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Dodsworth tells the story of a young American couple who moves to Europe. When the woman becomes involved with another man, her husband must choose between forgiving his wife or abandoning the relationship, and Europe, forever.
The aristocracy of Zenith were dancing at the Kennepoose Canoe Club. They two-stepped on the wide porch, with its pillars of pine trunks, its bobbing Japanese lanterns; and never were there dance- frocks with wider sleeves nor hair more sensuously piled on little smiling heads, never an August evening more moon-washed and spacious and proper for respectable romance.
Three guests had come in these new-fangled automobiles, for it was now 1903, the climax of civilization. A fourth automobile was approaching, driven by Samuel Dodsworth.
The scene was a sentimental chromo–crisping lake, lovers in canoes singing “Nelly Was a Lady,” all very lugubrious and happy; and Sam Dodsworth enjoyed it. He was a large and formidable young man, with a healthy brown mustache and a chaos of brown hair on a massive head. He was, at twenty-eight, assistant superintendent of that most noisy and unsentimental institution, the Zenith Locomotive Works, and in Yale (class of 1896) he had played better than average football, but he thought well of the most sentimental sorts of moonlight.
Tonight he was particularly uplifted because he was driving his first car. And it was none of your old-fashioned “gasoline buggies,” with the engine under the seat. The engine bulked in front, under a proud hood over two feet long, and the steering column was not straight but rakishly tilted. The car was sporting and rather dangerous, and the lights were powerful affairs fed by acetylene gas. Sam sped on, with a feeling of power, of dominating the universe, at twelve dizzy miles an hour.
At the Canoe Club he was greeted by Tub Pearson, admirable in white kid gloves. Tub–Thomas J. Pearson–round and short and jolly, class-jester and class-dandy at Yale, had been Sam Dodsworth’s roommate and chief admirer throughout college, but now Tub had begun to take on an irritable dignity as teller and future president of his father’s bank in zenith.
“It runs!” Tub marveled, as Sam stepped in triumph from the car. “I’ve got a horse all ready to tow you back!”
Tub had to be witty, whatever happened.
“Certainly it runs! I’ll bet I was up to eighteen miles an hour!”
“Yeh! I’ll bet that some day automobiles’ll run forty!” Tub jeered. “Sure! Why, they’ll just about drive the poor old horse right off the highway!”
“They will! And I’m thinking of tying up with this new Revelation Company to manufacture ‘em.”
“Not seriously, you poor chump?”
“Oh, my Lord!” Tub wailed affectionately. “Don’t be crazy, Sambo! My dad says automobiles are nothing but a fad. Cost too much to run. In five years, he says, they’ll disappear.”
Sam’s answer was not very logical:
“Who’s the young angel on the porch?”
If she was an angel, the girl at whom Sam was pointing, she was an angel of ice; slim, shining, ash-blonde, her self-possessed voice very cool as she parried the complimentary teasing of half a dozen admirers; a crystal candle-stick of a girl among black-and-white lumps of males.
“You remember her–Frances Voelker–Fran Voelker–old Herman’s kid. She’s been abroad for a year, and she was East, in finishing- school, before that. Just a brat–isn’t over nineteen or twenty, I guess. Golly, they say she speaks German and French and Italian and Woof-woof and all known languages.”
Herman Voelker had brewed his way into millions and respectability. His house was almost the largest in Zenith–certainly it had the greatest amount of turrets, colored glass windows, and lace curtains–and he was leader among the German-Americans who were supplanting the New Englanders throughout the state as controllers of finance and merchandising. He entertained German professors when they came lecturing and looking, and it was asserted that one of the genuine hand-painted pictures which he had recently brought back from Nuremberg was worth nearly ten thousand dollars. A worthy citizen, Herman, and his tart beer was admirable, but that this beef-colored burgher should have fathered anything so poised and luminous as Fran was a miracle.
The sight of her made Sam Dodsworth feel clumsy as a St. Bernard looking at a white kitten. While he prophesied triumphs for the motor car, while he danced with other girls, he observed her airy dancing and her laughter. Normally, he was not particularly afraid of young women, but Fran Voelker seemed too fragile for his thick hands. Not till ten did he speak to her, when a partner left her, a flushed Corybant, in a chair near Sam’s.
“Do you remember me–Dodsworth? Years since I’ve seen you.”
“Remember! Heavens! I wondered if you were going to notice me. I used to steal the newspaper from Dad to get the news of your football heroisms. And when I was a nice young devil of eight, you once chased me out of your orchard for stealing apples.”
“Did I? Wouldn’t dare to now! Mavenex’ dance?”
“Well–Let me see. Oh. The next is with Levering Mott, and he’s already ruined three of my two slippers. Yes.”
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