Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 25

It seemed a singularly undistinguished morning. Sam looked forward only to a vague dinner with Kurt and a friend from Vienna, and as Kurt had said nothing more ecstatic about his friend than that he was “soch a good fellow and he speaks seven languages and is so fonny,” Sam knew that the fellow couldn’t be up to much. For the afternoon they planned to see the exhibit of Kolbe’s sculptures at Cassirer’s and the French impressionists at the Gallerie Tannhauser, and Sam hoped (not very optimistically) to lure Fran out to Charlottenburg to inspect factories and tenements for laborers. . . . She liked to discuss what she called the Lower Classes with every one save members of the Lower Classes.

He lolled in the sitting-room of their suite, rather slovenly in dressing-gown and ancient slippers, which Fran was always going to replace by new elegance and never did. When he had finished reading the Paris American papers and had exclaimed over the fact that Mr. T. Q. Obelisk of Zenith had just landed in Europe and was going to squander an entire three weeks in Paris, he had nothing more to do. He thought of answering Henry Hazzard’s last letter. But — oh, thunder, there was no news — He thought of having a drink, and answered that it was much too early in the day. He thought of going for a walk but — oh, he’d walked all over the inner city.

He mouched. He prowled through the sitting-room, turning over tourist agency folders about Java — the North Cape — Rio de Janeiro.

He peeped into the bedroom. Fran, in nightgown and fluffy pink knitted bed jacket, was still abed, but over her chocolate she was furiously trying to read the Vossische Zeitung and the Tageblatt with the aid of a dictionary, imagination, and discreet skipping. He looked admiringly at her display of scholarship, he said that it was going to be a swell day, and returned to the sitting-room to stare out at the Pariser Platz and wish he were home.

At a knock, he said “Come IN!” indifferently. It would be the room-waiter, to clear away.

It was a boy with a cable.

For a time Sam put off opening it. It pleased him to think that even in his insignificance here in Berlin, he was the sort of man who received cables. Then he read:

“congratulate us birth nine pound son stop emily splendid shape cheers stop your first grandchild harry mckee.”

Sam stood glorying. He was not finished, after all — something of him had been carried on with this new life! And Emily would be so happy! How he loved her! And NOW, by golly, Fran would want to go home! They’d catch the next steamer and see the baby, Emily, Harry, Brent, Tub, Henry Hazzard — In maybe two weeks —

He paraded into the bedroom, trying to play-act, trying to sound unemotional as he remarked, “Um, uh, Fran — lil cable from Zenith.”

“Yes?” sharply. “Anything wrong?”

“Well — Fran!” He went to kiss her; he ignored her slight impatience. “We’re granddaddy and grandmammy! And the devils never let us know youngster was coming — prob’ly spare us worry. Emily has a son! Nine pounds!”

“And how —”

“She’s fine, apparently. So Harry wires.” In her quick, happy look he felt more secure and married and real than for weeks. “My God, I wish they had the transatlantic ‘phone working from here, way they have from London now. We’d ‘phone ’em, if it cost a hundred a minute. Wouldn’t that be great, to hear Emily’s voice! Tell you what I am going to do! I’ll ‘phone Kurt Obersdorf and tell him about our grandson. I’ve got to holler —”

Her face tightened. “Wait!”

“What’s the idea?”

“I’m delighted. Of course. Dear Emily! She’ll be so happy. But, Sam, don’t you realize that Kurt — oh, I don’t mean Kurt individually, of course; I mean all our friends in Europe — They think of me as young. Young! And I am, oh, I AM! And if they know I’m a grandmother — God! A grandmother! Oh, Sam, can’t you SEE? It’s horrible! It’s the end, for me! Oh, please, please, please try to understand! Think! I was so young when I married. It isn’t FAIR for me to be a grandmother now, at under forty.” With swiftness he calculated that Fran was now forty-three. “A grandmother! Lace caps and knitting and rheumatism! Oh, please try to understand! It isn’t that I’m not utterly happy for Emily’s sake, but — I have my own life, too! You mustn’t tell Kurt! Ever!”

He knew then, well enough.

He was too hard hit to dare be angry. “Yes, I see how you mean. Yes, I— Well, I’ll go cable to Emily and Harry.”

It was that evening, before they went out to dinner with Kurt, that he noticed her new habit of perfuming the back of her right hand, and reflected, “I wonder if it has anything to do with his kissing her hand? Wonder? You don’t wonder; you know!”

He saw further that she faintly perfumed the inside of her arm to the elbow, and he was a little sickened as he stalked out to the sitting-room and tried to divert himself by reading the list of Circular Tours in Great Britain and France in the “European Travel Guide” of the American Express Company, while waiting for her to finish dressing. It didn’t altogether absorb him. He looked about the room. There were roses — sent by Kurt. There was Feuchtwanger’s “Jud Suss”— sent by Kurt.

Then there was Kurt himself, knocking, coming in gaily, crying, “Is that wife of ours late again? Sam, I have brought you a box of real Havana cigars smuggled through without duty! Oh, my roses came! I am glad. Sam, haf you any idea how thankful a lonely poor man — and to a Wiener like me, Berlin is just as foreign as it is to you! — so thankful to have Fran and you tolerate me while you are here! You are so good! . . . Fran! Are you not dressed? You are keeping your poor children waiting! If I were Sam, I would beat you! And my friend probably waiting in the lobby.”

“Coming, Kurt!” she sang, lark-like.

And Kurt was kissing the back of her hand. And Sam Dodsworth said nothing at all.

But it was down in the bar, where they went to have cocktails and to wait for Kurt’s friend, that the new and almost honestly analytic Sam Dodsworth caught himself in a situation more shameful and enfeebling than anything that had happened in their apartment. An American motor salesman, whom Sam had met at the American Club luncheon, stopped at their table to nod his greetings, and Sam caught himself saying, a little proudly, “Mr. Ashley, I don’t think you’ve met my wife. And this is the Count Obersdorf.”

“Mighty pleased to meet you, Count,” said the motor man, after kissing Fran’s hand in what he considered a European manner.

Sam sharply cross-examined himself. “Look here, Samba. Were you flattered to be able to introduce a Count? This tourist agency clerk! How long will it be before you become the kind of rotten soak that sits around boasting that his wife has a count for a lover? No! I’m not that bad, not yet. But I guess my mind is kind of sick, now. What the devil was it that hit me? I don’t understand. Emily, my darling, with a son! Doesn’t Fran want —”

Coolly, quite prosaically, he interrupted Kurt to demand of Fran, “Say, uh, remember I told you about that young lady — that cousin of mine — that’s just had a baby? Wouldn’t you like to skip back to America and see her?”

“Oh, I’d love to. But I don’t suppose we’ll see her till next autumn,” said Fran placidly.

“Here comes my friend. SOCH a lovely fellow,” said Kurt.

The second message from Zenith, from home, came in a letter which was handed to Sam at the desk, three evenings later, as they were going out to dinner with Kurt.

“From old Tub!” he chuckled, and tucked it into his pocket. When they were at table he suggested, “Mind if I glance at my letter?”

Tub wrote, in schoolboyish script:

How are you and how’s all the lovely femmes in Europe? Well, you’re not going to get away with hogging them much longer. Matey and I have finally decided about time we ran over and had a look at the old country and get a decent drink. She’s a grand wife and likes her likker. We sail on May tenth, on the Olympic, arrive London probably 16th, and Paris the 21st — stay Savoy London and Continental Paris. In Paris about a week, then Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, south France, and sail from Cherbourg again on June 20th. Some fast trip, eh, but I bet we don’t miss much, your last post card, and a hell of a tightwad you are about writing say you’re going to Germany but don’t see what you find there, can only get beer there and it’s the bubbles that cure all your trouble that I want to taste again, you remember old song, champagne.

Now if you’re too busy to remember old friends all right, but would be awfully glad if you could manage meet us London or Paris, or if along route afterwards send me schedule c/o Equitable Trust, 23 rue de la Paix.

Don’t take any wooden money.

Sincerely, your friend,


The letter had followed Sam from Paris to Rome to Berlin; Tub was already in London and would be in Paris in three days.

It was one of the few holograph letters Sam had received from Tub. Usually his laconic messages were dictated, typed on banking-house paper as stiff and luxuriously engraved as a bond. In it Sam felt an unfamiliar urgency; Tub was prepared to be angry, to consider himself deliberately slighted, if the Dodsworths did not appear in Paris to greet him and his jolly wife Matilde, otherwise Matey.

He interrupted Kurt —(“Damn it! Seems at though, these days, I always have to interrupt that fellow in order to be able to speak to my own wife!”) He crowed, “Say, who d’you think’s in London and going to Paris? Tub and Matey!”

“Oh, really?” she said politely. She showed considerably more warmth in explaining to Kurt, “Tub is an old friend of Sam — quite a prosperous banker. If they come to Berlin, they’d be awfully happy to meet you. Oh! You said one day you wished you could get into a bank in America. Tub — Mr. Pearson his name is — might be able —”

“But we’ll see him in Paris,” Sam interrupted again. “Not coming to Berlin. And we ought to skip right down and be there to welcome ’em. Remember they’ve never been abroad before. I’ll wire him in London tonight — might even see if I can get him on the ‘phone — and we can probably get reservations for the Paris train for tomorrow evening.”

Surely when Fran heard good old Matey gossip of their friends, when she scented Zenith again — The miracle had happened!

“But, Sam dear,” Fran protested, “I don’t see any reason under Heaven why we SHOULD go down! And you complaining of how tired you were of Paris when we left it! I know how fond you are of your friends, but I don’t see why you should let them use you!”

“But don’t you want to see Tub and Matey?”

“Don’t be silly! Of course, I’d be very glad to see them. But to trot all the way to Paris —”

“But don’t you WANT— I can’t imagine your not wanting —”

“Well, if you must know, I think your good friend Mr. Tub Pearson is a little heavy in the hand. He always works so hard at being humorous. And you yourself have admitted that Matey is dreadfully uninteresting. And fat! Good Heavens, I’ve had them for twenty years! No, you can do what you’d like, but I’m not going.”

“But I wouldn’t be much good to ’em as a guide. I can’t speak French.”

“Exactly! Then why go? They can get along as every one else does.”

“But you could make it so much pleasanter for them —”

“It’s all very well to be friendly and that sort of thing, but I’m not going to travel fifteen hours in a dirty train for the pleasure of acting as an unpaid Cook’s guide to Mr. and Mrs. Tub Pearson!”

“Well, all right. Then I’ll go by myself.”

“As you wish!”

She turned briskly to Kurt, and with excessive sweetness discoursed on the state of the theater in Central Europe. Kurt looked at Sam, troubled, wishing to say something soothing. Sam was very quiet all that evening.

It was she who opened the engagement when they were alone, at the hotel.

“I’m sorry about Tub, and I’ll go down there — a beastly journey! — if you absolutely insist —”

“I never insist on anything.”

“— but I do think it’s too ridiculous to be expected to be a guide — and of course your beloved Tub will want to go to the most obvious and stupid and Americanized places in Paris —”

“No, I’ve decided you’d better not come. You’re probably right. Tub will want to get drunk on Montmartre.”

“For which charming occupation, my dear Samuel, you’ll be a much better collaborator than I, I’m afraid!”

“Look here, Fran: I wonder if you have any idea how dangerous it might be for you, one of these days, if you go on being so airy and insulting with me? I’d stood —”

“‘S the truth!”

“— a good deal. I can understand your not thinking Tub is any Endicott Everett Atkins, but how you can fail to enjoy giving a good time to a neighbor that we’ve known as long and as closely as we have Tub — Why you don’t, just for once, forget what YOU’RE going to get out of it and think what you could GIVE—”

“Oh, put in the Beatitudes, too!”

“— is simply beyond me! I used to think you were loyal!”

“I am! The way I’ve refused to stand any one ever criticizing you —”

“Will you listen! Don’t be so damned PERFECT, just for once! I used to think you were loyal, but between this business about Tub, and your lack of interest in Emily’s boy —”

“Now I’ve had enough! You’ve quite sufficiently indicated that I’m an inhuman monster! Why, after I heard the news about Emily, I cried half the night, wanting to see her and the baby. But — Oh, if I could only make you understand!” She had thrown off her flippancy and was naked and defenseless in her seriousness. “I do rejoice that she has a child. I do love her. But — oh, I’ve tried to use my brains, such as they are, which I admit isn’t very much, except that I do have common sense. I’ve tried not to be sentimental, and ruin myself, yes, and you, without doing Emily or anybody else any good! What good would it do if I were there? Could I help her? I could not! I’d just be in the way. Heavens, any trained nurse would be of more value than a dozen me’s, and she’s surrounded with only too much love and solicitude. I’d be just another burden, at a time when she has plenty. On the other hand, as it would affect me —

“When the world hears the word ‘grandmother,’ it pictures an old woman, a withered old woman, who’s absolutely hors de combat. I’m not that and I’m not going to be, for another twenty years. And YET, most people are so conventional-minded that even if they know me, see me, dance with me, once they hear I’m a grandmother that label influences them more than their own senses, and they put me on the side-lines immediately. I won’t be! And yet I love Emily and —

“Let me tell you, young man, when there WAS something I could do for her, and for Brent, I did it! I’m not for one second going to stand any hints from you that I’m not a good mother — and loyal! For twenty years, or anyway till Brent went off to college, there wasn’t one thing those children wore that I didn’t buy. There wasn’t a thing they ate that I didn’t order. You — oh yes, you came grandly home from the office and permitted Em to ride on your shoulders and thought what a wonderful parent you were, but who’d taken her to the dentist that day? I had! Who’d planned her party and written the invitations? I had! Who’d gotten down on her knees and scrubbed Em’s floor when the maids had the ‘flu and the nurse was away junketing? I did! I’ve done my work, I’ve earned the right to play, and I’m not going to be robbed of it just because you’re so slow and unimaginative that you’ve lost the power of enjoyment and can’t conceive any occupation beyond selling motors and playing golf!”

“Yes. I guess — I guess maybe there’s a good deal to what you say,” he sighed. “Well, it works out all right. I’ll trot off and welcome Tub and then come back.”

“Yes, and you’ll probably enjoy it more if I’m not there. Men ought to get off by themselves now and then, away from the dratted women. Take my advice and get rid of Matey as much as you can — get her interested in buying a lot of clothes and you and Tub knock around together. You’ll probably have a wonderful time. You do see now that I wasn’t merely being beastly and unselfish, don’t you?”

And she kissed him, fleetingly, and was cheerfully off to bed.

Even of such kisses there had not been over many, since the affair of Arnold Israel. The change in their intimacy was never admitted, but it was definite. It was not that Fran was less attractive to him; indeed more than ever he valued her sleek smoothness; but she had become to him a nun, taboo, and any passion toward her was forbidden. She seemed relieved by it; and they had drifted into a melancholy brother and sister relationship which left him irritable and hopeless.

They said nothing, neither then nor next day, of the tact that when Sam went to Paris, Fran and Kurt von Obersdorf would be left together. And these two, Fran and Kurt, very cheery and affectionate, saw him off on the evening train for Paris, and Kurt brought him as bon voyage presents a package of American cigarettes, a cactus plant, and a copy of the Nation, under the misconception that it was one of the most conservative of American magazines and especially suitable to the prejudices of a millionaire manufacturer.

Sam had to share his sleeping compartment with a small meek German who insisted, with apologetic gestures, on taking the undesirable upper berth, to which Sam was billeted. So when the German wanted to keep on the night-light, Sam could not object, and he lay in his berth staring up into a narrow vault made gloomier by that sepulchral blue glimmer which took away the oblivion of darkness and revealed the messy crowdedness of the compartment: the horribly life-like trousers swaying against the wall, the valises wedged under the little folding table by the window, the litter of newspapers and cigarette butts. The train was loud with fury; it carried him on powerless; life carried him on powerless. Without Fran, he felt small, callow, defenseless. Why was he venturing to Paris, alone? He knew no French, really; he knew little of anything in Europe. He was marooned.

She had let him go off so casually. Was he going to lose her, to whom he had turned with every triumph and every worry these twenty-four years; whose hand had always been there, to let him warm and protect it, that he might himself be warmed and protected?

Or already lost her?

He brooded, a lumpy blanketed mound in the mean blue ghost-light.

What could he DO?

The train seemed to be running with such abnormal speed. Surely even the Twentieth Century had never raced like this. Anything wrong?

It would be nice if it were Fran in the upper berth; if her hand were drooping over the edge, so that he could see it, perhaps touch it by pretended accident —

Not that she’d be in the upper, though, if they were together!

When he awoke at three, his first loneliness for her had passed, and he worked up a good deal of angry protest.

This “adventurous new life” they’d been going to find — Rats! Might be for her, but he himself had never been so bored. All came of trying to suit himself to her whims. And then lose her, after all —

What would Kurt and she be doing while he was away?

And this business of her having been such a devoted mother! Ever been a time when the children hadn’t had a nurse or a governess, with plenty of maids? If she ever did “get down on her knees and scrub a floor” it’d never happened more than once.

Oh, she’d meant it; she really did believe she’d been a sacrificing mother. Chief trouble with her. Never could see herself as she was. Never!

Yes, he’d have to rebel against her — or against his worship of her. Not been a go, his trying to be happy in her way. Make a life for HIMSELF. Be pretty darn’ lonely for a while. Sure. But not impossible to make a new life —

There were women, to say nothing of men friends —

Suddenly he was taut with desire for Minna von Escher. He felt her lips; he saw her too clearly.

Well, there were gorgeous girls in Paris — Hang it, he was no washed-out Sir Galahad, like he’d read about in Tennyson! He’d been patient and sacrificing. Lot of good it’d done him! Why should Fran have all the love? He’d go out —

Then Fran’s face, hovering in the wan blue dusk, a hurt, reproving face, very pale, very pure. He could not wound her, even by thought. And so he tossed, helpless in the rushing train, turning from the desire to serve Fran to the desire for Minna’s warm arms, and back ever to Fran . . . and back ever to Minna.

He breakfasted well in the restaurant carriage, and if he missed Fran, it was a relief to have a man’s proper ration of bacon and eggs without having her chronic complaint that real Europeans don’t take horrid heavy breakfasts. When he had lighted a cigar, Sam felt a faint exciting flavor in traveling alone, in going where he would.

He heard an American woman, at breakfast, say to her companion, “But the play I really liked was ‘They Knew What They Wanted.’”

He heard no more. He pondered, “That’s been the trouble with me, my entire life. It isn’t simply that I’ve never got what I wanted. I’ve never known what I wanted. There are women who are better sports than Fran. Not so selfish. More peace. If I find them —

“Be funny if now I really were starting that ‘adventure in new life’ that we’ve talked so much rot about! Yes, I have known what I wanted — Fran! But probably as a kid wants the moon. (That’s what she’s like too — the moon on a still November night!) And if I can’t have her — well, I hope I have the sense to find something else, and to take it. . . . But I won’t!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57