

“Of course! That’s where I’d heard the name,” muttered Sam.

“— and I wish you could meet him. He would give you everything inside on motor industry here. But I have not the honor to know him. I have just seen him in a Gesellschaft.”

“We must hurry!” said Fran.

And Sam said nothing at all.

He thought, many times, that if he telephoned to Herr Dr. Blumenbach, he might be accepted and entertained in Berlin as the Samuel Dodsworth he once had been — might thus again become that Samuel Dodsworth.

And he did nothing at all.

They had expeditions with the Baroness Volinsky and Minna von Escher, until Kurt, wounded to his little heart, as he could so often and so piteously be wounded, was convinced that no amount of advertising the merits of the pretty little baroness would make Fran like her. As to why Sam and Minna did not get along, he never understood, so he looked hurt and gave it up.

To Sam, Frau von Escher was a reminder that there were women who did not find him clumsy and cold, and he wanted to escape from that reminder. He could well enough picture falling into the entertaining distress of passion. He could even question whether it wasn’t merely emotional indolence and fear of getting “mixed up,” not morality, which had kept him “pure.” Wasn’t it because he did want to kiss Minna’s wide derisive mouth that he was chilly to her, and contradicted everything she said . . . and gave Fran a chance to point out that he WAS rude and that it had been only her influence which had kept him amiable all these years?

“Hell!” said Sam Dodsworth wearily, and for all his searching he never found a more competent way of expressing it.

So he groped through the fog, and there was no path to be found. In the distance was the sound of menacing waters, and always he stumbled over unseen roots in a trance less real than any dream.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/dodsworth/chapter24.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38