Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 28

He slept badly; he rose at six and rang for breakfast. But at breakfast everything was gratefully clear to him.

He was so thankful that he had not gone astray with Elsa that he did not think of it for more than a second. All his thoughts blazed about Fran.

Why had he let the dissensions, the blame and impatience, all the nothings, grow into a barrier unreal but thwarting as a wall seen in a nightmare? All that was needed was a really frank talk with her! And this trip to Paris, confessing to Matey, being idiotic with Elsa, just being alone and away from Fran, had made it possible for him to be frank.

He’d been stupid. Fran was a child. Why not treat her as one, a lovely and much beloved child; be more patient, not be infuriated by her passing tantrums? A child. A lake mirroring sunny clouds and thunder squalls.

Just go back and say, “Look here, dear —”

He wasn’t sure what he was to say after “Look here, dear,” but he would be ever so affectionate and convincing. He did love her! Fran, with her eager eyes —

But what about Kurt von Obersdorf?

Well — belligerently — what ABOUT it! Either she was still innocent, and did not understand her danger, or she had fallen, and would regret it. In either case, when he had paternally explained the danger of free-lance lovers like Kurt, she would come to her senses and laugh with him at this make-believe enmity between them — yes! that was it — all a make-believe, an exciting game, like so many things in her secret and dramatic life! And they would go home together.

He would hasten to her. Now! If possible he would fly! He would see her late this very afternoon!

He had never been in an aeroplane, for all his professional interest in aviation engines. Like most sound people, he had always been slightly afraid of flying, but in his ardor now he despised his fear.

Then there rose such a hubbub of efficiency as he had not experienced since the most critical days of Revelation Motors. A demand that the porter find at what time the Berlin ‘plane flew — it went at nine, two hours from now. Telephoning to demand a ticket. The room-waiter rushing down for Sam’s bill. The valet de chambre packing. A motor ordered to take him to the flying-field.

Driving out, he felt a slight agitation. His much motoring had not hardened him to flying. But his apprehension was overcome by the prospect of seeing Fran in a few hours, and when he dismounted at the flying field, when he saw the great ‘plane, its metal body and thick crimped metal wings as solid-looking as a steamer, when he saw how casually the pilot took his place in front and the attendants loaded luggage, all nervousness vanished in exultation. He climbed up a tiny stepladder, walked across the left-hand wing, and entered the little door like a child taken on a boat ride.

The cabin was like that of a very large limousine or a rather small omnibus. The seats were of leather, deep and easy as chairs in a club; the cabin walls were covered with stamped leather; the pilot was to be seen, with his intricacy of instruments before him, only through a tiny window forward. Save when he glanced out of the window beside him, Sam had no sense of being in anything so fantastic and fragile as an aeroplane. His half-dozen fellow passengers seemed casual about the whole thing. One of them, as soon as he was seated, opened a book and did not look up for an hour.

Sam was vastly ashamed that he had been diffident. He almost hoped for a little danger.

They started with no ceremonies — just at a gesture from the official in charge. They trundled along the ground for so long a time that Sam wondered whether they were overloaded, unable to rise. Suddenly a little qualm came — oh, it would be all right of course when they were high in air, going a steady course, but wouldn’t it be rather nasty to leave the ground, to spin and toss as they climbed?

Actually, he never did know when they left the ground. They were bumping along the turf, very noisily, the propeller draft blowing the grass stalks backward; then, magically, they were ten feet up in the air, they were above the hangar roofs, they were as high up as the distant Eiffel Tower, and as for sensations, there were none save the lively inquiry as to why he didn’t have any sensations.

He noted that the country below him was like a map; he told himself that he was thrilled when they passed over something like a fog bank — and rather more like a wash of soap suds — and he realized that it was a cloud and that they must be nearly a mile high in air. But he had read of the country looking like a map, of passing over clouds. In fact he experienced nothing of which he had not read many times — until he noted, and this was something he had never read, that aeroplane travel, in calm weather, is the most monotonous and tedious form of journeying known to mankind, save possibly riding on a canal boat through flat country. How tired he got of looking at maps, hour on hour! He had less relationship to the country than in the swiftest motor, the most violent train.

It was so monotonous and safe-seeming that he laughed to remember his nervousness; laughed the more when a French business man took out his portable typewriter, set it on a suitcase on his knees and, a mile up in the air, began placidly to type a letter.

He forgot, then, all about aviating and, just glancing out occasionally at distant green hills, he gave himself up to the thought of Fran. Oh, he would do anything for her . . . he would make her understand it . . . surely such devotion would bring her to his arms!

They had left Paris at nine; they were due to alight in Germany, at Dortmund, at twenty minutes to three. Before one they ran into a thunder-shower, and all the commonplace dullness of their flight was instantly snatched away.

Their little cabin seemed gruesomely insecure as the lightning glared past them, as they quivered in a blast of wind, as they ran into a dark cloud and for two minutes seemed lost in midnight, as they came out of the cloud into rain which crashed against the windows. Sam, who had cheerfully enough driven with motor racers at a hundred and ten miles an hour, was distinctly bothered. He was helpless! There was no ground to step out on, not even a sea to swim in, only the treacherous and darkened air.

The man across the little aisle from Sam — and Sam never did find out what was the snarly language he spoke — looked over, laughed deprecatingly, took out a bottle of cognac, drank long and gurglingly and, without a word, handed it over. Without hesitation Sam drank from the bottle and bowed his gratitude.

He tried to think of Fran again, and she remained a floating pale young face that outside his window kept pace in mid-air with the ‘plane. But for a time she was only that.

They ran through the thunder-shower into rough air. They swooped upward, they fell a hundred feet — the sensation was precisely as in a dropping express elevator, which leaves one’s stomach two floors above — they rocked and quivered like a dory in high seas.

The business man, who had uninterestedly kept up his typing all through the storm, quietly rose and was very sick in a little paper bag. At the sight, the agreeable philanthropist with the cognac was sicker, much sicker. And Sam Dodsworth wanted to be sick, and was distressed because he couldn’t be.

For an hour and more they were shaken thus, helpless as dice in a box, and when with ineffable gratitude they circled down toward the flying field at Dortmund, Sam saw that there was another thunder-shower coming.

Had Fran or Tub Pearson been there to observe him, he might not have had the courage to admit that he hadn’t the courage to go on to Berlin by ‘plane, and it was hard enough in the presence of that rather demanding censor, Sam Dodsworth, but as they delicately touched the ground and taxied along — the aeroplane as innocent and demure as though it had never thought of such insane capering a mile in air — Sam determined, “Well, we’ll call that enough for a starter, and go on by train!”

Though he reeled a little with land-sickness when he stepped out, he beamed with idiotic bliss on the recovered earth, the beautifully safe and solid earth.

There were taxicabs waiting at the flying-field, but it came to Sam that he did not know the German for even “station” or “train.” In Berlin, he had depended on Fran. He looked disconsolately at the driver of the taxi in which a porter had set his bag, and grunted, “Berlin? Vagon? Berlin?”

“Surest t’ing you know, boss,” said the taxi-driver. “Train for Berlin. Well, how’s the folks back in the States?”

Sam said the inevitable.

“Was I THERE? Say, don’t make me laugh! I was born in Prussia but I was twenty-six years in Philly and K.C., and then I come back here, like a boob, and I got caught by the army, and don’t let nobody tell you that was any nice, well-behaved war, either! Jump in, boss.”

On the Berlin train, Sam forgot Fran for three minutes, in anger at himself for having failed to go on by aeroplane. It betrayed him as irresolute and growing old. Was he soft? He determined that the coming autumn, with Fran or without, he would make another canoe trip in Canada; he would live sparsely, sleep on the ground, carry on the portage, paddle all day long, and make himself shoot the worst rapids. Yes! With Fran or without —

But it must be WITH! Surely Fran could not withstand the new passion he was bringing to her from his Paris venture.

His train reached Berlin just before midnight.

At the hotel he seized his suit-case without waiting for the doorman, and pounded into the lobby.

“My wife in? — Mr. Dodsworth, suite B7,” he demanded, at the desk.

“I think the lady must be out, sir. The key is here,” said the clerk.

Dismally, Sam followed the boy with his bag to the elevator.

He sent the key back to the desk. He told himself that he did so because he was tired and might be asleep before she returned.

She was not in the suite. It smelled of her, shouted of her. She had spilled a little pink powder on the glass cover of her toilet-table; on the turned-back bed was her nightgown with the Irish lace; a half-finished letter to Emily was on the desk in the sitting-room; and these shadows of her made her absence the more glaring. From midnight till half-past two he sat waiting for her, reading magazines, and all his furious and simple-minded excitement grew cold minute by minute.

At half-past two he heard laughter in the corridor. Hating himself for it, yet quite unable to resist, he sprang up, turned off the lights in the sitting-room, and stood in the dark bedroom, just beyond the door.

He heard the door opening; heard Fran bubbling, “Yes, you can come in for a moment. But not long. Poo’ lil Fran, she is all in! What an orchestra that was! I could have danced till dawn!”

And Kurt: “Oh, you darling — DARLING!”

“Good evening,” said Sam, from the bedroom door, and Fran sobbed, once, quickly.

“Just got back from Paris.” Sam strode into the sitting-room, turned on the lights, stood there feeling clumsy and thick, wishing he had not been melodramatic.

“Oh, Sam, I am so glad you got back safe!” cried Kurt. “Fran and I have been dancing. Now I vill go home, and tomorrow I ring you up about luncheon.”

He glanced at Fran, hesitated as though he wanted to say something, bowed, and was gone. Fran glared at Sam with lip-biting hatred. Sam begged:

“Dear, I came back so quickly — listen, dear, I flew — because I couldn’t live without you! I’m not angry that Kurt and you were out so late —”

“Why should you be!” She tossed her gold and crimson evening wrap on the couch.

“Dear! Listen! This is serious! I’ve come back to you, willing to do everything I can to make you happy. I adore you. You know that. You’re everything I have. Only we’ve got to cut out this nonsense of being homeless adventurers and go home —”

“And that’s your idea of ‘making me happy’! And now YOU listen — to repeat your favorite phrase! I love Kurt, and Kurt loves me, and I’m going to marry him! No matter what it costs me! We decided it tonight. And all I can say is I’m glad Kurt was too much of a gentleman to punch your head, as he probably wanted to, when you played that sweet, provincial trick of hiding in the bedroom to listen to us —”

“Fran, Fran!”

“Now don’t play the injured and astonished small boy! You have no complaint. You’ve never known me. You’ve never known anything about me. You’ve never known what I wore, what flowers I put in your study, what sacrifices I made to cover up your awkwardnesses and help you keep your dull friends and your dull work and your dull reputation!”

“Fran!”

“Oh, I know! I’m being beastly. But I was so happy with Kurt — till two minutes ago. And then I find you here, a prowling elephant — oh yes, the great Mr. Dodsworth, the motor magnate, who has a right to commandeer my soul and my dreams and my body! I can’t STAND it! Poor — yes, Kurt and I will be poor. Only, thank God, we’ll have my twenty thousand a year! But that will be poverty among the sort of people he knows —”

She was altogether hysterical; she was tearing at her evening frock; and he was as appalled as a man witnessing a murder. He said timidly, “All right, dear. Just one thing. Does he want to marry you?”

“Yes!”

“Then I’ll go away.” He had a vision of such loneliness as he had known in Paris at the Select. “Can you get a divorce here in Germany?”

“Yes. I believe so. Kurt says so.”

“You’ll stay in Berlin?”

“I think so. A friend of the Biedners has a nice flat to let, overlooking the Tiergarten.”

“All right. Then I’ll go away. Tomorrow. ‘Fraid it’s too late tonight. I’ll sleep on the couch here in the parlor, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well. . . . Oh, you WOULD play the role of the patient, suffering martyr at a time like this! You have just enough native instinct to guess that’s the one way you can put me hopelessly in the wrong, and make me feel as if I’d been a dirty dog in not appreciating you — as if I must go back and be the dutiful dull consort. Well, I won’t! Understand that!” He felt as though he were being driven into a corner. “Kurt has everything I’ve always wanted — real culture, learning, manners, even his dear, idiotic, babyish clownishness. Yes — I’ll hurry and get it in before you graciously throw it up at me — yes and position. I ADMIT I’d like to be a countess. Though how unimportant that part is, a man like you could never understand. Yes, and physically Kurt has — oh, he hasn’t your lumbering bull strength, but he rides, he fences, he dances, he swims, he plays tennis — oh, perfectly. And he has a sense of romance. But you’ll go around telling all the dear dull people in Zenith that I didn’t appreciate your sterling —”

“Stop it! I warn you!”

“— virtues, and that I’m a silly tuft-hunting American woman, and you’ll enjoy sneering that for all his rank, the Count Obersdorf is only a clerk and probably a fortune-hunter, and that will make you feel so justified for all your dullness! Oh, I can see what a sweet time you’ll have spreading scandal about me —”

“God!” Fran shrank at something in his face. He was standing by the center table. He had cooled his huge right hand by grasping a vase of roses. That hand slowly closed now, his shoulder strained, and the vase smashed, the water dripped through his fingers. He threw the mess, glass fragments and crushed flowers, into a corner, and wiped his bleeding fingers. The hysterical gesture relieved him.

She looked frightened, but she quavered gallantly, “Don’t be mel —”

He broke in with a very hard, business-like: “We’ll have no more melodrama on either side. I warned you that I’d fly off the handle. If you enjoy your little game of picking at me any more, it won’t be a vase next time. Now there’s just a couple of things to settle. That I go is decided. But — You’re quite sure that Kurt wants to marry you?”

“Quite!”

“Been anything more than —”

“No, not yet — I’m sorry to say! There might have been if you hadn’t come tonight. Oh, I’m sorry! Please! I don’t mean to be quite as nasty as I sound! But I’m a little hysterical, too. Don’t you suppose I know what people will think about me — what even Brent and Emily will think! Oh, I’ll pay —”

“You will. Now will you promise me: see as much as you want to of Kurt, but promise me that you’ll wait a month before you decide to sue for divorce. To be sure.”

“Very well.”

“I’ll instruct my bank to send you ten thousand a year, on top of your own money. That seems to end everything.”

“Oh, Sam, if I could only make you see that it was your ignorance, your impotence, and not my fault —”

Suddenly he had seized an astonished and ruffled Fran, thrust her into the bedroom, growled, “We’ve talked enough tonight,” locked the door on her infuriated protests . . . berated himself for that ruffianism . . . sighed that he would lie awake all night . . . and, with no bedtime preparations save removing his coat and shoes, dropped on the couch and gone instantly and blindly asleep.

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