Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 26

He was going to surprise Tub and Matey at the station. He had gone to the Continental Hotel, at which Tub had reservations. From Berlin, he had merely wired Tub in London, “Be in Paris day or two after you arrive delighted see you”; from Paris he had telephoned to Mr. A. B. Hurd, of Revelation Motors in London, asking him to snoop about and find out from the Savoy porter what train Tub was taking.

Sam waited in the Gare du Nord, excited but pleasantly superior. HE was no American tourist, embarrassed by the voluble Parisians! He knew ’em! He could say to a porter, “Apportez le bagage de Monsieur a un taxicab” just as well as old Berlitz — almost as well as Fran. He swung his stick, strolled along the platform, and nodded to the gathering porters, feeling much as he had on the evening after the last game of the football season. When the lean swift French locomotive flashed in, hurling its smoke up to join the ghosts of smoke-palls that lurked under the vast roof of the train shed, he chuckled aloud.

“Old Tub! And Matey! First time in Paris!”

He looked over the heads of the crowd and saw Tub handing his bags out of the car window to a porter, saw him and the plump Matey hustle out of the car, saw him, with the blank worried nervousness of a man who doesn’t expect to be met and who feels that the labors of travel are too much for him, wave his arms in the effort of explaining in Zenith French — dealcoholized French, French Hag — where he wanted to go.

Swift, looming, Sam thrust through the crowd toward the Pearsons. He saw that Tub himself was carrying a small suitcase — probably with Matey’s famous and atrocious jewelry. He swooped on Tub, grasped his shoulder, and snarled (with one of the exceedingly few impersonations in his unhistrionic life), “Here, you, fella! Not allowed carry y’ own baggage!”

Tub looked up with all the rage of an honest American who has been enfeebled by rough seas, doubted by customs officials, overcharged by waiters, overinformed by guides, misunderstood by French conductors; who has suddenly by thunder had enough and who is going to expose and explode the entire continent of Europe. He looked up, he looked bewildered, and then he said slowly, “Well, you damned old horse-thief! Well, you big stiff!”

They banged each other’s shoulders, Sam kissed the suddenly beaming Matey, and they went down the platform together, Sam with one arm about Tub’s shoulder and one about Matey’s. He said sharply to the porter, “Un taxi, s’il vous plait”— just as the porter was waving to a taxi on his own — and Tub clamored, “Well, I’m a son of a gun! Say, you’ve certainly learned to parley-vous like a native, Sambo!”

They asked after Fran.

It hurt him that they seemed content to miss her, willing to believe that she “had a touch of ‘flu and had to lie low a couple weeks, so she couldn’t come down to welcome you.” But he resented it only for a moment. There were so many exciting places to show Tub! It was delightful to have the Tub who had always been cleverer and more fashionable than he now regarding him as a sophisticated European and turning to him, admiring his dash and flavor.

And it was pleasant to be Tubbish and foolish and noisy without Fran’s supercilious inspection.

Matey Pearson was a good soul. She was fat and pleasant. As a girl she had been the gayest and maddest of her set in Zenith; the fastest skater, the most ecstatic dancer, the most reckless flirt. Now she had three children — one was Brent’s classmate in Yale — and she cultivated the Episcopal Church, a rare shrewd game of poker, and the choicest dahlias in Zenith. Fran said that she was vulgar. She said that Fran was lovely.

At the hotel she kissed Sam again, and cried, “Say, my heavens but it’s nice to see a human being that’s HUMAN again! Now you boys get to thunder out of here and let me unpack, and you go off and get decently drunk, but do try to be sober enough for dinner, which gives you two hours, if we dine at eight, and enough time too, sez I. Get out of here! I love you both. With reservations!”

To be alone with Tub Pearson, on Tub’s first afternoon on the continent of Europe!

They had leapt over the barriers that had been erected between them since college — different vocations, rivalry as to the splendor of their several children, rivalry as to social honors, and this last flagrancy of Sam in living abroad while Tub stayed true at home. They were today the friends who had shared dress-shirts and speculations in Senior year.

From time to time they looked at each other and muttered, “Awful’ good to be here with you, you old devil!”

Sam did not see that Tub was completely gray, that he was podgy, that round his eyes were the lines of a banker who day after day sharply refuses loans to desperate men. He saw the lively Tub whom he had protected in fights with muckers and whom he had admired for his wit; and while he held to his temporary superiority as the traveled man and tutored gourmet, he anxiously showed Tub all his little treasures.

He took Tub to the New York Bar, and impressed Tub as an habitue by casually asking whether anybody had heard from Ross Ireland. He took Tub to Luigi’s, introduced him to Luigi, and recommended the scrambled eggs. He took Tub to the Chatham Bar; he was so fortunate as to find Colonel Kelly, the famous soldier of fortune; and he felt expansive and philanthropic; he felt, after this third highball, as though his European agonies really had been worth while, when he observed Tub’s respectful attention to Colonel Kelly.

He felt that Tub was the finest and most lovable man living; that he was beyond belief lucky to have such a friend; and they returned to the Continental in a high state of philanthropy and Yalensianism.

Matey looked them over and sighed, “Well, you aren’t much drunker than I thought you’d be, and now you better go in and wash your little faces in the bathroom and have a coupla Bromo Seltzers — believe me, Sam, traveling with THAT man, I never fail to have some real genuine American Bromo along — and then if you can both still walk, we’ll go out and have the handsomest dinner in Paree.”

He took them to Voisin’s, but when they were seated Tub looked disappointed.

“Not such a lively place,” he said.

“No, I know it isn’t, but it’s a famous old restaurant, and perhaps the best food and wine in town. What kind of a place would you like? Find it for you tomorrow.”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what I did think a Paris restaurant would be like but — Oh, I thought there’d be a lot of gilt, and marble pillars, and a good orchestra, and lots of dancing, and a million pretty girls, regular knock-outs, and not so slow either. I better watch meself, or I’ll be getting Matey jealous.”

“Hm,” said Matey. “Tub has a good, conscientious, hardworking ambition to be a devil with the ladies — our fat little Don Juan! — but the trouble is they don’t fall for him.”

“That’s all right now! I’m not so bad! Say, can you dig us up a place like that, tomorrow?”

“I’ll show you a good noisy dance place tonight,” said Sam. “You’ll see all the pretty chickens you want — and they’ll come and tell you, in nine languages, that you’re a regular Adonis.”

“They don’t need to tell me that in more than one language — the extrabatorious language of clinging lips, yo ho!” yearned the class-wit.

“You’re wrong, Sam,” said Matey. “He DOESN’T make me sick — not very sick — not worse’n a Channel crossing. And you’re wrong about thinking that I secretly wish he would go out with one of these wenches and get it out of his system. Not at all. I can get much more shopping money out of the brute while he’s in this moon-June-spoon-loon mood. And when his foot does slip, how he’ll come running back to his old Matey!”

“I don’t know whether I will or not! Say, do we eat?”

The head waiter had been standing at attention the while. Sam was aching to show off his knowledge of restaurant French, and he held out his hand for the menu, but Tub seized it and prepared to put into the life of Voisin’s all the liveliness and wit and heartiness he felt lacking.

“Do you sprechen Sie pretty good English?” he demanded of the head waiter.

“I think so, sir.”

“Attaboy! Been in England, son?”

“Sixteen years, sir.”

“Um, not so bad — not so bad for a Frog! Well now, look here, Gooseppy, we want Mrs. Voisin to shake us up something tasty, and you take the orders from me, Francois, and you bring me the check afterwards, too, see, and don’t have anything to do with that big stiff there. He’s a Scotch Jew. If you let him order, he’d stick us with stew, and then he’d make you take ten per cent. off the check. Now listen. Have you got any nice roast elephant ears?”

Tub winked at Sam, tremendously.

The head waiter said patiently, but not too patiently, “May I recommend the canard aux navets?”

But Tub was a conscientious Midwestern Humorist — he was a Great Little Kidder — he had read “Innocents Abroad” and had seen “The Man from Home,” and he knew that one of the superbest occupations of an American on the grand tour was “kidding the life out of these poor old back numbers of Europeans.” He tried again:

“Not got any elephants’ ears, Alberto? Well, well! I thought this was a first-class hash-house — right up to the Childs class. And no elephants’ ears?” The head waiter said nothing, with much eloquence. “How about a nice fricassee of birds’ nests?”

“If the gentleman wishes, I can send to a Chinese restaurant for it.”

“Tub,” Matey observed, “the comedy isn’t going over so big. You give Sam that menu now, and let him order, HEAR ME?”

“Well it was kind of a flop,” Tub said morosely. “But I TOLD you this was a dead hole. I may not be the laddie buck that locks up the Bullyvards every evening, but I know a live joint from a dead one when it comes up and bites me. Well, shoot the works, Sam.”

With a quiet superiority for which he would have deserved to be flogged, except that with Fran’s monopolization of that pleasure he rarely had a chance at it, Sam swiftly ordered foie gras, consomme, frogs’ legs, gigot of mutton, asparagus, and a salad, with a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and though he ordered in French, so well trained were the head waiter and the sommelier that they understood him perfectly.

And again the luxurious inquiries about Home — WAS Emily really well? — how was Harry Hazzard’s Lincoln sedan standing up? — what was this business about building a new thirty-story hotel?

They had dined at nine. It was eleven when Sam took them to Montmartre, to the celebrated “Caverne Russe des Quarante Vents,” where Tub was satisfied in finding the Paris he had pictured. The Caverne was so large, so noisy, with such poisonously loud negro jazz-bands, such cover-charges, such incredible coat-room charges, such abominable champagne at such atrocious prices, such a crowded dancing floor, such a stench of cigarette smoke and perfume and perspiration, such a sound of the voices of lingerie-buyers from Fort Worth and Milwaukee, such moist girls inviting themselves to one’s table, such rude Hellenic waiters and ruder Hebraic managers, that it was almost as good as Broadway. A Frenchman had once entered the place, in 1926, but he had had to go as courier to a party from Birmingham, Alabama, and he resigned and utterly gave up the profession of courier the next day.

“Gee, this is some place!” exulted the Hon. Thomas J. Pearson (president of the Centaur State Bank, trustee of the Fernworth School for Girls, vice president of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce, vestryman of St. Asaph’s P. E. Church), and straightway he was dancing with a red-headed girl like a little brass and ivory statue.

“Well —” philosophized Matey. “Eh? Heavens no, I don’t want to dance in this stock exchange! Well, I might just as well PRETEND I don’t mind Tub’s chasing after all these little goldfish, because he’ll do it anyway, and I might as well get the credit for being broad-minded. Which I ain’t! You old darling, Sambo, I was sorry Tub felt he had to uphold the banner of American Humor by making a goat of himself with that snooty waiter at that place — wh’d’ they call it? — there tonight.”

“Oh, good Lord, Matey, he’s just like a —”

“You’re going to say, ‘He’s just like a kid let out of school, and he’s got to kick up his heels,’ which if I remember the rhetoric that that old Miss Getz drummed into my mutton head in finishing school, is both a cliche and a mixed metaphor. Oh, I adore the fat little devil! He’s awfully sweet when you can get him tied down at the domestic hearth, with no audience. But once that animal smells applause — Honestly, I think that the sense of humor of the people that TALK about having a ‘sense of humor’ is a worse vice than drinking. Oh, well, it might have been worse. He might have turned out religious, or a vegetarian, or taken to dope. The little monkey! And he’s drinking too much, tonight. I just hope he won’t take enough so he’ll wake up with a perfectly fierce head tomorrow, and feel so conscience-stricken that I’ll have to give him the devil just to relieve him. Oh, I can do it — and probably will! — but I want to enjoy myself, too, while I’m here, and I’m going to take home a great, big, expensive boule cabinet, if I have to forge a check for it!”

She consented, later to dance with Sam, though it was more like charging a mob than dancing. She was nimble, for all her plumpness; and as she did not, like Fran, point out his every clumsy step, his every failure to follow the music, he danced rather well with her, and enjoyed it, and recovered some of the high spirits with which he had met them at the train — spirits too high and romantic to last forever.

Tub dug out, somewhere, probably in the bar, a quite respectable fellow-banker from Indiana, and two Irish girls, whose art was commercialized but pretty, and everybody danced — everybody drank a good deal — everybody laughed.

Tub himself had so good a time that he showed the highest sign of pleasure known to an American: he wanted to “go on some place else.”

They did — to another Caverne or Taverne or Palais or Cave or Rendezvous, with the same high standard of everything except wine and music and company and then, too brightly lit to waste any more time in dancing or flirtation or anything save sitting and really attending to drinking and humor, Tub insisted that they go back to the New York Bar, where, he assured Matey, they would “meet reg’lar fell’s.”

They did. In a corner table of the bar, under the sketches of Parisian celebrities, they were picked up by an American navy officer who had magnificent lies about the China coast, and somehow there was added to their party a free-lance journalist and a lone English corn-merchant, who talked a good deal, and very spiritedly, about the admitted fact that Englishmen never talk much and then shyly.

Tub, in one day, was a warmer habitue of the New York Bar than was Sam Dodsworth after a year. It was not merely that Sam was dogged by a sense of dignity, by a feeling that a Prominent Manufacturer ought not to be seen about barrooms, but also that he had a certain judicious timidity which suggested that there was no reason why the keen, hard-minded journalists who frequented the bar and exchanged gossip of kings and treaties should be interested in him. But Tub was a Professional Good Fellow — when he was away from the oak-panel and gold velvet vestry of St. Asaph’s, the trustees’ room at the Fernworth School, or the marble and walnut office at the Centaur State Bank, where he put on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles which somehow prevented his eyes from twinkling or looking slyly humorous.

He hadn’t forgotten one of the men he had met at the bar that afternoon. He called two of the journalists by their first names, and he was in general so full of prankishness that the lone naval officer broke into tears of relief and told them all about his most recent fight with his wife.

But there was one flaw in the joviality. Tub had drunk Burgundy at dinner, Napoleon brandy afterward, champagne all evening, and now he decided (in spite of the earnest counsel of Sam, Matey, the naval officer, the Englishman, the journalist, the waiter, and a few by-sitters) to show his loyalty to America and the Good Old Days by drinking real American rye whisky — and it was a very copious loyalty that he showed.

In the middle of the commander’s story about his wife, Tub began to look listless, with fine lines of sweat-drops on his upper lip — and it was only two in the morning and he had been drinking steadily for only twelve hours, which is not even par for a representative of Prohibition America on his first day in Paris.

Matey cried to Sam, “He’s passing out! Can you take him off and kill him or something?”

In the seclusion of the wash-room, usefully close at hand, Sam washed Tub’s face, fed him aspirin, scolded him, and they started home and —

All of Sam’s romantic exultation was gone, the glow was gone, the childish belief that he had suddenly achieved freedom was gone, in a leaden light of reality. He was not angry with Tub. But he had felt warmth and assurance, he had felt — he admitted it — a protection against Fran in Tub’s comradeship, and that was not enhanced in the unromantic service of holding up a man retching and swaying in a barroom toilet.

They got Tub into a taxicab, while he protested that he was all right now and desired to return to his friends. Sam had to roar at him a good deal, and lift him in. During this knock-about scene, an open motor passed, and Sam saw that looking disgustedly out of it was Endicott Everett Atkins, with his high nose, his Roman imperial, and his Henry Jamesian baldness. Atkins turned to say something to the lady beside him.

Sam shivered. He fancied Atkins getting the information to Fran. He heard her saying, “Now was I right about your dear friend Tub!” He felt cold and irritated. He was less gentle with Tub than he had meant to be.

Not till Matey and he had Tub in bed did it come fully to Sam that he might do well to forget himself and think of her.

“Hard luck!” he whispered. “But we all slip now and —”

“Oh, you can talk as loud as you want,” she said placidly. “Gabriel with an augmented trumpet band wouldn’t wake the little monkey now! But I do want to talk to you, and if he did wake up and want to go out again — Oh, well, there’s no place to go but the bathroom. Heigh! Scandal in Zenith society! I guess this is that new American Jazzmania you read about!”

They sat absurdly in the bathroom, she on a white straight chair, he precariously on the cold edge of the tub, while she went on:

“No, I don’t mind. Honestly! Tub doesn’t get really potted more than once a year, and I never did think much of the females who lay for their menfolks and try to get an advantage over ’em when they have a chance like that. Life’s too short! — too short to raise hell about anything except some real vice, like his being humorous and making speeches. Rather be friendly and — Sam! You old dear thing! When are you going to chuck Fran and let yourself be happy again?”

“Why, Matey, honestly, she and I are on the best terms —”

“Don’t lie to me, Sam darling (you know how Tub and I DO love you!). Rather, don’t lie to yourself! I know. Fran has written to me, now and then. Awful clever and jolly and uninterested. And you don’t propose to sit there and tell me that if she wouldn’t come home last summer and wouldn’t come down from Berlin to see us, she isn’t about ready to cut out Zenith entirely! And there’s no reason why she shouldn’t! She never was very much Zenith anyway . . . or she THOUGHT she wasn’t! Only, Sam darling, ONLY, if she is going to cut out Zenith, she’s going to cut out you, for even if you are kind of a Lord High Chancellor, still, same time, you ARE Zenith, and in the long run, after you’ve had your fling, you’d rather see the sunshine on a nice, ragged, old Middlewestern pasture than on the best formal Wop garden in the world!”

“Well — yes — I guess that’s more or less true, Matey, but —”

He wanted to tell her of the Sans Souci Gardens dream; he dismissed the matter and struggled on:

“But that doesn’t mean Fran doesn’t appreciate Zenith and her friends and all that. Course she does! Why, she’s always talking about Tub and you —”

“Yeah, I’ll bet she is! ‘My dear Samuel, IS it necessary for women like your dear Mrs. Pearson to use such vulgarisms as “I’ll bet she is” all the time?’”

Though Matey’s hearty and slightly brassy voice could never mimic Fran’s cool melodies, there was enough accuracy in the impersonation to make Sam grin helplessly, and with that grin he was lost. Matey took advantage of it to pounce:

“Sam darling, I do know it’s none of my business, and you can tell me so whenever you want to, but I figured that probably you’ve been so alone here, seeing nobody but the kind of folks that Fran wants, and — Sam, I’ve seen you change a lot, more than you know, this last ten years. You never were a chatterbox, but you did used to enjoy an argument or telling a nice clean smutty story, and you’ve been getting more silent, more sort of scared and unsure of yourself, while Fran has been preening herself and feeling more and more that it was only her social graces and her Lady Vere de Vere beauty that kept up your position, because you were so slow and clumsy and so fond of low company and so generally an undependable hick! And you have more brains in your little finger than — And you’re kind! And humble — too damn’ humble! And you want to know a fact twice before you say it once, and she — well, she wants to say it twice before she’s learned it at all!

“Oh, golly, I guess I’m defying the thunderbolt. Shoot, Jupiter. . . . Now mind you, I LIKED Fran. I admire her. But when I think of how she’s treated you, as though she were the silver-shod Diana of the outfit — and especially the way she shows it in public by being so pizen polite to you — well, I just want to wallop her! Now tell me to go to the dickens, darling. . . . Listen to that man Tub snoring in there! THERE’S an aristocratic, college-bred consort for you! The poor lamb! How sick and righteous he’ll be tomorrow — up to about noon!”

Sam laboriously lighted a cigar, searched through a perfectly blank mind for something to say, and then, for the first time in months, he was talking candidly about something that really mattered to him.

“Yes, Matey, I’ll admit there is something to what you say. I suppose I ought to be highty-tighty and bellow, ‘How dare you talk about MY wife!’ But — Hell, Matey, I am so sick and tired and confused! Fran is a lot kinder and more appreciative than you think. A lot of what you imagine is snootiness is just her manner. She’s really shy, and tries to protect —”

“Oh, I am so tired, Sam, of hearing and reading about these modern folks — you get ’em in every novel — these sensitive plants that go around being rude and then stand back complacently and explain that it’s because they’re so SHY!”

“Shut up, now! Listen to me!”

“That sounds better!”

“Well, I mean — It IS true with Fran. Partly. And partly she enjoys it — gets a kick out of it — feels she’s a heroine in a melodrama. . . . Damn this bathtub — coldest arm-chair I’ve found in Europe.” Without a smile he laid the bath-mat on the edge of the tub, heavily sat down again, and went on:

“And she really thinks that having a social position is worth sacrificing for. And that it still matters to have a title. And I do know she makes me clumsy. But — Well, first place, I really am an old-fashioned believer in what we used to call the Home. I hate to see all the couples busting up the way they are. Think of the people we know that’ve separated or gotten divorced, right in our own bunch at home — Dr. and Mrs. Daniels — think of it, married seventeen years, with those nice kids of theirs. And then, and I guess this is more important, Fran has got a kind of charm, fascination, whatever you want to call it, for me that nobody else has. And when she likes something — it may be meeting somebody she likes, or a good party, or a sunset, or music — well, she’s so wrought up about it that it seems as if she had a higher-powered motor in her, with better ground cylinders, than most of us.

“Even when she’s snooty — oh, she’s trying to have some FORM in life, some standards, not just get along anyhow, sloppily, the way most of us do; and then we resent her demanding that we measure up to what she feels is the highest standard. And her faults — oh, she’s a child, some ways. To try to change her (even if a fellow could do it!) would be like calling in a child that was running and racing and having a lovely time in the sunshine, and making her wash dishes.”

“And so she leaves you to wash the dishes! Oh, Sam, it’s a thankless job to butt in and tell a man that in YOUR important opinion, his wife is a vampire bat. But it makes your friends sore to see you eternally apologetic to your wife, when she ought to thank her lucky stars she’s got you! I swear she never, for one moment, with anybody, thinks what she can give, but only what she can get. She thinks that nobody on earth is important except as they serve her or flatter her. But — You’ve never been interested in any other woman, have you?”

“Not really.”

“I wonder if you won’t be? I’m making a private bet with myself that after another six months of carrying Fran’s shawl, you’ll begin to look around. And if you do, you’ll be surprised at the number of nice women that’ll fall for you! Tell me, Sam. Could you fall for them?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t believe in being deliberately unhappy for the sake of sticking to a bad bargain. If Fran and I did drift apart and I couldn’t find some kind of security elsewhere, I wouldn’t regard it as any virtue, but simply as an inability to face things as they are —”

“Ah hah! A year ago you wouldn’t have admitted that! A year ago, if I’d dared even to thumb my nose at Fran, you’d’ve bitten me! Sam, you old darling, I never have criticized Fran before, have I? — not in all these years. Now I feel that the bust-up has happened, and all that’s needed is for you to see it, and then you’ll be nice and heart-broken and sulky and unhappy, and after that you’ll find some darling that’ll be crazy about you and spoil you proper, and then all will be joyous tra-la — curse it, that sounds like Tub! And I’m going to bed. G’night, Sam dear. Like to ring us up about eleven?”

As he plowed down the vast corridors of the hotel to his room, too sleepy to think, Sam felt that this saint of unmorality had converted him, and opened a door upon a vista of tall woods and dappled lawns and kind faces.

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