World So Wide, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 9

Hayden, in respectable hat and brown topcoat, had respectably come in from seeing an American film and he was thinking how odd it was to hear an actor from Ohio making love with Neapolitan ardor. He was whistling softly and unaware, and he stopped with a jar as he came full on Olivia, a negligee lacy about her breast, carrying under her silk-draped arm the intimacies of sponge-bag, soap, towel, fresh nightgown.

She was astonishingly embarrassed about it. She trembled a little as she quavered, “Have to use bathroom down here — somebody in the other one that I often use — I DO have a private bath but it’s out of order. REALLY not accustomed to parading naked in the hall! I— oh, excuse me — Mr. Chart!”

He attacked: “What’s the trouble? What bothers you so about the nearness of a male lout? Why are you so sufferingly virginal, Olivia?”

“I am not!” But she was deep-flushed, and panting.

“You’re abnormally so!”

“That’s silly! I’m not. . . . Oh, I suppose I do get startled-faunish, leading such a cloistral life here.”

The superior Dr. Lomond was defenseless. He felt brutal and bad-mannered, but she had been so stonily lofty on their evening at the Camillo that he was not particularly kind. And in soft oriental silk she was interesting — at least.

“Olivia, my dear, you often give me good advice about not being an amateur scholar. I can’t resist advising you to taste a little more salty life. Come out to a night club with me. Dance. Even laugh a little. Don’t be an amateur saint!”

“Perhaps I— well, I must get on with . . .”

Down the hall they heard the door of Bathroom 2 closing and the running of water. He laughed. “Cut off on all sides! Forest fire back of us, mountain lions in front! Come sit in my room till that swine there has finished his dip. . . . It will be perfectly proper. I’ll leave my door open. Don’t be scared.”

“I could not conceivably be scared by you or anybody else!” But the hot flash of blood under her Syrian skin had faded to a rare paleness, and her voice was uneven. “I think I’d better wait in my own room, though, thank you.”

Her look had such appeal as he would never have expected from her — appealing, a girl, a woman — and she begged, “Please! It’s kind of you, but I think Mrs. Manse still tries to convince us she’s a born Lancashire woman, with all the proprieties, and she might not care for our dormitory chat.”

“Good night, my dear. Sorry the enemy captured all the baths. Goodnight!”

He sat thinking that she was as feminine, in a betraying cloudiness of silk, as Caprice had been; as much the forest nymph white in the woodland twilight. But there was something wrong; some nameless injury that she had taken. He was sorry for the lofty Dr. Lomond, and with his pity came fondness for her.

Next evening, at dinner, she looked at him with a trace of intimacy, of pleading, yet by after-dinner-coffee time she was as self-sufficient as ever, and she was noticeably rude to his friend Vito Zenzero when Vito came pussycatting around to ask, Had the professoressa enjoyed the beautiful artichokes?

Nothing seemed to have happened, nothing did happen, and Hayden was again drawn into a hobo life in the jungles of the American Colony, trying to find out how innocent these Innocents Abroad were, and why they were abroad at all.

He saw less of the American students or the Italo–American businessmen than of the golden loafers of the Colony, the Dodsworth set with their Louis Seize cabinets and chauffeurs and hospitality to poor Colonists who were pitiful martyrs in not having chauffeurs.

Many of these Colonists were content, month on month, to go to cocktail parties with amiable friends, to play a little bridge, to dine out, to read the latest books sent over from Home, to look once a month at a gallery or a church and, all in all, unknowing all, do nothing but wait for death. Hayden was not going to wait for death. He had, and not long since, been through most of its agonies, and he was going to use every energy and inspired curiosity in him to keep himself consciously living, to find and cherish life in his new career, in a dozen new careers.

He believed that Americans could do that, as the Founding Fathers had. In even the most languid and habitual of the Florentine Colonists, in even the most fluttering pansy, he discerned American ore.

Mr. Henry James was breathless over the spectacle of Americans living abroad and how very queer they are, in English country houses or Tuscan villas or flats in Rome, and how touchy they become as they contemplate the correctness of Europeans.

But just how queer they are, Mr. James never knew. He never saw a radio reporter, never talked to an American Oil Company proconsul gossiping in the Via Veneto about his native Texas. Americans are electric with curiosity, and this curiosity has misled foreigners and Mr. James into crediting them with a provincial reverence which they do not possess; a reverence which their ancestors got rid of along with their native costumes, one month after Ellis Island or after Plymouth Rock.

If a queen comes to America, crowds fill the station squares, and attendant British journalists rejoice, “You see: the American Cousins are as respectful to Royalty as we are.”

But the Americans have read of queens since babyhood. They want to see one queen, once, and if another came to town next week, with twice as handsome a crown, she would not draw more than two small boys and an Anglophile.

Americans want to see one movie star, one giraffe, one jet plane, one murder, but only one. They run up a skyscraper or the fame of generals and evangelists and playwrights in one week and tear them all down in an hour, and the mark of excellence everywhere is “under new management.”

Nor are they so different when they are expatriates. After years of Europe, Sam Dodsworth was unalterably midwestern in his quick humorous glance, his scorn for social climbers, his monotonous voice, his liking for dry cereals, his belief that if he met a stranger and took to him, they were friends from that hour. He had the result of the annual Yale–Princeton football game cabled to him, and he amused his more Italianized wife by sometimes addressing a countess as “Missus.”

And the much-younger Hayden Chart, listening to the music of ancient zithers in yellow-spotted books, planning to go on to the Spice Islands and the red-enameled gates of China, was yet cynically hard about female compatriots who were too gushingly reverent toward gray eminences or gray towers. Like Dodsworth, he thought well of American hospitals and streamlined trains and the reluctance of Democrats to behead all Republicans.

Mr. James’s simple miss has become the young lady at the Ritz Bar, and his young American suitor, apologetic for having been reared in the rustic innocence of Harvard instead of the Byzantine courtliness of a bed-sitting-room at Oxford, has been replaced by the American flying major who in Africa, Arabia, China, Paris is used to being courted as the new Milord.

Hayden found that the Florentine American Colony considered itself a community sufficient and significant. The Colonists who had been here for forty years looked down on the settlers of ten years standing who looked down on the one-year squatters who looked down on the newcomers of one month who were extremely lofty and informative with the one-week horrors. Altogether, the Colony made up one-tenth of one per cent of the population of Florence.

And the claims of none of these reversed patriots so much interested Hayden as his own secret life.

As an Italian gentleman of Hayden’s age might develop a quite new personality among the ranches and mines of Colorado, so Hayden was developing a new personality in an equally perilous Italian world of disjunctive pronouns, Gothic triforiums, and the mystery of Olivia down the hall. As the mercenary Colleoni once attacked the fortress of a girl’s heart, so Hayden attacked the history of Colleoni and all that insane medieval jumble of wars and dynasties.

He loved this Italy precisely because it was strange to him. In his restricted cell of a bedroom here he had but little of an exile’s longing for the luxury and space of his house in Newlife; for the chaise longue and the shelves of detective stories and the heated garage, and the breakfast table, of glass and flowery ironwork, on the sunporch. They were overbalanced by Florence and its memory of banners and slow deep bells, of towers and swords and torture.

He believed that he could go beyond the futility of merely piling up historical timber. It was easy enough for even a guidebook-tripper to learn a catalogue of the names of painters and battles, but Hayden wanted out of his scant erudition to make a solid structure to rest in, to make a signboard that would point out on what road mankind had marched.

With Henry Adams, he tried to see the same ornament and soaring ambition in Gothic cathedrals and Gothic hymns, the same grace and light in Renaissance palaces and villas and sculpture and song. He sought the relationship of all his new visions to his own profession.

In Florence, his favorite Newlife brick Georgian houses, with delicate fanlights and wide windows which promised welcome and wreaths and Christmas candles (but strictly with movable partitions and oil-heating and insulated roofs!), still seemed fitting and dear, though he did not want them in Italy. And equally from the integrity of old stone walls and from Roman classic columns he was refreshed in his belief that in no time or land have there been more imperially beautiful buildings than the towers of Rockefeller Center, in New York.

In Newlife he had needed some unfamiliarity, some strangeness, and had needed conversation that should not always be in the same platitudes, so that from the first two words he could predict everything else that the oracle was about to thunder. How great those needs had been he knew when he was called to the pensione office to answer the telephone, and heard a heavy American masculine chuckle:

“I’ll bet you’ll never in the world guess who this is!”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Well, try and make a guess now.”

“It isn’t Mr. Dodsworth?”

“No, no, no no! I ought to needle you a little and punish you for forgetting your old friends so easy, but I’ll put you out of your misery. It’s Bill Windelbank, from Home!”

It was indeed that excellent and intellectual dentist who, as much as Roxanna Eldritch, had summoned him to the asphodels of Europe. But Hayden thought, and was ashamed to be caught thinking it, that he did not desire to see Dr. William Windelbank at all, nor his nimble lady. Would he have to introduce them to Olivia, to Nat Friar, to the Dodsworths?

He disliked his own snobbishness and disloyalty, but he did not think he could ever stand hearing the Windelbanks explain to Sir Henry Belfont, self-importantly and in detail, how barbaric Italy was in not serving flapjacks and doughnuts, and insisting upon giving Belfont’s cordon bleu the recipes. Or jocularly saying to Nat Friar, “Prof, I hope you folks here don’t let Hay put it over on you about what a highbrow he is. Home, he just reads the comic strips and goes to bed at nine-thirty like the rest of us, but he always was a great guy for trying to show off and make like a deep reader — don’t you now, Hay?”

But Hayden was cordial.

“Well! Thought Jean and you were only going to stay abroad for five weeks, and here it must be over four months. Golly!”

One magic touch of Home and he was already back in its good-fellowship, its sterling virtues and its lack of vocabulary.

“Yes-sir-ee, it certainly is!” boasted Windelbank. “Four months, seventeen days and nine and a half hours since we sailed from little ole New York! But right off the bat, we started seeing so doggone much and we like it, and I said to Jean, ‘We only live once, and the food is a lot better and tastier in Europe than we expected, and we’ll never come back here — too many more important points of interest to cover, like Brazil and Nova Scotia. So,’ I said, ‘let’s go hog-wild and have four-five months here.’

“But now we’ve had enough — plenty. The food may be delicious, but it don’t stay by you and nourish the maxillary blood supply like a good Colorado beefsteak. So we’re finishing up the tower with two days in Florence and three in Rome, just like we originally planned. We did our two days in Venice, but don’t think too much of it: real picturesque, but awful rundown and shabby. Where we’ve put in most of our time was Scandinavia and a lovely little lake resort we found in Northern England — just like home. And now — only two days here, Hay! What do we do?”

In terror Hayden perceived that he was expected to spend all of those two days with the Windelbanks, providing meals, transportation, interpretage, and learned artistic guidance, answering rapidly and with apparent accuracy all questions about the weight of the Duomo cupola, the biographies, with dates, of all the more important inhabitants of all tombs in all churches, and the number of members in all political parties in Tuscany.

“Well, why not?” he rebuked himself. “They’d do the same for me, even if — especially if! — I didn’t want them to!”

Anyway, they were too kind and loyal for him to think of dodging them, and he trumpeted, “How about my picking you up and taking you to dinner tonight?”

“Well now, that’s real nice of you. Be glad to. Jean — you know how finicking and suspicious women are — she said, ‘Maybe Hay’s gone and gotten in with a lot of snobs here and won’t care to see plain folks like us,’ but I says to her, ‘Not on your life! I know Hay’s character like I know his bicuspids! He may talk fancy and highfalutin, but at heart he’ll always be just a plain, back-slappin’ Western boy, like all the rest of us!’”

As punishment for his sin of alienation, Hayden found, at dinner, that Dr. Windelbank had noticed many things that he, in the same islands of bliss, had never marked: the routes of the Paris Metro, the wages of bellboys in Belgium, the horsepower of London taxicabs. The doctor was buoyant about his discoveries; he made Hayden feel aged and juiceless, as Sam Dodsworth made him feel credulous and boisterous and infantile.

Dinner was comfortable — and Jean Windelbank’s new gray dinner dress was excellent. Hayden was surprised to find with what excitement he learned from the Windelbanks, who had assiduously corresponded with everybody back home, the more salient items of news: that Mary Eliza Bradbin’s new upper plate took all the wrinkles away from around her mouth, that Dr. Crittenham had bought a “new Chevvy, a swell two-tone-color job,” that Bobby Tregusis, the nephew of Chan Millward’s first wife’s first husband, had a lovely job with the Cripple Creek telephone company.

And in Paris the Windelbanks had seen Roxanna Eldritch.

“I phoned her — she couldn’t guess who it was, at first, but then she was real glad to hear my voice — I’ll bet she was; kid like that so far away from home among these queer foreigners and all these moral pitfalls. She bought us a real nice dinner at a real Parisian restaurant that all these tourists and all never get to hear about — kidneys, their specialty was. Personally, I never did care too much for kidneys at home, but the way they did them there, they was real nice.

“There was a mighty smart lady running the place. She said to me — she spoke English real good — she said, ‘You’re Americans, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yes — how can you tell?’ and she just laughed and she said, ‘Oh, I can tell!” and then I said to her, ‘But I’m willing to go on record as saying that never even in America have I tasted a nicer kidney!’

“Well, sir, I said to Roxy, ‘I hope you’re the same sweet, fresh, unspoiled young lady you always was at home, even among all those reporters and politicians,’ and she said to me, ‘Dr. Bill, no girl can ever go wrong if she’s been brought up to understand the moral standards of Colorado, and I hope I’m still the mountainside daisy and not the rank orchid! Yes-sir-ree!’”

(That sly little devil. I shall send her a volume of Machiavelli! Hayden privately admired.)

But this conviviality was presently marred by rivalry. There is, Hayden found, something like a system of credits for sightseeing: doing a cathedral thoroughly counts, let us say, eleven points — exterior only, five; looking for not less than one second at every single picture in a large gallery comes to thirteen, inspecting a mountain village rarely beheld by tourists is seventeen, dining at a celebrated restaurant is six, but if you found it all by yourself, the credit is nine.

By this most reasonable standard for computing good works, the Windelbanks had acquired at least four times as many points of merit as Hayden.

They were pained by his evident sloth, and fretted out a number of queries. Had he seen Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks in London? In Paris, had he done Napoleon’s Tomb and had fish at Prunier’s? At his No’s the doctor mourned, “Well, I must say! What have you DONE with your time over here? How a man could have this wonderful chance and come all the way to England and not see Madame Tussaud’s is beyond me!”

Hayden childishly reached for equality, tried to show off, tried to show what an utterly changed and Europeanized and generally improved edition he had become. He spoke in Italian to the waiter (who seemed to understand parts of what he said) but it was no go. The Windelbanks had definitely taken the lead in culture now, and they brought out a few scientific conclusions with an air of authority.

The citizens of Bologna (where they had spent three hours) were definitely more cheerful than the citizens of Padua (two hours). Throughout France, the sale of American soft drinks (thanks to the purity of our soldiers who had served in that untutored land) was practically wiping out the sale of wine. In Cannes (twenty-two hours) there is always rain, at all seasons of the year, and the Windelbanks had warned the hotel clerk there that he was a very silly fellow to remain. He ought to see the climate in Newlife, Colorado.

But they so far forgave Hayden as to promise to send his address and telephone number here back to all the human catandogs whom they had picked up along their way and who might be arriving here soon: to that delightful young American couple they met in Glasgow — the husband owned a brickyard, so Hayden and he would have a lot of professional interests in common, and his little wife was such a dear little woman; she liked to read the guidebook aloud, and Hayden would enjoy them both so much, and enjoy showing them around Florence. And the splendid Holland Dutchman who was so amusing about salmon-fishing in Scotland, and the wonderful Baptist pulpit-orator from Chicago, who would enjoy showing Hayden around Florence and explaining the Catholic Church to him.

Hayden had not meant to call for help, but later in the evening he petitioned Olivia to help him have lunch with the Windelbanks next day. Once, he knew, she would have refused, but ever since he had met her, silken and defenseless, in the hall, she had shown him a shade of pleading humility that almost slipped into obedience. She accepted, with only a few scurrilous observations on the sort of people he seemed to know at home.

He put in the morning before lunch in helping the Windelbanks exchange their dollars and in leading them through pages 400–426 of the tenth edition of Baedeker’s Northern Italy, along with the compulsory daily shopping: the kodak films, the lace collars and sweater for Jean Jr., their married daughter. It would not be accurate to say that they had bought a sweater for Jean Jr. in every country in Europe. They had never been in Albania.

Hayden also advised them in the daily choice of three plain and four colored post cards to send home.

“How many folks do you send souvenir cards to regularly, Hay?” nosed the doctor.

“Why, not any — regularly,” admitted Hayden, and then, guiltily, “or irregularly either!”

“You don’t? Why, you’re missing half the fun of travel, to say nothing of the pleasure you might be bringing into people’s drab lives!” From a waistcoat pocket the doctor whipped out a thin gilt-and-mauve notebook. “I’ve got the names and addresses here of my forty-seven very closest friends, relatives and patients that are prompt pay, and every single week I send each of ’em a card from somewhere in Europe, always with some cheering message or interesting piece of information — say, like total population of Italy. And this treasure-house book, as I call it, also contains my birthday list for use at home, with folks’ names under the dates of their birthdays AND wedding anniversaries. How many cards do you send out on birthdays and Easter and Christmas?”

“Maybe not as many as I ought to,” said the abashed liar, who darkly detested all standard greeting cards depicting two sparrows and an antelope, with the apostrophe, “Where’er you are or go or do, this festal day we think of you!”

“Now, Hay, you mustn’t go and make the fatal error of thinking just because you’re getting so much smarter out of all this classy travel, you can afford to neglect your friends. I may be a good practitioner — I’ll match my bridgework against anybody’s — but even so, I bet I wouldn’t get ANYWHERE, I wouldn’t make three thousand bucks a year, without the love and loyalty of my friends.

“THEY’RE the guys that understand and support and recommend you! Don’t forget that, among all these snooty foreigners that they simply don’t or won’t understand what a real friend is like! And, mind you, I don’t just mean the good old gang that you see every week at the Kiwanis or at church or the country-club bar, and that pay their dentist right on the dot, but the dear and tender chums of the magic bygone days, long severed but forgotten ne’er, that if they happen to be in your town for a convention or on a motor tour will honor you by phoning you first thing and coming right out to the house to take potluck with you and cheer up the wife by kidding her along. You’re damn tootin’! You may find a lot of stuck-up highbrows here, always gassing their heads off and talking so much while guys like us prefer to remain silent and not show off our ignorance, but you’re not going to find the old deep friends like we know at home! Hm. Home! You know . . .”

Bill Windelbank was dreaming. When he spoke, all the brag and bumptiousness were for a moment gone from him, and he looked at Hayden appealingly:

“You know, Jean and me are awful seasoned tourists and we always make out like we never get homesick, not even for Jean Junior or her two babies or for the cottonwoods along the crick just below our house. But one time, this trip, we were in a Paris joint, real gay but high-toned, and suddenly, with no warning, the band strikes up Home on the Range —‘where never is heard a discouraging word.’ Well, sir, I looked at Jean and Jean looked at me, and suddenly I could just SEE those cottonwoods, and God, how I did long to be back there, safe! I could have cried! And Jean — she did!”

How good they were, thought Hayden, and how kind — as the Dodsworths were kind, as Sir Henry Belfont was not, as Olivia was not.

Olivia met them at the Baglioni roof garden for lunch, and horror struck immediately.

Hayden could not stop Dr. Windelbank who, to Olivia’s small leering delight, referred to him as Haysy–Daisy, and who chronicled the one episode of which Hayden was most ashamed, for its cheap bullying and hysterical loss of temper: the time when he had threatened a tough sub-contractor with an empty revolver and the man had caved in, all two hundred and forty hairy pounds of him.

“Hay was a major in the last war, and a champ pistol shot!” crowed Dr. Windelbank.

“And Hay was also nothing but a boss draftsman in that crusade and never heard a shot fired in anger!” glared Hayden.

But it seemed to him that Olivia looked at him almost affectionately, and on their way back to the pensione she said, “I like you much better as a competent rowdy than as a polite dilettante. But how those people hated me! They are very brave and charitable, but they feel entirely competent to tell me what to teach — to tell Italy and France what to teach — to tell the bishop how to pray and God how to listen to the teaching and the prayer.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/world/chapter9.html

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