World So Wide, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 13

The morning sun was warm and shameless, and their eggs, consumed to a view of snowy Apennine peaks absurdly like piles of the best peach ice cream, had ozone in them — so Hayden asserted. They were chatty and they were smiling somewhat smugly, and did not even see an old man with a cape and a small Elzevir.

“Looks as though we are to be beautifully married,” said Hayden.

“Astonishingly enough, it does! My lord and master, may I go on studying?”

“You are graciously permitted. Do you want to stay on in Italy, and maybe France and Holland and so on, for a few years?”

“Oh, a couple of years or so, if you can stick it. But I do want to see your Newlife — your house — our house! I want to find out whether I’ve learned so much about the terror and splendor of the Middle Ages that now I can become a halfway decent commonplace wife and do the job as well as Catherine Sforza would. Oh, yes, I shall love Newlife — in a controlled way!”

“We’ll build a Renaissance church there.”

“What do you mean WE will? YOU will! I’m a simple, admiring wife now. I shan’t even give you any advice, ever. Whatever you do will seem wonderful to me. . . . Except just this. You are not to build any Renaissance churches or Gothic churches or Romanesque or anything else imitative of Europe. Go ahead and develop the American Georgian, as you planned. Stand for something; don’t just copy.”

He said meekly, “Yes, that might be — yes.”

All the way to Florence, she sang Neapolitan lyrics and smoothed his sleeve.

With a not very-well-defined feeling that now they should march out from solitude and take their civic place, Olivia and Hayden were presently seen flauntingly together everywhere in Florence, at church, at the bars, walking on the Tornabuoni and the Lungarno. In the tight environment of their pensione, which was as close to them and sometimes as itchily intrusive as a hair shirt, they had not announced any engagement and they kept their separate tables, but their attachment must have been clear.

Certainly it was to Vito Zenzero, clerk, headwaiter, and authority on which countesses in town were authentic. Vito looked confidently at Olivia as he took her dinner order, and she seemed contented now to be accepted as merely a woman, betrayed and lost to scholarship and generally happy. Every time Hayden looked from his table to hers, he smiled and Olivia smiled and Vito smiled with them both, and Olivia was not offended.

As a child, Hayden had devotedly trusted in his sturdy father, his fragile and fanciful mother. But from this serenity the neighborhood bully, a foul brat, had first startled him. With Caprice and Jesse Bradbin he had been distrustful, constantly vigilant. Now, first since the dawn years, he felt, with Olivia, not only an arousing tension but a secure faith, in which his mind flowed smooth and full.

He was proud of escorting this young woman, so wise, so warmly beautiful, so affectionate — but only to him. Her brown dress, which formerly had seemed merely serviceable and neat, was to him now a garment of singular gracefulness and fine fabric, and its choice showed his lady’s knowledge of the smart world. It seemed to him that her darkly pallid face was richer now with new fast blood. It must have seemed so to every one, for Mrs. Dodsworth observed, “You’re getting out more now, Olivia. You look much livelier for it.”

And said Sam Dodsworth, “I used to be embarrassed with you two young highbrows, but you’ve become as simple-hearted a couple as I ever saw. Glad of it. Edith claims that we old married exhibits get what she calls vicarious pleasure out of young love. Don’t you two let me down, like a lot of undependable young pups these days — eight different engagements and two divorces in five years. You two stick!”

“We’ll stick!” proclaimed Hayden, and Olivia looked complaisant — though, to be precise, their betrothal was most undefined, with such unromantic business as deciding when and where they would be married scarcely discussed. But the ardor between them certainly had not lessened and, in the pallid cautiousness of the Tre Corone boarding house as in the wild inn, they roused each other to an ardor that sometimes frightened Hayden.

“You seem changed, somehow,” they all said to Olivia — Tessie Weepswell, the prima donna of bridge, Mrs. Manse, Prince Ugo Tramontana, and if Vito Zenzero did not say it, his eyes said it for him. Most of them all, Hayden was startled by it.

Olivia was a good workman; she was as steadily about her subway labors at the libraries as ever, but she mocked her own laboriousness now; she was occasionally willing to sit long over red Chianti at lunch, and in every inch of her, as Hayden lovingly surveyed her, he found her blood more torrential — in moving lips, in hot cheeks, in firmly grasping hands.

It was particularly at Nat Friar’s house that they were accepted as a Young Couple. Not for many years had the once-gallant young Nathaniel Greenleaf Friar of Boston been an adventurous amorist. Nowadays he looked upon passion as he looked upon assassination: as a diversion that had been fashionable in the Middle Ages, and very useful, but of which, surely, there had been enough by 1600.

At supper for the Young Couple, served on his living-room table cleared of books and pipes, with a noble San Daniele ham, Nat smiled and teased his beard, and addressed Hayden: “I suppose I must give my sanction to the dangerous exploit that Dr. Lomond and you are contemplating. People still do get married, do they? I thought they all got tired of it about twenty-five years ago.

“Well, marriage is an excellent and almost tolerable institution for groundlings who have nothing else to keep them annoyed and occupied in the long evenings, but I have never commended it for scholars. All through my life I have had acquaintances who dashed in howling, ‘Nat, you need some one to take care of you, and I’ve found just the woman for you!’ Then they drag in some weedy virgin or unwieldy widow whose ambition is to be supported in return for such caretaking as hiding my slippers where I can never find them, or quarreling with my maid, whom I have cherished for fifteen years, and replacing her with a fancy male who cooks with butter and collects even more than the legal illegal commission of ten per cent on all shopping. These solitary animals who call themselves ‘scholars’— they should never marry. And Ada will agree.”

“You,” said Mrs. Shaliston Baker, gently, “are the most selfish, loquacious and untidy old barbarian living.”

“Uncle Nat,” said Olivia, “I could kill you with pleasure. I used to be cynical, too, but now I can see that there may be a better reason for living than just a knowledge of Etruscan tombs.”

“If you two women really believed any of that, you would really kill me and not just babble about it, when I make so basic an attack on your sex, when I judiciously point out that a wife’s notion of being a faithful helpmate is to be willing to wait while you are paying the bill for the mink coat she has swindled out of you. But no woman believes in Women. When I attack your faction, you both gloat.”

“Oh, pooh!” said Olivia.

“And you, Hayden, you agree with me, or presently will.”

Startled, Hayden wondered about that. He admitted to himself that he was sometimes a little edgy over the panting watchfulness which the changed Olivia now kept over him. He had been so free!

Among the yodeling witnesses to their bliss, none was more fervid than those new pensione boarders, the Grenadiers.

The Grenadiers, as Vito Zenzero had named them, were middle-aged twin American ladies. They had been well paid for divorcing uncouth husbands who were in trade — shoes and wholesale plumbing; who were not, in short, “creative.” CREATIVE was the Grenadiers’ favorite word. It was CREATIVE to sell antiques but not plumbing.

The Grenadiers came from Pennsylvania, but they had lived long in England, in Bloomsbury boarding houses, and they said “lift”— when they remembered it — and hoped to be taken for English.

They took photographs all day long.

They had also lived in Carmel, Taos, Taxco, Greenwich Village and Montparnasse, tracking down not so much Culture as the creative and romantic dealers in Culture: ballet-dancers, summer-theater directors, fiddlers. They had now moved their field station to Florence.

They took photographs all day long and showed them to you all evening long.

They were unbeatable at coursing through churches, galleries, art shops, and they took buses out to Prato and the Certosa. They had picked up a young male slut who was supposed to be an American student but whose studies were only of bars. They introduced him as “such an ardent, creative talent — he speaks seven languages — he just HATES America!”

Whichever the seven languages may have been, they did not include any Italian, nor much English beyond, “Actually,” “Amusing” and “Oh, my dears.”

The Grenadiers’ burlesque of his own Culture-stalking made Hayden want to go home, where he would cultivate not this quarter-knowledge of history but his full and accurate knowledge of Newlife; where he could tell you, offhand, just how much 12,758 Schuyler Boulevard would bring per front foot, and who was the father of the wife of the third baseman of the Newlife team. He denied his own denial; he insisted that his white nights of outwatching the Bear had been fruitful, but he was learning what older and wearier practitioners of scholarship and the arts all learn: that their worst enemy is the rich female amateur.

Hayden could endure the winter cold of his room, the contempt of Jesse Bradbin, but he could not endure the approval of the Grenadier Sisters when they bubbled to him, “We do think that your engagement to Dr. Olivia is THE most romantic thing we ever saw. It’s truly creative: an architect who APPRECIATES how vulgar most Americans are marrying a woman scholar who knows how many gardeners Lorenzo Mag-nifico kept at his villa!”

Put that way, Hayden saw his interest in Olivia as fairly sickening.

“BUT, Mr. Chart,” croaked the Grenadiers, “you’ll have to watch your step. Very few of you men have the chance to be the consort of Dr. Olivia — such a rare woman and she can put it over any of you men, and you got to admit it, when it comes to creative ability. You may be so efficient and all that, but here you have to take a back seat. We’ll bet a cookie, if Olivia quits her teaching job when you get married, she’ll step right out on the lecture platform, and my! think how proud you’ll be, with thousands of people listening to her, hundreds anyway, when she explains what St. Catherine and St. Francis and Boccaccio and all those deep thinkers were thinking! You let us tell you, Mister Man, you’ll have to be content to share her with the world!”

He brooded to himself, “Perhaps an uninspired routine draftsman like me would feel more secure with a woman who isn’t in danger of being intoxicated by the limelight and the microphone and fools like these sisters. No! Nonsense! That’s half treachery and half idiocy. Dear Olivia, she would never ride a sound-truck in the public square!”

And Olivia joined him in ridiculing the Grenadiers’ proprietorship of the good, the true and the beautiful, but one evening she listened unsnickering when they gushed, “Oh, Dr. Olivia, you’ve got to excuse us if we bore you by raving so about you. We do love Culture, oh, we think it’s simply wonderful, and so much needed, but we’re just amateurs compared with a wonderful, wonderful trained expert like you!”

Olivia murmured, “Me? I’m a schoolma’am who was lucky in having hardboiled teachers.”

But she did listen while the Grenadiers gave her the useful information that she was a mistress of medieval law and as beautiful as Clarice Orsini.

Hayden noted that the Olivia who once, after the pensione dinner, had taken coffee alone at her table and then flitted off to her barricaded cell, was staying on for coffee in the lounge, and now and then holding forth to eye-brightened circles on what was really worth seeing in Florence. When the North Italy agent for the Little Dandy Tractors of Moline said to her admiringly, “Say, Doctor, there’s one thing I never could get straight about these doggone Middle Ages — maybe you can tell me,” then Olivia did tell him, and she did not look at an impatient Mr. Hayden Chart off in a corner.

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