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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Innocents: A Story for Lovers By Sinclair Lewis Characters: 18444

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


APPARENTLY the Applebys' customers had liked "The T Room" well enough-some of them had complimented Mrs. Appleby on the crispness of her doughnuts, the generousness of her chicken sandwiches. Those who had quarreled about the thickness of the bread or the vagueness of flavor in the tea Father had considered insulting, and he had been perky as a fighting-sparrow in answering them. A good many must have been pleased, for on their trip back from Provincetown they returned, exclaimed that they remembered the view from the rose-arbor, and chatted with Father about the roads and New York and fish. As soon as the first novelty of Miss Mitchin's was gone, the Applebys settled down to custom which was just large enough to keep their hopes staggering onward, and just small enough to eat away their capital a few cents a day, instead of giving them a profit.

In the last week of July they were visited by their daughter Lulu-Lulu the fair, Lulu the spectacled, Lulu the lily wife of Harris Hartwig, the up-to-date druggist of Saserkopee, New York.

Lulu had informed them two weeks beforehand that they were to be honored with the presence of herself and her son Harry; and Father and Mother had been unable to think of any excuse strong enough to keep her away. Lulu wasn't unkind to her parents; rather, she was too kind; she gave them good advice and tried to arrange Mother's hair in the coiffures displayed by Mrs. Edward Schuyler Deflaver of Saserkopee, who gave smart teas at the Woman's Exchange. Lulu cheerily told Father how well he was withstanding the hand of Time, which made him feel decrepit and become profane.

In fact, though they took it for granted that they adored their dear daughter Lulu, they knew that they would not enjoy a single game of cribbage, nor a single recital by Signor Sethico Applebi the mouth-organ virtuoso, as long as she was with them. But she was coming, and Mother frantically cleaned everything and hid her favorite old shoes.

Mrs. Lulu Hartwig arrived with a steamer-trunk, two new gowns, a camera, and Harry. She seemed disappointed not to find a large summer hotel with dancing and golf next door to "The T Room," and she didn't hesitate to say that her parents would have done better-which meant that Lulu would have enjoyed her visit more-if they had "located" at Bar Harbor or Newport. She rearranged the furniture, but as there was nothing in the tea-room but chairs, tables, and a fireplace, there wasn't much she could do.

She descended on Grimsby Center, and came back enthusiastic about Miss Mitchin's. She had met the young man with the Albanian costume, and he had talked to her about vorticism and this jolly new Polish composer with his suite for tom-tom and cymbals. She led Father into the arbor and effervescently demanded, "Why don't Mother and you have a place like that dear old mansion of Miss Mitchin's, and all those clever people there and all?"

Father fairly snarled, "Now look here, young woman, the less you say about Miss Mitten the more popular you'll be around here. And don't you dare to speak to your mother about that place. It's raised the devil with our trade, and I won't have your mother bothered with it. And if you mean the young fellow that needs a decent pair of pantaloons by this 'Albanian costume' business, why I sh'd think you'd be ashamed to speak of him."

"Now, Father, of course you have particularly studied artists-"

"Look here, young woman, when you used to visit us in New York, it was all right for you to get our goats by sticking your snub nose in the air and asking us if we'd read a lot of new-fangled books that we'd never heard of. I'll admit that was a good way to show us how superior you were. But this Miss Mitten place is a pretty serious proposition for us to buck, and I absolutely forbid you to bother your mother with mentioning it."

Father stood straight and glared at her. There was in him nothing of the weary little man who was in awe of Miss Mitchin's. Even his daughter was impressed. She forgot for a moment that she was Mrs. Hartwig, now, and had the best phonograph in Saserkopee. But she took one more shot:

"All the same, it would be a good thing for you if you had some clever people-or some society people-coming here often. It would advertise the place as nothing else would."

"Well, we'll see about that," said Father-which meant, of course, that he wouldn't see about it.

Lulu Hartwig was a source of agitation for two weeks. After Father's outbreak she stopped commenting, but every day when business was light they could feel her accusingly counting the number of customers. But she did not become active again till the Sunday before her going.

The Applebys were sitting up-stairs, that day, holding hands and avoiding Lulu. Below them they heard a motor-car stop, and Mother prepared to go down and serve the tourists. The brazen, beloved voice of Uncle Joe Tubbs of West Skipsit blared out: "Where's the folks, heh? Tell 'em the Tubbses are here."

And Lulu's congealed voice, in answer: "I don't know whether they are at home. If they are, who shall I tell them is calling, please?"

"Huh? Oh, well, just say the Tubbses."

"Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs?"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"

By this time Father and Mother were galloping down-stairs. They welcomed the Tubbses with yelps of pleasure; the four of them sat in rockers on the grass and talked about the Tubbses' boarders, and the Applebys admired to hear that Uncle Joe now ran the car himself. But all of them were conscious that Lulu, in a chiffon scarf and eye-glasses, was watching them amusedly, and the Tubbses uneasily took leave in an hour, pleading the distance back to West Skipsit.

Not till evening, when he got the chance to walk by himself on the beach below the gravel cliffs, did Father quite realize what his daughter had done-that, with her superior manner, she had frightened the Tubbses away. Yet there was nothing to do about it.

Even at her departure there was a certain difficulty, for Lulu developed a resolution to have her parents visit her at Saserkopee. Perhaps she wished to show them in what state she now lived; or it may conceivably be that, in her refined and determined manner, she was fond of her parents. She kissed them repeatedly and was gone with much waving of a handkerchief and yelps of "Now don't forget-you're you're to visit me-be sure and write-Harry, don't stick your head out of the window, d'yuhhearme?"

* * *

Lulu's visit had two effects upon the lives of Father and Mother. They found that their quiet love had grown many-fold stronger, sweeter, in the two weeks it had been denied the silly fondnesses of utterance. They could laugh, now that there was no critic of their shy brand of humor. Father stopped on the step and winked an immense shameless wink at Mother, and she sighed and said, with unexpected understanding, "Yes, I'm afraid Lulu is a little-just a leet-le bit-"

"And I reckon we won't be in such a gosh-awful hustle to visit her."

Mother was so vulgar as to grunt, "Well, I guess not!"

That evening they sat in the rose-arbor again. And had tone poems on the mouth-organ. And dreamed that something would happen to make their investment pay.

Another result there was of Lulu's visit. Father couldn't help remembering her suggestion that they ought to bag a social or artistic lion as an attraction for "The T Room." He was delighted to find that, after weeks of vacuous worry, he had another idea.

Now that August, the height of the season, had come, he would capture Mrs. Vance Carter herself.

Mrs. Vance Carter was the widow of the Boothbay Textile Mills millions. She was a Winslow on her father's side, a Cabot on her mother's, and Beacon Street was officially swept from end to end and tidied with little pink feather dusters whenever she returned to Boston. She was so solid that society reporters didn't dare write little items about her, and when she was in Charleston she was invited to the Saint Cecilia Ball. Also she was rather ignorant, rather unhappy, and completely aimless. She and her daughter spent their summers three miles from Grimsby Head, in an estate with a gate-house and a conservatory and a golf course and a house with three towers and other architecture. When America becomes a military autocracy she will be Lady Carter or the Countess of Grimsby.

The Applebys saw her go by every day, in a landaulet with liveried chauffeur and footman.

With breathless secrecy Father planned to entice Mrs. Vance Carter to "The T Room." Once they had her there, she would certainly appreciate the wholesome goodness of Mother's cooking. He imagined long intimate conversations in which Mrs. Carter would say to him, "Mr. Appleby, I can't tell you how much I like to get away from my French cook and enjoy your nice old house and Mrs. Appleby's delicious homey doughnuts." It was easy to win Mrs. Carter, in imagination. Sitting by himself in the rose-arbor while Mother served their infrequent customers or stood at the door unhappily watching for them, Father visualized Mrs. Carter exclaiming over the view from the arbor, the sunset across the moors as seen from their do

or-which was, Father believed, absolutely the largest and finest sunset in the world. He even went so far as to discover in Mrs. Vance Carter, Mrs. Cabot-Winslow-Carter, a sneaking fondness for cribbage, which, in her exalted social position, she had had to conceal. He saw her send the chauffeur away, and cache her lorgnette, and roll up her sleeves, and simply wade into an orgy of cribbage, with pleasing light refreshments of cider and cakes waiting by the fireplace. Then he saw Mrs. Carter sending all her acquaintances to "The T Room," and the establishment so prosperous that Miss Mitchin would come around and beg the Applebys to enter into partnership.

Father was not such a fool as to believe all his fancies. But hadn't he heard the most surprising tales of how friendly these great folk could be? Why here just the other day he had been reading in the boiler-plate innards of the Grimsby Recorder how Jim Hill, the railroad king, had dropped off at a little station in North Dakota one night, incog., and talked for hours to the young station-master.

He was burning to do something besides helping Mother in the kitchen-something which would save them and pull the tea-room out of the hole. Without a word to Mother he started for Grimsby Hill, the estate of Mrs. Vance Carter. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he was certain that he was going to do something.

As he arrived at the long line of iron picket fence surrounding Grimsby Hill, he saw Mrs. Carter's motor enter the gate. It seemed to be a good omen. He hurried to the gate, peered in, then passed on. He couldn't go and swagger past that exclusive-looking gate-house and intrude on that sweep of rhododendron-lined private driveway. He walked shyly along the iron fence for a quarter of a mile before he got up courage to go back, rush through the towering iron gateway and past the gate-house, into the sacred estate. He expected to hear a voice-it would be a cockney servant's voice-demanding, "'Ere you, wot do you want?" But no one stopped him; no one spoke to him; he was safe among the rhododendrons. He clumped along as though he had important business, secretly patting his tie into shape and smoothing his hair. Just let anybody try to stop him! He knew what he was about! But he really didn't know what he was about; he hadn't the slightest notion as to whether he would go up and invite their dear cribbage-companion Mrs. Carter to come and see them or tack up a "T Room" advertisement on the porch.

He came to a stretch of lawn, with the house and all its three towers scowling down at him. Behind it were the edges of a group of out-buildings. He veered around toward these. Outside the garage he saw the chauffeur, with his livery coat off, polishing a fender. Great! Perhaps he could persuade the chauffeur to help him. He put on what he felt to be a New York briskness, furtively touched his tie again, and skipped up to the chauffeur.

"Fine day!" he said, breezily, starting with the one neutral topic of conversation in the world.

"What of it?" said the chauffeur, and went on polishing.

"Well, uh, say, I wanted to have a talk with you."

"I guess there's nothing stopping you. G'wan and have your talk. I can't get away. The old dragon wanted to have a talk with me, too, this morning. So did the housekeeper. Everybody does." And he polished harder than ever.

"Ha, ha!" Which indicates Father's laughter, though actually it sounded more like "Hick, hick!" As carelessly as he could Father observed: "That's how it goes, all right. I know. When I was in the shoe business-"

"Waal, waal, you don't say so, Si! Haow's the shoe business in Hyannis, papa?"

"Hyannis, hell! I've been in business in New York City, New York, for more than forty years!"

"Oh!"

Father felt that he had made an impression. He stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets-as he had not done these six gloomy weeks-threw out his chest, and tried to look like Thirty-fourth and Broadway, with a dash of Wall Street and a flavor of Fifth Avenue.

The chauffeur sighed, "Well, all I can say is that any guy that's lived in New York that long and then comes to this God-forsaken neck of land is a nut."

With an almost cosmic sorrow in his manner and an irritated twist in his suspenders, the chauffeur disappeared into the garage. Father forlornly felt that he wasn't visibly getting nearer to the heart and patronage of Mrs. Vance Carter.

He stood alone on the cement terrace before the garage. The square grim back of the big house didn't so much "look down on him" as beautifully ignore him. A maid in a cap peeped wonderingly at him from a window. A man in dun livery wheeled a vacuum cleaner out of an unexpected basement door. An under-gardener, appearing at the corner, dragging a cultivator, stared at him. Far off, somewhere, he heard a voice crying, "Fif' love!" He could see a corner of a sunken garden with stiff borders of box. He had an uneasy feeling that a whole army of unexpected servants stood between him and Mrs. Vance Carter; that, at any moment, a fat, side-whiskered, expensive butler, like the butlers you see in the movies, would pop up and order him off the grounds.

The unsatisfactory chauffeur reappeared. In a panic Father urged, "Say, my name's Appleby and I run the tea-room at Grimsby Head-you know, couple of miles this side of the Center. It would be pretty nice for our class of business if the Madam was to stop there some time, and I was just wondering, just kinda wondering, if some time when she felt thirsty you c-"

"She don't never tell me when she's thirsty. She just tells me when she's mad."

"Well, you know, some time you might be stopping to show her the view or something-you fix it up, and- Here, you get yourself some cigars." He timidly held out a two-dollar bill. It seemed to bore the chauffeur a good deal, but he condescended to take it. Father tried to look knowing and friendly and sophisticated all at once. He added, "Any time you feel like a good cup o' tea and the finest home-made doughnuts you ever ate, why, you just drop in yourself, and 'twon't cost you a cent."

"All right, 'bo, I'll see what I can do," said the chauffeur, and vanished again.

Father airily stamped along the driveway. His head was high and hopeful. He inspected the tennis-courts as though he were Maurice McLoughlin. He admitted that the rhododendrons were quite extensive. In fact, he liked Grimsby Hill.

He had saved their fortunes-not for himself, but for Mother. He whistled "The Harum-Scarum Rag" all the way home, interrupting himself only to murmur: "I wonder where the back door of that house is. Not at the back, anyway. Never saw even a garbage-pail."

And then for two weeks he sat with Mother in the sun and watched the motors go by.

They were almost ready to admit, now, that their venture was a complete failure; that they were ruined; that they didn't know what they would do, with no savings and a rainy day coming.

They let their maid go. They gave the grocer smaller and smaller orders for bread and butter and cheese-and even these orders were invariably too large for the little custom that came their way.

For a week Father concealed the fact that Mrs. Vance Carter would be coming-not now, but very soon. Then he had to tell Mother the secret to save her from prostrating worry. They talked always of that coming miracle as they sat with hand desperately clutching hand in the evening; they nearly convinced themselves that Mrs. Carter would send her friends. September was almost here, and it was too late for Mrs. Carter's influence to help them this year, but they trusted that somehow, by the magic of her wealth and position, she would enable them to get through the winter and find success during the next year.

They developed a remarkable skill in seeing her car coming far down the road. When either of them saw it the other was summoned, and they waited tremblingly. But the landaulet always passed, with Mrs. Carter staring straight ahead, gray-haired and hook-nosed; sometimes with Miss Margaret Carter, whose softly piquant little nose would in time be hooked like her mother's. Father's treacherous ally the chauffeur never even looked at "The T Room." Sometimes Father wondered if the chauffeur knew just where the house was; perhaps he had never noticed it. He planned to wave and attract the chauffeur's attention, but in face of the prodigious Mrs. Carter he never dared to carry out the plan.

September 1st. The Applebys had given up hope of miracles. They were making up their minds to notify Mr. Pilkings, of Pilkings & Son's Sixth Avenue Standard Shoe Parlor, that Father again wanted the job he had held for so many years.

They must leave the rose-arbor for the noise of that most alien of places, their native New York.

Mother was in the kitchen; Father at the front door, aimlessly whittling. He looked up, saw the Vance Carter motor approach. He shrugged his shoulders, growled, "Let her go to the dickens."

Then the car had stopped, and Mrs. Vance Carter and Miss Margaret Carter had incredibly stepped out, had started up the path to the tea-room.

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