The possessions of Sir Francis Ouston were numerous and very pretty. He owned thousands of acres of Welsh coal land, he owned Woughton Hall in Kent and a tall, bleak-faced house in Eaton Square, he owned the famous mare Capriciosa III, and he owned a position in the Liberal Party immediately after that of Asquith and Lloyd George.
He himself was owned by his wife.
Lady Ouston was a beautiful woman and very commanding. She had a high, quick, passionate voice and many resolute opinions. She was firm and even a little belligerent about the preferability of Jay’s to Poiret in the matter of frocks, about the treachery of the Labor Party, about the desirability (entirely on behalf of the country) of Sir Francis’s becoming Prime Minister, about the heinousness of beer-drinking among the working classes, about the scoundrelism of roast chicken without a proper bread sauce, and particularly about the bad manners, illiteracy, and money-grubbing of the United States of America.
She had been born — and her father and mother before her — in Nashville, Tennessee.
She was a formidable hostess. She had a salon, and while she did explorers and chemists and the few authors who understood morning coats, she had never stooped to fill her drawing-room by exhibiting cubist painters, Hindu nationalists, American cowboys, or any of the other freaks whereby rival professional hostesses attracted the right sort of people.
And her dinners were admirable. You could be sure of Napoleon brandy, the cousin of a duke, and the latest story about the vulgarity of New York.
It was not to one of Lady Ouston’s very best dinners, with a confidential cabinet minister present, that Lockert persuaded her to invite the Dodsworths, but it was quite a good, upper-middle dinner, with Clos–Vougeot and the master of a Cambridge college.
Sam was quiet, extremely observant, not extremely jolly, as he surveyed that regiment of twenty people, all nibbling so delicately at their salmon and at other people’s reputations. No one seemed to have any vulgarly decided opinions, and every one desired to know of him only two things: Was this his first visit to England? and How long would he stay? And they didn’t seem to care so very much about either.
He wondered how many times he himself had asked foreign visitors to the Revelation plant — Britishers, Swedes, Germans, Frenchmen — whether this was their first visit to America, and How long did they plan to stay?
“I’ll never say THAT again!” he vowed.
The dinner rather went on. Soup and a murmur about broadcasting and Bernard Shaw; salmon and a delicate murmur about Mussolini and influenza; roast mutton and an exchange of not very interested confidences about cat burglars. Sam was in a daze of gluttony and politeness when he realized that Lady Ouston was talking to him about America, and that every one at the table was beginning to pay attention. He did not know that she was born an American, and he listened to her with almost no comfort:
“— and of course none of us would ever think of classing your darling wife and you with the terrible, TERRIBLE sort of American tourists that one sees — or hears, rather — at the Cecil or in trains — where DO you suppose such Americans come from! In fact, I’m quite sure you could both be mistaken for English, if you merely lived here a few years. So it’s a quite impersonal question. But don’t you feel, as we do, that for all our admiration of American energy and mechanical ingenuity, it’s the most terrible country the world has ever seen? Such voices — like brass horns! Such rudeness! Such lack of reticence! And such material ideals! And the standardization — every one thinking exactly alike about everything. I give you my word that you’ll be so glad you’ve deserted your ghastly country that after two years here, you’ll never want to go home. Don’t you already feel that a bit?”
Sam Dodsworth had never in his life boasted of being an American nor yet apologized for it. It was amazement which made him mutter, with what sounded like humility, “Why, never thought much about America, as a whole. Sort of taken it for granted —”
“You won’t long! What a land! Such terrible politicians — positively the lowest form of animal life — even worse than Irish Republicans! And don’t you rather feel ashamed of being an American when you think of America’s making us pay the war debt when, after all, it was all you did contribute?”
“I do not!” Sam was suddenly and thoroughly angry; suddenly free of whatever diffidence he had before this formal society. “I never was much of a flag-waver. I don’t suppose America is perfect, not by a long shot. I know we have plenty of fools and scoundrels, and I don’t mind roasting them. But if you’ll excuse me for differing with you —”
Lockert said pacifyingly, “You can’t expect Mr. Dodsworth to agree, Lady Ouston. Remember he’s —”
Sam snarled on, uncheckable: “— I suppose I have been sort of assuming that America is the greatest nation on earth. And maybe it is. Maybe because we have got so many faults. Shows we’re growing! Sorry if it’s bad manners not to be ashamed of being an American, but then I’ll just have to be bad mannered!”
Behind his brusqueness he was saying to himself, and timidly, “Look at the dirty looks I’m getting! I’ve ditched things for Fran. What hell I’ll get from her!”
But incredibly it was Fran herself who was attacking: “My dear Lady Ouston, out of a hundred and ten million Americans, there must be a few who have agreeable voices and who think of something besides dollars! Considering how many of us are a generation or less from England, we must have several nice people! And I wonder if every member of the British Parliament is a perfect little gentleman? I seem to have heard of rows — We probably have more self-criticism at home than any other nation — our own writers call us everything from Main Streeters to the Booboisie. But curiously enough we feel we must work out our own fate, unassisted by the generous foreigners!”
“I think Mrs. Dodsworth is quite right,” said Sir Francis. “We’re not at all pleased here in England when the French and Italians call us barbarians — as they jolly well do!”
Suavely he said it, and stoutly, but Sam knew that thenceforth Fran and he would be as popular in the house of Ouston as a pair of mad dogs.
Fran developed a tactful headache at a quarter after ten.
Sir Francis and Lady Ouston were very cordial at parting.
Sam and Fran were silent in the taxi till he sighed, “Sorry, honey. I was bad. Awfully sorry I lost my temper.”
“It doesn’t MATTER! I’m glad you did! The woman’s a fool! Oh, my dear —” Fran laughed hysterically. “I can see that the Oustons and us are going to be buddies! They’ll insist on our yachting round the world with them!”
“And scuttling the yacht!”
“Haven’t they a dear little daughter, so Brent can marry her?”
“Fran, I’m crazy about you!”
“Du! Old grizzly! I’m glad you ARE one! Sam, a terrible thought occurs to me. I’ll bet you anything that fool woman was born an American! Convert! Professional expatriate! She’s much too English to be English. Not that the real English love us any too much, but she’s like an Irish critic living in London, or a Jewish peer — seven paces to the right of the King. Oh, my dear, my dear, and I might have fallen into expatriate — Sam Dodsworth, if you ever catch me trying to be anything but a woolly American, will you beat me?”
“I will. But do I have to beat you very long at a time?”
“Probably. I’m rather a hussy. Only virtue is, I know it. And I did flirt with Clyde Lockert at Lord Herndon’s! It flattered me to stir him out of that ‘Damn your eyes’ superiority of his. And I did stir him, too! But I’m so ‘shamed!”
In their apartment she nuzzled her cheek against his shoulder, whispering, “Oh, I’d just like to crawl inside you and be part of you. Don’t ever let me go!”
The Ouston debacle considerably checked Fran’s social career, though Lockert continued their mentor. He came to tea the next day, casual as ever, and drawled:
“Well, Merle Ouston was a bit of a public nuisance last night. So were you, Dodsworth!”
“Well, I couldn’t sit there and listen to her —”
“You should’ve smiled. You Americans are always so touchy. No Englishman ever minds criticism of England. He laughs at it.”
“Hm! I’ve heard that before — from Englishmen! I wonder if that isn’t one of your myths about yourselves, like our belief that every American is so hospitable that he’ll give any stranger his shirt. Well, I’ve never seen any of our New York bankers down at Ellis Island begging the Polack immigrants to come stay with them till they get jobs. Look here, Lockert! The Ouston woman said all our politicians were hogs. Suppose I started making nasty cracks about the King and the Prince of Wales —”
“That’s quite different! That’s a question of good taste! Never mind. Herndon and I are thoroughly pro-American.”
“I know,” said Fran. “You love America — except for the food, the manners, and the people.”
“At least, there’s one American that I esteem highly!” said Lockert, and his glance at her was ardent.
Sam waited for her to rebuke Lockert. She didn’t.
Lockert took them to Ciro’s, to dance; he had them made members of a rackety night club called “The Rigadoon,” where there was friendliness and gin and a good deal of smell. Potentates of the English motor-manufacturing companies called on them and escorted Sam to their factories. They met three or four stout matrons at a dinner given by Lord Herndon in the women’s annex of the Combined Services Club, and they were again admitted to the tedious perils of occasional dinner parties.
And all the while they were as unrelated to living English life as though they were sitting in a railway station waiting for the continental train. Lockert had gone off to the Riviera, a week after the Ouston dinner. Sam was relieved — then missed him surprisingly. And with Lockert away, their invitations were few.
“Well,” said Sam, “till we get acquainted with more folks here, let’s do the town. Historic spots and so on.”
He had studied Mr. Karl Baedeker’s philosophical volume on London, and he was eager to see the Tower, the Houses of Parliament, Kew Gardens, the Temple, the Roman bath, the National Gallery; eager to gallop up to Stratford and honor Shakespeare — not that he had honored Shakespeare by reading him, these twenty-five years past; and to gallop down to Canterbury — not that he had ever gone so far as to read Chaucer.
But Fran made him uncomfortable by complaining, “Oh, good Heavens, Sam, we’re not trippers! I hate these post-card places. Nobody who really belongs ever goes to them. I’ll bet Clyde Lockert has never been inside the Tower. Of course galleries and cathedrals are different — sophisticated people do study them. But to sit at the Cheshire Cheese with a lot of people from Iowa and Oklahoma, exclaiming over Dr. Johnson — atrocious!”
“I must say I don’t get you. What’s the idea of coming to a famous city and then not seeing the places that made it famous? You don’t have to send souvenir cards about ’em if you don’t want to! And I don’t believe the people from Iowa will bite you unless you attack ’em first!”
She tried to make clear to him the beauties of snobbishness in travel. But, in her loneliness, she did consent to go with him, even to eat lark and oyster pie at the Cheese, though she was rather snappish with the waiter who wanted to show them the volumes of visitors’ names.
Ambling through London with no duty of arriving anywhere in particular, Sam came to take its somber vastness as natural; felt the million histories being enacted behind the curtained windows of the million houses. On clear days, when rare thin sunshine caressed the gray-green bricks which composed the backs of London houses, even these ugly walls had for him, in relief at the passing of the mist-pall, a charm he had never found in the hoydenish glare of sunshine on bright winter days in Zenith. He loved, as he became familiar with them, even the absurd proud little shops with their gaudy glass and golden signs: chocolate shops with pictures of Royalty on the boxes of sweets, tobacco shops with cigarette-cases of imitation silver for Sunday-strolling clerks to flourish, even the ardors and fumes of fried fish shops. He was elated at learning the ‘bus lines; saying judiciously, “Let’s take a 92 and ride home on top.” The virility of London, town of men back from conquering savages and ruling the lone desert, seemed akin to him. . . . But Fran began to speak of Paris, that feminine and flirtatious refuge from reality.
Between explorations they tasted a loneliness they had never known in their busy domination of Zenith.
Evening on evening they sat in their suite pretending that they were exhausted after a day’s “sight-seeing”; that they were exhausted, and glad they were going to stroll out for dinner alone. All the while Sam knew that she was waiting, that he was waiting and praying, for the telephone to ring.
At their several party dinners they had met agreeable people who said, “You must come to us, soon!” and then forgot them blissfully. London’s indifference to her charms depressed Fran, seemed to frighten her. She was wistfully grateful when he thought of ordering flowers, when he found some unexpected and cheery place to dine. Half the time he was pitiful that she should not be having her career; half the time he rejoiced that they had never been so close together as now, in their isolation.
She was almost timid when Jack Starling, the nephew of Tub Pearson and a secretary at the American Embassy in London, came bouncing back to town, called formally, inspected Fran’s complexion and Sam’s grammar, and adopted them with reserved enthusiasm. He was a pleasant, well-pressed young dancing-man, and full of ideas — not especially good ideas, but very lively and voluble. He called Sam “sir,” which pleased Sam almost as much as it embarrassed him. In Zenith, no one except men who had served as officers in the Great War used “sir,” save as a furious address to five-year-old boys whom they were about to beat.
And suddenly, after Starling’s coming, Lockert was strolling in as though he had never been away, and Lord Herndon was in town for a month and, without any very traceable cause, the Dodsworths had more lunches, teas, dinners, dances, and theater parties than even a lady lion-hunter could have endured. Sam was so happy to see Fran excited and occupied that not for a fortnight did he admit privately that the only thing that bored him more than being an elephantine wallflower at dances was being a drowsy and food-clogged listener at dinner-parties; and that all these people whom they MUST call up, whom they simply MUSTN’T forget to invite to their own small dinners, were persons whom he could with cheers never see again. Nor could he persuade himself that their own affairs (in a private room at the Ritz, with himself pretending to supervise the cocktails before dinner and Fran making a devil of a fuss about the flowers) were any livelier than other people’s. The conversation was as cautious, the bread sauce quite as bready, and the dread hour from nine-thirty to ten-thirty passed on no swifter wings of laughter.
Mr. A. B. Hurd was a relief, now that Fran was busy enough so that Sam could slip away and revel with Mr. Hurd in shop gossip and motor prices and smutty stories and general American lowness.
Mr. Hurd had done his best to be hospitable, and as it had not occurred to him that there were people, like Fran, who did not wish to be hospitalitized, he had been bewildered and become shy — even his superb salesman’s confidence had become shy. He had once, after innumerous telephone calls, been invited by Fran to tea, and he had brought his Oklahoma-born wife up from the country and put on his rather antiquated morning coat and very new spats.
He came into the Dodsworths’ suite briskly enough, but when Mrs. Hurd crept in after her boisterous husband, Sam was so touched that he rose to the courtliness he could occasionally show. She was dressed in blue silk, with a skirt hiked up in back. Her hands looked the more rough because they had just been manicured, with rosy and pointed nails. Hurd’s salary was adequate now, but Sam felt that Mrs. Hurd had for years washed dishes, diapers, muddy floors. Her lips were round with smiling, but her eyes were frightened as she shook Sam’s hand in the small white-enameled foyer of the suite, and cried:
“My! I’ve heard so much about you, Mr. Dodsworth! Al is always talking about you and what a wonderful executive you are and what a lovely time he had with you folks when he was back in Zenith the last time and how much he enjoyed dining with you and — It’s just lovely that you’re here in London now and I do hope Mrs. Dodsworth and you will find time to come down to the country and see us. I know how busy you must be with parties and all but —”
Sam ushered her into the sitting-room; he tried to catch Fran’s eye to warn her to be good, while he was rumbling:
“Fran, this is Mrs. Hurd. Mighty great pleasure to meet her, after we’ve known her husband so long.”
“How d’you do, Mrs. Hurd?” said Fran, and it was worthy of Lady Ouston at her politest and rudest. Fran pronounced it “HowjDUH,” and her voice rose at the end in a quiet brusqueness which finished Mrs. Hurd completely.
Mrs. Hurd fluttered, “I’m real pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” then sat forward in her chair, refused the cake she most wanted, looked terrified while Fran purred about Paris. She did not venture on the invitation to the country which she had obviously come to deliver. Between Sam’s heavy compliments to Hurd, Hurd’s heavy compliments to Sam, and Fran’s poisonously sweet manner of saying, “It was so VERY kind of you to come all this way in to see us, Mrs. — uh — Hurd,” she was bewildered, and she ventured on no conversation beyond “My, you’ve got such lovely rooms here. I guess you know an awful lot of English folks — lords and everything, don’t you?”
After that, Hurd resentfully gave up telephoning.
But when, with Lockert and Jack Starling returned, Fran found enough of the admiration natural to her, Sam was now and then able to sneak meanly out and get hold of Hurd for odd meals.
After a fortnight Hurd suggested, at luncheon:
“Say, Chief, I’d like to pull off a bachelor dinner for you one of these evenings — some of the high-class American business men here in London — just sit around and be natural and tell our middle names. Think you could duck your good lady and have an Old Home Week? What about next Saturday evening?”
“Fine. I’ll see if my wife has anything on.”
“Well, I hope she has. Strict lot of police in this ole town! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”
Sam was not offended. Hurd was given to smutty limericks, to guffaws about young ladies of the night, yet there was a healthy earthiness about him which to Sam was infinitely cleaner than the suave references to perversions which he had increasingly been hearing in New York and in London, and which sickened him, made him glad to be normal and provincial and old-fashioned. Hurd — hang it, he liked Hurd! The man’s back-slapping was real. He could do with a little back-slapping, these days! Why should it be considered a less worthy greeting than chilly hand-shakes and fishy “Howjduh’s”?
When Sam returned to the hotel, Fran was having tea with Lockert.
“I can tell that you’ve been seeing one of your jocund American friends again,” said Lockert.
“You have a rather decent voice when you’ve been under our purely insular influences for a week or so. Color in it. But the moment you slip off to America again, it sharpens and becomes monotonous.”
“‘S too bad!” muttered Sam, leaning against the fireplace, very tall, wondering what would happen if he threw his tea — in the cup — at Lockert. Damn the fellow! Oh, of course he was friendly, he meant well, and probably he was right in his hints about the nice conduct of a clouded American barbarian in England. But still — Hang it, there were some pretty decent people who seemed to like Sam Dodsworth the way he was!
He interrupted Fran’s chronicle of shopping and Liberty silks to blurt, “Say, sweet, old Hurd wants to give me a bachelor dinner next Saturday evening — meet some of the American business men here. I think I ought to do it; he’s tried so hard to be nice.”
“And you’d like it? Be back in all the Rotarian joys of Zenith?”
“You bet your life I’d like it! We haven’t a date for that evening, if I remember. Could you get up a hen party or go to the movies or something? I’d kind of like —”
“My dear, you don’t have to ask permission to have an evening out!”
(“The hell I don’t!”) “No, of course not, but I don’t want you to feel stranded.”
“I say, Fran,” Lockert remarked, “would you care to dine with me that evening and go to the opera?”
“Well —” considered Fran.
“Fine,” said Sam. “It’s a go.”
Jack Starling popped in just then, very cheery, and Sam was silent while the other three hilariously scoffed at America. Sam was thinking, almost impersonally. It was a new occupation for him, and he was a little confused. It had become a disease with both nations, he reflected, this discussion of Britain vs. America; this incessant, irritated, family scolding. Of course back in the cornfields of the Middlewest, people didn’t often discuss it, nor did the villagers on the Yorkshire moors, nor Cornish fishermen. But the people who traveled and met their cousins of the other nation, the people who fed on newspapers on either side the water, they were all obsessed.
Fran and Lockert and Starling, chirping about it —
They found so much to laugh over —
Himself, he’d rather listen to Hurd’s stories —
No. That wasn’t true. He wouldn’t. These Londoners (and Fran and Starling were trying to become Londoners) did talk better than the citizenry of Zenith. They were often a little silly, a little giggling, more than a little spiteful, but they found life more amusing than his business-driven friends at home.
Couldn’t there be — weren’t there people in both England and America who were as enterprising and simple and hearty as Mr. A. B. Hurd, yet as gay as Fran or Jack Starling, as curiously learned as Lockert, who between pretenses of boredom gave glimpses of voodoo, of rajahs, of the eager and credulous boy he had been in public school and through long riverside holidays at his father’s vicarage in Berkshire?
Lockert — hang it, must Lockert always be in his thoughts?
It was true, the thing he had been trying to ignore. The beautiful intimacy which for a fortnight Fran and he had found in their loneliness, her contentment to be with him and let the world go hang, had thinned and vanished, and she was straining away from him as ardently as ever before.
Mr. Hurd’s bachelor dinner for Sam was at eight-thirty. Lockert and Fran left the Ritz at seven, to dine before the opera. Sam saw them off paternally, and most filially Fran cried, “I hope you’ll have a beautiful time, Sam, and do give my greetings to Mr. Hurd. I’m sure he’s really quite a good soul, really.” But she did not look back to wave at him as he watched them down the corridor to the lift. She had tucked her arm into Lockert’s; she was chattering, altogether absorbed.
For an hour Sam tramped the apartment, too lonely to think.
Hurd’s dinner was given in a private room at the Dindonneau Restaurant in Soho. There was a horseshoe table with seats for thirty. Along the table little American flags were set in pots of forget-me-nots. Behind the chairman ‘s table was a portrait of President Coolidge, draped with red, white and blue bunting, and about the wall — Heaven knows where Hurd could have collected them all — were shields and banners of Yale and Harvard and the University of Winnemac, of the Elks, the Oddfellows, the Moose, the Woodmen, of the Rotarians, the Kiwanians, and the Zenith Chamber of Commerce, with a four-sheet poster of the Revelation car.
Fran would have sneered . . . .
Outside was the dark and curving Soho alley, with the foggy lights of a Singhalese restaurant, a French book-shop, a wig-maker’s, an oyster bar. And the room was violently foreign, with frescoes by a sign-painter — or a barn-painter: Isola Bella, Fiesole, Castel Sant’ Angelo. But Sam did not look at them. He — who but once in his life had attended a Rotary lunch — looked at the Rotary wheel, and his smile was curiously timid. There was no reason for it apparent to him, but suddenly these banners made him feel that in the chill ignobility of exile he was still Some One.
He felt the more Some One as he was introduced to the guests.
They had spent from a month to thirty years in England, and they were as different one from another as the exhibits at a Zoo, with the lion beside the monkey-cage. Yet in all of them was a hint of American heartiness and of that twang which is called “talking through the nose” because it consists in failing to talk through the nose. There was Stubbs of the Haymarket branch of the Pittsburgh and Western National Bank, a gray solid man of fifty, fanatic about golf. Young Ertman, the London correspondent of the Chicago Register, once a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, very select and literary. Young Suffern of the Baltimore Eagle, very red-faced and wide-shouldered and noisy. Doblin, manager of the English agency of the Lightfoot Sewing Machine Agency, old and thread-thin and gentle. Markart of the Orient Chewing Gum and Chicle Corporation; Knabe of the Serial Cash Registers; Fish of the American Forwarding Company; Smith of the Internation Tourist Agency; Nutthal of the Anglo–Peruvian Bank — he was Lancashire born but he had lived in Omaha for eighteen years and he was three hundred per cent. American. And a throng of American motor agents.
Each of them crunched Sam’s hand and growled (only the Rhodes scholar’s growl was more feline than canine): “Certainly is a mighty great pleasure to meet you. Staying over here long?”
Near the door was a side-table spread with Martini cocktails, Manhattan cocktails, Bronx cocktails, and bottles of Scotch, Canadian Club, American rye and Bourbon. Sam could not escape without four cocktails, and when he wavered to his seat beside A. B. Hurd, he had altogether forgotten that he had ever been lonely, that Fran was with Lockert.
There was a deal of noisy humor at the dinner; a deal of shouting the length of the table; a number of stories beginning “Jever hear the one about the two Jews —” And it must be said that Sam, privileged now to enjoy the suburbs of correct English society, enjoyed it more than any dinner this fortnight. He enjoyed it even when cognac and whisky sodas followed the dessert and some of the guests — free for only one evening a week from the American wives whom living in England had not weakened in their view of women’s right to forbid men’s rights — snatched the excuse to get quite reasonably drunk and to soar into American melody: “The Old Man Came Rolling Home,” and “He Laid Jesse James in His Grave” and “Way Down on the Bingo Farm,” with what they conceived to be a correct Cockney version of “She Was Poor but She Was Honest,” all of them leading triumphantly up to:
My name is Yon Yonson,
I come from Visconsin,
I vork on a lumberyard dere,
Ven I go down de street
All de people I meet
“Vot’s your name?”
And I sa-aaaaay:
My name is Yon Yonson,
I come from Visconsin —
It seemed a good song, at a certain stage of liquor, and they kept it up for ten minutes.
But between such high lights, Sam Dodsworth got in a seminar of inquiries about the question that to him, also, had become a disease: Is America the Rome of the world, or is it inferior to Britain and Europe? Or confusedly both?
Out of all the thirty, there were not ten whose speech showed that they had lived abroad. If occasionally they said “braces” instead of “suspenders,” or “two bob” instead of “four bits,” you would have supposed that they had been reading English fiction. There were not six who would ever have been taken for Englishmen by Americans, and not three who would have been taken for Englishmen by Englishmen.
Yet there were not more than six, Sam discovered incredulously, who wanted to return to America for the rest of their lives.
He had understood that hybrid cosmopolites with a fancy for titles and baccarat, eccentric artists who were fond of mistresses and chess, idlers who needed some one with whom to loaf, might prefer to live abroad. But that this should be true of the gallant thirty — good salesmen, up-and-coming authorities on cash registers and motor tires — was disturbing to him, and mystifying.
These men believed, and belligerently announced, that America was the “greatest country in the world,” not only in its resources and increasing population and incomparable comforts of daily life, not only in its energy and mechanical ingenuity, but equally in its generosity, its friendliness, its humor, its aspiration for learning. Scarce one of them, Sam judged, but longed to see his own beloved quarter of America —
New York on a winter night, with the theaters blaring and the apartment-houses along Park Avenue vanishing up into the wild sky rosy from a million lights. Vermont on an autumn afternoon, with the maples like torches. Midsummer in Minnesota, where the cornfields talked to themselves, and across miles of rolling wheatland, dimpling to the breeze, you saw the tall red wheat-elevators and the spire of the German Catholic Church. The grave silence of the wilderness: plateaus among the scarred peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, painted buttes in Arizona, Wisconsin lakes caressing in dark waters the golden trunks of Norway pines. The fan-lights above serene old Connecticut doorways in Litchfield and Sharon. Proud cold sunsets in the last five minutes of the Big Game at Thanksgiving-time — Illinois vs. Chicago, Yale vs. Harvard — yes, and quite as aching with sentimental and unforgettable and lost sweetness, Schnutz College vs. Maginnis Agricultural School. Cities of a quarter of a million people with fantastic smoky steel works, like maniac cathedrals, which had arisen in twenty years upon unpeopled sand-barrens. The long road and a rather shaggy, very adventurous family in a squeaky flivver, the new Covered Wagon, starting out to see all the world from Seattle to Tallahassee, stopping to earn their bacon and bread and oil by harvesting; singing at night in tourist camps on the edge of wide-lawned towns —
“I certainly do like to get back to Alabama — mighty nice girls there, and you talk about your Georgia terrapin — say, listen, boy,” said Stubbs of the Pittsburgh and Western National Bank, “we got the swellest food in the world in Alabama.”
And Primble of the International Films Distributing Agency drawled, “Just about once a year I certainly got to get back to the Ozark Mountains and go fishing.”
But except for half a dozen homesick souls, each of them admitted that he was going to go on loving, boosting, and admiring America, and remain in Europe as long as he could.
Their confessions could have been summed up in the ruminations of Doblin, pro-consul of sewing-machines, doyen of the American business-colony, old and thread-thin and gentle, who murmured (while the others listened, nodding, nervously shaking ashes from cigarettes, or holding their cigars cocked in the corners of their mouths):
“Well, I’ll tell you the way I look at it personally. Strikes me that one-half or maybe two-thirds of the American people are the best fellows on earth — the friendliest and the most interested in everything and the jolliest. And I guess the remaining third are just about the worst crabs, the worst Meddlesome Matties, the most ignorant and pretentious fools, that God ever made. Male AND female! I’d be tickled to death to live in America IF. If we got rid of Prohibition, so a man could get a glass of beer instead of being compelled to drink gin and hootch. If we got rid of taking seriously a lot of self-advertising, half-educated preachers and editors and politicians, so that folks would develop a little real thinking instead of being pushed along by a lot of mental and moral policemen. If our streets weren’t so God-awfully noisy. If there were a lot more cafes and a lot less autos — sorry, Mr. Dodsworth, you being a motor-manufacturer, but that slipped out and I guess I’ll just have to stand by it.
“But the whole thing, the fundamental thing, is a lot harder to express than that. Nothing like so simple as just Prohibition. . . . Golly, the number of people who think they are getting profound when they talk about that one question! . . . The whole thing — Oh, there’s more ease in living here! Your neighbors don’t spy on you and gossip and feel it’s their business to tell you how to live, way we do at home. Not that I’ve got anything to hide. I haven’t been drunk for thirty years. I’ve been true to my wife — unless you count one time when I kissed a little widow on the Baltic, and by golly that’s as far as it went! But if there’s one thing that would make me go out for all the vices I ever heard of, it would be the thought of a lot of morality hounds sneaking after me all the time, the way they do in the States. And you get better servants here — yes, and the servants themselves like their work a deuce of a sight better than our red-neck hired girls in America, because they’re skilled, they’re respected here, they’re secure, they don’t have the womenfolks nosing into their ice-boxes and love-letters all day long! And business — Our greatest American myth is that we’re so much more efficient than these Britishers and the folks on the Continent. All this high-pressure salesmanship bunk! Why say, I’ll bet that stuff antagonizes more customers than it ever catches. And over here, they simply won’t stand for it! An Englishman knows what he wants to buy, and he don’t intend to be bullied into buying something else. And a Scotsman knows what he doesn’t want to buy! Half our efficiency is just running around and making a lot of show and wasting time. I always picture the ideal ‘peppy’ American business man as a fellow who spends half his time having his letters filed away and the other half trying to find ’em again. And then — Englishman don’t feel he’s virtuous because he spends a lot of extra time in his office not doing anything special. He goes home early and gets in some golf or tennis or some gardening. Might even read a book! And he’s got a hobby, so that when he retires he has something to do; doesn’t just waste away from being bored to death when he’s old, the way we do.
“The Englishman will work, and work hard, but he doesn’t fall for the nonsense that work — any kind of work, for any purpose — is noble in itself. Why, when I go home — Well, there’s old Emmanuel White, president of my company. He’s seventy-two years old, and he’s never taken a vacation. He’s worth two million dollars, and he gets to the office at eight, and sometimes he stays there till eleven at night and goes snooping around to see if anybody’s left a light turned on. Maybe he gets some fun out of it, but he sure doesn’t look like it. He looks like he lived on vinegar, and to have a conference with him is just about as pleasant as tending a sick tiger. And the fellows of forty and forty-five that never relax even when they do take an afternoon off — they drive like hell out to a golf course. Greatest myth in the world!
“But we’re beginning to learn a little bit about leisure at home, I guess. That makes me hopeful that some day we may even get cured of optimism and oratory. But I don’t expect it in my time, and you bet your sweet life I’m going to stay on here in England, even after I retire. Say! I’ve got a little place in Surrey, with an acre of ground and a rose garden. But I’m American, just’s American as I ever was. And, thank God, there’s enough Americans here so I can see a lot of ’em. I admire the English, but they make me feel kind of roughneck. But LIVE here — you bet! Say, that’s one of the best proofs that America is the greatest country in the world: Paris and London have become two of the nicest of American cities! Yes sir!”
Sam was rather bewildered. Doblin was the old-fashioned, Yankee, suramerican sort whom he preferred to all the strident new evangelists of business.
He was more bewildered when Fish of the American Forwarding Company — big jovial Fish, who had played center for the University of the Western Conference — chuckled:
“You bet! First year I was here, I was homesick all the time. I went home, and I intended to stay there. Well, I lasted just one year in that dear old Chicago! God, the Loop, the elevated, driving through that traffic out to Wilmette every evening, the eternal yow-yow-yow about investments and bridge! Didn’t even enjoy golf! Golly, fellows worked at it! Felt guilty as hell if they were one stroke over yesterday! And most of ’em took up playing to get acquainted with possible customers at the club — sell ’em eighteen bonds in eighteen holes. I got transferred back here. I guess I’d enlist to fight for America against any blooming country in the world, but — Maybe America will get civilized. I hope so. I’m going to send both my boys back home to American universities, and then let ’em decide whether they want to remain or come back here. Maybe we ought to stay home and fight the blue-noses, not let ’em exile us. But life’s short. Want to be a good patriot, but — Say! I wish you could see my house in Chelsea — twenty minutes from Trafalgar Square, even in one of these non-motorized London taxis, and yet it’s as quiet as a hick town in Nebraska. Quieter! Because there’s no kids drinking gin and hollering in flivvers, and no evangelist in the big tent raising hell. Yes SIR!”
Sam was pondering.
He was coming to like England. Perhaps he really would live here. Take an interest in some motor agency. Have an Elizabethan black-and-white house in Kent, with ten acres. Join the American Club. These were good fellows — perhaps there were three or four who would even pass the censorship of Fran. He would not be lonely here. He would learn leisure. And think of getting old Tub to come over for a while in the summer! Trot all round England and Scotland with Tub in a car — play golf at St. Andrews —
But he recalled the horrors of an arty tea to which Jack Starling had taken them in St. John’s Wood. He recalled the tedium of dinner-parties — people dining solitarily in public. He recalled his discomfort in being unable to understand the violent differences between an Oxford man and a graduate of the University of London, between a public school man and one who abysmally was not. And yet — There was SOMETHING about life here —
He didn’t feel that he had to hustle, when he walked the London streets. He didn’t, just now, want to return to an office in Zenith and listen to vehement young men who made Patrick Henry orations about windshield-wipers; he didn’t long again to study the schedules of a company which would provide seat-upholstery at .06774 cents cheaper a yard, or to listen to Doc Wimpole, the cut-up of the golf club, in his Swedish imitations or his celebrated way of greeting you:
“Well, here’s the old cut-throat! How many widows and orphans have you stuck with your rotten old Revs this week?”
He went home, after tremendously cordial handshakings, more blissful about his new role of required adventurousness than ever before . . . and hoping that Fran would not say, “Did you have an agreeable time with the great American commercial intellects?”
She would! She’d wake up, no matter how softly he came into the bedroom, and she’d say —(He had it all out, there in the taxicab.) She’d say, “Well, I hope you enjoyed yourself with Mr. Hurd and all the other hearty Rotarians!”
“Now you look here! I heard more good talk tonight, more talk that really got down to cases, than I’ve heard at any of your dinners where gentlemen try to talk like Members of Parliament and Members of Parliament try to talk like gentlemen —”
“Why, my dear Sam, we’re becoming positively literary! The influence of dear Mr. Hurd is astonishing! Was his wife there? She’d do perfectly at a bachelor dinner!”
“Now you look here! I know what a profound scholar you are, and I know I’m a roughneck business man, but may I remind you that I did go to a quite well-known institution for young gentlemen in New Haven, and I have actually read several books, and furthermore —”
It was a complete triumph, there in the taxicab.
He came radiantly into their suite. On the couch, crushing her golden evening wrap, Fran lay sobbing.
He gaped from the doorway five full seconds before he chucked his opera hat at the table, dashed to her, plumped down on the couch, and cried:
“What is it? Sweet! What is it?”
She convulsively raised her face just enough to burrow it against his knee while she whimpered:
“I’ve always said — oh, damn! — I’ve always said it was really a compliment to a woman to be what they call ‘insulted.’ Well, maybe it is, but oh, Sam, I don’t like it! I DON’T! Oh, I want to go home! Or anyway leave England. I can’t face it. Probably it was my fault that —
“No, it wasn’t! I swear it wasn’t! I never gave him the slightest, littlest excuse to suppose that His Grace — Oh, God, how I hate that man! He’s so supercilious, and what about? I ask you, what about? What is the fool after all but a failure, an international hobo? Even if his cousin IS the real thing! What is he? I ask you!
“It was like this. Oh, Sam, Sam darling, I hate to tell you, because I must have been at fault — partly. It was after the opera. I suggested to Clyde — to Major Lockert — that we might go somewhere and dance, but he said all the good places were so noisy — couldn’t we just come up here and have a drink and talk. I didn’t mind; I was a little tired. Well, at first, he was awfully nice. (Oh, I can see his line so clearly now, and it wasn’t so bad, considering!) He sat — he sat right there in that chair — he sat there and he talked about his boyhood and how lonely he’d been. And you know what a fool I am about children — you know how I suffer at just the least little suggestion of anybody not having a happy childhood. Of course I almost cried. And then he said he was terribly inarticulate and shy (oh yes!) but he wanted to tell me how much it’d meant to know me — I’d been a sweet feminine influence — honestly, I think he used just those words! — of course he doesn’t have a sweet feminine influence more than two or three times a week! — you can imagine the kind of Indian girls he tells that to on his plantation! — how I hate him!
“But anyway, he told me what a regular little sister I’d been to him, and — being seven kinds of a fool, as you know — I fell for it, and first thing I knew, he was sitting here on the couch beside me, holding my hand. And I confess — Oh, I’m being terribly frank! If you ever are so beastly as to go and use this against me later, I’ll KILL you, I swear I will! . . . I didn’t mind the hand-holding a bit. . . . Am I a hussy? I’m afraid I could become one! . . . But anyway — I mean: He has some electricity about him; he’s a very educated hand-holder; not too tight, and yet he sort of makes you shudder —
“But anyway, he held my hand as though it were some particularly sacred relic. And he went on telling me that my example had persuaded him that he must stop wandering and settle down with some glorious girl like me. And I believed it all! I felt like a Sister by a dying bedside!
“But anyway, he was going to cut out all this drifting and really do something with life. He SAID that! ‘Do something with life!’ I might have known!
“And then —
“Oh, you know what he said! I don’t have to tell you. Probably you’ve said it to some cutie yourself! Only, if I ever catch you doing it, I’ll KILL you! You and I are the model monogamists from now on, d’you understand? Anyway, you can guess what he said. Where was he to find the admirable spouse who’d be exactly like me?
“And of course I made noises like a purr-pussy!
“And the next thing I knew, he’d thrown his arms around me, and he was trying to kiss me, and he was at the same time trying to inform me that I’d led him on — Oh, I can sound funny about it, now, or try to, anyway. But it was pretty fairly ghastly. The idiot insisted on doing a real ‘Woman, you have tempted me to perdition with your poisoned smile’ sort of melodrama. Oh, Sam, Sam, Sam dear — you old darling! You’re so DECENT! But I mean: When he found that I was most certainly not going to be embraced, he got awfully nasty. That’s one thing he does do well! He said I’d led him on. He said that among ‘civilized people’ there were ‘rules of the game,’ and the way I’d let him kiss my shoulder — Oh yes, he did that, too, in the taxicab going to dinner. Oh, I AM being frank, probably disastrously frank! But, dear, don’t treasure it up and use it against a pitiful fool that thought she was a woman of the world! And honestly, I really and truly did think, when he kissed my shoulder, that if I just ignored it he’d have sense enough to see that I wasn’t taking any. ‘Rules of the game among civilized people!’ The fool! As if I didn’t understand them just as well as he does, and maybe a lot better! But anyway —
“And maybe I LIKED his kissing my shoulder! Oh, I don’t know! I don’t know ANYTHING, after this ghastly evening! But anyway:
“He said it was my fault, and so on and so forth — you can imagine — and then he saw that he couldn’t bully me, and he was terribly apologetic about ‘showing his true feelings’— the swine hasn’t got any true feelings! Anyway, he kissed my ear and my nose — a rotten marksman! — and he pleaded and — Oh, I don’t know why you should have to listen to all the ghastly details! Anyway, I kicked him out, and he — oh, he was charming, my dear! — he went back to his delightful assertion that all American women are bloodless rotters, who get a kick out of seeing men make fools of themselves and —
“Oh, oh yes, and he also said this. This really WAS pretty, and it’ll interest you particularly! Though it certainly wasn’t very consistent with his bleat about my being a bloodless siren! He said — he made it quite clear that he didn’t merely expect a few consoling kisses, and he said that I didn’t know how much sex passion there was concealed in me. He said that you — he was so kind as to indicate that you were a worthy motor-pedler and quite a nice kind friend, and probably you could defend yourself if you were attacked by bandits, but you had no sexual fire —‘spiritual fire’— I think he said, to be exact — and I was what he called ‘unawakened,’ and he was willing — bless his dear, kind, neighborly soul! — he was willing to do the awakening.
“Oh, Sam, I’m trying to be funny about it, but actually I’ve never been so insulted, so hurt, so horribly misunderstood, so innocent —
“Or do YOU think I led him on, too?”
Through all her vehement chronicle, Sam had been sorry for her, most successfully; he had tried to agree with her, not very successfully; and, while he stroked her hair, he had studied a print on the wall.
He had not, till now, been very conscious of their sitting-room. But in these seconds he so concentrated on it that he could never forget one minutest detail: the walls, cornflower blue; the ceiling, dull gold; a wing chair in cretonne with cabbage roses; the mahogany escritoire, with elegant books of English memoirs, recently purchased by Fran, on the shelves above the writing tablet, on which she had made neat piles of the chaste Ritz stationery and the letters which were now beginning to come from home. The low table for tea, with the old silver tea-service which she had excitedly purchased on Bond Street. He was touched by the homemaking which she was always doing in hotel suites. But most of all he had been inattentively absorbed by the colored print on the wall opposite him. It wasn’t any print in particular. It was what any aged and semi-literate artist would do. Yet at this sensitive moment it was fascinating to Sam, this picture of a young gallant, rather leggy in tights, bent over a young woman with a smile and a flowery hat, against a background of towers and roses.
He roused himself from the study of it as he heard her demand, “Or do you think I led him on?”
“No. I’m sure you didn’t, Fran. But still —”
Suddenly he had no control over what he was saying; no relation to the man who was saying it:
“Oh, God, I’m so tired! Tired!”
“If you don’t think I’M tired!”
“Look here, Fran. I’m not awfully accustomed to dealing with little lovers in the home. I haven’t had that sort of life. Oh, I know you never had any idea of Lockert’s taking your friendliness for love-making. He was a swine. I suppose it’s up to me to go out and shoot him.”
“Oh, don’t be silly!”
“Well, I would feel a good deal like a fool, but if you want me to —” He had been warning himself not to say what he thought. Suddenly he was saying it:
“But as a matter of fact, I don’t entirely blame Lockert. You were flirting with him — you were doing it down at Lord Herndon’s — even on the steamer you acted as if he was running the whole show for you. And he had some excuse for thinking he could grab you off. You have such a nice way of bawling me out right in his presence; you say, ‘Do try to remember that Lady What’s-her-name isn’t used to Americans, and don’t talk about Zenith,’ and so on and so on, until you’ve got me as nervous as an ammeter, till I feel like a Middlewestern bull in a Bond Street china shop, and Lockert listens to it, and naturally he supposes that you think I’m a fool, while he’s ace-high and —”
“Are there any other capital crimes that I’ve committed?”
“Yes. A few. You enjoy highhatting Hurd and decent fellows like that — you’re so blame’ courteous they feel like stable-boys — you play with ’em like a cat with a mouse — and Lockert’s heard you doing it, and he sees you turning toward him for approval, and he thinks you think that he’s so superior to me and my friends —”
“Now you listen to ME! I deny everything you say! I have NEVER nagged you! I have NEVER said anything to embarrass you! I think even YOU will admit that in some things I have slightly more tact and patience than you have! And then out of pure friendliness, entirely for your own sake, I try to help you to understand people that you’ve misjudged, and you say I’ve bullied you! Oh, it’s perfectly beastly of you! And idiotic! If you wouldn’t fly off the handle so easily, if you’d listen and let me help you, perhaps you wouldn’t make such perfectly appalling breaks as you did the night when you insulted Lady Ouston and made everybody so frightfully uncomfortable —”
“But you backed me up! You said I was right!”
“Naturally! I said it out of loyalty to you. I’m always loyal to you. I’ve never yet failed you in that — or in anything else!”
“Oh, haven’t you! I suppose you call it loyalty to be constantly hinting and suggesting that I’m merely an ignorant business man, whereas anybody — ANYBODY! — that has an English or French accent, any loafer living on women, is a gentleman and scholar! After all, I have managed to deal with a few European importers without feeling —”
“Go on! Explain that you’re the great Herr Geheimrat General-direktor! That you invented and developed the entire motor industry! It’s all so new and interesting! Oh, I’ve never wanted to say it, Sam, but you force me to! I have no question but that you’ve done well. There are very few more impressive people — in Zenith! But it happens that we are not in your dear Zenith, just now, but in England, and there are several things here that you don’t know so much about, and that I do know! After all, this isn’t my first trip to Europe! But you’re too self-important to let me teach you! I certainly do not mean to hint that you’re ill bred or common, but really — I hate to have to tell you this! — you certainly do seem vulgar and ill bred to people who don’t understand you —”
“To Lockert, I suppose!”
“— and to people who venture to believe that the great tradition of Europe is slightly superior to the pep and hustle of Zenith! I could teach you that tradition, but you won’t let me —”
“I suppose you’re an authority!”
“I certainly am, comparatively! After all, I have been in Europe before! And my father’s house was always full of Europeans. And I’ve read more French and German and British books, these twenty years, than you have detective stories! They accept me here. Oh, Sam, if you’d only let me help you —”
“My dear child, you can’t at the same time pan me for my vulgarity and be the tender little mother! That’s too damn’ much to stand! And as a matter of fact, when it comes to vulgarity — Now where the devil are all the cigarettes?”
Instantly it was more important to find the cigarettes without which no real smoker can be comfortable and emotional and quarrel actively than it was to enjoy the pain of hatred. They suspended battle to join in the hunt. He turned out his dinner-jacket, rammed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat, and yanked out bureau drawers, while she popped up from the couch to look triumphantly — then bleakly — into the black and scarlet Russian box which she had bought yesterday.
“And another thing — another thing — But where ARE those cigarettes? I know I had half a package of Gold Flakes left, and some Camels,” he muttered, as he searched.
It was she who thought of telephoning to the office; she who felt that she knew how to use servants, at no matter what time of night, while he would always be Americanishly shy of them.
She sat on the edge of the couch, she smoothed her skirt, she bent her head with irritating graciousness to receive a light from him when the cigarettes had come, and graciously, most irritatingly, she said:
“Sam, I hate to have to point it out again, but it really doesn’t get you very far in a discussion to lose your temper and use big, strong, he-man words like ‘damn’ and ‘the devil.’ They aren’t so awfully novel and startling to me! And as usual, you’re merely missing the point. I’m neither ‘panning’ you, as you so elegantly put it, nor am I trying to mother you. I’m always willing to listen to your opinions on golf and how to invest my money. I merely expect you to admit that there may be a few things in which the poor ignorant female may know a little bit more than you do! Oh, you’re like all the other American men! You speak no known language. You don’t know Rodin from Mozart. You have no idea whether France or England controls Syria. You — you, the motor expert! — can never remember whether a lady should be on your right or your left in a car. You’re bored equally by Bach and Antheil. You’re bored by going with me to shop for the most divine Russian embroidery. You can’t fence with a pretty woman at dinner. And — But those are just symptoms! Separately, they don’t matter. The thing is that you haven’t the mistiest notion of what European civilization is, basically — of how the tradition of leisure, honor, gallantry, inherent cultivation, differs from American materialism. And you don’t want to learn. You never COULD be European —”
“Fran! Stop sneering!”
“I am not sneer —”
“Stop it! Dear! I don’t pretend to have any of these virtues. I guess it’s perfectly true: I never could become European. But why should I? I’m American, and glad of it. And you know I never try to prevent your being as European as you want to. But don’t take out your soreness at Lockert on me. Please!”
His encircling arms said more, and he nestled her head on his shoulder while she sobbed:
“I know. I’m sorry. But oh —”
She sat up, spoke resolutely.
“I’m terribly ashamed about this Lockert business. Shamed right down through me. I can’t stand it! Sam, I want to leave England at once. I can’t stand staying in this country with that man, thinking he’s here laughing at me. Or else I WILL be asking you to go out and shoot him, and the law here is so prejudiced! I want to leave for France. NOW!”
“But golly, Fran, I like this country! I’m getting to know London. I like it here. France’ll be so foreign.”
“Precisely! I want it to be! I want to start all over. I won’t make a fool of myself again. Oh, Sam, darling, let’s run away, like two school-children, hand in hand! And think! The joy of seeing blue siphons and brioches and kiosks and red sashes and red-plush wall-seats and fat lady cashiers! And hearing ‘B’jour, M’sieu et Madame,’ the way they say it when you’re leaving a shop — like a little bell! Let’s go!”
“Well, I did intend to see some aeroplane factories here. Fact I had a date —”
They went to Paris in four days.
The Channel steamer seemed to him like a greyhound — small, slim, power evident in its squat thick funnel. The delight of sea-faring which he had found on the Atlantic came to him again in the narrow gangways ‘tween decks, suggesting speed in their sharp curve toward the bow. When he had established Fran in a chair on the boat deck, amid piles of snobbish blond luggage, he slipped down to the bar.
There is about a ship’s bar, any bar of any ship, however small, a cheerfulness unknown elsewhere in life’s dark and Methodist vale. It has the snug security of an English inn, with a suggestion of adventure as the waves flicker past the port-holes, as you speculate about the passengers — men coming from China and Brazil and Saskatchewan, men going to Italy and Liberia and Siam. As he clumped up to join Fran, Sam forgot, in waxing anticipation of the Continent, his regret for England, and he kept that anticipation even while he listened on deck to a proper cross-Channel conversation among a ripe Wiltshire vicar, his aunt, and his aunt’s dear friend, Mrs. Illingworth–Dobbs:
“Oh yes, we shall stop in Florence most of the time.”
“Shall you stop at the Stella Rossa ancora una volta?”
“No, I really think we shall stop at Mrs. Brown–Bloater’s pension. You know we’ve always stopped at the Stella Rossa, but it’s really too outrageous. Last year they began to charge extra for tea!”
“Extra? For TEA?”
“Yes. And it used to be quite nice there! The guests were people one could know. But now it’s filled with Jews and Americans and unmarried couples and even Germans!”
“Dreadful! But Florence is so lovely.”
“Yes, so artistic. And Sir William is taking a villa there for the season.”
“I say, that will be jolly for you.”
“Si, si! Sara una cosa veramente — uh — really charming. Sir William is SO fond of the artistic. It will be quite like home, having him there. And I have heard definitely from Mrs. Brown–Bloater that she is not charging extra for tea!”
Sam forgot the prospect of a Continent full of Mrs. Illingworth–Dobbses; he even forgot, in the zest of the steamer’s speed, Fran’s fretfulness that the boat was going up and down a good deal, for which she seemed to feel that he was to blame. The bow hit the waves like a mailed fist. There was just enough motion to show that he really was at sea, and as they left the English coast and cut into the fresh breeze, they plunged past foreign-looking craft: a French steam-trawler lurching up the Channel, with meaty little sailors in striped jerseys waving at them, a German coaster, a Dutch East Indiaman, rolling through the sun-crisped tide.
The sailors who passed their deck chairs, the officers on the bridge, they were all so sturdy, so mahogany-faced, so reliable, so British.
A man with a long blond mustache and a monocle strolled past. Fran insisted that he was Thomas Cook, of the Sons. And what was Karl Baedeker like? she speculated. Short and square, with a short square brown beard and double-thick spectacles through which he peered at menus and ruined temples and signs reading “Roma 3 chilometri.”
“Yes, and what is Mr. Bass like? And the Haig Brothers? I wonder if they’re like the Smith Brothers,” said Sam, and, “Gosh, I’m enjoying this, Fran!”
Then he saw a pale line, which was the coast of France.
But he tramped aft, to look back toward England. He fancied that he could see the shadow of its cliffs. Doubtless it was a distant cloud-bank that he saw, but he imagined the cool and endearing hills, the welcoming crooked streets, the wholesome faces.
“England! Perhaps I’ll never see it again. . . . Fran and Lockert, they’ve taken it from me. . . . But I love it. America is my wife and daughter, but England is my mother. And these fools talk about a possible war between Britain and America! If that ever came — I thought Debs was foolish to go to jail as a protest against war, but I guess I understand better how he felt now. ‘If I forget thee, O England, let my right hand forget her cunning, if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.’ How did that go, in chapel? Oh yes: ‘If I prefer not Jerusalem — London — above my chief joy’! Well. I never could prefer England above America. But next to America — Oh, Lord, I’d liked to’ve stayed there! The Dodsworths were in England three thousand years, maybe, where they’ve been in America only three hundred.
Then he turned eagerly toward France.
They crept into harbor, past the breakwater with its tiny lighthouses, bumped along a rough stone pier, saw advertisements of strange drinks in a strange language, and were flooded with small, shrieking, blue-bloused porters; heard children speaking French as though it were a natural language; and for the first time in his life Samuel Dodsworth was in the grasp of a real Foreign Land.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57