Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 3

Mr. Alexander Kynance, president of the Unit Automotive Company, was a small bustling man with a large head, an abrupt voice, a lively mind, a magnificent lack of scruples, and a love for oratory and Corona–Coronas. He had been a section-hand and a railway superintendent, he had the best cellar of Burgundies in Detroit, and he made up for his runtiness by barking at people.

“Everything all ready? Everything all ready?” he barked at Sam Dodsworth, as the dozen representatives of the two companies settled down and rested their elbows on the gigantic mirror-surfaced table in the gold and oak directors’-room.

“I think so,” Sam drawled.

“Just a few things left,” said Kynance. “We’ve about decided to run the Revelation in between the Chromecar and the Highroad in class — drop it three hundred below your price — two-door sedan at eleven-fifty.”

Sam wanted to protest. Hadn’t he kept the price down to the very lowest at which his kind of car could be built? But suddenly — What difference did it make? The Revelation wasn’t his master, his religion! He was going to have a life of his own, with Fran, lovely loyal Fran, whom he’d imprisoned here in Zenith!

Let’s go!

He was scarcely listening to Kynance’s observations on retaining the slogan “You’ll revel in a Revelation.” Sam had always detested this battle-cry. It was the invention of a particularly bright and bounding young copy-writer who took regular exercise at the Y.M.C.A., but the salesmen loved it. As Kynance snapped, “Good slogan — good slogan — full o’ pep,” Sam mused:

“They’re all human megaphones. And I’m tired.”

When he had rather sadly signed the transfer of control to the U.A.C. and his lifework was over, with no chance for retreat, Sam shook hands a great deal with a number of people, and was left alone with Alec Kynance.

“Now to real business, old man,” Kynance blatted. “You’ll be tickled to death at getting hooked up with a concern that can control the world-market one of these days — regular empire, b’ God! — instead of crawling along having to depend on a bunch of so-so assistants. We want you to come with us, of course. I haven’t been hinting around. Hinting ain’t my way. When Alec Kynance has something to say, by God he shoots! I want to offer you the second vice-presidency of the U.A.C., in general charge of production of all our eight cars, including the Rev. You’ve been getting sixty thousand salary, besides your stock?”


“We can offer you eighty-five, and your share in the managers’ pool, with a good chance for a hundred thou in a few years, and you’ll probably succeed me when the bootlegged hootch gets me. And you’ll have first-class production-men under you. You can take it easy and just think up mean ideas to shove over. Other night you were drooling about how you’d like to make real Ritzy motor caravans with electric stoves and radios and everything built in. Try it! We’ve got the capital. And this idea you had about a motorized touring-school for boys in summer. Try it! Why, God, we might run all these summer camps out of business and make a real killing — get five hundred thousand customers — kid that hadn’t gone on one of our tours, no class to him at all! Try it! And the U.A.C. getting into aeroplane manufacture. Go ahead. Draw up your plans. Yes sir, that’s the kind of support we give a high-class man. When do you want to go to work? I suppose you’ll have to move to Detroit, but you can get back here pretty often. Want to start right in, and see things zip?”

Sam’s fantastic schemes for supercaravans, for an ambulatory summer school in which boys should see the whole country from Maine pines to San Joaquin wheat-fields, schemes which he had found stimulating and not very practical, were soiled by the lobster-faced little man’s insistence on cashing in. No!

“First, I think I’ll take a vacation,” Sam said doubtfully. “Haven’t had a real one for years. Maybe I’ll run over to Europe. May stay three months or so.”

“Europe? Rats! Dead’s a doornail! Place for women and long-haired artists. Dead! Only American loans that keep ’em from burying the corpse! All this art! More art in a good shiny spark-plug than in all the fat Venus de Mylos they ever turned out. Naw! Go take a run through California, maybe grab a drink of good liquor in Mexico, and then come with us. Look here, Dodsworth. My way of being diplomatic is to come out flat. You necking around with some other concern? We can’t wait. We got to turn out the cars! I can’t keep this open, and I’ve offered you our pos-o-lutely highest salary. That’s the way we do business. Yes or no?”

“I’m not flirting with any other company. I’ve had several offers and turned them down. Your offer is fair.”

“Fine! Let’s sign the contract right now. Got her here! Put down your John Hancock, and begin to draw the ole salary from this minute, with a month’s vacation on pay! How’s that?”

With the noisiness of a little man making an impression, Kynance slapped the contract on the glowing directors’-table, flourished an enormous red and black fountain pen, and patronizingly poked Sam in the shoulder.

Irritably Sam rumbled, “I can’t tie myself up without thinking it over. I’ll give you my answer as soon as I can. Probably in a week or so. But I may want to take a four-months rest in Europe. Never mind about the pay meanwhile. Rather feel free.”

“My God, man, what do you think is the purpose of life? Loafing? Getting by with doing as little as you can? I tell you, what I always say is: there’s no rest like a little extra work! You ain’t tired — you’re just fed up with this backwoods town. Come up to Detroit and see how we make things hum! Come sit in with us and hear us tell Congress where it gets off. Work! That’s the caper! I tell you,” with a grotesque, evangelical sonorousness, “I tell you, Dodsworth, to me, work is a religion. ‘Turn not thy hand from the plow.’ Do big things! Think of it; by making autos we’re enabling half the civilized world to run into town from their pig-sties and see the movies, and the other half to get out of town and give Nature the once-over. Twenty million cars in America! And in twenty more years we’ll have the bloomin’ Tibetans and Abyssinians riding on cement roads in U.A.C. cars! Talk about Napoleon! Talk about Shakespeare! Why, we’re pulling off the greatest miracle since the Lord created the world!

“Europe? How in hell would you put IN four months? Think you could stand more’n ten art galleries? I KNOW! I’ve seen Europe! Their Notre Dame is all right for about half an hour, but I’d rather see an American assembly-plant, thousand men working like a watch, than all their old, bum-lighted, tumble-down churches —”

It was half an hour before Sam got rid of Kynance without antagonizing him, and without signing a contract.

“I’d like,” Sam reflected, “to sit under a linden tree for six straight months and not hear one word about Efficiency or Doing Big Things or anything more important than the temperature of the beer — if there is anything more important.”

He had fallen into rather a rigid routine. Most days, between office and home, he walked to the Union Club in winter, drove to the golf course in summer. But tonight he was restless. He could not endure the fustiness of the old boys at the club. His chauffeur would be waiting there, but on his way to the club Sam stopped, with a vague notion of tasting foreignness, at a cheap German restaurant.

It was dark, quiet, free of the bouncing grandeur of Kynances. At a greasy oilcloth-covered table he sat sipping coffee and nibbling at sugar-crusted coffee-cake.

“Why should I wear myself out making more money for myself — no, for Kynance! He will like hell take my caravans away from me!”

He dreamed of a very masterwork of caravans: a tiny kitchen with electric stove, electric refrigerator; a tiny toilet with showerbath; a living-room which should become a bedroom by night — a living-room with a radio, a real writing desk; and on one side of the caravan, or at the back, a folding verandah. He could see his caravanners dining on the verandah in a forest fifty miles from any house.

“Kind of a shame to have ’em ruin any more wilderness. Oh, that’s just sentimentality,” he assured himself. “Let’s see. We ought to make that up —” He was figuring on a menu. “We ought to produce those in quantities for seventeen hundred dollars, and our selling-point will be the saving in hotel bills. Like to camp in one myself! I will not let Kynance have my ideas! He’d turn the caravans out, flimsy and uncomfortable, for eleven hundred, and all he’d think about would be how many we could slam on the market. Kynance! Lord, to take his orders, to stand his back-slapping, at fifty! No!”

The German restaurant-keeper said, as one content with all seasons and events, “Pretty bad snow tonight.”


And to himself: “There’s a fellow who isn’t worrying about Doing Big Things. And work isn’t his religion. His religion is roast goose, which has some sense to it. Yes, let’s go, Fran! Then come back and play with the caravan. . . . Or say, for an elaborate rig, why not two caravans, one with kitchen and toilet and stores, other with living-bedroom, and pitch ’em back to back, with a kind of train-vestibule door, and have a real palace for four people? . . . I would like to see Monte Carlo. Must be like a comic opera.”

His desire for Monte Carlo, for palms and sunshine and the estimable fish of the Prince of Monaco, was enhanced by jogging through the snowstorm in his car, by being held up in drifts, and clutching the undercurving seat during a rather breathless slide uphill to Ridge Crest. But when he entered the warmth of the big house, when he sat in the library alone (Fran was not yet back from the Children’s Welfare Bridge), with a whisky-soda and a volume of Masereel woodcuts, when he considered his deep chair and the hearth-log and the roses, Sam felt the security of his own cave and the assurance to be found in familiar work, in his office-staff, in his clubs, his habits and, most of all, his friends and Fran and the children.

He regarded the library contentedly: the many books, some of them read — volumes of history, philosophy, travels, detective stories; the oak-framed fireplace with a Mary Cassatt portrait of children above it; the blue davenport; the Biedermeyer rug from Fran’s kin in Germany; the particularly elaborate tantalus.

“Pretty nice. Hotels — awful! Oh yes, I’ll probably go over to the U.A.C. But maybe take six weeks or a couple of months in Europe, then move to Detroit. But not sell this house! Been mighty happy here. Like to come back here and spend our old days. When I really make my pile, I’ll do something to help turn Zenith into another Detroit. Get a million people here. Only, plan the city right. Make it the most beautiful city in the world. Not just sit around on my chair in Europe and look at famous cities, but MAKE one!”

Once a month, Sam’s closest friends, Tub Pearson, his humorous classmate who was now the gray and oracular president of the Centaur State Bank, Dr. Henry Hazzard, the heart specialist, Judge Turpin, and Wheeler, the packing-house magnate, came in for dinner and an evening of poker, with Fran as hostess at dinner but conveniently disappearing after it.

Fran whisked in from her charity bridge as he was going up to dress. In her sleek coat of gray squirrel she was like a snow-sprinkled cat pouncing on flying leaves. She tossed her coat and hat to the waiting maid, and kissed Sam abruptly. She was virginal as the winter wind, this girl who was the mother of Emily about to be married.

“Terrible bore, the bridge. I won seventeen dollars. I’m a good little bridge-player, I am. We must hustle it’s almost dinnertime oh what a bore Lucile McKelvey is with her perpetual gabble about Italy I bet I’ll learn more Italian in three weeks than she has in three trips come on my beloved we are LATE!”

“We are going then?”

“Going where?”

“To Europe.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Think how nice it would be for you to ‘pitch a wicked horseshoe,’ as dear Tub would say, in Florida.”

“Oh, quit it!”

As they tramped up-stairs he tucked his arm about her, but she released herself, she smiled at him too brightly — smile glittering and flat as white enamel paint — urbane smile that these twenty years had made him ashamed of his longing for her — and she said, “We must hurry, lamb.” And too brightly she added, “Don’t drink too much tonight. It’s all right with people like Tub Pearson, but Judge Turpin is so conservative — I know he doesn’t like it.”

She had a high art of deflating him, of enfeebling him, with one quick, innocent-sounding phrase. By the most careless comment on his bulky new overcoat she could make him feel like a lout in it; by crisply suggesting that he “try for once to talk about SOMETHING besides motors and stocks,” while they rode to a formidable dinner to an elocutionary senator, she could make him feel so unintelligent that he would be silent all evening. The easy self-confidence which weeks of industrial triumphs had built up in him she could flatten in five seconds. She was, in fact, a genius at planting in him an assurance of his inferiority. Thus she did tonight, in her nicest and friendliest way, and instantly the lumbering Ajax began to look doubtfully toward the poker he had always enjoyed, to fear the opinion of Judge Turpin — an eye-glassed sparrow of a man who seemed to admire Sam, and who showed his reverence for the law by taking illicit drink for drink with him.

Sam felt unworthy and apologetic till he had dressed and been cheered by a glimpse of his daughter, Emily.

Emily, as a child, had been his companion; he had always understood her, seemed nearer to her than to Fran. She had been a tomboy, sturdy of shoulder, jolly as an old family dog out on a walk.

He used to come to the nursery door, lamenting:

“Milord, the Duke of Buckin’um lies wownded at the gate!”

Emily and Brent would wail joyously, “Not seriowsly, I trust,” and he answer, “Mortually, I fear.”

They had paid him the compliment of being willing to play with him, Emily more than the earnest young Brent.

But Emily had been drawn, these last five years, into the tempestuous life of young Zenith; dances, movie parties, swimming in summer, astonishingly unrestricted companionship with any number of boys; a life which bewildered Sam. Now, at twenty, she was to be married to Harry McKee, assistant general manager of the Vandering Bolt and Nut Company (considered in Zenith a most genteel establishment), ex-tennis-champion, captain during the Great War, a man of thirty-four who wore his clothes and his slang dashingly. The parties had redoubled, and Sam realized wistfully that Emily and he had no more of their old, easy, chuckling talks.

As he marched down to supervise the cocktails for dinner, Emily flew in, blown on the storm, crying at him, “Oh, Samivel, you old beautiful! You look like a grand duke in your dinner jacket! You sweet thing! Damn it, I’ve got to be at Mary Edge’s in twenty minutes!”

She galloped up-stairs, and he stood looking after her and sighed.

“I’d better begin to dig in against the lonely sixties,” he brooded.

He shivered as he went out to tell the butler-for-the-evening how to prepare the cocktails, after which, he knew, the butler would prepare them to suit himself, and probably drink most of them.

Sam remembered that this same matter of a butler for parties only had been the subject of rather a lot of pourparlers between Fran and himself. She wanted a proper butler in the house, always. And certainly they could afford one. But every human being has certain extravagances which he dare not assume, lest he offend the affectionate and jeering friends of his youth — the man who has ventured on spats dares not take to a monocle — the statesman who has ventured on humor dares not be so presumptuous as to venture on honesty also. Somehow, Sam believed that he could not face Tub Pearson if he had anything so effete as a regular butler in the house, and Fran had not won . . . not yet.

Tub Pearson — the Hon. Thos. J. Pearson, former state-senator, honorary LL.D. of Winnemac University, president of the Centaur State Bank, director in twelve companies, trustee of the Loring Grammar School and of the Zenith Art Institute, chairman of the Mayor’s City Planning Commission — Tub Pearson was still as much the jester as he had been at Yale. He and his lively wife Matilde, known as “Matey,” had three children, but neither viceregal honors nor domesticity had overlaid Tub’s view of himself as a natural comedian.

All through the poker-game, at the large table in Sam’s library, where they sat with rolled-up sleeves and loosened collars, gurgling their whisky-sodas with gratified sighs, Tub jabbed at Judge Turpin for sentencing bootleggers while he himself enjoyed his whisky as thoroughly as any one in Zenith. When they rested — that is to say, re-filled their glasses — at eleven, and Sam suggested, “May not have any more poker with you lads for a while, because Fran and I may trot over to Europe for six months or so,” then Tub had an opportunity suitable to his powers:

“Six months! That’s elegant, Sambo. You’ll come back with an English accent: ‘Hy sye, hold chappie, cawn’t I ‘ave the honor of raising the bloomin’ pot a couple o’ berries, dear old dream?’”

“Ever hear an Englishman talk like that?”

“No, but you will! Six months! Oh, don’t be a damn’ fool! Go for two months, and then you’ll be able to appreciate getting back to a country where you can get ice and a bath-tub.”

“I know it’s a heresy,” Sam drawled, “but I wonder if there aren’t a few bath-tubs in Europe? Think I’ll go over and see. My deal.”

He did not show it; he played steadily, a rectangular-faced, large man, a cigar gripped in his mouth, cards dwarfed in his wide hand; but he was raging within:

“I’ve been doing what people expected me to, all my life. Football in college, when I’d as soon’ve stuck in the physics laboratory. Make money and play golf and be a good Republican ever since. Human cash-register! I’m finished! I’m going!”

But they heard from him only “Whoop you two more. Cards?”

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