Our Mr. Wrenn, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 19

To a Happy Shore

Upon an evening of November, 1911, it chanced that of Mrs. Arty’s flock only Nelly and Mr. Wrenn were at home. They had finished two hot games of pinochle, and sat with their feet on a small amiable oil-stove. Mr. Wrenn laid her hand against his cheek with infinite content. He was outlining the situation at the office.

The business had so increased that Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, the manager, had told Rabin, the head traveling-salesman, that he was going to appoint an assistant manager. Should he, Mr. Wrenn queried, try to get the position? The other candidates, Rabin and Henson and Glover, were all good friends of his, and, furthermore, could he “run a bunch of guys if he was over them?”

“Why, of course you can, Billy. I remember when you came here you were sort of shy. But now you’re ‘most the star boarder! And won’t those others be trying to get the job away from you? Of course!”

“Yes, that’s so.”

“Why, Billy, some day you might be manager!”

“Say, that would be great, wouldn’t it! But hones’, Nell, do you think I might have a chance to land the assistant’s job?”

“I certainly do.”

“Oh, Nelly — gee! you make me — oh, learn to bank on myself —”

He kissed her for the second time in his life.

“Mr. Guilfogle,” stated Mr. Wrenn, next day, “I want to talk to you about that assistant managership.”

The manager, in his new office and his new flowered waistcoat, had acted interested when Our steady and reliable Mr. Wrenn came in. But now he tried to appear dignified and impatient.

“That —” he began.

“I’ve been here longer than any of the other men, and I know every line of the business now, even the manufacturing. You remember I held down Henson’s job when his wife was sick.”

“Yes, but —”

“And I guess Jake thinks I can boss all right, and Miss Leavenbetz, too.”

“Now will you kindly ‘low me to talk a little, Wrenn? I know a little something about how things go in the office myself! I don’t deny you’re a good man. Maybe some day you may get to be assistant manager. But I’m going to give the first try at it to Glover. He’s had so much more experience with meeting people directly — personally. But you’re a good man —”

“Yes, I’ve heard that before, but I’ll be gol-darned if I’ll stick at one desk all my life just because I save you all the trouble in that department, Guilfogle, and now —”

“Now, now, now, now! Calm down; hold your horses, my boy. This ain’t a melodrama, you know.”

“Yes, I know; I didn’t mean to get sore, but you know —”

“Well, now I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to make you head of the manufacturing department instead of getting in a new man, and shift Henson to purchasing. I’ll put Jake on your old job, and expect you to give him a lift when he needs it. And you’d better keep up the most important of the jollying-letters, I guess.”

“Well, I like that all right. I appreciate it. But of course I expect more pay — two men’s work —”

“Let’s see; what you getting now?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Well, that’s a good deal, you know. The overhead expenses have been increasing a lot faster than our profits, and we’ve —”

“Huh!”

“— got to see where new business is coming in to justify the liberal way we’ve treated you men before we can afford to do much salary-raising — though we’re just as glad to do it as you men to get it; but —”

“Huh!”

“— if we go to getting extravagant we’ll go bankrupt, and then we won’t any of us have jobs. . . . Still, I am willing to raise you to twenty-five, though —”

“Thirty-five!”

Mr. Wrenn stood straight. The manager tried to stare him down. Panic was attacking Mr. Wrenn, and he had to think of Nelly to keep up his defiance. At last Mr. Guilfogle glared, then roared: “Well, confound it, Wrenn, I’ll give you twenty-nine-fifty, and not a cent more for at least a year. That’s final. Understand?

“All right,” chirped Mr. Wrenn.

“Gee!” he was exulting to himself, “never thought I’d get anything like that. Twenty-nine-fifty! More ‘n enough to marry on now! I’m going to get twenty-nine-fifty!

“Married five months ago to-night, honey,” said Mr. Wrenn to Nelly, his wife, in their Bronx flat, and thus set down October 17, 1913, as a great date in history.

“Oh, I know it, Billy. I wondered if you’d remember. You just ought to see the dessert I’m making — but that’s a s’prise.”

“Remember! Should say I did! See what I’ve got for somebody!”

He opened a parcel and displayed a pair of red-worsted bed-slippers, a creation of one of the greatest red-worsted artists in the whole land. Yes, and he could afford them, too. Was he not making thirty-two dollars a week — he who had been poor! And his chances for the assistant managership “looked good.”

“Oh, they’ll be so comfy when it gets cold. You’re a dear! Oh, Billy, the janitress says the Jewish lady across the court in number seventy is so lazy she wears her corsets to bed!”

“Did the janitress get the coal put in, Nell?”

“Yes, but her husband is laid off again. I was talking to her quite a while this afternoon. . . . Oh, dear, I do get so lonely for you, sweetheart, with nothing to do. But I did read some Kim this afternoon. I liked it.”

“That’s fine!”

“But it’s kind of hard. Maybe I’ll — Oh, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to read a lot.”

He patted her back softly, and hoped: “Maybe some day we can get a little house out of town, and then you can garden. . . . Sorry old Siddons is laid off again. . . . Is the gas-stove working all right now?”

“Um-huh, honey. I fixed it.”

“Say, let me make the coffee, Nell. You’ll have enough to do with setting the table and watching the sausages.”

“All rightee, hun. But, oh, Billy, I’m so, shamed. I was going to get some potato salad, and I’ve just remembered I forgot.” She hung her head, with a fingertip to her pretty lips, and pretended to look dreadfully ashamed. “Would you mind so ver-ee much skipping down to Bachmeyer’s for some? Ah-h, is it just fearful neglected when it comes home all tired out?”

“No, indeedy. But you got to kiss me first, else I won’t go at all.”

Nelly turned to him and, as he held her, her head bent far back. She lay tremblingly inert against his arms, staring up at him, panting. With her head on his shoulder — a soft burden of love that his shoulder rejoiced to bear — they stood gazing out of the narrow kitchen window of their sixth-story flat and noticed for the hundredth time that the trees in a vacant lot across were quite as red and yellow as the millionaire trees in Central Park along Fifth Avenue.

“Sometime,” mused Mr. Wrenn, “we’ll live in Jersey, where there’s trees and trees and trees — and maybe there’ll be kiddies to play under them, and then you won’t be lonely, honey; they’ll keep you some busy!”

“You skip along now, and don’t be talking nonsense, or I’ll not give you one single wee bit of dinner!” Then she blushed adorably, with infinite hope.

He hastened out of the kitchen, with the happy glance he never failed to give the living-room — its red-papered walls with shiny imitation-oak woodwork; the rows of steins on the plate-rack; the imitation-oak dining-table, with a vase of newly dusted paper roses; the Morris chair, with Nelly’s sewing on a tiny wicker table beside it; the large gilt-framed oleograph of “Pike’s Peak by Moonlight.”

He clattered down the slate treads of the stairs. He fairly vaulted out of doors. He stopped, startled.

Across the ragged vacant lots to the west a vast sunset processional marched down the sky. It had not been visible from their flat, which looked across East River to the tame grassy shore of a real-estate boomer’s suburb. “Gee!” he mourned, “it’s the first time I’ve noticed a sunset for a month! I used to see knights’ flags and Mandalay and all sorts of stuff in sunsets!”

Wistfully the exile gazed at his lost kingdom, till the October chill aroused him.

But he learned a new way to cook eggs from the proprietor of the delicatessen store; and his plans for spending the evening playing pinochle with Nelly, and reading the evening paper aloud, set him chuckling softly to himself as he hurried home through the brisk autumn breeze with seven cents’ worth of potato salad.

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