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The Innocents: A Story for Lovers By Sinclair Lewis Characters: 8270

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

MR. AND MRS. SETH APPLEBY were almost old. They called each other "Father" and "Mother." But frequently they were guilty of holding hands, or of cuddling together in corners, and Father was a person of stubborn youthfulness. For something over forty years Mother had been trying to make him stop smoking, yet every time her back was turned he would sneak out his amber cigarette-holder and puff a cheap cigarette, winking at the shocked crochet tidy on the patent rocker. Mother sniffed at him and said that he acted like a young smart Aleck, but he would merely grin in answer and coax her out for a walk.

As they paraded, the sun shone through the fuzzy, silver hair that puffed out round Father's crab-apple face, and an echo of delicate silver was on Mother's rose-leaf cheeks.

They were rustic as a meadow-ringed orchard, yet Father and Mother had been born in New York City, and there lived for more than sixty years. Father was a perfectly able clerk in Pilkings's shoe-store on Sixth Avenue, and Pilkings was so much older than Father that he still called him, "Hey you, Seth!" and still gave him advice about handling lady customers. For three or four years, some ten years back, Father and Mr. Pilkings had displayed ill-feeling over the passing of the amiable elastic-sided Congress shoe. But that was practically forgotten, and Father began to feel fairly certain of his job.

There are three sorts of native New-Yorkers: East Side Jews and Italians, who will own the city; the sons of families that are so rich that they swear off taxes; and the people, descendants of shopkeepers and clerks, who often look like New-Englanders, and always listen with timid admiration when New-Yorkers from Ohio or Minnesota or California give them information about the city. To this meek race, doing the city's work and forgotten by the city they have built, belonged the Applebys. They lived in a brown and dusky flat, with a tortoise-shell tabby, and a canary, and a china hen which held their breakfast boiled eggs. Every Thursday Mother wrote to her daughter, who had married a prosperous and severely respectable druggist of Saserkopee, New York, and during the rest of her daytimes she swept and cooked and dusted, went shyly along the alien streets which had slipped into the cobblestoned village she had known as a girl, and came back to dust again and wait for Father's nimble step on the four flights of stairs up to their flat. She was as used to loneliness as a hotel melancholiac; the people they had known had drifted away to far suburbs. In each other the Applebys found all life.

In July, Father began his annual agitation for a vacation. Mr. Pilkings, of Pilkings & Son's Standard Shoe Parlor, didn't believe in vacations. He believed in staying home and saving money. So every year it was necessary for Father to develop a cough, not much of a cough, merely a small, polite noise, like a mouse begging pardon of an irate bee, yet enough to talk about and win him a two weeks' leave. Every year he schemed for this leave, and almost ruined his throat by sniffing snuff to make him sneeze. Every year Mr. Pilkings said that he didn't believe there was anything whatever the matter with Father and that, even if there was, he shouldn't have a vacation. Every year Mother was frightened almost to death by apprehension that they wouldn't be able to get away.

Father laughed at her this July till his fluffy hair shook like a dog's ears in fly-time. He pounded his fist on the prim center-table by which Mother had been solemnly reading the picture-captions in the Eternity Filmco's Album of Funny Film Favorites. The statuettes of General Lafayette and Mozart on the false mantel shook with his lusty thumping. He roared till his voice filled the living-room and hollowly echoed in the porcelain sink in the kitchen.

"Why," he declaimed, "you poor little dried codfish, if it wasn't for me you'd never have a vacation. You trust old dad to handle Pilkings. We'll get away just as sure as God made little apples."

"You mustn't use curse-words," murmured Mother, undiscouraged by forty years of trying to

reform Father's vocabulary. "And it would be a just judgment on you for your high mightiness if you didn't get a vacation, and I don't believe Mr. Pilkings will give you one, either, and if it wa'n't for-"

"Why, I've got it right under my hat."

"Yes, you always think you know so much more-"

Father rounded the table, stealthily and treacherously put his lips at her ear, and blew a tremendous "Zzzzzzzz," which buzzed in her ear like a file on a saw-blade.

Mother leaped up, furious, and snapped, "I'm simply ashamed of you, the way you act, like you never would grow up and get a little common sense, what with scaring me into conniption fits, and as I was just going to say, and I only say it for your own good, if you haven't got enough sense to know how little sense you have got, you at your time of life, why, well, all I can say is-you ought to know better."

Then Father and Mother settled peacefully down and forgot all about their disagreement.

Since they had blessedly been relieved of the presence of their talented daughter, who, until her marriage, had been polite to them to such an extent that for years they had lived in terror, they had made rather a point of being naughty and noisy and happy together, but by and by they would get tired and look affectionately across the table and purr. Father tinkered away at a broken lamp-shade till suddenly, without warning, he declared that Mother scolded him merely to conceal her faith in his ability to do anything. She sniffed, but she knew that he was right. For years Mother had continued to believe in the cleverness of Seth Appleby, who, in his youth, had promised to become manager of the shoe-store, and gave the same promise to-day.

Father justified his shameless boast by compelling Mr. Pilkings to grant him the usual leave of absence, and they prepared to start for West Skipsit, Cape Cod, where they always spent their vacations at the farm-house of Uncle Joe Tubbs.

Mother took a week to pack, and unpack, to go panting down-stairs to the corner drug-store for new tubes of tooth-paste and a presentable sponge, to remend all that was remendable, to press Father's flappy, shapeless little trousers with the family flat-iron, to worry over whether she should take the rose-pink or the daffodil-yellow wrapper-which had both faded to approximately the same shade of gray, but which were to her trusting mind still interestingly different. Each year she had to impress Mrs. Tubbs of West Skipsit with new metropolitan finery, and this year Father had no peace nor comfort in the ménage till she had selected a smart new hat, incredibly small and close and sinking coyly down over her ear. He was only a man folk, he was in the way, incapable of understanding this problem of fashion, and Mother almost slapped him one evening for suggesting that it "wouldn't make such a gosh-awful lot of difference if she didn't find some new fad to impress Sister Tubbs."

But Mother wearied of repacking their two cheap wicker suit-cases and the brown pasteboard box, and Father suddenly came to the front in his true capacity as boss and leader. He announced, loudly, on the evening before they were to depart, "We're going to have a party to-night, old lady."

At the masterful tones of this man of the world, who wasn't afraid of train or travel, who had gone successfully through the mysteries of purchasing transportation clear to Cape Cod, Mother looked impressed. But she said, doubtfully, "Oh, do you think we better, Father? We'll be traveling and all-"

"Yes-sir-ee! We're going to a movie, and then we're going to have a banana split, and I'm going to carry my cane and smoke a seegar. You know mighty well you like the movies as well as I do."

"Acting up like a young smarty!" Mother said, but she obediently put on her hat-Lord, no, not the new small hat; that was kept to impress West Skipsit, Massachusetts-and as she trotted to the movies beside him, the two of them like solemn white puppies venturing away from their mother, she occasionally looked admiringly up, a whole inch up, at her hero.

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