Not the charge and roaring of the huge red busses, not the glimpse of Westminster’s towers beside the Thames, not the sight of the pale tall houses of Carlton House Terrace, so much delighted Sam and proved to him that incredibly he was in London as did a milk cart on its afternoon delivery — that absurd little cart, drawn by a pony, with the one big brassy milk container, instead of a truck filled with precise bottles.
“That certainly is old-fashioned!” he muttered in the taxicab, greatly content.
They planned to stay at the Berkeley, but when Sam stood at the booking-desk, making himself as large and impassive and traveled-looking as possible, and said casually, “I’d like a suite,” the clerk remarked, “Very sorry, sir — full up.”
“But we wirelessed for reservations!” snapped Fran.
“Come to think of it, I forgot all about sending the radio,” said Sam, looking apologetically at the clerk, apologizing for the rudeness of Fran, his child.
She breathed quickly, angrily, but never yet had she quarreled with him in public.
“You might try the Savoy, sir. Or the Ritz — just across Piccadilly,” the clerk suggested.
They drooped back to the taxicab waiting with their luggage, feeling unwelcome, and when they were safely inside the car, she opened up:
“I do think you might have remembered to send that wireless, considering that you had absolutely nothing else to do aboard — except drink! When I did all the packing and — Sam, do you ever realize that it really wouldn’t injure your titanic industrial mind if you were occasionally just the least little bit thoughtful toward me, if you didn’t leave absolutely everything about the house and traveling for me to do? I don’t think it was very nice of you! And I’m so tired, after the customs and —”
“Hell! I suppose you got the tickets to Europe! I suppose you got our passports —”
“No. Your secretary did! I’m afraid you don’t get any vast credit for that, my dear man!”
That was all the family scene for which they had time before they disembarked at the Ritz, but Fran was able to keep up quite a high level of martyrdom and bad temper, for the Ritz was nearly full, also, and they could not have a suite till the next day. Tonight, Fran had to endure a mere double bedroom with a private bath.
“I suppose,” she stormed, “that I’m expected to spend my entire time in London packing and unpacking and moving and unpacking all over again! This awful room! Oh, I do think you might have remembered —”
All the gaiety was gone from Sam’s large face. He held her arm, painfully, and growled, “Now that’ll do! You ought to be ashamed of yourself! I always deny it, even to you, but you CAN be the nagging wife! Just the kind you hate! We’ve never had a better room than this, and tomorrow we’ll have a suite, and you needn’t unpack anything besides a toothbrush this evening — we needn’t dress for dinner. You make me sick when you get this suffering, abused, tragedy fit. I know it’s because you’re tired and jumpy, but can’t you ever be tired and jumpy without insisting that every one around you be the same way?”
“Is it necessary for you to shout at me, as a proof of YOUR calmness — your superb masculine calmness — and is it necessary to break my arm? I am not a nagger! I’ve never nagged you! But the fact that you, who are so fond of talking about yourself as the great executive who never forgets a detail —”
“Never say anything of the kind!”
“— could forget to send that wireless, and then you’re too self-satisfied even to be sorry about it —”
“Fran!” His arm circled her; he led her to the window. “Look down there! Piccadilly! London! I’ve always wanted to see it, just as much as you have. Are we going to quarrel now? Do you remember the very first evening I met you, after you’d come back from Europe, and I said we’d come here together? And we have. Togeth — Oh, I guess I sound sentimental, but to be here in England, where all our people came from, with you —”
“I’m sorry. I was naughty. I’m sorry.” Then she laughed. “Only my people didn’t come from here! My revered ancestors galloped around the Bavarian mountains in short green pants, and yodeled, and undoubtedly they fought your ancestors on all possible occasions!”
But her laughter was not very convincing; her restoration to happiness not complete. She said, while she was unpacking her smaller bag, gliding in and out of the bathroom — she said, in rather a lonely, discouraged way:
“Same time, my dear, you aren’t always thoughtful about me. American husbands never are. You’re no worse than the rest, but you’re just as bad. You think of nothing beyond business and golf. It never occurs to you that a woman, poor idiot, is lots more pleased when you remember to send her flowers, or when you ‘phone to her at odd hours, just to say you love her, than she would be by a new motor car. Please don’t think I’m nagging — maybe I was before, but I’m not now, really! I do so want us to be happy together! And now that you don’t have to think about business, don’t you think it might be nice to get acquainted with me? I’m really quite a nice person!”
“Nice? Oh, Lord!”
She was cheerfuller, after their long kiss, and he — he became very busy trying to be a thoughtful husband.
And she agreed that it was jolly that they needn’t dress for dinner, and then she unpacked their evening clothes.
It was toward evening; he must make her first night in London exciting; and, like most American husbands, he assumed that the best way to do it was to invite some one, if possible some one a little younger and livelier than himself, to join them.
Oh, damn Major Lockert!
They’d seen too much of him on the ship — and the patronizing way in which he’d ambled into their compartment on the boat train and thrust a Graphic and a Tatler on them — And the way he’d explained that you mustn’t confuse a florin and a half-crown —
Still, Lockert was younger than himself — perhaps half a dozen years — and he could gabble about baccarat and Paris–Plage and other things that Fran seemed to find important —
“Let’s get hold of somebody for dinner, honey,” he said, “and then maybe we’ll take in a show. How about it? Shall I try to get hold of Lockert?”
He was pleased; considerably less pleased when she went on, “He’s been so kind to us, and so helpful, and we mustn’t bother him on his first evening home. What about this young Starling, Tub’s nevvy, at the American Embassy?”
“We’ll try him.”
The Embassy was closed, and at his bachelor apartment, Dunger, the porter, explained that Mr. Starling had gone to the Riviera for a fortnight.
“Do you remember any of the people you met here when you came abroad as a kid?” Sam asked.
“No, not really. And I haven’t any relatives here — all in Germany. Hang it, I do think that after all these centuries my family might have provided me with one respectable English earl as kinsman!”
“What about Hurd, the Revelation agent? I think he came to our house once when he was in Zenith.”
“Oh, he — he’s a terrible person — absolute roughneck — how you ever happened to send an American like Hurd over here when you might have had a nice Englishman as London agent and — Why, don’t you remember I asked you not to write him we were coming? I WON’T be the ‘president’s little lady’ to that awful bunch of back-slapping salesmen!”
“Now Hurd’s a mighty good fellow! He’s cocky, and I don’t suppose he’s read a book since he used to look at the lingerie ads in the Sears–Roebuck catalogue as a kid, but he’s a whirlwind at selling, and he tells mighty good stories, and he would know the best restaurants in London.”
Softened, a bit motherly — or at least a bit sisterly — she comforted him, “You really would like to see him, wouldn’t you? Well then, let’s get him, by all means.”
“No, this is your party. I want somebody that you’d like. Plenty of time to see Hurd; go call on him tomorrow, maybe.”
“No, really, I think it would be lovely to have your Mr. Hurd. He wasn’t so bad. I was exaggerating. Yes, do call him up — please do! I’d feel terrible if I felt that I’d kept you from seeing — And perhaps you do owe it to the business. He may have some cables from the U.A.C.”
“Well, all right. And if I don’t get him, how about trying Colonel Enderley and his wife — I thought they were about the nicest people on the boat, and they may not have a date for tonight. Or that aviator, Ristad?”
Hurd’s office was closed.
Hurd’s home address not in the telephone book.
Colonel and Mrs. Enderley not at the Savoy, after all.
Max Ristad not in.
How many millions of American husbands had sat on the edges of how many millions of hotel beds, from San Francisco to Stockholm, sighing to the unsympathetic telephone, “Oh, not in?” ruffling through the telephone book, and again sighing, “Oh, not in?”— looking for playmates for their handsome wives, while the wives listened blandly and never once cried, “But I don’t want any one else! Aren’t we two enough?”
A little melancholy at having to struggle through their Second Honeymoon unassisted, they dined at the hotel and went to the theater. In the taxicab, he had a confused timidity — no fear of violence, no sense of threatened death, but a feeling of incompetence in this strange land, of making a fool of himself, of being despised by Fran and by these self-assured foreigners; a fear of loneliness; a fear that he might never be restored to the certainties of Zenith. He saw his club, the office, the dear imprisonment of home, against the background of London, with its lines of severe facades, its roaring squares, corners clamorous with newspaper vendors, and a whole nest of streets that irritated him because they weren’t reasonable — he didn’t know where they led! And a tremendous restaurant that looked bigger than any clashing Childs’ in New York, which was annoying in a land where he had expected to find everything as tiny and stiff and unambitious as a Japanese toy garden.
And the taxi-driver hadn’t understood his pronunciation — he had had to let the hotel porter give the name of the theater — and what ought he to tip the fellow? He couldn’t ask Fran’s advice. He was making up for his negligence about the radiogram for hotel reservations by being brusque and competent — a man on whom she could rely, whom she would love the more as she saw his superiority in new surroundings. God, he loved her more than ever, now that he had the time for it!
And what was that about not confusing a half-crown (let’s see: that was fifty cents, almost exactly, wasn’t it?) and a florin? Why had Lockert gone and mixed him all up by cautioning him so much about them? Curse Lockert — nice chap — awfully kind, but treating him as though he were a baby who would be disgraced in decent English society unless he had a genteel guide to tell him what he might wear and what he might say in mixed society! He’d managed to become president of quite a fair-sized corporation without Lockert’s aid, hadn’t he!
He felt, at the theater, even more forlorn.
He did not understand more than two-thirds of what the actors said on the stage. He had been brought up to believe that the English language and the American language were one, but what could a citizen of Zenith make of “Ohs rath, eastill in labtry”?
What were they talking about? What was the play about? He knew that in America, even in the Midwestern saneness of Zenith, where the factories and skyscrapers were not too far from the healing winds across the cornfields, an incredible anarchy had crept into the family life which, he believed, had been the foundation of American greatness. People that you knew, people like his own cousin, Jerry Loring, after a decent career as a banker had taken up with loose girls and had stood for his wife’s having a lover without killing the fellow. By God if he, Sam Dodsworth, ever found HIS wife being too friendly with a man —
No, he probably wouldn’t. Not kill them. She had a right to her own way. She was better than he — that slender, shining being, in the golden frock she had insisted on digging out of a wardrobe trunk. She was a divine thing, while he was a clodhopper — and how he’d like to kiss her, if it weren’t for shocking all these people so chillily calm about him! If conceivably she COULD look at another man, he’d just leave her . . . and kill himself.
But he must attend to the play, considering that he was being educated, and so expensively.
He concluded that the play was nonsense. In America there was a criminal amount of divorcing and of meriting divorce, but surely that collapse of all the decencies was impossible in Old England, the one land that these hundreds of years had upheld the home, the church, the throne! Yet here on the stage, with no one hissing, an English gentleman was represented as being the lover of a decent woman, wife of a chemist, and as protesting against running away with her because then they would be unable to continue having tea and love together at the husband’s expense. And the English audience, apparently good honest people, laughed.
The queer cold bewilderment crept closer to him in the entr’acte, when he paced the lobby with Fran. The people among whom he was strolling were so blankly indifferent to him. In Zenith, he would have been certain to meet acquaintances at the theater; even in New York there was a probability of meeting classmates or automobile men. But here — He felt like a lost dog. He felt as he had on the first day of his Freshman year in college.
And his evening clothes, he perceived, were all wrong.
They went to bed rather silently, Sam and Fran. He would have given a great deal if she had suggested that they take a steamer back to America tomorrow. What, actually, she was thinking, he did not know. She had retired into the mysteriousness which had hidden her essential self ever since the night when he had first made love to her, at the Kennepoose Canoe Club. She was pleasant now — too pleasant; she said, too easily, that she had enjoyed the play; and she said, without saying it, that she was far from him and that he was not to touch her body, her sacred, proud, passionately cared-for body, save in a fleeting good-night kiss. She seemed as strange to him as the London audience at the theater. It was inconceivable that he had lived with her for over twenty years; impossible that she should be the mother of his two children; equally impossible that it could mean anything to her to travel with him — he so old and tired and aimless, she so fresh and unwrinkled and sure.
Tonight, she wasn’t forty-two to his fifty-one; she was thirty to his sixty.
He heard the jesting of Tub Pearson, the friendliness of his chauffeur at home, the respectful questions of his stenographer.
He realized that Fran was also lying awake and that, as quietly as possible, her face rammed into her pillow, she was crying.
And he was afraid to comfort her.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57