Part 2 - Babbitt Audiobook by Sinclair Lewis (Chs 06-09)

Uploaded by CCProse on 06.11.2011

I HE forgot Paul Riesling in an afternoon of
not unagreeable details.
After a return to his office, which seemed to have staggered on without him, he drove
a "prospect" out to view a four-flat tenement in the Linton district.
He was inspired by the customer's admiration of the new cigar-lighter.
Thrice its novelty made him use it, and thrice he hurled half-smoked cigarettes
from the car, protesting, "I GOT to quit smoking so blame much!"
Their ample discussion of every detail of the cigar-lighter led them to speak of
electric flat-irons and bed-warmers.
Babbitt apologized for being so shabbily old-fashioned as still to use a hot-water
bottle, and he announced that he would have the sleeping-porch wired at once.
He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all
mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty.
Regarding each new intricate mechanism-- metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine
gun, oxyacetylene welder--he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it
over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated.
The customer joined him in the worship of machinery, and they came buoyantly up to
the tenement and began that examination of plastic slate roof, kalamein doors, and
seven-eighths-inch blind-nailed flooring,
began those diplomacies of hurt surprise and readiness to be persuaded to do
something they had already decided to do, which would some day result in a sale.
On the way back Babbitt picked up his partner and father-in-law, Henry T.
Thompson, at his kitchen-cabinet works, and they drove through South Zenith, a high-
colored, banging, exciting region: new
factories of hollow tile with gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick
factories stained with tar, high-perched water-tanks, big red trucks like
locomotives, and, on a score of hectic
side-tracks, far-wandering freight-cars from the New York Central and apple
orchards, the Great Northern and wheat- plateaus, the Southern Pacific and orange
They talked to the secretary of the Zenith Foundry Company about an interesting
artistic project--a cast-iron fence for Linden Lane Cemetery.
They drove on to the Zeeco Motor Company and interviewed the sales-manager, Noel
Ryland, about a discount on a Zeeco car for Thompson.
Babbitt and Ryland were fellow-members of the Boosters' Club, and no Booster felt
right if he bought anything from another Booster without receiving a discount.
But Henry Thompson growled, "Oh, t' hell with 'em!
I'm not going to crawl around mooching discounts, not from nobody."
It was one of the differences between Thompson, the old-fashioned, lean Yankee,
rugged, traditional, stage type of American business man, and Babbitt, the plump,
smooth, efficient, up-to-the-minute and otherwise perfected modern.
Whenever Thompson twanged, "Put your John Hancock on that line," Babbitt was as much
amused by the antiquated provincialism as any proper Englishman by any American.
He knew himself to be of a breeding altogether more esthetic and sensitive than
He was a college graduate, he played golf, he often smoked cigarettes instead of
cigars, and when he went to Chicago he took a room with a private bath.
"The whole thing is," he explained to Paul Riesling, "these old codgers lack the
subtlety that you got to have to-day." This advance in civilization could be
carried too far, Babbitt perceived.
Noel Ryland, sales-manager of the Zeeco, was a frivolous graduate of Princeton,
while Babbitt was a sound and standard ware from that great department-store, the State
Ryland wore spats, he wrote long letters about City Planning and Community Singing,
and, though he was a Booster, he was known to carry in his pocket small volumes of
poetry in a foreign language.
All this was going too far.
Henry Thompson was the extreme of insularity, and Noel Ryland the extreme of
frothiness, while between them, supporting the state, defending the evangelical
churches and domestic brightness and sound business, were Babbitt and his friends.
With this just estimate of himself--and with the promise of a discount on
Thompson's car--he returned to his office in triumph.
But as he went through the corridor of the Reeves Building he sighed, "Poor old Paul!
I got to--Oh, damn Noel Ryland! Damn Charley McKelvey!
Just because they make more money than I do, they think they're so superior.
I wouldn't be found dead in their stuffy old Union Club!
I--Somehow, to-day, I don't feel like going back to work.
Oh well--"
II He answered telephone calls, he read the
four o'clock mail, he signed his morning's letters, he talked to a tenant about
repairs, he fought with Stanley Graff.
Young Graff, the outside salesman, was always hinting that he deserved an increase
of commission, and to-day he complained, "I think I ought to get a bonus if I put
through the Heiler sale.
I'm chasing around and working on it every single evening, almost."
Babbitt frequently remarked to his wife that it was better to "con your office-help
along and keep 'em happy 'stead of jumping on 'em and poking 'em up--get more work out
of 'em that way," but this unexampled lack
of appreciation hurt him, and he turned on Graff:
"Look here, Stan; let's get this clear. You've got an idea somehow that it's you
that do all the selling.
Where d' you get that stuff? Where d' you think you'd be if it wasn't
for our capital behind you, and our lists of properties, and all the prospects we
find for you?
All you got to do is follow up our tips and close the deal.
The hall-porter could sell Babbitt-Thompson listings!
You say you're engaged to a girl, but have to put in your evenings chasing after
buyers. Well, why the devil shouldn't you?
What do you want to do?
Sit around holding her hand?
Let me tell you, Stan, if your girl is worth her salt, she'll be glad to know
you're out hustling, making some money to furnish the home-nest, instead of doing the
The kind of fellow that kicks about working overtime, that wants to spend his evenings
reading trashy novels or spooning and exchanging a lot of nonsense and
foolishness with some girl, he ain't the
kind of upstanding, energetic young man, with a future--and with Vision!--that we
want here. How about it?
What's your Ideal, anyway?
Do you want to make money and be a responsible member of the community, or do
you want to be a loafer, with no Inspiration or Pep?"
Graff was not so amenable to Vision and Ideals as usual.
"You bet I want to make money! That's why I want that bonus!
Honest, Mr. Babbitt, I don't want to get fresh, but this Heiler house is a terror.
Nobody'll fall for it. The flooring is rotten and the walls are
full of cracks."
"That's exactly what I mean! To a salesman with a love for his
profession, it's hard problems like that that inspire him to do his best.
Besides, Stan--Matter o' fact, Thompson and I are against bonuses, as a matter of
We like you, and we want to help you so you can get married, but we can't be unfair to
the others on the staff.
If we start giving you bonuses, don't you see we're going to hurt the feeling and be
unjust to Penniman and Laylock?
Right's right, and discrimination is unfair, and there ain't going to be any of
it in this office!
Don't get the idea, Stan, that because during the war salesmen were hard to hire,
now, when there's a lot of men out of work, there aren't a slew of bright young fellows
that would be glad to step in and enjoy
your opportunities, and not act as if Thompson and I were his enemies and not do
any work except for bonuses. How about it, heh?
How about it?"
"Oh--well--gee--of course--" sighed Graff, as he went out, crabwise.
Babbitt did not often squabble with his employees.
He liked to like the people about him; he was dismayed when they did not like him.
It was only when they attacked the sacred purse that he was frightened into fury, but
then, being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the sound of his own
vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue.
Today he had so passionately indulged in self-approval that he wondered whether he
had been entirely just:
"After all, Stan isn't a boy any more. Oughtn't to call him so hard.
But rats, got to haul folks over the coals now and then for their own good.
Unpleasant duty, but--I wonder if Stan is sore?
What's he saying to McGoun out there?"
So chill a wind of hatred blew from the outer office that the normal comfort of his
evening home-going was ruined.
He was distressed by losing that approval of his employees to which an executive is
always slave.
Ordinarily he left the office with a thousand enjoyable fussy directions to the
effect that there would undoubtedly be important tasks to-morrow, and Miss McGoun
and Miss Bannigan would do well to be there
early, and for heaven's sake remind him to call up Conrad Lyte soon 's he came in.
To-night he departed with feigned and apologetic liveliness.
He was as afraid of his still-faced clerks- -of the eyes focused on him, Miss McGoun
staring with head lifted from her typing, Miss Bannigan looking over her ledger, Mat
Penniman craning around at his desk in the
dark alcove, Stanley Graff sullenly expressionless--as a parvenu before the
bleak propriety of his butler.
He hated to expose his back to their laughter, and in his effort to be casually
merry he stammered and was raucously friendly and oozed wretchedly out of the
But he forgot his misery when he saw from Smith Street the charms of Floral Heights;
the roofs of red tile and green slate, the shining new sun-parlors, and the stainless
III He stopped to inform Howard Littlefield,
his scholarly neighbor, that though the day had been springlike the evening might be
He went in to shout "Where are you?" at his wife, with no very definite desire to know
where she was. He examined the lawn to see whether the
furnace-man had raked it properly.
With some satisfaction and a good deal of discussion of the matter with Mrs. Babbitt,
Ted, and Howard Littlefield, he concluded that the furnace-man had not raked it
He cut two tufts of wild grass with his wife's largest dressmaking-scissors; he
informed Ted that it was all nonsense having a furnace-man--"big husky fellow
like you ought to do all the work around
the house;" and privately he meditated that it was agreeable to have it known
throughout the neighborhood that he was so prosperous that his son never worked around
the house.
He stood on the sleeping-porch and did his day's exercises: arms out sidewise for two
minutes, up for two minutes, while he muttered, "Ought take more exercise; keep
in shape;" then went in to see whether his collar needed changing before dinner.
As usual it apparently did not. The Lettish-Croat maid, a powerful woman,
beat the dinner-gong.
The roast of beef, roasted potatoes, and string beans were excellent this evening
and, after an adequate sketch of the day's progressive weather-states, his four-
hundred-and-fifty-dollar fee, his lunch
with Paul Riesling, and the proven merits of the new cigar-lighter, he was moved to a
benign, "Sort o' thinking about buyin, a new car.
Don't believe we'll get one till next year, but still we might."
Verona, the older daughter, cried, "Oh, Dad, if you do, why don't you get a sedan?
That would be perfectly slick!
A closed car is so much more comfy than an open one."
"Well now, I don't know about that. I kind of like an open car.
You get more fresh air that way."
"Oh, shoot, that's just because you never tried a sedan.
Let's get one. It's got a lot more class," said Ted.
"A closed car does keep the clothes nicer," from Mrs. Babbitt; "You don't get your hair
blown all to pieces," from Verona; "It's a lot sportier," from Ted; and from Tinka,
the youngest, "Oh, let's have a sedan!
Mary Ellen's father has got one." Ted wound up, "Oh, everybody's got a closed
car now, except us!" Babbitt faced them: "I guess you got
nothing very terrible to complain about!
Anyway, I don't keep a car just to enable you children to look like millionaires!
And I like an open car, so you can put the top down on summer evenings and go out for
a drive and get some good fresh air.
Besides--A closed car costs more money." "Aw, gee whiz, if the Doppelbraus can
afford a closed car, I guess we can!" prodded Ted.
I make eight thousand a year to his seven! But I don't blow it all in and waste it and
throw it around, the way he does!
Don't believe in this business of going and spending a whole lot of money to show off
They went, with ardor and some thoroughness, into the matters of
streamline bodies, hill-climbing power, wire wheels, chrome steel, ignition
systems, and body colors.
It was much more than a study of transportation.
It was an aspiration for knightly rank.
In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, a family's motor
indicated its social rank as precisely as the grades of the peerage determined the
rank of an English family--indeed, more
precisely, considering the opinion of old county families upon newly created brewery
barons and woolen-mill viscounts. The details of precedence were never
officially determined.
There was no court to decide whether the second son of a Pierce Arrow limousine
should go in to dinner before the first son of a Buick roadster, but of their
respective social importance there was no
doubt; and where Babbitt as a boy had aspired to the presidency, his son Ted
aspired to a Packard twin-six and an established position in the motored gentry.
The favor which Babbitt had won from his family by speaking of a new car evaporated
as they realized that he didn't intend to buy one this year.
Ted lamented, "Oh, punk!
The old boat looks as if it'd had fleas and been scratching its varnish off."
Mrs. Babbitt said abstractedly, "Snoway talkcher father."
Babbitt raged, "If you're too much of a high-class gentleman, and you belong to the
bon ton and so on, why, you needn't take the car out this evening."
Ted explained, "I didn't mean--" and dinner dragged on with normal domestic delight to
the inevitable point at which Babbitt protested, "Come, come now, we can't sit
here all evening.
Give the girl a chance to clear away the table."
He was fretting, "What a family! I don't know how we all get to scrapping
this way.
Like to go off some place and be able to hear myself think....
Paul ... Maine ...
Wear old pants, and loaf, and cuss."
He said cautiously to his wife, "I've been in correspondence with a man in New York--
wants me to see him about a real-estate trade--may not come off till summer.
Hope it doesn't break just when we and the Rieslings get ready to go to Maine.
Be a shame if we couldn't make the trip there together.
Well, no use worrying now."
Verona escaped, immediately after dinner, with no discussion save an automatic "Why
don't you ever stay home?" from Babbitt.
In the living-room, in a corner of the davenport, Ted settled down to his Home
Study; plain geometry, Cicero, and the agonizing metaphors of Comus.
"I don't see why they give us this old- fashioned junk by Milton and Shakespeare
and Wordsworth and all these has-beens," he protested.
"Oh, I guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery
and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and READ 'em--These teachers--
how do they get that way?"
Mrs. Babbitt, darning socks, speculated, "Yes, I wonder why.
Of course I don't want to fly in the face of the professors and everybody, but I do
think there's things in Shakespeare--not that I read him much, but when I was young
the girls used to show me passages that weren't, really, they weren't at all nice."
Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate.
They composed his favorite literature and art, these illustrated chronicles in which
Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with a rotten egg, and Mother corrected Father's vulgarisms by
means of a rolling-pin.
With the solemn face of a devotee, breathing heavily through his open mouth,
he plodded nightly through every picture, and during the rite he detested
Furthermore, he felt that on the subject of Shakespeare he wasn't really an authority.
Neither the Advocate-Times, the Evening Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith
Chamber of Commerce had ever had an editorial on the matter, and until one of
them had spoken he found it hard to form an original opinion.
But even at risk of floundering in strange bogs, he could not keep out of an open
"I'll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those.
It's because they're required for college entrance, and that's all there is to it!
Personally, I don't see myself why they stuck 'em into an up-to-date high-school
system like we have in this state.
Be a good deal better if you took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or
letters that would pull. But there it is, and there's no tall,
argument, or discussion about it!
Trouble with you, Ted, is you always want to do something different!
If you're going to law-school--and you are!--I never had a chance to, but I'll see
that you do--why, you'll want to lay in all the English and Latin you can get."
"Oh punk.
I don't see what's the use of law-school-- or even finishing high school.
I don't want to go to college 'specially.
Honest, there's lot of fellows that have graduated from colleges that don't begin to
make as much money as fellows that went to work early.
Old Shimmy Peters, that teaches Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia
and he sits up all night reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about
the 'value of languages,' and the poor soak
doesn't make but eighteen hundred a year, and no traveling salesman would think of
working for that. I know what I'd like to do.
I'd like to be an aviator, or own a corking big garage, or else--a fellow was telling
me about it yesterday--I'd like to be one of these fellows that the Standard Oil
Company sends out to China, and you live in
a compound and don't have to do any work, and you get to see the world and pagodas
and the ocean and everything! And then I could take up correspondence-
That's the real stuff! You don't have to recite to some frosty-
faced old dame that's trying to show off to the principal, and you can study any
subject you want to.
Just listen to these! I clipped out the ads of some swell
He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of those
home-study courses which the energy and foresight of American commerce have
contributed to the science of education.
The first displayed the portrait of a young man with a pure brow, an iron jaw, silk
socks, and hair like patent leather.
Standing with one hand in his trousers- pocket and the other extended with chiding
forefinger, he was bewitching an audience of men with gray beards, paunches, bald
heads, and every other sign of wisdom and prosperity.
Above the picture was an inspiring educational symbol--no antiquated lamp or
torch or owl of Minerva, but a row of dollar signs.
The text ran:
A Yarn Told at the Club
Who do you think I ran into the other evening at the De Luxe Restaurant?
Why, old Freddy Durkee, that used to be a dead or-alive shipping clerk in my old
place--Mr. Mouse-Man we used to laughingly call the dear fellow.
One time he was so timid he was plumb scared of the Super, and never got credit
for the dandy work he did. Him at the De Luxe!
And if he wasn't ordering a tony feed with all the "fixings" from celery to nuts!
And instead of being embarrassed by the waiters, like he used to be at the little
dump where we lunched in Old Lang Syne, he was bossing them around like he was a
I cautiously asked him what he was doing. Freddy laughed and said, "Say, old chum, I
guess you're wondering what's come over me.
You'll be glad to know I'm now Assistant Super at the old shop, and right on the
High Road to Prosperity and Domination, and I look forward with confidence to a twelve-
cylinder car, and the wife is making things
hum in the best society and the kiddies getting a first-class education."
------ WHAT WE TEACH YOU How to address your lodge.
How to give toasts. How to tell dialect stories.
How to propose to a lady.
How to entertain banquets. How to make convincing selling-talks.
How to build big vocabulary. How to create a strong personality.
How to become a rational, powerful and original thinker.
How to be a MASTER MAN!
----PROF. W. F. PEET author of the Shortcut Course in Public-
Speaking, is easily the foremost figure in practical literature, psychology & oratory.
A graduate of some of our leading universities, lecturer, extensive traveler,
author of books, poetry, etc., a man with the unique PERSONALITY OF THE MASTER MINDS,
he is ready to give YOU all the secrets of
his culture and hammering Force, in a few easy lessons that will not interfere with
other occupations. "Here's how it happened.
I ran across an ad of a course that claimed to teach people how to talk easily and on
their feet, how to answer complaints, how to lay a proposition before the Boss, how
to hit a bank for a loan, how to hold a big
audience spellbound with wit, humor, anecdote, inspiration, etc.
It was compiled by the Master Orator, Prof. Waldo F. Peet.
I was skeptical, too, but I wrote (JUST ON A POSTCARD, with name and address) to the
publisher for the lessons--sent On Trial, money back if you are not absolutely
There were eight simple lessons in plain language anybody could understand, and I
studied them just a few hours a night, then started practising on the wife.
Soon found I could talk right up to the Super and get due credit for all the good
work I did.
They began to appreciate me and advance me fast, and say, old doggo, what do you think
they're paying me now? $6,500 per year!
And say, I find I can keep a big audience fascinated, speaking on any topic.
As a friend, old boy, I advise you to send for circular (no obligation) and valuable
free Art Picture to:--
Babbitt was again without a canon which would enable him to speak with authority.
Nothing in motoring or real estate had indicated what a Solid Citizen and Regular
Fellow ought to think about culture by mail.
He began with hesitation:
"Well--sounds as if it covered the ground. It certainly is a fine thing to be able to
I've sometimes thought I had a little talent that way myself, and I know darn
well that one reason why a fourflushing old back-number like Chan Mott can get away
with it in real estate is just because he
can make a good talk, even when he hasn't got a doggone thing to say!
And it certainly is pretty cute the way they get out all these courses on various
topics and subjects nowadays.
I'll tell you, though: No need to blow in a lot of good money on this stuff when you
can get a first-rate course in eloquence and English and all that right in your own
school--and one of the biggest school buildings in the entire country!"
"That's so," said Mrs. Babbitt comfortably, while Ted complained:
"Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn't any practical use--except
the manual training and typewriting and basketball and dancing--and in these
correspondence-courses, gee, you can get
all kinds of stuff that would come in handy.
Say, listen to this one: 'CAN YOU PLAY A MAN'S PART?
'If you are walking with your mother, sister or best girl and some one passes a
slighting remark or uses improper language, won't you be ashamed if you can't take her
Well, can you? 'We teach boxing and self-defense by mail.
Many pupils have written saying that after a few lessons they've outboxed bigger and
heavier opponents.
The lessons start with simple movements practised before your mirror--holding out
your hand for a coin, the breast-stroke in swimming, etc.
Before you realize it you are striking scientifically, ducking, guarding and
feinting, just as if you had a real opponent before you.'"
"Oh, baby, maybe I wouldn't like that!"
Ted chanted. "I'll tell the world!
Gosh, I'd like to take one fellow I know in school that's always shooting off his
mouth, and catch him alone--"
"Nonsense! The idea!
Most useless thing I ever heard of!" Babbitt fulminated.
"Well, just suppose I was walking with Mama or Rone, and somebody passed a slighting
remark or used improper language. What would I do?"
"Why, you'd probably bust the record for the hundred-yard dash!"
"I WOULD not!
I'd stand right up to any mucker that passed a slighting remark on MY sister and
I'd show him--" "Look here, young Dempsey!
If I ever catch you fighting I'll whale the everlasting daylights out of you--and I'll
do it without practising holding out my hand for a coin before the mirror, too!"
"Why, Ted dear," Mrs. Babbitt said placidly, "it's not at all nice, your
talking of fighting this way!"
"Well, gosh almighty, that's a fine way to appreciate--And then suppose I was walking
with YOU, Ma, and somebody passed a slighting remark--"
"Nobody's going to pass no slighting remarks on nobody," Babbitt observed, "not
if they stay home and study their geometry and mind their own affairs instead of
hanging around a lot of poolrooms and soda-
fountains and places where nobody's got any business to be!"
"But gooooooosh, Dad, if they DID!"
Mrs. Babbitt chirped, "Well, if they did, I wouldn't do them the honor of paying any
attention to them! Besides, they never do.
You always hear about these women that get followed and insulted and all, but I don't
believe a word of it, or it's their own fault, the way some women look at a person.
I certainly never 've been insulted by--"
"Aw shoot. Mother, just suppose you WERE sometime!
Just SUPPOSE! Can't you suppose something?
Can't you imagine things?"
"Certainly I can imagine things! The idea!"
"Certainly your mother can imagine things-- and suppose things!
Think you're the only member of this household that's got an imagination?"
Babbitt demanded. "But what's the use of a lot of supposing?
Supposing never gets you anywhere.
No sense supposing when there's a lot of real facts to take into considera--"
"Look here, Dad.
Suppose--I mean, just--just suppose you were in your office and some rival real-
estate man--" "Realtor!"
"--some realtor that you hated came in--"
"I don't hate any realtor." "But suppose you DID!"
"I don't intend to suppose anything of the kind!
There's plenty of fellows in my profession that stoop and hate their competitors, but
if you were a little older and understood business, instead of always going to the
movies and running around with a lot of
fool girls with their dresses up to their knees and powdered and painted and rouged
and God knows what all as if they were chorus-girls, then you'd know--and you'd
suppose--that if there's any one thing that
I stand for in the real-estate circles of Zenith, it is that we ought to always speak
of each other only in the friendliest terms and institute a spirit of brotherhood and
cooperation, and so I certainly can't
suppose and I can't imagine my hating any realtor, not even that dirty, fourflushing
society sneak, Cecil Rountree!" "But--"
"And there's no If, And or But about it!
But if I WERE going to lambaste somebody, I wouldn't require any fancy ducks or
swimming-strokes before a mirror, or any of these doodads and flipflops!
Suppose you were out some place and a fellow called you vile names.
Think you'd want to box and jump around like a dancing-master?
You'd just lay him out cold (at least I certainly hope any son of mine would!) and
then you'd dust off your hands and go on about your business, and that's all there
is to it, and you aren't going to have any boxing-lessons by mail, either!"
"Well but--Yes--I just wanted to show how many different kinds of correspondence-
courses there are, instead of all the camembert they teach us in the High."
"But I thought they taught boxing in the school gymnasium."
"That's different.
They stick you up there and some big stiff amuses himself pounding the stuffin's out
of you before you have a chance to learn. Hunka!
Not any!
But anyway--Listen to some of these others."
The advertisements were truly philanthropic.
One of them bore the rousing headline: "Money!
Money!! Money!!!"
The second announced that "Mr. P. R., formerly making only eighteen a week in a
barber shop, writes to us that since taking our course he is now pulling down $5,000 as
an Osteo-vitalic Physician;" and the third
that "Miss J. L., recently a wrapper in a store, is now getting Ten Real Dollars a
day teaching our Hindu System of Vibratory Breathing and Mental Control."
Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual reference-books,
from Sunday School periodicals, fiction- magazines, and journals of discussion.
One benefactor implored, "Don't be a Wallflower--Be More Popular and Make More
Money--YOU Can Ukulele or Sing Yourself into Society!
By the secret principles of a Newly Discovered System of Music Teaching, any
one--man, lady or child--can, without tiresome exercises, special training or
long drawn out study, and without waste of
time, money or energy, learn to play by note, piano, banjo, cornet, clarinet,
saxophone, violin or drum, and learn sight- singing."
The next, under the wistful appeal "Finger Print Detectives Wanted--Big Incomes!"
confided: "YOU red-blooded men and women-- this is the PROFESSION you have been
looking for.
There's MONEY in it, BIG money, and that rapid change of scene, that entrancing and
compelling interest and fascination, which your active mind and adventurous spirit
Think of being the chief figure and directing factor in solving strange
mysteries and baffling crimes.
This wonderful profession brings you into contact with influential men on the basis
of equality, and often calls upon you to travel everywhere, maybe to distant lands--
all expenses paid.
I guess that wins the fire-brick necklace! Wouldn't it be swell to travel everywhere
and nab some famous crook!" whooped Ted.
"Well, I don't think much of that. Doggone likely to get hurt.
Still, that music-study stunt might be pretty fair, though.
There's no reason why, if efficiency- experts put their minds to it the way they
have to routing products in a factory, they couldn't figure out some scheme so a person
wouldn't have to monkey with all this
practising and exercises that you get in music."
Babbitt was impressed, and he had a delightful parental feeling that they two,
the men of the family, understood each other.
He listened to the notices of mail-box universities which taught Short-story
Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion- picture-acting and Developing the Soul-
power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and
Photography, Electrical Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and
Chemistry. "Well--well--" Babbitt sought for adequate
expression of his admiration.
"I'm a son of a gun!
I knew this correspondence-school business had become a mighty profitable game--makes
suburban real-estate look like two cents!-- but I didn't realize it'd got to be such a
reg'lar key-industry!
Must rank right up with groceries and movies.
Always figured somebody'd come along with the brains to not leave education to a lot
of bookworms and impractical theorists but make a big thing out of it.
Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses might interest you.
I must ask the fellows at the Athletic if they ever realized--But same time, Ted, you
know how advertisers, I means some advertisers, exaggerate.
I don't know as they'd be able to jam you through these courses as fast as they claim
they can." "Oh sure, Dad; of course."
Ted had the immense and joyful maturity of a boy who is respectfully listened to by
his elders. Babbitt concentrated on him with grateful
"I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole educational works.
Course I'd never admit it publicly--fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it's only
decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater--but smatter
of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable
time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought
in anybody a cent.
I don't know but what maybe these correspondence-courses might prove to be
one of the most important American inventions.
"Trouble with a lot of folks is: they're so blame material; they don't see the
spiritual and mental side of American supremacy; they think that inventions like
the telephone and the areoplane and
wireless--no, that was a Wop invention, but anyway: they think these mechanical
improvements are all that we stand for; whereas to a real thinker, he sees that
spiritual and, uh, dominating movements
like Efficiency, and Rotarianism, and Prohibition, and Democracy are what compose
our deepest and truest wealth.
And maybe this new principle in education- at-home may be another--may be another
factor. I tell you, Ted, we've got to have Vision--
"I think those correspondence-courses are terrible!"
The philosophers gasped.
It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in their spiritual harmony, and one
of Mrs. Babbitt's virtues was that, except during dinner-parties, when she was
transformed into a raging hostess, she took
care of the house and didn't bother the males by thinking.
She went on firmly:
"It sounds awful to me, the way they coax those poor young folks to think they're
learning something, and nobody 'round to help them and--You two learn so quick, but
me, I always was slow.
But just the same--" Babbitt attended to her: "Nonsense!
Get just as much, studying at home.
You don't think a fellow learns any more because he blows in his father's hard-
earned money and sits around in Morris chairs in a swell Harvard dormitory with
pictures and shields and table-covers and those doodads, do you?
I tell you, I'm a college man--I KNOW! There is one objection you might make
I certainly do protest against any effort to get a lot of fellows out of barber shops
and factories into the professions.
They're too crowded already, and what'll we do for workmen if all those fellows go and
get educated?" Ted was leaning back, smoking a cigarette
without reproof.
He was, for the moment, sharing the high thin air of Babbitt's speculation as though
he were Paul Riesling or even Dr. Howard Littlefield.
He hinted:
"Well, what do you think then, Dad? Wouldn't it be a good idea if I could go
off to China or some peppy place, and study engineering or something by mail?"
"No, and I'll tell you why, son.
I've found out it's a mighty nice thing to be able to say you're a B.A.
Some client that doesn't know what you are and thinks you're just a plug business man,
he gets to shooting off his mouth about economics or literature or foreign trade
conditions, and you just ease in something
like, 'When I was in college--course I got my B.A. in sociology and all that junk--'
Oh, it puts an awful crimp in their style!
But there wouldn't be any class to saying 'I got the degree of Stamp-licker from the
Bezuzus Mail-order University!'
You see--My dad was a pretty good old coot, but he never had much style to him, and I
had to work darn hard to earn my way through college.
Well, it's been worth it, to be able to associate with the finest gentlemen in
Zenith, at the clubs and so on, and I wouldn't want you to drop out of the
gentlemen class--the class that are just as
red-blooded as the Common People but still have power and personality.
It would kind of hurt me if you did that, old man!"
"I know, Dad!
Sure! All right.
I'll stick to it. Say!
Gee whiz! I forgot all about those kids I was going
to take to the chorus rehearsal. I'll have to duck!"
"But you haven't done all your home-work."
"Do it first thing in the morning." "Well--"
Six times in the past sixty days Babbitt had stormed, "You will not 'do it first
thing in the morning'!
You'll do it right now!" but to-night he said, "Well, better hustle," and his smile
was the rare shy radiance he kept for Paul Riesling.
IV "Ted's a good boy," he said to Mrs.
Babbitt. "Oh, he is!"
"Who's these girls he's going to pick up?
Are they nice decent girls?" "I don't know.
Oh dear, Ted never tells me anything any more.
I don't understand what's come over the children of this generation.
I used to have to tell Papa and Mama everything, but seems like the children to-
day have just slipped away from all control."
"I hope they're decent girls.
Course Ted's no longer a kid, and I wouldn't want him to, uh, get mixed up and
everything." "George: I wonder if you oughtn't to take
him aside and tell him about--Things!"
She blushed and lowered her eyes. "Well, I don't know.
Way I figure it, Myra, no sense suggesting a lot of Things to a boy's mind.
Think up enough devilment by himself.
But I wonder--It's kind of a hard question. Wonder what Littlefield thinks about it?"
"Course Papa agrees with you. He says all this--Instruction is--He says
'tisn't decent."
"Oh, he does, does he! Well, let me tell you that whatever Henry
T. Thompson thinks--about morals, I mean, though course you can't beat the old
"Why, what a way to talk of Papa!"
"--simply can't beat him at getting in on the ground floor of a deal, but let me tell
you whenever he springs any ideas about higher things and education, then I know I
think just the opposite.
You may not regard me as any great brain- shark, but believe me, I'm a regular
college president, compared with Henry T.!
Yes sir, by golly, I'm going to take Ted aside and tell him why I lead a strictly
moral life." "Oh, will you?
"When? When?
What's the use of trying to pin me down to When and Why and Where and How and When?
That's the trouble with women, that's why they don't make high-class executives; they
haven't any sense of diplomacy.
When the proper opportunity and occasion arises so it just comes in natural, why
then I'll have a friendly little talk with him and--and--Was that Tinka hollering up-
She ought to been asleep, long ago." He prowled through the living-room, and
stood in the sun-parlor, that glass-walled room of wicker chairs and swinging couch in
which they loafed on Sunday afternoons.
Outside only the lights of Doppelbrau's house and the dim presence of Babbitt's
favorite elm broke the softness of April night.
"Good visit with the boy.
Getting over feeling cranky, way I did this morning.
And restless.
Though, by golly, I will have a few days alone with Paul in Maine!...That devil
Zilla!...But...Ted's all right. Whole family all right.
And good business.
Not many fellows make four hundred and fifty bucks, practically half of a thousand
dollars easy as I did to-day! Maybe when we all get to rowing it's just
as much my fault as it is theirs.
Oughtn't to get grouchy like I do. But--Wish I'd been a pioneer, same as my
grand-dad. But then, wouldn't have a house like this.
I--Oh, gosh, I DON'T KNOW!"
He thought moodily of Paul Riesling, of their youth together, of the girls they had
When Babbitt had graduated from the State University, twenty-four years ago, he had
intended to be a lawyer.
He had been a ponderous debater in college; he felt that he was an orator; he saw
himself becoming governor of the state. While he read law he worked as a real-
estate salesman.
He saved money, lived in a boarding-house, supped on poached egg on hash.
The lively Paul Riesling (who was certainly going off to Europe to study violin, next
month or next year) was his refuge till Paul was bespelled by Zilla Colbeck, who
laughed and danced and drew men after her plump and gaily wagging finger.
Babbitt's evenings were barren then, and he found comfort only in Paul's second cousin,
Myra Thompson, a sleek and gentle girl who showed her capacity by agreeing with the
ardent young Babbitt that of course he was going to be governor some day.
Where Zilla mocked him as a country boy, Myra said indignantly that he was ever so
much solider than the young dandies who had been born in the great city of Zenith--an
ancient settlement in 1897, one hundred and
five years old, with two hundred thousand population, the queen and wonder of all the
state and, to the Catawba boy, George Babbitt, so vast and thunderous and
luxurious that he was flattered to know a girl ennobled by birth in Zenith.
Of love there was no talk between them.
He knew that if he was to study law he could not marry for years; and Myra was
distinctly a Nice Girl--one didn't kiss her, one didn't "think about her that way
at all" unless one was going to marry her.
But she was a dependable companion.
She was always ready to go skating, walking; always content to hear his
discourses on the great things he was going to do, the distressed poor whom he would
defend against the Unjust Rich, the
speeches he would make at Banquets, the inexactitudes of popular thought which he
would correct. One evening when he was weary and soft-
minded, he saw that she had been weeping.
She had been left out of a party given by Zilla.
Somehow her head was on his shoulder and he was kissing away the tears--and she raised
her head to say trustingly, "Now that we're engaged, shall we be married soon or shall
we wait?"
Engaged? It was his first hint of it.
His affection for this brown tender woman thing went cold and fearful, but he could
not hurt her, could not abuse her trust.
He mumbled something about waiting, and escaped.
He walked for an hour, trying to find a way of telling her that it was a mistake.
Often, in the month after, he got near to telling her, but it was pleasant to have a
girl in his arms, and less and less could he insult her by blurting that he didn't
love her.
He himself had no doubt. The evening before his marriage was an
agony, and the morning wild with the desire to flee.
She made him what is known as a Good Wife.
She was loyal, industrious, and at rare times merry.
She passed from a feeble disgust at their closer relations into what promised to be
ardent affection, but it drooped into bored routine.
Yet she existed only for him and for the children, and she was as sorry, as worried
as himself, when he gave up the law and trudged on in a rut of listing real estate.
"Poor kid, she hasn't had much better time than I have," Babbitt reflected, standing
in the dark sun-parlor. "But--I wish I could 've had a whirl at law
and politics.
Seen what I could do. Well--Maybe I've made more money as it is."
He returned to the living-room but before he settled down he smoothed his wife's
hair, and she glanced up, happy and somewhat surprised.
HE solemnly finished the last copy of the American Magazine, while his wife sighed,
laid away her darning, and looked enviously at the lingerie designs in a women's
The room was very still. It was a room which observed the best
Floral Heights standards. The gray walls were divided into artificial
paneling by strips of white-enameled pine.
From the Babbitts' former house had come two much-carved rocking-chairs, but the
other chairs were new, very deep and restful, upholstered in blue and gold-
striped velvet.
A blue velvet davenport faced the fireplace, and behind it was a cherrywood
table and a tall piano-lamp with a shade of golden silk.
(Two out of every three houses in Floral Heights had before the fireplace a
davenport, a mahogany table real or imitation, and a piano-lamp or a reading-
lamp with a shade of yellow or rose silk.)
On the table was a runner of gold-threaded Chinese fabric, four magazines, a silver
box containing cigarette-crumbs, and three "gift-books"--large, expensive editions of
fairy-tales illustrated by English artists
and as yet unread by any Babbitt save Tinka.
In a corner by the front windows was a large cabinet Victrola.
(Eight out of every nine Floral Heights houses had a cabinet phonograph.)
Among the pictures, hung in the exact center of each gray panel, were a red and
black imitation English hunting-print, an anemic imitation boudoir-print with a
French caption of whose morality Babbitt
had always been rather suspicious, and a "hand-colored" photograph of a Colonial
room--rag rug, maiden spinning, cat demure before a white fireplace.
(Nineteen out of every twenty houses in Floral Heights had either a hunting-print,
a Madame Feit la Toilette print, a colored photograph of a New England house, a
photograph of a Rocky Mountain, or all four.)
It was a room as superior in comfort to the "parlor" of Babbitt's boyhood as his motor
was superior to his father's buggy.
Though there was nothing in the room that was interesting, there was nothing that was
offensive. It was as neat, and as negative, as a block
of artificial ice.
The fireplace was unsoftened by downy ashes or by sooty brick; the brass fire-irons
were of immaculate polish; and the grenadier andirons were like samples in a
shop, desolate, unwanted, lifeless things of commerce.
Against the wall was a piano, with another piano-lamp, but no one used it save Tinka.
The hard briskness of the phonograph contented them; their store of jazz records
made them feel wealthy and cultured; and all they knew of creating music was the
nice adjustment of a bamboo needle.
The books on the table were unspotted and laid in rigid parallels; not one corner of
the carpet-rug was curled; and nowhere was there a hockey-stick, a torn picture-book,
an old cap, or a gregarious and disorganizing dog.
II At home, Babbitt never read with
absorption. He was concentrated enough at the office
but here he crossed his legs and fidgeted.
When his story was interesting he read the best, that is the funniest, paragraphs to
his wife; when it did not hold him he coughed, scratched his ankles and his right
ear, thrust his left thumb into his vest
pocket, jingled his silver, whirled the cigar-cutter and the keys on one end of his
watch chain, yawned, rubbed his nose, and found errands to do.
He went upstairs to put on his slippers-- his elegant slippers of seal-brown, shaped
like medieval shoes.
He brought up an apple from the barrel which stood by the trunk-closet in the
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," he enlightened Mrs. Babbitt, for quite the
first time in fourteen hours. "That's so."
"An apple is Nature's best regulator."
"Yes, it--" "Trouble with women is, they never have
sense enough to form regular habits." "Well, I--"
"Always nibbling and eating between meals."
"George!" She looked up from her reading.
"Did you have a light lunch to-day, like you were going to?
I did!"
This malicious and unprovoked attack astounded him.
"Well, maybe it wasn't as light as--Went to lunch with Paul and didn't have much chance
to diet.
Oh, you needn't to grin like a chessy cat! If it wasn't for me watching out and
keeping an eye on our diet--I'm the only member of this family that appreciates the
value of oatmeal for breakfast.
I--" She stooped over her story while he piously
sliced and gulped down the apple, discoursing:
"One thing I've done: cut down my smoking.
"Had kind of a run-in with Graff in the office.
He's getting too darn fresh.
I'll stand for a good deal, but once in a while I got to assert my authority, and I
jumped him. 'Stan,' I said--Well, I told him just
exactly where he got off.
"Funny kind of a day. Makes you feel restless.
"Wellllllllll, uh--" That sleepiest sound in the world, the terminal yawn.
Mrs. Babbitt yawned with it, and looked grateful as he droned, "How about going to
bed, eh? Don't suppose Rone and Ted will be in till
all hours.
Yep, funny kind of a day; not terribly warm but yet--Gosh, I'd like--Some day I'm going
to take a long motor trip." "Yes, we'd enjoy that," she yawned.
He looked away from her as he realized that he did not wish to have her go with him.
As he locked doors and tried windows and set the heat regulator so that the furnace-
drafts would open automatically in the morning, he sighed a little, heavy with a
lonely feeling which perplexed and frightened him.
So absent-minded was he that he could not remember which window-catches he had
inspected, and through the darkness, fumbling at unseen perilous chairs, he
crept back to try them all over again.
His feet were loud on the steps as he clumped upstairs at the end of this great
and treacherous day of veiled rebellions.
Before breakfast he always reverted to up- state village boyhood, and shrank from the
complex urban demands of shaving, bathing, deciding whether the current shirt was
clean enough for another day.
Whenever he stayed home in the evening he went to bed early, and thriftily got ahead
in those dismal duties. It was his luxurious custom to shave while
sitting snugly in a tubful of hot water.
He may be viewed to-night as a plump, smooth, pink, baldish, podgy goodman,
robbed of the importance of spectacles, squatting in breast-high water, scraping
his lather-smeared cheeks with a safety-
razor like a tiny lawn-mower, and with melancholy dignity clawing through the
water to recover a slippery and active piece of soap.
He was lulled to dreaming by the caressing warmth.
The light fell on the inner surface of the tub in a pattern of delicate wrinkled lines
which slipped with a green sparkle over the curving porcelain as the clear water
Babbitt lazily watched it; noted that along the silhouette of his legs against the
radiance on the bottom of the tub, the shadows of the air-bubbles clinging to the
hairs were reproduced as strange jungle mosses.
He patted the water, and the reflected light capsized and leaped and volleyed.
He was content and childish.
He played. He shaved a swath down the calf of one
plump leg.
The drain-pipe was dripping, a dulcet and lively song: drippety drip drip dribble,
drippety drip drip drip. He was enchanted by it.
He looked at the solid tub, the beautiful nickel taps, the tiled walls of the room,
and felt virtuous in the possession of this splendor.
He roused himself and spoke gruffly to his bath-things.
"Come here!
You've done enough fooling!" he reproved the treacherous soap, and defied the
scratchy nail-brush with "Oh, you would, would you!"
He soaped himself, and rinsed himself, and austerely rubbed himself; he noted a hole
in the Turkish towel, and meditatively thrust a finger through it, and marched
back to the bedroom, a grave and unbending citizen.
There was a moment of gorgeous abandon, a flash of melodrama such as he found in
traffic-driving, when he laid out a clean collar, discovered that it was frayed in
front, and tore it up with a magnificent yeeeeeing sound.
Most important of all was the preparation of his bed and the sleeping-porch.
It is not known whether he enjoyed his sleeping-porch because of the fresh air or
because it was the standard thing to have a sleeping-porch.
Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, just as
the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every religious belief and
the senators who controlled the Republican
Party decided in little smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about
disarmament, tariff, and Germany, so did the large national advertisers fix the
surface of his life, fix what he believed to be his individuality.
These standard advertised wares-- toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras,
instantaneous hot-water heaters--were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first
the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom.
But none of these advertised tokens of financial and social success was more
significant than a sleeping-porch with a sun-parlor below.
The rites of preparing for bed were elaborate and unchanging.
The blankets had to be tucked in at the foot of his cot.
(Also, the reason why the maid hadn't tucked in the blankets had to be discussed
with Mrs. Babbitt.)
The rag rug was adjusted so that his bare feet would strike it when he arose in the
morning. The alarm clock was wound.
The hot-water bottle was filled and placed precisely two feet from the bottom of the
These tremendous undertakings yielded to his determination; one by one they were
announced to Mrs. Babbitt and smashed through to accomplishment.
At last his brow cleared, and in his "Gnight!" rang virile power.
But there was yet need of courage.
As he sank into sleep, just at the first exquisite relaxation, the Doppelbrau car
came home.
He bounced into wakefulness, lamenting, "Why the devil can't some people never get
to bed at a reasonable hour?"
So familiar was he with the process of putting up his own car that he awaited each
step like an able executioner condemned to his own rack.
The car insultingly cheerful on the driveway.
The car door opened and banged shut, then the garage door slid open, grating on the
sill, and the car door again.
The motor raced for the climb up into the garage and raced once more, explosively,
before it was shut off. A final opening and slamming of the car
Silence then, a horrible silence filled with waiting, till the leisurely Mr.
Doppelbrau had examined the state of his tires and had at last shut the garage door.
Instantly, for Babbitt, a blessed state of oblivion.
At that moment In the city of Zenith, Horace Updike was making love to Lucile
McKelvey in her mauve drawing-room on Royal Ridge, after their return from a lecture by
an eminent English novelist.
Updike was Zenith's professional bachelor; a slim-waisted man of forty-six with an
effeminate voice and taste in flowers, cretonnes, and flappers.
Mrs. McKelvey was red-haired, creamy, discontented, exquisite, rude, and honest.
Updike tried his invariable first maneuver- -touching her nervous wrist.
"Don't be an idiot!" she said.
"Do you mind awfully?" "No! That's what I mind!"
He changed to conversation. He was famous at conversation.
He spoke reasonably of psychoanalysis, Long Island polo, and the Ming platter he had
found in Vancouver.
She promised to meet him in Deauville, the coming summer, "though," she sighed, "it's
becoming too dreadfully banal; nothing but Americans and frowsy English baronesses."
And at that moment in Zenith, a cocaine- runner and a prostitute were drinking
cocktails in Healey Hanson's saloon on Front Street.
Since national prohibition was now in force, and since Zenith was notoriously
law-abiding, they were compelled to keep the cocktails innocent by drinking them out
of tea-cups.
The lady threw her cup at the cocaine- runner's head.
He worked his revolver out of the pocket in his sleeve, and casually murdered her.
At that moment in Zenith, two men sat in a laboratory.
For thirty-seven hours now they had been working on a report of their investigations
of synthetic rubber.
At that moment in Zenith, there was a conference of four union officials as to
whether the twelve thousand coal-miners within a hundred miles of the city should
Of these men one resembled a testy and prosperous grocer, one a Yankee carpenter,
one a soda-clerk, and one a Russian Jewish actor The Russian Jew quoted Kautsky, Gene
Debs, and Abraham Lincoln.
At that moment a G. A. R. veteran was dying.
He had come from the Civil War straight to a farm which, though it was officially
within the city-limits of Zenith, was primitive as the backwoods.
He had never ridden in a motor car, never seen a bath-tub, never read any book save
the Bible, McGuffey's readers, and religious tracts; and he believed that the
earth is flat, that the English are the
Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the United States is a democracy.
At that moment the steel and cement town which composed the factory of the Pullmore
Tractor Company of Zenith was running on night shift to fill an order of tractors
for the Polish army.
It hummed like a million bees, glared through its wide windows like a volcano.
Along the high wire fences, searchlights played on cinder-lined yards, switch-
tracks, and armed guards on patrol.
At that moment Mike Monday was finishing a meeting.
Mr. Monday, the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in
America, had once been a prize-fighter.
Satan had not dealt justly with him. As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but
his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence.
The service of the Lord had been more profitable.
He was about to retire with a fortune.
It had been well earned, for, to quote his last report, "Rev. Mr. Monday, the Prophet
with a Punch, has shown that he is the world's greatest salesman of salvation, and
that by efficient organization the overhead
of spiritual regeneration may be kept down to an unprecedented rock-bottom basis.
He has converted over two hundred thousand lost and priceless souls at an average cost
of less than ten dollars a head."
Of the larger cities of the land, only Zenith had hesitated to submit its vices to
Mike Monday and his expert reclamation corps.
The more enterprising organizations of the city had voted to invite him--Mr. George F.
Babbitt had once praised him in a speech at the Boosters' Club.
But there was opposition from certain Episcopalian and Congregationalist
ministers, those renegades whom Mr. Monday so finely called "a bunch of gospel-pushers
with dish-water instead of blood, a gang of
squealers that need more dust on the knees of their pants and more hair on their
skinny old chests."
This opposition had been crushed when the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce had
reported to a committee of manufacturers that in every city where he had appeared,
Mr. Monday had turned the minds of workmen
from wages and hours to higher things, and thus averted strikes.
He was immediately invited.
An expense fund of forty thousand dollars had been underwritten; out on the County
Fair Grounds a Mike Monday Tabernacle had been erected, to seat fifteen thousand
In it the prophet was at this moment concluding his message:
"There's a lot of smart college professors and tea-guzzling slobs in this burg that
say I'm a roughneck and a never-wuzzer and my knowledge of history is not-yet.
Oh, there's a gang of woolly-whiskered book-lice that think they know more than
Almighty God, and prefer a lot of Hun science and smutty German criticism to the
straight and simple Word of God.
Oh, there's a swell bunch of Lizzie boys and lemon-suckers and pie-faces and
infidels and beer-bloated scribblers that love to fire off their filthy mouths and
yip that Mike Monday is vulgar and full of mush.
Those pups are saying now that I hog the gospel-show, that I'm in it for the coin.
Well, now listen, folks!
I'm going to give those birds a chance! They can stand right up here and tell me to
my face that I'm a galoot and a liar and a hick!
Only if they do--if they do!--don't faint with surprise if some of those rum-dumm
liars get one good swift poke from Mike, with all the kick of God's Flaming
Righteousness behind the wallop!
Well, come on, folks! Who says it?
Who says Mike Monday is a fourflush and a yahoo?
Don't I see anybody standing up? Well, there you are!
Now I guess the folks in this man's town will quit listening to all this kyoodling
from behind the fence; I guess you'll quit listening to the guys that pan and roast
and kick and beef, and vomit out filthy
atheism; and all of you 'll come in, with every grain of pep and reverence you got,
and boost all together for Jesus Christ and his everlasting mercy and tenderness!"
At that moment Seneca Doane, the radical lawyer, and Dr. Kurt Yavitch, the
histologist (whose report on the destruction of epithelial cells under
radium had made the name of Zenith known in
Munich, Prague, and Rome), were talking in Doane's library.
"Zenith's a city with gigantic power-- gigantic buildings, gigantic machines,
gigantic transportation," meditated Doane.
"I hate your city. It has standardized all the beauty out of
It is one big railroad station--with all the people taking tickets for the best
cemeteries," Dr. Yavitch said placidly. Doane roused.
"I'm hanged if it is!
You make me sick, Kurt, with your perpetual whine about 'standardization.'
Don't you suppose any other nation is 'standardized?'
Is anything more standardized than England, with every house that can afford it having
the same muffins at the same tea-hour, and every retired general going to exactly the
same evensong at the same gray stone church
with a square tower, and every golfing prig in Harris tweeds saying 'Right you are!' to
every other prosperous ass? Yet I love England.
And for standardization--just look at the sidewalk cafes in France and the love-
making in Italy! "Standardization is excellent, per se.
When I buy an Ingersoll watch or a Ford, I get a better tool for less money, and I
know precisely what I'm getting, and that leaves me more time and energy to be
individual in.
And--I remember once in London I saw a picture of an American suburb, in a
toothpaste ad on the back of the Saturday Evening Post--an elm-lined snowy street of
these new houses, Georgian some of 'em, or
with low raking roofs and--The kind of street you'd find here in Zenith, say in
Floral Heights. Open.
Grass. And I was homesick!
There's no other country in the world that has such pleasant houses.
And I don't care if they ARE standardized.
It's a corking standard! "No, what I fight in Zenith is
standardization of thought, and, of course, the traditions of competition.
The real villains of the piece are the clean, kind, industrious Family Men who use
every known brand of trickery and cruelty to insure the prosperity of their cubs.
The worst thing about these fellows is that they're so good and, in their work at
least, so intelligent. You can't hate them properly, and yet their
standardized minds are the enemy.
"Then this boosting--Sneakingly I have a notion that Zenith is a better place to
live in than Manchester or Glasgow or Lyons or Berlin or Turin--"
"It is not, and I have lift in most of them," murmured Dr. Yavitch.
"Well, matter of taste. Personally, I prefer a city with a future
so unknown that it excites my imagination.
But what I particularly want--" "You," said Dr. Yavitch, "are a middle-road
liberal, and you haven't the slightest idea what you want.
I, being a revolutionist, know exactly what I want--and what I want now is a drink."
VI At that moment in Zenith, Jake Offutt, the
politician, and Henry T. Thompson were in conference.
Offutt suggested, "The thing to do is to get your fool son-in-law, Babbitt, to put
it over. He's one of these patriotic guys.
When he grabs a piece of property for the gang, he makes it look like we were dyin'
of love for the dear peepul, and I do love to buy respectability--reasonable.
Wonder how long we can keep it up, Hank?
We're safe as long as the good little boys like George Babbitt and all the nice
respectable labor-leaders think you and me are rugged patriots.
There's swell pickings for an honest politician here, Hank: a whole city working
to provide cigars and fried chicken and dry martinis for us, and rallying to our banner
with indignation, oh, fierce indignation,
whenever some squealer like this fellow
Seneca Doane comes along!
Honest, Hank, a smart codger like me ought
to be ashamed of himself if he didn't milk cattle like them, when they come around
mooing for it!
But the Traction gang can't get away with
grand larceny like it used to. I wonder when--Hank, I wish we could fix
some way to run this fellow Seneca Doane
out of town. It's him or us!"
At that moment in Zenith, three hundred and forty or fifty thousand Ordinary People
were asleep, a vast unpenetrated shadow.
In the slum beyond the railroad tracks, a
young man who for six months had sought work turned on the gas and killed himself
and his wife.
At that moment Lloyd Mallam, the poet,
owner of the Hafiz Book Shop, was finishing a rondeau to show how diverting was life
amid the feuds of medieval Florence, but
how dull it was in so obvious a place as
And at that moment George F. Babbitt turned
ponderously in bed--the last turn, signifying that he'd had enough of this
worried business of falling asleep and was
about it in earnest. Instantly he was in the magic dream.
He was somewhere among unknown people who laughed at him.
He slipped away, ran down the paths of a
midnight garden, and at the gate the fairy child was waiting.
Her dear and tranquil hand caressed his
cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved;
warm ivory were her arms; and beyond perilous moors the brave sea glittered.
THE great events of Babbitt's spring were the secret buying of real-estate options in
Linton for certain street-traction officials, before the public announcement
that the Linton Avenue Car Line would be
extended, and a dinner which was, as he rejoiced to his wife, not only "a regular
society spread but a real sure-enough highbrow affair, with some of the keenest
intellects and the brightest bunch of little women in town."
It was so absorbing an occasion that he almost forgot his desire to run off to
Maine with Paul Riesling.
Though he had been born in the village of Catawba, Babbitt had risen to that
metropolitan social plane on which hosts have as many as four people at dinner
without planning it for more than an evening or two.
But a dinner of twelve, with flowers from the florist's and all the cut-glass out,
staggered even the Babbitts.
For two weeks they studied, debated, and arbitrated the list of guests.
Babbitt marveled, "Of course we're up-to- date ourselves, but still, think of us
entertaining a famous poet like Chum Frink, a fellow that on nothing but a poem or so
every day and just writing a few
advertisements pulls down fifteen thousand berries a year!"
"Yes, and Howard Littlefield.
Do you know, the other evening Eunice told me her papa speaks three languages!" said
Mrs. Babbitt. "Huh! That's nothing!
So do I--American, baseball, and poker!"
"I don't think it's nice to be funny about a matter like that.
Think how wonderful it must be to speak three languages, and so useful and--And
with people like that, I don't see why we invite the Orville Joneses."
"Well now, Orville is a mighty up-and- coming fellow!"
"Yes, I know, but--A laundry!"
"I'll admit a laundry hasn't got the class of poetry or real estate, but just the
same, Orvy is mighty deep. Ever start him spieling about gardening?
Say, that fellow can tell you the name of every kind of tree, and some of their Greek
and Latin names too! Besides, we owe the Joneses a dinner.
Besides, gosh, we got to have some boob for audience, when a bunch of hot-air artists
like Frink and Littlefield get going."
"Well, dear--I meant to speak of this--I do think that as host you ought to sit back
and listen, and let your guests have a chance to talk once in a while!"
"Oh, you do, do you!
Sure! I talk all the time!
And I'm just a business man--oh sure!--I'm no Ph.D. like Littlefield, and no poet, and
I haven't anything to spring!
Well, let me tell you, just the other day your darn Chum Frink comes up to me at the
club begging to know what I thought about the Springfield school-bond issue.
And who told him?
I did! You bet your life I told him!
Little me! I certainly did!
He came up and asked me, and I told him all about it!
You bet! And he was darn glad to listen to me and--
Duty as a host!
I guess I know my duty as a host and let me tell you--"
In fact, the Orville Joneses were invited.
II On the morning of the dinner, Mrs. Babbitt
was restive. "Now, George, I want you to be sure and be
home early tonight.
Remember, you have to dress." "Uh-huh.
I see by the Advocate that the Presbyterian General Assembly has voted to quit the
Interchurch World Movement.
That--" "George!
Did you hear what I said? You must be home in time to dress to-
"Dress? Hell!
I'm dressed now! Think I'm going down to the office in my
"I will not have you talking indecently before the children!
And you do have to put on your dinner- jacket!"
"I guess you mean my Tux.
I tell you, of all the doggone nonsensical nuisances that was ever invented--"
Three minutes later, after Babbitt had wailed, "Well, I don't know whether I'm
going to dress or NOT" in a manner which showed that he was going to dress, the
discussion moved on.
"Now, George, you mustn't forget to call in at Vecchia's on the way home and get the
ice cream. Their delivery-wagon is broken down, and I
don't want to trust them to send it by--"
"All right! You told me that before breakfast!"
"Well, I don't want you to forget.
I'll be working my head off all day long, training the girl that's to help with the
dinner--" "All nonsense, anyway, hiring an extra girl
for the feed.
Matilda could perfectly well--"
"--and I have to go out and buy the flowers, and fix them, and set the table,
and order the salted almonds, and look at the chickens, and arrange for the children
to have their supper upstairs and--And I
simply must depend on you to go to Vecchia's for the ice cream."
"All riiiiiight! Gosh, I'm going to get it!"
"All you have to do is to go in and say you want the ice cream that Mrs. Babbitt
ordered yesterday by 'phone, and it will be all ready for you."
At ten-thirty she telephoned to him not to forget the ice cream from Vecchia's.
He was surprised and blasted then by a thought.
He wondered whether Floral Heights dinners were worth the hideous toil involved.
But he repented the sacrilege in the excitement of buying the materials for
Now this was the manner of obtaining alcohol under the reign of righteousness
and prohibition:
He drove from the severe rectangular streets of the modern business center into
the tangled byways of Old Town--jagged blocks filled with sooty warehouses and
lofts; on into The Arbor, once a pleasant
orchard but now a morass of lodging-houses, tenements, and brothels.
Exquisite shivers chilled his spine and stomach, and he looked at every policeman
with intense innocence, as one who loved the law, and admired the Force, and longed
to stop and play with them.
He parked his car a block from Healey Hanson's saloon, worrying, "Well, rats, if
anybody did see me, they'd think I was here on business."
He entered a place curiously like the saloons of ante-prohibition days, with a
long greasy bar with sawdust in front and streaky mirror behind, a pine table at
which a dirty old man dreamed over a glass
of something which resembled whisky, and with two men at the bar, drinking something
which resembled beer, and giving that impression of forming a large crowd which
two men always give in a saloon.
The bartender, a tall pale Swede with a diamond in his lilac scarf, stared at
Babbitt as he stalked plumply up to the bar and whispered, "I'd, uh--Friend of Hanson's
sent me here.
Like to get some gin." The bartender gazed down on him in the
manner of an outraged bishop. "I guess you got the wrong place, my
We sell nothing but soft drinks here." He cleaned the bar with a rag which would
itself have done with a little cleaning, and glared across his mechanically moving
The old dreamer at the table petitioned the bartender, "Say, Oscar, listen."
Oscar did not listen. "Aw, say, Oscar, listen, will yuh?
Say, lis-sen!"
The decayed and drowsy voice of the loafer, the agreeable stink of beer-dregs, threw a
spell of inanition over Babbitt. The bartender moved grimly toward the crowd
of two men.
Babbitt followed him as delicately as a cat, and wheedled, "Say, Oscar, I want to
speak to Mr. Hanson." "Whajuh wanta see him for?"
"I just want to talk to him.
Here's my card." It was a beautiful card, an engraved card,
a card in the blackest black and the sharpest red, announcing that Mr. George F.
Babbitt was Estates, Insurance, Rents.
The bartender held it as though it weighed ten pounds, and read it as though it were a
hundred words long. He did not bend from his episcopal dignity,
but he growled, "I'll see if he's around."
From the back room he brought an immensely old young man, a quiet sharp-eyed man, in
tan silk shirt, checked vest hanging open, and burning brown trousers--Mr. Healey
Mr. Hanson said only "Yuh?" but his implacable and contemptuous eyes queried
Babbitt's soul, and he seemed not at all impressed by the new dark-gray suit for
which (as he had admitted to every
acquaintance at the Athletic Club) Babbitt had paid a hundred and twenty-five dollars.
"Glad meet you, Mr. Hanson. Say, uh--I'm George Babbitt of the Babbitt-
Thompson Realty Company.
I'm a great friend of Jake Offutt's." "Well, what of it?"
"Say, uh, I'm going to have a party, and Jake told me you'd be able to fix me up
with a little gin."
In alarm, in obsequiousness, as Hanson's eyes grew more bored, "You telephone to
Jake about me, if you want to."
Hanson answered by jerking his head to indicate the entrance to the back room, and
strolled away.
Babbitt melodramatically crept into an apartment containing four round tables,
eleven chairs, a brewery calendar, and a smell.
He waited.
Thrice he saw Healey Hanson saunter through, humming, hands in pockets,
ignoring him.
By this time Babbitt had modified his valiant morning vow, "I won't pay one cent
over seven dollars a quart" to "I might pay ten."
On Hanson's next weary entrance he besought "Could you fix that up?"
Hanson scowled, and grated, "Just a minute- -Pete's sake--just a min-ute!"
In growing meekness Babbitt went on waiting till Hanson casually reappeared with a
quart of gin--what is euphemistically known as a quart--in his disdainful long white
"Twelve bucks," he snapped. "Say, uh, but say, cap'n, Jake thought
you'd be able to fix me up for eight or nine a bottle."
"Nup. Twelve.
This is the real stuff, smuggled from Canada.
This is none o' your neutral spirits with a drop of juniper extract," the honest
merchant said virtuously.
"Twelve bones--if you want it. Course y' understand I'm just doing this
anyway as a friend of Jake's." "Sure!
I understand!" Babbitt gratefully held out twelve dollars.
He felt honored by contact with greatness as Hanson yawned, stuffed the bills,
uncounted, into his radiant vest, and swaggered away.
He had a number of titillations out of concealing the gin-bottle under his coat
and out of hiding it in his desk.
All afternoon he snorted and chuckled and gurgled over his ability to "give the Boys
a real shot in the arm to-night."
He was, in fact, so exhilarated that he was within a block of his house before he
remembered that there was a certain matter, mentioned by his wife, of fetching ice
cream from Vecchia's.
He explained, "Well, darn it--" and drove back.
Vecchia was not a caterer, he was The Caterer of Zenith.
Most coming-out parties were held in the white and gold ballroom of the Maison
Vecchia; at all nice teas the guests recognized the five kinds of Vecchia
sandwiches and the seven kinds of Vecchia
cakes; and all really smart dinners ended, as on a resolving chord, in Vecchia
Neapolitan ice cream in one of the three reliable molds--the melon mold, the round
mold like a layer cake, and the long brick.
Vecchia's shop had pale blue woodwork, tracery of plaster roses, attendants in
frilled aprons, and glass shelves of "kisses" with all the refinement that
inheres in whites of eggs.
Babbitt felt heavy and thick amid this professional daintiness, and as he waited
for the ice cream he decided, with hot prickles at the back of his neck, that a
girl customer was giggling at him.
He went home in a touchy temper. The first thing he heard was his wife's
agitated: "George!
DID you remember to go to Vecchia's and get the ice cream?"
"Say! Look here!
Do I ever forget to do things?"
"Yes! Often!"
"Well now, it's darn seldom I do, and it certainly makes me tired, after going into
a pink-tea joint like Vecchia's and having to stand around looking at a lot of half-
naked young girls, all rouged up like they
were sixty and eating a lot of stuff that simply ruins their stomachs--"
"Oh, it's too bad about you! I've noticed how you hate to look at pretty
With a jar Babbitt realized that his wife was too busy to be impressed by that moral
indignation with which males rule the world, and he went humbly up-stairs to
He had an impression of a glorified dining- room, of cut-glass, candles, polished wood,
lace, silver, roses.
With the awed swelling of the heart suitable to so grave a business as giving a
dinner, he slew the temptation to wear his plaited dress-shirt for a fourth time, took
out an entirely fresh one, tightened his
black bow, and rubbed his patent-leather pumps with a handkerchief.
He glanced with pleasure at his garnet and silver studs.
He smoothed and patted his ankles, transformed by silk socks from the sturdy
shanks of George Babbitt to the elegant limbs of what is called a Clubman.
He stood before the pier-glass, viewing his trim dinner-coat, his beautiful triple-
braided trousers; and murmured in lyric beatitude, "By golly, I don't look so bad.
I certainly don't look like Catawba.
If the hicks back home could see me in this rig, they'd have a fit!"
He moved majestically down to mix the cocktails.
As he chipped ice, as he squeezed oranges, as he collected vast stores of bottles,
glasses, and spoons at the sink in the pantry, he felt as authoritative as the
bartender at Healey Hanson's saloon.
True, Mrs. Babbitt said he was under foot, and Matilda and the maid hired for the
evening brushed by him, elbowed him, shrieked "Pleasopn door," as they tottered
through with trays, but in this high moment he ignored them.
Besides the new bottle of gin, his cellar consisted of one half-bottle of Bourbon
whisky, a quarter of a bottle of Italian vermouth, and approximately one hundred
drops of orange bitters.
He did not possess a cocktail-shaker. A shaker was proof of dissipation, the
symbol of a Drinker, and Babbitt disliked being known as a Drinker even more than he
liked a Drink.
He mixed by pouring from an ancient gravy- boat into a handleless pitcher; he poured
with a noble dignity, holding his alembics high beneath the powerful Mazda globe, his
face hot, his shirt-front a glaring white, the copper sink a scoured red-gold.
He tasted the sacred essence. "Now, by golly, if that isn't pretty near
one fine old cocktail!
Kind of a Bronx, and yet like a Manhattan. Ummmmmm!
Hey, Myra, want a little nip before the folks come?"
Bustling into the dining-room, moving each glass a quarter of an inch, rushing back
with resolution implacable on her face her gray and silver-lace party frock protected
by a denim towel, Mrs. Babbitt glared at him, and rebuked him, "Certainly not!"
"Well," in a loose, jocose manner, "I think the old man will!"
The cocktail filled him with a whirling exhilaration behind which he was aware of
devastating desires--to rush places in fast motors, to kiss girls, to sing, to be
He sought to regain his lost dignity by announcing to Matilda:
"I'm going to stick this pitcher of cocktails in the refrigerator.
Be sure you don't upset any of 'em."
"Yeh." "Well, be sure now.
Don't go putting anything on this top shelf."
"Well, be--" He was dizzy. His voice was thin and distant.
With enormous impressiveness he commanded, "Well, be sure now," and minced into the
safety of the living-room.
He wondered whether he could persuade "as slow a bunch as Myra and the Littlefields
to go some place aft' dinner and raise Cain and maybe dig up smore booze."
He perceived that he had gifts of profligacy which had been neglected.
By the time the guests had come, including the inevitable late couple for whom the
others waited with painful amiability, a great gray emptiness had replaced the
purple swirling in Babbitt's head, and he
had to force the tumultuous greetings suitable to a host on Floral Heights.
The guests were Howard Littlefield, the doctor of philosophy who furnished
publicity and comforting economics to the Street Traction Company; Vergil Gunch, the
coal-dealer, equally powerful in the Elks
and in the Boosters' Club; Eddie Swanson the agent for the Javelin Motor Car, who
lived across the street; and Orville Jones, owner of the Lily White Laundry, which
justly announced itself "the biggest,
busiest, bulliest cleanerie shoppe in Zenith."
But, naturally, the most distinguished of all was T. Cholmondeley Frink, who was not
only the author of "Poemulations," which, syndicated daily in sixty-seven leading
newspapers, gave him one of the largest
audiences of any poet in the world, but also an optimistic lecturer and the creator
of "Ads that Add."
Despite the searching philosophy and high morality of his verses, they were humorous
and easily understood by any child of twelve; and it added a neat air of
pleasantry to them that they were set not as verse but as prose.
Mr. Frink was known from Coast to Coast as "Chum."
With them were six wives, more or less--it was hard to tell, so early in the evening,
as at first glance they all looked alike, and as they all said, "Oh, ISN'T this
nice!" in the same tone of determined liveliness.
To the eye, the men were less similar: Littlefield, a hedge-scholar, tall and
horse-faced; Chum Frink, a trifle of a man with soft and mouse-like hair, advertising
his profession as poet by a silk cord on
his eye-glasses; Vergil Gunch, broad, with coarse black hair en brosse; Eddie Swanson,
a bald and bouncing young man who showed his taste for elegance by an evening
waistcoat of figured black silk with glass
buttons; Orville Jones, a steady-looking, stubby, not very memorable person, with a
hemp-colored toothbrush mustache.
Yet they were all so well fed and clean, they all shouted "'Evenin', Georgie!" with
such robustness, that they seemed to be cousins, and the strange thing is that the
longer one knew the women, the less alike
they seemed; while the longer one knew the men, the more alike their bold patterns
appeared. The drinking of the cocktails was as
canonical a rite as the mixing.
The company waited, uneasily, hopefully, agreeing in a strained manner that the
weather had been rather warm and slightly cold, but still Babbitt said nothing about
They became despondent. But when the late couple (the Swansons) had
arrived, Babbitt hinted, "Well, folks, do you think you could stand breaking the law
a little?"
They looked at Chum Frink, the recognized lord of language.
Frink pulled at his eye-glass cord as at a bell-rope, he cleared his throat and said
that which was the custom:
"I'll tell you, George: I'm a law-abiding man, but they do say Verg Gunch is a
regular yegg, and of course he's bigger 'n I am, and I just can't figure out what I'd
do if he tried to force me into anything criminal!"
Gunch was roaring, "Well, I'll take a chance--" when Frink held up his hand and
went on, "So if Verg and you insist, Georgie, I'll park my car on the wrong side
of the street, because I take it for
granted that's the crime you're hinting at!"
There was a great deal of laughter. Mrs. Jones asserted, "Mr. Frink is simply
too killing!
You'd think he was so innocent!" Babbitt clamored, "How did you guess it,
Chum? Well, you-all just wait a moment while I go
out and get the--keys to your cars!"
Through a froth of merriment he brought the shining promise, the mighty tray of glasses
with the cloudy yellow cocktails in the glass pitcher in the center.
The men babbled, "Oh, gosh, have a look!" and "This gets me right where I live!" and
"Let me at it!"
But Chum Frink, a traveled man and not unused to woes, was stricken by the thought
that the potion might be merely fruit-juice with a little neutral spirits.
He looked timorous as Babbitt, a moist and ecstatic almoner, held out a glass, but as
he tasted it he piped, "Oh, man, let me dream on!
It ain't true, but don't waken me!
Jus' lemme slumber!" Two hours before, Frink had completed a
newspaper lyric beginning:
"I sat alone and groused and thunk, and scratched my head and sighed and wunk, and
groaned, There still are boobs, alack, who'd like the old-time gin-mill back; that
den that makes a sage a loon, the vile and smelly old saloon!
I'll never miss their poison booze, whilst I the bubbling spring can use, that leaves
my head at merry morn as clear as any babe new-born!"
Babbitt drank with the others; his moment's depression was gone; he perceived that
these were the best fellows in the world; he wanted to give them a thousand
"Think you could stand another?" he cried. The wives refused, with giggles, but the
men, speaking in a wide, elaborate, enjoyable manner, gloated, "Well, sooner
than have you get sore at me, Georgie--"
"You got a little dividend coming," said Babbitt to each of them, and each intoned,
"Squeeze it, Georgie, squeeze it!" When, beyond hope, the pitcher was empty,
they stood and talked about prohibition.
The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their trousers-pockets, and
proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a prosperous male repeating a
thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of which he knows nothing whatever.
"Now, I'll tell you," said Vergil Gunch; "way I figure it is this, and I can speak
by the book, because I've talked to a lot of doctors and fellows that ought to know,
and the way I see it is that it's a good
thing to get rid of the saloon, but they ought to let a fellow have beer and light
Howard Littlefield observed, "What isn't generally realized is that it's a dangerous
prop'sition to invade the rights of personal liberty.
Now, take this for instance: The King of-- Bavaria?
I think it was Bavaria--yes, Bavaria, it was--in 1862, March, 1862, he issued a
proclamation against public grazing of live-stock.
The peasantry had stood for overtaxation without the slightest complaint, but when
this proclamation came out, they rebelled. Or it may have been Saxony.
But it just goes to show the dangers of invading the rights of personal liberty."
"That's it--no one got a right to invade personal liberty," said Orville Jones.
"Just the same, you don't want to forget prohibition is a mighty good thing for the
Keeps 'em from wasting their money and lowering their productiveness," said Vergil
Gunch. "Yes, that's so.
But the trouble is the manner of enforcement," insisted Howard Littlefield.
"Congress didn't understand the right system.
Now, if I'd been running the thing, I'd have arranged it so that the drinker
himself was licensed, and then we could have taken care of the shiftless workman--
kept him from drinking--and yet not 've
interfered with the rights--with the personal liberty--of fellows like
They bobbed their heads, looked admiringly at one another, and stated, "That's so,
that would be the stunt."
"The thing that worries me is that a lot of these guys will take to cocaine," sighed
Eddie Swanson. They bobbed more violently, and groaned,
"That's so, there is a danger of that."
Chum Frink chanted, "Oh, say, I got hold of a swell new receipt for home-made beer the
other day. You take--"
Gunch interrupted, "Wait!
Let me tell you mine!" Littlefield snorted, "Beer!
Rats! Thing to do is to ferment cider!"
Jones insisted, "I've got the receipt that does the business!"
Swanson begged, "Oh, say, lemme tell you the story--" But Frink went on resolutely,
"You take and save the shells from peas, and pour six gallons of water on a bushel
of shells and boil the mixture till--"
Mrs. Babbitt turned toward them with yearning sweetness; Frink hastened to
finish even his best beer-recipe; and she said gaily, "Dinner is served."
There was a good deal of friendly argument among the men as to which should go in
last, and while they were crossing the hall from the living-room to the dining-room
Vergil Gunch made them laugh by thundering,
"If I can't sit next to Myra Babbitt and hold her hand under the table, I won't
play--I'm goin' home."
In the dining-room they stood embarrassed while Mrs. Babbitt fluttered, "Now, let me
see--Oh, I was going to have some nice hand-painted place-cards for you but--Oh,
let me see; Mr. Frink, you sit there."
The dinner was in the best style of women's-magazine art, whereby the salad was
served in hollowed apples, and everything but the invincible fried chicken resembled
something else.
Ordinarily the men found it hard to talk to the women; flirtation was an art unknown on
Floral Heights, and the realms of offices and of kitchens had no alliances.
But under the inspiration of the cocktails, conversation was violent.
Each of the men still had a number of important things to say about prohibition,
and now that each had a loyal listener in his dinner-partner he burst out:
"I found a place where I can get all the hootch I want at eight a quart--"
"Did you read about this fellow that went and paid a thousand dollars for ten cases
of red-eye that proved to be nothing but water?
Seems this fellow was standing on the corner and fellow comes up to him--"
"They say there's a whole raft of stuff being smuggled across at Detroit--"
"What I always say is--what a lot of folks don't realize about prohibition--"
"And then you get all this awful poison stuff--wood alcohol and everything--"
"Course I believe in it on principle, but I don't propose to have anybody telling me
what I got to think and do. No American 'll ever stand for that!"
But they all felt that it was rather in bad taste for Orville Jones--and he not
recognized as one of the wits of the occasion anyway--to say, "In fact, the
whole thing about prohibition is this: it isn't the initial cost, it's the humidity."
Not till the one required topic had been dealt with did the conversation become
It was often and admiringly said of Vergil Gunch, "Gee, that fellow can get away with
Why, he can pull a Raw One in mixed company and all the ladies 'll laugh their heads
off, but me, gosh, if I crack anything that's just the least bit off color I get
the razz for fair!"
Now Gunch delighted them by crying to Mrs. Eddie Swanson, youngest of the women,
I managed to pinch Eddie's doorkey out of his pocket, and what say you and me sneak
across the street when the folks aren't looking?
Got something," with a gorgeous leer, "awful important to tell you!"
The women wriggled, and Babbitt was stirred to like naughtiness.
"Say, folks, I wished I dared show you a book I borrowed from Doc Patten!"
"Now, George! The idea!"
Mrs. Babbitt warned him.
"This book--racy isn't the word! It's some kind of an anthropological report
about--about Customs, in the South Seas, and what it doesn't SAY!
It's a book you can't buy.
Verg, I'll lend it to you." "Me first!" insisted Eddie Swanson.
"Sounds spicy!"
Orville Jones announced, "Say, I heard a Good One the other day about a coupla
Swedes and their wives," and, in the best Jewish accent, he resolutely carried the
Good One to a slightly disinfected ending.
Gunch capped it. But the cocktails waned, the seekers
dropped back into cautious reality.
Chum Frink had recently been on a lecture- tour among the small towns, and he
chuckled, "Awful good to get back to civilization!
I certainly been seeing some hick towns!
I mean--Course the folks there are the best on earth, but, gee whiz, those Main Street
burgs are slow, and you fellows can't hardly appreciate what it means to be here
with a bunch of live ones!"
"You bet!" exulted Orville Jones. "They're the best folks on earth, those
small-town folks, but, oh, mama! what conversation!
Why, say, they can't talk about anything but the weather and the ne-oo Ford, by
heckalorum!" "That's right.
They all talk about just the same things," said Eddie Swanson.
"Don't they, though! They just say the same things over and
over," said Vergil Gunch.
"Yes, it's really remarkable. They seem to lack all power of looking at
things impersonally.
They simply go over and over the same talk about Fords and the weather and so on."
said Howard Littlefield. "Still, at that, you can't blame 'em.
They haven't got any intellectual stimulus such as you get up here in the city," said
Chum Frink. "Gosh, that's right," said Babbitt.
"I don't want you highbrows to get stuck on yourselves but I must say it keeps a fellow
right up on his toes to sit in with a poet and with Howard, the guy that put the con
in economics!
But these small-town boobs, with nobody but each other to talk to, no wonder they get
so sloppy and uncultured in their speech, and so balled-up in their thinking!"
Orville Jones commented, "And, then take our other advantages--the movies,
These Yapville sports think they're all- get-out if they have one change of bill a
week, where here in the city you got your choice of a dozen diff'rent movies any
evening you want to name!"
"Sure, and the inspiration we get from rubbing up against high-class hustlers
every day and getting jam full of ginger," said Eddie Swanson.
"Same time," said Babbitt, "no sense excusing these rube burgs too easy.
Fellow's own fault if he doesn't show the initiative to up and beat it to the city,
like we done--did.
And, just speaking in confidence among friends, they're jealous as the devil of a
city man.
Every time I go up to Catawba I have to go around apologizing to the fellows I was
brought up with because I've more or less succeeded and they haven't.
And if you talk natural to 'em, way we do here, and show finesse and what you might
call a broad point of view, why, they think you're putting on side.
There's my own half-brother Martin--runs the little ole general store my Dad used to
keep. Say, I'll bet he don't know there is such a
thing as a Tux--as a dinner-jacket.
If he was to come in here now, he'd think we were a bunch of--of--Why, gosh, I swear,
he wouldn't know what to think! Yes, sir, they're jealous!"
Chum Frink agreed, "That's so.
But what I mind is their lack of culture and appreciation of the Beautiful--if
you'll excuse me for being highbrow.
Now, I like to give a high-class lecture, and read some of my best poetry--not the
newspaper stuff but the magazine things.
But say, when I get out in the tall grass, there's nothing will take but a lot of
cheesy old stories and slang and junk that if any of us were to indulge in it here,
he'd get the gate so fast it would make his head swim."
Vergil Gunch summed it up: "Fact is, we're mighty lucky to be living among a bunch of
city-folks, that recognize artistic things and business-punch equally.
We'd feel pretty glum if we got stuck in some Main Street burg and tried to wise up
the old codgers to the kind of life we're used to here.
But, by golly, there's this you got to say for 'em: Every small American town is
trying to get population and modern ideals. And darn if a lot of 'em don't put it
Somebody starts panning a rube crossroads, telling how he was there in 1900 and it
consisted of one muddy street, count 'em, one, and nine hundred human clams.
Well, you go back there in 1920, and you find pavements and a swell little hotel and
a first-class ladies' ready-to-wear shop- real perfection, in fact!
You don't want to just look at what these small towns are, you want to look at what
they're aiming to become, and they all got an ambition that in the long run is going
to make 'em the finest spots on earth--they all want to be just like Zenith!"
However intimate they might be with T. Cholmondeley Frink as a neighbor, as a
borrower of lawn-mowers and monkey- wrenches, they knew that he was also a
Famous Poet and a distinguished
advertising-agent; that behind his easiness were sultry literary mysteries which they
could not penetrate.
But to-night, in the gin-evolved confidence, he admitted them to the
arcanum: "I've got a literary problem that's
worrying me to death.
I'm doing a series of ads for the Zeeco Car and I want to make each of 'em a real
little gem--reg'lar stylistic stuff.
I'm all for this theory that perfection is the stunt, or nothing at all, and these are
as tough things as I ever tackled.
You might think it'd be harder to do my poems--all these Heart Topics: home and
fireside and happiness--but they're cinches.
You can't go wrong on 'em; you know what sentiments any decent go-ahead fellow must
have if he plays the game, and you stick right to 'em.
But the poetry of industrialism, now there's a literary line where you got to
open up new territory. Do you know the fellow who's really THE
American genius?
The fellow who you don't know his name and I don't either, but his work ought to be
preserved so's future generations can judge our American thought and originality to-
Why, the fellow that writes the Prince Albert Tobacco ads!
Just listen to this: It's P.A. that jams such joy in jimmy
Say--bet you've often bent-an-ear to that spill-of-speech about hopping from five to
f-i-f-t-y p-e-r by "stepping on her a bit!"
Guess that's going some, all right--BUT just among ourselves, you better start a
rapidwhiz system to keep tabs as to how fast you'll buzz from low smoke spirits to
TIP-TOP-HIGH--once you line up behind a
jimmy pipe that's all aglow with that peach-of-a-pal, Prince Albert.
Prince Albert is john-on-the-job--always joy'usly more-ISH in flavor; always
delightfully cool and fragrant!
For a fact, you never hooked such double- decked, copper-riveted, two-fisted smoke
enjoyment! Go to a pipe--speed-o-quick like you light
on a good thing!
Why--packed with Prince Albert you can play a joy'us jimmy straight across the boards!
AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!" "Now that," caroled the motor agent, Eddie
Swanson, "that's what I call he-literature!
That Prince Albert fellow--though, gosh, there can't be just one fellow that writes
'em; must be a big board of classy ink- slingers in conference, but anyway: now,
him, he doesn't write for long-haired
pikers, he writes for Regular Guys, he writes for ME, and I tip my benny to him!
The only thing is: I wonder if it sells the goods?
Course, like all these poets, this Prince Albert fellow lets his idea run away with
him. It makes elegant reading, but it don't say
I'd never go out and buy Prince Albert Tobacco after reading it, because it
doesn't tell me anything about the stuff. It's just a bunch of fluff."
Frink faced him: "Oh, you're crazy!
Have I got to sell you the idea of Style? Anyway that's the kind of stuff I'd like to
do for the Zeeco. But I simply can't.
So I decided to stick to the straight poetic, and I took a shot at a highbrow ad
for the Zeeco. How do you like this:
The long white trail is calling--calling- and it's over the hills and far away for
every man or woman that has red blood in his veins and on his lips the ancient song
of the buccaneers.
It's away with dull drudging, and a fig for care.
Speed--glorious Speed--it's more than just a moment's exhilaration--it's Life for you
and me!
This great new truth the makers of the Zeeco Car have considered as much as price
and style.
It's fleet as the antelope, smooth as the glide of a swallow, yet powerful as the
charge of a bull-elephant. Class breathes in every line.
Listen, brother!
You'll never know what the high art of hiking is till you TRY LIFE'S ZIPPINGEST
"Yes," Frink mused, "that's got an elegant color to it, if I do say so, but it ain't
got the originality of 'spill-of-speech!'" The whole company sighed with sympathy and
BABBITT was fond of his friends, he loved the importance of being host and shouting,
"Certainly, you're going to have smore chicken--the idea!" and he appreciated the
genius of T. Cholmondeley Frink, but the
vigor of the cocktails was gone, and the more he ate the less joyful he felt.
Then the amity of the dinner was destroyed by the nagging of the Swansons.
In Floral Heights and the other prosperous sections of Zenith, especially in the
"young married set," there were many women who had nothing to do.
Though they had few servants, yet with gas stoves, electric ranges and dish-washers
and vacuum cleaners, and tiled kitchen walls, their houses were so convenient that
they had little housework, and much of
their food came from bakeries and delicatessens.
They had but two, one, or no children; and despite the myth that the Great War had
made work respectable, their husbands objected to their "wasting time and getting
a lot of crank ideas" in unpaid social
work, and still more to their causing a rumor, by earning money, that they were not
adequately supported.
They worked perhaps two hours a day, and the rest of the time they ate chocolates,
went to the motion-pictures, went window- shopping, went in gossiping twos and threes
to card-parties, read magazines, thought
timorously of the lovers who never appeared, and accumulated a splendid
restlessness which they got rid of by nagging their husbands.
The husbands nagged back.
Of these naggers the Swansons were perfect specimens.
Throughout the dinner Eddie Swanson had been complaining, publicly, about his
wife's new frock.
It was, he submitted, too short, too low, too immodestly thin, and much too
expensive. He appealed to Babbitt:
"Honest, George, what do you think of that rag Louetta went and bought?
Don't you think it's the limit?" "What's eating you, Eddie?
I call it a swell little dress."
"Oh, it is, Mr. Swanson. It's a sweet frock," Mrs. Babbitt
protested. "There now, do you see, smarty!
You're such an authority on clothes!"
Louetta raged, while the guests ruminated and peeped at her shoulders.
"That's all right now," said Swanson.
"I'm authority enough so I know it was a waste of money, and it makes me tired to
see you not wearing out a whole closetful of clothes you got already.
I've expressed my idea about this before, and you know good and well you didn't pay
the least bit of attention. I have to camp on your trail to get you to
do anything--"
There was much more of it, and they all assisted, all but Babbitt.
Everything about him was dim except his stomach, and that was a bright scarlet
"Had too much grub; oughtn't to eat this stuff," he groaned--while he went on
eating, while he gulped down a chill and glutinous slice of the ice-cream brick, and
cocoanut cake as oozy as shaving-cream.
He felt as though he had been stuffed with clay; his body was bursting, his throat was
bursting, his brain was hot mud; and only with agony did he continue to smile and
shout as became a host on Floral Heights.
He would, except for his guests, have fled outdoors and walked off the intoxication of
food, but in the haze which filled the room they sat forever, talking, talking, while
he agonized, "Darn fool to be eating all
this--not 'nother mouthful," and discovered that he was again tasting the sickly welter
of melted ice cream on his plate.
There was no magic in his friends; he was not uplifted when Howard Littlefield
produced from his treasure-house of scholarship the information that the
chemical symbol for raw rubber is C10H16, which turns into isoprene, or 2C5H8.
Suddenly, without precedent, Babbitt was not merely bored but admitting that he was
It was ecstasy to escape from the table, from the torture of a straight chair, and
loll on the davenport in the living-room.
The others, from their fitful unconvincing talk, their expressions of being slowly and
painfully smothered, seemed to be suffering from the toil of social life and the horror
of good food as much as himself.
All of them accepted with relief the suggestion of bridge.
Babbitt recovered from the feeling of being boiled.
He won at bridge.
He was again able to endure Vergil Gunch's inexorable heartiness.
But he pictured loafing with Paul Riesling beside a lake in Maine.
It was as overpowering and imaginative as homesickness.
He had never seen Maine, yet he beheld the shrouded mountains, the tranquil lake of
"That boy Paul's worth all these ballyhooing highbrows put together," he
muttered; and, "I'd like to get away from-- everything."
Even Louetta Swanson did not rouse him.
Mrs. Swanson was pretty and pliant. Babbitt was not an analyst of women, except
as to their tastes in Furnished Houses to Rent.
He divided them into Real Ladies, Working Women, Old Cranks, and Fly Chickens.
He mooned over their charms but he was of opinion that all of them (save the women of
his own family) were "different" and "mysterious."
Yet he had known by instinct that Louetta Swanson could be approached.
Her eyes and lips were moist.
Her face tapered from a broad forehead to a pointed chin, her mouth was thin but strong
and avid, and between her brows were two outcurving and passionate wrinkles.
She was thirty, perhaps, or younger.
Gossip had never touched her, but every man naturally and instantly rose to
flirtatiousness when he spoke to her, and every woman watched her with stilled
Between games, sitting on the davenport, Babbitt spoke to her with the requisite
gallantry, that sonorous Floral Heights gallantry which is not flirtation but a
terrified flight from it: "You're looking
like a new soda-fountain to night, Louetta."
"Am I?" "Ole Eddie kind of on the rampage."
"Yes. I get so sick of it."
"Well, when you get tired of hubby, you can run off with Uncle George."
"If I ran away--Oh, well--" "Anybody ever tell you your hands are awful
She looked down at them, she pulled the lace of her sleeves over them, but
otherwise she did not heed him. She was lost in unexpressed imaginings.
Babbitt was too languid this evening to pursue his duty of being a captivating
(though strictly moral) male. He ambled back to the bridge-tables.
He was not much thrilled when Mrs. Frink, a small twittering woman, proposed that they
"try and do some spiritualism and table- tipping--you know Chum can make the spirits
come--honest, he just scares me!"
The ladies of the party had not emerged all evening, but now, as the sex given to
things of the spirit while the men warred against base things material, they took
command and cried, "Oh, let's!"
In the dimness the men were rather solemn and foolish, but the goodwives quivered and
adored as they sat about the table.
They laughed, "Now, you be good or I'll tell!" when the men took their hands in the
Babbitt tingled with a slight return of interest in life as Louetta Swanson's hand
closed on his with quiet firmness. All of them hunched over, intent.
They startled as some one drew a strained breath.
In the dusty light from the hall they looked unreal, they felt disembodied.
Mrs. Gunch squeaked, and they jumped with unnatural jocularity, but at Frink's hiss
they sank into subdued awe. Suddenly, incredibly, they heard a
They stared at Frink's half-revealed hands and found them lying still.
They wriggled, and pretended not to be impressed.
Frink spoke with gravity: "Is some one there?"
A thud. "Is one knock to be the sign for 'yes'?"
A thud.
"And two for 'no'?" A thud.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, shall we ask the guide to put us into communication with
the spirit of some great one passed over?"
Frink mumbled. Mrs Orville Jones begged, "Oh, let's talk
to Dante! We studied him at the Reading Circle.
You know who he was, Orvy."
"Certainly I know who he was! The Wop poet.
Where do you think I was raised?" from her insulted husband.
"Sure--the fellow that took the Cook's Tour to Hell.
I've never waded through his po'try, but we learned about him in the U.," said Babbitt.
"Page Mr. Dannnnnty!" intoned Eddie Swanson.
"You ought to get him easy, Mr. Frink, you and he being fellow-poets," said Louetta
"Fellow-poets, rats! Where d' you get that stuff?" protested
Vergil Gunch.
"I suppose Dante showed a lot of speed for an old-timer--not that I've actually read
him, of course--but to come right down to hard facts, he wouldn't stand one-two-three
if he had to buckle down to practical
literature and turn out a poem for the newspaper-syndicate every day, like Chum
does!" "That's so," from Eddie Swanson.
"Those old birds could take their time.
Judas Priest, I could write poetry myself if I had a whole year for it, and just
wrote about that old-fashioned junk like Dante wrote about."
Frink demanded, "Hush, now!
I'll call him...O, Laughing Eyes, emerge forth into the, uh, the ultimates and bring
hither the spirit of Dante, that we mortals may list to his words of wisdom."
"You forgot to give um the address: 1658 Brimstone Avenue, Fiery Heights, Hell,"
Gunch chuckled, but the others felt that this was irreligious.
And besides--"probably it was just Chum making the knocks, but still, if there did
happen to be something to all this, be exciting to talk to an old fellow belonging
to--way back in early times--"
A thud. The spirit of Dante had come to the parlor
of George F. Babbitt. He was, it seemed, quite ready to answer
their questions.
He was "glad to be with them, this evening."
Frink spelled out the messages by running through the alphabet till the spirit
interpreter knocked at the right letter.
Littlefield asked, in a learned tone, "Do you like it in the Paradiso, Messire?"
"We are very happy on the higher plane, Signor.
We are glad that you are studying this great truth of spiritualism," Dante
replied. The circle moved with an awed creaking of
stays and shirt-fronts.
"Suppose--suppose there were something to this?"
Babbitt had a different worry. "Suppose Chum Frink was really one of these
Chum had, for a literary fellow, always seemed to be a Regular Guy; he belonged to
the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church and went to the Boosters' lunches and liked
cigars and motors and racy stories.
But suppose that secretly--After all, you never could tell about these darn
highbrows; and to be an out-and-out spiritualist would be almost like being a
No one could long be serious in the presence of Vergil Gunch.
"Ask Dant' how Jack Shakespeare and old Verg'--the guy they named after me--are
gettin' along, and don't they wish they could get into the movie game!" he blared,
and instantly all was mirth.
Mrs. Jones shrieked, and Eddie Swanson desired to know whether Dante didn't catch
cold with nothing on but his wreath. The pleased Dante made humble answer.
But Babbitt--the curst discontent was torturing him again, and heavily, in the
impersonal darkness, he pondered, "I don't- -We're all so flip and think we're so
There'd be--A fellow like Dante--I wish I'd read some of his pieces.
I don't suppose I ever will, now."
He had, without explanation, the impression of a slaggy cliff and on it, in silhouette
against menacing clouds, a lone and austere figure.
He was dismayed by a sudden contempt for his surest friends.
He grasped Louetta Swanson's hand, and found the comfort of human warmth.
Habit came, a veteran warrior; and he shook himself.
"What the deuce is the matter with me, this evening?"
He patted Louetta's hand, to indicate that he hadn't meant anything improper by
squeezing it, and demanded of Frink, "Say, see if you can get old Dant' to spiel us
some of his poetry.
Talk up to him. Tell him, 'Buena giorna, senor, com sa va,
wie geht's? Keskersaykersa a little pome, senor?'"
The lights were switched on; the women sat on the fronts of their chairs in that
determined suspense whereby a wife indicates that as soon as the present
speaker has finished, she is going to
remark brightly to her husband, "Well, dear, I think per-HAPS it's about time for
us to be saying good-night." For once Babbitt did not break out in
blustering efforts to keep the party going.
He had--there was something he wished to think out--But the psychical research had
started them off again. ("Why didn't they go home!
Why didn't they go home!")
Though he was impressed by the profundity of the statement, he was only half-
enthusiastic when Howard Littlefield lectured, "The United States is the only
nation in which the government is a Moral Ideal and not just a social arrangement."
("True--true--weren't they EVER going home?")
He was usually delighted to have an "inside view" of the momentous world of motors but
to-night he scarcely listened to Eddie Swanson's revelation: "If you want to go
above the Javelin class, the Zeeco is a mighty good buy.
Couple weeks ago, and mind you, this was a fair, square test, they took a Zeeco stock
touring-car and they slid up the Tonawanda hill on high, and fellow told me--" ("Zeeco
good boat but--Were they planning to stay all night?")
They really were going, with a flutter of "We did have the best time!"
Most aggressively friendly of all was Babbitt, yet as he burbled he was
reflecting, "I got through it, but for a while there I didn't hardly think I'd last
He prepared to taste that most delicate pleasure of the host: making fun of his
guests in the relaxation of midnight.
As the door closed he yawned voluptuously, chest out, shoulders wriggling, and turned
cynically to his wife. She was beaming.
"Oh, it was nice, wasn't it!
I know they enjoyed every minute of it. Don't you think so?"
He couldn't do it. He couldn't mock.
It would have been like sneering at a happy child.
He lied ponderously: "You bet! Best party this year, by a long shot."
"Wasn't the dinner good!
And honestly I thought the fried chicken was delicious!"
"You bet! Fried to the Queen's taste.
Best fried chicken I've tasted for a coon's age."
"Didn't Matilda fry it beautifully! And don't you think the soup was simply
"It certainly was! It was corking!
Best soup I've tasted since Heck was a pup!"
But his voice was seeping away.
They stood in the hall, under the electric light in its square box-like shade of red
glass bound with nickel. She stared at him.
"Why, George, you don't sound--you sound as if you hadn't really enjoyed it."
"Sure I did! Course I did!"
What is it?" "Oh, I'm kind of tired, I guess.
Been pounding pretty hard at the office. Need to get away and rest up a little."
"Well, we're going to Maine in just a few weeks now, dear."
"Yuh--" Then he was pouring it out nakedly, robbed of reticence.
"Myra: I think it'd be a good thing for me to get up there early."
"But you have this man you have to meet in New York about business."
"What man?
Oh, sure. Him. Oh, that's all off.
But I want to hit Maine early--get in a little fishing, catch me a big trout, by
A nervous, artificial laugh. "Well, why don't we do it?
Verona and Matilda can run the house between them, and you and I can go any
time, if you think we can afford it."
"But that's--I've been feeling so jumpy lately, I thought maybe it might be a good
thing if I kind of got off by myself and sweat it out of me."
Don't you WANT me to go along?" She was too wretchedly in earnest to be
tragic, or gloriously insulted, or anything save dumpy and defenseless and flushed to
the red steaminess of a boiled beet.
"Of course I do! I just meant--" Remembering that Paul
Riesling had predicted this, he was as desperate as she.
"I mean, sometimes it's a good thing for an old grouch like me to go off and get it out
of his system." He tried to sound paternal.
"Then when you and the kids arrive--I figured maybe I might skip up to Maine just
a few days ahead of you--I'd be ready for a real bat, see how I mean?"
He coaxed her with large booming sounds, with affable smiles, like a popular
preacher blessing an Easter congregation, like a humorous lecturer completing his
stint of eloquence, like all perpetrators of masculine wiles.
She stared at him, the joy of festival drained from her face.
"Do I bother you when we go on vacations?
Don't I add anything to your fun?" He broke.
Suddenly, dreadfully, he was hysterical, he was a yelping baby.
"Yes, yes, yes!
Hell, yes! But can't you understand I'm shot to
pieces? I'm all in!
I got to take care of myself!
I tell you, I got to--I'm sick of everything and everybody!
I got to--" It was she who was mature and protective
"Why, of course! You shall run off by yourself!
Why don't you get Paul to go along, and you boys just fish and have a good time?"
She patted his shoulder--reaching up to it- -while he shook with palsied helplessness,
and in that moment was not merely by habit fond of her but clung to her strength.
She cried cheerily, "Now up-stairs you go, and pop into bed.
We'll fix it all up. I'll see to the doors.
Now skip!"
For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering,
reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what
he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom.