Thomas J. Pearson and Samuel Dodsworth had always been too well acquainted to know each other. They had been together since boyhood. Each was a habit to the other. It had been a habit for Tub to go once a week to Sam’s for poker; a habit for Sam to telephone him for lunch every Tuesday or Wednesday. They analyzed each other, they considered each other as individuals, no more than a man considers the virtues of his own several toes, unless they hurt. Even Sam’s absence from Tub at technical school, after college, had given them no understanding of each other. They were under the spell of the collegiate belief that one’s classmates are the most princely fellows ever known in history.
But in Sam’s six months abroad, Tub had grown into new habits. It was to the house of Dr. Henry Hazzard that Tub looked now for his weekly drug of poker. Sam saw that Hazzard was at least as necessary to Tub as himself, now, and sometimes he found himself allied against the two of them when the talk fell on labor or European alliances and they expressed the fat opinions which Sam himself had once accepted but about which he now felt shaky. He was slightly jealous, slightly critical. He noted that Tub wasn’t quite so perfect as he had remembered. When Tub shrieked, during a game of poker, “‘What ho’ said the cat to the catamaran” or “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the ante” Sam was not diverted. And he felt that Tub was as critical of him. If he hinted that the paving on Conklin Avenue was bad, or that the coffee at the country club left something to be desired, Tub scolded, “Oh, God, we expatriates certainly are a hard bunch to please!”
When Sam dined with them, he found himself turning oftener to Tub’s bouncing goodwife, Matey, than to Tub.
Yet between times they played their nineteen holes happily, serene as a pair of old dogs out rabbit-hunting. If sometimes Sam found himself wishing for Ross Ireland’s melodramatic talk about revolutions and lost temples, if sometimes Tub seemed rather provincial, Sam was thoroughly scandalized, and rebuked himself, “Tub’s the best fellow in the world!”
It is doubtful whether he was the more disturbed by finding that he could get along without Tub or by finding that Tub could get along without him.
Believing from Sam’s first enthusiastic foreign letters that he would not return from Europe this year, Tub had planned with Dr. Hazzard a month’s motoring-golfing expedition. They were excited about it. They were going to play over the best courses in Winnemac, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. They spoke of the charms of stumbling over new varieties of bunkers, wild grass, and rosebushes. They raved over long shots across sand dunes, and disastrous ponds in which to lose dozens of golf balls.
They had planned to go by themselves, but now they invited Sam. He hesitated. He felt unwanted.
Of course they hadn’t known he would be returning —
Of course they HAD urged him to come —
Only why couldn’t they have waited to see whether he would return?
He compromised by going with them for two weeks out of the month.
It was a good jaunt. They laughed, and felt free of womenfolk and nagging secretaries, retold all the dirty stories they knew, drank discreetly, drove fast, and admired the golf courses on the North Shore, above Chicago. Sam enjoyed it. But he noted that when he left they seemed cheerful enough about going on by themselves.
Brent — Emily — business — now Tub and Hazzard — they didn’t need him.
All thinking about matters less immediate than food, sex, business, and the security of one’s children is a disease, and Sam was catching it. It made everything more difficult.
He thought about alcohol.
He noted that most of the men of the country club set, including himself, drank too much. And they talked too much about drinking too much. Prohibition had turned drinking from an agreeable, not very important accompaniment to gossip into a craze. They were jumpy about it, and as fascinated as a schoolboy peering at obscene posters.
And he began to meditate about his acquaintances, almost frankly.
He realized, almost frankly, that he was not satisfied now by Dr. Hazzard’s best limericks, Tub’s inside explanations about the finances of Zenith corporations, even Judge Turpin’s whispers about the ashes upon the domestic hearths of their acquaintances.
Hang it, that HAD been good talk in Paris, even when he had not altogether understood it — Atkins’ rumination on painters, the gilded chatter of Renee de Penable’s gang of pirates, and still more the stories of Ross Ireland. He had heard of Anastasia, who was declared to be the daughter of the Czar, of the Zinovieff letter which had wrecked the Labor Party of Britain, of the suicide of Archduke Rudolph, of the Empress Charlotte wandering melancholy mad through the haunted rooms of Castle Miramar, of systems to win at Monte Carlo, of Floyd Gibbons’ plan to make a motor road from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande, of Turkish women born in harems who now bobbed their hair and studied biology, of the Chinese “Christian general”— oh, a hundred stories touching great empires and hidden lands. And he had seen the King and Queen of England drive up Constitution Hill in an open motor, had seen Carpentier, the prize-fighter, dancing — a pale, solemn, unathletic-looking young man, seen Briand at the opera and Arnold Bennett at the theater.
It had been good talk and good seeing.
But even if he were articulate enough to bring home this booty to Tub and Dr. Hazzard and Judge Turpin, he felt — after a few stumbling trials he knew — that they would not be interested.
He saw that it was not a question of Ross Ireland being interested in kingdoms and of Tub being interested only in coupons and aces. He saw, slowly, that none of his prosperous industrialized friends in Zenith were very much interested in anything whatever. They had cultivated caution until they had lost the power to be interested. They were like old surly farmers. The things over which they were most exclamatory — money, golf, drinking — didn’t fascinate them as brush-strokes or wood-winds fascinated the peering Endicott Everett Atkins; these diversions were to the lords of Zenith not pleasures but ways of keeping so busy that they would not admit how bored they were, how empty their ambitions. They had as their politics only a testy fear of the working class. (Why, Sam perceived uneasily, the whole country turned the dramatic game of politics over to a few seedy professional vote-wanglers!) To them, women were only bedmates, housekeepers, producers of heirs, and a home audience that could not escape, and had to listen when everybody at the office was tired of hearing one’s grievances. The arts, to them, consisted only of jazz conducive to dancing with young girls, pictures which made a house look rich, and stories which were narcotics to make them forget the tedium of existence.
They did things, they rushed, they supervised, they contended — but they were not interested.
However difficult Fran might be at times, pondered Sam, however foolish Madame de Penable with her false hair and her false gigolos, however pompous and patronizing Mr. Endicott Everett Atkins, they were fascinated by everything in human life, from their own amours to soup and aeroplanes.
He would like to be one of them. There was only one thing in the way. Could he?
Thus meditated Samuel Dodsworth, alone on the porch of the country club, awaiting the return of Tub Pearson.
What the devil was he doing here? He was as dead as though he were entombed. He had to “get busy”— either go back to work, at once, or join Fran.
Then, for a week or two, he became very busy peering into the Sans Souci Gardens development.
To the north of Zenith, among wooded hills above the Chaloosa River, there was being laid out one of the astonishing suburbs which have appeared in America since 1910. So far as possible, the builders kept the beauties of forest and hills and river; the roads were not to be broad straight gashes butting their way through hills, but winding byways, very inviting . . . if one could only kill off the motorists. Here, masked among trees and gardens, were springing up astonishing houses — considerably more desirable as residences than the gaunt fortified castles of the Rhine, the magnificent and quite untenantable museums of French chateaux. They were all imitative, of course — Italian villas and Spanish patios and Tyrolean inns and Tudor manor-houses and Dutch Colonial farmhouses, so mingled and crowding one another that the observer was dizzy. They were so imitative and so standardized that it was easy to laugh at them. But they were no more imitative of Munich than was Munich of Italy or than Italy of Greece, and like the rest of the great American Domestic Architecture of this era, they were probably the most comfortable residences in the world . . . for one who didn’t mind it if his Venetian balcony was only ten feet from his neighbor’s Swiss chalet, and if his neighbor’s washing got slightly in the way of tea on his own lawn.
Driving through the San Souci Gardens, Sam was fascinated. He liked the energy with which roads were being dug, houses rising, stone fountains from Florence being set up in squares and circles designated by arty little swinging street signs as “Piazza Santa Lucia” and “Assisi Crescent” and “Plaza Real.”
That there was something slightly ridiculous about mixing up Spain and Devon and Norway and Algiers, and transplanting them to the sandy hills of a Midwestern town, where of late the Indians had trapped rabbits and the rusty-bearded Yankees had trapped the Indians, did vaguely occur to Sam, but it was all a fantastic play to him, very gay and bright after the solemn respectabilities and the disapproving mansard roofs of the older residential avenues in Zenith.
Here, at least, he reflected, was all the color and irregularity he had gone abroad to seek; all the scarlets and yellows and frivolous pinks, all the twisty iron-work and scalloped tiles and striped awnings and Sicilian wine-jars he could swallow, along with (he thanked Heaven) all the mass-produced American electric refrigerators, oil furnaces, vacuum cleaners, garbage incinerators, over-stuffed chairs and built-in garages which, for all of Fran’s scoffing and Mr. Atkins’ expatriate distress, Sam still approved.
It came to him that now there was but little pioneering in manufacturing motors; that he hadn’t much desire to fling out more cars on the packed highways. To create houses, perhaps less Coney–Island-like than these — noble houses that would last three hundred years, and not be scrapped in a year, as cars were —
“That’d be interesting,” said Sam Dodsworth, the builder. Of course he knew nothing about architecture. But he knew a good deal about engineering, about steel and wood and glass, about organizing companies, about getting along with labor.
“And say! Here’s something that Fran would take an interest in! And she’s an expert about decorations and all that stuff. . . . Might hold her here!”
In a leisurely way, apparently not much interested, Sam saw to it that he was introduced to the president of the Sans Souci Company and that they played golf together. He was invited to view the Gardens with the president, and afterward he spent a good deal of time walking through them, talking to architects, to carpenters, to gardeners. Otherwise he merely waited.
He was very good at waiting.
Twice a week letters from Fran had drawn him toward her and toward Europe. Her first letter had come on the day of his arrival in Zenith:
Villa Doree, Vevey, Montreux, La Suisse.
SAM DEAR, it’s TOO glorious! Down the lake, the friendliest little steamers zipping by — peaks of the Dent de Midi — too perfectly SUPERB— at sunset they’re clouds of gold. And I’ve actually been walking! (Was Fran terribly bad in Paris, always galloping out to night clubs when you’d rather have gone walking? Well, you have your revenge — AWFULLY lonely for your big bear growls and general dependability even though I am moved by beauty of this place and rather grateful for a little calm.) Walk up through vineyards to ducky little stone houses.
The villa is CHARMING— not much ground but lawns and roses and terrace for tea, right on the lake. Renee de Penable is just as glad as I am to be free for a while of all the noisy young dancing men. We’ve both sworn to let ourselves be old ladies with caps and knitting for a while, probably take to religion and camomile tea. I’m waiting for your letters, just had your steamer note, SO glad you enjoyed crossing with Mr. Ireland, you probably had much more fun with him than with a bad sport like me — shouldn’t have said that, looks mean, and I really and truly am glad you had a nice bachelorish time. Be sure and write EVERYTHING about Brent and Emily and McKee. Give my regards to Tub and Dr. Hazzard. An astonishing big gull has just lighted on the lawn right in front of the window by which I write. We have the funniest pair of maids — one looks like a kewpie, and I suspect the purity of her intentions toward the postman, and cook is built like a Japanese wrestler — only more clothed, of course. I hope you will have a happy stay in Zenith. I do miss you. Come back soon and in early autumn we’ll jaunt off together. I know you’re a little fed up with Paris and personally I don’t care if we don’t get back there till spring, we might view Egypt, Italy, etc., for six months. Renee sends you her love and so do I, old grizzly!
Her next three letters were short, devoted to scenery and troubles. She always had troubles — always. They weren’t very serious troubles, he thought: Renee had been cross, the cook had been cross — apparently Fran herself had never been cross. The dance at the Hotel des Deux Mondes had been a bore, the rain had been wet, the English family next door had been rude, she had a toothache. Two of the letters were impersonal, almost chilling; in between was an affectionate cry for him, so that he was confused and gave a good deal of his hours of meditation to wishing that she were a little less complicated.
The fourth letter was livelier:
Wouldn’t you KNOW it, Sam! After swearing that she never wanted to see a dancing man again, or anything in the way of a male more disturbing than a Father Confessor, Renee has already gathered about her (which unfortunately means more or less about me too) a brand-new horde of Apollos. How she does it I don’t know! There’ll be a nice young man of sixty staying with his venerable mamma at a hotel here; somebody in Paris asks him to call on us; he comes formally to tea; and the next day he’s panting on the doorstep again, bringing a pack of males ranging from sixteen to eighty and from racing models to the latest thing in hearses. Of course she knows simply EVERYBODY— we can’t go to the Deux Mondes for a cocktail without at least one gent swooping down on her with glad whoops of alcoholic welcome. So now the house is littered with fauns and Bacchuses, if that’s the word.
There’s an English hunting man named Randall who wears blue collars and shirts, and another Englishman picturesquely named Smith, and an Austrian baron who, as far as I can find out, sells clocks, and a man who seems to have leased the French Bourse, and a rich American Jew named Arnold Israel — he’s about forty and very good-looking in a black-haired, black-eyed, beefy sort of way but a little too gaudily Oriental for my simple taste, when he kisses your hand he almost bites it, ugh! Of course it is nice to be able to dance again, but I really and truly did enjoy just mouching around and being quiet. Would you mind transferring five thousand (dollars) to my account at the Guaranty, Paris? Food here is more expensive than I had expected, and I’ve had to buy some more summer things — I found a shop in Montreux with simply DARLING hats, and while it’s all very well to walk and to study the dear sweet smelly Common People by riding on trains, now that Renee has gone and dragged us into the Life Idiotic again we’ve had to hire a limousine and a chauffeur. I hope you’re ever so happy, darling.
It was with her next letter that he began to fret. It reached him while he was motoring and golfing with Tub Pearson and Dr. Hazzard:
Such a lovely blue and golden day! The mountains are like the pillars of heaven. A bunch of us are taking a motor boat across to the French side of the lake. Arnold — Arnold Israel, an American here, I think I spoke of him — he has discovered a marvelous little inn where we can lunch — under the vine and fig tree sort of thing. He’s really an awfully nice person, one of these extraordinary international Jews who can do everything and knows everything — rides like an angel, swims seven miles, tells the funniest living stories, knows more about painting than old Atkins and more about biology and psychology than sixteen college professors and I must say he dances like Maurice himself! And he is an American. It’s funny, I know I’m playing into your hands but I must admit this, much though I admire Europeans, it IS nice to rest one’s self after even Renee’s best cut-glass wit, etc., etc., by being simple and natural with a fellow countryman — one who will UNDERSTAND when you say, “She must have gotten that hat from the five and ten cent store,” or even, “Attaboy.” I find that with you away, you dear darling old vulgarian, I have positive joy in hearing somebody say, “Oh, hell.” Makes me almost homesick. Oh yes, I guess I am American all right! Must hurry now, lots of love,
For ten days, no letter, then two together:
You would approve of your bad Fran thoroughly if you knew what a healthful life she is leading. Of course sometimes I do stay up a bit late at dances — we’ve met an awfully nice American Jewish family here named, of all things, Lee, friends of Arnold Israel — they have rented a wonderful old castle back from the lake above Glion, and they do give the most gorgeous parties. But otherwise I’m outdoors most of the time — riding, swimming, tramping, motoring, tennis — the Israel man has the most terrific cannon-ball in tennis. And then he’ll read Shelley aloud, like a twenty-year-old Vassar girl! What a man! And to think that he’s in the jute and hemp importing business! though it’s true that he merely inherited the business from his hustling old father, and that he’s able to leave it four or five months every year and loaf all through Europe.
Good Heavens, this whole letter seems to be about Arnold Israel! That’s only because I thought he was the person here who would interest you most. I needn’t tell you that he and I are merely the most impersonal kind of friends. Oh, I suppose he would get sentimental if I’d let him but I most certainly will not, and with all his Maharajah splendors, he has the most delicate and sensitive mind. I do appreciate what you say about Brent and Emily’s having really grown up and hardly needing us. Madly though I adore them and long to see them, I’m almost afraid to, they’d make me feel so old, whereas now if you could see me in white blouse, shamelessly crimson skirt, white shoes and stockings, you would say I’m a flapper, and it’s beautifully quiet here by the lake at night-getting in QUANTITIES of restful sleep.
Sam dear, this isn’t really a letter but just a PS. to my note of yesterday. I feel as though I wrote so much about Mr. Israel that you’ll think I think too much about him. That’s the unfortunate thing about letters — one just chats along and often gives a wrong impression. If I have mentioned him several times it’s only because most of the other people, no matter how well they may dance or swim, are really pretty dull, while he is a nice person to talk to, and of course — I needn’t tell you, you old loyal darling, I have no other interest in him. Besides, Renee is crazy about him and wants to annex him for keeps, and as she’s really the chef de bureau here, having found the villa, etc., even though she does pay only half the rent, if she wants her old Arnold she can certainly jolly well have him, for all I care. Hastily, F.
The next letter did not come for nearly a fortnight, and Sam realized, putting on his glasses to peer at the stamp, that it was not from Vevey, but from Stresa, in Italy:
Sam, the most dreadful thing has happened. Madame de Penable and I had simply the most dreadful row, she said things I simply could not forgive, and I have left the villa and come here to Lake Maggiore. It’s a lovely place, but as I don’t know whether I shall stay, you’d better address me c/o Guaranty, Paris. And it was all about nothing.
I’ve written you about a Mr. Israel we met at Vevey and how crazy Renee was about him. One evening, I hate to say this about a woman who, after all, no matter how vulgar and unscrupulous she is has given me a good time, but I really must say she’d drunk more than was good for her and after the guests had gone she suddenly turned on me like a fishwife and she used the most DREADFUL language and she accused me of carrying on an affair with Mr. Israel and of stealing him from her which was idiotic as well as false because I must say she never did have him so how could I have stolen him from her even supposing I had the slightest desire to! I’ve never had anybody talk to me the way she did, it was simply DREADFUL!
Of course I didn’t condescend to stoop to her level and answer her, I simply said very politely, “My dear Madame de Penable, I’m afraid you are hysterical and not altogether responsible for what you are saying and I would prefer not to discuss the matter any further certainly not till tomorrow morning.” But that didn’t stop her and finally I simply went to my room and locked the door and next day I moved to a hotel and then came down here — it really is lovely here, with the Borromean Isles including the famous Isola Bella lying out in the lake and across the lake, behind the nice village of Pallanza, the mountains rising, quite high and villages, etc., strung along the roads up the mountains. I feel awfully lonely here and that beastly toothache I had in London is returning but, after all, anything is better than living with a brawling vulgar fool like Mme. de Penable.
I hate to ‘fess up and I guess this gives you a lovely chance to crow over me, only I know you’re too generous and understanding of your bad little girl to take such an advantage of her, but you certainly were completely right in what you said, or rather hinted, for you were too kind to come out and say anything rude, about the Penable woman and her dreadful vulgar friends. I’m sorry. I hope I’ve learned something. Only I don’t want you to think that Mr. Israel is in any way to blame, like the Penable woman and her friends.
He was as innocent as I was, and he was good enough to see me off on the train at Vevey. He is a man I would like to have you meet, I think you would find in him all the nice, jolly, companionable, witty things you find in Ross Ireland and at the same time a subtlety and good taste that I’m sure you will admit with all his fine qualities Mr. Ireland lacks. Well, perhaps we will run into Arnold when you come back for I believe he is taking a whole year this time wandering around Europe.
Oh, do come soon, darling! I miss you so today! If you were here we’d take the little batello — aren’t you proud of me, I’ve already learned ten words of Italian in one day; “Come in” is avanti and the bill is le conto or no, il conto I think it is — and we’d go scooting around the lake. If it’s convenient you might send another couple of thousand, Guaranty Paris — of course I have to pay my share of the rent at the cursed villa at Vevey even though I’m not there. I suppose if I didn’t, and I certainly would jolly well like not to, the De Penable woman would go around saying that I was not only a libertine and a man-snatcher but also an embezzler!
How I’d like to have you spank her for me with your big beautiful strong hand! You’d do it so calmly and so thoroughly! So of course I have to pay my share of the rent and limousine hire there and as I also have to pay now for my rooms here or wherever I may be (you better not depend on this address reaching me but address c/o Guaranty) it will make things a little more expensive than I had hoped. Oh, dear, I did hope this would be a nice economical summer, and heaven knows I tried hard enough to make it so, but I didn’t expect the unexpected to unexpect quite so disastrously. I feel better now after talking to you like this — I cried almost all last night — and I shall now live the life of a nun and devote myself to the study of the Italian language and people, as befits an old lady like me.
Your rumpled and repentant Fran.
That letter had come on the day when the president of the Sans Souci Gardens Company had invited Sam to lunch.
He was very frank, the president. He was a trained architect. He astonished Sam by admitting that he thought Sans Souci rather dreadful.
“There’s too much mixture of styles, and the houses are too close together,” he said. “But most Americans, while they’ll pay a devil of a lot for a big impressive house, don’t care enough for privacy so that they’ll pay for a decent-sized plot of ground. And they WANT French chateaux in a Henry Ford section! But at least we’ve been educating them to be willing to come out toward the country instead of huddling together in the city. And I’m planning now, if Sans Souci doesn’t ruin me, a much bigger development where we won’t mix the styles. Oh, I suppose we’ll have to go on cribbing from Europe and Colonial America. When a natural genius comes along and creates something absolutely new in houses, only a few people really like ’em. But I picture a new development — I hope with a less agonizing name than Sans Souci Gardens, which is the invention of that grand old Frenchman, one of my partners, Mr. Abe Blumenthal — in which, at least, we can keep the thing from looking like a world’s fair. For instance, one section strictly confined to houses more or less in the Tudor style, and another all Dutch Colonial, or something not warring with Dutch Colonial. Or maybe the whole development in one style. Like Forest Hills on Long Island.”
But — the Sans Souci president went on — he himself was too fanciful and too impatient. And as partner he needed some one (he hinted that it might be Sam) who would take the hundred or so notions for hotels and luxurious yachting tours and chain restaurants which he conceived every month, pick out the most practical, and control the financing, the selling.
He grinned. “Doesn’t sound like much of an offer. It’s based on the belief that I do have some new and interesting ideas along with quite a decent knowledge of architecture and building. But — I’d like to see if it isn’t possible for us to get together. While you’d been deciding that you were bored with selling cars and while you’ve been looking up my record for dependability —”
“Oh, you guessed that?” grunted Sam.
“I’ll think it over, I most certainly will,” said Sam.
He returned to the country club, planning a dozen or so new kinds of real estate developments of his own, to receive Fran’s distressed letter from Stresa.
It all seemed to fit in. He would bring her back; together they would look into the building of houses. He cabled her, “Too bad penable glad got rid her why don’t you return zenith then abroad again in year or so.”
She answered, “No want stay few more months suit self about joining.”
And the great Samuel Dodsworth still had no more notion of what he was going to do than when, as a senior in college, he had sat on East Rock, looking at Long Island Sound, planning to be a bridge-builder in the Andes.
He wrote to her of the Sans Souci Gardens, and waited. He read about domestic architecture, and went to Cleveland and Detroit to inspect new developments.
Her next letter had been written some days before he had received her Stresa letter, before she had his cable. It informed him:
Yes, my dear Samivel, I am still at Stresa, though I may be off to Deauville immejit — I’ve always wanted to see one of those places where gloomy earls go to lose money at chemin de fer. But meantime I’ve been very happy here, after getting over my first hysterics at the De Penable woman’s beastliness. I’ve had such a nice girl here to give me Italian lessons daily and with her or other acquaintances made at the hotel I’ve explored all the divine villages about here — Pallanza and Baveno and Gignese, back in the hills and Cannobio, and Arona, etc. etc. I’ve taken a steamer clear up to Locarno, the Swiss end of the lake, and the tram up to the top of Monte Mottarone — Sam, it’s so steep that when you look down at the lake below you the water seems absolutely to tip up like a tilted platter! So you’re not to worry about me, I’m quite all right. I suppose I ought to tell you that Arnold Israel has come down here from Vevey, you remember the nice American I wrote you about, he’s staying here at this same hotel.
I don’t know that I ought to tell you this — even you, you old woofly-bear darling with your kind, decent, sympathetic mind might possibly misunderstand for, with all your virtues, after all you do have an American way of looking at things, but I’m afraid some gossip might come to you some day and I want you to understand. Needless to say, our relations are as innocent as though we were a boy and girl of eight and I do have such a nice happy clean time with him — Sam, Arnold drives a car even faster than you do, my heart almost stopped yesterday when he was driving 118 kilometers an hour, but he’s such a superb driver that I usually feel quite safe. Now I must hurry and dress. Bless you. I hope you’re well and happy. Best love to Emily and Harry.
That afternoon he telephoned to the president of the Sans Souci Company that he was summoned abroad and could decide nothing for several months. He telegraphed to New York for a steamer reservation. He dashed to Emily, to Tub, to Hazzard, and said good-bye. But it was a week before he could sail, and meantime another letter had come from Fran — from Deauville:
Yes, here I am, and I don’t like it much. This place is very gay but a little icky; lots of nice people but also DREADFUL ones, profiteers giving cocktail parties, race-track touts infesting the lounge. I wish I’d gone to the Lido instead. Perhaps I will. See here now, Samivel. In your letter, written to me at Vevey but received since I left, you said that you hoped I would, as you expressed it, “lay low” after my winter in Paris and “get to bed early for a while.” I don’t suppose you meant to be unpleasant but you couldn’t realize how jumpy and hurt and bewildered I was after the horrible Penable affair, like a lost child, and how your scolding would hurt me. Am I to spend the rest of my life growing old as gracefully AND AS FAST as I can, which is apparently YOUR ideal!
You talk as though I were some hell-raising flapper instead of a woman of the world who likes civilized amusements. There! I’m sure you didn’t mean to be scolding, but can’t you understand how it might hit me when I was in a very high-strung condition? Really, Sam, you must be a little more thoughtful! Do try to use a little imagination, now and then! Now that’s off my chest and shall we just forget it? Only I must say — Sam, you may think I’m unjust, but really it was essentially your fault that I ever had the De Penable trouble. If you hadn’t insisted on running back to America for your class reunion, which wasn’t so awfully necessary, after all, if you had stuck by me so that I wasn’t in the anomalous and almost humiliating position of being without a husband, just like a lone adventuress, the De Penable woman would never have dared act as though I WERE an adventuress and have turned on me the way she did. I hope you’ll understand that I mean this only in the kindest and sweetest way, and we are, after all, aren’t we, one of the few married couples who understand each other so well that we can be frank, and next time I hope you’ll try to remember. There, that’s over, and now for the news.
Yes, says the hussy defiantly, Arnold Israel IS here with me, that is, as I’m sure you’ll understand, he is in no sense WITH me, but he’s here in Deauville. At first I wouldn’t come along, but he was so thoughtful, so sweet, so understanding. He dug up somehow — I don’t know how he does these things but he has what one might call the spiritual as well as the financial Midas touch, do you know that I’ve just discovered that while I thought he was merely loafing while he was away from his beastly old jute and hemp business, here in Europe, he’s made about $40,000 by gambling in exchange and buying and selling a, well, a REASONABLY authentic Rembrandt and he wanted to give me some pearls but of course I wouldn’t let him, but I’m drifting away from the thread of my story.
He found out at Stresa that a most respectable old Philadelphia couple, real Rittenhouse Square sort only fond of gaiety, were here, and he had them invite me to come here under their wing, which made it all right and prevents any of the nasty kind of gossip such as a beast like the De Penable woman loves. After all, I thought, I’m silly about NOT coming with him. Sam will NEVER misunderstand, he has imagination, and besides, I realized, I’m not a young flittergibbet or one of these horrible female Ponce de Leons like De Penable, but a perfectly respectable matron who has brought up a son and a daughter now married, and no one would ever think of gossiping.
So here I am and while, as I say, I’m not crazy about the place, Arnold and I and his friends, a Mr. and Mrs. Doone, perfectly DARLING people and such wonderful sports though they’re nearly seventy, we have gay little parties of our own and loaf around on the beach for hours nours nours at a time. Address me c/o Paris, though I’m certain to be here for at least three weeks more, as there is a magnificent costume ball coming off to which Arnold and I are going, most scrumptiously as the Sirocco and the North Wind, me with my nice pale Swede hair being naturally the North Wind. Lots of love,
Sam cabled, “Sailing carmania meet you paris hotel universel september two.” He added “Love,” and crossed it out, and put it in again.
Twelve days later he was looking at the long fortifications at Cherbourg, watching the voluble little Frenchmen on the tender.
On deck, by night and day, he had walked out of his system all irritation at Fran, all hatred of Arnold Israel. When he had finished her letter from Deauville, he had suddenly grasped something which he had never completely formulated in their twenty-three years of marriage: that she was not in the least a mature and responsible woman, mother and wife and administrator, but simply a clever child, with a child’s confused self-dramatizations. The discovery had dismayed him. Then it had made him the more tender. His other children, Brent and Emily, did not need him; his child Fran did need him! Something in life still needed him! He thought of her, awaiting him there in Paris, as he had thought of her in the uncomplicated days of their courtship.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11