Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 8

Sam had never, for all of Fran’s years of urging that it was a genteel and superior custom, been able to get himself to enjoy breakfast in bed. It seemed messy. Prickly crumbs of toast crept in between the sheets, honey got itself upon his pajamas, and it was impossible to enjoy an honest cup of coffee unless he squared up to it at an honest table. He hated to desert her, their first morning in London, but he was hungry. Before he dared sneak down to the restaurant, he fussed about, trying to see to it that she had a proper breakfast. There was a room waiter, very morose, who spoke of creamed haddock and kippers. Now whatever liberalisms Samuel Dodsworth might have about politics and four-wheel brakes, he was orthodox about American breakfasts, and nothing could have sent him more gloomily to his own decent Cream of Wheat than Fran’s willingness to take a thing called a kipper.

No, said Fran, after breakfast, she thought she would stay in bed till ten. But he needed exercise, she said. Why, she said, with a smile which snapped back after using as abruptly as a stretched rubber band, didn’t he take a nice walk?

He did take a nice walk.

He felt friendly with such old-fashioned shops as were left on St. James’s Street; brick shopfronts with small-paned windows which had known all the beaux and poets of the eighteenth century: a hat-making shop with antiquated toppers and helmets in the window; a wine office with old hand-blown bottles. Beyond these relics was a modern window full of beautiful shiny shotguns. He had not believed, somehow, that the English would have such beautiful shiny shotguns. Things were looking up. England and he would get along together.

But it was foggy, a little raw, and in that gray air the aloof and white-faced clubs of Pall Mall depressed him. He was relieved by the sign of an American bank, the Guaranty Trust Company, looking very busy and cheerful behind the wide windows. He would go in there and get acquainted but — Today he could think of no reason; he had plenty of money, and there had been no time yet for mail to arrive — curse it! — how he’d like a good breezy letter from Tub Pearson, even a business letter from the U.A.C., full of tricky questions to be answered, anything to assure him that he was some one and meant something, here in this city of traditional, unsmiling stateliness, among these unhurried, well-dressed people who so thoroughly ignored him.

The next steamer back —

Too late in life, now, to “make new contacts,” as they said in Zenith.

He realized that Fran’s thesis, halfway convincing to him when they had first planned to go to Europe, her belief that they could make more passionate lives merely by running away to a more complex and graceful civilization, had been as sophomoric as the belief of a village girl that if she could but go off to New York, she would magically become beautiful and clever and happy.

He had, for a few days, forgotten that wherever he traveled, he must take his own familiar self along, and that that self would loom up between him and new skies, however rosy. It was a good self. He liked it, for he had worked with it. Perhaps it could learn things. But would it learn any more here, where it was chilled by the unfamiliarity, than in his quiet library, in solitary walks, in honestly auditing his life, back in Zenith? And just what were these new things that Fran confidently expected it to learn?

Pictures? Why talk stupidly about pictures when he could talk intelligently about engines? Languages? If he had nothing to say, what was the good of saying it in three languages? Manners? These presumable dukes and dignitaries whom he was passing on Pall Mall might be able to enter a throne-room more loftily, but he didn’t want to enter a throne-room. He’d rather awe Alec Kynance of the U.A.C. than anybody who’d only inherited the right to be called a king!

No. He was simply going to be more of Sam Dodsworth than he had ever been. He wasn’t going to let Europe make him apologetic. Fran would certainly get notions; want to climb into circles with fancy-dress titles. Oh, Lord, and he was so fond of her that he’d probably back her up! But he’d fight; he’d try to get her happily home in six months.

So!

He knew now what he’d do — and what he’d make her do!

He became happy again, and considered the Londoners with a friendly, unenvious, almost superior air . . . and discovered that his hat was just as wrong as his evening clothes. It was a good hat, too, and imported; a Borsalino, guaranteed by the Hub Hatters of Zenith to be the smartest hat in America. But it slanted down in front with too Western and rakish an air.

And, swearing that he’d let no English passers-by tell him what HE was going to wear, he stalked toward Piccadilly and into a hat-shop he remembered having seen. He’d just glance in there. Certainly they couldn’t SELL him anything! English people couldn’t sell like Americans! So he entered the shop and came out with a new gray felt hat for town, a new brown one for the country, a bowler, a silk evening hat, and a cap, and he was proud of himself for having begun the Europeanization which he wasn’t going to begin.

For lunch he invited Hurd — Mr. A. B. Hurd, manager of the London agency of the Revelation Motor Company, an American who had lived in England for six years.

Fran was fairly amiable about meeting Mr. Hurd, for the hotel management had given her the suite which she had demanded, with a vast sitting-room in blue and gold.

“I was cross, last evening,” she said to Sam. “I felt kind of lonely. I was naughty, and you were so sweet. I’ll be good now.”

But she couldn’t help being a little over-courteous to Hurd when he came in.

Mr. Hurd was a round-faced, horn-spectacled, heavy-voiced man who believed that he had become so English in manner and speech that no one could possibly take him for an American, and who, if he lived in England for fifty years, would never be taken for anything save an American. He looked so like every fourth man to be found at the Zenith Athletic Club that traveling Middlewesterners grew homesick just at sight of him, and the homesicker when they heard his good, meaty, uninflected Iowa voice. He was proud of being able to say that the “goods vans with the motors were being shunted,” though if he was in a hurry he was likely to observe that the “goods vans with the autos were by God being switched.”

His former awe of Sam and of the elegance of Fran was lost now in his superiority as one who certainly did know his England and who could help these untraveled friends.

He bounded into their suite, shook hands, and crowed:

“Well, by Jove, d’you know you could’ve doggone near knocked me down with a feather when I found you folks were in town! I say, if you’d just told us you were coming, we’d’ve been down to the depot with the town brass band! By golly, d’you know, Chief, I’m almost sorry we’re going in with the U.A.C. It’s always been a pleasure to have a straight-shooter like you for boss, and all of us hope that you’re going with the U.A.C. yourself. Say, maybe we aren’t shoving over what we got left of the old Series V on the Britishers, too! Now I don’t know what plans you folks have, and the one thing we learn here in England about handling our guests —”

(Sam wondered if Hurd noticed the sudden rigidity with which Fran received the suggestion that she could ever be considered a guest of Mr. A. B. Hurd.)

“— is not to bother ’em, like the Americans do, but let ’em alone when they want to be let alone. Now this noon you folks come grab lunch with me at the Savoy Grill — say, I’ve got the waiters there trained, and I’ll tell ’em they’re not to treat you like ordinary Americans — they all think I’m English; they think I’m kidding ’em when I tell ’em I’m a good Yank and proud of it! And then tomorrow evening I’ll get Mrs. Hurd to come in from the country — we’re living at Beaconsfield, got practically an acre there — and we might all take in a show. You folks will enjoy the English stage — real highbrow actors that know how to talk the English language, not a lot of these New York roughnecks. And then maybe next week-end you might like to come down and stay with us, and I’ll drive you around and show you some real English landscape, and you’ll meet some of the real sure’nough English. There’s a very high-class Englishman living right near us, in fact he’s a knight, Sir Wilkie Absolom, the famous solicitor, that I know your good lady will fall for hard, Chief. Him and I play golf together right along, and I tell you he’s a real democratic guy — he’ll take you in and treat you just like you were English yourselves!”

“I THINK, Mr. Hurd,” said Fran, “that we’d better be starting off and —” (So sweetly; as to a maid whom she was going to discharge come Saturday.) “— we can discuss plans on the way. You’re very kind to bother with us, but I’m afraid that just these next few days we’re going to be rather horribly busy. We’ve already, unfortunately, accepted a week-end invitation from some old friends — you see, I lived here a long time, before I was married — and tomorrow evening we’re dining out. But now let’s go and have lunch, and Sam and you will have such a nice chance to discuss all the details of the U.A.C. Just forget that I’m there.”

And Hurd was unconscious that anything whatever had happened.

“Huh! Guess it’d be pretty hard to ever forget YOU were around, Mrs. Dodsworth! But I certainly would like to get the real, honest-to-God low-down on the combine. And maybe you’ll be able to come out to us for the week-end after that. One American thing we do stick to — real central heating! Maybe won’t be as swell as some of these castles, but lot more comfy all right!”

“Oh, I’m sure of it. Shall we go now?”

Sam raged within, “I’m not going to stand her highhatting him like that! He’s being as polite as he can.” And, as heartily as Hurd, he shouted, “Wait there! Hold your horses, Fran! If Hurd is buying us all this expensive food, we got to give him a cocktail first. He’ll be our housewarming party here.”

He stamped firmly across the floor, rang for a waiter, and ordered cocktails, ignoring her flashed fury, though he knew that he would have to pay for it afterward. But he did hope that Hurd wouldn’t say, drinking, “Well, here’s looking at you, Chief!”

Hurd didn’t. He said, “Well, here’s mud in your eye! Ha, ha, ha! Say, by golly, I guess it’s a year since I’ve heard anybody get that off! But there’s a few of the good old American expressions a fellow likes to keep up, even when he’s lived as long among the English as I have. Well, let’s go feed the old faces. Certainly is awful’ nice to have you folks here. We must see a lot of each other.”

Not that Fran said anything rude at lunch. It would have been better so. She merely knotted her brows and looked suffering. Fortunately Hurd did not seem to care; probably he did not look at her; probably he was one of the American men of whom Fran had complained that they never bothered to look at a woman of over nineteen.

Hurd was unflagging. “Guess you folks would like some American grub for a change. I do myself, after all these years here,” he chuckled, and ordered clam chowder, fried chicken, and sugar corn. “You folks will do fine in this burg,” he said. “You’ll meet some of the best. I wouldn’t wonder if quite a few men in the City (that’s what we call the Wall Street Section, here) have heard of you, Chief. And your good lady ought to be able to get along fine with the ladies here . . . . Oh yes, you said you were here as a girl. Well, you’ll find all that coming back to you before long. Shouldn’t wonder if you took to English life quicker’n I did myself, and say, I took to it like a duck to water. Of course I’m a one-hundred-per-cent. American, but I do like English ways, and this damn’ Prohibition — excuse me, Mrs. Dodsworth, but I’m agin Prohibition — I guess that’s about the only subject where I haven’t got any come-back when my English pals razz me about the States. And the wages for servants here — Say, ain’t it simply incredible, by Jove, what kitchen mechanics expect to get in America, and never do a lick of work for it! Sure, you’ll like it here. But say, you must be sure to not make one mistake that even a lot of high-class Americans make when they first come over. Don’t ever boast about how much money you make —”

(Surely Hurd must catch Fran’s choke of rage.)

“— because the British think that’s what they call putting on side. Not that you would do that, of course, but I mean — Surprise you how many of the real bon ton do. And of course I don’t need to suggest to anybody with a social position like yours, Chief, that you can’t just get to talking to fellows in a hotel bar here, like we would back home. Oh, you bet. I shouldn’t wonder if you’d catch onto English ways even quicker than — Well, as I was saying, I don’t want to intrude on you folks, but it’d be a mighty great pleasure to give you any hints I can about the British slant on things, and to start you off with a genuine English bunch of acquaintances.”

“It’s frightfully kind of you, and it’s been such a nice lunch,” said Fran. “But do you mind if we run along now? I’m afraid I’m a little late for my engagement at the hairdresser’s.”

When, quite wordless, they had walked through Trafalgar Square, he snarled at Fran, “Oh, SAY it!”

“Need I?”

“Better get it over!”

“You seem to be saying it to yourself, quite successfully!”

“I am. Only hurry the execution. I have too much imagination.”

“Have you? If you had, would you have invited the charming and helpful and tactful Mr. A. B. Hurd to lunch with me? Couldn’t you have enjoyed his highly British presence by yourself?”

“Fran, we’ve said all of this about so many different people — Granted that I am a good deal of a fool about bringing the wrong kinds of people together —”

“You are, my beloved, and everybody gives you credit for being so loyal and hospitable!”

“Granted. And I admit Hurd likes himself a good deal. On the other hand, he’s generous, he’s honest, he’s probably a man of very little home-training as a youngster. And that — No, wait now! You DON’T know what I’m going to say! In that I’ve expressed all our whole row, if we went on with it all afternoon. You’d just go on saying that he’s a fathead, and I’d just go on insisting that he’s got a kind heart. Can’t you ever forego the pleasure of catching me in an error? Here we are in London, with a free afternoon ahead of us and the job of lunching with Hurd done. Must you be sulky?”

“I am not sulky! Only you can’t expect me to be very radiant after an experience like that! Oh, it doesn’t matter.” She achieved a half-smile. “Never mind. We’ll be meeting some decent people here soon. No, don’t — don’t tell me that Hurd is decent. Probably he is. Probably he never beats his wife. I’m sure that his playmate, Sir Toppingham Cohen, is an adornment to any salon. . . . Oh, all right, Sam; I’ll be good. Only damn it, damn it, damn it, to think of wasting time like — Oh, let’s go to Bond Street and buy lots of painfully expensive things.”

When for two hours they had shopped up Regent Street and down Bond, Fran was in an expansive, youthful, rattling mood, and she cried, “Let’s go back to the hotel — it really is a nice sitting-room — and have tea there by our own fireplace.”

On the large table in their sitting-room was a box of roses.

“Oh, and you THOUGHT of me, this morning!” she rejoiced.

He had, but he had not thought of the flowers. They were from Major Lockert.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she said, in a tone which suggested that it decidedly did matter, and while he was being over-solicitous about the kind of cakes she’d like with tea, Lockert himself was announced.

Lockert remarked, as though he had seen them five minutes before, “It’s cost me almost a bob at the club telephone to find out where you were. I say Dodsworth my cousin says you’re entirely wrong about hydraulic brakes I say won’t you come down to his place for the week-end awf’ly modest country cot sort of place he’d like awf’ly to have you no no tea thanks must run along forgive informality General’s a widower no Lady Herndon call on you do come.”

“At the same time,” Sam complained, “Hurd and your friend Lockert aren’t essentially different. (Oh, I don’t know whether we ought to go down to Lord Herndon’s or not — no reason why he should care to see me, and it’ll be one of these houses with forty servants.) Oh, Lockert talks more politely than Hurd, but at bottom they’re both bullies — they both want to do things for you that you don’t want done. I wish Tub Pearson were here!”

“You would! Of course we’re going to Herndon’s. And not because he’s a General and a Lord but because — Well. Yes. Because he’s a General and a Lord. That’s an interesting fact to discover about myself. Am I a snob? Splendid! I shall get on, if I can only be clear and resolute about it!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/dodsworth/chapter8.html

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