World So Wide, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 18

In the late afternoon, after office hours, Hayden went to see Lundsgard. He thought he heard “Avanti,” when he tapped at the outer door of the suite; he opened, and stood aghast. Beyond the living room, in the office, Lundsgard could be heard talking to Evelyn Hoxler:

“I’ve had enough of your bellyaching. Go on! Bawl! I like to hear it, Eve. It makes you even homelier than when you put on the white enamel and look like a madam. Lissen. You got no kick coming at all. You knew what would happen just as well as I did. In fact, you planned it. You hoped to get a wad of — well, call it severance money out of me.”

“Lorry, I didn’t! I wanted to help Arturo. You made me feel that anything I did for you, when you were so friendly with him, was really for him.”

“The loving Mrs. Baccio! The innocent Miss Hoxler! Just a country babe! Say, I’d hate to write to the registrar in whatever hayseed county you really come from and ask him your real birth date!”

“Don’t. Please, Lorry! I won’t be angry any more.”

“You’re damn right you won’t. Not around here you won’t. And I don’t think you’ll be around here at all, much longer.”

Hayden hastened away, down the hotel corridor, more sick than furious. There are maggots too vile to touch. And for tomorrow there was to have been a giddy lunch with Lundsgard and Olivia.

At the Tre Corone he found her, very cheerful, and he cried, “Sweet, I want to call off tomorrow’s lunch with Lundsgard.”

“Why?” Her disappointment was clear.

“He isn’t as decent a fellow as you thought. I’ve just heard him talking to Eve Hoxler, viciously.”

“I’m glad to hear it. At last! That woman has been trying to nab him. She takes advantage of his good nature and his quite charming reverence for women.”

“Rev — Oh, good God!”

“Don’t you ever have any argument but ‘Good God’? Aside from the blasphemy, it’s a little undetailed.”

“All right. We’ll HAVE our lunch with that felthead, and I’ll try to get him to show just how much reverence he really has for your frail, cast-iron sex!”

At their lunch, at Paoli’s, with what he felt to be silken cunning, not looking at Olivia but being as cunning as a dove and as innocent as a serpent, he challenged Lundsgard:

“You’re always saying that women inspire you, and yet I wonder what you really think about the ones like Olivia, who are so independent?”

He wondered if the fault could have been Evelyn Hoxler’s, when he saw how grave and mature Lundsgard became:

“You won’t like my sure-enough attitude, Hay, and Livy won’t.”

“Oh?” said Hayden, and Olivia said, “Oh!”

“I’ll have to give you my whole philosophy, and I’m not very articulate, you might say. As I see it, the world has been going through what you might call a multiple revolution, and the uppity girl who thinks her whole family are dubs and the left-wing agitator and the psychoanalyst and all these smeary modern painters belong right together — all anarchists. But I figure their seven-story revolution is over, all but the shouting. The whole world wants authority and, you might call it, tradition. New world coming!

“It’ll first of all want HEROES and not a gang of statisticians and wisecracking critics. Unluckily for me, I’m not big enough, or I’m too early, to be one of the star magnificoes, but I can help clear the way for them — yes, and you just watch ’em ride in on a golden highway, with flags and trumpets!

“These guys that’ll be the leaders, they’ll have to have power and responsibility. They’ll want their orders obeyed on the jump, though they’ll be darned generous to their mob in return. They may not wear any ten-ton armor, but they’ll make my ancestor Lorry the Magnificent, Serial One, look like a ribbon clerk. They’ll use chemistry and jet planes and atomic power, and their slogan will be that only the best is good enough, and I guess they’ll be willing to get killed for it — and to kill!”

To all this souvenir-post-card Nietzsche, this 1905 pre-Hitlerism, Olivia was listening, with no hostility but with fond amusement at her Lorry’s enthusiasm. Encouraged by her if not by Hayden, he boomed on:

“But all these high duties for the men leaders mean there’s got to be even higher duties for the women. A guy can’t lead an army and still stay at home and teach the Little Woman golf. Nowadays the career woman, who was the big news even five years ago, is as old-fashioned as a buggy whip. Now she’s got a better goal: to be loyal to men that got to be big enough to be loyal to; to give herself in a real blazing devotion to helping carry on her man’s battle for supremacy; to lead the Leader. Can’t you SEE it, Livy? She won’t get a professor’s chair or a slick, leather-covered desk in an advertising agency, but she’ll share a throne — and believe me, there’s going to be thrones to share! You bet! To be queen in her home isn’t old-fashioned but the most ultramodern, up-to-the-split-second, re-revolutionary ideal there is!

“So go ahead and shoot me, both of you. Hay, you can report me to all your revolutionary little friends for wanting to march all the poor farmboys (like you and me both!) right back to their peasant huts, unless they can get the Vision of Leadership and obey it. Okay! I’m ready!”

Afterward, Hayden avoided discussing with Olivia this scarlet-and-pea-green vision of Lundsgard, the view of the noblest man as the mining-camp bully. If she had been unhappy about it, he wanted to spare her; if she had liked it, he wanted to spare himself.

And that same afternoon, Evelyn Hoxler, who had never talked to Hayden by himself, telephoned asking him, and anxiously, to meet her at Gilli’s for a drink.

When he met her, there was something rigid and frightening about Miss Hoxler. He had the impression of a rattlesnake in ambush, and indeed there was a good deal of hiss in all her S’s, as she rapidly drank down Italian cognacs:

“Lundsgard is sending me sobbing back to Rome, and I asked to see you, Mr. Chart, so I could try and do the stinker a little harm before I go skipping back to commit suicide.”

She did not strike Hayden as notably benevolent, and he listened not too willingly to her hatred.

“I gave Lorry the best clerical assistance HE’LL ever get and you’ve probably guessed — I never tried to hide it especially — I gave him a lot more. He’s a quick worker. When you first meet him, if you can be useful, he’ll love you, but the moment he can get more out of sponging on somebody else’s brains, out you go, without even a handshake. When he gets to be a dictator, he’ll pull off some of the finest purges in history, and then sleep like a baby.

“By the way, his first name isn’t Lorenzo. His fond mother named her golden-haired Viking rosebud Oley, and in college he changed that to Lawrence, and he put on the Lorenzo, along with a shot at English accent (when he remembers it) in Hollywood.

“I want to warn you, with the most evil intentions, that while I don’t think he’s had much chance to fool with this conceited young woman of yours, Miss Lomond, he’s certainly licking his chops.”

“I think Dr. Lomond can take care of herself!”

“I KNOW I can take care of MYSELF! That don’t do you much good when the car hits a patch of grease like Lundsgard and skids.” The appositeness of it jarred Hayden and frightened him. “Mr. Chart, I have a feeling you plan to get out of this combination cocktail party and mental sanitarium they call the American Colony and go home. Home! Beat it, fast, and take that high-falutin sweetheart of yours along with you. So long. No flowers!”

He met Angelo Gazza, Lundsgard’s photographer, on the street, and invited him to coffee. He blurted, “What sort of a chap is this Lundsgard, really?”

“Oh, Lorenzaccio is all right. He’s a pusher. Pays pretty good but gets his money’s worth and then some. . . . Say, you’re fond of Dr. Lomond, aren’t you?”

“Very. Why?”

“Oh, she comes in to see Professor Friar and maybe Lundsgard now and then and . . . She’s trained too good, for OUR shop. She wants us to get our facts — we do an import and export business in historical facts — she wants ’em catalogued like a history book, but Lundsgard tells her, ‘Never mind the efficiency stuff. This isn’t a factory; this is a solar center for radiating inspiration.’ Dr. Lomond is very well informed — for an American.”

“You don’t like us Americans, do you?”

“No, that’s the hell of it. I love you. Best chum I ever had was a master-sergeant from Brooklyn, half-Wop and half-Mick. I’d like to live in America. That’s why I keep panning you — to keep safe from you hundred-and-eighty pound babies! Why are so many Americans immature? Why don’t you grow up? Half of you pulling polysyllables, when ‘I don’t know’ would do, and the other half — medical majors and chaplains and flying colonels — talking like high-school boys, ‘Oh, Boy!’ and ‘Watch my smoke’ and not enthusiastic about anything except baseball and women.

“And the American woman is the only one I know of whose heart and brain stay cold and indifferent to you while all the rest of her body pretends to catch fire. An Italian or French woman either loves you or she doesn’t, but the American lady — she kisses you hot at eight-thirty and looks at you cold at eleven — or anyway at eight-thirty next morning. And yet I do admire so your American enterprise. I am so sick of all the Memorable Ruins in Italy.

“That’s what has turned so many of us into guides and postcard sellers. We could build the best ships and automobiles and electrical equipment in the world, but our medieval gateways and palazzi municipali gum up our city planning.

“I’d like to blow up every building in Italy older than 1890. All you tourists shrieking that it’s so cute of us to have three-foot alleys for thoroughfares and yelling your heads off when we put in broad boulevards like you all do at home. Oh, it’s probably real quaint in me to be descended from some Etruscan gangster. . . . And I’ll watch Dr. Lomond for you like a sister-inlaw.”

“You think she needs it?”

“Lundsgard is one of these Leaders, and all Leaders think that all the votes and the applause and the money and the women belong to them. . . . Good luck! Ciao!”

Olivia was absent-minded at dinner and it was only after a quarter-hour of mere thermometric conversation that she said, “Lorry is going to fire that Hoxler woman.”

“Yes.”

“In fact he has.”

“I see.”

“He wants me to come in and help him out, three or four hours a day, till he finds a new secretary.”

“You can’t do it! You absolutely can’t!”

“I’m going to.”

“You, the independent, and you want to be that fellow’s copyist!”

“I shall be nothing of the sort. I’ll really be a fellow-researcher with Uncle Nat, and I’ll put the office files in order — they need it. Or do you INSIST on my spending all the rest of my life in libraries where nobody ever comes, except displaced mice? Or perhaps you prefer to take advantage of my extreme fondness for you by ordering me to go home!”

“I love you, and when you turn beastly, when you use arguments that you know are crooked, I am helpless, Olivia — the only person in the world that I am helpless with.”

“I know. Forgive me. And honestly, you can just forget it. It’ll only be a few hours a day with Lorry for a few weeks.”

“That seems to me too much, with HIM!”

“But I need the money, Hay — Hayden. Maybe with your sharp eyes, that can look right through a fat woman and see a ducky bungalow and a two-thousand-dollar fee, you noticed, when you first arrived here, that I hadn’t many clothes, and most of them kind of shabby. Well, I haven’t a very large scholarship, and I’ve been buying quite a wardrobe, entirely for you, and I am busted.”

“Then you must let me . . .”

“No! That much independence I’ll still keep. No!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/world/chapter18.html

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